Libcom Study Group - Strike! Discussion

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Jan 12 2011 18:00
Libcom Study Group - Strike! Discussion

This is the first thread for the Libcom Study Group, discussed in the organise subforumHere. The first book we will be reading and discussing is Strike! by Jeremy Brecher.

Strike! is broken up into a first and second part; Part 1 'The History Of American Strikes' contains the Prologue and Chapters 1 - 6. Part 2 'The Significance Of American Strikes' contains Chapters 7 - 9 and the Afterword and Index (this is going by the hardcover 1972 1st Edition). Details concerning which editions of the book are the best (and worst), and where to find a used copy, can be found in the thread linked to earlier.

The purpose of the study group:

Quote:
There's a large body of work and a very big, largely unknown social history of American communist politics- a large volume of theoretical work and debates, personal histories, which deserve a thorough look. I think the legacy of American communism from 1917-1970 and the history of working class militancy in the US needs to be unearthed and sifted through, discussed and debated, looking for a heritage to add to that of the European communist movement.

Are there American communists interested in engaging in a project like this? Practically I'd imagine it would act like a book club, internet discussion forum or e-mail listserve, study group and political discussion society combined, with the purpose of clarification and theoretical work to be published online in the form of articles, essays, etc. Not linked to any political group or ideology, only a mutually agreed interest in processing, discussing, debating and clarifying the [little known] history of American communist tendencies and working class events.

This will be the first project of the group. Discussion will be centered in this thread- if a participant in the group wishes to discuss or debate a specific topic in-depth, or doesn't feel it is getting the attention it deserves here, can start a seperate thread in the history subforum. If this is the case, please start with the initials "LSG" in the title of your new thread so we all know it pertains to the study group and the discussion and debate around Strike! (example of a new thread would be titled, "LSG - The Importance of Race in the Great Upheavel of 1877").

We will need a time frame to keep things moving along. This can be changed along the way if the participants feel we are moving too fast or too slow, but to begin with let's divide our reading up into 1 chapter blocks with approx. 4 weeks for everyone to read and begin discussions for each block. On the 15th of every month, we move on to the next 1 Chapter block.

Please direct questions and concerns about the study group and project to the thread in the Organise subforum Here so that we may leave this thread for discussion.

Deadline: February 15th for Chapter 1 'The Great Upheaval' .

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Jan 13 2011 08:14

I made some procedural comments on the other thread about organizing this, but would like to give some background of why I think this discussion is necessary.

Jean Anyon’s essay "Ideology in United States History Textbooks," in Harvard Educational Review 49, demonstrates that nearly all high school textbooks only mention three strikes ― the 1877 Great Upheaval railroad strike, the 1892 Homestead Steel Strike, and the 1894 Pullman Strike on the railroads ― that were brutally violent and all three ended in bitter defeat. The message is that striking is something that happened in the 19th century and to cast doubt on striking as a valid course of action today. Class-against-class violence was something that ended in the past, so negotiating contracts and arbitration of grievances is not about class struggle but is about "industrial relations." Unions are then seen to be representing workers as a special interest group, with their purpose being the substitution of civilized collective bargaining for "jungle warfare."

She says:

Anyon wrote:
"The period of rapid industrialization between the Civil War and World War I was one of intense and often violent conflict between business interests and the new industrial workforce... It might be described as a rebellion by workers against industrial exploitation and economic inequality. From this perspective, one would emphasize strikes and lockouts, focusing perhaps on on those confrontations that were successful from labor's point of view" (p. 372)

But instead, textbooks teach us that working class forms of organization:

Anyon wrote:
"[are]... illegitimate organizations that interfere with an owner's right to hire and fire and workers' rights to work where and for whom they please. Adherents of this view might describe the strikes and labor organizing efforts of the period as the result of 'foreign' or anti-American influence, government organization of industry as violating individual rights and principles of free enterprise, and unions making unreasonable and inflationary demands" (ibid.)

The mainstream leftist version, preached by AFL-CIO officialdom today, goes like this:

Anyon wrote:
"... labor unions [are] necessary for the protection of the rights of workers in a democracy. The interests of all parties are supposedly served by the peaceful resolution of conflict. Such a narrative might criticize confrontation, such as strikes, and sanction the use of political and social avenues for reaching consensus, emphasizing prevailing arrangements of power and recourse and that were willing to operate within those constraints" (ibid.)

She points out that the average textbook coverage of labor history is six "unsympathetic" and "narrow" pages. Yet there were well over 30,000 strikes in the period from the Civil War to World War I. In the more radical textbook The Reader's Companion to American History, authors Eric Foner and John Garraty point out that:

Foner & Garraty wrote:
"The United States…had the bloodiest labor history of any industrialized nation."

Contrasted to this, in defense of the status quo, German sociologist Werner Sombart ― in his Why Is There No Socialism in the United States? in 1906 ― claims that the success of capitalism made the American worker:

Sombart wrote:
"a sober, calculating businessman, without ideals." And that "On the reefs of roast beef and apple pie socialistic utopias of every sort are sent to their doom."

It is against this ideological obfuscation that we must struggle, here in this discussion and in our everyday involvement in the class war.

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Jan 13 2011 19:23
Quote:
It is against this ideological obfuscation that we must struggle, here in this discussion and in our everyday involvement in the class war.

Your final statement quoted above gets at the root of why groups like this are necessary- not just for an intellectual or educational exercise of individuals (which can be valuable in its own right), but to influence our actions on the job and during future struggle. American workers movements, Marxist and anarchist theorists, organizations and parties have largely been 'left out' of the nearly exclusively European club of reference. It seems like a lot of workers and militants largely think nothing new or unique happened in the American labor and revolutionary movements- at least nothing 'big'. The quote you mentioned, "On the reefs of roast beef and apple pie socialistic utopias of every sort are sent to their doom.", seems to me, at the moment, to be largely true of nearly all European Marxist and anarchist theory- not just utopianism. From Proudhonism to Leninism, the American proletariat and its most advanced sections largely take instruction from Europe, and attempt to orient themselves according to a European context and organizationalism. This background was my main motivation in researching and trying to write a paper on the history of American soviets after Red October and the events leading up to it, and with this discussion group to orient some American militants away from the 'distorted lens' through which they largely see their class and its actions- even if just in a small way.

What strikes me the most is how much the Great Upheaval in the US prefigures the ’Mass Strike’ archetype that would become the familiar pattern and means of development for revolutionary proletarian insurrection; particularly with the 1905 Russian Revolution. I think Luxemburg captures the realization of this new content to the class struggle very well (and much earlier than most of her contemporaries):

Quote:
The class-conscious German workers have at last grasped the humour of the policemanlike theory that the whole modern labour movement is an artificial, arbitrary product of a handful of conscienceless “demagogues and agitators.”

. . .

If, therefore, the Russian Revolution teaches us anything, it teaches above all that the mass strike is not artificially “made,” not “decided” at random, not “propagated,” but that it is a historical phenomenon which, at a given moment, results from social conditions with historical inevitability. It is not, therefore, by abstract speculations on the possibility or impossibility, the utility or the injuriousness of the mass strike, but only by an examination of those factors and social conditions out of which the mass strike grows in the present phase of the class struggle – in other words, it is not by subjective criticism of the mass strike from the standpoint of what is desirable, but only by objective investigation of the sources of the mass strike from the standpoint of what is historically inevitable, that the problem can be grasped or even discussed.

. . .

If anyone were to undertake to make the mass strike generally, as a form of proletarian action, the object of methodological agitation, and to go house-to-house canvassing with this “idea” in order to gradually win the working-class to it, it would be as idle and profitless and absurd an occupation as it would be to seek to make the idea of the revolution or of the fight at the barricades the object of a special agitation. The mass strike has now become the centre of the lively interest of the German and the international working-class because it is a new form of struggle, and as such is the sure symptom of a thoroughgoing internal revolution in the relations of the classes and in the conditions of the class struggle. It is a testimony to the sound revolutionary instinct and to the quick intelligence of the mass of the German proletariat that, in spite of the obstinate resistance of their trade-union leaders, they are applying themselves to this new problem with such keen interest.

The Mass Strike, The Political Party And The Trade Unions (1906)

I appreciate very much how Brecher describes the ‘nuts & bolts’ of how the strikers linked up with one another; how the isolated strike actions became mass strikes, and how those mass strikes became insurrections and in some cases ended in the rule of the proletariat for a brief time.

A point that I recently got in an argument over on RevLeft is the idea that the ‘masses’ or ‘the workers’ need radicals, militants, to ‘bring them’ consciousness. Their viewpoint being that the 1970’s were such a militant period in general because there was a greater amount of student and young radicals disseminating militant propaganda and ideas to the workers. This is standard thinking for most Marxist-Leninists, some unionists and most Leftists- and it has been proven false time and again.

Quote:
Economic management and political power had in effect been taken over by the strikers. Of course, this kind of transfer of power was not universally understood or approved of, even by those who supported the strike.

-Strike!, p.14.

Which brings to mind that quote (I think by Lenin?) that in a pre-revolutionary situation, the masses become more revolutionary than the revolutionaries. This phenomenon of the most advanced workers organizing themselves to provide practical support, propaganda, etc to the movement alongside the movement of the workers into increased solidarity and cooperation across geographical and industrial (as well as racial, gender, etc) boundaries would be repeated hundreds of times over internationally. The example of certain cities during the Great Upheaval would prefigure the Seattle General Strike and Tacoma Soldiers’, Sailors’ & Workingmen’s Council:

Quote:
In Chicago, the movement began with a series of mass rallies called by the Workingman’s Party, the main radical party of the day, and a strike by forty switchmen on the Michigan Central Railroad.

. . .

The day the railroad strike reached East St.Louis, the St.Louis Workingman’s Party marched 500 strong across the river to join a meeting of 1,000 railroad workers and residents. Said one of the speakers, “All you have to do, gentlemen, for you have the numbers, is to unite on one idea- that the workingmen shall rule the country. What man makes, belongs to him, and the workingman made this country.” The St.Louis General Strike, the peak of the Great Upheaval, for a time nearly realized that goal.

The railroad workers at that meeting voted for a strike, set up a committee of one man from each railroad, and occupied Relay Depot as their headquarters. The committee promptly posted General Order No.1, forbidding freight trains from leaving any yard.

That night, across the river in St.Louis, the Workingman’s Party called a mass meeting, with crowds so large that three separate speakers’ stands were set up simultaneously. “The workingmen,” said one speaker, “intend now to assert their rights, even if the result is shedding of blood. . . . They are ready to take up arms at any moment.”

Next morning, workers from different shops and plants began to appear at the Party headquarters, requesting that committees be sent around to “notify them to stop work and join the other workingmen, that they might have a reason for doing so.” The Party began to send such committees around, with unexpected results. The coopers struck, marching from shop to shop with a fife and a drum shouting, “Come out! Come out! No barrels less than 9 cents.” Newsboys, gasworkers, boatmen and engineers struck as well. Railroadmen arrived from East St.Louis on engines and flatcars they had commandeered, moving through the yards enforcing General Order No.1 and closing a wire works.

That day, an ‘Executive Committee’ formed, based at the headquarters of the Workingman’s Party, to coordinate the strike.

-Strike! P.17-18.

To me this is a pretty clear description of how I imagine a proletarian revolution. A constant throughout the mass strikes and insurrections from 1877 described above to the Shanghai Commune of 1927 is the presence of an organization of revolutionaries. The Great Upheaval of 1877 had the Workingman’s Party; the Seattle General Strike of 1919 had the Industrial Workers of the World; The November Revolution in Germany had the Spartakusbund, the Ukrainian soviets under the Makhnovschina had Nabat, the Petrograd & Moscow soviets had the Bolshevik Party, etc etc etc.

It’s an excellent sketch (even if very brief) of how ‘pro-revolutionaries’/worker-militants, organized together, act within their class during times of active and open class struggle and confrontation with the state.

petey
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Jan 13 2011 19:43

great cite hieronymous. fundamental stuff.

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Jan 14 2011 06:47

Here's a link to a scanned pdf of the beginning of Strike!, including the two chapters to be discussed here, all from the 1973 edition, for those who were not able to get a copy of the book. It is a little rough of a copy but it is readable.

http://ifile.it/gt32yim

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Jan 15 2011 01:02

I need to re-read Dev's post, but I wanted to comment on this:

Quote:
From Proudhonism to Leninism, the American proletariat and its most advanced sections largely take instruction from Europe, and attempt to orient themselves according to a European context and organizationalism.

Do you think that's true of the early IWW? I've always understood them a distinctly American phenomenon, no?

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Jan 15 2011 05:25
Quote:
Do you think that's true of the early IWW? I've always understood them a distinctly American phenomenon, no?

From what I've read I think it's a mix- though of all the political currents and tendencies, the IWW was one that was far more 'American' than most. The biggest contributing factor to this was probably the Western Federation of Miners and their particular brand of industrial unionism.

This is what sort of makes the Great Upheaval such a great place to really start a contemporary-minded look into a distinctly American working class culture, organization and theory; it prefigures much later developments that would result in the revolutionary wave almost simultaneously to the development of the first nationally based socialist organization in the US (the Workingman's Party- which would later become the SLP).

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Jan 15 2011 09:30

The Depression of 1873 set into the motion the attacks on the working class that unleashed the anger of 1877. The "long shakeout" (or "deflation") of 1873-1896 led to major changes in the world economy. This social and economic process was articulated by Marx as the move from formal to real domination of capital over labor.

Goldner wrote:
The effect of the entry into the world market of the highly-productive new agricultural sectors of Australia, Argentina, the U.S. and Russia, along with greatly reduced shipping costs, was not merely an agricultural or even economic event. Its social effect was to throw into crisis the agrarian sectors of all the weakest producers, displacing millions of peasants throughout Europe, a displacement which accelerated the emigration of these peasants to North and South America... On a world scale, this drastic cheapening of the cost of food had the additional effect of cheapening the cost of reproducing labor power. In many countries, working-class living standards rose even as nominal wages fell (Ubu Saved From Drowning, p. 28)

Most dramatically, innovations in transportation infrastructure and the mechanization of agriculture caused this cheapening.

Goldner wrote:
By 1890 it was cheaper to ship wheat from Buenos Aires to Barcelona than to ship it 100 miles over inland transport (Communism is the Material Human Community: Amadeo Bordiga Today)

Here's an excerpt from a brief summary of the Depression of 1873:

Scott Reynolds Nelson wrote:
"The Real Great Depression"

The depression of 1929 is the wrong model for the current economic crisis

... the current economic woes look a lot like what my 96-year-old grandmother still calls "the real Great Depression." She pinched pennies in the 1930s, but she says that times were not nearly so bad as the depression her grandparents went through. That crash came in 1873 and lasted more than four years. It looks much more like our current crisis.

The problems had emerged around 1870, starting in Europe. In the Austro-Hungarian Empire, formed in 1867, in the states unified by Prussia into the German empire, and in France, the emperors supported a flowering of new lending institutions that issued mortgages for municipal and residential construction, especially in the capitals of Vienna, Berlin, and Paris. Mortgages were easier to obtain than before, and a building boom commenced. Land values seemed to climb and climb; borrowers ravenously assumed more and more credit, using unbuilt or half-built houses as collateral. The most marvelous spots for sightseers in the three cities today are the magisterial buildings erected in the so-called founder period.

But the economic fundamentals were shaky. Wheat exporters from Russia and Central Europe faced a new international competitor who drastically undersold them. The 19th-century version of containers manufactured in China and bound for Wal-Mart consisted of produce from farmers in the American Midwest. They used grain elevators, conveyer belts, and massive steam ships to export trainloads of wheat to abroad. Britain, the biggest importer of wheat, shifted to the cheap stuff quite suddenly around 1871. By 1872 kerosene and manufactured food were rocketing out of America's heartland, undermining rapeseed, flour, and beef prices. The crash came in Central Europe in May 1873, as it became clear that the region's assumptions about continual economic growth were too optimistic. Europeans faced what they came to call the American Commercial Invasion. A new industrial superpower had arrived, one whose low costs threatened European trade and a European way of life.

As continental banks tumbled, British banks held back their capital, unsure of which institutions were most involved in the mortgage crisis. The cost to borrow money from another bank — the interbank lending rate — reached impossibly high rates. This banking crisis hit the United States in the fall of 1873. Railroad companies tumbled first. They had crafted complex financial instruments that promised a fixed return, though few understood the underlying object that was guaranteed to investors in case of default. (Answer: nothing). The bonds had sold well at first, but they had tumbled after 1871 as investors began to doubt their value, prices weakened, and many railroads took on short-term bank loans to continue laying track. Then, as short-term lending rates skyrocketed across the Atlantic in 1873, the railroads were in trouble. When the railroad financier Jay Cooke proved unable to pay off his debts, the stock market crashed in September, closing hundreds of banks over the next three years. The panic continued for more than four years in the United States and for nearly six years in Europe.

The long-term effects of the Panic of 1873 were perverse. For the largest manufacturing companies in the United States — those with guaranteed contracts and the ability to make rebate deals with the railroads — the Panic years were golden. Andrew Carnegie, Cyrus McCormick, and John D. Rockefeller had enough capital reserves to finance their own continuing growth. For smaller industrial firms that relied on seasonal demand and outside capital, the situation was dire. As capital reserves dried up, so did their industries. Carnegie and Rockefeller bought out their competitors at fire-sale prices. The Gilded Age in the United States, as far as industrial concentration was concerned, had begun.

As the panic deepened, ordinary Americans suffered terribly. A cigar maker named Samuel Gompers who was young in 1873 later recalled that with the panic, "economic organization crumbled with some primeval upheaval." Between 1873 and 1877, as many smaller factories and workshops shuttered their doors, tens of thousands of workers — many former Civil War soldiers — became transients. The terms "tramp" and "bum," both indirect references to former soldiers, became commonplace American terms. Relief rolls exploded in major cities, with 25-percent unemployment (100,000 workers) in New York City alone. Unemployed workers demonstrated in Boston, Chicago, and New York in the winter of 1873-74 demanding public work. In New York's Tompkins Square in 1874, police entered the crowd with clubs and beat up thousands of men and women. The most violent strikes in American history followed the panic, including by the secret labor group known as the Molly Maguires in Pennsylvania's coal fields in 1875, when masked workmen exchanged gunfire with the "Coal and Iron Police," a private force commissioned by the state. A nationwide railroad strike followed in 1877, in which mobs destroyed railway hubs in Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Cumberland, Md.

[...]

From Chronicle of Higher Education, 2008.

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Jan 15 2011 10:15
Chilli Sauce wrote:
I need to re-read Dev's post, but I wanted to comment on this:
Quote:
From Proudhonism to Leninism, the American proletariat and its most advanced sections largely take instruction from Europe, and attempt to orient themselves according to a European context and organizationalism.

Do you think that's true of the early IWW? I've always understood them a distinctly American phenomenon, no?

The Bolshevikization of the American left, beginning in the 1920s, has airbrushed out indigenous roots, not only the IWW but precursors to it like the Knights of Labor and the working class self-activity in near-insurrectionary mass strikes like the Great Upheaval in 1877.

Here's another spin on it from an excerpt from John Ross' poem "Against Amnesia":

Ross wrote:
In my own country
amnesia is the norm,
the schools teach us
to unremember from birth,
the slave taking, the risings up,
the songs of resistance,
the first May first,
our martyrs from Haymarket
to Attica to the redwoods of California
ripped whole from our hearts,
erased from official memory…

Here's how Will Barnes describes this tradition in The Working Class, World Capitalism and Crisis: A General Perspective:

Barnes wrote:
... on the basis of an oppositional proletarian culture that the various challenges to capital formed in the era of trustification, the twilight era of formal domination. I only need recite some of those challenges… the first national strike along the Baltimore & Ohio in 1877, the social revolutionary development of the mid eighties in Chicago ending in Haymarket, the great strike of the American Railway Workers in 1892, the intense struggles of hardrock miners in Colorado, Montana and elsewhere (Coeur d’Alene, Cripple Creek) from the mid-eighties until after the turn of the century, and all the various struggles of the Wobblies, Wheatland, Bisbee, Butte, Patterson, etc.; and finally, the huge proletarian upsurge in steel in 1919, one of the three, maybe four, greatest class confrontations in U.S. history… to recognize how profoundly casualizing recomposition of the U.S. working class has transformed its awareness and outlook.

In all these events, a uniquely proletarian-oppositional culture of daily life underlay formation of strike committees that functioned as a center of de facto dual power organizing food and fuel supplies, public order in the community, and armed self-defense. On the employers' side, capitalist terror (mass firings, blacklists, pass systems, and the use of thieves, thugs, and murderers as well as private police) reigned, followed by, and once established, simultaneously with, massive state and federal intervention, i.e., State repression and terror (blanket court injunctions, troops, suspension of habeas corpus, round-ups, and imprisonment). All this was in addition to lockouts and the employment of scabs, which are normal, non-terrorist capitalist practices in any struggle against workers.

In these class confrontations, the class antagonism could be no more apparent.

This culture was so pervasive it characterized even organizations if not entirely reformist, then with thoroughly reformist (not to mention arcane) leaderships: In the 1880s, the Knights of Labor included labor assemblies, workers’ club rooms, cooperative factories and stores, workers’ newspapers, social clubs and singing societies, narrowly political organizations, and workers militias and labor courts. The courts settled worker disputes ranging from workplace to family problems, e.g., from scabbing to wife beating, without recourse to the existing, bourgeois judicial system. Spectacularly homogenized, capitalist societal organization no longer admits of this, a distinctive and alternative, proletarian culture of daily life, a class based community that tendentially aimed at societal hegemony.

And thanks to devoration1 for getting this started and for the extensive comments about Strike!, drawing the parallels with Luxemburg's indispensable The Mass Strike.

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Jan 15 2011 10:39

I just got finished reading the prologue and I'm wondering if anyone who has a later version of the text could let us know if Brecher later changed it? In particular, I'm interested in the especially radical elements--unions trying to "prevent and contain strikes" and his critique of power ("Ordinary people can only have power over social life when power as we have known it--power of some people over others--is dissolved completely").

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Jan 15 2011 11:03

"I won't call employers despots, I won't call them tyrants, but the term capitalists is sort of synonymous and will do as well."

What a beautiful fucking line.

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Jan 15 2011 13:30

Chilli, I'm not sure what he changes, but the new version of his book is online here:
http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=uoCNcKLzM_sC&printsec=frontcover&dq=strike+Jeremy+Brecher&source=bl&ots=lqIYBRaw5L&sig=Dyb2ZOHzqwKpGfwLiHO7o_kj760&hl=en&ei=UaExTdPQL8WXhQfO16mVCw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CBYQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false

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Jan 16 2011 07:36

I just finished reading Chapter I, and I have to say that I am amazed at the social cohesion that the Great Upheaval seemed to express. Whole cities massing to support rail strikes, overwhelming police and military, even turning many of them... it seems unimaginable in the current climate.

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Jan 16 2011 11:09
Chilli Sauce wrote:
I just got finished reading the prologue and I'm wondering if anyone who has a later version of the text could let us know if Brecher later changed it? In particular, I'm interested in the especially radical elements--unions trying to "prevent and contain strikes" and his critique of power ("Ordinary people can only have power over social life when power as we have known it--power of some people over others--is dissolved completely").

If anyone's interested, Brecher expanded the introduction and while leaving in the sections about unions and power, softened the language in both cases.

Thanks for the link Steven. We need to get together so I can give you your copy of Strike! back....

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Jan 17 2011 23:11
Quote:
I just finished reading Chapter I, and I have to say that I am amazed at the social cohesion that the Great Upheaval seemed to express. Whole cities massing to support rail strikes, overwhelming police and military, even turning many of them... it seems unimaginable in the current climate.

In the current climate sure. But I think, in general, any large-ish scale mass or general strike will show similar characteristics that are always an undercurrent of working class consciousness- including very low points in class consciousness and active class struggle.

The thread on Max Stirner has a lot of good stuff on this point; specifically Feuerbach, Kropotkin and Trivers:

Quote:
Trivers did not mention Kropotkin, but he later recounted that he learned from exchanges with Soviet bloc scientists that “in their literature, Peter Kropotkin was an early pioneer whom they would have expected me to cite.” However, he seemed to have developed his theory independently for, in a 1992 interview, he mentioned that people “keep asking about Kropotkin. You know, I have never read the anthropologists who write about reciprocity, and I never read Kropotkin.” He also notes that a “very agreeable feature of my reciprocal altruism, which I had not anticipated in advance, was that a sense of justice or fairness seemed a natural consequence of selection for reciprocal altruism. That is, you could easily imagine that sense of fairness would evolve as a way of regulating reciprocal tendencies.” If Trivers had consulted Kropotkin, he would have discovered that his unanticipated feature had been discussed in Mutual Aid decades previously.

http://libcom.org/forums/theory/question-about-max-stirner-16022009

Aside from the idea of a human "reciprocal altruism" or sense of justice/fairness, is a sort of shared recognition of solidarity toward other workers. I live on the border of the town that initiated the Great Upheaval (Martinsburg); which was at that time a very active 'boom town', specifically regarding textiles/mills and the railroad. Today it is an industrial center; full of factories, warehouses, trucking depots, etc. The social cohesion during a big struggle, I think, is born from the shared idea that 1) other local workers are just like you; 2) a respect for other people who work for a living 3) a desire to support the other people in your community during hard times. People often note how nice other people are around here (a feature of just about every blue collar town/city). A kind of 'prole altruism' coming from the same innate sense of human justice/fairness born from living and scraping by in an exploitative, alienating, atomizing class society whether realizd or not.

All manner of strikes have shown these features; such as the Seattle general strike of 1919 where things like milk deliveries and grocery stores were opened back up with permission from the (de facto ruling) mandated strike committee- or the later postal strikes mentioned on here by I think Devrim (sorry if I'm wrong) that during a postal strike in the '70s dole/welfare checks were delivered. This sort of kills the notion that big strikes (or effective strikes) are 'irresponsible' as Cameron in the UK is saying now. If anything I think they largely bring out an unrecognized and dormant consciousness that pulls the best in a lot of people to the surface, leading them to act on it in a way that is revolutionary without being recognized as such in most cases.

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Jan 19 2011 16:55

My new copy of Strike! (all the way from Portland, Oregon!) arrived today. Score!

Steven, like I said, I need to get your copy back to you...

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Jan 19 2011 21:32
Chilli Sauce wrote:
(all the way from Portland, Oregon!).

powell's? that's where i got my copy of value price and profit.

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Jan 19 2011 21:53
petey wrote:
Chilli Sauce wrote:
(all the way from Portland, Oregon!).

powell's? that's where i got my copy of value price and profit.

Indeed! But I guess that's what you get from the socialist left coast....

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Jan 20 2011 11:03

I finished the chapter last week, but since I've been posting too much I thought I'd ease back and wait for others to comment. But hardly anyone, except devoration1, talked about the text so I thought I'd just go ahead and make some comments.

I also reread Marty Glaberman's critique of Strike! from Radical America in 1973. I mostly agree with him about how race factors into class struggle and also agree with him where he points out that at the end of the book Brecher is grasping for straws and looking for ways to explain the situation of revolutionary consciousness amongst workers in the early 1970s:

Glaberman wrote:
Instead of seeking out the evidence of revolutionary capacity and inherently revolutionary activity, he begins to look for substitutes for it.

And I like Glaberman's dialectical approach to class struggle in his review. But I don't have the same soft spot for Lenin that the Johnson-Forest comrades did, nor do I agree with Marty when he says that teachers aren't working class.

As for Strike! itself, it was inspiring as usual. It's a pleasant shock to be reminded that at the same time as ruthless attacks on living conditions, workers across the continent rose up and took the class war on the offensive; with tenuous means to coordinate their efforts, they nearly accomplished a nationwide general strike. It's also a shock to read towards the end of the chapter (p. 21) that more than 100 people were killed during the strike wave.

I also have copies of the books Brecher footnotes, Robert Bruce's excellent 1877: Year of Violence and David Burbank's Reign of the Rabble: The St. Louis General Strike of 1877. The latter makes the important point that the recently defeated Paris Commune was on the insurgents minds as it had happened just 6 years before. Many of the Europeans in St. Louis had more direct experience with early revolutionary upsurges, like the many refugees of the revolutions of 1848 who came to the U.S. Both books have richly detailed accounts of the inspiring actions of class consciousness and solidarity transported across the continent by the railroads. I've only had time to read the passages referred to in Brecher's footnotes, but I will return to these books in their entirety when I can.

Another text that Brecher footnotes is the essay "Trouble on the Railroads in 1873-1875: Prelude to the 1877 Crisis?" by Herbert Gutman. I read it in his brilliant Work, Culture & Society in Industrializing America, but the reference is specifically the version of the article that was originally in Labor History in 1961. Reading this with the other accounts of the 1877 strike, it reminds me of Luxemburg's accounts in The Mass Strike of strike wave after strike wave, starting in Russian and Poland in 1896 and leading to economic strikes and political strikes that are defeated and how the working class retreats and then comes back again, learning from their mistakes, in another upsurge -- and when the economic and political strikes converge it creates a revolutionary rupture, which it does when it culminates in the St. Petersburg Soviet in 1905.

It's worth including the opening paragraph of his essay:

Gutman wrote:
"Strikes," complained the New York Railroad Gazette in January 1874, "are no longer accidents but are as much a disease of the body politic as the measles or indigestion are of our physical organization." Between November 1873 and July 1874, workers on the Pennsylvania system and at least 17 other railroads struck. Engineers, firemen, brakemen, and track hands as well as shopmen and ordinary laborers resisted wage cuts, demanded salary due them, and opposed such employer practices as blacklisting and the use of iron-clad contracts. None of these disputes was so dramatic or important as the general railroad strike in 1877, but together they prophetically etched the outlines of that violent outburst. The strikes also revealed certain explosive elements in the social structure of post-bellum America. Seemingly pathetic and seldom lasting more than a week or two, the significance of the strikes lay not in their success or failure but rather in the readiness of the strikers to express their grievances in a dramatic, direct, and frequently telling manner. Even though the workers were mostly without trade union organization or experience, they often exerted a kind of raw power that made trouble for their employers. Most of the 1873-1874 disputes, furthermore, took place in small railroad towns and in isolated semirural regions where small numbers of workers often could marshal surprising strength. The social structure and ideology in these areas worked to the advantage of the disaffected workers. Large numbers of non-strikers frequently sided with them. Though the railroad operators put down all the strikes, they faced difficulties that they were unprepared for and that taxed their imaginations and their energies (p. 296) [bold by me -- Hieronymous].

He goes on to explain that it was mostly machinists who worked in repair shops who were organized in unions, while "track hands, switchmen, fireman, brakemen" and "shopmen and stationary hands" and "most conductors... were free of union ties."

Again it seems parallel to The Mass Strike in that it drew in the class who in the process struggling were able to self-organize.

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devoration1
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Jan 20 2011 17:43
Quote:
The latter makes the important point that the recently defeated Paris Commune was on the insurgents minds as it had happened just 6 years before.

Indeed- the experience and memory of the class seems fairly apparant when analyzing events like those leading up to 1877, 1905, 1917, etc. This concept is common in ICC articles, specifically as it relates to the events of 1968.

A topic for another day could be the historical memory and collective experience of the working class being muted or eradicated; in the same literature, the counter-revolutionary period (1921-1968) is presented as a kind of 'break' in this historical continuity in the proletariats consciousness and memory.

Glaberman's critique doesn't seem particularly honest at times. His use of the 'either/or' scenario is really lazy:

Quote:
Unless you accept a conspiratorial theory of history-that labor organizations are everywhere introduced to restrain and defeat workers-you have to deal with the question of why labor organizations of various types arise.

. . .

Quote:
What is the significance of these victories for us today, and for the working class? Is it that workers were stupid and tricked and did the work of the bourgeoisie and were co-opted into bourgeois society? Or is it rather that workers showed and developed the capacity to transform society-to whatever extent was objectively possible?

Much of the 'nuts and bolts' of his critique I'd agree with, but his style of criticism/polemic is awful.

Quote:
I finished the chapter last week, but since I've been posting too much I thought I'd ease back and wait for others to comment. But hardly anyone, except devoration1, talked about the text so I thought I'd just go ahead and make some comments.

Don't worry about posting too much; jump in however much you like. Keep in mind we just started, and theres still another few weeks before moving on to the next chapter. I'll send some pm's out to see if people who expressed interest still want to participate (and now they don't even need a copy of the book to read the first 2 chapters, which were scanned and hosted by naughtonomist and linked earlier in this thread).

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Jan 21 2011 17:41
devoration1 wrote:
Glaberman's critique doesn't seem particularly honest at times. His use of the 'either/or' scenario is really lazy:
Quote:
Unless you accept a conspiratorial theory of history-that labor organizations are everywhere introduced to restrain and defeat workers-you have to deal with the question of why labor organizations of various types arise.

. . .

Quote:
What is the significance of these victories for us today, and for the working class? Is it that workers were stupid and tricked and did the work of the bourgeoisie and were co-opted into bourgeois society? Or is it rather that workers showed and developed the capacity to transform society-to whatever extent was objectively possible?

Much of the 'nuts and bolts' of his critique I'd agree with, but his style of criticism/polemic is awful.

The George Rawick article, "Working Class Self-Activity," mentioned by Glaberman is one of my all-time favorites. The libcom version doesn't have this endnote, but here's how the article originally ended:

Rawick wrote:
[Endnote #3] Marxists who are familiar with the basis of the Hegelian dialect. In the master-slave discussion in which Hegel indicates that the slaves must struggle against elements of their own class as well as against the masters, will not be surprised by this historical analysis. In Facing Reality (Facing Reality Publishing Committee, Detroit, 1956), C.L.R. James offers the following useful summary of dialectics:

(a) All development takes place as a result of self-movement, not organization or direction by external forces.

(b) Self-movement springs from and is the overcoming of antagonisms within an organism, not the struggle against external foes.

(c) It is not the world of nature that confronts man as an alien power to be overcome. It is the alien power that he has himself created.

(d) The end toward which mankind is inexorably developing by the constant overcoming of internal antagonisms is not the enjoyment, ownership, or use of goods, but self-realization, creativity based upon the incorporation into the individual personality of the whole previous development of humanity. Freedom is creative universality, not utility.

I have recently waded through much of CLR James' Notes on Dialectics and personally like his polemical style that defined and influenced much of the writings of Johnson-Forest. And here we might have to agree-to-disagree. I don't find it lazy, but a dialectical way of analyzing working class organizations. Whatever strengths the ICC has, a historical understanding of unions is not one of them; their position on working class organizations (i.e., unions) borders on moral absolutism.

petey
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Jan 20 2011 19:28

when i clicked that rawick url, 'server not found', also when i shortened it for the entire www.marxists.org site.

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Steven.
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Jan 20 2011 19:45

N.b., I have just added this review of strike to the library, by Root & Branch:
http://libcom.org/library/strike-review-root-branch

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Jan 20 2011 19:50
petey wrote:
when i clicked that rawick url, 'server not found', also when i shortened it for the entire www.marxists.org site.

Try this: http://www.marxists.org/archive/rawick/1969/xx/self.html

petey
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Jan 20 2011 20:58
Hieronymous wrote:
petey wrote:
when i clicked that rawick url, 'server not found', also when i shortened it for the entire www.marxists.org site.

Try this: http://www.marxists.org/archive/rawick/1969/xx/self.html

same result, "server not found".
perhaps an issue with the system at my work, but i don't think so.

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gram negative
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Jan 20 2011 21:33

here is the link to the original class against class file: http://www.reocities.com/cordobakaf/rawick.html

radicalgraffiti
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Jan 20 2011 21:34

its working fine for me, i'm on virgin media at home.

petey
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Jan 20 2011 22:46

it's working now.
well i don't know what all that was, but i'm printing it, just in case.
ta to yiz.

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Jan 21 2011 18:29

I'm on pg 14 (of the .pdf) and I'm always amazed at how during mass strikes, the workers take it upon themselves to keep up some form of socially responsible production. This shit in PA tho, was nuts. As Brecher says, "Economic management and political power had in effect been taken over by the strikers".

The other thing that strikes me is just how far the statement "action precedes consciousness" actually extends. It doesn't seems to me--at least from my reading of Strike!-- that the PA strikers were consciously revolutionary. I mean, at work I talk about action preceding consciousness when my co-workers sign each other in the morning (thus directly challenging the authority of management) but even in proto-revolutionary moments it still seems to be true.

I'm reminded of Glaberman talking about how the during the two most potentially revolutionary moments of the second half of the 20th century--Hungary '56 and May '68--if one was to interview the workers three weeks before hand the vast majority wouldn't say they were in favor of workers taking over their factories, but yet, that's what they were doing.

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devoration1
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Jan 21 2011 18:43
Quote:
I'm reminded of Glaberman talking about how the during the two most potentially revolutionary moments of the second half of the 20th century--Hungary '56 and May '68--if one was to interview the workers three weeks before hand the vast majority wouldn't say they were in favor of workers taking over their factories, but yet, that's what they were doing.
.

This is probably the most important 'nugget' of post-Red October revolutionary theory. I think this study group is a great opportunity to look into these specific events (in an American context) to learn what we can from them- events like the general strikes (Seattle, San Francisco, Oakland, etc), the mass strikes or pivotal strikes (Minneapolis '34, Auto-Lite, Lordstown, PATCO, Republic Doors & Windows, etc).

The balance between anti-organizationalism and councilism and recognition of the creative spontanaity of the working class also fits into this discussion. I'm of the opinion that organized militant and revolutionary workers (within the 'working class camp/milieu') have an important role to play in these struggles- the other conclusion often drawn is the former that all organizations regardless of ideology, theory, makeup, etc are reactionary or counter-revolutionary (or 'rackets').

In the case of 1877, especially where it went 'the furthest' (Chicago and St.Louis), the organization of militants and revolutionaries (Workingman's Party) played a very important role complimentary to that of the spontaneous action of the workers themselves- not the role we are familiar with from the 20th century of top-down management style 'leadership'.

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Chilli Sauce
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Jan 21 2011 22:02

This is the Workingman's Party thats referenced, yeah?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Workingmen%27s_Party_of_the_United_States