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August 1, 1976: Councils for Non-Wage-Slaves Printer Friendly Version

[Prefatory Note, June 2007:  Well, here, as early as 1976, is an initial near break with a strict focus on the workplace, but it didn't stick. Six years later, in "Notes on the Idea of Direct Democracy," I'm still using as a definition of real communism, "a network of workers councils united on the basis of direct democracy." It was not until the mid- to late-eighties, when I met some real, live anarchists, namely, members of Workers Solidarity Alliance, that I began to absorb anarcho-communism, and shift to the three-pronged strategy that got written up in Getting Free for establishing neighborhood, workplace, and household assemblies. On another matter, I really regret that I didn't at least jot down a note or two, because I never recovered the thoughts indicated below in the next to last sentence about having "a solution to this whole business of categories and consciousness." Pity!]

Councils for Non-Wage-Slaves
On the Probable Necessity of Councils for Non-Wage-laborers,
and a Possible Shift of Stance Regarding the `Universal We'

James Herod
August 1976

  In August 1975, in an argument with Dick and Laura, I first got the idea that the Network of Councils might have to include groups of non-workers (non-wage-laborers) before the revolution. I had found it necessary to explain to them that my use of the term worker in the phrase Network of Workers Councils referred to workers after the revolution when everyone of course would `work', the difference being that they would no longer work as wage-slaves (proletarians). Dick and Laura insisted on their categories of `youth, women, and third world peoples', in opposition to my focus on the working class.

  Thus, a problem that I had often puzzled about before, but never focused on clearly, emerged with force during this argument, namely: there are millions of working class people who are not actually wage-earners themselves and who therefore have no workplace to seize (old people, young people, housewives, students, unemployed people, people on welfare, prisoners). Why should these people merely assist in the revolution, that is, merely help those who do have workplaces to take them over, help which would in the nature of the case be, in addition, of a limited sort? And will they? Why should not they expect to participate directly? Obviously, `youth, women, and blacks' are not likely to be content with merely assisting in a working class revolution (they have made this all too clear), so I explained to Dick and Laura in this discussion that for me the crucial thing was to get everyone into a council and in on the decision making. I had no objection per se to so-called youth, women, and third world peoples. I just didn't think that the feminist perspective, or youth culture, or third worldism would ever lead to revolution because they were based on a false analysis and a false understanding of the structure of capitalism.

  They argued that the women's movement and black movement existed and that it was better therefore to work with what we had. I argued that the mere existence of something was never sufficient justification for it, and that what was needed was to work to achieve a shift from these youth, women, and third world perspectives over to a focus on workers and the workplace. I persisted in believing that the councils should be set up at the workplace rather than elsewhere, say in the neighborhood.

  Even so, for those millions of people who don't have a workplace of their own, maybe councils should nevertheless exist. Maybe these people should also set up councils, wherever they are, before the revolution, and as an integral part of the revolution, and not merely assist those with workplaces to occupy them. I never liked the idea of some people being relegated to a secondary role in the revolution, but I could see no way around it, given the centrality of workplace struggles flowing from the necessity of seizing the means of production. I'm still bothered by the idea of having two kinds of councils, so this has to be explored thoroughly.

  A few days ago this whole line of thought, which has been lying at the back of my mind all these months, got connected to another disturbing thought, which I will have to examine carefully. So far I have always (since becoming radical) rejected the notion of the `universal we', regarding it as bourgeois (see The Presupposed Party, section two). But since hardly anyone identifies now as a worker, perhaps it is pointless to try, as I have previously done, to bring about such a perception of the situation and such a shift in self-conceptions. Maybe the best thing would be to work on the angle that most people are excluded from decision-making and to fight to get everyone (proletarians, petty bourgeoisie, and big bourgeoisie) included in decision-making through a network of councils. In a certain sense this amounts to a return to and adoption of the universal we (but with a shift of emphasis). It would mean taking over the liberal argument that `we're all in this together', and taking it seriously. Rather than trying to get people to change their self-identities from that of citizen to that of wage-slave, it might be easier to work through the notion of citizen and try to establish the fact that at present `some citizens are more equal than others', in that some citizens get to make all the major decisions, to the exclusion of everyone else. The end goal, after all, of the proletariat's abolition of itself has always been to leave everyone thereafter simply as human beings. In a certain sense, given the absence of the self-identity of worker, that's what already exists, in consciousness if not in actuality (as judged by radicals that is; most other people believe that it also exists in reality).

  The drawback of course is that the `universal we' discourages struggle and prevents a perception of the situation as one wherein some citizens are seen as oppressing other citizens, and hence as the enemy, or at least as the problem. So I would be very reluctant to abandon a class analysis. But this is precisely the problem: class analysis is little more than the theoretical apparatus radicals use to comprehend the situation. It is their perception of the society, and mainstream consciousness has a way of ignoring the perceptions of revolutionaries, even though the ideas of the majority itself (like the `universal we') may not in fact have originated with the majority but with the bourgeoisie. (Present possession is probably more to the point than place of origin however.)

  This (councils for non-wage-laborers and a partial return to the universal we) might also mean adopting an expanded or revised definition of what it means to control the means of production. Such control could in fact be achieved through any system of councils, even through a system of neighborhood councils, although there are many pitfalls and drawbacks to the neighborhood strategy, and I am unwilling to accept it until the objections have been answered and overcome. But maybe control over production doesn't have to originate from control over individual workplaces, but could result from the establishment of a direct democracy in some other way (but not through parliamentary democracy, not through the capture by some party of the majority of the votes in Congress). I find it hard to believe that control over the means of production could ever be achieved except through the seizure of workplaces. Otherwise where would the councils meet? And when? What would be the occasion for their having been convened?

  But maybe I have overlooked something. Even in my traditional scheme there has always been the problem of what to do with the petty bourgeoisie, especially those hostile to the revolution and to workplace takeovers. Several years ago already I raised the question of whether former petty bourgeois people would be allowed to vote in the councils (everyone having become a member of a council with the victory of the revolution). And of course they obviously would vote. It would be contradictory and absurd and impossible to try to exclude them (and counter-revolutionary). In the Unitron struggle I originally argued that management should be included in the council. This was later dropped as impractical. People were simply too intimidated in the presence of the bosses to act their normal selves.

  I think I now have a solution to this whole business of categories and consciousness but it is too complicated to explain right at this moment.

  If this notion sticks, it will represent a shift away from my position in How Do We Get There? (section 3), where I develop the distinction between the proletariat and the protagonists of the proletariat.