Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Lip service

“Lip and the Self-Managed Counter-Revolution” is a rare pamphlet published in 1975 by Black & Red in Detroit, an anarchist press associated with Fredy Perlman, who later became a contributor to the radical magazine Fifth Estate. Black & Red supported the IWW and this publication therefore comes with an IWW union bug! “Lip and the Self-Managed Counter-Revolution” is a translation of an article from an obscure French journal, Négation. The original article probably appeared in 1974. The political philosophy of Négation isn't entirely clear, but they were some kind of ultraleftists. By “ultraleftists”, I mean the political tendencies that came out of the Left Communist tradition (Council Communism, Bordigism, Battaglia Communista, etc). The Left Communists were politically “to the left” of the Russian Bolsheviks (i.e. even more sectarian). Négation's article often quotes Amadeo Bordiga, but otherwise sound more Council Communist in orientation. We are probably dealing with some kind of eclectic hybrid.

Lip (also spelled LIP) was a watch-making company in the French town of Besancon. In 1973, the Lip workers occupied their plant to stop the owner, Fred Lip, from closing it down. The occupation became famous after the workers (supported by the ex-Catholic labor union CFDT) tried to run the plant by themselves, selling watches at solidarity meetings all across France. The high tide of the struggle took place in 1973-74 and included several confrontations with the notorious French riot police, the CRS. Most left-wing radicals, naturally, supported the Lip workers (called “Lips” in the pamphlet). The small Négation group didn't. True to ultraleftist form, they condemned the struggle at Lip as “counter-revolution”. This makes their article an exasperating read, doubly so since it's liberally sprinkled with heavy “Marxist” theoretical jargon. This can't have been easy to translate! Even so, Négation's article might perhaps be of some use if you're interested in Situationism, the neo-Bordigism of Jacques Camatte or indeed Fredy Perlman. It *is* easier to read than Camatte's oeuvres.

Négation divides the evolution of capitalism into three distinct phases. Very briefly and using my own terminology, these are the eras of free market capitalism (which came to an end during the Great Depression), state capitalism and “self-management”. The state capitalist period is characterized by a bloated public sector, constant government interference in the economy, a division between managers and owners of a corporation, and the economic dominance of the credit-giving finance sector. In other words, capitalism as it looked like from the end of World War II until the 1980's. Négation doesn't regard nationalizations or state interventionism as bourgeois concessions to the working class. Quite the contrary, state capitalism is a more pure or advanced form of capitalism than the free market version, and represents “the real domination of Capital”. In the future, capitalism will be transformed one more time. Today, we know that the transformation was towards neo-liberalism and globalism. Négation's prediction was that capitalism would use “self-management” as a universal tool to make workers administer their own exploitation. Making employees and users take over public hospitals or schools is part of this ploy. They also predicted a more aggressive, nationalist and “anti-imperialist” French capitalism. In my opinion, Négation's predictions may come true, but they are still in the future as we speak.

Due to the above analysis, Négation (some members of which had bad experiences with cooperative businesses or hippy communes) condemned the Lip workers for taking over the watch-making plant in an attempt to “self-manage” it. This, Négation argues, is precisely the next wave of counter-revolution from Capital. But what should the Lips have done instead? What concrete advice can the disenchanted hippy Bordigists give them? Négation argues that during the period of “real domination”, the most important forms of anti-capitalist struggle are sabotage and absenteeism. It's not clear what this means in a Lip context. Should the workers have destroyed the machines and then gone home? Négation then writes that a world-wide socialist revolution is necessary to completely transform the human community. Indeed! So the Lips should have rioted inside the plant, absconded and waited for the apocalypse… (How this is different from, say, stoned hippies isn't entirely clear.)

In the end, I would say that “Lip and the Self-Managed Revolution” is a theoretically intriguing but practically worthless pamphlet. Still, I do think this footnote to history deserves at least the OK rating, so I give it three stars.

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