For Workers' Power: the Selected Writings of Maurice Brinton [Review]

 "Maurice Brinton" was a pen-name* for Chris Pallis, who as a member of the libertarian socialist organisation Solidarity wrote many well-researched and incisively argued critiques of authoritarian communism and its methods. Solidarity was formed by several activists who broke with Trotskyism in the 1960s and was responsible for introducing the ideas of the French group Socialisme ou Barbarie to Britain. In particular they published many of the writings of Cornelius Castoriadis in their first English translations. Fluent in several languages, Pallis frequently provided these translations, and wrote explanatory introductions for them when published.

The book's editor, David Goodway, has contributed a 16 page biographical introduction characterised by the meticulous attention to detail that has become the hallmark of his work. In addition to sketching out the central points of the Chris Pallis's life, and his political trajectory from orthodox communism to libertarian socialism via Trotskyism, Goodway has identified the importance and originality of Pallis's own writing, particularly the Irrational in Politics, and his importance as a "creative translator" of Castoriardis. Castoriardis's texts were frequently both dense and obscure, but Pallis was able to popularise them by presenting the concepts in a way that was both intelligible and exciting, while remaining true to the originals.

In addition to the texts of several leaflets and the introductions to many of Solidarity's tightly argued booklets, several of Brinton's own full-length publications are included. Paris: May 1968 provides a first-hand account of events that dramatically re-defined revolutionary politics, and although it begins with the disclaimer that "it has been written to inform rather than to analyze", it was most certainly analytical its identification of the new, non-hierarchical forms of revolutionary organisation that were forged spontaneously in the white heat of struggle.

The Bolsheviks and Workers' Control, 1917-1921: The State and Counter Revolution carefully demolished the Leninist contention and the Trotskyist myth that the authoritarian reaction in Russia only began with Stalin, demonstrating that it was inherent in the whole Bolshevik project. This work is self-described as a pamphlet although it has the length of a short book. It was written at a time (1970) when ideas of workers' power and workers' control were being optimistically discussed as distinct possibilities. Brinton describes the way in which Leninism assumed libertarian and decentralised forms immediately after the revolution, as a way of undermining the power and authority of the provisional government. Once in power the Bolsheviks sought to bolster and centralise state power at ever opportunity, destroying work-place organisations established by the workers, or subordinating them to the party. This was not "selling out" but the inevitable result of seizing state power, which cannot tolerate rival forms of power, especially those rooted in workers autonomy. This particular text has been widely reprinted and translated into several other languages.

The third major text written by Pallis was The Irrational in Politics an "attempt to analyze the various mechanisms whereby modern society manipulates its wage (and house) slaves into accepting their slavery and - at least in the short term - seems to succeed. It does not deal with 'police' and 'jails' as ordinarily conceived but with those internalized patterns of repression and coercion, and with those intellectual prisons in which the 'mass individual' is today entrapped." Drawing heavily, but critically on the work of Wilhelm Reich, Brinton identifies early social conditioning within the family as the mechanism through which obedience and subservience are internalised so that:

    "When a child's upbringing has been completed the individual has acquired something more complex and harmful than a simple obedience response to those in authority. He has developed a whole system of reactions, regressions, thoughts, rationalisations, which form a character structure adapted to the authoritarian social system. The purpose of education - both East and West - is the mass production of robots of this kind who have so internalised social constraints that they submit to them automatically."

The "sexual revolution" experienced since the Sixties is merely a new recuperated form of "alienated" sexuality, that can be tolerated by capitalism as it complements the alienation of labour. Brinton optimistically assumes that this sexual revolution will create individuals more likely to question authority - but overlooks Capitalism's ability to colonise new social forms and transform them into commodities.

Brinton's real legacy goes beyond the sum of these individual texts, and is to demonstrate to the libertarian left in Britain that theory can be both explanatory and liberating and that we should not be afraid of it. With the demise of Solidarity and the decline in Chris Pallis's health, their particular form of post-marxist libertarian socialism has lost its clearly defined character, although key elements have been absorbed into the practice of many small groups of anarchist activists working in the community, and there is a renewed interest in the concept of "autonomy" on internet discussion lists. By republishing the selected writings of "Maurice Brinton" David Goodway and AK Press have brought back into circulation some of the most important libertarian socialist texts published in Britain in the 20th century.


*He also wrote under the name of Martin Grainger


Maurice Brinton: For Workers' Power: the Selected Writings of Maurice Brinton.

Edited by David Goodway. AK Press, 2005. 378 pp. £12