Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Luk√°cs

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Ken Coates on the idea of Workers' Control (1968)

'...But although the possibilities for a real revolution in the quality of life in this country have never been more exciting, the obstacles to such a revolution are formidable. First and most crucial among these is not the power of the financial oligarchs, not the manipulative force of the media of communications in their hands, nor the pliability of political leaders who operate within a system designed to accentuate and overcome all suggestions for major change. The major conservative force which radicals must overcome is the fact that the present indefensible order of things is the only one in which people have ever lived, and is, for that reason, "natural" even when it most flagrantly violates every principle of human nature, driving men deaf in infernal noise, stealing their sleep and alienating their families in shiftwork patterns, forcing them to assume postures to which animals would never adapt, and robbing them all the time of the fundamental human characteristic, of the right to act thoughtfully, to form one's own goals consciously in association with one's fellows.

If such outrageous conditions are "normal", and if the atmosphere in which men breathe is one of subordination, and if men must learn to make comparisons with other conditions before they can be fired by divine discontent: then there is only one satisfactory place to look for such comparisons. That place is a difficult one to reach. It consists of the great, unchartable territory of human potentiality, the world in which what men have it in themselves to become is more real than the poor little things they have alread been, in which the achievements of all men who ever were extended into the very fabric of the personality of any man, the world which music and poetry has torn from the torments of all who have suffered the terrible restrictions and deprivations of the generations to whom freedom has been mostly a word, sometimes a hope.

The idea of workers' control is the key by use of which the artisans and clerks, the skilled but powerless technicians, the labourers and students and busmen and miners and dockers, and all the working people, can discover such a world. Once they do, all the endless succession of daily battles, of partial struggles for limited rights, of routine meetings and protests and lobbies, which marks out the life of every trade unionist, will become for all trade unionists, a line of march. Workers' control puts the goal of human brotherhood right back into every dispute about piecework. This makes men whole again, and men who know themselves can change the world.'

Ken Coates, 'Introduction' to Can the workers run industry? (London, 1968).

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