Monday, July 21, 2008

Trying Not To Think Of "Worker" As Negative

Stemming from the discussion of my last post, I thought further discussion was necessary to talk about the "working class"...or whatever that means anymore, and our efforts to get our society organized along revolutionary lines. I think it prudent to look in as many directions as possible for lessons, ideas, and theory. I recently found Murray Bookchin's short essays about the anarchosyndicalist revolution of 1936 instructive.

Please forgive the wholesale use of Bookchin to elucidate what I was trying to say in my last post, not too mention what I think John Holloway is also trying to say in Change the World Without Taking Power, but here you go:

The limitations of the trade union movement, even in its anarchosyndicalist form, have become manifestly clear. To see in trade unions (whether syndicalist or not) an inherent potentiality for revolutionary struggle is to assume that the interests of workers and capitalists, merely as classes, are intrinsically incompatible. This is demonstrably untrue if one is willing to acknowledge the obvious capacity of the system to remake or to literally create the worker in the image of a repressive industrial culture and rationality. From the family, through the school and religious institutions, the mass media, to the factory and finally trade union and "revolutionary" party, capitalist society conspires to foster obedience, hierarchy, the work ethic, and authoritarian discipline in the working class as a whole; indeed, in many of its "emancipatory" movements as well.

The factory and the class organizations that spring from it play the most compelling role in promoting a well-regulated, almost unconscious docility in mature workers--a docility that manifests itself not so much in characterless passivity as in a pragmatic commitment to hierarchical organizations and authoritarian leaders. Workers can be very militant and exhibit strong, even powerful character traits in the most demanding social situations; but these traits can be brought as much , if not more readily, to the service of a reformist labor bureaucracy as to a libertarian revolutionary movement. They must break with the hold of bourgeois culture on their sensibilities--specifically, with the hold of the factory, the locus of the workers' very class existence--before they can move into that supreme form of direct action called "revolution," and further, construct a society they will directly control in their workshops and communities.

This amounts to saying that workers must see themselves as human beings, not as class beings; as creative personalities, not as "proletarians"; as self-affirming individuals, not as "masses.' And the destiny of a liberated society must be the free commune, not the confederation of factories, however self-administered; for such a confederation takes a part of society--its economic component--and reifies it into the totality of society. Indeed, even that economic component must be humanized precisely by our bringing an "affinity of friendship" to the work process, by diminishing the role of onerous work in the lives of producers, indeed, by a total "transvaluation of values" (to use Nietzsche's phrase) as it applies to production and consumption as well as social and personal life.


Renegade Eye said...

At the RNC protests in St. Paul in September, the anarchist events are bring your own cause. They think having a unifying slogan and program is authoritarian. In response the pacifist groups, are having events away from any protest.

The anarchists have no strategy to guarantee any protection, for anyone who takes part, in their events.

I wish I lived somewhere else, while the convention is in town.

Ché Bob said...


What does this have to do with my post? You seem to have a one track mind in opposition to "anarchists." You need to distinguish between lifestyle anarchists and social anarchists. You don't want to be lumped in with Stalinists, Maoists, etc., do you?

The IWW does have a strategy. We have unifying slogans which are problematic, but that is another discussion.

This discussion was supposed to be about class, "working class," etc.

troutsky said...

It seems to me that late capitalism has proved that having workers think of themselves as "creative individuals" is in fact a strategy which often re-produces capitalist ideology. I'm thinking of corporate models that encourage casual employee relations which veil the actual hierarchy.(Google, Apple ,etc)
This is not to deny the assertion that there are "limitations to the trade union movement",but Bookchin fails to demonstrate that the TRUE interests of workers and capitalists are not intrinsically incompatible. We can talk about "false consciousness" or the workings of the Spectacle but I disagree that the worker can be "remade" or "created". The veil can be lifted, I believe, and workers will recognize their class position and the basic antagonism which drives history.This lifting of the veil is not exclusively a project for unions but democratic unionism is a great place to start the revolution.They needn't have hierarchical or authoritarian structures, and a prime aspect of resistance is resisting those trends.

The problem is in part semantics, but can we imagine horizontal structures? Have they been created to date? Can our union build on that work? Ones class position is simply ones relationship to real power (not just spending power,or the ability to give some underling a task)but the power to reshape society.

troutsky said...

Ive been thinking a lot about this Che Bob, thanks! I start with Marx (as you know ) but endeavor to "throw out some of the fetishized abstractions of "Marxist" social theory", as the Erinreichs put it.One of these is using the "relation -to -the-means-of-production" as the sole determinant of class.Certainly there is a cultural sphere that demands investigation. But if we are going to look for BASIC antagonisms "the contours and fissures which prefigure change",keeping in mind our union work, then it seems we need to begin at the beginning. For me it is here: "At a certain stage of development the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production." Marx

Many ask,"if that was true ,why didn't the revolution already happen?" Well.. perhaps we hadn't reached that "certain stage" till now! Perhaps the expanding crisis (lack of profitiblity) of "globalization" and "financialization", markers of advanced capitalism, indicate the historical moment of which he spoke?At any rate, we agree that "capital is a relationship of social power that warps human relationships to it's perverse logic" (Nowtopia)and I still think it our task to point out that profit= exploitation, explain why it is true and what can be done to change it. Because the "shop and the paycheck" is the place most people experience this injustice, it is logical to start (but not end) with shop floor organizing.(relations of production) This does not imply dismissing culture or psychology or other aspects, just prioritizing for the sake of efficiency.It also does not just imply "blue collar". Because we are dealing with American workers our task is ,lets just say, more complex, but even here people are waking up! More later.Miss you guys.

Ché Bob said...


I appreciate your comments, but I'm sorry I do not know how or what you disagree with concerning Bookchin's or Holloway's ideas. Could you please try to explain this some more.

As far as I can tell, Bookchin is very accurate in his assumption that the system creates a "well-regulated, almost unconscious docility in mature workers." In fact, the entire second paragraph is compelling to me and meets my perception of working which I belong.

I don't think Bookchin would disagree with you that this veil can be lifted. However, I think he is agreeing with Holloway, that being understood as or seen as "working class" lacks a certain humanity. Is this assertion wrong?

Perhaps this is the chicken and the egg dilemma, which should come first: changing the system so we can become "creative individuals," or seeing our potential or even experiencing our potential as "creative individuals" to precipitate the change to the system. That is underlying premise of Nowtopia and, I think, the IWW. We empower ourselves to see our creative, human potential beyond a the workplace. Many in the Nowtopia discussion are leaving the workplace, paychecks, etc. and creatively countering their banal existences as workers in the commodity system. This is one approach that seeks to become human and make one's work unalienated, direct. It has limitations, potentially privileged ones, but it's worth further investigation.

I think you and I agree, based on our commitment to it, that the best approach for organizing workers along revolutionary lines and lifting the veil is the IWW. But as you point out we must always remember to walk and chew gum at the same time. In this case, IWW organizing and the myriad other tactics for revealing the spectacle.

Ché Bob said...

"Refusal of the role of the worker goes hand in hand with the rejection of work and commodity itself. There is every chance that it may explode into rejection of all roles and all modes of behavior which would make the individual act in accordance with his urges and inclinations, not in accordance with images (be they good or bad) imposed upon him, images which are part of the lie by means of which commodity expresses itself. What chance has that part of you that is still, truly you when all day long you have been playing roles like the role of the paterfamilias, husband, worker, motorist, militant, TV viewer, consumer...?

So you see, consciously or otherwise, you are already fighting for a society where compartmentalization will disappear as work itself disappears: when the individual may at last be completely true to himself because he will no longer be churning out the commodity and its lie (that topsy turvy world where the reflected image is more important than the authentic)."

-Raoul Vaneigem

troutsky said...

I assume he is implying that through liberation we become integrated beings as opposed to "compartmentalized". Obviously labor itself does not dissapear, but with a changed power structure it becomes less odious , more edifying?

With commodities, he is not rejecting the existence of the products of our labor, just the demeaning effects that the market has on them?

In both these cases you are right, it is chicken-egg syndrome, tactics for changing conditions in society-as-it-exists vs what the New Society can hope to look like.I just didn't want Working Class to become a pejorative term or for it to imply a one-dimensional existence. We ourselves are arguments against such generalized assumptions.

Ducky's here said...

troutsky, I wouldn't discount shop floor organizing or an instant (or my sainted union da would roll in his grave) but if that same spirit doesn't have a presence in popular culture then it is fighting a tough battle.

A critical problem is the alienation as the pop culture manages us as consumers. This glorious new electronic age was supposed to bring a new mode of expression. Nope, it's still advertising driven (the most dangerous force in the world) and rather than opening up more creative content it just expands the volume of mediocrity.

Time and again I go back to that seam in Italian neorealism when that deSica's description of a culture that forces a man to steal in "Bicycle Thieves" becomes a more dangerous spiritual ennui that Fellini and Antonioni describe. Those people can't be organized. They're spirit is gone.

As I heard someone say on a rabies radio talk show, "Well, why should I worry about some deadbeat who can't pat the mortgage. I had to work for what I have. It took a while but I've got that flat screen TV and it's paid for".
That guy's a tough sell.

Ducky's here said...

For me it all gets back to Gramsci and Lukacs.

Rather than Marx.