A few quotes and assertions prior to formulating some questions.

1. Virno, in an interview:

“[T]he moment the working class ceases to be a people and becomes a multitude many things change: starting from the forms of organisation and of conflict. (…) [T]here are passages in Marx where the working class loses the physiognomic features of ‘people’ and acquires those of ‘multitude’. One example: let us think about the last chapter of the first volume of Das Kapital where Marx analyses the condition of the working class in the United States (Chapter 25, ‘the modern theory of colonisation’). There we find great pages on the American West, on exodus and on the individual initiative of the ‘many’. European workers driven out of their countries by epidemics, famine and economic crisis, go to labour in the large industrial centres on the east coast of the USA, mind you: they stay there for several years, only several years. Then they desert the factory and move towards the west, towards the free land. Wage labour presents itself as a transitional episode rather than a life sentence. Even if only for twenty years, wage labourers had the possibility of spreading disorder in the iron laws of the labour market; by abandoning their own initial condition, they determined the relative scarcity of labour and thus wage increases. By describing this situation, Marx offers a vivid portrait of a working class that is also multitude.”

2. Commentators often describe the Western Federation of Miners in relation to a “frontier spirit” (for instance). Patrick Renshaw writes that Big Bill Haywood had been a frontier homesteader for a while, a respite from working in the mines. After “his brief taste of independence he resented the fetters of “wage slavery” much more strongly. This resentment [was] a characteristic phenomenon in the West of the time”. (The Wobblies, p72.) “The frontier, or rather its close, seemed to be producing a unique type of post-frontier syndicalism.” (The Wobblies, p73.)

3. Accepting both claims for the sake of argument, Virno’s and Renshaw’s – both of which are definitely problematic – this suggests that part of the class conflict around this time was a conflict over whether the working class would take the form of multitude or people.

4. The frequent resort to the state of exception in response to working class struggles were attempts to destroy the multitude-like forms of class organization, or those forms which were conducive to the class existing as multitude. (For instance, Goldfield Nevada.)

5. One key principle of the post-frontier syndicalism was a type of axiomatic equality. Industrial unionism was a forceful assertion thereof, against craft unionism. This axiom in turn entered into the compositional practices and processes of the class, both formal-organizational and informal-organizational. Or, these practices and processes were subjectivizations based on (material instantiations of) this axiom. In doing/being so they formed a certain type of exodus not identical to the frontier exodus but perhaps superior to it.

6. Sergio Bologna, in his article “Class Composition and the Theory of the Party at the Origins of the German Workers’ Council Movement,” writes:

“Although it was based on an old class nucleus, the Western Federation of Miners, the merit of the IWW was that it attempted to organise the American proletariat in terms of its intrinsic characteristics. It was primarily an immigrant proletariat, and therefore a mixture of ethnic groups which could only be organised in a certain way. Secondly, it was a mobile proletariat, a fact which very much militated against identification with any particular job or skill, and which also militated against workers developing ties to individual factories (even if only to take them over). The IWW made the notion of the social factory a concrete reality, and it built on the extraordinary level of communication and coordination possible within the struggles of a mobile workforce. The IWW succeeded in creating an absolutely original type of agitator: not the mole digging for decades within the single factory or proletarian neighbourhood, but the type of agitator who swims within the stream of proletarian struggles, who moves from one end to the other of the enormous American continent and who rides the seismic wave of the struggle, overcoming national boundaries and sailing the oceans before organising conventions to found sister organisations.

(…)

In addition to the refusal to bargain, what is most striking in the IWW’s experience is the rejection of any institutionalisation of the conflict, the refusal to sign contracts so as to periodicise the struggle, and the refusal to consider the struggle as a factory affair seeking primarily to develop the struggles possibilities of social communication. What it resulted in was an organisation which, similar to the Italian Camere del Lavoro, was based on territorial principles. Yet all this is fundamentally similar to European struggles and the workers’ councils approach. This common principle is in fact that the struggle and the organisation find their base by overturning the material condition in which capital places the proletariat: in Europe by overturning workers’ aristocracies into political vanguards, and in the USA by overturning mobility into a vector of workers’ organisation.

(…)

What was missing in the IWW is precisely the conception of the revolution as an act of management of power: the substitution of a state machine by another one. In other words, it is the dictatorship of the proletariat and of the proletarian party over society.”

This suggests two interpretations drawing from Virno. Either the multitude is the class composition based on mobility, or the multitude is the refusal of institutionalization, such that the European councils were also multitude. Neither the latter nor the former necessarily means that the councils were a figure of the people, nor does the latter mean in any flattening sense that the early US experiences and the councils were in any way identical.

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