Revolution meets Reform

We recently attended a small SPEW meeting with the title of ‘Reform or Revolution’. There were around 8 others present, all fresh-faced and in their 20s, including two women. They were friendly enough, although the chairperson seemed surprised to see us and asked how we had got to know about their meeting (it was on their website). I told him we were SPGB and he said, ‘Ah, we know all about the SPGB’, though the other faces in the room told a different story. When I remarked that there was a bit of historical bad blood as they had stolen our name, he dismissively said, ‘Well, we are bigger than you’. Hardly a ringing endorsement of their integrity. And for all their hubris, they didn’t do any better in the election than we did (see page 5).

The much older speaker made a theatrically late entrance, and proceeded to give a motivational address designed to make the group believe that radical change might be just months or even weeks away. The claim was that workers at certain critical stages in the 20th century (France 1968, Chile 1973, Portugal 1974) had been on the point of taking over the means of production, had they not been failed or betrayed at the last minute by reactionary forces. And of course, the 1917 Bolshevik coup was an entirely successful workers’ revolution, later betrayed. This was a highly selective, even fantastical interpretation of history which a more discerning audience would likely have queried, with sources requested, but the group ate it all up with a spoon.

The group dynamic was that of acolytes and an avuncular mentor. The condescension was cuddly as a teddy bear. He did everything but hand out lollipops: ‘Now, who here can tell me what a reform is?’ The question was dumb enough to sound like a trick, so the group perversely clammed up, fearing a trap. Or they might have been thinking ‘Wait, if we’re after revolution and not reforms, how come our own election leaflet is full of them?’

We were allowed to ask some questions, which the speaker fielded deftly. On the question, would their revolution abolish money and private property, the response was an indulgent smile and an appeal to the group: ‘Now who here thinks it’s possible to achieve absolutely everything on the very first day of revolution?’ The group dutifully shook their heads. Achieve everything in one single day? How silly. And after all, lied the mentor in a CBeebies voice, the fact is that capitalism has not yet sufficiently developed the forces of production for that. Perhaps in the fullness of time the opportunity may arise for such things to be considered. So the world will be ready for socialism –some day. But as Evan Rachel Wood’s character says in the TV show Westworld, ‘Some day sounds a lot like never.’

This kind of manipulation can only ever work on young political ingénues who are never expected to question anything, and who fervently believe in the good intentions of the organisation. But it can’t last. People eventually see through bullshit. A few, persuaded by the cynical Leninist logic behind it all, may try to earn promotion to the elite ‘cadres’. Most will give up on the organisation, and maybe on politics, in disgust. Their experience would be so very different if they found us first.


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