List Archives : http://void.nothingness.org
List Archives

(en) Review of Gramsci &the Anarchists

From: Research on Anarchism List <ra-AT-alor.univ-montp3.fr>
Date: 29 Jun 2000 09:37:24 UTC   (05:37:24 AM in author's locale)
To: ra-len-AT-jade.univ-montp3.fr
Date: Wed, 25 Jun 2003 22:54:06 +1000
To: ra-l-AT-jade.univ-montp3.fr
From: Jura Books <ra-l-AT-chaos.apana.org.au>

PUBLISHED BY BERG NEW YORK from Rebel Worker Paper of
the Anarcho-Syndicalist Network Vol.19 No.3 (165) June-July 2000

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the State Socialist
Bloc, there has been an acceleration of the global employer offensive. It's
been characterised by a more rapid pace of privatisation of Govt. owned
industries coordinated by various agencies of international capital - the
World Bank, the IMF, CIA and management consultancy firms, a faster tempo
of company re-organisation characterised by waves of job shedding and
intensified speedups and the roll back of the welfare state.
The 1982 employer lockout in manufacturing industry was a key stage in the
commencement of the employer offensive in Australia. The AMWU
(manufacturing workers' union) essentially caved in before this employer
onslaught with vague talk of a guerrilla resistance campaign. This defeat
laid the foundation for further attacks on workers orchestrated by the
Fraser/Hawke/Keating Governments in the shape of the 1982-83 wages freeze
and the various versions of the Accord.
For anarcho-syndicalists the appropriate response to such a lockout would
be factory occupations and coordinated workers control actions which
could lead into workers collective seizure of the means of production and
a social revolution.
Such a grand initiative could only develop after many years of work
involving the establishing horizontal links between the grass roots in
workplaces and the forging of an alternative worker controlled union
movement and workplace based militant organisations - factory councils/shop
committees composed of delegates with a strict mandate from the shop floor
who can be instantly recalled.
The book under review focuses upon the emergence of the factory council
movement in Turin, the hub of the auto and heavy engineering industries in
Italy during the immediate post WWI period, which later inspired the
emergence of factory councils elsewhere with the support of the
U.S.I.(Italian Syndicalist Union). In Sept. 1920 this movement in response
to an employer lockout and with the endorsement of the hierarchy of the CGL
(Italian version of the ACTU) unions which were facing tough competition
from the anarcho-syndicalist U.S.I. carried out nationwide occupations and
coordinated workins involving 600,000 workers. This massive workers
control experiment was facilitated by railway workers shunting finished
products, raw materials and components to and from the factories under
workers' control.

The Birth of Factory

This book throws much light on the background and functioning of the
factory council movement. It considers a range of factors leading to its
emergence: The impact of WWI, the appearance of Soviets (political
assemblies consisting of delegates from workplaces and military units)
which appeared toward the end of WWI associated with a wave of revolutions
and uprisings - Russia in 1917, Hungary and Germany in 1919, and industrial
delegate assemblies - the factory committee movement in Russia and the Shop
Steward Committee movement in Britain, etc. The pivotal role of Antonio
Gramsci, an extreme socialist journalist, and later an important Marxist
theoretician and his collaborators on the newspaper L'Ordine Nuovo, in
association with a network of anarchist factory militants, most important
being the Barrio di Milano group, which had wide influence within the Turin
labour movement

The Impact of WWI

The author sketches the impact of WWI in creating the preconditions for the
momentary alliance between extreme socialists and anarchists of an
anarcho-syndicalist orientation which underlay the factory council movement
in Turin. Both tendencies were critical of the collaboration of the CGL
hierarchy with the Government and company managements in regard to
supporting the war effort which involved Accord style "tripartite
committees" and highly repressive conditions in factories related to the
war effort. In response to this authoritarian set up and the industrial
muscle of Turin's metal workers due to war time demand for military
equipment and rising employer profits and spiralling inflation, a
militant movement amongst metal workers was revitalised which achieved
in 1919 employer recognition of "internal commissions" - shop steward
committees which became the basis of factory councils. The blossoming of
soviets/workers councils particularly in Russia, Germany and Hungary
presented a common revolutionary project for different tendencies to
collaborate around. Due to the lack of accurate information, many militants
of different stripes held illusions in these developments. They were
unaware of the rapid degeneration of the Soviets in Russia into mini
parliaments in the larger cities and subsequently their strangulation by
the Bolshevik Party Govt. and the subordination of the factory committees
to the Bolshevik controlled trade union hierarchy.
The author outlines the background to the emergence of the highly
influential anarcho-syndicalist movement which was critical to the
militant direct action culture and the flowering of factory councils in
Turin factories. He sees this influence particularly stemming from prior
exposure to anarchism amongst Piedomentese peasants who later immigrated
to Turin and became factory workers. Combined with the percolation of
anarchism within the grass roots of the PSI (Socialist Party) in Turin
through the impact of anarchist adult education schools and centres in the
suburbs, particularly the Ferrer school and the localist (local militant
initiative) tradition within the Italian labour movement.
@HEAD - 2 = "Catalyst for Workers' Control"
Within this context, Gramsci and the L'Ordine Nuovo group/newspaper were
able to provide both a think tank and catalyst for a highly advanced stage
in the class struggle - the emergence of factory councils and the momentary
reconstruction on anarcho-syndicalist influenced lines of the Turin
branch of the FIOM (PSI controlled metal union affiliated to the CGL).
Facilitating this role were the common university associations of some
members of the Barriera di Milano anarchist group who were factory
engineers and members of the L'Ordine Nuovo Group who were all ex-students
and non-factory workers. All were PSI activists, except for one anarchist.
Gramsci developed the concept of the factory council stemming from his
interest in prefiguritive concepts of socialism (building the new world in
the shell of the old). Prior to WWI he focused on the role of local workers
co-ops and toward the end of WWI, with the background of revolutionary
upheavals in Europe associated with the blossoming of workers
councils/soviets, he saw the potential role of the expanding internal
commissions as organs of workers self management of industry and key
components of a "Workers' Councils State".
The author shows that the exposition of the factory council idea and
reports of similar movements elsewhere such as the British shop stewards
committee movement in L'Ordine Nuovo which was distributed in factories by
anarcho-syndicalist militants reached an appreciative audience. Amongst
workers in the auto and heavy engineering factories and workers' adult
education institutions such as the Ferrer School and provoked much
enthusiastic discussion. In turn L'Ordine Nuovo became a forum for
discussion about the future course of the factory council movement amongst
anarcho-syndicalists from the factories and extreme socialists.
There was also much sharp and confused criticism about
anarchism/syndicalism in its pages, particularly by Gramsci. However the
most valid criticism of anarchists by Gramsci in this period focused on
his concern that many anarchists didn't engage in very scientific
discussion and that they were swayed by group loyalties and the "prestige
of names". No doubt this attitude stemmed from the impact of "affinity
groups" which composed most of the anarchist movement. The author shows
that associated with L'Ordine Nuovo, was Gramsci's short lived "Club of
Moral Life" whose chief goal was to stimulate a scientific climate -
involving calm rational discussion and research amongst circles of militant
workers and help develop an extensive "worker intelligensia" which could
make sophisticated analyses and develop strategies. A crucial component of
a workers' control movement and as a means of preventing the emergence of
a bureaucratic elite.
L'Ordine Nuovo was starkly different from the pretentious "sect/party
building" publications of today's designer
"anarcho-syndicalists/wobblies/socialists" hopelessly obsessed with
"recruitment" and meaningless abstract propaganda and completely divorced
from any workers control directed activity in contemporary Australia.
Subsequently, from May to October 1919, the internal commissions in Turin
metal and auto factories were transformed into factory councils and
generalised to most large factories in all industries. The author shows
this transformation involved factory commissars or delegates being elected
by local workshops/work groups, rather than by mass meetings of the entire
factory which usually involved manipulation of the electoral process and
a top/down decision making body being established. The emergence of these
new bodies in the metal shops and the effective agitation of the L'Ordine
Nuovo group and anarcho-syndicalist factory militants led to the
restructuring of the local Turin branch of FIOM on syndicalist style lines.
With the Turin FIOM executive being elected by conferences of factory
commissars and policy being made by such conferences. Consequently a
radical group was elected to the executive, three of whom were anarchists
and an anarchist Pietro Ferrero was elected as branch secretary, a full
time position.
The factory councils took on important new roles such as auditing the
industrial and financial operations of the factories, and with the
provision of non-unionists with the vote in council elections
psychologically united all factory operatives. Initially factory
technicians were also supportive of the factory councils. These new
functions would be important in facilitating the factory workins of Sept.
1920. In other parts of Italy, the USI and anarchist groups agitated for
factory councils. However outside factory takeovers the councils' major
function in Turin at this time was to organise demonstrations.
The author shows that industrialists were worried by this new challenge to
their power and provoked a successful lockout in Mar.-April 1920 which was
temporarily successful in rolling back the intervention of the councils in
factories. This success stemmed from the absence of Turin style factory
councils outside that city at that time and the hostility of the CGL and
PSI national hierarchy which feared the revolutionary implications of the
Turin experiment.


In looking at the ideological basis of Gramsci's support for the councils,
the author particularly focuses on Gramsci's enthusiasm for "productivism"
and his councilist interpretation of Leninism which entailed very stark
contradictions and confusion. He saw the unions as grouping workers just on
the basis of wage earning. He also made the wild over generalisation that
unions are inherently bureaucractic and only focus on negotiating
the terms of workers' exploitation. Despite the blatant contrary evidence
of the U.S.I. Whilst, he saw the factory councils as ultra democratic and
incorporated both unionists and non-unionists and hopefully extending to
all the workforce - operatives, technical, clerical and administrative
personnel - all producers.
Ironically, Gramsci was a keen supporter of Taylorism or "scientific
management" for the sake of "increased productivity" despite it leading to
the deskilling and the loss of control of the work process by blue
collar workers and its concentration in hands of technicians and
engineers. He saw the councils - essentially revolutionary bodies as the
means of instituting this fundamentally capitalist industrial
"Councilist Version of Leninism?"

Whilst Gramsci and his collaborators on L'Ordine Nuovo were supporters of
Leninism, and he later on became head of the early Italian Communist Party,
in 1919/1920 he had a fundamentally libertarian and councilist
intepretation. He supported the idea of "professional revolutionaries" as
mentioned in Lenin's early pamphlet "What is to be done?". However, he
didn't see their role being as in Lenin's vanguardist/elitist conception;
- Full time party officials who would raise workers' economist
consciousness (a concern with only the terms on which a worker's labour is
exploited - wages and conditions) to class/revolutionary consciousness,
but those dedicated comrades who sought to acquire a broad knowledge of
revolutionary strategy and would act to facilitate the co-ordination of the
system of workers' councils. Lenin's later pamphlet "State & Revolution"
was also more accurately interpreted as a sketch of how a "workers' council
state" would function without any dictatorship by a vanguard party elite.
Later following the defeat of the factory council movement in 1921 and
Gramsci's embroiling in the emerging Communist Party, he and many of his
collaborators moved to a more orthodox Leninism and L'Ordine Nuovo
degenerated into a Leninst party building paper.
In conclusion, the book under review performs a brilliant job in sketching
the background and interaction of two crucial dimensions of
anarcho-syndicalist activism - "outside" and "inside" (on the job)
organisation in facilitating workers control directed activity. The
stresses and revolutionary developments associated with WWI and the
traditions of "local initiative" within the Italian labour movement, loom
large in facilitating the momentary alliance of the diverse anti-
capitalist tendencies vital to this project.

Perspectives for 21st Century Australia

In Australia today, the anti-capitalist movement is largely absorbed in
sect building stemming from the legacy of Leninism/Stalinism. To provide
the vital "Outside Organisation" in the current era of a ferocious employer
offensive which makes on the job organisation often an impossibility
without massive outside assistance, the grass roots and periphery of these
sects must be won over to facilitating workers self organisation in all its
variations some of which were spotlighted in the L'Ordine Nuovo experience.
The launching of a series of conferences aimed at providing a critique of
the Leninist/Stalinist tradition, eventually building up a considerable
momentum and attracting thousands of people would be a vital aspect of
grafting a new virile revolutionary catalyst to the labour movement.
Whilst vapourising these noxious sects and their associated micro
bureaucracies and meglomaniac gurus.
Mark McGuire

Our site : alor.univ-montp3.fr/RA_Forum/
TO SEND A MESSAGE TO EVERYONE write to ra-l-AT-jade.univ-montp3.fr
TO UNSUBSCRIBE, WRITE TO : sympa-AT-jade.univ-montp3.fr
with the text SIGnoff RA-L (no subject nor signature).

Moderator/Moderador/Moderateur : Ronald Creagh
e-mail : rcreagh-AT-alor.univ-montp3.fr

Co-Moderator : John P. Clark

* List Archives

The Graphics ListThe Situationist ListXTension Discussion

This site made manifest by Manifesto software

Page executed in 0.02661395072937 seconds.
Loaded 202 classes from 6 of 10 total class files. Read 2 objects from the database. Served 2 items from the cache.
Queries - select: 7 count: 2 update: 1