Pamphlets and articles

Pamphlets, letters and miscellaneous articles published by (though not necessarily written by) Aufheben are listed below.

The crisis: An afterword (2016)

In 2010 and 2011 Aufheben published two articles analysing and explaining the economic crisis that began in 2008. You can read these articles here and here. We were recently approached by comrades at Klinamen Editorial (Spain) as they were putting together a translation of these two ‘crisis’ articles plus our 2012 article on the Euro crisis. The short article below is the Afterword they asked us to write for their book, an to bring the analysis up to date.

Afterword to Crisis articles 2016.pdf544.79 KB

Open reply to Loren Goldner


Three years ago, Loren Goldner circulated a draft of his ‘Remaking of the American Working Class’ for comments among a number of groups and individuals. At first sight it seemed to present an interesting new approach to the development of both capitalism and the class struggle since World War II. However, on closer inspection we found that it was riddled with elementary errors and misconceptions that left many of his principal insights unsubstantiated. Indeed, it seemed to us that Loren Goldner had not even taken the trouble of re-reading this draft, which had been written twenty years ago, before circulating it around the world.

Nevertheless, unlike anyone else that we know of, we took the time and trouble of pointing out some of the more glaring problems that we found in the first chapter of his draft in the hope that Goldner would make the effort to seriously redraft the text.

Given the effort we put into our commentary on ‘Remaking…’ and the length of time that had passed since we sent it to him, and given also that ‘Remaking…’ itself was already in the public domain (and still unanswered), we would have liked to have published our text on our website with a link to Goldner’s. However, at his request, we held fire until he developed his response.

When Loren Goldner came for a short visit to the UK last Summer, we discussed our criticisms of ‘Remaking...’ with him. He accepted that his presentation of his theory of fictitious capital was faulty and seemed to concede many of our criticisms, although he insisted his basic approach was sound. Having clarified our criticisms in this discussion, we expected Goldner to make a serious effort to revise ‘Remaking...’ and present his arguments in a more coherent and logically rigorous manner. However, as a response, Goldner wrote up his take on the meeting and published it on his website. In this at times patronising response, Goldner denounces us for having a ‘reductionist’ and ‘text-bound’ reading of Marx! But, as we shall show, in developing such an accusation in defence of his ‘Remaking...’, Goldner has only served to demonstrate why he has been unable to revise his original text in a coherent and rigorous way.

Our response to Goldner is given below.

Dear Loren

Method, structure and object of Marx's Capital

From both our discussions last August and from your reply to our criticisms of 'The Remaking...' it is clear that what you see as the fundamental difference between us is an understanding of what you see as the crucial importance of Chapter XXI of Volume II of Capital. For you, this chapter marks the key turning point in the three volumes of Capital. Up until this chapter Marx was still encumbered by the abstract categories and restrictive assumptions of Ricardo and classical political economy. Marx remained within the blinkered perspective of the individual capital and was confined within the limits of simple reproduction. As a consequence, Marx was only able to consider the capitalist mode of production as a closed system, abstracted from the co-existence of other non-capitalist modes of production.

From Clark Kent to Superman?

Then, for some reason you omit to explain, in Chapter XXI Marx makes his great 'leap'. Casting off the last vestiges of Ricardian political economy, Marx, in one bound, soars far above the perspective of the individual capital to reach the vantage point of the social totality of capital. In doing so, Marx breaks free of the confines of simple reproduction to embrace expanded reproduction. From then on Marx is able to grasp capital in its concrete reality: he jumps to ‘actually existing capital’. With this jump, Marx becomes, for the first time in Capital, ‘fully Marxist’.

What wonders then would seem have lain hidden, and so long neglected, beneath the numerical analyses of Chapter XXI! So after all, it was in this seemingly mundane chapter that the key to understanding Capital in its entirety was to be found. If only we had known.

But at the risk of spoiling your moment of eureka, boring 'text-bound’ readers of Marx, like ourselves, might have some objections.

Firstly, if what you say is true then this would mean a serious reversal of what is usually seen as the relative importance of the three volumes of Capital. For many readers of Marx, including it would seem Marx himself, Volume I is seen as the most important of the three volumes. After all it was only Volume I that Marx actually ensured was published in his own life-time and it would seem to contain the essentials of his critique of political economy. It is in Volume I we find Marx's theory of commodity fetishism, surely the key to understanding his critique of classical political economy. It is in Volume I that we find Marx's analysis of the value-form and the necessity of money in generalised commodity exchange. And it is in Volume I that we also find Marx's theory of the production of surplus-value, through which he shows how capital is dependent on the subsumption and exploitation of labour. What is more, what Marx himself identifies as his two most important advances over classical political economy - his distinction between abstract and concrete labour and his distinction between labour and labour power - are both to be found in Volume I.

But, according to you, in Volume I, where it would seem that Marx lays out the essential relations between capital and labour, Marx was merely 'quasi-Ricardian'. It is only in Volume III (and the last chapter of Volume II of course), where Marx deals with the often technical relations that arise within capital, and the squabbles amongst the propertied classes over the division of surplus-value, that Marx becomes fully Marxist! This would seem a little preposterous.

Secondly, it would seem to us, that any attempt to understand the structure of Capital in terms of a single great 'leap' is liable to end up being simplistic. Even if you offer an explanation of why the 'leap' is made - which you don't, you just say what the jump is - you are obliged to flatten out the methodological development both before and after this 'great leap'. If you only have a single ‘leap’ you can only have two levels of abstraction, 'before' and 'after'; abstract and concrete.

Of course, you could say that there is no significant overall methodological development either before or after the 'great leap'. That there are simply two-levels; the abstract level before Chapter XXI and the concrete level after Chapter XXI. Indeed you seem to tentatively take up this position when you say, following Rosa Luxemburg, that "vols. I and II are a 'heuristic device' designed to demarcate a pure capital 'in itself'". Drawn to its logical conclusion this would seem to suggest that, at least before Chapter XXI, Marx proceeded in an ad hoc manner, making arbitrary assumptions when and where needed on the basis of trial and error and taking the various issues in no particular order.[1]

Of course, you will no doubt deny this and insist, as you do in your reply, that your understanding is far more complex and sophisticated than it might first appear. However, before considering this claim, we shall set out very briefly what we see as the methodological development that serves to structure all three volumes of Capital.

Our conception of Marx's method and the structure of Capital

Firstly, we would deny any suggestion that the presentation of Marx’s critique of political economy in Capital - particularly in the first volume[2] - is in any sense ‘heuristic’. In the Postface of the second edition of Volume I of Capital Marx was obliged to defend himself against the quite opposite accusation that his realistic inquiry was trapped within an idealist and a priori method of presentation drawn from Hegel. In response to this Marx argued:

Of course the method of presentation must differ in form from that of inquiry. The latter has to appropriate the material in detail, to analyse its different forms of development and to track down their inner connection. Only after this work has been done can the real movement be appropriately presented. If this is done successfully, if the life of the subject-matter is now reflected back in the ideas, then it may appear as if we have before us an a priori construction.[3]

Marx then goes on to make his famous remark concerning how he had turned Hegel’s dialectic on its head. We draw two points from this. Firstly Marx makes a clear distinction between his method of inquiry and his method of presentation. Secondly, Marx does not deny that his method of presentation may appear a priori. Instead he argues that his dialectical presentation of the results of his inquiry necessarily reflects the ‘real movement’.

In the Grundrisse, with its false starts, lengthy digressions and numerous dead ends, we can see Marx at work in his process of inquiry. Here it could be argued that Marx used a method that could be described as heuristic. But in Capital we see the presentation of the results of Marx’s inquiry set out in a careful and logical order. Of course this does not mean that Marx does not make simplifying assumptions in order to bring out certain analytical points but such simplifying assumptions are not arbitrary or ad hoc. They are determined by their situation in the overall development of Marx’s exposition.

Indeed, from our ‘text-bound’ reading of Capital we discern a distinct line of theoretical development that runs throughout the three volumes of capital, if not beyond. This line of theoretical development is a movement from the abstract to the ever more concrete. However, it also involves a continuous back and forth movement between such mutually determining logical categories such as essence and appearance, form and content, and the whole and parts. As a consequence, this line of theoretical development can be envisaged as a spiral that often returns to the same issues but at ever more concrete levels of analysis.

From this very brief statement of how we see the method of presentation that structures the three volumes of Capital we can draw out three important contrasts to your notion of a two-fold structure of Capital.

  • Firstly, we see the theoretical development in the three volumes of capital as a more or less continuous progression from the abstract to the ever more concrete. There is no ‘great leap’ from the abstract to the concrete, but rather a series of steps.[4]

  • Secondly, we would argue that Marx does not drive a wedge between such mutually determining categories as essence and appearance, form and content, whole and parts, the universal, particular and the singular. On the contrary Marx continuously moves back and forth between them.

    In contrast, your notion of the ‘great leap’ is based on a series of dichotomies. According to you the semi-Marx of Volume I and most of Volume II is rooted in the perspective of the individual, the full Marx the perspective of the social totality of capital; the semi-Marx is concerned with formal analysis, the full Marx is concerned with material content; the semi-Marx assumes simple reproduction, the full Marx expanded reproduction, the semi-Marx only considers capital as a closed system, the full Marx considers capital as an open system in relation to co-existent non-capitalist economic systems.

  • Thirdly, we certainly do not see Marx in the three volumes of Capital ‘reproducing the concrete in thought’. We would argue even in Volume III Marx is still at a high level of abstraction. Marx had only begun to introduce the question of capitalist competition and had yet to consider foreign trade, the state, the world market and so forth.

There are therefore striking differences between your simple division of Capital into a quasi-Ricardian Marx of Volume I and most of Volume II and the full Marx of Volume III and our conception of the method and structure of Capital. But of course the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Let us see how your notion of the great leap stands up to an examination of Volume I.

According to you "The 'immediate process of production'... is the sole focus of Vol. I". Now we can understand why you say this. Firstly, as we have pointed out, the consequence of your simple division of Capital is that you have no basis on which to explain changes and shifts in analysis elsewhere in Capital. Marx’s exposition both before and after the great leap has to be flattened out. Therefore it is useful for you to consider the whole of Volume I as being about one thing i.e. the immediate process of production. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly for you, considering the ‘immediate process of production’ as the sole focus of Volume I would seem to support your notion that Volume I is developed from within the perspective of the individual capital. After all it would seem obvious that the immediate process of production is the province of the individual capital.[5]

But is it true that the ‘sole focus of Volume I is the immediate process of production’? If we open Volume I then on the title page we see the subtitle ‘The Process of Production of Capital’: so far so good. If we then take the effort to read on through the prefaces etc. we come to Chapter I - ‘The Commodity’. Even the most inattentive reader will soon realise that Marx is not here concerned with the immediate process of production but with exchange and circulation. Indeed it is not until Chapter VII - one hundred or more pages later - that Marx leaves the "sphere of simple circulation or exchange, which furnishes the 'Free-trader Vulgaris' with his views and ideas..." and we enter the sphere of production.

Of course it is true the immediate process of production is central to Volume I. First of all Marx considers the preconditions of capitalist production that arise in circulation, he then considers the immediate process of production itself, and then, in Part VII, Marx shows how the immediate process of production serves to reproduce its own material and social preconditions by producing in the sphere of circulation workers with nothing to sell but their labour-power and capitalists in possession of the means of production. Thus we can say in Parts I-III of Volume I Marx is concerned with circulation, in Parts IV-VI Marx is concerned with the immediate process of production, while in Part VII Marx is concerned with the unity of production and circulation. What is clear is that the focus of Marx in Volume I is certainly not solely the ‘immediate process of production’; his focus is not only production but also with its opposite - circulation.

If nothing else we have so far demonstrated that by itself your simple division of Capital gives you an inadequate grasp of the complexities of Volume I. However, let us press on and consider some of the dichotomies that you set up in the construction of this simple division of the three volumes of Capital. Again for the sake of brevity we shall focus on Volume I.

The perspective of individual capital versus the perspective of total social capital:
The general, the particular and the singular.

As we have already mentioned, to the extent that Volume I is concerned with the immediate process of production it would seem to back up your claim that before the ‘great leap’ at the end of Volume II Marx is confined within the perspective of the individual capital, and that it is only after the ‘great leap’ that Marx adopts the perspective of the total social capital. After all capitalist production is carried out by individual capitals and Marx seems to discuss the production of surplus-value in terms of the individual capital.

In our response to ‘Remaking...’ we pointed out that Marx also considers the perspective of the individual capital in Volume III. Indeed we argued that in Volume I Marx only considered the individual capital insofar as it illustrated the movement of capital-in-general. In contrast, in Volume III the perspective of the individual capital emerges as something distinct from that of social capital as a whole.

In responding to this you have conveniently assumed that we were merely making the rather banal point that any individual capital necessary presupposes social capital. Individual capitals cannot exist by themselves but can only exist as part of the broader social relations of capital as a whole. Accepting this you argue that in Volume I this presupposition is taken as read - it is merely an implicit assumption. In contrast in Volume III, after the ‘great leap’, it becomes explicit and as such the perspective of the total social capital emerges as something distinct from that of the individual capital. Hence you are able to claim that our criticism actually vindicates your position since in Volume III the perspective of social capital has become explicit.[6]

Unfortunately you have misinterpreted our objection. For us Marx does not drive a wedge between the perspective of the individual capital and that of the total social capital. On the contrary we see a continued movement back and forth throughout the three volumes of Capital. What changes as the three volumes of Capital unfold is the relation between the individual capital and social capital as this relation becomes more concrete, and this must be understood in terms of the dialectical categories of the general, the particular and the individual.[7]

Let us begin again with Volume I. Marx begins with the commodity and examines the single commodity. But in examining the single commodity Marx only does so insofar as it expresses the essential relations of all commodities. It makes no difference to Marx whether he uses the example of linen, coats or three-cornered hats, what is important is that his example illustrates the essential features that all commodities must necessarily have in common (i.e. they are a unity-in-opposition of use-value and value). The single commodity therefore is considered only insofar as it expresses commodities-in-general.

This is also true for the end of Part III of Volume I where Marx introduces the general formula of capital M-C-M’. With this general formula Marx describes the general form of capital as self-expanding value in the abstract form of money. This formula describes not only the movement of each and every capital but also of capital as a whole.

However, as we all know, if capital is to expand it must subsume labour in the immediate process of production. Capital-in-general must be particularised in the production process of individual capitals. But in Volume I, Marx considers these individual capitals only insofar as they give an immediate expression to capital-in-general to the extent that capital-in-general enters into the immediate process of production. As such, in Marx’s consideration of individual capitals that we find in Volume I all are essentially both identical and indifferent to one another. One individual capital is the same as all the other individual capitals. This is, of course, vital for Marx since it allows Marx to bring out the essential relations of exploitation and alienation between capital-in-general and labour-in-general.

In contrast, in Volume III individual capitals distinguish themselves, both from each other and from capital as a whole, firstly in terms of their value composition of capital and then in terms of their function in the industrial circuits of capital. In Volume III capitals are no longer identical and indifferent to each other but differentiate themselves into a multiplicity of capitals who can only validate themselves as part of total social capital through the mediation of competition with other capitals.

Whereas as in Volume I the individual capital is considered as an immediate expression of capital-in-general in Volume III the relation of the individual to the whole becomes mediated.

Of course, you may say that this is all very well, but Marx’s consideration of the immediate process of production in Volume I is quite evidently carried out in terms of the perspective of individual capital. Indeed, it would seem that the perspective of total social capital remains by and large implicit in Parts IV-VI of Volume I. Not only this, you will no doubt also point out that your quote, which for you proves Marx was only concerned with the perspective of the individual capital, occurs in Part VII - the very place, which according to us, Marx goes beyond the immediate process of production. From this you would no doubt claim that, even if Volume I is not solely concerned with the immediate process of production, the perspective of total social capital remains, for all intents and purposes, implicit.[8]

However, if you had bothered to re-read Part VII from which you take this quote then you would soon discover that such a conclusion does not stand up. As we have pointed out, in Part VII of Volume I Marx shows how the result of the immediate process of production is to reproduce its own material and social preconditions (i.e. a working class with nothing to sell but its labour power and a capitalist class in possession of the means of production). Each individual capitalist involved in the immediate process of production contributes to the reproduction of the preconditions of social capital as a whole. As such there is no surprise that if we actually take the trouble to read Part VII that the perspective of total social capital is made quite explicit.

It is true that that the quotes you cite from the Introduction to Part VII (p.710 Penguin edition) and in Chapter XXIII (P.714) Marx is adopting the perspective of the individual capital. But if you had only taken the trouble to read three pages further on you would have seen that Marx, in Chapter XXIII, clearly switches to the perspective of the total social capital:

The matter takes quite another aspect if we contemplate not the single capitalist and the single worker, but the capitalist class and the working class, not the isolated process of production, but capitalist production in full swing, and on its actual social scale.[9]

And Marx sums up the Chapter XXIII as follows:

The capitalist process, therefore, seen as a total, connected process i.e. a process of reproduction, produces not only commodities, not only surplus-value, but also produces and reproduces the capital relation itself; on the one hand the capitalist, on the other the wage-worker.[10]

Thus in Chapter XXIII Marx explicitly adopts the perspective of the total social capital. This would have been clearly evident to you if you had bothered to read this chapter, rather than merely plundering it for ‘good quotes’.

Here in Volume I, long before the end of Volume II, Marx explicitly takes the standpoint of the total social capital!

We could make similar arguments in the case of your dichotomy between form and content. But for brevity we shall omit this.

Essential dichotomies

So far we have shown that your conception of the ‘great leap’ is, by itself, inadequate to explain the theoretical development that we find in Volume I let alone the rest of Capital. We have also shown that some of the dichotomies through which you seek to establish this division of the three volumes of Capital are far from being so clear cut as you believe. Nevertheless, we recognise that, at the risk of diminishing the significance of the ‘great leap’, you may be able to explain away these problems with a few ad hoc or supplementary adjustments to your position. While we may have scored a few direct hits we may not have yet sunk your flagship. Now, however, is the time for us to close in for the kill!

From our discussions, and from your written reply, it becomes evident that of all your dichotomies two are crucial to your argument. The first is your insistence that up until Chapter XXI of Volume II Marx "assumed simple reproduction". Indeed, it is quite evident that the crucial transition that is made between Chapter XX and Chapter XXI of Volume II is that between simple and expanded reproduction. This you take as being central to the ‘great leap’ that Marx makes at this point in Capital.

Secondly, you argue that this transition from simple to expanded reproduction also involves the vital transition in Capital from a consideration of pure capital, abstracted from the existence of non-capitalist modes of production, to actually existing capital. Let us take these two dichotomies in turn.

Simple versus expanded reproduction

Since, according to you, Marx only makes the transition to expanded reproduction at the end of Volume II, all of Volume I must be confined within the assumption of simple reproduction.

Of course, we could say that this assumption is ‘foreign’ to the very nature of capital even at its most abstract level. Does not the derivation of the general form of capital as M-C-M’ in Part III of Volume I entail the expanded reproduction of capital in its money-form? And is not the production of surplus-value, which is dealt with in Parts IV-VI, to do with the expanded reproduction of capital?

In response to such immediate objections you would no doubt say that the general formula of capital is - like the more developed formulas for the circuit of industrial capital set out at the beginning of Volume II - merely ‘formal’. As for the theory of the production of surplus-value this is only a part of the process of reproduction and is perfectly compatible with simple reproduction.[11]

However, it is with Part VII of Volume I that you once again fall flat on your face. If we take the trouble to look at Part VII we will see that true enough Marx begins with the simplifying assumption of simple reproduction - as the title of Chapter XXIII makes clear. But in the very first section the next chapter - entitled: ‘Capitalist Production on a Progressively Increasing Scale’ - this assumption is relaxed. Marx makes the transition to expanded reproduction! Indeed Marx’s subsequent analysis of the accumulation of capital and the formation of the industrial reserve army is completely incomprehensible unless expanded reproduction is introduced. We do not need to offer quotes to prove this - whole chapters speak against your nonsense! The transition to expanded reproduction is already made in Volume I not Volume II! So much for your ‘great leap’!

But if this was not serious enough you betray a complete failure to grasp the notions of simple and expanded reproduction. In your reply you state that you were a ‘bit off’ when you said that in Volume I Marx assumes that the productivity of labour is constant. What you should have said is that it assumed simple reproduction, which for you ‘amounts to the same thing’. But simple reproduction does not ‘amount to the same thing’ as a constant productivity of labour; anymore than expanded reproduction ‘amounts to the same thing’ as an increasing productivity of labour. It is quite possible to have expanded production on an increasing scale without increasing the productivity of labour. Equally, it is possible for the scale of production to remain the same, or even to contract, while the productivity of labour increases.[12]

In order to make any sense of your argument then it is necessary to recognise this distinction between simple and expanded reproduction on the one hand and constant and increasing productivity of labour on the other. After all if Volume I is supposed to assume simple reproduction how is it that Marx is able to set out at great length his theory of the production of relative surplus-value in Volume I which necessarily entails the increasing productivity of labour? But furthermore, as we pointed out to you, one of the places where Marx assumes a constant productivity of labour is in your beloved Chapter XXI on the expanded reproduction of capital! In terms of expanded reproduction in Chapter XXI of Volume II it is not Marx that relaxes the assumption of a constant productivity of labour but Luxemburg who introduces this, as she herself admits![13]

The Opening of Capital

This bring us to the second essential dichotomy - the analysis of capital as a closed system in Volumes I & II and the analysis on capital as it actually exists amongst non-capitalist modes of production. This dichotomy rests on a mere assertion that is extrapolated from remarks made by Rosa Luxemburg. You provide not one shred of textual evidence that Marx considers the relation of capital to co-existing non-capitalist modes production in Volume III (or at the end of Volume II for that matter)! Where are these non-capitalist classes you make so much fuss about? Nowhere to be seen!

In fact the only class introduced in Volume III that is not present in Volume I (although it does makes an appearance in Marx’s consideration of primitive accumulation - Part VIII of Volume I) is the landowner. But landowners are explicitly treated as capitalist landowners. Indeed, the only place in the three volumes of Capital where Marx considers the capitalist mode of production in relation to non-capitalist conditions is Chapter 33 of Volume I. But even here Marx is mainly concerned with Wakefield’s description of the difficulties encountered by capitalists in attempting to export capitalist relations to Australia.

In all three Volumes of Capital - not just Volumes I and II - Marx is concerned with capital in-itself. Nowhere in Capital does Marx consider at any length the co-existence of the capitalist mode of production with non-capitalist modes of production!

We have shown that your notion of the ‘great leap’ is not only crude and simplistic but untenable.

But before proceeding to look at your continued confusion with regard to fictitious capital and the notion of capitalisation we must first consider the source of your errors.

Fictitious Capital


In our original response to ‘Remaking...’ we took great pains to show you how your analysis was based on a fundamental misconception concerning the nature of fictitious capital. Yet, despite all our efforts, in both our discussions last August and in your written reply, you display what only can be described as an obstinate refusal even to attempt to understand our arguments concerning the nature of fictitious capital. This is evident in your total incomprehension at why we say that fictitious capital only arises with the credit system and the development of financial markets, and why we insist that fictitious capital can exist prior to, and independently of, crises.

Unable, or perhaps unwilling, to understand our arguments concerning fictitious capital you simply set up a straw man. You seemed to have thought that we either denied the existence of fictitious capital or else failed to recognise its importance. When we denied that we held such positions you seemed to have assumed that your basic approach to the analyses of fictitious capital was essentially vindicated. The problem being merely that of its correct presentation.

However, we contended that your basic conception of fictitious capital is fundamentally flawed and, as a consequence, your entire approach is misconceived and must inevitably end up as confused nonsense. Simply put you are barking up the wrong tree!

However, it now seems that, if we are to stop you wasting your time barking up the wrong tree, it is not enough to chop this tree down, it must be uprooted. Fortunately, from your written reply it has become clear where the roots of your errors lie. They lie in your misguided attempt to resurrect Rosa Luxemburg’s theory of imperialism. Therefore before we address once more the question of fictitious capital we must briefly look at Rosa Luxemburg.

The errors of Rosa Luxemburg

Rosa Luxemburg was anxious to show how militarism and imperialism were rooted in the very process of capital accumulation. To do this she took as her point of departure Marx’s schemas of reproduction at the end of Volume II and sought to show the expanded reproduction of capital was in itself impossible. By establishing the impossibility of the reproduction of capital by itself, she sought to argue that capitalism could not exist without the continued absorption of non-capitalist modes of production, both at home and abroad.

However, as many of her critics pointed out, the intention of Marx in setting out the schemas of simple and expanded reproduction was the very opposite of hers. Marx wanted to reveal the necessary conditions that must exist between the various departments of capitalist production that would allow the smooth reproduction of capital. For Marx the smooth reproduction of capital was possible. Indeed Marx wanted to demonstrate that such smooth reproduction was possible despite the existence of constant capital that was not simply resolved into the revenues of wages and profits, and despite the fact that the workers did not consume all that they produced. These were two problems that had perplexed the classical political economists.

Nevertheless, Rosa Luxemburg was correct to point out, against her revisionist critics, that in demonstrating the possibility of the smooth reproduction of capital Marx at the same time demonstrated the precariousness of the conditions that would allow such smooth reproduction. Rosa Luxemburg asked a very pertinent question: in the absence of any overall social plan, how was it possible for the multiplicity of competing and disassociated capitalist producers to be led to produce both means of production and means of consumption in such amounts as to ensure the smooth reproduction of capital as a whole?

The fundamental methodological error of Rosa Luxemburg was to try to answer this question at the level of abstraction that we find at the end of Volume II.

To answer such a question we would have to examine the mechanisms that would lead the capitalists of the two departments to adjust the production plans towards those consistent with the smooth reproduction of capital as a whole. If the conditions for the smooth reproduction of capital do not obtain then we will find in each market a mismatch between supply and demand. In one department supply would be greater than demand and in the other supply would be less than demand. There would seem to be two ways in which such mismatches in supply and demand could be resolved:

a) through the deviation of market prices from production prices


b) through crisis and bankruptcy.

Neither of these can be examined at the level of abstraction that we find in Volume II. Indeed, in Volume II Marx assumes that price equals value. Marx does not consider the deviation of values from production prices until Volume III, and even there he does not consider at any length the question of the deviations of market prices from production prices. And it is only in Volume III that the question of crisis begins to emerge but that is also not fully investigated.

Rosa Luxemburg was unable to recognise these difficulties because her underlying notion of the structure of Capital meant that she tended to flatten out the levels of abstraction that we find in Volume II and III.

Of course, in taking up Rosa Luxemburg’s underlying notion of the structure of Capital and developing it to its logical absurdity you not only repeat Luxemburg’s fundamental error but compound it! Like Rosa Luxemburg you want to locate the impossibility of capitalism as such in Marx’s schemas of reproduction. But you also recognise that this impossibility of capitalism as it actually exists becomes clearly expressed in financial crises and the phenomenon of fictitious capital. Indeed you seem quite proud of yourself in making the connection between Marx’s schemas of reproduction of Volume II and Marx’s theory of fictitious capital that had been missed by us more ‘text-bound’ readers of Marx.

Not only this, because of your Luxemburgoid conception of the structure of capital you have no qualms about skipping over much of Volume III to make this connection. Indeed you see no problems in seeking to derive fictitious capital directly form Marx’s schemas of the reproduction of capital.

But in attempting to derive fictitious capital from the schemas of reproduction you have a problem. The credit system and the development of financial markets have yet to be introduced in Volume II. Indeed Marx abstracts even from paper money and assumes gold as the only form of money.[14] Marx abstracts from both credit and finance in order to examine the movement and reproduction of real capital. Therefore, at all costs, you have to derive fictitious capital from the schemas of reproduction (i.e. from the reproduction of real capital).

But unfortunately this cannot be done!

To understand why it cannot be done we must set out once more our understanding of fictitious capital.

Fictitious capital

What is fictitious capital? And where does it come from? If we consider Volume III, Parts IV & V, it is clear that for Marx fictitious capital is nothing more than the paper claims, or ‘titles of ownership’, on the future production of value. As such, fictitious capital is made up of stocks and shares, government securities, corporate bonds, and all such IOUs that circulate in the financial markets.[15]

So in what sense are such paper certificates fictitious? And in what sense are they capital? And how do they arise? Let us begin with how these paper claims on future production arise.

With the development of both the credit system and financial markets it becomes possible for capitalists engaged in the real process of the production and realisation of surplus-value to gain credit to maintain and quicken the reproduction of their capital and to borrow money to expand the scale of the reproduction of their capital. In order to gain the ready cash that they need for such purposes they are able to issue paper claims to their future profits in the form of corporate bonds, stocks and shares. These paper claims to future profits are then ‘sold’ to moneyed capitalists (e.g. bankers).[16]

The deal is simple; the capitalists engaged in the process of production and circulation of commodities are able to obtain ready cash, which can then be used by them as money-capital; in return the moneyed capitalist gains a claim on a share of the future profits of the industrial or commercial capitalist.

From the perspective of the moneyed-capitalists, such as bankers, capital is merely the self-expansion of money i.e. M...M’. The ‘dirty process’ of producing and realising surplus-value is simply elided. For the moneyed-capitalist anything that allows him to gain a return on his money is capital. Thus for the moneyed-capitalist paper claims on future profits are capital. By ‘buying’ stocks and shares or corporate bonds the moneyed-capitalist puts his ‘money to work’.

But of course we all know that it is not share certificates that get up in the morning and go to work to produce profits. Nor are they used as raw materials or instruments of labour in the process of production. In fact these paper claims go nowhere near the real process of production and circulation of commodities. They remain locked up in the drawers and safes of the moneyed-capitalists! These paper claims have no function in the actual process of production and circulation of commodities or in the production and realisation of surplus-value.

Thus although for the moneyed-capitalist the paper claims to future profits appear as capital, they are, from a social point of view, fictitious capital.

Of course, insofar as these paper claims provide the capitalist with the ready cash that allows for the expanded reproduction of real capital, and insofar as the price of these paper claims depends on the profitability of particular real capitals, there is a direct connection between the accumulation of real capital engaged in the production and the circulation of commodities and the fictitious capital locked up in the drawers of the moneyed-capitalists.

However, for the moneyed-capitalist it makes no difference who he advances money to so long as he can expect a return on the money that he lends. It makes no difference to him if he buys paper claims to future profits directly from the industrial or commercial capitalist, and thereby provides the ready cash for the maintenance of the expanded reproduction of real capital, or whether he buys these claims from another moneyed-capitalist.

Indeed, it makes no difference to the moneyed-capitalist how the money he lends through the purchase of paper claims is subsequently used. If an industrial capitalist uses his credit worthiness as an industrial capitalist to borrow money to be spent on his own personal consumption, rather than as money to be used to buy labour-power and means of production, it makes no difference to the moneyed-capitalist so long as he is confident of getting his money back with interest. For the moneyed capitalist the paper claims he obtains by such lending count as capital just as much as those paper claims that provide money-capital to the industrial capitalist.

Equally, money lent to the state through the purchase of government bonds and securities count as capital for the moneyed-capitalist just as much as stocks and shares of industrial or commercial capitals. But these claims are made not on profits but on future tax revenues.

Marx calls these paper claims, which arise from lending against future revenues rather than capital, as ‘totally’ or ‘completely’ fictitious capital because they have no direct relation to any particular real capital.

There are two important points that need to be grasped:

1. Fictitious capital emerges with the credit system and the development of financial markets. It has no existence outside them.

2. Fictitious capital stands in direct opposition to real capital and as such stands outside the process of the expanded reproduction of real capital.

As a consequence, any attempt to derive fictitious capital from Marx’s schemas of expanded reproduction is doomed to failure.

In Volume III, Parts IV & V, Marx goes to great lengths to distinguish fictitious capital from real capital since it was necessary to cut through the confusion between these two distinct categories that emerged out of the writings of bankers and money-men who had come to dominate the literature on the subject of credit and the financial systems. But of course you blunder into this topic and make the very same confusion between fictitious capital and real capital that these bankers in the nineteenth century made. Their confusion between fictitious capital and real capital was a result of their own practical experience as bankers. You have no such excuse!

Having seen why it is not possible to derive fictitious capital prior to an examination of the credit system and the development of financial markets let us return to see the consequences of you attempting to do so.

You make two attempts to derive fictitious capital from the reproduction of real capital. Firstly you try to derive fictitious capital from military production. Secondly, you attempt to derive fictitious capital from the increasing productivity of labour and the consequent devalorisation of real capital. Let us examine both of these in turn.

Military production as a source of fictitious capital

Here we see a certain departure from Rosa Luxemburg. Whereas Rosa Luxemburg had seen military expenditure as a way of resolving the problems of expanded reproduction, and as such was an effect of the ‘impossibility of capital as such’, you see it as a source of fictitious capital and hence as part of the cause of the ‘impossibility of capital as such’. But this departure does not help you.

You claim that the commodities produced for the military represent fictitious capital because they do not enter into the means of consumption of the worker or into the means of production that are necessary for the accumulation of capital. Indeed you ask: how does military production fit into Marx’s schemas of reproduction?

So: in what Department are tanks and guided missiles? Certainly not Dept. II. Are they then Dept. I: means of production? Production of what? How does a tank return to means of production, like a transport vehicle might, and continue to function as capital?

In the chapters concerning simple and expanded reproduction Marx does identify a group of commodities that do not enter either into the means of production or into the means of consumption of the workers in the next production cycle. Indeed Marx gives this group of commodities its own sub-Department - namely Department IIa - the sub-department that produces the commodities that are to be consumed by the capitalist class! However, nasty guided missiles and tanks may be, with regard to process of the reproduction of capital is concerned, they have the same relation to the expanded reproduction of capital as commodities produced for the consumption of the capitalist class.

It makes no difference to the process of the expanded reproduction of capital whether each individual capital buys luxury goods or the capitalist class collectively buys military equipment. In both cases the commodities are bought and their value is socially realised but the purchase of these commodities come out of that part of the total surplus-value that is spent as revenue rather than reinvested as new capital.

Fictitious capital, or fictitious value, has nothing whatsoever to do with it. It is question of the division of surplus-value between that part which is spent as revenue and that part which is reinvested in additional capital! If the capitalist class spends its surplus-value on luxury goods, or if the capitalist class spends surplus-value on military equipment, then all this means is that there is less surplus-value to invest in additional capital. The rate of accumulation will be lower - but that is all![17]

Of course, you will no doubt answer that the commodities that the capitalist consumes out of his revenue do not enter into the means of consumption of the worker or into the means of production that are necessary for the accumulation of capital and therefore they also represent fictitious capital. However, the material reproduction of the capitalist class - and its state for that matter - are just as necessary for the process of the social reproduction of capital as is the reproduction of the working class. The circuits of revenue, whether of the worker or the capitalist, are an integral part of the process of the social reproduction of capital.

Increasing productivity of labour and the devalorisation of real capital

As is well known, Rosa Luxemburg sought to demonstrate how the smooth reproduction of capital depicted in Marx’s schemas of expanded reproduction of capital breaks down once the assumption on constant productivity of labour is dropped and it is assumed that the productivity of labour increases. You seek to follow and develop this by showing how increasing productivity serves to create fictitious capital.

Unfortunately, as you yourself admit, your original attempts to demonstrate this in your ‘10 firm model’ was ‘poorly elaborated’. However, in your reply you offer what seems to be a more concise summary of your position when you list a number of examples of how the increasing productivity of labour leads to the devalorisation of fixed capital in various industries. You then state:

We have extreme cases of the creation and wiping out of overvalued (and hence fictitious) capital within sectors right in front of us.

Of course, we agree that the increase in the productivity of labour leads to a devaluation of capital to the extent that it means that less socially necessary labour is required to (re)-produce a given output of commodities in any particular industry and thus inputs of commodities to other industries. The crucial point at issue is not that the increasing productivity of labour devalues capital but how this devaluation of real capital creates fictitious capital. Let us try to piece together your confused argument to see how it stands up.

According to you the increasing productivity of labour devalues fixed capital and this leads to the ‘overvaluation’ of fixed capital. This overvaluation of fixed capital then serves to create fictitious capital - that is to the extent that it is overvalued the fixed capital becomes fictitious. But in what sense does the overvaluation of fixed capital create fictitious capital? You remain unclear on this point since for you it seems self-evident, but let us try to see how an overvaluation of fixed capital can lead to the creation, and the wiping out, of fictitious capital.

If the increasing productivity of labour means a fall in the socially necessary labour required to reproduce fixed capital then its value will fall. As a consequence, other things being equal, the value of the total individual capital, of which that fixed capital is a part, will also fall. However, it may be that, at least for a while, the price at which the commodities produced by this capital sells is still determined by the old values that held before the increase in the productivity of labour in the production of the particular material forms of the fixed capital. As a consequence, the total capital will be realised at a price above its new value. The total individual capital will be in this sense ‘overvalued’ and this will be the result of the ‘overvaluation’ of its fixed capital. It is this overvaluation of real fixed capital that for you is the source of fictitious capital.

Eventually, the price of the commodities produced by the individual capital will become determined by the new value that was the result of the increased productivity of labour in the production of its fixed capital. As a consequence, this price will fall to the point where the fixed capital is no longer overvalued and, according to you, is therefore no longer fictitious. As a consequence, this fictitious capital is wiped out.

So, for you, to the extent that fixed capital is overvalued it is fictitious capital.[18] But to see how fixed capital can become ‘overvalued’, and thus create fictitious capital, we have to see how prices deviate from values.

Unfortunately, you are not helped at this point by your crude and simplistic understanding of the structure of Capital. Because you flatten out the levels of abstraction in Volumes II and III you think you can simply skip the beginning of Volume III. But this is the very place where Marx considers the deviation of prices from values. Indeed, you remain trapped at the level of abstraction of your oh-so-important Chapter XXI where price is still assumed to be equal to value. No wonder you get into such a muddle in your ‘10 firm model’.

Let us consider Marx’s analysis of the deviation of price from value and see if we can detect in such deviations the source of fictitious capital that you seek to identify. In Part II of Volume III Marx shows how the formation of a general rate of profit due to the competition between different branches of industry will tend to produce a systematic deviation of prices from values. Assuming a uniform rate of exploitation, Marx shows that those industries with a higher than average value composition of capital will tend to sell the commodities at prices above their value.

By your logic, the commodities produced by these branches of industry with a high value composition of capital will be ‘overvalued’, and hence the capital that produces them will be ‘overvalued’. Therefore, according to you, to the extent that the capital employed in these branches of industry are ‘overvalued’ then they are fictitious capital.

But if, as you insist, we take the vantage point of the total social capital we will notice that there are other branches of industry that have a lower than average value composition of capital. In these industries price will be below value. So, according to you, the capital employed in these industries will be undervalued.

Now, if a capital that is overvalued is fictitious capital, what is a capital that is undervalued? Is it more-than-real capital? Hyper-real capital perhaps? Or is it anti-fictitious capital? And if it is anti-fictitious capital what happens when it meets fictitious capital? Does it explode!? It certainly explodes your argument!

As Marx shows in Volume III, the deviation of individual values from market values leads to a redistribution of value within a particular branch of industry; while a deviation of production prices from (market) values leads to a redistribution between particular branches of industry.

The deviation of price from value - and hence the over or under valuation of particular capitals - does not create fictitious capital by somehow creating fictitious value. On the contrary, it leads to the redistribution of real value (and with this real surplus-value) between different capitals.

The increase in the productivity of labour, and the subsequent devalorisation of capital, does not turn real capital into fictitious capital. What it may do is change the quantitative relation between the accumulation of fictitious capital, and hence the paper claims to future surplus-value, and the accumulation of real capital, which actually produces surplus-value. But if we are to analyse this relation between the accumulation of fictitious capital and the accumulation of real capital it is necessary, first of all, to distinguish between them. It is only by distinguishing them that we can then see how and when a devalorisation of real capital may lead to the subsequent destruction of fictitious capital.

But from the very outset you confuse real and fictitious capital, and as a consequence you end up in a complete muddle.


In your reply you tell us how on reading our response to ‘Remaking...’ you were astonished to see that we had failed to grasp the vital significance of the concept of capitalization. For you, it would seem that, alongside the crucial importance of Chapter XXI, the concept of capitalization is the secret key to understanding Capital.[19]

Of course, it is true that in Part V of Volume III Marx adopts the accounting term ‘capitalization’ to explain the formation of fictitious capital. Capitalization, in this sense, is the process through which accountants convert a given income stream into an equivalent capital stock in their accounts. Thus, if there is an income stream of £5 a year and the interest rate is 5% then that income stream is, for the accountant, the equivalent of a capital stock worth £100. If the interest rate rises to 10% then the income stream is equivalent to a capital stock of only £50, and so on.

But, of course, insofar as such income streams arise from mere paper claims on future income or profits then this book conversion is not a conversion into real capital, but into fictitious capital. As such, capitalization, in this sense, is central to the formation of fictitious capital.

Now if you can show that this concept of capitalization is introduced by Marx before Part V of Volume III then this would seem to imply that fictitious capital is logically prior to both the credit and financial system. It would undermine our contention that fictitious capital has no existence independent of the development of credit and finance.

Lo and behold, in searching through Capital, you find Marx using the word capitalization both in Volume I and Volume II.

It would seem you have scored a stunning route-one goal with so little effort. But alas, the crowd is silent - the goal has been disallowed. As you turn from your victory celebrations you see the referee pointing to your own penalty spot. You have committed a foul before getting out of your own eighteen yard box! How can this be?

Once again, if you had taken the trouble of reading the chapters concerned in Volume I and Volume II before plundering them for quotes, then you would have realised that Marx uses the word capitalization in a very different sense to that in Volume III. In Volumes I & II capitalization describes the conversion of surplus-value that has been produced in one production cycle into the new additional new capital for the next production cycle. That is it denotes the reinvestment of the profit made by the industrial capitalist into hiring extra labour-power and additional means of production that is necessary for the expanded reproduction of real capital.

This meaning of the word capitalization is completely different from its meaning in Volume III. It is concerned with the process of the accumulation of real capital, and has no necessary connection with fictitious capital.[20]

Here we have caught you red handed: tearing quotes out of context without even bothering to read before and after the quote!


As we have seen, for you the essential difference between us concerns our different understandings of the method and structure of Capital. For us the essential difference is between our approach and yours.

For us, Marx provides an essential starting point for developing an understanding of contemporary capitalist society. As such we see it is necessary to examine closely what Marx said, how he said it, and why he said it. It is only on the basis of such a close reading of Marx, particularly of Capital, that we can determine the limits of Marx - what he did not say or what he did not get round to saying etc. Thus for us a ‘text bound’ reading - as you would call it - is necessary if we are to go beyond Marx.

In contrast your approach seems to be based on a couple of hunches, which you then elevate into what you see as ‘startlingly new insights’. First of all you have the hunch that because Rosa Luxemburg was a better revolutionary than either her revisionist or Leninist critics then she must be right concerning the ‘crucial importance’ of the schemas of reproduction. You then have the hunch that Luxemburg’s analysis must be somehow connected to the prime phenomena of financial crises - fictitious capital.

However, as we showed in response to the ‘Remaking...’ you are unable to substantiate this connection. Indeed you end up in a complete muddle. So instead you seek to wrap up your half-baked notions in the authority of Marx. To do so you read back your Luxemburgoid notions into Marx, and then ransack Capital for quotes, which, when ripped out of context, can be construed to buttress your arguments.

All this is intellectually dishonest and quite honestly not good enough. There has been enough rubbish written about Marx without you adding more!

A few final remarks on inverted objectivism

Self-reflexive abstractions

We have shown how your understanding of the method and structure of Marx's Capital is not only crude and simplistic but also untenable. We have also shown how this misunderstanding of the method and structure of Capital leads to fundamental misconceptions and errors in your attempt to explain fictitious capital. There are a number of other errors and blunders that we could have taken up but we believe we have done enough to show that 'The Remaking...' is fundamentally flawed. However, there is one issue that we should perhaps address and that is your attempt to invert the objectified categories that we find in traditional interpretations of Capital.

When we first attempted to decipher your discussion of communism as the re-inversion of the reified and objectified categories of capital we felt a certain sympathy with what you seemed to be saying. However, on closer inspection we found amongst the quotes and paraphrases of Marx, which you string together to form an 'argument', certain remarks that jarred. For example is communism to be conceived as "production for production’s sake... as creativity"?

We began to suspect that your attempt at overcoming the reified and objectified categories of capital ended as a mere re-labelling of them in 'subjectivist' terms. Such re-labelling would imply that communism would be achieved once we recognised that capital was really the self-expansion of our creativity!

In your reply you say we caricatured your argument but in attempting to put us straight you have merely confirmed our suspicions. For example in your reply you state:

It is exactly the case that for Marx, capital is the reified inversion of human creative powers, and self-valorisation of value, value relating itself to itself, is the inversion of labour power as a 'self-reflexive relationship that relates itself to itself'.

On this basis you argue that communism, as the 'inversion' of capital, is nothing other than the 'self-expansion of creativity' or ‘labour-power relating itself to itself’ etc. But the crucial point that you fail to understand is that capital comes to confront us as self-reflexive, as a process that relates itself to itself, because it no longer appears as related to us. It appears as self-reflexive because it is its own means and end - its subject and object. As a consequence, our labour-power, our creativity are self-reflexive precisely because they have assumed the inverted form of capital.

Of course, as you say, creativity is inconceivable without subjectivity but the question is - what is the subject? Creativity becomes self-expanding - self-reflexive - because capital has become the subject, not us. What this shows is that you have failed to understand that what Marx means by 'inversion' is the ontological inversion of subject and object.

In the process of production capital appropriates our labour - our creativity if you like - to its own ends. Capital becomes the subject and we become merely an object of capital. But once production is complete, once our labour and creativity etc. have been subsumed into capital, then capital stands opposed to us as something independent of us. Capital then appears as self-reflexive. In relating itself to itself capital appears as both subject and its own object - it has become the object-subject.

Of course, we can point out that capital is nothing but the 'self-expansion of our own creative powers' that have become alienated from us. This may reveal the origins of capital's apparent self-sufficiency but it is not the abolition of capital. The abolition of capital requires that we re-appropriate our own creative powers as our own means and end. Creativity must relate to us, as an integral expression of our own social being, not to itself as some abstract and alien process of self-expansion as you would have it.

Production for production’s sake

Your failure to grasp the fact that labour, creativity etc. appear as self-reflexive abstractions precisely because they assume inverted forms of under capital becomes blatantly obvious with your insistence that communism will be based on "production for production’s sake as... creativity".

Production for production’s sake can only emerge once production is freed from the immediate concrete needs of either the direct producers or their particular exploiters. It is only when production is for abstract wealth - money and hence profit - that production can free itself and become its own means and end. As such, production for production’s sake, as a generalised phenomena, is specific to the capitalist mode of production. A point that the classical economists were well aware of:

Accumulate, accumulate! That is Moses and the prophets! ‘Industry furnishes the material which savings accumulates’. Therefore save, save, i.e. reconvert the greatest portion of surplus-value or surplus product into capital! Accumulation for the sake of accumulation, production for the sake of production: this was the formula in which the classical economics expressed the historical mission of the bourgeoisie in the period of its domination. Not for one instant did it deceive itself over the nature of wealth’s birth pangs. But what use is it to lament a historical necessity? If, in the eyes of classical economics, the proletarian is merely a machine for the production of surplus-value, the capitalist too is merely a machine for the transformation of this surplus-value into surplus capital. Classical economics takes the historical function of the capitalist in grim earnest.[21]

Of course it is true that Marx saw that in developing the forces of production over and against human need the capitalist mode of production created the social and material preconditions of communism - this was its historical mission. It was for this reason that Marx praised Ricardo for recognising that, in developing the productive forces, production for the sake of production led to the development of the "richness of human nature as an end in itself"[22] and for consistently defending the principle of production for production’s sake even when it ran rough-shod over the needs of the propertied classes.

However, Marx was also aware that production for production’s sake developed the ‘richness of human nature’ in a grotesquely one-sided and inhuman manner and in doing so tended to reduce both the capitalist and the worker to mere machines. To project production for production’s sake into communism, even if we bolt on the ‘nice’ abstraction ‘creativity’, means that such communism is merely capitalism under another name! Indeed, we need only to look at Stalinist USSR to see the consequences of production for production’s sake under the name of socialism!

Of course, we do not suggest that you are some kind of crypto-Stalinist. What we do suggest is that you have not thought your ideas through.

February 2003

[1] The structure of Capital would then appear to be like a derelict house. In Volume I Marx enters the basement. Because the basement is closed in with no windows Marx has to borrow Ricardo's torch. Marx then proceeds to explore the basement examining each room but in no particular order. Once the all the rooms in the basement have been examined Marx has to leap up on to the ground floor. The ground floor has windows. This means that not only can Marx see that there are other houses in the street but that he also has enough light to dispense with Ricardo's torch!

[2] Of course it is only in Volume I that we find in an actually finished form. The other two volumes raise the question of how far they have reach the stage of presentation and how far they remain at the stage of investigation.

[3] Vol. I, p. 102 (Penguin).

[4] Hence our conception of the structure of Capital is not that of a derelict house but more of an elegant spiral staircase.

[5] Of course this still leaves you the problem of explaining away the transition from Volume I to the first twenty chapters of Volume II, which are certainly not solely concerned with the immediate process of production.

[6] Of course, in claiming that this vindicates your position you have to admit that Marx considers the perspective of the individual in Volume III. You therefore have to admit that your simple division of Capital is not so clear cut as you originally claim.

[7] It is important to grasp Marx’s method of moving between the general, particular and the individual in order to overcome the methodological individualism that has come to dominate much of the bourgeois social sciences.

[8] Originally your whole claim that Marx was only concerned with the perspective of the individual capital was based on the quote drawn from the introduction to Part III of Volume II. However, as we pointed out to you in our discussions last August, at best, this quote only refers to Part I and II of Volume II. You then had to search for another quote which you found in the Introduction to Part VII and in the subsequent Chapter XXIII of Volume I to show that your claim held true for Volume I as well.

[9] Vol. I, p. 717 (Penguin).

[10] Vol. I, p. 724 (Penguin).

[11] Of course, it is true that production of absolute surplus-value is perfectly compatible with simple reproduction. All we have to assume is that the capitalist consumes the surplus value rather than invest it to expand value production. But it is also true that it is perfectly compatible with expanded reproduction. Indeed there is no reason, heuristic or otherwise, why Marx should have assumed a model of simple reproduction in his analysis of the production of absolute surplus-value in Volume I. However, to the extent that the production of relative surplus-value depends on the capitalist investing in new plant and machinery etc., Marx’s analysis of the production of relative surplus-value in Part V of Volume I would seem to imply an assumption of expanded reproduction.

[12] For example, if a capitalist employs 100 workers to lay 100 furlongs of pipes a day and equips them with 100 spades and 100 furlongs of piping to do this then the productivity of labour will be one furlong of piping laid per worker per day. If this capitalist makes 20% profit and reinvests half of this profit to expand production then he can increase the scale of production by 10%. He will buy 110 furlongs of piping, buy another 10 spades and hire an extra 10 workers. As a consequence, 110 furlongs of piping will be laid by 110 workers per day. The productivity of labour will remain the same at one furlong per worker per day even though production has expanded by 10%. Now suppose that there is a fall in demand for pipes. Instead of investing his profits to expanded production the capitalist may invest his profits in new machinery that will cut his costs. He introduces a mechanical digger that means that 10 workers can now lay 50 furlongs of piping in a day. He sacks 90 workers and saves the costs of their wages and produces lays only 50 furlongs that meets the newly diminished demand. As a result in terms of both value and use-values the capital employed has contracted, but at the same time, the productivity of labour has increased from one furlong per worker per day to 5 furlongs per worker per day.

This phenomenon can also be true of social capital as whole. It is often the case in economic recessions that the economy may stagnate or even shrink in terms of both value and use-value produced while the productivity of labour increases.

[13] In attempting to show the importance Chapter XXI you follow Luxemburg in pointing out that, according to Engels, Marx found this the most difficult part of Volume II and III to write, and as a result it was left unfinished. Indeed this could be taken to imply that if only Marx had got round to finishing this chapter he would have followed Luxemburg and relaxed some of his assumptions to show the impossibility of the expanded reproduction of capital. But if Chapter XXI was so important why did Marx not bother to ensure that it was finished? It seems far more plausible to us that Marx found the numerical examples of his schemas of expanded reproduction rather tedious and preferred to get on with conceptually more important matters.

[14] Marx is quite explicit concerning the necessity for such abstractions. "It is important above all, however, to start by assuming metal circulation in its most simple and original form, since in this way the flux and reflux, settlement of balances, in short all those aspects that appear in the credit system as consciously regulated processes, present themselves as existing independently of the credit system, and the thing appears in its spontaneous form, instead of the form of subsequent reflection." Volume II, pp. 566-7 (Penguin edition). Of course, you argue that Marx would have introduced the credit system if he had completed Chapter XXI but you are unable to provide a scrap of textual evidence for such an assertion.

[15] See Chapters XXIX and XXX of Volume III and in particular pp. 597-601 and p. 607 (Penguin edition).

[16] It is important at this point not to confuse moneyed-capital - or interest-bearing capital - with money-capital. Money-capital, of course, is a form of real capital alongside commodity-capital and productive-capital (See the opening chapters of Volume II).

[17] In a parentheses during your attempt to defend your notion that military production is a source of fictitious capital you say that military expenditure occurs not only out of revenue but also out of state debt ‘which Marx identifies as totally fictitious’. Precisely! Fictitious capital emerges with the development of financial markets that allow the state to finance state expenditure - of whatever kind - by borrowing rather than out of current tax revenues. Fictitious capital, in this case, is a direct product of state debt NOT military production as such!

[18] This would seem to imply that we have a weird hybrid of real and fictitious capital. To the extent that the value of a given (fixed) capital is reflected in the price it is real, but to the extent that the price rises above value then this capital becomes fictitious. It is therefore both fictitious and real at the same time!

[19] You say "What is capitalization? It means, as we know, that a stock paying 5% annual dividends or a bond with a 5% annual interest rate, in an environment in which the general rate of profit is 5%, is 'worth' $100. Nothing controversial there". Well there is nothing controversial here since this is complete nonsense! A percentage, by itself cannot give you an absolute magnitude. It has to be a per cent of some absolute magnitude. No doubt you will claim this as another of your typing errors but it seems that whenever elementary algebra is concerned your keyboard has a will of its own.

[20] Of course, with the development of the credit and financial system the reconversion of surplus-value will be mediated through the ‘money and capital markets’. But this reconversion of surplus-value into capital is logically prior to the credit system and as such is logically prior to fictitious capital.

[21] Capital, vol. I, p. 742 (Penguin).

[22] Theories of Surplus-Value, Part II, pp.117-8.

Aufheben- Open letter to Loren Goldner.pdf546.35 KB

Stop the clock! Critiques of the new social workhouse

What is the link between the struggle to mitigate alienation (for higher wages, shorter hours, more benefits, less work intensity etc.) and the struggle against alienation itself? The answer to this question distinguishes communist practice from merely leftist practice. In recent years, a number of ex-autonomist and leftist groups have been trying to build a broad European-wide movement around a common programme of radical demands concerning unemployment, working-time reduction and a guaranteed minimum income. In the UK, too, such demands as a 'basic income', seen as a strategy for undermining the relation between work and human needs embodied in the wage, have been taken up not only by (post-)autonomists but also by Greens and more traditional leftists. Such strategies need to be judged in terms both of whether they come out of a real movement (though this is still no guarantee of a communist content - vide social democracy) and their historical context. In times of working class strength, it is possible that achieving demands such as a reduction in working-time might serve as a basis from which we could push on towards 'the point of no return'. But when the working class is weak - as we are now - such demands merely contribute to the dynamic of capital. The articles in this pamphlet on reforms already taking place in Europe show very clearly how apparently radical demands, such as working-time reduction, have been gratefully co-opted as part of the post social democratic project.

We have put this collection of articles together because we feel that each of them serves as an important contribution to a confrontation with and critique of some of the prevailing currents in the political debate over how to take new working class struggles forward. However, this collection does not necessarily reflect a common project among the different groups; and nor do we necessarily endorse every argument expressed here. Nevertheless, you will find some common elements in the groups' perspectives - such as the refusal of work as a basic element of working class struggle, and the conviction that working class emancipation will come from working class self-activity not from mediators such as trade unions which seek accommodation with capital and the state.

The critiques in this pamphlet refer to specific demands, but they also have general applicability. The kind of radical-reformist strategies we are attacking here are likely to re-emerge in different guises again and again until the link between the struggle to mitigate alienation and the struggle against alienation itself is finally realized and transcended, and human history can at last begin.

Summer 2000

Preface: putting the critique of capitalism back on the table - Wildcat (Germany)

We are fed up with working more and more for lower wages, being pushed around by the bosses and forced into workfare schemes by the state. We are also fed up with those who are helping to smooth the way for new methods of exploitation, with their 'radical' demands for working time reduction, for new social benefits - or worse still for more jobs. Under threat of unemployment, previously radical types have abandoned the critique of capitalism in favour of an alliance with the state to defend the 'good old days' of social democracy and Keynesianism against 'neo-liberalism'. They no longer question the barbarism of the whole of society, grounded in the daily control of our minds and bodies by the compulsion to work. Instead of expressing the real anger of millions of people at the daily loss of our lives in the workplace (the fundamental basis of capitalist social relations), they tell us to regain the 'primacy of politics over economics' and to demand a 'humanitarian' administration of the capitalist economy. But politics and the economy are two sides of the same coin: the global workhouse.

The articles in this pamphlet deal with such political illusions, which have become influential in campaigns against unemployment, for working time reduction and for a guaranteed basic income. In examples from Britain, France, Italy and Germany, it is shown exactly how campaigns for such demands have provided a rationale for the state and employers to attack working conditions and social benefits, to intensify exploitation - and above all, to stifle any radical movement by the workers themselves.

After twenty years of losing ground for a fundamental critique of capitalism, it is necessary to sweep away a lot of the ideological garbage. For those fighting the deterioration of our living conditions, working time reduction or reformed social benefits seem at face value to provide ideal demands for uniting people in collective struggles. But working class history tells a different story. On the one hand, the slogan of 'working time reduction' has served as a pretext to make working time more flexible and to squeeze any free time out of working time; the reform of the welfare state - as well as its very introduction, for that matter - was never a genuine working class aim, but rather a concession to ease class tensions, to atomize people and to subordinate their daily lives. On the other hand, real struggles which confronted capital started, not from political parties or other representative groups drawing up demands, but from the daily resistance of the working class to exploitation, their collective struggle and the reassertion of their ability to confront and to suppress capital.

Demanding employment, working-time reduction and a minimum guaranteed income - in order to prolong exploitation

This collection of articles analyzes recent developments in class relations, in order to expose some of the main myths about the situations in different countries, and to show how these myths (such as the reputation of the unemployed movement in France and of working-time reduction in Germany) are used in other countries to sell reformist campaigns as brand new politics.

Considerations of the agitations of the unemployed and casual workers - Mouvement Communiste (France)

1. Objective wealth of the movement versus its lack of power

A provisional analysis of the agitations by unemployed and casual workers leads to this first observation: their quality lies more in their social foundation than in their striking power or their capacity to cut deeply at the heart of class relationships. Rank and file militants of these movements experienced a sort of irreducible dichotomy where feelings of impotence and illusions mingled themselves. A great anger, very justified and widely shared by the impoverished proletarians, was sufficient alone to sustain and to legitimize, in the eyes of their authors, short-lived actions. Groups of desperate proletarian, excited by not entirely innocent and disinterested media hype, irresistibly pushed by their destitution, threw themselves into blind struggles of weak intensity and strong symbolic aspect.

As a whole, the actions failed in their objective of widening the audience and the organization of the struggle to the immense mass of unemployed and casual persons and even less to proletarians in longer term employment. Occupations of the Assedics branches, of the ANPE head office, of EDF-GDF offices,[1] of the railway stations etc, generally saw the participation of very few militants (an average number of between 10 and 30 per initiative), in a situation of nearly complete isolation between workers and employees. Unionists and 'well-intentioned' association members, who served as a separating screen to all direct encounters, always interfered between them. It goes without saying that the 'associations of the unemployed' and unions never used their capacity of mobilization among proletarians with 'steady' jobs in order to bring them closer to their more impoverished friends. They did on the other hand multiply the number of Saturday afternoon demonstrations - the usual substitute for class unity, and a prominent place for union apparatchnicks on parade.

As for actions sponsored by the extreme wings of the associations appointed to the supervision of these struggles (occupations of the Ecole Normale, of the Universities of Nanterre and Jussieu, quest for alms consisting in three shopping trolleys of goods at the Leclerc stores of Pantin, gastronomic incursions at the Coupole and Fouquet's restaurants), they were even more ineffectual and confused, successful only in their cheap spectacular representation of the movement. Here, one repeats as farce the '68-ist gesture in order to channel the more undisciplined and nervous elements in the movement.

Unfortunately, due also to a cacophonous panoply of fundamentaly innocuous demands, knowledge of the adversary's terrain and of the specific mechanisms of oppression targeted lacked badly. As the actions went by, the hoped for revelation through praxis - in struggle - of the particular chain of capitalist oppression that holds prisoner the weakest part of the proletariat didn't really progress. The experience gained by the participants in these actions risks proving ineffectual when the fight recovers its impetus and leaves its embryonic state and the democratic and consensual track that brought it into its present rut.

Thus, a parody of the class struggle went down the street without ever succeeding - and for a very good reason - in really becoming threatening: neither to the dominant social order, nor, less ambitiously, to the remaining welfare state institutions. Yet, the vultures of standardized information made no mistakes: the obsessive accent put on actions which implied directly only some thousands of people at their highest point reveals the fear that the caricature may change suddenly into tragedy for the dominant classes. Behind the expertly agitated scarecrow of a May '98 of the 'excluded' - very unlikely in these conditions - bosses exorcise concerns provoked by the fragmentation of a social body crossed by successive crises of growing gravity and generally weak economic upturns.

2. State exploitation of unemployed struggles

This is not all. On the dominant class side, the anger of the dispossessed, as long as it doesn't express itself on an independent footing and at the very height of its suffering, offers the opportunity to lay down again in the heat of events - the terms of oppression. That is precisely what happened during the recent agitations. By means of some crumbs distributed in the shape of exceptional Christmas bonuses at the height of the wave of occupations (a billion francs) - and of which the individualized increase (on presentation of a special help demand file) continues in moderate doses on the sly - the French government succeeded in placing in an appreciable and attentive social environment its laws about employment for the young and about exclusion and to focus attention of important parts of civil society on its project of a law for a 35 hour week. Leaving a detailed analysis of these proposals to another article (see '35 hours against the proletariat', in this collection), it would be useful to briefly summarize its expected aims and results.

These legislative devices have three main objectives:

1) To decrease the impact of youth and long-term unemployment on the cohesion of civil society. Existing at the two temporal extremities of working life (at the end of the school programme and from 50-55 years[2]), this kind of unemployment removes from the proletarian all hope of progress in his/her condition, measured on the complete arc of his/her 'active' period. The feeling takes root that one enters with increasing difficulties into the ranks of workers and that it ends by an impoverishment and a premature expulsion from these same ranks. This perception of things, henceforth extensively shared, greatly affects the level of trust of proletarians in the dominating mode of production and in its State. Thus, without fundamentally upsetting the imperious requirements of the job market, many West European governments are now obliged to face the very unpleasant political consequences of such a reality (abstentionism at the polls, distrust of institutions, revolts, strikes, etc.), and to work on cosmetic solutions to these problems. Whole batteries of measures are instituted: for the young, an increase in schooling years, (diplomas for all), and further education (training of all kinds), diffusion of 'atypical' deskilled jobs, (CDD,[3] jobs partly or completely financed by public funds, part-time work, seasonal work, flexibelised hours, weekend work, paid work experience, etc.), and reductions of recruitment wages; for the long term unemployed, partial or total early retirement, long-term training, so-called jobs of collective benefit, and piloted, state financed access to 'atypical' jobs, until now, almost exclusively the privilege of the young. The desired result consists in sowing the illusion that these people have been pulled from the hell of unemployment and, by this logic, that they 'recovered their dignity', as the now totally exploited.

2) To increase the flexibility of the job market and to decrease the cost of deskilled labour. As is well known, bosses complain incessantly of the excessively high cost of the workforce and ask for increasingly extravagant budgetary concessions (taxes on wages rather than on employers). For their part, governments bustle about these 'chantiers sociaux' to satisfy the bosses' requirements, meanwhile administering to proletarians - the object of their concentrated attentions - doses of ideology so that they swallow the poison without protesting. The left has always excelled in this project when it has taken office, and it is again the case today. With the youth employment legislation, the left invents work of fixed hours guaranteed for five years; young proletarians that accept these placements put back at best for five years their real entry into the workforce, are shoved into posts with very little or no prospects, and are paid at the SMIC (minimum wage) level. With the social exclusion legislation, the 'pluralist' government aims also to submit the unemployed to the mercy of the job market. This effectively means a set of constraining devices that results for the unemployed person in the obligation to accept any work with any conditions. With the law for a 35-hour week, in exchange for the conditional promise of the creation of 150,000 new jobs, the Left attacks 'dead time' (the introduction of the distinction between actual work time and contractual work time), imposes an overall decrease of the rates of overtime pay in their pure and simple absorption into negotiated work hours (extension of 'atypical' work), erases the hourly SMIC rate and splits it (SMIC 35 hours and SMIC 39 hours), destroys the barrier on the authorized length of the working day, (working-time becomes measured annually, general application of weekend shift work, of seasonal work and night work), following the example of the Robien law instituted by a government of the Right (less than 20,000 jobs created until now), encourages the decrease of overall wage rates 'in exchange for secured or created jobs' and in any case institutes an indefinite freeze on wages (see the article '35-hours against the proletariat' in this collection). If with these measures the savings made by companies on manpower costs have not yet been calculated by economic forecasters, we expect that, in all probability, the bosses will come out of it the winners! It is useful to recall at this point that ex-water-board boss Mr. Jean-Marie Messier, chief executive officer of Vivendi - which became, by the recent acquisition of Havas, the second biggest industrial/services group after Elf Aquitaine - is one of the most committed supporters of the 35 hour week legislation. And all this in the name of the struggle for work.

3) To put the unemployed in the workplace. This point is often underestimated, but it is of great importance. The stagnation of real wages (since the last economic crisis of the early '90s), the dizzy expansion of unemployment due to economic crises and technological advances,[4] the increase in job insecurity and black market work (about 10% of GDP, according to the European Commission), the temporal increase in the expected availability for work \endash daily, weekly and yearly, (weekend work, overtime, seasonal work, night shifts, etc.), are phenomena that have deeply affected the state of mind of proletarians and have rendered them markedly more docile and resigned. But to workers who kept a 'traditional' steady job the feeling persisted that despite everything the jungle stopped at the door of their workplace. This is going to change. With these new laws, these workers will be blessed with the opportunity to help in this process in their workshops and offices. After having witnessed it in the neighbourhood and on the way to work, after having recognized it in the eyes of friends that in increasingly great numbers sink into inactivity and shit work, and in the look of distress of the newly part-time unemployed, they will also have to bear it during their eight daily working hours. These hostages of dull toil are going to be rebranded into menacing crosses, by bosses acting as priests of doom, to constantly remind the general proletariat that worse is always possible - that any worker can at any time be crucified in her turn. If the intermittently unemployed person is capable of executing the same task as a worker in full time employment, the boss will let the latter know that his job costs too much and is not flexible enough. If this is not the case, the boss will accustom the worker to a situation in which wildly varied mixtures of regulations - not subject to the previous social democratic consensus - results in a greatly increased number of wage levels (with, as its ultimate aim, a complete deregulation of wage-level guarantees), and last but not least, a 'management of human resources' completely subject to the client. On top of this, for the bosses' professional doormats, the presence of the 'active' unemployed will provide opportunities to exercise their frustrated desire to rule and to strut about at very little cost.

The ambitious strategy of the Jospin government is to use the many weaknesses of this mini revolt of the unemployed to reduce even further the many segmental splits (between geographical regions, between manual and intellectual work, between professions, between levels of pay, between sexes, ages and ethnic origins, etc), which, from the point of view of capital, ossify the job market. But most of all, following the example of their British counter-parts, it is on course to accomplish the perilous feat of at least partly destroying the barrier between work and the dole. Henceforth, thanks to the 'nationaux-pluriel', the unemployed will be employable as unemployed; all unemployed will be called up to contribute to the production of goods and to the reproduction of the dominant social relations (police assistants, school helpers, etc.), without diminishing their extreme economic vulnerability, and without the stigma of poverty disappearing. Concurrently, wage earners will increasingly measure the very short distance that today separates them from the unemployed.

3. Rank and file militants - prisoners of trade-unionism and of teaching by example

If an initial balance sheet was to be made of the recent struggles of the unemployed and casual workers, next to the small crumbs obtained here and there, (suspension of electricity cut-offs, food vouchers, a few hundred francs taken here and there for different reasons, more respect in the Assedics, free photocopying, etc.), would be the incorporation of the new organisations representing the unemployed (AC!, Apeis, MNCP and the CGT committee)[5] into the official processes of negotiations between 'social partners' with the aim of participating in the management of dole funds.

Do the destitute dream and fight for a world without anguish and want? The concrete translation of their dreams is realised in the launching into the orbit of social democratic institutions of capital a new generation of trade unionists! The confusion and weakness of the current movement is for many due to the fact that it is determined by this disappointing dead-end, but this doesn't explain everything. There is also an almost complete lack of independent political expression of the movement.

Nevertheless, as we argued during the most important recent movements (in France and Belgium: the rail strikes of 1986, of the Peugeot-Sochaux workers in October 1989, of the Renault-Cleon workers at the end of 1991, the struggle of Belgian workers against the global plan of autumn 1993 and those of the Air France ground staff in October of the same year, the strike of Gec-Alsthom workers of Belfort and Bourgne of Nov/Dec '94, the industrial strikes of the spring of 1995 and those of the public sector in Nov/Dec of the same year, the long strife at Renault-Vilvoorde and at the ironworks at Clabecq in 1997), this does not mean an absence of political development amongst the most engaged proletarians. at Belin, at Flins, at Sochaux, at Belfort and Bourogne, at Cléon, on the runways of Roissy and Orly, in certain depots and workshops of the SNCF and the RATP[6] or among certain local government employees of the Parisian suburb, at Vilvoorde and Clabecq, even in certain committees of unemployed and casual workers the political discussion is lively. The need for a political expression for the ideas generated and/or confirmed by the unrest is still much needed. Despite this, confidence is lacking, delegation remains the rule and political expression is slow in coming into being.

Trade unionism obscures with a net of falsely realist and reasonable opportunities (demands and negotiations) the aspirations of proletarians set on independence and on a political struggle covering the entirety of the conditions of exploitation. Many proletarians consider the new trade-unionism little more than a lesser evil compared with complete inaction, capitulation or a romantic struggle fought in vain. Therefore, the limitation of the political quality of these struggles, we are sure, is born of the pursuit of a 'transition period that lasts indefinitely'. A period[7] which demands that communists intervene at the heart of these movements brandishing the weapon of the critique of trade unionism and of the emasculation by it of working class struggles. The workers need revolutionary political openings which are recognisable, clear and organized.

The critique of trade unionism must not however end up in obsessively repeating exhortations for the revolution (an empty and meaningless word in present conditions), or, worse, in the negation of all specific demands made by the working class. What we are seeking to target with our critique is not the search for improvement - always threatened - in the condition of the exploited, but the trade unionism which separates the defensive struggles of the communist political perspective in order to integrate them into the many devices of capitalist social democracy. Trade unionism makes of the inevitable economic struggles between buyers and sellers in the job market a choice, a horizon willed and determined unsurpassable, enough in itself. This is what needs to be challenged.

Independent working class organizations, when they exist, must be careful to avoid the trap of the representation of defensive struggles by structures predisposed or appointed to this end by the enemy. It has no where been proved that for the exploited class to win in its struggles it needs to arm itself with a whole panoply of hierarchical organisations, each corresponding to a specific field of the class war. If we look at the real history of the class struggle, all sorts of organisational combinations have been employed: working class parties with or without trade unions, more or less political trade unions with or without a party, councils and militias with or without parties and/or trade unions - none of these hopeful combinations have proved capable of securing victory. However, even when struggles see the birth of a whole group of ad hoc organisations, the dynamic of the movement, if it is not interrupted, tends always to their unification, to their fusion at the service of the maximum concentration of available proletarian force. This is a necessary process when confrontations become decisive. As of today, we want to invite the working class vanguard to help us understand this concrete logic.

The workers' committees that arise out of class struggle must assume and lead the political revolutionary fight by re-connecting it to its material base: the daily struggle of the 'economic' interests of the workers.

It is only when a sufficiently strong, broad and representative system of such organizations have come into being that we will have access to the key to the practical problem of the independent political representation of the proletariat. For this, we must concentrate all our energies in constructing a network of political workers' committees. To postpone to better days (when the class struggle carries well-developed communist ideas) the development of the political self-constitution of the proletariat, means simply to give it up for ever. Regarding this, nothing would be more harmful than to think that we are at the stage of the economic struggle and that we can only take on the political struggle when we have completely solved the former. This would amount to defending the idea that the political revolutionary struggle is independent of the relationships of production and the tensions that cross it. Despite this, the proliferation of a relatively 'alternative' trade unionism would in no way constitute a stage in this process. It would mean, on the contrary, a major obstacle on the steep road ahead. Today, this understanding of things is unfortunately rarely shared by the more radical elements of the proletariat. At the moment, most prefer to reduce their actions to so called alternative trade unionism, to cut a small space at the heart of the trade unionist cage, and to throw all their energies into propagandist, minority actions, with the goal of 'raising the consciousness' of class comrades to 'train' them in the struggle. With the trade unionist short cut comes the fragile safety valve of an anger expressed in a harmless and ephemeral way through punchy actions carried out by a few in the name of those that they claim to represent. And in the hope that the media will notice them... The politically passive fall-back of trade unionism is enmeshed with vague, irresolute protest and vanguardism, and even worse, is reduced to a travesty, a caricature of the class struggle. All of it accompanied by a glaring lack of understanding of the terrain and of the real power relationships. The recent unrest by the destitute have provided a new, life-size illustration of this.

[1] Assedics = the state body that manages the distribution of unemployment benefit; ANPE = the government organization that supervises the unemployed and tries to find them work; EDF-GDF = Electricity de France and Gas de France.

[2] In France, in 1995, half of the young between 15 and 25 were inactive; amongst those in work, 20% had a job deemed 'typical' and 16% had part time jobs. In 1997, about 35% of people between 50 and 59 years old had no work at all, and exactly half of those between 55 and 59 found themselves in this situation.

[3] Contrat à durée déterminée (short-term contract); normally bosses cannot re-hire people at the end of a short-term contract more than twice, but if the boss lets the worker off for a week she can go on being re-hired indefinetely.

[4] Behind this very fashionable concept we can note firstly that production has progressed well beyond the home market, following the example of their foreign counterpart, the big French conglomerates have reinforced their internationalisation and have set up new units of production where the market is growing faster than in Western Europe. On the other hand, because of the continuing sluggishness of the French market, less and less supported by state funding (from 1993 onwards, the amount of state funding as part of GDP has slowly decreased; in 1997, it was 54.7% against 55.2% in 1996), French investments have been targeted more on the rationalisation and modernisation of existing production methods than on their increase. Secondly, the mechanisation of a large part of intellectual work and the increased automation of manual work, obtained by the introduction of a lot of new electronic tools, (computers, telecommunication), have decisively eliminated many occupations (typists, book-keepers, etc). Today 40,000 secretarial and administrative jobs disappear every year. The result is that in France, between 1990 and 1997, according to DARE (the research department of the employment ministry), employment has remained effectively stable (+0.1%). Only service industries with the smallest technological component increased their workforce between 1990 an 1997 (+8.0%). And this when the workforces of industry and construction have decreased during the same period by 13.5% and 17.0% respectively. Unskilled workers of these two sectors have decresed even more than the figures indicated above. Indeed, at 23.6%, the rate of unemployed for the unskilled is almost double that of the whole working population.

[5] AC! (Agir Ensemble Contre le Chomage: 'Action together against unemployment'); association campaigning against unemployment. Apeis (Association pur l'entraide, l'information et la solidarité: 'Association for employment, information and solidarity'); founded by the French Communist Party (CP). MNCP (Mouvement national des chomeurs et precaires: 'National movement of unemployed and insecure workers'). CGT (Confédération Générale du Travail); the French CP's union federation.

[6] SNCF = state railway; RATP = Paris public transport authority (Metro).

[7] In France, 1997 was marked by the lowest number of hours lost to strikes since 1935.

Unemployed recalcitrance and welfare restructuring in the UK today - Aufheben (UK)

1. Introduction

In recent years, unemployment and similar welfare benefits - the dole - have become a focus of struggle in the UK. The small group which produces Aufheben has been involved in this struggle.

As proletarians who at times use the dole as a means of subsistence, fighting to defend it is an expression of our own needs. But such a fight has consequences beyond the particular needs of the unemployed. The main tack we took up in fighting on this issue was to assert the connection of the dole and wages. The dole tends to act as a floor to wages. Undermine that floor and wages are also undermined. Thus we argued that the current government attack on the dole needs to be seen as part of a broad restructuring programme designed to re-orient the class to accept more work, worse conditions and less money.

This article describes how the dole arose through the inclusion of working class needs in the social democratic state. With the retreat of social democracy, the British state has repeatedly sought to 'reform' welfare. The recent 'New Deal' for the unemployed is an example of this. While carried out by the Labour Party, traditionally associated with social democracy, it is a policy of 'welfare reform' which accepts many of the 'neo-liberal' premises of the previous (Conservative) government but which seeks to develop a new agenda. We suggest that, despite the peculiarities of the UK, what has been happening here is relevant to developments in the rest of Europe.

2. The triumph and retreat of social democracy in the UK

The Second World War was the turning point for UK capital and the working class this century, in that it cleared the way for the consolidation of Fordist mass production and mass consumption ("pile 'em high, sell 'em cheap"). Before the war, these production relations had been a source of intense class conflict, especially in the United States, where they were pioneered. War, and the US victory, cleared the way for introducing these relations throughout the Western bloc. However, this restructuring of capitalist relations of production and reproduction could not simply be imposed on the working class, particularly in the victorious countries. Unions and social democratic parties were needed to integrate the working class into these new relations.

The previous 'mode of accumulation'[1] was based on restricting the supply of commodities in order to obtain monopoly prices with which to accommodate the demands of skilled and organized sections of the working class. By contrast, Fordism entailed the unfettered expansion of production. Capital's real domination and 'scientific' development of the labour process allowed a continual rise in the productivity of labour. In return for conceding control over the labour process, the working class was virtually guaranteed continually rising real wages within the limits of the growth in productivity. These higher wages then provided the demand for the ever increasing production of commodities - cars, washing machines etc. - by Fordist industry. The new mode of accumulation was given stability through the UK, along with other Western economies, signing up to the Bretton Woods system of fixed exchange rates, according to which each national currency was committed to maintain a fixed parity to the dollar. All this was the basis of the Keynesian economic strategy of demand management and investment in the public sector adopted by successive British governments of both main political parties.

Socially, an essential precondition of Fordism was the establishment of a 'post-war settlement'. Pressure from the working class, and ruling class fear of revolution, led to the provision following the second world war of comprehensive and inclusive welfare, corporatism (tripartite organizations and trade union rights), full employment and wealth redistribution through taxation. In effect, the working class exchanged the desire for revolution or further social changes in return for the inclusion of its demands within the state and capital. The 'gains' for the working class - for example, free health care, universal welfare system, social housing - necessarily involved its demobilization. Working class communities were broken up as new housing estates were built. The old networks of mutual aid and solidarity were replaced by the bureaucratic administration of welfare etc. At the same time, rising real wages necessarily involved an intensification and monotonization of work.

With these 'gains', social democracy - that is, the representation of the working class as labour within capital and the bourgeois state, politically through social democratic parties, and economically through trades unions - had finally triumphed. The precondition for any revolutionary movement thus became an attack on this representation. The working class had to overcome the social-democratic containment of its struggle.

The post-war settlement could only be sustained through the economic conditions of the post-war boom; yet it also tended to undermine these very economic conditions. By the late 1960s, the terms of the post-war settlement were an increasing burden on UK capital and served to strengthen the hand of the working class. Workers' demands for more money and less work began to exceed the limits of the social democratic compromise. In 1974, a strike by the miners, the strongest section of the UK working class, toppled the Conservative government. The incoming Labour government tried to defuse class militancy within the terms of social democracy. In order to restrain rising wage demands, a 'social contract', mediated by the unions, attempted to impose equality of sacrifice on all sections of the working class. However, this collapsed in the winter of discontent (1978-9) when many of the key sectors of the working class struck, bringing the country almost to a standstill.

Subsequently, the Thatcher government abandoned the post-war consensus and asserted instead the right of capital to manage. Central to Thatcher's restructuring was both anti-strike legislation and an abandonment of any attempt to mitigate or curb mass unemployment. From the point of view of capital, the Thatcherite restructuring was highly successful. Britain moved from the country leading the industrialized world in terms of strikes and worker 'bloody-mindedness' to one having the lowest level of strikes and the most cowed workforce. Much of the leadership of the labour movement in effect accepted Thatcher's assertion that there was 'no alternative'; the idealistic illusions of progressive social democracy gave way to the 'new realism' of accommodation to the market. Politically, the development of 'New Labour' has been the result.

3. Mass unemployment and 'dole autonomy'

'New Labour' represents the recognition by the political leadership of British social democracy that the re-definition of the post-war settlement begun by Thatcher was irreversible but incomplete. One reason that the re-definition is incomplete is that many sections of the working class have yet to be fully re-integrated into the discipline of the market. To understand this, and hence the importance of work to the 'New Labour' project, we must look at some of the unforeseen consequences of Thatcher's strategic use of mass unemployment.

Mass unemployment certainly had the desired effect on many sectors of the labour market - eliminating at a stroke some of the most militant. The virtual eradication of the mining industry is the key example. Yet the other central aim of the strategy of mass unemployment - to rein in wage levels through creating a reserve army of labour - remained essentially unfulfilled. In effect, a dual labour market emerged. The problem for British capital was that large numbers of people simply got used to long-term unemployment. Those outside work were perceived by the bosses as being unemployable - lacking not just 'skills' but basic work-discipline. So rather than this reserve army of labour creating competition and pressure on wages, the 'recalcitrance' of the unemployed had the effect that, in many sectors, existing workers were simply poached across enterprises and were still able to command relatively high wages. Large sectors of British capital therefore remained uncompetitive.

Most unemployed people certainly sought work, if only because they needed the money. Others, albeit a minority, tried to turn the dearth of jobs to our advantage. Thus, in the 1980s, the dole was the basis of a number of creative projects and movements, some of which were overtly political. In effect, the dole became the trouble-maker's grant. This has continued into the 1990s. For example, many of the most committed anti-roads militants would not have been able to occupy trees etc. without the dole. One could say that the 'refusal of work', a militant tendency which had developed in the workplaces in the 1960s and '70s, now became displaced onto the dole. With such displacement came a certain degree of marginalization, however. While the earlier 'refusal of work' threatened to spread across workplaces and thus form links between different workers and to those outside the workplace, the new 'dole autonomy' too often entails forms of individualism and lifestylism. This becomes clearer when we examine the fragmented responses of people to the current attacks on the dole.

Throughout the 1980s, there had been various attempts to tighten dole regulations. Most had little effect, largely through dole-workers' preferences for an easy life. In 1996, the Job Seeker's Allowance (JSA) was introduced as a more concerted attempt to deal with this problem of the recalcitrance of the unemployed sector of the labour market. The JSA entailed a harsher benefits regime, codifying and systematizing the pressure on unemployed claimants to seek work (any work) or get off the dole. The JSA was openly part of 'neo-liberal' ideology,[2] being designed to increase the effectiveness of the industrial reserve army and hence competition on the labour market, driving down wages at the bottom end.

The main organized opposition to the JSA took two forms. First, a small anti-JSA network of anarchist and similar groups from around the country was formed. These 'Groundswell' groups were often connected to claimants' unions or community action groups. Most participants were unemployed themselves, and had in an important sense chosen to be so. Although the Groundswell network held a few marches, pickets and occupations, attempts to build local solidarity through leafleting and advice (e.g., on getting through Jobcentre interviews) were more prevalent.

Second, many Jobcentre (dole) workers themselves were opposed to the JSA, since the new regime threatened to increase the policing aspect of their work and hence bring them into conflict with claimants. The Jobcentre workers' strike in the winter of 1995-6 was not over the JSA as such (due in part to the terms of the anti-strike legislation mentioned above), and certainly did not lead to a direct victory for the workers. But it served both to delay the implementation of the JSA by three months and to undermine its effectiveness, particularly the ability of management to impose performance-related pay, whereby dole-workers are rewarded according to the number of claimants that they pressurize off the dole.

The Jobcentres in Brighton came out on indefinite strike. Those of us involved in the anti-JSA campaign in Brighton argued that shared action with dole-workers was a practical necessity. Moreover, Jobcentres are a section of the civil service which has seen increasing proletarianization; many dole-workers are on low pay and short-term contracts, and are very similar to the claimants they process. Claimants in the anti-JSA campaign group therefore joined workers on the picket-line. We explained to other claimants that the strike was in their interests. A victory for the Jobcentre workers would strengthen their hand against management, and hence against the implementation of the JSA.

On the basis of the joint action during the Jobcentre strike, the Brighton claimants action group established links with militant dole-workers. Support from organized claimants encouraged dole-workers to resist management demands; and dole-workers passed on information and discussed tactics with organized claimants. On the day the JSA was finally introduced (October 1996) over 300 people laid siege to all the town's Jobcentres; dole-workers used the siege as an opportunity to down tools, bringing the new regime into chaos. Unfortunately, however, such scenes were not repeated elsewhere. Since then, although the JSA is now in force, Brighton Jobcentres are among the most lenient in the country; Jobcentre workers here have a reputation for discreet acts of solidarity at the counter when it comes to filling in JSA forms.

The demonstration against the JSA was perhaps the high point of the claimants' 'movement'. Since then, there have been a number of minor successes against a small-scale workfare scheme, 'Project Work', in which a number of claimants were forced to work for their dole for local charities. Militant pickets and occupations forced many of these charities into humiliating climb-downs. Yet this workfare scheme was poorly funded and lacking popular legitimacy; it was easy for small groups of militants to damage it.

Our problem is that the claimants 'movement' has simply failed to take off. It has been enormously difficult for those of us on the dole to compose ourselves collectively. Most claimants feel that they can avoid the sanctions of the JSA through their own initiatives. Moreover, even most of those who treat the dole as the trouble-maker's grant likewise adopt almost exclusively individual solutions: bluffs, signing off, moving away, petty entrepreneurship, going to university etc. For all the vigour of recent dole-based movements (ecological, 'DiY'[3] etc.), collectively they fail to defend the very conditions that make their lifestyles and movements of resistance possible. As a movement, they think they can simply ignore the threat to the dole.

The Government's problem, however, was that the JSA itself was not enough in the face of general unemployed recalcitrance. The lack of 'job readiness' among too many people, whether conscious or otherwise, represented a major obstacle to restructuring. A further push was needed to deliver more employable workers to the labour market. The 'New Deal' represents such a push.

4. A 'New Deal' for the unemployed

Most attempts by the Conservative government to attack benefits were met by cynicism and passive resistance. Labour, on the other hand, as the party that 'created the welfare state', claims to be the one that can be trusted to 'reform' it. The 'New Deal' for the young unemployed - a 'menu' of job-counselling, subsidized employment and work experience placements - is part of New Labour's 'Welfare to Work' strategy. Welfare to Work is described as the government's flagship policy, since it embodies New Labour's key 'values': 'partnership' in place of class conflict (because New Labour wants business to participate in the socialization of the unemployed);[4] the social role of work and the importance of the work-ethic in providing self-respect; and the fair exchange of rights to benefits for the duty to seek and accept the work or placements offered. The New Deal represents a departure from the overtly punitive 'neo liberal' approach of the last government, to a more integrative approach - but not the integration of social democracy.

By offering people 'training' and personalized job-counselling, the New Deal claims to give claimants what they want - a toe-hold in the labour market. Yet it is a work-experience programme which doesn't actually create any jobs, and its bedrock is the harsh JSA sanctions regime: refuse the counselling or the New Deal 'options' and you lose all your benefits.

The origins of the New Deal lie in old Labour-left job-creation programmes, themselves part of broader economic strategies. Such old left strategies included Keynesian policies of investment in the public sector which would increase the demand for labour. This reflation of the economy would characteristically be combined with controls on imports and capital movements. A programme like the New Deal would be the supply-side counterpart of such an economic strategy, training the unemployed to take the newly created jobs. But New Labour entails the dumping of left Keynesian economic strategies in favour of a rigid 'neo-liberal' economic orthodoxy. For example, the setting of interest rates has been handed over to the Bank of England, and public spending is to be kept strictly within limits determined by inflation targets. However, the 'training scheme' part of the old strategy, in the form of the New Deal, is retained from the past.

Within a broad strategy of abandoning social democracy, what function is served by retaining the 'training' element of an old left programme? Ideologically, ripping this kind of policy out of its social democratic context fits with the New Labour values of 'rights and responsibilities'. Thus, the government offers claimants the ability to make themselves competitive on the labour market; in return, it expects us to compete harder for the existing jobs. This is what they mean by 'empowering job-seekers' and ending their 'social exclusion'. The New Deal is a social democratic policy in appearance which is turned to the service of labour market flexibility. Its principle aim, as with the JSA, is to enhance the effectiveness of the industrial reserve army and so increase competition in the labour market.

In practice, the 'skills' that the New Deal is supposedly equipping 'job-seekers' with are for the most part not what most claimants want. Like previous make-work and workfare schemes, for most claimants the New Deal won't provide anything more useful on the labour market than the ability to get out of bed in the morning. However, for the employers, of course, the inculcation of work-discipline is essential. True, there is a skills shortage in some sectors (Information Technology and construction); but many of the jobs which cannot be filled or which have high turnover, particularly the lowest-paying ones, require reliability more than special skills. The New Deal is intended as an ideological offensive according to which the work-ethic is to be drummed into even those sectors previously considered outside the labour-market - such as single parents and those on sickness benefits - so that the labour market as a whole learns the value of hard work and flexibility.

The JSA was easy to criticize. But the fact that the New Deal has had some success in presenting itself as what the unemployed want has meant that it has become even more difficult for claimants to compose themselves as a movement of opposition. Many of the Groundswell groups either collapsed or degenerated back into their claimants union origins instead of discussing how to build an oppositional movement. The problem is that no new claimants are coming forward to join the groups - particular not young claimants, the group most affected by the New Deal. The remaining claimants action campaigns largely comprise small groups of ageing politicoes with little basis outside particular narrow scenes. Such problems of opposition have been compounded by the government's apparent success so far in winning round many dole workers with a 'new ethos' of 'customer care'.

Despite the weakness of the opposition, it seems that the New Deal might in fact fail for other reasons. The much-vaunted new ethos is likely to come into conflict with government attempts to increase cost-effectiveness, most notably by privatizing some Jobcentre functions. For example, the Reed private employment agency has taken over provision of the New Deal in parts of London. Reed's 'job-counsellors' are much more reliant than are Jobcentre dole-workers on bonuses for shoving people into jobs (any jobs). Where the Jobcentres have to compete in a 'job-counselling' market, the 'new ethos' and hence the credibility of the New Deal will not survive.
Second, and perhaps more serious for the prospects for the New Deal, is the state of the economy. Although employment is rising and unemployment falling, the pictures varies accoriding to region and sector. In areas of already high unemployment, where the manufacturing base is being eroded still further, the number of New Deal placements will start to dry up, just as more 'clients' need to be 'placed'. Only the least attractive and least credible 'options' will remain; and, in a much tighter labour market, the replacement of normal jobs with workfare placements will become more contentious.

5. Is the British situation peculiar?

In Europe there is much talk among leftists, both 'reformist', and 'revolutionary', about a guaranteed minimum income and reduced working time. The closest parallel in Britain is perhaps the demand to increase the level of Britain's (belatedly-introduced) minimum wage for those in employment. The minimum wage needs to be understood as part of the Government's attempt to shift welfare payments from non-workers (e.g., unemployed, single parents, disabled) towards those in work. In the context of benefits becoming in effect wage-subsidies, a minimum wage is a safeguard against employers shifting the cost of reproducing labour-power onto the state. The leftists who try to mobilize around increasing the level of the minimum wage (currently £3.60 an hour for those over 21) try to maintain the illusion that its recent introduction is a social democratic reform which can be built upon, rather than an integral part of the New Labour project of re-imposing work.

The current attack on the dole, a key component of this project of re-imposing work, is part of the British state's particular response to the global autonomy of finance capital which emerged from the class struggles of the 1960s and 70s. Yet the imperatives imposed by this international power of capital are shared by the UK with all the other countries in Europe. All nation-states are experiencing broadly similar political-economic pressures due to the apparent externalization of the imperatives of capital accumulation. Cuts in benefits and the introduction of workfare-type schemes are reflections of the shared context. Although in different degrees and from different stating points, in the UK and other European nation-states, the old social democratic forms have been in retreat.

Yet, of course, the UK situation differs from the rest of Europe in certain crucial respects. In nowhere else in Europe was there an equivalent of the precipitous and class-confrontational Thatcherite restructuring. In the UK, with its historically important finance-capital sector, the backward manufacturing sector could be sacrificed, since surplus-value could still be creamed off from abroad through the money markets. By contrast, in Germany, for example, there were no Keynesian policies to abandon, and no alternative to continuing to base the economy on manufacturing. Hence Germany, unlike Britain, retained key social democratic strategies such as corporatism, even during the decades during which it was forced, like Britain, to pursue policies aimed at controlling the money supply.
The differences between Britain and the rest of Europe persist. Whereas the election of New Labour in the UK was taken as the consolidation of the 'neo-liberal' achievements of the Thatcher period, the re-emergence of the 'socialists' elsewhere in Europe was interpreted by many, including isolated social democrats in Britain, as a partial resurgence of social democracy. There is no 'new reformism' here in the UK, then, but rather the open drive towards labour market flexibility in the form of a new post-socialist 'consensus'.

However, the relation between the form of some of New Labour's policies and their ultimate aims points to a crucial parallel between the UK and its European counterparts. As we have shown, the 'new ethos' of personalized 'job-counselling' etc. which the unemployed supposedly demanded from the New Deal is part of an agenda in which the price is harder work, lower pay, casualization and a tougher benefits regime. While some might imagine that the calls in Germany and France for reduced working time might serve as a crucial advance for workers' rights, as other articles in this collection point out, the reality is increased flexibility and more work in the guise of a progressive demand. The realities of 'time reductions' negotiated by German unions became apparent when they were imported from 'social Europe' into the British context. Here, BMW's introduction of more intensive working practices from Germany into the factories of their Rover subsidiary was rightly seen as a fundamental attack on existing working conditions, overtime payments etc. It was only imposed through the blackmail of threatening factory closure and complete withdrawal of BMW from Britain.

Similarly, we see the demand in Europe for a guaranteed minimum income as something which is likely to be utilized by capital to its own ends rather than serving as some kind of 'transitional demand'. What is actually guaranteed about such an income is that it would be set at a level which would maintain or increase the competitivity and profitability of the economy in question. Also, even if political pressure could set such a guaranteed income at a reasonable level it is likely over time that the state could push it down below previous benefit levels. Any 'radical' intervention on this terrain would thus simply result in helping the state to restructure its welfare system.

In this sense, the social democratic appearance of the current demands is in fact being fetishized by those demanding a reduction in working time and a guaranteed minimum income; the actual substance of the proposed developments represents the reversal of the social democratic 'gains' of the past. In all cases, what we are witnessing is the use of apparently social democratic principles or policies as part of an overall strategy of acceding to the pressures imposed by the autonomy of global finance capital. The 'new consensus' that both New Labour and the apparently more social democratic European left governments are seeking to create is more work intensity and greater flexibility of the labour market - by any means necessary! While New Labour is honest about abandoning social democracy and imposing market imperatives, the policies of the European left governments represent the hollowing out of social democracy.

Whether in form or in substance, social democratic concessions are not inherently progressive but are forms of mediation and recuperation of working class demands. What is particularly effective about such concessions from the point of view of capital is that they function to make the working class demand and organize its own alienation.

[1] The capitalist mode of production is, of course, an essential category for grasping the present form of class society defined by generalized commodity production and wage-labour, where the ruling class extracts surplus-labour in the form of surplus-value (which is divided into profit, rent, interest etc.). But beyond this level of analysis it seems necessary to periodize the capitalist mode of production to grasp the changes that are occurring. The concept of a 'mode of accumulation' is a means to do this. However, it must be remembered that this concept has been developed by the academic Regulation School in a structuralist and technological determinist framework. For us, when describing the features of such periods it is essential to recognize that the foundation is the balance of forces in the class struggle and not the objectified expressions of this. Thus, though finding the concept of 'Fordism' useful for grasping the nature of the post-war boom, we don't accept the concept of 'post-Fordism', which is often taken to mean post-capitalism. For an interesting discussion of this, see F. Gambino, 'A Critique of the Fordism of the Regulation School' in Common Sense, 19.

[2] 'Neo-liberal' ideology is an expression of the freedom of global finance capital. In response to the class struggles of the '60s and '70s and the difficulties in maintaining accumulation, states took actions (e.g., by abandoning Bretton Woods) which in effect created the conditions for the development of the relative autonomy of global finance capital. Through taking this more autonomous form, capital could outflank areas of working class strength. A situation was created in which governments of nation states could claim that they had no freedom of manoeuvre but rather had to compete in terms of labour flexibility, social costs etc. to maintain competitiveness and attract investment. The 'neo-liberal' ideology and practices which Britain and the USA promoted were only the harshest examples of this move by states to present aggressive measures against their working classes as dictated by an external force. The 'Third Way' policies these states now champion are largely a continuation of the same attacks with a softened rhetoric but similar appeal to 'new global realities'. Opponents of 'neo-liberalism' and 'globalization' fall into the trap of opposing the state to capital and then appealing to the state to tame the economy. They are also wont to whine about the irresponsibility of capital and complain that democratic institutions are being undermined. It must be remembered that democratic states have participated in the creation of the structures of the global economy and the current relation between finance and industrial capital. The political and economic, rather than distinct spheres, are two sides of the same coin of capitalist domination. From the proletarian perspective it must always be remembered that finance capital even in its more autonomous global manifestation is not a separate entity but is simply a form that capital takes. It is ultimately dependent on always coming back to concrete labour - to exploitation and insubordination. The class struggle must be fought out with real workers in concrete situations.

[3] 'Do it Yourself'. See our articles, 'Kill or Chill? Analysis of the Opposition to the Criminal Justice Bill' in Aufheben 4 (Summer 1995) and 'The Politics of Anti-road Struggle and the Struggles of Anti-road Politics: The Case of the No M11 Link Road Campaign' in DiY Culture: Party & Protest in Nineties Britain, ed. George McKay (Verso, 1998).

[4] Some businesses responded by donating alarm clocks and bars of soap!

Reforming the welfare state in order to save capitalism - Wildcat (Germany)

Reforming the welfare state for saving capitalism:

The "Guaranteed Income"
[1] and new reformist illusions - Wildcat (Germany)

Since the onset of the global crisis of the early 1990s political discussions about restructuring the welfare state, in which a broad range of leftists try to take part, have intensified. The capitalist state, bourgeois parties and left wing tendencies agree in that social benefits should not depend on life-long waged work any more but be more in accordance with new and more flexible forms of employment. While the capitalist state wants to motivate more people to do badly paid and casual work, some groups from the left claim to campaign against capitalism by demanding a 'guaranteed income' ('existence money' in Germany or 'salaire garanti' in France).

Indeed the traditional welfare state is no longer consistent with the restructured class relations. But do the friends of the 'guaranteed income' really grasp what's going on? We will start by looking at the debate so far (1) and then take a look at the real changes in class relations (2) which provide the material base for the consensus around the restructuring of the welfare state (3). This will be followed by a critique of the illusions regarding the welfare state (4) which inform the left's interpretation of events and a critique of the concept of politics (5) which informs the left's new campaigns.

1. The state of the debate today

In (West) Germany the debate about a different welfare state and new class relations ('new poverty', 'the end of the work society') has been going on since the early 1980s. The first deep post war crisis of 1974-5 had driven unemployment up to 1 million. At first however this looked like a cyclical phenomenon. In the 1980-2 crisis official unemployment went up from 1 to 2 million. Apparently, full employment capitalism was over and talk of "structural unemployment" began. Radical leftists saw so-called 'post-industrial mass poverty' as a starting point for new revolutionary concepts. The number of people who were still being exploited by capital seemed to be free falling and the work society looked like it was going to be 'out of work' very soon. Unfortunately this turned out not to be the case. At the same time people said 'good-bye to the proletariat' (Andre Gorz, 1980) and tried to mould the 'unemployed', which had so far been a labour law category, into a new political actor. At the conferences for a West German unemployed movement in the early 1980s, leftists came up with the demand for a guaranteed income in order to break away from the "work for everyone" slogan and to express their criticism of capitalist waged work. However the 'good-bye to the proletariat' meant that they had lost the revolutionary social subject. This left them with little choice but to make a demand to the state on behalf of the 'unemployed'. The unemployed movement which many had hoped for never came.

From the mid-1980s, employment boomed. Most unemployed groups were saved from extinction only by professionalising and institutionalising with money from the state and job creation jobs. Radical leftists and autonomists lost interest in questions of unemployment and exploitation while the state hoped to solve the crisis in a new economic boom. But the crisis of 1992-3 accelerated the changes in exploitation relations and in the composition of unemployment and casual forms of exploitation. It became more and more apparent that capitalism is a class society in which proletarians and capital owners confront each other. In 1993, Karl Heinz Roth's theses about a new worldwide proletarization unifying the conditions of the working class across the planet sparked a debate about the new revolutionary opportunities which this situation offered. But the majority of the left bowed to capitalism's victorious smile, in their theoretical and practical efforts developing their own version of the 'end of history' and saying good-bye to the revolution in theories about 'post-fordism' and 'globalisation'.

Encouraged by movements in France and scared by neo-fascist mobilisations around the 'social question', the radical left rediscovered society's class character about one or two years ago. The return of West European social democracy to power is an indication that capital too is looking for new forms of mediation, turning away from 'neo-liberalism' and considering new forms of regulation (from the Tobin tax to new welfare state models). Sailing in their wake are some of those who originally wanted to criticise capitalism but, out of desperation or false realism, have begun to participate in the search for new regulations. But nothing is as important today as criticising this society radically enough to match existing proletarian anger. Then it would turn out that this world already possesses a dream of human life beyond state and capital.

2. The new class relations as a political challenge

Debates about 'unemployment' and 'employment' often assume these categories to be two groups of society: One group has a regular income and one group is 'excluded' from the labour market and has to be supported by the state. This image has little to do with real people and their biographies. A lot of people do not work but are not 'unemployed' (pupils, retired people etc.), others are 'unemployed' and work (off the books), others are not 'employed' but still work (housework, raising children etc.), still others are available to be exploited by capital but wait abroad and therefore do not count as 'unemployed'. The statistics do not tell us how capital exploits living labour power. You should keep this in mind when you read the following sketch of class relations (in Germany). We will only understand the important changes if we get involved.

After World War II the unemployment rate went down to less than 1 per cent only from 1961. 1975, with its annual average of 1 million unemployed, marks the end of the short dream of full employment. Modern unemployment is not forever for individual proletarians, but means changing jobs with interruptions. Statistically, 4.6 million workers were unemployed once in 1975, but unemployment lasted only an average of 12 weeks.

For the first time in capitalist history the state was forced to pay unemployed workers an income which covered their reproduction, in order to maintain industrial peace. Unemployment no longer functioned as a wage-depressing industrial reserve army. The proletariat quickly discovered the pleasant sides of unemployment. Many used the dole or requalification schemes to get out of the factory which everyone hated. The revolutionary left talked of the 'happy unemployed'. After the defeat of the open struggles, unemployment became a reservoir especially for many of the conflictual workers. Real wages kept rising and the first experiments with reorganising production failed. The attempt to use immigrant workers from South Europe as a mobile reserve of labour power was a failure as well. There was a significant rise of the immigrant resident population after the official end to the employment of new immigrant workers in 1973.

During the next crisis, 1980-2, unemployment rose to over 2 million, speeding up turnover in the job market. Half of those who had found new jobs after being unemployed lost their new jobs again after a while. This indicated a rise of casual and insecure forms of exploitation. The 1985 Employment Promotion Act (Beschäftigungsförderungsgesetz) opened the door for an extended use of fixed-term contracts and temporary work agencies. The reduction of working time by trade union agreements became a Trojan horse for the flexibilisation and intensification of work. Benefit payments were subject to several policy changes. For instance when, in the mid 1980s, benefit cuts had led to a sinking rate of eligibility for unemployment insurance benefits, the state raised payments for the older unemployed again.

Between 1985 and 1992, three million new jobs were created. Because of the immigration from Eastern Europe, which rapidly grew after 1987, manufacturing jobs and poorly paying jobs could be filled with immigrants. Still there was new shopfloor conflict shortly before German 'reunification'. Employers in the metal industries tried to meet wage demands with one-off bonus payments; a workers' mobilisation in hospitals across West Germany led to improved working conditions and significant pay raises. In the euphoric political climate of 'reunification', the government was not able to uphold austerity and welfare cuts but resorted to giant public debts thereby further fuelling economic growth. The worldwide crisis which set in in 1990 was delayed by two years by this 'special boom' in Germany. The crisis came in 1992-3 and it was deeper than all the previous ones. Massive cuts in employment had already cut East German jobs from 10 to 6 million by 1992-raising all-German unemployment to 3 million. In the crisis it rose to over 4 million, and the cyclical upswing since has marked a sharp break with former trends:

Jobs: In spite of the recovery, unemployment rose continually until 1997 while the number of 'regular' jobs[2] sank correspondingly. Statistically, only 'irregular' new jobs were created: self-employment, work off the books, social insurance-free jobs[3] etc.

Wages: For the first time, real wages have sunk without rising again. They also sank in relation to productivity, i.e. wage per unit costs sank.

Benefits: Due to drastic benefit cuts more and more unemployed have lost their unemployment insurance entitlements and have had to claim social assistance. The separation between insurance and means-tested benefits is beginning to break down.

Unions: There has been a breakthrough for capital in big companies: Trade unions and factory councils pledged to assist in cost-cutting programmes, wage components were made dependent on the development of productivity and the sick-rate, factory councils[4] signed company agreements below valid collective agreements signed by the same unions.

East Germany: East German production has been completely restructured, serving as a testing ground for new strategies of exploitation. Instead of raising wages to the West German level, as had been promised in 1990, collective agreements froze wages at a permanently lower level. At the same time, wages and conditions have been below existing collective agreements to an extent unknown in West Germany.

The crisis of 1992-3 marked a turning point in the discussion about the crisis and reform of the welfare state. More than 20 years of unemployment were finally to act as a pressure to radically intensify exploitation. At the same time, the working class too has left the ideal of life-long full-time employment behind. Workers are looking for individual ways out. Self-employment and work off the books are a result not only of unemployment but also of many proletarians' illusionary hopes to get away from the drugdery of work. When Kohl's government was re-elected in 1994 it was not able to take this mixture of fear and hope and turn it into the legitimation for a radical restructuring of the welfare state. It was too obvious that the government was serving the interests of the employers, so the 'reforms' ran up against a brick wall. In contrast, the restructuring plans of the new red/green government, which were immediately announced in the name of the 'unemployed' and 'economic prosperity', are much more dramatic.

3. Restructuring the welfare state: shoring up the new class relations

Today the programmes of all political parties in Germany demand some kind of guaranteed minimum income (ranging from 'negative income tax' models to a 'civil right' for income). This is a response to the fact that more and more people in new forms of employment are no longer covered by the traditional safety nets of the welfare state. On the other hand, they all agree that the only way of increasing employment is the creation of more of these new jobs because they mean lower wage costs and more worker flexibility. The debate is not about the absolute costs of the welfare state but about its effectiveness in securing exploitation. In capital's logic, higher costs in some fields (like early retirement schemes or a guaranteed income) may be okay because they lead to a growth of the total mass of labour and surplus value. Even long-term payments to a few troublemakers may result in higher productivity of society as a whole.

The chancellor's chief adviser Hombach says what the restructuring plans are all about: So far politicians have tried to adjust employment relations to the welfare system. Now the welfare system will have to adjust to the labour market's new realities: "All attempts at productively using flexibilisation at the bottom end of the labour market will be in vain if we cannot disconnect the social security system from the assumption that normality means life-long full-time employment and the 'normal family', with a working father, a house wife and children. (...) And we will only be able to use 'irregular' employment to build bridges into the labour market if we do not punish social assistance claimants for working. Instead of taking away every penny they earn we should turn additional earnings into incentives."

Another, often underestimated, reason for the restructuring of the welfare state is the development of paid non-work by older people. The pension insurance budget is twice as high as the unemployment insurance and social assistance budgets added together. With life expectancy rising and contributions to social insurance sinking, it will mean either lower pensions or higher contributions. This is why more and more experts advocate a tax-funded minimum pension. In the framework of a guaranteed income this would be much easier to introduce.

But why should the red/green government be more successful than its predecessor in realizing such a far-reaching restructuring of the welfare state? While the Christian Democrats were always suspected of being 'neo-liberals', the new government can use the widespread criticism of 'neo-liberalism' to present its policies as a 'third way', avoiding USA conditions. While the modernisation of the economy is inevitable, proletarians should be protected by a minimum guarantee. Social peace, guaranteed by social security and trade union mediation, is a productive advantage of the German export-orientated economy, and the capitalists do not want to give it up. However the division of work between state social security and private precaution is to be rearranged.

This policy promises to create the basis for a new 'social contract' by saving us from the horrors of neo-liberalism. The "Alliance for Jobs" is one way of bringing about this consensus (there are others like former critiques of work turned into new pro-work ideologies of 'subsistence economy' or 'self-managed enterprises'). The unions participate in this Alliance. While they said no to state subsidies for low-wage work under the previous government they co-operate in such experiments now. In the same context, the boss of the metal workers' union IGM declared that young people should be forced to work: "In the long run, there can be no freedom of choice between turning down an apprenticeship placement and collecting benefits if there are enough placements available. We (!) will have to cut benefits for kids who refuse this offer." If the 'social contract' is a contract, both sides will have to give something - after all it's for jobs.

At this moment nobody can make exact predictions which changes to the social security laws will lead to which behaviours by capitalists and by proletarians. Even the world's chief economists admit that they do not understand the current crisis of global capitalism any more. Then how should welfare state experts know what is to be done? This openness of the situation creates an opportunity for radical leftist groups to make their own 'realistic' demands to the welfare state.

4. Illusions regarding the welfare state and class society

The assumptions about the welfare state in the debate about the guaranteed income derive first of all from personal experience with using welfare benefits. The welfare state is not judged by its relation to the class relationship and class struggle-neither historically nor in daily political activities-but by personal opportunities to live with as little work as possible. After the failure of the proletarian struggles of the 1970s, the tendency of collective struggles against work was replaced by the individual behaviour and lifestyle of the refusal of work. Collecting welfare benefits gave the subjects of the 'new social movements' enough free time for their political activities. But connections to the struggle against work in the production process became severed. 'Autonomous' became an expression of the separation from conflicts in the workplace. Apart from the hassle in the benefits offices, the welfare state was seen as quite an agreeable institution.

This corresponds to two familiar ideas: welfare benefits are income without work, and this is possible because the welfare state is an 'achievement' of the workers' movement. These ideas reproduce the exact same illusions with which the welfare state veils the fundamental class relationship.

Historically, the welfare state was first of all a bulwark against the threat of revolution. Since the early 19th century, when the 'dangerous classes' threatened the social order, the bourgeoise talked about the 'social question'. This term theoretically defused the class antagonism and assumed that it could in principle be solved by social reform. State-run social security was to guarantee that proletarians would permanently offer their labour power to capital-without revolting and without starving to death.

On the other hand the workers' movement also established its own social security funds to help solidarity among workers. They criticised the introduction of social insurance schemes by the state as a kind of expropriation of their self-organised funds. While Bismarck in Germany established a purely statal social insurance system which was aimed openly against the workers' movement, in other countries the state subsidized the self-organised funds of the trade unions. That move also served to integrate the workers' movement into the bourgeois state; but the consciousness of the opposition between the working class and state-regulated reproduction was still alive, because the workers' movement maintained control over its own funds.

The introduction of any social benefit has always meant more control and surveillance of individual proletarians: People asking for social benefits must be registered nation-state citizens, disclose their employment and education history, etc.

The 'achievements' of the welfare state are meant to suppress awareness of our own strength and collective struggles. Our own self-activity is replaced by the state, we are atomised by bourgeois law and individual monetary payments. Capitalism is based on the fact that we are constantly being separated from the wealth we have produced by our own social co-operation. The welfare state makes sure we accept this fact and behave as individuals.

The welfare state has completed the project of the nation. At first, proletarians did not have a 'fatherland' indeed-then the claim to social benefits from 'their' state turned them into national 'citizens'. German trade unions were finally fully recognised by the state in World War I when they were involved in the administration of the national economy and took on the responsibility of disciplining the workers. Where self-organised funds of the workers' movement still existed in other European countries they were handed over to the state under Nazi occupation. Anyone making appeals to the welfare state today cannot avoid an affirmative approach to the nation state.

The claim that the guaranteed income has an anti-capitalist dimension because it is disconnected from waged work is based on the second illusion of the welfare state: that its benefits are income without work. For capitalist class relations, it is not so important that each and every individual is forced to work all their lives but that capital can mobilise enough work in society as a whole to meet its needs for valorisation. This societal coercion to work has always depended on the welfare state as a means of dividing the working class and establishing hierarchical differences among workers. The guaranteed income does not contradict this logic because it does not stop the alienation of our wealth but only serves as an income bottom line: "a factual minimum wage below which nobody has to work" (as the Co-ordination of Unemployed Groups put it in January 1999). Anyone who is not satisfied with a mere subsistence guarantee has only one choice: work!

The development of the welfare state has been based on the opposition of two different principles: insurance and alms. This drew a clear line between 'workers' and 'paupers'. The first have been offered the illusion of living off their own personal savings in times of unemployment or old age while the latter have been dependent on (state funded) alms. This insurance fetishism is tied to the wage fetishism, and like the wage fetishism it veils the fact of exploitation. In the wage, the appropriation of other people's work by capital appears as a fair exchange of work and money.[5]

In the face of mass unemployment, high job turnover and continuing hatred of life-long work this dual model of state controlled insurance and state alms has gone into crisis. Those who have enough money join private insurance schemes, while at the same time more and more proletarians are no longer entitled to state social insurance and have to claim social assistance. German social insurance was designed for times of full employment with only cyclical peaks of unemployment. Social assistance was supposed to be extremely stigmatising and was not designed to pay for massive unemployment. Politicians see the crisis of the welfare state as a problem of weak 'incentives to work' and of a 'loss of legitimation'.

We have to put both into context: 1) In order to increase the 'incentive' to work, social benefits will have to be rearranged so that even badly paid work will notably increase one's income. Of course this carrot is combined with a stick: workfare programmes against youth and other people who refuse to work. 2) Claiming social assistance for a short while is to be less stigmatising so that people will be encouraged to risk self-employment or other insecure jobs. To that end, the minimum income is to be designed as a 'civil right'. In exchange for that, existing social insurance benefits like old age pensions could be cut because people are already using private insurance schemes anyway.

The leftist demand for a guaranteed income appears politically realistic because it is in line with the second argument ('civil right') - and simply ignores the first ('work incentives').

5. From the 'political wage' to the guaranteed income

Some groups ignore the criticism of the guaranteed income, arguing that it only serves as a demand for mobilizations. According to them, the mere fact that a guaranteed income would be utopian in a capitalist society could bring people out into the streets for anti-capitalist politics. According to them, the guaranteed income should not actually be seen as a demand but as a strategy of direct appropriation-like the concept of the 'political wage' which was formulated in Italy in the 1970s. As the 'political wage' emerged around militant mass worker struggles and broad movements of direct appropriation it does look like the most radical concept. Then just as now the real question is how we understand politics: how do we see the role of political organization?

In the late 1960s, class struggles in Italy had broken free from the chains of trade union control. Struggles and wage demands had detached themselves from the business cycle. That was the material basis of workers' autonomy. The mass workers' struggles were the basis of proletarian power against the factory society, radiating out into the territory: refusal to pay rent or energy bills, squatting, free shopping in supermarkets etc. The 'political wage' was supposed to unite and homogenise all those struggles. "A guaranteed wage outside of the factory means making the transition to taking the commodities, it means appropriating them."[6]

While Potere Operaio's theoreticians argued that this strategy meant the extension of the struggle from the factory to the entire society, in reality it already marked a reaction to the limits of the wage struggles as well as the retreat from the factory. With a clever theoretical move, Toni Negri reinterpreted the loss of proletarian power inside production into a new form of strength. In his Crisis of the Planner-State (1971) - published as a supplement to Potere Operaio - he proclaimed the end of the law of value and thus the end of all material foundations of capitalist domination.[7] According to Negri, communism was imminent so that "each intermediary step has to be shortcircuited". He said that the new movements in the territory (i.e., outside work) already expressed this: "Appropriation is the particular qualification of class behaviour towards the state of the defunct law of value." Therefore he claimed that the revolutionary movement had to clear away the political power structure which had remained without a material base, meaning that "insurrection is on the agenda".

Later, Negri was to call the new subject of this attack the 'social worker', as opposed to the 'mass worker' of factory production,[8] addressing the subjects of the new youth movements that exploded in Italy in the 1977 revolt. The isolation of social revolt from class struggle, from the mass of producers of surplus value, which Negri had expressed and legitimated in his theory, was the birth of 'organised autonomy'. It is the content of all currents that have called themselves 'autonomous' ever since. Today Negri's theory of the 'social worker' and the productivity of "immaterial labour" already acting outside of capital is used by 'Autonomists' in France and Italy to support their campaigns for a guaranteed income.

Thus, the slogan of a 'political wage' was not a generalisation of the struggle of all the exploited, but a programme of separation from and stepping out of the conflict over exploitation. The only way the 'political wage' could be presented as a general strategy was in a vanguardist and leninist sense. In the above mentioned supplement to Potere Operaio, Ferruccio Gambino assigns the demand a central, homogenising role: "Talking about the political wage means that all these offensive, defensive and also reactionary forces are withdrawn from the capitalist system and transformed into elements of political class organisation. The political wage must make it possible to transcend those forms of resistance." This shows a vanguardist understanding: the class may lead a multiplicity of struggles but it does not learn by itself. Homogenisation and political development can only be brought about by a political organisation. That is why it is so important to have a central demand: the 'political wage' is a substitute for processes of learning and homogenisation which do not happen.

Conclusion: Self-emancipation vs. Politics

Today's proposal to organize around a central demand is informed by the same understanding of the relation between proletarian movement and political organization. "But we know that new movements will hardly emerge on the (casual and flexibilised) shopfloor. The only place where they can still really constitute themselves is concrete political struggles where solidarity is experienced in the common project (and not on the shopfloor as in earlier days)".[9] It starts from the certainty that, in the face of 'post-fordism' and the 'diffuse factory', autonomous struggles can no longer exist. Instead of questioning the theories of post-fordism and criticising their affirmative stance towards capitalist development, they are used as a theoretical cliché in order to justify the necessity of mobilizing and uniting the atomised subjects from above. The demands do not start from real struggles but are deduced from an abstract consideration about state and income. Therefore they can only see themselves as representatives and politicians.

Interventions starting from the assumption that the proletariat can emancipate itself have always been met with the objection that the proletariat is so extremely fragmented that only a central political project from the outside could overcome that fragmentation. In 1973, the group Arbeitersache München wrote about its political work with immigrant workers: "Many comrades have objections to this approach because the foreign workers often change their jobs and do not remain steadily in one place. We say: this is not a disadvantage but an advantage. If we think that the workers will be able to develop patterns of struggle and behaviour then we also think that any spreading of these experiences through mobility will push ahead the class struggle. And we are convinced that all these contradictions will produce more and more struggles in which our task will be one of generalisation and 'synthesis'. Thinking that the readiness to fight must be the result of doing subversive work in one department of a factory for ten years completely ignores the reality of today's large plants. Moreover it implies that the proletariat does not have a knowledge of forms of struggle but has to be taught these in a long process. This is not true - this knowledge exists but it is covered by many veils. And we are contributing to uncovering them."[10]

That is pretty much how we might describe our own tasks today. Ironically, the same 'autonomous' groups who were always critical of the unions reproduce traditional trade unionist conceptions about the evolutionary development of struggles (e.g. long education of workers in one factory department) as evidence that in 'post-fordist' structures of production proletarians can no longer struggle. Today's changes in the labour market are usually called "casualisation" as if this explained anything. Most talk about 'casualisation' only refers to a departure from 'normal' employment as defined by labour law regulations, but does not start from the role of living labour and its co-operation inside the process of production. Therefore this point of view misses completely how the process of casualisation has expanded social co-operation-a development which politically appears as the atomization of workers. However, workers' struggles and power are not based on legal regulations but on workers collectively appropriating their own co-operation by fighting against capital.

Communism as a real movement exists in proletarian struggles which today are based on a much greater societalisation of production on a global scale. Ironically, the debates about a guaranteed income quite rightly assume that communism, i.e. life without coercion to work, is possible today, but draw the worst conceivable conclusion from that assumption: instead of tearing down the crumbling walls of the global workhouse they propose to repair them!

[1] In English, the most appropriate equivalent term might be 'basic income'.

[2] 'Regular jobs' in Germany refers to jobs in which workers hold a dependent employee status and for which workers as well as employers pay 4 basic social insurance contributions, i.e. unemployment insurance, health insurance, old age pension insurance and disability care insurance.

[3] Part-time jobs with a working week of less than 15 hours and paying less than 630 DM per month have been contribution-free. Since last autumn, there has been intensive debate about a reform of these jobs.

[4] Betriebsrat: representative body elected by the workforce of a company; has some say in company affairs and is legally obliged to uphold productive peace.

[5] The term 'exclusion' reinforces this illusion. While the 'excluded' are seen as being unable to reproduce themselves by waged work, a job where one is exploited is seen as an opportunity "to participate in the wealth of society". The conceptual pair exclusion/inclusion makes the class relationship disappear.

[6] Wir wollen Alles, No. 19.

[7] English version in: Revolution Retrieved (Red Notes, 1988).

[8] For a critique of that term cf. Roberto Battaggia: 'Operaio Massa e Operaio Sociale: Alcune Considerazioni sulla "Nuova Composizione di Classe"', in Primo Maggio, 14, Winter 1980/81.

[9] 'Der Schwierige Weg zu Einem Europäischen Kampf gegen das Kapital' [The difficult road towards a European struggle against capital] (invitation to the conference), in Arranca, No. 14.

[10] Arbeitersache München, Was wir Brauchen, Müssen wir uns Nehmen [We have to take what we need], Munich 1973, p. 35.

Wildcat Germany- Reforming the Welfare State for Saving Capitalism.pdf449.46 KB

35 hour week: lower incomes and more work; working time reduction in Germany - Wildcat (Germany)

Collective working time reduction is being seen by many as an effective instrument to fight the madness of today's capitalism which produces millions of unemployed while forcing those employed to work overtime. The demand for a 'radical working time reduction' complements that for a 'guaranteed income' where leftist unionists and welfare politicians begin to co-operate.

Shorter working hours seems a good idea to most, but the (union) slogan of working time reduction meets with deep mistrust amongst workers. Since the mid eighties it has been a crisis regulation mechanism in the hands of companies and unions, with workers experiencing double betrayal: working time has not been reduced significantly, but the wages have gone down. The 35 hour week has abolished the eight hours day and made possible a radical flexibilisation of working time in industry. Unlike in France it was not introduced by law, but 'fought for' by the unions in 1984 in a seven and a half week strike.

The most radical reduction of regular working time was created by the initiative of a company. In 1994, Volkswagen introducing the 28.8 hours week even undercut the 30 hours that unions at the time hardly dared to discuss. Up till now leftists are discussing the VW model as 'promising', and mainly in other countries workers and unionists view it as a goal to be achieved.

But while there is a lot of talk about reducing working hours, working time actually gets re-extended.

1. Working time and refusal of work

The conflict around wages and working time lies in the centre of class struggle. It is not simply about the absolute length of the working day which is limited by laws and union agreements. It is also about controlling bodies and to what amount work is being extracted from workers in the set working time. The capitalist buys labour power but he has to make sure during the labour process that as much work as possible is really being pressed out of the workers. In this daily struggle workers try to enlarge the pores in the working day, thus widening the gap between official and effective working time-until the boss attacks. Workers' strength is expressed in these informal pores; unions, on the contrary, formalise the status quo in agreements on holidays, working hours etc. Until the early eighties there were relatively many pores. Workers had often done their piece-work in five or six hours and were hanging around. In big firms it was normal to take a shower after work during paid time. There were informal breaks only partly fixed by agreements-these were points of attack during the following conflicts around working time. In the eighties, workers paid for every slight reduction of official working time with cuts in these pores. Even when the 38.5 hour week was introduced most companies changed the paid night shift break into an unpaid one.

Sure it's better to leave late shift at nine fifteen rather than at 11 p.m. But you have to work every minute for this whereas before you used to have time for social activities in the last hour of late shift. For the old ones 'their' factory was also the place to define their role in society and to organise and exchange... Many younger are fed up with the collective workers' life; they see it as dullness and flee it whenever they can. They prefer to work shorter hours and have more individual spare time. They can stand the work only by looking forward to the next period of non-work, so they go from holidays to free shifts, and accept short-term contracts because they won't last for long in the same firm, anyway. And they try to negotiate shorter hours for themselves individually-even with less income.

2. The 35 hour week or dreams of a redistribution of work

For some fifteen years-since unions have propagated working time reduction-working time is being reduced slower than in the decades before. Between 1956 (48 hours) and 1975 (40 hours) weekly working hours were reduced by eight hours. This was mainly achieved by cancelling Saturday as a regular working day end of the sixties ("Saturdays Daddy belongs to us"). Until 1995 when 35 hours was introduced in West Germany's metal industry, another twenty years went by. Every cut in working hours was 'paid for' by wage freezes, overtime work was spreading.

Yearly holidays in West Germany's metal industry stayed the same for sixteen years. It had been doubled step by step from three weeks to six from 1960 to 1982. Most important were the wildcat strikes at Ford in 1973 which sparked off when workers from Turkey returned late from their three weeks holidays and were fired.

The collectively agreed yearly working time per employed person in West Germany has dropped from the mid eighties to 1997 by an average of 160 hours or 9.6 per cent. But since 1995 this development has stagnated: the other industries haven't drawn even with the metal industry. In the eighties, unions had first of all agreed upon early retirements, thus radically making labour forces younger and shortening the working lives of the first worker generation after World War II. From then on, with the local 'investment securing contracts' (Standortsicherungsverträge) only temporary working time reductions with simultaneous wage cuts-have been agreed.

The demand for the 35 hours week developed in the early seventies amongst union leftists. With the world-wide crisis of 1973-4, companies in West Germany started a rationalising offensive. In the steel industry alone, from 1975 to 1978 about 40 000 workers got the sack. Steel workers were attacked so massively because there were well organised labour forces that in 1969 had given the bosses a hard time by their wildcat strikes. In order to secure jobs, unionists inside the companies wanted to reduce the working week step by step and to introduce a fifth shift. The demand for 35 hours was taken up into the list of demands of the 1977 IG Metall [metal union] congress-against the union bosses who thought it too much and illusionary. One year later they themselves took the 35 hours to the negotiations to solve the steel crisis. The company bosses wanted to keep the 40 hours under any circumstance and offered longer holidays and higher wages. The union called a strike; that was the opportunity to bring the steel workers under control. In November 1978, labour forces of selected steel works were sent on strike which was answered by massive lock-outs. While for eleven weeks the rank and file stood in the cold picketing the gates with great commitment, the leadership sabotaged the strike. The January 1979 agreement that fixed the 40 hour week for another five years had been in the files for a while. The union had demonstrated that in the steel industry mass sackings couldn't be prevented. Thus they had laid down their policies for the following steel crises.

3. The unions as pioneers for modernisation

Looking back on the policy of working time reduction, it is obvious that the unions took the viewpoint of Germany's 'ideal general capitalist' when this was not yet possible for the capitalist side itself. In 1980-2, in what was up to then the deepest recession, most unions had taken up the demand for working time reduction. By means of this, they wanted to make West Germany the world's most productive economy without creating deep social divisions like in the USA. They saw and are seeing the real possibility for this strategy to be pushed through in the form of a flexibilisation of working time as demanded by the big companies in order to enable them to use their plants more intensively. Right from the start, the demand for 35 hours contained the idea of flexibilisation to be introduced as an negotiable item. It was never about a seven hour day.

With such ideas of modernisation, the unions were far ahead of the bosses of medium size firms. Whilst BMW in Regensburg, for instance, had shifted to a four day week in 1984 even before the contract had been signed, other firms that were dominated by one shift plus overtime could not transform their way of organising work so quickly. Even in 1995, only 20 per cent of the small and medium size industrial firms worked in more shifts than one. But their own rank and file, too, who after the lean years of crisis preferred a full wage rise, had to be won over first. In this very passionate campaign, the unions' main argument was mass unemployment: they used pictures of starving unemployed workers in Detroit or of poverty revolts. The 35 hour week was argued to prevent such a rise in unemployment and would be functional for a modern capitalist solution: shorter working hours, longer running hours for the machinery, lower unit labour costs (i.e. higher productivity), new jobs.

To push through this policy of anticipated compromise against resistance from both sides, a long struggle was necessary. The bargaining process was hyped up as the 'conflict of the century', at the end of which many were unsure who had really won. The 35 hour week was to be achieved in the core region of West Germany's metal industry, Nord-Württemberg/Nord-Baden, which at the time had the 'most advanced' agreements. Since the bosses officially rejected working time reduction as an issue of bargaining, IG Metall started pin-prick strikes[1] in selected car and supplier factories ('minimax strategy'). The bosses immediately locked out workers all over West Germany and the state refused to pay short time allowances to those locked out because of lack of work. Since the union now mainly mobilised 'against the lock-outs' and went to court against the cancelling of short time allowances, as time went by the strike developed an ever more defensive character. It was ended by ex-minister of labour Leber as arbitrator. The metal union celebrated the agreement for a step by step reduction of the working week to 38.5 hours as an 'entry into the 35 hours week' - even though precisely its step by step introduction would scarcely create new jobs.

The real break-through was the flexibilisation of working time: according to the 'Leber compromise', only the average working time in the company had to be 38.5 hours. Up to 18 per cent of the labour force might work 40 hours, others only 37. The hours of operation of machinery can be extended according to the plant's needs because, from this time, the concrete application of working time reduction is negotiated between works council and employer.

Slowly, this form of working time reduction was taken up by other unions. In the late eighties, the unions already had massive problems mobilising their rank and file for the issue. Few took notice of the 'historic' 1st October 1995 when finally the metal workers' working week was reduced to 35 hours; meanwhile, the deadline for compensation of overtime hours had been extended to two years...

The machinery running time in the metal industry has expanded from 60.6 hours a week in 1984 to 71.8 hours in 1996. Productivity has gone up faster than working time was reduced-in contrast to the 'model countries' - the USA or the Netherlands - where wages went down but productivity hardly rose. In Germany's multiple shift plants, machinery has a longer running time than in European average-despite the shorter official working hours of the employed. Since possible wage rises had been sacrificed to the goal of working time reduction, labour unit costs, too, are at a spectacularly low level. In the nineties, with wage agreements below the inflation rate and measured against the development of productivity, wage restraint in Germany was greater than in the USA.

The notion of 'time sovereignty' of the workers, a concept which served to justify flexibility and which was shared by social scientists, employers and leftists alike, is out of the question in the productive centres: here, all it is about is to flexibly apply a labour force as lean as possible according to demand without extra overtime pay. Meanwhile, unions have lost bargaining ground: more and more firms are flexibilising working time without reduction.

Almost contemporaneous with the introduction of the 38.5 hours working week in the metal industry, in 1985 the Employment Promotion Act (Beschäftigungsförderungsgesetz), which overturned restrictions in the use of temporary work agencies, came into force. It also allows short-term contracts in industry of up to 18 months (from 1996 up to 24 months) that before had only been possible for a concrete reason like replacing a pregnant woman or a conscripted man. Meanwhile, short-term contracts have become normal for newly hired workers; a so-called permanent job is only to be had after a longer period of short-term contracts.

The union left's project of redistributing jobs by means of working time reduction has led to its historical defeat. Neither by wage restraint nor through flexibilisation has a 'redistribution of work' to the unemployed been achieved. Another shock-wave occurred when hardly anyone talked about further working time reduction. Volkswagen announced that they were cutting working hours down to 28.8 hours per week. Amidst the crisis in the car industry when the bosses only talked about longer working hours and wage-cuts, the agreement at VW seemed to lead in another direction.

4. The Volkswagen model: modern Rhenian capitalism

By means of the 28.8 hours week, VW has restructured production. With the help of the union, Volkswagen succeeded in making up its backlog in rationalisation which stemmed from the beginning of the nineties. Workers in the metal union's model plant had the highest wages, the highest extra pay, the longest breaks, the best holiday regulations-and the cars took the longest time to assemble. In the eighties they had experimented with highly automated production ('deserted factories') and failed because of the high amount of capital necessary and the dependence on few experts. A new push in productivity was only to be achieved by restructuring the working process. This included abolishing the old piece-work system, absorbing the workers' knowledge by continuous improvement processes, wiping out the old master and foreman hierarchies as well as the transfer of responsibility to the teams.

In October 1993, shortly after this process had started, the trust bosses calculated an 'excess' of 31,000 out of 108,000 in the number of employees and announced sackings, especially in the 'dinosaur plant' Wolfsburg with its 53,000 labour force. A mass sacking with lump-sum allowances etc. to buy the workers out of their jobs on this scale would have been expensive as well as dangerous; it was clear to lead to a confrontation with the workers and to their refusal of co-operation.

Instead, VW proposed a radical change in working time. Within four weeks, IG Metall negotiated a reduced working week of 28.8 hours from 1994 on and sacrificed their principle of 'full wage compensation'. In exchange, the company was not allowed to fire workers for economic reasons for a period of two years. Confronted with the alternatives of 40,000 sackings or 28.8 hours a week in all VW plants, the labour force accepted flexibilisation.

The renunciation of sackings created the climate for restructuring. VW kept a qualified labour force reserve and solved the problem of low profitability due to high wages in times of a decreasing demand. The reduction of the labour force through early retirement, voluntary termination of contracts coupled with redundancy payments and the running out of short-term contracts was still continuing: from 108,000 employed in 1993 to 94,000 in 1995. 'Job guarantees' only prevents the sack for economic reasons, without guaranteeing the preservation of all jobs.

For periods of higher demand, GIZ (Gründungs und Innovationszentrum Wolfsburg GmbH) [Enterprise Promotion and Innovation Centre] has been founded, a temporary work agency owned by VW, the Bundesland Niedersachsen and the union IG Metall. They employ students and temp workers inside the VW plant during holidays or otherwise temporarily, who get 21 DM per hour gross instead of an average of 30 DM per hour for regular VW workers.

In the 'breathing factory', working time gets adapted to the necessities of production. The company's appropriation of workers' spare time has grown. There are no common breaks between different teams, which reduces communication. Workers can be sent to work at other plants. They tried out more than 150 different working time schedules and shift models, from short shifts in a four shift schedule around the clock to relatively 'normal' eight hour days with spare time blocks. In this way, running time for certain car models could be extended from 3,700 to 4,600 hours per year. The assembling time per car has dropped from 30 hours in 1993 to 20 in 1998.

Meanwhile, after some reservation at the beginning, the 28.8 hour working week meets with relatively broad approval in the labour force. Especially the younger, not family bound enjoy working less hours, even with the recuperation effect being cancelled out by the intensification of work and unfavourable working times. Regular monthly wages stayed more or less the same. They had cuts in the yearly bonus payments so the gross yearly wages dropped by 16 per cent (10 per cent after taxes). Before the new contract, wages according to the VW company agreement used to be 1.6 times the Niedersachsen rate which means that the model cannot be applied to other companies that easily.

Contrary to propaganda, the 28.8 hours week at seven hours per day was only a reality for a minority of the employees of VW, e.g. office workers where management suspect that a lot of pores still exist as well as at under-utilised plants like Emden. In other words, the reduction to the 28.8 hour week took place only where it could function as pressure to squeeze the periods of non-work from the working day. But in the Hannover truck factory, for example, they worked 37.5 hours per week practically all the time. 35 hours are paid for, 1.2 hours are a donation to the company ('job guarantee!'), 1.3 hours will be compensated in spare time. In the case of sick leave or holidays, only 28.8 hours are paid for. Because the 28.8 hours brought only disadvantages, Hannover saw heavy protests as the contract was extended and supplemented with further aggravations like shorter breaks, twelve Saturday shifts with lower weekend extra pay and over-time extra pay only after 38.8. hours per week.

In 1998, production was raised in other plants, too, and because of a labour shortage management preferred to pay out over-time. At the same time there were new short-term jobs. In February 1999, the Wolfsburg plant cancelled the different time schedules and shifted to a strict three shift model with an option of working four, five or six days per week according to the demand for cars, and keeping the 28.8 hours week as the calculatory basis. "With the progress in implementing the segmentation of production structures, synchronisation of working time schedules continues to be pursued", as has been stated in supervisors' instructions. With the new regulation, night shift for everyone in the three shift departments is also being implemented, and a further raise in productivity is on the agenda.

5. The 1992-3 crisis and the local 'investment securing contracts'

The 1992-3 crisis represented a decisive point. Whilst the car industry utilised the decreasing demand to principally restructure production and threatened to relocate production (including sackings), the unions for the first time after WW II were confronted with great losses of membership. So they tried to preserve their influence where the basis of their power had always been: in their acknowledgement by capital and the state. Union research institutes concentrated their forces on planning investment strategies for German industry - taking the issue more seriously than the capitalists. Works councils and entrepreneurs agreed on 'investment securing contracts' - tearing down dams which had been believed safe forever.

The five year term shop-floor agreements in the Daimler-Benz works at Gaggenau and Wörth in spring 1993 marked the break-through for the capitalists. Positions struggled for in the seventies (e.g. over so many minutes of break per hour for assembly line piece-work) were being deserted and working time extensions pushed through. Furthermore, the works council in the Wörth truck plant bound itself to actively co-operate in lowering costs by 30 per cent and assembling time by 20 per cent-in return for guarantees that the production of a light truck would not be shifted to the Czech Republic. By 1994, the labour force had been reduced from 15,000 to 10,000.

Also in 1994, the old law from 1938 regulating minimum conditions like working time and holidays in cases where there was no collective agreement got adapted to the necessities of flexible working time schedules. In principle, the eight hour day is still valid, but now it may be extended to ten hours a day six days a week, if the over-time hours are compensated in the following six months. Saturday is a regular working day. Over-time pay of 25 per cent had to be paid, but now this regulation has been cancelled.

Regional collective agreements have now been opened up to allow for regulations on shop-floor level in times of crisis, e.g. allowing for temporary working time reductions down to 30 hours or working time extensions including wage cuts. A variety of these possibilities have been put into practice in about one quarter of those plants that have works or staff councils, all in exchange for pretty vague guarantees not to shift production somewhere else. Partly extra work has to be done without any payment at all.

Amongst the companies that are using these opportunities are car factories like Opel at Bochum, Ford at Cologne, Mercedes at Kassel, VW at Hannover, corporations gaining billions of profits, far from experiencing a crisis. Most of the tyre factories in Germany have extended working time. At Pirelli for instance, since January 1999 they have had an agreement to return from 37.5 hours to 40 hours a week without the monthly wages rising. In exchange, the company promised no jobs cut until 2001-productivity until then has to be driven up by 20 per cent!

6. Working time gets re-extended

In contrast to France or Britain, in Germany real working time for the full time employed went down about four per cent between 1983 and 1993, with big differences between East and West Germany. There was an even bigger decrease in the yearly average working hours of all employed persons, because parallel to the increase in women's wage labouring since the sixties part time work has spread considerably. For a long time, the unions' bargaining policies systematically ignored this fact and stuck to the demand to cut general working time to 35 hours with full wage compensation. Today, by means of a campaign, unions are into convincing male workers to work part time.

This kind of working time reduction has broadened a lot since the seventies. Whoever wanted more 'time autonomy' for themselves and had sufficient wages didn't wait for the 35 hour week to be introduced but individually tried to gain a different working time schedule.
Today, there are many indicators that this century's trend towards working time reduction has been reversed. In Germany, absenteeism rates have reached an historic low of about four per cent. In all of the bigger plants there are anti-absenteeism campaigns agreed upon by the works councils during the strive for working time reduction and 'investment securing contracts'.

While collectively agreed working time is being reduced, an increasing number of workers needs a second job to compensate for the losses in real wages of recent years. In 1998, about three million of the regularly employed had a second job or additionally worked as self-employed an average of ten hours a week. At the same time, companies had workers work 1.8 billion hours overtime-calculated to be equivalent to one million jobs. This is an indicator that the core labour forces had been reduced such that there is no longer a reserve of labour power to replace sick workers or deal with unexpected production problems etc. and that new hiring has been avoided (don't forget-these figures leave out the fact that many overtime hours today are not being calculated as such!).

The most important tendency today is the increase in unpaid surplus work within the framework of 'confidence working times' which no statistics show. This mostly affects office workers in distribution, network administration and programming with intense pressure for efficiency and keeping deadlines, often with a working time of up to fifty or sixty hours a week. As some union paper put it: "Increasingly, companies tend to either not fix any working time any more by contract-especially concerning higher qualified work-and only pay for a total of performance or stop registering real working time at all. Yet, unregistered and unpaid work is not subject to re-distribution anyway." IBM are heading for a general working time frame of 19 up to 60 hours, within which employees have to do their work without extra registration of working hours. This is supposed to create such pressure that they work more than they originally intended.

7. And the workers? What are they doing?

Years of propaganda trying to play unemployed against 'job owners' seem to have had some effect. But not all labour forces have accepted 'local investment securing contracts' unquestioningly: small wildcat strikes at the assembly lines, as in summer 1993 at Opel (Bochum) against management's initiative to secure local investments, or at Daimler-Benz (Wörth) when work pressure got unbearable, are an expression of this. So also is the sudden increase of sick leave rates in single departments. One result of the trend to reduce conflicts to a shop-floor level instead of, for example, a regional or industrial one, is that only a few of these collective protests find their way into public consciousness.

Works councils in single 'strong' plants were actually able to turn the reduction of working time into some kind of improvement for the core labour force. But contrary to former times, they weren't able to play any kind of vanguard role but instead have got more and more isolated from other workers. These same works councils just sit and watch as whole departments are being out-sourced to other firms with lower wages, as production peaks are being compensated through the hiring of temp workers, as short-term contracts become regular for newly hired workers. The unions first of all are representatives of the core labour forces; the marginal labour forces are bargaining chips used in order to achieve better agreements for the core staff.

In the collective bargaining conflicts of 1999, ever larger surplus amounts of working time and ever longer compensation periods for these are being agreed upon: in the public sector for example, 600 surplus and 40 minus hours. Hospital staff are to lose those extra payments for working shifts and at night that they had fought for ten years ago.

But the critical situation in production may also create a new kind of struggle. This has been shown at the Opel factory at Bochum where in October 1998 about 1,800 workers stopped work and ultimately demanded the immediate full integration of 300 short-term workers whose contracts were about to expire. The labour force had been cut so drastically that workers couldn't even take their breaks. Management reacted at once: assembly line speed was reduced by 2.5 per cent and 50 short-term workers got hired with unlimited contracts. There were stoppages of assembly lines again in March 1999, because the company refused to hire more workers on a permanent basis.

The unions' policy of working time reduction was capitalist crisis management. It didn't stop the intensification of exploitation but on the contrary made it possible. With their co-operation, shop-floor and union leftists got exhausted or integrated by the apparatus. From a revolutionary stand-point, we cannot radicalise these models-we have to reject them principally and criticise them as what they have been in the eyes of the workers for quite some time: strategies capital uses ever more furiously to make sure they control all of our time to enable them to isolate and exploit us ever more.

[1] Schwerpunktstreiks: strikes in which, while the trade union is responsible for a whole region, it only calls for strikes in certain large or important firms.

Wildcat Germany- 35 Hour Week.pdf330.14 KB

The awkward question of times - Precari-Nati (Italy)

'Time is an invention by men who cannot love'


1. A brief outline of the notion of working time reduction

The pressure to reduce working time has been central in the class struggle for more than a century. The first collective action of the proletariat at a national level was the English workers' struggle against the capitalists' attempt to extend working time beyond the workers' physical possibilities and to make children work in factories. On this terrain the workers' initiatives and the restructuring of capital have been inextricably entangled in a fierce struggle.

In the advanced capitalist countries, the introduction of the 8-hour working day, i.e. the reduction of legal working time, as well as the introduction of collective agreements and the first forms of welfare assistance, are intexticably linked to the corporative integration of union organizations, which happened in the period between the two world wars, and which was functional to the development of the various national economies.

The development of 'flexible' production and related organizational techniques (just-in-time production, zero-stock etc.), with the consequent labour mobility linked to a relative extension of the distribution and correlated with legal changes allowing for more flexible work contracts, makes the 35 hour week an objective which, managed by the bosses and the unions, can easily serve 'flexibility' - a real 'social myth' of this dying century. We are living in an historical moment where the development of the productive forces imposes an osmosis of working and living time (the continuous search for work dictated by the boom and bust of the market). The same working time is characterized by the alternation of activities offered in terms of hope (waiting lists, re-training, etc.) and proper work activity where it becomes impossible to calculate the costs, time and energy of the worker.

On the other hand, we must recognize the workers' aspirations for further working time reductions. Our view is that workers never struggle for a demand 'because it is right', but because they have the strength to obtain it, even if only by imposing it on reformist structures (at the moment there are various struggles aimed at reducing work pace - currently in some factories in the industrial region of Emilia there are struggles over work pace, in which the unions have been obliged to follow the spontaneous response of the workers, even to extent of supporting the strikes. See the 'vertenza' of the Terim in Modena, where more than 250 workers went on strike for several weeks). Similarly, there is no such thing as 'anti-reformist objectives in themselves' since their realization is always within the capitalist productive structure - a workers' struggle becomes anti-reformist only when it breaks away effectively from union and party control. As a consequence, we believe, rather than focusing on general political campaigns for working time reduction, it is more important to work on a smaller scale, linking the phenomenon of work refusal to local struggles for a redistribution of work pace, working time and shifts inside the production process. Thus, rather than focus on strikes and big battles (when there are any), we concentrate on the incessant manifestations of micro-conflict, which, even if they contain many contradictions, nevertheless are presently the only visible terrain for the working class struggle against capital and the main terrain in which we are actively involved. (Obviously, we do not see our concern with this micro-conflict as opposed to an interest in strikes and mass struggles....) At the present time, the point at which a natural refusal of work by the individual becomes an articulate direct class organization which breaks from the capitalist organization of work is difficult to identify. However, we will trace some meaningful connections among some of the current conflicts: union negotiations on work pace, the resistance to the new forms of working time and the continuous shift, which led to the '6 x 6' (i.e., people working six hours a day for six days; in the Bologna district, there is the example of Ducati, the metal and mechanical factory), workers phoning sick on Saturdays and Sundays, and the bloody-mindedness of the new workers provided by temping agencies.

2. A comparison between negotiated working times and actual ones in industry
(end of the '60s to the '90s)

In Italy there has been a systematic divergence between negotiated times and actual ones. The aim of this section is to explain the reasons for such a divergence and the role of the different components of actual working time in detemining it.[1] Actual working time equals negotiated time, plus overtime, minus absence from work, minus the Cassa integrazione Guadagni (CIG).[2] The addition of these components, calculated per capita, gives the average actual working time.

Our research excluded part-time employment, because it is very small in the big companies.

Beginning of the '70s

At the beginning of the '70s, actual working hours coincided with the negotiated ones, or were even shorter (e.g. 40 weekly hours instead of 44). This can be explained by two factors: the increase in absenteeism (which, before 1969, the year of the 'Hot Autumn', was at the same level as in the mid '80s). The other factor was a decrease in overtime, which at the end of the '60s and beginning of the '70s was again at the same levels as in the second half of the '80s. Both absenteeism and the decrease in overtime were symptoms of a high level of social unrest at that time, which was formalized in a network of 'autonomous class behaviour', that is the capacity of acting independently of parties and unions. We have to stress, however, that these struggles were a response to the restructuring. Often, they were also unable to link great moments of direct class organization between large productive districts and to connect themselves with the multiform network of struggles in the small and medium companies.

The lowest that actual working time reached was in 1975. This coincided with the minimum level of overtime, the maximum level of absenteeism and the first relative maximum of CIG - and of course with a large reduction in negotiated working time.

In order to illustrate that period better, we can briefly analyse the case of Petrolchimico in Maghera, well-known in the whole of Italy for its fierce social battles and autonomous forms of struggle and organizations. By a real reversal of the balance of power, Maghera workers gained a reduction in working time which was conceded informally by the bosses and not legally recognized. In practice, workers were allowed to go home after cleaning the machines. The time for cleaning the machines was agreed to be one hour, while it was actually ten minutes. The local bosses knew perfectly well that they would lose part of the time, but the balance of power was such that they had to concede an actual working time reduction in this form. This situation contained elements of both strength and weakness for the workers. It contained an element of strength: because it manifested the workers' capacity to overcome the legal union constraints and to impose their own pace on the bosses, by a pure class confrontation. But it also contained an element of weakness considering that the bosses could not make their 'concession' legal without beginning an overt war with Confindustria (the bosses' union). As we have already stressed above, there was a great difference between the social conflict in the large and small companies (the relative enlargment of the latter, or outsourcing in the case the former).

Another factor worth noting in this period is the increase of phenomena such as the double job - which, understood without any illusions, makes this period more contradictory. It is clear that there were particular layers of very militant workers, distanced from others with conservative attitudes and interests - and the autonomous organizations thrived in those layers. But the conditions were not favourable for any unitary self-organization of the most militant layers of the working class. The hypervoluntaristic attempts to centralise these autonomous manifestations were in vane, and sometimes reactionary, denying the presuppositions of workers' autonomy, in order to return to a simpler and avant-gardistic leninist scheme: 'the party orders, the class executes'.

Coming back to this section's subject, between 1972 and 1975 there was a reduction of negotiated working time of about 100 hours, while the overtime, which in the two years 1972 and 1973 was around 70 hours per year, was less than 45 hours during the whole second half of the '70s.

From 1975 to the '80s

From 1976 to 1984, negotiated working hours remained substantially unchanged, while there were some limited oscillations in actual working hours. There was an oscillation in absenteeism: its relative minimum in 1978 corresponded to the relative maximum in actual working time. On the other hand, a new peak of absenteeism in 1979 corresponded with a new minimum of actual working time. The oscillations of actual working time were also influenced by inversely corresponding but limited fluctuations of the CIG. This also happened between 1979 and 1984, coinciding with the economic cycle and massive processes of rationalization.

Coming to specific cases, we see that between 1979 and 1983 absences from work per capita changed from an average of about 290 hours per year to 150. However, actual working hours stayed at the same medium or low levels as in the previous period, between 1500 and 1550 hours per year. This can be explained, as we saw above, by the introduction of the CIG, which in this period nearly tripled from about 40 hours to almost140 per year. The highest contribution from the CIG in the whole period under consideration, however, was in 1984, when it reached a level that it was never to repeat, even during the recession of the beginning of the '90s, at least for industry as a whole.

From 1983 to 1990, actual working hours grew massively, reaching a maximum in the period 1986-89. Actual working hours decreased during the following years, despite the fact that in the same period contractual time had gradually decreased due to the achievement of further time reductions in terms of hours of paid days off allowed per year, which we know would not mean an actual time reduction.

The rise of actual working times corresponded to a decrease of the CIG per capita, from a maximum level in 1984 to the lowest in 1989. It also corresponded to the parallel rise in overtime, which reached a maximum that same year. Both these phenomena were due to the recovery from the consequences of restructuring and of the 'intensive' rationalization that was carried out at the beginning of the '80s; and also to a new upturn in the economy in the period 1985-1990.

Absenteeism diminished drastically and the related contractual reductions of working time per year did not have any practical effect after 1985. These reduction had been conquered in the form of paid permitted days off of about 70 hours per year per capita.

During the '80s, in Italy there was a sharp fall in absenteeism and strikes, along with a change of mood inside the factories (paralleled by police repression and by redundancies for the most militant elements). The fading of social conflict and the relative pressure on employment due to that first great restructuring and recession has to be linked to the end of the scala mobile and also to the huge phase of industrial restructuring of this period, due to a new international cycle of microelectronic innovations. Outsourcing, as well as the expulsion from the great companies had created a nebula of subjects which, in such a climate of atomization and growing social insecurity made it harder to perceive a 'proletarian experience'. Workers found themselves in conflictual competition with each other. This dissolved the old links of solidarity such that the universe of relations that had been inherent to the 'collective struggle' of the industrial labour force was rendered into a desert. The loss of a workers' perspective connected to the dismembering of the industrial cathedrals led to a 'midnight of the theoretical-practical century'.

In this same period, there was also a reduction in the numbers employed caused by a cycle of investments and innovations together with an economic recession[3] This happened in connection with a strong rise in interest rates and a rapid increase in obsolescence due to the new pace of technical progress. This situation created a trend towards a fuller utilization of the machines, with a consequent prolonging of working time, which was obtained by increasing overtime, and clamping down on absenteeism backed by new agreements. The confederative unions maintained their strength, while it was more and more difficult to find a basis for durable autonomous organizations. In fact autonomous behaviour was mostly undefined and it was impossible to give a form to the rare manifestations of conflict.

The '90s

The recession at the beginning of the '90s (industrial production in 1993 with respect to 1990 was down by 5.5%) coincided with a reduction in actual working hours, due to the rise of the CIG and the decrease in overtime. In this period, the central factor was not absenteeism but the CIG. In 1993, in the bigger companies, the CIG reached its historical maximum (143 hours per year per capita). This was not true for industry as a whole, where the CIG was less important than other long-term alternatives, such as the mobilità lunga or early retirement. However, there was an extension of the pace of production rather than of productive times (the 'just-in-time' methods were introduced at this time).

In 1994, for the first time in Italy, the unemployed population ceased to consist mainly of young people seeking work for the first time. This characteristic, which up until then had been considered structural in Italy, had allowed the state to unload the cost of unemployment onto the family.

One of the reasons for adult unemployment was surely that, while during the previous crisis unemployment was partly hidden in the long term CIG (in which the worker still retained an often fictitious status of an employee), after the introduction of the new institution called indennità di mobilità the same number of people were now formally unemployed. Some of them were included in the mobilità lunga which is used as a bridge to the early retirement. Another reason was the rise of the actual number of unemployed, as a result of the crisis that had hit the small and medium sized companies. The continual introduction of new norms favouring short-term contracts for new employees and a reduction in permanent jobs (which meant early retirement for many) also contributed to this situation. Hours now vary according to the ultra-flexible needs of the new models of production planning.

It is interesting to notice that, in the big companies, the historical maximum in the CIG does not correspond to a minimum of overtime at all. This latter stayed, in 1993, at rather high levels (the same as in 1987, a very different year from the point of view of the economic cycle). The productive system then seemed to work with more overtime and more CIG, which is the ideal situation for 'just-in-time' production. The relative initiatives of unions and bosses on working time will favour this model.

A few conclusions

As we saw above, the CIG has an important influence on the dynamics of actual working hours, according to the data obtained by research on the big companies carried out by ISTAT.

In the '70s, when the CIG was still at medium-low levels (under 50 hours per year per capita on average), actual working time was changing in accordance with the (net) CIG; that is, when the CIG rose, actual working hours decreased.

Since 1979 there has been a divergence: while the CIG grew until 1988, between 1979 and 1984 there was a fall in absenteeism, due to fears of redundancy, and in the period 1984-88 overtime increased - thus the increase of CIG did not change actual hours worked.

In the period 1990-93, during a period of serious crisis, there was a rise in actual working hours (net CIG), despite a decline in overtime worked. This shows that in a period of crisis the fear of job losses determines the amount of absenteeism, which also happened in the period 1980-84.

The divergence between actual working hours and contractual working hours is the best example of the legal weakness of any proposal on working hours. The 35 hour week, besides being a tool to favour flexibility, is anyway completely 'metaphysical' from a radical point of view, if it is imposed by law. A decrease in working time can only be achieved by a slow and articulate class response. But the possibilities of intervention and action are spread by the present manifestation of social conflict and not by a virtual manifestation of political-union consensus.

People even prefer perhaps to work longer and get higher pay rather than accepting a decrease in working time connected with the flexibility of production. However, an awareness of the problem of the rhythms of life is somewhat present in many underground struggles in which the untamed nature of the working class reveals itself.

Even if for workers pay is still obviously the principal objective, we must notice that there is a new 'response' to the pace of work. For example, there are sabotage techniques on the clocks in the machines which count the pieces produced, planned sickness, work to the rule; these latter mean disadvantages for the firm, because of the bureaucratic nature of work organization.

3. Who demands the 35 hours?

In Italy, the principal promoters of the 35 hour week can be categorized into four groups.

(i) The alternative unions (cobas) The alternative unions, which mainly developed at the beginning of the 90s, were the first to raise the banner for 35 hours. The whole area of grassroots unionism retains a Keynesian objective -they are nostalgic for the welfare state or seek to reclaim a fairer redistribution of social wealth, and follow a reformist political strategy which aims to defend some guarantees for the workers - but even this scandalizes the leaders of the CGIL. In this area there are comrades who recognize that reducing working hours will be used by the bosses, and that the alternative unions' proposal about working hours is relatively weak, but they think that it is possible to fight a battle against the bosses with this political campaign in that it may serve to stir the workers up. They do not appreciate the evident 'culturalism' of this proposal. Attempts to develop discussion on an issue such as this, in times of social peace, inevitably turn into a pure and sterile propaganda campaign.

(ii) Communist Refoundation and the Government The PRC, born from sections of the former PCI and from minor groups of the extreme left, introduced the issue of the 35 hour week in order to unify the Party and as a compromise solution offered in exchange for its collaboration with the centre-left government. A 'right-wing' faction recently split from the PRC - the Partito dei Comunisti Italiani (PcCI) (led by the Breznevian Armando Cossutta); this faction is is in favour of the Government and participates in it. This split accelerated that process of compromise. In fact, the PRC can vaunt its deal with the government which 'gave the 35 hour week to the Italian workers'; while the new Party can legitimately claim they are implementing the 35 hour project and accuse the PRC of childishness and an inability to govern.

(iii) The official unions The official unions were initially bypassed by Communist Refoundation which played a union role. The Italian official unions, GCIL, CISL, UIL (which, although huge, have more pensioners than active workers in their memberships) have forced the government to redefine an agreement on 'working-time reduction' so that they would appear as centrally involved. Their position coincided with the worries of Confindustria and that they have given the same answers: a halt to the law on 35 hours, redefinition of working times, and negotiations at the level of individual companies, to ensure that the unions together with the bosses to determine decisions concerning productivity levels.

(iv) The bosses At the beginning, Confindustria fought against any suggestion for working time reductions and denied the usefulness of legislation to enforce it, but it looked more favourably at the possibility of negotiations in individual companies. We must stress that the large and medium-large companies changed their minds dramatically when the government and the unions approved a regulation for the reduction of working hours, but the bosses of the smallest enterprises were more skeptical about the new working hours legislation, because it would raise the competitiveness of the largest companies in relation to the smallest. Also the introduction of new forms of work under short-term contracts together with the new norms that regulate the average working hours favour both the large and the small companies - the latter because they could legalize their illegal workers. Better and more efficient production will be revealed as an attack against the workers, under the false cover of profit figures and of 'time freedom' for the employees.

4. The metal and mechanical industry agreement - the testing field

We now discuss the agreement with the metal and mechanical workers because we think this is the traditional testing field for the bosses to attack workers' conditions and because this agreement is evaluated and negotiated with the two 'strongest' sections of the workers' movement: the chemical and metal and mechanical workers.

The proposal presented by the conferederative unions (CGL, CISL, UIL) for the renewal of the metal and mechanical workers' agreement, and for the 'reduction of working hours' (in the form proposed by them) is a pretext for a wage reduction and a re-organization of work which would lead to an increase of productivity for the companies through a more intense and rational use of machines and work. Under the pretext of controlling unemployment, they try to apply the paradigm, propagated as an indisputable truth, that unemployment is created by the increase of labour productivity due to technological development; a reduction of working time is then necessary in order to control the 'present' capitalist system's tendency to create unemployment. The weekly hours 'reduction', introduced through laws on overtime, laws on the 35 hours and the various company agreements, (particularly the metal and mechanical workers' agreement), amounts only to the possibility for the bosses to extend and shrink at will the weekly working hours.

In Italy the combination of overtime and of Cassa Integrazione Guadagni (CIG) has been the 'main instrument for planning production'. In fact a combination of the CIG and overtime has been used by the bosses in order to make someone work 'too much' and some others work 'too little'. With the chemical workers' contract and with the new metal and mechanical workers' contract, this principle remains intact. Rather, new weapons are offered to the bosses while leaving the 150-200 individual hours of maximum overtime unchanged from the previous agreements. On the top of this, the Banca Ore is introduced.

The regulation introduced by the law on overtime (law no. 409-98 conversione del DL 335-1998) is even more to the advantage of the bosses. It allows them to impose 250 hours of overtime per year. This corresponds to 5.2 hours per week, which becomes 6.6 hours per week if we consider that the law imposes a limit of 80 hours every three months. Obviously, the weekly hours above are only considered on average - in practice there are no weekly limits. This means that bosses could even ask workers to work longer than 45 hours a week, just by giving notice of it to the inspectorate services of the Ministero del Lavoro within 24 hours before the overtime is due to start.

One novelty is the Banca Ore (Hour Bank), which allows companies to organize timetables according to the needs of the boss and of the market, and it is included in the metal and mechanical workers' agreement. The Banca Ore is a system that calculates the weekly overtime. According to the agreement brokered by the CGIL, CISL, UIL on behalf of the metal and mechanical workers, 'the workers will have to choose, within the next three-month term, whether they want to be paid for the overtime in terms of money or rest'. This allows the companies to reduce their staff, because they will use overtime extensively when the market requires it (imposing faster pace and higher exploitation), and they will be able to ask their workers to stay at home when production needs are less. On this point, we have to note that overtime has been one of the main ways of getting pay rises. Without overtime, pay is normally insufficient and this explains why an increase in overtime is usually accepted without any resistance by the workers, or is even welcomed. If they accept a payment in terms of rest, the workers will have an actual pay decrease, because they will not be paid for the overtime. Overtime is today paid at 25%-50% on top of the normal hourly pay. Thus the Banca Ore, disguised as a first step towards working time reduction, means that the workers work overtime without being paid for overtime rates.

Agreement by agreement, wages have been reduced more and more. The pay rise allowed for in the unions' proposal is very low - only 80 thousand lire for the 4th level. The proposal also weakens the link between wages and pensions, because now pensions will be evaluated independently from basic pay. Thus, pay rises will no longer determine eventual pensions entitlements.

Among the company agreements already approved, those which introduce some form of working time reduction are also those which impose the longest shifts and Saturday working, connected with restructuring implemented by the unions together with the bosses. In the province of Bologna, some examples of company agreements which reduce the hours per week and introduce shifts are: the GIRMAC, the COM, the GS and the BEGHELLI, whose timetable is distributed across three shifts with average week time of 31 hours. Instead, in Bonfiglioli, Arco, Elettromeccanica Appennino and Sorvigno there are four shifts each of less than 30 hours weekly working time.

The same law on the 35 hours will only impose higher taxes for those companies with more than 15 employees that have not adopted the 35 hours by the year 2001, and provides incentives to companies that will implement it (government and bosses may later decide to prolong the deadline beyond 2001, or not apply this system of incentives-and-taxations to some sectors, or invalidate it altogether.) This is coherent with the trend towards decreasing taxation for businesses and increasing taxation for everybody else.

5. Final remarks

In the present period we identify three key moments for redefining a class behaviour related to the changes in production and agreements.

(i) The shifts, the labour mobility, the emergence of distretti di lavoro, spread around all Italy in a complex network and the introduction of a massive legislative body aimed at a systematic reduction of the number of permanent jobs in favour of short term forms of employment, all this makes unionized forms of struggle based on frontal attacks uneffective. The recent mobilization of the metal and mechanical sector around their contract is an example of this. In fact the 'large' minority of workers with short-term contracts has been left outside, completely 'ignored' by the unions, which are unable to understand the problems of this new component.

The forms of action and struggle will become for itself 'invisible' and 'quick'. The challenge today is to create militant workers participation (which should not a racket or spectacular) that could find effective tools even within their extreme mobility and consistence.

The dynamics of autonomous action are connected, for us, to a complex dialectic of objective causes and subjective will. The expression of a critical point of view - the ability of relating any analysis to the creation of a 'community of intent' which can then be socialized, and, in parallel, the ability to give 'form' and practical 'force' to it, for every worker - faces a lack of structures, even if they are only formally representative. The need for struggle becomes, in this sense, more and more directly a need of self-organization and self-activity.

(ii) Workers, particularly the younger ones who enter production, are hired with short-term contracts, where the guarantees of a career and a presence in the productive area are feeble. There is a change in age profile in workplaces, early retirements are favoured for workers with permanent positions in order to increase the relative number of workers with short-term contracts (the old working class is sent to the breaker's yard). This leads to two consequences. One is the extreme disaffection with the job and, considering the lack of guarantees about the future, a greater 'arrogance' among workers. The second consequence is inevitably negative, and it is the Damocles' sword that hangs over short-term workers, in relation to the extension of their contract. (In the case of workers in temping agencies, workers' behaviour is put on file and the most elementary rights that are normally 'guaranteed' to more permanent workers are pulverized.[4]

(iii) At this moment, especially with the new norms on working time, there is going to be a greater 'perception' of productive peaks, and thus the moments when bosses can be most damaged on the productive level. This can allow workers more opportunities to blackmail their bosses. However, the government and the unions are more interested in regulating conflicts and strikes, and they will make these forms of struggle illegal (outside the unions). If this, from an autonomist point of view, makes workers' actions freer, because they will find themselves, clearly and directly, against the government and union structure, on the other hand it will increase bosses' and government repression against the workers in struggle.

[1] For this comparison we used data taken from official statistics and from documents of the metal and mechanical workers' unions. We will limit ourselves to the big companies, both because we had a large quantity of data, and because this sector is traditionally seen as the 'vanguard' of the social movement.

[2] The CIG is a typical instrument of the Italian Welfare State. In cases considered by the law, e.g. forza maggiore, market crisis and company restructuring, the bosses can agree with the unions on a partial or total period of suspension from work 'on zero working time'. During this period, the worker gets 80% of his previous salary, paid by the CIG and national insurance. This allows the bosses to face temporary reductions in production thanks to an immediate financial recovery. If the suspension is followed by a 'collective redundancy', the CIG becomes an actual 'unemployment benefit', with all the consequences of social quiescence connected with this kind of social policies.

[3] 'Redundancies, the origin of the industrial reserve army, are not caused by the technical factor of the introduction of machines, but are due to insufficient valorisation. Workers are made redundant not because they are replaced by machines, but because at a certain level in capital accumulation profits become too small and so they get too few returns.' (H. Grossman, La Legge dell'Accumulazione e del Crollo del Sistema Capitalistico.)

[4] We understand the process of casualization of the work force as a constant fact, specific to the present social phase. However, we are aware of the variants of capitalistic planning with respect to the modification of the productive network achieved by decentralizing or concentrating production.

Precari-Nati - The Awkward Question of Times.pdf407.75 KB

'35 hours' against the proletariat - Mouvement Communiste (France)

1. Introduction

The 35-hour week (Aubry) Bill, passed through the National Assembly by the so-called 'plural' Left, has been hailed as a great social reform worthy of standing in the Pantheon of the achievements of the French workers' movement, alongside the 40 hour week and 2 weeks paid holidays conceded by the Popular Front in 1936.[1] 'An outstanding social advance' and 'cultural improvement' were among the proliferation of superlatives: the CGT chief bureaucrat Louis Viannet particularly excelled himself in this.[2]

According to its advocates, the Aubry Bill would exist within a long-term historical process, in which a marked drop in the length of the working year would lead us to the promised land of the 'heteronomous' liberation of work.[3] For us (communists), this law is part of a tendency, which began to emerge noticeably in 1982 with the 39-hour law: encouraging re-organization of the immediate production process, planning of working time (flexibility, annualization) and in fine the lowering of wages, in order to increase the rate of exploitation of the working class. Behind appearances, the reality is thus considerably less idyllic.

The Aubry Law can be seen as part of the succession of anti-working class laws over the last twenty years, thanks to the large-scale defeats of the proletariat following the restructuring of capital in sectors (metallurgy, car plants, shipyards) where the working class used to be strong, on both the objective and subjective levels. The role played by the PS/PC (Socialist/Communist) government in power at the beginning of the 1980s was at the cutting edge of this offensive, by virtue of its institutional function as political representative of the working class, transmitted into the very heart of the class by its trades union regulatory mechanisms. Thus the Left was the more able to push through the necessary reforms at state level at the same time as playing the role of social experimenter, in order to meet the needs generated by the accumulation of capital.

French capital has been confronted over the last twenty-five years by devaluation crises of ever-increasing magnitude and seriousness (which still show no signs of letting up, as we can see from the '91-'92 crises ), by an historic slowing down in its rate of accumulation and by a decline in its standing on the world imperialist scene; and so has taken to attacking the proletariat with a violence unprecedented since the end of the Second World War. Flexibility, insecurity, atomization: these were the slogans writ large on the banners of the French bourgeoisie, slogans realized in the labour-market which has been turned upside down over the last twenty years.

2. The turning point of 1982

The Aubry Law is the rightful heir to the ruling of January 16th 1982 relating to the decrease in working time. Today, it is only the transition from 40 to 39 hours without loss of salary and the fifth week of paid holiday that the Left would like to retain from this law. As for the working class, it hasn't forgotten that in this period the same ruling only provided full compensation to workers paid the SMIC (the French index-linked, guaranteed minimum wage), at the time of the transition from the 40th hour to the 39th hour. Already, then, sharing of jobs and incomes was on the agenda. Moreover, a reorganization of work was recommended alongside ultimately restraint over the progress in workers' purchasing power. These tendencies provoked a wave of strikes and struggles in early '82, whose key demand was full maintenance of the wage alongside a refusal of the reorganization of work (which meant Saturday working and the abandonment of additional holidays according to seniority and service in some branches of industry, on the pretext of introducing the fifth week of paid holidays), depending on local conditions. The government of the day only dropped its plans in the face of the scale of the workers' mobilization.

Government schemes

(i) The lowering of wages. The lowering of wages was at the source of many disputes. But it is noticeable from the example of the Lavenalet textile factory that the retreat by management on this question hasn't been adequate to the application of a law, which was first of all about company 'modernization', which is nothing other than an increase in productivity. It was necessary to exchange the shortening of working time by an hour for a reorganization of work which permitted the lengthening of the time that machines were in use, both daily and weekly.

(ii) The increase in machine-time. According to the Left, the working time reduction laws were aimed at reducing unemployment. Studying their internal logic shows the contrary: increasing productivity, i.e., fewer workers producing the same commodities.

(iii) The increase in working-time in the public sector. A third thing that is at stake with the laws on working-time reduction, has passed by even more imperceptibly: the legal work duration of 39 hours has been used in order to increase working-time in sectors where the working week was less than 39 hours. This was especially true in the case of public employees. Thus there were echoes in the press of struggles where the press sneered about the 'privileges' of civil servants, overlooking the fact that the specific conditions of their working hours were being used retrospectively to justify the pitiful level of their wages.

(iv) Suppression of breaks and formal and informal dead time. However, what was even was less understood about the 39 hour law, was that in reality it allowed an increase in working time by virtue of the reorganization of the immediate process of production. Because given that formal work-time is 40 hours, the real work-time is in practice more scanty. The resistance to the domination of capital takes place on a day to day level, not just in periods of open struggle. It's a struggle which may be collective and/or individual, and which aims to eke out break-times by any means possible.[4] In particular, there are the collective breaks, tied to meals and so on, which increase gradually, unless the relation of forces allows the framework to reduce them. The renegotiation of work-schedules is always the time chosen by management to call these breaks into question. This is the explanation for sectional disputes for example, generally every two years, at the time of 'technical' reorganization of schedules. This was perhaps one of the least acknowledged reasons for the movements against the 'working time reduction' Act in 1982 and the years following.

A wave of struggles.

In 1983, an article in the French Review of Social Affairs drew up a balance-sheet of labour disputes in France between 1950 and 1982. This article gives a detailed account of four 'multi-sectoral national strikes', "simultaneous strikes in a large number of nationalized and private industries over common demands, chiefly to do with wages, and capable of lasting several weeks". The dates of these were: 1950, 1953, 1968, 1982. The article points out that these movements were not initiated by trade union slogans.

Except for a few specialists in such matters, no one noticed the existence of a 'multi-sectoral national strike'. Indeed the number of days lost in 1982 was not anything like the same magnitude as in 1950, 1953 and 1968. But according to an official account, the period 1969-77 saw half as many days lost as in 1982; and the period 1978-81 saw six times less.

'Local site, partial struggle': thousands of struggles, all directed against the setting up of the 'working-time reduction' law at the level of individual firms, were thus realistic. The local papers gave an account of this. The national papers just spoke of a handshake between them. The unions negotiated the administration of the law case by case, avoiding informing the workers in each firm that their the problems weren't local, specific, particular, for the simple reason that they were broadly sympathetic to the law, in the general context of the Left allowing them to participate more closely in the management of the firms.

The ruling squeezed by struggles

All that remained of the ruling of January 16th 1982 was as follows:

  • the generalization of variable (individualized) working hours, with week-by-week adjustment of working-time, without overtime payments where the weekly duration was exceeded;

  • some departures from the prevailing weekend break regulation, allowing the establishment of weekend shifts;

  • the possibility in industry of making women work until midnight, previously limited to 10pm.
  • What the Giscard-Barre government had vainly attempted to establish at the end of the 1970s due to trade union intransigence was thus realized in a few weeks by the Left and the unions, who had suddenly become more 'inclusive'. Though the introduction of increased flexibility had passed, the government still had to deal with the matter of wages, which the workers had refused to see lowered in return for the reduction of working time. That was achieved at the time of the famous 'change to toughness', in the course of which the prices and incomes freeze was established by June 22nd 1982 law, passed by the Stalinists and social democrats.

    The unleashing of flexibility

    So then the 1982 law opened the Pandora's box of flexibility, annualization and individualization of work. For Jacques Rigaudat, Michel Rocard's old 'social' advisor, the principal merit of the law, beyond dazzling us with free time and the reduction of unemployment, was that it "had introduced a new notion into the Work Code, that of work-time adjustment. (...) Indeed for the first time since its establishment, the Work Code provided for the possibility of departing from the usual rules, from the time that there had been negotiation and agreement."[5] Successive governments of the Left and Right consolidated this tendency, which was further increased over the years by bill after bill encouraging part-time work, temporary work,[6] 'grey' work (TUC, SIVP, CES, CRE,[7] jobs for the young), the development of annualization (Delebarre, Seguin),[8] the re-establishment of night work for women in industry, reduction of overtime (read decrease in the wage differential).

    3.Consequences of the Aubry Law.

    The Aubry Law then is fully situated within this continuity,[9] and brings its own novel touch to capital's magnum opus:

  • Negotiations by sector;

  • the end of uniform social legislation applying to all workers together;

  • the setting up of two SMICs (index-linked guaranteed minimum wage);

  • the acceleration of the development of the annualization of working time.

    Negotiations by sector

    The question is one of a turning point in the relationship between the state, businesses and the working class, which marks the end of the era of the planner-state, which imposed the rules of social relationships from above, as much for the bosses as for the workers. Thus, contrary to the laws of 1936 and 1982, which provided for enforcement directives, the enactment of working time reduction is left at the mercy of negotiations in branches and companies. The law is satisfied with fixing a single buffer date, the terms of which are to be negotiated branch by branch, and especially company by company, according to specific particular situations. As the Minister of Labour Martine Aubry stated to the National Assembly, 'the bill recommends the most decentralized use of collective bargaining possible and great flexibility in the terms of working time reduction so as to improve companies' competitiveness'. This will mean an increasing disparity in the conditions of exploitation of the proletariat leading to a deepening of divisions in its ranks: here annualization, there the employment of part-time workers; here wage-cuts, there atomization by bonuses, etc.

    The end of uniform social legislation

    Beyond the particular terms of enforcement, the law deepens two major divisions: between public and private sector workers, since working-time reduction only affects private companies; and that between workers in firms with more than 20 employees, in which the transition to the 35 hour week takes place on January 1st 2000, and the others which will have to wait until 2002. The government even provides special arrangements for small businesses. This then is the end of uniform legislation for all the workers.

    The setting-up of a dual SMIC

    An hourly SMIC has been kept for those working 39 hours (to avoid an 11.4% hourly rise in costs) and a monthly SMIC for the 'lucky devils' whose employers have moved over to a 35 hour week. However, at 5240 francs a month, these latter will pay dearly for their new-found leisure. Their wage will be almost frozen, and their monthly minimal payment - or whatever they call it - will not increase as fast as the hourly SMIC: "(...) a modest reappraisal of the new 'monthly SMIC' agreed by the state would give an additional indication of strictness to those employers whom the 35 hour week is in danger of provoking into appearing stricter still over payments."[10]

    The development of working time annualization

    The annualization of working time is at the heart of the government's bill, inheriting the tradition of the Seguin and Giraud laws, which allowed companies to depart from legal arrangements on matters of working-time and established annualized part-time work. Replying to the questions of a small businessman in the building trade, the Minister of Labour stated: "why do you say that you are unable to go over to a 35 hour week? No one's telling you how to run your business. You can work more when you have a job to finish, and the workers will make it up afterwards, when business is slack. It will be an average: weekly, monthly, yearly, depending on your needs. No one is going to impose a seven hour day on you".

    At the National Assembly on January 29th, Martine Aubry confirmed: "annual adjustment can be stabilized if it is negotiated and if it doesn't go back on major guarantees. This adjustment we are in favour of". The annualization of working time allows bosses to pay no more for overtime. Indeed, if the working time is calculated by the year, on certain weeks, when the vagaries of production demand 42, 44 or 48 hours per week, overtime (paid at up to 25%, or even 50% more than the normal rate for night work) won't be paid at all, on the pretext that during slack weeks, the working week will be able to drop below 35 hours.[11]

    However, it is well known that in the absence of wage struggles, overtime is the only way that many proletarians can hang onto their purchasing power.[12] Annualization then means the lowering of wages. This is the objective of the Aubry law even though this is obviously not trumpeted by the high-priests of working-time reduction, only in the more muted atmosphere of the National Assembly. Jean Le Garrec, reporting to the Assembly for the PS, openly stated it after doffing his cap to UDF deputy Gilles de Robien[13]: "Everything may be put on the table, notably concerning organizational flexibility. There's nothing hampering a cyclical or annual perspective: in many agreements, we can see the idea of annualization. One of the aims of the agreements is wage control".

    The full logic of job sharing is that workers must accept that wage austerity is the price of working-time reduction and, according to the experts in the pay of the government, is the only guarantee of its proclaimed but mystified objective, to solve unemployment[14]: "it remains for employers and workers' representatives to determine the correct progress for wages that is consistent with the economic perspectives of business", insists Martine Aubry. "In the future, the evolution of wages will have to take into account the lowering in the length of working time (...). I am sure that workers will play their part in creating more jobs in their firms".

    The freezing of wages alongside working-time reduction, together with job creation[15]: such is the lesson drawn by the government from the failure of the 39 hours law (70,000 additional jobs, either created or preserved, in the non-agricultural commercial branches during the first week of 1982), whose magnificent apparatus was scuppered from the start by the 1982 strikes led by selfish workers.

    4.Within companies

    A long story

    The bosses didn't wait for the Aubry Law in order to reduce working-time within their businesses, from the moment that working-time reduction took the form of a Trojan Horse concealing a reorganization of the labour process incorporating the lowering or freezing of wages. All the elaborate legal structures over the last twenty years have given businesses permission to agree working-time reduction locally.

    Let us remind its fanatical exponents, that working-time reduction is not an end in itself for the proletariat. Its application and its effects on 'the labouring classes' are going to depend on the balance of forces between classes. Now, it is well known that for the last fifteen years, this balance of forces has been largely unfavourable to the working class, notably due to the existence of a massive industrial reserve army. Indeed, what good is a reduction in working-time if proletarians pay in full for this with wage reduction (nominal and real), labour flexibility, speed-ups (intensification of work) and the development of shift-work (lengthening of the time that equipment is in use).

    The observation of previous agreements between unions and bosses in recent years perfectly illustrates this mug's game. Most of the time, under the threat and blackmail of lay-offs, bosses have been able to impose nominal wage cuts of up to 10% against a reduction in working-time. This situation is symbolized by the agreement between the CGT, the CFDT and FO (the three main French unions), and the Montalembert public works company in the Rhone, where working-time was reduced from 38 to 34 hours at the price of a 10% drop in wages. Likewise at the Potain crane-building factory in Lyon, one year the unions accepted a cut and freeze in wages. This kind of agreement flourished during the 1990s, always in the name of the fight against unemployment and lay-offs, which of course didn't stop unemployment exceeding all-time records.

    Some examples

    In industry, working time was also at the cutting edge of the development of shift work. Thus, at Flins, the biggest production centre of the Renault group (workforce of 8400 at the moment), the management created a third shift for the production of Twingos on April 5th 1993. This shift, whose working week was 32 hours long (from 8.18pm to 2.03am four days a week, from 8.18pm to 5.18 am on Thursdays), has allowed a 40% increase in the time that the Twingo assembly line is in use. Only the normal overtime agreed for night shifts allowed the wage-level to be maintained, a drop in wages contrary to the victorious proclamations of the local left-wing CFDT branch.

    In Caen, the German firm Bosch has succeeded, thanks to the unions, in organizing work so as to keep the wheels turning 24 hours a day, 6 days a week, 144 hours a week. Four shifts operate to ensure the continuity of production, one day-shift working 39 hours and three alternate shifts working 32 hours each. The latter are paid for 39 hours, due to the integration of bonuses for night work.
    Management in the micro-computer division of Hewlett-Packard in Grenoble went ahead with a radical reorganization of labour. The agreement signed by the CGT and the CFDT on December 22nd 1992 permitted the creation of six shifts allowing equipment to run 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The weekly hours fluctuate between 26.5 hours for the two evening shifts and 34.5 hours for the two morning shifts, with 33.5 hours for the two afternoon shifts. The wages have dropped because they are calculated on the basis of 37.5 hours not 39.

    The BSN Gervais Danone company, under the direction of the socialist boss Antoine Riboud, had been the first to resort to the 'offensive reduction of working-time', in the jargon of the labour sociologists. The 1982 agreement, signed by the five CGT unions in BSN (the CGT controls 80% of the votes in the workers' electoral body) provided for an average working week of 33.36 hours for the 2400 shift workers, conditional on a reorganization involving the creation of a fifth shift. Complete compensation for lost wages was only considered in so far as productivity gains would reach 6-7%. This objective will be achieved while the decrease in working nights, Sundays and public holidays will reduce workers' wages by 1.6%, because of the loss of overtime bonuses.[16]

    This kind of working-time reduction, compensated for by a reorganization of the labour process and a fortiori by a lowering of workers' wages, fully and forcefully meets the needs of capital. Indeed, to free itself from its fixed component, it is vital for capital to speed up its turnover, allowing the value congealed in the machines to be transmitted ever more rapidly. This acceleration of turnover allows a decrease in the value of the commodities produced, sharing out the value of the fixed capital among a greater mass of commodities. The company which is the first to introduce this reorganization is then in a position to make super-profits by reducing the individual value of the commodities it is producing below their average value.

    Thus, without new investment in fixed capital, the reorganization of the labour process has allowed Hewlett-Packard to triple production and double productivity, and Renault-Flins to produce 300 extra cars. The unions are proclaiming victory, because in order to cope with the expansion of production and the reduction of hours, management have been forced to recruit (200 at Flins, 40 at H-P), but this expansion of the workforce (badly paid young workers, one of the causes of the 1995 dispute at Flins[17]) is more than compensated for by the productivity gains achieved by the new organization of the labour-process and the continual termination of jobs in other sectors of production.

    Company agreements put in place

    The first company agreements anticipating the transition to a 35-hour week in the year 2000 are being put into place, and they clearly demonstrate that, for the workers, working time reduction means lower wages. So on April 1st the unions FO and CFDT in the Eurocopter (manufacturing Franco-German helicopters) signed an agreement providing for the transition to 36 hours on January 1st 1998 and to 35 hours on January 1st 1999, in return for annualization (alternating four and five day weeks) and incomplete compensation for the lost hours[18] (60% for workers on more than 10,000F and 90% for the rest).

    In the commercial, financial and insurance sector, the one where joint agreements strictly regulate working hours,[19] the bosses quickly realized the benefits they could draw from the Aubry law. Thus Michel Freyche, president of the Association Francaise de Banques (AFB, French banking association), stated in an interview dated February 13th 1998 with the daily paper Les Echos:

    When it is negotiated reasonably, working-time reduction can be useful. (...) We don't want anything to do with negotiations for the 35-hour week by sector. On the other hand, we are ready to encourage and facilitate discussions at the company level, that is to say to examine what in the union agreement would constitute obstacles to the bringing in to play of working-time reduction.

    The financial and commercial sector employers' body then was eager to terminate collective bargaining agreements, especially the 1937 directive which guaranteed employees in these sectors two consecutive days off, including inevitably Sunday. The proposed 'deal' with workers in these sectors was to be as follows: in exchange for the 35-hour week, you will accept annualization of working time (46-48 hours during the legal holiday period); Saturday working (6 x 6 hours), the development of shift work (widening the range of hours previously limited to eleven hours under the 1937 decree); and last but not least, 'wage moderation'. Jacques Perillat, the president of the UCV (the association of inner city big retailers)[20] summed perfectly what was at stake:

    Currently, 40% of full-time employees are off on Saturdays, the day when we achieve our biggest takings. It would be preferable if this figure was no more than 20%.

    In addition, the Aubry Law seems to offer the opportunity to introduce annualization of working time, which "would allow employees to work 48 hours during the holidays; in return they would work four day weeks in June".[21] 48 hour, not to say 52 hour weeks are frequent in the commercial sector, but overtime is paid, which will not be the case with the introduction of annualization.

    In the current wave of terminations of collective bargaining agreements, what is also at stake for the bosses is the definition of working-time. In a great many union agreements, dressing, snacking and showering are included in the actual working-time. On-call time (when the employee is at the disposal of the employer without being in the workplace), which is not included in the actual working time, is paid. The introduction of the 35-hour week will allow the cancellation of these departures from the labour code (article L.212-4), which clearly specifies that the aforementioned times must not be accounted as actual work and therefore paid.[22]


    The analysis of the apparatus being put in place via the Aubry law demonstrates well that working-time reduction, contrary to the tale told by the various decaying remnants of the 'plural' left, isn't aimed at resolving unemployment, even less at freeing workers from the curse of wage labour in order to bestow more 'free' time upon them. As we have fully demonstrated, this law will in practice mean lower real and nominal wages, an increased submission to the imperatives of capital's valorization and thus a rise in the rate of exploitation. In return, to achieve social peace, the capitalist state is refining, even sophisticating the process of integrating the unions into the maintenance of capitalist order.

    Indeed, this integration is nothing new, but it remains noteworthy that, from year to year, the union apparatus appears ever more closely associated with all the new measures which adjust the capital-labour relation. Encouraging negotiations at company level, the Aubry law officially secures for the union company section an unprecedented role.[23] Thus, the wheel has turned full circle: from the Economic and Social Council to the smallest sections of the capitalist enterprise, from the general interest of the state to the micro-economy of the company, the union is more than ever the institution likely to transmit the requirements of capital's valorization through to all levels of civil society.

    More than ever, the capitalist state needs intermediaries. The apathy, the indifference of the exploited classes to public matters arouses the unease of a ruling class which is well aware of the weakness, not say non-existence of its intermediaries. The state treats this 'French sickness' by distancing itself from the unions whose representation is derisory, and indeed creating so-called representatives ex nihilo, as it did with the supposed unemployed organizations.

    The fact remains that the struggle for the expansion of wages and the reduction of the working day are still on the agenda, and will be so as long as capitalist relations of production are in place:

    When the workers strive to restore the working day to its former rational limits, they are just carrying out a duty to themselves and to their kind. They are just setting boundaries against capital's despotic usurpation. A man who has no spare time, whose entire life is appropriated as work for the capitalist, outside of merely physical interruptions for sleeping, eating, etc., is less than a beast of burden... And yet the history of industry shows that capital works without consideration or mercy to lower the whole working class to this extreme level of degradation, if no obstacles are placed in its way.

    (Marx, Wage-Labour and Capital)

    Mass unemployment, the development of various forms of job insecurity, have undoubtedly relegated the demand for a lowering of working-time to second place in workers' preoccupations.[24] Today's problems are the erosion and splitting up of the working day, annualized part-time working, insanely fluctuating working hours,[25] with the development of shift-work in industry as well as in offices.[26] It wouldn't even be surprising if there were to be an upsurge in movements for a genuine eight-hour day, without annualization or flexibility of hours.[27] Besides, struggles are beginning to emerge against Aubry's version of 35 hours and in defence of collective agreements.[28] Undoubtedly, we are a long way from the 32 or 30 hours proposed by leftists, at pains to be radical,[29] always desperately seeking the supposed miracle demand, in this case, the abolition of unemployment.

    In the 1980s and '90s moreover, the leftists became great specialists in demands - alternative strategies capable of reconciling the interests of the workers, the bosses and national economic competitiveness at the same time. So recently (in Le Monde, on January 21st 1998) we have seen Pierre Khalfa, a bureaucrat of the SUD union, making his little contribution to the Aubry law, by proposing a precise plan to alleviate the burden on small businesses. Christophe Aguiton, a paid official and media figure in the same union at France Telecom,[30] for his part seems more nostalgic. Debating in Le Nouvel Observateur with a small businessman (these people seem decidedly anxious worried about the fate of the PME),[31] he expressed a longing for a return to the good old days at the beginning of the 1980s, the golden age of social protection according to him!

    Nostalgia isn't what it was any more in the ranks of the Left: Marx being far too old-fashioned, they are falling back on Keynes and snivelling bitterly as they pick through the debris of the 1960's welfare state. Here we have a new version of reactionary socialism, what could be called the socialism of the 'glorious thirty', described by Marx as feudal in the Manifesto of the Communist Party, the socialism of those who are nostalgic for feudalism, for its guilds and artisans.

    We must remind them once again that that it is the class itself that decides its demands, out of its own needs, and that a contemporary factory struggle against annualization and increased flexibility can be a more meaningful example to the whole proletariat than bawling for 32 hours on Saturday demonstrations in Paris,[32] Let us also remember that in the scenario of a generalized revival of class struggle, a slogan such as 35/32 hours could appear timid and paltry, if the real movement goes much further than this.[33] Finally, remember also that, in the revolutionary tradition of the workers' movement, the diminution of the working day has never been accompanied by the illusion that it could create jobs. The same goes for rising wages demanded by leftists and Stalinists to boost consumption and get out of the crisis,[34] reducing the workers' struggle to a means of kick-starting capital accumulation. The task of past, present and future revolutionaries is to contribute to the defence of working class material interests, independently of any consideration of the interests of business or the defence of national economic competitiveness.

    [1] The Popular Front is the great moment of the 'myth of the Left in power' (see the book The Myth of the Left in Power by Phillippe Riviale, Jean Barrot and Albert Borcuk, Tete de Feuilles edition, 1973). We mustn't forget that the 40 hour week and the fifth week of paid holidays wasn't part of its election platform, intended first of all to reassure the middle classes in the name of 'anti-fascist unity of the French people' (Thorez). These few gains of the working class were to be briskly swept aside, leading to the decree-laws which introduced so many loop-holes in the application of the 40 hours law that it was virtually repealed, despite the fierce resistance of the workers before the fiasco of the 1938 strike. With the end of the strike wave and the pacification of the workers, mass lay-offs and price increases to cope with higher production costs wiped out the wage increases agreed in June 1936. During the Second World War, the average duration of work fluctuated between 55 and 60 hours.

    [2] ...before roughly tempering his ardour in the face of the meagre amount of enthusiasm aroused in the companies by the Aubry law. In Le Monde, February 1st 1998, Louis Viannet stated: "in such condition, the bill has big deficiencies. (...) If a legal duration of 35 hours leaves a margin to employers, which allows them to have 48 hour weeks, this cannot work." M. Viannet makes as if to discover annualization of working time years after this has been at the heart of different left and right-wing schemes of working time, and whose application the CGT (Communist Partly aligned union) is negotiating within companies. Besides, in its official publication, L'Hebdo de l'Actualite Sociale (no. 2786), the CGT is much less vindictive with regard to the Aubry law: 'working time reduction provides an opportunity to reflect and consider a better organization of work, backing the involvement and skills of the men. The possibilities offered by new technologies are overtaking the demands of work to ensure quality products and services, while so bringing a new response to the challenges of competitivity.'

    [3] A concept coined by the ideologue Andre Gorz to designate forced labour, alienated in relation to labour said to be autonomous, creative, not subject to the law of capital. Here Gorz is cheerfully plundering Marx, who at the end of Capital, vol. III, refers to that sphere of necessity that the communist mode of production will allow to be minimized. With one small difference nonetheless: in his ideal society, Gorz holds onto commodity production, wage labour and the state.

    [4] It is therefore quite possible that the driving force behind the wave of anti-smoking bans from the USA, clearly not its rulers' interest in public health, or even the costs incurred from health expenditure, might have been a study estimating that 65 hours of work time is lost through what the French call 's'en rouler une' (rolling one up).

    [5] Reducing Working Time, Syros Edition, 1996.

    [6] In 1997, Manpower and Adecco (temp.) became the first private employment agencies in France. By the end of February 1998, 409,573 people were employed in temporary work as against 376,142 at the end of January. Out of 189,600 jobs created in 1997, 120,000 are temporary jobs, mainly affecting industry (53%) and the BTP (construction of public works) (20%). Temping has become a major component of industrial employment. Thus, in car sub-contracting, temporary employment frequently represents 50% of the manpower and 15% among construction workers. For company management, this method of recruitment has nothing but advantages: "The intensity of work of temps is superior to that of the permanent staff. Younger, often better educated, more multi-purpose, paid the SMIC if certificated, non-unionized, never ill or else immediately replaced..., temps only have 'qualifications', for the user-venture, destabilizing unqualified workers on short-term contracts." For proletarians the advantages are less obvious: three times more accidents at work, no medical supervision; a very meagre average working year.

    [7] TUC (Travaux d'utilité collective; 'Community useful work'): low paid work (maximum 2000 francs per month), for young people mainly in the schools or in local councils. SIVP (Stage d'Insertion à la Vie Professionnelle; 'Insertion in professional life course'): dirty jobs in private sector companies for young people just out of school and on the dole; very low paid and sometimes not paid at all. CES (Contrat Emploi Solidarité; 'Solidarity job contract'): this defines a very low paid temporary (6 months) job which is 'offered' in the state administrations (ministries, state railways, buses etc.). CRE (Contrat de Retour à l'Emploi'; 'Return to work contract'): used to put long-term unemployed people back to work; in this case, the worker got a regular wage but half is paid for two years by the state; after those two years the worker is often sacked.

    [8] The question of 'grey' jobs is yet another manifestation of the seamless continuity between the politics of Left and Right which has developed over the years. It is the Left in government, and its prime minister of the time Laurent Fabius, which is again becoming aware of the great merit (for capital) of having launched this sort of employment. Indeed in 1984, once the lyrical illusions of the 'state of grace' had faded, the then government launched the TUC. Those TUCs, which under the directive of October 16th 1984, had to be only for 'training and preparation for professional life' very quickly became means for the 'French public sector' to obtain labour for fully-fledged jobs virtually free, bereft of status. At the time, the private employers' body, feeling cheated of the opportunity to benefit from the services of these new slaves, had demanded via the CNPF (Le Conseil National du Patronat Français: bosses' union, similar to the CBI) the extension of the TUCs to the private sector. Thus the SIVP was born and carried to the baptismal font by Left and Right (in 1986, by Phillippe Seguin), putting young workers at the disposal of companies on the pretext of training. The pseudo 'jobs for the young' of Jospin's government are just a metamorphosis of this state-controlled policy of devalorization of the price of the commodity labour-power. There again, the Left has broken new ground in creating the five year CDD (short-term contract), renewable each year.

    History is repeating itself, since the CNPF is claiming the feasibility of applying this sort of employment contract to wage-earners in the private sector. As with the 35-hour week, the goal of these successive employment policies is not to 'find work for the young', but to supply public and private bosses with labour at prices which beat all the competition. It's a way of breaking up the wage scales (get someone with a vocational training certificate and two years higher education, for 2000F instead of paying at the rate provided for by the branch union agreements), to crack the minimum wage, to increase competition between proletarians on the labour-market. This is also a factor, for now, in industrial peace: workers on 'normal' contracts, paid at the agreed rates, are enduring terrible pressure because of the existence of this lower-paid mass at their sides. How can they make demands and go on strike when there are fellow-workers even worse off in their office or factory? Workers pay very dearly for forgetting that the basic principles of class struggle are equal work, pay, status and conditions.

    [9] Mme. Aubry blithely assumes this continuity moreover. To the Right-wing deputies anxious to see annualization of working time written into every letter of this Bill, she replied that this was not necessary: the five-yearly law of M. Giraud (former employment minister in Chirac's RPR party) has provided all the measures to that end without any need to return to it.

    [10] Le Monde, January 29th 1998.

    [11] Let us note in passing that the weekly number of working hours beyond which overtime gives rise to a 50% compensatory break (in companies with a workforce of more than ten) will become 41 hours in 1999 as against 42 hours at present. Logically this threshold should have been at 38 hours, but for the plural Left, it's no small gift for the bosses.

    [12] The real duration of the working week for wage-earners averages 41.05 hours.

    [13] UDF = Union pour le Democratic Français: centrisr party, pro-European and associated with the RPR when in government (1986-8, 1993-7) and now in the opposition. The Robien law was presented both to the Left and to the Right as the miracle means of saving, indeed creating, jobs by the reduction of working time in return for the drastic reduction of employers' contributions (up to 50%). In many companies, agreements were signed which maintained the illusion among proletarians that henceforward they would be immune from lay-offs. The first disillusions are coming to light. Thus, at Nimes, in the Well tights-manufacturing company, a year to the day after the unions signed an agreement protecting the company's 776 jobs, the boss has just announced that one third of the jobs in the factory are to go. Motive: the market isn't absorbing the product as expected. A cruel occasion to recall that it is the rate of accumulation and the concomitant capacity of the market to expand which determines the creation of jobs, and that all the skillful arrangements (lightening of charges, RTT [réduction du temps de travail: 'working-time reduction']) are of no use at all in time of crisis, except to allow the bosses to pocket millions of Francs from the state.

    [14] Once again, the blackmail of jobs in return for wage cuts is on the agenda with the Aubry law. Thus, according to an OFCE study, under the direction of Jean-Paul Fitoussi, the transition from a legal duration of 39 to one of 35 hours in the year 2000 could lead to the creation of half a million jobs in companies of more than twenty employees. On the condition however that the employees 'pull their weight' and sacrifice the equivalent of 5% of their wages... On the other hand, Rexecode, the bosses' organ of expertise, is less optimistic and predicts the destruction of thousands of jobs, as the high cost of labour-power in companies remaining at 39 hours accelerates the substitution of dead labour for living labour. Unless, that is, that the employees, in exchange for a lowering of the working time, accept annualization and a drop in wages... From OFCE to Rexecode, it's the same old refrain.

    [15] We cannot stress too much how the creation of jobs and lowering of unemployment are nothing but pretexts, and that the proclamations of the Left about the hundreds of millions of jobs to come into being thanks to the Aubry law are nothing but eye-wash. Dominique Strauss Kahn (affectionately known as DSK by the lapdogs of Le Monde), whom the atmosphere of the Davos forum seemed to lend a certain sincerity, acknowledged it (Canard Enchaine, February 4th 1998): "It is certain that the 35 week will involve pay restraint. (...) In these conditions, no one can say whether more jobs will be lost than gained." One thing is certain then: wages will fall!

    [16] La Temps de Travail en Miettes, Jacques Freyssinet, les editions de l'Atelier, 1997.

    [17] On the strikes of Spring 1995 at Renault, see Le Bulletin Ouvrier, no. 1.

    [18] After a small calculation on the basis of 35 hours plus four hours paid at 60% for a worker earning 10,000F, we end up with about 1000F lost in wages a month. For a worker on SMIC, the loss would be about 350F. For FO, whose chief bigwig never stops affirming his opposition in the media to every form of annualization, flexibility and lowering of wages, this agreement is 'noticeable'.

    [19] The National Federation of French sugar manufacturers, a bosses' union, has also just announced its decision to call into question the union agreement covering the sector's 12,000 employees. In the newspaper Liberation, March 6th 1999, one chief executive explained the reason: "This termination was forced upon us. We are one of the few sectors to possess a union agreement which fixes working hours". The journalist's comments deserve reporting: "Farewell paid holidays, rules of seniority, making up overtime and other advantages gained in what is after all a healthy sector, formed into cartels, with no more than two big groups: Eridhania-Beghin Say, on whose board of trustees sits a certain Ernest-Antoine Seilliere, and Saint-Louis general sugar-refinery. In exchange for a 35-hour week, the employers wish to inaugurate annualization, which would allow 46 hour weeks during busy periods, and 32 hours the rest of the year. The conventional system in France would go from 'ready-made' over to 'made to measure'."

    [20] This sector includes the popular stores (Monoprix, Prisunic) and some big stores (Le Printemps, Galeries Lafayette, BHV, etc.). The two collective bargaining agreements governing working conditions date from 1995 and cover almost 40,000 employees.

    [21] Le Monde, Wednesday 25th March 1998.

    [22] Parliamentary debates (National Assembly, Senate) have given rise to some tragi-comical gesticulations between Left and Right over the notion of actual work. The Greens had got an amendment passed, adding an article to the Labour Code, defining actual working time as "the time during which the employee is at the disposal of the employer". This had been overturned on the second reading by senators who offered a more restrictive definition: "the actual duration of work is the time during which the employee is at work, at the disposal of the employer and carrying out his activity or his functions". Lionel Jospin, such a Solomon, has finally settled for introducing the notion of permanence: the actual working time becomes "the time during which the employee is at the continuous disposal of the employer". This new definition is sufficiently ambiguous to allow free flow to a multitude of interpretations. In view of the state of the balance of class forces, we can be in no doubt that the bosses, satisfied in other respects with Jospin's intervention, will know how to make profits out of this ambiguity.

    [23] This is no small gift to the unions. Thus the Law provides for the payment of worker-representatives to negotiate the transition to 35 hours with management or to undertake the smooth application of the agreement in ad hoc committees.

    [24] Above all the explosion of part-time work which affects about 17% of the active population today as compared with 7% in 1982. Out of this 17%, more than 40% would like to work more, not for the love of working but to earn a wage which would enable them to survive. We are a long way from the idyllic representations, dear to the CFDT left, of part-time work chosen so as to have a wonderful world of free time at our disposal. The creation of this sort of job correlates with some poorly-qualified jobs.

    [25] Notably the case of cashiers in big volume distribution whose working day, most often part-time, is completely split up, breaking off for three hours at a time (10am-1pm, interruption, 4pm-8pm). Unable to go home, they are condemned to spend these interruptions waiting around for the resumption of work. Taking into account an average of two hours a day minimum traveling in big built-up areas, we have established that in the big distribution sector, capital has devised the part-time working day of 12 hours. For more on the disastrous working conditions of commercial 'proletarians' in big volume distribution, read Gregoire Philonenko's work Aux Carrefours de l'Exploitation, ed. Desclee de Brouwer, 1998.

    [26] 22% of wage earners are on shift-work, as compared with 17% in 1982.

    [27] See the1995 strike by the TGV cleaners, who were refusing the introduction of part-time with loss of wages and discontinuous hours.

    [28] The struggle of the Nobel chemical company workers, who refused the transition to a 35-hour week at the price of annualization of working time.

    [29] Surpassed on their Left by Klaus Kahn, president of the German unemployed association, who is calling for 28 hours.

    [30] Aguiton is perhaps best known as the spokesperson for AC!, the unemployed campaign.

    [31] Petites et moyennes enterprises.

    [32] In these times of mind-numbing commemorations of May '68, let us remember that the leading factory which launched the movement, Sud-Aviation near Nantes, was on strike against a reduction of working time (from 48 hours to 45) with loss of wages.

    [33] In 1920, a period when the revolutionary upsurge of the German proletariat was in full swing, the miners in the Ruhr were struggling for a 30-hour week. In Italy, during the 1970s, there were massive struggles over the inclusion of travelling time in actual working-time.

    [34] If the leftists of the LCR have specialized in calling for a 32 hour week, the Lambertists of the Workers' Party for their part are putting forward the necessity for a rise in wages to kick-start the economy and get out of the crisis. It is true that, in contrast with their fraternal enemies, the 'pablists', they at least have the decency not to call for revolution openly any more. These days, their concern is to defend local democracy, secular education, the Republic and other institutions of the capitalist order.

  • Further reading and contacts

    The Unemployed Movement: A Struggle under the Influence (Olga Morena, Oiseau-Tempete, 3, Summer 1998; c/o AB Irato, BP 328, 75525 Paris Cedex 11, France). This article argues that the main winners of the French 'unemployed movement' were the leftist organizations and their leaders.

    We Don't Want Full Employment, We Want Full Lives! (Bureau of Public Secrets, 1998; PO Box 1044, Berkeley, CA 94701, USA.) Excerpts from some of the more interesting leaflets issued by claimant occupiers of the Jussieu University.

    Dole Autonomy Versus the Re-imposition of Work: Analysis of the Current Tendency to Workfare in the UK (Aufheben, 1999) While the post-war triumph of social democracy served to create a split between mundane needs and utopian desires within the proletariat, the decline of social democracy has yet to see the end of this fragmentation of our struggles. In particular, recent unemployed struggles remain weak and individualized.

    Social Democracy: No future?, Aufheben 7 (Autumn 1998). This article conceptualizes and situates social democracy historically, and raises the question of what its retreat, or possible resurgence, might mean for revolutionaries.

    The Retreat of Social Democracy... Re-imposition of Work in Britain and the "Social Europe", Aufheben 8 (Autumn 1999). This article, which complements the present pamphlet, shows how the left-of-centre governments now dominating Europe are attempting to re-impose work through similar neo-reformist policies.

    Dole Autonomy pamphlet is no longer available but is online here. Copies of Stop the Clock! can be ordered from Aufheben: £2.40 UK (including postage); £2.70 Elsewhere (including postage). Sterling cheques only, please; payable to Aufheben. For prices for back issue and subscription please click here.


    Brighton and Hove Unemployed Workers' Centre
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    The politics of anti-road struggle and the struggles of anti-road politics - the case of the No M11 link road campaign

    Aufheben article from 1994 about the anti-roads movement, its possibilities and its contradictions, at the height of the anti-M11 campaign.

    Through the passionate creation of conditions favourable to the growth of our passions, we wish to destroy that which is destroying us.

    Ratgeb (1974)[1]

    What we're dealing with here is a small unrepresentative group. They set aside the entire democratic process and try to get what they want by physical means ... I hope there will be no more resistance, because the road has the full authority of democracy, and any attempt to disrupt it is therefore an attack on democracy

    Stephen Norris, Minister for Transport in London (1994)[2]

    1. Introduction

    This article was originally written in the summer of 1994, when we were involved in the campaign against the M11 link road in north-east London.[3] The campaign had moved into its final and, in our view, most radical phase: the occupation of Claremont Road. The article was written to be presented at a discussion meeting at the 'Justice?' courthouse squat in Brighton. It also appeared in the zine Claremont Road: The End of the Beginning, produced after the eviction of Claremont Road. The present version is published in DiY Culture: Party & Protest in Nineties Britain (ed. George Mackay; Verso, 1998). The purpose of the piece was to analyse the political possibilities of the anti-roads movement, and some of its internal tensions, as exemplified in the No M11 campaign.

    The project of those involved in Aufheben draws inspiration from, but ultimately seeks to go beyond the limits of, the most recent high points in proletarian theory and practice, such as the Situationist International and the Italian autonomia movement.[4] Most of the people involved in Aufheben magazine came together during the anti-poll tax movement of 1990. The magazine grew out of a reading group we began around that time. We were reading Marx's Grundrisse and Capital, with a view to developing our ideas in order to contribute to the class struggle.

    The present article is part of this contribution. In writing it, we didn't claim to have a completed understanding of the anti-roads movement. Rather, we were in a similar situation to many other people taking part in the struggle at the M11: passionately involved and seeking to understand in order to struggle more effectively.

    Direct action is necessary but direct action alone is not enough. It is also necessary to develop a theory adequate to our radical actions. Otherwise all we have to comprehend and legitimize our actions are the existing off-the-shelf ideologies. These ideologies are grounded in, and function to reproduce, the very social relations we wish to overcome: the social relations of alienation, exploitation, state oppression, meaningless and soul-destroying work, endless economic expansion and everyday misery. In other words, the social relations of capital.

    2. 'Politics' intended and unintended

    2.1 Roads and capital

    The anti-roads direct action movement in the UK can be said to have begun with the struggle over the building of the M3 extension in Twyford Down, Hampshire, in 1991-2. Both this campaign and that at the M11 extension in north-east London served to make roads into a political issue for many people for the first time. But, whereas 'rural landscape' issues were to the fore at Twyford, the M11 was an urban development scheme, and so raised issues of housing, pollution and use of 'community' space. This engendered a politicization among participants and onlookers on a greater scale and of a broader quality ('social' as well as 'natural') than occurred at Twyford.

    However, it is not as if roads were non-political before they became a topic of national controversy. Roads have always been deeply implicated in the maintenance of class relations. In the first place, capital - as both a national and a supra-national subject - requires an efficient transport system in order to move raw materials to factories, and to move finished products to retail centres where they can be sold. Commodities need to be moved about, usually over long distances, to have their value realized in the realm of exchange.[5] In order to compete with other capitals, each transport system must be continually upgraded. Hence the attempt of the various states that make up the European Union to constitute themselves into a single viable economic entity in order to compete with other blocks requires a transport system allowing quick, efficient movement across the whole continent (and between this block and others). And hence some of the major road 'improvements' taking place in the 1990s have been part funded by the European Union as part of developing the Trans European Route Network.

    In the second place, we need to explain why modern capitalist states have come to prefer roads to rail networks. There are a number of reasons, but the basic element behind the growth of roads is the status of the motor industry as a key locus for expansion. The car is still the pre-eminent consumer product. Quite simply, car sales and all the commodities related to such sales - petrol, insurance etc. etc. - can generate a lot of wealth for some people! Moreover, with such a large number of linkages to other industries - petrochemical, plastics, steel, and road-building itself, of course - the motor industry serves as an indicator for the whole economy. Huge sectors of the economy are dependent upon the continued sale of cars.

    Many participants and commentators would agree with us that the anti-roads movement is in some sense 'political'. We want to argue for a particular understanding of the politics of anti-roads struggle, however, and against certain other interpretations which are current.

    2.2 A moral or environmental issue?

    In the not too distant past, opposition to new road schemes was generally understood to be mere NIMBYism:[6] people who probably recognized the 'need for the road', but who didn't want it going through their own patch. The struggle at Twyford Down can be seen as the beginning of the end of NIMBYism and the birth of a new bete noire for the state planners and road empire: the anti-roads direct-activists. The principled action of these people has allowed locals to understand their own problems in global terms - which in turn has given them a greater feeling of legitimacy. This whole process has snowballed as different groups around the country have taken encouragement from each others' actions.

    In moving away from NIMBYism, many of the participants in the M11 struggle characterized their action as essentially moral or essentially environmental. However, while individuals may be motivated by their personal values, the M11 struggle is not explicable as a 'moral' issue because it is not a simple opposition of good versus bad. The reason that the planners, the state, the contractors and so on attempted to impose the road is not because they are 'evil people'; it is because they were acting in the service of capital that they are 'bad', not vice versa. Only if this is taken into account can we understand the logic of what they are trying to do. Why, for example, did the UK government not implement all of the Rio declaration on global warming etc.? Not because John Major was stupid or lazy or malicious (though he may be all those things), but because the UK government feared quite rationally that UK capital would lose competitiveness in the short to medium term if such changes were made.

    The struggle cannot be comprehended adequately as being essentially 'environmental' either. In the first place, the struggle against the M11 link road has highlighted many issues which people recognize as essentially social; some participants were motivated by the threat to the 300 houses on the route of the road rather than the destruction of trees and green spaces. There is a deeper point here also: 'the environment' or 'nature' is not some separate and distinct realm, to be contrasted with a separate social or political realm. 'Environmental' and social issues are actually aspects of the same whole; the struggle over the environment reflects our (human/social) needs for green areas, health and resources. We are part of nature, and there is no struggle outside human needs and desires.

    Given that a purely moral or a purely environmental perspective is inadequate for understanding the significance of the M11 campaign, we therefore need to find another framework. In left and radical politics - in the broad sense - there are two dominant frameworks in which the struggle against the M11 link road might be understood: Labourism & Leninism (the traditional left) on the one hand, and, on the other, eco-reformism.

    2.3 Traditional organised politics

    To the traditional left, whether Labourist or Leninist, most struggles (such as the attempt merely to stop a particular road, or even the whole roads programme) are understood a priori principally as locations for the recruitment of individuals to a 'revolutionary party' (or even a Parliamentary one) which is thought by its supporters to be the real agent for the real struggle which actually takes place at another location and at another time.

    But many ostensibly reformist struggles of whatever nature, depending on how they are fought and their historical context, may become revolutionary in their own right. Particular struggles, such as those of the new anti-roads movement, may connect themselves to each other as part of a practical critique of the whole capital relation, even if their immediate conscious aims are more modest. Such struggles may be both valid in their own right (i.e. satisfying our immediate needs as opposed to those of capital), and point directly to a higher level of struggle; a victory may create new needs and desires (which people then feel confident to set about satisfying) and new possibilities (which make the satisfaction of these and other needs and desires more likely), and so on.

    Eco-reformism takes many forms, but is typically characterized by a naive faith in the ultimate tractability of democracy. Thus the Green Party has proposed a no-growth capitalist economy, and recent commentators have suggested that capitalism and 'greenery' are compatible.[7] Arguments for tractability or compatibility are based on the observation that certain green battles have been won, and that certain green indicators (e.g. relative absence of sulphur dioxide air pollution) have been known to co-exist with growth.

    But although particular battles may be won through reform, the whole war will not be won this way since to stifle the hydra-head of capital in one direction is to have it popping up somewhere else. Imagine, for example, that the anti-roads movement was so successful that it not only prevented all new roads being built but permanently closed many existing ones. Without a concerted attempt to deal with the growth-needs of capital from which the mania for roads issued, our lives would be ruined in other ways - by a massive growth in information technology, railways, air transport, even canals! For example, in Holland and Belgium, opposition is less over roads than over railways which, due to the high level of industrialization and development over there, are taking up the few remaining green spaces.

    What both leftist and eco-reformist positions have in common is that they both look outside ourselves and our struggles for the real agent of change, the real historical subject: leftists look to 'the party' while eco-reformists look to Parliament. By contrast, and despite some of the material and comments put out in the name of the No M11 campaign, by adopting direct action as a form of politics, those of us involved in the No M11 campaign looked to ourselves as a source of change.

    2.4 The No M11 campaign as an existence of thoroughgoing struggle

    Having rejected other political interpretations, we now turn to the actual practice of the No M11 struggle to develop our own perspective on its political nature.

    Participants' expectations of what counts as success in the struggle against the M11 link road shifted over the duration of the campaign. Particularly after the fall of Wanstonia (February 1994), fewer and fewer people believed we could stop the M11 link road being built. But people were prepared to continue this long war of attrition because they could see that the delay and money the campaign cost the construction companies and the Government (through the occupation of squats, invasions of sites and other actions) were having some impact on the ideas of many people and on Government priorities.

    However, compared to even a traditional Labourist struggle, such as the signal-workers' dispute which occurred at the same time as the M11 campaign was at its height, the amount of money the campaign cost the Government is actually small fry.[8] Therefore the key to the political significance of the No M11 campaign lies less in the immediate aims of stopping this one road and in the immediate costs incurred to capital and the state (although these are great achievements and great encouragement to others), and more in our creation of a climate of autonomy, disobedience and resistance.[9]

    The different acts of creation and resistance that comprise the No M11 campaign were more-or-less coherently related as part of a conscious collective project. What made them radical, subversive and potentially revolutionary was the fact that the various particular acts were intended and functioned as parts of a whole way of existence, a day-to-day existence of thoroughgoing struggle.[10] Much of the significance of this day-to-day existence of struggle lies in the fact that a certain way of life is required to maintain the capitalist system: a life of discipline and conformity, with expression limited to purchasing power. In order to create the wealth necessary to maintain itself, this system requires that most of us live in accommodation that we pay for, that we pay for our food and clothing etc. (and that, as individual purchasers, we aspire to more and better housing, clothes etc. etc.) - that we therefore carry out wage-labour in order to pay for all these things. In order to maintain itself, capital also requires that those who do conform perceive the lifestyles of those who don't as unattractive and precarious.

    The way of life adopted by many of us in the No M11 campaign was the very reverse of this - and points to the way a whole society could live. However, this alternative, subversive form of existence wasn't born of idealism but of immediate practical requirements.

    2.4.1 Squatting

    Day-to-day struggle was not a free choice, but rather a function of the fact that the campaign was over a large road in whose path lay a number of houses, trees and other green areas; the best way to defend these was obviously to occupy them and live in them collectively. The importance of squatting as a tactic in the radicalism of the M11 struggle was vital, binding together as it did daily life with offensive resistance: living on the route of the proposed road allowed easier intervention in the building of that road! Moreover, a situation without the dull compulsion of rent, work, bills etc. provided the basis for creating and re-inventing a community, which, in turn, encouraged other ideas.

    Squatting is itself a tremendous act of resistance as well as a material necessity. But we went beyond mere squatting and made the campaign into a more thoroughgoing struggle, and not only through our incursions into construction sites. We went beyond squatting as lifestylism first by barricading our squats, second by taking over the street itself in Claremont Road; and, finally, and as part of taking over the street, we made it into our actual living space - rejecting in effect the imposed division between the privatized domain of the house-holder and the 'public' (i.e. traffic-dominated) thoroughfare.

    2.4.2 'The pixies': devalorization and auto-valorization

    Parallel to squatting were the many acts of damage and theft that went on against the link road at night (and sometimes in broad daylight). Equipment, materials, structures, offices, vehicles, fences and machinery at link road sites were damaged all the time, sometimes by a large crowd who would outnumber security and disappear when the police arrived, but more often by small groups who operated out of view of security. This added massively to the costs incurred by the construction companies. Even better, lots of material was stolen from link road sites and other sites in the area. This material, such as fencing, was then used for our purposes, such as barricading. This process had a beautiful roundness and economy about it: turning the enemies' 'weapons' against them! In devalorizing these materials from capital's point of view, we re-valorized (or autovalorized) them from our own.

    For very practical reasons, these kind of activities were not widely discussed within the campaign, let alone mentioned in public pronouncements (press releases, leaflets, pamphlets, interviews etc.): to admit to theft and damage is to ask to be arrested. This led to a rather one-sided, anodyne picture being received in some quarters of what the campaign was about and what people in the campaign actually did. So much had to be secret, even within the campaign. People involved in the campaign simply couldn't go around saying that the campaign's continued existence as a semi-permanent site of resistance depended crucially on theft.

    2.4.3 Communal life

    Those staying at Claremont Road attempted to live communally in many ways. Many of the houses were shared, and there were communal meals, although a degree of semi-commercial organization also operated in the form of the street cafés. People experimented with different ways of relating to each other and organizing. Some of the limits of what can be done communally reflected the problem of new people or outsiders coming in who can't be trusted. The campaign was very open, but the disadvantage of this was that it made it easy for spies and infiltrators to gain access. The only solution to this was not so much to close up but to expand and generalize the struggle.

    2.4.4 Free activity: reclaiming 'time'

    Some indication of the threat our mode of existence posed to the stability of the mainstream was given by the fact that many people who had relatively well-paid jobs in the construction industry preferred to 'work' with us rather than for a wage. Without doubt, we were nowhere near successful enough in appealing to such people. But nevertheless, we must have been doing something right when so many carpenters and other skilled workers came to 'work' for hours on end to take part in the barricading and related construction work that went on in Claremont Road.

    2.4.5 Reclaiming space

    People took over the tarmac of the street itself, and only part of it was open to vehicles. We tried to ensure that security guards occupying part of the end of the street did not use it to park their cars; rather, any parking spaces were reserved for our people. One of the elders of the campaign initiated the closing of the main part of the street to traffic by building artworks on the actual tarmac. These works of art were made from objects in the natural and artificial environment: tree stumps, chains, bicycle parts etc. This was followed by the turning of the street itself into a 'living room' by using the furniture, carpets, fittings and other objects from some of the houses on the street to make actual rooms on the street. Each had its own character. These rooms did not simply operate as art - they were functional as living spaces. This came to be seen as a deliberate echo of (idealized) pre-car communities where children could play in the street, neighbours socialize etc. without fear of being knocked down. As more objects filled the street, and more people took over the road, Claremont was also becoming a virtual no-go area for the police. In the early days, a local sergeant would patrol regularly and knock down the artwork each time he went past. But eventually he stopped going down the street at all. At the time, we felt we had excluded the police through our own numbers and power etc.; but in fact part of it was that the police were being diplomatic. When they deemed the time to be right they came in when they wanted - as on the 2nd of August when four of our houses were evicted and demolished with the aid of riot police. Throughout, however, people led the police to believe that all the artwork and other objects in the street were easily movable, but in fact many of them were cemented into the street, or filled with earth and rubble so they could function as barricades.

    In sum, this daily existence of thoroughgoing struggle was simultaneously a negative act (stopping the road etc.) and a positive pointer to the kind of social relations that could be: no money, the end of exchange values, communal living, no wage labour, no ownership of space.

    3. Contesting the communal identity

    Many of the themes of the No M11 struggle resonate with those found in the writings of the Situationist International.[11] Their concerns with pleasure, humour, critique/satire of consumerism, 'self-realization' and 'wholeness' are all captured in the opposition 'life versus survival'.[12] Survival may actually be no more than a living death of wage-labour, money, routine, bureaucracy, boredom, the state, the police, consumption, town planning, bourgeois discipline etc. Survival may also be to varying degrees of comfort; but however comfortable, it does not correspond to the spontaneity, love, creativity, humour, comradeship, commitment, risk-taking and leaps into the unknown of living. Survival is merely existence within the purposes of an alien and parasitic power; living is the very reverse of this - it is the negation of this encroaching power through conscious, joyous resistance.[13]

    As well as sharing some of its strengths, the No M11 campaign fell down in some of the places where the situationists fell down also. A critique of alienation in the realm of consumption and 'everyday life' is necessary, but what about an adequate analysis of commodity production? Those in the No M11 campaign did not produce such an analysis, not because, like the situationists, they thought that capital has solved some of its contradictions.[14] Rather they didn't think about capital at all, except incidentally. Towards the end of the campaign, more people thought more often about their own activity as a form of antagonism in relation to capital and the state. But, generally, the campaign's theories remained inadequate to its practices; and into this gap of theory dogma often stepped - usually liberal dogma, reflecting both the middle-class backgrounds of many within the campaign, and the nature of the campaign itself, which fitted uneasily into the traditional image of class struggle.

    Participants in the No M11 campaign clearly shared an identity, an identity which was deeply political, whether explicitly understood in relation to capital or not. However, the nature of the campaign's politics was sometimes the subject of intense internal struggles. Dogmas did not always go uncontested. Two controversial issues in particular stand out from the Claremont Road period: the question of non-violence; and the arguments over how the free space was created and maintained.

    3.1 'Fluffing it?'

    3.1.1 Just how non-violent was the campaign?

    For some people in the No M11 campaign, non-violence was not simply a tactic appropriate to certain situations, it was a principle to be applied to all situations. Yet even those who professed to be principled 'fluffies', or adherents of ideological non-violence, were not always consistent. Violence was used within the campaign - reluctantly - to exclude people from Claremont Road. And many who thought of themselves as fluffies would admit that in some situations they would use physical force against another person in order to protect themselves. Clearly, unless they are willing to use the same force to protect their comrades they are guilty of not only hypocrisy but also of selfishness and cowardice. But the point here is to emphasize that it is not particular individuals or groups who should be criticized - this could degenerate into a merely moral or ad hominem argument - rather it is necessary to look at the issue at the level of practices. We do not presume complete consistency, and so the critique is therefore against principled-fluffy practices not people.

    3.1.2 Practical arguments

    In the No M11 campaign, the predominance of non-violence as an integral part of the campaign identity was fuelled as much by a fear of media/ public opinion response as by the practical question of how a relatively small group of people could continually disrupt construction work in the face of a physically large work-force of security guards. But there were, indeed, strong practical imperatives behind the campaign's adoption of non-violence.

    Given that the work on the road was scheduled to last at least four years, and given that the most effective way to fight it was to have a permanent and visible presence on or nearby the route of the road, able to climb into work-sites and disrupt work, and given also the fluctuations in our numbers, using open physical violence to get past security was not a viable strategy. If, for example, we had the numbers on one occasion to beat the guards in a fight, we would face revenge when we were vulnerable: in our squats or next time we invaded a site when our numbers were low. In fact, in numerical terms we were usually evenly matched with the guards during site invasions, but they were mostly much physically bigger than us. We therefore attempted to operate within certain unwritten rules of play, and we attempted to outmanoeuvre the guards within those rules: thus a crowd of us would run onto a site, many of whom expected to be escorted or dragged out by the guards, while a number managed to scale the cranes where the guards couldn't reach them.

    There were many complaints within the campaign over 'violence' from security guards or police, and over illegitimate use of arrest and other interventions by police. But there were hardly any use of batons, let alone horses or snatch squads by police at the M11 struggle. Arguably, we were able to carry on our war of attrition because, by and large, we did not appear to up the stakes too much, and so the police often adopted a hands-off approach.

    Given this context, it was difficult to argue that non-violence could be dispensed with. On the other hand, on many occasions it was clear that the strategy of non-violence had become written in stone as a simplistic panacea. During the period when a large number of new people became involved in the campaign, for example, there was an occasion when someone questioned the usefulness of non-violence simply by asking 'What do I do after they've hit me?' Instead of being given a rational argument, he was virtually shouted down hysterically with rhetoric about non-violence. Similarly, some people in the campaign expressed fear that the demo against the Criminal Justice Bill on the 24th of July might not be 'fluffy', as if the tactics of local road protests should automatically generalize to other situations. The tactic of non-violence arises from a position of weakness: it is like people saying 'We are weak and vulnerable; let's capitalize on this by using it as a method!' - appealing to the humanity and sympathy of others (see below). But it simply doesn't make sense to assume we'll always be weak or that the method will work with every different potentially confrontational encounter.

    In the struggle against the A36 superhighway just outside Bath, a protester was nearly killed when a tree surgeon apparently deliberately cut the ropes securing him to a tree. After this, protesters took rocks with them into the trees to use in case another such life-or-death situation arose. If methods vary across different anti-roads campaigns, then they will obviously vary across different types of struggle. Non-violence can be very persuasive in certain situations; it can discourage security and police from being more violent than they might otherwise be on certain occasions. But what about when the stakes are raised, when the powers that be think we're being too successful? Police and security on the ground will be under orders not to be disarmed by politeness and non-violence; they will be thinking simply of getting people out the way by any means necessary, and if you can't get away quick enough you will have to try to defend yourself. At the demo against the Criminal Justice Bill on July 24th, a leaflet was distributed advising people that one tactic they might try if the police start getting heavy is to 'lie down and be a doormat'. This advice was naive, inappropriate and dangerous. The forces of the state will wipe the floor with 'doormats'!

    3.1.3 Non-violence as part of democracy

    A second rationale for non-violence arises from its heritage. Linked as it is with all the historical baggage of campaigns to gain civil rights, the strategy of non-violence was articulated within the No M11 campaign on a number of occasions as a way of bringing us more into the democratic fold. The demand was made that our non-violent protest be recognized as 'part of the British democratic tradition', that we should be able to exercise our 'rights', and that non-violent direct action be seen as a necessary part of citizenship. NVDA was said to be legitimate because it is consistent with certain principles in the law. Organizations allied to the No M11 campaign, such as Alarm UK, Road Alert! and the Freedom Network made explicit the ideological linkages, citing the suffragettes as an example and precedent for such integration and inclusion. Michael Randle, the well-known peace campaigner, in his recent book on civil resistance,[15] follows the philosopher Ted Honderich and the sociologist Sheila Rowbotham in seeing certain forms of protest such as non-violent direct action as enriching rather than challenging democracy.[16]

    But let's be clear about this. What they refer to by the term 'democracy' is the alienated politics that got us in this mess in the first place. Do we want to see this system achieve full ascendancy - with a bill of rights to make explicit the guarantee of our paltry 'freedoms' in exchange for our duty to obey a law which maintains the dull compulsion of capital - or do we want something better? In the No M11 struggle, many of the activities we took part in or witnessed are not at all part of the miserable democratic exchange of representation, rights and duties; they went far beyond this, and were both adequate and satisfying in themselves.[17] These actions point to a type of social form which embodies freedom in a way that democracy simply cannot. Honderich and Randle might regard such activities as roadblocks, barricading, site invasions etc. as 'ultimately good in the long run'. But what about resisting arrest, criminal damage and theft in the fight against the road? What about generalizing what we did to tube-fare dodging? These don't and cannot enrich democracy - they can only subvert it - and so much the better for that.

    3.1.4 'Use' of the mass media

    The importance of non-violence became consolidated in the beginning of the No M11 campaign because it was good for public relations: a lot of 'respectable' residents got involved because they liked non-violence as a moral position. They were concerned with the campaign's image in the mass media, thought to be the determiner as well as the reflection of (middle class) public opinion. A concern with getting ourselves into the media continued, although many people became cynical about this through their experiences of the press.

    Of course we needed to let people (all people?) know that a force of active opposition existed to the road. But this should not be conflated with relying on the needs of the mass media to disseminate our message. The problem with relying on the mass media is that of colluding with the very prejudices you're trying to subvert.[18] The more that people like us get our more 'fluffy', middle class face accepted by the media and the Daily Mail readership, the more we may be agreeing to marginalize our 'darker' side - our clothes and jewellery, opinions and arguments, drugs and language - to send it deeper underground. This is the price of cuddling up to them. If the struggle is indeed about a whole way of life, the aim should be to change or confront 'public opinion', not appease it.[19]

    3.1.5 Humanism

    Perhaps the most deeply ideological of all the justifications for non-violence was the humanist argument. On one occasion, an experienced eco-campaigner at the No M11 campaign angrily denounced some people on one of our site actions as 'scum' because they had apparently been violent towards some security guards. As already mentioned, the danger of being violent towards security is that, because we were usually relatively vulnerable, such actions put us all at risk. But, on the other hand, to call people 'scum' for fighting security guards displayed an utter confusion. Just who were the 'scum'? The police and private security who attempted to physically impose a road upon us ultimately by any means necessary? Or some people who wanted to resist this process? Our relations with police and more so with security were problematic, changeable and contradictory. But it was naive to argue that the basis of our non-violence towards them should be a kind of humanism. The humanist argument claims that all violence is the same since it is all done to 'human beings'; the argument therefore blurs the qualitative distinction between the violence that maintains alienation and exploitation (i.e. the violence of the state) and the violence which seeks to liberate us from this alienation and exploitation.

    Drawing on the humanistic argument, some of Alarm UK's literature evoked the spirit of Rogerian therapy when it invited us to remember that "security guards are capable of change just as much as we are". It is true that security guards are 'human beings too', but they are certainly not 'only human beings'; they are paid to enact a particular role and if they do not do this properly - by being too human, for example - then they will be fired. As Vaneigem says, "It is easier to escape the role of a libertine than the role of a cop, executive or rabbi" (p. 139).

    3.2 How was our free space created and maintained?

    Claremont Road was a free space. But there were arguments over which activities were claimed to be the most important in creating and maintaining that free space.

    A dilemma over 'hard work' versus 'hedonism' was present in the No M11 campaign from the beginning. Again, the dilemma over this question faced by each individual, the arguments and accusations within the collective, and the waxing or waning of a particular emphasis within the campaign reflected the exigencies of the situation itself rather than a purely intellectual debate. Many of those taking part in the campaign did so consciously as part of a whole way of attempting to resist and avoid the dull compulsion of work-discipline, conformity etc. This was certainly true of the Donga-types who were for many people the personifications of the campaign, at least until the Claremont period. Sitting round a tree to protect it was not simply a duty - it was a pleasure in itself. But, particularly when houses were threatened with eviction and demolition, it was necessary to carry out some kind of physical activity in order to slow down the contractors. During the Wanstonia period (January-February 1994), when a block of Wanstead houses was defended, the question of whether the barricading should be total as opposed to selective was a source of persistent and heated argument. The same argument was revived in Claremont Road.

    In Claremont Road, barricading was never assiduously done by everyone on the street. Instead, there was a hard-core crew of barricaders who worked incessantly (often inside the houses where no one could actually see them) and a large pool of more occasional barricaders who worked on particular projects, either on the houses they were staying in or in the street as a whole. Windows were tinned up from the inside, attics fortified, doors reinforced, ground floors filled with rubble, and towers built on roofs, and so on.

    But if our struggle was simultaneously a fight to live rather than simply a grim, dour attempt to slow the road-building down, then it would have been counterproductive making the houses so well barricaded that they all became uninhabitable. For one person or a small group to devote themselves single-mindedly to barricading is laudable and certainly produced some highly useful defences; but it could also be a kind of self-sacrifice that conflicts with the desire for pleasure. It could also exclude the very people who might otherwise have been defending the house on the day of the eviction.

    But if the special ambience of our free space was not guaranteed simply by single-minded barricading, nor was it guaranteed by its opposite - pure hedonism. The tarmac in Claremont Road was full of armchairs and art, enabling a leisured way of existence. But resentment built up among both the hard-core barricaders and others who put a lot of effort into the street. They saw that things needed to be done and that some people were doing nothing and yet enjoying the benefits of the street, such as the subsidized meals. These do-nothings were called the 'lunch outs', and drinking strong lager came to be associated with parasitic laziness, internal violence and making a mess of the street. The solution to this was deemed to be forced expulsion from the street, and during just one month that summer about 20 people were thrown off the street in this way.

    Was this a return to a primitive work ethic? The old disciplines of alien bourgeois society re-imposing themselves in the height of the siege? In fact, a level of balance became struck whereby a number of lunch outs came to be more or less tolerated (as long as they didn't actually hinder other activities), and more people joined in the barricading - albeit intermittently. Even though some of those expelled were a menace to others, there was also a recognition among some people that there was an element of scapegoating in the response to the lunch outs. For one thing, drinking alcohol was an unreliable indicator of doing nothing and parasitism. For another, the apparent do-nothings were part of a vital reserve army of resistance in the event of big evictions. They also helped maintain our control of the street at night, simply by being there, in the face of encroachment of space by security, and did other things to make the street 'ours' that may have gone unnoticed by the hard-core barricaders (such as some of the 'pixieing'). Moreover, since few on the street were 'always working', the quasi-hysterical revulsion against lunch outs was in some ways a reflection of dilemmas within each of us. Such questions as "am I doing enough?" and "am I spending too much time taking drugs?", instead of being problematized themselves for being leftovers from old-style work-discipline, became displaced onto an obvious target.

    4. Beyond the M11

    Claremont Road was evicted at the end of 1994. The eviction saw the end of the No M11 campaign in its form as an existence of thoroughgoing struggle. However, other, related, campaigns were just beginning. In this section, we discuss some of these developments, the existence of which allows us not simply to apply the analysis we produced during the No M11 campaign, but to elaborate this analysis further. First, we discuss tendencies within the anti-CJB movement, and second the current state of anti-roads direct action.

    4.1 Kill or Chill the CJB?[20]

    In the summer and autumn of 1994, the national campaign against the Criminal Justice Bill (CJB) was riven by the same arguments over non-violence taking place in the No M11 campaign. Importantly, however, whereas at the No M11 campaign there was consensus, more or less, over the necessity for non-violence (if not the rationale for it), in the anti-CJB campaign there was no such consensus; and indeed the struggle over methods became quite bitter at times. The 'spiky' counter-offensive, not only against the CJB but also against the domination of 'fluffy' ideologues, forced the latter to develop and make explicit their arguments in order to defend their position more robustly. This has therefore enabled us to look more closely at the nature and social conditions of 'fluffyism', which we show here to be an expression of the worst kind of liberalism.

    4.1.1 The world view of the fluffy

    Many who went on the national demonstrations against the CJB may be under the illusion that the fluffies are simply the pacifists of the 1980s re-emerging from the woodwork. There are however important differences between fluffyism and the pacifism of the old peace movement. Pacifists at least recognized the state as a social force of violent coercion that needed to be confronted for 'freedom' to have any meaning. Fluffyism on the other hand takes liberalism to its logical extreme (and is even more incoherent as a result). The fluffy view of society as an aggregation of individuals denies the possibility of recognizing the state as a social force: below their suits and uniforms the bailiffs, police, property speculators, industrialists and even Michael Howard and his cohorts are just individual human beings. Fluffies assume therefore that all individuals have a common human interest. Any conflicts which arise in society can, by implication, only be the results of misplaced fears or misunderstandings.

    This view underpinned the fluffies' conception of how the campaign against the CJB needed to proceed. As the CJB could only be the result of prejudice, the best way to counter it would be to demonstrate to those nice men in suits that they really had nothing to fear: that beneath the dreadlocks and funny clothes, strange ideas and new-fangled music, the marginalized community was really made up of respectable and honest human beings making a valuable if unorthodox contribution to humanity. The way forward was to overcome prejudice by demonstrating to the rest of society their reasonableness and 'positivity'. Thus in comparison to the liberalism of the pacifists, fluffyism is characterized by being not only fundamentally unconfrontational, but also supposedly apolitical. As the purpose of the campaign was to provide itself with a positive self-image, the representation became more important than that which was to be represented. Attracting media attention and getting 'positive coverage' became the be-all and end-all of the campaign as far as the fluffies were concerned. Indeed, were it possible to get positive TV coverage of a demonstration without the hassles and risks involved in actually having one, the fluffies would no doubt have done so. The fluffy is the situationists' nightmare come true, the rarefied thought of the postmodernist personified - virtual politics.

    4.1.2 Liberalism and social positions

    The influence of fluffy ideology within the CJB campaign can be understood by a closer examination of the current positions of the fluffies themselves within capitalist society. The CJB was an attack on marginal elements rejecting the conformity of the 'traditional working class'. Within the Bill's scope, therefore, including as it did a clamp down on unlicensed raves, were hippy entrepreneurs who had a material interest in adopting a liberal position of defending freedom (to make money in their case, to dance in fields etc. in the case of their punters); adopting a class position would expose the tensions between those who sell and those who always buy, the personifications of the opposing extremes of commodity metamorphosis.

    By far the majority in the movement, however, were young unemployed who had no material interest in obscuring class divisions. But this very position of unemployment reinforces the apparent truth of liberal ideology, as the claimant exclusively inhabits the realm of circulation and exchange (rather than production), experiencing only one facet of capitalism. Many in the movement relate to money only as the universal equivalent, as purchasing power, not as the face of the boss. Their income is not payment for exploitation as a component of a collective work-force, but apparently a function of their individual human needs.

    Whilst the claimant's pound coin is worth every bit as much as that of the company director, the quantitative difference in the amount they have to spend becomes a qualitative one that becomes recognized as class inequality, especially if the claimant has not chosen the dole as a preference, has family commitments, or lives in a working class community. But 'young free and single' claimants who have chosen to be on the dole, particularly if they have never worked, more so if they come from a middle class background, and if the housing benefit pays for a flat in an area shared by students, yuppies and other claimants alike, and especially if the higher echelons of a hierarchical education system have increased their sense of personal self-worth, will tend towards the one-sided view of the world they inhabit that is liberalism.

    Such a tendency is, of course, transformed by experience. For the individuals who engage in the collective struggles of, say, anti-roads protests, there is the possibility of moving beyond liberalism towards a critique of capitalism. To the extent that such activities remain the domain of dedicated 'cross-class' minorities, however, it is more likely that a liberal viewpoint will be retained in the modified form of militant liberalism - i.e., an approach which takes collective action against the state but which still fails to understand the state in class terms.

    On the other hand, no such modification can be expected through the world of DiY culture. The collective experience of the rave, simultaneous movement to a pre-determined rhythm with spontaneous outbreaks of cheering or mass hugging, offers the illusion of unity but, once the 'E' has worn off, leaves the individual little closer to becoming a social individual with meaningful bonds than before. The experience of defending a rave against the police, on the other hand, does lend itself to the development of proletarian subjectivity;[21] but our 'fluffy friends' do not seem to have involved themselves with this most positive aspect of the rave scene, preferring the 'positive vibes' of versions of paganism, Sufism, Taoism or some other mysticism.

    The failure to recognize the need to overcome the atomization of individuals through collective struggles in which they can become social individuals becomes, not a failure, but a virtue in the world of DiY. As a result, the liberalism of the fluffy is far worse than that of any of its predecessors.[22]

    Fluffy ideologues attempted to police both the reality and the image of the CJB campaign, but certainly didn't have it all their own way. On the final demo against the CJB, in October 1994, conflict between crowd and police generalized such that hundreds if not thousands who came to the demo with fluffy intentions found themselves rioting - or at least cheering the rioters on. For hours, people held the park, despite the best efforts of the cops, who were hilariously pelted with missiles at each one of their ineffective charges. Those in the crowd had time to look around and reflect, identifying friends and familiar faces beneath hoods and masks; and it became clear that this crowd was demonstrating that the contradiction between a class position and liberalism was not simply one of different people - 'militants' and 'liberals' - with different ideas. It was also one of proletarians who had reflected their relative atomization in their liberal arguments now reflecting the extent to which it had been overcome in the collective activity of rioting: Bourgeois ideology and the active negation of bourgeois society as dialectical opposites within the same individual subjectivity.

    4.2 Reclaim or retreat?

    The anti-roads movement came together over the No M11 campaign. Events at Wanstead and in Claremont Road were treated as a national focus for struggle. Even those who hated being in the city and professed to care more about trees than about houses defended the buildings of Claremont Road; and people who were concerned essentially about the 'political' aspects of the road (lack of consultation, destruction of a 'community') defended green spaces on the route as a necessary part of the campaign.

    To some degree, the different tendencies than came together in a practical unity at the M11 have now come apart. Despite the overlap in personnel, and the range of positions within each campaign, such struggles as the Reclaim the Streets (RTS) campaign in London and the recent campaign against the A30 in Devon display certain crucial differences overall.

    Reclaim the Streets events have taken place in many towns around the country, but the London street parties have undoubtedly been the largest and most subversive. Certainly, this is the view of the police, who felt that the ante was upped at the street party in July 1996 when a pneumatic drill was used to dig up the M41 and plant trees. What is even more worrying for those in authority, London RTS has made conscious and practical links with other struggles not previously regarded as connected to the anti-roads movement. Reclaim the Streets wanted to attack not just road-building but the way of life associated with it; RTS activists located this way of life as part of capital. They therefore came to support workplace struggles against capital, such as the strikes by the signal-workers and tube-drivers - as evidenced by the banner on the 1995 street party in Islington and the RTS-related Critical Mass 'picket' of London Transport in August 1996. The latest development is the link RTS has made with sacked Liverpool dock-workers. Many were heartened by travelling troublemakers from RTS boosting the dock-workers' presence in a mass picket-cum-occupation in September 1996.[23] This was followed by the 'Social Justice' demo, called by supporters of the sacked dockers, which was organized to coincide with one of the street parties, which was hoped, again, to disrupt one of London's main arteries.[24]

    The tactic of tunnelling as opposed to mere barricading to hold up evictions on anti-road camps was first used at Claremont Road but reached a wholly new level of ingenuity and dedication at the A30 protest. In the demands tunnelling makes on activists, and in the effectiveness of such tactics in delaying the eviction and the smooth functioning of capital and the transport infrastructure, the A30 struggle was undoubtedly radically anti-capitalist in its effects. But whereas a significant tendency in RTS has pursued the trajectory of anti-capitalist consciousness which burgeoned at the No M11 campaign, the A30 campaign has seen the resurgence of some of the worst features of liberal ideology that flourished at Twyford but which were superseded to some degree at the No M11 campaign. Where there has been a tendency for those involved in RTS to talk of the state, capital and class, there was an equal tendency among A30 activists to romanticize trees and to evoke mysticism.

    The contrast between the two faces of the current anti-roads movement is perhaps best illustrated by their respective reactions to recent changes to the benefits system. Certainly, there were practical imperatives at the A30 campaign operating to discourage people from signing on - such as the distance of the camp from dole office. Yet there also seems to have been a tendency for the A30 campaign to attract the very people who need the dole yet don't (wish to) recognize their own dependence on - and hence antagonistic relation with - the state as a social force. This was perfectly encapsulated when two of the A30's media stars were challenged on TV about their eligibility for the dole. The recent changes to the dole, in the form of the Job Seeker's Allowance (JSA), make more explicit the duty of the claimant to be 'actively seeking work'. When the interviewer pointed out, rightly, that by spending all day down tunnels they were not seeking work, they proudly responded that they didn't need to sign on because they were very resourceful. Even if it were the case that most people at the camp were not signing on (which we doubt), their response was a terrible cop out; it accepts rather than challenges the logic of work-based rights and duties institutionalized by the JSA, and it implies that there are viable individual solutions to the problem of the new, harsher benefits regime. The JSA is essentially an attack on the whole working class, intended by its Tory makers to bully claimants to accept low paid jobs (on pain of losing all their benefits) and to force them to compete with those already in work, thereby driving everyone's wages down.[25] Individual 'solutions' to this are no solution at all: are we all supposed to sell beads at festivals or go busking? Assuming that we've all got the talent to make beads and busk or whatever, such activities would soon parallel the official labour market they seek to avoid, as the drop-out entrepreneurs fight to compete.

    By contrast, more of those involved in RTS have been ready to recognize the dole as the 'activist's grant'. As right-wing commentators correctly deplore, direct action campaigns against roads have benefited from a population of activists on the dole, on site and available for struggle 24 hours a day: you can't defend a tree, tunnel or squatted house if you have to go out every day to work to get your means of subsistence. The JSA and related measures represent an attack on that grant and hence on an activist 'career'. More RTS activists have therefore been more ready to recognize the necessity of defending the activist grant through collective action against the state.

    However, it has to be said that neither RTS nor any other anti-roads campaign has made the JSA a central focus. A vital opportunity has therefore been missed to forge a practical, everyday unity in antagonism to capital, not only between the different aspects of the anti-roads movement but between the movement and the rest of the working class as a whole. In the absence of such a practical unity, fragmentation predominates.

    The anti-roads movement served to smash what the then Government boasted was 'the biggest road-building programme since the Romans'. By causing disruption and disorder, refusal and resistance, campaigns of direct action against road-building rendered roads a political, and deeply controversial, issue. In the face of wider economic pressures, it then became easier for the Government to make cuts in this area: the legitimacy and inevitability of endless road-building was no longer assured. The national roads programme is now dead, therefore, but the future of the dole is not yet settled. While there are still people keen to fight and so much to struggle over, there remains the possibility of overcoming the present fragmentation and reclaiming our class unity in practice and hence perhaps in theory.

    5. Postscript

    'In the beginning was the deed'
    (Slogan of the revolutionaries taking to the streets of Germany in November 1918)

    In the name of the working class, social democracy drowned the German revolution in blood. In the name of proletarian revolution, Stalinism crushed the May Days in Spain. Direct action, self-activity, autonomy: features of the class struggle that always posed a threat to the left's representation of the working class; tendencies that it has had to crush or discredit whether they appeared in Berlin (1918), Barcelona (1937), Budapest (1956) or Brixton (1981).

    By successfully imposing its definition of class on the graves of revolutionaries, social democracy and Stalinism spawned the 'counter-culture' and 'new social movements' - the struggles of those who didn't conform. The left asserted the primacy of class; those who felt that they didn't fit in with the left's definition asserted the specificity of their own needs. But the left's definition went unchallenged. Thus those who did not wish to reject the question of class entirely merely appropriated it as a category of oppression - that afflicting the manual worker - alongside those afflicting women, blacks, gays, animals or the environment, an eclectic approach forever implying fragmentation and the impossibility of real unity.

    The counter-revolution of 'neo-liberalism' and the fall of the Berlin Wall have significantly altered the parameters of our struggles, however. Stalinism is dead and social democracy in retreat. The way is open for a redefinition of class politics that can embrace what the left suppressed, and allow the ghosts of past revolutions to guide us from our nightmarish slumbers. But the forces which have seen off the left have also fragmented our class. With the working class defeated and divided, recent struggles, particularly those referred to in this book, have struggled for class consciousness.

    The appearance of the present article in George Mackay's book DiY Culture is a contribution towards that process of developing class consciousness, to be read by those who have engaged in these struggles and who seek to go beyond their limits. As such it may sit uneasily alongside some of the other articles. This is because the very category around which this book is compiled - 'DiY culture' - serves to obscure the connections and possibilities which our actions anticipate.[26] Culture is the hook with which journalists and academics are trying to recuperate our struggles.[27] There is a world of difference between attempts, whatever their limitations, of people involved in struggle to reflect on it, to theorize their practice, and the efforts of academics and journalists to write about such movements. Whether hostile or sympathetic, as expressions of the fundamental division of labour in capitalist society - that between mental and manual labour - these specialists in writing and in ideas are forcing a praxis that is escaping this division back into it. For those of us engaged in the collective project of getting out of this world and into the one we all feel and know is possible, a critique of the category of 'DiY culture' and the recuperative project which lies behind it is becoming imperative.



    [1] Contributions to the Revolutionary Struggle Intended to be Discussed, Corrected and Principally Put into Practice Without Delay (London: Elephant Editions, 1990), p. 12.

    [2] New Musical Express, 4 June 1994, p. 6.

    [3] Thanks to Mike Edwards and Paul Morozzo for comments on the earlier version of this article. For further material on the issues covered here, see 'Auto-struggles: The Developing War Against the Road Monster' in Aufheben 3 (Summer 1994).

    [4] For more on our 'intellectual heritage', see the Editorial in Aufheben 1 (Autumn 1992).

    [5] The circulation of commodities has very different imperatives than the movement of goods would have in a world oriented to human needs instead of profit. For capital, commodities are essentially locked-up value, which must be realized as soon as possible. This need to free the value contained in commodities is not a neutral need for 'efficiency', but the need of capital to minimize circulation time - circulation time being that period when capital is not sucking the blood out of its human prey by putting them to work.

    [6] 'Not-In-My-Back-Yard'

    [7] See, for example, Edward Balls, 'Growth and Greenery can Still be Friends', The Guardian, 1.8.94, p. 11.

    [8] Estimates for the policing cost alone for the 15-month campaign were put at £200 million. However, the signal-workers' dispute cost the same amount to business in just 19 strike days over 5 months!

    [9] Costs to capital and the creation of a climate of resistance are of course bound up; there will be no climate of confrontation with capital unless there is at least some threat to capital's reproduction of itself.

    [10] The contrast between such a form of life and the way we tend to conduct most other types of struggle is clear, for example, by comparison with the poll tax struggle. In our fight against the poll tax, we had meetings, riots, prison pickets, bailiff pickets and so on, but (for most of us) large sections of our life, activity, time and living space were easily sectioned off from the poll tax struggle in time and space. That is not a criticism of the way we did things, but it is a fact of the nature of that particular struggle and indeed most struggles. Although most of the people living in Claremont Road had other places where they could go, when they were on Claremont Road, they were living the struggle: life was the campaign and the campaign was life.

    [11] See, for example, R. Vaneigem (1967) The Revolution of Everyday Life (London: Rebel Press/Left Bank Books, 1994).

    [12] One obvious difference between the concerns of the situationists and those involved in the No M11 campaign is the concern with the future. "And above all I would promote this one watchword: 'Act as though there were no tomorrow.'" declares Vaneigem (p. 116). Despite the fact that many of us involved in the No M11 campaign saw spontaneity and immediate pleasure as essential components of the struggle itself, an important element of the campaign's rationale was the apparent lack of concern of the car/road empire for the future. Hence the common argument within the campaign, "There'll be no future for our children (if the road is built etc.)." In fact, the car/road empire does have a concern for the future (i.e., the future of its profits; hence its concern with planning), although the future it envisages is neither as global or as long-term as that evoked by the No M11 participants.

    [13] "The desire to live is a political decision." Ibid., p. 18. "People who talk about revolution and class struggle without referring explicitly to everyday life, without understanding what is subversive about love and what is positive in the refusal of constraints - such people have a corpse in their mouth." Ibid., p. 26.

    [14] For more on the advances and limits of the Situationist International, see 'Decadence' in Aufheben 3 (Summer 1994).

    [15] M. Randle, Civil Resistance (London: Fontana, 1994).

    [16] In contrast to these ideologues who actually believe in the project of modern democracy and all it entails, there were some involved in the No M11 campaign who wanted to be sneaky and position the campaign within the discourse of liberal democracy in order to legitimize our action and get wider participation. But the discourse is one of recuperation of struggles, and is more likely to moderate our radicalism, channelling it into the useless dead-end of alienated (representational) politics, rather than functioning as some kind of 'transitional demand'. (See the point below about 'use' of the media operating as an appeal to the very ideas we want to subvert.)

    [17] Another argument which assumes the legitimacy of the democratic process is the suggestion that 'our argument is with the Department of Transport, not with the police or security guards'. Again, while this is true at one level, the problem of it is that it seems to accept that the police and security are just some kind of neutral layer. But of course, both groups protect the sovereignty of private property and state capital, so they can't be neutral. Moreover, to say that our argument is simply with the DoT not the people on the ground in a way flies in the face of the very raison d'être of direct action - which is to intervene on the ground. This is why so many people in the No M11 campaign spent so much time disputing with the construction workers and security. The argument seems to reduce direct action merely to publicity-seeking when it ought to be environment-changing and self-changing in its own right.

    [18] One example is the question of the physical appearance of No M11 campaigners. Although it was recognized that the good burghers of Wanstead would like campaign participants better if we all wore suits instead of scruffy clothes when we invaded work sites, people involved in the campaign felt that this was not a price worth paying!

    [19] There is an important distinction between the public silence within the campaign about theft and criminal damage (discussed earlier) and this issue of an acceptable public image. The first refers to our relations with the police, and was driven by practical (legal) considerations; the second refers to our relations with the mass media and was driven by ideological considerations. Hence the former was more a matter of tacit agreement and individual decision within the campaign (as 'common sense'); and the latter was agonized over and consciously decided upon by groups representing the collective as a whole.

    [20] A version of this section appeared originally in 'Kill or Chill? Analysis of the Opposition to the Criminal Justice Bill' in Aufheben 4 (Summer 1995).

    [21] The concept of 'proletarian subjectivity' has nothing to do with the miserable questions generated by sociology and cultural studies about the attributes, tastes and norms of those in manual occupations, and everything to do with Marx's distinction between a class in itself (its objective relation to capital) and a class for itself (the class's recognition of its objective relation to capital and hence itself as a class).

    [22] The complexities and contradictions of DiY-fluffy ideas and practices merits a lengthier analysis - for example, tracing the changing nature of DiY-fluffyism before and after the CJB became law. But this is beyond the scope of the present article. See 'Kill or Chill? Analysis of the Opposition to the Criminal Justice Bill' in Aufheben 4 (Summer 1995).

    [23] See the article 'Solidarity with the Liverpool Dockers: Why Our Movement Should be Involved', available from Earth First! Action Update, Dept 29, 22a Beswick St, Manchester M4 7HS. See also the Reclaim the Streets article in Do or Die 6, c/o South Downs EF!, Prior House, 6 Tilbury Place, Brighton BN2 2GY.

    [24] See the critical appraisal of this demo in the spoof news-sheet Schnooze.

    [25] Of course, the new Labour Government shows a slightly different ideological gloss, with its talk of 'inclusion' and 'stakeholding', reflecting perhaps an even greater emphasis than the Tories on imposing alienated labour on everyone. The 'Welfare to Work' programme is a ruthless and well-resourced attempt to bring the young into 'society' and away from dole-based political activity and other forms of 'crime'.

    [26] The term 'DiY culture' serves to restrict our historical antecedents to post-war Britain, privileging explicitly cultural phenomena, at the expense of connections to, say, the Russian, German and Spanish revolutions, or the history of 'workers' struggles' in the UK.

    [27] Recuperation is an attempt (not necessarily deliberate) to appropriate antagonistic expressions, transforming into something harmless and integrating them ideologically into the aims and purposes of capitalist relations. See our critique of George McKay's Senseless Acts of Beauty in Aufheben 5 (Autumn 1996). Much of what we said about the recuperative function of that book could apply to DiY Culture, although the difference is that this one at least allows those engaged in struggles to speak for themselves. It is to be hoped that our own contribution will make the recuperative functions of the present book more problematic.

    Dole autonomy versus the re-imposition of work

    Aufheben's late 1990s pamphlet, appendix and epilogue on workfare and unemployed struggles.

    Dole autonomy versus the re-imposition of work: analysis of the current tendency to workfare in the UK

    Aufheben's 1998 analysis of the tendency towards workfare schemes in the UK.

    1. Introduction

    The global advance of 'neo-liberalism' has been given fresh impetus in Britain by the election of the New Labour government. Under Blair's leadership, the Labour Party has abandoned its traditional commitment to social democracy and has fully embraced the neo-liberal project originally pioneered by Margaret Thatcher. However, whereas Thatcher was obliged to attack the social consensus that had been built up on the basis of the post-war social democratic settlement, Blair is seeking to build a new 'one-nation' consensus around the on-going attacks on wages, working conditions and welfare entailed by the neo-liberal agenda.

    As such, Blair's government recognizes that it is no longer sufficient simply to impose the discipline of money. In order to shore up conservative moral and 'family' values, the neo-liberal project has to be buttressed by direct social intervention, beyond the mere rhetoric of the party conferences, even if this means spending more money. This is clear with New Labour's 'Welfare to Work' programme.

    While recent benefit 'reforms' and workfare schemes have clearly been 'cost driven', and this was no doubt foremost in the minds of the ministers who were responsible for introducing them, such measures were not simply about saving money on the welfare budget. With people compelled to work, wages would inevitably become depressed and existing workers would have less leverage to press for improved conditions. Likewise, 'Welfare to Work' is an attack not just on the conditions of the unemployed but also, through the job substitution and increased labour-market competition it will result in, on wage levels. But it is more than this. 'Welfare to Work' is part of a crusade to re-impose the work ethic. It is the government's flagship policy and is central to 'reforming' the very principles of the welfare state. As such, it is far better funded than previous benefit 'reforms', with £3.5 billion being raised specifically for it from a windfall tax on the privatized utility companies.

    Despite these attacks, however, there is barely a movement of the unemployed in the UK today, let alone an effective unity between the unemployed and those in work. In contrast, the 1920s and 30s saw often effective action by a mass movement of the unemployed in the UK. The lack of an unemployed movement today is despite a relatively high level of non-representational political activity among those on the dole in recent years; indeed, the dole is the very basis for a number of the most vigorous direct action movements. The energies of the natural opposition to the attacks on benefits (the unemployed and the politically active) are currently being channelled in other directions. Workfare is being introduced in the UK, not because the unemployed have become 'acquiescent', but because a potentially powerful opposition prefers - misguidedly in our view - to fight over other issues or to seek individual solutions, rather than to defend the conditions that make some of their campaigns and activities possible.

    We seek to situate the present situation as follows. The current tendency to introduce workfare as part of dealing with the welfare 'problem' in the UK is a political-economic expression of the current retreat of social democracy (which is the other side of the coin of the advance of 'neo-liberalism'). This tendency to benefit cuts and workfare in the UK is stronger now than at any time since before the post-war settlement. The present inclination to workfare is the logical expression of capital's current requirement to re-negotiate that settlement: to restrict welfare and to keep down wages through labour market competition; attacking the entrenched autonomy of dole-life is a vital part of this re-negotiation.

    2. The UK background: the struggle from workhouse to welfare

    The essential precondition for capitalism is the dispossession of the direct producers of their means of production. The direct producers have to be placed in a position where they have nothing to sell but their labour-power, where the principal source of their livelihood is wage-labour. Yet, since there is no obligation on capital to buy all the labour-power on sale, there is no guarantee that all the direct producers will be able to obtain access to their means of subsistence through wage-labour. As a consequence, from its very inception, capitalism has faced the problem of the existence of a substantial number of people without means of subsistence.

    As early as the sixteenth century, the enclosures, which tore thousands of peasants from the land, created vast numbers of people who had no source of income other than begging, theft or robbery,[1] and who constantly threatened to coalesce into a 'mob' which could seriously threaten the social order. To deal with this, the first Poor Laws were introduced during the reign of Elizabeth I. Through the local administration of poor relief, these Poor Laws sought to regulate and contain the poor and workless within their local parish, where they were no doubt known personally by the local gentry, and thereby prevent them from forming companies of free-roaming outlaws.

    With the emergence of industrial capitalism in the nineteenth century and the need for huge concentrations of wage-labourers in the new industrial cities, the old Poor Laws became obsolete. In order to drive the poor into the mills, factories and the mines, the new Poor Law of 1834 sought to make unemployment as unattractive as possible by imposing labour on those without proper jobs. The existence of the workhouse served as a threat to the whole stratum of proles not to ask for relief.

    Yet, although there has long been a requirement to make unemployment unattractive (since otherwise few would have any motivation to work), the power of capital to construct dole-life as it wishes has varied significantly over the last 150 years. Indeed, such was the resistance to the 1834 Poor Law that it did not become fully operational until the 1870s when it became more centrally organised. At that time, the more far-sighted members of the bourgeoisie recognized that the Poor Law served to create a more united working class - in opposition not just to the workhouse but to the whole society. Hence a less harsh version was substituted.

    The most well documented and perhaps most significant struggles of the unemployed emerged in the 1920s and 1930s around the National Unemployed Workers' Movement (NUWM).[2] The NUWM might be said to have been an extension of the militant shop stewards' movement of 1914-1918. This movement had successfully challenged the right of management unilaterally to decide matters in the workshop, despite the agreement between the TUC and the government that a truce in the class war should be called for the duration of the world war. As unemployment rose after the war, the militant shop stewards were among the first to lose their jobs. Those who formed the core of the NUWM were ex-shop stewards as well as unemployed ex-servicemen.

    As its name indicates, those involved in the NUWM saw themselves as 'workers'; and indeed their defining demand was for 'work or full maintenance'. The NUWM also gave active support to workers on strike, in order or maintain the price of labour-power.[3] In relation to their demand for 'full maintenance', existing levels of relief were regarded as intolerable, and the unemployed were also faced with a series of attacks on their benefits. The NUWM launched a series of campaigns both to prevent the cuts and to improve existing conditions. The first campaign of the NUWM was against the task work system whereby those claiming outdoor (i.e., non-workhouse) relief had to work for their benefits.

    The unemployed movement of the 1920s and '30s is famous now for its more spectacular forms, such as the national hunger marches. These mass marches were certainly seen as a threat to public order, and occasioned often violent confrontations with the cops. It was this kind of threat that, in the 1920s, forced the government to extend the unemployment insurance system. Despite the movement's national profile, however, most of the NUWM's successes were in the form of local agitations which forced concessions from the locally-administered relief system. In Coventry in the 1920s, for example, there were daily demonstrations of around 4500 people against the local Poor Law guardians who decided on relief payments and levels. Many of these local activities, too, entailed battles with the police, particularly in London, where the movement was strongest.

    In 1931, a re-organization of unemployed benefit relief scales resulted in cuts for the unemployed and their dependants. Mass public demonstrations across the UK followed, both local and national. In 1932, a mass march from different towns across the UK, converging on London, ended in a riot with police in Hyde Park. Actions continued throughout the 1930s, although there were considerable regional variations in the strength of the movement, with London remaining the stronghold. For example, in South Wales, 300,000 took part in a demonstration in the weekend of 2-3 February 1935, and 30,000 rioted in Sheffield on 6 February of the same year. These kinds of actions forced the government into a hasty limb-down on Part II of the proposed Unemployment Bill, under which benefits were to be slashed and claimants were to undergo compulsory 'training' and work-for-dole in 'social service centres'. By the late 1930s, the movement's actions diversified; instead of the standard hunger marches, crowds of the NUWM occupied benefits offices and the Ritz restaurant, demanding to be fed.

    It is estimated that around ten per cent of the unemployed were involved in the NUWM; around one million people passed through its ranks. Hundreds of thousands were mobilized in their large-scale protests. Latter-day supporters attribute to the movement of the unemployed the ending of the arbitrary Poor Law guardian system, and indeed the beginning of the welfare and full employment policies of the 1940s and 1950s.[4]

    Whether the NUWM itself can take full credit for these changes or not, it is undeniably the case that, despite a series of defeats (particularly that of the engineering lock out in 1922 and the General Strike in 1926), the working class as a whole remained a continual threat throughout the inter-war period. Fearing that it would soon use its strengthened position following the end of the Second World War to launch a revolutionary wave as it had at the end of the first, the British ruling class had little option but to attempt to integrate the working class within capital and the state through the post-war social democratic settlement. Of course, unlike many of its continental counterparts, the British bourgeoisie had not needed fascism to smash the workers' movement before it could allow its representation within the state and capital. The exceptional conservatism of the leadership of the British labour movement made it readily amenable to class collaboration.[5]

    Dominated as it was by members of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB), the NUWM clearly saw itself as part of the labour movement and as such it sought to put forward 'respectable' social democratic demands. Yet the leadership of the official labour movement refused to accept the NUWM. Thus although NUWM was autonomous of the TUC, and committed to tactics of direct action, this was not through choice but because the latter rejected them.[6] Indeed, it could be said that the NUWM was forced to become radical despite its social democratic orientation. With the establishment of the post-war social democratic settlement the NUWM's aims of 'work or full maintenance' were achieved. The working class would make itself available for exploitation by capital and in return the state would guarantee the working class was paid wages or benefits sufficient to reproduce their labour-power.

    3. The triumph of social democracy

    3.1 The post-war settlement
    The British welfare state represents a crucial class compromise. The working class in effect surrendered the demand for revolution or further radical social changes in return for welfare provision, full employment, rising real wages and representation within capital and the state (i.e. labour governments, corporatism, tripartite organizations, trade union rights and recognition etc.). Keynesian demand management policies represented the recognition that working class demands would have to be accommodated and harnessed as the motor of capital accumulation. Thus deficit financing allowed for rising real wages and public spending on welfare, to be repaid by returns from future exploitation. Given 'full employment', most unemployment was short-term and benefits were expected to cover people just for the few weeks while they were between jobs. With the relatively small numbers of unemployed, the costs of paying benefits were limited and could easily be paid out of transfers from the working class as a whole through National Insurance contributions or general taxation.

    3.2 Consequences for forms of struggle
    Social democracy, as the political and economic representation and integration of labour within capital and the bourgeois state, played a central role in the construction of the post-war settlement. The triumph of social democracy had consequences for the nature of antagonistic action by the proletariat.

    Struggles and negotiations became institutionalized. The vital role of the trade unions within both capital and the state now became fully recognized. By enforcing rising wage levels against individual capitals, the trade unions ensured rising effective demand necessary for the general accumulation of capital under the Fordist mode of accumulation which came to be established in the post-war era. At the same time, the bureaucratic administration of welfare displaced mutual aid within working class communities and served to atomize the unemployed and separate them from those in work.

    The establishment of a comprehensive welfare state also meant that the stakes came down - those made redundant would no longer starve. With day to day bread-and-butter issues removed from the ambit of radical and revolutionary politics, a split was created between the 'ideals' of a free society and mundane issues such as wage levels, which had been seen as inextricably linked in the old workers' movement; and so for example Kautsky's notion of reformist struggles paving the way for revolution (by 'educating the class'), and the tension between 'maximum' and 'minimum' programmes, which had previously been so important, were no longer relevant. The questions shaping the debate over forms of struggle within the old proletarian movement therefore became redundant. 'Reform' was now part of consensus politics. The triumph of social democracy also saw the long-term demise of the mass party forms characteristic of the 1920s and '30s. The CPGB and the Independent Labour Party therefore gradually lost their place as 'natural' homes for radicals and revolutionaries, and came to decline in membership and importance.

    The institutionalization of reformism meant that antagonism became fragmented. Struggles over bread-and-butter issues such as wages took place within the institutions of the 'consensus'. The yearning for a wholly new type of world therefore sought new ways to express itself. One of the ways it did this was through 'cultural' forms: beatniks, hippies and other 'alternatives' in various ways expressed a critique of the state and of capital which was typically utopian. At times, these movements did effectively question the commodity form - as in the squatting movement, a direct attack on private property. But, as these 'cultural' movements provided identities for participants quite different from those of the old workers' movement, they tended not to grasp how the revolutionary movement is grounded in the basic contradictions of wage labour as the essence of capital. There was little sense that they shared a common relationship with the rest of the working class in their common antagonism to capital; and they had no means of realizing their aspirations for 'freedom' beyond dropping out, taking drugs, travelling, living in communes etc.

    4. Crisis and retreat of social democracy

    4.1 The upsurge in struggles at the end of the 1960s
    The post-war settlement provided the relative social peace that served as the basis for the post-war economic boom. But with the upsurge in class struggle and the onset of the crisis of capital accumulation across Europe and the USA in the late 1960s, the conditions of the post-war settlement became an increasing burden on the capitalist class and served to strengthen the hand of the working class. It was a labour seller' market for most of the period from the 1950s, and wages continued to rise even above prices for decades. As anticipated by the Situationist International, even the relative prosperity of the time - with employment, cars, televisions and washing machines for nearly all - was not enough for many in the working class. Within work, the 'refusal of work' was such that it became recognized as a new, generalized form of struggle.[7] The events in France 1968 and Italy, 1969-1977, represent the highest expressions of a tendency that was sweeping both Europe and the USA. In the UK, the 'bloody-minded' workers of the early 1970s may not necessarily have been revolutionary, but their restrictive practices and continued demands for higher wages, political strikes etc., were seen as just as threatening and dangerous to capital as the more overtly revolutionary upsurges associated with students and others outside the traditional spheres of the workers' movement. The final humiliation for UK capital was the political strike by the miners, the strongest section of the UK working class, which toppled the Heath government of 1974.

    Taken together, this upsurge was an uncontainable attack on the Keynesian settlement that had maintained social peace since the war. Crucially, it represented a convergence between struggles (typically by workers qua workers) over bread-and-butter issues and those which were more utopian (the 'new social movements'[8]). Thus the post-war compromise and hence social democracy could not contain and confine class antagonism to institutional forms. The way was therefore open for new political forms and ideologies, hence the rebirth and resurgence at that time of such forms as Trotskyism, class-struggle anarchism, left communism etc.

    4.2 Mass unemployment and restructuring in the UK
    Capital took flight from the traditional bastions of working class power in the face of the increased working class militancy, leading to crisis for sectors of the British economy, most notably in manufacture and heavy industry. But with Capital's successful use of crisis to undermine the gains of the proletarian offensive began a crisis in the newly resurgent anti-capitalist movement themselves, resulting in the return of the previous divisions. As we shall see below, such division seems to be at the heart of the failure of the unemployed and the rest of the natural opposition to workfare to respond as a movement.

    The crisis and flight of capital meant in effect that governments in the industrialized economies could no longer sustain a commitment to full employment. In Britain, the initial response to the development of mass unemployment was to mitigate its effects as much as possible. The Labour Government at this time was committed to a strategy of defusing class militancy through a corporatist deal with the unions that came to be expressed in the now infamous 'social contract'. This demanded an 'equality of sacrifice' from all sections of the working class. To minimize conflict with those in work, wage restraint had to be matched by a commitment on the part of the government and employers to minimize compulsory redundancies and achieve the necessary reductions in the workforce through 'natural wastage'. However, this freezing of posts led to a dramatic increase in youth unemployment, as those leaving school or college found it harder to get work.

    Youth unemployment threatened to place a whole generation outside the experience of wage-labour. Labour's response to this was the introduction of a 'work experience' scheme, the 'Youth Opportunities Programme', in 1978. In 1983, the Conservative government extended this scheme and made it compulsory, renaming it as the Youth Training Scheme (later simply YT). These were the first of a series of make-work schemes, which in effect took the place (inadequately) of the old apprenticeships rather than operating either to create 'real' jobs[9] or as a form of job-substitution. Like workfare schemes and unlike apprenticeships, however, they had no credibility with the majority of young claimants sent on them. The 'training' and 'work experience' they offered was almost valueless, the money was crap, and the sole function of the schemes was perceived to be to mask the true unemployment figures rather than provide a real job with a decent wage.[10]

    The Labour strategy of corporatism was smashed in the 'winter of discontent' in 1979, when many of the key sectors of working class struck, bringing the country almost to a standstill. Thatcher's Conservative government adopted a radically new strategy. Abandoning the old social consensus, it sought to use mass unemployment to impose a substantial restructuring of British capital and hence reshape the post-war settlement more in favour of capital. Within little more than a couple of years of Thatcher coming to power, unemployment doubled to over three million. Whole industries were destroyed, leaving wastelands in many areas of the country.

    Yet the government was careful not to provoke the working class at this time. One of the first acts of the new Conservative government was to abolish earnings-related benefits to prevent an explosion of in benefit payments caused by the strategies of mass redundancies; but apart from this, the first Thatcher government maintained existing conditions and levels of benefits. Moreover, mass unemployment was cushioned by substantial redundancy payments, particularly to older workers - in the government's view, a price worth paying so as to be able to close down inefficient and 'overmanned' industries, and to threaten existing workers with unemployment to get them to drop their restrictive working practices - i.e., to raise the rate of exploitation.

    4.3 The autonomy of dole lifestyles
    To make up for the increasing costs resulting from the strategy of mass unemployment, the government attempted to hold down administration costs. This resulted in a significant relaxation of the benefits regime. First, the increase in the numbers signing on was not matched by a corresponding increase in the numbers working in the DSS or Unemployment Benefit Offices. With the consequent increase in workload, welfare and employment departments had to concentrate increasingly on their core activities of paying out benefits, and to reduce their policing and snooping activities. Second, pay was held down for benefits and Employment Service workers, as it was for most other white collar public sector workers, undermining the notion that this was middle class work. The result of both these factors - increased workload and demotivation of dole workers - combined with the fact that for most people there were few if any 'suitable employment' opportunities, was that the pressures on unemployed people to find work diminished substantially.

    Throughout the 1980s, the government introduced a large number of job schemes, as well as encouraging a number of informal ruses which also served to make the unemployment figures appear smaller. One of the most popular schemes among the 'voluntary' unemployed at this time was the Enterprise Allowance Scheme, under which unemployed people were given a grant for a year, rather than having to sign on,[11] provided they could produce a 'business plan' and some 'accounts'. Many of the 'voluntary' unemployed also welcomed being moved to the status of a 'sickness' claimant through the support of their doctor. This meant slightly more money, and, again, none of the hassle of signing on.

    Thus there were a number of opportunities for the unemployed to forge for themselves a reasonable lifestyle on benefits; time and space existed for individuals and groups to be creative and to please themselves in a number of ways, whether by travel (holiday arrangements meant that regular signing on was not always necessary), music (forming bands), art or whatever. If necessary, the subsistence level payment of the dole could be supplemented by occasional work on the side. With mass unemployment, the refusal of work became pushed from the workplaces onto the dole.[12]

    Dole autonomy didn't always express itself in these individual forms, however. A number of more collective antagonistic lifestyles and tendencies also thrived, most notably anarcho-punk, a movement which expressed itself well in the Stop the City demos and the trouble-making elements on the CND demos, but which split into class struggle and liberal fragments over the miners' strike and issues such as animal liberation.[13] Also during this period, the so-called Claimants' Unions continued to operate. Claimants' Unions developed in the 1970s, as a form of solidarity between various unemployed groups who wanted to avoid being found jobs by the government, rather than as a defence against forms of attack on welfare. In the 1970s, the Claimants' Unions' key demand of a basic minimum income for all without conditions (i.e., that is without having to work) seemed believable, since everyone else was involved in struggle and all demands seemed capable of being met. In the early to mid 1980s, Claimants' Unions and other unwaged groups mounted an effective campaign against teams of benefit snoopers who picked on single women suspected of co-habitation.

    The investigation teams would call on such women, but would be greeted by supporters from the Claimants' union who would interrogate the investigator and tape record the conversations. The more successful interventions of this type were a result of co-operation between Claimants' Unions and dole workers, who alerted Claimants' Unions to the imminence of visits.[14]

    Also in the early 1980s, the TUC initiated the setting up of a number of 'unemployed centres' around the country. These were for the most part conceived as services for the unemployed (advice, meeting space, education etc.), and their financing sources imposed certain restraints on their political possibilities - although there was also some contestation of this by groups of the unemployed themselves.[15] The unemployed centres were intended to serve the vital recuperative function of keeping the unemployed (and who, it was assumed, necessarily wanted to work) within the influence of the trade union and labour movement, and out of the clutches of both fascism and such 'ad hoc' groupings as the independent Claimants Unions.

    4.4 The end of the 1980s dole-boom
    Having defeated the miners in 1985, the government felt confident enough to tackle the problem of the high costs of mass unemployment. Hence the Fowler Review of 1988, under which automatic entitlement to benefit was withdrawn for those aged 16 and 17,[16] while benefits for those aged 18-25 were cut by 30 per cent. Moreover, for all claimants, the condition for receiving benefit was now not simply to be 'available for suitable employment', the claimant also had to be 'actively seeking work', even if there was no work to be had. It was at this time that regular 'Restart' interviews were introduced to pressure the unemployed to accept places on the various 'training' schemes. Drives to harass claimants onto these schemes coincided with pre-election periods, as they functioned again to conceal the true unemployment figures.

    Unemployment remained high - around two million even on the official figures - throughout the 1980s. However, for most people in work, wages rose far faster than prices to pay for the increased productivity demanded. This was in sharp contrast to the USA where a similar increase in unemployment and attack on benefits through the recession of 1980 saw the value of wages plummet. in the UK, it took another severe recession - at the end of the 1980s and early 1990s - to break rising real wages and introduce the increased job insecurity of short-term contracts and part-time work necessary to maintain the profitability of British capital. But with this recession of the early 1990s came the burden for the state of increased long-term unemployment.

    5. Signing on in the 1990s: the end of dole-life as we know it

    5.1 Cuts in eligibility
    In the early 1990s, Conservative Social Security Secretary Peter Lilley admitted that, following the Fowler Review, there was little scope for cutting the level of benefits since they were so low already. The government strategy to reduce the welfare bill was consequently two-fold. In the first place, it sought to withdraw entitlements from increasing numbers of people. Hence benefit entitlements have been withdrawn from students (previously entitled to get income support and housing benefit in the holidays), European Union workers[17] and asylum seekers. Second, the government sought to tighten up the benefits regime. Thus whereas in the 1980s there was a tendency to encourage some of the unemployed to claim sickness benefits, in the 1990s there has been a reverse process; the criteria for claiming types of sickness benefit has been made more rigorous through stricter tests of incapacity and use of the DSS' own doctors. Moreover, claimants registered as unemployed have been required to expand their job search after three months to include jobs which they wouldn't initially consider as 'appropriate'. Courses to teach job search, interview skills and drawing up CVs etc. have been made compulsory: 'Job Plan Workshop' (after 1 year) and 'Restart' (after 2 years). At the same time, the government have continued to rehearse the 'scroungers' and benefits fraud theme in order to lend these attacks some legitimacy and encourage division within the working class as a whole.

    While organized resistance among the unemployed to these changes has been gravely disappointing (as we discuss further below), the government has still run into problems in implementing them successfully. This is due to a significant extent to the entrenched working practices and active resistance of workers in the benefits and employment offices. Seeing themselves as overworked and underpaid,[18] many dole workers have been reluctant to work harder to discipline the unemployed on behalf of the government.[19] This entrenchment has concrete expression in the common experience amongst claimants of being helped through some of the standard questions by counter staff. It has also been demonstrated in the repeated failure of the Employment Service to impose more regular Restart interviews. The Employment Service had to repeatedly initiate drives to impose stricter benefit controls, only to have the situation revert to normal once the drive was over.

    5.2 The JSA
    It was in the context described above that the Job Seeker's Allowance (JSA) took shape. The JSA, which consolidated Unemployment Benefit (contribution-based) and Income Support (means tested) in October 1996 has a number of features, the following perhaps being the most significant:

    - the cutting of contribution-based benefits from 12 to 6 months

    - a contract (the 'Job Seeker's Agreement') such that the claimant must search for a given number of jobs each week, and must on demand produce evidence of their job seeking

    - increased sanctions for not 'actively seeking work': loss of all unemployment benefits for set periods rather than just a proportion as in the past

    - the ability of 'client advisers' to issue 'directives' telling claimants to apply for particular jobs or to make themselves as presentable (even including haircuts and removal of earrings etc.) on pain of sanctions.

    In relation to dole workers the JSA meant:

    - the streamlining and eventual merging of BA and ES functions, and hence an overall reduction in the number of posts

    - increased quotas/performance related pay (i.e. pay was to be more closely linked to how many people were pressured off the dole).

    Although, the immediate aim of the JSA was to save money by restricting the numbers of claimants, it was also a major change in the very nature of welfare administration designed to put pressure on the unemployed to compete on the labour market and thereby undermine the general level of wages and conditions of those in work. It also paved the way for workfare. Under the old system, the unemployed only had to satisfy a number of general conditions in order to receive benefits. With the JSA, in addition to such general conditions, certain individual conditions can also be imposed at the discretion of the 'client advisors'. In order to ensure that such discretion is not used too leniently, claimant reduction targets are imposed on individual workers, sections and offices within the Employment Service.

    5.3 'Project Work'
    With the bad name associated with workfare in the UK, the Conservative government introduced two pilot schemes, named 'Project Work', which they presented as 'work-experience' rather than 'work-for-your-benefits'.[20] The stated aim was to 'help' the long term unemployed by allowing them to re-learn discipline of work. The schemes began in Hull and Medway (Kent) in 1996, and everyone in these areas who had been unemployed for 24 months or more was eligible. The attempts to gloss the workfare nature of the schemes failed, and the schemes never gained legitimacy. National voluntary organizations and charities such as Oxfam and Mind condemned the schemes, and the local councils, trades union councils and unemployed centres called for a boycott by all the employers in these areas. In Medway, placements were continuously given to people to paint the Napoleonic Fort Anherst; the fort was painted 27 times in less than a year.

    There was also widespread individual resistance by claimants. It is certainly true that if you stand outside any JobCentre in the UK with leaflets criticizing the treatment of the unemployed, you will encounter many people who want a job, who feel depressed (as well as poor, of course) to be on the dole, and who are just as critical of the anti-work tendency as many of those who are in work. Yet these pro-work ideas do not of course translate easily into a willingness to accept any job and scheme; most people sent on compulsory schemes regard them with contempt. Hence a common response of the unemployed in Hull and Medway was (nominally) to move away from the pilot area or to sign off - at least for a while.

    By take-up rates and the numbers who eventually moved into proper jobs, the schemes were a flop. The Conservative government response was to present a changed rationale for the programme. They claimed that 'Project Work' was a success in that it had served to flush out those who were working on the side - forcing them to give up either their black economy jobs or the dole.[21] The government therefore extended the pilots to a further 27 towns across the UK. With the abolition of the Community Programme and the introduction of this new, compulsory version of this work experience scheme, the agenda of punishment of the unemployed through workfare arrangements, extending the logic of the JSA to drive down wages, was set to continue. The implementation of these further pilots was delayed by the election. They finally began in August 1997, with a number of regional variations. Thus while the scheme in Brighton uses only organizations registered as charities, the one in Edinburgh has involved care work placements in the local hospital service, old people's homes, children's homes and day centres. The Project Work schemes are due to finish in Spring 1998, when they will be replaced by the 'New Deal', a more ambitious programme of schemes for the unemployed.

    5.4 New Labour, New Deal
    The 'New Labour' government, elected in May 1997, have described the 'New Deal' - or 'Welfare to Work' - as their flagship policy, and indeed it characterizes in many ways the 'New Labour' approach to work, unemployment and welfare, and indicates why this government has been welcomed so unambiguously by British capital.

    The project of New Labour began with the recognition among senior Labour Party figures that Keynesian policies was dead, and therefore that 'socialism' (social democracy) was finished. New Labour starts from the assumption that the renegotiation of the post-war settlement begun by Thatcher et al. is irreversible but incomplete. It is incomplete because the Conservative Party is beset by various irrationalisms (petty nationalism, racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.) which only sustained and aggravated the divisions it provoked in the great Thatcherite upheavals of the 1980s and '90s. 'New Labour' therefore wants to eliminate these divisive irrationalisms and create a new consensus on the basis of the existing 'neo-liberal' attacks on wages, conditions and welfare. 'New Labour' intends to be the new 'one-nation' party, in a country where all agree that 'flexibility' in labour markets is necessary and desirable. Consensus, and hence lack of strife and strikes, makes for a more efficient capitalist national-machine, as we all pull together for the greater good, recognizing our duties just as much as our rights.[22]

    Keynesian ideas about boosting the economy through public sector investment are out, but Labour are able to capitalize on the ghost of Keynes expressed in the widespread desire for creating more jobs. Chancellor Gordon Brown has hinted that 'full employment' is a possibility again. The trick is that 'full employment' has become redefined to mean that the opportunities for 'a life on benefits' are going to be squeezed out. In this vision, forms of workfare become 'opportunity' instead of punishment; and with so many 'opportunities', there will be no excuse for not having either a job or a 'training place'; hence the plan to eliminate the dole for certain sections of the population. In effect, and although they certainly wouldn't use the term, workfare has been transformed from anathema to a vital component of the new consensus; the only questions that remain are over the details.

    The language and strategy of Labour's 'New Deal' or 'Welfare to Work' has been based directly on the recent American workfare models, particularly that in Wisconsin. The American schemes, which have exploded in number and scale since the 1990s and look set to expand even further, have led to widespread job substitution in the public sector. This is particularly the case in the New York version. New York City has now cut over 20,000 unionized city jobs through natural wastage and severance buyout packages. By mid-1997, there were around 75,000 workfare workers being employed in the public sector doing these same jobs - in the parks and public works departments, child-care centres, and even social security offices. Workfare workers will eventually comprise over half the labour force employed by the city. Obviously, as has happened elsewhere, once those made redundant from the city join the welfare roles they stand a good chance of getting their old job back - this time for benefit level 'wages' and none of their previous employment rights.[23]

    The 'New Deal' is principally targeted at those in the 18-24 age group who have been unemployed for six months or more.[24] It entails four 'options':

    A six month placement with an employer who will receive a subsidy of around £65 per week per placement, and who will be expected to provide one day a week of training. This 'option' entails receiving some version of a wage, although it appears likely that this will not even equal the forthcoming minimum wage. The government hopes that the placement will become a real job when the subsidy runs out; but there is nothing in the legislation to enforce this and only vague stipulations that job substitution should not take place.

    A year of full-time education - but only up to NVQ2[25] - for dole money.

    Six months 'work experience' with a 'voluntary' organization including one day a week of training, again for dole money.

    Six months work with the 'environmental task force', doing 'good work' for 'the environment' and 'community'; participants receive their dole plus a one-off grant of £400. This seems to be the mop-up option.[26]

    Both ministers and loyal backbenchers have repeated the slogan that there will be no 'fifth option' - i.e., no option of not choosing one of these options, not all of which will be available to all the 'client group' in any case, because the whole thing is subject to a large number of local variations.

    Although Labour make a virtue out of being 'new' and 'modern', the principles of their current plans in certain important ways echo those behind the 1834 Poor Law, discussed earlier. First, there is the guiding principle, as stated by New Labour's welfare ideologue Frank Field,[27] that no one who is able bodied should be allowed to exist on benefits without giving something back. Second, and maintaining the trend of recent years, signing on is to be made increasingly unattractive and punitive. As with the threat of the workhouse, the new workfare-style schemes being proposed are too expensive to be offered to all; rather, there will be a period of intensified bullying to get unemployed people into existing (low-paid, short-term) job vacancies before the government has to fork out for the new subsidized schemes.

    New Labour boasts about how it is using £3.5bn windfall tax to pay for this ambitious project, money taken from the profits of the privatized utilities. By injecting money in this way, which seems to echo their Keynesian redistributive past, New Labour demonstrates its commitment to the plight of the young unemployed in comparison to the cynical, cheapskate, 'Project Work' scheme of the last government. But compared to genuinely Keynesian strategies, £3.5bn, which will be spread over four years, is small fry. A more important contrast with Keynesian strategies previously pursued is that New Labour have never promised to create more jobs per se. Instead they believe that the way to deal with unemployment is to equip individuals with 'skills'. So their approach to the problem of unemployment and the welfare bill is ultimately the same as that of the last government: creating competition in the labour market to the advantage of capital - although this time perhaps the more skilled sectors will be affected, not just the bottom end.[28]

    In the world-view of New Labour, work is the solution to almost all social ills, providing not just a healthy, competitive economy but 'independence' and 'self-respect' for those otherwise deprived of the experience of wage-labour. The New Deal maybe relatively cheap compared to Keynesian strategies but it must be understood as part of a huge ideological offensive according to which the work ethic is instilled in everyone, and those groups who have taken a life on benefits for granted come to be 'included' in the world of wage-labour.[29] New Labour recognizes that a key problem for UK plc is that too many people are not 'job ready'; having spent too much time on the dole, they no longer have work discipline and can't even get out of bed on time in the morning; hence the current talk of The current talk is of cutting the money paid to unwaged single mothers and those on invalidity benefits, and 'encouraging' them to work outside the home, even part time. Thus, not just those registered unemployed, but almost everyone is to be expected if not forced to work.

    As part of the Labour government's attempt to build a new consensus, they have sought to consult widely on the idea and implementation of the New Deal. A series of consultative conferences have had some success bringing aboard the various constituencies - including the unions[30] before the whole scheme begins. In these financially strained times, it is not only business that welcomes the thinking behind New Labour's New Deal.[31] Most local councils are now Labour, and though critical of Project Work, they are largely enthusiastic about the New Deal. The councils are to be involved in the planning and co-ordination of the schemes, and will certainly benefit from the availability of so much cheap labour. The voluntary sector also welcomes the New Deal. This sector has increasingly taken over functions from the welfare state as the latter has been run down. Although some of the more socially aware liberals running voluntary organizations recognize that forced labour of the sort entailed by the New Deal conflicts with the spirit of voluntary work, they have a chronic need for labour.[32] Finally, there is the education sector, particularly the further education colleges, which in many cases will be providing the education option in the New Deal. This sector now operates in a market, getting paid per student, being penalized financially for drop-outs, and with each college advertising their wares in competition with other colleges. The New Deal will bring them money, and in these times of marketization and restructuring they don't care where money comes from.

    At the time of writing (April 1998), the New Deal has gone national following the implementation of twelve local pilot schemes (from January). Even at this late stage, much of the New Deal seems to exist as plans and prospects and there are growing signs that New Labour may have bitten off slightly more than they can chew. Nevertheless, even to consider such an ambitious scheme, the government must be confident that there will be little in the way of effective resistance. It is now necessary to step back and ask why the natural oppositional forces to the current stricter benefit regime and workfare schemes have allowed things to get this far.

    6. Activity of the oppositional forces

    6.1 Leftist responses to the JSA et al.
    The TUC campaign coined the slogan 'Jobs not JSA'. Their argument was that in fact unemployed people do not need to be bullied into work since they want to work, and would do so if (decently paid) jobs were available. Their 'campaign' was in fact just a matter of lobbying and producing briefings with their arguments.

    Some frustration has been expressed among otherwise traditional unemployed groups affiliated to TUC unemployed centres over what they saw as the lack of support and sense of urgency of the Labour Party and TUC over the JSA and 'Project Work'. This led in some cases to a convergence between these traditionalists and the more direct-action based approach of the Groundswell network (see below). On the whole, though, the unemployed groups associated with the TUC centres have had little to do with autonomous claimants' action groups.

    The most significant activity from those on the left has not been a product of a particular leftist organization or ideology as such (whether Labourism or Leninism) at all, but has rather reflected the fact that the restructuring of welfare has affected not only those on benefits themselves but the workers who administer it, as mentioned earlier. JobCentres and benefit offices were anyway areas of relative strength for members of leftist groupings such as Militant, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) etc. The usual (libertarian) criticism of such leftists is that they try to impose a party line on the struggles of others, and are too inflexible sometimes to recognize the validity of autonomous struggles.[33] But, in the case of the attack on the welfare system, it was in many cases the leftists' own workplace that was involved. This, combined with the general decline amongst leftist organizations in the 1990s, has meant that their behaviour has in many cases been different - less sectarian, less dogmatic.[34] Anarchists and communists therefore had to relate to them differently; that they didn't always do this is characteristic of the limits of the opposition as a whole.

    6.2 Groundswell and the JSA
    In 1995, a number of anarchist and similar groups from around the country, often connected to Claimants' Unions or community action groups, began meeting to develop a common strategy against the JSA. Most of the people at these Groundswell conferences were unemployed themselves, and had in an important sense chosen to be so. Common to most of them, and certainly of the more influential groups in the Groundswell network, was a suspicion of if not a hostility to the left and the trades unions, not just in terms of their representationalism, but also in terms of their attitude to work.

    While the left and the TUC whined on about wanting 'jobs not JSA', Groundswell groups pointed out, rightly, that the JSA was precisely about creating more jobs: shit, poorly paid ones. The JSA aimed to bully people into the existing crap jobs so that employers could have a supply of cheap labour, allowing further expansion and investment - and creating more such crap jobs. The TUC and the left avoid acknowledging the widespread hatred of work among workers and the existence of work-refusal among the unemployed; to do so would expose their own workerist ideology and their dislike of shirkers - their commonality with the bosses. But the Groundswell groups saw the refusal of work as a key issue; they have principally been concerned to defend (and extend) the comforts of unemployment rather than see further jobs provided. The slogan they developed was "Against dole slavery, Against wage slavery".

    In terms of strategy and methods, the anarchist/Claimants' Union heritage seemed to reflect itself in the use among Groundswell groups of a number of self-help and individual/small group solutions. Methods included the distribution of leaflets outside JobCentres giving people advice on how to fail job interviews without being sanctioned. Of course, everyone who is on the dole needs to use such scams from time to time, and it is obvious that we can help each other by sharing insights on scams etc., and hence find in each other a source of strength. This certainly worked for the Claimants' Unions in the past. But rather than bringing people together, the scamming/advice strategy can also serve to reinforce the individualism that is partly inherent to dole-life anyway. The seeking of individual solutions can obviate the need for getting together - indeed that is the argument of most of those who do not get involved in their local claimants' action group: that they can 'sort things out for themselves' by scamming, bluffing etc. But, of course, as these resourceful individuals are also aware, the quota system entailed by the JSA means that while the most articulate may survive, others will still be caught out, and the logic of the JSA will go unchallenged, leaving it well-positioned to get you in the future. The favouring of individual solutions of scamming and advice has a parasitical effect on claimants' action groups themselves too. Individuals in some cases treat claimants' action groups as a welfare rights service. Where groups are small, this tires activists out and leaves them disillusioned with their potential for transformation. The tendency within Groundswell to favour individual strategies through giving out advice on scams etc. is therefore essentially an organizational expression, rationalized by anarchist anti-work ideology, of the existing dominant tendency among the unemployed to resist as individuals.

    But support for scamming was only one strategy employed by Groundswell groups. There were also a number of 'days of action'. Thus a year before the JSA was to be introduced, groups held pickets outside JobCentres and occupied JobCentres and 'training' agencies until removed by cops. However, even the largest of these actions numbered no more than 100 participants.[35] There were also two national demos and an occupation of the DfEE headquarters, but again the numbers attending were low - no more than a few hundred. Some local groups were more active than others in taking collective actions to put pressure on the Employment Service. On the day the JSA came into force, the biggest demo in the country was in Brighton; over 300 laid siege to the JobCentres, and dole-workers used it as an excuse to down tools, bringing the new system into chaos on its first day. In other places, however, even in London, the response was minimal if not non-existent.

    Groundswell remains a network of small campaign groups rather than a movement. Groups in the network have neither captured the imagination of large sections of the unemployed nor have they made many significant links with those in work - not even those who work in the JobCentres. While the former problem is arguably largely beyond the control of the claimants groups, many of whom have been working flat out to get people involved, the problem of a lack of a relationship with dole workers is due in part at least to the limits of the analysis amongst some of the Groundswell groups.

    6.3 Relation of claimants action groups to dole workers' struggles
    When the claimants' campaigns against the JSA first began, most Groundswell groups had virtually no contact with even the most militant of dole workers. However, In the winter of 1995-6, the CPSA[36] called a strike over performance-related pay in the JobCentres. An increased component of performance-related pay was only one of a series of measures functioning to proletarianize a workforce that was already poorly paid. The JSA itself was intended to lead to the loss of thousands of JobCentre and Benefits Agency jobs as the service was streamlined, increasing the workload for those remaining; it also was designed to increase the policing role of the JobCentre workers. While the strike was not against JSA as such[37] a victory for the workers would have strengthened their hand against that of management in the introduction of the new regime; crucially, many dole workers did not want to 'perform' harder when that meant harassing claimants. Throughout the strike, dole workers managed to disrupt the implementation of the JSA, delaying it by more than three months, far more than the entire Groundswell network alone has been able to do in three years.

    Despite the early hour of the picket line and the freezing weather during the period of the JobCentre strike, a number of claimants groups joined striking workers on their picket-lines, and hence contact was made. In Brighton, for example, claimants were on the picket-line every day for weeks, explaining to those who came to sign on the reasons for supporting the strike. Such support on the picket lines showed militant dole workers that organized claimants could be taken seriously. However, the depth and endurance of contact varied. This was partly due to the fact that the strike was all-out in only certain selected regions; in other areas the strike was just for one day.

    More controversially, in August 1996, Benefit Agency workers in the CPSA came out on strike. Again the strike wasn't over the JSA as such, but over the fact that under the JSA, BA workers would be sent to work in JobCentres (rather than Department of Social Security - DSS - offices) which were not equipped with security screens. While the JobCentres had changed from screens to open-plan and pot-plants in the early '90s, DSS offices retained use of screens to protect staff against attacks from irate claimants. A number of Groundswell-affiliated groups, and even some CPSA militants themselves, argued that the rationale for the strike was not one that should be supported: the demand for screens implied that claimants were knife-wielding nutters rather than human beings like anyone else. The group in Brighton, however, were among those who again turned up on the picket-line. While screens were certainly part of the technology of power, was the pot-plant and open-plan approach really a concession to claimants' demands to be treated as human? Hardly. The two approaches were merely different methods of achieving the same ends.

    The demand for screens was a crap one; it might offend our moral dignity as claimants, more importantly it served to preserve union sectionalism and hence limit the possibility of being effective. By being based precisely on the nature of BA staff contracts, it was not an issue that the JobCentre (Employment Service) workers could join them in striking over - even though both BA and ES staff were in the same union. Claimants in some areas joined BA staff on the picket-lines, however, for two reasons. In the first place, the demand if successful could have caused considerable disruption in the implementation of the JSA. The use of screens was incompatible with the way the JobCentres had become re-organized, and victory for the BA workers would have led to staff shortages, additional relocation and training costs etc. Second, support for the strike by an organized group of claimants was an attempt to break down the union sectionalism by demonstrating to workers that there was a forum for organizing resistance outside of the union channels. Ultimately, however, the CPSA stitch-up succeeded: the union leadership gave in to militant union members by allowing a strike to go ahead, knowing that it was unlikely to develop beyond their control; and the claimants' groups were unable to provide a viable alternative, despite the efforts of militants from both the ES and the BA to organize with these claimants. The arguments of claimants' groups, anarchists and the like who said we shouldn't support a strike over screens always pre-supposed a powerful movement of claimants as an alternative. The fact was that there wasn't such a movement, and the strikes by dole workers have so far been the most significant form of resistance to the JSA.[38]

    6.4 The 'Three Strikes' controversy
    The controversy over the relation between organized claimants and dole workers reached new levels of intensity with the move that came out of the Groundswell conference in May 1996 to call for a strategy of 'Three strikes and you're out', targeting over-zealous dole-workers. The 'Three Strikes' strategy had previously been used to some effect in Edinburgh where a claimants group had been active for a number of years. They used the strategy in response to a government snooping campaign. In the Groundswell version of the 'Three Strikes' strategy, any Employment Service worker persistently reported as harassing claimants is sent two written warnings by the claimants' group. If these are not heeded, the claimants' group distributes a poster depicting the offender and prints it out on a poster describing what the person has done; the poster is then distributed in the local area.[39]

    This idea of providing claimants with an equivalent of the ES' power to punish errant individuals has an understandable appeal; anyone who has signed on will have discovered that there are some workers in the dole system who despise the unemployed as 'scroungers' and try to give them a hard time. Yet the method was designed for dealing with individuals, and seemed to some Groundswell-affiliated groups to be ineffective as a way of combating a government policy. It didn't seem conducive to building a practical unity with militant dole workers, either. Employment Service management used Groundswell press releases announcing 'Three Strikes' to promise that they, management, would protect ES workers from the 'violence' of organized claimants, whose campaign consisted of 'an attack on workers'. Not only, therefore, were waverers in the ES possibly frightened into the arms of management, but militant ES activists who had contacts with Groundswell-affiliated groups were publicly denounced by the leadership of their union. 'Three Strikes' was used as a pretext by management and union leadership to reinforce the division between workers and claimants and to head off any alliance between the two.

    The 'Three Strikes' strategy generated an amount of heat disproportionate to its actual existence. In fact, due either to lack of support for it among Groundswell-affiliated groups or lack of numbers in these groups, the method has been implemented on only a handful of occasions, and only by the groups in Edinburgh, Manchester, Bristol and Nottingham. Its adoption reflects a go-it-alone siege mentality among groups, whereby specialist groups of unemployed activists will take up a complaint by a claimant against an individual miscreant and 'do the business' for her. It promises more than it can deliver: again, there is not a movement capable of making militant activity against dole workers into a viable strategy.

    The Brighton claimants group proposed an alternative strategy, according to which, when a sanction took place, a phone-tree network of claimants would be activated, descending on the JobCentre and occupying it until management had overturned a sanction decision. Thus this strategy placed the emphasis explicitly on management and intended to mobilize a crowd rather than a small group with a camera. However, this too failed to take off - in the Brighton case not because people were unwilling to take on the role of the angry mob, but rather because those sanctioned appeared unwilling to stick their heads above the parapet - fearing, wrongly, that by confronting the JobCentre in such a way they would make things worse for themselves.

    For some groups in the Groundswell network, the 'Three Strikes' strategy took on an almost fetishized importance.[40] This reflected, in part at least, their perception of dole workers simply as forcing work on claimants. But the argument about work being forced on people reflects a certain one-sidedness of among groups in the Groundswell network. In a sense, many of the Groundswell groups are the mirror opposite of the TUC; they tend to neglect the fact that most unemployed people want work (if only for the money), just as the TUC turn a blind eye to the anti-work tendency. This relative neglect has had consequences for some groups' understanding of the relations between claimants and dole workers.

    While some dole workers may distinguish between good claimants who are looking for work and bad ones that are not, many recognize that there are not enough jobs to go around even if everyone wanted one, and that most of those that are around pay shit wages that no one should be expected to work for. Importantly, however, the balance of these attitudes depends on the balance of class forces within the office. If management is strong then individual dole workers will only be able either to stick their necks out and get the sack, or else keep their heads down, and hence will tend to adopt a more hostile attitude to claimants. When the workers are strong then they can resist the demands and targets set by management.

    The operation of the JSA varies considerably across different regions. In areas where the dole workers are weak and not organized, the JSA is stricter and there are more sanctions. But in other areas, such as Brighton, where the dole workers are organized and strong, there have been far fewer people sanctioned than in surrounding offices. Brighton Employment Service has traditionally been a militant stronghold with a laid back signing regime, but the support of the claimants groups has contributed to the confidence of dole workers to organize and take action over the last two years or so.

    6.5 The campaign against 'Project Work'
    The introduction of 'Project Work' in many areas saw a re-invigoration of some Groundswell groups. The Brighton claimants' group held a small demo the day the 'intensive job search' component of the scheme began, in April 1997, again managing to close down the JobCentres, despite the meagre size of the crowd. When the job placements began, in August of that year, the group occupied the offices of the placement providers (the 'training' agencies who are paid for each placement they can find). The main tactic of the claimants group, however, was to target the placement organizations themselves. As mentioned earlier, the Brighton version of 'Project Work' involved the 'voluntary' sector, and therefore in many cases charity shops. Pickets of charity shops encouraging consumer boycotts forced some to pull out, although a large number remained involved, including such humane organizations as the local Red Cross, the British Heart Foundation and Barnardo's.

    However, the relative success of the small Brighton campaign would appear to be unrepresentative of what is happening in the country as a whole, where Project Work has continued despite the activities of the local claimants' groups. Thus, even the introduction of a blatantly punitive workfare scheme which didn't even pretend to provide jobs or give people training has not led to the development of a movement of any significance. We have looked at the limitations of the existing oppositional forces to the attacks on benefits, but our criticisms do not explain why more people have not joined in. Indeed some of the limitations of the Groundswell network groups - their 'go-it-alone' mentality - are a reflection of the fact that they have not attracted the widespread involvement necessary: that they are in many cases an isolated 'vanguard'.

    7. The failure of resistance to generate a movement

    The reasons for the failure so far of the resistance to the recent attacks on benefits to take the form of a movement might be analysed in two parts: first, some 'general' experiences of unemployment which discourage collective action; and, second, some particular features of the natural opposition to these attacks.

    7.1 The reluctance of the mass of the unemployed to get involved in organized resistance
    It is commonly observed that it is far easier to organize in a workplace, where groups of people are regularly in daily contact, than on the dole, where people are required to sign on only once a fortnight. However, historically there hasn't always been a huge distinction between the social conditions of the workplace and of 'relief'. In the 1920s and '30s, the unemployed were forced to sign on twice weekly; consequently people were often gathered together in the same place for extended periods. It was therefore relatively easy for the queues to turn into the occasions for public meetings and even direct action demonstrations.[41] Moreover, the system of 'task work', like present-day workfare schemes, mirrored the work situation in all ways except the wage, and made both go-slows and strikes possible. Indeed, in 1919, when unemployment was beginning to rise, the reason that the government didn't extend task-work was because of the fear that it would concentrate too many of the militant unemployed.[42]

    The organization of benefits is important in a second respect. In the 1920s, the benefits system was far less centralized. 'Relief' was administered by local 'guardians' and later by local councils: people who could be identified and pressured, and who could take decisions on whether how much relief was given without consulting a central authority.[43] Under the present system, of course, local offices have far less discretion, even in the face of collective resistance.

    However, although the unemployed are cut off from the world of proper work, the black economy is undoubtedly thriving, and the unemployed are undoubtedly among the key participants. Despite the increased rationalization of the benefits system and the recurrent 'shop a scrounger' initiatives by the Employment Service, working off the cards and other such scams continue unabated. The opportunity to eke out a reasonably pain-free existence in this way contributes to the claimant's reluctance to get involved in overt resistance; to stick one's head above the parapet risks getting done not just for the resistance itself but for all the illegal scams, which could result in a jail sentence. The unemployed are generally not 'acquiescent', but keep their heads down, resisting as individuals. Individual resistance exists in competition with collective resistance; the former seems to many of them easier, more viable; the latter seems more uncertain and less effective. But, again, given the collective successes of the past, this fatalism would seem to be a product of its times rather than something inherent in the condition of unemployment. What we need to explain is the current form of resistance.

    7.2 The failure to get involved of the unemployed radical 'politicoes'
    As we have seen, the autonomy of dole life in the 1980s allowed the development of a number of antagonistic lifestyles and tendencies in the UK, most notably anarcho-punk. Relaxed benefit regimes allowed anarchos and others 'dropping out' of work to make a virtue out of necessity. There weren't enough jobs, so many were able to choose the unemployed lifestyle and make it a basis for various projects, political or otherwise.

    In the 1990s, the most vigorous of the autonomous and dole-based political movements in the UK have been the anti-roads and Criminal Justice Bill (CJB) campaigns. The anti-roads direct action movement began with the struggle over the building of the M3 extension in Twyford Down, Hampshire, in 1991-2, and reached new heights of activity and politicization with the M11 link road campaign in north-east London (1993-4), the campaign in Glasgow over the building of the M77 through Pollock Park (1995), the campaign against the Newbury bypass (1996) and the defence of the Fairmile encampment in Devon against the upgrading of the A30 (1997). The anti-roads movement led to significant government climb-downs; at the latest count, only a quarter of the original 600 roads are scheduled to go ahead. Some of the earlier anti-roads protesters have diversified into opposing the Manchester Airport expansion (1997) and involvement in the Reclaim the Streets campaigns, which entail carnival-like attacks on existing roads rather than simply on ones yet to be built.[44]

    The trajectory of the anti-roads movement was bisected in 1994-5 by the campaign against the CJB. The Bill, with its public order provisions against forms of trespass, gatherings with music and encampments, was seen as an attack on various lifestyles and 'alternative' political campaigns, and so served to unite struggles that otherwise may have seen little in common with each other, including anti-roads protesters, free party ravers, hunt sabs, squatters and travellers.[45] The campaign against the CJB failed to prevent the Bill becoming law, and much of the impetus for the new unity was lost. The CJB movement became what is sometimes known as 'DiY culture'. In the last two years, RTS and others in the 'DiY' movement have made significant links with the 'traditional' working class through joint demonstrations with the sacked workers in the disputes at Merseyside docks, Hillingdon hospital and the Magnet kitchen factory in Darlington.

    Yet, despite the vigour of these autonomous campaigns and their recent willingness to link up with workplace-related struggles, what is most striking is the lack of a real movement to defend the very conditions that make their lifestyles and movements of resistance possible in the first place. The prevailing attitude among individual activists has been that they, personally, will find some way to survive and continue their particular struggles.[46] Thus, a relatively successful and certainly very active political culture, which largely depends for its very existence on the dole, is basically content to pursue particular autonomous projects rather than find an effective unity through defending the very conditions of subsistence that allow their campaigns to exist! Indeed, in this respect, these 'alternative' politicoes are no different than the great mass of the unemployed, since in each case the tactic is almost exclusively to seek individual solutions - scams, signing off, moving away, busking, selling beads at festivals, going to university etc. etc. etc. As a movement, they think they can simply ignore the threat to benefits through the re-imposition of work.[47]

    7.3 The failure of the autonomous movements to relate to capital's need for work
    Unlike the unemployed of the 1920s and '30s, the dole-based cultures and movements of the 1980s and 1990s have developed an ideology which is implicitly and often explicitly anti-work. Yet the price of this would appear to be a denial of the social role of work, and hence a denial of what they all have in common. In the 1920s and '30s, people defined themselves in relation to work - a basic requirement for life - and that served as the basis of their shared project of mass resistance. Participants in the movements of recent decades do not necessarily see themselves as 'unemployed' as such. Rather their autonomous projects give them identities and hence other sources of unity: in the 1980s, anarcho-punk, animal liberation and various cultural projects (music, art, alternative religion, etc.); in the 1990s, the various 'DiY' projects which allow participants to feel that they are 'contributing' to a 'better society' even outside the realm of wage-labour (free parties, permaculture collectives, anarchist cafes etc. etc.).

    But labour is the fundamental category in an understanding of capital - capital presupposes labour, and the essence of capital is the self-expansion of alienated labour. Where numerous political projects exist but do not understand themselves in relation to labour - to capital - then fragmentation predominates. The current fragmentation is a vestige of the triumph of social democracy whereby utopian aspirations sought expression in ideas and projects removed from workplace struggles.

    In the 1980s, with capital expressing itself through the Thatcherite ideology of individualism and egoism, various altruisms emerged as the radical alternative, a way of connecting with our true morality which people felt that Thatcherism falsely denied: the classic cases being the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and animal liberation. On the other hand, Thatcherism also promoted a conformity around the values of hard work and consumption. The alternative to this was therefore to drop out of employment and consumerism as an individual. In sum, then, politics meant on the one hand a concern for some other subject or some other time (nuclear holocaust, 'third world' peoples) or else something highly personal which, where it didn't mean sectarian tribalism, could be easily recuperated into careerism: ethical lifestylism, radical feminism, gay liberation etc. Animal liberationism, with its lifestyle of veganism, was the ultimate example of these tendencies. What united the two extremes of 'other' and the individuated 'personal' was not solidarity but the sense of freedom of moral choice; politics was no longer seen to be borne of necessity.

    In the 1990s, the anti-roads movement offered at least some possibility of breaking free of fragmentation. What started for many as a moral issue of 'the environment' became clearly linked in the minds of participants with the forces of the state and interests of capital as they were caught up in battles with the cops. But the national roads programme is now dead, and the remaining anti-roads campaigns now find their unity in the 'DiY' movement, as expressed in the SchNews, in which almost any form of 'direct action' is seen as a legitimate thing to get involved in. This privileging of form over content offers a kind of supermarket of politics, in which 'class' appears only as category of oppression - that afflicting the manual worker - alongside those afflicting women, blacks, gays, animals or 'the environment'. In this an eclectic approach, support for the iconic workplace struggles of the day - Merseyside, Magnet and Hillingdon - is just as important (or unimportant) as protests over live exports, prisoners, roads, airports, fascism etc. etc. Each individual is 'free to choose' their own issue (even though what is 'in' is a matter of fashion, determined by the most 'in' people), just as everyone is entitled to their own 'unique' individual ideas and opinions (even though they are usually as un-thought out and regurgitated as everyone else's). The moral rationale means that the struggle over the dole appears as just one more of these choices, even for those who are on the dole themselves. With so much to choose from, activists are drawn to the most exciting and glamorous actions. A long-term campaign involving months of leafleting outside JobCentres and other such mundane activities does not feature high on these criteria. Thus, despite the fact that many of the participants in these campaigns are themselves threatened by the changes to welfare and the introduction of workfare, they have turned their attention away from their own direct relation of antagonism with capital to that of other subjects.[48]

    8. Prospects

    Whereas in France the unemployed have recently taken to the streets and demanded, and in part won, increases in benefits, here in Britain, as we have seen, resistance to the attacks on welfare have so far been minimal. This only serves to underline the current predicament that we find ourselves in the UK. Like elsewhere in the world, social democracy has been on the retreat for more than 20 years, however, in recent years this retreat has been accelerating and is now on the point of a rout. Yet while the working class gains preserved within social democracy - such as free health, free education and comprehensive welfare provision - are being rapidly eroded there is as yet no sign of the return of what was lost with the triumph of social democracy. There is little sign of the re-politicization of the working class or the merging of struggles over bread-and-butter issues with the desire for revolutionary social change.

    Yet it is also true that it will not be all plain sailing for the Blair's New Labour. So long as there remains broad passive popular support for the welfare state, New Labour will have to tread warily. Any major reform will have to involve a substantial increase in public spending, at least in the short to medium term, to minimize the losers and to make it work. Yet this runs directly contrary to New Labour's 'iron' commitment to cutting public spending. Already strains around this issue are building up within the government.

    'Welfare to Work' is a clear example of this. To make this flagship policy work, New Labour was obliged to make the one exemption from its policy of rigidly adhering to the previous government's spending plans and pledge £3.5 billion to the programme, financed by a one-off windfall tax on the highly unpopular privatized utility companies. However, while £3.5 billion sounds a lot of money, and is a sum the Tories would have never contemplated spending on such a programme, because it is being spread over four years it actually adds up to less than one per cent of the entire welfare budget. It will not be long before the hype over this programme has to confront reality, and any major recession in the next few years is likely to overwhelm this scheme.

    At a more general level it seems that already there are signs that the broad anti-Tory coalition that brought New Labour to power is coming apart. With Blair coming down firmly in favour of the interests of big business at the same time as either delaying or reneging on even the limited promises he has made to the trade unions, it is becoming increasingly difficult for even the most right wing members of the labour movement to see the Labour Party as any longer representing the interests of the working class. As the economy moves into recession over the next couple of years this disillusionment with New Labour is likely to become critical. Whether this leads to either a resurgence of the left within the Labour Party or to the left splitting from the Labour Party remains to be seen.

    A resurgence of social democracy in some form is a distinct possibility, as has been shown in the USA. There, resistance to workfare has principally taken the form of unionization among workfare participants and the demand for proper wages and working conditions. For example, in New York, workfare workers and others on welfare from a variety of local activist groups formed 'WEP[49] Workers Together!', a quasi-union which aims to see the creation of permanent jobs and hence the elimination of workfare. Similarly, established unions, such as the public sector union AFSCME, have been signing workfare workers up, as has the 'community' pressure group ACORN.[50] All this links in with the wider resurgence in active trade unionism that has begun to take place in America in recent years.

    The question for us is whether we can get beyond such a resurgence in social democratic forms. As we have seen, the emergence of non-workplace based movements has led in some instances to a breaking down of the rigid sectionalism of British trade unionism.[51] However, it must be recognized that recent links made between those in struggle at work and some of the 'new' movements are based on a mutual weakness. This is perhaps most apparent with the Liverpool Dockers dispute. Even a dozen years ago the fact of 500 dockers being sacked for refusing to cross a picket-line would have brought half of the major ports in the country to a halt. Within three weeks the economy would have been in crisis. But in the present case even the dockers' own union - the Transport and General Workers Union, the largest union in the country - refused to officially recognize the dispute for fear of legal penalties. It was this lack of traditional trade union support within Britain that led the dockers to make the links we mentioned above with the anti-roads and 'DiY' movement, and thus with the politically active unemployed.

    The question is how can we build on these kind of links and overcome their limitations and thereby begin to break down the divisions between those in work and the unemployed. With the unemployed being herded into quasi-work situations through workfare the basis for convergence of interests and perspectives may be in the making. This is the challenge for the future.


    * 'AFL-CIO to Organize Workfare Participants', Labor Notes, 217, April 1997.
    * AFSCME. (1997). 'Workfare Workers: A Road Map for Organizing' (July 21).
    * (a large collection of informative documents attached to this site).
    * Love & Rage, 7 (5), October/November 1996.
    * People's Weekly World, April 12, 1997.
    * Piven, F.F. & Cloward (1993) Regulating the Poor: The Functions of Public Welfare, 2nd edn. (New York: Vintage).
    * Public Hearing on Workfare, Workers' Rights Board, March 11, 1997.
    * Rose, Nancy. E. (1995) Workfare or Fair Work (New Jersey: Rutgers).
    * Rotger, Karen (1997) 'Fighting Wisconsin Workfare: Organizing to Reform Welfare Reform', Guild Practitioner, 54 (1).
    * Vila, Daniel (1997) NY Workfare Participants Demand a Union, SOCNET, 26 February.
    * Walker, R. (1991) Thinking about Workfare. Evidence form the USA (HMSO).
    * 'Worker Exploitation Programme', Socialist Review, March 1998.
    * Workfare. A TUC briefing, 1995.
    * Work for the Dole in America. usadole.htm
    * 'Workfare in NYS: Does it work?' Report by Hunger Action Network of NYS, 12 May 1997.
    * 'Workers' Rights Board Hears Workfare Horrors at Albany Meeting', Solidarity Notes, April 1997.


    [1] "They must first be forced to work within the conditions posited by capital. The propertyless are more inclined to become vagabonds and robbers and beggars than workers." From Marx's notes on pauperism and capital in the sixteenth century, Grundrisse, p. 736 (Penguin edition).

    [2] For gripping first-hand accounts of the activities of the NUWM see: Wal Hannington, Unemployed Struggles 1919-1936: My Life and Struggles Amongst the Unemployed (Wakefield: EP Publishing, 1936). Ernie Trory, Between the Wars: Recollections of a Communist Organizer (Brighton: Crabtree Press, 1974). I. MacDougall, Voices from the Hunger Marches (Edinburgh: Polygon, 1990). For academic overviews of the movement, see: Richard Croucher, We Refuse to Starve in Silence: A History of the National Unemployed Workers' Movement, 1920-46 (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1987). Paul Bagguley, From Protest to Acquiescence? Political Movements of the Unemployed (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1991).

    Of course it could be argued that it was only with the introduction of the National Insurance Act in 1911 that the category of the 'unemployed' became constituted as such by the state. Struggles of the unemployed qua the unemployed were thus, in some sense, already expressions of the formal recognition of working class needs within the state. See G. Kay & J. Mott, Political Order and the Law of Labour (London, Macmillan) and 'The Leopard in the 20th Century' in Radical Chains, 4. See also our critique of the Radical Chains analysis of the relation between the 1834 Poor Law and the development of capital in Aufheben 4, (Summer 1995).

    [3] The NUWM were heavily involved in the engineering dispute of 1922, for example, and saw it as a key aim to prevent the recruitment of the unemployed as scabs to break the strike.

    [4] Croucher, op. cit.

    [5]The most infamous expression of such collaboration and conservatism came with General Strike in 1926, when the TUC leadership called off the strike after only a few days, despite overwhelming grassroots support.

    [6] The NUWM's relations with the TUC varied in the early years, but fell into bitter and terminal decline after 1927, when the latter endorsed the Blanesburgh Report, seen as the most important attack on the unemployed during the 1920s. The TUC and Labour Party anyway sought to distance themselves from the NUWM after the 1926 General Strike. Previously the TUC's approach had been to set up joint committees with the unemployed movement, through which they hoped to influence the latter yet without committing themselves to anything in particular. They were forced to recognize the independent power of the unemployed, in effect, since their own strategy of simply getting the unemployed to join the unions of their former trades was a non-starter - many of the unemployed in the 1920s had gone straight from school into military service and had no trades. The TUC-Labour Party also tried to set up rival organizations to the CPGB-dominated NUWM.

    Indeed, on this question of possible 'rivals', it is important to note that the NUWM were by no means the sole organizational expression of the autonomous unemployed during the period under discussion. A group with a genuine communist programme, associated with Sylvia Pankhurst, was a serious rival to the NUWM in the early 1920s; by 1923, Pankhurst claimed that her group was the same size as the NUWM in London. Pankhurst's practical advice on how the unemployed might remove cops from their horses went down well in the East End, and the group was particularly successful in involving women. Pankhurst attacked the NUWM's defining demand for 'work or full maintenance', calling instead for the abolition of wage-labour. This genuine communist tendency became isolated after Lenin realized that it was the 'left-wing' variety; and the CPGB types made all the running in creating a properly nationwide movement of the unemployed. A key point in all this, however, is that, though the NUWM made social democratic demands, its actions went far beyond the exchange of rights and duties that marks social democracy, and in practice Pankhurst's group was often little different: NUWM members squatted to gain meeting places, broke into workhouses to steal food, rarely shirked a fight with the cops, occupied factories to prevent overtime, &c., &c.

    [7] See Toni Negri (1978) 'Capitalist Domination and Working Class Sabotage' in Working Class Autonomy and the Crisis: Italian Marxist Texts of the Theory and Practice of a Class Movement, 1964-79 (Red Notes/CSE Books, 1979). See also the discussion of the Zerzan-Reeve argument in The Refusal of Work (Echanges et Mouvement, 1979).

    [8] The very term 'new social movements' is part of their recuperation as different sets of non-class based identities within the democratic polity rather than as expressions of proletarian antagonism.

    [9] The term 'real jobs', which itself came out of the social democratic compromise, refers to jobs which pay the full value of the labour-power they entail and which serve to reproduce not just the individual worker but also the family. For a useful overview of government schemes from 1986, albeit from a leftist perspective, see Anne Gray, The Rights of the Unemployed: A Socialist Approach (Nottingham: European Labour Forum, 1996).

    [10] For a useful overview of government schemes from 1986, albeit from a leftist perspective, see Anne Gray, The Rights of the Unemployed: A Socialist Approach (Nottingham: European Labour Forum, 1996).

    [11] 'Signing on' means regularly having to attend the Unemployment Benefit Office/JobCentre and make a signed declaration of eligibility for benefits.

    [12] In the 1960s and 1970s, the refusal of work, in such forms as absenteeism etc., began to spread across workplaces as a common strategy linking different spheres. By becoming pushed onto the dole, however, such links were lost.

    [13] See 'Kill or Chill? Analysis of the Opposition to the Criminal Justice Bill' in Aufheben 4 (Summer 1995).

    [14] See the pamphlet Unwaged Fightback: A History of Islington Action Group of the Unwaged 1980-86, produced by the Campaign for Real Life. See also the useful article in Bad Attitude, 8, Autumn 1995. Some Claimants Unions still exist today, and some are part of the Groundswell network (which we discuss later), but on the whole their radical and mass campaigning intent has been largely superseded by their mundane task of providing advice and fighting individual welfare rights battles.

    [15] Discussed, for example, in Bagguley, op. cit. The Manpower Services Commission - a government agency - provided much of the cash for the TUC centres. Both they and the TUC were spurred into 'doing something' about the 'problem' of youth unemployment by the 1981 urban riots.

    [16] Those aged 16-17 age group can claim benefits only in cases of 'hardship', a typical example being the teenager who leaves the parental home because of abuse.

    [17] The Conservative government made a bid for the xenophobic populist vote by railing against European 'benefits tourists', but their rule changes have also caught out large numbers of British nationals spending time abroad.

    [18] A high proportion of workers in dole offices are now so poorly paid that they have to claim housing benefits!

    [19] Particularly at a time when individual claimants' rejection of the terms of the social democratic settlement has increasingly involved the threat of violence against these dole workers. Assaults on staff at JobCentres rose by 240 per cent from 1992 to 1995 (The Guardian, 14 July 1995).

    [20] Indeed, the Conservative government themselves opposed a 1995 private members' bill to introduce workfare because of the risk of job substitution (Working Brief, November 1996).

    [21] Undeniably many on the dole work on the side - exact numbers are impossible to quantify for obvious reasons. Many of these black economy jobs are short term and insecure - i.e. casual work, and part time. They are often not paying enough in themselves to live from.

    [22] This development from the 'excluding' style of leadership of Thatcher (and, in management, of Edwardes, MacGregor et al.) to the 'inclusive' approach of Blair, yet for the same ends of labour market flexibility, was anticipated in John Holloway's useful article 'The Red Rose of Nissan' (Capital & Class, 32, 1987). The concern of government ideologues with providing unifying identities to gloss over and compensate for the atomism and conflict necessarily entailed by neo-liberalism is evident in such concepts as 'communitarianism'.

    [23] For details of the American workfare schemes see the Appendix of this pamphlet.

    [24] The scheme was originally planned to take 250,000 of the young unemployed, but there are currently only about 122,000 within this category, hence the recent announcement of an eventual extension of the scheme to everyone under 35. There are as yet undisclosed (undecided?) plans for the long-term unemployed in the older age bracket, plus strategies for single parents and those on forms of disability allowance (see below), neither of who count as 'unemployed' but who take up a huge section of the welfare budget.

    [25] National Vocational Qualification. These vary in content and quality, but NVQ1 and 2 are the most basic.

    [26] It has also recently been announced that there will be a further option of a self-employment grant (perhaps on the model of the old Enterprise Allowance Scheme), although few details of this have yet been provided.

    [27] Field's position in the government remains ambiguous, however, and it is certainly not clear that all his extreme statements will be translated directly into policy.

    [28] All this is taking them at their word, of course. If the talk about 'skills' is waffle - and the example of NVQ2 as 'education' might suggest that it is - then the 'skills' component of the 'New Deal' is as bogus as every previous government scheme. On the one hand, the government's commitment to some form of minimum wage seems to be a recognition that the state can't do much more about the bottom end of the labour market. On the other hand, the Labour leadership's evangelism about education ('education, education, education') does suggest they hope to combine the flexibility of the U.S. (as delivered by Thatcher) with the higher productivity levels typical of Japan and Germany (achieved, in part, by their emphasis on training).

    [29] Although by no means a spokesman for New Labour orthodoxy, Will Hutton expresses their ideology well when he argues that the value of work to the worker should not be understood merely in terms of the recompense of the wage; the rhythm of work gives life meaning, and its social relations provides the worker with an identity. Will Hutton, The State We're In (London: Jonathan Cape, 1995). Blair and Brown would perhaps go even further in their endorsement of the work ethic, the latter apparently believing that 'work is good for the soul'.

    [30] The TUC have already come out strongly for the scheme (just as they supported the slave labour of the 'social service centres' of the 1930s), and the leadership of the union whose members might perhaps be most threatened by public sector participation - Unison - have pledged to become involved (albeit 'critically' in relation to the element of compulsion) in the process of making the New Deal 'work'.

    [31] In fact, New Labour have so far been disappointed by the current rate of confirmed placements offered by the private sector, who they hoped to provide two thirds of the places for the 'employment' option. It would appear that, although many employers obviously just want cheap labour, others place more importance on workers who are properly motivated and who therefore do not have to be forced to take up a placement.

    [32] The most visible manifestation of this sector has been the explosion in the number of charity shops in the high streets. The stuff that they sell would previously have gone to jumble sales to be snapped up by poor proles for 5p, 10p etc.; but now it is sold in these shops for £3, £5 etc. Given that it is the same people buying the stuff, more or less, what this price increase represents is appropriation by the property-owning class, as a huge proportion of it has been imposed in order to cover high street rent. We discuss further below (6.5) the anti-proletarian role recently played by high street charity shops.

    [33] The most notable example is perhaps Militant's attempt to control the anti-poll tax movement in 1989-90. See Danny Burns, Poll Tax Rebellion (Stirling: AK Press, 1992). More recently, there was the example of the manipulations of the SWP in the University College Hospital strikes and occupations of 1992-4. See Occupational Therapy (London: News from Everywhere, 1995). Of course, the key criticism of such leftists is that their programme is essentially indistinguishable from that of capital.

    [34] This was noticeable at a rally and debate which followed an anti-JSA march in London in 1996. Many of the leftist dole workers present expressed an understanding of the contradictions inherent in their relations with claimants. Only a lone SWP member called on claimants to renounce all independent action in favour of unity behind the workers. This makes the point that, while there has been an important tendency among leftist dole workers to act in ways that go beyond their own workerism, there are obviously instances where this has not been the case. A further example is the story of the demise of Wales Against the JSA (a grouping which included both union members and unemployed activists) due to the attempt by leftist dole workers to orient the whole campaign around the usual appeal to the TUC/Labour Party. See 'The Job Seeker's Allowance... Dole Bondage? Up Yours!' in Subversion, 22.

    [35] Get Yer Hair Cut!! (Newsletter of Brighton Claimants Action Group), issue 2, November 1995.

    [36] Civil and Public Services Association, the main union to which dole workers belong. It also covers the rather higher paid workers in the civil service.

    [37] Indeed, legally it could not be; such a strike would be deemed 'political' and would have had to go beyond the union.

    [38] The JobCentre strike resulted in a three month delay in the implementation of the JSA.

    [39] The method of flyposting pictures of offenders was also used by the Claimants Union anti-snooping campaigns in the 1980s.

    [40] See the debates in Subversion over the 'Three strikes' strategy and the 'moral' position of the dole workers: Subversion, 19, 20, 22, 23.

    [41] The understaffing and hence long queues in Unemployment Benefit Offices in the early 1980s were also an opportunity for forms of collective action. See the pamphlet Unwaged Fightback: A History of Islington Action Group of the Unwaged 1980-86, op. cit.

    [42] Croucher, op. cit., p. 20.

    [43] Bagguley, op. cit.

    [44] See 'Auto-Struggles: The Developing War Against the Road Monster' in Aufheben 3 (Summer 1994), and the Aufheben article 'The Politics of Anti-road Struggles and the Struggles of Anti-road Politics: The Case of the No M11 Link Road Campaign' in George McKay ed., DiY Culture (London: Verso, 1998).

    [45] See 'Kill or Chill?' in Aufheben 4 (Summer 1995).

    [46] This was perfectly encapsulated when two of the A30's media stars were challenged on TV about their eligibility for the dole. When the interviewer pointed out, rightly, that by spending all day at the protest site they were not 'actively seeking work', they proudly responded that they didn't need to sign on because they were very 'resourceful'.

    [47] The worst expression of this tendency among some in the 'DiY' and eco-struggles movement to think they can ignore the attack on the dole was the leaflet 'JSA - So What?' produced by the 'Primitivist Network', which argued that other struggles were more important, and referred patronizingly to 'poor sods who want to work'. A useful reply, 'Against the JSA - Against Blackmail, Against the Arrogance of Political Sects', is available from the Campaign for Real Life, c/o BM-CRL, London WC1N 3XX, UK.

    [48] As well as being a symptom of the current fragmentation of class antagonism following the triumph of social democracy, the denial of necessity in struggle also reflects the predominantly middle class composition of the recent dole-based movements. For those with middle class backgrounds (middle class parents and a university degree), unemployment may appear as a positive choice to opt out of the alienated society of work and conformity. Just as they thought they could opt out of wage slavery, they now think they can opt out of dole slavery and hence the struggle against it. However, such a 'positive choice' can often be a rationalization that masks the reality of the reduction in middle class career opportunities and the wider proletarianization of middle class work. This attitude is in stark contrast to many working class unemployed who see unemployment not merely as a necessity but as an inevitability. In this case, the result is often an apolitical fatalism.

    [49] 'Work Experience Programme'.

    [50] See Appendix.

    [51] See also the fHuman paper 'UK Flexploitation and Resistance Beyond Wage Labour' (Second Intercontinental Meeting for Humanity and Against Neo-Liberalism, Spain, August 1997).

    Appendix: Workfare - the USA case

    1. Pre-1996 workfare
    The strategy of workfare, defined as compelling those on benefits to do some form of work for these benefits, has been employed in all English-speaking countries; Australia, Canada, New Zealand all have some variation on the workfare theme. But the strategy is particularly associated with the USA. Before the 1930s and the New Deal, workfare was common in the United States, but then fell into decline. In the 1980s, only a minority of unemployed claimants in the USA as whole actually took part in workfare schemes. However, workfare can be said to characterize a tendency in current US welfare policy that has increased alarmingly over the past 17 years.

    Modern workfare schemes became permissible under Reagan's Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981. The Reagan administration tried to make workfare compulsory for everyone on Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), but only managed to give federal states and counties the choice of implementing forms of workfare. This led to a proliferation of regional versions of workfare schemes - perhaps the best known of which is the Community Work Experience Programme (CWEP) - as well as various voluntary 'job search', 'training' and 'work experience' programmes. Workfare was extended by the Family Support Act of 1988, however, and was used extensively in California and Michigan among other states. In New York City, Mayor Giuliani proposed his version of workfare - the Work Experience Programme (WEP) - in early 1995. In New York State, Republican governor George Pataki achieved a major expansion of workfare as part of the 1995-6 state budget.

    Whereas UK politicians see Wisconsin as the model for 'welfare to work', it is the rapidly expanding New York version which is seen as the model in the USA itself. By September 1994, 4,467 AFDC claimants and 25,979 HR claimants were enrolled in workfare in NY State as a whole. By October 1996 there were 34,000 WEP workers being used by the city alone; this number had risen to 75,000 workfare workers by mid 1997. Workfare workers will eventually comprise over half the labour force employed by the city.

    Up till now, workfare work has predominantly been in the public sector. For example, in Ohio in 1995, approximately 8,000 workfare workers were placed in public sector jobs. The New York State workfare workers were placed in such sites as: maintenance or janitorial positions; clerical sites; hospitals; parks dept; public works; child care centres; and DSS offices (!). By October 1996, the NYS Parks and Recreation Department employed over 6,000 WEP workers. As well as cleaning parks, offices and toilets, WEP workers are also filling clerical slots and even training new hires to do their jobs.

    Obviously, WEP workers, unlike most of their properly-paid counterparts, have no choice about where to work, no health or safety protection, no grievance procedures, no days off, and no job when their benefits and workfare end. Indeed, many workfare workers do not even get protective clothing or access to sanitary facilities. Whereas workers on schemes in the 1930s sometimes felt secure enough to stage strikes, at least until recently this has been less the case in the present schemes.

    The work-programme legislation passed in the 1980s outlaws job substitution, but it is acknowledged by the administrators themselves that it takes place. Example: in August 1996, a communications organization in Sydney, New York, took on some 8 to 12 workfare workers. Since this placement, there have been three successive layoffs in the company, involving about 70 people. The city of Baltimore has replaced an estimated 1000 regular workers with workfare trainees. In the case of New York City, budget cuts in 1994 forced the Dept of General Services to eliminate half its 300 full-time janitors, replacing them with 140 workfare workers. Mayor Giuliani promised to make a small minority of WEP placements into proper jobs, but instead workfare placements have been used as a source of cheap labour. The City has now cut over 20,000 unionized city jobs through natural wastage and severance buyout packages. Nationally, both workfare proper and voluntary job creation programmes have led to the replacement of public sector workers with those on benefit-level 'wages'.

    Of course, though fuelled by a virulent 'anti-scrounger' ideology according to which the unemployed must learn the discipline of labour through making relief as unattractive as possible, workfare schemes must aspire for cost-effectiveness. In general, it would appear that, despite the anti job-substitution legislation, workfare on a large scale can only be cost effective if it serves as a source of cheap, alternative labour. The pre-1996 regulations state that local districts must use the value of the prevailing wage to work out how much work workfare workers must give, but counties across NYS and NYC use the minimum wage instead. (The maximum hours that a person can be assigned to workfare equals the amount of benefit entitlement divided by the minimum wage. Most workfare workers work around 20 hours a week.) Local government therefore get cheaper labour from workfare workers than if they hired outside people.

    If it does not involve replacing existing workers, workfare has had to comprise 'make-work' programmes, criticized by the right for being expensive. In such cases, workfare schemes can only be small scale and purely exist as forms of deterrent. Thus, in the programme being used in Westchester County, NYS, most of the welfare savings come from sanctioning claimants who refuse to comply, rather than through them leaving welfare for proper jobs.

    2. Workfare of the future
    Recent legislation seeks to replace further vast chunks of welfare with workfare. President Clinton's 1996 Welfare Reform Act sought 'an end to welfare as we know it'. AFDC has been abolished and with it the concept of entitlement, to be replaced by Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). No federal money will be forthcoming to provide benefits for anyone for more than five years during their entire lifetime. (Time limits on welfare benefits is part of the new consensus in US welfare policy. This method of eliminating 'welfare dependency' was pioneered in Wisconsin, where AFDC claimants are allowed to claim benefits for a limit of 24 months in a four year period and then not again for a further three years.) The legislation means that at least 25 per cent of TANF recipients were meant to be placed in workfare in 1997, and at least 50 per cent by 2002.

    In New York, the 1995-6 state budget mandates that every employable Home Relief (HR) recipient must participate in workfare. (Prior to this, the statewide average of HR claimants in workfare was just 16 per cent.) The new legislation also broadens the categories of clients eligible to do workfare - thus for example, claimants registered as disabled but undergoing rehabilitation are to be forced to participate in workfare programmes.

    The legislation in relation to job substitution is even weaker than previously. Under TANF, workers currently laid off cannot be replaced; an employer cannot reduce the workforce in order to take on workfare participants. But nothing is said about the reduction of regular hours, striker replacement or moving facilities to create new slots. Unlike in the case of AFDC, there is no provision for preventing established unfilled slots being filled by workfare participants. Moreover, the new requirements that many more workfare placements be found means that it is inevitable that public sector employees will be laid off to make way for them. Some will be rehired into their old jobs at benefit-level pay only, as happened in Albany, New York State. (Another example: Under the pre-1996 arrangements, Hadie Hartgrove was laid off from her part-time custodial job with the Nassau County government, and ended up on welfare. Ms Hartgrove's workfare assignment turned out to be old job, with far less pay and no benefits.) Not only this, but workfare now threatens to expand into the private sector. CWEP had to be 'in the public good' - i.e., public sector or 'voluntary' (non-profit making) sector. But Clinton has now said that the public sector cannot create enough jobs for workfare, and so jobs will have to be hired in the private sector.

    3. Unemployed resistance
    Prior to the 1996 legislation changes, groups of welfare warriors (women activists on welfare) around the USA held demonstrations, published newsletters, conducted letter-writing campaigns and engaged in civil disobedience to protest against the threat of increased workfare. Since that time, much of the resistance has taken the form of organization amongst workfare workers to demand, in effect, that workfare placements become real jobs. The ACORN organization has served as the basis for some unity between workfare workers, who have petitioned for protective clothing, and been involved in pickets and demonstrations in which they have demanded a union. Indeed, in the last six months of 1996, New York workfare workers held over 30 demonstrations across the city, demanding proper wages and the usual benefits of work. 20,000 workfare workers have signed union authorization cards through ACORN, which has established committees in approximately 200 worksites. Again in New York, workfare workers and others on welfare from a variety of local activist groups formed WEP Workers Together! (WWT!), which aims, again, to see the creation of permanent jobs and hence the elimination of WEP. Interim demands include health and safety protection, real job training and exemptions from WEP for education. WWT! models itself on a union, with WEP workers who identify themselves as shop stewards at their job sites. In terms of activities, WWT! has planned a work slowdown and taken part in demonstrations with other workers. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), a public sector union, has likewise signed up workfare workers (8,000 to date) with the aim ultimately of transforming placements into proper jobs.

    The authorities have largely refused to recognize these union and quasi-union organizations. Nevertheless, there have been some minor successes concerning working conditions. In Los Angeles, organized (but not unionized) workfare workers performing janitorial work at a hospital won an employee discount at the hospital cafeteria. The Alaskan AFSCME won its workfare members increased training and pledges to move them into permanent government jobs. WWT! activists report that the major problem is getting other workfare workers to organize with them in the first place; many are afraid that if they get involved they will lose their benefits, even though legally they cannot be punished if their WWT! activities take place outside WEP hours.

    Obviously, the authorities are not taking organization amongst workfare workers lightly. Workfare activists involved with ACORN and WWT! have been victimized on a number of occasions. Giuliani has rightly recognized that organization for normal employment rights amongst workfare workers would destroy what for the City authorities is the very raison d'être of WEP: flexibility - i.e., the ability of bosses to get workers to do whatever they tell them.

    Obviously, the authorities are not taking organization amongst workfare workers lightly. Workfare activists involved with ACORN and WWT! have been victimized on a number of occasions.

    'Dole autonomy and work re-imposition': an epilogue

    It is now more than a year since the original version of this text was written. The text drew some rather gloomy conclusions about current resistance to British welfare restructuring. Little has happened since then to contradict these conclusions.

    First, the New Labour 'flagship' policy, the New Deal for 18-24-year-olds, would appear to have had some success in its aim of re-imposing work. Over a quarter of a million people have entered the scheme. Of these, over 100,000 have been found jobs, with another 50,000 or so currently on one of the placements, including subsidized work. Through the New Deal, there has apparently been an increase in the rate at which 18-24-year-olds have left the claimant count, over and above the fall in unemployment that has been taking place anyway due to the economic recovery. At the same time, the continuing fall in unemployment has so far not ignited wage inflation.

    The Government has felt confident enough to press on with its programme of welfare restructuring, implementing versions of the New Deal for other sections of non-employed people, such as the over 24s, partners of the unemployed, single parents and the disabled. Greater rationalization is also being brought into the system through the introduction of the 'single work focus gateway' or 'One', as it is now called. The new system entails all benefits being claimed through the same office, rather than the present multi-agency approach. The consolidation of claims enables the benefit system at every turn to orient every type of claimant (except pensioners) towards considering work, rather than simply processing their claims for benefits. Indeed, as a whole, the benefits system is being re-oriented to 'reward work' (i.e. to subsidize low-paying employers) rather than pay for non-work, which is now defined as 'passive welfare dependency'.

    As we discussed in the main text, in recent years some of the more effective resistance to changes to the dole came from dole-workers themselves. Under the New Deal, the Government was at pains to introduce a 'new ethos' into the Jobcentres. Those on the New Deal have therefore noticed a more friendly and 'customer-centred' approach from Jobcentre workers. To some extent, this 'new ethos' has dampened some of the dole-workers' militancy. Most of them didn't want the stress of giving claimants a hard time, and now they don't have to so much, so there is less reason for them to resist the New Deal as they did with the JSA. Whereas the JSA was a purely punitive approach to claimants, the New Deal has been understood as an attempt to give claimants what they supposedly want: individualized help in finding work and improving employability.

    Yet, despite New Labour's criticisms of and promises to abolish the cynical JSA when in opposition, in Government New Labour has made it the very bedrock of their 'welfare reform' programme. Most importantly, on the New Deal for 18-24-year-olds, the sanctions for refusing or leaving jobs, interviews and placements are those made possible by the JSA: loss of benefits (except housing benefits) for up to four weeks.

    In the case of the New Deal for those over 24, the programme is supposedly not compulsory. But in practice claimants find that they have no choice but to take part; in the absence of proof that their own job-search is more effective than the New Deal (not easy when you've been unemployed for 12 months!) to refuse the New Deal simply on the grounds that it is 'not compulsory' is to risk sanction for rejecting a 'reasonable offer' and hence not 'actively seeking work'. Likewise, under the 'single work focus gateway', new claimants who refuse to accept the work-oriented interviews will be liable to JSA sanctions.

    Despite the post-election talk of a 'fresh start', therefore, there is a clear continuity between the JSA and the New Deal. Indeed, New Labour is even seeking to strengthen the punitive powers of the JSA because of claimants 'raising two fingers to the system' and 'misusing the New Deal in a way unanticipated', as Employment Minister Andrew Smith puts it. The 'new ethos' has actually enabled many claimants to avoid being found placements or jobs. Around a quarter of those who have entered the New Deal for young people are still in the 'Gateway' (job-counselling) phase. Jobcentre staff have often colluded with claimants by taking the 'new ethos' so literally that in many cases they have stopped hassling people and instead let them remain on the Gateway way past the four-month limit. The Government has now responded to this claimant creativity. David Blunkett, Secretary of State for Employment, has announced a policy of 'three strikes and you're out'. If and when this is becomes law, after their third JSA sanction, 18-24-year-olds stand to lose benefits for six months.

    Existing sanctions have already affected more than 12,000 young New Dealers. 'Environmental Task Force' placements, the 'option' that most obviously echoes the discredited make-work schemes of the past, has the highest percentage of sanctions. Many claimants would apparently rather lose their money for four weeks than endure placements in both the Environmental Task Force and the Voluntary Sector!

    As we discussed in the main text, 'Welfare-to-Work' and the New Deal in particular are attempts to overcome the chronic dual labour-market afflicting the British economy. The sheer unwillingness of many claimants to play the game, even with the 'new ethos', and the Government's attempts to tighten up the programme to root out these 'overstayers' is a recognition that, despite the initial success of the New Deal, this battle with the 'recalcitrant' unemployed is far from won.

    Indeed, this recalcitrance manifests itself in other ways. One of the early criticisms of the New Deal from those who supported its aims was that the claimants who were actually found jobs and placements were those most 'job-ready' anyway. In many cases, the New Deal has failed to improve the employability of those apparently willing to get off the dole. The bosses to whom they have been sent have repeatedly complained of the poor calibre of New Deal applicant. It is less the skills of New Dealers that are missing or at fault than their attitudes and punctuality. Too many lack what are called 'soft skills' - such as the ability to communicate, present themselves and get on with other people. In short, then, while 'Welfare-to-Work' is an attempt to go beyond the legacy of Thatcherite mass unemployment through changing the culture of welfare claiming, it still meets with both creative and 'passive' resistance.
    Yet, at the same time, the network of claimants action groups which tried to express dole autonomy as a collective form has gone into a decline. Since our original text was written, the preference among even many of the most politicized claimants for individual solutions has continued, leading to disillusion and pessimism among the claimants groups. The problem is that few new claimants are coming forward to join the groups - particular not young claimants, the group most affected by the New Deal. Turnover of claimants has become higher and, as we have shown above, some scope still exists for individual work-avoidance. In effect, the New Deal has served to outflank the militant claimants network.

    When the struggle against the JSA was developing, there were a number of groups who could be expected at least to generate militant literature, to hold relatively high profile pickets or occupations, to propose new strategies of resistance, and to circulate ideas and material amongst the network and beyond. At this time, a number of claimants groups regularly came into conflict with the cops, who also subjected them to surveillance and harassment (Nottingham, Edinburgh, Brighton). Today, there is little evidence of this level of activity. Some of the more militant groups, such as Nottingham, have simply folded. Others instrumental in bringing the network together, such as Oxford, now concentrate on 'solidarity' work of the type done by claimants unions (e.g., advice and individual support) rather than trying to develop their campaigns into a movement of nationwide resistance. The Groundswell conferences have simply stopped happening, and no word is heard from most of the 30 or so groups originally in the network.

    The most active groups left from the old network that we know about - Edinburgh, Haringey and Brighton - are actually tiny, and struggle simply to keep going. The Brighton claimants group, which continues to produce literature, hold pickets and harass Jobcentre management and local politicians, has a reputation for successful activity quite out of proportion with its actual practice. The fact that so many militants, both in Britain and abroad, take inspiration from the Brighton group is merely an indication of how weak and despondent the other claimants groups have become.

    Some unemployed groups less closely connected with Groundswell - in particular, Newcastle, Blyth, Bolton who form part of the Unemployed Action Group (UAG) network - have sought inspiration from the militant activities of the French and other European unemployed groups. Whereas the Groundswell network broadly shared an explicit hatred of work, the UAG have in common with their contacts in Europe a more traditional social democratic orientation, uniting around the 'Euromarch' banner: 'Against unemployment, job insecurity and social exclusion'. Despite the limits of their ideology, the practice of these British groups has been uncompromisingly militant. They have also made more effort than the declining Groundswell network to compose themselves at a national and international level. On their British 'Euromarch' of 1997, the UAG used the opportunity to occupy and picket any scabbing workplaces on their route - paralleling the actions of the old National Unemployed Workers Movement, such as their response to the engineering lock-out in the 1930s. Subsequently, these same militant unemployed groups have occupied Jobcentres and other offices, including the Welsh Labour Party office in Transport House, Cardiff, during the European Union Summit of June 1998. They were joined in this by participants from the Brighton claimants group, and together they spent the occupation watching World Cup football on the Labour Party's television.

    The French unemployed movement, which reached a high point in the winter of 1997, provided some encouragement on this side of the channel, but now seems less impressive. Indeed, the more we have learned about the nature of the French movement, the less inspirational does it seem.[1] It now appears that the image of mass militancy didn't match the actuality of small campaigns of established (and often leftist) political activists. Moreover, even some of those with a critique of wage-labour in the French unemployed movement remain the loyal opposition to the AC! leadership, and share with them and similar groups across Europe the aim of unity through a set of radical social-democratic demands.[2] Despite the strong showing at the Euromarch demonstration in Cologne this year, there is no sign that the Euromarch network as a whole is growing and there are even rumours of its imminent decline.

    In the UK there are some small signs of hope. Despite initial success of New Deal in winning over critical dole-workers, the Government's attempt to marketize and improve the 'value-for-money' of the Jobcentres is pushing their employees towards confrontation. First, in a number of pilot-areas, private firms are involved in the administration of the New Deal. In Hackney, east London, for example, employees of these private firms work alongside dole-workers; in such cases, the dole-workers are brutally faced with a possible future: a non-unionized workforce, on lower pay, and subsisting on the number of bonuses gained by finding jobs or placements for their unemployed 'clients'.

    Second, in line with the market demand for 'flexibility', many Jobcentres are being pushed to open on Saturdays and other hours previously regarded as off-limits. Already, dole-workers in some areas, such as Brighton, have successfully resisted this. This is important. Not only would Saturday opening mean that claimants would be required to come into the Jobcentre at times they have previously regarded as completely their own, but any success gained by Jobcentre management in imposing Saturday opening could be built upon in order to undermine other vestiges of entrenchment among the dole-workers.

    Despite the poor performance of Reed and other private sector firms running the
    New Deal, the Government has renewed their contracts. It has also invited other private companies to bid for the running of the 'single work focus gateway' and other new schemes. One of these firms is Andersen Consulting who run the benefits system in Ontario, Canada. Andersen save money by finding ways of cutting off people's benefits. For example, they comb through case files for missing or incomplete information; where they find any, the claimant has two weeks to provide the information or the case is closed.

    These developments are at the national level; but, in the case of the local council-run housing benefits services, struggles over the involvement of private companies have already been won and lost. For example, despite a strike, Sheffield housing benefits have now been partially outsourced. But the bid by the private company Capita to run housing benefits in Brighton and Hove has recently been defeated after an intense workers' campaign, including the threat of an illegal 'political' strike; in this case many of the workers involved felt that they had little to lose by threatening such action.

    But what are the prospects that 'dole autonomy' and the more generalized unemployed 'recalcitrance' will translate into an upsurge in collectivized claimant activity? Of course, one prerequisite for such a movement is that the long-term fall in unemployment and the relatively high turnover of claimants begins to slow. There is some evidence, at least in some of the regions (Scotland, Merseyside, the North-East, the West Midlands), that this is happening. The currently low rate of growth is by definition not a recession, but it is hardly enough to provide the demand that will sustain the early success of the New Deal. If the number of unsubsidised jobs that the New Deal relies on dries up, only the less popular placements will remain, which will then come more to resemble the workfare that they essentially are.

    In the UK, resistance and antagonism from claimants to welfare restructuring has not gone away, but remains fragmented most of the time - reflecting the current fragmentation and weakness in the proletariat as a whole. Those of us involved in Aufheben continue to participate in active resistance to the ongoing attack on the dole, not only in the hope that the essential class antagonism it entails will appear in a more collective form, but also because we are people who use, or expect to use, the dole. As we stated in the original introduction to this text, we seek to defend the autonomy of the dole, not because we want a fairer social contract between capital and labour, but because the smashing of the capital relation, and the end of the distinction between work-drudgery and leisure-poverty, can only begin with the antagonistic realization of our immediate, everyday needs.

    August 1999

    [1] See, for example, 'The Unemployed Movement: A Struggle under the Influence...' by Olga Morena in Oiseau-tempete, 3, Summer 1998.

    [2] See, for example, 'Steps Towards a European Network for Income' by the AC! Commission on Income, December 1998.

    Chris Arthur vs Theorie Communiste on alienation

    Notes on TC First Letter

    This is a very interesting discussion carried on at a high level your contribution so far on is splendid naturally I agree more with you than with Simon.

    I have to say that the last chapter of my book, and by implication Marx's 1844 Manuscript, is defective in that the self positing character of capital is not theorised. Since that time I have been working on that side of the problem. I think we have to differentiate between different levels of analysis.

    We should not be ashamed of being humanist. Humanism is only a problem if it is understood ahistorically. However, historicity is precisely the main dimention of the human, self changing is of the essence, the other main dimension being sociality. It follows that every social system that sets man against man is alienating. Likewise any social system that prevents the great body of people from creative activity is also alienating.

    Humanity and history and society are clearly categories that are universal whereas capital and wage labor pertain to a specific epoch which in human history represents a peak of alienation and a peak of social schism. It follows that this system is an epoch of alienation. It is a reasonable question to ask how did humanity alienate itself and how on a daily basis does it reproduce its alienation. The answer has something to do with the constitution of a social relation characterized by a social division of labor. Within this context the autonomisation of a value results in the self positing activity of capital simultaneously constituting labour as alienated. But this is at a lower level of abstraction than the broad dialectic of history. I have myself been accused of Objectivism because of the stress in my recent works on the objective logic of the capital form but I still think that it would be a great error to pose capital as an external force confronting labour. It is an historical product that is to be superseded.

    It is interesting you are accused of neglecting exploitation in favor of alienation. I myself have been so accused especially with reference to my chapter on labor and negativity. I agree that many of the concepts Simon likes seem to me to presuppose the category of alienation. I especially like your formulation alienation characteristically exists on both sides of the capital relation; in such a relation an abstract Objectivity confronts an abstract Subjectivity and the mediation of exchange precisely constitutes what I call in my books a second alienation overcoming a split resulting from a primary alienation.

    In the same light this split into classes is the spitting of a single subject society in a sense ; albeit that as Marx says one class tries to maintain the existing relations while another class is forced into a struggle to abolish the relation and thereby itself as a class. It is strange to me that Simon quotes from the '6th Chapter' and even gives a bit from his own book, pages 512 to 530, which seem to me to imply the kind of identity between capital and labor to which he objects when he insists on the exteriority of the poles. The same thing happens a bit later when he quotes from the Grundrisse and quotes himself from page 92. Once again these passages surely refer to alienation.

    The question of what is to be explained and what is explanatory is very interesting. I shall respond later to this second letter of his. The question of what is to be explained and what is explanatory is very interesting. I shall respond later to this in the second letter of his.

    Notes on TC Second Letter

    TC try to frighten us with 'bad words' such as 'ontology'; 'speculation'; 'self-alienation'; etc. And even 'activity' in the extract from TC 17.

    1. Ontology. As I argue in my book Dialectics of Labour this is unavoidable; all social theory has explicit or implicit ontological commitments. Is society atoms? A whole? Relational? (if so internal or external R?)

    Marx's T of F is largely an exercise in social ontology, including the 6th. Indeed the 6th is rather inadequate, ontologically speaking, because it is limited to anthropology and misses out the key ontological relation, namely that to the object (discounting the implicit 'man is an object to man'). The fact is that human being cannot be understood outside its objective relations and human development cannot be explained solely by reference to social relations, it requires reference to material reproduction, i.e. taking an object and working it up into a human form. For Marx human being characteristically distinguishes itself by a) history (self-changing=changing of circumstances) b) sociality (6th thesis) c) productive activity (historical materialism).

    2. Alienation. It follows that from the three dimensions just noted there is alienation if there is a) one-dimensionality b) asocial sociality (cf. Kant) c) most people are condemned to 'labour' in the sense of machine-like 'work' (the critique of work - see below).

    It is perfectly true that this conceptualisation is purely descriptive. This raises the issue of explanation which Marx himself raises in 1844 (and which I study in my book). Marx makes two moves. a) he claims to have gone beyond CPE which take private property as a given fact so that even their LTV remains trapped within the bourgeois horizon because productive activity is considered as typically wage labour. Marx problematises PP (=Kapital) by saying that to take this as given is to fetishize a social form of productive activity which has to be seen as just the result of alienated labour in the double sense of being a historical product and one sustained through daily alienation. b) but whence this alienation? he asks. He has no answer to speak of here (altho' there is a bit more in the GI. In the GI the system of PP is reduced to the social division of labour.). However we may say that the 'original sin' is separation (Trennung) with double reference. (See stuff in my book also). Marx is very clear in the Grundrisse that the normal state is unity and community. (Historical note; alienation always caused pain at every stage of its development; see Aristotle on money and the indignation at the alienation of the land which separated people from their very conditions of existence.) Unity does not have to be explained he says; it is separation that has to be explained. Separation in the social division of labour (initially simply trade between communities) eventually leads to the separation of the worker from the object. This is the primary alienation. Then I stress in my book this alienation has to be overcome by a 'second alienation' i.e. exchange, the value form, money, the capital relation, etc. Here dissociation is sublated but preserved as the alienated condition reproduced through the activity of second alienation.

    Now, why couldn't Marx finish the line of thought in 1844? Because he lacked any understanding of how such second alienation develops; he could not explain then the true nature of the power of capital as a self-constituting power. He knew the capital relation reproduced alienation but he didn't yet understand how it did this.

    Before going on to this more concrete question I need to finish the discussion of wholeness and separation. [the next bit is from my 'Napoleoni on Labour and Exploitation', Rivista do Politica Economica, April/May 1999]

    In Hegel's logic separation gives rise to contradiction in that a relation between the separated items is possible only if each term identifies with the other term in such a way that each becomes the opposite of itself. For if what belongs together is separated for some reason, a relationship established on the very basis of such a real estrangement can only be secured in a contradictory way, as a result of a further alienation. If the basic separation of the workers from their object is overcome through wage labour this is such a 'second alienation' solution; worker and object are brought together, but within a system of estrangement, hence the mediating movement is that of labour alienating itself.

    Let us name names. When we talk of the separation of the worker from the object what we are addressing is the presupposition of the private property system. In 1844 Marx elucidated this in a wonderfully dialectical passage:

    The relationship [Das Verhältnis] of private property contains latent within itself the relationship of private property as labour, the relationship of private property as capital, and the connection of these two terms to each other. On the one hand we have the production of human activity as labour, that is as an activity wholly alien to itself, to man, and to nature ... the abstract existence of man as a mere work-man ... on the other hand, the production of the object of human activity as capital - wherein all the natural and social specificity of the object is extinguished ... in which the same capital stays the same in the most diverse natural and social instantiations [Dasein], totally indifferent to its real content.[1]

    In this passage the term 'relationship' (Das Verhältnis) has implications stronger than that of terms such as 'relation', 'tie' or 'connection'; indeed in Hegel's Science of Logic 'absolute relationship' is one in which the sides are so closely implicated in each other that it is better to regard them as emerging from a single source and 'ideally' homogeneous; furthermore in this ideality each is impelled to reunify the separated sides through identifying the other as itself thus structuring the relationship as one in which it achieves self-mediation. However, if this separation is a real one (estrangement) this attempted reunification will produce a contradictory unity. Thus a few pages later Marx draws this conclusion:

    Labour, the subjective essence of private property as exclusion of property, and capital, objective labour as exclusion of labour, constitute private property in its developed relation of contradiction - hence a dynamic relationship driving towards resolution.[2]

    Marx goes on to explain that this contradiction emerges in all its purity only with the full development of private property. In such pre-capitalist formations as the entailed estate with the specification of the worker as the property of such an estate or as the member of a particular guild, the contradiction did not exist in its abstract purity. Labour and the conditions of labour were chained together in particularised fixed units. Now each side has become free to move and has attained abstractly universal form within a systematic totality. Condensed out as abstractly opposed spheres, labour and capital, says Marx, stand in 'hostile reciprocal opposition', their contradictory unity reflected in the 'opposition of each to itself'.[3] On the side of the capitalist, he cannot accumulate capital except through appropriating labour, yet the wages paid out represent a sacrifice of his capital. On the other side, the labourer cannot gain a livelihood except by treating his labour power as his 'capital', a resource to be alienated.

    To use the language of Capital: the private property relation as capital appears in the distinction between constant capital and variable capital; the private property relation as labour appears in the oppression of living labour by dead labour. But in Capital the relationship considered is termed the capital relation [Kapitalverhältnis]. This refinement of the terminology is due to two considerations. First of all, as Marx already said in 1844, the private property relation has a dialectical dynamic only in the case where it is a question of capital and wage labour.[4] Secondly it marks the objective fact that in the bourgeois epoch the 'principal factor' in the relationship is capital. It is the dialectic of capital itself which brings every aspect of the production process under its sway, proletarianises the working population, and accumulates wealth through exploiting them. (The same relationship considered from the opposite standpoint would be the relationship of alienated labour.) If the basic separation of the worker from the object is logically and historically the presupposition of capitalism, it is then posited as the consequence of the movement of capital itself.

    [the next bit is from my 'The Contradictions of Capital' in Defending Objectivity, eds Archer and Outhwaite, Routledge 2004]

    The capital relation is a contradictory unity. Any attempt to remove the contradiction ideologically by claiming 'all is capital' or 'all is labour' will find such a reductionist programme impossible to carry through coherently. Labour's alienation and capital's self-constitution are inseparable. It is of the highest importance to understand that the contradiction in the capital relation is not between capitalist and labourer (that is merely a conflict); the inner contradiction arises because both 'capital' and 'labour' have claims to constitute the whole of their relation; hence 'capital is nothing but (alienated) labour' and 'labour nothing but (variable) capital'. It is often said that productive labour is the essence lying behind the appearances of value interchanges and capital accumulation. However the many passages in which Marx assigns productive power to capital could well lead in a contrary direction: that capital is the real subject of production. As Marx said, labour appears then as 'the mediating activity' by means of which capital valorises itself.[5] In sum the second view is an inversion of the first. Both views are in truth correct, although contradictory. What this means is that capitalism is characterised by a contradiction in essence.

    Each side claims to constitute the whole of their relation, reducing what is not identical with itself to its own other. At first sight the capital-labour relation appears as a two-place one, but each tries to represent the other as a difference within itself. Capital divides itself into constant and variable components; and it claims to absorb labour to itself in the shape of variable capital; for it now possesses that labour. Hence it understands the relation as a relation to itself. On the other side, living labour claims that capital is nothing but dead labour. It, too, understands the relation as a relation to itself.

    But in reality these contradictory positings run into each other, such that the affirmation of the essence (whichever one) leads to its appearance in the mode of denial. Thus labour's objectification coincides with its expropriation, its positing as a moment of capital; while capital's subjectification appears as its utter dependence, not only on its personifications such as owners and managers, but on the activity of living labour. Each by being incorporated in its other becomes other than itself. Thus living labour is other than capital, but when subsumed under capital it is at the same time other than itself, alienated labour. The same thing happens to capital when it descends from the self-referring ideality of the forms of value to struggle with the materiality of production. But of course this process of mutual othering is not balanced. The struggle for dominance is won by capital which successfully returns from the sphere of production with surplus-value, while living labour returns from the factory exhausted and deprived of its own product. Realisation of capital is de-realisation for the worker.

    As a result of labour's alienation, and of its subsumption under capital, the objectivity of value-positing, become autonomous, reflects back on the labour process as its 'truth'. At the very same time as being still in some sense nothing but the objective social expression of labour, value achieves dominance over labour; labour is reduced to a resource for capital accumulation. This contradiction in essence is a result of the fact that the whole relation of production is inverted, that the producers are dominated by their product (as value, capital) to the extent that they are reduced to servants of a production process originated and directed by capital. Capital as value in motion is not distinct from matter in motion shifted by labour; labour acts as capital, not just at its behest. Marx says: "Labour is not only the use-value which confronts capital, it is the use-value of capital itself."[6] This labour is absorbed by productive capital and acts as "a moment of capital", he claims.[7] All the productive powers of labour appear as those of capital. The category of value is rooted precisely in capital's struggle with labour to accomplish this 'transfer' of its productive powers.

    Since the workers are 'possessed' by capital and the material labour process is simultaneously a valorisation process, the same thing has two frames of reference. But this is not merely a matter of different ways of talking, or of the coexistence of alternative realities, it is also a matter of determination, of one side informing the other with its own purposes. Capital determines the organisation of production: but the character of labour, natural resources and machinery limit it in this endeavour. Although capital is hegemonic in this respect,[8] its subsumption of labour can never be perfected; labour is always 'in and against' capital. Albeit that the production process is really subsumed by capital, the problem for capital is that it needs the agency of labour. Even if the productive power of labour is absorbed into that of capital to all intents, it is necessary to bear in mind that capital still depends upon it. [end]

    Within this context we can understand better the question of whether fundamental is a problematic of unity/alienation/recovery or an 'exterior' 'division in the beginning'.

    Obviously there is an immediate opposition of class interests. However, this is a surface form of a deeper opposition-in-unity of Kapital and living Labor. It is this social form that assigns positions to classes. The class struggle is the form in which people become conscious of the inner contradiction and fight it out. As we have already shown, the capital/labour contradiction is premised on the insight that capital is the alienated power of the producers. In that sense the alienation problematic is more fundamental than the class struggle. However - and it is a big 'however' - once constituted the contradiction between capital and labour is powered mostly by the autonomous movement of capital (its law of motion cannot be reduced to a reflex response to workers struggles). Epochally capital is the 'principal moment' of the contradiction; so TC are quite right to read many of the post 1844 references to alienation as effects on workers of capital' s self-constitution. But even the most rigorous 'capital-logic' is compatible with locating capital as a form within the historical phase of alienation in the larger sense.

    A digression on the critique of work. I am baffled by TC's position. We could criticise 'taking exercise' as abstract. Surely we can do the same with the meaninglessness of work today? The more so if productive activity is taken to be a basic ontological dimension. TC counterpose to activity production relations but this is precisely about how we organise our productive activity. Of course a Marxist critique locates the problem as wage labour, not as industrial production, and still less on the basis the product just as an object exterior to its producer is subject to an alien destiny, the evaluation of others, etc. (Note: On James Mill for Marx on significance of work in socialism.) The extract claims 'alienated labour' has no dynamic implications. On the contrary, as 1968 showed, the revolt against such work will be the central motivation for revolution. And the aim is to organise relations of production that make work life-affirming rather than life-denying.

    In my recent work I have gone to a lot of trouble to argue for the objective reality of inversion and fetishism. The whole epoch is objectively characterised by difference and division such that it is no illusion to say that capital is the 'subject' confronting us. It has its own law of motion. It is inimical to our interests. it certainly cannot be reduced, Stirner-like, to a misrecognition of our own powers which we forgot we originated. Yet in the last analysis it is indeed a social form produced through our own activity, historically and daily. So I still think much of 1844 stands as a framing concept for the capitalist epoch. The philosophical difficulty is finding a middle way between saying, like Dussel, that 'all is labour' or fetishising capital as an exterior force that mugs us. The middle way depends upon understanding how what is 'nothing but' a social relation of production generates the objective real power over us because of inversion of subject and object.

    This brings me to TC's incomprehension of the S/O dialectic here, and how the human essence appears as the inhuman power of capital. In my Labour book and also in my Brill book (p. 122) I go extensively into this. Given the separation of activity and object characteristic of capital v. labour, it is perfectly consistent to argue that the development of human powers is occurring in alienated form, and to speak of a recovery of the objective powers which simultaneously is the mending of the abstract subjectivity of the work-man (Grundrisse). It doesn't depend on a prior Golden Age, whether primitive communism or the pre-capitalist craftsperson. Of course if, as you argue, each side is estranged from the other, we have to suppose the whole relation is an alienated form of some other relation, which, if it isn't the Golden Age, must be in the future.

    TC have difficulty with this 'speculation' of course.

    Speculation. I can understand the alienation problematic is not explanatory in the sense TC would like. But it is a form of self-understanding, of grasping the nature of our predicament, of informing an historical project.

    This brings me to the acute observations to end of the letter relating to 'what is at stake'; with its preference for 'immediate' 'finished forms' of struggle, and its rejection of a view of class struggle as a mediating moment in a larger historical arc.

    Let us begin from TC's own position that revolution occurs when the proletariat finds "its definition as a class to be an external constraint". Very good. We agree. But if revolution is not 'the affirmation ... of the proletariat' the question arises of what is it an affirmation? If, negatively, it abolishes class, what, positively, is it about? It can only be about human liberation. In that sense the class struggle is indeed a moment of a larger project, one in which non-proletarians have an interest since the very split into classes is an affront to human community. The proletariat is indeed the carrier of human destiny in its revolution and unlocks the riddle of history.

    Before looking at the implication, let us clear up a couple of possible misunderstandings. TC claim our view substitutes for class struggle some other 'efficient contradiction' and that it prevents us seeing class struggle as what is "really productive of history". I do not know if 'efficient' means the same in French as in English philosophy. Here it refers to a causal impulse rather than reason for action. In that sense it is class struggle that produces change. But the 'need' for change is something else. In order to articulate it the speculative moment cannot be avoided. (I venture this with due trepidation!) Is it, as TC suggest, a teleological problematic? Certainly not if this means there is some guarantee inscribed in the heavens that communism will redeem us. What it does imply is that the meaning of an historical situation cannot be properly understood in its own terms but only from the standpoint of what it has in it to become. 'Another world is possible' is a speculative proposition, not because we do not have good arguments but in its logical status.

    Let us return to Hegel's Encyclopaedia. There Hegel relates the speculative moment to the third phase of a dialectical movement, when a contradiction is reconceived, not as debilitating, but as productive. In what sense exactly speculative? How does speculative reason go beyond ordinary understanding? Because it is creative. Unlike the nomological laws of mechanics, or laws of tendency extrapolating from the existent, it creates something new when it finds a way to surpass the contradiction. It requires 'an upward spring of the mind' to generate a new category, revolution to reorder society.

    Looking backwards history must be written in the future anterior; such and such a contradiction will have its resolution in so and so. Looking forward, however, requires a wager on an unactual, perhaps utopian, goal, that communism will have been produced from class struggle. In order to articulate the revolutionary project the existent must therefore be grasped from the standpoint of the 'not yet'. This creates the philosophical problems TC are worried about.

    Let us return to the Theses on Feuerbach. "The standpoint of the new materialism is socialised humanity." This standpoint is speculative; for there is no actuality to it. What is real is civil society (albeit we see it not as each against each but class against class). At best 'socialised humanity' exists in the mode of being denied, the asocial sociality of bourgeois society. The speculative moment emerges when reason demands the realisation of this standpoint in a practical project, to act as if this 'not yet' is actual.

    The speculative moment cannot be eliminated precisely because we live in an alienated society in which the standpoint of socialised humanity is unactual, and hence available only in its displacement to philosophy which wagers on the proletariat to realise it.

    Scientific socialism conceives itself as the theoretical expression of a revolutionary process which will put an end to philosophy in so far as it abolishes the alienating material relations that require such a detour through speculation. Marx's project for 'a unified science of man' speculatively prefigures such a non-alienated society. But philosophy remains a reality as long as revolutionary practice lacks immediate historical actuality.

    In sum the speculative moment is the leap forward. Dialectic is not a science of efficient causation allowing prediction. The future which will become has to be produced by 'us' and in anticipating it the speculative moment is unavoidable. The proletariat must enter into a self-transcending practice even if to begin with its self-assertion against capital is not yet understood in this way (See the problematic of Trotsky's 'transitional program') but we can theoretically anticipate the actuality of human liberation.

    cja 10/04

    [1] Early Writings (Penguin 1975) p. 336 - translation amended.

    [2] Early Writings, p.345 - translation amended.

    [3] Early Writings, p.341.

    [4] Early Writings, p.345.

    [5] Grundrisse (Penguin 1973), p. 305.

    [6] Grundrisse, p. 297.

    [7] Grundrisse, p. 364.

    [8] Grundrisse, p. 693.