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Reformism

A Painful History

As the capitalist system developed, causing the steady decline of the independent handworker and the replacement of manual labour by machinery, the effects on those who worked for a living were so severe that their struggles inevitably centred around wages and conditions. Battles with the employers resulted in the formation of trade unions, while struggles for political elbow-room culminated in political reform movements such as Chartism. The working class were joined by disaffected groups such as small traders and producers, who were sinking to ruin. Some workers may have hankered for a return to the handicraft production of the past, others harboured vague co-operative “socialist" notions, but there was little conscious recognition of the need to bring the powerful new forces of production into the common 'ownership of all society. Workers’ fierce struggles were rooted in the antagonism of interest between capital and labour.

Where Reformism Fails

The dispute between Reformists and Socialists is not a very easy one to disentangle. This is partly due to the variety of arguments put forward by reformists, but above all to the failure of reformists to grasp the Socialist explanation of the problem that has to be solved.

The problem is not that of a social system that is satisfactory on the whole and only needs improvements here and there. If it were the reformist would be on the right road —but then there would be nothing in the Socialist case for the abolition of Capitalism.

Editorial: The Futility of Reform

The Socialist Party of Great Britain has often been asked why they have not drawn up a programme of measures for the partial redress of those evils which most immediately affect the position of the working class. “Should we not strive to palliate the existing misery”? “Should we not seek to foster the sectional differences existing among the capitalists so that we may use them in the interests of the working class"? “Should we not temporarily support, or form temporary alliances with, other political parties while working for common ends”? These and other questions of like import are constantly being put to us by non-members of our party. We now propose to answer them.

Reformism: A Waste of Precious Time

The part of the case that separates Socialists most firmly from all other attitudes is our insistence that reform will not do. It is the cause of the most pressure and argument by those who want our energy given to their causes: there are struggles going on for innumerable things, and we should be in all that flailing-about. And to many whose hearts rule their heads it is continually unpalatable. With the world full of misery and suffering, surely — they say — attempts at alleviation must be made; the efforts may be foredoomed, but the compunction at not making them is too great.

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