Introduction to L’ouvrier américain (1949)

Social­isme ou Bar­barie no. 1 (1949).


The Amer­i­can Work­er by Paul Romano
Trans­lat­ed from the Amer­i­can

We present here an unprece­dent­ed doc­u­ment of great val­ue about the lives of Amer­i­can work­ers. This appraisal stems not only from the fact that it defin­i­tive­ly puts paid to both the absurd claim that Amer­i­can work­ers don’t have class con­scious­ness, and the myth of the com­fort and lux­u­ry of the Amer­i­can pro­le­tari­at. This would already be amply suf­fi­cient rea­son to make a point of pub­lish­ing the doc­u­ment by the work­er and mil­i­tant rev­o­lu­tion­ary Romano. It is indis­pens­able that a cred­i­ble voice is raised to destroy the barefaced pro­pa­gan­da of Hol­ly­wood firms which show us work­ers in bath­rooms, or those of Reader’s Digest which depict at every oppor­tu­ni­ty the ben­e­fits of class col­lab­o­ra­tion.

The mer­its of this small pam­phlet are much more pro­found. Every work­er, regard­less of “his nation­al­i­ty” of exploita­tion, will find in it the image of his own exis­tence as a pro­le­tar­i­an. There are, in fact, deep and con­sis­tent char­ac­ter­is­tics of pro­le­tar­i­an expe­ri­ence that know nei­ther fron­tiers nor regimes. Fur­ther­more every work­er, and this is pre­cise­ly because it’s the reflec­tion of the exploita­tion “with­out for­mal­i­ties” [sans phrase] that is giv­en to us, will be filled with a bound­less con­fi­dence in the his­toric des­tiny [des­tinées his­toriques] of his class, because he will see there, like the author, that even at the moment when the work­er is in the deep­est despair, when his sit­u­a­tion appears to him to be insol­u­ble, his own “every­day reac­tions and expres­sions” reveal that he is on “the road to a far-reach­ing change…”

The trans­la­tor of this small pam­phlet him­self has worked sev­er­al years in the fac­to­ry. We was struck by the accu­ra­cy and the impor­tant impli­ca­tions of every line. It is impos­si­ble for a work­er to remain indif­fer­ent to this read­ing. It is even more impos­si­ble to trans­late such a text in an indif­fer­ent, or even rou­tine, man­ner. At sev­er­al junc­tures, it was nec­es­sary to take a con­sid­er­able dis­tance from the let­ter of the Eng­lish text to pro­vide a real­ly faith­ful trans­la­tion. Some Amer­i­can pop­u­lar expres­sions have an exact cor­re­spon­dence in French, but embed­ded in dif­fer­ent imagery. Even in his descrip­tive style, Romano uses a pro­le­tar­i­an optic. It was nec­es­sary to find a cor­re­spond­ing style in French, even if it meant stray­ing from the text. Admit­ted­ly, this trans­la­tion is not ele­gant, but it is the most faith­ful we could have giv­en.

Even more in trans­lat­ing than read­ing one is struck by the con­crete uni­ver­sal­i­ty of the pro­le­tar­i­an con­di­tion, and we hope to have respect­ed this expres­sion.

In our eyes, it is not by acci­dent that such a sam­ple of pro­le­tar­i­an doc­u­men­tary lit­er­a­ture comes to us from Amer­i­ca, and it is also not by acci­dent that it is, in some of its deep­est aspects, the first of the genre. One can be cer­tain that the name Romano will stay in the his­to­ry of pro­le­tar­i­an lit­er­a­ture, and that it will even sig­ni­fy a turn­ing point in that his­to­ry. The most indus­tri­al­ized coun­try in the world, with the most con­cen­trat­ed pro­le­tari­at, should give rise to new and orig­i­nal tal­ent. That is a sign of the vig­or and the depth of Amer­i­can work­ers’ move­ment.

—Trans­lat­ed by Asad Haider and Salar Mohan­desi

Author of the article

was a member of Socialisme ou Barbarie.