Communism and Syndicalism

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sam sanchez
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Dec 7 2006 18:16
Communism and Syndicalism

Hi.

This must have been discussed before, so point me to something in the archives if you know of it.

I'm supposed to at some point be writing something to do with the difference between anarcho-synbdicalism and anarcho-communism, but the only difference seems to me to be the tactical issue of whether unions can be used to usher in an anarcho-communist society. Is there any other difference, i.e. a difference in the actual vision of what an anarchist society would look like?

knightrose
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Dec 7 2006 18:34

I suppose a starting point would be to ask people to explain how they view a communist society. I really don't know what the differences are.

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Dec 7 2006 18:35

Hi

Quote:
Is there any other difference, i.e. a difference in the actual vision of what an anarchist society would look like?

Syndicalists are more about self management, communists are more about the abolition of private property in order to realise the meaning of "fully human".

Love

LR

knightrose
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Dec 7 2006 18:48

As a communist, I look beyond the forms of liberation to the content. I'm not really interested in the abolition of private property as much as the abolition of wage labour, capital and commodity production. Self-management would provide a structure within which that can work. But self-management on it's own without the aforementioned would lead to a return to capitalism or some other form of class society. Equally, abolition of wage labour etc without self-managment is unthinkable.

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Lazy Riser
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Dec 7 2006 19:32

Hi

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wage labour, capital and commodity production

Are they three distinct things, or one? Genuine question.

I understand the notion of "wage labour" and advocate transcending it. But I'm perplexed as to the precise meaning of "capital and commodity production". I'm inclined to think they're private property, only in different words.

Love

LR

knightrose
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Dec 7 2006 19:54

The three are sides of the same coin (funny coin, I guess). I just mentioned them all to avoid confusion.
Also during the soviet era there was a notional abolition of private property in favour of state property. Though in practice everything belonged to the state and the state to the communist party.

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Lazy Riser
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Dec 7 2006 21:45

Hi

I take capital to mean the power blocks that control the means of production. The end of wage labour would abolish capital automatically.

As for commodity production, I assume by this we mean the creation of things to be sold for profit. The primal war-of-all-against-all, the signature social relation of capitalism, the barbarism that self-management is doomed to become unless we are guided by communist anti-individualist and anti-materialist ethics.

The idea that trade is a degenerate behaviour, even when it’s self-managed trade, is crucial to communism. Communists are right to fear that trade, and hence profit and commodity relations (exploitation), will occur whenever private property is allowed.

What escapes communists though is that “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need” is as a much a trade relation as the prevailing mode of production and power, just one mediated by Marxist philosophical values of need and ability, rather than public whim.

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But self-management on it's own without the aforementioned would lead to a return to capitalism or some other form of class society

My disputation of this point is sadly irrelevant. If we can’t find any non-communist Syndicalists, then I’m going to have to concede that there’s no significant political difference between communism and syndicalism.

Love

LR

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Dec 7 2006 21:51

all anarcho-syndicalists are anarcho-communists, but not other way around because A-S is much about the way in which we believe this can be achieved and built from below.

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Lazy Riser
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Dec 7 2006 22:22

Hi

Don't some anarcho-syndicalists make ideological provision for "money" and individual private property?

Love

LR

Mike Harman
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Dec 7 2006 22:37
Lazy Riser wrote:
Hi

Don't some anarcho-syndicalists make ideological provision for "money" and individual private property?

Love

LR

*resists urge to dig out that three-parter in anarcho-syndicalist review yet again*

Skraeling
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Dec 7 2006 23:59
sam sanchez wrote:
I'm supposed to at some point be writing something to do with the difference between anarcho-synbdicalism and anarcho-communism, but the only difference seems to me to be the tactical issue of whether unions can be used to usher in an anarcho-communist society. Is there any other difference, i.e. a difference in the actual vision of what an anarchist society would look like?

I would say there are lots of differences, and its very problematic and theoretically sloppy to collapse anarcho-syndicalism into anarchist communism.

One key difference is that anarcho-syndicalists see the anarcho-syndicalist union as the embryo of the new society. While anarchist communists don't. It's a pretty major issue actually. Anarchist communists reject the centrality of the trade union as a means to bring about anarchism, while the anarcho-syndicalists see it as the key method of abolishing capitalism and the state. Classical anarchist communists viewed autonomous communist communes as the organisational form of the new society -- not narrow sectional syndicates of workers. (By communes i mean communes as in the Paris Commune, a self-governing community, not hippy things). After workers' councils appeared, many anarchist communists viewed them as the organisational form of the new society, and not anarcho-syndicalist unions eg. some french anarchist communists called themselves 'council anarchists'.

Another key difference in the future society is more content based rather than form based. Anarcho-syndicalists have traditionally been very vague on the distribution of stuff after the revolution. (indeed, they tend to be very vague on this whole issue of what a future society will look like, cos they generally consider it impractical utopian dreaming). And when they have come up with something concrete in terms of what a future society may look like, they have retained certain aspects of capitalism, for example Émile Pataud and Emile Pouget retained the wage system in their syndicalist utopia, How We Shall Bring About the Revolution (1909). Pouget and Pataud only proposed communism for all necessary objects, while labour notes would be issued for articles of luxury.

I reckon historically anarcho-syndicalists have believed in the distribution of the social product is up to each community to decide, even if they nominally say they are for "libertarian communism" (which always remains vague and undefined). This was the dominant ideology of the anarcho-syndicalist leadership in Spain. While anarchist communists are obviously for communist distro plain and simple.

Some say its useful to look at the 1907 debate between Malatesta and Monatte at an international anarcho congress in amsterdam. you'll find the traditional anarcho-syn criticisms of anarchist communism (that its purist, based in the ivory tower, utopian, impractical etc) and vice versa (that anark-syn is reformist, bureaucratic, economistic etc).

My gosh i'm gonna quote the dead old italian bastard Malatesta.

Malatesta wrote:
The error of having abandoned the Labour movement has done an immense injury to anarchism…[but] the error of confounding the anarchist movement with Trade Unionism would be still more grave. That will happen to us which happened to the Social Democrats as soon as they went into the Parliamentary struggle. They gained in numerical force, but by becoming each day less Socialistic. We also would become more numerous, but we should cease to be anarchist.

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Dec 8 2006 04:40

Catch, what issue(s) of ASR is that in? I'd love to read it. I've been slowly buying up back issues. Thanks.

knightrose
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Dec 8 2006 09:05

Formalism, that is an over reliance on the form of the new society, rather than the content, is not the preserve of one tendency or another. It dominated the old Solidarity group in the 60s and 70s. They fetishised the form of workers councils and self-management. The pamphlet "Workers Councils and the Economics of a Self-Managed Society" proposed a practical scheme for a council organisation of society, but did so within the context of equal wages rather than free access. As I recall, this obsession with self-management also led to some talking favourably about the Ulster Workers Council (insofar as it showed how powerful workers organisation could be, not in terms of supporting protestant loyalism). Other councillist groups also showed similar obsessions with form not content. There was a pamphlet published in, I think, the 1920s by remnants of the KAPD which assumed labour time vouchers.

Communists see the union form as unsuitable for the organisation of a new society. Ownership will be social. Organisation needs to be the same. There should be no remnant of any part of society being owned by any special group - for example, no railways being controlled by a railway syndicate.

We favour the council structure because it seems more inclusive than unions, and is also the form of organisation that has been created by the class in revolutionary struggle in many instances (sorry if I sound all ICC here smile). Unions on the other hand have been created as part of the struggle by workers acting as creations of capital - fighting over the crumbs, not for the bakery, as it were.

Finally, and I know my syndicalist comrades will disagree, I fail to see what function a-s unions would have in the post revolutionary society for most of the areas of capitalist life. The first objective of a communist working class would be to abolish most of the work we do today!

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Dec 8 2006 10:27

That's alright, Knightrose, you can sound "all ICC" if you want. I absolve you from all feelings of guilt. I also agree with your post.

Good quote from Malatesta, Skraeling. It would be interesting to look in more depth at Malatesta's criticisms of the unions. Any thoughts on the matter?

knightrose
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Dec 8 2006 10:36

Well that's me done for then.

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Steven.
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Dec 8 2006 10:44
Alf wrote:
Good quote from Malatesta, Skraeling. It would be interesting to look in more depth at Malatesta's criticisms of the unions. Any thoughts on the matter?

I know that not much Malatesta is available in English...

guadia
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Dec 8 2006 10:53

actually there are three texts by malatesta on internet on this question ([http://flag.blackened.net/revolt/inter/malatesta_synd.html], i have read them long time ago but i think it is critique of anarchosyndicalism not unions phenomen in general...

knightrose
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Dec 8 2006 11:14

Just read them. You're right, it's a criticism of the syndicalist strategy. He was making the point that anarchist syndicalist unions either remain purely anarchist, and as such small, or they recruit workers on the basis of their militancy and thus lose their anarchism. He was in favour of anarchists being active within the existing unions.

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sam sanchez
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Dec 8 2006 11:15
knightrose wrote:
We favour the council structure because it seems more inclusive than unions, and is also the form of organisation that has been created by the class in revolutionary struggle in many instances (sorry if I sound all ICC here smile). Unions on the other hand have been created as part of the struggle by workers acting as creations of capital - fighting over the crumbs, not for the bakery, as it were.

But this over concentration on the union (i.e. the workplace) is really not a criticism of modern day syndicalism. For example, Solfed has networks (i.e. unions in each industry), but also has locals uniting people in the same area from all industries, which form the basis of community control.

Furthermore, such a structure allows for the elimination (through mechanisation or whatever) of lots of work, without leaving lots of people out of decision making, since there is a decision making forum open to everyone yet outside of the workplace itself.

The same can be seen in the IWW with the General Membership Branches.

knightrose
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Dec 8 2006 11:20

But Sam, that still posits a distinction between work and community, doesn't it?

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sam sanchez
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Dec 8 2006 17:02

How can there not be a distinction between work and community? We can't all work in one big workplace, can we? Therefore even if the major decisions are made as a commune through community assemblies etc, the day to day running of industry will still have to be taken care of through workers' self-management, surely?

knightrose
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Dec 8 2006 17:10

I suppose that may be true. But communism does presuppose an ending between the distinction between work and leisure. It also presupposes a much reduced working week. It won't be a case of lots of the old industries still operating but under self-management, at least not once communism is properly established. A realistic working week might be only 6 or 8 hours, not 40+.
Even so, I don't see day to day running necessarily being taken care of by self-managed industry. Production is already socialised and thanks to globalisation most of us don't fully produce any final product. The impact of industry is so great on the environment that any decisions about production would need to be taken by comunities not workplaces. At best, decisions would be delegated down to those in the workplaces but under the scrutiny and control of the communities.

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Dec 8 2006 18:01

Hi

Quote:
communism does presuppose an ending between the distinction between work and leisure.

Agreed. Even Castoriadis and some right wingers and liberals do. I can only assume they haven't seen normal working class people at leisure. I doubt you'd get much work out of me is all I can say.

Love

LR

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Dec 8 2006 19:05

It's not the case that all libertarian communists have posited a community assembly or council as the only basic component, igonoring workplace organization. Berkman's "What is Communist Anarchism?" proposes workplace assemblies and committees. There is the example of the Solidarity group -- not a syndicalist group -- with its emphasis on workers' councils. The people who developed the participatory economics concept, with both workplace and community assemblies, came out of council communism.

The CNT in Spain in the '30s did NOT see each workplace or community as making its decisions in isolation. Their program called for social planning, and a dual structure of federations based in community assemblies and workplace assemblies, with the requests for public goods coming from the community assemblies. A key ocmponent of the CNT's program was the "free municipalities", the community assembly-based geographic structures, which were derived from the anarcho-communist influence. Nowadays there are syndicalists who advocate both community mass organization (you could call it "community syndicalism") as well as workplace mass organization. This is true of Workers Solidarity Alliance for example.

What is central to libertarian syndicalism is the idea that in developing mass organizations in the course of the class struggle, if these are organizations directly controlled by the workers, these prefigure a society of self-management. There are two ways to interpret this. You could hold that the union itself is the embryo of the future society and that in a revolution the union becomes the management organization for an industry. Or, alternatively, you could hold that the organization for self-management of industry is prefigured by the self-management of struggles thru the grassroots union, but the union has a different function, as an organ of worker struggle, and is thus not the same as the organization created to self-manage an industry. The latter seems more likely since breaking down the internal hierarchical division of labor in industry, and democratizing skill and expertise and so on, is likely to be a protracted process that involves a process of learning and education, so as to avoid concentration of expertise into the hands of a few, which, if not fought, would tend to bring about a re-emergence of a class division. A problem that the CNT ran into in the Spanish revolution is that conversion of the union shop committees into workplace councils left the workers without a shop organization to defend their interests in a situation where things were still in transition, and where there was a danger of concentration of power and expertise in the hands of the administrative and technical committees. I think this happened because traditional anarchism and marxism lacked a concept of the professional/managerial class (or whatever you want to call it), which is the class that becomes the ruling class in the USSR, etc.

t.

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Dec 8 2006 21:20

hi Knightrose,

What do you mean by production being already socialized? I don't get it.

Also, your ability to say communism "presupposes a much reduced working week," implies a distinction between work and nonwork. The reduction of work will result in the increase of nonwork, otherwise "reduction of work" doesn't make any sense.

cheers,
Nate

knightrose
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Dec 8 2006 21:32

What I meant was that there is very little actual individual production any more. Most factories either produce components or assemble parts, ofetn produced many many miles away. Many of us not involved in the actual assembly are still involved in the production and distribution process, but it's almost impossible to state exactly what contribution we make to the production of surplus value.

Quote:
Also, your ability to say communism "presupposes a much reduced working week," implies a distinction between work and nonwork. The reduction of work will result in the increase of nonwork, otherwise "reduction of work" doesn't make any sense.

Yeah, I realised that when I wrote it. Couldn't quite think of the right formulation.

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Dec 8 2006 22:12

hey Knightrose,
Thanks for clarifying.

Two more questions - When was there much actual individual production before, under capitalism? When that went on, was it more possible to state exactly what contribution anyone made to the production of surplus value? I think there's a difference between particular capitals and total social capital, that you're leaving out. I'm not 100% clear on the second category so I can't put forward a clear argument on this just now.

take it easy,
Nate

Skraeling
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Dec 8 2006 23:23
knightrose wrote:
Just read them. You're right, it's a criticism of the syndicalist strategy. He was making the point that anarchist syndicalist unions either remain purely anarchist, and as such small, or they recruit workers on the basis of their militancy and thus lose their anarchism.

that's a good summary of his view, he also went on to say that anarcho-syndicalism tends to create a labour elite or bureaucracy because there is a big division between the rank and file and the leadership. The leadership are mostly convinced anarchist militants, but the rank and file aren't, they have mostly joined to gain immediate increases in wages and conditions.

Malatesta also said at the Amsterdam Congress “inside the labour movement the official poses a threat comparable only with parliamentarism”, meaning a labour bureaucracy was likely to sterilise revolutionary struggle and reduce it to a conservatism comparable with that of the social democrats.

Monatte, from the French CGT, replied that syndicalism had enuf democratic antidotes in it to stop a bureaucracy emerging. Certainly syndicalism put in a lot of effort to do this with recallable delegates, no paid officials etc. But the proof is in the pudding. Robert Michels in his book Political Parties studied the early French CGT (when it was revolutionary syndicalist) and said there was an elite within the CGT edited the press, acted as spokespeople and directed the rank and file. I think it's fair to say the same occurred in the classical CNT. But i do

(Michels was a conservative trying to prove there was an iron law of oligarchy, meaning even if they were anarchists communists or syndicalists or whatever a political elite would develop no matter what. for the record, I don't think there is an iron law of oligarchy. )

Malatesta's criticisms at the 1907 conference is in Woodcock's The Anarchist Reader, including a bit from Monatte. But they havent been published in full. I got that earlier quote from the anthology of articles from Colin Ward's Anarchy magazine, called a decade of Anarchy. The article was called anarchism and trade unionism and its by Gaston Gerard.

Quote:
He [Malatesta] was in favour of anarchists being active within the existing unions.

Yup. I don't think the ICC would be too impressed with Malatesta's view on unions. He was no ultra-leftist. In my opinion, reading his views again, he was an moralist and idealist, he didn't seem to like syndicalism because it was too economistic and didn't pay enuf attention to making anarchists ie. believers in the anarchist ideal. Reminds me a little of the view of the SPGB that you have to make socialists before having a revolution. He seems to have viewed unions as a chance for anarchists to push anarchist propaganda (in the sense of aiming of converting people to the anarchist ideal).

An anarchist communist critique of anarcho-syndicalism which is definitely "ultra-leftist" (and gloriously sectarian!) came from Japan in the 1920s and 1930s. A bunch of people grouped around Hatta Shuzo criticised anark-syn for being a form of capitalism, as it left the market, the wage-system, monetary exchange and division of labour intact.

They argued an anarcho-syndicalist society would divide workers by their occupations – miners, farmers, steelworkers, printworkers and so on – and these divisions, together with the retention of the wage-system, would sow the seeds of new forms of social conflict. They argued that under anarcho-syndicalism classes would re-appear and some type of “superior co-ordinating machinery” would be established – meaning a new state to regualte the conflict. There is a book about them by John Crump called Hatta Shuzo and Pure Anarchism in Japan and he did a pamphlet on it as well http://libcom.org/library/anarchist-movement-japan-2

Skraeling
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Dec 8 2006 23:45
syndicalistcat wrote:
It's not the case that all libertarian communists have posited a community assembly or council as the only basic component, igonoring workplace organization.

I dont think anarchist communists have ignored workplace organisation. for someone like Kropotkin, he saw free communes as being composed of industrial and community based assemblies. The commune was a holistic term which combined workplace and community assemblies. To him, it did not ignore workplace organisation at all.

Quote:
The CNT in Spain in the '30s did NOT see each workplace or community as making its decisions in isolation. Their program called for social planning, and a dual structure of federations based in community assemblies and workplace assemblies, with the requests for public goods coming from the community assemblies. A key ocmponent of the CNT's program was the "free municipalities", the community assembly-based geographic structures, which were derived from the anarcho-communist influence.

fair enuf, that's a good point, the CNT was not just workplace based, it organised hospitals, schools, community stuff. I've read that Kropotkin was the favourite author of CNT militants and you can certainly see his influence. Your point also a good rejoinder to those who view anarcho-syndicalism as economistic.

Quote:
What is central to libertarian syndicalism is the idea that in developing mass organizations in the course of the class struggle, if these are organizations directly controlled by the workers, these prefigure a society of self-management. There are two ways to interpret this. You could hold that the union itself is the embryo of the future society and that in a revolution the union becomes the management organization for an industry. Or, alternatively, you could hold that the organization for self-management of industry is prefigured by the self-management of struggles thru the grassroots union, but the union has a different function, as an organ of worker struggle, and is thus not the same as the organization created to self-manage an industry.

some good nuanced stuff here. i would say anarcho-syndicalists have traditionally been into the first intepretation you offer. They see the union as a sort of school where workers learn to run things themselves to build the new society in the shell of the old.

the latter interpretation seems to me to be kinda more similar to council communism than anarcho-syndicalism as i understand it, in that workers create the organs they need to manage society during the heat of revolutionary struggle itself, rather than try to build up a union in reformist times which then takes over the running of society in revolutionary times, no? if the anarcho-syndicalist union itself is not the foreshadowing of the future society, then why be an anarcho-syndicalist and build up the union?

and was there a professional-managerial class in Spain in the 1930s? surely it would have been much smaller and less important that it is now?

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Dec 9 2006 01:19

Let's assume the second interpretation. The second intepretation is what I favor. The point, then, to the developing of the mass organizations in the years leading up to a transformative situation is that it is how the working class acquires the necessary class consciousness, sense of power, self-confidence, understanding of the system, practices and habits of direct democracy. The mass organizations, to the extent they are self-managed and a means to self-management of the struggle, do prefigure the society of self-management. The workers themselves must create the new structures of self-managment. Through what organizational vehicle do they do this? Through what organizational means do they develop the movement with the strength to do this? Moreover, the transition to a society without class division does not happen over night, it can't happen over night. It requires process of building up not only new structures but new habits and new skills and knowledge, to run things, within the mass of the population. New skills are learned precisely because the working class as such is excluded from making the decisions within class society, and its potential to self-manage the society is not fully developed.

In some cases in the Spanish revolution industrial organizations for self-management of an industry were created apart from the union. Usuallly this happened where there was strong presence of the UGT and CNT both. As in the railway industry. The Revolutionary Railway Federation wasn't a union but was a new organization created jointly by the UGT and CNT unions. Workplace assemblies and committes included people from both unions.

The professional/managerial class in Russia in 1917 was even less developed than in Spain in 1936, but hierarchies of engineers and managers were already well established by 1920. The tendency of the CNT to elect former bosses or their sons as administrative heads of sections, or give a lot of authority to technical committees made up of former bosses and engineers was dangerous in terms of its long-term implications. The formal control of worker assemblies is not sufficient for worker power. Job hierarchies and concentrations of expertise need to be broken down as well, but that takes time. But there needs to be conscious awareness of the need to dissolve the class power of the managers and top professionals.

t.

knightrose
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Dec 9 2006 13:26

Just a quick thought on workers councils, which I favour as an organisational form. They are not a type of union. They combine workers in a particular workplace, they don't link workers by types of workplaces. Additionally, they have always historically have arisen during periods of intense class struggle. They have never been, as far as I know (and now someone will probably prove me wrong smile) ) created by union structures of any kind. In Russia they existed in a state of some friction with the union structures.

Regarding social production etc. Trad marxists often say so and so is a proletarian because he or she directly produces surplus value. My view is that most of society is now a vast factory and the working class as a whole produces surplus value. I'm not sure how important it is for this discussion.

The Japanese criticism would be correct, in my opinion, if anyone advocated such views. But fortunately, I don't know of any a-s in Britian today who hold such a view that they were criticising. So it probably goes down as a historical oddity. It's value is that it points out the error of assuming that communism simply means the abolition of private property and the introduction of self-management. That was the same formalist doctrine that bedevilled some council communists and was reflected in Castoriadis' text "Workers Councils and the Economics of a Free Society".