Root & Branch: a libertarian socialist journal

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

Root & Branch # 1

Notes on the postal strike, 1970

Root and Branch on the wildcat strike of US postal workers in 1970 and its implications.


A new labor movement is being born in America. It is the autonomous creation of the working class. It exists more potentially than actually, but its early seeds are appearing in wildcat strikes in the trucking, air transport, and mail communications industries. These wildcat strikes differ from most others in recent labor history. Unlike the sporadic outbreaks of worker militancy outside union sanction in individual plants, the recent strikes have been national walkouts independent of the official labor movement. They have had a demonstrated capacity, moreover, to withstand invocations of union leadership for orderly procedure, government threats of legal reprisal, and apparent lack of national coordination except the universal idea of direct action to meet felt needs.

For years, most American workers and radicals within the labor movement were convinced of the absolute necessity of central organization on a national level to meet the corporations or the government on an equal footing. The local patterns of trade union organization predominant during the first sixty years after the Civil War were deemed inappropriate to the monopoly stage of capitalism, in which large national corporations with chains of plants dotting the country dominated the political economy.

The validity of this point of view was reinforced by the apparent success of the CIO and the AF of L which unionized multioccupationally most basic industries in the United States. The early successes of collective bargaining to achieve higher wages, fringe benefits, and some measure of worker control over the conditions of labor were attributed to the emergence of a bureaucracy which mirrored, in both scope and power, the structure of corporate capital.

Now, however, the central bureaucracies which control the trade unions have become an obstacle to the development of struggles centered on the elementary needs of workers. The strike of postal workers brought to the surface the sclerosis of the trade unions, exposed their alliance with the government against the workers, and ushered in nascent forms of workers direct action independent of the trade unions.


Several years ago, radicals in the United States and in Europe were proclaiming the end of deprivation as a central thread of working class action. However cognizant of the need to understand class exploitation as primarily the exploitation of labor, its alienation at the point of production, radical theorists of neo-capitalism consistently underestimated the importance of understanding the crisis of contemporary capitalism as reflected in the antagonism between wages and profits. Nor have we fully understood the significance of state workers in the political economy.

The position that struggles for economic demands were eminently cooptable was a response to the specific condition of U.S. capitalism in the 50s and 60s. The familiar wage struggles consisted in the expiration of a contract, a union strike call, and a quick statement with a mild wage increase, which was easily passed on by the corporations to the workers in higher prices. To radicals, this process looked hardly more revolutionary than any other business transaction.

The postal strike was completely different. From the first it was illegal. It did not play by the rules of the game. It fought national and local union leaderships tooth and nail. It was undeterred by appeals to patriotism and national interest. It based itself on the power of the workers, not on the goodwill of the bosses. Far from integrating the workers into the system, the postal struggle opposed its central institutions.

Mr. Zip says: On Strike!

Nonetheless it was fundamentally a strike for higher incomes. Nor is it hard to understand why postmen should consider wage demands worth fighting for. Letter carriers make $6,176 to $8,442 annually. The Department of Labor considers $10,000 the minimum annual income for a family of four. Richard Nixon affirms postal workers have been underpaid for twenty-three years.

An index of the potential explosiveness of wage issues is the fact that the weekly earnings of the average non-farm, non-supervising worker in the private economy last year was approximately $2.00 less than the "grossly underpaid" postal worker.

This is not to say that wage demands are more important than others. In fact, it is wrong to oppose economic and non-economic demands. The real question is whether the struggle is conducted in a way which uses and increases the workers' power, their freedom of action.

The post office strike demonstrated that many groups now share the social position once reserved for blue collar industrial workers. The postal workers are underpaid and exploited in precisely the way the industrial workers are, and they clearly have a critical role in the functioning of society.

The use of troops and the application of the full legal powers of the state in both the mail and the rail struggles reveal the centrality of these functions to U.S. capitalism. Free movement of the mails and commodities are an absolute condition to the system's maintenance, much less its expansion. The government had no choice but to play out the alternatives to insure the resumption of rail and mail service. In the mail dispute, severe legal sanctions, such as congressional action to suspend the provisions of the rail labor act and invocation of compulsory arbitration, seemed sufficient, at first to dissuade the workers from direct action in disregard of union leaders and state decree. But the frustrations of postal workers built up over thirty years could not be suppressed through legal means alone.

Federal workers are completely dependent on congress for wage and benefit improvements, however infrequently enacted. The strike ban has always been held sacrosanct, however, by union leaders and the government. But the dual pressures of inflation and tedious work conditions with no significant upgrading opportunities became too much for postal workers who were forced to hold two jobs or go on supplementary welfare to support themselves and their families.

One of the more interesting features of the strike was the fact that many signals had been flashed to postal officials and the federal government long before the wildcat broke out. Stories in the daily press reported that postal workers were receiving public assistance to meet basic needs. Demonstrations and intensive lobbying activities had reached their high point immediately prior to the strike. Yet congress and the administration seemed powerless to act decisively to meet the income demands of the workers.

The Vietnam war, the permanent war economy, and the production of waste subsidized by federal expenditures appear to be logical explanations for the slow pace of government action to meet the modest wage demands of postal union officials. Beyond the fiscal crisis of the public sector induced by the direction of state spending stands the absolute refusal of corporate capital to reduce profits in order to support the public sector. On the contrary. Public services exist to support business. (Witness the absolute need to resume mail service in order to guarantee the flow of information to the stock market.) But the use of the taxing powers of the state to redistribute income between workers and capitalists turns back on itself. The increasing inefficiency of the mails in comparison with the increasing volume (itself a concomitant of capital expansion) is a direct result of the pauperization of the traditional public services.

Business has been unwilling to finance even those social costs immediately beneficial to itself. Instead, it demands that public services be turned over to the private sector. One of the issues raised by the administration in response to the strike was the necessity of postal "reform" as a condition for pay increases. The proposed postal reform was to abandon public ownership of the mail service and create a government-owned corporation to run the mails. This corporation, similar to quasi-public transit corporations, would be self-sustaining; that is, it would not receive funds from the general treasury in order to subsidize the postal system. Instead, operating costs would have to be met by operating income, essentially the price of stamps. Such a corporation could issue bonds to finance capital improvements, but the debt service would have to be paid for from operating income.


It is evident that as long as the war continues workers will bear its burden through lower real wages, higher taxes, unemployment, and inflation. In fact, real wages cannot be increased at the present time simply through strikes against one or another employer. This will have two effects on the labor movement. First, its actions will develop more and more into class actions, in response to the shifting of the burden of the war onto the workers. Second, its objectives will have to move beyond simple wage increases, which are impossible given present priorities. An end to the war and a shift in the tax burden will no doubt be two of the key demands. The program of the Alliance for Labor Action clearly reflects these tendencies. But the methods of struggle it proposes - union organizing and legislative lobbying - work only within a system which has sufficient resources to make concessions, not within a system which is already overextended and has its back against the wall.

The result is that the wildcat actions of the workers will more and more tend to become class actions and to become political. The pace of the process cannot be predicted - although a number of massive wildcat strikes for economic demands will probably be necessary before union leaderships are sufficiently discredited to permit workers' consciousness to become aware of the need to engage in broader class and political actions independent of the trade unions.

The smell of general strike was in the air during the week long postal strike. The Wall Street Journal explicitly warned of it; and even Rademacher, president of the letter carriers union, threatened to ask George Meany [!] to call a general strike if the government refused to make concessions. The national administration and the corporate bourgeoisie experienced this nightmare for the first time since the great industrial union walkouts in 1946, when nearly three million workers in most basic industries left their jobs in order to counter the decline in real wages wrought by rising prices following the second world war. There were differences however. In 1946 the "first round" wage strikes were officially sanctioned and controlled throughout by liberal industrial union hierarchies. At no time were the channels of collective bargaining in danger of being overrun. In the postal strike, the workers went outside the union framework. The national leadership opposed the walkout and was able to maintain the accountability of local union leadership to its command until the rank and file revolt pushed some local heads to support the strike.

A second feature of the mail strike was that it represented the first national wildcat in recent labor history. The strike spread from New York City to Nassau and Westchester counties, upstate New York, and nearby New Jersey and Connecticut almost immediately. Within a few days, the wildcat became national, as postal workers in Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and other major centers took the initiative on their own despite the pleading, cajolery, and threats of local and national union chieftains. The day after the strike began, the press was already speculating about the possibilities of a general strike of federal employees. John Griner, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, was reported by the Washington Star to say "that he had to intervene personally to prevent several strikes by his locals." Nathan Wolkimir, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, considered conservative by trade union standards, said that NFFE locals throughout the country had indicated they wanted to strike in support of the postal workers. Alan Whitney, executive vice-president of the unaffiliated National Association of Government Employees, gave a radio interview in which he reported: "We have been receiving phone calls from our various local presidents in various agencies throughout the government and throughout the country. They have watched events of the past days and have seen postal workers striking with a degree of impunity, and their question to us is, if they can do it, why can't we?"

Whitney, Griner, and other leaders of government employees unions gave a standard answer to this question. "We advised them that it was against the law" (Nathan Wolkimir). Undoubtedly this advice served to dissuade those militants who were ready to strike, but were still under the hegemony of their union leadership. Whitney reported to the White House that "tremendous pressure" was being put on the national office of his union to authorize strikes, especially "one of our biggest defense locals whose primary duty is to supply the war effort in Southeast Asia."

Simultaneously, municipal employees in San Francisco and Atlanta took to the streets. Similar demands informed their struggle. The up front public issue was the failure of congress to enact a substantial postal pay increase. The spectre haunting local governments haunted the Nixon administration as well. Even if the postal demands could be met, suppose all municipal, state, and federal employees were to join the struggle? Beyond this possibility was the danger that stalled teamster negotiations would result in a transportation wildcat, and perhaps trigger action by industrial workers. President Fitzsimmons of the Teamsters warned that "the natives are restless," an apparent attempt to force the trucking companies into a quick settlement, in order to forestall an event mutually undesirable to the unions, the companies, and the government.

There is little doubt that there was tremendous pressure from the ranks for widening the struggle beyond the postal strike, on the one hand, and various local disputes, on the other. National union leaders, taken aback by the temerity of the rank and file, recovered their composure. Simultaneously, they urged a back to work movement among the workers and attempted to force concessions from the administration. To the workers, the passivity of the AFL-CIO leaders was a clear indication of their fright at the implications of the postal walkout. They remained publicly mute throughout the one week strike, working "behind the scenes" to bring the Administration and congressional leaders to the bargaining table in order to settle the strike on the basis of a non-inflationary wage increase commensurate with cost of living increases since 1967. The postal settlement was in accord with the GE settlement. Union objectives were to recover lost ground, not to make substantial gains in real wages.

But the postal workers could not be herded back to work by peaceful means. Neither the promise of a piddling wage increase with a provision for achieving top rate after eight years instead of twenty years nor appeals to patriotism and the rule of law was successful. The President was forced to resort to his ultimate weapon: the use of troops as strike-breakers in the most militant section of the 180,000 walkout -- New York. Even though the troops were unarmed, the coercive implications of 25,000 of them in the post offices were not lost on the workers. Contrary to romantic leftist notions of impending bloodshed, most letter carriers were genuinely intimidated by the presence of the troops. They were unprepared, psychologically and militarily, to counter them effectively. The combination of congressional promises of a substantial wage increase and the massive presence of troops was sufficient to break the back of the strike for the time being.

But the end of the strike is not attributable merely to the show of state power and/or trade union constraint of the workers. More important than either of them was the failure of the strike to spread to other federal workers and beyond them to industrial workers. Short of a widening strike on generalized demands all struggles end in negotiated compromise. The material conditions existed for a wider strike. Conjuncturally, teamsters and auto workers face the most difficult negotiations in years. The current recession has produced stiffer corporate resistance to wage demands which would alter the relationship between profits and wages should international competition make it more difficult to offset wage increases by higher prices. Rank and file restlessness nevertheless has not reached the point of revolt against the trade unions and the employers in substantial parts of basic industry.

But the air controllers were ready and did strike. Workers in all public services, traditionally the least cohesive, are furious at the inability and unwillingness of the state to meet their needs. Implicit in their readiness to struggle for quantitative demands is their refusal to accept the sacrifices made necessary by the defense effort. The Vietnam war has lost its magic among workers who have been told they must subordinate their needs to national priorities - to militant anti-communism, that is, waged on their (the workers') backs. To be sure, there is no conscious rejection of these priorities. But the wildcat strikes evoked a decree of national emergency from the President amid arguments that vital services were being impaired. Most apparent was the inability of most workers to make an explicit connection between their strike and its ideological consequences not only in relation to the war, but more importantly, in relation to the legitimacy of the law as a determinant of social behavior. The workers acted subversively without bringing this subversion to consciousness. They had refused in practice to subordinate their own interests to the national interest, traditionally defined, but could not perceive it in its most general aspect, the struggle against state prerogative over them.

In some cities the union was able to maintain complete control. Postal workers in Washington, D.C., asked whether or not they were going to strike, often replied that they did not know. It was being decided for them by the officers; they were waiting, that is, for word from above. Meanwhile the president of the local announced on television that "the reason the D.C. workers are not out is that the local is doing everything possible to keep them from going out." When the membership arrived at the union hall for a meeting, which had been announced publicly, they found the hall locked and guarded. The leadership's attitude was we'll let you know when the national calls a strike. A general meeting of the local was not called until almost a week after the New York strike had begun. Wildcat advocates were not allowed to speak at the meeting. One of them had his union card torn up when he presented it to get in. (He never did get in.) A vote was announced. But what was being voted on was uncertain. The membership, it seems, was confused. The leadership, not at all. The meeting, it announced, had voted against a strike.

The wildcat forces met on the lawn in front of the main post office, but did not have sufficient strength to call a strike. They were weak, in part, because the strike nationally had peaked, and many other cities were going back to work. The local's stalling techniques had been successful. Two other conditions explain Washington's lack of militancy. First, the basic industry of the city is government, and government workers have no tradition of strikes; they have instead remnants of an ideology of "public service responsibility." Second, perhaps even more than elsewhere, D.C. postal workers are predominantly black, but D.C. has perhaps the most middle-class black community of any major city, based on access to government jobs and the security-consciousness which such jobs appeal to and generate. These same conditions were no doubt important in preventing the strike from spreading to other government workers in Washington. They will continue to retard as well such developments in the future.

In other major cities, however, black workers and young workers were the cutting edge of the walkout. In strike bound cities such as Detroit, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and New York, approximately 50 to 75 per cent of the workers are black, many of them in their twenties and thirties. Black workers predominate because government employment, particularly in the post office, is one of the few opportunities for black men to get steady work at wages over $100 a week. Many black workers in the post office are college educated. Many of them have received two or four year college degrees. Still, a job in the post office represents an important means of gaining job security and a regular income.

The strike suggests further that new relations between the black and white movements impend. When the issue is access to a few hundred skilled construction jobs in one city, black workers have no choice but to attack white workers' privileges; and the white workers, in turn, no choice but to defend their jobs. When the issue becomes a struggle by tens of thousands of workers against employers and the state, the need for solidarity becomes evident to everyone, and the special militancy of blacks becomes an extra force for unity, their special oppression an added fuel to the struggle against the common enemy. In a period of rising labor militancy, we may expect organizations with a specifically working class base, like DRUM, to become increasingly significant in the black movement; and those with a bourgeois or street-culture base, to become relatively less significant. Race contradictions will feed, not counteract, class contradictions.


The fact that the struggle for immediate demands never grew into a struggle for more general political and social demands is not a function of the failure of radical political education to make the connections ideologically. It is rather the inability of the postal workers to spread the struggle to other workers - other federal workers, to begin with. One reason for this failure was the relatively short duration of the strike, itself a consequence of its narrowness. Another was the fact that the impulses to struggle among federal workers who wished to join the strike were effectively emasculated by union bureaucrats to whom militants turned for leadership. The reliance of federal workers on union leadership remained an internal barrier to a widened struggle. The trade union consciousness among federal workers reflects the relative newness of union organization among them.

If radicals had a role to play in the postal strike, it was not primarily to educate the postal workers, but to agitate for conditions which provide the soil of revolutionary education - to agitate, that is, for widened struggle. Radicals in Washington did address other federal workers. [Footnote: Radicals in D.C. understood the need to support the strike, but were hindered in their efforts because there was no strike or organized wildcat movement to relate to locally. Responding to reports that government union officials were being bombarded by calls demanding strikes, one group of radicals distributed the leaflet "If They Did It, Why Can't We?" throughout eight government agencies. The mobilization distributed a leaflet relating the strike to the war throughout downtown Washington. The D.C. Labor Committee, the Young Patriots, and a radical union of D.C. sewer workers sent representatives to the wildcat meeting when it finally occurred. Nobody was able to respond effectively, however, to the actual situation of the D.C. postal workers. Nobody had substantive contacts with lower level government workers throughout the city.] But in most places, radicals contented themselves with organizing support demonstrations in town squares or with truncated attempts at "political education" without benefit of substantial contacts among postal workers. Most of the leaflets handed out to postal workers were politically "correct." They opposed the troop intervention; they connected the decline of real wages to the war and to corporate capitalist profit grabbing; and they tried to put forth a program of demands for postal workers, an incredible exercise in arrogance and abstract politics.

The brave attempts of organized radicals to be relevant to workers' struggles represents an advance over the situation several years ago. But radical consciousness still appears as an outside force. It still does not function as a tendency within the class. If radicals are to be relevant to workers, it is their vision, their description of alternatives to the modes of hierarchy which dominate the workers, which constitutes their primary contribution. Not their support for strikes at given levels. Nor their attempts to evolve demands or organizational strategies. The concrete aid radicals can render is to help widen the struggle to other industrial sectors, including those in which they are, themselves, employed.


The postal strike makes vivid what state socialism means for workers - conditions identical to or worse than those in the private economy. The post office is, after all, a "nationalized" enterprise. Yet its workers are paid worse than those in the private sector, dominated just as thoroughly, deprived even more of such fundamentals as the right to strike, and enmeshed in bureaucracy. If the socialism is viewed as a system in which "the government owns everything and everybody works for the government," it is hardly surprising that workers - and everybody else except potential government bureaucrats - shies away from it.

As the struggle of public workers become more important in the general movement of workers, the problem of redefining the socialist vision will become more acute for radicals. Clearly, the convergence of future state socialist solutions with contemporary state capitalism indicates the task for socialists. The socialist vision must be discussed as the control by the producers of their work and of all institutions of society. The wildcat strikes, directed against the corporations, the state, and their ideological apparatuses (e.g., the trade unions) imply an action critique of bureaucracy and hierarchy. Because state socialism preserves all the forms of capitalist domination and changes only the masters, it is not surprising that workers will have nothing to do with left wing alternatives which offer nothing better than a new bureaucracy.

In the postal workers strike, we can see a new labor movement struggling to free itself from the womb of the old one.

In the struggle between the wildcat movement and the unions, we can see the struggle between two principles of workers' organization. Here, decision-making in free assembly, willingness to struggle within and without the law, mobilization of the workers' real power, spreading solidarity, intransigence, self-direction, action; there, obedience, division of the workers from each other, groveling before power (institutional and individual), authoritarianism.

In the postal strike and in the rising labor discontent, we can see the development of a new alignment of forces in America. During the 1960s the forces of movement in society were blacks and students. The middle and working classes opposed them both and looked to quasi-fascist solutions of increasing state dictatorship to protect their positions. But as the postal strike shows, in a non-expanding economy, the state must oppose even the day-to-day struggles of the workers. The convergence of radicalized workers with the student and black movements will be long and difficult, but it is pushed forward daily by developments within society. Only within the context of such realignment is serious struggle against fascism and repression, let alone revolutionary advance, possible.

From Root & Branch No. 1 (1970), pp. 1-5

Unfriendly skies - The air traffic controllers' sick-out, 1969

Short article about the 1969 mass calling-in sick strike of air traffic controllers in the US over wages and conditions, and the new union of the workers, the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization.

Two days after Nixon broke the letter carriers' strike the air traffic controllers walked off their jobs and stayed out for three weeks. The controllers called in sick, attempting to avoid the still legal penalties for striking.

The air traffic controller has the most difficult job in the aviation industry. The airline pilot's workload is reduced by the auto-pilot, the co-pilot and the flight engineer. And the pilot is limited to 85 flying hours a month. Controllers face constant pressure and must make hundreds of correct- immediate- decisions ten hours a day, six days a week.

The controller uses radar and radio to keep planes separated. Often the pilot does not even know where he is. When planes head toward busy airports for landing, the controller brings them in separating them by the legal limit of 3 miles. And 3 miles at 180 knots approach speed is only 1 minute of flying time. The controllers had to organize against the FAA to maintain this 3 mile limit. Controllers have told me that there are near mid-air collisions in the clouds that pilots never know about. When planes change their routing to avoid thunderstorms the safety margin is especially thin.

The controller is at the mercy of antique and inadequate equipment. At the Kennedy Approach Control center the radar failed while a controller was bringing six planes into JFK. The controller sent the first plane up, the second one down, the third to the right, and the fourth to the left. The fifth one he told to continue straight ahead. And to plane six he said "I'm sorry buddy, you're going to have to stop right where you are."

When the radio transmitter fails, the controller must watch silently on radar as targets converge and hopefully keep on going.

During the 1960s the volume and speed of air traffic increased phenomenally. But the government spent little money on improving and modernizing the air traffic control system. From 1964 to 1968 no controllers were hired. This meant that each controller had to handle many more planes. To prevent delays the controllers were forced to violate the government's own safety rules.

In 1968 the controllers threw out a government union and organized PATCO (Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization). They began "Operation Air Safety" in the summer of 1968. They collectively refused to squeeze planes dangerously close together.

Since 1968 the government has been hiring controller trainees. But it takes 3 to 4 years to train a man for radar traffic control. In the meantime the regular controllers have the added burden of training the new men in addition to doing their jobs. Often the trainees learn by controlling actual planes. In Puerto Rico nineteen persons lost their lives when a plane was sent into a mountain by a trainee. His instructor was busy with regular duties.

The major high-density control centers were the heart of the "sick-out." Most of the present controllers were hired in the 1956-58 period and are now in their mid-thirties. Their health and ability to control traffic is failing due to the constant strain. A recent medical survey of controllers found 68 percent have chest pains, 81 percent vomited blood, and 95 percent had visual disturbance (double vision). The FAA will not let them transfer to other less intense centers. To retire they must have 30 years of service or be 55 years old.

Last summer FAA boss, John Shaffer, testified before a congressional committee that the controllers were not underpaid or overworked. Spontaneously controllers across the country called in sick for several days. Since that time, the FAA has stepped up harrassment of PATCO members. PATCO lost its dues checkoff privilege.

Before the recent strike the FAA had refused to negotiate the PATCO demands: 20 years retirement, 30 hour week, higher pay, and better equipment. The final blow came when the FAA gave involuntary transfers to three Baton Rouge PATCO members. Three thousand five hundred controllers called in sick out of a total of 8500 workers.

During the sick-out, the controllers came under intense pressure from the FAA and the airlines. The airline organization (the Air Transport Association) sued each controller individually for damages. The suit is still pending. The FAA sent telegrams of dismissal and suspension to the "sick" controllers. The government forced the PATCO officers to call off the strike; and the officers publicly ordered the men to return to work. In consequence, the issues were confused for the public and for other aviation workers.

The FAA used supervisors who had little current experience and trainees to keep the system going during the sick-out. The rate of near mid-air collision was four times normal. The controllers tried to get the pilots to support their action. But ALPA (Airline Pilots Association), the pilots' organization, is very conservative. ALPA denied the FAA would let them fly if conditions were unsafe. The FAA claimed the airways were safe, because the pilots were flying.

The controllers went back after a compromise was mediated by a federal judge. The FAA promised negotiations and no reprisals when the controllers returned to work. After the men went back, however, the FAA transferred PATCO officers to clerical jobs. PATCO went back to the federal judge who had worked out the compromise and he ordered the FAA to return the men to their regular jobs. The three Baton Rouge men have since been fired.

The FAA has started negotiations with PATCO on the controller demands. The FAA promises action, but the controllers are waiting to see what will happen. Many of them are talking about working for the Canadian Air Traffic Control system.

There have been some changes. In the New York Center the men are now working a five day week. The workload is the same but the overtime has been reduced. The airlines have not gone back to their regular schedules and the men are enforcing "flow control" procedures on the airlines. That is, planes now wait on the ground to prevent delays in the air.

The airlines operate with average flights only half filled. Much airline congestion is caused by competitive pressures. Each airline wants its flights to leave at the rush hours.

PATCO is both a workers' movement and a traditional trade union. PATCO officers would be happy to mediate between the men and the FAA. PATCO wants arbitration and dues checkoff. It attempted to conduct the sick-out within the legal system. There were no demonstrations at airports or FAA centers to spread the strike. The controllers were able to stop half of all airline flights during their strike, but they did not win their demands.

The controllers' struggle has changed their political views. They are more sympathetic to the current student strike against the war. They have understood the necessity of direct action. Traditional trade union methods cannot deal with the basic problems in the aviation industry. The airlines are buying expensive jumbo jets which they do not need, and their losses increase. With profits declining the airlines will step up their pressure to compromise safety. Major airlines have already begun to lay off workers.

Only a revolutionary movement for workers control of industry will guarantee jobs and safety. Aviation workers who daily risk their lives -- as well as the lives of thousands of passegers -- in unsafe conditions must begin to build that movement. The controllers may go on strike again if the FAA does not submit to their demands. When the controllers go out again, they should not be alone. Pilots, ground workers, and other FAA employees should join them to fight resolutely for air safety, better working conditions, and more jobs.

From Root & Branch No. 1 (1970), pp. 6-7
Text taken from

Manifesto - Ecology Action East

Root and Branch put forward a communist approach to environmental issues.

The Power to Destroy - The Power to Create

The power of this society to destroy has reached a scale unprecedented in the history of humanity - and this power is being used, almost systematically, to work an insensate havoc upon the entire world of life and its material bases.

In nearly every region, air is being befouled, waterways polluted, soil washed away, the land dessicated, and wildlife destroyed. Coastal areas and even the depths of the sea are not immune to widespread pollution. More significantly in the long run, basic biological cycles such as the carbon cycle and nitrogen cycle, upon which all living things (including humans) depend for the maintenance and renewal of life, are being distorted to the point of irreversible damage. The wanton introduction of radioactive wastes, long-lived pesticides, lead residues, and thousands of toxic or potentially toxic chemicals in food, water, and air; the expansion of cities into vast urban belts, with dense concentrations of populations comparable in size to entire nations; the rising din of background noise; the stresses created by congestion, mass sewage, and industrial wastes; the congestion of highways and city streets with vehicular traffic; the profligate destruction of precious raw materials; the scarring of the earth by real estate speculators, mining and lumbering barons, and highway construction bureaucrats - all, have wreaked a damage in a single generation that exceeds the damage inflicted by thousands of years of human habitation on this planet. If this tempo of destruction is borne in mind, it is terrifying to speculate about what lies ahead in the generation to come.

The essence of the ecological crisis in our time is that this society - more than any other in the past - is literally undoing the work of organic evolution. It is a truism to say that humanity is part of the fabric of life. It is perhaps more important at this late stage to emphasize that humanity depends critically upon the complexity and variety of life, that human well-being and survival rest upon a long evolution of organisms into increasingly complex and interdependent forms. The development of life into a complex web, the elaboration of primal animals and plants into highly varied forms, has been the precondition for the evolution and survival of humanity itself and for a harmonized relationship between humanity and nature.
Technology and Population

If the past generation has witnessed a despoilation of the planet that exceeds all the damage inflicted by earlier generations, little more than a generation may remain before the destruction of the environment becomes irreversible. For this reason, we must look at the roots of the ecological crisis with ruthless honesty. Time is running out and the remaining decades of the twentieth century may well be the last opportunity we will have to restore the balance between humanity and nature.

Do the roots of the ecological crisis lie in the development of technology? Technology has become a convenient target for bypassing the deep-seated social conditions that make machines and technical processes harmful.

How convenient it is to forget that technology has served not only to subvert the environment but also to improve it. The Neolithic Revolution which produced the most harmonious period between nature and post-paleolithic humanity was above all a technological revolution. It was this period that brough to humanity the arts of agriculture, weaving, pottery, the domestication of animals, the discovery of the wheel, and many other key advances. True there are techniques and technological attitudes that are entirely destructive of the balance between humanity and nature. Our responsibilities are to separate the promise of technology - its creative potential - from the capacity of technology to destroy. Indeed, there is no such word as "Technology" that presides over all social conditions and relations; there are different technologies and attitudes toward technology, some of which are indispensible to restoring the balance, others of which have contributed profoundly to its destruction. What humanity needs is not a wholesale discarding of advanced technologies, but a sifting, indeed a further development of technology along ecological principles that will contribute to a new harmonization of society and the natural world.

Do the root of the ecological crisis lie in population growth? This thesis is the most disquieting, and in many ways the most sinister, to be advanced by ecology action movements in the United States. Here, an effect called "population growth," juggled around on the basis of superficial statistics and projections, is turned into a cause. A problem of secondary proportions at the present time is given primacy, thus obscuring the fundamental reasons for the ecological crisis. True, if present economic, political and social conditions prevail, humanity will in time overpopulate the planet and by sheer weight of numbers turn into a pest in its own global habitat. There is something obscene, however, about the fact that an effect, "population growth," is being given primacy in the ecological crisis by a nation which has little more than seven percent of the world's population, wastefully devours more than fifty percent of the world's resources, and is currently engaged in the depopulation of an Oriental people that has lived for centuries in sensitive balance with its environment.

We must pause to look more carefully into the population problem, touted so widely by the white races of North America and Europe - races that have wantonly exploited the people of Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the South Pacific. The exploited have delicately advised their exploiters that, what they need are not contraceptive devices, armed "liberators," and Prof. Paul R. Ehrlich to resolve their population problems; rather, what they need is a fair return on the immense resources that were plundered from their lands by North America and Europe. To balance these accounts is more of a pressing need at the present time than to balance birth rates and death rates. The peoples of Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the South Pacific can justly point out that their American "advisors" have shown the world how to despoil a virgin continent in less than a century and have added the words "built-in obsolescence" to the vocabulary of humanity.

This much is clear: when large labor reserves were needed during the Industrial Revolution of the early nineteenth century to man factories and depress wages, population growth was greeted enthusiastically by the new industrial bourgeoisie. And the growth of population occurred despite the fact that, owing to long working hours and grossly overcrowded cities, tuberculosis, cholera, and other diseases were pandemic in Europe and the United States. If birth rates exceeded death rates at this time, it was not because advances in medical care and sanitation had produced any dramatic decline in human mortality; rather, the excess of birth rates over death rates can be explained by the destruction of preindustrial family forms, village institutions, mutual aid, and stable, traditional patterns of life at the hands of capitalist "enterprise." The decline of social morale ushered in by the horrors of the factory system, the degredation of traditional agrarian peoples into grossly exploited proletarians and urban dwellers, produced a concomittantly irresponsible attitude toward the family and the begetting of children. Sexuality became a refuge from a life of toil on the same order as the consumption of cheap gin; the new proletariat reproduced children, many of whom were never destined to survive into adulthood, as mindlessly as it drifted into alcoholism. Much the same process occurred when the villages of Asia, Africa, and Latin America were sacrificed on the holy alter of imperialism.

Today, the bourgeoisie "sees" things differently. The roseate years of "free enterprise" and "free labor" are waning before an era of monopoly, cartels, state-controlled economies, institutionalized forms of labor mobilization (trade unions), and automatic or cybernetic machinery. Large reserves of unemployed labor are no longer needed to meet the needs of capital expansion, and wages are largely negotiated rather than left to the free play of the labor market. From a need, idle labor reserves have now turned into a threat to the stability of a managed bourgeois economy. The logic of this new "perspective" found its most terrifying expression in German fascism. To the Nazis, Europe was already "over-populated" in the thirties and the "population problem" was "solved" in the gas chambers of Auschwitz. The same logic is implicit in many of the neo-Malthusian arguments that masquerade as ecology today. Let there be no mistake about this conclusion.

Sooner or later the mindless proliferation of human beings will have to be arrested, but population control will either be initiated by "social controls" (authoritarian or racist methods and eventually be systematic genocide) or by a libertarian, ecologically oriented society (a society that develops a new balance with nature out of a reverence for life). Modern society stands before these mutually exclusive alternatives and a choice must be made without dissimulation. Ecology action is fundamentally social action. Either we will go directly to the social roots of the ecological crisis today or we will be deceived into an era of totalitarianism.
Ecology and Society

The basic conception that humanity must dominate and exploit nature stems from the domination and exploitation of man by man. Indeed, this conception goes back earlier to a time when men began to dominate and exploit women in the patriarchal family. From that point onward, human beings were increasingly regarded as mere resources, as objects instead of subjects. The hierarchies, classes, propertied forms, and statist institutions that emerged with social domination were carried over conceptually into humanity's relationship with nature. Nature too became increasingly regarded as a mere resource, an object, a raw material to be exploited as ruthlessly as slaves on a latifundium. This "worldview" permeated not only the official culture of hierarchical society; it became the way in which slaves, serfs, industrial workers and women of all social classes began to view themselves. As embodied in the "work ethic," in a morality based on denial and renunciation, in a mode of behavior based on the sublimation of erotic desires, and in otherworldly outlooks (be they European or Asian), the slaves, serfs, workers, and female half of humanity were taught to police themselves, to fashion their own chains, to close the doors on their own prison cells.

If the "worldview" of hierarchical society is beginning to wane today, this is mainly because the enormous productivity of modern technology has opened a new vision: the possibility of material abundance, an end to scarcity, and an era of free time (so-called "leisure time") with minimum toil. Our society is becoming permeated by a tension between "what-is" and "what-could-be," a tension exacerbated by the irrational, inhuman exploitation and destruction of the earth and its inhabitants. The greatest impediment that obstructs a resolution of this tension is the extent to which hierarchical society still fashions our outlook and actions. It is easier to take refuge in critiques of technology and population growth; to deal with an archaic, destructive social system on its own terms and within its own framework. Almost from birth, we have been socialized by the family, religious institutions, schools, and by the work process itself into accepting hierarchy, renunciation, and statist systems as the premises on which all thinking must rest. Without shedding these premises, all discussions of ecological balance must remain palliative and self-defeating.

By virtue of its unique cultural baggage, modern society - profit-oriented bourgeois society - tends to exacerbate humanity's conflict with nature in a more critical fashion than pre-industrial societies of the past. In bourgeois society, humans are not only turned into objects; they are turned into commodities; into objects explicitly designed for sale on the market place. Competition between human beings, qua commodities, becomes an end in itself, together with the production of utterly useless goods. Quality is turned into quantity, individual culture into mass culture, personal communication into mass communication. The natural environment is turned into a gigantic factory, the city into an immense market place; everything from a Redwood forest to a woman's body has "a price." Everything is equatable in dollar-and-cents, be it a hallowed cathedral or individual honor. Technology ceases to be an extension of humanity; humanity becomes an extension of technology. The machine does not expand the power of the worker; the worker expands the power of the machine, indeed, he becomes a mere part of the machine. Is it surprising, then, that this exploitative, degrading, quantified society pits humanity against itself and against nature on a more awesome scale than any other in the past?

Yes, we need change, but change so fundamental and far-reaching that even the concept of revolution and freedom must be expanded beyond all earlier horizons. No longer is it enough to speak of new techniques for conserving and fostering the natural environment; we must deal with the earth communally, as a human collectivity, without those trammels of private property that have distorted humanity's vision of life and nature since the break-up of tribal society. We must eliminate not only bourgeois hierarchy, but hierarchy as such; not only the patriarchal family, but all modes of sexual and parental domination; not only the bourgeois class and propertied system, but all social classes and property. Humanity must come into possession of itself, individually and collectively, so that all human beings attain control of their everyday lives. Our cities must be decentralized into communities, or ecocommunities, exquisitely and artfully tailored to the carrying capacity of the ecosystems in which they are located. Our technologies must be readapted and advanced into ecotechnologies, exquisitely and artfully adapted to make use of local energy sources and materials, with minimal or no pollution of the environment. We must recover a new sense of our needs - needs that foster a healthful life and express our individual proclivities, not "needs" dictated by the mass media. We must restore the human scale in our environment and in our social relations, replacing mediated by direct personal relations in the management of society. Finally, all modes of domination - social or personal - must be banished from our conceptions of ourselves, our fellow humans, and nature. The administration of humans must be replaced by the administration of things. The revolution we seek must encompass not only political institutions and economic relations, but consciousness, life style, erotic desires, and our interpretation of the meaning of life.

What is in the balance, here, is the age-long spirit and systems of domination and repression that have not only pitted human against human, but humanity against nature. The conflict between humanity and nature is an extension of the conflict between human and human. Unless the ecology movement encompasses the problem of domination in all its aspects, it will contribute nothing toward eliminating the root causes of the ecological crisis of our time. If the ecology movement stops at mere reforms in pollution and conservation control without dealing radically with the need for an expanded concept of revolution it will merely serve as a safety valve for the existing system of natural and human exploitation.

In some respects the ecology movement today is waging a delaying action against the rampant destruction of the environment. In other respects its most conscious elements are involved in a creative movement to totally revolutionize the social relations of humans to each other and of humanity to nature.

Although they closely interpenetrate, the two efforts should be distinguished from each other. Ecology Action East supports every effort to conserve the environment: to preserve clean air and water, to limit the use of pesticides and food additives, to reduce vehicular traffic in streets and on highways, to make cities more wholesome physically, to prevent radioactive wastes from seeping into the environment, to guard and expand wilderness areas and domains for wildlife, to defend animal species from human depredation.

But Ecology Action East does not deceive itself that such delaying actions constitute a solution to the fundamental conflict that exists between the present social order and the natural world. Nor can such delaying actions arrest the overwhelming momentum of the existing society for destruction.

This social order plays games with us. It grants long-delayed, piecemeal, and woefully inadequate reforms to deflect our energies and attention from larger acts of destruction. In a sense, we are "offered" a patch of Redwood forest in exchange for the Cascades. Viewed in a larger perspective, this attempt to reduce ecology to a barter relationship does not rescue anything; it is cheap modus operandi for trading away the greater part of the planet for a few islands of wilderness, for pocket parks in a devastated world of concrete.

Ecology Action East has two primary aims: one is to increase in the revolutionary movement the awareness that the most destructive and pressing consequences of our alienating, exploitative society is the environmental crisis, and that truly revolutionary society must be built upon ecological precepts; the other is to create, in the minds of the millions of Americans who are concerned with the destruction of our environment, the consciousness that the principles of ecology, carried to their logical end, demand radical changes in our society and our way of looking at the world.

Ecology Action East takes its stand with the life-style revolution that, at its best, seeks an expanded consciousness of experience and human freedom. We seek the liberation of women, of children, of gay people, of black people and colonial peoples, and of working people in all occupations as part of a growing social struggle against the age-old traditions and institutions of domination - traditions and institutions that have so destructively shaped humanity's attitude toward the natural world. We support libertarian communities and struggles for freedom wherever they arise; we take our stand with every effort to promote the spontaneous self-development of the young; we oppose every effort to repress human sexuality, to deny humanity the eroticization of experience in all its forms. We join in all endeavors to foster a joyous artfulness in life and work: the promotion of crafts and quality production, the design of new ecocommunities and ecotechnologies, the right to experience on a daily basis the beauty of the natural world, the open, unmeditated, sensuous pleasure that humans can give to each other, the growing reverence for the world of life.

In short, we hope for a revolution which will produce politically independent communities whose boundaries and populations will be defined by a new ecological consciousness; communities whose inhabitants will determine for themselves within the framework of this new consciousness the nature and level of their technologies, the forms taken by their social structures, world views, life styles, expressive arts, and all other aspects of their daily lives.

But we do not delude ourselves that this life-oriented world can be fully developed or even partially achieved in a death-oriented society. American society, as it is constituted today, is riddled with racism and sits astride the entire world, not only as a consumer of its wealth and resources, but as an obstacle to all attempts at self-determination at home and abroad. Its inherent aims are production for the sake of production, the preservation of hierarchy and toil on a world scale, mass manipulation and control by centralized, statist institutions. This kind of society is unalterably counterposed to a life-oriented world. If the ecology movement does not draw these conclusions from its efforts to conserve the natural environment, then conservation becomes mere obscurantism. If the ecology movement does not draw these conclusions from its efforts to conserve the natural environment, then conservation becomes mere obscurantism. If the ecology movement does not direct its main efforts toward a revolution in all areas of life - social as well as natural, political as well as personal, economic as well as cultural - then the movement will gradually become a safety valve for the established order. It is our hope that groups like our own will spring up throughout the country, organized like ourselves on a humanistic, libertarian basis, engaged in mutual action and a spirit of cooperation based on mutual aid. It is our hope that they will try to foster a new ecological attitude not only toward nature but also toward humans: a conception of spontaneous, variegated relations within groups and between groups, within society and between individuals.

We hope that ecology groups will eschew all appeals to the "heads of government" and to international or national state institutions, the very criminals and political bodies that have materially contributed to the ecological crisis of our time. We believe the appeals must be made to the people and to their capacity for direct action that can get them to take control of their own lives and destinies. For only in this way can a society emerge without hierarchy and domination, a society in which each individual is the master of his or her own fate.

The great splits which divided human from human, humanity from nature, individual from society, town from country, mental from physical activity, reason from emotion, and generation from generation must now be transcended. The fulfillment of the age-old quest for survival and material security in a world of scarcity was once regarded as the precondition for freedom and a fully human life. To live we had to survive. As Brecht put it: "First feed the face, then give the moral."

The situation has now begun to change. The ecological crisis of our time has increasingly reversed this traditional maxim. Today, if we are to survive, we must begin to live. Our solutions must be commensurable with the scope of the problem, or else nature will take a terrifying revenge on humanity.

Root & Branch No. 1 (1970), pp. 8-14

Old left, new left, what's left? - Root and Branch

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

The last six months of the sixties presented American radicals with an apparently incongrous pair of events: a massive revival of the anti-war movement and the disintegration of the organization which has for some time been justifiably identified with the "new left" itself, SDS. After a year or so of demonstrations in which growing militance of slogan was matched by decreasing numbers of participants, half a million people turned out in Washington in November to protest the war in Vietnam. An enormous part of this crowd was new to demonstrating. Significant also was the fact that, though still largely made up of students, it included larger numbers drawn from other social groups than ever before: white collar workers such as secretaries; young "professionals" (doctors and lawyers); high-schoolers; and GIs (as well as the stockbrokers and small businessmen worried about the threat to "American stability" posed by the continuing war). Notably absent as an organizational force was the SDS which existed before its June convention in Chicago. The Weathermen, Crazies, and Mad Dogs showed up to gather those desirous of physical "militance" for a brass-knuckled attack on imperialism, but the thousands who followed them to DuPont Circle did so more out of frustration with the flaccid atmosphere of Give Peace a Chance than out of support for Weathermen politics. WSA-SDS, which in October had by and large confined itself to pointing out the futility of the Moratorium and urging devotion to the true focus of struggle on trade union organizing on and off the campus, had to be forced to follow the "liberal" masses to Washington.

This pair of phenomena may serve as an excellent symbol for the situation confronting what has thought of itself as the "new left." They bear witness, on the one hand, to the continuing destructive character of capitalism, represented most saliently by the adventures of American imperialism in Asia; and, on the other, to the failure of the new left to develop modes of thought and action capable of clarifying the way to a socialist society.

The reborn peace movement does not represent a new stage in the development of American radicalism, but rather an enlargement of what existed before: mass "middle class" discontent with the war mobilized to exercise its constitutional rights of assembly and petition (and seemingly open to being channelled into dove electoral campaigns, thus providing a forum for leftish propagandizing and exhortation. At the same time, the failure of the left to respond in any inspiring way to this newly active discontent will not be usefully analyzed in terms of the evil work of the Progressive Labor Party or of the other political factions whose battleground SDS became until the fabric parted from the strain. An attempt to analyze our current possibilities and predicaments must be based on an understanding of the new left's context in a realistic appraisal of the social forces shaped by present day capitalist development.


The "new left" (by which I mean the predominantly student movements focussing most forcefully on racism and war) has been a phenomenon of the sixties, beginning thus in a period hailed as one of prosperity for American (and world) capitalism. How is this to be explained? The underlying phenomena are hard to grasp; on the surface they are visible in the form of the permanence of racism and poverty in the "affluent" society, the necessity of imperialist war economy, and the increasing economic difficulties seen through the bourgeois economists' glass darkly as the dilemma of " high employment versus price stability."

Postwar American prosperity might in fact be better characterized as pseudo-prosperity, from the point of view of the classical capitalist economy, while a fever of physical existence has been achieved for large enough numbers of the working class sufficient to maintain social equilibrium, this has been accomplished since the twenties only thanks to steadily increasing government interventions into the economy. Since capitalist "economic activity is immediately animated and guided, not by the quest of satisfactions, but by the quest of profits" (W.C. Mitchell), the prosperity of the post-Depression "mixed economy" represents not a true capitalist boom but rather a response to the inability of the economy to generate a rate of profit sufficiently high to make possible an accelerated rate of of accumulation. 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 continue to exist at all. The results of what may well be described as a permanent crisis situation have been: stagnation in "growth," employment rates, and working class living standards; the "sacrifice" or minimal public support of unabsorbable elements of the population, such as the Appalachian poor whites and masses of the blacks; and attempts to extend and secure control over the Third World to allow for hoped-for economic development under American corporate auspices.

If this is the general background, the reaction to the conditions thus described on the part of "middle class" students has been immediately due to particular changes in mode of life experienced by this part of the population in the course of capitalism's adjustment to its new conditions of existence. These are due both to the continuation of processes operative throughout the history of capitalist society and to the new features introduced with the mixed economy. Changes in technology (if not amounting to a "new industrial revolution") have resulted in a rising proportional importance of white collar labor at all levels of industry, from Research and Development to production. The same trend in employment has come from the increasing bureaucratization of industry made necessary by the advance of concentration and the attendant growth of capital units. The progress of concentration has continued also the process of elimination of the old petty bourgeoisie, in production and services alike, as multitudes of "independent" entrepreneurs or their sons come 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 law, which have so far successfully staved off their reorganization on industrial lines, although this too is changing.) The white collar sector of the working class expanded also with the growth of governmental bureaucracy and service officers following on the growth of the public sector.

The reverse side of the simultaneous growth and relative deterioration of position of the white collar group has been the tremendous expansion of higher education (a continuation of the process whereby the Industrial Revolution first demanded quantities of uniformly skilled and therefore educated labor). This has affected the job aspect of the matter, as the enlargement of educational institutions to meet new needs obviously implies an increase in teaching and administrative personnel. But the more immediate impact on students came from the attendant reorganization and adaptation to new functions of the colleges. College is no longer merely a place for the acquisition of a "liberal education" and some necessary business skills for the young of the business elite, but has become largely a point of production of masses of the white collar labor needed by industry, government, and the school themselves, as even the "elite" universities have come to take on the character of the pioneer land grant colleges. The expansion of the college population and facilities made necessary the transformation of the institutions themselves from communities of young gentlemen and their mentors into bureaucratized structures, on the model of modern industry, processing huge numbers of students. At the same time the new needs of the economy which gave rise to the "multiversity" led to the addition to its educative functions of those of being service centers for both industry and government.

The dominant ideology promulgated by the university remained that of neo-liberalism, the classical doctrine with some alterations covering the advance of Keynsian 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. The conflict between these values and the realities of modern capitalist society could only grow increasingly apparent to students, given by their very position of privilege an opportunity for some degree of critical examination of a world in which their future positions increasingly took on the character of a set of equally unsatisfying "slots" - especially when these realities included the likelihood of nuclear annihilation. Thus openly leftish political life returned to America with the largely student anti-bomb movement, reaching its first peak in the Washington demonstrations of 1961 which involved some 7000 people.

The threat of future destruction quickly proved to be but the tip of an iceburg of daily catastrophe, with the "discovery" of poverty and the spotlight cast on racism by the rising activity of the civil rights movement. Here, too, students became deeply involved. SNCC was born out of the contradiction between the rising aspirations of black college students and the realities of the black man's position, in the context of the struggles led in the industrializing south so dramatically by Martin Luther King, Jr. Hundreds of "white liberal" students answer to call to join the attempt at (electoral) political organization of the blacks. The failure of "the Movement," due to the essential powerlessness of its rural base, progressively driven from a buyers' market for agricultural labor into urban employment, was experienced by the young organizers primarily in terms of the brutality of living conditions of the people they had come to aid, the clear demonstration of the class bias of governmental authority, and the total abdication of that bastion of liberalism, the Democratic Party, to the strength of the Dixiecrats.

The "end of ideology" was shattered beyond repair; or, more accurately, exposed as the triumph of ideology the concept had in fact represented. The new consciousness was indeed ambiguous, as rational responses to real social conditions were for the new left activists not transparent but only felt as such through the shroud of the liberal ideology. "The ideas of the ruling class are, in every age, the ruling ideas;" they can be replaced 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. As we shall see, it is precisely the absence of such a force which has limited the ability of the new left to escape from the ideological spectacles of bourgeois society, and thus to see a way towards socialist revolution. It will not be necessary here to trace the development of the new left in any detail, but only to pick out the main trends.


Despite the fact that it has been primarily a student movement, the new left has by and large focussed its critique not so much on university life, its immediate social environment, as on capitalist society in general. The connection between the two has been made mostly in terms of the university's direct services to capitalism, rather than its general role in society and the internal consequences thereof. This has been both a strength and a weakness of the student movement. It has allowed for the elaboration of a critique of the society, of issues which do not confront the students in their daily activity but which were not raised outside this context; it has also obscured the nature of the revolution which the new left has come to see is necessary and, thus, their potential part in it.

In part this characteristic of the student left has been due to the peculiar position of students, who are not involved in the production process but are only in training for it. It is not without significance that student left activity has so far largely centered in the elite colleges, rather than in the junior and "community" institutions into which working class youth is channelled. For the latter, college represents a way out of factory labor and Dad's store to white collar and administrative jobs; whereas for "elite" students, the end of college represents not entrance into a better life but the ending of a freedom and enjoyment that has been theirs from birth. [Footnote: Interpreting the student left as a "middle class" refusal of its new proletarian status suggests a link with the hippy phenomenon. In the latter case, however, the refusal of proletarianism takes the form not of a demand for social change but of a simple rejection of the status quo. The practical impossibility of the latter response spells either attempted retreat into pre-capitalist lifeways, by moving to backward countries abroad or to the woods at home; insanity or death; or integration into capitalism in a way psychologically more acceptable. This has meant either the elaboration of a life of private sensibility in hours off from a "straight" job, or a sort of neo-petty bourgeois artisan/shopkeeper existence. To say this is not to criticize (e.g., as "petty bourgeois individualism") the use made by young people, in all classes, of the "youth culture" to express their budding rejection of work discipline, wealth/status goals, the concept of "career," and authoritarianism in general.] It is also precisely the privileged status of these students that allows for a moral rejection of the power positions open to at least some of them; thus the rejection of working class life is joined by the reactivation of the liberal conscience.

It was with this, then, that the new left began, rather than with a conscious response to its own immediate situation. It was in the name of (bourgeois) humanity that the anti-bomb and civil rights movements developed. In the beginning, the social destruction wrought by capitalism was still seen in terms of "problems" to be solved to fulfill the promises - liberty, equality, fraternity - of the bourgeois revolution of the eighteenth century; the element of radicalism consisted largely in a readiness to work outside of more conventional political channels, although an ambivalent attitude towards the possibility of worthwhile work with the Democratic party survived in SDS until 1965. Then, as the experiences of participants in the movements mentioned led to a growing awareness of the nature of capitalism, the new left's politics remained largely those of involvement in movements of the "disadvantaged" - the blacks, the poor, (most recently) the workers. Throughout, the student radical saw his role not in terms of his actual social position but as that of a force, so to speak, outside of society, organizing those inside on their own behalf.

There is one major open [footnote: I leave out a class of quasi-exceptions: the many "black studies" movements, adaptations of the "black power" concept to the campus, which raise special problems for analysis.] exception to the pattern of the new left focus outside the university: the Berkeley revolt of 1964. Even here the seed came from involvement in the civil rights movement: The demand for free speech was raised by activists forbidden by the university administration to hand out their 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." To the extent that the Free Speech Movement quickly involved masses of students it expressed not so much the political preoccupations of the radicals as general student dissatisfaction with the nature of the "multiversity." Indeed, this applies too to all those campus revolts which attained numerical importance; though generally the radicals have succeeded in maintaining their demands as the apparent focus of activity.

Berkeley is thus an exception that proved the rule of student radicals' rejection of university issues as objects of concentrated effort. University reform has remained the purlieu of those whom the radicals derogate as liberals and in fact has generally remained a realm of committees and other forms of cooptation. Even in the brief period of the "student syndicalism" strategy in SDS, campaigning for student power was thought of largely as a tactic for getting students involved in confrontations with school and state authorities, which were expected to lead to student radicalization and transformation into movement activists.

Comparison with the European student left is interesting. In Germany, France, Italy, and quite recently in England, movements have developed in confrontation with the university institution directly. This was furthest developed in Germany, with a range of activities from the creation of the "critical university," a well organized attempt to work out a critique of and alternative to the content of bourgeois education, to an attack on the forms of educational practice and structures of student life. The same sort of thing developed to varying degrees, in France and in Italy. At the same time, these movements never lost sight of the wider social context of student dissatisfaction, both in theory and agitation and in practice, so that the student mass base has become easily involved in working class action. Of course, the dilemma thought to exist by some US radicals, between concentration on "student power" and "class politics," poses no problem, because the university crisis is part and parcel of the general social crisis of capitalism. Thus the great moments of the French and Italian student movement were contained in mass strike movements; and indeed the relative fragmentation and powerlessness that has marked the French student left in the past year is a reflection of the low level to which the general class struggle has fallen back since May, 1968.

Root & Branch No. 1 (1970), pp. 15-24

The dilemma thought to exist by some US radicals between "student power" and "class politics" poses no problem, because the university crisis is part and parcel of the general social crisis of capitalism. The great moments of the French and Italian student movement were contained in mass strikes.
Paul Mattick Jr.

Point of view: Solidarity

Root and Branch introduce the British libertarian socialist group Solidarity to their American readers, appending the group's statement of principles, As We See It, below.

Throughout the world, particularly in the advanced capitalist countries in Eastern and Western Europe and in the United States, militants in factories, offices, schools, and neighborhoods are beginning to articulate a common vision of socialism and revolutionary action. They envision a society where production and social life generally is controlled by those who do the work, not by those who exploit the labor of others. This conception of socialism is reemerging after nearly a century of struggle by working class and social movements against their domination by political elites which have reinterpreted socialism in the image of capitalist social relations. These socialists and communist parties have reproduced within themselves the bureaucratic and hierarchical structures of the social systems they purport to oppose.

Solidarity is a group of British Revolutionaries. It is one among many to have broken out of the reformist politics of the old left. It grew out of the disintegration of the Communist movement and the development of autonomous student and worker movements in western capitalist countries, culminating in the student-worker revolts in France and Italy in 1968-69. Root and Branch agrees substantially with the following statement, although it has no organizational relations with Solidarity.

Root and Branch hopes to further the conception that revolutionary movement is self-activity and self-organization of the workers. We are a part of their struggle, but aspire neither to lead nor to direct it. Nor is it our intention to found a new movement separate from the class. Movements do not spring from ideologies, but from the conditions of everyday life.

1. Throughout the world, the vast majority of people have no control whatsoever over the decisions that most deeply and directly affect their lives. They sell their labour power while others who own or control the means of production accumulate wealth, make the laws and use the whole machinery of the State to perpetuate and reinforce their privileged positions.

2. During the past century the living standards of working people have improved. But neither these improved living standards, nor the nationalisation of the means of production, nor the coming to power of parties claiming to represent the working class have basically altered the status of the worker as worker. Nor have they given the bulk of mankind much freedom outside of production. East and West, capitalism remains an inhuman type of society where the vast majority are bossed at work, and manipulated in consumption and leisure. Propaganda and policemen, prisons and schools, traditional values and traditional morality all serve to reinforce the power of the few and to convince or coerce the many into acceptance of a brutal, degrading and irrational system. The "Communist" world is not communist and the "Free" world is not free

3. The trade unions and the traditional parties of the left started in business to change all this. But they have come to terms with the existing patterns of exploitation. In fact they are now essential if exploiting society is to continue working smoothly. The unions act as middlemen in the labour market. The political parties use the struggles and aspirations of the working class for their own ends. The degeneration of working class organisations, itself the result of the failure of the revolutionary movement, has been a major factor in creating working class apathy, which in turn has led to the further degeneration of both parties and unions

4. The trade unions and political parties cannot be reformed, "captured," or converted into instruments of working class emancipation. We don't call however for the proclamation of new unions, which in the conditions of today would suffer a similar fate to the old ones. Nor do we call for militants to tear up their union cards. Our aims are simply that the workers themselves should decide on the objectives of their struggles and that the control and organisation of these struggles should remain firmly in their own hands. The forms which this self-activity of the working class may take will vary considerably from country to country and from industry to industry. Its basic content will not

5. Socialism is not just the common ownership and control of the means of production and distribution. It means equality, real freedom, reciprocal recognition and a radical transformation in all human relations. It is "man's positive self-consciousness." It is man's understanding of his environment and of himself, his domination over his work and over such social institutions as he may need to create. These are not secondary aspects, which will automatically follow the expropriations of the old ruling class. On the contrary they are essential parts of the whole process of social transformation, for without them no genuine social transformation will have taken place

6. A socialist society can therefore only be built from below. Decisions concerning production and work will be taken by workers' councils composed of elected and revocable delegates. Decisions in other areas will be taken on the basis of the widest possible discussion and consultation among the people as a whole. This democratisation of society down to its very roots is what we mean by "workers' power"

7. Meaningful action, for revolutionaries, is whatever increases the confidence, the autonomy, the initiative, the participation, the solidarity, the equalitarian tendencies and the self-activity of the masses and whatever assists in their demystification. Sterile and harmful action is whatever reinforces the passivity of the masses, their apathy, their cynicism, their differentiation through hierarchy, their alienation, their reliance on others to do things for them and the degree to which they can therefore be manipulated by others -- even those allegedly acting on their behalf

8. No ruling class in history has ever relinquished its power without a struggle and our present rulers are unlikely to be an exception. Power will only be taken from them through the conscious, autonomous action of the vast majority of the people themselves. The building of socialism will require mass understanding and mass participation. By their rigid hierarchical structure, by their ideas and by their activities, both social-democratic and bolshevik types of organisations discourage this kind of understanding and prevent this kind of participation. The idea that socialism can somehow be achieved by an elite party (however "revolutionary") acting "on behalf of" the working class is both absurd and reactionary

9. We do not accept the view that by itself the working class can only achieve a trade union consciousness. On the contrary we believe that its conditions of life and its experiences in production constantly drive the working class to adopt priorities and values and to find methods of organisation which challenge the established social order and established pattern of thought. These responses are implicitly socialist. On the other hand, the working class is fragmented, dispossessed of the means of communication, and its various sections are at different levels of awareness and consciousness. The task of the revolutionary organisation is to help give proletarian consciousness an explicitly socialist content, to give practical assistance to workers in struggle and to help those in different areas to exchange experiences and link up with one another

10. We do not see ourselves as yet another leadership, but merely as an instrument of working class action. The function of Solidarity is to help all those who are in conflict with the present authoritarian social structure, both in industry and in society at large, to generalise their experience, to make a total critique of their condition and of its causes, and to develop the mass revolutionary consciousness necessary if society is to be totally transformed

Root & Branch No. 1 (1970), pp. 31-33.

Review: The American Working Class in Transition by Kim Moody - Root & Branch

Joel Stein reviews Kim Moody's book on the American working class in transition for Root & Branch No. 1, 1970, dealing in particular with Moody's take on the unions.

Kim Moody has written an intelligent and comprehensive discussion of the changing structure of the American working class. His material points, particularly, to increasing government employment and concomitant state dependence of United States capitalism. One can take issue, however, with specific statements. According to Moody, for example, "the increased emphasis on education" in recent decades "is an attempt to increase the mobility of labor" (p. 9). This statement is in part true, particularly in view of the fact that

Automation is particularly applicable to clerical work and, as with production automation, tends to drastically displace the less skilled jobs without offering much potential for skill upgrading among those displaced (p. 7).

Whether education, or lack of it, determines mobility, however, is problematic. If it were otherwise, there might actually be some learning going on in the schools. In fact, requisite skills for employment are acquired in fewer than the required years of schooling. Schools function more importantly to keep youth off the streets, in controlled environments, putatively educational. That is, the state keeps occupied in school those for whom private industry has no immediate use.

In general, what Moody depicts in this work is compatible with what Paul Mattick has called the "inflationary depression" of present day Western, and particularly United States, capitalism. Whereas, according to Mattick,

in a deflationary depression, production declines because part of the producible commodities cannot be sold profitably, thus preventing the realization of profits and their transformation into additional capital; ... in an inflationary depression production continues, despite its lack of profitability, by way of credit expansion. (Marx and Keynes: The Limits of the Mixed Economy, Boston, 1969, p. 186)

Production, and employment, expand; but it is not an extension of capital, of profit-generating production. One would assume, therefore, that the growing sectors of employment would be those sectors which are least productive and most vulnerable to fluctuations of the market. That the most rapidly expanding sectors of the work force in fact have been government, service, and financial workers confirms this thesis. One can note, for example, the large percentage - 29.4 percent - of scientists and engineers working in "management, sales, service and other functions" (p. 5). Indeed, the recent recessionary trend beginning in the fall of 1969 witnessed layoffs of corporate white collar workers as well as workers in the arms economy. Although blue collar workers are also being laid off, workers in the growth sectors of the economy can be laid off in large numbers with little effect on production.

Because Kim Moody does not draw this conclusion - and perhaps does not share it - he does not deal with its implications. He believes that the problems confronting the American working class are simply more of the same. More inflation, more taxation, more deterioration of living and working conditions. Perhaps. But it is also true that due to vulnerable structure the American working class is liable to sudden and drastic dislocations and to unemployment.

Although the bulk of the pamphlet is concerned, directly or indirectly, with labor unions, no clear perspective on them emerges. All the evidence is against them. Their racism apart, the unions are exposed as institutions which oppose the workers both in particular and in general struggles. The New York Times is correct when it declares that

The leaders of labor have as great a stake as any public official in stemming the spirit of anarchy that underlies the postal revolt (March 23, 1970).

The unions sell labor peace. If they cannot sell it, they cannot remain in business.

The nearly total divorce of the international [union] leadership from the control of the membership ... lay in the structural changes that took place during the period of low membership participation from 1950 to 1955. These changes include the lengthening of the period between international conventions, increases in appointed positions ... the introduction of more difficult criteria for holding international office, and the growth of power of the staff and top leaders over the financial resources of the union. By the middle of the 1950s it was virtually impossible for anything less than a massive upheaval to displace the international leadership. Given this bureaucratic structure, the national contract became a source of power in itself, in that the international leadership had the power to decide which issues to push and which groups to placate (p. 17).

According to Moody, then, there is nothing inherent in union structure which makes bureaucracy inevitable. Rather, one must suppose that an essentially democratic structure, which was an expression of rank and file wishes, "degenerated" into a bureaucratic structure, remote from the rank and file. The cause of the "degeneration" is not clearly explained. Moody suggests certain "objective conditions" which may have been responsible for this "structural change."

To a certain degree the increased power of the international leadership grew out of the need [whose need?] to meet industry on its own terms, i.e. on the basis of concentrated, centralized national power (ibid.).

Whether or not the author approves of the increased power of the national leadership, the fact remains that despite increased industrial centralization within the last thirty years, since the formation of the CIO, there has been no change of sufficient moment in the structure of industry to demand increased centralization of unions.

The casue of the "degeneration" of the unions seems, rather, to Kim Moody, to be the "low membership participation from 1950 to 1955." The increased standard of living of the post-war period

meant that workers could well afford to let the union leaders conduct union affairs as they saw fit (p. 14).

Although the unions have worsened undeniably in the last thirty years, it is important to understand they have not changed fundamentally. Despite the degree of membership "participation" at any time, the rank and file always stood in more or less the same relation to the leadership: it was forced to accept, that is, the latter's decisions, until such time as, perhaps a new leadership could be elected, which, in turn, would make the decisions to which the membership could respond. From the beginning, "the national contract became a source of power in itself" with which the national leadership could manipulate the international union.

Moody notes that the CIO ... was born of a political deal: first section 7A of NRA and then the Wagner Act, in return for which the CIO leadership offered its political support to Roosevelt ...(p. 15).

More to the point, the purpose of the CIO was not, contrary to Moody, "the finance and coordination" of the

massive upheaval in the new mass production industries that began in the early 1930s (ibid.).

but rather the control of that movement by institutions responsible to the ruling powers. As Georges Sorel noted, in reference to the French socialists of the first decade of this century,

As long as there are no very rich and strongly centralised trade unions whose leaders are in continuous relationship with political men, so long will it be impossible to say exactly to what lengths violence [workers revolt] will go. Jaures [read Lewis, Reuther, or any other important union leader] would very much like to see such associations of workers in existence, for his prestige will disappear at once when the general public perceives that he is not in a position to moderate revolution (Reflections on Violence, New York, 1967, p. 82).

This remark describes the CIO exactly.

To be sure, the workers fought massive and militant struggles to establish the unions against the corporations. The latter wished to keep the old, paternalist forms of control which had been appropriate to an earlier day. What is at issue, however, is not the fact of a militant workers' movement, but its result. The aim of the great labor struggles of the 1930s was simply union recognition, through dues checkoff, which immediately guaranteed the divorce of the international leadership from the membership and/or through a negotiated contract, which established certain minimal standards for workers. Presumably, the workers believed that once unions were established there would be regular channels through which to settle their grievances. The issue of the hard struggle would be the easy road ahead. But there was no easy road.

To be sure, the union won definite advantages for the workers; and, particularly, as time went on, for skilled and older workers. But for the minor advantages which they won, the workers paid a much heavier price: unions became disciplinary agents of industry. After the organizing struggles of the 1930s came the World War. The unions immediately repaid their political masters many times over, organizing and disciplining the workers for the war effort. When, after the war, the massive strike wave of the 1930s was resumed, the unions succeeded in channeling the militant revolt into acceptable channels.

According to the author:

From a guarantee of basic rights, labor legislation has turned into a means of state reinforcement of industrial stability and corporation planning (p. 16).

But the Wagner Act had already "prescribed the manner in which labor is expected to behave." Again we find that no actual "transformation" has taken place, merely the worsening of an existing evil. The purpose of the government's "political deal" in the formation of the CIO was not merely to win political support for Roosevelt, but, much more importantly, to stabilize a volatile working class for corporations and state to manipulate. The unions have thus far served their purpose.

Within the general context of class harmony, the prescribed area of conflict has been wages and related issues, such as pensions and social insurance. Although bitter conflicts have frequently preceded negotiations on these issues, combat is mostly ritual. And, ultimately, the hatred of the workers is channeled into acceptable forms. Official strikes, however, are more than mere shows: corporations genuinely wish to keep wages down, and unions genuinely attempt to use strikes to gain certain minor advantages for the workers. But, when all is said and done, official strikes have been indispensable for the maintenance of class peace in the United States. The result is the stable wage contract: for corporate planners, indispensible; for workers, inadequate. (Workers must accept a result of their own "free choice," i.e., the union contract.) The fringe benefits are used as "golden chains" the term Marx once used for high wages, which bind the workers not merely to capital, but to individual capitalists, because advantage accrue when workers remain in one shop throughout their working life.

The union's self-proclaimed purpose is the protection of the workers' income. The union abhors, moreover, all issues, like working conditions, in which workers have a more or less equal interest. Wages and fringe benefits are used to divide the workers who enjoy different benefits in different categories, which are rigidly defined because of union insistence. The solidarity of labor is thus violated by the very purpose of the labor union, which reduces the worker to his wage packet. This is not to say that defense of the workers' income is not necessary. But the labor union defines this goal to be its sole concern. In the same way, the problem with reformism is not that it fights for reforms, but that it limits the struggle to the fight for reforms, reforms from which different workers benefit to different degrees. The labor union not only accepts the hierarchical structure of industry, and the atomic division of workers from one another, but also reinforces these tendencies in order to win certain advantages by defending the positions of privileged workers. No union attacks the principle of rigid job stratification and sharp pay differences. On the contrary, it builds its power base upon this division. This division is the basis in industry not only for racism but also for fragmentation of industrial consciousness among workers, each of whom is interested only in his own category.

Although it is true that

Struggle in one's immediate self-interest, by both blacks and whites, is a necessary step in unfolding this dynamic [of working class struggle] (p. 40)

in order for the struggle to advance, even these limited struggles must begin to break down those barriers implicit in the concept of "one's immediate self-interest." This means demanding not that workers give up their "white skin privilege," but that they acknowledge the necessity to raise the living standards of black, and other white, workers commensurate at least with their own. The development of a general class struggle, which breaks down the barriers between workers, locally and industrially as well as racially, is not a mere result of the sum of many militant industrial struggles. We have already had more than five years of such struggles, with increasing militancy, over such issues as wages and even job conditions. What is needed is a change of content, even in the "struggle in one's immediate self-interest," which attacks directly the stratification of workers. It is a fact, as Kim Moody admits, that the better off and white workers genuinely benefit from the degradation of the worse off and black workers. The hierarchical stratification of workers, which makes possible the racial stratification, must be attacked directly - and abolished to the extent possible. At the very least, its abolition must be a focus of the struggle. Demands for higher wages put forward in order that workers in higher job categories keep their distance from other workers should be counterposed to the greatest possible equalization of wages and general increase within that context. Until the idea that workers in different categories, serving different lengths’ of time in industry, should have different privileges and wages is undermined, particular struggles, no matter how militant, can never become a class struggle. These roadblocks must be attacked head-on. Rotation of work duties, preferred and despised, should be an aim of militant factory groups. Ending industrial hierarchy should be a focal point of individual struggles for immediate self-interest. For only then can immediate self-interest give way to class consciousness.

The labor unions are the major roadblocks to working class struggle today. The forward movement of the workers can proceed only over the discarded carcass of the unions. As the workers' movement develops, the unions, with their immense financial investment in industrial peace, will not step to the side lines to welcome the new forms appropriate to the class struggle. Rather they will protect their own interests and attempt to effect the policies for which they were designed. The illusion of the labor unions and the labor contract as instruments of the workers must be counterposed to the necessity of an entirely unofficial class struggle. The labor contract must be opposed in principle, for its very existence rests upon the illusion of harmony of interests between capital and labor. In essence the contract commits the workers to refrain from struggle provided its conditions are met. It is in turn the formal basis of the labor union, both in the minor advantages which it brings to some workers, and in the major advantage which it brings in industrial peace to the employers. Whereas the workers may actually believe, at least for a time, in the possibilities of mediation, capital always engages in direct action. That is, there is no mediation between its decisions and their effects. The workers must adopt direct action as well.

However antagonistic Kim Moody's attitude toward the unions is, it is also ambiguous.

It is clear, because of bureaucratism, the managerial nature of contract administration, and the web of state controls, that the unions cannot be the vehicle for

further development of the class struggle: That is, the unions, because they are unions, cannot be such a vehicle. Yet, he continues,

it must be recognized that rank and file rebellion, while unable to gain direct sources of power, has had an effect on the unions. The bureaucratic monolith that was the AFL-CIO had been broken with the formation of the Alliance for Labor Action by the UAW and the Teamsters.

Whereas there is no reason to believe that these unions will change in any way

the mere fact of a break of this sort changes the political atmosphere and legitimizes new kinds of movements (p. 42).

In other words, the great "contribution" of the unions is that the rank and file movements against them have created an atmosphere for the development of more rank and file movements. But nothing is said about the unions themselves, which despite minor shifts in attempts to, as Moody admits, "coopt rank and file rebellion," remain unchanged.

Even though the unions cannot be changed

the union is a natural focus for political action within the industry. Political campaigns within the union can be, in some circumstances, a means for politicizing shop struggles. In this context, and unlike most union election campaigns in the past, the union becomes more an arena for action than the goal of the campaign (p. 42).

But, in that case, even though it may be "more" something else, the goal of the campaign is still to capture the union. And, if they are serious, labor union oppositions cannot be anything but attempts to take over the union. However successful many labor union oppositions have been during the last ten years, none has changed the character of the union. Sincere oppositionists do not capture the machine, but are captured by it; whereas insincere oppositionists knew what they were after to begin with. Of course, under certain circumstances, it may be necessary to participate in and support such movements. But, in general, the goal must be to construct independent, unofficial instruments of class struggle, in opposition to the unions, which provide a means for class combat. In an actual struggle, only forms of organization which are composed entirely of the rank and file, which, at their friendliest, completely bypass the unions, can be of service. The intention of Kim Moody's campaign is apparently to raise the consciousness of the workers. It presents the problem from the point of view of the outsider who would politicize the workers. But, if the intention is, as it should be, to fight, then realistic forms of struggle must be found, not convenient ones. Campaigns to take over the unions, as Kim Moody himself admits, cannot serve the class struggle of the workers, because the unions, no matter who runs them, are antagonistic to it.

According to Moody, the linking of rank and file groups

is possible on the basis of the programmatic synthesis of national economic issues and working conditions. This is to say, linkages require politics. In general alliances with other groups in industry, or the class, can be formed around such a program and the groups unified through a common struggle against the state as well as against management and the union bureaucracy. The Wallace campaign showed that an attack on the major bourgeois parties based on issues of real [?] concern to workers can attract working class support. The West Virginia miners' strike showed that workers' self-activity directed at the state, the bosses and the union leadership can do the same, whether or not electoral action is used is a matter of tactics. The point is that the state is a focal point for struggle by groups of workers whose specified demands do not immediately appear related on the industrial level. The relationship, real enough in the economy, has to be made in a way that cuts through industrial and union (or non-union) lines, without shunting aside the specific demands. Political action, direct, industrial or electoral, offers a way to do this in the concrete realm of action (pp. 41-42).

And, further,

The vehicle for unity in struggle is program. A program that can really accomplish such an ambitious task, must speak to the real needs of the working class as they see these issues. In so far as the radical movement can contribute to the development of such a program, and that is surely its main task at this point, it must avoid the most ancient pitfall of the left, the inability to provide a transition from the reformist demands of the workers today to revolutionary program and organization.... Transitional demands [towards revolutionary struggle], such as those relating to taxes, inflation and workers control of production standards, which expose the nature of the crisis, must be counterposed to reformist demands or programs (Edward Kennedy and the 'left-wing' of the Democratic Party) or demagoguery (Wallace and racism combined with pseudo-independent [?] political action) (pp. 43-44).

Although Kim Moody expresses a fine sentiment - that is, the necessity to avoid the dangers of reformism and demagoguery - nowhere does he suggest how to do it. In contrast to the demands of reformists and demogogues Moody cites Trotsky in The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International:

A transitional program is a "bridge" which should lead from today's consciousness of wide layers of working class ... to one final conclusion: the conquest of power [?] by the proletariat (p. 43).

Thus Moody contrasts the program of the Fourth International with pre-World War I Social Democracy, (presumably the German Social Democracy although the Bolsheviks also comprised, at the time explicitly as well as implicitly, a section of pre-war Social Democracy). On the one hand, Social Democracy offered a practical, minimum, or reformist program; on the other hand, a maximum, or revolutionary program which remained pure rhetoric. But how these two programs are counterposed in reality will apparently be discussed somewhere else, for it is not discussed here.

According to the Social Democrats - and Kim Moody - "The vehicle for unity in struggle is program." Originally, Social Democracy conceived of electoral action as a tactic, one among many, and not as a means of obtaining power which, it was understood, could only be conquered by revolutionary means. The program of the German Social Democracy was also considered to be a vehicle for the national organization of labor. Whereas Kim Moody condemns the Social Democrats for carting out their revolutionary program on purely formal occasions, he does not suggest what use a workers' movement today can make of revolutionary objectives. I am not suggesting that Kim Moody is a Social Democrat; rather, that he has not succeeded in clarifying for the reader the distinction between his own revolutionary approach and that of the old labor movement, which he rejects.

In my opinion, the Wallace campaign did not suggest, as Kim Moody seems to believe, a practical policy which could in any way express the self-activity of the working class. Self-activity cannot be expressed through elections or through political parties, which is what makes them useful instruments for demogogues like Wallace. The self-activity of the workers can be expressed only through forms of struggle directly subject to their will, through the direct action of the workers themselves.

This brings us to the crux of the matter. In themselves, there are no such things as "reformist" demands or "transitional" demands. The counterposition which Kim Moody makes here is totally artificial. Rather, there are two contrasted kinds of practice: that which, at least potentially, permits the struggle to move forward to higher stages of self-activity; and that which limits the struggle, at best, to the point which it has reached, and holds it there. The problem of the Social Democracy was not primarily in its program but in its content, or practice. It was not that it fought for reforms, but that it did so through structures which determined the limits of those struggles - the hierarchic labor unions and parties which not only developed interests separate from the class needs of the proletariat but also prevented the direct assertion of the workers' struggle.

The main task of the left is not to draw up the perfect program which will unite all the various elements of the workers' struggle around the twenty-one points which will solve all the problems of the workers, but to help develop a genuinely revolutionary practice, a practice which does not simply accept the way workers understand issues today but transforms present myopia into revolutionary vision. This means developing a practical critique of the workers' struggle as it exists today, of the limitations of the various forms and objectives which it chooses and of the various conditions which it accepts. Such practical critique, stressing the genuinely self-liberating aspects of contemporary class struggle and suggesting the means of furthering them, is a central task of the left.

The reliance upon strong organization in building the CIO was only an expression of the inherent weakness, or at least the lack of self-confidence, of the workers themselves. The workers believed, or came to believe, that they could not tolerate the strain of a permanent, unofficial class struggle which would be required, at the very least, to protect their living and working conditions. They believed, or came to believe, that a strong organization which could stand on it own - dependent upon their support, independent of their permanent activity - could protect them against the employer.

But due to this separation, the union became an independent instrument opposed to the workers. Although it did win certain advantages for them, it functioned primarily to define the limits of the class struggle and to discipline the workers in accordance with the labor contract. Strong organization and totally unofficial class struggle. Totally unofficial class struggle can arrive at a temporary modus vivendi with the employer. But it can never agree to abstain from struggle. Weak organization means that organization which depends entirely upon, and is an extension of, the direct action of the workers themselves.

The unions have served their purpose, perhaps the workers had to try the easy way before they understood that they could win only when they relied upon themselves. The opposition movements which develop today do indeed depend upon the self-reliance of the workers. It is these tendencies which must be strengthened independently of the union.

Kim Moody tries to go beyond previous left approaches to labor union reform and electoral action when he suggests the need for a new political movement which will be "a synthesis of shop-economic and political organization and struggle." Such vague phrases are of little use, however, particularly because it is not certain that the new form is not simply a disguise for the old forms. The issues which Moody raises obviously cannot be resolved in the context of this paper. The discussion must be continued elsewhere.

Root & Branch # 2

Issue 2 of the libertarian socialist journal.

Keep on truckin' - Mac Brockway

Mac Brockway analyes the machinations of unions in maintaining order in the workplace, with particular focus on a small dispute in the truck driving industry in New York.

Faced with the reality of making a living most people tend to establish a certain rhythm to their lives. This often means dividing one's life into compartments; for most people there is working and there is living. On the one hand, the worker is a producer who spends most of his waking hours doing dull monotonous work, who confronts the boss daily, who may engage in strikes, who is often willing to put aside abstract notions like "patriotism" or "the national interest" if they stand in his way. Off the job, on the other hand, he may be a perfectly respectable citizen, possibly a homeowner, who believes many of the myths about the "American Way." Off the job the worker is an atom, who probably does not socialize with the people he works with even if he knows them intimately, whose life revolves around his family and a small circle of friends, especially since the decline of neighborhoods in the big cities. As long as the job delivers enough in wages to maintain a relatively high standard of living, and as long as nothing off the job invades the little niches they have found for themselves, people seem willing to live around the contradictions in their lives and forget the price they must pay for material security.

If masses of people are going to act to change things, something must happen to shake them up on the level of their daily lives forcing them to find new ways to satisfy their basic needs. Radical propaganda is not enough to convince people of the need for change. The combination of an established routine, a fairly high standard of living, and the constant exposure to the mass media is simply too strong to overcome with mere words. It seems to me that barring some kind of major political crisis, an economic crisis remains the only thing which will force people to act to change society. And yet it will not necessarily take a catastrophic crisis to prod people into action since most people's standard of living hangs on the barest thread of credit which can snap at the first sign of unemployment. A few repossessions by banks and finance companies can have a sobering effect.

A crisis tends to unify a class by enabling people within it to see clearly the overriding interest they share with each other. A worker's whole life is disrupted by a depression. Speed-up, loss of over-time, lay-offs, or partial lay-offs result in a sharp drop in the standard of living. A crisis also means further decay of the cities and a decline in the overall quality of life. This unification of the fragmented lives people live can be explosive.

In the past year the country has entered a mild crisis and already we have seen a reaction on the part of many workers. The Post Office strike and the Teamster wildcat are two dramatic examples showing that the workers are quite willing to put aside both the law and the unions to take direct action in their own interests. The concern shown by the Auto companies that Reuther's death may spark "chaos in the plants" indicates that there is a fear in business circles that the wildcat might become a common tool of the workers.

But while the Teamsters' and the Postal workers' strikes are dramatic examples of the rumblings in the working class, many less spectacular things are happening in industries across the country. A case in point is the New York fuel oil industry.

Until recently New York's oil drivers were not known for their militancy, but things have begun to change. While the shift in attitudes has translated itself into action on only one or two occasions, the general consensus of the men is that they have become more militant and that they will no longer be pushed around so easily. This change is worth discussing since it is fairly typical of what is happening in other places.

The 2800 men of Teamster Union Local 553 drive for the numerous independent oil companies in New York. These companies are not attached to any of the national corporations and range in size from a few trucks to a few hundred. Together they deliver about 40% of the oil used in New York City. While there are a great many companies, there is a lot of interaction among the drivers at places like the large fuel terminals where trucks of many companies load. For most of the men the work is seasonal, they are bound by the contract to be available from October 15 to April 15 after which they can find work for the summer without losing their seniority. The amount of time a driver will actually work depends on the company and on his seniority. The average driver works about 20 weeks while the men with most seniority work most of the year.

The job consists of loading the truck and delivering the load. A driver is not required to make a set number of loads or stops if he is delivering house oil or oil used in small buildings. Instead he makes several stops with one load. The companies, often Neanderthal in their relations with the drivers, are continually after the men to work faster and sometimes play the drivers off against each other. ("Why did it take you two hours and him an hour and a half?") Besides the boss's harrassment, the driver faces the everyday difficulties of the job: driving a trailer truck or large straight truck in heavy city traffic and on narrow residential streets in any weather, the anger of motorists if the driver has to block a street to make a delivery, or the freezing temperatures of the waterfront where he has to load his truck. There is also the continual danger of spilling the oil if too much is put into a tank - if a driver has too many spills he can be fired. The men must also work extremely long hours. During the peak of the season a driver does little else but work, often ten or twelve hours a day, six or seven days a week. The pay rate is $35 for an 8 hour day, time and a half for Saturday and double time for Sundays and holidays. In the middle of the season a man can take home $300 a week or better.

The continual company harrassment (examples of which I will describe below) and the generally bad working conditions have been met with the opposition of some of the drivers for years. While the resistance takes several forms, the only type of organized opposition has been the insurgent coalitions, or slates of candidates which run against the local union leadership. These coalitions are not to be confused with rank-and-file caucuses since they are not open organizations but are composed primarily of candidates for the various positions in the local - President, Vice-President, Business Agents, Trustees, etc. During the last election one of the coalitions nearly defeated the incumbent leadership. Since that time it has merged with another group and will probably win in next December's election.

To get its message across, the coalition puts out a monthly newsletter pointing out the failures of the current officials and offering suggestions for reforms. Like insurgent groups in other locals that aim at capturing the union machinery, the coalition never transcends simple trade-unionism nor does it ever advocate direct action. On the contrary, they constantly play down the potential for militance of the rank-and-file. Many of the opposition people have been driving for 10 or 20 years, have faced the day to day humiliation one faces and have seen the majority of the men passively accepting their fate. Predictably some of them have begun to feel a little anger and contempt at the passivity of the other men. What they don't realize is that their union militance is no real alternative and will generally be met with cynicism. The spirit of compromise inherent in trade unionism, the nature of bureaucracy which eventually sets itself apart and against the workers, and the temptation to sell out for money or status makes the unions a fraud. Most workers, I think, believe this even though, in lieu of an alternative they wouldn't give the unions up. As one driver said of the coalition, "I'll vote for them because they might be good for one contract, but I've got no illusions - in two years they'll be under the hat."

When I talk about the passivity of the workers I am talking about passivity about day to day problems. When contract time comes around things are a little different. In December 1968, No. 553 went on strike for ten days when the men overwhelmingly rejected a contract negotiated by the union. The union's reaction was interesting: in spite of the fact that 2/3 of the men had voted against ratification, the local leadership called the strike a wildcat - at least until they realized the depth of the feeling against the proposed contract. After ten days the men won another ten dollars over what had been negotiated. Even then the contract was ratified by a narrow margin.

The opposition coalition's increasing strength is one indication of a new militance on the part of the workers, but there is at least one other kind of resistance to management which is both widespread and common, that is individual acts. Individual resistance to the companies grows out of the particular type of relation the truck driver has with his boss. Unlike the factory worker who confronts the boss with or in front of other workers the driver has a much more personal relation with the boss. For example, if the driver should get on the bad side of a shipper, the person who gives out the work, he may find that he is getting all the bad or difficult jobs. The result is that the man feels he is being picked on and has a personal reaction. He will often slow down and say he was caught in traffic or held up in some other way. He may sabotage the truck by getting a flat tire or pulling a few wires. If he gets into a real fight he may just quit since it is easy for a truck driver to find work. This is especially true if he doesn't have much seniority. Clearly this type of response, personal and not collective, won't get anyone anyplace since it serves to perpetuate the divisions among the workers. Yet sabotage can become a very effective tool if it is collectivized, that is, if the men as a group decide to respond to company provocations with slow-ups and similar acts of sabotage. This collective sabotage can be a positive action, an experiment in the regulation of work by the workers themselves, adjusting the amount of work to the drivers' comfort rather than the company's profits.

The men are more concerned about the conditions of work than wages. In the mornings the men show up 15 or 20 minutes early to talk. Usually the conversation turns to new outrages by the company, or to how they beat the company in some way, or to what should be done to change things and how. Recently the talk has become more militant and while it is difficult to pin-point the exact reasons for it without describing what is happening in the country as a whole, certain things stand out. First, the extensive media coverage of the black and student movements has, to a certain extent, legitimated protest. One often hears, "we're not going to take that, this is 1970, not 1930." To be sure, the more active approach is not automatically a good thing as the recent attack on demonstrating students by New York construction workers recently showed, yet hopefully objective conditions will force it in the right direction. A second factor responsible for the shift in attitudes at this company was the infusion of a number of younger workers with some new ideas who helped to crystallize much of the men's discontent and suggest new ways of dealing with problems. The episode I want to describe shows the nature of those new ideas.

On a Saturday last March one of the drivers was fired for taking too long on his coffee break. He had either been spotted or was followed by one of the company bosses who claimed he had taken an extra ten minutes. (Some companies, including this one, actually hire spies to occasionally put a tail on a driver to make sure he is not stopping anywhere.) There is nothing in the contract about coffee breaks but it is generally assumed in the industry, with the tacit consent of the companies, that the drivers are allowed fifteen minutes. After a discussion, the driver agreed to take a short lunch hour to make up the time. This was in spite of the fact that that the boss was lying, for the driver knew he had not even taken fifteen minutes. The company man said he would let it pass with a warning. Later in the day, however, the boss returned to his office and found out that the man had had a previous run-in with the company some months earlier. Then he went back on his word and ordered the driver fired.

Monday morning there was another firing at the same company. This time a driver was fired for refusing to take out an unsafe vehicle. Throughout the season the man had been given either unsafe vehicles or ones that barely met minimum safety standards. Finally after a week in which he had at least one and sometimes two dangerous breakdowns every day, the driver refused to take out a truck which had leaks in the trailer, a broken window, bad tires, no windshield wipers, and a fuel tank which leaked through the vent (this drips fule under the tractor wheels and causes poor traction). Some defects violated the contract. The defects had been reported numerous times but nothing had been done to repair them. The company told him that he would either have to take the truck out or punch out and go home since there were no other trucks available. The driver refused to do either since he felt he had a right to his day's pay even if the company did not have a decent truck for him. It is in the contract that if the company books a man and does not have either work or a truck available the man must still be paid. Instead, the company fired the man.

The two fired men then went to the Local headquarters on the recommendation of the shop steward. They explained what had happened to the Vice-President who told them in the manner of union officials the world over to "stay calm" - even though the drivers had shown no signs of excitement. He said a meeting would be set up with the Business Agent who covered the area, where there would be a meeting with the company and the men would have their jobs back.

The fired men had other ideas. First they made picket signs and picketed the yard. They explained their cases to the men, first verbally and then with a leaflet they wrote which explained the circumstances of their being fired and concluded with the following:

This harassment must stop - the time to fight is now. The union tells us to keep calm and go to arbitration. But arbitration is a dead-end street. It is a trick used by the Union and management to prevent workers from taking real direct action to settle their grievances. We pay union dues supposedly so we will have some defense against the boss - why should the union be able to get off the hook by passing the buck to an arbitration board? We might as well forget the union and pay our dues directly to the arbitration board. Going to arbitration means going without a pay check for weeks and it means putting your fate into the hands of a board which is not impartial - few workers win in arbitration.
We are asking for action from the Union now - today. If we don't get action we are asking your support to help us get our jobs back and to get the pay we have lost as a result of these firings. We have heard a lot of talk from some of the men - now is the time to put up or shut up. What happened to us today will happen to you tomorrow. An injury to one should be an injury to all. Let's get off our knees and stand up and fight. We have the power to cage the animals that run this company. Without us not a single gallon of oil moves, not a single penny of profit is made. The choice is clear. Think it over carefully. Who wants to live in a world of grovelers?

Picketing and distributing leaflets of this kind is unheard of in the oil industry, yet the other men received them enthusiastically. Men that the coalition militants had said would never help came around offering encouragement and asking what they could do to help. The women working in the office promised to walk out with the men. The fired men said that if the meeting scheduled with the company for the next day, Wednesday, did not come off in their favor, they wanted the men to walk off. In any event, the fired men and their supporters in the company - they felt they could actually count on a little less than half the forty or so men who drive from this particular yard - and even outsiders, would barricade the driveway and stop the trucks. The way it looked now the fired men would have the support of most of the other drivers. This was a big change from a few months earlier during another dispute when the thought of a wildcat was frightening.

The next morning, before the meeting, the drivers again picketed the driveway, walking back and forth slowly, which only let the trucks out one by one. This caused the trucks to back up in a long line under the office window. It was hoped that this would show the company that the men would not cross the picket line unless the picketers wanted them to.

The meeting the next day was really surreal. The participants were: the company man, known as "labor consultant" (what used to be called a goon). He handles the labor difficulties of eleven independent companies, mostly in Brooklyn, and bills himself as a "hatchetman;" the Union Business Agent; the shop steward who firmly supported the men but who was forced to turn the cases over to the Business Agent because they involved firings; and the two drivers. Each driver met separately with the company. Each meeting followed essentially the same script. When one of the drivers explained his position and then said that the company did not care about the men, he was told that he was perfectly correct, the company was interested only in making money and didn't care about "little people who are nothing." What particularly enraged the labor consultant was that the drivers had distributed the leaflet. He claimed that the leaflet was grounds in itself for firing since it advocated ignoring arbitration, and because the contract specifies arbitration as the method of settling disputes the drivers were put outside the sphere of "protective activity." This is why workers can be fired for engaging in wildcats - they are breaking the Union contract. When he was told that the company had broken the contract by assigning a truck that violated the contract because it had broken windows and no windshield wipers he snapped back that he did not care about contracts, the oil had to be moved. All the while the Business Agent sat there trying to calm the drivers down. It was finally agreed that, because the company feared trouble, the drivers would get their jobs back but not their lost pay (three days). The drivers decided to take the compromise settlement because they were not sure whether the men would act under the changed circumstances - and they felt it would be better to back down a little in order to be around to fight later.

The whole episode served a good purpose. First, the men were pushed to the point of walking out - something that had not happened before. Secondly, it clearly showed how bad the union was and that taking a militant stand might be the best way to fight the company. The two drivers and their supporters continued to hammer away at the need for direct action to handle disputes. There is more of a feeling of solidarity at the company and not just among the younger workers who were already sympathetic.

In the Fall, some of the men hope to put out a direct action oriented newspaper to spread the word. One of the men is also planning to run for shop steward when the present steward, who is running for local office on an opposition slate leaves in December. It is hoped that in this manner the actual job of a shop steward can be eliminated (except for the figure-head which is required by the Union structure) and replaced by a committee made up of all the drivers who will meet regularly. This is a good first step in building an independent movement controlled by the drivers to fight for improved conditions without intermediaries. The meetings should serve, also, to eliminate many of the petty squabbles and divisions among the drivers. Most of the men think it is a very good idea. The way such a structure would relate to the Union as a whole remains to be seen. The hard-core anti-Union militants, of which there are only a few, feel that it is impossible to oppose the insurgent coalition and that it is best to merely point out that it will be powerless to do anything to really change things since the District Council or the International would crush it. At worst it will become just like the present leadership. Nevertheless, if people are going to vote, they should vote for the opposition.

It might be thought that the anti-Union militants should have the same attitude towards the shop stewards as they do towards the local leadership. But these two levels of the Union seem to be different. Often the shop steward has little to do with the Union Local; there is little contact and often genuine hostility. The shop steward is not considered by the men to be a Union officer but as one of their own. After all, he's a worker on the job. But the fact remains that the steward functions as a mediator between the workers and the Union structure. He is there and you have to get rid of him.

The men hope to run a shop steward who intends to stop being shop steward, and to function as no more than the moderator of meetings of the drivers. Many of the drivers feel that this action will serve notice on the companies and Union that things should be different, and provide a concrete example for drivers in other yards. It should be noted that, while the events here are of little significance in themselves, confined to one yard, workers throughout the industry are in constant communication and the experience of this yard was known and discussed by workers throughout.

Perhaps this plan to abolish the shop stewardship by capturing it is a trojan horse. The men look upon it as an experiment. In any event, it is a step taken partially in recognition of the limits of the present fight. Many men still accept their fate as pawns between company and Union. They are not willing to break with the Union completely. The abolition of the steward's position will throw things in their laps, forcing them to confront their own problems on the job by relying on direct, collective action, rather than going with gripes to the steward.

The construction of a really independent workers movement will be a long term process. Only when the idea of an independent workers' movement spreads to other workers can the drivers totally ignore the Union and rely upon alternative forms of action in every instance.

Next Fall should be a period of great activity. The elections are coming up and in December, the contract expires and there is little likelihood of preventing a strike. Since there is no doubt that the Union will do all in its power to shorten the dispute, this fight will force the men to rely upon their own strength if they will win anything significant. The experience of the past year will acquire a new meaning in the light of this concrete instance of the need of independent organization and coordination of the drivers. It will offer a real opportunity to generalize and strengthen the movement.

Root & Branch No. 2 (1971), pp. 1-4.

Italy: women in the Fiat factory

The following article was written by a Turin collective working on the problems of women employed by Fiat. It was published in Lotta Continua, February 1970.

Underlying this article is the idea that the significance of a fight in one department within a factory, for instance, or strata within the working class, in this case women, can only be understood in terms of the relationship between this particular point of struggle and others.

The importance of such an analysis is particularly visible in the case of a town like Turin, in which every aspect of social life is determined by the strategy of Fiat. An overwhelming majority of the labor force is employed directly by Fiat, or by companies like Alfa-Romeo, which are Fiat-owned. The public transportation system is run by The Company, in whose hands is a decisive part if not most of the town's real estate. The hospitals are owned by Fiat; the newspapers are under its thumb. Turin is Fiat. One might even say that the North of Italy as a whole is under the dictatorship of the automobile, with industries and huge corporations like Pirelli (tires, rubber) strictly correlated with the auto industry, or the chemical plants at Porto Marghera (near Venice) controlled by the Fiat group. This dictatorship extends, moreover, to the South of Italy, by its control of the level of immigration to the "rich" industrial North.

In these circumstances, in which capital can attempt to coordinate its domination of the totality of life in a whole area, it is clearly necessary to understand and diffuse information about the interrelation not only between different sectors of production and even between the apparently separate but in fact connected workplace and "private" aspects of the worker's life. But the same task imposes itself in social/economic situations of greater complexity, and/or ones in which the capitalists are less able or willing to coordinate their attempts to make profits, than the one just described. The significance of recent Teamster wildcats, for instance, cannot be understood without reference to the relations between different and competing transportation industries; the role of transportation in the present-day economy; not to mention the general conditions of the American economy. Consideration of the struggles of blacks in a Northern city demands an understanding of the mechanization of agriculture in the South, the extent and types of employment of blacks in the North, etc., etc. The document which follows is an attempt to apply this kind of analysis to the struggles of women workers in Turin.

It starts by showing how Fiat tries to use the women to break the fight that workers - mostly men - have been carrying on in the factories, especially since 1968. It then describes the growing importance of women within the fight of the working class as a whole, both in the shops and in social life generally (family, housing, health, transportation, school, etc.).

This way of looking at the situation derives from and leads to a definite viewpoint on the way in which the militants of Lotta Continua wish to help the struggle develop: By showing how within the specific interests of men and women, old and young, skilled and unskilled, employed and jobless, the same common interest can be found, the basis for a class unity which does not suppress but which expresses the particular situations of different groups in the class which can be understood and acted upon.

Double Exploitation

At the present time, women are being hired in great numbers in the Fiat factories at Mirafiori, Giggotto and Rivolta. They work together with men on the assembly lines, in the preparation department and stock rooms, executing tasks which had previously been done by men.

These women are used by Fiat as a reserve army of labor in extreme need of work at a time when workers coming from the South are beginning to refuse to work at Fiat. Since January, 1969, 11,000 men have quit work there, and the supply of labor from the South has decreased considerably.

Moreover, the owner does not want to run the risk of repeating the mistakes of Spring 1969 when he counted on the supposed passivity of the Southern workers. Now he knows that these workers, arriving with an experience of fights in the South, will no longer stand for his domination. In the struggles at the factory, they are often the most willing to fight and the most decided. Moreover the importing of new labor power from the South aggravates the social contradictions in Turin such as housing and schools whose explosive character contributed in a high degree to lead the Fiat workers to an understanding that they are exploited as workers both inside and outside the factory.

At this time, the owners and government cannot afford to institute badly needed social reforms although they must do so as soon as possible to proceed to the technological restructuring of the productive apparatus. The women who work at Fiat are, from the owners' point of view, technically and physically less efficient than male workers, but the owner does not expect maximum productive efficiency from them. What he is looking for at this time is an extremely docile labor force needing work very badly and therefore disposed to undergo physical and economical over-exploitation without revolt; a sure and loyal working force, who will break the unity and the solidarity of the Fiat working class which has been reinforced by the experience of autonomous struggle in May and June 1969.
Are the Women More Docile?

There are many reasons which cause the owner to think he can use the women for these purposes. Most of the women are recently hired and many are still in a trial period. As with most recently hired people, they are afraid to be fired and feel themselves to be in a very precarious position. Only a restricted minority among them went through the struggles of Summer and Autumn 1969, and they therefore generally lack experience, unity, and organization in opposition to the boss. However, the reasons that make them less disposed to fight derive ultimately from their condition as women.

The women who work at Fiat are a small number out of many women who are willing to work there. Those who want to work in Fiat plants include not only the women who are now working in other smaller factories, where they are in situations even worse than that of Fiat, and where they are very often hired without contract; but also the housewives, workers' wives who are disposed to submit to a double work, in the factory as well as in the home, to supplement the continually less adequate wage of their husbands. Those women who succeeded in obtaining jobs tend, then, to consider themselves to be privileged and are afraid to fight because of the enormous quantity of women who will take their jobs if they are fired. This fear is easy to understand because the women are working not to get for themselves and their families superfluous things, as the bosses pretend. Starting from the assumption, in total contradiction with reality, that women work not out of absolute necessity but simply to get out of the routine and round out the already sufficient wages of their husbands, Pirelli, for example, proposed a four-hour day - but for four hours' wages - since "this way the women have time to do the housework." This means that they want to institutionalize the unpaid work of women in the home, to exploit to the limit all the energies of the women workers with extreme speed-up in the factory, and then to discharge themselves of the social responsibility for social services like daycare, hospitals, etc. In reality, the women work because the father's and husband's wage is not even enough to satisfy the fundamental needs of the family.

Besides the objective pressures, the owner relies above all on the general subjective submissiveness of women towards work, which has its origin in their education and the role imposed on them in the family. The women continue to think of themselves as daughters, as fiances, and as wives rather than as workers. They feel destined to affirm themselves and to develop something which one might call their congenital goals, not in the workplace but in the family. The strictly familial framework in which they see themselves makes them accept every condition of exploitation, factory work, as a parenthesis, its violence and exploitation a sacrifice to which they must submit in order to resolve the problems of the family. The women go on in the hope that they will be able to stop working as soon as possible: a wish in contradiction with the reality of the men's insufficient wages. In addition, they have lived from childhood on within the familial structure in which they are brought up on an individualistic basis (rather than the collective experience of the factory). When they escape from this to the factory they assume in their relationships with their fellow workers - men and women - the suspicious and closed off attitude they were taught to have towards the exterior world. It's much more difficult for them to unite with other workers and to feel solidarity with them than it is for men who have been raised since childhood with much wider contacts with the world outside the family.
Women in Factory Struggles

In the framework of the family the woman directly feels the effect of the struggles that her husband fights in the factory. At home, it is she who makes ends meet when the money is less and less.

But she was taught to think that the struggle in the factory, the direct struggle against the bosses and the decision about when and how these struggles are to be led, belongs to the man. During the struggle over the contracts in Autumn '69, the women workers of Fiat in general were very conscious of the responsibility not to break the solidarity of the workers and were convinced that they were fighting also in their own interest. But decisions about the struggles were always left to the men. This practice derives not so much from an illusion that politics is a masculine activity; but rather from the whole material condition of the woman. For instance, the husbands can meet together, discuss, organize the struggle, but the women, because of the role in which they are enclosed must run to take care of the house and kids. In fact, a very strong obstacle to the political emancipation of women is constituted in the internal division of labor in the proletarian family itself.

Another aspect distinguishing the political attitude and practice of women from that of men workers is their relationship with the union. They have nothing at all to do with it as a political and organizational reality; they feel it to be completely foreign to them, an institution which is, like the government and the political parties, totally unintelligible. This is both because women don't have the experience in general of work within the unions and because of the constant tendency of parties and unions to exclude the women from the tasks of organization and political direction.

During the last struggles at Fiat, the union called a meeting for the women who work on the drill presses, inviting them to accept the unions as representing them before the boss for the solution of some problems specific to women, such as classifications and excessive speed-up, (something which the unions can no longer get away with with men). Nevertheless, in the last few days in the place where car interiors are made in the Fivolta plant, a department with a large majority of women, the women stopped work in a protest against speed-up, demonstrating their full capacity to fight in their own name.

The political goal of the boss in hiring women is to divide the workers. At this point the men workers reproach the women with taking their jobs away. In fact it is not by chance that the boss substitutes women for men in many jobs, putting the latter into jobs still more difficult than they had before. For example, moving women from small and medium sized presses to the big ones, or from Mirafiori (which is in the town) to plants which, being outside of Turin, pose greater transportation problems. But all the workers reproach the women with being too hesitant in confrontations with their bosses and less capable of fighting. Where the women are mixed with men in many cases it has happened that they break the unity of workers by submitting to the rhythms and conditions of work without participating in the struggles against these conditions initiated by their brothers.

The present contradictions between men and women workers can be solved in a way that damages the owner.

In the factory the women escape the control of their fathers and their husbands and are becoming able to fight the problems of their working conditions in their own name, in equality with their brother workers.

The factory can be to the women the first place of her socialization, the place where she identifies the problems of the others as identical with hers, and acquires the knowledge necessary to fight beside her brothers for the same objectives.

Women do work which is ever more identical to that done by men. Men and women workers now recognize that it is absurd that the women can be paid less than men since they do the same work. The men workers know that the women are less capable of doing certain types of work, yet they see these women working to the limits of their physical ability. So they understand that both sexes are equally exploited. The discussion that now develops among men workers about the problem of the low wages for women brings to the fore the necessity of fighting for the suppression of all types of job classifications.

Finally, the women - precisely because it is on their shoulders that the weight of the problem of children, housework, etc. mainly falls - still more than men are led to introduce the themes of the social condition of the proletariat into political discussions.

Root & Branch No. 2 (1971), pp. 19-21

Root & Branch # 4

Issue number 4 of the libertarian socialist journal.

Vietnam - Root & Branch

Article by Root and Branch on the cease-fire called in the Vietnam war.

On Tuesday evening, January 23, it was announced simultaneously in Washington, Hanoi, and Saigon that a cease-fire agreement had been reached and that peace was at hand in Indochina. Of course, there would be a week of fierce fighting throughout South Vietnam before the settlement would go into effect, each side struggling as in a football game to gain more ground before the whistle blew. And the fighting would go on, though on a reduced scale, and without the American bombing of Vietnam, indefinitely. But the situation in Indochina has indeed taken a new turn.

The American anti-war movement, having just demonstrated over inauguration weekend for Nixon to Sign now! has had its wish granted. As Nixon promised, American troops and planes will leave Vietnam, American P.O.W.s will be reunited with their families, a full tally of the American dead will be drawn up, and the Vietnamese will be allowed to settle their affairs among themselves -- which, as Dr. Kissinger pointed out on January 24th, has always been the American goal.

If the peace thus represents the achievement of American goals, the North Vietnamese in turn have proclaimed a great victory for the Vietnamese people. One thing that is clear is that what's goin on ain't exactly clear. Nonetheless, some elements of the situation should be apparent to all.

The U.S. government has opted for the cease-fire in pursuit of its own objectives, not as a result of pressure from the anti-war movement. Throughout the war, that movement has influenced the manner in which the U.S. government carried out its policy, but the objectives of policy remained unaffected. The movement was unable to root opposition to the war in people's real daily oppression by the system that created the war. This narrowness was not so much a tactical error as a reflection of the real limits of the movement. Largely composed of students and professionals (inclulding would-be professional revolutionists), in the absence of a radical workingclass movement, the New Left as a whole was in no position to understand the system it could analyze only in terms of its own "middle class" experience.

Against the image of American madness or imperialism, the movement posed the image of the force of national liberation as the other factor of the situation, in which the Spirit of the People was bound to triumph over the Technology of Man. It was mostly forgotten that the Spirit fortified itself with Russian and Chinese rockets, guns, ammunition, Migs, tanks, oil, and food. Seen as the classic example of a small nation holding off a great power, the fate of Vietnam has in truth always been determined by the needs of the great powers. As World War II opened the possibility for the anticolonial struggle, the Cold War made possible its continuation, as a battle by proxy between capitalism and the state-controlled economic systems of the East. Today, the rapprochement between the U.S. and both China and Russia has spelled the end of the ability of North Vietnam and the N.L.F. to continue their fight on its previous level.

The basis for the current "cooling" of the Vietnamese civil war is thus to be found in the current needs of the major powers involved. America, driven by the logic of capitalism to lay claim to the underdeveloped world liberated from European control by the last World War, has shown its unwillingness to let the extent of that control be diminished. The state-run systems, in the meantime, have accumulated economic problems of their own -- expressed in a slowdown of economic growth -- which makes greater participation in the capitalist world market and access to Western technology a worthwhile trade for a temporary lowering of the level of conflict. In addition, the division between the two major Eastern powers put America in an especially strong position. While Laird, in his farewell news conference as Secretary of Defense, pointed out that "our strongest weapon is the Russians' desire for trade," W.H. Sullivan, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, expressed "the prevailing view" in the State Department "that China pushed for an accord to curb Moscow's and Hanoi's influence in Indochina." Speaking on Meet the Press on January 28, Sullivan explained Nixon's strategy in mining North Vietnamese waters in this context, as producing "a situation in which North Vietnam became 100 per cent dependent on China for the provision of its equipment . . . Nothing could go through the waters and come into Haiphong overseas. This means that China's proccupation with Soviet encirclement came into play. This means that China's feeling that it would rather have four Balkanized states in Indochina rather than an Indochina that was dominated by Hanoi and possibly susceptible to Moscow came into play." (New York Times, 31 Jan.)

It would be pointless to bemoan the limitation of national liberation struggles by the needs of the big powers. National liberation means the struggle for entry into the world of nation-states -- a world dominated by big power interests. This has always been understood by anti-colonial governments and forces -- hence the North Vietnamese (and Cuban) support for the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia. Imperialism -- of the Western or the Eastern variety -- is an integral aspect of the social systems which have organized their political life in the form of the nationstate. National independence, on the level of world politics, can only mean the choice between varying degrees of integration into the spheres of influence of the state-controlled economies of Russia and China.

For this reason also we can be sure that the war in Indochina, however long the current truce may last, has not come to an end, and that it will take its place as one of a series of similar conflicts all over the globe. Corporate capitalism and the state-run systems of Russia and China -- whatever their current needs for entente -- continue to confront each other as antagonistic systems striving to secure and to expand their mutually exclusive spheres of exploitation of labor and resources. The limited conflicts known also as brushfire wars in the parlance of the masters of the world are less threatening to the great powers than a direct confrontation between them (though this too is not an impossibility).

What this means is that the cease-fire in Vietnam can be welcomed only as a temporary diminution of the slaughter to which the population of the world is condemned until the rival systems of exploitation -- in whose struggles for control of them they serve as cannon fodder -- are destroyed. The real tragedy of Vietnam is not its failure to achieve national self-determination, but the physical destruction of its cities and countryside, the deaths and dislocation of the people who live there. It must be remembered that the nation or the people in Vietnam as everywhere consists of several groups, with distinct and often incompatible interests -- workers struggling for better pay and conditions, peasants for control of the land and its product, the intelligentsia and native bourgeoisie for political and economic control over their country. The tragedy of the exploited people of Indochina is that they are forced to struggle and die for a better life -- and even for survival -- within the meager possibilities set by the dominating structures of class oppression.

The system which has wreaked so much terror and pain on the Indochinese has increased pain and deprivation in store for the working populations of the developed countries too. As at the time of the first imperialist world war, the choice is between socialism and a barbarism now expanded by a new technology of destruction. Hopefully the world will not have to be reduced to a total shambles before we join the common people of Vietnam to destroy the system which is our common oppressor.

Root & Branch No. 4 (1973), pp. 1-2

Vietnam - Root and Branch.pdf364.22 KB
The ceasefire in Vietnam can be welcomed only as a temporary diminution of the slaughter to which the population of the world is condemned until the rival systems of exploitation - in whose struggles for control of them they serve as cannon fodder - are destroyed.
Root & Branch

A very great year? - Eve Smith

Eve Smith discusses the aims and effectiveness of Nixon's economic policies on the working class in the America.

Each year, the Economic Report of the President allows America's economic managers to reflect upon the glories of the past year and the triumphs of the year to come. This document provides us, too, an admirable opportunity to evaluate what is going on in the American economy.

The past few years have provided new proof of the effectiveness of Keynsian techniques of expanding and contracting the economy by expanding and contracting government budget deficits. In 1965, a massive deficit to finance the Vietnam War was followed by massive inflation. Nixon, on entering office in 1969, cut military spending, maintained special war taxes, and reduced government deficits, thus deliberately bringing on recession. This policy, with a little additional help from wage-price controls, brought inflation down to just over 3% with an official unemployment rate of over 6%.

To overcome this recession, a budget deficit of roughly $25 billion was allowed for the current fiscal year, resulting in the current economic expansion. This is a somewhat peculiar expansion, however; unemployment has been reduced by only 1%, remaining over 5%. Nonetheless, the budget planners are already planning to "slow down" the economy by June. They believe this is essential to "prevent this expansion from becoming an inflationary boom." Nixon, fully realizing the relation between budget deficits and inflation, says he has "put restraining Federal expenditures at the top of the list of economic policies for 1973." Nor is this policy alarmist; very substantial inflationary pressure had already developed by January, when the report was issued, even though unemployment was over 5%. In January alone, wholesale food prices increased 5%, indicating rising wage demands to follow.

All this makes the meaning of Keynsian techniques clearer. All they mean in practice is that the economic managers can shuttle the economy back and forth between inflation and recession. The entire period of "post-war prosperity" -- alleged to prove that the business cycle was a thing of the past -- can now be seen as a period of ever shorter and ever wilder swings between these two extremes. The triumph of modern economics is that it can reduce unemployment to 4% by raising inflation to 6% or, conversely, it can reduce inflation to 3% by raising unemployment to 6%. (The increasing inability to have both full employment and price stability is politely called the shift in the Phillips curve.)

Liberals propose a straightforward solution to this problem. Why not simply keep budget deficits high, the economy booming, and accept the consequent inflation? This was essentially the approach of the Johnson Administration. The result of such inflation, however, was to price American goods out of the world market and create the balance of payments deficit that led to the collapse of first the Bretton Woods Agreement and then the Smithsonian Agreement through the devaluation of the American dollar. As repeated currency crises have shown, this problem has deepened; the American trade deficit is currently $6.4 billion. The problem grows constantly worse with economic "recovery": every increase in U.S. economic activity increases imports; every increase in U.S. inflation undermines exports. Inflation is not an available solution.

Nixon's plan is more "realistic." He proposes to reduce government spending by eliminating those social programs which are supposed to contribute to the education, housing, medical care, or survival of the impoverished. He thus plans to limit the expansionary effect of government spending, bringing it as close to balance as he dares. His current budget proposes to retain a $12 billion deficit only in order to maintain American military supremacy and to ward off the threat of a complete collapse of the economy. (Footnote: The international face of Nixon's policy is to liquidate the American trade deficit by expanding trade with Communist countries and forcing American goods on other capitalist countries by means of tarriff and devaluation pressures. These approaches, however, have their limits. Russia and China are relatively poor countries with little but raw materials to exchange for American goods; in the short run at least they are likely to contribute little to overcoming America's trade deficit. The other capitalist countries have economic problems of their own which American policy, if successful, can only make worse, turning a national crisis into an international crisis.)

What does all this mean for the future? It means simply that the "New Economics," like the "Old Economics," has not found a way to overcome the basic economic processes of capitalist society. Economic expansion throughout the history of capitalism has never been unlimited; each cycle has reached its limits and then contraction has set in. The attempt to stave this off with deficit spending has merely created "inflationary recession." We may expect it to continue indefinitely, with economic planners proving their mettle by sometimes increasing the inflation, sometimes the recession.

Short of full-scale depression, there is only one way the system can improve this situation. That is to raise profits by lowering labor costs. If it could do this, it would be able to expand profitably without raising prices. And it could regain international markets, both by the direct savings on labor costs and by modernizing the antiquated American industrial plant with the proceeds. To the extent that the system's economic problems in the coming few years are severe, it is bound to attempt this strategy.

Such a strategy is of course nothing new. The continuing expansion of the late 1960s was in part made possible by the continuing decline in workers' real wages as substantial wage increases lagged behind even faster price increases. On taking office, Nixon provoked an economic contraction and rise in unemployment, explicitly in order to loosen the labor market and thereby bring down labor costs. When this approach proved inadequate, he applied government wage-price controls. Government officials explicitly stated that the central purpose of these was to control wages -- the price controls were merely to make the wage controls acceptable to the workers. Thus we see that the economic managers are capable of using either inflation or unemployment, not to mention direct controls, as a weapon to reduce workers' incomes.

At the same time, the government has tried to stimulate a national drive to increase "productivity." Of course, the primary reason for low American productivity is that American industry has been very backward in modernizing its productive plant. The vast modernization that is needed to remain internationally competitive is too extensive in most cases to carry out profitably. But productivity can also be raised simply by forcing workers to work harder and faster. The attempts to break down work rules and speed up production -- resulting in a number of strikes in the past year -- are the natural result.

Unfortunately for the system, it has not been overwhelmingly successful so far in reducing workers' conditions. Productivity drives have had marginal effect. The contracts established by the last big round of wage negotiations in 1970 greatly exceeded the Nixon Administration guidelines, even though they came in the midst of a recession Nixon had stimulated precisely to hold down labor costs. The 1970 Teamster wildcat set the pattern for successful rank-and-file resistance to union-proposed settlements within the Nixon guidelines in the major industries. Direct wage controls had only marginal impact, an impact which would have been even less had they not been imposed in the pit of a recession. As the President's economic report pointed out, without previous deflationary moves, "the subsequent success of price and wage controls would have been impossible." In the end, their effectiveness was so marginal that Nixon has been willing to give them up in exchange for the political support he is receiving from George Meany.

Nixon dreams of an electoral alliance between the traditional Republican business constituency and the more affluent parts of the working class. (It is no accident that he has been reading up on Disraeli.) He aims especially for those older workers who are protected from unemployment by their accumulated seniority but who are threatened by inflation, tax increases, and the incursions of the impoverished. To the extent that he makes genuine concessions to organized labor, however, he will only make worse the overall economic problems he faces.

In short, the system's margins for manoeuver are growing steadily narrower. It needs to maintain military supremacy, fund social programs to allow urban survival, provide full employment, maintain price stability, permit a slow, steady rise in real wages, and steadily expand profits -- all at the same time. It can't. That is why politicians from George McGovern to Richard Nixon define the central issue as one of "national priorities." We may expect official politics for years ahead to be preoccupied with the question: which of the system's needs are not to be fulfilled?

If the system could fulfill all its needs, it would win universal support save for a handful of ideological malcontents. But it can't. This year's budget jetissoned all attempts to maintain urban life at the level of survival, despite the fact that a series of official commissions have repeatedly found that this problem threatens the life of the nation. Likewise it jetissoned any attempt to bring unemployment much below current levels; the "neighborhood" of 4.5% is its most optimistic prediction. The probable result will be to generate discontent throughout society. Whether and how this discontent can make itself effective will be our central problem for the years ahead.

Root & Branch No. 4 (1973), pp. 3-6

A post-affluence critique - Jeremy Brecher

Post-Scarcity Anarchism by Murray Bookchin (Ramparts Press, 1971) reviewed by Jeremy Brecher Root & Branch No. 4 (1973), pp. 7-22.


Throughout the 1960's, the themes of a return to nature, hostility to synthetics, anti-"consumerism," dissolution of sexual restrictions and roles, community and tribalism, internal exploration through drugs and other means, all became widespread among college and dropout youth, and were echoed by many young professionals -- all underpinned by a discontent with the established roles assigned them by present-day society. Their experimentation was made possible by their relative affluence and economic security. This put them in direct contrast with the generation which had been scarred by the economic rigors of the Great Depression, and to those of their contemporaries for whom labor was a prerequisite to survival.

By the end of the 1960s, the discontent remained, but much of the opportunity for experimentation had vanished. Students began to knuckle down for grades and eschewed political activity that might get them thrown out of school; dropouts, no longer able to live off the scraps of a booming economy, were forced to look for work and face the problems of any other workers. The romantic exuberance and sense of possibility that marked the 1960s became a matter of history.

Murray Bookchin's essays, published in Anarchos magazine from 1965 to 1970 and collected here, form one of the best products of that history. A careful look at them will reveal much about both the limits of radical thought in that period, and about those of its contributions which will still be useful in the grimmer times ahead.

Bookchin's central argument runs as follows. The last three decades, and especially the late 1950s, mark a technological turning point that negates all values and social programs of previous history, by making possible an era at once materially abundant and virtually free from toil. Young people, realizing this, have begun to adopt a whole new lifestyle, eliminating all the repressive attitudes and hierarchical institutions previously necessitated by scarcity and the need to work. A new vision of what society could be like is making the toil and renunciation of present-day society increasingly intolerable to people of every class, especially the young. Riots, crime, and other forms of rebellion by the declasses who intuitively reject the values, forms, aspirations, and institutions of the established order become chronic. Simultaneously, the destruction of the natural environment by a hierarchical society threatens to destroy the entire "biotic pyramid" on which human life depends.

Bookchin looks to a massive popular revolution, somewhat like an extended version of the French upheaval of May, 1968, to emerge from these contradictions. Neighborhood assemblies, stimulated by dropout youth, would thereupon take over direction of society on a decentralized basis. People would leave the cities and factories to found autonomous, face-to-face communities in the countryside, which would become the new unit of society. They would be carefully adapted to the local ecology, and would utilize new, small-scale automated technology to provide for the needs of the community while eliminating toil. Human beings in the process would not only become free, but would become rounded members of a rounded society, fulfilling their desires in all realms of life.

Bookchin's argument superimposes a revolutionary dialectic on a number of themes that were "in the air" during the 1960s. These ideas were reflected in many of the bestsellers of the period. The idea that we live for the first time in a society where the problem of material scarcity has been largely overcome was popularized in J.K. Galbraith's The Affluent Society. The idea that in response, youth have developed a new lifestyle that is completely transforming society received wide circulation in Charles Reich's The Greening of America. The threat of ecological disaster has been increasingly borne in upon public consciousness since the publication of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring. Post-Scarcity Anarchism is an attempt to integrate this matrix of ideas into the tradition of left-wing anarchism.

There is much in this book that is valid, useful, and important. Bookchin argues persuasively that the various socialist and communist parties have become a major prop to hierarchical society, and that internally they promote both an institutional and a character structure that reproduces the worst aspects of the society they claim to oppose. He shows how limited the vision of radicals has generally been, and how they have failed to provide a real alternative to the present oppression of life. Equally important, he makes many proposals which at least will stimulate much discussion on the real possibilities of eliminating toil, domination, hierarchy, authority, and repression. This review is intended as a contribution to that discussion. It will focus on two of Bookchin's arguments: that an alternative society must be based on independent, face-to-face communities, and that we can no longer think about revolution in terms of the working class.

One of Bookchin's most important objectives in this book is to introduce an ecological dimension into social theory. He does this in "Ecology and Revolutionary Thought," an essay published in Anarchos before any other in this volume. Since it also gives one of his main arguments for a society of decentralized communities, it will serve as a useful starting point for our discussion of the latter.

Human development has often been seen as a steady increase of humanity's power to dominate nature. Yet this power is self-defeating if it destroys the very aspects of nature on which human life depends. Indeed, the idea of power over nature is inherently illusory, for no matter what we do, nature follows its own laws. Human progress actually lies in ever more perfect cooperation with nature, integrating its laws with our own purposes. To the extent that we ignore this -- and Bookchin shows that extent to be very great -- nature revenges itself upon us. If humanity is to survive, it must reverse direction and foster rather than destroy the natural systems on which it depends.

Bookchin argues that the way to do so is to eliminate cities, factories, and economic specialization and centralization, and replace them with "ecological communities," based on the natural resources of the locality concerned. Husbandry and intensive garden-style agriculture carefully adopted to the soils and contours of the last would replace the vast factory farms of today. Small factories which did not disturb the environment would provide for local needs without vast national industries. In all this Bookchin reflects the hostility toward large-scale production and desire to get "back to nature" which marked the youth culture of the 1960s.

Many of Bookchin's concrete proposals for improving humanity's balance with nature have merit, but he misses one basic aspect of the problem. He sensibly proposes that our objective be to "manage" (as contrasted with dominating) the biosphere. But this simply cannot be done by separate, isolated communities. One of the key principles of ecology -- indeed of all biology -- is that all biological systems have multiple levels of organization. For example, the organisms of a particular micro-environment are directly dependent on each other for food supply and regulation of population size. But at an entirely different level, all organisms are dependent on the transformation of carbon dioxide into oxygen by the entire plant population of the earth, and the revers transformation of oxygen into carbon dioxide by the animals. The maintenance of a viable biosphere depends not only on a balanced local ecology, but on a total balance among the various elements of nature, including humanity as a whole. If, as Bookchin argues, we are to "manage" the biosphere, this cannot be done merely on the basis of separate, independent communities. Indeed, it requires coordination on a worldwide scale.

There is little reason to think that such communities would refrain from activities whose baneful ecological consequences would fall on others rather than themselves. What would prevent the continuation of the present situation, described by the Tom Leher song, in which

The breakfast garbage
They dump in Troy
You'll drink with lunch
In Perth Amboy.

For in reality, no community can be an island, entire unto itself. There is no escaping from the consequences of other's actions. Indeed, this interdependence is the central lesson of ecology: Bookchin stresses it at some points, but ignores it where it contradicts his program. His proposals would reestablish the present situation, in which special groups can take actions which affect us, but over which we have no control.

This power of separate groups would also permeate economic relations. The natural resources of different areas are very uneven, so that the inevitable result of Bookchin's proposals would be a new stratification of rich and poor communities. This in turn would generate a new struggle among communities for a claim on resources or the social product. Bookchin relies on the improved morality of an anarchist society to prevent the resurgence of inequality. "Free men will not be greedy," he writes, "one liberated community will not try to dominate another because it has a potential monopoly of copper, computer experts will not try to enslave grease monkeys." It seems a slender reed on which to base a free and equal society, especially since a large proportion of communities would lack absolutely essential resources and would be forced into either severe privation or plunder were the others less generous than Bookchin hopes. Interestingly, it is precisely the differences between resources and development in various regions which has led to the resurgence of conflict among the disparate nationalities of the "decentralized" economy of Yugoslavia.

Leaving aside such possible side effects, the question remains whether a society of independent communities is feasible at an acceptable standard of living. Any society must organize natural resources, labor, and technology so as to provide for its continuing life -- otherwise it ceases to exist. We have already pointed out some of the difficulties such a society would have with resources. We will next turn to the organization of labor, then to the problem of technology.

One critical problem with Bookchin's proposal lies in the interdependence of the production process. To make any product, it is necessary to have dozens or in many cases thousands of items that are the product of a previous production process. Indeed, Bookchin recognizes that, for example, behind "a single yard of high quality electrical wiring lies a copper mine, the machinery needed to operate it, a plant for producing insulating material, a copper smelting and shaping complex, a transportation system for distributing the wiring -- and behind each of these complexes other mines, plants, machine shops and so forth." But hundreds of the objects which make up a civilized standard of life are created through processes just as complex and in many cases far more so -- after all, copper wire is a relatively simple product. The immense range of products needed for life cannot possibly be provided by Bookchin's face-to-face communities unless he is willing to replace toilets with privies, pianos with tom-toms, refrigeration with putrefaction, and surgical equipment with suffering and death. Further, such small communities would eliminate one of the greatest tools for reducing toil, since as Bookchin himself recognizes, "one of the most effective means of increasing output" is "the extending and sophisticating division of labor."

Of course, Bookchin argues that it is this very division which has made work so dehumanizing. His opposition to "workers councils" coordinating production over a wide area comes largely from his fear that they would perpetuate this condition. This I think is based on a misapprehension. There is little to criticize in Bookchin's desire that individuals have an opportunity to engage in a wide range of activities, including manufacturing, agriculture, and management -- in contrast to the mutilating specialization of labor today. But this does not require that the enormous range of productive functions that are exercised today must be abolished. That specialization can continue and even be extended, while the actual activity of the individual producers themselves becomes more and more varied. Indeed, Bookchin's proposal would eliminate much of the diversity he claims as his objective, since every community would be forced to concentrate its limited resources on producing the same basic necessities by a uniformly simple division of labor. The variety of modern life, its range of alternatives, is made possible by the greatly differentiated activities that make it up.

The real road to abolishing the mutilating aspects of the division of labor lies in a different direction. First, it requires a rational application of the division of labor to lower the necessary labor time of each individual as much as possible, so that life can become predominantly time that is free for activities conducted for their own sake, not out of need. Bookchin of course agrees with this in principle, but his program would make it impossible in practice because he ignores the economic realities on which such freedom must be based. Second, it requires complete reorganization of the work process and division of labor within the production units, so that the producers participate in and direct a complete process, rather than mindlessly carrying out one repeated task. Third, it requires an end to the identification of the individual with a single role in production, through the opportunity to engage in a variety of activities during any period, and to change areas of work in the course of a lifetime. These are exactly the kinds of possibilities opened up by workers self-management of production.

Such a pattern, incidentally, would greatly perfect the division of labor, at the same time that it suppressed that horror of all modern societies, capitalist or socialist, the labor market. No doubt there would be universal responsibility to put in a certain minimum number of hours of work. (Whether this would be enforced by law or merely by a universal understanding of its necessity will certainly be an important question.) Each productive unit would prepare a roster of its additional labor needs, and those looking for new work could essentially take their choice among the alternatives available. With the individual no longer molded to fit the job, not only would his own freedom increase, but the flexibility of the entire system.

Bookchin devotes an extended chapter to the technological developments he asserts make his small communities viable. Its tone is eminently practical, but its contents are in the tradition of science fiction -- taking genuine scientific advances and projecting them far beyond what actually exists. For example, one of the main problems with separate communities as we have seen is that natural resources are not found evenly distributed throughout the earth, but rather in concentrated deposits. Bookchin proposes to solve this by extracting the traces of uranium, magnesium, zinc, copper, sulphur, chlorine, and other industrially-needed substances that exist in common rock, soil, and sea water. He argues that if they can be detected in the laboratory they may also be extracted for industry. We might argue with equal logic that since they can be produced atom by atom in the laboratory, they can be produced that way for industry.

Bookchin admits that such extraction would take so much energy as to make it impractical with conventional energy sources. He then suggests solar energy as the solution, since solar energy striking the earth is 3,000 times the annual energy consumption of humanity. Yet he holds up for his model as "one of the largest" examples of using solar energy for industry a solar furnace that will only melt 100 lbs. of metal at a time; by way of comparison, even the miniaturized electric pig-iron furnaces he recommends for decentralized communities produce 100 to 250 tons of iron a day, and would require corresponding quantities of power. (His other proposals for energy sources are even more speculative: tidal dams, temperature differentials in bodies of water, and wind power, none of which are presently in use for industrial purposes.) There is no reason to doubt that solar energy can contribute to heating houses and running stoves, but there is equally little reason to believe that it can provide power at the level required even for decentralized industries, let alone for resource extraction processes for which even existing energy sources are insufficient. Bookchin takes his final dive into science fiction when he envisions "humans of the future" who will simply forget about the problems of technology and "stand at the end of a cybernated assembly line with baskets to cart the goods home."

Bookchin asks whether "a future society will be organized around technology or whether technology is now sufficiently malleable so that it can be organized around society." He points out that we can design a machine to do almost anything if we are willing to commit the resources; from this he draws the conclusion that we can develop the technological basis for any kind of society we want. Indeed, this is the key assumption that underlies his statement that we are on the threshold of a post-scarcity society. But the unfortunate fact is that, even with the full application of recent discoveries, limitations of technology will continue to exist, and will continue to put limits on the alternatives available to human society. Of course, further technological revolutions are not only possible but probable in the future, opening an ever wider set of possibilities. But if we are advocating a social revolution today, we must base our social alternative on possibilities which are real today, or our proposals will be taken as the science fiction they in fact are.

Bookchin's belief that modern technology allows small communities to be self-sufficient is in the end unconvincing. But his discussion of alternative technologies does contribute to an important process. We tend to think of the existing pattern of production (like the existing pattern of society) as a fixed structure, which we may perhaps modify but which we cannot fundamentally alter. One of the most important aspects of human freedom, however, is the power to change that structure, to use technology as we want. Bookchin shows us that we do in fact have that power, and that within limits we can restructure the technical base of society as we choose. The consciousness of this fact is essential to a free and rational society; its development is an important part of the revolutionary process. By ignoring its limits, Bookchin unfortunately makes the very real freedom we have appear a utopian dream.

Bookchin's emphasis on small, face-to-face communities grows in large part out of his desire to use technology to "carry man beyond the realm of freedom into the realm of life and desire." Indeed, one whole dimension of his thought is aimed at constructing a society which will realize such values as community, erotic fulfillment, well-roundedness, etc. Personally, I have my doubts about proposals for social reorganization that go "beyond the realm of freedom" and try to prescribe values for the future. If some people in a free society want to live in communes that is fine with me, but I see no reason to oppose someone who wants to be a hermit, who wants to live in a nuclear family, or who likes the anonymity an urban life allows. Similarly, I see every advantage in polymorphous sexuality, but I see no reason to reject the exclusive homo- or heterosexual or celibate. And while I myself enjoy a variety in my activities, I see no reason to discourage an individual from a single-minded pursuit of a particular calling in the name of well-roundedness. Bookchin uses ancient Greece to illustrate his ideas of community and all-round activity. [Footnote: It is a bit unnerving to hear him defend Athens against the charge of being "a slave economy which built its civilization and generous humanistic outlook on the backs of human chattels ..." One might expect a revolutionary to wonder how Athenian democracy looked from the point of view of a slave.] For all his talk about taking our poetry from the future, it seems he partakes of the classic fault of utopianism: projecting as the development of the future the "good" side of the past.

I am particularly bothered by his conception of people as citizens of a community, a concept he draws from ancient Athens and the radical democratic tradition of the 18th and 19th centuries. It is not clear what he means to imply by this, but it disturbs me somewhat, especially if he takes his Athenian precedent seriously; for this "community," which he describes as "so successfully libertarian in character," among its powers "banished undesirable citizens" -- or, as we know in the case of Socrates, put them to death. Of course, Bookchin is not advocating this sort of thing, but anyone with personal experience with small communities knows that they can exercise tremendous power over the lives of their members. Indeed, his total community, with its complete control over every aspect of the individual's existence, has a disturbing totalitarian potential, whatever humanistic rhetoric of the rounded individual in the rounded community is wrapped around it. I wish Bookchin would devote as much attention to this potential threat to freedom as he does to those which come from economic coordination.

Further, the concept of "citizen" seems to me to be exactly the kind of abstract identity Bookchin is so adamant in attacking when it comes to considering people as workers. I believe that in a free society, people will be neither "workers" nor "citizens," but simply people -- people who cooperate in a variety of ways to produce the kind of life they desire to lead. I think a society based on multiple networks for achieving a variety of objectives may well offer a greater protection for freedom than a total community, whose assembly holds total power over all facets of social life. Bookchin's approach at times seems closer to the "popular sovereignty" of democratic theory than to the combination of individual liberty and cooperative activity of the anarchist tradition at its best.

Bookchin is of course right in attacking those who would see the good society solely in terms of a reorganization of what is now considered "the economy." We need new concepts in which "economic planning " is no longer a separate sphere, but rather completely merged with urban planning, environmental planning, residential planning and the like. All of these involve ordering the material world through the organization of our own activity. Bookchin argues that this organization should aim to make peoples' dependence on nature perfectly transparent. I would add other goals that are equally important. One is to make human interdependence evident and understandable, so that people can both grasp social necessities as they arise, and can see their own power to affect social development. Another is to make the physical objects and processes we create -- buildings, machines, cities, roads, and whatever -- feel subject to our control because in fact they are subject to our control. All three objectives require social coordination on the widest possible scale as well as the freedom and power of individuals and small groups.

In his section on technology, Bookchin pulls back a bit from his image of economically independent communities. "I do not claim that all of man's economic activities can be completely decentralized." "Depending upon the resources and uniqueness of regions, a rational, humanistic balance could be struck between autarchy, industrial confederation, and a national division of labor." In the end he admits that there will be a "sizable category of material that can only be furnished by a nationwide system of distribution." Such distribution, he concedes, would be possible "without the mediation of centralized bureaucratic institutions." This approach, so different from the main thrust of his book, is clearly the direction we must go in thinking about an alternative society, but he nowhere tries to deal with the problems of economic coordination this would seem to imply.

The key to combining such large- and medium-scale coordination with power at the base lies in distinguishing two distinct, though related issues. One is whether a special group -- the state, the planning bureaucracy, the leadership, the party, or even the workers' representatives in workers councils -- separate from the rest of us makes social decisions. The other is the size of the unit in which decision-making occurs. Bookchin and decentralists in general talk as if the second determined the first. But we know that small, face-to-face communities are no guarantee against control by a minority. In many parts of the world, small communities are ruled as private fiefdoms; elsewhere they are dominated by a small group of powerful elders, landlords, clan leaders, or the like. Nor is there proof that if any truly democratic organization is possible, it cannot be a large one.

The whole issue of scale of social organization has been obscured by this confusion. The alternatives have been posed as centralized planning by a separate group on the one hand, and independent self-managed local groups on the other. These have been the terms of the traditional debate between state socialists and decentralists.

If we start with the aim of establishing maximum power over our lives, we have to oppose any special group of decision-makers who are separate from us. But this tells us nothing about what scale of organization will maximize our power and our freedom.

One central aspect of this question is missed by advocates of both central planning and of autonomous communities, namely, that different levels of organization are appropriate to different kinds of problems. Let us take two historical examples which reveal the chaos caused by ignoring this principle. In the speech in which he announced Cuba's failure to reach its sugar production goals, Fidel Castro admitted the chaos that had resulted from the over-centralized control of the Cuban economy. Bricks would be made in one place, but no transportation would be arranged to take them to another site where workers were all ready to build houses and schools. Machines were made, but no tools or spare parts were available to repair them when they broke down. The attempt to manage everything from the center, far from leading to rational coordination, resulted in catastrophic inefficiency and disorder. However, local independence is no guarantee against this fate, as the first American railroads suggest. In the early stages of railroad construction in the U.S., a great many towns raised money and built their own railroads. The result was a totally unworkable system of short stretches of track following labyrinthine courses and almost impossible to coordinate in operation. Some of them did not even connect to anything. Only with the organization of large-scale companies was any kind of usable transportation system developed out of this chaos.

Fortunately, we are not, I believe, really faced with a choice between separate, independent communities on the one hand and central dictatorial authority on the other. For the model of various interacting levels of organization we have discussed above in connection with ecology can be applied to society as well.

A multileveled council system allows the various groups affected by different decisions to participate in making them. The level at which each type of decision is made will no doubt be arrived at by taking the existing pattern, modifying it experimentally, and evaluating the results. We can see a few principles, however, which are likely to affect the ultimate pattern. Resources which are not evenly distributed throughout the earth like copper or petroleum will require worldwide distribution and coordination. Products needed in small quantities but requiring complex activities will no doubt be produced on a national or international basis -- the world may well need only one plant producing left-handed scalpels. A national transportation system may well have to be planned nationally; but the exact local course of a road is of great importance to any community, and localities could have great power over it within the framework of a national plan. The architecture and location of a building have so much impact locally that decisions about them might rest completely in local hands, even for a plant producing goods on a worldwide scale. The internal design and actual process of a plant or office affect no one so much as those who work there, and there is no reason they should not have complete power over it within the technical limitations of the task to be accomplished. Of course, such a system can never eliminate conflict among the various levels and interests -- but that is because it reflects so well all the various interests and needs of people, which at times come into conflict even in a context of abundance. The objective of such a system -- and the criterion by which decision-making levels would be allotted -- is to establish for ourselves as much control over the conditions of our lives as we can, and therefore as much freedom as possible.

This is the general approach of many of those who advocate a society based on workers councils, and we must digress for a moment to discuss Bookchin's objections to such a system as anything more than a transitional form. We may start with his useful critique of the type of Soviet organization that emerged in Russia in the revolution of 1917. These were bodies of delegates elected by groups of workers, peasants, and soldiers, which initially coordinated the revolutionary struggle and, after the October revolution, became the new government. Their national congresses, as Bookchin points out, became increasingly unrepresentative bodies, as local soviets elected regional representatives who in turn elected national representatives. Actual power passed first from an unwieldy national congress of over 1,000 delegates, to an executive committee of 200 to 300, and finally to the Council of People's Commissars -- the Bolshevik cabinet -- as sessions of the larger groups became more infrequent and pro forma.

Bookchin offers several explanations for this process. First, it was encouraged by the hierarchical structure of the soviets themselves; presumably he is here referring to their indirect elections and the fact that (as in parliamentary democracy) orders flowed down from the top, justified by the representative nature attributed to the regime. Second,, the "social roots" of the Soviets were too limited for a "true popular democracy." By this, Bookchin seems to mean that the Russian people were not committed to ruling themselves. He says that the military battalions which went over to the revolution were too unstable, the new Red Army too well controlled by the Bolsheviks, the regular military too politically inert, and the peasant villages too preoccupied with local concerns to keep the soviets alive.

So far his analysis seems acceptable. The problem comes when he tries to explain why the industrial workers, who were left as the main base of the Soviets, were unable to resist the establishment of central Bolshevik authority. Bookchin argues that the basic weakness lay in the nature of the factory itself. The social power of a particular factory is limited since it is dependent for its existence on other factories and sources of raw material. According to Bookchin, this makes it impossible for power to stay at the base. The conclusion is central for all Bookchin's thought: a revolution based on workers organized at the point of production "creates the conditions for a centralized, hierarchical political structure."

What Bookchin fails to see is that it is precisely this interdependence which makes workplaces powerful. In the early days of the revolution, factories were taken over by factory committees of the workers, which were moving rapidly toward their own direct coordination of production. (For a full, documented discussion of this process, see Bolsheviks and Workers Control by Maurice Brinton, published by Solidarity and available from Root & Branch.) The railway workers, who represented the essence of the interrelation of production, provide one important example. The day after the Bolshevik seizure of power, the All-Russian Executive Committee of Railwaymen, a union E.H. Carr describes as "a mammoth factory committee exercizing workers' control" in running the railways, announced its opposition to "the seizure of power by any one political party" and threatened a general strike. Its power was sufficient to force the Bolsheviks to reverse themselves and include the Left Social Revolutionaries in the Soviet government. The Bolsheviks thereupon tried to undermine their position by creating a rival organization and giving it the authority to run the railroads, backed by state power. Once the railway workers were thus split, the Bolsheviks decreed "dictatorial powers in matters relating to railway transport." Yet in August 1920, political opposition by the railway workers was still so strong -- and so crippling to the economy -- that Trotsky was only able to suppress it through martial law and the summary ousting of their leaders. It was precisely to break this rising power of the workers at the workplace that the Bolsheviks moved against the factory committees. They succeeded in crushing them not because of some inherently centralist tendency of industry, but because of total disorganization caused by the war, because the Russian working class represented only a miniscule part of the population, and because a large proportion of workers were willing to accept Bolshevik rule.

Bookchin concedes that in the Spanish revolution, "working-class self-management succeeded." This he attributes to the conscious effort of the anarcho-syndicalist union, the C.N.T., to limit the tendency toward centralization, and the continuous power exercised by local assemblies over their representatives and delegates. The higher bodies of the C.N.T. functioned essentially as coordinating organs, and every individual, he states, felt personally responsible and personally influential in its policies and activities. This highly idealized view of events in Spain contradicts Bookchin's argument that factories imply a national centralization of power.

Indeed, this argument doesn't hold water, unless any national coordination is considered as centralization. But this is just what Bookchin does. He contrasts sharply what he terms "mediated" and "unmediated" forms of social relations. Face-to-face relations are unmediated and good; all others are mediated and bad. Thus for Bookchin, our enemy is not merely any social power we do not control; it is any form of social organization too large to meet face-to-face. Even a system coordinated by delegates who were nothing more than messengers for face-to-face groups would be mediated and therefore bad.

Bookchin concedes that communities cannot be small enough to meet face-to-face and yet large enough to be economically autarchic at a civilized standard of living. Coordination among groups too large to meet face-to-face -- mediated relationships in Bookchin's terms -- are inevitable unless we return to the primitive standard of living advocated by those anti-technologists Bookchin has elsewhere stigmatized as "paleolithic food-gatherers." The problem is how those at the base can keep the coordination process in their own hands -- for unless they do the coordinating themselves, someone else surely will, and thus seize social power. Bookchin leaves the door dangerously open for those who would argue that, since coordination is necessary, a central bureaucracy or state to conduct it is necessary too. Libertarians would do better to focus their attention on how this coordination can be conducted from below, rather than attacking it altogether.

Indeed, Bookchin has modified an earlier version of one essay to admit that such coordinating councils need not become focusses of power, if they are "limited by direct relationships" of the face-to-face group, "leaving policy decisions to the latter." In discussing the specialized committees and boards in a neighborhood, Bookchin suggests the means by which this can be done. "They must be answerable at every point to the assembly; they and their work must be under continual review by the assembly; and finally, their members must be subject to immediate recall by the assembly." It is precisely such principles that "mediated" coordinating organs too can function without becoming central bureaucratic authorities.

In addition to multiple levels of organization, one other principle of biological and other systems is essential for conceiving a society with coordination but no authority, the principle of feedback. In the classical model of centralized socialist planning, a group of Planners sits around a table and draws up the Plan, listing everything that is to be produced for the next five or however many years. Such planning is, as Bookchin would argue, inherently centralist, bureaucratic, and authoritarian; experience has shown that it is also hideously inefficient, producing anarchy in the most derogatory sense. But there are other types of systems which provide for the disperate needs of their sub-units by a very different type of coordination -- mutual regulation through feedback. The systems of computerized inventory control used by large companies today -- regulating hundreds of stores and plants and thousands of products -- illustrate the essential simplicity of this approach. In one system, for example, a punch-card accompanies each item produced. When that item is sold, the card is returned to a central computer, which adds up the needs of all the stores for replacement of each product. This information is then conveyed to the various plants, which expand or contract their output accordingly. Their own inventory -- the parts and material they need for their work -- is coordinated with their suppliers in exactly the same manner. This information network allows the various factories and stores to coordinate their activities, maintaining a stable level of needed materials, without any one of them holding general authority over the others.

We can envision the entire productive process of a socialist society as a system designed to provide a steady flow of those things individuals and sub-units need and want. Economic coordination at any given level of production requires little more than adjusting the level of flow of the various products, which can be done simply by feeding back information on needs and comparing them with present flow. A constant monitoring of inventory fluctuation provides an additional check.

Of course, the process becomes more complex when a change in the system is desired -- for example a new product or process, a change in location, a combination or subdivision of units, or whatever. Before making changes in the production process, people would no doubt try to simulate their effects, using computerized models of the entire economy to test their ramifications. With the economy itself run on a continuous feedback principle, the economic effects of any proposed change would be relatively easy to trace. All those affected by the change could thereby be assured of an opportunity to participate in deciding on it -- after their own discussion and vote -- through mandated representatives. Then the change could be tried experimentally, its effects on the entire system carefully monitored, and the necessary adjustments made throughout. By such an approach it is possible to have a coordinated economy with continuous planning but no Central Plan or Plan Authority.

Bookchin expresses one of the most characteristic themes of 1960s radicalism, that the working class is a conservative supporter of the existing society, while the "middle class" is so psychologically manipulated and oppressed that it is potentially revolutionary. "The proletariat" writes Bookchin, "instead of developing into a revolutionary class within the womb of capitalism, turns out to be an organ within the body of bourgeois society." On the other hand, "Capitalism, far from affording ‘privileges’ to the middle classes, tends to degrade them more abjectly than any other stratum in society … there is nothing more oppressive than ‘privilege’ today, for the deepest recesses of the ‘privileged’ man's psyche are fair game for exploitation and domination." [Footnote: It seems that no one is so unhappy as the poor little rich kid. The solution to the misery of the privileged, however, can be found without resort to revolution if Bookchin is correct. All that is needed is to enlighten the unprivileged workers about the miseries of the affluent, and I confidently predict that streams of workers will step forward of their own free will to take on themselves the burden of these false "privileges," relieving the middle classes of their pain and allowing them to occupy the workers's place in the factory, secure in that happy organ of bourgeois society. In their new-found leisure and misery, the workers might then even experience the "exploitation and domination" of their psyches which would make them at long last ripe for revolution.]

Of course, Bookchin's point of view reflects the empirical facts of the time in which it was written. During the 1960s, affluent youth were in visible revolt; industrial workers by and large were not. But it is a great mistake to extrapolate too directly from this kind of short-range alignment of social forces to the more fundimental power conflicts that come out in a genuinely revolutionary struggle. Two years before the Russian revolution aristocrats were conspiring to assassinate top members of the government while workers were threatening to lynch Bolsheviks in the shops for their stand against the war. If the radical movement of middle-class youth in the 1960s cannot be dismissed as merely petty-bourgeois dilettantism, neither can it now be seen as a serious revolutionary movement determined to overthrow capitalism and all hierarchy. Perhaps it can best be seen as the revolt of a segment of society resisting its reduction from free professionals to hired workers if in the process it made a valuable challenge to the values of capitalist society, it hardly possessed the understanding, the commitment, and above all the social power to reverse that proletarianization, let alone eliminate its source. The post-1968 recession has not made this stratum any happier with their lot, but it is successfully forcing them to accept it. We may expect that this stratum will not revolt again until they realize that they too are condemned to a life of toil, and can only escape it by eliminating any separate group that would control and exploit the labor of others. At that point they will see their interests as identical with those of the rest of the working class.

Bookchin's conception of the working class rests on three bases. One is the undoubted fact that working class struggle was at a low ebb during the years in which the current generation grew up -- roughly 1950 to 1965, years also marked by the relative stabilization of the capitalist economy. Social theorists of the "end of ideology" school interpreted this as indicating a fundimental change in Western society. Many radicals, notably C. Wright Mills and Herbert Marcuse, while attacking the "end of ideology" rhetoric, accepted the premise that the working class was no longer a potentially revolutionary force in economically developed societies. This assumption dominated the thinking of the New Left until roughly the time of the May 1968 general strike in France. Since that time, the assumption has been largely shattered by the resurgence of working class revolt and direct action not only in France but in Italy, England, Chechosolvakia, Poland, and to a lesser extent the U.S. and other countries. We can now see this theory in historical context. Every period of capitalist expansion and relative quiescence of the class struggle has produced theories of the same sort, which have held wide public acceptance until their factual basis crumbled under their feet. We are witnessing another such collapse today.

The second base of Bookchin's attitude echoes another idea popularized by the "end of ideology" school, the theory of working class "authoritarianism." Through the 1950s, many sociologists and historians argued that the conditions of working class life made workers a group with an authoritarian personality structure, prone to following fascistic leaders and trampling on liberty. Bookchin argues that "our enemies" include an outlook supported by "the worker dominated by the factory hierarchy, by the industrial routine, and by the work ethic." He views the worker as someone who must shed "his work ethic, his character-structure derived from industrial discipline, his respect for hierarchy, his obedience to leaders, his consumerism, his vestiges of puritanism." This statement expresses perfectly the moral contempt with which the New Left generally regarded workers, and goes far to explain why it had so little appeal to them. The New Left hated and feared the working class, and considered it an enemy. Such self-righteousness is hardly becoming in radical students whom capitalism provides the privilege of living off the labor of others, pursuing a life relatively free from the factory hierarchy, industrial routine, and, in short, the need to sell their labor. Workers, like others, accept the exercise of power over them in many areas of life. They share many of the racist and sexist attitudes of our society. But anyone who thinks workers like the factory hierarchy or the industrial routine has ample opportunity to learn otherwise by lining up at the nearest factory employment line.

We come to the third base of Bookchin's argument when he chooses to "flatly deny" that "workers are driven by their interests as workers to revolutionary measures against hierarchical society." Unless Bookchin is using "interests as workers" in some peculiar and idiosyncratic manner [Footnote: Perhaps he means "interests as workers" as contrasted with "interests as human beings." Perhaps he means that the interests in freedom, plentiful goods and services, self-direction, etc., are "interests as humans" rather than "interests as workers." But then all interests would be "interests as humans" and the concept of "interests of members of a class" would be meaningless. I would maintain, however, that the concept of the common interests of a class is extremely useful, since groups of individuals do in fact have common interests growing out of a common situation in society which differs from that of other groups. Their interests are of course "human" in that they are the interests of human beings -- but decidedly not in the sense that they are the interests of all human beings.], this statement is, I believe, false. Anyone familiar with the day-to-day conflict with authority of workers in a plant or office, let alone the history of spontaneous rebellions against it in strikes, occupations, and attempts to establish self-management, would surely be sceptical of Bookchin's assertion. Workers as workers have an interest in eliminating the power of anyone who can direct and exploit their labor; for only by eliminating that power can they gain control of their own time and their own share of social resources. The difference between workers -- those who have no share in society's means of production -- and other classes who do, is that workers have no means of escape from the power of authority except to eliminate that authority. In this their interests are far more opposed to hierarchy than the affluent youth Bookchin celebrates, who can achieve a life of relative freedom by buying a piece of land in the country or living without having to work full-time in the city -- all on the basis of parental subsidy, educational advantage, personal connections, and other forms of privilege. Of course, such people may favor revolution. (In the eyes of many working class people this is only another aspect of their privileged position; affluent youth needn't worry about losing their jobs, if they get arrested they can hire fancy lawyers who get them off, and they have funds and contacts to travel around the country accumulating prestige and attracting publicity -- not to mention all-expenses paid visits to Hanoi.) Revolution is undoubtedly in their interest in as much as it would create a better life for most of them as people. But unlike the working class, they are not faced with revolution as the only alternative to a daily life of exhausting and brutalizing labor under the total domination of the employer, with an income just enough to keep going, punctuated by periods of unemployment without even this. If that is not enough for Bookchin to give people an interest in abolishing hierarchical control of their lives, I wonder what is.

There is one other aspect of the situation of the working class that deserves mention. In a society of independent owners of productive property, an individual naturally views the road to freedom as gaining sufficient private property to support himself. In a modern economy, however, most work is done collectively, indeed, is part of an overall collaboration of the entire working class. A worker can hardly conceive the basis of his freedom as lying in his individual ownership of his own stretch of the assembly line. Thus the only road to freedom for the working class is collective rather than individual ownership of the means of production. The problem of moving from individual to collective solutions to our problems -- the critical need to surpass economic individualism -- Bookchin ignores. It is precisely the situation of the workers as a class which provides the basis of a solution to this problem. It is this, not as Bookchin implies the regimentation of the capitalist factory, which made Marx see the working class as the basis of an alternative, collective society. [Footnote: Bookchin makes a telling critique of the socialist movement; it is unfortunate that he has perpetuated the traditional anarchist habit of holding Marx responsible for the sins of all those who would speak in his name. This is exactly as fair as the traditional Marxist habit of portraying anarchism as nothing but the irrational bomb throwing occasionally perpetrated in its name. The entire revolutionary movement has been weakened for a century by the irresponsibility of both sides in this debate; both have systematically distorted each others' positions. Historical experience, far from vindicating either party, has shown that each was weakest precisely where it failed to learn from the other. Surely we can now foregoe the sterile polemics and synthesize the insights of both traditions.]

Certain other Bookchin distortions of Marx cannot pass without comment:

According to Bookchin, Marx believed that after the revolution, basic social decisions would be left to "a state power … a coercive body, established above society." But this interpretation is a complete distortion of Marx, who held that the "dictatorship of the proletariat" was nothing but the armed working population itself. (Marx undoubtedly distorted the anarchist position just as unfairly in his attacks on them.) Marx's writing on the Paris Commune and his Critique of the Gotha Program certainly do not call for a state "established above society." The worst we can say is that he failed to separate himself completely from the earlier tradition of revolutionary democracy represented by the Jacobins, although his evolution was steadily away from this approach. The most we can indict him for is failing to recognize in advance the danger of a state "above society" developing out of the revolutionary process, and thus failing to preclude the development of a state socialism established in his name. But although he failed to preclude the state socialism of today, it is simply false to assert that this was what he had in mind.

Bookchin repeatedly states that Marx's thought is obsolete because we now live in an era of potential abundance and leisure, while in his own time Marx could only conceive of a world of scarcity and want, even under socialism. But at the core of Marx's view of modern history was his understanding of the tremendous and continuing growth of productivity and the potential it gave for the drastic reduction of impoverishment and toil. While Marx did not of course predict the specific technological developments of the past 100 years, he made the general trend his most basic assumption. Indeed, Bookchin even cites a statement by Marx and Engels showing they believed communist society would be based on the overcoming of scarcity. A development of the productive forces, they wrote, is necessary for a communist society, "because without it want is generalized, and with want the struggle for necessities and all the old filthy business would necessarily be reproduced." This is hardly the statement of theorists unable to see beyond the realm of scarcity! The fact that for Marx the realm of freedom had yet to be achieved by no means implies that he could not see its possibility; even Bookchin admits that we still are only on the threshold of post-scarcity. Bookchin gives the coup de grace to his own argument when he admits that the revolution in industrial technology of Marx's own time meant "to the revolutionary theorist that for the first time in history he could anchor his dream of a liberatory society in the visible prospect of material abundance and increased leisure for the mass of humanity."

Bookchin's discussion of Marx's definition of the proletariat is too obscure even to be declared definitively false. He starts by offering to dispose of the notion that for Marx "anyone is a ‘proletarian’ who has nothing to sell but his labor power." But he immediately adds that "Marx defined the proletariat in these terms." He then states that for Marx the proletariat developed to its most advanced form in the industrial proletariat. He concludes his case by stating that Marx preferred the more disciplined German workers to those in the Parisian luxury trades. It seems to me we can "dispose of" Bookchin's argument by saying that for Marx, "anyone is a ‘proletarian’ who has nothing to sell but his labor power." Of course the working class has "developed," both before Marx's day and after, along with the development of the capitalist economy; today it includes the overwhelming majority of the population. But that development, unfortunately, has hardly made the great majority who have nothing to sell but their labor power cease to be workers.

I am not making these points to defend Marxism as holy writ. There is enough to criticize in what Marx said, however, without attacking him for things he didn't say.

Bookchin to his credit specifically recognizes that no revolution is possible in America without the participation of the working class. But the very way in which he analyzes the polarization of society makes that participation less likely, and ends reenforcement to those who identify the working class as an enemy of the revolution. For instance, I once heard Tom Hayden, perhaps the closest we have to a prototype of 60s radicals, say in private that the revolution would consist of violent struggle by youths, blacks, and other minorities against the rest of society, including the mainstream working class; the latter he thought might possibly come over, but only after violence was used against it. This state of mind and its disasterous implications are caught brilliantly in Marge Percy's recent novel, Dance the Eagle to Sleep. In it she projects an uprising of alienated youth which breaks out in Bookchin's beloved Lower East Side and spreads through the country, only to be exterminated by planes and tanks with the support of the majority of the population. The polarization advocated by many 60s radicals, if pushed to the point of revolution, could only have led to such a catastrophe. For as Percy's leader recognized in despair at the end, "He had only thought to get the kids out of the system … Yet you could not win a violent revolution in the center of the empire with rifles against tanks and planes, if the Army would fight against you. You could not win with an isolated minority." The collapse of the radical movement of the 1960s has at least averted such a holocaust. If a successful revolution ever occurs, it will be based on the problems and experiences of the great majority who make up the working class, not of those whose privileged position already allows them to simulate "post-scarcity." The contribution of the latter is at best prophetic.

The underlying problem with Bookchin's approach to class is that he substitutes values for social relationships. Thus he writes, "All who live in bourgeois society have ‘bourgeois roots,’ be they workers or students, young or old, black people or white. How much of a bourgeois one becomes depends exclusively upon what one accepts from bourgeois society. If young people reject consumerism, the work ethic, hierarchy, and authority, they are more ‘proletarian’ than the proletariat …." This view of social questions as essentially about attitudes or values pervaded the radicalism of the 1960s. [Footnote: It also curiously parallels Lenin's view that the working class is unable to fight for anything beyond gains within capitalism, unless a revolutionary consciousness is brought to it by the more enlightened middle class revolutionaries, who have rejected middle class society and joined the self-proclaimed bearers of "revolutionary consciousness."] Bookchin considers it a great advance, which would allow us to "inter the threadbare elements of socialist ideology together with the archaic past from which they derive." In fact, it is no advance at all, but a retreat to the kind of idealism in which ideas and values are conceived as the motive force of history, with social institutions and attitudes their outward manifestation. It simply ignores the very real differences in life situations different classes face. How much of a bourgeois one is depends not on one's lifestyle but on the extent to which one is in a position to exploit the labor of others or rather must oneself be exploited; a millionaire-hippy is not one whit less bourgeois for all his contempt for work ethic, hierarchy, and authority; nor can workers become bourgeois by putting on costume jewelry modeled on the real stuff of the rich.

It is no surprise that with such an approach, Bookchin revives the utopian socialism of the 19th century, complete with ideal communities founded in the wilderness with the support of well-intentioned people of all classes on the basis of a vision of a perfect society from which all would gain. Bookchin writes of the 19th century that "the realm of necessity was brutally present; it could not be conjured away by mere theory and speculation." The same, unfortunately, remains true today. Bookchin's contribution is in reminding us that we possess the means to conquer that situation, in suggesting ways to do so, and above all in raising questions about alternatives to the present set-up which have too long remained unasked.

Listen Marxist: a reply - Murray Bookchin

Murray Bookchin replies to Jeremy Brecher's review of Post-Scarcity Anarchism.

I take Jeremy Brecher to be a decent, intelligent, and honest guy whom I know personally and like very much. Hence when Jeremy comes out with a 37-page (typescript) review of my book, Post-Scarcity Anarchism, that misinterprets important aspects of the book, I must work with the assumption that he wears blinders that restrict his vision and is burdened by prejudgements that make it difficult for him to evaluate its contents. The review is one of those shot-gun blasts that scatters pellets all over the place. To pick out each pellet and examine it carefully would require a work at least five times the size of Jeremy's, which time (and I suspect, space) make prohibitive. So I shall have to content myself with a critical overall evaluation of the review and cite a few examples of Jeremy's misinterpretations.

The review in high Marxist fashion begins with an attempt to locate the "social origins" of my outlook -- the youth revolt and the counterculture of the sixties -- which for Jeremy is already pretty much of a "dead dog." "By the end of the 1960s," we are told, "the discontent remained, but much of the opportunity for experimentation vanished. Students began to knuckle down for grades and eschewed political activities that might get them thrown out of school; dropouts, no longer able to live off the scraps of a booming economy, were forced to look for work and face the problems of any other workers. The romantic exuberence and sense of possibility that marked the 1960s became a matter of history."

This shallow treatment of what is happening today among students and dropouts could easily be culled from Time and Life articles on the demise of the sixties. I would hate to explode Jeremy's illusions, but the majority of students even in the sixties were always looking for good grades and "eschewed political activity that might get them thrown out of school." As to the radical minority of students who fomented most of the activity on the campuses, the "romantic exuberence and sense of possibility" they created was built on a suicidal, arrogant polarization politics that, in turn, was based on the myth that the "revolution" was a year or two away. That the majority of students did not fall for this political insanity is much to their credit. That many radical students have now returned to school to do some serious thinking about the role of campuses, education, and theory generally after a career of guilting students with the sickening insult that "students are shit" is also creditable. What the seventies have learned from the "radical" politics of the sixties is that the revolution is not around the corner with each trashing of an ROTC building and that some serious theory had better be learned -- whether on campuses or off them -- to deal with the decades-long development that lies ahead. What should be regarded as a very important aspect of a larger development, one which opens new potentialities for the future, is treated by Jeremy as the demise of a period and development he never understood in the first place.

As to dropout youth, I would remind Jeremy that the counterculture as a whole has been a much more complex development than he cares to think. Having lived it to a large extent, I can remember when it survived during the mid-sixties on a diet of candy bars (literally!) in two small urban enclaves (N.Y.'s Lower Eastside and San Francisco's Haight district), when it shared a rabidly anti-technological outlook, and when it lived in an ambience of apolitical adolescent irresponsibility. Since them, I've seen it spread all over the country, graduate from candy bars to organic foods and farming, turn from political indifference to almost impatient political action, replace its anti-technological attitude by a serious ecotechnological one, learn skills that would have amazed its middle-class progenitors, increasingly acquire a new sense of responsibility, maturity, and self-respect, and most importantly, raise problems of subjective relationships that far and away overshadow the anemic, economistic "class consciousness" fostered by the Marxian sects with such notable lack of success for over a half century among the proletariat. For once, these dropouts have posed the problems of self-management and self-activity so intrinsic to a communist consciousness not merely as issues of "management" and "activity" but of the new self that could make management and activity existentially and humanly meaningful. I have emphasized repeatedly that the forging of this new self that will be capable of self-management and self-activity occurs very unevenly and cannot be fully actualized under conditions of unfreedom. But to struggle for the development of this new self, and to attempt to raise the subjective issues it must deal with, are vitally important even in advance of the communist revolution we all seek -- or else the revolution will never be a communist one. In raising the issues of a new self and in struggling to actualize it, the counterculture stands head and shoulders over the arid sects of the Marxian "left" whose "class consciousness" has never left the factory domain at best or the ballot box at worst. And I deeply resent their denunciatory attitude toward a development that they never anticipated, that they preyed on like vultures to fill the ranks of their demonstrations and cadres, and on whose presumed "grave" they now gleefully dance.

I'm not much concerned with whether Post-Scarcity Anarchism is a "product" or a dialectical superimposition "on a number of themes that were ‘in the air’ during the 1960s" (as Jeremy puts it) or an anticipation of many of the counterculture's essential elements. I would simply remind Jeremy that I was writing on ecology, post-scarcity, and utopian problems of social reconstruction and decentralization in the early 1950s in Contemporary Issues, long before such "themes" were taken up by Galbraith, Reich, and Carson. The publication of my book, Our Synthetic Environment, which already deals with all the issues raised by "Ecology and Revolutionary Thought" precedes Silent Spring by half a year. What seriously concerns me is the fact that the student movement and the counterculture of the sixties fell on the Marxist sects (including the Council Communists) like a ton of bricks and left them completely bewildered. Root and Branch has not been around long enough for me to assess the degree to which it shares in the poverty of this attitude. But I feel it shares the economistic bias of most Marxian groups and what I have to say applies at least partly to it as to other Marxian groups.

The Marxists of the early sixties never expected white middle-class suburban kids, "overgorged" by "affluence," to do precisely what they had predicted workers would do owing to "immiseration" and "pauperization." And I'll be damned if they know what to do with it yet, all their re-interpretations of Marx's theory of alienation notwithstanding. Saddled with a perspective that was hot news in 1848, they were "prepared" for a growing unemployed reserve army, for the "relative" pauperization of the proletariat, for a "chronic economic crisis" (as we called it in the thirties), for an increasingly politicized and revolutionary proletariat, all of which was to culminate in a proletarian revolution. This is no mere "vulgarization" of Marxism; it formed the foundations of proletarian socialism, an epochal perspective that cannot be erased with incidental quotations from Marx's "early" or "middle" writings. With the sixties, the Marxists found not factory workers but rather moderately well-to-do "privileged" kids moving into rebellion on a wide cultural, humanistic, and even personalistic front against all aspects of the established system -- not merely against class society but hierarchical society; not merely against economic exploitation, but domination in every form; not merely for happiness but for pleasure; not merely for "social justice" but for freedom on a multidimensional scale (women's liberation, sexual liberation, children's liberation, control from below in every phase of life, communal living, mutual aid, counterinstitutions to the existing ones, etc., as well as economic and social liberation.) Where Marxism had led its disciples to expect a social upheaval to stem primarily from the struggle of wage labor against capital motivated by the material immiseration of the proletariat, they found themselves face-to-face with a rebellious movement of "petty bourgeois" youth who had tasted of the "American Dream" and rejected it as odious. The truth must be stated: every Marxist group, to my knowledge, alternately castigated this movement, downgraded it with Olympian arrogance, later parasitized and divided it, and now is trying to bury it. First, the movement was condemned as "petty bourgeois hedonosm" or "middle-class escapism." When it began to get serious, it was arrogantly described as a "children's crusade" (to use Marcuse's memorable words). As it grew even more serious, it was characterized as "co-optable." At every point in its complex development, the movement was taken by Marxists for what it was at the given time and either condemned or shrugged off. But as "flower power" gave way to "student power," as "student power" gave way to "control over the streets," and as immense street demonstrations and campus uprisings began to shout "power to the people" and raise clenched fists, our beloved Marxists began to search into the sacred texts -- to the "early writings" and "middle writings" of the Holy One -- to ferret out a formula that would explain how it all happened. Today we are in the Grundrisse stage; yesterday, it was the 1844 Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts; and if I read Jeremy's views accurately, tomorrow it will be the Capital stage.

Well, it's turning into a deathly bore. And with the latest developments in "praxis Marxism," into academic scholasticism -- as the current Gramsci and Lukacs craze seems to indicate. The real issue between Jeremy and myself is that, in my view, none of these neo-Marxian or orthodox Marxian stages suffices -- that we must transcend Marxism itself in Hegel's sense of aufhebung. This means that we must incorporate the best of Marx (as we have the best of Hegel and others) -- and go further. My Post-Scarcity Anarchism makes a stab in this direction. People who are interested in following the same direction would do well to read the book itself without Jeremy's blinders. And I would ask that they read not only Post-Scarcity Anarchism but my essay "On Organization and Spontaneity" which appears in the current issue of Anarchos and my "Toward a Philosophy of Spirit" in a forthcoming issue of Telos.

For the rest, my dispute with Jeremy's review boils down to a host of logistical and administrative problems -- incredibly, as though these problems could be discussed merely as matters of "management" without dealing with the changed self that must be hyphenated by the term. Accordingly, Jeremy gets involved in the preposterous problem of who would dump the garbage in Troy that people in Perth Amboy will drink. I would have expected this kind of "problem" from the laissez-faire "anarchists" of the Murray Rothbard school, but hardly from a Council Communist who professes to carry on the Organizationsgeists tradition of Anton Pannekoek.

I will not get into this kind of nonsense. Considering the level of this order of criticism, Jeremy will have to deal in his own mind with whether he has merely assimilated a structure from Pannekoek (i.e. a mechanism called "workers councils" which, if my memory serves me well, Pannekoek never regarded as the permanent form of a communist society) or the problem of geistige relations (which, in my view, represents Pannekoek's noblest contribution to communist theory.) It is the discussion of the latter problem -- of communist subjectivity and relations -- that I find so notably absent in Jeremy's review. And until this problem is seriously taken up in the full recognition that Pannekoek was one of the earliest Marxists to open it in the dismal history of European socialism, Jeremy and I are simply talking away from each other.

As to the details of Jeremy's review, I'd like to bring into question the polemical methods that seem to guide it. Jeremy is obviously out to establish that, as a "product" of the counterculture, I am a crypto-"naturalist," who would prefer to a lost Golden Age of isolated, self-sufficient autarchical communities. Only from this perspective can I explain the outright distortion in Jeremy's presentation of my views. He unerringly fails to note that when I speak of a "self-sufficient community" in "Ecology and Revolutionary Thought" (p. 80), I precede it with the adjective "relatively." Obviously, I mean more than autarchy when I use the adjective, but Jeremy is out to nail me as an "autarchist." Having committed this distortion, Jeremy proceeds to compound it by viewing my thesis in support of regional integration as something I "concede." You see, it is not that I believe in regional integration, but rather that I "concede" it is necessary. I must, alas, abide with it. Unless the reader goes beyond Jeremy's rather shady account, here, and reads Post-Scarcity Anarchism, she or he would never know that for several pages of my essay on "Toward a Liberatory Technology" I argue for regional integration and the need to interlink resources between ecocommunities. Jeremy's entire treatment of this area of discussion is tinged by a certain intellectual dishonesty. But Jeremy doesn't know when to stop. Having turned an argument for integration into a mere "concession," he proceeds still further to compound his distortion by inverting my very view of the relationship between work and technology to the point of utter absurdity. "Bookchin," he declares with a grand flourish, "takes his final dive into science fiction when he envisions ‘humans of the future’ who simply forget about technology and ‘stand at the end of cybernated assembly line with baskets to cart the goods home." (p. 133)

Now, this could be called the art of "selective quoting" that verges on lying in one's teeth. The reader of Post-Scarcity Anarchism who consults pp. 133-35 will find that "Bookchin," in fact, regards such a notion -- so popular in many circles when the essay was written -- is exactly what must be avoided, quite aside from whether it is possible or not, if the "fracture separating man from machine" is to be healed. "Bookchin" is arguing against the very mentality that yields this sort of "science fiction." Indeed, in the ensuing page "Bookchin" proceeds to argue as forcefully as he can that a balanced relationship must be established between work and the machine, and the machine must be assimilated to artistic craftsmanship.

Frankly, what am I to make of this kind of "misreading"? I don&39t want to think that Jeremy is a liar or a distorter -- merely, that he reads what he wants to believe. This mode of "reading," in effect, is a mode of thinking. Were I to critically examine Jeremy's review line by line, I could demonstrate that far from overstating the possibilities at hand -- technologically, culturally, and socially -- I have understated them. The amount of material I have amassed on ecotechnologies alone since "Toward a Liberatory Technology" was written would boggle Jeremy's rather limited imagination. The fact is that Jeremy is singularly conservative -- and this conservatism permeates his entire review. He takes things as they are -- from the relations of Troy and Perth Amboy to the national division of labor -- and merely adds a different structure ("workers councils") to the established order of things. He sees no significant change in the self that is to achieve this different structure of self-management nor does he see any changes that people will make in their needs as they change themselves and society. Jeremy, in short, reasons like a bourgeois sociologist who has bought communism as a good ideological product but never assimilated it dialectically or permitted it to change his outlook toward life.

One could go on indefinitely unraveling the skein of hodgepodge criticism that Jeremy inflicts on Post-Scarcity Anarchism. I will not enter into Jeremy's attempt to dissolve ecological microenvironments into "worldwide" macroenvironments (surely Jeremy must know something about the ecosystem concept in ecology which stresses the need for a recognition of local uniqueness), nor will I deal with his silly analogy for the fascinating projections Jacob Rosin presents for molecular industrial chemistry. In my opinion, Jeremy just doesn't know what he is talking about. His observations on classical Athens and the work "citizen" are also silly. I would have hoped that Jeremy understood the whole thrust of my argument: namely, that Athens must be understood not merely in terms of its social limitations (limitations which I would hope we all understood) but as a polis whose attainments were all the more remarkable inspite of its limitations. Jeremy's attempt to link my attitude toward the working class with that of the "end of ideology" people and Tom Hayden is as crude as the Lower East Side "revolutionary" scenario he seems to impute to me. As a person who has spent ten years in heavy industry as a shop steward and union activist, I don't need a sermon about my "moral contempt" for the proletariat. Having acquired my knowledge of the proletariat from shops rather than university libraries, I know workers to be neither inferior nor superior to any other dominated section of the population. In addressing myself to the dubious "privileges" of the middle classes, I was not trying to say that they were more oppressed than workers but that both classes were now being oppressed in new ways and in a new social context.

Another point is worth clarifying. My pamphlet "Listen, Marxist!" (of which some 40,000 copies have been published in separate printings and in anthologies) was the first sixties work that, to my knowledge, posed and predicted the changes that would occur in young workers' attitudes toward the work ethic and hierarchy. I did not suck this viewpoint from my thumb. It came from a personal knowledge of traditional working class attitudes toward work and hierarchy, and from a knowledge of the impact that the counterculture was having on present-day working class youth. Now that this prediction is being harvested in real life, I find it rather amusing that this view is being ripped off (without acknowledgement, of course) by many Marxists as evidence of an "upsurge" by "new" working class "types." I would be quite disturbed, however, to find that this viewpoint is used to re-establish the archaic cult of ouvrierisme and to vitiate the impact of the counterculture as a social force. There are signs that this is occurring. Let me make it clear, however, that I am not leveling this accusation against Jeremy; in fact, I wish I could. For Jeremy there seems to be no problem about the proletariat's psyche inasmuch as the issue hardly exists for him. Apparently, little has changed among workers since the 1860s, when Marx wrote Capital -- merely that they have become more or less "class conscious" during different periods of history.

As to Marx's writings on the Paris Commune as evidence of his attitude toward a "proletarian dictatorship," the less said, the better. It is a notorious fact that Marx's Civil War in France, from which Marxists cull the most libertarian conceptions of the "proletarian dictatorship," was a "theoretical lapse" (shall we say an "anarchist deviation"?) which he "rectified" with very snide remarks about the Commune and the Communards in the last years of his life. (For a comprehensive discussion of this "theoretical lapse," see Ron Suny's The Baku Commune, which I think was published by Princeton University Press a year or two ago.) Marx's comments on the state in the Critique of the Gotha Program are much too spotty to be taken as definitive statements of his views. For reasons I explain in "Listen, Marxist!" Marx was essentially a centralist and more often than not modeled his views of a post-revolutionary period on the Jacobin dictatorship -- that is, in moments when he did not concede that socialism in England and America (Engels later added France and might just as well have added Germany) could be introduced by parliamentary means. The truth is that Marx's views were guided by the "opportunity" at hand: preferably a Jacobin-type dictatorship in his more revolutionary moments, a Commune-type "state" between 1871-75, and when he conceived it possible, a socialist republic led by a workers' party and based on a nationalized economy.

But all of this is secondary to what concerns me even more deeply -- the mentality that permeates Jeremy's review. Marx, owing to his attempt to produce a "scientific" socialism, at once devalued and denatured the libertarian and imaginative elements of early European socialism. Martin Buber discusses this regressive development with considerable insight and sensitivity in his Paths in Utopia. But at least Marx and Engels retained the high tradition of Hegelian thought and the French utopists in their vision of communism. One can still find in Engels' Anti-Duhring, for all its shortcomings, the concept of the rounded individual in a rounded society, based on decentralized communities and on a transcendence of the contradiction between town and country, mental and physical work, and humanity and nature. Engels does not accept urban life, the national division of labor, and the industrial structure as it is. He radically challenges the entire ensemble -- not, like Jeremy, offers cutsy modifications that will "improve" things once workers' councils take over. Engels retains the love of the polis-type society that so profoundly influenced Hegel and German classical philosophy. One senses in Anti-Duhring the influence of the best in Hellenism and Fourierism, the desire for a new sensibility and for new geistige relations between human beings.

In the years following the death of Marx and Engels, we have seen the emergence of a new type of "Marxist": one whose outlook is operational rather than speculative, sociological (and "socialist") rather than communist, structural rather than dialectical, intellectually colorless rather than imaginative. I'm sorry to say that the thinking of this type of "Marxist" is typified by Jeremy's review. Perhaps the kindest name I can give it is "assembly-line socialism." Jeremy, to tell the truth, writes like a social engineer. He is basically concerned not with self-management but with "management," and workers councils happen to be the most democratic way of "administering" the what-is. He raises virtually every mediocre argument that one could expect from a street heckler or a bourgeois sociologist -- and the two are merely the opposite sides of the same "commonsensical" coin. Who will clean up the garbage? Who will do the dirty work? Won't "self-sufficient communities" behave like parochial small towns in Indiana? Won't people be greedy? How will the majority be prevented from oppressing the minority. Won't Peoria try to oppress Oshkosh by withholding materials from it -- or whatever ad nauseum? It matters little that Jeremy raises all of these questions as such, but this is the way he thinks.

I find this mentality all the more disquieting when it appears in a comrade and a friend who is likely to invoke the name of Anton Pannekoek as a teacher. It is only recently in an article by Russell Jacoby (see Telos No. 10, Winter 1971) that I learned how earnestly Pannekoek had occupied himself as far back as 1912 with the geistige nature of the proletariat and its organizations -- how he attempted to uproot bourgeois subjectivity not only from the socialist movement but from the working class as a whole. As one who feels closer to the Council Communists than any other organized group in the Marxist movement, I would even more earnestly ask them to explore the emergence of the geistige issue as it appears today -- to advance the work which Pannekoek began into their own era, not to denature it with an economistic sensibility. We have had enough of this sensibility in the dismal seventy years that have poisoned European socialism and led to so many tragic defeats. The work Geist (Spirit) is a good one. As a comrade and friend, I would hope that it is taken seriously by the Root and Branch people with due respect to the memory of Pannekoek as well as to the issues he raised.

Root & Branch No. 4 (1973), pp. 23-29

Jeremy Brecher responds

Jeremy Brecher responds to Murray Bookchin's critical response of Brecher's review of Bookchin's book. Phew!

We all face the same problem of getting from the kind of society we have to the kind of society we want. I had hoped that Murray would try to answer some of the questions I raised about his approach to this problem. Instead, he seems to have applied the principle that the best defense is a good offense. He makes little attempt to answer the criticisms of his book, and instead attacks the presumed positions of the reviewer, of his presumed tradition, or even of the "Marxist sects" to which he is presumed to belong. This may be a good debating tactic, but I wish Murray's reply did more to clarify the issues I tried to raise.

Murray states that the "real issue between Jeremy and myself" is whether Marxism is sufficient, or whether it must be transcended, and "for the rest, my dispute with Jeremy's review boils down to a host of logistical and administrative problems." Murray thus neatly ignores all the concrete problems of social organization (not "administration") which were the core of my critique. His unwillingness to deal with these issues is indicated by his constant use of such phrases as "I will not get into this kind of nonsense," [etc.]. This is how to duck questions instead of answering them.

I am sorry Murray feels I have distorted his position; I took considerable pains to present it accurately. I agree with him that readers should look at his book and judge themselves whether I have done so. The only two specific distortions he charges me with hardly support the charge, however:

1. Murray says I distort his position by portraying him as a believer in independent communities, whereas he specifically argues for regional integration. But this is exactly the contradiction I was trying to bring out in my review. On the one hand, Murray opposes all but "face-to-face" groups as "mediated." (This is the basis of his critique of workers' councils.) On the other hand, he says he does not believe in autarchic communities, but in regional integration. Whenever he feels accused of believing in one side of this contradiction, he points to his statements in favor of the other. But by his own definition the two are mutually exclusive: you cannot have large-scale cooperation without "mediated" relations. I had hoped Murray would clear up this central ambiguity of his approach in replying to my review; I still hope he will do so elsewhere.

2. Murray says I make him appear to advocate a society in which a fully automatic technology would turn out all needed products and people would simply collect them. Murray points out that in fact he considers such a state of affairs something to be avoided. Readers of my review will recall, however, that I never said he advocated such a thing; indeed, that was not even the issue. The issue was his belief that this is one of the social options made possible by the development of technology. If Murray doesn't believe it is possible, why does he make such a point of warning against it? This is what Murray calls carrying the art of "selective quotation" to the point that it verges on "lying in one's teeth."

I made what I thought were some rather commonsense criticisms of Murray's expectations for technology. I thought in his reply he might try to correct me, drawing on his considerable knowledge. Instead he promises still further marvels: "The amount of material I have amassed on ecotechnologies alone … would boggle Jeremy's rather limited imagination." I am ready to have my imagination boggled, but I hope the new marvels are somewhat more convincing than the last batch.

Murray seems to make a basic change in his approach when he states that he doesn't believe that the "middle classes" are "more oppressed than the workers." In Post-Scarcity Anarchism, in contrast, he states that capitalism "tends to degrade them more abjectly than any other stratum in society." I hope he will clarify his view, and whether he has changed it, at some future point.

As for the matter of "Geist," the question is not whether one believes in it, but where it comes from. Pannekoek's conception of the "spiritual" transformation of the working class is rooted very explicitly in the social relations of workers to each other and to capital. (Indeed, I am surprised to see Murray's advice to learn from Pannekoek on this point, since I have always considered him if anything too mechanical in his view of how economic conditions produce working class "Geist.") It is just the lack of this kind of grounding in the actual conditions of life that I argued Murray's theory lacks. Instead of trying to deal with this criticism, however, Murray simply calls the criticism "Marxist" and therefore bad.

Throughout Murray's piece I had the odd sensation that he was really attacking someone else, not me. I am not now, nor have I ever been, an orthodox, neo-, Lukacian, or Gramscian Marxist. Far from having stood aloof from the radical movement and culture of the 1960s in some presumed Marxist scorn, I have been an active participant in most of its phases; it constituted my basic political experience. But just as Murray thinks we must "transcend" Marxism in the sense of incorporating the best of it and going further (a thought with which I wholeheartedly agree), so I think we have to transcend that movement in just the same way. My review was in part an attempt to start that process. I do not describe Murray as a crypto-naturalist or charge him with advocating an uprising on the Lower East Side; on the contrary I indicated that he differentiates himself from the anti-technologists, and specifically praised him for recognizing that no revolution is possible in the U.S. without the participation of the working class. Far from denying that people change themselves and their relationships as they change their society -- I assume this is what Murray means by the "new self" -- I wrote a book recently with this as the central theme. Far from believing that there has been little change in worker's consciousness since the 1860s, I am currently working on a book whose aim is to show how worker's attitudes are changing and why. The only function I can see for the charicature Murray has drawn of me is to reinforce his contention that my questions need not be taken seriously. Such ad hominem argument is again good debating tactics, but not too helpful in getting out of this sink we live in into some kind of decent society.

Root & Branch No. 4 (1973), pp. 30-31

Other dimensions - Peter Rachleff

Paul Mattick's critique of Marcuse reviewed by Peter Rachleff in Root & Branch No. 4 (1973), pp. 52-55

Herbert Marcuse was one of the writers who most influenced the thinking of the American New Left in the 1960s. His analysis of American society, despite its total rejection of that society, is deeply pessimistic. In One-Dimensional Man, Marcuse presents a picture of American capitalism as being capable of totally integrating all forms of opposition, because of its ability to reach into the depths of the minds of its citizens and not only meet their material needs, but create and control the development of those needs. For this reason, although he is in favor of a truly liberating, total revolution, he is extremely doubtful that one will ever take place, at least in the foreseeable future.

Rather than dealing with Marcuse on the abstract, ideological level of most of his analysis, Mattick attempts to criticize the concrete foundations upon which Marcuse has based his theory of "one-dimensional society." That is, "Marcuse bases his pessimism on what appears to him to be capitalism's newly gained ability to solve economic problems by political means" (p. 11). (Marcuse writes in the introduction to One-Dimensional Man that "Our society distinguishes itself by conquering the centrifugal social forces with Technology rather than Terror, on the dual basis of an overwhelming efficiency and an increasing standard of living," p. x). In other words, Keynesianism, i.e., state intervention in the economy to prevent the perpetual crises of laissez-faire capitalism, has solved the economic contradictions of capitalism, and hence removed the possibility for severe crisis. Mattick then devotes most of this little book to demonstrating that in no way can state intervention be seen as a solution to the contradictions of the capitalist mode of production. In fact, the growth of the state sector will itself lead to crisis, because it is unable to deal with the fundamental problem of capitalist production, the inability to generate sufficient profits to ensure an expanding accumulation of capital. That is, capitalist "prosperity" is dependent upon the expansion of profitability, without which it will lapse into stagnation and crisis. (For a more thorough exposition of this point, and Mattick's entire analysis of the capitalist economy, see his book, Marx and Keynes: The Limits of the Mixed Economy, Boston, 1969). Mattick demonstrates quite clearly and simply what the nature of government and government-induced production must be. Since the government is not about to intervene against the interests of the bourgeoisie, "government-induced production must be non-competitive. If the government would purchase consumption goods and durables in order to give them away, it would, to the extent of its purchases, reduce the private market demand for these commodities. If it would produce either of these commodities in government-owned enterprises and offer them for sale, it would increase the difficulties of its private competitors by reducing their shares of a limited market demand. Government purchases, and the production it entails, must fall out of the market system; it must be supplementary to market production" (p. 17).

Therefore, "one can speak of the division of the economy into a profit-determined private sector and a smaller, nonprofitable public sector" (p. 17-18). Since the productive activities of the government can generate no value of their own, and thus no surplus-value and no profits for accumulation, their financing must come from other sources. "In other words, the products which the government ‘purchases’ are not really purchased, but given to the government free, for the government has nothing to give in return but its credit standing, which, in turn, has no other base than the government's taxing power and its ability to increase the supply of credit-money" (p. 19). Thus, the financing for the public sector must come from the surplus-value generated in the private sector. This immediately constitutes a drain on profits and capital accumulation in the private sector.

One might argue that the purpose of state intervention is nevertheless to aid this very process of private capital accumulation, by stimulating demand and creating necessary infrastructure for private capital. In the short run it may seem to have this effect. In fact, this is one of the reasons -- i.e., that private capital "is not profitable enough to assure its self-expansion" (p. 19) -- given for increasing the economic activity of the state. However, as Mattick quite correctly argues, "profitability cannot be increased by way of non-profitable production" (p. 20). Thus, "because government-induced production is itself a sign of a declining rate of capital formation in the traditional sense, it cannot be expected to serve as the vehicle for the expansion of private capital effective enough to assure conditions of full employment and general prosperity. It rather turns into an obstacle to such expansion, as the demands of government on the economy, and the old and new claims on the government, divert an increasing part of the newly-produced profit from its capitalization to private account" (p. 20).

The implications of the growth of government intervention in the economy are thus far, far different from what Marcuse assumes. By no means has state intervention prevented potential crises -- although it has undeniably helped to postpone them -- or can it. As Mattick shows, state intervention is both a symptom of the continuing crisis of American capitalism, and, more and more, is itself contributing to that crisis. "The interventions themselves point to the persistency of the crisis of capital production, and the growth of government-determined production is a sure sign of the continuing decay of the private enterprise economy. To arrest that decay would mean to halt the vast expansion of government-induced production and to restore the self-expansive powers of capital production; in short, it implies a reversal of the general developmental trend of twentieth century capitalism. As this is highly improbable, the state will be forced to extend its economic inroads into the private sectors of the economy and thus become itself the vehicle for the destruction of the market economy. But where the state represents private capital, it will do so only with great hesitation and against growing opposition on the part of private capital. This hesitation may be enough to change the conditions of an apparent ‘prosperity’ into conditions of economic crisis" (p. 21-22). Mattick also shows that technology and/or monopolization are unable to solve the problem of decreasing profitability for the economy as a whole. Moreover, war and depression, which were at one time possible choices for the capitalist class in the case of a declining profitability, are no longer feasible. The danger of war now -- that everything and everyone might be destroyed -- rules out its deliberate utilization. The political dangers of depression severe enough to make private accumulation again profitable enough to maintain growth are such as to militate against its use as well. Thus, increasing state intervention, seeking to postpone as long as possible a severe crisis, is the only real alternative for the capitalist class.

Having shown that the "stability" on which Marcuse bases his argument is in fact a tension-filled dynamic situation of only transitory historical significance, Mattick turns his attention to the possible outcomes of these dynamics. It is highly unlikely that the "mixed economy" will evolve smoothly into "state capitalism," since such a change would be revolutionary, although non-socialist. Such a revolution, i.e., turning from the mixed economy to one in which all productive property had been nationalized and was under the direction of the state, is a possible outcome of the crisis of private capitalist production. Another alternative would be a genuine proletarian revolution, based on the socialization of productive property and the reconstruction of the economy based on self-management by the producers and production based on satisfying the needs of society. Both these possibilities today exist as just that, as possibilities.

Meanwhile, "there is not enough dissatisfaction in present-day prosperous society, even if it is a false prosperity. Consequently there is one-dimensional thought, a society without opposition. As nothing else can be expected under such conditions, we have not gone into Marcuse's penetrating critical analysis of the advanced industrial society's ruling ideology. Here we agree with all his observations and are thankful for them" (p. 91-92). Indeed, although Mattick generously agrees with the observations made by Marcuse, "what is true today is not necessarily true tomorrow, and will, in any case, be less so if the trend of capitalist development proceeds as it has in the past" (p. 94).

However, there are important questions which do not enter into this Marcuse-Mattick exchange. Neither addresses himself to the problem of how the nature of the present society -- its one-dimensionality -- may condition the nature of the future society that may grow out of it. Mattick is quite right when he says of Marcuse's analysis that "the whole idea stands or falls with the assumed ability of capitalism to maintain present standards of living for the working population. By all that has been said before, we denied capitalism this ability" (p. 101). But, because Marcuse is only concerned with examining present society and Mattick is here most concerned with demonstrating the fallacies of what Marcuse has done, the possible limiting effects of "one-dimensional society" on the individual potentiality to change -- or whether there are in fact any limits at all -- does not receive the serious consideration that it merits.

An understanding of which of the two alternatives -- state capitalism or genuine socialism -- delineated above is the probable outcome of the dynamics of contemporary capitalist society and how -- or if -- we can intervene in this dynamic to secure the one outcome as opposed to the other requires a great deal of serious thought and analysis. Indeed, the future will not be constructed out of whole cloth; not only will the material base inherited by a new society set limits on its immediate development, but so may the nature of present society as a whole limit the potentialities for individual and social personality change. Most analysis from the "left" on this question has been extremely abstract. There has been a great deal of pessimism about the ability of masses of people to transform themselves. Thus Sweezy, for example, argues that a "cultural revolution" a la China, directed by a state, would be necessary after a revolution in order to create "socialist man." Others, on the other hand, such as Pannekoek, hold that the nature of current society is to be surpassed through the struggle against it. However, both sides remain at too abstract a level, ignoring the possible insights psychology may have to offer in this area.

For those who desire a genuine socialist society -- "the free and equal association of the producers" on the basis of total self-management -- such questions deserve much more consideration than they have received in the past. It is through disregarding such questions and failing to come to grips with the problems that they represent, due to an aversion to psychology, a belief in the infinite malleability of human nature overnight, or whatever, that an adequate understanding of the dynamics of contemporary society may never be attained. Although Mattick's critique of Marcuse is a valuable contribution to an understanding of society in refuting his pessimistic and mistaken analysis, it in itself does not take the reader far enough. Rather, it lays the basis from which a more total analysis can develop. This calls for a critical effort of immense difficulty on our part -- the effort to understand the social psychology of American capitalist society and the limits it may bring to bear on the content of a future society.

Strike!: A Review - Root & Branch

Jeremy Brecher's Strike!, reviewed by Steven Sapolsky in Root & Branch No. 4, 1973

There is a growing awareness among the left that we are approaching a fateful turning point in our history. The apocalyptic expectations of the 60s have dissolved away, leaving remarkably little profound disillusionment. Instead, there are many radicals throughout the country quietly taking stock of their personal needs to earn a living and plan their adult lives, while continuing to search for ways to help build a viable movement. Of course, there is no guarantee that the left will not dissipate as more and more people try to find a place for themselves in the everyday, workaday world. The next few years, however, offer tremendous possibilities because for the first time in more than a generation, the working people of this country are in a mood that the left, living and working in their midst, can resonate with and thrive upon. Things are very fluid, and it is wrong to assume that large groups of workers have anything like a "post-scarcity consciousness." But just for that reason, the left can play a decisive role in helping people define and articulate their dissatisfaction. Rapid and fundamental shifts in popular attitudes have happened many times in the past. To facilitate one in the next few years, radicals are going to have to find ways to encourage the self-education of the working class, thus creating an atmosphere in which people can specify their problems, propose solutions, and focus their actions. One of the basic tasks is to provide agitational and educational literature. Fortunately, this is getting underway, and one example is the recent publication of Jeremy Brecher's Strike!

The book is about mass strikes in American history. A brief introduction sets the theme -- working people have a long history of marshalling their strength and asserting their power in a society that condemns them to be powerless. The bulk of the book is given over to a well-paced narrative of the strikes of 1877, 1886, the early 1890s, 1919, the 1930s and early 40s, and 1946. After a clear explanation of the meaning of these events, there is a fine summary of current on-the-shop-floor struggles which suggests that we have not seen the last of the mass strikes. The book ends with a short account of how mass strikes generated the germs of a new society in Russia in 1917, Italy in 1920, and Spain in 1936. It comes as no surprise after reading the book and absorbing its message, that people can create a society in which all share responsibility for the well-being of all when they exercise their self-organized power without limitation.

Brecher belongs to the school of writers who believe that the fewest and simplest words say it best, and that makes for excellent popular writing. Despite its length and scope, Strike! is a very accessible book, and for this reason alone, it will be a valuable educational tool. But the style is not its only virtue. Strike! is a very important book because it is not the usual kind of radical popular history. It is not a cheering account of heroic episodes or a hymn for "progressive" trends. It is most unlike Boyer and Morals' Labor's Untold Story, for example, whose basic virtue is that it warms the heart while documenting some of the harsh realities of American life. Strike! is very different because, along with the economy of style, there is an economy of purpose. Jeremy Brecher makes it explicit from the beginning that he didn't write a catch-all history of mass strikes. He focused specifically on the way workers organized and spread the strikes. The book, therefore, is an exploration of the wondrous process by which people, released from the isolation and subservience of daily life, learn to cooperate with one another, while challenging the forces that rule them. The analysis is set up as an induction from the historical episodes, and the power of the book's style is such that the inductive machinery grinds very smoothly. The conclusions emerge out of the immense detail effortlessly, and the reader is left with a powerful impression of the general dynamics of mass self-activity. This is an impressive achievement and it is in marked contrast to the standard popular histories. They rarely convey any of the inner workings of history and usually leave the reader in a dazed state of mind, basking in the afterglow of magnificent struggles.

Strike! is about mass strikes because they are the events that most perfectly reveal the extent of mass self-activity. But underlying this focus is a grand theme that runs through the entire book -- the only thorough antidote to powerlessness is the self-initiative of a self-reliant people. To my mind, the greatest merit of Strike! is that it makes this ideological statement with convincing concreteness. It demonstrates its truth in the past and suggests its possibility in the present. Schooling, the means of communication, the manipulations of leaders all conspire together to convince working people that they are not capable of running their own lives. They are not brainwashed by all this fuss, but their self-confidence is blunted, while their cynicism and passivity is fostered. Strike! does as well as any piece of literature can to counter this situation.

So far, I've considered Strike! as propaganda suitable for our times. But it is also an ambitious work of history, something few popular histories are. Jeremy Brecher has strong opinions on the touchy problems of spontaneity, organization, and leadership, and he doesn't hesitate to interpret history accordingly. But his politics are up-front and he applies them consistently, with ample regard for the facts. Consequently, Strike! offers a well-argued interpretation of the significance of mass strikes, and it deserves to be considered as a valuable contribution to labor history. I want to move on to a discussion of it in these terms. I agree with much of the book, but I think that it suffers from the utilization of preconceived categories that do not do justice to the complexities of history. For the sake of debate, I will emphasize their limitations. I am not sure what I would use in their place, however, and I will not offer any definite opinions on the questions raised.

Once, during the long feud with the followers of Lasalle, Marx challenged their willingness to deal with Bismarck in a striking passage: "The working class is revolutionary or it is nothing." The thought has been echoed since in the writings of people like Paul Mattick, and Strike!, in many ways, is a favorable commentary upon it. The book is structured by many such either/or's -- either the working class is powerful or powerless, self-active or passive, engaged in mass strikes or integrated into the system, self-organized spontaneously or unorganized by leaders, self-conscious or laboring under false consciousness. Usually, radicals employ more familiar opposites like reform or revolution and defensive or offensive action, and I'm sure that many are going to be grated by the uncompromising dialectic of Strike!. In my opinion, both kinds of dialectic have their place in the analytic tool box. In Europe at the present time, for example, the working class is certainly neither revolutionary nor nothing, but here, because of the decline of class traditions since the 1920s, how much more than nothing is it? But once this is said we haven't said much, and the problem, to my mind, with any dialectic is that it is a very crude instrument of analysis. By this I mean two things. 1) The working class is described by a range of possible conditions that barely captures the richness and variety of its presence throughout modern history. 2) The dialectic has a way of mystifying the dynamics of the transition that the working class often makes from one condition to another. The net result of an overdependence on the dialectic is a heavy-handed manipulation of its categories at the expense of a sensitive study of reality, and ultimately, a stifling of the historical imagination.

To a certain extent, Strike! suffers from this sort of distortion. First of all, each strike seems to be like every other strike, and labor history is reduced to a story of endless risings over more or less the same issues. Since there are over 200 pages of detail, much of it sounding repetitive, the book borders on being monotonous at places, and then it is saved only by its vigorous sense of purpose. Labor history, however, does not consist of so many episodes of the class struggle, all more or less alike. Over time, given particular industries and localities, the issues at stake in particular strikes have changed, and the significance of those strikes for the labor movement cannot be evaluated except in that context. It is true that Jeremy Brecher attempts to provide some of this changing background, especially from the 1930s on, but he does it only as an aside. There is very little investigation of the goals and aspirations of the strikers, and instead, they seem to be robots, propelled into action with unfailing regularity by the relentless course of history. Each strike, instead of erupting out of particular environments and structured by particular intentions, emerges courtesy of the Spirit of the Proletariat, kind enough to reveal itself as it makes its way through the world. To the extent that the book doesn't explore what the strikers are up to, it can't evaluate the effectiveness of their actions. And since it is not anchored in the specific density of events, it cannot suggest what might have happened. Floating in the company of Hegelian Spirits, Strike! sometimes approaches the fantastic, as when it implies that the American working class frequently came to the brink of revolution, only to be betrayed by its leadership. In 1894, for example, Brecher writes that "we are presented with the spectacle of Eugene Victor Debs, perhaps the greatest example of a courageous, radical, and uncorruptable trade union official in American history, trying to end the strike in order to prevent it from becoming an insurrection" (p. 95). Was revolution in the air, was it conceivable at all, and if so, was it feasible, or was the strike exhausted and decisively defeated by the Federal troops? Strike! rarely gets into this kind of question, and to the extent that it doesn't, it fails to fulfill its ambition to weigh the capacity of common people to shape their destiny. With the dialectic in command, it can only hint at some of the possibilities.

Jeremy Brecher limited himself to the history of mass strikes because, he argues, they are the most important means that workers have in exerting their power. If mass strikes are demythologized and carefully located in the proper context, this turns out to be false. Often, mass strikes are simply the most dramatic means of protest. Great Episodes of Struggle can shadow out more significant expressions of class power, and the whole range must be considered before evaluating the significance of any one of them. Take the riots of 1877. At the time, many working class communities rose up in anger because the political and job control that they had exercised previously was being undermined. Mass action had been used before to keep the boss in line when he threatened to eliminate their long-standing power. It had been a demonstration of strength before, based on the organized power of the community, but when the latter was dissolved by the depression of 1873, mass action alone was just a futile gesture of protest. To stretch a phrase, the working class in 1877 (in some places) was revolutionary and nothing.

Jeremy Brecher takes some inspiration from Rosa Luxemburg's writings on mass strikes, and when she turned her attention to them after the 1905 revolution in Russia, they were, indeed, major expressions of workers' power throughout the industrial world. But by then, they were determined and frequently well-organized struggles, not desperate risings, and they were fostered and justified by elaborate theories of direct political action. Hand in hand with these struggles, however, was a struggle for political power, which Brecher ignores altogether. And just as important was the bitter struggle by skilled workers to retain control over their work-time. That was waged daily and often with no fireworks, and yet it was a struggle over the most significant form of power the working class possessed, short of outright revolution.

These brief comments don't begin to suggest what a history of working class power would be like, but it is clear, I hope, that it is not possible to restrict the story to the Great Events. The continuous development of the web of working class life must be mapped before any conclusions can be drawn. In a sense, Jeremy Brecher cannot be faulted for not doing this; there is little good labor history that he could have based his book upon. He seems to realize the problem, because the chapters on recent times, for which there are better sources, do justice to the relation of mass strikes to daily life, and they are the best parts of the book.

My second qualm about the dialectic concerns the way it mystifies the ability of the working class to shift gears. In Strike!, the process in question is the rapid development of events during mass strikes. Armed with the dialectic, Jeremy Brecher zeroes in on the general dynamic of mass self-activity. But why do mass strikes follow such a variety of courses? Why do some fizzle (1877), why are others determined struggles (1886, 1894, 1919), and why are still others so easily co-opted and channeled (1930s and 1940s). Basically, it is a function of the degree to which the working class has arrived at self-awareness and acquired self-confidence, both before and during each strike. By limiting his attention to the events of the strike, Brecher seems to be saying that workers can develop a mature sense of self-initiative during any episode of spontaneous action, providing they are not repressed too soon. But surely, the degree to which workers are organized and tempered by experience before they swing into action is just as important a determinant of how far they go once in motion. Spontaneity, when not sustained by prior organization and not disciplined by experience, is a very fragile thing. It requires preparation and direction to flourish in all its power. Strike! destroys the case of those who harp on the need for organization and program to get a rise out of the masses, but it doesn't prove its own case for trusting exclusively in the fruits of spontaneity.

A crucial factor in the ability of the working class to organize itself during mass strikes (or any time) is the quality of leadership. In Strike!, the only thing leaders do is inhibit the rank-and-file's capacity for self-action. Jeremy Brecher is perfectly correct in emphasizing their role in containing the strikes. But often, they have little trouble doing so because the rank-and-file depends on them for inspiration and services like communication. This kind of dependence is not necessarily repressive, however, as long as leaders do their best to transfer their responsibilities downwards. In fact, the working class has never cultivated its self-initiative without the example and leadership of militants. Usually, they have been trade union officials or members of radical organizations, and their experience and contacts made in organizational affairs have been instrumental in enabling them to educate, advise, inspire, and lead those around them. Strike! fudges their role in mass strikes by insisting that their contribution derives "not as a result of their organizational connections" (p. 257). But mass strikes spread and maintain their coherence through the network of militants which exists thanks to their organizational ties. And it is not true that radical organizations "have done little to clarify the possible revolutionary significance of mass actions or to develop their more radical potentialities" (p. 257). The C.P. is simply not the standard to generalize from. On the opposite extreme from the C.P. is the example of Albert Parsons and the Chicago anarchists, and in between there have been many local SLP, SP, IWW, and other groups that did as much as possible to clarify what was at stake. I agree with much of what Jeremy Brecher has to say about the repressive role of trade unions and the pettiness of radical groups. But they are the organizations that militants must work through, and consequently, their contribution is far more ambiguous than he makes it out to be.

There is not much to say in summary. The dialectic is not much help in dissecting the involved interaction of spontaneity, organization, and leadership, let alone in making sense of the overall pattern of labor history. We must remove the either/or from its traditional central place and face up the both/and and the neither/nor. Perhaps then we may arrive at a more refined sense of what it takes for the working class to become self-reliant and powerful.

Root & Branch # 6

Issue number 6 of the libertarian socialist journal

The Obsolescence of Modern Economics
The CIO: from reform to reaction
Pannekoek on Trade Unionism
Union Myths
Rosa Luxemburg in Retrospect
Book Review: The Origin of Economic Ideas

Root__Branch_6..pdf6.91 MB

The CIO: from reform to reaction - E. Jones

In popular mythology, the CIO was a revolutionary union in the tradition of the IWW. In actuality, the CIO was created by those opposed to the kind of working class self-activity best embodied in the U.S. by the IWW. This article by E. Jones, from Root & Branch: A Libertarian Socialist Journal (number 6; n.d.; c. 1970s), critiques the CIO's reactionary role in containing class struggle militancy.

The story of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) has generally been seen by American leftists as one of glorious struggle, as that of a revolutionary movement that might have been. By and large, liberal historians have celebrated the CIO as the harbinger of enlightened labor relations. Most radicals, while decrying this modernized form of exploitation, have glossed over important aspects of the history that conflict with their political analyses and hopes. Would-be organizers of various persuasions have been quick to blame CIO leaders for its decline in militance. Social democrats have either claimed the CIO as an evolutionary advance toward socialism or bemoaned its failure to develop independent political action along the lines of European labor parties. While Trotskyists have accused the Communist Party (CP) of destroying radical initiative in the CIO, other Leninists have deplored the CP’s adherence to the Soviet line, which they think dampened militance during the war and hampered the trade-union work of dedicated Communist organizers. Unable to deny the CIO’s failures as a revolutionary movement, some New Left historians have turned from an examination of its objective record in action (which after all was determined by elites) to focus on the more encouraging subjective aspects of the rank and file. Debates over when the CIO lost its revolutionary potential have alternated with applause for “labor’s giant step” to trade-union consciousness, but the ideology of revolutionary unionism has remained unscathed. Indicating the resilience of American capitalism despite the severe crisis conditions of the 1930’s and 1940’s, significant numbers of workers never consciously experienced nor surpassed the constraints of unions on their movement. Perhaps because of this, most American leftists have not considered the contradictions inherent in revolutionary unionism, and the critique of this concept (elaborated by Luxemburg, Rühle, Pannekoek et al. in the context of the social upheavals following the first world war) has remained unknown. The following interpretation applies this critique of unionism to the history of the American labor movement’s response to the last world crisis in the hope that, by objectively analyzing this disappointing history, we might anticipate the role of unions in the current depression and more surely direct our efforts to break capital-labor relations and create a classless society. 1


Since the CIO emerged in response to protracted depression conditions, the failure of previous political combinations to solve the Great Depression to their advantage should be examined not only to situate the CIO in its historical context, but also to provide a basis for comparison with the futile attempts of capitalists, governments, unions, et al. to halt the present economic decline. By 1933, after a decade of defensive decline, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) had lost most of its money and much of its membership, which had fallen by half to include only 5.2% of the total (or 11.3% of the nonfarm) workforce.2 The AFL faced the depression with resignation and no effective strategy as its monopoly on skilled labor-power was undermined by rising unemployment, which left 24.9% of workers jobless and most union members without regular work.3 Despite its traditional opposition to government interference, a policy that matched pre-depression production relations and the laissez-faire ideology of the bourgeoisie, the AFL did go so far in early 1933 as to support a Congressional thirty-hours bill, which aimed to spread employment by reducing the workweek and wages. Since this bill was vehemently opposed by business and vetoed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR), Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins proposed a compromise plan that called for a 35-hour week, a minimum wage, and a relaxation of the antitrust laws to permit trade association agreements. The AFL, however, rejected her plan on the grounds that the minimum wage would tend to become the maximum. Fearing that minimum-wage and social-insurance legislation might rival the benefits offered organized workers under existing contracts, the AFL was to continue to withhold its support from such protective legislation throughout the decade.

The AFL’s passive strategy was opposed by the leaders of the industrial unions, whose territories in the highly competitive textile and coal mining industries had been threatened by a harbinger slump during the “prosperity decade” of the twenties. Sidney Hillman of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers (ACW) and John L. Lewis of the United Mine Workers (UMW) were early advocates of state intervention to save the economy, particularly through the promotion of unionization, which the depression was threatening with extinction. Owing his success to the ACW’s spectacular growth during the first world war (under the protection of the War Labor Board’s collective bargaining policy in the Army-uniform business), Hillman championed national economic planning as the solution to this equally serious national emergency. He urged the government to intervene through tripartite (i.e., business-union-government) planning councils, before private industry’s ineptitude allowed misery to create forces out of political control. He envisioned these councils extending on a national scale social-insurance programs pioneered by the ACW in the 1920’s, which had included payroll deductions for unemployment insurance, guaranteed savings banks and housing, work sharing, minimum wage rates, and even loans to floundering firms.4

Not only labor statesmen had experienced the efficacy of unions in equalizing wages in the highly competitive, over-extended industries. As employers’ trade associations failed to guarantee profits by regulating wages and production, some capitalists began to reconsider unionization. Gabriel Kolko describes the change in attitude of some Northern bituminous coal operators:5

Only the UMW, which both the association members and independent coal operators tended to unite to oppose, advocated the use of public authority to introduce order in an industry which invariably sought first to solve its problems by wage cuts, thereby decimating the union. By the time the Depression brought yet new disasters, many industry leaders and larger firms acknowledged the failure of voluntary trade association efforts and were increasingly prepared to impose stability and cooperation on the unprofitable, competitive industry. Indeed, in such industries only unions provided the remaining nonpolitical hope for coordinating and restraining competitive conditions on a national scale, a fact that won the employers associations to the union cause in garments before the war and was eventually to influence labor relations in coal and many other industries.

Whereas industries with high capital concentrations could rely on trusts and oligopolistic leaders to police their agreements to reduce costly competition, smaller capitalists often turned to outside organizations--such as rackets, unions, and governments--as the most effective means of enforcing regulation beneficial to the trade’s more powerful firms.6 When successful, these regulating agents reduced competition in fields of easy capital entry by exacting tribute in the form of protection premiums, union dues, or taxes. But the inroads of runaway shops and new mines during the 1920’s, followed by the depression, so weakened the hegemony of the textile and mining unions that they needed government backing to eliminate “sweating” and shake down firms that wouldn’t see reason.

Since before the first world war, Northern textile manufacturers had augmented their economic attack on the cheap labor supply of their Southern competitors by seeking legislation to establish a national minimum wage, prohibit child labor and women’s nightwork, and promote unionization. In the depths of the depression they found political support in the recovery proposals of former members of the War Industries Board--Bernard Baruch, General Hugh Johnson, and Gerard Swope. U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Henry Harriman’s voice mingled with these Northern liberals’ lament over the disruptive effects of “uneconomic competition” in his call for the suspension of the Sherman and Clayton Anti-Trust Acts, which, to the annoyance of big business, had been enacted in a futile attempt by small capitalists to halt the advancing concentration of capital that threatened to expropriate them. While Harriman and Swope urged business to take the initiative in stabilizing production to avoid government interference, Swope’s plan included employee and possible union participation. Fondly recalling the “efficiency” of their economic planning during the war, when former antagonists were encouraged to join hands to share the spoils, Baruch and Johnson implied that a return to the good old days would follow the formation of “trade associations for mutual help” and business’ self-regulation under government supervision.7

The blatant lack of profits to share, however, did not escape some of FDR’s advisors and various labor sympathizers, who, on the basis of an underconsumption theory of crisis, called for government intervention to halt the downward spiral of prices, wages, and production. In addition to relief measures and public work programs, they supported unionization as a means to boost consumption and the production it would engender. The powers behind these various strains of thought combined under the New Deal to produce the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA), which in June 1933 replaced ex-President Hoover’s inadequate voluntary schemes with six hundred industry-wide “Codes of Fair Competition.” Trade association agreements would now be legally enforced by FDR’s National Recovery Administration (NRA), directed by General Johnson.

Lobbied for by Lewis, Hillman, and Senator Robert F. Wagner, the NIRA included a “Section 7a,” which outlawed yellow-dog contracts (i.e., promises not to join a union as a condition of employment), provided “that employees shall have the right to organize and bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing,” and gave the President power through the NRA to prescribe maximum hours, minimum pay, and working conditions. With this legislation the New Deal’s mutually antagonistic coalition of big business, smaller capitalists, farmers, and unions, while groping for a solution to the crises, took its first faltering step toward managing the social unrest. Blindly seeking to restore a profitable basis for further capital accumulation, they were stymied by the political power of economically weaker capitals, who resisted the expropriation essential for national recovery. Their mutual struggle to shift the burden of loss onto others exemplified Marx's description of the depression’s healing process:8

So long as things go well, competition effects an operating fraternity of the capitalist class, as we have seen in the case of the equalization of the general rate of profit, so that each shares in the common loot in proportion to the size of his respective investment. But as soon as it no longer is a question of sharing profits, but of sharing losses, everyone tries to reduce his own share to a minimum and to shove it off upon another. The class, as such, must inevitably lose. How much the individual capitalist must bear of the loss, i.e., to what extent he must share in it at all, is decided by strength and cunning, and competition then becomes a fight among hostile brothers. The antagonism between each individual capitalist’s interests and those of the capitalist class as a whole, then comes to the surface, just as previously the identity of these interests operated in practice through competition.

How is this conflict settled and the conditions restored which correspond to the “sound” operation of capitalist production? The mode of settlement is already indicated in the very emergence of the conflict whose settlement is under discussion. It implies the withdrawal and even the partial destruction of capital.

Although the NIRA soon proved inadequate, the New Deal was able to hold the economy together until the second world war externalized the competitive struggle and the American victory temporarily solved the nation’s economic problems, thus allowing the liberal, Keynesian explanation of the New Deal’s success some false advertising.9


As industry counted on the President and the courts to favor capital in their interpretations of the law's ambiguities, the NIRA soon ran upon the rocks of resistance hit by previous attempts at voluntary regulation. Even in those industries where unions had the support of stronger firms, their efforts to force recalcitrants to terms through strikes and boycotts were hampered by the lack of government backing. Nonetheless, massive organizing drives in coal mining and textiles managed to have increased wage minimums incorporated into the NRA codes for their industries. Another temporary triumph for the unions grew out of a dressmakers’ strike in Reading, Pennsylvania. The FDR-appointed National Labor Board (NLB) (precursor of the National Labor Relations Board [NLRB]) in July 1933 settled the strike with the “Reading Formula,” an interpretation of Section 7a that provided for majority-rule, secret-ballot elections of exclusive agents to represent a group of workers ambiguously known as a bargaining unit (an ambiguity that would later be ironed out by the NLRB). Southern sweatshops, however, evaded NRA code provisions with the “Stretchout” (i.e., labor intensification) blatantly ignored Section 7a by firing union members, and refused to hold Reading Formula elections.

Rather than oppose unionization outright, most mass-production manufacturers, who regarded unions as unnecessary expenses and threats to their absolute control of production, expanded their “employee representation plans” developed in the 1920’s or established new company unions, which by the end of the NIRA period gained three times more members than the AFL unions did.10 In September 1933, miners challenged the company unions in the “captive” mines (owned by steel corporations) with a strike for UMW recognition despite Lewis’ efforts to restrain them while he negotiated the NRA code with the less resistant, smaller operators of the “commercial” mines. By late October, after withstanding considerable violence, the 100,000 strikers compelled FDR to enforce their NIRA given right to form independent unions. Several giant electrical concerns also accepted union advances when persuaded by strikes, as Philco, or by economic reason, as was General Electric (GE) President Gerard Swope, who since 1926 had sought an industrial “organization with which we could work on a businesslike basis.”11 Irving Bernstein’s description of the settlement won by a nascent AFL union reveals an attempt by the largest radio manufacturer to use the union to reduce labor disruption and equalize labor costs with its competitors:12

To the fledgling organization’s amazement, Philco on 15 July [1933] signed an agreement providing for the eight-hour day, the forty-hour week, time and one half for overtime, abolition of penalties for bad work, payment for waiting time between jobs, shop committees to handle grievances, and minimum wages of 45 cents for men and 36 cents for women . . . . The management, hoping to eliminate its “labor problems,” granted the union shop on August 17, requiring new employees to join within two weeks of hire. Finally, it obtained a commitment from the local, underwritten by [AFL President] Green that no other radio union chartered by the AFL would accept wages lower than Philco's and that the union would not demand higher rates unless they were incorporated in the
NRA radio code or were paid by a competitive firm.

In defeating these electrical and steel company unions, industrial unionism thus established beachheads on the anti-union shores of basic industry.

Most large corporations, however, managed to avoid unionization--some by defeating strikes, others by nipping union organization in the bud with elaborate labor-spy and strong-arm operations, and others by increasing defiance of the NLB’s orders. As depression conditions doomed most strikes to failure, even the militant autoworkers failed to establish industrial unions under the NIRA. The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) appealed to some workers as a rank-and-file controlled, direct-action industrial union with low dues and no contracts. Its organizing campaign in Detroit, however, was decimated by the loss of its strike at Murray Body in the fall of 1933, later analyzed by strike committee chairman Fred Thompson:13

The process of organizing or trying to get workers to organize endured through the summer with little results, until at Murray Body, just before changeover of model and consequent reduction of company operations; as workers belatedly began to “hive” around the IWW they found themselves laid off the next week and attributed this to the fact they had joined; this forced the IWW to act; we sought some workable compromise as rotation of work, etc.; and the Murray board refused to go along, though they did meet with us. We pulled the plant. It was a strike we could not win, and it cramped our efforts at various other plants. Through that winter we did our utmost to visit those workers and retain a base, but our “eggs were in one basket” and were smashed.

Business defiance of the NLB spread after December 1933, when Weirton Steel’s refusal to hold representation elections brought the Reading Formula to a legal stalemate while this test case awaited judicial review. Soon after FDR's February proclamation of support for his tottering NLB, the NRA announced its competing 7a-interpretation that safeguarded company unions behind the principle of “proportional representation,” which preserved “minority bargaining rights” by allowing several unions per bargaining unit (as opposed to the NLB’s certification of “exclusive bargaining agents” elected by majority vote). In March 1934, FDR applied the NRA’s interpretation in his NRA auto-code settlement, which by sanctioning the auto company unions decimated the weak AFL locals. Autoworkers deserting the AFL after this defeat were soon joined by rubber- and steel-workers exasperated with the “National Run Around” and the AFL’s defeatist stalling maneuvers. While the frustrated NLB chairman, Senator Wagner, started his campaign for legislation to resuscitate the Reading Formula and reaffirm workers’ right to organize independent unions, some workers began resorting to the law of “might makes right.”

Spring of 1934 brought industrial warfare as local unions broke through the fetters of the inert AFL to test their strength against their employers and the various government forces arrayed against them. In May a losing strike for union recognition at Electric AutoLite escalated into the Battle of Toledo (Ohio) as the local, radically-influenced unemployed league joined the strikers in defiance of court injunctions against mass picketing. After two days of rioting in which two men were shot dead by National Guardsmen, the factory was shut down. Although they won only a small wage increase and union recognition, Toledo strikers and their supporters showed that class action could force concessions from the staunchly anti-union auto industry. Shortly thereafter, a well-organized teamster strike in Minneapolis underlined the importance of military tactics as roving pickets stopped commercial traffic for days and a club-carrying crowd foiled a strikebreaking attempt by police and deputized citizens. Although sympathetic to the strikers, Governor Olson of Minnesota responded to the deaths of two socialites in this Battle of Deputies Run with a declaration of martial law, whose supposed maintenance of the status quo soon eroded the strikers' position by permitting a gradual restoration of commercial traffic. Only by disregarding the strikebreaking martial law did strikers pressure the Governor to turn the table on the employers, who eventually conceded a minimum wage and union recognition according to Reading Formula elections.14

The NRA’s principle of proportional representation was challenged in the West Coast waterfront strike. In May, when the damaging strike was three weeks old, the Waterfront Employers of San Francisco signed an agreement with the corrupt president of the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) granting wage increases but preserving the daily hiring system aptly described as a slave market. Angry strikers rallied behind radical caucus leader Harry Bridges to reject the ILA “sweetheart” deal and renew their demand for a union hiring hall, which the bosses refused as a closed shop outlawed by the NRA's interpretation of 7a. In July, after the killing of two strikers in a brutal attack on pickets by police attempting to open the port, pressure rose for a general strike, which the city’s AFL Central Labor Council called reluctantly, coordinated poorly, and terminated at the earliest possible moment. Although the longshoremen won a de facto union hiring hall and wage increases, the weaker maritime unions did not gain recognition because of their reliance on the conservative strike committee.

That not all tests of strength in the NRA period brought union advances was evidenced by the terrible defeat of the textile strike in September 1934. Exasperated with a NRA cotton textile board that had failed to enforce Section 7a, workers struck for higher wages, an end to the nerve-racking stretchout, and recognition of the United Textile Workers (UTW). In desperate attempts by flying squadrons and picketing crowds to shutdown strikebreaking mills from New England to the small towns of the hysterically anti-union south, strikers, who by 18 September numbered 420,000, soon met the resistance of scabs protected by troops, who in the South alone numbered over 25,000. With a death toll of fifteen, mass arrests, evictions, and seizures of relief funds, the UTW called off the strike on 22 September with nothing offered but massive reprisals.15 Not only was the UTW decimated, but memories of this disaster lingered and contributed to the South’s continuing resistance to unionization.

The state’s response to these upheavals had a major impact on their outcomes. Local governments invariably sided with the bosses by providing police and special deputies to maintain law and order; and, when these strikebreaking efforts provoked violence, state governors called out their National Guards. Capitalists could also rely on the courts to issue injunctions to halt picketing and other strike activities. Both capital and labor, however, appealed to the President in their hours of need. Since FDR always sided with strength when forced off his political fence, union pleas for Reading-Formula-style justice were answered with requests for strike postponements, mediators, disastrous settlements (such as in autos and textiles), and feeble recommendations of amnesty for strikers.

While they usually relied on local law enforcement and shunned federal intervention in their affairs, embattled capitalists and regional politicians in fear of insurrection occasionally turned to federal authorities for support. Not only had governors always received troops whenever they thought strikes threatened their authority (e.g., the Great Upheaval of 1877, the 1892 and 1897 Coeur d’Alenes mine strikes, and the 1919 Seattle General Strike), but also presidents sometimes pressured, preempted, or overruled those governors who failed to intervene in strikes threatening the national interest (e.g., the 1894 Pullman strike, IWW strikes during the first world war, and the 1922 UMW strike).

FDR became the first president to refuse to send the army immediately to quell labor disputes. Assessing the textile strike form the more detached viewpoint of the general (capitalist) interest, he held troops in abeyance despite the Rhode Island governor’s plea for “drastic action” to prevent “riotous mobs” from storming his statehouse.16 As the longshoremen’s strike heated up, San Francisco newspapers screamed about endangered sacred American traditions, while Oregon’s governor claimed the strike was “beyond the reach of state authorities” in his request for army intervention. While California’s governor petitioned the U.S. Immigration Service to deport alien strikers, its U.S. Senator Hiram Johnson called for FDR’s aid saying, “Here is revolution not only in the making but with the initial actualities. . . . Not alone is this San Francisco’s disaster but it is [the] possible ruin of the Pacific Coast.”17 A Los Angeles Times editorial epitomized West Coast business’ alarm:18

The situation in San Francisco is not correctly described by the phrase “general strike.” What is actually in progress there is an insurrection, a Communist-inspired and led revolt against organized government. There is but one thing to be done--put down the revolt with any force necessary.

Advised, however, by Secretary of Labor Perkins that the general strike committee was “in charge of the whole strike . . . and represents conservative leadership,” FDR, biding his time on a Pacific cruise, won his gamble that the strike would resolve itself at the expense of the Republican shipowners, who, in his judgment, exaggerated the threat to the nation posed by a dispute over union security.19

Though circumspect in handling major strikes, FDR did not promote unionization. While like all twentieth-century American presidents he accepted the principle of collective bargaining,20 his labor policy concentrated on relief measures, minimum wages and standards for working conditions, and social insurance programs. Murray Edelman provides a good summary of FDR’s record with organized labor:21

He invariably failed to support labor legislation actively until he was convinced it had adequate political support, and he sometimes sabotaged pro-labor policies already declared to be the law because of strong business pressures. In killing the Black thirty-hours bill, in his occasional pro-business interventions in NRA, in his long delays in supporting the 1934 and 1935 Wagner bills, the 1934 unemployment insurance bills, and the 1934 Railway Labor Act amendments, in his order to cut relief sharply just before the 1937 recession, and in his ambivalent statements during the sitdown strikes, he showed himself less the proponent of the things labor was demanding than a consummate politician interested in a program that would have maximum effectiveness and popularity. He showed it again in viewing the NLRB from 1935 to 1939 as unduly independent in its policies, unpredictable, and often embarrassing politically.


Amid fresh memories of the summer’s violent strikes, the more liberal Democratic Congress elected in November 1934 proved more receptive to Senator Wagner’s efforts to replace the NIRA, whose failure as a depression cure and guarantee of collective bargaining was obvious. Since the March auto settlement, Wagner had sought legislation to strengthen the NLB’s power to curtail employers’ union-busting privileges, which had enabled them to circumvent workers’ right to join unions (granted almost a century earlier). In July 1935, Wagner’s National Labor Relations Act finally outlawed employers’ “unfair labor practices,” including company support of unions, and required them to “bargain in good faith” with freely chosen representatives of the majority of workers in bargaining units to be delimited by the NLRB. The Wagner Act also empowered the NLRB to supervise representation elections, certify exclusive bargaining agents so elected, investigate and prosecute employer interference, and seek court injunctions to enforce its decisions. In short, proportional representation was rejected in favor of the Reading Formula, which was given the force of law.

Interpretations of the Wagner Act as a conscious plan of capital to reintegrate potentially revolutionary workers into the system via unionization ignore the complexity and uncertainty of the situation. As with the NIRA, a coalition of mutually conflicting interests produced legislation whose application would be determined by a dynamic interaction of political and economic forces as the depression took its course. Although the more conservative NIRA backers, whose influence centered in the NRA, dropped from the coalition, most interests behind the NIRA (e.g., Northern textile manufacturers, retail magnates, organized labor, et al.) rallied behind Wagner in their continued search for an amenable solution to the depression. The NIRA's rationale of business self-regulation to eliminate unfair competition was now supplanted by arguments that economic recovery was thwarted by the underconsumption of workers and the disruption of commerce due to strikes. Collective bargaining, it was argued, would eliminate most strikes; and, unionization would boost mass purchasing power by redressing the imbalance in the economy caused by the disproportionate power of concentrated capital. Calling for “industrial democracy” to supplement political democracy, many Democrats from industrial regions sought labor support and promoted unions as sources of a new breed of junior statesmen, who would defend workers’ economic interests and democratic rights on the job against the abuses of corporate totalitarian rule.

Passage of the Act was facilitated by its ambiguity and the uncertainty of its application. To secure the AFL’s approval, Wagner vaguely left to the NLRB’s discretion the jurisdiction of bargaining units (i.e., the specific designation of which workers would be eligible to vote for NLRB-certified bargaining agents for a craft-, plant-, or industry-wide bargaining unit). Since the Supreme Court had declared the NIRA unconstitutional in May 1935, business relaxed its opposition to the Wagner Act in anticipation of lax enforcement and eventual judicial invalidation. Because neither business nor the AFL could foresee the development of the CIO and its encouragement by the NLRB’s preference for industrial bargaining units, the law passed without the vehement opposition that was to develop later.

While signaling to liberals a need for “industrial democracy” and collective bargaining machinery to handle labor disputes, the 1934 strikes also had demonstrated concretely the limits of workers’ militancy, their strike power in various industries, and government reactions, and had elucidated the possibilities for establishing industrial unions under the new legal protection of the Wagner Act. The AFL, however, hesitated to take advantage of the improved climate for organizing. At the peak of NIRA agitation, teamster boss Dan Tobin had still maintained that the semi-skilled mass production workers were too weak to warrant a union leader’s attention:22

The scramble for admittance to the union is on. We do not want to charter the riff-raff or good-for-nothings, or those for whom we cannot make wages or conditions . . . . We do not want the men today if they are going on strike tomorrow.

At least in terms of money and membership his judgment that unskilled workers were “unfit for unionism” had been supported by historical evidence. Up to 1934 unskilled workers had been too easily replaced, too isolated and divided, and too poorly paid to threaten or pull off the strikes necessary to establish and maintain a union domain and to extract the wage increases necessary to sustain dues payments and union officials. Previous attempts to organize permanent unions of semi-and un-skilled workers had failed except in coal mining and the needle trades. The idea of One Big Union had been introduced by the populist Knights of Labor in the 1870’s, narrowed for application to the railways in the early 1890’s by Eugene Debs, and developed as “revolutionary industrial unionism” by the IWW during the decade before the first world war.23 While the Knights had lost significance as a workers’ movement because of its opposition to the eight-hour-day agitation, Deb’s American Railway Union might have succeeded as an industrial union for the railroads (as this strategic, early capitalized sector has elsewhere spawned early organizations of this type) had it not been wiped out by the military repression of the Pullman strike in 1894. The IWW had used defiant direct action to further spontaneous strikes of textile millhands, steelworkers, migrant farmworkers, lumberjacks, hardrock miners, and other “marginal” workers. While they received a lot of notoriety for several spectacular victories and for their revolutionary propaganda, their unions did not maintain large numbers of dues-paying members even before their suppression as an unpatriotic thorn in the side of the American bourgeoisie.

Ignoring the difficulties unions had encountered during the early phase of industrialization,
John L. Lewis criticized the IWW on the grounds that “it never attempted to consolidate its gains. It continually bled itself white by the vigor of its struggles and was always vulnerable from the rear.”24 While the IWW’s aversion to contracts, and business unionism generally, may have contributed to its failure as a union, the UMW’s prudence in response to milder government repression of its vigorous tactics during and after the second world war would also backfire (as can be seen in its current struggle to preserve its gains, if not itself, within its shrinking share of bituminous coal production). Nevertheless, Lewis concluded from his analysis of past organizing failures and of the brightening climate under the Wagner Act that industrial unionism was no longer a revolutionary but a business proposition, one with good prospects if properly financed by the AFL and managed by practical union leaders like himself. In opposition to the cautious craft-union bosses, he contended that the mass-production industries were ripe for unionization along industrial lines and that the AFL would profit by mounting a massive organizing campaign. Both he and Sidney Hillman, as heads of embattled industrial unions, sensed that unless the industries closest to them—steel and cotton textiles respectively—were unionized, they would soon lose their precarious footholds as had the industrial unions before them. Pressuring the AFL to support his cause financially, Lewis warned that not only the UMW’s but also the AFL’s survival was at stake:25

The failure of the American Federation of Labor to organize the workers in the mass-production industries creates a hazardous situation as far as the future of the Federation is concerned. If the Wagner Bill is enacted there is going to be increasing organization and if the workers are organized in independent unions we are facing the merging of these independent unions in some form of national organization.

Exasperated with the AFL’s morbid conservatism and having “read the revolutionary handwriting on the walls of American industry” (as his biographer ironically put it),26 Lewis seized the opportunity offered by the passage of the Wagner Act to fulfill his own prophecy by founding the CIO in December 1935. Of the CIO’s seven charter unions, the most important in terms of membership and resources were the UMW, the ACW, and the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU). Although the CIO founders hoped to remain within and obtain support from the AFL, the latter responded to the threat of CIO success by expelling a third of the AFL membership from its November 1936 convention. The most significant of the emerging industrial unions that affiliated with the CIO were the United Rubber Workers (URW), the United Auto Workers (UAW), and several Communist unions--the United Electrical and Radio Workers (UE), Harry Bridges’ International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union
(ILWU), and the National Maritime Union (NMU). Two weak unions--the Amalgamated Association of Iron, Steel and Tin Workers (AA) and the UTW-formed the basis of the CIO’s two main projects--the Steel Workers Organizing Committee (SWOC), led by Philip Murray of the UMW, and the Textile Workers Organizing Committee (TWOC), led by Hillman of the ACW. Although the CIO provided organizers and advised the developing unions in the mass-production industries, most of its money and energy were devoted to organizing steel and textiles, the industries most crucial for its principal founders.

Anti-union companies remained as unfazed by the Wagner Act as they had been by Section 7a of the NIRA. But, aided by a slight upswing in the economy between 1935 and mid-1937, workers once again flexed their economic muscles, this time demonstrating their “fitness for unionism” in certain mass-production industries. The NIRA pattern of union breakthroughs with the largest firms in various industries was to be repeated (e.g., U.S. Steel, G.E., and large Northern textile manufactures) and extended (e.g., Goodyear Rubber and General Motors), while their smaller competitors were to resist until it became too costly in terms of bad publicity, law suits, or government contracts.

Early in 1936, rubberworkers in Akron, Ohio began demonstrating their power to bring reluctant bosses to terms through their repeated use of the sitdown strike, an adaptation of the IWW folded-arms tactic that proved very effective in shutting down assembly lines and idling entire plants. Although it would eventually benefit from these sitdowns, the URW (which in 1935 claimed only 3,000 members among about 100,000 rubberworkers) initially disapproved of this form of direct action. Not only did the URW seriously weaken the February Goodyear strike by convincing strikers to march out of the occupied plant to the union hall and, consequently, to bitter-cold, vulnerable picket lines, but it also refused to recognize the strike until CIO organizers arrived on its sixth day. Shrewder than some of their local leaders, the CIO national officials would for a while support, although rarely initiate, sitdowns whose goals included CIO recognition. Visiting Akron in 1936, Louis Adamic described the URW organizing drive that pulled 75,000 members by 1938:27

In November I was told in Akron that nearly every serious sitdown boosted the membership by as much as five hundred. Organizers signed up men while they “sat.”

In his efforts to reassure the public in 1937 that the sitdown did not pose a revolutionary threat but would lead to industrial democracy, Joel Seidman accurately predicted the replacement of direct action with grievance arbitration once the URW solidified its control:28

The rubber workers are new and enthusiastic unionists. The sitdown technique works, so they use it as soon as an issue arises. Their officers are urging them not to stop production without first bringing their grievance to the attention of the union and the company through the regular channels. . . . As the rubber workers become more experienced and more disciplined unionists, the sitdowns over petty issues will doubtless disappear.

Having pulled short sitdowns known as “quickies” since 1933, autoworkers in 1936 began to “stay-in” demanding union recognition, wage increases, reduction of hours to prevent layoffs during model changes, abolition of piecework, reinstatement of union members, etc. Learning from Akron workers the effectiveness of the sitdown in enabling a minority to halt production, preventing strikebreaking, and rallying workers to the union, the UAW sanctioned organizational sitdowns, the most dramatic of which would occur at Flint during the General Motors (GM) strike. From April to December 1936, however, the UAW had gained only an average membership of 27,000--or about ten percent of the industry’s workforce.29 While Lewis concentrated on negotiations with US Steel, his advisor to the UAW, Adolph Germer, thwarted UAW President Homer Martin’s attempts to spread a strike (begun on 18 November) at the Atlanta Fisher Body plant to the rest of the parent company. Germer advocated postponement of a companywide strike until after the New Year, when a New Deal governor would be inaugurated in Michigan and the Christmas period with its scheduled bonus would have passed. Although momentum for a strike against the entire GM system increased as the Libby-Owens-Ford glassworks and the Kansas City Fisher plant were shutdown by mid-December, sitdowns at the strategic Cleveland and Flint Fisher assembly plants (on 28 and 30 December respectively), coordinated by the Communist vice-president of the UAW, Wyndham Mortimer, finally precipitated the CIO’s greatest strike.

By the end of January 1937, about a dozen more sitdowns and conventional strikes coupled with spreading lockouts for lack of parts had shut down fifty GM plants and idled 125,000 workers, most of whom were not striking.30 Although Martin had prematurely evacuated the other occupied GM factories by 16 January, the Flint sitdown strikers, upon advice from CIO organizers and the Mortimer faction, saved the strike by holding out for GM’s recognition of the UAW as exclusive bargaining agent, a status which could not be achieved through NLRB elections due to union weakness. Helpless to prevent a return to work at many plants on 27 January, the strikers in Flint once again rescued the waning strike, this time with a brilliant military operation orchestrated by strike leaders around Mortimer and the Reuther brothers. This spectacular capture of a strategic Chevrolet engine plant finally crippled GM production on 1 February and relieved the pressure on the occupiers at Fisher Body, who, however, were to remain under the governor’s threat of forced eviction for another week. After this demonstration of union strength, previously reluctant workers flooded into the UAW and public opinion swung to the strikers, who, despite “their unconventional behavior,” after all were only “pursuing objectives sanctioned by law but denied them by their employer.”31

As the pressure mounted, FDR, a weathervane for public opinion, announced on 5 February his intent to push legislation to defend the Wagner Act by packing the hostile Supreme Court with New Deal judges. He even expressed momentary lenience toward the sitdown, which by 1939 was to be outlawed by the Supreme Court:32

Well it is illegal. But shooting it out and killing a lot of people because they have violated the laws of trespass . . . . [is not] the answer . . . . There must be another way. Why can’t those fellows in GM meet with a committee of the workers?

Under the greatest pressure ever applied by the CIO, GM on 11 February accepted the defeat of its proportional representation scheme, recognized the UAW as de facto exclusive bargaining agent for seventeen struck plants, and granted a five-cents-per-hour increase to all 150,000 GM workers.33

Meanwhile, impressed by the CIO’s show of force, GE and US Steel moved to expand the limited relations they had established with industrial unions during the NIRA period. Because of Gerard Swope’s unusual acceptance of unions, GE had already agreed to NLRB elections when so requested by the UE, which had narrowly defeated the company union in GE’s main plant. On 24 February 1937, Swope without a fight granted the UE company-wide recognition. A week later, President Myron Taylor of US Steel (known as Big Steel because of its dominant position in the industry) agreed to replace his failing company union with Lewis’ SWOC. The Big Steel agreement of 2 March granted wage increases, overtime pay after forty hours, and recognition of the SWOC (but only as bargaining agent for its members, not as sole bargaining agent for the company). Although Little Steel (viz. Bethlehem, Jones and Laughlin, Republic, Inland, Youngstown Sheet and Tube, et al.) and other observers were shocked, Taylor’s consent to unionization made economic sense. With US Steel’s profits picking up and British armaments orders in the offing, he figured that “the cost of a strike would have been incalculable,” as Little Steel would have hastened to fill his orders.34 In his decision to yield to what he sensed was a political drift toward unionization, Taylor also was influenced by his experience with Lewis as a responsible enforcer of their captive mines agreement. Other factors that may have affected him included: the recent passage of a law instituting a forty-hour workweek with overtime pay on all government contracts, the election of a New Deal governor in Pennsylvania who could not be trusted to provide strikebreaking troops, and the threat of adverse public opinion in the event of a fight. Taylor’s assessment of the political climate was to be confirmed by the March sitdown wave and the Supreme Court’s unexpected validation of the Wagner Act on 12 April. In the wake of this court victory, which forced Jones and Laughlin Steel to deal with the SWOC, several large corporations (e.g., Firestone Rubber and Westinghouse Electric) were to follow US Steel’s lead in recognizing CIO unions as bargaining agents for their members.

In the midst of these victories, however, appeared an evil omen. In March the UAW’S attempt to extend its status as exclusive bargaining agent from GM to the second largest automaker, Chrysler, failed. Bernstein describes the situation that developed as the Michigan governor seriously threatened to force evacuation of the nine occupied Chrysler plants:35

Lewis realized that the UAW had overreached itself. On March 24, he agreed to evacuation of the plants, recognition for members only, and a grace period for bargaining on the substance of the agreement . . . . Some of the men in the factories balked at these terms since the strike now became purposeless [since Chrysler had accepted the other terms of the GM agreement before the strike].

While the 1937 strike wave yielded recognition of CIO unions as bargaining agents for their members, the security of exclusive-bargaining agent status, conceived in the Reading Formula, was not to be achieved until the second world war.


Feeling the harbinger effects of the coming economic downturn by May 1937, Little Steel refused to recognize the SWOC and undermined its organizing drive by granting the wage conditions of the Big Steel agreement. The SWOC was biding its time in hopes of amassing members before attempting to make a deal with the anti-union Little Steel firms. This strategy of accumulating power before a showdown backfired as Republic Steel took the offensive by locking out workers in its plants in Canton and Massillon, Ohio, where the SWOC was particularly strong. The SWOC on May 26 reluctantly responded to this provocation by calling out its members at Republic, Inland, and Youngstown Sheet and Tube, where its organizing drives had been partially successful. Lacking the strategic advantage of factory occupations, strikers faced strikebreaking and vigilante attacks on pickets, which resulted in ten dead and ninety wounded at Republic Steel’s Memorial Day Massacre in Chicago and two more killed in
Youngstown, Ohio. Much to SWOC’s surprise, two-thirds of the poorly organized workers at
Bethlehem Steel’s Cambria Works in Johnstown, Pa. reacted by walking out on 11 June. But rather than appeal to all steel-workers for similar protest strikes, or call a general CIO strike, or even allow local protests, the SWOC demonstrated its sense of responsibility by depending on government mediation rather than workers’ revenge. Government authorities vacillated as the balance of power shifted. While the governor of Pennsylvania had sent the National Guard to shut down Bethlehem Steel, he was to rescind his martial law decree under business pressure and facilitate a return to work on 27 June. Having declared martial law as thousands poured into Youngstown to avenge the shootings there, Ohio Governor Davey lifted his decree on 25 June. SWOC leader Philip Murray, who had respected the law all along, then feebly appealed to FDR for support of the collapsing strike. Although the President had sent mediators and criticized Little Steel for not signing, he sealed the SWOC defeat with his famous condemnation: “A plague on both your houses!”

As the Roosevelt Recession commenced in earnest in August 1937, the CIO’s other major organizing effort, the TWOC, was also to meet defeat. Although there were a few sitdowns (e.g., at Apex Hosiery in Philadelphia in May/June 1937, which ended in forced eviction and a Supreme Court case over property damage), the TWOC relied mainly on NLRB representation elections as the basis for recognition. Though the TWOC claimed 215,000 under contract by September, they could only organize 7% of the important Southern region, which continued the resistance that had wrecked the UTW in 1934. The TWOC was soon to be decimated as even its gains with large Northern manufacturers were wiped out by drastic wage cuts and widespread layoffs.

That the CIO’s acceleration had been slowed was evidenced not only by the SWOC and TWOC failures but also by its membership figures, which reached their peak vis-a-vis the AFL in October 1937. Just as any business must accumulate capital or go to the dogs, the eventual decline of the CIO as a new type of union could be predicted even then, as it was by one executive interviewed in a Fortune survey:36

The CIO has gone hog-wild because Lewis bit off more than he can chew. In his own trade he is intelligent; we’ve had no trouble in our coal mines with the CIO. The whole strike business, of course, moves in cycles, and I predict that Lewis will eventually shake things down, get rid of the Communists and hotheads, and probably have a trade union.

Most executives in this survey agreed that the tide of unionization had turned:37

Elements considered to have checked the wave at a dangerous point were the following: (1) The loss of the Little Strike. . . . (2) The Chicago Memorial Day riot. . . . (3) The action of Gov. Davey in protecting the “right to work” in the Little Steel Strike. (4) The waning of enthusiasm of many workers for the CIO now that John L. Lewis has declared the “honeymoon over” and is “trying to collect dues from his new unions.” “In another six months the workers will be tired of paying tribute to a dictator.” (5) Above all (in their belief), the general revulsion of US public opinion against the excesses of the CIO.

While Lewis had criticized the IWW for too much vigor and no self-preservation instinct, the CIO survived in spite of its inability to preserve its vigor in the face of adversity. In the first place, only a militant minority of workers had defied public opinion, strikebreaking fellow workers, and the state’s might, in order to force the advances that the CIO had capitalized on. As previously mentioned, Lewis had to reject GM’s proposal for NLRB elections in February. Lee Pressman, counsel for the CIO, described a similar situation in steel in 1937:38

There is no question that [the SWOC] could not have filed for a petition through the NLRB . . . . for an election. We could not have won an election for collective bargaining on the basis of our own membership or the results of the organizing campaign to date. This certainly applied not only to Little Steel but also to Big Steel.

“Labor’s giant step” notwithstanding, revolutionary class consciousness did not prevail in the CIO. Communists, acting as unionists par excellence, initially ambivalent toward “undisciplined” sitdowns, actively opposed them after union recognition had been won.39 A prevalent patriotic spirit could be glimpsed in the American flags draping strikers’ caskets and flown at CIO demonstrations and sitdowns, in strike placards such as, “We’re with you, Mr. Chrysler, if you’re with us!” and in such pronouncements as the following by UAW President Martin:40

What more sacred property right is there in the world than the right of a man in his job? . . . . It is the most sacred, most fundamental property right in America. It means more to the stabilization of American life, morally, socially and economically, than any other property right.

As Seidman pointed out, the implicitly revolutionary aspect of the sitdown was usually masked by the reformist goal of union recognition:41

It is precisely because such strikes seem to challenge the rights of property ownership that such controversy has been aroused over them. And yet it should be clear that sitdown strikers are not challenging the ownership of the plant, but merely the employer’s right to dismiss them and operate the plant with strikebreakers . . . . Nor is the sitdown a revolutionary weapon, as some have proclaimed. It asserts, not the right to the factory, but the right to the job . . . . The sit-down should be sharply distinguished from the seizures of Italian factories by workers following the World War, for there is no attempt to operate the plant.

Since most strikers thought they were fighting for a better life under capitalism and not for the system’s abolition, it is hardly surprising that when union organizing drives ran into difficulties, the militant minority of workers did not take desperate steps to force events beyond the barriers of reform, but chose to bide their time in hopes of recouping their losses in the future.

Unfortunately, because they have no political interest in the question of the limits of union organizing, most historians gloss over the decline of the sitdown wave after March 1937 and the subsequent arrest of CIO expansion. Standard labor histories usually mention “adverse public opinion” as a factor in this decline, while a few historians like Professor Witte give credit to the CIO leadership:42

Conservatism on the part of labor will come with recognition and responsibility. Already the principal executives in the CIO movement have come to realize that the sitdown is completely destructive to union discipline, that the unions lose control of their own members if they have many sitdowns. These labor leaders are worried just as much as management about the sitdown strikes, and that is the main reason why the sitdowns are getting less frequent.

While public opinion and the CIO chiefs did turn against the sitdowns, these explanations fail to show why the rank-and-file, who initiated many of the occupations, ceased to use this dramatically successful tactic. It might be that both workers and unions abandoned the technique because the limits on what bosses would concede were reached as the economy turned sharply downward in mid-1937. As unemployment rose to 19% by 1938, workers’ economic power was weakened in the face of wage cuts, layoffs, and threats to union survival reminiscent of the early 1930’s. These difficulties were presaged by the unsuccessful strikes at Chrysler and Little Steel as well as by several forced evictions of strikers at smaller sitdowns in Detroit and elsewhere in late March. In the absence of studies of the outcomes of the post-March strikes and of the workforce that remained unorganized, one can only conclude that the CIO temporarily ran out of workers “fit for unionism” to organize.

Just as young business ventures figure prominently among the early casualties of recessions, the precariousness of the CIO’s foothold in the mass-production industries was revealed as the failing economy hit it harder than the AFL. Particularly attributing its weakness relative to the AFL to the CIO’s greater dependence on appealing to the rank and file, labor historian David Brody aptly describes the dilemma the CIO faced during this period:43

Declining membership and, in some cases, internal dissension rendered uncertain the organizational viability of the industrial unions. And their weakness in turn further undermined their effectiveness in collective bargaining. They faced a fearful choice. If they became quiescent, they would sacrifice the support of the membership. If they pressed for further concessions, they would unavoidably become involved in strikes. By so doing, they would expose their weakened ranks in one area in which labor legislation permitted the full expression of employer hostility.

As possibilities for achieving material gains through strikes diminished, the CIO increasingly concentrated on NLRB election campaigns and lawsuits as NLRB certification became the most feasible advance. Even with NLRB victories, however, the CIO ran into organizing difficulties such as those described at the time by labor economist Robert R.R. Brooks:44

Late in 1939, however, the indications were that the spectacular success of the US Steel campaign could not be repeated against Bethlehem. For one thing, the Bethlehem Employee Representation Plan, even though outlawed by the NLRB, was much older and more firmly established than the employee representation plans in US Steel subsidiaries. But even more important than this was the fact that the methods used in early SWOC campaigns had become stale. The enthusiasm built up by the whirlwind successes of the 1937 campaign had been dissipated in the futile and unplanned strike against Bethlehem’s Cambria plant. Disillusion and disinterest were the inevitable aftermath. Early in 1940 there were no signs of anything like the almost hysterical enthusiasm of 1937. Consequently, the organizing campaign against Bethlehem was settling down to a long-run educational program.

CIO reliance on the NLRB, however, did pay off in decisions that favored the UE and Bridges’ ILWU against the AFL, which had wasted no time once the CIO had demonstrated (as venture capital often does) that union gains were waiting to be harvested along industrial lines. Not only did AFL competition dampen the CIO’s growth, but also conflicts over union boundaries and political policy arose causing industrial unions to refuse CIO affiliation and major CIO founders to desert. For example, Lundeberg’s Sailor’s Union of the Pacific never joined the CIO because he could not agree on the division of the maritime pie with the Communist leaders of the ILWU and the NMU. Having denounced the ILGWU for its 1938 defection from the CIO ranks, Lewis would also abandon his child in 1942, because of mounting friction with Philip Murray, who had succeeded him as CIO president in 1940.

As the AFL continued to “organize the unorganized” into industrial unions, the interunion competition exposed this CIO rallying cry as propagandistic cover for its ambitions for “pure and simple” self-expansion. Workers who fought for recognition of their local organizations and increased control over production were soon dismayed as national union headquarters consolidated their control over dissenting locals on the grounds that only unified unions could match the power of concentrated capital. Having always been ruled as dictatorially as any AFL fiefdom, the SWOC mocked those who believed “industrial democracy” implied workers’ control of their union. Brooks described the SWOC policy of centralized finances in blatant terms:45

Discipline as well as economy is served by this policy since the relatively limited funds of the local unions do not permit them to flout the authority of the national officers. The SWOC has, for example, laid down a policy that no strike shall be called without the approval of the national office. A local violating this rule would find itself denied financial support from the national treasury and dependent upon its own slim resources.

When financial punishment did not deter workers under contract from pulling wildcat strikes, CIO leaders resorted to public denunciation, strongarm enforcers, scabbing, collusive manipulations resulting in lockouts, firings, fines, and blacklisting. Brecher quotes an interesting New York Times article on this topic, entitled, “Unauthorized Sit-downs Fought by CIO,” dated 11 April 1937:46

,blockquote>(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 man 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 or financial support 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 General Motors contract, and a system is being worked out which the union believes will convince the rank-and-file that strikes are unnecessary.
(4) In certain instances there has been a “purge” of officers, organizers and representatives who have appeared to be “hot-heads” or “trouble-makers” by dismissing, transferring or demoting them.


The CIO not only failed to be an “instrument of the workers” but also thwarted those who tried to use it for independent political action. During the period of the Hitler-Stalin pact, the Communist Party switched from its Popular Front strategy of cooperation with the CIO to opposition to its class collaboration. The Mortimer faction of the UAW in this period fomented strikes to organize war-production workers in California and Wisconsin. These strikes met with hostility from FDR, Hillman, and the other UAW factions and climaxed in June 1941 with military strikebreaking reminiscent of the IWW’s fate during the first world war. Two weeks later, with the Nazi invasion of Russia, the CP reversed to total support of the war. But despite their zealous promotion of productivity throughout the war, the Communist CIO officials and unions were to be purged as soon as they opposed union and government policies as the Cold War commenced.

Defending his toleration of CIO communists in asking, “Who gets the bird, the hunter or the dog,” Lewis ironically foretold the defeat of not only their ambitions but also his own. Having hoped for an offer of the 1940 vice presidency from his fellow-huntsmen, Lewis howled when instead FDR not only made him swallow the Little Steel defeat but also got reelected despite his opposition. Lewis’ refusal to accept his underdog status resulted in his petulant resignation as CIO president and subsequent defiance of the patriotic wartime strike prohibition.

Sidney Hillman, on the other hand, never forgot that FDR and the capitalists were labor’s bosses. Despite his desires for a labor party and for greater union participation in extended government economic planning, Hillman never ignored the realities of American politics, which only offered organized labor a junior partnership in the Democratic Party. Because of his loyalty to FDR and his position as CIO vice-president, he was appointed to represent labor on the successive federal planning bodies in charge of coordinating war production, which by 1942 took final form as the National War Labor Board (NWLB). Since the power of American industrialists had not been seriously challenged during the depression, they dominated these tripartite planning agencies, dictated how war production was to be organized, and sought only confirmation of their plans by the AFL and CIO, who responded according to their weak positions by agreeing to the NWLB’s no-strike policy.

As the war effort replaced the New Deal, however, Hillman’s prescription for curing the depression with expanded government economic intervention and social planning was finally implemented. As private industry received military supply orders in 1941, for the first time profits surpassed their 1929 level and unemployment dropped below 10%.47 Brody accurately identifies this turning point in CIO fortunes:48

,blockquote>Industry’s desire to capitalize on a business upswing was particularly acute now; and rising job opportunities and prices created a new militancy in the laboring ranks. The open shop strongholds began to crumble. Organization came to the four Little Steel companies, to Ford, and to their lesser counterparts. The resistance to collective bargaining, where it had been a line of conflict, was also breaking down. First contracts were finally being signed by such companies as Goodyear, Armour, Cudahy, Westinghouse, Union Switch and Signal. Above all, collective bargaining after a three-year gap began to produce positive results. On 14 April 1941, US Steel set the pattern for its industry with an increase of ten cents an hour. For manufacturing generally, average hourly earnings from 1940 to 1941 increased over 10% and weekly earnings 17%; living costs rose only 5%. More than wages was involved. Generally, initial contracts were thoroughly renegotiated for the first time, and this produced a wide range of improvements in vacation, holiday, and seniority provisions and in grievance procedure. Mass production workers could now see the tangible benefits flowing from their union membership. These results of the defense prosperity were reflected in union growth: CIO membership jumped from 1,350,000 in 1940 to 2,850,000 in 1941.

Thus, only under wartime conditions, which brought increased government spending and consequently greater influence in labor relations, did independent unions defeat company unions and become firmly established in the mass-production industries. Eager to profit from war production and facing a labor shortage, capitalists finally began to accept the cornerstone of the present labor relations system, the written contract covering a corporation’s or industry’s entire workforce, not just voluntary union members. Until the war, this form of capital-union cooperation existed mainly in craft unions’ closed shop agreements, which allowed only union members to be hired, usually through union hiring halls. During the 1930’s, the American open shop system had been cracked by the modified union hiring halls for seamen and West Coast longshoremen, the GM settlement, and industrywide agreements in the commercial coal mines and in Minneapolis trucking. But when Henry Ford, forced to accept the UAW in May 1941, replaced his vigilante apparatus with industry’s first closed shop, this lifelong opponent of unionism ironically became a trendsetter in labor relations. That fall, a UMW captive mines strike wrung a union shop agreement (i.e., a closed shop modified to allow anyone to be hired providing he joined the union thereafter) from the steel companies, whom FDR had pressured to settle for fear of sparking further interruptions in war production. In July 1942, in hopes of maintaining production while insuring labor peace, the NWLB announced in its Little Steel Formula a further improvisation on the closed shop--its “maintenance-of-membership” policy, which required that voluntary union members “shall, during the life of the agreement as a condition of employment, remain members of the union in good standing” by not striking and by paying dues through a payroll deduction system known as "the voluntary,” binding checkoff.49

The Little Steel Formula also proclaimed the NWLB’s “equal sacrifice” policy, whose real-wage freeze was legislatively confirmed in September 1942. Having already achieved a union shop without the NWLB’s help, the UMW rejected its wage controls in this inflationary period in a series of strikes throughout 1943, which proved ultimately rewarding despite CIO condemnation and FDR’s seizure of the mines. Although threatened with being drafted into the army under the War Labor Disputes Act of June 1943, workers elsewhere followed the UMW’s example with a wildcat strike wave that by 1944 surpassed all previous years in strike frequency.

Having always depended on government assistance in its drive to unionize the mass-production industries, the CIO did not at this late data bite the hand that fed it. When faced with loss of union security through revocation of their NWLB-granted maintenance-of-membership privileges, the CIO leaders once again proved themselves responsible unionists by disciplining wildcatting workers and locals. As national CIO leadership under NWLB protection became more independent of rank-and-file pressure, local leaders had to play an increasingly shrewd game of union politics in order to avoid expulsion by the national leaders, on the one hand, and replacement by popular leaders of forbidden wildcats, on the other. This conflict reached the national CIO leaders as the end of the war and government guarantees of membership approached. For example, in late 1944 Walter Reuther, by cleverly throwing his support to wildcatting UAW locals, managed to unseat the ruling faction, which had advocated a post-war settlement of accumulated grievances without a strike.

The CIO establishment’s desire to extent government-union-industry cooperation into the post-war period was epitomized in March 1945 by President Murray’s signing a mutual “Charter of Industrial Peace” with AFL President Green and the head of the US Chamber of Commerce. But no sooner was the war over, than so many workers walked out in expectation of wage increases that the CIO leaders had to recognize and call strikes to retain control of what became the nation’s largest strike wave. President Truman introduced “fact-finding boards” to arbitrate settlements once strikers returned to work. When workers refused to end strikes, he used wartime powers to order direct seizures of oil refineries, packinghouses, railroads, and bituminous coal mines. Brecher analyses the cresting strike wave:50

The unions made little effort to combat the government’s attack, despite their demonstrated power virtually to stop the entire economy. Except for the miners [who were fined $3.5 million for contempt of an anti-strike injunction], they returned to work when the government seized their industries, and in most cases they accepted the recommendations of the fact-finding boards, even though these admittedly meant a decline in workers’ incomes below wartime levels . . . . Nor did the unions generally attempt to combine their strength, even within the AFL or CIO, each union made settlements without consideration of others on strike. Thus the division of the working class that had been the source of so much criticism of craft unionism was reproduced on a larger scale by industrial unionism.

Far from trying to break the unions, management in the large corporations had learned how to use them to control the workers; GM’s number one demand in 1946 auto negotiations was “union responsibility for uninterrupted production.” The unions were more than willing to continue their role in disciplining the labor force, 92% of contracts in 1945 provided automatic arbitration of grievances, and by 1947 90% of contracts pledge no strikes during the course of the agreement.

This resolution of America’s greatest strike wave ever left the CIO unions firmly established in basic industry. CIO membership peaked at 4,451,000 in 1947, just as the Taft-Hartley Act extended the President’s wartime strike-intervention powers and affirmed the government policy of union containment by prohibiting certain organizing practices deemed unfair to employers. In casting their fate with the world-conquering American economy, the CIO unions found that NLRB certification combined with corporate acceptance allowed them enough independence from rank-and-file pressure to survive unpopular disciplinary actions, lost strikes, and economic recessions. Following the expulsion of the Communists from the CIO (1947-1950) and the Korean War, unionization peaked in 1954 at 25.5% of the total workforce (or 34.7%of the non-agricultural workforce),51 and the AFL officially welcomed the return of its prodigal son to business unionism in 1955. Since unionization has fallen over the last decade from 22.7% to 20.1% of the workforce (by 1974 to 26.2% of the non-agricultural workforce),52 the AFL-CIO now faces another depression with the same resignation and ineffectiveness the AFL displayed in the early 1930’s.

What lessons can be gleaned from this story of the CIO? First of all, the CIO never challenged, nor intended to challenge, the foundations of the economy within which it operated. Organized to fight for better conditions for a strong minority of the total workforce, the CIO under government protection extended unionism beyond its former craft domains to cover mass-production workers, but it did not oppose wage-labor or purport to fight for the working class as a whole. Secondly, its achievements as a union were always limited by the vicissitudes of the American economy. The economic balance swung in the CIO’s favor with the return of full employment during the second world war and the expansion of the economy that eventually followed the American victory. But the CIO never provided a solution to the crisis of the 1930’s; it proved as helpless as the AFL in attempting to wring concessions from capitalists as the depression returned full force in the late 1930’s. With its prudent acceptance of the defeat of its organizing committees and strikes in mid-1937, the CIO showed its union rather than revolutionary colors by failing to break through even inter-union limits with general strikes that might have threatened the national interest and the CIO’s own precarious territory. On the other hand, unions that forgot their subordinate place in the capitalist economy (e.g., the IWW during the first world war, the Communist UAW faction during the Hitler-Stalin Pact, and the UMW during the second world war) were easily isolated and restrained, if not suppressed, by military and legal means. Finally, the CIO has suffered the emasculating fate of successful movements to reform capitalism. By leaving the fundamental capital-labor relation intact, the labor movement of the 1930’s allowed its destiny to be determined by the demands of profitability and capital accumulation. No sooner were its contracts accepted by industrialists during the war, than the CIO dropped its radical posture and settled down to the business of unionism, the brokerage of labor-power. The verdict that subsequent history has passed on the CIO might best be captured by Marx’s maxim, “The proletariat is revolutionary or it is nothing!”

As union strength is once again eroding in the face of shrinking profits, increased capitalist competition on an international scale, runaway shops, declining wages, and rising unemployment, most unions can be expected to acquiesce in their fate in the hope of riding out another depression by helping capital manage the developing misery. Where rank-and-file unrest pressures weaker unions to take arms against their sea of troubles, governments can be expected to revoke their legal privileges and to repress them militarily as in the past. While suited to legal wrangling with particular capitalist interests, the union form of organization will probably prove to be too slow, conservative, and inflexible to deal effectively with the rapid changes of crisis situations; resistant to extensions of struggles beyond boundaries which can be defended under capitalism, and generally unsuited for launching attacks on capital in general. As this depression develops, let us no longer waste our energies beating the dead horse of revolutionary unionism, but organize ourselves directly to meet the demands of the hopefully revolutionary situation.

- E. Jones

[scanned May 2012 by Insane Dialectical Posse]

  • 1. Since a critical review of specific works on this period is beyond the scope of this article, those interested in historiography and the spectrum of opinion on the CIO are referred to the following sources: for a clear exposition of the principles of a scientific approach to history in general, see Edward H. Carr, What Is History? (N.Y.: Vintage, 1961); for a libertarian socialist critique of various schools of thought on American labor history, see Jeremy Brecher, "A Challenge to Historians," Strike! (San Francisco: Straight Arrow, 1972) pp. 314-9; for a criticism of the social-democratic and New Left (Ronald Radosh in particular) historians from a liberal "consensus" perspective, whose view of the CIO (as an extension of business unionism finally institutionalized as a result of the war) resembles mine in fact but not in interpretation, see David Brody, "Labor and the Great Depression: The Interpretative Prospects," Labor History 13: 231-244, 1972; for an extensive annotated bibliography and a comprehensive narrative account by a liberal, see Irving Bernstein, The Turbulent Years: A History of the American Worker, 1933-1941(Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1970); for an account sympathetic to the Communist Party, see Richard O. Boyer and Herbert M. Morais, Labor's Untold Story (N.Y.: UE, 1955); for Trotskyist interpretations, see Benjamin Stolberg, The Story of the CIO (N.Y.: Viking, 1938) and Art Preis, Labor's Giant Step: Twenty Years of the CIO (N.Y.: Pathfinder, 1964); for a collection ~essays from the New Left perspective of Staughton Lynd, Jim Green, et al., see Radical America 6(6), 1972, on the 1930's, and Radical America 9(4/5), 1975: American Labor in the 1940’s.
  • 2. U.S. Bureau of the Census. Historical Statistics of the United States, Colonial Times to 1970 [hereafter cited as HSUS] (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1975), Series D 943, 949, and 951.
  • 3. HSUS, Series D 86.
  • 4. Matthew Josephson, Sidney Hillman, Statesman of American Labor (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1952), pp. 340-358.
  • 5. Gabriel Kolko, Main Currents in Modern American History (N.Y.: Harper and Row, 1976) , p. 113.
  • 6. For further explanation of the similarity in services provided to capitalists by unions, governments, and the rackets, see Louis Adamic, Dynamite: The Story of Class Violence in America (N.Y.: Harper and Row, 1931), pp. 325-373; “Racketeering: A Phase of Class Conflict,” International Council Correspondence 3(7): 30-45, 1937 (reprinted in New Essays, v. 3, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1970); and John Hutchinson, The Imperfect Union: A History of Corruption in American Trade Unions (N.Y.: Dutton, 1972).
  • 7. Bernstein, op. cit., pp. 19-21.
  • 8. Karl Marx, Capital, v. 3 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1966 translation of 1894 German edition), p. 253.
  • 9. For a critique of the Keynesian theory, see Paul Mattick, Marx and Keynes (Boston: Porter Sargent, 1969).
  • 10. Millis and Montgomery, Economic of Labor, v. 3: Organized Labor (N.Y.: McGraw, 1945), v. 4, p. 194n; noted in Josephson, op. cit., p. 382n.
  • 11. Gerard Swope quoted in Bernstein, op. cit., p. 603.
  • 12. Bernstein, op. cit., p. 103.
  • 13. Fred Thompson, letter to Frank Marquart, in Marquart, An Auto Worker's Journal (University Park, Pa.: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1975), pp. 60-61.
  • 14. For an excellent account of the events in Minneapolis, see Charles R. Walker, American City, A Rank-and-File History (N.Y.: Farrar and Rhinehart, 1937).
  • 15. Brecher, op. cit., pp. 175-6.
  • 16. Bernstein, op. cit., p. 313.
  • 17. Ibid. pp. 287-8.
  • 18. >Los Angeles Times cited in Brecher, op. cit., p. 156.
  • 19. Bernstein, op. cit., pp. 288-9.
  • 20. Hugh D. Graham and Ted R. Gurr, The History of Violence in America, A Report to the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence (N.Y.: Bantam, 1969), p. 387.
  • 21. Murray Edelman, “New Deal Sensitivity to Labor Interests,” in Labor and the New Deal, ed. Edwin Young and Milton Derber (Madison, Wis.: University of Wisconsin Press, 1957), p. 181.
  • 22. Daniel Tobin quoted in Edward Levinson, Labor on the March, (N.Y.: Harper, 1938), pp. 13-14.
  • 23. For further reading on the early labor movement, see Herbert Harris, American Labor (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1939) and Melvyn Dubofsky, We Shall Be All: A History of the IWW (N.Y.: Quadrangle, 1974).
  • 24. John L. Lewis quoted in Louis Adamic, My America, 1928-1938 (N.Y.: Harper, 1938), p. 401.
  • 25. John L. Lewis quoted in Bernstein, op. cit., p. 386.
  • 26. Saul Alinsky, John L. Lewis: An Unauthorized Biography (N.Y.: Putnam, 1949), p. 72.
  • 27. Adamic, My America, p. 413.
  • 28. Joel Seidman, Sit-Down (N.Y.: League for Industrial Democracy, 1937), p. 10.
  • 29. Brecher, op. cit., p. 193 for union membership figures HSUS, Series 0507 & 623 for estimate of the size of the semi-skilled workforce in automaking.
  • 30. Sidney Fine, Sit-Down: The General Motors Strike of 1936-1937 (Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan Press, 1969), p. 210.
  • 31. Ibid., p. 339.
  • 32. FDR quoted in Frances Perkins, The Roosevelt I Knew (N.Y.: Viking, 1946) p. 322.
  • 33. Fine, op. cit., p. 305.
  • 34. Bernstein, op. cit., p. 468.
  • 35. Ibid., p. 184
  • 36. “In Our Own Experience: An Informal Sampling of Employer Opinion on Industrial Warfare,” Fortune 16(5): 180, November 1937.
  • 37. Ibid., p. 184.
  • 38. Lee Pressman quoted in Saul Alinsky, op. cit., p. 149.
  • 39. Brecher, op. cit., p. 204.
  • 40. Homer Martin quoted in Seidman, op. cit., p. 39.
  • 41. Ibid., pp. 9-10.
  • 42. Professor Witte quoted in “Much Ado about Nothing: The Future of the CIO,” International Council Correspondence 3(7/8): 8, 1937.
  • 43. David Brody, “The Emergence of Mass Production Unionism,” in Change and Continuity in Twentieth Century America, ed. John Braeman et al. (Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State University Press; 1964), p. 257.
  • 44. Robert R. R. Brooks, As Steel Goes (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1940), p. 147.
  • 45. Ibid., p. 157.
  • 46. Brecher, op. cit., pp. 204-5.
  • 47. HSUS, Series F178, F181, and D86.
  • 48. Brody, op. cit., pp. 258-9.
  • 49. Bernstein, op. cit., pp. 730-1.
  • 50. Brecher, op. cit., pp. 229-30.
  • 51. HSUS, Series D 949 and 951.
  • 52. Figure for total workforce from: Jerry Flint, “Reed Larson vs. the Union Shop,” New York Times 4 December 1977, p. F5. 1974 figure from: U.S. Bureau of the Census, Statistical Abstract of the United States: 1977 (Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1977), Chart no. 679, p. 418.
The CIO from reform to reaction.pdf494.99 KB

Trade unionism - Anton Pannekoek

"... there comes a disparity between the working class and trade unionism. The working class has to look beyond capitalism. Trade unionism lives entirely within capitalism and cannot look beyond it. Trade unionism can only represent a part, a necessary but narrow part, in the class struggle. And it develops aspects which bring it into conflict with the greater aims of the working class."

Pannekoek's text first appeared under his pen name "J Harper" in the American journal International Council Correspondence, (Vol II No 2, Jan 1936).

This edited version is taken from the American journal Root & Branch (No 6 1978)


Trade Unionism
(Anton Pannekoek - 1936)

How must the working class fight capitalism in order to win? This is the all important question facing the workers every day. What efficient means of action, what tactics can they use to conquer power and defeat the enemy?

No science, no theory, could tell them exactly what to do. But spontaneously and instinctively, by feeling out, by sensing the possibilities, they found their ways of action. And as capitalism grew and conquered the earth and increased its power, the power of the workers also increased. New modes of action, wider and more efficient, came up beside the old ones. It is evident that with changing conditions, the forms of action, the tactics of the class struggle have to change also. Trade unionism is the primary form of labour movement in fixed capitalism. The isolated worker is powerless against the capitalistic employer. To overcome this handicap, the workers organise into unions. The union binds the workers together into common action, with the strike as their weapon. Then the balance of power is relatively equal, or is sometimes even heaviest on the side of the workers, so that the isolated small employer is weak against the mighty union. Hence in developed capitalism trade unions and employers' unions (Associations, Trusts, Corporations, etc.), stand as fighting powers against each other.

Trade unionism first arose in England, where industrial capitalism first developed. Afterward it spread to other countries, as a natural companion of capitalist industry. In the United States there were very special conditions. In the beginning, the abundance of free unoccupied land, open to settlers, made for a shortage of workers in the towns and relatively high wages and good conditions. The American Federation of Labour became a power in the country, and generally was able to uphold a relatively high standard of living for the workers who were organised in its unions.

It is clear that under such conditions the idea of overthrowing capitalism could not for a moment arise in the minds of the workers. Capitalism offered them a sufficient and fairly secure living. They did not feel themselves a separate class whose interests were hostile to the existing order; they were part of it; they were conscious of partaking in all the possibilities of an ascending capitalism in a new continent. There was room for millions of people, coming mostly from Europe. For these increasing millions of farmers, a rapidly increasing industry was necessary, where, with energy and good luck, workmen could rise to become free artisans, small business men, even rich capitalists. It is natural that here a true capitalist spirit prevailed in the working class.

The same was the case in England. Here it was due to England's monopoly of world commerce and big industry, to the lack of competitors on the foreign markets, and to the possession of rich colonies, which brought enormous wealth to England. The capitalist class had no need to fight for its profits and could allow the workers a reasonable living. Of course, at first, fighting was necessary to urge this truth upon them; but then they could allow unions and grant wages in exchange for industrial peace. So here also the working class was imbued with the capitalist spirit.

Now this is entirely in harmony with the innermost character of trade unionism. Trade unionism is an action of the workers, which does not go beyond the limit of capitalism. Its aim is not to replace capitalism by another form of production, but to secure good living conditions within capitalism. Its character is not revolutionary, but conservative.

Certainly, trade union action is class struggle. There is a class antagonism in capitalism -- capitalists and workers have opposing interests. Not only on the question of conservation of capitalism, but also within capitalism itself, with regard to the division of the total product. The capitalists attempt to increase their profits, the surplus value, as much as possible, by cutting down wages and increasing the hours or the intensity of labour. On the other hand, the workers attempt to increase their wages and to shorten their hours of work.

The price of labour power is not a fixed quantity, though it must exceed a certain hunger minimum; and it is not paid by the capitalists of their own free will. Thus this antagonism becomes the object of a contest, the real class struggle. It is the task, the function of the trade unions to carry on this fight.

Trade unionism was the first training school in proletarian virtue, in solidarity as the spirit of organised fighting. It embodied the first form of proletarian organised power. In the early English and American trade unions this virtue often petrified and degenerated into a narrow craft-corporation, a true capitalistic state of mind. It was different, however, where the workers had to fight for their very existence, where the utmost efforts of their unions could hardly uphold their standard of living, where the full force of an energetic, fighting, and expanding capitalism attacked them. There they had to learn the wisdom that only the revolution could definitely save them.

So there comes a disparity between the working class and trade unionism. The working class has to look beyond capitalism. Trade unionism lives entirely within capitalism and cannot look beyond it. Trade unionism can only represent a part, a necessary but narrow part, in the class struggle. And it develops aspects which bring it into conflict with the greater aims of the working class.

With the growth of capitalism and big industry the unions too must grow. They become big corporations with thousands of members, extending over the whole country, with sections in every town and every factory. Officials must be appointed: presidents, secretaries, treasurers, to conduct the affairs, to manage the finances, locally and centrally. They are the leaders, who negotiate with the capitalists and who by this practice have acquired a special skill. The president of a union is a big shot, as big as the capitalist employer himself, and he discusses with him, on equal terms, the interests of his members. The officials are specialists in trade union work, which the members, entirely occupied by their factory work, cannot judge or direct themselves.

So large a corporation as a union is not simply an assembly of single workers; it becomes an organised body, like a living organism, with its own policy, its own character, its own mentality, its own traditions, its own functions. It is a body with its own interests, which are separate from the interests of the working class. It has a will to live and to fight for its existence. If it should come to pass that unions were no longer necessary for the workers, then they would not simply disappear. Their funds, their members, and their officials: all of these are realities that will not disappear at once, but continue their existence as elements of the organisation.

The union officials, the labour leaders, are the bearers of the special union interests. Originally workmen from the shop, they acquire, by long practice at the head of the organisation, a new social character. In each social group, once it is big enough to form a special group, the nature of its work moulds and determines its social character, its mode of thinking and acting. The officials' function is entirely different from that of the workers. They do not work in factories, they are not exploited by capitalists, their existence is not threatened continually by unemployment. They sit in offices, in fairly secure positions. They have to manage corporation affairs and to speak at workers meetings and discuss with employers. Of course, they have to stand for the workers, and to defend their interests and wishes against the capitalists. This is, however, not very different from the position of the lawyer who, appointed secretary of an organisation, will stand for its members and defend their interests to the full of his capacity.

However, there is a difference. Because many of the labour leaders came from the ranks of workers, they have experienced for themselves what wage slavery and exploitation means. They feel as members of the working class and the proletarian spirit often acts as a strong tradition in them. But the new reality of their life continually tends to weaken this tradition. Economically they are not proletarians any more. They sit in conferences with the capitalists, bargaining over wages and hours, pitting interests against interests, just as the opposing interests of the capitalist corporations are weighed one against another. They learn to understand the capitalist's position just as well as the worker's position; they have an eye for "the needs of industry"; they try to mediate. Personal exceptions occur, of course, but as a rule they cannot have that elementary class feeling of the workers, who do not understand and weigh capitalist interests against their own, but will fight for their proper interests. Thus they get into conflict with the workers.

The labour leaders in advanced capitalism are numerous enough to form a special group or class with a special class character and interests. As representatives and leaders of the unions they embody the character and the interests of the unions. The unions are necessary elements of capitalism, so the leaders feel necessary too, as useful citizens in capitalist society. The capitalist function of unions is to regulate class conflicts and to secure industrial peace. So labour leaders see it as their duty as citizens to work for industrial peace and mediate in conflicts. The test of the union lies entirely within capitalism; so labour leaders do not look beyond it. The instinct of self-preservation, the will of the unions to live and to fight for existence, is embodied in the will of the labour leaders to fight for the existence of the unions. Their own existence is indissolubly connected with the existence of the unions. This is not meant in a petty sense, that they only think of their personal jobs when fighting for the unions. It means that primary necessities of life and social functions determine opinions. Their whole life is concentrated in the unions, only here have they a task. So the most necessary organ of society, the only source of security and power is to them the unions; hence they must be preserved and defended by all possible means, even when the realities of capitalist society undermine this position. This happens when capitalism's expansion class conflicts become sharper.

The concentration of capital in powerful concerns and their connection with big finance renders the position of the capitalist employers much stronger than the workers'. Powerful industrial magnates reign as monarchs over large masses of workers; they keep them in absolute subjection and do not allow "their" men to go into unions. Now and then the heavily exploited wage slaves break out in revolt, in a big strike. They hope to enforce better terms, shorter hours, more humane conditions, the right to organise. Union organisers come to aid them. But then the capitalist masters use their social and political power. The strikers are driven from their homes; they are shot by militia or hired thugs; their spokesmen are railroaded into jail; their relief actions are prohibited by court injunctions. The capitalist press denounces their cause as disorder, murder and revolution; public opinion is aroused against them. Then, after months of standing firm and of heroic suffering, exhausted by misery and disappointment, unable to make a dent on the ironclad capitalist structure, they have to submit and to postpone their claims to more opportune times.

In the trades where unions exist as mighty organisations, their position is weakened by this same concentration of capital. The large funds they had collected for strike support are insignificant in comparison to the money power of their adversaries. A couple of lock-outs may completely drain them. No matter how hard the capitalist employer presses upon the worker by cutting wages and intensifying their hours of labour, the union cannot wage a fight. When contracts have to be renewed, the union feels itself the weaker party. It has to accept the bad terms the capitalists offer; no skill in bargaining avails. But now the trouble with the rank and file members begins. The men want to fight; they will not submit before they have fought; and they have not much to lose by fighting. The leaders, however, have much to lose -- the financial power of the union, perhaps its existence. They try to avoid the fight, which they consider hopeless. They have to convince the men that it is better to come to terms. So, in the final analysis, they must act as spokesmen of the employers to force the capitalists' terms upon the workers. It is even worse when the workers insist on fighting in opposition to the decision of the unions. Then the union' s power must be used as a weapon to subdue the workers.

So the labour leader has become the slave of his capitalistic task of securing industrial peace -- now at the cost of the workers, though he meant to serve them as best he could. He cannot look beyond capitalism, and within the horizon of capitalism with a capitalist outlook, he is right when he thinks that fighting is of no use. To criticise him can only mean that trade unionism stands here at the limit of its power.

Is there another way out then? Could the workers win anything by fighting? Probably they will lose the immediate issue of the fight; but they will gain something else. By not submitting without having fought, they rouse the spirit of revolt against capitalism. They proclaim a new issue. But here the whole working class must join in. To the whole class, to all their fellow workers, they must show that in capitalism there is no future for them, and that only by fighting, not as a trade union, but as a united class, they can win. This means the beginning of a revolutionary struggle. And when their fellow workers understand this lesson, when simultaneous strikes break out in other trades, when a wave of rebellion goes over the country, then in the arrogant hearts of the capitalists there may appear some doubt as to their omnipotence and some willingness to make concessions.

The trade union leader does not understand this point of view, because trade unionism cannot reach beyond capitalism. He opposes this kind of fight. Fighting capitalism in this way means at the same time rebellion against the trade unions. The labor leader stands beside the capitalist in their common fear of the workers' rebellion.

When the trade unions fought against the capitalist class for better working conditions, the capitalist class hated them, but it had not the power to destroy them completely. If the trade unions would try to raise all the forces of the working class in their fight, the capitalist class would persecute them with all its means. They may see their actions repressed as rebellion, their offices destroyed by militia, their leaders thrown in jail and fined, their funds confiscated. On the other hand, if they keep their members from fighting, the capitalist class may consider them as valuable institutions, to be preserved and protected, and their leaders as deserving citizens. So the trade unions find themselves between the devil and the deep blue sea; on the one side persecution, which is a tough thing to bear for people who meant to be peaceful citizens; on the other side, the rebellion of the members, which may undermine the unions. The capitalist class, if it is wise, will recognize that a bit of sham fighting must be allowed to uphold the influence of the labor leaders over the members.

The conflicts arising here are not anyone's fault; they are an inevitable consequence of capitalist development. Capitalism exists, but it is at the same time on the way to ruin. It must be fought as a living thing, and at the same time, as a transitory thing. The workers must wage a steady fight for wages and working conditions, while at the same time communistic ideas, more or less clear and conscious, awaken in their minds. They cling to the unions, feeling that these are still necessary, trying now and then to transform them into better fighting institutions. But the spirit of trade unionism, which is in its pure form a capitalist spirit, is not in the workers. The divergence between these two tendencies in capitalism and in the class struggle appears now as a rift between the trade union spirit, mainly embodied in their leaders, and the growing revolutionary feeling of the members. This rift becomes apparent in the opposite positions they take on various important social and political questions.

Trade unionism is bound to capitalism; it has its best chances to obtain good wages when capitalism flourishes. So in times of depression it must hope that prosperity will be restored, and it must try to further it. To the workers as a class, the prosperity of capitalism is not at all important. When it is weakened by crisis or depression, they have the best chance to attack it, to strengthen the forces of the revolution, and to take the first steps towards freedom.

Capitalism extends its dominion over foreign continents, seizing their natural treasures in order to make big profits. It conquers colonies, subjugates the primitive population and exploits them, often with horrible cruelties. The working class denounces colonial exploitation and opposes it, but trade unionism often supports colonial politics as a way to capitalist prosperity.

With the enormous increases of capital in modern times, colonies and foreign countries are being used as places in which to invest large sums of capital. They become valuable possessions as markets for big industry and as producers of raw materials. A race for getting colonies, a fierce conflict of interests over the dividing up of the world arises between the great capitalist states. In these politics of imperialism the middle classes are whirled along in a common exaltation of national greatness. Then the trade unions side with the master class, because they consider the prosperity of their own national capitalism to be dependent on its success in the imperialist struggle. For the working class, imperialism means increasing power and brutality of their exploiters.

These conflicts of interests between the national capitalisms explode into wars. World war is the crowning of the policy of imperialism. For the workers, war is not only the destruction of all their feelings of international brotherhood, it also means the most violent exploitation of their class for capitalist profit. The working class, as the most numerous and the most oppressed class of society, has to bear all the horrors of war. The workers have to give not only their labour power, but also their health and their lives.

Trade unions, however, in war must stand upon the side of the capitalist. Its interests are bound up with national capitalism, the victory of which it must wish with all its heart. Hence it assists in arousing strong national feelings and national hatred. It helps the capitalist class to drive the workers into war and to beat down all opposition.

Trade unionism abhors communism. Communism takes away the very basis of its existence. In communism, in the absence of capitalist employers, there is no room for the trade union and labour leaders. It is true that in countries with a strong socialist movement, where the bulk of the workers are socialists, the labour leaders must be socialists too, by origin as well as by environment. But then they are right-wing socialists; and their socialism is restricted to the idea of a commonwealth where instead of greedy capitalists honest labour leaders will manage industrial production.

Trade unionism hates revolution. Revolution upsets all the ordinary relations between capitalists and workers. In its violent clashings, all those careful tariff regulations are swept away; in the strife of its gigantic forces the modest skill of the bargaining labour leaders loses its value. With all its power, trade unionism opposes the ideas of revolution and communism.

This opposition is not without significance. Trade unionism is a power in itself. It has considerable funds at its disposal, as material element of power. It has its spiritual influence, upheld and propagated by its periodical papers as mental element of power. It is a power in the hands of leaders, who make use of it wherever the special interests of trade unions come into conflict with the revolutionary interests of the working class. Trade unionism, though built up by the workers and consisting of workers, has turned into a power over and above the workers, just as government is a power over and above the people.

The forms of trade unionism are different for different countries, owing to the different forms of development in capitalism. Nor do they always remain the same in every country. When they seem to be slowly dying away, the fighting spirit of the workers is sometimes able to transform them, or to build up new types of unionism. Thus in England, in the years 1880-90, the "new unionism" sprang up from the masses of poor dockers and the other badly paid, unskilled workers, bringing a new spirit into the old craft unions. It is a consequence of capitalist development, that in founding new industries and in replacing skilled labour by machine power, it accumulates large bodies of unskilled workers, living in the worst of conditions. Forced at last into a wave of rebellion, into big strikes, they find the way to unity and class consciousness. They mould unionism into a new form, adapted to a more highly developed capitalism. Of course, when afterwards capitalism grows to still mightier forms, the new unionism cannot escape the fate of all unionism, and then it produces the same inner contradictions.

The most notable form sprang up in America, in the "Industrial Workers of the World." The I.W.W. originated from two forms of capitalist expansion. In the enormous forests and plains of the West, capitalism reaped the natural riches by Wild West methods of fierce and brutal exploitation; and the worker-adventurers responded with as wild and jealous a defence. And in the eastern states new industries were founded upon the exploitation of millions of poor immigrants, coming from countries with a low standard of living and now subjected to sweatshop labour or other most miserable working conditions .

Against the narrow craft spirit of the old unionism, of the A.F. of L., which divided the workers of one industrial plant into a number of separate unions, the I.W.W. put the principle: all workers of one factory, as comrades against one master, must form one union, to act as a strong unity against the employer. Against the multitude of often jealous and bickering trade unions, the I.W.W. raised the slogan: one big union for all the workers. The fight of one group is the cause of all. Solidarity extends over the entire class. Contrary to the haughty disdain of the well-paid old American skilled labour towards the unorganised immigrants, it was these worst-paid proletarians that the I.W.W. led into the fight. They were too poor to pay high fees and build up ordinary trade unions. But when they broke out and revolted in big strikes, it was the I.W.W. who taught them how to fight, who raised relief funds all over the country, and who defended their cause in its papers and before the courts. By a glorious series of big battles it infused the spirit of organisation and self-reliance into the hearts of these masses. Contrary to the trust in the big funds of the old unions, the Industrial Workers put their confidence in the living solidarity and the force of endurance, upheld by a burning enthusiasm. Instead of the heavy stone-masoned buildings of the old unions, they represented the principle of flexible construction, with a fluctuating membership, contracting in time of peace, swelling and growing in the fight itself. Contrary to the conservative capitalist spirit of trade unionism, the Industrial Workers were anti-capitalist and stood for Revolution. Therefore they were persecuted with intense hatred by the whole capitalist world. They were thrown into jail and tortured on false accusations; a new crime was even invented on their behalf: that of "criminal syndicalism."

Industrial unionism alone as a method of fighting the capitalist class is not sufficient to overthrow capitalist society and to conquer the world for the working class. It fights the capitalists as employers on the economic field of production, but it has not the means to overthrow their political stronghold, the state power. Nevertheless, the I.W.W. so far has been the most revolutionary organisation in America. More than any other it contributed to rouse class consciousness and insight, solidarity and unity in the working class, to turn its eyes toward communism, and to prepare its fighting power.

The lesson of all these fights is that against big capitalism, trade unionism cannot win. And if at times it wins, such victories give only temporary relief. And yet, these fights are necessary and must be fought. To the bitter end? -- no, to the better end.

The reason is obvious. An isolated group of workers might be equal to a fight against an isolated capitalist employer. But an isolated group of workers against an employer backed by the whole capitalist class is powerless. And such is the case here: the state power, the money power of capitalism, public opinion of the middle class, excited by the capitalist press, all attack the group of fighting workers.

But does the working class back the strikers? The millions of other workers do not consider this fight as their own cause. Certainly they sympathise, and may often collect money for the strikers, and this may give some relief, provided its distribution is not forbidden by a judge's injunction. But this easygoing sympathy leaves the real fight to the striking group alone. The millions stand aloof, passive. So the fight cannot be won (except in some special cases, when the capitalists, for business reasons, prefer to grant concessions), because the working class does not fight as one undivided unit.

The matter will be different, of course, when the mass of the workers really consider such a contest as directly concerning them; when they find that their own future is at stake. If they go into the fight themselves and extend the strike to other factories, to ever more branches of industry, then the state power, the capitalist power, has to be divided and cannot be used entirely against the separate group of workers. It has to face the collective power of the working class.

Extension of the strike, ever more widely, into, finally, a general strike, has often been advised as a means to avert defeat. But to be sure, this is not to be taken as a truly expedient pattern, accidentally hit upon, and ensuring victory. If such were the case, trade unions certainly would have made use of it repeatedly as regular tactics. It cannot be proclaimed at will by union leaders, as a simple tactical measure. It must come forth from the deepest feelings of the masses, as the expression of their spontaneous initiative, and this is aroused only when the issue of the fight is or grows larger than a simple wage contest of one group. Only then will the workers put all their force, their enthusiasm, their solidarity, their power of endurance into it.

And all these forces they will need. For capitalism also will bring into the field stronger forces than before. It may have been defeated and taken by surprise by the unexpected exhibition of proletarian force and thus have made concessions. But then, afterwards, it will gather new forces out of the deepest roots of its power and proceed to win back its position. So the victory of the workers is neither lasting nor certain. There is no clear and open road to victory; the road itself must be hewn and built through the capitalist jungle at the cost of immense efforts.

But even so, it will mean great progress. A wave of solidarity has gone through the masses, they have felt the immense power of class unity, their self-confidence is raised, they have shaken off the narrow group egotism. Through their own deeds they have acquired new wisdom: what capitalism means and how they stand as a class against the capitalist class. They have seen a glimpse of their way to freedom.

Thus the narrow field of trade union struggle widens into the broad field of class struggle. But now the workers themselves must change. They have to take a wider view of the world. From their trade, from their work within the factory walls, their mind must widen to encompass society as a whole. Their spirit must rise above the petty things around them. They have to face the state; they enter the realm of politics. The problems of revolution must be dealt with.

Anton Pannekoek

Rosa Luxemburg in retrospect - Paul Mattick

Mattick reconsiders the legacy of Rosa Luxemburg, particularly her critique of Bolshevism and her economic theory.

It will soon be sixty years since the mercenaries of the German social-democratic leadership murdered Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. Although they are mentioned in the same breath, as they both symbolized the radical element within the German political revolution of 1918, Rosa Luxemburg's name carries greater weight because her theoretical work was of greater seminal power. In fact, it can be said that: she was the outstanding personality in the international labor movement after Marx and Engels; and that her work has not lost its political relevance despite the changes the capitalist system and the labor movement have undergone since her death.

Just the same, like everyone else, Rosa Luxemburg was a child of her time and can only be understood in the context of the phase of the social-democratic movement of which she was a part. Whereas Marx's critique of bourgeois society evolved in a period of rapid capitalistic development, Rosa Luxemburg was active in a time of increasing instability for capitalism, wherein the abstractly formulated contradictions of capital production showed themselves in the concrete forms of imperialistic competition and in intensified class struggles. While the actual proletarian critique of political economy, according to Marx, consisted at first in the workers' fight for better working conditions and higher living standards, which would prepare the future struggles for the abolition of capitalism, in Rosa Luxemburg's view this 'final' struggle could no longer be relegated to a distant future but was already present in the extending class struggles. The daily fight for social reforms was inseparably connected with the historical necessity of the proletarian revolution.

Without entering into Rosa Luxemburg's biography,(1) it should be said, that she came from a middle-class background and that she entered the socialist movement at an early age. Like others, she was forced to leave Russian Poland and went to Switzerland to study. Her main interest, as behooved a socialist influenced by Marxism, was political economy. Her early work in this field is now only of historical interest. There was her inaugural-dissertation, The Industrial Development of Poland (1898), which did for Poland, though in a less extensive manner, what Lenin's The Development of Capitalism in Russia, did for Czarist Russia a year later. And there were her popular lectures at the Social-Democratic Party School, posthumously published by Paul Levi (1925) under the title Introduction of National Economy. In the latter work, it should be noted, Rosa Luxemburg declared that the validity of political economy is specific to capitalism, and will cease to exist with the demise of this system. In her dissertation, she came to the conclusion that the development of the Polish economy would proceed in conjunction with that of Russia, would end in complete integration, and therewith would end the nationalist aspirations of the Polish bourgeoisie. But this development would also unify the Russian and Polish proletariat and lead to the eventual destruction of Polish-Russian capitalism. The main contradiction of capitalist production was seen by her as one between the capacity to produce and the limited capacity to consume within the capitalist relations of production. This contradiction leads to recurrent economic crises and the increasing misery of the working class and therewith, in the long run, to social revolution.

It was only with her work on The Accumulation of Capital (1912) that Rosa Luxemburg's economic theories became controversial. Although she claimed that this book grew out of complications arising in the course of her popular lectures on National Economy, namely, her inability to relate the total capitalist reproduction process to the postulated objective limits of capital production, it is clear from the work itself that it was also a reaction to the emasculation of Marxian theory initiated by the "Revisionism' that swept the socialist movement around the turn of the century. Revisionism operated on two levels: the primitive empirical level personified by Eduard Bernstein, (2) who merely compared the actual capitalist development with that deducible from Marxian theory, and the more sophisticated theoretical turnabout of academic marxism, culminating in Tugan-Baranowsky's (3) Marx-interpretation and those of his various disciples.

Only the first volume of Capital was published during Marx's lifetime, and the second and third were prepared by Friedrich Engels from unrevised papers left to his care, although they had been written prior to the publication of the first volume. Whereas the first volume deals with the capitalist process of production, the second concerns itself with the circulation process. The third volume, finally, deals with the capitalist system as a whole in its phenomenal form, as determined by its underlying value relations. Because the reproduction process necessarily controls the production process, Marx thought it useful to display this fact by means of some abstract reproduction diagrams in the second volume of Capital. The diagrams divide total social production into two sections: one producing means of production, the other means of consumption. The transactions between these two departments are imagined to be such as to enable the reproduction of the total social capital to proceed either on the same or on an enlarged scale. But what is a presupposition for the reproduction diagrams, namely, an allocation of the social labor as required for the reproduction process, must in reality first be brought about blindly, through the uncoordinated activities of the many individual capitals in their competitive pursuit of surplus-value.

The reproduction diagrams do not distinguish between values and prices; that is, they treat values as if they were prices. For the purpose they were intended to serve, namely, to draw attention to the need for a certain proportionality between the different spheres of production, the diagrams fulfill their pedagogical function. They do not depict the real world, but are instrumental in aiding in its under- standing. Restricted in this sense, it does not matter whether the interrelations of production and exchange are dressed in value or price terms. because the price form of value, taken up in the third volume of Capital, refers to the actual capitalist production and exchange process, the imaginary equilibrium conditions of Marx's reproduction diagrams do not refer to the real capitalist world. Still, Marx found it quite necessary to view the process of reproduction in its fundamental simplicity, in order to get rid of all obscuring interferences and dispose of the false subterfuges, which assume the semblance of scientific analysis, but which cannot be removed so long as the process of social reproduction is immediately analyzed in its concrete and complicated form.(4)

Actually, according to Marx, the reproduction process under capitalistic conditions pre cludes any kind of equilibrium and implies, instead, "the possibility of crises, since a balance is accidental under the conditions of this production... (5)Tugan-Baranowsky, however, read the reproduction diagrams differently because of their superficial resemblance to bourgeois equilibrium theory, the main tool of bourgeois price theory. He came to the conclusion that as long as the system develops proportionately with respect to its reproduction requirements, it does not have objective limits. Crises are caused by disproportionalities arising between the different spheres of production but can always be overcome through the restoration of that proportionality which assures the accumulation of capital. This was a disturbing idea, as far as Rosa Luxemburg was concerned, and this the more so as she could not deny the equilibrating implications of Marx's reproduction diagrams. If Tugan-Baranowsky interpreted them correctly, then Marx was wrong, because this interpretation denied the inevitable end of capitalism.

The discussion around Marx's abstract reproduction diagrams was particularly vehement in Russia because of earlier differences between the Marxists and the Populists with regard to Russia's future in face of her backwardness and her peculiar socio-economic institutions. Whereas the Populists asserted that for Russia it was already too late to enter into world competition with the established capitalist powers, and that, furthermore, it was quite possible to construct a socialist society on the basis of the not yet dissolved collectivity of peasant production, the Marxists maintained that development on the Western pattern was inescapable and that this development itself would produce the markets it required within Russia and in the world at large. The Marxists emphasized that it is the production of capital, not the satisfaction of consumption, that determines capitalist production. There is, therefore, no reason to assume that a restriction of consumption would retard the accumulation of capital; on the contrary, the less there is consumed, the faster capital would grow.

This "production for the sake of production" made no sense to Rosa Luxemburg -- not because she was unaware of the profit motive of capitalist production, which constantly strives to reduce the workers' share of social production, but because she could not see how the extracted surplus-value could be realized in money form in a market composed only of labor and capital, such as is depicted in the reproduction diagrams. Production has to go through the circulation process. It starts with money, invested in means of production and labor-power, and it ends with a greater amount of money in the hands of the capitalists, to be re-invested in another production cycle. Where would this additional money come from? In Rosa Luxemburg's view, it could not possibly come from the capitalists; for if it did, they would not be recipients of surplus-value but would pay with their own money for its commodity equivalent. Neither could it come from the purchases of the workers, who only receive the value of their labor power, leaving the surplus-value in its commodity form to the capitalists. To make the system workable, there must be a "third market,' apart from the exchange relations of labor and capital, in which the produced surplus-value could be transformed into additional money.

This aspect of the matter Rosa Luxemburg found missing in Marx. She intended to close the gap and therewith substantiate Marx's conviction of capitalism's necessary collapse. Although The Accumulation of Capital approaches the realization problem historically -- starting with classical economy and ending with Tugan-Baranowsky and his many imitators -- so as to show that this problem has always been the Achilles heel of political economy, her own solution of the problem comprises, in essence, no more than a misunderstanding of the relation between money and capital and a misreading of the Marxian text. As she presents matters, however, everything seemingly falls in its proper place: the dialectical nature of the capital-expansion process, as one merging out of the destruction of pre-capitalist economies; the necessary extension of this process to the world at large, as illustrated by the creation of the world market and rampant imperialism in search of markets for the realization of surplus-value; the resulting transformation of the world economy into a system resembling Marx's closed system of the reproduction diagram; and therewith, finally, the inevitable collapse of capitalism for lack of opportunities to realize its surplus-value.

Rosa Luxemburg was carried away by the logic of her own construction to the point of revising Marx more thoroughly than had been done by the Revisionists in their concept of a theoretically possible harmonious capital development, which, for them, turned socialism into a purely ethical problem and into one of social reform by political means. On the other hand, the Marxian reproduction diagrams, if read as a version of Say's Law of the identity of supply and demand, had to be rejected. Like her adversaries, Rosa Luxemburg failed to see that these diagrams have no connection at all with the question of the viability of the capitalist system, but are merely a methodologically determined, intermediary step in the analysis of the laws of motion of the capitalist system as a whole, which derives its dynamic from the production of surplus-value. Although capitalism is indeed afflicted with difficulties in the sphere of circulation and therewith in the realization of surplus-value, it is not here that Marx looked for, or found, the key to the understanding of capitalism's susceptibility to crises and to its inevitable end. Even on the assumption that there exists no problem at all with regard to the realization of surplus-value, capitalism finds its objective limits in those of the production of surplus-value.

According to Marx, capitalism's basic contradiction, from which spring all its other difficulties, is to be found in the value and surplus-value relations of capital production. It is the production of exchange-value in its monetary form, derived from the use-value form of labor-power, which produces, besides its own exchange-value equivalent, a surplus-value for the capitalists. The drive for exchange-value turns into the accumulation of capital, which manifests itself in a growth of capital invented in means of production relatively faster than that invested in labor-power. While this process expands the capitalist system, through the increasing productivity of labor associated with it, it also tends to reduce the rate of profit on capital, as that part of capital invested in labor-power -- which is the only source of surplus-value -- diminishes relative to the total social capital. This long and complicated process cannot be dealt with satisfactorily in this short article, but must at least be mentioned in order to differentiate Marx's theory of accumulation from that Rosa Luxemburg. In Marx's abstract model of capital development, capitalist crises, as well as the inevitable end of the system, find their source in the temporary or, finally, total breakdown in the accumulation process due to a lack of surplus-value or profit.

For Marx, then, the objective limits of capitalism are given by the social production relations as value relations, while for Rosa Luxemburg capitalism cannot exist at all, except through the absorption of its surplus-value by pro-capitalist economies. This implies the absurdity that these backward nations have a surplus in monetary form large enough to accommodate the surplus-value of the capitalistically advanced countries. But as already mentioned, this wrong idea was the unreflected consequence of Rosa Luxemburg's false notion that the whole of the surplus-value, earmarked for accumulation, must yield an equivalent in money form, in order to be realized as capital. Actually, of course, capital takes on the form of money at times and at other times that of commodities of all descriptions - all being expressed in money terms without simultaneously assuming the money form. Only a small and decreasing part of the capitalist wealth has to be in money form; the larger part,, although expressed in terms of money, remains in its commodity form and as such allows for the realization of surplus-value an additional capital.

Rosa Luxemburg's theory was quite generally regarded as an aberration and an unjustified criticism of Marx. Yet her critics were just as far removed from Marx's position as was Rosa Luxemburg herself. Most of theme critics adhered either to a crude underconsumption theory, a theory of disproportionality, or a combination of them. Lenin, for example -- not to speak of the Revisionists -- saw the cause for crises in the disproportionalities due to the anarchic character of capitalist production, and merely added to Tagan-Baranowsky's arguments that of the underconsumption of the workers. But in any case he did not believe that capitalism was bound to collapse because of its immanent contradictions. It was only with the first world war and the revolutionary upheavals in its wake that Rosa Luxemburg's theory found a wider response in the radical section of the socialist movement. Not so much, however, because of her particular analysis of capital accumulation, as because of her insistence upon the objective limits of capitalism. The imperialistic war gave her theory some plausibility and the end of capitalism seemed indeed actually at hand. The collapse of capitalism became the revolutionary ideology of the time and supported the abortive attempts to turn the political upheavals into social revolutions.

Of course, Rosa Luxemburg's theory was no less abstract than that of Marx. Marx's hypothesis of a tendency of the rate of profit to fall could not reveal at what particular point in time it would no longer be possible to compensate for this fall by an increasing exploitation of the relatively diminishing number of workers, which would increase the mass of surplus-value sufficiently to maintain a rate of profit assuring the further expansion of capital. Similarly, Rosa Luxemburg could not say at what time the completion of the capitalization of the world would exclude the realization of its surplus-value. The outward extension of capital was also only a tendency, implying a progressively more devastating imperialist competition for the diminishing territories in which surplus-value could be realized. The fact of imperialism showed the precariousness of the system, which could lead to revolutionary situations long before its objective limits were reached. For all practical purposes, then, both theories assumed the possibility of revolutionary actions, not because of the logical outcome of their abstract models of development, but because these theories pointed unmistakably to the increasing difficulties of the capitalist system, which could in any severe crisis transform the class struggle into a fight for the abolition of capitalism.

Although undoubtedly erroneous, Rosa Luxemburg's theory retained a revolutionary character because, like that of Marx, it led to the conclusion of the historical untenability of capitalism. Although with dubious arguments, she nonetheless restored -- against Revisionism, Reformism, and Opportunism -- the lost Marxian proposition that capitalism is doomed to disappear because of its own unbridgeable contradiction and that this end, though objectively determined, will be brought about by the revolutionary actions of the working class.

The overthrow of capitalism would make all theories of its development redundant. But while the system lasts, the realism of a theory may be judged by its own particular history. Whereas Marx's theory, despite attempts made in this direction, cannot be integrated into the body of bourgeois economic thought, Rosa Luxemburg's theory has found some recognition in bourgeois theory, albeit in a very distorted form. With the rejection by bourgeois economy itself of the conception of the market as an equilibrium mechanism, Rosa Luxemburg's theory found a kind of acceptance as a precursor of Keynesian economics. Her work has been interpreted, by Michael Kalecki (6) and Joan Robinson, (7) for example, as a theory of 'effective demand,' the lack of which presumably explains the recurrent capitalistic difficulties. Rosa Luxemburg imagined that imperialism, militarism, and preparation for war aided in the realization of surplus-value, via the transfer of purchasing power from the population at large to the hands of the state; just as modern Keynesianism attempted to reach full employment by way of deficit-financing and monetary manipulations. However, while it in no doubt possible, for a time, to achieve full employment in this fashion, it is not possible to maintain this state of bliss, as the laws of motion of capital production demand not a different distribution of the surplus-value but its constant increase. The lack of effective demand is only another term for the lack of accumulation, as the demand required for prosperous conditions is brought forth by nothing other than the expansion of capital. At any rate, the actual bankruptcy of Keynesianism makes it unnecessary to kill this theory theoretically. It suffices to say that its absurdity shows itself in the present-day unrelieved growth of both unemployment and inflation.

While Rosa Luxemburg did not fare well with her theory of accumulation, she was more successful in her consistent Internationalism, which was, of course, connected with her concept of accumulation as the global extension of the capitalist mode of production. In her view, imperialist competition was rapidly transforming the world into a capitalist world and thereby developing the unhampered confrontation of labor and capital. Whereas the rise of the bourgeoisie coincided with the formation of the modern nation-state, creating the ideology of nationalism, the maturity and decline of capitalism implied the imperialistic 'internationalism' of the bourgeoisie and therewith also the internationalism of the working classes, if they were to make their class struggles effective. The reformist integration of proletarian aspirations into the capitalist system led to social-imperialism, as the other side of the nationalistic coin. Objectively, there was nothing behind the frantically growing nationalism but the imperialist imperative. To oppose imperialism demanded, then a total rejection of all forms of nationalism, even that of the victims of imperialist aggression. Nationalism and imperialism were inseparable and had to fought with equal fervor.

In view of the at first covert but soon overt social-patriotism of the official labor movement, Rosa Luxemburg's internationalism represented the leftwing of this movement -- but not completely. In a way, it was a generalization of her specific experiences in the Polish socialist movement, which had been split on the question of national self-determination. As we already know from her work on the industrial development in Poland, Rosa Luxemburg expected a full integration of the Russian and Polish capitalism and a consequent unification of their respective socialist organizations, both as a practical and as a principled matter. She could not conceive of nationally oriented socialist movements and even less of a nationally restricted socialism. What was true for Russia and Poland also held for the world at large; national fissions had to be ended in the unity of international socialism.

The Bolshevik section of the Russian Social-Democratic Party did not share Rosa Luxemburg's strict internationalism. For Lenin, the subjugation of nationalities by stronger capitalist countries brought additional cleavages into the basic social frictions, which could, perhaps, be turned against the dominating powers. It is quite beside the point, to consider whether Lenin's advocacy of the self-determination of nations reflected a subjective conviction, or democratic attitude, with regard to special national needs and cultural peculiarities, or was simply a revulsion against all forms of oppression. Lenin was, first of all, a practical politician, even though he could fulfill this role only at a late hour. As a practical politician, he realized that the different nationalities within the Russian empire presented a steady threat to the Czarist regime.

To be sure, Lenin was also an internationalist and saw the socialist revolution in terms of the world revolution. But this revolution had to begin somewhere and he assumed that it would first break the weakest link in the chain of competing imperialist powers. In the Russian context, supporting the self-determination of nations, up to the point of secession, suggested the winning of "allies" in any attempt to overthrow Czarism. This strategy was supported by the hope that, once free, the different nationalities would elect to remain within the new Russian commonwealth, either out of self-interest, or through the urgings of their own socialist organizations.

Until the Russian Revolution, however, this whole discussion around the national question remained purely academic. Even after the revolution, the granting of self-determination to the various nationalities within Russia was not very meaningful, for most of the territories involved were occupied by foreign powers. Still, the Bolshevik regime continued to press for self-determination in order to weaken other imperialist nations, particularly England, in an attempt to foster colonial revolutions against Western capitalism, which threatened to destroy the Bolshevik state.

The Russian Revolution found Rosa Luxemburg in a German prison, where she remained until the overthrow of the German monarchy. But she was able to follow the progress of the Russian Revolution. Though delighted by the Bolshevik seizure of power, she could not accept Lenin's policies towards the peasants and with respect to the national minorities. In both cases she worried needlessly. Although her prediction that the granting of self-determination to the various nationalities within Russia would merely surround the new state with a cordon of reactionary counter-revolutionary countries, turned out to be correct, this was so only for the short run. Rosa Luxemburg failed to see that it was the principle of self-determination which dictated Bolshevik policy with regard to the Russian nationalities, than the force of circumstances over which the Bolsheviks had no control. At the first opportunity they began whittling away at the self-determination of nations, to end by incorporating all the new independent nations in a restored Russian empire, and, in addition, by forging for themselves spheres of interest in extra-Russian territories.

On the strength of her own theory of nationalism and imperialism, Rosa Luxemburg should have realized that Lenin's theory could not be actualized, in a world of competing imperialist powers and would, most probably, not need to be put into practice should capitalist be brought down by an international revolution. The disintegration of the Russian empire was not due to or aided by the principle of self-determination, but was effected through the loss of the war; as it was the winning of another war, which led to the recovery of previously lost territory and to a revival of Russian imperialism. Capitalism is an expansive system and therefore necessarily imperialistic. It is the capitalistic way of overcoming national limitations to capital production and its centralization -- of gaining, or securing, privileged or dominating positions within the world economy. It in thus also a defense against this general trend; but in all cases, it is the inescapable result of capital accumulation.

As Rosa Luxemburg pointed out, the contradictory capitalist 'integration' of the world economy cannot alter the domination of weaker by stronger nations through the latter's control of the world market. This situation makes real national independence illusory. what political independence can accomplish, at best, is no more than the subjugation of the workers under native instead of international control. Of course, proletarian internationalism cannot prevent, nor has it reason to prevent, movements for national self-determination within the colonial and imperialistic context. These movements are part of capitalist society just an imperialism is. But to 'utilize' these movements for socialism can only mean to try to deprive them of their nationalist character through a consistent internationalism on the part of the socialist movement. Although oppressed people have the sympathy of the socialists, it does not relate to their emergent nationalism but to their particular plight as twice-oppressed people, suffering from both native and foreign exploitation. The socialist task in the ending of capitalism, which includes the support of anti-imperialist forces; not, however, to create new capitalistic nation-states, but to make their emergence more difficult, or impossible, through proletarian revolutions in the advanced capitalist countries.

The Bolshevik regime declared itself socialistic and by that token was to end all discrimination of national minorities. Under such conditions, national self-determination was, in Rosa Luxemburg's eyes, not only senseless but an invitation to revive, via the ideology of nationalism, the conditions for a capitalist restoration. In her view, Lenin and Trotsky mistakenly sacrificed the principle of internationalism for momentary tactical advantage. While perhaps unavoidable, it should not be elevated into a socialist virtue. Rosa Luxemburg was right, of course, in not questioning the Bolshevik's subjective sincerity as regards the establishment of socialism in Russia and the furthering of the world revolution. She herself thought it possible, by way of a westward extension of the revolution, to defy the objective unripeness of Russia for a socialist transformation. She blamed the West European socialists, and in particular the Germans, for the difficulties the Bolsheviks encountered, which forced them into concessions, compromises, and opportunist actions. And she assumed that the internationalization of the revolution would do away with Lenin's nationalistic demands and resurrect the principle of internationalism in the revolutionary movement.

As the world revolution did not materialize, the nation-state remained the field of operation for economic development as well as for the class struggle. The "internationalism" of the Third International, under Russian dominance, served strictly Russian state interests, covered up by the idea that the defense of the first socialist state was a prerequisite for international socialism. Like national self-determination, this type of "internationalism" was designed to weaken the adversaries of the new Russian state. After 1920, however, the Bolsheviks no longer expected a resumption of the world-revolutionary process, and settled down for the consolidation of their own regime. Their 'internationalism' expressed now their own nationalism, just as the economic internationalism of the bourgeoisie serves no other end than the enrichment of nationally-organized capital entities.

The result of the second world war and its aftermath ended the colonialism of the European powers and led to the formation of numerous 'independent' nations; while, at the same time, two great power blocs emerged, dominated by the victorious nations Russia and the United States. Within each bloc there was no real national independence but rather the subordination of the nominally self-determined countries to the imperialistic requirements of the leading powers. This subordination was enforced by both economic and political means and by the general necessity to adapt the economies and therewith the political life of the satellite nations to the realities of the capitalist world market.

For the former colonies this implied a new form of subjugation and dependence, which found its expression in the term neo-colonialism; for the reborn, capitalistically more-advanced nations it implied the direct control of their political structure through the proven methods of military occupation and puppet governments. This situation led, of course, to new "liberation movements" not only in the capitalist but also in the so-called socialist camp, providing the proof that there is no such thing as national self-determination, either in the market-controlled or the state-controlled economies.

That nationalism is really a vehicle upholding the ruling class was soon made evident in all liberated nations, as it provided political parvenus with an instrument for their own emergence as new ruling classes, in collaboration with the ruling classes of the dominating countries. Whether these now ruling classes adhere to the 'free world' or to the authoritarian part of the world, in either case the national form, on which their rule in based, precludes any stop towards a socialist society. Wherever possible, their nationalism implies a fervent, even if miniature, imperialism, which sets 'socialist nations' against other nations, including other 'socialist nations.' Thus we have the sorry spectacle of a threatening war between the great 'socialist countries' Russia and China, and, on a smaller scale, the open warfare between 'Marxist' Ethiopia and "Marxist' Somalia for the control of Ogaden.

With some variations, this story can be prolonged almost endlessly, characterizing the present state of world politics, in which small nations act as proxies for the great imperialist powers, or fight on their own behalf, only to fall victim to one or another power bloc. All this substantiates Rosa Luxemburg's contention that all forms of nationalism are detrimental to socialism and that only a consistent internationalism can aid the emancipation of the working class. This unwavering internationalism is one of her greatest contributions to revolutionary theory and practice and sets her far apart from both the social-imperialism of Social Democracy and the Bolshevik opportunist concept of world revolution as advocated by its. great 'statesman' Lenin.

Like Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg looked upon the October Revolution as a proletarian revolution which, however, depended fully upon international events. At the time this view was shared by all revolutionaries whether Marxist or not. After all, as she said, by seizing power the Bolsheviks had "for the first time proclaimed the final aim of socialism as the direct program of practical policies" (8) They had solved the "famous problem of winning a majority of the people, by revolutionary tactics that led to a majority, instead of waiting for the latter to evolve a revolutionary tactic." (9) In her view, Lenin's party had grasped the true interests of the urban masses by demanding all power for the Soviets in order to secure the revolution. Still, the agrarian question was the axis of the revolution and here the Bolsheviks showed themselves as opportunistic in their policies as with regard to the national minorities.

In pre-revolutionary Russia the Bolsheviks had shared with Rosa Luxemburg the Marxist position that the land must be nationalized as a prerequisite for the organization of large-scale agricultural production in conformity with the socialization of industry. In order to gain the support of the peasants, Lenin abandoned the Marxist agricultural program in favor of that of the Social-Revolutionaries -- the heirs of the old Populist movement. Although Rosa Luxemburg recognized this turnabout as an 'excellent tactic,' for her it had nothing to do with the quest for socialism. Property rights must be turned over to the nation, or the state, for only then is it possible to organize agricultural production on a socialistic base. The Bolshevik slogan "immediate seizure and distribution of the land by the peasants" was not a socialist measure, but one which, by creating a new form of private property, cut off the way to such measures. "The Leninist agrarian reform," she wrote, "has created a now and powerful layer of popular enemies of socialism in the countryside, enemies whose resistance will be much more dangerous and stubborn than that of the noble large landowners." (10)

This proved to be a fact, hampering both the restoration of the Russian economy and the socialization of industry. But, as in the case of national self-determination, here too the situation was determined not by the Bolsheviks' policy but by circumstances beyond their control. The Bolsheviks were prisoners of the peasant movement; they could not hold power except with its passive support, and they could not proceed towards socialism because of the peasants. Moreover, their sly opportunism did not initiate the peasants' seizure of the land, but merely ratified an accomplished fact, independent of their own attitude. While other parties hesitated to legalize the expropriation of land, the Bolsheviks favored it, in order to win the support of the peasants and thus to consolidate the power they had won by a coup d'etat in the urban centers. They hoped to maintain this support by a policy of low taxation, while the peasants required a government which would prevent a return of the landlords by way of counter-revolution.

As far as the peasants were concerned, the revolution involved the extension of property rights and was, in this sense, a bourgeois revolution. It could only lead to a market-economy and the enhanced capitalization of Russia. For the industrial workers, as for Lenin and Luxemburg, it was a proletarian revolution even at this early stage of capitalist development. But as the industrial working class formed only a minuscule part of the population, it seemed clear that sooner or later the bourgeois element within the revolution would gain the upper hand. Bolshevik state-power could only be hold by arbitrating between these contrary interests but success in this endeavor would negate both the socialist and the bourgeois aspirations within the revolution.

This was a situation not foreseen by the Marxist movement and not predictable in terms of Marxian theory, which held that the proletarian revolution presupposes a high capitalistic development in which the working class finds itself in the majority and thus able to determine the course of events. While Lenin was not interested in a bourgeois revolution, except as a preliminary to a socialist revolution, he was a bourgeois in that he was convinced that it was possible to change society by purely political means, that is, by the will of a political party. This idealistic reversal of Marxism, with consciousness determining the material development instead of being produced by it, implied in practice no more than a copying of the Czarist regime itself, in which the autocracy had ruled over the whole of society. In fact, Lenin insisted that if the Czar could govern Russia with the aid of a bureaucracy of a few hundred thousand men, the Bolsheviks should be able to do likewise and better with a Party exceeding this number. In any case, once in power the Bolsheviks had no choice but to try to maintain it in order to defend their sheer existence. In the course of time there emerged a state apparatus which took upon itself the authoritarian control not only of the population but also of economic development, by turning private property into state property without changing the social relations of production -- that is, by maintaining the capital-labor relations that allow for the exploitation of the working class. This new type of capitalism -- properly called state-capitalism -- persists to the present day in the ideological dress of 'socialism."

In 1918, Rosa Luxemburg could not envision this development, as it lay outside of all Marxist assumptions. For her, the Bolsheviks were making various mistakes, which might endanger their socialist goal. And if these mistakes were unavoidable within the context of the isolated Russian Revolution, they should not be generalized into a revolutionary tactic for times to come and for all nations to follow. However helplessly, she opposed the Russian reality with Marxian principles, so as at least to save the Marxian theory. Bat it was all in vain, for it turned out that private-party capitalism is not necessarily followed by a socialist regime, but could be transformed into a state-controlled capitalism, wherein the old bourgeoisie was replaced by a new ruling class, whose power is based on its collective control of the state and the means of production. She knew as little as Lenin how to go about building a socialist society, but while the latter proceeded pragmatically from the experiences of wartime state-controls of capitalist nations and envisioned socialism as the state-monopoly over all economic activity, Rosa Luxemburg persisted in proclaiming that such a state of affairs could not emancipate the working class. She could not imagine that the emerging Bolshevik society represented a historically new social formation, but saw in it no more than a false application of socialist principles. And thus she feared a possible restoration of capitalism by way of the agrarian reforms of Bolshevism.

As it turned out, the agrarian question agitated the Bolshevik state unceasingly, finally leading to the compulsory collectivization of the peasantry as an in-between solution between private-property relations on the land and the nationalization of agriculture. This was no real repudiation of Lenin's peasant policies, which had been based on necessity, not on conviction. Except on paper, Lenin simply did not dare to nationalize the land, and Stalin did not dare more than the forced collectivizations of the peasants, in order to increase their production and exploitation, without depriving them of all private initiative. Even so, this was a frightful undertaking which almost destroyed, the Bolshevik regime. If Rosa Luxemburg was right against Lenin with respect to the peasant question, her arguments were nonetheless beside the point, for it was just a question of time, and of the strength of the state apparatus before the peasants would lose their newly-won relative independence and fall once more under the control of an authoritarian regime.

It should have been evident from Lenin's concept of the party and its role in the revolutionary process that, once in power, this party could only function in a dictatorial way. Quite apart from the specific Russian conditions, the idea of the party as the consciousness of the socialist revolution clearly relegated all decision-making power into the hands of the Bolshevik state apparatus. This general assumption found an even sharper accentuation in the Russian Revolution, divided, as it was, in its bourgeois and proletarian aspirations. If the proletariat was not able, according to Lenin, to develop more than a trade-union consciousness (that is, to fight for its interests within the capitalist system) it would certainly be even more unable to realize socialism, which presupposes an ideological break with all its previous experience. Echoing Karl Kautsky, Lenin was convinced that socialist consciousness had to be brought to the proletariat from the outside, through the knowledge of the educated middle class. The party was the organization of the socialist intelligentsia, representing revolutionary consciousness for the proletariat, even though it might also include a sprinkling of intelligent workers in its ranks. It was necessary that these specialists in revolutionary politics become the masters of the socialist state, if only to prevent the defeat of the working class through its own ignorance. And as the party was to lead the proletariat, so the leadership of the party was to lead its members by way of a semi-militaristic centralization.

It was this arrogant attitude of Lenin, pressed upon HIS party, which made Rosa Luxemburg quite wary about the possible outcome of the Bolsheviks' seizure of power. Already in 1904 she had attacked the Bolshevik party concept for both its artificial separation of a revolutionary vanguard from the mass of the workers and for its ultra-centralization in general, as well as in party affairs in particular. "Nothing will more surely enslave a young labor movement to an intellectual elite hungry for power," she wrote, than this bureaucratic strait-jacket, which will immobilize the movement and turn it into an automaton manipulated Central Committee. (11) By denying the revolutionary character of Lenin's party concept, Rosa Luxemburg prefigured the actual course of Bolshevik rule down to the present day. To be sure, her indictment of Lenin's organizational ideas was based on their confrontation with the organizational structure of the Social Democratic Party, which, though highly centralized, aspired to a broad mass basis for its evolutionary work. This party did not think in terms of seizing power, but was satisfied with its electoral successes and the spreading of the socialist ideology as a basis for its: growth. In any case, Rosa Luxemburg not believe that any type of party could bring about a socialist revolution. The party could only be an aid to revolution, which remained the privilege and required the activities of the whole working class. She did not see the socialist party as an independent organizer of the proletariat, but as part of it, with no functions or interests differing from those of the working class.

With this conviction, Rosa Luxemburg was only true to herself and to Marxism when she raised her voice against the dictatorial policies of the Bolshevik party. Although this party reached its dominating position via the demagogic demand for the sole rule of the Soviets, it had no intention of delegating any power to the Soviets, except, perhaps, where they were composed of Bolsheviks. It is true that the Bolsheviks in Petrograd and a few other cities held a majority of the Soviets, but this situation might change again and return the party to the minority position it had held during the first months after the February Revolution. The Bolsheviks did not look upon the soviets as organs of an emerging socialist society, but saw in them no more than a vehicle for the formation of a Bolshevik government. Already in 1905, which saw-the first rise of the Soviets, Lenin recognized their revolutionary potential, which, however, gave him only one more reason to strengthen his own party and prepare it for the reins of government. To Lenin, the latent revolutionary power of the Soviet form of organization did not change its spontaneous nature, which implied the danger of the dissipation of this power in fruitless activities. Although a part of social reality, spontaneous movements could, in Lenin's view, at best support but never supplant a goal-directed party. In October 1917, the question for the Bolsheviks was not one of choosing between Soviet- and party-rule, but between the latter and the Constituent Assembly. As there was no chance of winning a majority in the Assembly and thus gaining the it was necessary to dispense with realize the party dictatorship in the proletariat.

Although Rosa Luxemburg held that in one fashion or another the whole mass of people must take part in the construction of socialism, she did not recognize the soviets as typifying the organizational form which would make this possible. Impressed as she was in 1905 by the great mass-strikes taking place in Russia, she paid little attention to their soviet form of organization. In her eyes, the soviets were merely strike committees in the absence of other more permanent labor organizations. Even after the 1917 Revolution she felt that "the practical realization of socialism and an economic, social and juridical system is something which lies completely hidden in the mists of the future." (12) Only the general direction in which to move was known, not the detailed concrete steps that had to be taken to consolidate and develop the new society. Socialism could not be derived from ready-made plans and realized by governmental decree. There must be the widest participation on the part of the workers, that is, a real democracy, and it was precisely this democracy which alone could be designated as the dictatorship of the proletariat. A party-dictatorship was for her no more than "a dictatorship in the bourgeois sense,, in the sense of the rule of the Jacobins." (13)

All this is undoubtedly true, on the general level, but the bourgeois character of Bolshevik rule reflected -- ideologically as well as practically -- the objectively non-socialistic nature of this particular revolution, which simply could not proceed from the quasi-feudal conditions of Czarism to a socialist society. It was a sort of 'bourgeois revolution' without the bourgeoisie, as it was a proletarian revolution without a sufficiently large proletariat: a revolution in which the historical functions of the bourgeoisie were taken up by an apparently anti-bourgeois party by means of its assumption of political power. Under these conditions, the revolutionary content of Western marxism was not applicable, not even in a modified form. This may explain the vacuity of Rosa Luxemburg's arguments against the Bolsheviks, her complaints about their disrespect for the Constituent Assembly and their terroristic acts against all opposition whether from the right or the left. Her own suggestions as how to go about with the building of socialism, however correct and praiseworthy, would not fit in with a Constituent Assembly, which is itself a bourgeois institution. Her tolerance towards all points of view and their wishes to express themselves in order to influence the course of events, cannot be realized under civil-war conditions. The construction of socialism cannot be left to a leisurely trial-and-error method by which the future may be discerned in the 'mists' of the present, but is dictated by current necessities that call for definite actions.

Rosa Luxemburg's lack of realism with regard to Bolshevism and the Russian Revolution may be traced to ambiguities of her own. On the one hand she was a social democrat and on the other a revolutionary, at a time when both positions had fallen apart. She looked upon Russia with social-democratic eyes and upon Social Democracy with revolutionary eyes; what she desired was a revolutionary-Social Democracy. Already in her famous debate with Eduard Bernstein, (14) she refused to choose between reform and revolution but endeavored to combine both activities in dialectical fashion in one and the same policy. In her view, it was possible to wage the class struggle in both the parliament and in the streets, not only through the party and the trade-unions but with the unorganized as well. The legal foothold gained within bourgeois democracy was to be secured by the direct actions of the masses in their everyday wage struggles. It was the masses' actions, however, which were most important, as they increased the masses' awareness of their class position and thereby their revolutionary consciousness. The direct struggle of the workers against the capitalists was the real 'school of socialism.' In the spreading of mass-strikes, in which the workers acted as a class, she saw the necessary precondition for the coming revolution, which would topple the bourgeoisie and install governments supported and controlled by the mature class -- conscious proletariat."

Until the outbreak of the first world war, Rosa Luxemburg did not fully comprehend the true nature of Social Democracy. There was a right wing, a center, and a left wing, Liebknecht and Luxemburg representing the latter. There was an ideological struggle between these tendencies, tolerated by the party bureaucracy because it remained purely ideological. The practice of the party was reformist and opportunistic, untouched by the left-wing rhetoric, if not indirectly aided by it. But there was the illusion that the party could be changed and restored to the revolutionary character of its origins. Suggestions to split the party were rejected by Rosa Luxemburg, who feared to lose contact with the bulk of the socialist workers. Her confidence in these workers was not affected by her lack of confidence in their leaders. She was thus more than surprised that the social-chauvinism displayed in 1914 united leaders and led against the party's left. Even so, she was not ready to leave the party until its split in 1917 on the issue of war aims, which led to the formation of the Independent Socialist Party (USPD), in which the Spartacus League, composed of a circle of people around Liebknecht, Luxemburg, Mehring, and Jogiches, formed a small faction. In so far as this faction engaged in independent activities, these were a matter of propaganda against the war and the class-collaborationist policies of the old party. Only near the end of 1918 did Rosa Luxemburg recognize the need for a new revolutionary party and a new International.

The German Revolution of 1918 was not the product of any left-wing organization, though members of all organizations played various parts in it. It was a strictly political upheaval to end the war and to remove the monarchy held responsible for it. It occurred as a consequence of the German military defeat and was not seriously opposed by the bourgeoisie and the military, for it allowed them to place the onus of the defeat upon the socialist movement. This revolution brought Social Democracy into the government, which then proceeded to ally itself with the military, in order to crush any attempt to turn the political into a social revolution. Still under the away of tradition and the old reformist ideology, the majority of the spontaneously-arising workers' and soldiers' councils supported the social-democratic government and declared their readiness to abdicate in favor of a National Assembly within the frame of bourgeois democracy. This revolution, it has been aptly said, "was a Social Democratic revolution, suppressed by the Social Democratic leaders: a process hardly paralleled in the history of the world." (16) There was also a revolutionary minority, to be sure, advocating and fighting for the formation of a social system of workers' councils as a permanent institution; but this was soon systematically subdued by the military forces arrayed against it. To organize this revolutionary minority for sustained actions, the Spartacus League, in collaboration with other revolutionary groups, transformed itself into the Communist Party of Germany. Its program was written by Rosa Luxemburg.

Already at its founding congress, it became clear that the new party was internally split. Even at this late hour Rosa Luxemburg was not able to break totally with social-democratic traditions. Although she declared that the time for a minimum program short of socialism had passed, she still adhered to the politics of the double perspective, that in, to the view that the uncertainty of an early proletarian revolution demanded the consideration of policies defined within the given, social institutions and organizations. In practice this meant participation in the National Assembly and in trade unions. However, the majority of the congress voted in favor of anti-parliamentarism and for a struggle against the trade unions. Although reluctantly, Rosa Luxemburg bowed to this decision and wrote and acted in its spirit. As she was murdered only two weeks later, it is not possible to say whether or not she would have stuck to this position. In any cage, encouraged by Lenin, via his eminary Radek, her disciples soon split the new party and merged its parliamentary section with a part of the Independent Socialists to form a "truly Bolshevik Party;" this time, however, as a mass-organization in the social-democratic sense, competing with the old Social Democratic Party for the allegiance of the workers, in order to forge an instrument for the defense of Bolshevik Russia.

But all this is history. The failed revolutions in Central Europe, and the state-capitalistic development in Russia, overcame the political crisis of capitalism that followed the first world war. Its economic difficulties were not so overcome, and led-to a now world-wide crisis and the second world war. Because the ruling classes -- old and now -- remembered the revolutionary repercussions in the wake of the first world war, they defeated their possible recurrence in advance by the direct means of military occupation. The enormous destruction of capital and its further centralization by way of war, an well as the raising of the productivity of labor, allowed for a great upswing of capital production after the second war. This implied an almost total eclipse of revolutionary aspirations, save those of a strictly nationalist and state-capitalist character.

This effect was strengthened by the development of the 'mixed economy,' nationally as well as internationally, wherein governments influenced economic activities. Like all things of the past, Marxism became an academic discipline -- an indication of its decline as a theory of social change. Social Democracy ceased to see itself as a working class organization, but rather as a people's party, ready to fulfill governmental functions for capitalist society. Communist organizations took over the classic role of Social Democracy -- and also its readiness to form, or to partake in, governments upholding the capitalist system. The labor movement-divided into Bolshevism and Social Democracy, which had been Rosa Luxemburg's concern -- ceased to exist.

Still, capitalism remains susceptible to crises and collapse. In view of present methods of destruction, it may destroy itself in another conflagration. But it may also be overcome by way of class struggles leading to its socialist transformation. The alternative enunciated by Rosa Luxemburg -- socialism or barbarism -- retains its validity. The current state of the labor movement, which lacks any revolutionary inclinations, makes it clear that a socialist future depends more on spontaneous actions of the working class as a whole, than on ideological anticipations of such a future which may find expression in newly-arising revolutionary organizations. In this situation, there is not much to be learned from previous experiences, except the negative lesson that neither Social Democracy nor Bolshevism had any bearing on the problems of the proletarian revolution. By opposing both, however, inconsistently, Rosa Luxemburg opened up another road towards the socialist revolution. Despite some false notions, with respect to theory and some illusions regarding socialist practice, her revolutionary impulse yielded the essential elements required for a socialist revolution: an unwavering internationalism and the principle of the self-determination of the working class within its organizations and within society. By taking seriously the dictum that the emancipation of the proletariat can only be its, own work, she bridged the revolutionary past with the revolutionary future. Her ideas thus remain as alive as the idea of revolution itself, while all her adversaries in the old labor movement have become part and parcel of the decaying capitalist society.

Paul Mattick

From Root and Branch #6, 1978


1. For biographical information, see John P. Nettl, "Rosa Luxemburg", 2 vols. (London: Oxford University Press, 1966).

2. Eduard Bernstein, "Die Voraussetzungen des Sozialismas und die Aufgaben der Sozialdemokratie", translated as "Evolutionary Socialism" (1899; NY: Schocken, 1961)

3. Mikhail I. Tugan-Baranowsky, "Die Theoretischen Grundlagen des Marxismus" [The Theoretical Foundations of Marxism] (Leipzig: Duncker and Humblot, 1905).

4. Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 2, "The Process of Circulation of Capital" (1885; Chicago: Charles Kerr, 1926), p. 532.

5. ibid., p. 578.

6. Michael Kalecki, 'The Problem of Effective Demand with Tagan-Baranowsky and Rosa Luxemburg.'

7. Joan Robinson, Introduction to Rosa Luxemburg, "The Accumulation of Capital" (1913; London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1951).

8. Luxemburg, "The Russian Revolution" (1922), in "The Russian Revolution and Leninism or Marxism?" (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1961), p. 39.

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid.

11. Luxemburg, "Organizational Questions of Russian Social Democracy" (1904), Ibid., p. 102.

12. Luxemburg, "The Russian Revolution," Ibid.# p. 69.

13. Ibid., p. 72

14. Luxemburg, "Social Reform or Revolution" (1899; NY: Pathfinder, 1973).

15. Luxemburg, "The Mass Strike, the Political Party, and the Trade Unions" (1906; NY: Harper and Row, 1971).

16. Sebastian Haffner, "Failure of a Revolution" (NY: Library Press, 1972), p. 12.

Root & Branch # 7

Issue 7 of the US libertarian marxist journal. Undated but published late 1978/early 1979.

Transcribers note : The strapline on this issue was 'A libertarian marxist journal'—on the previous issue it had been 'a libertarian socialist journal'.

This issue contained a centre section, described as a mini-pamphlet, entitled 'Anarchism vs. Marxism'. (Presumably the intention was that extra copies could be printed and distributed separately, although I don't know if that was done). It reprinted two articles by Ulli Diemer from the Canadian paper Red Menace with a (somewhat critical) Root and Branch introduction. There was a debate about these articles in subsequent issues of Red Menace, involving Sam Dolgoff and the author, which can be found in the online Red Menace archive.



On the Class Situation in Spain - Charles Reeve

Are We Headed for Another Depression ? - 'Mose' (Fred Moseley)

Authority and Democracy in the United States - Paul Mattick sr.

Mini-Pamphlet: Anarchism vs. Marxism - R&B intro
Anarchism vs. Marxism: A few notes on an old theme - Ulli Diemer
Bakunin vs. Marx. The continuing debate - Ulli Diemer

Root & Branch

When Men Become Gods - Alan Wallach

Food First : Beyond the Myth of Scarcity - reviewed by Gary Roth
Marx and Keynes : The Limits of the Mixed Economy - reviewed by Rick Burns


The economic prosperity of the sixties and the political stability that rested on it have eroded to such an extent that falling profits and inflation, on the one hand, and governmental crises and a distinct trend toward authoritarian politics, on the other, have now spread to the entire capitalist world. The developing crisis and its social implications are the focus of this issue.

Mose's article examines the prospects for a full-scale depression as the outcome of the current economic downturn. Having previously discussed the economists' inability to control or even explain this situation (see Root & Branch 6, "The Obsolescence of Modern Economics"), he outlines Marx's theory of capitalism in order to demonstrate its usefulness in analyzing the current crisis. Summarizing from a Marxian perspective the most important factors determining the structure of the economy, Mose concludes that both the squeezing of workers' living standards and government economic interventions can, at best, only prevent a sudden collapse of the system.

If then we can expect a continuing decline in the standard of living in each country accompanied by a heightening of international tensions, what are the consequences for American politics ? Paul Mattick shows that corresponding to the absence of a socialist movement in America is the absence of fascistic movements as attempted resolutions of extreme class conflict. The complacency of the American working class, however, depends upon continuing capitalist expansion. Thus, the limits imposed by the developing crisis create the possibility of a break with the belief that politics can be safely left to the bourgeoisie.

Mattick's book, Marx and Keynes, is the subject of a lengthy review by Rick Burns, who focuses on its critique of Keynesian theory on the basis of Marx's theory of value. In his review of Lappe and Collins's Food First, Gary Roth deals with agriculture, as an example of the problems set by capitalism for the satisfaction of human needs.

While Maoism seems to be on the wane in China, statues of the Great Helsman still standing in public places provide a starting point for a look at the intersection of politics and art. In a picture essay and an article by Alan Wallach the meaning of monumental figure sculpture in the western past is examined through its reflection in China's present.

Finally, this issue includes our first "mini-pamphlet", a reprinting of two pieces on Anarchism and Marxism.

On The Class Situation In Spain

The balance of power between the unions and the ranks of workers in Spain is clearly shifting to the advantage of the former at the expense of every extra-union form of organization, especially the general assemblies. The recent practices of the Socialist (UGT) and Communist (CCOO) unions indicate a modification of their strategy toward the assemblies, whose status as a recognized and privileged form of the workers' movement appears to be waning. This at any rate is the conclusion of an analysis of two recent strikes by the comrades of the Barcelona collective publishing the journal, Bicicleta.

Although the transport maintenance workers had controlled their strike through daily assemblies and had fought to the point where 400 were arrested, the UGT and CCOO managed to end the struggle by a mere decision of the negotiating committee. The rank-and-file opposition to this was so great that the bureaucrats had to appeal to the police for protection during the last general assembly; nevertheless, the unions succeeded : the majority returned to work. Then, in a strike in graphics arts, the UGT and CCOO left the strike committee and again negotiated a back-to-work. As Bicicleta put it :

These experiences have been useful to the UGT and the CCOO. Finding it impossible to control the assemblies, they hastened to change the decision-making machinery before the metal-, construction-, and textile-workers' contract talks began. Decisions will no longer be made by general assemblies of the workers, but by assemblies of union stewards, either directly designated by the CCOO and the UGT or elected during the last union elections, which were held when acceptance of the State's version of union liberty set strict limits on things. Now the CCOO and the UGT criticize the general assemblies as manipulative and "anti-democratic" because they don't represent "the totality of the workers of each sector". (As if this totality had voted during the union elections !). These familiar arguments of the bosses under Franco are now used to run down every strike not controlled by the CCOO and the UGT.

What is "correct" tor the unions is the "legal way", a way that increasingly resembles the old [fascist] vertical unions.

But transferring the decision-making power from the general assemblies to the representatives hasn't been enough. Because not all representatives are controlled by these unions, the latter press harder whenever they can. Thus, for the national chemical contracts the UGT and the CCOO were the sole negotiators. As justification they claimed that an agreement with the employers had given negotiating rights to only those unions with more than ten percent of the votes.

The truth is that the movimento assambleario, the CNT, and the organizations of the working-class left—perhaps as a result of their limited influence in the factories—have not been able to respond effectively to this control of the situation by integrative unionism and the parliamentary left.

In this connection may it be said that to explain this predicament as the result of manipulation of the masses by the unions seems simplistic and insufficient. We are witnessing today the establishment of a balance of forces within capitalist Spain that favors the normalization of struggles and frustrates radical minorities of workers. The majority of workers accept and follow the line of the reformist unions. Some comrades (for example, those of Emancipacion) attribute this state of affairs to the revolutionaries failure to act in a clear way on the union question. This criticism is to a degree true, when addressed to the CNT militants who, despite their revolutionary spirit find themselves reduced more and more to just keeping a purely trade-unionist project alive. But, on the other hand, this explanation is too colored by a subjectivist and voluntarist image of the class struggle. The power of ideology does not explain everything : it is necessary to analyze the material conditions behind the support that Spanish proletarians render to the UGT and the CCOO. The strength of these unions is rooted in their capacity to respond successfully to the immediate needs, reformist but real, of wage-earners. As the economic crisis lays bare the inadequacy of the social infrastructure necessary to reproduce the labor force (education, housing, health, transportation etc.), the unions can present themselves as the managers of services indispensable to Spanish proletarians. Since they command significant funds (stemming partially from the massive financial aid received from the German Social Democrats), the UGT for example, can support such projects in the field of housing and food coops as were recently reported by Triunfo. These displays are aimed at convincing workers that unions, rather than direct action, offer the least risky means to ameliorate their immediation condition.

Charles Reeve

[Transcribers note : the two main articles in this issue appeared here]

Are We Headed for Another Depression ?
Authority and Democracy in the United States

Root & Branch Mini-Pamphlet

Anarchism vs Marxism

We are here reprinting two articles by Ulli Diemer—Anarchism vs. Marxism and The Continuing Debate : Bakunin vs. Marx—which first appeared in The Red Menace 2 :2. 1 In a clear and concise way they confront the main anarchist misconceptions about Marxism and demonstrate the relevance of these issues for libertarian socialists today. However, there is a major weakness in the Bakunin vs. Marx article. In demonstrating that Marx is not an economic determinist, Diemer comes close to denying Marx's materialism. The conflict between materialism and idealism was central to the debate between Marx and Bakunin. More significantly, it remains important for our own attempts to clarify the difficulties and possibilities of revolutionary action.

Idealism and what we may call vulgar materialism both disconnect ideas from the process of people's active transformation of their environment, natural and social. For the latter, people are the passive recipients of ideas forced on them from outside; for the former, conceptions evolve by their own logic, and here too "happen to" people, instead of being developed by people in the course of dealing with their problems and opportunities. As a result of this similarity, both orientations have tended to see world-changing ideas as the property of educated elites. As it has no explanation for the origin of ideas, except earlier ideas, idealism gives those who have the "correct" ideas at any time a key role in the making of history. On this terrain the idealist and the undialectical materialist shake hands on the necessity of placing the reins of action in the hands of the few who, for one reason or another, are in tune with the objective necessities of the situation.

Thus Lenin, the philosophical materialist, was a complete idealist politically, believing that the idea of socialism could develop only in heads exposed to higher learning, and never among the workers, tied to their immediate needs, themselves. Similarly, Bakunin believed in the absolute necessity for an elite organization controlling and guiding the movement of the People, to whose unformed thoughts only the anarchist Alliance (and above all he, Bakunin) could give articulate form.

While such views may be very inspiring to an intellectual elite, they are of no use to the rest of us. It is this problem that Marx was addressing when he wrote in the Theses on Feuerbach that "the educator himself needs educating". Marx, in contrast to the left wing idealists whom he criticized (Proudhon, Lassalle, Bakunin), did not see the problem of revolution as that of drawing up plans for others to carry out. His ideas and later theory developed out of his experiences and studies of movements of the emerging proletariat. He noted that this class, unlike the peasantry, was integrated over large areas because it produced for the national or world market instead of for local consumption. Consequently, what happened to workers in one area tended to affect workers in others. But this state of affairs was also relative. In times of capitalist expansion and prosperity, workers' struggles for higher wages, better working conditions, and even political goals could remain more or less localized. On the other hand, capitalist crises threw the working class in general into similar conditions, conditions (mass layoffs, wage-cutting, and generalized misery) which could neither be ignored nor fought on a small group level. They could only be fought collectively and cooperatively.

Marx studied the origin and development of the proletariat in order to clarify the meaning of the ideal of socialism, advanced during periods of crisis. His analysis of capitalism led him to conclude that the system would become world-dominant, that the proletariat would become the large majority of the population in the capitalistically developed countries, and that the continuing crisis cycle would thus become more severe and involve larger numbers of people. At some point in history, he supposed, the world's working class would be so large and the crisis so deep that the direct, collective activity of the proletariat would move from resistance to revolution, expropriate the capitalists, and create a society on the basis of "the free and equal association of producers". These predictions were based in part on empirical observations and in part on scientific abstraction from such observations. Only in this way could theory be a guide to action, rather than an ideological justification or a program for others to carry out. It was in order to aid his comrades in changing the world—the workers—to realize their collective capabilities that Marx wanted to "lay bare the laws of motion of capitalist society" in Capital. He wanted to understand, and so help others understand, the social realities that make possible new forms of social action, and the new forms of thinking that such action involves. This was the content of Marx's materialism—the explanation of the origin and content of socialist ideas in terms of the structural dynamics of capitalism.

The Marxian model is, if anything, more relevant today than it was in Marx's time, when large portions of the world were still untouched by capitalism and the working class was a small minority even in the most capitalistically developed countries. At the present time, it is true, the revolutionary workers' movement has reached a uniquely low point. The officially left organizations—parties and unions—have come to devote themselves to the interest of capitalism or its party-ruled analogue in the "socialist" nations. And yet the international working class, larger than ever, and more closely than ever linked through their domination by the world market, faces the very conditions and necessities that Marx discerned a century ago. The current economic decline indicates that government intervention in the economy has not rendered the capitalist crisis obsolete; it is rather the crisis which is rendering obsolete those theories—shared in the sixties by bourgeois ideologists and most of the left—that see crisis as a thing of the past. The Marxian analysis of capitalist development, clarifying the situation faced by the workers, provides no guarantee of a libertarian future. That depends now as before on the workers' response to their conditions. But Marxism does show that such a future is not just a utopian dream but a real possibility worth fighting for.

Root & Branch

"... From the first moment of victory, mistrust must be directed no longer against the conquered reactionary parties, but against the workers' previous allies, against the party that wishes to exploit the common victory for itself along. . . The workers must put themselves at the command not of the State authority but of the revolutionary community councils which the workers will have managed to get adopted. . . Arms and ammunition must not be surrendered on any pretext".
K. Marx & F. Engels. Address to the Central Committee of the Communist League (1850).

[Transcribers note : here there followed the two reprinted articles which are already in the library].

Anarchism vs. Marxism : A few notes on an old theme
Bakunin vs. Marx. The continuing debate

Root & Branch

With the 1960s the eternal prosperity, the managed economy, and the attendant "death of ideology" of the post-World War II period came to an end. The combination of unemployment and inflation in the capitalist West and the inability of the state-run systems of the East to satisfy their working classes are producing unsettling effects throughout "industrial society" : the deterioration of conditions in the big cities, which nonetheless draw an increasing proportion of the world's population; the brutalization of the seemingly permanent army of the unemployed, which has been accumulating in these urban centers; the instability of governments in the democracies, in the absence of any clear policy alternatives, inspiring a drift toward open authoritarianism; the development of opposition to the party dictatorships in the East, both in the form of liberalism among the intelligentsia and, more significantly, in that of strike movements among the working classes; and the continuing decay of ideologies and social norms. All this testifies to the basic character of the "limits of growth" that modern society is coming up against.

Whatever disappointments Nature has in store for us in the future, the limits we are encountering now are not ecological but social ones. It is not even socially caused, environmental disaster but the third world war that most directly threatens our extinction. That a fascination with zero-growth has replaced the nineteenth century's discovery of eternal progressive development is only the ideological form of the experience of the bankruptcy as a social system of capitalism and its state-run analog.

As yet we cannot speak of the existence anywhere in the world of forces or social movements which represent a real possibility of social revolution. But, while in no way inevitable, social revolution is clearly necessary if possibilities for an enjoyable and decent life are to be realized—and perhaps if human life is to be preserved at all. For this reason we see the overthrow of the present order of society as the goal to which we as a group wish to contribute. While the ideal we aim for has been called by a variety of names—communism, socialism, anarchism—what is important to us is the idea of a system in which social life is controlled by those whose activities make it up. Capitalism has created the basis of such a system by so interweaving the production and consumption of all producers that only collective solutions are possible to meet the producers' need to control the means and process of production and distribution. To eliminate the problems caused by the subordination of social production to capital's need for profit, the working class must take direct responsibility for what it already produces. This means opposition not only to the existing ruling class of capitalists and politicians but to any future managers or party leaders seeking to hold power in our name. Root & Branch, therefore, holds to the tradition of the workers' movement expressed in the Provisional Rules of the First International, beginning with the consideration "that the emanicipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves".

From the past we draw not only inspiration and still-meaningful ideas but also lessons on mistakes to be avoided. The fundamental idea of the old labor movement, that the working class can build up its forces in large organizations in preparation for the "final conflict" has proven false. Whether the organization was that of reformist or of revolutionary parties, producer or consumer cooperatives, or trade unions, its success has always turned out to be a success in adapting to the exigencies of survival within capitalism. The Bolshevik alternative of the small vanguard of revolutionaries preparing for the day when they would lead the masses to the conquest of state power has also proven useless for our purposes. Such parties have had a role to play only in the unindustrialized areas of the world, where they have provided the ruling class needed to carry out the work of forced economic development unrealized by the native bourgeoisie. In the developed countries they have been condemned either to sectarian insignificance or to transformation into reformist parties of the social-democratic type.

While history has indicated that there can be no revolutionary movement except in periods of revolution, the principles of such a future movement must guide the activity of those who wish to contribute to its creation. These principles—in contrast to those of the old labor movement—must signify a total break with the foundation of capitalist society, the relation between wage-labor and capital. As our goal is that of workers' control over social life, our principles must be those of direct, collective action. Direct, because the struggle for control of society begins with the struggle to control our fight against the current order. Collective, because the only successes which have a future are those involving (if only in principle) the class as a whole. We recognize that the working class does not have one uniform identity, and thus experiences oppression under capitalism differently according to age, sex, race, nationality, etc. However, what defines and thus unites the working class is its exploitation by capital, even if the character of that exploitation varies giving the appearance of separate problems and thus separate solutions. While it is true that the struggle against capitalism will not by itself solve these problems, overcoming capitalist exploitation raises the possibility of their solutions. Thus, each working-class struggle, even if it does not address an issue experienced by the class as a whole, must be aimed at the real enemy, capital, and not other members of the class. In the same way, we think workers must overcome in action the division between employed and unemployed, between unionized and non-unionized members of their class. Such a view automatically brings us into opposition to existing organizations like trade unions, which exist by representing the short-term interests of particular groups of workers within the existing social structure. Similarly, we are in conflict with the parties and sects which see their own dominance over any future movement as the key to its success.

We see ourselves as neither leaders nor bystanders but as part of the struggle. We are for a florescence of groups like ours and also for cooperation in common tasks. We initiate and participate in activity where we work, study, and live. As a group, we would like to be of some use in making information available about past and present struggles and in discussing the conclusions to be drawn from this history and its future extension. We organize lectures and study groups. Since 1969 we have published a journal and series of pamphlets. We hope others will join us to discuss the ideas and the materials we publish and that they will help us to develop new ideas and means to circulate and realize them.

When Men Become Gods

[Transcribers note : this was an illustrated essay—the illustrations can be seen in the pdf of this issue]

Lincoln Borglum, whose father Gutzon began the massive faces of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt on Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, fears that in a thousand centuries man may conclude that they represent the gods or mark the tombs of heroes. The younger Borglum, who finished the job after his father died shortly before WW II, wants a hall of records carved into the mountainside, with the history of the U.S. inscribed on its walls—just to get the story straight. (The New York Post, 1 May 1978)

In the West, the tradition of large-scale figure sculpture has come to an end. It is now unlikely that anything comparable to the great works of the tradition will again be made. A number of reasons might be cited to explain this decline : the scale of our cities, modern communications, our over-familiarity with the sight of our leaders, their obvious lack of heroism, the deepening disillusionment of the age. Because of our growing distance from the tradition it is perhaps possible to begin to assess what the tradition meant in the West—and also what it means in China, where it lives on.

Despite an extraordinary cultural diversity, the subjects of monumental figure sculpture were generally limited to gods, heroes and rulers. The meanings associated with these subjects were, in a sense, equally limited. Monumental treatment endowed the subject with an aura of divinity. The superhuman size of the figure as well as the way it was exhibited on a pedestal or within a special precinct removed it from everyday life. The viewer could thus experience it only as part of a mythic realm—a realm exempt from mundane laws of time, change and human scale. In the long run it mattered little whether the subject was king, hero or god. All belonged to the same otherworldly domain.

The power of monumental sculpture to elevate its subject to the timeless realm of the gods was recognized at the beginning of recorded history and exploited, although perhaps not always consciously, for political ends. Often the sculptor emphasized a ruler's special godly attributes or mission—the divine origin of his inspiration or his unique ability to communicate with the gods. For example, in the statue known as Augustus of Primaporta, the Roman emperor is accompanied by a tiny winged figure representing divine genius; or in the case of Girardon's equestrian Louis XIV—a prototype for statues of the king that were erected in all the major cities of France—the king looks to heaven for guidance.

The monumental figure of the ruler made visible a claim of divinity and unassailable power that usually was part of a dominant system of religious and political beliefs. In other words, the statue extended into the realm of visual and spatial experience the dominant ideology of the society that produced it.

By virtue of its physical presence, the statue forced its viewers to define themselves in relation to the abstract power it personified. That power was experienced subjectively in terms of the figure's size, expression and symbolic attributes. But it was also experienced in the way the figure's presence articulated and charged the surrounding space. The figure turned the surrounding space into a ideologically active environment—one in which the only appropriate response could be awed respect. In this sense, all monument figures might be thought of as cult objects since all demanded reverence from their viewers.

What I am saying may become somewhat clearer if you imagine an open space and then add to it a monumental statue. Consider the way the statue, by becoming the focal point, transforms the meaning of the space and your relation to it.

At first the feelings inspired by a monumental figure of a ruler may have been ambivalent—a wavering between the protection it offered and its inherent threat. With time, however, the statue and the aura of divinity surrounding it were accepted as a normal part of experience. To the extent the dominant ideology shaped experience, the meanings the statue embodied appeared consistent with and therefore as a continuation of other aspects of experience. Thus its ideological function generally went unnoticed even as it added to the force of the ideology. (If this seems paradoxical, try to imagine as ideological any large-scale figure sculpture that is normally part of your environment—for example, the sculptures in the garden of the Museum of Modern Art.) Only when the ideology as a whole was called into question, as in moments of revolutionary upheaval, would the supremely ideological character of the statue be fully revealed. This may explain why opposition to an ideology so often included iconoclasm—for example, in the French Revolution, or in anti-colonialist struggles.

Yet if the statue survived the destruction of the ideology that had been its raison d'etre, it necessarily lost its original cult function. The museums are filled with monumental figure sculptures that are normally experienced as part of contemporary ideologies (Our Cultural Heritage, Civilization, etc.). In the context of the museum, or rather in the context of a culture in which the museum has become the primary art institution, the work has been placed in the service of a new cult—the modern, Western cult of art—which endows it with a new aura.

What I have been attempting to describe are two ways of seeing monumental figure sculpture : in terms of the traditional relations between the figure and the ideology that gave it meaning; in terms mediated by the art institutions of modern, Western culture. These two ways of seeing, although they frequently coexist within a given society (e.g., religious shrines and archaeological museums), are mutually exclusive : each is unimaginable from the viewpoint of the other. For example, educated Europeans and Americans often react with horror when they first encounter idolatry. Horror results not because of intellectual or religious prohibitions but because, for the spectator, the worshipper's ritual activity in front of the statue appears absurd.

In China, the authorities have set up thousands of over-life-size white marble statues of Mao Tse-tung. These statues are probably the most unobtrusive monumental figure sculptures ever made. With their compact shapes, immaculate, machine-tooled surfaces and limited repertory of poses—Mao in an overcoat holding rolled-up blueprints, Mao in a "Mao jacket" with arms behind back, etc.—they recapitulate the bureaucratic virtues of orderliness, uniformity, impersonality, efficiency, control. Impassive, aloof, Mao makes almost no claims upon the viewer. He is simply there, a ghostly, paternal presence.

The term "cult of personality" partially expresses the meaning of these works. They contribute to a system of belief which is further supported by other forms of artistic celebration : poems, songs, paintings, embroideries, billboard portraits, etc. Mao is the central figure in a ubiquitous iconography of political power—an iconography that includes other leaders (Hua Kuo-feng, Chou En-lai, Chu Teh); heroes of production (e.g., Iron Man Wong, the Chinese Stakhanov); the People, usually represented genre-style, as types; political villains, always caricatured (e.g., the Gang of Four). And yet, with the exception of occasional monuments to the anonymous "heroes of the people", Mao is the only figure to be memorialized in stone. The strength of the Mao cult is further attested by the recently constructed tomb in Peking where his embalmed and painted body is solemnly displayed, as if to confirm Mao once was flesh.

The cult of personality reflected Mao's enormous ambitions. With his death, the cult became purely an expression of the state power he had for so long dominated. The current leadership opposed Mao's policies while he was alive (and no doubt heaved an enormous sigh of relief at his passing). That it has chosen to maintain the cult—at least for the time being—reveals how irrevocably Mao symbolized the authority of the state at the time of his death.

I remember now the statue I saw in January at the entrance to the People's Park in Loyang. It is not hard to imagine the park in spring : families crossing the narrow bridge over the Jin He River on their way to the menagerie and hothouses; the flowers; crowds of people enjoying a day off. The white figure on its pedestal, a distant, looming presence—above them yet in the midst of their lives. When men become gods. . .

Alan Wallach
May 1978
A somewhat different version of this article is appearing in
Art in America.

Reviews :

Francis Moore Lappe and Joseph Collins, Food First: Beyond the Myth of Scarcity, Boston: Houghton Mifflin; 1977.

Francis Moore Lappe and Joseph Collins have written a book which provides one of the more detailed descriptions yet to appear of the capitalist division of labor as it applies to agriculture. While this is not the ostensible purpose of the book, it is one of the more important themes in it.

Both capitalist production and the expansion of society in goods and population depend on the modern division of labor. This situation, however, also threatens people with hunger and starvation if the marketing system based on the division of labor ever breaks down; unless, that is, it can immediately be replaced by an alternative form of distribution. Natural disasters have always posed a threat to human society, but the division of labor created a new form of vulnerability toward nature. Never before have the industrial and agricultural capacities of society been greater, but also never before has society been faced with the possibility of extinction as a permanent facet of society's organization.

A hundred years ago Marx speculated that a nation which ceased to work "even for a few weeks would perish". 2 If anything, the situation is more extreme today. Access to food depends on daily shipments of produce and the constant restocking of the merchandiser's shelves. In the cities, the food close at hand would hardly serve as a temporary buffer; the availability of processed foods depends on an extensive network for receiving raw materials and distributing the finished products. Even farmers and agricultural workers face this situation; the division of production into component parts extends into agriculture, and people cannot live long on a diet of strawberries, wheat, or soybeans alone. The ability to eat depends on the system of production and distribution remaining intact.

Thus, the relationship between nature and culture has undergone a complete reversal. Where natural disasters still cannot be predicted and planned for, their negative effect can be counteracted through a quick reallocation of goods. Not nature, but the system of production and distribution now poses the biggest threat to human civilization. The opposition between nature and culture has been replaced by a situation in which the social organization is the greatest potential obstacle to the use of nature.

Besides this potential horror, capitalism has also produced hunger and malnutrition as an automatic accompaniment to its accumulation process. During the last decade, more and more attention has been drawn to the number of hungry people in the world. The current recession has worsened this, but even before, there was a growing acknowledgement that hunger was widespread, and spreading. It is this crisis which Lappe and Collins address in their book, Food First : Beyond the Myth of Scarcity.

What most alarms them is the tendency to view human miseries as due to the limits which nature is imposing on civilization's growth. In countering these ideas, they show in great detail how it would be possible to provide everyone with more than enough food. The obstacle, however, is the restraint placed on production and distribution by the profit criteria of the food producers.

The ideology which they oppose is by no means without sophistication or superficial confirmation. The explanation usually goes something like this : the world's population has outstripped the earth's capacity to produce food, and not even the Green Revolution or Food Aid has been able to make much of a dent in the problem. Consequently, we must give up the goal of adequately feeding everyone, and instead, concentrate on solutions like birth control and setting limits to material growth, lest we deplete the earth at an even faster rate which will only exacerbate the problems. In the meantime, we need to steel ourselves and adjust to this new ethic.

For believers in "lifeboat ethics", as it is appropriately called, survival is ensured only for those most capable of weathering the turbulence. Not surprisingly, this means that the industrialized countries survive at the expense of the underdeveloped, the working population at the expense of the unemployed, the rich at the expense of the poor. The utopian aspirations of capitalism—to increase productivity indefinitely—are to be replaced with a more realistic attitude. While it may seem obvious that this "ethic" is a convenient means to blame nature for the plight of the unfortunate, the growing popularity of these ideas makes the publication of Food First important.

The book itself is organized into a series of 48 questions, each dealing with some aspect of the "lifeboat" ideology. Lappe and Collins point out, for instance, that high population density is not synonymous with a lack of food. "France has just about the same number of people for each cultivated acre as India". (p. 17) Nor does the problem stem from a lack of food production. "Half of Central America's agricultural land produces food for export while in several of its countries the poorest 50 percent of the population eat only half the necessary protein". (p. 15) In the same manner, the food scarcity is not imposed by nature. In the United States "the acreage allotment figure for 1970 was only 75 percent of that of 1967; less land was cultivated in 1970 than in 1948-1952. In both 1969 and 1970 the amount of grain that could have been grown, but was not, on land held out of production amounted to over seventy million metric tons—about double all the grain imported annually in the early seventies by the underdeveloped countries". (p. 23)

These few examples give a sense of the information contained in the book. With 466 pages of information, the authors present material on overpopulation, agricultural output, education and birth control, foreign aid programs, the spread of the desert, trade relations, livestock and feed grain production, technology and the small farmer, nutrition, and other topics; the purpose of which is to explain the contradictions between agricultural production and human needs. As such, they provide an overall description of the development of agriculture as well as a detailed rebuttal of the specific arguments which explain hunger as a result of the "crisis of overpopulation".

Agricultural production has become increasingly segmented, and large farms based upon export production have come to dominate the market. While this process began in colonial days, its development has been extremely rapid since World War II. The growth of the world market coincided with the interest in and possibility of profit-making through these channels. Different parts of the world began to specialize in one-crop, or monoculture, production, and thus became dependent on other parts of the world for their agricultural needs. The same process took place with the products of industry. Countries fostered agriculture for export as a means to gain money to buy other goods. Because the agricultural market was a lucrative one, corporations (and the multinationals in particular) took part in and encouraged this development, investing heavily in fertile lands, and, in the Third World, in cheap labor. In Ghana, for instance, "over half of [the] country's arable land is now planted with cocoa trees", (p. 185) and indeed, "over half of the 40 countries on the United Nations list of those most seriously affected by the food crisis of the 1970's depend on agricultural exports for at least 80 percent of their export earnings". (p. 186)

International agencies which provide credit and technical assistance to farmers have also strengthened this trend. The majority of this aid goes to large farmers or to the multinationals and their affiliates. In Tunisia, one "agricultural program provided credit only to those owning a certain minimum acreage—usually 125 acres, a large holding indeed in that country". (p. 117) This bias can also be seen with the Green Revolution; the use of new, high-yield seeds which were to inaugurate a sort of food heaven on earth. Only farmers with large amounts of capital could afford to buy new seeds each season or the mechanized equipment which their use often required. The large farms then set the norms for market prices and are better able to withstand price fluctuations. More and more land comes under the domination of the large farms.

The small farmers and peasants are unable to compete on the international markets, and the local markets are undercut when monoculture crops are imported. Because of these and other pressures, the ability of communities and nations to grow food for their own use is lost. In Mexico, due to the Green Revolution, "wheat yields tripled in only two decades", yet "there are also more hungry people than ever before". (p. 111) In West Malaysia, "by 1970, the bottom 20 percent of rural households had experienced a fall of over 40 percent in their average income since 1957, while the average income of the next 20 percent fell 16 percent. By contrast, the top 20 percent of rural households increased their mean income 21 percent". (p. 133)

The populations of the industrialized countries have, for the most part, been isolated from this process during the twentieth century, having experienced it a century earlier. But because these countries were able to industrialize, the landless could find jobs in manufacturing. The increased consumption of the industrialized countries has made them the focus of export agriculture. The peoples of the Third World have not been so lucky. Industry, by preference, invests near markets and where transportation and communication facilities are already established. This favors the industrialized countries. When industrial establishments are created in the underdeveloped countries they are often capital-intensive; and when they are labor-intensive, the work can be brutal. In either case, not enough employment is available to the population. Production on the land and in the factories has increased, but unemployment and hunger remain major problems.

On the basis of all this, Lappe and Collins conclude that "neither population growth nor the size of today's population is now the cause of hunger"; (p. 62) for while "there is scarcity... it is not a scarcity of food. The scarcity is of people who have either access to the means to grow their own food or the money to buy it". (p. 22) Overpopulation explains these problems only if it is assumed that the social structure is above examination.

Because of the inability of people to feed themselves, Lappe and Collins see a solution in local, diversified agriculture. The means to avoid a market-induced scarcity is to stop producing for the market. They suggest that such a reversal is possible within the prevailing social order, particularly for the Third World countries. National revolutions could set a priority on self-reliant agriculture, and thus circumvent the problems of landless peasants, farmlands owned only by a few, the need for foreign exchange, and vulnerability to price fluctuations.

Their own data, however, speaks against this solution. The underdeveloped countries are entangled in the market system to such a great extent that to withdraw from it would be akin to self-imposed genocide. Just to alter the agricultural techniques would require a massive quantity of new seeds, fertilizers, and machinery. In addition, those countries would then need to find a way to obtain the manufactured goods for which they now trade their crops. Lappe and Collins show with their statistics that it is conceivable for every country to feed its own population; but this is not the same as saying that this is a realistic possibility.

In part, the authors opt for their solution because they believe it to be a practical step which any part of the world can immediately embark on. Cuba and China are cited as the outstanding examples for the rest of the Third World. Cuba, however, has extensive trade relations with both Western Europe and the Soviet bloc, and this has not undergone any significant changes because of its interest in self-reliant agriculture. The Soviet Union's support of Cuba's sugar prices, far above world market levels, is the most important means by which a livable standard of living is maintained for the population.

China, on the other hand, was not completely dependent on the world market at the time of the 1949 Revolution, and the array of natural resources and land within its borders accounts for its stance of independence. For the rest of the Third World, it has been since World War II that international trade relations have become so entangled. Furthermore, only a few of the underdeveloped countries have a variety of resources to draw upon. From an economic point of view, neither China nor Cuba is a positive example for Third World countries—Cuba because it is not self-reliant and cannot become so in the near future, and China because its development began in circumstances which do not exist today in the other underdeveloped countries. And all this avoids discussion of what Lappe and Collins mean by "people's power" in those two countries.

The note which ends Food First is all the more surprising since the authors show so well that social causes underly the crisis of "overpopulation". Yet, in offering solutions, they reverse their position. The evil is not, as Lappe and Collins imply, the division of labor itself, but the system of production and distribution presently attached to it. Large-scale monoculture would be feasible, perhaps even preferable, if the vulnerabilities caused by the market system were eliminated and replaced with a guaranteed system of food allocation. Farmers would not be subject to market fluctuations, and those not attached to the land could be guaranteed their livelihood through an international system of commitments. In the same manner, natural disasters could be anticipated, and everyone insured that in case of disaster other parts of the world would automatically come to their aid with relief and materials for rebuilding. Whatever vulnerability people experience today stems from the social structure. To posit a technological solution by restructuring the division of labor, in the end, skirts the problem.

The authors' bias has one other negative aspect : they only present information which speaks against a large-scale and international division of labor. It would be useful to know what potentials this might contain if the social system was not structured according to profit criteria.

But regardless of the bias, the book contains much useful information. The authors document the social reasons for hunger and support their ideas with data drawn from official sources—the reports of governments and international agencies. As such, it is a contribution to the ongoing critique of capitalistically-induced misery. Levi-Strauss, in Tristes Tropique, told about the perpetual holocaust which primitive people were subjected to upon contact with Western civilization; Lappe and Collins tell of the holocaust which the no-longer primitive people of the Third World are now experiencing, and which we will all face should the market system collapse and we not have an alternative immediately at hand to replace it with.

Gary Roth
September 1978

Marx and Keynes: The Limits of the Mixed Economy, by Paul Mattick, Boston, Porter Sargent, 1969, 341 pp.

Ten years have passed since the publication of Paul Mattick's Marx and Keynes, a decade in which we have all witnessed the collapse of the Keynesian "solution" to the boom-and-bust cycle of the capitalist economy. For several years now economists and politicians, as well as business and labor leaders, have not been able to devise any solutions to the pervasive and persistent problems of simultaneous high rates of inflation and unemployment, slow growth, lagging investment and productivity, and the social divisiveness that accompanies such economic difficulties. In the late 1960s, while neo-Keynesians were proclaiming a new era of permanent prosperity, Mattick was insisting that Keynesian policies do not resolve the fundamental contradictions of capitalist production which manifest themselves in periodic crises and that sooner or later the limits of these stabilization policies would be reached. In his own words : "It is my contention that the Keynesian solution to the economic problems that beset the capitalist world can be of only temporary avail, and the conditions under which it can be successful are in the process of dissolution". (viii) 3 Now, after ten years, the accuracy of Mattick's prediction warrants another look at his book.

Mattick presents a twofold critique of Keynesian economics : first, he focuses on its major theoretical inconsistencies, then he points out the ineffectiveness of Keynesian-inspired policies throughout the capitalist world. Mattick argues persuasively that the mixed economy is still fundamentally a capitalist economy and is therefore still subject to its laws of development as presented by Marx. The existence of government intervention in the economy does not abolish these laws, rather, the effects of such intervention must be analyzed within the context of these constraints. The successful analysis of the dynamics of the mixed economy in terms of Marx's theory of capital accumulation is Mattick's most significant contribution to our understanding of the contemporary world economy. It sets him apart from more well-known American left wing theorists such as Sweezy, Baran, Magdoff, and O'Connor, who by and large claim that Marxist categories need to be revised in light of twentieth century economic developments. For this reason alone Marx and Keynes continues to deserve more serious consideration than it has received in the past decade.

Mattick begins his critique of the Keynesian policy of government economic intervention by illuminating logical inconsistencies in Keynes's theory, as spelled out in The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money. For Keynes, governmental intervention was a necessary response to the inability of the capitalist economy to maintain equilibrium conditions at full employment on its own due to a lack of "effective demand". That a lack of adequate demand was not automatically self-correcting and could stabilize the economy at less than full employment was clearly revealed for the first time, according to Keynes, by the depression of 1929. Basing his analysis on the assumption that the sole purpose of economic activity is consumption, Keynes claimed that this insufficiency of effective demand was the result of two psychological factors, the "propensity to consume" and the "inducement to invest". Briefly, both the propensity of the population to consume and the inducement of entrepeneurs to invest decline with the growth of income and the decreasing marginal efficiency (profitability) of capital. This results in the slackening of effective demand and economic stagnation. Keynes believed that it was possible to remedy this deficient demand by government fiscal and monetary policies designed to increase the propensity to consume and to stimulate new capital investments.

As Mattick shows, however, by admitting to "a difference between what he considers the community's chosen propensity to consume and the actually existing social consumption needs" (12) evidenced by the depression itself, and by linking the inducement to invest to expected profitability, Keynes cannot escape the contradictory conclusion that profit-making, not consumption, is the goal of economic activity in capitalism. If the object of economic activity were consumption, Mattick argues, "there would be no problem of effective demand". (12) Furthermore, if profit-making, not consumption, is the goal of capitalist production, the propensity to consume can no longer be regarded as an independent variable whose decline weakens the effective demand, thus halting economic growth. "A lack of effective demand", Mattick asserts, "is just another expression for a lack of capital accumulation and is not an explanation of it". (13) Thus, a consistent analysis of capitalist production and the government intervention it has called forth must lie elsewhere.

After this brief review of Keynesian theory, Mattick summarizes the Marxian theory of capital accumulation. He stresses that prosperity in a capitalist economy depends on the maintenance of a rapid rate of capital accumulation and that crises occur when the accumulation process is retarded. Mattick, following Marx, locates the cause of the decline in accumulation in the economy's inability to produce enough surplus-value to maintain the vigorous rate of expansion achieved during the boom : "... the only possible reason why (capital accumulation) should suddenly be halted is a lack of surplus-value; and this lack must have arisen within and despite the accumulation process". (78) "The real problem of capitalism is a shortage, not an abundance, of surplus-value". (82) That a lack of surplus-value causes crises, is basic to the analysis of the mixed economy and differs fundamentally from the Keynesian viewpoint. Mattick's theory of the mixed economy is also radically different from Baran and Sweezy's argument, a variation on Keynesian themes, that today's economic problems derive from too much surplus, and from other under-consumptionist arguments to the effect that the central problem is a limited demand for consumer goods caused by the fact that the wages which workers receive are less than the value they produce and by the general inability to further extend foreign markets.

Mattick's point that economic crises are breakdowns in the capital accumulation process, due, not to an overproduction of use-values, but rather to an underproduction of surplus-value in terms of the expansion needs of the existing production system, reflects the clearest understanding of Marx's argument in Capital to have appeared in the United States. For Mattick, "even on the assumption that no realization problem exists, it is possible that a discrepancy between material production and value production will arise which will have to be overcome before accumulation can go on". (69-70) In other words, within Marx's theory of Crisis problems of the sphere of circulation, or realization problems such as overproduction of capital and commodities, market disproportionalities, disequilibrium of supply and demand, etc., are not causal factors, but instead are the observable effects of underlying problems in the production of surplus-value.

For Marx, Mattick argues, the fact that the resumption of accumulation which ends the crisis involves the expansion of production beyond what it was when the crisis occurred, proves that the overproduction of commodities in itself cannot cause a crisis. "For the overproduction of capital and commodities, instead of leading to a curtailment of productivity, only accelerates the latter, thereby indicating that the dicrepancy between the production of surplus-value and its realization arises because of a decline in the rate of accumulation". (74) While during the crisis the inability to sell all the commodities which have already been produced is certainly real, the saleability of a larger mass of commodities following the crisis is no less real. A theory of crisis must account for both; it must explain in one unified theory not only how and why crises occur but also how they are overcome. This point may seem too elementary to need repeating, but the fact remains that nearly one hundred years after his death, Marx is the only theorist, whether mainstream or left wing, to have constructed a cogent, unified theory of capitalist development. In this alone lies Marx's central importance for us.

In Marxian theory, economic crises result from conflicts between the enlargement of material production and the expansion of value production occurring in a system where the appropriation and accumulation of surplus-value by private capital is the primary purpose of material production and the motive force of its growth. Capitalists attempt to expand material production without limit in order to accelerate the accumulation of surplus-value, through which new capital is produced and material production further expanded. Obstacles to continued expansion are encountered when, at a certain level of material production characterized by the mass of existing capital of a specific organic composition, the new surplus-value produced and appropriated is insufficient to fund additional expansion at the same rate. Expansion slows, compounding the problem of insufficient surplus-value, and accumulation finally stops. "When the expansion of production outruns its profitability, the accumulation process comes to a halt". (67)

More concretely, the mass of newly produced surplus-value is not sufficient for its distribution among all the individual capitalists in portions large enough for them to achieve accustomed rates of profit. New investment slows and it becomes increasingly difficult for capitalists to meet their debt obligations. Overproduction, unemployment, and bankrupcy result. Prices, both of capital goods and of consumption goods, decline sharply and wage rates drop. Means of production and labor-power can be purchased more cheaply than at the peak of the preceding boom; eventually it becomes possible to once again produce profitably. In theoretical terms, Marx spoke of this process as a restructuring of value relations brought about through the depreciation or outright destruction of capital-values and the increase in the exploitation of labor-power (or rate of surplus-value). Obviously this description is only schematic and is incomplete on many points. Nonetheless it is just as obvious that much of the current stagnation can be characterized in these terms. Furthermore, those phenomena which are novel to postwar recessions, in Mattick's view, can also be incorporated into this framework.

As oversimplified as the above outline is, it illustrates the flavor and importance of Marx's distinction between material and value production, i.e., between use-value and value. Hence, it is not caprice that led Marx to open Capital with a discussion of the use-value and the value aspects of the commodity form itself. The distinction, however, is among the least understood notions in all of Marx's writings. On this point Mattick's discussion of Marx's theory is most noteworthy. His clarity here allows him to clear away much of the intellectual deadwood that has comprised longstanding debates about the transformation problem, the realization problem, the cheapening of constant capital as a long term offset to the tendential fall of the rate of profit, the nature of the Soviet economy, and imperialism.

The concept of use-value is straightforward enough; on the other hand, Marx's use of the concept of value is much more problematic. "When Marx speaks of the 'law of value' as relating to a deeper reality which underlies the capitalist economy", Mattick writes, "he refers to the 'life process of society based on the material process of production'. He was convinced that in all societies, including the hoped for socialist society, a proportioning of social labor in accordance with social needs and reproduction requirements is an inescapable necessity". (29) Quoting from Marx's famous letter to Kugelmann (see Selected Correspondence, p. 251), he continues; "That this necessity of the distribution of social labor in definite proportions cannot possibly be done away with by a particular form of social production but can only change the mode of its appearance, is self-evident. No natural law can be done away with. What can change in historically different circumstances is only the form in which these proportional distributions of labor asserts themselves. And the form in which this proportional distribution of labor asserts itself in a state of society where the interconnections of social labor are manifested in the private exchange of the individual products of labor, is precisely the exchange-value of these products". (29) That is to say that the concept of value is used to discuss the distribution of social labor in capitalism, where such determinations are made indirectly, through the profitable exchange of the products of labor in the marketplace. Value is the theoretical reflection of what the market, or the fact that all commodities are exchanged, accomplishes in practical activity through the trial-and-error efforts of individual capitalists to make a profit. As such value represents the societal recognition that labor is expended in the production of commodities and not the actual physical labor-time embodied in them.

Expanding upon this, Mattick writes : "The whole social product enters the market in the form of commodities. Whatever part of it cannot be sold has no value, even though labor has been expended upon it. The unsold part of social labor would be a waste of surplus-labor; there simply would be less surplus-value than there was social labor. To realize all the produced surplus-value it is necessary to produce commodities for which there is sufficient demand". (38) "Social demand as revealed by the market is not identical with actually existing social needs but only with the needs within the framework of capitalist production"; (41) i.e., the need to accumulate capital. "As capitalism became the dominant mode of production and the tempo of accumulation increased, 'social demand' became in always greater measure a demand for capital. Supply and demand in the traditional sense ceased to determine the production process; the production of capital, as capital, determined the size and nature of the market demand". (76) Thus, demand is predetermined by the production system.

Marx used the term "socially necessary labor-time" to express this indirect recognition through exchange transactions of expended social labor; he defined value as the socially necessary labor time embodied in commodities. Since this socially necessary aspect is tied to the allocation of total social labor through the profitable exchange of labor's products, "the value concept has meaning only with regard to total social capital". (43) In other words, the value produced by any given productive activity can be conceptualized only in its relation to the overall distribution of labor-power in society. Value is thus defined only in terms of the production system as a whole. Marx's theoretical discussion of the accumulation process is carried out at the level of society as a whole; the concepts he develops in the course of this discussion, the rate of surplus value, the organic composition of capital, and the rate of profit, express changing value relations for the total system, not for individual firms or particular industries. The crisis theory itself explains the dynamic relation between the growth of the total mass of surplus-value and the expansion of the total mass of capital, and the effect of changes in this relation on the development of material production.

Once the distinction between actual labor-time and that labor-time recognized through the market as socially necessary is explained, it becomes clear that by the phrase "destruction of value" what Marx means is the repudiation by society of a part of the labor-time embodied in commodities through the mechanism of falling prices, not the destruction of embodied labor-time which could only be accomplished by destroying the commodities themselves. To restore the balance between the mass of surplus-value and the mass of capital, part of the capital-value is repudiated. "The crisis leaves the use-value side of capital largely unaffected except when the material means of production are actually destroyed, as in times of war. But it affects the value of the total constant capital through the destruction of capital-values during the crisis and ensuing period of depression. The same quantity of use-value now represents a smaller exchange-value". (70) Clearly it is the social form production as a value expansion process which inhibits the growth of material production rather than limits inherent in material production itself. The law of value "asserts itself by way of crises, which restore, not a lost balance between supply and demand in terms of production and consumption, but a temporarily lost but necessary 'equilibrium' between the material production process and the value expansion process". (56)

The significance of the differences between the Marxian and the Keynesian explanation of crises is that the crucial factor which each theory suggests as the cause of the crisis is also the problem which must be overcome if the recovery is to occur (or perhaps, if the crisis is to be avoided in the first place). Thus, Keynesian theory suggests that the remedy for the tendency toward crises is government intervention to stimulate aggregate demand. If the fundamental cause of the crisis is not a lack of effective demand, but rather a lack of surplus value as Marx and Mattick suggest, then government attempts to overcome the crisis through fiscal and monetary policy will be at best misdirected, and ultimately futile. For Mattick, such attempts are counterproductive in the long run. Through government intervention, a portion of the profits of society is consumed rather than accumulated as additional capital, since such intervention is essentially a process whereby the government taxes or borrows a portion of the total profits in the economy, which may otherwise be lying idle because of the depression conditions, and then spends this revenue on armaments, public works, or social services. Even though production and employment may, for a time, be increased by such methods, "a larger share (of profits) now falls, as it were, in the sphere of consumption, and a correspondingly smaller share can be capitalized as additional profit-yielding capital". (159) Thus, "... government-induced production cannot add but can only subtract from the total profit of total social production". (154) Since a lack of surplus-value (or profits) is the cause of the crisis in the first place, the attempt by capital governments to avoid crises by increasing their spending results in a further reduction in the already insufficient profits available for accumulation and, therefore, can only exacerbate the profit shortage.

The Keynesian policies end in a vicious cycle—a declining rate of accumulation makes it necessary for the government to increase its spending, but this increased spending is itself a further drain on the fund for accumulation, resulting in an added decline in accumulation and requiring ever-more government intervention. Mattick concludes, "How much can the government tax and borrow ? Obviously not the whole of the national income. . . there must be a limit to the expansion of the non-profitable part of the economy. When this limit is reached, deficit financing and government-induced production as policies to counteract the social consequences of a declining rate of accumulation must come to an end. The Keynesian solution will stand exposed as a pseudo-solution, capable of postponing but not preventing the contradictory course of capital accumulation as predicted by Marx". (163)

Because the contention that government spending is an encroachment on surplus-value is the crucial point of the analysis of the mixed economy, Mattick's argument to support this formulation needs to be elaborated upon.

Money, in the capitalist economy, serves as a form of capital in the process of being accumulated. In other words, the expansion of capital occurs through successive transformations in the form of capital during the process of production—newly produced surplus-value in money form is transformed into productive commodities, new means of production and labor-power, which are transformed in turn into new commodity products, and these, when sold, become new surplus value in money form, and so forth. Idle capital in money-form, i.e., money which for one reason or another is not presently being used for purposes of accumulation, nonetheless exists as a fund of potential capital. Government use of this idle money-capital, obtained either by taxation or oy borrowing on capital markets, is thus immediately a reduction of the fund for future accumulation. This is true unequivocally since the state offers no equivalent commodity in exchange for the idle money-capital it receives. For taxation this is obvious; it is not true of deficit spending only if the debt is repaid, and at present there is no evidence for believing that this will ever occur. From the vantage point of society as a whole, when the government spends this taxed or borrowed money-capital to stimulate production, it merely returns to private hands what it has previously taken.

As a result, material production is indeed immediately expanded, since private capitalists were not employing this fund capitalistically. But although the state makes use of this potential capital, it too does not employ it as capital. "If the goal of government intervention", Mattick explains, "is the stabilization of the market economy, government-induced production must be non-competitive. Were the government to purchase consumption goods and durables in order to give them away it would reduce the private market demand for these commodities. If the government owned enterprises were to produce such commodities and offered them for sale, it would increase the difficulties of its private competitors by reducing their shares of a limited market demand. Government purchases must fall out of the market system; the production entailed must be supplementary to market production". (150) "Getting their money back through government orders", he continues, "the capitalists provide the government with an equivalent quantity of products. It is this quantity of products which the government 'expropriates' from capital", (161) since "the final product of government-induced production, resulting from a long chain of intermediary production processes, does not have the form of a commodity which could profitably be sold on the market. Whatever entered into its production counts as a production cost and cannot be recovered in a sales price, for there are no buyers of public works and waste production". (154) The cost-price of the final product thus constitutes an absolute deduction from the fund of new surplus-value annually produced for purposes of capital accumulation.

The interest on the mounting national debt, now just under $25 billion annually, comprises an additional deduction from the fund of potential capital. In the Marxian schema, surplus-value is divided into three parts, profit of enterprise, interest on capital advanced and rent. Interest, in the private economy, is the newly produced surplus value which accrues to bank capital for the services it performs such as centralizing capital and extending credit. Government-induced production produces no profits, but the government must still pay interest on the money it borrows. As Mattick demonstrates, "the cost of the debt, that is, the interest paid to the bondholders, must come out of the profits of the relatively diminishing private sector of the economy" (160) through new taxes or additional borrowing. While the idle money-capital paid as interest thus returns to capitalists since this payment "transfers a portion of profits from productive to loan capital" (160), if this money is to be used for accumulation it must be borrowed back by industrial capital, and therefore, must be repaid with interest from the profits it is used to produce.

Monetization of the national debt, that is, the purchase of government securities by the Federal Reserve with newly printed currency, as a deliberate inflationary policy, constitutes a third means by which government spending, in this case deficit-financed spending, reduces the fund of money-capital available for purposes of accumulation. Though deliberate, inflation must be controlled, since the money with which contractors are paid "must retain its value long enough for the private contractors to regain the value expended in the production of government orders and make the customary profit. If their returns were less than their expenditures because of a too rapid devaluation of money, they would find themselves in a state of disinvestment". (185) They would curtail future investments in government sponsored production, creating the opposite if the intended stimulative effect of deficit financing. Nonetheless, even "controlled inflation is already the continuous, if slow, repudiation of all debts, including the national debt. It spreads the expenses of non-profitable government-induced production over a long period of time and over the whole of society". (187) For an example of this one need only consider the frequent plight of bondholders during 1974. At that time a typical twelve month note with a face value of $10,000 was priced to yield approximately 9%. When redeemed one year later the bondholder received $10,000 on an initial investment of $9174 but, taking into account an inflation rate of 12%, a rather conservative estimate, the purchasing power of the $10,000 had decreased to about what $8,800 could have bought a year earlier—a $374 loss on the original investment. While this may seem an extreme case, even a one percent annual depreciation of the value of the national debt is no trifling matter in terms of the future possibilities of accumulation.

While overall, the effect of deficit-spending and the concomitant monetary inflation it permits have decreased the fund of surplus-value available for future accumulation, these policies have been implemented in order to benefit certain sectors of society at the expense of others. At Mattick puts it, "If some prices rise faster than others under inflationary conditions, a situation of advantages and disadvantages will arise. . . Wages, for instance, rise less under inflation than do the prices of other commodities". (180) This happens because "the prices of commodities are set after the labor costs incorporated in them have been settled or paid", therefore "a rise in the cost of labor. . . cannot prevent a still faster rise in the prices of commodities", and "because wages are more sluggish in their movements than commodity prices, inflation leads to higher profits and. . . a higher rate of capital formation". (180-181) "Inflation", Mattick concludes, "is then another form of the subsidization of big business by government. It is merely one of the techniques by which income is transferred from the mass of the population into the hands of government favored corporations". (184)

That inflation is a conscious policy to reduce real wages masked by increased money wages is revealed by Keynes himself. "Every trade union", he writes, "will put up some resistance to a cut in money wages, however small; (but) no trade union would dream of striking on every occasion of a rise in the cost of living". 4 The hoped-for result of this policy, of course, is to increase the rate of capital formation (similar to Marx's rate of accumulation) by redistributing income in favor of profits while simultaneously minimizing labor unrest. What then can one say about the notion, universally promulgated by post-Keynesian economists, that the cause of inflation is "too many dollars chasing too few goods ?" As Mattick points out, "In an economy requiring government-induced demand, the market demand could not possibly exceed the supply". (184) The mechanism by which government deficit spending, financed by monetizing the national debt, is translated into generalized inflation must be explained in a different manner.

For Mattick, deficit spending per se is not inflationary. Capitalists constantly borrow to finance the purchase of more productive plants and equipment. The increased profits realized from the sale of commodities produced at this higher productivity allow them to both retire the debt incurred and set aside funds for future accumulation. Likewise for government deficit spending; if it somehow leads to increased productivity, the debt can be paid while accumulation is fostered. Much to the despair of Keynes and his epigones this has not occurred, rather the national debt has continually multiplied. While government has not yet created the environment for increased capital accumulation, deficit-spending is nonetheless continued to stave off further deterioration in the rate of private capital formation. This demands new tax receipts and additional borrowing. Both to float the new debt and to maintain confidence in the old, the Federal Reserve is forced to increase the money supply through the purchase of existing government bonds with newly printed currency. Not to do so would be to risk the collapse of the multi-trillion debt structure and the entire economic system along with it. The nominally independent Federal Reserve System is thus effectively tied to government fiscal policy.

By increasing the money supply in this manner the Federal Reserve in fact treats government paper as a real commodity-value rather than what it actually is, promises contingent upon future accumulation. For each dollar of debt contracted and monetized, two dollars are substituted : the original one which was exchanged for government paper, representing real commodity-value, plus another which replaces the note when it is taken out of circulation by the Federal Reserve, and, having no backing save the security of the state, represents only fictitious commodity-value. The continual increase in the supply of money allows capitalists to raise the prices of the commodities they produce in order to maintain normal profits by offsetting the cost of taxes and other expenses of government, while it also supports the further extension of credit needed to pay the higher prices. In Mattick's view however, " 'profits' made in this way and 'capital' accumulated in this manner, are mere bookkeeping data relating to the national debt". (151) In other words, to the extent that they represent inflationary price increases these profits are fictitious. Real capitalist profits "can be increased only by increased productivity, and an increasing quantity of capital capable of functioning as capital, and not by the mere availability of means of payments manufactured by government". (187) In the long run this policy amounts to a not so subtle game of brinkmanship.

Still it is generally maintained that the stimulative effects of government fiscal and monetary policy more than compensate for their expense. Arguments to this effect are couched in terms of the so-called "multiplier" effect. The idea is that "an increased income resulting from government expenditures will have subsequent income effects, which will add up to a sum greater than the original spending" with the result that "deficit-spending can be financed out of the savings it has itself created". (157-158) From Mattick's point of view, such statements based on the false assumption that consumption is the purpose of economic activity, simply misconceive the problem. Of course, Mattick grants, "All investments whether of a private or a public character, will increase the national income as they increase national production". (158) The real issue, however, is whether or not the mass of capital increases through the accumulation process. "Since it does not depend on profitability", Mattick argues, "government-induced production can enlarge total social production, but it cannot enlarge the total capital". (158) In other words, while consumption is in fact increased, no addition to the stock of profit-making means of production results. This point is crucial, since only an accelerated rate of accumulation can reverse the trends toward increased government intervention and growth of the national debt.

Furthermore, the argument that the growth of the debt is harmless as long as the national income increases faster than the debt relies on a false logic. "The growing national debt cannot be related to the total national income", Mattick rebuts, "but only to that part of the total which has not been injected into the economy by the government. It is by counting an expense as an income that the illusion arises that the growing national debt is neutralized by a rising national income". (162)

Nonetheless, it is conceivable "that the mere increase or maintenance of a given level of production regardless of profitability may arrest a downward business trend, and may even be instrumental in reversing the trend As deficit-spending reduces unemployment and increases production, it may, under special conditions, induce an acceleration of private investments. If this should be the case, it would increase total income by more than brought forth by deficit-spending, but this multiplication would be due directly to the additional profitable investments, not the additional spending". (159) That such occurrences have not reduced the dependence of the private sector on state intervention is revealed by the tremendous growth of the national debt since 1929, despite variations in the rate of capital formation. Further, such possible government-induced accelerated accumulation would be subject to the same crisis cycle as the apparently self-regulating accumulation process of the nineteenth century. "The fact remains", Mattick concludes, "that private capital formation finds itself in a seemingly insoluable crisis; or rather, that the crisis of capital production which characterizes the twentieth century has not as yet been solved : When viewed from the perspective of profit production, the present differs from the past in that deflationary depression conditions have been supplanted by inflationary depression conditions. In a deflationary depression, production declines because part of the producible commodities cannot be sold profitably, thus preventing the realization of profits and their transformation into additional capital; whereas in an inflationary depression production continues, despite its lack of profitability, by way of credit expansion". (186)

Thus, the mixed economy is revealed to be essentially transient in nature. As the limits of increased government spending are reached, and they are apparently beginning to be reached in the current crisis, capitalists will be faced with a critical dilemma : either they will have to oppose any further increases in government intervention thereby leaving the capitalist economy vulnerable to its crisis tendencies, or they will have to support the destruction of private capital in favor of a state-run "planned economy". It is more and more evident from the current debates about the state of the economy that the choice is being seen in exactly these terms. And even though the latter course would require a revolution of sorts, it would still leave the capitalists as a class in control of social production, albeit collectively through the state rather than privately through individual firms

Rick Burns
Somerville, Massachusetts


Dear friends,

In response to your request for feedback, I would like to limit myself to one point regarding Paul Mattick's remarks on violence and nonviolence [Interview, Root & Branch 5]. When Mattick states (on p. 35) that the bourgeoisie "does not allow the workers to choose between non-violent and violent methods of class struggle", I think he expresses a common but mistaken opinion long ago refuted by the historical development of methods of struggle. Out of the growing literature on nonviolent struggle, I need only refer to Gene Sharp's The Politics of Nonviolent Action (Boston: Porter Sargent, 1973), which in over 800 pages of well researched text establishes beyond a reasonable doubt that nonviolent action is a technique of struggle capable of winning victories against the violence of state and bourgeoisie, and that these methods have been resorted to frequently, not only with principled nonviolent leadership, but also innumerable times in the spontaneous activity of working people.

There is certainly room for debate on the role of nonviolent campaigns in the revolutionary movement and on the feasibility of a nonviolent strategy for revolution. I and my comrades in Movement for a New Society look forward to increasing discussion of these issues in libertarian publications; but, it is essential that such debate be informed.

In solidarity,

Bob Irwin

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Red Menace
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Now and After
A World to Win, P.O. Box 1587, San Francisco, CA 94101

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  • 1. The Red Menace. P.O. Box 171, Station D, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  • 2. Letter to Kugelman, 11 July 1868; Marx-Engels Selected Correspondence p. 251.
  • 3. Numbers in parentheses indicate page references to Marx and Keynes.
  • 4. J.M. Keynes, The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money, Harcourt, Brace and World, New York, 1965, p. 15.

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Root & Branch # 8

Theory and practice: an introduction to Marxian theory - Root and Branch

1979 article by Root and Branch, introducing Marxist theory.

Thus we do not confront the world dogmatically with a new principle, proclaiming: Here is the truth, kneel before it! We develop for the world new principles out of the principles of the world. We do not say to the world: give up your struggles, they are stupid stuff, we will provide you with the true watchword of the struggle. We merely demonstrate to the world why it really struggles, and consciousness is something that it MUST adopt, even if it does not want to do so. Karl Marx, 1843. (1)

In his critique of the leftwing philosophies attacked as the "German Ideology," Karl Marx contrasted communist literature that can be thought of "merely as a set of theoretical writings" with that which is "the product of a real movement." In his polemic against the so-called True Socialists, he pointed out that theory, as an activity of particular people carried out in particular social contexts, does not develop by a process of 11 pure thought" but springs "from the practical needs, the whole conditions of life of a particular class in particular countries."(2) In his own theoretical work his aim was to serve what he considered the practical needs of the working class in its struggle against capitalism throughout the world. This for Marx did not mean an abandonment of claims to objectivity or scientific truth, but the opposite. Those who wish to control their social-(as their natural) conditions of life need to understand the situations in which they find themselves and the possible choices of action within these situations. Such a view meant that, on the other hand, Marx's opposition to utopian thought did not imply submission to a pre-determined historical process. By "scientific socialism," as Marx out it in reply to criticism by Bakunin, he meant-in contrast with "utopian socialism which seeks to foist new fantasies upon the people"-"the comprehension of the social movement created by the people themselves."' The historical process Marx was interested in would consist precisely in people's attempts to change the society in which they find themselves. Theoretical work, in leading to a better understanding of society and so of the tasks involved in changing it, should serve as an element of these attempts.

Marx states in The German Ideology.: "The production of ideas, of conceptions, of consciousness, is at first directly interwoven with the material activity and the material intercourse of men, the language of real life. ... The same applies to mental production as expressed in the language of the politics, laws, morality, religion, metaphysics, of a people. Men are the producers of their conceptions, ideas, etc. -real, active men, as they are conditioned by a definite development of their productive forces and of the intercourse corresponding to them.. - Consciousness can never be anything else than conscious existence, and the existence of men is their actual life-process. (4)

Once consciousness is construed as the organization of human activity, then revolutionary consciousness, like its opposite, can be understood as the systems and quasi-systems of conceptions, feelings, etc. by means of which people organize their revolutionary (or non-revolutionary) behavior. All action involves theory, or at least some degree of coherent thinking. Like everyone, revolutionaries think about what they are doing: the theoreticians among them are those who try to systematize and explore and understand the human interactions that constitute the social status quo and the movement against it.

Although this understanding of the role of thought in revolutionary activity runs throughout Marx's development as a thinker, only in the course of real political experiences (and reflection thereon) did its implications emerge. A major turning-point seems to have been the revolutionary period of 1848-49 on the Continent, which saw Marx return from exile to edit a left democratic newspaper in Cologne. As Friedrich Engels, at that time already Marx's closest friend and political companion, explained in the introduction he wrote for a collection of Marx's articles from that period,

"When the February Revolution broke out (in France in 18481, we all of us, as far as our conceptions of the conditions and the course of revolutionary movements were concerned, were under the spell of previous historical experience in particular that of the French Revolution of 1789. What all revolutions up to then (the bourgeois revolutions) had in common was that they were minority revolutions. Even where the majority took part, it did so-whether wittingly or not, only in the service of a minority; but because of this, or simply because of the passive, unresisting attitude of the majority, this minority acquired the appearance of being the representative of the whole people."

It seemed as though the proletarian revolution would have the same form. In this case, however, the minority leading the revolution would for the first time be actually acting in the interest of the majority. The minority was needed for this leadership role, it seemed at the time, because "the proletarian masses themselves, even in Paris, were still absolutely in the dark as to the path to be taken. And yet the movement was there, instinctive, spontaneous irrepressible." It needed for success only guidance from the vanguard, those who, combining in themselves understanding of history, economics, and a philosophical comprehension of the tasks of humanity, would be able to administer the creation of the new social world. (5)

The parallel with the position of the Marxists in the Russian Revolution of 1918 is worth noting. We find Engels in 1853 guessing that on the next outbreak of revolution "our Party will one fine morning be forced to assume power" to carry out the bourgeois revolution. Then, "driven by the proletarian populace, bound by our own printed declarations... we shall be constrined to undertake communist experiments ... the untimeliness of which we know better than anyone else. In doing so we lose our heads-only physically speaking, let us hope." The similarity between the "backward country like Germany" at this time, "'which possesses an advanced party and is involved in an advanced revolution with an advanced country like France" and the situation of Russia in relation to the German revolution following the first world war explains the eerie character of Engels' ideas as prophetic of the Bolshevik seizure of power(6). In the event, however, Lenin and Trotsky took care to save their heads, physically speaking even at the expense of those of the more revolutionary workers.

As Engels noted, history proved this vision of minority-directed revolution, classically associated with the name of Blanqui, wrong. In fact, despite alliances with Blanquist groups during 1848-50, Marx (and Engels).already by this time seem to have rejected this vanguardist model of revolution. They argued for open democracy, instead of conspiratorial secrecy and hierarchy, within the communist organizations they worked with; for democracy structured by mass meetings and recallability of delegates, as the basis for "proletarian dictatorship"; and, above all, for the conception that communism could not be imposed. by the will of political thinkers and activists but could only be created by a vast mass movement in response to actual social conditions. (7)

A communist movement, in Marx's opinion, could only arise as the development of the capitalist system transformed the majority of the population into wage-workers. In 1848-50, Marx and his friends believed that this development was proceeding 'quite rapidly, but in reality Europe was far from ripe for communism. Capitalism was only getting started in the first half of the nineteenth century, and the series of economic and social crises that followed that of 1847 were milestones on a road of continued and rapid economic growth. It was this development, wrote Engels in the text quoted above, which "for the first time produced clarity in the class relationships" by creating a real capitalist and a real proletarian class. The process of economic growth which pushed these classes "into the foreground of capitalist development" was also a process of struggle between them. By making it possible for masses of workers to understand their common interest and common antagonism to their employers, this process clarified the conditions of socialist revolution.

In fact Engels proved optimistic; the growth of Social Democracy did not represent the clarification of the nature of the class struggle that he thought it did in its first decades. The events of 1848 and the subsequent development of capitalism and of the socialist movement had, however, a definite effect on Marx's thought. In the first place, it turned Marx's attention to economic crisis as a key to the existence and meaning of the socialist movement. His renewed study of economics in the 1850s reflected his conviction that socialist revolution would have to come out of a response to social conditions on the part of the workers. Hence Marx dedicated his life's work to showing how capitalism, in its very process of growth and development, simultaneously creates the form and the content of its overthrow.

Marx's position was, generally, that the social interdependency, brought about by industrial capitalism, both within and between workplaces of different types would provide a basis both for revolutionary action against the old, and for the creation of a new, society. The transformation of peasant agriculture 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-to each other. As each individual's productive labor requires coordination with his colleagues', so the individual's consumption depends upon the productive work of countless others. This characteristic of the current system explains the ideal formulated by its socialist opponents of a "collective commonwealth of labor," in which the producers themselves (and not a distinct class of owners or managers) would jointly control their labor and its products.

The nature of the goal dictates the form which revolutionary organizations must have. Ultimately, the "revolutionary organization" will have to be the working class as a whole; thus, Marx spoke of particular organizations as episodes "in the history of the party which everywhere grows up naturally and spontaneously from the soil of -modem society."' He essential, therefore, that the working class. movement. avoid the characteristics of the leftwing sect. The sect, as Marx put it in a letter, "sees the justification for its existence and its point of honor. not in what it has in common with the class movement but in the particular shibboleth which. distinguishes it from the movement." The attitude of the 'sectarian theoretician and leader-exemplified for Marx by Proudhon, Bakunin, and Lasalle-is (as he wrote of the latter) that "instead of looking among the genuine elements of the class movement for the real basis of his agitation, he wanted to prescribe the course to be followed by this movement according to a certain doctrinaire recipe." This is not to say that sects cannot have useful insights to offer the movement. Marx, for instance, honored Fourier, in contradistinction to the Fourierists; for the former wrote in a period in which "doctrinaire" propaganda could not interfere with the growth of the (barely existing) movement. To the extent that a real workers' movement put into existence, the little parties and groups should " merge in the class movement and make an end of all sectarianism." (9)

Thus the General Rules which Marx drew up in 1864 for the International Working Men's Association, began with Flora Tristan's dictum, "That the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working class themselves." The International was intended to be the opposite of a sect, in both theory and practice. It proclaimed as its business, in Marx's words, "to combine and generalize the spontaneous movements of the working classes, but not to dictate or impose any doctrinaire system whatever."(10) And, regarding organization, Marx argued against centralism, on the grounds that a centralist structure, -though appropriate to sectarian movements, "goes against the nature of trade unions," struggle organizations of workers. Typical of his attitude is his remark in a letter of 1868 that especially in Germany, "where the worker's life is regulated from childhood on by bureaucracy and he himself believes in the authoritarian bodies appointed over him, he must be taught above all else to walk by himself." In the same spirit, Marx refused the presidency of the International in 1866, and soon afterwards convinced its General Council to replace the post with that of a chairman to be elected at every weekly meeting.

This attitude was reflected in Marx's conception of the tasks of intellectuals in the movement. He put his writing skills at the service of the International, in preparing statements of position, official communications, and so forth. In addition, we should note the project of an "Enquete Ouvriere, " a questionnaire which Marx publisher in the Parisian Revue Socialiste in I880, and had reprinted and distributed to workers' groups, socialist and democratic circles, "and to anyone else who asked for it" in France. The text has the form of 101 questions about working conditions, wages, hours, effects of the trade cycle, and also about workers' defense organizations, strikes and other forms of struggle, and their results. Though this might be described as the first sociological survey, its preface urges workers to reply, not to meet the data needs of sociologists or economists, but because only workers can describe "with full knowledge the evils which they endure" just as "they, and not any providential saviors, can energetically administer the remedies for the social ills from which they suffer." Strategy and tactics, to use the terms of more recent leftwing theory, can only be created by workers who know their concrete conditions, not by "leaders-." Intellectuals can, however, play an important role in the collection and transmission of information; thus, the results of the Enquete were to be analyzed in a series of articles for the Re-vue, and; eventually,. a book. (12)

The main task that Marx took on as a revolutionary intellectual, however, as the task- of theory: the elaboration of a set of concepts, at a fairly abstract level, that would permit a better comprehension of the struggle between labor and capital. He prefaced the French serial edition of the first volume of Capital with an expression of pleasure, because "in this form the book will be more accessible to the working class-a con- sideration which to me outweighs everything else." (13) The function of theory was to help the movement as a whole clarify its problems and possibilities; it did not, in Marx's view, place the theorist in a dominating (or "hegemonic," as the currently fashionable euphemism has it) position vis-a-vis the movement, but was rather what he had to contribute to a collective effort.

In the light of the career of official Marxism since Marx's time, his criticism of Feuerbach's recasting of eighteenth century materialism has a prophetic cast:

"The materialist doctrine concerning the changing of circumstances and education forgets that circumstances are changed by men and that the educator must himself be educated. This doctrine has therefore to divide society into two parts, one of which is superior to society.' (14)

-Or, we may add, superior to the class it claims it represents, just as the philosophes claimed to represent the interests of society or of humanity as a whole. And in fact, as the "unity of theory and practice," in the form of "scientific socialism," became a basic element of orthodoxy in those organizations and currents of thought which presented themselves as Marxist, it took on just this doctrinal flavor.

The relationship of revolutionary theory to political practice acquired the practical form of the relationship of theorists (mostly middle-class intellectuals) within political organizations to the masses of workers they supposedly represented and gave direction to. For instance, by maintaining that "without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement," Lenin in 1902 meant that "socialist consciousness is something introduced into the proletarian class struggle from without and not something that arose within it spontaneously." He quoted Kautsky, the high priest of Social Democratic orthodoxy:

"Of course. socialism, as a doctrine, has its roots in modern economic relationships just as the class struggle of the Proletariat has and, like the latter, emerges from the struggle against the capitalist-created poverty and misery of the masses. But socialism and the class struggle arise side by side and not one out of the other.. . . Modern socialist consciousness can arise only on the basis of profound scientific knowledge.. . The vehicles( science is not the proletariat but the bourgeois intelligentsia... the task of Social Democracy is to imbue the proletariat with the consciousness of its position and the consciousness of its task."

Thus, as Lenin continued in his own words, "since there can be no talk of an independent ideology formulated by the working masses themselves in the process of their movement, the only choice is either bourgeois or socialist ideology"-in either case supplied by the intellectuals." (15)

This position reflected. (and was to justify) the actual division of labor within the Marxist movements, which, like the division in society as a whole, lay between professional leaders, or decision-makers, and the masses, who were to be provided by the former with outlook, strategy, and tactics. Aside from its outward implausibility as a theory of consciousness and of how it changes, that this position represented only an ideological expression of the interests of the professional revolutionaries as a social group was amply shown by events around the time of the first world war. In Western Europe, Marxist theory, "orthodox" as well as "revisionist," turned out to be compatible with an organizational practice that was not only less revolutionary than, but actively reactionary in comparison with, the response of large numbers of workers to the new crisis conditions. In Germany and Russia (as elsewhere) Marxist organizations responded to the revolutionary upheavals that followed the war either (in the West) as saviors of capitalism or (in Russia) as the creators of a new state power suppressing the attempts of workers to gain direct power over production. Social Democracy, in its reformist and in its revolutionary (Bolshevik) forms alike, showed its relation to the deeds of particular classes in particular countries- the rationalization, especially through state action, of capitalism in the West; and the creation of a new class society to carry out the process of industrialization forbidden the bourgeoisie in the underdeveloped East.

In contrast to the dominant interpretation of the "unity of theory and practice" as the control of the workers' movement by the Party and of socialist society by the party-state, around the turn of the century Rosa Luxemburg revived Marx's conception by expressing the idea that a truly socialist movement must be "the first in the history of class societies which reckons, in all its phases and throughout its entire course, on the organization and the direct, independent action of the masses." As she saw it, "social democratic activity ... arises historically out of the elementary class struggle," and becomes "aware of its objectives in the course of the struggle itself." In her opinion the activity of the self-proclaimed carrier of revolutionary theory, the bourgeois intelligentsia, constituted a subsidiary and politically less dependable element of the revolutionary process. It posed the threat, as she saw long before the Bolshevik coup d'etat, of dictatorship over the proletariat, in the left organizations and the. future society alike. Against Kautsky and Lenin, she proclaimed that

"The working class demands the right to make its own mis- takes and learn in the dialectic of history. Let us speak plainly. Historically, the errors committed by a truly revolutionary movement are infinitely more fruitful than the infallibility of the cleverest Central Committee." (16)

This position too reflected the experience and needs of a particular segment of society at a particular time- not only ultraleft theoreticians but also the working-class militants with whom they associated in their organizational activity. By Rosa Luxemburg's time there was considerable evidence both of the negative effects on workers' radicalism of trade-union and parliamentary politics and of workers' ability to organize their own radical activity in the absence of, and indeed in the face of, official left organizational, efforts. The truth of Luxemburgs perceptions was shown decisively, on the one hand, by the class-collaborationist policy of the Second International in Western Europe in 1914, and by the development of the Bolshevik dictatorship in Russia; and, on the other, by the spontaneously organized revolutions in Germany and- Russia, as well as similar, though less spectacular, occurrences throughout the West. Moreover, while Rosa Luxemburg still believed in the necessity of a party organization as the basis for revolution, the actual events showed the greater importance of new forms of organization arising from the social relationships in which workers' lives were structured. In the factory committees, in soviets,- and in workers', soldiers', and peasants' councils, Marx's concept of the development of the new society in the womb of the old took on a concrete meaning. This historical experience therefore involved also a justification of Marx's attitude towards the relation of "consciousness," theoretical and tactical, to the real activity of social groups.

These events provoked a rebirth of revolutionary analysis, as militants involved in, or affected by, the post- World War I struggles attempted to understand the failure of the Second International, the counter- revolutionary character of the Third (and its Trotskyist caricature), and the potentiality for new forms of social organization and action revealed by the mass revolutionary movements. Such thought was also stimu- lated by the efforts made by Spanish workers and peasants in the development of communist socialist relations in the revolution of 1936-37. In the thirties and forties, theorists once again tried to understand reality with regard to the needs of revolution; we may note here work in political and economic theory by Otto Ruehle, Anton Pannekoek, Paul Mattick, Karl Korsch, and Henryk Grossmann.

With the collapse of the inter-war revolutionary movements, however, and the solution through the second world war of the immediate crisis situation that had begun for world capitalism in 1929, the ideas disappeared with the activities they had been attempts to understand and structure. The result was that the Leninist version of social democratic orthodox Marxism," now the official ideology of several totalitarian states, survived as representative of Marxist theory. This was challenged only by a professorial, philo- sophical, "humanist" Marxism, which drawing inspiration particularly from the works of Marx's youth, made use neither of Marx's analysis of capitalism nor of the consequences to be drawn from it for revolutionary action.

In the East, particularly in the satellite countries, Marx's critique of economics was quite understandably identified as an ideological prop for the Stalinist system. In the West, Capital seemed even more out of touch with economic reality than at the turn of the century when Bernstein and his followers had turned their backs on Marxist orthodoxy. The abolition of capitalism in Russia had obviously not resulted in the achieve- ment of workers' power. On the other hand, capitalist society had not evolved in the direction of an obvious polarity between a small group of rich capitalists and a mass of impoverished proletarians, periodically reduced to total destitution by economic crisis. While control over capital has been continually centralized, the small group of the very rich and powerful stand at the top of a continuum of wealth and privilege, in which status and income-level seem to replace class (i.e., relation to the means of production) as the center of analytical interest. Furthermore, the combination of the war with Keynesian policies in peacetime has made possible continuous economic growth and rising incomes for large numbers of workers.

For the twenty-odd years of relative social stability that followed World War 11, proponents of the status quo and leftish critics alike by and large agreed that capitalism had escaped Marx's "iron-laws." The basis for economic conflict between workers and bosses was eroded by technological advance and political manipulation of the economy, which together made for permanent prosperity and the satisfaction at least of all material demands. While the official voices of sociology, economics, and political science celebrated this situation as the "end of ideology," however, leftwing pessimists bemoaned it as the advent of a "one dimensional" society, in which no oppositional force was left but ideology, in the form of a "critical theory" (or of "cultural revolution"). They agreed with conservatives that material opposition to the system was re- stricted to the threat posed by the so-called socialist systems of Russia, China, and their allies. Hope for change in the world rested first of all on the peasants of the Third World, though they would find allies in the developed countries among disadvantaged minorities and the student movement. The Leninist character of this picture of the theory-possessing vanguard, deserted by the labor-aristocratic masses, awaiting the com- mencement of capitalism's destruction at its weakest links, goes far in explaining the apparently bizarre transition in some New Leftists from an interest in "culture" and "liberatory lifestyles" to militaristic guerrilla fantasies.

If such views could be crudely, labeled "Stalino-humanism," a related but, in my eyes, more interesting set of ideas emerged from the Trotskyist critique of the Soviet Union, which was identified as the vanguard in capitalism's current tendency to monopolization and state regulation. This current (represented variously by Socialism ou Barbarie, the English Solidarity, Facing Reality in Detroit, the group around Murray Bcokchin, the Situationist International, and others) revived the earlier ultraleft criticism of Leninism, which was now equated with Marxism. The onset of permanent prosperity was seen as neither a cause for pessimism nor the deathblow to ideology. On the contrary, just by suggesting the possibility of total satisfaction of every desire, modem capitalism -East and West-was bound to produce a conflict between its promise and the restrictions placed on its fulfillment by the institutions of private property and the state. The old conflict between an impoverished working class and a rich ruling class gave way only to expose the deeper, and unsolvable, contradiction between those -who control the lives of others and those who are controlled, in a period of history when the end of scarcity made such a division irrational. Again the issues were clearly not "economic" but ones of social and spiritual liberation. Marxism was rejected insofar as it was thought to make this distinction and concentrate on the former.

Both of these leftwing tendencies, along with bourgeois sociology, restricted their appreciation of Marx to his earlier works. The rediscovery of these explorations of "alienation" appealed to those who rejoiced in, as to those who worried about, the cultural malaise that seemed a byproduct of material well-being. But the end of the "permanent prosperity" in the late 1960s; the failure of the "technological revolution" to leave the sphere of armaments production; the increasing assimilation of the conditions and consciousness of the "new," technical and intellectual, working class to those of their bluecollar fellows (including the experience of mass unemployment); and the disintegration of student leftism and the "youth" movement as such have all brought about a renewal of interest in Marx's chief work, the -theory of capitalist development.

At the same time, the practical insignificance the revolutionary Leninist sects and the' self-proclaimed reformism of the mass left parties in the West leaves the way open to a rediscovery of the creative possibilities of the working class in a capitalism that is entering once more into visible-painfully visible-crisis. As Marx's theory of economic change is one with his theory of revolution, the renewed interest in Capital should go hand in hand with consideration of the views about the nature of radical politics. Once again it may be possible to raise the question of the relation of theory to, practice, of 'science to socialism, in a way which does not assume the subservience of the struggle of millions of people to a handful of leaders "armed with Marxist science."

Discussing the utopian socialists, Marx observed that

"So long as the proletariat is not yet sufficiently developed to constitute itself as a class, and consequently so long as the struggle itself of the proletariat with the bourgeoisie has not yet assumed a political character, and the productive forces are not yet sufficiently developed in the bosom of the bourgeoisie itself to enable us to catch a glimpse of the material conditions necessary for the emancipation of the proletariat and for the formation of a society, these theoreticians are merely utopians who, to meet the wants of the oppressed classes, improvise systems and go in search of a regenerating science. But in the measure that history moves forward, and with it the struggle of the proletariat assumes clearer outlines, they no longer need to seek science in their minds; they have only to take note of what is happening before their eyes and to become its mouthpiece. (17)

Although the current (1979) spirit of the working class is not a revolutionary one, the problems we have today in understanding the nature of revolutionary action do not stem primarily from an insufficiency of capitalist development or a lack of historical experience of class struggle. In fact, this history offers us more than a supplement to the observation of what is happening before our eyes, as it allows for the detachment from it of concepts and models to aid in the interpretation of present-day events. Such concepts and models cannot provide us with strategy and tactics for the situations we face and will face, but they are essential as an education that helps prepare us for the creativity that revolutionary activity requires.

An understand of the changing conditions of the workers' movement requires an understanding of its context, the capitalist system. This system has continued to develop and change since Capital was written, and in ways which do not receive much attention in Marx's writing, in particular. with the increasing participation of the state in economic activity. The new developments require theoretical discussion. How have Keynisian techniques measured up against the limits Marx discovered in the capitalism of his time? Does the carrying of such techniques to their logical conclusion, in the total state domination of the economy in Russia, China, etc., represent a new form of exploitative society? Above all we have to understand the nature of capitalism to define the system we wish to create in its place. For all of these questions, Marx's work remains an essential starting point. By providing us with a developmental model of "pure" capitalism it allows us to judge the significance of the phenomena like monopolization and state-interference in the economy, to see in what sense the party-state-run systems are alternatives to private-property capitalism , and to pose basic questions about the construction of a system without capital or State.

But Capital is not, as it has been taken to be, only a "theory of capitalist development." It s a "critique of political economy" - that Is, an exploration of the bases of, and alternative to the modes of thought characteristic of life in a society ruled by business. As such it not only "takes note" of our experiences in this system, but, by demonstrating a new way of interpreting them, provides a necessary weapon for the struggle against the system. By showing the roots of capitalist theory in capitalist practice, Marx's theoretical work is a practical tool from which we can learn to organize our own activity in new ways.

It is a remarkable confirmation of Marx's ideas about the relation between social reality and the theories constructed to comprehend it, that the first fifty years of the Marxist movement saw a nearly total failure not only to extend but even to understand Marx's economic writings. Although constant lipservice was paid to Capital as the scientific socialist "Bible of the working class," (!) it is fair to say that the publication of Henryk Grossmann's The Capitalist System's Law of Accumulation and Collapse in 1929 marked the first serious and knowledgeable attempt to come to grips with Marx's actual work. Since then there have been only a few books of importance, either as exegesis or as extension of Marx's theory. Marx theorized with the assumption of a developed worldwide capitalist system, divided into two classes with the vast majority living as wage-earners. Even an approximation to such a state of affairs-in Europe, North America, and Japan-has only recently come into existence. Until the Great Depression of 1979, every crisis heralded a new prosperity in the course of which the long-term trend of growth would continue. It is only today when capitalism seems unable (at least in the absence of world war) to continue its expansion-externally by a rapid development of the Third World, internally by maintenance, of a steady growth rate-that the questions Marx raised about the long-term trends have become questions of the hour.

If Marx is now more relevant than ever, the Marxist tradition in which his relics have been enshrined has little to offer us as a guide to understanding, and much to confuse us with. It is necessary, therefore, to go back to Capital itself as a starting point for further progress in analysis. Even apart from the ideological accretions of the last hundred years, however, Marx's works pose certain difficulties for the reader. It must be said that in this matter professional intellectuals have shown no advantage over working-class readers. This is no doubt in part due to the disadvantage of having professional interests incompatible with taking Marx too seriously. But even assuming a desire to understand the world as it is, Marx had to forewarn his readers that "there is no royal road to science, and only those who do not dread the fatiguing climb of its steep paths have a chance of gaining its luminous summits." (18)

In addition to the difficulty inherent in coming to grips with any abstract theory, particularly one, like Marx's, which asks us to think about a familiar subject matter in a most unfamiliar way, Capital presents the reader with a number of problems peculiar to what its author called the "method of presentation" of his ideas. First of all, the structure of the argument is such that it is only when all three volumes are read that the whole significance of the first can be seen. Marx ought to have begun with a clear explanation of what he was trying to do and the method he would employ, but he did not. Secondly, Marx's book looks so much like a work of economic analysis that it has been difficult to remember or to understand the significance of its original title: critique of political economy. What Marx meant by "critique," and what accordingly the relation of his work to economic theory is, calls for some exposition. In addition, though "it is generally agreed that Marx was a master of literary German," (19) his style cannot be called a "popular" or simple one. As he wrote Kugelmann in reference to this problem,

"It is due in part to the abstract nature of the subject-matter, to the limited space prescribed to me, and to the goal of the work.. . . Scientific attempts at the revolutionizing of a science can never be truly popular. But, once the scientific foundation is laid, popularization is easy. If the times become somewhat stormier, it will be possible again to choose colors and inks which will cover a popular presentation of these subjects.(20)

To date, such a presentation has not been written. The forthcoming series of articles, to which this is an introduction, is not intended to answer this need, -but rather to supply enough of the methodological background to enable the reader to deal with Marx's own writing. We will begin with an exploration of Marx's political and intellectual objectives in Capital and then see how the form of the argument derives from these. We will end with a discussion of the extent to which Marx achieved his aim-that is, to which his theory can help us organize the overthrow of the current system of social life and the construction of a new one.

Paul Mattick, Jr.


1. Marx to Arnold Ruge, September. 1843 Karl Marx on Revolution ed. Saul K. Padover (NY: Mc Graw-Hill; 1971), pp. 517-18; original in Marx Engels Werke (henceforth MEW ) (Berlin: Dietz Verlag, 1959) 1:345

2. Marx and Engels, The German ideology (NY; International Publishers, 1939), p. 79.

3. Marx, Notes on Bakunin in MEW 18: 5970642; cited and trans. Richard N. Hunt, the POloiyticla Ideas of Marx and Engels (Pittsburgh: Univ. of Pittsburgh Press, 1974), p.326.

4. Marx and Engels, German Ideology. pp. 13-14.

5. Marx, Class Struggle in France 1848-1850 (International Publishers, 1964) pp. 12, 14. 15.

6. Engels to J. Wedemeyer, 12 April 1853, Marx -Engles Selected Correspondence (henceforth MESC) (Moscow: Foreign Language Publishing House, n.d.) p. 94

7. See Hunt, op cit pp. 212-283 and passim. In 1874, Engels criticized the Blanquist idea of revolution in these terms: "From Blanqui's conception that every revolution is a surprize attack by a small revolutionary minority, there follows of itself the necessity for a dictatorship after the success of the venture. This would be, for sure, a dictatorship not of the entire revolutionary class, the proletariat, but of a small number, who have made the surprise attack and who are themselves previously organized under the dictatorship of one or several individuals" (Engels, "Programm der Blanquitsten Kommunefluchtilinge", in MEW 18:529, cited and translated Hunt, op. cit. p. 311)

8. Marx to F. Freilgrath, 29 February 1860 in MEW 30: 495.

9. Marx to J.b Schweitzer, 13 October 1868 MESC pp. 257-58

10. Marx, "General Rules of the International Workingmen's Association: in Karl Marx on the First International ed. S. Padover (NY: McGraw-Hill, 1973) p. 13 and "Instructions for delegates of the provisional general council (1866) ibid. p. 27

11. Marx to J.B Schweitzer op. cit. p. 259

12. T.Bottomore and M. Rubel eds. Karl Marx;: Selected Writings in Sociology and Social Philosophy (Penguin 1963) pp. 210-11.

13. Marx , Capital (Penguin, 1976) 1: 104

14. Marx, "Theses on Feuerbach,: in Bottom0ore and Rubel,op cit pp. 82-83.

15. Karl Kautsky, cited by Lenin, "What is To Be Done?" in his Selected Works (NY: International publishers, 1967), 1: 129-130 cf. ibid pp. 82-83.

15. K. Kautsky, cited by Lenin, "What is to be Done?" in his Selected Works, 1: 129-130.

16. Rosa Luxemburg, "Organizational Questions of Social Democracy" in Rosa Luxemburg Speaks, ed. Mary Alice Waters (Pathfinder Press, 1970) pp. 117-18 and 130.

17. Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy (Moscow, Foreign Language Publishing House, n.d.) p. 125

18. Marx, Capital 1: 104

19. Ben Fowkes Translator's Preface to Capital 1: 88

20. Marx to L. Kugelman, 28 December 1862 in briefe uber "Das Kapital" (Berlin, Deitz Verlag, 1954) p. 114

From Root and Branch #8, taken from Collective Action Notes