BOOK REVIEWS: Ours to Master and to Own. Workers’ Control from the Commune to the Present

IRSH 59 (2014), pp. 315–338r 2014 Internationaal Instituut voor Sociale Geschiedenis


Ours to Master and to Own. Workers’ Control from the Commune to the Present. Ed. by Immanuel Ness and Dario Azzellini. Haymarket Books, Chicago, Ill. 2011. x, 443 pp. $19.00. doi:10.1017/S0020859014000194

This collective work, dedicated to the history and present situation of workers’ control and self-management, gathers contributions from twenty-three authors, including the two editors: Immanuel Ness, professor at Brooklyn College, City University of New York, and Dario Azzellini, assistant professor at Johannes Kepler University in Linz (Austria). The contributors – academics in the majority, but also independent researchers and activists – come from Europe, Asia, and North and South America. That this is a ‘‘global’’ project is confirmed by the geographic diversity of the case studies: western Europe (UK, Italy, Germany, Spain, Portugal, and more), eastern Europe (Poland and Yugoslavia), Russia, North America (the US and Canada), Algeria, India, Indonesia, and Latin America (Argentina, Brazil, and Venezuela). Chronologically, the case studies cover experiences over about a century, beginning with the German Revolutionary Shop Stewards during World War I and stretching to Argentina’s recovered factories and Venezuela under Hugo Chavez. (Despite the title, the Paris Commune only receives a few remarks in a very general introductory chapter.) The work aims to be thoroughly pluridisciplinary, calling on political scientists (the most highly represented discipline, including the two editors), historians, economists, sociologists, industrial relations specialists, and management experts. However, in a collection focused primarily on history, it is worth noting that historians are clearly in the minority. I will return to this point later on.
According to Ness and Azzellini, this book project began with renewed curiosity in forms of direct action by workers, factory occupations, workers’ committees and selfmanagement. This renewed interest is attributable to contemporary political events involving these issues and, in a world dominated by neoliberalism and financial capitalism, to the re-emergence of radical forms of action that are outside the institutional framework. The authors’ clearly avowed aim is twofold: first, to advance knowledge, and, second, to thereby give workers and activists a tool, in straightforward language, allowing them to measure better the historical importance of workers’ control and the transformational power it holds, without neglecting the obstacles and constraints that it has faced.

Frank Georgi, Centre d’histoire sociale du XXe sie`cle, Universite´ Paris 1 Panthe´on Sorbonne 9 rue Malher, 75004 Paris, France

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