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Zellig Harris and The People

A small, little-known group, "The People," also benefited from Harris's involvement. My knowledge of it comes solely from a single, unpublished, typed document ­ a kind of manifesto ­ sent to me by Norman Epstein. Harris may well be its author. The People, according to the first paragraph of the document,

are in various measures disturbed by the suffering, inefficiency, dishonesty, in equality, lack of freedom, bourgeois and automaton character structures, etc., which occur in this culture; feel limited and insecure in the carrying out of their own work and career lines; believe that if anything can be done to improve things . . . [it] is determinable only by careful empirical observation and scientific analysis. [Some would] be prepared to change their present occupations, e.g. to enter workers' occupations.
Group members (despite one or two exceptions) did not "intend to use their political interests in advancing their careers"; they vowed to "work cooperatively, without officers or orders"; and they often functioned in groups. Authors of their reports and publications were "rarely named." They "assume[d] nothing as being true ex cathedra, no person as repository of authority or truth." In the domain of economic and historical analysis, they claimed, "Marx fits the facts and is useful for prediction." The elements of this society that the group considered unsatisfactory would continue to exist "as long as there is a controlling class, wages and profits, and a lack of complete freedom in the utilization of the means of production." The People did not believe that reform is possible within the framework of the capitalist society, or that any bureaucratic structure, any attempt to manage or lead the people, "will in the long run aid in the development in the desired direction."

The document makes reference to historical-materialist works such as those of Erich Fromm (of the Frankfurt School) and Arthur Rosenberg, as well as works of American cultural anthropology, modern natural sciences, and mathematical logic. All of this points to a vital connection between Harris and The People, since Harris also combined his interest in Rosenberg's anti-Bolshevik Marxism with a commitment to Fromm's psychoanalytic-Marxist work.

The People had no dogma, Marxist or otherwise, and members pulled together as a "way of resisting the present social order, of helping spread the resistance to it." They did not consider themselves working-class leaders, although they did agree that revolution or "collapse" were the only means of ending present power relations. Finally, their route to social change lay in the

compiling of such information about the economy and culture and the control methods and development of the ruling class, and about the change of technology, social relations, working-class attitudes, etc., as would be useful to the political understanding and action of an increasingly restive working-class; the reduction of the methods of science to a form that will be graspable and usable by workers in the understanding and control of their social and natural environment; the development of the theory and prediction of social change; and the dissemination and elaboration of scientifically valid social-political discussion among those who may be expected to act, in terms of their position and times, in the direction of a free, egalitarian, classless society.

The tenets and values upheld by Chomsky in his work relate strongly to those set forth here either by Harris or his close associates in The People. Chomsky resists the suggestion that he was influenced by Frankfurt School members such as Adorno, Fromm, Horkheimer, Lowenthal, or Marcuse. But the importance of such figures to Zellig Harris, and by extension to groups such as Avukah, the Council for Arab-Jewish Cooperation, or The People, does imply that the Frankfurt School had an at least indirect effect on Chomsky's development.


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