Review: All Power to the Imagination

Submitted by martinh on October 1, 2006

This review was submitted at the end of 1999 to Black Flag.

By DAVE DOUGLASS, published by Class War, £5

After the split over whether political organisation had any point or purpose a lot of people wrote off the intransigents who maintained the Class War Federation and paper. On the strength of Dave Douglass’s book ( and the 21st Century Class War pamphlet),a lot of people were wrong!
Dave’s book is in part a reply to articles by Cajo Brendel and Theo Sander, and attacks in Wildcat denouncing him as an “Anarcho-Stalinist” and a union bureaucrat for serving as elected NUM Branch Delegate for Hatfield Colliery. Much of the book is taken up with his response, in the form of a stirring defence of trade unions as “marking the pages of (a worker’s) personal and class history, the conditions of his current working life against that of his father and grandfather-the terms that govern his hours of labour, his wages, the age of his marras, even their sex, is established in epochs of union struggle, class struggle remembered and learned.”
Douglass’s argument is simple enough; “Trade unions, in the terms they look at them, are basically inanimate objects and therefore cannot make a revolution. It is the working class, as a class, which is revolutionary, and who will make the revolution. What I argue is that workers can utilise their own class instruments to do this.” He makes an analogy with a bus, also not “revolutionary” - an inanimate object, but one which could be “set on fire to stop blacklegs or the fascists.” Unions, like buses, can be transformed into revolutionary instruments for which they weren’t designed. As someone who’s been a member of UCATT and the TGWU I can go some of the way with this; certainly on a local level, a branch can be way to the left and considerably more militant than the union bureaucracy could ever conceive, but beyond that the “bus” analogy only works if you concede that you’d need to overpower the driver and the conductor first. Dave is right though, to argue that “The union is seen by workers as an instrument in their fight for social survival. It is both absurd and reactionary to petulantly stand, face to the wall, saying “I’ m agin the unions” in some purer than thou stance, while millions upon millions of workers utilise them as frontline weapons in the class war.” I’d be more worried about the line he takes, if he wasn’t so concerned with and inspired by the struggles of ordinary people at school, in the street, over race, gender, housing etc. Douglass sees trade unions as an arena of class struggle, part of working class life to be fought over. There is a detailed and powerful article appendixed detailing the Indiscipline and Rebellion in the 18th, 19th and 20th Century Coalfields which is worth a fiver on its own. There’s also a wonderful bit where he reflects on the 60s, on young miners being inspired by the Panthers (“we thought of them as ...our party in America, they were the people on the ground fighting an aspect of the war which was inextricably linked to our own”,) the Proves “emerging kicking and shooting out of the republican ghettos, of occupied Ulster”, and “rocking the night away and shagging all over the place.”
“All Power to the Imagination” is a genuinely inspirational read. As I agree with just about everything in he says in it, it’s easy for me to say that-a lot of people won’t; they should read it any way, simply because its a pleasure to read some thing written with so much passion and verve and genuine belief in our capacity as a class to change the world.