Article about developments between publishing of the first and second issues of the Zerowork journal.
From Zerowork #1 to Zerowork #2
This second essay on the history of the rise and fate of the Zerowork collective
and its journal Zerowork: Political Materials picks up where the
first essay left off, namely with the publication of
the first issue.
In what follows, I trace — as well as existing memories and records allow
— how we distributed that first issue, the reactions of others to it, changes
in the editorial board and the political engagments of the editors, beyond the
collective itself. I also sketch the debates within the collective and some of
the outside forces influencing those debates — especially the efforts of the
leadership of the Wages for Housework Campaign to suborn the journal to its own
line and needs. Those efforts resulted in a split in the collective resulting
in three editors leaving the group before the publication of the second issue. This
historical background is complemented by brief biographies of those who joined
the collective in this period and contributed to the crafting of the second issue.
Peter Linebaugh sent final proofs of Zerowork #1 to the printers in
early December 1975 and picked up 3,000 copies on December 31st. On January 6th,
he wrote to Geoffey Kay in London,
On the last day of 1975, Zerowork was born. Labor was longer than we
thought it would be. We know its friends will understand. It is alive, well,
and thrashing about asking "Who are my friends? How can they help me grow and be
At that point, we began to make efforts to distribute the journal, to find new
friends. As typical with such political interventions, we sent copies to friends
to share with friends. We sought to distribute the journal through radical
bookstores, to place ads announcing its existence and the cost of subscriptions
in other radical publications. We peddled the journal and solicited subscriptions
at various radical meetings. We sent copies to comrades who, we hoped, would
write positive reviews to get the word out about its existence and contents and
to start discussions. We also printed flyers, stacks of which we placed in
bookstores that had the habit of making such things available; we handed them
out at conferences, sent them to friends, etc.
Because we started where we all lived, our initial efforts were directed mainly
at distribution in the US, Canada, Britain and Italy. Paolo Carpignano, George
Caffentzis and Bill Cleaver were all living in New York — a place with
lots of bookstores and political activity — while Peter Linebaugh was in
Rochester, New York. Initially, Bruno Ramirez and Peter Taylor were in Toronto,
although Bruno moved to Montreal during the year.
Although one of our corresponding editors, John Merrington, was still in Britain,
he was preoccupied with other things, so our primary correspondent at that time
became Geoffrey Kay who had been in the Offord Road group with John and Peter
Linebaugh. Kay saw opportunities for distributing the journal and soliciting
subscriptions through two connections: first, there was the possibility of
exchanging ads with Hillel Tickkin's Critique, a journal mostly devoted
to the analysis of the Soviet Union and related systems, and second, through the
Conference of Socialist Economists (CSE). The CSE was an organization with a
diverse membership of left-leaning economists. Although Kay saw possible interest
in Zerowork limited by the history of sectarian Leftist influences in
that group (mostly British CP and Trotskyist), he did feel that there would
likely be some interest among those then preoccupied with the "labor process
question". They were drawing on work by Harry Braverman — an economist
closely associated with Monthly Review — but also on Italian
autonomists such as Raniero Panzieri and Mario Tronti.(1)
Kay thought that among those concerned
with that question, there was an opportunity for a fair hearing, but worried that
some of the Italian analytical categories, such as the refusal of work and class
composition, were already being fetishized and taken out of their political
context, even in Potere Operaio. As it turned out, according to Robby Guttmann,
Zerowork would find a sympathetic, or at least tolerant, reception among
a wider audience within the CSE — one that included people preoccupied with
other issues, such as John Holloway and Sol Picciotto who, at that time, were
working primarily on the state.(2) Effectively,
our comrades were successful
at putting the labor process at center of the agenda at the 1976 CSE annual
meeting, and getting Ferruccio Gambino invited as keynote speaker. In preparation
for that meeting, the CSE published a collection of five articles on the labor
process debate — three of which were translations of essays by Panzieri,
Tronti and Bologna, essays that contained many of the ideas in Zerowork.
(3) At any rate, for a while the "London
Zerowork collective Group" was made up mainly of John Merrington, Christian
Marazzi, Robby Guttmann and Geoffrey Kay.(4)
In the light of these efforts made within the CSE, it is perhaps worth noting
that we made much less effort to get our ideas out to those in what was more or
less the American counterpart of the CSE — the Union of Radical Political
Economists (URPE), a group that published (and still publishes) the Review of
Radical Political Economics. This lack of enthusiasm for such an effort
originated in our familiarity with the organization and the views of its
adherents. There were a few Marxists, but mostly of the traditional sort —
Trotskyists, Stalinists, Maoists or Althusserians. There were a few Marxologists,
who worried about what Marx “really meant”, and some Hegelian-Marxists, who
worried about proving Althusser wrong. But most eschewed the label Marxist,
preferring — as the name of the organization makes clear — that of
“radical political economist.” The “radical” suggested an adherence to some
heterodox element in the history of economics.(5)
“Political economist”, while evoking the
classical economics of the 18th and 19th Century, signaled that those using
these characterizations to describe themselves and their work, still considered
themselves part of the economics profession.(6)
This was important for some — as their
contributions to the RRPE made clear — because they wanted to engage
mainstream economists in debate and carve out niches for themselves within the
profession. Their agenda, on the whole, was to demonstrate to the mainstream
that they had developed critiques revealing weaknesses and flaws in the latter’s
theories and had better theories to offer. This approach held out, among other
things, the possibility of acceptance on the margins of the economics profession
and even of tenure.(7) Those of us in Zerowork,
however, had no
interest in offering either critiques of mainstream economics or alternative
theories that might help mainstream economists do their job better. This was why
we held out little hope for a sympathetic hearing from most in URPE and made
little effort in those circles.(8)
A second possible source of help with distribution in the UK was Falling Wall
Press — the organization that was publishing most of Wages for Housework's
materials. Kay had neither knowledge of nor contact with them, but of course,
those women close to Zerowork, e.g., Silvia Federici, did. Although the Press
was a help at first, that avenue of distribution was eventually closed off as a
result of the subsequent split within the Zerowork collective over its
relationship to Wages for Housework.
From existing correspondence it appears that despite these efforts, both in
North America and Britain, we had some success in getting the journal
distributed — to radical bookstores, conferences, and prisoners (in both
Federal and state institutions) — and in circulating the ideas through
alternative radio programs, e.g., WBAI in NYC,(9)
but failed to create dependable networks
of distribution and the number of copies of the first issue distributed remained
limited to a little less than the initial press run of 3,000.
At the time Zerowork #1 became available our main contacts in Italy were
Ferruccio Gambino, our Corresponding Editor in Padua, and Bruno Cartosio in
Milan.(10) Both undertook to distribute the
first issue to like-minded comrades, organizations and publications, e.g.,
Primo Maggio, with which both Ferruccio and Bruno were collaborators.
Christian Marazzi who would join Zerowork during the preparation of the second
issue also participated in Primo Maggio — especially in its
working group on money. At the same time, Ferruccio, in collaboration with the
graphic artist Manfredo Massironi, who designed the cover to Zerowork,
created a beautiful poster with ZEROWORK — in the same style as the cover
of the journal — plastered across a background of 24 black & white
photographs of various moments of struggle. Those posters became available to
help get the word out about the journal in early 1977.
Ferruccio also put us in contact with Yann Moulier (later Moulier-Boutang) in
Paris, one of the editors of the autonomist journal Camarades, to whom
we promptly sent a copy of Zerowork hoping for further contact. Although
we would indeed have further contact with Yann, and would receive some copies of
Camarades in return, no substantial distribution in France developed
from this contact.(11)
Considering that the objective of crafting the "political materials" making up
the first issue of Zerowork was to influence current debate over the
nature of the crisis, the general silence — dearth of formal, published
reviews or articles taking up issues raised in the journal — from folks
beyond our circles, in response to its limited distribution was disappointing.
We found poor consolation in reminding each other that the initial reaction to
the publication of Marx's Capital was similar. What limited feedback we
did get was a mixture of negative and positive reactions.
Informally, negative reactions and objections varied — as one might expect
— with the political positions of the objectors. From the traditional Left,
probably the most common negative reaction derived from the long-standing tendency
to juxtapose “bad” work under capitalism — exploitative, and for many
alienating — with “good” work under socialism and communism — work
without exploitation or alienation. To those inclined to such a perspective, the
very term “zerowork” suggested a fatal failure to make that distinction. By not
explicitly excluding “good” socialist work from the struggle for zero work we were
accused of nihilistically embracing slacking and of a failure to understand the
essence of human species-being as homo faber. Although how, as individuals,
we answered that objection varied, one answer to the question “Are you talking
about a rejection of working for capital or a rejection of working in any form?”
was the following: “If you know about some other type of work [than for capital],
tell me what it is. Is there any work that is not work for capital? . . . We need
not enter a fantastical discussion of utopia, or “play”, or human activity in
past societies, or future ones, in order to understand that there is no work but
what the boss says.”(12) Many, including
the person who raised the
question quoted here, did not find this answer adequate, but it offered the
beginning of a dialog — which we both sought and welcomed.
Closely related was distaste for the notion of attributing the crisis of the
1970s to the “struggle against work”. On the one hand, many traditional Marxists
clung to one of the “crisis theories” debated since the Second International, e.g.,
the tendency of the rate of profit to fall or underconsumptionism.(13) Neo-Marxists of the Monthly Review
school similarly remained strongly attached to some variation of the Baran & Sweezy
thesis that the source of crisis in monopoly capital can only be found in
difficulties in “disposing of the surplus”.(14)
On the other hand, those inclined to
distinguish between “bad” and “good” work — and to berate us for not
recognizing it — had a similar inclination to differentiate between those
who hated their work and those who reveled in it. The former were admitted to
sometimes resist work, either informally through slacking or sabotage or formally
in strikes for shorter working hours, but the work of the latter, it was often
maintained, had enough elements of unalienated self-realization as to produce
an attachment to work. Moreover, it was argued, neither slacking nor strikes had
been pervasive enough to cause a crisis in the system. In response to the
“consciousness” objection, we generally pointed out how it shifted the discussion
back to the familiar, traditional terrain of “class consciousness”, whereas in
Zerowork #1 we had identified various behaviors as “struggles against
work” regardless of how they were consciously framed by the workers in question.
Refusing to enter into what we felt was a stale and unproductive debate over
“class consciousness”, we generally insisted that the real issue was how various
struggles had undermined, and continued to undermine, the power of capital to
impose work. In response to the second objection, we stood by the evidence
presented in the journal of how struggles against work by both waged and unwaged
workers had indeed precipitated crisis for capital.
At that time, the main “crisis theories” in circulation that even remotely
resembled the analysis we put forth in Zerowork #1, were the “profit
squeeze” theory held by some radical economists and that of the “fiscal crisis
of the state” put forward by Jim O’Connor.(15)
The former could be found among members
of the Union of Radical Political Economics. They recognized that working class
struggles to raise wages had been successful enough to “squeeze” profits, i.e.,
lower them. They differed by failing to explore the struggle against work both
at the point of production and in the sphere of reproduction. Similarly, while
some, like James O’Connor, Francis Fox Piven and Richard Cloward pointed to the
multiple struggles that forced state agencies to spend more and more money on
social services and public employee wages and benefits, they too failed to
explore the struggle against work among both those receiving services and those
Another, fairly common, negative reaction was to the broadening of our treatment
of the working class to include unwaged workers such as housewives, students and
peasants. In this we were, appropriately, blamed for making the same “mistake” as
those in Wages for Housework, namely not recognizing that the only “true” working
class was made up of waged workers who produced surplus value. Our rationale for
this, offered in one form or another in response, is spelled out in the section
“Background: Genesis of Zerowork #1” on this webpage.
We did, of course, get quick, sometimes critical, feedback from more immediate
friends. Geoff Kay, for instance, initially objected strenuously to the assertion
in the introduction that “these articles show how the struggle has obliterated
any distinction between politics and economics, the distinction that in previous
phases dominated conceptions of revolutionary organization.” “If no ‘distinctions’
exist,” he wrote, “then the most immediate struggle of the class becomes a struggle
against the capitalist mode of production as such . . . I do not think that
this is true concretely, but even if it were, it would take much more than an
‘abstract’ statement about the wage being a political as well as an economic
instrument of class oppression to prove the point.” Later he would write a longer,
more detailed letter laying out his critiques, a letter that we would publish in
the second issue.
Besides critiques of particular aspects of the analysis in Zerowork, the
journal was often critiqued for the style of writing — a critique that the
editors took very much to heart as is clear in the following comments by Peter
[Criticisms] have forced us to find that our allusiveness, the knowing tone that
we occasionally indulged in, and the lapidary phrase might sometimes be a matter
of abbreviation of positions we all understood and at other times merely a way
of suggesting that we knew more than we did or of asking our readers to fill in
the ellipsis (so to speak). The “Introduction”, “Notes on the International Crisis,
the auto piece and some others all fell into this trap, a trap that led us to
neglect our political responsibilities both to our readers and to our own
Beyond immediate acquaintances of the editors, we did receive a few letters that
contained friendly, thoughtful, and substantive critiques, of both content and
form, one by Peter Rachleff — the essence of which he later elaborated in
a review for The Fifth Estate — and another from the City
University [of New York, (CUNY)] Kapitaliststate group.
Rachleff's primary critique was of references to both capital-as-a-whole and the
working class-as-a-whole having "strategies" in their struggles. In the case of
capital, he argued in his letter that Marx's restriction of capitalist planning
to the shop-floor — with capitalist production more generally subject to
the "anarchy" of unplanned markets — remains largely true and that if we
want to argue that it goes beyond that, we need to demonstrate it much more
concretely. In his review, he states, "I fail to see how capital, via its agency
the state, is capable of having a coherent 'strategy'." In both places, he
refers the reader to councilist Paul Mattick's book on Marx and Keynes.
(18) In the case of the working class, he
asked in his letter about the aims and processes through which a general strategy
might be argued to be and suggested that given the diffuseness of struggles at
best one might be able to identify a "unifying thrust to working class activity
in the past decade." Yet even that would require "much more attention to be paid
to the self-organization of these struggles" than we provided. Indeed, in his
review he emphasized the need for addressing the "form" of workers' struggles.
"How are these struggles carried out? The 'form' of self-organization bears a
'content' of its own . . .".
Had the authors of Zerowork #1 given references to some of their
important theoretical sources, Rachleff's objection to the notion of a capitalist
"strategy" — beyond the factory — might have been formulated
differently. His assessment of Marx's analysis of the "anarchy of production"
might have taken into account works such as Raniero Panzieri's analysis of how
capitalist planning has expanded beyond the shop floor in response to working
class struggle.(19) Planning, of course,
Similarly, his reference to Mattick's notions of the nature and limits of
Keynesianism might have been different had we referenced Toni Negri's analysis
of Keynes and capital's response to the class struggles of the Great Depression
era.(20) Those analyses constituted basic
points of reference for the contributors to Zerowork, yet remained
unreferenced in any of the articles in the first issue.(21)
It would have been obvious that those
analyses offered responses to Rachleff's initial objections and would, perhaps,
have resulted in different suggestions on his part. Negri's analysis of Keynesianism
as capitalist state planning in response to workers' struggles carried Panzieri's
analysis to the level of the nation state. Montano's, and then later Marazzi's,
analysis of Bretton Woods and the International Monetary Fund's management of
fixed exchange rate regimes carried it to the global level.
With respect to Rachleff's demand for much closer investigation and analysis of
exactly how workers organized themselves in the struggles highlighted in
Zerowork #1, I think we mostly agreed. Had we responded directly to his
letter, and later his review, this issue would certainly have been taken up. One
aspect of this that he emphasized in his review — the relationship between
rank & file workers and union bureaucrats — was certainly underspecified
in Zerowork. Our emphasis, of course, was on the emergence of antagonism
and overt conflict between the two, but unlike, say, the earlier work of Paul
Singer, Marty Glaberman or James Boggs, there was no close examination of the
dynamics of self-organization and opposition. Unfortunately, the same absence
of analysis of exactly how those concrete struggles that we judged important
were organized existed throughout not only Zerowork #1 but
Zerowork #2 as well. It's not that we didn't think such analysis was
important, on the contrary, we just chose, at that point in our work, when many
other Marxists were talking about the "laws of capitalist development" to focus
on what we felt was "the big picture": the power of our struggles to throw
capital into crisis.
The clarity of our discussion of the relationship between workers' struggles and
crisis was apparently not sufficient to avoid confusion on Rachleff's part about
our analysis. Twice in his review he characterizes our argument as saying that
workers "struggled to reduce the rate of profit". But we were only saying that
their struggles for higher wages and benefits coupled with their struggles
against work had, as one result, the effect of reducing profits. We were saying
that the crisis those struggles imposed was far more than what some, at that
time, called a "profit-squeeze"; it was a rupture of the power of capital to
impose work — its fundamental vehicle of social organization and control
— in sector after sector of society. So too did we leave room for
confusion over capital's response to that crisis of control. Rachleff wrote that
he could not visualize "the possibility (let alone the reality) of the bourgeoisie
uniting to cause a crisis". But what we were arguing was not that capital itself
had caused the crisis it faced, but rather that capitalist policy makers
responded with policies designed to turn the crisis back on the out-of-control
workers who had ruptured their previous plans, e.g. the imposition of a planned
Keynesian downturn in 1970 designed to marginally raise unemployment and slow
wage growth that had been outstripping that of productivity since 1965. Or, when
such Keynesian policies failed, shifting from the Bretton Woods fixed exchange
rate regime that required such policies to work, to flexible exchange rates that
While the CUNY Kapitaliststate group was supportive of several aspects
of our analysis, its critique, as one might imagine from its name and the title
of its journal, mainly lamented the dearth of theorizing in Zerowork #1
about the nature of the state.(23)
Lauding our approach as a "an affirmative,
constructive, methodology", it agreed with the emphasis on working class
struggle as a determining factor in capitalist crisis, the broadening of the
category of working class to include the unwaged. It's characterization of the
former was one we heard from several quarters, "Zerowork corrects the tendency to
overestimate the power of capital and underestimate the potential of labor . . ."
At the same time, they also recognized how Zerowork saw "capital as
essentially reactive to labor as a class". Its characterization of the latter
involved a reformulation.
The proletariat is, then, not wage labor but the society of social labor —
those who are and who are not employed, those who are and who are not wage
earners or potentially wage earners but are nevertheless an identifiable part
(no doubt through the mediation of the "state") of socialized labor power —
the society of socialized production. . . . the wage laborer is . . . but one
element of the society of real producers that includes houseworkers, welfare
recipients, even consumers of necessities in general.
Their critique identified other problems that they perceived with our analysis,
some of which we agreed with, e.g., the need for much greater specification of
certain relationships, some of which struck us as odd. One oddity was the charge
that the analysis in Zerowork adopted "an archaic and mechanistic view
of the capitalist enterprise which tends to portray capital as overly
particularized and therefore as directly reactive to overly-particularized labor
conflicts." In the only response to this criticism that I have been able to find,
Peter Linebaugh expressed how surprised we were at the charge, "that our
portrayal of capital is 'overly particularized'", that, he wrote, "I cannot
understand". He went on,
Usually ZW1 has been criticized for the opposite, namely that in
speaking as we often do of capital's 'plan' we attribute far greater unity and
direction than in fact exists. Usually this comes from hide-bound Marxists of the
Trot and CP variety. I think that it is very important for our future work to
learn what you mean when you say our view is archaic and mechanistic."
Another critique, that we also found odd, was the claim that Zerowork
failed "to undertake a serious discussion of subjectivity independently of
individual psychology (consciousness as attitudes of individuals, etc.)", that
we so reduced "the problem of subjectivity to the problem of the relationship
between what people think and what they do" as to "to flirt uncritically with
the categories of bourgeois psychology and an empiricism that breeds endless
speculation". To this, Linebaugh also articulated what I think was our general
Your second main criticism of ZW1 was its failure to undertake a serious
discussion of "subjectivity". And you say that we hold an implicit theory of
consciousness which is essentially psychological. Perhaps there are differences
of terminology and tradition, for I fail to see how our "theory of consciousness"
(I can't believe that we have one!) is psychological or anything else. . . .
perhaps the problem that you pose as problems of "consciousness", we pose as
problems of organization.(25)
Whether the problem in this precise case was terminological is questionable, but
there were certainly multiple problems of terminology. The Kapitalistate
folks were working and writing within the context of a considerable, on-going
debate over the nature of the state in modern capitalism. Their journal
Kapitalistate was only one space of that debate that was much more
far-flung.(26) How the orientation of that
whole debate differed from Zerowork's can be seen in the opening
sentence of John Holloway and Sol Picciotto's introduction to their 1978
collection of contributions to that debate: "The present crisis of capitalism
appears, more than ever before, as a crisis of the state."
(27) For us, that crisis "appeared" more than
ever before as a crisis of the class relation. Rachleff
raised other points, but those were, I think, the main ones.
Eventually, Rachleff's critique, excerpted from one of his letters, was printed
in Zerowork #2, alongside the letter from Geoff Kay. Why the Kapitalistate
Collective's letter, was not included, I don't remember. [In a Sept 9, 1976,
letter Peter L. mentions “a short review that Liberation did of
Zerowork”.] In all cases, our failure to respond in print to these
missives and their critiques was emblematic of a more general failure to engage
in public debate, even with those sympathetic to our project.
Nevertheless, as one might imagine, these critiques — along with our own
internal evaluations — became the subject of considerable discussion within
the editorial Collective, as we reconsidered the content and form of
Zerowork #2. What we judged to be the most appropriate, and feasible,
content for the next issue evolved considerably as a result of turnover in the
composition of the Collective.
During this period, roughly from January 1976 to September 1977, there was
considerable turnover in the composition of the editorial group of the Zerowork
collective. By the end of this period four of the original editors remained active
(Paolo Carpignano, Peter Linebaugh, Bruno Ramirez and John Merrington), four
dropped out (George Caffentzis, Bill Cleaver, Mario Montano and Ferruccio Gambino),
while four new people joined (Harry Cleaver, Philip Mattera, Christian Marazzi
and Bruno Cartosio). There are three identifiable moments of this turnover.
First, early in 1976, two of the original editors — Bill Cleaver and Mario
Mantano — bowed out of further direct work on the journal. Bill dropped out
for two reasons. First, because the time and energy demands of his struggles
against his union's bureaucracy proved more pressing than the primarily theoretical
debates that preoccupied other members of the Zerowork collective. And second,
because neither those struggles, nor a follow-up piece on miners’ struggles that
he wrote with a friend in West Virginia interested the other editors. In short,
he was frustrated with the failure of the collective to follow up on its own
insistence in Zerowork #1 on the need to identify appropriate organizational
solutions for the working class in the current period.(28)
In Mario’s case, his own shifting
preoccupations — from politics to spirituality — led him to leave
his teaching in the U.S. and his work on Zerowork to join an ashram in
Second, Harry Cleaver (Bill's brother), Phil Mattera, Christian Marazzi and
Bruno Cartosio joined the collective. Harry joined as a contributing editor after
finishing both his Ph.D. dissertation and the first draft of what would become
his book Reading Capital Politically. He would prepare a long
essay on the international food crisis for the second issue. Phil Mattera also
joined as a contributing editor — he would write two articles for the
second issue, one — with his companion Donna Demac — on the fiscal
crisis of New York City and one on socialist Vietnam. Christian Marazzi, a
friend of Paolo's, had been working on a book on money with John Merrington in
London and would contribute an essay on the “crisis of the money form” and the
new use of flexible exchange rates against the working class. Bruno Cartosio was
a comrade of Ferruccio's and an historian who was editing an Italian collection
of Marty Glaberman's writings. He would replace Ferruccio as our Corresponding
Editor in Italy.
Third, George Caffentzis and Peter Taylor separated themselves from the rest of
us in the midst of a failed attempt to take over the journal and subordinate it
to the Wages for Housework movement. (see below) Ferruccio Gambino also soon
withdrew from the collective, as he too was caught up in conflicts involving
Wages for Housework folks in Padua.
Generally speaking, our agenda for work on Zerowork #2 was two-fold.
First, we wanted to extend the analysis of the crisis to aspects beyond those
that had been the focus of the first issue. Second, we wanted to continue
discussion of various theoretical and political issues, both those raised during
and after the production of the first issue and others raised by drafts of
articles for the second issue. Changes in the contents — and the form —
of the second issue had been discussed sporadically during the production of the
first but their determination became more immediately pressing in early 1976.
In terms of content, at first the focus was to have been on “the problem of
imperialism”. That “problem” concerned both the phenomenon and the concepts that
Marxists have used to analyze it. Since the time of Hobson, Lenin and Bukharin,
imperialism was understood by most to involve the efforts by nation-based
capitalists — backed up by their governments — to develop export markets,
new sources of raw materials and outlets for investment capital.
(29) Such efforts were seen to have led not
only to the colonization of much of the world but to wars between competing
blocs of capitalist nation-states. Such was a common Marxist explanation for
World Wars I and II. Complicating this analysis/narrative after WWII was the
phenomenon of the Cold War. How the conflicts that emerged within that framework
were interpreted depended, in large part, on one’s understanding of the nature
of the Soviet Union.(30) Widespread
decolonization during the same period — largely the result of independence
movements, or wars of “national liberation” — further complicated how one
understood imperialism. Not only did these complications lead to debates among
Marxists, but they also led to other efforts to grasp the forces at play.
“Dependency theorists”, e.g., Andre Gundar Frank, and world-system theorists,
e.g., Emmanuel Wallerstein, challenged traditional Marxist narratives with new
ones of an interlocked global capitalism, but one organized hierarchically with
centers and peripheries and transformed through processes of both development and
underdevelopment.(31) For those of us in the
Zerowork collective, all of these narratives had one outstanding problem: their
failure to grasp working class struggle as a fundamental pressure driving foreign
capitalist adventures. In theory after theory the working class appeared only
as a victim of forces far beyond its ability to influence.
Because Geoff Kay had published a book on the subject — Development and
Underdevelopment: A Marxist Analysis — the members of the Zerowork
collective undertook to read his manuscript in early 1976 and considered
including certain sections of it in the next issue.(33)
Eventually, however, we decided not to
include those sections. In this same general vein, however, we did decide to
include an essay by Ferruccio Gambino on “Class Composition and U.S. Direct
Investment Abroad” that was very much about the class dynamics of imperialism.
(34) Although, due to the conflicts surrounding
the relationship between Zerowork and Wages for Housework, Ferruccio would withdraw
this piece, and it would not appear in the second issue. Today, years later, a
polished version is available
on this website.(35)
Despite the original intention to focus the second issue on “imperialism”, those
who have already read Zerowork #2, or who skim the contents on this webpage,
will be struck by the absence of anything like a systematic treatment of the
subject. Instead, such examination reveals two sorts of articles, either ones
focusing on local class conflicts, e.g., the essay on the New York City fiscal
crisis and the one on post-war Vietnam, or ones dealing with class conflict on
a global level, i.e., the essay on food and famine and the one on international
monetary crisis. In both our thinking and our writing, we sought, increasingly,
to grasp the crisis not only in class terms but at the level of the world as a
whole. On the one hand, the overtly “global” articles situated local conflicts
within the larger framework. On the other, the “local” articles also examined
specific struggles within that same larger framework. This would become even
more obvious in the years following the dissolution of Zerowork as its
one-time editors deepened and enlarged the analysis.(36)
In short, we were trying to overcome
the deficiency of previous theories by grasping the whole in terms of an analysis
of class struggle that centered those of workers, and thus the crisis in
accumulation of the early 1970s as a rupture brought on by a cycle of workers’
The articles we chose were, thus, selected as moments of a larger effort to grasp
the complex evolution of a global crisis in class relations.
By 1976, six distinct moments of global crisis had made headlines and were widely
recognized as such. 1) In 1971, Nixon ended the Bretton Woods agreements for the
management of the post WWII international monetary system. 2) In 1972, international
food crises emerged with soaring prices and famine in Sub-Saharan Africa and
South Asia. 3) In 1973-74, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries
(OPEC) unleashed the first "oil shock" by quadrupling its sales price of crude
oil. 4) In 1974-75, the world economy underwent an unusual "great recession" of
rising unemployment but also of rising prices. 5) In 1975, a fiscal crisis was
imposed on New York City by multinational banks refusing to roll over the city's
debt. 6) Also in 1975, the American war effort in Vietnam collapsed and its
precipitous withdrawal left the Vietnamese communist party in charge of the
country. What we thought we could contribute to understanding the first five of
these events was to demonstrate how they were not just spontaneous byproducts of
"capitalist crisis" but were, rather, calculated responses by capitalist
policy-makers to struggles that had ruptured their previous plans. What
interested us about the sixth event were indications that the communist party's
first steps in "building socialism" looked like one more example of "state
capitalism" in action.
In the case of the crisis of the international monetary system, we judged that
move to be a direct response to workers having undermined the ability of Keynesian
policies to manage the "adjustment" of national balances of class power necessary
to the maintenance of fixed rates. This was already discussed in Mario Montano's
article in Zerowork #1. By 1976, however, new, flexible exchange rates
among major currencies provided new weapons to attack real wages and workers'
power. Christian Marazzi elaborated this analysis in his essay "Money in the
World Crisis: The New Basis of Capitalist Power".
Similarly, the international food crises in 1972, we saw to have been engineered
by government policies both within food exporting countries, especially the
United States, and within those countries where famine was spreading. The policies
that restricted supply and drove up prices, often elaborated in secret, we
judged to be responses to declining trade balances brought on by accelerating
inflation (caused by workers forcing wages and benefits up faster than productivity).
Where famine was spreading, we saw governments using starvation to bring local,
uncooperative populations to heel. Juxtaposing these events to earlier capitalist
development strategies, Harry Cleaver drew connections and parallels between
policies being enacted in the North and those in the South, between those in the
West and those in the East, in his contribution "Food, Famine and International
The first "oil shock", i.e., the quadrupling of oil prices, was clearly engineered
by OPEC. While it began as retribution against countries supporting Israel in the
1973 "Yom Kippur War", it continued in a desperate effort to reverse a decade-long
decline in terms of trade and to gain the resources necessary to deal with
workers' struggles at home. Moreover, despite the resistance of some European
governments, the acceptance by US policy makers of this huge price hike was
motivated by the desire to use it to undermine real wages and transfer value
from labor to capital. As this analysis was already spelled out in Mario Montano's
"Notes on the International Crisis" in Zerowork #1, no special article
in Zerowork #2 was devoted to these events. The analysis would, however,
eventually be elaborated in great detail and with considerable imagination by the
Midnight Notes Collective — formed by George Caffentzis and friends after
his split from Zerowork.(37)
The "great recession" of 1974-75, we interpreted not merely as another, predictable
cyclical downturn or as the inevitable spontaneous consequence of the "oil shock",
but as the intentional use of high unemployment to undermine workers' abilities
to raise wages and benefits faster than productivity gains. The failure of that
strategy, signaled by the continuation of wage growth led first to discussions
among economists of "stagflation" — a term coined in the mid-1960s by an
English politician denoting simultaneous high unemployment and continuing
inflation — and then to the International Monetary Fund declaring inflation
(read: rising wages) to be the number one global economic problem.
(38) As Mario pointed out, the problem of
inflation was really a problem with working class power to force up wages,
benefits and social services. The failure of the attempt to use OPEC prices
increases and higher unemployment to undermine average real wages and transfer
value to profits would not be overcome by capital until the end of the 1970s,
when Jimmy Carter would bring in Paul Volcker to so restrict growth in the money
supply as to precipitate a global depression and dramatically higher unemployment.
As spelled out in Demac and Mattera's article on the subject, the "fiscal crisis"
of New York City was really a crisis of class relations in the city because the
struggles of both waged (mainly city employees) and unwaged workers (mainly those
on welfare). Those struggles were behind the rise in city expenditures and the
decline in tax revenues (as a deteriorating "business climate" led dozens of
firms to move elsewhere). The immediate action that precipitated the crisis
— the refusal of creditor banks to "roll over" the city's debt —
amounted to a capitalist demand for the restoration of control by city government.
This was manifest in the conditions placed on debt roll-over: austerity through
the cutting of waged employee benefits and reductions in welfare expenditures.
As the above summary illustrates, whereas the articles in the first issue had
concentrated on workers' struggles and how they had undermined the post-WWII
Keynesian era and thrown the global capitalist system into crisis, those aspects
of the crisis addressed in the second issue dealt, primarily, with capital's
responses, albeit interpreting them in terms of the struggles that had forced
This was true, even in the case of the article by Phil Mattera dealing with
Vietnam. Among those of us outside of Vietnam who had opposed the war, few
differentiated between the armed forces fighting the US military and the people
of that country. When the war ended, we argued that the distinction had to be
addressed. As the post-1975 era began to unfold, we saw the new communist government
seeking to impose discipline and peddle cheap labor to multinational corporate
investors — a "development" strategy familiar in other East Asian (South
Korea, Taiwan) and Southeast Asian countries (Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia,
Singapore, the Philippines).
In terms of the form of Zerowork #2, once again there was discussion
about including shorter texts and images rather than just long, detailed articles.
Although we did find and include a variety of illustrations that complemented
and broke up the main texts in a satisfying manner, we did not follow up many
ideas about alternative types of material. Perhaps the most amusing suggestion
came from Geoff Kay who wrote, “How about a children’s section in ZW —
Tales from the Third and Fourth Internationals?” Born, undoubtedly amidst the
sectarian infighting in England, and around the CSE in particular, his suggestion
included a variety of “tales”. After sketching the goings on in and around the
International Socialists, and giving them due consideration, however, he
mused, “The political theory of organization assumed here is perhaps not fit for
children.” Apparently, we agreed with him for no such section was ever created,
nor indeed thereafter considered, not for Zerowork #2, nor for
Zerowork #3. This was characteristic of the lack of interest of any of
the editors in engaging in debate with traditional Left groups.
(39) It also, however, reopened the
never-quite-satisfactorily-answered question, “with exactly whom did the journal
want to engage?” In rereading notes and letters, the closest approximation I have
found is something like “those who find the traditional Left unattractive and
are looking for something new.” That was, obviously, pretty vague and made the
search for “new friends” difficult.
All of the discussion and debate within the collective took place via snail-mail
(which has the advantage of leaving a hard-copy record) and face to face meetings
(which, for all its other advantages, has the disadvantage of leaving but a few
notes).(40) Most of the latter took place
locally although at least one trans-oceanic meeting was arranged in July of 1976
where two editors from North America met in London with those from Britain and Italy.
While drafting essays on the above conflicts, and discussing them among ourselves,
several of us — in the Struggle Against Work Collectives (SAWC) in New York
City and Toronto — continued to be involved in organizing local actions
and in discussing the implications for our own activities of the Wages for
In New York, our discussions about the city's fiscal crisis built on the historical
analysis already laid out in Zerowork #1 and focused on struggles within
the city of the unwaged (e.g., welfare rights activists and students) and the
waged (e.g., city employees) and their mutual impact.
(41) The usual, formal definition of the fiscal
crisis — city debt repayment obligations in excess of revenue and borrowed
funds — turned out to have been imposed by the banks that began by charging
ever higher interest rates on short-term loans and then refusing to roll over
city debt as they had done before.(42) Investigation
into the motives of the banks revealed that refusal to be a response to the
struggles of people in the city. This we could see in the demands by the banks
for the imposition of severe austerity. The state responded by laying off thousands
of city workers, freezing others' wages and benefits, forcing the unions to invest
city worker pension funds in city bonds (thereby tying future income to the
city's financial health) and by reducing standards of living in the city generally.
City employee layoffs reduced social services; transportation fares were raised
undercutting real wages; tuition was imposed on students attending City University
of New York (CUNY).(43)
This analysis of the fiscal crisis was laid out systematically by SAWC member
Phillip Mattera and his companion Donna Demac. They wrote an essay that we first
published as a pamphlet: Developing and Underdeveloping New York: The 'Fiscal
Crisis' and a Strategy for Fighting Austerity, circulated in the summer of
1976. In this analysis, underdevelopment appears not just as a process that
capital imposes by leaving — as it was understood by the dependistas —
but as a strategy for bringing problem workers to heal. After locating
the sources of the crisis in the struggles of people in the city, and recognizing
austerity policies as constituting a counter-offensive, the pamphlet concluded
by rejecting any collaboration with austerity and calling for an extension of
those struggles that had created the crisis into new areas, e.g., wages for
housework, wages for schoolwork instead of tuition.
The key is to demand the money we need to live. True, it may seem paradoxical
in a time of "no money" to be demanding more of it and less work, but this is the
only effective response to the engineered climate of austerity. For this is the
strategy which attacks the very root of our oppression, in all its forms. By
demanding to be paid for all the work we do, we expose the extent to which our
entire lives have been made into work and help ourselves build the power necessary
to get the time and wealth that would serve as the basis of our liberation.
In a small, direct-action effort to stimulate resistance to austerity, we also
drafted and distributed flyers protesting increased subway fares and organized a
whole series of illegal direct actions getting people into the subway for free
(or at very low cost).(44) The flyers argued,
among other things, that because the primary use of the subways was getting
people to and from work, and that riding the dirty, noisy, dangerous subways was
itself work, that those on their way to and from work should be paid for the time
spent in travel.(45) We undertook these actions
in the same spirit as the earlier rent strike movement in the city (sketched in
the pamphlet) and as similar efforts at the “self-reduction of prices” that were
taking place in Italy and reported in Zerowork #1.
These interventions — both written and direct-action — into the fiscal
crisis constituted one response to the autonomous self-organization of women in
the Wages for Housework movement. While those of us in NYSAW had explicitly
endorsed the demand that the work of reproducing labor power be paid for, we were
also supporting a more general resistance to austerity, in the pamphlet we published
and in our actions against the increased costs of transportation.
At the same time, however, we — a group made up entirely of men — also
tried to think through the more general implications of the separation of struggles
by gender and to better define our own political demands. In New York City, that
thinking involved regular discussions among members of the group and found expression
in two pamphlets: We Want Everything: An Introduction to the Income without
Work Committee (1976) and If We're So Powerful, Why Aren't We Free? White
Men, the Total Wage and the Struggle against Work (1976).
(47) In Toronto, similar discussions unfolded
among the men in the Struggle Against Work Collective of that city.
In the 10-page pamphlet We Want Everything, our emphasis was on role of
the struggle against work among waged and unwaged workers and how that struggle,
combined with others demanding the same or more income, combined to create the
growing crisis for capitalism that was manifested locally in the New York City
fiscal crisis. The struggle against work, we argued, was not only real but was
the understandable outcome of the blatant contradiction between rising productivity
— that made it technically feasible to work less —– and the capitalist
imposition of "social factory" with a 24-hour workday made up of both waged work
(in factories and offices) and unwaged work (in homes, schools and getting to and
from work). Therefore, the demand in the pamphlet's title for "everything" was
explained as the perfectly reasonable insistence that the fruits of rising
productivity be realized in both more income and less work. Although this very
"Zerowork" focus on the refusal of work and the social factory was derived and
adapted from earlier work by Tronti and that on the 24-hour workday from the
Wages for Housework analysis, there was no mention of either in the text. Moreover,
although we identified ourselves in the pamphlet as "white, male militants", there
was little discussion of the implications of either adjective. The only reference
to race was how the struggles of "Black and Latin people" had illuminated the
nature of the "social factory." The only reference to gender was in pointing out
how the revolt of women against unwaged work had made the existence of the
24-hour workday apparent to men.
We considerably expanded the discussion of gender and racial differences in the
pamphlet If We're So Powerful . . . and made the connection to the Wages
for Housework Campaign explicit. In the introduction, we wrote, "The development
of New York Struggle Against Work has been profoundly influenced by the campaign
for Wages for Housework for all women from the government." The substance of that
influence we made clear in the body of the pamphlet whose general line of argument
followed that of the first issue of Zerowork. First, we sketched the
nature of the social factory, its 24-hour workday, and the usual positions of
white men within it — namely the general phenomena that more men have been
waged than women, that white men have been paid higher wages than non-white men.
We also pointed out how wages confer more power to refuse work than their
absence and how higher wages confer more power than lower wages.
(48) Second, we reiterated the Zerowork
analysis that struggles against work, by both the waged and unwaged, precipitated
a crisis for capital's control-through-imposed work. Third, we also restated the
argument that capital's counterattacks against both wages and other forms of
income had been aimed at restoring its ability to impose work. Fourth, we set out
an argument that was not in Zerowork — namely that the only
adequate response to capital's efforts to continue to subordinate everyone's
life to work is a struggle for a "total wage", i.e., payment by capital for all
the work we do. We loosely defined the "total wage" as wages plus payment for
currently unwaged work-for-capital done by both the unwaged and by the waged in
their hours "off the job".
Clearly, the demand for the "total wage" was a demand more comprehensive than that
for "wages for housework" although the latter was included within the former.
The relation between the two demands we spelled out in two ways, first in general
terms and second by pointing to specific, concrete demands that included, but
went beyond wages for housework. In the first case, we wrote: "the strategy of
the total wage" has its roots in the wages for housework perspective but,
This does not mean that our fight for a total wage is really a fight for wages
for housework. That fight is, of necessity, primarily a fight of women, whose
work in this society is essentially housework in all its dimensions. But in another
sense, we men are indeed fighting for the same goal: to be paid for all the work
we do in order to refuse it all. What distinguishes us from each other is not
different aims, ultimately, but the different work and therefore the different
lives that have been imposed on us.
Asserting that the fight for a total wage is not equal to the fight for wages for
housework required spelling out what the former fight was for — besides wages
for housework, that we too wanted — given that part of our work as mostly
waged, white males included the reproduction of our own labor power and that of
others. What terrains of struggle did we argue were worth joining? They included
- unemployment insurance (because it pays for the work of looking for
- workmen's compensation (because it pays for recuperating from damage
suffered on the job),
- social security (because it pays for the "work of the old", namely
"dying quickly and quietly"),
- welfare (because it pays "women for raising children to be obedient
and productive workers"),
- job-related travel (because both daily travel to and from the job and
periodic relocation to new jobs are work),
- job-related study (because it is work-for-capital and not for us), and
- the tax system (because it is rigged to pit us against each other,
e.g., taxing the young instead of capital to pay for things like social security).
Noticeably absent from this list are the usual abstract Marxist calls for revolution
and the overthrow of capitalism. Yet the pamphlet ends with a statement that clearly
implies the concrete replacement of capitalism with a world freed from domination
via imposed work.
We want to sever the tie between income and work altogether. For we see all around
us the potential for a society, indeed a world, in which such forced activity no
longer exists and we are free to choose how we will spend our days, based only on
our own interests and desires. What prevents us from realizing this potential is
nothing more than our lack of sufficient power. We believe that in fighting to
win a total wage for our total work, we will be building that power and thus
bringing closer the creation of a world in which there will be no wages at all
— because human beings will no longer be commodities: a world in which we
can stop struggling and start living.
Both of these pamphlets were shared with others associated with Zerowork,
those in the parallel group in Toronto and those not engaged in either group and
with a variety of friends and comrades. The feedback was overwhelmingly negative
— from those in the Zerowork editorial group who were NOT part of either
the NYC or Toronto SAWC's, from some who had been receptive to Zerowork,
and, most surprisingly, from some in the Toronto SAW Collective and from those in the
Wages for Housework Campaign.
From within Zerowork, from those not part of either SAW Collective, came two
responses: a conversation with John Merrington and Ferruccio Gambino in London
in which they dismissed If We're So Powerful and a much longer, thoughtful
response from Peter Linebaugh raising a series of questions and critiques. From
outside of Zerowork, one fairly detailed response came from Peter Rachleff who
had been generally receptive to Zerowork #1 and a much harsher response
from Wages for Housework — a response that so thoroughly condemned the
pamphlet as to lead the NYSAW collective to essentially abandon the project. In
retrospect, the condemnation can be seen as a step toward what came later: the
attempt by Wages for Housework to take over and suborn Zerowork itself.
Let me summarize the various critiques.
According to a half-page note summarizing Merrington and Gambino's comments, they
were scathing. The pamphlet, they wrote, "doesn't have the ring to truth. The key
word is 'we'. . . . [the analysis] has "no class in it. . . [the author] employs
a perspective that includes the most debased, demeaned man right up to the cops
or the President. In this anthropology, it is true that there is a cop in all
men and that this is less so in women, and that this anthropology is developed
for the purpose of command. But the piece cannot be a piece of agitation, not
with that 'we'. You can't go anywhere with a piece like that. . . Is that 'we'
part of the working class?" In short, dismissal rather than a thoughtful reply.
From Peter Linebaugh — in those days teaching upstate in Rochester, New
York — came longer and much more thoughtful but still critical replies
— first verbally at a meeting in New York, and later in a long 7-page,
single-spaced letter. He clearly agreed with Merrington and Gambino about the
lack of specificity in the reduction of complex class compositions to "we", and
about the tendency of the analysis to drift into anthropological distinctions
rather than class ones. He also made a number of much more specific points,
including the following.
- The importance of the struggles referred to in the pamphlet, he argued, was
not demonstrated in concrete evidence gathered from detailed investigation.
- The concept of the "total wage" retained the same irrational form of the value
of labor power as that of the wage tout court. "The notion of the total wage,"
he wrote, "seems to me overgeneralized, “spacey” and lacking the ability of further
specification, as, say “Total Victory”.
- The concept of the 24-hour working day "suggests that capital has all our
days and hours. It does not. With time, as with money or the social product, there
is a struggle between capital and the working class, and that struggle is not
one-sided. What otherwise could be the significance of the absenteeism you report
in the family and in the plants? One feels in your use of that idea, the 24-hour
working day, that you are not aware of victories. More than one reader of the
pamphlet has been struck by a feeling of defeat." He goes on to argue that Marx's
double-sided treatment — of consumption within reproduction that provided
"some tools for analyzing the 24-hour day" and of the struggle over the length
of the working day that "at all events, is less than a natural day" —
provides a better model for understanding current struggles than the oversimplified
concept of a "24-hour working day."
- He objected to the continued use of the concept of "social factory" —
derived by Tronti from Volume II of Capital and amplified by Wages for
Housework — without clear differentiation among different situations.
"Personally," he wrote, "I think that its job is done and that now it can be quite
misleading. Even in ZW1 we wanted to show how the conditions of struggle
and the types of power were different in various settings — the mine, the
factory, the university, the supermarket, the apartment building and the prison. . . .
the time for metaphorical transpositions of concepts is over." In the same spirit,
he "objected strenuously" to the phrase "prisons called factories", insisting on
the differences in their functions and methods.
There was more, but those four points suggest the depth of his criticisms. Those
in NYSAW responded, both at the meeting in New York City and later in writing.
However, the only record that I have of those responses to Peter's criticisms is a
one-page letter written to Peter by Phil Mattera and a half-page note from George
Caffentzis.(49) In his letter, Phil reiterated
the NYSAW position that demanding wages for currently unwaged work undermines
divisions in the class and provides more resources to fight against capitalism
in its entirety. He did not, however, respond to any of Peter's points highlighted
above. In his note, George expressed disappointment that “your criticism makes
no attempt to reveal political solutions . . . its totally negative tone seemed
to suggest more a closing of debate rather than an opening.” But he, no more
than Phil, responded directly to Peter’s specific criticisms.
From Peter Rachleff came a one-page letter more critical of the implications of
the analysis in the two pamphlets than of its logic. He argued that calling for
the expansion of institutions and programs such as unemployment insurance and
welfare is utopian and no more likely to be successful than overthrowing the
system as a whole. On the other hand, he objected that while more money and less
work might provide more opportunity to restructure our lives,
On what basis should this restructuration take place? Surely you don't mean to
imply that we will all become no more than passive consumers. What is the world
that we can build once we have destroyed the division between the waged and the
wageless in society as a whole and in our daily lives? Today reformism is utopian,
while revolutionism is possible. Your very analyses indicate your awareness of
this, and the deeply-felt need for such a change. So say so! Why fall back on
these partial demands?
So far, I have found no response to this critique.
With respect to the criticisms voiced by Wages for Housework, I have only hearsay
testimony in letters from Phil Mattera — first in his response to Peter
Linebaugh's lengthy critique and second in a letter he wrote to me in Texas
recounting discussions within NYSAW and with Wages for Housework.
In his response to Peter, written on August 18, 1976, Phil mentioned that "We
have seriously re-examined the If We're So Powerful . . . piece and have
decided that certain revisions have to be made. For this reason, we have decided
to suspend the distribution of the piece. We will certainly take into account
your comments in doing the revision." In his letter to me, Phil was much more
detailed about what was going on in New York City. In the first place, the notion
of "revision" that he had mentioned to Peter evolved from merely changing the
opening statement about the authors' debt to Wages for Housework, through rewriting
the pamphlet as a whole, to writing an entirely new essay. The reasons for any
revision, Phil felt, lay "more for the sake of diplomacy with NY Wages for Housework
and Selma James, than they are for the sake of improving the pamphlet or correcting
serious political errors (which I don't think are really there)." On what did he
base this judgment? On a verbal account by Larry Cox and George Caffentzis of a
meeting with Selma James' son, Sam Weinstein, whose views Phil judged to be those
of Selma and of Wages for Housework more generally.
Much of Larry's and George's desire to rewrite the pamphlet came after a meeting
they had with Sam Weinstein (Selma's son, who lives in Los Angeles). Sam reportedly
expressed concern that the pamphlet represented a call for male separation and
he claimed that there is no special oppression or exploitation of white men. According
to him, we suffer the general oppression and exploitation of the class, but unlike
women and blacks, we don't suffer additionally on the basis of our sex or race.
(I didn't meet him, so I can't explain this theory any better.) Larry and George
apparently admitted the sins of the pamphlet and told Sam of the intention to
stop circulating it. After some time, apparently, Sam decided we are not dangerous
and expressed a desire to work with us. . . . "
Phil went on to distinguish NYSAW's agreement with Wages for Housework's
perspective from the very open question of its relationship to the Wages for
Housework Campaign. NYSAW, he argued, had three options: 1) forming its own
autonomous campaign, 2) organize merely to support the women, or 3) not organize
at all. "We see," he wrote, "all the problems with each of these alternatives . . .
The problem is to find a political direction which deals with our 'role' in the
social factory, yet is not separatist and which respects the autonomy of women,
yet does not make us the men's auxiliary of the Wages for Housework Campaign. . . .
All this is obviously not fully worked out — but before we get too humble,
let's not forget that no one — neither Wages for Housework or the Toronto
men have really confronted this problem before." As it turned out, the Wages for
Housework solution would indeed be for the New York and Toronto SAW collectives
to become men's auxiliaries and Zerowork a vehicle for the promulgation
of its own ideas and programs.
While all this was playing out in New York City, parallel events were unfolding
in Canada, both within the Toronto Struggle Against Work Collective — that
included two Zerowork editors, Peter Taylor and Bruno Ramirez —
and in the relationships of that group and its members to Wages for Housework.
As discussed in “Background: Genesis of Zerowork #1”,
individuals within the various Canadian groups, including the New Tendency, the
Autoworker Group, Out of the Driver's Seat and the Toronto SAWC, had been
discussing and debating the implications of the Wages for Housework perspective
and autonomous organization for quite some time. It was the departure of women
from the New Tendency in Toronto — to form a Toronto Collective of the
Wages for Housework Campaign — that led to the formation of the all-male
Toronto SAWC. Some of that history of discussion and debate was reflected in the
list of readings compiled by the latter group in 1976; it contained materials
about previous struggles, e.g., of auto and postal workers, materials on the
"refusal of work", including articles from Zerowork, and various pieces
by Wages for Housework authors, including Mariarosa Dalla Costa, Selma James,
and Silvia Federici. When NYSAW shared its pamphlets with their counterparts in
Canada, the critical feedback made it clear that the same issues had been raised
up North, had absorbed a lot of energy and were also unresolved. An example of
those responses came in a letter from Jim Brophy who wrote,
As you know, I’ve argued for a time about the need to understand the “particularity”
of the male waged worker. How does he perceive his struggle, in what way does he
view his power, what are his collective strengths and weaknesses, etc. We know
that both the terrain (i.e., the factory or workplace) and the historical
traditions (i.e., the unions, the stable wage relation, etc.) make for a different
set of experiences than say Black wageless, students, housewives, etc. But the
question is how? . . .
One thing I do know is that that pamphlet is not an accurate reflection about
the particularity or the strengths and weaknesses of male workers. It does not
reflect the power that the male sector of the class has developed for itself,
nor does it show the complex set of relationships which shape his experience and
develops his struggle. The pamphlet more explicitly picks up the general
one-sidedness of WfH and projects into the male working class. The problem of how
the kitchen is not totally a reflection of weakness or how male/female relations
are not totally factory/worker relations seems missed and abstracted completely
outside even their own experience. Male workers would read that pamphlet and
dismiss it by the third page. They’ve heard that guilt and liberal shit before
and just don’t need it.(50)
Drawing on his own experience in debates over these issues in Canada, Brophy then
offers a prophecy which proved, in time, to be entirely accurate.
If the tendency that projects and agrees with the general politics of the pamphlet
is “alive and well”, then, in my view Zerowork is in serious danger of
splitting. I have been in concrete struggles around this very politics for almost
a year and a half and I know that unless there are major changes in their outlook,
then they will carry the struggle into the publication and draw extremely sharp
lines around these politics.
This, unfortunately, was exactly what would unfold a few months later in New York
City within both Zerowork and the Struggle Against Work Collective.
Despite spelling out multiple terrains on which white males might contribute to
a struggle for a "total wage", the pamphlet If We're So Powerful, Why aren't
We Free? contained a reflection that lay like a time-bomb in the text —
one that soon exploded so violently as to rupture not only New York Struggle
Against Work, but the Zerowork editorial collective. That reflection was the
Because more of the life of women, as well as Blacks, Latins, Asians and others
around the world, has been wageless, they have taken the lead in the fight
against wagelessness. And because of the centrality of wagelessness in the
imposition of all work, they have taken the lead in the fight against work itself.
What were the concrete implications, for the political action of waged white men,
of characterizing the role of unwaged women — or the wageless more
generally — as "taking the lead" in the struggles that had increased working
class power to the point of rupturing the capitalist imposition of work and
bringing on crisis? The question was not answered in the text because we were
still debating it.
Although neither my memory nor my notes permit any detailed account of those
debates — that took place almost 40 years ago — I am fairly comfortable
collapsing them into two of the alternatives Phil spelled out in his letter (above).
One implication was to overtly recognize and explicitly valorize the roles of
the unwaged — which both Zerowork and the NYSAW pamphlets did —
while crafting struggles that complemented those roles. A second possible
implication (that evoked, for those of us opposed to it, the old notion of a
working class "vanguard") was that the struggles of the waged — including
those of waged white men — should be subordinated to the struggles of
unwaged women (by being limited to direct support of women's initiatives). Given
its theoretical and political influence on our analysis, the obvious candidate
for such support was the Wages for Housework Campaign. The advocates of each
position argued that their answer would increase the power of the working class
as a whole. In the first case, that increase could be achieved through
complementarity and the circulation of struggle, i.e., the actions of white waged
men could be crafted to strengthen those of unwaged women by fighting for things
like increased welfare — an increase in the income and thus the ability
of unwaged mothers to expand their struggles. In the second case, the increase
could be sought directly by providing supportive manpower for whatever battles
were chosen by the women of Wages for Housework.
This debate unfolded in discussions that took place within the Zerowork collective
and the Struggle Against Work groups in New York and Toronto, and, simultaneously,
within the context of close personal relations between the men in those groups
and women involved in the Wages for Housework. For the most part, the personal
relations were those of friendship and camaraderie, but in some cases, they were
more intimate. Two examples. Larry Cox, the primary drafter of If We're So
Powerful was married to Nicole Cox, a member of Wages for Housework group
in NYC and the author, with Silvia Federici, of the pamphlet Counterplanning
from the Kitchen: Wages for Housework, A perspective on Capital and the Left
(1975). Bruno Ramirez was married to Judy Ramirez, a leading figure in the Toronto
Wages for Housework group.
The debates over these two possible paths came to a head at different moments in
As indicated above, the first casualty was the Toronto Struggle Against Work
Collective that dissolved in early 1976 with, according Jim Brophy’s account,
Zerowork editors Bruno Ramirez and Peter Taylor on one side and the
rest of the Collective on the other. Although he gave few details, Brophy
attributed the breakup to Bruno and Peter’s insistent pushing of the Wages for
Housework perspective that he, and others, felt failed to address adequately the
debated issue of the particularity of the strengths and weakness of white
males within the working class and vis-à-vis capital. Unlike Peter Linebaugh who
expressed skepticism of the whole issue, Brophy and comrades accepted the need
to clarify those strengths and weaknesses and argued that Zerowork needed
both to address the issue and to take a position on it. “I believe,” he wrote in
a letter to Peter, that
Zero Work must come to grips politically with the situation of white male workers
if it is to be a useful tool for militants like myself. And then from that position
we can say what we see other sectors doing and how their struggle against capital
gives us power in our struggle. . . . [But] if I look for a clear view of the
situation of male workers where do I go? To WfH???? Their view of us as men is
pretty one-sided, to say the least, although they have uncovered many dynamics
within the class. But they were able to do this historically, and politically
speaking, by first exposing and understanding their own position within the
class . . .”(52)
Thus, he concludes, white men must do something similar. To contribute to such a
project, he and his comrades contemplated writing an article “on the notion of
particularity” to deal with “the situation of men under modern capitalism without
conceding and posturing to any other sector of the class.” Their notion was at
least partly realized when they reconstituted themselves as “The Toronto Collective”
and issued a rather lengthy (almost 4,000 word) Letter to Wages for Students on
SAWC Split, in June 1976.(53)
In that letter they laid out their debts to Wages for Housework but rejected the
subordination of men’s struggles to those of women. The acceptance of such
subordination, they argued,
not only abstracts itself from the whole experience of working class struggle
historically and at present, including our own struggles as white male students
and workers, but most crucially for us, it sees no positive role for white male
workers' struggles except where they directly support the autonomous struggles
of less powerful sections. This tendency leads to abdicating being part of the
organization of struggles of our own section of the class in the name of the
"higher" class interest of supporting the struggles of workers in less powerful
sections. It leads to complete isolation (as SAWC was isolated) from the concrete
struggles white male workers and all other workers are making to increase their
power against capital.
They went on to differentiate their notion of particularity from that of autonomy
that they still embraced and that they agreed justifies “less powerful” sections
of the working class (e.g., women) developing their struggle for more power
independently of more powerful sections (e.g., men).
Whatever the form in which specific struggles are organized (autonomous, "mixed",
etc.) we stress the importance of being clear on the particularity of different
sections of the class. By particularity we mean:
- the position of different sections occupy in the hierarchy of power;
- the particular way capital organizes the 24-hour working day of each section and
- the particular strengths and weaknesses of different sections of the class
which flow from our position in the hierarchy and division of labour.
Having addressed their essay to students, after offering some historical
justification for trying to identify the particularity of the situation of white
men, they then turned to discussing the problem of identifying the particularity
of various kinds of students — something they suggested had not been done
by the student activists whose ideas they otherwise found attractive. I have no
record of the students’ response to this critique, nor of any collective response
from those in the Zerowork collective.(54)
About a year later, another parting of the ways took place, this time within the
The prelude to that parting was debate within the editorial collective over
Christian Marazzi's essay on the crisis of the money form — written as part
of the collective effort of the London Zerowork group to produce a book on
money in the crisis. The debate was complex. While there was agreement about some
things, e.g., that Nixon's ending of the convertibility of dollars to gold on
August 1971 was a turning point, or that after that money was being used as a
terrorist weapon against the working class in new ways, there were also many
controversial aspects of the essay. Questions were raised about Christian's
reading of Marx on money, on gold, on credit and on the relationships among them.
There were challenges to his formulation of the economic manifestations of crisis
in class power. The meaning of "the law of value", to which he often made reference
but never defined, was disputed.(55) Moreover,
the debate, it turned out, had roots in earlier disagreements over some aspects
of Mario's piece in Zerowork #1 "Notes on
the International Crisis" to which Christian's essay made explicit reference.
In the end, the primary issue of contention — that led to the split in the
collective — was the degree to which the arguments in these essays were in
contradiction with the analysis of the unwaged and the importance of the
struggles of the unwaged. At the time, several of us found the critiques being
made of Christian's essay — mostly by George and Peter Taylor — hard
to follow. (See the long passage from a March 14, 1977 letter from Peter Linebaugh
to Ferruccio Gambino quoted below.) Years later, in an interview given to Greek
comrades in 2000, George retrospectively summarized his objections to both
articles in terms of what he saw as a stark contradiction between the "refusal
of work" perspective and that of Wages for Housework. To embrace the one meant,
for him, to deny the other. The troubles with the "refusal of work" perspective,
he claimed, were three-fold. ,em>First, the long-run tendency of capital to substitute
machines for workers — discussed in Grundrisse's fragment on
machines and quoted at length in Mario's essay and referenced by Christian —
was judged, by those embracing the "refusal of work" perspective, to have reached
the point of virtually eliminating work in the production of wealth, or, in
George's characterization a "zero-hour work day". This line of argument, he argued,
completely ignored the still vast amount of unwaged work required — 24 hours
a day — for the reproduction of the working class, and hence of capital —
namely the work emphasized by women in the Wages for Housework Campaign. Second,
this elimination meant, for those adhering to the "refusal of work" perspective,
that Marx's own deduction that it would render the law of value irrelevant had
come to pass — an evaluation rejected by the theorists of Wages for
Housework who continued to use the concept of labor value.
(56) Third, under these circumstances, if the
role of work was reduced, as Mario and Christian claimed, to a vehicle for
capital's command over workers and hence over society, then the "refusal of work"
only made sense for those few workers in high tech industries. If we accept this
latter-day summary as an accurate one of George and Peter Taylor's objections in
1976-77, then we can also say that the debate at the time was over whether these
points amounted to such acute contradictions with the analysis of unwaged work
and the struggles of the unwaged as to render the previous publication of Mario's
article regrettable and the prospect of publishing Christian's essay intolerable.
Let me deal with them one by one and explain why conclusions about this differed.
First, when we examine that part of Mario's essay evoking the "fragment on machines",
it is clear enough that he — as with Marx originally — was focused on
the production of commodities sold for profits and ignored the labor of
reproduction of labor power.(57) Yet in that
same article not only did Mario recognize the existence of unwaged labor reproducing
labor power and the importance of the struggles of the unwaged, his very first
footnote acknowledged the importance of Selma James and Silvia Federici's writings
as sources on the subject. Moreover, in Christian's essay the importance of those
same unwaged struggles is also repeatedly highlighted.(58)
I was not around during the genesis of Zerowork #1 and therefore
missed earlier debates took place over this issue, but during the later debates
in 1976-77 around both Mario and Christian's essays, several of us could not see
the fundamental conflict that George and Peter claimed existed.
Returning to Mario's quotation from the "fragment on machines", Marx clearly
argued that the tendency of capitalist development is to reduce "the necessary
labor of society to a minimum". But what did he mean by "necessary labor"? Two
readings are possible — a Marxological reading, if you will, and what I'll
call a vernacular reading. With the former, in Chapter 6 of Volume I of
Capital (and thereafter) Marx defined "necessary labor" as equal to the
(socially necessary) labor (time) required to produce the consumption commodities
necessary for the reproduction of labor power. In a vernacular reading, "necessary
labor" equals all labor, that producing consumption commodities and that producing
labor power itself, e.g., housework, schoolwork. George's objection, it seemed to
some of us, was based on such a vernacular reading. For those of us who stuck to
Chapter 6's definition, we understood the reduction of required labor by machines
as being limited to that involved in the production of consumption commodities.
(59) In that case, we saw no necessary
contradiction with the continued importance of unwaged labor procreating and
reproducing labor power.(60)
Second, the argument — by Mario and Christian about the implications of
dramatic reductions in the need for labor in commodity production for the labor
theory of value was problematic for all of us — although how we interpreted
what they were saying and what we made of it differed. Mario wrote, "In the Tendency
[to reduce necessary labor time], capital is pushed beyond value. Once labor
ceases to be the wellspring of wealth, value ceases to be the mediation of
use-values. With a radical revaluation of labor corresponds the suppression of
the law of value . . ." In Christian's essay, the "law of value" is repeatedly
evoked — mostly as an undefined force causing crises of accumulation and
from which capital has sought to escape, or manage, by manipulating the money
form. With respect to moving beyond value, he merely refers the reader to Mario's
essay. During the debates about Christian's essay, one of the many questions
raised was what he meant by the "law of value". At the time, the only answer I
can remember was that the "law of value" referred to prices being determined by
values.(61) That memory is consistent with
one reading of Mario's statement, "With a radical revaluation of labor corresponds
the suppression of the law of value and then any relationship between value and
price is severed."(62) In his 2000 account of
the debates, George also summarized this analysis as concluding that, according
to Mario and Christian, "the law of value is no more a determinant in the system"
— but as he offered no other understanding of "the law", it's hard to say
if what he meant by it, at that time, was the same.(63)
Here's the thing. For some of us, the very existence of any "law of value" —
however defined — remained an open question. The voluminous literature in
the debate over the "transformation of values into prices" offered only an
unsatisfying wealth of competing interpretations. For my part, I found (find) the
whole exercise a misguided attempt to use Marx's theory to satisfy the demand by
bourgeois economists for a theory of relative market prices — a sin qua non
for economists, whose work requires such a theory to help guide policies
supportive of capitalist development. Misguided in the following senses. First,
by my reading, Marx elaborated his theory for a purpose antithetical to that of
bourgeois economics. The former was dedicated to defeating and transcending
capitalism, while the latter is devoted to promulgating it. Therefore, it was (is)
a mistake to try to use the former to solve the latter's problems.
(64) Second, time and again when addressing
historical prices, Marx discussed their determination in terms of supply and
demand, in pretty much the same manner as his mainstream contemporaries.
(65) Third, in Volume I of Capital,
before setting the issue aside, Marx discussed how prices often differed,
quantitatively, from values. In such cases, the value analysis adds something
distinct to knowledge of prices determined by supply and demand. If one has reason
to believe, for example, that prices exceed values, then the successful realization
of those prices would suggest a transfer of value to the sellers from elsewhere.
(66) So, if one neither believes that, nor
seeks to prove that, relative prices are determined by values, then the whole
debate over the "law of value" — and whether or not it has been transcended
— becomes an unproductive distraction.
But, if we set aside the "law of value", we can still ask whether the tendency
to reduce the use of labor in the production of commodities renders the concept
of labor value itself useless. Part of the problem has already been indicated —
a part with which we all agreed — namely the continued existence of vast
amounts of work of reproducing labor power. That leads to another part of the
problem: how Marx (and the rest of us) define "labor" in commodity production.
In the much debated 1857 Grundrisse "fragment on machines", by juxtaposing
"direct human labor" employed on machines (fixed capital) to "the general state of
science", "the general powers of the human head" or the "general intellect", Marx
was clearly employing the term "labor" in a restrictive manner, a term denoting
manual labor. Ten years later, in the first volume of Capital, in his
analysis of "the labor process" in Chapter 7, no such restriction applied. There
he defined labor as workers using tools/machines to transform non-human nature
into commodities. But, in an oft-quoted passage, he also pointed out how the
worst of human architects was better than the best of bees (who systematically
make nice hexagonal structures) because human architects first conceive their
projects in their minds before carrying them out. Thus in Capital, "labor"
includes both manual labor and mental labor, or the "power of the human head" whose
collective work constitutes "the general intellect" and generates science and
technology (the application of science to industry that leads to machines, new
production processes, new products, etc.). In other words, to the tendency of
capital to reduce the need for manual labor in producing commodities, corresponds
a growing need and use for mental labor to develop science and more productive
technology (the basis of relative surplus value). Before and during Marx's time,
manual and mental labor were often closely interwoven in the form of so-called
"skilled labor" but the development and deployment of machines, while requiring
only deskilled labor to tend them, also required skilled mental labor to develop
them. Thus the rise of science and engineering as distinct professions —
professions characterized by mental labor.(67)
Thus, for some of us, Marx's "general intellect" was/is no disembodied, abstract
social force, but one very much embodied in an expanding part of the labor force.
Although Marx's analysis in chapters 12-15 of volume I of Capital of the
rise of machine industry implied such an expansion, he focused, instead, on the
tendential reduction in the need for manual labor.
If, therefore, a declining need for manual labor is offset by a rising need for
mental labor, then any tendency toward the reduction in the need for all kinds
of labor must necessarily be slower than it would be without that offset. Moreover,
while the continuing, albeit irregular, rise in labor productivity in commodity
producing industry certainly suggests a decline in the per unit requirements for
labor of all kinds, the methods by which productivity is measured (even today)
undermines such a conclusion. The reason is that those methods ignore the vast
amount of labor engaged in the development of science and technology outside of
commodity producing industry, in separate research institutions, either private
or public, e.g., universities funded by the state, private tuition and donations.
Commodity producing industry effectively taps that labor — by drawing on
its results — to help increase productivity. But because that labor is not
counted in the measurement of inputs, industry-specific measures of labor
productivity are overestimated, and the requirements for labor underestimated.
Added to these considerations is one more fundamental than questions of the kind
or quantity of labor that needs to be taken into account when questioning the
relevance of the labor theory of value. Those, like Mario (and I think we can
include Christian here) who argue that capital is "pushed beyond value",
nevertheless also argue that labor continues to be important but only "as a form
of control of the working class". "Control" is juxtaposed to "value" that is
associated with wealth production. This was a juxtaposition that, even in 1976-77,
made no sense to me. In my reading of Marx's value theory — laid out in a
manuscript first composed in 1974, later published as Reading Capital
Politically in 1978 (see my biographical sketch below) — the
"substance" of value (abstract labor), to use the terminology of Chapter 1 of
Volume I of Capital, was precisely "control."
(68) Adam Smith's labor theory of value was about the
emerging centrality of labor (as opposed to land or trade) in the production of
"the wealth of nations", but Marx's theory was one about the value of labor to
capital as its fundamental vehicle of control — of the ordering of society
according to its own rules and methods. "Useful" labor produced use-values, real
wealth. But "value" was about the social role of labor in capitalism with all
its characteristics of exploitation, alienation and domination. This was the real
reason, for me, for seeing the "economic" not as something separate from the
"political" but as its central mechanism. Therefore, as long as labor — no
matter the kind — is the primary vehicle for the imposition, maintenance
and promulgation of capitalism, Marx's theory of the value of labor to capital
remains essential for focusing our attention on the centrality of the struggle
against work in the struggle to transcend capitalism. So, while I welcomed the
focus on work-as-control, I didn't think it obviated Marx's labor theory of value,
on the contrary.
Let me now turn to George's third objection, namely that confining the role of
work to a vehicle for capitalist command over workers, and hence over society,
implied that the refusal of work only made sense for those few workers in high
tech industries and not for those engaged in unwaged labor. The argument of the
"fragment" that capital's tendency to substitute machines for workers reduced
the need for manual labor in the production of commodities required to reproduce
labor power, seemed (and still seems) to me to be perfectly compatible with a
continuing need for unwaged labor to produce and reproduce labor power.
(69) Moreover, if that is true, then the "refusal of
work", the demand for less work, seemed to some of us just as important for the
unwaged as for the waged. In the sphere of waged labor, the demand for less work
(and the separation of income from work) had long taken the form of demanding
shorter working days (and later shorter working weeks, then years, then life-spans).
In the sphere of unwaged labor, e.g., housework or schoolwork, were not
struggles also aimed at less work? On the one hand, were the phenomena highlighted
in Zerowork #1 of absenteeism on the job (individual actions or collective
wildcat strikes) and in schools (skipping classes, or shutting down schools in
protests). On the other hand, was not the strategy of women demanding that family
wages be diverted into housework-saving devices like washing machines, or by
demanding a sharing of housework by waged spouses, not aimed at less work? Was
not the demand for wages for housework (or schoolwork) aimed at providing more
resources to finance the struggle for less work as well? So it seemed to most of us.
These then were some of the issues discussed and debated among us in that period
leading up to the split and subsequent publication of Zerowork #2. They
were not the only issues, but in the end, they turned out to be decisive ones for
the future of the collective. Finally, I want to emphasize that our debates about
all these issues, at that time, were not so clearly articulated as they became
In a March 11, 1977, letter to Peter Linebaugh and George Caffentzis, Ferruccio
related how he had chosen to side with Mariarosa Dalla Costa in a conflict with
Toni Negri. “On this side of the ocean,” he wrote, “painful as it has been, I have
said goodbye to the people at the Instituto (Toni included) and have sided with
Mariarosa. If I had done otherwise, it would have been a nasty piece of old
Stalinism.” Unfortunately, he provided no details of the nature of the conflict
or the course of its unfolding — some of which remains obscure to me, even
today. That same day things came to a head in New York.
In a letter he wrote three days later, Peter told Ferruccio, “ZW has split.” His
letter contains the most precise details of the split that I have been able to
find and corresponds to my own memories, so I will quote it at length.
Last Friday evening [March 11, the same day Ferruccio wrote his letter] the ZW
editorial board (North American editors!) met in Manhattan. We were joined by
Sam Weinstein and Paul Layton. Paolo, George, Peter Taylor, Phil Mattera, Harry
Cleaver, Bruno Ramirez and myself constitute the ZW collective here. The first
item on our agenda was to discuss, once again, Christian Marrazzi’s article “Money
in the World Crisis”. Have you seen this article? We’ve had several discussions
here about it. Phil Mattera has re-written and edited it twice. Paolo has written
Marazzi about it a couple of times. Already it has caused an “international
debate”. The objections here are, in my opinion, confused: they have never been
written down. Some find it obscure and difficult. Others don’t like the “marxology”
in it. Mainly it has been interpreted as an attack upon wage struggles, an attack
upon the struggles of women for wages. All of us to one degree or another share
some of these objections, though only George and Peter Taylor consider the last
objection to have any merit.
Our meeting began with Sam Weinstein attacking the piece. George and Peter Taylor
attacked the piece. Paolo defended it for an hour or so. The attacks became
increasingly heated and incoherent. Peter Taylor and George were attempting to
provoke Paolo into resigning. He did not fall for this, of course. Everyone
wanted to continue the discussion the next morning on the basis of a discussion
of George’s long review of The Power of Women and the Subversion of the
Community, a good article because it has so many long quotations form that
pamphlet. We agreed to meet Saturday morning.
Bruno, Paolo and I went to the Bronx to sleep. We had a long discussion about
Christian’s article. Bruno has many reservations about it, and the discussion
between Bruno and Paolo was especially important to both of them. At the same
time, I filled Bruno in on the London meeting (though he had seen my minutes and
transcription of the meeting) and of a September meeting in which I had criticized
that If We’re So Powerful… pamphlet I showed you last summer.
Meanwhile, George, Taylor, Weinstein, Layton were meeting in Brooklyn with Selma,
Sylvia and Judy Ramirez. At 3:00am those men returned to Manhattan to wake up
Phil and Harry. They told them that they had expelled Paolo and insisted that
Harry and Phil “choose” and meet in Brooklyn the next morning. They left Manhattan
and they took the subscription list. At 4:00am Harry and Phil phoned George
saying they wanted to have another conversation to “understand what was going on,”
but this conversation had to be with George alone. George refused.
Saturday morning Taylor phones Bruno to say that Paolo had been expelled and to
go to Brooklyn for a meeting. They argue. Bruno is furious and concludes that
George and Peter are “following a script” that Selma wrote and was first played
out in Toronto last year. George phones Paolo saying that he’s expelled from ZW
and to return all copies [Paolo has five or six] of ZW1 to George. It went from
bad to worse. George won’t talk to me on the phone. Finally, I get him and he
says the meeting has been changed to 6:00pm Sunday night, knowing that I will
have had to leave NY Sunday morning to get back to Rochester.
Phil, a friend of George’s, is not “allowed” to talk to George as Sam Weinstein
tells him on the phone. Phil goes to the bank and transfers the funds from the
ZW account, to which George has access, to his personal account, a smart dude is
Phil. Phil then goes to Brooklyn. Sam won’t let him in the door. Phil finds George
at Sylvia’s. George tells Phil that he must sign an introduction saying that
“wages for housework is the class perspective”. He has 24 hours to decide. George
tells Phil “I am Zerowork.”
Bruno, Paolo and I go to Manhattan. We see Harry and we wait for Phil. We’re
pretty low, but we talk. Phil wants to go ahead with ZW2. He wants to talk about
the Marazzi piece again. I say I’m willing also to work on ZW2 (generally I’ve
done the production). I also hold the inventory, the leaflets . . . and I have
a ZW account too. Maybe we can pick up the pieces. Bruno will need time to think.
He has personal clarity and is ready to split cleanly from the wages-for-housework
oriented men’s group in Toronto. Two years of his political labors have been
thrown in his face. He’s very tough. George tells him he is no longer to be
trusted because he didn’t “choose” fast enough. Harry cannot come to the Sunday
night meeting in Brooklyn. Harry’s now with us.
To this account I will add only the following. A day or two after this attempted
“coup”, I was able to meet with George. Not only was I presented with the same
choice but he informed me that anyone, myself included, who desired to remain
part of the Zerowork collective would be required, henceforth, to clear anything
they proposed to publish — in Zerowork or anywhere else — to
what amounted to a "central committee". In other words, participants in Zerowork
would be required to toe the line, with that line clearly being set by the leaders
of Wages for Housework.
Immediately following Peter’s account above, he noted, “It was all very sad. It
was not hard on me personally. My heart and soul took some blows in London and
in the September meeting. But for everybody else there were deep emotional
thrusts.”(70) This was very true, this
attempted — and botched — coup ruptured friendships that, in some
cases, had lasted decades. Peter went on, “I thought this is ignominy. This is
Trot faction fighting of the 1950s. That is more than a 'parallel' because the
hidden hand of the weekend was formed precisely in those 50s faction fights.” The
“hidden hand”, of course, was that of Selma James, an individual whose insights
I admired, and continue to admire, but whose sectarian political tactics and
behaviors I have come to loath.(71)
As the reader might imagine, not only was the behavior of those attempting to
“take over” Zerowork intolerable, but the conditions laid out for future
collaboration were totally unacceptable to the other editors. None of us in New
York that weekend would submit to such “discipline” and George and Peter found
themselves on their own instead of head editors of a new Zerowork
subsidiary of Wages for Housework, Inc.
In retrospect, this attempt to impose a party line and party discipline should
not, perhaps, have been such a surprise. It was not just conflicting evaluations
of the Marazzi piece slowing down efforts to produce Zerowork #2 that
might have signaled the existence of unbridgeable disagreements. As early as
November 1975, in discussing John Merrington’s relation to the editorial board,
some wanted to condition his continued association with us on his position on
Wages for Housework.(72) Increasingly,
individual initiatives were more and more being constrained by demands that
everything be sanctioned collectively. Once the first issue of Zerowork
was published and circulated, resistance emerged to allowing individuals to
respond to critics. For example, when Phil wrote a long-delayed response to Peter
Rachleff’s friendly but critical review that was published in The Fifth Estate,
pressure was put on him not to publish it and insistence that all responses should
be collective.(73) Things as mundane as the
exchange of ads with other publications became the object of a political evaluation
of the other publications and an assessment of whether we should be associated
with them even to the degree of such an exchange — as if printing an ad
amounted to a political endorsement.(74) These
kinds of developments turned out to have been foreshadowings of the kind of
strict discipline that the Wages for Housework partisans sought to impose the
weekend of March 11-13, 1977.
At any rate, Peter immediately wrote to Christian Marazzi and John Merrington in
England and to Ferruccio and Bruno Cartosio in Italy about what had happened,
about our decision to go ahead and produce Zerowork #2 and solicited
their feedback about how to proceed with the Zerowork project as a whole. Christian
and John’s response came quickly, supported our decision and discussed how to
move ahead. For their part, they were amenable to revisions in Marazzi’s article
but were also proceeding with their plan to produce a book — Money and the
Proletarians — that would include his ideas along with other aspects of
the work they had all been doing on the changing role of money in the class
politics of the crisis.(75)
Unfortunately, within a month or so, we heard from Ferruccio in Padua that he
did not want us to include his article on class composition and US direct investment
in Zerowork #2.(76) He didn’t explain
why, just as he hadn’t explained the nature of the conflict in Padua that had led
to his parting of the ways from Toni Negri and other comrades at the Institute
of Political Science. In the light of what we had so recently experienced, we
could only guess at the pressure that had been brought to bear and at the
likelihood of gross misrepresentations of events in New York. We begged for
explanations but none were forthcoming.(77)
To our considerable chagrin, Ferruccio followed the withdrawal of his article by
his own withdrawal as Corresponding Editor of Zerowork. As a result,
Bruno Cartosio, working at a distance from the intrigues in Padua, enthusiastically
cried “Don’t stop! Put out ZW2 as soon as possible!” and became our new
Corresponding Editor in Italy.(78)
In the wake of the split in the editorial collective, along with work completing
Zerowork #2 went efforts to draw sympathetic readers of Zerowork #1
into closer discussion. One result of those efforts was the creation of study
groups in both New York City and Austin, Texas. In New York, a "Wednesday Night
Zerowork Group" was formed and in Austin a parallel group also came together on
a regular basis. In both cases, some 15-25 people engaged in regular discussion
about the contents of Zerowork #'s 1 & 2, possible content of
Zerowork #3 and more generally the raison d'être of the journal and its
strengths and weaknesses as a political project. These groups included local
editors — Phil Matera and Paolo Carpignano in New York and Harry Cleaver in
Austin — but most participants were friends and comrades drawn in from
outside the editorial circle. Most came from academic workplaces, either
professors or students. In many cases, the students had been previously exposed
to the ideas of Zerowork through lectures or extra-curricular study
groups. Others from outside included a few from the New York City Kapitaliststate
group. As is usual in such undertakings, some participated regularly; others
came and went. Unlike the earlier Struggle Against Work Collectives, these groups
included both men and women. Interests of participants varied, from extending
previous work on the New York City fiscal crisis to discussion and debate about
the theoretical and political sources of the ideas in the journal
(79) as well as about what those ideas implied
for answering the old question "What Is To Be Done?"(80)
With respect to this last question, there was considerable discussion of more
engagement with people in struggle beyond our own, largely academic, workplaces.
One past example to which reference was often made, was Peter Linebaugh's work
with the prisoners' movement, work in which his research on the working class
and crime in the 18th Century was brought to bear on contemporary struggles. One
much discussed possibility was the further elaboration of contacts and collaboration
with coal miner struggles. Bill Cleaver, whose contribution to Zerowork #1
was the piece on wildcats in Appalachia, followed up by working with a West Virginia
activist Wess Harris, to compose a new article about more recent coal miner
struggles in that area.(81) Their work also
inspired Bill's brother, Harry, while on a trip to the state of Bihar, India to
contact miners in Dhanbad, the coal mining center of that region.
(82) It also inspired Mike Wustner, a comrade
from the New School — who had grown up in Montana — to consider
contacting those working in Western strip mining.(83)
Finally, Harry's work on food crises in Eastern Europe had revealed the role of
coal miner struggles in Silesia, Poland and raised the possibility of building
contacts there. Of all these possibilities, only the new essay by Bill and Wess
was actually realized.
The upshot of the departure of George, Peter Taylor and Ferruccio from the Editorial
collective was a reassessment of everything that had gone before, including
proposals for the content and form of the second issue.
With respect to content, the withdrawal of Ferruccio’s essay on class composition
and US direct investment, reduced the draft manuscripts in hand to: a revision
of Donna Demac & Phil’s essay on the fiscal crisis of NYC, which NYSAW had already
published as a pamphlet, one essay by Harry on food crises and another on global
capitalist planning(84), Christian’s much-debated
essay on the crisis of the money form and a piece Phil was composing on post-war
With respect to form, there were two substantive decisions.
First, critiques of the first issues' poor aesthetic qualities led was a concerted
effort to find illustrations to visually break up, and complement, the texts —
something that had not been done in Zerowork #1. Indeed, only the cover
by Massironi had demonstrated any attention to aesthetics at all. This was
accomplished by locating and including a series of photographs, drawings, etc.
appropriate to each individual article.
Second, instead of simply presenting another set of essays embodying our interpretation
of the crisis, we decided to pitch, at least some of them at specific audiences.
This had been the original objective of the essay on the New York City fiscal
crisis, as it originated in a pamphlet distributed in the city. We decided that
we could also shape at least two of the other essays — the one on food and
the one on post-war Vietnam — with a view to particular audiences. In the
case of the essay on food crisis, Harry composed his essay, in part, as a
conscious intervention into the "food movement" that had been set in motion by
the hardships caused by rising food prices and spreading famine in the early 1970s
— the browning of that "Green Revolution", so touted during the Development
Decade of the 1960s.(85) In the case of the
essay on post-war Vietnam, Phil aimed, in part, at all of us who had been involved
in struggle against the war on Vietnam. We spelled out these motivations in two
flyers prepared to accompany copies sent, gratis, to particular individuals and
The flyer for the food article contained the following suggestion,
We think the implications of this analysis are far reaching for all those
involved in the food movement. It means first that while we must always study
the mechanisms of oppression, we must above all study the struggles, which have
gone on and are going on against those mechanisms. We must try to grasp the fact
that the fight for food is part of a larger fight that is proceeding on many
levels and in many places, and that a "food movement" can only be effective if
it addresses itself to the problem of speeding up the circulation of those struggles. . . .
Secondly, the analysis of the similarities of the struggles around food in Eastern
Europe and the Soviet Union, along with Mattera's article on Vietnam in this
issue, raise serious questions about the search for alternative 'socialist'
The flyer for the Vietnam article included a quotation from the June 3, 1977 issue
of the Far Eastern Economic Review relating how:
A major incentive to foreigners investing in Vietnam is the availability of
cheap labor, with average wages of US$20-25 a month . . . Vietnamese officials
[have] underlined the investment advantage of Vietnam's political stability . . .
Citibank officials seem impressed by the seriousness of the Vietnamese and their
Initial discussions of available materials and of past ideas of what to include
in Zerowork #2, combined with an assessment of editors' available time
and energy, led to a decision to finish polishing the five draft manuscripts and
to compose two more: an introduction and an essay on "restructuration" that would
provide an overview of our struggles that had precipitated the crisis and of
capitalist counterattacks.(87) Paolo and Harry
took on the job of drafting those two. The first would be completed; the second
would not. At the same time, efforts continued to distribute Zerowork,
using pretty much the same methods as before, but included designing a new
advertisement for placement in other Left journals (no longer considered a
problematic political act).
The introduction, as one might imagine, went through several revisions and all
the editors had input into those revisions. Most importantly, the introduction
was composed, in part, to respond to criticisms that we had not juxtaposed our
position in Zerowork #1 to more traditional Marxist and Marxist-Leninist
ones. Because the articles in the second issue were framed as moments of a global
class confrontation, we began responding more directly by differentiating our
understanding of the crisis from traditional, and contemporary, theories of
imperialism (including dependency and world-systems theories). Rejecting the
usual analysis of imperialism in terms of competition between blocs of capitalists
and their governments (often with the complicity of an opportunistic labor
aristocracy in the "center"), we argued for rethinking such conflicts in terms
of the dynamics of class struggle evolving differentially over time and space,
as driven by working class struggle at home and a desperate search by capital
for weaker foreign labor power or cheaper raw materials to pit against domestic
troublemakers or to compensate for necessary concessions.
As it turned out, neither the proposed essay on "restructuration" nor Harry's
existing essay on global capitalist planning would be included in Zerowork #2.
The reasons for the failure to compose the essay on "reconstruction" are not
clear, either in my (and others') memory or in what written records remain of
our discussions and correspondence. I suspect the main reasons concerned the
press of time and limited energy. The press of time derived from the split.
George's affirmation that weekend that he, Sam Weinstein and Peter Taylor
considered themselves Zerowork suggested that they would try to put out
their own version of Zerowork #2. The rest of us had serious doubts
about their ability to do so, even with the help of their comrades in Wages for
Housework. But not knowing, we felt it important to get Zerowork #2
published fairly soon to establish continuity and reaffirm the identity of the
journal.(89) The limited available energy
derived partly from the negative psychological effects of the split and partly
from other obligations. Paolo's energies were being absorbed by his waged job;
Harry's were being soaked up mainly by his work on the food piece — which,
because of its scope, wound up being by far the longest of the essays, even
after editing — but also by his new job teaching in Texas that started in
The exclusion of Harry's essay on global capitalist planning was due to lack of
space and a decision about priorities. We had decided to limit the length of the
second issue to 150 pages and, after estimating the printed length of all the
essays, realized that its inclusion would require substantial cutting somewhere
else — most obviously in Harry's long essay on food crises. We decided in
favor of retaining the integrity of the food piece and excluding the planning essay.
This then was the final line-up of the contents of Zerowork: Political
Materials 2 sent to the printers in early September 1977; copies would come
back on September 10.
Harry Cleaver, "Food, Famine and the International Crisis",
Philip Mattera, "National Liberation, Socialism and the Struggle Against Work:
The Case of Vietnam,
Christian Marazzi, "Money in the World Crisis: The New Basis of Capitalist Power"
Donna Demac & Philip Mattera, "Developing and Underdeveloping New York: The
'Fiscal Crisis' and the Imposition of Austerity",
Letters [one from Pete Rachleff in Pittsburgh, one from Geoffrey Kay in London].
Paolo Carpignano – see the previous section on the genesis of Zerowork #1.
Harry Cleaver (1944 - ) An American, I grew up with my younger brother in
conservative rural Ohio but with middleclass, liberal democratic parents. We
went to the same public schools but whereas my brother became politically engaged
early on, in high school, my political activity dated from the Civil Rights
Movement during my studies at Antioch College (1962-1967) — mentioned in
George Caffentzis' biographical sketch. Those studies included an academic year
at l'Université de Montpellier in France (1964-65) where I met numerous
Vietnamese students who questioned me about growing US involvement in their
country.(91) Those questions — to which
I had no satisfactory answers — being, at that time, a biochemistry major
— drove me to the study of American imperialism, to a B.A. in Economics
and to subsequent graduate studies in economics at Stanford University (1967-71).
While in France, I was also confronted by French feminists who critiqued my
typical Mid-Western male chauvinism and challenged me to read and respond to
Simon de Beauvoir's Le Deuxième Sexe (1949). Doing so converted me —
at a theoretical level — to feminism and set me on a never-ending path to
bring my praxis into line with my theory.
At Stanford, I was deeply involved in the anti-Vietnam War movement. That involvement
included: 1) participation in the local chapter of Students for a Democratic
Society (SDS)(92), 2) research on Stanford's
involvement in the war and capitalist strategy in the Pacific Basin more generally,
3) founding — with other anti-capitalist activists and researchers — a
radical think tank, the Pacific Studies Center, and 4) dissertation research
analyzing the historical origins of the Green Revolution — an agricultural
strategy designed to undermine peasant unrest and, in Indochina, to complement
US military counterinsurgency. That research continued during the three years
I taught at l'Université de Sherbrooke in Québec (1971-1974) —
accompanied by the study of Marx, Hegel and the writings of French Marxist
anthropologists Maurice Godelier, Pierre-Philip Rey and Claude Meillassoux.
Those studies led me to frame my dissertation in terms of the interaction of
modes of production. Dissatisfaction, however, with the inability of that framing
to give due weight to the struggles of peasants against whom the new agricultural
technologies were aimed, led me to closer scrutiny of Marx's value theory and to
working out a new reading in terms of the value of labor to capital and workers'
struggles against work. Those studies had two outcomes. First, they included the
composition of an essay that would turn out to be the first draft of my later book
Reading Capital Politically (1978). Second, when I moved to
New York City to teach Marx in the Graduate Program of the New School for Social
Research (1974-1976), my reinterpretation of value categories in class terms
predisposed me to an immediate interest in the kinds of theoretical innovations
grounding the analysis in Zerowork.
Finishing my dissertation in the fall of 1974 provided time and energy for me to
participate in the Zerowork collective. By that time, capitalist policy makers
had complemented the Green Revolution development strategy of increasing food
supplies in some areas with an underdevelopment strategy of dramatic food
shortages, price increases and famine in others. Given my previous research, my
contribution to the second issue of Zerowork would be a long article on
"Food, Famine and International Crisis."
My earlier student activism, conversion to feminism in France, studies of mostly
unwaged peasant struggles in Southeast Asia, and work on value theory, all
contributed to my openness to the Wages for Housework analysis of the unwaged.
On the one hand, that analysis helped shape my work on Marx's value theory and
on the food crisis of the early 1970s. On the other hand, it made me amenable
to collaborating with George Caffentzis, Philip Mattera, Larry Cox and others
in organizing the Income Without Work Committee, that soon became New York Struggle
Against Work, and in organizing resistance to the austerity measures then being
imposed on both waged and unwaged in the city.
When differences over the relationship between Zerowork and Wages for Housework
reached an impasse in early 1977, I aligned myself with those who sought to
retain the independence of the Zerowork collective rather than with those who
sought to subordinate it to WfH. In the midst of these conflicts and parting
of the ways, and in response to an invitation by graduate students, I took a
new job at the University of Texas in Austin and left New York City in the
Summer of 1977. In Austin, I organized a new discussion group around the analysis
of Zerowork and its usefulness in understanding various aspects of the
ongoing crisis. (See "Background: from Zerowork #2 to Zerowork
#3" on this webpage.)
Peter Linebaugh – see the previous section on the genesis of Zerowork #1
Philip Mattera (1953 – ) An Italian-American from Brooklyn, New York, Mattera
was active in the anti-Vietnam war movement in high school and while at St. John's
College in Annapolis, Maryland, where he wrote his senior thesis on Marx. He met
the Zerowork and Wages for Housework crowd while studying political economy at
the Graduate Faculty of the New School for Social Research and simultaneously
working as a news and public affairs producer at listener-sponsored WBAI radio.
He participated in the New York Struggle Against Work collective and, with Donna
Demac, wrote the pamphlet Developing and Underdeveloping New York: The
"Fiscal Crisis" and a Strategy for Fighting Austerity (June 1976). Working
within the Zerowork collective, he reworked that pamphlet into an article for
Zerowork #2. He also contributed a second article on postwar Vietnam.
Bruno Ramirez – see the previous section on the genesis of Zerowork #1
John Merrington – see the previous section on the genesis of Zerowork #1
Christian Marazzi (1951 - ) Born in Lugano, Switzerland, with Italian as his
mother tongue, Christian studied first at the Lyceum of the State of Ticino in
that country, then the Instituto di Scienze Politich at the University of Padua,
Italy (1971-1975), where he worked with Toni Negri and took his Doctorate degree,
and finally at the London School of Economics (1975-76) and the City University of
London (1976) where he worked with Geoffrey Kay. In both Padua and in London,
Christian’s research focused on the post-WWII international monetary system of
fixed exchange rates. With Kay and John Merrington, Christian began to study —
in class terms — the crisis of that system that emerged in the late 1960s,
came to a head with Nixon’s abandonment of tie between the dollar and gold in
1971 and mutated into more or less floating exchange rates among major hard
currencies. One fruit of these studies was his contribution to Zerowork #2,
"Money in the World Crisis: The New Basis of Capitalist Power."
Bruno Cartosio (1943 - ) An Italian, Bruno was born and reared in Tortona,
a commune of about 30,000 inhabitants in the Piedmont region, about 40 miles south
of Milan. The son of a foundry worker and a laundress, who started their own
small businesses after the Second World War, Bruno was the first in his family
to go to college. Son of a father aligned with the Communist Party of Italy (PCI),
and nephew of an uncle who had been an active anti-fascist before the war
(jailed in 1931) and a partisan during the war (jailed in 1944), he grew up in
a highly politicized family and began participating in politics at age 13. He
entered the Università degli Studi di Milano in 1964 — where he met
Ferruccio Gambino. In the years 1967-1972, Milan was one of the main centers of
student unrest — a wave of struggle in which Bruno participated. As a
result of his interest in the Black civil rights struggles in the US, he wrote
his dissertation on "Il problema negro nella storiografia statunitense e nella
letteratura afroamericana" ("The 'Negro' problem in American Historiography and
Afro-American Literature"), obtained a degree in American studies and after
graduation headed for North America.
He went to Canada where, for two academic years (1969-1971), he taught Italian
at McGill University in Montreal. While there, he started, with a few others,
the "Mouvement Progressiste Quebecois" and published a newspaper Il Lavoratore,
both of which continued for some ten years after he returned to Italy. In Montreal,
he once met C. L. R. James, who went to lecture there and thanks to an introduction
from Ferruccio, he also traveled to Detroit where he met Jessie and Marty Glaberman.
Soon after his return to Milan, Bruno translated for Italian publishers George
Rawick’s, From Sundown to Sunup; C. L. R. James’s, The Atlantic Slave
Trade and Slavery; Herbert Gutman’s Work, Culture and Society and
edited a collection of James, Gutman and Harold Baron's essays in 1973. In 1976,
he also collected and translated into Italian a number of articles and essays by
Glaberman, writing an introduction dealing with the history of the
“Johnson-Forest tendency” and the “Correspondence” and “Facing Reality” collectives.
(93) His friendship and political-intellectual
exchange with the Glabermans and Rawick lasted until their deaths.
Along with Sergio Bologna, who, in the early 1970s, taught at the University of
Padua, and the bookstore owner-publisher Primo Moroni, he launched the
historical-political journal Primo Maggio, whose first issue came out
in 1973 and which he continued publishing until 1988. Primo Maggio
provided a forum for the main lines of research that characterized a
political-intellectual left, which jealously defended its independence from both
the institutional political parties (Communist and Socialist), and the formations
of the so-called “extraparliamentary left” (Potere operaio, Lotta continua,
Avanguardia operaia, Il manifesto…). During most of its life, Primo Maggio
loosely belonged in the “camp” of the Italian workerist thought. It was mainly
through it, and thanks to travels to the US, while teaching American literature
and history at the University of Milan, that Bruno met some of the people involved
in the publication of Zerowork — Peter Linebaugh, Phil Mattera,
Silvia Federici, Paolo Carpignano, and Bruno Ramirez.
1 Harry Braverman, Labor and Monopoly
Capital: the Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century, New York; Monthly
Review Press, 1974.
2 One fruit of Holloway and Picciotto's work on
the state would be published two years later: an edited collection of translated
contributions to the "state derivation" debate in Germany, State and Capital:
A Marxist Debate, Austin: University of Texas Press, 1978.
3 CSE, The Labour Process & Class
Strategies, CSE Pamphlet no. 1, London: Stage 1, 1976.
4 In Zerowork #2, Merrington and Marazzi
are listed as belonging to the Editorial Collective but Robby considered
everyone in the London Group to be acting collectively in terms of both contributing
to the journal's content and distributing it in England.
Letter from Robby to Paolo, Phil, Peter etc., April 28, 1977.
5 There were several “heterodox” moments in the
history of economics but probably the most important one in the United States in
the 20th Century was “institutionalism” — a tradition that some trace back
to Thorstein Veblen but most recognize to include such luminaries as Clarence
Ayres, John Commons, Wesley Mitchell and John Kenneth Galbraith. Several
economists in this tradition played important roles in the Roosevelt administration
of the 1930s, helping to craft new institutions for new times. Those who do not
simply draw on that tradition but style themselves institutionalists even have
their own journal. A few economics departments — mostly in Midwestern and
Plains states — were still, in the 1970s, dominated by economists with
such views. The Department of Economics at the University of Texas at Austin was
one such place. It was partly study with institutionalists that led students there
to be curious about Marx, to fight for three years to get a Marxist hired and to
finally succeed in getting a job offered to Harry Cleaver in the Spring of 1976.
6 The term “economics” replaced “political economics”
around the turn of the Century, from the 19th to the 20th. Since the time of Adam
Smith, whose Wealth of Nations was published in 1776, the term political
economy was commonly used — until the embrace of a calculus-based marginalist
analysis and discomfort with the evolution of political conflicts around economic
issues led to its abandonment and its replacement with “economics” in the United
States and Britain and with “la science économique” in France.
7 This was also true with a few who did call
themselves Marxist, although many taught courses in “heterodox economics” or
“political economy”, titles that caused less worry among both mainstream colleagues
and university administrators.
8 As the reader will discover below, we later
decided that our failure to make greater efforts to engage many of those we
initially judged to be beyond the pale was a major flaw in our whole project.
9 One such radio appearance was a debate between
George Caffentzis and Murray Bookshin on WBAI (Pacifica Radio) in New York on
January 28, 1976, 4-6pm. The debate centered on the how to respond to the
imposition of austerity and cutbacks in social services. Bookshin argued that the
crisis provided an opportunity for people in the city to develop modes of mutual
aid. Caffentzis saw that as "[self] managing our poverty" and argued for
fighting for the restoration of services.
10 Bruno was a professor of history at the
Universita degli studi di Milano whose research focused on the United States and
included the history of the Johnson-Forest-Facing Reality groups. He would publish
a collection of Martin Glaberman’s writings Classe operaia imperialismo e
rivoluzione negli USA, Torino: Musolini, 1976.
11 Yann was, at that time, a student in Paris
working on his doctorat d’état. He would go on to create and edit the
autonomist journal Babylone, and later in collaboration with Toni Negri
in Parisian exile, the journal Futur Antèrieur and still later
12 Peter Linebaugh to Monty Neil, February 22,
1976. Peter’s answer to Monty’s question is actually much longer and more involved
but the above quotation is typical of our frequent refusal to enter into the
usual “fantastical” imagination about post-capitalist society.
13 See some examples from this period. Mario
Cogoy, "The Fall of the Rate of Profit and the Theory of Accumulation, A Reply to
Paul Sweezy," Bulletin of the Conference of Socialist Economists, Winter
1973, pp.52-67. Geoff Hodgson, "The Theory of the Falling Rate of Profit," New
Left Review, 1974. Michael A. Lebowitz, "Marx's Falling Rate of Profit:
A Dialectical View," Canadian Journal of Economics IX, (2), May 1976,
14 Paul Baran (1909-1964) and Paul Sweezy
(1910-2004), Monopoly Capital: An Essay on the American Economic and Social
Order, New York: Monthly Review Press, 1966. Sweezy, Paul M. "On the Theory
of Monopoly Capitalism," Monthly Review, April 1972. Andre Gunder Frank,
“World Crisis, Class Struggle and 1984,” in URPE, Radical Perspectives on the
Economic Crisis of Monopoly Capitalism, (a reader), 1975.
15 See for example, Andrew Glyn and Bob Sutcliffe,
British Capitalism, Workers and the Profit Squeeze, London: Penguin 1972.
Andrew Glyn, "Notes on the Profit Squeeze," Bulletin of the Conference of
Socialist Economists, February 1975. Raford Boddy and James R. Crotty, "Class
Conflict and Macro-Policy: The Political Business Cycle," Review of Radical
Political Economics, Vol. 7, No. 1, April 1975, pp. 1-19. Raford Boddy and
James R. Crotty, "Wages, Profits and the Profit Squeeze," Review of Radical
Political Economics, Vol. 8, No.2, Summer 1976, pp. 63-67. James O'Connor,
The Fiscal Crisis of the State, Transaction Publishers, 1973.
16 Francis Fox Piven and Richard A. Cloward,
Poor People's Movements: Why They Succeed, How They Fail, New York:
Pantheon Books, 1977.
17 Peter Rachleff had taken a B.A. in Sociology
at Amherst College in 1973 and was at this time working on his Ph.D with David
Montgomery at the University of Pittsburgh. He published Marxism and Council
Communism: The foundation for revolutionary theory for modern society, Brooklyn:
Revisionist Press, 1976. His review of Zerowork was published in The
Fifth Estate, Whole No. 278, Volume 12, No. 2, November 1976, p. 7.
18 Paul Mattick,
Marx and Keynes: The Limits of the Mixed Economy, Boston: Porter
Sargent, 1969. Paul Mattick was the
last important theorist of the Council Communist movement. See the brief discussion
of the disconnect between the tradition treated here and Council Communism in the
section Background: Genesis of Zerowork #1".
19 Panzieri's "Plusvalore e pianificazione:
Appunti di lettura del Capitale," originally published in Quaderni rossi
4, 1964 [?] had been translated into English as "Surplus value and planning: notes
on the reading of Capital," and included in The Labour Process & Class
Strategies, published by the CSE a year earlier, in 1976.
20 Negri's "John M. Keynes e la teoria
capitalistica dello stato nel '29", was originally published in Contropiano
in 1968 and republished in Operai e stato in 1972 — a book that
Bruno Ramirez had reviewed for Telos in 1972 and which had been a prime
point of reference for Mario Montano in the essay on “Theses on the Mass Worker
and Capital” that he wrote with Silvia Federici that same year for Radical
America. Bruno's review of Operai e stato appeared in Telos,
No. 13, Fall 1972, pp. 140-147. Mario and Silvia's "Theses" appeared in Radical
America, Vol. 6, No. 3, May-June 1972, pp. 3-21, under the pseudonym "Guido Baldi".
21 Unfortunately, this failure to reference
materials that would have clarified our reasoning would also be true of the second
issue of Zerowork — and typical of our failure to clearly identify
theoretical work upon which we had drawn.
22 Of course, had we been familiar with the
much earlier work by C. L. R. James and Raya Dunayevskaya we might have referred
Peter Rachleff all the way back to their writings on state capitalism. (See the
discussion in the section on Background: Genesis of
Zerowork #1" on this webpage.)
23 The first issue of the journal
Kapitalistate: Working Papers on the Capitalist State appeared in 1973.
The eleventh and last (I think) was published in 1983.
24 Peter Linebaugh to the City University
Kapitaliststate Collective, September 1977. Given that several members
of that Collective later participated in regular discussions with Zerowork folks
in New York City, they perhaps explained themselves more clearly. Unfortunately,
I was, by that time, in Austin and have seen no record of such discussions.
26 Other loci of concentrated debate over the
nature of the state could be found in England (around the CSE), France and Germany.
See some examples, in English, from the period being discussed here. Nicos Poulantzis,
"The problem of the capitalist state", New Left Review, No. 58, 1969, pp.
67-78, reprinted in Robin Blackburn, Ideology in Social Sciences: Readings in
Critical Social Theory, London: Fontana Press, 1972. Ralph Milliband, The
State in Capitalist Society: The Analysis of the Western System of Power, 1969.
Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks, London: Lawrence &
Wishart, 1971. John Holloway and Sol Picciotto (eds), State and Capital: A
Marxist Debate, London: Edward Arnold Ltd, 1978, that includes several English
translations from the debate in Germany. Bob Jessup, "Recent Theories of the
Capitalist State," Cambridge Journal of Economics, Vol. 1, No. 4, pp.
353-73, reprinted as chapter 1 in Bob Jessup, State Theory: Putting Capitalist
States in their Place, University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press,
1990. Simon Clarke, "Marxism, Sociology and Poulantzis's Theory of the State",
originally published in the CSE journal Capital and Class, No. 2, 1977
and reprinted in Simon Clarke (ed), The State Debate, London: MacMillan,
1991 that includes an assortment of contributions to the debate, including one
from Kapitalistate. For a later overview, that includes the work of the
French regulationists and the American "social structures of accumulation" theorists,
see Clyde W. Barlow, Critical Theories of the State: Marxist, Neo-Marxist,
Post-Marxist, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1993.
27 Holloway and Picciotto, Ibid., p. 1.
28 In this, his frustration found an echo in
the responses of some Italian comrades to the first issue. In a letter from Bruno
Cartosio — one of those actively circulating Zerowork in Italy —
can be found the following feedback, “Many of them raised a question . . .about
the organizational perspectives that are to be attached to the analysis and
theoretical framework characterizing ZW. It is a curious fact: a practical
rejection of [traditional forms of] organization and a theoretical need for
organizational perspectives do co-exist at the same time in the same comrades.”
Bruno to Peter Linebaugh, June 5, 1976.
29 It was John A. Hobson’s book Imperialism
(1902) that Lenin and Bukharin both reworked using Marxist concepts. Vladimir Ilyich Lenin,
Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, (1916). Nikolai Bukharin,
Imperialism and World Economy (1915, 1917).
30 The Soviet and the American governments and
their ideologists, of course, (as well as many others) portrayed the Cold War as
an epic battle between socialism and capitalism. Trotskyists, although they
collectively interpreted Stalinism as a betrayal of socialism, came in 57 varieties
with 57 different interpretations — including seeing the Soviet Union as
state capitalist, as in the cases of the Johnson-Forest Tendency, Facing Reality
and News & Letters whose analyses (discussed in Background:
Genesis of Zerowork #1") were more or less shared by those in the
31 The term “dependency” denoted the view that
within an interlocked global capitalist system, some peripheral areas, countries
and peoples were dependent on others more central to that system. Those in the
periphery were also often seen to be subject to underdevelopment — understood
as what happens when capital disinvests in one previously developed area in favor
of more profitable investment elsewhere.
32 This was even true in those Marxist critiques
of dependency and world system theory that took its authors to task for focusing
too much on international trade while neglecting to either recognize or analyze
differences in the sphere of production. Their own focus on production tended to
accept some variation on Althusser’s mode of production analysis that, in his main
writings and in those of a great many of his followers, failed to recognize how
the dynamics of capitalist accumulation is driven and shaped not only by capitalist
efforts but also by workers’ struggles.
33 Geoffrey Kay, Development and Underdevelopment:
A Marxist Analysis, London: Macmillan, 1975. Geoff had already submitted
two other essays to the collective, one on the tendency of the rate of profit to
fall and one on abstract labor. These were deemed interesting but unsuited to the
intended contents of the second issue. His essay on the tendency of the rate of
profit to fall would be published later that year as "The falling rate of profit,
unemployment and crisis", in Critique: Journal of Socialist Theory, vol. 6,
Issue 1, 1976, pp. 55-75.
34 From a letter from Ferruccio to Peter L,
August 8, 1975. The original translator of his article from Italian to English
was Julian Bees.
35 Its availability is emblematic of the more
general phenomenon that within a relatively short time following the split in
Zerowork (detailed below) those editors who had gone their separate ways once
again collaborated, and continue to do so today.
36 This would be obvious in Harry Cleaver’s
article on the international debt crisis that identified the NYC bank and local
government strategy of using debt against working class struggle as the model
and proving ground for the strategies deployed by the International Monetary Fund
and the World Bank against workers in the global South. (Minor variations on this
strategy have since been deployed against the workers of post-communist Eastern
Europe and more recently still against those in Greece, Spain, Portugal, the US
and the rest of the global North. It would also be obvious in the early work of
Midnight Notes that focused on energy crises — a topic much discussed
within the Zerowork collective but barely touched upon in the articles in
Zerowork #1 and #2. See: "Close the IMF, Abolish Debt and End Development:
a Class Analysis of the International Debt Crisis," Capital & Class No. 39,
Winter 1989. On Midnight Notes on energy crises see below.
37 The main Midnight Notes publication dealing
with the oil crisis was
Midnight Oil: Work, Energy, War 1973-1992, New York:
Autonomedia, 2001, but also see various other of the articles collected on its
website. The most striking and theoretically innovative article in that
collection — which includes 5 of the 7 articles in Zerowork #1 —
is George's "Work/Energy Crisis and the Apocalypse". Whereas Mario's analysis is
limited to the capitalist use of energy against labor, George uses one formulation
of the second law of thermodynamics to examine the growing problem for capital
of sorting workers more willing to work from those more inclined to struggle
against work in its attempt to restructure and regain control over the working
38 An effective capitalist response would not
be found until the end of the decade when President Jimmy Carter appointed Paul
Volcker to the Chairmanship of the FED and he would, in turn, impose high interest
rates, precipitating a global depression that would dramatically eclipse the
earlier "great recession" of the mid-1970s. Retained by in-coming president Ronald
Reagan, Volcker and his policies, coupled with the new administration's attacks
on unions finally achieved falling wages and reduced inflation but only via a
global depression and the international debt crisis of the 1980s and 1990s,
during which the methods used against the people of New York City were wielded world-wide.
39 An at least momentary exception was expressed
by Peter Linebaugh in March 1976 in a letter to Geoff Kay where he wrote of “an
enormous growth of what’s called the 'Marxist-Leninist' movement in the US” and
offered that “I think it was a mistake of ZW1 (among several) not to have engaged
directly (at least in our footnotes or endnotes) with the positions that have
emerged in [at least some parts of] this movement.”
40 Although by no means complete, there are a
great many original letters and copies of letters in the files of the one-time
editors of Zerowork — some of which I have been able to draw upon
for my historical reconstructions. Perhaps one day they will all be deposited in
some archive and become available for a more complete and detailed history.
41 The primary points of reference were the
analyses in Carpignano's piece on
"US Class Composition in the Sixties" that highlighted welfare rights struggles
and Caffentzis' piece
"Throwing Away the Ladder" that sketched the human capital strategy that had
guided state investments in both welfare and schools.
42 Banks "roll over" debt when they loan more
money to pay back money already owed. This takes care of immediate debt obligations,
but to the degree that the new loans do not reduce principle, but only pay interest
charges, such "roll over" increases the total amount owed to the banks.
43 The "state" in this history included not
only the city, state and federal governments who participated in imposing this
austerity, but also "Big MAC" — the Municipal Assistance Corporation and
the Financial Control Board — unelected, appointed overseers of this
austerity. The parallels with the recent imposition of an outside authority to
oversee the recent imposition of austerity in Detroit should be obvious.
44 The primary methods used to get into the
subway without buying the official, increasingly expensive tokens were 1) holding
open gates for people to pass without paying, and 2) circulating large quantities
of a very cheap foreign coin (I forget which one) that was exactly the same
size and weight of the much more expensive tokens for the gate machines.
45 See flyer Fight the Fare, Go Thru the Gates!
46 The flyer's demands echoed those chronicled
by Bruno Ramirez's
"The Working Class Struggle Against the Crisis: Self-Reduction of Prices in Italy" in Zerowork #1. The argument was inspired by the demands by coal miners for "portal to portal" pay, i.e., hourly wages being timed from the entry into coal mines, not from arrival at the veins being worked, which were reached only after long, dangerous vertical and horizontal passages.
47 Although both pamphlets were the result of
collective discussion, the second was drafted by, and its authorship attributed to,
Larry Cox, a member of the New York SAWC.
48 What we had in mind was the ability of workers
to accumulate resources — either personal savings or collective strike funds
— to finance escape from work. Clearly, those at the high end of the wage
hierarchy often got there through the more or less total subordination of their
lives to work and competing with others and thus were not inclined to use their
greater income and wealth to avoid work. This happens even at the level of blue
collar workers as we were reminded in those days by the Elio Petri's 1971 film
La classe operaia va in paradise (variously translated as The Working
Class Goes to Heaven, or Lulu, the Tool). The film, in which the
central character, Lulu, is played by Gian Maria Volonté, provides a vivid
illustration of the negative side effects of such subordination, a striking
visual portrayal of metal-working piece-work and some hope through collective
49 Phil Mattera to Peter Linebaugh (no date?)
and George Caffentzis to Peter Linebaugh, September 1, 1976.
50 Jim Brophy to Peter Linebaugh, September 22, 1976.
51 Brophy’s remarks were based on his experience
with the split in the Toronto Struggle Against Work Collective that had taken
place earlier that year. See below for more details.
52 Jim Brophy to Peter Linebaugh, March 5, 1976.
53 That Statement was apparently addressed to a
group of students at the University of Waterloo, among whom was Tim Grant, the
author of a two-page spread in the student newspaper titled “Wages for Homework.”
The choice of addressee would seem to be a measure of the depth of the split in
the Toronto SAWC; dialog with Bruno and Peter Taylor was over. But not with the
other editors of Zerowork, because Brophy would continue to discuss
these issues with Peter Linebaugh and share with him their essay on the split.
54 Peter Linebaugh did compose a one-page
response — basically asking for further clarification.
55 At this point in time — 40-odd years
after the debate — it is impossible to recreate all the arguments. But
when comparing this summary with the published essay, it should be remembered
that the final, published form of that essay was the result of several revisions,
in several hands, undertaken in the midst of the debate, with the objective of
crafting something that while not agreed upon in every point was nevertheless
acceptable to all the editors as a point of departure for future discussion.
56 The employment of Marx's concepts of value
was quite explicit in key texts of the Wages for Housework movement, e.g., the
seminal essay by Mariarosa Dalla Costa,
Women and the Subversion of the Community (1971).
57 It is always tempting to write the simpler
expression "commodity production" instead of the more cumbersome "the production
of commodities produced and sold for profits", but commodity production includes
the production of the commodity labor power — the most important commodity
of all — that is often sold, but not for profit. In what follows "commodity
producing industry" refers to the capitalist "the production of commodities
produced and sold for profits" and not to the production of labor power —
which has not yet, on the whole, become what is commonly known as "an industry"
however much capital has sought to intervene and manage it.
58 At three different points in his essay,
Christian explicitly pointed to the struggles of the unwaged and at the end,
when he turns to "what is to be done?" he wrote: "Rather it is a matter of
analyzing the successes and failures of the modes of working class organization
in the previous cycle of struggle, primarily the organizations of the unwaged in
the struggles against the state over the social wage."
59 Assuming a general tendency for the utilization
of machinery to displace labor, in Department I as well as in Department II of
Marx's "reproduction schemes" spelled out in the third part of Volume II of
Capital, the reduction in the labor employed to produce consumption goods
would include any reductions in the labor employed in the production of the
tools, machines and raw materials used in the production of consumption commodities.
60 Indeed, a point often made by those who have
studied housework is that despite the success of women in fighting for the
diversion of household income into the purchase and use of labor-saving devices
such as washing machines, changes in standards have often resulted in little or
no reduction in the actual amount of work required.
61 The quantitative relation between values and
prices has been a hotly debated issue throughout the history of Marxism. In
Volume I of Capital, while recognizing that price often differs, quantitatively,
from value, Marx assumes that values = prices. The debate has been fought out
mainly over the interpretation of the material in Volume III on the so-called
"transformation problem". I cannot, however, remember any substantial discussion about that
piece of the theory in the midst of our debates over Christian's essay.
62 Obviously, another interpretation is possible,
namely that the severing of the relationship between value and price is the result
or an effect of the "suppression of the law of value" — in which case the
later remains undefined.
63 Five years later, in an essay published in
the on-line journal The Commoner, George discussed possible interpretations
of "the Law of Value" in more depth while critiquing Negri's, and Hardt and Negri's
rejection of it. See, George Caffentzis,
"Immeasurable Value? An Essay on Marx's Legacy", The Commoner, No. 10,
64 Too many Marxists, in my view, have allowed
themselves to be drawn onto the terrain of mainstream economics and felt the
need to prove that Marxian theory can not only explain everything mainstream
economics does, but can do it better and can explain more. By accepting the usual
standard in science that one should only trade in an old theory for a new one if
the new one can explain everything the old one does plus account for anomalies
that the old theory could not account for, they have missed the most vital point.
The purpose of Marxian theory is diametrically opposed to that of mainstream
economic theory and must therefore, be held to completely different standards.
65 NB: neither Marx nor his mainstream contemporaries
conceptualized supply and demand in the manner to which we are accustomed today,
i.e., upward and downward sloping curves denoting how much will be supplied or
demanded at given prices. Those curves became common only after being derived by
the "marginalists" using the calculus in the late 19th Century. [The early work
of Antoine Augustin Cournot (1801-1877) — unknown to Marx — was an
exception; he posited a downward sloping demand curve in 1834.]
66 A fairly dramatic example of this was the
quadrupling of oil prices in 1973-74 with no change in the methods or costs of
production. That quadrupling resulted in the transfer of billions of dollars from
oil importers to oil exporters and all the value — and its command over
labor — those billions represented.
67 This distinction between manual and mental
labor can be, and often is, overblown. In the laboratories where both scientists
and engineers experiment with new ideas, there is often a considerable amount of
manual labor, only some of which is rote work delegated to unskilled assistants.
The same caveat applies to work that appears to be mainly manual; such work often
not only involves — through practice — an intimate understanding of
machines and production processes, but that very understanding often leads to
creative innovation in how machines are set up and used.
68 In other words, that characteristic that
all on-going labor in the capitalist production of commodities (for sale and profit)
has in common, once we abstract from all those particular useful qualities that
produce use-values, is its value as the vehicle of capitalist command over
69 Although the tendency of the organic composition
of capital to rise plays out in the producer good sector just as it does in the
consumer good sector, Marx's interest in the former — with respect to surplus
value — lay in its impact on the reduction of per unit value in the latter
sector. The two sectors Mario used to illustrate the reduced requirement for
labor brought about by the increasing use of machines were those of food —
a consumption good — and energy — a basic input into the production
of consumer goods. Those are also two of the most capital-intensive parts of the
70 Years later, Peter would confess that that
these events actually were hard on him, despite his downplaying their effects
at the time.
71 More on this below. A year later during a
research trip to England, France and Italy, I would discover, at each stop, more
examples of such sectarian behavior — that left a trail of anti-Selma feeling
in its wake, even from those who admired her many insights and analyses of class
and gender relations. See the essay on “Background: From Zerowork #2 to
Zerowork #3” on this website. It was sad, as Peter wrote, to see such
an intelligent individual sow discord and antagonism instead of understanding
and collaboration among more or less like-minded comrades.
72 The primary basis of objections to
Merrington’s continued collaboration was his status as an editor of New Left
Review. Peter Linebaugh adamantly refused to “tell him that his presence
among us depends on a) withdrawal from the NLR and b) his “stand” on WfH, because
we have not (yet) applied such standards to one another.” He would only pass along,
he said, that “two of our comrades did not understand how it was possible to be
an editor of NLR when that mag has opposed WfH while at the same time fighting
for WfH.” Peter Linebaugh to George Caffentzis, November 18, 1975. Even four days
later, in a draft of a letter to Merrington — that was never sent —
Leoncio Schaedel suggested the possibility of making future collaboration
conditional not only upon “Disassociation from political journals that espouse
opposing lines, e.g., New Left Review”, but also upon “Recommendation by
the Power of Women International Collective”! Letter from Leoncio to “Dear
Zeroworker”, November 22, 1975.
73 Phil prepared a draft response to Rachleff
in mid-January 1977, circulated it for comments and was open to having it published
either as an individual or collective response. Within two weeks he not only
learned that the draft was unacceptable as a collective response but that he had
no encouragement to submit it to The Fifth Estate as an individual. In
measured words, tinged with bitterness, he announced, “The reactions received on
the circulated draft were in such sharp variance that it appears a collective
response is not possible at this time. If anyone else should like to attempt to
write another draft that might satisfy everyone, let him do so.” Phil Mattera
to Peter Linebaugh, February 1, 1977.
74 After returning home from the previous Zerowork
collective meeting in New York, Peter Linebaugh wrote to Phil Mattera of putting
on hold his discussion with James O’Connor of exchanging ads with Kapitalistate
after discovering how “our meeting allowed itself to come to the decision that
there was to be little exchange of ads without full collective consultation
within ZW about the ‘political suitability’ of ads." Peter Linebaugh to Phil
Mattera, February 5, 1977. In that same letter Peter responded to Phil’s
withdrawal of his response to The Fifth Estate saying he wished Phil
had gone ahead and worried, “Is a point arising where our desire to act collectively
and politically is paralyzing our ability to act at all?” Recently (this year of
2014 CE), reading Gottraux's and Hays-Kingsinton's books on Socialisme ou
Barbarie, I have discovered that such political decisions about placing
advertisements has a long history in sectarian politics. Philippe Gottraux,
Socialisme ou Barbarie: Un engagement politique et intellectual dans la France de
laprès guerre, Lausanne: Payot, 1997. Steven Hastings-King, Looking for
the Proletariat: Socialisme ou Barbarie and the Problem of Worker Writing,
Boston: Brill, 2014.
75 That book, unfortunately, was never completed,
although their work eventually led to other publications.
76 During the preparation of this webpage,
Ferruccio was happy to work with me in polishing his essay for publication here.
Thus, his very valuable work is finally available in English. He has also explained
that at the time, in 1977, quite apart from the political troubles, there were
things about piece that left him unsatisfied, i.e., that he had "undervalued the
state" and also had given "short shrift . . . to the enormous issue of the
reproduction of labor power". Ferruccio email to me, November 26, 2014.
77 Years later, Ferruccio explained that his
decision about withdrawing from editorship was partly due to his "inability to
grasp the terms of the debate" on the other side of the Atlantic. Ibid.
It is my impression that his inability derived from receiving varied and conflicting
accounts. As I hope this account makes clear, at first the real nature of the
debate was not obvious to those of us who stuck with Zerowork either.
78 Bruno Cartosio to Peter Linebaugh, April 14,
1977. Bruno also wrote “You are not a party. If the w.f.h. comrades believe they
are and have their own little international party-line to hold forth and to cling
to — let them do it on their own.”
79 During the summer of 1977, one member of the
group, Peter Bell, then teaching at SUNY Purchase, while visiting family in England,
contacted John Merrington and obtained from him a verbal history of the "Italian
connection". Upon his return, he wrote up and circulated a fairly detailed
synopsis of that history. It only whetted many appetites for more details and
materials on roots hitherto obscure for most participants.
80 To give credit where it is due, this "old"
question did not originate with Lenin, but with the Russian revolutionary populist
Nikolay Gavrilovich Chernyshevsky (1828 – 1889) who wrote a novel whose
title/question Lenin (following Tolstoy) appropriated. Lenin, of course, gave a
quite different answer from Chernyshevsky's embrace of the peasant commune
(mir) as the template for building a new society — a position with
which Marx largely agreed once he was drawn into the debate in Russia. (See the
discussion on the inclusion of the peasantry within a broadened definition of the
working class in the section of this webpage on
"Background: Genesis of Zerowork #1".)
81 That essay, although never included in
Zerowork, is accessible on this webpage. Wes Harris later collaborated
with William C. Blizzard to produce When Miners March, New York: PM Press,
2010, about the Battle for Blair Mountain, a massive armed struggle, during the
West Virginia mine wars of 1920-21.
82 While nothing came of this visit to Dhanbad,
a separate by-product were several articles on Malaria de-control, written in
response to an upsurge in the incidence of that disease, hitherto on the verge of
84 This piece on global capitalist planning was
written in response to skeptical responses to that theme in Zerowork #1.
For example, in Mario Montano's essay "Notes on the International Crisis" we find
assertions such as capitalist strategy "took the shape of international planning
and management of the contradiction between development and underdevelopment". For
those whose thinking about the world was still framed in terms of imperialism —
conceived as competition among national blocks of capital, such formulations
sounded outlandish, harking back to Kautsky's "superimperialism" much critiqued
by Lenin. For those of us in Zerowork, however, it was obvious that institutions
such as the International Monetary Fund were not merely tools of US imperialism
but represented the interests of an increasingly dominant multinational capital
without national allegiance. In some ways, our position foreshadowed Hardt and
Negri's concept of Empire.
85 The "food movement" in the early 1970s
consisted of several parts. First, was the angry reaction of farmers and consumers
to the "Great Grain Robbery" of 1972 — a secret grain deal negotiated between
the US government and the Soviet Union that benefited the big grain trading
companies but hurt grain growers and, subsequently, consumers due to rising meat
prices. (Much of the grain being exported to the Soviet Union was feed grain —
a concession to Soviet citizen's protests and demands for more meat. So much was
included in the deal that the consequent rising feed grain prices led to a
steep rise in the price of meat in the US.) Second, vivid pictures of starving
children, first in Ethiopia, then from elsewhere in the Sahel and South Asia, led
to a widespread private mobilization to raise money to aid the starving. Third,
a substantial part of the "consumer movement" concerned the quality and safety
of food. Fourth, among farmers there was both the long standing minority that
engaged in "organic" methods — increasingly supported by the consumer
movement — and the battles by small farmers to survive in the face of
government subsidized competition by agribusiness. Finally, there were the
struggles of farm workers, such as the United Farm Workers of California led by
Cesar Chavez — that fought for rights against big growers and obtained
widespread support among consumers, e.g., the grape boycott. Harry analyzed
some of this history in his contribution to Zerowork #2. Another minor
intervention, at that time, was the preparation of a short book review of
Susan George's How the Other Half Dies (1976) and Francis Moore Lappé
and Joseph Collin's book Food First (1977) prepared for The Library
Journal for which Phil was working at that time. Harry was familiar with
these efforts, partly because of his earlier work on the Green Revolution —
his dissertation and
a piece published in Monthly Review — and
partly because while working on Food First, Joe Collins had spent a
week culling his files for materials.
86 The only direct responses to these efforts,
that I know of, was discussion of the food piece among some activists in that
part of the food movement preoccupied with trade and famine. Communication from
87 What we had in mind by "restructuration"
is suggested by the following passage in the final
introduction to Zerowork #2, "restructuring of world capital in
the crisis — by which we mean the new ways . . . in which capital is
creating new forms of accumulation in which [working class] needs are either
incorporated or smashed."
88 Ironically, this kind of understanding was
evoked, but not developed, by Lenin in his Imperialism, the Highest Stage of
Capitalism when he quoted Cecil Rhodes on how vital imperialism was to
controlling workers at home. This much neglected passage can be found in
Chapter VI of that book and is worth quoting at length.
And Cecil Rhodes, we are
informed by his intimate friend, the journalist Stead, expressed his imperialist
views to him in 1895 in the following terms: "I was in the East End of London
(a working-class quarter) yesterday and attended a meeting of the unemployed. I
listened to the wild speeches, which were just a cry for ‘bread! bread!’ and on
my way home I pondered over the scene and I became more than ever convinced of
the importance of imperialism.... My cherished idea is a solution for the social
problem, i.e., in order to save the 40,000,000 inhabitants of the United Kingdom
from a bloody civil war, we colonial statesmen must acquire new lands to settle
the surplus population, to provide new markets for the goods produced in the
factories and mines. The Empire, as I have always said, is a bread and butter
question. If you want to avoid civil war, you must become imperialists.….."
89 Whatever their original intentions, they
never published an alternative Zerowork.
90 See the biographical sketch below.
91 I was also marginally involved with the
Union Nationale des Étudiants de France (UNEF) and conflicts with the
Right-wing Fédération des étudiants nationalistes (FEN) —
an offshoot of the Organisation de l'armée secrete (OAS) and its underground
resistance to Algerian independence movement (1954-1962) — conflicts that
were particularly sharp in Southern France.
92 Stanford SDS soon dissolved into the "April
3rd Movement" — a broader coalition that began with the decision to shut
down and occupy the university's Applied Electronic Laboratories where research
was being conducted on countermeasures to North Vietnamese ground-to-air missiles
being used against US warplanes carpet bombing both cities and irrigation
93 George Rawick, Lo schiavo americano dal
tramonto all'alba: la formazione della comunita nera durante la schiavitù negli
Stati Uniti, Milano: Feltrinelli, 1973. Herbert G. Gutman, Lavoro,
cultura e società in America, Bari: De Donato Editore, 1979. C. L. R. James,
Harold M. Baron and Herbert G. Gutman, Da schiavo a proletario, Torino:
Musolini Editore, 1973. Martin Glaberman, Classe operaia, imperialismo e
rivoluzione negli USA, Torino: Musolini Editore, 1976.