Editor's note: Ben Sears is teacher, a labor movement activist and leader, a contributing editor of Political Affairs and a trained historian. In what follows he discusses his new book on the electrical workers unions during the Cold War, Generation of Resistance. Listen to this interview here.
PA: What inspired you to write about the history of the UE during the Cold War period?
BEN SEARS: As a young teacher in the AFT (American Federation of Teachers) I was starting to get active. We had a long winter strike in 1973 - in January and February – and one of the unions that came around and supported us was the United Electrical Workers. One guy in particular, a UE staffer who was assigned to help us, came around and I saw him at the picket lines and support activities. In fact, Jack Hart ended marrying one of my good teacher friends who was on the picket line as well. He was a UE staffer and I started to learn about things from him I knew nothing about before. During that strike one big question was why there was never any money for public education, while the big military budget was constantly being fed. It was a question of starving public services and feeding the military, and what the labor movement had to do with all this was on my mind a lot, on everybody’s mind. That I happened to meet Jack Hart of the UE at that point in my life was, I think, fortuitous. That is how I became fascinated by this issue.
PA: Could you give some background information about the UE?
BEN SEARS: The UE was one of the original CIO unions. It was, in fact, one of the Big Three at the core of the CIO, along with the Autoworkers and the Steelworkers, and was recognized as such. And I think it is fair to say that it was organized from the ground up, because it was really various local or regional groupings that came together, including workers in the radio industry (they organized, for example, RCA in Camden, New Jersey and Philco in Philadelphia). One of their goals, which they ended up doing, was organizing the big electrical manufacturing plants, GE and Westinghouse, and also industrial machinists.
So in a way the union was built from the ground up, and among the activists who helped to build it were Communists and others on the left. Therefore it was sort of natural that they would become influential in the leadership. The UE had the reputation of being a militant up-front union, and while some people characterize it as a “left-led” organization, I would argue that it is more accurate to say that it was led by a left-center coalition. Of course, they were also among the leaders in supporting the war effort during World War II, and were looking forward to an opportunity to really make progress when the war was over in the newly strengthened and hopefully unified Congress of Industrial Organizations, the CIO. That was what they were looking forward to in 1945 to 1946. But things didn’t work out that way.
PA: The successful organizing drives, I think, were the result of something that a lot of people today don’t really understand. Back then, one of the big aids to labor organizing was the Wagner Act and the role of the federal government in helping unions to organize. What effect did the Wagner Act have on the labor movement?
BEN SEARS: The Wagner Act was the result of struggle and it opened the door for future struggles. Both the Trade Union Unity League and the Trade Union Educational League had been active in the early 1930s trying to build consciousness and unity in the basic industries. So when the Wagner Act was passed in 1935 it created the conditions for really successful struggle, and that’s when CIO organizing really took off – from 1936-1939.
PA: Wasn’t the Wagner Act similar to the Employee Free Choice Act?
BEN SEARS: You’re right. Passage of the Employee Free Choice Act may indeed have a similar impact on the lives of workers in this country today. It will, of course, take a struggle to get the Employee Free Choice Act through, but once it is passed it will create new conditions. Part of what EFCA would do would be to restore some of the things that Wagner Act originally put in place. For example, the big issue now is majority sign-up or card check, and that was something that could happen under the Wagner Act. That provision was whittled away by later court decisions and legislation, Taft-Hartley and so on. So getting back to what is now called majority sign-up would be a big deal. On the other hand it would also be restoring a right that workers have had in the past.
PA: You mentioned that the leadership of the UE was a left-center coalition. Could you describe what that was and how it worked?
BEN SEARS: For example, the long-time president of the UE was Albert Fitzgerald, who was never identified with the left. The other two top officers originally – James Matles, director of organization and Julius Emspak, the secretary-treasurer – were identified as having come from left backgrounds, although exactly what their politics were was not considered anybody’s business really. But they were identified with the left. Matles, for instance, had been active in the Trade Union Unity League. The three top leaders of the UE sort of represent the idea of a left-center coalition. In later years, during the late 40s and 50s, both in public and if you look at the FBI files now available, there were a lot of opponents of the labor movement who couldn’t understand why Fitzgerald and some other folks in the leadership were standing so tough and refusing to be intimidated into attacking the left. That shows what a strong left-center coalition can do.
PA: In addition to the successful labor organizing drives, what were some of the other accomplishments of left-led or left-center led unions?
BEN SEARS: Essentially the CIO and the three core industrial unions, along with others like the West Coast longshore workers and the Southwestern miners, all had their struggles and all had enormous obstacles to overcome, but they all succeeded in winning industry-wide contracts, and the left played a big part in that. So the accomplishments of the industrial unions were very important, and the left played a significant part in helping them achieve that success and providing leadership.
PA: How does your book counter traditional Cold-War-era labor histories of the CIO industrial unions?
BEN SEARS: The mainstream narrative of US labor history after World War II goes something like this: After the war the United States faced the Soviet threat. The dominant leaders of American labor, in the first place the AFL, fell in line behind US imperial foreign policy to prove their patriotism. The CIO was a little bit harder to bring in line, but in the end Walter Reuther (president of the UAW) came in, and by the mid-50s the AFL and CIO joined together in an alliance that they made sure was seen as patriotic – and that was the character of the American labor movement. Mainstream historians go on to say that whoever didn’t go along – the small sliver of left-wingers who opposed this policy – were pushed aside, shoved out, and were no longer relevant. I argue in the book that, in fact, that was not the case.
My book focuses on workers in one industry, but I think that it has broader relevance for the labor movement as a whole. It’s like studying the ecology of a little piece of a lake, thinking that we can learn something about the whole lake by studying this little area. The fact is that when the Cold War hit and the argument intensified about how to confront the attack on labor, the left and their allies in the center commanded considerable support. So the attempt by the right-wingers in the AFL and the CIO to bring their organizations into line required them to kick out some of their best organizers. It also required them to support US foreign policy abroad, that is, US Cold War imperial foreign policy.
The left-center coalition represented by the electrical union leaders argued from the beginning that this was a devil’s bargain – that maybe it would bring short-term gains and purchase a certain degree of acceptance for the labor movement, with the US government saying, “Look, we’re not going to bust up your meetings anymore. All you have to do is agree to support our drive for world domination.” There was an intense debate about this that went on for years in the labor movement, and some people would argue that it was settled in a way by the mid-50s when the AFL and CIO came together. But in fact it became an issue again when the Vietnam War heated up. So this a story that we should know, and it is worth telling and talking about as labor debates its future today.
I would further suggest that the question of labor’s international stance has been one of the most difficult nuts to crack for the labor movement, because the dominant AFL-CIO leaders always saw it as crucial to prove their patriotism. But the left-center coalition that led the Electrical Workers, and others, argued that this was not true patriotism, that you’d end up weakening the movement at home, and that American workers did not want to endlessly see their sons and daughters sent off to die in imperial wars. So it’s a very interesting debate.
Another other part of the book, which was the most interesting for me to research, was how the internal debates went on inside the Electrical Workers, because they debated vigorously how you confront a situation like this, where labor is under attack and the left is under attack. How do we put forward our viewpoint without being disruptive? We have always been for building unity. How do you do that, when, to get into the AFL-CIO, the price is to kick out the communists and anybody who might be a communist? These were hard questions and I think they are relevant for us today.
PA: You cite the Autoworkers as an example of how a left-led union was brought into the corral by kicking out its Communist and leftists members. The UE story is a bit different, isn’t it?
BEN SEARS: The UE story is different, but it requires some digging beneath the surface. If you look at the surface numbers, the UE, which had half-a-million members between 1947 and 1949, lost a lot of members and by the late 50s was a much smaller organization. It is easy for people to argue that they tried to take this rigid position which resulted, depending on how you look at it, in their leaders being attacked either as unpatriotic and traitors to the country, or, on the other hand, as being pie-in-the-sky dreamers who were trying to do something that was out of their reach. But, in fact, the evidence is that people left the UE under the most difficult circumstances, frequently not because they disagreed with its program. The UE program continued to have considerable support in the Electrical Union and in other industries, and this became clear in the late 60s when the Cold War leadership of the AFL-CIO suffered intense stresses and strains, and the rigid support that the Meany leadership gave to the Vietnam War, for instance, caused a lot of trouble. In fact the Autoworkers, left the AFL-CIO at that point and started the Alliance for Labor Action with the Teamsters. But the story in the Autoworkers in the early 50s was also one of intense debate and conflict over political questions. The Reuther leadership had to, in fact, forcibly remove members of its own Executive Board to bring the Executive Board into line behind the Cold War.
PA: The UE was essentially replaced by a competing union supportive of Cold War policies?
BEN SEARS: That’s correct. The IUE, the International Union of Electrical Workers, was chartered by the CIO in 1950 to replace the UE, and they must have known that it was going to be a big project and that it was going to be difficult, but they persisted and the IUE became a member union of the CIO. It organized in part by raiding UE shops and also did some organizing on its own. James Carey, who became president of the IUE – he wasn’t elected president right away because there really wasn’t a union right away; they had a charter but they had no members – led the union through the 1950s and brought it into the AFL-CIO. Carey was very active in anti-communist endeavors around the world in the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, but he was much less successful in his own union domestically. He led, for example a disastrous strike against General Electric in 1960, which started the process which led to his defeat and removal from the union presidency by 1965. That is what opened the door for cooperation in collective bargaining between the UE and the IUE.
PA: The UE still exists today, and we have heard about some of its recent successes, such as the sit-in at Republic Windows and Doors in Chicago. Could you give us a sketch of what the UE looks like today?
BEN SEARS: The UE is not the big union it once was, but it retains some its characteristics. As you note, we all remember the wide support and the national media coverage accorded the members of UE Local 1110 in Chicago when they staged a sit-in in their factory, Republic Windows and Doors, in December, 2008, demanding that they their employer make good on their agreed upon severance pay, when the factory was abruptly closed. The UE is also involved in contacts with workers in other countries, for instance in Mexico, and now the idea that labor has to join hands with workers in other countries is catching on in the labor movement generally, which I think is encouraging.
PA: Is it overstating the case to claim that the move to expel the left-center coalition leadership of some of these unions led, in turn, to some of the problems labor now faces, such as the recent decline in union membership?
BEN SEARS: There are a couple of aspects to this. First of all, kicking out seasoned, proven, talented organizers was not a good thing to do. But in the larger picture the argument goes something like this. By actively supporting US foreign policy, the labor movement (and Meany and Kirkland are associated with this especially – which is part of the reason why Reuther didn’t want to stay around) helped open up areas of the globe to US capital penetration and thereby created places where low-wage workers are put in competition with American workers. And I wonder how all of this is going to play out. For example, there are two recent books that both have a good deal to recommend them (one is A Country that Works by Andy Stern, the former President of the SEIU; the other is State of the Unions by Philip Dine, which is a very good book in many ways). But both books mention that US labor should get credit for bringing down socialism, for helping to bring down socialism in Eastern Europe, and that this was in some way a victory for American workers. I think we are finding out that in fact this is not the case, because opening up the globe to US capital penetration and domination is, in fact, intensifying the problems of US workers, and the response to that is part of what we need to work on – that is, building unity with workers in other countries.
PA: In addition to that, would you say that right-leaning political support by labor actually led to more direct attacks on the labor movement. For example, the support of some in labor for Ronald Reagan quickly turned into fierce attacks on union,s such as the destruction of the air traffic controllers union?
BEN SEARS: That is certainly true. What we are talking about here is developing a class outlook. As long as you put nationalism, jingoism and national chauvinism first, as long as that trumps a class outlook, then workers’ organizations are going to put themselves in a position where they are always swimming upstream or running in place. Workers’ organizations have enough problems and challenges as it is without buying into this false patriotism. It’s like trying to promote your interests in a way that can’t be done in the long term.
The idea that working people, the men and women who do the work of the country, are not interested in, or are not capable of being interested in and understanding international matters and foreign policy, is what was hammered home during the Cold War. Leave foreign policy to the so-called experts, they said. Leave it to the properly educated, frequently Ivy League-educated, State Department officials who have connections with US capital and so on, and they will take care of the country’s interests around the world. I would suggest that the experience of workers, especially the Electrical Workers during the Cold War, puts the lie to that. In fact, the most articulate and principled critics of US Cold War policy were people in the labor movement at that time, and that is a part of this story that needs to be told.
Sunday, October 31, 2010
Saturday, October 30, 2010
Editor's note: Ben Sears is teacher, a labor movement activist and leader, a contributing editor of Political Affairs and a trained historian. In what follows he discusses his new book on the electrical workers unions during the Cold War, Generation of Resistance. Listen to this interview here.
The letter from Lovecraft [below] details a Halloween night dream the writer had.
Editor, Marxist Update
[November 3, 1927]
. . . So you are busy delving into the shady past of that insufferable young Asiatic Varius Avitus Bassianus? Ugh! There are few persons I loathe more than that cursed little Syrian rat!
I have myself been carried back to Roman times by my recent perusal of James Rhoades’ Æneid, a translation never before read by me, and more faithful to P. Maro than any other versified version I have ever seen—including that of my late uncle Dr. Clark, which did not attain publication. This Virgilian diversion, together with the spectral thoughts incident to All Hallows’ Eve with its Witch-Sabbaths on the hills, produced in me last Monday night a Roman dream of such supernal clearness and vividness, and such titanic adumbrations of hidden horror, that I verily believe I shall some day employ it in fiction. Roman dreams were no uncommon features of my youth—I used to follow the Divine Julius all over Gallia as a Tribunus Militum o’nights—but I had so long ceased to experience them, that the present one impressed me with extraordinary force.
It was a flaming sunset or late afternoon in the tiny provincial town of Pompelo, at the foot of the Pyrenees in Hispania Citerior. The year must have been in the late republic, for the province was still ruled by a senatorial proconsul instead of a prætorian legate of Augustus, and the day was the first before the Kalends of November. The hills rose scarlet and gold to the north of the little town, and the westering sun shone ruddily and mystically on the crude new stone and plaster buildings of the dusty forum and the wooden walls of the circus some distance to the east. Groups of citizens—broad-browed Roman colonists and coarse-haired Romanised natives, together with obvious hybrids of the two strains, alike clad in cheap woollen togas—and sprinklings of helmeted legionaries and coarse-mantled, black-bearded tribesmen of the circumambient Vascones—all thronged the few paved streets and forum; moved by some vague and ill-defined uneasiness.
I myself had just alighted from a litter, which the Illyrian bearers seemed to have brought in some haste from Calagurris, across the Iberus to the southward. It appeared that I was a provincial quæstor named L. Cælius Rufus, and that I had been summoned by the proconsul, P. Scribonius Libo, who had come from Tarraco some days before. The soldiers were the fifth cohort of the XIIth legion, under the military tribune Sex. Asellius; and the legatus of the whole region, Cn. Balbutius, had also come from Calagurris, where the permanent station was.
The cause of the conference was a horror that brooded on the hills. All the townsfolk were frightened, and had begged the presence of a cohort from Calagurris. It was the Terrible Season of the autumn, and the wild people in the mountains were preparing for the frightful ceremonies which only rumour told of in the towns. They were the very old folk who dwelt higher up in the hills and spoke a choppy language which the Vascones could not understand. One seldom saw them; but a few times a year they sent down little yellow, squint-eyed messengers (who looked like Scythians) to trade with the merchants by means of gestures, and every spring and autumn they held the infamous rites on the peaks, their howlings and altar-fires throwing terror into the villages. Always the same—the night before the Kalends of Maius and the night before the Kalends of November. Townsfolk would disappear just before these nights, and would never be heard of again. And there were whispers that the native shepherds and farmers were not ill-disposed toward the very old folk—that more than one thatched hut was vacant before midnight on the two hideous Sabbaths.
This year the horror was very great, for the people knew that the wrath of the very old folk was upon Pompelo. Three months previously five of the little squint-eyed traders had come down from the hills, and in a market brawl three of them had been killed. The remaining two had gone back wordlessly to their mountains—and this autumn not a single villager had disappeared. There was menace in this immunity. It was not like the very old folk to spare their victims at the Sabbath. It was too good to be normal, and the villagers were afraid.
For many nights there had been a hollow drumming on the hills, and at last the ædile Tib. Annæus Stilpo (half native in blood) had sent to Balbutius at Calagurris for a cohort to stamp out the Sabbath on the terrible night. Balbutius had carelessly refused, on the ground that the villagers' fears were empty, and that the loathsome rites of hill folk were of no concern to the Roman People unless our own citizens were menaced. I, however, who seemed to be a close friend of Balbutius, had disagreed with him; averring that I had studied deeply in the black forbidden lore, and that I believed the very old folk capable of visiting almost any nameless doom upon the town, which after all was a Roman settlement and contained a great number of our citizens. The complaining ædile's own mother Helvia was a pure Roman, the daughter of M. Helvius Cinna, who had come over with Scipio's army. Accordingly I had sent a slave—a nimble little Greek called Antipater—to the proconsul with letters, and Scribonius had heeded my plea and ordered Balbutius to send his fifth cohort, under Asellius, to Pompelo; entering the hills at dusk on the eve of November's Kalends and stamping out whatever nameless orgies he might find—bringing such prisoners as he might take to Tarraco for the next proprætor's court. Balbutius, however, had protested, so that more correspondence had ensued. I had written so much to the proconsul that he had become gravely interested, and had resolved to make a personal inquiry into the horror.
He had at length proceeded to Pompelo with his lictors and attendants; there hearing enough rumours to be greatly impressed and disturbed, and standing firmly by his order for the Sabbath's extirpation. Desirous of conferring with one who had studied the subject, he ordered me to accompany Asellius' cohort—and Balbutius had also come along to press his adverse advice, for he honestly believed that drastic military action would stir up a dangerous sentiment of unrest amongst the Vascones both tribal and settled.
So here we all were in the mystic sunset of the autumn hills—old Scribonius Libo in his toga prætexta, the golden light glancing on his shiny bald head and wrinkled hawk face, Balbutius with his gleaming helmet and breastplate, blue-shaven lips compressed in conscientiously dogged opposition, young Asellius with his polished greaves and superior sneer, and the curious throng of townsfolk, legionaries, tribesmen, peasants, lictors, slaves, and attendants. I myself seemed to wear a common toga, and to have no especially distinguishing characteristic. And everywhere horror brooded. The town and country folk scarcely dared speak aloud, and the men of Libo's entourage, who had been there nearly a week, seemed to have caught something of the nameless dread. Old Scribonius himself looked very grave, and the sharp voices of us later comers seemed to hold something of curious inappropriateness, as in a place of death or the temple of some mystic god.
We entered the prætorium and held grave converse. Balbutius pressed his objections, and was sustained by Asellius, who appeared to hold all the natives in extreme contempt while at the same time deeming it inadvisable to excite them. Both soldiers maintained that we could better afford to antagonise the minority of colonists and civilised natives by inaction, than to antagonise a probable majority of tribesmen and cottagers by stamping out the dread rites.
I, on the other hand, renewed my demand for action, and offered to accompany the cohort on any expedition it might undertake. I pointed out that the barbarous Vascones were at best turbulent and uncertain, so that skirmishes with them were inevitable sooner or later whichever course we might take; that they had not in the past proved dangerous adversaries to our legions, and that it would ill become the representatives of the Roman People to suffer barbarians to interfere with a course which the justice and prestige of the Republic demanded. That, on the other hand, the successful administration of a province depended primarily upon the safety and good-will of the civilised element in whose hands the local machinery of commerce and prosperity reposed, and in whose veins a large mixture of our own Italian blood coursed. These, though in numbers they might form a minority, were the stable element whose constancy might be relied on, and whose cooperation would most firmly bind the province to the Imperium of the Senate and the Roman People. It was at once a duty and an advantage to afford them the protection due to Roman citizens; even (and here I shot a sarcastic look at Balbutius and Asellius) at the expense of a little trouble and activity, and of a slight interruption of the draught-playing and cock-fighting at the camp in Calagurris. That the danger to the town and inhabitants of Pompelo was a real one, I could not from my studies doubt. I had read many scrolls out of Syria and Ægyptus, and the cryptic towns of Etruria, and had talked at length with the bloodthirsty priest of Diana Aricina in his temple in the woods bordering Lacus Nemorensis. There were shocking dooms that might be called out of the hills on the Sabbaths; dooms which ought not to exist within the territories of the Roman People; and to permit orgies of the kind known to prevail at Sabbaths would be but little in consonance with the customs of those whose forefathers, A. Postumius being consul, had executed so many Roman citizens for the practice of the Bacchanalia—a matter kept ever in memory by the Senatus Consultum de Bacchanalibus, graven upon bronze and set open to every eye. Checked in time, before the progress of the rites might evoke anything with which the iron of a Roman pilum might not be able to deal, the Sabbath would not be too much for the powers of a single cohort. Only participants need be apprehended, and the sparing of a great number of mere spectators would considerably lessen the resentment which any of the sympathising country folk might feel. In short, both principle and policy demanded stern action; and I could not doubt but that Publius Scribonius, bearing in mind the dignity and obligations of the Roman People, would adhere to his plan of despatching the cohort, me accompanying, despite such objections as Balbutius and Asellius—speaking indeed more like provincials than Romans—might see fit to offer and multiply.
The slanting sun was now very low, and the whole hushed town seemed draped in an unreal and malign glamour. Then P. Scribonius the proconsul signified his approval of my words, and stationed me with the cohort in the provisional capacity of a centurio primipilus; Balbutius and Asellius assenting, the former with better grace than the latter. As twilight fell on the wild autumnal slopes, a measured, hideous beating of strange drums floated down from afar in terrible rhythm. Some few of the legionarii shewed timidity, but sharp commands brought them into line, and the whole cohort was soon drawn up on the open plain east of the circus. Libo himself, as well as Balbutius, insisted on accompanying the cohort; but great difficulty was suffered in getting a native guide to point out the paths up the mountain. Finally a young man named Vercellius, the son of pure Roman parents, agreed to take us at least past the foothills. We began to march in the new dusk, with the thin silver sickle of a young moon trembling over the woods on our left. That which disquieted us most was the fact that the Sabbath was to be held at all. Reports of the coming cohort must have reached the hills, and even the lack of a final decision could not make the rumour less alarming—yet there were the sinister drums as of yore, as if the celebrants had some peculiar reason to be indifferent whether or not the forces of the Roman People marched against them. The sound grew louder as we entered a rising gap in the hills, steep wooded banks enclosing us narrowly on either side, and displaying curiously fantastic tree-trunks in the light of our bobbing torches. All were afoot save Libo, Balbutius, Asellius, two or three of the centuriones, and myself, and at length the way became so steep and narrow that those who had horses were forced to leave them; a squad of ten men being left to guard them, though robber bands were not likely to be abroad on such a night of terror. Once in a while it seemed as though we detected a skulking form in the woods nearby, and after a half-hour's climb the steepness and narrowness of the way made the advance of so great a body of men—over 300, all told—exceedingly cumbrous and difficult. Then with utter and horrifying suddenness we heard a frightful sound from below. It was from the tethered horses—they had screamed, not neighed, but screamed... and there was no light down there, nor the sound of any human thing, to shew why they had done so. At the same moment bonfires blazed out on all the peaks ahead, so that terror seemed to lurk equally well before and behind us. Looking for the youth Vercellius, our guide, we found only a crumpled heap weltering in a pool of blood. In his hand was a short sword snatched from the belt of D. Vibulanus, a subcenturio, and on his face was such a look of terror that the stoutest veterans turned pale at the sight. He had killed himself when the horses screamed... he, who had been born and lived all his life in that region, and knew what men whispered about the hills. All the torches now began to dim, and the cries of frightened legionaries mingled with the unceasing screams of the tethered horses. The air grew perceptibly colder, more suddenly so than is usual at November's brink, and seemed stirred by terrible undulations which I could not help connecting with the beating of huge wings. The whole cohort now remained at a standstill, and as the torches faded I watched what I thought were fantastic shadows outlined in the sky by the spectral luminosity of the Via Lactea as it flowed through Perseus, Cassiopeia, Cepheus, and Cygnus. Then suddenly all the stars were blotted from the sky—even bright Deneb and Vega ahead, and the lone Altair and Fomalhaut behind us. And as the torches died out altogether, there remained above the stricken and shrieking cohort only the noxious and horrible altar-flames on the towering peaks; hellish and red, and now silhouetting the mad, leaping, and colossal forms of such nameless beasts as had never a Phrygian priest or Campanian grandam whispered of in the wildest of furtive tales. And above the nighted screaming of men and horses that dæmonic drumming rose to louder pitch, whilst an ice-cold wind of shocking sentience and deliberateness swept down from those forbidden heights and coiled about each man separately, till all the cohort was struggling and screaming in the dark, as if acting out the fate of Laocoön and his sons. Only old Scribonius Libo seemed resigned. He uttered words amidst the screaming, and they echo still in my ears. "Malitia vetus—malitia vetus est ... venit ... tandem venit ..."
And then I waked. It was the most vivid dream in years, drawing upon wells of the subconscious long untouched and forgotten. Of the fate of that cohort no record exists, but the town at least was saved—for encyclopædias tell of the survival of Pompelo to this day, under the modern Spanish name of Pompelona...
Yrs for Gothick Supremacy–
C · IVLIVS · VERVS · MAXIMINVS.
|How capitalism created the tyranny of time|| |
Since the beginning of capitalism, workers and bosses have fought about time. While workers fight for the right to have a life outside work, bosses fight to extract more working hours out of our day.
In Australia, the building trades won the eight-hour day in 1856, yet we still struggle to protect our time from erosion by the pressures to work unpaid overtime and longer shifts. The length of the average full-time working week is now 44 hours.
Capitalism is obsessed with time. School and work demand a constant awareness of time, and of how we should be spending it.
At school, we are taught the importance of arriving at the same time every day, of waiting in line, of working on one subject for forty-five minutes until the bell tells us to stop, and (less successfully) of handing things in on time.
At work, we have to account for our time to our supervisors, take breaks when we’re told to, and stay at our desks or worksites until permitted to leave.
The experience of the workforce gives us a continual sense of anxiety about time, which comes directly from the way work is organised under capitalism.
Workers have no control over the way we produce things – instead, our ability to work is a commodity, which we sell to a boss in exchange for wages. When a capitalist buys any commodity, they need to know how much of it they are buying. Labour power, as the most important commodity on the market, has to be quantified – packaged for sale into hours, minutes and seconds.
Once labour power has been quantified, a capitalist wants as much of it as they can get for as low a price as possible. Bosses use all kinds of measures to achieve this end, including unpaid overtime, increasing the pace of production, and cracking down on breaks. This makes work stressful, alienating and oppressive. Capitalism supports these profiteering techniques with ideology, reinforcing ideas about time characterised by anxiety and stress.
This conception of time is unique to capitalism. Pre-industrial societies saw time quite differently, measuring intervals in terms of domestic and agricultural tasks. As capitalism developed, the rising bourgeoisie had to inculcate new, more precise ways of thinking about time. This didn’t come automatically – as late as 1835, one theorist of the factory system complained:
It is found nearly impossible to convert persons past the age of puberty, whether drawn from rural or from handicraft operations, into useful factory hands. After struggling for a while to conquer their listless or restive habits, they either renounce the employment spontaneously, or are dismissed by the overlookers on account of inattention.
Friedrich Engels vividly described the experiences of British factory workers of the day. This work was “tedium, the most deadening, wearing process conceivable. The operative is condemned to let his physical and mental powers decay in this utter monotony, it is his mission to be bored every day and all day long from his eighth year.”
Managers and overseers had to strictly enforce time discipline – the factory worker
must not take a moment’s rest; the engine moves unceasingly; the wheels, the straps, the spindles hum and rattle in his ears without a pause, and if he tries to snatch one instant, there is the overlooker at his back with the book of fines…
Here ends all freedom in law and in fact. The operative must be in the mill at half-past five in the morning; if he comes a couple of minutes too late, he is fined; if he comes ten minutes too late, he is not let in until breakfast is over, and a quarter of the day’s wages is withheld, though he loses only two and one-half hours’ work out of twelve. He must eat, drink, and sleep at command. For satisfying the most imperative needs, he is vouchsafed the least possible time absolutely required by them… The despotic bell calls him from his bed, his breakfast, his dinner.
In the textile mills and engineering workshops of the nineteenth century, bosses used every dirty trick they could think of to cheat workers out of more of their time. A witness from Dundee said that “…the clocks at the factories were often put forward in the morning and back at night, and instead of being instruments for the measurement of time, they were used as cloaks for cheatery and oppression.”
Some factory masters tried to prevent workers from being able to tell the time at all. One worker gave his account:
We worked as long as we could see in summer time, and I could not say at what hour it was that we stopped. There was nobody but the master and the master’s son who had a watch, and we did not know the time. There was one man who had a watch. It was taken from him and given into the master’s custody because he had told the men the time of day.
Bourgeois moralists directed an endless stream of time-related propaganda at the working class, intending to enforce discipline, productivity and social order. This propaganda didn’t stop once workers left the factories and the mills – its scope extended into people’s leisure time as well. One commentator wrote in an essay on the “Evils of Popular Ignorance” about the scandalous behaviour of manual workers who were left with “several hours in the day to be spent nearly as they please”:
We shall often see them just simply annihilating those portions of time. They will for an hour, or for hours altogether lie down on a bank or hillock, yielded up to utter vacancy and torpor…or collected in groups by the road side…practising some impertinence, or uttering some jeering scurrility, at the expense of persons going by.
Time and ideology in the modern economy
While the structure of the economy and the nature of work have changed since Engels’ day, the moralising tone of time ideology has not. Intrusive attitudes towards workers’ use of time are alive and well today.
Just as contemporary bourgeois moralists preach about our sexual preferences and drinking habits, they also scrutinise our punctuality (or lack of it) and the way we choose to spend our personal time.
“I believe in a government that rewards those who work the hardest, not those who complain the loudest,” Julia Gillard told A Current Affair on June 24. “The people who play by rules, set their alarms early, stand by their neighbours and love their country.”
In their wildest dreams, bosses fantasise about employing workers with these qualities: obedience, self-sacrifice, credulity, patriotism and punctuality. Unfortunately for the capitalist class, workers are human beings, not robots – and most would react to this sort of time-moralism by rolling their eyes and hitting the snooze button again.
We can observe the class dynamic of time under a modern capitalist economy – in call centres, for example, a type of workplace that people are determinedly unenthusiastic about showing up to.
Analysts for the customer service industry cite punctuality in call centres as a big problem, although they prefer to call it something amorphous like “team productivity challenge”. Companies have to offer “incentives” (obviously these incentives don’t include decent pay) to workers to coax them out of bed in the morning.
“It can be a challenge getting those outside the call centre industry to understand this,” complains David Bradshaw, Vice-President of Telefundraising for a Canadian telemarketing company. “You are essentially giving incentives to people for the basic requirements of the job (showing up on time for work).”
The pressures of capitalist competition mean that business owners are constantly trying to outdo each other. Workers are pressured to work faster, to subordinate their physical and mental needs to the requirements of their jobs, and to exploit every fragment of every second.
A look at the work process in modern call centres – which some have called “electronic sweatshops” – shows a reality not so far removed from Engels’ descriptions of oppressive, alienating factory work. A study of UK call centres contains this paragraph about the experience of the typical call-centre operator:
In all probability, work consists of an uninterrupted and endless sequence of similar conversations with customers she never meets. She has to concentrate hard on what is being said, jump from page to page on a screen, making sure that the details entered are accurate and that she has said the right things in a pleasant manner. The conversation ends and as she tidies up the loose ends there is another voice in her head. The pressure is intense because she knows her work is being measured, her speech monitored, and it often leaves her mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted.
Call centre managers use the most intricate monitoring techniques to control their workers’ time, literally to the second. Computer systems measure the amount of time workers spend handling a call, gathering their thoughts between calls, entering information into a database, taking meal breaks, even going to the toilet. Targets pressure workers to churn ceaselessly through call after call.
One UK call centre introduced a policy under the slogan “Talk and Type”, which demanded that workers complete their data entry while talking on the phone. Under “call quality” monitoring systems, with the constant awareness that their every word is being recorded for analysis, workers must not let their tone of voice slip even for an instant to convey their boredom or irritation.
The effects of management policies like these are well documented, with call centre workers disproportionately suffering from work-related mental illness and depression.
The oppressive nature of time under capitalism, compelling us to live our lives subject to the tyranny of the bell and the clock, is yet another reason why this is an inhumane system that needs to be demolished.
The Central Intelligence Agency, a ruthless enforcer of Wall Street’s drive for profits, publishes “The World Factbook.” It gives updated statistics for every country, some of which measure quality of life and societal health, such as life expectancy, infant mortality, literacy, unemployment and industrial production. In this last of a series, some surprising facts are revealed, all using the CIA’s own statistics.
Proponents of U.S. capitalism call it the richest country in the world and use this to drum up patriotism and chauvinism. While it is true that there is more wealth in the U.S., it is mostly in the hands of a few and does not bring prosperity to the majority.
Even compared to most other imperialist countries, which also got rich from exploiting the labor and resources of much of the rest of the world, the U.S. is far behind in terms of life expectancy, literacy and infant mortality.
In France, Britain, Germany and other countries in the West, vast working class movements, often led by socialists and communists, won the use of some of the wealth for the people’s benefit. This was even truer when competition with the socialist countries of Eastern Europe and the USSR forced the rulers in the West to make concessions to the workers.
In Western Europe, mass movements after World War II won the implementation of national health care systems, free education from pre-school to college, long paid vacations, early retirement, and higher rates of union representation and workplace benefits. These came under attack once the USSR was dismantled. Yet even during the present economic crisis, when European governments are slashing social services and workers’ benefits, they are still at a much higher level than in the U.S.
The U.S. leads the way in promoting private health care, is trying to privatize public schools, and has a low minimum wage. As a result, the average person is less healthy and educated — and the statistics show it.
Canada, France, Sweden, Italy, Spain, Norway, Britain, Ireland and Germany have a higher life expectancy than the United States. This country is not “number one,” as many are led to believe, but is 49th in the world.
Even in relatively poor Greece, whose workers have been holding multiple general strikes to defend the reforms they had won, the average life expectancy is two years higher than in the United States. In Canada, people live 81.29 years on average compared to 78.24 years in the U.S.
According to the CIA Factbook, infant mortality in the U.S. averages 6.22 infant deaths for every 1,000 live births. (All figures given here are estimates for 2010.) All the West European countries with nationalized health care or single-payer insurance have fewer than five deaths per 1,000 live births. In France, where the workers take to the streets in militant demonstrations and sometimes lock up their bosses in defense of their jobs, there are 3.33 infant deaths per 1,000 live births — about half the infant death rate here.
The CIA has to admit that socialist Cuba, with 5.82 deaths per 1,000 live births, also has a lower infant mortality rate than the U.S., even though it started its socialist construction with an economy distorted by centuries of colonial and imperialist oppression.
It is clear that the “free market” policies of U.S. capitalists have been a disaster for the working class. If U.S. workers want a longer life expectancy and a lower infant mortality rate, both of which are signs of basic societal health, it is clear that they need to fight for their interests as a class. The capitalist propaganda that says demanding government action is “disrespectful” or “un-American” has clearly harmed the health of the people in this country.
In the current economic crisis, the U.S. capitalist government is seeking to cut back the minimal social programs that do exist. Only mass movements of the people can force concessions from the bosses and the government so life can get better, not worse, for working people.
As U.S. communists who organized workers during the Great Depression proclaimed, the workers need to understand that their choice is simple: “Fight or starve!”
Articles copyright 1995-2010 Workers World. Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved.
Communist workers movement versus
Pan-Africanist socialism, an exchange
Following is an exchange between Sobukwe Shukura and Steve Clark on issues raised in an article in the June 21 issue of the Militant.
Written by Clark, the article was titled, “Communist workers movement versus Pan-Africanist socialism.” It addressed the divergent views expressed by Shukura and Clark at a panel discussion in Atlanta last May of the book Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power by Jack Barnes. The event was hosted by the Auburn Avenue Research Library of African American Culture and History.
The Militant invited Shukura to reply to Clark’s article. We also invited Clark to write a further reply for this week’s paper. Both are included here so readers have the full exchange in the same issue.
In defense of Pan-Africanism
BY SOBUKWE SHUKURA
In June there appeared in the Militant an article by Steve Clark on a book talk at the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History in Atlanta that featured the latest Malcolm X offering from Pathfinder Books, Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power. Steve Clark and myself had very different readings on the book. This article gives us revolutionary Pan-Africanists a second chance to publicly address questions raised at the library discussion and in the Militant.
Page 344 of Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and The Road to Workers Power, written by Jack Barnes and edited by Steve Clark, in the first full sentence says, “Malcolm was on the road to becoming a communist.” He goes on to say on page 345, “Recognizing and embracing the world-class political leadership of revolutionists who are Black—whether an African American such as Malcolm X, or leaders such as Maurice Bishop and Thomas Sankara—doesn’t lead militant workers and youth in the political direction of nationalism or Pan-Africanism.”
These statements say volumes about first, Jack’s arrogant dismissal of revolutionary Pan-Africanism, and second, his attempts to rewrite and appropriate the history of El Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X). We will deal with El Hajj Malik El-Shabazz first. Let’s make it clear, he built two organizations when he left the Nation of Islam: The Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU) and the Muslim Mosque, Inc. The OAAU was the political organization he formed, but Jack Barnes tells us on the bottom of page 357 that we should ignore the “Statement of Basic Aims and Objectives” from 1964 and the ‘’Basic Unity Program” of 1965.
Both documents call for unity between Africans in the West, and Africans in Africa. Even if we were to ignore Malcolm’s own organizational documents, we have to listen to his speeches that call for not only unity among Africans in the U.S., but for Unity for Africans (Afro-Americans) in the Western Hemisphere. He states that what will advance African peoples’ struggles in the U.S. “is the independence of Africa.”
Malcolm X and communism
On the night we reviewed the book, what is not mentioned in the article is that I played a recording of El Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X) in his own words, a speech “You Can’t Hate the Roots of a Tree.” It emphasized the importance of African identity and other concepts of Pan-Africanism. He called Ghana the fountainhead of Pan-Africanism. Yet, nowhere does he call himself a communist. In fact, his last statement on communism, recorded in his final interview, was a negative one, placing it one step above Zionism. So if he were to evolve toward communism it would most probably have been through revolutionary Pan-Africanism.
Steve Clark, the editor of the book who penned the article in the June 21 Militant, again attacks Pan-Africanism. He first inaccurately accuses Mangaliso Sobukwe of creating the slogan “One Settler, One Bullet,” a slogan used by some of the armed wing of the Pan-Africanist Congress of Azania (South Africa). Sobukwe died in 1978 and the slogan was coined in the ’80s and was never an official slogan of the Party, no more than was the African National Congress’s (ANC) slogan after the death of Chris Hani, “Kill the Boer, Kill the Farmer.”
Mangaliso Sobukwe, who said “that there is one race, the human race,” challenged the Freedom Charter promoted by the ANC, which said the land belongs to all who live there, negating the European minority settler/colonial occupation that took 80 percent of the land. In contrast, Mangaliso Sobukwe upheld that The Land Belongs to the African People. Malcolm would support this. It’s Malcolm who informed us that the basis of revolution is land. Today after 14 years of freedom-charter politics, 93 percent of the farmland still belongs to the European Settlers.
Two facts were misquoted by the editor of Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power in the public discussion, and were repeated in the article. The notion was Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana and Sékou Touré of Guinea-Conakry were men who simply led their national liberation struggles. Clark implies that they had no class analysis and had not worked with the working class.
First off, Sékou Touré, a self-taught working-class clerk, was a union leader who helped organize national strikes and helped merge the labor movement with the revolutionary party. He led the party through several congresses and led the country toward a socialist road to development. He wrote volumes—including works like Africa on the Move, Strategy and Tactics of the Revolution, and United States of Africa, works on dialects, etc., but most importantly on revolutionary Pan-Africanism.
Sékou Touré supported a unified socialist Africa, which we know no socialist or communist could be against because that would sound like racism—unity is good for the Soviets, but not good for Africa, hmmm. Guinea-Conakry gave bases to Amilcar Cabral and PAIGC (African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde), and many other forces in Africa.
And Kwame Nkrumah began by saying that the independence of Africa was meaningless without the liberation and Unity of Africa. He gave assistance to Algeria, Guinea, Mali, etc. He wrote the line on revolutionary Pan-Africanism, including books like Class Struggle in Africa, Handbook of Revolutionary Warfare, Neo-colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism, Challenge of the Congo, and Dark Days in Ghana.
In Class Struggle in Africa Nkrumah wrote:
The total liberation and the unification of Africa under an All-African socialist government must be the primary objective of all Black Revolutionaries throughout the world. It is an objective which, when achieved, will bring about the fulfillment of the aspirations of Africans and people of African descent everywhere. It will at the same time advance the triumph of the international socialist revolution, and the onward progress towards world communism, under which every society is ordered on the principle of—from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.
In Jack Barnes’s book, El Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X), who never says he’s a communist, is being portrayed as a communist. In Steve Clark’s Militant article, Kwame Nkrumah, who says he is a communist, is portrayed as simply a nationalist. To minimize the contributions of Kwame Nkrumah, Sékou Touré, and Mangaliso Sobukwe is counterrevolutionary. To talk about Maurice Bishop, Thomas Sankara, and Ben Bella, and to not see their contributions in the context of revolutionary Pan-Africanism is criminal neglect. Revolutionary Pan-Africanism is Africa’s contribution toward communism.
As Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael) was fond of saying: Karl Marx did not invent communism, no more than Newton invented gravity.
Response to Sobukwe Shukura
BY STEVE CLARK
What is remarkable about Sobukwe Shukura’s article on Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power by Jack Barnes is that it contains not a single word about the responsibility—and ultimate test!—of revolutionists living, working, and practicing politics in the United States.
There’s not a word, not one, about building a revolutionary organization capable of leading the working class—of all skin colors, sexes, and national origins—to conquer state power from the exploiters and oppressors in the United States.
In contrast, Jack Barnes, national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party, in his introduction to Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power, points out that the book is “about the last century and a half of class struggle in the United State … and the unimpeachable evidence it offers that workers who are Black will comprise a disproportionately weighty part of the ranks and leadership of the mass social movement that will make a proletarian revolution.”
It is a book, Barnes says, about why that new state power “provides working people the mightiest weapon possible to wage the ongoing battle to end Black oppression and every form of exploitation and human degradation” brought over from the imperialist epoch.
It’s important to note the inaccuracy of Shukura’s statement that Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power is “the latest Malcolm X offering from Pathfinder Books.” That’s false. Yes, Pathfinder is the only publisher that does keep Malcolm’s speeches and writings in print and distributes them—in English, as well as a growing number in Spanish, Farsi, and soon French.
But the title we’re discussing, like many published by Pathfinder, is a book by a leader of the Socialist Workers Party and communist movement. And it doesn’t pretend to be otherwise.
Shukura scolds Barnes for alleged “attempts to rewrite and appropriate the history” of Malcolm X. In response to this falsification of the character of the book, I’d urge readers to get a copy and judge for themselves.
“Since the day Malcolm was killed in February 1965, nobody can prove where he would have gone next politically,” Barnes says. But SWP leaders were “convinced by Malcolm’s course”—by Malcolm’s political course—”that he was moving toward becoming a communist.”
What led them to that conclusion? “Politically [Malcolm] was converging with the Cuban Revolution,” Barnes writes, “with the popular revolutionary government in Algeria led by Ahmed Ben Bella (and with the course of the SWP), that is, with the historic line of march of the working class toward power worldwide.”
Shukura’s second objection is Barnes’s supposed “arrogant dismissal of revolutionary Pan-Africanism.” In Shukura’s view, any rejection by a communist of Pan-Africanism as a road forward is “arrogant.”
In looking at the world that shaped Malcolm as a revolutionary leader, Shukura, unlike Barnes, doesn’t begin with the victorious revolutions of those years. The Cuban and Algerian revolutions not only overturned murderous capitalist regimes but destroyed the old bourgeois state structures and replaced them with workers and farmers governments. Malcolm saw those revolutions as examples of what the exploited and oppressed need to do here in the United States.
Shukura complains that Barnes “minimizes the contributions” of three Pan-Africanist political leaders of the time: Kwame Nkrumah, Sékou Touré, and Mangaliso Sobukwe. Shukura goes so far as to call Barnes’s views of these figures “counterrevolutionary.” (Smearing those you disagree with in working-class and national liberation struggles as “counterrevolutionary” may be a practice Shukura picked up from Nkrumah and Touré. Be that as it may, their teacher was Joseph Stalin and the Stalinist movement—which has dealt as harsh blows to revolutionary and popular struggles in Africa as it has everywhere else in the world.)
Pan-Africanism, Shukura says, “is Africa’s contribution toward communism.” But the examples he gives represent a political course distinct from and counterposed to proletarian internationalism and communism, not a contribution that enhances it.
Shukura seeks to assure us that Mangaliso Sobukwe, founding leader of the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC) of South Africa, said “there is one race, the human race.” More important politically, however, Mangaliso Sobukwe opposed the slogan central to the Freedom Charter of the African National Congress (ANC) that “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white.” In early 1959 he split from the ANC over that course.
Addressing the PAC’s founding congress, he designated as “foreign minority groups” not only all those of European origin but also those of Indian origin—whose forebears had been forcibly transported to South Africa as indentured laborers.
The struggle in South Africa, Sobukwe said, must be organized by “an All-African organization” with no interference from “minorities who arrogantly appropriate to themselves the right to plan and think for Africans.”
As for Nkrumah and Touré, there’s no mystery as to the standing they once had among working people across Africa and elsewhere. In face of the brutality of London and Paris, they were central leaders of struggles resulting in the first independent nations in sub-Saharan Africa: Ghana in 1957 and Guinea the next year. They championed anticolonial struggles across the continent and gave them concrete aid.
But the Nkrumah regime was not based on advancing the interests of peasants and workers. To the contrary, its state apparatus and armed forces acted on behalf of rising bourgeois and petty-bourgeois layers in Ghana. By the mid-1960s his increasingly repressive and cultish regime was so alien to the toilers that there was virtually no popular resistance to a reactionary 1966 coup by top army brass and privileged families, aided and abetted by Washington and London.
Sékou Touré’s regime, too, was dominated by middle-class and professional layers and emerging rural and merchant capitalists. At his death in 1984 Touré was aligned with reactionary neocolonial regimes in Morocco and Saudi Arabia, as well as with Paris and Washington.
Sankara: a different direction
Thomas Sankara, the leader of the popular revolutionary government in Burkina Faso in West Africa from 1983 to 1987, described the class trajectory of such radical-talking neocolonial regimes in a March 1985 interview with the New York-based socialist magazine Intercontinental Press. It is reprinted in Thomas Sankara Speaks.
“[I]n certain African countries,” he said, “these people talk of revolution, revolution, revolution. But they have gold chains and fine ties. They are always in France buying expensive clothes and big cars… . They give big salaries to the military, government ministers, and the praetorian guard.” Referring to nearby Guinea, Sankara pointed to “the situation under Sékou Touré, who talked about revolution” but never carried one out.
It was Sankara’s determination to pursue an opposite course—one based on peasants, artisans, and the small working class—that earned him the hatred not only of Paris and Washington, but of exploiters in Burkina and bourgeois regimes in the Ivory Coast, Liberia, and elsewhere. They not only welcomed, but many were involved in, the 1987 military coup that resulted in Sankara’s murder and destruction of the popular government he had led.
When Sankara explained the roots and continuity of the political course he fought for in Burkina, he didn’t point to Pan-Africanism. “We wish to be the heirs of all the revolutions of the world and of all the liberation struggles of the peoples of the Third World,” he said in an October 1984 address to the UN General Assembly.
“We draw the lessons of the American revolution… . The French revolution of 1789… . The great October [Russian] revolution of 1917 transformed the world, brought victory to the proletariat, shook the foundations of capitalism, and made possible the realization of the Paris Commune’s dreams of justice.”
What about Shukura’s claim that it is “criminal neglect” not to view the political contributions of Maurice Bishop “in the context of revolutionary Pan-Africanism”? Bishop was the central leader of the 1979-83 workers and farmers government in the Caribbean island of Grenada
All one needs to do is read what the Grenadan revolutionary leader himself had to say, easily found in another Pathfinder title, Maurice Bishop Speaks. In a 1977 interview, published in Cuba’s Bohemia magazine two years before the Grenada revolution, Bishop explained that the initial political inspiration for his organization, the New Jewel Movement, came from “the ideas of ‘Black Power’ that developed in the United States and the freedom struggle of the African people in such places as Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea-Bissau.”
But it was the example of the Cuban Revolution, Bishop said, that “has been teaching us, on the practical level of day-to-day political struggle, the relevance of socialism as the only solution to our problems.” That’s when “our party began to develop along Marxist lines,” Bishop said.
And in an interview with Bishop I conducted along with two other SWP members in July 1980, run in full in the Militant, the Grenadan revolutionary leader called on working people in the United States of all skin colors to “get together and wage a consistent fight against the real enemy. Don’t spend time fighting each other.”
How Bishop’s political course can be shoe-horned into “the context of revolutionary Pan-Africanism” is, to say the least, difficult to discern.
In Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power, Barnes notes that overcoming “national divisions in the working class—through mutual solidarity and uncompromising struggles using any means necessary—remains the single biggest task in forging the proletarian vanguard in this country.”
Revolution in the United States
Yet on this decisive question for the working class and oppressed in the United States, including many millions of workers who are Black, Shukura has nothing to say.
Instead, he ends by quoting Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael), former chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the 1960s and a founder of the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party of which Shukura is a longtime leader.
According to Shukura, Kwame Ture “was fond of saying: Karl Marx did not invent communism, no more than Newton invented gravity.” Fortunately for humanity, however, Newton did discover some fundamental laws of nature, just as Marx discovered fundamental laws of the class struggle, capitalist social relations, and the line of march of the proletariat, which is toward the conquest of political power.
But that’s not the main reason Kwame Ture missed the point.
In his talk at Karl Marx’s gravesite in 1883, Frederick Engels, Marx’s closest comrade and collaborator, noted, “Just as Darwin discovered the law of development of organic nature, so Marx discovered the law of development of human history,” as well as “the special law of motion governing the present-day capitalist mode of production.”
“Such was the man of science,” Engels said. “But this was not even half the man”—not even half.
“For Marx was above all else a revolutionist,” Engels said. “His real mission in life was to contribute … to the overthrow of capitalist society and of the state institutions which it had brought into being, to contribute to the liberation of the modern proletariat… .
“Fighting was his element. And he fought with a passion, a tenacity and a success few could rival.”
Since the founding in late 1847 of the Communist League and its adoption of the Communist Manifesto, that has been the measure of a proletarian revolutionist. And that is what Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power makes a contribution toward realizing.
by Ralph Dumain
A Defence of History and Class Consciousness: Tailism and the Dialectic, by Georg Lukács; translated by Esther Leslie, with an introduction by John Rees and a postface by Slavoj Žižek. London; New York: Verso, 2000. vii, 182 pp.
Lukács’ lost ms. comes to 100 pages (45-149) of text nestled amidst the commentary of others. The structure of the ms. is as follows: I. Problems of Class Consciousness—1. Subjectivism, 2. Imputation, 3. The peasantry as class; II. Dialectic of Nature—1. Exchange of matter with nature, 2. Simple and higher categories of the dialectic, 3. Once again: exchange of matter with nature, 4. For us and for itself. The text is Lukács’ defense of his seminal work History and Class Consciousness (1923) against his principal intellectual attackers in the Comintern, Abram Deborin and Laszlo Rudas. Lukács argues that his book is a philosophical expression of Bolshevism and characterizes Deborin as a Menshevik and Rudas as a tailist. Lukács convincingly argues that these two, operating with an implicit Kantianism and uncritically importing a limited natural-scientific perspective into Marxist theory, are trapped in a subject-object dualism they cannot overcome and have completely missed the boat on the nature of dialectical consciousness and revolutionary praxis.
In part I, Lukács demonstrates that Deborin and Rudas are caught within a dualism of subject and object and therefore are incapable of addressing the nature of class consciousness, revolutionary praxis (as opposed to fatalism and spontaneity), and the Bolshevik party as the vehicle for the mediation of the objective and subjective dimensions of class struggle. (See esp. pp. 56, 63, 65, 67, 72, 75, 76, 79.) Lukács argues at length for his conception of 'imputed class consciousness', i.e. the standpoint of the totality of the working class situation and its interests rather than from that of immediacy. Mediation in contradistinction to immediacy is a central concept for Lukács. Also of note is the natural-scientific perspective of Lukács' opponents, the notion of 'laws of history' on the objective side, and subjectivity and consciousness across the great divide.
Part II is of especial importance. Lukács’ criticisms of Engels’ dialectics of nature and his remarks about the ‘contemplative’ nature of scientific experiment have always been controversial, but here we see that the real issue for Lukács is the misbegotten transposition of a dialectic of nature to social theory (in this case on the part of Rudas and Deborin), effecting a fundamental distortion of Marxism. Lukács harbors no animus against the notion of a dialectic of nature per se, but he offers an interesting if obscure argument that such a bare bones dialectic cannot even do justice to the dialectics of scientific practice, let alone account for the social determination of scientific practice.
In section 1, Lukács counterposes historical materialism to the old materialism that Marx and Engels criticized. Key here is the notion of mediation, opposed to the naive positing of immediacy. (95) The relationship to nature is socially mediated, not immediate. (96) (Intermixed here is the argument that social being determines social consciousness—see also p. 100.) Rudas, imprisoned in Kantianism, cannot overcome his dualism, by which people and society fall on the subjective side of the dividing line and nature on the objective. (100ff) Rudas' notion of objective reality is too parsimonious. Of course society arose from nature, nature and its laws existed prior to society, dialectic must have existed in nature in order for dialectic to exist in society. However, without the mediation provided by new social dialectical forms, neither knowledge of nature nor of society would be possible. (102) The dialectical understanding of knowledge is part of the objective process of social development. Knowledge of nature, however restricted, is a basic condition of survival, and goes hand in hand with the 'exchange of matter between society and nature', which corresponds to the economic development of society. (103)
Section 2 is rather cryptic, but it merits close scrutiny, for it gets to the heart of Lukács’ argument about science. While objective dialectical interconnections may exist, they may or may not show up as dialectical thought, depending on the historical development of society. Deborin, citing Hegel, objects to Lukács' ‘neglect of the simple categories of the dialectic in favour of the higher ones.' But even if Hegel supports Deborin's view, for Marx, just the opposite is the case: the lower form can only be understood from the vantage point of the higher. (Human anatomy is key to ape's anatomy; the advance from the abstract to the concrete is way of thought, not of reality.) Thus Lukács is not interested in 'transformation of quantity into quality, etc., but rather interaction of subject and object, unity of theory and praxis, alteration of the categories as effect of the change of material (reality underlying the categories).'
In section 3, Lukács emphasizes the double determination of the exchange of matter with nature (out of which science is eventually born), i.e. interaction with nature, and the economic structure of society. (Remember, for Lukács, the relationship to nature is always socially mediated.) How could modern natural science be understood differently than anything else? (113) Well, the capitalist organization of knowledge and technology is something new in history, and it is this organization that is requisite for capitalism to exist. (114) Modern natural sciences are a product of capitalist development, but, contra relativism, this makes them no less objective. (115) But is scientific knowledge conditioned by capitalism in some other way than being produced by it? Must objective cognition always be dialectical? Lukács' response is hard to decipher. (116) Anyway, the specific problem is that historical knowledge depends on social self-criticism. The transition from pre-capitalist forms of society to capitalism must be fundamentally different from the transformation of capitalism to socialism. If we cannot demonstrate the historical genesis of our cognition, then we have not matured objectively (not only subjectively) to be able to grasp this aspect of objective dialectic. Natural sciences do not lack elements of historical cognition, but historical and dialectical knowledge first comes into its own only with Marx. Perhaps these questions are not central to the concerns of these sciences now (though Lukács makes a cryptic prior reference to a crisis in the sciences). We cannot answer the question as 'To what extent all knowledge of nature can ever be transformed into historical knowledge,' (i.e. whether there are transhistorical invariances), because our knowledge (i.e. objective situation) has not matured to be able to answer it. Objective knowledge will advance in its usual impartial way. Natural scientists do not have to be aware of this problem at all in order to create objective knowledge. However, they cannot understand in a dialectical manner contradictions that arise and come to a unified historical theoretical perspective. (118) This material is very difficult to bring to a clear focus, but I believe the effort may be important for us today.
Section 4 begins with Lukács’ argument against one of Engels’ well-known statements: the claim that experiment and industry put an end to Kant's mysterious thing-in-itself. While Engels may be positioned to draw such a philosophical conclusion from experiments, we know that experimenters do not necessarily do so themselves, nor are they immune from philosophical 'crotchets' like ‘agnosticism’. (See p. 136.) Experimenters are not inherently primed to take their objective knowledge to the level of philosophical generalization, i.e. beyond the 'contemplative attitude'. Entrapment within immediacy intensifies if experiment is used as a 'category of knowledge of society and history', for the methodological precision of experiment gets lost, and the contemplative attitude comes to the fore: i.e., on the one hand, political intervention is an 'experiment', which we can, on the other hand, observe from outside and take a wait-and-see attitude. This kind of thinking is exemplified in Deborin's writings. (Lukács invokes Marx's theses on Feuerbach here.) But Lukács would not, in attempting to transcend the framework of the 'experimenter', recommend such nonsense as a proletarian physics, chemistry, etc. (125-127)
Revolutionary praxis involves consciousness of the social and historical preconditions of human activity. The experimenter does not have such consciousness of the basis of his activity (although some lucky exceptions may exist), though he has a correct grasp of some aspect of objective reality, just as any worker. The dialectic of capitalist labor and technology may be objectively at work, but this does not imply subjective dialectical consciousness of these processes. (129-30) 'The dialectical transformation of the in-itself into a for-us always requires more than an immediate transposition into forms of consciousness.'
The ensuing argument involves a contrast between industry and revolutionary praxis. This is all to show where Rudas and Deborin essentially go wrong. Rudas shows up his tail-ending in implicitly positing an identity of capitalist and communist society. Rudas and Deborin are incapable of distinguishing revolutionary praxis from what they take to be praxis in general. Rudas “does not want to leave his noble scientific post as 'observer' of the law-bound course of history, where he can 'anticipate' revolutionary developments.” (135)
In sum, Lukács’ overarching goal is to characterize the nature of revolutionary praxis in contradistinction to the type of Marxism purveyed by his attackers. His conception of dialectic is worth pursuing. His actual views of natural science are still very difficult to pin down. The point, however, in attacking the 'contemplative attitude', is not so much to downgrade natural experimental science as to delegitimate it as the prototype of dialectical consciousness and revolutionary praxis.
Lukács’ ms. was not only utterly lost to history until recently, but these ideas of 1925-6 went nowhere. Critical theory has never succeeded in penetrating the theoretical structure of the natural sciences, and mainstream philosophy of science is abysmally ignorant of critical theory. Mainstream sociology of science is shot through with social constructivism, skepticism, relativism, and irrationalism. Lukács offers a Hegelian-Marxist perspective that explicitly repudiates relativism. (See p. 104, 115.) What Lukács could not accomplish under highly constricting circumstances, we have failed to undertake under more advanced conditions. The ideas presented here are arcane, but their implications merit the effort of teasing out. Thus the publication of this hitherto unknown text may prove to be a crucial missing link in intellectual history in more ways than one.
Completed 14 December 2005
© Ralph Dumain 2005, 2006
SOURCE: Dumain, Ralph. Book Review: A Defence of History and Class Consciousness: Tailism and the Dialectic by Georg Lukács, Nature, Society, and Thought, vol. 19, no. 1, 2006, pp. 109-114.
Note: This is my original draft. The published version differs only in minor editorial stylistic changes.
by John Steele.
Marx’s Grundrisse (Grundrisse der Kritik der Politischen Ökonomie, or Outlines of the Critique of Political Economy) is a large work, comprising notebooks or drafts of material, written in 1857-58 in the midst of his extensive (and intense) economic studies, as he was thinking of methods of approach and presentation. As the following piece recounts, the discovery, publication and recognition of the importance of this earlier approach to the questions of Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859) and Capital (1867) was a long process. I can well remember the excitement surrounding its publication in English for the first time, in 1973.
This work and its history is of more than historical interest as we strive to understand the current deep crisis of capitalism, precisely because it does indicate different approaches than Capital and serves to demonstrate the breadth and complex flexibility of Marx’s thinking, as well as containing a number of remarks that many have found very suggestive and fertile, such as those on “general intellect.”
The following article is an abridged version of a chapter from Karl Marx’s Grundrisse: Foundations of the critique of political economy 150 years later, edited by Marcello Musto. It is reprinted here from Links. Marcello Musto teaches at the Department of Political Science at York University, Toronto Canada.Aug 28th, 2010
The dissemination and reception of the `Grundrisse’ — a contribution to the history of Marxism
By Marcello Musto
I. 1858-1953: One hundred years of solitude
Having abandoned the Grundrisse in May 1858 to make room for work on the A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Karl Marx used parts of it in composing this latter text but then almost never drew on it again. In fact, although it was his habit to invoke his own previous studies, even to transcribe whole passages from them, none of the preparatory manuscripts for Capital, with the exception of those of 1861-3, contains any reference to the Grundrisse. It lay among all the other drafts that he had no intention of bringing into service as he became absorbed in solving more specific problems than they had addressed.
There can be no certainty about the matter, but it is likely that not even Friedrich Engels read the Grundrisse. As is well known, Marx managed to complete only the first volume of Capital by the time of his death, and the unfinished manuscripts for the second and third volumes were selected and put together for publication by Engels. In the course of this activity, he must have examined dozens of notebooks containing preliminary drafts of Capital, and it is plausible to assume that, when he was putting some order into the mountain of papers, he leafed through the Grundrisse and concluded that it was a premature version of his friend’s work – prior even to the A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy of 1859 – and that it could therefore not be used for his purposes. Besides, Engels never mentioned the Grundrisse, either in his prefaces to the two volumes of Capital that he saw into print or in any of his own vast collection of letters.
After Engels’ death, a large part of Marx’s original texts were deposited in the archive of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) in Berlin, where they were treated with the utmost neglect. Political conflicts within the SPD hindered publication of the numerous important materials that Marx had left behind; indeed, they led to dispersal of the manuscripts and for a long time made it impossible to bring out a complete edition of his works. Nor did anyone take responsibility for an inventory of Marx’s intellectual bequest, with the result that the Grundrisse remained buried alongside his other papers.
The only part of it that came to light during this period was the “Introduction”, which Karl Kautsky published in 1903 in Die Neue Zeit (The New Times), together with a brief note that presented it as a “fragmentary draft” dated August 23, 1857. Arguing that it was the introduction to Marx’s magnum opus, Kautsky gave it the title Einleitung zu einer Kritik der politischen Ökonomie (Introduction to a Critique of Political Economy) and maintained that “despite its fragmentary character” it “offered a large number of new viewpoints” (Marx 1903: 710, n. 1). Considerable interest was indeed shown in the text: the first versions in other languages were in French (1903) and in English (1904), and it soon became more widely noticed after Kautsky published it in 1907 as an appendix to the A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. More and more translations followed – including into Russian (1922), Japanese (1926), Greek (1927) and Chinese (1930) – until it became one of the works most commented upon in the whole of Marx’s theoretical production.
While fortune smiled on the “Introduction”, however, the Grundrisse remained unknown for a long time. It is difficult to believe that Kautsky did not discover the whole manuscript along with the “Introduction”, but he never made any mention of it. And a little later, when he decided to publish some previously unknown writings of Marx between 1905 and 1910, he concentrated on a collection of material from 1861-63, to which he gave the title Theories of Surplus-Value.
The discovery of the Grundrisse came in 1923, thanks to David Ryazanov, director of the Marx-Engels Institute (MEI) in Moscow and organiser of the Marx Engels Gesamtausgabe (MEGA), the complete works of Marx and Engels. After examining the Nachlass in Berlin, he revealed the existence of the Grundrisse in a report to the Socialist Academy in Moscow on the literary estate of Marx and Engels:
I found among Marx’s papers another eight notebooks of economic studies… The manuscript can be dated to the middle of the 1850s and contains the first draft of Marx’s work [Das Kapital], whose title he had not yet fixed at the time; it [also] represents the first version of his A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. (Ryazanov 1925: 393-4).
“In one of these notebooks”, Ryazanov continues, “Kautsky found the ‘Introduction’ to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy – and he considers the preparatory manuscripts for Capital to be of ‘extraordinary interest for what they tell us about the history of Marx’s intellectual development and his characteristic method of work and research” (Ryazanov 1925: 394).
Under an agreement for publication of the MEGA among the Marx-Engels Institute, the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt and the Social Democratic Party of Germany (which still had custody of the Marx-Engels Nachlass), the Grundrisse was photographed together with many other unpublished writings and began to be studied by specialists in Moscow. Between 1925 and 1927 Pavel Veller from the Marx-Engels Institute catalogued all the preparatory materials for Capital, the first of which was the Grundrisse itself. By 1931 it had been completely deciphered and typed out, and in 1933 one part was published in Russian as the “Chapter on Money”, followed two years later by an edition in German. Finally, in 1936, the Marx-Engels-Lenin Institute (MELI, successor to the Marx-Engels Institute) acquired six of the eight notebooks of the Grundrisse, which made it possible to solve the remaining editorial problems.
In 1939, then, Marx’s last important manuscript – an extensive work from one of the most fertile periods of his life – appeared in Moscow under the title given it by Veller: Grundrisse der Kritik der politischen Ökonomie (Rohentwurf) 1857–1858. Two years later there followed an appendix (Anhang) comprising Marx’s comments of 1850-51 on Ricardo’s Principles of Political Economy and Taxation, his notes on Bastiat and Carey, his own table of contents for the Grundrisse, and the preparatory material (Urtext) for the 1859 Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. The Marx-Engels-Lenin Institute’s preface to the edition of 1939 highlighted its exceptional value: “the manuscript of 1857-1858, published in full for the first time in this volume, marked a decisive stage in Marx’s economic work” (Marx-Engels-Lenin-Institut 1939: VII).
Although the editorial guidelines and the form of publication were similar, the Grundrisse was not included in the volumes of the MEGA but appeared in a separate edition. Furthermore, the proximity of the Second World War meant that the work remained virtually unknown: the 3000 copies soon became very rare, and only a few managed to cross the Soviet frontiers. The Grundrisse did not feature in the Sochinenya of 1928-1947, the first Russian edition of the works of Marx and Engels, and its first republication in German had to wait until 1953. While it is astonishing that a text such as the Grundrisse was published at all during the Stalin period, heretical as it surely was with regard to the then indisputable canons of diamat, Soviet-style “dialectical materialism”, we should also bear in mind that it was then the most important of Marx’s writings not to be circulating in Germany. Its eventual publication in East Berlin in 30,000 copies was part of the celebrations marking Karl Marx Jahr , the 70th anniversary of its author’s death and the 150th of his birth.
Written in 1857-58, the Grundrisse was only available to be read throughout the world from 1953 after a hundred years of solitude.
II. 500,000 copies circulating in the world
Despite the resonance of this major new manuscript prior to Capital, and despite the theoretical value attributed to it, editions in other languages were slow to appear.
Another extract, after the “Introduction”, was the first to generate interest: the “Forms which Precede Capitalist Production”. It was translated into Russian in 1939, and then from Russian into Japanese in 1947-48. Subsequently, the separate German edition of this section and a translation into English helped to ensure a wide readership: the former, which appeared in 1952 as part of the Kleine Bücherei des Marxismus-Leninismus (Small Library of Marxism-Leninism), was the basis for Hungarian and Italian versions (1953 and 1954 respectively); while the latter, published in 1964, helped to spread it in Anglophone countries and, via translations in Argentina (1966) and Spain (1967), into the Spanish-speaking world. The editor of this English edition, Eric Hobsbawm, added a preface that helped to underline its importance: Pre-Capitalist Economic Formations, he wrote, was Marx’s “most systematic attempt to grapple with the problem of historical evolution”, and “it can be said without hesitation that any Marxist historical discussion which does not take [it] into account … must be reconsidered in its light” (Hobsbawm 1964: 10). More and more scholars around the world did indeed begin to concern themselves with this text, which appeared in many other countries and everywhere prompted major historical and theoretical discussions.
Translations of the Grundrisse as a whole began in the late 1950s; its dissemination was a slow yet inexorable process, which eventually permitted a more thorough, and in some respects different, appreciation of Marx’s oeuvre. The best interpreters of the Grundrisse tackled it in the original, but its wider study – both among scholars unable to read German and, above all, among political militants and university students – occurred only after its publication in various national languages.
The first to appear were in the east: in Japan (1958-65) and China (1962–78). A Russian edition came out in the Soviet Union only in 1968-69, as a supplement to the second, enlarged edition of the Sochineniya (1955-66). Its previous exclusion from this was all the more serious because it had resulted in a similar absence from the Marx-Engels Werke (MEW) of 1956–68, which reproduced the Soviet selection of texts. The MEW – the most widely used edition of the works of Marx and Engels, as well as the source for translations into most other languages – was thus deprived of the Grundrisse until its eventual publication as a supplement in 1983.
The Grundrisse also began to circulate in Western Europe in the late 1960s. The first translation appeared in France (1967-68), but it was of inferior quality and had to be replaced by a more faithful one in 1980. An Italian version followed between 1968 and 1970, the initiative significantly coming, as in France, from a publishing house independent of the Communist Party.
The text was published in Spanish in the 1970s. If one excludes the version of 1970-71 published in Cuba, which was of little value as it was done from the French version, and whose circulation remained confined within the limits of that country, the first proper Spanish translation was accomplished in Argentina between 1971 and 1976. There followed another three done conjointly in Spain, Argentina and Mexico, making Spanish the language with the largest number of translations of the Grundrisse.
The English translation was preceded in 1971 by a selection of extracts, whose editor, David McLellan, raised readers’ expectations of the text: “The Grundrisse is much more than a rough draft of Capital” (McLellan 1971: 2); indeed, more than any other work, it “contains a synthesis of the various strands of Marx’s thought… In a sense, none of Marx’s works is complete, but the completest of them is the Grundrisse” (McLellan 1971: 14-15). The complete translation finally arrived in 1973, a full 20 years after the original edition in German. Its translator, Martin Nicolaus, wrote in a foreword: “Besides their great biographical and historical value, they [the Grundrisse] add much new material, and stand as the only outline of Marx’s full political-economic project. … The Grundrisse challenges and puts to the test every serious intepretation of Marx yet conceived” (Nicolaus 1973: 7).
The 1970s were also the crucial decade for translations in Eastern Europe. For, once the green light had been given in the Soviet Union, there was no longer any obstacle to its appearance in the “satellite” countries: Hungary (1972), Czechoslovakia (1971-77 in Czech, 1974-75 in Slovak) and Romania (1972-74), as well as in Yugoslavia (1979). During the same period, two contrasting Danish editions were put on sale more or less simultaneously: one by the publishing house linked to the Communist Party (1974-78), the other by a publisher close to the New Left (1975-77).
In the 1980s the Grundrisse was also translated in Iran (1985-87), where it constituted the first rigorous edition in Persian of any of Marx’s works, and in a number of further European countries. The Slovenian edition dates from 1985, and the Polish and Finnish from 1986 (the latter with Soviet support).
With the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of what was known as “actually existing socialism”, which in reality had been a blatant negation of Marx’s thought, there was a lull in the publication of Marx’s writings. Nevertheless, even in the years when the silence surrounding its author was broken only by people consigning it with absolute certainty to oblivion, the Grundrisse continued to be translated into other languages. Editions in Greece (1989-92), Turkey (1999-2003), South Korea (2000) and Brazil (2008) make it Marx’s work with the largest number of new translations in the last two decades.
All in all, the Grundrisse has been translated in its entirety into 22 languages, in a total of 32 different versions. Not including partial editions, it has been printed in more than 500,000 copies – a figure that would greatly surprise the man who wrote it only to summarise, with the greatest of haste, the economic studies he had undertaken up to that point.
III. Readers and interpreters
The history of the reception of the Grundrisse, as well as of its dissemination, is marked by quite a late start. The decisive reason for this, apart from the twists and turns associated with its rediscovery, is certainly the complexity of the fragmentary and roughly sketched manuscript itself, so difficult to interpret and to render in other languages. In this connection, the authoritative scholar Roman Rosdolsky has noted:
In 1948, when I first had the good fortune to see one of the then very rare copies …, it was clear from the outset that this was a work which was of fundamental importance for Marxist theory. However, its unusual form and to some extent obscure manner of expression made it far from suitable for reaching a wide circle of readers. (Rosdolsky 1977: xi)
These considerations led Rosdolsky to attempt a clear exposition and critical examination of the text: the result, his Zur Entstehungsgeschichte des Marxschen ‘Kapital’. Der Rohentwurf des ‘Kapital’ 1857-58 (The Making of Marx’s `Capital’), which appeared in German in 1968, is the first and still the principal monograph devoted to the Grundrisse. Translated into many languages, it encouraged the publication and circulation of Marx’s work and has had a considerable influence on all its subsequent interpreters.
Nineteen sixty-eight was a significant year for the Grundrisse. In addition to Rosdolsky’s book, the first essay on it in English appeared in the March-April issue of New Left Review: Martin Nicolaus’ “The Unknown Marx”, which had the merit of making the Grundrisse more widely known and underlining the need for a full translation. Meanwhile, in Germany and Italy, the Grundrisse won over some of the leading actors in the student revolt, who were excited by the radical and explosive content as they worked their way through its pages. The fascination was irresistible especially among those in the New Left who were committed to overturn the interpretation of Marx provided by [Stalinist] Marxism-Leninism.
On the other hand, the times were changing in the east too. After an initial period in which the Grundrisse was almost completely ignored, or regarded with diffidence, Vitalii Vygodskii’s introductory study – Istoriya odnogo velikogo otkrytiya Karla Marksa (The Story of a Great Discovery: How Marx Wrote ‘Capital’), published in Russia in 1965 and the German Democratic Republic in 1967 – took a sharply different tack. He defined it as a “work of genius”, which “takes us into Marx’s `creative laboratory’ and enables us to follow step by step the process in which Marx worked out his economic theory”, and to which it was therefore necessary to give due heed (Vygodski 1974: 44).
In the space of just a few years the Grundrisse became a key text for many influential Marxists. Apart from those already mentioned, the scholars who especially concerned themselves with it were: Walter Tuchscheerer in the German Democratic Republic, Alfred Schmidt in the Federal Republic of Germany, members of the Budapest School in Hungary, Lucien Sève in France, Kiyoaki Hirata in Japan, Gajo Petrovi? in Yugoslavia, Antonio Negri in Italy, Adam Schaff in Poland and Allen Oakley in Australia. In general, it became a work with which any serious student of Marx had to come to grips. With various nuances, the interpreters of the Grundrisse divided between those who considered it an autonomous work conceptually complete in itself and those who saw it as an early manuscript that merely paved the way for Capital. The ideological background to discussions of the Grundrisse – the core of the dispute was the legitimacy or illegitimacy of approaches to Marx, with their huge political repercussions – favoured the development of inadequate and what seem today ludicrous interpretations. For some of the most zealous commentators on the Grundrisse even argued that it was theoretically superior to Capital, despite the additional 10 years of intense research that went into the composition of the latter. Similarly, among the main detractors of the Grundrisse, there were some who claimed that, despite the important sections for our understanding of Marx’s relationship with Hegel and despite the significant passages on alienation, it did not add anything to what was already known about Marx.
Not only were there opposing readings of the Grundrisse, there were also non-readings of it – the most striking and representative example being that of Louis Althusser. Even as he attempted to make Marx’s supposed silences speak and to read Capital in such a way as to “make visible whatever invisible survivals there are in it” (Althusser and Balibar 1979: 32), he permitted himself to overlook the conspicuous mass of hundreds of written pages of the Grundrisse and to effect a (later hotly debated) division of Marx’s thought into the works of his youth and the works of his maturity, without taking cognisance of the content and significance of the manuscripts of 1857-58.
From the mid-1970s on, however, the Grundrisse won an ever larger number of readers and interpreters. Two extensive commentaries appeared, one in Japanese in 1974 (Morita, Kiriro and Toshio Yamada 1974), the other in German in 1978 (Projektgruppe Entwicklung des Marxschen Systems 1978), but many other authors also wrote about it. A number of scholars saw it as a text of special importance for one of the most widely debated issues concerning Marx’s thought: his intellectual debt to Hegel. Others were fascinated by the almost prophetic statements in the fragments on machinery and automation, and in Japan too the Grundrisse was read as a highly topical text for our understanding of modernity. In the 1980s the first detailed studies began to appear in China, where the work was used to throw light on the genesis of Capital, while in the Soviet Union a collective volume was published entirely on the Grundrisse (Vv. Aa. 1987).
In recent years, the enduring capacity of Marx’s works to explain (while also criticising) the capitalist mode of production has prompted a revival of interest on the part of many international scholars (see Musto 2007). If this revival lasts and if it is accompanied by a new demand for Marx in the field of politics, the Grundrisse will certainly once more prove to be one of his writings capable of attracting major attention.Meanwhile, in the hope that “Marx’s theory will be a living source of knowledge and the political practice which this knowledge directs” (Rosdolsky 1977: xiv), the story presented here of the global dissemination and reception of the Grundrisse is intended as a modest recognition of its author and as an attempt to reconstruct a still unwritten chapter in the history of Marxism.