Class Composition and the Theory of the Party, Workers’ Councils and the Social Factory: Notes on Sergio Bologna

Read Bologna’s piece here. This post is a work in progress. I am adding notes as I continue to think through this piece.

Structure of the labour force and political class composition in Germany before World War I:

Bologna is describing the composition of capital, the kind of production taking place in Germany, and the relationship to this and the worker’s councils that developed out of struggle. He explains how the most advanced councils same from the engineering sectors, the most skilled kinds of labor that revolved around the motor production industry which was also responsible for some of the most cutting edge of technological advances in the motor industry at that time. He is working on the question of what is the relationship between the kind of production and workers’ relationship to production, and their developing consciousness. Or more directly, “whether there was any relationship between these workers’ position in production and their political adherence to the workers’ council system.”

The concept of workers’ self-management could not have had such a wide appeal in the German workers’ council movement without the presence of a labour force inextricably linked to the technology of the labour process, with a strong sense of professional values and naturally inclined to place a high value on their function as “producers”. The concept of workers’ control as a system of management was a concept that saw the worker as an autonomous producer, and the factory’s workforce as a self-sufficient entity. It only saw the relation between the workers and individual employers or companies, and – as we shall see – it distrusted “politics” in its broad sense, i.e. the relationship between organisation and power, party and revolution.

A couple things Bologna is inspecting is the relationship of consciousness, the subjectivity of workers, and the objective conditions of their laboring process, in this case the more skilled layers of German production. So consciousness in a materialist versus ideological sense, I believe. Another is the essential character of the German workers movement being self-management. The first stuff is interesting, and Bologna spends some time describing how certain Taylorist institutions were not yet developed to manage the section of the class that he is referring to and instead there was a high beauracracy that enabled a close practical relationship between professional education and industry, and thus a growth in white collar jobs, and other key factors to how this section of the class was unique in its relationship to production and to each other in the period of developing councils in Germany. He contrasts this with Fordism and mass production in which:

Ford’s innovations were merely a qualitative advance in terms of machinery; in the long run, they represented the progressive extinction of the kind of worker who had ties to his machine, to his company, and to his craft. The highly skilled worker of the engineering industry was to give way to the modern assembly-line worker, who was de-skilled, without roots, highly mobile and interchangeable. Thus it is important to keep in mind that well before the German “labour aristocracy” was to become the “revolutionary vanguard”, well before its “trial by fire”, it had already been objectively doomed to extinction by the vanguards of capitalism.

Bologna also spends time discussing the political climate and workers organizations developing in the world like the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in the states as compared to the councils in Germany. The IWW, he says, was organizing the class around intrinsic characteristics; it was made up of immigrant workers, made up of more mobile sections of the class and not of those kinds more permanent or skilled laborers. This, Bologna claims, “made the notion of the social factory a concrete reality”.

The IWW succeeded in creating an absolutely original type of agitator: not the mole digging for decades within the single factory or proletarian neighbourhood, but the type of agitator who swims within the stream of proletarian struggles, who moves from one end to the other of the enormous American continent and who rides the seismic wave of the struggle, overcoming national boundaries and sailing the oceans before organising conventions to found sister organisations. The Wobblies’ concern with transportation workers and longshoremen, their constant determination to strike at capital as an international market, their intuitive understanding of the mobile proletariat – employed today, unemployed tomorrow – as a virus of social insubordination, as the agent of the “social wildcat”: all these things make the IWW a class organisation which anticipated present-day forms of struggle, and was completely independent of the tradition of the Second and the Third Internationals. The IWW is the direct link from Marx’s First International to the post-communist era.

Bologna compares what is happening in the US with the IWW’s emphasis on this precarious worker to what is happening in Russia and Germany at the time. Spontaneous strikes breaking out in the US and Germany alike, taking the form of mass strikes in across Europe. In Germany, however, unlike in the US, the sectors of the class striking, like the miners and skilled machine workers, were not able to be replaced easily using Fordism. Although there are critiques about the councils ability to overthrow capitalism, Bologna argues that what was significant about them was that they did not allow enough room for capital to transform and expand. The strength of the councils and workers hold on production, the inflexibility of capital at the time could only be met with the authoritarian “socialist” movement that came with fascism.

Questions that come up reading this piece: labor has drastically changed since the early 20th century so how can we use the differences between the social factory of the IWW and the workers councils of Germany to think about worker’s struggle today. Obviously this is not something we can just speculate and only worker’s struggle will tell, but developing a methodology of thinking through worker’s struggle is crucial if we are to be in a position to throw down with the class.


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