The Deal

Rakesh Bhandari bhandari at phoenix.Princeton.EDU
Fri Jul 10 09:29:41 PDT 1998

>Shouldn't the FDR administration be judged
>by the times it was in? Isn't the historical
>context relevant to good marxmanship? I'm
>reminded of a little book called "Flatland,"
>a two-dimensional world whose beings understand
>length and width but have no depth.

Max, I'll begin my response first with a rather abstract argument about the nature of workers' collective organization from Moishe Postone, Time Labor and Social Domination (p. 275 and 276, fn. 42):

" is generally through collective action around issues such as working conditions, hours, and wages that workers actualy gain some control over the conditions of sale of their commodity. Hence, despite the widespread assmption that workers' collective action and bourgeois social forms are opposed, commodity ownership can only be fully reelized for the workers in collective form: workers, then, can only be 'bourgeois subjects' *collectively*. In other words, the nature of labor power as a commodity ownership, but is necessary to its realization. The historical process of labor power's realization as a commodity parardoxicaly entails the development of collective forms within the framework of captiaism that do *not* point beyond that society--rather, they constitute an important moment in the transition from from liberal to post liberal capitalism.... "The widespread notion that the ideals of the bourgeois revolutions serve as the standpoint of a fundamental, epochal critique of capitalism, and will be realized in socialist society, can be critically analzed partly with reference to the idea that organized workers constitute themselves as a collective commodity owner. If collective action and structures per se are misunderstood and can be misunderstood as pointing toward the negation of capitalism itself, rather than its laissez faire phase."

Now I want to relate this to something Charles perceptively suggested yesterday:

"Thus, the social democratic pro-working class reforms of the New Deal (won by mass working class struggle not volunteerily given), limited as they were, were felt and appreciated by Black people, and Black people shifted parties based on class consciousness."

I think it is important here to underline that FDR represented not reform but the incorporation of the working class into capitalist society, as workers' struggle for practical control over the process of production was reduced to some control over the condtions of the sale of labor power on the market.

Paul Mattick wrote about the New Deal:

"The passing of the National Labor Relations Act created the impression that the government was solidly behind labor's organization drive and would compel industry to accept its results.With the government seemingly on the side of labor, a strike wave ensued for higher wages and better working conditions, based on the reviving trade unions and the newly formed industrial unions, represented the the CIO. Roosevelt became the hero and defender of the working class...The fight for union recongition embraced industries such as steel, rubber, textiles, automobiles, which had until then managed to keep unions out. Unionization took on spectacular proportions, with often spectacular proportions with often a 10fold increase in membership within one year. The resistance of management gave thse struggles a militant character, with--for America--new tactics, such as the sit down strike and even, as in San Francisco, the general strike. The government's non-interference brought Rosselvet much of the labor vote in 1936 as well as heavy financial support in the election campaign. But with the main industries organized and the unions bureacratized, rank and file initiative again subsided to make room for the ordinary bargaining procedures in the labor market, thus revealing the hollowness of labor's victories, which had only served to integrate the unions more thoroughly into the capitalist system."

>From "The Great Depression and the New Deal" in Economics, Politics and the
Age of Inflation. ME Sharpe, 1977. p. 136-7

So I would argue that it was the absence of class consciousness that kept the working class, white and black, within the fold of the New Deal.

best, rakesh

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