Marxism and the trade unions: the bureaucracy versus the rank and file debate revisited

McIlroy, John (2014) Marxism and the trade unions: the bureaucracy versus the rank and file debate revisited. Critique: Journal of Socialist Theory, 42 (4) . pp. 497-526. ISSN 0301-7605 [Article] (doi:10.1080/03017605.2014.984493)


The conviction that trade unionism is characterised by an embedded conflict of interest between a conservative, privileged bureaucracy and a militant, radical rank and file has a long history. This article explores its provenance in classical Marxism and reviews contemporary debates. It argues that the dichotomy depends on an idealised, crudely
defined conception of the rank and file that downplays economism and trade union consciousness, reads the insurgency of crisis situations into periods of normality,
misunderstands the imbrication of leaders’ personal interests with organisational interests and exaggerates their monopoly of bureaucracy and powers of persuasion. Bureaucracy is inherent in trade unionism under capitalism. It pervades practice differentially but is not
the exclusive property of a leading stratum. In any critical Marxism, trade unionism, its reformist practice and the economistic consciousness it generates, constitutes the primary barrier to progress, although its leading functionaries remain a subordinate problem.

Item Type: Article
Research Areas: A. > Business School
A. > Centre for Education Research and Scholarship (CERS)
Item ID: 14249
Useful Links:
Depositing User: John Mcilroy
Date Deposited: 27 Jan 2015 16:13
Last Modified: 13 Oct 2016 14:32

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