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The Ordeal of Consciousness

Author(s): David Matza and David Wellman


Reviewed work(s):
Source: Theory and Society, Vol. 9, No. 1, Special Issue on Work and the Working Class (Jan.,
1980), pp. 1-27
Published by: Springer
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/656822 .
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1
THE ORDEAL OF CONSCIOUSNESS
DAVID MATZA and DAVID WELLMAN
Working
class consciousness is
usually
defined
negatively,'
conceived
by
both
exponents
and enemies as that which has never existed
except
in the
marxist
imagination.
This
stringent
definition can serve
only
as either a
formal ideal or as a
put-down
of the consciousness of the real
people
who
make
up
various national
proletariats.
It is in this sense that conscious-
ness is
subjected
to an ordeal.
Formal marxism
operates
with a
negative
definition since
pure proletar-
ian consciousness is attained
only
at the end of
history.
In the marxist
imagination, working
class consciousness
produces
a new social
organiza-
tion in which interests of the actual
producers
dominate the
system.
A
typical way
of
suppressing
an
understanding
of
working
class conscious-
ness is to remind readers of the
portentous
distinction between an sich
and
fur
sich, insisting
on the
primacy
of that which is not over the
vulgarity
of what is.
Naturally, everything interesting (which
is to
say,
history)
occurs between the two
types.
Living
Marxism and
Working
Class Consciousness
Academic marxism is dedicated to the abstruse
analysis
of
everything
from Balzac to world
systems.
Contrasted with this is a
living
marxism
existing
in the world of workers. In the
living
marxism of workers a
positive conception
of consciousness
begins
with
understanding
what
every
worker knows. More than most
philosophies, marxism,
it must be
remembered, has a bias toward the school of hard knocks. This know-
ledge
is often
regarded
as too obvious to be
academically challenging
or
worthy
of note. The
metaphor
of ordeal
points
to the buried features of
working
class life.
Departments of Sociology, Universit, of California, Berkeley, and
University of Oregon.
2
Taken for
granted
in the
working
class
experience
is the
urgency
of
livelihood.
Irrespective
of whether livelihood is obtained from
work,
hustling,
or
welfare, survival
requires
accomodation and
ingenuity.
Cal-
ling
this
ingenuity
"economism" misses the
point.
Without
understanding
the
depth
of
necessity,
there is no
appreciation
of
working
class
reality,
nor
any project
that envisions freedom.
Equally
taken for
granted
is a
political
subordination: the free
speech
of
civic life is alien to the
job.
Censorship
-
and thus enforced existence
outside of
anything resembling
"undistorted
speech
communities"
-
is a
basic feature of
supervised work,
whether white-collar or blue-collar.
Being
able to
say anything
one
wishes, and
having
the freedom to do so,
is one of the substantial
privileges
of
any society.
Control of communica-
tion, ranging
from the
imposition
of
complete
silence
during work, to the
invention of
self-protective etiquettes
of interaction with
superiors,
is
part
of the ordeal. Whatever it is that consciousness thinks and
says
when
things
come to
that,
it must think and
say
those
things
in the
light
of an
understanding
that it
may
well not be allowed to
speak.
Thus it is in the
nature of
working
class consciousness that it
frequently
has to be whis-
pered
or
winked; a certain
subtlety
is involved.
The ordeal of workers also includes the
expectation
of
regular
setbacks
summarized in the
myth
of
Sisyphus.
Both
individually
and
collectively,
the fear of
working people
is that
good
times are short-lived and that
gains
achieved are
easily
lost. The
working
class life
cycle
and
family
history
is characterized
by upward
and downward
mobility. Moreover,
the collective
history
of
working
classes manifests the
rapid change
of
fortune.
Italy, Spain, Germany, Brazil, and Chile
experienced significant
destruction of
working
class movements
presumably
close to
power.
And
in the United States, a labor movement which had
grown
and become
militant under the
facilitating protection
of the
Wagner
Act was effectiv-
ely
blocked and
institutionally
tamed
by
a
post-war
law arid order
begun
under the
Taft-Hartley
law.
The
necessity
for livelihood,
the authoritarian
workplace,
and the immi-
nence of
reprisal,
are material conditions of
working
class life. Each
introduces elements of realism and
prudence
to
working
class
thought
which are often confused with an absence of consciousness or "false"
consciousness. Yet it is these
very
material conditions that
represent
the
basis for
working
class consciousness; out of them
emerges
the
recogni-
tion that a
strategy
is
necessary
in the
pursuit
of class conflict.
3
Before these material conditions can
develop
into a characteristic view-
point, however,
a
possibility
for reconstruction must be conceived. With-
out a real foundation for
hope,
the realm of
necessity
could not be
transformed into a conscious
program
for freedom. Several reasons for
hope
have existed and each is worth
considering.
A first reason is found in an
image
of the
past.
The
reign
of
technology
over the work
process
is a recent fact of
history.
Most workers can
remember, or know
people
who can remember, a recent
past
character-
ized
by
a
greater
relative freedom over
working
conditions. The
pace
of
rapid technological change
more or less assures that in most kinds of
work the recent
past provides
a
picture
of freer work. The worker's belief
in the
"good
old
days"
refers to a work
process
over which workers
shared control, developed
a sense of
craft, and worked out understand-
ings
and
arrangements
with owners and
managers.2
That common sense
belief, though
not confirmed
completely,
is more or less
upheld by major
scholarly attempts
to characterize historical tendencies in the
organiza-
tion of the work
process.3
The reliance on the
past
for a more human
image
of the
productive
process
in not an eternal feature of
history.
Until the
post-revolutionary
period,
the revolution itself and the associated vision of a fundamental
reorganization
of
society
and work
provided
an alternative. Since the
reality
of the Russian and Chinese revolutions have
apparently
not
impressed
extant
working classes, national
proletariats
have become
more
dependent
on their own histories for
hope
and
inspiration.
In cer-
tain
parts
of the
world,
reliance on the
past
has been associated with
national liberation. In the
capitalist
world the
myth
and
metaphor
of a
working-class past
of
greater
freedom has
increasingly shaped
socialist
thought
and the new labor
history
of
Guttman, Montgomery,
Braver-
man, and
Thompson.
Each author describes different
ways
in which the
working
class in the nineteenth
century
had
greater
control over work
and
community
life than
contemporary
workers.
Because of the constant drift of
organization
and
technology
toward
greater
control and less
autonomy,
an elusive
hope grounded
in a
past
reality may
be found in the collective
history
of
any specific workplace.
Managerial
efforts to increase worker
autonomy
and decentralize
pro-
duction do not contradict the contention that control over the work
process
is
decreasing. Indeed, management
efforts
tacitly acknowledge
the historical
tendency
and
may legitimate attempts
to reverse the direc-
tion.4 Human effort
notwithstanding,
the historical drift of the work
4
process
is
away
from the human control once exerted in
agrarian
and
craft
production.
Since the
change
is
recent, the work situation is ren-
dered
problematic.
If
things
had been done
differently, they
can be done
differently.
The
rapidity
and
generality
of the
technological
and
organiza-
tional
change process
itself sets the
stage
for a climate of
inquiry
about
the current state of
things.
Yet even without a
hope
derived from the
past,
a more basic characteris-
tic of human action
may provide
a
principle
of resistance or non-
acceptance.
The activist
conception
of
humanity
has been recovered in
Gramscian marxism. A similar orientation toward an active
conception
of the
subject
has
long
survived in
sociology
under the name of
symbolic-
interaction.5 Both traditions would view an ordeal as
something against
which human
projects
are
developed.
In these
viewpoints, working
life is
seen as a
negotiation
and
struggle
in the face of obdurate or material
conditions. The activist
subject
of
symbolic
interaction makes an
object
of the
necessity
of livelihood and contends
against
this and other
aspects
of
capitalist hegemony. Though
substantive
empirical descriptions may
differ, beginning assumptions
of
contemporary
marxism and
contempor-
ary
accounts of
sociology
are
quite
similar. For both accounts, the neces-
sity
of
livelihood, the recurrence of
reprisal,
and the
consequences
of
cramped speech
are not to be taken as the final
accomplishment
of the
robot or silent worker.
Instead, these
widespread
conditions are realities
against
which
thought
takes form.
Despite
the clear
hegemony
of owners
and
managers
over the
workplace,
a
political
or marxist, as well as a
social
psychological standpoint
takes
hegemony
as an
object
of attention
and thus
possibly
a consideration to be resisted.
A
good
deal of
empirical
literature on workers' resistance to domination
confirms
predictions
made on the basis of marxian or Meadian frame-
works. From
descriptions
of
workplace
crime and other forms of sabo-
tage,
to the more recent stress on
working-class
blues and the associated
aspects
of
apathy
and
cynicism (like
not
voting
or
hell-raising),
the nor-
mal
sociological
assessment of
working-class
life concurs with the theo-
retical
expectation
of resistance, dissatisfaction, and unrest.6
The notion of ordeal
points
to the most
elementary,
and thus
deepest,
aspects
of structure. The
necessity
of livelihood, cramped speech,
and
recurrent
reprisal
is the first
understanding
of the structure of
working
class life, the first
insight
of the
subject
of
hegemony.
But to convert
necessity
into freedom, to become a
subject
instead of an
object, requires
building
an accurate
understanding
or a
theory
of the structure which in
the first
place produced
the
necessity.
5
How does the
working
class
go beyond
the realization of
necessity
and
begin
to think about the
possibility
of liberation from the structure sur-
rounding
it? A marxist answer to this
question
differs from a Meadian
conception
which assumes the innate
development
of human
thought
against
the
surrounding objects.
It differs also from an
image
of
hope
derived from the
past.
Marx located conscious
thought regarding
the
liberation from structural determination in the transition from the
quest
for freedom
sought nationally
on democratic
grounds
to the revolution
for
emancipation grounded economically
in class relations. This conten-
tion meant that
questions implicit
in the
standpoint
of attentive workers
contemplating
their
surroundings
and
using
"common sense" were basic
for a
philosophy
of liberation.
To conceive of an attentive worker is to attribute a
philosophic
turn of
the mind. Marxism could
imagine
workers
using imagination.
Instead of
taking
structure as
given,
the worker makes it
problematic,
converts it to
an
object
of
thought.
This is the
philosophic
turn of
mind, philosophy
brought
down to earth, the dawn of consciousness. This down-to-earth
notion of
working people's
consciousness
points
to a concern with the
work situation.
Theoretically constructing categories
of consciousness in
this
way
differs from the
prevalent
method in marxism and in leninism.
It has most in common with
phenomenology
and radical
syndicalism.
The basic
point
of
departure
is that consciousness is built from the
prob-
lems and concerns
besetting
the
average
worker
daily.
Gazing
at the floor or
staring
at the
ceiling,
workers not
only
wander
from a work
process
so
deeply
mastered it can be disattended
(like
driv-
ing),
but
they
are
capable
of
thinking generally
about the
larger system
that has
produced
their
predicament.
The worker can
contemplate
the
structure which
envelopes individuality
and
produces self-alienation. This
does not mean that such
thought
is habitual or
frequent;
nor does it mean
that each worker
independently
invents a
theory. Instead, as in
any
other
social
situation,
a collective
understanding
is there for the new worker to
learn and share. That collective
understanding
is
subjective
in a
positive
sense; it focuses on
objective
realities rather than
fancifully departing
from them. It is this
relationship
between
subjective
and
objective
that
provides
a clue to the
questions
to be raised
by
conscious
thought.
Cons-
ciousness looks into the structure behind realities faced
by
each worker in
the work situation. Each work situation embodies and
partly
summarizes
forces of
production
and class relations.
By
conscious
thought
the
possi-
bility
of
change
is introduced since an
understanding
of structure
opens
it
to criticism.
6
Three
categories
of
questions
are evoked
by
the concrete details of work-
ing
life. The first
question
considers the
way things
are run.
Inquiry
is
directed toward the unseen to consider the effort and
organization
that
must have
gone
into
producing
the
very
situation the worker exists in and
ponders.
The
question
of business
enterprise
can
only
be answered
by
a
theory
addressed to those who have
enterprisingly produced
the structure
that contains the situated
perspective
of the worker.
Though dependent
on the
particular country
or
period
of
history,
the answer to this
question
is a tacit
theory
about the
ruling
group.
The classical formulation of such
a
theory during
the nineteenth
century
was Marx's
description
of
Capital.
Various forces and
agencies may
be allied to the
ruling class, but the
focus in this
question
of consciousness is
mainly
on
being
run.
Being
run
reflects on the nature of the other. The
ruling system
is
objectified:
it is
made an
object
of
thought.
One cannot think too
long
on the nature of
being
run without encounter-
ing
a second
question:
the
boundary
between "them" and "us". Before
becoming
an issue for marxist or
sociological theory,
the class
problem
of
self-definition
needs immediate consideration. Because of the recurrence
of
reprisal,
the restriction of
speech,
and
necessity
for
livelihood, the
issues of trust, loyalty,
and
self-protection
are
anything
but casual. The
reality
of
betrayal
and the feared
reprisal undergirds
the
philosophical
question
of boundaries. The
frequency
of
reprisal
is not an issue. The
sub-culture of
working people
collects
examples
of
being
fired and arbi-
trarily
mistreated as a result of the
betrayal
of confidence.
Marxists and
sociologists
sometimes follow the
guidance
of
working
people
and
suggest
workable
ways
for
distinguishing
between the
major
class interests and class statuses.
Despite disputes,
the
overwhelming
number of marxists and
sociologists
have defined class
boundary
at the
point
of intersection between
ownership
and control. Based on either
ownership, control, or both, the
ruling principle
is the class for whom the
working
class works.7
Unfortunately,
the inference drawn from this ele-
gant conception
is inconclusive for both the worker in the
empirical
world and the
sociologist exploring
that world. The definition
implies
that the
boundary
is
constantly negotiated
and
renegotiated.
The
people
caught
between remain
caught
between.
Everyone else, however, can be
classified.
Once the
boundary
issue is
tentatively solved,
the main
aspect
of the
second
category
of
question may
be addressed:
solidarity.
The self-
conception
of class must deal with the characteristics of the
community
7
of
people
to be
regarded
as "us". This is axiomatic and consists of
criteria of definition, obligation,
and
proper
behavior.
The third
question quite easily poses
the nature of the
relationship
be-
tween the two formed entities of consciousness. The two classes interact
and the
question
of their
relationship is, in marxist
theory,
not
only
a
normative
question,
but the normative
question.
The
proper relationship
between the classes is both a
technological
and ethical issue. The
question
raised
simultaneously
relates to the rational maximization of
production
and the
liberating
human
organization
of the work
process.
Answers to
the
question
of the
proper
relations between the classes are therefore
tantamount to basic theories of social
justice.
These three
categorical questions provide
a framework for three levels of
description
of the
workings
of the total
system
of
production.
The first
question yields
a
theory
of
hegemony,
an
attempt
to describe the
chang-
ing
and
complicated way
in which the rulers run the
system.
The second
yields
a
theory
of
solidarity:
it is an
attempt
to describe the
changing
and
complicated ways
in which the
working
class is
organized against
domi-
nation. The third
yields
a
theory
of
justice:
it
attempts
to
provide
a
rational and
cogent
defense for the
principle
of
putting
the interest of one
class before the other. Whenever a theoretical account is devised which
summarizes a
conception
of
justice
for "us" as
opposed
to "them," we
may say
that consciousness has been described.
In the
living
marxism of the
working class, one can find the buried or
elementary
features of consciousness. Taken for
granted
is the
rationality
of workers'
everyday
life in which their material conditions
critique
the
call to instant
revolutionary
heroism. Built
upon
this
experience
of neces-
sity
is the
hope
for liberation devised from an activism
implicit
in the
human, historical, and social characteristics of the worker. And
emergent
from this context of
emancipated necessity
is a critical
working
class
perspective:
a class
theory
of
hegemony, solidarity,
and
justice.
Organized Complexity
and Class Consciousness
To consider the
ways
in which a critical
working
class
theory
has been
stated, it is useful to recall that the
history
of the modern industrial
working
class
begins
with the classic formulation of Marx. Marx wrote at
the
beginning
of modern
capitalism
and
by
his own
assessment, took the
theory
from the
viewpoint
of
workers, especially
French workers.
8
Three elements can be
distinquished
in that
early
formulation:
1)
the
hegemony
of
capital,
a new
principle
of
organization by
which a
ruling
class consolidated its own
power
to
organize production by exploiting
a
labor
market; 2)
an
uprooted
class driven from the
countryside
commun-
ity
becomes a
propertyless
and landless
proletariat;
and
3)
a social demo-
cratic
theory
of
revolutionary justice
in which the
producers'
control over
the
economy
directs the state
against
the
bogus democracy
of
bourgeois
government
and the class order of
bourgeois
law.
The
necessity
to revise and
change
this classical statement became evident
almost
immediately
since each decade of the still nascent
system
of
capi-
talism
brought
new features, new
responses,
and new
ways
of
devising
the
control. From the internationalism of French rulers in
coping
with the
Paris Commune, to the
corporate
fiction of
English
concern to limit
liability,
the
system
seemed able in a
variety
of
ways
to absorb the move-
ment, to withstand attack, and to reform institutions.
The
changed
institutions of
surviving capitalism
extended late into the
twentieth
century.
The new and more
complicated
forms of
capitalism
were
especially important
in the United States because the new world
came late to
capitalism
and
precapitalist
forms tended to be more tho-
roughly destroyed
than in
Europe
where the status
hierarchy
of feudalism
affected
early capitalism.
In the
century
that intervened between the classic marxian formulation
and the
present time, each of the elements addressed
by
the class
perspec-
tive
experienced
enormous
complications.
The free
enterprise system
of
market
hegemony
exacted
by
an
entrepreneurial
class
gradually
inte-
grated
a
corps
of
managers
and technicians whose relation to the
ruling
system
was often unclear, shifting,
and different from the
simpler
order of
direct
bourgeois
rule. Moreover, capitalism gradually
fused with and was
enveloped by
an
increasingly important
state sector which
developed
responsibilities
and
powers
over and above those which
capital
was able
or
willing
to
accept.
The twin effect of
management
below and of the
state above the actual owners of the
productive system suggests
the basic
form of the
process
has
undergone
a
qualitative
shift. The
capitalist
system today
must be
qualified by
the term, state
management.
The
solidarity
of the US
working
class differed from the
European.
The
mechanical
solidarity
of the
European working
class was
mainly
based on
national
affinity
or
homogeneity.
In America,
the more
complex organic
solidarity gradually emergent
was built
against
the divisive
heterogeneity
9
of an
immigrant
and colonial labor force. The United States also
experi-
enced a
rapid growth
of clerical and
professional occupations
within the
corporate
and state bureaucracies and these
people began
to differentiate
themselves from the
corps
of
management.
As a result of the
changed
nature of the two
contending classes, the
relationship
between them is
more
complex.
When the classical social democratic
period
of
revolutionary justice
failed
to overthrow
capitalism
where it was in
power,
a revisionist
conception
of
class relations
slowly appeared.
Since
1917, class relations have
gradually
shifted toward institutionalized class collaboration with a
complicated
system
of
collectively bargained
law and custom.8 The collective
bargain-
ing agreement
summarizes the state of relations between
capital
and
labor at
any given point
in time. The real relations between the two are
thereafter
continuously negotiated
and
renegotiated
in the
on-going
conflicts and
disputes occurring
at the
workplace
and in the
grievance
process.
This
system
has
slowly appeared
in all of western
capitalism.
Grounding
National Consciousness in Class
Struggle
Consciousness can be
produced by
a class in formation. In
becoming
a
working class, a vision of the whole
system
is clarified. The
process by
which consciousness evolves
is, as
Thompson
describes
it, gradual,
long-lasting,
and
steeped
in
tradition, although during
the
period
there
may
be a
rapid coming together
of discrete tendencies which were
previously
unrelated. In that
sense,
it is
possible
to locate the rise of class
consciousness at
particular
times: when a national-democratic
period
of
strife and
protest
draws to a close, as in
1848, and when
thinking
about
freedom turns to
questions
of
political economy.9
That
insight
of
marxism
provides unity
and
continuity
for the
concept
of class conscious-
ness. But since there are numerous moments when national-freedom
precepts
are
grounded,
the marxist formulation
provides ample
room for
an
historically specific conception
of class consciousness.
In the United States the
key
element in the formulation of a
working
class
consciousness is the transformation of national minorities from isolated
periphery
to
integral
core of the
working
class. In this
sense, conscious-
ness is
grounded during
the
period
when liberation is
sought by extending
the
meaning
of freedom from the national
-
or
citizenship
-
realm to
political economy.
That
process
is
already underway
and thus a discus-
sion of several
developments
connected with the
grounding
of conscious-
10
ness is in order. Each
development provides consciousness with a
grounded
meaning and each
describes an
emergent practice in recent
American
history. The first
pertains to a method of activism that was eas-
ily transferable from a
movement
concerned with
political
citizenship
to a
movement around
workplace subordination.
Immediate Direct Action: The Politics
of Personal
Life
During
the
1960s
a
self-conception
tacitly emerged among racial, sexual
and
political minorities of
themselves as "national"
minorities. The idea
was
adapted from national liberation
movements abroad and made head-
way
in the conflict
against the
majority culture.10 In the
process a
previ-
ously suppressed
aspect
of
domination
began to surface. As black
people
encountered colonial attitudes in their
everyday relations with white
friends and
co-workers,
and as women
uncovered
elitism,
chauvinism,
and sadism
among men close to
them, a method
emerged for
insisting
that
people practice what
they preached. Instead of
postponing precepts
of
equality until the
Liberation, women, blacks, and other
self-conceived
national
minorities
deliberately demanded liberation now. The imme-
diate demand consisted of direct action
applied to those closest at
hand and most
ideologically
vulnerable: liberal or radical white males.
The
politics of resistance was asserted in
personal life. This
tendency
reached its
highest
development in the
women's movement. Relative to
racism, sexism involves more
frequent interaction between the
(male) op-
pressor and
(female) oppressed. The
prescribed action of the direct
approach was to "deal with" the
insinuated
subordination. Members of
privileged race and sex
categories were
"jammed," sometimes into
submission but more often into the shocked realization that
systematic
penalties would be exacted if
supremacy continued. The
privileged sense
of
well-being would be
interfered with and reduced unless
change
occurred in the structure of
interaction across caste lines.
By
the same
token, a reward was offered to white males: the benefits of
equality and
the
open exchange
of
viewpoints made for
deeper and more authentic
social relations.
Though difficult to
estimate, the number of Americans affected
by
the
politics of
personal life was
probably quite large. One
indication is the
amount of male
squawking about
"women's libbers" and the latest new
thing being demanded. Another is the
growing familiarity regarding
the
impropriety
of
derogatory phrases and terms
referring
to sexual and
racial minorities.
11
The immediate politics
of
personally-pointed
direct action manifested
itself also at the workplace.
In recent years,
evidence has mounted of
greater job
dissatisfaction,
difficulties
in worker management,
and a
breakdown
of the assumed grounds
for worker discipline.
Rebelliousness
appears
in back-talk
inflicted on
supervisors,
an enriched language
of
hidden sarcasm and insubordination,
and the direct "dealing
with"
"smart-ass" college grad,
lower-middle management "types".
These indi-
cations of a swelling
discontent and unrest in the everyday
interactions
across class lines received confirmation at the formal or institutional
level. Grievance machinery
for the formal expression
of complaints
is
overloaded to the
point
where in many
industries the danger
of
breakdown
is widely
feared." The backlog
of unsettled grievances
is such that the
system appears
often to
postpone
action instead of resolving disputes.
The
operative
rule of management
is work now, grieve
later. The emergent
pattern
of labor, however,
is to increasingly
criticize the formula as
inherently pro-management
and to
press
for immediate resolution,
on the
understanding
that
postponement
of
grievance
resolution advantages
management.
Immediate direct action, however,
is an attempt
to assert
workers' control over the
productive process.
A
grievance
is the complaint
of workers against
the everyday political
manifestation
of economic and technological
life. The formal and infor-
mal expression
of
grievances
is a
sign
of resistance by
the working
class.
And the
pressure
for immediate direct action is a recognition
that the
postponement
of
gratification
is a middle class
preference
for working
class lives. The
politics
of
personal
life reveal that ideology
is masked by
the
polite request
to defer complaints.
The Dialectic Between National and Class Awareness
Samuel Gompers provided
economism with its
slogan
when he summa-
rized working
class aspirations
as the struggle
for "more". With that
expression,
the
popular corps
of rising
labor leaders in the US during
the 1890s announced to the world that along
with their constituency they
had
grasped
the marxist
point regarding
the expropriation
of
surplus
as
the mode of accumulation
of
capital
without the necessity
of reading
Marx. The
possibility
of asking
for more was
ripped
from the context of
the whole analysis
and the full
program.
Economism became the
practi-
cal basis for revisionism. Following
the German talent for theory,
Edward Bernstein took the teachings
of labor leaders like Gompers
and
lowered the specter, coining
the
phrase,
evolutionary
socialism. Denounc-
ed as economism by
Lenin,
and likened to Roman demagoguery by
12
DeLeon, the
viewpoint of labor and its leaders
gradually became
sepa-
rated from
revolutionary socialism. Between the wars
and
during the
current
post-war,
the
revisionist social
democracy
of
Europe became
more
and
more
like
American trade
unionism
following the
Gompers
tradition.
The level-of
consciousness attained in this
viewpoint might best
be called class
awareness.
If the
revisionism of labor
leaders, their
followers,
and
their theorists
was
shocking
to
Engels, the turn
gradually taken
by
Russian
marxism after
the
revolution
was
even more
divergent from the
fundamental
thoughts
of
the
founder. The answer to
the evolutionary labor
revisionism of
Western
Europe
was
the
world-revolutionary
liberation
movement of
leninism.
How
did those shifts
and
tensions affect the United States? The dialectic
between national
and class
awareness on the world
scene was instituted
internally. When the
building
of
a
labor
movement in the 1930s
and 1940s
was followed
by
the
development of
a national-liberation movement of
the 1950s
and
1960s, the
possibility existed for
a meeting
of the two
tendencies. The historical
dialectic between these two
great sources of
marxism is reflected in the
everyday interaction between actual workers
alive with the endowed
meanings
of each
history. Personal life
manifests
politics. Thus
individual
instances of
discussion
and conversation
are
endowed with
symbolic
significance. Seen in this
way, ordinary actors
become historical
embodiments, agents of
collective
representation. Even
if the
questions of
frequency
and
statistical
representatives are
valid, so
too is the
focus
on the
occurence
itself. We cannot know whether conver-
sations are
typical or unusual until
they have been noted. A
description of
the
intellectual or
thoughtful life of the
workplace
community must
begin with
hypothetical instances of
which
there
are
real or
observable
examples.
In the
everyday dialogue of work
and community, spokesmen for
class
awareness
may be
challenged
by
reminders of racial
exclusion and the
sexual
grievance of domestic
subordination. In
turn,
race representatives
can
be
confronted
by
old-timers with
memories of
scabs and challenged
by
young white workers
concerned with the
consequences affirmative
action
might have for their
personal situations.
Spokeswomen for sex
equality are
engaged
in
an
on-going dialogue
regarding
the
meaning and
relevance of
workplace
and
domestic division of labor. Furthest
along,
perhaps because the distance
was
slightest, is the
conversation between
older
and
younger workers.
Urban, lower
class, young black workers
and
13
their white
hippie counterparts
talk to and relate with older workers on
issues of
lifestyle, discussing
the relative merits of booze and
drugs.
Differ-
ences of
opinion
between the
generations
are also
expressed
about the
role and function of trade unions. Most basic, perhaps,
is the
on-going
discussion between an older, more traditional commitment to the work
process
and the
younger skepticism
and
cynicism coupled
with a dedi-
cated hedonism.
The
meeting
of national and class traditions
brings
new dimensions and
understandings
to the
categorical questions
of
hegemony, solidarity,
and
justice.
The abstract issues of domestic
reproduction
and the
exploitation
of women come down to earth in the
disputes regarding
the costs and
responsibilities
for child care. The
world-system
dilemmas of core and
periphery,
and the associated contradictions between
cheap
and dear
labor are
brought
home from school to the
working
class father and onto
the
shop
floor
by
a new
working
class brother. The
older, more class
aware worker is forced to
justify
an American worker's standard of liv-
ing.
And as the
longshoreman poet George
Benet
explains,
the class
perspective
is
prodded beyond
awareness to a
cynical
criticism.
Perhaps
the new
generation
alerts the old to the issues of
imperialism
and the
economy
as a world
system.
But the older cohort reminds the
young
of
the deceit of
propaganda
which
implores European
workers to
subject
themselves to colonial conditions.
In his
poem
to a
"Daughter,"
Benet
speaks
for
many
workers who, in the
popular stereotypes
of academic
parlors, profit
or benefit from world-
system
or white skin
privilege.
The
poem
concludes as it
begins:
"What
do I know of
Nigerians?/
What do I know of the dreams and
desires/
of
young girls?"
The
daughter
has learned to tell her father that "the
people
of
Nigeria
have
swamps
full of malaria." Benet rears back and
explains
that the
personal knowledge
of the
working
class is more
grounded. "My
tears are for
my
own Dad with his carbide
lamp/ following
a small
donkey
into
endless/
tunnels . . . into his coffin of oak
beams/
lined with
anthracite/
...
My
tears are for six
longshoremen/
killed in a crane
accident ....
"12
He asserts the standard
concept
of American unionism:
the
working
conditions of
foreign
workers are to be raised to the Ameri-
can level instead of vice versa. In other
words, the "more" of
Gompers
has run into the
world-system
theories of dual labor and tiered
wages.
Thus two
aspects
of the
complicated contemporary hegemony
of
capital-
ism are
grounded
in the
everyday dialogues
between a
generation
of class
aware workers and a
younger generation
educated to the ideas of nation-
14
al liberation. The
reproduction
of labor in domestic households and the
world-system organization
of
imperial capitalism
insinuate themselves as
live talk in the
workplace
and
community
of
working
class life. With
regard
to the so-called central
point
of academic marxism, the Lukcasian
reminder of the
mystification
of
capital,
the worker
surprisingly
wonders
why everyone
"intellectual" makes such a
big
deal about the
discovery
of
the
profit system.
When told
by
the
younger generation
about the
tyranny
of the
profit motive, the older worker is inclined to ask: What
else is new?
The dialectic between national and class
viewpoints
also affects
thought
on the
questions
of
solidarity
and
justice.
The
solidarity question appears
in several
ways
from the
working
class
perspective.
Historical
changes
in
the nature of work blur the boundaries between the classes which work
and those for whom
they
work. Within the
working class, the adminis-
tered technical
complexity
of the work
process
has had a
polarizing
effect. The skill level of a substantial
part
of the work force has been
upgraded
while a lower tier has been
marginalized
or
partly displaced.
The
displacement
takes two forms:
overtly
in the
unemployed
worker
being replaced by
mechanization or automation, and
covertly by raising
the
proportion
of the
population
defined
demographically
as
dependent.
A
long-run
attrition is effected
by increasingly postponing
the
average
age
of
entering
the labor force and
increasingly prolonging
the
propor-
tion of lived
years
retirement. Thus economic
development
has a simulta-
neous
implication creating
dual
categories
of new workers: one
highly
skilled, the other in reserve. This
process
has been endemic since the rise
of
capitalism.
It is continuous and fitful. The division between
property
and a
privileged
workforce is re-created in order to solve the
on-going
crisis of
capital.
Class
solidarity
is threatened
by
the
hegemonic tendency
to create extremes of skilled technicians and reserve force around a core
of
average
workers.
A second but related
problem
derives from the historic
process
faced first
and most
rapidly by
the United States: the
growth
of
corporate agribusi-
ness has
drastically
reduced the
proportion
of
people working
on the
countryside
as either laborers or small holders. The continuous and
rapid
process
of urbanization has relocated a
disproportionately
southern
black and white
population
in the cities. Like the
process
of economic
development,
the drive to urbanization and the
displacement
of a landless
peasantry
have created difficult
conceptual problems
in the definition of
class
solidarity, specifically
whether farm labor is
part
of the
working
class in the more
sophisticated
sense of
being capable
of
self-organization
15
and the
improvement
of life standards. After several defeated
attempts,
farm labor has
finally joined
and been
accepted
as the newest
part
of the
organized working
class. The
problematic
connected with one
key
issue
of class
boundary
was resolved over the last decade
by
the
organization
of farm workers
closely
associated with a Chicano movement. Nowhere
has the relevance of a national liberation momentum for the
development
of a class
perspective
been clearer: the Chicano movement
provided
notions of
right
and racial
power
to an
organization
for farmworkers that
was
rarely
far removed from national liberation sentiments.
The other issues of class
boundary
remain unresolved since
they
have not
been
subjected
to concrete
organization
or action. The
organization
of
the work force into a more
highly paid
and
protected
sector of
prime
labor divided from a reserve force of
unemployed young
and retired old
workers
presents
a
conceptual problem
to the self-definition of the work-
ing
class. The
potential
resolution of such issues
may perhaps
be found in
the
vantage point
which old workers have for
seeing
and
understanding
the life
cyclic
division of labor
process.
At the end of the
working
class
life
cycle,
a
period
of economic
retrenchment, known as retirement, adds
a new
perspective
on the
ups
and downs of
working
class existence. The
period
of affluence is
subjected
to the substantial
qualifications
of
youth
and
age.
The old worker learns from
aging
that a
positive
assessment is
premature.
Whatever the resolution of the
problematic
of class self-defi-
nition, it consists of the
discovery
of a
practical arrangement
and not an
abstract formulation. The
practical arrangement
builds the
problematic
elements
-
retired workers or
unemployed youth
-
into the
organization
of the
working
class.
The labor force
experience
of the
young
worker
-
before the
prime age
of
24
-
can be conceived as consistent with or a continuation of the
minority
status of
youth.
But the
self-conception
as excluded can also be contra-
dicted
by
the
anticipation
of
primary
labor
employment
status. Thus the
entire
period
of
youth may
be seen as a
complex combining
of time for
leisure and
expression
with a second class economic and
political
status.
For this reason the
dialogue
between white and black
youth
or between
men and women becomes central in whether class
solidarity
is destined to
include
youth.
For white
youth,
the
minority
status is a
temporary excep-
tion to first class status; for black
youth
and women, it is an
especially
aggravated part
of an entire life
cycle.
Conceptions
of class
justice
have also been revised. The
complex
relation-
ship
between the
organized
classes of business and labor feature a
system
16
of
conflict
institutionalized
in a
collectively bargained
contract.
The
inter-
action of this
already
complex
system with a
newly
radicalized
cohort of
minority workers
opens
possibilities for
yet another
change in the
dynamic
relations
between an
owning and a
working class.
The
period of
intense civil
rights
agitation
followed
by an
assertion of
black
power
generalized to
include
every other
minority led to the
percep-
tion
by elites that the
masses had
gone
crazy.
Conservative
writers like
Samuel
Huntington refer to the
pathology of
participation
democracy or
a
rights
revolution.13
Every period of
national
rights
agitation has
impres-
sed the elite
objects of
demands as
beleaguering,
unreasonable, and over-
bearing. A
great chill
overcomes
elites when it
becomes
apparent to them
that the next
step taken
by a
demanding
citizenry will be to take their
demands to the
workplace.
Systematic
evidence is
needed to
clarify the
notion
that
members of
minority
groups
differentially raise
demands and
grievances at the
work-
place. Such
evidence is not
yet available and thus
only a
hypothetical
argument is
possible
regarding the
likelihood that
women,
blacks, and
young workers
carry more than their
just burden of
resisting and
oppos-
ing the class
justice built into
the
supervision
process.
Fighting against
the
justice
system of
management is
facilitated
when a
taken-for-granted
system of
rules
announced
by superiors is seen as
just
that, rather
than
something endowed with
legitimacy. The
persistence of civil
rights senti-
ments
prepares the
person for
just such an
attitude of
disbelief. The
assumption that rules are
oppressive is
easy
to
transfer to the
workplace.
Management
frequently notes that
young workers
sometimes act as if the
firm is
supposed to be
democratic. And
smart
management even
develops
a
rhetoric of
democratic work
process.
The
propensity to raise
demands and
submit
grievances
seems a
corollary
to a
politics of
personal life.
The
immediate
direct
action
tactic of
aggriev-
ed
minorities leads
easily from the
personal or
group encounter
between
intimates or
friends to the
habit of
complaint or
formally lodged griev-
ance
in the
class
interaction with
superiors at
the
workplace. An
equal
"takes no
shit". Thus
dealing with the
expectations of
superiority means
the
necessity to
stand
up for
oneself, to
assert
anew a
conception of
rights.
The new
assertion of
right is
more
visible if one
considers
procedural
justice rather
than
substantive
reform.
Many unions in
recent
years have
been
prompted to
push for due
process
rights in
disciplinary
hearings and
17
the formal
grievance machinery.
The
right
to confront one's accuser in
the event of a
management complaint against
a worker,
the demand for
the
safeguards
of fair
hearing,
as well as more
stringent
standards of
evidence, are on the
agenda
in the
ongoing
conflict between industrial
classes
collaborating
in a
productive system. Management
takes the
posi-
tion that to intrude an
adversary legal system
into the
productive process
is an interference with their
presumptive right
to rule.
Increasingly
the
labor
standpoint
asserts that the
adversary relationship
is in the nature of
the case. Thus the conflict is
complicated
but not dismissed
by being
set
in a context of
quasi-legal
relations. The demand for
rights
uttered
by
minority groups
is instituted in the
procedural
relations embodied in
collectively bargained agreements.
A second interaction between national and class awareness of
justice
is
more direct or
straightforward.
Points of conflict between the class
system
of
bargained rights
for workers and the race
system
of deference
and
privilege appear frequently.
A
key point
of contention is the
seniority
system
which builds the
privilege
of first arrival into the class
viewpoint
of older white workers. The national
minority rationally challenges
the
legitimacy
of a
seniority system,
even when
granting
that
seniority may
be
preferable
to
outright management
control of
hiring
and
promotion.
Thus a demand for race and sex
justice
is
superimposed.
At first resisted,
trade unions have followed other institutions
by gradually
accommodat-
ing
to court decisions
regarding
affirmative action in
hiring
and
seniority.
Despite frequent
accusation of
bigotry, compared
to
managers
and
owners, the
working
class is the most
integrated
class in American soci-
ety. Management
has not been
wholly responsible
for this state of affairs.
The dialectic between national and class
expressions
seems
especially
important
in
conditioning
the relations between a whole
working
class
and the
management
of
capitalism.
Reinforcement of
emergent rights
of
workers
by
the
freshly acquired citizenship expectations
of national
minorities
changes
the balance of
power
and the
dynamics
of conflict.
Because of the
process
of
grounding
civil
rights
in the
workplace
and thus
at the class
struggle,
the
position
taken
by working
class
spokesmen
against
leftist intellectuals becomes more defensible. The trade union
argument
made since the 1930s has been that collective
bargaining,
far
from
being capitulation,
is the form taken
by contemporary
class conflict.
This
viewpoint presupposes
that the official contract
negotiation
is
only
a
first round. The lived contract is a constant
fight
to
renegotiate
the terms
of class relations. Thus the
capacity
for class conflict
depends
on smart
workers and their union
representatives consciously using
the
arrange-
ments embodied in the contract.
18
National and Class
Awareness in the
Context of
Austerity
The
fate of the
dialectic
between labor and
national-liberation
viewpoints
can
only
be
assessed
by
taking
into account the
political context within
which
it
occurs.
The current context is
dominated
by
the
politics of
austerity. The
reality
of
stagnation
combined
with inflation
-
or
stagfla-
tion --favors a
broad
offensive
which
retrenches wants and
opposes
broadening
the
diversity
of
services
for new human needs. The
shape
of
an
amalgamation between
labor
and national
awareness
-
if in
fact one
emerges
-
will
be
in the context of
political and
economic
issues
contain-
ing
it.
The context of
austerity
politics
has thus far
succeeded
in
stopping
the
advance of
liberation
thinking
by
responding
to the demands of
any
minority with an
oppositional
single issue
campaign,
thus
forming
the
focus
of a
right-of-center
politics: against the
easy abortion and the con-
stitutional
equality demanded
by
feminist
women; against the
open iden-
tity flaunted
by gay
men and
women; against the tax
basis
of
livelihood
assumed
by
welfare state
employees and
clients; against the
affirmative
action
claimed
by racial
minorities; against the criminal's
justice granted
by
a liberal
judiciary.
The
Homeland
Concept
and the
Making of
an Ideological
Majority
The
history
of
reactionary
politics
periodically features the
appearance of
new
bases
for an
ideological
majority.'4 The
necessity
for new
concepts
comes
from the common sense
realization that the
working class is the
real
majority.
Reactionary
politics
has been creative. The
conformity
of
the
1920s
and
1950s broke
new
ground in
language by conceiving
of a
consumer of mass
production. At first an
ideological construction of
woman, this
consumer
became a middle
class entity abstracted from the
classical
distinction between a
working
class
and a
propertied interest.
The middle
class conception
of
consumer
was
successfully maintained as
ideology until the
1960s'
radical and
effective
critique of social institu-
tions. This
challenge formed an
important part
of the
so-called "legiti-
macy crisis". The
depths of that crisis were so
intently considered
by
marxists that the
real crisis
-
the
"relegitimation"
crisis
-
has been virtu-
ally ignored.
At
the end of the
1960s,
a new
conformity gradually appeared on the
social
landscape. An economic basis for this new conformist
majority
was
implicit in a
major post-war
development.
Beginning
in
1945,
the United
19
States and other
surviving capitalist
nations undertook a suburban deve-
lopment program
based on a new use of the
concept
of
property.
If the
proletariat
was landless or without tools, a
propertied proletariat might
be
developed.
Home
"ownership"
would stand for
property
even
though
the
ownership
was
mitigated by virtually life-long mortgage payments.
Also
suppressed
in the new
linguistics
was the distinction between
posses-
sions and real or
wealth-producing property. Through
this
process
an
ideological majority slowly
took
shape
on the suburban
countryside.
The
necessity
for
relegitimation
became clear when the faith a nation
ordinarily
invests in state and
economy
was
sequentially jarred by
war
defeat, presidential
scandal and economic
stagflation.
The old liberalism
combined a welfare state with a world
power
orientation to
provide
a
post-war
solution sometimes referred to as
military Keynesianism.
The
liberalism of
relegitimation
retreats to nineteenth
century bourgeois
values and therefore warrants the
designation
new conservative liberal-
ism.
The main features of this
ideology
are outlined in the
appeals
of the
single
issues
campaign
and reflect a middle class
majority conception
of
pro-
perty ownership
devoted to
countryside
values of home, family,
and
individual. The small-holder
captured
in the
image
of the American far-
mer is recreated in the suburban homeowner. The affronts of the new left
movement
appear
as
squandering,
excessive waste
-
urban excess
-
from
the
standpoint
of
austere, nineteenth
century
liberalism. From the wasted
seed of male
homosexuality
to the wasteful life of the so-called tax
eater,
from the aborted life of a half-formed
fetus, to the
inflationary policy
of
government spending,
the suburban mood of the homelander culture
relegitimates
the values of the
petite-bourgeoisie
in a new and
meaning-
ful
way.
It is this situation of
relegitimation,
and no
longer
the crisis of
legitimacy,
which sets the current context for the interaction between the
working
class and national awareness.
The
newly developed countryside
modernizes the traditional
critique
of
urbanity.
At the
ideological
level it
segments
the class division on the
basis of
territoriality.
The
city
is
dangerous
and wasteful, and at its center
is a lower class of
minority
races. In
Proposition 13, California's
pioneer-
ing right-of-center campaign
reflects its
geography
of residential home-
ownership
and the instant
populism
of the initiative
process.
The home-
land
conformity
of the suburban
countryside
has refurbished the
lagging
spirit
of the small towns of rural, America. The dimension of tract
develop-
ment is added to the virtues of self-reliance on home and
family.
Indivi-
dualism is
organized.
20
The
organization
of class values into the
place
of residence is the method
of the new middle class
synthesis.
The virtues of
ownership
can no
longer
be
believably
claimed for the clear
majority
of
working people
at their
workplace.
The
necessity
and
logic
of the middle class
ideology
therefore
gradually
turns from
production
to
consumption,
from real
property
to
large personal possessions purchased through
installment or
mortgage
payments.
Good reason exists to
suppose
that the current
process
of
relegitimation
will be
enduring
and not
ephemeral.
The new
conformity
is
firmly
based
in an austere economic situation that has been forecast for the next
.decade,
if not
longer.
The
reactionary quality, moreover, touches a core
of
meaning
at several levels of social life. The current context of home-
centeredness
appears
as a defense of
recently challenged
central values.
Finally,
the new middle class
synthesis
has been successful in
forming
the
basis for a
unity politics against
the liberal left.
The overall
consequence
of the middle class
ideology
-
whether based on
the old consumer or new homeland
concept
-
is to
separate
the
mainly
white
working
class from the national minorities
by aligning
the former
to the small-holder. The white
majority
is solidified
against
the
minority
by confusing
or
equating possessions
with
property.
Because this division
is built into the suburban homeland values,
the
emerging dialogue
bet-
ween national and class awareness must either
respond
to the
reactionary
context of the new
politics
or be overwhelmed
by
it.
From the
ideological standpoint,
the middle class has laid out the territo-
rial dimension for the
protracted struggle.
The suburb stretches in value
to include the better
neighborhoods
of the
city
and invites a
flight among
those who fear
danger
or
anticipate
success.
The first mode of resistance to the
reactionary
context of current
politics
turns on the
possibility
that the urbanism of the center
city
will
organize
an interaction between the national liberation and
working
class view-
points.
Just as suburban values
organize
middle class values into a
place
of residence, the national character at the center of
contemporary
urban
life
organizes
a
working
class
standpoint
into what is sometimes called
lower class life. An urban class of
people
has
long
been conceived in the
United States, first as a result of a western frontier, which came to
represent
the dominant American virtue, and more
recently
as the inter-
nal
development
of a suburban
countryside.
The urban class was residu-
ally
conceived as those not
only
left behind but fled from. Urban life is
21
increasingly thought
to constitute a dark side of
contemporary culture.
This
conception updates nineteenth
century
ideas about the
dangerous
classes of the lower
European
races but it does not
fundamentally
revise
those rural attitudes.
The urban
standpoint traditionally
notes a
style
of life centered in the
city.
The urban scene seeks liberation from the control of conformist and
middle class domination. Whereas liberation in the third world refers to
the modernization of
life, a
process opposed by traditional social
organi-
zation, the liberation of
capitalist countries tends
strongly toward free-
expression, diversity,
and
deviance.15
For that
reason, perhaps,
the coun-
tryside
in the
revolutionary thought
of the third world has
distinctively
different
meanings
than in western
capitalist nations.
Despite
the
persistence of ethnic
segmentation, a common class of urban
people may emerge
in the United States because
they
are
subjected to
similar life
experiences. Moreover, the
very context of
reactionary poli-
tics
subjects urban folks to a shared
experience of a cultural mood in
which
they become a
newly conceived "them". The
European Italians or
Irish still
living
in
large
cities are torn between the effects of an ethnic
segmentation which
pulls them
away and the economic realities which
keep them urban. To remain urban the
European-Americans have been
affected
by
the dominant
style
of
contemporary urbanism, a
style that
reflects the black cultural dominance in
many
cities and a
strong
Latin
influence in others.16
The cultural influence of the Afro-Latino
heritage has
long
been noted in
music, dress
style, demeanor, and innovative
language. These assertions
take for
granted the urban context within which the cultural influence
gets expressed. Just as
pre-war urbanism was
demographically colored
by
southern and east
Europeans, the
emergent post-war urbanism in the
United States has been
Afro-Latino.
In
that context the still numerous
young Europeans living
in
large
cities
increasingly talk, move, dress, and
dance in
ways
that
express
the
prevailing cultural influence. Even when
they
are
racist, the
tones, moves, and
language
of their racism is taken
from the
very
races
they dislike.
The context of urbanism does not allow the
European ethnics to
enjoy
the domination of life that is
experienced by
the white American
majority
in the suburban homeland. The existential
reality
of the
European-Amer-
ican
may therefore differ
fundamentally according
to the
demographic
and cultural context in which the race
hierarchy
is set.
It
is
highly unlikely
22
that the urban ethnic experiences
a
superior
status to racial
groups
whose
tenure and
position
makes the urban scene theirs. The street reality
of the
urban turf is more likely captured by
the movie
personification
of
"Rocky":
a white ethnic second-rate boxer wishing
to
go
fifteen
rounds
with a black champ.
The liberal middle class
argument
that white ethnics
do not really
think blacks are above them but use such a formulation to
justify
advantage
must
specify
the
grounds
and criteria by
which the
assessment
is made. This does not mean that the ethnic sense of
being
discriminated against
is to be taken completely
at face value. The
point
is
that
part
of the concerns from which local notions of subordination
and
superiority
are constructed revolve around questions
of cultural
pace-set-
ting, sports superiority,
neighborhood
toughness,
and social control of
the schools. Viewed in this way,
the flight
to the suburb is a way
of
becoming
the
superior
white American that is no
longer
definitively
expe-
rienced in the city.
Though
the urban context overlaps
the working
class
population
in terms
of constituency,
the values of urbanism seem different from those stressed
in recent studies of the working
class attitudes.
Melvin Kohn summarizes
the many
studies assessing
the systematic
difference between class
values.'7 He finds that basically,
the middle class stresses
self-direction
as
a core value whereas working
class people emphasize
obedience to
exter-
nal authority.
However one evaluates the validity
of the studies on which
Kohn bases his conclusion,
their applicability
to urban values seems
limited. Neither self-direction
nor obedience captures
the traditional
essence of urbanism. Diversity
and
free-expression
represent
a
style
of
non-conformity
which is characteristically
urban. From the standpoint
of
either direction
-
self or external authority
-
the urban style
has tradition-
ally
seemed wild, dissident,
out-of-control.
It is this aspect
of
city
life
which has been seen as creative by
its
exponents
and dangerous by
its
detractors.
The concept
of an urban class bears a similar relation to the national
minority
as the suburban homeland development
does to the middle class.
Both concepts produce
ideological categories
that are considerably
more
numerous than the core groups
dominating
each context. The suburban
concept
embraces many
members of the working
class into a format
dominated by
a middle class ideal of home ownership,
and thus has a kind
of
political
rationality.
It enhances the
popularity
of a
population
whose
real
propertied
basis is in decline. In a similar way,
the concept
of an urban
class enlarges
the demographic
base of the racial minorities ideologically
to include European
ethnic working
class
people.
23
An urban kind of consciousness transforms a racial
minority
to a
popular
majority by focusing
attention on the
continuity
between the urban and
the Afro-Latino
experience
and the
similiarity
between urban and third
world values. These similarities have been obscured since the culture of
people living
in the
poverty
of center cities is
usually stigmatized.
Thus
the liberated values of urbanism are often seen as
disorganized
or disre-
putable
when
expressed
and acted
upon by groups
defined as the lower
race, whatever their color.
An urban consciousness embraces
working people
of
varying occupation.
The
meaning
of
liberation, however, takes form in the
neighborhood
against
a
background
of life
style
and cultural
expression.
An urban
consciousness overlooks the
workplace.
It fails to envision the sense in
which the liberated
expression
of
city
streets has
already
affected an
urban
workplace.
The Urban
Workplace
The
style
of the urban
workplace
can
only
be understood in the context
of liberation
thinking
about the
workplace
which has been
changed by
new substantive realities. The nineteenth
century revolutionary
notion of
workers' control has been
replaced by
the rebellious
community
of an
urban
workplace,
in which the
contemporary
"conscientious withdrawal"
of
efficiency by
workers is
usually
understood as
yet
another
example
of
the decline in workers' consciousness and
militancy.
The
original
formula-
tions of workers' control were
parts
of
programs
for
taking power:
councils of workers were to seize
power directly
at the
plant;
the
revolution was to be created
by
the
very
act of
proclaiming sovereignty
at
the
point
of
production.
An urban attitude to the
workplace
is the
gradual response
of workers to the well known historical fate of the
original
movement. The current conscientious withdrawal is not a decline
in consciousness but a new consciousness. It takes into account three
processes
which alienated control from workers and invested it in new
formal bureaucracies which
gradually joined
the
supervisory system.
The
spirit
of industrial
democracy
was buried underneath the combined
effects of
party bureaucracy,
trade union
bureaucracy,
and human
relations
bureaucracy.
New directions had to be taken
by working people
since earlier
attempts
to
gain
control over the work
process
had become
part
of the
machinery
of
contemporary
control over workers.
Because of the
usurpation
of
power by
various bureaucracies
using
the
name of the
working class, the
community
of
potential sovereignty
failed
24
to
appear.
Communities at the
workplace
thereafter existed in sustained
alienation from
any
direct
possibility
of
political
control. The realization
that their own efforts could be turned as institutions
against
them result-
ed in a new source of alienation for
working people.
The alienation of
workers in the
post-revolutionary
and
post-trade
union era could not
help being
different from the alienation described
by
Marx.
Contempor-
ary
communities of alienated
workplaces
exist because of the buried
efforts of
past
labor
history.
The
contemporary
alienation does not mani-
fest a sense of
being powerless. Instead,
the
power
of labor is exercised in
the context of
having
not taken
power.
The closest
approximation
to this
negative expression
of labor
power
is Veblen's idea of the conscientious
withdrawal of
efficiency.
This
aspect
of the
contemporary workplace
is
comprehended
in various
cynical
statements. For
example, people
in
England
observe that cars which lack some essential
components
"are
made at
night."
In California it is said that
persons buying
a G.M. car
assembled at Fremont should avoid autos
put together
on
Monday
or
Friday.
Radical
working
class writers also note that real control is
imple-
mented
by
dissatisfied workers in their
capacity
to slow down work and
to
effectively sabotage
or limit
production:
The men don't
usually
talk about this stuff;
communication is carried
out
through
undercurrents and
understandings.
But
everyone
in the
mill
agrees
that the workers are
right,
which is
why
there is
nothing
the
boss can do. We know the ins and outs of the machines
enough
to use
them, undetected, against
the boss, whenever
necessary.
The
only way
a foreman can survive
-
the
only way
he
gets
a fair amount of work
done in his zone
-
is to understand this
communication-by-sabotage.
It is the workers
police
and court of law
by
which we
struggle
to
enforce our code of what's
right
and fair. It is
part
of the
system
laboriously
built
up
over the decades.j8
Lippert
estimates that in Detroit's Fleetwood
plant twenty percent
of
young
workers base their central role at the
workplace upon
an activist
willingness
to restrict the flow of
production.19
From the
managerial
standpoint
the basic
problem
of the
workplace
is the lowered
productiv-
ity
of recent
years.
Recent observations of worklife document that a
part
of the
response
to
working
conditions
by
a
significant
section of the
working
force has been a conscientious withdrawal of
efficiency.
Since the
beginning
of
descriptions
of
primary group
formations at the
workplace,
it has been clear that ties of
friendship
and
community
develop easily
around the
undermining
of formal
authority
and
disrup-
25
tion of the
supervision process.
Donald
Roy's early portrayals
of
games
workers
play
to restrict
production
are
augmented by contemporary
des-
criptions
of
groups
of workers
socializing
around salamanders in steel
mills and
congregating against
the wall
pitching quarters
in auto
plants.
These mundane
job
actions seem in
keeping
with the
spirit
of immediate
direct action tactics discussed earlier. Just as racial and sexual minorities
were not content to await a revolution to
impose
a demand, the urban
worker exerts
power
of labor
by
an immediate action instead of
postpon-
ing
the demand until after
"power
has
really
been seized." As a result of
the
socializing, playful
and rebellious
activity
of the
inhabitants,
the
workplace ecology yields neighborhoods
and zones which become more
than
points
of
production. Moreover,
more than the residential
neighbor-
hoods, and more often than in the
past,
these
workplace
communities of
alienation tend to be
integrated.
A
synthesis
between national-liberation and
class-struggle
awareness is
represented
in the rise of an urban kind of
people.
It is also manifested in
the extension of an urban consciousness to the
workplace
in the form of
conscientious control of
efficiency.
This consciousness extends
beyond
the
purposeful withholding
of effort. Additional elements of the urban
class
viewpoint grow
out of the
workplace
encounter with suburban
middle class
ideology
as
represented by managerial practice.
Management organizes
the values of its
community
into the
workplace.
The suburban
ideology developed
in America as the residential
expres-
sion of middle
management
life
style
was extended
by
mass
produced
tract
housing
to a constructed middle class. Abstracted from the work-
place,
the suburban
ideology
translates the
developed practice
of mana-
gement
to a
style
of life
valuing home, family,
and individual. The com-
mon theme of
management practice
and suburban
development
is the
deep
belief in
efficiency.
The resemblance between
management practice
and the suburban
ideology
comes into
greater
focus if we recall that the
essence of the
single
issues
campaign
was an austere
concept
of
efficiency
which countered the
immorality
of a
generalized
urban wasteland. An
urbanized workforce comes into conflict with
single
issues
campaigns
to
the extent that
they
reflect the
management practice
of maximized effi-
ciency.
The conscientious withdrawal of
efficiency
is more than a res-
ponse
of workers to their
betrayal by working
class institutions. The
restriction of
production
is
simultaneously
a
negative
answer to the
management ideology
as it
developed
within the
workplace.
Of the issues stressed
by
the current
reactionary political context, one is
26
most
immediately relevant to
management. A
deepened
meaning of effi-
ciency opposes a
welfare
conception in the name of
austerity. But the
wage structure of
modern
industry contains a
welfare
component in the
form of
pensions,
benefits, and
unemployment
supplements
administered
in
mixed
private and
public
systems. It is this
institution of
welfare at the
workplace which
prefigured the
wider
state
system
currently under
attack.
Whatever the
attitude of
working people toward
property tax
reforms and the
public welfare
state,
they are not
likely to
favor an
austere
efficiency which
denies their
welfare-in-wages.
The
urban
workplace
brings together
people and
movements which his-
torically have been
divided and
apart. The
shared
interest in a
welfare
conception of a
right to life
promises to
structure the
dialogue between a
national and
class
awareness
threatened
by
an
austerity justified
by
a
middle class
consciousness.
Unless a
unity evolves, the
homeland
concept
of
middle class
ideology can
continue to
dominate.
Without a
liberation
synthesis that names the
community
of
people who can
effectively oppose
the
middle class
ideology, the
ordeal of
consciousness
remains
unresolved.
NOTES
1. A recent review of
conceptions of
consciousness
appears in Bertell
Oilman, "Toward
Class
Consciousness Next
Time," in The
Politics and
Society Reader, edited
by I.
Katznelson,
G.
Adams, P.
Brenner, A. Wolfe
(New York: David
McKay, 1970).
2. Herb
Mills, "The San
Francisco
Waterfront: The Social
Consequences of
Industrial
Modernization," Parts 1 and
2, Urban
Life,
July,
1976, April, 1977.
3.
E.
P.
Thompson, "Time,
Work-Discipline,
and
Industrial
Capitalism," Past and Pre-
sent,
December, 1967, pp. 56-97; Herbert
Guttman, "Work, Culture and
Society in
Industrializing America,
1815-1919,"
American
Historical
Review, 1973
(volume
78),
pp. 531-588; David
Montgomery, "Workers Control of
Machine
Production in the
Nineteenth
Century," Labor
History, 1976
(Volume
17),
pp. 485-509;
Harry Braver-
man, Labor and
Monopoly Capital (New York:
Monthly Review
Press,
1974).
4.
Organization for
Economic
Cooperation and
Development, The
Emerging Attitudes
and
Motivation
of Workers:
Report of a
Management
Experts
Meeting, Paris:
May
24-26, 1971.
5.
Herbert
Blumer, Symbolic
Interactionism,
Prentice
Hall, 1969; G. F.
Cronk,
"Sym-
bolic
Interactionism:
A
'Left-Meadian
' Interpretation," Social
Theory an
d Practice,
Vol.
2, No. 3
(Spring, 1973), pp. 313-333.
6. Work in
America
(Cambridge:
MIT
Press,
1973); Worker
Alienation,
Hearings before
the
Subcommittee on
Employment,
Manpower, and
Poverty of the
Committee on
Labor and Public
Welfare, U.S.
Senate, 92nd
Congress, 2nd Session
(Washington,
D.C.: U.S.
Government
Printing Office,
1972); H. L.
Sheppard
and
N.
Herrick,
Where Have
All
the Robots Gone: Worker
Dissatisfaction in the
Nineteen
Seventies
(New York: Free
Press, 1972).
7.
Stanislaus
Ossowski, Class
Structure in the Social
Consciousness
(London:
Routledge
and
Kegan Paul,
1963).
27
8.
Irving Bernstein, The New Deal Collective Bargaining Polic' (Berkeley, University
of
California Press, 1950).
9. This view is a theme in Hal
Draper's
Karl Marx's
Theory of Revolution, Part 1: State
and
Bureaucracy
(New York:
Monthly
Review Press, 1977).
10. The
process by
which a national liberation movement became
adapted
to an American
advanced industrial setting
was
complicated
and not
especially
conscious. At the
beginning
of the 1960s it would have been
impossible
to
conjecture
that the
yearnings
for freedom and self-determination that
modestly guided
the
early
civil
rights
move-
ment would be
capable
of
deepening
radicalization within the black
minority
and of
widespread generalization
to other
groups.
Both occurred, however, and movement
history
of the 1960s can be
interpreted
as a new world version of national liberation.
Sequentially
the
spirit
of liberation affected
virtually every group
in the United States
which conceived itself
persecuted, deviant, or
underprivileged.
In an older
usage,
common until
recently,
such a
self-conception
of
being
second-class was called
being
"a national."
Being
a national was more or less
synonymous
with
being
"an alien." The
link between
being
a national and
being
a
minority
is
straightforward:
the
defining
characteristic is
legal disability
or
powerlessness
and not the number of
people. By
this
criterion, women, juveniles,
and Africans in white-ruled South Africa are "minorities."
In the older
usage they
are also "nationals."
11.
Stanley Weir, "U.S.A.: The Labor Revolt," in M. Zeitlin (ed.), American
Society,
Inc.
(Chicago: Markham, 1970).
12.
George Benet, A Place in Colusa (San Pedro:
Singlejack
Books, 1977).
13. Trilateral Commission, The
Governability of
Democracies (New York: Trilateral
Commission, 1975).
14. Arno J.
Mayer, Dynamics of
Counterrevolution in
Europe (New York:
Harper
and
Row, 1971).
15. John Irwin, Scenes
(Beverly
Hills:
Sage, 1977).
16. H. V. Savitch, "Black
Cities/White
Suburbs: Domestic Colonialism as an
Interpretive
Idea," Annals, September,
1978.
17. Melvin Kohn, Class and
Conformity (Chicago: University
of
Chicago Press, 1977).
18. Steve Packard, Steelmill Blues (San Pedro:
Singlejack Press, 1978), p.
14.
19. John
Lippert, "Shopfloor
Politics at Fleetwood," Radical America, vol. 12, no. 4, pp.
53-69.
Acknowledgment
Special
thanks for
very helpful suggestions
and assistance to Joan
Acker, Robert Blauner, Steven Deutsch, Muriel Dimen-Schein, Jan
Dizard, Troy Duster, Cheryl Fletcher, Hardy Frye,
Jeff Henderson,
Jeff
Lustig,
Herb Mills, David Milton, Tahi Mottl, Jan Newton, Jill
Quadagno,
Lillian Rubin.
Theory and Society 9 (1980) 1-27
?
Elsevier Scientific
Publishing Company, Amsterdam
-
Printed in the Netherlands