“Ours to Master and to Own
Workers’ Control from the Commune to the Present” edited by Immanuel Ness and Dario Azzellini (Haymarket Books, 2011)
Review by Chris White
This excellent series of essays is essential reading for anti-capitalist activists and all those who know that we do not need our bosses.
Occupiers at night can be inspired, activists at all levels can examine what was done in the past with a discussion of the failures, unionists can listen to workers who acted believing they could control the economy without bosses to meet social needs and labour historians will revel in the breadth and depth of analysis.
The global capitalist order is in a chronic period of crisis, but with the dramatic increase in worker’s struggles including debates on democratic self-management this book is timely.
At the 2011 Search conference Mondragon cooperatives and workers control beginnings in Venezuela a chapter in this book are again on the agenda. Similar Australian conferences listen to again workers control developments.
In the 1970’s as part of a world movement, we debated workers’ control actions. We argued about the theory of workers control and this book covers the issues, the criticism of Lenin and when socialism and syndicalism were closer.
We followed as does this book what the left and workers were doing in the hot struggles in Italy, occupations in England, workers self-management in Tito’s Yugoslavia, Allende’s Chile, and in Brazil and Argentina workers facing redundancies taking over factories takeovers and how they went.
As a young leftist, I argued at the Newcastle workers’ control conference with the arrogance of university youth telling delegates that workers control had to go beyond workplaces and industries to the whole of the economy, with a summary of workers control over Marx’s surplus value thrown in (I recently found this pamphlet in my dusty back shed.) Australian Left Review featured the workers control debates.
Humphrey McQueen has a most interesting chapter on the BLF’s workers control in “We Built this City” (reviewed last Options). I followed Gramsci on Workers’ Councils and was taken by the theory and practice. But in Australia Works Councils have not developed.
We criticized Dunstan’s worker participation schemes. Under the Accord industrial democracy was on the agenda, largely in HR. I should have known about, but now I do from this book, great workers control struggles in Java, India, British Columbia, Portugal, Algeria and Poland.
The following chapters revive the idea that a new world could be built from the ashes of the old.
Part 1 deals with Workers’ Councils: Historical Overview and Theoretical Debate.
”Workers’ Control and Revolution” by Victor Wallis; “Workers’ Councils in Europe: A Century of Experience” by Donny Gluckstein; “The Red Mole: Workers’ Councils as a Means of Revolutionary Transformation” by Sheila Cohen; “The Political Form at Last Discovered: Workers’ Councils against the Capitalist State” by Alberta by R. Bonnet.
Part II: “Workers’ Councils and Self-Administration in Revolution: Early Twentieth Century”
covers “From Unionism to Workers’ Councils: The Revolutionary Shop Stewards in Germany, 1914–1918” by Ralf Hoffrogge; ”The Factory Committee Movement in the Russian Revolution Mark” by David Mandel; “Factory Councils in Turin, 1919–1920: “The Sole and Authentic Social Representatives of the Proletarian Class” by Pietro Di Paola; “Workers’ Democracy in the Spanish Revolution, 1936–1937” by Andy Durgan;
Part III deals with “Workers’ Control under State Socialism” “Yugoslavia: Workers’ Self-Management as State Paradigm” by Groan Musić; “Give Us Back Our Factories! Between Resisting Exploitation and the Struggle for Workers’ Power in Poland, 1944–1981” by Binge Marcin Kowalewski;
Part IV is on “Anticolonial Struggle, Democratic Revolution, and Workers’ Control.” “Workers’ Control in Java, Indonesia, 1945–1946” by Afar Suryomenggolo; “From Workers’ Self-Management to State Bureaucratic Control: Autogestion in Algeria” by Sam Southgate; “The Limits and Possibilities of Workers’ Control within the State: Mendoza, Argentina, 1973” Gabriela Scodeller: “Workers’ Councils in Portugal, 1974–1975” by Peters Robinson.
Part V: Workers’ Control against Capitalist Restructuring in the Twentieth Century
“Workers’ Control and the Politics of Factory Occupation in 1970s Britain” by Alan Tuckman; “Workers’ Direct Action and Factory Control in the United States” by Immanuel Ness; “Hot Autumn”: Italy’s Factory Councils and Autonomous Workers’ Assemblies in the 1970s” by Patrick Cuninghame; “Recipe for Anarchy: British Columbia’s Telephone Workers’ Occupation of 1981” by Elaine Bernard.
Part VI: Workers’ Control, 1990s–2010 “Workers’ Control in India’s Communist-Ruled State: Labor Struggles and Trade Unions in West Bengal” by Arup Kumar Sen; “Argentinean Worker-Taken Factories: Trajectories of Workers’ Control under the Economic Crisis” by Marina Kabat; “Workers’ Control under Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution” by Dario Azzellini; “Brazilian Recovered Factories: The Constraints of Workers’ Control” by Maurício Sardá by De Faria and Henrique T. Novaes.