I have slowly been reading through Alexander Berkman’s The ABC of Anarchism and it’s been quite interesting thus far. Reading the chapter on the reformer and politician, however, I come across one of the few disagreements with his ideas. It’s a relatively small point, but he condemns the reformer for essentially not being radical enough, suggesting that only major movements or revolution could make the necessary changes. I do agree, to an extent, but reforms shouldn’t be so easily dismissed.
A minor point, but it is interesting to note that he refers to the political establishment, those who, with State power, rule for the interests of the capitalistic class, as a swamp – the same word Trump had adopted during his successful Presidential campaign. I would have to read into it more, but it makes sense that, seeing as the word appears to have long-lasting significance in the working-class terminology, Trump was successfully able to commandeer it to gain the trust of modern working-class demographics.
Berkman uses the analogy of a diseased tooth. When you go to get it checked, it is only logical to remove the entire tooth – revolution, overthrowing capitalism entirely – where as the reformer, who he claims is simply “improving” capitalism, will remove it piece by piece over a long period of time, leaving the root of the problem behind. I don’t disagree with this analogy at all, nor with the fact that abolishing the capitalist system would be preferable to an “improved capitalism”. I also agree with the abolition of the State, which in various “socialist/communist” countries have flipped it into the totalitarian rule of corrupt and often violent regimes.
But while this would be the ideal end goal, so much of this, as Berkman himself says, relies on educating the masses, revealing to them how they have been wronged by the numerous institutions that control them. 90 years on from when he wrote this book, however, even the educational institutions that should be the bastions of thought and knowledge can easily become reliant on the capitalist system, and the words socialism, communism, and anarchism are so warped in definition as to make them negligible.
Educating people of a better system will take a long time and much patience, with the enemy being decades of distorted propaganda. Perhaps one day there will a chance to topple the capitalist system as people begin to join unions in high numbers, as workers reject the renting of their labour through wages, etc. But until that day, there must be something. This cannot be an all or nothing fight, otherwise the masters of humanity will simply crush any opposition and maintain the current structures of illegitimate authority.
This is why I believe reforms have a valid place in our society. I’ve written before about how blockchain could be used to reshape work, in what Don and Alex Tapscott referred to as an ideal version of capitalism with a more just distribution of wealth. There are certainly arguments that can be made against reforms, but if something can be done to improve the lives of people under capitalism, is that not worth supporting? Higher wages to match the rise in the cost of living doesn’t rid us of wage slavery, but does it not make life for those on minimum wages more bearable? Legislating more rights for workers won’t make them equal to the bosses, but would it not protect the worker against the more extreme injustices?
Just because we believe there is an ideal end goal that we should all strive towards does not mean everyone will agree with us or that they will even know what is possible. It most certainly won’t happen overnight, save some major upheaval.
What is certain is that what is good cannot be dismissed simply because it is not what we deem to be perfect. That is my argument for supporting the Labor Party here in Australia, Sanders and AOC in the US, or Jeremy Corbyn in the UK. None of them are perfect and none of them claim to be, but they are all (to some extent) pushing towards positive changes. If people can see what can be done under more “progressive” governments, then perhaps talk of socialism and ‘revolution’ (whatever form that would take in the modern age) might be possible.
Until then, education is key, and reforms are necessary to carry us over and maintain the fight in the meantime.
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