Workers and Capital

Posted: September 30, 2010 in Mario Tronti

Workers and capital
by
Mario Tronti

The Progressive Era

The working class after Marx can be approached historically in two ways. One is chronological. It reconstructs the great cycles of the labor struggle from the 1870s, followed by a series of facts that constitute its history. It would include the history of labor in industry, of industry in capital, of capital in politics and in political events, along with the great theorization — what was once called the history of ideas — the first sociology, the last systematic form attained by economics, and the birth of a new scientific discipline: that theory of technological reality which is the science of labor and the enemy of the worker. Traditional historiography encapsulates it between 1870 and 1914. To be generous and to avoid constantly upsetting the mental habits of the average intellectual, it may even be possible to enclose this epoch’s first great block of facts in “their” history and move towards us and the new labor struggles constituting the real political drama of our side of the story — even if it is only at its beginning

The other approach is to move through great historical events by pausing on macroscopic groups of facts yet untouched by the critical consciousness of labor thought (Pensiero operaio) and therefore excluded from a class understanding that translates them into a political use of their consequences. When relevant, these events isolate a fundamental aspect of capitalist society. They cut a cross-section that goes from a series of struggles to a set of political-institutional, scientific, or organizational answers.

When we can isolate such a typical event under propitious circumstances, we are confronted with an historical model, a privileged period for research, and a promised land of facts, thoughts and actions to be explored. What can be learned is far superior to any passive chronological account of indifferent past events. The alternative is between a narrative embodying an interpretation (i.e., the old pretense of historical objectivism), and its contrary: interpretation embodying a narrative (i.e., the new pat of political research from the labor viewpoint). The choice is between history andpolitics: two legitimate horizons for two different classes.

There is a danger involved, which is at the same time an adventure of ideas: to connect and see together different things that specialists have convinced us to always keep separate. The neo-synthetic conceptual apparatus of labor’s viewpoint can hardly avoid this temptation. Thus, it is incredible that the history of labor and the history of labor struggles have been and continue to be dealt with by different experts. It is as incredible as the way economic theory is separated from political thought as if they actually were two doctrines, two departments or two different academic disciplines. It is incredible how industrial sociology — the only one worth considering — once separated from the macroscopic problems of the socialization brought about by capitalist industrialization ultimately reduces to shop-microanalysis. It is not difficult to connect Haymarket Square with the Knights of Labor, the cannon of Homestead, Pennsylvania (1892) and the strike of the company town of Pullman (1894) with the birth of the AFL in Lawrence, Massachusetts (1932) and Paterson, New Jersey (1914) with the Wobblies’ call “union makes us strong.”

Struggle and organization resembled each other so much that even the blind could see them united. Richard Hofstadter, in his The Age of Reform, relates the American progressivism of the 1890-1920 period to the somewhat eccentric pseudo-conservatism of our time. “The relations of capital and labor, the condition of the masses in the slums, the exploitation of the labor of women and children, the necessity of establishing certain minimal standards of social decency — these problems filled them with concern both because they felt a sincere interest in the welfare of the victims of industrialism and because they feared that to neglect them would invite social disintegration and ultimate catastrophe.” 1

The recent history of capitalist initiative begins when, unlike President Hayes’ handling of the 1887 railroad strikes or President Cleveland’s handling of the Pullman affairs, in 1902 Theodore Roosevelt breaks the great strike of anthracite workers not by sending in federal troops but by means of a well-conceived arbitration, and in the same year he undertakes legal action against J. Pierpont Morgan’s Northern Security Company in order to show public opinion that the country was run by Washington and not by Wall Street.

It is no longer just political progressivism aimed at the conservation of society — something as old as human society itself — but a new form of political management of social relations and of the private ownership of the means of production. It is a new way of reunification and clash between general interest and individual capitalists’ profit, between government, of the res publica and production for capital.

“To realize the importance of the change in the United States itself one need only think of the climate of opinion in which the Pullman strike and the Homestead strike were fought out and compare it with the atmosphere in which labor organization has taken place since the Progressive era. There has of course been violence and bloodshed, but in the twentieth century a massive labor movement has been built with far less cost in these respects than it cost the American working class merely to man the machines of American industry in the period from 1865 to 1900.” 2

In its two faces of labor violence and capitalist reformism, the Progressive Era is the first great historical event to be dealt with. Here, the relationship between the labor struggles and organization, and capital’s initiative describes a typical path. Later it will reach higher levels through higher experiences, but only after long pauses which will continually throw the problem in the fog of the past. Obviously, to find the revolution in action one need not go to the U.S. Yet, the American class-struggles are more serious than European ones in that they obtain more results with less ideology. More on this later. For now it is well to keep in mind Mr. Dooley’s Dissertations of 1906. Mr Dooley (Finley Peter Dunne) has been regarded as one of the sharpest commentators of that epoch who understood very well its character when he said: “Th’ noise ye hear is not th’ first gun in a revolution. It’s on’y th’ people in the United States beatin’ a carpet.” 3

The Age of Marshall

What in the U.S. appears as the relation between labor struggles and capitalist politics reappears during the same period in England as the relation between the movement of the struggles and the capitalist answer on the level of science. Capital’s American answer always seeks to institutionally deal with these things within the terrain of political initiative by the head of the state, in the rare and precious occasions when this head subjectively overcomes the most modern intelligence objectified in the system of production.

Contrary to common opinion, England offers a high theoretical synthesis of the class-struggle from the capitalist viewpoint. From the fact that Hegel once lived in Germany it does not follow that we should always locate there the moment of capital’s maximum self-consciousness. If economics is the science par excellence of relations of production, exchange, and consumption of commodities as capital (and therefore of labor, and labor-struggles as capitalist development), then no higher elaboration of this science can be found than in English economic thought. When Marshall claimed: “it is all in Smith,” he forced those after him to say: “it is all in Marshall.” As Schumpeter put it, his great accomplishment “is the classical achievement of the period, that is the work that embodies, more perfectly than any other, the classical situation that emerged around 1900.” 4

Now what is classic in that situation is not only the discovery of the theory of partial equilibria. Nor is it the individual moments as separate parts of the investigation which eventually form together a new system of economic thought. The same goes for the notion of the demand’s elasticity, the introduction of the “short term” and “long.term” factors in economic analysis, the definition of a situation of perfect competition, the concept of an enterprise’s “special market,” and many other things such as Jevons’ marginal utility, Walras’ general equilibrium, von Thuenen’s principle of substitution, Cournot’s demand curves and Dupuit’s consumers’ rent, which he borrowed from others but which seemed new because he rearranged them in his own way. In what may be the most beautiful of his Essays in Biography — the one devoted to Marshall — Keynes wrote something regarding not just the personality dealt with, but the author as well:

“But it was an essential truth to which he held firmly, that those individuals who are endowed with a special genius for the subject and have a powerful economic intuition will often be more right in their conclusions and implicit presuppositions than in their explanations and explicit statements. That is to say, their intuitions will be in advance of their analysis and terminology.” 5

The classic situation of England at the end of the century is in the way in which intuitions before analysis and concepts before words are directly connected with their class basis: the datum, the moment and the’ level of the class-struggle. What is classic for us is the model of an historical condition in which the struggle is connected to politics, theory, and organization. England in 1889 is not an isolated and unexpected thunderbolt. It comes about after at least two decades of continuous individual clashes which, although backward, were very conscious, active, and increasingly more unionized. They are waged by miners, railroad, maritime, gas, textile, and steel workers. Except for 1893, after 1880 real wages rise steadily, the price-curve falls, employment is generally stable and there is increasing unionization.

The situation of the English working-class must not be sought in studies such as Charles Booth’s then famous Life and Labor of the People of London which denounce the workers’ misery, but follow rather than anticipate or provoke the longshoremen’s strike. Cole has written:

“The appeals that had roused the workers in the ‘thirties and ‘forties would have made no impression on their successors in the latter part of the century. Though there were still, even in 1900 many thousands of hopelessly exploited ‘bottom dogs’… these were not typical of the organized or organizable working class. In the great industries, the workers had ceased to be a ragged and starving mob, easily roused, either by a Feargus O’Connor or a James Rayner Stephens, or by someone of the many ‘Messiahs’ who sprang up in the early years of the century.” 6

There were no more mass uprisings and sudden revolts produced by desperation and hunger: the strikes were ordered, prepared, expected, directed, and organized. In order to obtain results, socialist propaganda itself had to deal with reason and no longer rouse the instincts. If “O’Connor had been hot as hell, Sidney Webb was always as cool as a cucumber.” 7 In 1889 the longshoremen asked for a wage of six pence per hour, overtime, abolition of sub-contracts and piece-work, and a minimum work-period of four hours. They were guided by Ben Tillet — a London dock-worker- – along with Tom Mann and John Burns- – both mechanics. They were all exponents of the “new unionism which fought against specialized unions, and societies of mutual assistance, while seeking a mass organization of the whole working-class by waging a struggle based on class-solidarity for a series of objectives able to challenge the capitalist system.

The victory of the dock-workers was the victory of the new union. The nineties saw few very advanced struggles: Lancashire cotton-spinners against wage reductions, 400,000 miners against the flexible rate with a guaranteed minimumn wage, railroad workers against the schedule, and mechanics for a 48 hour week. The organization of unskilled workers took place and developed among the skeptical comments of the old leaders. Longshoremen gas workers and miners built unions without regard to skills. A new epoch was coming about in the already historical relation between workers and labor Here it is not the relation between labor and capital that marks a step forward. Rather, on the political level, this relation stagnates while theoretically failing to find a new consciousness to express it after having elaborated it. Similarly, the good Fabians cannot be claimed to be the virtuous interpreters of the epoch. Here, before dealing with a frontal attack on the capitalist system, we must deal with the internal composition of the working-class.

Such will almost always be the case in England There we will find no ‘strategies for overthrowing the existing power’ models of alternative political organization, or non-utopian developments’ of labor thought. Above all, from the capitalist viewpoint, that is not the source of the world-side breath of fresh air of great initiatives.

At the state level, the political moment has no margin of autonomy in imposing its own pattern on social relations. As V.L. Allen would say, the government is never more than a conciliator and an arbitrator. From the Victorian Conciliation Act of 1896, to the Prices and Incomes Act seventy years later (that Wilson’s crew had to handle through formal decisions) there is a typically English history of no capitalist policy towards labor. Thus the political level has not been independent of capital’s immediate needs — the only path which has hitherto led to a strategic defeat of the workers. Hence, the dynamic supporting role of the real long-range management of power is taken over by scientific elaboration by the theoretical consciousness of the labor problem translated in terms of bourgeois conceptualization.

The autonomy of politics from capitalist development appears here as the autonomy of science: science not as technology but as theory, not as an analysis of labor, but as capital’s economy. We must not seek in the highest points of economic thought a direct treatment of the labor struggles: the higher the level of elaboration, the more abstract is the movement of categories and the more difficult it becomes to recognize the presence of struggles in this thought. This is not because such thought is removed from reality, but because it is close to it in a complex way It does not passively reflect class-relations, but serves it to us well-spiced and elaborated in a diet of tasty concepts.

We must learn to read the scientific language of capital beyond these Concepts, beyond the logic of the discipline: between the lines of “their” treatises systematizing “their” knowledge. We must not grant what they say. The cultural hieroglyphics must be deciphered: the scientific jargon must be translated in our illustrious class dialect. In regard to the great scientific discovery by the capitalist, we must follow its attitude towards reality: we must not reflect what is, but elaborate in order to understand what really is.

In his inaugural address in Cambridge in 1885, Marshall said: “Among the bad results of the narrowness of the work of English economists early in the nineteenth century perhaps the most unfortunate was the opportunity which it gave to socialists to quote and misapply economic dogma.” 8

As can be seen from his 1919 “Preface” to Industry and Trade, socialists’ works both repulsed and attracted him because they seemed to have no contact with reality. He noticed “admirable developments in the working-class capabilities” and recalled how some ten years earlier he believed that so-called “socialist” proposals were the most important things worth studying. Those were the years between 1885 and 1900, when he used to spend his weekends with working-class leaders such as Thomas Burt, Ben Tillet, Tom Mann and other new unionists: the victorious dock-worker leaders of 1889. It was the year when after twenty years of work, he finished what Keynes has called a “universe of knowledge:” his Principles of Economics. As with every classical product of economic thought, here everything that happens within the working-class appears as happening within capital. From his viewpoint, bourgeois science rightly refuses to grant workers, and therefore the labor struggles, any autonomy at all.

History is always the history of capital. As labor or as wages, as a complex living machinery or as simple natural energy, as a function of the system or as a contradiction of production, the working-class always plays a secondary role. It does not enjoy its own light and reflects the movement of the capitalist cycle. This is exactly opposite the truth from our viewpoint where every discovery of an objective social science can and must be translated in the language of the struggles. The most abstract theoretical problem’ will have the most concrete class meaning.

In September 1862, after having sent to the British Association his “Notice of a General Mathematical Theory of Political Economy” with the first outline of the concept of marginal utility, Jevons wrote his brother: “I am very curious, indeed, to know what effect my theory will have both upon my friends and the world in general. I shall watch it like an artilleryman watches the flight of a shell or shot to see whether its effects equal his intentions.”9

If the forebodings are those of Jevons’ Theory of 1871, the effects are to be found in Marshall’s Principles. It is our problem to follow the flight of this shell during this period in the history of class struggle. Unless we are mistaken, this should be that historical event to be unravelled. This is precisely the classical level of the question concerning the relationship between struggles and science: workers’ struggles and the science of capital. Such a relationship will subsequently have a long history yet to be concluded. If we have grasped it correctly, in the underground of that epoch there should be a strong current that brings this relationship to a preliminary formalization as a model. We must dig in order to find.

The way in which the problem is posed offers a methodological indication also valuable in other investigations. As Keynes put it, “Jevons saw the kettle boil and cried out with the delighted voice of a child; Marshall too had seen the kettle boil and sat down silently to build an empire.” 10
The Historical Social Democracy
In his Demokratie und Kaisertum of 1900 Friedrich Naumann defined the Bismarckian Empire as a labor republic.The social monarchy of the two Wilhelms deserves this paradoxical label. In the same way that the profoundly German tradition of the Machstaat has turned out to be the most fragile among all political institutions of modern capital, the bete noir of the reactionary Junkers turns out to be the road most open to the development of a certain type of democratic labor movements. Without Bismarck there may never have been German social-democracy in its classical form: “without Mohammed Charlemagne would have been inconceivable.”

On the other hand from his uncomfortable perspective of agrarian socialism, Rudolf Meyer was correct in arguing that without social democracy German industry would not have been developed. All of these logical passages are full of historical meaning. The theme of the political organisation of the working-class finds in the German speaking middle-Europe its proper domain for a finally successful experiment. It is worth measuring the relation between struggle and organization here — if for no other reason, to catch the point of departure of a long-spanning arc. Today this arc must not be gradually re-threatened in practice. It must only be caught by the liquidating glance of labor theory which, in its present strategic indications, goes well beyond what there was then and after. Yet we must immediately add that, at least in Germany, nothing is equal in importance to the clashing force of the political model of classical social-democracy, from the Lassallean Offenes Antwortschreihen of 1863 to 1913 — a year of struggles with 5,672,034 working days lost in strikes. In front of this first historical form of the political party of the working-class, all other organizational experiences have been forced to appear as answers, alternatives, or as a kind of reversed image of what was not wanted: a negative repetition of what was considered a bad passivity.

At least in Europe, 19th century revolutionary syndicalism, the historical Luxemburgian left, the various council experiments of Bavaria and Piedmont ,and the very first minority groups ever(the just-born communist parties) were essentially answers to the question of the party that social-democracy posed to the labor vanguard. The Bolshevik model does not escape this organizational anti-social-democrat determination. It explodes in Lenin’s head as soon as he, outside of Russia, comes into contact with the experiences of the European labour movement.

Thus, Germany presents the classical political terrain of the labor struggle which becomes a reference point for every elaboration of the problem of organization. Strangely enough, by adapting the young Marx to capital’s old age, the working class party does not up the heir of philosophy, but of classical German social-democracy.

As every other fact, this one too has another historiographic side. The German labor movement, along with the whole class-struggle in Germany seems to have only a political history: a mere development of the organisational level. It always seems to be a matter of leadership: a history of party congresses. From Mehring on, Marxist historiography has been an easy victim of this false optics. In no country outside of Germany is the level of the struggles so difficult to reach. This is not because the struggles are few, but because they are not too visible. Submerged as they are in their immediate organizational consequences, they merely reach the surface. It is not accidental that the union grew in this context with so much difficulty, competing and often struggling with the party. Strangely enough, the union chronologically followed the development of the party.

It is not accidental that the average militant intellectual is familiar with the politically insipid name of both Liebknechts, while he may never have heard of a Karl Legien. For 30 years up to his death in 1921, this “German Samuel Gompers” — as Perlman used to call him — controls the union, and therefore its struggles: the labor strikes. Now, before the Junker von Puttkamer began to apply with the sure hand of a policeman the Bismarckian laws against them, the socialists had had enough time to split. Eisenachian ideologists a la Bebel and the followers of von Schweitzer, that Prussian Realpolitiker who was both a worker and a baron, had split, but they had also managed to become reunited by singing in chorus the verses of that Gotha program which who knows what destiny it might have had if it had not fallen under the rapacious claws of the old man in London. This was a time of unusually violent struggles which were close to uprisings, but almost always ended in defeat. The strikes were local, isolated, badly organized, misdirected, and succeeded only in unifying the owners. Yet, the Erwachungstreiks of late 1860s had their effect: between 1871 and 1872 the struggles grew from the steel-workers of Chemnitz to Cramer-Klett mechanics in Nuremburg and the 16,000 miners of the Ruhr who took to the streets with the cry: eight hours of work and a 25% rise in wages. In 1873 a violent crisis hit the German economy, and the workers ferociously defended themselves against unemployment and wage reductions with “increasing lawlessness and lack of discipline” — as it is phrased in a law introduced in the Reichstag. Theodor York, the president of the wood workers, took the opportunity to launch the anti-local unionist idea of centralizing organization.

But we are in Germany: the centralization sought in unions is to be found at the political level. The Gotha congress claimed that it was the workers’ duty to keep away union politics, but it held that it was also their duty to join the Party, because only this could improve the workers’ political and economic conditions. Gradilone has rightly concluded that “the date 1875 remains a landmark not only because it marked the birth of the first European party of the working class, but also because it indirectly influenced thedevelopment of similar parties in the continent… all of them more or less having come into being through the direct or indirect influence of the German party.”

We must give credit to social-democracy for having objectively derived the political form of the party from the content of the struggles, for having raised the relation between struggle and organization to the level of governmental policy, and, therefore, for having used the struggles to grow as an alternative power: a negative institutional power provisionally opposed to the government while waiting to take state power. Paradoxically enough, it was Lenin who gave social-democracy a theory of the party. Before him there was only a daily political practice. Only within the Bolshevik group, in theIskra office, can we find a principled systematization of the function of the historical party of the working class. Even the most classic forms of social-democracy only indicate the party’s strategic program and tactical path, but not the dynamic laws of its apparatus. What was not posed was the altogether Leninist question: “what type of organization do we need?” By contra-posing the two types of organization, Lenin elaborated the theory of both. He needed to do this because his reasoning was entirely political. He did not (nor did he want to) start from struggles. His logic was based on a concept of political rationality absolutely independent of everything. It was even independent of class-interest which, if anything, was common to both. His party was not the anti-state: even before taking power, it was the only true state of the true society.

We must not look for the labor struggle before Lenin as a cause of his theory of the party. This does not diminish, rather it enlarges, the importance of its experience.

Although not triggered by the labor struggle, Lenin completely grasped the laws of its political action. Thus, the classical bourgeois notion of the autonomy of politics is reconstituted from labor’s viewpoint. Within this frame of reference, the historical destiny of social-democracy is quite different. Its party form has invented nothing: in its daily practice it has only reflected a very high theoretical level of labor’s attack on the system. Instead, behind German social-democracy, English economics, and American capitalist initiative, there is the beginning of a long typology which, in coming closer to our own days, increasingly specifies the character of the clash between labor’s wages and capital’s profit. Not accidentally, the capitalist labor history begins there. This can be now demonstrated with the ongoing struggles.

Let us open the third volume of Kuczynski’s monumental work Geschichte der Lage der Arbeiter in Deutschland von 1789 bis zur Gegenwart (the first part of a work followed by a second part on working conditions in England, the U.S., and France). Divested of its crypto-Marxist conceptualization and terminology, this work is a mine of class news. 1889 is the key year. It is the year of the birth of the Second International: that legitimate daughter of German capital and social-democracy. Both sides of the English Channel were on strike: English dock workers, and German miners. After the struggle of Berlin’s 25,000 masons and carpenters on the platform “from ten to nine working hours, from 50 to 60 pfennigs in wages,” there was an explosion of that historical vanguard which the miners have always been: 13,000 in the Saar, 10,000 in Saxony, 18,000 in Silesia, 90,000 in Westphalia. When they all stopped the army was sent in against them and there were five workers dead, nine wounded. Engels and Luxemburg wrote about it, the Reichstag was flooded with the problem, and the leaders of the movement, Schroeder, Bunte and Spiegel, even went up to the Kaiser. Quick as a thunderbolt, the consequences came the following year, 1890. February 20th, the social-democrat candidates picked up a million and a half votes, 20% of the total, 660,000 more than they had received in 1887. March 20th, Bismarck was out. The first of October, the exceptional laws against the socialists were abolished. In Mehring’s words, it was the beginning of a new period in the history of the German Reich and in the history of German social-democracy.

Today it is necessary to introduce this new form of historical periodization in our theoretical elaboration, and find new dates as the point of departure of the social answer either of large collective institutions or of great individual thought. According to Walter Galenson, between 1890 and 1913 in Germany the intermingling of the history of the party and the history of struggles brings to a classical conclusion the premises posed by earlier experiences. From November 1890 to September 1891, there were some 30 strikes in which 40,000 workers participated: first of all there were the printers — the “Englishmen” of the German labor movement with their legal successes concerning the time-schedule. Between 1892 and 1894, there were 320 small, diffused and short strikes involving 20,000 workers. In 1895, and most of all in 1896, there was another great wave in Berlin, in the Saar, and in the Ruhr. The percentage of the conflicts with outcomes favorable for the workers went from 58.5% to 74.7%. There was an air of labor victory. The dock workers’ strike in Hamburg in 1896 brought back the idea of the anti-strike law. We come to the Zuchthaus Vorlage of 1899, fallen through parliamentary means. The 1903 Crimmitschau strike, however, had a different outcome. For five months, 8,000 textile workers were on strike for higher wages. The result was a strong association of the owners. This was the beginning of that long process which immediately after World War I resulted in the massive anti-worker and therefore counter-revolutionary reality of the Vereinigung der deutschen Arbeitgeberverbande. The years between 1903 and 1907 saw an intensity of the struggle equal to its quantitative extension: the high point was in 1905 when the striking workers reached half million and there were 7,362,802 work days lost. In 1910 there were still 370,000 striking workers and 9,000,000 workdays lost. This was roughly how it remained up to 1913.

This explains what surprises superficial contemporary German historians such as Vermeil: from 1890 to 1912 social-democrat votes rose from 1,427,000 to 4,250,000 and the seats from 35 to 110. According to Zwing, from 1891 to 1913 there was a decrease of federations from 63 to 49, while there was an explosion of their membership from 277,659 to 2,573,718. After the guerrilla-warfare, with the Mannheim agreement, peace and harmony descended between party and union. This is a story full of contradictory lights — flares that light up and die out –allowing the guiding forces of the process to come into view, along with the unavoidable negative outcome. People have seen within the Second International only what they have wanted to see. It is as if all had been settled in the theoretical debate, everything written in Neue Zeit, everything said in the “Bernstein-Debatte,” and there was nothing left to say after the Zusammenbruchstheorie discussions between belligerent intellectuals. Classical German social-democracy has been turned into an historical episode of the theory of the labor movement.

Yet the true theory — the high science — was not in the socialist camp but outside and against it. And this altogether theoretical science — this scientific theory — had as its content, object, and problem the fact of politics. The new theory of a new politics suddenly arose both in the great bourgeois thought and in the subversive labor praxis. Lenin was closer to Max Weber’s “Politik als Beruf’ than to the German labor struggles upon which was based — as a colossus standing on clay — classical social-democracy.

During the Weimar period, when he still spoke to party cadres of Berlin’s Volkshochschule, the social-democrat Theodor Geiger used to write: “We call ‘die Masse’ that social group with a revolutionary and destructive goal.” A year earlier, in unveiling the essence of the “social-democratic tactic” according to which the proletariat must compromise with the bourgeoisie, Lukacs had correctly seen that, since the true revolution still remains far away and its preconditions do not exist yet: “the more the subjective and objective preconditions of social revolution are present, the more ‘purely’ will the proletariat be able to fulfill its class aims. So the reverse of practical compromise is often great radicalism -absolute ‘purity’ in principle in relation to the ‘ultimate goal’.” 11

This is the true, classical and historical social-democracy. It is not true that there is where the revolutionary goal was abandoned. Here we confuse it with some formula of Bernsteinian revisionism. The beauty of that social-democracy was precisely its tactically holding together of the two sides of the coin — both possible party politics: a daily practice of Menshevik actions and an ideology of pure subversive principles. This is why we claim that, historically, it is an unequalled organizational solution of the labor struggle on the political level. The Bolshevik model and the ensuing communist movement does not go as far or, better, it ends up with something qualitatively different. Let-us explain this in other words. During this period, the classical form of the social-democratic party in Germany passively reflected a level of labor spontaneity that carried within itself i.e., in its struggles, the ambiguity, the contradiction, and the duplicity of the demand for better capitalist working conditions, and the “socialist” refusal.

The situation was not so backward as to prevent cyclic explosions of economic struggles, nor was it so advanced as to rule out alternative proposals for the formal management of power. It remains a fact that, from the very beginning, the contact between the labor struggles and the social-democratic party was so direct and the relation so close as to prevent even a mediation at the union level. Trade-unionism was altogether absent from the German labor tradition. Thus, the whole discussion concerning political perspective reveals an amazing absence of conceptual mediations, surprises and attacks on the adversary’s camp. This organizational miracle of German social-democracy had as its other side an average level of intellectual mediocrity, a scientific approximation and theoretical misery, which could only produce the failure that they did: that scholastic correction of Marxist truth which from Lenin on we still have to waste time combating.

In the meantime capital’s high science was growing on its own, unchallenged, and without rival. Here is the true illusion of which the tactical social-democracy horizon is always a prisoner: a kind of optimistic vision of the historical process which moves forward through its own gradual unfolding rather than through a violent clash with the opposite side. Thus, it ultimately finds a reassuring and comfortable judgment from a just and good God. As an example of the high science of capital, Max Weber subsequently posed correctly the alternative question:

“(a) whether the intrinsic value of ethical conduct — the ‘pure will’ or the ‘conscience’ as it used to be called — is sufficient for its justification, following the maxim of the Christian moralists: ‘The Christian acts rightly and leaves the consequences of his actions to God;’ or (b) whether the responsibility for the predictable consequences of the action is to be taken into consideration.”12

This is the way in which the antithesis between Gesinnungethik and Verantwortungsethik was later posed in the essay “The Meaning of ‘Ethical Neutrality’ in Sociology and Economics: “All radicalrevolutionary political attitudes, particularly revolutionary ‘syndicalism,’ have their point of departure in the first postulate; all Realpolitik in the latter.”

But barely a year later, in his lecture on “Politics as a Vocation,” he was to say that the two ethics are not absolutely anti-ethical, but that they complement each other. In fact, “only in unison” do they “constitute a genuine man — a man who can have the ‘calling for politics’.” 13

The politician, i.e., the one who holds “in one’s hands a nerve fiber of historically important events,” must possess three highly decisive qualities: passion “in the sense of matter-of factness, of passionate devotion to a ’cause’;” responsibility in relation to this cause as “the guiding star of action;” and far-sightedness as “his ability to let realities work upon him with inner concentration and calmness. Hence his distance to things and men.” 14

It is on this basis that, according to Gerhard Maser, Weber’s sociology of power becomes a sociology of might. To the extent that the aspiration to power is the indispensable tool for political work, the instinct of power (Machtinstinkt) is actually a normal quality of the politician. In the meetings of the Heidelberg workers’ and soldiers’ councils in which Weber participated in 1918, he could well have proposed and elaborated the proletarian laws of power politics. “The old problematic dealing with the best possible form of government, he would have dismissed as irrelevant. The struggle among classes and individuals for power or domination seemed to him to be the essence, if one chooses, the constant datum of politics.” No, we are not talking about Lenin, but still of Max Weber, “Machiavelli’s heir… and Nietzsche’s contemporary” — as Raymond Aron has correctly defined him precisely in the quoted context. But Weber’s politician is Lenin. Isn’t the burning passion and the cold far-sightedness to be found in that proper mixture of blood and judgment that Lukacs attributes to his Lenin? 15

And doesn’t the sense of responsibility coincide with Lenin’s constant preparedness? The truth is that the Weberian concept of purely and entirely political activity could have been completely applied only from the labor viewpoint. What this means is never to remain passive victims even of the highest labor spontaneity, as used to be the case in the serious opportunism of classical social-democracy. Rather, it means to actively mediate the concrete situation’s complexity in its entirety. In such a situation the labor struggle is never the sole determinant, but is always interconnected with capital’s political answer, with the latest results of bourgeois science and with the levels attained by the labor movement’s organizations. In this sense the labor struggle is behind social-democracy much more than Leninism. Yet, Leninism is politically ahead of both since it foresees, rather prescribes, that their historical nexus — the relation between struggles and social-democracy — is the practical premise for a workers’ defeat. It can foresee and prescribe because it knows and applies the scanty laws of political action without the illusions of moral ideals.

Lenin had not read Weber’s 1895 Freiburg Address. Yet he acted as if he knew and interpreted those words in his daily praxis: “For the dream of peace and human happiness on top of the door of the unknown future is written: ‘leave all hope’.” This is Lenin’s greatness. Even when he was not in direct contact with the great bourgeois thought, he was able to deal with it since he directly derived it from things: he recognized it in its objective functioning. He had understood very early what today we are forced to relearn among immense difficulties: that maxim in Weber’s Address which we should courageously accept as a party program:

“Our descendants will hold us responsible in front of history not for the type of economic organization which we will leave them in inheritance but, rather, for the space for movement which we wil have conquered and passed on.”

Class Struggles in the United States

Let us begin with a working hypothesis already loaded with heavy political assumptions: the labor struggle has attained the highest absolute level between 1933 and 1947 in the U.S. There have been advanced, successful, and mass labor struggles — and simple contractual struggles: consider any revolutionary experience of the old Europe, confront it with this particular cycle of American labor struggles, and we will discover our limitations and our defeats. At best, we will realize our subjective backwardness and, worst, our absurd pretense of being the vanguard without a movement, generals without an army, priests of subversion without any political knowledge. Today we must reverse the claim of those who see the European workers dragging behind more backward situations which, however, are more revolutionary. If, within the class struggle, victory is measured by what and how much has been gained, then the European workers find before them, as the most advanced model of behavior for their present needs, the way of winning, or the way of defeating the adversary, adopted by American workers in the 1930s.

There had been rich struggling premises. A wave had developed during the war years, and, in its own way, had transformed the national war not into a civil war, but into a class struggle. Because of lack of scientific courage, or fear of knowing the real state of affairs, the American workers’ behavior during the two wars is a chapter of contemporary history yet to be written. To say that the workers profit by the war is a bitter truth which one would willingly erase from history. The labor struggle within the capitalist war is a great political fact of our epoch; it is not by accident, we catch it free from Europe in the American heart of the international capitalist system. In 1914 and 1915 the number of strikes was 1204 and 1593; in 1916 the number jumps to 3789, and in 1917 to 4450, with 1,600,000 and 1,230,000 striking workers respectively Aside from the fabulous year of 1937, we have to go to 1941 to find once again 4288 strikes in one year, involving 2,360,000 workers, or 8.4% of the employed work-force, exactly as in 1916: a percentage never reached until 1945 — if we exclude the other fabulous year 1919. In the years 1943, 1944, and 1945 there is an impressive growth: the number of strikes goes from 3752 to 4956 to 4750; the struggling workers from ,980,000 to 2,120,000 to 3,470,000. The intensity of the labor struggle during the war is topped only in one instance: in the immediate post-war period, during the first conversion of war industries into peace and civil welfare industries. It would seem that the workers should abstain from creating difficulty in such a human endeavor. Let us examine this. In 1946 there were 4985 strikes involving 4,600,000 workers out of work, 16.5% of the entire employed work-force. In 1919 there were 3630 strikes, with 4,160,000 strikers, or 20.2% of all the workers employed at the time. 16

From the workers’ viewpoint, the war was a great occasion for obtaining much, while peace was a great occasion for asking for more, Thus, the National War Labor Board, new-dealer before the New Deal, could find no better way to squash labor conflicts than to let the workers win. Right to organize, collective bargaining through union representation, union-shop and open-shop contracts, equal pay for women, minimum wages: these are the conquests of the first war-period. Having strengthened the organization by exploiting the class adversary’s national needs (in 1918 unions had more than 4 million members), in the post-war period the clash shifted to wages. To the revolutionary militant, 1919 means the civil war in Bolshevik Russia, the Soviet Bavarian Republic, the 3rd International and Bela Kun in the same way that to the Italian militant it means the Turin of Ordine Nuovo, and the Councils before the factories’ occupation.

Seattle is a name altogether unknown. Its shipbuilders, guided by James A. Duncan, who dragged 60,000 workers into a general strike for five days, are never mentioned. Yet that was a key year for the class struggle in America which, in terms of the positive destiny of world revolution, was probably more important than all the rest of “Euro-asiatic” events put together. There was the strike of Boston policemen, organized in the unionism of the Boston Social Club which wanted to affiliate with the AFL — things reminiscent of the French May, although they been a little more serious since they took place half a century earlier and did not include in their programs “foot-ball aux foot-balleurs.” But there were also strikes of mechanics and railroad workers, textile workers and longshoremen: from the food industries to the clothing industries. And it came down to a decisive clash on the level of production of material basic to every other type of production: steel and coal. 350,000 steel workers demanded a collective contract with a wage increase and an eight-hour work day. The United States Steel Corporation answered that it had no intention of doing business with them.

The days of the wartime New Deal were over. All authority and local military forces, both state and federal, were on the side of the owners. An anti-worker witch-hunt, the isolation of their organization in the public opinion, about 20 deaths, and they were defeated. Foster R. Dulles has written that if the steel workers had won, the entire history of the labor movement during the following decade would have followed a completely different course. As the steel workers retreated, 425,000 miners entered the field. Here the labor organization was better, and therefore the demands were higher: wage increases of 60%, and a 36-hour work week.

They gained half of what they asked in wages, but no reduction in hours. Wilson, the idealist and neurotic 28th U.S. president obtained a court injunction to halt the strike. John L. Lewis, president of the United Mine Workers soon to be famous for other deeds, repeated the injunction from the level of the labor organization. The miners listened to neither of the two presidents and continued the struggle until they obtained whatever they could under those conditions. One could read in the newspapers of the period: “No organized minority has the right of throwing the country into chaos… A labor autocracy is as dangerous as a capitalist autocracy.” These were the methodological rules that capital was beginning to derive from the hard clash with the workers: the social philosophy which was to triumph in the following happy decade. The American 20s are an era of social peace, great prosperity, “the age of wonderful idiocies,” welfare capitalism, and high wages, gained not through struggles, nor through capital’s political initiative, but given as if by chance by the individual capitalist’s economic choice. For the first time in history “golden chains” came into being, the tax of unionization falls frighteningly among the workers, a new form of owner-controlled union comes into being, the open shop wins, while the scientific organization of labor proceeds with giant steps. It is said that the great crash came suddenly to awaken everyone from the “American dream.”

One of the reasons why capital did not understand that it was stepping on the edge of the abyss was this amazing silence on the part of the laboring masses which followed the defeat of 400,000 railroad workers in 1922 and lasted even beyond 1929. Labor struggles are an irreplaceable instrument of self-consciousness for capital: without them it does not recognize its own adversary. Consequently, it does not know itself. And when the contradiction explodes among the parts altogether internal to the mechanism of capitalist development, again the workers do not begin to actively struggle, neither to accelerate the crisis, nor to somehow resolve it.

They know that there is nothing to gain as a particular class if the general development has nothing more to grant. Obviously, the workers did not want the crisis. Less obvious, and actually somewhat scandalous, is to claim that the crisis was not the product of labor struggles but of labor passivity: of the massive refusal to go out on strike, with demands, propositions, struggle and organization. We must be careful: we do not mean that the cause of that crisis is to be located in labor’s attitude towards capital.

This attitude was the only one which could have revealed the existence of the crisis: the only one which, once expressed in struggles, could have allowed the possibility of foreseeing it. On the other hand, it is easy to understand the flattening out of the strike-curve in the decade of great buys at street corners. But why was there a labor passivity in the heart of the crisis? Why was there no attempt to seek a revolutionary solution in an objectively revolutionary situation which could hardly have been more so? Why was there no 1917 in 1929? Workers make no demands and do not try to obtain them through struggles only in two cases: when they obtain without asking, and when they know that they have nothing to gain. Thus, the absence of great struggles from 1922 to 1933 has two different causes in the periods between 1922 and 1929, and between 1929 and 1933. In the first period the objective margins of capitalist profit spontaneously overflow to the workers. During the second period there are no margins for either of the two parts: participation of labor’s wages to capital’s profit is unthinkable. The very boundaries between classes disappear: there is only one crisis for all. Why bother to struggle when it is impossible to win concessions? In order to take power? We must never confuse the two. The American working class is not the Russian Bolshevik party. We must stick to the facts even when they arc problematic. When Roosevelt tried to deal with the crisis, the American workers, again lined in battle formation, classically summarized the immediate precedents of their political history: they struggled aggressively during the war and they won, they defended themselves violently after the war and were defeated, they benefited without scruples from the “golden glitter” of the happy decade, and they reacted neither in their own defense, nor against their adversary during the crisis. It seems like an abstract ballet, lacking any meaningful content. But like the self-enclosed form of a mathematical formula, the logic of these movements is impeccable.

Today the American workers are the hidden face of the international working class. To decipher the face of this sphinx which contemporary history places in front of us, we must first undertake a complete examination of labor around the planet. The American night seems dark because we see the day with our eyes closed.

Paragraph 7a of the National Industrial Recovery Act, with the right for workers “to organize and bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing” and with an injunction to owners forbidding them any “interference, restraint, or coercion” 17 with minimum wages and maximum allowed working time, was approved in June 1933 along wth the rest of the law. In the second half of that year the number of strikes was equal to all those of the previous year: the number of striking workers was three and a half times as many as in all of 1932. In 1934 there were 1856 strikes with 1,500,000 workers involved: more than 7% of all those employed. Thus, the number of conflicts was not high, although they involved the big industries: the steel workers, the automobile workers, the West Coast longshoremen, the Northwestern wood workers, and first in line with the loudest voice, almost 500,000 textile workers with demands for a thirty hour work week, a thirteen-dollar minimum wage, the solution of the “strech-out” — as “speed-up” was called in the textile industry — and the recognition of the United Textile Workers. When, as had already happened with the Clayton Act of 1914 and the Norris-LaGuardia law of 1923, paragraph 7a fell under the combined reaction of the individual capitalist and the still bourgeois judiciary branch of government, the workers had already used it for all it was worth: to create a space for movement to the new demands raised now to a level of organization. The password “to organize the disorganized,” i.e., to enter unions in the big mass-production industries, became possible only when the collective capitalist consciousness opened the factory to a modern labor power which would counter-balance the backward and antiquated owners’ power. 1935 saw the birth and the success of both the Wagner Act and the CIO. Again, we have more evidence that between capital’s political initiative and the workers’ advanced organization there is an inextricable knot which cannot be untied even if we wanted to. A National Labor Relations Board oversees that owners do not employ “unfair labor practices,” and that they do not oppose collective bargaining with unfair procedures, issues “cease and desist” orders only to the industrial side, never to labor’s side, abolishes the owner’s union, removes its restriction to crafts, and for the first time gives it to common workers.

Thus, it is not an organ of political mediation between two equally contraposed parts: Franklin Delano is not Theodore Roosevelt. It is an administrative organ with judiciary functions: a kind of injunction exactly contrary to everything that came before it in the American tradition — an injunction of capital to the capitalists to leave space for the autonomy of labor organizations. Furthermore, within labor there is a choice in favor of new sectors of production, the identification of the figure of the new mass worker in the steel, automobile, rubber, and radio industries. This explains why, although the CIO was only two years old while the AFL had been around for half a century, by the end of 1937 the former had already more members than the latter, and that the “appropriate bargaining units” established in 1935 were run according to majority rule in favor of the new industrial unionism. If capital’s advanced choices favored the most advanced labor organization, these, in turn, supported capital so that the new choices won over old resistances. The law of the Fair Labor Standards — the logical follow-up to the National Labor Relations Act — dates back to 1838. It set a minimum wage of 25 cents per hour, to go up to 40 cents after seven years, a maximum work week of 44 hours before the end of 1939, 42 hours before the end of 1941, and 40 hours afterwards. But 1937 was needed between the constitutional recognition of the Wagner Act and its logical follow-up. That year saw the highest number of strikes ever (4740), a movement to extend unionism from areas of large concentration to vital knots of production with new forms of struggle and instruments of pressure of hitherto unknown efficacy. It began by founding the Steel Workers’ Organizing Committee, and following the success of this organizational move Big Steel, the impenetrable fortress of U.S. Steel, was forced to surrender to wage increases of 10%, an eight-hour work day, and a forty-hour work week. Then came Little Steel: 75,000 workers were forced to carry out a very hard struggle against the smaller steel-producing companies.

There was the “Memorial Day Massacre” in Chicago, and therefore a temporary labor defeat which only four years later was mended by the intervention of the political ally maneuvering the levers of government. But the high point of the clash took place in the automobile industry between the country’s most powerful union (UAW), and capital’s strongest corporations (Ford, GM, and Chrysler). The “sit-down strike” came into being and for 44 days production at General Motors was blocked in Flint, Cleveland, and Detroit. There was a court injunction to evacuate the factories, but it was ignored. There was an attempt to storm the factories by the police, but it was pushed back. “Solidarity forever” was the slogan that united workers inside and the population outside. Then came labor’s victory: collective bargaining with the UAW as a recognized counterpart. This American form of factory Occupation exploded, and soon Chrysler too had to give in. Only Ford would resist four more years before its first collective contract, but it would have to yield more: the infamous closed shop. The quantitative extension of strikes grew from 1937 to involve rubber, glass, textile, optical and electrical workers. Roosevelt and his egg-heads followed worried and utilized the movement in their battle within capital. The 1938 law concerning “fair working conditions” was an advanced political answer which only those struggles could have obtained. The labor struggle kept increasingly turning the public hand in its favor as soon as it understood that this hand was forced to give in because of its own needs.

We come to the war with a relation of forces violently shifted in favor of labor. What had never happened before became possible: the solution of the crisis gave power to the workers by taking it away from the capitalists. The move that followed was also logical and coherent. It was no longer the old socialist call for struggle against the war, but the most modern and subversive class-vindication conceivable: labor participation in war profits. In 1941, even before Pearl Harbor, the struggle centered once again around wages by automobile workers, shipbuilders, teamsters, construction workers, textile workers, and that vital point of war production which were the “captive mines” tied to the steel industry, and still having Lewis at the head of 250,000 men. In a year the average wage jumped up 20%.

During WW11 the American miners wrote a special chapter in the history of the class struggle which should be carefully studied. The War Labor Board was to no avail, and Roosevelt himself had to put on the hard mask of the workers’ enemy in dealing with them. In 1943 they added their massive organized power to the thousands of spontaneous strikes that exploded all over the country against the government and without unions. From here we have a growth of struggles that engulfed the last two years of the war and the immediate post-war period. 1946 is again like 1919. There are almost 5,000 strikes, involving almost 5,000,000 workers: 16.5% of the employed with 120 million work days lost. Practically every industry was involved in the labor conflict. The National Wage Stabilization Board could not curb the movement. A labor demand took precedence over all the others: peace wages equal to war wages

Here we find the slogans which were to reappear a quarter of a century later in the streets of Europe: “no contract, no work5” “52 for 40,” and an American form of labor control, “a look at the books.” The high points once again were in General Motors among the steel workers, the miners, and, even more, the railroad workers, The increase in the cost of living, typical of war-time, was followed by a mad chase of nominal wage which almost caught up with it. This was the beginning of the modern history of the class-relation between wages and prices, the unfolding of that deadly disease which our capital has learned to live with and which, in the diagnoses of the economist, is called the process of inflation stemming from the cost of labor.

This is the beginning of that dynamic of development as movement of struggles which will decide the destiny of modern capital: who will have to run it, and who will be able to use it. 1947 came in the U.S. under the sign of the “great labor fear” which had shaken the country the year before. It is incredible, but the Taft-Hartley law ultimately proposed to return the capitalists’ contractual power on an equal footing with that of the workers. This says it all concerning what had happened in the U.S. from 1933 on. The equation of the contractual ability of the two struggling classes — that classic demand for equal rights usually put forth by the weaker force against the deciding one-was advanced for the first time by the capitalists to be conquered or reconquered within their state. This is a revealing episode of a history which is still part of today, where it is not true that one class always dominates and another one is always dominated, but where, from time to time, in ever changing power relations, the power of one overcomes the power of the other.

This can take place independently of the institutional forms of power, and independently of the name under which the formal structure of society appears to the outside (whether it be called capitalistic or socialist) according to the ancient language dating back to the origins of our science. This is an historically rich episode of a strong synthesis of fundamental facts of the past: of decisive elements that the class-struggle had hitherto disorderedly accumulated. It is politically charged with a future not yet even scratched by the attacks of a labor movement which has succeeded in reaching that point, but has not been able to go beyond it. These 14 years between 1933 and 1947 in the United States are an historical fact of capital which is at the same time an action of labor politics. All that we had found separated in different periods and in different countries before this epoch we find here once again unified in a unique and complex network of facts and thoughts: the relation between struggles and capital’s political initiative, between struggles and science, between struggles and labor organization, i.e., the Progressive Era, Marshall’s Age, the epoch of social-democracy. Here they merge and recognize each other as separate parts of one whole precisely during these years in the U.S. where we see the conclusion of a classical phase of the class struggle which goes from after-Marx to before our actual possibilities of movement. To depart from the labor struggles in order to grasp the various levels of social development such as the state, science and organization, is something learned all of a sudden in these events. Afterwards, the labor struggle will always add itself to these levels taken together. This will be our real starting point both for analysis as well as class activity. But let us elaborate in a more extended way these concepts whose obscurity is not just apparent.

We have not yet reached the true institutionalism of the Wisconsin school. But we are already beyond a precise awareness of the political consequences that the scientific organization of work provokes in the class struggle within capital. There is a long line of thought and of practical experimentation that goes from the German Sozialpolitik to the American technique of Industrial Government. It would be worth following the path from Karl Knies’ “old” historical school to Gustav Schmoller’s “young” historical school, to its American transplant by Richard T. Ely, through Veblen’s rich and penetrating work, up to the institutionalists’ “Wisconsin theory:” Adams, Commons, Selig Perlman, and maybe even Tannenbaum. The study of work explodes, and has to be exploded at some point, within this line of investigation concerning the working class. Task management and, more generally, Industrial Engineering — the technology of industrial production as the scientific organization of labor — is the other side of the realistic articulation of the pragmatic approach to the moment of labor struggle or, as they put it, to the moment of conflict, as the basis of the various forms of class organization. Thus, we can better understand the “look and see” principle, the re-elaboration of the Veblenian concepts of “efficiency” and “scarcity,” and their possible construction through the corrective of “collective action.”

New Dealers avant la lettre, the institutionalists found themselves ready not only to accept, but also to theorize Roosevelt’s program. In his article on “The Principles of Collective Bargaining.” published in 1936, Perlman argued that the collective contract was less interesting for the statistical algebra of economic trends than the organizational discipline and the formation of the managers. “Job consciousness,” or the “communism of economic occasions,” the natural economic pessimism of labor groups, the absolute gap between labor’s and the political-ideological mentality, are not just brilliant definitions — the brilliant fruit of brilliant intellects. They are precious factual observations of what, has been the concrete historical condition of a working class in the country of generalized capital.

We all have in our past the original sin of having considered the working class as “an abstract mass in the grip of abstract forces.” The polemical rejection which has destroyed at its very inception the figure of the Marxist intellectual and which has always prevented him from intervening in the real struggles of the American labor movement, is one of the very rare traditions of the past which we will have to appropriate in the immediate future. If it is impossible to present the worker as the “Knight of the ideal” even by falsifying the data, then the labor scientist cannot appear as the teacher of revolutionary morality. Perlman has written that Commons was completely free of the most insidious kind of snobbery: to laud with condescension one’s superior brain to the cause of the weak.

Sichtbar machen

Sichtbar machen means to make visible: to say clearly in order to be understood, at the risk of not interpreting very well things intrinsically obscure. Despite the difficult title, this section is the easiest of all. We must avoid the temptation to deal with problems in dogmatic terms. Today, it is better to emphasize the critical terms of the situation and to initially inscribe the open problematic framework within which the investigation is to be undertaken.

It is useless to look for easy paths and shortcuts. Today, in order to understand, we must start from the most difficult points so to explain simple things through more complex ones. As already mentioned, for a contemporary Marxist there is a point of no return in the investigation. It is this modern sphinx, this obscure enigma, this social thing-in-itself which we know exists but which cannot be known: the American working class. Here we must focus our sights in order to see.

There is a form of restricted Eurocentrism which must be condemned: to refer only to the European revolutionary experiences whenever we seek or mention models of correct behavior in the struggle. That the history of the working class has had its epicenter in Europe and in Russia is a legend to be exploded. It is a 19th century vision which has remained to this day in virtue of those last splendid rays of the 19th century labor movement which, in Western Europe, are represented by the years immediately following WW I and the early 1920s. We talk about two major trends of the labor movement: social-democracy and communism. Yet, when compared to the American labor movement, in spite of their apparent irreducible diversity, both of them turn out to be connected. To unite the situation of the English or German working class to that of the Italian or French working class, one need only contrapose all of them to the situation of the U.S. working class. These are the two major trends in the history of labor struggles and the only ulterior particular viewpoint possible within the general labor viewpoint. It is not a matter of establishing a hierarchy of nobility, nor of compiling a list of preferences for one or the other. We must see how they play respectively in our context of class struggle, how they help us understand the facts, and how they advance, suggest, or exclude organizational tools in the factory. We must see them in relation to our possible effect upon state power.

From this viewpoint, the traditional disadvantages of the American class situation become opportunities for us. What is different in the American labor struggles is precisely what remains to be done on the old continent No, we do not want to reiterate the Marxian concept of the most advanced point explaining and outlining the most backward. It would be too easy. We have indicated elsewhere how this explanation hides the danger of political opportunism and turns out to be a manifestation of that passive waiting for events, which disarms the labor side politically while placing it in the historical rear guard. If we want to depart from the American labor struggles we must find other reasons. The Marxist analysis has not left us even a scheme of narratives of the major struggles, nor a model of how to judge major events. Although this seems to be a grave handicap to research, on closer analysis it may turn out to be an advantage. We have not ourselves hidden reality under ideological veils. Such veils would be the most difficult to tear since it is easy to criticize the ideology of the adversary, while it is difficult and occasionally impossible to criticize our own ideologies.

The history of the European working class is literally submerged under the ideas of Marxist intellectuals. But the history of the American working class is still naked, without anyone ever having thought it out. The less critique of ideology needed, the easier it is to further scientific discoveries. The smaller the contribution of leftist culture, the more the class pregnancy of a given social reality comes forward. Today, the labor struggles need a new standard of measurement because the old one is no longer either adequate or useful. A new standard of judgment has to be applied to the labor data [dati operai] of a given situation.

We need a standard rotating around the present in motion. We need a standard contained in that political type of industrial reality which marks the steps, the path, and the development of contemporary society. We must avoid measuring the present with the past, labor struggles with proletarian movements. We must not compare today’s reality with the earlier “glory” to which we are sentimentally bound. Also, we must avoid judging the present with the yardstick of the future and refuse modern management’s invitation to turn labor struggles into a kind of cybernetic — a psycho-industrial automatism at the service of collective profit. Today we must shy away from the two easy temptations: the historical tradition and technological futurism.

In his Economics, Samuelson opens the chapter on competitive wages and collective bargaining with a quote from the New Testament: “The labourer is worth of his hire,”43 and concludes with a section on the unresolved problems of labor, strikes, rising costs, and structural unemployment. According to him, the ability to strike succeeds in obtaining wage increases higher than increases in physical productivity. To keep away costly strikes through voluntary or binding arbitration leads to similar wage increases. He proceeds to say that, in the post-war years, in some countries, there has been an attempt to introduce a new element to collective bargaining and to macroeconomic policy, in order to maintain general increases in wages and in other monetary income to a rate compatible with the increase in productivity and with stable prices. But with respect to the control of the various types of wage dynamics, the mixed economy has become stabilized around a level of imperfect planning. If an income policy that would prevent inflation from sales through rising costs could actually be found, the ice block of structural unemployment could be dissolved through a growing collective demand reinforced by programs of retraining and relocation. But the trouble is that every point of the economic cycle “seems to have… a disturbing tendency.”

This is nothing new in capitalist development. Every downward turn of the cycle, it is provoked, preceded or followed by a determinate high development of labor struggles Such a downward turn is represented by a particular moment of the class struggle, and it is difficult to figure out why a certain development took place, how it developed and above all, which of the two classes can be said to have ultimately won The economist says that every point of the economic cycle has many tendencies which develop it and one that upsets it. In the best of cases, the entrepreneur turns to the economist in order to know which is the upsetting one. “The age of Knighthood is over…”

What once seemed absolutely right, has become only relatively economic. What is closer to that class truth coinciding with a particular class interest, the workers’ universal claim to a just wage or the distribution of income in a given country according to “Lorenz’ curve”? This must be preliminarily decided in its high level of development, capital has already substituted the precision work of computers for the rough approximation of professional ideologists. The “Philips curve” for the U.S. is decidedly “bad,” because it intersects the axis of price stability only at a high level of unemployment. The cost-push has become an institutional problem because the capitalist control of wages is yet to come. The Nobel laureate Samuelson, with his high science, after having observed the Dutch, British Italian Canadian, and American experience, left the entire question wide open.

Yet, we must not comfortably define as insoluble every problem that capital finds in the path of its development. We must not immediately say: you cannot resolve it, only we can solve it for you. A problem for capital is, first of all, a terrain for labor struggle. Its economic terrain is our political terrain. While capital looks for a solution we are only interested in increasing our Organizational strength. We know that one after the other, all of capital’s economic problems can be resolved. We also know that what appears here as an insoluble contradiction, elsewhere may have been already overcome or may have become another contradiction. From the labor viewpoint, the premise for a powerful and efficient class struggle moving in the sense of a positive violence is the specific knowledge of the specific contradiction for capital in a given moment in a given situation. A labor victory forces the backward owner to get even in various ways, on the simple quantity of the new part of income that labor has gained. Sometimes this happens for lack of economic margins and other times for lack of political intelligence. This is not the real point where the labor victory is turned into a defeat. In fact, such a crude answer by the owners only promotes the repetition of a cycle of struggles at the same level of the earlier one, with a higher charge of spontaneity and therefore a lesser need of organization. On this path, the movement of the struggles is easier, mobilization is both great and simple, and the moment of generalization is immediate. But the new contents and the new forms of the labor attack do not grow. Unless this massive obstacle to a frontal lash on a backward terrain is not first subjectively removed from the class forces, there will be no new labor struggles. In other instances however the owners’ answer can be advanced, After a partial defeat even following a simple contractual battle, capital is violently pushed to having to come to terms with itself, i.e., to reconsider precisely the quality of its development, to repropose the problem of the relation with the class adversary not in a direct form, but mediated by a type of general initiative which involves the reorganization of the productive process, the restructuring of the market, rationalization at the factory, and the planning of society. Here it seeks help from technology and politics in new ways of using labor, and new forms to exercise authority. Here is the real great danger of a possible labor defeat. The workers have won the bargaining battle, and precisely because of this they can lose the war of the class struggle over an occasionally long historical period.

This is why America can teach Europe. They can lose the war if the level of organization fails to quickly move forward to the new contents of the new struggles, if the consciousness of the movement, i.e., the already organized structure of the class, fails to immediately grasp the meaning of the coming capitalist initiative. Latecomers lose. It is not a matter of hurrying preparations for an answer to the owner’s moves. It is first of all a matter of foreseeing these moves and in some cases even of suggesting them. But it is always a matter of anticipating them with the forms of one’s own org4ntzation in order to render it not only unproductive for capitalist goals, but productive for the labor goals. For our part, the only needed answer is to the labor demand for a new organization at every new level of the clash. Capital’s move, its present initiative, both on the productive level as well as in the sky of formal policy, must itself be the answer. It must be the attempt to always resist the different forms assumed by labor’s attack imperceptibly recognized and, therefore, because of its historical nature and political choice, unpredictable from the organizational viewpoint.

Lenin used to say: there are different kinds of spontaneity. Today we say: there are different kinds of organizations. But even before all this, we must say: there are different kinds of struggles. A complete typology of labor struggles, with appropriate marginal comments, is a manual for the perfect unionist which we do not wish to put into circulation. In the ultimate context of the clash of classes in the Western world, the labor struggle has isolated some fundamental types which continually reappear by always raising the meaning of the contents and the dimension of the forces placed in movement. There is the great contemporary fact of the contractual struggle. For us it is a lived reality. It is a new type of temporal event which has already entered in the common usage of the man in the street. Yet, before it had already forcibly introduced itself in the normal existence of the average worker, in the calculations of the economist, in the projects of the politician, and in the mechanism of material functioning of all society. When, after a long and uncertain path, capital stumbles on the idea of collective bargaining with its labor-force guaranteed by state laws, an epoch of the class struggle ends and another one begins.

Collective bargaining discriminates between different historical levels of development and capitalism. It is more relevant in this respect than just the birth of finance capital, the various “stages” of imperialism, the so-called “ages” of monopolies. Here we have an example of that labor history of capital which is its actual history, and in front of which everything else is ideological legend, a dream of visionaries, the unconscious ability to mislead or the unwanted will to error on the part of weak subaltern intellectuals. ” A New Way of settling Labor Disputes”, according to the title of an old article of Commons is what forces capital to a qualitative leap towards its mature existence. The dynamic of class relations finds in the collective contract a form of periodic stabilization. The price of labor is fixed and remains so for a certain period of time: a new system of industrial jurisprudence and a new mechanism of representation of labor interests begin to operate.

According to Dunlop’s trajectory, collective bargaining is followed by an industrial relations system with three actors: managers for the enterprise, unions for the workers, and various means of critical institutional mediation for the government.

But the changing, critical and contradictory reality of the struggle cannot be captured in the scheme of an abstract sub-system of the Parsonian variety. Here is the point. The contract is first of all, struggle for the contract. The collective dimension of bargaining has rediscovered the collective nature of the struggle. As we move from the single factory to the entire industrial sector and the category, the number of participants grows and the struggle of exclusively working masses comes to the fore. This is not a small detail. For too long a time and even today labor struggles and masses’ struggles have been considered as mutually exclusive realities. As people in general the working masses could have reincorporated the acting minority of vanguard groups but failed to identify with their actions, dissolved their specific vindications in solutions of formal political demands, and moved the center of the clash from the factory to the streets, not against the state of always, but against the government of the moment. Even if it is not Sorel’s myth of the general strike, but, in Luxemburg’s sense, a struggle that precedes and makes the organization, the Massenstreik always ends up as an event for the movement not directly connected with the class. It takes on a class character only when the labor struggle assumes mass dimensions and the concrete Concept of laboring masses in struggle is born in real social relations rather than merely in the sacred texts of the ideology. Here the concept of mass is not in the quantitative accumulation of many individual units under the same condition of the so-called exploitation, because, otherwise the term “class” would be sufficient in its usual meaning of social statistics given to it by the Marxist tradition. Here it is a matter of a process of massification of the working class. It is a process of class growth of the workers and of internal homogenization of industrial labor power. If politics for us is labor struggle that leaps to increasingly higher levels of quality, and history is capital updating on this basis its technological and productive structures , its organization of work, its control and, its manipulative social instruments and substitutes upon the objective suggestion of its class adversary obsolete parts of its power mechanism, then politics always precedes history. There is no possible process of class other massification without first having reached a mass level of struggle. In words, there is no true class growth of the workers without mass labor struggle.

Collective bargaining lies precisely between massification of the struggle and massification of the class. We don’t start with the class: we come to it. Or better, we reach a new level of class composition. We begin with struggle. At the beginning the struggle will have the same characters that subsequently will result assigned to the class. It is not that before the mass labor struggle there was no working class. There was a different working class, in a lower level of development, with undoubtedly a lower degree of intensity of its internal composition, and with a shallower and less complex network of possible organization. It is an error to formalize a concept of “class” valid for all epochs of human history. It is an error even to define the class once and for all within the development of capitalist society. Workers and capital are not only classes contraposed to each other, but always changing economic realities, social formations, and political organizations. There are methodological problems to keep in mind here in the body of the investigation. Yet, this is not what must be stressed. As we have already indicated, we go from the struggle to the class: from the mass struggle to the massification of the class, but through the new reality, the new discovery, the new capitalist concept of collective contract. The labor struggle had already assumed mass-characters when capital forced it to become contractual struggle.

Collective bargaining is a form of control. It is not an attempt to institutionalize the labor struggle in general, but that specific form which encompasses, binds, and unifies the immediate material interests of a compact nucleus of labor categories within the corresponding sector of capitalist production. When in the content of the vindications, in the form of mobilization and in the models of organization, it assumes mass-characters, the labor struggle runs the risk of losing its working class specificity.

The original proletarian struggles along with certain kinds of 19th century labor struggles of our own century, have not only run this risk, but they have fallen victim to it. When the labor struggle begins to assume mass-characters without ceasing to be based on the working class. i.e., when the mass struggle becomes a labor struggle without ceasing to be massified, it is the beginning of a new political period and therefore of a new history. In other words, that is the not too distant point of origin of a possible labor new politics and therefore of capital’s first real new economics.

Labor’s new politics is articulated by the American labor struggles in the 1930s. In their more limited quantitative horizon, the Italian struggles of the l960s are the adequate reflex of this red sun that comes from the West. Here we face very important theoretical problems. We are not vet sufficiently mature to be able to prefigure the solution to a long and slow work of critical-historical investigation. For example, is it possible to abandon an “objective” definition of the working class? Is it possible to define as “working class” all those who subjectively struggle in the forms typical of the working class against capital from within the process of social production? Is it possible to finally separate the concept of working class from the concept of productive labor? And, in such a case, would it still remain connected to wages?

The problem is to find new definitions of the “working class,” but without abandoning the domain of objective analysis and without falling back in ideological traps. To evaporate the objective materiality of the working class in pure subjective forms of anti-capitalist struggles is a new ideological error of neo-extremism. Not only this, but to broaden the sociological borders of the working class in order to include in it all those struggling against capitalism from within it so to reach the quantitative majority of the social labor-force, or even of the active population, is a grave concession to the democratic tradition. On the other hand, to over-restrict these boundaries to the point of counting as workers “the few that count” can lead to the dangerous theorizing of the “acting minority.” We must cautiously keep away from these extremes. In this case, the analysis of the borders must be an observation of the facts. The consequences will come later. Where the working class ends is not the beginning of capital. The book to which this article is a postscript tended to see workers and capital within capital. The discussion added by this postscript tends to see workers and capital within the working class. Thus, the more recent tendency is to consciously complicate the domain of investigation, in the hope that this will open the way to the most simple solution.

Advanced capitalist society as capital today offers us a spectacle and gives us all the instruments to participate in this play of not just formal autonomies between political sphere and economic world, science and the short-term interest of capitalist production, between labor organization and class. The oversimplifications of economism — structure and superstructure obtain only for the first phase of capitalism which resembles pre-capitalist societies too much to be seriously considered politically. And the voluntarism of pure politics — revolution at all costs — is, if possible, even further back. It is still utopian, chiliastic socialism: a modern medieval heresy, admitted by the pope, as the class-church. Mature capitalism is a complex, stratified, and contradictory society. Such a society has more than one center claiming to be the source of power and struggling for supremacy among themselves, although this struggle can never be definitely resolved within its framework. This is what the immediate past tells us. It is worth studying only in order to find out what there is to study afterwards, i.e., now. In fact, we must not confuse the two levels.

Yesterday’s American political situation is the historical Western-European present. We must know that we are living events already lived yet without any pre-constituted outcomes, and without any sure conclusions. In Europe we are really at the fork between an elevation to the power of capital over everything and everyone, and boundless possibilities for the working class. This is, let us say, the plan for political action.

It is no accident that we have dealt with these topics. Then there is the other level. Today’s U.S. is the theoretical problem for the future of all. We have already hinted at this. It is worth reiterating. Today there is a kind of sensation, an idea felt more than thought, of having reached the final limit of a classic epoch of the class struggle. In spite of all that we have said, the American labor struggles may have had to be first translated in European language for the labor viewpoint to fully become conscious of them. This knowledge [presa di coscienza] is, above all, destructive for a tradition. In order to build, it is necessary to leave behind our very present of classical labor struggles, and enter, with the anticipation of the research, in a new post-classical epoch at the end of which, if the history of capital is of any help, it is not excluded that we might have the spark of a labor “general theory.” “They” will necessarily be forced to march towards new forms o( “Industrial Government.” “We” must reject the temptation to write Die Froehliche Klassenkampf. We must invent for practice, in a strategically long provisional time, never-yet-seen techniques of political use of the capitalist economic machine by the working class.

Notes * This article originally appeared in Italian as “Poscritto di Problemi,” in Mario Tronti, Operai e Capitale, second edition (Turin, 1971), pp.267-311. (This page was copied from the Class against Class website.)

1. Richard Hofstadter, The Age of Reform (New York, 1955), p.238.

2. Ibid.. p.244.

3. Quoted in The Age of Reform, Ibid., p.22.

4. Joseph A. Schumpeter, History of Economic Analysis (New York, 1954), p.384.

Essays in Biography (New York, 1933), p. 232, note.

6. G.D.H. Cole, A Short History of the British Working-Class Movements, 1789-1947 (London, 1948), pp. 269-270.

7. Ibid.. p.270.

8. A.C. Pigou, ed., Memorial of Alfred Marshall (London, 1925), p.156.

9. Letters and Journal of W. Stanley Jevons (London, 1896), p.169.

10. Keynes, op.cit.. p.188.

11. Georg Lukacs, Lenin, trans. by Nicholas Jacobs (London, 1970), p.80.

12. Max Weber, The Methodology of the Social Sciences, trans. by Edward A. Shils and Henry A. Finch (New York, 1949), p.16.

13. Max Weber, “Politics as a Vocation,” in H.H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills, eds., From Max Weber (New York, 1958), p.127.

14. Ibid.. p.115.

15. Georg Lukacs, op.cit.. p.95.

16. Cf Robert Ozanne, Wages in Practice and Theory (Madison, Wisc., 1968), “Appendix C,” pp.141-143.

17. As quoted in Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., The Coming of the New Deal (New York, 1965), p.137.

18. Ibid., p.22.

19. Ibid., p.588.

20. Ibid., p.576.

21. Ibid., p.404.

22. William E. Leuchtenburg, “The Roosevelt Reconstruction,” in Leuchtenburg, ed., Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Personal Profile (New York, 1967), pp.247-248. 23. Rofstadter,op.cit., p.321.

24. Thurman Arnold, The Folklore of Capitalism, as quoted in Hofstadter, op.cft., p.322.

25. Hofstadter, op.cit., p.321.

26. Schlesinger, op.cit., p.223.

27. John Maynard Keynes, Essays in Persuasion (New York, 1932). pp.247-248.

28.. Ibid., p.262.

29.. Ibid., pp.135-136.

30.. As quoted in Ray Ferbes Harrod, The Life of John Maynard Keynes (New York, 1951), p.447.

31. Ibid.

32. Ibid., p.448.

33. Ibid., p.449.

34. Ibid., p.450.

35. Keynes, Essays in Persuasion, op.cit.. p.322.

36. Ibid.

37. Keynes, Essays in Persuasion, op. cit., p.300.

38. Quoted in Schlesinger, op.cit., p.418.

39. Henry Pelling, American Labor (Chicago, 1960). p.178.

40, Schlesinger, op. cit., p.416.

41. John R. Commons, Labor and Administration (New York, 1913), p.74.

42. Ibid. p.75

43. Paul H. Samuelson, Economics (New York, 1970), p.547. Subsequent quotes have been omitted from later editions of Samuelson’s work.

Advertisements
Comments
  1. Victor says:

    is this the article which is also published in telos 1971 or 1972 as “workers and capital”?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s