On "Reforms," Bad and Good
By Kevin Carson / c4ss.org

“Reformism” is one of those words that’s hard to pin down sometimes. It’s usually taken to mean advocating for “reform within the system” — in other words, the bad kind of reform.

A bad reform operates from the unstated – often unconscious – starting assumptions of the system. It takes the existing institutional framework of society for granted, never questioning its status as the only feasible way of doing things, given some unstated goals which are taken to be necessary – but seeks to make it operate more smoothly and fairly for everyone. It’s the kind of “reform” that can only be carried out within the existing institutional framework, by the kinds of people currently in power.

For example, in most Western countries the permissible range of “moderate” or “centrist” reforms consists entirely of measures that presuppose a society whose functions are organized around large corporations, government agencies, universities and charitable foundations, and administered from assorted central offices by a large managerial-professional class. Anything that operates outside this acceptable range is, by definition, “extremist” or “radical.”

So a moderate reform – the bad kind – is one that leaves the system intact in all its essentials, but helps it to function “better” in terms of its own starting assumptions.

But there are good reforms. The motive force behind a good reform does not come from people “working within the system,” or “stakeholders” with “seats at the table.” A good reform is one imposed from outside. It’s primary motivation is the fear the people in charge feel in the face of the sheer pressure of public demand.

You can tell a good reform by the fact that all the conventional “stakeholders,” with their “seats at the table,” consider it intolerable. When the managerial elites all howl, “But how could a modern society possibly perform functions x, y or z if we adopted this measure?” there’s a pretty good chance it’s the good kind of reform. A good reform is pronounced “impossible” by the ruling class and the elites serving its interests, because it actively undermines the functions they perform, and calls into question their naturalness and inevitability.

Sometimes good reforms are promoted by those who seem to genuinely view themselves as working within the structural presuppositions of the system, while those at the commanding heights of the system – quite rightly – see the reforms as a threat to the system itself. For example, people like Mike Masnick and Cory Doctorow claim – quite sincerely, I think – to believe in copyright on principle. They just want to reform digital copyright law to make it less onerous on the content consumer and bring it into line with the standards of print era copyright law (incorporating traditional standards like the first sale and fair use doctrines, for instance).

But the folks at the RIAA, MPAA and other representatives of the content industry are entirely correct: Such proposals won’t just “reform” the system – they’ll destroy it. The new digital copyright laws promoted by the content industry are far more draconian than traditional print copyright because they have to be, as a result of the very nature of digital content. Given the costs of setting up a competing print edition of a copyrighted work in the analog era — or owning a printing press at all — detecting violations was fairly easy. And the kinds of cheap reproduction that were within the technical means of an ordinary person — photocopies or bootleg cassettes  — had a pronounced dropoff in quality. That’s not true of digital technology. The average American owns a printing press — the desktop computer, laptop, or Internet-connected mobile devise — capable of making a 100% accurate duplicate of any digital content, instantly, and free of charge.

In the current stage of capitalism, the primary source of profit is enclosing information as a source of rents. And as Johann Soderberg pointed out, in the digital era the enclosure of information requires totalitarian controls on the free flow of information. The current model of corporate capitalism requires DRM, anti-circumvention laws and three-strikes for the same reason the old Soviet nomenklatura had to control access to photocopiers.

The desktop computer, as Cory Doctorow says, is a machine for effortlessly and cheaply reproducing bits. So – and this is me talking, not Doctorow – unless the content industry can impose some artificial obstacle to computers performing this function, like DRM and criminalization of circumvention, the profits of Big Content will simply evaporate. Eliminating DRM and allowing free copying of digital content by users will destroy the basic institutional presuppositions of the system, as surely as tearing down enclosures and abolishing rents would have destroyed those of an earlier system.

The content industries are bound to lose the war anyway – in fact, they’ve already lost it – because even draconian digital copyright laws simply won’t work. They’re unenforceable. Their defeat is inevitable, even if they get every jot and tittle of their desired legal agenda. But the reforms advocated by Doctorow and Masnick would amount to surrender. And that’s a good thing.

The fundamental difference between bad and good reforms is that the former restabilize the system and make it more effective in terms of its own logic, whereas the latter destabilize it and undermine its basic logic. A good reform will knock the system off balance and force it to restabilize at a permanently lower and weaker level of equilibrium.

And that’s what we’re shooting for, folks. The corporate state will not fall all at once, nor will the successor society – horizontal, self-organized, free – supplant it all at once. Our goal is to keep the old system continually on the retreat, continually falling back and regrouping, “rationalizing” its defensive lines further and further back from the old ones. So when the system’s defenders push for what they believe are structural reforms to renovate the master’s house, but they’re actually proposing to knock out a weight-bearing wall, we should grab a crowbar and jump in to help.

0.0 ·
0
What's Next
Trending Today
Rap News Special Edition: Hillary Clinton Vs Donald Trump
7 min · 22,170 views today · Hello world. RAP NEWS is back for a special episode on the 2016 USA Election mayhem, feat. Hillary Clinton vs Donald Trump + a touch of Jill Stein & Gary Johnson. This one's...
When You Kill Ten Million Africans You Aren't Called 'Hitler'
Liam O'Ceallaigh · 13,968 views today · Take a look at this picture. Do you know who it is? Most people haven’t heard of him. But you should have. When you see his face or hear his name you should get as sick in...
Ten Ways We Misunderstand Children
Jan Hunt · 8,046 views today · 1. We expect children to be able to do things before they are ready. We ask an infant to keep quiet. We ask a 2-year-old to sit still. We ask a 3-year-old to clean his room...
The Culture of Maximum Harm
Daniel Quinn · 6,168 views today · People have lived many different ways on this planet, but about ten thousand years ago there appeared one people who believed everyone in the world should live a single...
What It Really Means to Hold Space for Someone
Heather Plett · 5,554 views today · How to be there for the people who need you most
The International Criminal Court May Start Prosecuting People Who Commit Crimes Against the Environment
Tara Smith · 3,408 views today · The International Criminal Court is not known for prosecuting people responsible for huge oil slicks, chopping down protected rainforests or contaminating pristine land. But...
Humanity's Greatest Challenges Aren't Technical, They're Human
8 min · 3,296 views today · Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs is incomplete as we commonly know it. Later in his life, Maslow wrote about a stage beyond self-actualization. Nichol Brandford explains how to...
The Left Deserves Better Than Jill Stein
Kate Aronoff · 3,113 views today · Stein’s Green Party run doesn’t offer a plan to win, or to build power. The Left is capable of so much more.
Prince Ea Just Put The School System on Trial and Found it Guilty of Killing Free Thought
6 min · 2,818 views today · Albert Einstien once said "Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid". Today Prince...
The Little Engine That Couldn't: How We're Preparing Ourselves and Our Children for Extinction
Daniel Quinn · 2,818 views today · In a recent semi-documentary film called Garbage, a toxic waste disposal engineer was asked how we can stop engulfing the world in our poisons. His answer was, "We'd have to...
The Journey From Syria (2016)
71 min · 2,483 views today · Reporter Matthew Cassel spent a year documenting the journey of Syrian jeweler Aboud Shalhoub as he travels from Turkey to Greece, and through Eastern Europe to the Netherlands...
Debt, Inequality and the Logic of Financial Violence
David Graeber · 1,988 views today · Five years after Occupy, organizer and anthropologist David Graeber speaks to ROAR about the power of finance, the history of inequality and the legacy of the movement.
Caitlin Moran's Posthumous Advice for Her Daughter
Caitlin Moran · 1,931 views today · My daughter is about to turn 13 and I’ve been smoking a lot recently, and so – in the wee small hours, when my lungs feel like there’s a small mouse inside them, scratching to...
This Satirical Trump Vs. Bernie Debate Is Both Hilarious and Highly Disturbing
44 min · 1,605 views today · Comedians James Adomian (Bernie Sanders) and Anthony Atamanuik (Donald Trump) bring two of the most controversial candidates in history, head-to-head, or rather bald-to-toupee...
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 1,246 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
10 Photos That Show the Magnificent Light Shining on Standing Rock
Josue Rivas · 1,099 views today · Despite all the news of pipeline regulation, court appeals, and activist arrests, Native photographer Josue Rivas reminds us that it is actually a peaceful place.
Who Are You? Watching This Breathtaking Video Could Be the Moment You Change Your Life
2 min · 1,064 views today · "Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work, driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for, in order to get to a job that you need so you can...
How You Can Support Standing Rock
Thane Maxwell · 1,056 views today · This is your pipeline battle too. Whatever you have to offer, we need it. Wherever you are, take one step deeper. Find your voice. Find your own front lines.
Schooling the World (2010)
66 min · 1,012 views today · If you wanted to change an ancient culture in a generation, how would you do it? You would change the way it educates its children. The U.S. Government knew this in the 19th...
Kids Killed by Guns: America's Daily Nightmare
3 min · 1,011 views today · On an average day in America, seven children and teenagers will be shot dead.Gary Younge tells the stories of the lives lost on one random day - 23 November 2013. Ten children...
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
On "Reforms," Bad and Good