Root & Branch: a libertarian socialist journal

Partial archive of the 1970s libertarian socialist publication out of the U.S.

At least 10 issues were published from 1969-1982.

Submitted by Juan Conatz on January 11, 2014

"In 1969, a group of collaborators, all admirers of the work of Paul Mattick, including Paul Mattick, Jr., Stanley Aronowitz, Peter Rachleff, and myself began sporadically publishing a magazine and pamphlet series called Root & Branch drawing on the tradition of workers councils and adapting them to contemporary America."

Jeremy Brecher

Some background from their book, Root & Branch: The Rise of the Workers' Movements is below.
A later statement issued with the relaunch of Root & Branch for issue #5 can be found here.

Since 1969, Root & Branch has published materials dealing with the efforts of social movements, past and present, here and abroad, to create a socialist society. We have focused on the problems for emerging movements posed by the development of contemporary society, as well as the insights to be gained from the experiences of earlier movements. Some of these movements we have participated in; others, occurring in other places or at other times, we have watched or studied.

Our continuing involvement with these movements is informed by four perspectives:

1) that every social movement is, above all, a response of those who comprise it to the social conditions which they face. The development of socialism depends on their recognition that their needs can be met only when, collectively, they take control of their own activity;

2) that every social movement expresses the development of this recognition through its activities. It is such activities-foreshadowing the complete self-determination which is the hallmark of a socialist society—which we want to aid and encourage;

3) that the objective of a radical movement is the direct control of social institutions by those whose activities comprise them. The effort of any organization to substitute its control of society for this direct control is a distortion of this movement;

4) that attempts to impose intellectual orthodoxy, fixed ideas, or abstract slogans upon these social movements only serve to dissipate and hinder them.


8 years 7 months ago

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Good to see this now available on libcom as I only now have left a cannibalised copy of Issue 7 and a copy of their Pamphlet No6 on Portugal though I'm sure I/we had more of their material at the time.

klas batalo

7 years 10 months ago

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whoa on one of these they called themselves libertarian marxists...damn


7 years 10 months ago

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klas batalo

whoa on one of these they called themselves libertarian marxists...damn

I thought they called themselves that from the start. That's how I recall them refering to themselves. But I'm only going from memory here...


5 years 12 months ago

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Does anyone know if any members of Root and Branch continued on into other groups after it's dissolution? Seems like the members that I'm familiar with (Jeremy Brecher, Paul Mattick Jr., Stanley Aronowitz) retreated into academia and sort of left their council communist politics behind (actually I don't really know what Paul Mattick Jr's current politics are).

Juan Conatz

5 years 11 months ago

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Well, the omly former R&Ber I can speak of with any confidence is Peter Rachleff. I believe he moved to Minnesota sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s. During the 1980s I think he wrote about and tried to publicize as much as possible the Hormel strike in Austin, Minnesota. This is also referred to as the P-9 strike or P-9 struggle, after the UFCW local there.

More recently he was (still is?) a history professor at Macalester, a private liberal arts college in St. Paul, MN. I know he served as a mentor to at least a few students who went on to be a core of the Twin Cities IWW branch. Many of the 'Macalester kids', as I sometimes refer to them, went on to be organizers in the Starbucks, Jimmy Johns and Chicago-Lake Liquors campaigns, among others.

During the protests in Wisconsin during 2011, he drafted something that was included in the 'general strike packet' that the education committee of the South Central Federation of Labor was pushing.

I've seen him speak at a number of events here, such as the IWW's Work Peoples College and a Labor Notes conference.

I think currently, most of his political activity is focused on the East Side Freedom Library, a leftist archive/library in St. Paul he helped found a few years ago.


5 years 11 months ago

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At the Work People's College in 2012, I asked Peter Rachleff about his involvement in Root & Branch. He said he was the youngest member and went on to say since they published their book as a mass market paperback, it didn't get distributed very far and most copies got pulped. Which is unfortunate, since it has so many excellent articles.


5 years 11 months ago

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Aronowitz is still around. He's gone through many changes
Seems he started drifting back to a more libertarian perspective


5 years 11 months ago

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I believe that several years back Brecher was part of then Rep. Sanders staff. This was well before Bernie became a household name, and I don't know if he is currently associated with the Senator or worked on the Presidential campaign.

ETA-- this suggests he resigned over Sanders' vote to authorize the Serbian bombing operation.


5 years 11 months ago

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Paul Mattick


5 years ago

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Would be good to marry up this archive with this one to make sure we have everything which is available, and check everything is correct:


4 years 11 months ago

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Hello, I am looking for the 9th issue of Root & Branch. If anyone can provide a pdf of the issue, I would be obliged.


8 months 2 weeks ago

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It seems that at least 10 issues were published:

Root & Branch, A Libertarian Socialist Journal. No. 10. Special Issue on the Marxism of Paul Mattick; Introduction; M.Buckmiller, "Paul Mattick 1904-81"; Pierre Souyri, "The Marxism of Paul Mattick"; "Capitalism and Socialism"; Paul Mattick, "Marxism Yesterday Today and Tomorrow" (1978); "France: The Politicians and the Crisis"; Paul Mattick Jr., "Class Struggles in Poland" (1982); A.Wallach, "Inside the Third Class Carriage" (1980); Reviews: Anti-Bolshevik Communism; Decade of Decision; Root & Branch.


8 months 2 weeks ago

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These brewers would appear to be brandishing copies of issue 5 and 10 and will be framing them in their brewery which is called Root & Branch... :)


8 months 2 weeks ago

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Would be great if he could scan them and send them to us first!


8 months 2 weeks ago

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I’d say that was unlikely (and could say more than that lol).

I found a cheap copy of 5 on the internets though, so will do that one.


8 months 2 weeks ago

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At the moment there are only PDFs of 3,6 and 7…


8 months 1 week ago

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I’d say that was unlikely (and could say more than that lol).

I found a cheap copy of 5 on the internets though, so will do that one.

Amazing! Libcom can help you with costs!


8 months 1 week ago

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Fozzie, just sent you a DM!

I think we should be close to a full achieve soon, including transcriptions of articles from the Root & Branch book.

Check back soon


8 months 1 week ago

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I wonder if someone can supply the missing footnotes to the Root & Branch article I posted 5 years ago here -- . As I recall, the scan of the article that I received was mostly illegible on the part of the page(s) with the footnotes and so could not be OCR'd. I don't know what number issue of Root & Branch it was.

[edit: I noted there under the article 'footnotes to be added when they become available']

[edit: ah, issue number 8 it appears]


8 months 1 week ago

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Hi ZJW - thanks for adding that piece. UseValueNotExchangeValue is doing a lot of great work on this but I don't think we have yet found a copy or PDF of issue 8.


8 months ago

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Root and Branch #5 is up. Thanks to Fozzie for the scan!

If anyone is interested in transcribing the articles for libcom from the PDF (already been OCRed, just need to be cleaned up) let me know!

Also if you have issues that are not up yet reach out to me! Working on this too..

Juan Conatz

7 months 3 weeks ago

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Good to see someone take this up!


6 months 2 weeks ago

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PDF for issue 1 is now up. More soon.


6 months 2 weeks ago

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Nice one!


6 months 2 weeks ago

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6 months 2 weeks ago

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Root & Branch 2 is up.
Includes transcribed article- Italy: The struggles at Fiat '69 by Vittorio Rieser.

I am struggling to find issue #4 if anyone has any leads.

Root & Branch: The Rise of the Workers' Movements

A book by the US libertarian socialist Root & Branch collective, published in 1975.

Taken with thanks from

Submitted by Fozzie on December 6, 2021


8 months 1 week ago

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Lightly cleaned these and combined them into one smaller file.


8 months 1 week ago

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Thanks Lurdan, that is a lot better! I am trying to upload it here but keep getting a "validation error" so possibly it is still too large at 33megs for Libcom...


8 months 1 week ago

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Curses. I've squeezed it a bit more (there is a slight trade off of course). 24.5MB.

(Catbox's main page seems to be down today so that's a pixeldrain link which will expire in a few weeks).

For future reference what is the maximum file size?


8 months 1 week ago

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An excellent book. Helped me with my class struggle understanding and early on maturing political development.

While largely "councilist" in orientation (which I'm not, not in the formal sense at least), the critiques and possibilities were enlightening to this then late teen, near 20 year old (when the book was published in 1975).


8 months 1 week ago

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Curses. I've squeezed it a bit more (there is a slight trade off of course). 24.5MB.

(Catbox's main page seems to be down today so that's a pixeldrain link which will expire in a few weeks).

For future reference what is the maximum file size?

Thanks! I’ll check that tomorrow. I think it’s 25megs so that should be ok. Not sure why that is.

I might start a geek thread about PDFs and what can be done with them too - it would be good to pick your brains.


8 months 1 week ago

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it would be good to pick your brains.

Good luck with that.


8 months 1 week ago

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it would be good to pick your brains.

Good luck with that.

Heh :-)

Now one PDF, good stuff.


8 months 1 week ago

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I am working on transcribing each article too. Check back soon!


8 months 1 week ago

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Great stuff! If the single PDF is still too big, you can just split it into multiple PDFs just by putting the first half in one and the 2nd half in another, using a website like this:

Introduction to Root & Branch: The Rise of the Workers' Movements (1975) - Jeremy Brecher

Jeremy Brecher's Introduction to Root & Branch: The Rise of the Workers' Movements (1975), pp. 11-27.

Submitted by UseValueNotExc… on December 5, 2021

Most people have a healthy distrust of political statements and the people who make them, whether they come from Left, Right, or Center. Those of us who have worked on this book hope that they will treat the material in it with the same skeptical regard. For we believe the problems people face today cannot be solved simply by "correct ideas," or by following the "right people," but only by constantly criticizing present ways of thinking and acting and testing out new ones for ourselves.

Those of us who have worked on this book see it as one contribution to that process. It is an outgrowth of a magazine/pamphlet series, Root & Branch, we have published sporadically since 1969. Root & Branch developed in the context of the student and anti-war movements of the 1960s, in which its editors were active participants. From the beginning, our objective was a society in which decisions were controlled by those they affected. For that reason, we rejected both those who only wanted to change the policies of the present ruling elites, and those who wanted to replace those old elites with new ones. We found in the history of workers' councils concrete experience suggesting that such a transformation of society might be possible. We discovered in the little-known traditions of the libertarian left much to learn from, though also much to criticize. We found in the mass strikes in France, Italy, and Poland, and in the widespread wildcat strikes in England and the United States, an indication that through acting on their own to meet their needs, working people under certain circumstances would have to challenge the existing power relations of society. From a critical study of Marx, especially Capital, we gained much insight into the organization of capitalist society, the nature of its problems, and the process by which a society controlled by the producers might arise from it. We learned from a study of American labor history something about the problems workers had met before in trying to organize themselves to gain more power over their conditions of life. Whatever sources we drew on however, we tried to bring to bear on the situation we faced.

The concerns of Root & Branch are reflected in this book. Section I presents four accounts of contemporary American workers and their struggles. Section II analyzes several aspects of the social reality we face today in the United States. Section Ill examines a number of important working-class struggles of the past, with special emphasis on the attempts by working people to take over and run society for themselves. Section IV presents a classic elucidation of that process. Section V discusses some of the issues facing those who share such an objective.

While all of the selections in this book have contributed to our own thinking, they are by no means intended as a complete expression of a unified "political position." Many questions of great importance are not dealt with at all—not because we believe them insignificant, but because we had little new light to shed on them. Further, individual editors disagree with each other and with the pieces on various points. Still less are the authors responsible for any views besides their own. This diversity reflects our belief that what is needed today is not a "correct line," but rather a serious and open study of our society and how to change it. We see our ideas as one contribution among many, which we hope will come together in a ferment of thought and discussion about these problems on the part of working people everywhere.

We share with most other people a basic problem: that we have no control over the fundamental processes of our society. All modern societies claim that they represent the will of the people. The ruling systems of our world, "Democracy" and "Communism," proclaim in their speeches and in their very names that they stand for equality and self-rule of the majority. But this rhetoric only cloaks the control of real social power by the few.

In capitalist societies, control over production and distribution is split up among a number of competing individuals and businesses, but it is still tremendously concentrated. In the United States, for example, 1.6 percent of the population owns four-fifths of all privately held corporate stock.1 These corporations, in turn, own most of the factories, machines, raw materials, offices, and other materials needed for production. Thus, directly or indirectly, the great majority of working Americans are working for these less than a million families who own society's most important means of production. Where 100 years ago most Americans were self-employed farmers, artisans, and small businessmen, today less than 10 percent are self-employed—the overwhelming majority, whether they wear a blue or white collar, are employees2 . In "Communist" countries there is a single employer, the government, whose officials make the key decision; in capitalist countries, the key decisions are made by businessmen under the constraint of the forces of competition. But the great majority of the population, there as here, are in exactly the same predicament, forced to work for those who possess the means of production.

All of us who share that predicament are, however great the divergences in our immediate circumstances, members of the working class. It matters little whether the immediate boss represents corporate stockholders or self-perpetuating government bureaucrats; nor does it matter much whether the products we create are controlled individually by private capitalists or collectively by party functionaries. As long as our productive labor and its product are controlled by someone besides ourselves, we will be forced to serve their interests, not our own3 .

Capitalists run their businesses with an eye to making profits, not to meeting the needs of those, their employees, who do the producing. This system has resulted in a tremendous expansion of production combined with chronic deprivation for the great majority of working people. Throughout its history, capitalism has had periods of considerable stability and growth, punctuated by periods of depression, war, and crisis.

During relatively prosperous periods, working people's social ideas have been directed largely toward how to better their lives within the framework of their subordinate position. Such strategies can either be directed toward getting ahead individually, or toward improving conditions within capitalism generally, but in either case they require working people to participate in the system that subjugates them. This does not mean that they become remote-controlled robots or passive sheep; people go on pursuing their own apparent interests, rarely doubting that they can do so within the framework of existing power relations. During times of crisis, however, such strategies break down along with the social reality that gave rise to them, and workers have at times turned instead to actions which attempt to wrest control of their productive activity from their employers and wield it for themselves.

The two decades following World War II were among the lengthiest periods of growth and stability in the history of American capitalism. Punctuated by "small" wars in "remote" areas and by "recessions'' of "minor" proportions, these years nonetheless saw a steady improvement of living conditions for most working people in America4 . Given these conditions, there was no compelling reason for most working people not to try to find ways to fit into the existing organization of society.

Ever since the Great Depression of the 1930s, the United States government has been attempting by means of government spending policies to counteract the economic crisis cycle that has plagued capitalist society since its birth. Such "Keynsian" techniques considerably moderated the business recessions which continued periodically. A steadily growing government sector provided employment for millions who might otherwise have been jobless. This took the form above all of a continuous expansion of America's military power by means of what Charles Wilson (who moved from head of General Motors to U. S. Secretary of Defense) once hailed as the "permanent war economy."

This period of economic expansion was based in considerable part on the unique position in the world economy which the United States had achieved through World War II. With the economic and political power of capitalist competitors in Europe and Japan largely destroyed, American business found apparently limitless areas for investment. American products dominated the markets of the world, and American business was free to supply the expanding domestic market as well, with little fear of foreign competition.

At the same time, some of the worst vicissitudes of working class life were eased by a variety of liberal reform measures. The social security system of unemployment compensation and old-age pensions provided an opportunity to subsist—albeit generally in poverty—to those aged, disabled, and "technologically obsolete" workers whom employers could no longer use profitably. Welfare payments allowed those never absorbed into regular employment, such as the steady stream of black and white migrants from the rural South, to survive, if barely. A constantly expanding educational system allowed most youngsters to receive more schooling than their parents and to aspire to a higher place in society.

From the days of Franklin Roosevelt, the Democratic Party made itself the vehicle for the impulse toward liberal reform, and won the support of a major part of the working class. Within it the union movement became a tremendous power, the backbone of the party organization. Many workers looked to its programs as an important prop to the "good life." Like the labor and social-democratic parties of Europe, the Democratic Party functioned as a means by which workers could pursue their needs within the framework of capitalism.

The development of trade unionism on a large scale allowed a substantial minority of workers—especially in industry­—to find a better place for themselves in capitalist society. Legally protected by the federal government and fought for by workers in bloody struggles during the late 1930s, large­ scale trade-unionism was actively fostered by the government during and after World War II, the period of greatest union growth. Union power kept workers' standards of living rising with economic growth, established a previously unknown security from arbitrary dismissal and demotion, and created a court of appeals for workers' grievances over working conditions. It created a channel through which workers could express their idealism, ambition, and sense of the need for organization—not to mention their anger—without threatening the ongoing processes of social life.

These developments created a markedly better position for most working people in American society. Compared to the terrors of the Great Depression, life seemed quite bearable. Many working people were able to buy (albeit on credit) suburban tract houses, new cars, and many other products they may never have expected to possess. The system was "delivering the goods"—ideas about how to change it were of little interest to most people. If the system provided for people's essential needs, then it seemed worthy of support, even at the cost of sending young men off to defend it periodically in foreign wars. Life might still be no bed of roses, but this year seemed better than last, and last year better than the year before.

The conditions of life in the post-World War ll years, and the attitudes they fostered, were eagerly seized on by many social scientists as signs of a fundamental change in the nature of capitalist society. No longer was the "real issue" the conflict between the owners of the means of production and those who had to work for them. Indeed, they argued, class was no longer very important in a society where everyone lived well and workers seemed no more discontented than anybody else. The working class, they held, was now "integrated" into capitalism.

This comforting view had one flaw-it assumed that a unique historical situation would last forever. Indeed, every period of extended growth has fostered the illusion ,that capitalism has overcome its problems and has reached a "permanently high plateau" of "enduring prosperity," only to have this idea come crashing down amid the ruins of the expansion of which it was a part.

The specific conditions of the post-World War ll period, which made American capitalism appear stable and the working class fully integrated into it, have now come to an end. Over the past quarter-century, Japanese and European capitalism have fully modernized their war-battered production plant and rapidly increased their industrial productivity, while the United States lagged behind. Only through massive devaluation, with its consequent increase in prices at home, has the American economy been able to remain internationally competitive. The real wages of American workers can no longer rise without threatening the international position of American business.

This international decline in tum resulted from economic stagnation at home, as Keynsian techniques ceased to ensure stable economic growth. No matter what mix of monetary and fiscal prescriptions the government has applied, the economy has produced both high unemployment and rapid inflation simultaneously for the past half-decade, an unheard of situation in the past. Professional economists, who in the past have proudly proclaimed the ability of their policies to control the course of the economy, admit their bafflement at this situation. As Nobel Prize winning economist Kenneth J. Arrow said recently, "The coexistence of inflation and unemployment is . . . an intellectual riddle and an uncomfortable fact."5

Current economic difficulties are essentially a return to the long-term pattern of capitalist boom and bust. The techniques which were believed to have made the capitalist economy subject to government management and control have evidently reached their limits. Government budget deficits and credit expansion now aggravate inflation without greatly increasing employment or economic growth. Likewise, deliberate government attempts to slow the economy and raise unemployment have had little success in preventing inflation. Once unemployment and inflation occur simultaneously, no solution can come from trying to shift from one horn of the dilemma to the other. Both hold us fast.

What this means for working men and women is all too clear. Inflation means that even those who managed to squeeze through last month have trouble meeting the bills for the most basic needs for food, shelter, and medical care this month. Anyone who predicted ten years ago that American workers would have a problem putting meat on the family table would have been considered hopelessly out of touch with reality; over the past two years, many families have had to cut back sharply on their meat consumption. Working people are forced into more and more inadequate housing as prices soar and construction falls to depression levels. Illness has become a financial disaster, even for those with health insurance, as benefits fall behind rising medical costs6 .

As if the problems of inflation were not enough, simultaneous high unemployment poses another set of problems for working people. Hit hardest are those who are actually out of work or—even more common—employed only sporadically. In the event of layoffs, those who have been steadily employed in the past are likely to lose quickly whatever benefits of the "good life" they have been able to acquire—a home in the suburbs, consumer durables, and the other attributes of a mortgage-and-installment-payment way of life. For those who have never had even this, the "unemployment problem" is largely a problem of survival. Government studies show that undernourishment is already a severe problem for tens of millions of Americans, preventing healthy development for millions of children. Unemployment and underemployment are largely concentrated among young people, women, blacks, and other minorities, and those in depressed areas, aggravating the special problems of these groups.

But it is not only the unemployed themselves who are affected by unemployment. Employers have always viewed a long line of job applicants outside the gate as the best weapon to discipline their workforce. When the Nixon Administration took office in 1969, its top officials publicly portrayed rising unemployment as a way to pressure employed workers to limit wage demands. Furthermore, the unemployed are already being used directly to break down the established labor standards of employed workers—as in the employment of welfare recipients at low wages under the "workfare" program and the Talmadge Amendment. The rise of unemployment ensures the end of the era of steadily rising real wages that marked the two decades after World War II.

These new developments present working people with a set of pressing problems that can neither be escaped nor solved in the old ways. The conditions that made it easy to adapt to the status quo no longer exist. The unions and other institutions of reform by means of which people adapted, as we shall see, are no longer capable of dealing with the new situation.

Virtually from the moment unionism was established, in most industries there began a process of separation between union officials and the "rank and file." Workers have, of course, continued to support union efforts to achieve better wages and working conditions, but the feeling that "their'' union constitutes an expression of their own ideas and activities has steadily eroded.

The most important reason for this is that union officials have taken over from management many of the functions of disciplining workers. It is the union that enforces the con­tract's no-strike clause7 . When workers have a grievance and stop working, it is often a union representative who orders them back to work, saying "Cool down and let the grievance committee handle this." When there is a spontaneous strike it is the union which, by refusing to authorize it, gives the employer the right to fire participants. This situation is aggravated in many industries by the virtual collapse of grievance procedures. In some plants, thousands of grievances pile up; sometimes it takes years of going from one level of the grievance hierarchy to another for any kind of settlement to be reached.

This results neither from accident nor conspiracy; their specific context has led unions to develop interests separate from those of their members. U .S. business in the 1930s agreed to accept unionization if the unions would guarantee "management's right to manage" and prevent workers from disrupting production. Any union which permitted workers to strike when they wanted to or allowed them to "run wild in the plants'' would not be fulfilling its side of the bargain with management and would meet immediate reprisals—lockouts, harassment, closing of plants, export of jobs, fomenting of challenges to union leadership, or even to the union itself. Further, any union victories which threatened an employer's competitive position would equally threaten the union's institutional survival—no industry, no union. Under these conditions, the path of least resistance for union officials—themselves not subject to their members' day-to-day problems—is cooperation with the employer.

Of course, unions must win something for their members and therefore must make demands on the employers and at times even fight them. But these fights proceed within a ritualized set of rules maintained by the government-rules which make most official strikes resemble a badminton game more than a boxing match. Far from trying to deliver each other a knockout blow, the objective of both union and management in many modern collective bargaining strikes is to get the workers back to work on terms they will accept. This mutual interest between employers and union officials is understood by both parties. As Richard C. Gerstenberg, Chairman of the Board of General Motors, put it recently, "We have come to a time when we can acknowledge that we have far more in common than in conflict, when we can jointly pay our respects to the buried animosities of the past even while we pay tribute to what we have jointly achieved despite them."8 And as Steelworkers' Union President I. W. Abel said of the agreement by which his union voluntarily gave up the right to strike for four years, "The industry and the union had the mutual problem of self-preservation."9

The result of this complicity of union and management officials has been a rising level of wildcat strikes, job actions, and other movements by workers independent of "their" unions. We have included accounts of two such actions, the 1970 postal wildcat and a job action in the New York fuel oil industry. Of course, such actions independent of the union are nothing new. Workers have always developed their own ways of cooperating with each other to prevent the pace of work from getting too fast, to make a detested foreman or supervisor look bad in order to get him transferred, to establish some free time for themselves, and to make life more bearable for each other in any way possible. But in the past such actions often coincided with a genuine loyalty to the union, based on its defense of working conditions and its success at negotiating steady increases in real wages.

Several factors today are breaking down this lingering loyalty. The decline in America's economic position is undermining the strongest card in the unions' deck—the capacity of American business to raise wages and pass on the costs in higher prices. Employers can no longer raise wages without impairing profits. American companies now face increasing pressure to increase their productivity in response both to foreign competition and to low profit margins at home. The unions' top-down structure and their acceptance of "management's right to manage its own business'' make them highly ineffective in combating speed-up attempts at the point of production. Indeed, the unions in many industries, dependent as they are on the health of their employers, are participating in the drives to increase productivity through the introduction of new machinery and reorganization, which inevitably mean speed-up, layoffs, and the breakdown of traditional work practices through which workers have se­cured improvements in life on the job. Rapid inflation turns union-negotiated wage increases into wage decreases for the great majority of workers not covered by full cost-of-living escalators. Thus during the rapid inflation of 1965-70, unions negotiated some of the largest wage increases in U.S. history, but the real weekly take-home pay of production workers nevertheless declined-prices and taxes rose even faster than wages. The result was a wave of wildcat strikes, peaking in 1970, not only against employers but against union-negotiated contracts. As inflation becomes chronic, workers find themselves falling further and further behind and are forced to act on their own—union contracts, official exhortations, government wage policies, and no-strike clauses notwithstanding.

In the years 1961-68, the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations passed the greatest barrage of social legislation in American history. The entire liberal reform program of the postwar decades was enacted into law and funded at levels unprecedented in American history. Two civil rights acts, several education acts, a slew of housing acts, expanded Social Security, Medicare, urban development, War on Poverty, Aid to Depressed Areas-programs covering the entire list of social problems identified by liberalism.

Yet at the very time of its greatest "success,'' liberal social reform was losing its effectiveness as a channel for working­ class aspirations. Indeed, the very institutions through which reform programs were carried out became objects of suspicion to those they were presumed to "help." Urban development programs came to be viewed as hostile attacks on poor and working-class neighborhoods; the welfare bureaucracy was recognized as an enemy of the welfare recipients, charged with "regulating the poor"; school administrators became the targets of attack for parents and students alike.

Liberal social reform programs came into disrepute because they failed to solve the problems they were presumably supposed to deal with. Education, housing, racism, poverty­ these problems proved unresponsive to government programs. Indeed, as the bureaucracies that managed them grew, most of these programs were administered in such a way that little help ever reached those directly affected by the problems. The impact of the New Frontier-Great Society reforms on daily life was barely visible even before subsequent administrations began eliminating what little human services they provided in a "battle against inflation."

At the same time, loyalty to the main agent of liberal reform, the Democratic Party, rapidly eroded. The automatic assumption among industrial workers that the Democratic Party, the Party of Roosevelt, reflected their interests, has been severely shaken. There is a deep skepticism about all politicians, a feeling that they all are crooks, and that there are "no leaders you can trust." This attitude is reflected in the low level of participation in elections, especially among younger people. Few working people now view liberal reform through the electoral process as a solution to their problems.

* * *

In sum, we can see that the special conditions that led working people to accept their own subordination so willingly are at an end. The economic framework that made the status quo acceptable—America's world hegemony and steady domestic economic expansion—no longer exists. Without that framework the institutions through which workers have adapted to their position within American capitalism—trade unions and social reform through electoral politics—are losing their credibility as ways of solving the problems of daily life.

Working people are facing deteriorating conditions of life. No longer is it true that this year, whatever its hardships, is at least better than last. No one can tell how long the new circumstances we have described will last or how they will end. What we can say with confidence is that the special circumstances of the immediate postwar decades can never be restored, and that any new stabilization of society will have to rest on some new basis. Without it, the years ahead promise little but inflation, unemployment, international conflict, and general social crisis.

Each of us has an understanding of the society we live in which shapes the ways we meet the problems of daily life. When society stays the same for a long time it may be possible to go on living by the same understanding from year to year and even from generation to generation. But when, as now, the problems we face are changing, fixed ideas are no longer much help in dealing with them-indeed, they become a hinderance. In such situations, people have to develop new ideas and new ways of acting.

Such periods of continuing social crisis have throughout history called forth popular social movements. The recent years have been no exception. By the middle 1960s, radical movements had developed in the United States on quite a substantial scale, and by 1968 the atmosphere was so heated that leading historians were maintaining in the popular press that the level of social conflict was higher than at any time since the Civil War. Through the 1960s, a variety of social problems were growing, particularly for blacks, women, and students. But various facets of the crisis hit different special groups one by one, at a time when most working people could still hope that the former steady improvement of their conditions would soon be resumed. From their perspective, the noisy radical movements of the 1960s presented a threat to a stability they hoped to preserve. The "working-class conservatism" of the 1960s was grounded in the hope that the favorable conditions of the postwar era might continue indefinitely.

Minorities who were already reeling from the shocks of the new era could hardly count on this majority to bring about massive social change. This situation limited the possibilities and narrowed the perspectives of the radical movements of the 1960s. They developed in a period when there was no real possibility of challenging the power over working people's lives of those who own society's means of production. The most that could be hoped for was modest changes in government policies and moderate improvements in the status of discriminated-against groups. Consequently, the radical movements of the 1960s tended toward attempts at much-needed social reforms on the one hand (lunch­ counter integration, legalization of abortion, and a new Viet­nam policy, for example) and, on the other, cultivation of the internal life of the group, often glorified with an overlay of revolutionary rhetoric (communes, consciousness-raising, and black studies). None of these approaches could provide the basis for a challenge by working people to the power of their bosses. This helps explain why such movements are declining at the present time, when living conditions for most people are getting worse and their need to challenge the status quo is rising. In their time, these movements did much to raise the possibility of alternatives to the status quo and to demonstrate the power people can exercise through direct action. If their achievements were limited by the conditions in which they arose, their best aspirations may still contribute to the development of a new movement for power on the part of the great majority of working people.

One other radical tendency—it can hardly be called a movement—persists from the 1960s. This consists of the various sects and parties, each claiming to be the true vanguard of the revolution, who would "organize," "lead," and "bring revolutionary consciousness" to the working class10 . They generally envision themselves leading a revolution in America modelled after such revolutionary super-heroes as Lenin, Mao, Castro, or even Stalin. In both theory and practice, these groups try to establish themselves as an alternative leadership for the working class, and see themselves taking power as a new, socialist government. For some of their members, such groups reflect the power drives of individuals who cannot find a place in the ruling class of this society, or the need for social community which provides a sense of meaning and purpose, emotional support, intense group life, and absolute certainty of the truth of one's beliefs. To the extent to which these groups reflect more general social conditions, they are a response to workers' acquiescence in their position through much of the 1960s. Since workers were clearly exploited, and yet seemed to accept their exploitation, many radicals assumed that the radical's function was to bring to workers an understanding of their oppression which the workers could not achieve for themselves. These radicals saw themselves as outside the working class, injecting radical ideas into it. This whole approach, while natural to a period of working-class quiescence, neglects the fact that what working people need to take control of society is not alternative leaders with alternative programs, but the ability to think, plan, decide, and act for themselves. The radical parties have little chance of winning a mass following—most often they are quickly sized up as just one more group of people looking for power for themselves. But if they could win such a following, it would weaken rather than strengthen working peo­ple's capacity to act in response to their own needs.

* * *

What for the capitalist system is a crisis, is for those sub­jected to it both a scourge and, paradoxically, an opportunity. Crisis makes it impossible for the routine of daily life to go on. As we have seen, inflation and unemployment undermine the established living standards for all workers, while concentrating misery among those in the weakest position. Employers attempt to recoup their losses by speeding up production and breaking down work standards. Meanwhile war and preparation for war not only lower living standards through taxation, but kill and maim those sent out to fight and threaten all with the possibility of nuclear devastation. Yet these very conditions create the possibility for a new kind of movement, based on the common interests of the great majority of working people—a movement to eliminate the power of those who cause such conditions by taking control of society for ourselves.

The working class is potentially powerful because it constitutes not only the great majority of the population, but the organized productive power of society. If workers refuse to cooperate with the existing set-up, it cannot function; if they do not work, production stops; if they refuse to produce for anyone but each other, capitalism will cease to exist. By such methods of direct action as strikes, mass demonstrations, general strikes, workplace occupations, and insurrections, workers have the means of parlaying this potential power into the real direction of society.

The difficulty is to find a mode of organization which joins together the entire power of the working population, yet at the same time does not become merely a new, separate bureaucracy, contesting with the old rulers for control over the workers' activity. This is the problem to which Anton Panekoek's Workers' Councils is directed. He proposes an approach, growing out of the present organization of society, which would let working people keep control of their activity in their own hands, while allowing them to coordinate their action on the widest possible basis.

The basic unit of social decision-making in Panekoek's conception is the assembly of all people who engage in face­-to-face cooperative activity in a work-group, neighborhood, apartment building, school, or the like. What action a group will take is debated and decided within these assemblies. The decision of an assembly is not merely a poll of opinion for or against a proposal, but rather a decision on the participants' part of whether they will implement it. Where decisions must be made concerning groups too large to meet and discuss together face-to-face, the assemblies send delegates to more central coordinating bodies. These delegates are given binding mandates by those they represent. Delegates to central councils are vested with no authority of their own by virtue of their position. In this they differ completely from the elected officials of so-called "representative democracy," who exercise their own authority from election day to election day over the people they supposedly represent. Nor does any apparatus of coercion exist separate from the assemblies to enforce the delegates' decisions. The objective of this form of organization is to eliminate any separation of deciders and implementers and to prevent the formation of any special class of officials or bureaucrats.

This conception is far different from the usual idea of "an organization" to which individuals "belong." It is rather a method by which working people can direct and coordinate their own activity. In the struggle against the present rulers, it allows maximum local initiative at the same time that it permits the widest possible coordination. It has the added advantage of being far more resistant to repression; as long as people grasp the necessity for this kind of cooperation and control of their activity themselves, their "organization" can­ not be broken by jailing or corrupting of leaders, or by court injunctions and other government attacks directed against formal organizational structures. As the basis for a new organization of society, it suggests a way in which production can be organized and all necessary social activities carried out, without the need for any class, bureaucracy, state, or other special group separate from the rest of us.

The idea that working people can create this kind of organization and use it to attempt solutions to their problems is no mere product of fantasy or theory. Indeed, they have done so repeatedly. But the history of workers' attempts to take over control of their labor and their society are little known. In this volume we have tried to present a few examples of that history. Older examples include the factory committees which took over much of Russian industry in 1917 and the Seattle General Strike of 1919. A more recent episode was the French general strike and occupation of factories of 1968.

Needless to say, all these attempts ended in failure—either through workers' domination by a new elite or through the restored power of the old one. Workers have been all too willing to give up their power to leaders who promised to solve their problems for them. Defeated in their bid for power, revolutionary workers' movements have often evolved into new institutions for workers' adaptation to their basic powerlessness—witness the Soviets in Russia and the Workers' Councils in West Germany today. The experiences of such movements reveal the great power of workers to act, but they require critical scrutiny if they are to be of any use to us in thinking about the future. Above all, we believe one lesson must be learned from them: working people can establish their control over society only if they keep direction of their own activity themselves, refusing to give it up to any other group, organization, Of leadership, however much it may claim to represent the interests of the workers or the needs of society.

* * *

There are great obstacles to the process we envision. Work­ing people are divided in myriad ways-by race, sex, age, nationality, residence, and job status11 . We are taught from birth to "look out for number one" and to "get along by going along." It is always easier to let officials and leaders take responsibility for solving problems and making decisions than to do it ourselves. The risks involved are awesome, when challenging a ruling elite which is armed to the teeth.

But the alternatives are grimmer still. A continued deepening of the present crisis will mean a continued deterioration of living and working conditions. A continued intensification of international competition can only lead to war and more war. Perpetuation of the present system of social organization means mass misery and mass death on a scale to rival, and perhaps to exceed, what this system has produced for the past sixty years of war and crisis. To avoid such a fate, we must abolish all systems of power by which some people seek to control and exploit the activity of others. In doing so, we can open up the possibility of an entirely new kind of society, one in which we can direct our own activity to meeting our own needs and desires, and in which the free development of each can be the basis for the free development of all. If we can begin the process of taking control of our lives—through discussion and through action—in every place we work, live, study, and cooperate with other people, we can perhaps reduce the agony through which we will have to live in the years ahead.

  • 1Robert Lampman, The Share of Top Wealth-Holders in National Wealth, 1922-1956. A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research. Princeton University Press, Princeton, N. J. 1962.
  • 2Statistical Abstract of the United States, Bureau of Census, 1972 93rd edition Table No. 365.
  • 3For a further discussion of this and related points raised in this Introduction, see Jeremy Brecher, Common Sense for Hard Times. Straight Arrow Books, San Francisco, 1975.
  • 4Much of the information which follows on changing living standards for various groups is drawn from "Living Conditions in the United States" below.
  • 5New York Times, March 26, 1973.
  • 6For further discussion of these points, see "Living Conditions in the United States" below.
  • 7"In the Heart of the Heart of the Country" and "Keep on Truckin'" illustrate this tellingly.
  • 8New York Times, March 20, 1973.
  • 9Boston Globe, June 11, 1973.
  • 10This attitude is discussed further in "Old Left, New Left, What's Left."
  • 11These divisions are discussed further in "The American Working Class," "In the Heart of the Heart of the Country," "The Origins of Job Structures in the Steel Industry," and the "Introduction to 'Workers' Councils.' "

In the heart of the heart of the country: The strike at Lordstown - Peter Herman

Vega assembly line at Lordstown, 1972
Vega assembly line at Lordstown, 1972

A detailed historical account and analysis of the dispute at the General Motors Lordstown plant in the early 1970s, examining the largely self-organised workers' sabotage and the union-controlled strike.

Submitted by Steven. on December 18, 2009

By Peter Herman

This article is interesting not so much because the Lordstown strike was a major event in history but in the way that the union controlled the anger of the workers. The union helped to limit workers sabotage, absenteeism and stop a possible wildcat strike. They decided to have a short strike, which management was more than willing to allow and by the end of the strike, most workers thought that it was pointless. The union also helped to keep apart other autoworkers in Ohio that were on strike from the Lordstown strikers. In the end, the union strike helped management 'modernize' the factory even more.

As you drive through the Ohio countryside on the turnpike between Youngstown and Cleveland, you suddenly pass an enormous factory, stretching for almost a mile along the highway. This startling sight is the General Motors Lordstown installation, a major plant built for over $100 million in 1966, and employing over 13,000 people. Comprising a Fisher Body Fabricating plant, a Chevrolet Assembly plant and a Chevrolet Truck plant, the Lordstown complex manufactures mainly the Chevrolet Vega subcompact. It is the fastest and most highly automated assembly line in the world, producing more than 100 cars per hour. Its construction incorporated some of the most advanced technology for production efficiency. All jobs were divided into small parts; new computerized robot welders were installed. GM proudly announced that Lordstown represented the plant of the future. They little expected that within a few years Lordstown would have become a national symbol for blue-collar discontent.

When asked why they work at Lordstown, workers consistently reply: 'the job's a drag, but you can't beat the money.' GM built the plant in an area where most workers were used to working in the plants and mills of the Youngstown-Akron steel and rubber industries, where working conditions were poor and pay and benefits relatively low. GM had no trouble recruiting workers; even older men gladly gave up their accumulated years of seniority at the mills to come to work at Lordstown, where physical working conditions were better and the pay higher. Although GM pays wages that are relatively high for unskilled labor (a new worker will make about $11,000 a year), few workers at Lordstown have any considerable savings or financial security. Many of them dream of quitting their jobs and going into business for themselves, but most can't. One worker explained that:

"GM has a way of capturing people in that a guy comes off the street and gets a job, and he's making more money there than he ever made in his life before, and so at first it's a real shock, you've got a lot of extra money. But you know, you watch TV, how they advertise, advertise-you've got to have this, you've got to have that and pretty soon this dude's out spending like Mr. Millionaire. And then, if you work at Lordstown, that's instant credit. He's got credit and pretty soon he's charging all kinds of stuff. I know a guy who works with me; he's been married for a year. He bought a $16,000 home, and with interest and everything on a thirty-year loan, it's costing him $48,000. Then he had to borrow a thousand dollars for his car, and he had to buy his wife a washer and dryer, and he's got furniture payments, and then they got a little baby on top of all that, holy smoke, and they've got thirty-some fish too. He says he's got thirty-eight dependents; he's got to have all the money he can get."

Such a worker, of course, is not really spending like a "Millionaire." Most of his expenses are necessities for a young family, and in the inflationary economy of recent years during which the real wages of industrial workers have declined, the wages at Lordstown are barely sufficient for family to maintain itself without deprivation; many workers actually do not make enough money to pay their bills. To meet this dilemma many wives work, and since someone has to take care of the young children, the man often works the night shift and the woman works during the day. One worker described his family situation:

"I never get to see my wife. When I'm going out the door she's coming in, and when I'm coming in, she's going out. We have little conferences to work things out and sometimes it runs into overtime. Last week, I got a reprimand for being late to work. I told my foreman that I needed to talk over a problem with my wife and he said, "Look, this is a business. We got no time for that. Up a tree with your marital problems."

Most workers are locked into their jobs at Lordstown because they can't get better work or money elsewhere. It is this money which makes them bear the deadening monotony of the same operation performed over and over and the inexorable rate of the line which does not permit any variation in pacing. People at Lordstown often work a compulsory 50-hour week; 10 hours a day doing the same job. A rate of 100 cars an hour means that the worker has to repeat his or her operation every 36 seconds. The Vega itself becomes a hated object. Few Lordstown workers Vegas; most speak negatively of them. One worker described his feelings about working at Lordstown:

"You do it automatically, like a monkey or dog would do something by conditioning. You feel stagnant; everything is over and over and over. It seems like you're just going to work and your whole purpose in life is to do this operation, and you come home and you're so tired from working the hours, trying to keep up with the line, you feel you're not making any advancement whatsoever. This makes the average individual feel sort of like a vegetable."

The scene at the change of shifts is eloquent testimony to the workers' hatred of their working conditions. The shift going into work hangs around their cars in the parking lot or idles slowly toward the plant. In contrast, the workers coming off the shift dash out of the plant, leap into their cars and go racing away with horns blaring and tires squealing.

A few years ago, major magazines (such as Life and Newsweek) published feature articles about work on the assembly line. When they attempted to explain why workers were discontented at places like Lordstown, these media stressed the monotony and boredom of assembly-line work. The workers were treated with sympathy, but even so the interpretation is superficial. The real key to the dissatisfaction of the workers is the system of power relations in which they find themselves, a set of interlocking structures of power and authority of both management and unions which are designed to render them isolated and powerless and which enhances the boredom and monotony of the work itself. The first symptom of these relations is the climate of fear at the plant. One worker said:

"The whole plant runs on fear. The top guy in that plant is scared of somebody in Detroit. And the guy below him is scared of him and, man, it comes right down to the foremen, and the foremen are scared to death. And when they're scared to death they really put the heat on the people, and the people are scared to death 'because they're afraid to lose their jobs. And they know if they don't do the work they will lose their Jobs, 'cause the stupid union 11 tell you, them guys, they think they've got a great union, but, man, they don't do nothing."

Feelings of fear are endemic at all levels in the plant but the distinction between a member of management and a worker, within the structure of power, is fundamental and extends to such apparently trivial matters as segregated parking lots, eating facilities, and separate dress codes. For a manager, however low in rank, the corporation is "us"; for a worker, GM is "them." When I asked a general foreman (a low-level job) how he handled a bad decision handed down from higher management, he made this distinction clear:

"A foreman, being a member of management, has to accept this decision, he is part of the decision, and he cannot let the people know that he is in agreement with them. If he is in sympathy with the people, he's dead as a foreman; he's lost the ball game as far as conducting his job satisfactorily as a member of management. If he's in sympathy with the people he certainly cannot let it be known. There's been many a time when my heart's gone out to an individual I've had to discipline, when I've had to do something distasteful, but I had to do it, with the thought in mind that this is my job, that I am part of this decision, that this is the way it has to be."

To accept a promotion from assembly line worker to foreman is to cross the power line from "us" to "them." One worker, who had been a foreman at Lordstown till he quit disgust, explained what it was like:

"After accepting a position of a management trainee, I came to really find out how underhanded the salaried personnel were in their dealings, 'cause they accepted me to go to their schools of what they wanted you to do and how to conduct these "brainless idiots" out on the line, these "people who function mechanically," you know, "anybody can do the job that these idiots we got down there do," you know, "train a monkey and we can send him down." This type of talk they gave to show me that I was better than this guy that worked on the line. The school tried to show me how I could get somebody's goat and be cool about it. I couldn't believe this. Here were grown foremen teaching me Gestapo-type tactics."

Authoritarian control is a way of life at Lordstown. On entering the parking lot, one sees a huge sign announcing that this is Private Property, that GM disclaims all responsibility for any damages one experience, and that the lot is under surveillance by closed-circuit TV. When I talked one of the top Lordstown executives, I was only mildly astounded to see a portrait of Napoleon frowning at me off the wall over his desk. Workers at Lordstown need a written excuse if they miss work. If late to work, they may be given a disciplinary lay-off, ranging from the remainder of the shift to a week. A foreman can give a formal Direct Order, which must be obeyed, or the worker faces discipline for insubordination. A worker needs his or her supervisor's permission to leave the line to go to the bathroom, and the foreman can easily delay granting such permission. Lunch pails are regularly inspected to "prevent thievery." Armed security guards at the doors ask to see one's plastic identification card. One Lordstown worker justly remarked that by working at the plant he:

"came to find out that all dictators are not in communist countries. The Lordstown complex is its own individual dictatorship with their own little island, and everybody there falls under this dictatorship."

The union procedures aggravate the powerless situation of the worker on the line. if a worker has a grievance, say against a foreman, he does not make the complaint himself but must ask that very supervisor to call the union committeeman. This fact alone inhibits the filing of many grievances, since the offending foreman might well develop a grudge against the worker. Once the committeeman has been called, the aggrieved worker has nothing more to do with the case, which is handled through the highly bureaucratized and slow-moving grievance procedure. The case often takes several months to resolve, by which time the matter is often irrelevant. One worker said:

"It's the worst feeling in the world when you call your committeeman and he comes and writes something on a piece of Paper and goes away, and that's the last you ever hear of it, you're still left doing the job."

The roots of the present relationship between the company, the union and the rank and flue workers at Lordstown lie deep in the history of American labor. In the great sit-down struggles of the Thirties, the union, in exchange for the right to be recognized as the bargaining representatives of the workers in contract and strike negotiations agreed to discipline workers who engaged in unauthorized sit-down actions or who sought to exercise some control over the productions process. This trade-off was unacceptable to many workers and there was a massive wave of sit-down strikes in the spring 1 of 1937, right after the collective bargaining agreement was signed by GM and the union. For a time, the workers gained control of the speed of the line. The union actively struggled against these workers' actions and succeeded in control the situation. The measures taken were described by The New York Times:

"1. As soon as an unauthorized strike occurs or impends, international officers or representatives of the UAW are rushed to the scene to end or prevent it, get the men back to work and bring about an orderly adjustment of the grievances.

2. Strict orders have been issued to all organizers and representatives that they will be dismissed if they authorize any stoppages of work without the consent of the international officers, and that local unions will not receive any money from the international union for any unauthorized stoppage of, or interference with production.

3. The shop stewards are being educated in the procedure for settling grievances set up in the GM contract, and a system is being worked out which the union believes will convince the rank and file that strikes are unnecessary."

Thus, from the very beginning, the union agreed to work hand in hand with GM in disciplining workers who acted on their own or who raised demands not recognized in the written contract, particularly the demand to have a say in the decisions about production.

During the long boom of the auto industry after the Second World War, the majority of the UAW members, who experienced the deprivation of the Depression, acquiesced in bargaining for a larger share of the financial pie. Since the industry was expanding rapidly in those years, management could afford to make substantial increases in wages and benefits, especially since such wage costs could be passed along to the consumer in the form of price increases and the UAW's role was grudgingly accepted. When nationwide wildcat developed over "local issues" of working conditions after the signing of the 1955 contract, the UAW disciplined the more militant locals and established a system that made working conditions issues part of the bargaining at the local level to help get rank and file demands more under control.

In the UAW "strike" against GM in 1970, company-union collusion was apparent. The long and costly strike was designed by GM and the union, according to the Wall Street Journal, "to help to wear down the expectations of members," "to create an escape valve for the frustrations of workers bitter about what they consider intolerable working conditions," and to "strengthen the position of union leaders." GM in return expected the strike to stabilize the union's control over the men and to "buy peace in future years." When local negotiations lengthened the strike beyond the period planned by the union, GM actually lent the UAW $30 million to help them meet their strike insurance expenses, and engaged in secret talks to help the union leadership settle what threatened to become a "messy strike beyond the control of the top leaders."

During the years 1970-72, the US auto industry, despite its great wealth, was operating under considerable pressure. Profit rates and sales were down; there was significant foreign competition on the domestic market. The entire industry was only operating at about 80 percent potential productive capacity. In these circumstances, when major capital invest was made reluctantly, there was great pressure to justify the $100 million already spent on Lordstown. In the fall of 1970, the plant was converted to manufacture the new Chevrolet Vega, a subcompact designed to meet the rising Japanese challenge (Toyota, Datsun) on the American market. The Lordstown complex; Fisher Body and Chevrolet Assembly manufactured the Vega from start to finish and was supposed to be efficient enough to make all the Vegas for the entire USA.

Given the stagnation of the auto industry, the most obvious way that the corporations had of holding profit margins up was to increase the productive efficiency of the workers. The assembly line at Lordstown was designed with this kind of efficiency in mind. The goal was to reduce excess movements by workers to an absolute minimum and thus to shay seconds of waste time off each job. It has been estimated that if each Lordstown worker works 1 second per hour more for a year, GM would increase its profits for that year by $2 million. The effect of the "advanced" technology at Lordstown is thus to increase the intensity and pace of work for the assembler. Lordstown represents the quintessence of Taylorism.

After the line was converted to make the Vega, GM to test the full productive capacities of the plant, and rasied 2 the speed of the assembly line from 60 cars per hour an unprecedented 100 cars per hour. One worker said:

"We were already working hard, but it got ridiculous after they raised the speed of the line. The first day they brought out a sign 'First time in GM history, 100 cars/hour' and some of the old-timers cheered, but I just thought we were fools to take it. Then they started getting competitive, and told us that the first shift ran 110 cars an hour. Pretty soon even the old-timers got sick of that shit and said, 'If first shift wants to put out 110 cars, fuck it, let 'em. We're not going to do it."

During 1971 the situation became serious for GM at Lordstown. Absenteeism, already high, increased greatly, and many workers began letting cars go by on the line without doing their jobs. There were also cases of active sabotage. The repair lots quickly filled with Vegas, and the "Car of Year" (according to Motor Trend magazine) became rapidly known to buyers as a repair-prone vehicle. Sales sagged badly and the Vega not only failed to overtake Datsun and Toyota but lagged behind Ford's Pinto. GM decided to get tough with the plant and in September, 1971, they announced that the entire plant was to be placed under the management of the General Motors Assembly Division (GMAD), a special team of managers, the following month.

GMs intense concern for worker efficiency explains the rapid rise within the corporation of GMAD, which, since its formation in 1965, has gained control of 18 GM plants and 75 percent of all GM car production. The essence of GMAD is the drive for production efficiency. They have instituted a competition among their 18 plants, which involves daily auditing of each plant's efficiency and quality by a centralized computer. Each plant's standing is publicly posted. Bonuses and promotions for GMAD officials are related to performance in this internal competition, and the pressures it generates on each plant's management are intense. These pressures have created an extremely tough disciplinary ethos in the management of GMAD plants.

The announcement of GMAD's impending takeover sparked a brief wildcat strike in the Lordstown Fisher Body plant. In October, GMAD's first move was to tighten even more the efficiency of the entire Lordstown complex. They laid off close to 300 men, and dispersed their work among the other workers. They also introduced severe new disciplinary measures to try to curb absenteeism and sabotage. Instead of controlling the workers, GMAD's repressive measures stiffened their determination not to buckle under. In the first few months of GMAD's tenure at the plant, over 5,000 formal grievances were filed. Conflict sharpened; absenteeism, sabotage, and work slowdowns mounted. The New York Times reported significantly that:

"Both union and management were surprised by the depth of resistance . . . among the work force," and the President of the UAW local declared that, "a decision to work at their old pace to protest the change had come from the rank and file, not from the union leadership."

The Vegas just weren't being made, or if they were, as one Lordstown worker put it, "I'd hate to buy one. If they last six months, I'll be amazed." Claiming that the workers' lack of discipline made production impossible, GMAD resorted to sending the men home early each day, in hopes of forcing them to obey by such de facto wage cuts, but this measure, too, failed to control the resistance. Instead, production fell so low that the situation became critical for management.

The union local through this period tried simultaneously to express and contain the discontent. The union leadership had not initiated the workers' resistance; they restricted them selves to generalized statements of support, promise of a strike, and insistence that the workers remain within the bounds of contractual legality. Here are some sample leaflets passed out by the union:


. . Both the International Union and your Local Union strongly urge that no matter what provocation is put forth by the Company that all members . . . maintain strong Union discipline and fight this battle with GM in a legitimate manner. Do not engage in any acts of sabotage.



PROFITS: GMAD doesn't care about your working conditions. They have always put profits before human values, that's why they have started a reign of terror in the plants.

TERROR: Using Hitler's method of terror GMAD hopes to scare the people into meeting their unfair standards. They hope to provoke a wildcat strike so they can get more hostages for their terror program. DO NOT BE PROVOKED INTO A WILDCAT STRIKE!! That is the Company game. The local Union is now preparing . . . a legal strike with the full support of the International Union . . . . Vote yes for strike action. Let's support the people who are fighting to make and keep this a decent place to work.



The workers realize that the union is entirely serious about its insistence that the people obey the "laws" set down in the written contract. One worker explained:

"Our union is Miss Goody-shoes, see? We have a contract, and both GM and the union are supposed to keep it. The only trouble is, GM breaks the contract about twenty times a day, while the union sticks to the letter of the contract. Look, the fans broke down where I work the other week and the temperature went up to about 110. Our committee man threatened that we would take our shirts off, which is against the rules, if they didn't fix the fans. I told him: you can take your shirts off, you can take your pants off, but the cars are still being made and we're fools for doing it. Listen, if we want to get those fans fixed, let's all quit work and go sit down on the rail for an hour. That's 100 cars; they'll be going bananas in the top office. But the committeeman said he didn't even want to hear about such an idea. So I went to the other guys and said, let's sit down for an hour, but they all said, is the union behind this? When I told them no, they said forget it. See, the union won't back 20 or 30 guys who sit down. They'll let them be fired, and it's nothing to GM, they can afford to lose 20 guys. But for the guys, it's their job."

Such refusals by the union have an enormously inhibiting effect on actions initiated by the workers. Why does the union refuse to back such direct attempts by the workers to affect their conditions? Union officials justify themselves by pointing out that the grievance procedure is there to handle small matters, and that the union can't strike a 10,000-man plant over an issue that affects 30 people. They further note that work stoppages force the union to bargain about the disciplining of the men rather than the original issue. The obvious rebuttal that established procedures do not exhaust all possible strategies is beside the point. The real issue concerns the nature of the union's power. Ever since the collective bargaining agreement of the Thirties, the union has been a kind of junior partner of the corporation. The union's goal has been the health and well-being of the industry, its prosperity and smooth functioning. In exchange for a wage and benefit package, the union agrees to be responsible for making sure that the workers do nothing to challenge or disrupt the operations of the factories or such changes in production as the corporation deems necessary to keep up profitability. The union guarantees as the contract puts it, "management's right to manage." Unauthorized "spontaneous" actions by groups of workers are direct threats to the union, and naturally it will not support such groups of workers when the company moves against them. In many cases the union will itself seek to impose sanctions on such workers.

Local leadership is not really free to change these facts of power. If a union local backed up a strike without clearance from the International, they would be faced with immediate cutoff of union funds and threats of Trusteeship, under which the International declares the local leadership dissolved, and appoints its own officers. A the International leadership, in turn, would be forced to see that locals enforce work discipline, because GM can make some very powerful threats to the UAW, such as refusing to cooperate or help in national negotiations, as when GM loaned the UAW $30 million in 1970 or moving assembly factories Out of the USA to lower-wage countries (as the president of Mitsubishi Motor Company, noting that Japanese wages are one-fourth those of the U.S., recently asked, "Would it not be more profitable for an American manufacturer to import compacts instead of spending vast sums on developing its own models?")

It is no wonder that, by and large, union leaders are pleased to see unauthorized strikers fired by the corporation. Only if the causes of discontent are so widespread and acute that independent actions by workers threaten to lead to a spontaneous explosion of the entire plant, does the union find it necessary to act. By January 1972, it was evident that such a situation was at hand in Lordstown. Thousands of grievances had been filed, production had broken down and sabotage (damaged motors, slashed seat covers, ripped out wiring) was chronic. On February 1, the union held a strike vote. Despite the fact that many workers had lost their savings in the 1970 strike, and all were hard-pressed because of the money lost during the short work weeks of the last few months, 85 percent of the union's membership turned out to vote and 97 percent voted to strike. These numbers are overwhelming evidence of the mood at Lordstown; normally, there is much apathy about union votes, and a 40 percent turnout is considered good. This strike vote indicated that the workers were willing to risk making a considerable sacrifice to do something about working conditions. Many workers, most of them young and inexperienced about strikes, sincerely believed the union leaflets which claimed that the local and International were prepared to bargain seriously about working conditions. The local leadership was itself young and newly-elected. President Gary Bryner, only twenty-nine, was a hip character who quoted phrases out of The Greening of America while promising to struggle for "humanization" of working conditions. Workers had a real willingness to trust the local and go along with their strike strategy.

During the month of February, local leadership and International representatives, including UAW Vice President Irving Bluestone, negotiated with GMAD, while continuing to insist on strict "legality" from the workers; no wildcats or sabotage. GMAD continued sending the men home early, worsening their economic situation, since they were not, of course, on strike and therefore received no strike funds from the union.

The union faced a dilemma. It was, no less than before, committed to remaining within its established sphere of power. GMAD was applying tremendous pressure on the union to get control of the men, because production was slipping. On the other hand, the union had to deal with a unified and angry local rank and file that had already absorbed a lot of punishment and were obviously not going to merely obey GMAD just because the union told them to.

The strategy the union developed was a short strike, in which the issues were defined narrowly and legalistically at the bargaining table, arid generally and militantly in the union propaganda. With GMAD, the union merely asked for the restoration of the 300 men laid off or disciplined since October, as well as a few other small technical changes in rules. This would make it possible for GMAD to grant concessions which didn't mean much while the union claimed a "victory," which would be fine with GMAD if it meant regaining control over the plant's working force. In short, if the union "won," GMAD won.

In its propaganda to the workers, the union had repeatedly asked them to hold off acting on their own, because a legal strike was the way to handle their problems. It had promised that the strike would be a fight to humanize working conditions, break the "Hitler" power of GMAD, etc., etc. The Union figured that the strike would drain the militant energies of the workers and possibly restore leadership to the union officials. The union evidently hoped to palm off the carefully planned opposition between their promises to the workers and their actual intentions, as the inevitable gap between "utopian" desires and "realistic" objectives.

The strike began on March 5. The next day The New York Times reported two salient facts:

"The international board of the union told local leaders when it authorized the strike that strike benefits would not be available for too long . . . . (and) Vega dealers would have a 30 day stock of Vegas."

The basic orchestration of the strike on the highest level of GM and the UAW is evident. GM in effect said: we'll let you lift the lid to let the steam off, but only for a few weeks. In any case the strike must not cut the supply line of Vegas to dealers. The UAW duly relayed this message to the local leadership. One older worker, one of the few who voted against the strike remarked:

"I've seen it before. The International is just giving them enough rope to hang themselves . . . . They see a kicky young local so they go along. They authorize the strike . . . but they don't give 'em no help. They don't give 'em no funds. They don't even let the other locals come out with them. So the strike drags on, it's lost, or they 'settle' in Detroit. Everybody says, "There, it didn't pay."

The strike went off as planned. There were many eager volunteers for picket duty, ready to construct wood barricades and to build fires against the bitter cold weather, but the union only permitted "symbolic" small pickets and held long meetings (attendance compulsory if the worker wanted to receive strike benefits) in which they explained how valuable the UAW was to the workers, how many programs they offered, how they were winning at the bargaining table, etc. Tough questions from the rank and file were not answered, on the pretext that negotiations were at a delicate stage. Meanwhile, GMAD granted the rehiring of the 300 workers laid off in October. Apparently, they had been under some pressure to do this from GM. The New York Times reported:

"The Lordstown strike even caused dissension within management as to (GMAD's) policies, revolving around the question as to whether these policies are not perhaps out weighed by the labor trouble."

On March 25, settlement of the strike was announced, and the local held a return-to-work vote. Again, the numbers are eloquent. Only about 40 percent of the local voted, of whom only 70 percent voted to end the strike despite the severe economic pressure to return to work. Most workers, on returning to the job, found little if anything changed. The restored 300 jobs made little difference to the average assembler, and of course, the basic conditions of working at the plant were the same, they had never even been discussed, much less negotiated. Gary Bryner speaks of the strike as a "total victory" and one which "built union people." In a narrow sense, he is right about, the victory. The union achieved what it set out to do. The only trouble is that it didn't set out to do anything to change conditions at the plant.

The strike certainly did not build union people. Two months after the strike, there was widespread feeling that the union had not dealt with the workers in good faith, that it had bargained, as one worker put it, "just to get us back to work." But in the absence of any other sense of power or organization, with the widespread feeling that they are help less without the backing of the union, the majority of workers at Lordstown felt confused, cynical, apathetic and sold down the river. When the executive officers of the local ran for reelection during the summer of '72, there was no interest in the election; only about 30 percent of the union members showed up to vote. Bryner admits that now he is booed and greeted with catcalls by the workers every time he leaves his union office building and enters the plant.

When I asked Bryner how he squared his claim that the Lordstown strike achieved total victory with the evident general dissatisfaction with the settlement, he said:

"Look, this is a very political union. If a guy is running for union office, he may make a lot of promises, and if a worker is naive enough to take his statement at face value, I suppose he's going to be disappointed."

Of course, the politics of the union extend far beyond elections. In fact Bryner's words apply to his own strike propaganda, and to the entire union's goals and behavior. To believe the union's promises is indeed to be naive. Bryner Continued:

"When you look at it realistically, we set out to change nothing in the strike. We said, let's return to the condition of October, '72, and we'll wait until 1973 to negotiate about all the other issues."

At the time of the strike, the local said, don't wildcat or commit sabotage, we'll deal with working conditions through our strike. Now, the local President, in effect, is saying, "Don't worry that the strike didn't do anything. We'll handle it all in the 1973 national negotiations."

Lordstown has become a symbol, but it is not qualitatively different from other auto plants. It is a slightly exaggerated version of conditions all over the country, and perhaps represents the future of many plants. It is interesting, therefore, to compare the Lordstown strike to another that began in April, 1972 at the GM plant in Norwood, Ohio. Norwood makes bigger GM cars, such as the Firebird and Nova. Its assembly line is slower than Lordstown's and its workers are not so young, but basic working conditions are the same. The Norwood strike developed over similar issues of lay-offs and disciplinary grievances, but the strategy of control by GM and the union differed from that at Lordstown.

Norwood is not the only GM plant which makes the Firebird and Nova, and there was a dealers' overstock of these cars. Hence, as New York Times reported,

"Unlike the Lordstown strike, where there was an outcry from the management of Chevrolet to settle quickly because the Vega was losing ground to the Ford Pinto, there was little pressure from within the company on the Norwood negotiations."

The Norwood strike has aspects of a lockout; GM was glad to have the UAW pay the workers while they sold their overstock of cars. This time, however, there was no indication from the UAW International that there was a time limit on strike benefits, making it clear that the International's unwillingness to finance a - long strike at Lordstown was not dictated by its economic situation but by the marketing considerations of the Vega. The Norwood strike dragged on for 172 days and was finally settled with GM. making no concessions. One Norwood worker remarked, "The whole thing was a joke. But, yes, I voted (to go back to work). I need a job."

The original justification of industry-wide unions such as the UAW was to coordinate and unify the power of workers at different plants. But despite the similarities of issues at Lordstown and Norwood and their overlap in time, the UAW never attempted to utilize GM's vulnerability at Lordstown to put pressure on GM for a Norwood settlement. Instead, the union kept the two strikes in watertight compartments.

Lordstown workers were very interested in the situation at Norwood, but the union provided no information about it. Indeed, one could see things like, "How come we went to back work and Norwood's still out?" written on the bathroom walls at Lordstown.

In the fall of 1972, the International union adopted a familiar strategy by making strong but vague claims that a major effort to ease "workers' boredom and dissatisfaction would become one of the union's bargaining goals in the 1973 contract negotiations." But later in the year, to no one's surprise, evidence began to mount that such was in not fact the case. In December, the Wall Street Journal indicated that "most demands [the 1973 contract negotiations] will probably focus on escape from the job [i.e. more time off] . . . rather than on changes in the job itself," although, as Ford's director of industrial relations was candid enough remark, "there is very little evidence in fact, none that I'm aware of to suggest that a reduction in working time will increase employee satisfaction while at work."

While it is true that most workers would like more time off if it did not entail a loss of pay, proposals for "escape from the job" completely fail to come to terms with the issues of power relations in the plant, a failure which is, of course, perfectly intentional. In fact, some of the plans for "escape" are double-edged, and function as a bribe to help the workers. For example, UAW President Leonard Woodcock praised as "very imaginative" a plan by UAW Vice President Kenneth Bannon to reduce worker discontent by giving him "more paid time off, by crediting him with a percentage of the hours he works in a year." Clearly, this plan seeks to control the growing problem of absenteeism in the plants, since management can deny a worker their paid time off if they fail to log their time on the job in the prescribed way. One can imagine GM very readily giving each worker an extra week paid vacation, if that would guarantee his or her regular, disciplined presence on the job for the rest of the year.

As for the organization of the assembly line, President Woodcock has bluntly stated that "this should not be a matter for confrontation in collective bargaining," because to make it a bargaining issue, the union "should have some idea what the solution is. We don't." The union is obviously not changing its ways in 1973, but will remain solidly integrated into the structures of power which preserve management's control of the industry. This fact is the beginning of wisdom in understanding the auto workers present situation and constitutes the central conclusion to be drawn from an analysis of the strike at Lordstown.

Recently, there has been much discussion of "blue-collar blues" and such notions as "alienation" and "dehumanization" on the assembly line. Work in America, the HEW report, is a typical contribution to this discussion, and affords a good example of misleading ways in which the debate is carried on. The report speaks of the sources of dissatisfaction among American workers; powerlessness, lack of opportunity, monotony, low self-esteem. It also suggests some practicable "humanizing" remedies; autonomous work, challenging jobs, job mobility, self-government for the plant, community, etc., etc. Only in a two-page section, entitled "Obstacles to the Redesign of Jobs," do they mention the little matter of corporate profits, and blithely suggest that, on the basis of their research, long-range production will go up if jobs are redesigned with such "humanization" in mind. Quite aside from the remarkably flimsy and superficial evidence they adduce in their appendix, the authors fudge the fact (admitted by UAW officials) that reconversion of major industry along the lines suggested would be enormously costly and that immediate profits and productivity would sharply decline. This fact, by itself, makes non-sense of the report, since nothing has convinced businessmen that they have anything to gain by such costly tinkering. The most one could expect is some trivial cosmetic exercises, analogous to the ecologically "clean" images being projected, currently by the oil companies.

But these considerations do not get to the essence of the matter. American businessmen are deeply convinced that a business's ability to compete in the national and international market is directly related to management's strict control over the decisions affecting production. Hence, to relinquish serious decision-making powers to the workers (which, businessmen correctly perceive, is the real issue behind the talk of humanization and alienation) would be to agree to the economic ruin of their companies. Given such attitudes, the HEW Report must be understood as an exercise in public relations, a deliberate attempt to confuse discussion of the subject of workers' discontent in America, a subject which, if considered seriously, raises fundamental questions of the power relations between capital and labor.

Why don't the workers at Lordstown organize themselves do something about their working conditions? After all, they build the cars; they could stop the line any time. Centrally important, of course, is the economic vulnerability of each worker, and the atmosphere of fear and mistrust that is generated by the carefully structured isolation and powerlessness of the individual worker. For another thing, after 8 or 10 hours on the job, workers usually don't have energy for much besides their families, a little beer or pool, and whatever private interests they have. One of the workers I met told me:

"Look, I get up at five, and don't get back till almost six. By the time I wash up, eat dinner and maybe play my guitar an hour, I'm through for the day. I suppose I should read my contract and go to union meetings, but I figure I'll leave it to my committeeman."

By the way, one can't blame anyone for not reading the contract. The local Lordstown contract alone runs 166 pages and is written in the most abstract bureaucratic language which alone might justify in the workers' eyes a special caste of officials who can read it.

Living conditions around Lordstown also inhibit organization and natural groups. GM built the plant out in the countryside of northeastern Ohio, and the workers live in the 50-odd towns and trailer parks within a 40 mile radius of the plant. There is no common center to the workers' lives; after work, each employee, much like a middle-class suburban commuter, drives to his own town and does not see his workers till the next day. They rarely get together to talk about the plant, their lives, or shared concerns.

The heterogeneous character of the work force at Lordstown helps keep the workers divided. Only intermittently do they perceive their common situation and, as elsewhere in the United States, their animosities are often focused on each other. The young "long-hairs" distrust the older "hillbillies" (Appalachian people from West Virginia and Pennsylvania), whom they consider hard-core company men, or "grits." The feelings are mutual, and hillbillies often do not like longhairs. The hillbillies are also often racists, and dislike the 10 percent black population as well as the small groups of Puerto Rican and Cuban workers. The blacks, accustomed to the smoldering racism among the older rank and file, particularly resent the local union leadership, which they feel is a white clique intent on keeping blacks out of the union power structure and such elite jobs as the skilled trades.

Several years ago, a few blacks took over the leadership of the bankrupt Lordstown credit union, and by hard work turned it into a profit-making business. Now the UAW local is bidding to take over the credit union again, which the blacks naturally resent. The blacks at Lordstown have formed a non-union caucus, the only workers' organization at Lordstown not sponsored by the union. So far, the caucus has been quietly trying to build support and solidarity among the blacks at Lordstown, and has not initiated any major actions at the plant. The caucus is not anti-white in official ideology, but its leaders feel that for now the blacks must go it alone to improve their group situation at the plant.

Only three hundred women are employed in the 13,000 worker complex. Women are victims of sexism both from foremen and from their fellow workers. The male workers resent them, feel they get the easy jobs, and it is widely assumed that any woman working at Lordstown "makes money on the side," i.e., is a prostitute. Women are harassed by crude sexual propositions, sometimes from foremen.

A woman of twenty described to me her isolated situation on the line. Resented by the older women for being young and pretty, she was constantly insulted and propositioned by the men. Her foreman mingled his sexual advances with threats of discipline. She wished to make an official case against this foreman but needed corroborative witnesses. The foreman had approached her openly, within hearing of other workers on her part of the line, but they all refused to testify for her. "Look, I've got a wife and child. Do you think I'll risk my job for you?" she was told. There are women union officials at the plant, and many women feel that the union is unconcerned with their problems. The privileges of a small, all-white group of skilled tradesmen further divides the workers. The "skills" involved are such things as repairing broken machinery, skills which only require a few weeks to learn, and which do not in themselves justify the existence of a special category of worker. One of the central functions of the skilled trades category is to create a special-interest group within the work force. Skilled tradesmen have much more variety and autonomy in their jobs than a worker chained to the assembly line. They consider themselves an elite, one skilled tradesman, a college dropout, referred to himself as a "technocrat" and superior to the assembly line workers. Since skilled tradesmen traditionally hold a disproportionate number of official union positions, they are often a powerful group who look after their own interests first. Their loyalty to the union is correspondingly far greater than that of the assembly workers. As strong union supporters, the skilled tradesmen were highly visible during the strike at Lordstown, serving often as pickets. This visibility, which at first suggests militance, is in fact an indication of the essentially conservative role of the skilled tradesmen. Skilled tradesmen were not involved in sabotage and would be highly unlikely to initiate any unauthorized direct actions to slow down or gain control of production.

The union organization, as we have seen, actively contributes to the fragmentation of the workers by favoring special groups, making false promises, and by failing to provide a true picture of what is going on in the plant, at other GM plants, and in the automobile industry as a whole. The union also skillfully co-opts other centers of potential organnation by its committee system. There is a community committee, a black committee, a women's committee, and there was a pro-McGovern committee in 1972. These committees exist to try to convince groups that the union is concerned and looking out for them. They also defuse possibly explosive sources of organizational energy as well as keeping union officials aware of the intensity of discontent among different groups.

Much at Lordstown resembles descriptions of U.S. auto workers two decades ago. Workers hate their jobs and put up with them because "the money's good." They dream of escaping from the assembly line but few do. They expect and hope that their children will have a better life than theirs. But there is also an identifiable "new generation" of workers at Lordstown. The average worker's age at the plant is about 26. These workers' parents experienced the Depression and never had expectations that work would be anything but hard and unpleasant. For the parents, the high pay and benefits at Lordstown and the modern plant conditions would seem highly desirable. Such older workers, favored as well by the union's seniority system, do not really understand why the young workers are so unhappy. But the young workers have had very different experiences. They have had more education and grew up in the Fifties and Sixties, a period of rising affluence for a large spectrum of the American people. From the promises of the general culture, the young workers have learned to expect a decent life, which includes pleasure and leisure, some meaning in their work, and some control of it. They are less willing than their parents to accept fifty or sixty hours of meaningless work for the sake a large pay envelope.

The workers realize that many of them are at Lordstown for good. They are also beginning to understand that they can not expect the union to provide them with a better working life. Gary Bryner concedes that there is a growing demand for "instant justice," that young workers are fed up with the bureaucratic sclerosis of the union.

These young workers trusted the union during the strike of 1972 and were severely disappointed, but this experience can lead to a clearer insight into the function of the union. Next time the workers will believe the union's promises less readily and give up their own direct actions less easily.

Whether these workers' discontents will erupt into a major confrontation between the workers and the corporation depends on many factors. Now, as always, the workers have the potential power to regulate or to stop production. But to be able to utilize this potential, the workers must overcome the fear and isolation caused by the divisions within and between plants, and come to a politics of their own through their actions. The economic situation of GM and the US as a whole will influence the range of options open to the corporation and the union in response to serious pressure from the workers. We can not tell what the future will be. But analysis of the Lordstown situation can help to distinguish between possible futures and impossible ones.

Text taken from

Originally published in Root and Branch, The Rise of the Workers Movements. (Greenwich: Root and Branch, 1975)

  • 1 The rest of this word was missing from the text. It appears as "spring" in Root & Branch.
  • 2 again, text was missing here but appears as "raised" in Root & Branch.


8 months 2 weeks ago

In reply to by

Not sure how to edit the text but from the Root & Branch book:

1. spring

2. raised


8 months 2 weeks ago

In reply to by


Not sure how to edit the text but from the Root & Branch book:

1. spring

2. raised

Thanks, I have sorted that and some block quoting tag crimes.

A break with the past - Stanley Aronowitz

Stanley Aronowitz writes for Root & Branch: The Rise of the Workers' Movements (1975), pp. 71-93. Class analysis of USA based on Aronowitz’s own family. Future generation needs to break racism, sexism, authority within the class—not fight for more consumption, but for the abolition of capitalism.

Submitted by UseValueNotExc… on December 6, 2021


In the 1960s, during the New Left's apex of activity and influence, most radicals disdained the cornerstone of Marxist orthodoxy—the theory of the working class as revolutionary gravedigger. Having discovered its own limitation, the left is returning to this theory—albeit with a not inconsiderable dash of confusion and romanticism. Just as a section of the student left during the last decade deified the black movement as a result of its own guilt and sense of impotence, so a new generation (and a number of the older generation) has abstracted the proletariat in the same way. The loss of confidence in its own critical faculties is no less reprehensible today when the working class is uncritically embraced than it was in the bygone era when it was summarily dismissed. The underlying tendency to grasp at panaceas remains intact. If liberals have transformed George McGovern and the Ken­nedys from banal politicians into saviors, the workers have been equally objectified and falsified by some radicals. It is important to undertake a sober estimate of the history of and prospects for the working class in America. In undertaking this task, we must state at the outset that the working class is neither on the eve of revolutionary action, nor does it constitute the reactionary, racist mass which many infer from the huge Wallace constituency.

There are new currents in the working class, not the least of which is the rise of a generation of workers whose life experience has been radically different from all previous generations. Nor are the potentially revolutionary sectors of the working class sufficiently defined by Marx's famous concept of productive labor—that is, all those who own nothing but their labor power, but are engaged in the production of material commodities. The rise of corporate capitalism and its integration with the state, together with the rise of central bureaucracies as a critical locus of economic and social power, have broadened the working class, both in size and composition.

The traditional industrial working class remains a necessary condition for expanded capitalist production, and its centrality in the production of capital in most industries has been essentially unaltered despite its numerical stagnation. But the rise of the mass of workers employed in the public bureaucracies, in the distributive trades and in the services is a striking feature of late capitalism, illustrating its parasitic character. Moreover, the relationship between mental and physical labor has altered dramatically since World War II within the production sector itself, so that in several key industries knowledge has become the critical productive force. This development has not been even in all mass production industries, however. The assembly line of the auto industry is still highly labor-intensive, and productivity is still measured in terms of the speedup of human labor. Despite recent technological advances in some giant corporations, the textile industry has barely scratched the surface of possible cybernetic technologies. But the oil and chemical industries, the electronics industry, and important branches of the paper industry are examples of dramatic shifts in the composition of the labor force. Here the absolute number of technically trained wage and salary workers has begun to approach the size of the unskilled and semi-skilled workforce. In the oil industry, no newly hired production worker has lacked a high-school diploma for the past 20 years, and most of them aspire to college or technical school degrees so that they can work in the laboratories and as supervisors. Chemicals, oil, electronic equipment, synthetic fibers and some kinds of paper and food products are no longer produced by human physical labor, except for the maintenance workers who perform repair work. The production worker is a watcher of heat and volume gauges and his major task is to know the respective tolerances well enough to stop the flow of work when necessary. In the older plants, the production worker still adjusts some continuous flow operations by hand, but the recent expansion of the chemical and paper industries have made self-adjusting mechanisms more common. In plants where continuous-flow operations predominate, the key production workers are the chemist, the engineer, and the quality-control technician, not the machine watcher. It is not only the importance of the so-called research and development activities which define the growing importance of knowledge, but the production process itself.

Differences within the working class on the basis of race, nationality, sex, skill and industry are not obliterated by late capitalism. On the contrary, they constitute antagonisms which still act as a brake on the development of revolutionary consciousness within the working class. But the collective worker is emerging as the direct antagonist of the collective capitalist. What I shall describe in this article should be understood as tendencies in this direction, not accomplished historical changes. In my opinion, the direction is clear: the objective possibility for the emergence of a new revolutionary subject is in the process of formation. Not the old working class, which, as has been pointed out by Marcuse and others, was not a class in “radical chains” in America because it actually did become of society as well as in it. Nor is the new revolutionary subject only the controversial new technical and scientific worker. Knowledge has indeed become a productive force in our society, but it is widely disseminated among the whole new generation of workers, which is better educated than any in history. The new revolutionary subject is simply this generation of collective labor. It was created by the conjuncture of capital's own development and the struggles of previous generations of workers to limit the arbitrariness of capital. Its needs and aspirations are radically different from its ancestors. Its demands, not yet articulated, may be too far-reaching for capitalism to satisfy.


The most important change from all previous generations is the emergence of a homogeneous working class in America, a country which, as Daniel Bell has noted, corresponds more exactly to Marx's classic model than any other capitalist nation except Britain. This homogeneity is a result of 1) the decline of ethnicity as a critical factor of American political and social life; 2) the common experience of this generation of workers of being separated from the gnawing poverty or the constant threat of it that suffused the consciousness of its elders; 3) the decline of commodity culture as a determining ideology among workers; 4) and the weakness of the fundamental institutions of authority, such as the family, schools, religion, and labor unions.

Among the most persistent demographic influences stultifying working-class consciousness has been the fact that a huge sector of the basic industrial working class in America was formed out of the waves of immigration between the end of the Civil War and the end of World War I. In the early days of trade union organizing, a frequent complaint of militants was that the task of bringing “unskilled” and semi­-skilled workers into labor unions was made extremely difficult by ethnic splits within the working class. These splits were nearly all encompassing. Different nationalities were recruited into different industries: Italians and Jews into the garment industry; Italians and Portuguese into the New England textile industries, with a minority of Irish; Irish into the transport industry; Eastern Europeans into the steel industry. Within the same industrial plant, the technical division of labor was also organized along ethnic lines. Germans became foremen and skilled workers, closely followed by the Irish. Eastern and southern Europeans of all nationalities were relegated to the hottest, hardest and lowest-paid jobs, until the blacks occupied these positions after the First World War.

The tremendous growth of American capitalism between 1865 and 1920 was made possible by the agricultural crisis in Europe (and later within the U.S.) which forced millions of rural laborers to pour into European and American cities. The hierarchical organization of immigrant labor within our country, corresponding to the stratification of labor within the workplace, reinforced cultural and ethnic divisions. But the waves of immigration made possible some mobility within the working class itself. As long as the system kept expanding, the frontier myth could be sustained on the basis of the chance for upgrading as well as real and imagined opportunities for small-business ownership. Even if only a few workers ever left the shop or reached the exalted status of foreman, it was difficult to persuade workers that their own class solidarity was the best guarantee for change. The efforts of radicals to educate workers to the principle that they should rise with their class, rather than above it, were always counteracted by the differential access of different ethnic groups to opportunities within the system. The social division of industrial labor, combined with its ethnic divisions, was the core of the development of racist, chauvinist and egotistical ideologies within the working class.

Prior to the 1930s, success in the unionization of industrial workers was achieved among two groups: those who were native born, and those within industries where the bulk of workers in the plant shared the same nationality. Among native-born workers, for whom the entrance into industrial occupations was often a defeat in comparison to their expectations of remaining on the land or owning a small business, the conditions of industrial labor were intolerable. During the first decades of the American industrial revolution between the Civil War and the close of the century, the frequency and severity of strikes, food riots and other forms of mass actions were of deep concern to the rising capitalist class. The response of both employers and the government was swift and sure. A national guard was mobilized to smash protest movements, the courts were prepared to mete out class justice on a mass scale, and, in some cases, the employers themselves retained private armies to deal with labor violence.

Where mass unionism was successful among immigrants, such as in the steel industry after World War I, organiza­tion could only proceed by taking ethnic differences into account, that is, by organizing separately by nationality as well as together by class. William Z. Foster, the chief organizer of the great steel strike of 1919, describes the immense obstacles presented by ethnic divisions. Characteristically, after having achieved a degree of unity among the diverse groups comprising the basic steel labor force, employers resorted to herding black scabs, an explicit admission of the significance of race and nationality as an employer tool for dividing the working class.

But the fact of cultural diversity was not sufficient to explain the low level of class consciousness among immigrant groups (except for skilled workers, many of whom shared socialist and anarchist leanings or activities in the old country). Equally important was the exquisite sense of the promise or American life deeply embedded among the foreign born. To the extent that historians have dealt with the impact of immigration on the development of social and political life, emphasis has been placed on the importance of the frontier or Horatio Alger myths as determining the conservatism of the immigrants. But the ideology of social mobility was more than a myth. It corresponded to the real opportunities for advancement within and from the ranks of the unskilled made possible by the rapid expansion of American capitalism at home and abroad.

My grandfather fled the Czarist military draft for the war with Japan to come to America. His family were Jewish peasants in Lithuania who were able to make a living on the land, but never had the security of daily life in the literal sense of the phrase. Most immigrants were victims of famines or other forms of agricultural crises, or were similarly victimized by repressive regimes. Many European peasants filled the cities of their native lands. For others, like my grandparents, there was no room in Amsterdam or London. The United States may not have been the promised land, but there was a chance to live.

Some immigrants had been imbued with the revolutionary traditions of the old country. When they came to America they sought out the labor and socialist movements. Others were attracted, after some years of life and labor in the United States, to the militant and idealist movements of immigrants and native born. Having fled from oppression, they were determined not to endure it all over again. But the majority saw a chance in America, if not for themselves, at least for their children. And this country did provide an opportunity for some of their children. Of course, the route of higher education was not available to most first- and second­ generation children of the immigrants. But many of them found their way into the skilled trades or out of the lower­ paid industrial jobs. America was not exactly the land of milk and honey, but it was certainly better than Sicily or County Cork.

The irony of the immigration was that its conservative influence was entirely misperceived by both radicals and the government. The rise of nativistic movements seeking to exclude immigrants from this country on the basis of their alleged radicalism and/or laziness was belied by the fact that American capitalism was built on the backs of black and white imported labor. Government suppression of immigra­tion was prompted more by the slowing growth rate of the economy and the appearance of frequent economic crises after the turn of the century than by the clear and present danger of revolution. But it is important not to underestimate the significance of the anti-radical impulse behind nativist ideology. As with the emergence of the permanent war economy in the 1940s and 1950s, the "red menace" provided the rationale for government suppression of not only radicals but the entire working class as well. The most militant of the industrial workers' movements, the IWW, organized among immigrant groups as well as the native born. Although it never achieved a solid base of support among either group, its successful strikes were conducted as much among foreign-born workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts, as native Americans working in the lumber camps of the North­west. The IWW did not disappear under the weight of its internal conflicts or the failure of its ideology or organizing tactics. It was defeated by a determined repressive state apparatus during the First World War when patriotism was rampant within liberal and socialist ranks, paralleling the jingoism rampant among large segments of the general population.

The last great waves of immigration came to our shores during the three years following World War I. In the wake of the Palmer raids against radicals, the government clamped down on immigrants and only permitted a trickle after 1921. Exceptions were to be made for the victims of the fascist terror in the late 1930s, the refugees of the Hungarian upris­ing in the late 1950s, and the Cubans after the rise of the socialist regime. Still, first-generation workers are often influenced by the attitudes of their parents, even though the mass culture of 20th-century America, together with the expansion of compulsory schooling, has created important differences between the generations. The rapid acculturation of new Americans was a key objective of the corporate-minded liberals at the turn of the century. Settlement houses, adult evening classes in English, the emphasis on public education, and the patriotic orientation of the ethnic social and fraternal clubs which sprang up to help immigrants make a successful adjustment to their new environment, were all assisted by large corporations and the government in the quest for a docile labor force.

Even though socialist-minded nationality groups were a powerful influence among some new arrivals and formed a significant part of the socialist and communist movements well into the 20th century, most foreign-born workers belonged to such organizations as the Polish Falcons or the Sons of Italy, which were strongly conservative, if not down­ right reactionary. These ethnic organizations preserved the contradictory goals of the American ruling class: on the one hand, homogenization seemed to be a strong preference of corporate and government planners; on the other, within industrial towns and plants, ethnicity was an important industrial-relations tool for the employers.

The Democratic party in the later 19th century developed into another powerful representative of ethnic interests. Apart from its role in national politics, the party built its popular support on the basis of its links with the everyday needs of immigrants thrust into a hostile urban environment with few resources to deal with the bewildering welter of problems facing them. Because it often competed with social­ist groups for the loyalty of the immigrant populations, it became a further factor in reducing the strength of radical movements among foreign-born workers.

It was not until the second and third generations of native-born workers that the process of homogenization was complete. Although many workers born in the 1920s were already well on their way to breaking from the hyphenated­ American syndrome, a second important event in American life prevented the emergence of mass working-class consciousness.


Among the most commonly held shibboleths of radical thought is the notion that misery brings revolutionary awakening. Unfortunately, this has long been proven false . There is convincing evidence that the leading forces in the rise of industrial unionism in this country were the native-born younger workers—who actually did not suffer as greatly from the Depression as their elders, but rather occupied the better semi-skilled jobs—the skilled trades workers within industrial plants, and the most stable of the older semi-skilled workers in the mines and the largest mass production shops. The skilled workers had suffered deterioration in their living conditions during the early years of the Depression, as did the basic work force in the mines. But none of the crucial elements in the general strikes in Minneapolis and San Francisco or in the Flint sit-down strike were the down-and-outers. The persons who were crushed by the Depression—older people thrown off the lines and out of their jobs-were part of the solid support for the New Deal, which offered them a life raft. The impulse behind industrial unionism was somewhat different. It was born of the resentment of workers who had suffered setbacks during the Depression, particularly as a result of the boldness of employers in cutting wages and speeding up the work. The workers who conducted the mass textile, mining and transportation strikes during the early years of the New Deal did not perceive the government as a friend, much less a savior. These mass strikes were genuine expressions of self-activity and remarkable class solidarity. It was the trade unions which tried to channel the explosive protest against blatant employer attempts to use New Deal institutions to make surplus profits into bureaucratic molds.

For the mass of Americans, the Depression was a deeply traumatic experience which resonated long after the economy resumed its upward movement. The fear of unemployment and outright starvation haunted the working class for at least another generation. My father reached his industrial coming-of-age in the late 1920s, on the eve of the Depression. He spent a year in college, but quit to work on a newspaper as a cub reporter. Since he was the son of immigrant parents, he always had one foot in the ghetto and the other in the American mainstream. The contradictory part of his Lower East Side childhood was his inheritance of a passion for social justice alongside a gnawing yearning for economic security. The gnarled, decrepit tenements of his childhood stamped themselves indelibly on his social consciousness. In his boyhood, he helped his father deliver cases of seltzer to customers living in fifth-floor walkup apartments.

Although my father resolved to escape the ghetto, first through sports and then through journalism, these avenues proved too risky in economic terms. After the newspaper he worked for folded in 1931, he worked briefly for the Associated Press, but he finally left the low-paid and extremely shaky newspaper business. After some time in a textile factory and in the WPA, he finally landed a clerical job with the city. Most of the rest of his life was spent in the choking confines of the civil service and, at the end, back in the factory. He died having worked and worried himself to death, but with some savings.

My father loved Walt Whitman's America, but lacked his recklessness. He respected the muckrakers and the radicals, but could not summon either the energy or courage to join their ranks. The spectre of the 1930s was never far from his nightmares and so he died an angry and frustrated man, unable and unwilling to take chances to realize his aspirations.

For the generation of workers reared in the first half of the 20th century, the quest for economic security dominated their lives. There was no way they could more than senti­mentally respond to radical ideas, even when they were willing to accept the help of radicals in their struggle for social justice within the prevailing order.

Even the members of my own generation were too close to the scarcity mentality of the Depression to transcend it. I rebelled against my family's neurotic lust for upward mobility, so I remained a worker. My mother had been a member of the CIO retail union, having participated in the sit-down strikes in the 1930s. She was always more “class” conscious than my father. Her family was intimately tied to the labor and socialist wings of Jewish immigrants. Her father was a cutter in a men's clothing factory for much of his working life. He was an extremely unstable man, capable of blowing his whole pay on a pinochle game or his savings on an ill-fated venture into the candy-store business. Grandpa was a lousy businessman. He gave candy to the kids, and they robbed him blind besides. But momma always worked and fought for her union. She feared the bosses, but hated them more. I guess my propensity to take chances was learned from my mother and her family. My father's sisters married businessmen and that fact put a hell of a lot of pressure on him to match their achievement in some way. On the other hand, my mother was crazy enough, according to my father, to quit her department store job in the middle of the second depression in 1938, after the defeat of the strike. I was five years old then. And I didn't understand all this until recently. But looking at my childhood friends in the East Bronx and the second-generation workers I encountered in my years as a shopworker and union organizer, it seemed that few of them went much beyond the aspirations of their parents.

But most white kids born after 1940 never experienced real hunger. For them, the struggles for union security, health benefits and pensions were taken for granted. They could not get hot for welfare capitalism or the guarantee of a job, because they really had no sense of what it is like not to find a job for a good part of their lives. Instead, they were reared on the doctrines of infinite opportunity within an expanding economic system and the expectation that they would not starve, no matter what. Just as the workers of the 1930s often took factory or clerical jobs as a temporary cushion to ride out the storm of the Depression, so many high school and college graduates took these jobs in the 1960s as an aid to finishing college, technical or professional school. The relative freedom of this generation from the expectation that hard times are a permanent condition, interspersed with the opportunities provided by war, made the need for decent, satisfying jobs more important than the goals of decent income and job property rights guaranteed by a union contract.

The older generation was often grateful for the chance to work, even though it became necessary to rebel against the excesses of the companies, which took advantage of the plentiful labor supply to wring the last drop of profit out of the workers. But behind the gratitude was the eternal hope of escape into the middle class. The wartime and postwar expansion of U.S. capitalism, bringing steady work and rising wage levels, revived the expectation that some workers could escape the shop into their own tavern or small construction contracting business. Most of the postwar working class became quickly smitten (but also burdened) by huge mortgages, time payments for mechanical gadgets, and finally, college tuition for their children. Thus, steady work bringing regular paychecks helped to repress the realization that the distance between their rising educational levels or vocational aspirations and the routine character of their work was widening.

During the years immediately following the war, the idea of education as a rite of passage to better jobs was widely disseminated. Returning veterans were given the chance to go to college free of tuition and with government subsidies to defray living costs. The increasing reliance on schooling as a means of moving up the occupational ladder was prompted by the resumption of technical innovation within the production industries, particularly those which produced means of production, as well as the rapidly expanding public sector. Technicians and engineers were required by the war industries, particularly the aircraft companies which were not really dismantled after the war because of the decision to solve many of the economic problems of conversion by perpetuating the permanent war economy. And the baby boom following World War II created the need for teachers by the early 1950s.

Public employee unionism began to grow in the mid­ Fifties as millions of new workers found jobs in state and local governments which were still offering salaries and fringe benefits appropriate to the prewar Depression decade. The public worker was a returning veteran who received his bachelor's degree under the GI bill of rights, a black worker able to get a job in the post office or in the sanitation department, or a woman leaving her home for a job because her husband was not taking home enough or had split. These workers were no longer grateful to be working. The more plentiful, but also higher credentialed, public service jobs were often taken at a sacrifice in comparison to better-paid industrial work. In this environment, weak, forgotten unions were able to revive. The nearly moribund State, County and Municipal Workers Union and the equally ineffectual American Federation of Teachers seized the opportunity provided by the restlessness and militancy of the public workers. During the late 1950s, the growth of public workers' unions was among the few bright spots in the already sclerotic labor movement.

The early impulses behind the mass migrations from factory labor to the colleges were prompted by the common perception that the need for new entrants into semi-skilled factory work was levelling off and, among the unskilled, actually declining. As technical and scientific labor expanded vastly in the 1950s, workers possessing administrative skills were in great demand.

Workers were still seeking jobs with more pay to offset their enormous debts, and the pay was more important than the quality of the job. The struggle for higher wages was a product of the inflationary spiral of the economy and the rise of consumerism as a way of life. In some instances in the 1950s, the speedup and stretchout in the shops were met with stiff worker resistance, but for most of the Depression babies who entered the labor force from 1945 to 1955, the emphasis was on higher pay, even if these monetary gains were purchased at the expense of the erosion of their hard­ won right to limit the company's ability to displace labor with machines.

The fight for pension plans and health insurance also took place in the 1950s, but this was actually a sign of the aging of the industrial labor force owing to the restrictions on younger workers entering the shops. This situation was created by the two recessions of the 1950s and the rise of technical labor relative to manual labor. I remember entering a large steel fabricating plant in northern New Jersey as a trainee lathe operator in 1953 and finding most of the guys 30 years or younger breaking their asses on piecework, while the older guys who pretty much controlled the union were interested in retirement benefits. The few young (under 25) people in the plant who did not work on piecework jobs, particularly the black workers, were ready to fight for more money on the hourly rate. But the majority couldn't have cared less about “time workers.” They fought the company's attempt to lower piece rates on new jobs. The family men were willing to work like hell, and even protested the so­-called "small jobs" which required more skill and more time to set up, while yielding less money, because the only way to make out on a job was to have a long run.

Two years later I found a job in a small but technologically fairly advanced steel-making plant with about 1000 workers. The two strikes I participated in during the late Fifties had to do with protection of jobs against mechanization. This plant had a group bonus method of wage payment. Like piecework, workers were paid according to their output, but not on an individual piece. In the hot rolling mill, a gang produced a certain number of pounds of refined metal each day. Although everybody had different tasks, the work process was interdependent. We did not need bosses to push us. We pushed each other, since if one man fucked up, everybody's pay was affected. It was only when the company tried to bring in a machine which displaced 33 men and left three on the job to operate the push-button equipment that a wildcat strike became possible. The second strike was the 116-day steel strike of 1959, affecting 600,000 workers all over the country, over the issue of the company's right to alter the established work rules which stipulated that no changes in production methods could be introduced without prior consultation with the union. The strike was successful on paper, but the companies quickly disregarded the work­ rule provision of the contract in succeeding years as output soared while employment remained the same. The result of the union's failure to stem the company onslaught against working conditions was rank-and-file revolt against the established leadership of the union. The new leadership was more careful for a while, but slowly sank back into the patterns of its predecessors.

It was not until the next generation of workers entered the shops and the public bureaucracies in the 1960s that the Depression-wrought issues of job security were pushed to the side of workers' struggles. In the service industries, particularly the public bureaucracies, workers possessing educational credentials entitling them (or so they thought) to work of genuine service to the community, or at least intellectually interesting to themselves, found that they had not succeeded in escaping the monotony of industrial labor—even if they were a little cleaner and less physically exhausted at the end of the day. But the expansion in the '60s generated by the Vietnam war, combined with the tremendous rate of retirement among those who had entered the labor force in the decade after the First World War, helped to build the CIO, and won the right to get out of the shop at 65, brought a relatively large number of young workers into industrial plants.

The new generation of workers was not prepared to endure a working life suffused with repetitive tasks performed with mindless submission. Neither the endearments of two cars in every garage, which had become a compulsion of their parents, nor the fears of plunging into the lower depths of poverty, which had propelled their grandparents, were sufficient to contain their resentment against the betrayal represented by highly rationalized factory or service work. Even those such as teachers or health workers, blessed with the chance to escape the most severe forms of rationalized labor, found the hierarchies of authority no less repressive.

Nearly all members of the present generation of wage and salary workers have jobs whose routinization bears no correspondence to the expectations generated by their educational experiences. This is not the place to argue that education prepares workers to accept routinized and boring labor. Everybody knows that the curriculum and authority relations in the schools breed submissiveness. But the dialectic of schooling consists in the tension between its socialization functions and its promise of deliverance from the banality of everyday life. It is too simplistic merely to assert that students stay in school in order to obtain the credentials needed for the shift from blue-collar to white-collar and gray-collar labor. This is true enough. But they are also motivated by powerful and persistent illusions—that school is a place of learning and that education is a means not only of escaping manual labor but of gaining access to interesting, meaningful jobs which will give them personal satisfaction and even, perhaps, enable them to make a social contribution.

Eighty percent of those entering high school now graduate. The number of college graduates exceeds the number of jobs available for which the degree is a prerequisite. The proliferation of youth who have successfully endured school has reached explosive proportions, and there is no room for them either in the teaching profession or the public bureaucracies. These youth find themselves in factories, offices, working as truck or cab drivers or as sales personnel in department stores. They are furious that they have wasted their time and have been bullshitted about the importance of school. The educational process for working-class young people is many-sided: it teaches a high tolerance for boredom, but it is unable to pay off in jobs which are significantly better than those of their parents.

The present generation of workers is qualitatively different from any in the history of American capitalism. It has shared the transcendence of ethnicity, the distance from scarcity, the partial recognition that consumerism is insufficient to overcome the alienation of bureaucratically rationalized labor, and the experience of having been incompletely socialized because of the loosening grip of the institutions and ideologies upon which capitalism relies for its survival.

The satisfaction of old needs has created new ones. Many young workers have begun to evolve new work patterns to avoid having to do jobs which are essentially meaningless in terms other than bare survival. In many companies, absenteeism is massive on Mondays and Fridays. The huge turnover in auto plants mitigates the disruptive impact of the refusal of many youth to work steadily. There is always a new crop of students looking for summer jobs or those who need money badly enough to work intensively for short periods.

But in other industries, management has been forced to consider, and in some cases introduce, shorter work weeks with similar hours. The mass strikes in the postal industry, among truck drivers and, more recently, in the Lordstown plant of the GM company, were symptomatic of the refusal of young workers to accept boredom and monotony for five and six days a week, even at more than $4 an hour. Workers who refused overtime work or Saturday work were given disciplinary layoffs by the company.

In fairness to critics who maintain that wildcat strikes against the company and the union are not new in the auto industry or among youth, it should be stated that a similar development occurred in the early 1950s in the auto plants; however, there was no mass strike among the rest of the workers, except for the big wage strikes in 1946 which could be attributed to the pent-up rage against the wartime wage freeze. Young workers, it is claimed, are always ready to fight. But they get older, their debts grow, and so do their families.

The differences this time are substantial, I believe. The old mediations are losing their force. Neither the unions nor the anti-communist ideologies which were nurtured by im­migrant fears are capable of containing the discontent.

On the other hand, this generation still shares the legacy of racism and sexism. This legacy is a force which counteracts the development of revolutionary consciousness. The division of labor according to race and sex remains a potent material force undercutting ideological struggles to overcome it. Despite the fact that American capitalism has brought women and blacks into the economic mainstream since the end of World War II, they occupy the lowest economic niches. In the productive sectors, women remain excluded except in the consumer-goods industries. Women and blacks have been massively employed in the emergent service sectors. For example, more than 75 percent of health workers are women, a large number of whom are from minority groups, especially in the large cities. But women and blacks are concentrated within clerical and skilled paraprofessional jobs, at best, and constitute the overwhelming majority of the semi-skilled and unskilled categories in such departments as housekeeping and dietary.

Black males found their way into the basic mass-production industries in large numbers during the War and again during the expansion of the 1960s. More than a third of auto and steel workers are black, many with substantial seniority, so that the old phrase "last hired and first fired" has been somewhat mitigated. But here again, few black workers are to be found in skilled trades or in the higher-paid semi-skilled occupations. They are the bulk of the low-paid semi-skilled and the unskilled in many important industrial plants.

A second brake on the development of genuine political consciousness is the persistence of the hierarchical division of labor in general. In recent years, the struggle of the black movement around workplace issues has been against discriminatory hiring, promotion and lateral transfer policies of employers and unions. Few blacks have been permitted to enter managerial ranks within corporations, although there has been a greater integration of blacks into middle management of government bureaucracies. Black workers remain excluded from the construction trades, and only a token number have been admitted to the traditional professions of law, medicine and engineering. But these struggles have been circumscribed by the prevailing occupational stratifications which are based as much on bureaucratically determined divisions as on the technical division of labor.

The social division of labor has been a source of persistent conflict within the working class. The division is not based simply on race, sex, or actual work requirements. The credential routes to higher occupations, the seniority system as a basis for promotion, the classification of jobs grounded in arbitrary distinctions which have no basis in job content or skill level, are important barriers to class solidarity. There are few industries where the levelling of status and skill is so complete as the automobile assembly line. The united action of the workers in Lordstown and other auto assembly plants in recent years is abetted by the relative uniformity of work assignments among the workers. There are distinctions between the grimy, heavy work for blacks in the body shop and the fast, but clean and light tasks, of final assembly. But the distinctions are not nearly as sharp as between foundry work and cold rolling in a steel mill or between the nurse's aide's job of emptying bedpans and the quasi-supervisory tasks of a registered nurse.

The minute division of labor, whose hierarchical structure is reinforced by the seniority and bidding system within union-organized industries, and by the system of educational credentials within both technical and human services' industries, provides the material roots for elitism within the working class. In many industries the so-called generation gap is produced as much by the relatively good jobs secured by older, high-seniority workers as by cultural differences. The unions have become representatives of the older workers and guardians of the prevailing occupational differentiations which produce higher pay and less onerous jobs for their constituency. Since the younger workers have taken for granted the real achievements of the unions, the union is increasingly judged not by its past record but by what it has done for the membership lately. Young workers find that the unions, like the school and the family, promise more than they are structurally able to deliver. The unions have all but abandoned the fight for decent working conditions and, insofar as they are perceived as staunch defenders of the status quo in terms of the organization of work, they are increasingly looked upon as enemies.

It would be a mistake to exaggerate the degree to which young workers have liberated themselves from the institutions of socialization or the authoritarian structures and ideologies which accompany them. The internalization of arbitrary authority within consciousness cannot be rooted out in one generation. In fact, because the material supports within society for these structures remain powerful, without a convincing movement whose objectives are consciously anti-authoritarian, these structures of domination reassert themselves within the individual and the class. Although they have been weakened, the familiar subjective forms of labor's self-alienation still persist-workers “tune-out” on the content and implications of their work; production becomes nothing more than a means to consumption. The efforts of management to exceed the historically acceptable pace of work in a given location will be resisted by workers. But this is not the same as recognizing that deadening labor is immoral when the technological possibilities exist for its abolition. Young auto workers have neither challenged the object of their labor, the production of cars, nor have they transcended the inevitability of submitting to the old methods of production. Their struggle remains defensive even when they have an inkling of a different vision of life and labor.

Most young workers, whether in the factory or anywhere else, take their money and run. The idea is still to concentrate as little as possible on what actually happens on the job and to try to live as full a life as possible during leisure hours. But lacking the elements of an aesthetic culture, or an alternate concept of work, workers have been made manipulated objects of the productions of mass culture imposed from above. Here, the roles of the various spectacles of the capitalist marketplace are particularly relevant. Among these, especially for men, spectator sports play a unique part in replacing the traditional forms of folk or high culture.

The most significant characteristic of the capitalist division of labor is the transformation of the worker from an active producer to a spectator of his own labor. Workers who perform a set of discrete operations that are only a tiny part of the whole commodity and who have no real grasp of the object's destiny after it leaves the work station, tend to view the production process from the outside as if it actually emanated from the ingenuity and initiative of the company. The managerial function at the workplace is often regarded with awe. Workers have even made the reification of management part of their everyday self-deprecation: "If you're so smart, how come you ain't rich?"

Only in rare moments such as strikes does the understanding that workers themselves possess the real power over production make itself somewhat clear. The introjection of domination within the consciousness of the working class prevents this perception from being fully comprehended in ordinary life. To the extent that the real relations of power and initiative remain obscured in production, domination extends beyond the workplace to all aspects of existence.

Spectator sports retain the alienated character of labor, but create the aura of participation for the observer. Emotional catharsis is the mediation between the reality of the powerlessness of the fan over the events taking place on the playing field and the feeling of control which sustains personal involvement. The spectator appropriates the skills required to play the game symbolically. His involvement is energized by the passions of partisanship.

The sports arena has its own elan among spectators, who become strategists, generals and other substitutes for the authority they do not enjoy in their personal lives. In the workplace and in the home, sports is both a shared pleasure and a field of competition among observers. Like the movies, sports provides a way for total immersion in a manner that removes the observer from the banality of his own life, and creates the forms of manipulation which generate a sense of power and a vision of an alternative to the mundane.

Spectator sports is a way for men to establish contact with their children which is denied them at home. The father remains the supreme authority but his power does not have the appearance of arbitrary domination. If the son is willing to share the excitement and love of the games, he can get some love from his father, since most men can only express affection in a mediated way.

Everybody played the numbers in my plant. Every morning the numbers runner came around to collect the nickels and dimes from the guys at their machines. The numbers runner was usually a worker whose job assignment was bringing materials from machine to machine, so his illegal activities could be hidden behind legitimate work. Of course, everybody, including the foreman, knew who the runner was. But the identity of the "banker" was less obvious. I never knew who ran the numbers or the football pool until I hit the pool one week. You hit the number when you guessed the last three digits of the paramutual take for the daily double at a certain race track. It was a matter of pure chance. But the football, basketball and baseball pool required genuine skill. In football, you not only had to guess the winners of ten leading college games, but you had to guess the margins of victory. I rarely played the numbers except when I had a sentimental attachment to it, like my kid's birthday or some famous historical event. But I always played the foot­ball pool.

Discussions about football and baseball were serious shit­ house conversation. Passions often ran pretty high, easily outdistancing raps about electoral politics or women. After all, you could not have much effect on these problems, but you could make money and earn prestige if you were lucky enough to hit the number or were smart enough to hit the pool. Workers daydreamed about sex while turning out thou­sands of parts on an automatic screw machine, but with sports, the sense of power was more concrete.

That Monday when I knew I had hit the jackpot, I immediately contacted the go-between. He told me that he did not give out the money (the odds were 150-1), so I had to wait until after work to meet the banker in the parking lot. I practically ran out of the washroom after work that day. A few minutes after I reached the parking lot, the runner came walking slowly towards me in the company of the vice president of the local union. I was a steward in my department at the time, so was well acquainted with “Tex,” a long stringy Southerner who worked as a maintenance man. I'd always had him down for a pretty good guy. He was soft-spoken, sometimes downright taciturn, but he was an effective grievance man. Tex greeted me with a mumble and took out the bills to pay me off. I was stunned. It's one thing to play the numbers; it's another to be part of the apparatus.

Later that night it dawned on me that the company had to know about Tex. I began to wonder how many other union officials were operating similar businesses in the shop. Guys would come around all the time with watches, offers of cheap television sets and good buys on used cars. We all suspected that the merchandise was hot, but never begrudged a guy for trying to make a living. Almost everybody held down an extra job, sometimes even another full-time job. But at the time I thought it ought to be different for union officials: they should be free of that kind of vulnerability, especially illegal activity. This was going to be a field day for the company. The deal appeared simple. The union leader could operate his business, the company would shut its eyes, the men would get screwed.

It was not so simple. Tex was like a basketball player who scores 30 points a game instead of 40 and makes sure that his team only wins by 10 instead of 20 points, or a boxer who knocks his opponent to the canvas in the eighth round instead of the first. But how many other union officials were in similar positions? Later on I learned that in the large plants, few union leaders were so obviously corrupt, but in the medium-sized or smaller shops the union officer as businessman was the rule, not the exception. It was not so much that shop leaders take money from companies. It was more a matter of being tolerated for illegal behavior, or equally common, being allowed to roam the plant ostensibly on union business without having to work. It's hard to imagine a unionist selling the workers out for the price of freedom from being chained to a machine all day. But for many shop officials, that freedom is worth more than money.

More recently, many state governments have started lotteries, whose enormous appeal is comparable to the Irish Sweepstakes of a decade ago. The lottery, like sports, is a way to perpetuate the fantasies of many workers that there is a way out of the oppression of the routines of their labor. In the old days, becoming a fighter or baseball player was a universal dream of young boys for a way to escape having to go into the factory, just as becoming a movie star served the same function for Marilyn Monroe and the millions of girls who ended up in offices. For blacks and members of other minorities, the sports and entertainment industries still serve as the "impossible dream"—but not so impossible that it is completely discounted as a route to fame and fortune.

The sad thing is that many workers cling to gambling and sports as serious avocations even after the illusions of youth are shattered by the realization that they are not ever going to get out. Sports becomes the veil for the incapacity of workers to face the inevitability encompassing daily life. It is at once the protest against the worker's self-concept of her or his failure, and the means by which the ruling class is able to manipulate and channel discontent. As long as the workers can participate in the games through betting, and drain their passions in heated arguments about whether Mays or Mantle was the greatest all-around outfielder of all time, the system has a few years left.

But there are better ways for workers to structure their leisure. The typical working-class barroom of the first half of the century was the place where the fraternity could be asserted that was denied to workers in the isolating environment of the shop. Drinking itself had important rewards as a refuge from both the shop and the home. But it was more an excuse for entering social life. The tavern was the center of political discussions, gossip about the shop and the neighborhood, and some sports activities such as miniature bowling, pinball and darts. The older working-class groups did their drinking in the ethnic fraternal clubs or veterans organizations. Later, the bowling alley and the union ball were added as places for workers to congregate.

The dispersal of industry to farmlands surrounded by non­ descript housing developments or, worse, by no community or neighborhood center at all, has made it difficult for working-class people to enjoy any form of social contact. This generation of workers is often confronted by the absence of opportunities for communal ways to reaffirm their experience of anger against the quality of life, particularly of their work. The widespread practice of year-round daily overtime, rob­ bing workers of time to meet other people, the long distance travelled from home to work (which also takes away any sense of common experience associated with a home town), the 24-hour shift, seven-day-week patterns of many plants and transportation industries, have helped defuse any sense of solidarity which arises from the emerging homogeneity of experience, language and culture.

We are witnessing the disappearance of daily life beyond the workplace in huge chunks of American society. The lack of social life has increased the capacity of bureaucratically organized cultural institutions to influence social consciousness, particularly through the media and mass sports. Moreover, under conditions of increasing isolation, workers reintegrate the protective function of the family which was eroded during the evolution of urban industrial society. Although Reich is right to describe the ways in which the authoritarian family structure reinforces the sus­ceptibility of workers to the authority of the corporate and state institutions, the family is also experienced as a shield against the tyranny and the terror of the everyday world.

Problems and prospects - Paul Mattick, Jr.

Paul Mattick, Jr. writes for Root & Branch in 1975. He writes on the growth of the public sector and passivity taught in schools and media and revolutionary organizations (unions, parties) as instruments for integration of the working class, and how left-pessimists mistake class analysis with the bourgeois status/income categories.

Submitted by UseValueNotExc… on December 10, 2021

A cherished bit of trivia from the early '60s is the memory of a speech given by A.A. Berle, Jr., at Bryn Mawr College in 1962. Decrying those who were defensive about America's record, particularly in relation to Latin America, he observed that we had much to be proud of—in particular, that we were the first society in history to eliminate the working class. No doubt this would have surprised the building janitor already then, but today that halcyon era has gone even for the Berles and their children. On the one hand, the failures and collapse of the black and student movements of the '60s have broken hopes placed in new forces for progressive change in a period when the "middle Americans" seemed solidly for the status quo. On the other hand, the frequency and militance of strike movements throughout the capitalist world—particularly in Europe—and even in the state-controlled economies of the “East,” have forced renewed attention to the proletariat as an active social force. Now “everyone” is worried about the blue-collar blues and the white-collar blahs; governmental commissions to studies on job alienation; academics and other intellectual racketeers get busy studying “industrial democracy" and "workers' control.” Would-be revolutionaries, too, must think again about the working class and its relation to the problems and possibilities of communist revolution.

For Marx, the idea of communism had no real existence except as embodied in the actual practice of class struggle by the working class. In this he differed from his would-be disciples. Kautsky and Lenin, or whom the proletariat was rather the agency which by its numbers and key position in modern society could realize an idea worked out by middle-class intellectuals through their scientific critique of capitalism. Marx, in contrast, developed his concept of communism with his analysis of capitalism as an attempt to explain and give intellectual expression to the struggle of workers against the existing organization of society.

Marx defined "class" in terms of power over social decision-making. This means, essentially, the power of decision over the production of the goods—i.e., everything from butter and guns to books—that are the material basis of social life. This boils down to control over the means of production and so over the product they make possible. Capitalism began with the separation of the producers en masse from this control. This implied the transformation simultaneously of products and of the capacity to produce into commodities, goods for sale on a market. For when goods are available only when bought from the possessors of the productive apparatus, producers can exist only by selling their labor-power to the owners. Means of production become capital, then, insofar as their possessors are able to buy the labor-power necessary to operate them, an arrangement which permits them to keep the difference (surplus value or profit) between the amount produced and the amount demanded by the producers for their existence. The capitalist, possessing class comes into existence together with the working class.

At the same time, under this system (in which people do not produce for themselves directly) production as a physical process necessarily takes the form of a systematic inter­-relation between the producers, in which each person is dependent on the labor of vast networks of others for the means to live and to produce. This is true within the individual workplace, where now thousands may labor together, and between the various workplaces and departments of production. Nonetheless, since production is under private, capitalist control, it can appear to the producers as though their relation to each other exists only through their employment by their several masters.

Since the capitalists' profit consists entirely in the amount of social product withheld from the producers, there is bound to be conflict between the two classes over the division of the product, as well as over the conditions of work. Marx believed that this would lead to the growth, among the workers, of an understanding at once of their shared interest as exploited producers and of their ability to act together to protect that interest. The collective organization of work was expected to provide a natural framework for the development of conceptions and organizational forms of solidary struggle.

In addition, in Marx's view, the system's development over time is conditioned by capital's desire to maintain the existing class relations and individual positions of strength within these relations. The direction and rate of development of the system are determined, that is, by the need of each individual capital and so of capital as a whole to expand its value (and thus its economic and social power) by the production and accumulation of surplus value. But, Marx claimed to show, the private character of capital ownership conflicts over time with the needs of capital as a whole, threatening the stability of the social system. The process of capital expansion itself would create barriers to its continuation (in the form of a tendency for the rate of profit, and therefore of the rate of accumulation, to fall). The result would be a series of crises in the production of capital, each to be overcome only through a massive reorganization (primarily in the form of concentration) of capital structures, which would be paid for by enormous misery on the part of the working class.

In such a moment of crisis, Marx thought, the solidarity of the producers, developed in the long fight over wages, hours, etc., would come to the point of open struggle for control of the productive system, of society itself. The collective commonwealth of toil would liberate itself from the constraints on its well-being set by the private ownership of the means of production, to establish communism—the collective organization and direction of production by the producers themselves.

Capitalist society did not evolve in the direction of an obvious polarity between a small group of rich capitalists and a mass of impoverished proletarians. While control over capital has been continuously centralized, the small group of the very rich and powerful are at the top of a continuum of wealth and degree of privilege (of which the permanently unemployed are at the bottom). In addition, after a history of crises every ten or fifteen years the Second World War permitted a reorganization of world capitalism which made possible rising or stable incomes for large numbers of workers in the advanced countries. The result was twenty­ odd years of a relatively high degree of social stability.

This situation allowed for a florescence of bourgeois theories of society in terms not of class but of status and income-level, linked in the association of status with amount of consumption. Residual problems—in general, “unfair” distribution of income and political and social power to the disadvantage of certain regional or racial groups—could be solved by "social engineering," possible within a pluralistic political democracy and an economy capable of infinite growth. The class war was over, in fact, and "ideology" had ended with it.

On the left, or what passed for the left, it was agreed that the working class, if not nonexistent, would no longer play a revolutionary role. In effect, the Marxian analysis was abandoned for or subordinated to the bourgeois interpretation of the situation, with class analysis giving way in analytical practice to status/income-distribution concepts. This pessimistic interpretation of bourgeois optimism was given a theoretical elaboration, for example, in the work of Herbert Marcuse, elevated by the press and the climate of the time into the “guru of the New Left.” Technological advance, by making possible the continuous expansion of productive capacity and so the satisfaction of workers' demands, had effected the political integration of the proletariat into what therefore became a “one dimensional” system. With capital­ism's material contradictions under control, opposition could arise only in the sphere of ideology—hence the concern with "alienation" or psychological malaise in a breadfull system—though Marcuse held that the ideological realm itself was largely absorbable in the pervasive one-dimensionality. Material opposition was thought restricted to developments outside the system proper; basically to the threat posed by the superior “rationality” of the so-called socialist systems, in which state control of production has taken the place of private capitalist control. Thus, to the extent that there was hope for change in the world at all, it lay not in the masses of “advanced industrial society” but among the peasants of the Third World, with—perhaps—stirrings in the developed countries among the disadvantaged minorities and the young intelligentsia, as represented by the civil rights and student anti-war movements. None of these groups could be identified with the revolutionary proletariat foretold by Marx.

On the other hand, it is clear that Marx's prediction of the proletarianization of the mass of the population has been fulfilled in all capitalist countries (and is a necessary corellate of the economic development which is the goal in the state­ directed systems). The process which began with the expropriation of the peasantry, carried out in the West under private and in the East under state auspices, has continued, as is clear from a glance at occupational statistics. Capital units survive and prosper by expanding into the social and economic space occupied by precapitalist forms of life, or by competing capitals. As the labor-employing, profit-producing enterprise becomes the dominant form in goods production, all forms of work took on the characteristics of the industrial wage-laborer. The small farmer becomes an agricultural wage-worker under a "checkbook farmer." Nonproductive workers—occupied with distribution of goods, "services," or the handling of economic value (as in banking)—are wage­ workers for firms who profit by the difference between what they must pay their employees and what they can extract from industrial capital for their services.

The concept of "middle class" is often used today by radicals—e.g., to describe themselves—who otherwise attempt to employ a Marxist terminology. The group thus referred to includes some members of what might be called a middle class-professionals like doctors, lawyers, and a few elite professors, as well as petty tradesmen—but it mostly includes people—managerial and supervisory personnel, engineers, technicians, teachers—who are workers in the Marxist sense: dependent for living on the sale of their labor power. Calling these people "middle class" only confuses class analysis with the bourgeois status/income categories. In the '50s we were told that “the workers” had become “middle class”: in fact exactly the opposite was and is going on. As the development of labor productivity in manufacturing through technology and speedup has made for slow growth in the numbers of blue-collar workers, a major share in labor force increase has come precisely from the proletarianization of formerly middle-class occupations and people (particularly due to the vast expansion of government employment deriving from the growing role of the state in social and economic life). This period has also seen a steady growth in the use of women as (cheap) wage-workers, in addition to their role in the home as maintainers of labor power.

So much for the illusion of status. With respect to income, a worker remains a worker no matter how much he or she is paid. He must be exploited "be his wages high or low" because only on this basis can the employer realize the profit which allows him to continue in business as an employer. Still, as the left pessimists pointed out, the existence of class is not sufficient. Revolutionary activity requires a consciousness on the part of workers of their position in society—not just a consciousness of exploitation but an understanding that as the producers of all wealth they have the power to order production and social life in general to meet their own needs. In Marx's words, "the proletariat is revolutionary or it is nothing."

Among the ideas of the left pessimists, strangest of all, perhaps, was the view that the integration of the working class, its acceptance of the capitalist system, is a novel phenomenon, produced by a new (super-technologized) state of capitalism. The capitalist system consists of workers and capitalists together; one can speak of opposition to the system, as contrasted with opposition to some of its effects, only when the wages-system, the capital-labor relation itself is threatened. Such moments of revolution or near-revolution have been mighty few and far between in capitalism's history. The everyday struggle between employers and workers over the conditions and remuneration of wage labor, a necessary feature of a system in which the interests of the two groups are opposed, in itself threatened capitalism's existence no more yesterday than it does today, so long as demands could be kept at this level by their momentary and partial satisfaction.

What gave the appearance of a non-integration of the working class in the past was the existence of ideologically revolutionary organizations “of the working class”—the social democratic trade unions and parties, the Communist parties and unions of the Third International (and Soviet Russia itself in the age in which it was easier to believe in it as a bastion of world revolution). In fact these very organizations were, at their moments of strength, also instruments for the integration of the working class. Here three aspects of the development and functioning of the labor organizations, in America and Europe, may be noted. To begin with, until recently capitalism was in a period of growth (despite its interruption by periodical crisis). As the productive apparatus grew, raising the productivity of labor, capital was able to meet both its needs for profit and workers' demands for a better life. Thus the labor organizations, in government and at the workplace, could function as structures through which the power of the workers secured real gains. In America this effect was strengthened by the fact that the special conditions of this country until recently made movement upward, even—for a few—into capitalist ranks, a real possibility for workers.

Second, the organizations which supervised the winning of demands, operating of necessity within a situation defined by the existence of the labor “market,” channeled and controlled oppositional energies by institutionalizing the inevitable conflict of classes. This process was carried farthest in America in the modern collectively bargained contract, complete with grievance procedures and no-strike clauses. Finally, as the leaders of these organizations in their activity became de facto and then de jure part of the social and political structure of the capital-labor relationship and thus, whatever their (usually negligible) purity of heart, a part of the ruling apparatus, their immediate personal interest became tied to the maintenance of the status quo. This element of “corruption” is not, however, as important as the general effect of institutionalization of the struggle, which took not only the direction of the struggle but even in large part the activity itself out of the hands of what thus became the rank-and-file, substituting for their activity that of the union or party professionals. From the revolutionary point of view, the chain of labor's parliamentary and trade union victories made one long defeat.

The integration of the proletariat is the result, not of some new and peculiar circumstance but of a natural adaptation to the realities of its daily life. To speak crudely, we may say that we derive our ideas from our experience of the world. Grow­ing up in capitalist society, with the lessons of daily life methodically reinforced by schools and media, it is hard to take seriously the possibility of some other way of living together, just as the idea of a slave-free society occurred to no Greek. And the desire for an alternative is bound to be weakened when things are improving or at least not getting much worse. In general, we are more likely to submit to bearable evils than to try to tear everything apart, destroying all our daily routines and personal security, for something we can hardly believe in.

Similarly, workers' understanding of their collective power to determine their own destiny comes only from experience of it. This means experience of solidarity, of their capacity to decide on and take action without the supervision of political or other “representatives.” Such experiences are to be had in every strike, in every shop-floor struggle. But ordinarily they are experiences of joint action among only the workers in one department, one factory, one industry, against a particular capitalist, and not of something like the class as a whole against capital as a whole. Seemingly, these experiences develop the force to call into question the whole of the existing society only at moments of great social crisis. At such moments, the inability of the existing order to satisfy even minimal needs forces people to go beyond the ordinary boundaries of struggle to take class-wide action in organizing some alternative forms of social life. This was true, at any rate, for the European revolutionary wave of 1917-1923 (Russia, Germany, Italy) which arose out of the world crisis which took the form of world war. The Spanish Revolution of 1936 came out of years of turmoil, capped by the opening of the civil war.

While the mechanics of failure were different for each of these cases, each left capitalism able to reorganize itself economically and politically, and go on. However, the period between the two wars seems to have been a turning point in the history of the capitalist economy. Just as they misunderstood the character of working-class activity in the past, the left pessimists missed the novelties of the new situation. It is becoming clearer that pessimism about the possibility of proletarian revolution has been based on a too-ready acceptance of the bourgeoisie's self-satisfaction, though it has taken today's rocketing inflation, monetary difficulties, and mount­ing unemployment to draw people's attention to what amounts to a new stage in the unfolding of capitalism's contradictions.

Indeed, capitalism never rose from its Great Depression ashes as it had recovered from previous crises. That is to say, the reorganization of capitalism effected through the depression and World War II did not succeed in raising the rate of profit to a point where the system could continue to expand at the rate imposed by the previous level of development. As a result the measures of state interference in the economy introduced by the New Deal and its (fascist) equivalents in other countries, in the form of relief, public works, and war production, could not be abandoned after the war. Massive unemployment and social convulsion could be averted only by the state's utilization of capital value (insufficient for investment purposes) to take up the slack left by the low level of private capital investment. This procedure, hailed as the mechanism which had overcome the gloomy predictions of the Marxists, represented a confirmation of the theory of capitalist development laid out in Capital.

The steady growth of the "public" sector bears witness, that is, to the inability of the private sector—i.e., the capitalist economy proper—to achieve an adequate rate of growth.

The state-controlled sector of the economy is necessary to the continued existence of capitalism as a social system. In the first place it provides employment and therefore means of existence for the millions who would not otherwise be employed. In addition, it provides the materials—primarily weaponry—with which possibly a secure American empire can be built as a field for future investment to offset the decline of profitability of American capital at home and in Europe.

At the same time, the “public” sector is parasitic on the private property capitalist economy. Since the government is not an owner of capital, the funds disposed of in its projects must be taxed or borrowed from the private sector (i.e., from profits: either directly or by the sleight-of-hand of "taxes on wages," which in fact amounts to a reduction of wages since money never seen by the workers can hardly be considered a part of the wages-fund). Thus government transactions fall outside the market, i.e., out of the capitalist economy proper. For as the state pays for goods from a capitalist with money provided by the capitalists themselves, production on government account effects not the creation of new value and profit but merely the transfer of pre-existing value from the capitalist class as a whole to some favored members of it. Hence state-run production cannot offset the decline in the profit rate of the private economy.

Since the state sector is growing faster than the private sector (indeed it grows just because the private sector can­ not) there must come a time when its further extension, while necessary to avert social crisis, would mean the pre-emption of economic space still open to private capital. State­ controlled economy, fought under the name of socialism as incarnated in the Ruisian, Chinese, and allied regimes, is rightfully seen as a danger to corporate capitalism internally as well. For this reason, capital periodically attempts to slow down the expansion of the state sector, despite the leeway that still remains before the “public” sector enters into serious conflict with the private, offering the ruling class the choice between massive depression and the complete abandonment of the private property system. (1)

(1) For a detailed exposition of this argument, see Paul Mattick, Marx and Keynes (Boston: Porter Sargent, 1969).

The result is the situation of continuous tension suffered today by the working class. The attempt to raise the profit rate has meant longer hours of work, the intensification of labor on the job, and for some a steady fall in living standards since the end of the Second World War. State spending goes on at the cost of wage cuts, in the form of taxes and inflation, while the attempt to slow down state-sector growth means recession (i.e., conrolled depression). In the mean­time, the use of state funds to secure the empire spells death and destruction for working-class youth. To this must be added the continuing destruction of the environment, which affects health and destroys sources of leisure-time pleasure; the degradation of the urban centers into which the population is crowded; and the inability of a stagnating system to offer any relief to masses of black people.

These pressures affect various sectors of the working class in different ways and to different degrees. On the one hand, large numbers of white, male workers, now middle-aged or over, have since the end of the Great Depression been in quite a stable position, with job security and a “reasonable” standard of living. On the other, black, young (of all colors) and the increasing number of female workers face low wages, high unemployment and steadily deteriorating conditions of life (as evidenced in high death rates, undernourishment, effects of psychological stress, etc.). As one researcher has put it, this part of the working population has been living in depression even while the first group experienced the boom of the '50s and '60s.(2) It is this which accounts for the apparently contradictory appearances both of a reactionary “working class” and of an increasing hostility to “the system” among young people, women, and blacks. The importance of phenomena like the present recession is the promise they hold of a worsening of conditions for the so-far favored group in the class—happening now even for high status and income technical and managerial people—with the potential of a class-wide opposition replacing the sectoral struggles of the last years.

(2) Joe Eyer, "Living Conditions in the United States," this volume.

Though isolated from the mass of the production processes of modern society, students have little social power, the problem of their relation to a future working-class movement must be taken seriously. In the age of mass education it is no longer possible to think of students as petty or just plain bourgeois "elements." At the same time, they are not workers; though they may toil and spin they receive no wages and produce no value. What they are—here I mean the vast majority, not the future board chairmen and/or politicians­ is future workers, workers-in-training. This training is only partly in skills yielding a higher productivity; its function is largely to justify restricted access to certain jobs and salaries. In addition, much of collegiate (as of all school) education is purely ideological, teaching through both the content and the organization of school work a healthy passivity and intellectual respect for the status quo. Mass education exists because of the importance of all this training—both technical and attitudinal—for modern production. A large portion of the "knowledge" factory's product takes the form of teachers: expanded reproduction of channels for the transmission of skills and ideology. The schools also serve as research centers for industry and government. All these social functions of institutional education determine the existence of the student, forming the context within which the student movement can be understood.

The immediate interest of students is to remain students­ i.e., first, not to work, and then, when a job is necessary, to get a good one. The first is obviously limited by time; the second less and less meaningful (objectively as the jobs available to an expanding number of degree-holders become scarcer; subjectively as the value-system fails to hold up in the face of reality). At school, students are simultaneously given great freedom of movement and subjected to bureau­cratic administration, simultaneously urged to "develop their minds" and fed a lot of crap in preparation for stupid jobs. The results are the mysterious student malaise, conflict with authority, rejection of “professional” careers and life-styles, radicalization and—among the radicals—a tendency to accept the idea of “alliance” with the working class. In the absence of a radical working class this remains an attitude, or becomes a sterile ideology, reflecting the aims of sectarian groups rather than the development of the movement. But it acquires practical content as soon as it is possible (as in France, Italy, and on a few minor occasions in the U.S.). The students, as one formula has it, are not workers, but the workers' struggle is of necessity theirs.

The extent to which the submission of the working class to capitalist conditions is the result of its internal division by formidable barriers of experience and special interest cannot be overemphasized. People work in the country and in the city; in big towns and small; in production, office work, education, and services; for private capital and for the state. With each of these divisions, within each workplace, we find a multitude of (generally spurious) skill grades and classifications, expressed as a hierarchy of wages and statuses. These divisions, which extend well into life off the job, hide the common position of exploited wage workers that unites the members of the class.

An important role in the maintenance of these barriers is played by numerous ideological and institutional factors (as well as by the general competition for jobs). Education or seniority is supposed to justify the hierarchy of grades and wages. The feeling that woman's place is in the home has made it difficult for men workers to support their women colleagues' struggles for equal pay, and for women themselves to be aggressive vis-a-vis their employers (or to support their husbands' fights with theirs). The most blatant of these factors at the present time is the racism which makes it nearly impossible for whites and blacks alike to view each other as class comrades.

These barriers, with the accompanying inhibitions of class solidarity and combativeness, have been particularly reinforced by the labor unions. These have functioned within the workplace to sanctify the hierarchy of position and wage, and through their craft or industrial structure to segregate and weaken the struggles of different groups. They have consciously attempted to exclude blacks, and indeed the majority of workers, from participation in their struggles and benefits won. To break through the divisions between workers will require rejection of the representative authority of the unions, and indeed, sooner or later, fighting against them. The restrictions which will undoubtedly be put on union activities by employers and the state must be met not by attempts to defend the unions but by efforts of the class to defend itself through the creation of forms of organization­ presumably various sorts of workplace committees—over which the men and women on the job have direct control and which make possible the greatest unification of the class possible at any given time.

One of the most promising novelties of our situation is in fact the obsolescence of the traditional labor organizations, both political and syndical. In Europe, the mass Com­munist, Social Democratic and Labor parties are losing their proletarian mantles, while in the U.S. the Democratic Party has ceased to appear the workingman's friend. What remains of the workers' identification with the unions can only con­tinue to decay. Of course, the new rank-and-file caucuses, committees, and networks of such can be expected, if the struggles thus organized are successful in winning demands, to become new structures of integration—most likely by their absorption into the existing unions (with the rise to syndical power of a new, militant leadership). But this depends on the ability of capitalism to achieve a new prosperity.

It is unlikely, if the past is any guide, that we will be able to participate in mass revolutionary action before a moment of real social collapse—though a period of resistance to increasing stress will doubtlessly help to ready the proletariat for such a time. The immediate prospect, indeed, is for a consolidation of capitalist forces to try to get by its impending squeeze, including severe repression of whatever left may exist. Yet the real possibility of a future reopening of working-class struggle on a large scale leaves radicals with both hope and the obligation to achieve the understanding of current realities necessary to taking active part in the development of that struggle.

Root & Branch: The Rise of the Workers' Movements (1975), pp.111-122.

Origins of the job structure in the steel industry - Katherine Stone

Troops disperse strikers in Homestead, 1892
Troops disperse strikers in Homestead, 1892

Katherine Stone analyses how workers' control in the US steel industry in the 19th century was broken up by the employers using Taylorist management techniques, leading to the job structure which remains in place today.

Submitted by Steven. on January 4, 2010

In the 19th century, work in the steel industry was controlled by the skilled workers. Skilled workers decided how the work was done and how much was produced. Capitalists played a very small role in production, and there were yet few foremen. In the last 80 years, the industry has transformed itself, so that today the steel management has complex hierarchy of authority, and steelworkers are stratified amongst minute gradings along job ladders. Steelworkers no longer make any decisions about the process of steel.

The process by which the steel industry was transformed is the process by which steel employers tried to break down the basis for unity amongst steelworkers. Out of their efforts to gain control of their workers and prevent unified opposition, the steel employers set up the various structures that define work today. This paper traces that process in detail in order to demonstrate the class nature of existing structures and the possibility for jobs to be structured differently.

I: The Breakdown of the Traditional Labor System
In 1908 John Fitch, an American journalist who had inter viewed hundreds of steelworkers and steel officials, described the labor system in the steel industry of his day.

In every department of mill work, there is a more or less rigid line of promotion. Every man is in a training for the next position above... The course would vary in the different styles of mills, as the positions vary in number and character, but the operating principle is everywhere the same. In the open-hearth department the line of promotion runs through common labor, metal wheelers, stock handlers, cinder-pit man, second helper and first helper, to melter foreman. In this way, the companies develop and train their own men. They seldom hire a stranger for a position as roller or heater. Thus the working force is pyramided and is held together by the ambition of the men lower down; and even a serious break in the ranks adjusts itself all but automatically.

Anyone familiar with industry today will recognize this arrangement immediately. It is precisely the type of internal labor market, with orderly promotion hierarchies and limited ports of entry, which economists have only recently begun to analyze. When Fitch was writing, it was a new development in American history. Only 20 years earlier, the steel industry had had a system for organizing production which appears very strange to us today.

Although steel had been produced in this country since colonial times, it was not until after the Civil War that the steel industry reached substantial size. In 1860, there were only 13 establishments producing steel, which employed a total of 748 men to produce less than 12,000 net tons of steel a year. After the Civil War, the industry began to expand rapidly, so that by 1890, there were 110 Bessemer converters and 167 open hearth converters producing 4.8 million net tons of steel per year. This expansion is generally attributed to the protective tariff for steel imports, the increased use of steel for railroads, and to changes in the technology of steel production.

The pivotal period for the U.S. steel industry was the years 1890-1910. During that period, steel replaced iron as the building block of industrial society, and the United States surpassed Great Britain as the world's prime steel producer. Also during the 1890s, Andrew Carnegie completed his vertically integrated empire, the Carnegie Corporation, and captured 25 percent of the nation's steel market. His activities lead to a wave of corporate mergers which finally culminated in the creation, in 1901, of the world's first billion dollar corporation, the U.S. Steel Corporation. U.S. Steel was built by the financier J. P. Morgan on the back of the Carnegie Corporation. At its inception, it controlled 80 percent of the United States output of steel.

In the 19th century, the steel industry, like the iron industry from which it grew, had a labor system in which the workers contracted with the steel companies to produce steel. In this labor system, there were two types of workers- "skilled" and "unskilled." Skilled workers did work that required training, experience, dexterity, and judgment; and un-skilled workers performed the heavy manual labor-lifting, pushing, carrying, hoisting, and wheeling raw materials from one operation to the next. The skilled workers were highly skilled industrial craftsmen who enjoyed high prestige in their communities. Steel was made by teams of skilled workers with unskilled helpers, who used the companies' equipment and raw materials.

The unskilled workers resembled what we call "workers" today. Some were hired directly by the steel companies as they are today. The others were hired by the skilled workers under what was known as the "contract system." Under the contract system, the skilled workers would hire helpers out of their own paychecks. Helpers earned between one-sixth and one-half of what the skilled workers earned.

The skilled steelworkers saw production as a cooperative endeavor, where labor and capital were equal partners. The partnership was reflected in the method of wage payment. Skilled workers were paid a certain sum for each ton of steel they produced. This sum, called the tonnage rate was governed by the "sliding scale," which made the tonnage rate fluctuate with the market price of iron and steel, above a specified minimum rate below which wages could not fall. The sliding scale was introduced in the iron works of Pittsburgh as early as 1865, and in the 25 years that followed, it spread throughout the industry.

The sliding scale was actually an arrangement for sharing the profits between two partners in production, the skilled workers and the steel masters. It was based on the principle that the workers should share in the risks and the fruits of production, benefiting when prices were high and sacrificing when prices were low.

Another effect of the sliding scale was that by pegging tonnage rates directly to market prices, the role of the employer in wage determination was eliminated. Consider, for example, the following account, summarized by David Montgomery from the records of the Amalgamated Association of Iron, Steel and Tin Workers:

When the Columbus Rolling Mill Company contracted to re-heat and roll some railroad tracks in January, 1874, for example, the union elected a committee of four to consult with the plant superintendent about the price the workmen were to receive for the work. They agreed on a scale of $1.13 per ton, which the committee brought back to the lodge for its approval.

There followed an intriguing process. The members soon accepted the company offer, then turned to the major task of dividing the $1.13 among themselves. Each member stated his own price. When they were added up, the total was 3 cents higher than the company offer. By a careful revision of the figures, each runback buggyman was cut 2 cents, and the gang buggyman given an extra _ of a cent to settle the bill.

The employers had relatively little control over the skilled workers' incomes. Nor could they use the wage as an incentive to insure them a desired level of output. Employers could only contract for a job. The price was determined by the market, and the division of labor and the pace of work was decided by the workers themselves. Thus, the sliding scale and the contract system defined the relationship between capital and labor in the steel industry in the 19th century.

The skilled steel workers had a union, the Amalgamated Association of Iron, Steel and Tin Workers, which was the strongest union of its day. Formed in 1876 by a merger of the Heaters Union, the Roll Hands Union and the Sons of Vulcan, by 1891 the Amalgamated represented 25 percent of all steelworkers. Through their union, they were able to formalize their control over production. For example, at Carnegie's Homestead, Pennsylvania mill, a contract was won in 1889 that gave the skilled workers authority over every aspect of steel production there. A company historian described it this way:

"The method of apportioning the work, of regulating the turns, of altering the machinery, in short, every detail of working the great plant, was subject to the interference of some busy body representing the Amalgamated Association. The heats of a turn were designated, as were the weights of the various charges constituting a heat. The product per worker was limited; the proportion of scrap that might be used in running a furnace was fixed; the quality of pig-iron was stated; the puddlers' use of brick and fire clay was forbidden, with exceptions; the labor of assistants was defined; the teaching of other workmen was prohibited, nor might one man lend his tools to another except as provided for."

John Fitch confirmed this account of worker control at Homestead when he interviewed Homestead workers and managers in 1908. Fitch reported that:

"A prominent official of the Carnegie Steel Company told me that before the strike of 1892, when the union was firmly entrenched in Homestead, the men ran the mill and the foreman had little authority. There were innumerable vexations. Incompetent men had to be retained in the employ of the company, and changes for the improvement of the mill could not be made without the consent of the mill committees. I had opportunity to talk with a considerable number of men employed at Homestead before 1892, among them several prominent leaders of the strike. From these conversations I gathered little that would contradict the statement of the official, and much that would corroborate it."

The cooperative relationship between the skilled steelworkers and the steel employers became strained in the 1880's. The market for steel products began to expand rapidly. Domestically the railroads began to generate high levels of demand for steel, and internationally the US steel industry began to compete successfully with the British and the German steel industry for the world market (In 1890, for the first time, U.S. steel exports surpassed those of Great Britain). The effect of this massive increase in demand was to intensify competition in the U.S. industry. What had been a stable market structure was disrupted by the new markets opening up.

Firms competed for the new markets by trying to increase their output and cut their costs. To do that they had to increase the productivity of their workers, but the labor system did not allow them to do that. For example, from 1880 on, the market price for iron and steel products was falling drastically, so that the price for bar iron was below the minimum specified in the Union's sliding scale, even though the negotiated minimum rates were also declining. This meant that employers were paying a higher percentage of their income out in wages than they would have were the sliding feature of the sliding scale operative, or had they had the power to reduce wages unilaterally in the face of declining prices.

At the same time that their labor costs as a percentage of revenue were rising, the labor system also prevented employers from increasing their productivity through reorganizing or mechanizing their operations. The workers controlled the plants and decided how the work was to be done. Employers had no way to speed up the workers, nor could they introduce new machinery that eliminated or redefined jobs.

In the past, employers had introduced new machinery, but not labor-saving machinery. The many innovations introduced between 1860 and 1890, of which the most notable was the Bessemer converter, increased the size and capacity of the furnaces and mills, but they generally did not replace men with machines. Lowthian Bell, a British innovator, who toured the U.S. steel industry in 1890, reported that: "Usually a large make of any commodity is accomplished by a saving of labor, but it may be questioned whether in the case of the modern blast furnace this holds good. To a limited, but a very limited, extent some economy might be effected, but if an account were taken of the weight of material moved in connection with one of our Cleveland furnaces, and the number of men by whom it is handled, much cannot, at all events with us, be hoped for."

However, in the late 1880s and 1890s, the steel companies needed more than just bigger machines and better methods of metallurgy. Bottlenecks were developing in production, so that they needed to mechanize their entire operations. For example, the problem with pig-iron production, the first stage of steelmaking, was that with increased demand, the larger blast furnaces could produce pig iron faster than the men could load them, so that the use of manual labor became a serious hindrance to expanding output.

The steel masters needed to replace men with machines, which meant changing the methods of production. To do that, they needed to control production, unilaterally. The social relations of cooperation and partnership had to go if capitalist steel production was going to progress. The steel companies understood this well and decided to break the union.

The strongest lodge of the Amalgamated Association was at Carnegie's Homestead mill; it is no wonder that the battle between capital and labor shaped up there. In 1892, just before the contract with the Amalgamated was to expire, Carnegie transferred managing authority of the mill to Henry Clay Frick. Frick was already notorious for his brutal treatment of strikers in the Connellsville coke regions, and wasted no time making his intentions known at Homestead. He ordered a fence built, three miles long and topped with barbed wire, around the entire Homestead Works; he had platforms for sentinels constructed and holes for rifles put in along the fence and he had barracks built inside it to house strikebreakers. Thus fortified, Frick ordered 300 guards from the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, closed down the Works, laid off the entire work force, and announced they would henceforth operate nonunion. The famous Homestead Strike began in 1892 as a lockout by the employers with the explicit aim of breaking the union. Dozens of men were killed in the four months that followed as the Homestead workers fought Pinkertons, scabs, the sheriff and the State Militia. In the end, the intervention of the state and federal governments on the side of the Carnegie Corporation beat the strikers. The works were re-opened with strikebreakers, and Frick wrote to Carnegie, "Our victory is now complete and most gratifying. Do not think we will ever any serious labor trouble again."

The Homestead Strike was the turning point for the Amalgamated Association throughout the country. Other employers, newly invigorated by Frick's performance, took a hard line against the union, and the morale of the members, their strongest local broken, was too low to fight back. Within two years of the Homestead defeat the Amalgamated had lost 10,000 members. Lodge after lodge was lost in the following years, so that membership, having peaked at 25,000 in 1892, was down to 10,000 by 1898, and most of that was in the iron industry. The union never recovered from these losses. The locals that remained were destroyed one-by-one by the U.S. Steel Corporation, so that by 1910 the steel industry was entirely non-union.

With the power of the Amalgamated broken, steel employers were left to mechanize as much as they needed. The decade that followed the Homestead defeat brought unprecedented developments in every stage of steel making. The rate of innovation in steel has never been equaled. Electric trolleys, the pig casting machine, the Jones mixer and mechanical ladle cars transformed the blast furnace. Electric traveling cranes in the Bessemer converter, and the Wellman in the open hearth did away with almost all the manual aspects of steel production proper. And electric cars and rising ailing tables made the rolling mills a continuous operation. These developments led the British Iron and Steel Institute to conclude after its visit in 1903 that:

"The (U. S.) steel industry had made considerable advances in the ten years ending with 1890. It is, however, mainly since that year that the steel manufacture has made its greatest strides in every direction, and it is wholly since that date that costs have been so far reduced as to enable the United States to compete with Great Britain and Germany in the leading markets of the world."

One British economist, Frank Poppeiwell, was particularly amazed by the degree to which new innovations were labor saving. He concluded:

"Perhaps the greatest difference between English and American conditions in steel-works practice is the very conspicuous absence of laborers in the American mills. The large and growing employment of every kind of both propelling and directing machinery-electric trolleys, rising and falling tables, live rollers, side-racks, shears, machine stamps, endless chain tables for charging on the cars, overhead traveling cranes-is responsible for this state of things. It is no exaggeration to say that in a mill rolling three thousand tons of rails a day, not a dozen men are to be seen on the mill floor."

In this way, the steel masters succeeded in eliminating the bottlenecks in production by replacing men with machines at every opportunity. This mechanization would not have been possible without the employers' victory over the workers at Homestead. Thus we can see how the prize in the class struggle was control over the production process and the distribution of the benefits of technology. As David Brody summarizes it:

"In the two decades after 1890, the furnace worker's productivity tripled in exchange for an income rise of one-half; the steel workers output doubled in exchange for an income rise of one-fifth... At bottom, the remarkable cost reduction of American steel manufacture rested on those figures. The accomplishment was possible only with a labor force powerless to oppose the decisions of the steel men."

The victory of the employers in 1892 allowed them to destroy the old labor system in the industry. They could then begin to create a new system, one that would reflect and help to perpetuate their ascendancy. Specifically, this meant that they had three separate tasks: to adapt the jobs to the new technology; to motivate workers to perform the new jobs efficiently; and to establish lasting control over the entire production process. The next three sections of this paper will deal with each one of these in turn.

II: Effects of the New Technology on Job Structure
Unlike earlier innovations in steelmaking, the mechanization of the 1890s transformed the tasks involved in steel production. The traditional skills of heating, roughing, catching and rolling were built into the new machines. Machines also moved the raw materials and products through the plants. Thus the new process required neither the heavy laborers nor the highly skilled craftsmen of the past. Rather, they required workers to operate the machines, to feed them and tend them, to start them and stop them. A new class of workers was created to perform these tasks, a class of machine operators known by the label "semi-skilled."

The new machine operators were described by the British Iron and Steel Institute after their visit in 1903 as men who "have to be attentive to guiding operations, and quick in manipulating levers and similarly easy work ... the various operations are so much simplified that an experienced man is not required to conduct any part of the process."

Similarly, the U.S. Department of Labor noted the rise of this new type of steelworker in their report of 1910:

"The semi-skilled among the production force consist for the most part of workmen who have been taught to perform relatively complex functions, such as the operation of cranes and other mechanical appliances, but who possess little or no general mechanical or metallurgical knowledge ... This class has been developed largely within recent years along with the growth in the use of machinery and electrical power in the industry. The whole tendency of the industry is to greatly increase the proportion of the production force formed by this semi-skilled class of workmen. They are displacing both the skilled and the unskilled workmen."

The semi-skilled workers were created by the downgrading of the skilled workers and the upgrading of the unskilled. These shifts proceeded throughout the 1890s and early 1900s, as more and more plants were mechanized. Although there are no hard data on these shifts in job categories, they are reflected in the change in relative wage rates. Between 1890 and 1910, the hourly wages of the unskilled steelworkers rose by about 20 percent, while the daily earnings of the skilled workers fell by as much as 70 percent. Also after 1892, the wage differential between the various types of skilled workers narrowed substantially. Thus, the British iron-masters reported in 1903:

"The tendency in the American steel industry is to reduce by every possible means the number of highly-skilled men employed and more and more to establish the general wage on the basis of common unskilled labor. This is not a new thing, but it becomes every year more accentuated as a result of the use of automatic appliances which unskilled labor is usually competent to control."

The following table of wage rates for selected positions at the Homestead plant mill between 1892 and 1908 illustrates the fate of skilled workers throughout the industry. Bear in mind that during this interval, their productivity was multiplying and wages throughout the nation were rising. Also, their workday was increased from 8 hours to 12 hours, so that the decline in daily earnings understates their reduction in real wages.

These reductions were part of the steel companies' policy of reducing the wage differentials between the classes of workers to make them more consistent with differentials in skill requirements for the different jobs. An official of one Pittsburgh steel Company put it this way: "... the daily earnings of some of the most highly paid men have been systematically brought down to a level consistent with the pay of other workers, having in mind skill and training required and a good many other factors."

The other side of the picture was the upgrading effect that the new technology had on the unskilled workers. Their wages were increased considerably during that same period. In part this was accomplished by a raise in the hourly rate for unskilled labor, from 14 Cents per hour in 1892 to 17.5 cents in 1910, and in part it was the result of the steel companies putting more men on tonnage rates, enabling them to make higher daily earnings.

Many unskilled workers were put in charge of expensive machinery and made responsible for operating it at full capacity. Fewer and fewer men were hired just to push wheelbarrows and load ingots, so that, as an official of the Pennsylvania Steel Company said, "While machinery may decrease the number of men, it demands a higher grade of work men." Thus, the effects of the new technology were to eliminate the distinction between skilled and unskilled workers and create a largely homogeneous workforce.

III Solving the Labor Problem
Having become the unilateral controllers of steel production, the employers created for themselves the problem of labor discipline. When the skilled workers had been partners in production, the problem of worker motivation did not arise. Skilled workers felt that they were working for themselves because they controlled the process of production. They set their own pace and work load without input from the bosses. When this system was broken, how hard workers worked became an issue of class struggle.

The introduction of the new technology introduced in the 1890s narrowed the skills differentials between the two grades of workers, producing a work force predominantly "semi skilled." This homogenization of the work force produced another new "problem" for the employers. That is, without the old skilled/unskilled dichotomy and the exclusiveness of the craft unions, the possibility that workers might as a class unite to oppose them was greater than ever. Frederick Winslow Taylor, the renowned management theorist who began his career as a foreman in a steel plant, warned employers of this danger in 1905:

"When employers herd their men together in classes, pay all of each class the same wages, and offer none of them inducements to work harder or do better than the average, the only remedy for the men comes in combination; and frequently the only possible answer to encroachments on the part of their employers is a strike."

Ultimately, however, both the problem of worker motivation and the problem of preventing unified opposition were the same problem. They both revolved around the question of controlling worker behavior. To do that, employers realized they had to control their perceptions of their self-interest. They had to give them the illusion that they had a stake in production, even though they no longer had any real stake in it. This problem was known as "the labor problem."

To solve the labor problem, employers developed strategies to break down the basis for a unity of interest amongst workers and to convince them that, as individuals, their interests were identical with those of their company.

Out of these efforts, they developed new methods of wage payments and new advancement policies, which relied on stimulating individual ambition. They were designed to create psychological divisions among the workers, to make them perceive their interests as different from, indeed in conflict with, those of their co-workers. Employers also began to use paternalistic welfare policies in order to win the loyalty of their employees. The effect of all these new policies was to establish an internal labor market in the major steel companies, which has lasted, in its essentials, until today.

1. Development of Wage Incentive Schemes
With the defeat of the Amalgamated Association, the entire complex traditional system of wage payments collapsed. The sliding scale of wages for paying skilled workers and the contract system for paying their helpers rapidly declined. Employers considered them a vestige of worker power and rooted them out of shop after shop. Thus, the employers had the opportunity to establish unilaterally a new system of wage payment. Initially, they began to pay the new semi-skilled men day wages, as they had paid the unskilled workers. Soon, however, they switched to the system of piece work, paying a fixed sum for each unit the worker produced.

The most obvious function of piece work was, of course to increase output by making each worker drive himself to work harder. Employers also contended that the system was in the workers' best interests because it allowed each one to raise his own wages. However, the employers soon found that straight piece work gave the workers too much control over their wages. That is, when it succeeded in stimulating workers to increase their output, their wages soared above the going rate. Employers would then cut the piece rates to keep the wages in line. Once they did that, however, they had reduced the piece rate system to simple speed-up; a way of getting more work for the same pay. Workers responded to the rate cuts by collectively slowing down their output, so that the system defeated itself, leaving employers back where they had started. "Wage payment Systems: How to Secure the Maximum Efficiency of Labor," gives an interesting account of this process:

"It is in the administration of the piece work system that manufacturers, sooner or later, make their great mistake and over-reach themselves, with the result that the system becomes a mockery and the evil conditions of the old day work system reappears. Regardless of the continually increasing cost of living, the manufacturers decide among themselves, for example, that $1.50 for 10 hours is enough for a woman and that $2.50 a day is enough for the ordinary workingman and a family. The piece work prices are then adjusted so that the normal day's output will just bring about these wages... Immediately throughout the entire shop the news of the cuts is whispered about... with the result that there is a general slowing down of all producers."

Thus, employers began to experiment with modifications of the piece rate. They developed several new methods of payment at this time, known as "premium" or "bonus" plans. These differed from piece work only in that they gave the workers smaller increments in pay for each additional piece.

The Halsey Premium Plan, developed in 1891, served as a model for most of the others. It called for establishing a base time period for a job, and setting one rate for workers who completed the job in that period. If a worker could finish the job faster, then he received a bonus in addition to the standard rate. The bonus was figured so that only a part of the money saved by the worker's extra productivity went to him, the rest going to the company. Different plans varied according to how they set the base time period and the base wage, and how they divided the more efficient workers' savings between the worker and the company. Iron Age recommended one particular variation, called the Half and Half Premium Plan, in which the rule was "to pay the more efficient workman only one-half what he saves by 1 up." The article described one example where, under the plan,

"For every extra $1 the man earned by his extra effort, the manufacturers would gain $7. Not a bad investment, this premium system. It betters the workingman's condition materially, and, best of all, improves his frame of mind."

Frederick Winslow Taylor's Differential Piece Rate is basic 1 another variation of the Halsey Premium Plan. Under Taylor's system, the employer established two separate rates, a low day rate for the "average workman" and a high piece rate for the "first class workman," with the stipulation that only the fast and efficient workmen were entitled to the higher rate. He suggests setting the high rate to give the worker about 60 percent increase in earnings, and for this the employer would demand of him a 300-400 percent increase in output. Like the Halsey Plan, it was simply the piece rate system modified to give the worker diminishing returns for his extra effort.

In order for any of the output incentive plans to work, management had to be able to measure each worker's output separately. All of the premium plans stressed the importance of treating each worker individually, but only Taylor gave them a method for doing so. His great contribution was systematic time study giving employers a yardstick against which to measure an individual's productivity. The emphasis on individual productivity measures reinforced the fragmenting effect of the plans. As Taylor said about his experience implementing the system at the Bethlehem Steel Works:

"Whenever it was practicable, each man's work was measured by itself ... Only on a few occasions and then upon special permission (...) were more than two men allowed to work on gang work, dividing their earnings between them. Gang work almost invariably results in a falling off of earnings and consequent dissatisfaction."

Output incentives were designed to increase individual worker output. Employers understood that to do that, they had to play upon individual worker's ambitions, which meant breaking down workers' collective identity. They gave each worker inducement to work harder, and also divided the workers into different groups, according to their output. Thus, output incentives served as a lever to prevent workers from taking collective action. As one manufacturer explained in 1928, he had originally adopted output incentives

"To break up the flat rate for the various classes of workers. That is the surest preventative of strikes and discontent. When all are paid one rate, it is the simplest and almost inevitable thing for all to unite in the support of a common demand. When each worker is paid according to his record there is not the same community of interest. The good worker who is adequately paid does not consider himself aggrieved so willingly nor will he so freely jeopardize his standing by joining with the so-called 'Marginal Worker.' There are not likely to be union strikes where there is no union of interest."

Quite explicitly, then, the aim of the premium plans was to break up any community of interest that might lead workers to slow their pace (what employers call "restriction of output") or unite in other ways to oppose management. They were a weapon in the psychological war that employers were waging against their workers, and were, at least for a while, quite successful.

Between 1900 and World War I, piecework and premium plans became more and more prevalent in the steel industry. Steelworkers opposed the new methods of payment, and the residual unions in the industry raised objections at every opportunity. In one instance, at Bethlehem Steel's South Bethlehem Works, opposition to the bonus system exploded into a major strike in February, 1910. Approximately 5,000 of the 7,000 workers there went out on strike spontaneously. The strike lasted several weeks, during which time one man was killed and many were injured. Strike demands were drawn up separately by each department or group of workers, and every single one called for uniform rates of pay to be paid by the hour, and time-and-a-half for overtime. Several added to that an explicit demand for the elimination of piece work and a return to the "day-work" system. A U.S. Senate Investigation into the strike found that the "Time-Bonus" System in use was one of its major causes."

However, worker opposition proved ineffective in preventing the use of output incentive schemes. Since 1892, the employers had held the upper hand in the industry, and they used it to perpetuate their power. The wage incentive schemes were aimed at doing just that.

2. New Promotion Policies & the Development of Job Ladders
As we saw above, the new technology diminished the skill requirements for virtually all the jobs involved in making steel. Charles Schwab himself said in 1902 that he "take a green hand, say a fairly intelligent agricultural laborer, and make a steel melter of him in six or weeks." When we realize that the job of melter was the most highly skilled job in the open hearth department, we can see how narrow the skill range in the industry really was. The employers knew this, and put their knowledge to good use during strikes. For example, during a strike at the Hyde Park Mill in 1901:

"It was resolved that the works should be continued with green hands, aided by one or two skilled men who remained loyal. The five mills thus manned were started on the 3rd of August, and up to the date of my visit, near the end of October, they had not lost a single turn."

Around the turn of the century, employers began to recognize the dangers inherent in the homogenization of the work force. They formulated this problem as worker discontent caused by "dead-end" jobs. Meyer Bloomfield, an industrial manager who in 1918 wrote a textbook on factory management, summarized their discussion on this subject:

"A good deal of literature has been published within the last dozen years in which scathing criticism is made of what has come to be known as 'blind alley' or 'dead-end' jobs. By these phrases is meant work of a character which leads to nothing in the way of further interest, opportunity, acquisition of skill, experience, or anything else which makes an appeal to normal human intelligence and ambition. The work itself is not under attack as much as the lack of incentive and appeal in the scheme of management."

Bloomfield says right off, then, that the problem of "dead-end" jobs need not be solved by changing the jobs themselves. The better solution is to change the arrangement of the jobs. To do this, he says:

"A liberal system of promotion and transfer has therefore become one of the most familiar features of a modern personnel plan, and some of the most interesting achievements of management may be traced to the workings of such a system."

The response of employers to the newly homogenized jobs was to create strictly demarcated job ladders, linking each job to one above and one below it in status and pay to make a chain along which workers could progress. As Bloomfield remarked, "what makes men restless is the in ability to move, or to get ahead."

The establishment of a job ladder had two advantages, from the employers' point of view. First, it gave workers a sense of vertical mobility, and was an incentive to workers to work harder. Secondly it gave the employers more lever age with which to maintain discipline. The system pitted each worker against all the others in rivalry for advancement and undercut any feeling of unity which might develop among them. Instead of acting in concert with other workers, workers had to learn to curry favor with their foremen and supervisors, to play by their rules, in order to get ahead. As one steelworker described the effect this had on workers during the 1919 organizing campaign, "Naw, they won't join no union; they're all after every other feller's job." This competition also meant that workers on different ladder rungs had different vested interests, and that those higher up had something to lose by offending their bosses or disrupting production.

As early as 1900, Iron Age was advising employers to fill production work vacancies from inside the firm. They advocated a policy of hiring only at the lowest job levels and filling higher jobs by promotion; what contemporary economists refer to as limiting the ports of entry.

The principle of internal promotion was expounded by Judge Gary, the President of the U.S. Steel Corporation, in his dealings with the subsidiaries. For example, in a speech to the presidents of the subsidiary companies in 1922, Gary said:

"We should give careful thought to the question as to who could be selected to satisfactorily fill any unoccupied place; and like suggestions should be made to the heads of all departments. Positions should be filled by promotions from the ranks, and if in any locations there are none competent, this fact should be given attention and men trained accordingly. It is only necessary to make and urge the point. You will know what to do; if indeed any of you has not already well deliberated and acted upon it."

These policies explain the rigid lines of promotion that John Fitch found in each department. He described the workforce as "pyramided and... held together by the ambition of the men lower down."

In this way, the steel companies opened up lines of motion in the early years of the century by creating job ladders. Employers claimed that each rung of the ladder provided the necessary training for the job above it, but the skilled jobs in the steel industry had been virtually eliminated and production jobs were becoming more homogenous in their content. If, as Charles Schwab said, one could learn to be a melter in six weeks, then certainly the training required for most jobs was so minimal that no job ladder only the minimum of job tenure were needed to acquire the necessary skills.

While technological development made it possible to do away with distinctions between skilled and unskilled workers, employers introduced divisions to avoid the consequences of uniform and homogeneous work force. The minutely graded job ladders were developed as a solution to the "labor problem," rather than a necessary input for production itself.

IV: The Redivision of Labor
While employers were developing new systems for managing their work forces, they also altered the definition of jobs and the division of labor between workers and management. They did this by revising the training mechanism for skilled workers, retraining the foremen, and changing their methods of recruiting managers. The result of these changes was to take knowledge about production away from skilled workers, thus separating "physical work" from "mental work." This further consolidated the employers' unilateral control over production, for once all knowledge about production was placed on the side of management; there would be no way for workers to carry on production without them. Frederick Winslow Taylor was one of the first theorists to discuss the importance of taking all mental skills away from the worker. In his book Principles of Scientific Management 1905), he gives a description of the division of knowledge in the recent past:

"Now, in the best of the ordinary types of management, the managers recognize the fact that the 500 or 1000 workmen, included in the twenty or thirty trades, who are under them, possess this mass of traditional knowledge, a large part of which is not in the possession of the management. The management, of course, includes foremen and superintendents, who themselves have been in most cases first-class workers at their trades. And yet these foremen and superintendents know, better than anyone else, that their own knowledge and personal skill falls far short of the combined knowledge and dexterity of all the workmen under them."

Taylor insists that employers must gain control over this knowledge. In his manual Shop Management, he says quite simply, "All possible brain work should be removed from the shop and centered in the planning or laying-out department."

Taylor suggested several techniques for accomplishing this. They were all based on the notion that work was a precise science, that there was "one best way" to do every work task, and that the duty of the managers was to discover the best way and force all their workmen to follow it. Taylorites used films of men working to break down each job into its component motions, and used stop watches to find out which was the "one best way" to do them. Taylor also insisted that all work should be programmed in advance, and coordinated out of a "planning department." He gives elaborate details for how the planning department should function; using flow charts to program the entire production process and direction cards to communicate with foremen and work men. These were called "routing" systems. One historian summarizes this aspect of scientific management thus:

"One of the most important general principles of Taylor's system was that the man who did the work could not derive or fully understand its science. The result was a radical separation of thinking from doing. Those who understood were to plan the work and set the procedures; the workmen were simply to carry them into effect."

Although most steel executives did not formulate the problem as clearly as Taylor, they did try to follow his advice. Around 1910, they began to develop "dispatch systems" to centralize their knowledge about production. These systems consisted of a series of charts showing the path of each piece of material as it made its progress through the plant and how much time each operation took, enabling the supervisors to know exactly where each item was any point in time.

At the same time that they systematized their own knowledge about production, the steel companies took that knowledge away from steelworkers. Previously, the skilled steelworkers, acting in teams, possessed all of the skills and know-how necessary to make steel. They also had had authority over their own methods of work. Now employers moved to transfer that authority to the foremen and to transfer that knowledge to a new stratum of managers. This section will describe and document that process, in order to show that this re-division of labor was not a necessary outgrowth the new technology, but rather was an adaptation by employers to meet their own needs, as capitalists, to maintain discipline and control.

1. The New Skilled Workers
As we have seen, the mechanization of production largely eliminated the role of the traditional skilled worker. However, the steel industry still needed skilled workers. Machines required skilled mechanics to perform maintenance and repair work. Also, certain skills were needed for specialized production processes which had not yet been mechanized. However, these skilled workmen were very different from the skilled workmen of the 19th century, who collectively possessed all of the skills necessary to produce steel. The new skilled workers had skills of a specific nature that enabled them to perform specific tasks, but did not have a general knowledge of the process of production. This new type of skilled worker had to be created by the employers.

One would think that finding skilled men should have been no problem because of the huge numbers of skilled workers who were displaced and down-graded in the 1890s. However, by 1905, employers' associations began to complain about the shortage of skilled men. The reason for this paradox is that when the employers destroyed the unions and the old social relations, they destroyed at the same time the mechanism through which men had received their training.

Previously, the selection, training, and promotion of future skilled steelworkers had been controlled by the skilled craftsmen and their unions. After the union was destroyed, the skilled workers were no longer able to hire and train their own helpers. Within a few years, employers, realizing that no new men were being trained, began to worry about their future supply of skilled workers.

In order to create new skilled workers, employers set up a training system that was an alternative to the union-controlled apprenticeship system of the past, known as the "short course." The "short course" involved a manager or superintendent taking a worker who had been in a department for long enough to get a feel for the process, and giving him individualized instruction in some specialized branch of the trade. By using the short course, employers could train men for specific skilled jobs in a limited period of time.

In this way, a new class of skilled workers was created during the first two decades of the 20th Century. These workers were selected by the employers, trained in a short period of time, and then set to work with their job-specific skill. These workers had skills which were only good for one job. They did not have the independence of the 19th Century skilled workmen, whose skills were transferable to other jobs and other plants. Nor did they have the generalized knowledge of the production process that skilled workers previously possessed. The knowledge they had was that which could serve their employer, but not that which could serve themselves. As Iron Age advertised in 1912:

"Make your own mechanics... The mechanics that you will teach will do the work your way. They will stay with you, as they are not sure they could hold jobs outside."

2. Changing Role of the Foreman
As the employers expanded their control over the process of production, they realized they had to develop an alternative means for exercising control on the shop floor. Just as they had taken knowledge about production away from the skilled workers, they also took away their authority over their own labor and that of their helpers. Now, the task of regulating production was transferred to the foremen, who previously only had authority over the pools of unskilled workers. Foremen were now seen as management's representatives on the shop floor. To do this, employers had to re-define the job of foreman and retrain the men who held those jobs.

In order to transfer authority to the foremen, the employers had to distinguish them from the skilled workers. This distinction had to be created; it did not evolve out of the new technology. Foremen were recruited from the ranks of the skilled workers; foremanship being the highest position to which a blue-collar worker could aspire. Once there however, steel employers had to re-educate them as to their role in production. The re-education began with convincing them not to do manual work, which was no easy task. An editorial in Iron Age in 1905 quotes one superintendent lecturing an audience of foremen as saying:

"You men have no business to have your coats off when on duty in your shops unless you are warm. You have no business to take the tools out of a workman's hands to do his work. Your business is to secure results from other men's work."

The editorial goes on to say why this is important:

"A man cannot work with his hands and at the same time give intelligent supervision to a gang of men, and a foreman who does this is apt to lose the control of his men while he is weakening the confidence of his employers in his ability as a general."

The foreman's job was to direct and correct the work but never to do the work himself. His authority depended upon that. Foremen, as the lowest ranking "mind" workers had to be made distinct from the manual workers. One steel company official likened the organization of authority to that of the "army, with the necessary distinction between the commissioned officers and the ranks."

The companies had to give their foremen special training courses in order to make them into bosses. These courses were designed to teach the foremen how to "manage" their men. One such course, at the American Steel and Wire Company, a U.S. Steel subsidiary, spent most of its time on that subject with only a few sessions on production techniques or economics.

This development was not unique to the steel industry throughout American industry; special foremen's training courses were becoming prevalent. Dr. Hollis Godfrey, President of the Drexel Institute in Philadelphia, the first private institution concerned solely with foremen's training, said that the purpose of foremen training was to:

"Make the skilled mind worker. The skilled mind worker is a little different proposition than the skilled hand worker, and a great many people are still wandering around in the differentiation between the two... From the foreman to the president right straight through, you have got one body of mind workers, and they do but two things: they organize knowledge and then they use the knowledge as organized."

Although foremen did little work, they also did little thinking. Most of their training was designed to teach them how to maintain discipline, techniques for handling men, developing "team work," deciding who to discharge and who to promote. They were the company's representative in the shop, and as the companies consolidated their power over the workers, the strategic importance of the foremen increased.

3. New Types of Managers
Just as the authority that the skilled workers had previously possessed was transferred to the foremen, their overall knowledge about production was transferred to a new class of managers, recruited from the public and private schools and their own special programs. These managers became the bottom rung of the management hierarchy.

Before 1900, most managers in the steel industry were men who had begun at the bottom and worked their way all the way up. Andrew Carnegie had insisted on using this method to select his junior executives. As he once said, boastingly, "Mr. Morgan buys his partners, I grow my own." Carnegie developed a whole partnership system for the management of his empire based on the principle of limitless upward mobility for every one of his employees.

Around the turn of the century, employers began to choose college graduates for their management positions. As one prominent steel official told a member of the British Iron and Steel Institute in 1903: "We want young men who have not had time to wear themselves into a groove, young college men preferably..."

This was not mere philosophy; the British visitors found on their tour that, of the 21 blast furnaces they visited, "18 were managed by college graduates, the majority of whom were young men."

Employers used publicly-funded technical colleges to train their new managers. Technical colleges were new, established with the support of the business community and over the protest of the labor movement. As Paul Douglas wrote in 1921:

"Employers early welcomed and supported the trade-school, both because they believed that it would provide a means of trade-training, and because they believed that it would remove the preparation for the trades from the potential or actual control of unions."

Some steel employers also set up their own schools. Technical training alone, however, was not sufficient to produce competent managers for steel factories. The young men also needed to know about steel-making. To meet this need, the steel companies developed a new on-the-job training program to supplement the formal learning of their young college graduates This program consisted of short rotations in each mill department under the supervision of a foreman or superintendent, which gave the men experience in every aspect of mill work before they were put in managerial positions. This program was called an "apprenticeship," and although it trained managers instead of workers, it was an apprenticeship by the original meaning of the word. It gave the apprentices knowledge of each stage of the production process.

By the 1920s, such methods were nearly universal through it the industry. Charles Hook, the Vice President of the American Rolling Mill Company, a U.S. Steel subsidiary, described his method for selecting and training managers in a speech of 1927 to the International Management Congress:

"The condition as outlined respecting the selection of the 'skilled' employee is quite different from the condition governing the selection of the man with technical education.

Each year a few second- and third-year (college) men work during the summer vacation, and get first-hand knowledge of mill conditions. This helps them reach a decision. If, after working with us for a summer, they return the next year, the chances are they will remain permanently... Some of our most important positions; positions of responsibility requiring men with exceptional technical knowledge filled by men selected in this manner."

The prospective managers, in short, were increasingly recruited from the schools and colleges, not from the shops.

In these apprenticeship programs, a distinction was often made between different types of apprentices, distinguished by their years of schooling. Each type was to be trained for positions at different levels of responsibility. For example, at the Baldwin Works, there were three classes of apprentices, such that:

"The first class will include boys seventeen years of age, who have had a good common school (grammar school) education ... The second class indenture is similar to that of the first class, except that the apprentice must have had an advance grammar school (high school) training, including the mathematical courses usual in such schools... The third class indenture is in the form of an agreement made with persons twenty-one years of age or over, who are graduates of colleges, technical schools, or scientific institutions..."

Thus, formal education was beginning to become the criterion for separating different levels of the management hierarchy, as well as separating workers from employers.

During this period, employers re-divided the tasks of labor. The knowledge expropriated from the skilled workers was passed on to a new class of college trained managers. This laid the basis for perpetuating class divisions in the society through the educational system. Recently several scholars have shown how the stratification of the educational system functions to reproduce society's class divisions. It is worth noting that the educational tracking system could not work to maintain the class structure were it not for the educational requirement that were set up at the point of production. These educational requirements came out of the need of employers to consolidate their control over production.

Within management, the discipline function was divided from the task of directing and coordinating the work. This is the basis for today's distinction between "staff" and "line" supervision. We must hypothesize that this division, too, had its origin in the desire of steel employers to maintain control over their low level managerial staff.

The effect of this re-division of labor on the worker was to make his job meaningless and repetitious. He was left with no official right to direct his own actions or his own thinking. In this way, skilled workers lost their status as partners, and became true workers, selling their labor and taking orders for all of their working hours.

V. To the Present
The labor system set up by the steel employers early in the century has not changed significantly since 1920. The essentials of the system; wage incentives, job ladders, welfare schemes, and a division of labor that kept skills highly job-specific have lasted to the present.

The only major change in the industry's labor relations has been the union organizing drive of the 1930s, culminating in the establishment of the United Steelworkers of America, affiliated with the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). The union brought steelworkers job security and raised wages. For the first time, it gave workers a voice in the determination of working hours, working conditions, and fringe benefits. However, the presence of the union did not change the basic mechanisms of control that employers had established. Although the union was able to alter the manner in which employers exercised control, it never challenged the heart of this control as institutionalized in the labor system.

The effect of the union was to re-rationalize the wage structure which employers had set up earlier. By the 1930s, small changes in the content of different jobs had eroded the earlier system and left the wage structure exceedingly complex and chaotic. What the union did, under the direction of the War Labor Board during the 1940s, was to work with the employers to streamline the old hierarchical system through a mammoth effort to re-evaluate and re-classify 50,000 job titles. The result was that they pegged every job to one of 30 job classifications, which they put in a strict order with a 3.5 [cent] differential between them. This structure remains today, except the differential is now 7 cents.

The impact of the union on promotion policies was to do away with favoritism and insist that seniority be used to regulate promotion and bumping. This also served to rationalize the old structure, by giving it a basis in fairness rather than the foreman's whim. However, it did not get rid of the divisive effects of the job ladders themselves.

Unionization failed to change the re-division of labor through which employers took knowledge about the production process away from the workers. The union did demand a say in the establishment and operation of training programs, but it did not question the content of the training courses.

In contrast, the American Federation of Labor, in 1940, adopted a position on training that insisted on the use of apprenticeship instead of skill-specific training. The difference between the steelworker's union and the AFL position on training no doubt stems from the fact that the AFL was composed of craft unions, which were ever conscious of the monopoly-power of their craft skills, while the former was composed of steelworkers whose craft skills had been taken from them long ago. The steelworkers probably did not consider the possibility that their skills could be other than job-specific. Such was the success of the earlier re-division of labor.

The other side of this coin, as we saw earlier, was the transferring of generalized knowledge to the managers, and the use of educational requirements to distinguish managers from workers. A study by the International Labor Organization in 1954 found that in the United States

"More often than not, future supervisors are taken on by the companies as soon as they leave college and they start their careers with a spell of six months or a year as workmen in one of the departments in the plant."

The International Labour Organization in another found that the steel companies were still concerned with the problems of establishing status relations between supervisors and workers, and solved it by giving "supplementary training which is essential once supervisors have been appointed in order to raise and define their status in relation to their subordinates and to ensure that their activities and those of the management are fully coordinated."

The presence of the union did, however, make some difference regarding the authority of the foremen in the steel industry. The establishment of formal grievance procedures and seniority as a basis for promotion undercut the power that foremen had held in the shop floor.

VI. Conclusions
The period between 1890 and 1920 was a period of transition in the steel industry from a labor system controlled by the skilled workers to a labor system controlled by the steel employers. In that transition, the breaking of the skilled workers' union, which was the institutional expression of their control over the production process, was only the first step.

Once the union was destroyed, labor discipline became a problem for the employers. This was the two-fold problem of motivating workers to work for the employers' gain and preventing workers from uniting to take back control of production. In solving this problem, employers were creating a new labor system to replace the one they had destroyed.

All of the methods used to solve this problem were aimed at altering workers' ways of thinking and feeling; which they did by making workers' individual "objective" self-interests congruent with that of the employers and in conflict with workers' collective self-interest. The use of wage incentives and the new promotion policies had a double effect on this issue. First, they comprised a reward system, in which workers who played by the rules could receive concrete gains in terms of income and status. Second, they constituted a permanent job ladder so that over time this new reward system could become an accepted fact by new workers coming into the industry. New workers would not see the job ladders as a reward and incentive system at all, but rather as the natural way to organize work and one which offered them personal advancement. In fact, however, when the system was set up, it was neither obvious nor rational. The job ladders were created just when the skill requirements for jobs in the industry were diminishing as a result of the new technology, and jobs were becoming more and more equal as to the learning time and responsibility involved.

The steel companies' welfare policies were also directed at the attitudes and perceptions of the workers. The policies were designed to show the workers that it was to their advantage to stay with the company. This policy, too, had both short-term and long-term advantages for the steel employers. In the short run, it was designed to stabilize the work force by lowering the turnover rate, thus cultivating a work force who was rooted in the community and who had much to lose by getting fired or causing trouble. In the long run, the policies were supposed to prevent workers from identify lag with each other across company and industry lines, thus preventing the widening of strike movements into mass strikes.

Employers also sought to institutionalize and perpetuate their newly-won control over production by re-dividing the tasks of production so as to take knowledge and authority away from the skilled workers and creating a management cadre able to direct production. This strategy was designed to separate workers from management permanently, by basing that separation on the distinction between physical and mental work, and by using the educational system to reinforce it. This deterred workers from seeing their potential to control the production process.

Although this paper has concentrated on the steel industry, the conclusions it reaches are applicable to many other industries the United States. The development of the new labor system in the steel industry was repeated throughout the economy in different industries. As in the steel industry, the core of these new labor systems was the creation of artificial job hierarchies and the transfer of skills away from workers to the managers.

Technological innovations in every major industry around the turn of the century had the effect of squeezing the skill levels of the work force, turning most workers into semi-skilled machine operators. Paul Douglas, writing in 1921, found that the skill requirements were practically negligible in most of the machine building and machine using industries, especially the steel, shoe, clothing, meat-packing, baking, canning, hardware, and tobacco industries.

While jobs were becoming more homogeneous, elaborate job hierarchies were being set up to stratify them. Management journals were filled with advice on doing away with "dead-end" jobs, filling positions by advancement from below, hiring only unskilled workers for the lowest positions, and separating men into different pay classes. This advice was directed at the problem of maintaining "worker satisfaction" and preventing them from "restricting output"-i.e., fragmenting discontent and making workers work harder. Thus the creation of the internal labor market throughout American industry was the employers' answer to the problem of discipline inherent in their need to exert unilateral control over production. Were it not for that, a system of job rotation, or one in which the workers themselves allocated work would have been just as rational and effective a way of organizing production.

At the same time, employers began a process which they called the "transfer of skill." This meant giving managers the skills and knowledge that workers had previously possessed. They began to use technical colleges and set up their own programs to train managers in production techniques. This development was aided by the methodology scientific management, as Paul Douglas pointed out:

"The amount of skill which the average worker must possess is still further decreased by the system of scientific management. The various constituent parts of the system, motion study, the standardization of tools and equipment, the setting of the standard task, routing, and functional foremanship, all divest the individual operative of much of the skill and judgment formerly required, and concentrate it in the office and supervisory force."

Likewise, Samuel Haber, a historian studying the progressive period, says "The discovery of a science of work meant a transfer of skill from the worker to management and with it some transfer of power." Like the creation of job hierarchies, this transfer of skill was not a response to the necessities of production, but was, rather, a strategy to rob the workers of their power.

For the skills which were still needed on the shop floor, employers instituted changes in the methods for training workers that reduced their skills to narrow, job-specific ones. The basic social inefficiency of this policy should be obvious. In an era of rapidly changing products and production techniques, jobs and industries are constantly changing, causing major dislocations in the work force. Therefore, the rational job training policy would be to give people as broad a range of skills and understanding of modern technology as possible, so that they could be flexible enough to weather the shifts in technology and the economy through their capacity to change jobs. Instead, the system of job-specificity creates one aspect of what economist's label "structural unemployment" by molding workers to single skill-specific occupations. This policy wastes both individual lives and socially-useful labor power.

To varying degrees, the labor movement was aware of these developments while they were occurring. Many unions in the American Federation of Labor developed an early opposition to piece rates, and especially to bonus systems of Halsey, Taylor, and others. In 1903, the International Association of Machinists expressed their opposition to "work by the piece, premium, merit, (or) task," and prohibited its members from accepting such work. In 1906, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers successfully refused to accept the bonus system of the Sante Fe Railroad. In 1907, the Molders Union, the Boot and Shoe Workers, and the Garment Workers all resisted the bonus and premium systems. In general, unions opposed both the piece work and the bonus systems, although an opinion poll of union policies conducted in 1908-09 showed that "unions almost without exception prefer the straight piece system to premium or bonus systems." In 1911, the Executive Council of the American Federation of Labor passed a resolution condemning "the premium or bonus system (because it would) drive the workmen beyond the point necessary to their safety."

The growing opposition to scientific management in the labor movement went beyond a critique of the speed-up aspects of the bonus system. Samuel Gompers, founder and president of the AFL, was aware that Taylor's system meant the elimination of the role of the skilled craftsmen upon which the entire AFL was based. After reading Taylor's book Shop Management, he wrote to AFL Vice-President Duncan in 1911 that "1 have no doubt that it would mean (the destruction of unionism) for it would reduce the number skilled workers to the barest minimum and impose low wages upon those of the skilled who would be thrown into the army of the unskilled."

The Machinists' Union was one of the more vocal in its fear of this aspect of scientific management. According to Milton Nadworny, in his book Scientific Management and the Unions, the IAM's "Official Circular No. 2":

"Revealed the craftsman's fear of a system which not only instituted a revolutionary approach to work, but which threatened to reduce his importance in the shop. The machinist, it contended, was no longer required to use his skilled judgment; the planning department provided full instructions; no longer was his 'honor' relied upon the stop watch determined the time of his job. To complete the scheme, the possibility of organized retaliation against the system was prevented because only individual bargaining was permitted."

The Industrial Workers of the World had an even deeper understanding of the new labor system that was emerging and the dangers it posed to the working class as a whole. In the Manifesto of 1905, announcing the IWW founding convention, they warned that:

"Laborers are no longer classified by difference in trade skill, but the employer assigns them according to the machine to which they are attached. These divisions, far from representing differences in skill or interests among the laborers, are imposed by the employers that workers may be pitted against one another and spurred to greater exertion in the shop, and that all resistance to capitalist tyranny may be weakened by artificial distinctions."

The IWW understood the full implications of the developments of hierarchy at the point of production. However, they failed, as has every other labor organization in this century, to develop a successful strategy for countering it on the shop floor.

Under the old labor market system, the capitalists reaped profits from the production process but did not direct production themselves. The transition that this paper has described is the process by which capitalists inserted themselves into a central position of control over production. As Karl Marx, in writing about this transition, put it, "In the course of this development, the formal subjection is replaced by the real subjection of labor to capital."

Labor market institutions are best understood in their historical context, as products of the relations between classes in capitalist society. Labor market institutions are both produced by and are weapons in the class struggle. Technology plays only a minor role in this process. Technological innovations by themselves do not generate particular labor market institutions; they only redefine the realm of possibilities. The dynamic element is the class struggle itself, the shifting power relations between workers and employers, out of which the institutions of work and the form of the labor market is determined.

The institutions of labor, then, are the institutions of capitalist control. They could only be established by breaking the power of the industrial craftsmen. Any attempt to change these institutions must begin by breaking the power the Capitalists now hold over production. For those whose objective is not merely to study but to change, breaking that power is the task of today. When that is done, we will face the further task of building new labor institutions, institutions of worker control.

Text from, originally from The Rise of the Workers Movement, edited by Root & Branch.

The United States and Indochina - Paul Mattick

Paul Mattick writes for Root & Branch: The Rise of the Workers' Movements (1975), pp. 174-207.

Submitted by UseValueNotExc… on December 6, 2021

The origins of the war in Indochina are to be found in the results of the Second World War. Waged in Europe, Africa, and East Asia, World War II turned America into the strongest capitalist power in both the Atlantic and the Pacific areas of the world. The defeat of the imperialist ambitions of Germany and Japan promised the opening up of new imperialist opportunities for the United States, which emerged from the conflict not only unimpaired but enormously strengthened. America's opportunities were not limitless, however; concessions had to be made to the Russian wartime ally, which formed the basis for new imperialistic rivalries and for the ensuing "cold war." The postwar years were marked by the two great powers' attempts to consolidate their gains. This excluded further unilateral expansion that would destroy the new power relationships. To that end, America assisted in the reconstruction of the West European economies and the revival of their military capacities, as well as in the rebuilding of Japan under her tutelage.

The Second World War provided an opportunity for the colonial and semi-colonial nations of East Asia to gain their political independence. The British, French, Dutch, and Japanese colonizers lost their possessions. At first, the national liberation movement was welcomed by the Americans as an aid in the struggle against Japan, just as at first the Japanese had supported this movement as a means to destroy the European colonizers. Even after the Japanese defeat, the United States displayed no serious intentions to help the European nations to regain their colonies. The Americans were fully convinced that they would inherit what their European allies had lost, if not in the political then in an economic sense.

The Chinese revolution altered the whole situation, particularly because at that time it appeared as an extension of the power of the new Russian adversary and as the expansion of a socio-economic system no longer susceptible to foreign exploitation through the ruling world market relations. The needs of the American imperialists were clear: short of war, they would have to contain China in Asia, as they contained Russia in Europe. This necessitated a system of Asian alliances such as the Atlantic Pact provided for Europe.

Capitalism and Imperialism

Capital is international. The fact that its historical development paralleled that of the nation state did not prevent the establishment of the capitalist world market. However, due to political interventions by which national bourgeoisies defend themselves against competitor nations, the concentration of capital was, and is, more difficult to achieve on an international than on a national scale. Even capitalist crises, world-embracing accelerators of the concentration process, needed the additional measures of imperialistic wars to extend the national concentration process to the international scene. The capitalistic organization of the world economy is thus a contradictory process. What it brings about is not the final accomplishment of capitalist world unity but capital entities competing more and more destructively for the control of always larger parts of the world economy.

This process is inherent in capital accumulation, which reproduces the fundamental capitalist contradictions on an always larger scale. With capital accumulation still the determining factor of social development, we re-experience more extensively and more intensely the experiences of the past with respect to both competition and the internationalization of capital. To regard the world as destined for private exploitation is what capitalism is all about. If, at the beginning, it was predominantly a question of exporting commodities and importing cheap raw materials, it soon turned into the export of capital for the direct exploitation of the labor power of other nations and therewith to colonization in order to monopolize the new profit sources.

The end of the colonial system did not remove the twofold capitalist need to expand internationally and to concentrate the profits thereby gained into the hands of the dominant national capital entities. Because capitalism is both national and international it is by its very nature imperialistic. Imperialism serves as the instrumentality for bridging national limitations in the face of pressing international needs. It is therefore silly to assume the possibility of a capitalism which is not imperialistic.

Of course, there are small capitalist nations which flourish without directly engaging in imperialistic activities. But such nations, operating within the frame of the capitalistic world market, partake, albeit indirectly, in the imperialistic exploits of the larger capitalist nations, just as — on the domestic scale — many small subcontractors profit from business given to them by the large prime contractors producing for the war economy. Not all capitalist countries can expand imperialistically. They find themselves more or less under the control of those nations which can, even if this control is restricted to the economic sphere. It is for this reason that some European observers see a form of neo-colonialism in the recent expansion of American capital in Europe, and others press for a more integrated Europe able to act as a "third force" in a world dominated by imperialist powers.

The contradiction between the national form of capital and its need for expansion, which recognizes no boundaries, is intertwined with the contradiction between its competitive nature and its urge for monopolization. In theory, a competitive economy flourishes best in a free world market. Actually, however, competition leads to monopoly and monopolistic competition, and the free world market leads to protected markets monopolized by political means. Monopolistic competition implies imperialistic struggles to break existing monopolies in favor of new ones. The economic form of competition takes on political expressions and therefore ideological forms, which come to overshadow the economic pressures which are their source.

This transformation of economic into political-ideological issues has become still more confounded through the modifications of capital production brought about by way of social revolutions. The planned economies of Russia, China, and their satellites not only disturbed the monopolistically controlled world market but tended to prevent its further expansion under private-capitalist auspices. To be sure, there was not much capitalization in the underdeveloped parts of the world. International capital concentration resulted in the rapid development of existing capital at the expense of potential capital in subjugated countries. Lucrative markets, and cheap foodstuffs and raw materials, increased the profit rates in the manufacturing nations and therewith hastened their capital accumulation. Beyond that, however, it was expected that a time would come when further expansion of capital would include its intensified extension in the underdeveloped parts of the world.

Capital is not interested in the continued existence of industrially-underdeveloped nations per se. It is so interested only to the extent that this state of affairs proves to be the most profitable. If a further development of backward countries should be more profitable than, or equally as profitable as, investments in advanced nations, capitalists will not hesitate to foster their capitalist development just as they hastened it in their own countries. Whether or not this could ever become a reality under the conditions of private-capital production is a question the capitalists cannot raise, for their own continued existence is clearly bound up with the capitalization of the underdeveloped nations. They thus cannot help seeing in the formation and expansion of state-controlled systems a limitation of their own possibilities of expansion and a threat to their control of the world market. For them "communism" means the formation of super-monopolies which cannot be dealt with by way of monopolistic competition and have to be combatted by political-ideological means and, where opportune, by military measures.

In their opposition to "communism," the capitalists do not merely object to a different economic system. They also condemn it for political and ideological reasons, especially since, convinced as they are that the economic principles of capitalism are universal principles of economic behavior, their violation seems a violation of human nature itself. They do not and can not afford to understand the dynamics and limitations of their own social system. They see the reasons for its difficulties not in the system itself, but in causes external to it. From this point of view, it is the erroneous and depraved creed of communism which subverts society and robs it of the possibility of working itself out of whatever difficulties arise. It is thus not necessary that the capitalists, their apologists, and all the people who accept the capitalist ideology be aware of the fact that it is the ordinary business of profit-making which determines the national and international capitalist policies.

Neither is it necessary for the capitalist decisionmakers to comprehend all the implications of their activities in the defense of and, therefore, the expansion of their economic and political powers. They know in a general way that whatever lies outside their control endangers their interests and perhaps their existence and they react almost "instinctively" to any danger to their privileged positions. Because they are the ruling class, they determine the ruling ideology. They will thus explain all their actions in strictly ideological terms, taking their economic content for granted and as something not debatable. Indeed, they may never make a conscious connection between their political convictions and their underlying economic considerations, and may inadvertently violate the latter in satisfying their ideological notions.

The capitalists are not Marxists, which is to say that they must defend, not criticize, existing social relationships. Defense does not require a proper understanding of the system; it merely demands actions which support the status quo. Marxists, whose viewpoint includes criticism of existing conditions, often assume that all capitalistic activities are directly determined by capitalistic rationality, that is, by the immediate need to make profit and to accumulate capital. They will look for directly-observable economic motives behind the political activities of capitalist states, particularly in the international field. When such obvious reasons are not directly discernable [sic], they are somewhat at a loss to account for imperialist aggression. In the case of Indochina, for example, the apparent absence of important economic incentives for American intervention has been a troublesome fact for Marxist war critics. This was seemingly mitigated only by the recent discovery of offshore oil potentials, which are supposed to explain, at least in part, the continued interest of big business in a victorious conclusion of the war. It is clear, however, that the Indochina war was there, and would be there, without this discovery and explanations must be found other than some definite but isolated capitalistic interests.

The apologists of capitalism utilize this situation to demonstrate that it is not the capitalist system as such which leads to imperialism, but some aberration thrust upon it by forces external to itself. They speak of a "military-industrial complex," conspiring within the system to serve its particularistic interests at the expense of society as a whole. In their view, it is one of the institutions of society, not capitalism itself, which is responsible for the war through its usurpation of the decision-making powers of government. Whereas the war — far from being waged for profits, current or expected — is an enormous expense to the American taxpayers and therefore senseless, it does directly benefit the particular group of war profiteers in control of government. Specific people, not the system, are to blame, for which reason all that is necessary to end the aberration is a change of government and the emasculation of the "industrial-military complex."

There is, of course, truth in both these assertions, namely, that imperialism is economically motivated and that it is spearheaded by groups particularly favored by war. But by failing to relate these explanations to the fundamental contradictions of capital production, they fail to do justice to the complexity of the problem of war and imperialism. Neither the production nor the accumulation of capital is a consciously-controlled process on the social level. Each capitalist entity, be it an entrepreneur, corporation, conglomerate, or multinational enterprise, necessarily limits its activities to the enlargement of its capital, without regard to or even the possibility of having regard for, social needs and the course of social development. They are blind to the national and international social consequences of their relentless need to enlarge their capital. The profit motive is their only motive. It is what determines the direction of their expansion. Their enormous weight within society determines social policies and therewith the policies of the government. This implies, however, that government and society itself operate just as blindly with respect to its development as each separate capital entity with regard to its profit needs. They know what they are doing, but not where it will actually lead them; they cannot comprehend all the consequences of their activities.

These consequences may include war and war may be initiated not because of some definite economic expectations, such as possession of specific raw materials, entry into new markets, or the export of capital, but because of past economic policies whose consequences were not foreseeable. This is quite clear, of course, in the case of imperialistic interventions in defense of capitalist property which stands in danger of being expropriated, or has been expropriated, in nations which try to gain, or regain, some measure of independence in economic as well as in political terms. This explains recent interventions such as those in Guatemala, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, the Congo and so forth. It is not clear with respect to the intervention in Indochina, where the United States' economic interests were minimal and their possible loss of no consequence to her economy. Yet this intervention, too, was the unforeseen outcome of past economic developments, even though it cannot be related to any immediate and specific economic needs or opportunity on the part of American capitalism.

Imperialism and the "Mixed Economy"

Competition and the international capital concentration process leads to war between capitalist nations; and, indeed, is a form of international capital competition. But with this difference, that it involves not only economic interests of nationally-organized capital groups but also the defense, or destruction, of different social structures as, for instance, in the case of the transformation in Eastern Europe of hitherto private-property systems into systems characterized by state-ownership. A "civil-war" element thus enters the imperialist rivalries, even if this type of "civil-war" is carried on not within, but between, nations. "Communism" is to be fought internally as well as externally. The amalgam, "anti-communism," covers any and all movements and aspirations that threaten either the existence or the future of private capital.

This has been America's general policy since 1945, which no change in administration has altered. Although co-determined by specific capitalist interests able to influence government policies, the general policy springs directly from the expansion requirements of private capital accumulation and, short of the abolition of the market system itself, cannot be changed. A specific interest may be lost — like, for instance, the investments and the business of Cuba — while similar interests may be preserved by the occupation of the Dominican Republic, or the overthrow of the Guatamalan [sic] government. But the general policy must be directed toward the extension of America's role in the world economy and the simultaneous limitation of newly-arising state-capitalist systems of production.

The American economy is geared to the world market, of which it requires an increasingly larger share as U.S. capital expands. If this share contracts — and it is bound to contract, should more nations turn away from the American-dominated world market towards a kind of "second world market" which restricts, or excludes, the exploitation of less-developed nations by the developed ones — it will force the internal American development into isolation and in the direction of a state-controlled economy.

There is only one way to secure the capitalist market economy and that is through the continuous expansion of capital. It is this expansion which is the secret of its prosperous stages of development, just as lack of expansion results in its periods of depression. Capital development has been an alternation between prosperity and depression, the so-called business cycle. For American capital, however, the last big depression, that of 1929, did not lead to a new period of prosperity but to an era of relative stagnation and decline, which was overcome only through the transformation of the economy into a war economy, that is, the growth of production not by way of capital accumulation, but through the accumulation of the national debt and production for "public consumption" such as is required by war and preparation for war. But just like the Great Depression before, the war failed to restore a rate of capital expansion sufficient to assure the full utilization of productive resources and the available labor power. The government saw itself forced to continue its support of the economy by way of deficit-financed public expenditures which, given the nature of the capitalist system, are necessarily non-competitive with private capital and therefore largely arms expenditures. The "cold war" in the wake of the real war provided the rationale for this type of compensatory production.

Any significant decrease in government spending in the post-war world led to economic contraction which could be terminated only through the resumption and increase of government expenditures. The American economy, in other words, continued to stagnate, necessitating a relatively faster growth of the so-called "public sector" at the expense of the economy's "private sector." Unless a way should be found to reverse this development, it implies — in the long run — a slow transformation of private-enterprise capitalism into state-controlled capitalism, and a consequent shift of social power relations.

The dynamics and limitations of the "mixed economy" are too complex a problem to be discussed here1 . It must suffice to say that waste-production and the accumulation of the national debt is not an accumulation of additional, profit-yielding means of production. It does expand production but not the production of profits, even if the favored contractors of government orders increase their profitability at the expense of the total social profits. That this type of production must be resorted to indicates a malfunctioning of the capitalist economy. It is a sign not of health but of sickness, and must be kept within definite bounds if it is not to destroy private capital production altogether. But to keep it within these definite bounds means to try to accomplish on a world scale what can no longer be sufficiently accomplished at home, namely, to increase the mass of profit in relation to the existing mass of capital. Just because of its "mixed character," the American economy is being forced more than before to augment an internal insufficiency of profit-production by an increase of profits from abroad. The American economy thus becomes increasingly more aggressive in its attempt to keep the world open to exploitation.

It has been said that "the familiar national aggregates — Gross National Product, national income, employment, etc. — are almost entirely irrelevant to the explanation of imperialist behavior," and that it makes no difference "whether the 'costs' of imperialism (in terms of military outlays, losses in wars, aid to client states, and the like) are greater or less than the 'returns,' for the simple reason that the costs are borne by the public at large while the returns accrue to that small, but usually dominant, section of the capitalist class which has extensive international interests." 2 Although this train of thought insists on the reality of imperialism even though it "doesn't pay" the nation, but merely those capitalists engaged in foreign business, it turns imperialism into the private domain of a segment of the capitalist class powerful enough to determine foreign policies to the detriment of the capitalist society as a whole.

In this theory the tail of imperialism seems to wag the dog of capitalism. And this despite the authors' discovery — contrary to traditional views, they believe — that imperialism is not the result of a pressing need for capital exports but rather of the pleasures of capital imports, for the authors show convincingly that "for the United States as a whole the amount of income transferred to the United States on direct investment account far exceeded the direct capital outflow."3 This, of course, is the point of capital exports as it is of all capitalist activity and is no argument against the idea that capital export dominates imperialist policy. While the relatively small amount of past capital exports points to the fact that, with the exception of the extraction industries, capital investments proved generally more profitable in developed than in underdeveloped countries, it is nonetheless expected that the future will reverse, or equalize, the situation. But in order to meet such a future, the world must remain open to private enterprise. Imperialism is thus a precondition for capital exports which, in turn, are preconditions for the exploitation of an increasing quantity of labor-power, and this, again, is a precondition for an enlarged international trade. On the other hand, of course, the capitalist concentration and centralization process prevents the homogenization of world economy, i.e., the capitalist development of underdeveloped countries, and divides the world, as it does the population in each nation, into haves and have-nots. But this general tendency of the capital accumulation process does not free the capitalists from the compulsive need to strive for an accelerated capital expansion on an international scale.

It is not just to safeguard the "returns" of special interests that the American government accepts the much larger "costs" of imperialism. It suffers the latter in order to increase the former in the hope of changing an over-all loss into an over-all gain. This might be a hopeless task — and in my opinion it is a hopeless task — so that, practically, the whole imperialistic effort might accomplish nothing more than safeguarding the "returns" of special interests, or not even that. In the Baran-Sweezy theory, however, imperialism appears not as a necessary product of capitalism but as the work of a special capitalist group looking for profits abroad even though their private gain implies a social loss. It follows from this that capitalist society would be better off without imperialism, i.e., without this particular capitalistic group. Actually, however, even a non-imperialist America would be forced to subsidize the dominant capital groups by way of government purchases, if only to avoid the depression conditions of a declining rate of capital expansion. These subsidies have to come out of total production; the "returns" of the subsidized capital imply the social "costs" of waste-production. This is precisely the dilemma in which capitalism finds itself and which it tries to overcome by external expansion.

The "national aggregates" of which the Baran-Sweezy theory speaks, and which it absolves from all responsibility for American imperialism, are a composition of profitable and non-profitable production, i.e., of market-production and government-induced production for which there is no market. The profits of market production are realized on the market and the "profits" of government-induced production are "realized" through government purchases with money borrowed from private capital. In other words, private capital "pays" itself by way of "government payments." As there is, in fact, no payment at all, the whole process is one of expropriation, and because capital and its government are an entity, it is a partial self-destruction of capital.

This "self-destruction" is, of course, a destruction in value, though not in material terms, for the productive apparatus is not altered thereby. Only it yields less in profits than it would if fully employed for private account; or, it yields no more than it would if there were no government-induced production. In other words, the yield through government-induced waste-production is illusory, and the larger the capital grows through government-induced production, the less the real yields, and the greater the illusory ones.

The illusion can be sustained, however, because of the fact that money, even in its non-commodity form, is considered a commodity-equivalent. Because all economic functions are money functions, it does not make any difference to the individual, or the individual corporation, whether they produce for the government or for the market, for in either case they realize their profits in money terms. Considering the national economy, however, it is clear that the money-value of total production — both market- and government-induced production — is necessarily larger than it would be in the absence of government-induced production. The whole production, whether profitable or not, is expressed in money terms as if there were no difference between profitable market-production and nonprofitable waste-production, as if production destined for destruction could be counted as an addition to the national wealth. Yet the real capitalist wealth is no greater than the money-values comprising the marketable part of production. It simply appears greater than it is, because the expense of waste-production is being counted as income, merely because of the government's power to inject money into the economy. But the borrowing of money cannot change an expense into an income, and the larger wealth in money terms represents a smaller capital in real terms.

The "false" character of a prosperity induced by government purchases is being betrayed by the steady devaluation of money and a continuous increase in the national debt. Both occurrences constitute, so to speak, the "price" of such a "prosperity"; it must be paid at the penalty of crisis, and this "price" is constantly increased, however slow at times, because the same conditions which make the "false" prosperity possible also make it increasingly more difficult to regain a "true" prosperity, i.e., an accelerated private capital expansion.

If we lift the money veil that covers all capitalistic activity, it is apparent that the "familiar national aggregates" are indeed able to explain imperialistic behavior. The increasing amount of waste-production which is required for an approximately full use of productive resources reduces the real mass of profits while maintaining or increasing its money-expression, a condition which can be altered only by an expansion of private capital relatively faster than that of waste-production. But the expansion of capital implies its extension in space. If waste-production in the form of war-expenditures were able to create conditions for an accelerated international capital expansion, it would not be waste-production from a capitalist point of view but merely an expense of exploitation. But even such a cynical notion would rest on the illusion that capitalism in general and American capital in particular, has no inherent limitations and no historical boundaries.

Capitalists and their government act, however, upon the optimistic hypothesis. Even if they should recognize the general trend of social development toward the dissolution of the market system, they still have to act as if the trend were non-existent, or as if it could be reversed. Their actions are determined by the trend, that is, these actions are devoted to the containment and destruction of socioeconomic systems not their own. Their imperialism is not an aberration but a necessity for securing the specific class relations of private-property capitalism. They are not making so many "mistakes" by rushing all over the world to secure the direct, or indirect, control of weaker countries, but they are living up to their capitalistic responsibilities which include imperialism. In the case of the United States the optimism is particularly prevalent because of its rapid development, aided by two world-wide wars, and its present overwhelming superiority vis-Ã -vis other nations. Precisely for this reason it is the most imperialistic power in the world today. It can afford more waste-production than any other nation and can, for that reason, assume that it is possible to turn its losses into future gains by dominating an increasing share of the world economy.

Even if the "mixed economy" has found acceptance as a probably unavoidable modification of the capitalist system, the "mix," that is, governmental interventions in the economy, are supposed to be only such as benefit private capital. To keep it that way, interferences in market relations must be limited on the national as well as on the international level. A general expansion of government production internally would spell the certain end of corporate capitalist property relations, just as the extension of a state-determined social system of production within the world economy points toward the contraction of the free-enterprise economies. The necessity of containing the spread of "communism," that is, of state-controlled systems, is thus related to the necessity of restricting governmental interventions in the economy within each private-capitalist nation. With more nations adopting the state-controlled form of capital production and thereby limiting the expansion of private capital, insufficient expansion of the latter calls forth more intensive government interventions in the private-capitalist nations. To halt the trend toward state-capitalism in the market economies requires the containment and possibly the "roll-back" of the already-established state-capitalist systems. But while at home the capitalists control their governments and thus determine the kind and degree of the latter's economic interventions, they can only halt the dreaded transformation abroad either by gaining control of the governments of other nations or by imperialistic military measures.

Capitalistically, war makes "sense" if it serves as an instrument for bringing forth conditions more favorable for a further expansion and extension of capital. War or no war, short of an accelerated rate of private capital expansion, there is only the choice between a deepening depression and the amelioration of conditions through the further extension of nonprofitable "public" expenditures. But whereas war may eventually yield the preconditions for an American penetration into other parts of the world, including East Asia, and its present expense be recompensed by future profits, public expenditures for other purposes do not have such effects. Experience shows that war does open up possibilities for further capital expansion. From a consistent capitalist standpoint a successfully waged war is more "rational" than a steady drift into economic decline.

There is, then, no special reason for America's intervention in Indochina, apart from her general policy of intervening anywhere in the world in order to prevent political and social changes that would be detrimental to the so-called "free world," and particularly to the power which dominates it. Like an octopus, America extends her tentacles into all the underdeveloped countries still under the sway of private-capitalist property relations to assure their continued adherence to the free enterprise principle or, at least, to the old world-market relations which make them into appendages of Western capitalism. She tries to rally all pro-capitalist forces into various regional alliances, arms and finances the most reactionary regimes, penetrates governments, and offers aid, all to halt any social movement which might strive for the illusory goal of political and economic self-determination. Because self-determination is not a real possibility, the United States recognizes that attempts to attain it could only result in nations' leaving the orbit of Western capitalism to fall into that of the Eastern powers. By fighting self-determination and national liberation, America is simply continuing her War against the Russian and Chinese adversaries.

Nationalism and Self-Determination

Separately, none of the small nations which have experienced American intervention endangered the United States' hegemony in world affairs to any noticable [sic] extent. If they were hindered in their attempt to rid themselves of foreign domination and of their own collaborating ruling classes, this was because America recognizes that their revolutionary activities are not accidental phenomena, but so many expressions of an as yet weak but world-wide trend to challenge the capitalist monopolies of power and exploitation. They must, therefore, be suppressed wherever they arise and conditions that will prevent their return must be created, quite apart from all immediate profit considerations. In this respect, the present differs from the past in that while imperialist interventions used to serve to create empires within a world system, such interventions today serve the defense of capitalism itself.

At first glance, America's gains in Asia are quite impressive. She has not only regained the Philippines and destroyed Japan's "co-prosperity sphere," but found entry into nations that only a few years ago had been monopolized by European powers. With the aid of a reconstructed Japan, now allied to the United States, it seemed relatively easy to keep China out of Southeast Asia and secure this part of the globe for the "free world" in general and the United States in particular. But the "communist" enemy was to be found not only in China but to a greater or lesser extent in all the countries of the region, achieving by subversion what could ostensibly no longer be achieved by more direct procedures. Securing America's newly-won position in Southeast Asia thus required the destruction of native national forces which saw themselves also as communist movements and wished to emulate the Russian and Chinese examples rather than adapt themselves to the ways of Western capitalism.

Who are the people that the American government wants to keep "free" and "prosperous," and who so obstinately refuse — a large majority of them — to avail themselves of America's generosity? For a hundred years these people experienced enough of "the white man's burden" to know that "freedom" and "prosperity" can only be gained through their own efforts and the destruction of colonialism. World War II gave them the opportunity, and nationalism brought independence. But from the very beginning this nationalism was of a special kind; it involved not only opposition to foreign oppression but opposition to the native ruling classes as well. The national revolution was at once a social revolution. The nationalists, though united against foreign overlords and their native collaborators, were split on issues concerning the structure of the decolonized nation. There was a "right" and a "left" wing; the first, striving for no more than national liberation; the second, for combining it with social change. "Behind the seeming unity to nationalism there was a latent cleavage which was likely to come to the open after the attainment of the primary aim. Even during the nationalist struggle this conflict between the right and left was quite clearly distinguishable."4

Like the Far East as a whole, Southeast Asia is predominantly agricultural. Per capita income levels are abysmally low. "The combined gross national product of the Far East free world and Communist countries — containing more than one-half the world population — is only two-fifths that of the United States." 5 The level of consumption is lower than for any other region of the world. Plantation or estate agriculture is small when compared with that cultivated by peasants, but production in estate agriculture is market-oriented and nearly all of it destined for foreign trade. Peasant agriculture is subsistence-oriented — nearly all of production is consumed by the producers. Peasant holdings are generally limited to only a few acres whereas plantations frequently range up to several thousand acres in size. Family-farming characterizes the peasant holdings, while the plantations depend upon hired labor. To stay competitive, the plantations tend to displace labor through increased mechanization.

At the time of the European conquest, Southeast Asia represented a two-class system — a vast peasantry ruled over by an aristocracy. The Europeans availed themselves of the services of the latter to consolidate their own domination. The peasants' surplus-labor sustained the whole social edifice. The plantation system and the industries introduced by Europeans eroded the subsistence economy, and consumer goods manufactured in Europe displaced native handicrafts. Capitalist enterprises impoverished the peasantry by taking more out of the economy than it imported in return, and by the creation of an "agricultural proletariat" out of the local peasantry and through the importation of foreign laborers. Economic changes brought with them a new urban middle class which soon acquainted itself with European ideas of nationalism and with Marxism (in its ideologized Russian version). The new middle class began to envision independence and development not in the laissez-faire terms of the relatively unimportant native bourgeoisie, but in the direction of a state-capitalist, or state-socialist, system such as that which accounted for the rapid development of the Russian economy.

The new socialistically-inclined middle class of professionals, intellectuals and bureaucrats, allied to urban working-class elements, must find support in the peasant population in order to be able to realize its concept of social development. The revolutionary program is thus, first of all, a peasant program, promising the abolition of their misery. Concretely, this implies that less must be taken away from them than had been customary. And this means lower taxes, the reduction or elimination of rent for tenant farmers, confiscation of large landholdings and their distribution among land-poor peasants, the availability of credit at less than the usual usurious rates of interest, and the elimination of trading monopolies — which are mostly in the hands of the Chinese — in favor of cooperative trading centers. On the other hand, of course, the long-run needs of the nation as a whole depend on an increase in agricultural productivity, on a larger agricultural surplus, and the setting free of agricultural labor to ensure industrial development which, in turn, will raise the productivity of agriculture through cheap fertilizers, irrigational systems, machines, electric power, and so forth. Still, the basis for this process is a greater surplus out of agricultural production, which involves the revolutionaries in the contradictory task of bettering the lot of the peasants only to increase their exploitation. But as first things come first, the immediate needs of the peasants are emphasized. Everything else had to await the taking of power and its consolidation by a new regime, which will then try, by force and persuasion to integrate agricultural and industrial policies in the interest of national development.

During and shortly after the years of colonial revolt, the Vietnamese revolutionaries were quite moderate in their agricultural policies as well as in their attitude toward private trade and industry. Only enterprises belonging to the old colonial administration were nationalized; only landowners opposing the Viet Minh were expropriated and their land given to the peasants. It was not until it had been in existence for ten years that the Democratic Republic of Vietnam spoke of the total nationalization of industry and the collectivization of agriculture as an ultimate goal. Meanwhile, there has been some "socialist" and some nonsocialist cooperative farming and there are still many private peasant holdings. Collectivization is largely inhibited by the expectation of North and South Vietnam's eventual unification and the need to keep this project attractive to the South Vietnamese peasants. All newly-developed industries, however, are state-owned and foreign trade and banking are government monopolies. A complicated pricing system, partly manipulated and partly left to market forces, assures some degree of economic control. There is free buying and selling and there are obligatory deliveries, mainly with regard to rice and grain production, which amount to between 12 and 24 percent of produced quantities. Wages are partly fixed and partly left to bargaining. All in all, the economy as a whole is still closer to a Western market economy than it is to the more rigid and controlled systems such as prevail in Russia and China. The conditions for a complete state-socialist system simply do not exist as yet and this is more a political goal than a developing reality.

Since they are not as yet frozen into rigid social institutions such as prevail in the advanced state-capitalist systems, the political regimes of the Southeast Asian nations, including North Vietnam, appear to be still reversible; American agencies were operating to bring this about by internal subversion and external aggression. Given the weak social status of the rising native bourgeoisie, it is clear that the political structures of the emerging nominally-democratic nations will be as authoritarian as they are in the nominally-communist nations. Both "communism" and "democracy" are thus of a purely ideological character, indicating no more than two different development tendencies — the one toward state-capitalism and therewith away from Western domination, the other towards a market economy to be incorporated into the neo-colonial structure of Western capitalism.

Not only in Southeast Asia but quite generally, national liberation for most underdeveloped countries does not alter their economic dependency on other capitalist nations. Being already inextricably "integrated" into the capitalist world market, and being incapable of a self-sustaining existence, they remain as a so-called "third world" an object of imperialistic competition. Their national-revolutionary exertions are largely dissipated in internal political struggles instead of being utilized in an actual reorganization of their socioeconomic structures. Their future appears to be bound up with the changing fortunes of imperialist power relations, which will find them either on one side or the other of the warring social systems and imperialist powers.

The social revolutions against foreign and national exploitation are objectively limited by their national character and by a general backwardness, which caused the social upheavals in the first place. Whatever else such revolutions may accomplish, they cannot lead to socialism as an alternative to modern capitalism. They are only one of many expressions of the disintegration of the capitalist market economy as a world system, but they cannot bring forth a social system of the kind envisioned by Marxian socialism. It is only as an element of disintegration that they support the general need for a more rational social system of production than that provided for by capitalism. Their own problems cannot be solved apart from the problems that beset the advanced part of the capitalist world. The solution lies in a revolutionary change in the capitalist world, which would prepare the way for a socialist integration of the world economy. For just as the underdeveloped countries cannot develop socialistically in a world dominated by capital production, so they could not develop capitalistically in a world dominated by socialist systems of production. The key to the development of the underdeveloped nations is the socialist transformation of the advanced capitalist world.

But if this is the key, it does not seem to fit the real situation. While it is quite obvious that the industrially-advanced parts of the world have the means to industrialize the underdeveloped regions of the world in a rather short time and to eliminate hunger and poverty almost immediately merely by diverting the world's waste-production, or even just the expense of its arms production, into productive channels where they can serve human needs, there are as yet no social forces in sight willing to realize this opportunity and thus bring peace and tranquility to the world. Instead, the destructive aspects of capital production take on an increasingly more violent character; internally, by more and more waste production; externally, by destroying territories occupied by people unwilling to submit to the profit requirements of foreign powers, which can only spell their own doom.

The Limits of Development

However, the impoverished people in the underdeveloped countries cannot wait for a socialist transformation of the capitalist world. Their needs are too urgent even to await a possibly intensifying industrialization under the auspices of private-enterprise and foreign capital. Although thus far the Western world has done little to promote industrial development in the non-industrial world, it is not, in principle, opposed to such a development wherever it might prove profitable. It does not prefer the exploitation of its own laboring population to that of other nations; quite the contrary. But capital flows where it is most profitable and lies idle where it cannot yield a definite rate of profit to its possessors. American companies have found that manufacturing profits in underdeveloped countries are not higher than in the United States and, more often than not, are even lower. All the government exhortions [sic] and guarantees intended to induce private capital to invest in backward nations are of little avail, so long as the productivity-gap between industries in advanced and underdeveloped countries nullifies the cheap-labor advantages of the latter. Where profits are exceptionally high, as in the oil and mining industries, capitalists will even fight for investment opportunities; but the huge profits made in these fields benefit the rich, not the poor countries. Nonetheless, there is some development, and it is this "creeping capitalization" itself which spurs in the backward countries the desire for a more rapid development that would benefit the nation instead of foreign capital.

There exists an apparent contradiction between the need to keep the world open for free enterprise and the refusal of free enterprise to avail itself of its opportunities. But this contradiction merely reflects the contradiction of capital production itself. It is not different from the contradiction that bursts into the open with any capitalist crisis, namely, that production comes to a halt in spite of the fact that the needs of the vast mass of the population are far from being satiated, and that there is a pressing need for an increased amount of production. Production is slowed down not because it is too abundant but because it has become unprofitable. But it would not enter the minds of the capitalists that their inability to increase production is reason enough to abdicate in favor of a social system capable of coordinating social production to actual social needs. Neither would it enter their minds that because they have not industrialized the world and are, apparently, not capable of doing so, they should leave the world to others who presumably can do so by employing a principle of capital production different from that of private capital accumulation. Just as they defend their control in each particular country irrespective of their own performances, so will they defend it in the world at large.

What the "communists" in the underdeveloped nations aspire to do is what capitalism has failed to do — that is, to modernize their nations by way of industrialization and thus to overcome the increasing misery of a stagnating mode of production. But capitalism in its private-enterprise form was there before them and was able to determine that peculiar type of "development" which constantly widens the income-gap between the industrially-advanced countries and the colonized, or semi-colonized, regions. As elsewhere, so in Southeast Asia, capital investments were made exclusively for the production of raw materials and foodstuffs for the industries and consumption needs of the capitalist nations. The nations of Southeast Asia themselves were destined to remain markets for goods manufactured in the industrial countries. An unequal exchange played their surplus-labor, or profits, into the hands of Western capitalists. The inequality of exchange became even more pronounced because of a steady decline of the prices for primary products relative to those for manufactured commodities, and by capitalistic competition in the raw material sphere as, for instance, through the increasing use of synthetic rubber and America's rice exports. Ending this trend of increasing impoverishment means, first of all, to use the available surpluses for domestic development, to eliminate exploitation via a world-market dominated by Western capital, and thus to disturb the "international division of labor" as determined by private capital accumulation.

The War in Indochina

The land area in the so-called "free" Asian nations is nearly double that of the "communist" nations but — leaving out Japan as a special case — there is a higher index of multiple cropping and greater irrigated area in the "communist" than in the "free" countries. In 1959 the latter had an aggregate population of 832 millions while the "communist" countries counted 692 millions. India and China alone contain over one-third of all the people in the world. (Mainland China is the largest Asian nation, exceeding the United States in size.) There are various degrees of economic development in the different nations, Apart from industrial Japan, the islands and the nations of the island archipelagos such as Indonesia, Malaya, and the Philippines — due to their access to the trade routes of the Pacific — show a higher degree of development than landlocked nations. In all nations, however, and in the absence of significant degrees of industrialization, the immediate economic problem appears as one of too many people and too little land.

The lack of usable land relative to the population does not prevent but rather encourages its unequal distribution. Landlordism characterizes the whole of the "free" Asian countries. Peasants are turned into tenants and the frightful exploitation of the latter enriches the land-owning class without necessitating any improvement in agricultural production. In South Vietnam, for instance, "40 percent of the land planted to rice in 1954 was owned by 2,500 persons — by a quarter of one percent of the rural population. Rent alone commonly took 50 percent of the tenant's crops and sometimes more; he either produced his own fertilizers, seeds, man- and draft-power, and equipment, or rented them at extra cost; he could be ejected from his leasehold at the landlord's whim."6 There can be no doubt that the landowning class as well as the urban bourgeoisie, amassing fortunes in trade and industry, are anti-communist, that is, are vitally interested in the continued existence of their privileges and thus find themselves siding with the foreign powers in their defense of free enterprise.

The struggle for national liberation was thus at the same time a civil war. Its results would determine whether the liberated nations would have societies keeping them within the fold of Western capitalism. It became necessary to influence the outcome of the civil war by outside intervention. For the United States it was essential that whatever the results of the liberation movements they must not lead to new "communist" regimes willing to side with the Chinese adversary. America's politicians rightly surmised that notwithstanding the most exaggerated nationalism, which would tend to oppose a new Chinese domination as it had opposed that of the old colonial powers, China by sheer weight alone would dominate the smaller nations at her boundaries, disguised though this domination would be by ideological camouflage. The surge of nationalism was to be channeled into anti-communism, which meant the upholding or creation of governments and institutions friendly to the United States and Western capitalism.

It is on the traditional ruling classes that the American government must rely in its efforts to keep "free Asia" in the "free world." In the long run, this is quite a formidable undertaking, for the objective conditions in the nations of Asia produce a steady revolutionary ferment which is bound to explode sooner or later. To counteract these threatening social convulsions, the United States wants to combine political-military repression with social reforms designed to lead to general social acquiescence. But the decisive "reforms" necessary to alleviate the plight of the peasants and of the urban proletariat imply the destruction of existing class privileges, that is, the power of the only allies the United States can find, unless she wishes to ally herself to the "communists," the only group actually able to realize the "reforms." The programmatic "social reforms" largely serve, then, as an ideological cover for the repressive measures that have to be taken to avoid the spread of "communism" from China into the neighboring countries and from there to the whole of the Far East.

The Korean War indicated that, short of risking a new world war, already established "communist" regimes could not be detached from their protector states, Russia and China. In other respects, however, the situation was still fluid. Apart from North Vietnam, other Southeast Asian nations were either anti-communist, or declared themselves "neutralist" or "non-aligned," meaning that their civil wars, clandestine or open, were still undecided. In the case of Laos, this led to a tripartite arrangement, engineered by the great powers, with "neutralist"-, "communist"-, and "western"-oriented forces dividing the country between them. This too was thought of as a temporary solution which would perhaps be resolved at some future date. Cambodia maintained a precarious "independence" by catering to both sides of the overshadowing larger power conflict. Only in Thailand, where America had replaced Britain as the major foreign influence was the commitment to the West almost complete. Here the United States sent more than 30,000 troops and much aid to build this kingdom into a bastion of the "free world." (It became the most important American airbase for the Vietnam war.)

Because of the flexibility of the situation, it seemed essential to the United States to stop any further change in Southeast Asia by assisting all "anti-communist" forces in that region. This has been a consistent policy, from which none of the successive American administrations has deviated. Objecting to the Geneva Agreements of 1954, the American-installed regime of South Vietnam refused to consider the proposed elections, which were to decide the question of unification of South and North Vietnam. To assure the continued existence of South Vietnam, the United States poured money and soon troops into the country. The resumed civil war in the South received support from North Vietnam, turning the American intervention into a war against both the national liberation forces in the South and the North Vietnamese government. This intervention has often been found unjustified, because it concerned itself with a civil war instead of, as claimed, with the national independence of South Vietnam. However (as was pointed out above) in the context of Indochina no distinction can be made between international war and civil war, because here all wars for national liberation are at the same time civil wars for social change. It was precisely because of the civil-war character of the national liberation movements that the United States entered the fray.

America's determination to retain influence in Indochina at all costs did check a possible further extension of social transformations such as occurred in North Vietnam and in a part of Laos. As it became evident that neither Russia nor China would actively intervene in the Vietnamese war, the "anti-communist" forces in Southeast Asia were greatly strengthened and, aided by the United States, began to destroy their own "communist"-oriented movements, the most gruesome of these undertakings being that in Indonesia. But while neither Russia nor China was ready to risk war with the United States to drive the latter out of Southeast Asia, they tried to prevent the consolidation of American power in that region by enabling the Vietnamese to carry on the war. The military aid given to the Vietnamese by Russia and China could not lead to the defeat of the Americans, but promised a prolonged war which would deprive the United States of enjoying the spoils of an early victory. The immediate and growing expenses of the war would, instead, loom ever larger in comparison with its possible "positive" results, which would recede always further into the indeterminate future. By bleeding the people of Indochina America would, in increasing measure, bleed herself, and perhaps lose confidence in her ability to conclude the war on her own terms.

It seems quite clear that the Americans expected less resistance to their intervention than they actually came to face. They aspired to no more than a repetition of the outcome of the Korean conflict — a mutual retreat to previously demarcated frontiers, which meant halting the "communist" penetration at the Seventeenth Parallel in the case of Vietnam, and at the agreed-upon zones in Laos. As in Korea, in Vietnam too they had no desire to turn the war into a new world war by bringing Russia, China, or both into the conflict. A war of the great powers, possessing atomic weapons, could easily lead to mutual destruction. The fear of such a war has until now set limits to the war in Vietnam. It has prevented a concentrated, all-out American onslaught on North Vietnam to bring the war to a victorious conclusion, since neither Russia nor China, like the United States herself, can be expected to allow any territory already under their control or in their spheres of interest to be lost, without encouraging further encroachments on their power positions. It was for this reason that the Western powers did not intervene on the occasions of the Russian invasions of Hungary and Czechoslovakia, and that America has hesitated to attempt the complete destruction of North Vietnam.

Of course, a nation's determination to hold on to what it has, or has gained, is not absolute. The overriding fear of a possible atomic war, for instance, kept the United States from reconquering Cuba. Nations tend to avoid actions which have a very high probability of leading to undesired results. Uncertainty is the rule, however, and it is the presumed job of diplomacy to weigh the pros and cons of any particular policy with regard to long-run national and imperialistic interests. This may incorporate short-run decisions which need not have a direct logical connection with long-run goals. Since the dynamics of capitalism imply an ever-changing general situation which escapes political comprehension, long-run imperialist strategy put into practice remains a matter of blindly executed activity, in which all diplomatic expectations may come to naught. Actually, the political decision-makers can affect only immediate, short-run goals. They try to attain a definite and obvious objective. They may reach it or not; if they lose, it will be through the action of an adversary. Until stopped, they will see their course of action as the only "rational" one and will try to follow it up to the end. In the case of Indochina, the simple goal was to secure this part of the world for Western capitalism without initiating a new world war. The unexpectedly effective resistance of the adversaries led to a continuous escalation of the war effort and a growing discrepancy between the limited objectives and the costs involved in reaching it.

In one sense, to be sure, the American intervention proved successful, in that it not only prevented the unification of South and North Vietnam but also sustained Western influence in Southeast Asia in general. Confidence in the ability to maintain this situation was reflected in new extensive direct investments in oil, timber, and mineral resources in Taiwan, Indochina, Thailand, and even South Vietnam. Still, the war went on, because the North Vietnamese and the National Liberation Front in the South were not willing to acknowledge defeat and to accept peace on American terms. Short of a successful invasion of the North or an internal collapse of the "communist regime" there was no reason to expect a change in this situation, though an apparent loss of offensive power on the part of the North Vietnamese and NLF forces allowed a reduction in the number of American troops in Vietnam.

The Anti-War Movement

Political decisions are left to the decision-makers; so long as they are successful they find some kind of general support. Even if the decisions involve war, they will be accepted not only because of the generally-shared ideology, but also because of the practical inability on the part of the population to affect the decision-making process in any way. People will try to make the best of a bad situation — which also has its advantages. Certainly, the armaments producers will not object to the extra profits made through war. Neither will the arms production workers object to it, if it provides them with job security and steady incomes, which might be less certain under other circumstances. The military will see the war as a boon to their profession; war is their business and they will encourage business to make war. Because the mixed economy has become a war economy, many new professions have arisen which are tied to war conditions or to preparation for such conditions. A growing government bureaucracy relies for its existence on the perpetuation of the war machinery and of imperialistic activities. Widespread interests vested in war and imperialism ally themselves with those specific to the large corporations and their dependency on foreign exploitation.

While for some war and imperialism spell death, then for many more they constitute a way of life, not as an exceptional situation but as a permanent condition. Their existence is based on a form of cannibalism, which costs the lives of friend and foe alike. Once this state of affairs exists, it tends to reproduce itself and it becomes increasingly difficult to return to the "normal" state of capitalist production. War itself increases the propensity for war. The American decision-makers who decided to enter the Indochina conflict (or for that matter any other) were thus able to count on the consensus of a large part of the population, a consensus which was by no means purely ideological in nature.

Yet in time there developed an anti-war movement displaying a variety of motivations and gaining in strength with the deterioration of economic conditions. It was the long duration of the war, and the lack of recognizable advantages, which turned an increasing number of people against it. The moral opposition, based on pacifist and anti-imperialistic ideologies, found more general adherence — large enough to induce opportunistic politicians to enter the movement to further their personal aims and to keep it within the frame of existing political institutions. Although the anti-war protests were merely of a verbal nature, with an occasional firebomb thrown in, they contained the potential of more decisive future actions. Opposition to the war began to affect the military situation through an increasing demoralization of the armed forces. Even the noted apathy about the war on the part of the working population was apparently giving way to a more critical attitude. Among the bourgeoisie not directly favored by the war, dissatisfaction with its internal consequences was visibly rising. In any case, the Nixon Administration found itself obliged to placate the anti-war movement, even though it had no more to offer, at first, than demagogic promises, which masqueraded the continuing and intensifying war activities as so many attempts to reach an "honorable peace."

Still, the amorphous anti-war sentiment did not as yet constitute a real threat to the Administration's war policies. The developing polarization of pro- and anti-war forces pointed in the direction of civil strife rather than to the government's capitulation to the opposition. And in its broad majority this opposition directed itself not against the capitalist system, which is necessarily imperialistic, but only against this particular and apparently hopeless war, now viewed as a "mistake" which had to be undone. But there is no reason to doubt that at this juncture the United States preferred a negotiated peace, which would honor its main objective, to the prolongation of war, if only to stall the growing unrest at home. The war was to be "wound down" by way of "Vietnamization" in accordance with the so-called Nixon Doctrine. This was seemingly substantiated by a partial withdrawal of American troops and the simultaneous increase of the South Vietnamese Army, as well as through the intensification of the American air war in Laos, Cambodia, North and South Vietnam. Withdrawal meant, in fact, the extension of the war into Cambodia and Laos to prepare the conditions under which the Asians themselves would be enabled to take care of all "communist aggression."

It seems indeed an "ideal situation," with many precedents, to have Asians fight Asians to secure Indochina for capitalist exploitation. However, the "ideal situation" is unrealizable, even though an approximation to it is a possibility, provided the enemy adapts itself to the American strategy. If it does not, then, of course, the Americans will have to return to defend their interests. The deterrent strategy of a large naval and air presence will be maintained in any case. This strategy assumes the continuation of an existing military stalemate, which favors the Americans, since it can be utilized for the systematic destruction of enemy forces within the areas under American control. It is hoped that a resurgence of resistance to the Americans and their Indochina allies will become increasingly more problematic, as ever greater masses of the population are driven into controlled "refugee" centers and as the countryside is laid waste. With Russia and China staying out of the conflict, the aid provided by them will, by itself, not enable North Vietnam and the NLF to win a war of attrition with the United States.

The Cease-Fire Interval

The war could go on as long as the North Vietnamese continued to defy the American will, and as long as they received sufficient aid from either Russia, China, or both. In this sense, the war was also a war between the Eastern powers and the United States, even though the latter had to engage her own military forces due to the weakness of her Indochina allies, who were no match for the national-revolutionary forces they set out to combat.

The rift between Russia and China did not, at first, alter the situation of conflict between America and the state-controlled systems. Both Russia and China remain in opposition to the United States (and other capitalist countries) because of their different socio-economic structures and their own desires to make themselves secure by gaining greater power and more influence within the world economy. However, both the Stalin — Hitler pact and Russia's alliance with the anti-fascist powers during the Second World War show that different social systems can at times unite for a specific common goal without thereby losing their basic incompatibility.

The national form of the so-called socialist or state-controlled regimes sets them in conflict not only with the capitalist world, or with particular capitalist nations, but also with each other. In both the capitalist and "socialist" world, each nation tries first of all to safeguard its own special interests, or rather the interests of the privileged social strata whose existence and position is based on the control of the national state. There is then no real but only an opportunistic solidarity between the nations in the "socialist" as well as in the capitalist camp. Alliances are formed between nations of different social structures, and enmities arise between nations which had been expected to cooperate. This indicates, of course, that nationalism and imperialism are not opposites but imply each other, even though the national survival of some nations may depend on the imperialism of some other nations. Under these conditions, the so-called "third world" countries are not only objects of the rivalries between different capitalist nations, nor only of that between capitalism and "socialism" as such, but also of the rivalries between the "socialist" nations themselves. Not only has the end of colonialism led to neo-colonialism, through which the dominating powers exercise their control of dependent countries via their own governments, but this imperialism as neo-colonialism is no longer the exclusive privilege of the capitalist world but in a somewhat modified form appears also in the "socialist" part of the world, both as as [sic] an aspect of imperialist competition between different socio-economic systems and for its own sake. We are provided the spectacle of a "socialist" brand of imperialism and the threat of war between nominally socialist nations.

The imperialist imperative is more demanding than ever before, while, at the same time, anti-imperialist activities find their accentuation in a developing world-wide economic crisis. The recovery of European and Japanese capitalism implies the return of their imperialistic potentialities, and the diverging national interests between China and Russia are additional elements simmering in the caldron [sic] of contradictory capitalist, imperialist, and national aspirations. "Peace" is no longer secured by the "balance of terror," exercised by the two great atomic powers. National independence has proved to be no solution for the permanent crisis conditions of newly-formed national states. But national aspirations can assert themselves only through the rivalries of the great imperialist powers, just as these powers exercise their foreign policy options via the various national rivalries. Any small-scale war has thus the potentiality of issuing into a new world war. The explosive situations in India, the Middle East, Indochina, and elsewhere, involve issues at once nationalistic and imperialistic, affecting in one measure or another the economic interests of all nations. To avoid a new world conflagration, and yet to safeguard and expand the nationally-organized capitals and their profitability, brings about a feverish diplomatic activity in search for favorable political-military combinations as an additional aspect of capitalist competition.

Nixon's deliberations in Peking and Moscow revealed clearly that wars of national liberation can be waged only within the framework of overriding big-power interests, in which the latter are the decisive element. The situation in Indochina is what it is because neither Russia nor China have been willing to risk a world war in an attempt to drive the Americans out of Southeast Asia, just as they were equally unwilling to allow the United States to become the unchallenged power in the Pacific area. America's failure to subdue the Vietnamese, as well as the Vietnamese's failure to force the unification of their nation, left the situation at the time of the cease-fire arrangement as it was at the start of America's large-scale military intervention in 1964. As far as the American-Vietnamese military confrontation was concerned, there were neither victors nor vanquished, which allowed both sides to accept a temporary truce.

Of course, the stalemate remained unacknowledged. Both sides claimed some kind of limited victory; the one, by pointing to the fact of the continued independent existence of South-Vietnam, the other, by referring to the South-Vietnamese territory held by the Provisional Revolutionary Government and the expectation of a political victory should the Geneva Agreements of 1954 finally be honored. Actually, neither the South Vietnamese nor the North Vietnamese are satisified [sic] with the prevailing conditions and the civil-war aspects of the Vietnam war — which cannot find a compromise solution — goes on unabated, despite the cease-fire arrangement, which led to America's military departure from Vietnam. However, the truce remains precarious not only because of the unsettled civil war, but also because the current big-power understandings with respect to Indochina may dissolve on their own accord.

To some, of course, the fact that America, the militarily and economically strongest power in the world, was unable to defeat a small "third world" country, is reason enough to see in the truce a great triumph for the Vietnamese and the superiority of the revolutionary will over capitalistic technology. The stalemate is viewed as a great accomplishment and an encouragement for all national-revolutionary movements yet to come. Be this as it may, the fact remains that this struggle could be waged only so long as it found the support of imperialist powers in opposition to American imperialism. It found its temporary end through the involved powers' decisions to suspend for the time being the power struggle for the control of Southeast Asia and to regard the given as the best attainable conditions given the current balance of power.

To be sure, the Chinese-American rapprochement, as well as America's acceptance of Russia's long-standing offer of "peaceful coexistence," indicates, in a way, a change of policy on the part of the United States, forced upon her by changing conditions. Just as the capitalist world at large had finally to recognize the permanent existence of state-capitalist systems in Europe and their expansion by way of war, the United States also had finally to realize that the results of the Second World War in Asia as well as in Europe could not be undone and that the emerging state-capitalist systems were there to say. The desired "rollback" of "communism" was not attainable; but the freezing of the conditions resulting from the war — among other things, the elevation of the United States to the paramount power in Southeast Asia — was possible. This situation has not been altered but consolidated by the Indochina war. However, while Indochina seemingly lies secure in the American sphere of influence, it is only at the price of acceptance of the "communist" regimes as equal partners in the competitive world economy. The world economy will thus remain a "mixed economy," composed of "communist" and capitalist nations, just as in each capitalist nation the economy can only function as a "mixed economy," both situations indicating the ongoing decline of private property capitalism.

To become at least a temporary possibility, the "pacification" of world politics had to await an American readiness to come to terms with her "communist" adversaries and a willingness to do business with them. The "socialist" world had been ready for this for a long time, not only because it comprised the weaker imperialist powers, but also because it expected economic advantages through integration into the capitalist world market. Their national interests, overriding all ideological commitments, and their security needs, demanding an unprincipled opportunism, determine their foreign policies. They were quite ready to make concessions to the United States in exchange for their full recognition and for expanding business dealings. Moreover, the growing enmity between Russia and China, competing for spheres of influence in Asia; the rapid expansion of Japanese capitalism with its inevitable future imperialistic aspects; and the presence of American imperialism, turned the whole situation in Asia and Southeast Asia into a far more complex and more fluid problem than it appeared to be at the close of the Second World War.

A Chinese-American rapprochement, of course, has nothing to offer the Russians except the possibility of undoing such a "strange alliance" by way of accommodation with the Americans at the expense of Russian ambitions not only in the Pacific but on a global scale. With its overture to China, the American administration finds itself in a position to exploit the frictions between Russia and China for its own imperialist ends. It discourages a possible Russian attack on China by suggesting a possible Chinese-American alliance which could make such an attack a costly affair. It also prevents a weakening of America's position in Indochina, and therewith in the whole of Asia, by offsetting the Russian influence in these regions and by leaving the whole situation in Asia in an unresolved state. In brief, it allows for a postponement of the final struggle for the control of Asia, which, at this particular juncture, suited all the involved competing powers but still had to await the American initiative to become a reality.

That this initiative was taken indicates the present limits of American imperialism as determined by her deteriorating economic position within the world economy as well as at home. The Vietnamese war cost the United States approximately 150 billion dollars and was partly responsible for the inflationary trend, which, under the previously established international monetary arrangements, made it increasingly more difficult for the United States to retain its competitive position on the world market, threatened by the growing economic strength of Europe and Japan. It led first to an apparently permanent negative payments balance and finally to a negative trade balance reinforcing the unfavorable payments balance. To be sure, extensive capital exports share the responsibility for this situation, but this can be expected to be offset again by capital imports and the repatriation of profits which may reduce or eliminate the unfavorable payments balance, whereas the war expenditures are a sheer waste which cannot be recovered in the foreseeable future. The American ruling class, through its government, was induced to search for a way to liquidate the Indochina war in order to husband its resources not only in view of internal American conditions but also because of threatening conflicts in other parts of the world and its declining role in the world economy.

To say that the American ruling class was looking for a way to liquidate the Indochina war is not to disparage the anti-war movement, which had its own, independent, effect upon government policies regarding the execution of the war. Nonetheless, it was the government itself which tried to end the war on American terms with the aid of the "socialist" powers and by a shift of policy which turned the implacable enemies of yesterday into today's collaborators, and which were to restore the conditions in Indochina to what they had been at the time of the Geneva Agreements, which had been ratified by China and Russia but not by the United States. The precarious economic conditions in both Russia and China induced these powers to reach for the same breathing spell which the Americans tried to gain for themselves by way of a compromise solution which left the Indochina issue in abeyance.

Although such terms as "selling out" have no meaning with regard to policies determining national interests, that is, the interests of nationally-organized ruling classes, this inappropriate term describes nevertheless the procedures which led to the truce in Vietnam, however shortlived that truce may prove to be. It was made possible by ignoring the warring governments of both North and South Vietnam and their declared objectives, and was arranged by way of agreements between the great imperialist powers, which had also been responsible for the war and the course it took. The Vietnamese population, North and South, however heroic or unheroic, merely served as cannon fodder in a war of willing or unwilling proxies for great power interests, to which their own governments subordinated themselves only to be sacrificed when this proved to be opportune. Contrary to all appearances, the age of nationalism lies in the past, in the nineteenth century; it has become an anachronism under the conditions of the twentieth century imperialism, of which the Indochina war provides only the most recent example.

"Peace in Indochina," according to the American spokesman, Kissinger, "requires the self-restraint of all the major countries, and especially of those countries which on all sides have supplied the wherewithal for the conflict. We on our part are prepared to exercise such restraint. We believe that the other countries — the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China — can make a very major contribution to peace in Indochina by exercising similar restraints." China, being in the weakest competitive position and militarily most endangered pushed for an accord with the United States, if only to curb Moscow's influence by way of North Vietnam in Indochina, even though this implied the acceptance of America's continued presence and influence in that region. And for Russia, according to Brezhnev, "the struggle to end the war in Vietnam was one of the most important aspects of our foreign policy, of the peace program advanced by the 24th Congress of the Communist party of the Soviet Union. And now an end is made to the war. One of the most dangerous, to be more precise, the most dangerous seat of war in the world is being liquidated." But to reach this state of bliss, millions of Indochinese had first to die and whole countries had to be devastated only to produce, for the time being, a truce between the three competing imperialist powers in Southeast Asia.

At this writing, the war in Indochina has by no means been liquidated and even the Vietnamese cease-fire is being observed mostly in the breach. The bombs are still falling in Laos and Cambodia — which, however, did not prevent the Government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, the South Vietnam Liberation Front and the Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Vietnam from solemnly declaring that they will strictly observe all the provisions of the Paris truce. It was reported that Kissinger and Le Duc Tho had entered into an explicit oral agreement that only when the principals in the civil wars in Laos and Cambodia agreed to a cease-fire in their respective countries would the United States and North Vietnam cease their own military activities in these nations. This common endorsement of diplomacy by way of murder, of the juggling of power positions of diverse ruling classes at the expense of uncounted human lives, shows clearly that in Vietnam, as in the world at large, it is not the will of the people but specific interests of their ruling classes which determine whether they shall live or die, and that the ruling classes themselves are subjected to the manipulations of the imperialist protectors who are also their masters. It also shows that the process of dividing up Indochina has not been completed and, perhaps, cannot be completed at all. In any case, this is not the end of the Asian upheavals but merely a pause to be utilized for a realignment of imperialist alliances in the hope of reaching a winning combination able to break the present stalemate and to determine the nature of Asia's further development by way of new power struggles.

Text taken from:

  • 1See: Paul Mattick, Marx and Keynes, The Limits of the Mixed Economy, Boston, 1969.
  • 2P.A. Baran and P.M. Sweezy, "Notes on the Theory of Imperialism", Monthly Review, March, 1966, p. 16.
  • 3Ibid., p. 24.
  • 4W.F. Wertheim, East-West Parallels, Chicago, 1965, p. 98.
  • 5An Economic Analysis of Far Eastern Agriculture. United States Department of Agriculture, Washington, D.C., 1961, p. 3.
  • 6J.P. Gittinger, Studies on Land Tenure in Vietnam, U.S. Operation Mission in Vietnam, 1959, pp. 1, 50.

Soviets and Factory Committees in the Russian Revolution - Peter Rachleff

Putilov Factory - Petrograd
Putilov Factory - Petrograd

Peter Rachleff traces the development of the Factory Committees from early 1917 until the beginnings of the Bolsheviks' suppression of these organisations shortly after October.

Submitted by libcom on October 21, 2005

Soviets and Factory Committees in the Russian Revolution

Peter Rachleff

The developmental possibilities of the Russian Revolution of 1917-1921 were determined not by the conceptions of contending political organisations, but by the aims and capacities of the social groups involved. While the entire population in revolt shared the political goal of the abolition of czarist despotism, the different social classes and groups within it had distinctly different economic wants. The tiny bourgeoisie was naturally interested in conditions making possible the expansion of Russian capital. The peasants, the overwhelming majority, forced to work the fields of the large landowners and to pay exorbitant rents for tiny plots of land, desired the expropriation of the large estates and the establishment of a system of small, privately owned farms. On the other hand, the workers, small in number and concentrated in the urban areas of European Russia, were confronted by low wages, economic insecurity, and terrible working conditions, problems which called for some form of socialisation of industry and an ambiguous "workers' control" of production.

These goals were mutually incompatible. Aside from the obvious conflict between workers and bourgeoisie, a capitalistically organised agricultural sector could not coexist with a smaller socialised industrial sector. Because of the low level of agricultural productivity, not only would small scale market agriculture provide an insufficient base for the development of industry, but violent fluctuations from year to year would preclude economic planning.

The political goals shared by the great social classes could be realised. But not only were their economic goals incompatible, none of them could serve as the organisational principle for the whole society. A society regulated by the desires and needs of the workers was ruled out by their minority position, while a capitalist market economy was made impossible by the weakness of the bourgeoisie and their dependence on the state, the disorganisation, poverty, and illiteracy of the peasantry,--and, finally, the political strength achieved by the Bolshevik Party after 1917.

"Politics" and "economics" are not separate phenomena, but different aspects of social power relations. The question of the political form to emerge from the revolutionary process was to be decided by the achievement of social and therefore economic power by one of the contending groups on the scene. As it turned out, this was accomplished by neither bourgeoisie, peasantry, nor proletariat, but by the fraction of the intelligentsia which made up the membership of the Communist Party. The feat of the Bolsheviks was to define a new social structure by the subordination of economics to the political sphere controlled by them, accomplished through their seizure of power as a ruling class over capitalists, peasants, and workers alike. Before they succeeded in this, by riding the waves of popular rebellion and organisation, the Russian workers were able to evolve forms of struggle and social reconstruction which transcend in importance the limitations of the place and time in which they arose. The following article briefly traces the history of the two kinds of institutions--the soviets and the factory committees--which remain of greatest interest to revolutionaries today.

Capitalist development in Russia before the First World War had assumed a form quite similar to what exists in many underdeveloped countries today. Almost all industry was under the control of foreign capital and was located in a few urban areas. Although the working class was extremely small in relation to the total population (Trotsky's estimate of 10 percent is the highest of all accounts), industry--and therefore, the working class--was very concentrated. Most factories were large and constructed along then-modern lines. The working class had grown rapidly in the three decades prior to the war, and a sense of class had been developing by leaps and bounds since the turn of the century.

Throughout the late 19th century Russian industrial workers often spent only part of the year in the urban areas, earning their livings in factories. They also spent part of the year in their old villages, working the land, and their primary ties remained with their agricultural activities and village life. However, the rapid development of industry soon provided year-round employment to ever greater numbers of workers. They and their families moved to the urban areas, breaking their old rural and village ties. Between 1885 and 1897, the urban population grew by 33.8 percent, and Moscow, for example, grew by 123 percent.[1] These people began to think of themselves primarily as workers, not as peasants who worked part of the year in the factories. Their problems were no longer those of indebtedness, to landlords, or connected to agriculture, but became those of wages, working conditions, and the prices of the necessities of life. The lack of a craft tradition contributed to this growing new sense of belonging to a working class, as the divisions among the workers were few, and most faced similar problems. Concentrated together in huge factories, living together in rapidly growing urban areas, workers discovered that they shared a very specific set of problems quite unlike those of their previous rural existence. In this way, a new sense of class grew along with Russian industry.

The events of 1905 both were made possible by this developing sense of class and spurred it on. Over 100,000 factory workers in St. Petersburg had gone on strike in January of that year. A few days later, workers and their families, protesting both factory conditions and their lack of political representation, presented a petition to the czar, asking him to alleviate their problems and grant them a Constituent Assembly. The demonstration in front of his palace was fired upon by the czar's soldiers. Mass strikes spread throughout the industrial cities of the country, involving more than a million people over a period of two months, reaching at least 122 towns and localities. [2] Strikes, demonstrations and public meetings continued sporadically throughout the spring and summer months despite severe repression. Workers elected committees throughout the urban areas to organise the strikes.[3]

In mid-September, typesetters and printers in Moscow launched an industry-wide strike. Over fifty shops were shut down. Other industries in that city began to close in sympathy with the typesetters. At the beginning of October, typesetters in St. Petersburg went out on a three-day strike to show their solidarity with their Moscow fellow workers. At the end of the first week of October, the railway workers throughout European Russia decided to strike, and called for a national general strike, demanding the eight-hour day, civil liberties, amnesty, and a Constituent Assembly. The strike began to spread throughout the urban areas, succeeding in closing down all productive activities by the 12th, save those necessary for the success of the strike, such as print shops, trains carrying workers' delegates, etc. The government responded with concessions and repression.

Beginning October 10th, factories in St. Petersburg began sending delegates to meetings of what was to become the Soviet. At first, not more than thirty or forty delegates attended. On October 13th, they sent out a call for a political general strike, i.e., for a Constituent Assembly and political rights, and asked all the factories to send delegates. Workers immediately understood the principles of such representation on the basis of workplaces. There were the experiences of sending factory representatives to the Shidlovski Commission (which was studying factory conditions) and the strike committees of the past nine months upon which to draw. Anweiler writes:

When the strike wave spread from Moscow to St. Petersburg, and when, on October 11th, the first factories stopped work the workers themselves felt the need to meet together in order to decide in common what path to follow. It was for this purpose that delegates were elected in several factories--the Putilov and Obukhov works, among others--of these delegates, more than one had been a member of the strike committee or a former representative to the Shidlovski Commission.[4]

More and more factories elected delegates. Within three days, there were 226 delegates representing 96 factories and workshops (the principle was usually one delegate for every 100 workers in a factory). It was decided to admit representatives of the socialist parties (Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, and Social-Revolutionaries). On October 17th, this group decided on the name "Soviet of Workers' Deputies" and elected a provisional executive committee of 22 members (two for each of the seven areas of the city, two for each of the four most important unions) and decided to publish its own newspaper, "News from the Soviet of Workers' Deputies." The Soviet, at first performing no other task than organising and leading the strike, changed itself over the course of several days into an organ of the general and political representation of workers, in the centre of the revolutionary movement of the working class in the capital. It quickly became a "workers' parliament," which it attempted to remain even after the strike ended at the end of October. According to Anweiler, "this change was neither deliberated or consciously expressed. After having at its peak engendered the Soviet, the revolutionary movement surged on, with greater impetuosity than ever, and the organ that it had created accompanied it on its path."[5] The Soviet had been formed out of necessity--that of organising and maintaining the general strike. No one needed to convince the workers that such organisation was crucial.

Similar organisations appeared amidst strikes in all the urban areas of European Russia (and in some larger villages as well), Between 40 and 50 came into existence in October. Although most only functioned for a short period their importance should not be underestimated. This was the first experience of direct democracy for most of those involved. The Soviets were created from below, by the workers, peasants, and soldiers, and reflected their desires--which were expressed in non-sectarian resolutions. No political party dominated the Soviets, and many workers were opposed to allowing representation for political parties. At any rate, most of the Soviets were created by workers to solve their immediate problems--winning the strike, the eight-hour day, and political rights. They concerned themselves with the daily problems confronting the workers.

The czar combined concessions (the granting of a parliament, the Duma) with selective repression and broke the strike and then destroyed the remaining Soviets. However, despite apparent failure, the revolution of 1905 paved the way for the events of 1917. Soviets had been formed on a factory basis and performed the functions of workers' parliaments, trade unions, and strike committees, and had provided the workers with a sense of self-government. These experiences would be relied upon in the face of the severe problems of early 1917, when workers found themselves in a situation of deep social crisis.

The problems facing the Russian population at the outset of 1917 were severe indeed. The effects of Russia's participation in the First World War began to become unbearable. Her dependence on Western Europe for raw materials crippled her. Inflation, usury, and shortages of food supplies reached crisis proportions. Production plummeted. The size of the draft led to a shortage of skilled labour in industry and a shortage of agricultural workers. Fuel became ever harder to obtain, both for personal use (heating) and for industrial production. There was no apparent hope for the masses of the Russian people, especially the industrial working-class. Voline writes from his personal experience:

In January 1917, the situation had become untenable. The economic chaos, the poverty of workers, and the social disorganisation of Russia were so acute that the inhabitants of several large cities--notably Petrograd--began to lack not only fuel, clothing, meat, butter, and sugar, but even bread. February saw worse conditions, not only was the urban population doomed to famine, but the supplying of the army became entirely defective. And, at the same time, a complete military debacle was reached.[6]

Dissension appeared in the army and the navy as the war wore on. Peasants in the army began to rebel against the despotism of the officers and camaraderie developed among the draftees in the face of the ever-worsening military situation. Discussions between workers and peasants spread within the military. The beginning of 1917 saw the armed forces seething with revolt. On February 23rd, a strike began among women textile workers in Petrograd (formerly St. Petersburg). Demonstrations, which were virtually bread riots, spread throughout the city. The troops who had crushed similar demonstrations in 1905 refused to put down the uprising, and many joined in. By the end of the month, after three days of spontaneous demonstrations and a general strike, Petrograd was in the hands of its working class. Victor Serge, a participant in the events, writes:

The revolution sprang up in the street, descended from the factories with thousands of striking workers, to cries of "Bread! Bread!" The authorities saw it coming, powerless; it was not in their power to overcome the crisis. The fraternisation of the troops with workers' demonstrations in the streets of Petrograd consummated the fall of the aristocracy. The suddenness of the events surprised the revolutionary organisations . . .[7]

Even Trotsky goes so far as to admit that the revolutionary organisations acted in February as obstacles to the working-class:

Thus, the fact is that the February Revolution was begun from below, overcoming the resistance of its own revolutionary organisations, the initiative being taken of their own accord by the most oppressed and downtrodden part of the proletariat--the women textile workers, among them no doubt many soldiers' wives.[8]

The revolution spread throughout Russia. Peasants seized land; discipline in the army collapsed; sailors seized their ships in the Kronstadt Harbour on the Baltic Coast and took over that city; the Soviet form of organisation reappeared, first in industrial areas, then among soldiers, sailors, and peasants.

A Provisional Government came to power when the czar abdicated. Made up of members of the bourgeoisie and the aristocracy, this group at first sought the institution of a constitutional monarchy. They were soon to give up on this notion, but, regardless of their proclamations, laws, debates, etc., they failed to come up with solutions to the problems experienced by the bulk of the populations, both workers and peasants. The Soviets, which had sprung up across the country, were viewed as the legitimate government by workers, peasants, and soldiers, who came to them with their problems.

However, a close look at the formation and organisation of the Soviets indicates that they were not mass organs that offered workers and peasants the means to exercise power over their daily activities. The most famous of all the Soviets--and a good example of their organizational structure and functioning--was the Petrograd Soviet. This organisation was formed from the top down by a group of liberal and radical intellectuals who got together on February 27th and constituted themselves the "Executive Committee of the Petrograd Soviet."[9] They then called for elections to the Soviet itself. On February 28th, in response to a proclamation from this "Executive Committee," elections were held in the factories. By one o'clock in the afternoon, over 120 delegates assembled for the plenary meeting. However, this meeting--and most future ones--was chaotic: credentials could not be verified and little was accomplished. All essential decisions were made within the "strict intimacy" of the Executive Committee.[10] Some of these decisions, such as the one of March 2nd stating that the Soviet would not co-operate with the Provisional Government, were submitted to the Soviet as a whole for ratification. Most decisions, however, were not.

Sukhanov, a journalist and a member of this Executive Committee, describes the functioning of this Soviet:

To this day, I, a member of the Executive Committee of the Soviet, am completely ignorant of what the Soviet was doing in the course of the day. It never interested me, either then or later, because it was self-evident that all the practical pivotal work had fallen on the shoulders of the Executive Committee. As for the Soviet at that moment, in the given situation, with its quantitative and qualitative composition, it was clearly incapable of any work even as a Parliament, and performed merely moral functions.

The Executive Committee had to accomplish by itself all the current work as well as bring into being a scheme of government. In the first place, to pass this programme through the Soviet was plainly a formality; secondly, this formality was not difficult and no one cared about it....

"And what's going on in the Soviet?" I remember asking someone who had come in from beyond the curtain. He waved his hand hopelessly: "A mass meeting! Anyone who wants to gets up and says whatever he likes!"[11]

The most interesting feature of this Soviet was the personal communication between delegates of both workers and soldiers in one body. The presence of so many soldiers' delegates gave the Executive Committee more actual power than the Provisional Government because it enjoyed the support of the local troops.

Over 3,000 delegates were members of the Soviet by the end of March: two-thirds of them were soldiers. The delegates were elected on the basis of one representative for 1,000 workers, and one for every factory with less than 1,000, and one delegate for every military unit. In mid-April, on the suggestion of the Executive Committee, the Soviet voted in favour of reorganisation, as its size had become unwieldy. The new body had some 600 members, half soldiers and half workers. This reorganisation was undertaken by a special committee, appointed by the Executive Committee, who pared the Soviet by excluding "occasional delegates" and those from groups which had been reduced in size. However, the power still remained in the hands of the Executive Committee. This had been the case from the start, and it continued to be the case throughout the spring and summer of 1917.[12]

The Executive Committee expanded its role. It created various committees to deal with different problems--publishing newspapers, overseeing various services, etc. As the number of these committees increased, the base of the Soviet lost more and more of its power. Meetings became less frequent and soon the Soviet itself became nothing but an open forum, where workers and soldiers could come together, air their views, meet others like themselves, and keep their constituencies informed about what was going on. It did offer people who had never had the chance to speak out to do so. But it did not represent the power of the working class. If anything, it represented its powerlessness.

This Soviet seems quite characteristic of the Soviets throughout Russia--both in the urban areas and in the countryside. Often, workers or peasants came into conflict with their Soviet. Neither this organ nor the Provisional Government can be considered as instruments of working-class power. However, the workers were able to create such an instrument--the factory committee.

Whereas the Soviets were primarily concerned with political issues, e.g., the structure of the government, the continuation of the war, the factory committees dealt solely with the problems of continuing production within their factories. Many sprang up in the face of lock-outs or attempted sabotage by the factory owners. It was through these committees that workers hoped to solve their initial problems--how to get production going again, how to provide for themselves and their families in the midst of economic chaos. Many workers were faced with the choice of taking over production themselves or starving. Other workers who were relatively assured of employment were influenced both by the burst of activity which characterised the revolution and the worsening economic situation. If they were to remain secure, they had to have a greater say in the management of their factories. They realised that they needed organisations on the shop level to protect their interests and improve their situations.

The trade unions could be of no help in these matters. Until the turn of the century, trade unions were illegal. The tradition of guilds, which had been an important precursor of trade-unionism in Western Europe, was lacking, due to the fact that industry was still rather young in Russia. Only the most politically-minded workers could be expected to be interested in trade-unionism under the repressive conditions and such workers were usually more apt to join the already existing radical political organisations. In 1905 the existing trade unions played an insignificant role in the upheaval. Many of them were crushed in the repression of the next few years. A select few were allowed to continue to function, but only under police supervision. By the time of the February 1917 uprising, several trade unions existed as national organisations, but few had any influence within the factories. Most of the trade union leaders were Mensheviks, who rejected the notion that workers should have any say about the internal affairs of a factory. During the first few months of 1917, trade unions membership increased from a few scores of thousands to 1.5 million. Most of this increased membership was purely formal, i.e., it became a matter of principle for radical workers to belong to trade unions. The real activity was represented by the incredible proliferation of factory committees, organs consisting of and controlled by the workers within each factory. It was through these committees that most of the workers sought to solve their problems.

These committees were seen to provide the organisational structure through which workers could confront--and hopefully solve--their first problem: the taking over of production within their factory. Only through organs such as the factory committees, directly controlled by all the workers assembled within a factory, could the workers develop the organisation, solidarity, and shared knowledge necessary to manage production. (As the Soviets were concerned primarily with "political" issues and because their meetings were usually chaotic, they offered little assistance for solving the pressing problems of the workers.) Such committees appeared in every industrial centre throughout European Russia. The membership of a committee always consisted solely of workers who still worked in the factory. Most important decisions would be made by a general assembly of all the workers in the factory. The workers sought to maintain their own power within the factory in order to solve their pressing problems. No one else could do it for them. The committees were utilised by the workers in the early months of the revolution to present series of demands, and in some instances to begin to act to realise those demands. Paul Avrich describes the functioning of some factory committees in the first months of the uprising:

From the outset, the workers' committees did not limit their demands to higher wages and shorter hours, though these were at the top of every list, what they wanted in addition to material benefits, was a voice in management. On March 4th, for example, the workers of the Skorokhod Shoe Factory in Petrograd did, to be sure, call upon their superiors to grant them an eight-hour day and a wage increase, including double pay for overtime work; but they also demanded official recognition of their factory committee and its right to control the hiring and firing of labour. In the Petrograd Radiotelegraph Factory, a workers' committee was organised expressly to "work out rules and norms for the internal life of the factory," while other factory committees were elected chiefly to control the activities of the directors, engineers, and foremen. Overnight, incipient forms of "workers' control" over production and distribution appeared in the large enterprises of Petrograd, particularly the state-owned metallurgical plants, devoted almost exclusively to the war effort and employing perhaps a quarter of the workers in the capital.[13]

As the economic situation became yet more severe following the February Revolution (inflation continued, production was only beginning to pick up, and then but sporadically), workers turned from making demands concerning wages, working conditions, and the principles of "workers' control," to actually taking over and operating an ever greater number of factories. Workers had to act if they were to find a way out of the deepening crisis. The immediate problem which confronted workers was experienced on the factory level--how to begin again (under their own direction) the production of their factories. Once this initial problem was confronted, and the workers, through their factory committees, began to solve it--by, in many cases, actually starting up production under their own management--a new and yet more difficult problem appeared.

No factory could be self-sufficient. Production required raw materials and continued production necessitated a structure of distribution. Many committees began to compete with the committees from other factories, both for the procurement of raw materials and the disposal of their products. Such a solution to the severe problems proved unsatisfactory. Not all the factories could acquire the needed raw materials. Competition drove the prices of raw materials up. More and more factories which had only recently recommenced production found themselves threatened with being forced to close down due to their inability to get needed materials and new machinery. The necessity of federation became apparent. That is, workers realised--some more quickly than others--that they had to develop a means of co-operation and co-ordination with workers in other factories and regions: those that supplied them with raw materials, those that produced the same products, and those that needed their products. The "ownership" of a given factory by its own workers could not solve the pressing economic problems. Only a large-scale co-ordinated effort by the workers in many factories could do so. The isolation of workers within their own factories had to be transcended, and the workers turned to their factory committees to devise methods of industry-wide and regional co-ordination.

At the same time, the Provisional Government sought to impose its own ideas about the management of production. It sought to undermine the activities of the factory committees, limiting them to overseeing health and safety conditions within the plants. All co-ordination should be under the supervision of the Provisional Government and its agencies. This provided another impetus for the factory committees to join together. Alone, they could be stripped of their power by the government. United, they could present a force that could not be destroyed--unless the government would be willing to stop all production, a rather unlikely action. The first meeting of a group of factory committees appears to have taken place in mid-April in Petrograd. The major resolution of this conference was a strong re-affirmation of the workers' right to control the internal life of the factory, matters "such as length of the working day, wages, hiring and firing workers and employees, leaves of absence, etc.''[14] However, there appears to have been no progress made as far as communications between factory committees for the purpose of organising production on a city-wide level.

The Provisional Government also acted in April. On the 23rd of that month statutes were enacted which recognised the rights of the factory committees to represent the workers in bargaining with management and to oversee health conditions inside the factory. The principal goal of these statutes was "to restrain the importance and the role of factory committees and to limit their power.''[15] But the Provisional Government had no power to enforce these statutes. Workers throughout Russia quickly recognised what it was that the Provisional Government sought to do, and they responded forcefully. According to Pankratova--a Bolshevik historian of the factory committee movement--every major factory and every large urban area was the scene of spontaneous activity in response to these statutes. Workers rejected the government's new regulations and took steps to strengthen their own power within their factories. New attempts at communication and co-ordination between factories appeared. All this was not in response alone to the government's actions, but also because the economic situation continued to deteriorate.[16]

On May 29th, there was a conference of factory committees in Kharkov, which resulted in a strong affirmation of the principles of workers' self-management, but failed to resolve the serious problems of the co-ordination of supply, production, and distribution. The next day, a conference of all the factory committees in Petrograd and its surrounding areas convened in the capital city. Some 400 representatives of the committees attended. A statement was adopted in the course of the conference which explained the progression of events up to that time--and indicated how these events were understood by the workers who were involved in them.

From the beginning of the Revolution the administrative staffs of the factories have relinquished their posts. The workmen have practically become the masters. To keep the factories going, the workers' committees have had to take the management into their own hands. In the first days of the Revolution, in February and March, the workmen left the factories and went into the streets. The factories stopped work. About a fortnight later, the mass of workmen returned to their work. They found that many factories had been deserted. The managers, engineers, generals, mechanics, foremen had reason to believe that the workmen would wreak their vengeance on them, and they had disappeared. The workmen had to begin work with no administrative staff to guide them. They had to elect committees which gradually re-established a normal system of work. The committees had to find the necessary raw materials, and altogether to take upon themselves all kinds of unexpected and unaccustomed duties.[17]

The final resolution of the conference described the factory committees as "fighting organisations, elected on the basis of the widest democracy and with a collective leadership," whose objectives were "the creation of new conditions of work . . . the organisation of thorough control by labour over production and distribution." Moreover, this resolution also commented on "political" questions, demanding that there be a "proletarian majority in all institutions having executive power.''[18]

The conference sought to go beyond a mere affirmation of the principles of workers' self-management to try to formulate tentative plans for greater co-ordination of production. Representatives at the conference turned to the trade unions for assistance. As we saw earlier in this essay, the trade unions, although weak and inconsequential as far as the course of events up to now, did have an existing pan-Russian (i.e., national) structure, which was based on relations between industries and regions. It was hoped at this conference that this structure could be made use of to co-ordinate the then rather disparate activities of the committees. Although qualms were expressed about turning to any other organisation for assistance in co-ordination (be it political parties, trade unions, or anyone but the factory committees themselves), the severity of the economic crisis impressed upon the representatives the need for speedy action, and the adoption of an already existing structure appeared easier than the creation of a totally new one.

Beginning about this time (i.e., early June), the influence of the Bolshevik Party within the factory committees began to grow. They were a fairly small group of professional revolutionaries who argued, under Lenin's leadership, that a "socialist revolution" was possible in Russia. Until Lenin returned from exile in April, they had been fairly isolated from the events taking place. Lenin, however, quickly changed the orientation of the party. In the first months of the revolution, the Bolsheviks wavered on the question of workers' control of production, the division of land among the peasants, support for the Provisional Government, and the continuation of the war--all questions considered crucial by workers and peasants. Lenin, not without difficulty, brought the party around to clear positions on all these issues, and, in doing so, brought their program into line with the already articulated demands of the working class (e.g., control of production by the factory committees, political power to be exercised by the Soviets, the end of participation in the World War) and the peasantry (e.g., the end of the war and the division of land among those who work it). No other political party placed itself openly in favour of the actions and demands of the Russian masses. Thus, in the face of attempts on the part of the Provisional Government to undermine their accomplishments and their attempts at expanding their power, many workers saw the Bolshevik Party as a welcome ally. According to most accounts, the Bolsheviks were a strong influence at this conference, favouring the uniting of the factory committees (to present a counter-power to the Menshevik-dominated Soviets).

Within several weeks, it became apparent that the factory committees could not rely on the trade unions for purposes of co-ordination. At the end of June, there was a trade union conference in Petrograd. Here it became clear that the unions desired to subordinate the existing factory committees to their control. Their conception of "co-ordination" was that the national organs should make all the fundamental decisions concerning production and distribution, and the factory committees (which would become institutionalised within the unions) would implement these decisions. In other words, "co-ordination" through the trade unions would mean control by the trade unions.

By the end of June, a process of polarisation appeared to be under way in Russia. The dividing lines were not sharply drawn, nor were they necessarily perceived by the participants. The most important line was that which separated the factory committees from all the other existing institutions--the Soviets, the trade unions, the political parties, and the Provisional Government--who were all trying in different ways to control the committees. There were also obvious differences within the latter group seeking to establish its hegemony over the others. (Only the Bolsheviks among the parties appeared to side with the committees.) The workers involved in the factory committees did not see the Soviets as enemies, but were disenchanted with their vacillations concerning the extension of control over all production by the committees and their unwillingness to openly confront the Provisional Government on the question of political power.

In early July, mass discontent with the Provisional Government and its policies (the continuation of the war, its attempts to undermine the factory committees) and with what the Soviets were doing (or, more exactly, not doing) surfaced in the form of violent mass demonstrations and peasant land seizures. On July 3rd, a group of soldiers and armed workers burst into the Petrograd Soviet (while a much larger group demonstrated outside) and assailed its members for compromising with the bourgeoisie and hesitating to take over power from the Provisional Government. They demanded that all power be taken by the Soviet, that all land be nationalised, that various bourgeois ministers be removed, and that participation in the war should end.[19] The entire month of July saw mass demonstrations and strikes throughout the urban areas of the country. The Provisional Government sought to blame the Bolsheviks for these disturbances. In fact, the Bolsheviks had tried to halt some of these demonstrations, arguing against them in their journals and demanding that party members not take part. As a result, they became viewed with suspicion by groups of workers, and some workers who belonged to the party tore up their party cards in disgust.

In early August, a general strike took place in Moscow, presenting mostly "political" demands--an end to the war, and that the Soviets should replace the Provisional Government. The Moscow Soviet was opposed to the strike, its leadership as yet unwilling to put itself forth as an alternative to the Provisional Government. Moreover, in the face of severe economic problems, the Soviet was becoming more and more concerned with the continuation of production. This strike was organised by the factory committees in the city, who quickly transformed themselves into strike committees, "informing and educating the workers, collecting money, giving out subsidies," and raising the demand for control of production by the producers themselves, exercised through the factory committees.[20] Polarisation between the workers and the existing Soviet sharpened.

On August 7th-12th, the second conference of factory committees of Petrograd and surrounding areas took place. This conference

. . . made a definite attempt to construct an efficiently working centre of united factory committees by resolving that 1/4 of one per cent of the wages of the workers represented by factory committees was to be put aside for the support of a Central Soviet of Factory Committees. This was to give the Central Soviet a means for support, independent of the state and the trade unions.[21]

There was a consensus that the trade unions could not be used for organising and co-ordinating production. The Bolsheviks, who made up a majority of the delegates at this conference, clearly saw this Central Soviet as a body with a very different function than mere co-ordination. It should, in their view, have considerable power to make decisions concerning production and distribution, decisions which would be binding on the factory committees.[22] Many of the other delegates saw that such a body could undermine the already existing (and expanding) control of the process of production by the producers themselves, taking important decisions out of their hands. There was thus considerable ambivalence about creating this Central Soviet, which would solve the problem of co-ordination only by weakening the power of the producers themselves and their factory committees. The final resolution, which stated that "all decrees of the factory committees were ultimately dependent on the sanctions of the Central Council, and the Council could abolish any decree of the factory committees,"[23] represented a real defeat for those who opposed control of the committees by any body constituted above them. At about the same time--early August--there was an all-city conference of factory committees in Moscow. Here, too, there was an attempt made to devise a structure of co-ordination, but again in the form of a "centralisation" under the control of a regional council.

While these attempts at co-ordination were being made, the factory committees continued to try to solve their initial problems--the taking over of productive apparatus and its operation by the producers themselves. The necessity of doing so was becoming ever greater as the prices of necessities (e.g., food, clothing, and shoes) rose two to three times faster than wages, and more and more factory owners attempted to shut down production.[24] The Provisional Government was alarmed by the activities of the factory committees and launched an all-out legal attack on them. The extent to which the Government felt it necessary to destroy the committees gives us an indication of how much these committees must have been doing. On August 22nd, Skobelev, the Minister of Labour, issued a circular letter which stated that:

The right of hiring and firing of all other employees belongs to the owners of these plants . . . Coercive measures on the part of workers for the purpose of dismissal or employment of certain persons are regarded as actions to be criminally punished.[25]

Another circular letter of August 28th forbid the holding of factory committee meetings during working hours. However, as the government lacked the power to enforce these new laws, they were generally disregarded by the workers. The factory committees offered the workers the best means of maintaining production and controlling it for their own benefit. Thus, the workers were unwilling to yield to the unenforceable decrees of the Provisional Government. Into the fall of 1917 this struggle continued, a struggle which could only end with the destruction of one protagonist or the other. Pankratova takes note of the logic of this struggle:

The passage from passive to active control had been dictated by the logic of preservation. Intervention of workers' committees in hiring and firing was the first stage toward the direct intervention of the workers in the production process . . . Later, the passage toward higher forms of technical and financial control became inevitable. This placed the proletariat before a new problem: taking power, establishing new production relations.[26]

However, the workers and their factory committees failed to see the importance of their fighting for social power. Their efforts remained within the sphere of "the economy." "Political power" was a problem for the Soviets. The workers hoped that the Soviets would soon wrest "political power" away from the Provisional Government and allow the factory committees and their expanding regional organisations to manage industrial production. By October, such councils of factory committees existed in many parts of Russia: Northwest: Petrograd, Pskov, Nevel; Central Industrial Region: Moscow, Ivanovo-Vosnesensk; Volga Provinces: Saratob, Kazan, Tsaritsyn; Ukraine: (Southern Mining District): Karkhov, Kiev, Odessa, Iuzovka; Southwest and Caucasus: Rostov, Nakhichevan-on-the-Dan, Ekaterinodar; Urals and Siberia: Irkutsk.[27] Conferences of local factory committees in Petrograd and Moscow in late September and early October reaffirmed the necessity of proceeding with their role in production--managing the entire productive process--and in developing ever better methods of co-ordination.

A short time later, the first "All-Russian Conference of Factory Committees" was convened. ("All-Russian" is a bit misleading because the committees only existed in the industrialised urban areas.) Members of the Bolshevik Party made up 62 percent of the delegates and were the dominant force. By now, the Party was in firm control of the recently created Central Council of factory committees and used it for its own purposes. According to one account

. . the work of the Council proved to be very limited. The Bolsheviks, who entered the Central Council in a considerable number and who, as a matter of fact, controlled it, apparently deliberately obstructed the work of the Central Council as a centre of economic struggle on the part of the workers. They used the Council chiefly for political purposes in order to strengthen the campaign to win the unions.[28]

The Bolsheviks at this conference succeeded in passing a resolution creating a national organisational structure for the committees. However, this structure explicitly limited the factory committees to activity within the sphere of production and suggested a method of struggle which embodied a rigid division of activities--the factory committees, under the supervision of their organisation, would continue their activities at the point of production; the Soviets (now under Bolshevik control--many members of the Soviets saw the Bolsheviks as supporting the demands of the workers and the peasants and many other members, particularly soldiers, who had supported the more liberal parties, had left the cities to return to their villages; thus, they achieved majority) would contest the political power of the Provisional Government; and the Bolsheviks would bring together the activities of these bodies, as well as the disparate struggles of the working class and the peasantry. The non-Bolshevik delegates--and the workers they represented--did not reject this new plan. Few realised the necessity of uniting the "economic" and the "political" aspects of the class struggle.

The Bolsheviks, now on the verge of seizing "state power," began laying the foundations for the consolidation of their control over the working class. No longer did they encourage increased activity by the factory committees. Most workers and their committees accepted this about-face, believing that the new strategy was only temporary and that once the Bolsheviks had captured "political" power they would be given free reign in the economic sphere.

Shortly thereafter, the Bolsheviks successfully seized state power, replacing the Provisional Government with their tightly-controlled Soviets. The effect on the workers was tremendous. They believed that this new revolution gave them the green light to expand their activities, to expropriate the remaining capitalists and to establish strong structures of co-ordination. E. H. Carr describes what happened immediately after the seizure of power:

The spontaneous inclination of the workers to organise factory committees and to intervene in the management of the factories was inevitably encouraged by a revolution which led the workers to believe that the productive machinery of the country belonged to them and could be operated by them at their own discretion and to their own advantage. What had begun to happen before the October revolution now happened more frequently and more openly; and for the moment, nothing would have dammed the tide of revolt.[29]

Out of this burst of activity came the first attempt of the factory committees to create a national organisation of their own, independent of all parties and institutions. Such an organisation posed an implicit threat to the new Bolshevik State, although those involved still saw their organisation as relating only to the "economy." The Bolsheviks, seeking to strengthen their position, realised that they had to destroy the factory committees. They now had available to them the means to do so--something which the Provisional Government had lacked. By controlling the Soviets, the Bolsheviks controlled the troops. Their domination of the regional and national councils of factory committees gave them the power to isolate and destroy any factory committee through denying them raw materials, for example. The trade unions, now an appendage to the Bolshevik State, were used to suppress the power of the factory committees. Isaac Deutscher describes how the Bolsheviks used the trade unions to emasculate the committees within months after the revolution.

The Bolsheviks now called upon the trade unions to render a special service to the nascent Soviet State and to discipline the factory committees. The unions came out against the attempt of the factory committees to form a national organisation of their own. They prevented the convocation of a planned all-Russian Congress of factory committees and demanded total subordination on the part of the committees. The committees, however, were too strong to surrender altogether. Towards the end of 1917 a compromise was reached, under which the factory committees accepted a new status: They were to form the primary organisations upon which the trade unions based themselves; but, by the same token, of course, they were incorporated in the unions. Gradually they gave up the ambition to act, either locally or nationally, in opposition to the trade unions or independently of them. The unions now became the main channels through which the Government was assuming control over industry.[30]

Groups of workers fought back in various factories and localities (the Kronstadt revolt was the most famous of these battles), but they were labelled "counter-revolutionaries" and crushed by the Bolshevik-controlled forces of order. Soon, even the trade unions were to be destroyed, as the Bolsheviks moved to eliminate any possible opposition to their power. Space prohibits my going into detail about how the Bolsheviks consolidated their position, but numerous accounts exist and most are fairly readily available.[31]

Looking back over the course of events, several features stand out. The revolution was determined--if only passively--by the vast peasant population. The factory committees represented only a small portion of the population and could never have successfully managed all of Russian production. The inability of the workers to break out of the blinders that led them to see their role in the narrow terms of the "economy" was to be expected. However, it confined their activities and allowed their accomplishments to be destroyed by the wielders of "political" power. On the other hand, the Russian events clearly show that, under certain circumstances, working people are capable of creating their own organisations of struggle, organisations which can function as the means by which the producers can directly control the process of production within their factories. But "workers' control" over the production process in individual workplaces is insufficient. The next stage, the co-ordination of these organisations, i.e., the attempt of the working class to manage all the production of society, is much more difficult. Various other groups will invariably put themselves forward to do this for the working class, and if they are accepted they will try to control the activities of the workers. Such organisations are potential new ruling classes and must be opposed as such. As Karl Marx wrote as the first premise of the Rules of the First International Workingmen's Association: "the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves."


[1] Trotsky, 1905, pp. 38-14.

[2] Ibid., p. 81.

[3] Oskar Anweiler, Les Soviets en Russie, 1905-1921, pp. 43-47. He writes: The genesis of these councils during the revolution of 1905 irrefutably shows that these organs had for their original object the defence of the workers' interests on the basis of the factory. It is because the workers sought to unite their fragmented struggles and to give them a direction, not because they saw the conquest of power by political actions, that the first councils appeared." (p. 47)

[4] Ibid., p. 54-55. He notes that of the first forty delegates, only fifteen had been neither delegates to the Shidlovski Commission or members of the strike committees.

[5] Ibid., P. 57.

[6] Nineteen-Seventeen, p. 39.

[7] L'An Un de la Revolution Russe, pp. 55-56.

[8] The Russian Revolution, p. 98.

[9] Anweiler, op. cit., p. 128, reports that not one of these men was a factory delegate.

[10] Ibid., p. 129.

[11] Sukhanov, The Russian Revolution 1917, pp. 186-187, also quoted in Roger Rethybridge (ed.), Witnesses to the Russian Revolution, pp. 123-124. Sukhanov's recollections are corroborated by Anweiler, op. cit., and "The Political Ideology of the Petrograd Soviet in the Spring of 1917," in Richard Pipes (ed.), Revolutionary Russia; Chamberlin, The Russian Revolution, p. 109; Browder and Kerensky (eds.), The Russian Provisional Government, Volume I, p. 71; and Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution, Volume I, pp. 216-217.

[12] Anweiler, Les Soviets en Russie, pp. 131-137, cf. also Chamberlin, op. cit., p. 84; Irakli Tseretelli (a member of the Executive Committee), "Reminiscences of the February Revolution," The Russian Review, Vol. 14, Nos. 2, 3, and 4; George Katkov, Russia 1917: The February Revolution, p. 360.

[13] Paul Avrich, The Russian Anarchists, p. 140-141.

[14] Resolution quoted in Robert V. Daniels, The Conscience of the Revolution, p. 82, cf. also, Anna Pankratova, "Les Comites d' Usines en Russie a l'Epoque de la Revolution," originally written in Russian in 1923 and reprinted in French in Autogestion, #4, December 1967, pp. 8-l0.

[15] Pankratova, ibid., p. 12, cf. also Frederick Kaplan, Bolshevik Ideology and the Ethics of Soviet Labour, p. 48.

[16] Competition between factory committees and workers stealing everything that they could carry contributed, in many regions, to the economic chaos.

[17] Resolution adopted during May 30th-June 5th Conference of Factory Committees in Petrograd, quoted in S.O. Zagorsky, State Control of Russian Industry During the War, p. 174.

[18] Fragments of resolution quoted in Maurice Brinton, The Bolsheviks and Workers' Control, p. 5.

[19] Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution, Vol. II, p. 19.

[20] Pankratova, op. cit., p. 30.

[21] Kaplan op. cit., p. 66.

[22] According to Kaplan, the Bolsheviks were interested in the creation of this Central Soviet for reasons other than the smoother functioning of production. He writes: 'The Bolsheviks seem to have wanted to strengthen the Central Council so that they could manipulate a workers' organization capable of taking a place alongside the trade unions and in opposition to other non-labor organizations," Ibid., p. 67.

[23] Ibid., p. 75.

[24] Many workers understood the alternatives and the tasks confronting them. Pankratova cites a resolution adopted at a conference of textile industry factory committees in late summer. The delegates there saw that their choices were "to submit to the reduction of production or to risk being fired by intervening actively in production and taking over control and the normalization of work in the firm." They resolved: "It is neither by the bureaucratic path, i.e., by the creation of a predominantly capitalist institution, nor by the protection of capitalist profits and their power over production that we can save ourselves from catastrophe. The path to escape rests solely in the establishment of real workers' control." Op. Cit., p. 40.

[25] Quoted in Browder and Kerensky, op. cit., Vol. 11, p. 722.

[26] Pankratova, op. cit., p. 48.

[27] Kaplan, op. cit,, p, 81.

[28] Browder and Kerensky, op. cit., p, 726.

[29] E.H. Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution, Vol. II p. 69. Cf. also Paul Avrich, "The Bolshevik Revolution and Workers' Control in Russian Industry," in Slavic Review, March, 1963.

[30] Deutscher, Soviet Trade Unions, p. 17.

[31] The best are: Brinton, op. cit.; Avrich, article op. cit.: Daniels, op. cit.; Leonard Schapiro, The Origin of the Communist Autocracy; James Bunyan, The Origin of Forced Labour in the Soviet Union, 1917-21; Alexandra Kollentai, The Workers Opposition; Marya Gordon, Workers Before and After Lenin; and many others.


10 years 8 months ago

In reply to by

Great article. Explains complicated things very clearly in plain language which was easy for me to follow despite my attention deficit issues.

Lately I've been reading articles about the Russian revolution, and this one has brought much clarity to so many foggy areas. I had heard that the factory committees were organs of popular power but the soviets were not, despite their reputation for being so, but I'd never seen a proper explanation why until this article. I'd also heard that the unions were shell organizations with high membership but low activity, but didn't understand why, and this article explains that, too. It explains why despite this the factory committees turned to the unions for help in coordinating. It gives an overview at the attempts by the factory committees to coordinate production and how this was sabotaged by the unions and then the Bolsheviks. It explains and clarifies many other things. And if you are a newbie to reading about the Russian revolution you will be able to follow this article because it gives basic info on what caused the revolution of 1905 and the revolutions of Feb and Oct 1917.

Introduction to Workers' Councils - Peter Rachleff

Introduction to Anton Pannekoek's Workers' Councils, written in 1975 by US libertarian socialist collective Root & Branch.

Submitted by UseValueNotExc… on December 18, 2021

The following text, Anton Pannekoek's Workers' Councils, attempts to present the dynamics of the revolutionary process, and a general picture of the socialist society which may result from revolution. Pannekoek's conception of socialism differs fundamentally from the notions of the future society that have dominated official “Marxist” discussions in the 20th century. Social-Democratic and Leninist theories of revolution have shared the assumption that the working class cannot emancipate itself and manage a future society by itself, without the leadership of professional revolutionary politicians. From this point of view, the Party was to educate the workers to the virtue of socialism, until with the workers' backing it could seize state power and reorganize production and distribution in the “interest” of the workers. Workers' Councils, however, is little concerned with the role professional revolutionaries can play in the class struggle. Instead, it concentrates on the working class' attempts to organize itself, first of all in its conflict with the employers and then, with the development of the struggle, in the construction of a system of social production run by the workers themselves.

The entirely new social, economic, and political system which is here projected differs fundamentally from both of the systems which divide up the world today—from capitalism on the one hand, and from state-controlled systems (like those of Russia, China, Cuba, etc.) on the other. In capitalism, decisions as to what is produced, how much, and how are made by the owners of businesses, as they compete with each other for profit. The actual producers, whose labor is the source of business's profits, have no say over the production system either as a whole or in their places of work.

In the state-run system, centralized planning takes the place of competition between economic units. But since the planning process is monopolized by the Party bureaucrat­ controlled state, the workers again have no control over production or distribution. They are exploited by one employer, the state, who appropriates their surplus labor-time to use as it sees fit. In contrast, Pannekoek conceived of socialism as a regime of direct control over production by those who actually do the work, unmediated by any organizations or institutions with an independent power (army, police) of their own. There must of course be organized coordination linking units of production (and other areas of social life), but these must be assured by organizations such as factory committees and councils which are directly controlled by all who work together.

Far from being dreamed up in the realms of utopian theory, these ideas are based on an analysis of workers' struggles in the first half of this century, struggles in which the author took an active part. The wide gap between Social Democratic and Leninist theories and the ideas presented in Workers Councils developed in the course of Pannekoek's participation in both forms of organization. Born in a rural town in Holland in 1873, Anton Pennekoek studied mathematics at the University of Leyden and earned a doctorate in astronomy there in 1902. He made good use of his scientific training in his approach to society and the revolutionary process; in his approach, he attempted to think on the basis of real events and their dynamics, and not to force them into à priori frameworks.

In 1901, Pannekoek joined the Dutch Social Democratic Party (SDAP), and immediately became a member of a small left-wing group within the Party, which included Herm­ann Gorter and Henriette Roland-Holst. The SDAP was tightly controlled by its leadership, and Pannekoek's group frequently came into conflict with the party chieftain, Troelstra. More seriously, the Party leadership time and time again acted to restrain the militance of groups of workers. Pan­nekoek and his comrades were both impressed with the ability of the workers to organize themselves and act on their own, and dismayed by the Party's opposition to such attempts. In 1907, the group set up its own journal, De Tribune, and in 1909 left the SDAP to form their own party.

Pannekoek had left Holland in 1906 to teach Marxist theory at the school run by the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) in Berlin, although he remained in close contact with his Dutch comrades and often contributed to De Tribune. Threatened with deportation by the Prussian police, he left Berlin after one semester and traveled around Germany as a journalist, until 1909 when he settled in Bremen, where he worked with a left splinter group within the SPD. In Bremen he came into contact with a large industrial working class which was extremely active politically; but here again he saw the dominant organization (the SPD) function to hold back radical workers. He realized that for these "socialist" parties independent working class activity was a threat to their own existence, so that they acted to protect the Party rather than to further the development of the revolutionary consciousness which, Pannekoek argued, can only grow out of the experience of the class struggle itself. He began to develop the idea that it is through mass direct actions in pursuit of their interests that workers could develop the solidarity and understanding necessary to transform society, without having formulated the goal of socialism beforehand. But despite his stress on mass actions rather than on the parliamentary activity of the Party, Pannekoek remained an active member of the SPD, expressing his views in debates with Kautsky and Bernstein in the Party journals. He still believed that socialism meant putting “the power of the state . . . at the disposal of the working class ...." (2)

The failure of the international working class movement to prevent the outbreak of the First World War caused Pan­nekoek to reconsider many of his earlier ideas. In a series of articles written between 1914 and 1917, he undertook to criticize the weaknesses of the old form of organization embodied in the social democratic parties of the Second International, and sought to lay the theoretical foundations of a new form of organization which would be based on mass action and be willing to undertake and support revolutionary struggle. By 1917, in calling for the formation of a new International, Pannekoek found himself allied with Lenin and the Zimmerwald leftists, who sought to “turn the imperialist war into civil war.”

In February of that year the Russian Revolution broke out and organs of working-class self-emancipation appeared in Russia in the form of Soviets and factory committees. (3)

Like revolutionaries throughout Europe, Pannekoek was an immediate supporter of the revolution and an avid student of the soviet (council) and factory committee movement. He saw these organs both as instruments of struggle against the old society and as the basis for the construction of the new. The German revolution of 1918 confirmed the central importance of workers' committees and councils for proletarian revolution. In Germany, workers' councils functioned primarily as a means of political expression for the war-weary working class, who used the social power to end the war and replace the monarchy with a Republic. That the workers then gave up their power to an alliance of liberal and socialist parties, who were only too willing to oversee the restoration of bourgeois power, did not detract from the significance of workers' councils as a means of genuine self-organization and self-expression, although its role as organs of self-emancipation was limited by the German working class's failure to move politically beyond support for an SPD-led government.

Initially, Pannekoek and his comrades (Herman Gorter, H, Canne Meijer, Henriette Roland-Holst, and others) supported the Bolsheviks in Russia, overlooking the authoritarianism of Lenin's What is to be Done? in the face of the new slogan of “All Power to the Soviets.” In early 1920 Pannekoek published a book (Weltrevolution und Kom­munistiche Taktic) in which he suggested that communist revolutions would first appear in underdeveloped countries, and supported Lenin against Rosa Luxemburg on the question of national self-determination. Pannekoek and his comrades joined with the Bolsheviks in stressing the necessity of forming a third, Communist International.

Disillusionment quickly developed among the leftists, however. Events within Russia—e.g. the destruction of the factory committees—along with Bolshevik manipulation of the new International pushed the leftists to a more critical stance vis-à-vis the new Russian regime. Surrounded by hostile capitalist powers, the Bolsheviks sought to gather immediate support for their new state wherever possible. While entering into diplomatic negotiations with capitalist states, they urged the western European Communist parties to adopt methods of activity (parliamentarism and trade unionism) that many militants had already learned to reject, in order to gain as massive a following as they could. In 1920 Lenin published his Left-Wing Communism: an Infantile Disorder, which chastised the leftist militants, and effectively threw them out of the International. The leftists replied as splits appeared within the European parties over the question of adherence to the ideological and organizational requirements of the Russian-controlled Inter­national. Behind the tactical questions lay the fundamental issue, whether the need for social revolution in Europe could be subordinated to the national interests of the new Bolshevik state.

In the process of renewed analysis of the Russian Revolution, Pannekoek rejected his earlier optimistic evaluation of the possibilities for communist revolutions in underdeveloped countries. He recognized the limitations resulting from Russia's economic backwardness; for a revolution with a working class minority could not lead to a society controlled by workers. The course of events in Russia, demonstrated once again both the tendency of a party which saw its own domination of society as the heart of the revolution, to restrain the revolutionary activity of the workers; and the ability of working people to evolve their own organs of struggle. Much of the remainder of Pannekoek's work, and that of his comrades, was devoted to deepening and elaborating these two lessons.

Pannekoek's thought on these matters is summed up in this book, which was largely written during the German occupation of Holland in World War II. Although its political reference is specifically to post-war Europe, its breadth of vision makes it relevant to all industrialized countries today. The value of the general analysis has been borne out by such subsequent events as the development of workers' struggles in Hungary in 1956, France in 1968, and the wave of wildcat strikes in the United States and every country of Europe in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In our view, Workers' Councils represents the best available starting-point for thinking about the problems of transforming present-day society. But on some important questions, of course, Workers' Councils has little to say, and in other areas the analysis is weak or incorrect.

Pannekoek's entire analysis is based on the circumstance that capitalism as a system is prone to periods of severe crisis. His own explanation of this phenomenon is open to a good deal of question. As Karl Marx showed, the cause of crisis must be looked for in the inability of the system to produce sufficient profit for continuous expansion, and not in a difficulty in realizing profit due to a lack of effective demand as Pannekoek thought. This question, at any rate, has little significance for Pannekoek's analysis of the actual development of the class struggle. Whatever the causes of the business depressions which give capitalism its cyclical character, Workers' Councils helps us understand the social forces which may be set in motion in a crisis situation.

There are weaknesses in Pannekoek's discussion of the revolutionary process. He utilized the notion of a relatively homogeneous working class, a category perhaps more applicable to the Western Europe of his day than to the United States. In reality there are important differences of condition and experience within the working class—among the races, between the sexes, between unionized and non­-unionized workers, and among the various levels of job hierarchies. Similarly, there is a division between those who have jobs and those who are unemployed, which has led for instance to the antagonism felt by employed workers to welfare recipients. The problems raised by the necessity for those who under present conditions lead relatively isolated existences, e.g., housewives who do not work outside the home, to participate in the collective transformation of society should not be ignored.

The discussion of the new society is also overly abstract. Pannekoek focuses on the positive features of the various revolutionary upsurges of the first half of the twentieth century and the negative role played by organized parties. He gives only a sketch of the means by which workers could coordinate society. The problems of carrying on regional, national, and international planning through democratic structures in a complex, technologically advanced, and highly interdependent society have yet to be seriously dealt with.

Problems of space have limited us to including only Parts I and II of the original text, which contain Pannekoek's theory of workers' self-organization. The last three parts, applying this theory to the wartime and postwar periods, while valuable are of less general importance. We hope that it will be possible to publish the integral work in the near future. The translation is by the author; we have thought it best to leave Pannekoek's occasionally eccentric use of English as he wrote it, with the exception of some outright solecisms (e.g. "wild strike" for "wildcat strike") and needlessly obscure constructions. Material in brackets is by the editors.

1 Cf. Paul Mattick, "Anton Pannekoek," New Politics I: 2 (1961), and Serge Bricianer, Pannekoek at les Conseils Ouvriers (Paris: 1969), a selection of texts with historical and critical commentary.

2 New Review, 16 January 1913. At this time Pannekoek was an important influence on the American socialist movement, contributing many articles to the socialist New Review.

3 See “Soviets and Factory Committees in the Russian Revolution,” this volume.

Root & Branch: The Rise of the Workers' Movements (1975), pp. 377-383.

A few reflections - Albert Chameau

Expanded takedown of Leninism and the need for many autonomous organizations. Based on an earlier piece by Informations et correspondances ouvrières translated in issue #3 of Root & Branch, a libertarian socialist journal.
This expanded commentary appears in the book Root & Branch: The Rise of the Workers' Movements.

Submitted by UseValueNotExc… on March 5, 2022

The problem of violence has always held a veritable fascination for the intellectuals of the developed nations. The word action tends to have meaning for them only when coupled with the adjective violent, and “violent action” means fighting the police, brutality, etc. In France, after May 1968, when streetfights played a not negligible role in opening things up, many people came to think of violence as an end in itself. Instead of seeing in the brutal violence which goes on today the expression of the need of groups (students, shopkeepers, even workers) to make their voices heard in the system, they see it as pure action against the system.

It is a banality to say that bourgeois society exudes brutal violence from all its pores. Not only does violence appear, exalted or attacked, at all levels of culture, but it can be found in everyday life, where it has become so habitual that it appears normal. The pool of blood is part of the decor of daily life. Car accidents and industrial accidents, veritable assassinations, are naturally assimilated with des­tiny, meet only with general indifference, and reveal them­ selves objectively as media for the emergence of a violence which is always there in latent form. Not to speak of past wars, the remembrance of which continues to mark gen­erations, memories—and also perspectives—which vivify the images of massacre and genocide of the present wars. But against this conditioning to bourgeois violence develop, like a byproduct, reactions—individual or collective—op­posed to the bourgeois world: terrorism, strikes, wild dem­onstrations, even insurrections. The multiplicity and diversity of these reactions prove that we are dealing here with inevitable phenomena, and the truth of the slogan: we are right to rebel.

Of all human activities, the most fundamental and the most mutilating is labor: fundamental because labor is the very condition of the reproduction of existence and, at least for an elite, a medium for accomplishment; mutilating because it is the very condition of the reproduction of dehumanization and, for the great mass of men, a medium of bondage. Bondage here means subordination to machines and more generally to rules, linked to capitalist production, by which only a small fraction of the ruling classes can pride itself on exercising a limited and most often an illusory power. In exploitative societies—which is to say, at present, in all the countries of the globe—not only is the producer separated from the product of his labor, but he is also reduced to the state of an extension of inert things which modify his behavior without his being able to act on them other than in the prescribed way. For example: the typist dedicated to typing so many letters a day, the worker condemned to tighten the same bolt on an assembly line until the day he retires, the professor giving the same course every year. He is crushed by forces outside him, forces to which he is lead to lend a character both eternal and ineluctable.

The attitude which as a consequence prevails is—pas­sivity. The mental habits formed at the workplace are carried over into life in general. In this latter domain as well, everything tends to reinforce the attitudes of submission and passivity. Just as at work the producer finds himself subjected to preordained systems, so in public life he accepts the domination of institutions and concepts against which he can do nothing, and which strive to mold him and impose modes of conduct on him: nation, government, parties, unions, armies, vacations clubs, culture, etc.

The producer has in fact lost all autonomous life, that is to say, the power to influence, himself, the course of his existence. He compensates for this loss by an exacerbation of what appears to him as his individuality, which in reality is the result of his very conditions of labor: the typist seeks to make herself valuable to her boss, the worker seeks to fulfill his norm, the professor aims at being distinguished, the condition for a successful career.

Thus the division of labor has for corollary the glorification of an individuality false by definition, since a person is the product of the labor of all persons. The individual no longer sees reality except in himself. If he finds himself in a position of power others will appear to him only in the form of abstractions which he can manipulate or sacrifice as he wishes. Adolf Eichmann is perhaps the best example of the kind of humanism whose development contemporary society promotes in individuals. Eichmann felt himself incapable of killing by his own hand; nevertheless he followed orders to preside with care over the setting up of the means necessary to the extermination of millions of people by other people. His case illustrates in a particularly striking fashion a more general attitude. The various inventors, producers, or utilizers of modern weapons, perhaps personally incapable of hurting a fly, in reality do the same thing—directly or indirectly—as Eichmann. The same is true of capitalists, politicians, scholars, administrators of industry and commerce, and also of educators, priests, ideologists, journalists, writers, labor leaders—in a word, the engineers of the soul (to paraphrase Stalin's uncharacteristically inspired phrase)—and finally of the workers themselves, all animated by fetihistic beliefs which help to perpetuate the existing social relations.

Thus, at every moment, at all levels, the society based on exploitation of labor secretes factors of integration which as a whole tend to repress all impulses towards autonomous life. This repression, which tends to maintain in daily life the modes of conduct born of the conditions of labor, is notably incarnated in culture. Cinema, television, literature, comic strips, social theories, and the rest offer the producers just so many modes of identification for his false individuality. He recognizes himself there as society has molded him.

All the same a little air circulates under this heavy shell. If consent is generalized and contents itself with morose self-exaltation, integration cannot be absolute, simply because a human being is not an inert thing. Faced with conditions which are imposed on him, the producer reacts in an “aberrant” manner, sometimes individually (developing mental illnesses, “bad attitudes” to work, searching for uprootedness and other modes of flight), sometimes collectively, when the situation meted out to a category (ethnic or social groups, blacks or students) or to the greater part of the population becomes more unbearable than usual. Then wildcat strikes and demonstrations, rejection of bourgeois rationality, insurrections make their appearance. The multiplicity and diversity of these collective reactions in the present epoch prove that what is at issue are ineluctable phenomena.

Such explosions in one way or another disturb the repressive society which can no longer count solely on pacific forms of integration to insure its cohesion. The power of the State, the supreme incarnation of class society and therefore of the conditions of labor, is forced to resort to demagogy on the one hand, and to physical repression on the other. In fact, just as capital tends to unify itself—the transactions between the different capitalist groups working themselves out either directly or through the State as intermediary—political life manifests an analogous tend­ency: parliament has lost its traditional function as a place for negotiation of compromises between the different interest groups, both within the ruling class and in its relations with the ruled classes. At a stroke the democratic system (that is, the hidden alliance between the classes) is deprived of its mass base, even if the government has recourse in critical situations to the old methods of electoral agitation, whose effects can only be transitory.

Those in power undoubtedly have police forces at their disposal, but, first of all, their total strength is limited and, further, they must—at least in the first phase—act with circumspection so as not to risk giving the conflict a greater extension and fury than it already has. Circumspection in practice means the use of modem, not deadly weapons for the dispersal of crowds, and not, as the May Movement's experience shows, that of civilized methods. Quite the contrary, they do not hesitate to make systematic use of provocation, of indiscriminate beatings, in order to accentuate the intimidating effect—all this to nip in the bud, if it is possible, a movement which is all the more dangerous to the social order in that it is spontaneous and does not have the familiar face of authorized forms of confrontation. Clubbing becomes the continuation of politics by other means.

This limited physical repression creates reflexes of fear which add to the factors of integration which continue to operate. This may suffice to re-establish social harmony, otherwise known as routine. In this case, those in power do not need to employ murderous methods (we speak here, of course, of developed countries, where the relatively high cost of production of the individual engenders, in normal times, a certain respect for the life of first class citizens).

It must be stressed, however, that if traditional political associations and parties have lost, with the essence of their old representative functions, their importance in society, this is not yet true of the various working-class parties and unions, whose role in the return to normalcy is basic. Their function consists in effect in consecrating by law, that is to say in principle in a permanent way, the advantages seized by the struggle and in transforming them into supplementary factors of integration—that work of Sisyphus of which Rosa Luxemburg spoke half a century ago. Products of legality, they present as victories for the masses everything which reinforces legally their control over the masses. In their deepest nature, they are legalists because they know that all suppression of the democratic order entails their disappearance (as in Leninist Russia, Nazi Germany, France, Spain, etc.). But their devotion to the law has not prevented any of the great catastrophes of contemporary history. For it is in the very nature of bourgeois law to profit only individuals or particular groups, to consecrate the division of society into classes, and not to unify the producers and make of them a force which counts for something in society. Thus, in the France of 1968, the legal recognition of the union workplace organization meant that the union delegate will be freed for a certain number of hours from his condition of producer, but does not spell the liberation of his workmates. Thus one sees that these people are not interested in seeing people think and act for themselves and why, as a worker at the Renault plant put it in May, ‘68, “the CGT is more afraid of one student than of a truckload of riot cops.”

The everyday aspects of repression can be neither pinpointed by photography, nor grasped in their infinite variety, because of their apparent insignificance, but they are no less terribly real, and they are the fate, at every moment, of millions of human beings. Police repression is spectacular, and every photo of a cop busy beating a demonstrator’s head (or an onlooker’s) only flashes a light on the violence inherent in class society, a violence which ordinarily takes shape to begin with in the petty vexations, bullyings, and other abuses directed at an individual by some administrator or foreman.

In its brutality, open and collective oppression breaks down the barriers maintained by false individuality, sectional interests, etc. It lays bare what was hidden, and no longer permits doubt and laziness of soul: it provokes the beginnings of consciousness. In our epoch, social crises have become inescapable and, with them, consciousness of the fact that men are capable of organizing, themselves, their own lives. This at any rate is what was set in motion by the young in France in May-June 1968. This the authorities could not tolerate. They hurled against it their forces of repression. The youth responded by building one night barricades of which they had not dreamed that very morning: the violence of oppressed classes is a reflex of self-defense against the violence of the ruling classes which reveals itself.

Faced with the inevitability of these revolts, the attitude of many comrades is not to investigate things more deeply but to echo Chairman Mao’s phrase, “Power flows from the barrel of a gun.” Out of this they construct a regular theory of urban guerrilla warfare in the developed countries of which the least one can say is that its foundation is not very sure. This theory only illustrates a romantic attitude to violence. One could say that from this point of view they join the revisionists (the real ones, from pre-1914) who said with Bernstein: the end is nothing, the movement everything.

All of us who are intellectuals admire the well-struck blow, the exhibition of cool in the face of repression, self-sacrifice, etc. The intellectual trades do not predispose to moral courage—quite the contrary. So everyone is attracted to “heavies,” and feels ready to accord them a political OK, as if physical courage was in itself a proof of political truth. On this ground one would have to sup­port the Nazis and the Fascists, or the Bolsheviks who were undeniably heavies in the good old days.

It is thus necessary to pose the question, what is revolutionary violence? The way in which we answer this question strongly determines the style of actions which we wish to carry out.

Revolutionary violence is in essence the opposition of the class of producers to the bourgeois class, the class which, individually or collectively,(1) controls the means of production. This violence must culminate in the dispossession of the bourgeois class and the appropriation of the means of production by the producers themselves.

From this way of looking at revolutionary violence, control of the pace of work by the workers—as has been attempted in certain cases in Italy—is a hundred times more violent than any fight with the riot squad, quite simply because it transcends bourgeois economic rationality and looks beyond society as it exists to a new social order in which work is organized by the workers for their own well­ being. In contrast, guerrilla warfare, riots, etc. remain within the bounds of rationality as defined by the system, since they do not attack in any direct way capital’s control of the production process.

In general, every attempt, however weak, to organize production by and for ourselves is more violent than any destroying a machine or taking a boss prisoner. It is obvious that this organization of production by and for ourselves cannot do without holding bosses captive or eventually armed struggle, but the kind of revolutionary struggle we carry out depends essentially on the aspect—armed struggle or control of production—we wish to emphasize.

If we stress armed struggle, if we see social transformation in terms of a simple “seizure of power,” then the old Leninist arguments are irrefutable. The bourgeoisie meets the class of producers in motion with a united front and a unified command, and we must oppose it with our own united front. Faced with the bourgeois strategies we must develop strategies “of the people,” and as making war, even guerrilla war, is an operation demanding constant decision-making, we must set up a commanding group which is to decide everything and which is called to account, if at all, only in the course of more or less cultural revolutions.

This short analysis brings out the ultra-leninist character, in its consequences on the plane of organization, of the phrase, “power flows from the barrel of a gun.” More, one sees clearly its bourgeois and even quasi-fascist and stalinist character, which leads straight to the cult of the leader, respect for his decisions, obedience perinde ac ca­daver, even to his thought.

This position, which maintains one of the fundamental distinctions of the bourgeois order, that between leaden and led, is particularly adapted to the backward countries where national capital has yet to be formed. It has shown its efficiency in the Russia of 1917, and in the China 1946. In both cases it made possible the installation of state capitalism, which it prefigured in its division between those who know and think and those who carry out orders. It must, however, be noted that in both cases the ruling system had been shaken by a war with an external enemy (Germany in the case of Russia, Japan in that of China) leading to a collapse of the state apparatus. The other countries in which the gun succeeded in beating the power structure are certain former French colonies and Cuba. But even in these cases, the guerrilla victories cannot be attributed simply to the success of armed struggle. In Cuba Castro’s action benefited, at least in an early stage, from the aid or tacit accord of a certain fringe of American capital. In the case of the French colonies, the necessary decolonization—i.e., change in the mode of exploiting one or another backward country—could not take the form which it took (for example) in the English colonies because of the imbecility of the French bourgeoisie, always loath to lose a little in the short run to gain more in the long. In both Indochina and Algeria the French occupation was torn to bits, faced with insurrection (undeniably more serious and farther developed in the former case), caught between the desire to leave and the desire to crush the revolt at its base like in the good old days. In both cases outside aid (Japanese, American, Nationalist Chinese, then Russian and Communist Chinese for Vietnam, American and Russian for Algeria) was not without its influence on the evolution of these conflicts, which took on the character of rivalries between different capitalist states and economic interests. On the other hand, the OAS (Organisation Armée Secrète), a guerrilla movement undeniably “of the people” and like a fish in the water of the European population in North Africa, was bound to lose as soon as the French ruling class, strong and not in a state of collapse, made its choice and decided to impose it.

The theory of “power from the barrel of a gun” works, therefore, at best in the underdeveloped countries because—by its resemblance to the hierarchical system, by the facts that armed struggle allows the formation of the cadres or administrators of the future society and that guerilla warfare allows the combination of a “democratization” at the local level with a centralization at the general level—it is adapted to the transformation of feudal society into state capitalism, to the replacement of the old ruling classes by new ones.

These few lines only skim the surface or this subject. We must return to it at greater length on some other occasions, for the clarification of ideas and the determination of differences between the Leninist groups and the others necessitates a critique of the Russian, Chinese, and Cuban regimes.

To return to the developed countries—developed, that is, from the viewpoint of national capital. If we see in physical violence and in the eventual armed struggle a byproduct of the more profound violence which is the class struggle for the expropriation of the bourgeois class, we have a quite different position with respect to the immediate and future situation.

We see, to begin with, that change in the way the producers think is fundamental and the role of any revolutionary “organization” is to do everything possible to aid in this change. Without doubt it is essentially in their struggles that the producers acquire new ways of thinking, and it is vain to “produce” such a change especially when the “objective,” material conditions are lacking. Still the role, negative or positive, of ideology in the development of consciousness is not negligible. To spread the word on the real struggles of the producers, to show in what they break with bourgeois tradition, to underline that in them which presages a new organization of society—this must be the work of a group if it wishes to be really revolutionary. It is not a matter of constituting oneself as an avant-guarde in exclusive possession of the truth and trying to impose it on the producers, but, simply, of becoming an echo of the totality of the thinking and practice of the group’s members, thinking and practice which themselves also are part of the class struggle. Spreading ideas does not mean using only “peaceful” means, or simply theoretical articles. Sometimes a well-timed action can play an important role in raising consciousness, even a very important role. What is essential, however, is to keep in mind that our actions, our positions, are only a little part of the social process, and for the most part are important only for ourselves. This is why it is essential not to get locked into one type of action, into one organizational form, or into one-upping other groups.

This leads us to the question of “revolutionary action.” To deal with this seriously we must distinguish certain characteristics of the producers’ movement for the control of social reality, characteristics which depend on the development of the struggle.

In fact—to adopt a “triadic” mode, reasoning in the Maoist style—we can distinguish three phases in the revolutionary process, three phases which cover many years­ for the revolution itself, while it is an acceleration and a qualitative transformation of history, cannot be reduced to some great day, even the longest of the year. These three phases correspond to three different levels of development.

(a) In the first phase, the producer understands that he/she is exploited. This consciousness is now reached by everyone. Nearly always the producer sees that he/she is exploited even if the factors of integration push him/her to forget it and if—as is mostly the case—he/she finds this exploitation normal and seeks only to enter the group of exploiters.

(b) In a second phase, the producer understands that he/she is exploited in common with other producers, that is to say, that he/she is part of an exploited class facing an exploiting class. This second phase of consciousness exists at the moment in a latent state. Most often it is masked by trade union and (in France) Stalinist phraseology. It speeds up and becomes manifest in collective struggles, strikes, riots, etc., in which the solidarity of the producers in the face of the common enemy begins to assert itself.

(c) Finally, in the third phase, the producer under­stands that with his/her class he/she can transform society and suppress exploitation. This last phase (which can occur only in the developed countries for simple “objective,” material reasons) is by far the most difficult and in fact, historically, has never been reached. At most we have taken part in a few weak steps in this direction. In fact this task is a formidable one, not only in view of the counter-revolution it threatens to unleash, but also and above all because capitalist society has reached such a degree of complexity that it may appear impossible to master it by and for ourselves.

It is besides symptomatic and normal that while political groups and political theories exist corresponding to stages (a) and (b), those corresponding to the last phase don't exist, or barely do. The theories which we have only serve up again, with a sauce more or less reheated and spiced up, the social-democratic ideas left over from the last century, according to which the transformation of society will take the form of a “seizure of power” by “workers,” organizations of the union or party variety. Far from posing the formidable problems raised by the possibility of the direction of production by “associated, free, and equal producers,” by the domination of work by humanity, by the necessary appropriation of technical skills by the mass of producers for their own use, by the transmission of knowledge, most of the “thinkers” limit themselves to contemplating or patching up the old fashions. For the most part they find that the socialist society will be realized as soon as competent people are in charge, especially if we are careful to make a little cultural revolution from time to time, which will put the really competent people in their rightful place. A fringe group revives the old myth of the “noble savage,” the isolated producer reconciled with his/her work and producing for his/her own needs. Others think in terms of the total abolition of labor, which becomes unnecessary thanks to the development (by whom?) of an imaginary automation, an idea which in reality is equivalent to extolling a return to the stone age. Others, finally, are partisans of the “workers’ councils,” the content of which is never made clear, and which is their Deus ex machina, like the party or “democracy” for others.

Without a doubt, as the first historical experiences show, the “council” form seems to be the one which will insure production and distribution in the new society, which will permit the development of the solidarity of all the producers and the realization of the satisfaction of the egoism of each in the satisfaction of the egoism of all. But one cannot escape the problem of how they are to be federated and coordinated. The only attempt at a theoretical solution of this problem is the book of the Dutch comrades: Grund­prinzipien Kommunistischer Production und Verteilung, but this leaves the theory at an embryonic level, as does Pannekoek’s Workers’ Councils. (2)

Since a solution of this problem—or even a sketch of one—doesn't exist, one cannot be surprised if the most conscious militants, who are unwilling to remain at stage (a) and (b), are caught up in a sort of shit, not knowing what to do. The activity of any revolutionary group demands theoretical reflection. The absence of this reflection matches the weakness of the basic class struggle.

This theoretical work ought to take many forms, because the task to be accomplished is immense and has as many forms as life. It is for this reason that it is essential that there be thousands and thousands of autonomous groups all over the place, dealing seriously with the problems of theoretical and practical work. What we need is as much theory and as many actions as possible—far from the one correct political line dear to all Leninists (real or disguised), which is the spitting image of bourgeois sclerosis and death. This does not imply scattering the struggle­ much to the contrary—but an attempt to deal with social realities, and the recognition that the transformation of society will be the work not of some one political group but of the mass of producers themselves, because the basic struggle goes on at the workplace.

There is no need for groups to have a form determined in advance, to copy a specific model, to exist for eternity. Dissolutions, recombinations, reamalgamations, fusions, clusters, etc., ought to go on. All of this is the condition of progress, as is the confrontation of ideas and experience, as is the action of each group or of each individual, as is also the collective actions and reflections of different groups or individuals. This is what went on during the revolutionary periods in Russia, Germany, and Spain (and even in China during certain phases of the cultural revolution), when real social ferment could be seen in the flowering of autonomous groups.

The problem of “political organization” cannot be posed a priori. It must take many forms; there is no need to set up guidelines. What is important is not to set up fetishes, to remain modest and to see oneself as a part, no more and no less essential than others in the development of revolutionary society, to be aware that if one transcends bourgeois society on certain points one remains still determined by it on many others, to seek as far as possible for actions which above all try to develop class consciousness and one’s own consciousness at the same time, to support the the autonomous action of the masses. By the development of our consciousness we can participate in the development of the struggle at our workplaces with our fellow producers. No place in society is privileged—neither the university nor the factory. The struggle against bourgeois society must go on at all levels.

“We are not lost and we will win if we have not unlearned how to learn.”

1. Individually, in part, in Western capitalism, collectively in the state capitalism of the so-called socialist states.

2. See Part IV this volume.

Old Left, New Left, What's Left? - Paul Mattick, Jr.

Paul Mattick Jr. takes a look at the 'New Left' and student movement at the end of the 1960s.

NB this is a longer version of the text that appeared in Root & Branch #1.

Submitted by Fozzie on December 7, 2021

The American student movement which called itself the New Left came and went with the Sixties. Its disappearance is no doubt denied by individuals and political groups whose feelings of and claims to social significance rest on participation in "the Movement." It is uncontestable, however, that not only the organizations-above all, SDS-of the New Left, but the mass student activity in which they grew, are things of the past. Attitudes which shaped and developed from this activity have remained. I think large numbers of students and young people in general are more cynical about American society than were their counterparts in the Fifties, tend to be antiwar, and don't like the cops. There are students who think of themselves as revolutionaries all over the country; many of whom move around through the small Left organisations. But the last few years have seen a practical conservatism among most students. If large-scale student leftism begins again, it will be in a new social context; the New Left will live again only in a newer Left. By calling itself the New Left, the student movement of the Sixties raised the question of its relation to the radical movements of the past. Its disappearance poses the question of the nature of the New Left also in relation to the social struggles to come.


The emergence of leftish movements in the Sixties appeared paradoxical. The fifteen years since World War II had been hailed by an American president as "the greatest upsurge of economic well-being in history" for America and for world capitalism as a whole. As a result all social groups were supposed to have a stake in the well-being of the system. Class conflict and with it divisive "ideology" purportedly come to an end. The continuing presence racism and poverty in the "affluent" society, the perpetual imperialist warfare making good use of what had become permanent war economy, and a continuing level of economic difficulty-seen through the economists' glass darkly as the dilemma of high employment versus price stability-appeared as sore spots in a basically healthy organism. Racial discrimination and poverty would no doubt vanish with the continual advance of prosperity, supplemented by government programs. The warfare state forced on the system by the Cold War situation would be controlled as Soviet aggressiveness and/or American paranoia gave way to reason and Realpolitik. The vagaries of the Phillips Curve relating unemployment to inflation merely diagrammed the limiting conditions of a prosperous and growing economy.

From the vantage point of the early Seventies the illusory character of this view is evident. Racism and poverty remain as before, while the real wages of white workers have been sliding downwards. Despite peace agreements war continues in Southeast Asia, and threatens to erupt in Latin America and the Middle East. Simultaneous inflation and high unemployment bear testimony to the end of the postwar economic stability. The problem spots of the Sixties are today more easily identifiable as manifestations of deeper problems- whose solutions are not so apparent.

The post-war prosperity might in fact be better characterised as a pseudo-prosperity, from the point of view of the classical capitalist economy. While it has been possible for large enough numbers of workers to achieve levels of real income sufficient to maintain social equilibrium, this has been accomplished since the Twenties only thanks to steadily increasing government interventions into the economy. The private sector of the economy has not grown fast enough to make possible a high level of unemployment under conditions both profitable to capital and bearable to the workers. Thus the program of government-sponsered production begun with the New Deal and World War II had to be continued to "take up the slack."

But only the private sector is the capitalist economy proper (as "right-wing" economists never tire of pointing out). Capitalism developed as that system in which productive activity is organised by owners of capital with the aim of making profits. Employment depends not on the desire to produce goods that people need, but on capitalists' ability to sell at a profit the products made by those they employ. Since goods and services sold to the government are paid for out of funds taxed or borrowed from the private economy, apparent profits made in such transactions in reality represent only the redistribution of profits already made by capital as a whole, to the benefit of those corporations favoured with contracts.

Based on the steady expansion of the government sector, the prosperity of the post-Depression "mixed economy" therefore represents not a true capitalist boom, but rather a response to the inability of the economy to generate a rate or profit sufficient for an accelerated rate of growth. Because its role is played outside of, and in lieu of, the investment-profit-expanded investment cycle of the capitalist system, the expanding "public" sector, while successful so far in maintaining social stability, cannot solve the essential problem of declining profitability. Indeed, it even accentuates it, as eventually the expansion of non-market, non-productive (of profit) production must inhibit the growth of a private sector growing at a slower rate, even while it is necessary if the private sector is to be allowed to exist at all.

The limits of economic growth are also limits of social integration.1 Throughout the nineteenth century the profitability of capital was high enough to make possible a trend rise in both capital holdings and working-class living standards. The stagnating capitalism of our day, however, threatens a future of deep economic depression, and or renewed world war. And during the post-war decades it set bounds to the possibilities of social reform. A high and, for a decade or so, rising standard of living was reserved for a minority of workers. The limitations on the expansion of both the "public" and the private sector made full employment out of the question. Blacks and whites pushed out of the South, for instance, found low-paying jobs or no jobs at all in the Northern cities to which they moved. In the suburbs inhabited by "affluent" white workers as well as in the increasingly black and Spanish-speaking central cities, young people without the necessity to look for work or without jobs to look for were offered nothing but regimented boredom in the schools and the commercial culture of a stagnating society outside of school.

Ten years after the war (while the war-established world order cracked and shifted in Eastern Europe and the Third World), the instability of the American social peace made its appearance m various forms. The gang violence and rock 'II' roll music which expressed the frustrations of urban working-class young people; the civil rights movement among Southern blacks; the cultural revolt of beatniks and hipsters and the obsession with folk music among middle-income youth-these were harbingers of a coming "rebirth of ideology."


Like every group in the population, students experienced capitalism's adjustment to its new conditions of existence in the form of particular changes in their mode of life. These have been due both to the continuation of processes operative throughout the history of capitalist society and to new features particularly related to the mixed economy. The general effect has been that of a simultaneous growth in numbers and deteriorization in position of white-collar work, which in turn has affected the nature of higher education. Changes in technology, if not amounting to a "new industrial revolution," have resulted in a growing proportion of white-collar labour at all levels of industry, from Research and Development to production proper. The concentration and centralisation of capital have continued as a main trend of capitalist development, with the attendant elimination of the old petite bourgeoisie, in production and services alike. Multitudes of "independent entrepreneurs" or their sons and daughters came to find themselves in the position of wage-workers, in fact if not in principle (with the notable exceptions of the professions of medicine and ii law, which have so far staved off their reorganisation on industrial lines, though this too is changing). The same concentration and centralisation process spawned an enormous financial and industrial bureaucracy as more and more managerial and technical people became salaried employees. Finally, the growth of government interference in the economy and society necessitated a growing state bureaucracy, which has been the main contributor to the increasing white-collar sector of the working class.

All of this brought with it a tremendous expansionof higher education (a continuation of the process whereby the Industrial Revolution brought into being a standardly skilled and socialised manual-labor force). This again swelled the demand for white-collar labour, as the enlargement and multiplication of educational institutions implied an increase in teaching and administrative personnel. The students' experience was shaped both by the futures for which they could see themselves preparing and by the related reorganisation of the colleges and their adaptation to new functions.

College became a point of production of the masses of white-collar labour needed by industry, government, and the schools themselves. The lower ranks of the non-manual labour force were processed by the hundred thousand in state and "community" colleges. The elite universities and colleges too were transformed by this process. From "communities" of young gentlemen and their mentors, for the acquisition of the liberal education which as social skills went along with what business skills were taught, they became bureaucratised structures processing ever-larger numbers of students. At the same time, the needs of the economy which gave rise to the "multiversity" led to the addition to its educate functions those of being service centres for both industry and government.

The dominant ideology promulgated by the university remained that of neo-liberalism, the classical political doctrine with some alterations covering the advance of Keynesian economic policies: free enterprise with equal opportunity and reasonable success for all; freedom within the law made by a pluralist-democratic government of, by, and for the people; the ability of the welfare state to mitigate all social problems on the road to their final solution, This ideology jibed with the expectations of the young people who entered the upper level schools in the early Sixties; they assumed that college degrees would open the way to creative, responsible, leadership positions in the construction and administration of the Great Society at the New Frontier. Alas, it was not to be.

Already in 1949 economist Seymour Harris warned on the basis of labour market studies that America was producing more college graduates than could be absorbed into the occupations they would expect to fill. Despite the vast demand for college graduates, this is what happened.2 The hierarchy of degrees, an extension of grade school certificate and diploma, served as a means of job stratification, as employers systematically restricted classes of jobs to degree holders, despite the "over-qualification" of college graduates for the majority of these jobs discovered by Department of Labour studies.3 Whatever the (no doubt negligible) value of such studies, the typical college graduate of the 1960s faced a job which required a certain amount of background information and the ability to manipulate concepts, but which was nonetheless largely repetitive And uncreative. As a 1968 conference on the problems of scientific and technical employees and professionals concluded, "as their numbers increase, the uniqueness of the individual and his talents will decrease. "4 What holds for scientific workers holds also for the thousands working in government offices and in the university itself.

Far from shaping the expanding wonder-world of post-war capitalism, students experienced the positions awaiting them as unsatisfying slots into which school channelled them. The social tasks of the university-training and channeling-naturally were reflected in its own functioning. Bureaucratised and limited in its own right, campus life could not meet the desires of those who had been assured that a college education would provide the key to a satisfactory way of living. The conflict between the values inculcated by parents and systematised in the classroom and the realities of modern capitalism could only grow increasingly apparent to students, given by their very position of privilege an opportunity for some degree of critical examination of the world.


"We are people of this generation," the Port Huron Statement (the founding document of SDS) declared in 1962, "bred in at least modest comfort, housed now in universities, looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit. . . . Although mankind desperately needs revolutionary leadership, America rests in national stalemate, its goals ambiguous and tradition-bound instead of informed and clear, its democratic system apathetic and manipulated rather than 'of, by, and for the people.'" Believing that "the fundamental qualities of life on the campus reflect the habits of society at large," the roots of social stagnation were diagnosed as the apathy of the public, bred by a break in 'the vital democratic connection . . . between the mass and the several elites" of business and government, who ruled impersonally and irresponsibly. The response required as the assumption of responsibility for the initiation and organisation of social change within the country, which would allow America to play a progressive leadership role in the industrialisation of the world.5 Students moved "out of apathy" in response to a range of issues: Caryl Chessman's execution; HUAC persecution of leftists; U.S. aggression against Cuba; above all, the threat of thermonuclear destruction and the fact of racism. The anti-bomb movement produced the first national student demonstration, bringing some 7,000 people to Washington, D.C. in 1961. (This was also the first issue to unite students and young people on an international scale.) The threat of future destruction proved to be but the tip of an iceberg of daily catastrophe with the "discovery" of poverty and the spotlight cast on racism by the civil rights movement, which itself was revitalised by the activity of students.

The crude material life problem facing the increasing numbers of black students is not hard to grasp: education or no, to white (i.e., most) employers all blacks looked alike, and in a stagnant economy blacks remained the "last hired-first fired." A black with a college degree was likely to do far less well in the world than an educated white and many uneducated whites. The fate of black students was thus objectively tied to the fate of blacks in America generally. At the same time, the industrialisation of the South and the migration of the rural population into segregated cities, North and South, was shaking up the system of racist law and order evolved since the Civil War. In the context of the racial ferment of the Fifties, the contradiction between, the rising aspirations of black college students and the realities of their position in society emerged in a politicisation of black students, especially in the South, where NCC was formed in 1960.6

Hundreds of white students worked with the civil rights movement in Northern cities and in the South. The black movement, in addition, provided a model for attempts of white student activists to organise the Northern urban poor, especially whites, in the Economic Research and Action Project (ERAP) initiated by SDS in 1963. Despite the attacks made by both SNCC and SDS on "the Establishment" in general and the Kennedy regime in particular, the projects of both groups did not transcend the limits of the New' Frontier. It is characteristic of the activist spirit of the time, for instance, that the Northern Student Movement (a white civil rights auxiliary) devoted its energy, apart from fund-raising and desegregating projects, to tutoring ghetto children-i.e., aiding the black poor to climb the supposed educational ladder to success. Aside from its own good works, the movement was consciously oriented towards the Federal government as the mechanism of change; its aim was to organise social forces which would compel the liberals to keep their promises.
With the ERAP program, Richard Rothstein, a participant, explains,

SDS still believed in the possibility of change within the framework of America's formally representative political institutions. ERAP's goal was to stir these institutions, to reverse the corruption of established liberal and trade union forces.7

It was believed that these forces, under pressure from ERAP-organized groups and other "new insurgencies" would demand that resources be transferred from the cold-war arms-race to the creation of a decentralised, democratic, interracial welfare state at home. This program remained in the air breathed by the New Left throughout the Sixties. The orientation towards the allocation of government spending and the legislative energy shows up in the long-term coexistence among the new leftists of the call for "participatory democracy" and radical social change with an attachment to the Democratic Party.

In the South, the initial emphasis on desegregating public facilities gave way to a concentration on voter registration and education, a program oddly hailed by the Port Huron Statement as "perhaps the first major attempt to exercise the conventional instruments of political democracy in the struggle for racial justice." The goal was both the exercise of political power at the local level and pressuring Washington to pass and implement civil rights legislation. (The summer, 1964 voter registration project was even seen by some as a tool to provoke federal military intervention into the South and with it a "New Reconstruction.")
Furthermore, again in the words of the Port Huron Statement,

Linked with pressure from Northern liberals to expunge the Dixiecrats from the ranks of the Democratic Party, massive Negro voting in the South could destroy the vicelike grip reactionary Southerners have on the Congressional legislative process.8

Thus black voter registration was a key to the "redirection of national priorities" called for by SDS; the political possibilities of the black vote were attested to by the quiet funding of voter registration projects by Kennedy Democrats. The 1964 registration campaign culminated in the organisation of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which was to represent blacks within the national Party. Despite the rejection of the MFDP by the 1964 convention, the Democratic Party, as the main organisation of "liberal forces" remained a focus for the New Left. In 1964, for instance, many members of SDS took the position of "Part of the Way with LBJ." In 1965 a group of editors of the journal Studies on the Left could write about the irrelevance of the alternatives of working within the Democratic Party or independent political action, as

"the new movements which give us hope are realigning the Democratic Party even though they often work outside the Party and their values go far beyond those of the Democratic leadership."9

The concentration of interest on the liberal reform wing of the Establishment had its counterpart in the moral-humanist basis of the ideology of the early New Left. While SNCC in 1960 sought "a social order of justice permeated by love"10 SDS in 1963 expressed the hope for

"human freedom. We care that men everywhere be able to understand, express, and determine their lives in fraternity with one another. . . . Our quest is for a political and economic order in which power is used for the widest social benefit and a community in which men can come to know each other and themselves as human beings in the fullest sense."11

Or as Carl Oglesby, then president of SDS, put it in 1965 at an antiwar demonstration, the issue was changing the corporate system

"not in the name of this or that blueprint or 'ism,' but in the name of simple human decency and democracy and the vision that brave and wise men saw in the time of our own Revolution. "12

In the beginning, then, in accord with the social experience of those who made up the student left, the destruction wrought by the capitalist system was experienced through the shroud of the liberal ideology, and opposed in the name of the promises-liberty, equality, fraternity-with which that system had begun.

In the confrontation of the system with its own ideology, the latter had slowly to give way. The experience of white volunteers in the voter registration projects in the South was especially powerful. Finding themselves shot at, with some of their comrades killed, they discovered a world of social violence they had not known existed. They were beaten by cops as Federal marshals looked on, then sentenced to jail by Kennedy-appointed judges; they, rather than the KKK, were investigated by the FBI. Nationally, those who supported Johnson against the right-wing and war-prone Goldwater were rewarded with the bombing of North Vietnam and the addition of new thousands of troops to those dispatched by Kennedy to Indochina. The ERAP projects met with frustration after frustration in an economy which could not provide "jobs or income now." The liberal forces did not support the wished-for "interracial movement of the poor" (which anyway was not coming into existence), so that the long-term aim of redistributing federal spending from military to welfare and peaceful employment programs went nowhere. The New Leftists therefore found themselves on their own. They began to conceive the aim of community organising as political education: the experience of struggle for simple but ungranted needs would lead to radicalisation of the people involved. Yet while by the beginning of 1965 "grass-roots organising" was seen as a radical alternative to working with the liberals, an objective, if not subjective, continuity coexisted with the break. Carl Oglesby expressed the position succinctly in the speech quoted above:

We are dealing now with a colossus that does not want to be changed.Itwill not change itself. It will not cooperate with those who want to change it. Those allies of ours in the government-are they really our allies? If they are, then they don't need advice, they need constituencies; they don't need study groups, they need a movement. And if they are not, then all the more reason for building that movement with a most relentless conviction.13

Among black activists, the defeat of SNCC's attempt to organise rural blacks and the general failure of the civil rights movement to get results beyond token desegregation led to attempts to build political and economic organisations based on the acceptance of segregation. The shift in the colour of the cities' populations required a realignment of ethnically organised political forces, however reluctantly this was admitted by local machines; in addition the construction of a Democratic black vote continued on a national scale. Black nationalist ideology was not only ~ response to the failure of the civil rights movement but facilitated the fudging of class contradictions within the black population. The result was a certain degree of integration of black "community leaders" into various levels of the political power structure, while massive rioting was met with some semblance of Federal aid. "Black power"-for all its inheritance of the ambiguities and ambivalence imposed by American capitalism throughout its history on the struggles of blacks for better conditions of life-had therefore some practical meaning, ranging from "black culture" enclaves in the colleges, to local political deals, to the social-work and/or electorally-oriented activity of "revolutionary" groups in several cities.
0The white activists, in contrast, had no organic connection with the groups they were trying to organise, and little of practical importance to offer them. The social changes needed were more profound than they had seemed at first, while what they were and so the means to achieve them were immensely unclear.

"By the winter of 1965," as Richard Rothstein wrote, "if you asked most ERAP organisers what they were attempting, they would simply have answered, 'to build a movement.' "14

But although they had come up against a practical impasse, the New Left organisers had discovered in left politics a realm of activity in which they seemed to have creative and perhaps' history-making parts to play. This sense of work fit for their capacities (together with the camaraderie tying together the small number of militants) was a great deal of what kept the movement going as it turned from the attempt to pressure liberals to a vaguely conceived social movement against "corporate liberalism."

With the failure of its original aims, ERAP fell apart in 1965. At the same time the antiwar movement developed rapidly in the colleges, spurred by the bombing of Vietnam, the dispatch of large numbers of American troops, and the abolition of student draft deferments. Attempts were made to transfer this movement off campus, by adding agitation around the draft to local issues. Antiwar activists came up against the rigidity of the system in the same way that the SNCC and ERAP organisers had. Beginning with a belief that draft resistance, demonstrations, and/or voting for peace candidates would end the war, the total failure of their efforts forced them to see their activities as important for their educational and "polarising" effect, and to think in terms of "movement building" for basic social change.

The Port Huron Statement announced the theme of "bringing people out of isolation and into community"; as the enemy came to be seen as not "apathy" (or even the Dixiecrats) but "the system," the community to be organised took shape as a counter-community. For some, this meant the construal of community organising in terms of concepts adopted from the anti-imperialist ideology of the Third World. Blacks and other ethnic groups were joined by youth, freaks, women, gays as would-be communities. Closer to home, the New Lefts call for "alternative institutions" drew on the same desire for satisfying personal and social relations visible in the various therapeutic, sensitivity-training, etc., businesses frequented by middle- and upper-income people, and in basic themes of the media- and commerce-structured manifestation of disaffiliation called the "youth culture." Rick Margolies spoke for many when he answered the question, "What do we do when we're white and affluent, in a world of starvation and coloured revolution?" with a program that began with restructuring personal relationships through communal living:

As we come together and restructure our relationships, we create the germ cells of a renewed social organism, growing from the ground up, into the institutions which sit heavy on our lives.15

Similarly, counter-institutions like "underground" papers could be seen as employing "political guerrilla tactics in the face of mass society" (or, in the jargon of the late Sixties, of "white, male Amerika") "in which enclaves of freedom are created here and there in the midst of the orthodox way of life, to become centres of protest, and examples to others.16 "Weatherman's pitiful attempts at terrorism can be seen as the dead end to which the idea of confrontation of the system from a point outside it was driven in the absence of an oppositional social movement.

An alternate model for the Movement (essentially a revival of the Communist Party Program of the Thirties) was presented by the Progressive Labor Party, a Maoist split from the CP which began a conscious effort to capture SDS in 1965. Despite the difference in style of political pronouncements, the specific focus on "trade union work" among blue-collar workers, and the orientation towards a Marxist-Leninist Party, PL had enough in common with its opponent factions within the SDS national leadership to make possible a long struggle for supremacy within SDS, until the organisational fabric parted under the strain.

What united all factions of the left was the conception of their relationship to actual or fantasised communities as organizers-after the example of trade unionists and social workers-rather than as "fellow students" or workers with a particular understanding of a situation shared with others, and ideas of what to do about it. Despite the disagreement over the primary target for organising-unemployed, blue-collar workers, white-coIlar workers, dropout youth-in each case the "community" was seen as a potential "constituency" (or, in PL's language, "base"). The radicals saw themselves as professional revolutionaries, a force so to speak outside of society, organising those inside on their own behalf. Thus the activist played the part reserved in liberal theory for the state, a point not to be neglected in the attempt to understand the drift of the New Left from an orientation to liberal governmental reform to leninist-stalinist concepts of socialism.


Most bizarre, in rereading position papers of the Sixties, is the reference to students as a constituency to be organised. What this signified was a failure of the New Left, particularly in its later stages, to understand and come to terms with its own social roots. Despite the emphasis given in the account above to community organising, the left was first and foremost a phenomenon born in the groves of academe. Although activists dropped out of school to organise, for periods or for good (though many who left "for good" are returning as the Seventies begin), the base of the movement was the student population. The mass demonstrations were peopled by students and the mass actions of the New Left were student demonstrations.

The Berkeley revolt of 1964 is the exception that proves the rule. This first campus uprising was the only sustained majoritarian one, and the only one squarely on student issues. It originated with civil-rights activists who raised the demand for free speech when forbidden by university administrators to hand out leaflets on campus. Yet, as Mario Savio put it, while the struggle for civil rights provided a "reservoir of outrage at the wrongs done to other people . . . such action usually masks the venting, by a more acceptable channel, of outrage at the wrongs done to oneself." The Free Speech Movement quickly involved masses of students because it expressed not so much the political pre-occupations of the radicals as general student dissatisfaction with the nature of the "multiversity." As one commentator put it

The students' basic demand is a demand to be . . taken into account when decisions concerning their education and their life in the university community are being made. When one reviews the history of the Free Speech Movement, one discovers that each new wave of student response to the movement followed directly on some action by the administration which neglected to take the students, as human beings, in to account, and which openly reflected an attitude that the student body was a thing to be dealt with, to be manipulated.17

Of course, the problem was not in reality the attitude of the administration, but the fact of the new status of students, who are no more simply "human beings" than anyone else but people in a particular social position.
Throughout the Sixties, radicals generally succeeded in maintaining their demands as the apparent focus of university activity. But despite the claims of activist leaders to have "organised" student protests around political issues-racism, the war-calling for student "service to the people," the large-scale actions like those at Berkeley, Columbia, Harvard, S.F. State drew their power from the student frustration with the institutions through which they experienced the society against whose most flagrant abominations this power was focused. The growth of campus antiwar feeling attendant on the abolition of student draft deferments is only an obvious example, as is the fact that student involvement typically came in response to the entrance of police on campus, rather than to the original political issue. (As the International Werewolf Conspiracy put it in a leaflet at Berkeley once, "The issue is not the issue.") The largest student action, the national strike of 1970, arose from the combination of the public expansion of the war into Cambodia with the National Guard shooting of four white students. (The killings at Jackson State were not much of a new departure for the forces of law and order.) As a popular tract of the time put it, white students turned out to be "niggers" too, if privileged ones. And they didn't like it.

For the very real reasons mentioned above, black students could not only feel a moral call to struggle for the underprivileged, then could feel themselves to be part of the discriminated against. Thus their political activity with no strain combined a "black community" orientation with attention to student problems. They fought for issues which involved a real ameliorization of their position: both by contesting discrimination and, in the academic version of black power, by creating in "black studies" an academic sphere in which simultaneously white racism could be fought and careers made. (Here again there is a certain parallel with the on-campus women's movement.) The different positions of white and black students made sometimes for odd effects: as at Columbia in 1968 when the blacks negotiated separately and successfully with the administration, while white students continued the struggle into bloody fighting against police-over Columbia's racism policies (among other issues). The fundamental demand of the whites-to escape proletarianization-could not be met; black students had practical demands (in addition to the vaguer ones for "freedom" and "power") which could be.

Aside from the blacks, other minority groups, and, later, women, university reform was by and large the purlieu of those whom the radicals derogated as liberals, and in fact remained a realm of official committees and other forms of co-optation. For a student movement, the New Left was remarkably uninterested in theoretical work, and shared the low intellectual standards of American university life. Nothing remotely approaching the German "critical university"-the attempt to work out systematically a critique of an alternative to the content of bourgeois education, along with an attack on the official forms of education and structures of student life-developed in the American movement. Even in the brief period of the "student syndicalism" strategy in SDS, campaigning for student power was largely a tactic for getting students involved in confrontations with school and state authorities, which was to lead to student radicalisation and transformation into movement militants and organisers.

Thus though the New Left represented the political stirrings of students as a social group in response to its problems in life, the understandings and modes of action developed by the movement's activists bore the most part only unconscious testimony to that fact.

"Historical self-consciousness means the attempt to define ourselves as part of a developing social force, to develop concrete explanations about its origins, to project its growth and development, and to demonstrate and articulate its needs and values."18

Such a self-consciousness was not worked out by the New Left. And, in practice, the growth of opposition to the status quo on the part of white students was expressed through attention to issues removed from their own immediate experience and interests-issues about the interests either of some other group in society or of society as a whole. Insofar as the university was an object of organised attack, it was typically with reference to the academy's direct services to capitalism, and its impact on other groups of social victims, rather than to the situation of the students themselves. This was both a strength and a weakness of the student movement. It encouraged the elaboration of a critique of society as such, dealing with features of the system which do not directly confront students, but which were hardly discussed outside of the student left. But it also obscured the nature of the social changes in response to the necessity of which the New Left had arisen, and therefore of the students' potential part in making these changes.

In part the abstract way in which social problems appeared to the student left was due to the circumstance that students are not involved in the production process but are only in training for it. Their problems are not yet the problems of the workers they will be, problems which can reveal the fundamental basis of the unpleasantness of life under capitalism in the social power relation between worker and boss. But there were more fundamental issues involved. It is not without significance that student left activity in the Sixties was largely centered in the elite colleges, rather than in the junior and "community" institutions into which the lower ranks are channelled. For the latter, until recently at least, college may well have represented a way out of factory labour or Dad's store to white collar and administrative jobs; whereas for the elite students the end of college represented not entrance into. a better life but the ending of a relative freedom and enjoyment that had been theirs' from birth. Although he states it primarily in the terms in which it was experienced by the students, moral ones, Tom Hayden gave an adequate description of the experience in an article written in 1966: By the early Sixties,

"the empty nature of existing vocational alternatives has pushed several hundreds of these students into community organising. Working in poor communities is a concrete task in which the split between job and values can be healed."19

It is also a task in which one escapes from being oneself a worker, a part of the larger "poor community."

Student radicals' understanding of their own activity did not simply derive from their own social position. "The ideas of the ruling class are, in every age, the ruling ideas"; they can be challenged by a true appreciation of social affairs only to the extent that class rule is challenged by a social force embodying the principle of a classless society. But the students' rejection of the social position available to them found no echo in a non student social movement capable of creating a new social system with other options. Since World War II, despite discontent with the limits set to struggle by the unions, and the activities of black caucuses and extra-union groups, proletarian discontent has remained localised and thus always susceptible to defeat by employers and/or union recapture of control. The poor proved to have no power-with the exception of urban blacks who through rioting could force some short-term concessions-at any rate no power that was organizable for a general assault on the status quo. Above all, the students themselves had no power This was of course the secret of their problem, the essence of their proletarianization, and the basic fact against which their rebellion was directed all along. But their powerlessness had to be learned, through their inability to influence the government or the Democratic Party, to stop the war, or to organise anyone else to change the world. In 1970 the student strike involved millions of people throughout the country. Here the student movement reached its peak, spreading through "community," junior, and technical colleges, and joined by high-school students across the country. The impact on the government's activity was. nil; more importantly, perhaps, the strike found little echo among the population as a whole. The students' plea to workers for a generalisation of the strike, through those areas of production which really have the power to break capitalist society and make a new one, went unanswered. This high point, in terms of numbers, energy, and political consciousness was also therefore the end of the Movement, as from that moment dates its steady decline.


The experience of the New Left, as its desires overflowed the system's channels, led to a conscious rejection of liberalism. And, despite the important role played by "red diaper babies," the rejection of many political traits of the Old Left was as central to the New Left project as the rejection of liberal anti communism. But as its understanding of its possibilities as a political movement developed from the goal of left pressure on the lib-lab forces towards ideas of revolution, its organisational forms and rhetoric showed a strong tendency to move back towards those of the Old Left-towards the Party, centralism democratic and otherwise), leadership as major preoccupation, ideology, orthodoxy and heterodoxy, political exclusionism, factional debate. The remains of the Old Left were waiting with "theory" and organisational discipline for those who ascribed the failure of their previous efforts to the lack of these two items. The strength of the New Left is to be sought in the fact that the liberalism of its beginnings and the Leninism of its later stages represented nodes of failure. Within the history of bourgeois society, measured against the workers' movements and revolutions of the past, the New Left represents a historical phenomenon of minor significance. It is important only as the first politically conscious reaction to the stagnation of post-war capitalism, because it raised again fundamental questions about the nature of revolution, and demonstrated in its own history the relation of liberalism to the "Old Left" and the present-day limits of both.

"Liberalism" denotes neither a simple nor a static form of thought and action. As ever, the course of ideas is formed in the soil of the real social development, and the liberalism of the twentieth century is not that of the eighteenth. In capitalism's period of growth, the doctrine of laissez-faire served well in battle against both the traditional ruling groups and the dispossessed peasantry and "labouring poor." With the consolidation of the system, however, and the increasing polarisation of classes between capital and labour, liberalism became the project of overcoming social contradictions through state regulation, without the abolition of the class relations which produce them. In the twentieth century this has meant the official recognition and integration of the labour movement with,the framework of state interference in economic affairs.20

Despite the conflict of ideology, this program had n close affinity to that of the Old Left. Both of the main traditions falling under this rubric-Social Democracy and Bolshev-ism-failed to challenge the roots of capitalist class relations. The Social Democratic parties and trade unions developed, despite their origins in proletarian opposition to capital, as organs speaking for the working class within the evolving political and economic frameworks of capitalism. The steady formation, with capitalist development, of a proletarian mass systematically oppressed necessitated the development of forms of integration of this mass-whose interest is essentially opposed to that of their rulers-into the system dominated by those rulers.Political-parliamentary-rep-resentation allowed for the large-scale regulation and control of the conditions of exploitation; union organisation developed procedures for the handling of grievances and the control of strikes.

Bolshevism represented and represents the adaptation of these forms of organisation to the special conditions of backward areas. In Russia, the birthplace and classic example of Bolshevism, economic and social backwardness was tied to political backwardness (Czarist absolutism). Apparent on the horizon was a revolution which while advanced would share the basic character of the French Revolution and the German upheaval of 1848, in which the dynamic of capitalist development would free itself from a regime doubly ancien by Europe's standards and Russia's. For the Russian Marxists, the situation was indeed a recapitulation of '48, only with every chance of success in the further evolved world of the 1900s. The socialist movement developing as an aspect of the growth of capitalism in Russia would have a double role to play: first as vanguard in the struggle for bourgeois democracy, then in the proletarian class struggle which would accelerate with the unleashed progress.

While the ultimate model for the organisation of the Russian labour movement was the German Social Democracy and its associated trade unions, the bottleneck character of the Russian situation made a mass social democratic organisation a practical impossibility. Bourgeois reformism was out of the question when the bourgeois revolution was still to come.

This was part of Lenin's accurate perception of the situation expounded in What is to be Done? The spontaneous class struggle, he held (trade unionist in aims) was not adequate to the tasks imposed by the Russian situation. The accomplishment of revolution-first of all the bourgeois revolution could not be entrusted to the workers but required an organisation of professional revolutionists, able in their isolation from the daily struggle of capital and labour to keep their eyes on the main question: the bourgeois revolution which, by offering the Party a chance to seize power, would open the way to socialism.

The similarities and contrasts between Social Democracy and Bolshevism are equally significant. In the one case, reform, in the other revolution. But they shared the basic idea that Socialism was to be achieved through control of the state by the party which, as the guardian of Marxist theory, was the true representative of the workers (or, as the doctrine had to be expanded under the press of circumstances, the workers and peasants). This idea was fleshed both in the reformist practice of Social Democracy and in the revolutionary activity of Lenin's party. The difference between them stemmed not from varying conceptions of the relation of the proletariat to socialism but from the difference between the socio-political contexts of Russia and the West, which in both cases favoured a hierarchical party structure presaging the form of the state-run society to be created. Hence it was natural-despite the gulf which otherwise opened between the two leaders-for Lenin to quote Kautsky with approbation in his attack on "spontaneity."' He found "profoundly true and important" Kautsky's opinion' that while socialist consciousness appears to be a necessary and direct result of the proletarian class struggle this is absolutely untrue. . . . Modern socialist consciousness can arise only on the basis of profound scientific knowledge. The vehicle of science is not the proletariat, but the bourgeois intelligentsia.21

Lenin summed up in his own memorable words:

there could not yet be social democratic consciousness among the workers. This consciousness could only be brought to them from without. the history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own efforts, is able to develop only trade union consciousness. . . The theory of socialism, however, grew out of the . . . theories that were elaborated by the . . . intellectuals.22

But whereas in Germany the ideology of the Party as carrier of the consciousness "of" the class suited tin organisation which acted in fact as the liberal, progressive force in German capitalism, in Russia the vanguard concept expressed an historical movement towards the very replacement of the bourgeoisie by the Party Ideology, because the supposition that revolutionary consciousness is impossible except as incarnated in the controlling leadership of intellectuals organised in the Party, proved false in Germany and Russia alike, as well as in all the areas in which the capitalist crisis of 1913-~920 drove workers to revolt. The German revolution, which, developing in fact in opposition to the Social Democratic Party, created its own form of organisation in the workers' councils directing the factory occupations, only destroyed itself when it handed power back to the Party. In Russia, the professional revolutionists of the Bolshevik Party rose to power through their support of the masses' demands. If the correct Marxist-Leninist line in 1917 was "All power to the soviets!" it was only because the workers and soldiers had already created soviets and factory committees. The Bolshevik seizure of power, in the absence of successful proletarian revolution in the West, was not the completion of the revolutionary process but the beginning of its end. The substitution of a coup d 'etateven by socialists and even on the basis of workers' support, for the direct seizure and administration of the means of production by the workers themselves, meant inevitably the doom of the effective power of the soviets and the replacement of the dictatorship of by a dictatorship over the proletariat.

That the revolutionary character of the Bolshevik party was due to its situation in a backward area, and not to the strength of the revolutionary will, was shown clearly by the fate of the Communist parties organised in Western Europe under the aegis of the Third International. Their parliamentarism and reformism resulted not only from their subjection to the needs of Soviet foreign policy but also from their adaption to conditions of a revived capitalism-necessary for organisations which want to play a real political role under such conditions.23 Today, the mass Communist parties and unions in Italy and France have the place of the social democratic organizations of former times; the "mature" tactics of Leninism-for-the-West have been excellently represented by the systematic sabotage of the May, 1968 upheaval by the French CP. The failure of the Old Left organisations to develop in the USA during and after the Great Depression may be traced indeed to the fact that the Democratic government and the trade unions filled the role played in Europe by "socialist" workers' Organisations. It is just the latters place, with modifications stemming from the peculiarities of US history, which was taken by those forces proud to call themselves "liberal."


In this historical light, the task conceived by those fragments of the New Left who dream of a revival of revolutionary Leninism in the developed countries acquires a clearer (if dismal) character. It is not unrelated to the liberal beginnings of the Movement. The basis for this tendency was to be found all along, in the centrality of the organiser model of left activity. The professional revolutionist is after all only a bureaucrat or social worker for a state apparatus that has yet to come into existence.

The transmutation of "liberals" into Leninist "revolutionaries" is the result of more than the ideological development of some flew leftists. The continuing strength of liberalism as a program derives from capitalism's constant tendency to "rationalisation." This is an aspect of the nature of capitalist development, which expresses itself both in economic organisation (concentration and centralisation of capital, search for efficiency within production) and in the necessity of overcoming a tendency towards social instability, in periods when the status quo no longer meets the need imposed on the system by its own logic. The economic and social system built by the Bolsheviks in Russia, in which the Party-State takes the place of the capitalist class as a whole, is the logical end point of the trend to concentration of capital and government Interference in the economy which define the "mixed economy" of the present-day West. From this point of view the revival of Leninism (and-somewhat surprisingly, though logically enough-of Stalinism) may turn out to represent a chafing at the limitations placed on further evolution towards a state-run system by the representatives of the still fundamental private-property character of the economy. It is thus related to the myth of the technocratic class, whose approach to power is alternatively welcomed (e.g., by J. K. Galbraith) or feared (see N. Chomsky and L. Mumford).

At any rate the bolshevist idea may well appeal to members of a frustrated intelligentsia, hardly approaching power in fact, who see before them the struggles and successes of the intelligentsia of the Third World for whom nationalist movements controlled by Leninist parties are an avenue to power. What left-leaning Harvard graduate student in government could resist the image of the Party cadre, educating the people, organising them, eventually formulating and overseeing the implementation of the plan which will lead to rapid industrial development, etc.? There is a certain parallelism here with Black Power leaders' frequent identification with the masters of emerging African and Asian states. The Black Panther Party, for instance, formed itself not merely after a Bolshevik pattern but directly on the model of a governmental power, with Ministers of Justice, Information, Foreign Affairs, etc., and a military structure of command.24

The identification 0/ the goals of the American left with those of nationalist and statist movements in the underdeveloped world, itself a reflection of the weakness of the radical movement in the US, revived the Leninist conception of the world-wide unity of anti-imperialist forces. Just as in Russia, the theory ran, socialism could be established in an overwhelmingly peasant country due to the control of the state by the Communist Party, representative of the workers, so the anti-colonial movements would combine with the labour movements of the West to make the world revolution, thanks to the unifying guidance exercised by the Russian party-controlled International. The experiences of the last fifty years should have been enough to dispel this myth from leftist minds, national liberation has proved to mean either neo-colonialism or else exploitation of the masses of the Third World by state capitalist masters, generally involving in either case the reincorporation (to varying degrees) of the "liberated" countries into new empires, the big powers, East and West, dividing the spoils. Even the most neutralist of the new nations (i.e., those which seek to play the various masters of the world oft against each other) have no choice but to adapt themselves to the exigencies of the world market controlled by the industrially advanced countries.

At this point, the prospect of total statification of American capitalism k a dim one. There is no faction of the bourgeoisie with access to political power not dedicated to the preservation of the private corporate system. And the working class has a healthy antipathy to "communism" of the Russian (Chinese, Cuban, etc.) type, which they rightly identify as totalitarian control over the individual's existence despite the fact that, due to their non comprehension of the circumstance that individuals are members of classes, their "anticommunism" takes the crazy form of support for the capitalist system). Even among their fellow students, the new Leninists have been unable to attract more than a handful.

The New Left came into existence because what one might call Old Left liberalism is no longer feasible. The program of the Old Left is also scoring no great success. While the full statification of American capital cannot be ruled out as an option which the bourgeoisie might choose at the sacrifice of their private property interests in order to avoid economic collapse and the threat of revolution from below, at the moment he more significant-as well as only real revolutionary-avenue visible in the future of capitalism is that of a truly communist revolution, organised and controlled by the working class itself. The New Left has pointed to a possible renewal of activity by this spectre. It is for us now more crucial than ever to get beyond the ideologies of the past, in which the New Left was by and large trapped, to an understanding of what such a revolution will require and mean.


The uniqueness of capitalism in the history of human society lies in its development of social integration to a point where the overcoming of the opposition of individual (or small group) to social interests becomes possible. The basis of any society is the production (and distribution) of all the goods that satisfy its members' wants-from food and clothing and material means of production themselves to the arts and the systems of ideas with which societies attempt to understand themselves and maintain belief in the worthiness of their ways of life. In pre capitalist societies, most of this work was carried out on an individual or narrowly local basis. Though the steady growth of cities as a form of civilised existence made for the development of a division between the labour of the town and that of the country, most people worked directly for themselves, their families, their village communities, or their immediate overlords. Hunters, farmers, artisans made many of their own tools; families provided their own homes, clothes, and nourishment; not only tribute but trade moved the products of specialised labour only for the few.

Capitalism has changed all that. The transformation of peasant or freehold agricultural production into large-scale farming by wage-labor for the market and the development of mass-production industry have bound the producers economically-and so socially-not only to those who hold social power but to each other. This is true for both aspects of the unity of production-distribution. An auto worker labours with thousand of others in the manufacture of a common product; and this product is as little for his own or his colleague's specific use as is the bread they eat produced by them. Common labour at the point of production is but the cell-form of a system of common production by all the workers in society for each other.

At the same time, this social system of production developed historically within a structure of private ownership and control of the means and thereby the results of production. Labour took on the form of wage labor; people produce for each other only by producing for the capitalists from whom they must then buy back their own products. Thus social production was created in capitalism at the expense of the producers who can work for themselves-each other-only by working for the masters of the process.

The needs of the producers can be met, due to this peculiar system of social production under private control, only within limits set by the mechanism of the market, which includes and is based on their submission to the labour market. The private aspect of the system dominates the communal. Instead. of being controlled consciously by the joint producers, production is controlled by the market, and the market by the competitive need of individual capitalist firms to accumulate. Thus arise all the anomalies, ridiculous and tragic, characteristic of this system: from the careful designing of light bulbs that burr out faster to the "overproduction" of food while millions starve. Inevitably, such a system leads to conflicts between the needs of the producers and the capacity of the system to satisfy them, its periods of apparent success resolving only in crises throwing millions out of work or into war.

It is no surprise, then, that, from its origins, opposition to capitalism developed as an integral part of capitalist society. From the beginning this has been a class society in which the interests of the class of producers, production for the "co-operative commonwealth," and those of the class of owners and exploiters, the amassing of profit and the expansion of their individual spheres of power, came constantly (though sometimes more clearly than at others) into opposition to each other. As Marx was perhaps the first to stress, it is this rather than the activities of theoreticians and politicians which accounts for the existence of the working-class movement.

Revolutionary working-class activity has not been the creation of "organisers" either ex nihilo or by the infusion of a "good political line" into the workers' "spontaneous" activity. Rather, an examination of past movements reveals a history of radical practice as working-class transcendence of workaday militance in the face of social crisis conditions which transform reformist and integrative movements willy-nilly into revolutionary ones. Reformism is not a doctrine foisted on the workers by bad leaders, but a product of the workers willingness to be satisfied with the gains obtainable in periods of capitalist prosperity. Similarly, the basis of revolutionary activity is the system's inability to achieve permanent stability, its tendency thus to create situations in which the institutions-unions, political parties -that under "normal" conditions channel and contain working class dissatisfactions can no longer function. In such situations the producers are forced to find new forms of activity in their struggle against capital.

Just as the origin of proletarian revolt lies in the workers' experience of capitalism's incapacity to meet their desires, the organisational forms of revolt are developed out of social structures of the system. The fact is that the workers are (as we have seen) already and at all times organised: in the factories, offices, schools, neighbourhoods, and in the interconnections between all of these established by the capitalist production system itself. From this point of view, the problem of the organisation of communist revolution is that of the workers' taking the existing network of social interdependency into their own hands, while reorganising it according to their needs.25

To contrast "spontaneity" with organisation puts the problem of the forms of revolt in a misleading way. Any attempt of workers to take any degree of social power demands-and has always produced-varying degrees of organisation on local and broader levels. What "spontaneity" has been used to refer to is not absence of organisation but independence of the control of political groups. In this regard, what is striking if we look at history is the minimal role played by the political groups of the Old Left in the structuring of revolutionary struggle and the extent to which they have served in fact as brakes on the workers' efforts.

Organisation is the organisation of activity and so grows out of and reflects its needs. Activity pursued within the framework of class society requires for effectiveness the hierarchical structure and business behaviour that capitalism calls for; but revolutionary action calls on different principles. Here what is crucial is people's discovery of their power, so systematically denied by the functioning of the system, to control and organise their own activities. On the basis of this principle of workers' "self-organization" the reality of class can develop through action.

Tactics can be worked out only in terms of the specific shapes taken on by the struggle in specific situations, and are nothing to be determined by a central committee, although interchange of experiences between people in different areas is so important as to be essential. The same goes for strategy; the cleverest strategies "for the working class" mean nothing if they do not correspond to needs felt by people, arising through their own activity. It should be clear that what is at issue here is not "centralism versus decentralism" but rather the relation between local groups and (various) centere(s). What is crucial is, on the one hand, the freedom of the local groups to devise actions responsive to their situations and, of the other, strict control of all supra-local levels of organisation by the locals, so that the centre is only a means to their co-ordination and joint action. Such centralism-co-ordination of local struggles-becomes possible as it becomes necessary, i.e., as the bourgeoisie is confronted as on a large scale, is confronted as a class. For this means that the various groups of producers in struggle are fighting on a common basis, a situation which calls for the extension of the workers' organisation on their workplace to that of several workplaces together, and so on up. It is in this way that the organisation of struggle against capitalism can lead to the organisation of a new society to replace it.

As the thought of the Party (or its Chairman) is no substitute for the masses' own understanding of the situations they face, neither is its organisation a substitute for theirs. While the class of producers derives its revolutionary potential from its constitution on the basis of an objectively given shared social function and experience, a political party is (to use Gramsci's words) a voluntary organisation, a group of people who share a common program. Groups of revolutionaries, of different persuasions, have their own problems of organisation-different ones at different times. Although they may be related to the organisational needs of the class as a whole, it is important to recognise the distinction between the class and the political groupings within it (at best). A revolutionary group may feel, as leninists do, that their holding of power is crucial to the building of socialism. But it ought to he kept clear that the power of the Party is not the power of the masses themselves, however representative of the latter the former may be at one time or another (This was recognised by the Russian Bolsheviks when they banned all political groupings except their own; for the party voted in could be voted out, while other parties were around.)If the workers are still willing to let some special group monopolise power and make decisions for them, this means that socialism is just not on the agenda.
A group which wishes for the seizure of power by the class of which it is a part has a different problem: that of working within its class-where its members work and live -through propaganda and action to help ensure that no social stratum or political group is allowed to give orders to it. (This involves, obviously, struggle against leninism in all its varieties.) A prime aim for such groups must be education: achievement and propagation of whatever they can understand of the nature of capitalism and the possibilities for socialism in our time; collection and circulation of information about the struggle as k unfolds on local, national, and international levels. But revolutionary theory (like all theory) serves action: radical consciousness means an understanding of capitalism as a system which can be challenged. Overcoming the passivity which allows the perpetuation of our current fate, and which might allow capitalism's replacement by a totalitarian party-state, demands from radicals not "organising the masses" but participating imaginatively in the development of a sense of autonomous power and activity among those with whom we work and live.


Student passivity and the attendant collapse of the New Left organisations may be said to express the practical acceptance by students as a group of their place in society. This has happened at a time when the proletarianisation of students and college-degree-holders has taken on a particularly grim tone. The need to hustle for grades and degrees has been heightened by the declining proportion of degree-demanding jobs to the numbers of certified. The gradual development of economic crisis conditions has affected students by limiting the number of jobs both in private industry and in the state sector, and by cutting down on funds available to schools for scholarships and research grants.

This situation has raised the spectre of "a new kind of student protest," exemplified by the strike at Antioch College in the spring of 1973. A long strike by cafeteria employees was followed by a closure of the school for well over a month as "two hundred to 300 students, many from poor or working-class families, struck . . . in an attempt to gain legal guarantees from the college that loans, grants, jobs, and other financial help would not be cut during their five years at school."26 Such phenomena as the formation at various campuses of unions by graduate student teaching assistants and junior faculty reflects the same situation as the discovery by striking Philadelphia public school teachers that their status as "professionals" meant less under current economic conditions than what they share with the other groups of workers who threatened a general strike in their support.

Thus the conditions which may be expected to lead to a rise in working-class activity generally will probably meet with participation by students and college graduates in whatever left movement develops. In the context of a workers' movement, the role of students in capitalist society and in the struggle against it will become clearer. The students cannot "serve" the workers, who alone by taking over their workplaces and living areas can liberate themselves. On the other hand, only a communist movement will give "student power," or the goal of student/staff -control over the school, any meaning; though this will require the dissolution of the forms of education which exist and their replacement by forms involving, for instance, the end of the distinction between worker' and "student"-appropriate to a society in which "the free development of each is the condition of the free development of all." Already the student movements of May, 1968 in France and of the last four years in Italy have pointed to the possibility of the interaction of workers and workers-to-be in common struggle. This possibility can only be strengthened as the social realities confronting students and workers, and the ties of common interest between them, continue to be drummed into the heads of both groups by the pressure of facts. Ultimately the real significance of the New Left lies in this: in the extent to which we utilise the experiences of the movement in the 1960s to make the most revolutionary use possible of the years of social crisis that lie ahead.

July, 1973


(Taken from the Root and Branch collection The Rise of The Workers Movements, published 1975. Originally reproduced for the Class Against Class website. This is a longer version of the text that appeared in Root & Branch #1).

  • 1See Paul Mattick, Critique of Marcuse, N.Y.: Herder and Herder, 1973.
  • 2Cited Ivar Berg, Education and Jobs: The Great Train Robbery, Beacon Press, Boston, 1971, p.30.
  • 3See Berg, op. cit., p.46.
  • 4Conference on "Collective Bargaining and Professional Responsibility" reported in AFL-CIO News, July 13, 1968, cited in Berg, op. cit., p.69.
  • 5Port Huron Statement, SDS: 1962, pp.1, 8, 9.
  • 6There is an interesting analogy to be drawn with a process which was to occur in the late Sixties among college-educated (mostly white) women: in the context of the student movement, the conflict between equal education and discrimination in access to degree-holder jobs has been an important aspect of the women's liberation movement. Sexist discrimination acquired of course a special impact from being practised within the Radical movement as well as in the society "outside."
  • 7"Evolution of the ERAP Organisers," in P. Long, ed., The New Left, Boston: Porter Sargent, 1969; pp.273-4
  • 8Op. cit., p.46.
  • 9"Up From Irrelevance," in M. Teodori, ed., The New Left: A Documentary History, New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1969, p.210
  • 10SNCC Founding Statement, in Teodori, op. cit;, p.99.
  • 11"America and the New Bra," in Teodori, op. cit., pp. 172-3.
  • 12"Trapped in a System," Teodori, op. cit., p.187.
  • 13"'Trapped in a System," in Teodori, op. cit., p. 187.
  • 14Op. cit., p.282.
  • 15"On Community Building," in Long, op. cit., pp.355, 358.
  • 16Howard Zinn, "Marxism and the New Left," in Long. op.cit., p.67.
  • 17Norman Fruchter, "SDS: In and Out of Context," Liberation 16:9 (February, 1972), p. 20.
  • 18Jack Weinberg, "The Free Speech Movement and Civil Rights," eked in Teodori, op. cit., p.31.
  • 19"The Politics of the Movement," in Teodori, op. cit., p.207.
  • 20A striking example of this development is the difference in their relation to the state, between the pre- and post-Depression unions in America, the AFL and the CIO. The former adopted laissez-faire for its own device; in the midst of the Depression its leaders declared their stand against state interference in labour-employer relations. The CIO, in contrast, developed almost as an arm of the New Deal government. The merger of the two unions only marked the triumph of the new principle.
  • 21Cited in What is to be Done? in Lenin, Selected Works, Vol. I, (International Publishers, 1967), p. 129.
  • 22Ibid. This, ironically, only two years before the unorganised revolutionary upsurge of 190S, which brought the formation of the first soviets.
  • 23In the case of Germany, where the continuing crisis was resolved only by fascism and the war, the success of this adaptation was not so striking; something forgotten by those who quote Lenin's polemic against Left-wing Communism, an Infantile Disorder as the last word on revolutionary strategy.
  • 24 The attempt of blacks to reproduce in America political forms developed in un-industrialised areas has of course a somewhat different basis than the whites' attempt. Racial discrimination, particularly in the form of the confinement of masses of blacks to the reserve army of the unemployed, seems to be ineradicable within the confines of American capitalism. At the same time, without the activity of a proletarian left cutting across racial lines, no solutions are possible for the blacks except within those confines. Caught on the horns of this dilemma, the black movement has continually swung between integrationist and separatist poles of attraction. In this circumstance is to be found the explanation for the seemingly paradoxical combination, in a group like the Black Panthers, of a reformist social-work practice and a revolutionary Leninist phraseology. Despite the similarities of the blacks' position to that of a colonised "people," the idea of "black national liberation" has no practical significance whatsoever. Black bolshevism can only mean either failure-failure likely to involve systematic and bloody persecution-or else a cover-up for more profitable activities.
  • 25For an example of what this would mean in practice, see "The Mass Strike in France," this volume(ICO).
  • 26New York Times, May 29; 1973.

Root & Branch pamphlets

Links to our archive of pamphlets published by US libertarian socialist group, Root & Branch.

Submitted by Steven. on December 5, 2021

No class today, no ruling class tomorrow. Lessons of the student strike - Root & Branch

This is an analysis of the 1970 US-wide, spontaneous student strike by council communist group Root and Branch, which makes suggestions for most effective ways to take the struggle forwards.

Submitted by OliverTwister on March 4, 2010

The student upheaval of May, 1970 marks a decisive change in the development of American social forces. It is essential to understand what happened, so that when the movement opens up again, tens of thousands of people will know how to push it still further.

The May movement was no mere protest against the invasion of Cambodia. The Cambodian action was the pre-text for action because it embodies everything that the students have learned to hate: the making of life-and-death decisions by a handful of men at the top; deceit; imperialism; racism; violence. The students' instinctive reaction was to seize the only locus of power available to them, their universities, and to fight -- with force if necessary -- against the police, National Guard, and other instruments of state violence which tried to break them.

In the midst of the strike, a U.S. Congressman said that there must be a conspiracy behind the student actions, for how else could hundreds of thousands of students conduct the same kinds of struggle around the same basic demands on hundreds of different campuses?

Of course, everyone who participated in the May movement knows there was no conspiracy behind it, not even a centralized leadership; rather, the strike was a spontaneous and elemental response to contemporary American life, as embodied in the war (the Cambodian invasion) and oppression (the Panther trials). Yet the nature of the student strike will be difficult to understand, not only for those in power who believe that when the masses act there must be a conspiracy behind them, but also by those on the left who believe that only a centralized organization can lead mass struggles.

Who were the real leaders of the May strike? They were the Yale students who struck and occupied their campuses for several weeks before the strike became national. They were the Kent State students who out-fought the police, and then out-fought the National Guard until the latter resorted to murder. They were the tens of thousands of students on hundreds of campuses who took the initiative and struck, in response to the invasion of Cambodia, the Panther trial, and the killings at Kent State. Their leadership created a movement a hundred times more significant than anything that could have been done by a vanguard party or by those who put themselves forward as leaders and spokesmen.

The student strike represents a type of struggle which has not been seen in the US for more than thirty years. The most important thing about it was that it was out of control; there were no leaders who controlled -- which is to say, the people who acted themselves controlled the strike. Of course, the school administrations, self-appointed spokesmen, and the like come eventually to re-establish control of the students, but for virtually a week the students collectively controlled their own activity and their own campuses.

Virtually all organizations that existed before May proved irrelevant to the strike at best, and often were actually retarding and disorganizing forces. At New Haven, some energy was fruitlessly put into pressuring the Trotskyist-controlled Student Mobilization Committee to stop refusing to call a student strike. (This tiny example shows how the assumption that masses must wait for organized vanguard groups to lead them serves to retard mass initiative.) Fortunately, the students at New Haven realized that they could act on their own, and proceded to create and spread the strike call. The SMC tried to recoup by calling a meeting in Washington to coordinate the strike nationally. The meeting collapsed from a combination of contentiousness and irrelevance to the struggle, though the organization has continued to attempt to exploit the strike for its own ends.

The National Student Association immediately put itself forward as spokesman for the student strike, and was accepted as such by much of the press. They played down what was most significant in the strike, and portrayed it as a sort of super-moratorium protest. Meanwhile, they tried to channel it back to relevance to the political system, with such harebrained programs as the demand that Congressmen be forced to stay in Washington until they did something about the war -- at the very point when the death of Congress as a political force was most apparent.

The New Mobe called for a march on Washington in response to the Cambodian invasion before the student strike was under way. The original intention was to march near the White House without permission, thus presumably forcing mass arrests. Nixon foxed the New Mobe by granting permission at the last minute, hiding troops away inside of buildings, and giving strict instructions to the police to avoid provoking the crowd until nightfall. The march was thus transformed into a super-picnic, and formed an important conduit for the reintegration of the strike movement into protest politics. Most Mobe leaders had sincerely hoped for a more militant challenge, but the legal and martial apparatus, combined with the expectation of the crowd that the word on militant action would come down from above prevented such action from occuring. It is clear that from here on in the New Mobe can only be a drag on the level of struggle.

The main issue here is not so much the specific limitations of the New Mobe, as the unsuitability for development of radical activity inherent in a mass movement in which the connection between the individuals making up the mass exists only through their shared relation to a central direction. The important contrast is not that between bad and good (liberal and radical) central leadership, but that between a movement organized and assigned actions and targets by a central group, and a movement which creates forms of organization necessary to collectively taking decisions and carrying them out. In the first case, the center is not even really a center (of an organic whole) but an apparatus external to the movement itself. In the second -- realized to some extent in the student strike -- the organizational principle is not the concentration of decision-making but the fostering of the development of initiative throughout the totality of the people involved.

The two main issue orientations within the left that preceeded the strike also proved to be disorganizing forces. One of them -- expounded by Trotskyists and liberals -- is that peace in Vietnam is the only issue around which a majority can potentially be mobilized, and therefore other issues should not be raised. This argument is used -- in the name of unity -- to try to split off the radical leftwing of the movement. On the other hand, there is an important segment of the left which has tried to make support of the Black Panther Party the primary issue for the left. Again in the name of unity (this time with the blacks), they aim to split off the right wing of the movement by demanding priority for the Panther issue. Although both groups fought out this issue everywhere, large numbers of the strikers supported all three demands from the beginning, and understood that they are closely related. As political consciousness spread, more and more people moved in this direction. The objective of radicals should have been to broaden the goals of the strike to reflect the interests of even wider groups (especially white workers), not to try to narrow them.

If the old organizations and forms proved irrelevant, what forms of organization emerged from the strike itself?

The strike call came out of an informally-called meeting at the New Haven rally, to which about 1,000 people came. They drew up the demands, then broke up into regional groupings to fan out and spread word of the strike around the country. The strike idea was approved by the cheers of the New Haven crowd.

Here already we see the most important principle of the strike: people taking responsibility for executing action that they realize is necessary. This taking of responsibility likewise marked the spread of the strike. Strike committees formed spontaneously on hundreds of campuses and simply began organizing the strike, in response to Cambodia, the New Haven strike call, and the action of students elsewhere. Their principle was not to wait for a majority before calling a strike, but through action to win a majority for the strike.

As the strike took shape, elected strike committees began to replace the original ones. This process was not completed generally, however, and in this lay a serious limitation of the strike. As often in such phenomena, the radical content of the action was far in advance of the students' understanding of what they were doing. This in turn limited the full realization of perspectives which had been opened up. For instance, students who had in effect gone beyond dependence on authorities to take direct control of their own workplaces spent their time urging people to pressure political authorities or canvassing for peace politicians. (In some leaflets distributed to workers in Cambridge, Mass. the contradiction was developed to a surrealistic height, with the coupling of a call for a general strike with appeals for telegrams to congressmen!) In the same way, students allowed the reproduction within the strike of the very forms of social organization of which the strike was a negation, in the emergence (in the shape of strike committees) of a special body of administrators. Nonetheless, at the same time, thousands of students began to take responsibility for the various tasks required by the strike -- provisioning, canvassing the community, picket lines, dorm committees, liaison, and the like.

Worth noting was the relationship to the strike of groups engaged in strictly illegal activities. They kept in touch with the strike steering committees, but did their work privately and on their own responsibility. This provides an experience and a model that will be useful if and when the movement is forced to develop illegal and underground forms of organization.

The students did not turn to the old organizational networks -- N.S.A., Y.S.A., P.L., etc. -- for coordination. Brandeis students created a strike communications center whose legitimacy was accepted everywhere -- except by certain sectarian groups -- because it took the non-sectarian principle of spreading the strike as its objective, and communicated all information pertaining to that goal. Any communications operation based on a narrower principle would have been ignored and considered illegitimate by the strikers. City-wide and regional coordinating committees developed spontaneously. The strike became better coordinated as information flowed so that exemplary action in one place was quickly learned of and applied elsewhere. It is this real coordination in action which counts, not formal organization.

Of course, the students by themselves could not maintain a sustained break with the legal and orderly processes of everyday life. As long as business-as-usual continued for the rest of society, the pressures to get credit for the year's schoolwork, to avoid arrests and jail sentences, not to mention injury and death at the hands of state power -- these pressures were bound to be irresistable for the majority of students.

It is at this point -- when the strike disintegrates -- that the leftwing sects and the liberals move in to compete for the remainder. The sects now appear again as vanguards, since the masses formerly ahead of them are disappearing. Discouragement with the limitations of the strike leads particularly to a return to liberal protest -- electoral campaigns and the rest. Liberal college administrations do everything possible to encourage this route.

Tactically, radicals should aim to make the holding of university turf -- even when this is unacceptable to public officials -- a part of the program for student protest during the period of ebbing radicalism. But we should keep in mind that only the exercise of real social power by students and workers can seriously shake the system, and this can only occur when the crisis reopens. That recurrence, however, is now inevitable.

The political and military stability of the Saigon regime will again become doubtful if more and more US troops are withdrawn. Pressures for a final solution in Vietnam mount -- making resumption of the bombing of North Vietnam, use of tactical nuclear weapons, and provocation of war with China ever more likely. The economy will continue to decline at home, turning more and more sectors of the population against Nixon, the war, and the status quo. And Nixon's political isolation -- already comparable to Lyndon Johnson's in 1968 -- will continue to grow. The Cambodian invasion has undermined public faith that Nixon is ending the war. The massive protest against it destroys Nixon's claim to be reestablishing national unity. Given his constantly narrowing base of social support, Nixon will be forced more and more into military and police solutions at home. When the crisis reopens, people everywhere must take responsibility and act.

Can the strike spread? The press seized with glee upon an incident in New York City, where about 400 construction workers broke through police lines at City Hall and attacked student militants. They were not so vocal about the two unidentified men in business suits who led the attackers, nor about the fact that the workers' hostility was directed as much toward Mayor Lindsey's regime as toward the students. The press attempted to make this attack appear the typical working-class response to the student strike, without indicating either that the construction trades have been a relatively privileged fraction of the working class, or that this position is now in great danger of being undermined, a situation which if anything has reinforced their traditional bigotedness.

In fact, reports from around the country indicate that the May events marked a sea-change in the attitudes of American workers, especially young workers. Student canvassers were well received at the factory gates in the Cambridge, Mass. area, despite traditional town-gown resentment, and the same seems to have been the case elsewhere. The toughness of the student action, far from arousing law-and-order sentiment among workers, seems to have made the students credible as something more than spoiled brats. In Washington, D.C., V-signs, clenched fists, smiles, and words of encouragement were given to strikers repeatedly by truck and taxi drivers, parking lot attendants, and the like. Many more white and blue-collar workers took part in local marches around the country than ever before.

Reports came from all over of workers who wanted to go out in support of the strike. A group of auto workers in Framingham, Mass. called for a sick-out against the war, and similar attempts were widespread. A number of wildcats were reported from Long Island, N.Y. and Providence, Mass. Before May, even the idea that workers would come out in support of a student action would have seemed ridiculous; what is surprising is not that they failed to do so this time, but that in so many places they even talked about doing so. A ferment has been started which will continue to deepen as long as the present crisis continues.

The strike has also created a much better basis for student support of workers -- if the students will use it. It is disturbing, for instance, that there has been little support evident for the wildcat teamster and postal strikes. Now, however, students should be able to understand the importance of supporting such actions. It would be of great value if informal student task forces were formed in each university or city to aid local striking workers, including both mobilizing student support and, when useful, engaging in direct action of various kinds. In addition, the contacts between students and workers that have emerged from the strike should be kept up through discussions, personal contacts, opening campus housing to young workers, etc.

There are several levels on which the student movement and developments among workers will tend to converge.

1. The immediate economic burden of the war on the working class grows heavier and heavier. Real wages have been declining since the escalation of the war in 1965. Now unemployment zooms while prices continue to soar. The fact that war spending now hurts rather than helps the economy undermines the working class's integration into the military system. In the past, workers like businessmen have happily supported rising war orders as an antidote to rising unemployment; now war production is clearly no solution. As the economy continues to decline, workers will find their immediate economic interests uniting them with the students in opposition to the war.
Unemployment will especially affect youth. Older workers with seniority will have considerable job security unless a real depression develops, while younger workers will be laid off and unable to find jobs. Unemployment may also radicalize the hippie communities, which are dependent for support on marginal jobs for which competition will increase as they become more scarce. Even students leaving college with advanced degrees are having a hard time getting jobs this Spring.
2. The labor movement as a whole is breaking out of its conservative integration into the American status quo and becoming more militant. Meanwhile the trade unions' protected position is under attack -- even a liberal business publication like Business Week is calling for repeal of the Wagner Act, with its protection of collective bargaining. 1970 may be shaping up as the greatest strike wave since 1946.
3. There are many signs that general fed-upness and rebelliousness is spreading beyond the campus, particularly to working class youth. The most striking indication of this is the series of high school revolts which have swept around the country over the past year, culminating in many high school strikes in May. Another is the widespread impatience of young workers with orderly collective bargaining reported by trade union leaders, and the rising wave of wildcats sparked by young workers. Actions like the May student strike help surface and crystallize this spirit; rebellion is infectious.
4. The student strike and the independent actions of the workers share the same rejection of bureaucratic leaders and express the same idea of keeping control of the struggle in the hands of the strikers themselves. Only this kind of struggle can overcome the cynical view that everybody is just out for himself, that political struggle is useless because it will just install new corrupt leaders in place of the old ones.
5. As long as the student movement remained on the level of protest politics, it could make no sense to the great majority of working-class Americans who understand without the help of any radical organizers that the real decisions are made by the big men, and that attempts to influence them by ordinary people are pointless. The student strike, on the other hand, represents an effort to us students' real social power -- just the way workers do when they strike. For that reason, it gives an example to workers of the form their action can take when they are ready to intervene in political affairs.

The movement will continue, at some level, through the Summer and into the reopening of the schools in the Fall. When it will open up again on the scale of May cannot be foretold. That it will, seems certain. The problem is not to have an organization prepared for action at that point -- the strikers will have to create their own organizations when they are ready to move, and they will be able to do so just as they did in May. What is needed is an understanding among all of those who will compose the movement of what is necessary, of what they want to happen. The following points are offered as a basis for discussion by all looking towards future action:

1. Bases of operations such as universities, schools, public buildings, TV and radio stations, factories, and offices must be occupied at the start of the movement and defended through mass action and control of hostage equipment.
2. The slogan should be, This time everybody is going to strike. Only a general strike has the power to stop the war and oppression machine. Student strikes should not be seen simply as an end in themselves, but as a way of creating a basis for others to act. We must argue that Everybody knows that the war and the madmen in Washington must be stopped. People cannot let the students stand up and get shot down unaided for taking up a responsibility everyone should share.
3. Control of the action should be kept in the hands of the strikers themselves. Issues of the strike should be debated and decided by all the strikers. Groups engaged in various activities should meet regularly for collective discussion of their work and its political basis. Mass meetings, so long used either as forums for competing sects or for exercises in an empty parliamentary democracy, should be used for reports to all the strikers of the work of the smaller groups (including traditional political groups as well as task-oriented action committees), political discussion of the strike, invitations to participate in specific actions, etc.
Strike coordinating committees for colleges, schools, factories, offices, etc. should be elected by the various groups of strikers, subject to instant recall by them, with new elections every few days as long as the strike continues, to keep them representative of current sentiment. City or regional coordinating councils should represent these elected strike committees for purposes of information exchange over a broader area. Only such a structure will prohibit the emergence of a strike bureaucracy. This is an evil not simply in itself, but because it destroys the collective taking of responsibility and control which is the heart and energy-source of the strike.
4. On the campus, and as far beyond as the strike spreads, the strikers and their organs should act consciously as legitimate authority in conflict with the authority-system of the politicians and administrators who will oppose them. The strike derives its legitimacy not from recognition by representatives of the old order, but from the participation of the strikers in the creation of a new order.
5. The goals and demands of the strike should be universalized. That is to say, different groups should be encouraged to join the strike in order to press their own demands. The seeds of this process could already been seen in May; for example, Women's Liberation in Washington, D.C. put out a call for working women to strike against the constant indignities of their daily work, as well as in support of the students' demands.

The three demands of the May strike reflected the now obvious interrelatedness between the issues of the war, campus war-work, and repression of dissenters. As the deepening crisis widens the basis of the movement, the extent to which all major issues affecting different sectors of the population are related, as facets of the same system, will become clearer. It is exactly this grasping of the total nature of the change that is necessary that will bring this change about. As the demands of the strike become wider, the impossibility of achieving them within the existing framework of society becomes more evident -- and the possibility of achieving them through the united action of broader and broader masses of people becomes apparent.

The mass strike in France May-June 1968 - ICO


Text on the mass strike in France in 1968 written by Informations et Correspondance Ouvrieres (ICO) and published in English as Root & Branch Pamphlet 3.

Submitted by libcom on July 22, 2005


The pamphlet which follows is an analysis of events which happened in France two years ago. What is the point of publishing today yet another work on this subject? The Mass Strike in France is unique among the mass of print devoted to its subject. It is neither a chronology of events, nor a record of the "leadership" role of one or another political sect, nor yet the discovery of some fashionable new dynamic of revolt in "neo-" or even "post-capitalism". Instead, it looks at the activities of the workers and students in May and June 1968 to discover in what way they were a response to the conditions of capitalist life today; what were their strengths and limitations and in what way they point to the possibilities of a new kind of society.

French capitalism is of course different from the American version. The old fashioned nature of the French university system is just one aspect of a general backwardness. Yet the May-June strike holds lessons for us as well as for our comrades in France. Capitalism today, despite national rivalries and unevenness of development, is more of a world system than ever before. This is true not only on the level of economic ties - the dollar-dominated money system, the world market, the multinational corporations - but in the necessity for each national economy to develop the most modern forms and structures of social and economic organization in order to compete with the advanced sectors of the global economy. It is for this reason that the central phenomena discernible in the French "events" are to be found operating in the US, as well as in all other capitalist nations.

The most celebrated of these is the student revolt, which can bespoken of as the politically most developed part of a general opposition of youth. Young people today are subjected to special stress, as their increased number comes up against an economy less able to provide satisfying jobs, in an economy whose basic irrationality and unpleasantness is more and more visible. Young people necessarily have had less time than their elders to habituate themselves to the kind of life capitalism imposes on them. They are therefore quicker to respond to possibilities of change that suggest themselves in a period of social flux or crisis. It is also easier for them to challenge the institutions which seek to control and contain their rebellion, like the trade unions or political sects.

The student movement must be understood within this context. The university is as central a part of modern capitalism as it is due to the fact that students have become for the most part workers-in-training. It is to a great extent against the ideological rather than the technical aspect of their training that students rebel. Their rebellion, however, does not stay on the plane of ideas. It acquires form (occupation of campuses) and content (disruption of the training process) by reference to the university's function as a point of production of labor-power.

One of the serious limitations of the American student movement has been its failure to deal with the source of its radical energies in the oppression of students. Instead, radicalism has meant devotion to redressing the wrongs of others. The result is that student radicals appear as outsiders in other people's struggles, rather than as members of a group whose own interests require joint activity with other groups.

In this regard the French students present a valuable example. The students who wrote the leaflet reprinted in the text consciously rebelled against their utilization by capital in the exploitation of labor, a role in which they themselves were to be exploited. As The Mass Strike shows, students and workers acted together not to meet the demands of a radical political program but because the development of students' and workers' struggles in the schools and in the shops led to a point where "all the productive workers found themselves up against the same problems, with identical perspectives of action." Indeed the active union of workers and students turns out to be a special case - one today of the greatest importance - of that necessity for any important working class movement: class solidarity. Thus the first real student worker conjuncture (soon followed by similar experiences in Italy) was echoed in a hitherto unexperienced degree of solidarity between French workers and the many foreigners working in France who are usually, like American blacks, both super-exploited and denied participation in trade union struggles.

Secondly, the French events only illustrate in a spectacular fashion what is visible as well in every workers' struggle: the reactionary role of the trade unions at the present time. Here the work which follows is correct to point out the uselessness of an analysis of this role in terms of "treason" and "misleadership". It is foolish to imagine that such organs, whose function is the negotiation of the terms at which wage-labor sells itself to capital, can serve as a means to the overthrow of the wages system.

It must not be forgotten, however, that the unions' confinement of workers' activities within the confines of bourgeois class relations depends on the fact that it is through these structures that the workers extract real benefits from the employers. Not only is the "integrative" nature of the trade unions not due to "misleadership". The unions must he analysed not as structures imposed on the working class from outside, but as a form of working class organization in a period in which the class is not yet ready to overthrow bourgeois society.

This puts the accent of analysis and practice alike where it ought to be: on the problems and progress of the self-organisation of the proletariat through organs of struggle deriving directly from the concrete antagonism of capital and labor at the workplace and in the community (strike committees, action committees, workers' councils, neighborhood councils). As long as the economic and social situation is reasonably stable, the workers allow control of their struggles to pass into into hands of permanent organizations with officials to handle the workers' affairs. When they are striking, on the other hand, particularly when their strike goes outside regular channels, there is no one else to do their thinking and their acting for them.

The spread of the wildcat strike as the form of militant struggle in the workplace throughout the capitalist world, indicating the obsolescence of the trade union, is the sign of a period in which capital is less able to make the concessions which sustained the labor unions in the past. The dream of the "militant" trade union is thus, hopefully, an empty one, not just because of the historically determined characteristics of this form of organisation, but because of its growing uselessness for the working class even from the point of view of purely ameliorative demands at the present time.

Similar considerations apply to the mass "left" parties, like the CP, whose behaviour in May 1968 should have surprised no one. The CP has no interest in seriously rocking a boat which gives its officials a place among the major domos of capital; a parliamentary and trade union-oriented organisation is hardly likely to support a movement struggling to break out of all bourgeois channels. But the problem is not one of "revisionism" and lack of revolutionary purity. The May-June strike allows us to funk, along with the "revolutionary trade union", the rubbish about the revolutionary Marxist-Leninist vanguard party. The real question is; why do such groups - unlike the mass parties, which are part of the state apparatus - play no significant roles at all in political events of this magnitude? Organisations - like the Marxist-Leninist sects - who see the whole point of social revolution in terms of their accession to positions of power, obviously fall out of the picture when large numbers of people discover their capacity to run their own affairs.

The error of the sects is made as well by those comrades who, while not Leninists, ascribe the "failure of the revolution" to lack of initiative on the part of the militants, or even their failure to occupy government ministries.[1] The general point is not to deny the importance of decisive and imaginative action by "militant minorities" in the triggering of mass action, but only to recognize that the limits and general character of a social movement are set by the spirit of the masses and not by that of revolutionary groups. From this it follows that such groups can contribute to the deepening and revolutionary definition of an upheaval not by attempting to take control of it but by taking as their main task the fostering of initiative and self-organization by the mass of people involved.

The meaning of events like the 1968 mass strike is to be looked for not in the continuing existence either of permanent leftist parties or of forms of organization based in and tied to a period of active struggle (like the comités d'action). Evidence of the importance of May-June in the development of the French workers' movement appears rather in the rise in the number of wildcats in the last two years, in an increasing militancy and imagination with which students and workers have been confronting the powers that be.

The question of the role of violence - in the sense of street fighting, terrorism, sabotage - in the process of radicalisation has recently come to the fore within the radical movement here as in France. Much has been made of the effect of the barricaded streetfighting against the police in setting off the French mass strike. As the comrades of ICO point out, power lies not in the streets but in the workplaces where workers have, if they wish to exercise it, the power to decide what is to be produced, how, and for whom. The strength of the students' battles with the cops lay not in their violence per se - necessary as that was - but in the exhibition of a determination to fight for control of their workplace, the Sorbonne. It was this character of the fighting which linked the solidarity of students and young workers at the Latin Quarter barricades to the united front of students and workers against the cops for control of the factory at Flins.

The heart of revolutionary violence, indeed, lies not in battling the protectors or symbols of the bourgeois order but in battling that order itself: in the refusal to submit to the definition of man as capitalist or worker through the seizure of control over the points of production - factory, office, school - which are the centers of social power. As long as capitalism exists, this seizure of social decision-making power can in general only consist in the exercise of direct control over the class struggle itself, in opposition to the claims of parties, trade unions, or press-appointed spokesmen.[2] With the social revolution that will grow out of this struggle the problem will be posed at a new level, that of the organization and direction of production by the producers. One of the virtues of this pamphlet is that it makes intelligible the dynamic link between the struggle as it exists and its imaginable extension into revolution. This link is what the authors discovered in the French workers and students as "the will to assume responsibilities", the felt need, imposed upon us by the capitalist system itself, to take control of our existence into our own hands. I believe that the present work is mistaken in placing the idea of social labor-time, as a measure of production and consumption, at the center of communist economic calculation. For one thing, individuals' needs are not directly related to their contribution to production - young children and old people are obvious examples - and indeed the concept of "average social labor-time" may be appropriate only to a society geared to value-production.

For another, the problem may well be obsolete; given the immense productive power of modern technology, the realization of the slogan "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs" seems closer to a practical possibility than to a distant goal.

This is, however, a question which can be resolved theoretically only by a wide-ranging and serious discussion which must be carried on; and practically, only in the process of revolution itself.[3] The great virtue of The Mass Strike in France is to show how such a discussion is meaningful by locating through an analysis of the events of 1968 those characteristics of the class struggle at the present time that point to the emerging reality of its revolutionary goal.

L.K.R. July 1970

[1]See D. and G. Cohn-Bendit, Obsolete Communism, The Leftwing Alternative {McGraw Hill, 1970), and F. Perlman and R. Gregoire, Student Worker Action Committees (Black and Red, Detroit).

[2]See P. Mattick, "Workers Control" in P. Long, ed., The New Left (Porter Sargeant, Boston, 1969).

[3]The study of these questions on which the comrades of ICO base their thinking has recently been republished: Grundprinzipien kommunistischer Produktion und Verteilung (Institut fur Praxis und Theorie des Ratekommunismus, Rudiger Blauvertz Verlag, Berlin: 1970)


I Il S'est Passe Quelque Chose

What was the situation in Prance as 1968 began?
At this time, as for a very long time now, the class struggle consisted in more or less short lived and scattered actions. Now and then sudden outbreaks of resistance, tough but quickly broken by order of the union bigshots. made it possible to think that other forms of struggle could appear-then would collapse back again into apathy.

The chiefs and chieflings of the parties and the trade unions loudly deplored this apathy, without permitting anyone to inquire in public whether this apathy was not itself at once the basis of their position as bureaucrats and the consequence of their dirty work - legal, patriotic, electoral, and so forth. And then there were the little political groups, the groupuscules, preaching in the desert conceptions a half-century old and more Their isolation engendered the idea that modern capitalism was able to manipulate the workers, as producers and as consumers, as it pleased. And solemn sociologists went on and on about a working class stupefied with cheap cars and TVs, bourgeoisified, they said, as if they were talking about a sick man. indifferent to revolt and passive before the iniquity of his condition.

In the face of all that, it was necessary first of all to discover other words, other ideas.

If something had to change, it had to be first of all in men's minds. If something changed a little, it was above all among the young. They were blousons noirs, yes-yes, chevoux longs - hoods, rock'n'rollers, long hairs - one didn't really know what, nothing very precise but yet enough to plunge the bourgeois into fear and incomprehension. The young could no longer be completely controlled; they lived differently, had no longer the old feeling for property, work, and the family. People generally tried to reassure themselves with formulas like "Youth will have its fling!" But it didn't turn out like that.

For, in the end, the weakest link of French capitalism is the youth and the problems it raises for itself and for ruling classes incapable even of perceiving them, imprisoned as they are in a style of politics in which promises take the place of acts and immobility and respect for the moneyed powers that be are decked out with dynamic formulas. These classes are caught up almost relentlessly in rigid and sclerotic institutions like the University, a prey to insurmountable contradictions between the interests of the old teachers and administrators (not always a question of physiological age) preserved in obsolete conceptions and out of date relations of domination as well as in pontificating stupidity, and the interests of an industry which needs technicians at the lowest possible cost of production. Contradictions of this type, setting the old against the (at least relatively) new, are to be found in every level of the society of the Fifth Republic.

Even greedier, more limited, and more self-satisfied than the others, the French employers as a class - and their lieutenants in the parties and labor unions made in their own image - yield only to great popular movements, in the colonies as well as at home.

There is no need to dwell here on the sequence of events, on the repression effected by police and by ideology which made the action of the young people - students and workers together - a detonator setting off an immense and spontaneous movement, without an apparent goal but of a breadth not experienced in France since the Commune and, moreover, spreading this time over the whole country. "We did not suspect the importance of the unorganised...There was a climate of apathy in the unions. They had been built in the image of the power of the bosses in the enterprise." This declaration of a CFDT bureaucrat, after fifteen days of general strike, is most significant.[1]

Not a train or a subway on the rails, not a letter or a telegram carried, not a car or a ton of coal moving - and everywhere, from the smallest enterprise to the biggest, occupation, following that of the universities, of the factories, the offices, the schools, all the cells of economic and social life. One even saw (indicating the depth of the movement), soccer footballers occupying the seat of their Federation, managerial staff occupying the headquarters of an employers' federation and schoolteachers that of their union. Only the organs of political life were ignored, as on that day when 40,000 students passed by the National Assembly, where the deputies were in session, without according it even a hostile cry. The unions, the parties, all the frameworks within which the workers we organized were overflowed and emptied of all real power.

On the surface, the only force still at the disposal of the State was that of the police and the army. But, it must be said, at no moment was this force obliged to intervene with all its means. The police were brutal, but they did not shoot. As for the army, it served at the very most as a dissuasive force, an implicit threat. A ruling class which feels the situation getting out of its control doesn't use teargas grenades: in May-June 1968 there was not a truly revolutionary situation in France.

However, just as the strike arose spontaneously, in the wake of the student revolt, without precise demands, new forms of workplace organisation were considered nearly everywhere. Impassioned and utterly novel discussions took place; people asked themselves about forms of society in which it would no longer be necessary to put things off forever. Now it was possible to talk about everything with everyone; in thousands and thousands of production units, for the first time, people started to put their heads together, on the job, about their condition-about the problems of real life. All of this went on, not in opposition to but outside of the old organisations (like the State) and, for the same reason, the latter more or less sat out the game. Consciously or not, they acted as though they were fully aware that the strikers were not able, from one day to the next, to coordinate their action without going through the old network, and they waited for the movement to , putting their shoulders to the wheel and pushing in this direction with all their still considerable strength. And nevertheless the strikers, if they didn't succeed in setting up even the embryonic form of a new organisation of society, thought no longer of joining up again en masse with political organisations just like the old ones. Thus, when the "militants" - trotskyites, maoists, or other - tried to recruit a vanguard within the student movement, it turned out that the overwhelming majority of the unorganised intended to stay that way, without there being in that intent for a single minute a sign of apathy.

Whether It was a matter of the Grenelle agreements or of shop agreements, of "popular government" or of "revolutionary party", the largest number of the producers in struggle tell that this was not the right response, that something else was necessary, even if this something else was indistinct, in appearance and unformulated. Here is how this feeling was expressed in brief by a worker who spoke during a meeting of a strike committee in answer to the union leaders and the managerial staff of his place of work. The latter controlled the committee and were astonished to see that after fifteen days a gulf had opened between the workers on strike, who came each day to get the good word at the general assembly, and the strike committee, who took it upon itself to hand it out to them.

It was not the unions who started the strike. It was people who violently wanted something. The unions afterwards took the strike in hand and proposed the usual demands. They broke a working mechanism, and that explains the chasm which separates the strike committee from the employees on strike.

"Il s'est passe quelque chose" - something real happened, even if one could at no time speak of revolution. Everyone felt that this was not 1936, but something else again. What burst into the concrete universe of the worker, something which was formally at best only literature for groupuscule, or ritual formula, was the explicit will for responsibilities in production, for exercise of control of production, the birth in the struggle of a feeling of lived interdependence, of fraternity even, between the different categories of producers in word, the rough sketch of a response of workers and students to a sudden crisis of society.

Without doubt, there are few real and particularly significant examples - at least so far as we know - of factories started up again by the strikers themselves. But everything depends on this. It is true that in certain cases, for instance, at Nantes, the unions tried to take care of provisioning; elsewhere, students sought to get agricultural products to factories, to establish with the truckers a liaison between peasants and striking workers. In other cases, going by the letter of the CFDT's slogans, workers demanded management of the factories by themselves. Yet elsewhere, there was only discussion, the words - radical at first - becoming more and more timorous as the return to work progressed and the traditional power-relationships were reestablished.

The great mass of the workers entered into struggle under the impulsive desire to somehow change the system exploiting them. But at the same time, the ideas and concepts born of all the attempts to integrate them into the system remained: the great majority of workers did not believe that it was possible for them to run their workplaces and the society themselves. This is why the various attempts which got underway in this direction remained vague and isolated; and this is also why the traditional organisations could get the movement back into their hands. In what follows, we will try to take inventory and discuss these attempts, though they remained isolated and could not succeed in really taking shape and becoming general.

But it is useful also to go beyond this. As soon as a mass strike clears the way for the organisation of production by the producers, the problem of who has power at the level of the enterprise, of the state, of the whole world, is posed. Social power lies in the hands of the workers when they are in control of their own activity on the job; but the survival of organs of political power disposing of an apparatus of repression (police, union marshals, political parties, etc.) sooner or later provokes a conflict. It is not by chance that the directors of the economy and of politics, the CRS, the unions, do the same work, each in his own way. They have the same vocation of dominating and repressing the workers in a State in which they hold political power or which they make their servant. In the same way, on the international scale, no capitalist state (of either the Western or the Eastern branch) can tolerate the development - even in the universities - of workers' control of the enterprises and of society.

These problems are not new. The dictatorship of Capital, leninism, stalinism, and fascisms of all types, the Second World War - all these have succeeded in wiping out even the memory of everything which in the Russia of 1917, the Germany of 1918-1921, the Spain of 1936-37, the Hungary of 1956. could attest to the existence of a continuing movement for emancipation which looked to the organization of production and consumption by the producers themselves. Beyond the problem of power, this new society - which we now know to be wholly other than a comforting myth - will have to resolve economic problems, those of communist production and distribution. We have tried to sketch these problems in the light of this past, and publish as an appendix the "theses" of a council communist thinker on the struggle of the working class against the capitalist system.

II Capitalist Society
Modern capitalist society is characterised by a technical development without precedent. At least in the advanced countries, the means of production have attained a fantastic level. At the same time, the system has become quite complicated and appears almost incomprehensible to all observers. This complexity has brought with it a erection of barriers between men.

All this is not the effect of chance but results rather from the capitalist system's need to continually realise more profits. Pushed by the very dynamic of its development, this system could no longer remain that of laisser-faire which reigned in the 19lh century, with its corresponding organisation of society based on a large number of individual small capitalists fighting each other through the intermediary of the market. Its continued existence necessitated raising the productivity of labor, since it is from labor that its profits are drawn. Every worker, every employee knows perfectly well that his employer tries continually to raise the rate and the output of work, a tendency which, moreover, every worker continually fights. To raise productivity, capitalism has employed machines increasingly complex and increasingly numerous, and has made increasing use of scientific discoveries to improve the system of production.

Capital has concentrated and continues to concentrate. Small businesses disappear, and the formation of great monopolies has been realized in the course of the last decades.

The fundamental reason for this concentration lies in the fact that, to augment productivity, in a given sector it is necessary to utilise larger and larger masses of capital to set up the necessary technology. To obtain these masses of capital, it is necessary to set greater and greater masses of laborers to work to extract from them greater and greater masses of profit.

This development of the system makes necessary organs of coordination more structured than before. Every large enterprise has developed an enormous managerial corps in order to make it work. Of necessity, the State itself has been forced to interfere more massively in the economy. It has taken charge of entire sectors, indispensable to the working of the system, but of which the private capitalists, even at the level of highly concentrated trusts, are no longer able or willing to take charge - no longer willing, because these sectors are no longer directly profitable; no longer able, because running them requires too great masses of capital. The State, through the medium of taxes, can distribute these enormous investments (e.g., in France, electricity, transports) among the population as a whole.

In societies of the Western type a mixed capitalist economy has developed, in which a "private" and a "public" sector coexist, permanently reacting on each other in a state of often unstable equilibrium.

In societies of the Eastern type (USSR, China, Cuba, the Eastern European countries) the State has entirely taken charge of the economy, putting into effect a state capitalism in which a new exploiting class decides for everyone the orientation and the volume of production and extracts benefits from it in the form of high salaries and social advantages.

To maintain a high level of profit for part of capital, the capitalist system does not hesitate to destroy the rest of capital, that is to say, to engage in activities not productive of wealth. This is the role, for example, of advertising, scientific research (which to a great extent is pointless: for instance, space research), armaments production, etc. Here again, the whole population, through the intermediary of taxes or the market, bears the cost of the achievement of objectives not attainable by individual capitalists.

Concurrently with this transformation of capitalism's economic structure, a corresponding transformation of social classes has come about. Far from having ended up as sharply contrasting division between a handful of exploiters and a large mass of exploited, the complexity of the capitalist system has brought about a pyramidal social structure, in principle based on criteria of technical competence, which rises without discontinuity from the worker to the PDG (President Directeur General, or Chairman of the Board). The old bourgeois class has been transformed. Doubtless, in the West, there are some bourgeois who live exclusively on their private means, but the most general case is one of integration into the system of production and managerial control from which they profit by high salaries and all sorts of advantages.

This hierarchical structure presents the advantage of opening up possibilities for integration of all strata of society into the system. In principle, access to different levels of the social system depends on the education and abilities of the individual. Official propaganda doesn't fail to stress this point. It tries to create a real cult of the educated man, of the Nobel prize-winner for example, which ranks with the love affairs of princesses and the infidelities of pop-singers. "Culture" is extolled as the means of moving from the position of controlled to that of controller.

The population as a whole falls for this propaganda. It does not question the idea of a society hierarchized on the basis of knowledge and aptitudes, a hierarchy expressed in terms of wage differentials.

That the social pyramid rises on the criteria - true or false - of education and ability, and that there is a continuity linking the base with the summit doesn't at all change the exploitative character of modern Capital, the existence of a ruling class. There exists in fact such a class, which (individually or collectively) owns the means of production, which determines the orientation and the volume of production, which finally reaps the benefits of the exploitation of lower levels.

Since the end of the last war, western capitalism has known a new era of prosperity. Thanks to this, it has been able to furnish generally higher wages to the population as a whole. It could do this for two main reasons: first, as a result of the rapid growth of productivity; second, because a certain number of unskilled jobs, in which productivity could not be increased, have been left to certain strata like the blacks in the United Slates or the North Africans and foreign workers in Europe, systematically excluded from the process of enrichment.

This rise in the general standard of living is expressed by an increased consumption - cars, refrigerators, television, etc.- which has bound the various strata yet more closely to the status quo. This rise in the standard of living can be seen again in social benefits, like social security, paid vacations, etc., which are further means of integration into the system. Another consequence of this rise is the possibility for larger sections of society of having their children accepted into the educational system which had until then been closed to them. This is especially true of the middle classes which consist of the lower level managers, highly skilled workers, and petty tradesmen of all sorts. For them, sending their children to the University is a luxury which they can now afford, just like the purchase of a color television.

In doing this the middle classes are responding to two attractions. To begin with, they dream that their children may escape the mediocrity of their condition: either disappearing, like the small businessman, or else imprisoned in a cretinising system, without hope of a way out, as subordinate managers and employees, always submitting to the moods of an office head.

Further, these middle classes see possibilities for their children of entering a higher level in society, which as a result of the accelerated development of the system, has need of more and more cadres - decision-making personnel: managerial and technical staff - of every sort.

The influx of young people into the University is thus one of the by-products of the period of post war capitalist prosperity.

For several years, however, the system has shown signs of being out of breath. There is no longer as great a need of managerial staff as before. Even technicians no longer enjoy the same job security. There are often changes in methods of production and accumulated knowledge is no help in adapting to new techniques. Technological unemployment has appeared. It is a matter not only, (as it stilt was yesterday), of shutting down certain non-profitable enterprises and transferring the staff to employment elsewhere, leaving the workers to find new jobs themselves as best they can (thus creating a permanent unemployment which keeps wages down), but of effecting in numerous areas important transformations which require new knowledge, inaccessible to the old staff. The classical openings for students become constricted, on the one hand by the recession in capitalist development, and on the other by the existence of unemployed cadres competing on the market.

In this lies the profound economic reason for the student "malaise" apparent throughout the world. Students question a system which can no longer offer them their traditional opportunities. They discover on this occasion the existence of unemployment and the idiocy of the system of production.

Without a real economic crisis in capitalism, which at present halts its progress at most only temporarily, there exist premonitory symptoms of a social crisis which in favorable cases - that is to say, if it occurs together with possibilities of crises in the world of labor - can provoke an explosion.

In this respect, France in 1968 has furnished a good example. This strongly traditional, chauvinist country has experienced profound and rapid transformations during the last few decades. Formerly - since the revolution of 1789 France was the land of petty property in both the industrial and the agricultural domains. Following the Second World War, the reconstruction of French capital, which permitted it to renter the concert of nations, was effected in a way which led to an ever more accentuated concentration. The Marshall Plan and the resulting importation of American production techniques have turned the conservative capitalism of pre-war France upside down. This did not occur without conflicts and risks. Those bound to the old system have resisted and continue to resist. The struggle was carried on for a long time on the terrain of the colonial Empire, one of the pillars of the earlier regime but one about which the new capitalists cared little, or rather, to which they preferred another type of exploitation. Finally, monopoly capital, "modern" capital, had to prevail and, with this victory, to reduce to impotence the old system's supporters, of which the army is a striking example.

The concentration of capital here as everywhere is accompanied by a transformation of social classes, in particular by a great reduction of the peasantry. Concentration proceeds also in the agricultural domain, because mechanisation is profitable only for sufficiently large properties. The peasant population of France has fallen from 30% to 10% since the end of the war and the decrease continues. The peasants thus "liberated" have gone to enlarge the masses of workers, putting greater strain on the labor market, a tension being all the more serious as France has had to accept, since 1962, 1,500,000 Pieds-Noirs, colonists dispossessed by the Algerian revolution.

At the same time industrial development, while it permitted and required the creation of new types of manpower, had to take place within a society little ready to accommodate it, the French bourgeoisie being one of the most conservative and obtuse in the world. Until the last few years, the training of industrial managers was accomplished through the channel of the grandes ecoles, a sclerotic system, entered through a very difficult competitive exam; little professional skill was taught but one obtained the degree necessary to enter the higher social strata. On the other hand, the University remained a medieval island within the modern world, desiring only to reproduce itself. In contrast to the grandes ecoles, one enters the University upon obtaining the baccalaureat degree which marks the end of secondary school. This system worked smoothly as long as only the most fortunate sections of the bourgeoisie could pay for the studies of their children. With the rise in the standard of living and the demographic pressure of the post-war period, the University has been invaded by a whole younger generation. These young people prefer the mediocrity of student life, which offers a semblance of freedom and which permits them to put off for a while their entrance into the detestable world of production, even if they know that in all probability they will fail their exams and not get the really privileged jobs. With this influx, the University was condemned to death. There has been no lack of well-intentioned men to propose reforms for it. All of these tend towards adaptation to the outside world, that is to say, to the laws of the capitalist market. Their ultimate expression is to be found both in the recommendations of the Caen colloquium and in the Fouchet reform. In both these cases, it was a matter of organising a system of selection among the students to direct them towards a carefully graded hierarchy of channels permitting the formation of more or less specialised technicians.

This policy in the long run was bound to run up against two oppositions. On the one hand, that of the faculty, the majority of whom remained ferocious partisans of the mandarinate; on the other hand, that of the students, who did not wish to enter the selection system, it was almost inevitable that violent cleavages would appear inside the world of the University.

The liquidation of the old French capitalism and its evolution towards a concentrated capitalism necessitated a transformation of methods of government, The bonapartist regime installed by the gaullists fills This need. As in all countries, an almost total effacement of parliament is experienced. Parliament used to serve, in effect, us a place for discussion between different interest groups, as a process of compromise by which the policy of the ruling class was decided. It no longer has this raison d'etre in a more concentrated economy in which the State has a more essential role to play.

Authoritarian decisions have to be made to accelerate the process of concentration and the transformation of the country, especially when they express the necessity of adaptation to a vaster economy on the European scale. The qaullists have not wronged themselves in stressing the authoritarian and arbitrary character of their regime, all the more easily accomplished as the evolution of the system required that entire strata of the middle classes (little enterprises, little businesses, etc.} be transformed, causing the traditional left to lose much of its social power. However, if the gaullist regime answers well to a necessity of "modern" capitalism, it presents a character of rigidity, which it has inherited without doubt from its leader, but which results also from the conditions of the struggle against the Algerian revolution and the O.A.S. For ten years, the gaullist government has ignored those capitalist groups which could not adapt themselves to the evolution in progress, except to shut them up brutally. It has found itself in a delicate position for resolving the university problem because it would have been necessary to attack directly the old University and because it considered other questions more urgent. Its attitude has been to let the situation putrify, hoping that in five years a generation smaller in numbers would furnish an automatic solution to the problem.

However, problems are not solved by denying their existence, or by treating them with scorn. They become aggravated and lead to situations which can be overcome only with brutality. Faced with student movements like the 22 March, the government was caught defenseless. At first the government left it alone, sure of its rapid extinction. After that, it tried to render the Movement's "leaders" harmless, for from the bureaucratic viewpoint of the ruling class all action is necessarily directed by an apparat. The police action at the Sorbonne on May 4th had probably no other aim than the decapitation of the movement by getting the names of and arresting its leaders, unknown till then.

But the Movement was precisely not one of leaders, and the attempt made by the bourgeois press to transform Danny Cohn-Bendit into a leader and an idol failed completely. What characterized the Movement was precisely that a larger number than was believed felt themselves directly implicated both as individuals and as a group, that it first set itself to question the university structures and then, progressively, as a result of the streetfighting against the police, came to question bourgeois society as a whole.

This attitude set a double example, first because it showed that direct action can pay, that it can force opposing power to retreat (only for a moment, doubtless, in this case), but especially because it showed that in action consciousness of the problems posed grows rapidly.

This example was not lost on the masses of workers. They were profoundly struck by it. They saw something completely different from the routine of union struggles for almost automatic amelioration of the standard of living. Without doubt, the latter are not without interest in the Common Market country with the lowest wages except for Italy, but, confusedly, the masses put forward other types of demands which, timidly, called into question the very form of society. Here also the role of the young was particularly important. Not yet caught up in the system of modern life, feeling solidarity with other young people of neighboring social strata, not having known the war or the "victories of 1936", more than most workers threatened by unemployment, they felt themselves less inclined to obey blindly the union's commands, to which their elders have become accustomed, and often joined the students in their combats in the street and in their desires for selfdetermination and for responsibility.

Something new, which quite proves that the movement of May, 1968 went far beyond simple wage demands: the cadres participated and, in certain cases, even set it off, demanding non-hierarchised wages or calling into question the direction of the enterprise by insisting themselves that all social strata must have responsibility. Once can no doubt maintain that the participation of cadres in the movement was in fact only an attempt at its bureaucratic or technocratic recapture. But that is to see only one side of this activity. Every attempt at self-management, every selfdetermined movement which does not end in total overthrow of the bourgeois order of things is always recapturable by bureaucrats or technocrats. But attempts at self-management - and it is these which we are trying to distinguish, analyse, and criticise in this pamphlet - contain something else: the promise of a society in which, finally, the exploitation of man by man will come to an end.

III The Student Movement
One cannot overemphasize the role of crucible played, with respect to the general action, by the student demonstrations which the young workers came to join in ever increasing numbers; and with respect to thought, by that extraordinary marketplace of ideas, experiences, and contacts that was the Sorbonne, become the symbol itself of the movement, and after it the other faculties. This was so because all productive workers found themselves up against the same problems, with identical perspectives of action. Similarly, it was in the faculties that the idea of self-management, which flowed naturally from the occupation of the university centers, necessarily came into general circulation, though its significance there was not the same as in the factories or offices.

Starting from the Nanterre campus, the student movement very quickly won the other centers. It is evidently impossible to examine here everything that was done and said. We give only four examples: the Nanterre movement and its extensions on the ground of political organization, the Faculty of Sciences, the establishment of liaisons with the workers and with the peasants.

1 The Movement at Nanterre

In the first trimester a strike launched outside of traditional political or union organizations united 10,000 of the 12,000 students on the campus around problems of improving working conditions. The result: the establishment of commissions drawing members equally from each department, which very quickly showed their sterility.

This was followed in the second trimester by a series of sporadic incidents, expressing a diffused malaise: a demonstration of solidarity with a student threatened with expulsion ended in a scuffle with the cops called by the Dean; some courses were disrupted, and so on. Incidentally, the activity of Cite Universitaire (University housing) residents in February provided the University with an excuse for the abrogation of internally set rules.

At the end of March a new phase took shape:

- psychology students boycotted their ppreliminary exams;
- four students distributed a paper queestioning the teaching and uses of sociology ("Why sociologists?");
- On Friday, March 22, following the arrrest of six anti-imperialist militants, a protest meeting was organized which ended by voting for the occupation of the administration building that very evening. 150 students, gathered in the faculty-council room, debated numerous political problems until 2 A.M. A day
of unrestricted political debates on various themes was set for Friday, March 29.

The university authorities were upset by this turn of events (intensive preparation for the 29th: leaflets, speeches, inscriptions on the campus walls, and a poster campaign) and drew up the personnel to oppose the students with closure of the library and a strike of classroom attendants. On Thursday the 28th, Dean Grappin ordered the suspension of classes and lab sessions until the following Monday. A meeting of 300 students decided to continue the previous day's action but as a day of preparation for the political discussions, which were postponed until April 2.

On Friday The 29th, while a large force of police surrounded the campus, 500 students participated in an opening meeting held in a commonroom of the Cite, and constituted themselves as a commission to discuss the themes set for debate.

Monday, April 1, a majority of second year sociology students decided to boycott their exams. They then voted to endorse a text denouncing sociology as ideology. Meanwhile, among the professors, dissensions appeared between the liberal departments (human sciences and letters), favorable to granting premises for the next day's meeting, and the reactionaries (history), who demanded the arrest of the "ringleaders."

Tuesday, April 2, was a success: the administration did not succeed in preventing the occupation of a lecture hall by 1,500 people for a preliminary meeting, nor were the corporatists (adherents of a "pure", "nonpolitical" university) and fascists able to stop commissions from meeting in another building. The final plenary assembly, attended by 800 students and some lecturers, decided to continue the movement.

The Nature of the Movement

The Nanterre movement was clearly political. Unlike the November strike, which was "corporatist" in spirit, it stressed non-union issues such as "Down with police repression", "Critical university", 'The right of political expression and action on campus." At the same time it revealed its minority character and its consciousness of this fact: several orators denounced the illusion of the slogan, "Defence of the common interests of all students." At Nanterre it is clear that many students accepted higher education as an initiation into the management of bourgeois business. One thus saw the disengagement of a core of 300 "extremists" capable of mobilizing 1,000 of the Faculty's 12,000 students.

The actions carried out accelerated the emergence of consciousness in some people: it was a matter not so much of "provocations" as of obliging latent authoritarianism to manifest itself (such as the truckloads of CRS ready to interfere) by showing the true face of the proposed "dialogues" between students and administration. As soon as certain problems appeared, dialogue gave place to clubbing. The result was political consciousness, but also active participation on the part of all those who had until then been paralyzed by the inefficacy of the groupuscules and the routine of traditional demands by means of petitions and silent marches. Finally, students and professors had to drop their traditional political labels when the apparatus of repression got going. With interest we saw the UEC call for the proper functioning of a bourgeois university or certain "leftist" or even "Marxist" professors terrified to see their status questioned.

We must insist on the novelty of the movement set in motion, novelty at least in the French context. First of all, work had been done in common transcending the oppositions between groupuscules: it's a matter not of decreeing the inanity of these groups because we feel like it, but of a process in the course of which divergences rose out of theoretic and practical confrontation with reality rather than out of verbal quarrels between sects. Terminological peculiarities were questioned as rigid and unchanged perceptions of reality which groupuscules use to distinguish themselves from each other and not as instruments of scientific analysis. On the other hand, we resolved not to fall under the control of particular political groups or of the administration and the liberal teachers, adepts of "dialogue" and of confrontation in closed rooms.

New problems arose, in particular those of more direct and effective rejection of the class university, of a denunciation of the concept of neutral and objective knowledge as well as of its specialization, of an inquiry on the place which we are destined to occupy in the current division of labor, of joining the workers in struggle, etc.

Simultaneously, original forms of action were developed: meetings improvised on campus, occupation of classrooms to hold our debates, interruptions of lectures, boycotts of exams, posting of bulletins and posters in the halls, taking possession of the microphone monopolized by the administration, etc.

The Problems of the University
It appeared to the March 22 Movement (M22M) that the problems of the university had to be settled rapidly in order that the students might devote themselves to studying the basic problems.

With respect to exams, the Movement wished to see to it, on the one hand, that the student revolt and the many problems which it raised would not be stifled by the mass of good boys and girls looking out for their immediate personal interests: to pass their exams (which excluded simply postponing them); on the other hand, that the most disadvantaged students would not suffer from the decisions taken (which excluded a pure and simple boycott). This is why we proposed a transitional solution, pending the elaboration of a new mode of control of knowledge, which must lead to a practice of teaching renovated in its content as much as in its methods. This examination of a particular type would be given three weeks after the acceptance of the movement's conditions, the granting of amnesty for all the demonstrators and the obtaining of information on those students who had "disappeared".[2]

All those wounded in demonstrations, wage-earning students, scholarship students, and those on term leave were to be automatically passed.

All the students whose university records for 1967-1968 were satisfactory were to be passed. The others were to go before a commission representing both students and faculty which would judge them on a subject freely chosen by themselves. The exam would be written or oral, given individually or to a group.

Profiting from the current situation and from our position of power we will use whatever structure is set up to impose: o the opening of the dormitories and university restaurants to young apprentices, unemployed, and workers. o the opening of the campus to workers of Hauts-de-Seine, the area northwest of Paris within which lies Nanterre.

Regarding the autonomy of the Faculties and the universities, the M22M is conscious that an island of socialism cannot exist in a society which continues the capitalist profit system. When the State controls the funds and the bosses corral the students as they leave the campus, simple university autonomy is a Utopian notion and a reformist illusion. The M22M, opposed anyway to the university authorities' attempts to coopt the student movement, would therefore come out against this idea, if we did not see in it a means of achieving our ultimate objectives. In fact, if the realization of autonomy was accompanied by the institution of student power in the university, with right of veto over every decision taken and if the students utilized this power not to do the work of management that we don't accept but to continue to act in confrontation, then autonomy would appear desirable to us.

All these rearrangements of the established order within the university structure are not justified in the eyes of M22M unless they are elements of a revolutionary process seeking to transform capitalist society into a classless society. This transformation of society cannot be realized by the students alone, who find natural allies in the workers: we refuse to be the watchdogs, they, to be the servants of the bourgeoisie. Alliance with the working class has always been one of our objectives.

Joining with the Working Class
We occupy the Faculties, you occupy the factories. Are we fighting for the same thing?

Workers' sons make up only 10% of the students in higher education. Are we fighting for there to be more, for a democratic reform of the university? That would be an improvement, but it isn't what is most important. These workers' sons will become students like the others. That a worker's son can become a Director is not our program. We want to suppress the separation between workers and directors.

There are students who on leaving the university cannot find work. Are we fighting for there to be work for them to find? For a just employment policy for graduates? That would be an improvement but it isn't the essential point. These graduates in psychology or sociology will become career planners, personnel directors, psycho-technicians who will try to arrange your working conditions; graduates in mathematics will become the engineers who put into operation machines more productive and more unsupportable for you. Why do we, students deriving from the bourgeoisie, criticize capitalist society? For a worker's son to become a student is to leave his class. For a bourgeois' son it can be the occasion of his getting to know the true nature of his class, of questioning himself on the social function for which he is destined, on the organization of society, on the place you occupy in it.

We refuse to be scholars cut off from social reality.

We refuse to be used for the profit of the ruling class.

We wish to abolish the distinction between the labor of production and the labor of thinking and organization. We wish to construct a classless society; we struggle in the same direction.

You demand a minimum wage of 1,000 F. in the Parisian region, retirement at sixty, a 40 hour week with 48 hours pay. These are honorable and venerable demands. They appear, however, to be unrelated to our objectives, but in fact you occupy the factories, you take the bosses as hostages, you are striking without warning. These forms of struggle have been made possible by long actions carried out with perseverance in the enterprises and also thanks to the recent fight of the students.

These struggles are more radical than our legitimate demands, because they not only seek an improvement of the workers' condition in the capitalist system, but imply the destruction of that system. They are political in the true sense of the word; you fight not for a new prime minister but for an end to the boss's power in the shop and in society. The form of your struggle offers to us, students, the model of a truly socialist activity; the appropriation of the means of production and of decision-making power by the workers.

Your struggle and ours converge. We must destroy everything which isolates us from each other (habits, newspapers, etc.). There must be a joining together of the occupied shops and Faculties.

The Organization of the March 22 Movement
The Movement is composed of base groups of ten people:

- who discuss all the political problemms with which we are confronted.
- who delegate someone to report their discussions to each of the special commissions dealing with various political problems: autonomy, exams and action on campus, action towards the working class, anti-imperialist struggle, self-defense, etc.
- who delegate one person to report theeir discussions, participate in emergency meetings of the coordinating committee which will also contain a delegate from each special commission.
- who take charge of the distribution oof leaflets, discussions, and, in general, of dealings with several factories and with a specific geographic sector.
- who take charge of their own securityy in propaganda work and their self-defence in general.
who take charge of their transportation: each group is supposed to have at least one car available to them.
It is not necessary that a group's delegates to the different commissions be fixed from the time the group delegates someone to a given meeting.

On the other hand, to the extent that we are joined by new militants, new groups will be formed so that each group has no more than 12 members.

The special commissions serve to make syntheses of the group discussions on various themes. One is created each time a new political problem appears, they coordinate the actions and the activity of the neighborhood committees and each delegate someone to the coordinating committee. They take charge of the concrete application of political decisions and make sure to be close to the technical applications committee.

The Coordinating Committee includes the delegates from base groups and committee delegates, It is the structure responsible for decisions and the organization of movement activity in normal times. However, in case of conflict between delegates from a base group and a commission on some problem, a general assembly will be called to settle it.

A certain number of executive commissions depend directly on the coordinating committee:

- collection of money from personalitiees and synthesis of various purchases,
- relations with the outside: sending mmilitants to explain our activity wherever we are asked - answering journalists' interviews, etc.
- coordination with the rest of the movvement (other then M22M) that is to say, CAL, May 3rd Action Committee, student-worker committees at Censier, Halte-aux-Vins. UNEF, and SNESup, the union central bureaus, and eventually other structures.
- editorial committees; coordination off work on pamphlets and stuff people want to write about (like Action, etc.) - press review
- propaganda, printing tracts, posters,, etc.
- health: medicine, advice, etc.
- legal counsel in case of arrest, legaal defence, etc.
- foreigners, because of special legal problems; and everything else subsequently thought useful.
A newsletter for information and discussion is written by the militants. All write in it under any form at all: three lines of information, ten lines of political poetry, theoretical sketch, analysis, etc. In it the commissions circulate their reports, and the communiques of the movement are published. When a piece of work is carried out somewhere, when information arrives from the provinces, a text is written.

Principles of Action

A certain number of principles inspire our actions:

- the recognition of the plurality and diversity of tendencies in the revolutionary movement.
- the revocability of representatives aand the effective power of the collectives.
- the permanent circulation of ideas annd the struggle against the monopolizing of information and understanding.
- the struggle against hierarchization..
- the abolition in practice of the diviision of labor (to fight the barriers between manual and intellectual work).
- the rejection of the mystifications the motions for censure, referendum, electoral coalitions, round tables delegated power.
- refusal of dialogue with the bosses.<
- destruction of the myth of the State as arbiter, in the service of the general interest.
- the direction by the workers themselvves of their shops, a form of action which can for the moment only be spontaneous but which we must advocate as one of the revolutionary possibilities.

Activities - Four axes:

- information
- provisioning
- self defense
organization of demonstrations

Information has a double aim:

-to fight against the poison campaign oof the bosses and the government which gives false information on the work places.
-to institute direct links between the different strike committees and between the inhabitants of a neighborhood. Neighborhood meetings, attended by workers in various enterprises have, in fact, taken place.

For that, daily bulletins are put out using information given by the strikers (on the Parisian level and for certain neighborhoods). These bulletins are put together in liaison with the different action committees.

On The other hand, leaflets produced by the strikers are mimeographed and distributed. In the neighborhoods, meetings for political agitation and information are held in the street.

Provisioning: Collections of money and food are organized every day. Contacts are established between striking workers and peasants. Workers make their trucks available for looking for supplies in the provinces. Stocks of food are centralized in the workplaces which offer their space. It is in this way possible to distribute tons of food.

Self-defence: groups of militants are at the disposition of the workers for reinforcement of strike pickets, and resistance to the attacks of UNR commandos, fascists, the cops.

Demonstrations: Demonstrations of support - physical and political - for the workers are organized in the neighborhoods of Paris, in the suburbs, at Flins. After May 10, numerous demonstrations were proposed to the UNEF and the SNESup, notably that of Friday the 10th, first night of the barricades.

2 Faculty of Sciences, University of Paris at Halle-aux-Vins
Unlike Nanterre, the Faculty of Sciences had not experienced important protest movements before the disorders in the Latin Quarter. But, there was here as everywhere a latent uneasiness among the students (35,000 enrolled) about Dean Zamansky's projects of setting up a selective system and the Fouchet reform whose realization must involve an increase in the students' problems. The Students' reactions were at that time limited to purely reformist demands: accelerated construction of the new campus at Villetaneuse and creation of new teaching jobs. These demands were taken up by the lecturers who saw there a means of penetrating the professorial ranks. In return, no criticism was directed against the teaching methods, except in respect to the desire of the university authority to raise the productivity of studies and to increase the selection procedure.

However, from May 3 on, courses were stopped in certain advanced sections, under the direction of professors with "advanced ideas" like Monod. These stoppages were only a visceral reaction to the police brutalities, but the situation rapidly evolved towards calling into question the situation of the students within the University. For the first time, direct discussions between teachers and students took place in each department, often in the crowded lecture halls (500 to 600 people). Of course, the discussions bore at first on the examinations which were to begin May 15, but they opened up quickly enough to general political questions.

In other sections, where the professors are particularly reactionary, courses continued to meet. The students already mobilized, organized themselves spontaneously to go to these courses, to interrupt them, and to describe the discussions which were going on elsewhere. Whereas during the year it was impossible to get a whole lecture hall to participate in whatever discussions there were, whereas before people would whistle whenever someone talked about politics, about capitalism, now the majority of the students listened and took part, even if it was to express their opposition to the movement. In everyone appeared the desire to take an active part in running things but, on the whole, these sentiments were hardly expressed outside the halls and the department.

On the other hand, a student strike committee of about ten people wished to pose more general problems. This committee set itself up on May 10. It charged itself with organizing life in the occupied buildings, with having everything under its control, with preventing courses still being given from meeting. This committee was formed spontaneously, of its own freewill; in no way elected by students, it also didn't derive in any direct way from the UNEF (not very strong here, and controlled by the stalinist UEC), which had been left behind by the movement, together with all the political groups who stood apart or obstructed (with the exception of the trotskyite FER). The mass of students thus found themselves faced with the fait accompli of a strike committee which existed, functioned, made decisions, created organizations.

After the night of the barricades, a faculty strike committee was formed, uniting members of the SNESup and. almost exclusively, junior faculty (lecturers). (It contained only four professors and junior professors.) It also was not elected.

The two strike committees at first met separately but soon merged. From the beginning, the two committees pushed for the creation of rank-and-file committees in the students' lecture halls, and for laboratory councils in the research units attached to the Faculty. While the laboratory councils constituted themselves very rapidly, the strike committee was opposed to immediate elections of student rank-and-file committees because the Dean had organized the students who had been absent from the Faculty and had not participated in the movement. Ten days later, after many political discussions, the rank-and-file committees were set up. To the great annoyance of the Dean and the professors who wanted to play the mass of the strikers against the committee, the rank-and-file committees supported the action of the strike committee, though it was first strongly criticized for not having been an elected body.

More than the students in the strike committee, the teachers tried to set up representative structures to replace the old government of the Faculty, (the Faculty assembly which consisted only of professors and lecturers and the Dean it elects), a desire shared by the laboratory researchers and technicians. A provisional representative commission, consisting of 18 students, 9 professors, 9 lecturers or master-lecturers, and delegates from the technicians, research scientists, and administrators, was created, which settled the question of examinations by postponing them to October, and which was to prepare for the establishment of a representative central committee to replace the old university power structure.

Thus there was within the Faculty a tangle of parallel authorities: (1) the laboratory councils, revocable by the lab personnel, and leading a life separate from the rest of the Faculty; (2) the rank-and-file committees of the students, revocable at any time by the lecture halls and meeting in general assembly to make their decisions; (3) the General Assembly of the instructors, containing master-lecturers and lecturers as well as those professors who wished to participate; (4) the strike committee; (5) the provisional representative commission composed of student delegates chosen by the strike committee and revocable at any time by the committee and by the general assembly of the rank-and-file committees, and of teacher delegates, revocable at any time by the teachers' general assembly, (the Dean himself picked the professors sitting on this committee); (6) finally, the old Faculty government. All these centers of power coexisted more or less well during the ascending period of the movement, in the course of which the ranks of professors and the Dean were in no position to oppose the decisions of the strike committee. The decision to put off the exams until October led a large number of students to leave for their vacation - and after de Gaulle's speech on May 30, the professors hardened and refused to sit on the representative commission.

This decision contributed to reinforcing the unity between students, researchers, and master-lecturers, who then organized elections to the representative central committee. This move put the professors and the Dean in an awkward position, and serious cracks appeared within the professors' ranks; the reformists, sensing that the hour had come to attempt to coopt the movement, asked the Dean to have the elections of the professors' delegates proceed. The entry of the police into the Faculty was perhaps not unrelated to this situation.

The strike committee for its part came out for the creation of a Summer University, as the other Faculties were planning; the more radical of its members wanted in effect to establish contact with the workers and to open the Faculty up to the outside. A central bureau for the Summer University was elected by the assembly of the student rank-and-file committees. This office centralized the different initiatives which were making themselves seen: (a) in the various departments, experiments in new teaching methods were made with the cooperation of the most dynamic part of the professoral corps; (b) political activities; seminars enlivened by a certain number of mandarins (from the Faculties of Letters and of Law) and also, and above all, working groups in which students and workers rubbed shoulders and in which very fruitful discussions took place; (c) artistic activities (cinema, sale of books, etc.), which had the advantage of attracting many people.

The experiment of the Summer University, difficult to realize and assuredly with many faults, was without doubt one of the most attractive projects of the Faculty of Sciences, and the strike committee devoted a large part of its efforts to maintaining the occupation of the classrooms so that it could go on.[5] It goes without saying that the gaullist government could not allow it to develop, and the first cops who invaded the campus, in the early morning of July 5, admitted that they came to stop it.

3 Flins: Student-Worker Solidarity
One of the slogans the students stressed in their demonstrations was: "Power is in the street" This phenomenon is not without a touch of the 19th century (not by far the only one one might have observed), in reality the power of the future is to be found in that place where the producers are concentrated, where they work. But the street remains no less an unavoidable preliminary to the emergence of consciousness and, besides, an inevitable experience. It was at Flins that workers of the Sorbonne shop and workers of the Renault shop united in practical action, and it was there also (unlike at Billancourt or Cleon, for example) that in fact more than half of the personnel was to come out, despite all the pressures, against the return to work.

At Flins, the workforce is composed largely of young people, not yet very well habituated to the ways of the unions; the strike was spontaneous (breaking out here before at Billancourt) and the rank-and-file had rather tight control over the strike committee; likewise, participation in the picket line was higher

than elsewhere. On the night between Thursday and Friday, June 7,[6] half-tracks broke through the factory gates, allowing the CRS (there were about 4.000 of them in this sector) to enter, which forced the strike pickets to evacuate the plant. In the morning, under police protection, scabs came to take the strikers' places at work (or at least were supposed to do this) so that the management could announce an "effective resumption of work." However, despite an enormous deployment of police, young workers and those students who succeeded in escaping the roadblocks set up by the police met together before the factory gates and explained to the workers, deceived with false information (which the CGT made no attempt to refute), that no decision to resume work had been made. Thenceforth the workers refrained from reentering the factory. During this time, the CGT and the CFDT organized a meeting 4 miles away from the plant, which was attended by at most fifty or so union officials. These then returned to the factory gates where 2,000 to 3,000 demonstrators were assembled. The union delegates issued their slogans: "No provocations! Disperse! Do not reenter the factory!" But the workers insisted that the students speak. A union bigshot seized the mike again: "Disperse!" But the pressure of the ranks forced the mike to be given to Geismar (leader of the SNESup). He reported that at Paris the students had met the CRS head on and that students and workers united could reoccupy the factory. At this moment the police attacked. The students showed the workers how to fight - it didn't take too long! And the free-for-all went on for several days, through the fields, over a pretty wide area.

An attempt of several thousand demonstrators, assembled before the Saint-Lazare station, to go to Flins by train ran up against the obstruction of the of the CGT and the lack of solidarity on the part of the railwaymen. At Billancourt, about 30,000 workers of Renault did not for an instant try to break the union vise and make contact with Flins. Under these conditions, the struggle at Flins, after hard skirmishes, was bound to meet defeat. It remained the only one of its type, at least in the seriousness which it took on at certain moments, a seriousness however quite modest in the context of the apparently gigantic dimensions of ,the strike, even taking into account the fact that the most active elements were held up in the shops by urgent tasks. And yet, with all the limitations one can think of. a struggle of this type, such a witness to lived solidarity, remains a rare fact in the whole history of the workers' movement. On the spot, it developed the fighting spirit of the workers, sowing a seed which must some day bare fruit.[7]

4 Other Forms of Solidarity
Another aspect of worker-student solidarity, less spectacular than the preceding but perhaps even more important, was the creation of Action Committees (CA), based either on the neighborhood or on the workplace, with the active cooperation of students most of whom belonged to no organized group. These committees directed at the workers a simply enormous quantity of leaflets. By their actions of various sorts they contributed to laying the foundations of a new form of consciousness. With the reflux of the movement, these committees receded, but nothing is more natural since they are the expression of the movement, in its highest and its lowest levels. An outstanding fact nonetheless, the CA's as a whole took on the task of "transcending union and political structures" through the creation of a "multitude of political cells" which must someday unite but "without organizational pushing", as a function of the real struggle and not of abstract demands.[8]

The CLEOP (Comites de liaison etudiants-ouvriers-paysans) performed an activity no less important: they assured the provisioning of the strikers, especially in the small enterprises, which, not being supported by workplace organizations (like canteens), had need of aid. Some arose in the agricultural schools, others had a less definite origin. They established relations between themselves and cooperatives or certain unions of agricultural workers (CNJA, FNJA). They went particularly to Brittany (because of its proximity), where they were most welcome (for reasons stemming from the surplus of