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November, 2010

We all seem agreed that we need both (1) immediate, short-term, popular entry projects and simultaneously (2) a clear anti-capitalist, social transformative project. Whatever program we develop must somehow combine or at least include both (1) and (2).

Some of us systematically emphasize (1) and make (2) secondary; others of us do the opposite. We often talk past one another and often irritate one another by doing this. While we affirm the need to do/combine both (1) and (2), so far little concrete has jelled/congealed that seems generally to satisfy and fulfill that affirmation.

In the US during its last great surge of anti-capitalism mixed with immediate reformism – the 1930s Great Depression – the reformism eventually triumphed at the expense of the anti-capitalism. Corporations were taxed and regulated in the interest of economic recovery, economic growth, and social welfare. Capitalists on corporate boards of directors (elected by major shareholders) were left in their positions of appropriators and distributors of the surplus (in Marx’s sense of that term). They used portions of those surpluses to evade, weaken, and/or eventually eliminate the reforms’ constraints on their profitability and freedom of action. Because reformism in the US lost its anti-capitalist partner, most reforms proved to be unsustainable. I think that lesson usually applies to reformisms.

Thus, at the most basic level, to combine entry projects/reforms with a class-transformational project requires confronting the position of capitalists as hegemonic appropriators and distributors of the social surplus. To go beyond any set of reforms requires complimenting them with an explicit project of workers’ securing for themselves positions as appropriators and distributors of the surpluses they produce. Only then will they be in a position to (1) secure the reforms they may achieve, and (2) contest with and counteract capitalists in terms of how (for what social purposes) the social surplus is used. This argument applies equally whether the capitalists to be countered are private, shareholder-elected boards of directors or state-appointed officials.

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