Friday, 24 April 2009

Polanyi Again

The Great Transformation again. This time on the differential effects of pre-existing class structures on the 'birth marks' left on the working class movements in Britain and on Continental Europe:

".....there was no comparison between the moral and cultural catastrophe of the English cottager or copyholder of direct ancestry, who found himself helplessly sinking into the social and physical slums of some Northwestern factory neighbourhood....and the Slovakian or...Pomerian agricultural labour changing overnight from a stable dwelling peon into a industrial worker in a modern metropolis. ...the English yeoman's son or the evicted cottager certainly did not feel his status raised...the recently emancipated farm labourer of the continent [had] a fair chance of rising into the lower middle class...[and] even the bourgeoisie, which socially towered above him, was politically in the same boat, being almost as removed from ranks of the actual ruling class as he was himself...In England the middle classes...were strong enough to vindicate their rights alone, and not even in their near revolutionary effort in 1832 did they look to the labourers for support...while on the Continent the still semi feudal aristocracy did not intermarry with....the bourgeoisie and the absence of..primogeniture hermetically insulated them from the other classes. Every successful step towards equal rights and liberties thus benefited Continental middle and working classes was part of the Continental tradition that the working class would help fight the battles of the bourgeoisie against feudalism, if be cheated by the middle class of the fruits of victory. But whether the working class won or lost...its experience was enhanced, and its aims raised to a political level...While the British worker developed an incomparable experience in the personal and social problems of unionism and left national politics to 'his betters', the Central European worker became a political socialist, expected to deal with the matters of statecraft, though primarily with those that concerned his own interests....The Continental worker needed protection..against the normal action of factory and labour market conditions. He achieved it mainly by the help of legislation, while his British comrades relied more on voluntary association – trade unions – and their power to monopolise labour. While economically the difference be over rated...politically its consequences were great. On the Continent trade unions were the creation of the political parties of the working class; in England the political party was the creation of the trade unions."

This, I think, is closer to Anderson and Nairn than Thomson's Peculiarities of the English, but I don't want to re-open that debate. I merely quote at such length to ask whether a leftwing party need be based on the trade unions. I don't think it does, I don't even think it is desirable because it muddies certain waters in terms of roles - which is why I fear people like Phil and Stroppy are radically mis-reading the potential and significance of NO2EU, which looks to me like a train-crash about to happen.

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