Friday, August 1, 2008

Some thoughts on revisionism and "incrementalism"

I don't know how many people have noticed but a word, "incrementalism," has been creeping into our progressive vocabulary recently.

I first became aware of this after reading a very sharp response to this letter from Sidney Gluck in support of Sam Webb's views of socialism on the China and Socialism Blog done as a collaborative effort by Sidney Gluck and Alan Maki.

Here is Sidney Gluck's letter (notice third paragraph the use of the word "incremental":

Dear Friends,

I would like to share with you an article “New Times, New Opportunities” by Sam Webb, Chair of the CPUSA, which appeared in their monthly magazine Political Affairs.

In my opinion, this marks a profound change in the approach of a Leftist organization in advancing democracy.

It is a recognition that Socialism is achieved through incremental victories in the struggle to overcome the inability of the Capitalist system to eliminate the cancers of poverty and unemployment.

Most of you know that I have taught Classical Marxism for over 50 years at various institutions, not the least was 20 years at the New School for Social Research in New York. I believe that objectivity and recognition of economic and social conflicts contained in this article are worth studying whether one is an advocate of Socialism or not. It deals with the complexity of Social change in our country.

I welcome comments and questions, especially from those who disagree and any additional information from those who agree.

Sidney J. Gluck

Now read one very sharp response to the use of the term "incremental":

Tuesday, July 15, 2008
I can't pay my bills in increments
I do not mean any disrespect to Sam Webb or Professor Gluck. I just don't think they are in touch with the world us working people are living in.

Writing my ideas is very hard.

I work as a cook in a very large restaurant in Chicago.

I am 32 years old and I feel like I am 90. I am a single mother. I left my boyfriend because he beat on me so bad I was ashamed to go to work with all my bruises.

I have three small children ages 2, 3, 7.

I make $8.90 each hour I work.

I work 50 to 56 hours almost every week. I work 6 or 7 days a week.

In the last two years I have been evicted from 3 apartments because I can't pay my rent on time.

I have over $4,000.00 in unpaid medical bills because I can't afford insurance. Just to take one child to the doctor mostly costs me about $140.00 each time no matter what is wrong.

My electricity has been turned off 4 times in the last year because I was late with payments. One time over $200.00 of food spoiled.

People tell me Rosalie go get a second job so you can pay your bills. How can I work another job? I am lucky my auntie can watch my kids most of the time when I work. If I had to pay a sitter I might just as soon stay home and not work.

A friend told me about Alan Maki and his blogs. Lots of people read what he has to say. He understands the problems of working people. This stuff here by Webb and Professor Gluck is like they think we can keep living this way.

I can't pay my rent in "increments".

I can't pay my electric bills in "increments".

I can't feed my children in "increments".

I am not very educated. I learn a lot from Alan's blogs. Sometimes my friends print pages from Alan's blog and we talk about what he writes about.

Me and my friends started reading some things by Marx, Lenin and Gus Hall. Alan sent us a big box of books. I never heard of Claude Lightfoot until Alan sent us the box of books and I live here in Chicago.

I will be honest. I don't think me and my friends and neighbors can survive much longer under this capitalist system. We are all agreed we don't think now is the time to talk about making change in "increments".

Maybe if Mr. Webb and Mr. Gluck would like to pay our bills in "increments" we can make a revolution in "increments".

This is a China discussion. From what I read about China they don't have communist leaders. Not leaders like Claude Lightfoot or Gus Hall. It looks to me like China has very fake communist leaders. I think they are telling lies that they are trying to make things better for working people. This makes communism look bad.

I would laugh in my bosses face if she tells me she is going to raise my pay in "increments" until I make a real living wage. 44 people work in her restaurant. She could give each of us each a big wage increase. The only thing she would have to do to pay for this would be to let the grass turn to weeds in her yard instead of paying a lawn service or let her teenage son cut the grass. Her house cost $2,000,000.00. She has a cottage on Lake Michigan near Benton Harbor. I don't know how much she paid for that but I know a lot. I pay $1,100.00 a month to live in a slum. Our labor pays for her mansions and we live like we are less then human.

I used to be afraid of the word communism. Not anymore. I tell everyone I know to read Alan's blogs. There is a lot of truth here.

I am very glad to see Alan putting views like this stuff by Sam Webb because I think most working people living like me will see this kind of thinking is not for them.

When I read this new times and new opportunities it is like it was wrote by someone living in a world I do not live in. It is like there is no understanding of my life and my problems.

Rosalie Puchalski, Chicago, Illinois
Posted by The creators of China and Socialism Blog... at 4:14 PM

Quite the response for a sister who has trouble writing.

Then I read this article by John Case in the People's Weekly World, again, notice the use of the term, "incremental" in the closing sentence:

Oil dreams

Author: John Case, People Before Profits

People's Weekly World Newspaper, 07/02/08 03:56

The price of oil spiking at the same time credit is falling is one of capitalism’s most musical cacophonies!

Pundits and policymakers are debating whether the oil spike reflects real shortages in supply, or is a “bubble” — a mania on Wall Street.

Of course those who believe the oil prices and speculation on future prices reflect an irrational fear of shortages expect the “bubble” price to fall. I am inclined to think there is both a bubble and a real supply problem, playing off each other here.

On the one hand there are not the real oil shortages — yet — to justify the soaring prices. Even when Saudi Arabia raised production a few weeks ago, prices still went up. However, there are some shortages of refined supply capacity, or at least online production, coming from refiners in Russia, China and Saudi Arabia, according to a report in The Economist. U.S. refineries are currently at only 85 percent capacity, 10 percent below optimum for maximum profitability, according to the U.S. Petroleum Institute. But the reason they are not filling the supply gap is that more and more refining is now being handled by the oil-producing nations. The U.S. refining share has fallen from two-thirds of world supply to one-half in 10 years’ time.

Rising oil prices combined with no credit is bringing a major structural showdown.

The oil-auto-highway-suburban-exurban infrastructures that have so strongly influenced all social and economic development for the past 70 years are crumbling. The “peak oil” theorists are probably right — bubbles may come and go, but the long-term trend for gas prices is up, up, up. We will not likely see $3.50 a gallon again. Long commutes are going to go from numbing to impossible. The shift to energy-efficient and affordable transportation and housing is going to happen. But it will demand sharp changes in attitude toward community, municipal and broader public services.

A greater degree of smart socialization will be required. Regardless of the ultimate fate of the oil-automobile-infrastructure may be, the rising costs of fossil-fuel-based energy will require big public investments in mass transit and light rail soon, long before any emerging technology can be significantly deployed. Nearly as big investments will be needed to support the much denser housing solutions that will be required. But in addition, preservation and enhancement of quality of life depends on investments in shared services and green space, strong and smart public zoning and development commissions. Education, health care and retirement services will all be powerfully affected.

Even with our best efforts, we may still fall prey to the potential volatility of the oil crisis. Now that energy is also linked to rising food prices, other profound external shocks from world instability and security nightmares are not unlikely.

So I think a period of heightened class, as well as social, conflict is in the cards.

There will be intensified competition among different areas of the country — between regions, states and communities, between urban and rural areas, and so on —for resources to respond to new, powerful public investment demands.

At the same time, while every day our country becomes more diverse, and while there may be plenty of reasons to pick a fight in the scramble that’s coming, there is also a multi-ethnic, multiracial culture emerging that is somewhat immunized against divisions that pit one against the other. The power of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign among youth of all races and nationalities demonstrates this fact.

No area of life is likely to be spared the pain of the structural changes the long-range energy crisis (combined with the other already overwhelming pressures of globalization) will engender. It will be a time in which many of us will learn new ways of living and thinking — tasks at which youth always excel.

Even the seeming silver bullet of a major breakthrough in hydrogen or nuclear technology (fusion) raises inescapable international security and governance questions. I can recall no high-energy technology breakthrough in history that did not also have military dimensions. No silver bullet is at present in sight. And the truth is that deployment of any new infrastructure technology will be incremental and likely very expensive.

There will be no escape.

Another word I have noticed being in vogue among the revisionists which appears to be used to mean the same as "incremental" is "baby steps."

Capitalists want and expect their profits right now. For the capitalists everything they want is now, complete and immediate.

When it comes to what workers need, things like health care, all we hear about is that we need to "take baby steps" and do everything in "increments."

The revisionists and those who have been suckered into revisionist thinking want us working people to think in terms of "incrementalism" as a substitute for class struggle.

The "Progressives for Obama" are already preparing us for a version of "incrementalism" when they forewarn us not to expect too much from an Obama Administration right away because they have no intent of waging struggles for what working people need even though they know the capitalists are grabbing everything they can get as quickly as possible.

I am wondering why the capitalists are not being asked to take their profits in "increments" as we use the rest of the profits for social programs like socialized health care, public education, infra-structure upgrades, maintenance and repair, funding public libraries and public recreation?

Why wouldn't Sam Webb, John Case, Sidney Gluck or Tom Hayden be suggesting the capitalists take their profits in small "increments" so society can advance rapidly?

Look, they know the capitalists will never settle for taking their profits in small "increments." Neither should the working class settle for anything less than complete control and distribution of the wealth we create.

There really hasn't been much "incremental" change in this country as far as benefits to the working class since 1948. This is when class struggle trade unionism pretty much came to a halt along with severe repression of the Communist Party USA.

As the working class responder to Sidney Gluck very bluntly pointed out, she can not pay her bills in "increments." The only thing that is going to help her and the working class out of the mess we are entangled in with capitalism is good old fashioned, back-to-basics class struggle.

It doesn't matter. China or the United States. The capitalists are not going to give up anything to working people. Not in increments. Not in any other way. Not without a fight. There is no coincidence that along with the increased use of the term "incrementalism" we find these revisionists failing to initiate struggles. They have given up on the class struggle. How do you unite the working class around "increments"? I would like Sam Webb, John Case or Sidney Gluck to suggest one "incremental" demand the entire working class can be united to fight for.