Reformism and its Discontents

Parliamentary cretinism, a disorder which penetrates its unfortunate victims with the solemn conviction that the whole world, its history and future, are governed and determined by a majority of votes in that particular representative body which has the honor to count them among its members(1)

Friedrich Engels

The inescapable, deafening cry that one must “do something!” rings out from the disgruntled movementist at the police-choreographed demonstration—or, more accurately, is hastily read and scrolled past on social media. But what exactly is meant by this “something” which we all should fall in line and “do”?

Simply, a broad front must be created, which pushes for reforms and seats within the bourgeois apparatus to lead the working class to a reformist heaven on earth!

Theoretically, the immediatist is acting “practically” in that immediate immiseration could potentially be (temporarily and haphazardly) alleviated, and certainly none in the Communist Left would be opposed to the reining in of certain encroachments made by capital on the livelihood of the working class; but by focusing on the form of capitalism over its content (i.e. wage labor and capital), offering cross-class, single-issue approaches in the place of class struggle, pushing workers into controlled forms of “opposition” in the form of establishment parties, by freeing the immediate demands from their class basis and rendering them an abstraction in the political arena, characterized by its heterogeneous class nature, and reaffirming the capitalist state structure, and, of course, by relegating the work which must be done via self-activity of the working class itself to various parties and individuals, they essentially push the movement headfirst into mystification and strengthening of their own opposition, in the form of the bourgeois class and its state, on the back of what could potentially be a legitimate workers’ movement.

Bourgeois ideas and institutions are naturally challenged over the course of the processes already in existence, of course, which leads to a certain level of class consciousness in the workers’ movement; but not everywhere all at once and not necessarily as an instant reaction to the natural processes at play. This, alongside periods of capitalist ascendency and recension, result in a waxing and waning of revolutionary potential. This is why a workers’ organization must focus on the theoretical and practical tasks of the historical movement with an intransigent Marxist position—to serve as the memory of the class and a weapon of it, while also never placing itself over the class.(2)

This organization must take up “theoretical” tasks, insofar as it is able to correctly grasp the situation of the class struggle; only in this way does theory “grip the masses” and “become a material force”, as a young Marx would have it. Always keeping in mind that our goal isn’t to become an intellectual clique who contents itself with “...just...writing texts on a typewriter, which is only a personal and always very debatable activity, in both its intentions as well as its outcomes,”(3) but a formation which constantly keeps a finger on the pulse of worker activity. After all, “[e]very step of real movement,” Marx wrote, “is more important than a dozen programmes.”(4)

It also has “practical tasks,” meaning clarifying through theoretical organs, intervening in workers’ actions by bringing the communist position to the fore, aiding in organization of workers into education groups, interconnected strike committees, and eventually—hopefully—even workers’ councils, and generalizing the overall struggle by unifying the various class conscious elements within the party structure; all the while avoiding getting caught in the noxious web of reformism, which in today’s age has long since outlived the usefulness which Marx ascribed to it—namely, collecting the largely spread out and unorganized mass of workers created within the budding capitalist relations inside of feudal society, or under early an early, ascendent capitalism, and allowing them to put forth their own class’s position, constituting themselves as a class for themselves and preparing them for collective struggle while the necessary stage of capitalist development was passed through.

In short, all attempts which push the workers and their organs towards identifying with the current state of affairs ideologically through reformism and throwing support behind this or that capitalist—or even “anti-capitalist”—politician are to be combatted.

Historically this sort of parliamentary cretinism has only resulted in defeat and capitulation, alongside attracting all sorts of non-socialist, revisionist forces to the party that are merely interested in self-gain. The process of working only through accepted channels, utilizing only the legal means permitted so as to avoid suppression, and collecting massive amounts of funds from their constituency, helped ensure that a bureaucratic clique formed. The early 20th century’s Second International showcased this lesson perfectly with Germany’s SPD, alongside the various parties all over the world which constituted it, ultimately developing a bureaucracy which saw itself in the current state of affairs as mere mediators between labor and capital, as politicians within the bourgeois state. The result was the acceptance of the capitalist mode of production (in one form or another—either through the “evolution” of capitalism into socialism without a qualitative break from capitalist production, or at best through nationalization, a process which already naturally occurs under capitalism due to the increasingly unruly nature of capitalist production, which nonetheless keeps capital alive and exploiting the human embodiment of labor-power(5)), and the development of a nationalist fervor, resulting in the Second International’s dissolution during WWI.

The Communist Parties of Italy, France, Britain, America, et cetera, have all degenerated in a similar manner, choking on their own bureaucracies and contenting themselves with vote counting; the election of a socialist party in France in ‘81 was hailed as a victory as they implemented popular reforms, then only two years later enforced harsh austerity so as to ensure capitalist accumulation could continue; Podemos in Spain, which despite great protest from the bourgeoisie, was elected, and now does the dirty work of the bourgeois class for the “good of the nation” by breaking strikes and implementing austerity measures, likewise with Syriza in Greece; popular bourgeois reformers such as Jeremy Corbyn in the UK and Bernie Sanders in the US, running in parties which have overseen the implementation of harsh austerity measures, strike-breaking and union-busting, were outmaneuvered by their own bourgeois parties alongside being ruthlessly demonized by the capitalist media; “pink tide” Latin American governments’ implementation of reforms favoring their own national (capitalist) economies, alongside some vague poverty alleviation measures, and labor disciplinary action for good measure—the list could go on ad infinitum.

The multifarious schemers and government bureaucrats in waiting have at least one thing in common: they all view socialism as a programme to be implemented from above, and not as the affirmation of a process, a social movement, in which generalized commodity production, and the social relations relative to it, are negated as the final act of the proletariat as a class; they neglected the simple Marxian aphorisms that “the emancipation of the workers must be the act of the working class itself,”(6) and that, “the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes.”(7)

Our immediatists—alongside their professional activists and all their “revolutionary” friends—can take their “solutions” and stick them exactly where their pathetic minimal programmes lead them: up the ass of some sorry old man who’s contented himself with warming his backside in a parliament seat.

Louis W
Internationalist Workers’ Group
25 April 2023


(1) Engels, Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Germany, 1851-2,

(2) For those with an aversion to organization, or even for those who are curious regarding this organization’s function, I shall quote a section on the party from Paul Mattick’s World-Wide Fascism or World Revolution? (a work dated to some degree, but which still beautifully outlines the party’s role) at length:

The communist revolutionary party is an instrument of revolution and as such it must serve that purpose. It has no interests separate from the working-class, but is only an expression of the fact that minorities become consciously revolutionary earlier than the broad masses. It uses this advantage only in the interests of the working-class. It does not look for power for itself or for any bureaucracy, but works to strengthen the power of the workers councils, Soviets. It is not interested to hold positions, but to place the power in the hands of workers committees, exercised by the workers themselves. It does not seek to lead the workers, but tells the workers to use their own initiative. It is a propaganda organization for Communism, and shows by example how to fight in action.
The communist revolutionary party does not compete with other organizations for members or for control of masses of workers. It seeks no power inside of capitalism, so has no use for parliaments or trade unions; but realizing the reactionary nature of these, must fight all organizations which tend to lead workers away from the real struggle and the revolutionary objective.
Because the exploitation of workers in capitalism is only possible because the capitalist class controls the means of production and so also the product, the party will fight not only for the revolution, but to place this control into the hands of the workers. The proletarian revolution for communism must abolish the wage system, and so the party stands for doing away with the wage and capital relationship. The party fights against “state communism” for real communism as it fights the dictatorship of the party for dictatorship of the proletariat.
Although the stage is not yet set in the U. S. A. for the final conflict between capitalism and communism, this does not exclude the possibility of a real revolutionary program. The party, because it has no interests separate from the working-class, fights with them in their struggles for existence at all times, always pointing to the final necessity of proletarian revolution. The party engages in the struggles for immediate demands as long as the workers themselves are directly and actually engaged in the struggle. It refuses to do anything for the workers, as no one can do anything for them which they cannot themselves accomplish. The party will participate in the struggle of the unemployed, in strikes, and in all activity which will deepen and sharpen the class struggle, and develop the self-initiative and militancy of the workers. The party under no circumstances engages in any form of parliamentary activity, or deals as a medium between capital and labor in the union field. It is only interested in the fight and struggle of the workers and in the proletarian revolution; to make a business of the labor movement it leaves to its enemies.
We, of the working-class, find ourselves in this the death crisis of capitalism, in a situation of continuously worsening conditions, general wide-spread misery, subject to the onslaughts of a ruthless ‘capitalist class, menaced by a vicious world-wide movement of Fascism, betrayed by the reactionary so-called labor leadership, hampered by outworn traditions, and confronted with numerous intensified struggles. It is necessary in this situation, not only to understand the historic process but also to recognize our enemies. Our duty, our historic task lies before us. As the world crisis deepens, the revolutionary situation approaches, wherein must be fought the final conflict against Capitalist barbarism for the dictatorship of the proletariat and for the realization of real communism, – the association of free and equal producers.

(3) Onorato Damen, Battaglia Comunista 11, 1958

(4) Marx to W. Bracke In Brunswick, 1875,

(5) See:

At a further stage of evolution this form becomes insufficient: the official representative of capitalist society—the state—will ultimately have to undertake the direction of production. [...] But transformation, either into joint-stock companies, or into state ownership, does not do away with the capitalistic nature of the productive forces. [...] The modern state, no matter what its form, is essentially a capitalist machine, the state of the capitalists, the ideal personification of the total national capital. The more it proceeds to the taking over of productive forces, the more does it actually become the national capitalist, the more citizens does it exploit. The workers remain wage-workers—proletarians. The capitalist relation is not done away with. It is rather brought to a head.

Engels, Anti-Dühring

(6) Engels, Preface to the English Edition of the Communist Manifesto, 1888,

(7) Marx, The Civil War in France: Address of the General Council of the International Working Men’s Association, 1871,

Thursday, May 4, 2023


Nice, I would imagine the parliamentary seat at the end could be occupied by a variety of butts...maybe it is an unfortunate aspect of the class conscious vanguard that we doubt the value of our efforts and underestimate the power of telling the truth ( as best we can). “Theory is practice. Interpretation is itself a kind of intervention, a form of agitation; radical thought, if it is to be anything, must affect consciousness, change reality. Ideas lose their neutrality when they are directly applicable to life, and as a construction of experience, criticism becomes a material force when it communicates a vision of the world which is useful, and thus, capable of implementation.” Tell the truth, make that truth heard, that is powerful, even if not all we can do,