People Power

Protest and Social Movements in the Twentieth century



1. The Labour Movement



Part 3. Further (theoretical) issues:


3.1 Workers’ radical consciousness:

3.2 Choices of strategy: alliances, the state etc.

3.3 the labour movement and radical politics: who best represents the workers’ interests? Marxism and Socialism.

3.4 “the 57 varieties of Marxism.”

3.5 Theoretical issues concerning the labour movement as a “social movement”.

3.5.1 It is open to discussion as to whether the labour movement is a typical social movement or not.

3.5.2 The end of the workers’ movement in theory.

3.5.3. The labour movement and social class

3.5.4 Ideological viewpoints and theories concerning social movements

3.5.5  “Old” and” new” social movements:





3.1 Workers’ radical consciousness:


The point about choice of beliefs raises a number of interesting questions, a key one being: how do workers’ develop revolutionary consciousness?


(a)  I have already touched on the question, raised as a result of Marxist formulations, as to whether the distinction between economic (i.e. reformist) and political (reformist or revolutionary) demands is a watertight one (1.2 above). There are further heated arguments as whether it is true that workers’ consciousness needs to be raised, by the influence of others, from mere protest to demanding revolutionary change, and how exactly this might happen. For Marx, it would seem, once he had demonstrated that capitalism was internally contradictory, it was almost inevitable that workers would come to realise the true situation – though if workers failed to head the call to revolution and socialism they would be left with “barbarism” (incidentally, this was the original name of the group that became Solidarity, of which more shortly!). Marx’s law of the Tendency of the Rate of Profit to Fall (TRPF for short!) meant that capitalism could not survive, but would crash in a final crisis as workers became poorer and capitalists were no longer able to increase their profits. However, not only is the TRPF highly controversial (see my review of Callinicos: Resources of Critique), it has been rejected as deterministic: in other words, it leaves workers as passive cogs in a machine that is driving on to socialism whatever they do. If this is an accurate picture of the way capitalism works, it seems hardly likely to inspire workers to revolution! Add to this the fact that the economic theory behind the TRPF is pretty abstruse and complex – how is that going to inspire a revolutionary movement?


One answer to this dilemma was found by Lenin. He (in the same spirit as Engels, as we have seen above) argued that left to themselves workers would only achieve what he called “trade union consciousness” (see my Postface, with A.A. Raskolnikov, to Andy Brown’s pamphlet on Lenin, published by Solidarity. See: ). Hence the need for a “vanguard”, which the Bolshevik Party, together with radicalised middle-class intellectuals who understood Marxist theory, was to provide. 


I would add that economic determinism seems to be inevitably, logically, accompanied by vanguardism… This is one reason why writers such as Castoriadis ended up rejecting an economistic interpretation of Marxism (and even Marxism itself).


Critics of Leninism (and vanguardism) argue that there is a danger that the vanguard will cease to represent the interests of the workers in order to promote their own interests – thus paving the way for rule by an elite or even an individual dictator acting in the name of the Party. Rosa Luxembourg, for example, warned that the Party would substitute itself for the movement, the Central Committee for the Party, and then one man for the Central Committee (see the Postface cited above). This was a pretty shrewd observation as we now know from the history of Stalinism, and I would go further and say that the roots of Stalinist personal dictatorship could be seen in the early stages of the 1917 revolution (see Notes on the Russian Revolution), when grass-roots workers’ organisations were taken over by the Bolsheviks.


3.2 Choices of strategy: alliances, the state etc.


A central point I am making is that the workers’ movement, and within it the radical strand, was divided over beliefs and strategy.


Anarchists opposed the Leninist emphasis on a vanguard party, and argued that the state (as an instrument through which the ruling class exerted its power) must be abolished. Lenin and his followers believed the state should be captured, by the working class, and that it could then be used to remove any remaining class divisions and to begin to manage a socialist economy.


This dispute can be expressed in other terms as well: it was an opposition between centralisation (which critics argue leads to bureaucracy, and technocracy – rule by experts) and decentralisation. One of the most bitter disputes, especially in Russia, was over the role of workers’ own committees or councils (soviets). In the build up to the Russian Revolution, Lenin argued for “all power to the soviets”, but once the Bolsheviks had achieved dominance the soviets were reduced in practice to rubber-stamping decisions made by the Bolshevik Party. These disagreements are reflected to this day in the trade unions, where shop-floor committees are in conflict with the union hierarchy (full-time paid union officials).


As is predictable in politics, there was also the question of who it would be safe to form alliances with. At times, communists – for example – have argued for a “broad front” strategy, i.e. working with non-revolutionaries or even non-socialists. At other times (e.g. during the Second World War) the non-revolutionary socialists have become the enemy! Gramsci wrote about these issues (see notes on Marxism) and coined the phrase “historic bloc” for alliances that might be necessary to bring about historical change. Later, again especially in the Soviet Union, there were disputes over nationalism or internationalism – for communists argued that the change from capitalism would happen on a world scale; however, once communists had taken over in one country they became anxious to preserve their position and change their own economy without having to wait for other countries to “catch up” by having their own revolutions. Stalin’s slogan “socialism in one country” was necessary to stress this line.


These issues may seem remote from the day-to-day concerns of workers, but once the workers’ movement developed a political outlook (and it is my belief that social movements will not achieve much unless they do this) disputes over such issues became widespread in the movement.


3.3 the labour movement and radical politics: who best represents the workers’ interests? Marxism and Socialism.


As further evidence on this point, here is a brief review of the main radical viewpoints that influenced the workers’ movement. This is not intended to be a thorough account. Please look elsewhere in my notes for more detail on specific views.


Marxism and socialism:


There is a tendency to regard socialism and Marxism (see links given above) as synonymous with the labour movement and the working class, but as we have noted, the demands made by trades unions are not necessarily, nor always, socialist or even radical. As noted, Lenin was to make much of this, criticising the workers for their lack of radical goals, and arguing that workers’ understanding needed to be taken further (by the Bolshevik Party) before they became conscious of the need for socialism, that is for a change of economic system.


On the other hand, the belief that workers are exploited, (because they do not control their work) is clearly more a socialist (or anarchist – see Political Philosophy Part 2: Anarchism) idea than it is a conservative one! (Though it might be worth noting that fascism, and especially Nazism, claimed to hold to the ‘dignity of labour’ and often argued that workers are exploited by (mainly Jewish) capitalists: however, such economic ideas as they do have are not, in my view, opposed to capitalism as such, but to ‘monopolies’ and ‘big business’ – and in favour of the small businessman. There were also ‘big’ capitalists such as Krupps who supported Nazism).

So, it is important to note that there were other political currents amongst workers: for example, anarchism, which stands for the abolition of government, and for control over life to be had by citizens and workers directly. Anarchism is to my mind best understood as originating in the labour movement. In Europe, syndicalism (the view that workers’ organisations can take political control) has had a strong following – witness the developments in Spain during the civil war.


Marxism as a theory has of course played an important part in analysing the labour movement, and as a practice it has been very influential within the movement. My point still stands, however: the labour movement is broad (like all social movements) and Marxism represents only one strand within it. However, this is heresy as far as Marxists are concerned, since their analysis leads them to conclude that only the organised working class, conscious supporters of Marxist theory and practice, can bring about a change of system to a socialist society.


3.4 “the 57 varieties of Marxism.”


Which political tendency best represents the "workers' movement"?  A quick guide to some of the 57 varieties of Socialism/Marxism.


Risking the ire of Marxists further, and on the other hand putting myself in danger of being seen as an “anorak” by non-Marxists, I have compiled a “guide for the perplexed” to the variety of left-wing groups (my thanks to Solidarity – and see my Biographical Background for more on all this!).

It has long been a source of fascination to me how much fragmentation and factionalism exists on the left, and how some groups spend more time arguing with each other than with the opposition!


[(*) The “57 varieties” refers to an old advertisement which referred to the variety of Heinz products (soups, baked beans etc) – Solidarity used to add as a comment on the ideological varieties: “none fit for human consumption!”… ]


This is by no means an exhaustive list, and it probably needs continual updating, but I hope it gives an idea of the main issues and positions taken up.


(a) "The Third International" – the biggest grouping of Marxists, originally followers of Lenin and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The “international” part of this meant that workers from different national parties met together in world-wide conferences, and agreed a common approach to world affairs. However, most of the time this approach corresponded to whatever the Communist Party of the Soviet Union stood for at the time!


The various national Communist Parties (CPs) that adhere to the main grouping are, however, divided still further, as a result of (i) different reactions to Khruschev's revelations in 1953 about Stalin’s abuse of power and his “personality cult” (ii) the belief that communists must adapt their strategy to suit different national, historical or political situations. The main split, originating in the 1950s, was between:

- Eurocommunist parties (e.g. Italian CP) – these parties participate in elections and are non-Stalinist

- Stalinist parties (Albania etc) or "ideological hardliners".


(b) "Revolutionary Marxism" - since many CPs tend to take part in Parliamentary elections etc, Marxists who stress the revolutionary nature of Marxism have set up separate groupings. Substantial theoretical differences obviously exist between these groups and the CPs, e.g. revolutionary Marxists stress the international nature of the movement, against the “national” organisations of the Third International – hence the International Marxist Group, International Socialists etc. But they also have what to them are substantial differences with each other (e.g. in the UK a contentious issue has been over the British role in Ireland; more recently the Iraq invasion has divided opinion on the left…).


Examples of these parties: (UK) Socialist Workers' Party (SWP - originally the International Socialists), Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP – not to be confused with the RCT: Revolutionary Communist Tendency - not sure if these groups still exist though!!), International Marxist Group (IMG) etc.


(c) "Trotskyism" - an early split from the CP/Third International, in fact formed the Fourth International, when Trotsky was exiled from the USSR. Trotsky's analysis of the USSR, that it had undergone an economic revolution but not completed the necessary political revolution, has been influential. Such groups describe(d) the USSR as a "degenerated workers' state" – which meant that it would have to be defended in the event of war with capitalist powers. This is in opposition to the view of the SWP and others, who described the USSR as "state capitalist" i.e. the state has taken the place of the bourgeoisie and is extracting surplus from the workers.


Example: Workers' Revolutionary Party (now defunct, and split into many fragments).


(d) "Maoists" - Mao's main alteration to/development of Marxism was to give a role to the peasantry, in alliance with the CP of course; this has been welcomed by some in less developed countries (strong in Nepal for example). Maoists also have strong differences with traditional CPs over the true nature of Stalinism, which Mao refused to abandon even when Khruschev denounced Stalin and exposed (some of) the mass murders for which he had been responsible. Once again (as with the CPSU after 1917 and especially under Stalin) national interest and pride seem to take precedence over historical truth: the Chinese, it is said, were outraged that Khruschev should give a speech denouncing Stalin without consulting them first! Also there was a long-standing border dispute between the USSR and China at the time – how ironical that the two biggest communist countries both had soldiers on their borders confronting the other!


(e) Western Marxism/philosophical Marxists – seen by some (see Marxism) as a product of the failure of revolutionary Marxism in the "west". In other words, despite the common view after the 1917 Russian Revolution that other countries in Europe would soon follow suit, there were no further revolutions. Marxists were left with the need to explain what looked like a failure of their predictions and theory. They consequently turned to other philosophical ideas (e.g. those of Hegel and even Spinoza) and to the psychological theories of Freud, to see if they could add anything to Marxist theory.


“Western Marxists” have also been very much concerned with how to link theory and practice, especially given that the working class had become so inactive. They particularly stressed the role of ideas and culture in permitting the ruling class to mislead the workers (Gramsci’s concept of “hegemony” was important here). Some were influenced by other contemporary schools of philosophy such as phenomenology and existentialism. As a consequence, perhaps, they were less concerned with such aspects of Marxism as the “economic laws of motion of capitalism”, or the right strategy for class struggle, nor were they much concerned with a close understanding of the workings of the bourgeois state.


Some examples of “western Marxism”:


- Critical Theory (Adorno and others): after the second world war, and before that the extraordinary growth of fascism (which seemed to have an appeal to workers and was a threat to Marxism because of this) theorists argued that fascism needed to be better understood. As with Gramsci, the focus shifted to “ideology” – which Marx had “unmasked” by using a “critical” approach.  Remember Marx’s dictum: “the ruling ideas of any period are the ideas of the ruling class!” If we critically examine the “ruling ideas” of the time, and add to this some understanding of psychology, so we can explain how people react to these ideas, it might then be possible to answer questions such as: why was it that such a rag-bag of ideas as fascism had such an appeal? For critical theorists the answer lay in an understanding of the “authoritarian personality” – i.e. people had been brought up to either try to control others or to need controlling (by “authority figures”). Instead of adults developing as autonomous individuals (see: Recommencing Revolution: Introduction to Castoriadis) they either became dependent on others, or they attempted to control others. Fascism was then reassuring to such people as it clearly divided everyone into leaders and led. Wilhelm Reich is linked to this idea, but his emphasis was on how sexual repression led to authoritarianism


- another, later, figure who drew on Freudian psychology to re-examine social conflict, and whose work was influential (it could be argued) on the student movement of the 1960s, was Herbert Marcuse. He developed the notion of “repressive tolerance” to explain how in modern societies protest could be undermined by the apparent tolerance shown by the “system”. For example, when the media make fun of protest movements, turn them into “spectacles” and emphasise their odd or peculiar aspects, rather than trying to counter the arguments being put forward, this (to me) all contributes to the phenomenon of repressive tolerance. You only have to consider how “ban the bombers”, hippies, student protesters, feminists and greens have been portrayed in the media as, respectively: hopeless idealists, sandal-wearing long-haired dropouts, doped-up middle class would-be intellectuals, dungaree-wearing harridans, “swampy” types….  It is very easy, especially when, as Marcuse said, “the medium (i.e. TV especially) is the massage” (not, as is often said, “message”) to shape the ideas of the general public


- the "New Left" broadened this approach, taking into account how history had been written (E.P. Thompson, Christopher Hill), or how culture and literature influence the general political climate of ideas (Raymond Williams).  In the case of the former, it is crucial, they argued, to remember that history is written by the victors. Radical writers on culture, on the other hand, showed some of the mechanisms by which a ruling class could influence the content of newspapers, TV programmes etc. – since it is clearly not enough to demonstrate that the ruling ideas are those of the ruling class: this might be pure coincidence, or simply because those ideas are right! What has to be shown is (i) that these ideas operate in the interests of the ruling class and (ii) that the ruling class has means whereby it can get these ideas accepted by those who run the media.


- it would be going too far in terms of this section, to deal with the ideas of others, e..g. Althusser, who might be called Western Marxists (but see links above)


(f) there are also Marxists who have “combined” Marxism and religion, especially Christianity. This is not as bizarre an idea as at first it might seem, given that a strong case can be made for Christ and the early Christians having been “communist” in the sense of advocating the abolition of private property, and equal sharing of goods. (See my notes on Socialism before and besides Marx) Christian socialism has played an important part in Britain, though perhaps mainly amongst intellectuals, politicians of middle class background (Tony Benn – who renounced his peerage, and whose family background is from the Wedgewood pottery business) and craftsmen (William Morris) rather than workers. (Though Morris was associated with the SDF. See E.P. Thompson and websites such as: and In Spain and other Catholic countries there has also been contact between the labour movement and the radical wing (as it were!) of the Catholic Church (for example, worker-priests in Latin America…). 


3.5 Theoretical issues concerning the labour movement as a “social movement”, and whether it is still worth studying.


3.5.1  It is open to discussion as to whether the labour movement is a typical social movement or not.


If a social movement is defined (see social movements: theory) as:


"a collective endeavour to promote or resist change in the society of which it forms part"

(Bottomore, 1979).


or “a collective body distinguished by a high level of commitment and political activism, but often lacking a clear

organisation” (Heywood, 1997)


or “a collective attempt to further a common interest, or secure a common goal, through collective action outside the sphere of established institutions" (Giddens, 1989 ch 19)


… then we might argue that the labour movement is too self-interested to count as a social movement. That is, social movements are concerned

with promoting social change, whereas workers – especially in trade unions – are primarily interested in defending their own interests. It is this kind of thinking that has led some radicals to criticise or even dismiss trade unions as agents of social change, and to see them as more akin to interest-groups or pressure groups.


On the other hand, I have argued that trade unions are only a part of the movement, and that they themselves are often internally divided, with some (many?) members having radical, political goals. Moreover, even unions have at times pushed for political change - so it seemed during the General Strike for example. If unions were purely self-interested there would surely be less pressure from some sections of the media, and from government, for them to restrict the scope of their demands. It is also revealing that when the unions, in the 1970s, were criticised for having or wanting “too much power”, this criticism was often directed at their having broader social goals – yet these goals included caring about the plight of pensioners… and why should unions not be concerned about these wider social issues? Presumably it is in the interests of right-wing commentators that the trade union movement sticks to narrow self-interested goals, acting as a pressure group rather than a social movement – and that it is not too successful in achieving these either!


Similarly, when, under the Wilson government, unions were seen as part of the decision-making process (with the “social contract”, and “beer and sandwiches at Downing Street”!) there was criticism from some quarters that this was “corporatism” (the unions being incorporated into the state apparatus), and as such, similar to what had been adopted in fascist and communist regimes. Again, this kind of criticism surely reveals that there is an expectation that trade unions keep out of politics.


To clarify the point at issue: if unions do stay out of politics, they seem to have two options:


- to pursue narrow self-interested economic goals, in which case they are acting more like pressure groups than a social movement

- to pursue wider political goals, outside established channels and institutions; then, from Giddens’s point of view, they are social

movements because they are "a collective attempt to further a common interest, or secure a common goal, through collective action outside the sphere of established institutions" (my emphasis) (Giddens, 1989 ch 19).


However it is worth stressing, again, that strikes and other forms of action are not always or only aimed at economic ends. Industrial action is not just instrumental (to gain a particular objective), but may be designed to reinforce a sense of solidarity amongst workers. (For some workers, and in some situations, they are a first step on the road to worker-power!). Again, I would argue that the distinction between economic and political is not a clear one. Thompson (1963) also applies this point to class, which he sees as not simply an economic category (see below): we should not use the word in such a narrow restrictive way as to lose sight of the fact that class is also about identity, ethics and collective fellow-feeling.


Trade unions, on the other hand, seem much less comparable to social movements if we stress Bottomore’s point that social movements, if successful, "establish preconditions for changes of policy or regime, by bringing into question the legitimacy of the existing political system (in part or in whole), creating a different climate of opinion, and proposing alternatives."  It is obvious that so long as trade unions - or any other collective workers’ organisations - only pursue self-interested goals, they will simply serve to prolong the life of capitalism (“reformed” capitalism, as MacIvor put it, - or not!), and are not acting as a social movement, to change society.


Yet it seems to me that the labour movement as a whole generally does act to change society – fundamentally by seeking a redistribution of power between workers on the one hand and employers/owners of industry on the other.


In conclusion: it seems to me that labour movement is a social movement – although at times, and in places, it acts more like a pressure-group.  Trade unions on the whole are less radical. When the movement adopts radical political aims it clearly has the potential to change society, since workers play such a crucial role in the structure of any modern society.


In Britain the movement has been pretty much a reformist one, and we might not want to view it as always acting as a social movement. On the other hand, to see how the labour movement can, and did, produce a situation in which the regime’s legitimacy was called into question, we only have to look outside Britain, at for example Spain with the CNT, or the Soviet Union.  Della Porta (1999, p 203 ff, and see Marks 1989) points out how the political climate in different times and places affects the movement quite dramatically, and often in the opposite way to what one would expect: when oppressive regimes operated in France, Germany, Italy and Spain the workers’ movement actually became radicalised but also divided.  On the other hand, in countries like those in Scandinavia, the more inclusive, open-market and smaller national economies led to more reformist but more united movements.


The Marxist view that the labour movement is inevitably a revolutionary social movement seems to me an over-simplification, and we need to take more account of the variety of social and cultural circumstances in which the movement has found itself before trying to predict how it will behave.


The last point takes us onto other – more theoretical – issues, such as the question of the relationship of social movements, and the labour movement in particular, to social class (see below).


3.5.2 The end of the workers’ movement in theory:


In “academic” circles, there is still ongoing discussion about theoretical issues, and strategic questions for the labour movement, and the labour movement is of continuing interest as an example of a social movement(regardless of when it is alleged to have disappeared in practice) .  The study of the labour movement has been therefore, and still is, very fruitful in terms of understanding social movements in general, the way that society is continually changing, and the part played by various “social actors” in these changes.


To give just two examples of the kind of ongoing theoretical discussion about the labour movement and social change:


(i) della Porta (1999) says: the social changes after the Second World War led to a questioning amongst sociologists of the “centrality of the capital-labour conflict”. In other words, with the welfare state and consequent improvements in workers’ health and safety; with the provision of free education for all, including the working class; with the growth of “public ownership” of industry (nationalisation); even, one could argue, with the increased role of “managers” rather than “owners” in industry (the so-called “separation of ownership and control”); and above all with the dramatic improvement in the pay and living conditions of the working class – how could anyone still argue that the central feature of society is class conflict?  All this before John Major’s claim that “we are all middle class now”!!


(ii) there is an ongoing argument between Marxists, who still see the working class as promoting a unique kind of social and political movement (the labour movement as the means by which radical social change will be brought about), and non-Marxists who argue that other social groupings (women, ethnic groups etc) can form movements that have as significant an impact on society.  So, for example, (Boggs 1986) argues that new social movements have a momentum of their own, and are not secondary to class analysis or expressions of an assumed "primary contradiction" as in Marxist theory.


3.5.3. The labour movement and social class:


I think we should argue that a social movement is broad and diffuse, but with fairly precise or narrow goals; and that a social class is a different kind of entity, defined by its position in society (see social movements: theory, section 2 (b)). Social movements – and even the labour movement -therefore cut across classes.  Social movement theory is a new way of looking at social change, especially in relation to Marxism which is a “class theory” (i.e. the most important and basic component of society is class).


Perhaps Marxists should see social movement theory as a dangerous diversion, since from a Marxist point of view, the labour movement must be the (most active - vanguard? - part of) the working class. From a social movement theory point of view, the labour movement will certainly contain predominantly members of the working class but we have seen how it also attracts intellectuals and others from non working-class backgrounds.

Alternatively, some “post-marxists” see all social movements as indications of or part of class action. (see Pakulski 1991).


Other non-Marxist sociologists use the word class in a different way to Marxists. For example, Seymour Lipset 1959 (as described in Pakulski 1991) argued that all social movements spring from, or are part of, class action. But his use of the word “class” is much looser than the traditional Marxist one, and he seems to be referring to such things as “interests, sentiments and styles” (Pakulski op cit p 16).  Parkin, also, uses the word in a distinct way (1991).


Lipset tried to link different kinds of political ideologies and social movements with different “classes”, and he differentiated between “extremist” and “democratic” political expressions within each. Thus:


- the extreme left-wing elements of the working class, he said, produced both communism and Peronism;


- similar (but “centrist”) elements in the middle classes (e.g. small entrepreneurs, including those in agriculture) were hostile to both class enemies, i.e. hostile to both the upper or capitalist class, and to the working class, represented by communists, and therefore produced fascism;


- whilst right-wing upper class extremism took the form of “traditional authoritarianism”. 


For Lipset, mass social movements were in a sense “pathological”: they represented different forms of extremism, which would be supported by the uneducated and insecure categories of each class. Only such uneducated elements would be vulnerable to the kind of charismatic leaders who encourage extremism.  In his view, such movements arose when a society faced conditions of threat and/or of displacement, especially the instability produced by rapid modernisation. Lipset was particularly influenced by the mass movements of the 1930s (in Spain, Germany) and Peronism in Argentina.  In terms of social movement theory, this is a rather peculiar extension of the "collective behaviour" approach (see notes on social movement theory).


For some ex- or post-Marxists, such as Touraine: “class” is socio-cultural rather than socio-economic (see: Pakulski 1991 p 21, and Lyman 1995). Touraine’s theory is based on the concept of action-identity: individuals’ actions are determined by the cultural field and by social conflict (not just economic conflict). He is interested in social relations at historical stages, rather than (the Marxist view) in the dynamics of capitalism.  He also rejects the way that Marxism privileges the role of workers. For Touraine the workers’ movement’s aims are political (aimed at the state to gain change through state action) but not social; and the movement is acting within what he calls industrial society.  It is therefore (see below) an “old” social movement, typical of industrial society, whilst he believes that we are moving from an industrial to a post-industrial society. 


3.5.4 Ideological viewpoints and theories concerning social movements:


As I have argued right from the start of these notes, political allegiances affect how different people see the labour movement.  The academic world thinks of itself as free from bias and ideology, but I wonder if this can be so?  When we get an overview of different theories of social movements we certainly see evaluation taking place and not pure objective observation (if there can be such a thing!).


I have already mentioned (3.2.1) Lipset’s views that social movements are pathological: they are seen as extreme reactions to feelings of frustration, exclusion, anxiety and stress that are produced by society. This suggests that although such feelings may be inevitable or natural, for society to function well we all need to be able to react to them in a balanced and proportionate way.  Lipset’s views are described as part of the “collective behaviour” theory, and clearly come from a conservative perspective. They are similar to “functionalist” views, that all societies manage to produce, naturally, whatever structures and components they need to “function” in a balanced and “normal” way.


On the other hand, the “resource mobilisation” perspective sees social movements as a rational way of responding to social pressures. However, because of this perspective’s emphasis on the “normal” political process, presumably it would regard radical demands as somehow unacceptable?


For further discussion of these theories see the pages on social movement theory.


3.5.5  “Old” and” new” social movements:


It has been argued, frequently, (see: Touraine, Offe etc in Pakulski 1991 p 27, Scott 1990 p 16 ff, Lyman 1995 pp 116-7), that there is a distinction between “new” and “old” social movements. The labour movement is seen as an example of the latter, since its aims were political – seeking changes in state or state policy – not social. That is, they were acting within industrial society rather than trying to change it. Thus the labour movement, it is said, sought: an extension of the franchise, workers’ rights, a recognition of the legitimacy of trades unions etc. Putting this another way, it focussed on concepts such as citizenship and representation, both of which are concepts belonging to industrial society – whereas (as Touraine in particular has argued) new social movements are “bearers and symptoms of the change from industrial to post-industrial society”. 


Others have argued that new social movements are located within civil society, and are little concerned to challenge the state directly – they may in fact want to defend civil society from what is seen as an encroaching technocratic state. (see also Melucci 1984) For these writers, capitalism (the old society) has been replaced by technocracy.


However, if as I have argued, the labour movement is closely associated with socialism, then this distinction is not so clear. After all, by definition, socialism is about changing our view of the social. It can be seen that a lot depends on what your view of socialism is… Some would argue that the green movement has replaced the workers’ movement in its “totalising” approach – the workers’ movement having narrowed its aims and outlook.


Scott (1990) argues that old and new social movements are differently organised: old movements are organised in formal, hierarchical way, whilst new social movements rely on networks and grassroots action. Yet, as argued already, workers’ councils and strike committees were grassroots organisations, often networked or federated together…. Scott suggests that the methods used differ also: old social movements use political mobilisation, whilst new movements use direct action, cultural innovation etc. Again, part of the labour movement – especially on the anarchist wing! – believed in direct action, and the socialist movement has always contained those who believed in the importance of the cultural sphere, such as William Morris.