The productive counterrevolution

Christiana Carvalho's photo


Commentary based on the investigations of Fernando Sarti Ferreira

The new electoral rise of fascism led many people to revisit the political phenomenon and theories of the 1920s. But few turned to a process as important as the fascist movements: the restructuring of capitalist production.

At that time, Antonio Gramsci left impressive notes on Americanism and Fordism that constitute a way of interpreting economic, political and cultural phenomena as a whole. In the XNUMXst century, we also experienced the impact of computerization, telematics and countless productive techniques in labor relations.

In addition to the existence of a powerful neoliberal ideological field and the prolonged effects of the 2008 crisis, part of the difficulty of political and union recomposition of the working class resides in the present forms that work has assumed; some of them summarized by the neologism uberization.

The 1920's

The Russian Revolution of 1917 opened a period of offensive for the working class that followed until 1921, when a phase of capitalist stabilization was imposed, marked by the recovery after the post-war economic crisis. For the Communist International, after the last German revolutionary attempt in 1923, any short-term revolutionary possibility was over. From 1928 onwards, a third period of revolutionary ascent was expected, which did not materialize.

There was a deepening of capitalist domination, whose stability rested on unstable social democratic constitutional arrangements and, in certain countries, on the fascist regime. In both cases, a combination differences of repression and co-option of workers played an important role. Of course, democratic or dictatorial political form is never indifferent to the working class.

But it is clear that the phases mentioned above were not strictly political. The economic power of social classes has changed as a result of new production relations. The end of the wave of strikes and the social pacification of the 1920s can be observed from the scientific organization of work.

But what was presented as a technical innovation in Detroit was inspired by the process of slaughtering and cutting cattle in the meatpacking industry in Chicago, as Fernando Sarti Ferreira says in his thesis The productive counterrevolution: ebb and stabilization of social conflict in Buenos Aires, 1924-1930, defended at the University of São Paulo in 2020. Scientific organization dispenses with mechanization, as Taylor's own example proves. The “dismantling” of the ox preceded the assembly of the Ford T, so it is not something outlandish to deal with it in a peripheral agro-exporting country like yesterday's Argentina or today's Brazil. The periphery tests the limits of forms of surplus value extraction.

The structure

Fernando Sarti Ferreira explains how, in that period, industries fed on the “capitalization of agrarian income”, but part of their profits was reversed in the form of a “territorialization of industrial profit”, through the acquisition of rural properties. In other words, the Argentine ruling classes diversified investments, so that the possibility of a bourgeois revolution that would threaten the role of the agro-export sector as the engine of the national economy and its main link with the world market was never raised.

The author states that “the industrial growth in a peripheral zone ended up increasing its dependence on foreign trade, since it diversified its ties and links with the international market, by creating the demand for machinery and industrial inputs”. A problem similar to that found by Caio Prado Júnior in Brazil, since for him the installation of industry provoked new demand that the country could not satisfy and needed to import, aggravating the debt problem. This concerned both the search for means of production and the consumption derived from the increase in the population's income.

For Sarti Ferreira, it made no sense for the ruling classes to divert resources from the reproduction of the agro-export complex to finance an authentic Industrial Revolution. On the other hand, some industrialization interested imperialism itself insofar as the trade in industrial inputs and capital goods increased the possibility of capturing the surplus produced in the country by the central powers, in particular, until the 1920s, Great Britain and then the United States.

The central countries, given the emergence of monopoly capitalism, the second Industrial Revolution and the multidivisional company (in which the invisible hand of the market gave way to managerial planning of the visible hand coined by the historian Alfred D. Chandler Jr) developed an imperial policy, as the volume of their production and the opportunities for growth in the rate of profit no longer fit within the limits of the internal market, a problem that Rosa Luxemburgo conceptualized as the problem of achieving the highest worth.

The author notes, therefore, that that new imperialist dynamic is expressed in the growth of amounts invested in durable machinery and equipment during the 1920s in Argentina. The increase in the technical composition of capital industrialized and diversified production, but this occurred in an economy, strictly speaking, without a Department I (this is external to the economic model). Income from the agrarian sector, capable of generating foreign currency and resources for importing machines, could not be a mere “accounting” substitute for Department I.

Agro-export production has its dynamics affected by the foreign demand for commodities, by the behavior of prices formed in the international market and not in the domestic market. The dynamo of an industrialized economy is national industrial capital, exempt from the need to import technology, pay royalties and remit profits. In summary, Argentina could not reproduce in an endogenous and autonomous way the Department that produces capital goods.

The method

It is from this “false industrialization” (to use the expression of historian Milcíades Peña) that Fernando Sarti Ferreira correlates the strikes of the 1920s and short-term economic fluctuations. He colors historiography, redefines the supposed social peace of that decade, qualifies the intensity of the strikes, their offensive or defensive character, and he does so with the brilliance of a historian who knows how to interrogate his primary sources.

He faces the conceptual and methodological problems surrounding the strike phenomenon. After all, can any stoppage for any reason be part of your quantitative survey? For him, strikes result from “collective, intentional and declared mobilizations, which resulted in the stoppage of productive activities and services, regardless of their duration and the number of people involved, around claims of an economic, political and/or social nature. .”

He found an expansive economic cycle from 1922 to 1924; 1925-1926, stagnation. From 1927 onwards expansion. Certainly, he does not leave political factors aside, as the strikes, after a brief interruption in 1929, returned the following year to decline due to the military coup of 1930.

To reconstruct the stages of the productive process in Argentina, the author resorted to a myriad of sources: letters, engineering manuals, leaflets, advertisements, newspapers and a vast bibliography. But two sources stand out in his investigation: data from the Departamento Nacional del Trabajo and workers' newspapers. In the first case, he complemented the number of strikes and strikes and calculated the intensity of wall movements with an extensive quantitative and qualitative survey, carried out by himself from the workers' press.

From the economic structure of the country, its role in the international division of labor and how it was intertwined with the fluctuations of the conjuncture in the first decades of the XNUMXth century, we arrive at the factory.

The Hegemony in the Factory

In addition to macroeconomic problems, part of the explanation for the organizational difficulties of the Argentine working class in the 1920s lay in productive restructuring. Here we enter a universe of boilers, riveters, torches, pneumatic hammers, machines, engines, guns, sprayers for painting bodies, etc. The author makes this move towards the interior of the collective machine that is the factory.

He removes from the very material conditions of production and from the social relations conditioned by the new imported machinery the brutality of the foremen, the disrespect for the Sunday rest law, the strenuous working hours of up to twelve hours a day in moments of greater demand, the entrepreneurs of dubious origin, engineers in the pay of capital as ideologues, police officers, strikebreakers (crumiros), foremen, standardized production standards, wage incentives and punishments, mistreatment, overtime, the pace of work, prisons , finally the dimension of the daily life of the working class.

The case study of the General Motors factory inaugurated in April 1925, in Buenos Aires, illustrates the ways that that class found to resist the capital's productive counter-revolution. It is here that the analysis becomes finer because the author manages to find in the particular the universality of the conflicts, voices and political positions of various social groups. The same is found in the case of the Mihanovich shipyards.

Workers shift the center of their demonstrations and conflicts outside the factory with work stoppages, boycotts, sabotage; those dismissed are hired by competing smaller companies, union activists are an integral part of the daily resistance and are not presented as if they were strange beings in the working environment.

A bygone trend in historiography brought about the curious substitution of the vision of the union or party leader for that of academics (raised in neutral vehicles of the true speech of the working class). An economistic “imaginary Marxism” was forged in opposition to another that would rescue the centrality of class cultures.

The totality

Fernando Sarti Ferreira does not fall into this mistake and seeks the interaction of the accounts of common workers with those of militants, entrepreneurs and engineers who transformed machinery into a new industrialist gospel. From the multiplicity of these views, confronted with macroeconomic indices, the international situation, institutional policy and the ideological organization of classes, we arrive at totality.

We then find everything from Argentinean socialism, anarchism, communism, organization into parties, unions, cells, by place of work, etc., to the interpretations that social classes made of the social nature of changes in production.

For newspaper socialists The vanguard, for example, new forms of work organization were defended within evolutionary frameworks; already the The protest denounced that science was at the service of capital. Many militants attacked the inevitability of technical progress as an irrational faith. Even so, both newspapers opened themselves up to give voice to factory floor workers and had to deal with the concrete consequences of productive restructuring: work intensification and unemployment.

Once the economic structure is defined, the position of social groups in relation to production, the relations between them and the possible class consciousness, we touch on the totality. Class domination is projected as a process and its meaning as a synthesis of multiple contradictions.

Sarti Ferreira concludes that the “world of work” cannot be separated from other aspects of material and intellectual life; in this way he restores the importance of the productive structure for the analysis of social conflicts, illustrates in a concrete case how hegemony is born in the factory and provides an example of brilliant dialectical reconstitution of history.

* Lincoln Secco He is a professor in the Department of History at USP. Author, among other books, of History of the PT (Editorial Studio).


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