The Role of Revolutionaries in the Labor Movement

Charles Posa McFadden and Karen Howell McFadden 1 May 2017

In this argument we ignore the inevitable obstacle – one to be overcome, not catered to - of "middle class" aspirations and consciousness within the working class under capitalist dominion. This opinion is directed to those in the labor movement who have already concluded or are leaning to the view that capitalism – its inherent prioritizing of private profit over all else - is the main obstacle to a more just, democratic and sustainable society.

Four decades of neoliberal ascendancy inevitably left its mark on the labor movement as it did on all forms of resistance to the endemic assault of Capital against people and nature. One essential aspect of the transition to a period of renewed challenge to Capital and its representatives is a renewal of the revolutionary current within the labor movement. Here are some thoughts to that end.

1. The organized labor movement is not identical to the revolutionary one. In any society in which those producing the goods and services needed by the people form a distinct class apart from those making the decisions about what is to be produced and for whom, a labor movement serves as an essential defender and representative of working people. This is just as true in those societies whose governments misname themselves socialist or communist as it is in contemporary capitalist societies.

A genuinely revolutionary movement, however, is one that works to move beyond capitalism, that is, one whose goal is a society that would need neither labor movements nor political parties. It is a movement whose defining aim is a classless society, one in which the decisions about what to produce, how to produce it and for what reasons are made by the associated producers themselves, best understood, in the absence of owners and controllers, as the people themselves. A society of the associated producers is the alternative to all hierarchically organized societies.

2. So long as capitalism continues in any form, no assumption should be made by revolutionaries that those in titular leadership positions in any organization, elected or not, are collectively or individually more or less progressive than the membership. The role of revolutionaries in every organization to which they belong is to advance the self-education, scientific knowledge, imagination and democratic participation of the membership. This necessarily and inevitably would have as a result the simultaneous and continuing self-development of the revolutionaries. These tasks are best accomplished by engagement of and with the membership in action towards a more democratic, just, environmentally sustainable, scientifically informed, imaginative and cooperatively functioning society.

3. The strength and capacity of any contingent of the labor movement for successfully advancing and defending the interests of its members is directly proportional to the level of its internal democracy, working class political consciousness, intellectual development, solidarity with all others oppressed by Capital, both locally and globally, and the level of membership participation in making the decisions, taking the actions and reflecting upon the results. Actions subject to democratic participation by the membership include its public policy, strikes, boycotts, assemblies, marches, rallies, and other acts up to and including, when necessary, acts of civil disobedience.

And one more class of actions needs to be added to this list: When to do otherwise means abandonment of the affected people to the loss of life-essential resources, these actions can include taking over and continuing the operation of places of work and other vital social institutions that have been or are in process of being closed or abandoned by the owners or representatives of Capital, such as schools, hospitals, factories, apartments and other resources needed to meet basic essential needs of the community.

4. So, what is the role of revolutionaries within the labor movement? It is never to abuse the trust of fellow workers by making decisions or taking actions in their name without their democratic participation and engagement. It is to work to engage all fellow workers in the policy decisions, including both longer range strategic goals and shorter term tactics, and the actions that follow from these decisions. It is to strengthen democracy within labor organizations including prevention of careerist and authoritarian behavior from undermining these organizations and their effectiveness.

Revolutionaries in labor organizations are those who insist upon the voluntary nature of the assumption of responsibility for acting as spokespersons, representatives or organizers in the labor movement. This means, among other things, that they work to make labor organizations training grounds for a more democratic and cooperative society in which all policy decisions are made by the rank and file. They insist that any need for full time engagement in labor movement responsibility not be compensated in a way that encourages careerist aspirations and habits. It should be expected, and as far as possible arranged, that there be regular rotation between paid positions in the labor movement and employment as a fellow worker, with continuity of pay and benefits.

5. In response to the evolution of Capital during the neoliberal era into a transnational system, revolutionaries within the labor movements are (and can be none other than) those who represent and advance the interests of the emergent transnational working class in its struggle to defeat the transnational capitalist class and usher in a new non-capitalist global order based on solidarity and cooperation within and between the national contingents of the working class and their popular allies.

6. Essential to the renewal of the revolutionary movement on a scale that matches need and possibility is an understanding of twenty first century capitalism (as it is and not as it is projected by its representatives) and a corresponding vision of a viable alternative, one that is equally global in character, based everywhere on government of production, distribution and society by the associated producers, organized into work collectives, communities and social organizations. Towards a Green Social Democratic Alternative to Capitalism, posted on, is a contribution to that end.


This website was launched September 1, 2010 in support of a green social democratic alternative to neoliberal capitalist policy and practice. The primary result is a work by Charles and Karen McFadden of seven chapters, grouped under the title, Towards a Green Social Democratic Alternative to Capitalism available here in pdf and html formats.

Below under the heading What’s New can be found the most recent materials posted on this website, including opinion pieces, book reviews, articles and selections from the 2017 edition of the main work.  For the interest of new and returning visitors, new materials will be included quarterly.

What's New


Authors' Preface

1.6 The epochal nature of the period we are entering

6.0 The socialism we need against the "socialism" of the 20th century

6.8 Additional concerns about 20th century variants of "socialism"

6.9 The people united!

7.1 Policy alternatives and political movements to advance them


Charles and Karen McFadden, Is revolutionary transformation on the agenda

Charles and Karen McFaddenHumanity on the Brink

Charles and Karen McFaddenMovements of Resistance to Movements for System Change

Charles McFaddenTranslating Green Principles into Education Policy and Practice

Charles and Karen McFadden, The Role of Revolutionaries in the Labor Movement


Charles and Karen McFadden, “The Shape of Water” as an Antidote to the Age of Trump 

Charles McFadden, Decolonizing the U.S. & Canada: The People United for a More Just Sustainable Future

Karen and Charles McFaddenCan emergent early 21st century neo-fascism be defeated without coming to grips with late 20th century restructuring of capitalism into a global system

Karen and Charles McFaddenA Dominant Capitalism or a Sustainable Environment? Why we can't have both.


William I. RobinsonThe Crisis of Global Capitalism and Trump's March to War

William I. RobinsonTrumpism, 21st Century Fascism, and the Dictatorship of the Transnational Capitalist Class


George HewisonWINNIPEG 1919 & THE COLD WAR

George HewisonArt Manuel - "Unsettling Canada

George HewisonThe NDP and LEAP


Albert Einstein, David Swanson, Jill Stein, Chris Hedges, William I. Robinson, and others Selected articles for Winter 2018



1.7 The dynamics of capitalism as a system and the limits of single issue reforms

2.11 The economy in transition towards a new deal for labor and the community

3.1 The challenge of a moribund economic system

3.7 Public banking: A cornerstone of a green social democracy

4.7 Economics and culture

6.5 Using the non-market economy as an opportunity to begin moving beyond capitalism


1.6 The epochal nature of the period we are entering

2.0 Theoretical Perspective: Defining Green Social Democracy

2.5. Socialism and green social democracy in historical materialist theory

4.3 Culture in historical perspective

5.1 Contrasting a green social democratic world with the currently prevailing, but challenged neo-liberal one

6.2 Socialism and capitalism as coexisting social systems


2.11 The economy in transition towards a new deal for labor and the community

5.7 Defeating neo-liberal capitalism: The role of social movements

7.3 Justice: Creating a just society, based on the right of all to a dignified, secure existence

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