Issue 17 of libertarian communist journal, Subversion, from 1995.
The class struggle hits the road
Subversion on the anti-roads movement, and its relation to the class struggle.
Part One The M66 in Manchester
Motorway madness has finally come to Manchester. The latest phase of the state's scheme to 'modernise' the road network is the completion of the ring round Manchester. This is taking the form of the extension to the M66.
This development cuts through fields, parks, schools and areas of housing. The council estate at Hollinwood, Oldham was turned into a dust bowl as the bulldozers and pile-drivers moved in. Residents found that work started at 7am every morning and carried on as long as it was light. Two local schools stood to loose chunks of their playing fields and one its gym. Streets of good housing were demolished. For many local people, the final straw was when they realised that this road was to go through Daisy Nook Country Park in the Medlock Valley. Predictably, this is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and is stunningly beautiful!
As well as threatening these areas, the motorway threatens to devastate other parts of Oldham and Rochdale. The building involves cuttings. The spoil from these will has to be dumped. Old quarries have been reopened to take care of this. Another plan is to dump in the Beale Valley, Oldham. This is an open area at the bottom of Sholver council estate. Having destroyed this area where local kids play, the council say they will reopen it in ten years time - as a golf course, for which local people will have to pay to use!
The fight back began when local activists called a picnic at Daisy Nook in June. Originally intended to test feeling, this was immediately transformed into a permanent camp. Over the summer an increasing number of, mostly local, people got involved. Their numbers were strengthened by a small number of eco-warriors.
Since the start of the camp there have been a number of successful actions against the motorway. Work on the Hollinwood site has been stopped on more than one occasion, much to the satisfaction of local residents who have felt powerless in dealing with this menace. Knowledge of the issues involved is spreading throughout the area.
Work on the motorway is progressing slowly. The contracts for the Daisy Nook development
Part Two Why are struggles against Motorways so important?
So why is the struggle against the state's plans for motorway expansion important?
If we are to believe the Leninist Left or the "Left Communists", it is a side issue to the "real" struggles in the workplace. If we take the views of greens at face value, then it is a struggle for sanity against motorway madness.
It is our contention that the struggle against the motorways is an important aspect of the class struggle today.
This is true for many reasons.
Expand or die....
It is beyond the scope of this article to explain why, but capital (and the economy of nation states) quite literally needs to expand or die. When the government talk about expanding the economy being essential to the needs of Britain, they are quite literally stating the truth as far as capitalism is concerned.
An economy that does not "grow" cannot compete with its rivals. A company that does not constantly seek to cut costs and boost profit margins will see itself going to the wall. One of the main needs of capital; whether local, national or international is to drive down costs.
One simple way to drive down costs is to reduce the time it takes to make something. This means that investments are quickly turned into profits. The production process divides into two parts: production, and distribution. Distribution includes selling things and getting raw materials to factories and then the products to wholesalers and shops. A more "efficient" transport system (in terms of the time taken), a quicker turnover, means that the transformation of investment into profit is quicker too. Less is spent on storage, less on waiting. Money is available more quickly to buy the next lot of raw materials, to transport them, to make new products and then to move them again to sell them.
The need to cut down this time means at present that more and faster roads are constantly needed.
Just In Time
A good example of this is the delivery of materials according to the "Just-in-Time" principle.
Before the advent of the motorway network, factories all had large warehouses which stored the components needed in the production process. This was very costly as considerable investment sat around "doing nothing" until it was needed. The growth of computerisation changed this. Now it is possible for a factory to know exactly when a particular component is needed. A sub-contractor can be told to deliver on such-and-such a date, at such-and-such a time. Now there is no need for large warehouses. In effect the lorries have become mobile warehouses constantly moving on the motorway network. As a result, multinational companies are able to produce components where they can do so most efficiently. Thus if one needs labour intensive production it can be done where labour is cheapest, if it is hi-tech, then somewhere like Germany is preferable. The motor industry typifies this approach.
Not only are motorways needed to distribute materials to factories, they are also needed to circulate commodities. This includes the commodity that each of us has to sell, our labour power. Put it another way, capitalism needs roads to get us to work! These are often not motorways, but are urban routes that make life hell for those living near them and drive us mad trying to use them. As part of this, the car industry is probably the most important industry in developed economies, with interests of its own that it has the power to push.
The growth of bar-codes has led to this spreading to the food industry. No longer to supermarkets source their products locally. Instead it is cheaper for them to centralise packing at one point, to distribute to warehouses for redistribution to individual supermarkets as their computer generated models predict the food is needed. A recent Granada TV programme showed carrots being produced in Suffolk, transported to Preston for packing, then to Hertfordshire for loading onto lorries, before being delivered to a store in Ipswich - over 700 miles to do a 20 mile journey! Nonetheless it is more profitable to do this.
The European Union talks about an "Internal Market". What the EU wants is to integrate the various local and national capitals into one whole, the better to compete with other global capitals. "Efficient" communications is a vital part of this process. The talk is of a European Route Network. This allows for the greater efficiency of transport moving around the EU. To do this roads must be upgraded and widened - like the M6, M1, M42 and now the M66. Projects like the Channel Tunnel are undertaken with the eventual aim of providing a network linking Europe from Cork to Moscow.
A hundred years ago, production on the whole took place locally. Raw materials may have been imported, but power was locally produced (from coal), components were either produced on site or locally. This is no longer true. "Just-in-time", the roads and computers mean that everything is spread out to where it can be produced most cheaply. The various states take on the role of providing the warehouses, in the form of the road networks. In a sense, the whole of society has become the factory. Everywhere we go we are confronted with it, nowhere are we free from it.
So the road network is important for the current needs of modern capitalism. Unfortunately, those needs are in direct contrast to our needs. We need peace, quiet, fresh air and open spaces. All of these are threatened by the roads. We need good health - instead we get asthma. We need safe places for our kids - instead we are forced to keep them off the streets for fear of accidents. Over 4500 people a year die in Britain alone due to roads, worldwide the figure is nearer to one million. Our whole lives are becoming dominated by the needs of the roads and the motor industry.
When we fight back against road development we are hitting at capitalism's expansion needs. That is why the struggle is at the bottom a class struggle - a struggle by working class people against the needs of capital to dominate every aspect of our lives. By fighting the roads we are beginning the struggle to assert our own needs, a struggle that must eventually lead to the overthrow of this whole rotten system.
Footnote: If you want to read a more detailed analysis of the struggles against motorways, then we recommend you read Aufheben. Issues 3 and 4 contain excellent articles. They cost £2.00 each. Write to Aufheben c/o [address defunct]
Book review: Hatta Shuzo and Pure Anarchism in Interwar Japan
A review of Hatta Shuzo and Pure Anarchism in Interwar Japan by John Crump.
In this year when we have been bombarded with so much nauseating propaganda over "VJ Day", how inspiring it is to read of men and women who were as far removed as anyone could be from the racist stereotype of all Japanese as emperor-worshipping nationalist fanatics, and who stood instead for a world of no classes, no markets, no states, no frontiers, no wars.
Hatta Shuzo and Pure Anarchism in Interwar Japan is a fascinating account of the struggles and arguments of revolutionaries in Japan over half a century ago. But it is of more than just historical interest. Many of the issues debated there and then are still very much alive here and now, not only among groups like Subversion, but also within parts of the 'Green' movement.
The book opens with a description of the rise and fall of anarchist communism in Europe: how it emerged in the 1870s, defining itself in opposition to the collectivist and syndicalist strands in anarchism, and how it went into decline after the First World War, losing much of the theoretical clarity it had achieved earlier.
Anarchist ideas were introduced into Japan by the prominent socialist Kotoku Shusui in 1906 on his return from a stay in the USA. The existing labour movement split into social-democratic and 'direct actionist' wings. Within the anarchist camp however the division between syndicalist and communist anarchists was not pronounced. All anarchists directed their activity towards the labour unions which emerged after about 1915.
One constant feature was the unrelenting repression exercised by the state. Public meetings were broken up, publications seized, organisations banned, known militants hounded, sacked from their jobs, imprisoned. In 1911 Kotoku was hanged with 11 others following their conviction on trumped-up charges in the 'High Treason' trial. Osugi Sakae emerged as the most able anarchist amongst the younger generation. He too was murdered by the state in the chaotic aftermath of the 1923 Tokyo earthquake.
Enter the ex-clergyman Hatta Shuzo, reputedly an alcoholic and wife-beater, also a captivating public speaker, and the one person who for a few years in the late 1920s and early 1930s best expressed in his writings the revitalisation of anarchist communist theory which emerged from the activities and debates of the Japanese anarchist movement in the interwar period.
Here is one writer's assessment of Hatta's significance, quoted in the book:
"Basing himself on Kropotkinism, he developed the theory of anarchist communism one step further. After Kropotkin's death, world anarchism rapidly regressed from the level to which Kropotkin had brought it...there was nobody other than Hatta (not only in Japan but in the entire world) who took a step forward in this way".
[Petr Kropotkin (1842-1921) was an anarchist communist whose writings strongly influenced the early Japanese anarchist movement].
An anarchist federation (Kokuren) was formed in 1925 and a libertarian union federation (Zenkoku Jiren) the following year. By 1927-28 both organisations had become strongholds of the 'pure' anarchists - that is, those who sought to purge anarchism of all non-anarchist elements, particularly syndicalism, whose adherents were forced to form separate organisations of their own.
The pure anarchists' opposition to syndicalism focussed on the likelihood that the organisational structure of industrial unions would keep the division of labour, perfected under capitalism, intact in the new society, thus sowing the seeds of new forms of social conflict, and leading inevitably to the necessity for some sort of "superior coordinating machinery" - in other words, a new state.
Hatta's position on this and other issues is described at length in the two central chapters of the book, titled "Critique of the Old World" and "Hope for a New World". Here we can do no more than indicate the main areas over which the debates ranged:
the relationship between class struggle and revolutionary action
the analysis of science as an example of the form knowledge takes in class-divided societies - monopolised by specialists and used by the ruling class to exert social control
the notion of historical progress: has capitalism been a necessary stage in human history, bringing into existence the essential preconditions for communism, or (Hatta's view), has communism been an option which has been "permanently open throughout history", depending for its achievement "not on material circumstances but on human determination"
the conception of anarchist communism in terms of "social physiology" - meaning "the discovery of the means for satisfying human needs with the minimal expenditure of human energy so as to realise universal happiness"
the relationship, before and after the revolution, between the countryside and the cities
how to accomplish in practice the theoretically desirable elimination of the division of labour
the role of revolutionaries and revolutionary organisation
We do not see all of the views expressed by Hatta as representing a step forward for revolutionary theory, even in those days. During this period the working class formed only a small fraction of Japan's population and were not regarded by Hatta as the sole potentially revolutionary force in society. Instead he looked to the "propertyless masses", a category which did include wage labourers but was dominated by the tenant farmers.
Since the "propertyless masses" were not a class, they could not engage in class struggle, (which Hatta dismissed anyway as a dispute over the share of the spoils within capitalism, or a fight to replace one ruling class by another), but could simply join in a sudden, once-and-for-all explosion of revolutionary action.
However understandable such an analysis was as a reflection of a specific stage of development of capitalism in Japan, it is not one we could share. In fact we would go further and say that it was somewhat paradoxical that the pure anarchists, who were so firmly implanted in the urban centres and in the struggles of the industrial working class, and whose advanced views were no doubt a product of those material circumstances, should nonetheless have pinned their hopes so firmly on the rural peasants and tenant farmers.
As the 1930s progressed, the Japanese state's imperialist conquests abroad were accompanied by increasingly severe repression of opposition on the home front.
Among the pure anarchists various strategies for survival were attempted, none of them in the end successful. Some advocated a reunification of Zenkoku Jiren with the syndicalist union federation, Jikyo. This took place in 1934 and, interestingly, was in part the outcome of a recognition of the need for greater involvement in day-to-day struggles. Others favoured the abandonment of the cities and the dissolution of the anarchist federations. At the opposite extreme to this a third tendency favoured a highly secretive and tightly structured organisation.
This last view found expression in the formation of the Anarchist Communist Party of Japan, and had disastrous consequences. In 1935 a police investigation into a bungled bank robbery carried out by members of 'the Party' led eventually to the arrest of hundreds upon hundreds of members of the entire anarchist movement. Subsequently, "For most anarchists in Japan, there was from 1936 no alternative but to retreat into private life, think one's own thoughts, and try to stay alive, while waiting for the day when the state would, in its turn, be brought to its knees".
We leave the last word to the author: "Even if one judges some of the strategies the pure anarchists employed to have been seriously flawed, they surely deserve respect for the fact that the state had to crush them, since it could not win them over".
Technology and class
Subversion examine the role of technology in class struggle as a tool for ratcheting up the exploitation of the working class.
Note: This article and the article on the city in this issue were originally discussion documents for a day conference we held in Salford in June 1995. The conference was held jointly with the 'Liverpool Discussion Group'.
Capitalism is a system of social relations. In its simple form this is represented by a CONTRACT between the worker who only has his or her ability to work and the OWNER of certain means of production. The worker is then placed into the capitalist plan of production, that is the LABOUR PROCESS.
Capitalism is at one and the same time both a CHAOTIC and a PLANNED system. In the chaos of the market place the capitalist attempts to sell his products [for despite the fact that they are made by workers they remain HIS products]. But in order for him to be successful he has to sell his products at a competitive price, or a price that is dictated by the international market. He therefore seeks to obtain this price by paying the lowest possible one for labour and materials, AND by organising the labour process so as to minimise the socially necessary labour time that goes into making products. The workers for their part seek to get the best possible price for their labour [power] and to minimise the effort expended. Here commenceth the CLASS STRUGGLE.
One of the means which capital has used to extract surplus value is through the development of science and technology. Scientific development has ALWAYS been used as a weapon by capital to attack and break up concentrations of working class power. The problem for capital is that what replaces the old class composition can become an even bigger threat. Henry Ford's introduction of the production line process was designed explicitly to break the power of the skilled craft workers, but in the process there was created a NEW and MORE ANTAGONISTIC composition of the working class. This was the MASS WORKER, the worker of the giant production factories. Some of us taking part in the discussion are the remnants of that composition.
Today by contrast, with its new project called 'Ford 2000', that company is attempting, once again to be the 'cutting edge' of capitalist development. In addition, as the 'Fordist' model of production developed it also brought about changes in the 'state form'. What emerged was the 'Planner State', with Keynesian economics at its heart. The economies of capital were to be planned rather than left to the vagaries of the market.
The Keynesian project was an attempt to balance the unbalanceable. That is it attempted to to contain the class struggle within defined limits AND to use it as the MOTOR for capitalist development of the economy. Wage rises and the 'social wage', that is the benefits of the welfare state, were to be paid for by increases in productivity, which in turn would provide the mass of goods and the consumers for this new market.
In the period after World War Two the 'Planner State' became the norm in all the major Western economies, and oversaw what has been called a golden age of accumulation or 'growth'. The 60s and 70s also saw however the emergence and growth of a new militant and political class struggle as the proletariat increasingly refused its part of this bargain.
The struggles of the 60s and 70s, which spread out of the factories and into the communities, undoubtedly threw capital into crisis. The demands of the working class forced capital to look for newer and more radical solutions. These were sought in the fields of technology and economic policy. The production systems of the big factories were to be dismantled and a 'monetarist' approach to economic policy AND the state form became the priorities.
This project of MULTINATIONAL capital is dispersing the old concentrations of the working class.
Within the workplace the attack is not just technological but also involves changes in the length of the working week / year and in the status of workers. Increased 'casualisation' of work and the creation of 'core' and 'peripheral' work forces has helped to disperse our class. Some workers have become almost invisible. And the INTERNATIONAL division of the labour process, whilst creating for perhaps the first time a truly world wide working class, is making it correspondingly more difficult for workers to organise resistance. This attack is also not confined to the 'industrial' working class, but affects all sections of workers and all spheres of our lives.
Crisis for the working class
These truly revolutionary changes that have been and are taking place have thrown us into a crisis. They pose problems for the organisational forms and institutions developed by the working class and its revolutionary movement. For some they have proved insurmountable, many people have been physically and psychologically damaged by this current stage of capitalist development. Some have even been destroyed by it.
One final point by way of introduction, capital has made a determined effort to change the gender balance of the international working class. It believes [in so far as it consciously thinks about this at all] that women are more docile and therefore more easily controlled. Here I believe it is making a serious error for when the working class fights back [as it most assuredly will] the solidarity of women will be a major weapon in our armoury. I also believe that the necessarily increased involvement of women will lead to the development of new forms of organisation. . . . . . . . . 'Modern industry makes Science a productive force distinct form labour and presses it into the service of capital.' Karl Marx.
Technology is an arm and a product of that Science. Technology therefore IS NOT NEUTRAL, it is a weapon of capital pointed at the working class, and it has enabled capital to disperse production around the globe and thereby create a genuinely international division of labour.The struggles of the 60s and 70s pointed to a horizon of separation, that is a separation of the working class from capital. It was those struggles which produced the technology and the political state form we face today.
It is actually workers struggles that provide the dynamic of capitalist development. Capital does not produce new technologies on a whim, but rather it is driven by its internal antagonism, it reacts to the THE OTHER that exists within itself - us, the working class. We are like the alien in the movie, striving to break out and destroy that which contains us. Capital has a constant need to forestall, disrupt and defeat the collective power of the 'enemy within'. And one of the methods it uses is technological innovation. Capital's tendency to increase the proportion of dead or constant capital as against the living or variable capital involved in the production process arises from the fact that living capital, the worker, is AN INSURGENT ELEMENT with whom management is constantly locked in battle.
This struggle has historical antecedents. In the first quarter of this century the dominant forces within the working class were largely the craftsmen, the highly skilled engineering workers who provided the nucleus of Bolshevism and Council Communism. Faced with the threat of these revolutionary movements and fearful of the spread of their ideas, capital undertook a drastic reshaping of production with the aim of deskilling the labour force and separating it from its political vanguards. There were two main components to the project, Taylorist based organisation of the labour process and Fordist restructuring of the working day and wage. In this capital was successful.
Thatcher, Regan .......... and Ned Ludd
At a later stage those who resisted in the 60s and 70s faced a new state form by the beginning of the 80s - the 'crisis state' as Toni Negri calls it. We know it better as Thatcherism or Reganism, two names which I believe actually mystify and personalise CAPITAL's attack upon the working class. Welfare provision were dismantled in favour of discipline by austerity as capital refused any longer to bear the costs of the reproduction of labour power. Monetary policy assumed a central role in driving down real wages, and the ability of the class to fight back was hampered by legal restraints. We didn't roll over and play dead, we resisted, but WE WERE DEFEATED, and not just in Britain but on a world scale.
At the level of production, multi-national capital started to reorganise itself, to disperse and decentralise the locus of its productive activity. When capital began to realise the possibilities that existed within the new technologies it had called into being, it was unsure at first how the working class would react to these self same possibilities. Would a new form of Luddism arise ? Would the working class see the technology as something designed to defeat them ? It must have seemed likely for IBM for one ran a series of advertisements criticising Luddism and Luddite practices - and this 150 years after the real thing.
As well as the harsh economic policies of monetarism, capital used the 'fifth column' of the 'fourth estate' - the press and the media - to break down resistance to technological change. The propaganda machine went into overdrive. We were told that the end of drudgery was upon us. We were going to spend less time in work and have more time for 'leisure' pursuits. And anyway the growth in the leisure industries would pick up any fallout in terms of unemployment from the manufacturing sector. We would learn new skills as old ones disappeared, life would become one continuous educational journey.
Some even posited the 'end of work' - and how we looked forward to that ! But for four million people at least in this country, they were right ! With paradise on the horizon how could there be any need for archaic notions like socialism or communism ? Surely everybody was going to share the fruits of the technological tree. Because for so many of us in the 60s and 70s the struggle had centred on the 'refusal of work', the scam was bought.
As the media distorted the true nature of the changes that were about to take place our class was faced with another problem - the attitude of the trade unions to technology. Those grey minds in grey suits whose job it is to 'sell' us to capital had a grasp on it straightaway however. As the TUC put it in 1979, 'There is the challenge that the rapid introduction of new processes and work organisation will lead to the loss of many more jobs and to growing social dislocation. Equally however, there is the realisation that new technologies also offer great opportunities, not just for increasing the competitiveness of BRITISH industry but for increasing the quality of working life and for providing new benefits to working people.'
Well, 'quality of life' and 'new benefits' don't come easily to mind when trying to sum up the last sixteen years. This ambiguity is a constant factor in trade discussion of the subject, whether at national or local level. It is located in the totally mistaken belief that technology is neutral. In addition the 'Left' for the most part takes this view as well. But as someone said, 'The tool integrated into the system of machinery becomes a machine tool, a machine which incorporates social relations. The social relations of capitalism. Technology is not neutral because it incorporates in its mode of operation the dexterity and skill of the worker who is henceforth deprived of her skill and subordinated from the point of view of social production to that technology.'
We are today in the period of 'real subsumption', where the urge to generate a surplus results in the wholesale reorganisation of work, with the aim of profiting from economies of scale and cooperation. Science is being systematically applied to industry, and technological innovation become PERPETUAL. The focus is on the relative intensification of productivity rather than the absolute extension of working hours, and consumption is organised by the wholesale cultivation of new 'needs'.The technological weapons we face today, based on the silicon chip, fibre optics and satellite communications, interact with one another to divide us AND the labour process up. Thereby making it easier for capital to control the cycle of accumulation.
The giant factories are coming to the end of their life span as capital 'hives off' more and more work to subcontractors. And they in turn hive some of it off to smaller outfits, including homeworkers, who sometimes utilise the labour of their children. And in saying this I am speaking of this country as well as the so called 'third world'.
Sweatshops are a fact of life throughout the world. It is only by the use of technology that capital can at the same time disperse the division of labour around the globe AND at the same time increase its control over the labour process. The Ford Motor Company is at this moment centralising its control over the whole Ford empire. Alex Trottman, head of international operations and an ex-member of the English working class, has said that they now have the technological means to centralise everything at the company's Dearborn headquarters. They can now build the 'world car' and anticipate savings of between $2 or $3 billion from the Ford 2000 project.
The stark goals of the 'information revolution' are the control and reduction of the costs of labour. The rundown of the Welfare State has to be seen in relation to their ability to move production around the globe. Multinational capital is no longer prepared to pay the costs of reproduction of labour in the old economies of the West. When they can hire twenty Phillipino workers for the price of one European, why should they ?
The fear and uncertainty that have been produced by the changes in world capitalism are being used to push through strategies and tactics designed to further fragment us. The development of 'core' and 'peripheral' workers is one element; the precarious situation of peripheral workers is the price paid for the relative 'security' of the core workforce. And in the workplace the introduction of quality circles, continuous 'improvement' meetings and team working are designed to get us to police ourselves and talk our mates out of their jobs. Fear permeates into the public sector where the law of value is being applied.
Decline of the unions
In fact capitalism is now everywhere, in every aspect of our lives, it is a totally socialised system. Every aspect of our lives, not just work, is geared to the production and extraction of surplus value.The changes outlined that have and are taking place have had and will continue to have a profound effect on the 'labour movement' and the 'Left'. A 33% reduction in the number of unions in this country between 1981 and 1991 and the slump in membership figures reflects a world wide crisis for the the trade unions. Increasingly capital has no need for the mediating role of the trade unions. With the technology at its disposal it can switch production around the globe if there are strikes or other forms of 'disruption'.
The response in this country has been for the TUC to cuddle up to the CBI. They do this in order to convince management that they still have a useful role to play - in 'adding value'. And only when they can can add value to the product will capital work with them. In other words the only role for the trade unions is to to assist in the continued exploitation of the working class.
We have in addition seen the disintegration of the Stalinist economies of the former 'Eastern bloc' - this means there is now a huge pool of labour available for exploitation by multinational capital. The major barrier to this exploitation apart from political instability is the lack of suitable infrastructure especially in the field of communications. So communications capital, including our 'own' Cable and Wireless, owners of Mercury who have just pulled OUT of providing a public service in this country, are presently working on a system of financial and technological support for the old Eastern bloc and other states with similar 'infrastructure' problems. Billions of potential workers will then be ready to flood the world labour market. Ford's by the way, have opened two component plants in China in the last six months, with two more due to come on stream shortly
The problems posed by these developments for the Western working class are perhaps, akin to the ones faced by the handloom weavers during the Industrial Revolution. These workers saw their wages drop by some 80 odd per cent in a thirty year period. The weavers and their families starved as they were replaced by machine minders.The experience of being on the periphery is a painful and disorientating one for the Western working class. The steady employment that many have taken for granted is disappearing and high levels of unemployment are a becoming a permanent feature. The developments in technology and the access that multinationals have to a world labour force means that these levels are not going to fall. But the people in the dole queues will be constantly changing as they move in and out of jobs that are increasingly casual.
Multinational capital constantly demand lower costs and their suppliers must meet these demands. Casualisation of the labour force is one answer open to them. This is why work contracts tend now to be for less that two years, so that even the meagre state 'protections' against redundancy is of no use. And comapnies like Ford are cutting back on the number of suppliers they use - in the case of the Mondeo this has been reduced by 65%. With the lifespan of new models continually getting shorter, the work 'guaranteed' to the chosen suppliers will be further reduced.
Labouring in Vain
To those who think that the Labour Party will be able to do something about he movement of multinational companies and finance capital I say - GET REAL. The last Labour Government's ability to manoeuvre against the demands of the IMF and World Bank in 1976 was limited, but those difficulties will be as nothing compared to what they will have to face next time round. We have a truly international capital which now has the technology to circumvent any of the restrictions that nation state might want to impose on production or capital flows.
In fact the nation state is fast becoming an anachronism. Multinational capital like the first bourgeoisie, demands a state form that truly represents its interests. Of course the internationalisation of capital also means the internationalisation of the working class.
The nationalistic parties of Social Democracy and the sectionalism of trade unions are blockages and obstacles that the newly reemerging working class must CONFRONT and DESTROY. In the last two hundred years or so, driven by the motor of the class struggle, capital and the working class have continually changed their compositions. Can anything like the same be said for the revolutionary movement ? In the main the answer has to be NO. In fact most of what claims to be revolutionary today is also anachronistic [at best]. It is somewhat ironic that the groups of the 'Left' can only offer our class forms of organisation and institutions that are rooted in the past.
Capital changes, the class changes, but the 'Left' is still living in the first twenty years of this century. The 'Left's forms of organisation - democratic centralism and council communism, were rooted in and products of a particular composition of the working class - that of the skilled craft worker. It should be obvious that that particular composition has long ceased to exist, as SHOULD ITS ORGANISATIONAL FORMS. Both forms were created by white, male, skilled workers and yet they are continually offered as a model for a modern, multi-ethnic and increasingly female dominated, INTERNATIONAL working class. Our class does and will continue to fight back, but it can only do so in ways that reflect its new composition.
The city, social control and the local state
Subversion on the UK state's approach to poverty and the breakdown in "community" values against the background of the inner-city riots of the 80s.
Note: This article and the article on technology in this issue were originally discussion documents for a day conference we held in Salford in June 1995. The conference was held jointly with the 'Liverpool Discussion Group'.
"Modern civilisation has crowded the destitute classes together in the cities making their existence thereby more conspicuous and more dangerous. These already form a substantial part of the population, and possess even now, though they are still ignorant of their full power, great political importance... Almost every winter in London there is a panic lest the condition of the poor should become intolerable. The richer classes awake for a moment from their apathy, and salve their consciences by a subscription of money... The annual alarm may some day prove a reality, and the destitute classes may swell to such a proportion as to render continuance of our existent social order impossible"
- Sir John Gorst, Tory MP in the 1880s.
Charles Booth in the same period was also to articulate these fears and to promote a combination of charity and social reform aimed at containing the situation.
Periodically the ruling class has become alarmed at the reaction of the working class, and in particular sections of the poorest workers concentrated in the large urban conurbations, to the effects of capitalism.
At its most basic it has been the fear of general social disorder and lawlessness spreading to the wider working class and beyond that, fear that consent for the established order might break down amidst growing organised collective action by sections of the working class with literally "nothing to lose".
Similar fears began to emerge during the late sixties, as rising working class expectations hit the beginnings of the economic crisis to create an explosion of resistance across Europe and the rest of the world, in which rulers and revolutionaries alike saw the seeds of revolutionary change.
Our rulers had problems enough with the expressions of that resistance in workplace struggle but they did have in place flexible and experienced organisations of recuperation in the form of the trade unions. Outside the workplace, things were different. The traditional modes of instilling respect for authority, in particular organised religion and the family, were beginning to break down. 'Community' ties built up over generations on the back of stable single industry employment in heavy engineering, shipbuilding, coal extraction etc were also breaking down as these industries were consciously run down in the 'white hot heat of technological change'.
There was also the beginnings of open racial conflict in some areas as black workers began to flex their muscle and some white workers, uncertain of their future, began to resent this. Many young working class people brought up on full employment and the 'welfare state' and without the memory of the privations of war were less grateful and more challenging than their parents. There was the emergence of the 'generation gap' and the 'youth revolt'. Our rulers began to feel very uneasy about this seeming 'Pandora's box' which they had opened themselves.
But the ruling class in Britain is one of the most experienced in the world. They had come a long way since the 1880s and were certainly not going to sit around until the simmering revolt in the cities could only be contained, if at all, by simple armed suppression.
The apparatus of the state - central and local government and the 'institutions of learning' - were soon put to work, firstly in research and practical experimentation, and then into the task of both shoring up the old institutions of recuperation and creating new ones. They launched an ideological and organisational first strike.
Already in the early sixties, there had been a series of government commissions which had raised alarm bells: Milner-Holland on London's housing, Ingleby on children and young persons, Plowden on primary education and Seebohm on personal social services. All of them were concerned not with poverty and its attendant effects on the working class as a whole but with the way poverty was particularly concentrated in certain working class areas. They recommended the setting up of 'special areas of control', 'priority areas' and so on where the central and local state apparatus would apply 'positive discrimination'.
At this stage the officials were stressing the need for extra financial resources to be applied as a worthwhile investment by the ruling class against worse and more expensive problems in the future. But as the economic crisis grew worse and the relative burden of state expenditure increased, it became more a matter of 'prioritising' scarce and reduced resources. Over the next ten years there were many more commissions and official reports looking into different aspects of the poverty problems of the inner cities. One of the earliest saw the setting up firstly of the National Committee for Commonwealth Immigrants and then the Community Relations Commission, whose overriding concern was to 'integrate' the 'newcomers' into British society.
What was to emerge from these reports was a series of state-funded programmes and special area initiatives promoted by a range of government departments at the forefront of which was perhaps not surprisingly the Home Office who became very interested in extending their role from 'hard cop' into 'soft cop'. They were to set up one of the more enduring initiatives known as the 'Urban Aid Programme'. The first Urban Programme circular in October 1968 spelt out their objectives:
"The government proposed to initiate an urban programme of expenditure mainly on education, housing, health and welfare in areas of Special Social Need. Those were localised districts which bear the marks of multiple deprivations, which may show itself, for example, by way of notable deficiencies in the physical environment, particularly housing; overcrowding of houses, family sizes above the average; persistent unemployment; a high proportion of children in trouble or in need of care, or a combination of these. A substantial degree of immigrant settlement would also be an important factor, though not the only factor, in determining the existence of special social need."
These were pretty much the determining factors which were to be used for all the various schemes which subsequently emerged, although as concern increased about the financial burdens of caring for the old, large concentrations of elderly persons was also added to the list.
The Reports and programmes also started to conform to a pattern of pseudo-scientific language supplied by the newly fashionable Social Science departments which sought to define the problems in terms of the inadequacies of the people living in the areas rather than the effects of state-sponsored economic restructuring on those areas or the inadequacies of the competitive market economy etc. It is from this era that terms like 'multiple deprivation', 'cycle of deprivation', 'social malaise' etc originate. The definition of the problem as something related only to certain isolated areas implied that the 'system' was basically doing its job fine for the rest of us! The solution then lay not in wholesale social and economic change but in administrative and technical adjustments to the system.
A particular concern at this time was to draw people in the defined areas back into the system of 'democratic representation'. For instance, working class participation in local government elections was low at the best of times but one of the defining features of the areas which concerned the state was the even tinier proportion of people voting. The state has a continuing need to keep its fingers on the working class pulse but the absence of established channels of communications was preventing this from happening. Many of the schemes funded from the Urban Programme or set up separately were particularly concerned to establish new local forms of representation, which would include residents' associations, community groups, government funded agencies, councillors, council officials, the police, churches and so on, and which would act as a kind of bridgehead into the reformed local and central government structures. 'Neighbourhood Councils', 'Community Forums', 'Area Management Committees', 'Local Steering Groups' were just some of the names used to describe these experiments in 'democracy'.
Many of the early schemes were in the nature of 'action-research', applied to very small areas indeed, and intended on the basis of experimentation with different models of administration and technical applications to provide feedback to governments on the need for broader legislative change and ways of 'cost-effective' management of the 'poverty problem' and of the working class itself. The finance doled out in these cases was piddling, barely enough to cover the wages of a few administrators and researchers and fund a few public relations exercises.
In the housing field, some schemes did bring in real money but always there was always far more schemes bidding than actually got resources allocated. This was the beginning of a more intensive competitive approach to obtaining funds for 'special areas'. Local authorities had long been used to this on a broader scale but now local working class people were to be actively drawn into this process of competing with each other, usually on the demeaning basis of proving how much more rotten 'their' area was than anyone else's!
Obtaining 'community involvement' was not just about shoring up 'consent' to the system and its ways of doing things, it was also aimed at getting the poor to 'do for themselves' at minimal cost to the state. As usual, it was often women who were expected to do most of the 'doing'. Small amounts of money were aimed at various self-help organisations - playgroups, gardening clubs, advice centres, youth clubs, daycare, recycling workshops, crime watch, voluntary language classes and a host of others. The purpose, in summary, was to "take some of the load off the statutory services by generating a fund of voluntary social welfare activity and mutual help amongst the individuals, families and social groups in the neighbourhood, supported by the voluntary agencies" (CDP Objectives and Strategy, 1970).
These small sums of money were seen as 'seed corn' which through a lot of effort by other people would grow into something which could actually be 'eaten'. Another term often used was 'pump-priming', basically facilitating others to get things moving. Much was made also of the 'multiplier effect' - the idea that some initial finance could attract both money and effort from other organisations or the 'community' itself to make something much more effective than the initial sum would itself have provided for. Of course, any group which got a grant or a loan had to provide progress reports and accounts etc which kept the paymasters in touch with what was happening on the ground.
The various special area schemes came and went providing the state with much useful information along the way. Some new ones were set up with different names and in different areas and the whole process repeated. As for the multiplier effect, many groups suffered severely when the special area schemes disappeared and they had to rely on mainstream government or local authority funding which was being cut back. Many had to close down altogether.
In terms of any real impact on the social and economic conditions of people living in the special areas, the results were pretty negligible - where anything was achieved in a particular area, this was more than matched by serious decline elsewhere. In Liverpool, for instance, which in the late sixties and early seventies had more poverty initiatives than any other city, almost every indicator had got worse and seriously worse in the inner city areas.
Clearly none of the schemes was aimed even collectively at altering the general poverty suffered by our class. At best the more naive social reformers thought they might spread the poverty more evenly - but even here they failed miserably.
The EEC had joined the bandwagon in 1974 with its Social Action Programme, demonstrating that the same problems and concerns of the British state (under Labour and Tory) were shared by states in the rest of Europe. The thinking of the Eurocrats was along familiar lines - the objectives of one of their projects - a network of family advice centres - was to "help the poorest families come to terms with the particular ill effects of extreme poverty". They followed the same path as the nationally inspired schemes, gathering intelligence for the state, deflecting independent class-based opposition but providing little in the way of new resources.
Although most of the 'action-research' type projects came to an end in this period, others like the Urban Programme and Housing Action Areas achieved a degree of permanence and continued to selectively fund various local schemes around the country.
Things had tended to settle down into more of an administrative routine until, in 1981, various inner city areas - Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, Brixton, Birmingham and Bristol - exploded into riots. The initial spark for many of the riots was confrontation between the police and black youth. This in itself said much about the failure of various programmes to integrate particularly second generation black youth into the system. More worrying for the state was the fact that many other, young and not so young, working class people, black and white, working and unemployed, either actively joined in or gave support.
Suddenly the spotlight was again on the 'poverty stricken' inner cities and the 'failure' of twelve years of the 'poverty programme' was highlighted for all to see. After an initial period of government tough talk and then reflection, decisions were taken to both tool up the hard cops and reinvigorate the soft cop approach. Some extra resources were made available but generally existing programmes were re-prioritised towards the riot-torn areas.
Given the experience of the previous 'poverty programme', you might have expected some fresh thinking, but for the most part it wasn't forthcoming. The same concepts, approaches and strategies using the same language were simply beefed up a bit and relaunched.
If there was a change it was only that now competition for the scarce resources was even more extreme. The government's 'Estate Action Programme' for run-down council estates was expanded. There was a reemphasis on local corporate management and the need to promote 'employment and training' as part of the process of physical regeneration.
As time went by, there was a shift to fewer but larger, more radical schemes with the birth of Housing Action Trusts, City Challenge and Urban and Industrial Development Corporations. Although, in line with Tory thinking, private business has become much more involved with these schemes, the approach on the ground in terms of 'community involvement', 'self-help', 'building a consensus' etc was much the same as far as the inner city housing areas were concerned.
The objective of transferring responsibility to local people for administering themselves at reduced cost to the state and effectively making working class people themselves prioritise the resources doled out, received new impetus. On the one hand, through a process of atomising estates through pressure on people to buy their council houses, and on the other by dividing council estates through schemes for tenant management or even tenant co-ops. Needless to say, local Labour-controlled authorities, after expressing some initial concerns, have enthusiastically taken up all these ideas.
Having sold the need for 'local corporate management' approaches and 'multi-disciplinary' working in the special areas, the government, under increased pressure to cut public spending, cleverly repackaged most of its various schemes into one pot called the 'Single Regeneration Budget' and in the process cut the overall spending. In future, special areas might be larger but there were a lot less of them, with EEC money also being 'prioritised' into the same areas.
The picture painted here is of a fairly consistent state policy being carried out throughout the period 1968 to the present day, with more or less enthusiasm, depending on the level of working class revolt in the cities. To the extent that some local working class areas have benefited from extra resources, this has generally only acted as a break on the deteriorating social and economic climate and has been at the expense of workers elsewhere.
From the state's point of view, the problems associated with the breakdown of 'community' and family support structures relate to the conservative role these have played in reproducing authoritarian pro-establishment values and maintaining at little cost to the state a sufficiently tolerable condition for the 'poor', to avoid open revolt. For workers there are also problems associated with these changes, including the effects of 'anti-social' crime, which predispose them to the enticements of the state, in the absence of anything better.
But it would be wrong to see the workers in these areas as simply being acted upon by the authorities. First of all, their selection has usually been a response to local revolt, local organisation and activity. Workers don't just give up in situations, even of extreme poverty; many fight back and try to do so collectively. If the form of that collective action is limited and stunted by capitalist ideology that is perhaps to be expected. Workers recognise and fight for (or at least campaign for!) more resources. Even where organisation is localised, the workers in many cases do not see their struggle as being at the expense of workers elsewhere. But the state does not hand back resources without having control over them, or at least ensuring the structures set up, and the 'thinking' of those entrusted with the resources are such that it can rest easy they will be used in the 'correct' way.
In the process, the very moment of victory, when hard fought-for money or other resources are won by local working class people, is often also the point at which the organisation set up to use the resources becomes an agent of the state rather than an expression, however deformed, of working class aspirations. If the state manages to suck in local working class leaders from amongst the activists, it has succeeded in containing opposition, but since it can't actually solve our problems, revolt will inevitably reemerge. The state hopes when it does, that it has the right people and structures in the 'community' to deflect it - but there are no guarantees.
There are risks in the state's approach, that local working class people won't be sucked in and that promises made, skills developed, and organisations set up supposedly within secure state tutelage, will turn "against the hand that feeds them". It has happened in a number of cases. Even the state-paid workers employed to encourage this whole approach can turn out to be unreliable. A whole network of 'Community Development Workers' employed by Manchester City Council, for instance, had to be closed down when they turned into local agitators. Even more impressive were the national network of Community Development Project workers funded through the Home Office and local authorities who got together to expose the whole racket in a series of excellently informative pamphlets, one of which ("Gilding the Ghetto"), supplied much of the inspiration and information for this discussion paper! They were eventually closed down.
Unfortunately, there are many self-proclaimed radicals whose ideas around concepts of 'self-management', 'anarcho-syndicalism', 'local autonomy' etc are easily co-opted by the more experienced ideologists of the state. Credit unions, LETS schemes and so on, popular amongst many anarchists and greens, are already being eyed up by local representatives of the state - political and professional - as a useful adjunct to their machinery of incorporation! We need to be much more aware of the subtleties of the state's local management policies, if we are to try and help revolt turn into revolution rather than a means of reforming the existing system to help it survive a bit longer.
For mechanisms of incorporation in other spheres of the state's activity over the same period, see also the article "Working Against the Left in Manchester" (available from Subversion) and "Bollocks to Clause Four" in Subversion 16