Le titre de cette nouvelle revue : A-M-A’, renvoie à la circulation expliquée dans Le Capital (argent-marchandise-argent), référence renforcée par son sous-titre : « Contributions à l’économie politique » et son éditorial qui souligne les faiblesses de la recherche marxienne en France tout en notant l’apport de Maximilien Rubel ou Pierre Souyri. Ce premier numéro consiste en la traduction de quatre articles, un de Marcello Musto et trois de la revue Prokla animée par Michael Heinrich (auteur deComment lire Le Capital de Marx ?, Smolny). Le traducteur est un camarade du collectif Smolny dont on peut écouter son interview dans l’émission Micros rebelles.
Sur un site de réflexions et de partage d’expériences de militant·e·s des IWW (mais le texte est peut-être antérieur car les appels de notes ne sont pas renseignés), Nate Holdren réfute les propos du dernier éditorial de Paul Mattick (junior) dans The Brooklyn Rail sur le référendum perdu chez Amazon en Alabama, et plus largement l’idée selon laquelle l’expansion des syndicats et la croissance des salaires ne seraient possibles qu’en période de prospérité économique.
In a recent editorial in the art magazine The Brooklyn Rail, philosopher Paul Mattick scoffed that the RWDSU unionization campaign at an Amazon facility in Alabama “seems to have been a case of the ‘labor movement’ at its purest, with the union promising no more than representation (and dues collection), with nary a specific word about working conditions or wages.”
Getting a clear handle on what happened in that campaign is important, but Mattick’s take doesn’t help anyone do so. His implication that unions just want dues is startling, as it sounds like every union-busting consultant I’ve ever heard. Given that to be a Marxist, one must be able to separate Marxism from its (many and very bloody!) worst moments, I found it odd for Mattick to imply that the labor movement is representable by its worst moments (assuming this is one). It’s also simply factually incorrect for Mattick to say that the campaign didn’t talk about pay and conditions: it did! The website discusses unionization as a way to raise pay, and it discusses issues including workplace safety and job security. Mattick is simply factually mistaken.
In a rhetorically skillful line, Mattick writes that “[t]he idea that Amazon’s victory was due to the efforts at intimidation the company undoubtedly practiced is ridiculous, given the history of successful union drives in the 1930s and ’40s in the teeth of armed (and shooting) police and murderous company goons.” This sounds really good, if you don’t think much about it. But look more closely. The claim amounts to saying “some people could do a thing under terrible circumstances, therefore the idea that merely bad circumstances make the thing harder to do must be false.” That’s specious nonsense. That said, it is reasonable to ask, “how is it that we have a labor movement today which loses under today’s circumstances, when we had a labor movement once upon a time that won under much worse circumstances?” That’s a worthy question, though hardly a new one. Unfortunately it’s not a question that Mattick’s article does much to help us to investigate. I don’t claim to have a fully worked out answer. My impulse is to say that it lies in the history of the changing set of laws for integrating unions into US capitalism, and how that integration in turn has shaped unions. Informative works about aspects of that history include Joe Burns’ Reviving the Strike, Charles Romney’s Rights Delayed, Staughton Lynd and Daniel Gross’ Labor Law for the Rank and Filer, and Robin Cartwright’s writings here at Organizing Work. (To be fair, E Jones’s article that Mattick quotes from is also worth reading, not least for its refusal of widespread left pieties about the CIO.)
Mattick derides the “wistful wish for the revival of labor unions” as a “fantasy solution” to today’s problems because “present conditions are very different from those of the great union drives of the past.” To support this assessment, he reaches back to the 1930s, writing that “results for the new Congress of Industrial Organizations unions (the American Federation of Labor unions were barely hanging on) were decidedly mixed until preparations for war began.” The takeaway point from the comparison between the CIO unions in the early 20th century and the present, for Mattick, seems to be that the context is different today from the past such that “there is little place for unions to insert themselves as brokers and profiteers of labor peace” nowadays, even if such room once did exist. The reason there is so little place is tied to “[t]he disappearance of the productivity growth that marked the post-war period [which] rules out the possibility of increased wages.” Our rulers are out of carrots, apparently, such that “the political class find themselves at a loss to elaborate policies other than (…) austerity.” The state cannot promote unionism, allegedly.
I think Mattick is wrong in multiple ways. He is wrong to imply unionization in the 1930s and ’40s could only really succeed because of the boost to production provided by “preparations for war,” as I will elaborate on below. That said, even if capitalism needed war to supply higher wages and make unionization possible, there still seems to be no shortage of potential for war in 2021. Climate change promises to produce more of it, and to produce the functional equivalent of war as well, by destroying a great deal and so creating opportunities for capitalists in the aftermath of that destruction.
In any case, I think Mattick is wrong that unionization only grew due to the economic opportunities provided by “preparations for war.” Mattick quotes some numbers about membership in CIO unions — 1,350,000 members in 1940 and 2,850,000 in 1941 — which come from Walter Galenson’s The CIO Challenge to the AFL (they’re from table 19 on page 587.) Galenson estimates the CIO had 1,580,000 members in 1937, its first year independent from the AFL. Its numbers fluctuated up and down, having fallen to 1,350,000 in 1940, as Mattick quotes. Exactly why those numbers fluctuated is unclear to me. I suspect there were many different causes. The CIO consisted of multiple unions in multiple industries and was engaged in a political fight with the AFL, and the late 1930s were a tumultuous time period in which the institutions of industrial relations were themselves in flux. Investigating what the CIO was and was not capable of and why, and what its politics were, as part of understanding the present analytically and programmatically — these are very worthy matters of inquiry in my view. I don’t think Mattick’s remarks aid that inquiry. If anything, the force of his editorial points in the opposite direction, toward treating these matters as largely settled rather than as worth addressing seriously.
Why should the total membership figures for the CIO be taken as representative of unionism as such, rather than, say, looking at specific unions? For example, the United Auto Workers had 195,000 members in 1937, falling the next year, then climbing again. In 1939, their numbers were 165,000, significantly less than two years prior, to be sure. That said, the US Census reports that there were not quite 400,000 waged workers in the automotive industry in 1939. Relative to the industry’s workforce as a whole, the UAW was massive. By that year, Daniel Nelson reports that 15% of waged workers at General Motors and 53% at Chrysler were UAW members (page 16). Given that the UAW was only founded in 1935, this growth in the auto industry hardly sounds like a situation where unions could not get a foothold.
Mattick is mistaken when he writes “the American Federation of Labor unions were barely hanging on” by the late 1930s or early ’40s. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers (177) the AFL unions were at a historic low in membership as of 1933 — 2,127,000 members, the lowest since 1916. That same year, the unionization rate for the US as a whole was 5.2% (BLS, 178). Galenson’s numbers that Mattick mentions show the AFL having rebounded to 3,422,000 members in 1936, including 800,000 members of CIO affiliated unions, as the break between the AFL and the CIO leading to CIO independence had not yet occurred. By 1940, according to Galenson, the AFL was at 4,247,000 members. This means in the second half of the 1930s the organization had grown significantly even after having lost almost a million members due to the departure of CIO-affiliated unions. That was a historic high in membership in AFL unions — hardly “barely hanging on.” In addition, membership in unions affiliated with neither the AFL nor the CIO grew from 600,000 members in 1938 to 1,072,000 in 1940. (Galenson, table 19.) Thus Mattick’s implication that unions could not really get a foothold before the war seems mistaken.
That said, it is true that unionization grew even more during and after World War Two. From 1940 to 1947 the national unionization rate increased from 17.7% to 23.9%. That’s a big increase, to be sure. But the rate of union growth was far larger in the years 1933-1939, when the unionization rate more than tripled, from 5.2% to 15.8%. (BLS, 177-178.) Daniel Nelson’s figures show the UAW having an 84% membership growth rate from 1935-1939, and a 22% rate from 1939-1946. Nelson’s figures show the Teamsters also having higher growth in the late 1930s than in the early 1940s (page 9). Thus from 1933-1939 the US economy had not yet benefited from “preparations for war,” yet some unions still grew. This means that to suggest there was a general stagnation or impasse for unionization in general followed by a war-facilitated boom in union membership is both historically inaccurate and not a good guide for assessing the prospects for unionization today.
Wages in manufacturing rose in those years as well. In 1932, when AFL membership was at a major low, wages in manufacturing in both so-called unskilled and skilled jobs fell to a multi-year low as well: $14.48 and $19.48 respectively, for men. These rates rose every year until 1940 by which time they had risen over 60 percent to $23.91 and $32.41, respectively. Of course, wages went up further from 1940 onward. The point is that from 1933-1939, despite the Depression, before “preparation for war began” it was possible for wage rises to occur, and, in Mattick’s terms, “for unions to insert themselves.” (Those terms are unfortunate, again sounding like something out of a management consultant’s union-busting playbook.) It seems to me, then, that a comparison with the1930s and 1940s provides little to support the assertion that nowadays “the political class find themselves at a loss to elaborate policies other than (…) austerity” — at least not for any reasons of objective economic constraint. If anything, it seems to me that the 1930s and 1940s suggest a story of institutional malleability.
I find a similar account of institutional malleability in the face of capitalist class disorganization and working class mobilization in Marx’s account of the English Factory Acts, in Chapters 10 and 15 of Capital. Capitalism in mid-19th century England, Marx argued, was headed toward a catastrophic overwork of the working class with terrible human consequences. Workers’ mobilizations plus some far-seeing state personnel imposed new conditions on unwilling capitalists. To borrow Mattick’s words, “the money has to come from somewhere, and at this point some of it—if only to pay the interest on borrowing—has to come from the pockets of rich people. But rich people can hardly be expected to like this.” New regulation of capitalism resulted — the Factory Acts — which benefitted English capitalists in the long term, despite the recalcitrance of each individual capitalist in the face of those reforms. Rich people (manufacturers in particular, in this case) were forced by the state into a situation they didn’t want. And ultimately they benefited in the long term, as their class tends to from reforms. It seems to me that if we on the far left today rule out the possibility of such developments happening again in the present, we do so at our peril.
Overall, Mattick’s editorial strikes me as a just-so story exhibiting a view that Simon Clarke has criticized: “Frustration with the limitations of the organised labour movement,” Clarke writes, “has frequently led socialists to look to relatively more marginalised groups and strata” (5). Such efforts have repeatedly not worked out, Clarke argues, “unless they are integrated into a broader labour movement, the only secure base of which has proved to be the trade union organisation that develops out of the struggle over the terms and conditions of wage labour, which cannot by any means be reduced to organisation on the basis of the sectional interests of particular groups of wage labourers” (6). The labor movement, in Clarke’s view, and I largely agree, is “for all its faults (…) the only collective expression of the interests and aspirations of labour, in hundreds of different ways, at every level and in every part of the world” (14), though I would stress the particular importance of new organizing by independent and explicitly radical unions like the IWW and the affiliates of the IWA.
I suspect that the proliferation of just-so stories like Mattick’s on the far left is a product of the far left being relatively socially weightless, largely cut off from any real collective expression of people’s aspirations for better lives. This particular kind of just-so story is inadequate not least because it doesn’t bear critical thought and, as I tried to show above, has little evidence behind it. It also fails politically to live up to what Clarke argues is “a responsibility to supplement the intellectual resources of the labour movement, to help to broaden its understanding and its horizons” (14). There is no shortage of would-be myth makers of the soft-left who want to encourage us to mistake capitalism with a few more social protections for actual socialism, or mistake state managers of capital accumulation for representatives of working class humanity and aspirations to a new society. Some of those would-be myth makers are in and around the official labor movement, including some advocates of the PRO Act nowadays.
Generally speaking, that movement, especially in relation to the system of labor law, works to represent workers as a kind of economic citizens — that is, as a kind of capitalism-compatible collective subject. Mattick implies this representation is external to the class. I would argue that it tends to arise from the class’s own vision and needs. Unions aren’t some con job misdirecting angelically anti-systemic workers. Unions are a vehicle for workers to express the interests that all subjects of capitalism have in capitalism’s continuation and in jockeying for position within the system.
We also have other interests in capitalism’s overthrow by revolution: workers’ interests are contradictory. Revolutionary working class politics is less an expression of a coherent set of pre-given interests than it is a process of collective action that selects from our contradictory interests — or, better, constructs new interests. Collective action short of revolution is a complex mix of these interests and processes of interest-construction, which is part of why I agree with Simon Clarke about why the far left should prioritize the labor movement, in order to be able to shape those processes for the better.
Just-so stories like Mattick’s, of capitalism in decline placing objective limitations on the ruling class’s abilities to do anything but make cuts and bust heads suggests we in the far left don’t really need to be able to respond to any of those misleaders and myth makers. Since those social protections and the victories of those capitalist politicians are impossible anyway, the story goes, no need to be able to criticize their shortcomings. In 1865, Marx wrote that the labor movement should reject “the conservative motto: A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work!’” and instead “ inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword: ‘Abolition of the wages system!’” Much of Marx’s writing was dedicated to arguing why a fair day’s wage is still a terrible exchange. Mattick’s just-so story, on the other hand, implies that a fair day’s wage is impossible anyway, so no need to argue against it.
It seems to me that rather than assert the impossibility of events like the growth of the AFL and the CIO unions in the Depression, the far left should be able to articulate the limitations of those formations historically and the limits of their analogs today. (We should also be able to do so without using factually and politically questionable cliches about unions as third parties interested only in dues.) Working-class struggle tends to generate those analogs, so as class struggle heats up, dealing with those analogs will become more pressing. As Anton Pannekoek wrote, there is a “fundamental conflict between the self-emancipation of the working class through its own power and the pacifying of the revolution through a new sympathetic ruling clique.” Any step that workers take toward self-emancipation brings about not only a reaction from the heights of the ruling class, but also a rejuvenation of the forces of pacification. Just-so stories of capitalist decadence, secular stagnation, and so forth lead the far left to be unable to politically respond to (but, I suspect, fully able to socialize collegially among the reservoirs of) those sympathetic would-be ruling cliques. Should “the political class” begin to pursue approaches to social control and reproduction of capitalist social relations not predicated on austerity, the far left must be able to respond with more than just declaring those responses impossible.
Traduction inédite en français du Manifeste et programme du Parti Ouvrier Unifié des États-Unis (United Workers Party of America), le groupe de Paul Mattick (appelé aussi Group of Council Communists). Merci à Erwan.
Julien Chuzeville, Léo Frankel, communard sans frontières. Libertalia, 2021.
Comme un beau cadeau pour le 150ème anniversaire de la Commune, Julien Chuzeville nous livre la première biographie en français de Léo Frankel, militant de l’AIT et élu de la Commune, suivie d’une anthologie de textes de Frankel. Tandis que l’accent est mis dans d’autres publications sur la dimension patriotique de l’exaspération d’un Paris assiégé par les Prussiens et humilié par les Versaillais capitulards, Frankel, qui est de langue allemande, et est le seul élu étranger de la Commune, garde toujours un point de vue internationaliste et de lutte de classe étonnamment ferme et clair pour l’époque. A 27 ans, il est aussi l’un des plus jeunes élus. Le 30 mars 1871, il écrit à Karl Marx : « Si nous pouvions amener un changement radical des rapports sociaux, la révolution du 18 mars serait la plus féconde des révolutions que l’histoire ait enregistrées à ce jour. » Frankel travaille à la commission du travail et de l’échange tout en soutenant la minorité. Il échappe à la répression (condamné à mort par contumace) aux côtés d’ Élisabeth Dmitrieff, et gagne Londres où il est élu au conseil général de l’AIT. Frankel devait rester un militant très actif. Dans un article de 1877, il définit ainsi le but des socialistes : « L’émancipation des êtres humains, la suppression de la domination sous toutes ses formes : économiques, politique et religieuse ». Revisiter l’histoire du mouvement ouvrier c’est aussi revisiter ses principes fondamentaux.
Les barricades doivent être retirées. Le fascisme de Moscou en Espagne (1937, trad. 2014) [pdf]|¡Las barricadas deben ser retiradas! El fascismo de Moscú en España [pdfen espagnol]|Le barricate devono essere smantellate. Il fascismo di Mosca in Spagna (éd. 2012) [pdf en italien]|“The Barricades Must be Torn Down” Moskow Fascism in Spain (1937) [pdfen anglais]|As barricadas devem ser removidas: fascismo stalinista na Espanha (trad. 2000, éd. 2008) [pdfen portugais]
Enseignements de l’autogestion espagnole (1972, éd. 2014) [pdf externe]
Au secours des révolutionnaires espagnols (1937) [pdf]
◊ Wagner (Helmut)
L’anarchisme et la Révolution espagnole (1937, éd. 2017) [pdf]|Der anarcho-syndikalismus und die spanische revolution (1937) [pdfen allemand]|L’anarchismo e la rivoluzione spagnola (1937, éd. 2014) [pdfen italien]
◊ Wetzel (Tom)
Workers Power and the Spanish Revolution (2006) [pdfen anglais]
La gestion ouvrière du système de transport public de Barcelone 1936-1939 (2014, trad. 2015) [pdf]
◊ Wildcat (revue à Londres et Manchester)
Les collectivisations espagnoles (1987, éd. 2008) [pdf]
◊ Willis (Liz)
Women in the Spanish revolution (1975) [pdfen anglais]
C’est avec une grande tristesse que nous apprenons que notre camarade Fabienne Melmi, amie, collaboratrice et traductrice français/italien et italien/français pour La Bataille socialiste et ce blog, est décédée hier d’un infarctus.
Condoléances et solidarité avec Alain, son compagnon, sa famille et ses amis.
Abbiamo deciso di pubblicare questo volume nel quale Paul Mattick ci racconta direttamente la parte più ricca di avvenimenti della sua vita. Naturalmente si tratta del periodo della sua giovinezza, che tutti ricordano in maniera spesso deformata ma che Mattick, a parte qualche dimenticanza derivante dall’età, ripercorre con nostalgia ma anche con spirito critico, rispetto ai momenti storici che ha vissuto in prima persona, dal movimento spartachista, quando era molto giovane, al movimento dei consigli degli anni ‘20 che lo influenzò politicamente per tutta la vita. Per Mattick aderire o meno ad una organizzazione era marginale. Si nota che nella sua fase di militanza giovanile egli era aperto a qualsiasi rapporto, ad intervenire in qualsiasi tipo di lotta, purché venisse realizzata l’autorganizzazione tra i lavoratori. Da questo colloquio, che Mattick ha avuto con Claudio Pozzoli e con Michael Buckmiller, viene alla luce un aspetto sicuramente interessante del famoso consiliare tedesco-americano, ma non emergono fino in fondo i contributi teorici e critici che ha maturato parallelamente alla sua militanza giovanile e che ha sviluppato nella seconda parte della sua vita. Contributi che ahimè, contrariamente a quanto si afferma nella postfazione, sono poco conosciuti, specie nel milieu dell’ultrasinistra italiana. Nei famosi anni ‘70 solo pochissimi erano a conoscenza degli scritti di Mattick relativi alla critica a Marcuse (molto di moda a quel tempo) e dei maggiori esponenti del movimento comunista (da Lenin a Trotzky fino a Stalin) che influenzavano in maniera ossessiva i gruppuscoli che amavano sventolar bandiere rosse nelle loro processioni. Mattick fu l’unico, in quel periodo, a mettere il dito sulla piaga del keynesismo, che si nascondeva felicemente anche tra le pieghe teoriche degli esponenti più in voga nella sinistra più o meno extraparlamentare (e non solo italiana). Tutti i suoi scritti negli anni della maturità dimostrano chiaramente la sua permanente predilezione per le lotte gestite direttamente dai lavoratori a seguito di una crisi che inevitabilmente colpirà il modo di produzione capitalistico, crisi che sta di fronte a noi in questi tempi e che il vecchio Mattick non ha avuto la soddisfazione di osservare e su cui avrebbe fornito sicuramente dei contributi utili ad una sinistra ormai morta e sepolta dopo il crollo del muro di Berlino. Mattick avrebbe sicuramente brindato con noi osservando alla televisione il disfacimento del sistema sovietico che aveva criticato profondamente per tutta la vita. Mai si sarebbe aspettato un fallimento così ridicolo ma sicuramente avrebbe contribuito a sviluppare una tendenza antistalinista del movimento operaio con dei connotati decisamente moderni. In realtà tutta la sua opera deve servire semplicemente per spingere chi ha a cuore veramente l’emancipazione dei lavoratori (e non la propria personale ambizione cattedratica) a studiare con la precisione delle scienze naturali le nuove forme del capitalismo secondo il metodo di Marx, cosa che fece l’operaio Paul Mattick quando finiva il suo turno di lavoro.
In una nota biografica di Mattick, Charles Reeve riporta alcune considerazioni che ci danno un’idea del carattere di un uomo che purtroppo ben pochi della mia generazione hanno potuto conoscere personalmente, ma che: “Coloro che hanno avuto la fortuna di conoscerlo non dimenticheranno mai la forza delle sue convinzioni, il calore e la ricchezza nei rapporti, il suo humour pungente, la qualità umana della persona che ha dato vita agli ideali di autoemancipazione sociale. Egli ribatteva sempre che: ‘Così come sono oggi ridotte le possibilità di una rivolta, non è il momento di abbassare le armi”.
Esiste una vasta bibliografia degli scritti di Mattick che ho riportato in calce alla traduzione di parti del suo ultimo libro Il marxismo ultimo rifugio della borghesia? (Sedizioni editore Milano 2008) ed ho compilato una sua biografia particolareggiata dedicata ai suoi rapporti politici ed agli innumerevoli interventi critici su diverse riviste fino alla sua morte dal titolo “Il ritorno a Marx attraverso Paul Mattick Un operaio teorico del marxismo”, che spero possa essere pubblicata. Ringrazio vivamente Laure Batier e Marc Geoffroy per la traduzione dal tedesco e l’organizzazione del testo, Charles Reeve (alias George Valadas) per avermi aiutato a pubblicare questa autobiografia di Mattick, grazie al contributo di Mercurio Falco e di Alessandro Cocuzza per la traduzione. Un particolare ringraziamento va a Gary Roth che mi ha fornito innumerevoli informazioni sui contatti avuti da Mattick, altrimenti impossibili da reperire, che mi sono stati utili per la compilazione della biografia e a Michael Buckmiller per avermi incoraggiato ed aver apprezzato il lavoro di ricerca.
 Charles Reeve (pseudonimo), di origine portoghese, ha conosciuto nell’estate 1971 Paul ed Ilse Mattick durante un soggiorno negli Stati Uniti attraverso un amico del gruppo di ICO a Parigi. Charles Reeve ha scritto una nota biografica di Paul Mattick nella brochure De la pauvreté et de la nature fétichiste de l’économie pubblicata da Ab irato nel 1998 e ne Marxisme dernier refuge de la bourgeoise? (Entremonde, Genève, 2011). Diego Guerriero ne ha pubblicata una in spagnolo in Lecturas de economía política Síntesis, Madrid 2002. (NdC)