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Workers of the World? A British Liberal-Pluralist Critique of Marcel van der Linden’s Global Labour History*

  • Peter Ackers (a1)
Abstract

Marcel van der Linden has championed Global Labour History (GLH) as a solution to the decline of Labour History as an academic field. His 2008 Workers of the World (and other writing) strives to transcend methodological nationalism and provides a new global framework to study labour through the ages. This British liberal-pluralist critique argues that Van der Linden’s version of GLH is essentially a re-packaging of Marxism that narrows the conceptual foundations of the field and overlooks both the full political crisis of state-socialism and its limited historical appeal to working people. The article concludes by defending a national approach centred on civil society institutions, as represented in the 2016 collection edited by P. Ackers and A.J. Reid, Alternatives to State-Socialism in Britain: Other Worlds of Labour in the Twentieth Century.

TRANSLATED ABSTRACTS FRENCH – GERMAN – SPANISH

Peter Ackers. Travailleurs du monde? Une critique libérale et pluraliste au Royaume-Uni de l’histoire globale du travail de Marcel van den Linden.

Marcel van der Linden a défendu l’histoire globale du travail (Global Labour History ou GLH) comme solution au déclin de l’histoire globale du travail en tant que champ d’études universitaires. Son Workers of the World de 2008 (et d’autres écrits) tentent de transcender le nationalisme méthodologique et fournit un nouveau cadre global pour étudier le travail à travers les âges. La présente critique libérale et pluraliste au Royaume-Uni soutient que la version de Van der Linden de la GLH est essentiellement une remise en forme du marxisme, restreignant les fondements conceptuels du champ d’études, et négligeant à la fois l’ensemble de la crise politique du socialisme étatique et son attrait historique limité pour les travailleurs. L’article conclut en défendant une approche nationale centrée sur les institutions de la société civile, représentée dans la collection de 2016 révisée par P. Ackers et A.J. Reid, Alternatives to State-Socialism in Britain: Other Worlds of Labour in the Twentieth Century.

Traduction: Christine Plard

Peter Ackers. Arbeiter der Welt? Eine britische, liberal-pluralistische Kritik der globalen Arbeitsgeschichte Marcel van der Lindens.

Marcel van der Linden hat die globale Arbeitsgeschichte als Gegenmittel zum Niedergang des akademischen Forschungsfelds Arbeitsgeschichte propagiert. In seinem 2008 erschienenen Buch Workers of the World ist er (wie auch in anderen Schriften) bestrebt, über den methodologischen Nationalismus hinauszugehen und einen neuen, globalen Rahmen für die Erforschung der Arbeit über verschiedene Zeitalter hinweg zu bieten. In dieser britischen, liberal-pluralistischen Kritik wird die These vertreten, dass es sich bei der globalen Arbeitsgeschichte Van der Lindens im Wesentlichen um einen Marxismus im neuen Gewand handelt, der die begrifflichen Grundlagen des Feldes verengt und sowohl die ausgewachsene politische Krise des Staatssozialismus als auch dessen begrenzte historische Attraktivität für arbeitende Menschen ignoriert. Der Beitrag schließt mit der Verteidigung eines auf die Nation zentrierten Ansatzes, der zivilgesellschaftliche Institutionen in den Mittelpunkt stellt, wie dies in dem 2016 erschienenen, von P. Ackers und A.J. Reid herausgegebenen Sammelband Alternatives to State-Socialism in Britain: Other Worlds of Labour in the Twentieth Century geleistet worden ist.

Übersetzung: Max Henninger

Peter Ackers. ¿Trabajadores del mundo? Una crítica liberal-pluralista británica a la Historia Global del Trabajo de Marcel van der Linden.

Marcel van der Linden ha propuesto la Historia Global del Trabajo (HGT) como una solución al declive de la Historia del trabajo en tanto disciplina académica. Su obra de 2008 Workers of the World (entre otros de sus muchos trabajos) es un esfuerzo por trascender el nacionalismo metodológico y por proveer un nuevo maco global para el estudio del trabajo en el transcurso del tiempo. La crítica liberal-pluralista británica considera que la versión de Van der Linden respecto a la HGT es, esencialmente, un la reelaboración de un marxismo que estrecha los fundamentos conceptuales del campo de estudio y pasa por alto tanto la crisis política total del socialismo de Estado como los limitados atractivos históricos para la clase trabajadora. El artículo concluye con una defensa de una aproximación nacional centrada en las instituciones de la sociedad civil, como la que se propone en la obra colectiva de 2016 coordinada por P. Ackers y A.J. Reid, Alternatives to State-Socialism in Britain: Other Worlds of Labour in the Twentieth Century.

Traducción: Vicent Sanz Rozalén

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Corresponding author
E-mail: peter.ackers1@virginmedia.com
Footnotes
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*

An early draft of this paper was presented to the European Social Science History Conference in Valencia, 30 March 2016.

Footnotes
References
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1 Linden, Marcel van der, “Global Labor History: Promising Challenges”, International Labor and Working-Class History, 84 (Fall 2013), pp. 218225, 219.

2 George Orwell, “England Your England”, in Inside the Whale and Other Essays (London, 1957 [1940]), p. 73.

3 Van der Linden, “Labour History Beyond Borders”, in J. Allen et al, Histories of Labour: National and International Perspectives, (Pontypool, 2010), pp. 353–383, 354; and idem, Workers of the World: Essays Toward a Global Labor History, (Leiden [etc.], 2008). See reviews by M. Atzeni, Reviews in History (2010), available at: http://www.history.ac.uk/reviews/review/908; last accessed 5 April 2017; L. Fink, H/SOZ/KULT (2010), available at: http://edoc.hu-berlin.de/e_histlit/2010-3/HTML/GA_2010-3.php#12284; last accessed 5 April 2017; B. Palmer, Labour/La Travail, March 22 (2010); J. Schmidt, Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, 53 (2010), pp. 523–526; J. Woodcock, International Socialism, 133, (January 2012), available at: http://isj.org.uk/working-class-theory-is-something-to-read/; last accessed 5 April 2017; and R. Varela, Sozial.Geschichte online, 4 (2010), pp. 70–81, pdf available at: https://duepublico.uni-duisburg-essen.de/servlets/DerivateServlet/Derivate-25693/06_Varela_Workers.pdf; last accessed 5 April 2017.

4 See J. Lucassen (ed.), Global Labour History: A State of the Art (Bern [etc.], 2008).

5 See also Linden, Van der and Lucassen, J., Prolegomena for a Global Labour History (Amsterdam, 1999).

6 Ackers, P. and Reid, A.J. (eds), Alternatives to State-Socialism in Britain: Other Worlds of Labour in the Twentieth Century (London, 2016).

7 Marx, K. and Engels, F., Manifesto of the Communist Party (Moscow, 1952 [1848]).

8 Thompson, E.P., The Making of the English Working Class (London, 1963). See also Sidney and Beatrice Webb, The History of Trade Unionism (London, 1894) and idem, Industrial Democracy (London, 1897).

9 While Van der Linden is well versed in British Labour History, he rarely mentions this distinctive British liberal-pluralist academic tradition. See Ackers and Reid, Alternatives, ch. 1; and Reid, A.J., United We Stand: A History of Britain’s Trade Unions (London, 2005).

10 Ackers and Reid, Alternatives. This is not to criticize the Conference organizers, who were very encouraging towards our initiative, but to suggest that non-Marxists are self-selecting out of Labour History, to find fields more congenial to their views.

11 Van der Linden, “Globalizing Labour Historiography: The IISH Approach” (Amsterdam, 2002), p. 3.

12 I have borrowed this metaphor from another social science context: Edwards, P., “The Employment Relationship and the Field of Industrial Relations”, in P. Edwards (ed.), Industrial Relations: Theory and Practice, ch. 1. (Oxford, 2003 [2nd ed.]), p. 29 .

13 Van der Linden, Workers of the World, ch. 12.

14 Ibid., p. 266.

15 Linden, Van der, “The Promise and Challenges of Global Labor History”, International Labor and Working-Class History, 82 (Fall 2012), p. 57 . The scholarly response, in idem, 84 (Fall 2013), includes: F. Barchiesi, “How Far From Africa’s Shore? A Response to Marcel van der Linden’s Map for Global Labor History”, pp. 77–84; P. Winn, “Global Labor History: The Future of the Field?”, pp. 85–91; J. Kocka, “Reviving Labor History on a Global Scale: Some Comments to Marcel van der Linden”, pp. 92–98; D.S. Cobble, “The Promise and Peril of the New Global Labor History”, pp. 99–107; P. Parthasarathi, “Global Labor History: A Dialogue with Marcel van der Linden”, pp. 108–113; with Van der Linden “Global Labor History” commenting on the debate, pp. 218–225.

16 Collini, S., Absent Minds: Intellectuals in Britain (Oxford, 2006).

17 Orwell, “England Your England”, p. 85. See also Colls, R., George Orwell, English Rebel (Oxford, 2013).

18 Callaghan, J., Rajani Palme Dutt: A Study in British Stalinism (London, 2010).

19 See Ackers, P., “Collective Bargaining as Industrial Democracy: Hugh Clegg and the Political Foundations of British Industrial Relations Pluralism”, British Journal of Industrial Relations, 45:1 (2007), pp. 77101 ; idem, “More Methodism than Methodism: Hugh Clegg at Kingswood School, Bath (1932–39)”, Socialist History, 38 (2011), pp. 23–46; and

Thompson, E.P., Warwick University Ltd: Industry, Management and the Universities (London, 1970).

20 Jones, O., Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class (London, 2011), pp. 255256 .

21 Van der Linden, “The Promise and Challenges”, pp. 66–67.

22 Schmidt, Review of Workers of the World, p. 526.

23 Van der Linden, “The Promise and Challenges”, pp. 68, 65.

24 Idem, “Global Labor History”, p. 221.

25 Idem, “The Promise and Challenges”, p. 72.

26 Idem, “Global Labor History”, p. 220.

27 Idem, “The Promise and Challenges”, p. 75, Endnote 34.

28 Edwards, “The Employment Relationship”; Ackers, P., “Rethinking the Employment Relationship: A Neo-Pluralist Critique of British Industrial Relations Orthodoxy”, International Journal of Human Resource Management, 25:18 (2014), pp. 26082625 ; P. Edwards, Were the 40 Years of “Radical Pluralism” a Waste of Time? A Response to Peter Ackers and Patrick McGovern, Warwick Papers in Industrial Relations, 99 (June 2014).

29 Van der Linden, “Global Labour History”, p. 221.

30 Ibid., p. 222.

31 B. Hoyle, “Angry working class turned out to help Trump seal the deal”, The Times (London), 10 November 2016, p. 6.

32 Ackers, See P., “Trade unions as professional associations”, in S. Johnstone and P. Ackers (eds), Finding a Voice at Work: New Perspectives on Employment Relations (Oxford, 2015).

33 R. Hoggart, A Local Habitation (Life and Times, Vol. 1: 1918–40), (Oxford, 1989), pp. 10, 18, 21, 26, 46, 47, 105, 129. Hoggart also wrote the classic, The Uses of Literacy (London, 1957).

34 Van der Linden, “Globalizing Labour Historiography”, p. 1. See also the webpage of the International Institute of Social History on “Global Labor History”, available at: https://socialhistory.org/en/research/global-labour-history; last accessed 2 February 2016.

35 Van der Linden, Workers of the World.

36 Ackers, “Rethinking”, p. 2610.

37 Van der Linden, Workers of the World, p. 259.

38 McKibbon, R., “Why Was There No Marxism in Great Britain?”, English Historical Review, 99 (1984), pp. 287333 .

39 Van der Linden, “The Promise and Challenges”, p. 74, endnote 20. Idem, Workers of the World, p. 316 criticizes Wallerstein for “implausibly including even the former Soviet Union as ‘capitalist’”. Presumably, Van der Linden regards the twentieth-century capitalist and colonial world as the dominant “civilization”, notwithstanding islands of socialism. But this is not how it appeared at the time when Soviet socialism was an expanding “world system” extending well beyond Comecon, especially into the Third World.

40 See M. Atzeni’s review of Workers of the World, Reviews in History (2010), available at: http://www.history.ac.uk/reviews/review/908; last accessed 5 April 2017.

41 Parthasarathi, “Global Labor History”, pp. 109–110.

42 Ibid., p. 112.

43 Van der Linden and Lucassen, Prolegomena, pp. 9, 13–16.

44 Van der Linden, “The Promise and Challenges”, p. 71.

45 See Ackers, P., “Colliery Deputies in the British Coal Industry Before Nationalization”, International Review of Social History, 39:3 (1994); idem, “How My Grandad, the Churches of Christ and the Steam Engine Makers Society Lifted Our Family into the Professional Classes: An Essay in Social Science Biography”, in A. Wilkinson et al. (eds), Perspectives on Contemporary Professional Work, (London, 2016); and idem, “Game Changer: Hugh Clegg’s Role in Drafting the 1968 Donovan Report and Redefining the British Industrial Relations Policy-Problem”, Historical Studies in Industrial Relations, 35 (2014), pp. 63–88.

46 See Ackers, P., “Gramsci at the Miners’ Strike: Remembering the 1984–1985 Eurocommunist Alternative Industrial Relations Strategy”, Labor History, 55:2 (May 2014), pp. 151172 . Bhattacherjee, D. and Ackers, P. (eds), “Special Edition: Employment Relations in India”, Industrial Relations Journal, 41:2 (March 2010).

47 Ackers and Reid, Alternatives.

* An early draft of this paper was presented to the European Social Science History Conference in Valencia, 30 March 2016.

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International Review of Social History
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