Why not try to change the system from within?

Is working within the capitalist system preferred to other actions when one does not expect Capitalism to topple within one’s lifetime? Obviously not.

What is it with the people who have taken the road of compromisation to direct arrows or morality and condescention to those of us who have recognised it for the sham it is and choose to act appropriately? It is not the first time I’m reading this kind of appeal to emotion, but the difference is that this time the argument comes from a self-identified socialist who even flies and red and black flag.

So this latest argument (in Greek) basically says the following:

  1. Capitalism is bad and many of us struggle to topple it in favour of socialism.
  2. But realistically this will not happen within out lifetimes. If that is the case, why do we still struggle instead of justΒ  living a normal life?
  3. Is it because we want to help the downtrodden nevertheless? But in that case, centrist politics are a better path since those have the possibility of making an actual change within our lifetimes.
  4. If you don’t want to follow centrist politics, it follows then that it must be because of your “egoistic idealism” which prevents compromise even though it would do more good within your lifetime.
  5. If then one does not expect his struggle to topple capitalism in his lifetime, and as a result of this knowledge does not turn to centrism, then they are a hypocritical idealist.

Unfortunately the author makes some pretty bold assumptions in here which I need to tackle.

It seems that a very main point of the author is point 2, (something which is later confirmed in the comments). But wether Capitalism will be toppled within our lifetime is irrelevant to wether one should struggle towards this purpose. The reason why I speak and take the appropriate actions against it is because it must be toppled eventually. It may not be within my lifetime but I can only hope that what I do and say will be the base on which others will step on to perhaps complete this task.

Further to this, it is practically impossible for any of us to know when Capitalism might die. None of us is a seer and if anything has been shown by history is that Capitalism is a very precarious system. Going from a stable Boom to a dangerous Bust within a few short years. And if the correct mindframe has not been cultivated when the Bust comes, then the opportunity is lost.

So if anything, not working towards the end of Capitalism through radical means, even when the system is stable, only ensures that the system will perpetuate.

Point 3 however is the largest objection I have to the whole thing. The assumption that working through parliamentary centrist channels will do more overall good than radical actions. The whole political history of the 20th century in the western nations is one of Socialist or Centrist parties trying to make the system better. What have they achieved? That the worst excesses of Capitalism will simply be migrated to areas outside of their “benevolent” influence (ie other nations), that the revolutionary movements at times of crises were safely defused by a few scraps thrown to them (via the same centrist parties) by a terrified capitalist class, that the situation in the world has nevertheless steadily grown worse.

No, the reformist parties are never a better solution. History has proven that much time and again.

What is the reason why me and others refuse to play this game? No it’s not utopian idealism, it is the knowledge that our energy would be better served elsewhere. Direct action for example is a 100 times more effective than parliamentarism. It is through direct action that every socialist change has happened, for which then the aforementioned parties have attempted to get credit. Leading by example, with cooperatives and takeovers is another.

There’s too many different ways that Capitalism can be undermined, and reformism is not one of them. If anything, the accusation of naive idealism should be directed back to those who call themselves socialists and yet support a course of action that has been proven, both in theory and in practice, to be actually helping the Capitalist system stay in place, rather than the opposite.

Of course, that is not to say that parliamentarism cannot have its uses. In some political systems for example, where non-voting counts for the winning party, it’s far better for radicals to simply vote for the most radical party that exists, or alternatively to simply create a new party for the purpose of removing the votes from the (usually two) ruling ones and to serve as an awareness vessel. Winning parliamentary seats is irrelevant as even if by stroke of luck it happens, it will not amount to anything.

In short no, even if Capitalism is not to be toppled within my lifetime, direct action from below is infinitely better than parliamentarism. Any emotional arguments to the contrary simply try to play people in supporting the lesser evil and perpetuate the status quo.

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24 thoughts on “Why not try to change the system from within?”

  1. No no no no no no, you completely missed my point, and you completely misunderstood the things in my comment!! No, your bullet #2 completely misrepresents my argument!!

    I'm *not* saying that I think it cannot realistically happen in our lifetimes. What I'm saying is that IF someone doesn't see this happening any time soon (at least soon enough) then yadda yadda, refrormism etc. *"IF"*, that's my main divisive line and I'm on the "yes we can" side: later on, I'm going on to say that I DO believe that it can happen within the next century, precisely because there are world-wide problems that are potentially unsolvable in capitalism.

    I'm NOT making a call for reformism. What I am making is a call to look into ourselves and decide whether we're self-consistent at being leftists, anticapitalists etc, or if we're merely at the game for psychological and "feel good" reasons, in which case we're merely fooling ourselves.

    1. Can you give one single example of a situation where "centrist politics" have ever given anyone lasting freedom? If you cannot, then please admit that your argument is a load of nonsense and apologize to all the people that you have indirectly insulted.

    1. Ναι πŸ™‚ Απο εδώ που εΞ―μαι (δουλειλα) όμως δεν μπορώ να το δω :-/. Το βΞ―ντεο φορτώνει αλλΞ¬ δεν παΞ―ζει

    1. No, my question is not loaded. So what are you talking about?

      It's a question that can be easily answered by looking at history. Has there ever been an instance of political means ending up giving people freedom? Can you name one?

  2. Even if I misunderstood point 2 my main argument was about point 3. I explained why even if Capitalism can't be toppled within one's lifetime, centrist politics are the wrong choice.

    Unless your argument is simply "Don't do stuff for ideological reasons, dogmatically". In which case I agree but this is something that applies everywhere, and not only leftist politics. People should be acting from a utilitarianist perspective, not an ideological.

    1. But "point 2" is the key: it sets down the personal moral/political choice the individual has to make. And it is not a false choice.

      In contemporary society, it's much easier to imagine the end of the world rather than the end of capitalism. This is Zizek's argument, and I think he's right: we've been very well trained. See for example the popularity of "end of the world" kind of movies (Armageddon, I am Legend, etc). Just 40 years ago, the issue of realistically changing capitalism for something else (and the nature of this other system, blablabla) was seriously being debated. Who does this now? Nowadays, it's easier to consider the end of the world than the end of capitalism.

      Anyway, back to the "points". Maybe we think differently, but if you cannot see realistic potentials for ending capitalism, why even bother?? Politics is not a religion, or a moral system. If one cannot realistically hope to topple capitalism, and realistically trying to achieve a different mode of life, then why should they be making "wholes in the water"??And if you cannot end capitalism, then the limits of your potential impact become clear and they are the limits of centrism: you will not end oppression (in fact you are not even interested in that), you will not end hunger and poverty, you will not bla bla bla. Why? Because those cannot be ended within capitalism **which you just decided is "un-topplable"**.

      Let me put it another way. There is a barrier between where we are and where we should be. Every person sees the barrier differently (ok there is the objective form of the barrier, but each one understands it subjectively) and has to decide for themselves whether it can be broken or not. If you can realistically imagine it broken -as you and I do- then we charge up to it and start hammering away. But if Bob decides for himself that this thing cannot be overcome, then there is really nothing noble in trying to bang your head in a wall. Rather Bob accepts the barrier and tries to do his best at its presence, like moving the chairs to a spot where the sun shines through its barbed wire, etc.

      Anyway, that's enough writing, I must get back to work.. See ya πŸ˜‰

      1. I disagree. Even were I to think that Capitalism cannot be ended in my lifetime, a bit silly idea to have by itself as nobody can predict the future, but lets for the sake of argument imagine it, then it's still better to avoid centrism in favour of radical action, as such action might at least prepare the cracks that future generations will exploit.

        To take your example with the wall for example, If the barrier was too solid for me but I knew it must be torn down, then it would be a much better action to start chipping at it, with any way I can. This will not only allow the ones that come after me to possible continue where I left off, but it will also inspire and possibly convince others to do the same.

        1. Would you start chipping at a whole on the ground, hoping that someday, thousands of generations later, you will have contributed to a tunnel to china?? Or would you start stacking stones on top of one another, hoping someday your great-great*-grandchildren will be able to walk their way to the moon?? Yeah, these are romantic parallels, but I'm not buying.

          Plus your argument contains a back-and-forth fallacy (πρωθυστερο πώς το λεμε αγγλιστι?). You talk about the ones after you, which means that you do leave open the possibility of radical change. Your arguments are still from this side of the line.

        2. What if it is not a wall at all, but a living organism defined by human nature? Because that is what I think capitalism is. It is a system that reflects the self-interested nature of life–not just human life, but all life. You might as well try convince people to change their metabolism over to silicon from carbon as to get them to drop self-interest.

          Since self-interest is so basic and fundamental to life and human events, attacking it will only cause the stream of history to route around your damage, much like the internet bypasses failed nodes. Better to design checks and balances that recognize and harness this immutable natural drive for dominance.

          Paradoxically, self-interest also causes some people to act in altruistic ways in order to build trust and reciprocation in their community. All in all, not a bad deal. It does, however, like evolution, leave the weak and uncompetitive in the dust.

  3. It's not a loaded question. Whatever you answer to the "Do you still beat your wife" question ('yes' or 'no'), you end up coming out wrongly. This is not the case the question "Have centrist politics given anyone lasting freedom", where the 'Yes' answer is perfectly acceptable if it can be based.

    1. But it is πŸ™‚ Because the ask-er retains the right to define for himself what "lasting freedom" is, whatever the ask-ee responds.

      Moreover, the question is nonsensical in the framework that I'm talking about: you only have to consider centrist politics *if you do not believe that Capitalism can realistically be overturned*. But, if capitalism cannot be overturned, then the very concept of "lasting freedom" is outside the realm of discourse. If capitalism cannot be overturned, you are confined to only making "adjustments" and "making things a bit better". And in this, capitalist centrism has not done a *terrible* job. Consider for example that western Europe has been virtually at peace for 60(!) years, that ordinary people are not being burnt at the stake, that the majority of the population goes to school, etc. These are not "lasting freedoms" and they do come with a price (eg the impoverishment of third world populations), but again, ***if you cannot envision realistically ending capitalism*** these are reasonable compromises, aren't they?

      1. Because the ask-er retains the right to define for himself what "lasting freedom" is, whatever the ask-ee responds.

        That would be shifting the goalposts. Another kind of fallacy altogether πŸ˜‰

      2. ***if you cannot envision realistically ending capitalism*** these are reasonable compromises, aren't they?

        The hyper-exploitation of third world nations? No.

        Moreover, centrism has indeed done a terrible job. The peace of Europe is not the result of centrism, it's the result of a 60 year old boom (more accurately, one that almost busted a few times but propped up via manufactured booms until it popped up in the latest super-bubble). Furthermore, 60 years of European peace is not exactly a huge achievement.

        As I said before, most of the "achievements" for which centrism has taken credit for, if not all, are really the results of mass movements.

  4. Winning parliamentary seats is irrelevant as even if by stroke of luck it happens, it will not amount to anything.

    A parliamentary seat can provide a unique and valuable platform for propaganda.

  5. I can't read the original argument, but I can pick up some hints from babelfish. As Francois Tremblay notes, the key question is whether "centrist" political activities really do improve the conditions of the masses, the working class and the poor: the answer is itself controversial.

    One might make the case that FDR's actions, and the political activities that directly supported him, really did improve conditions for the masses, at least temporarily. Of course the dramatic increase in American imperialism is a factor in that improvement. It's arguable that the improvement came not from the bourgeoisie making direct concessions to the proletariat, but rather the bourgeoisie using the surplus labor of hyper-oppressed foreign workers to buy off segments (mostly white male) of the American proletariat. Improvement in the conditions of one segment of the masses at the expense of another is not progress.

    More importantly, we have to ask whether ameliorative "centrist" activities have a cumulative effect. That there is in fact no cumulative effect seems almost obvious. We have seen the greater the gains, the more activity, focus and energy is required to maintain those gains; the smallest passivity or indecision, and the gains are lost, and must be fought for anew. If centrist activities had a cumulative effect, we would have seen improvement since the 50's and 60's; instead we have seen a general decline in workers' standards of living, in the rights and privileges of the masses of racial minorities and immigrants, and, most notably in women's rights, especially their core reproductive rights. At best we have seen women and racial minorities gain improved access to the bourgeoisie; great for the fraction who are admitted, not so great for the overwhelming majority denied access on other grounds.

    If you are sincerely dedicated to making immediate, material improvements to the conditions of the masses without attacking the fundamentals of the system, more power to you. I maintain that centrists and the radicals reinforce each other far more than they contradict each other. The centrists help bring to attention the crimes and failures of the system in a concrete way, and the radicals give the centrists something to be in the center of. Radicals don't (or shouldn't) actively oppose immediate improvements, especially when those improvements tend to directly undermine the power of the bourgeoisie. We merely say that these immediate improvements aren't enough, not nearly enough, and that these improvements are necessary and even the smallest are so bitterly opposed by the bourgeoisie are evidence that the system as a whole is at fault and must be replaced.

    In a similar sense, centrists shouldn't actively oppose changing the fundamentals of the system; to do so is to oppose a cure for the disease rather than a mere amelioration of its symptoms.

    1. I don't disagree that the radicals shouldn't oppose gains made by the centrists but from what history have shown, gains have not been made by the centrists. Ever. The gains, such as those of FDR were caused by the mass direct action of the people which grew to such an extent that it threatened to topple the system, as such, the centrist "gains" could more accurately be described as an emergency pacifier to prevent a catastrophy for the ruling class.

      This has been hitherto the history of all centrist gains. Mass movements build up due to the inhumanity of the system. These movements become big enough to threaten the system itself. The ruling class makes concensions (through the centrists) to prevent this from happening. The centrists take credit. The abolition of US segregation. The LGBT movement. The near-revolution of France in the 60s. The Labour gains at the start of the century. All of these point to the same historical path.

      I would venture to say that centrists do not act in any positive way, as without mass movements from below, they are impotent – which is why benefits won from the mass movements are rolled back slowly, even while the centrists are in power.

      So I won't oppose immediate improvements, but I recognise that those are not the results of centrism.

  6. Again, these things only make sense if you cannot envision a realistic shift from capitalism. You and I can, so yes, they don't make sense to us, but that's because… sigh, I won't go over it again…

    1. The failure of Centrism only makes sense if you can envision a realistic shift from capitalism within your lifetime? That does not follow.

  7. You are presenting weak analogies. That is a logical fallacy which would explain why you're not buying it.

    You talk about the ones after you, which means that you do leave open the possibility of radical change. Your arguments are still from this side of the line.

    You only talked about the possibility of radical change within one's lifetime. Not the possibility of radical change fullstop.

    These are very different concepts.

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