The True Society. Frank Tannenbaum, Jonathan Cape. 21s.

The trade union movement, Tannenbaum argues, by virtue of the necessarily piecemeal and pragmatic character of its activity and its growing tendency towards multi-functionalism, together with what he discerns as a long-term trend towards the convergence of the trade union and the corporation, represents the principal ‘conservative’ and ‘counter-revolutionary’ force of our time. The trade unions, he asserts, through their lack of commitment to any ‘general theory or ideology’ are serving to re-create industrial society along lines which differ widely from those which the ‘social revolutionaries’ would seek to impose upon it but which unwittingly enshrines those values ‘derived from the past’ in which man has found his human dignity. The industrial revolution is regarded as an anarchic interregnum between the feudalism which it disrupted and the new corporate society, compatible with ‘the complexities and exactions of modern management’ which is to come, and in which the trade union increasingly comes to be the ‘true society’ in which anomic industrial man finds a resting place.

It is in many ways a very bad book indeed. Essentially concerned with the future of capitalism, the word ‘capitalism’ does not appear in the text; it dismisses the concept of class in a footnote as ‘a hindrance to social analysis’; the use of sources, which are sometimes discredited, sometimes irrelevant, shows a lack of sophistication which is at times embarrassing. The book has the advantage of being short but has no index and contains an introduction by ‘The Rt. Hon. Lord Robens of Waldingham P.C.’ which is devoid of content. The decision to publish the book in Britain, in unrevised form 14 years or so after its publication in America is a rather surprising one, but nevertheless may serve to direct the minds of some socialists to a number of thorny problems concerning the role of trade unions in both capitalist and socialist society, not the least of which cluster around the general notion that the strengthening of a wide range of ‘non-economic’ functions on the part of trade unions is an appropriate response, both to the immediate growing multifunctionalism of paternalistic capitalism, and to the wider difficulties associated with the division of labour in society.

Liam O’Sullivan