In: Socialist Standard

ALB on: "An Alternative Labour History"

This is a collection of articles describing – and advocating – ‘workers control’ at various points in history and in various places, particularly Latin America, today. The authors see workers spontaneously taking over workplaces as the way to a new society without private or state capitalists.
In times of economic and political chaos when factory owners lose control or abandon their factories, workers do not just sit back and do nothing. They take over the factories and try to keep production going.  This shows, as Azzellini points out in his introduction, that ‘workers do not need bosses to organize production’. But this has never lasted for any length of time.
Sooner or later ‘order’ has been restored, either by the old ruling class re-establishing control or by a new ruling class taking over, and ‘bosses’ have come back, whether the old private ones or new state ones. In some cases, however, the ’recuperated’ factories  have been given a legal basis as cooperatives producing for the market. But this is no solution.  Cooperatives, Azzelini writes in the section of his introduction ‘Limits and contradictions of the cooperative model’, ‘tend to operate within the capitalist logic of productivity and profitability … the pressure on them to a adopt a capitalist business logic is immense … cooperatives are embedded in the framework of the capitalist economy and compete on the capitalist market following the logic of profit-making … ‘
This is a better fate than being forcibly suppressed but is still a dead end. Which is why Azzelini favours a revolution in which there is a general movement of workers to ‘take and hold’ the means of production (to use the terminology of the old IWW, which surprisingly doesn’t get a mention).
A revolution led by workers’ councils would certainly be better than one led by a vanguard party but still underestimates the degree of understanding of those involved as to where they are going and ignores the need to win control of political power to permit this and/or to back it up.

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