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Chris Harman

Sociological Strivings

(Summer 1965)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.21, Summer 1965, p.33.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Alienation and Freedom
Robert Blauner
University of Chicago Press, 56s.

A Protest Movement Becalmed
Leo Zakuta
University of Toronto Press, 48s.

Life for the factory worker can be hell. Blauner’s book could perhaps be best described as a study in degrees of hell. He analyses it, attempts to define its origin and to discover factors conducive to its mitigation. An impressive array of material on production conditions is combined with the results of attitude surveys. Despite this however, hopes aroused on reading the title are disappointed on reading the book. The author is concerned to give empirical reference to Marx’s concept of alienation. But he takes it in too narrow a sense. As a result his book never says much that is not obvious. Its merit is that it is sometimes useful to have the obvious clearly set out and well documented.

The problem of alienation at the point of production is not one of the favourite preoccupations of sociologists. The study of various sorts of protest movements is. Zakuta’s book is in many ways typical of these. It is about an unsuccessful social-democratic movement – the Co-operative Commonwealth Movement of Canada. As such is could be of enormous interest and importance. Any book on such a subject could scarcely fail to be of some interest. Zakuta fails to make the most of his opportunity. There is no attempt to explain the successes that reformist Social-Democracy has generally had, nor to explain the particular failure of the CCF. Instead, the author concentrates on the internal changes effected on the CCF by its changing environment. But the environment is purely electoral. Any class forces that voting figures register are ignored. What one gets are descriptions of internal changes in the organisation. These never acquire real significance because the author’s chief concern is with the formal characteristics of the organisation only. The aim – as with so much American sociology – is to arrive at a paradigm of organisational development which ignores the specific content of each organisation. The chief effect is to produce abstract historical discussion of every concrete, historically situated phenomenon. In this case the result is a book that contains some – but not enough – interesting information, but is theoretically barren.

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