I picked up this volume in a second-hand bookshop a few weeks ago. I found the introduction fascinating, then forgot about it, but Nydwracu’s post brought it back to mind. This is a 1977 collection of writing specifically on how a group of some flavour of revolutionary communists in the UK respond to the growth of “community organising” and, perhaps, identity politics more widely. There is a clear, explicit intention of capturing the imitations of the US civil rights movement and other identity-politics activism within a classically Marxist class struggle. Forty years on, that project obviously failed.
I’d love to identify which communist grouping the authors were associated with; 1977 was the year in which the CPGB started to seriously break up, and in which the International Socialism Group became the Socialist Workers’ Party, but I can’t link up any names.
I can find little trace of the book or its authors online, so I’m going to feed bits of it into this page as an ongoing project. I may end up scanning or typing the whole thing.
COMMUNITY OR CLASS STRUGGLE?
John Cowley-Adah Kaye-Marjorie Mayo-Mike Thompson
COMMUNITY OR CLASS STRUGGLE?
Recent years have seen a great increase in the number and variety of the non-workplace struggles popularly called “community organising”, a developing political base for them, and a growing consciousness of the class positions involved.
The purpose of these essays is to outline a Marxist perspective on the politics and practice of community organising. The authors examine the central concept of social reproduction of labour power under capitalism, the extent of state intervention in areas such as education and health for which capitalism cannot adequately provide, the role of professionals in these areas and the contradictions they face. Focusing on the class struggle in the community in all its manifestations, and on the possible lines of its development, the authors aim to provide the clearer theoretical understanding of the basis and the nature of everyday life under capitalism which is essential to the political struggle to change it.
Cover photograph by John Sturrock (Report) and Michael Sheridan. Cover design by Fiona Macintosh
ISBN 0 85035 028 X
First published in Great Britain 1977 by stage 1, 47 Red Lion Street, London WC1R 4PF
Copyright 1977 by stage 1 All rights reserved
ISBN 0 85035 027 1 hardcover
ISBN 0 85035 028X paperback
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2
Printed in Great Britain by Whitstable Litho Ltd., Whitstable, Kent
Tenants occupy a £50,000 Show House which had been opened for prospective buyers to view; claimants are ejected by the police from a local Social Security Office; parents with small children sit-in in a Council Office demanding nursery facilities; the doors of a meeting hall are locked and an angry public hold Councillors imprisoned throughout the night. All these events took place in London within the space of one week in 1973. Ripples on the surface brought about by a much deeper current of locally rooted political protest and agitation. Reverberations from a movement, fragmented but vital, popularly known as community organising: people organising and fighting for play areas, traffic management schemes, an end to harassment and intimidation of private tenants, compulsory purchase orders on empty property and better maintenance service on Council Estates; these are representative of the struggles undertaken. Other community projects appear: women’s centres, free schools, health centres, child care projects, housing centres and community newspapers; similar to some projects undertaken in the past, but now taken up in a new mood, with a developing political base and an increased consciousness of the class positions involved.
The purpose of this volume of essays is to provide the main outlines of a Marxist perspective on these politics, activities,events, projects and campaigns. Above all, attention will be focused on the class struggle in the community in all its manifestations, and on the possible lines of its development. The selection of these essays, and indeed the writing of most of them, directly stems from having lived the realities of ‘community organizing’; they are intended not merely to express the range and vitality of the political work being carried out but also, and this is by far the most important aspect, to arm all the more effectively those engaged in, or on the verge of entering, the class struggle as manifest in the community. Whatever the project, the necessity of putting it in a clear political perspective confronts everyone if they are not to be overwhelmed by mere repetitive activism. It is all too easy to sink into the quagmire of helping where help is needed, never threatening to challenge the cause of the need for help. What is needed is the development of a clear theoretical understanding of capitalist social formation and the nature of the inter-relationships that are being challenged, since the development of a political struggle to change these inter-relationships, to even a minor degree, depends on an adequate theoretical grasp of the basis and nature of everyday life under capitalism.
This introduction is intended to set the context within which community organising takes place and to provide a perspective on the essays that follow. It will first discuss a concept central to many of the essays in the book, and of major importance in developing the politics of community organising, namely that of ‘social reproduction’. The essential idea that the term conveys is that the working class is not only reproduced in a physical sense but, as the demands of capitalism change for a labour force with different skills, then that labour force is reproduced anew in terms of revised knowledge, skills and educational standards, as well as in terms of an ideological subordination to, and acceptance of, a social hierarchy which determines their place within it. In other words the process of reproducing labour power extends far beyond the mere supply of sufficient numbers of workers; it covers all aspects of social life to ensure that the labour force is appropriate in every way for the needs of capitalism; hence the phrase ‘social reproduction’ of labour.
The extent of ‘State intervention’ in the economy and in the social life of the country is then examined; the need for the State to intervene to an ever increasing extent is related to its role as supporter of capitalism through the process of social reproduction. It is argued that there are areas of life, including most services such as education, health facilities and housing for which capitalism cannot adequately provide. Yet it is essential for capitalism that these services are provided; it needs them in order to survive, and the State obliges by providing them in a way which underwrites the freedom and ability of capitalism not only to exist but also to maintain high profitability.