September 27, 2008
A Return to Hoffer: The Ordeal of Change

I’ve previously written about my favorite Eric Hoffer book, True Believer. I started on a couple of his other books and didn't find the introductory chapters as interesting as True Believer so I abandoned them, although I still have them sitting around here. And I thumbed through Hoffer’s The Ordeal of Change today and came across a rather interesting quote. One must remember that the book was written in 1952, but I find the quote particularly striking because Hoffer was describing life in the Soviet Union and I immediately recognized many of the descriptions of life in Soviet Russia as analogous to life in today’s America. Anyone else see the same parallels that I do? Does the analogy fit, or am I sticking my neck out too far out on a limb? Hopefully someone will let me know if I’m losing my marbles or if America has lost hers. The quote appears on page 66 of the paperback Perennial Library edition of the book, published in 1967.

We want management to manage the best it can and the workers to protect their interests the best they can. No social order will seem to us free if it makes if difficult for the workers to maintain a considerable degree of independence from management.

The things which bolster this independence are not utopian. Effective labor unions, free movement over a relatively large area, a savings account, a tradition of individual self respect — these are some of them. They are within the worker’s reach in this country and most of the free world, but are either absent or greatly weakened in totalitarian states.

In the present Communist regimes unions are tools of management, worker mobility is discouraged by every means, savings are periodically wiped out by changes in the currency, and individual self-respect is extirpated by the fearful technique of Terror. Thus it seems that the worker’s independence is as good an index as any for the measurement of the freedom of a society.


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Posted by Buck Batard at September 27, 2008 09:27 PM
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under soviet communism, the state is more important than the worker. under american capitalism, the business is more important than the worker.

what is the state of workers in the current russia? do they have more unions, better unions?

i would be interested in a post on that subject, even a brief one would be of help in orienting myself. or maybe, even better, a comparative overview of the situation in the US, russia, europe, south america, the middle east, asia.

it's easy to think the way "we" do things is the best when we have not a clue how other people organize themselves.

you guys do a bang-up job explaining things for those of us who don't have the constitution to survive the required reading. and i thank you.

Posted by: karen marie on September 28, 2008 11:44 AM

Thank you for the compliment. I don't have the expertise to comment on modern life in Soviet Russia or elsewhere or what the state of union membership is in other countries. Perhaps some of the other writers here or one of our readers can enlighten us.

I would note that Hoffer was commenting on life in Soviet Russia in 1952 at the height of the cold war and thus on life under the rule of Stalin, who was still alive at that time.

Hoffer was then a longshoreman and thus a member of a strong union. Union membership in the US has been declining steadily for years. Primarily because our Republican dominated government and our corporations have worked together to try to dismember our unions for many years.

Hoffer was a writer whose works were highly recommended by President Dwight Eisenhower, a Republican who presided over a strong economy and 90% tax rates for the highest income Americans. If Eisenhower ever complained about those tax rates, I'm not aware of it. Those rates funded our interstate highway system as well as our build up of nuclear weapons. Good things came of that taxation as well as bad things.

In my opinion, we need to return to tax rates that are much higher for the wealthiest Americans to build up America's infrastructure and to improve the lot of working people in this country. Because we are living in a nation whose infrastructure is crumbling. Right now, where I live I've noticed that there are repairs being done to our highway system that are probably related to the bridge collapse in Minnesota. Many of our bridges need to be replaced and not just patched up. And we need to put our people back to work to create an infrastructure so that the nation can prosper into the 21st century. Our bloated military needs to be downsized as well. The money to do all this has to come from somewhere - those who have been given the most in this, presently the richest nation on earth, must be asked to contribute the most so that the nation can thrive as well in this century as well as it did in the last one.

Posted by: Buck on September 28, 2008 7:09 PM

@ Karen Marie

In most of Western Europe the Unions are quite powerful.

As a translator (in Germany) I'm a union member, and in any kind of professional lawsuit the union-lawyer will represent me.

Since I'm translating literature I'm also considered an artist and the state pays half of my health incurance and social security scheme.

Us translators can't go on strike, though, because we are also self-employed. Still, the union is negotiating wage settlements for us, represented by elected members of our own professional association *within* the union. A little complicated, but not bad at all.

Any kind of political strike is ruled out in Germany, but that's unique in Western Europe.

Posted by: Peter on September 29, 2008 9:21 AM
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