The Rank and File Strategy: Building a Socialist Movement in the U.S.

Posted September 24, 2019

Nearly twenty years ago Solidarity published The Rank and File Strategy, a pamphlet written by Kim Moody. At that time the socialist movement had largely been in retreat since the disintegration of the upsurge in radical politics and action in the 60s and 70s. Moreover, union density had been on a 30-year downward slide, multinational free trade agreements had intensified a global race to the bottom and the full implementation of the neoliberal policy regime was underway. 

The Rank and File Strategy, is a response to the challenge that socialists have historically faced—how to link the revolutionary socialist movement and the workers’ movement and build a mass socialist movement. The strategy laid out is one that embodies the politics of socialism from below. It emphasizes the revolutionary potential of the working class, the workplace as a site where the working class confronts the contradictions of capitalism most directly and the strategic importance of trade unions and socialist interventions in them. From the perspective of the Rank and File Strategy the socialist intervention shouldn’t be the imposition of a correct line from without. Rather, it’s a strategy of building rank and file power on its own terms from within, understanding that people are compelled by their own circumstances to engage in class struggle. It’s a strategy that sees the process of class struggle and the rank and file organizations that emerge as bridges to more militant action and a more revolutionary politics, with the help of socialists embedded in the labor movement.

The Rank and File Strategy is an expansive document that goes beyond laying out the nuts and bolts of a strategy. It is also a history of the application of the Rank and File Strategy in the first half of the 20th century, a theoretical discussion of class consciousness and an analysis that never forgets that class, like anything else, is a complex and contradictory subject. 

Twenty years later, the challenges facing the working class are much the same, but this time with a significant difference. There is an increased energy in the socialist movement with the emergence of DSA, a rank and file rebellion among teachers and the reemergence of socialism in the mainstream political discourse. In a moment of radical upsurge and renewed interest in class struggle politics The Rank and File Strategy is even more important now than ever before. With a whole new generation of socialists seeking to identify the tasks at hand and what to do about them The Rank and File Strategy lays out an open-ended class struggle-oriented direction forward.