The American Revolution Reconsidered: Part Thirteen

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I enjoy watching YouTube videos of the linguist and educator, scholar and author, public intellectual and activist Noam Chomsky, particularly from the 1990s. In those talks one of the central points he would frequently make is this: When you transfer something from public hands to private hands, you are also transferring decision-making power from the public to private hands.

Not only are you generating an upward redistribution of income and wealth through the process of privatization, concentrating wealth in fewer and fewer hands; but you are also generating an upward redistribution of decision-making power, concentrating it in fewer and fewer hands.

If we take that straightforward, obvious, and self-evident truth and apply it to the concept of "interior" and "exterior" politics (for those of you who've been following this series); and apply both to the English enclosure movement we've been talking about, with its destruction of the form of "interior" democracy based on the commons, then what we come up with is this: The enclosure movement not only upwardly redistributed wealth through the privatization of the commonly-held lands; it also upwardly redistributed.

That is to say that, in fact, democracy itself had been enclosed, privatized, and upwardly redistributed. What I'm saying is that it appears that democracy itself began to be concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, through the process of common lands enclosure, which, effectively, stripped farmers of what I shall call democratic worker self-determination.

If that analysis is correct, then it means that the act of voting in a representative democracy, is, at best, a sad residue of the deep democracy of the pre-land enclosure past. That is to say, that as more and more people became separated from the land, losing not only their livelihood, but, consequently, control of their own lives, the state threw the masses "a bone," as it were, of being allowed to "vote" for "their representatives."

In other words, voting was all people had left.

Let me be clear. For those of you who've been following this series, here is what I am saying.


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In part 12 we began looking at an article by Simon Fairlie called "A Short History of Enclosure in Britain." In it we read some passages that indicated that farmers in England, pre-enclosure, enjoyed a level of self-governing, self-direction in the way they went about their livelihood, that I have called democratic worker self-determination.

As I mentioned in part 12, this "democratic worker self-determination," is the very dream of today's socialists, anarchists, communists, and Marxists.

As a matter of fact, there had been a time, in the United States of America, when industrial workers had enjoyed effective democratic worker self-determination.

Let me just quote a professor of sociology called John Bellamy Foster. In a 2011 article titled Education and the Structural Crisis of Capital, we read: "In nineteenth-century capitalism, workers were in a position to retain within their own ranks knowledge of how the work was done, and therefore exercised a considerable degree of control over the labor process. Hence, control of the labor process by owners and managers was often more formal than real. As corporations and their workforces and factories got bigger with the rise of monopoly capitalism, however, it became possible to extend the division of labor, and therefore to exercise greater top-down managerial control. This took the form of a new system of scientific management, or 'Taylorism,' within concentrated industry. Control of the conception of the labor process was systemically removed from the workers and monopolized by management. Henceforth, according to this managerial logic, workers were merely to execute commands from above, with their every movement governed down to the smallest detail" (1).

John Bellamy Foster continued: "The chief result of the introduction of scientific management into industry, as Harry Braverman explained in 1974 in Labor and Monopoly Capital, was the degradation of working conditions for most workers" (2). And so on and so forth.

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Dr. Foster is talking about the use of machinery and automation.

Though Dr. Foster did not use these terms, we can look at his description and use our terms to say something like this: The nineteenth-century American industrial workers saw their effective "democratic worker self-determination," destroyed through the "enclosure," "privatization," and "upward redistribution" of their "knowledge of the labor process," through the use of machinery and automation and the implementation of Taylor's scientific management.

What we can say is this: Thus, stripped of their democratic worker self-determination, all they had left, as a way to fend off the more deleterious effects of automation and scientific management---was unions and "voting" for, hopefully, reasonably "progressive" "representatives." Does that make sense?

And by the way, since our focus is England, we have to give a "shout out," at least in passing, to the so-called original Luddites.

Now then, it is, in my opinion, unfortunate that we have the term 'Luddite,' in our common parlance, as a word meaning things like anti-modern, anti-industrial, primitive-loving, and so on and so forth.

The "Luddites" were industrial workers in England, who, in the early nineteenth century, for a handful of years, turned toward aggressive activism against having their jobs taken over by the machines of the day. In other words, their movement was a resistance movement against what we might today call "automation," not "modernity."

After all, the so-called Luddites had been perfectly happy to produce all the things that "modern" people of the day desired. Indeed, it had been their job to produce those things. By the way, from the perspective of "modern" people then and "modern" people today, what Earthly difference could it have made---or does it make today---how the things "consumers" used were made in the factory?

Is that clear? Do you get my meaning?

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You have your Smart Phone, your PC, your tablet and laptop, and so forth. For you, the consumer, the existence of those things and the fact that you have them indicates to you that you are living in the "modern" age; and if you can possess those things, you feel yourself to be directly participating in modernity.

What difference does it make to you how those things are made? What difference does it make to you whether those devices are made in the "most up-to-date" factory with space age automated digital, cybernetic technology, whatever; or if those things are made by the "Professor" on Gilligan's Island, with a crew of trained monkeys, working with an infrastructure consisting largely of coconuts?

It shouldn't make any difference to consumers. It does make a difference to owners and managers. And it does make a difference to the "enclosing," "privatization," and "upward redistribution of what I have been calling "democratic worker self-determination," and so forth. It does make a difference in terms of the distribution of power.

To that end, I think Wikipedia is quite right to emphasize the fact that the Luddites were not anti-technology, per se, and that they were interested in strengthening their bargaining position with employers (3).

They were anti-having their knowledge of the labor process "enclosed," "privatized," and "upwardly redistributed," thereby de-skilling them as skilled workers and, more broadly, destroying their effective "democratic worker self-determination."

I shall continue talking about democracy in part fourteen.

Thank you for reading!

References

1. Foster, J.B. (2011, July-August). Education and the Structural Crisis of Capital: The US Case. Retrieved May 9, 2015. section: Monopoly Capital and the Rise of the Corporate Model of Schooling. paragraph 2.

2. ibid, paragraph 3

3. Luddite. (2015, May 9: last updated). Retrieved May 11, 2015. (Wikipedia).

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