The Floodgates of Anarchy : Chapter 3 - The Labour Movement
(1920 - 1996) ~ British Anarcho-Syndicalist and CNT-FAI Activist during the Spanish Civil War : A lifelong trade unionist he fought Mosley's blackshirts; actively supported the Spanish revolution's anarchist communes and militias and the German anti-Nazi resistance and was a key player in the second world war Cairo mutiny. (From : AInfos.ca Bio.)
• "Nobody is fit to rule anybody else. It is not alleged that Mankind is perfect, or that merely through his/her natural goodness (or lack of same) he/she should (or should not) be permitted to rule. Rule as such causes abuse." (From : "Anarchism: Arguments for and against," by Albert ....)
• "If Government is the maintenance of privilege and exploitation and inefficiency of distribution, then Anarchy is order." (From : "Anarchism: Arguments for and against," by Albert ....)
• "If we accept the principle of a socialized society, and abolish hereditary privilege and dominant classes, the State becomes unnecessary. If the State is retained, unnecessary Government becomes tyranny since the governing body has no other way to maintain its hold." (From : "Anarchism: Arguments for and against," by Albert ....)
(1946 - ) ~ Scottish Anarchist Publisher and Would-Be Assassin of a Fascist Dictator
Stuart Christie (born 10 July 1946) is a Scottish anarchist writer and publisher. As an 18-year-old Christie was arrested while carrying explosives to assassinate the Spanish caudillo General Franco. He was later alleged to be a member of the Angry Brigade, but was acquitted of related charges. He went on to found the Cienfuegos Press publishing house and in 2008 the online Anarchist Film Channel which hosts films and documentaries with anarchist and libertarian themes. (From : Wikipedia.org.)
Chapter 3 - The Labour Movement
Anarchism as a movement in its own right has its own traditions, now a century old, yet forms a faction within the international labor movement as a whole. It has its particular inheritance, part of which it shares with socialism, giving it a family resemblance to certain of its enemies. Another part of its inheritance it shares with liberalism, making it, at birth, kissing-cousins with American-type radical individualism, a large part of which has married out of the family into the Right Wing and is no longer on speaking terms.
To understand Anarchism, it is necessary to understand the parting of the ways in the labor movement, by which term is not implied the Labor-TUC-Cooperative set-up; though this is also part of it, and happens in Great Britain to be the dominant tendency.
The anarchist tradition has its own martyrology, sometimes shared. There are the Chicago Martyrs (xvi); Sacco and Vanzetti (xvii); Joe Hill of the IWW (xviii); and a roll-call of heroes as well as a record of successes and failures. But if it is unsatisfactory, except by way of inspiration, to judge a movement by the spontaneous devotion it inspires (which can be said of many evangelical sects, though noticeably lacking in the established parties and religions of today), it is equally so to consider a movement, not based on rigid party lines, merely on the basis of the success and failures of those who happen to be its current adherents. To gauge “the anarchists” in terms of somebody who happened to do something or other at any particular date, is to affirm the obvious, that in the absence of rigid party lines, to conceive a movement too broadly means one will include not only its heroes but those who may not necessarily measure up to its tenets. This is inevitable if one rejects, even assuming it were feasible, the ideal of legal copyright in a name.
Fortunately, a certain shock-therapeutic value in the connotation of “anarchist” with “terrorist” has preserved it, by and large, from becoming as debased as the once great names of “radical”, “socialist”, “liberal”, “communist”. Only when a faint tinge of radicalism is acceptable does the liberal, advanced in ideas but indisposed to action, care to make use of the name, and then usually qualified with a hyphenated dilutive (anarchist-pacifist, philosophic-anarchist, anarchist-individualist) that does not jar too much in the literary, artistic or academic world. The diluted-anarchist is more absent among the scientific intelligentsia where profession of belief would require a stand to be made. An artist, on the other hand, might be forgiven the use of the name — it might even be expected of him. He can hang his pictures in the Royal Academy and even paint the Queen (as did the late Augustus John) without disguising his opinions. It would be a bold scientist who stated his dissent while working among the Establishment.
It has been cynically observed that, despite the wealth of the anarchist tradition, every young generation that finds the way to anarchism for itself, and not by way of introduction from others, falls into the delusion of being the first to discover it. By extension the hippies believe they were the first ever to drop out of society. This Columbian delusion is harmless enough, except historically; to it the generation of the sixties, or at least its outside interpreters, has faithfully adhered. Dutschke (xix) has re-stated, and the discovery reechoed around the militant world, the case for council communism, often distorted today by Maoist or Ho Chi Minhite phrases which express a confusion of thought in opposition phraseology. It is also sometimes referred to as “anarcho-Marxism”, as if this were a modem amalgam resolving ancient antagonisms. Again this is misleading, as anarcho-syndicalists (anarchists within the labor movement) always accepted Marx’s economic criticisms and analysis and disagreed with Marxism only on the need for legalism, political leadership, the question of State control or the role of the party. All this is exactly what is accepted by “anarcho-Marxists”, like Cohn-Bendit, from the anarchist tradition.
It is true, however, to say that the Marxist tradition in the working class, at the point which it reached among the Spartacists (xx), for instance, becomes indistinguishable, except in phrases or associations, from anarcho-syndicalism. It may, when deriving from a more genuine proletarian tradition in particular countries, be more revolutionary than an anarchism still identified, at too late a period, with the trade union type of organization, or divorced from the struggle as an ideological union and nothing more.
The tradition of working-class association stems from the guilds of craftsmen in the Middle Ages and was developed in the struggle against industrial capitalism. Trade unionism was obviously the first step forward in the Industrial Revolution, as a means of defense, and of representing the organized workers against their immediate oppressors. The fact that, in the type of trade unionism of which the TUC is now a model, there was an institutionalized or parliamentarian leadership, did not prevent economic advances being made. Many of the trade union pioneers, including some who later became reactionary, were socially progressive for a period. Local militancy was always able to keep trade unionism an effective force whatever the leadership, but the First World War brought the first major showdown. Until then it was of less importance that the leadership was reformist than that union solidarity should grow, unless the leadership positively inhibited the growth of the union. This, for instance, happened in the American labor movement, which, by its insistence on craft unionism, originally adapted to the facts of the ‘seventies and ‘eighties, became by the turn of the century so divisive as to be powerless.
The British trade union leadership, influenced by the Fabians (xxi), generally depended upon legislation rather than direct action to bolster up their effectiveness. They turned first to the radical wing of the Liberal Party, and then to their own candidates, who later linked with the social-democratic movement to form their own Labor Party. The American trade unions, on the other hand, lacking both Fabian and revolutionary influence, left the social-democratic movement to its fate as a sectarian party that waxed and waned to a shade. They had a distaste for politics as recognizably corrupt and turned to bargaining with the employers on a purely commercial basis. This naturally brought into being, as well as the giant company-type unionism of today, also the gangster-controlled union (crime is after all a business like any other) which competes for favor in the goods it can deliver, with the “clean” union that sells its rule-book for cash gains and whose bosses set their salaries according to their “opposite numbers” in industry.
With the boom expansion of American capitalism, in a period of uninhibited technological advance, and with the rest of the world reduced by war, the American worker has thus become the highest paid and least powerful in the world. Remembering his helplessness in time of depression, he is all the more inclined to conform during the period when his helplessness is at least paying off in high wages and good living. Those who artificially produced the slump have now artificially produced prosperity. His attitude is that of Napoleon’s mother to the First Empire — “It’s all right, as long as it lasts.”
In France the trade union movement grew up in quite a different atmosphere. At the turn of the century anarchism was at least as popular as state socialism among the French workers. The anti-political theory competing with the parliamentarian for influence, it was natural that in a period of struggle the former should come more to the fore, though acknowledgments must be made to the work of Pelloutier (xxii) in the CGT. The labor movement wished to achieve independence from the State, and set as its task not merely the economic betterment of the workers by direct action, but also the control of each industry by those working in that industry. The French word for trade unionism, syndicalism, became synonymous internationally with that form of labor organization which abjured parliamentarism and set up workers’ control as the road to Utopia.
The French workers had perfected the strike weapon and all forms of industrial struggle, including the occupation of the factories — to which, years later, in 1936 and again in 1968, they returned, long after parliamentarism had appeared to prevail. It was their view that the social general strike would be no more than an occupation of the factories, after which the workers would resume work but keep the employers and the State locked out. This becomes more than occupation. It is expropriation: the final challenge to capitalism.
In Italy, such an occupation of the factories in the ‘twenties was answered by the bourgeoisie, although disposed to liberalism, turning in despair to fascism to rescue the capitalist system from expropriation. The current phrase is “right-wing backlash”. In Spain, where social-democracy was a latecomer, the labor movement was mostly anarchist, and the workers responded to what was intended as an army takeover to prevent social expropriation, by the greatest force at their disposal, the social revolution itself. The ruling class retorted with the greatest force at its disposal, genocide. The original Dollfuss-type fascism became civil war by the ruling class against its own people, which is the class struggle in its crudest form.
In the United States there was a reaction to narrow craft unionism when the Industrial Workers of the World (xxiii) was created. It was influenced by French syndicalism, possibly at second hand, by Italian immigration, by native American radicalism, by East European anarchism and to a small though perceptible extent, by the theories of Daniel De Leon (xxiv). It was part of the syndicalist development throughout the world that influenced American, Australian and some British thought on the need for worker’s control within the socialist society. It showed how the new society should be “created within the shell of the old” by industrial unionism. This prototype of revolutionary labor thinking was in direct contrast to the parliamentarian labor idea current in the British trade unions which had created the Labor Party. Fabian influence, which had pushed them in the direction of the Liberal Party, re-created the image of the latter in the new party.
The role of the trade union leadership in bargaining directly with capitalism and using working-class militancy, or at least the threat of it, as a lever, has nowadays been challenged by social-democratic politicians who want to make the unions into bargaining agencies of the State. This trend first emerged in the First World War, when the alleged national exigencies gave the government the chance to curb the labor movement. Only the militancy reintroduced by the short-lived British syndicalist movement and the IWW saved the working class from a complete collapse into industrial serfdom, from which the declaration of peace would not necessarily have saved them.
In that war, those who had always applauded the value of a free market and the ability of unfettered enterprise to deliver the goods, and indeed still let the manufacturer go on making profits in order not to interfere with the sacred rights of property, were quite adamant that the working class had to sacrifice if the nation were to be triumphant. The parliamentarian leadership of the unions immediately capitulated. In Britain it collaborated, in Germany it obeyed. In both countries it began the long, disastrous course of accepting State intervention in industrial affairs.
In Britain this was the logical consequence of Fabian influence. In Germany the socialists had denied there were any great possibilities in the union movement anyway. Lassalle (xxv) had formulated his Iron Law of Wages, popular again nowadays among the economists, by which it alleged that if wages went up, so did prices, and all union activity was a vicious circle.
As a result, the trade union movement in both countries was held to be useless to its membership, so far as any prospect of defending their living standards was concerned. All strikes became “unofficial” — a curious phrase, suggestive of an alternative possibility of licensed rebellion. When the workers turned to the trade union movement, for defense of their living standards, they found it was incorporated in the State. But in every factory, the shop steward, who had up till then been a collector of dues from the worker on behalf of the trade union, and no more (though this in itself, during an anti-union period, had been a job requiring guts and militancy) became responsible for industrial liaison. Unlike the trade union official, away from the job, elected to office by people who did not know him or by a minority consisting of regular attenders at branch meetings, usually the politically committed, and by now as remote from his former workmates as the factory inspector, the shop steward was directly responsible to the men on the shop floor.
It was automatic that decisions had to be referred to each mass meeting, and the shop steward had to follow general decisions or resign his post. To the press, always seeking for “leaders” in order to personalize news stories, he was the “trouble-maker”. So he was to the police, seeking a few scapegoats “in order to encourage the others”. But the truth was that in an atmosphere of independence and conscious militancy, such as already existed on Clydeside and which later spread — both here and in Germany — he was only the mouthpiece for the whole body of “trouble-makers”. That is not to say that in some places, where there was a “committed” minority, the more persuasive speakers did not become shop stewards and effectual leaders of the movement. Ultimately, under the influence of the Russian Revolution, this happened almost everywhere. Leadership is sometimes inevitable, and something to which, in default of independent action, the libertarian revolutionary must be drawn or must abdicate action.
To speak of leadership is not necessarily to speak in authoritarian terms. It reflects not on the leaders so much as on the lack of spirit of the led. Free men need no leaders. Leadership may happen in default of spontaneity. It may be necessary to wake people up. It is still a fact that it affords too many temptations for the leadership to exercise authority and for it to step from delegatory mandatory office to making decisions for others. The quality of leadership at different periods is often criticized. What is wrong is the fact of leadership, and more particularly, the necessity of it.
The linking-up of the shop-steward movement was firstly on the basis of mandating delegates, subject to recall. Only later did some of the more militant of these pass upwards into the role of leaders. The movement spread from factory to factory in British industry during the First World War. It began in the Scottish heavy industries and finally engulfed production, despite the eloquent appeals of Lloyd George and his kept union officials. The proudest banner it had was the principle of workers’ control, introduced by pre-war syndicalism, and in the course of its strategy it showed how workers’ control could be achieved.
In Coventry, the gang system first reached the point of actual participation in management, beyond which workers’ control could not go under capitalism without expropriation. The danger in the gang system is the very success it has since attained, for participation (with which the radical bourgeois economists of today have only just caught up) means a form of collaboration with the management which remains in office and is still answerable only to shareholders or directors (or, under nationalization, to the Board). In this situation the workers’ movement degenerates to becoming a labor contractor. The gang system, the highest point that industrial democracy can reach, has many immediate material advantages, provided it is not confused with social change itself. Participation can only go so far. It is naturally confined to that which is held to concern labor. The bite at the cherry is in relation to the size of the cherry. It becomes in the interests of labor to pick larger cherries. Labor relieves management of the task of labor problems.
This last aspect has intrigued modern economists as the way of “solving social strife” which it may do within the factory “so long as it lasts”, but it provides no means of solving social or economic problems other than the conditions of work or the size of the wage packet, important ,as these are under capitalism. The fluctuation of demand, bringing redundancy (which in itself proves the gang system is not workers’ control) among other social problems, cannot be affected by it.
This of course does not displease those concerned from above with industrial relationships, consisting as they do of those who will form the new mandarin class. Social legislation for the control of industry is for the mandarins. Leave to the local council or to Parliament or to your trade union representatives the affairs that “concern the nation” ... in other words, leave it to us, the mandarins; you are already privileged beyond others in the degree of participation in your own working life. You have an interest in higher productivity and greater efficiency, which is all that counts under capitalism or state control.
This is what workers’ control has come to mean in Yugoslavia today, and is advocated in this form by some in this country, including the “New Left” outside industry. They think it practical to urge the nationalization of industry, which is the State takeover of directorial boards and admittedly eliminates private profit, but substitutes a salariat in power. They modify nationalization with workers’ control — in other words, allow in the State-run industry some participation in the actual running of work. To each his own: the mandarin has his responsibility, the worker has his.
This is a far cry from the idea of direct workers’ control that arose in the shop stewards’ movement half-a-century ago. The council communist movement of Germany at that period saw the dangers much more clearly than do the alleged admirers of Rosa Luxemburg (xxvi) now. Though regarded by many international socialists as the prophet of revolutionary socialism, her achievement was in the struggle against militarism (rare among the German socialists of the day) rather than as an industrial organizer, something for which, as a professional party “intellectual” she was scarcely fitted. Nor was she a theorist of the Spartacist movement as such except that she was the apologist within world communism for its ideas of workers’ committees, as opposed to Lenin’s fight for the party supreme.
The German Spartacist movement comprised at first the committees of industrial workers who had set up their network of delegates elected at the places of work, after the centralized trade unions had been absorbed in the war effort, in what was later seen to be a dress rehearsal for nazism and the labor front less than twenty years later. Had the revolutionary movement not been shot down by democracy, democracy would not in turn have perished. The initial stages of revolution were successful everywhere. The floodgates of anarchy had been opened. The German fleet mutinied and the seamen set up their councils, not with the intention of improving their living standards within the Destruction State, but of achieving the social revolution.
The sailors’ councils were formed not just for the purpose of alleviating naval discipline, but for seizing the ships and ending the war. Councils spread like wildfire in the army, and the factory workers, asserting their strength, built up independent factory councils. The armed forces were sick of war and the industrial workers had prepared for revolution. The Kaiser always claimed in later years, as an exile in Holland, that his long life was due to his vigorous manual activity in chopping down the trees at Doom. One may take as more correct the expressed belief of one journalist that it was due to a good fast car ride out of Berlin.
The revolution in Russia had preceded the German Revolution, and the overthrow of Czarism and the establishment of “soviets” of workers, soldiers and peasants had inspired the revolutionary movement all over the world. It hastened the collapse of the war efforts in both Russia and Germany. The agent of the German general staff, financier and socialist theorist (friend of Luxemburg and Trotsky), Helphand-Parvus, had foreseen the collapse of the Russian front if Lenin returned. Under his notorious arrangement with the imperial authorities, Lenin was sent back in the “sealed train”, and supplied with German money. He did not overthrow the Czar. He overthrew the workers’ councils.
Able to pay Lettish mercenaries to act as police, the Bolshevik faction was in a superior position from the first arrival of its leadership. They made a revolutionary appeal to the masses which became more persuasive when their left critics, whether social-revolutionary (xxvii), Menshevik social democrat, or anarchist, were removed by armed force. The most eloquent of opponents can be silenced by bullets or prison walls. The only effective answer to this was that of Dora Kaplan. A social-revolutionary, she attempted to assassinate Lenin.
The main struggle in the Russian labor movement became the attempt of the factory delegates to maintain independence. They tried to maintain at least a minimum of industrial democracy, against the encroaching demands of the party to be their “representative”. Finally the party, by the legislation of trade unions, managed to incorporate them in the State machine, and so suppress opposition. This is something later imitated by the fascistic “corporate state” with employers’ and workers’ unions, and in our own time urged by the British Labor government. Those who have power to give have also the power to take away. The conferring of reality is a means of taking control. In Russia, the soviets became locals of the party, subordinate to the needs of the bureaucracy. The labor, productivity and welfare departments of the bureaucracy incorporated trade unionism, until finally the party and civil service formed part of a new ruling class.
However, the form of soviets and the creation of industrial democracy as a first step became a feature of all subsequent revolts in Russia and its satellites. In particular, the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 was an exercise in workers’ councils, as a means of rising against the Russian-dominated civil service and police. In China, and also in Yugoslavia, some form of industrial democracy was achieved. The workers participated in regulating their own working conditions, which some sociologists regard as the big deal, but they continued to be excluded from the control of economy. Management from outside, in this case by the party, continued to exist. They had a form of workers’ control but under nationalization. The State had become the “neutral arbiter” between both sides of industry, and equally the appointments bureau for the management side and the electoral agent for the trade union side. In practice this meant a clash between the workers’ committees and the State, management and party combined. In the great rebellions of China since Mao Tse Tung took power, the workers have clashed with the State directly, and the struggle against state communism has begun which has not yet been resolved.
The Chinese anarchists of the early sixties went forward from the idea of industrial democracy and sought direct workers’ councils and the expropriation of industry from the State itself. Their struggle was similar to that of the German council communists fighting against capitalism. Only with the next stage, not yet reached in practice, can the difference between anarcho-syndicalism and council communism be shown. Both believe in forming committees at the places of work. Council communism limits the membership of such councils to delegates subject to recall. Anarchism would extend them from those chosen by their workmates, to everyone on the job. If this leads to decentralization and smaller units, even craft units, so let it be.
The anarchist movement within industry, in various countries however it might be labeled anarcho-syndicalist, rarely failed to see the essential difference between anarchism and revolutionary syndicalism, if only in order that the aims of the former should clarify the action to be taken by the latter. In cases where it failed to comprehend this, it ceased to be anarchist at all, and passed into the hands of socialists or parliamentarians, whose eloquence and outside organization, or use of police by legislation, ensured their success. The term “anarcho-syndicalist” arose not to channel off anarchism into the economic issues of the day, but to make industrial action effective and to bypass the State. It is a term that distinguishes between itself and the revolutionary syndicalism that parallels council communism. It also distinguishes itself from reformist syndicalism or from orthodox trade-unionism in which revolutionaries might participate, the inadequacies of which activity have been criticized by Malatesta (xxviii) though he recognized its inevitability in some circumstances.
Revolutionary syndicalism accepts the idea of expropriation of the economic system, and the final aim of control by committees at the places of work, as against parliamentary reform or nationalization. Anarcho-syndicalism, agreeing with this, has gone further, to the idea of full participation by all within a free communistic society.
The use of the term communism implied that the basic unit of society should be the commune, the local community in which all forms of social and economic life should merge. In this sense, communism did not just hark back to the Paris Commune of 1870, as Lenin did when he abandoned the use of the name social-democrat because of its pro-war connotations. Free communism is an idea alien to the Communist Party.
A liberal criticism of free communism has been expressed as being that “everyone would be going backwards and forwards in committees to make sure agreements were generally in common”. Liberalism by definition does not see farther than accepted capitalist values. The purpose of endless committee meetings, which might well be a feature of a decentralized labor movement, is to gain control. While the economic pressures of capitalism are on, the system needs to be sabotaged. In a free society itself, the need for constant reference-back becomes less. People doing a job in which they are interested have less need of committee discussion. No doubt the doctor refers to his hospital committees, but he does not refer back before every operation. He is independent in his own sphere. The worker can attain equal independence. It is for this reason, perhaps, that anarchist-communism generally appeared more feasible where there was an independent peasantry, or a working class at one remove from the peasantry.
It is true that Marxism in our time has flourished in the peasant countries, like Russia and China, and in the “colonial” lands more in deployment of military strategy than through any sympathy with the peasants as such. With the Che Guevara cult, it almost reverts to the ideas of the social-revolutionaries of Russia, and the guerrilla warfare appropriate to a peasant country is seen as a universally valid conception equally applicable to the campus of Bonn or the maquis hinterland of Christ’s Pieces in Cambridge.
Classical Marxism, however, regards the peasantry as a feudal survival in capitalism, just as the small shopkeeper is considered a medieval survival in a monopoly society. The Russian social-revolutionaries looked on the peasantry as the class of social revolution, just as social democracy did the proletariat. Neither of these conceptions was anarchistic, but an independent peasantry could dispense with authority. So too could a freely organized commune, whether in city or country, as opposed to the commune collectivized from above.
The Israeli kibbutz is an example of a freely organized commune, though composed of settlers with authoritarian attitudes of one sort or another. It could not be called authoritarian communism, since that term has become so debased by its nominal association with state communism as to be totally misleading. Libertarian communes based upon consciously libertarian attitudes could have been seen on the opposite side of the Mediterranean, in the achievements of Catalonia during the Spanish Civil War. These attitudes have been implanted by Spanish anarchism over many years, and time and again, when it was a choice of starvation or hopeless rebellion, the peasants chose the latter and established the free commune, knowing the army (monarchist, republican or fascist) would suppress it, but preferring to go down fighting.
When, in 1936, the landlords fled, the way was open to free collectivization in Spain. It was a political need for Soviet imperialism to break up the Revolution, by making the Communist Party strong enough to do it. It was also fear of example, for they dreaded comparison of free communism with their own.
It was not the peasantry that gave birth to modem anarchism, though many peasant movements, especially that of Nestor Makhnow (xxix) have tended that way. But it was certainly “the peasantry at one remove”, the independent artisan or craftsman threatened as a class, and finally displaced as a viable section of society by the later monopolistic developments of capitalism. As an independent and productive class it had always been in the forefront of resistance against oppression because it neither stood in line for State benefits nor needed to beg for employment from masters. When State restrictions could be bypassed it did not even have to avail itself of the paper wealth of finance capital. It had been in the radical vanguard to destroy oppressive feudalism and often remained so, in the countryside. The “atheist blacksmith” or the “radical cobbler” were traditional “village Hampdens”, rallying the village laborers, less able to express their opinions freely, to withstand the local gentry or clergy. Not entirely in derision, Marx called this class “petit-bourgeois”. It constituted the decentralizing federalists within the International, and is the reason why Marxists call anarchism a “petit bourgeois trend” even today, when the term has come to mean something entirely different.
In its original sense, the “small citizens” were the backbone of the Paris Commune. French industry was still in the one-man stage and was threatened, under Napoleon III, by the fluctuations of exchange by which he planned to enable finance capital to grow, and to strengthen his empire’s war potential. In consequence of the collapse both of France itself and of their means of livelihood, they established the Paris Commune. It was the high-water mark of Proudhonist decentralization. In practice it began to merge with the Stateless socialism advocated by the Bakuninist wing of the International. After the Commune was crushed, the amalgam of these ideas reverberated around the world. This was the birth of the modern anarchist movement proper.
The master craftsman, small tradesman — cobbler, bookbinder, smith — who was the typical “small citizen” this older economy, might sometimes have utilized an apprentice. He might have gone on to employ labor, expanded and become an exploiter. But while he remained an independent unit he was still a productive worker. As the history of the tailoring industry in this country demonstrates quite clearly, the smaller the degree of the employing unit, the greater the degree of exploitation. There is however a world of difference between the old-time craftsman as an independent man, and the master tailor who might originally be a craftsman, but whom the system obliged to go downward to serve in a factory or upwards to become a capitalist himself. In the same way, a peasant might also become a large farmer, unless, as happened in most countries with an independent peasantry, the State, on behalf of the landowners, forcibly prevented him from doing so. The capitalist dilemma is expand or perish. This is why the petit-bourgeoisie has become an exploiting class, but it has nothing in common with the older class given that name by Marx. Indeed the term now even includes the civil servant.
In the earlier, Proudhonian sense, it was possible to conceive of a libertarian society on the basis of the independent craftsman, on the lines of the medieval city. The decentralization of industry, once the workers came to control their own destinies in the form of guild socialism, might make such a vision a reality. The concept of independent craftsmen in guilds, and cooperative associations, was expounded scientifically by Kropotkin, and described lovingly by William Morris (xxx). It has never been far from the anarchist-communist view of Utopia, whereas classical Marxism saw no farther than a successful proletariat controlling industry even where it realized that party control, and the very existence of a State machine, was destructive of that aim. To it the anarchist Utopia was a “petty bourgeois” illusion, a term become the more insulting now that it has altered its meaning.
For today the term could never signify bakers or compositors or wheelwrights working on their own. Some of the old crafts have disappeared anyway, a change not always for the better.12 Processes are now industrialized and the ruling motive is profit, not pleasure in craftsmanship. The individualist who does not have the luck or possess the ruthlessness to become an efficient businessman, is driven into mass industry or remains on the very edge of the economy.
In civil-service-controlled Russia, the stallholder is a despised sub-stratum, generally someone who has “gone down in life” by being a rebel (by nature if not by politics) and has lost his all-important “papers” — his party card or his permit to work, miscalled a union card. He has “degenerated” to become a fruiterer or peddler. In this country, the costermonger, newspaper seller, taxi driver, all represent a hardy social tradition of the “tradesman”. In the older (Proudhonian) sense, they are “bourgeois”. They are unmistakably working — class in the social sense.
The gauche mistranslation — “petty bourgeois” (petit-bourgeois, Kleinbürger, small citizen) has caught on because it is apt enough to describe this class in its new sense. For its most noticeable feature is its pettiness. In general jargon the term is applied to the City businessman, the civil servant, the multiple shopkeeper, the professional man or woman, the office executive. The socially petty-minded, irrespective of occupation, regard themselves as middle-class. The smaller shopkeeper’s aspirations make an attractive archetypal myth (“the small man”) for the Beaverbrook Press. It conceals the reality that capitalism has reduced him to the status of an outworking contractor in those trades where there is insufficient incentive for employes. That is why the side street grocer gives way to the supermarket, whose cut-down of labor makes retail trading profitable.
There is still a place in the rat-race for the tobacconist prepared to stand in a kiosk for all hours of the day, smiling at his civil service customers in bowler hat and striped trousers, perhaps thinking of himself as middle-class and of them as office workers, while they regard themselves as middle-class and him as a tradesman. His takings siphoned off to the State by way of tax and to the manufacturer and wholesaler by way of profit, his margin is barely viable to allow the payment of wages, which is why the distributive end was left to him in the first place. Providing he introduces sufficient capital, it may return to him by installments without his realizing the nature of the con game, or he may attribute the slowness of re-accumulation to the faults of the current government or possibly to the unofficial strikers or even the long hair of modern youth.
This represents the antithesis of the independence to which he lays claim. It is a form of liberty without cooperation which finally ceases to be liberty. Freedom is not possible without cooperation. Cooperation without freedom is another form of exploitation.
From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org
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