- Workers and Protest: The European Labor Movement, the Working Classes and the Origins of Social Democracy, 1890–1914 by Harvey Mitchell, Peter N. Stearns (review)
- The Canadian Historical Review
- University of Toronto Press
- Volume 54, Number 2, June 1973
- pp. 224-226
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224 THE CANADIAN HISTORICAL REVIEW appears to be the absurd question raised by Price's approach. What might otherwise havebeen a useful contribution to ourunderstanding ismarred by theassumption that Marx should havedonebetter. HARVEY MITCH]•LL University o[BritishColumbia Workers andProtest: TheEuropean Labor Movement, theWorking Classes and theOrigins o[Social Democracy, •89o-•9•4. HaRVeY M•TCH•.•. andP•.T•.R N. ST•a•NS. Itasca,Ill., F.E. Peacock Publishers, •97•. Pp. v., •47- $6.oocloth, $3.95paper. Historians of Europeanlabourmostlychart the course of socialist and trade unionpolitics. MitchellandStearns, in separate essays, breakawayfromthe traditional pattern. Mitchell writes of theinterplay between organized labour formations andSocial Democracy in Britain, France, andGermany. Stearns, in a genuinely pioneering effort,turnshisbackon the nationalfocusin fayourof a comparative study'fromthebottomup.' In keeping withhisstress onthepolitical history of the European labour movement, Mitchell chronicles therise oflabour formations - unions andsyndicats - in terms oftheirorganization, doctrine, andleadership. He isconcerned to show how'doctrine' and'ideology' (whichcome perilously close to being synonomous for him) either supported or undermined the consolidation of labour's political position. Not surprisingly, hefindstheBritishtobenon-ideological ,theFrench excessively ideological, andtheGermans mistaking Deutsche ordnung forideology. British socialism, according to Mitchell,never separated fromitstradeunionfoundations andremained hemmed in bythelater's stubbornconservatism . ButwhileBritish labour didnotgoin forrevolutionary syndicalism (dubious grounds forcalling it conservative), workers in thatcountry faroutran theleaders oftheLabour Partyin grasping therealities ofcapitalist social relations - as•9•6 wastodemonstrate. ForFrance, Mitchellrepeats the depressing storyof the fractionalization of the socialist movement.He hasa sense ofthepenetration ofanarchist, Marxist,andreformist ideas intothelabour movement, buthe does notmakedear theextentto whichsyndicalist labour wasan autonomous expression of workingclassculture.If the doctrinaland tactical struggles withinFrench socialism hadrepercussions in thelabour movement ,asMitchellsuggests, he mustexplainwhyworkers tooksolittle notice ofthem. Mitchell isat hisbest onGermany. He writes clearly of theparallel evolutionof a highly structuredlabourmovementand a bureaucratic Social Democratic party.Its tragicironyescapes him.WhiletheKautskys andthe Bernsteins debated thenature andfuture ofcapitalism, German capitalism made itsownfuturewithoutthebenefit oftheprofessors ofsocialism. German workers werecarriedalongthat road.There wasnothinginevitableaboutthis.We needtohaveanexplanation. Stearns ofters one. Forhim,therealization ofthecapitalist future, whichhecalls 'modernization,' brought a positive benefit to workers whichmanyof themdid notfail to re- REVIEWS 225 cognize. Historians of thelowerclasses, andespecially of theworkingclass, eyes focused onlyonmisery, oftendonotgraspthat point.Steamsisimpatientwith doctrinaldisputes and the pronouncements of syndicalist and socialist leaders; for howmanyworkers listened to and heededtheir works? Not many,he concludes ; andhemakes a strong impressionistic case forhisposition. Lacking much harddata,Steamscanonlysuggest thatthelabourmovement constituencies, the workers involvedin strikes, and themasses outside organized labourreactedto specific materialconditions regardless of whatwasdecided at partycongresses. Steams asserts that 'modernization,' asan integrating and homogenizing force, radically altered theconditions oflabourandtheaspirations andactsof workers. He goes onto suggest that asworkers shiftedfrom archaicto technologicallyadvanced production, theoldrevolutionary habitsprogressively disappeared, to be replacedby pragmaticand specificgoal-oriented action.Thus, he claims thatthegreatwaveofstrikes in thetwodecades before WorldWar xrepresented a 'moderating' trend in the confrontation of capital and labour.Strikesfor higherwages,shorterhours,union rights,conditions of work demonstrated workers' acceptance of theindustrial system whilefocusing thestruggle on the termsof therelationships withinit. This,he says, marksa clearstepawayfrom revolutionary actioncharacteristic of an earlier period.However,one could turntheargument aroundandinterpret thestruggle overthetermsof relationships withincapitalist industry aspregnant witha revolutionary perspective expressed undernewconditions. I do not arguethat sucha perspective clearly existed; but Steamsdoesnot demonstrate that it did not. On the otherhand, toreturntoStearns' achievement, everyhistorian of theEuropean labourmovementmustcometo terms with hispersuasive argument in support of the 'grass roots' approach. He performs a realservice in turningourattention awayfrom thedebating hallsto theshop,thefactory,thedocks, andthe mine. Mitchelland Stearns havesomestarflingblind spots. Mitchell apparently thinks thatall socialists arealike.The Fabians, for example, are'evolutionary,' but, like the Marxists,believein the 'Socialistfuture.' He shouldhave noted BernardSeroreelon the substance of that belief, or, better still, H.G. Wells' The New Machiavelli.Both expose the Fabians'visionof a 'Socialistfuture' for whatit was:nationalsocialism. OswaldMosleywastheir heir.Stearns believes that onlythose workers whostrikeagainst capitalaccording to the rules deserverespect.Machine-breakers he labels'socialreactionaries.' It doesnot necessarily followthatthese forms ofrevolutionary violence reflect a reactionary outlook. Machines areCapital's symbols aswellasitsinstruments. Workers may beexcused for dealing with themassuch. Steams alsoargues thatworkers with gardens tendedto be the mostconservative. JoanScott,for minersin the Carmaux ,andSidney Mintz,forblackslaves in theCaribbean, haveargued persuasively the otherway. Finally,the bookconcludes in a novelway. Mitchell and Steamswrite brief comments oneachother's essay. Theyareeachcriticalof theother's approach, though Mitchellless so.Essentially, theyagree to disagree whileupholding the validityoftheirownmethod. Mitchell,truetohisconcern for thepermutations 226 THE CANADIAN HISTORICAL...