Archive

Archive for the ‘The ‘Solidarity’ Group’ Category

The ‘Solidarity’ Group: Not so Solid (SPGB – 1969)

January 10, 2013 Leave a comment

‘The ‘Solidarity’ Group: Not so Solid’, Socialist Standard, No. 774 (February 1969)

1328449393_socialist-standard-february-2012-1

Men will never be free from exploitation and oppression until all work is voluntary and access to all goods and services is free. “Socialism” means a world-wide society, democratically controlled, without profits, wages or money. This is a practical proposition now.

All attempts to solve such problems as war, poverty, loneliness, miserable and degrading toil, inside a society based on wages and profits are sure to fail. We, alone of all political organisations, use Marx’s slogan “Abolition of the wages system!”

Thousands of people come forward with plans to re-arrange the wages system. They imagine that slavery can be operated in the interests of slaves! They are wasting their time.

One such school of thought is the political group which calls itself “Solidarity.” Their case is presented in a pamphlet entitled The Meaning of Socialism, which declares that the root of misery in work is, not wage-slavery, but the system of management.

The author, Paul Cardan, proposes to keep the compulsion to work through threat of starvation. He even quotes approvingly St. Paul’s injunction “He that does not work, neither shall he eat.” Production for the market is to be retained in Cardan’s “Socialism” but it is to be “a genuine market for consumer goods, with consumers’ sovereignty.” The wages system is to be retained. We are still to be hired and fired, disciplined and dragooned—but with a difference which Mr. Cardan sees as important: instead of the majority of workers being supervised by a specially trained section of workers (management) the entire work-force in each place of production will manage itself democratically, through workers’ councils. The key feature of “Socialism” is that it will “eliminate all distinct strata of specialised or permanent managers.”

The Socialist Party rejects “workers’ management” as a solution to workers’ problems. We insist on the abolition of wages.

It is to be feared that the tyranny of your mates might prove as terrible as the tyranny of your manager, if your mates are equally as bound up with production for sale on a market. This is the crucial difference between “Solidarity” and us. We say that tinkering with administrative forms is of no use. Buying and selling must be abolished. The wage packet—the permission to live—must be abolished.

The most crucial error in Cardan’s analysis is his belief that the essential features of capitalism can be retained, and can be guided by “workers’ management” towards humane and liberating ends. The market is to remain, but not, apparently, its laws. It should be obvious that if any enterprise produces to sell, and pays its bills out of its revenue, it will be subject to the same basic market laws as any other enterprise. Of course, at the moment these laws are observed and interpreted by management, which then makes the decisions and’ imposes them on the other workers in the interests of the shareholders. But it should have occurred to Cardan that these same laws might have the same force whoever does the managing and even if the shareholders, so to speak, are the workers. This is a suggestion which members of “Solidarity” ought at least to consider.

Perhaps they will say that the important thing is the removal of the ruling class. It is true that the capitalists, like all ruling classes, live in great luxury and possess immense power. But it is a mistake to think that the workers are poor because the capitalists consume so much. On the contrary, the wealth actually consumed personally by capitalists is an insignificant (and diminishing) fraction of total wealth produced. Taking the consumption of the capitalists and sharing it out amongst the workers would result in a rise for us all of only a few shillings a week. It is a fact that our masters live off the fat of the land, but if they starved in garrets we should still be slaves. Socialists an not primarily concerned, like vulgar moralists and apostles of “fair play,” to indict the caviar and yachts of the Paul Gettys, but rather the misdirection of production: the subordination of consumption to accumulation and the immensity of organized waste and destruction.

Similarly, though the capitalist class has power, we do not merely condemn the arbitrary, irresponsible decisions of those in high places. We condemn also the decisions which capitalists and workers are forced to make as a result of the workings of capitalism’s laws of motion.

“Capitalism without capitalists” could never in fact come about. Should the working-class reach a level of understanding where they could pressurize the ruling class out of existence, they would long since have passed the stage where they would have abolished the wages system and established Socialism. And there are several purely economic arguments why escalating differences in access to wealth would always result from a wages-profits system. But even if we suspend these judgments, and consider “Capitalism without capitalists” in our imaginations, we can see it would be no improvement on capitalism with capitalists. Workers collectively administering their own exploitation not a state of affairs Which Socialist aim for.

Some advocates of “workers’ control” advance the argument that although it wouldn’t solve workers’ problems it should still be supported because workers are too simple- minded to understand the abolition of wages, and must therefore be given “workers’ control” as the sugar on the pill (except that these gentlemen invariably then forget about the pill altogether). Cardan cannot use this line argument, and this is to his credit, for he has quite correct debunked it:

“The Party . . . “knows” (or believes that it knows) that the sliding scale of wages will never be accepted by capitalism. It believes that this demand, if really fought for by the workers, will lead to a revolutionary situation and eventually to the revolution itself. If it did it would “scare the workers off” who are not “yet” ready to fight for socialism as such. So the apparently innocent demand for a sliding scale of wages is put forward as feasible . . . while “known” to be unfeasible. This is the bait which will make the workers swallow the hook and the revolutionary line. The Party, firmly holding the rod, will drag the class along into the “socialist” frying pan. All this would be a monstrous conception, were it not so utterly ridiculous.”

We would certainly endorse this attack on Vanguardism, but it is hardly enough to compensate for the page loads of absurdities which Cardan peddles.

In order to make credible his notion of “Socialism” (capitalism minus capitalism’s laws) he says that modern techniques of production are introduced under capitalism more to reduce the freedom of workers than to increase profitability:

“Machines are invented, or selected, according to one fundamental criterion: do they assist in the struggle of management against workers, do they reduce yet further the worker’s margin of autonomy, do they assist in eventually replacing him altogether? . . . No British capitalist, no Russian factory manager would ever introduce into his plant a machine which would increase the freedom of a particular worker or of a group of workers to run the job themselves, even if such a machine increased production.”

This astonishing claim is made without the smallest shred of evidence being supplied. Whilst it is possible that a few shrewd managers may accept a cut in short-term profits for the sake of insuring long-term profits by fragmenting workplace organization, the intricate conspiracy necessary for Cardan’s sweeping statement to be true would be humorous to contemplate. It borders on paranoia to attribute “ever minute division of labour and tasks” to the management‘s conscious attempts “to combat the resistance of the workers.” Division of labour, and other atomizing and features of modern techniques, are primarily the results of attempting to maintain or increase the level of profits. Modern productive methods are dictated, at a given of technology, by market laws (that is, from the management’s point of view, laws of costs and revenue) and largely outside the will of the capitalists themselves, or that of the managers.

A lot of Cardan’s propositions are developed in contrast to what he calls “Marxism.” It is quite apparent that he is abysmally ignorant of Marx’s theoretical system; the “Marxism” he denounces is the crudest mish-mash of fifth-rate Bolshevism. That is doubtless a further condemnation .of the dire results of Bolshevik confusion-mongering, but it hardly excuses Cardan for making statements about Marx without having read him.

For example, in The Meaning of Socialism, we read:

“By “Socialism” we mean the historical period which starts with the proletarian revolution and ends with communism. In thus defining it, we adhere very strictly to Marx. This is the only “transitional period” between class society and communism.”

Marx of course, never drew any distinction between Socialism and Communism, and always gave these words identical meanings. “Solidarity,” like the “Communist” Party and Trotskyists, concede that it is necessary to abolish wages and money, but say that this is an “ultimate aim” (translation: not an aim at all).

It is also claimed that Marx has been proved wrong by what happened in Russia, because private property was abolished there without his predicted results. Cardan ought to consider Marx’s statement that as long as power over people exists, private property exists. Cardan further believes that Russia has abolished unemployment, which is admittedly not ignorance of Marx, but of Russia.

It is alleged that Marx saw the domination of men by machines as an inexorable consequence of the advance of technology, as a fact which had to be accepted even in Socialism. This is an outrageous howler. Marx was at great pains to stress that the domination of living labour by dead labour was in point of fact an optical illusion. When the instruments of labour appeared to be outside the control of Man, it was in actuality the case that Man’s social relations were outside his control. Thus when Engels talks about the “mastery of the product over the producer” he does not mean that the products are actually the masters, but simply that they seem to be, as long as producers cannot control their social organization of production. They will remain unable to do so as long as these are commodity relations (1). Socialists have always emphasised that in Socialism production will be organized not just to make more goods, but also to make work itself enjoyable.

Like most Left-wingers, “Solidarity” believe that the Russian Revolution was Socialist. This belief is not an accident, but is closely related to their other misconceptions. “The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living,” wrote Marx. The Nightmare of Leftism, which weighs so heavily on the brains of today’s Romantic Revolutionaries, is the tradition of capitalist revolutions: the glorification of bloody insurrection, a mystical “Peoples Will” or “Proletarian Consciousness” which has no connection with what people actually will, or what workers actually understand, and hence the disparaging of political democracy, and the theory that revolutionary workers can be “held back” by a Party apparatus. “Solidarity” is no exception. Its ideas belong to the past; they have no future.

On the October Revolution Mr. Cardan comments:

“Many people (various social democrats, various anarchists and the Socialist Party of Great Britain) have said that nothing really happened in Russia except a coup d’état carried out by a Party which, having somehow obtained the support of the working class, sought only to establish its own dictatorship and succeeded in doing so.

We don’t wish to discuss this question in an academic manner. Our aim is not to decide whether the Russian Revolution warrants the label of proletarian revolution. The questions which are important for us are different ones. Did the Russian working class play a historical role of its own during this period? . . . The independent role played by the proletariat was clear-cut and undeniable.” (From Bolshevism To The Bureaucracy.)”

To this we can only retort that the view attributed to the Socialist Party is surely too silly to have even been held by anyone. All capitalist revolutions are highly complex phenomena, and 1917 was no exception. Cardan’s aim “is not to decide whether the Russian Revolution warrants the label of proletarian revolution,” despite the fact that in his writings he persistently refers to it as such, no less than four times in this particular pamphlet prior to the above excerpt! Of course workers played an independent role in 1917. Workers have played an independent role in every capitalist revolution without exception. That should be elementary.

Two questions have to be asked; they answer themselves. Had Russia in 1917 reached a level of development where abundance for all was possible? And did the Russian working-class in 1917 possess a clear understanding of the need for a wageless, moneyless, stateless society?

To sum up, movements for “workers’ management,” “workers’ participation” and “workers’ control” (though their various adherents distinguish very loudly between these three) will probably be used by capitalism, as in Yugoslavia, to give workers the impression that the enterprise they work for in some way belongs to them. If all employees can be drawn into the process of management, and can be given the illusion of an identity of interests between workers and employers, this helps to muffle the trade union struggle and enhance the process of exploitation. This is not what the members of “Solidarity” want, but then neither is the present structure of the steel industry what Labour Leftists wanted. “Workers’ management” is a cul-de-sac, to replace the cul-de-sac of nationalization. Please, don’t take another fifty years to see through this one. . . .

We say that in an epoch of potential Plenty the cry should be, not “workers’ management,” but “To each according to his wants!”

(1) This point is made abundantly clear in Marx’s Wage Labour And Capital, and Engels’ Socialism, Utopian and Scientific, and is frequently stressed throughout Marx’s writings.

Maurice Brinton interview (1990)

January 5, 2013 Leave a comment

.

Interview with Chris Pallis (aka Maurice Brinton) produced by Agora International during the Cerisy Colloquium. He talks about the importance of Cornelius Castoriadis’ (aka Paul Cardan)’s ideas in his break from Trotskyism, and the ‘Solidarity’ group, of which he was the most prominent member.

Source: Agora International

Skeleton Staff at Grave’s End

May 19, 2012 Leave a comment

For all those who have to contemplate getting a summer job soon!

B. Booker, ‘Skeleton Staff at Grave’s End’,  Solidarity: For Workers’ Power, Vol. 2, No. 5 (Sept 1962), pp. 23-24

For four weeks, during my summer holidays, I had the misfortune of being a clerk in the Mutuality Club Dept. of the Gravesend Cooperative Society.

The Mutuality Club is in the fine, modern offices of the Co-op bank, in Harmer Street. When one first enters the bank, one is struck by the bright, cheerful atmosphere of the place. But the office is bare of the slightest amenities (except toilets). The Gracesend Co-op is run on a shoe-string. To illustrate this I will give some examples.

Many workers have no proper desks. They have to sit at long, low wooden benches. Chronic backache is common.

The Co-op is short of proper office chairs (i.e. chairs with padded seats and backs). Some unlucky workers are forced to sit on hard wooden seats, which further add to their misery.

There are not enough pens especially red ones which are used for checking. I was reduced to using my own!

There are no fire extinguishers in the bank offices. They are all in the office upstairs. The only exits to the street are via two doors opening onto Harmer Street. Presumably, if these are blocked during a fire, bank workers will twiddle their thumbs until rescued or burnt to death.

Rumours are going around that the main reason for these economies is that the ‘divi’ is shortly to be raised to 2/- in the pound.

For a 37 1/4 and a 4 3/4 hour week* I was paid £5.10.0. The rate is now $5.15.6. These hours were minus the half-hour tea break a day, spent in one of the dingiest rooms (called ‘lounge’) I have ever seen. The girls in the Check Office were highly honoured. They were paid five bob a week more as they ‘used machines’.

The work in the office (as in most offices) was most demoralising. It was more or less the same thing, day in, day out with only a rare change to another department, if lucky.

Most of the people I spoke to were thoroughly bored with it all. The girls were waiting to get married so as to leave. The boys (there were 3 of us) foresaw no possible future in the job. It is very difficult to get on in the Co-op unless you happen to be a Labour councillor or something. We were going to leave as soon as we found other jobs. It is absolutely false to say, as many bourgeois do, that people of ‘lower intellect’ want to do menial tasks.

There was practically no diffusion of labour in the office. Only three girls, for example, could handle a very simple telephone exchange. No attempt was made to teach anyone else to work it, in case of emergency. If one of the girls was absent – or in the toilet – when a call came through, the call would have to wait.

I saw an example of the most piddling piece of bureaucracy I have met for a long time. In Gravesend, the Co-op has recently changed its name from ‘The Borough of Gravesend Cooperative Society’ to ‘The Gravesend Cooperative Society’. Everything published before this momentous decision still as the word ‘Borough’ on it. Before one can even start to do any work, one has to scratch out the offending word. It was an offence not to do so, our secretary pompously explained to us. All this involves extra work, wastes time and is annoying. It is particularly annoying when one forgets to do it and has to go back over, say 250 vouchers, erasing ‘boroughs’.

In the four weeks I worked there, I never saw such a bunch of demoralised, fed-up people in all my life. They would have given anything to have gotten the hell out of there.

Brian Booker

Solidarity Minutebook

February 20, 2012 3 comments

I may be breaking a promise I made to someone by putting these pictures online, but things like this shouldn’t be hidden away, they should be available for everyone to know about.

Sherwood Anderson – Lift Up Thine Eyes

January 27, 2012 1 comment

This is taken from the oldest ‘Solidarity’ journal available at the Working Class Movement Library in Salford, bit of an interesting find due to Sherwood Anderson’s fame!

Agitator: For Workers Power (Vol. 1, No. 3), pp. 5-9

The following article, written in 1930 by American author Sherwood Anderson lays bare the essential nature of exploiting society – the utter subordination of human beings to an alien will in the process of production.
Political ‘sophisticates’ will no doubt argue the superior merits of ‘planned production’ and ‘state control’ as opposed to the ‘anarchy’ of competitive capitalism. For such people Socialism has been drained of all human content and hence of all meaning. They are obsessed with the legal forms of property, as if these were the fundamental reality and not the social relations between men at the point of production.
What Anderson describes here are the relations of production prevailing in a class divided society. He bases his story on an American plant; but who can doubt that similar relations exist in the nationalised British coal mines or in the tractor factories of Stalingrad. Anderson’s article points implicitly to the primary and most urgent task confronting the socialist revolution: the domination of the producer over the labour process, and the end to the degrading division between rulers and ruled.

Anderson in 1933

It is a big assembly plant in a city of the Northwest, They assemble there the Bogel car. It is a car that sells in large numbers and at a low price. The parts are made in one great central plant and shipped to the places where they are to be assembled. There is little or no manufacturing done in the assembling plant itself. The parts come in. These great companies have learned to use the railroad cars for storage.

At the central plant everything is done to schedule. As soon as they parts are made they go into the railroad cars. They are on their way to the assembling plants scattered all over the United States and they arrive on schedule.

The assembly plant assembles cars for a certain territory. A careful survey has been made. The territory can afford to buy so-and-so many cars per day. .

‘But suppose the people don’t want cars ?’
‘What has that to do with it ?’

People, American people, no longer buy cars. They do not buy newspapers, books, foods, pictures, clothes. Things are sold to people now. If a territory can take so-and-so many Bogel cars, find men who can make them take the cars. That is the way things are done now.

In the assembly plant everyone works ‘on the belt’. This is a big steel conveyor, a kind of moving sidewalk, waist-high. It is a great river running down through the plant. Various tributary streams come into the main streams the main belt. They bring tyres, they bring headlights, horns, bumpers for cars. They flow into the main stream. The main stream has its source at the freight cars where the parts are unloaded, aid it flows to the other end of the factory and into other freight cars. The finished automobiles go into the freight cars at the delivery end of the bolt. The assembly plant is a place of peculiar tension. You feel it when you go in. It never lets up. Men here work always on tension. There is no let-up to the tension. If you can’t stand it, get out.

It is the belt. The belt is boss. It moves always forward. Now the chassis goes on the belt. A hoist lifts it up and places it just so. There is a man at each corner. The chassis is deposited on the belt and it begins to move. Not too rapid. There are things to be done.

How nicely everything is calculated. Scientific men have done this. They have watched men at work. They have stood looking, watch in hand. There is care taken about everything. Look up. Lift up thine eyes. Hoists are bringing engines, bodies, wheels, fenders. These come out of side streams flowing into the main streams. They move at a pace very nicely calculated. They will arrive at the main stream at just a certain place at just a certain time.

In this shop there is no question of wages to be wrangled about. These men work but eight hours a day and are well paid. They are, almost without exception, young, strong men. It is however, possible that eight hours a day in this place may be much longer than twelve or even sixteen hours in the old carelessly run plants.

They can get better pay here than at any other shop in town. Although I am a man wanting a good many minor comforts in life, I could live well enough on the wages made by the worker in this place. Sixty cents an hour to begin and then, after a probationary period of sixty days, if I can stand the place, seventy cents or more.

To stand the pace is the real test. Special skill is not required. It is perfectly timed, perfectly calculated. If you are a body upholsterer so many tacks driven per second. Not too many. If a man hurries too much too many tacks drop on the floor. If a man gets too hurried he is not efficient. Let an expert take a month, tow months to find out just how many tacks the average good man can drive per second.

There must be a certain standard maintained in the finished product. Remember that. It must pass inspection after inspection.

Do not crowd too hard. Crowd all you can. Keep crowding.

There are fifteen, twenty, thirty, perhaps fifty such assembly plants, all over the country, each serving its own section Wires pass back and forth daily. The central office – from which all the parts come at Jointville – is the nerve centre. Wires come in and go out to Jointville. In so-and-so many hours WIlliamsberg, with so-and-so many men, produced so-and-so cars.

Now Burkesville is ahead. It stays ahead. What is up at Burkesville? An expert flies there.

The man at Burkesville was a major in the army. He is the manager there. He is a cold, rather severe, rather formal man. He has found out something. He is a real Bogel man, an ideal Bogel man. There is no foolishness about him. He watches the belt. He does not say to himself ‘I am the boss here’. He knows the belt its boss.

He says there is a lot of foolishness talked about the belt. The experts are too expert, he says. He has found out that the belt can be made to move just a little faster than the experts say. He has tried it. He knows. Go and look for yourself. There are the men out there on the belt, swarming along the belt, each in his place. They are alright, aren’t they ? Can you see anything wrong ?

Just a trifle more speed in each man. Shove the pace up just a little, not much. With the same number of men, in the same number of hours, six more cars a day.

That’s the way a major gets to be a colonel, a colonel a general. Watch that fellow at Burkesville, the man with the military stride, the cold steady voice. He’ll go far.

* * *

Everything is nicely, perfectly calculated in all the Bogel assembling plants. There are white marks on the floor everywhere. Everything is immaculately clean. No-one smokes; no one chews tobacco; no-one spits. There are white bands on the cement floor along which the men walk. As they work, sweepers follow them. Tacks dropped on the floor are at once swept up. You can tell by the sweepings in a plant where there is too much waste, too much carelessness. Sweep everything carefully and frequently. Weight the sweepings. Have an expert examine the sweepings. Report to Jointville.

Jointville says: ‘Too many upholsterers’ tacks wasted in the plant at Port Smith. Bellevile produced one hundred and eleven cars a day, with seven hundred and forty-nine men, wasting only nine hundred and six tacks.’

It is a good thing to go through the plant occasionally, pick out some man, working apparently just as the others are, fire him.

If he asks why, just say to him, ‘You know’.

He’ll know why alright. He’ll imagine why.

The thing is to build up Jointville. This country needs a religion.
You have to build up the xxxxx of a mysterious central thing, a thing working outside your knowledge.

Let the notion grow and grow that there is something superhuman at the core of all this.

Lift up thine eyes, lift up thine eyes.

The central office reaches down into your secret thoughts. It knows, it knows

Jointville knows.

* * *

Do not ask questions of Jointville. Keep up the pace.

Get the cars out.
Get the cars out.
Get the cars out.

The pace can be accelerated a little this year. The men have all got tuned into the old pace now.

Step it up a little, just a little.

• * *
This have got a special policeman in the Bogel assembling plants, They have got a special doctor there A man hurt his finger a little. IT bleeds a little, a mere scratch. The doctor reaches down for him. The finger is fixed. Jointville wants no blood poisonings, no infections.

The doctor puts men who want jobs through physical examination, as in the army. Try his nerve reactions. We want only the best men here, the youngest, the fastest.

Why not?

We pay the best wages, don’t we ?

The policeman in the plant has a special job. That’s queer. It is like this: Now and then the big boss passes through. He selects a man off the belt.

‘You’re fired.’
‘Why ?’
‘You know.’’

Now and then a man goes off his nut. He goes fantoed. He howls and shouts. He grabs a hammer. A stream of crazy profanity comes from his lips.

There is Jointville. That is the central thing. That controls the belt. The belt controls me.
It moves. It moves. It moves.

I’ve tried to keep up . I tell you I’ve been keeping up.

Jointville is God. Jointville controls the belt. The belt is God.
God has rejected me.

‘You’re fired.’

Sometimes a man, fired like that, goes nutty. He gets dangerous.
A strong policeman on hand knocks him down. Takes him out.

* * *

You walk within certain definite white lines.

It is calculated that a man, rubbing down automobile bodies with pumice, makes thirty thousand and twenty-one arm strokes per day. The difference between thirty thousand and twenty-one, and twenty-eight thousand and four will tell a vital story of profits or loss at Jointville.

Do you think things are settled at Jointville, or at the assembling plants of the Bogel car scattered all over America ? Do you think men know how fast the belt can be made to move, what the ultimate, the final pace will be, can be ?

Certainly not.

There are experts studying the nerves of men, the movements of men. They are watching. Calculations are always going on. The thing is to produce good and more goods at less cost. Keep the standard up. Increase the pace a little.

Stop waste. Calcualte everything.

* * *

A man walking to and from his work between white lines saves steps. There is a trememdous science of lost motion, not perfectly calculated yet.

More goods at less cost.

Increase the pace.

Keep up the standards.

It is so you advance civilisation.

Ian Bone – Carbon Black

January 2, 2012 1 comment

Taken from Solidarity: For Workers’ Power, Vol. 6, No. 10

This article is a follow-up to the one on the ‘Politics of Community Action’, published in our last issue, in which we sought to demystify people concerning the activities of well-meaning but misguided radicals, busying themselves in the ‘community action’ field. The present text counterposes to such activity a form of direct action, initiated and kept under the control of the people themselves. It also shows how ordinary people are beginning to struggle against pollution.

Worker at carbon black plant, Sunray, Texas (Library of Congress)

The United carbon Black factory, situated in the Port Tennant area of Swansea, produces carbon blacks for use in car tyres. It is American controlled, Although large in size it only has a small, non-union labour force.

Besides carbon blacks the factory also produces clouds of black smut and dirt which constantly rain down on the houses nearby. This makes it impossible for washing to be hung outside. Within an hour it is filthy, so all washing has to be dried indoors. But the dirt also comes indoors, covering food, furniture, children and babies. A local manager of the factory once remarked that the people of the area were living in slums anyway, we why were they complaining about dirt?

Port Tennant is a working class area composed of rows of terraced houses. It has returned Labour councillors since time immemorial. Twenty years of protests to the Labour Council have not however changed the situation as regards the pollution.

In January 1970 local housewives dumped their dirty washing at the Guildhall and temporarily blocked the road leading to the factory. In response to this the management installed a new burner in March 1970, claiming this would end the “muck-spreading”.

By January 1970 the situation was as bad as ever. Having tired of useless protests to the Council, to M.P.s and to the local Health Department to people of Port Tennant decided to act on the own behalf. At a meeting on January 26, it was decided to block the road leading to the factory indefinitely, until the filth it spewed out ended.

To maintain surprise a Committee consisting of one representative from each street in the area was elected to decide the time of the action. When the time came each Committee members would inform all the households in his or her street.

On February 1 it was announced at a Council meeting that the Carbon Black factory was planning to increase production by 25%. At 9.30 a.m. on February 3, fifty housewives moved onto the road leading to the factory and stayed there, The aim was not a symbolic temporary blocking of an entrance. It was to be permanent obstruction until production was brought totally to a halt or the pollution ended. The housewives were also determined to remain until the plans for expansion had been scrapped.

Cars and lorries bringing in supplies were turned away, but police escorted empoyees and others through the crowd on foot. The blockage continued throughout the night, much to the annoyance ad surprise of the management who had confidently told lorry drivers to park ‘round the corner’ and deliver during the night. If the management had any further doubts that the road blockers were there to stay these were son dispelled. A large tent was pitched on that road and a fire built up. Chairs, stores and radios were brought in. Meals were cooked on the spot. Local trades-men brought in wood, coal and other supplies. A fish ad chip shop sent a huge tray of free pies and another small shop stayed open till 4.00 a.m. to supply the night shift with tea and sandwiches.

As the days went by, the organisation improved. To combat the cold weather – there were strong gales with driving sleet and rain throughout the first weekend of the protest – ropes were slung across he road at head hight, and large tarpaulins draped over them. To one of these tarpaulins was attached a notice reading “We’re not budging, even if we catch pneumonia”.

Shifts of fifty a time were organised on an informal basis – “We just dash round each others’ houses to see who can or can’t go on blockade duty”. The whole pattern of everyday life was changed. The women were getting up early to cook breakfast for husbands and children, then going immediately to guard the factory entrance against lorries trying to enter. Then, sometime during the day, they would take a two-hour break to do essential housework. At night the men took over – often coming straight from work.

Even the local newspaper was moved to write “It is in the evenings that the comradeship is most evident. Fighting spirit becomes akin to party spirit as people bring portable record players and share their food.”

Many of the men took their winter holidays to take part, though one remarked “We don’t normally spend our holidays on the Port Tennant Riviera”. The humour of those taking part was apparent throughout.

On Shrove Tuesday a fancy dress and hot pants pancake race was run round the factory and the residents turned out en masse to join in the fun. By staging such events the road blockers were able to keep their morale high at a tie when lack of sleep and terrible weather could easily have dampened enthusiasm.

During all this time no vehicles of ay kind were allowed to enter or leave the factory, though employees were able to come and go. It was not long before this had an effect on production, although a full week elapsed before the management admitted that production had been cut back.
At the end of three weeks several departments had bee closed down and the employees were being put on maintenance work. Since no lorries could leave the factory all finished products were being stockpiled.

At this stage the management proposed a “truce”. This was immediately rejected. The management then stated that they were meeting their legal requirements (and they were). They appealed to the Secretary of State for Wales to back them up. Swansea Council had also referred the matter to the Welsh Office, being only too pleased to pass the buck. The fact that the management were not taking some initiatives revealed that they were not seriously concerned at the protesters threat to stay till Christmas (“the one after next”, as the local people were at pains to point out).

Peter Thomas, Secretary of State for Wales, (and also Chairman of the Conservative Party) stated on February 12 that the report of a Welsh Office Alkali Inspector showed that the factory was indeed meeting its legal requirements. Some interesting facts then emerged about Thomas’ position. The Carbon Black parent company is Anchor Chemicals Ltd. The Deputy Chairman of Anchor Chemicals is Sir Clyce Hewlett, an active member of the Conservative Party and friend of Peter Thomas, whom he met at the young Conservatives’ Conference at Eastbourne, during the blockade Thomas’ decision came as no surprise.

There followed another report, this time by Britain’s Deputy Chief Alkali Inspector. This ended with the same result. Edgar Cutler summed up the thoughts of the road blockers when he said “We’ve not been hanging around here 24 hours of the day for 17 days for nothing. We will continue our stand”. It was noted that as the Inspector arrived, the works momentarily went out of production; no smoke come out of the stack that day. As soon as the Inspector left; production started up again.

Production was now being increasingly affected. On February 26 a meeting was held in Cardiff, between the road blockers, the management and Swansea Council. The management made some concessions. The promised to control the smut and grime more effectively, stating that they were to spend £200,000 on pollution-control. The factory was to be thoroughly spring-cleaned. Lorries would be re-routed. More importantly it was agreed to half production when strong easterly winds were prevalent (surely a unique agreement in British industry). A Liaison Committee was to be formed consisting of the management, the Port Tennant residents and the council. This Committee was to keep a continual watch on the pollution situation, enabling the residents to exert some control over the situation. It was hinted that the expansion plats were to be dropped.

Were these proposals a victory for the residents or not? Obviously this would depend on how they were interpreted. What constitutes “a strong easterly wind”? Would the decisions of the Liaison Committee have any weight? Would the new expenditure by the management really take place? And it so, would it be any more effective than previous expenditure in stopping pollution? Only time would tell.

Given these terms, the residents reluctantly agreed to life the blockade. Howard Bevan spoke for many when he said “A lot of us are not satisfied. We’ve heard all these promises before. Although we have taken down our shelter we have stored it near the entrance. If Carbon Black don’t keep their promises we won’t take long to erect it again. All we can do now is wait and see what the outcome will be If we blockade again it will be on a much larger scale than during the last three weeks.” Three days later it was announced that the plans for the extension of the factory had been shelved.

The blockade had lasted 24 days, in the middle of winter. After years of asking the Council to do something for them the people of Port Tennant had acted unitedly, on their own behalf. At the end of it many who had taken part were despondent about what they had achieved. But they were not despondent about the type of action they had undertaken. All were contemptuous of the Council and confident that in the future it would only be by their own action that they could change the situation. If they had not got all they wanted it was because their action had not been strong or direct enough, not because it what been the wrong type of action.

The people of Port Tennant had however established some important principles, and shattered some myths in the process. The management of a large factory has been forced to allow those who lived near it to have some measure of control over its production (i.e. no production when there was an easterly wind, and shelving of the plans for expansion).

Direct action has gone beyond the range of the symbolic protest:
You don’t show that you could close the factory if you wanted to – you try and do it!

The concern of politicians and businessmen over “pollution” has been expressed for the sham it is. The Carbon Black factory was operating quite legally as its filthy much ruined the peoples’ homes and health. Peter Thomas, one of the Tories whose concern for the environment is never off his lips, was quite happy to see the pollution continues. The pollution could be stopped entirely if the management was willing to spend the money. The people of Port Tennant knew this. The management had been refusing as this would have meant cutting into profits.

Mrs Barbara Davies summed it up simply: “I remember picking water lilies, wild irises, bulrushes, and blackberries from the banks of the canal. As children we swam there. There were swans and we held fishing competitions. Now we have to wash our windows every day, spend at least 15/- a week on a family wash at the launderette and dare not put a baby in its pram in the garden. All this when everyone’s talking about pollution ad conservation.”

Finally, and most important, the people of Port Tennant have discovered in themselves a new sense of comradeship and self-conficen in their own ability to take action and change their surroundings. This will not quickly be lost.

A few weeks ago the Chief Public health Inspector of Swansea referred to the smashing of pollution-deposit gauges on an old cinema in Port Tennant. He said “it seems that out attempts to look after the interest of the community are not appreciated”. He can say that again! As one of the women said: “I don’t need an Alkali Inspector to tell me if my babies’ nappies are dirty”. Now she can add that she doesn’t need a Councillor to tell her how to put an end to it, either.

Ian Bone.

McIver – Revolution Re-Affirmed: Mysteries of Cardanism Part 2

December 31, 2011 Leave a comment

Showing his profound ignorance of Marxism, Cardan asks the following theoretical questions in Revolution Re-Affirmed (RR):
“Where, since 1923 (date at which Lakacs’ “History and Class Consciousness’ was published) has anything been produced which has advanced Marxism? Where, since 1940 (date of Trotsky’s death), has a single text been written defending traditional Marxist ideas at a level which allows one to discuss them without blushing? Where, since the Spanish Civil War has a self-styled Marxist group participated in any meaningful way – and according to its own principles -in a genuine activity of the masses? Quite simply: nowhere’.” (p6)

The ultimatistic, categorical flavour of these statements shouldn’t terrorise the reader of Cardan. We are used to his grandiose oversimplifications paraded as “new” theories. The best way to begin to bring together the loose ends in the above quoted paragraph is to subject Cardan’s assertions to a rigorous historical analysis.

Firstly, we are puzzled at the assertion that Lukacs’ 1923 book “advanced” Marxism. In what sense are his forumulations about reification superior to Marx’s? It indeed was revolutionary for Lukacs to bring back – philosophically at least – some of the cornerstone of Marx’s methodology. This was especially so when the doctrinaire and positivistic practice of Social Democracy had buried that revolutionary kernel, and the Leninism of the Comintern had proven to be merely voluntaristic Kautskyism. So, Lukacs was in a way being “traditional”, – in what way does that amount to an “advancement”? Lukacs also posed the question of reification in an entirely a-historical way, which allowed him to become a rabid ultra-Leninist when the pressing issues of the day confronted revolutionaries. On the question of the party vanguard, on the question of the trade unions, his views were not an “advancement” but rather a retrogression – a retrogression towards Leninism, the ideology of state capitalism today. It is no accident that the latter-day “Lukscsians” are in agreement with Leninists on the fundamental issues of the class struggle. Philosophically, people like Leszek Kolalowski and Lucien Goldman are cases in point. If Cardan wants to mention “advancements” of their sort, we recommend Antonio Gramsci’s The Modern Prince. A more down to earth apology for centralised state bureaucracy.

Unfortunately for Cardan, after 1940 many texts were written that allowed one to discuss without “blushing”. As a matter of fact. Trotsky’s writings do produce blushings, and did produce blushings in many revolutionaries at the tine of their publication. Trotsky’s discussions on bureaucracy, for example, are sophomoric and actually were retrogressions theoretically and practically. His refusal to accept that a private-propertyless bureaucracy could be a class ignored the historical precedents of Asiatic formations, or Engels’ statements about the capitalist nature of the bourgeoisie’s “official representative”: the state. Many revolutionaries were able to see the Russian bureaucracy as a capitalist class, or as a stratus dedicated to capital accumulation. Socialists didn’t have to wait to read Chalieu’s 1949 writings on the Russian relations of production o become aware of these problems.

The term “Spanish Civil War” in itself is a mystification. When we talk about the 1917 Russia Revolution we don’t allude to it as the “Russian Civil War – it was a working class revolution. The same goes for Spain, it was a proletarian revolution. For Cardan, the use of Republican verbiage in this case is a natural mistake, a corollary to his assumption that the POUM participated “according to its principles” in the Spanish Revolution. Was joining the Catalonian Generalidad part of its “principles”? Was such a reactionary section (plus many others) a “meaningful” participation with the masses? The POUM may have been “self-styled” Marxist, but was that Bukharinist bloc really Marxist?

The examples that Cardan cites to prove “the end of classical Marxism” are all suspect, partly due to omission of relevant historical data and mainly due to Cardan’s own political views. What he understands as “classical Marxism” is perhaps his own past “Marxism”, a misunderstanding one can put up with but not excuse.

The Marxism Cardan should have been attempting to criticise is the one expressed by diverse oppositional currents in the 3rd International which held revolutionary positions on the question of the workers councils. On the nature of reformism; some were against the Russian ruling class explicitly before and after Kronstadt. But Cardan never wastes time with such currents. Like Deutscher. He probably thinks that those “sects” were not influential enough or were perhaps utopian. Ultra-left marxism wasn’t historically “successful’. But then neither has a world proletarian revolution. [???] political practice, however, means nothing if we don’t assume [???] such development, such ‘success’. Is possible and necessary to [???]

Cardan’s arrogant disregard for the ultra-left could be understood as rejection of even the heritage of Socialisme ou Barbarie when it still thought itself as Marxist. After all, the review appeared after 1923, not to mention 1940! The many excellent essays by Cardan himself, by Mothe, Lefort, Bricianer and others, were advancements in Marxism in the early 50’, in spite of their implicit acceptance of Leninism. The Cardan of the 60’s is no longer the same thing.

The treatment of ‘modern capitalism’ in RR is inferior in quality to Cardan’s previous text, Modern Capitalism and Revolution. A Critique of the latter is included in this collection of documents, so we won’t dwell on Cardanite ‘economics’ here. What is important in RR is its treatment of classes. On p9 we read: ‘For classical Marxism the division of society was between capitalists, who owned the means of production, and property-less proletarians. Today the division must be seen as between order-givers (dirigeants_ and order-takers (executants).’

And ‘Society was seen as dominated by the abstract power of impersonal capital. Today we see it dominated by a hierarchical and bureaucratic structure, affecting all aspects of social life.’ (ibid, p9)

Thus for Cardan the dominant contradiction ‘…within capitalism is exemplified in the type of cleavage between management and execution which modern capitalism brings about.’ (p10)

Cardan’s views of bureaucracy remain hopelessly trapped within a Trotskyist framework. In the 50’s, Cardan began to talk of bureaucracy as something which Marxism hadn’t predicted, a category which couldn’t be dealt with ‘traditional’ methods of thinking. In this he was simply following a long tradition in the Trotskyist movement. When Trotsky was defending his views of Russia as a ‘degenerated workers state’, he inevitably showed an incapacity to understand an alternative critique: that one provided by the theory of state capitalism. Instead, he gave signs that he would have accepted a view of Russia as a sort of ‘bureaucratic-collectivist’ society, a ‘new’ type of exploitative society. In Trotsky’s views, capitalism can only be the impersonal power of capital expressed through private property. Cardan’s views of the 50’s don’t challenge this methodology. According to him, the bourgeoisie was abandoning the historical arena to the ‘bureaucracy’. Empirically, such a view contains a lot of truth, but it fails to understand why this is so.

Cardan’s early views were challenged by many revolutionaries: by Munis, by Bordiga (the latter wrote a very biting polemical attack against Cardan’s ‘new’ ideas in an essay called ‘La Batrachomyomachie’) and others. Cardan’s views on bureaucracy failed to stress that bureaucracy has always existed in capitalism (the enlightened monarchs. The Prussian bureaucracy, the Meiji technocracy, etc.) The need to accumulate and concentrate capital in a period of capitalist decadence brings also the emergence of totalitarian political forms. The frenzied need to accumulate or facilitate accumulation. Required a centralised state machine which can (not without creating serious social upheaval) attempt to accumulate capital on its own, liquidating the old bourgeois class. The crux of the question here is not the ‘bureaucratisation of the world’ but rather the mechanisms of capital formation which facilitate or require a historical tendency towards bureaucracy.

The question of classes and Cardanism’s rejection of the relationships created by ownership/control of the means of production is crucial to Solidarity’s practice.

At times Cardan in RR engages in this type of sophistry: ‘…to speak today of the proletariat as a class is to indulge in purely descriptive sociology: what united workers as identical members of a group is imply the sum total of the common passive features imposed on them by capitalism [and by Cardan, We should add], and not their own attempt to define themselves as a class, united and opposed to the rest of society, either through their activity-even peiecemeal-or through their orgaisation-even that of a minority.’ (RR,p17)

What the hell is this supposed to mean? That we can’t refer to the working class? Should we instead relate to the ‘piecemeal’ efforts of each Cardanite to bore us to death?

Some London Cardanites believe that the working class are ‘order-takers’ and that the capitalists are the ‘order-givers! This permits them to continue to believe that the notion and reality of the working class as the only revolutionary class has some place in Solidarity’s theory and practice. This allows them to present their faces with some air of credibility to workers, particularly in factories. At this point the right-wing Cardanites (ie, the real, consistent ones keep their heads down.

The middle-of-the-road Cardanites recognise that he situation is not too clear-cut. They try to unite that which can’t be united. A populist approach (the ‘authority’ question) and a revolutionary materialist one. Thus these Cardanites have many revolutionary agencies: students, teachers, Cardanites, priests, schoolchildren, ‘youth’, some workers (those who aren’t ‘sociological’) and who knows what else.

But the real Cardanites. Those who accept Cardan’s latest viewpoint, still haven’t taken over the group completely, though this is just a matter of time. With Cardan, they hold that the important division now (the most ‘modern’ one that is ) is between ‘those who accept the system and those who reject it! This is a vulgar psychological banality and we shouldn’t waste too much time with it. It means that Cardanites have theoretically prepared themselves to enter into all kinds of populist experiments, reactionary alliances and organisational demise. There is no need to have a group if the ‘acceptance or refusal’ view point is held. Each Cardanite can say that he or she ‘refuses’ the system and leave it at that. Many of Dostoevsky’s heroes, Genet’s Queens, lumpenproletarians. Manson’s friends could apply for membership in Solidarity. Why not? A lunatic or an assassin certainly ‘refuse’ the system more than any loud-mouthed Cardanite! Moral stances would now be the criteria for being a revolutionary.

As a final point we should say that the marxist concept of the division of society into materially determined class does include authority relations. It also provides a framework to analise and relate to other social groups which Cardan stupidly assumes were ‘marginal’ to Marxism. The ‘order-giver order-taker’ equation doesn’t give us a clue as to why orders have to be given or what kinds of orders are we referring to . As in all categories of Cardanism, we begin from subjective and arbitrary definition, devoid of material foundations.

JM