Raya Dunayevskaya. 1954

Socialism or Barbarism

Source: The following article was originally published in the July 10 1954 issue of Correspondence in the author's column "Two Worlds: Notes from a Diary." Thanks to Scott McLemee for supplying the article. The ellipses are in the original; however, interpolations have been added;
Proofed: and corrected by Chris Clayton 2006.

I have received from abroad several issues of the small, but important French magazine, Socialism or Barbarism [Socialisme ou Barbarie]. This magazine was the first to publish a translation of the booklet called The American Worker. This booklet is written in two parts. Part 1, titled "Life in the Factory" by Paul Romano, is written by a production worker. For the first time the man on the line speaks for himself about his conditions of work. The second part, "The Reconstruction of Society," is written by an intellectual [Grace Boggs]. Socialism or Barbarism serialized the first part of the pamphlet in six issues and summarized the second part in two issues. The introduction to the French translation of the pamphlet shows how profoundly the translator understood the specifically American contribution of this work as well as its universal appeal. The introduction builds a bridge to the European working class:

"We are presenting here an unedited document of great value on the life of the American workers. Its value does not merely flow from the fact that it settles its accounts definitely with the absurd contention according to which the American workers do not have any class consciousness and with the myth of the comfort and luxury of the American workers ... We need a voice that is worthy of its cause to speak out and destroy the shameless propaganda for the Hollywood films which show us workers in indoor pools and also the Reader's Digest which points out a model of the benefits of class collaboration. [slightly garbled in newspaper text]

"But the value of this little booklet is much deeper. Every worker who is exploited, whatever be his 'country', will find there a picture of his life as a worker. Actually there are deep and unalterable traits in the alienation of of the working class which are not bound by the limits of frontiers or governments. And every worker, on reading it, will be filled with a boundless confidence in the historic destiny of his class. And rightfully so, for here is a reflection of a 'naked exploitation.' And he will see, as does the author, that precisely at the moment when the worker is in his deepest despair and his situation seems hopeless to him, his reflections and his daily observances prove that here is a force that is open to radical changes.

"The translator of this booklet has himself worked several years in a factory. With each line he has been struck by the correctness of the observations and above all by the profound implications. It is impossible for the workers to be indifferent to this book ... To us it is no accident that such a specimen of documentary working class literature comes to us from America ... The most industrial country in the world, with the most concentrated working class has to develop talents that are original and new. It is an indication of the vitality and depth of the struggle of the American workers."

In the near future I hope to write about this French magazine which, in its current issues runs a translation from the Supplement to Correspondence, the article on the worker and intellectual "The Real Trouble – We Solve This or Fail." Here, I wish to limit myself to the impact on the European of this pamphlet The American Worker.

There lives in Holland a man who is the only living connection with the founders of the modern movement of the working class, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. His name is Anton Pannekoek and he is 84 years old. I remember when I was just a child his name was already a revered one to the European working class, for as far back as the first world war he had fought the socialist betrayers of the working class. He also opposed Lenin and Trotsky. He had his own views of how the emancipation of the working class would take place. But to the European the emancipation of the working class is synonymous with Marxism, and he is at a loss to understand the American working class. It seems that the Socialism or Barbarism group sent Pannekoek copies of their magazine which contained The American Worker. Here is Pannekoek's comment on that:

"I have to tell you how pleased I have been with the articles on "The American Worker" which clarifies [sic] considerably the enigmatic problem of this working class without socialism."

The American working class has long been a mystery to the European, worker and intellectual. It isn't that the European Marxist accepts the view of Voice of America. It is that he cannot understand how it is that the American working class, the mightiest in the world, has not built a political party of its own as has the European working class; and how it is that no Marxist party has ever taken root there.

Because the American worker has built no mass labor party, he seems non-political. Because he is largely unacquainted with the doctrines of Karl Marx, he seems non-socialist. Yet he is so militant and has thoughts of his own. Being uninhibited by European traditions, he has his own ways of expressing them. The American Worker illuminated this to so distinguished a Marxist intellectual as Pannekoek in a way nothing had previously. That is what is significant about it. The way in which this pamphlet is making its way in Europe (it has been translated into Italian and there will soon be a German translation), the way in which it is being received, is nothing but a sign of what is vital and what is important in American life.

The American workers and people of the middle class, women, Negroes, youth have much to teach the workers of Europe – 'and much to learn'. The pages of Correspondence are dedicated to making the experience of the second America, an experience out [of] which a new way of life is being born, known to the world. This is what American has that the world needs. Not the swimming pools and television sets, not the foreign policy of Dulles or the military might of the Pentagon, but the day to day life of the people, their hostility to the bureaucracy, the way in which new talents and new energies are rising.