A brief history of rank and file movements

McIlroy, John (2016) A brief history of rank and file movements. Critique: Journal of Socialist Theory, 44 (1-2). pp. 31-65. ISSN 0301-7605

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Abstract

Contemporary Marxists justify their continuing advocacy of independent rank and file movements in trade unions by over-optimistic readings of history. The past, it is commonly concluded, reveals a prefigurative model which suitably finessed can serve as the basis for future endeavour. Historical excavation raises doubts about this approach and discloses that the concept of a revolutionary rank and file movement, and how it should operate in practice, are problematic. The rationale for these movements rests on the unverified assertion of a fundamental structural antagonism between the trade union bureaucracy and an artificially homogenized membership. There were significant differences between the philosophy, politics and organisation of the Shop Stewards’ Movement of the Great War, the National Minority Movement of the 1920s and subsequent rank and file initiatives from the 1930s to the 1970s. Taken together, they do not constitute a unified composite, still less a blueprint for any future movement. Each was flawed, particularly by adaptation to trade unionism and Russian policy. All were less successful than is sometimes assumed. Members’ dissatisfaction and periodic rebellion were recurring features of British trade unionism. However, support for rank and file movements was sporadic, uneven and temporary. Sustained organisation was typically motivated, moulded and controlled by the Communist Party. Its hegemony was far from benign and remained at some distance from Marxist ideas of revolutionary practice. The lessons are often negative. Any future project will require rupture with the past rather than its renewal.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: Published online: 31 May 2016
Research Areas: A. > Business School > Leadership, Work and Organisations > Employment Relations group
Item ID: 20157
Notes on copyright: This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Critique: Journal of Socialist Theory on 31/05/2016, available online: http://www.tandfonline.com/10.1080/03017605.2016.1173823
Depositing User: John Mcilroy
Date Deposited: 07 Jul 2016 17:07
Last Modified: 13 Sep 2018 14:12
URI: http://eprints.mdx.ac.uk/id/eprint/20157

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