Answering Jose was Re: Replying to Brian was Re: Referendum Down Under]

Carrol Cox cbcox at
Thu Nov 18 17:19:24 PST 1999

Since Doug has reposted a fairly late document in an inter-related series, and since I messed up in an earlier attempt to post them in order, I am reposting them now.

The following is the post from me to the marxism list which started it all off. This post evoked a reply from Lou, which led me to fwd Katha's post so that she could speak for herself. As soon as I locate them in my files I'll fwd the other relevant posts.

======== Subject: Re: Answering Jose was Re: Replying to Brian was Re: Referendum Down


Date: Fri, 12 Nov 1999 12:33:54 -0600

From: Carrol Cox <cbcox at>

To: marxism at

Gary MacLennan wrote:

> To conclude I suspect that what is at the heart of the disagreement
> ourselves is the old reform-revolution duality. I think reforms are
> important, even constitutional ones which get rid of monarchs.

I won't try to comment on the specificity of Australian politics, I don't know enough, and I am being constantly irritated on pen-l and lbo by the attempts of one of Gary's compatriots to explain the specificity of racial politics in the U.S. But I am not happy with this formulation of Gary's.

There is historically and at present a "reform-revolution duality," but it is a complex one -- and reform struggles exist on both sides of the duality. The chief though not the only marker of "reformist reforms" is that they are offered up by the bourgeoisie for the passive acceptance of the working class. Usually such reforms turn out to be not very reformist even -- that is, to cite the classical formulation, they fail rather badly to even add a kopek to a ruble.

The chief marker of "non-reformist reforms" (I avoid temporarily the label "revolutionary reforms") is that they do at some level involve the

active participation of at least some progressive sectors of the working

class. (Beware of Greeks bearing Gifts.) Unionization is not a revolutionary reform -- but company unions are a counter-revolutionary, even counter- reformist, reform.

Now, as you describe the ballot on the republic it sounds at this distance to resemble a company union. Could you comment? And one other point -- the specific ignorance you describe happens to be on a merely factual question. And I don't really consider non-knowledge of particular facts as any necessary indicator of political ignorance. Political ignorance (which of course characterizes all working classes in periods of capitalist strength) is itself an active rather than a passive force, and consists mostly in an active inability or refusal to recognize what facts are relevant and what are not. Political ignorance consists in an active identification with the enemy.

Let me illustrate what I mean from u.s. politics. In the article from Alex Cockburn that Lou posted the other day, Cockburn explicitly expresses his "hopes of a populist coalition of left and right on basic issues of liberty." Now *that* is serious political ignorance. It as much a pipedream as Chris Burford's hopes for an alliance with progressive elements of the big bourgeoisie and far more of a pipedream than Doug's illusion that the admittedly derivative Butler has anything to say about the initiating or organizing of collecive action. And it is serious political ignorance because Cockburn asks us to pursue an alliance with a sector of the u.s. working class which is anti-black, anti-woman,

and nationalistic. The error of Australian workers as to the content of the referendum seems trivial in comparison.


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