A - I n f o s
a multi-lingual news service by, for, and about anarchists **

News in all languages
Last 40 posts (Homepage) Last two weeks' posts

The last 100 posts, according to language
Castellano_ Català_ Deutsch_ Nederlands_ English_ Français_ Italiano_ Polski_ Português_ Russkyi_ Suomi_ Svenska_ Türkçe_ The.Supplement
First few lines of all posts of last 24 hours || of past 30 days | of 2002 | of 2003

Syndication Of A-Infos - including RDF | How to Syndicate A-Infos
Subscribe to the a-infos newsgroups
{Info on A-Infos}

(en) Rebel Worker Vol.22 No.4 - Report on "Workers' Control" Conference, Sydney 10-12 Oct.

From Jura Books <a-infos-@chaos.apana.org.au>
Date Thu, 25 Dec 2003 15:58:34 +0100 (CET)

A - I N F O S N E W S S E R V I C E
News about and of interest to anarchists
http://ainfos.ca/ http://ainfos.ca/index24.html

From Rebel Worker Vol.22 No.4 (183) Dec-Jan 2004 Paper of the
Anarcho-Syndicalist Network, Subs. $12 pa in Australia $25 pa airmail
overseas. PO Box 92 Broadway 2007 NSW Australia; rworker@chaos.apana.org.au
Was the Workers' Control Conference really a Workers' Control Conference?
As regular readers of RW would know, various people associated with the
Jura Books milieu combined their efforts to present a Conference on
Workers' Control over the period of Friday, October 10th, to Sunday,
October 12th, at the UTS campus at Haymarket, Sydney.

My purpose here is not to evaluate or criticise the content of any of
the talks. Many of these were excellent and provided much food for
thought for workers' control activists. Others were not so good.
One concern I would have liked to have had in the wake of this
conference, would have been the question of whether the event made any
headway towards inculcating the idea of workers' control as a strategy
for the radical democratisation of class society amongst workers. But
since almost no workers turned up despite heavy leafleting this in
itself is an important topic for discussion but must be set aside for
another occasion this hoped for concern of mine is a non-issue. My
primary concern now is whether the conference had an inspiring affect on
those who did attend primarily people associated with the left
political subculture.

To begin musing on this concern I might compare certain aspects of the
first workers' control conference held some thirty years ago with the
one just recently past. A major difference is that thirty years ago
most of the people who organised and attended the conference were
working class militants whose lives outside the workplace were, for the
large part, devoted to increasing the social power of workers. Many of
these were associated with the Communist Party of the day which was
actively pushing the strategy of workers' control many were not.

Workers' control for these people held the promise of speeding up and
democratically shaping the militant offensive many workers were already
taking part in as a result of the objective conditions of the time.
Workers had strong bargaining power in the labour markets of the day due
to factors such as effective full employment, the existence of a
building boom in Sydney, etc., so they felt confident in making demands
of bosses and having them met. The confidence produced by the successes
of this militant phase contributed greatly to producing workers' control

It was not merely a greater empowerment within the confines of
capitalism that militant workers pursued. Rather, they perceived the
possibility that collective, democratic, workplace-based industrial and
social activism had revolutionary implications that could lead to the
abolition of capitalism provided that workers could develop and
implement the strategies to take the struggle that far. Ultimately,
capitalism could be replaced with a form of socialism based on the
sovereignty of workers' councils which would be brought into existence
via the strategy of workers' control.

The militants involved with this first workers' control conference in
1973 were working class militants who lived working class lives and
understood first hand from their lived experience what the interests of
working people are. The conference attempted to translate workers'
particular interests into generalised but practical class struggle
strategies, and to popularise these throughout unions and workplaces.
The establishment of socialism was a practical possibility for these

The Workers' Control Conference that was held a few weeks ago was a very
different kettle of fish. This was a workers' control conference at
which there were very few workers, a fact primarily due to the
destructive effects of 20 years of neo-liberal attacks on workers and
unions by bosses and governments, including Labor governments, which has
led to low morale and passivity amongst what is left of the organised
working class. The vast majority of those who organised and attended
this conference heralded from what I shall describe as the milieu of the
Self-Appointed Political Left (SAPL). Those who comprise the SAPL are
usually intelligent, well-educated, well-meaning individuals of lower
middle class origins, whose politicisation begins at high school and/or
university. Their taking up of left-wing political positions on various
questions comes about not through their actual, lived experience of
working life SAPLs, for the most part, have no such experience but as
a result of feeling moral outrage at the ‘injustices' they witness in
the world around them, and in the histories and sociologies they study.

They elect to become leftists; they appoint themselves, as it were.
When SAPLs enter the workforce they tend to go into areas where, quite
naturally, they can make use of their educational qualifications:
teaching, university tutoring and lecturing, librarianship, journalism,
information technology, professional officers in the public service,
industrial officers in trade unions, etc., etc., etc. Doing clerical
work is about as blue collar as SAPLs tend to get. The jobs they do are
thus of the more individualistic and personally satisfying variety, and
are far lower on the scale of exploitation and alienation than blue
collar work. The political outlook that this kind of life experience
produces is not of the same quality that one finds in the militant
worker. The militant worker's politics do not develop from a sense of
outrage at witnessing someone else's misfortunes; they are the result of
a lived experience of exploitation, class struggle and the pursuit of
working class interests at the point of production. While the militant
workers associated with the workers' control movement of thirty years
ago may have mostly had little formal education their direct experience
of the class struggle, their reading of class struggle literature, and
their discussion of political and industrial issues at union and party
meetings provided them with a more accurate conception of the nature of
capitalist society and the nature of the tasks that lay ahead than many
SAPLs could ever hope for.

SAPLs, because they mostly lack direct and prolonged experience of class
struggle at the coal face are, therefore, frequently very unfocused in
their political activity and the issues that they choose to get
political about. Because the basis of their politics is ‘moral outrage'
and not 'lived experience', SAPLs are constantly being ‘outraged’ by
capitalist society’s every misdemeanour and thereby lose sight of its
main crime, if, indeed, they ever had it in sight in the first place.
They thus have a propensity to run around from one demonstration to the
next, from one ‘issue’ to the other, expending a lot of energy but doing
nothing that seriously challenges capitalism at its base (the point of
production). For the SAPL, all instances of apparent oppression possess
a kind of bizarre relativism based on the amount of perceived oppression
located in a given situation. The SAPL sees a hierarchy of oppression
between, say, an Aborigine dispossessed of land (most oppressed), a
housewife stuck at home with three kids and a meagre stipend from her
husband (quite oppressed, but not as oppressed as the Aborigine), and a
worker on lousy pay (not nearly as oppressed as the previous two). What
the SAPL doesn't see is the primary cause of all of this apparent
oppression: the capitalist mode of production whose raison detre is the
accumulation of capital, which it performs via the exploitation of
labour. The capitalist system doesn't set out to oppress, it sets out
to exploit. All apparent oppressions are the result of this fundamental
dialectical opposition between capital and labour. The exploitation of
labour is what revolutionaries should have their sights on, not
individual instances of apparent oppression. Capitalism cannot survive
without exploiting labour, but it can get by on a minimum of
oppression. To concentrate one's activism on the elimination of
oppression and to disregard the exploitation factor is to do no more
than attempt to reform capitalism. Do we want to reform capitalism or
bury it?

The system's need to accumulate capital is, in the final instance, what
dispossesses pre-industrial peoples, causes dysfunctionality in
families, and subjects workers to lousy wages. This fundamental
scientific fact must be understood by SAPLs who wish to have some
involvement in workers' control politics.

Often the kind of work SAPLs do is not amenable to vigorous class
struggle activity, so they become drawn towards demos and other public
political spectacles. But such pointless activity, and the inevitable
decline into sectarian neurosis that prolonged participation in such
politics produces, need not be the necessary fate that awaits all SAPLs.
In my view, the SAPL who intellectually has arrived at the conviction
that the methods of workers' control are the way to go as far as
bringing about a radical democratisation of society as a whole can take
a leaf out of the book of Simone Weil. But preferably a leaf out of
Simone's early, political work. For those who are not familiar with
her, Simone Weil was an independent Marxist intellectual who was active
in the rank-and-file of the workers' movement in France in the early
1930s (amongst other things). Being of bourgeois origin she
nevertheless came to identify with the working class and its struggle
for socialism. She forced herself to subjectively experience the life
of the worker by taking a job in a factory for seven months, but at no
time did she feel this experience put her on a level footing with
working people, existentially or politically. And certainly at no time
did she believe that an intellectual or person of bourgeois origins was
ever qualified to lead workers in the struggle against the bosses.
I'll selectively quote below some of the most salient aspects of Weil's
thought as regards working class organisation and relations between
workers and revolutionaries (SAPLs) from the excellent in parts
monograph, A Truer Liberty: Simone Weil and Marxism, by Blum and Seidler.

Blum and Seidler: Weil “saw political parties as based on the
insubstantial tie of shared political beliefs rather than on the deeper
bonds created by shared experience of work and working conditions, and
she saw the former as having no power to bring about real change in
society that is, change that would truly alleviate the oppression of
the worker” (p. 7).

Weil: “For power to really pass into the hands of the workers they would
have to unite, not through the imaginary ties created by the community
of opinion but through the real ties created by the community of their
productive function” (p. 7).

Blum and Seidler: “Weil also believed that any organization capable of
genuinely helping the working class had to reflect within its own
structure control by the workers themselves. She was concerned about
the bureaucratic structure of both trade unions and political
organizations, in which a small group, often (though not necessarily) of
bourgeois origins, ran the organization, with the members being entirely
passive. This structure seemed to her to replicate the very
powerlessness of the worker that it was the professed goal of radical
organizations to overcome. She thought that this problem plagued the
revolutionary syndicalists as well” (p. 7-8).

Blum and Seidler: Weil "was sensitive to the moral differences between
her own role in the workers' movement as a member of a relatively
privileged intellectual stratum and the situation of the workers engaged
in the same struggle. She did not want to be in a position of ‘leading'
workers toward a goal they did not themselves actively aspire to nor of
pushing them to take risks she herself was not called upon to take (
e.g., of losing one's job and having little prospect of another)" (p. 9).
Weil: “If the proletarians are satisfied with the reforms, they are
welcome to them. They are the ones who bear the risks and above all the
responsibilities of a revolution; it is up to them whether to make the
revolution or not. I wish to help them with it if I can, not to push
them into it” (p.10).

Blum and Seidler: “Weil took seriously the possibility that the working
class movement would not make a revolution at all, but would suffer
significant defeats” (p. 10).

Blum and Seidler: “…Weil was determined not to be a leader but a foot
soldier in the workers' cause" (p. 10).
If SAPLs wish to involve themselves directly in class struggle activity
they could do a lot worse than follow the example of Simone Weil.
Peter Siegl.

Following on from the "Workers' Control" Conference, the A.S.N. will be
organising a series of further "Workers' Control" Forums. During the
Easter Weekend in 2004, the A.S.N. will be organising a one day
conference in Sydney on the Australian Communist Party during the 1970's
& Workers Control.

****** The A-Infos News Service ******
News about and of interest to anarchists
INFO: http://ainfos.ca/org http://ainfos.ca/org/faq.html
HELP: a-infos-org@ainfos.ca
SUBSCRIPTION: send mail to lists@ainfos.ca with command in
body of mail "subscribe (or unsubscribe) listname your@address".

Full list of list options at http://www.ainfos.ca/options.html

A-Infos Information Center