Posts Tagged ‘Communes’

The Rise and Fall of Modern Architecture, Environmentalism and a Humane Planned Environment

July 14, 2019

Last Futures: Nature, Technology and the End of Architecture, by Douglas Murphy (London: Verso 2016).

This is one of the books I’ve been reading recently, and it’s fascinating. It’s about the rise and fall of Modern architecture, those grey, concrete, Brutalist eyesores that were built from the 1950s onwards. This book shows how they were seen at the time as the architecture of the future, widely praised and admired until opposition against this type of architecture came to head in the 1970s.

Megastructures’ Design and Ideology in the Age of Space Travel and the Car

Murphy shows that this type of architecture drew its inspiration from space travel, as well as underwater exploration. It was optimistic, and came from a time when it was believed that the bureaucratic state could plan and build better communities. In Britain part of its stimulus came from the massive congestion in British towns caused by the growth in motor traffic. With the number of motor vehicle accidents rising, The British government published a report recommending the clearance of the older areas of towns. Pedestrians and motor vehicles were to be kept separate. There were to be submerged roads and motorways, while pedestrians were given raised walkways and under- and overpasses. At the same time, the post-war housing crisis was to be solved. Homes were to be made as cheaply as possible, using the methods of industrial production. Concrete panels and other items were to be prefabricated in factories, and then assembled on site by smaller crews of workers than traditionally used in house-building. The masses were to be housed in new estates, or projects in America, and most notoriously in tower blocks. Architects also drew their inspiration from the American architect and guru, Buckminster Fuller and his massive geodesic domes. A series of world expos from the 1930s onwards across the world portrayed megastructures as the architecture of a brilliant future of space colonisation. Giant metal frames were to be built above the cities themselves. As it was believed that society was going to be more mobile, ‘plug-in’ cities were designed. In Archigram’s design of that name, cranes would move along these frames, building and tearing down new structures as and when they were needed. This idea reached its culmination in architectural designs in which the space-frame was all there was, the interior occupied by nomadic hippies. In Britain, the architect Cedric Price to the logic of structures that could be easily altered and rearranged to logical extreme. His design for a new university campus, the Potteries Thinkbelt, was based in a railway yard, so that trains could haul around the various structural elements and place them in new configurations as required.

The architecture for these projects threatened to be monotonous, so architects attempted to provide for this. The Habitat 67 building designed by the Israeli-Canadian architects, Moshe Safdie, was modular. Each element was a self-contained box. However, these could be added and arranged in a number of different ways to create flats of different dimension, in an overall block of great complexity. A Dutch architect believed that the solution was for the state to provide the frame work for a housing block, with the residents building their own homes to their tastes. Another British architect, designing a housing block in one of the northern cities, tried to solve this by opening an office in the city, where people could drop in and give him their ideas, criticisms and suggestions. The result was a long, concrete block of housing, which nevertheless had some variety. At points there were different designs in the concrete, and woods of different colours were also used in some places.

Geodesic Domes and Space Age Megacities

There were also plans to use geodesic domes to allow the construction of massive cities in places like the arctic. One plan for a town in the Canadian north had it lying under an inflatable dome to protect it from the harsh environment. The town would be located near a harbour, to provide easy communications with the rest of Canada. It would be heated using the water used to cool the nuclear reactor, that would provide it with its power. People would enter and leave it through airlocks, and to cope with the sixth-month long darkness of the arctic winter, a powerful lamp would be mounted on tracks above the dome to provide an artificial sun, and thus simulate daylight in temperate regions. And to cope with the white nights of the arctic summer, the glass panels in the dome would darken to simulate evening and night in temperate climes. The French submarine explorer and broadcaster, Jacques Cousteau, was involved in a plan to build a floating city off Monte Carlo. Buckminster Fuller himself had plans to enclose Manhattan under a massive dome. There were plans for pyramid cities the size of mountains, along with the arcologies of Paul Soleri. These were also mountain-sized, but resembled termite mounds.

Modernism and the Green Movement

The architects of these cities were also deeply influenced by the nascent green movement, and the publication of Rachel Carson’s classic Silent Spring and the Club of Rome’s Limits to Growth. This predicts the fall of civilisation some time before 2100, due to population exceeding food production, environmental degradation and resource depletion. These environmental concerns were taken up by the hippies, many of whom deliberately chose the dome as the architecture of their communes. They wanted a technological future in which humanity lived in harmony with nature. The communalist movement in the US produced the massive influential Whole Earth Catalogue, which spread its ideals and methods to a wider audience.

Decline and Abandonment

But this modernist vision fell out of favour in the 1970s through a number of factors. The commune movement collapsed, and its members drifted off to join the mainstream, where many became the founders of the IT revolution. The social changes that the megastructures were intended to provide for didn’t occur. There were a series of scandals following disasters at some of these structures, such as the fire at the Summerland holiday resort in the Isle of Man, which killed fifty people. Much of this new housing was shoddily built, using dangerous and substandard materials. In some instances there was corruption between the builders and local politicians. They were also blamed for increased social problems, like crime. At the same time, grass roots activists protested against the destruction of already living, working class communities in the name of progress. There was also widespread scepticism at the ability of the bureaucratic state to plan successful new cities and estates. And for a moment it seemed that the collapse of civilisation predicted by the Club of Rome wasn’t going to happen after the passing of the energy crisis and the oil boom of the 1980s. At the same time, much of the antipathy towards concrete housing blocks in the West was simple Conservative anti-Communism because they resembled those of eastern Europe, where the same views and techniques had been adopted.

These result was that Modernist architecture fell out of favour. Many of the housing estates, tower blocks, town centres and university campuses built in it were demolished or else heavily modified. In its place emerged post-modernism, which consciously drew on the architecture of past age and was itself largely a return to the French style of architecture that existed from the late 19th century to the First World War. This had been abandoned by some progressive and socialist architects because they felt that it had expressed and embodied the capitalist values that had produced that War. Thatcher and the Tories enthusiastically supported this attack on architectural Modernism, and the emphasis that was placed instead on the home represented the return of the Conservative values of family and heritable property.

The only remnants of Modern architecture are now the High-Tech buildings of the modern corporate style, as well as shopping malls, airports, and university campuses, while the environmental domes intended to preserve nature, which are ultimate descended from the Stuttgart Winter Garden, built in 1789, and the Crystal Palace, have survived in the notorious Biosphere experiments in the 1990s, which collapsed due to internal wrangling among other things.

Biodomes and the Corporate Elite

While Murphy is scathing about some of the projects he discusses – he rails against the domed arctic city as trite and resembling something out of 2nd-rate Science Fiction novels – he warns that the problems this style of architecture was designed to solve has not gone away. Although widely criticised, some of the predictions in Limits to Growth are accurate and by rejecting Modernist architecture we may be closing off important solutions to some of these problems. The environmental dome has returned in plans by the new tech companies for their HQs, but they are shorn of the underlying radical ideology. And as the unemployment caused by automation rises and the environment continues to deteriorate, biodomes will only be built for the corporate rich. They will retreat to fortress cities, leaving the rest of us to fend for ourselves.

Conclusion: Modernist Planning Still a Valid Approach in Age of Mass Unemployment and Environmental Crisis.

It’s a fascinating book showing the links between architecture, politics, environmentalism and the counterculture. While it acknowledges the defects of this style of architecture, the book also shows clearly how it was rooted in an optimistic view of human progress and the ability of the bureaucratic state to provide suitable housing and institutional buildings to serve its citizens’ needs. And it does a very good job at attacking the Tories’ abandonment of such schemes in the name of the free market. Much of the architecture of this style is, in my opinion, still monumentally ugly, but some of it sounds awesome. Like the domed city of the arctic north. It is a space-age city, and one that could be easily built on the Moon or elsewhere. For all the author’s denunciations of it, I found its design highly inspiring. And I believe him to be right about the intentions of the global elite to hide in their private fortified cities if and when the policies they have demanded and implemented cause the environment and civilisation to collapse.

This is a warning we cannot afford to ignore. We need to get the corporatists and neo-liberals out, and proper Green governments in!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Fabian Pamphlet on Workers’ Control in Yugoslavia: Part 1

November 7, 2017

I’ve put up several pieces about workers’ control and industrial democracy, the system in which the workers in a particular firm or industry have their representatives elected on to the board of management. It was particularly highly developed in Communist Yugoslavia, following the ideas of Milovan Djilas and Edvard Kardelj, and formed an integral part of that country’s independent Communist system following the break with Stalin and the Soviet-dominated Comintern in 1948.

In 1963 the Fabian Society published the above pamphlet by Frederick Singleton, a lecturer on Geography and International Affairs in the Department of Industrial Administration at the Bradford Institute of Technology, and Anthony Topham, a staff tutor in Social Studies in the Adult Education department of Hull University.

The pamphlet had the following contents.

Chapter 1 was on Political Structure, and contained sections on the Communist Assumption of Power, the 1946 Constitution, the 1953 Constitution, and the Policy of the League of Communists.

Chapter 2: Economic Planning, had sections on the Legacy of the Past, From Administration to Fiscal Planning, Autonomy for the Enterprise, the Investment System, and Recent Developments.

Chapter: The Working Collective, has sections on the Workers’ Council, the Managing Board, the Director, Departmental Councils, Economic Units, the Disposal of Funds by Economic Units, Allocation of Personal Income, Structure and Role of the Trade Unions, the Right to Strike, Education for Workers’ Self-Management, Workers’ Universities, Worker’s Management in Action: Decision Making, Structure of a Multi-Plant Enterprise, and Incentives or Democracy: the Problem of Motive.

The final chapter, was the Conclusion, which considered the lessons the system had for Britain. It ran:

In considering the lessons which British socialists may draw from the Yugoslav experience, we must not lose sight of the different nature of our two societies and the disparity in levels of industrial development. But it is also relevant to ask how far the ideas of workers’ control could, with the stimulus of the Yugoslav experience, become a truly popular element of British Labour policy. It is true that, with the Yugoslav exception, past experience of this form of Socialism has been inconclusive and fragmentary. Usually, it has been associated with periods of revolutionary fervour such as the Paris Commune of 1871, the Catalan movement during the Spanish Civil War, and the factory Soviets of Russia in 1917-18. The experience of Owenite Utopian communities in this and other countries is misleading, in that they existed as small and vulnerable enclaves in a basically hostile society. On the other hand, there is an authentic tradition within the British Labour movement, represented by the early shop stewards’ movement, the Guild Socialists and Industrial Unionists, upon which we can draw. The Fabian tradition too, is not exclusively centralist or bureaucratic. In the 1888 volume of Fabian essays, Annie Besant raised the question of decentralisation. She did not believe that ‘the direct election of the manager and foreman by the employees would be found to work well’, but she advocated control of industry ‘through communal councils, which will appoint committees to superintend the various branches of industry. These committees will engage the necessary managers and foremen for each shop and factory.’ The importance attached to municipal ownership and control in early Fabian writings is related to the idea of the Commune, in the government of which the workers have a dual representation as consumer-citizens and as producers. This affinity to Yugoslav Commune government is even more marked in the constitutions evolved in Guild Socialist writings.

The history of the progressive abandonment of these aims, and the adoption of the non-representative Public Corporation as the standard form for British Socialised undertakings, is well known. Joint consultation, which was made compulsory in all nationalised industries, became the only instrument of workers’ participation. Yet the problem of democracy in industry is one which should be of great concern to the British socialist. It must surely be apparent that the nationalised industries have failed to create amongst the mass of their workers a feeling of personal and group responsibility. Even in the most ‘trouble-free’ gas and electricity industries, there is little real enthusiasm for the present system of worker-management relations. Nationalisation may have appeared to the Labour government to have solved the problems of the industries concerned. But the experience of the workers in these industries has not confirmed this. They found that joint consultation between managers and unions leaders plus vaguely defined parliamentary control did not create anything resembling industrial democracy. Had it done so, there would have been much stronger popular resistance to the anti-nationalisation propaganda which was so successful in the years preceding the 1959 election.

We therefore feel that the basic aim of the Yugoslavs is one which has validity for our own situation, and we conclude with some observations on the British situation suggested by an acquaintance with the Yugoslav system.

The Problem of Scale

The forms of economic organisation and management which have been evolved by the Yugoslavs are unique, and a study of them provides a valuable stimulus to those who seek ‘a real understanding of a scheme of workers’ control that is sufficiently comprehensive to operate over an entire industry, from top to bottom, and through the whole range of activities’. However, as the scale of production grows, the problem of ensuring that democratic control extends beyond primary groups such as Economic Units through the intermediate levels to the central management of the firm and the industry, becomes more and more difficult. There is a strong body of opinion which believes that schemes of workers’ control must ultimately founder in the context of modern large-scale production. The small, multi-firm industries of the Yugoslav economy make democratic control less difficult than in a highly developed industrial society such as our own.

But questions, which should be asked in relation to our own economy are: how far could the nationalised industries be broken down into the smaller, competing units, without serious loss of efficiency? How far is the growth in the average size of firm (as opposed to scale of production units) the outcome of purely commercial and power considerations, rather than concern for increased efficiency through economies of scale? How far have we been misled by the mystique of managerial skill into accepting the necessity of autocratic control by the managers in both private and public industries? After all, the principle of lay control over salaried experts is the normal and accepted principle in national and local government, and within the Co-operative movement. The decisions in these fields are no less complex and ‘technical’ than in industry. Where lay control in local Councils and Co-operative Management Boards is more apparent than real, how far is this due to the prevailing faith in technology, which makes us reluctant to transform the contribution of the elected representatives by a thorough and enthusiastic education programme of the kind found in the Yugoslav Workers’ Universities?

In the conditions of modern industry, decisions taken by line managers and directors are frequently a matter of choosing between alternative course the consequences of which have been calculated by technical staffs. Such decisions are of a social and political, rather than a technical nature, i.e. they are precisely the sort of decisions which should be undertaken by democratic bodies. These factors should be borne in mind when examining the conclusions of some writers that, whilst the Yugoslav experience is interesting, and may have relevance for countries at a similar stage of industrialisation, it has little bearing on the problems of advanced industries societies.

Continued in Part 2.

Gove and 19th Century British Education Provision

March 29, 2014

The Conservative Party Annual Conference

Michael Gove contemplating the government’s destruction of British state education

Unreasoning nostalgia is a British disease,

– Jon Downes and the Amphibians from Outer Space

Earlier this week the NUT staged a one-day strike against the government’s reforms of British schools. As with the rest of Conservative policy, this essentially consists in preparing the system for further privatisation and lowering wages and conditions. They also have their sights set on lowering standards as well. Taking their cue from the assumption of ignorant bar-room bores everywhere, the Tories have the attitude that just about anyone, or almost anyone, can teach without actually needing to be taught how. They are therefore trying to pass legislation to allow graduates to teach in schools without needing to have a teaching qualification first.

I did my first degree at a teacher-training college that also took ordinary degree students. The trainee teachers I knew were conscientious and worked extremely hard, both academically on their specialist subjects, and in the class-room during teaching practice. Often they were put in front of classes that could be difficult, stopping fights between pupils and sometimes with the threat of violence from parents. While there’s a lot of debate just how much of the theory of teaching and child development is relevant – the theories of Piaget have been extensively critiqued and rejected – it is nevertheless not an easy profession by any means. Teachers certainly need good training in how to teach, as well as what. All this will be undermined by Gove’s reforms.

Modern Conservatism is based on the view that laissez-faire, private industry is always best, and so looks back with nostalgia on the 19th century, when Britain dominated the world, we had an empire and industry was expanding. It was also an age of poverty, hunger, disease and overcrowding. And rather than being great, Britain in this respect had one of the worst education systems in western Europe.

France

In France, plans had been drawn up for a national system of primary, secondary and university education as long ago as 1806 under Napoleon. In practice, the regime got only as far as founding the lycees, the boarding schools for the elite. Under the education act of !833 drawn up by the French minister, Guizot, an impressive system of primary education was established. All communes were required to set up schools, which would provide education for local boys free of charge. The communes that could not afford to do so were to be given funding from their department, or, failing, that an annual grant from the Ministry of Public Instruction. As a result, in the thirteen years from 1834 to 1847 the number of primary schools in La Patrie increased from 33,695 to 43,514. By 1849 there were 3 1/2 million children attending primary school. Girl’s schools received much less funding, but nevertheless a law 1836 extended the 1933 Act to provide for schools for girls.

The French educational system was further reformed in 1863 under Napoleon’s minister for public instruction, Victor Duruy. Duruy was the Republican son of a worker in the Gobelins tapestry factory. He proposed to Napoleon III a system for the effective abolition of illiteracy, funding increases for secondary education, and increases in teachers’ salaries. Primary education was made compulsory, and a broader curriculum introduced for secondary schools. In 1866 nearly 66,000 pupils attended secondary school. The state also spent large sums on teachers’ salaries and in establishing good school libraries. In Matthew Arnold’s words, the French education system after Guizot had

given to the lower classes, to the body of the common people, a self-respect, an enlargement of spirit, a consciousness of counting for something in their country’s action, which has raised them in the scale of humanity.

Germany

Prussia had a ministry of public instruction and a system of local school boards from 1817 onwards. By the mid-19th century throughout all the German states primary education was compulsory. In Saxony, Wurttemberg, Bavaria, Baden and Prussia after 1857 parents had to send their children to the local state school. The age when children started school varied from state to state from five to eight years. In some parts of Germany school attendance was compulsory for a further eight years, so that the school leaving age was the same a century later. Unfortunately, education suffered through the use of child labour and widespread poverty, which took children out of the class room.

By 1837 Prussia already had a system of 50 gymnasia, set up to teach the children of the elite from 16 to 19. The curriculum was broader than that in France, and included philosophy, history, geography, arithmetic and geometry, as well as drawing and playing a musical instrument.

Austria

Under the liberal prime minister Auersperg in 1869 education became compulsory for all children from six to fourteen years of age. It has been seen by Harry Hearder, in his Europe in the 19th Century, 1830-1880, as more advanced than the British educational system introduced a year later. (p. 386). The parts of Italy under Austrian rule also benefited from this increase in education. In 1856 Lombardy possessed 4, 427 primary schools.

Switzerland and the Netherlands

The best schools in Europe were those in Switzerland and the Netherlands. Primary education had been made compulsory in most Swiss cantons in the 1830s, and Matthew Arnold considered Swiss schools superior to the French, with the schools in Aargau the very best in Europe.

In the Netherlands a system of state supervision of education had been established in 1806. Dutch schools were hygienic, with well-trained teachers, industrious and happy children, complete religious toleration and no corporal punishment.

Britain

There were a number of schools giving some form of education. These included the Dame Schools, in which an old woman kept a class of children quiet while their parents worked and the charity and Sunday schools. These were essentially religious in nature, and although there were 1 1/2 million pupils in Sunday schools in the 1830s, their pupils were not taught to write or do sums. There result was that there were high rates of illiteracy. By 1851 the literacy rate for men was about 69.3 per cent, and for women 51 per cent.

Under Dr James Kay-Shuttleworth in 1840 schools receiving state grants were obliged to adhere to certain standards, and in 1856 the Department of Education was set up. Nevertheless, a national system of education did not exist until the education act of 1870.

The children of the upper classes attended the grammar and public schools. There was, however, no national system of universal secondary education until 1880, or really, before the 20th century.

University Attendance in England, France, Germany and German Austria

The English universities were intended to produce a small, educated elite, unlike those in France, Italy, German Austria and Germany, which aimed at producing a larger cultured or professional class. As a result, in the 19th century far fewer people in England had the benefit of a university education. In France 1 in 1,900 citizens attended uni. In Italy, this was 1 in 2,200. In Germany and German-speaking Austria, it was 1 in 2,600. In Britain less than half as many had a university education one in 5,800 men.

British Education Dominated by Conservative Aristocratic Bias

Hearder therefore says of the British education system that it suffered from a narrowly aristocratic attitude. If the English upper class was as well educated as that of any other in Europe, the rest of the population remained wretchedly ignorant and neglected. (p. 388).

This attitude still persists in contemporary Tory attitude to education. Cameron, Osborne and Clegg are Toffs, who seem intent on pricing higher education out of the grasp of the lower middle and working classes with their raising of tuition fees. The educational reforms seem designed to wreck state education, leaving it purely run for the profit of private companies and unable to compete with the private schools. This seems partly intended to allow the wealthy to continue to the enjoy their educational and social privileges without having to worry about competition from the poorer children of the state sector.

And supporting this assault on state education is the popular belief, at least amongst some of the electorate, that this must raise standards because private is automatically better, as demonstrated by British imperial and industrial greatness during the 19th century. Britain, however, does not compare well in the sphere of mass education during the 19th century. The state systems of many nations, especially France, appear far better. If we genuinely care about giving a good education to our children, we should be looking to them, not back to a mythical age of imperial glory that promotes an attitude of indifference or active hostility to genuine, popular, state education.