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Editors: Frank Brodhead, Margery Davies, John Demeter, Marla Erlien, Phyllis Ewen, Linda
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Copy Editor: Dorothy Miller Klubock.

Staff: John Demeter.

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Barbara Ehrenreich, Dan Georgakas, Martin Glaberman, Michael Hirsch, Mike Kazin, Ken
Lawrence, Staughton Lynd, Mark Naison, Brian Peterson, Sheila Rowbotham, Annemarie Troger,
Martha Vicinus, Stan Weir, David Widgery.

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1
Volume 14. Number 4
CA
July-August 1980

INTRODUCTION 2
WORKERS' CONTROL AND THE NEWS: 7
THE MADISON, WISCONSIN PRESS
CONNECTION
Dave Wagner and Paul Buhle

EIGHT HOURS A DAY AT FIAT: 23


CONVERSATIONS WITH ITALIAN
AUTO WORKERS
Joanne Barkan

LORDS OF CREATION: MARXISM, FEMINISM, 41


AND "UTOPIAN" SOCIALISM
Barbara Taylor

IN SEARCH OF EDWARD CARPENTER 49


Sheila Rowbotham

THE PRE-HISTORY OF ROCK AND ROLL 61


Reebee Garofalo and Steve Chapple

GOOD READING 72
FILMS 74
LETTERS 77
INTRODUCTION

For generations of socialists, the final word on Robert Owen and other visionaries of his
era has been Friedrich Engels's j udgement in Socialism: Utopian and Scientific. The pre­
Marxian socialists, Engels said, had images of an ideal society but no way of bringing it
about. Their thought reflected the birth pangs of industrial capitalism, in an age before the
proletariat had emerged as the agent for achieving a classless society. The writings of Karl
Marx, according to Engels, transcended the utopian schemes by giving the movement from
capitalism to socialism a scientific basis.
Engels was on target in criticizing the Utopian aspects of early socialist theory, but the
passage to socialism that he and Marx offered in its place looks a great deal less certain today
than it appears in their writings of a century ago. This fact alone may be reason enough for
socialists to return periodically to the pre-Marxian thinkers, to look at their visions afresh
and see what they have to offer.
The article in this issue by Barbara Taylor makes a concise argument against the assump­
tion that all legitimate socialist thought began with Marx. Reassessing the attitudes of "Uto­
pian" and Marxist socialists toward feminism, Taylor argues that there is much of value in
the early socialist tradition, and that Marxism represented in some ways a narrowing of
former concerns . The Owenites, Britain's first socialists, were interested not only in winning
limited legal rights for women but in transcending the nuclear family and changing the sex­
ual division of labor within the home. Issues such as these are still of central importance to
today's feminists and should be j ust as important to all socialists.

2
If we could assume that "socialist" auto­ work, Love 's Coming of Age, in which he took
matically implied "feminist," we might be up such issues as homosexuality and the separa­
relieved of the awkward term "socialist­ tion of sexuality from procreation. A homo­
feminist." Unfortunately, both main tenden­ sexual himself, Carpenter made of his home at
cies on the present-day Left, social democracy Millthorpe a gathering-ground for a wide range
and Leninism, generally evade the issues raised of rebels - dress reformers, vegetarians, anar­
by feminism. The social-democratic perspective chists, socialists and homosexuals. Although he
of marginal reforms is one in which demands fudged on the issue of advocating physical love,
for change become endlessly "refined" until Carpenter served as a model for many of his
they are bereft of any threat to the structure of contemporaries who were rebelling against a
existing social relationships. There is no excite­ society dominated by capitalism and Christian
ment in the program that emerges from such a heterosexual morality.
process - nothing to sustain a flesh-and-blood Our interest in these articles comes from
social movement. On the Leninist Left, on the more than antiquarian curiosity. We are print­
other hand, there is a stated commitment to the ing them to show that present-day concerns
wholesale dismantling of capitalist society, but with sexuality, domestic life, and the sterile
the depth of this project is often compromised cultures of advanced capitalism have a long
by a restricted view of women's issues, placed history in our socialist past. Too often have
under the stifling framework of the "Woman socialists dismissed new movements such as the
Question." Questions of sexuality or of ecology or anti-nuclear movements in their
domestic labor have too often been dismissed as infancies as visionary or as of secondary impor­
personal rather than political concerns. Bar­ tance. Too often have the issues raised by the
bara Taylor's article is a useful reminder that current women's movement been whittled
there is historical precedent for joining down to the "Woman Question" or dismissed
feminism much more closely to socialism than as not political. It is not for a moment a ques­
has recently been the case. tion of socialists forgetting about class struggle.
Another British figure who should enjoy a But it is a question of remembering other con­
firm place in the socialist tradition is Edward cerns, as did the Utopian socialists and Edward
Carpenter (1844-1929), and we are printing here Carpenter.
Sheila Rowbotham's essay about this socialist
and champion of homosexual rights. Carpenter This issue also includes an interview with
opposed the stultifying restrictions of Victorian David Wagner, one of the newspaper strikers in
bourgeois morality, posing as an alternative a Madison, Wisconsin who started a coopera­
future society where people would throw off tively run daily newspaper in that city. Wagner
the repressive restrictions of civilization and examines in depth the problems and poten­
restore sex and the body to their natural impor­ tial revealed in this experience with workers'
tance. Carpenter sought in his own life to control.
realize some of his dreams. He set up a house­ The launching of this worker-run enterprise
hold at Millthorpe, where he worked at a was a specific response to union-busting. In a
simplified life which included gardening, strategy often seen in the newspaper business,
sandal-making, and active participation in the the out-of-state corporation that owned both
local socialist movement. local dailies (one editorially conservative, the
In 1895 Carpenter published his most famous other liberal) provoked a strike by demanding

3
drastic cutbacks of worker prerogatives. The labor-union contract struggles of that year
resulting strike had little hope of success against there emerged a militant movement of young
a well-heeled and well-prepared management. workers, more radical than the Italian Commu­
Through the alternative Press Connection, nist Party and determined that the annual
however, the strikers were at least able to round of wage talks would go beyond
weaken their adversary by cutting into the cir­ "business as usual. " As in the French student
culation of the two scab dailies. The paper, revolt of the previous year, students and young
published at first weekly and then daily, got out intellectuals in Italy joined the workers' strug­
576 issues from the fall of 1977 until ailing gles, attempting to explain them as part of a
finances forced it to close down in January new stage in the development of class struggle,
1980. Run on the twin principles of equal pay and in turn being themselves transformed by
and an elected management responsible to the the dramatic and innovative tactics of the
workers, the Press Connection was one of the workers.
largest-scale recent instances of workers' con­ The heartland of Italy's "Hot Autumn" was
trol in the United States. Wagner's analysis the industrial North, particularly in the city of
does not glorify the paper's achievements; Turin, home of the giant Fiat automobile man­
rather, it seeks to draw lessons from both the ufacturing empire. It was here that young
achievements and the failures. workers, often recently arrived from rural and
Wagner shows us the day-to-day pressures of backward areas of Italy, revolted against the
putting out a newspaper by cooperative effort. conditions of work with an intensity that would
It was made possible by the remarkable degree not be incorporated into the traditional
of unity that the editorial and production bargain: a small wage increase in exchange for a
unions had forged in preparing for the strike. period of social peace superintended by the
As the Press Connection established itself, this trade unions.
unity deepened into a mutual appreciation of Though the wave of worker militancy receded
the diverse skills that go into publishing a news­ by the early 1970s, it took several more years
paper. It is exactly this kind of sharing and for the industrial managers, including those of
cooperative respect that is normally stifled Fiat, to recover the initiative and shop-floor
under the ever more elaborate division of labor power that had temporarily passed to the
that characterizes capitalist production. workers. And during this period of worker ini­
The Press Connection was also unusually tiative the organizations of the Italian New
successful in breaking down familiar divisions Left maintained a foothold in advanced indus­
between strikers and the community. Although try, established a viable political presence to
Madison may be exceptional in its political fer­ the left of the Community Party, helped to
ment, the support achieved by this worker­ radicali?e the unions, and used this experience
controlled paper is an example of how com­ to sustain a high level of theoretical creativity.
munity and workplace issues can be addressed What has been the experience of the indus­
in the same struggle. trial working class - and particularly the
workers at Fiat - in the last half decade? What
It has been little more than a decade ago since has happened to the militants of the "Hot
Italy's "Hot Autumn" of 1969 helped to trans­ Autumn" period, and the older workers of the
form the European New Left and change the earlier generations of struggle? And how have
balance of power in Italy. In the dramatic the newer members of the working class -

4
former students now in the auto factories, The Italian left is currently in crisis. It has
women entering the plants in large numbers for been nearly immobilized by the climate of ter­
the first time, or migrant workers returning rorism, state repression, and political doubt
because they are no longer wanted in Germany which has followed the assassination of Aldo
or Switzerland - been integrated into Italy's Moro. Its traditionally leading party, the Italian
industrial proletariat? These are the questions Communist Party, is caught at the doorway of
addressed by Joanne Barkan in her sensitive power - condemned to share responsibility for
and thought-provoking interviews with five the unravelling of Italian capitalism, less and less
workers at Fiat. We think that these interviews able to mobilize its working class base, either for
are an important aid to understanding the con­ social reform or for socialist revolution. And
temporary experiences of Italy's working class; Italy's young people, locked out of schools by
but we are also struck by how vividly the inter­ the government, out of jobs by the economy,
views elucidate the personal dimensions of life and out of the political process by the im­
in the factory. We see a class divided by age and mobilism of the official Left, have increasingly
experience, though united by its struggles with demonstrated a new kind of "apolitical" politics
the Fiat management. Finally, as the workers whose meaning is still very uncertain. This is the
are only too aware, the Fiat plant is one of the context which makes it so important to under­
most modern in the world, on the frontier of stand the thinking and initiatives of the Italian
both manufacturing and management techni­ working class today. Despite great differences
ques; and their struggles have ramifications for among countries, it is likely that in Italy we can
the auto workers in Japan, America, and every­ find some mirrors in which to read our possible
where else. future.

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WORKERS' CONTROL & THE NEWS
The Madison, Wisconsin Press Connection

Dave Wagner & Paul Ruhle

The Madison, Wisconsin Press Connection (1977-1980) was a worker-run newspaper


started by striking employees of Madison's two dailies. Published at first as a weekly strike
paper, in which editorial and production workers pooled their skills, the Press Connection
evolved into a cooperatively owned daily which long outlived the strike. Shares were held by
unions, other organizations, and individual supporters. It's peak circulation was 13,600,
reached early in 1979. Always short on advertising and cash, the PC became an early victim
of the current recession as it suspended publication in January 1980.
Dave Wagner, a former editor of Radical America, was an active Newspaper Guild
member who became production coordinator on the original weekly Press Connection and
was an elected member of the board of directors once the paper became a daily. The
following interview was conducted (by mail) by Paul Buhle.

You've said that the people who ran Madison before the late '60s/early 70s "revolution"
are running it again. How do you relate the saga of the Press Connection to this
development?

First of all, it must be clear that "the people who ran Madison " before the New Left was
aborning never relinquished control - they j ust went into strategic hibernation. Now they
are on the offensive again, that's all. The defensive period, when Paul Soglin was in the
mayor's office and (toward the end) when the Press Connection was around to raise hell

7
olH:e a day, was only a matter of marking time complain that the new mayor, Joel Skornicka,
for the real-estate people, developers, bankers, is not playing ball with them as much as they'd
union-busters, and utility executives. They may like.
have been overly nervous at times and we may Skornicka, formerly a University of
have been overconfident at others, but they Wisconsin administration bureaucrat with no
never really lost control. If I ever said to you color or imagination, defeated Soglin's aide
that " those people are running Madison Jim Rowen in the mayoral campaign of April
again, " I must have meant that they were once of '79. The newspaper strike was one of the key
more indisputably in charge. issues in the election. Rowen refused on
Needless to say, the only "revolution" here principle to take out an inch of advertising in
(both our sets of quotation marks are neces­ the struck papers, the Capital Times and
sary) was in the abstract. Certainly we chal­ Wisconsin State Journal; Skornicka, who was
lenged the agenda of the real estate speculators favored by the anti-left, anti-labor wing of the
- at our best on a day-to-day basis. We dis­ Democrats and all of the Republicans, curried
covered, for example, that a local development favor with those papers and they both endorsed
corporation had not paid its taxes for six or him. It was the first time in anyone's memory
seven years, that it was using the county as a that both papers made a common endorsement.
kind of bank because the county penalties for The campaign was not as viscious as it could
non-payment were half that of the commercial have been. Neither side used all the knives it
interest rates; we also found out that one of the had sharpened. (In our case it was in part
corporation's hotshots was a member of the because democracy in the newsroom made it
school board, which in turn was shutting down very difficult for the more ruthless of us in the
schools outside the corporation's development editor's chairs to impose assignments on
areas. We couldn't get the school board younger, more conservative reporters .) But it
member voted out, but eventually the was a good battle. Most of us who fought to
developers paid off their taxes under a rather keep the PC going after the loss of a payroll in
hard rain of articles and editorials. December of '78 did so because we badly
In short, the PC helped keep some of the wanted Rowen to win - and he almost did,
parvenu real estate interests at bay, but we against incredible odds . He lost by only 1,000
never seriously threatened them. We simply did votes out of about 62,000 cast. Skornicka won
what the liberal press used to do in this country by one percent . It was probably the high water
before the New Corporationists took over the mark of left influence in the city, despite the
newspaper business. It would have taken loss. Soglin's three victories were all against
several more years of work, both analytical and opponents much weaker than Skornicka.
organizational, for the PC and the Madison I still dream of what a Rowen administration
Left generally to carry this kind of struggle to could have done. According to the "Milwaukee
another level - even to the level of the old principle, " socialists simply run cities better
muck-raking and Progressive journalism, let than anyone else, as reflected not only in regard
alone anything beyond that. to human services but in the bond ratings.
Now the city government is firmly in the Playing ball with the speculators costs cities a
hands of the business interests again, though fortune.
most of the real estate speculators and others Now the fate of the Left in Madison is in the
who got a little hungry during the Soglin years hands of a newer generation. There are no

8
papers left except Free for All, which is written provocations.
anonymously with rather pro forma coverage, Needless to say, there was tension between
and No Limits, an occasional anarchist tabloid these two groups, at least on a few key issues.
of higher quality but with no local agenda. For the most part, however, for reasons I'll get
Take Over, once a well-known underground into later, there was a remarkably strong feeling
paper with a flair for gossip and journalistic and practice of solidarity throughout the strike.
drama, keeled over last fall with an editorial As for "community attitude, " it is precisely
explaining that the editors were tired of being the kind of phrase indulged in by the PC
the only real revolutionaries in town. (Top overmuch; we never defined the "community,"
editor Michael Fellner is now writing for the though we wanted to use the phrase to our
scab Capital Times after declaring, "As far as advantage - usually it meant "the otherwise
I'm concerned, it's as though the strike never unspoken for" and referred to people in the
happened. " After years of attacking working inner city. It's a worthless euphemism, much
people for their inaction and the PC for its like the use of the term "progressive" to mean
pretensions, Fellner found his natural home.) "socialist . " We used it despite the constant
awareness that within the Madison "commu­
How did the PC 's origins and development nity" there were many thousands who sup­
relate to the student struggles of the '60s on the ported former mayor Bill Dyke, who later
one hand, the community attitude in Madison became Lester Maddox' vice-presidential
and the labor struggles of the 70s on the running mate. Madison is a bit schizoid.
other? Our practical reasons for trying to "organize
the community" were, first, that many of us
Leaving aside the phrase "community atti­ knew that our chances of stopping production
tude" for the moment, the answer is fairly at the struck plant were next to nil; and second,
straightforward. The leadership of the PC in its that we faced a tremendously difficult, always
origins was provided by two groups . There were uphill battle to convince many people who
the leaders of the production unions under abhor racism, sexism, and imperial adventures
whose banner the newspaper strike (which led that working people as workers have an equally
to the founding of the PC as a strike paper) was universal cause. It's remarkable how some
called; they were, for the most part, printers, liberals can go into a St. Vitus dance of anxiety
pressmen and mailers, men, white, mostly in on this point when "liberal" union busters
their forties and fifties, union members from appear on the scene.
way back who were going through their first big (It's also true that women and minorities
strike. There were also the leaders of the sometimes with the ready sneer that "union�
editorial unions (one a local of the Newspaper never did anything for me," were among the
Guild, the other an independent) who had come first to cross the picket lines . We tried, some­
to union activism from a background in other times with great difficulty, to explain to our
struggles, notably from the gay rights, feminist, own members that the long years of racial and
and anti-war movements. Some of this group sexual discrimination in the union were coming
had been Vietnam veterans with anti-war senti­ home to our roost. Not everyone understood.
ments (that was also true, by the way, of some But we had to hammer away, even at one point
of the leaders of the production unions) and printing in the strike-paper a statement that the
others were just plain pissed off at the bosses' union leaders would not tolerate anti-Semitic,

9
racial, or sexist epithets on the picket line. workers at a local meatpacking plant walked
Some of the production craft people had out for the first time in Madison history (they
enormous difficulty understanding why scabs too- were provoked by lay-offs), but their
could not be called by any epithet at hand. But leadership was dominated by the members of
they tried. One incident I will never forget the old guard at the central labor council with
occurred late one night when a particularly whom the PC regularly crossed swords.
good-hearted but outraged pressman, who had Though we gave the meatcutters as much
been struggling for days to bit his tongue when supportive coverage as we could, we had a sense
a black security guard sailed through the line, that it was not entirely welcome. More than any­
finally could take it no longer. He stepped in thing except the dramatic mayoral election -
front of the guard's car, leaned toward the which found the new and old guards bitterly
windshield and yelled, "You . . . Polak ! " It was split - this strike showed the extent to which
our turn to be bewildered. I hope someday to be our political notions about unionism were not
able to write a short piece on "picket line universally shared by Madison unionists.
culture, " the stage on which workers put on
masks to become themselves.)
As for labor struggles of the '70s, ours was
the first definitive one in Madison with the
exception of a brief but important teachers'
strike in 1976; our main job, through the PC,
was to explain our own story and to give as
much support as we could to the many other
unions that began to hit the pavement soon
after we did. Because we had defined ourselves,
fitfully at first but with more and more clarity,
as a feminist paper, we were able to play a
rather more active role than usual in supporting
nurses in a threatened city-wide strike. When
the cab companies conspired to boot out their
union (for the third time in a decade), we were
in a unique position to support the unions,
expose the often illegal finagling of their former
bosses, and encourage their trying to found a
worker-run cab company of their own. We
were able, in our opinion columns and in our
news pages, to give unique coverage to the
teachers' contract battles; they not only trusted
us, their locals bought a great many shares in The editors begin another day of service
our cooperative, and of all the unions were dedicated to the principle of a free and open
press.
most sympathetic to our insistence that labor
struggles were part and parcel of sexual, racial, TIlt' fiTst annU"(>Tsury of Ihle spapeT stnk!'. become a ntadel for
paranoid
111'1< M.V/'s plant hag thl;

and political issues. Our biggest failure was


with the meatcutters' strike. Well over 2,000

10
How do you evaluate the political thrust of
the Press Connection, its "People 's Paper"
approach?

Like many other folks around the country in


the '70s, we cast about to find whatever local
history and tradition of resistance might be
useful. In Madison that tradition was the Pro­
gressivism of Old Bob La Follette. One of the
papers we had struck (my oid employer, the
Capital Times) had once been the organ of the
Progressive Party; our line was that the paper
had drifted far away from its founding prin­
ciples and that our own paper would try to
refresh that honored Wisconsin tradition.
We were certainly not unaware of the contra­
. I

;11�!l' 1\1liI11\11
dictions within the history of the Progressive
movement, and indeed they were pointed out to
, '\ (�U
us often by our socialist readers. (Madison has,
i \,II!
judging from certain election returns and sub­ I, I,', 11111 1\ 11
scription lists, about 6,000 socialists.) But it 'Business is booming, boss. After this we've got
was the only foundation at hand; in Mil­ three neighborhoods to bury!'

waukee, we could have conceivably plugged


into the old Socialist Party tradition, but there stood our position gave us extraordinary
was no history of that - no ethnic base, for support - in part, of course, because our rates
that matter - in Madison. Since our strike was were extraordinarily low. The larger businesses
fundamentally a strike against a larger corpo­ boycotted us consistently; since the 194Os,
rate newspaper chain, namely Lee Enterprises newspapers have been unable to survive on the
out of Iowa, it made sense to fight along anti­ small-business trade alone.
corporate lines. For one thing, like all news­ We tried, then, to forge together labor activ­
papers we had to rely on display advertising, ists, feminists, small businesspeople, com­
and the old Progressive inclusion of small busi­ munity organizers (the latter on issues such as
nesses within the anti-corporate struggle made school closings and property speculation), the
sense for us financially. We never denied the poor, the Left (from the electoral to the cultural
PC's self-interest here, but by the end it became activists), students, and blacks (though the last
evident that the line we had established at the two were most indifferent to our efforts) into a
beginning for economic reasons was politically broad-based front against the reactionaries who
justified. We became acutely aware of the diffi­ were putting their own quiet agenda back on
culties small businesses have in finding credit, the table in Madison. While the PC was fresh
competing with the huge cash reserves of and kept its quality up, the coalition held.
corporations, and otherwise finding a niche in Later, because of certain mistakes on our part,
an economy dominated by only 500 corpora­ including the occasionally necessary abrupt
tions. Those small businesspersons who under- criticism of elements in one's own coalition,

11
and because of a decline in quality derived from were self-managed to a remarkable degree, but
staff attrition and economic realities - not to we had owners as well. Each single-issue group
mention a string of serious political defeats for had its own idea of what the PC should become
the Left in general - the coalition wavered. and which issues it should feature; many of
It is a vastly different undertaking to attempt them bought memberships in the coop, not only
to build a "counter-economy" in a city rather to demonstrate support but to have a say in our
than a "counter-culture" on a campus. In policies. So the editors were often called on the
printing defenses of the small businesses' carpet in an office meeting when the paper
struggle on the one hand and occasional teeth­ deviated a jot or a tittle from the established
gritting screeds from left sectarians on the line. It was not like a traditional newspaper
other, we tried to open up our pages as a wide­ where the editors condescend to deal with a
open forum. At the same time, we tried to small group the paper doesn't really need; these
encourage the notion that, as the economy were most often comrades as anxious to keep
continued to decline, a broad national coalition their paper from embarrassing itself as they
(based in local struggles) would have to emerge were determined to keep it pointed resolutely in
at some point, and that activists would the right direction.
eventually have to accept economic, job­ If we tried to keep the labor orientation as
oriented analyses as a common starting point editorial ballast, we were still pulled in many
for everyone. different directions by the coalition members
It was this kind of thinking that led us to who were also owners. For that matter,
embrace with such enthusiasm the founding of political divisions emerged within the staff
the Progressive Alliance in Detroit, to which we toward the end. Two incidents occurred in the
gave extensive on-the-spot coverage. In retro­ fall of 1 979 that seemed to sum up the experi­
spect, it seems clear that the cautions given in ence of the PC at its best and worst, things we
Radical America about that organization continue to chew on in this strangely reflective
(which, by the way, were useful in our editorial time that follows several years of manic
meetings) were correct. But at the time it was activity.
the only game in town - and one we desper­ The first was our decision to publish a letter,
ately needed in our constant search for national banned elsewhere by the Justice Department,
tendencies we could plug our readers into. (I'm purporting to describe the "secrets" of the
convinced, by the way, that at some point there H-bomb. The day after we published the letter
will be a wave of leftish dailies in the U.S. - the government dropped its case against the
but not until there is movement that will Progressive magazine. It was a big moment for
provide the core of the news; a newspaper, the PC as a newspaper, and there was a sense of
especially a daily with its constant need for victory. It was the vindication of coop owner­
copy, becomes shrill in isolation, tries to create ship and workers' control in the sense that all
as much as interpret the news, and runs the risk the privately-owned papers had refused to defy
of simply becoming a "better" liberal paper the government even in the name of First
than the liberals put out. We were a few years Amendment rights - rights which we of course
too early.) harped on at symphonic length, and rights
In the meantime we found that cooperative which for once were deposited in the hands of
ownership of a newspaper can create unusual editors unhampered by a corporate board. (We
pressures both editorially and politically. We were sometimes criticized by Leninists and

12
reproduces the billboard and argues for our
right not to have them defaced. " The ad read,
"Their bomb and our baby. "
Question: should we print a full-page ad
which we found nauseating? If we did, the pro­
abortion groups in our coalition would, they
told us, be upset enough to picket the PC. The
ad would be an insult to women, in particular
those women who had had abortions (by impli­
cation they were being called murderers) and we
would be putting an opportunist interpretation
on the First Amendment by claiming that
anyone had the right to buy space in the paper.
That's the way the straight press does it, they
pointed out, but the PC shouldn't be like the
straight press.
If we refused to run the ad, it would kick out
from under the paper one of its editorial pillars;
once we set ourselves up as arbiters of free
speech (by denying access to the public prints)
we would more or less be conceding to the
others for thumping for the First Amendment, Justice department's case that "in some cases"
which they felt was a bourgeois civil liberty; our these rights should be abridged. We had exposed
attitude was that bourgeois civil liberties were ourselves to $ 10,000 in fines and 10 years in
only the beginnings of what will someday be prison each to deny that. If we backed down
demanded . . . ) when the issue was reversed we would, some
The second incident, which occured only two staff members felt, be victims of "ideological
weeks later, was grimmer. It began when a blackmail. "
Milwaukee-based anti-abortion group plastered The dilemma, as it turned out, was resolved,
Madison with billboards that carried a photo of or rather unresolved, in the worst and most
a three month-old baby and the bizzare slogan, destructive way possible. The decision to run
"Kill her now, its murder; six months ago, the ad was in the jurisdiction of the general
abortion. " It was, to say the least, provocative. manager, who was determined to run it. Mean­
A reporter and a photographer were assigned to while, the editor and editorial board (whose
do a story. The reporter was thorough enough authority was then in doubt because of a missed
to find and write that defacements of the bill­ election) decided to run a same-day editorial
boards were covered by the owners' insurance. attacking the ad. The general manager opposed
Within days a spontaneous,. systematic the editorial on the grounds that same-day
defacement began. opinionating was "unprofessional" and
Then came a key move from the anti­ reported the matter to the board of directors on
abortion group. "If you're so high and mighty the evening of publication. The board decided
on the First Amendment, " they said to the PC, in favor of simultaneous publication of the ad
"you will print a full-page ad of ours that and the editorial, but when that decision was

13
reported to the general manager he refused to These production leaders were pulled together
go along with it. As a result the ad ran alone, into a Production Council which I was asked to
pickets appeared in front of the PC offices, and chair (because of experience in the '60s in
the editorial belatedly ran, the following day. production problems when I worked in the
It was a stalemate. Something cracked inside underground press). Once a week, sometimes
the paper at that moment. The board could not twice, we met and hammered out logistical
fire the general manager without inviting problems. For the most part no one in the
serious turmoil inside the staff, where he had council had the slightest idea of the mysteries of
the strategic support of some people who felt the other drafts, and so democratic decision­
that the paper was failing economically because making was absolutely unavoidable - it was
it was "too far to the left." The issue was never the only process that could possibly have
resolved to anyones's satisfaction, the lines of worked under the circumstances. These weekly
authority were never re-established, and the meetings, for me, were the most exciting part of
tension between self-management and coopera­ the strike. The mutual respect, the rounds of
tive ownership intensified without there being congratulation to individual workers and crafts
time to make it a productive conflict. By the for difficult jobs well done under impossible
time the annual shareholder's meeting rolled circumstances, the unquestioning trust in each
around, at which 500 people were present and other as skilled workers - here was the
voting, the only serious issue that remained was culmination of years of dreams and theories.
the financial crisis that made it necessary to Hell yes, it worked, and it continued to work all
close down the paper. through the paper's history. Over the months
The "political thrust," as you put it, of the the walls of mystery were gradually battered
PC was formed by the new and sometimes down until workers in each department had
strange combinations of forces at work on it. I fairly clear ideas of the problems and work
think it will be some time before we draw the tempos of adjacent departments; this was
right lessons from the mistakes or from the invaluable for the larger meetings involving all
victories. the workers, where political discussions were
not allowed to become abstracted too much
How did workers ' ownership (or management) from the practical limitations of production.
work out as political strategy? As economic Pay parity was the complement to workers'
policy? control. All through the paper's history the
weekly paycheck (except, later on, those of the
There is absolutely no doubt that without the advertising reps who worked on commission)
twin principles of workers' control and pay remained the same for each worker. It avoided
parity the PC would never have lasted the 27 the resentments that could have torn the paper
months from October '77 to January 'SO. apart within six months. (Of course, the size of
But first let me give you a picture of how it the paycheck was so small that it more or less
worked. When we began as a strike weekly, the guaranteed equality in self-exploitation. As the
presidents of the five unions appointed workers old strikers left us one by one, we became more
in each of their ranks who had the widest familiar with the external demands of the labor
respect as skilled and diligent crafts-persons (as market on the pay scales. I doubt that the
opposed to political officers in the leadership principle could have held forever. Yet without
who were often better talkers than workers). it, we never could have lasted 27 months).

14
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mobilizes hundreds. nukes and the Progressive.
So, yes, these two principles worked soundly the balance sheet. Workers simply must be able
for the internal politics of the paper. The only to distinguish between balance sheets, financial
alternative would have been massive infusions statements , pro forma budgets, and cash
of money at the very start - enough showing budgets and be able to interpret them. For me
up in our paychecks that we should forgo par­ the process of decipherment was difficult
ticipation, i.e. business as usual. But there were enough (I spent two years on the PC board of
two unresolved problems. directors); we never should have democratized
Toward the end we found that the pay was that process without spending many long hours
too low to hold skilled workers, despite the fact of catch-up at the expense of production
that the majority held on as long as they could. (which, in a daily paper, has its own fierce
They were replaced, at first, by people with schedules).
little experience but with a strong political Finally, while workers' control and pay
commitment to the experiment. But some parity worked for a long time, the losses in the
people also showed up who were completely business end forced the paper over time to tie
unskilled - had little work experience of any itself more and more dependently to credit
sort, no understanding of union rules (which institutions and contractors, until the space for
were the cornerstone of workers' control from financial maneuvering shrank to a narrow cor­
the beginning), and little experience in large ridor indeed. In that situation workers some­
organizations. They worked in the circulation times had difficulty understanding the priorities
and advertising departments, and what we had assigned to incoming revenues.
was a kind of lumpenization of the workforce Our effort to build a "counter-economy" in
on those departments. Never has that class Madison got nowhere (except for in our help to
distinction been made clearer to me, or with the worker-owned cab company); many more
more pain. These new people lacked discipline, building blocks will have to be in place for that
performed erratically, refused to analyze finan­ to appear on the scale we imagined. Even then
cial information, and would not respect we will all have to be particularly careful that
collective decision-making. The youth culture we are not simply creating an economy of the
of the '60s (ah, roots!) has become, no doubt poor and for the poor, relieving in the process a
because of its classless and utopian spirit, a considerable social burden from the corpora­
nostalgic refuge for those who not only will not tions and the government.
but cannot hold a job, or rather, cannot do As for the actual work and the production
work. The Black Panthers' paper in the '60s schedules, I am satisfied that the actual work
and Madison's Take Over in the '70s glorified and the production schedules remained firmly
the "lumpen" consciously, with arguable in the hands of workers in each department,
points. No one but the sectarians has bothered though the direction of that work was usually in
to dispute these points, because discretion has the hands of the Production Council. That
become the better part of politics. body, after the paper was sold by the unions to
The other problem was that neither the finan­ the workers and then to cooperative share­
cial leaders (including me) nor the other holders, (eventually about 800 of them), came
workers made an effort to democratize finan­ to be made up of the elected heads of each
cial skills. Workers' control will, I am con­ department. They in turn were supervised by
vinced, be impossible until schools carry three assistant managers, who were elected by
mandatory courses on the basic categories of the workforce at large. The only member of

16
management who was not elected was the managers who, under the pressure of business,
General Manager, who was appointed by the were clearly perceived as the only persons with
board of directors (they, of course,. were elected the required specialized skills - particularly in
by the coop members, or shareholders). It was a the business office. We folded the paper shortly
balance between workers' control and commu­ before the next round of elections, so the
nity control; some of the ideas of Gar Alpero­ problem of succession was never met in
vitz went into the board's discussions about practice.
achieving that balance. Some workers felt that workers' control had
In an essay, historian David Montgomery become something of a a charade. That feeling
refers to a PC worker who said, with regard to ranged from a few disciplined workers who saw
a seminar he attended on workers' sharing in no need for department heads, elected or not,
decision-making, that he found the seminar to the group of marginal workers that continu­
irrelevant because people at the PC saw no need ally lost political struggles because of naivete or
for "management participation". That remark lack of organizing experience.
came comparatively early in the experience. At Similarly, among the old guard of original
that point "management" referred to the old strikers, particularly in the production crafts,
bosses at the struck plant. Eventually we did workers' control was felt to be too "ideologi­
develop a management of our own. By the end cal" and unnecessary; the printers (Inter­
only one of the three elected managers national Typographical Union) clung to their
remained; they were replaced by "acting" union control of production to the end.
Each department had a Workers' Council for never disappointed by it, anxieties of the
matters of discipline, hiring and flring. In the moment aside.
craft departments they remained largely unused What was the PC 's relationship to internal
because union committees had identical func­ labor struggles in Madison, the attacks upon
tions; some departments were too small to need the building trades ' control of the central trades
them. Only the editorial department really council. Did the PC accelerate or retard the
made use of it, and it proved to be particularly challenge? And how do you judge the ongoing
valuable; we found that elected workers took conflict?
their tasks very seriously and had a moral
authority, particularly in matters of discipline, When our strike hit the city in October 1 977,
that often allowed them to be more stringent in the Madison Federation of Labor was a mori­
their decisions than the elected management bund organization, dominated by the building
could afford to be. trades and run by an out-and-out business
It's true that workers' control is not always unionist. The first electoral challenge to his
effIcient, at least in the short run. Internal leadership, organized by the public employees
political questions seemed to erupt from time to two years earlier, had been crushed outright. A
time into a crisis in which the various elected month after the PC went down the tubes the
bodies and leaders would redeflne their roles same man was re-elected, after a challenge by
and authority to achieve every imaginable the same group, by a margin of only about 55
parliamentary advantage. Periodically resent­ to 45 per cent. The failure of the building trades
ments and latent struggles, often around a and the business unionists to support any strike
symbolic issue, would come to a real boil. For effort in the preceding two years, along with
days production effIciency would be compro­ steady hammering by the PC, changed the
mised by caucuses, organizing, and lobbying as atmosphere. I have no doubt that the old guard
the lines of the various splits formed. But once will be thrown out next year. Unfortunately,
the issue was resolved there was a general the Federation has precious little power in any
feeling that the unspoken had been uttered and case; it will be largely a symbolic victory, I
that deep-seated wounds which in other work think.
circumstances would have been allowed to But this same strain between business­
fester had been revealed in what some of us unionist insurgent tendencies seems to exist all
came to call "labor theater" - and production around the country. Clearly something will
would then return to a higher level of effIciency have to give within the next decade. The signs
than before. In the long run, I am convinced, of change are tattooed on the muscle of the
these political passion plays - in which challengers.
everyone had lines to deliver, poses to strike, I fully expect that, once the insurgents
and quite often sound arguments to make - consolidate their gains by the middle '80s, the
are inextricable parts of the way workers' building trades hereabouts will withdraw, either
control will look in the future. Once these rain formally or informally, from the Federation. I
storms passed, the air in the offIce was usually also expect to see new kinds of associative
remarkably invigorating. I only wish we had bodies spring up in which the CIO-oriented
had many more years to see how the process unions from the AFL-CIO will sit down with
developed. If the form was theatrical, the insurgent Teamsters and UAW members.
content, until the end, remained rational; I was Who knows what may lie beyond that?

18
Getting that far will be the fruit of IS years of The other, larger victory, is that the pace of
struggle. But I do know from my experience at union-busting in the newspaper industry has
the PC that there are many, many articulate slowed to a crawl. Management had all the
and committed veterans of the '60s and '70s cards - knew we could not stop production -
who are only awaiting an opening. It could all and yet we cost them millions by hanging on
happen very rapidly, depending on how the out of mean-spirited doggedness; I like to think
issues develop and at what tempo. Time is on that we saved thousands of jobs and many
the side of the insurgents. locals by putting up resistance where none was
expected.
There are other places where the strike papers The reason why strike papers, ,or for that
have held on (Wilkes-Barre) or turned into matter almost all new dailies, fail, is that the
shoppers (San Vallejo). Why did they succeed newspaper business is labor-intensive, requires
and the PC fail? Why do most strike papers an enormous amount of capital or credit, and it
fail? too dependent on the print advertising market
- which in most areas is already monopolized.
The experience of strike papers in the wave Before 1941 advertising was not all that
begin by the PC has been both triumphant and important to the industry because newsprint
disastrous. Most have folded or, as in San was nearly as cheap as water. Publishers could
Vallejo, have chosen a sounder financial base meet operating expenses and a payroll from the
than a daily (to begin with). The one in Pontiac, cover price alone; circulation was therefore
Michigan, has been sold. Only the Wilkes-Barre important in a vastly different way. A working
Citizens Voice holds on - now paying its class readership was much more important then
workers nearly a living wage, hanging on for because of their sheer numbers. Even the moss­
the long haul, still a strike paper (not a coop), back curmudgeons of the '20s and ' 30s had to
though its politics are not particularly leftish by strike a populist tone in their papers - to build
any standard. It's the only strike paper that numbers. Today it's the demographics of the
might actually force its target - a paper readership - the " up-scale" demographics as
controlled from New York with many millions the marketing types intone - that count.
in assets - to capitulate. It's a classic battle, The only reason the latest wave of strike
the place where the Newspaper Guild has papers was possible is that the new technology
chosen to take its stand. which many publishers are using to bust unions
To be frank, the unions from the beginning is making newspaper production almost cheap
thought of the Madison strike as a lost cause. enough for smaller papers to start. But we are
We were written off. The international unions not there yet. The underground press was made
were astounded that we hung on so long with so possible by photo-offset technology; the new
little support from them. There was some wave of dailies which may appear in the 1990s
bitterness because of that attitude, particularly will be made possible by the new typesetting
because the unions steadfastly refused to and computer technology (which affects every­
support the strike paper as a strategy. The thing from circulation to billing). But the tech­
Guild, among others, had a strict policy against nology is still too expensive, still beyond the
it, but at the last Guild convention it was reach of most of us.
changed. We take that as a victory.

19
My notion is that there will emerge eventually out they would never get back in. A few
two daily presses in this country: the vast, workers took counsel, realizing that the only
regional monopoly papers and the localized chance for a victory was to stage a sit-down
papers that will be supported by the business strike in the presence of the expensive new
advertisers who cannot afford monopoly rates. equipment that was being used as the wedge
But that's anywhere from 10 to 15 years away, against the unions. Management wanted the
and will depend in large part on what happens workers on the picket lines, not next to that
to the commercial possibilities of cable TV and expensive computer, that new press, that shiny
the availablility of cheap artificial newsprint. new typesetting equipment . . .
All of these things are in a mighty flux. But it was quickly discovered, not only that
such a strike was illegal (no surprise there), but
From your experience, how do you assess that the international unions whose members
prospects for the Left in mainstream journal­ participated in such an effort could be held
ism and in unionism? liable for millions of dollars in fines.
Face it: the structure of collective bargaining,
I am pessimistic about the former, unsure labor activism, picket line conduct, and the
about the latter. "Mainstream" will remain by laboriously intricate legal remedies available
definition non-left, anti-left, and worse and are so tightly controlled by the statute and
worse and worse. Depending, of course, on precedent that there is precious little room in
some of the technological developments I just which to move. The more we play by rules, the
described, there is a chance of having a deeper the hole we dig for ourselves. If we
localized progressive press, small but wide­ ignore the rules we deal ourselves out of the
spread, before the turn of the century. action on a day-to-day basis. The only way the
As for unionism, let me tell you an anecdote issue will be forced will be through a massive,
which goes beyond the question of controlling spontaneous movement that defies the rules
local labor federations and other instruments of and calls into question the flow of production
that kind to the question of resistance at the from top to bottom. That's all the rules are
workplace. concerned with, and they will bend quickly
When our five unions were faced with one enough if production is compromised. The
stroke of the sword after the other, leaving no conditions for all of this are, however, rather
doubt that management intended to provoke a remote at the moment, I think. If it comes
strike (in a new strike-proof plant), there were soon, I will be surprised.
those who realized that once the unions walked

20
MADISON PRESS C O N N ECTION
EI G HT H O U RS A DAY AT F I AT
C o n ve rsat i o n s W it h I ta l i a n A u to W o r ke rs

Joanne Barkan

It was 1 95 7 . Nazareno was twenty years old and, as he often said, "the poorest of the
poor . " His family worked the land - or at least tried to - around Rovigo, about sixty
kilometers from Venice. They had never recovered from the great flood of ' 5 1 , when the Po
River swelled and submerged the region under mud and water. There seemed to be no way of
making a living, no hope for the future. Thousands were already leaving that poor northeast
region of Italy for the West, for Turin, and for the factories. Nazareno packed his bags.
In those years, the real goal, the dream, was always Fiat . Getting a j ob at Fiat was like
going to America. But it was not easy to fulfill the dream. Many workers had to prove
themselves first in small plants or in the construction industry around Turin. Thafs where
Fiat often went to look for its new laborers, selecting those who had shown the greatest
capacity and willingness to work. Others were able to enter Fiat only with letters of recom­
mendation from the local priests, who vouched for the workers ' solid backgrounds and their
non-communist political leanings.
" It wasn't until 1 962 that I finally got a j ob at Fiat, and when it happened, I felt like I,
Nazareno, had touched heaven with my fingers. It was security and health . You were
privileged if you were at Fiat. You were even treated better by the shopkeepers. But after the
first euphoria, then I realized it wasn't what I had expected. Then came the trauma.
" Why? The work rhythms, the environmental conditions, the impact of the assembly line .
After seven or eight months, you realized you were being destroyed. You saw that 'heaven'
was an illusion. It was like a military state inside the factory. I liked to read as a kid. When I

Photo by Paola Agosti. 23


was twelve or thirteen, 1 read about Fiat and you with /'Unita, the Communist newspaper,
thought it was democratic and that the relations you were fired or sent to the 'exile' department.
between management and the workers were Goons would beat up union activists, slash their
good. Once 1 was there, 1 saw that 1 had no tires, set their cars on fire.
liberty. "One day my super told me 1 wasn't using
"I worked for the first four years in the paint my tool right. 1 said to him, 'I thought this was
department. When you painted a car, you had a better way of doing it. ' He answered me,
to sand the first layer of paint so that the se­ 'You're here to work , not to think ! ' You know,
cond would adhere. We did this with a machine that's the kind of thing you remember for
run with water. Your hands were always in years. You carry it around with you, and then
water; you stood in water. It was 1250 in the one day you explode. "
summer and humid; freezing in the winter.
• • •
From the time the bell rang at 6:00 a.m. until it
rang again at noon, you couldn't stop; you
couldn't sit down. The pace was killing. Fiat has long been the touchstone of the in­
"The relationship between workers in those dustrial workers' movement in Italy - from
years was zero. Zero discussions, no talking at the occupation of the factories in 1 9 1 9-1920
all with that police-like structure. It was worse through the long years of repression both under
than school ! If the supervisor said you had to fascism and during the post-war reconstruction
make 300 pieces, you made 300 whether or not to the workers' movement that began in the late
there were absent workers. Fiat used a lot of 1 960s. Over the years, the great factories of
overtime in those years. Most workers did Turin have seen the high moments of collective
twelve hours overtime a week, sixty hours strength and heard the desperate silences of
altogether. That was general. defeat and oppression. Since the late 1 960s,
"You came from a region where there was no Fiat workers have acquired an international
work. You came to Fiat, and you had a job. So reputation for militancy, a high level of self­
you'd work like crazy, like a glutton. Someone organization in the factories, and radical politi­
who's starving always overeats. cal consciousness. To a great extent, this reputa­
"I saw a worker beg his supervisor to go to tion rests on the accomplishments of the
the bathroom once. First the super told him to "Generation of '68 , " those workers who led an
wait twenty minutes, and then he claimed the offensive movement for several years to win
worker didn't really have to go. So the worker control over the process of production. They
left his place and risked getting fired. He went dominated the work force at Fiat both
to the bathroom and brought the 'product' out organizationally and ideologically until the late
for the super to see. The worker was suspended 1 970s, and during that time, it was possible to
for three days . speak of a relatively unified work force at
"I got two fines for reading a newspaper dur­ Fiat.
ing my break . They had a system of vigilantes The situation has changed. A new generation
in the johns making sure no one read newspa­ of workers has recently come into the plants.
pers there either. 'Alia Fiat si viene per They are a varied group - some very young;
lavorare' (At Fiat, you come to work), that was many women - with divergent backgrounds
the slogan. The supervisors were like and experiences. Many of them are quite unlike
carabinieri, the military police. If they caught the well-known Fiat veterans. Now it no longer

24
makes sense to speak about the " typical Fiat by the hour and to shanty towns near the fac­
worker. " The labor force is more heteroge­ tories where there were no toilets or hot water.
neous and, at times, even divided. Turin's natives reacted with hostility and even
Let's take a closer look at the generations at racism toward the newcomers, who were ghet­
Fiat. In the first decade and a half after the toized and treated like second-class citizens at
War, Fiat drew many of its workers from off best. Turin became a city divided between an­
the land in the Piedmont region around Turin. tagonistic cultures. The social customs, style of
They or their relatives continued to work the dress, speech, and even physical types of the
land, and the dairy products and fresh fruits two groups were different. In the factories, the
and vegetables rounded out the factory immigrants confronted the repression described
workers' wage. These workers were called by Nazareno. They worked sixty hours a week
barachin, named after the metal soup pails they but could barely cover their expenses. Then, as
carried to work each day for lunch. Nazareno said, they exploded.
As industry expanded in the North, it absorb­ There were spontaneous and organized
ed much of the available "native" labor and at­ actions: work stoppages, slow-downs, sabotage
tracted the jobless of other regions. So began of machines, marches through the plants, walk­
the mass migrations from Italy's "Third outs, mass demonstrations, all-workers'
World" - the South, Sardinia, Sicily, and the assemblies, discussions with student movement
Veneto. The population shift eventually moved groups. The struggles quickly developed into a
millions to the industrial cities of northern Italy movement which continued to gather momen­
and northern Europe. tum and draw in large numbers of workers.
By the early and mid-1960s, the automobile There were moments of violence - fist fights,
was king of the economy, and Fiat was hiring cars burned - which were often the result of
by the tens of thousands. At the high point, the pent-up hostilities toward autocratic super­
two-year period of 1968 and 1969, some 33,000 visors. Overall, the workers maintained a high
new workers entered the Fiat plants ! An essen­ level of solidarity. There were negotiations with
tial part of the company's expansion program management throughout this period, and by the
was the Fiat 500 model - the famous mini-car early 1970s the movement had transformed -
of the masses. According to the plan, the new at least temporarily - traditional capitalist
workers would produce the cars and then buy relations of production in the factory. The
them. The national government helped the in­ workers won control over work rhythms and
dustry's development by providing cheap steel scheduling on the assembly lines, control over
from state-run plants and by building one of hiring and firing policies; they won a more
the most extensive superhighway systems in the egalitarian salary structure, better benefits, and
world. the right to study on company time; they
Hundreds of "immigrants" like Nazareno organized factory councils of workers'
arrived in Turin every day, stepping off the delegates and revitalized the metalworkers'
trains with their cardboard suitcases. The union; they greatly reduced the overt political
baroque city under the Alps was foreign ter­ repression and the near dictatorial powers of
ritory to them. They spoke only their native the supervisors on the shop floor.
dialects and couldn't understand the language By 1975, Fiat was a very different place. In
they heard around them. The taxi drivers took fact, conditions in terms of work rhythms,
them to rooming houses where they rented beds environment, and safety measures were in some

25
cases better at Fiat than at most American or unemployed, and giving women equal status as
French automobile plants. But the situation job seekers for the first time. The changes in the
was not static. The workers had to struggle con­ law obliged Fiat to interview and hire willing
tinuously to make sure the provisions of the and able workers from the government rolls.
contracts they had won were implemented. Management could not screen and then select
Sometimes they did not succeed. (One signifi­ only the workers it found to be politically and
cant victory, for example, was workers' input socially acceptable, at it had during the 1950s.
into investment decisions. Won in the Some 9,000 new workers entered the various
mid-1970s, it still exists only on paper.) Fiat plants in Turin in 1978 and several
As a result of the workers' victories and the thousand more in 1979. A large number of
international economic crisis of the mid-1970s them were young people between the ages of
which hit Italy particularly hard, Fiat went into eighteen and twenty-three, children of immi­
a period of retrenchment and restructuring. grant workers; over half were women, many
There was a freeze on hiring from 1974 to 1978. entering the labor force after years at home as
During that time, the company completely reor­ housewives and mothers.
ganized its financial and administrative Unlike Nazareno and his generation, most of
structure and began to decentralize production, the new young workers have gone through high
getting part of the work process out of the large school; many have technical and professional
plants where there were "labor problems" and diplomas . More important, they have spent five
into small shops where the unions were weaker years in the mondo dei giovani, the world of
or nonexistent. Fiat expanded its manufactur­ young people - which means music, discos,
ing operations abroad (Brazil, Argentina, drugs, and just hanging out. This world didn't
Poland, Spain) and began preparing an offen­ exist in Italy a decade ago when peasants and
sive to increase its share of the European the children of workers went into the factories
market. Finally, the company began to install at thirteen or fourteen years of age.
new technology - robots in the welding and For much of the new generation, the factory
paint departments; the digitron, a computer­ is no longer the center of the universe. The
ized body assembly system; the transfertizza­ young workers hope to leave and find
zione, to position and stamp large pieces; and, something else as soon as possible. When
most recently, the LAM, a highly automated asked, they often don't define themselves as
system for putting together the motor which workers. Instead it's "I'm a student, " "I play
does away with the old assembly line. Fiat has the guitar," or "I like jazz . " Most of them
aimed much of the new technology at the "hot have a greater sense of their individual worth
spots" in the factory - those places where the and a deeper streak of antiauthoritarianism
work conditions were the most dangerous or than any previous group. They have higher
unpleasant and the workers traditionally strike­ ambitions and less tolerance for the monoto­
prone and combative. nous. They go out on strike without hesitation,
By 1978, the worst of the crisis seemed to be but most are less interested than the previous
over for the automotive sector, and Fiat began generation in putting all their energies into
hiring new workers once again. In the changing the factory and into the gradual and
meantime, however, the national goyernment careful process of taking control. They want
passed legislation giving young people specific satisfying work and some security at a time
consideration on the official lists of the when Italy's economy is generating very few

26 Photo by Paola Agosti.


full-time jobs of any kind. Some of the young tense time. Terrorists had singled out the city as
workers are interested in politics; many are not. a prime site for their activities, and the
Some are particularly hostile toward the Italian frequency of shootings and bombings had
Communist party (PCI) and the unions, which greatly increased. There had been twelve
they believe have sold out the workers' move­ terrorism-related deaths since spring of the
ment. previous year. The national government had
There is a serious division between the genera­ fallen in January, and the election campaign,
tions at Fiat. The older workers often accuse which no one felt could resolve the political
the younger ones of being lazy and arrogant or crisis, was just then getting under way. Since
unwilling to learn from the history of the 1960s. February, the more the 100,000 Fiat workers in
For their part, the younger workers see the '68 and around Turin had been at the center of a
generation as sermonizing, narrow, or even bitter struggle over the national metalworkers'
self-satisfied. contract. There were strike actions at the
It is too soon to say how the younger workers various Fiat plants almost every day.
will develop or how the generational conflict I made contact with most of the workers I
within Fiat will resolve itself. During the long interviewed through Italian unionists, political
contract struggle in 1 979, many Italian activists, or party functionaries who are friends
observers emphasized the young workers' of mine, acquaintances, or friends of friends.
antagonism or indifference to the union. Yet in In most cases, the workers spoke openly and at
February 1 980, some young workers ran for length to me when a formal interview had been
factory council positions in various Fiat plants set up by a contact. The interviewees then felt
and were elected. Many of the "old cadre" of confident that I was a legitimate journalist (not
the '68 generation now admit to being tired. an agent of some kind) and sympathetic to
After twelve years of activism in the factory, them . Most of the interviews lasted from one to
after eight or ten years as factory council dele­ two hours; a few were shorter. All were held in
gates, they would like others to take over the Italian. I took extensive notes during the
leadership roles. These older workers are interviews and then filled in and corrected the
fiercely proud of what they have accomplished, texts immediately after each meeting.
and yet many of them also claim that the future My goal was to speak to as many " types" of
of the movement they have built now lies with Fiat workers as possible: the dedicated and
the new generation. highly politicized factory council delegate; the
less involved "fellow-traveler" of the '68
• • • generation; the recent high-school graduate
whose primary objective was to get out of Fiat;
One of my recent projects in Italy has been to the newly-hired� middle-aged woman; and so
get a more concrete and more personal sense of one. The most difficult type to track down was
who these Fiat workers I'd always heard so the older, politically conservative worker. At
much about are. I did my first interviews during this time, they are few in number and less
'I
I
a trip to Turin in October 1978, and then willing to talk. In the end, I felt satisfied that
I returned to the city for a month in May 1 979 my sample was representative and that I hadn't
when I did some twenty interviews, five of overlooked any signifjcant group.

I
which are transcribed here. I am very grateful to my friends at II
Manifesto and in PdUP, to the local officials of

II�II
The month I spent in Turin was a particularly

28

.1
the PCI, and to the unionists who arranged explained that he had fallen off his bicycle.
interviews for me, drove me to the plants and Nazareno had been out of work for two
the outlying dormitory towns, made lunches months, but his compensation was close to 100
and dinners for me, and spent hours explaining percent of his wage.)
their views. Some Fiat workers will not talk at all to
My deepest thanks go, of course, to the Fiat journalists unless a trustworthy intermediary
workers who shared their personal histories, has set up the interview. Nazareno was unusual.
experiences, hopes, and fears. Many of them I simply explained why I was in Turin, asked if
also shared their food, their coffee, their he would be willing to do an interview, and he
grappa. They took me into their homes, intro­ sat down and talked for two hours without
duced me to their relatives, showed me around reserve. .
their neighborhoods. Many of them became Nazareno was an intense person whose
interested, even enthusiastic about my project. language was sprinkled with metaphors. He
By my third trip to the town of Orbassano, near was forty-two years old, of medium height,
Fiat's Rivalta plant, the women of the local with a slightly receding hairline. He wore a
PCI section had devised a plan (never consum­ sports jacket and a tie. When Nazareno
mated) to dress me in a work uniform and described the anni duri - the hard years at Fiat
sneak me into the factory to see their depart­ that have become almost a legend in Italy, his
ment. I think back often to those women sitting hands would unconsciously pass quivering over
in a circle of folding chairs inside the party his forehead and across his green-yellow eyes.
headquarters, to the factory council delegate One thing that scared me in the early
whose living room looked like a bookstore, to years was the continual coming and going of
the young worker who recalled the oxen workers . It was like a ships' port. People quit,
drawing plows near what would always be new workers. After three or four years, people
home in Sardinia, and to all the others in and left because they couldn't take it any more.
around Fiat I learned from and enjoyed . When you saw you were dying, you left. They
found jobs in the service sector, the govern­
• • •
ment, or became small merchants. Some
workers were able to save money to do this.
NAZARENO I saw this constant turnover and asked myself
I met Nazareno early in my stay in Turin. I what happens when people demand to stay at
had gone to the Quinta Lega, the headquarters Fiat for twenty years. Things will change. This
of the metalworkers ' union for the Mirafiori has happened. Now Fiat can't fire you if you're
plant, hoping to find one of the unionists. hurt on the job. They have to find some work
When I arrived, the building was just about for you to do. There are 6,000 "sick" workers
deserted - all the unionists were off at a at Fiat now.
conference on terrorism, and most of the What happened in 1969 didn't come as a
factory council delegates were across the streets surprise to me. You had normal people working
at the plant getting ready for a two-hour strike. on the assembly lines. You would work next to
Nazareno, who was on leave from the factory the same people for six or seven years . You 'd
because of an injury, had just stopped by. (I never talk because you were afraid, but you
later asked if his accident had been work­ knew they were good people. Then all of a
related. He looked a little embarrassed and sudden, you see them rebel, throw things, and

29
break the machines. It means that for years, a car. So you work like (;l azy. But I think
they had bottled up their anger. among the very young, this is changing. They
After years of repression, is it surprising that refuse this kind of work, and that's positive.
some supervisors were beaten up and a few cars I don't know what will happen ten years
burned? In Iran, the Shah put people in jail and from now. The new generation of workers is
tortured them. Then there was a revolution. mute; they're reserved. The factory council
The revolution at Fiat had to come. You isn 't being renewed. The same people have been
couldn' t win it with carnations the way they did doing the work for ten years. Now our union is
in Portugal. You have to struggle for change. becoming like the old union before '68, with
The bosses don't give you gifts. Liberty isn't a political divisions and political labels. There's
gift. not enough democracy in the union.
But we had to go beyond an explosion of Several months ago, there was a spontaneous
anger. We had to use diplomacy too. I didn't strike in the paint department. I think sponta­
act out of anger. I was always considered a neous struggles are a good thing. The union
moderate in immediate actions. should accept them. I took three young workers
The Veneto where I grew up was a poor with me to the negotiations with management.
agricultural area, but the quality of life was One was studying philosophy part time at the
much better. We'd go to the bars where we university. Another had a degree in electrical
knew everyone. When I came to Turin, the Fiat engineering. They weren't involved in the
workers got up at five in the morning, worked union, but they ended up leading the negotia­
until two-thirty, did overtime, went home to tions. They had a tremendous capacity and
sleep, and got up for work the next day. I lived understanding of power relations in the
like that for years. factory.
I got married six months after I went to Fiat. These are the people who should be in the
I married a woman from the Veneto. You factory council. The union has to involve these
know, moglie e bue al paese tuo (wife and ox young people. One of them is already lost. The
from your own town). Oh well, I guess it's not bosses gave him a desk job and bought him off.
quite like that any more . My wife worked as a If we don't involve the young people, either
seamstress. Our daughter was born in 1964. they will become self-interested and model citi­
The only social life was in the house with the zens or they will explode. Fiat's a pot that's
T. V. on. On Sunday, it was soccer or you boiling.
bought a Fiat 500 and took the family for a
ride. ANTONELLA
Even now it's like this. It hasn't changed I had an appointment with one of the factory
much. Turin is still a dormitory city. There are council delegates, 'Gianni, outside gate #30 of
two shifts, so half the city is always asleep while the Fiat Mirafiori * plant just as the first shift
the other half works. I live in Anchilino. It's a was ending. He had made arrangementsfor me
town of 50,000 , and they're building the first to interview two workers, first Antonella and
movie theater just now ! There's also still this then Marisa. The only place to sit was a patch
mentality that if your car is two centimeters of grass on a traffic island in the middle of the
larger than your brother's, then you're better. boulevard that circles the Mirafiori complex.
You get married, rents are high, you think you So with the cars and motor scooters whizzing
have to buy a T. V. and a washing machine, and
. II
by on all sides, we talked.

I' 30
Photo by Paola Agosti.

Ii 1
Mirafiori, Fiat 's largest plant, is an awesome and a shirt and tended to stare down at the
sight. The encircling concrete walls stretch on ground through her large-framed glasses. She
for miles, broken only by iron gates and by the considered each question seriously and
looming administrative palazzo built in the answered without reserve. Most of her
suprahuman style of the Mussolini years. Fiat responses were relatively brief and matter-of­
inaugurated the original plant (one million fact. As soon as we finished talking, she rushed
square meters in area) in 1939 and then opened off to meet friends.
the southern addition in 1955 (another 330, 000 I'm nineteen years old, the youngest of five
square meters). Many people argue that the children . My parents and brothers and sisters
titanic proportions of the plant were a serious were all born in Sardinia. I was born here in
mistake on the part of Fiat 's management. The Turin. My father immigrated in 1959. He
concentration of so many workers in one place worked as a plumber. He's retired now, with
(about 46, 000 now, although over 55,000 have heart trouble.
worked at the plant at other times) has facili­ I grew up here in Mirafiori near the factory. I
tated the building and coordination of a finished junior high school and then studied for
workers ' movement and has made Fiat more a year to be an administrative secretary. I quit
vulnerable to actions undertaken by the school when I was sixteen. Then I spent two
workers. The process of decentralization begun years unemployed or working different jobs for
by management in the mid-1970s is a response short periods of time. I worked as a sales­
in part to this problem. woman and as a secretary.
Antonella, the first worker I interviewed at I always said I'd rather starve than work at
gate #30, was pretty, with long straight hair and Fiat. But finally, it was the only way I could
dark eyes. She wore fashionably tailored jeans make a little money and get papers. On all my
other jobs, I didn't have work papers.· I didn't ask the delegate. They can help you. When I first
come to Fiat because I wanted to. came in, I didn't know anything.
I 've been in the factory for five months. My I go out on strike. The struggles are right and
job is to finish one of the parts from the gears just. You have to improve conditions. I went on
of a grinder. The work isn't hard, but it's I don't understand anything about politics.
monotonous. I 'm on my feet for eight hours. I'm not interested. I 've always stayed outside.
The machine uses oil and water, so I breathe Perhaps it's a mistake. The way things are now,
fumes all day. The machines are old and you have to try to understand something. The
dangerous. You can get your hands caught. struggles of the past helped those who work
They're always saying that they'll adjust the now, and my struggles will help those who
machines. They talk and talk, but as far as do­ come later. The struggles here at Fiat are
ing anything goes - nothing. politics that touch me directly, much more than
I really hope to find something else to do. I party politics . The contract negotiations in­
always say I'm just passing through . I plan to terest me because I'm here. They wouldn 't
study some more to get a diploma. I'd like to otherwise.
find a job as a secretary. Going to work every Terrorism is wrong. To get to the point of
day here is ugly. It's this way for all the young killing each other, that's wrong. People are
people. It's the environment; it's dark and afraid now because of the terrorism. It's
smelly. I can't wait to get out every day. become an everyday thing .
There aren't any other young women in my During my free time, I go around with my
department. So when I came in, I was friends. I have a boyfriend. There's dancing
something new. The men tried to flirt with me and movies. There are enough things to do.
and pestered me. Now they're used to me. There are a lot of drugs and people dying from
There's been an invasion of young people in drugs. It doesn't serve any purpose. They do it
the factory, and there's a gap between the old because they're dissatisfied. First of all, there's
and young, different ideas. It's the same way in this problem of work. They need something to
other places too. I don't talk with the other do. For me, I just hope that Fiat will be a short
workers . There's no possibility of a dialogue. experience.
The only person I've made friends with is
Gianni. He's more my age. At first I felt very
isolated in the factory. It's a little better now.
The other women are all older. They've been
at Fiat for about ten years. With the women,
there's a little more to say, but they've been at
Fiat so long that they've become like the men, a
little vulgar. I don't want that to happen to me.
I joined the union my first week. It's a useful
thing . When you need something, you can go
*Not having work papers (called a libretto) is
equivalent to being "off the books. " Workers
without papers are unprotected by national labor law
and most often receive lower wages and few, if any,
benefits. (See note on lavoro nero, page 00.)

32 Photo by Paola Agosti.


MARISA your kids if they get sick?
Marissa, a tall, slim woman with unusually Many things have changed in the factory.
dark hair, eyes, and skin, looked a little older There was much more repression before. Now
than her thirty-two years. She was frank, the union is more effective. The factory is
laughed easily, and never stopped exchanging better now because of the young people. They
quips with the factory council delegate. woke up the old people a little. The workers
who come into the factory now have things
I immigrated from the Veneto region ten better. Some people say they have privileges,
years ago. Before I came to Turin, I work�d as but I think that's wrong. I like these young
a maid for a family. I did that from the tIme I people. The older ones, the ones who have been
was fifteen until I was nineteen. Then I did here twenty years, are set in their ways. When
lavoro nero· knitting sweaters for three years . they got a little lib�rty, they were scared.
There were no factories in the Veneto then. My
The young people feel lost, out of place in the
mother had already moved . here, then my
factory. They have always lived with their fami­
sisters. So finally I left too.
lies, and they've gone to school for years. The
I've been at Fiat for nine and a half years . I factory is a completely different thing for them.
spent two years on the assembly line, and since
There's not much A utonomia Operaia
then I 've been doing individual work , and I ' m (Workers' Autonomy)· at Mirafiori, or at least
good at it. But working at Fiat i s bad - the not in my department. But there're many of
monotony, repetition, alienation after a while.
them at the Rivalta plant. What they say is
And it's not safe. There're no guards on some crazy. They're not terrorists. They don't know
of the machines. Some of them are from the
what they want. They say crazy things like
Marshall Plan. They still have the plaques that
" Let's break the machines so that the bosses
say Dono dagli A mericani agli Italiani per
will have less to eat . "
ricostruire l'Europa (gift from the Americans
Before, there were very few women i n the
to the Italians to rebuild Europe).
factory. But even now, the women aren't really
There's no way out but working at Fiat. One
organized . There are a few small groups; not
salary isn't enough to support a family. I'm
much yet. The older women live in their own
married and have an eight-year-old son. We live
little worlds . The younger women struggle. We
in north Turin, about forty minutes from here.
have the same rights as men, but it's all on
I have to pay for a private school for my son.
paper. The men pass from one category into a
It's a Catholic school. They keep him from
higher one more easily than the women. I like
seven in the morning until five in the afternoon.
my work, but there isn't any place for me to go.
The bosses talk about the absenteeism of
women in the factory, but who can take care of ·A utonomia Operaia is an "area" of the political
spectrum that took shape in the late 1970s in Italy. It
•Lavoro nero is illegal manufacturing work that is is made up in large part of young people - workers,
off the books and unprotected by the national labor students, the unemployed - who consider them­
laws. It is often put-out work from larger firms done selves revolutionaries and reject or are very critical of
in very small shops or in the home. The wages are the organized political parties and the unions. They
extremely low and no benefits are paid. The chronic sometimes form collectives in factories, neighbor­
scarcity of full-time jobs forces millions of Italians - hoods, or schools. Some of those affIliated advocate
especially women and young people - into lavoro mass armed struggle (but not terrorism) in Italy in
nero. this period .

33
I'm at the third level of five after ten years ! Any life on earth was the only life we had, I'd shoot
man who had done my work the way I have myself tomorrow or I'd become a terrorist!
would be in a higher category. If a woman gets
ahead, the men go around saying she winked at AN OLDER WORKER
the supervisor. I 'm very much in agreement A t the end of my interview with Marisa, the
with feminism - a reasonable feminism, not two of us and thefactory council delegate drove
I I bra burning. about a half-mile around the Mirafiori complex
Now I participate in the marches and rallies . to gate #28, where an argument had broken out
I don't just go home when there's a strike. A lot between an independent trucker and some Fiat
of workers strike because they're embarrassed workers. The trucker was furious - shouting
to be the only ones working, or they're afraid and gesturing - because he wanted to unload
of the reaction of the other workers if they his truck and get going. Groups of workers had
don't go out. Right now, I'm not in the union. I been blocking the gate al/ day, aI/owing no
argued with one of the unionists last year and vehicles or materials to enter or leave the
didn't renew my card. But next year, I'll factory.
probably renew. I'm not in a political party This type of factory "occupation " was one
either. But I'm a leftist, without a doubt. of the union 's tactics for disrupting production
I came from a patriarchal family. We were during the contract negotiations with Fiat. The
landowners in Veneto. We came out of the company counterattacked by taking the union
Fascist era. This had an influence on our ideas. to court for violent and unacceptable practices.
But there's been a gradual shift to the left for Shortly after we arrived at #28, the disgrun­
me. It just took me a little longer. I saw injus­ tled trucker - who claimed he supported the
tices, and I began to change. Now if anyone workers ' strike butjust didn 't see why he had to
suffer from the situation - drove off, and I
I I
tries to get away with something, I protest.
I'm Catholic. There's no contradiction interviewed one of the workers blocking the
between religion and left politics. The farther gate. He was a grey-haired man in his early

, '\
! I
fifties. We talked until his shift of "occupiers "
II
you are to the left, the more you are Christian.
The Church is a bigger contradiction than left had to return to the factory. He was extremely
Catholics . I haven't been to communion for ten cordial and willing to talk but preferred not to
years, but I base my ideas on the Gospel. If give his name.
il l being Christian means being a Christian
Democrat·, then we're lost! The Christian I was born in the city of Treviso, in the
Democratic Party kills people, marginalizes Veneto, but I immigrated to Biella near Turin
people, steals . before the war in 1940. I worked in the textile
I believe in an afterlife. If I thought that this industry for fourteen years and then I got a job
at Fiat. I've been at Fiat for twenty years.
I don't belong to a political party. I've been
*The Christian Democratic Party (DC) is Italy's
largest party (with about thirty-eight percent of the
in the union, though, since 1945, in the CGIL· .
vote). It has dominated every national government I 've always collaborated with the union. When
since 1 948. The DC comprises many factions, but its
primary political orientation is center-right. The *The ConJederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro is
party has built up an elaborate patronage system the largest of Italy ' s three trade union
since the war, and reigns over much of Italy's state­ confederations. The COIL has traditionally been
controlled industry. close to the Italian Communist party.

34
they call a strike, I always go along. I 've never would vote for them if they would begin to
challenged union policies. The struggles are for change the direction of the country. But. they
the workers, not for the bosses. The union is won't. Only the Left parties will change things.
for us. Perhaps the union makes mistakes, but I
personally haven't seen any.
The struggles have changed conditions in the SANDRA
factory, but too much has changed. The Of all the people I interviewed that month in
positive part is that conditions are better. What Turin, I probably think back most often to
is worse is that productivity has gone down; Sandra, a twenty-three-year old worker at the
there's less satisfaction in work. I used to be Rivalta plant. We spoke one Saturday morning
satisfied with my work, but now there's an at the Communist party headquarters in
atmosphere of violence and an I-don't-give-a­ Orbassano, a dormitory town just five minutes
damn attitude about work. I'm retiring next from the factory.
year, but as far as I ' m concerned, unless Driving toward Orbassano, past the outskirts
something really changes, the factory can't go of Turin and then across fields, the Alps come
on like this. into view. They rise abruptly at the distant edge
There's violence even inside the factory - of the plain. The sweep of that panorama is
between the workers, between the supervisors striking, unbroken. Then you pass under an
and the workers. Before, the supervisor unexpected highway bridge bearing a gargan­
commanded, and the workers followed. Now tuan version of Fiat 's deep blue and white logo.
the supervisors aren't in control. They're The sign seems to look down over and claim the
afraid. You can't work when it's like this. entire territory.
Before, the worker was oppressed too much. Before the Rivalta plant was built in 1967,
The supervisors were dictators. Now it's Orbassano was a tiny vii/age of cobble-stone
switched around completely. It's gone too far. streets. Once the plant opened, the town 's
The workers got a little freedom, and they've population swelled four-fold. Yet aside from
exploited it. the new apartment buildings, parking lots, and
It will be difficult to get back to normal a huge supermarket, not much has come to
'
times. There has to be a political solution. The Orbassano. The local PCI headquarters just
bosses have to understand that people don't behind a modern pizza restaurant is one of the
have enough money. You can't stop workers very few social gathering places. Inside, there is
from striking until they get more. Now, if your usually a group ofpeople running off a leaflet
wife doesn't work, you can't live. on the old mimeograph machine or sitting in a
The younger people don't want to work. circle of chairs talking politics. Just about
They've been unemployed too long. The system everyone I met at the headquarters worked at
is wrong. Young people should go to work right Fiat.
away. Instead they want an easy life. We older One of the two party functionaries at
workers accept orders; we obey. These young Orbassano had arranged the interview with
people don't. There' s no communication Sandra. She came with her seventeen-month­
between us. old son, Marcello, who toddled around the
It's up to the political system to change office while we spoke. Sandra was separated
things around. If I could, I would vote for the from her husband, and according to the PCI
party in power, the Christian Democrats . I functionary, she had recently been coming to

3S
r
I
the headquarters with a young man who if I could have been in a bigger place, it would
belonged to the party. He was there that day, have been O.K. But this store was a small,
!
quiet but friendly, playing with Marcello and isolated world . I felt terrible whenever I would
waiting for the interview to end. see a political march pass by the store. I knew I
Sandra had long, light brown hair which she there were problems and injustices in my job ,
kept pushing away from her eyes with a slow but I had no one to ally with. I felt impotent. I
gesture. Her profile was classically elegant. She No one could help me because I was alone. I
wore a dress and stockings. A t first, Sandra 's I was exploited on my j ob. I was only a "little

I
voice shook, and she had difficulty finding girl" who helped. I did some decorating work,
words. Then gradually she lost her self­ but mostly I sold things and just helped around
consciousness and spoke easily, her eyes often the store. When there were design exhibitions, I
filling with tears. had to work until eleven at night without taking
It was not common at that moment in Italy to a break to eat, and I wasn't even paid for it.
I '
I meet someone like Sandra, who was coming to After a while, I began to argue with my boss.
political awareness with such apparently One day, there was a national storeworkers'
unconflicted optimism. There was none of the strike, and I called to say I was going out on
bitterness or anger of so many of the young strike. My boss said, "What are you talking
people who had grown up in the 1970s. Even about?" So I just answered, "It's my work
her joining the Italian Communist party, category. " Then I began to refuse to do extra
although not anomalous for someone her age, things. When I got married, they tried to fire
was less qualified or ambivalent. Something me. I read over my contract and showed them
about Sandra - the freshness of her political that I couldn't be fired. I stayed on, but no one
commitment, her earnestness perhaps - made would talk to me, and they isolated me. They
her particularly engaging. She seemed deter­ sent me to their other store and didn't turn on
mined, strong, and yet also fragile. the heat. It was in the middle of winter, and I
had to wear an overcoat and gloves. That kind
I've been at Fiat for four and a half months. of thing went on for seven months . Finally I
It's really a new thing for me. Before I worked quit. I was pregnant at that time.
as a saleswoman. That work gave me more After the baby was born, I was on the
responsibility, and it was more interesting. But government placement list for the unemployed.
I felt excluded from another type of social life. I wanted a job , and Fiat was hiring. The idea of
When you do that kind of work, you aren't part working at Fiat didn't displease me, but it all
of a class . My father, for example, worked in a happened just by chance. Fiat called me and a
factory, and he passed his experiences as a friend of mine at the same time. We had our
worker on to me. We were a proletarian family. interviews and physical examinations, and
I wanted to study, but I only went through when they said we were hired, we started
junior high school. Now I feel as though I don't hugging each other ! I don't even know why.
have the words I need. It's hard for me to We were euphoric.

I i
!
I
express myself. But my parents couldn't afford
to let me study. So I went to work, one job after
I work in the shop where they assemble the
car doors. My job is to put a support bar inside
another. I couldn't find anything that gave me the door. The handles are attached to this bar,
satisfaction. and then it's welded. It's heavy work; I 'm
I worked in an interior design store. Perhaps getting muscles in my arms! It's the heaviest

36
Photo by Paola Agosti.
r
I�
:
I
work on the line, and we're all women who do
it. At the end of the assembly line, there are
some men who check over all the work. They
say that's a skilled job, but it's not.
are bad. Women are still inferior in the factory.
There's good will on the part of some of the
men workers, the comrades, but with the
bosses, it's differen t. The woman/boss
We've asked for a system of job rotation for relationship is the one that's existed for
I everyone. That way we'd all have experience on centuries. The bosses have power, and they
I different jobs. This would increase our skills make you feel inferior. They almost make fun

1
and raise our job category. We'd also be able of you. One of them always comes up to me
to share the lighter work. But the department and says, "Signora, how are you?"
supervisor didn't want this. It was even hard to When there's a strike, some women don't

\ get the women to go along with the idea. They


want to stay where they are. They say it's O.K.
know what to do because there's this
"intimate" relationship betwen them and
with them . A few of us decided to talk to the management. Women have to feel free of this,
supervisor. He accepted our idea in part. So and then we will be able to work together. If
now there's job rotation except for the final Fiat has hired a lot of women lately, there's a
checking. There's absolutely nothing difficult reason for it. They think it's easier to control
about the work at Fiat. You could learn any job us.
in a couple of �ours except the machine mainte­ The assembly line is supposed to do 2,250
nance and repair. doors each day, seven every minute. We never
Women are oppressed in many ways, even in do that much. It's impossible. About 1 ,800 is
the family. But a lot of the women at Fiat never the most we can do in one day. The pace is so
rebel; some of them don't even realize things fast that if you have a cold, you don't even have
time to blow your nose. to do all your life, and that's hard, but you find .
Our shop is new, and it's separated from the out about so many problems. You get a class
others. We work on the Fiat 138, the Ritmo. consciousness. One day my supervisor said to
People in other parts of the factory don't know me, "Look, I feel the same way you do about
how fast we have to work. The machines are things. " I said, "What in the world are you
new and very complicated. Fiat's technicians talking about? You're in the armchair, and I'm
are still learning about the machines. The in the shop ! You give orders, and I carry them
worker still puts the door piece on the machine, out. If you thought the way I do, you'd be in
and it's very heavy. But then the machine does my place ! " Do you know what he answered?
the rest. There are mechanical arms that move "You're too profound. You think too much. "
everything around. Up to a month ago, the I ' m not saying you don't have to learn things in
machines kept breaking down so we were work­ the factory. You have to be taught, but it
ing less. Now the pace is really bad. doesn't have to be a power relationship.
Our factory council delegate has been at Fiat In the next ten years, what I would like to
for ten years. He lives very far out, and so he's see is real equality, with women really active
isolated . He does what he can, but he has sixty and politically conscious in society. That would
people in his work team. That's a lot. We want be a great step forward. Women have to be side
to elect a woman . I talk a lot with the other by side. If not, men won't go forward. I'd like
women, and they're beginning to feel a little to see better working conditions and the
stronger and more willing to strike. possibility of working more serenely.
They've asked me to run for delegate. I'd But ten years aren't very much. We'll need
love to do it ! But I have personal problems. I much longer. After thirty years, I hope there
have to find an apartment and take care of the won't be this kind of government. We're in
baby. So it will be hard for me . It's not easy to chaos . It's crazy, especially in the government.
find an apartment; there're no vacancies in the There are elections all the time. The Christian
buildings near Rivalta. I also need a day-care Democrats haven't done much since the War.
center. Then there's the problem of the shifts . Things won't change with them.
How can I get up at five in the morning and I joined the Italian Communist party in
leave for work with the baby? I asked for the January. I've always been a sympathizer. My
special shift that starts later, but they told me father's in the PCI. He has some old ideas , but
the only job I could have then was cleaning. he's a committed comrade. I don't think the
That would just kill me because I wouldn't be USSR is communist. It's something different.
in the shop anymore. I'd be isolated, and the Italy has a different history. We're more
important thing is being with the other workers. democratic. The PCI ,
has shown that it doesn't
I'm separated from my husband now. He want a head-on political clash.
works as an electrical technician for a private I would have joined the PCI even if I hadn't
company. Things changed after the baby was gone to work at Fiat. I'd been thinking about it
born. He became distant. When were were first for a long time. I ended up sharing my father's
together, he was everything to me. I suppose ideas, but just by chance. I left my family, and I
that wasn't good. Then things changed between didn't want to adopt his ipeas. I rebelled . I used
us. I need to be loved. I need tenderness. It was to clash with him all the time. The political
difficult, but I feel stronger now. choices are my choices . My father's influence
Fiat is an experience. It' s something you have has been moral, and I thank him for that. My

38
\ mother isn't at all political. That's my moth.,' ,
�1 mistake - a woman who stayed home !
insert themselves into any class. They turn to
drugs. They aren't happy with anything.
Whoever has a class consciousness feels the They're in the factory because they need jobs.
weight of terrorism now. You feel it as an But I think they hope to change things even if
\, oppression. In the factory, we have to work they won't admit it. They participate in the
i with people we don't know. You wonder who's struggles even if they feel excluded and differ­
next to you on the line. You don't work well rent. We have to give these young people confi­
like that. There have been threats against some dence because things can change. It will take
of the delegates. It's as though the terrorists time for the workers to control the factory and
want to stop your political work . No one really be autonomous in running it. But someday it
understands what's behind it all. will be possible.
l The young people at Fiat aren't bad; they're JOANNE BARKAN works as a writer and
.l respectable. But they have another way of editor in New York City. She has lived in Italy
I :� seeing life and problems . Some of them rebel and writes on the situation there jor a variety oj
! , because they don't have a class consciousness . publications. She is a member oj the New
l ' These young people have problems and can't
American Movement.
I

39
Photo by Paola Agosti.
f

A model industrial community set in a pastoral landscape, designed by Robert O�en in 1834.
r LO R DS O F C R EAT I O N
l' M a rx i s m, F e m i n i s m a n d " U to p i a n " Soci a l i s m

Barbara Taylor

-:";: .

Exactly a century ago Engels consigned the ideas and hopes of the first British socialists,
the Owenites , to a utopian prehistory of scientific socialism, a period of "crude theories"
and "grand fantasies" which had to be superseded by historical materialism before the com­
munist struggle could be waged on a sound, scientific basis. Here I want to suggest that it is
time this evaluation was reassessed , and that an important beginning point for this reassess­
ment is one aspect of Owenite policy on which they sharply differed from their Marxist suc­
cessors: the issue of womens's emanicipation.
The Owenites ' commitment to feminism was part of the general humanist outlook which
Engels later identified as a key feature of all utopian thought : the "claim to eman­
cipate . . . all humanity at once" rather than "a particular class to begin with . " The goals
were spelled out in detail: with the establishment of a world-wide network of Com­
munities of Mutual Association, all institutional and ideological impediments to sexual
equality would disappear, including oppressive marriage laws, privati sed households,
and private ownership of wealth. The nuclear family (which was held to be responsible
not only for the direct subordination of women to men but also for the inculcation of "com­
petitive" ideology) would be abolished and replaced by communal homes and collective
child-rearing. This transformation in living conditions would allow a new sexual division
of labor to be introduced : housework ("domestic drudgery" ) would be performed on a rota­
tional basis (either by women or by children of both sexes) with "the most scientific methods
available, " leaving women time to participate in all other aspects of community

This article originally appeared in the March 7, 1980 issue of the New Statesman 41
(10 Great Turnstile, London, Eng/and.)
life, from manufacturing and agricultural labor diminish the authority of the male, or give him
to government, office, and educational and an equal, where once he found an inferior, an�
cultural activities. With childcare collectivized then the spirit of Toryism awakes . . . " When It
and all economic pressures removed, marriage comes to women, another woman wrote, all
would become a matter of " romantic men are aristocrats, whatever their class. "Can
affection" only, to be entered into by mutual it be right, can it be just . . . that woman should
agreement and dissolved by mutual choice. Or be thus trampled on and despised by those who
as one leading socialist feminist told an Owenite style themselves the lords of creation? " she
congress in 1 841 , "when all should labor for demanded, going on to add that in her view:
each, and each be expected to labor for the nothing short of a total revolution in all present
whole, then would woman be placed in a posi­ modes of acting and thinking among all mankind,
tion in which she would not sell her liberties and will be productive of the great change so loudly
her finest feelings . . . " called for by [women's] miserable state; and there
Alongside these revolutionary hopes went a is certainly no system so . . . likely . . . as that
whole series of lesser reform proposals, proposed by the benevolent Owen, of community

including demands for immediate changes in property and equality of persons, in which all are
free and equal . . Indeed, I am confident that if
the marriage laws to allow civil marriage and .

women really understood the principles and


divorce, support for the female franchise (the
practice of Socialism, there would not be one who
Owenites frequently criticized the Chartists for would not become a devoted Socialist.
excluding wo men from their suffrage These were indeed, as Engels later said of the
demands), and campaigns to extend education
utopian outlook as a whole, "stupendously
for women and girls. Many of the women who grand thoughts"; but were they only that?
agitated for these reforms were lower-middle
Before going on to consider this question in
class, but as the popular base of the movement greater detail, it is worth reminding ourselves
expanded they were joined by a small number
that what he and later Marxists offered instead
of working-class feminists, particularly during
was a wholly different account of gender/class
the general union phase of Owenism in 1 833-34, relations, one in which sexism was reduced to a
when a number of womens's trade unions were bourgeois property relation, and thereby evacu­
formed . ated from the working-class struggle. The
These unions sometimes became centers of Owenite emphasis on the universal, trans-class
lively feminist discussion, encouraged by the character of "male supremacy" (their own
Owenite newspaper, The Pioneer, which term) disappeared, to be replaced with
opened a "Woman's Page" to carry letters dogmatic assertions of sexual equality within
from female trade unionists on subjects like the proletariat, calls for sex unity in the face of
equal pay and the right to equal employment.
the common class enemy, and a repudiation of
The problem of sex prejudice within the radical organized feminism as bourgeois liberal devi­
working class itself was a common theme. " The ationism. The vision of a reorganized sexual
working men complain that the masters exercise and family existence which had been so central
authority over them; and they maintain their to Owenite thinking was increasingly pushed to
right to associate, and prescribe laws for their the far side of a socialist agenda whose major
own protection," ran one "Woman's Page" focus became an economic' revolution which
editorial at the height of the trade union agita­
would automatically liberate the whole of the
tion, "but speak of any project which will working class. This is something of a

42
II
,I
I

The chool at �e� Lanark, �wen 's model Scottish mill town which lasted/rom 1815 to 1825. Owen encouraged
dancmg and smgmg, and believed that small children should not "be annoyed with books. "
caricature, since so many staunch sexual oppreSSlOn an integral part of the early socialist
egalitarians were to be found in the ranks of strategy?
later Marxist organizations, but even the For the Owenites, unlike later Marxist
bravest of them rarely flouted an orthodoxy in theorists , capitalism was not simply an
which the Woman Question was subsumed economic order dominated by a single, class-
under the Class Question. "It is not women's based division, but an arena of multiple antago-
petty interests of the moment that we should nisms and contradictions, each of them living in
put in the foreground, " Clara Zetkin told a the hearts and minds of women and men as well
cheering audience of fellow Social Democrats as in their material circumstances. The very
in 1 896, "our task must be to enroll the modern term which they used to describe this society -
proletarian woman in the class struggle. " "the competitive system" - indicated the style
There was more separating these two ways of of their critique, which moved freely between
thinking about women's oppression than an economic analysis of workers' exploitation,
merely the alleged gap between an immature, a moral condemnation of selfish individualism,
voluntarist utopianism and a mature, scientific and a psychological account of the "dissocial
socialism. The movement from Owenism to impulses" which were being bred not only in
Marxism meant the repudiation ' of an factories and workshops, but in schools,
independent feminist platform within socialist churches, and - above all - in the home
politics. Why was the struggle against sexual where, in the words of William Thompson,

43
A parade of trade unionists six miles long culminated in this demonstration of 400, 000 people in London in 1834.

"the uniform injustice . . . practiced by man enslavement of women by men deformed


towards woman, confounds all notions of right human character and strangled human poten­
and wrong . . . " tial to the point where social hierarchy became
Every family is a center of absolute despotism generally accepted as both natural and inevi­
where of course intelligence and persuasion are table. Having been trained to mastery within
quite superfluous to him who has only to the family, men to�k this self-seeking mode
command to be obeyed : from these centers, in the into public life as well: Homo Economicus,
midst of which all mankind are now trained, atomized, competitive individual at the center
I spreads the contagion of selfishness and the love of bourgeois culture, was the product of a
of domination through all human transactions . . .
patriarchal system of psycho-sexual relations .
The psychological underpinnings of the com­ Building an alternative t9 this crippling style
petitive system, in other words, were habits of of social existence would involve not merely the
dominance and subordination formed within transfer of economic power from one class to
the most intimate areas of human life. The another, but a wholesale tranformation of per-

i 44

I. I 1
sonal life in which all "artificial" divisions of could effectively short-circuit capitalist social
wealth and power would be supplanted by the relations .
organic bonds of communal fellowship. Within But if in the 1830s plans to establish a new
each cooperative community women and men world outside the range of capitalist control still
would learn new ways of living and loving seemed a viable option, by the 1880s, when the
together. This project, which seemed so "phan­ second phase of British socialism began, there
tastical" to later Marxists, was absolutely was far less "outside" to go to, and working
central to the early socialist strategy. For how class organizations which developed within the
could "social sentiment" defeat the "competi· boundaries of their proletarian status had their
tive spirit" unless competition was uprooted ability to see past those boundaries correspond­
from the most intimate areas of life? "Where ingly reduced. The experience of living within
does freedom begin, unless in the heart? " For capitalism wore down the socialist imagination,
the Owenites, like the earlier Puritan reformers and the effects of this erosion were felt at the
and all the Romantics of the period, it was the theoretical level as well. "At any point after
establishment of a correct order in sexual rela­ 1 850," Edward Thompson has written, "Scien­
tions which was the key to general moral reor­ tific Socialism had no more need for Utopias
ganization. Communism found its first and (and doctrinal authority for suspecting them).
foremost expression in the liberated male­ Speculation as to the society of the future was
female relation. Feminism was therefore not repressed, and displaced by attention to
merely an ancillary feature of the socialist pro­ strategy." (Postscript to William Morris, 1976,
ject, but one of its key motivating impulses. p. 787.) The result for British revolutionary
Why did Owenism develop in this way? If, as Marxists was a systematic denial of the necessary
I have suggested, later Marxist thinkers took a visionary element within socialist consciousness,
different view of the Woman Question, how ending all too often in what William Morris
and why did this difference arise? described as a "sham, Utilitarian Socialism"
Owenism developed in a period of rapid divested of any genuine libertarian aims, or what
social transition, when both class and gender his twentieth century disciple, Thompson, has
relations were being sharply transformed by characterized as :
new patterns of work and family life. Most
the whole problem of the subordination of the ima­
early socialists were craftworkers or small
ginative utopian faculties within the later Marxist
tradespeople for whom the 1 830s and 1 840s tradition: its lack of a moral self-consciousness or
represented a period of extended economic and even a vocabulary of desire, its inability to project
social crisis: the crisis which produced a any images of the future or even its tendency to fall
modern working class. At the most general back in lieu of these upon the utilitarian's earthly
level, early socialism represented a systematic paradise - the maximization of economic growth.
struggle against these critical developments, (Ibid, p. 792)
and an attempt to reroute them in a new, pro­ The decline of a genuine feminist vision within
gressive direction. Unlike later socialist move­ British revolutionary movements was one
ments, in which working people organized as measure of this loss. As the older dream of
proletarians, the Owenites were organizing emancipating "all humanity at once" was
against the process of proletarianization, displaced by the economic struggle of a single
believing that through economic cooperation class, so women and women's interests were
and the remolding of human character they pushed to one side. This occurred in two ways.

45
First, the strategic shift away from the working women, sex and marriage problems
struggle against proletarianization to the prole­ come first. " Lenin scolded Clara Zetkin in their
tarian struggle meant the political marginaliza­ famous dialogue. "I could not believe my ears
tion of all those who were not, scientifically when I heard that. The first state of proletarian
speaking, proletarians. If the Owenites had cast dictatorship is battling with the counterrevolu­
their net too wide in hoping to attract "all classes tionaries of the whole world . . . and active com­
of all nations" to the cooperative cause, munist women are busy discussing sex
Marxism, with its insistence that there was only problems. " Not all British revolutionaries, even
one route to communism and only one group Leninist ones, shared this attitude, but those
who would walk it - organized productive who held out against it tended to be a belea­
workers - tightened the net to the point where guered minority, particularly in this century. It is
only a minority of women were drawn into it, thus not surprising to find that when socialist­
even on a class basis. When combined with a low feminists began to organize again in the 1970s, it
level of female employment in the most highly­ was with the slogan "the personal is political"
organized industrial sectors, this made the fight that they mounted their first challenge to the
for socialism seem pretty much a masculine male-dominated Left. The issues had never
affair. Women Marxists who challenged this disappeared; it was just that the voices which
situation did so not on the grounds that there could raise them had been long suppressed.
was a separate women's cause to be fought The present must always condescend to the
alongside and within the class movement, but past, and from our vantage point there is indeed
that women (at least working women) had a a great deal in the thinking of the pre-Marxian
right to stand alongside their menfolk in the socialists which seems theoretically naive and
common cause. The Woman Question which strategically implausible. It is not necessary to
displaced earlier socialist-feminism within late deny this, however, in order to suggest that the
i nineteenth century Marxism was concerned not wholesale dismissal of utopian socialism by later
I I
with the question of how to make a revolution Marxist socialists revealed certain limitations in
which would free women as a sex, but how to their own thinking as well: a narrowing of both
shape women for the class revolution. means and ends which has had serious conse­
" . . . What do women have to do?" Eleanor quences for the libertarian cause in general and
Marx demanded in 1892, "we will organize - for the liberation of women in particular .
not as 'women' but as proletarians . . . for us Socialist-feminists look back to the Owenites,
there is nothing but the working-class then, not out of nostalgia for a transition long
movement. " past, but as a way of tracing the beginnings of a
Second, this contraction of the socialist democratic-communist project which is still very
struggle pushed a whole range of issues beyond much our own, and with which we are still
the boundaries of revolutionary politics. Since it struggling to redefine the ends of modern
was no longer the total reformation of women Marxist movements. For, after all, what count
and men which was at stake, but simply the reor­ as utopian answers depends on who is raising the
ganization of productive relations, all questions questions.
connected to reproduction, marriage, or
personal existence became converted from BARBARA TA YLOR is a Canadian living in
central problems of strategy to merely private London. She is active in the women 's liberation
matters. "I have been told that at the meetings movement, and is writing about British
arranged for reading and discussing with women 's history.

46
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47
Edward Carpenter in 1905.
I N S EARC H O F
EDWARD CARPENTER
Sheila Rowbotham

The pub a t Millthorpe, near Sheffield, was deserted with a " For Sale" notice outside
when I went there with friends on a grey March day in 1 976. Just down the road there was
"Carpenter House , " where Edward Carpenter had lived from the early 1 880s until he
moved to Guildford in 1 922.
Visiting Millthorpe, Dronfield , and Totley was a geographical locating of a group of
radicals , socialists, and feminists who had lived in the area or visited while Carpenter was
there. I have been and still am struggling with the more complicated social, political, and
personal placing of this group. They have had a curiously persistent fascination for me ever
since I read a review of a biography of Havelock Ellis by Arthur Calder-Marshall when I
was in my teens in the late 1 950s. Carpenter, socialist and writer on sexual liberation,
feminism and homosexuality; Ellis, pioneer sex psychologist; and Olive Schreiner, the
South African feminist author of Story of an African Farm, have all become important to
me at different times - rather like the kind of closeness you have with old friends. There is
the waxing and waning of intimacy with the security of knowing they are always around.
The friendship is getting on for being a twenty-year relationship , which is longer than with
any of my real friends. I've slowly introduced myself to more and more of their circle until
it has become like having an address book of the past . So as I walked on that foggy March
day down the road to Millthorpe I had to pinch myself to remember that I wasn 't going to
find them sitting there. It is one of the sadnesses of history for me - this loving intimacy
with ghosts.

49
· It was the book review which had started
. . I remember feeling floods of adolescent identi­
the whole process. I was certainly interested in fication. Out there long ago and far away some­
sex as I was in ecstasy and history, thoUgh one had felt like me and escaped. There must be
unsure quite what it was. Perhaps this book others. Somewhere over the rainbow I might
would explain. So I pursued Ellis and the meet them . . .
business of getting the book about him with You are fickle at that age, and I deserted Ellis
great resolve. My mother, already accustomed and Schreiner for Kerouac, Ginsberg, and the
to strange requests, bought me the biography Beats. I suppose I was rebelling by then rather
for my sixteenth birthday. She did not know than escaping because sixteen to seventeen is an
who Havelock Ellis was, but a friend of hers eternity of a year, and the whole world changed
did, and the friend let out a squeal of horror at when I left school. From seventeen to nineteen I
my mother's innocence in buying me such a was too busy to remember Ellis and Schreiner,
dirty book. My mother was a stubborn and and by the last year at university I was
thwarted lover of freedom and gave me Calder­ apparently matter of fact, settling the world as
Marshall's Havelock Ellis nonetheless. I read it, a Marxist, shedding the romantic chrysalis of
as i read everything then, searching for a total ecstasy, but tending also toward dialectical
explanation of myself, life, death, and the loops of passion in the midst of order.
universe. Edward Carpenter I had yet to meet, really.
In retrospect it is not a very good biography He hadn't registered at all. But I was beginning
of Ellis, but at the time it was revelatory. There to read about the history of the socialist move­
were funny things in it about the relations ment. Initially this was the way I could under­
between mothers and sons, the connections stand marxism: as a relationship between me
between urination and sexual pleasure, about and people in the past. I wanted to know how
infant sexuality, and about lesbianism. It was all these people came to their ideas and what
the first time I realized that there was a happened to them when they acted upon them.
psychological view of the world. Perhaps it It's a terrible way to think; it means you are
seems remarkable that so many years after never satisfied.
Freud it was possible to grow up in the English From reading about Carpenter I know there
small-business northern middle class innocent had once been a strange kind of socialism which
of Oedipus . But it was so. Later I found a had been different from that of the Bolsheviks.
paperback edition of Ellis's Psychology of Sex But that was as far as it went. I drew back from
and laboriously toiled through it in some the more personal part of Edward Carpenter's
bewilderment. life out of a kind of shyness - a restraint I 've
The picture of Olive Schreiner when she met come to recognize, on my desire to communi­
'
Ellis was recognizable. There was a mixture of cate immediately and directly all at once. It is
physical defiance and submission. You could partly a puritan suspicion of whatever most
feel her body pressing against her formal delights me; a fear of my own fascinations. It is
Victorian clothes, with no choice but to accept also some knowingness about experiences I
this outer confinement.. When I read about her cannot stretch toward. Whatever the reason, I
I felt close to her. Perhaps it was her loneliness felt I had no business to b� there peeping and
and spiritial travail, or her masochism or her prying . . .
idealism, or her vulnerablilty, or her will - I Carpenter came from an upper-middle class
wonder. When I read Story of an African Farm family in Brighton. His father was radical in

50
politics and Edward Carpenter was brought up Carpenter moved to Millthorpe. Originally a
with the tolerant tenants of Broad Church rural retreat, the house was to become a center
Anglicanism. Instead of consenting to a con­ for dissidents of all varieties.
ventional future he left a safe position as a Carpenter finished with lecturing and wrote a
curate in Cambridge to go and teach in Univer­ long Whitmanesque poem called "Towards
sity Extension in the early 1 870's. Carpenter Democracy. " In the early 1 880's he moved
had already questioned some aspects of toward socialism - influenced particularly by
Victorian society while he was still at university. Hyndman's England for All - and it was he
He moved in radical and feminist circles, was who provided the money to launch the Social
influenced by republicanism, and was troubled Democratic Federation paper, Justice. He also
by class conflict, by the Commune, and by the became involved with the Fellowship of the
First International. Undoubtedly aware of the New Life, a group concerned with inner spiri­
pressure for women's colleges at Cambridge, he tual change as well as with external social
was a believer in higher education for women relationship s . Through the Fellowship
on a wider scale. Like other radicals of his day, Carpenter met Havelock Ellis, who was still
Carpenter was interested in land nationaliza­ under the influence of James Hinton and was
tion. But most immediately, Carpenter was beginning his empirical studies of sexual
unhappy about the social relations of people of behavior. He also met Olive Schreiner, then
his class. As a homosexual he was forced by the involved in a long emotional love for Ellis,
restraints of Victorian society to conceal his whose sexual inhibition meant that the love
feelings. In the writing of Walt Whitman he felt could never be physically fulfilled. When Ellis
a recognition of open, loving friendships. eventually married another member of the
Carpenter wanted not just a political Fellowship, Edith Lees, they lived apart and did
democracy but a personal democracy of not have sexual intercourse, because Edith Lees
feeling. was physically attracted to women. Ellis ,
He did not find either in the University Schreiner, and Lees, along with the Henry and
Extension Movement. The railway wanderings Kate Salts and G.B. Shaw, Charles G. Ashbee,
of the extension lecturer were exhausting, the Lowes Dickenson, and later E.M. Forster, were
landladies' cooking was indigestible, and all too frequent visitors to Millthorpe . As the socialist
often the structure of the Extension Movement movement took roots in the North, working­
reflected the class heirarchies of the northern class visitors came too. Alf Mattison and Tom
towns. By the late 1 870's Carpenter was in Maguire came from Leeds, others came from
urgent need of a calmer rhythm to this life. the Midlands and of course from Sheffield.
Through two of his students, a scythe-maker Carpenter had helped form the socialist club
called Albert Fearnhough and Charles Fox, a in Sheffield. In the 1 880's he spoke at meetings,
small farmer, he went to live in the countryside bicycling to the smaller towns nearby. It was a
at Bradway. He stayed for a time at Totley, at very sociable politics. He used to play the
St. George's Farm, formerly a communal harmonium at socialist meetings, and he
farming venture backed by John Ruskin. A collected socialist songs in a book called Chants
friend of Carpenter's, George Pearson, had of Labour. This was a period when the socialist
taken the lease after the communitarian group movement created a whole network of cultural
disintegrated, and worked the farm with a forms. There were cafes, meals for school­
Christian socialist, John Furniss. In 1 882 children, rambles in the countryside. During

51
the 1 890's the Clarion cycling club and the ported the Syndicalists, read the Guild
Clarion choir continued this tradition. socialists' The New Age, and welcomed the
There were close personal as well as political suffrage movenment. He continued to wear his
connections: for example, Carpenter's love for sandals, take his sun baths, and work in a shed
George Hukin, a razor-grinder who tried to by the brook in the garden.
unionize the scattered workshops, and the love Carpenter's advocacy of reducing needs by
between Bob Muirhead and James Brown, two "simplification of life" was undoubtedly
members of the Glasgow Socialist League who serious and practically worked out . He outlined
had settled near Millthorpe. his ideas in an 1 886 essay published in
Carpenter met George Merrill, who was to be England's Ideal the following year. The essay
his companion for the rest of his life, in the carefully explained how much it cost to main­
early 1 890's. Merrill came from a poor working tain a person and how having varnished floors
class family in the slums of Sheffield. He had upstairs and stone on the ground floor could
led a wandering life and had done a variety of save housework. In the context of the late­
jobs. Carpenter's manuscript account of Victorian paraphernalia of large households
Merrill's life gives a rare and fascinating with elaborate rituals and a complete chasm
glimpse into the experiences of a working-class between life upstairs and life downstairs, this
homosexual in the nineteenth century. streamlining of living was startling. "Simplifi­
Early in 1 89 1 the Socialist club had split and cation of life" was at once a moral pursuit,
m anarchist-communist grouping appeared. aiming at a better life, and a practical one - it
Some of the Sheffield anarchists became was the means of ensuring some independence
involved in the Walsall bomb "plot. " A police from the domestic labor of others . Carpenter's
spy named Coulon came to Sheffield and attempt to practice his own message startled his
befriended Fred Charles, an idealistic young contemporaries . It was, after all, unusual in the
anarchist who was attracted to Coulon's 1 880's and 1 890's to find a middle-class man
desperate enthusiasm for terrorism. Charles who wandered the streets in sandals and broad
was later to be among those imprisoned for hats copied from the American poet Walt
designing a bomb for Russian revolutionaries. Whitman, who tried to live intimately with
Carpenter was friendly with Charles but people of a lower social station, and who
critical of his politics. He had become combined intellectual and manual work.
increasingly estranged from the Socialist club He was unusual too in the variety of
and the fights within it, partly because of intellectual strands which combined in his
ascendency of the anarchist group, and partly person. Among those who influenced him were
because a visit to Ceylon and India in 1 890-91 Shelley, Whitman, Thoreau, Ruskin, Lewis
had given him a growing interest in Eastern Morgan, Olive Schreiner, William Morris,
religious experience. This, combined with his Hyndman, Buddha, Havelock Ellis, J.H.
writing and his relationship with George Noyes, Karl Heinrich, Ulrichs, Richard von
Merrill, meant that he was no longer so active Kraft Ebing, and Albert Moll. It was a motley
in local politics . He did continue to speak for crew , some of whom would have been discon­
socialist groups all over the country, and after certed to find themselves in the same company.
the Independent Labour Party was formed he Carpenter not only respond@d to socialism in
went again on propaganda outings, particularly the 1 880's, he went on to challenge other
to mining communities. In the 1900's he sup- aspects of Victorian orthodoxy as well. He

52
questioned the mechanical basis of scientific "Homogenic Love," Carpenter's term for
thinking and Darwinism. If his conclusions homosexuality, would be included. Carpenter
were vague and mystical he was at least con­ describes the fortunes of this pamphlet in his
scious of a real problem: how to connect the autobiography My Days and Dreams:
social control of the external world with the I . . . had only a comparatively small number of
needs of human biology. He was aware that copies struck off which were not sold but sent
much of what his culture saw as "natural" was round pretty freely to those who I thought would

not natural in other cultures. He pointed out be interested in the subject or able to contribute
views of information upon it. My object in fact
that the same behavior was regarded as criminal
was to get in touch with others and to obtain
in some cultures but not in others.
material for future study or publication. Even in
His writings on sexuality which began to
this quiet way the pamphlet created some
appear in the 1 890s were consistent with these alarm . . . but it is quite possible the matter would
concerns and with his belief in the virtue of have ended there, if it had not been for the Oscar
released natural emotion. As in his earlier Wilde troubles. Wilde was arrested in April 1 895
writings, his main preoccupation was with the and from that moment a sheer panic prevailed
theme of separation. Sin is described as " the over all questions of sex and especially of course
sundering of one's being" in Love's Coming of questions of the "intermediate sex . ' "
Age.' His writings on the position of women It was not until the 1906 edition that Love's
were regarded as shocking in the 1 890s but he Coming of Age could include a plea for a freer
went even further towards unrespectability homosexual as well as heterosexual love.
when he touched the subject of homosexuality. Carpenter believed that the liberation of
The contract for Love's Coming of Age was women required both economic freedom and a
abruptly cancelled by Fisher Unwin because of change of women's consciousness. "Too long
the publisher'S fear that a pamphlet on have women acted the part of mere appendages

Havelock Ellis sun bathing.


to the male, suppressing their own individuality existing dual standard of morality meant
and fostering their self-conceit. " It also neces­ hypocrisy at on side and devastation and
sitated "her complete freedom as to the dis­ degradation at the other.
posal of her sex . " The liberation of women was It was consistent with Carpenter's idealism
thus economic, social, and sexual. He distin­ that he appealed to lofty sentiments rather than
guished between the varied predicaments of the to self-interest. He expected people to have the
middle-class woman brought up to devote and strength to will themselves into freedom. Con­
sacrifice herself to a man, or the working class servative contemporaries saw the kind of free­
women who faced exploitation at work and dom he wanted as synonomous with sexual and
relentless drudgery in the home, and of the social chaos. But he was so confident that the
prostitute who had to sell her body. His descrip­
new morality would not be destructive. His idea
tions of their situations still ring true. of sexuality was not synonomous with freedom
Undoubtedly his influence at the time came for sensuality. His note on "Preventative
partly from his being such a passionate Checks to Population" in Love's Coming of
describer. Age indicates that he saw physical sexuality
Few men again realise or trouble themselves to dwindling as love became more diffused in
realise, what a life this of the working housewife society. He retained the Christian division of
is. They are accustomed to look upon their own higher and lower love, spiritual and physical.
employment, whatever it may be, as "work" He also saw masculine and feminine charac­
(perhaps because it brings with it "wages"); the
teristics as fixed, and his views of the women
woman's they regard as a kind of pastime. They
who became feminists reflected this prejudice.
forget what monotonous drudgery it really means,
In his opinion, among the feminists there were
and yet what incessant forethought and care; they
forget that the woman has no eight hours a day,
many women whose sexual and maternal
that her work is always staring her in the face, and
"instincts" were not strong. He called them
waiting for her, even on into the night; that the "mannish" in temperament. Some were
body is wearied, and the mind narrowed down "homogenic" , that is "inclined to attachments
"scratched to death by rats and mice" in a to their own, rather than the opposite sex; some
perpetual round of petty cares. For not only does are ultra-rationalizing and brain-cultured; to
civilisation and multifarious invention (including many, children are more of less a bore; to
smoke) make the burden of domestic life others man's sex-passion is a mere imper­
immensely complex but the point is that each tinence, which they do not understand, and
housewife has to sustain this burden to herself in
whose place they consequently misjudge. " l
lonely effort .
These stereotypes of feminism are similar to
He calls upon women to declare themselves the fixed ideas he had about women generally.
free, "to insist on her right to speak, dress, He tended to classify and idealize, presenting
think, act, and above all to use her sex as she the free woman as a kind of Spartan goddess
deems best," and upon "every man who really striding athletically and asexually to liberation.
would respect his counterpart" to encourage These rigid definitions of masculinity and
women to be free. "Let him never by word or femininity affected his theories not only about
deed tempt her to grant as a bargain what can women but also about hO,rnosexuals. He was
only be precious as a gift; let him see her with influenced by Whitman's poetic assertions of
pleasure stand a little aloof, let him help her homosexual comradeship as well as by the
gain her feet. " Carpenter pointed out that the German writer Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, who

54
defined a male homosexual as a person with a homosexuality. His own homosexuality served
--
female soul enclosed in a male body and a les­ as an anonymous case history for HaveIock
bian as someone with a male soul in a female Ellis's studies and was frankly acknowledged in
body. Just as he challenged capitalism and Carpenter's autobiography in 1916. He drew on
civilization, he was also critical of male­ the ideas of Lewis Morgan and Bebel,
dominated culture. So by a peculiar combina­ characteristically giving the evolutionary
tion of skepticism about dominant cultural anthropological account of the connection
values and a theory of fixed gender character­ between property and power a psychological
istics, he arrived at a theory of " the inter­ slant. His theories of psychology based on Ellis,
mediate sex" as a superior elite combining the Ulrichs, Kraft Ebing, and Moll, were peppered
best of both sexes and with a less sensual and with his own observations and poetic license
more emotional nature than heterosexuals. He retained from his Broad Church Angli­
Here again there were higher and lower types of canism a rejection of materialism and an
homosexuals, the lower inclining towards senti­ Arminian conviction that truth can be attained
mentality. 4 This tendency to stereotype and by many routes . Eastern religious thought
generalize impressionistically is in direct seemed to provide an alternative which avoided
contrast to his recognition that sexuality takes materialism and the Christian hierarchical
diverse forms in different societies and that dualism of spirit and matter. In the East there
there is an immense potential for individual seemed to be a place for pleasure without
variation in human sexual activity. Nonethe­ shame and a more easy relationship between
less, it was while pursuing this schema of higher mystical ecstasy and physical eroticism than in
and lower beings that he stumbled upon the the West.
significance of separating sexual pleasure and Carpenter's eclectic quest made his thought
sex for procreation. While he criticized existing something of a lucky-dip. It is easier to pull bits
forms of contraception as inconvenient for out than to understand the connections. But his
women, he advocated sustained intercourse struggle to make these connections was not
without male orgasm as a "preventative merely theoretical; it was his whole life. The
check. " He followed here not only Eastern reli­ way he lived was a demonstration of what he
gious ideas but a strand of American sexual thought, and the two are inseparable. It was his
radicalism which sought new forms of sexuality cultural stance, rather than his logic that
rather than contraception. In the 1 870 J .H. accounted for the considerable influence he
Noyes, the leader of a utopian community in enjoyed in his day. In the radical and socialist
the United States, had advocated "male milieu that he represented, people were
continence" by the diversion of sperm through unhappy in capitalist society not only because
the urethra. Similar techniques were suggested things were unequal but because people were
in Alice B. Stockham's book Karezza in the cut off from one another and from their own
early 19OOs . physical natures. His influence was at its height
Edward Carpenter's courage in asserting the in the period before the First World War. It was
rights of the "intermediate sex" in the 1 890s international, going far beyond Yorkshire,
and early 1900s and his interest in sex and Lancashire, and the Midlands. He was still read
society led him into the relatively new fields of and discussed in the 1920s; but already in the
anthropology and psychology. In 191 1 he 1 930s, when his friends produced a collection
published two anthropological studies of of essays in his memory, his writing and ideas

55
appeared a little dated. In the socialist move­ The striking similarities between Carpenter's
ment he was remembered certainly until the ideas and Lawrence's have been described by
Second World War, and the hymn-like strains Emile Delavenay in his D.H. Lawrence and
of "England Arise" wafted around labor halls Edward Carpenter: A Study in Edwardian
and pubs for some years after . I have not heard Transition. ' Both men had a horror of capital­
it since the mid- 1960s, when the Young ism and of its distortion of all human social
Communist League used to meet in the Dolphin relationships. The places where they part
pub at Kings Cross and "England Arise" could company are interesting. Most importantly, the
be heard along with the "Internationale" and ambiguities in Carpenter's thought between
folk songs. mystical experience and social action, between
the loss of individuality and the creation of a
I have become more and more curious about
new elite of "uranians", the intermediate sex
the diversity of Carpenter's influence, and also
about the process by which it was dissipated.
Finding out about Carpenter - and what
became of his attempt to connect personal and
sexual relationships and feelings to the struggle
to change the external world - is part of a
much wider search for a broken revolutionary
tradition. I keep finding ways in which the old
tradition is relevant to the feminist movement,
to sexual politics, and to the evident weaknesses
in our understanding of socialism . For
instance, I've come across him and Ellis in
reading about birth control and feminism; in
the early twentieth century Carpenter helped
found the British Society for the Study of Sex
Psychology and a determined young feminist
member called Stella Browne gave a talk in
1915 on women's sexuality. Stella Browne, a
friend of the American Margaret Sanger, was a
campaigner for birth control and abortion in
Britain who tried to connect women's sexual
self-determination with ideas of workers'
control. Both Ellis and Carpenter were read by
other young radicals in Greenwich Village who
were trying to live by a new morality. In the
early twentieth century there was - however
implicit - a connection between sexual and
personal life and socialism. This connection
became more remote after the First World War.
Carpenter's links with both D.H. Lawrence and
E.M. Forster provide some clues about how

\
this has happened. Edward Carpenter in 1910.

56

!
which he thought would combine the best of Elli s, and Olive Schreiner in my life, nor is my
"femininity" and " masculinity, " are resolved fascination with the socialists and anarchists of
by Lawrence in his rej ection of the Left, of Sheffield j ust nostalgia. The women's movement
feminism and of politics. Although there is no ment led me to realize the significance of
evidence that the two men ever met, there was a Carpenter' s writings on feminism and to feel
small group of advanced thinkers in Eastwood that other people would be interested in Love 's
in the 1 900s, some of whom knew Carpenter, or Coming of Age. Since then I have found more
had read his books or heard him speak, and and more people trying to track down Car­
Lawrence was friendly with some of them. penter, his immediate circle, and the ramifi­
E.M. Forster did meet Carpenter and cations of his influence. Gloden Dallas became
acknowledged his influence. In his "Terminal interested in Maguire, Mattison, and I sabella
Note" to Maurice, Forster wrote that the book Ford and began finding and listening to people
"was a direct result of a visit to Edward Car­ who could remember the early socialist and
penter at Millthorpe. Carpenter had a prestige feminist movements in Leeds. Slowly the inter­
that cannot easily be understood today. " connections have emerged for me as I ' ve
Forster was drawn to him because " he was a listened to her talking. Ann Scott and Ruth
believer in the love of Comrades, whom he First are working on Olive Schreiner, looking
sometimes called Uranians. It was this last both at her feminism and at her role in South
aspect of him that attracted me in my African radical politics. Over in America,
loneliness. " Linda Gordon has written about Margaret
Sanger and sent me copies of letters Sanger
He met Carpenter through Lowes Dickenson wrote to Stella Browne. Jane Lewis, far away in
and saw him briefly as a savior. Western Ontario, Canada, has written about
It must have been on my second or third visit to the "new feminism. " Keith Nield has written
the shrine that the spark was kindled and he and about Carpenter in the Dictionary of Labour
his comrade George Merrill combined to make a Biography. The echoes continue. I learn that
profound impression on me and to touch a Havelock Ellis was being read by South Wales
creative spring. George Merrill also touched my members of the Plebs League, by Glasgow
backside - gently and just above the buttocks. I
workers in the 1 920s, and by a Communist
believe he touched most people's. The sensation
Party branch in the 1 930s. Carpenter is remem­
was unusual and I still remember it, as I remember
bered by a woman in the Labour Party in
the position of a long vanished tooth. It was as
Glasgow as one of those " poetic socialists"
much psychological as physical. It seemed to go
straight through the small of my back, into my whose songs she recited at Socialist Sunday
ideas without involving my thoughts. If it really School. When you mention Carpenter to people
did this it would have acted in strict accordance in Sheffield, the all say you should go to talk
with Carpenter's yogified mysticism, and would with Rony Robinson. He seems to have been
prove that at that precise moment I had haunted by the same ghost, for he wrote a play
conceived . ' called Edward Carpenter Lives.
There are echoes of Carpenter in Forster's But I wouldn't have tried to write about him
other works, particularly in The Longest myself if it had not been for friends I met
Journey. through the Gay Culture Society at the London
I t has not been an affair of chance, this slow School of Economics. They printed a short
reappearance of Edward Carpenter, Havelock duplicated pamphlet by Graeme Woolaston,

57
now out of print, which discussed his views on often denying the material reality of class and
homosexuality. He criticized Carptenter's sex and obscuring conflict. It was a romantic
stereotyping of masculine and feminine, and his socialism, nurturing the dream but having no
elitist idealization of the " Intermediate Sex," strategy for its implementation. It was a gullible
but showed his significance as a pioneer theorist socialism, too ready to believe that the
of homosexuality. So I started a few years ago capitalist state was neutral and that if you
to write a small pamphlet on Edward Car­ waited long enough the Labour Party would
penter. The small pamphlet grew and grew. bring you socialism. Where from indeed? It
There apears to be no end to it. As I learn more grew complacent in old age and took office, or
and think more, people begin to show me things it was forced into bizarre nooks and communes
I hadn't noticed. Friends in men's groups, for making socialism in one parish. It was fearful
instance , have made me think about of power, so accepted it on the terms of the
Carpenter's rebellion against the notion of governors; or it fled. When anything nasty
what a man of his time was allowed to be, his came along like fascism or Stalinism it did not
love for a man called Beck in Cambridge for know how to fight them or what to do . So it
example, and the influence of Whitman. And died a forgotten archaism, merely the occasion
talking to people about radical therapy I am for an easy joke. All those voices raised in
beginning to wonder too if all those electric "The long long night is over . . .
currents and the sensations about the buttocks Arise 0 England for the day is here" ·
may not be so odd after all. Carpenter makes But the day wasn't and isn't, Carpenter
sense because of sexual politics - not simply would still be complaining we're being a long
because he wrote about feminism and homo­ time about it. He and his friends may have
sexuality but because he sought a new way of become a little odd as the years went by. When
life in which there would no longer be: political hopes splinter and part company the
the starving of human hearts, the denial of the fragments appear distorted.
human body and its needs, the huddling conceal­ The rediscovery of Carpenter 's socialism is
ment of the body in clothes, the "impure hush"
nonetheless a reminder that many of our
on matters of sex, class-division, contempt of
present concerns have a past. The old socialists
manual labour, and the cruel barring of women
sought not just redistribution of wealth, or a
from every natural and useful expression of their
lives. 7
change in the ownership of production, not
even just workers' control of production, but a
I want to find out what it was like to be a transformation of all human relationships.
socialist in the late nineteenth and early Though forced into the cash nexus by
twentieth century, before the Bolsheviks and capitalism, they realized that not all of what
before the Labour Party. I want to know what they wanted could . be reduced to economics .
. became of the desire to transform all aspects of They were against not only exploitation but the
relationships, and the preoccupation with living waste of human creative capacity which is the
the new life in the present as well as the future : I result of exploitation. So they did not dismiss
want to learn about the emphasis on a revo­ artistic endeavour: they wanted not only justice
lutionary culture, that lost practice of socialism but beauty too. Socialism was to release the
which still carried a connection between creativity and artistry in everyone. It was to
personal life and external change. heal the breach between the heart, the body,
I can see that it was an idealist socialism, and the mind.

58
So they did not think that economics or pressing hard on our private consciousness,
politics had a priority over art and culture. forcing intimacy into politics. Slowly and
They were without a strategy, which makes laboriously I can open my eyes and peer into
them utopian; and the ah�ence of a strategy that intense world of long ago with recognition.
made it easier for them to ue absorbed into the Those feelings in the small of the back seem no
gradualist politics of the Labour Party. longer exclusive and private but part of a
However, it also meant they developed a continuing opposition to capitalism . Even
practice which has an increasing relevance though it remains unclear quite how they fit
today as moderr, capitalism invades more and into the agenda.
more the per.� Jnal, domestic domain. They
understood that political commitment is not FOOTNOTES

just a matter of education or even of experience


1 . Edward Carpenter, Love's Coming of Age ( 1 2th edition,
through agitation. They saw socialism as an 1923), p. 22. The first edition of the book appeared in 1 8%.
inner transformation which meant change in 2. Edward Carpenter, My Days and Dreams (London, 3rd
the here and now. They sought this new life in edition, February 1 9 1 8), pp. 1 95-96.

the everyday; in their stress on the warmth of 3. Carpenter, Love's Coming of Age, pp. 69-85 .
4. l owe these comments on Carpenter's view of
fellowship and comradeship, in their clothes
homosexuality to Graeme Woolaston, "Edward Carpenter
and furnishings, and in a network of associa­ on Homosexuality" (Gay Culture Society, London School
tions from cycling clubs to Socialist Sunday of Economics, duplicated paper).
Schools which could sustain them through 5. London, 1 97 1 . .
isolation, hardship, and despair. 6. E.M. Forster, Maurice, (London, Penguin ed., 1975), p.
217.
Carpenter was not alone in his desire to be
7 . Carpenter, My Days and Dreams, p. 321 .
more open with others and to live more simply 8. "England Arise," in Carpenter, Chants of Labour, A
and directly, closer to the natural rhythms that Song Book of the People, (6th edition, 1922), pp. 1 8- 1 9.
were being destroyed by industry and the city. The first edition of the book appeared in 1888.
9. Carpenter, My Days and Dreams, p. 322.
Others shared his hope that
People should endeavour (more than they do) to
express and liberate their own real and deep­
rooted needs and feelings . Then in doing so they SHEILA ROWBOTHAM, a Radical America
will probably liberate and aid the expression of the associate editor, is a British socialist-feminist
lives of thousands of others; and so will have the
activist, writer and historian. Three of her
pleasure of helping without the unpleasant sense
books are available in paperback in this country
of laying anyone under an obligation.'
- Women, Resistance and Revolution; Hidden
We are rediscovering in a faltering way some from History; and Woman's Consciousness,
of the understandings of this broken socialist Man's World. A longer version of this article
tradition. We are doing it not from nostalgia was previously published in History Workshop.
for a cosy past, nor from an archaism which Issue #3, Spring, 1977. History Workshop, a
would lift their politics intact, but because the journal of socialist historians, is available from
present movement of capitalist society is PO Box 69, Oxford. England.

59
Chuck Berry
T H E P R E- H I STO RY
O F RO C K & RO L L
Reebee Garofalo & SIeve Chapple

Rock 'n' roll, as everyone must know by now, did not simply spring full blown from the
spit curl of Bill Haley. The evolution which yielded this new music was first and foremost a
process whereby grassroots writers and performers, a great many of whom were black , were
brought to the attention of a mass audience. Or, as described by long-time editor of
Billboard magazine Paul Ackerman, "a process by which the root music of America entered
the mainstream . " I

It is a very complex process , dating back to the late thirties, which involved initially a
challenge to the music publishing establishment of the time as well as changes within the
performance hierarchy. It is a David and Goliath story which pitted the fledgling
independent record companies like Atlantic, Modern , and Chess against corporate giants
like RCA and CBS . It is a tale of changing priorities in broadcasting which strengthened the
role of local radio and turned the independent deejay into the central figure in the recording
industry. Finally, it is a process involving such diverse variables as population migrations,
material shortages, and technological advances . The emergence of rock 'n' roll can only be
fully understood in terms of the convergence of the results of this myriad of forces in the
early fifties . The purpose of this paper is, thus, to provide a brief historical overview of the
preconditions of rock music.
Most historians are quick to point out that rock 'n' roll cannot be understood simply as
a music; that it must be understood as a social phenomenon. The better known rock
histories - Belz2 , Gillett\ Guralnick \ LydonS , and Cohn6 - trace the music not

61
not only artistically, but socio-culturally as Whitcomb's list is not exhaustive, but he men­
well. Belz introduces a discussion of the tions a number of issues which clearly paved the
difference between folk art and fine art. way for rock 'n' roll. We will begin our analysis
Gillett's groundbreaking analysis of major vs . with the war between ASCAP and BMI .
independent record companies adds a structural
BMI Takes on the Music Publishing
dimension to the discussion. And, any number
Establishment
of works on black culture - notably Blues
People by Leroi Jones (Imamu Barakar - ASCAP (The American Society of Authors,
offer an understanding of the dynamics of Composers, and Publishers) and BMI are
racism. In all of these pioneering works there is known as performing rights organizations.
the hint that there is more to music than meets They are the organizations which recover
the ear. Yet, the actual functioning of the royalty payments from the performance of
businesses which mediate the artist and the copyrighted music. This is usually accom­
audience remains something of a mystery. plished through the issuance of blanket licenses
More recently such books as Apple to the allowing the user unlimited access to any
Core, by McCabe and Shonfeld8, Denisoff's selection in the catalogue for a set fee. Royalty
Solid Gold\ Gillett's Making Trackslo, Star revenues are then distributed to the member­
Making Machinery by Stokes I I , and our own ship according to a complex system of credits.
Rock 'n ' Roll is Here to Pay 1 2 , have attempted The war between ASCAP and BMI, an
to locate the music firmly within the context of extended controversy which ultimately precipi­
the huge culture industry which produces it . tated the payola hearings of 1 959 and went on
These more recent works provide a sophisti­ well into the sixties, had its beginning in 1 939,
cated understanding of the music industry as it the year BMI was founded.
currently operates, but in relatively few cases Earlier in the century, after a hard-fought
deal with the broader context of rock's pre­ battle, ASCAP had established the practice of
history. Making Tracks is a history of Atlantic the legal principle articulated in the 1 909 Copy­
Records which, of course, predates rock 'n' right Law - that writers are entitled to com­
roll . And Here to Pay brings together a number pensation when their work is performed in
of sources in an introductory chapter dealing public for profit. At first, revenues came from
with the corporate history surrounding the the sale of sheet music, recordings, and live per­
beginnings of the modern music industry. formances in hotels, nightclubs, and ballrooms .
Another book which touches on the subject It wasn't until the legal principle was extended
of rock's pre-history is the somewhat exag­ to include radio broadcasts, another hard­
gerated, witty and currently (it seems) out of fought battle, that ASCAP began to realize its
print After the Ball by Ian ("You Turn Me full economic potential. Whereas in 1 93 1 ,
On" , 1965) Whitcomb . 1 3 In one paragraph, he ASCAP received a total of one million dollars
encapsulates the history of the forties as in royalty payments from all sources, the
follows: society recovered more than four times that
amount from radio alone in 1939.
Here are the changes: the BMI-ASCAP war, the
To understand fully the importance of this
renaissance of the record, the appearance of
independent record companies, the faIl of the big
situation, one must first understand something
band, the rise of the solo singer, the start of the about the character of music publishing at the
teen frenzy, the spread of hillbilly music. The end time. Until 1939 ASCAP was a closed society
of the old Tin Pan Alley. " " with a virtual monopoly on all copyrighted

62
-

music. Membership in the organization was ship requirements, as well as its relative
limited to the most "literate" writers of the indifference to the popular and folk music being
Broadway-Hollywood axis of popular music ­ produced outside of New York and Hollywood,
Rodgers and Hart, Cole Porter, George BMI sought out and acquired its support from the
"have not" publishers and writers in the grass­
Gerschwin, Irving Berlin, George M. Cohan,
roots areas. "
etc. Since there did not yet exist any regulatory
guidelines, the organization was free to set any By the time the 1941 boycott rolled around,
fee for a license. As proprietor of the composi­ BMI was ready with a catalogue of its own. For
tions of its members, ASCAP could prohibit the next ten months the United States was
any medium from using its catalogue. Aside treated to its first earful of its own root music.
from being able to exercise considerable power Authentic regional styles were broadcast to a
in the shaping of public taste, the financial mass public intact - not yet flattened in the
possibilities of the organization seemed national pop melting pot. Though, in its initial
limitless. stages, BMI came up with few songs of lasting
significance, the Broadway-Hollywood mono­
By the 1940s, ASCAP 's 1 250 or so com­
poly on public taste was publicly challenged for
posers, authors, and publishers had become
the first time. Without this challenge, we might
very greedy, so greedy in fact that after more
never have heard from writers like Huddie
than a year of rocky negotiations with radio,
Ledbetter, Hank Snow, Roy Brown, Ivory Joe
they announced their intention of doubling the
Hunter, Johnny Otis, Fats Domino, Hank
fee for a license when the existing agreement
Williams , Ernest Tubb, and Wynonie Harris ,
expired on December 3 1 , 1940. For the
whose songs began to reach the top of the
broadcasters, who had always considered
charts at the end of the decade.
ASCAP's demands excessive, this was the last
straw. The National Association of Broad­ Population Migrations Open New Markets
casters, representing some 600 radio stations, The creation of a national audience for these
decided to boycott the entire ASCAP regional musics was aided significantly by the
catalogue, which, as we have noted, was population migrations associated with World
virtually all copyrighted music. For almost the War II. Large numbers of southern blacks and
whole of 194 1 , no ASCAP music was heard on poor whites moved north and west to find work
the radio. The publishers finally came to terms, in defense plants, and they brought their music
but only after a federally-initiated criminal with them. At the same time many midwest­
anti-trust action forced ASCAP into a erners and easterners were stationed in southern
"consent decree" regulating its dealings with its military bases where they were bombarded by
clients. some 600 country music radio stations . These
Negotiations had actually broken down back new audiences must have liked what they heard.
in the fall of 1 939. Expecting ASCAP to exploit Detroit juke box operators reported that "hill­
its recent victory over radio to the fullest, and billy" records were the most popular, and in
dissatisfied with their own weak position at the Europe, the American Armed Forces Radio
bargaining table, the broadcasters had decided Network voted Roy Acuff more popular than
to form their own performing rights organiza­ Frank Sinatra.
tion. Broadcast Music Incorporated was born Black music was limited by a separate and
on October 14, 1939. unequal marketing structure, but, in the forties,
Taking advantage of ASCAP 's stringent member- it too showed potential for national expansion.

63
- ..

The "race" market was first discovered when also the era of big bands, fancy ballrooms, and
Mamie Smith's 1 920 recording of "Crazy most important for the musicians, live music
Blues" shocked the Okeh Recording Company only on the radio. Radio was their own elec­
executives by selling 7500 copies a week. The tronic ballroom; it provided very steady work.
advent of radio in 1922, however, temporarily They would not give it up to records without a
decimated the record business; sales dropped fight. In 1942, the American Federation of
off steadily from a high of $ 1 06 million in 1921 Musicians went on strike. Nobody recorded .
to a low of just $6 million in 1 933, at the height Nobody but the singers, that is.
of the Depression. With the exception of Vocalists are covered by a different union -
"classic blues" records by women artists like currently called the American Federation of
Victoria Spivey, Ida Cox, and Bessie Smith Television and Radio Artists - and AFTRA
which continued to sell, black music developed didn't join the strike. The AFM itself thus
primarily in live performances. And although aided the rise of solo vocalists - who were
radio broadcasts utilized only live perfor­ becoming the main attraction of the big bands
mances, the medium was specifically limited to anyway - by giving them free reign of the
white musicians . Even as developing black recording studios. After months of striking the
music ushered in the ' 'big band" era, it was still musicians returned to the studio only to find
only white orchestras that could be heard the vocalists in charge. Somebody like Frank
playing it on the radio. Sinatra no longer simply "fronted" the Tommy
The black exodus from the south during Dorsey Band . The vocalists were now the head­
World War II contributed to the loosening of liners. According to Gillett: "Records by the
radio's restrictive programming. In the forties, bands dominated the best selling lists in 1 937 to
more than one million blacks left the South, 1 941 . During this period band recordings
three times as many as the decade before. accounted for twenty-nine of the forty-three
Newly immigrated blacks had enough money records that sold over a million copies each. " 1 6
from wartime prosperity to establish themselves With the rise of the vocalists, the pop charts
as an identifiable consumer group. Particularly were gradually taken over by the like of Bing
in areas which received a high concentration of Crosby, Perry Como, Dinah Shore, Vaughn
black immigrants, it was in the interest of radio Monroe, Frankie Laine, Doris Day, and Jo
to introduce some programming that would Stafford.
cater to this new audience. Gradually, some If the rise of the solo vocalist was a psycho­
black-oriented programs (usually slotted late at logical blow to the big bands, it was the post­
night) began to appear on a few stations. It was war economy which dealt the death blow . In the
this kind of "specialty" programming during return to normalcy it was no longer feasible to
the early fifties which would finally tear down support the elaborate production of 20 piece
the walls of the "race" market. orchestras as a reguiar diet. Ballrooms disap­
peared. Unable to find steady work, the big
The Big Bands Become a Casualty of the War bands gradually disbanded. As told by
Having already alienated the music publish­ Whitcomb:
ing establishment of the day, the broadcasters Miller died in a wartime plane crash, but Herman,
- which is to say, radio - managed to arouse James, and Dorsey had ,Jolded their original
the anger of established musicians as well. It bands in late 1 946, together with Benny Goodman
was around the early forties that radio began to and many others. The straighter, less jazzy bands
program recorded music - records. This was like Lawrence We1k's and Guy Lombardo's

64
The Glenn Miller Band playing jor the troops in England, January, 1945.

survived (for a specialist and aging public) but the of "Open the Door, Richard" for Victor which
Big Band Era, just over a decade, was finished." J 7 made the year-end pop charts in 1 947 . Al­
The black big bands, who had provided much though some of the bands were able to make
of the impetus for the big band sound and who something of a comeback later via television , it
are conspicuous in Whitcomb's account by was clear by 1947 that a musical era in the
their absence, limped along for a while on one­ United States had come to an end and it was
nighters in the decaying dance hall circuit. The reflected in record sales . Between 1 947 and
better known black bands like Basie and 1 949 sales dropped off more than $50 million,
Ellington could also count on an occasional hit which at the time represented more than 20
record to fall back on such as Basie's recording percent of the dollar volume of the industry.

65
Rhythm and Blues Rushes Into the Breach record it was often necessary to turn in an old
Gearing up for Korea, the economy was one so that it could be recycled. · Since the pop
fueled once again and, like other industries, the market alone was capable of absorbing vir­
music business was destined to expand. With tually all the records that could be produced,
the big bands no longer recording, however, the major labels concentrated their efforts
there was something of a void in popular music. there. The specialty fields, especially blues, jazz
As always, the industry was looking for a new and gospel, bore the brunt of the cutbacks and
trend. A less cumbersome music was needed, were essentially abandoned by the major labels.
and much to the dismay of the major record Whereas the shellac shortage had seriously
companies, "rhythm and blues" filled the bill. limited the supply of specialty music, the war
The major companies - Columbia, Victor, had, if anything, increased the demand . Thus,
and Decca - had gained a firm control of the after the war ended, the majors tried to regain
"race" market during the Depression with the control of the specialty markets. In the country
failure of independent labels like Paramount and western field this proved to be relatively
and Black Swan. The independents either had simple. According to Gillett,
their catalogues bought out by the majors or . . .the companies responded by heavily promoting
disappeared completely. As the "race" market various songs performed in versions of country
came to be dominated by big bands in the late and western styles. One tactic was to promote the
thirties, the most famous like Basie and strong southern accent of most country and
Ellington were simply signed by the majors. For western singers as a "novelty" , as Capital did
all practical purposes, independent record com­ successfully with Tex Williams' "Smoke that
panies had ceased to exist. Cigarette" in 1947, and as Columbia did for
The population migrations mentioned above several years with various Gene Autrey songs,
i n c l u d i n g " Ru d o l p h , t h e R e d - N o s e d
had opened up the possibility of a nationwide
Reindeer"(l950.)
market for black music, which prior to World
Alternatively, the country and western songs
War II did not exist. The "race" records of the that were the closest to the melodramatic or senti­
twenties and thirties sold well, but primarily in mental modes of conventional popular songs were
regional markets. The majors never exploited promoted as popular songs - or, more
this new market during the war because a frequently, recorded by popular singers in a style
shellac shortage caused significant cutbacks in that was halfway between country and pop. I I
the number of records which could be manufac­ Performers such as Frankie Laine, Guy Mit­
tured. Shellac is the principle ingredient that chell, and the more authentic Hank Williams
was used in making the old 78 rpm records. often fit this latter category. Through these
During the war it became almost impossible to various manipulations, the country field was
obtain the material from India where it is soon firmly back in the hands of the majors,
secreted by a tree-crawling scale insect. At the
height of the shortage, in order to buy a new ·It is interesting to note that it is also possible to
recycle vinyl, the main ingredient used in the manu­
.The term "rhythm and blues" represents both an facture of 33 rpm record. Yet no such program was
authentic development within black music and a initiated in the early seventies when the industry
marketing category adopted by the music industry in claimed a severe vinyl shortage. As the quality of 33's
1 949 as a catch all phrase for all black music. As declined and suggested list prices rose to $6.98, whole
such, it replaced the former designation, "race warehouses of cutouts were simply being destroyed, a
music . " practice which continues to this day.

67
where it remains today. takeover of the pop market as rock 'n' roll
The black market proved much more evolved. The first of these was the introduction
difficult. Having ignored jblack music for a of magnetic tape, stolen from the Nazis during
number of years, the majors had lost touch WW II. Prior to this innovation, quality
with recent developments in the rich and recording was tied to elaborate studios and
constantly evolving black culture. While the cumbersome equipment not to mention a
majors contented themselves with connections substantial capital investment . Recording facili­
to the most prominent black innovators of the ties were located in relatively few city centers
big band sound, other black musicians based in and were firmly under the control of
the Southwest were developing styles that were established corporate powers. Magnetic tape
much closer to the blues. As the era of big and its more versatile hardware changed all
bands declined one music that was brought to that. Aside from bringing the obvious technical
the fore is described by Baraka as "huge rhythm advantages of editing and better sound repro­
units smashing away behind screaming blues duction, magnetic tape made it possible for
singers. " 1 9 This was rhythm and blues. Since it anyone to record anywhere. It was now possible
did not lend itself readily to the production for a Buddy Holly to be recorded in Clovis,
styles of the major labels, they decided to New Mexico. Operating out of a small studio in
ignore the relatively smaller black market. Memphis, an enterprising young engineer
This situation made it possible for a large named Sam Phillips could record B.B. King,
number of independent labels to enter the Howlin' Wolf, Junior Parker, and Rufus
business. It is estimated that by 1949 over 400 Thomas, on the way to discovering Elvis
new labels came into existence. Most important Pres ley . The new technology clearly
among these were: Atlantic in New York, encouraged independent production and the
Savoy in Newark, King in Cincinnati, Chess in formation of independent labels.
Chicago, Peacock in Houston, and Modern, In 1 948, Columbia's Dr. Peter Goldmark
Imperial, and Specialty in Los Angeles. These invented high fidelity. In what was to become
R & B independents were generally hampered known as the "battle of the speeds" - a
by a shortage of materials, lack of funds, and contest which pitted Columbia' s 33 against
inadequate distribution, yet, with a hit, profits RCA's 45 - competition between the two giant
could be substantial. Modern was able to sell its firms yielded discs of excellent quality, and
blues singles for $ 1 .05 in the late forties while more important for our purposes here, maxi­
the majors were only getting 78 cents for pop mum durability. The introduction of the
singles. Particularly with the increased unbreakable record was particularly important
affluence provided by the war, black people for the development of rock 'n' roll because, as
were willing to spend more for their music. The Carl Belz has pointed out,
relatively small number of independents that . . . rock has existed primarily on records. In
survived the forties gained a foothold in the this, the music is rather different from jazz and
industry that would not be dislodged. from the traditional folk music to which it is
related. Although jazz and other types of music
Technology Makes It All Possible exist on records, they did not originate in that
A number of technological advaflcements set medium. For the most part, they originated and
the stage for the growth and further expansion developed through live performances. Rock, it
of rhythm and blues music and its eventual seems to me, has generally done the opposite.

68
b.B. King

Records were the music's initial medium. " '· late forties , records emerged as a relatively
Most audio and visual media - television, inexpensive medium . · In part for this reason, it
film, and to a lesser extent, radio - are capital was not as easy for a few giant electronics firms
intensive industries. They require huge sums of to monopolize the business. Records soon
money for production. Records, on the other became the staple of the music industry, sur-
hand, do not depend on an elaborate transmis­
·Since the sixties, when the music industry became
sion system as does television, and they are not much more centralized, the production of records
affected by government decisions concerning, has become more and more tied to sophisticated elec­
say, the assignment of frequencies on the tronic equipment, lavish multi-track studios, and
electromagnetic spectrum. Particularly in the enormous prol1,1otional budgets.

69
passing sheet music as the major source of directors and nothing approaching the tightly
revenue in 1 952 at around the same time that structured programming and restrictive play­
radio overtook juke boxes as the number one lists that we see today. In the search for cheaper
hit maker. forms of programming, records provided the
A final technological development strength­ obvious answer. Record programming soo"n
ened local radio as the main vehicle for the became the rule for radio and the disc jockey
popularization of rock 'n' roll. It involved a replaced the live entertainment personalities
major media policy decision which had been who had dominated radio in the thirties and
made earlier in the century but which came to forties. Until the 1 959 payola hearings curtailed
fruition in the early fifties. As early as 1935, their power and Top 40 programming rational­
RCA had announced plans to commit its ized the AM format, the independent deejays
research capabilities to a then unheard of were the central figures in the record industry.
broadcast medium - television. In the late They could and did make hits. Relying on their
forties TV became accessible as a consumer own inventiveness for popularity, the
item, and by 1951 RCA had already recovered independent deejays often experimented with
from its years of research and development and "specialty" musics as an antidote for the trivial
the initial period of programming television pop fare of network radio. Rhythm and blues
stations at a loss. By 1 957 there were 39 million music proved to be quite popular with white as
TV sets in use in the United States, filling 80 well as black audiences. As early as 1952,
percent of the homes. Television very quickly Dolphin's Hollywood Record Shop, a black
attracted most of the national advertising and retail outlet, reported that its business was all of
network radio fell off, but local radio grew as a sudden 40 percent white. They attributed it to
an effective medium for local advertisers. independent deejays playing R & B records.
In this way the emphasis that RCA and CBS As the market for black music expanded, so
placed on television provided the context in did the number of stations playing it. At first,
which independent record companies and rock the deep south was the center for R & B radio.
'n' roll could develop. RCA's preoccupation On white owned "negro stations" black
with TV, for instance, made it pay less atten­ deejays like "Professor Bop" in Shreveport,
tion to its relatively less important record divi­ "Jocky" Jack Gibson in Atlanta, and "Sugar
sion. The lack of top executive emphasis given Daddy" in Birmingham were important in
to network radio in comparison to network TV popularizing R & B music. Blues performers
allowed independent radio stations to expeti­ like Howlin' Wolf, B.B. King, and Rufus
ment successfully with new music, new pro­ Thomas, all had shows in Memphis.
gramming, and new personalities. These inde­ Gradually, white music stations began pro­
pendent stations eventually pushed aside the gramming some R & B shows to accomodate
more staid network stations and in the prozess the potential audience for black music in
helped to revitalize the then smaller record northern cities. As record sales indicated the
industry. growing popularity of rhythm and blues among
Local Radio Brings it Home white teenagers, white stations made a growing
Local Radio in the early fifties was a very commitment to the music and black deejays
loosely structured scene. The independent were soon foIled by white R & B jocks. Among
deejays - "personality jocks" , as they were many others there was "Poppa Stoppa"
called - were in control. There were no music Clarence in New Orleans, Phil McKernan of

70
Berkeley (who sired the late Pigpen of Greatful 8. Peter McCabe and Robert D. Shonfeld. Apple to
Dead fame), George "Hound Dog" Lorenz in the Core: The Unmaking of the Beatles. New York:
Buffalo, and, of course, the now famous Bob Pocket Books, 1972.
"Wolfman Jack" Smith of Shreveport. 9. R. Serge Denisoff. Solid Gold. New Brunswick :
Transaction Books, 1975.
The most famous of the white R & B deejays
10. Charlie Gillet. Making Tracks. New York:
at the time was a classical trombonist from
Sunrise Books, 1974.
Salem, Ohio, named Alan Freed. He is often
1 1 . Geoffrey Stokes. Star Making Machinery: Inside
remembered as the father of rock 'n' roll and the Business of Rock and Roll. New York: Vintage
even claimed to have invented the term. Based Books, 1977.
in Cleveland, his show, "Moon Dog's Rock 'n' 12. Steve Chapple and Reebee Garofalo. Rock 'n'
Roll Party", became so popular that he was Roll is Here to Pay: The History and Politics of the
soon hired by WINS in New York which he Music Industry. Chicago: Nelson-Hall Publishers,
made the number one popular music station in 1977.
the city. Typical of those who saw the R & B 13. Ian Whitcomb. After the Ball: Pop Music from
surge and its evolution into rock 'n' roll first­ Rag to Rock. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1972.
14. Ibid., p. 197.
hand, Freed once said: "Anyone who says rock
1 5 . Nat Shapiro. Volume 2, 1940-1949 Popular
'n' roll is a passing fad or a flash-in-the-pan
Music: An Annotated Index of American Popular
trend along the music road had rocks in his Songs. New York: Adrian Press, 1965.
head, Dad ! " He knew whereof he spoke. A 16. Gillett, The Sound of the City, op. cit., p.9.
Billboard headline reported: " 1 955 THE
-
17. Whitcomb. op. cit., p. 200.
YEAR R & B TOOK OVER POP FIELD" , 18. Gillett, The Sound of the City, op. cit., p. 9.
and the rest i s history. 19. Jones (Baraka), op. cit., p. 168.
20. Belz, op. cit., p. VIII.

Additional Sources
References

Lee Berk. Legal Protection for the Creative


1 . Steve Chapple, Interview with Paul Ackerman,
Musician . Boston: Berklee Press, 1 970.
1973
2. Carl Betz. The Story of Rock, New York: Oxford Arnold Passman. The Deej ays. New York :
University Press, 1 969: 2nd ed. , Harper Colophon MacMillan, 1 97 1 .
Books, 1973. Russ Sanjek. "The War o n Rock" (mimeo), 1 97 1 .
3. Charlie Gillett. The Sound of the City: The Rise of
Ortiz M . Walton. Music: Black, White, and Blue.
Rock and Roll. New York: Outerbridge and
New York: William Morrow, 1972.
Dienstfrey, 1 970; Dell, 1972.
4. Peter Guralnick. Feel Like Going Home: Portraits
R EEBEE GA R OFA L O a n d S TE VE
in Blues and Rock'n'RoIl. New York: Outerbridge
and Dienstfrey, 1 97 1 .
CHAPPLE are the co-authors of Rock 'N' Roll
5 . Michael Lydon. Rock Folk: Portraits from the Is Here To Pay: The History and Politics of the
Rock 'n' Roll Pantheon. New York: Dell, 1968. Music Industry (Nelson-Hall, 1977). Steve
6. Nik Cohn. Rock from the Beginning. New York: Chapple is also the author of a novel, Don't
Stein and Day, 1 969; Pocket Books, 1970. Mind Dying; and Reebee Garofalo has pro­
7. Leroi Jones (Imamu Baraka). Blues People. New duced several Movement benefit concerts. This
York: William Morrow, 1963. article is reprintedfrom the 1978 issue of Music
and Popular Culture.
71
February 1960. All o f the essays are b y participants:
several are intimate accounts of political struggle and
personal change; and all of them convey the at­
mosphere of "the Movement," the elusive and invisi­
ble community of struggle that so many of us ex­
perienced as a second family.
The collection opens with a section on the Civil
Rights movement, which Bernice Reagon rightly calls
"the borning struggle, " the foundation of what was
to come. There follows an essay on the Black Pan­
ther Party by Reggie Schell, a leader of the Phila­
delphia branch in 1969 and 1970, and a fascinating
account of the rise and fall of the League of Revolu­
tionary Black Workers by Ernie Allen, who was for a
time the League's director of political education. The
book then returns to the early '60s, picking up the
threads of the largely white student and anti-war
movements in the two essays by Dick Cluster. Steve
Rees writes about what it was like doing GI work in
the early '70s, and Ann Popkin adds a valuable essay
on the early years of the women's movement, focus­
Dick Cluster, Ed., They Should Have Served That ing in part on the Boston organization Bread and
Cup of Coffee: 7 Radicals Remember the 60s (South
Roses. The final essay is an autobiographical account
End Press, 1979), 268 pp. paper, $5 . 50 by Leslie Cagan, a "red diaper baby" whose
participation in the civil rights, anti-war, women's
People who were political activists during " the and gay liberation movements knits together many of
'60s" must be alternatively angered or bewildered by the themes raised elsewhere in the book.
what has been done to this decade by the mass media. A collection such as this defines a period in part by
As a younger generation becomes active in radical the selection of topics. In my own view I wish there
politics, however, an accurate picture of the New were essays on the student movement of the early
Left becomes important for more than historical '60s, on the counterculture, and on the forces which
reasons. In the anti-draft work I have been doing in pushed many New Leftists into Weatherman or ortho­
Boston for the last year, for example, 1 generally find dox Marxism-Leninism. In effect, this collection
two conflicting views on the '60s, often held by the is a portrait of one strand of "the Movement," em­
same people: that things were great, and that now phasizing mass movement more than formal organi­
people are much more apathetic; or that the New zation, and the personally transforming quality of
Left was a failure, unable to stop the Vietnam war, struggles more than their victories and defeats. My
'
or to understand the need to create permanent guess is that part of the battle to shape the political
organizations. My participation in discussions about movements of the 1980s will involve a debate over the
the '60s today usually begins with something like, interpretation of the New Left and the '60s. If They
"Well, it wasn't quite so simple as that . . . . " Should Have Served That Cup of Coffee is widely

Dick Cluster' s collection of essays, They Should read by the newer generation of activists they will
Have Served That Cup of Coffee, is the most useful save a few steps on the road to re-inventing the
and readable account of the New Left to appear so wheel.
far. The title refers to the incident that Cluster sees as Frank Brodhead

the New Left's starting point, the sit-in by four black


college students in Greensboro, North Carolina in

72
"The Wobblies," a play by Steward Bird and Peter With the trial as backdrop, the play winds through a
Robilotta, Smyrna Press, New York, 60 pp., 1980, number of key events in the l.W.W.'s militant period
$3.95 (1903-1918) fading in and out of the courtroom without
jarring the play's continuity. Camella Teoli's testimony
before a House committee investigating the conditions
This two-act play was originally performed at the in the New England Mills , Elizabeth Gurley Flynn's
Labor Theater in New York in 1976. The research that exhortation to striking mill workers, and scenes of
went into this production served as the groundwork for Western mineworkers debating strategy against their
the feature-length documentary, The Wobblies, that bosses are some of the historical ingredients of the play.
Bird and Deborah Shaffer completed last year (see RA To transport us through these scenes and provide the
Vol. 14 'I, Jan.-Feb. 1980). It'� a good companion satiric commentary that manages to merge sports,
piece to the fIlm - and a quite enjoyable theatrical politics and humor is the "Narrator" - an amalgam of
evocation of the Wobblies' spirit and history. Heywood Broun, John Reed and Carl Sandburg. It's a
For all the seriousness of tne historical direction of merger that's perfectly set and fuels the play's irony and
the documentary, it was the humor and vitality of the pathos equally.
octagenarian interviewees that propelled it. In this play, For a play of this length to be able to portray well the
with the benefIt of a dramatic license that doesn't stray guts of this historical period and present human
far from the 1 1 page historical introduction provided by characters, on the level of Flynn and Haywood, with
Joyce Kornbluh, Bird and Robilotta have portrayed the such fInely hewn frailty and strength is not easy. In
core of Wobblie activity in a vivid, quick-moving and doing so, "The Wobblies" brings to mind the cultural
often humorous setting. Set against the 1918 trial in work of the l.W.W. itself and the collection of plays,
which Big Bill Haywood and 100 other Wobblies were songs, posters and art that were able to celebrate and
tried for advocating resistance to the Selective Service instruct at the same time.
Act, the authors have produced a timely primer for John Demeter
today as well as an accurate period piece. It's a play that
should prove quite accessible to labor, anti-draft and Distributed by Smyrna Press, Box 1 803-GPO,
progressive community theater audiences. Brooklyn, NY 1 1202.

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73
F\Lf\ SAOR,S
anti-war struggle as it took place in and around the
campus of the University of Wisconsin, the pro­
ducers did not lose, but rather enhanced, their por­
trait of a country at war, in Vietnam as well as in its
own streets. As a former resident of Madison ex­
plained, "The film makes the era plausible for those
who experienced it and intelligible for those who
didn't."
There were a number of reasons to select Madison.
For one, Brown, Silber and the locally-based
Catalyst Films had direct access to people and
primary documents. Most importantly, the producers
discovered that a veritable treasure of archival
footage of most of the events remained in the vaults
The War A t Home, directed and produced by Barry of local television stations. Fundraising and scraping
Brown and Glenn Silber, 1 00 min. , color and black money together from sympathetic sources, Silber and
and white, 1979. Distributed by Catalyst Films. Brown were able to produce the $ 1 30,000 (compared
to Apocalypse's $40 million) needed to finish the
In November 1979, The War At Home arrived at film.
an interesting historical intersection. It was the end Much of War A t Home's strength comes from its
(we can hope) of Hollywood's "Vietnam era" - a ability to portray the development of the anti-war
period that began with the blurred, romanticized vi­ movement in a chronological framework. Con­
sions of student protest (Getting Straight and The trasting the reality of the war, via news footage, with
Strawberry Statement among others) and recently the rationalizations and "explanations" of official­
finished with a blurred, romanticized portrayal of dom works to recreate quite vividly the emotion of
war as hell (The Deerhunter, Apocalypse Now and the era. Thus, the frenzied actions of students in
Coming Home, et al.). It was also, coincidentally, the response to police repression are completely com­
"
beginning of Cold War II as Iran and Afghanistan prehensible. Covering the period from 1 963 to 1973 is
became the "grounds" for a reinstitution of the no easy task. The film does it well but with some ob­
draft. vious trade-offs.
While some reviewers touted this feature-length Most significantly, the documentary in its press to
documentary as "only growing in importance with compact the era into a feature-length package did so
the passage of time," The War At Home has taken at the expense of flattening out the ideology of the
on a frightening relevance under the press of current anti-war movement. In its portrayal of the circum­
events. Initially attractive to anti-"last war" activists stances and examples of the militancy - from con­
and historians, the film has increasingly drawn cur­ frontations with police to the bombing of the Army
rent anti-draft and anti-nuclear organizers and many Math Research Center, the film avoids the "Give
others searching to examine the history of Vietnam­ peace a chance" liberalism of other works. But in the
era activism for precedents and lessons. Due par­ selection of interview subjects, and coverage of the
ticularly to the painstaking research of John forces within the movement, the producers opt for
Aleckson and numerous others, this documentary is broader, non-analytical strokes. The anti-war move­
an intelligent, gripping and persuasive work. The ment's growth from the oppositional forces in the
editing of some amazing archival footage around civil rights movement is lightly touched. The concur­
present-day interviews with a number of veterans of rent rise of the black liberation and women's move­
the anti-war struggle transforms what could have ment within the Vietnam era activism is slighted.
been a glut of talking heads into a vivid portrait of the Surely the film's subjects reflected the white male
decade. By focusing on Madison, Wisconsin and the hegemony in movement leadership accurately. But to

74
That Variety would admit to the superiority of its
immediacy and emotional impact over that of
Apocalypse, Coming Home and Deerhunter is one
small touchstone of The War At Home's force.
I et us hope that the fIlm will stimulate critical
reflections for its audiences during this current
renewal of American militarism and Cold War
rhetoric over Iran, Afghanistan and Cuba.
John Demeter

The War At Home is distributed by Catalyst Films,


P.O. Box 1485, Madison, WI 53701, (608) 251-6987 or
(212) 255-8349.
---...-��----�-- . . . . -.. . . . .--

We Are The Guinea Pigs, Distributed by Parallel


Films, directed by Joan Harvey, 16 mm . , 90 min . ,
color, 1980.
There's a particularly striking exchange early in
provide the insights of women and third world this recently completed anti-nuke documentary in
participants of that struggle would have supplied some which Dr. Judith Johnsrud speaks of the biases of
sorely needed critical reflections. it certainly would her scientific profession as leading her to discredit the
not have detracted from the film's narrative power. physical complaints of residents of the Three Mile
Similarly, a clearer delineation of the forces - and Island area in Pennsylvania. Johnsrud, however,
their tactical and political differences - would have "experienced those same symptoms myself" and
benefitted present day activists. with a number of other witnesses to the continuing
Another problem arises interestingly from the accident at TMI speaks now of its direct and long­
focus on Madison - and specifically the campus of range danger. Contrasted with the official
the University of Wisconsin. While this focus serves doublespeak of "experts" from the Environmental
as a sufficient encapsulation of the broader national Protection Agency (EPA), Nuclear Regulatory Com­
movement, the relationship to the campus's im­ mission (NRC) and local government, this first per­
mediate community is neglected. We certainly get son report of the largest nuclear disaster in U . S .
some sense from the interviews with Mayor Paul history results i n an explosive and horrifying state­
Soglin, a former anti-war activist, that there were ment on nuclear te<;hnology and its role as a "sup­
repercussions in local government. The film also port system" for the American military.
documents police crackdowns in a largely student The power and drama of the interviews with those
neighborhood in the city. But the growing sentiment directly affected - parents, children, farmers,
of opposition to the war is a story that spread beyond teachers and students - will evoke tears and anger.
the bounds of the nation's campuses. War At Home This strength of the film, however, is seriously under­
projects a fleeting sense of that growth but locates cut by the documentary's editing (or lack of it).
itself mainly on the campus. The most moving pllf!S of While the film documents the reality and "hidden"
the film were the interviews with Karl Armstrong (then effects of TMI and works towards demystifying the
completing a prison sentence for the Research Center glut of numbers, halflives and rems that frustrate
bombing) and his father Donald. Their recollections even the most sympathetic layperson, there is still too
greatly contribute to the fIlm's emotional immediacy. much data and scientific jargon presented.

75
Numerous times information or experiences are un­
necessarily repeated. Clips that elicit sympathy or
horror at first glance are used again with diminishing
effect .
This problem i n the film reflects the general dif­
ficulty of grappling with the complex scientific
nature of nuclear power in an understandable way
for most people. It also reflects the influence of the
anti-nuke movement's most visible constituency -
scientists, professionals and young, mostly middle­
class activists. The filmmakers don't seem to trust
their main protagonists - the residents of the TMI
area - to convey the fear, horror and anger of
previously accepting citizens towards the "accident"
at Harrisburg and the catastrophe of nuclear power
in general. This they do - and convincingly.
Whether it's a young mother claiming she
"doesn't want to live near the plant, even if it's in out. What i s particularly frustrating i s that a number
perfect working condition" or Liz Hrenda, a steel­ of anti-nuke experts are shown speaking at public
worker, saying we can't "trust the government not to demonstrations in the wake of Three Mile Island. No
drop bombs any more than we can't trust them not to mention is made of the background activity or any
blow up power plants, " the "guinea pigs" are better other organizing.
narrators than the Helen Caldicotts or John Goff­ Guinea Pigs is Director Joan Harvey's first film

mans who seemingly serve to "explain" the victims' and includes contributions from photographer Tom
experiences. Hurwitz (Harlan County, Allambrista) and John
We A re The Guinea Pigs clearly documents the at­ Amato and the 4th Wall Repertory Musicians. It is a
tempts by EPA and NRC officials to minimize film that could serve as a useful outreach and infor­
the meltdown - either by the mumble-jumble of mational resource for the anti-nuke movement - at
"acceptable limits" and "allowable limits of half its length. At 90 minutes, however, an emo­
radiation" or by charges that the victims are suffer­ tionally drained audience could hardly be expected to
ing psychosomatically from "radiation fear syn­ sit through any additional presentation. With TMI
drome. " The best example of the latter tactic is re­ still in public consciousness, the film's timeliness and
counted in conversations with area parents whose first-person accounts could prove helpful in reaching
children show higher than normal radiation levels uncommitted audiences or those on the periphery of
after screening by an out of state testing service. The the debate over nuclear power.
results are attributed to the families' brick homes There is a level at which the portrayal of this coun­
which, they are told, magnify the normal at­ try's suicidal rush to "nuclear madness" can easily
'
mospheric radiation. As a sympathetic pediatrician push the concerned to despair. Alternative media is
summed it up, "It's become simply human ex­ then presented with the difficult task of informing
perimentation without informed consent." and agitating while providing hope and channeling
Starting out with eyewitness accounts and a tech­ anger. While We Are The Guinea Pigs documents
nical explanation of the accident, the film. moves on well the personal effects of a vefy public disaster, the
to connect the nuclear industry, big oil and the quantity and structure of its insights and information
military in its second half. But while clearly numb more than shock.
delineating corporate and military collusion, the film John Demeter

fails to portray any organizing or opposition move­ Distributed by Parallel Films, 3 1 4 W. 91st St. , New
ment beyond the local residents who have spoken York, NY 1 0024 - (212) 787-4808 or 877-1 573.

76
require us to believe that in moving from one

LETTE RS political line or style to another we were manipulated


from the outside, any more than we need feel this
when we make similar judgments about the 1 930s.
Dear RADICAL AMERICA Would we not deserve to be condemned if we did
In his article on "The 1 956 Generation," Maurice not engage in such self-criticism, and did not seek to

Isserman condemns what he calls a " pick and choose learn from what we have done so as to do better next
approach" to the history of American Communism. time?
See p. 45, and n. 4 on p. 50. And if so, why is it any different in looking back
A picker and chooser, like myself, apparently com­ on the 1930s? There is no lack of imagination or
mits the sin of believing that some periods of the compassion in making such judgments. Indeed, the
Party's political practice were more valuable and Communists and former Communists with whom I
more deserving of detailed historical inquiry, than like Maurice Isserman have spent countless hours
others. I do believe that. seeking to understand their legacy from within, are
Isserman argues that one who makes such a the first to initiate such evaluation.
judgment about the relative value of the Party's Thinking of these older men and women, I think
orientation in different periods, must also believe also of my own father. In his late thirties he became,
that Party members were malleable objects, " passive on the strength of Middletown, a tenured professor
agents of a politics imposed on them from above and at Columbia for the rest of his life. Before he and my
without. " mother made the Middletown study he was a student
I have n o desire t o criticize Isserman's thoughtful at Union Theological Seminary, and, while there,
article, nor do I wish to defend "my position" in spent a summer as a minister in a Rockefeller oil
the usual scholarly way. camp in Elk Basin , Wyoming. He worked with a pick
But I believe Isserman's logic contains a colossal and shovel six twelve-hour days a week, and
non sequitur which gets in the way of the very preached on Sundays. He learned about the IWW,
"historical imagination" he advocates. about the loneliness of women on the frontier, about
One can make value judgments about different the arrogance of self-proclaimed Christian capitalists
episodes in one's own life and in the life of others like the Rockefellers. He learned songs he sang the
without ceasing to believe that the historical actor rest of his life. It was a special summer for him, and
under examination voluntarily found his or her own for me, because as a child and adolescent I saw in
way from one episode to the next. that experience my father at his best, my father as he
Presumably we all think we have some modicum of could have been in a different kind of society, the
control over our own lives. Yet do we not, also, father whose work I am honored to try to carry on.
appraise what we did at different points in our So it is, I suggest, with the political "fathers" and
personal histories with a sense that some times were "mothers" many of whose names we do not know,
more fruitful, dense, worthy of remembrance, and in but who influence us nonetheless, just as our bio­
a word, better, than others? logical parents do, and among whose influences we
Of course we do. Consider our attitude toward a must pick and choose, just as do children.
political decade which (unlike the 1930s) all of us No doubt the critical issue is whether a historian
lived through, the 196Os. When we look back on the should seek to put behind him/her as a childish thing
1 960s its political practice falls into certain well­ this natural human tendency to orient to exemplary
defined periods, just as does that of the Party in the moments of past experience.
1930s. Most of us have opinions as to whether, in our I can't see why. The historian should respect the
work now and in the future, we wish to build more need for exemplary experience, cherish the
on the experiences of SNCC and early SDS, or on the experiences thus selected, and then painstakingly try
work of the late 60s and early 70s, or on specified to tell the whole truth about them. He/she will have
aspects of each. To have these feelings does not more energy to do this if personally drawn to the

77

, ',
patch of history under security. memory works. When we remember personal ex­
For instance, I think a task ahead of us in the 1 980s periences we supply our own historical context. We
is to create local labor parties, or some functional may indeed find some periods "more fruitful, dense,
equivalent. Believing this I have a particular interest worthy of remembrance" than others, but we don't
in efforts during the period 1934-1936 to start such view them in isolation. Without needing to spell it
Parties, and together with my friend Eric Davin, have out, we know how we grew to be the people who
just finished an essay about one such effort in Berlin, went through those experiences, and why - even in
New Hampshire. Is there something amiss in thus the most fruitful times - there were some things we
being an advocate historian in the sense of picking could not see which a decade later seem glaringly ob­
(and choosing) subjects understanding of which vious. This spring I taught a class on the history of
seems likely to contribute to current tasks? the New Left to students who were about six years
To deny in ourselves and others the desire to turn old at the time of the Chicago Democratic conven­
to the past for models is needlessly to sacrifice tion. I continually had to remind myself that my
ourselves and the writing of history to a false assumptions about the world and theirs were very
objectivity, a kind of Ranke-ism of the Left. I trust it different. They found it hard to understand how peo­
is clear that I am not proposing the distortion of ple in SDS could move from Henry David Thoreau
truth. I am urging an emotional honesty that will to Lin Piao in the space of a few years and - at least
permit us to get closer to people and moments of at the time - consider it a logical progression. And
history we care about, and precisely for that reason, so I had to dig back into my own experiences and
describe them more fully, more truthfully. (After all, those of people I knew in the 1960s to uncover and
Isserman would appear to value those who broke try to explain the limits, the contradictions, and the
with the Party in 1956 more than those who did not. potential of our vision as a generation emerging on
He, too, is a picker and chooser. ) the political stage. The book which got the best
What i t may all come down t o i s that some people response from the class was Sara Evans's Personal
think the way to be a real historian is to concern Politics, because it helped them see New Leftists as
oneself with causation. Maurice Isserman, and I, and real, fallible, growing human beings (and not as a
I feel sure every one who has looked into is, has heroic legend, or a model, or a cautionary example).
sensed that the politics of the period after 1935 What Evans makes clear is that while a feminist
provided an opportunity for the Party and its analysis would have made as much sense in 1961 as in
members from immigrant families to Americanize 1969, it took years of common political experience in
themselves. What should one make of this? Was it a the civil rights movement, in ERAP, and in the anti­
cause of those new politics? Not to recognize this war movement before women in the New Left could
dynamic would be insensitive. To overemphasize it learn the lessons which laid the basis for the
would demean the people involved: would be a emergence of feminist politics.
version of considering them malleable objects. It Lynd accuses me of advocating a " false objectivi­
seems to me that one just doesn't know what weight ty, a kind of Ranke-ism of the Left" (or, to para­
to give this "factor," and that, in general, the study phrase Jack Webb in Dragnet, "Just the causation,
of causes, far from being the most scientific element ma'am. ") And he suggests I harbor a secret sym­
of history, is the least so. pathy for those who led the upheaval in the CP in
Which is to say, one is left with the challenge of 1956. I plead innocent to the first charge, guilty to
faithfully exploring and reporting moments of the the second. I do feel an emotional link to the 1956
past which excite, which inspire, which seem useful in dissidents, and I agree with Lynd that such links can
current decisionmaking: one picks and chooses. "permit us to get closer to people and moments of
Staughton Lynd history we care about . . . " B9t what's more impor­
tant? Should I restrict myself to a lyrical evocation of
REPLY TO STAUGHTON LYND: those few brief moments in 1956 when everything in
I don't think Lynd's comparison of history and the American Communist movement seemed up for

78
grabs? Or should I try to explain why the Com­ past in Lynd's definition ("moments which excite,
munists were unable to undertake such a fundamen­ which inspire, " etc.), but it is a past which the Left
tal re-examination 20 years earlier (when it was just today would do well to understand.
as badly needed, and may well have had more signifi­ Maurice Isserman
cant consequences). The latter may not be a useable

WHAT IS HAPPENING
IN IRAN TODAY? !J!'
- MEPJP REPORTS �
#86 The Left Forces fea­ nomic demands with the
tures ENand Abrahamian's nationalist and religious
history of Iran's guerrilla ideology that mobi lizes
movement, a major piece of I ran's masses.

#88 The First Year eval­


contemporary historical re­
search, and Fred Halliday's
uates the revolution's ac­
inteNiews with spokesmen
complishments and limita­
of the major left organ­
tions so far, with a particu­
izations.
lar focus on the urban
#87 The Rural situation and the workers'
Dimension examines the councils that have become
extensive participation of a feature of I ranian factory
young Iranians of village life. Includes a full transla­
origin in the revolution. tion ofKhomeini's New Year's
Just Published' Three special First-hand accounts from speech of March 1980, the
issues of MERIP Reports provide the countryside explain the most comprehensive state­
the most comprehensive and inci­ fusion of social and eco- ment yet of his world-view.

S4. 75
sive coverage of the Iranian revolu­
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clude e!<clusive inteNiews: photo­
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namics today . ---�S re�------�71FP--_


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79
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