Ours to Master and to Own: Workers' Control from the Commune to the Present

By Hilmer, Jeffrey D. | Anarchist Studies, July 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Ours to Master and to Own: Workers' Control from the Commune to the Present


Hilmer, Jeffrey D., Anarchist Studies


Immanuel Ness and Dario Azzellini (eds), Ours to Master and to Own: Workers' Control from the Commune to the Present Chicago, IL: Haymarket Books, 2011, 443 + x pp.; ISBN: 978-1-60846-119-6

Dario Azzellini and Immanuel Ness have assembled a collection of essays (and created a companion website: www.workerscontrol.net) describing mosdy historical exemplars of attempts at workers' control of their economic associations. This is intended to be a book accessible to scholars and workers alike, and while the editors and authors are clearly sympathetic to workers' control, the text strives for balance and a critical perspective. As the editors note: 'This book critically examines the possibilities and probabilities inherent in the attempts to build workers' councils and other structures of self-management' (p.2). The book is a welcome addition to the literature on workers' control specifically and economic democracy generally.

The volume is divided into six parts, each addressing workers' control in a particular geographical context and historical era. After a brief but helpful introduction, chapters follow in which detailed examples of attempts at worker control are described and analyzed. The list of topics those chapters address are diverse: workers' councils and revolutionary shop stewards in Germany, the factory committee movement in Russia, factory councils in Turin, workers' democracy in the Spanish Revolution, workers' self-management under socialism in Yugoslavia and Poland, anticolonialism and workers' control in Indonesia, Algeria, Argentina and Portugal, attempts at restructuring capitalism in factories in Britain, the United States, Italy and Canada, and some recent examples drawn from India, Argentina, Venezuela and Brazil. Each of these examples contributes to the reader's appreciation for the goals and strategies of workers' control over their economic associations.

Anarchist ideas and practices are addressed, albeit tangentially, throughout the text - particularly in the context of Spain (pp. 19-22, pp. 148-9), Russia (pp. 105-6, pp.115-20 ff) and Italy (pp. 18-20, pp. 135-7, pp. 143-5). Specifically, as one might expect, the tactics of direct action (p.l 16, p. 148) and organizational modes including anarcho-syndicalism are included (p. 150 ff ). Yet, for the most part, the influence of anarchist ideas and practices on programmes for increasing workers' control is not given the attention it deserves. This is disappointing given that contemporary political, economic and social trends suggest that anarchist ideas and practices are as valuable today - perhaps more so - than older communist or socialist ideas, ideas that the contributors to Ours to Master and to Own devote most of their attention.

While critical at times, the text lacks a sufficiently critical perspective that would draw in and retain readers who are sceptical of the possibility and practicality of worker control. Many of the chapters employ Soviet and socialist examples that, while obviously significant to the history of workers' control, may fail to persuade readers who will (unfairly) identify worker control with what they take to be ideologically bankrupted political systems. In connection to that last point, the volume contains a disproportionate number of examples that are rather dated.

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