The Aristocracy of Labour and Working-Class Consciousness Revisited

Foster, John
December 2010
Labour History Review;Dec2010, Vol. 75 Issue 3, p245
Academic Journal
This article seeks to position the debate on the Labour Aristocracy, an important one during the early years of the Society for the Study of Labour History, within the wider controversies of the 1970s and 1980s on the future of the Labour Party and the adoption of post-modernist methodology. Its objective is to return discussion to the usage of the term as originally developed by Marx and Engels. This, it is argued, was not essentially about income differentials. Its central focus was on the active process of working-class formation and fragmentation. It assumed that working-class consciousness in the full sense was a historically rare though socially transformative phenomenon, usually constrained by the apparent inevitability of capitalist relations, and requiring a specific conjunctural analysis of working-class challenge and capitalist crisis and response. The article seeks to re-establish the validity of this approach using recent research on the Chartist movement and its decline. It takes issue with the interventions by Gareth Stedman Jones and argues for the continuing relevance of Marx's cultural analysis, as elaborated by David Harvey, for the understanding of social stereotyping and class fragmentation.


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