On compromise

Years ago it occurred to me that some compromises can take you to new places while others confirm the status-quo.  This table comes from a book now out of print on a relatively specialist topic (1).  But maybe it is worth reproducing it again.  One reason is that there is much discussion as to whether Friday’s agreement on Greek debt is a sell out by Syriza, or as I think, a way of buying time in what may be a longer term “War of Position” against first the austerity scam, and then against neoliberalism.  So this simple table just tries to suggest the various nuances that the term “compromise” can contain.  You need to know what kind of a compromise you are making, but that is often not very clear either, since the balance of forces is always in flux.  Sometimes it is very obvious what kind of compromise is being made, but the greater the variety in the situation, the greater the complexity, the more the parties and the various processes and struggles going on, then the more difficult it is to diagnose the compromise.

Nevertheless the idea of seeking “progressive compromises”, compromises that have the possibility of becoming less compromising, is an ideal to pursue.

Different forms of compromise

Type of compromise: Features:
neutral compromise


a course of action is agreed that has little to do with the original suggestion
retrograde compromise


a course of action that results in moving away from objectives
progressive compromise


a course of action which results in moving towards objectives
comparative compromise


a course of action which is better than expected
selective compromise


a course of action wherein one part of the objective is pursued at the expense of others


a course of action which is irrelevant and where little attempt was made to achieve a satisfactory outcome


1) Burton, M., & Kagan, C. (1995). Social Skills for People with Learning Disabilities: A Social Capability Approach. London: Chapman and Hall.

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