Making Workers Soviet: Power, Class, and Identity

By Lewis H. Siegelbaum; Ronald Grigor Suny | Go to book overview

4
Workers against Foremen in St. Petersburg, 1905-1917

S. A. Smith

From a theoretical point of view, the role of foremen in capitalist industry is ambiguous. First, foremen combine the socially necessary tasks of coordinating production with those of controlling labor, marrying technical competence -- the extent of which varies across different labor processes -- to the exercise of discipline, the extent of which also varies, according to the degree of bureaucratization and specialization of the structure of management.1 Second, foremen are not only salaried employees who sell their labor power to and are dominated by capital but also the most junior officers in the hierarchy of capitalist command.2 To the extent that they are the agents of control of labor, under pressure to maintain and increase productivity and to keep costs down, their relationship to the workers in their charge tends to be antagonistic. But as Michael Burawoy has argued, antagonism may be present at a structural level but not at the level at which workers understand their interests, since the interests that organize the daily life of workers are not irrevocably given by structures but are reproduced through culture.3 Structural and cultural pressures may, therefore, combine to make for cooperation rather than conflict on the shop floor.

In St. Petersburg between the revolutions of 1905 and 1917 conflict between workers and foremen was rife.4 Robert McKean has shown that

____________________
1
Nicos Poulantzas, Classes in Contemporary Capitalism ( London, 1975), part 3, chap. 3.
2
I believe Erik Olin Wright's concept of contradictory class location is useful here. Wright abandoned this notion in his book Classes, but in his more recent work has partially and, to my mind, usefully rehabilitated it. Wright, Classes ( London, 1985); E. O. Wright et al., The Debate on Classes ( London, 1989), especially part 3.
3
Michael Burawoy, The Politics of Production: Factory Regimes under Capitalism and Socialism ( London, 1985), pp. 27-28.
4
Strictly speaking, here I am concerned with the relations between workers and lower supervisory personnel in general, and not just with foremen. The latter term is used as shorthand, however, to indicate all of those who were directly involved in supervising the

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