Issues of the Red Menace newsletter, published by the Libertarian Socialist Collective in Canada between 1976 and 1980.
The Red Menace newsletter
Red Menace #1 - Volume 1, Number 1 - February 1976
The Red Menace was a Canadian libertarian socialist publication put out from 1976-1980.
What is The Red Menace?
Description and vision of the libertarian socialist newsletter, The Red Menace, which was published in Canada during the late 1970s.
The Red Menace is published by Toronto Liberation School. Toronto Liberation School is a group of liberation socialists, independent of any political organization, who see a need for a broad range of educational and cultural activities that contribute to transforming this society. We see the constituency for these activities as all those people who have become concerned about their lives, their communities, and the problems of this society and its institutions; people who have become activists at the workplace or in the community, for their needs and rights, or around national and international issues; people struggling for their liberation. We believe that liberation requires a fundamental restructuring of social and economic relationships, suited to the needs of all people rather than only to those of the few. This we would call "socialism", but by it we mean neither the band-aid reformism of the NDP nor Russian-style totalitarianism. Socialism to us is possible only through the self-activity of working people towards a completely democratic society. Toronto Liberation School hopes to contribute to this in any way that it can. In the past, we have put on lectures, courses, and helped to organize a conference on Popular Education, and participated individually and collectively in a range of political activities. We see this newsletter, The Red Menace, as one part, but by no means the only part, of our political practice and development.
The Red Menace is not a theoretical journal. It is not a mouthpiece for the correct line of political sect. What it is is a newsletter, an organ of communication. Not a one-way conveyor of communication, from a few theoretical "heavies" to the unwashed masses, but a vehicle of encouraging vigorous participation from as many people as possible. (In some ways, we look back to the early development of modern science, when there was dynamic, anarchic, and marvelously efficient, exchange of ideas and information between scientists in different countries through the exchange of 'news letters').
Theory and writing have to be de-mythologized. Thinking about society and how it could change is something that everyone does. And no one has all the answers.
We don't just want to print long, dry, ponderous articles. We are at least equally interested in brief, to-the-point comments on various problems. A one-page observation on some specific issue or idea is more valuable than a 15-page article that is academically competent, but has nothing new to say. Nor are we looking for "definitive statements" on particular topics. We are much more interested in the tentative, the exploratory, the contribution, of someone who is unsure of what s/he says, but is willing to air it to the comments of others.
So please put your thoughts on paper and send them in. We are interested in:
· articles about where you work, where you go to school, where you live, where you shop, where you play
· analytical articles about political activities and organizations you are/have been involved in
· criticism and evaluation of what is happening on the left, in the women's movement, in society as large
· articles about theoretical and strategic questions
· artwork (black and white).
· humour and satire
· experiences in, and analyses of, mass culture, everyday life, etc.
· analysis of leftist newspapers, posters, films, music, etc.
· book reviews
· revealing anecdotes
· questions you don't have answer for.
· questions you do have answers for
Oh yes - we need money, of course. Money to keep this newsletter going, especially since we are trying to distribute them free as much as possible. A dollar or two will help, five or ten dollars would be really nice. If you are sending a cheque, make it payable to Toronto Liberation School. And if you're involved in a publication yourself, we'd be glad to trade subscriptions.
Write to us:
The Red Menace
The Red Menace, as the name implies, is a sinister communist conspiracy of fanatical revolutionaries sworn to poison the fabric of our national life, extremists who will stop at nothing in their ruthless determination to undermine the moral values which are the bedrock of this society and its institutions. In the pursuit of their treacherous goals the agents of this Red Menace are willing to go to any length. Their aim is nothing less than the willful subversion and final overthrow of all that is most sacred in our precious free enterprise society: wage labour, exploitation, bureaucracy, authoritarianism, the nuclear family, even the state itself.
The newsletter you are holding in your hand is put by a number of dupes, fellow-travellers, and conscious tools of this red conspiracy who have formed themselves together in an organization called Toronto Liberation School. Our intention is to use this newsletter, The Red Menace, as a mouthpiece for the conspiracy.
This however requires the assistance of other people who agree with our objectives.
We would stress, first of all, for the benefit of prospective fellow-travellers, that this publication is a newsletter, not a journal or magazine. We in Toronto Liberation School do not want to be the editors of a product which will be passively consumed by readership. What we intend, rather, is that The Red Menace be a vehicle of communication between independent socialists in Canada, a forum in which there can be discussion of experiences, strategy, and theory. It is a project for which we seek the active participation of as many people as possible across Canada.
Our decision to publish The Red Menace stems from our understanding of the current state of the independent left in Canada. It is a situation where there is widespread and diverse activity, on the one hand, and a significant degree of isolation and strategic confusion, on the other. There are some who do little except talk and theorize, and others who are very active, but reflect very little about what they are doing, and why. Few groups have a developed class analysis of the situation in Canada itself. Many are oriented exclusively to the Third World, doing solidarity work, which is valuable, but which can hardly be the main activity of a socialist movement in Canada. Few groups have a perspective or strategy for their own development; most have little sense of where they are going.
Yet the independent left is a positive phenomenon. There are now many groups and individuals across Canada who are committed to a politics based on marxism, who have rejected any temptation to withdraw from political activism, and who have similarly rejected the spurious alternative of joining one of the innumerable "vanguard" sects. Among many (although certainly not all) of the groups and individuals of the independent left there at least implicit rudimentary agreement around certain fundamental questions of revolutionary politics.
This unity has however tended by and large to be implied, or expressed by practice alone; this why it has remained implicit, rather than being made explicit. This in turn has set sharp limits on the extent to which this basic unity could be developed and elaborated. The failure to confront strategic and political questions on the part of much of the independent left may be partially explicable by the basis of unity on which many left groups currently exist. Coalitions of people with different political viewpoints, they have avoided debate for the sake of self-preservation, for frank discussion might easily uncover political differences that would threaten the viability of some organizations.
Yet this failure to probe political questions in a serious way has imposed a handicap that is often stifling: an inability to collectively develop perspectives and directions. It also means that the independent left, the product of social movements which marked a radical departure from the "old left" and its politics, has nevertheless largely failed to assimilate the lessons of those social movements, of the new left, the women's movement, etc., as well as the traditions of a wholistic, critical, libertarian marxism. As long as it fails to do so, its prospects are problematic indeed.
These problems are neither surprising nor especially blameworthy given the degree of isolation, from each other and from the working class, in which so many groups operate. Fundamentally this isolation is an expression of the level of class struggle in Canada. It cannot be wished away or arbitrarily overcome by organizational measures or by finding the "correct" strategy. Organization and strategy are not universally applicable formulae that are "discovered" by some clever theoretician steeped in the marxist classics and then applied everywhere: they are ways of exploiting, as much as possible, and as realistically as possible, the options which are presented by a particular moment of the class struggle. They constantly have to be re-evaluated, adapted, and amended in the light of particular circumstances and changed situations. The vision of "the" strategy is a mirage.
But nevertheless, it is our belief that the level of political activity permits more initiatives, in terms of organizational links and in terms of development of strategy and theory, than are presently being developed. Hence The Red Menace.
One of the most important needs which we see this newsletter responding to is therefore the simple one of overcoming isolation, for more communication within the independent left. In this process of communication, one of the most important priorities must be the sharing and criticism of political experiences and activities. This could involve, for example, a particular collective describing and analyzing a project, organizing campaign, or whatever, that it has been involved in. The purpose would not be simply to convey information about what is being done by various groups (although this can be useful in itself) but to encourage critical evaluations of various forms of left practice, and the theory underlying it. This evaluation would come in the first instance from people describing their own work and using the opportunity to reflect critically on what they have been doing. Response from others in the pages of this newsletter could then potentially comprise a positive ongoing discussion of the experience being considered and of related activities.
A process of constructive criticism should help to develop the habit of looking at individual projects in a larger strategic, political, and theoretical context. It should also make it more common for revolutionaries to draw lessons from their practice and to learn from each other, so that positive lessons are generalized and negative ones not repeated over and over again. This is clearly something that can occur only with established communications links.
At the same time, in this way we can (and must) avoid the rigidities of the Leninist form of organization which seeks to subject everyone to a uniform "line" and centralized discipline, which seeks to guarantee political unity by organizational measures.
Another priority of the newsletter, related to the first, will be similar discussions of experiences at work, at school, in the community, at play, and in other activities which constitute daily life in this society. It is our belief that marxist politics must deal with not only the 'high politics' of governments, monetary crises, wars, etc., but also with the politics of ordinary life, the level at which the oppressiveness of capitalist society is experienced by most of us on the day-to-day level ("The critique of daily life"). We believe that it is crucially important that Marxists analyze this level of reality with same energy that they have traditionally given to the affairs of states and capital, and that they incorporate this analysis into their strategy.
An emphasis on specific analysis of specific situations should make it possible to broaden participation in this political exchange, so that not only the "theoreticians" take part, but also those who now participate little or not at all in the formal development of concepts, strategies, theories, etc. The newsletter will be strongly committed to aiding the democratization of the political process within the left, a matter not only of formal principles but of practical utility, for the left needs to engage the minds and imaginations of all its members.
Another priority of The Red Menace will be the project of developing a coherent political perspective, partly out of these different examinations of experience, but also through discussions of theoretical, strategic and organizational questions. Our purpose, after all, is not communication for its own sake, but the stimulation of a definite political process toward definite political goals.
Accordingly, we approach this project of a newsletter with a certain set of political attitudes and beliefs. This is not the place to set out our ideas in great detail: this is not a manifesto. Indeed, to be honest, at this point we in the TLS collective have worked out our ideas in much less detail and with much less sophistication than we would wish, although we believe that we have progressed in the right direction. The content of The Red Menace from issue to issue will necessarily be the best indication of our politics. Hopefully the interchange in its pages will cause us to deepen, re-affirm, and change the ideas we carry to it at the outset.
But we do not intend that this newsletter reflect a single political line, not only because we do not believe that a coherent and comprehensive "correct line" exists but more importantly because we believe that a necessary condition, and pre-condition, of libertarian politics is the widest and most open discussion. We cannot consider any questions closed. And certainly there will be many times when we print contributions that we do not ourselves agree with. At the same time, we consider it neither possible nor desirable to throw open the pages of The Red Menace to all possible shades of opinion.
The project we are committed is that of developing a libertarian marxism which takes as its project the critique of the totality of human life in capitalist society. This critique cannot simply content itself with generalities or with conclusions drawn decades ago in a world that was significantly different. To understand something means to understand it in detail, in historical context, and in all its complexity.
Based on this critique, we are committed to developing a revolutionary politics that is liberatory in the fullest sense of the word. Capitalism is a totalistic system of oppression that invades all areas of life: socialism must be the overcoming of capitalist reality in its entirety, or it is nothing. Or more concretely, a socialism that is partial can only become a parody of the liberatory ideals it espouses. The disastrous results of a "socialist" movement that equated socialism with nationalization of industry speak clearly enough in this regard.
Our belief in a total revolution impels us to underline the assertion that Marx made the first point in the statement of principles of the First International: "The emancipation of the working classes must be achieved by the working classes themselves." Nationalization to be sure can be carried out by a vanguard party installing itself in the state power. Social liberation, human liberation, however, is a process that must go to the root. It cannot be decreed. Nor can it be achieved without the participation of the vast majority of the population. A collective project, and therefore individual, as well, socialism must be self-liberation in every sense of the word. We in TLS hope to contribute to this project because our own lives are shaped and misshaped by our capitalist reality. Whatever contribution we make will stem from our role as participants in a great human adventure, not from any self-proclaimed standing as the "vanguard of the proletariat" or any such reactionary nonsense.
We do not consider it a priority to engage in lengthy debate with those whose political identification is with the corpse of Bolshevism. But The Red Menace will concern itself with some of the elements of Leninist theory and practice, not for themselves, but because they are based on principles which most of the independent left has not sufficiently analyzed. Without fully understanding these mistakes, it is impossible to develop a Marxist politics which avoids them. "The traditions of all the dead generations weigh like a nightmare on the brains of the living". Such critique is especially important since these encrusted orthodoxies tend to dominate much of left discussion through their controlled presses and the sheer volume of the noise they generate. They do not convince, but often they manage to deaden thought or disrupt or prevent intelligent public debate with their incessant "interventions".
We will also seek to foster critical discussions of other theories and tendencies on the left which pose important issues for a revolutionary movement in Canada.
We hope that the kind of discussion we envisage will enable the newsletter to contribute to a process of political unification on the independent left in Canada. In this, we differ from those who propose that various organizational ties be created to pull different groups together, that we should all "get together" now. We believe that this latter kind of unification is a rather mechanical approach to the problem which would almost inevitably come to grief because it sees the process only in organizational terms. Political problems cannot be solved by organizational measures. Lasting organizational unity is possible only where there is fundamental agreement on questions of theory, principles, and strategy. And to assume that such agreement exists at present is to blind oneself to reality. Indeed a number of groups united primarily around practical tasks are finding it difficult to develop further because the requisite common political outlook is lacking. For them, the alternative may be a choice between relative stagnation resulting from inability to develop politically (or fear of doing so), and attempts at political development that result in polarization and splits.
We do not think that it is a service to anyone to be over-hasty in trying to create organizational links. Such links should grow, not from an a priori belief in the virtues of bigness or centralization, but from the actual needs of the groups concerned. We should create whatever structures are needed to accomplish agreed-on and clearly defined common tasks. Such pragmatic links, if accompanied by conscious efforts to discuss issues of common political concern, whether they be the mutual critique of practice, or theoretical discussion, and stimulate a process of political drawing together that is organic and rooted in real situations.
Some people disagree. They want to "get on with it" and be done with all the talk. However, we cannot accept the often assumed idea that everything has been said and that for socialists now it is just a matter of doing things. Most of us have been involved in enough groups that demand frantic activity but little thought to be wary of such an orientation. We are similarly wary of those who fail to recognize that theoretical practice is also a form of practice, a form that is quite important at the present time. We think that the socialist movement in Canada faces many unanswered questions (indeed, many unasked and unformulated questions) that have to be dealt with before we can progress significantly. Not least among those questions are "What is socialism?" and "Why does a socialist revolution seem so distant?" That the level of discussion on the left is so dismally low is an indication of how much socialists, like everyone else, are alienated from their own intelligence: so many people want ready-made answers, but are unwilling to think things through for themselves.
For us, one of the implications of marxism is the conception that there is a close link between form and content in political work. Consequently we will endeavor to pay close attention to form in The Red Menace. We will persistently try to encourage the use of plain language rather than left jargon, and try to foster the ability to express complex ideas in as simple a way as possible without losing the meaning. We also use graphics, cartoons, etc. as much as we can given the rather severe limitations of the newsletter format. As much as possible, we want to use The Red Menace as a medium with which we can experiment, in which we can try to develop different ways of getting our point across as effectively as possible. This too should be an area which radicals can learn from each other (and from non-radicals). Hopefully we can develop livelier forms of communication that can be used in our political work. Accordingly, we will sometimes be guilty of poetry, satire, having fun and similar violations of political orthodoxy. There should be no reason why marxist politics have to be as deadly and dull as they generally tend to be. The task is serious, but creatively, playfulness and humour are resources that we must learn to draw on in our struggle for a socialist future. Their repression is itself one of the indictments of capitalism, and of any politics that fail to combat that repression.
It is impossible to stress enough that the flowering of creativity demanded by a revolutionary socialist politics demands the widest possible participation. By this criterion, the project of The Red Menace, modest as it is, will be a failure if it doesn't win the active involvement of considerable numbers of the people who receive it. This is especially so because we are not a theoretical journal in the traditional sense. We are not terribly interested in seeking out articles that are the definitive last word on some particular topic (though if you do happen to have such a definitive interpretation of the world, we would be happy to see it.) We are more interested in fostering an orientation to theory and strategy and tactics that rejects the idea that these are the exclusive preserve of theorists, strategists, and tacticians.
Everyone has something to contribute to these questions, if not in the same degree. Our task is to create an environment where such contributions are drawn out, and where we all learn to get the maximum benefit from them. This means that theory has to be de-mythologized. Theoretical practice is not only the writing of books and articles, important as that may be. It is also drawing conclusions from various situations, making generalizations on the basis of one's experience and intellectual resources. This is not necessarily a grandiose undertaking: a one- or two page comment making one or two basic points about some particular topic, experience, or problem is often more useful than a long treatise that is read by almost no one, and says nothing new at any rate. A tentative exploration of a problem is often valuable in provoking further thought: there is no reason to insist that people have to have fully thought our all aspects of a problem before they venture an opinion on some part of it.
One consequence of this is that we will try to maintain a definite bias in favour of brevity in The Red Menace, although we will undoubtedly make exceptions. But it is less necessary to encourage the self-confident theoreticians than those who don't think of themselves that way, so we are "bending the stick the other way" with an extra stress on the importance of short comments, feedback, letters, and the like, in the process of dialogue that we are seeking to develop in The Red Menace.
The purpose of this introduction is to open discussion, not to close it with definitive pronouncements. So it will end here. A fuller definition of what this newsletter is to be will have to emerge from its practice. And that will be determined by those who participate with us in this project.
Published in Volume 1, Number 1 of The Red Menace, February 1976.
Taken from the web-archived version of The Red Menace site.
Know thy enemy
Know thy enemy:
he does not care what colour you are
provided you work for him
and yet you do!
he does not care how much you earn
provided you earn more for him
and yet you do!
he does not care who lives in the room at the top
provided he owns the building
and yet you strive!
he will let you write against him
provided you do not act against him
and yet you write!
he sings the praises of humanity
but knows machines cost more than men.
Bargain with him, he laughs, and beats you at it;
challenge him, and he kills.
Sooner than lose the things he owns
he will destroy the world.
SMASH CAPITAL NOW
But as you hasten to be free
And build your commonwealth
Do not forget the enemy
Who lies within yourself.
Popular Education Conference
Agenda of the 'Popular Education Conference' in Toronto during October 3-4, 1975.
On October 3-5, 1975, a 'Popular Education Conference' was held in Toronto with the participation of a large number of independent left groups and individuals. Altogether, close to 300 people from 47 groups attended all or part of the conference. Most from the Toronto area, but some came from as far away as Windsor.
In order to help generalize the experience of that conference, and to stimulate ongoing discussion of the issues it tried to grapple with, we are presenting a number of items relating to the conference here.
The first piece is simply an edited version of the agenda. It is followed by a fairly lengthy article, both factual and analytical, by Ashley Chester, a Manitoban recently transplanted to Ontario, who as a relative outsider is able to present a fairly detached look at the strengths and weaknesses, not to mention the peculiarities, of the Toronto left, as evidenced at the conference. After this comes a few short comments from the Toronto Liberation School collective, predictably unable to restrain itself from putting in its two cents' worth. The final piece is another short comment from Steve Izma, a socialist from Kitchener-Waterloo.
October 3rd, 4th, and 5th. St. Paul's Centre, 121 Avenue Rd., Toronto.
Friday, October 3rd
8:00 pm: Panel discussion on "The Formation and Transformation of Consciousness in Advanced Capitalist Society". This discussion will probe the means by which consciousness develops in advanced capitalist societies. Among the issues to be considered is the role of various social institutions such as the mass media advertising, and education, and the ways in which people accept, reject, or other-wise respond to the forces which seek to shape their consciousness.
Followed by a discussion period.
Saturday, October 4th
9:30 a.m;: "Feedback" from the "Watching" Committee. The watching committee is an innovation adapted from other conferences whose role is to provide some feedback about the process and political development of the conference while it is actually occuring. It is proposed that a dozen or so people be chosen from different parts of the conference (workshops, planning committee, chair people, etc.) who would then meet during breaks in the conference to analyze what is happening, what issues and questions have been raised, etc., and briefly present their perceptions to the conference as a whole. This is not a decision-making body.
9:40 a.m.: Panel discussion on common themes and problems in presenting political issues in a popular manner; based on the experiences of a number of groups operating in Toronto. As much as possible, each of the panelists will address themselves to a set of common questions based on the particular experience of their group.
Panelists: Toronto Committee to Liberate Southern Africa; Daycare Organizing Alliance; Women's Press; Brazilian Studies Group.
Followed by a general question/discussion period.
2:00 p.m.: Workshops: Participants to be divided into workshops to discuss further some of the questions raised in the two previous panel discussions.
Sunday, October 5th
9:30 a.m.: Feedback from the Watching Committee.
9:40 a.m. Workshops on the "Politics of Communication".
What these workshops will concern themselves with is not only the communication of politics, but also the closely related question of the politics of communication. The stress will not be on the technicalities involved in taking a picture or pasting up a newspaper, but on the political interrelation between form and content. The workshops will consider the implications of different answers to such questions as "Who are we trying to reach?" "What are we trying to say?" and "How do we say it?" They will also look at such related questions as "Why use a particular form of communication rather than others?" "What are the advantages and disadvantages of a given medium?" "How do we maximize the advantages and minimize the disadvantages?" "What presuppositions do we make about the audience or constituency in choosing a particular medium?" "What effect does this choice have on our ability to get our message across?" "What are the constraints or peculiarities of this form?"
Each workshop will be led by a resource person(s) either working in or familiar with the area under discussion.
1. Uses of the Discussion Circle. Sandy Siegel.
The workshop will centre around the question of the role and value of consciousness-raising educational processes in the Canadian revolutionary movement. The application of the educational work of Paulo Freire will be discussed. The workshop will aim at developing an understanding of the analysis and method such an educational process involves and a discussion of both how and where it could be applied in revolutionary struggle in Canada.
2. Art and Posters. Don Carr.
This workshop will attempt to develop a critique of collectively produced art with an emphasis on the Atelier Populaire of Paris in May 1968 and the street art and mural movement of North America and Chile in the late 1960's and early 1970's. There will also be a brief investigation of the function of poster art in both capitalist and socialist society. We will also examine the role of the artist in today's society and the questions: "What can artists do to bridge the gap between their work and the wide public?" "What can the media do to interpret contemporary art in less esoteric terms, to increase its audience?" "How can artists bring the price of art-work within the reach of low-income people?" The purpose of the workshop would be to develop interest in starting an art-producing collective with a social and political direction which would include people of varied abilities (ie. artists, photographers, designers, printers, and others who could provide criticism.)
3. Film and Audio-Visual. Film League.
Using the film Forget it Jack as an example, this workshop will explore questions of the use of film and other audio-visual media as instruments in the development of political consciousness. The focus will be on the general problem of placing modern communications media at the service of the working-class in distinction to the way in which these media usually serve corporate interests. The interests which produce, promote, and distribute audio-visual materials at the present time will also be critically discussed.
4. Journalism. Bob Chodos.
The workshop will deal with the basic techniques of news writing and presentation, how they are used by the commercial press, and how they can be used to express alternative points of view. The concept of objectivity will be examined critically and the biases inherent in news style will be discussed. Selections of facts, ordering of material, use of terminology and layout will be examined as propaganda tools. Reference will be made to articles in the previous week's issues of the Toronto Sun, Globe and Mail, and Star by way of illustration.
5. Comic Books as a Popular Education Tool. Exploding Myths Comic Book Collective.
A discussion of comic books as used for Popular Education with members of the Exploding Myths Comic Book Collective discussing their experiences in producing comics on the food and housing industry. These comics were designed to analyze issues in a form that will have mass appeal and inspire political action. Discussion to include "How do you present an analysis of an issue in a visual and entertaining way?" "How do you distribute analyses to those you want to reach and how do you go beyond information to action?"
6. Materials for Children. Women's Press.
This workshop will examine such questions as how children of different ages develop, the uses of fantasy or realism, and how to get past obstacles such as parents, schools, and television. An attempt will be made to present information about materials that are available for use by radical parents, who want their children to be exposed to alternatives to the surrounding society.
7. Photography. Lynn Murray.
Can photography be an effective tool in doing educational work? Does photography have anything to say or is it limited to the world of objects d'art? The workshop will also look at various photographers' work and discuss their relevance to this society.
8. Theatre. Joyce Penner.
9. Pamphlets. New Hogtown Press.
New Hogtown Press, publishers and distributors of radical pamphlets in Canada, will discuss their experiences. The discussion will focus on such issues as why and how pamphlets can be useful, problems in reaching people you want to reach, and the differences between various kinds of pamphlets such as historical ones, those oriented to use in schools or universities, those dealing with immediate issues, and those dealing with more general issues.
10. Music. David de Launay.
This workshop will try to develop a perspective on how to see all music in a political context. It will be led by David de Launay, a professional musician working in Toronto. Much of the initial presentation will be done through recorded examples. Starting from these examples our discussion and debate can be kept concrete and centered on how to view music politically. Even more important, we will deal with how music is and can be used as a political force or tool.
2:00 p.m.: Feedback from the Watching Committee.
2:10 p.m.: Final plenary on the role of the left. In this session an attempt will be made to bring together some of the previous discussions. Hopefully this should include strategic formulations as well as specific proposals for inter-group co-operation, joint projects, and other possibilities. A key question should be what the left in Toronto can most effectively do at this time.
5:00 p.m.: Adjourn.
Note: The conference planning committee has suggested a number of general questions which they propose as a basis of discussion throughout the conference. These are:
How do we move from a critique of a particular aspect of capitalism to a critique of the system as a whole, in our popular education?
How do we best build on people's impulse for resistance rather than further strengthen the feelings of powerlessness, cynicism, and apathy generated by the system?
How does popular education fit into a larger political strategy?
Published in Volume 1, Number 1 of The Red Menace, February 1976.
Taken from web-archived version of The Red Menace website
Looking at the conference
An account of the Popular Education Conference held in Toronto over the weekend of October 3-5, 1975.
By Ashley Chester
How do average people become socialists?
How can the left break through its isolation?
How can intellectuals become revolutionary educators?
How does revolutionary education differ from the prevailing form?
These essential questions were raised by the Popular Education Conference held in Toronto over the weekend of October 3-5, 1975.
Organized by six Toronto based groups, it was intended as an opportunity for the local non-sectarian left to present its practice to a critical and collective scrutiny.
Friday's session opened with a talk by D'arcy Martin of the Development Education Centre. Two themes were particularly important -- the description of 'problem-posing' education as an alternative to 'banking' education and the danger of the left's isolation.
According to Paulo Freire, conventional education is based on the depositing or 'banking' of objective knowledge within the empty skull of the student. It is totally consistent with a social system that renders most people objects of an incomprehensible and uncontrollable leviathen.
The educator ignores the insights and experiences that might prompt people to learn in a systematic manner and assumes that his/her language is the only one that can describe reality. Dialogical problem-posing education seeks to restore the humanity of all involved by creating a truly egalitarian relationship between educator and student. The educator discovers with the students those dilemmas in their lives that can neither be understood nor changed with the concepts they had been using. Instead of providing broader conceptions she/he continually probes the students as they collectively struggle to develop the intellectual tools necessary to confront their own existence.
Martin generally confined himself to the critique of 'banking' education and the explanation of Freire's basic theory without dealing with the problems of applying it to our situation. He did not elaborate on the opposition of this pedagogy to the pedagogy employed by most Leninists and other exponents of 'scientific' Marxism, though he did decry the identification of propaganda with education.
The second theme, the left's isolation, was very much on people's minds. According to Martin, the Toronto left has both an obstacle and an advantage in the existence of a leftist culture. The fact that there are many leftists who meet each other frequently allows them to accomplish things that would be impossible if they were less numerous. However, they are not forced, as they otherwise would be, to make personal links with the working class. They are insulated.
Unless the Toronto left can link up with a strong progressive movement it is in a very dangerous position individually and collectively. Individually, its members can become cynical, disillusioned and can crack up. Collectively, it faces the threat of repression against which it will be powerless -- October, 1970 was not an aberration. Unfortunately there was little useful response to Martin's talk in the discussion period that followed.
Saturday's session began with a brief report from the 'watching committee'. Intended as a representative group of participants, the watching committee were to analyze the Conference as it progressed, summarize issues and questions raised, and suggest possible points of departures.
Their main criticism of Friday's session was that it did not develop what it means to work with people in a non-dogmatic manner, it was not specific enough in defining "our constituency", and it did not explore whether there is a "mass base for a socialist transformation", whatever that means. It seemed possible that some aspects of those questions would be broached by the Saturday morning panel -- representatives from Women's Press, the Toronto Committee for the Liberation of Southern Africa's Colonies, the Daycare Reform Action Alliance and the Brazilian Studies Group.
Frumie Diamond of Women's Press gave a straight forward account of her group's history and some of its problems. When first formed, the collective expected that manuscripts would be submitted which could then be screened. But now this process seems inadequate and the collective is considering the problems of manuscript development. Some of its future publications will likely be the result of collaboration with groups which have a specific need, such as for a daycare manual or a labour organizing manual.
Diamond also indicated that her group is aware of the fundamental question that has to be faced by those using print media: who reads what? Women's Press aims to get as many of its books into schools and libraries as possible, though that in itself raises the question of how to make a book "acceptable" without making it politically useless.
Further problems stem from the general ambiguities of the women's movement. Some of their publications have individualized history in an effort to reveal the role of women in it. Another example simply reversed roles while leaving intact the ideal of a middle class nuclear family.
Judith Marshall of TCLSAC listed three functions for her group -- education on the liberation struggles in Southern Africa, provision of material aid for these struggles, and the development of leverage within Canada that can assist these liberation processes.
TCLSAC provides speakers, films, and books and organizes visits from representatives of the various liberation movements. It has organized campaigns to provide material assistance to them, in the past having bought a ten ton truck for FRELIMO, and having raised $10,000 for Guinea-Bissau. At present TCLSAC is conducting a campaign to get an ambulance for Namibia's anti-colonialist organization.
Examples of the kind of leverage campaign TCLSAC sees as part of its function include a petition campaign that successfully pushed the federal government to recognize the revolutionary government of Guinea-Bissau, and the current campaigns going on to expose the role of companies such as Gulf Oil and Falconbridge in southern Africa.
In general, Marshall summarized her group's activity as "support for liberation groups elsewhere in an attempt to develop the struggle here". She noted the danger of encouraging a type of left "consumerism" in which concern and energy are diverted to the struggles of other peoples which seem more advanced or immediate than our own. In response to this problem three new committees are being developed to relate the work of TCLSAC to women, to the labour movement, and to schools.
The discussion that followed Marshall's presentation was the most critical of the day. Repeatedly participants questioned how TCLSAC can engage in anything other than propaganda. However Marshall fielded these queries confidently, indicating that it is her group's sensitivity to this problem that has led to the formation of its three new committees and has prompted greater attention to focusing on the links between struggles within Canada and those in southern Africa. For example, communication has been established between striking employees of Falconbridge in Sudbury and those working for the same company in Namibia.
One of the more salient points made in support of this kind of solidarity work is the effect of successes abroad on the already committed leftists within Canada; if it contributes to the development of "a culture of resistance" it is important. As for reaching beyond the more or less committed, one of the best suggestions came as an example offered by a member of the audience: the Quebec Conference on International Worker Solidarity. Apparently it began with Quebec workers discussing amongst themselves the various conditions and problems they face. It then proceeded to discussions of the same sort between Quebec workers and their counterparts abroad. As an example, ALCAN employees from Quebec met with workers from that same company's plants in Guyana. However, this kind of an event in itself presupposes certain conditions within the labour movement that may not exist outside of Quebec.
The other two groups represented on the panel both have a narrower educational perspective. Julie Mathien of the Daycare Reform Action Alliance, explained that her group was formed in response to an attempt by the Ontario government to decrease the staff-child ratio in daycare centres. It consists of parents, daycare staff, and other concerned activists and professionals. Initially it produced a video tape with the assistance of the National Film Board, which showed what the effect of the government policy would be by comparing daycare centres using the different ratios. The tape was a success as a tool in mobilizing the considerable opposition to the proposed policy change, and the government backed down.
One of the difficulties in this type of movement that Mathien noted, is that its focus on a government funded or subsidized service encourages an electoral strategy -- vote for a change, any change that promises action on that one issue.
At present the Alliance counts around twenty "very active" members, with a mailing list of over 200. It is not involved in actual daycare organizing but sees itself assisting other groups trying to start centres. It is also undergoing a period of reassessment now that the campaign around which it was originally organized has subsided.
The Brazilian Studies Group is essentially a research group. Its representative, Herbet de Sousza, described its aim as researching the specificity of neo-capitalism and the future of political struggle particularly in Latin America in light of the failures of the recent past. It prepares articles in Portugese, Spanish and sometimes English and French, which are distributed to around 400 activists or sympathizers in Latin America, Europe, Africa, and North America.
Speaking to the purpose of the Conference, de Sousza warned that "we can not be effective if we know only one side". Rather we must understand how people are educated in advanced capitalism, and what are our opportunities, where are the contradictions.
On Saturday afternoon conference participants were assigned to one of a half dozen workshops in which they were to discuss the questions raised in the previous panels. As a discussion aid the Watching Committee suggested five questions to be considered. Most of these were hopelessly broad for an afternoon discussion among people who hardly knew each other. In the workshop I attended everyone gave a short personal political history by way of indicating their particular interest in popular education. This was essential but time consuming.
Two questions were raised in our workshop that seemed important to me. The relationship between popular education and organizing was recognized as fundamental but perhaps for that reason it was skirted as being too difficult. The second, how to avoid reinforcing feelings of powerlessness and despair, was perhaps difficult beyond our experience.
Sunday promised to be the most fruitful day, with the morning devoted to a variety of workshops on the politics of different media of communication. The afternoon was to be a concluding plenary.
A film called Forget It Jack was used to explore the use of audio-visual media in the promotion of political consciousness. This film was not the most appropriate choice, being rather a fine example of straight forward, old fashioned propaganda. Produced by Jim Littleton with narration by Harry Brown, this film documents the case of Simcoe County hospital workers, members of the Service Workers' International Union, charged with an illegal strike. It was skillfully executed but its possible use was very limited. It may have given the facts to activists wanting to help the strike depicted but was of little use in developing political consciousness beyond this point.
Unfortunately the producer seemed unable to envisage any other form of political film making. He identified the workers with the union and ended the session with a patronizing little lecture on respecting the workers' i.e.. union: tradition.
Next, to the Theatre Workshop. It was conducted by Joyce Penner, director of Toronto Automatic Repertory Theatre Ensemble. If half the communications workshops were led by people as thorough and conscientious as Penner than the Conference was worthwhile. In the short time available she managed to indicate the theoretical and practical work that faces radicals seriously interested in theatre.
Quoting Brecht on "preaching to the converted", she defended the use of theatre to strengthen a nascent culture of resistance. But if it is not mistaken for a documentary form, the dynamism of theatre gives it even greater potential with an uncommitted audience. To achieve this potential it must be taken cut of the conventional setting.
Penner went on to discuss some of the methods of developing a theatre group. One of these is the 'open theatre' technique. A play or elaborated idea is treated merely as "words for action", which the company collectively interprets, revises, and forms into a theatrical whole.
Street theatre or guerilla theatre is another form that deserves reconsideration. If the group attempting it is cohesive, carefully rehearsed and clear in its political intentions it has a far greater chance of reaching an audience than a soap box orator.
Improvisation is also stressed by Penner, though not in its conventional sense. As suggested by surrealism, "automatic improvisation" is intended to strip away the actors' superficialities. Though "blocking" can be a problem she insisted that it can be overcome if the actors are serious about exploring the unconscious.
Returning again to Brecht, she endorsed his famous concept of alienation effect. To be revolutionary theatre must promote thought, not just indulge the emotions. It must avoid "sucking" the audience into an uncritical empathy; it should instead distance the political questions raised from the "life" of the theatrical characters. Signs of slogans or quotes, slides of historical events, a chorus commenting on the "action" have all been used to "break the spell" in order to make political questions inescapable.
As her group is still in the process of formation, Penner could only relate how it hopes to relate to audiences. She felt that prisons, schools, hospitals, unions on strike, tenants and housing groups might all be receptive to a theatre group. She stressed a dialogical relationship with such groups which would hopefully extend to teaching theatre to some of the potential audience. Fantasy as a vision of the future can raise important strategic and tactical questions.
Though there may be much to debate with some of Penner's notions, her theoretical richness and boldness of scope should serve as an example if not a goad to the 'independent left'.
The final plenary suffered the same problem as the earlier ones -- a lack of direction that could not be solved either by the best efforts of the watching committee or the chairpersons. The question to be discussed -- "what the left in Toronto can do most effectively at this time" - was premature to say the least. The floundering that occurred should have demonstrated that the basic level of unity assumed by that question just does not exist among the so-called independent or non-sectarian left in Toronto.
There was much hair-pulling about or status as "intellectuals", intellectual-workers, "petty bourgeois", or workers. There were pleas for some hair-splitting to ensure that further confusion be avoided, (e.g. lets define the working class).
Workerism came with facility to some, (you have to be part of working class life, whatever that is, before you can...) Economism was an easy answer to others, (why aren't we organizing around food prices). And there was the "craving" for "an organization" to be formed by the conference to look into all the problems raised by it. (Surely a mother to cuddle us is no more necessary than a father to discipline us.)
One phrase heard often at the conference was "non-dogmatic Marxism". People wished to distinguish themselves from the Leninist left but how? It seems that the distinction for many is not one of fundamental assumptions. Instead they seem content to hold views that are merely less rigid than those of the Leninists. Until people who call themselves "non-dogmatic" begin to explain what distinguishes them from Leninists then it will be just to assume that the distinction doesn't really exist.
In its own educational terms how should this conference be evaluated?
It was organized on the basis of certain conclusions that did not seem to be the result of any dialogical process between the organizers and the participants. That is not at all surprising. It is a commonly held assumption that anyone who has been to university or who has a job that is 'white collar' or who is radical, in fact, must be an intellectual. The corollary to that assumption is that intellectuals learn best in a conventional educational setting, i.e. the lecture and the seminar. Both assumptions are problematic.
One obvious conclusion from the conference is that a distinction should be made between intellectuals and intellectual-workers. Though the distinction is not discrete and it does not apply to artistic creation, I would argue that the latter have been educated to work in the assembling and distribution or dissemination of ideology; the former have been educated to be the theoreticians of that sort of production. The people involved in the immediate production of ideological offerings are not necessarily better equipped to develop a theoretical critique of their own production than are autoworkers. Nor are they necessarily more predisposed to do so.
Even the intellectuals who organized this conference to begin the development of that kind of critique need this kind of mixed experience to fully assimilate the implications of dialogical education.
By the end of the conference sufficient dialogue had occurred to make possible a guess at some generative themes that might be posed to the independent left.
How do we develop conscious practice when we are so deficient in our theory? How can we grasp the need or significance of theory when we have such limited practice?
The traditional left provides a 'religio-scientific' evasion to these questions and in so doing perpetuates authoritarian relations. But until we develop some serious efforts to cope with this dilemma, those same traditional concepts and methods will dominate us, and ours will be a poor confused relative of a practice we abhor.
Published in Volume 1, Number 1 of The Red Menace, February 1976.
Taken from web-archived version of The Red Menace website.
Our two cents' worth...
Assessment by Toronto Liberation School Collective on the Popular Education Conference held in Toronto over the weekend of October 3-5, 1975.
The Popular Education Conference raised more problems for us than it provided solutions. We consider that a mark of success, a step beyond the attitude, all too common on the left, that we have all the answers. When it comes down to it, we don't even know a lot of the questions.
The conference was a success to the extent that it posed problems, impelled people to evaluate their theories and their experiences, stimulated processes of critical and self-critical thinking.
At the same time, raising questions is not the be-all and the end-all of political activity. By itself, this can leave us wrapped in confused frustration, and indeed there were those at the conference whose experience was exactly that. One reason for this was that the conference itself was a poor example of problem-posing education. Despite all of our rhetoric about the need for new forms of political education, the conference was organized along rather traditional lines, although some attempts were made to develop a more participatory and reflective approach. (Perhaps we should consider the possibility that conferences are simply not suitable vehicles for the kind of collective self-education we are trying to develop.)
However, most of the problems of the conference had to do with the assumptions, experiences, and expectations of the people attending it and planning it. The original impetus came from a fairly wide-spread feeling on the independent left in Toronto that we were spending too much time talking to ourselves. How could we "reach" the working class? The answer, which was of course really no answer at all, was that we had to do "popular education". But how? What is popular education? How do you do it? None of us had answers that were very satisfactory.
Yet, there are after all many independent left groups and individuals engaged in a variety of different activities. It was hoped that bringing them together at a conference would result in a pooling of experiences and ideas.
The planning process for the conference took longer than anyone had initially expected. The problem was not with the technical details, but with political content and forms. To devise an agenda, arrange speakers, decide on topics, set up a balance between plenaries, workshops, displays, etc. meant making a series of political decisions, decisions about popular education as it was to occur at the conference and how it was to be presented at the conference. In effect, the planning committee had to develop a basic analysis of popular education before it could even set up a conference on the subject. With hindsight, it is easy to say that we were not terribly successful in working out a positive vision of what could and should happen.
But the shortcomings of the planning process cannot be attributed primarily to the planning committee, which in its politics and affiliations was fairly representative of the independent left in Toronto. The lack of political clarity among the planners of the conference, which is undeniable, was largely an expression of the political level of the left of which they are a part.
One thing that the conference served to emphasize was the fact that the independent left is not a homogenous whole. Yet it is frequently assumed, at least implicitly, that it is. But really the main thing that seems to bind it together, in addition to its general adherence to socialism (usually left undefined) is a rejection of the sectarian left. This rejection is more often than not not accompanied by any clear analysis of just what is being, rejected and why, or of what the alternatives are. Perhaps that is because the sectarian left is so obviously off base. It seems unnecessary to analyze its politics in a detailed way. But such an automatic rejection can have undesirable consequences. For one thing, it can lead to a tendency to reject large parts of the revolutionary socialist heritage simply because the sectarian left has loudly laid claim to it. This can cut us off from fruitful historical and theoretical lessons. On the other hand, a failure to analyze why the sectarian left is off base, why it is irrelevant, can and often does lead large sections of the independent left to continue accepting the basic assumptions and methods of sectarian leftism, even while rejecting its specific politics. The rejection is superficial, not based on a serious analysis of the root errors involved. For example, there are independent leftists who reject the various leninist parties that currently exist, but continue to accept various leninist formulae, like the need for a vanguard party, the transmission-belt theory of consciousness, the equation of education with propaganda, etc. Some of the specifics have been rejected, but the underlying assumptions remain. As long as there basic assumptions have not been rigorously dissected and examined, and either consciously rejected or consciously adopted, it is very difficult to construct a new politics that has a positive theoretical and practical basis.
This was a problem that was apparent at the conference. Beneath an assumed common purpose there lay an astounding hodge-podge of political conceptions that were rarely articulated, seldom discussed, and often not even thought out by those who held them. This in turn accounted for the fairly frequent and frustrating inability to find a common basis for dialogue. People were on different wave-lengths.
Yet this point should not be over-stated. Many people have worked out their politics in some detail, and many more have at least a gut-level under-standing of what constitutes good politics. Under different circumstances, this would have been enough to stimulate more solid political discussion than actually took place..
One problem was the rather passive, consumerist attitude of many of the people who came to the conference. People sat back, waiting to be educated. This again seemed to be at least partially due the format: there was far more discussion in informal get-togethers than there was at any of the plenaries that were supposed to "draw it all together". Of course, these informal discussions were part of the conference, but it is unfortunate that this process and its results could not have been generalized more. The fact that it wasn't stands as a challenge to our conceptions of popular education.
A cliched but important idea about the conference was that it had to be a moment in a process of political development. That it was, although the process proved to be less advanced than some of us had hoped. But the important thing now is that this process continue, that the questions raised there be pursued and discussed and re-defined and answered. Certainly the most encouraging result of the conference has been the amount of ongoing evaluation and discussion that it has provoked.
To reiterate some of the concerns that emerged:
What is the relationship between socialist groups and mass organizations at this time? What can it be?
The relationship between organizers and educators. Are they separate? Does this distinction imply political choices?
What is the relationship between solidarity work and organizing against capitalism in Canada?
What is the effect of mass culture on consciousness?
How can we integrate our theory and practice, to overcome the tendency for them to develop in isolation?
What can we do to assist the political unification of the independent left?
These are questions we all have to consider, carefully, thoroughly, and soon.
The Toronto Liberation School Collective
Published in Volume 1, Number 1 of The Red Menace, February 1976.
Taken from web-archived version of The Red Menace website.
Popular Education Conference (2)
By Steve Izma
The Popular Education Conference had a general characteristic which was quite refreshing and, in my experience, significantly advanced from left conferences of the last few years. In a manner more concrete than I am used to expecting the level of discussion was brought down to actual examples and practice quite in contrast to the sloganeering and shallow definition of terms that is typical of most formal intra-left gatherings. In many of the discussions we found ourselves at a level of description that demanded a much more precise use of language than I have come to expect in encounters among left people who have had no prior common practice.
For example, the term "working class" was nearly inoperative and was one of the first concepts to be challenged. It was necessary to talk about specific kinds of workers and their specific kinds of experiences, exploited situations, and world-views before any of our talk about strategies became comprehensible. We had to expand the area of analysis usually occupied by the "working class" to include other exploited areas of life, like consumption and education. People felt the necessity to redefine other terms, so often riddled with assumptions, such as 'consciousness', 'socialism', 'political organizing', and, of course 'propaganda/popular education'.
Part of the reason why were able to discuss these things so readily and so fundamentally (although, not fundamentally enough for some people at the conference) is the common but scattered experiences we have had over the last few years. Many of us have had to deal with the sectarian left, either within it or outside of it, and have been frustrated by its effects on ourselves, fellow left people, and anyone else in contact with such groups. There is no point in over-emphasizing this rather negative characteristic which gives us a basis for unity, but I think that as we have tried to come to grips with the problem posed by our experience with 'them', we come to some common conclusions more or less on our own and in isolation from most other 'independent left' groups.
These problems we discuss in various ways, but with essentially the same content: the question of a Leninist party; the building of non-authoritarian organizations; whether or not revolutionary democratic organizations start now or "after the revolution", and even, "how the hell can you have a dictatorship of the proletariat?"
Unfortunately, as a few people pointed out in the final plenary, our critique during the conference of the sectarian groups did not go beyond rejection of them. Not enough did we venture into the important area of constructive discussion around these points. I sense, but maybe I am just optimistic, that these discussions could lead to a more specific, clearer form of unity among us, at least in ideas (which is only a start) and perhaps in the development of some common projects.
But I don't think we should consider success merely in terms of more 'concrete' links among us as left groups. We must as well realize that this kind of discussion among people who have been involved in so many uncoordinated or unconnected situations can be crucial to developing our abilities to work in our own situations. Hopefully we will come back from discussions like this not only with a renewed enthusiasm for our own projects but also with new ideas and new strategies.
However, we are confronting problems not only in the nature of the links among ourselves as independent left groups, but also in the forms of communication we use for popular education. We can easily be critical of the simplistic rhetoric used by vanguard groups in their newspapers, pamphlets and posters, but how critical are we of our own language in the same media? Do we understand our own elitism when we use brief words to represent concepts which we ourselves have taken much work to understand? To what extent do our own words mystify or even 'dazzle' other people? Such habits are not much less manipulative than the rhetoric of you-know-who.
Crucial to our understanding of what kinds of language are appropriate is our notion of what the 'mass media' is all about. Not knowing or being able to agree about the nature of the group with whom we are communicating doesn't help us shape a relevant language. But there are many assumptions uncovered once we look into the area of mass media with as critical an eye as we have used for discussing class.
Why are we interested in developing a mass audience or winning away the audience of the mass media? Helping people see through the misconceptions and manipulations of the commercial media is a crucial liberating step. But attempting to do this by substituting ourselves as writers of mass media is quite another thing. Is there really such a homogenous group of people as 'the masses?'
I think, rather, that it is more important to challenge people's concept of themselves as part of such a 'mass'. This is not to de-emphasize class consciousness, but rather to help people build collective identities based on what is real and specific. Present concepts of mass that gloss over regional, cultural, sexual, and other distinctions and never detail the specific conditions of different workers and other people end up ignoring or causing people to ignore real needs and possibilities. This is manipulative rather than liberating.
Therefore, does the size of our 'audience' determine the particular form of media which we use? How can we communicate with any large grouping of people without continuing a use of the same form as the dominant/dominating media, that is, an authoritarian monologue. Even though we might not intentionally be manipulative through our dissemination of information, how do we overcome the condition that has been well established by present educational and mass media systems whereby information is passively accepted and consumed rather than actively understood or rejected in terms of one's autonomous experiences? How can this active learning process take place in the realm of one-way print media?
This is not an implication that print media be abandoned as a means of popular education. What it means is that written words need always be supplemented by interaction of writers with readers. Perhaps at this point, given the lack of effective periodicals for reaching beyond the circles of the left, the priorities should be interactions between the so-called educators and the people -- so that learning proceeds in both directions and that language and conceptualizations may be more realistically developed. In this case, writing would be a supplement to practice.
We generally agree on the ways in which these interactions should not take place. The elitist intervention of vanguard groups in strikes and other issues has often been more divisive than unifying. Our practice will probably be as small groups offering skills and resources and some exchange of ideas.
The strength of the left in situations like these will be in its versatility: the ability of the small groups to adapt their resources to the particular circumstances of each struggle. This is quite distinct from the sectarian strategies that reduce all struggles to a particular rhetoric, or emphasize particular areas of activity to be revolutionary, exclusive of all others.
The fact that the independent left already experiences a great variety of activity gives us an important basis for this versatile, more comprehensive practice. As we fully realized at the beginning of the conference, a serious problem is that these experiences are largely uncollated -- we don't know enough about what each other has done. But we need to see this variety as a positive aspect and not merely as a hindrance because of its fragmented nature.
It should be reassuring to look upon our range of experiences and see all that we have to draw upon; from workers' struggles in and out of trade unions, from activities in capitalist owned or state controlled factories and institutions right through to worker owned, occupied or controlled workplaces. Among our resources must be counted many research and educational groups, grant funded or not, because they can work to provide essential information for workers in industrial situations who have little extra time for such research.
It is quite likely that further conferences similar to the Popular Education Conference will be held. But the kinds of direct linkings that are needed among left people interested in these concepts cannot wait to be developed within such conferences. Nor should we wait for directives sent out by any coordinating groups delegated at such times.
Steve Izma lives in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario. He is a member of the Dumont Press Collective.
Organizing in a small town
A group of libertarian socialists' account of attempting to initiate community organising projects in a small town in Ontario in 1976.
We spent one year living in a small central Ontario community where, with a core of town residents, we attempted, on a minute scale, the 'revolutionary' project discussed below.
The town, with a population of 5,400, survives on the long established tourist industry based around the lakes on which the town is situated. A majority of its working people are employed directly in service and recreation jobs related to the tourist trade, most on a seasonal basis, (in hotels, resorts, motels, parks, stores, transportation, utilities). The average income in the town is only two-thirds of the Ontario average. Tourist industry salaries average about $3000 a year. There are a number of small industries in the town, many new, making wood products, plastic pipe products, and paper products. Wages are somewhat higher in manufacturing, averaging $5000-$6000. Casual labour and construction. is also a major source of income, complementing the seasonal service and tourist trade.
The town is controlled economically and politically by the business elements who benefit from the tourist industry, old established families who have founded the town (these families still own much land in the area, as well as some industry and enterprise), and the managers of the manufacturing plants who run the factories for the U.S. multi-nationals which own them. These class elements are economically, ideologically, and socially integrated and exert a hegemonic control over policies, economic development, social service, and official institutional and cultural life.
Waged and salaried working people make up 80% of the town's population. These working people share a long tradition of rural living, a strong belief in self-reliance, individualism, and native independence as well as a long history of collective inactivity and deference to a visible and paternal ruling power.
We wanted to discuss our activity in this town from a critical perspective to help us reflect on our experience and to offer it in the newsletter as a contribution to the debate on the development of the revolutionary process in an advanced capitalist society.
In this account we will try to do four things: first, to describe our revolutionary vision of what we were attempting to create in this political project; second, to describe how we attempted to attain this vision/goal; third, to critically evaluate the process; and fourth, to raise and comment on some general political questions that hopefully can be dealt with in future issues of the newsletter.
Why Were We There?
Our intent in the long run was to participate in the recreation of a popular working class culture and the raising of the socialist/class consciousness of the working people of the town. To do this we moved into the town and immersed ourselves in the local working class community, in its daily life and contradictions. We lived, worked, shopped, played, and socialized in the community -- the struggle of the people was our struggle. We realized that were not there to lead the workers anywhere but rather, to understand the needs of the working class area and begin to articulate and act upon the realization of such needs within the community.
We accepted Wilhelm Reich's definition of socialist (class) consciousness and it guided us in our struggle. Reich puts forth the following as a response to the question "what is class consciousness?":
"The class-consciousness of the masses is not a knowledge of the historical or economic laws that govern the existence of the human being, but
1. knowledge of one's own vital needs in all spheres;
2. knowledge of ways and possibilities of satisfying them;
3. knowledge of the obstacles that a social system based on private property puts in the way of their satisfaction;
4. knowledge of one's own inhibitions and fears that prevent one from clearly realizing one's needs and the obstacles to their satisfaction....
5. knowledge that mass unity makes an invincible force against the power of oppressors."
Reich further states that the revolutionary liberation from capitalism is the final act which will grow from the fully developed class consciousness of the masses once the revolutionary leadership has understood the working class in every aspect of their life.
We wanted to be part of the process of people becoming aware of what was happening to them politically, socially, economically and culturally, of developing a critique of everyday life. We wanted to help people take power over areas of their daily lives, areas where they themselves expressed a need (e.g. raising their children, information regarding their rights in a capitalist society), etc. We wanted to assist them -- and ourselves -- to understand obstacles, both systemic and personal, that prevent realization of basic needs. And finally, we wanted to help people collectively work out alternative ways of meeting their needs.
What We Wanted to Create (The vision)
We tried to do all this by creating a working class "territory" or Centre where workers could come together. This centre would be an ongoing physical presence in the community, a place where different kinds of working people could meet, organize, discuss, and socialize. The centre was eventually to be control by the workers of the area themselves through a council of elected representatives.
The centre was to involve itself with the social, economic, and political struggles of the community. By building upon workers' self-activity and through the initiation of alternatives and education-al processes, an attempt was to be made to develop collectivity in the working class neighbourhood and create an increasing sense of community, and a new communal desire and ability to struggle for control over everyday life in every way and in every relation.
The centre was also to be an attempt to overcome the fragmentation, privatization, and isolation of people from one another that is so characteristic of advanced capitalist society. It was to be a physical, social, intellectual, and emotional focus, a space where critical and revolutionary self activity among working people could take root and begin to grow. From this space revolutionary action could develop in their work, home, and community, through which workers could become capable of creating and struggling for a new vision of how to realize their interests and needs.
What We Did
We will now discuss the centre in relation to three central themes:
1. the extent to which its activities, services, and programs fostered our revolutionary vision of helping working class people take control over various aspects of their lives;
2. its strategic and relevant linkages with the daily life and struggles of working people and;
3. the legitimacy as an existing town institution which it was able to achieve in relation to the existing power structure and ruling sectors, and townspeople in general.
For fostering control, developing linkages, and creating and maintaining local legitimacy were in turn the short -range goals upon which the ultimate creation of this "working class territory" rested.
Community Centre Program:
1. Information centre
Initially the community centre ran three kinds of programs. The first was an Information Service run by centre staff with community volunteers, on a drop-in and telephone basis. The Information Service was launched publicly as a new service to all residents of the town. Its advent was in keeping with current government and civic support for such information agencies at the community level in Ontario. Its presence was thus grudglingly tolerated by local establishment and social service mandarins, for there was no other such service to be had in either the town or district. We ran the information service mostly with our own labour, and the help of some neighbourhood people for over eight months, and received about 750 calls or drop-in inquiries. Most people called us either looking for jobs or wanting help with U.I.C. claims. The landlord-tenant act and labour code violations, welfare claims, workmen's compensation, inquiries about decent housing, babysitting were the other things most asked about. Through the information service, we wanted to do three things: first, to provide information to individual working people about their rights and the benefits available to them. In many cases working people didn't know their legal rights or the proper procedure for getting benefits. Second, we wanted to advocate for people unable to get what was legally theirs. Such was the arbitrary nature of oppressive economic and political power in the town that even when they knew their rights, many working people (especially the young and the old, as well as women and the disabled, in short, those in the 'weakest' power positions) had great difficulty in getting them. Third, and most crucially, we wanted to foster autonomous self-help groups around problems. Such groups could be actively involved in analysing and attacking the root of their difficulties together, eg. senior citizens' groupings, tenants' groups, mothers for day care, etc.
Through the Information service, we made contact and became familiar with the problems of many working people. We were also able to help many of them on an individual basis to become more aware and capable of realizing their rights.
Further, the Information service gave us legitimacy -- we had a reason for operating in the community on a day to day basis. It even gave us a legitimate pretext for soliciting establishment funds for our centre.
However, the Information service proved to be far less valuable (central) in creating links with working people in the process of systematically and collectively challenging power relations. For the Information service largely failed to draw people into the centre to discuss their problems, and was equally unsuccessful in providing a stepping stone from an individual to a collective approach to their problems. The diversity of problems covered, the wide geographical area the service related to, the importance of anonymity in the running of such a service, and the reluctance of people to come in person to talk to strangers about personal problems were a number of factors which contributed to this.
The one exception to this was with a number of working class mothers wanting day care facilities for their children. Our of the initial information contact grew a series of meetings in the centre which led to the establishment of a play-school co-operative run by working class parents for their children. This project became our second area of program involvement in the centre, one which opened far more valuable possibilities of links, action, and control than the first.
2. The Playschool Co-operative
The Playschool rooted us in the working class community allowing us to become involved in a collective alternative to one aspect of the everyday lives of working class families. Through it we established day to day relations with working people around a non-work issue of great concern to them. It also opened up the possibility of working with them around other areas of their daily lives. Further, through the operation of the Playschool, we established a trust and a familiarity that opened up other possibilities. The parents' expressed need for day care was partially fulfilled through the creation of this autonomous alternative to the existing nursery school. However it was originally seen as a short range project which would eventually lead to the establishment of a municipal day care facility.
The Playschool lasted over eight months and involved about thirty working class families. It attempted to achieve three goals: 1. the establishment of liberatory child rearing practices, 2. the encouragement of liberating, humanizing relations between the parents and the children, and 3. the establishment of a collective, creative alternative to the existing facility which was too expensive and served a different population (class): the children of professionals (doctors, lawyers) and ruling elements of the town.
The Playschool was organized co-operatively. Both the mothers and the fathers helped set up and maintain the program through day to day staffing, fund raising, participating on committees, and through the standing working group and executive which came from their ranks. One of our collective was the coordinator to assist the parents in designing and implementing the program.
The Playschool began during the summer in a public school gym. Through the summer project the parents became involved to the point where they saw the need and importance of carrying on the project on a more permanent basis. The parents demanded and received the upstairs of the town Community Centre which had been standing vacant for years. The parents organized support from a number of city councilors, some people on the Recreation Committee, and a couple of teachers to aid them in securing the Community Centre. They assembled en masse in the Director's office and pressured him to allow them the use of the facility for a nominal rent.
The principles of the Playschool program were developed through an ongoing educational process (discussion circles) with the parents. The transformation of the traditional social relations between parents and children was the 'visionary' aim of the Playschool. The coordinator and the parents worked out a program which was continually discussed and re-evaluated. It was based on following humanistic and liberating principles, on developing independence and creative ability among children on fostering sharing, co-operation, mutual respect, and non-sexist practices, a flowering of a sense of self worth.
The Playschool did gain some legitimacy in the town. One reason for this was that the participating parents included many long-time citizens of the town. Also, the existing nursery school wanted support in an appeal to the provincial government for a municipal day care facility. They saw the new Playschool as added proof of the need for day care. So they reluctantly supported the parents in their endeavour in exchange for their support in their government bid. Also, a few teachers in the high school contributed to our legitimacy by bringing the children into their classrooms to work on projects beside their high school students.
The Playschool gave people a sense of power over a part of their lives that had formerly been beyond their control. Both husbands and wives were involved in the Playschool process at some level, and it became an important experience for them. Through it they saw that collective action provided them with an alternative and a new sense of the possible for themselves, each other, their children, and the community.
3. Critical Education Circles
After the Information Centre and the Co-operative Playschool had been underway for a number of months, we organized a third program, regular weekly educational circles at the Centre. We saw this educational program as growing out of the first two, and in turn, deepening involvement and struggle in them; while at the same time opening up the possibility of transforming the very nature of the Centre itself.
The idea behind the critical education circles for both men and women was to provide a regular discussion context, where groups of working people could come together to begin to critically reflect on the nature of their lives, relations, beliefs and problems in a dialogue with other working people (i.e. with people who had objectively and in many ways subjectively the same experiences of life as members of a structurally subordinated class.) The learning process of the circle was based on the educational methodology of Paulo Friere and discussion content was informed by a locally specified Marxian analysis of power relations in the region at various levels from the political and economic to the realm of the personal. We were continually attempting to develop and reapply this analysis, from the time of our entering the town, in all aspects of the centre's activity. In short, then, we saw this kind of educational process as a vital dimension of all our work, i.e. as a way to transform what was initially as issue or project orientation among working people involved, into an understanding of the need for and a commitment to the collective self creation of a new and combatative working class community and culture.
Two groups functioned over ten sessions at the centre: the first with local working women from the surrounding neighbourhood. (Contact with the 13 women in the circle came from our previous work in the information service and the playschool). Discussion in the women's educational circle centred around family life in a general sense. Themes talked about included liberating principles and philosophies of child rearing (similar to those being established in the Playschool); relations between them and their husbands (questions of equality, sexism, economic support, etc.); emotions and the personal (fears, hopes, desires); and social questions (advertising, consumption, T.V., soap operas, and the role of the schools.) At the end of the first educational circle, the women decided to meet again in the new year to further discuss and try out new methods of dealing with their children day by day. Secondly, ideas developed in the circle began to filter into and reinforce the Playschool program through women who were involved in both. The women also agreed that they would like to meet with the men to discuss marital and personal relations together, in a first beginning attempt to solve some of the conflicts that were being brought out.
The second educational circle was conducted with a group of 11 working class men. Through the operation of the two centre programs we developed a friendly, informal relation with families touched by or involved in these projects. We were invited into their homes and came to share our leisure time with them regularly. So when it came time to organize the sessions, we went around to each home and personally explained what we wanted to do and asked people if they were interested. In most cases the men were willing to give the group discussions a try. Though we advertised in the town newspaper as well, all eleven participants came from this personal contact.
The men's critical education circle was then, in a sense, something new, for though we had worked with some of the men in the Playschool, this was the first attempt to bring them and other male workers from the town together in their own right, on a regular basis.
The topics for discussion over the ten weeks came from our own perceptions of what we saw and heard as key issues and problems affecting the day to day lives or workers in the town, and from the weekly suggestions of the group itself. We discussed such matters as the class, economic and political structure of power in the area; the nature of their work (feelings about bosses, frustration with authority, young vs. older workers, satisfaction derived or denied through manual labour, etc.); quality of community life (relations to friends and neighbours); changing family and personal life (relations with their wives and children); and general social issues (media, consumption, credit, advertising, welfare, inflation, big government).
Throughout the circle meetings there was a tension between a need to understand a particular situation/problem and a need to take action in a concrete and immediate way. The discussion circle originally stressed the former, but towards the second half of the sessions, as the process of group formation took place, concrete alternative forms of action for the group were placed on the agenda for preliminary discussion. The possibility of setting up a workers' community organization, a working group to co-ordinate the organizing of unorganized plants, putting out a newsletter, as well as setting up various alternative co-op ventures alongside the Playschool, such as a credit union or food co-op were all discussed.
However, it must be pointed out that our intention for this first critical discussion sequence was not to produce direct and immediate action. We wanted to stimulate a critical analysis by these working men of their everyday lives which would lead to the formation of a group having a collective understanding of the conditions they were submerged in as well as a common resolve to initiate alternative action which had a chance of seriously challenging the oppressive status quo in key areas. Previous experience in community organizing made us wary of immediate action around issues as a firm basis for building this kind of strong, sustained and organized working class presence and self-activity on a community level.
In its own right, the discussion circle was successful in providing an informal social basis for the creation of trust and solidarity among these men, something clearly lacking at the outset. Economic, social, and cultural differences between workers in the group (between skilled and unskilled, low and higher income earners, local, town, and new arrivals, and young and old workers) provided a real and formidable barrier against the likelihood of collective solidarity in action developing among them. Over the course of the sessions, primarily through what was usually animated and heated group discussion but also through beer and shuffleboard at the tavern after the meetings, and a number of parties in each others' homes, a sense of solidarity, common purpose, and commitment began to emerge.
The men's own evaluation of the process in the group can best attest to the progress made in it. For in their own estimation the circle had permitted them:
1. to break down the isolation between them which had led them to personalize responsibility for their situation and remain passive while at the same time faulting other working class people for not doing something to change things. They could now see that their problems were the same as other workers' and that the blame for them lay with the people who ran the town against them.
2. They also said their awareness of the nature of the forces against them and the reason for their situation economically and politically, locally and nationally, had been increased by the circle discussions and debates and, finally,
3. They felt they had found a group of men whom they could trust enough to act with to change things.
At the end of the sessions, plans were made to meet again after the new year to continue the process. Further, the men wanted to have occasional joint meetings with the women's circle to discuss common problems (the question of family responsibility as a block to militant social action, problems of how to talk to their wives about their feelings, etc.) Finally, group support was thrown behind the Playschool and a collective offer was extended to help on anything that needed work, eg., building more furniture and equipment, fixing up the centre, etc.
At this point, after a year of activity, the centre had to close. We must now evaluate its development. Unable to secure even a LIP or OFY grant from local authorities and running out of personal funds, we were unable to open the centre in January. We spent the fall fighting bill collectors and, with the threat of a court order over our heads, the collective broke apart and the centre program fragmented, then stopped under this continuous financial pressure. As well, pressure from ruling elements of the town extended from financial veto on government grants and community donations to continually trying to foil or discredit our projects in any possible (letters of support suddenly withdrawn, wild rumours about our personal lives, etc.) The experience of one year however, led us to a number of strong realizations about the work we were attempting.
In a positive sense the project and process we initiated with working people in the town allowed us to affirm through our own experience, the possibility of working class men and women coming together in order to: grapple with the social relations of everyday life in which they had previously been submerged; expand their understanding of the socio-economic structures which oppressed them; realize a growing sense of working class community out of a social world of isolation and division; and finally, to collectively struggle for control over their lives.
It was the emergence of this kind of potential for community and combatative self activity among the working people we knew, concretely shown in the manner outlined above, and in many other ways not mentioned, that was the significant political lesson learned from the project.
In a negative sense, our experience showed us the difficulty and slowness of. the task of fostering revolutionary consciousness and popular alternative culture among ourselves and working people. It showed how much time, energy, and resources were necessary and the deep level of personal commitment required for the task in any community.
For our own part, our estimation of what economic basis would materialize for the project was naive (government grants, local community funds, etc.) and our commitment, although sincere and not consciously short-term, lacked the kind of realistic resolve which only the experience itself has provided in hindsight.
In short, then, what the experience has taught us is that to work toward the creation of a working class territory or space in the way we still envision requires a degree of rootedness in the community and a level of financial independence which can best, and perhaps only, be provided through a collective decision by a grouping of political activists to live and work politically in one area, on a permanent basis. The creation of such a space then can proceed upon steady personal incomes and pooled resources derived therefrom, and out of a mutually binding commitment.
Further, our experience has shown us that without this kind of permanent stake in the creation of such a space for everyone concerned (toward the liberation of 'activists' as much as working class residents!) the risk of becoming either opportunistic (getting out when the going gets rough) or paternalistic (helping the workers with their oppression) is more than formidable despite the best intentions of the activists. And finally, though we do not believe that the lessons of the struggles won, the new understandings reached, and the experience in self activity gained were lost to the people we worked with; it still remains true that the closing of the centre ran the risk of increasing an already apparent working class cynicism about the possibility of meaningful social change. Political activists must be aware of this cynicism, put it in its proper perspective, but most of all originate a 'politics of hope' which will overcome it not reinforce it.
This year of activity allows us, we feel, to make some observations on a number of questions central to the issue of revolution and revolutionary process in Canada today.
Questions which we will try to comment on from our experience to open for discussion are as follows:
1. How do libertarian political activists intervene in the daily lives of working people?
2. How do such activists, once they have become rooted in this daily life, prevent reformism and co-optation from turning their efforts against them?
3. How do they maintain and sustain the level of struggle from its initiation over an extended period of time (like a lifetime)?
4. How do local struggles, once initiated, become integrated with and linked to a wider revolutionary movement?
The question of how to intervene to begin with must be answered in the light of a prior question -- intervention for what purpose? Our answer to the prior question must be "intervention for the purpose of taking part in the transformation of the totality of people's lives" -- for it is this life in all its aspects which is integrated within the capitalist structures of domination, and which is lived, despite the conditions which may stunt and limit it, for its own sake and as a unity by working class people.
To the derivative question "how to intervene?" the following answer can be given: By political activists collectively entering and positioning themselves in an ongoing way within the everyday lives of working people, alongside them as co-combatants in a struggle to 'change life' in the process of transforming capitalist society.
It is to this end that the notion of a territory or space has been presented as a setting where a new combatative working class self activity and critical culture could develop in opposition to the influence of the capitalist integration of daily life. From this space such self activity and critical culture could develop and extend into all areas of the terrain of daily life, into the home, the workplace, and the neighbourhood; and address both work and non-work issues in their full variety.
Our work outlined above at least pointed in this direction. Our centre provided a base, a space, where people could socialize and make friends across working class sector lines and begin to critically reflect on the nature of their experience, relations, beliefs, and problems. It was a place where, further, they could begin to get involved in collective self-help alternatives for themselves and their children; learning co-operation and gaining through the struggles they became involved in the confidence and experience necessary to increasingly exert control over their lives.
In short, the direction that the centre aspired to move in was toward the creation of such a space within which a sustained and organized working class presence in the town might have been forged; one capable of initiating an ever wider wave of hegemonic and militant oppositional action in any and all areas where their interests were denied at the local level.
Such a notion of a territory is not confined to the storefront centre we were involved in, but can refer to any space; the house of activists in an area, a community centre, a student residence building, or a union hall and eventually perhaps extended to whole streets, blocks, and neighbourhoods. For the tern refers to any physical area where the libertarian analysis and strategy of direct action outlined in this article is being carried out.
Let us turn to the second question, the problem of reformism and co-optation. Briefly, there are a number of ways in which this approach to direct action at the community level does differ from more conventional and well-known approaches to community organizing and as such does attempt to take into consideration and deal with the danger of co-optation in a more comprehensive and realistic manner.
1. First, the territory notion of community organizing differs in intent from liberal and certain left ideas of community organizing. The latter concentrates on organizing people primarily around issues or the provision of alternative services; the former, from the outset aims at becoming permanently integrated in the struggle to build a new way of life with working people. In the former orientation, struggle around issues and the creation of alternatives become steps upon which a new self activity, a heightened class and self-consciousness, and a new way of life based on socialist and human principles can develop in its own right.
2. In order for this kind of purpose to be realized, such a strategy of community intervention must be based on an in-depth class analysis of an area and the relation of class forces within it, i.e. an analysis which includes an understanding of the structures of control at every level of life and the limits to possibility such structures represent. Thanks to Marjalena Repo's well-known critique of the type of community organizing which was carried on without the benefit of such analysis, such an understanding of class forces need not be a lack in such community work but the basis of it. In so doing, we can proceed to overcome the contradiction between class analysis and community organizing, which Repo originally posed but which too many people have since reified and taken as a permanent barrier to organizing working people in a revolutionary way around non-work issues where they are living.
3. Armed with such an ongoing class analysis, a collective of activists in this setting must not only bring with them a good array of organizing skills but a real ability to relate to people on the basis of a working understanding and an action critique of existing capitalist social relations of all and every form within the bounds of a common everyday life. These relations include those of working class parents to their children; men to women; women to men; in and out of the family setting; sectors of the working class to other sectors; working people to authority whether of a class, economic, judicial, governmental, or social nature; working people to the 'educated' and to 'intellectual authority' including here ourselves as 'left educators'; in short, the relations in and through which authoritarianism, sexism, racism, status differentiation, deference, and inadequacy serve to cement the power and hegemony of capitalism in the lives of working people on a day to day basis.
4. Further, a group of activists must be prepared to move from such a political understanding and action critique ability. And they must move through a strategy which allows working people in a community to collectively work out and develop alternative forms of relating, thinking, acting, and being which are best suited to their own needs and culture (way of life).
5. In order to sustain such an ongoing action critique and a self creation of alternative forms of living, a critical education component, based on working people collectively reflecting on their daily experience of life under capitalism must be built into the inner workings of the direct action process. Such a critical education process, informal, yet effective once developed, can provide an ongoing means for working people to grasp the roots of their oppression however felt and experienced. It also can provide maximum opportunity for them to gain a working insight into the significant limits and ways beyond the various forms of immediate action they may become involved in as they struggle on a local level to realize their interests.
To summarize, in the town in which we worked; it was the relation between each of these five aspects of a libertarian strategy, worked out in many cases only partially and unclearly at the time, and their constant overlapping and reinforcing of a general progressive direction, which gave our approach its fullness and unique quality in meeting the dangers of co-operation. Through dialogue and debate, through socializing and sharing of leisure time, through common work projects and tasks, through the struggle around key issues, through helping each other out in hard times and sharing the good; an organic process tool: place which made the struggle for the lot of us less a question of a particular issue or an immediate demand and more one of the need to collectively strive to build a new and better way of life.
As to the question of sustaining struggle, we feel the development of the revolutionary process can only proceed if the blossoming of the revolutionary self-activity of working people as a cultural reality is at its heart. If this view of revolutionary process in Canada is in any way correct, then revolution will be an organic process renewing itself through the collective effort, imagination, and struggle of thousands and thousands of people. The self sustaining capacity of this revolutionary process, then, we see as integral to its daily operation. In short, in the process by which people fight for, build, and ever increasingly live revolution in their lives.
The human energy released through the realization of the collective human potential of working people must provide the self sustaining capacity of any revolution, as the struggle for a new socialist way of life intensifies. We glimpsed traces of this new energy and the possibility it can hold in the work we did in our centre. It is nothing more than the energy of new-found hope, imagination, friendship, creative power, and community, which a collective struggle to control one's own life can unleash out of a world of isolation, loneliness, cynicism, and despair.
As for the final question of the links and co-ordination of local struggles with a larger revolutionary movement, space does not permit much else than the stating of the question for discussion in future issues. However, we see the logical development of the notion of the working class space outlined above in the direction indicated by people like Schecter, Milner, and Roussopoulos of Our Generation; towards the emergence of forms of local neighbourhood control, the gaining of socialist hegemony over the public terrain of municipal politics, and the linking of local territories with larger regional struggles and coordinating structures.
Published in Volume 1, Number 1 of The Red Menace, February 1976.
Taken from web archived version of The Red Menace
Richard Swift on the Portuguese revolution.
By Richard Swift
The revolutionary process in Portugal is not one that lends itself very easily to a coherent political analysis. Political leadership is quickly thrown up by the creative energy of the workers and peasants and as quickly discarded as its usefulness to them wears thin. In many ways it recalls the French revolutionary process of 1789. Like the revolt of the first estate in France, Portuguese events started at the top with the revolt of the Spinola group attempting to engineer a neo-colonial solution in Portugal's African territories. As in France, this created a dynamic in which more and more demands on the revolution were being made from below. The strongest similarity with France is in this political process whereby a political grouping reaches power (the Girondins, Jacobins, or the Directory) just in time to see the alliance of social classes which created it broken down by the emergence of new needs and fresh polarizations which rob it of its initial social support. In Portugal this dynamic has caught up with the original Spinola grouping of officers, the alliance of Armed Forces Movement and political party moderates and radicals and most recently the Portuguese Communist Party and its military allies. The present 'coalition' government is being subjected to the same pressures.
Each new regime has promised its own form of 'normalization' to meet its own ends. For this purpose a whole arsenal of repressive legislation such as the Censorship Law and the Labour Relations Act have been created but seldom applied. This legislation has remained on the shelf and normalization' has not proceeded very far because the initiative has not rested with these governments. The initiative rested with those workers who have taken over and are running their factories, the peasants who have seized the large estates, the tenants who have occupied and are co-operatively running vacant housing, neighbourhood committees, and perhaps most importantly the soldiers' committees which have challenged the whole hierarchical concept of a traditional army. Each political crisis has meant a new gathering of strength for the working class. In the last year and a half, Portugal has become a vast laboratory of experimentation and apprenticeship for large-sections of the Portuguese people in learning to run their own society. Whatever political arrangements are finally arrived at, this self-activity and the confidence it has created have become an integral part of Portuguese working class experience. It will not be forgotten.
The growth of socialist consciousness is widely evident all over Portugal but particularly in the urban areas and in the south. After decades of acute censorship the signs of intense political debate are everywhere; posters covering walls and monuments, posters on the inside of banks (Banco de Atlantico), insurance companies taken over by their workers, mass demonstrations, socialist literature on sale in the streets, and groups of men gathering spontaneously to discuss current political issues. The Chinese technique of communication by means of wall posters has been widely adopted. In Lisbon's railroad station workers gather to read the latest rumours of fascist political maneouvering or the political position of one of the myriad left groups. After years of enforced 'apolitical' existence under the Salazar and Caetano regimes there is little of the reluctance to view life in its political dimensions which characterizes many of the countries where the bourgeoisie have been able to establish a more effective cultural and spiritual hegemony. Although there is a healthy mistrust of political parties, it is not rooted in the same apathy, cynicism, and feelings of powerlessness which impede working class self-activity in much of Western Europe and all of North America. The ruling groups of Portuguese society have been badly compromised by their years of collaboration with the fascist dictatorship and its policies of colonial aggression. They are having trouble regrouping politically, let alone establishing their credibility as the legitimate powerholders. In fact the traditional instruments of their legitimation such as the press and the electronic media have become an important force in the struggle for working class control. It is in this light that the struggle for workers' control in the newspaper Republica and the Catholic Radio-Renaissance should be seen.
Many events in contemporary Portugal take on spontaneous political implications. A New Year's Eve celebration became a spontaneous festival of the "blaze of freedom". A village discussion of the lack of daycare facilities leads to the occupation of the local manor house. A factory discussion on increasing the wage levels of the lowest paid leads to an attempted takeover of production. There is also widespread awareness of the international dimensions of the class struggle. The liberation struggles in Africa have exerted a powerful influence in Portuguese society. This can be seen both in the 'models of socialism' debate and in the sentiments of indebtedness to and solidarity with the liberation movements. Rallies in support of the Chilean resistance and the recent sacking of the Spanish embassy in Lisbon to protest Franco's ruthless policies of repression are recent examples.
The revolutionary process in Portugal has been badly distorted in a well-orchestrated campaign by the interna-tional press. The cold-war lenses through which the wire services see the struggle for Portugal have little to do with Portuguese realities. The scenario is familiar. Any advances by the workers' movement or democratization of the army are seen as part of a Moscow-run plot carried out by the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP) to usurp the newly-won freedom of the Portuguese people. The campaign centres in the leadership factions of the Portuguese Socialist Party (PSP) who have become the major rallying-point for international capital. This campaign, mostly in combination with economic pressures from the European Economic Community, are aimed at forcing a moderation in the process of democratizing Portuguese society both economically and politically. The international bourgeoisie is greatly concerned that the April elections failed to provide a parliamentary channelling of revolutionary energies. As always the focal points for the development of workers' power in everyday life lie outside the field of parliamentary representation. The 'plot' theory they are using to explain Portuguese events takes advantage of the well-known Stalinist proclivities of the PCP. However, it is based on a vest overestimation of the Communists' strength.
This situation has been further reinforced by the Communist Party and their allies abroad who have been quick to identify the party's fortunes with those of the revolutionary process as a whole. This has led to a very serious misunderstanding of the very ambivalent role the PCP has played in this process. To be sure, the Communist tenure in power was one marked by vast conquests of power by the workers' movement. This is particularly true in regard to the cultural dynamization1 carried out by the Armed Forces Movement in some of the most socially backward rural areas. It is also true of the emergence of political debate inside the armed forces and the beginnings of the struggle for democracy there. The Gonsalves regime allowed the breathing space for these things to take place. However, as often as not, factory occupations, land seizures, strikes, and the building of institutions of political power in the neighbourhoods were opposed by the Party. The Communists plainly saw that they were losing control of the mass movement. Things were getting messy. The movement could not be used simply as an instrument of party policy. Working people were developing needs and aspirations of their own. Not only that, they were acting on them.
This is perhaps most clear in the struggles taking place in the nationalized industries. According to the Communist Party, once an industry had been nationalized, the workers in that industry ceased to have any 'class enemy'.
This by now covers over 50% of Portuguese enterprises. Authoritarian relations of production were to be allowed to remain intact even though private property in the means of production had been abolished. This is perfectly compatible with the bureaucratic collectivist model of eastern Europe where both production and society are con-trolled 'for the workers' by a caste of professional politicians and bureaucrats.2
However, workers in the nationalized sector, starting with the steel industry, began raising their own demands and creating their own forms of organization. Demands for control over work conditions, wage equalization and a greater say in creating production policy were all important issues to the workers. Workers' commissions and councils were formed. These organizations and their counterparts in the neighbourhoods, army, and rural areas, represent a very high stage in the process of creating a self-managed socialist society. Because they are rooted in production and the daily life of the people, their capacity for mobilization is much greater than that of the "Committees for the Defense of the Revolution" envisioned by the Communists to be instruments of mass mobilization. These committees were to have a strictly ideological function.
The 'models of socialism' debate has been an important part of the developing political situation in Portugal. There is considerable dissatisfaction in Portugal with both western European Social Democracy and the eastern European model of socialism. Even the moderate 'Melo Antunes' group of officers felt it necessary to dissociate themselves from both these forms in their political statements. The influence of FRELIMO and the other liberation movements on sectors of the army has meant that their conception of socialism is one with a heavy emphasis on popular democracy and participation. This influence as well as the strength of several neo-Marxist currents in the Portuguese left has made the 'models of socialism' debate a particularly lively one.
This debate is closely tied to the analytical controversy over what kind of society Portugal really is. One position states that Portugal is a 'third world' society within Europe. This analysis concontrates on the rural nature of the country, the Portuguese workers who are forced into the western European labour market, and the authoritarian political forms that have dominated Portuguese society. The other view stresses the semi-industrial nature of Portugal (Paul Sweezy recently pointed out that only one-third of the population is in the agrarian sector) and the European traditions of the Portuguese.3
While it is not possible at this point to identify clear political conclusions and strategies which flow from these different views, they obviously relate to the economic and social needs and possibiIities on which a socialist strategy will be based. One of the most obvious issues facing any such strategy is the severity of regional disparities in Portugal. The relationship between the 'internal colony' in north-eastern Portugal and the industrial belt running from Lisbon down to Setubal has been reproduced on a political level in the struggle between the anti-Communist north and the Lisbon-area 'red' belt. Such uneven development leaves room for much reactionary maneuvering as recent events all too clearly show.4
A survey of the revolutionarv groups on the Portuguese left reveals the success of those political organizations which have developed a dialectical relationship with the popular movements. Those Groups have been able to relate to and play an initiating role in the formation of workers' councils, to help bring about the expansion of workers' power, and to understand and even learn from the emerging needs and aspirations of the people. The Revolutionary Party of the Proletariat (PRP), the Left Socialist Movement (MES) and the League for Unified Armed Revolution (LUAR) have all played an important part at different times and in different areas in this process of developing workers' power. In this way these groups have been able to grow and become rooted in the working class.
Those groups which have fetishized their own organization and political 'line' and have attempted to use the workers' movement as an instrument of their own party policy have not fared as well. This is illustrated by the several Marxist-Leninist (Maoist) groupings which have emerged mostly since the coup. The collapse of their politics has reached such a point that the two largest Maoist organizations, the largely student based Movement for the Reorganization of the Proletarian Party (MRPP) and the Popular Democratic Union (UDP) have engaged in gunfights with one another. The Portuguese Communist Party (M-L) which has official Chinese sanction, has been supporting the 'Melo Antunes' group of officers and the right wing of the Socialist Party against Communist Party 'social fascism'. These forms of authoritarianism and sectarianism have impeded significant growth and creative political activity. Of these groups only the Popular Democratic Union is of any size or consequence within the working class.
The recent rise to power of a western-backed Social Democratic coalition has brought renewed pressure to reverse popular conquests of power. The polarization of the army is reaching a point where the differences between radicals and moderates are becoming clearer and clearer. Top officers in all three services have been pushing for the exclusion of politics from the barracks and the isolation of the soldiers' movement from the workers' movement. Radicals in the army have shown a high level of combativity in resisting this process. The recent formation of a rank-and-file soldiers' organization, "United Soldiers Will Win" (SUV), and the continued refusal of the internal security force, COPCON, to support these repressive tendencies, have provided poles of opposition to this 'normalization'.
The new assaults on the popular movement demand a more consistent and co-ordinated response from the left. To this end, several organizations including the LUAR, the MES, and the PRP have formed the United Revolutionary Front (FUR) to improve the organization and stimulate the combativity of the popular response. It is hoped that this will help fill the void created by the vacillation and manipulative policies of the PCP and the decline of its working class support and capacity for mobilization.
The mechanisms of international counter-revolution are by now well-known. The economic pressures, massive misinformation campaigns, and straight counter-insurgency efforts exert a powerful influence. Only popular mobilization on the widest possible basis can ensure a level of combativity necessary to defeat these forces. This can only be achieved by organization which is a tool of working class needs and aspirations. To reverse this and make the working class a tool of organization can only lead to cynicism and passivity. Only a working class which sees itself as the subject of history can ensure that Portugal will not be the Chile of Europe.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
This article was written before the recent failure of left-wing military officers to seize power. The purges in the military and the press which have followed this ill-planned and defensive attempt are severe reverses for socialism and are likely to intensify the pressures for 'normalization'. The lack of co-ordination between the military and civilian left and the political vacuum created by the timidity and sectarianism of the PCP were obvious factors in recent events. The movement toward some form of social-democratic solution with authoritarian undertones will likely be accelerated.
There are, however, some factors that the new rulers must take into account in the long run. The intense politicization and "revolution of rising expectations" will create severe pressures for the Socialist Party both internally and externally. The internal tensions created in social-democratic parties elsewhere because of their failure to win concessions for their working class base within the framework of capitalism will be further intensified by Portuguese conditions. It is unlikely that an overtly authoritarian regime will emerge so that some room for organizing by the left will remain. In addition, the revolutionary left in Portugal are used to working in situations of extreme political repression, and at this point have over 20,000 weapons stolen from the military as insurance. But perhaps most importantly, the Portuguese working class has the experience and confidence gained through their own creative self-activity in struggling for control of society. This will be invaluable in buildina a working class 'culture of resistance'.
Published in Volume 1, Number 1 of The Red Menace, February 1976.
Taken from web-archived version of The Red Menace website.
- 1On the culutral dynamization program and other articles on Portugal, see Fred Strasser, "The Cultural Dynamization Program", Liberation, Summer, 1975.
- 2For a more detailed analysis of the creation of popular power and the struggle in the nationalized industries, look at Portugal: A Blaze of Freedom, published by Big Flame in England and available through Radical America (P.O. Box B, North Cambridge, Mass., U.S.A.) or from the Development Education Centre (DEC), 121 Avenue Rd., Toronto, phone 416-964-6560.
- 3"Class Struggles in Portugal", Monthly Review, Sept. 1975.
- 4For good background information on Portugal see Kenneth Maxwell, "The Hidden Revolution in Portugal", New York Review of Books, Apr. 17 and May 11, 1975.
Wage & price controls
A description of the 'incomes policy' pushed by the Canadian government and its effects on the working class.
By Professor Leo Panitch
Canadian working people have now joined the ranks of workers in other western capitalist countries who have been subjected to a statutory incomes policy. The Liberal Government's "anti-inflation" programme seeks to cut back on the bargaining freedom of unions. The situation is a grave one, implying as it does a governmental decision to use authoritarian measures to reverse the limited rights Canadian working people have struggles for to improve their lot in this unequal society. The Government is telling us, in the words of crude power politics, that they are making us an offer we can't refuse: "We'll put a few union leaders in jail for three years and others will get the message", the Prime Minister mockingly told a radio interviewer on October 26th. The message is indeed clear: We are being asked to cut off our own heads or the government will cut them off for us.
The questions that have to be answered in this situation are many. What exactly is an incomes policy? Why has the government introduced one at this time? What are the specific provisions of this Government's incomes policy? What coercive powers is the government taking to enforce this policy? Most important perhaps, what can unions and working people do to protect themselves and defeat the policy?
Incomes Policy in the context of a capitalist economy is designed to secure a lower rate of price inflation by reducing the rate of increase in labour costs. It is, in other words, a policy of wage restraint, based on the view that it is the push of labour costs which leads corporations to raise their prices. Although it is often presented -- and the Government's White Paper is no exception -- as an alternative to a policy of deflating the economy and creating more unemployment, incomes policy has come increasingly to accompany high rates of unemployment and cuts in government spending on social service to induce deflation. At the same time as the wage restraint legislation is going through the House of Commons, so is the Unemployment Ensurance Bill, where the Government is redefining the normal rate of unemployment as 5.67 rather than 4%. The incomes policy is not designed to reduce our current high rate of unemployment, but is based on a recognition of a fact -- evident thoughout western capitalist countries -- that apart from the political dangers involved in relying on unemployment alone to stop inflation, this will not be effective on its own.
But it is not merely inflation that the wage restraint of an incomes policy is designed to deal with. Governments introduce an incomes policy when the collective industrial power of workers threatens to redistribute the share of the national income from profits to wages and salaries. This can be seen clearly in the Canadian case, in terms of the Liberal Government's first attempt at an Incomes policy in 1969-70. One of the Commissioners of the Prices and Incomes Commission, George Haythorne, has explained why the attempt at an incomes policy was made at that time: "From 1957 to 1963 the share of Canada's national income going to profits and capital had risen steadily. The situation was reversed in 1964 when labour's share began to rise, a trend which continued until 1970. Given these conditions ... action to stabilise the economy was clearly required." ("Prices and Incomes Policy: the Canadian Experience 1969-72"; International Labour Review, Vol. 108, No. 6, Dec. 1973)
Under the impact of the Trudeau Government's policies, especially the creation of a great deal of unemployment in 1970-72, the trend of increasing national income going to labour was indeed reversed. The percentage of the national income accounted for by wages and salaries fell from 72.8% in 1970 to 67.0% in the first half of 1974 (see Appendix Two). Since the middle of last year however, the picture has changed. Labour's share increased to 69.4% by the end of 1974 and by the middle of this year rose to 70.8% while big business profits and interest fell to 21.1% by the end of 1974 and to 20.1% by the middle of this year. This shift, which has by no means yet carried labour up to the share it has achieved in 1970, has taken place because of an increase in the militancy of workers expressed in high wage demands and increased strikes. It has taken place in a context, however, where due to the world-wide capitalist recession, and especially the recession in the United States, Canadian corporations have convinced the Government, despite a higher rate of inflation in other countries, they cannot raise their prices to protect their profit margins if they are to remain competitive in the international market. They have convinced the Government of a squeeze on profits, which is not yet particularly marked, but which the Government is apparently determined to prevent occuring. Hence its new policy of wage restraint.
There is no doubt that a major attraction of an incomes policy is that it promises price control as part of the package. Public opinion polls in Canada as well as elsewhere show that workers are anxious to get off the treadmill of wages chasing higher prices and that many would in fact accept lower wage increases if prices were kept stable. Yet there is generally a major misunderstanding of what the prices aspect of this kind of policy entails. The policy operates directly on wages but only indirectly on prices. That is, the guidelines explicitly say that wages cannot rise above a certain figure. Prices may rise to cover increased costs, whatever those may be. There is in other words a norm for wages, but no norm for prices established in the policy. Rather than hold down prices and have wages adjust themselves accordingly, the point of the policy is to hold down wages and hope that prices adjust themselves accordingly. The advantage to corporations is clear -- they know in advance that their real profits won't decline due to the policy. Workers however have to buy 'a pig in a poke' -- they have to accept a ceiling on their increases to start with and then hope and pray that this is enough to cover their increased costs.
Thus the policy is in principle unbalanced between prices and wages. In practice, the situation is in fact much worse. First of all, the policy does not apply to a number of key elements in the cost of living even to the extent of keeping price rises in line with cost rises. Basic food prices, energy prices, interest rates are all exempt as is the cost of land, which in recent years has greatly pushed up the cost of housing, under conditions of a land speculators dream come true. Secondly, for even those prices which are supposed to rise only in relation to costs, the ability (and willingness) of the Government to make this stick is very limited. Whereas wage bargaining takes place in public, prices increases are decided behind the closed doors of boardrooms, and we only find out about the occurrence after the fact. There are in addition many means of fudging costs, especially for the 1500 large corporations the Government is dealing with, who each can employ as many high powered accountants for this purpose as will be available to the Anti-Inflation Board. The American multinational corporations that dominate the Canadian economy can easily increase the prices they charge for intermediary goods to their Canadian subsidiaries and thereby take their profits at home.
The Government has suggested that it will ease its price monitoring task by asking that a limited number of price increases be notified to the Government for examination before they take effect. We have yet to be told what items this will cover or how the Anti-Inflation Board, given its small size, will be able to investigate adequately corporate intentions in this regard. What we may in fact expect is indicated by the British experience where a similar notification policy operated from July 1967 to June 1970. Despite the Government's own estimate of 3 million price changes a year taking place in Britain at the time, only 2,162 price change notifications were received by the Government over the whole three year period, and of these 1,807 were accepted as notified. This meant that out of 9 million price changes the Government price control machinery either modified or rejected a grand total of 345 or 0.0004% (See Leo Panitch, Social Democracy and Industrial Militancy: The Labour Party, The Trade Unions and Incomes Policy, 1945-1974, MacMillan 1975). If the British Labour Government's price control was as empty as this, it is easy to imagine how "successful" price control will be under our own Liberal Government with its close financial, personal and ideological ties to big business.
The merely symbolic exercise in price control that the incomes policy involves has grave implications for workers who are subjected to the policy's wage guidelines. The 10% ceiling on increases is made up of 8% to match rising prices and another 2% to match the growth of output of the economy. There are two problems with this, the first is that the 2% growth rate figure is a low estimate and runs the risk that in actuality the economy will grow faster and the excess growth will go to profit, which the guidelines specifically allow for. More important, however, is the simple fact that at the moment the rate of inflation in Canada is not 8% but 11.3%, and if this situation doesn't change under the weak price controls, workers real incomes even including the 2% for productivity will fall by 1.3%, and they will get no share of the growth in output of the economy. It is only those workers who can make a catch-up case and obtain an additional 2% allowed by the guidelines, who will keep their heads above water at all. Those workers who managed to obtain real wage increases in the past, on the other hand, may find their future increases cut by 2%, leaving them with an 8% increase at best, including the productivity provision. If the rate of inflation doesn't improve -- they will suffer a real wage cut of over 3%.
There are some who believe that an incomes policy is designed to benefit the worst-off people in our society. They could not be more wrong. In its most general sense, the policy is designed not to redistribute income but to freeze the present distribution of income, since everyone is to get the same percentage increase whether their income is high or low. In a society as unequal as Canada's this means freezing a situation in which the top twenty percent of income recipients get about 50% of the total income, while the bottom 20% get only 2%, indeed the top 40% of individuals get 75% of the annual national pie, leaving the rest of us, the majority of the population with only the crumbs. (1971 data from Statistics Canada, Perspectives Canada, 1975, Table 7.3 page 156) To be sure, the Government provided a minor amendment to this freeze, allowing those workers with incomes below $6,000 a year to get as much as $600, while limiting those earning over $24,000 a year to a maximum increase of $2,400. Under the heavy criticism the policy was faced with when it was introduced, the Government said it would go further and allow increases which would bring low paid workers up to $3.50 an hour (or $7,280 a year) even if this involved more than a 10% increase. It is on this basis that the policy is supposed to benefit the lowest paid. This gesture would be laughable if the situation were not so sad. Apart from the simple observation that if the government really intended to benefit the low paid, it would give them $2,400 and give those earning over $24,000 only $600 a few other points should be made. First of all, the $600 (or $3.50 an hour) is not a guarantee of this amount but rather "permission" to get it. This is very nice until one remembers that workers earning wages that low don't necessarily have the power to get an increase that size. If you are poorly organized or unorganized, if you are working in a low profit and low productivity industry, the government may allow you to get a $6 million increase but that will do you no good. The amazing part of this, is that the government is suggesting to better paid workers that if they hold back on their increases, the lower paid workers can move ahead. Nothing could be more ludicrous. If workers in the higher paid industries accept the call to restrain their increases, does the money saved in these industries become transferred to workers in low paying jobs? Does the Government possess the means to transfer profits from, say, the car industry to subsidize low pay in, say, the textile industry? Even if the low paid workers submitted larger claims than the rest and they were endorsed by the board, the employers of the low paid would not be able to meet these claims unless the industry in question was also a high profit industry, which of course are not.
The situation is worse for public employees. The average annual increase for members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada between 1967 and 1974 was only 7% a year, while the average increase for all industries over this same period was 9%. This means that federal public employees are already getting a smaller share of the national income and the incomes policy is likely to exacerbate this situation. For the operation of incomes policies in other countries has shown that public employees are always the most strictly controlled, and are chosen by the government to set an example for the rest of the economy. Even in the case of its lowest paid workers, governments do not act in fear of upsetting "comparability" with private industry.
This is only one main way in which low paid workers obtain better wages in the existing society, and governmental "permission" to get higher increases has nothing to do with this. It is for low paid workers to follow a breakthrough made by a stronger and better organized group of workers. The incomes policy is designed to prevent this. If better paid workers really want to help low paid workers the way to do it is not to follow the government's advice, and restrain their wage increases, but to fight the incomes policy and offer low paid workers their experience in organizing effectively.
But if low paid workers are unlikely to do better under the incomes policy, it is precisely those at the other end of the scale who are likely to benefit most. Professional fees, executive salaries, board of directors payments cannot be controlled because these people set their own incomes. The Government's promise to restrain dividend increases is worthless not only because the guidelines allow companies to increase dividend payments to obtain capital on the stock market, but also because dividend payments could be paid out to the owners of corporations after the policy ends. A dividend payment may be deferred in other words, but a wage increase foregone is gone forever. What this suggests in practice is therefore much worse than the freezing of the distribution of income that the guidelines offer in theory. It suggests a redistribution of income toward the rich and powerful. We might quote in this context a newspaper report from Timmins, Ontario on June 28, 1974, during the last election campaign:
"Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau maintained his onslaught on Conservative prices and incomes restraint policies before a large noon-hour crowd here yesterday.
"Mr. Trudeau said the proposed ninety day freeze, followed by up to two years of controls, would take vast numbers of bureaucrats to administer. Even then, it wouldn't work he said:
"You can't freeze executive salaries and dividends because there are too many loopholes to squeeze through'.
"Mr. Trudeau said Conservative leader Robert Stanfield had already said he would not freeze the prices of farm produce and fish. He could not freeze the prices of U.S. imports or Arab oil, and he admitted he would exempt housing prices.
'So what's he going to freeze?' Mr. Trudeau shouted, 'Your wages. He's going to freeze your wages.' " (quoted in the Toronto Star, October 28th, 1975)
The Government is backing up this wage restraint policy with considerable legal powers. The Anti-Inflation Board (see Appendix One) will be able to examine any agreement, concluded or pending, and decide what the permissible increase is. If the Board can't get its report accepted "voluntarily" by the parties, or if the Cabinet decides to act against a wage claim even without a board report, the Government's "Administrator" may make an order prohibiting anyone from contravening the guidelines. He may require either an employer or a group of workers to pay to the Government a fine equal to the amount they received in excess of the guidelines and may even apply an additional fine of up to 25% of this amount if he feels the guidelines were contravened "knowingly". If the order of the Administrator is not complied with by an employer, a union, or an unofficial group of workers, they may be subject to a fine, on summary conviction, of up to $10,000 and two years imprisonment, or on conviction on indictment, to an unlimited fine of not less than $10,000 and five years imprisonment.
These are harsh penalties to go with a harsh and unjust policy, but they do not guarantee that the policy will in fact work. This is because wage restraint affects workers not as individuals but in their collective capacity as members of unions.. When the Government increases taxation, the worker faces the state on his own, as the increased taxes are collected by deduction from his pay slip, or indirectly via a sales tax added to the price of goods in the shops. Similarly when the government increases interest rates, the individual worker and his family are on their own in paying more for credit or higher mortgage payments. Incomes policy, however, only operates by acting on workers collectively, in that it seeks to modify the wage bargaining behaviour of their whole group, as expressed through their union. Thus the union is the direct object of an incomes policy.
In this situation there are distinct limits to what legal sanctions can achieve. A large strike in defiance of the law is always difficult to deal with, and fining or jailing strike leaders does not guarantee the end of a strike nor prevent the emergence of sympathy strikes. Moreover, the whole field of collective bargaining, even that of the top 1,500 employers in the country, is very difficult to police, and if no one pays attention to the policy, if workers don't police themselves, the laws against breaking the policy will be as generally effective as laws against jay-walking, unless the government either vastly expands its administrative and police machinery or begins to deny Canadians basic political freedoms such as the right to free association, free speech, and even the slightest resemblance of free collective bargaining. In other words, in order for legal sanctions to operate effectively, at least mass worker acquiescence in the policy is required, and for this to be created an invaluable ally is the union itself, which can legitimate the policy in the eyes of its workers. This is why almost all attempts at incomes policy, including the present one, have involved in the first instance an attempt to get voluntary union cooperation. This is why, even though the Canadian labour movement rejected such a voluntary policy in 1969, and again in Turner's "consensus" talks earlier this year, and yet again when this policy was announced, the Government is still trying to get union cooperation.
The Government strives for union co-operation because it wants the unions to be the agent of control, applying the policy to its own members. The Government seeks to get unions to do this by appealing to a common interest between workers and employers, by stressing an ideology of harmony between labour and capital. But in a society such as ours there is no fundamental harmony between labour and capital; there is an underlying conflict between employers and workers which lies at the heart of every wage negotiation. The union is created to be the representative of workers in that conflict, but what an incomes policy seeks to do is to get the union to put the wage restraint policy to union members, and to thereby administer the government's and employers' incomes policy for them.
When the government is successful in getting union cooperation, incomes policy can work in terms of wage restraint for a time. The American incomes policy reduced first-year wage agreements from 13.5% on the quarter before the policy was introduced in August 1971, to 6.4% by the end of 1972. This helped bring the wage and salary portion of the U.S. national income down from 74.5% in 1971 to 72.5% in 1973 while the percentage going to big business rose from 14.6% to 16.2%. Similarly in Britain in the 1960's, the incomes policy reduced the rate of wage increases by about 1% a year from what they otherwise would have been. This wage restraint was seen as well in the number of agreements that were not only reduced but which were delayed by government interference and board investigations.
The underlying conflict that exists between employers and employees does not go away under an incomes policy, however; indeed that conflict is intensified. And it is always unions, the direct object of the policy, who first begin to bear the brunt of workers' dissatisfaction with their position. This is inevitable since workers can do little about the political system, in an immediate sense, but can have a real and immediate influence on their unions. The discontent that boils up in the unions due to wage restraint is just beginning to be seen now in the United States. It has been seen very clearly in Britain, where the only periods in which union membership has fallen since 1945 was during the two periods when unions cooperated in an incomes policy, in 1948-1950 and 1966-67, the latter period falling by 2%. Together with this effect on membership, British unions experienced increased unofficial strikes and the defeat of union leaders who went along with the policy at union conferences. This led to a new and more militant union leadership which not only verbally opposed the incomes policy but led their membership in strike action against it and in the process reversed the wage losses experienced earlier. This led to a tremendous increase in union membership, and finally defeated the incomes policy. (It should be noted in this connection that no parliamentary government in the west that has introduced a compulsory wage freeze has been re-elected in the subsequent election, although the emptiness of these purely electoral victories was usually seen when the parties that won these elections themselves turned around and introduced incomes policies under pressure from business groups.)
The implications of this experience eleswhere is suggestive for the threat that Canadian workers now face. Unions and workers must be made aware -- and bring this point home to their employers -- that wage demands and agreements above the guidelines are not of themselves illegal. The exceptions allowed for in the policy -- higher wages to hold workers or attract new ones, the comparability clause, the exception for fringe increases for health and safety, or the elimination of 'restrictive practices' -- all leave the Board and the Government with a large task of interpretation in any particular case. This must be played to the hilt, not in the sense of going to the Board "cap in hand" for special consideration, but in the sense of realizing how difficult is will be for the Government to prove that anyone "knowingly" ignored the guidelines in most cases. Similarly, unions should give as little cooperation to the Board as possible. Under the voluntary incomes policy of 1969-72, the unions officially opposed the policy, but cooperated with the Prices and Incomes Commission on the 15 wage cases it examined. As the Commission itself noted, this permitted it to examine more cases than it otherwise could have done.
The Canadian Labour Congress has refused to endorse the incomes policy or anyone on the Board, and has put forward a ten point programme which calls for cheaper housing, higher old age pensions, full employment policies, regulation of oil and gas prices and supervision of corporations, to ensure that the money saved on wage restraint is in fact invested to create jobs. This shows the CLC's concern but it does not go far enough and implies that with a few changes the CLC might endorse wage restraint. Donald MacDonald, the Minister of Finance, has suggested the union leadership is opposing the policy in public but supporting it in private. This kind of statement may be designed to split the labour movement and certainly there is little evidence of this yet apart from Joe Morris' statement at first that the law would be obeyed and that the CLC's special fund established to fight the policy would not be used for strike support. This statement seems to have been retracted, but the danger remains, partly because some union leaders and especially some misguided New Democrats seem to believe that with a few touches the incomes policy can be changed from a capitalist policy to a socialist one. A little rent control here, a bit more price control there, and we will have turned one of the ugly sisters into Cinderella. What must be understood, however, is that an incomes policy has nothing to do with equality or economic planning nor, simply because the Government intervenes in the economy, does this mean that its action is somehow 'socialist'. The incomes policy does not seek to replace the capitalist market economy, it rather puts a lid on the market, primarily the labour market in order to back with the strength of the state the employers' resistance to wage demands.
If the Canadian labour movement does not undertake a militant response to the incomes policy; if it does not mobilize itself to take solidary action against the application of the policy to any one group of workers; if the CLC limits itself to some sort of vague educational campaign which politely criticizes the policy and does not lead demonstrations, withdraw from government boards, and provide aid to strikers against the policy, Canadian workers will not only suffer a loss of real wages, they will find their union organizations seriously disrupted and weakened by the policy. The capitalists have embarked on a policy of political con-frontation with Canadian workers and unprecedented restraints on their freedoms. The labour movement will have to respond politically as well with tactics and strategies that are also new and unconventional. If the confrontation is not met, we shall all lose.
Appendix One: Anti-Inflation Review Board
The Anti -Inflation Review Board-is the front line in the government's program to control inflation. The Board has two purposes. One is to sell the program to Canadian workers. Secondly, and much more importantly, this Board decides whether a wage increase or a price increase violates the government's program. When the Board finds a violation it tries to get voluntary compliance from the violator. If this fails the case is turned over to, the "Administrator" for legal action. The critical point to be aware of is that this Board has the power to determine which wage or price increases will be reviewed, and consequently on whom the "Administrator's" power to fine and jail can be brought to bear. Therefore, it has a lot of discretion. How it is likely to use this power can be
seen from the characteristics of its members.
The Anti-Inflation Review Board is highly "inflated" with business connections and corporate power. The Board members between them have held eleven corporate directorships. Jean-Luc Pepin, Board Chairman, appropriately enough headed the list with six of these influential positions. They were:
- Power Corporation of Canada Ltd;
- Canada Steamship Lines;
- Celanese Canada Ltd.;
- Collins Radio Co. of Canada Ltd.;
- Westinghouse Canada Ltd.;
- Bombardier Ltd.
Incidentally Power, the biggest Canadian Corporate Conglomerate, seems to have other ties with the Liberal government. Between 1968 and 1972 this powerful corporation received $10 million in federal grants (Ottawa Journal, May 17, 1973). Pepin, who joined the Board of Power after losing a safe Liberal seat in 1972, is just part of the close connection between the Liberal Party and the business world. As a past Minister of Industry, Trade and Commerce he was undoubtedly a useful asset in the board room.
William Ladyman, the "Labour" representative on the board is also no stranger to the board. A retired member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, a past vice-president of the CLC, he was reported by the Financial Post to have "a foot in the management camp" when he joined the Board of Directors of Polymer in 1966. Since then he got the other foot in by becoming a consultant to Great-West Life Assurance Co.; a director of Ontario Housing Corporation; Member of the Economic Council of Canada and Governor of Queensway General Hospital. By joining the Anti-Inflation Review Board, Ladyman is ignoring the CLC's and other labour leaders' condemnation of the government's program as only controlling wages. His acceptance of a position on the Anti-Inflation Review Board incicates that he has come all the way over to the management camp.
Other board members, Jack Biddell and Harold Renouf, have enough expertise between them to know that it is impossible to monitor prices, as both are accountants. Renouf is a past governor of the Canadian Tax Foundation, as well as a director of Associated Accounting Firms International, based in New York. Jack Biddell, President of Clarkson Gordon Ltd., an accounting firm, may have no mechanism to control prices but he has formed some novel ideas about controlling wages. Earlier this year he suggested the government "encourage company and regionally oriented unions" and discourage industry-wide bargaining as a way of clamping down on the power of big unions. (Maclean's pp. 29-31, April, 1975). While the logic of Biddell's argument is unclear, his anti-union sentiments are plain as day.
The remaining members of the Board are Claude Castonguay and Beryl Plumptre.
Both have a long standing association with the Liberal Party. During 1970-73, Castonguay was the Quebec Minister of Health and Social Affairs and was number two man in Bourassa's cabinet. During this period, he was the chief architect of the Quebec Pension Plan. He devised the machinery to channel pension funds into grandiose Liberal Party projects such as the James Bay Development. After leaving provincial politics in 1973, Castonguay re-entered the business world as a Corporate Consultant and picked up a directorship in I.M.A.S.C.O. Ltd. Beryl Plumptre's alliance with the Liberal Party goes back to the 1950's. Through her connections with the Pearson government she was appointed to numerous public positions. These included director of the Canadian Welfare Council. She also became President and Director of the Government sponsored Consumers Association of Canada, (created by the Department of Consumer and Corporate Affairs). On the basis of that job, she became Chairperson of the Prices Review Board with a salary of $40,000 a year.
These are the people who the government has chosen to sell Canadians the virtues of restraint. That the product to be sold is wage restraint is clear. The final insult is that people like Pepin will be paid $54,000 a year to tell workers earning $10,000 a year to "bite the bullet" and do their part to create the "just society" in Canada.
Canadian Workers must demand that the CLC and its component unions stay off the Anti-Inflation Review Board. The token representation of labour on such boards is not designed to facilitate the expression of workers intended to separate rank and file, and the heady world of the hope that they will confuse their own "success" with the success of the labour movement as a whole. Indeed, workers must press the CLC to withdraw its representatives from the other "public" boards on which they sit. The Government is much more likely to listen to the patter of workers feet on the pavement than the measured tones of Labour spokespersons in comfortable boardrooms.
Leo Panitch is active in the Ottawa Committee for Labour Action. He teaches at Carleton University in the Political Science Department. He is about to have a book published on incomes policy in Britain. The book, titled Social Democracy and Industrial Militancy: The Labour Party, the Trade Unions and Incomes Policy, will be released in February 1976 by Cambridge Press in England.
Comments from our readers
All I know is, if this is Marxism, then I am not a Marxist.
If the whole of the Canadian electorate could miraculously be converted to socialist ideals at one fell swoop, there would be no reason to discuss strategy in the present context ....But such is not the case. In a non-revolutionary society and in non-revolutionary times, no manner of reform can be implanted with sudden universality. Democratic reformers must proceed step by step, convincing little bands of intellectuals here, rallying sections of the working class there, and appealing to the underprivileged in the next place. The drive towards power must begin with the establishment of bridgeheads, since at the outset it is obviously easier to convert specific groups or localities than to win over an absolute majority of the whole nation. Your publication can help to establish such bridgeheads.
P. E. Trudeau
I don't know much about politics, but I know what I like. I like the Red Menace. It's my kind of bag.
L. D. Bronstein
Red Menace #2 - Volume 2, Number 1 - Summer 1977
The Red Menace was a Canadian libertarian socialist publication put out from 1976-1980.
The Red Menace: A Libertarian Socialist Newsletter
Brief description of the politics, people and purpose behind The Red Menace, a libertarian socialist publication from Canada published from 1976-1980.
Who are we?
The Red Menace is a libertarian socialist newsletter published by a small collective of people living in Toronto and Hamilton. We call ourselves the Libertarian Socialist Collective1 .
What do we mean by calling ourselves "libertarian socialists?" Partly, that question is answered more fully elsewhere in this issue and partly, we are still trying to work it out ourselves. But we share some fundamental ideas:
What do we believe?
We believe that capitalism, the social system we live under (in whatever bureaucratic, "mixed", social-democratic, or "free-enterprise" variation) is deeply and fundamentally destructive of individuals, relationships between people and societies. There may be times when it produces progress of some kind, but its overpowering reality is always its warping and crushing of the potentialities of human beings and societies. Our society and its advanced industrial base give us the possibility of creating a world of abundance in which human needs and creativity shape the future. Instead, capitalism gives us chronic poverty and economic crises, war, alienating and meaningless work, commercialized leisure, immovable bureaucracies, a deteriorating natural and urban environment, oppression of minorities (and majorities), chronic social and "personal" problems, sexual frustration, trashy culture - in short, a crazy, miserable world that seems to be going downhill fast, with no one in control.
For many, many, people, "that's life". That's the way the world is, and there's nothing we can do about it except try to make the best of our lot.
For us, that's not enough. We believe that people can make their own future if enough of them want to badly enough, and act together to do it. We want to overthrow the capitalist system and build a new world in which freedom and creativity can flourish, a world in which people are in control, in which they run things democratically and collectively. A libertarian socialist world.
Such an alternative vision of the future can never be legislated, decreed, or installed by a coup-d'etat. It is far too revolutionary for that, for it requires that people change themselves even as they try to change society. Consequently, it requires active participation from the vast majority.
Right now, of course, we are a tiny minority, not a vast majority. But we believe that our ideas are reasonable and exciting, with the potential to capture the imaginations of those who now put up with this society.
The Red Menace
Our purpose in publishing The Red Menace is to reach people with our ideas, to develop and clarify those ideas, and to give other people the opportunity to share their visions and experiences through its pages. Through it, we hope to make contacts with people who like our ideas, and to start working with those people. We would like to branch out into other kinds of activities directed at social change as well: The Red Menace is not an end in itself (although the enjoyment we derive from creating it is.)
If you are interested, please contact us.
We need your involvement
Thinking about society and how it could change is something that everyone does. It is not the exclusive province of a few theoreticians. We would like as many people as possible to contribute to this newsletter. We are especially interested in brief, to-the-point comments on specific problems; ideas, observations, etc. A couple of paragraphs or a page that offers a good insight is worth more than a long dry treatise that says nothing new. Nor does your contribution have to be "definitive": the tentative, the exploratory, is often the most fruitful.
Among the things we are interested in: articles about where you work, where you go to school, where you live, where you shop, where you play. Articles about political activities and organizations you are/have been involved in. Criticism and evaluation of what's happening on the left, in the women's movement, in society at large. Poetry. Observations about culture, everyday life. Book reviews. Artwork. Revealing anecdotes. Questions you don't have answers for. Questions you do have answers for.
- 1Formerly, we were known as Toronto Liberation School, and before that, as The Marxist Institute. The changes in name reflect changes in the nature and orientation of the group, but a basic continuity remains.
Introduction to Work and Daily Life in The Red Menace
We talk a lot about the working class, we socialists. So much so that we sometimes tend to forget that the working class is made up of actual people; people like those who live next door, like those who we see on the subway, like those we work with, drink with, sleep with. People different from us, but with hopes and fears not so different from our own after all.
We owe it to ourselves, as well as to that entire working class we try to champion, to take a fresh close look at the way we spend our lives (peculiar capitalist expression, to "spend your life"), at the way we work, have fun, form and dissolve relationships, learn, waste time, or talk politics. Our lives, after all are what capitalism, and socialism, and the death-struggle between them, are all about, The roots of our revolutionary beliefs are to be found in the experiences of our daily lives.
In the Red Menace, we would like provide a forum through which people can communicate what they feel about their jobs, and about the other things that happen to them every day. We think it is vitally important to analyse these things, to work out our own thoughts, and to share them with others. There can be no set format for this -- anything from a single paragraph, to a cartoon, to an incident that sticks in the mind, to a long essay could be useful. We ask our readers to send us their thoughts and perceptions.
The article which follows ("A Tale of Two Offices") is one attempt to come to grips with the realities of a particular work experience, that of large institutional libraries.
A Tale of Two Offices
An account of daily life and office politics viewed through the experience of working in two libraries with very different management styles. From the libertarian socialist newsletter, The Red Menace.
By Elaine Farragher
I have been an office worker for all of my working life; specifically, a library worker. I've worked in five libraries, in one as a part-time worker and in the rest as a full-time employee. All of these libraries have had their unique intrigues and goings-on, their own particular relationships and power struggles.
For the purposes of this article, however, I would like to single out only two of them, which for me represent two aspects of the challenge that office work presents to those seeking to bring about radical change.
Both are large institutional libraries with about the same number of staff, around 15. This is a fairly average number of people for an office. (Offices will probably never resemble the large assembly-line factories, for even the very largest offices are nearly always broken down into units and departments with distinguishing aisles and partitions between them).
I should mention that my experiences have only been with women, both as co-workers and as bosses, men still being fairly rare in library work, although this situation is slowly beginning to change.
Library work is very exact, picky work. Thousands of books must be made easily accessible by giving each book its own set of cards, classification number, cross references, etc., in numerous files which must all be arranged so that any little reference can be found at once. It all takes a very high level of organization and co-operation between sections of the library and between people.
A library itself is usually divided into three functions: the technical services department, which actually creates the files and catalogues for the books; the acquisitions department, which orders the books (frequently put under the technical services department); and the reference department, which guides users in their use of the library. Some libraries have a strict division between departments, with each staff member working only in one place. Other libraries rotate the staff between the different departments for the sake of both variety and flexibility.
Division of Labour
Library staff are sharply divided into two groups, librarians on the one side, and everybody else on the other. The non-librarians are mostly library technicians (this is what I am); in addition, there may be a secretary and/or a bookkeeper thrown in.
The library technicians are either trained at a technical or community college (as I am) or have simply received experience through working. The training programs are fairly new (six years), but now it is becoming more and more difficult to find a library job without having first attended a community college.
Librarians must have received a Master of Library Science degree.
The difference in pay between librarians and library technicians is considerable: technicians start around $8,000, while librarians get $6,000 to $10,000 more.
Although in the libraries in which I have worked there has been a pronounced split between librarians and technicians, this is not true in all cases. In some libraries, particularly the public libraries, the groups work together more closely and belong to the same union. The great difference in salaries, however, ensures that there continues to be a division between the two.
Some libraries also distinguish between clerk typists and library technicians. I worked in one such library as a clerk-typist, but I didn't find the division to be very significant.
The librarians possess a good deal of authority, but at the same time their authority is far from being clear-cut or absolute. They consider themselves professionals, but at the same time they are very much employees, responsible to their superiors and to those who control the purse-strings. Still, to the technicians, the overriding fact is the librarians' power over them. They have the power to hire and fire, and that is quite enough to make them your boss.
Some librarians are starting to feel threatened by the presence of increasing numbers of library technicians, since the technicians have been trained to do just about everything a librarian can do. Some smaller libraries are now being run by technicians, and in many libraries where both are present, there is a certain tension between the two groups. Librarians are jealous of their positions, while technicians want to be given more interesting jobs and more responsibility so that they can make use of the skills they have been taught. At present, technicians' jobs are mostly clerical in nature, a constant source of frustration and resentment.
Librarians and technicians both get two years of library training: But technicians take it at a community college which only requires a high school diploma for a prerequisite, while librarians need an Honours B .A. before they can be accepted into the Master of Library Science Program. The course for technicians stresses the practical: office management, materials, cataloguing, and computer application are among the courses taken. The training for librarians includes the same things, but the emphasis is more theoretical than practical.
The division of work in the library assumes a broader knowledge on the part of the librarian, not of library matters, but of the world as a whole. Since libraries have mostly to do with the organizations and diffusion of knowledge, it is assumed that the university education equips the librarian to deal more effectively with research questions.
Librarians are also the decision-makers. While the technicians can catalogue the books, the librarians like to decide whether the book should be put into one subject classification rather than another. Usually the judgements required on such questions are purely matters of opinion which matter little one way or the other as long as the book can be found and read. But these finer discretionary matters are considered to require the wisdom of a university education. Neither technicians nor most librarians really believe the rationale behind this division of labour. There is little doubt that technicians have all the skills needed to run a library. But the rationale behind the strict division of labour is highly advantageous for those who benefit from it, and so, since they have the power, it continues.
There are two specific libraries that I particularly want to concentrate on. One represents for me the old traditional view of how to run an office and treat employees; the second has a more 'modern' approach which is becoming more common in the offices of today. They each present difficulties which must be understood, but the newer method, I believe, presents the more serious challenge to those interested in organizing and understanding office workers.
The libraries, which I shall call A and B, are both institutional libraries, but there the similarity ends.
Office supervision can take more than one form, as I have discovered. The most common and straightforward technique is simply the traditional boss-employee relationship. This is what exists in Library A, where things are very laid-down and definite. Lowest on the totem pole are Technicians 1 and Technicians 2. They in turn are supervised by Technicians 3. These in turn are accountable to the librarian in charge of their department, and these for their part are responsible to the Head Librarian. Everyone knows her place, has her own function, and never steps out of it.
In Library B, there is a different approach entirely, an approach that seems to be much more effective and also much harder to deal with. In this library, technicians are given a great deal of responsibility, and very little supervision. Technicians 1, 2, and 3 largely work together. The very distinction between is considered by most to be stubbornness on the part of higher management (outside the library) who control salaries in the library. If the Head Librarian had her way, everyone would be a technician 3. The set-up is somewhat egalitarian, by the normal standards. For example, everyone, with the exception of the head librarian, shares the two worst jobs: filing and shelving. The more interesting but heavy work-load jobs are rotated to a different person each year, a fair, but not entirely efficient system since a few of these jobs take a lot of training.
But the measure of egalitarianism that exists in job divisions doesn't lessen the contradictions of the work process as a whole: in fact, it aggravates them. The over-riding fact about Library B is the extremely heavy workload, and the immense pressure that is put on everyone to get it done. Moreover, because several of the jobs are shared, there is continual pressure to get the work done, not from the librarians in charge (as is the case in Library A) but from one's co-workers, from other technicians. This peer-group pressure is much more effective, and nerve-wracking, and harder to deal with, than any close supervision by librarians would be. If you are dealing with a boss who supervises your work, then it is normal to use whatever ways exist of resisting the pressure to do more work. You find ways of trying to lessen your workload, and you use them. But when you are dealing with your equals, you find yourself rushing frantically through whatever task you are doing as fast as you can so you can help out with the shared tasks. You don't want to let others down by saddling them with work you haven't done, and you also don't want to be thought of as someone who doesn't carry her share of the load.
As a result of this peer group pressure in Library B, people relate to work in a way that is very different from normal attitudes in a large institution or business. For example, people don't cheat on time by arriving late or leaving early, since there are always others around to see that you don't. Perhaps nothing will be said, but you always have the feeling that your actions are being noted and disapproved of. In no time, you internalize the pressure, the pervasive work ethic. It becomes a form of conscience. In Library A by contrast, to cheat on time, to leave early, to take long lunches, to avoid work, is one of the main objectives.
The same kind of thing holds true for sick days. In Library B, no one takes sick days unless they are really sick. Meanwhile, in Library A, it is generally agreed among technicians that to take a sick day when you are sick is to waste a sick day.
Boss-Worker Relationship (Authority)
An equal contrast exists in boss-worker relationships. In libraries, and in offices generally, there are two basic kinds of relationship. Most frequently, you will have the standard pattern of a boss who insists you know your place and stay in it. But in some cases, and Library B is an example, you will encounter the boss who doesn't want to seem a boss, the boss who simply wants her staff to form a big happy family, one, of course, in which the head of the family is deferred to by all the other members. In a library, the choice of pattern, or some variation of it, is almost entirely dependent on the attitude of the head Librarian. Even other librarians must yield to her when all is said and done. This power of the Head Librarian, the degree to which working conditions in a library depend on her, often means that when frustrations arise, they are blamed on one person, or on one's immediate supervisor, instead of on the system itself. For example, in Library A, everyone blames the problems that exist, such as boring work, widespread tension and general discontent, on the Head Librarian and her second-in-command. Office politics are dominated by the relationship between the two, who openly dislike each other and constantly blame each other for things that go wrong. The assistant always tries to get the rest of the staff on her side against the Head. Sometimes the terms of the situation are accepted as they are laid out, but on the other hand, there was a wide-spread and oft-repeated sentiment that "If they (the librarians) would all go away, we could run the library much better ourselves."
However, when you have a library such as B, where the Head Librarian has very liberalized, 'non-authoritarian' ideas, the situation is fundamentally the same as under the traditional approach. Orders may be coated with verbal sugar, but they are still orders. The Head Librarian is still responsible for the library and answerable to those who ultimately control it.
Thus, the Head Librarian in Library B dresses very casually, and loves to ask in a jovial voice how everyone is doing. But no one is fooled. She has the power to fire, and has used it when she hasn't liked how someone was doing. She keeps the work flow at such a constantly high pitch that no one has the chance to even breathe. She frowns on long vacations, is suspicious when someone takes a sick day off, and cannot be disagreed with, all just like any regular authoritarian librarian. Because of the prevailing myth of equality and friendliness, however, these realities are often shrouded in a dense fog.
In Library A the Head Librarian is in a way much easier to deal with precisely because she does not try to be a pal to her employees, and is in every way a strict authoritarian person. Plainly, she is the enemy, and everyone knows it and acts accordingly.
New Style, New Pressures
In Library B's 'egalitarian' system, everyone is given the opportunity to do whatever interesting job is around. But this, too, has its negative side. For now it becomes damning evidence of lack of initiative, drive, and ambition, if you do not seek out and ask to do more demanding work. And to lack these qualities, or seem to, is a mortal sin in the 'new-style' office of today, with its militant view of how work should be seen.
One incident can illustrate the pressures involved. In Library B there is Mary, a quiet, shy person who is fairly content with the routine work she does and who has never asked to be taught anything else. Even though she does her work well, her supervisor, a Technician 3, did not approve of her attitude and complained to the Head Librarian who gave Mary a month in which to change, or be fired. (One technician, whom Mary was especially friendly with, was even ordered not to talk to her!)
The line, therefore, is no longer "you must work harder for the benefit of the library", but "you must work harder for your own benefit." You must learn new things, take on more responsibilities, assert yourself, be decisive, and a go-getter. For the purpose of enabling the office worker to do just that, courses in assertiveness, leadership, and career planning are offered to the clerks and typists of the institution governing Library B. The Head Librarian frequently encourages the staff to attend. Ostensibly, this is seen as a push to get more women into the top positions of the institution, but the net result is great pressure to do more, take a greater interest and give more of your energy and psyche to work than you would otherwise be inclined to do.
Politeness and Decorum
One major way in which offices differ from factories is the facade of "civilized behaviour" which rules the interactions between employees and bosses, and among employees. Open anger and hostility are very seldom expressed. Even if your boss has screwed you royally earlier in the day, no matter how much you despise and detest her, at tea break or whenever, you make polite, superficially friendly, conversation.
In Library A, the hostility between librarians and technicians is at time very intense, but someone visiting the library would never for a moment suspect that the staff were on anything but the friendliest of terms. Nevertheless, although open rebellion or abusive language would be unthinkable, there are other ways to get around the facade of friendliness. (However, one avenue that is not open in an office, unlike a factory, is sabotage, since every discrepancy in records or files or correspondence can be traced back to a single individual.) In an office, indications of employee hostility often take a social form.
In Library A, for example, one practice, much disliked by the technicians, was the "afternoon tea break" when everyone, in two shifts, would gather into the staff room and have tea and cookies, the librarians discussing their concerns, while the technicians listened politely. (The mess from the afternoon tea was always cleaned up by one technician, Sarah, an, older woman who was in the lowest category of technicians even though she had been there 32 years and knew the library and every book in it heart. I once asked my boss why all the staff couldn't take turns cleaning up and the answer I got was that the technicians shouldn't expect change too fast since not long ago the staff room was for the librarians only who if they chose would "invite" one or two of the technicians in to join them. Such was the historical perspective of the library that the technicians were still supposed to feel privileged to join the librarians for tea!)
But change did come to the tea break, resulting in a 'tempest in a teapot' that helped challenge the all-pervasive myth of friendliness. Specifically, one new technician arrived who found it difficult to adhere very strictly to the traditions of politeness. If asked politely by a librarian if she would do something for her, Myrna would simply say "No" or ask "Do I have a choice?" At the tea break, Myrna would nonchalantly eat as many cookies as she felt like eating (everyone paid into a cookie fund) rather than just politely nibbling one or two. She sprawled comfortably on the couch, making no particular effort to squeeze over to make room for librarians; the librarians suddenly found themselves sitting at the table across the room. The attitude was a bit contagious; soon librarians, who were used to doing all the talking and having the technicians listen quietly and deferentially, found themselves competing with loud conversations among the technicians that sometimes reduced the librarians to listeners. In the social context of the library, it was a breath of fresh air, almost revolutionary.
At Christmas the librarians were driven past the breaking point by these developments. Before Christmas, library staff would receive boxes of chocolates from various users of the library. Traditionally, the boxes would be opened by a librarian and passed around. But Myrna simply opened the boxes by herself, ate as many as she could, and encouraged the other technicians to follow suit.
The librarians were furious. The assistant head librarian called a special meeting of librarians (only) to discuss the situation! At the meeting, the librarians voted to cancel the cookie fund so that there would be no more cookies at the tea break for the rude and selfish technicians to gorge themselves on!
To those of us who are accustomed to thinking of power struggles at the work place as involving strikes, sabotage, and walkouts, all this will seem like very small, childish stuff indeed. In Library A, however, it marked the breaking down of a pretense of the greatest friendliness, and the beginning of a much more overt understanding of the power relationships that prevailed. The unilateral decision over the cookie fund led technicians to demand that they participate in staff meetings and have a part in making these and much more important decisions about the work in the library. Ever since, a greater sense of polarization has existed in Library A, resulting in a tension around the work process and power relationships
The fact of a trivial incident taking on wider proportions is not unusual in an office environment. In any work place, in fact, it is the small, everyday, almost insignificant events which can be the most effective in bringing out ever-present discontentment and resentment. The little things are seized upon as representing general feelings, unarticulated and perhaps not specifically thought-out and defined. They are concrete manifestations of a general sentiment which suddenly becomes clearly understood when a small event crystallizes and illustrates the issues at hand. When one feels annoyed and silly that "such a little thing should cause so much fuss", it is because the little thing is far more than what it at first appears to be.
On the question of office decorum and politeness, it is interesting to speculate why this tradition has hung on for so long. There is no doubt that much of it has to do with 'middle-class' attitudes of 'niceness' and politeness. But what does middle class mean in this context? Office workers are after all also working class, working in a reality very different from the myths that underlie traditional office decorum.
Trust and Solidarity
In Library A, management was autocratic in the extreme. Technicians were never consulted, were given the most menial and boring jobs, were closely supervised, and were in general treated as the personal servants of the librarians. For example, every morning I was required to change my boss' date stamp, turn the page on her calendar, make sure her paper tray was well supplied, and had to carry the day's new books a few feet from the book shelf to a place where she could examine them with greater ease. What the technicians resented in this situation was not so much the work itself, but rather the lack of respect with which they and their abilities were treated. But on account of such treatment, there is a great deal of cohesion, trust, and solidarity among the technicians. If a technician makes a mistake in her work, she can trust another technician not to let the head librarian know, but instead to help her cover it up. Technicians confide to each other when they plan to take their sick days and what excuse they are going to give. In other words, the battle lines are draw. You know who your friend is and who your enemy is. Life is simple and straightforward.
In Library B, on the other hand, where the boss wants to see "a big happy family", the battle lines are confused and obscure. If asked, all the technicians in Library B will agree that the head librarian is really fair, friendly, and good to them. Yet one constantly hears mumblings that "Lena is giving a hard time about that" or "how does she expect me to do all this?" Yet , because of peer-group pressure, a technician has to be as fearful of another technician finding a mistake as of a librarian finding it, perhaps even more so. For the technicians realize that they are really the ones who keep the library running smoothly, and they feel responsible for it. It is not unusual here for one technician to lambaste another for a mistake she has made, and have no qualms about criticizing her in front of everyone else. In one staff meeting, one technician said that check-out slips for books were not being properly filed and that the other three technicians were being careless. I was shocked. Why couldn't she have approached the people individually without complaining to the head librarian? The result was tension, suspicion, and a closer watch by the head librarian on the front desk. But no one else seemed to think her action reprehensible.
I can only conclude from my experience of these two libraries that for solidarity to exist, the battle lines must be clearly drawn. Where they are not, entirely different contradictions can arise. Where they are, it is everyone's first instinct to resist exploitation. Where they are not it is more difficult. The worker who wants her job to have some meaning for her is the easiest one to exploit. She will work harder and longer to get the more interesting jobs so that the daily routine will not be so much drudgery. But this also puts her into competition with her fellow workers, and undermines solidarity.
It is interesting to note that in Library A, where there is a strong worker-boss polarization, there is no union. In Library B, where power relationships are more confused and more hidden, there is a union, although it is a large union that covers the entire institution of which the library is a part. (In fact, the only way I found out there was a union in Library B was that I noticed union dues were being taken from my pay cheque. I never saw any communication from the union, or met a union representative, or heard anyone talk about the union.)
However, in other libraries where I have worked, unions have played an important role, although a contradictory one. Specifically on the question of the work to be done, unions were often seen as instruments of keeping the worker doing boring and uninteresting tasks, through their insistence of a strict adherence to job descriptions, which kept workers from learning new jobs or from moving easily between tasks.
Office Workers & Class Struggle
Many of the people I have known in libraries, and in other offices, have resigned themselves to their life of nine-to-five, typing, filing, answering the phone, and taking orders. Whether or not they are married, hope to be married, or have decided to stay single, most know that their salary will always be needed and few have dreams of escaping (except the dream of winning the lottery).
More particularly, most library technicians have no hope of becoming more than they are since the field is a dead end. No matter how long you work, you can never become a librarian without going back for years of schooling. Many have a dream of getting their own little library somewhere to run all by themselves, which a few technicians have managed to do. But most technicians, in spite of their dreams and talk, do not really see a way out of their humdrum workaday life, and reserve most of their plan-making for what is going to happen after work. They are, in other words, very much like most other workers.
This should hardly be surprising. After all, office workers have been around for a long time, as long as capitalism with its need for records and correspondence has been around. But, although the tasks of office workers are closely linked to and necessary for the movement of industry, capitalism has always sharply separated the two groups. In their offices, office workers have also been separated from each other, often much the same way as a woman is in the home, under the thumb of a boss who is usually male (although this is not the case in libraries). Often, her skills are not nearly so important as her appearance and her ability to charm and flatter. As a result, office workers have been often left behind in the development of working-class consciousness, both as a result of their own identification with the boss and the boss' prestige, and because of chauvinism and prejudice on the part of union militants and organizers. They are, nevertheless, a section of society that the left ignores at its peril.
First published in Volume 2, Number 1 (Summer 1977 issue) of The Red Menace.
Taken from the web-archived version of The Red Menace website.
The Red Menace Interviews Prime Minister Trudeau
There is little doubt that the present period in our history is one of the most critical that the Canadian nation has ever lived through. Dominating public attention is of course the challenge to the very existence of Canada that the election of the Parti Quebecois has posed. But equally important are the twin economic dilemmas of inflation and unemployment, which have called into question the viability of the free enterprise system as we know it, and the whole range of social stresses and problems that are tearing at the very fabric of Canadian society.
During these troubled times, fraught with peril, the tiller of the Canadian ship of state rests firmly in the hands of Pierre Elliot Trudeau, Prime Minister since 1968, who then as now dominates the clouded horizons of national politics. For a time, it appeared that the Trudeau administration might be in some difficulty, but in the course of the last year, it has become increasingly apparent that there is no other figure in our national life who has the stature to challenge the Prime Minister. There are currently no credible contenders for leadership within the Liberal Party, and it is clear that Tory Leader Joe Clark is unable to lead his own party, let alone a country.
So for better or worse, Pierre Trudeau is the captain of our national destiny as we sail into an uncharted future. What are the views of this often enigmatic man? How does he see the future of Canada unfolding?
We are fortunate in having obtained the transcript of a previously unreleased interview that the Prime Minister granted to free-lance interviewer Will Basically last month. It appears that the interview was mysteriously "killed" for "national security" reasons after it was recorded. This magazine, however, obtained a copy of the interview through a government source. After confirming its authenticity, we have decided to publish it here in the public interest. The picture of the Prime Minister and his views that emerges here is perhaps the frankest statement that has been made available to the Canadian public to this time. It should be of vital interest to all Canadians.
Will Basically: Prime Minister, you said that the free market society was passe and that we must move to a society with greater government intervention. Now you are saying that we have to rely on the market. How do you resolve that difference in your two positions?
Prime Minister: I did say that free enterprise is gone if indeed we ever had such a thing in the first place. Galbraith makes this point and I basically agree with him when he says that instead of many competing firms and a government as umpire so to speak, we've got Big Business, Big Labour and increasingly Big Government. What we need is a society where these groups can sit together and work out problems sensibly. Now this will be a society based on different values than the ones we have now. As Rousseau would say le volonte generale ... uh, the general will ... the good of all must prevail over the particular will. Now there are problems because a lot of people don't see it that way and they need a reminder and the free market society will tend to keep them in line.
WB: How would things be different in the "new society".
PM: Well take unemployment for example ... please! We face a real problem here. Basically people are suffering from a surplus manpower situation in as much as forseeable demand for increments to the stock of labour supply is increasing at a slower rate than entry into the job market. And this is tough for a lot of people.
Now some of these people are students coming into the job market for the first time and they are saying -- give us a high paying job or Unemployment Insurance. Well, instead of rushing in with a make-work scheme or welfare the government is saying -- if you can't find work here go somewhere else -- travel. But don't come begging for hand-outs.
WB: But what about people who can't afford to travel.
PM: Well, that is a problem and clearly something has to be done. But the situation is different now. We don't simply have a temporary slump which we can get out of by Keynsian pump-priming. We have a long-term moderate growth prospect with inflationary pressures -- we can't just pour in more money and hope for the best. What we are thinking of is something like this. We loan people money to look for work abroad and let them pay us back. We take this money and invest in transportation out of the country thus employing some of our surplus manpower. Eventually we can cut employment down to virtually nil. Now of course some countries may not want our surplus manpower.
WB: What do we do about that?
PM: Well if labour can't be sold it's because too much is charged or there's a glut on the market. The same situation applies to farm products like eggs or wheat or livestock. So that parallel between the two markets with their chronic over-supply problems made me think that the same solution applied to farm products could be used for surplus manpower. We could have a marketing board.
WB: You mean sell manpower just like wheat?
PM: Yeah, why not? We could project demand and issue positive and negative incentives for families to produce manpower units as the market for them rose and fell. I know it seems like a totally new idea but in a way it's been tried before. In many African countries government sold surplus manpower and it seemed to work pretty well. We could do the same and receive cash. Manpower could be provided at competitive rates and this would benefit the buyer. And owners of manpower would get badly needed food, clothing and shelter without the stigma of being a burden to society. Everybody would benefit. With the extra revenue we could cut taxes and thus stimulate the economy without having to resort to inflationary methods. If we ever ran short of manpower we could always buy some back -- but we'd only buy it when we needed it. Now of course even then we might find that the market for manpower units is glutted and so we would have to find other uses. Now we all know that one present cause of inflation is the high cost of food and we could use some of our surplus manpower units to help solve that problem. My thinking is along the lines of a transformation of manpower units into basic nourishment material. Many of our surplus population are relatively well-fed and tender especially students and others who come from middle class families. Many others would be better employed as fertilizer because the toughness of their flesh makes them unsuitable as food. They could however find real satisfaction however in returning to life, so to speak, as food for a happier and healthier nation. They would provide a cheap source of fertilizer for farmers and thus cancel out the decline in revenue resulting from lowered meat prices due to the entry of former manpower units on the market. And of course the money spent on welfare for these people could be used to reduce taxes for food processors and distributors thus cutting food costs. The government could help further by publishing recipes for the preparation of former manpower units as food and by advising how full nutritional value could be extracted from this exiting new food source.
WB: A lot of people will probably criticize this measure as an unwarranted interference by the gov-ernment in free enterprise.
PM: Yeah, well what are their solutions? I don't hear any useful suggestions from Broadbent or uh ... the frizzy haired kid who does the Diefenbaker imitations.
WB: Turning to Quebec ... what are your opinions on current developments there?
PM: Well, I think that the wish to go it alone is only held by a small minority. After all, this nationalism is really a regressive desire to return to the stone ages when savages huddled around fires in their own separate caves grunting curses at anyone who tried to join them. To be fair, I am not saying that this is what Levesque is actually proposing but it is implicit in his policy.
WB: What can we as ordinary Canadians do to counteract this trend?
PM: Well, I think that we need a change in our attitude to the nation. Confederation is not a dry legal document but a nation united by two languages which anybody can speak at least one of and sometimes more.
WB: And bilingualism is obviously the key to keeping this nation together.
PM: Right! Because this government has shown such determination to increase the number of posts in the civil service requiring the use of both languages it is now possible for French Canada to have more power than ever before -- certainly more than would exist in the banana republic Levesque wants to create. And now it is possible for any French Canadian boy or girl to grow up to become Prime Minister or at least understand him part of the time when he speaks on television.
It is also possible for French Canadians to travel across this country and still be able to use their native language when they travel on the federal transportation system. And when they buy their food at the supermarket they can read in French what it is and contains whether Post Toasties, Pop Tarts, Whip'n' Chill or whatever. Because of the Governments' firmness and decisiveness bilingualism has been made a reality for Canadians all across this country. The first thing they see when they wake up is their morning breakfast cereal with its contents described in both languages. Even very little children can learn that "Cric, Crac, Croc" is French for "Snap, Crackle, Pop". This is a very real way the struggle for the hearts and minds of the nation is being won on its cereal boxes. And lest I forget there are French language TV stations financed by the federal government. There movies originally produced in English are shown with French dubbing. When you have heard John Wayne speak French you have gained some idea of what bilingualism can mean.
Inspired by such a policy Canadians from all walks of life can unite behind a vigorous national policy of keeping things pretty much as they are right now. Let our slogan from Sea to Sea (or at least from Sea to the Ottawa River) be "Business as Usual".
WB: Do you think that the entry of Jack Horner into your government will help the cause of Confederation?
PM: Definitely. Quebecois will see that English Canadians no matter how bigoted, narrow-minded, parochial, and stupid can still appreciate and accept this government's policies as long as the rewards to them are carefully spelled out.
WB: Pursuing that last topic how do you see Mr. Horner's role in your cabinet?
PM: Well, first off we will have to provide him a place to sit. While Mr. Horner has not complained I think he feels a bit left out standing outside the Cabinet Chambers during meetings. As to his duties -- well, I think that he could play a strong role in Transportation and Energy policy. Specifically he could pack and carry Otto Lang's baggage for him when he makes one of his many airplane trips and he could turn out the lights in the Parliament Building when we have left thus emphasizing how greatly the government is concerned about energy conservation.
WB: Thank you Prime Minister for an interesting and instructive interview.
Bain Co-op Meets Wages for Housework: A Political Thriller
An account on a conflict between two factions within an apartment complex headed towards co-operative ownership.
By Ulli Diemer
When you first happen upon the Bain Avenue Apartments in Toronto’s Riverdale, a working-class area some two miles east of downtown, you get the sensation that they belong to a different time and place. There is something about them that holds the flavour of an earlier, quieter, more sensible era (even though such an era probably existed only in the clouded reminiscences of our grandparents), something about them that seems to stir the memory or the imagination. Built just before the First World War, the 260 one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments at Bain are clustered around several tree-lined courtyards, each with its own name, which even the Post Office is compelled to recognize ("The Maples, The Lindens, The Oaks. . ."). There is a sense of scale here which is lacking in most larger developments, and a certain quiet charm which partly compensates for the genteel shabbiness that has overtaken the project over the years.
We can surely assume that for the working-class tenants who moved into the newly-completed project in the summer of 1914, this setting must have held forth the promise of a peaceful, prosperous, and stable future.
But it was never quite like that, of course, not then, and not now, and the last few years have been no exception. For several years, Bain has been the scene of constant battles, the latest of which, occurring in the early months of 1977, is the subject of this article. At issue was the future of the complex and its tenants; the struggle, marked by a rent strike, furious door-to-door organizing, stormy general meetings, and a large-scale referendum, pitted residents against each other in acrimonious dispute. This struggle, however, can only be understood against the background of the project.
History of Bain
The Bain Avenue Apartments were built by a group of Toronto philanthropists who described themselves as "not a company, but a cause" bringing about "a solution of a problem that vitally concerns both the community and the nation: better housing for working people." And if that praiseworthy ambition in no way conflicted with the continued enrichment of these corporate benefactors, whose wealth could after all be traced back to the labours of this same class of working people, then at least Bain did provide, over the years, somewhat higher-than-usual quality housing at lower-than-usual prices.
But the apartments changed owners, and grew noticeably older. By the 1970’s, little of the original concept survived.
In the fall of 1972, the Bain Avenue Tenants’ Association was formed to demand repairs and necessary maintenance. The association applied pressure to the owner, and started getting results, bit by bit. For example, by a remarkable piece of coincidence, two of the leaders of the tenants’ organization finally had long overdue repairs done in their apartments a few days after the organization was formed; other minor repairs followed. A visit by city inspectors, pressured in turn into noticing Bain Avenue, produced a substantial sheaf of work orders and a more systematic approach to the upkeep of the place, including repairs and the hiring of additional maintenance staff. The current landlord even made an excursion of his own into philanthropy in an effort to boost his sagging reputation: he brought Santa Claus to visit the children just before Christmas.
But any adults who might have been inclined to be swayed by this display of Christian beneficence soon found it was Scrooge who was lurking behind Santa’s beard. Suddenly, the employers of several Tenants’ Association members began receiving phone calls from the landlord, saying the activists had been "causing considerable management problems in the apartments" and were "bothering tenants". Simultaneously, all tenants received notices of a rent hike. Finally, after a year of acrimony, the owner began to issue eviction notices to tenants as their leases expired - with the idea of turning the development into a high-priced condominium.
Tenants responded by looking for alternatives to eviction: co-operative ownership, or city ownership. Eventually, an agreement was worked out whereby the City of Toronto took over the project as non-profit housing with $6-million CMHC funding, agreeing to transfer ownership to the tenants’ co-operative when it was satisfied that tenants could afford and manage the project independently.
If there had been initial doubt as to which alternative, co-operative or city ownership, was better, that doubt was gradually removed in the minds of most tenants as the City proceeded to demonstrate that it, at any rate, could not manage the project on its own. The single key event was the carrying out of renovations, which the city bungled so badly that the total cost of the mess is still unclear, although it is certain that between improperly done work, work not done, and contractors skipping town, tens of thousands of dollars were thrown away. Naturally, it all came out of the rent.
Meanwhile property taxes on the project leapt up because, as a city-owned enterprise, Bain was taxed at a commercial rate, $20,000 a year higher than the residential rate it would have to pay as a co-op. As if this weren’t bad enough, the city corporation actually forgot to pay Bain’s municipal tax bill on time, so that Bain had to pay a tax penalty - to the city! The City of Toronto Non-Profit Housing Corporation, one resident said accurately, "has the bankruptcy touch."
In this way less-than-delighted residents found themselves paying for the ’advantages’ of city ownership with rapidly rising rents. Rents went up 21 per cent, then 10 per cent. In October 1976 the third increase in a little over two years was announced effective February 1977; it was to be 18 per cent. To add insult to injury, Bain people found they weren’t protected by Ontario’s rent control legislation: marvelously, it doesn’t apply to non-profit housing.
With each new increase, tenants voted to go along: refusal would have meant giving up their plans for co-operative ownership and eventual escape from the city’s clutches and the accompanying cycle of rising costs. The battle wasn’t all negative by any means: it succeeded in producing a fairly cohesive community at Bain, well-organized, with clear goals, impatient at the city’s foot-dragging on the transfer of ownership, angry at the continued mismanagement.
For one group of tenants. however, the latest rent hike was the final straw which caused them to break decisively with the previously-shared goals. This group, consisting primarily of members and supporters of the Wages for Housework Group, began to organize for a rent freeze in the complex. Their position was that low-income tenants simply could not afford the new rents. (The latest increase put rents up to $193 for a one-bedroom apartment, $253 for a lower two-bedroom, and $266 for a lower three-bedroom. Uppers cost an extra $20.)
The freeze group advocated that tenants refuse the increase and continue to pay their rents at the old rate. They canvassed their position door to door, and then put it forward at a general meeting of tenants in December, solemnly promising to abide by the decision of the majority.
The general meeting left no doubt. With 142 of 400 adult residents in attendance - the best turnout at any general meeting ever held at the project - the vote went 120 to 16 against the idea of a rent freeze. Anger about the increase was widespread at the meeting, but most tenants felt that it was better to pay up now, to make some short-term sacrifices, in order not to jeopardize the long-term benefits they saw in co-operative ownership. It was generally accepted that the city would use a rent strike as evidence of "irresponsibility" and thus as grounds for refusing to go ahead with the ownership transfer.
With the defeat of their proposal at the general meeting, the freeze group rapidly changed tactics. They could not, they said, sacrifice themselves to the idea of future ownership for anyone’s sake, not when they faced immediate hardship. They turned out more literature, produced and printed by the Toronto Wages for Housework group, and resumed door-to-door organizing. If they could sign up 70 of Bain’s 260 units in support, they said, the freeze would go ahead anyway, in defiance of the decision taken at the residents’ general meeting.
On February 1, claiming 55 units signed up for the freeze and support from another 35 subsidized units (half the units at Bain receive rent subsidy and thus were not affected by the increase) they went ahead, paying their rent cheques at the old level. When the smoke had cleared and the rent cheques had been counted, however, their claims of support turned out to be greatly exaggerated. Only 26 units participated in the freeze.
Still, their action and accompanying media offensive did win them a good deal of sympathetic press coverage, including a strongly favourable front-page story in the Clarion, a newly-formed left-wing paper in Toronto.
The Residents’ Council, the elected executive at Bain, countered by setting up an emergency internal subsidy program to help those hardest hit by the rent hike, and by criticizing the tactics of the rent freezers as divisive and likely to fail. They argued that a rent freeze would pit the tenants against each other and against three levels of government simultaneously - a battle they couldn’t win.
Spokespeople for the freeze group, however, maintained that through united action it would be possible to hold off the governments and keep rents where they were. They pointed to a housing project in Montreal which, they said, had recently fought a similar battle and won. Increasingly, too, they criticized the concept of co-operative ownership itself. It served only to make tenants their own landlords, they said, leaving the basic problems of low-income housing unsolved. As an alternative, they now supported the status quo - city ownership - coupled with a strong tenants’ organization to protect tenants.
Supporters of the co-op idea responded by pointing to the long-term advantages. Co-ops in Toronto, they pointed out, were faring significantly better in terms of rent than non-profit housing or the private sector. To achieve this was worth some short-term sacrifices, they said.
Co-op supporters, meanwhile, were also organizing door-to-door, against the freeze. The freeze, they said, jeopardized the whole project, since it meant that the rent bill could not be paid in full. The freeze, they said, was tantamount to deliberate sabotage of the will of the majority. Even more infuriating to them than the issue of money ("They’re ripping off all the other tenants" was a frequent comment) was the fact that the freeze group had sent letters to the Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) asking them to hold up the transfer of ownership to the tenants, claiming that tenants did not really support co-operative ownership, and that the appearance of support for a co-op was due to "intimidation" by a "small clique" that controlled the Residents Council. Similar letters were sent to the City and Mayor.
The by now thoroughly acrimonious dispute came head at another very well-attended general meeting which voted by a large majority to issue eviction notices to those who continued to freeze their rents, with a two-week period of grace in which to pay up. The notices duly went out to the ten units still remaining on the freeze; all immediately paid up, and no one was evicted. The strike was over.
The freeze group, by now reduced to its original core of Wages for Housework people, still had another card to play, however. If they couldn’t bring down the rents, then they’d try to bring down the co-op. A delegation to City Hall was mobilized which persuaded the City to hold a referendum at Bain to see whether co-op ownership was really supported by the residents. The City was only too happy to oblige.
Another round of organizing by both sides ensued; Wages for Housework predicted that a solid majority would reject the co-op.
No such luck. In an 87 per cent turnout, the vote went 2-1 in favour of co-op ownership. And at elections for Residents’ Council, co-op supporters were once again voted into office.
Predictably, the results didn’t convince Wages for Housework. The group issued a press release claiming victory, then proceeded to demand that the City or CMHC overturn the results of the referendum they themselves had asked for. The City refused, CMHC has yet to reply. Few people doubt, however, that the transfer of ownership will go ahead as scheduled later this summer.
Co-op vs City Ownership
To my mind, there are two questions on which the events at Bain Ave. shed some light.
The first is the issue of city-owned vs. co-operative housing. There are a number of residential projects in the City of Toronto which for one reason or another find themselves in a similar situation to that faced by Bain tenants in 1974. Each of these has in turn debated the question of whether it is better to attempt to convert the project into a co-operative, or whether it is better to have the City take over as landlord under its non-profit housing program. The Bain experience is worth studying for answers, but it is not at all clear that the evidence points conclusively in the one direction or the other. On the one hand, City ownership seems to offer benefits and protection not available to those renting from a private landlord; on the other hand, city mismanagement can drive rents up even faster than the market does - at least as long as the market is held in check by Ontario’s rent control program, (due to expire next year). Co-operatives have a somewhat better track record for keeping costs down, but this can vary: in older developments, maintenance costs can be quite high. Co-operatives also offer greater opportunities for residents to make decisions about their project themselves, but ultimately residents’ control is greatly restricted by the fact that urban land continues to be controlled by the forces of the capitalist market, and by the fact that the co-op comes up at every turn against the totality of relations that dominate life and impose choices in this society.
On balance, the evidence appears to indicate that it is probably better to be in an already-existing co-op rather than in city-owned housing, but this does not necessarily mean that it is best to pursue the co-op route in a project where the alternatives have just been posed, and where the final objective is still years off. The reason is that the process of becoming a co-op is an extremely difficult one, laden with pitfalls and problems, as the people at Bain discovered. Becoming a co-op requires a great deal of time and energy from the organizers, mountains of legal work and endless financial planning. It requires, in short, that tenants form themselves into a disciplined corporate entity capable of dealing with the government bureaucracies which provide the necessary capital, and even, in a sense, that tenants become their own landlord. One of the main drawbacks of the process of becoming a co-operative as it took place at Bain was the way it channelled the energies of a significant number of active and politically aware residents into legal and bureaucratic activities, and in so doing helped to dissipate the political consciousness and energy that had been focussed by the battle with the former landlord. At Bain, the battle seems to have been worth it all now that the goal has almost been achieved, but the problems encountered along the way should be enough to make other projects think carefully before embarking on the same journey. A co-op is a strategy, but it’s not the strategy. It’s no sure-fire way to change the world.
It is ironic that one of the things counteracting the trend to depoliticization at Bain has been precisely the opposition to the co-op mounted by the Wages for Housework Group and their supporters, which drew many residents back into increased involvement with the affairs of the project, and made people think very hard about the goals they wanted to pursue.
The Role of Wages for Housework
The role of Wages for Housework in the struggle at Bain is the main question I want to pursue here, and it is one that appears to me to offer much more definite conclusions than the co-op vs city ownership debate.
I should make it clear at the outset that I am not attempting an evaluation of Wages for Housework per se, or of their general political demands. I am dealing here with the political role of the group in one particular struggle, a struggle, to be sure, which seems to say a great deal about the political perspectives and tactics of the group in general.
Prior to my becoming involved in the Bain situation, as a reporter covering the events there for a local newspaper, my attitude to Wages for Housework had been that the group had some valid ideas to contribute to the socialist movement, and that the payment of wages for housework would be a good thing if you can get them, (which seemed unlikely), but I disagreed with what I saw as the dogmatic narrowness of their political perspective. I had not, however, had any particular opportunity to observe Wages for Housework in action and had not formed any opinion one way or the other about their political practice. Nor would I have thought it appropriate, as a man, to deliver judgements in print on the strategies of a part of the women’s movement. But struggle at Bain involved men just as much as women - in fact, one of the main spokesmen of the rent freeze group was a man who actively works to support Wages for Housework, while some of the key people on the other side were women. And of course the issues concerned male and female residents equally.
I should also say that when I initially began covering the rent freeze at Bain, I was basically sympathetic to position of the rent freeze group.1 After hearing arguments from both sides, I was for a time a more or less neutral observer, and only gradually, after following events, reading literature, attending meetings, and interviewing people on both sides did I become increasingly critical of the actions of Wages for Housework and of the attittudes that seemed to underlie those actions.
The reason I became critical of the Wages for Housework Group at Bain was not primarily because of the stands they took on co-operative ownership and rents per se, although I did ultimately disagree with them. But it is possible for a reasonable person to believe that it would have been wiser for Bain residents not to have followed the co-op route, and to have rejected rather than accepted the rent increase. But that is not the issue.
The key point is that these questions were considered thoroughly by the residents of this working-class community; that both sides were presented to everyone living in the complex through leaflets, newsletters, door-to-door canvassing, and general meetings, and that after this lengthy and quite democratic process, the tenants came overwhelmingly to a decision in favour of the co-op option and against the rent freeze. Yet the Wages for Housework Group, which had earlier promised to accept whatever decision was made, chose to ignore the decision, to label it the result of "manipulation" and "intimidation" by a "tiny clique", to lie about events that had occurred and about their own support, and to attempt to use every means up to and including deliberate sabotage of the entire project, to get their way.
A number of points should be made:
First of all, the claim made by the Wages for Housework Group, and repeated elsewhere, that the struggle was between a group of poor tenants, especially women on social assistance struggling to keep their heads above water, and a group aspiring to become "middle-class homeowners" is false. In fact, fully half the tenants at Bain are poor enough to receive governmental rent supplements; nearly all the rest are working-class as well. A substantial majority of both groups of tenants were opposed to the rent freeze and in favour of the co-op. The dozen members of the Residents’ Council, the elected executive at Bain, (the "tiny clique") were drawn about equally from each group. Nine of the twelve were women, three of them single mothers.
Nor is it true, by and large, that the poorest residents were hardest hit. In fact, those residents whose income was low enough to qualify them for subsidies were not affected by the increase at all. Their rents remained the same; the increase was covered by an increase in their subsidy. Furthermore, those who didn’t qualify for subsidies, but who were hard hit by the increase, were offered and received an internal subsidy from the operating expenses of the co-op itself.
This is not to deny that the 18% rent increase was an unpleasant blow. But it was something that tenants walked into with their eyes open, a burden they deliberately chose to shoulder. The reason they did so was their decision to accept some reduction in their standard of living now in order to achieve co-operative ownership, which would reduce their costs in the long run, and bring them greater control over their living environment. (It should also be pointed out that rents at Bain after the increase are still equivalent to or lower than rents in Toronto generally.) Incidentally, the fact that 26 units out of 260 went on a rent strike on their own when all the other tenants had decided not to, meant that the other tenants had to pay more rent than they otherwise would have, in order to make up the difference in the total rent bill payable to the City. This caused some tenants to remark bitterly that it was a case of the middle class feeding off working people.
However, for many people at Bain, the key issue was not the economic one. It was rather that of control. Residents were of course interested in paying as little rent as possible, no doubt about that. And they thought a co-op would be the best way of achieving that goal. But through five years of doing battle with private and public landlords, and putting up with constant mismanagement, they had arrived at a very firm commitment to controlling their living environment collectively, even if it meant making some short-term financial sacrifices.
They didn’t want a landlord - they wanted to run the place themselves. It is only in the light of this determination that the struggle at Bain can be understood at all. Other issues were subsidiary, tactical questions. The thing that divided the majority of residents from the Wages for Housework Group was their diametrically opposed views on who should control the place.
While the majority were prepared to take on the risks and burdens that residents’ control might entail, the Wages for Housework group rejected the goal of controlling the place out of hand, characterizing it alternately as irrelevant to people’s real needs or as a utopian pipe-dream. They didn’t care who ran the place, as long as their rents didn’t go up: a short-sighted position even in its own terms, since most co-ops do have a better track record on rents in the long run. In making their case against the co-op, they deliberately and cynically played to people’s fears of taking over responsibility themselves by suggesting all sorts of problems that might arise2 - as if there had not been an incredible number of problems for as long as people could remember with both the private landlord and the city.
The Wages for Housework people seemed to have but one solution to every problem: ask the government to take care of things, whether by providing more subsidies, taking management of the project back from the tenants, or paying them wages for doing housework. And when they couldn’t convince residents to support their proposals, they actually turned to the various government bodies to ask them to overrule the decisions tenants had democratically arrived at. To people who wanted to take on responsibility for their community, they said the state should take care of things, like it or not.
Perhaps the most obvious contradiction the group landed itself in was on the question of the rent increase itself. The majority was in favour of putting up with the increase because it would allow them to proceed with the transfer of ownership, and thus in a few months rid themselves of the City housing corporation, which was causing the increase through its mismanagement. The Wages for Housework people wanted to fight the increase by rejecting the co-op goal, thus permanently leaving the control of the project in the hands of the same city corporation that was imposing the increases in the first place.
Because of their commitment to continued city control of the project, the Wages for Housework group had no qualms about ignoring any decisions that residents arrived at, or about attacking the decision-making process that produced these decisions, or about asking the government to ignore the residents’ decisions and impose solutions on them from the outside.
Thus, for example, the Wages for Housework people consistently denigrated the general meetings at which decisions were made at Bain, alleging that these decisions were imposed by the Council (executive). People who took part in general meetings were characterized as dupes of the Council. This, of course, was after a general meeting rejected their strategy by a 120-16 vote. Before that, they had had no criticisms of the meetings, which any of Bain’s 400 adult residents can attend, speak at, and vote at. Even after the general meetings were dismissed as charades by them, however, they continued to turn out for them and put their case, and then dismiss their defeats at them as the result of manipulation. It may well be that these meetings are not perfect examples of pure democracy, but the turnout at the crucial meetings was higher, for example, than the voter turnout for Toronto’s municipal elections, which took place around the same time. When you see that many working people, who have to get up for work the next morning, spending several hours - their entire evening - on several different occasions, in face-to-face discussion about the future of their homes, you can be fairly sure that you’re seeing a form of democracy that’s a cut above what is usually considered democratic in this society.
And indeed people at Bain are justly proud of the way they make decisions, of the way major issues are raised in literature put out before meetings, and through intensive discussion at meetings. Not surprisingly, many of them were indignant at the demand from Wages for Housework that decisions be made by referendum instead of at general meetings. They saw it as a step backward from the level of involvement and democracy they had achieved.
But of course Wages for Housework’s advocacy of making decisions by referendum only lasted as long as it took them to lose decisively in the referendum the city imposed on Bain after the group’s lobbying at City Hall. (The so-called ’delegations from Bain’ which were sent to City Hall included such luminaries as Selma James and Judy Ramirez, two leaders of the International Wages for Housework Committee, neither of them Bain residents.) Once they had lost the referendum, by a decisive margin, they were back off to City Hall and CMHC, this time with demands that the referendum results be ignored. In their most recent literature, the Wages for Housework people don’t suggest any kind of decision-making process at all - they simply demand that some government body - any government body - impose their will on what even they have to admit is the majority of Bain residents. (Ludicrously, they are now reduced to saying that "the outcome would have been different" if only more of their supporters, and fewer of their opponents, were living at Bain!)
Their refusal to make any concessions at all to the goals of democracy and residents’ control that most of the people at Bain have shown they care about a great deal seems to be traceable to the political theory that underlines their actions. The entire perspective of the Wages for Housework group apparently centres on a particularly vulgar form of economic determinism: the theory that people will only respond, and can only be organized around, issues that have to do with putting more money in their pockets. The theory says that people can’t be interested in something as abstract as controlling their own community so, therefore, they aren’t interested, and if they think they are, they’re just being duped. The Wages for Housework philosophy is well captured in the symbol they have themselves chosen, and which they used widely during their campaign at Bain: a hand clutching a wad of money.
The implications of their approach became very clear at Bain Avenue, where their campaign was based on exploiting people’s passivity and fears and on the latent demoralization born of the long, drawn-out struggles at Bain, rather than building on people’s strengths. At crucial moments, their appeal was always to the state to help them out. To the extent that their organizing produced any results, it succeeded only in pitting working class people against a few people on social assistance and a group of middle class activists. It was only their failure to win any significant support that kept them from destroying the solidarity that existed among the people of the Bain Co-op. In the process of trying, they showed themselves to be the epitome of the narrow political sect that is interested in nothing except its own dogma and self-aggrandizement. It is to the credit of the Bain community that they rejected the politics Wages for Housework offered them and in so doing developed a heightened sense of their own purpose and power.
- 1The rent freeze group, in fact, distributed the first article I wrote on the struggle (for Seven News, the local newspaper) with their own literature.
- 2For example. their literature played up the suggestion that if the old boiler for the apartments were to explode, residents would have to pay over $100,000 for a new one out of their own pockets. In fact, the boiler is covered by insurance.
What is Libertarian Socialism?
Description of libertarian socialism from the 1970s Canadian newsletter, The Red Menace.
By Ulli Diemer
We call ourselves libertarian socialists. But why the adjective? Why libertarian socialism? Is libertarian socialism any different from socialism as it is generally understood?
The problem, and the reason for the adjective, is that there exists no definition of socialism that is "generally understood". The dilemma of socialism today is first of all the dilemma of the meaning of socialism, because the term has been applied to such an all-encompassing range of persons, parties, philosophies, states, and social systems, often completely antagonistic to each other, that the very term 'socialism' has become virtually meaningless.
There are more variations of socialism currently in existence than there are varieties of soup on the supermarket shelves, more socialist parties with the correct line than religious sects with a monopoly on salvation. Most of the earth's people are now governed by states calling themselves socialist, states displaying among themselves the familiar antagonisms usually held to be hallmarks of capitalist imperialism, as well as every kind of social system presently in existence, from declining tribalism to advanced industrialism. Can there be any meaning worth salvaging in a label that has been claimed by Kautsky and Lenin, by Mao and Brezhnev, by Gandhi and Hitler, by Ed Broadbent and Karl Marx? Does the term connote anything more than "just" or "good" to its proponents, "bureaucratic" or "bad" to its enemies?
The temptation is strong to abandon the label entirely, to adopt some new term to indicate the kind of social change we propose. But to do so would be to attempt to side-step a problem that really cannot be avoided. For the terminological confusion is not accidental. Nor is it 'merely' a matter of words. It is rooted in the fact that the dominant social system always acts to integrate that which it cannot destroy -- movements, ideas, even words -- and therefore destroys them precisely by integrating them, by claiming them. It denies the very possibility of an alternative to itself, and proves this impossibility by absorbing the alternative and emptying it of meaning, by adopting new forms and new language which create the illusion of choice and change while perpetuating the same essential relations of domination. Since the main challenge to capitalism has always come from that which called itself socialism, it is hardly surprising that capitalist social relations have survived in half the world by calling themselves socialist. 'Socialism' has become another name for capitalism, another form of capitalism: in 'victory', socialism has been more totally buried than it ever could have been in defeat. Capitalism has dissolved the socialist alternative by stealing away its name, its language, and its dreams. We have to take them back, for without words there can be no concepts, and where there is no language of freedom, there can be no dream of liberation.
Consequently, we cannot simply abdicate the terminology of socialism and arbitrarily invent new labels. To do so would be futile, both because any new terms will be similarly sucked dry if they acquire popular recognition, and because the existing language of freedom refers to meanings and history that must be recovered from those who now suppress them by laying claim to them. Words such as 'socialism', 'revolution', 'democracy', and `freedom' do contain within themselves a critique of the existing order. That critique can be realized only by reconquering it and giving it new life, not by abandoning it and searching for another.
For this reason, we start with the term 'socialism' and precede it with the adjective 'libertarian', which begins to elaborate that term, and which simultaneously makes it a new term, by differentiating it from all the other 'socialisms'. Perhaps most important, the adjective 'libertarian' raises questions in the minds of those who encounter it, whereas the term 'socialism' by itself tends to let itself be taken for granted, to act as an uninteresting vessel which each person fills with his preconceived ideas.
And by raising questions, the term libertarian socialism initiates the first step in a process of criticism that must be applied equally to capitalism and to 'socialism' as it is "generally understood". This process of criticism has not yielded any finished results that can be presented as a comprehensive picture of libertarian socialism. Indeed, the very concept of critique stands in opposition to the idea of having finished results. What is presented here are some beginnings, some themes for elaboration. Most of the ideas presented here are not new, but neither are they generally accepted.
What is implied by the term 'libertarian socialism'?
· The idea that socialism is first and foremost about freedom and therefore about overcoming the domination, repression, and alienation that block the free flow of human creativity, thought, and action. We do not equate socialism with planning, state control, or nationalization of industry, although we understand that in a socialist society (not "under" socialism) economic activity will be collectively controlled, managed, planned, and owned. Similarly, we believe that socialism will involve equality, but we do not think that socialism is equality, for it is possible to conceive of a society where everyone is equally oppressed. We think that socialism is incompatible with one-party states, with constraints on freedom of speech, with an elite exercising power 'on behalf of' the people, with leader cults, with any of the other devices by which the dying society seeks to portray itself as the new society.
· An approach to socialism that incorporates cultural revolution, women's and children's liberation, and the critique and transformation of daily life, as well as the more traditional concerns of socialist politics. A politics that is completely revolutionary because it seeks to transform all of reality. We do not think that capturing the economy and the state lead automatically to the transformation of the rest of social being, nor do we equate liberation with changing our life-styles and our heads. Capitalism is a total system that invades all areas of life: socialism must be the overcoming of capitalist reality in its entirety, or it is nothing.
· Libertarian politics concerns itself with the liberation of the individual because it is collective, and with the collective liberation because it is individualistic.
· Being a socialist is not only an intellectual thing, a matter of having the right ideas or the right intellectual approach. It is also a matter of the way you lead your life.
· A politics that is revolutionary because, in the words of Marx and Engels, "revolution is necessary not only because the ruling class cannot be overthrown any other way, but also because the class overthrowing it can only in a revolution succeed in ridding itself of all the muck of ages and become fitted to found society anew."
· Because revolution is a collective process of self-liberation, because people and societies are transformed through struggle, not by decree, therefore "the emancipation of the working classes can only be achieved by the working classes themselves", not by a Leninist vanguard, a socialist state, or any other agent acting on their behalf.
· A conception of the left not as separate from society, but as part of it. We of the left are people who are subjected to social oppression like everyone else, who struggle for socialism because our own liberation is possible only when all society is liberated. We seek to bring others to our socialist project not to do them a favour, but because we need their help to achieve our own liberation. Cohn-Bendit's comment that "It is for yourself that you make the revolution" is not an individualistic position, but the key to a truly collective politics, based on the joy and promise of life, instead of on the self-sacrifice that is often the radical's version of the white man's burden.
· We of the left see ourselves as equal participants in the struggle, not as the anointed leaders of it. We put forward our socialist vision as part of our contribution, but we do not think that our belief in socialism means that we have all the answers. We deal with people honestly, as equals, not presuming the right to dictate what they shall think or do, nor presuming that we have nothing to learn from them. We have enough faith in our politics that we do not seek to manipulate people to our conclusions.
· As socialists we form organizations with other people who share our ideas. This is necessary and valid, but it represents a situation that we should continually try to overcome, not one that we should accept and even institutionalize in the Leninist mode. Socialism implies not only the withering away of the state, but also the withering away of the left and its organizations as separate entities. Power in a socialist society must be exercised in ways allowing the participation of everyone, not only those belonging to a given organization. This must be prefigured in the political forms and movements that emerge before the revolution. The ultimate goal of the left and its organizations must not be to rule society, but to abolish themselves.
· The most important component of socialist consciousness is critical thought. We must learn to think about everything critically, to take nothing for granted, nothing as given. Consequently, we do not want people to accept socialist ideas in the way they now accept, partially or completely, bourgeois ideas. We want to destroy all uncritical acceptance and belief. We think that a critical examination of society leads to socialist conclusions, but what is important is not simply the conclusions but equally and even more so the method of arriving at them.
· We base ourselves on the heritage of Marxism. This does not mean that we accept all the ideas of Marx, let alone of those who claim to be his followers. Marxism is a point of departure for us, not our pre-determined destination. We accept Marx's dictum that our criticism must fear nothing, including its own results. Our debt to Marxism will be no less if we find that we have to go beyond it.
· Nothing could be more foreign to us than the "traditional Marxist" idea that all important questions have been answered. On the contrary, we have yet to formulate many of the important questions.
· We have to try to maintain a balance of theory and practice which seeks to integrate them, and which recognizes that we must engage in both at all times.
· The centre of gravity of our politics has to be when we are, not in the vicarious identification with struggles elsewhere. Solidarity work is important, but it cannot be the main focus of a socialist movement.
· We don't know if we'll win: history is made by human beings, and where human beings are concerned, nothing is inevitable. But because people do make history, we know that it is possible to build a new world, and we strive to realize that possibility.
· "There is only one reason for being a revolutionary - because it is the best way to live."
Originally published in Volume 2, Number 1 (Summer 1977 issue) of The Red Menace.
También disponible en español: ¿Que es el Socialismo Liberalista?
Taken from the web-archived version of The Red Menace website.
Why the Leninists Will Win
A criticism of the failure of anarchists and libertarian socialists to seriously organize and how it cedes ground to authoritarian sects.
"We anarchists and Syndicalists - indeed all who believe that the liberation of the workers is the task of the workers themselves - were too poorly organized and too weak to hold the revolution on a straight course towards socialism."
- M. Sergven in the Moscow anarchist newspaper Vol'nyi Golos Truda, Sept. 16, 1918
"Most of the Russian Anarchists themselves were unfortunately still in the messes of limited group activities and of individualistic endeavour as against the more important social and collective efforts. . . honesty and sincerity compel me to state that their work would have been of infinitely greater practical value had they been better organized and equipped to quide the released energies of the people towards the reorganization of life on a libertarian foundation."
- Emma Goldman, My Disillusionment in Russia, 1925
The idea that capitalism in its present form in the United States will not endure is hardly to be disputed anywhere. The capitalist class itself debates only the precise mixture of state capitalism, social democracy, and fascism that will best serve to maintain and expand their own power and profits.
That debate is, of course, reflected in Leninist circles. While some maneuver for potential advantage in a developing social democracy, others are busy learning the skills of underground terrorism and urban guerilla warfare. The fortunes of there various groups will ebb and flow with the developing consensus of the capitalist class.
Thus, barring a major nuclear war, we face two possible futures. One, which I think less likely, would see a major uprising against a fascist tyranny, an uprising led by the political descendents of the Weather Underground, the Symbionese Liberation Army etc. The other future, which seems more likely to me, would feature the electoral victory of a broad coalition that would have evolved from groups we know today as the Communist Party, October League, Revolutionary Communist Party, Socialist Workers Party, etc.
In a sense most important to us, of course, both futures would be identical: the working class would have no substantive political and economic power. There would be a lot of speeches about the working class, a lot of red flags flying, a lot of statues of Marx and Engels. There might (or might not) be some improvements in the conditions of ordinary working people. But there would be no real freedom. As the rock song of several years ago put it: "Say hello to the new boss: it's the same as the old boss!"
But what about us? How will the presence of those who believe that "the liberation of the workers is the task of the workers themselves" affect these two futures of Leninist victory?
Therein, as it is said, lies a tale.
About ten months ago (October 1975) 1 decided to move to the San Francistco Bay Area from New Orleans. I had spent a number of years working in a very small anarcho-communist collective (usually less than six people), and it seemed likely to me that nothing bigger was going to come along in New Orleans for longer than I wanted to wait.
One thing I expected to find here was a much higher level of class consciousness among ordinary working people than was (is) the case in New Orleans. I was not disappointed. There are always thousands of workers on strike here. Frequently they side-step their "leadership" and engage in militant struggle. One can even get occasional glimpses of a kind of primitive socialist consciousness.
But I also expected to find a large number (several hundreds) of people who understood anarcho-communist politics and who were eager to implement those politics in mass struggles. In my more hopeful moments, I saw the possibility of beginning to build a real movement for workers' councils, starting in the Bay Area and spreading across the country.
Of course, why should I expect this? It's not true anyplace else. I have to admit that there was a sizable hunk of romanticism in my "thinking" on this matter. The Bay Area was one of the hotbeds of student radicalism during the 1960's. I had seen some of the pamphlets published by the neo-Situationist groups in the early 1970's, and I assumed these Berkeley-based groups had been steadily growing. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it seemed overwhelmingly obvious that given the class consciousness of ordinary working people in the Bay Area, even a small but active anarcho-communist group would quickly grow towards becoming a movement, constantly expanding, recruiting new people, launching new projects, showing up in the midst of every struggle with our basic idea: only the working class can liberate the working class!
Well, I found the anarchists, anarcho-communists, libertarian socialists, etc., if not by the hundreds at least by the score. I attended one meeting with more than 50 people present and a number of others with from 30 to 40 people present. Not bad for a start, right?
This would be a much easier article to write if I could just say that all those I met were simply assholes. Unfortunately, with only a few exceptions, they aren't assholes. They are people that anyone with our political views would be delighted to work with.
Except that that is the most amazing and sorrowful fact of the matter. The practical definitions of "political work" that I encountered among various libertarians here were simply stunning in their manifest idiocy.
Or perhaps my own understanding is simply too primitive. I think of political work, whatever form it takes, as something we do in order to win over millions of working people (our sisters and brothers) to the idea that we should all run our own lives. It is, or ought to be, clear that both elements are equally important: mass movements, no matter how massive, that are not libertarian will not liberate us; our ideas, no matter how libertarian, will not liberate us unless shared with millions of working people.
Instead, I heard arguments like these:
"Who needs a movement anyway? What we really need are more small affinity groups, a few close comrades operating on common politics and trust in each other. That's the only real egalitarian politics; big movements are authoritarian by their very nature."
If mass movements are authoritarian by their very nature, if we cannot build an egalitarian mass movement, then we are simply doomed. Small groups will never overthrow capitalism. Instead, the Leninists will do it and we will always live under some form of class society.
"Hell, it's not up to us to liberate the workers any more than it's up to the Leninists. The deepening of the current economic crisis will convince the workers that they must liberate themselves, without any help from us."
What is it up to us to do? Is our role that of merely sitting back and commenting on the latest trends in the economy? When we say that the workers must liberate themselves, do we include ourselves in that phrase?
"We cannot build a movement at all. Movements are built by millions of workers when they want to build them: a small group can't just command such a movement into existence."
It's true that movements by definition are built by millions of working people. But was there ever a movement that didn't begin when a small group decided it was time to begin?
"We can't simply go out and build a libertarian communist movement. First we should spend a year or two developing a common theory and building trust in each other."
How many times does it still have to be repeated: revolutionary theory comes only from revolutionary practice. Trust come only from mutual experience in common struggle.
"Anyway, we don't have to rush into building a united libertarian organization. It's not as if the Leninists are about to take over. They're always squabbling among themselves, committing one blunder after another, hah, hah."
One thing I've noticed out here: the libertarians all take endless delight in the blunders of the Leninists. Now go back and read the quotations at the beginning of this article: who had the last laugh in Russia?
"We should not publish a mass anarcho-communist newspaper in the Bay Area. It's too much work and besides, there's already a dozen left papers out here."
That is, we should scorn to reach working people with our ideas because we'd have to work hard to do it and, anyway it's not necessary since the Leninists are already reaching people with their ideas. (!)
That is what the libertarians in the Bay Area say; this is what they do: revolutionary psychotherapy, revolutionary computer programming, revolutionary book store, revolutionary radio, revolutionary film-making, revolutionary camping out at Lake Tahoe. revolutionary trips to Europe, and. most importantly, revolutionary study groups.
There may be dozens of these groups. some more serious in their studies than others. But they share a common pattern of social invisibility, They are, by and large, closed to new members as a matter of policy. Thus, even if a new person became interested in our politics and (somehow!) found out that one of these groups existed, they wouldn't be allowed to join. (!)
The reader will not be surprised, then, to learn that nothing is presently being done to build an anarcho-communist movement in the Bay Area. One naturally hopes that this will not always be the case, but it will be as long as the libertarians here resolutely refuse to accept their political responsibilities!
It is nothing but ego-puffing drivel to call oneself an anarchist, anarcho-communist. libertarian socialist. etc. and then sit back and wait for working people "out there" to liberate us. It is nothing but revolutionary nose-picking to sit back and wait for the capitalist class to arrange a convenient crisis and then give up its state power to the working class. It is positively criminal when we, knowing full well the intentions of the Leninists, do nothing except make wise-cracks while they gradually learn enough to take over from the old capitalist class and re-establish class society on a new and much more terrible foundation!
The grim truth of the matter is that when (not if. when) the present form of capitalism in this country is overthrown, the Leninists will win ... unless we overcome our own folly of fragmentation, passivity, and disorganization. The Leninists will win ... unless we develop confidence in our own abilities to organize a mass anarcho-communist movement. The Leninists will win ... unless we ourselves accept the responsibility of fighting to win!
Published in Volume 2, Number 1 of The Red Menace, Summer 1977.
Taken from web-archived version of The Red Menace website.
by Tom McLaughlin
Two models of "socialism" presently prevail. They are Social Democracy and Bureaucratic Collectivism. Both the former with its concentration on the welfare state and state intervention in the economy and the latter with its plan attempt to administer society according to a bureaucratic plan or plans and attempt to fulfill the needs of their societies for ever more capital and consumer goods. In both these societies there is a hierarchy that is not hidden by the formal democracy in Social Democracy or the rhetoric of Bureaucratic Collectivism.
Against these two models of society Libertarian Socialists have upheld the principle of self-determination which means not only the control of impersonal economic processes but the collective administration of society by all its members. This is not to be confused with forms of "workers' control" which decide how to implement decisions arrived at from above. Instead it means the democratic determination as well as implementation of the goals of a society.
Why is this important? Not because of any abstract democratic dogma. The collective self-management of society is required if certain needs suppressed in this society are to be realized. In general these needs can be described as reconciliation with nature both inner (desire for immediate gratification) and outer (the sensuous world).
Capitalism requires the endless accumulation of capital goods. Hence any object is a potential instrument for the creation of other instruments. Any quality it has that cannot be employed in the accumulation of capital is abstracted from or even forgotten. Thus capital accumulation requires a repression of outer nature -- it can have no worth of its own, it must be simply a source of tools and raw materials. This in turn requires a repression of inner nature -- urges to enjoy the sensuous outer world must be repressed.
Along with continuous capital accumulation occurs the production of consumer goods market but this doesn't result in the satisfaction of repressed needs. The consumer must be encouraged to be dissatisfied with the present supply of goods so that he/she can buy more. Thus the existence of an infinite possibility of fulfillment of consumer wants results in an endless dissatisfaction with the goods already possessed. And of course the consumer will have to continue his/her laborious toil to buy these goods.
This repression of needs must continue as long as capital accumulation remains unchecked. For under such a system it will not be possible to think of the objects produced except as tools to make tools. As objects to be used rather than enjoyed.
Furthermore the endless accumulation of capital reduces that shortening of the working day which Marx called the basic precondition of freedom.
Thus there is a very basic connection between the form of Libertarian Socialism -- self-management -- and its content -- the satisfaction of basic needs through the reconciliation with Nature. Only through the self-management of production will it be possible to produce objects to satisfy needs for enjoyment. At present these repressed needs are expressed in art and play.
In this society play and art have no utility as independent activities -- a source of freedom and a limitation. Art abandons any claim to shape this society for the freedom to create its own world where freedom and sensibility are united in an aesthetic form according to its own proper laws. The conflict that exists between a reason bent on domination and sensibility which must serve as a mere raw material is replaced by harmony. The aesthetic form is not imposed upon sensory experience but instead allows it to express truth that is suppressed in daily existence. However Art remains a contemplative activity for most people especially with its enshrinement in museums.
Play however is something that all can participate in at least in its early stages in childhood and in this period it is egalitarian as well. Each player in the simple childhood game takes his turn or plays in a circle. And like art play is performed for its own sake according to its own rules. However, to a large extent it is devolved as trivial, made into a contemplative activity (spectator sports) or comes to reflect a repressive society (card games are played for money and schools compete in hierarchically organized teams that vie for rewards.)
However play is a reconciliation between reason and sensibility. There are rules but they have no other aim than to provide enjoyment.
Both these activities prefigure a new society -- one where rules are freely chosen by those to whom they are applied and reason and sensibility are united. It is now more possible than ever before to construct such a society. It would mean that play could come into its own and be taken seriously for its own sake. The conflict between freedom and necessity would disappear as work could be performed as an enjoyable activity. In fact enjoyment of work would become a need. It would be performed in accordance with needs for objects of beauty and enjoyment as well as mere utility.
For such a society to be realized there must be a revolt against the present system whereby needs are reduced to the need for objects of mere utility in the cause of infinite capital accumulation imposed by hierarchical plans. In short there must be a revolt against bureaucracy -- the predominant trend of societal organization. While there is no evidence of a mass movement against bureaucratization, still we can observe the following trends:
1) The attempt to reduce all facts to a system of deductive equations is ultimately self-defeating. It can't be done even for natural scientific subject matter, is less possible for societies and is impossible under a dynamic capitalist economy where means of production are constantly changing.
2) Thus it is necessary to summon the resources of those who were to be administered in order to deal with shortcomings that must necessarily arise in the plan.
3) To do this throws the system of hierarchical domination into question.
4) Therefore the informal groups that are formed in factories, neighbourhoods, and all other places where it is necessary to respond to bureaucratization must be crushed but can never entirely disappear.
5) Any revolts against bureaucracy that have been internalized can create the conditions for a higher level of consciousness later. Revolts against monopoly capitalism led to the welfare state. Now this cushion against unemployment has led to a revolt against work and labour discipline.
6) This revolt against bureaucracy can become more universal as bureaucratization expands. Thus not only the industrial worker but the housewife, tenant, student must respond to bureaucratization. The revolt can encompass all aspects of daily life.
It should be pointed out that there is no guarantee that anyone group in this society -- including the proletariat wherever and whatever it is -- will necessarily be the bearer of the universal. The World Spirit owes us no favours. All that bureaucratization implies is that more and more the critique of anyone's particular condition can if pushed far enough lead to the critique of society.
The Crisis of Dialectical Materialism and Libertarian Socialism
by Mario Cutajar
If there is one sentence in all that has been written by Marx that summarizes his thought, it is this: "Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past". (The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, p.15). Constantly vying with each other are two processes: the attempt by human beings to change the world into a human world and the self-preserving inertia of this world they are trying to change. On the one side human life, the source of all meaning, a free consciousness bent on making its freedom real and on the other the sheer weight of circumstances that not only resist this freedom but threaten to turn human actions into inhuman results.
As long as people do not make history with the consciousness that they are doing so, the power of circumstances prevails -- "The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living". (ibid. p.15). History remains the captive of economic necessity and therefore loses its right to be called history since that word can only be correctly applied to a record of human achievement whereas history prior to liberation is a record of the rule of necessity. History proper begins when this rule has been broken, i.e., when history becomes the enterprise of free individuals acting collectively out of solidarity with each other. Till then men make history not as human beings but as objects blindly reacting upon one another.
Still even if they do it blindly, it is men and women who make history. Were it not for that there would be no hope of liberation. The rule of necessity would he permanent and freedom would not only be unattainable but also unintelligible.
Libertarian socialism starts from this simple but profound truth. People make their own history. Therefore oppression which has so far been the predominant theme of history is not a natural principle. And it is not a supernatural one either. What rules and oppresses one person is always another person. Of course it is in the interest of all oppressors to justify their actions on the basis of immutable natural laws or to disguise them as the actions of impersonal forces (Gods, nature, the market, machines and so on). But these forces by virtue of their very impersonality are neutral. The winds do not oppress, lack of shelter does. Machines do not go out of their way to injure or to stultify life, the ones who own them do. Oppression then is not inevitable, the world is not unchangeable because quite literally the world is what we make it.
Because the world for us is not so much the physical reality that surround us but its significance for us. By virtue of being given to us at all things are given to us as situationalized objects. We do not see abstract trees littering the landscape but this or that tree, close or far away, blocking our view or giving us pleasure, caught in a glimpse or observed leisurely etc. Thus while it may be impossible to actually move mountains through sheer faith it is quite possible to change the situation within which they are seen. And that for us amounts to the same thing. Situations can be altered radically -- the world can he turned upside down. But can it be turned upside down just by closing our eyes? Is that what we are saying? Obviously not, since when we close our eyes we know perfectly well that the world has remained the way it was. We know, in other words, that we have closed our eyes. If we try to deceive ourselves and start walking with our eyes shut the pain of bumping into things will rudely expose our deception. Hence our ability to change the world and our inability to do so purely through contemplation.
The originality of the Marxian idea is to be found in its simultaneous recognition of the creativity of the human subject and and the power of circumstances. As against those idealists who would reduce people to thought-objects Marx asserted the irreducible concreteness of human life. Human beings suffer and this suffering is unique to every person. It establishes irrevocably the reality of each individual and resists the attempt to drown individual experiences in the totalizing movement of history. In the sense that Marx emphasizes the materiality -- the "sensuousness" -- of the subject he is a materialist.
Nevertheless the word "materialist" is misleading. It hides the originality to which we have already alluded, namely, the attempt by Marx to go beyond both idealism and materialism. In his "Theses on Feurbach" and again in "The Holy Family" he makes it quite clear that he rejects "scientific" materialism. The materialists of the 18th century, with their mechanistic view of the subject as a passive receptor of data emanating from objects. failed to grasp the self-creative character of the human subject. Insofar as materialism liberated its adherents from the dreadful mythology of religion it was progressive: it expressed the experience of those who denied comfort and luxury yet knew all too well that the material world was far from being an illusion. As a partial truth therefore, materialism had its function to perform. As the truth, however, it turned itself into a mythology. True, "Materialism is indisputably the only myth that suits revolutionary requirements" (J-P Sartre "Materialism & Revolution") but it remains a myth and under certain circumstances a dangerous one.
These abstract considerations have very practical consequences. Marx was the first to point out that "The materialist doctrine that men are products of circumstances and upbringing, and that therefore, changed men are products of other circumstances and changed upbringing, forgets that it is men who change circumstances and that the educator himself needs educating" (Theses on Feurbach III).
Why then has Marxism come to be associated with a doctrine that proclaims the overwhelming importance of objective circumstances? In part through propaganda. Capitalism being mechanistic in its practice is well suited to denouce opposing theories as mechanistic. Having made freedom precious by denying it it finds it useful to attribute its own sins to the doctrines of others. Still its task would have proved far harder than it has if Marxists had not been so anxious to justify their critics.
When Marx said in The German Ideology that "The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas" he does not seem to have realized the extent to which this applied to him too. Even less did his followers. But Marx was quite adamant about this: "circumstances make men just as much as men make circumstances" and "Just as our opinion of an individual is not based on what he thinks of himself, so can we not judge ... a period of transformation by its own consciousness" (Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy). Certainly as Marx himself demonstrated so brilliantly we cannot judge the actions of the bourgeoisie by what the bourgeoisie thinks of them, or for that matter, by what the proletariat thinks of them. Are Marxists exempt from historical conditioning?
It would appear that they are not. The materialist conception of history applies to Marx just as much as it applies to Guizot and if it is correct it could only be proven so by the historical limitations of its discoverer. The problem is that the ideas of the ruling class are dominant precisely to the extent that they are universal. It follows that the most profound expressions of the ruling class -- those ideas that are most closely associated with its character -- will seem the most harmless and perhaps even beneficial. That is what allows them to become dominant. There is therefore a constant danger that revolutionary thought will become infiltrated with counter-revolutionary concepts absorbed from the surrounding milieu, a process that is facilitated by the alienation which the revolutionary, no less than the average worker, is afflicted with. It is only after these concepts have been re-exteriorized through praxis that they can be identified for what they are. Revolutionaries will then recognize that their activities have reproduced, albeit in a different form, the pre-revolutionary conditions that they were trying so hard to eradicate. By that time, however, it is quite possible that the original revolutionaries will have become imprisoned in the circumstances of their own acts. It is then up to other revolutionaries to learn from the lessons of those who came before them and avoid their mistakes.
It is in this peculiar situation that we find ourselves today. We realize now that starting with the later Engels (and to a smaller extent with Marx himself) the fine balance between idealism and materialism, subjectivity and objectivity, was upset. The original synthesis, delicate because it was a purely theoretical concept, disintegrated when the attempt was made to turn it into a practical, revolutionary doctrine. Whereas the original balance meant that a distinction was made between economic conditions and the meaning assigned to them by the human agent, the new ideology reduced all human acts to their economic foundation.
From this disintegration two different but ultimately related movements were spawned: in Western Europe, Social Democracy and in Russia, Leninism. Both viewed "men as the products of circumstances and upbringing". The difference was that in Germany circumstances seemed to be changing in the right direction without too much effort while in Russia they were changing erratically and offered the opportunity for intervention. In Germany Marxism developed into an evolutionist doctrine modeled on Darwin's theory and in Russia it developed into the doctrine of vanguardist revolution.
For a crucial period of time, these two movements together, comprised the world total of Marxist praxis. There was of course Rosa Luxembourg, who opposed both. However not only did she die before she had a chance to make a significant impact on the European revolutionary movement but there is also some indication that prior to her death she was on the verge of changing her attitude towards the Bolsheviks. (See Lukacs' "Critical Observations on Rosa Luxembourg's 'Critique of the Russian Revolution'". Lukacs has to be read with caution since his admiration of Luxembourg was eclipsed by his worship of Lenin. Nevertheless his suggestion that Luxembourg was changing her views is plausible. With the success of the revolution even anarcho-syndicalists went over to the Bolsheviks.)
What this meant was that Marxism had succumbed to that ideological trend which Edmund Husserl has called the "naturalization of consciousness": the view that consciousness is caused by physical objects. This and the related "naturalization of ideas" inevitably led to the belief that human behaviour could be reduced to the rigid and "exact" laws of nature. Previously the world was as God had intended it to be. The new ruling class however had no place for a deity so it replaced Him with nature, a secular God. The laws that govern billiard balls were thus extended to cover relations between human beings proving once again that things could not be other than they were.
Husserl had the insight to point out that this attitude was at the heart of what he called the "crisis of European man". In progressively reducing the embarassing contribution of the subjective to experience, the naturalist replaced the "life-world" (the world of actual, human experience) with a lifeless, abstract world composed of mathematical relationships. This extreme objectivism however ultimately rested on a subjective, ideal foundation. The attempt to naturalize consciousness and ideas is therefore self-defeating since it presupposes precisely the opposite of what it seeks to establish, namely, that consciousness and ideas, rather than being the products of a reaction between physical entities (physical sense data impinging on a physical receptor, the brain) are the basis of all experience. It is only after the world is presupposed to be governed by natural laws that such laws can be discovered. The presupposition itself cannot be discovered by the same method.
The spiritual barrenness of the Western world and the triumph of irrationalism were according to the idealist Husserl reflections of the poverty of naturalist thought. Science was able to provide a cure for diseases of the body but found itself incapable of curing the Western soul since it itself was a symptom of the disease. "In our vital need -- so we are told -- this science has nothing to say to us. It excludes in principle precisely the questions which man, given in our unhappy times (the mid-1930's) to the most portentious upheavals, finds the most burning: questions of the meaning or meaninglessness of the whole of this human existence". (Crisis p.6) As a solution Husserl attempts to construct a science of the "life-world". Not accidentally, some passages in this project read like paraphrases of Marx. Whereas Marx tied his hopes to radical action, Husserl believed in radical contemplation. Moreover, unlike Marx, he attributed the actual decay of Western civilization to the decay of thought; whereas for Marx the relation was the opposite.
Sartre, another phenomenologist, explicitly identifies naturalism as a form of bourgeois thought. In his early writings this identification was intuitive. Sartre did not become a Marxist till after the war but for a long time before that he regarded the bourgeoisie with revulsion. This revulsion made him allergic to all manifestations of bourgeois thought, the most hateful of which was the spirit of "seriousness" with which the "salauds" assured themselves of their own necessity. "Imbeciles", he writes in Nausea, "they make laws, they write popular novels, they get married, they are fools enough to have children. And all this time, great vague nature has slipped into their city ... and they don't see it, they imagine it to be outside, twenty miles from the city. I see this nature ... 1 know that its obedience is idleness, I know that it has no laws: what they take for constancy is only habit, and it can change tomorrow." Why? Because human beings are not what they are the way stones are. A pebble cannot be anything other than a pebble. Its progression from boulder to pebble to sand is totally determined by laws exterior to it. Not only that but its disintegration only has meaning to a human observer. The pebble is the slave of fate. By contrast the life of a human being becomes frozen into fate only at the moment of death. At that point all that one has done in one's life becomes all that one could have done. Before that point arrives however it is impossible to reduce one's life to a resultant of conflicting natural forces the way one can do for the path followed by a billiard ball. One may have no choice but to become a thief, for example, but the juncture of circumstances that force this decision on one must first acquire a pressing significance for oneself. The poor state of the economy and my persistent need for food and shelter are of themselves only abstract principles. Without the meaning I attribute to them they can never determine anything. It is in fact only in the light of my decision that they take on the character of determining circumstances. If I was caught and asked why I "turned to a life of crime" I could reply that my poverty was intolerable and that I could foresee no way to alleviate it other than through robbery. Poverty and lack of work would thus have acquired meaning through my thievery and not the other way round. And that is what distinguishes us fundamentally from billiard balls. The laws of nature determine the outcome of a collision between two balls a hundred years from now, whereas for specific human beings "prediction" must always be in the form of hindsight. That is why we are forever saying "I should have known" and always failing to know.
We understand then that by the simple virtue of being human we are in possession of the freedom to alter that very world which is constantly altering us. This freedom is what makes revolution possible and at the same time denies any guarantee for its success. Naturalism is an indirect attempt to relinquish this troublesome freedom, a self-deception aimed at hiding the utter lack of necessity in the way we behave.
Such a deception, tempting as it is under the happiest of circumstances, is even more tempting in a world where human beings do actually experience each other as objects. The naturalization of consciousness is preceded by the fossilization of everyday life: the two perpetuate each other. Revolt too can be naturalized: it occurs as a predictable reaction to the fetishization of the objective, to which is opposed the fetishization of the subjective -- "decadent." self-indulgence in everyday life and in art, romantic idealism in popular philosophy. Either that or in the case of Leninism classical materialism is taken to the extreme. The hippie and the Bolshevik might at first glance appear to be the antithesis of each other but they have one thing in common which brands both (ultimately) as conformists: the tendency to fetishize, the "religious" outlook. One can always of course distinguish between extreme subjectivism and extreme objectivism, solipsism and naturalism, but in practice they are merely components of a single, stable complex.
Nevertheless, of this complex what concerns us most is the authoritarian component. Disorder can in time correct itself, if only because it leaves individuals the freedom to reject it. Authoritarianism, on the contrary, only stabilizes itself with time. Libertarian socialism is defined first and foremost by the negation of political authoritarianism and theoretical determinism. It is this negation which is announced in the First Thesis on Feurbach. In the first thesis however this negation is purely "contemplative". The actual negation had to await the dissolution of classical Marxism itself.
If I have gone out of my way to discuss naturalism it is because of its disastrous effect on Marxism. We simply have to acknowledge that the principal bourgeois ideology during the early years of Marxism was not so much political liberalism -- which even then was well on the way to exposing itself as a deception -- but faith in the natural sciences and their objectivism. It was precisely because this faith was shared by all that we have to consider it the principal ideology of capitalism. It was this universality that gave it its effectiveness. And if today there is such a thing as libertarian Marxism it is because naturalized Marxism was a catastrophe that cannot be forgotten. For us this failure is the equivalent of the Holocaust in Jewish tradition, For better or for worse the conception of libertarian Marxism issues from the negation and transcendence of classical Marxism.
In the first Thesis on Feuerbach, Marx had lamented that the active side of sensuous activity, the subjective side of human experience, had been developed by idealism rather than materialism. The aim of Marx's own brand of "materialism" was, as we have noted already, to go beyond the limitations of both traditional materialism and idealism. Almost to this day however what Marx wrote in the first thesis remains true: the subjectivity of human experience has had to be championed not by Marxists-- who have all along been bent on denying it -- but by idealist philosophers like Husserl. So that when the Western world was plunged into a deep spiritual crisis, Marxism automatically excluded itself from providing any answers. How could it? From the perspective of a scientific materialist the crisis did not exist: diseases of the soul show themselves only to those who believe in souls and the communists only believed in matter. So the fascists took over and shot the communists.
Could it have been any different? I think not. Men make their own history: Marxists could have chosen to be libertarians from the beginning. But men make history under the power of circumstances and near the end of the last century the circumstances were more conducive to the brand of socialism they ultimately produced than to the kind we would like to see. Indeed, our being libertarians has a lot to do with the authoritarianism of our socialist predecessors. If they hadn't made a mess of things the would be less anxious to avoid their mistakes, the effects of which form the circumstances under which we make our own history.
For the early Marxists, materialism represented an ideology which the bourgeoisie had successfully used against the ancient regime, and which the Marxists, with some minor modifications, would use against the bourgeoisies. Plekhanov ("the father of Russian Marxism"), for example, viewed Marxism as "contemporary materialism". What he and other Marxists did not realize was that it was not enough to turn bourgeois thought against the class that had given rise to it. A genuinely socialist theory could only arise out of the active dissolution of bourgeois materialism. To merely "appropriate" the old thought would only lead to a perpetuation of the old system. Similarly it was not enough to take over state power. The objective was to smash it and build something different.
Now Marxism as Marx had conceived it did make a serious attempt to transcend the shallow materialism inherited from the Enlightenment. The problem was that to the degree that Marxism was anti-bourgeois (and not just anti-aristocratic i.e. anti-idealist) it was also idealist. A critique of bourgeois thought and reality would inevitably have to counterpose some form of subjectivism ("idealism'') against bourgeois materialism. The critique of bourgeois political economy, for example, is a critique: precisely because, not satisfied with examining the appearance of economic phenomena, it directs its attention to the thoroughly subjective lives of those responsible for these phenomena. Marx's critique demonstrated that underneath such objective terms as "value", "commodity" and "labour costs'' lay a world of human suffering towards which it was impossible to adopt a neutral position. Indeed if Marx's critique achieved anything it was the demystification of "objectivity".
But how could this theoretical critique be translated into a program of action? How could one attack bourgeois materialism when the idealism of the ancient regime was still a concrete ideological force"? This problem is simply the theoretical counterpart of a very practical question: what to do when capitalism, a hateful system. is consolidating itself against feudalism, an even more hateful system. If, as indeed seemed the case, socialism was not possible without a preparatory period of capitalism, then the correct strategy was to align oneself with the bourgeoisie in those countries where it was a revolutionary class and oppose it wherever it had consolidated itself.
But it did not work out that way. Even in those countries where the bourgeoisie was no longer threatened with a restoration of the system it had overthrown, bourgeois ideology still had a universal, revolutionary ring to it. This was especially true of those theories and values which were not overtly political. These could stay "undercover" longer than theories that could be linked directly to the new ruling class. In consequences it was not easy for revolutionaries to detect their real enemies. What could be more radical, in the face of a declining and therefore exceptionally embittered autocracy, than to affirm scientific rationalism, the theory of a new age? What could be more disreputable than the atheist belief in progress at a time when for reactionaries, civilization was disappearing beneath the waves? But that which is disreputable in a society is precisely what a revolutionary will go out of his/her way to promote.
So the revolutionaries fooled themselves. They accomplished in fact what bourgeois thought left to itself would never have done: the destruction of those humanist "prejudices" that were left over from the feudal era. Naturalist Marxism with its endless vituperation against the subjective and the "unscientific" lent the bourgeoisie a valuable weapon against its early enemies. If then Marxism, through German Social Democracy, eventually reconciled itself with that very society it had earlier vowed to overthrow, this was only natural, since this Marxism had been nothing more than the most radical form of bourgeois ideology: Marxists, so to speak, had merely played the part of Janissaries, shock troops preparing the way for the bourgeois onslaught ... All they asked, these Social Democrats, was that the workers not starve, a demand which capitalists eventually understood to be in their interest to accept. Once that was settled. the subsistence wage came to include not only the cost of perpetuating the physical power of the labourer but also his loyalty. The capitalists simply revised their accounts. Personally perhaps they still despised the workers and they increased wages only grudgingly. Still they increased them because romantic hatred could no more than romantic love compete with the profit motive. Starting with this modification the early and unstable form of capitalism evolved towards an equilibrium. A symbiotic relationship was set up between socialists and reactionaries: the former provided the motive power behind a set of stabilizing reforms, the latter supplied traction by putting up resistance.
In Russia this same naturalist Marxism encountered different conditions and consequently developed differently. In Western Europe, Marxism encountered a nascent and vigorous capitalism within which it was eventually integrated. In Russia, as the nihilist Tkachev pointed out, revolution was possible only as long as Russia was still a backward country. In other words revolution in Russia was possible precisely because there was no capitalism to speak of. Hence there was never any question of Marxism integrating itself into the structure that preceded it. Finding no capitalism within which to loose itself Russian Marxism had to invent something like it.
One ought to remember here that in Russia capitalism started too late to develop in the same way that it had developed in England and France. Had it attempted to take the latter's example it would have quickly fallen prey to foreign capital in much the same fashion as for example Latin America. The solution was supplied by the Bolsheviks: primitive accumulation under forced conditions. Superexploitation of Russian labour and autarchic economic development took the place of foreign investment and allowed the Soviet Union to become an independent industrial power.
In both cases Marxism objectified those tendencies it had internalized earlier. In the West it helped to develop the system it was born into. In Russia where Marxism was an import it recreated in a distorted form the Western milieu on which it had been originally reared.
Despite its authoritarianism the USSR is not a capitalist state. Neither was Lenin an "objective" agent of capitalism. Indulgence in such simple-minded schematism is appropriate to Stalinists not libertarian socialists. Bolshevism is imbued through and through with bourgeois ideology but nevertheless it remains a revolutionary ideology. To transcend it, rather than just negate it, we have to historically situate it without overlooking its uniqueness. Instead of doing this libertarian thought has for the most part been preoccupied with villifying it.
This practice more often than not ends in absurdity. It is for example fashionable today to make oneself respectable by claiming to be a "pure" Marxist. Pure Marxism can only exist however if Marxism is reduced to an abstract ideal. If in fact the villains by virtue of their villainy automatically excommunicated themselves as Marxists, then we have to admit of long that if the Nazis had been real Germans they would have stopped being Nazis.
If we give up trying to be respectable however we will view Leninism as the first attempt to realize Marxism. It failed. If there were any doubts about this while Lenin was alive they were dispelled by his successor. But without this failure, without Stalin, Marxism would not have grown up, would have effectively remained unaware of its deep neurosis. It is indeed tragic that this neurosis had to develop into murderous lunacy before it could be purged. The crimes of the past however can only be expiated by the good deeds of the future. One cannot simply dissociate oneself from them through a mere word. To say "I am a libertarian" is to take upon oneself the responsibility of diminishing the horrors of the past. In the same way to say that you are an adult is to admit that once you were an adolescent trying to become an adult. You may have made serious errors but without them you would not have grown up. "It is only those who do nothing who make no mistakes", said Kropotkin and he was an anarchist.
Unless we want all our heroes to be martyrs we have to learn that the world will not be changed without getting a few hands dirtied. Not enough ruthlessness and disorganization can betray a revolution just as much as too much ruthlessness and authoritarianism. We should give Makno, the Kronstadt sailors, the Spanish anarchists, the French students and all other libertarians their due and then we should note that they failed. To become a symbol is not enough. As it is we have enough saints and martyrs to fill a liturgical calendar. Of course there is glamour in tragic failure but only those who survive can appreciate it. For too long now libertarianism has been an outlet for those who can't accept the existing order but who at the same time can't be bothered with doing anything about it. They find in libertarianism a dream of unmatched purity which they take care to define in such a way as to make it unattainable (See "Why the Leninists Will Win" elsewhere in this issue). Then lo and behold, quietism becomes revolutionary. It is not at all surprising in fact that the various Leninist sects are still able to attract recruits. Anybody serious about radical social change can't help but notice that while anarchists have beautiful sentiments Bolsheviks are more likely to do something about it.
Which brings us back to that synthesis of object and subject that has been prominent throughout these reflections. Through this synthesis revolutionary socialism attempted for the first time to overcome the one-sidedness of materialism while at the same time avoiding the perils of romantic idealism. It should be recognized that libertarian socialism must start from this synthesis. One-sidedness in whatever form it occurs destroys the whole project. It is obviously a difficult error to avoid -- in view of the Bolshevik experiment it is very easy to say that one cannot be too subjective -- but then "the revolution is not a tea-party". Vanguardism ultimately oppresses the working class. Lack of leadership leaves it stranded in oppression. Bureaucratism stifles revolutionary tendencies. Pure spontaneism dissipates them. Rigid centralization is authoritarian. Lack of coordination and discipline is ineffective.
No movement can consider itself socialist that does not put in practice the synthesis that has eluded Marxism since that first thesis. Bolshevism failed by succeeding. Anarchism failed by failing. We'll see what we can do.
Portugal: The Impossible Revolution (Book Review)
Reviewed by Fred Freedman
Every revolutionary struggle is accompanied by a flurry of "left" books on the subject. Portugal is of course no different. The problem is one of truth, interpretation, and who to believe. The left press is no less guilty of fraud and lies in reporting revolutionary events than the bourgeois press.
Phil Mailer's Portugal: The Impossible Revolution? is a clear analysis of the events in Portugal from April 25, 1974 to November 25, 1976 with a background chapter. It is clearly and simply written with little rhetoric. It is also openly libertarian, documenting the struggle of the Portugese people against both fascism and domination by Leninist parties whose picture of state power differs little from the fascists. The Portugese revolution is one of the three or four most important struggles for western leftists to understand and this goes a long way to shed light on the inevitable final battle that any successful revolution faces: the people vs. the parties. In Portugal this took on a special meaning, as the book makes clear.
The author, Phil Mailer, is an Irishman living in Portugal these past five years. He works with the libertarian paper Combate in Lisbon.
1977 list of groups and journals sympathetic to libertarian socialism.
Libertarian socialism hasn't swept the world (yet!) but libertarian ideas, literature, publications, and groups are to be found in an amazing number of places. If we are to turn these beginings into a full-fledged movement, we will have to establish more contact with each other, co-operate with each other, and learn from each other as we work to improve our ideas and our practice. Listed below are a few libertarian sources, groups, and publications. There are many more: the best place to find out about them is from Synthesis (see below). Here we have picked out some of the most significant ones, with some emphasis on Canada. We don't necessarily endorse everything these groups have to say, but we think they are worth knowing about. In future issues of THE RED MENACE we plan to mention others, and to describe literature of special interest to libertarians, as well as places to obtain hard-to-get books, pamphlets, etc.
P.O. Box 1858
San Pedro California 90733 U.S.A.
"An Anti-Authoritarian Newsletter for Citizen-Worker Self-Management Ideas and Activities" published by the League for Economic Democracy. Publishes correspondence and exchange from anti-authoritarians, and an extensive listing of anti-authoritarian groups from across North America and beyond. $4.00 for 10 issues, 40 cents for a sample copy.
186 Hampshire St.
Cambridge Mass. 02139 U.S.A.
A thoughtful and sensitive magazine carrying some of the best writing currently being done on the left, especially on"cultural" and other questions usually out of the purview of the "official" left. $10 for 10 issues.
Box 6135, Station G
Produced by an anarchist group in Vancouver, the Open Road carries news and information about anti-authoritarian communist developments throughout the world. Free, but donations welcome.
3934 St. Urbain
An anti-authoritarian quarterly journal carrying articles and analysis about political trends and strategy, especially in relation to Canada and Quebec. $7 per year. Also carries selection of pamphlets on radical social theory, urban questions and political movements.
Black Rose Books
3934 St. Urbain
Publisher of radical and libertarian books. Free catalogue.
Industrial Defense Bulletin
P.O. Box 306, Station E
Published by the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) Defense Local 2, the Bulletin tries to co-ordinate "defense and relief to members of the working class who are being persecuted for their activity in the class struggle". Also sells some literature.
P.O. Box 10638
HAPOTOC ("Help a Prisoner and Outlaw Torture Organizing Collective") is a libertarian organization consisting mainly of prisoners. Their newsletter contains general articles as well as articles especially about prisons and repression.
c/o Dept. of Sociology
St. Louis, Missouri 63130 U.S.A.
A radical philosophy journal.
P.O. Box 40256
Calif. 94140 U.S.A.
"If you're bored by shitless anemic leftists with their elitist manipulations and masochistic reforms - and if you're interested in creative and fun actions against a life of death - drop us a line."
Black and Red
Detroit, Mich. 48202 U.S.A.
Printers and publishers of some excellent libertarian literature. A complete list is available on request.
GPO Box 13011
Philadelphia, PA 19101 U.S.A.
The distributor in North America of London Solidarity's literature, as well as some of its own titles. They carry some first-class literature. Free catalogue on request.
New Hogtown Press
12 Hart House Circle
University of Toronto
A distributor and publisher of left literature. Not a libertarian group as such, but carries some good libertarian titles. Extensive catalogue av-ailable free.
Exchanges et Mouvement
75866 Paris Cedex 18
Publishes a newsletter in both an English and French version that draws together worldwide information of interest to the libertarian left. Subscriptions 10F or equivalent.
THE RED MENACE
P.O. Box 171
Postal Station D
A libertarian socialist newsletter. 75 cents a copy, or $3.00 for 4 issues. We are interested in making contact with people who like what we have to say, to see what we can do together.
Dear Red Menace:
I just saw your first issue. Although I don't much like the title, I do like the contents, in particular the article on your editorial policy. My particular hope is that feminists find in your pages a forum for grappling with the theoretical connection, if any, with socialism.
Dear Red Menace Friends,
We would like to exchange subs with you - saw your first issue and I find your questions, probes, plans really encouraging.
Margaret for the collective
at Liberation magazine
The following is a Red Menace Condensed Edition of a form letter that we have entered a relationship with:
I'm your first Re-invention of Everyday Life form letter! I'm laying right here in your hands talking to you with all the reified warmth & friendliness of a plumbing fixture because my files indicate that you have an active interest in social revolution &/or are a personal acquaintance. But before I make my special limited time offer just for you, Mr./Ms. Red Menace, let me explain the reasons for my existence:
I'm here due to a unique set of circumstances involving the human who (along with the post office box, publications, correspondence files & now myself, this letter) also just happens to be a member of REL. Before vacating his normal work-a-day existence for a chaotic month of summer travel, JNB was almost caught up on REL correspondence, & was dutifully pursuing a coupla projects. But the correspondence found in the box on his return seemed even more so of the two usual types: 1) letters & printed matter from other P.O. boxes who publish & mail things to each other as a form of revolutionary activity, & 2) notes from either faceless people or Boxes, (with no indication of who they are, or of what JNB might have in common with them), saying "What's REL?". ... I (this letter) will try to get JNB to continue to keep in touch with REL correspondents, but he'll probably have more interest in who they are than in lengthy discussions. He'll probably use me awhile for initial contacts... He'll still, however, want to continue a sharing of publications & mutual encouragement...
Re-Invention of Everyday Life
P.O. Box 282
Palo Alto, Calif. 94302,
To The Red Menace
Wow, neat, peachy keen, I just got my copy of Red Menace. What a thrill to know there is a sinister communist conspiracy of freaks and ordinary workers like me who will use plain language and short articles and all that great stuff.
But a few problems - what is wholistic, dialogical pedagogy, salient, nascent surrealism hegemonic? Answer - a group of lefties practising intellectual masturbation - talking to themselves.
In other words you are going to grind out every month or so a paper to argue amongst yourselves till you split off into your different groups. Do you seriously think you are saying anything relevant to what's going on in the world or saying anything that a worker, mental or manual, housewife, teacher whatever would bother reading? Do you think that except for a slightly different theoretical point of view you are different in any way from any other left group?
Or maybe you want to be like other left groups? Do you want to talk about what people should he doing or talk about talks people had where they talked about what people should be doing? Your workers centre, education conference and all that were all structured from above for an inner group that either got invited there or had the fortune, may Marx and the LIP bless us all, of being subjects in a fun little experiment for the kids from the big city.
I think the independent left should get together. So, have a party. Phone up everybody you know, have them phone up everybody they know and everybody brings their own. Most people will get drunk and/or stoned, some will get their rocks off, and we can all argue with each other about 1917 and what happened to the left.
Thanks for sending the first issue - we're encouraged!
for Philadelphia Solidarity
Dear Bros. and Sis.,
Keep on conspiring.
Red Menace #3 - Volume 2, Number 2 - Spring 1978
The Red Menace was a Canadian libertarian socialist publication put out from 1976-1980.
Introduction to this issue
As the article "What is The Red Menace?" (P.10 in this issue) makes clear, there are differing ideas about what The Red Menace should be. Part of the problem revolves around the desire, on the one hand, to make this newsletter a forum for the exchange of a broad range of opinions covering the spectrum of the libertarian left (which leaves the question of how to define "libertarian") and the desire, on the other hand, to make The Red Menace an expression of the views of the people working on it. One thing which we feel would be useful in dealing with the situation is to begin each issue with a brief introduction explaining some of the themes of the issue, the choice of major articles, and indicating how the collective evaluates important or contentious articles.
The publication of our first two issues brought us a good deal of favourable response, much of it from anarchists. Many seemed to assume we are anarchists; other people wrote to ask what, if anything, distinguishes our politics from anarchism. In an attempt to answer that question (for ourselves as well as for our readers) we are attempting to encourage articles on this and other basic political questions on the libertarian left. In this issue, there are several articles on the topic, from rather different perspectives. A member of the collective, Ulli Diemer, has contributed two articles, ("Anarchism vs. Marxism" and "Bakunin vs. Marx") which look at the roots of the anarchist/marxist split, and take up a number of general issues in the anarchism/Marxism debate. Diemer takes a pro-Marxist position, and argues that the rejection of Marxism by most present-day anarchists has more to do with the false identification of Marxism with Leninism, and with the failure of most anarchists to find out anything about Marxism before attacking it, than with any serious consideration of Marx's own views. He raises a number of points of disagreement with anarchism, but suggests that they can and should be overcome. Diemer's position substantially reflects the views of many members of the Libertarian Socialist Collective, but is not the group's 'official' position: at least one member of the collective, in fact, intends to write a reply to the articles for the next issue.
A diametrically opposed view is contained in P. Murtaugh's "The End of Dialectical Materialism: An Anarchist Reply to the Libertarian Marxists". Murtaugh essentially argues that 'libertarian Marxism' is either honest confusion, or deliberate opportunism, but in any case not a defensible political position. The Libertarian Socialist Collective categorically rejects Murtaugh's analysis, which we think displays an ignorance of Marx and Marxism that is unfortunately widespread among many people who style themselves anarchists. Nevertheless we welcome the way it confronts the issue frontally, thereby opening a discussion which we think can potentially be very fruitful. We are confident that libertarian socialism and anarchism are fundamentally in tune, but we think it important that misunderstandings and disagreements be confronted openly and vigorously. (It should also be noted that Murtaugh's article is not necessarily representative of anarchists generally - some anarchist comrades, in fact, objected to its publication because they considered it too unrepresentative.)
Our purpose in encouraging discussion on this and other issues is not of course to create division among people who are presently able to work well together; rather, it is an attempt to elaborate the basis on which unity between different kinds of libertarians is possible. We strongly believe that theoretical and strategic questions have to be dealt with critically and frankly, not swept under the rug for fear of the results. Questions of goals, strategy, and organization are central to any political movement. It should be possible - must be possible - for libertarians to discuss ideas and actions, criticize each other, and differ where necessary, without hostility and splits resulting. Hopefully we libertarians are mature enough to engage in the vigorous exchange of ideas without fracturing our movement.
A radicalism that is to be more than abstract rejection of capitalist society has to develop a radical critique of the way things are done in this society, and develop alternatives. One critical problem is that of technology: is there a liberatory way of using technology, or is most current technology inherently capitalist, suited only to hierarchical society whose relation to nature is that of domination? One of the most important attempts to develop an analysis of the liberatory potential of technology has been developed by Murray Bookchin. In his article on Bookchin Tom McLaughlin examines some of the directions that Bookchin has explored.
A specific example of an attempt to use technology in a liberatory way is the revolutionary radio station in Bologna: Radio Alice. Radio Alice takes its name from Alice In Wonderland, and has attempted to similarly invert language and logic in a subversive way. Last year, it was also caught up in an attempt to subvert the City of Bologna in a slightly more traditional way: when street fighting broke out, Alice acted as a centre of communication and co-ordination, with non-stop broadcasting of events on the streets as they happened. In this issue, we feature an excerpt from that broadcast.
The discussion of work and other daily life experiences begun in the last issue continues in this one with another article on office work, which discusses what it's like to work in a highly structured office environment.
A number of debates from the last issue are taken up again in this issue in the "Exchange" section (P. 18). Included are a response to Ed Clark's "Why the Leninists Will Win" entitled "Why the Leninists Will Lose"; a reply from the Wages for Housework group at Bain Avenue to criticism of them in the last issue, and a counter-reply to the charges they make; and a piece by Simon Rosenblum arguing for working in the NDP. (The collective is in complete disagreement with Rosenblum on this, but considers the question of the NDP an important one which should be discussed. Replies to Rosenblum, as well as to anything else in the issue, are welcome.)
Multiphasic Bureaucratic Follow the Leader Exam (with built-in Deception Detector)
by Larry Kisinger
Instruction: Select the one most non-commital answer.
PART ONE: Would you make a good Leader?
1. When I talk, people
(b) leave the room
(c) inspect their fingernails
(d) gaze at the ceiling
(e) I never talk
(f) I only talk to myself
2. My comrades are always telling me that I
(a) am intellectually advanced
(b) am ideologically advanced
(c) am sexually advanced
(d) have nice hair
(e) all of the above
(f) none of the above
3. People often come to me
(a) for advice
(b) for comfort
(c) for money
(d) to borrow something
(e) after they've gone to everybody else
(f) people never come to me
4. The most important quality in a leader is
(a) The ability to quickly grasp the significance of any situation at a glance, work out a detailed plan of action, and manipulate everbody into following it.
(b) To be able to complete a night compass course exercise at Ft. Benning, Georgia, without falling over a cliff or getting bitten by a rattlesnake.
(e) a big mouth
5. I am
(a) always right
(b) almost always right
(c) often wrong, but I seldom admit it
(d) always wrong, but I never admit it
6. People are always commenting that my eyes are
(a) filled with the steely light of strength and absolute determination
PART TWO: Would you make a good follower?
1. The main responsibility for the administration of discipline should be left to
(a) the central committee at the local level
(b) the central committee at the district level
(c) the central committee at the regional level
(d) the central committee at the national level
(e) our Glorious Leader
(f) my Mom
(g) all of the above
2. The concept of "freedom of speech" is
(b) nice if the situation allows it
(c) a petty-bourgeois fetish
(d) hardly relevant in a well-led organization
3. The 'pursuit of happiness' means
(a) strictly adhering to the policies and cheerfully and diligently carrying out the orders of the central committee at the local level.
(b) strictly adhering to the policies and cheerfully and diligently carrying out the orders of the central committee at the district level.
(c) strictly adhering to the policies and cheerfully and diligently carrying out the orders of the central committee at the regional level
(d) Strictly adhering to the policies and cheerfully and diligently carrying out the orders of the central committee at the national level
(e) strictly adhering to the policies and cheerfully and diligently carrying out the orders of Our Glorious Leader
(f) all of the above
4. When a problem comes up I
(a) wait to see what our leader says about it
(b) wait to see what everybody else says about it
(c) stay out of sight
(d) pretend it doesn't exist
5. "Criticism/self-criticism" is
(a) a way of getting back at people
(b) a parlour game
(c) a kind of bloody show & tell time for grown-ups
(d) hardly relevant in a well-led organization
6. The Peoples' State will
(a) take care of the people
(b) take care of the leaders
(c) fuck over the people
(d) wither away
7. The "dictatorship of the proletariat" means
(a) the dictatorship of the Party
(b) the dictatorship of the central committee
(c) the dictatorship of Our Glorious Leader
(d) all of the above
8. When a person of authority says squat, I
(a) vote yes
(b) get confused
(c) vote no
(e) all of the above
Special Bonus Question
When I see a tall shiny pair of black boots, I feel like I want to
(a) stomp someone
(c) be stomped
(d) lick them
STOP: END OF TEST
All blanks must be filled in, or this form will be thrown back in your face. Go back and check answers. Don't guess. Answer truthfully; this test has a built-in deception detector. Just relax and do the best you can. Pay attention. Don't worry, be happy. You will never see the result of this test, but they will go into your permanent record. When the bell rings, place your pencil on the desk and file silently out of the room.
Radio Alice: Radio in action in Italy
Elsewhere in this issue, Tom McLaughlin discusses Murray Bookchin's ideas on the liberating potentialities of technology. The following article focuses on a day in the life of Radio Alice, a free radio station in Bologna, Italy, that represents one attempt to turn modern technology in a liberating direction.
Radio Alice is interesting as an attempt to show that the act of creating a liberated society requires the transformation of the dominant technology and means of communication. The station was founded two years ago, in February 1976, by a political collective who took the name Radio Alice from Lewis Carroll's Alice because they sought to subvert reality in the way it was in Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. They were especially interested in the politics of speech, and how speech itself reflects the worldview of the dominant reality. As a result, they attempted, through Radio Alice, to subvert the dominant mode of discourse and in so doing to show that it is not the only one possible.
The station itself is affiliated with no political group, although many of the members of the founding collective were formerly members of the autonomous left-wing groups that have played so large a part on the Italian scene in recent years. These groups have been distinguished by their refusal to accept the traditional leftist forms of organization, strategy, and leadership, by their militancy, and by their total opposition to the 'alternative' presented by the Communist Party, which they characterize as part of the system to be overthrown. The CP, incidentally, controls the municipal government in Bologna.
The events described in the following transcript must be understood in the political context of Italy today. While the country's rulers grapple ineffectually with a serious and chronic economic crisis, and while un-employment soars above the two-million mark, the ruling Christian Democrats cling to power through a governing coalition which excludes the CP but which survives only with the support of the CP, whose only stated goal seems to be a few seats in a government of national unity that is to save Italian capitalism. (See the interview with the Italian CP senator in this issue.) Meanwhile leftists battle police and the strong neo-fascists in the streets in violent clashes. Many compare Italy today to the Weimar Republic in the late 1920's.
The events leading up to those described in the following transcript were as follows: in March 1977 leftist and rightist students clashed in an angry but non-violent confrontation on the university campus in Bologna. Police invaded the campus, indiscriminately clubbing students, who then replied with paving stones and molotov cocktails. The result was a series of street battles stretching over several days. The campaign of police repression was accompanied by a continuous stream of abuse from the Communist Party directed at the insurgent students.
Radio Alice broadcast news of the events as they occured, often by airing telephone calls from militants who described events, called for assistance in a given sector, and reported police movements. The station was twice raided and closed down by police, but resumed broadcasting by switching locations and resorting to a transmitter powered by a car battery. Finally, the station was silenced and charges of inciting riot were laid against a number of the key militants. About a month after it was closed down, the station resumed broadcasting on an irregular schedule with a reduced collective of people.
(For more information about Radio Alice and the March events in Bologna, see the Winter 1977-78 issue of Radical America.)
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
RA: This is Radio Alice. Any comrade who knows anything about what's going on please give us a call here at RA, and we would really appreciate it.
Telephone: (panting voice) ... so listen, the police are charging from via St. Petronio, and also from via Zamboni, at the end. They shot some tear gas, then they lined themselves up at the end of via Zamboni, I mean close to the Church of St. Donato, close to ... they are there.
RA: Got it. Listen, where are the comrades now?
T: The comrades are in piazza Verdi, counterattacking, and also close to Economics; they have made one line, and they have also gathered some stones. Now listen, it should be said, perhaps ... I mean, you know ... that you should send as many comrades as you can to help us, because there are only a few of us now.
T: Fine. Maybe later on I'll drop in with some more news, or maybe somebody else will. Ciao.
RA: Ciao, thanks.
T: Hey, the police have entered the university zone. They've started spreading tear gas. And they've already reached the second traffic light on via Zamboni. The comrades are withdrawing to a place where they can rally together. They are not opposing the police. They are rallying, but they are not yet moving ahead, while at piazza Verdi the police are already spreading teargas. Now the rally is beginning to move and they are heading to the zone close to St. Donato. That's all.
RA: OK, ciao, thanks.
RA: There is an urgent message, it's very important: the people of the political-juridical committee should come here into our studio right away, or get in touch with us, anyway: it's much better if they come here.
T: .. so, comrades, the police are moving up. They've rammed into the barricades, marched onto piazza Verdi, and now they have occupied it. Now they are going down via Zamboni. The comrades are now between Economics and porta Zamboni. Anyway, we need news and information for our comrades. Those who know if the police have reached porta Zamboni, via Ernerio, or the streets in the ring around porta Zamboni, please call us immeditately, because many people are listening to the radio. We need to know it badly because we must set up new barricades, and organize everything. Anyway, they're moving up and they're using a lot of teargas.
T: ... so the university buildings have been emptied by the police and carabinieri, who have marched onto piazza Verdi from 3 sides: from via Zamboni, from via Riva di Reno, via delle Moline, and from piazza Oldobrandi. There has been very little or no resistance from our side because there was no fucking way. Those guys threw a lot of teargas bombs while they were still far away.
RA: Listen, where are the comrades now?
T: They've moved down along via Zamboni.
RA: What for? I mean what are they planning to do now?
T: Nothing, it's a complete defeat.
RA: A complete defeat?
T: Yeah, a slaughterhouse.
T: M is calling. The end of the world is underway here. Police are behaving more or less like at the theatre, you know. Wait a minute. Here's S. who knows what's going on better than me.
T: (S.) Well, the police are not gaining ground any more, they are not using tear gas now. It's probably because the wind is blowing the tear gas back towards them. Matter of fact, the wind is now blowing in our favour. We have nice sunshine too and plenty of fresh air.
T: (M.) Oh it's great, it's springtime.
T: (S.) The comrades were able to throw back the tear gas bombs before they exploded. You grab it from the top and then you throw it back at the police.
RA: Listen, where are you now?
T: All the people who started the rally are now around via Zamboni. But the rally hasn't started yet. They still have to decide. As of now the police are dug in around piazza Verdi, and we have a lot of very nice barricades that stretch all along the way down to the end of via Zamboni. Now l can hear the explosion of a bomb. I don't know what kind, a teargas bomb or something else. Anyway, things are going well now. The point now is that if we decide to start the rally we can move it to via. .. (noise), there are no police there, so we can. But those comrades who are listening to the radio, they can reach us of course from the side roads, to porta Zamboni, easily, and reach...
RA: That's OK, now, thank you. Ciao.
T: The comrades have tried somehow to resist, but because the police were throwing teargas bombs, and they had only stones, you know, they could not reach that far with their throws so they had to withdraw along via Zamboni, and now they have all gathered around the gate of porta Zamboni, and perhaps it's better that the rally does not start at all.
T: I'll call later on.
RA: Hey, listen ...
T: I just wanted to tell you that the whole area around via Petroni, piazza Aldrovandi, all the side streets, via St. Vitale and Strada Maggiore, is completely closed. So if somebody wants to get out of there, they should try a different way, that is, through the malls, and not to go to piazza Maggiore and the other small streets that lead to piazza Maggiore from piazza Verdi. I just wanted to tell you this because, you know, the police are right here and they're not letting anyone through. They stop and check everybody who shows up.
RA: OK, thank you, ciao.
T: Almost half an hour ago, maybe more, let's say at 4:30 or 5 p.m., during the first clashes, we saw some firemen in uniform and with helmets and oxygen bottles running away along via Zamboni while teargas was being thrown all around. Naturally we asked where they were going and what they were doing. "We are looking for, a telephone because they cut firehoses and we don't know how to put out the fire at the Cantunzein." Who cut the tire hoses'? "The police." This is what I heard with my small blue ears. Here's the other guy again.
T: (the other guy) Right now in via Rizzoli everything is still, but clearly, the cadres of the movement are not here. Three hundred and fifty of them, the toughest, went to Rome, so now the people who are arriving here are those who would like to do something but are a bit scared. That's why there are only slogans. Anyway, the situation is very tense.
RA: But, then, the police are in the middle surrounded by the comrades.
T: (woman) We were in via Rizzoli. At one point everybody started to run. Then in piazza Maggiore a comrade arrived saying that the police charged ordinary people, that is, passersby, children and senior citizens. He also said that the police, the special corps, got out of their jeeps and started to cudgel the people. This comrade was really pissed off. Then we ran into the house of a comrade living nearby. Now we don't know what to do.
RA: Thank you for the news. First some comrades phoned saying that the comrades were surrounding the police and that the situation was very tense. We don't know what the situation is now.
T: There were people running.
RA: OK, someone please phone us, telling us more precisely what's going on. We will see if it was a joke.
T: OK, ciao.
RA: This is always RA, don't despair. We are continuing to transmit the fragmented news we have. Right now, there is great confusion. Someone has asked if it is true that the police have sacked the Cantunzein. This is not true. They merely cut the tire hoses. Outside it is starting to rain. Inside, we will continue to transmit.
T: Herein via Rizzoli, at first the comrades encircles the police. It was beautiful, because they were moving forward, then sitting down, making fools out of the police, who were very bewildered. Anyway, about fifteen seconds ago they exploded ... wait ...
T: (another voice) It's very important Jesus fucking Christ are you there? Can you hear me? Yes, OK, I'm Bonvi. The situation is this, the wonderful thing is this, there were comrades of the Communist Party who came on their own, independent of the Party organization. They were sitting there in the piazza, becoming more excited and more resolute. At this point the police shot some teargas. Via Rizzoli is full of smoke. My office is becoming full of people who are taking shelter from the side roads. OK guys, be quiet . . . The situation is still very indeterminate, but anyway it is very nice. It seems to me that the people of the city are replying very well to this provocation by the police. Here is Gabriele, ciao.
T: Listen, it is important to understand that we have nothing against the policeman as an individual, but that we are fighting against policemen as an institution, as power...
T: (Bonvi) The most beautiful thing is that not only the "ultras" but the whole population, all the young people, also the teenagers, replying and not just to mess around but because they have had their balls and ovaries broken enough.
T: We agree. No one has ever fought against the police personally but for what they represent, for what they have to do.
T: This is the situation in piazza Verdi. The police have succeeded in occupying it. The comrades are barricaded near philosophy and behind the cafeteria. Both sides are shouting.
RA: I don't understand what you mean by both sides are shouting.
T: There is shouting from both sides. Or, at least, we can hear shouting from both sides and throwing of molotovs, etcetera. By the way it is likely that they have set fire to the faculty of law, but we don't know for sure. There is a lot of smoke coming from there. That's all I know.
RA: Thanks, ciao.
T: (voice of a man speaking angrily) Listen, we are a group of workers and we are trying to get organized and see if we can reach you and break your bones because we are fucking sick and tired of listening to you cocksuckers, that's what you are. Stop it, pigs! You should be ashamed, you are pieces of shit.
RA: It, instead of staying at home. you were here, you would learn that ...
T: Come on, why should I bother, since I've seen you at work (great confusion, a lot of swearing and insulting)
RA: Yet you don't know what's happening...
T: You assholes!
RA: We just got some news, something dependable. A mass rally is coming from the Ducati factory, we do not know what they have in mind, what they are planning to do.
RA: Wait a minute, say it again.
T: So, our comrades have just regained conrol of piazza Verdi, after a whole afternoon of fighting, the police have been pushed back. They could not get through and had to withdraw to the two towers. Apparently, at the two towers, they are gathering together again to go back to piazza Maggiore once more. That's all. Ciao.
RA: We have some more news. Apparently it is dependable. It seems that outside Porta St. Vitale there is a rally of workers, a rather big one, judging on what they said, so there should be two rallies of workers around now. We don't think they are chasing leftists, but that they are chasing cops.
RA: This is Radio Alice. We cannot use the telephone because the line is busy, but we want to talk to Radio Citta, here in Bologna, to see if we can make a joint broadcast about the riots. Every now and then we expect to receive news from the comrades who have gone into the fighting zones and who should still be there. They should call us if they can. Our number is 273459. Considering what's happening, I would say that the best thing to do would be this joint program.
T: One more message. We will soon give you some news about ... I mean some news about comrades in jail. We got this news from the Soccorso Rosso (Red Aid). A comrade has been beaten at the central police station. Ten comrades are 114 the prison of St. Giovanni. But later on we'll give more details. Just listen to what those pigs are doing. I mean, hang on...
T: (housewife) Today, in Piazza Maggiore, when the students were trying to get in, there were workers' pickets who did not let them through. This has been the most hideous thing the people of Bologna could do. I found that very loathsome. At long last I learnt from you that at least these people have started to do something, and this cheered me up a little bit. Because I was really sad, you know. Tomorrow I have to leave the city, but I was really sad. I was thinking that Bologna was fighting against her very children, see what I mean?
RA: I do.
T: Look, that really came as a. surprise, the biggest shame I've ever seen in my life.
RA: We too are glad to learn that the people of Bologna are now on our side.
T: (weeping) Right, otherwise it would have been truly sad. Look, my children are going to school, but it is sad. One lives in Rome, the other one is here in Bologna. So I happened to be here right on these days. Since the 8th, Woman's Day, when they beat that girl, since that day and the next one and so on I've been in the streets, but today I could not take it anymore. I wish you every luck. I'll call you again from Morano. Ciao, thank you!
RA: Cops are not the only ones who can bug a telephone - we can too, listen. We've been given this news. Our good old minister, Cossiga, the very honest minister of Police, has given a certain order, namely: the "blue meanies" should clean up Bologna gently and with a lot of tact, and should be very tough at Rome instead. This is the command given by Cossiga.
RA: Then it is of vital importance that Radio Citta get in touch with us. Radio Citta, please call the operator, number 10, and ask to be connected with our number. It is very important, we need to talk to them.
Radio Citta: We can tell you for sure that they have called exactly 180 soldiers in order to enforce "law and order" in this town. They have been brought to the "Minghetti" barracks. So far so good. There are 800 pupils from the Police School of Alessandria. Well, these pupils are kids around the age of 20, people with no experience at all, people who are now being sent inside a very harsh fight, thrown in it by murderous logic which has been seen so far only in "Westerns". The more a guy is likely to lose control of his temper, the better it is, they think, in order to spoil the image of a city like Bologna. We are asking for an answer to this situation from every democratic institution in Bologna, from every democratic force. And we are asking for it right now, while we, all the free radio stations in Bologna, keep on receiving requests for explanations. They come from people who are appalled and fucking angry, people who are demanding explanations of why the police are behaving this way, to know what exactly is going on, and what Bologna is being turned into.
RA: This is a joint transmission with Radio Citta. You were mentioning a message from eight comrades arrested by the police.
RA: Nine comrades in the prison of St. Giovanni.
RC: This is the message: "Ask about Isola Paolo and eight other people. Arrested without charges during the clashes yester-day,-they weren't even at the rally and they weren't armed. These are abusive arrests." And a note at the bottom, "a comrade has been beaten until he lost blood."
RA: Are these comrades in St. Giovanni?
RC: 1 don't know, but I think so. Anyway, I am not sure, but the message is reliable.
RA: It seems that the police want the Commune of Bologna to result. The police of Cossiga, of the state minister, of the minister for all seasons, of the control minister- the christian police, supported by the leaders of the Communist Party, leaders by now discredited by the response of their own militants - these police want it, want the Commune of Bologna. They will have it.
RA: Is anybody answering? Listen, all the comrades of the legal defence committee please phone the radio station, or rush here. Hello?
RA: Listen, the police are here, we are RA. We are still waiting for our lawyers to come to let the police in. The police are trying to break the door down. I don't know if you can hear the noise from the radio. If you are policemen then you can break it down! (talking to the lawyers:) I told them that I would not open the door if they don't stop pointing their guns and unless they show me the search warrant. And since they haven't put their guns down I told them we are not going to open the door until our lawyers arrive. Please come, rush. They have guns, bullet-proof jackets and all that kind.of shit. Via del Pratello 41.
RA: Ciao - Listen, Mauro ... Hold it, our lawyers are coming. Alice! The police are at the door, leave the telephone Listen, this is RA, the police are behind the door... the police are behind the door with bullet proof jackets, guns in their hands and all that stuff. The police are at the door. Our lawyers are waiting. We positively refuse to let the police in until our lawyers are here because they are pointing guns and things like that. We cannot tolerate such things. OK - please, the comrades that are re-transmitting our program, please give us a signal via radio, I am listening. All comrades be in piazza Maggiore before midnight. Radio Citta please give us a signal. Radio Citta try.... There is a phone call. Hello Comrades, anyway, the situation is stable.
T: I am the lady…
RA: Lady we are waiting for the lawyers. The police are sitting down ... the police are still out there, waiting to get in, still with bullet-proof jackets and pointing guns. They said they would have broken the door down, and things like that ... did you see the movie - fucking cow, what is its fucking name? - the one about Germany. I got it - "The Lost Honour of Katrina Blum", they have the same identical helmets, the same identical bullet-proof jackets, the guns pointed at us, and things like that. It is really absurd, really unbelieveable, like in a movie. I swear it, if they weren't making all this noise, I would have thought I was in a film! There are four of us here at the radio station; we were all doing our job of counter-information, and we are waiting to see what the fuck the police are going to do. Right now they seem to be quiet. They've stopped beating the door. Maybe they thought it was too strong. Give me a record, let's put some music on ... pigs ... the telephone here is ringing all the time...
RA: The police started again to pound on the door. (voices) Alice! There are the police at the door - they're coming in! They are in! We have our hands up! They are in! We have our hands up!
Communists on Wall Street
Interview with Communist Party of Italy official on 'eurocommunism'
"Euro-communism" is the new doctrine of the Italian, French, and Spanish communist parties; the three largest non-governmental CP's. Just what is the new doctrine of Euro-communism, which has provoked a great deal of debate and speculation about the communist parties? As good an indication as any comes from the interview, reprinted below, with the Italian Communist Senator Eugenio Peggio, one of the leading officials of the Communist Party of Italy. The interview originally appeared last year (April 6) in the Roman paper La Repubblica.
Q: Senator Pecchioli, you are a Communist deputy, as is your colleague Boldrini. In early April you had a meeting in the Salomon Brothers skyscraper on Wall Street with generals, bankers, and industrialists representing corporations such as Chase Manhattan, Lehman Brothers, Mobil Oil, and Pan American. How was it?
Pecchioli: In the U.S. generals and bankers are particularily interested in Italian developments. This was their first direct contact with Communists. Naturally they had certain worries. Those who plan to invest with us understandably enough expect Italy to be politically stable, expect Italy to have a capable, effective government.
Q: How do these people see the role of the Communist Party of Italy?
Pecchioli: They see in the CPI a party, that can govern and stablise, a party that is capable of demanding the necessary sacrifices from the workers. At the same time I also sensed doubts and mistrust in our partners. A number tended to confuse our participation in the government with a seizure of power. We explained to them that in Italy the only possible government is a coalition government, and that the Italian constitution supplies all the necessary guarantees.
Q: Which political explanations did they ask you to make?
Pecchioli: They wanted to know in detail what the reasons were for the polemic between ourselves and the Soviets, in connection with the form of socialism that we want to build in Italy. One asked me why we still call ourselved Communists. I answered that we have a tradition and that the name is not important -- but that our name links us to the entire history of the workers' movement in Italy, to which we felt and will continue to feel strong ties.
Q: Which guarantees were asked of you?
Pecchioli: For example that the public sector in Italy would not be further enlarged. But our public sector is sufficiently large as it is. The problem is democratic planning, and that is a guarantee for those who want to invest with us. They have to know that our economic development is following specific goals, which will not be changed from day to day. Particular emphasis was laid on wage rates; we explained that these are only one aspect of the economic problems of Italy.
Q: And what did you say to the generals!
Pecchioli: We repeated that the entry of Communists into the government would not result in Italy leaving NATO. Of course our goal is the gradual dismantling of the blocs. But the military equilibrium must be maintained. Thus we accept military bases in Italy. One has to work toward the reduction of armaments, but on an equal basis.
Working in an office — for a while
An account of working in an office.
One of the articles that particularly intrigued me in the first issue of the Red Menace that I received was the one on "working in an office". I feel that I would like to share my experience and opinions on this subject. Both my name and the place where I now work are held back, for obvious reasons. My present position is only a temporary one (it is the first time that I have ever worked in an office), but it would still be rather unpleasant to lose it at this time.
What Me Work
The first thing that strikes one about working in this particular office is how little actual work ever gets done. Productivity is absurdly low. The essential reason for this is that efficiency is punished. Extra work will be piled onto anyone who has finished their assigned work. If there is no extra work to be found, the supervisors will still express their severe disapproval of anyone who appears to be doing "nothing". Anything that is totally outside the bounds of the usual "work'', such as reading a book, is only rarely done (and usually only by supervisors). One secretary was sacked for bringing her knitting to work.
While most activities that might even vaguely hint at personal enjoyment are verboten, there are two methods of time wasting that are tolerated. The first is to literally do nothing, to sit and stare at the wall. Numerous people can be seen practicing this "yoga of the void" at various times during the day. This method of time wastage is tolerated because 1) it is impossible to maintain for extended periods of time and therefore not immediately threatening and because 2) the excuse can be raised that one is "thinking about the job".
The preferred method of time wastage is, however, not daydreaming but talking. The people in this particular office have evolved a system whereby they are able to spend at least 3 or 4 hours out of each day taling to each other about linoleum, the kids, hunting, insurance, insulation, the new car, the old car, etc. Some people seem to do nothing more with their day than make the rounds of other peoples' offices.
The result is an effective reduction of the work day. The problem, however, is the narrowness of the means of reducing it. To have to converse all day is close to being as oppressive and boring as having to work.
Another problem that results from this method of workday reduction, a problem at least for those who have to deal with this particular office, is that nothing ever gets done. There are no incentives and many disincentives against ever finishing anything.
The supervisors are caught in a quandary in their attempts to deal with this problem. On the one hand, establishing an incentive program to increase productivity would challenge their control over the office environment. People when they would work and when they would read or go shopping. The office disipline would be undermined. On the other hand, attempts to increase the office workload by pressure cannot succeed either. In the first place, the attempt to force the staff to work harder would involve a substantial increase in the workload of the supervisors themselves. The incentive to accept this burden is not really present given the present organizational setup. Also, the open hostility that such a move would provoke would destroy the buddy-buddy" system upon which the supervisors presently depend to get anything done at all. The result of increasing the workload would more likely be catastrophic breakdown than increased efficiency.
We're All Friends Here
Which brings us to another point. The pseudo-friendly attitude that pervades the entire office is probably necessary for the staff to effect their reduction of the working day. You can hardly spend hours talking to someone you openly dislike. The real attitudes of most of the people here can, however, be gauged from the fact that it is rare for people from the office to meet socially outside of work hours. From what I have heard this is quite usual in most offices.
The greatest source of pseudo-friendliness, however, is the manipulation practiced by the supervisors. This technique is their response to the "shirking" of the staff. It connects well with the eternal conversations, as one of their favorite ploys is to break into a friendly conversation and gradually move it towards work matters. The conversation often ends with a grand finale of work assignments to everyone taking part in it. All this is, of course, done with a smile.
This happy bubble of friendliness is often punctured by minor plots that swirl up from the depths. These plots are usually due to the efforts of either two people in similar positions vieing for a promotion, or the efforts of an immediate subordinate attempting to work his way up the ladder a little faster. The lowest levels of the hierarchy rarely take part in the plots. The probable reason for the refusal of secretaries to take part in such plots is that they have little or no hope of promotion. Lower level technicians are usually too insecure in their positions to dare to take part in any plots. After all, anything they say may be passed on to the person referred to.
A Finely Tuned Sense of Hierarchy
One thing that strikes anyone entering an office from another job is the well polished nature of the hierarchy. Certainly in other jobs there is a boss and usually a supervisor. The majority of people working in a place, however, tend to be of roughly the same level in the work hierarchy. In this office, and perhaps all offices, the ladder is minutely graded into a multitude of different layers. Titles and subtitles proliferate like rabbits.
The physical layout of the office gives mute testimony to the hierarchical nature of the organization. The offices of the high suits, the chambers of the gods circle the outside of the office. The advantages of highsuitdom are numerous. Windows; you can actually see the sun during the day. Doors; you can shut out the rest of the office and read or go to sleep. Walls that are not simply dividers; you can make those hour long phone calls to the wife or mistress without the nagging fear of being overheard. Private secretaries; to enhance one's sense of self importance and to run interference with anyone who would dare to call upon a god.
Next on the ladder come the assorted non-descript administrators. These are graded into a hierarchy of byzantine complexity, as are the high suits. Unlike the high suits, however, their offices are grouped in the centre of the building. They are formed by dividers and have no doors. They are, however, still private offices. It is harder for these people to goof off than it is for the high suits, but it is still not impossible. The assorted administrators have unlimited access to the general office secretaries, but not to the private secretaries of the high suits. Perhaps one out of ten are women (none of the high suits are female). While it is possible for these people to goof off in private they generally prefer the talkfest method of wasting time. Maybe it helps in promotions to be "sociable".
Next on the ladder come the "lowly technicians". These people are generally grouped two to an office. These offices are of about the same size and layout as those of the administrators. They are also, however, infinitely more crowded as the lowly techicians usually require some sort of working instruments and files. The office "toys", so prominant in the offices of high suits and administrators, are absent here.
Whether paperweights, potted plants and "cute" fans are really so terrible to lose is debatable.
Next come the lowlier technicians. These are generally tucked in small corners off the major through-fares of the office. This position has the disadvantage that goofing off in private is impossible. All the desks of the lowlier technicians are arranged so that they can be seen but cannot see who is watching them without contortions worthy of the rubber man in the circus. These people, and the lowly technicians are the real talkers of the office.
Somewhere near the bottom of the heap come the lowliest technicians. These are not true office workers at all, as they are really laboratory technicians. They are occasional visitors to the office, and a likely source of high blood pressure for the more finicky administratiors. Lowliest technicians wear blue jeans and blue jean jackets, track in mud from the field, laugh loudly at bad jokes (their own) and generally disrupt the genteel routine of the office. They refuse to treat the functioning of the beloved institution with the seriousness its exalted status deserves.
On about the same status level as the lowliest techicians (perhaps a bit above them actually) are the private secretaries. These are generally older women. Their desks are placed in the open, as a sort of block to anyone attempting to enter a high suits office. Because of the positioning of their desks, they have absolutely no opportunity to goof off in private. They do, however, link in with the talk rounds of the other people in the office. Their major difficulty is that they are not permitted to "go visiting" unless on a definite mission. The private secretaries generally appear to be busy most of the time. Whether this is appearance or reality is hard to judge.
Finally, at the bottom of the heap come the general office secretaries and the "front desk girls". There may be a status difference between the two, but I have so far been unable to observe it. The only apparent opportunity these people have to kill time by talking is if someone from the higher levels gives them the chance to linger in an office. Initiation of talk fests amongst lover level secretaries is held in extreme disapproval by the supervisors.
The Lunch Room Too?
One of the interesting things about the above mentioned hierarchy is that it continues outside of the office environment. Besides the obvious fact that the different people in different levels live in different neighbourhoods, there are also numerous other ways in which the layering makes its presence known. In the lunchroom, for instance, each level sits only with its own kind.
The lunchroom in the building where I work serves several different offices. What makes me suspicious that the situation I have described in my office is typical is the fact that the tables occupied by people from other offices appear to be segregated similar to ours. An interesting side note to this segregation is the recent presence of repairmen working in the building in the lunch room. Abot two days ago a sign appeared on the door to the cafeteria: "This facility for public servants only".
One can distinguish the various levels of the hierarchy by physical appearance. The high suits, for instance, are all male, usually older, more conservative in dress, more confident looking, fatter, and generally more "prosperous". They have the look of someone who has "made it". The assorted administrators have a hungry discontented look about them. The various levels of technicians are indistinguishable, except for the lowliest technicians. Their physical appearance has already been mentioned.
The tables in the lunch room are usually sex segregated. This is despite the fact that everyone would love to relieve the boredom by talking to someone of the opposite sex. During one coffee break, I counted 6 all male tables, 9 all female tables and 2 mixed tables. The mixed tables are generally either a lone female administrator or technician sitting with her own kind or one of the high suits "visiting" one of the more attractive secretaries.
And so on, and so on.
Possibilites for Change
The possibility for change, at least in this office, is limited by several factors. The first is, of course, the finely graded hierarchy. There are not two classes of worker in offices like these but many. This means that each class, except for the lowliest, feels that it has some stake in the status quo. I suppose that this is an old story.
The potential for breaking down the barriers erected by this hierarchy is limited. The chance of "promotion" serves to compensate many of the people working here for the meaningless routine they have to endure. People who ceased to believe in the desirability of the hierarchy would be more likely to walk out (and be replaced by a believer) than stay and struggle on the job. Any push by the lower levels to increase their privileges (such as people beginning to come late regularily, or reading while at work) would only result in a corresponding increase in the privileges of the upper parts of the hierarchy and a maintenance of the hierarchy.
Another important factor that limits the evolution of offices such as this one into functioning parts of a free society is the total uselessness of most of the work performed. The prospect for transformation is blocked because institutional "liberation" would go hand in hand with personal liberation, and more critical individuals would be likely to peck it up and leave for more satisfying work. They would, once again, be replaced by believers, by people who would likely act as a drag on institutional reform.
These limitations, put together, make me believe that it is impossible to approach government offices in the traditional style of "organizing". A government office is not a place, such as en electronics or automobile plant, a library or a construction company, where workers could collectively turn their labour into liberatory channels if they had control. Smell victories, within the context of such offices, can and should be won, but they should be seen in a total strategy, not of transformation, but of destruction. Our goal, as libertarians, should be to erode the legitimacy of certain institutions to the extent that they begin to have serious manpower shortages - shortages that occur as workers begin to leave for more satisfying work/play.
The fight to gain small privileges within the office should be seen as part of this process of delegitimization. This process has already begun, under its own dynamic. Our job, as libertarians, is to experiment with methods of speeding it up. As long as people continue to take such jobs seriously, they will continue to act as stabilizing forces within those organizations whose job it is to reintegrate threats to the system (e.g. welfare agencies reintegrate threats from welfare rights groups, environmental departments reintegrate environmental groups, city planning departments reintegrate neighbourhood groups, etc.). Work from within such government agencies is important only in so far as it is subordinated to the construction of an independent system of opposition groups and workplaces, groups and workplaces which cannot be reintegrated into the system of government.
Published in Volume 2, Number 2 of The Red Menace, Spring 1978.
Words, words, words...
An assessment of the Left's often exclusionary and problematic use of language.