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TUP

Peter Lang

Capital-in-Crisis, Trade Unionism and  

the Question of Revolutionary Agency 

Vol. 26

Shaun May

TRADE UNIONS 

Past, Present and Future

26

Sh

au

n M

ay   •  

The entry of the capital relation into its epoch of structural crisis forms the basis for the 
development of the author’s conception of revolutionary agency. Drawing on the work and 
achievements of both Marx and Hungarian socialist thinker István Mészáros, May relates 
the emergence and deepening of the structural crisis to the decline of trade unionism as the 
traditional and universal form of organization deployed economistically by workers against 
capital. In the relationship between the ‘defensively-structured’, universal, trade union form 
and the growing contradictions of the global capitalist system, May seeks to unearth the 
possibility of a higher form of agency which is more adequately adapted to address the 
immediate and long-term objectives facing millions of people today worldwide in the age 
of capital’s ‘destructive self-reproduction’. Looking back in order to look forward, he also  
subjects the form of agency within the Russian Revolution to a critique which relates it directly 
to the conditions prevailing in Russia at the time. In so doing, he questions its supposed 
validity as a form of revolutionary agency for the struggle to put an end to the global capitalist 
system today.   

Shaun May was born in Hull, England in 1960 into a working-class family. He read  
Biochemistry and Chemistry at undergraduate level, followed by postgraduate studies in  
Education at the University of Hull. After graduating, he worked as an organic chemist, a biology 
lecturer in further education and later as a teacher in state schools in East Yorkshire. Now living 
in East Yorkshire, England, he is an independent socialist writer whose present work focuses on 
the urgent question of revolutionary agency. 

Capital-in-Crisis, Trade Unionism and the Question 

of Revolutionary Agency is his first book. 

ISBN 978-1-78707-230-5

TRADE UNIONS 
Past, Present and Future

www.peterlang.com

C

api

ta

l-i

n-

C

ri

si

s, T

rade U

nio
ni

sm an
d  

th

e Q
uest

io

n of R

ev

ol

utio

nar

y Ag
en

cy

TUP

Peter Lang

Capital-in-Crisis, Trade Unionism and  

the Question of Revolutionary Agency 

Vol. 26

Shaun May

TRADE UNIONS 

Past, Present and Future

26

Sh

au

n M

ay   •  

The entry of the capital relation into its epoch of structural crisis forms the basis for the 
development of the author’s conception of revolutionary agency. Drawing on the work and 
achievements of both Marx and Hungarian socialist thinker István Mészáros, May relates 
the emergence and deepening of the structural crisis to the decline of trade unionism as the 
traditional and universal form of organization deployed economistically by workers against 
capital. In the relationship between the ‘defensively-structured’, universal, trade union form 
and the growing contradictions of the global capitalist system, May seeks to unearth the 
possibility of a higher form of agency which is more adequately adapted to address the 
immediate and long-term objectives facing millions of people today worldwide in the age 
of capital’s ‘destructive self-reproduction’. Looking back in order to look forward, he also  
subjects the form of agency within the Russian Revolution to a critique which relates it directly 
to the conditions prevailing in Russia at the time. In so doing, he questions its supposed 
validity as a form of revolutionary agency for the struggle to put an end to the global capitalist 
system today.   

Shaun May was born in Hull, England in 1960 into a working-class family. He read  
Biochemistry and Chemistry at undergraduate level, followed by postgraduate studies in  
Education at the University of Hull. After graduating, he worked as an organic chemist, a biology 
lecturer in further education and later as a teacher in state schools in East Yorkshire. Now living 
in East Yorkshire, England, he is an independent socialist writer whose present work focuses on 
the urgent question of revolutionary agency. 

Capital-in-Crisis, Trade Unionism and the Question 

of Revolutionary Agency is his first book. 

ISBN 978-1-78707-230-5

TRADE UNIONS 
Past, Present and Future

www.peterlang.com

Capital-in-Crisis, Trade Unionism and  

the Question of Revolutionary Agency

Trade Unions Past, Present and Future

PETER LANG

Oxford 

 Bern 

 Berlin 

 Bruxelles 

 Frankfurt am Main 

 New York 

 Wien

Edited by Craig Phelan

Volume 26

Capital-in-Crisis, Trade Unionism and  

the Question of Revolutionary Agency 

Shaun May

PETER LANG

Oxford 

 Bern 

 Berlin 

 Bruxelles 

 Frankfurt am Main 

 New York 

 Wien

ISSN 1662-7784

ISBN 978-1-78707-230-5 (print)  •  ISBN 978-1-78707-293-0 (ePDF)

ISBN 978-1-78707-294-7 (ePub)  •  ISBN 978-1-78707-295-4 (mobi)

© Peter Lang AG 2017

Published by Peter Lang Ltd, International Academic Publishers,

52 St Giles, Oxford, OX1 3LU, United Kingdom

oxford@peterlang.com, www.peterlang.com 

Shaun May has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and  

Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as Author of this Work.

All rights reserved.

All parts of this publication are protected by copyright. 

Any utilisation outside the strict limits of the copyright law, without

the permission of the publisher, is forbidden and liable to prosecution.

This applies in particular to reproductions, translations, microfilming,

and storage and processing in electronic retrieval systems.

This publication has been peer reviewed.

Bibliographic information published by Die Deutsche Nationalbibliothek.

Die Deutsche Nationalbibliothek lists this publication in the Deutsche National- 

bibliografie; detailed bibliographic data is available on the Internet at 

http://dnb.d-nb.de.

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

Library of Congress Control Number:  2016959093

Rise, like lions after slumber 

In unvanquishable number! 

Shake your chains to earth like dew 

Which in sleep had fallen on you: 

Ye are many – they are few! 

— Shelley,

The Masque of Anarchy

O gentlemen, the time of life is short! 

To spend that shortness basely were too long, 

If life did ride upon a dial’s point, 

Still ending at the arrival of an hour. 

An if we live, we live to tread on kings; 

If die, brave death, when princes die with us! 

Now, for our consciences, the arms are fair, 

When the intent of bearing them is just. 

— Shakespeare,

Henry IV, Part I, Act 5, Scene 2