From International Socialism (1st series), No.51, April-June 1972, p.33.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
Workers’ Self Management in Algeria
Allen Lane, £3.25p
The current fashion for ‘industrial democracy’ has met with several echoes from the better sort of publishing house, and apart from the extortionate prices charged, this is a tendency to be welcomed. Ian Clegg’ s book is very much alive to the difficulties of his subject; he registers most of the problems of underdevelopment and bureaucratisation, as well as the relation between them, with great sensitivity. Which makes his lack of a unifying theoretical framework all the more noticeable and regrettable.
He has produced a very scholarly, but very clearly written account of the fate of workers in the Algerian revolution. Quite properly, the book opens with a chapter on the ‘colonial prehistory’ of the country where he describes very simply how the French empire deliberately scoured and devastated the entire region in order to ensure that the social bases of resistance would be eliminated. In itself, this description of imperial beastliness makes the book worth studying; the French occupation reduced the population by over one half between 1830 and 1852.
But the real meat of the book lies in its treatment of the workers councils during and after the defeat of the French in the early sixties. Clegg has amassed huge documentation on the practical workings of the workers committees, and he shows very clearly what the real effects of scarcity meant to these enterprises. True to form, the French took almost everything that was not nailed down, and their headlong retreat left the new republic almost empty of resources and skilled workers. As a result, the self management committees developed not as a conscious plan for workers power, but as a hasty and empirical response to chaos and the desertion of foreign management. Inevitably, therefore, they were deformed from the outset not just by war damage and dislocation, but by the haphazard and apologetic way in which they were cobbled together and ‘tolerated’ by the new regime. It was only a short step from this to the 1965 coup by Boumedienne and his technocratic elite.
So far so good: the old story of colonial revolution betrayed, this time with enough evidence provided to convince even a Pablo (whose pathetic intervention in these events is given the occasional oblique mention by Clegg). But the weakness of the work comes out in the chapter on Workers’ Councils: a Historical Perspective. Clegg recognises the importance of external factors such as the size and maturity of the working class, the level of economic development and independence and so forth. The real difficulty arises when he addresses himself to the relationship between the workers council, the state, and the party. Thus we have the Kronstadt revolt and its suppression compared to Hungary in 1956 in a totally a-historical way and the idea advanced that the Yugoslav ‘decentralisation’ at factory level denotes a weakening of state power.
Generally speaking, Clegg ignores the conception of a mass workers party informed by Marxist theory. Naturally enough, this leads him into confusion. But he has written a highly intelligent and relevant book, which deserves the attention of all revolutionaries. It could well form the basis of a vitally needed discussion about the proletarian movement in the Third World, as well as the more obvious purpose which it may fulfil in illuminating the debate on workers control.
Last updated on 25.10.2006