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Industrialization and the Making of the Working Class


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Industrialization and the Making of the Working Class
Gorbachev, the End of Communism, and the 1989 Revolutions

Industrialization and the Making of the Working Class


Unevenness was decisive for European industrialization before 1914. Cap- italism rarely transformed the old landscape comprehensively, turning trees into smokestacks and fields into factories. The pace of development varied too  widely,  both  between  and  within  societies,  generating  complex  com- binations  of  advanced,  backward,  and  hybrid  production  in  contiguous regions, often mutually dependent on each other’s forms of specialization. Dynamism actually required backwardness in this dialectic of dependency, producing  turbulent  new  labor  markets,  mass  migrations  from  the  coun- tryside, and a novel urban topography, but with far richer interconnections between industry and agriculture, “modern” and “traditional” production, and  large  and  small-scale  enterprise  than  the  more  aggressive  predictions had assumed.

This  unevenness  of  industrialization  across  countries  and  regions, and the resulting variations in working-class populations, created huge strategic problems  for  the  Left.  Socialist  parties  presented  themselves  as  parties of the  working  class,  which  modern  industry  was  supposedly  making  into society’s  overwhelming  majority.  Yet  everywhere  in  Europe  those  parties faced  mixed  populations,  with  millions  still  employed  in  agriculture  and other  “traditional”  occupations.  Industrial  workers  failed  to  become  the overwhelming  mass  of  society,  although  masses  of  proletarians  certainly concentrated in particular places and often entire regions. Even in Britain, where  proletarianization  had  gone  far,  the  First  World  War  proved  the peak:  thereafter,  manual  workers  gradually  contracted  in  numbers,  from three-quarters  to  less  than  a  third  of  the  employed  population  by  1990. This  became  the general trend of industrial economies. Even as industrial labor  reached  its  furthest  extent,  long-term restructuring was already tip- ping employment toward white-collar and other jobs in services.

These trends challenged the Left’s given assumptions. If the logic of class formation disobeyed Marx’s predictions, what did this mean for working- class  politics?  If  the  typical  image  of  the  proletariat—manual  workers in factories, foundries and mines, on the docks, in the shipyards, and on the railways—was increasingly unlike the actually employed population during the  twentieth  century,  where  does  that  leave  the  working  class  in  the

founding  periods  earlier  on?  How  else  might  the  working  class  be  de- fined?

By  the  simplest  Marxist  definition,  the  working  class  were  those  with no ownershipor control over means or conditions of production. Workers were  a  class  of  direct  producers  who—in  contrast  to  peasant  farmers  or skilled  artisans—no  longer  owned  independent  means  of  subsistence  or even  their  own  tools.  All  they  had  was  their  ability  to  work,  which  they sold to an employer, a capitalist, for a wage. To create such workers, active proletarianization  was  needed.  Small  producers  in  town  and  country  had to  be  robbed  of  their  independence—whether  in  free  peasant  cultivation, servile  labor  on  great  estates,  household  mixtures  of  subsistence  farming and domestic industry, rural handicrafts, or small urban workshops. Labor power  had  to  be  released  from  its  traditional  legal,  social,  and  cultural restraints, converted into a commodity, and freed into the capitalist market. The  direct  producers  had  to  be  separated  from  the  means  of  production and forced into dependent labor. Access to means of subsistence had to be available only via the wage, in a labor process controlled by the capitalist. The laborer had to be made doubly “free,” from old feudal obligations and from all propertied bases of independent livelihood.

Marx called this “primitive accumulation.” It created the preconditions for capitalist industrialization in Britain during 1500–1800. Peasants were forced off the land and converted into landless laborers, either working for capitalist farmers or migrating for jobs in the towns. Small-scale handicrafts simultaneously fell to centralized manufacture, either controlled financially by  merchants  or  physically  concentrated  under  a  single  roof  in  factories. This severance of country people from subsistence also created new markets for commodities, stimulating commercialized agriculture and growth of in- dustry.

The countryside’s transformation impelled capitalist industrialization. If manufacture gave capitalists control over means of production via the new property relations, mechanization brought control of the labor process by completing  the  worker’s  subordination  to  its technical needs. Replacing a division of labor based on handicrafts by one based on machines was the really  revolutionary  step  in  capital’s  progress, making  production less de- pendent  on  the  worker’s  manual  skills  and  enormously  boosting  produc- tivity.2  Concentration in factories could then accelerate, reorganizing work- places   and   harnessing   the   reserves   of   labor   power   released   by   rural dispossession.  All  the  long-term  logic  of  capitalist  industrialization  now unfolded,  from  the  relentless  polarizing  of  the  class  structure  between  a minority  of  capitalists  and  an  ever-expanding  category  of  workers  to  the continued  proletarianizing  of  intermediate  groupings  like  surviving  small farmers, artisans, and small businessmen and the growing homogenization of the working class. In the political sphere, this created the basis for labor movements, in the growth of class consciousness around workers’ collective interests.

Treated as a universal description, rather than a conceptual framework based  on  the  British  case,  however,  there  are  two  big  problems  with this

model. First, it oversimplified the process. Machines and factories mattered less than was supposed. Industrial revolution involved cumulative changes and not a big bang. Hand technologies rather than mechanization, and the dispersal of small-scale, labor-intensive production in the countryside rather than mass production in towns, were the norm. Early capitalism exploited cheap  labor  supplies  in  the  countryside,  where  simple  technologies could be used and where rural families’ contribution to their own subsistence kept wages low. There might be little incentive to make the leapinto factories. And  these  weren’t  “preindustrial”  holdovers  doomed  to  disappear  in  the march of progress. By 1914, British industry still used manual labor more than machines, relying on the worker’s physical effort. Coal-mining output roughly doubled in 1875–1914 but only by doubling the workforce, with minor advances in methods. British industry avoided mechanization by ex- ploiting  an  abundance  of  labor  and  refining  the  use  of  manual  tools.  Its labor process relied “on the strength, skill, quickness and sureness of touch of the individual worker rather than upon the simultaneous and repetitive operations of the machine.”3

Several conclusions follow. For one, because there were many paths to industrialization,  class  relations  between  capitalist  and  worker  could  be shaped in varying ways. Next, industrial capitalism can’t be identified sim- ply with factories and machines. Not only did older patterns of hand labor and  smaller  units  persist  but  also  capitalism  continuously  invented  new small-scale  forms,  including  “sweating”  or  homework,  and  specialized skilled manufacture.4   Finally, if industry didn’t simply call for mechaniza- tion, the urban pooling of labor, or an expanding market, then the chang- ing  relations  in  workplaces  become  all  the  more  key.  It  was  not  just  the ownershipand nonownershipof means of production that mattered but all the ways in which work itself was done.

This raises the second problem with a classical Marxist approach. Lin- ear models of industrialization oversimplify working-class formation. They imply too close a fit between the progress of capitalism and the growth of class consciousness. As the growing proletariat became ever more concen- trated in new urban-industrial centers, as machinery eliminated distinctions between  types  of  labor,  and  as  the wages system equalized workers’ con- ditions of life, Marx thought, the working class would acquire unified con- sciousness.  In  this  model,  workers  were  forced  by  exploitation  into  soli- darity,  at  first  defensively  through  local  and  industry-based  clubs  for mutual self-help, then more confidently in nationally organized unions, and finally politically in a revolutionary party. Throughout, the dialectic of class and  class  consciousness  was  linked  to  changes  in  the  economic  base:  the laws governing the capitalist mode of production had social effects, which determined the rise of the working-class movement. Marxists expressed this by  a  famous  couplet,  distinguishing  between  the  class  “in  itself”  and  the class  “for  itself.”  In  this  way,  they  believed,  the  forms  of  working-class collective  organization  (and  eventually  the  victory  of  socialism)  were  in-

scribed in the very processes of capitalist production themselves. As capital expanded, it also created the conditions for the working class to organize.5

As  a  guide  to  working-class  behavior in actual societies, this powerful analysis was always misleading. The working class was identified too easily with the wage relationshipin a pure form: the authentic worker, the true proletarian, was the factory worker. As this argument ran, the unevenness of  industrialization  and  its  diverse  settings  were  certainly  important,  but ultimately  mass  production  in  factories  (and  mines,  construction  sites, transportation systems, docks) still mattered more. From this, strong labor movements  were  easily  identified  with  “truly  modern  industry.”  In  this view, small-scale forms of production, notably craft-based industry in small workshops, even if longer-lasting than once supposed, were transitional and doomed to die. As industry became bigger, more machine-based and more concentrated  class  formation  became  more  “advanced”  and  the  labor movement  more  “mature.”  The  whole  of  the  working  class  would  never be subsumed into the “pure” proletarian relationship of the deskilled and propertyless worker against the capitalist. There would always be forms of ancillary production. Nevertheless, industrial workers would form the van- guard, and other workers would follow.

History proved this view flawed. Workers were recruited by many dif- ferent means, among which primitive accumulation and expulsion of peas- ants   from   the  land   was  only   one.  Workers  were  pushed  into  wage- dependency  by  many  other  routes—via  commercialized  farming,  cottage industry, urban  handicrafts, the urban infrastructure’s dense service econ- omies,  casualized  trades  and  “sweating,”  as  well  as  factories,  mines, and industrial  production  in  the  stereotypical  sense.  Across  Europe,  different labor regimes were mixed together. Eastern Prussia used both a dependent small-holding peasantry and large masses of migrant labor on its commer- cialized  estates.  The  Po  Valley’s  estates  used  both  wage  labor  and  share- cropping.  Cottage  industry  and  peasant  farming  were  by  definition inter- mixed. Further, some settings proletarianized more than others. Large-farm systems,  cottage  industry,  and  substantial  factory  production  necessarily entailed the creation of proletariats, but “specialized farming, peasant farm- ing, and urban craft production” might not.6

Such  processes  varied  richly  by  region.  In  Saxony,  as  in  many  other regions, the proletariat was recruited mainly in the countryside from people already  earning  wages rather than  from  people passing freshly out of an- other  class.  Before  the  1820s,  most  British  industry  developed  like  that, including the pioneering textile industry. In other cases, social dislocation was  sudden  and  sharp,  and  the  later  and  faster  the  industrialization, the more drastic this was. The massive late-nineteenth-century coalfield expan- sions in the Ruhr, Silesia, South Wales, and parts of France recruited mostly from  in-migrating  rural  populations,  as  did  new  industries  in  Italy  and Russia.  Clearly,  these  differing  paths  toward  proletarianization  had  huge implications for the specific working-class societies that would result.


In  fact,  the  “unity”  of  the  working  class  was  an  idealized  projection,  an abstraction  from  the  disorderly  and  unevenly  developing  histories  of  in- dustrialization  in  the  nineteenth  century,  whose  visible  concentrations  of laboring  poor  certainly  impressed  contemporaries  but  required  sustained action before settling into a pattern. Beginning in the 1830s, new cohorts of interpreters armed with new languages of “class” began organizing this social  world.  “Class”  became  a  way  of  rationalizing  the  divisive  facts  of industrialization—capitalism’s manifold accumulation regimes, labor mar- kets,  divisions  of  labor,  technologies  of  skill,  workplace  relations,  wage systems,  and  all  the  ways  of  dividing  workers  and  aggregating  them  to- gether. It also described the new social landscape, both the emerging pat- terns  of  residence  and  urban  segregation,  and  the  inequalities structuring the life-chances of different groups. When organized practices also formed around  these  new  understandings,  including  government  action,  religious and  charitable  work,  political  clubs,  and  eventually  socialist  parties  and trade unions, the class languages gained further weight. Thus, class offered a powerful armory of definitions, shaping disparate experiences into a uni- fied social identity.

As labor movements started to form in France, Belgium, Germany, and Britain, they drew workers of a particular type: skilled workmen in small to  medium  workshops,  strongly  identified  with  their  trade.  Such  male workers  were  artisans,  with  a  proprietorial sense of skill and the rules of the trade, autonomy on the job, and distinction from the mass of the un- skilled poor. But this status was threatened on many fronts—loss of control over  local  markets;  introduction  of  machinery  and  labor-saving methods; entrepreneurial  separation  of  masters  from  men;  cheap  mass  production outside the boundaries of trade regulation; and centralization in factories. Such  changes  might  set  masters  against  men  or  rally  them  both  against merchants and factory entrepreneurs. Once economies were affected by the vicissitudes  of  the  business  cycle,  all  trades  felt  the  uncertainty  in  wages and  employment.  Specialized  producers,  whether  northern  English  hand- loom weavers or Lyon silk weavers, could be dramatically hit by technical and organizational change. Lower-status trades like shoemakers and tailors came universally under pressure, soon joined by other crafts vulnerable to rapid  market  expansion.  The  male  “artisan”  was  being  turned  into  the

worker,” who might retain the scarcity of skill but controlled little more than the capacity to work. Customary independence within complex hier- archies  of  skill  was  replaced  by  growing  subordination  in  a  capitalist di- vision of labor.

Craftsmen defending their independence against the slide into the pro- letariat galvanized radical agitations in the 1830s and 1840s, helped ignite the  1848  revolutions,  and  shaped  early  socialism.  Such  agitations  were

drawn naturally to producer cooperation for alternatives to capitalism, em- ploying  ideas of “mutualism”  or the  “cooperative commonwealth.” Until

1914,  French  labor  movements  recurred  to  an  ideal  of  “federalist  trades socialism,” which imagined organizing collective ownershipthrough a dem- ocratic federation of self-governing skilled trades and local communes. This

socialism of skilled workers” was inscribed in a larger “idiom of associ- ation,”  carried  forward  in  two  spurts  of  radicalization.  In  1830–34,  the term “association” became extended from the original meaning of workers’ corporations (mutual aid societies adapted from the corporative traditions of the ancien re´gime) to the idea of producers’ cooperatives, and thence to the  socialist  project  of  a  crosstrade  federation  of  all  workers.7   Then  in

1848–51, it joined the revolutionary politics of a popular movement. This idiom of association also reflected patterns of popular sociability, through which  male  workers  fashioned  a  public  sphere,  grounded  not  just  in  the trade and mutual aid leagues but in the cultural world of choral societies and  social clubs and the everyday life of workshops, lodging houses, tav- erns, and cafe´s.8

In the first industrializing society, Britain, skilled male artisans also pro- posed  the  idea  of  a  general  working-class  interest.  The  shipwright  John Gast for the London skilled trades, Gravener Henson for outworkers in the northern manufacturing districts, and John Doherty for the cotton-spinners

(a new type of semiartisanal skilled worker) represented early trade union- ism at its climax in 1829–34.9   Artisan radicalism was embedded in broad popular movements demanding socioeconomic redress but especially dem- ocratic reform between the 1810s and the Reform Act of 1832, sometimes on a revolutionary scale. After embittering setbacks in 1832–34, when an- tidemocratic  parliamentary  reform  was  followed  by  the social policing of the 1834 Poor Law, radicals regrouped under the banner of Chartism, with its  extraordinary  unity  across  working-class  differences—handicrafts and new  manufactures;  skilled,  semiskilled,  and  unskilled;  organized  and  un- organized;  men  and  women;  natives  and  migrants;  different  regions,  in- dustries, and religious denominations.

Nonetheless, Britain’s radical culture of the 1820s depended heavily on male artisans in the “old specialist, unrevolutionized handworking trades,” invariably  the  better-off  “mechanics,”  as  contemporaries  called  them.10

Capitalist  expansion  pushed  the  London  trades,  especially  tailors,  shoe- makers,  cabinet-makers,  and  carpenters,  into  crosstrade solidarity for de- manding  renewal  of  traditional  regulations  and  democratic  reform, using litigation, strikes, and parliamentary lobbying on tariffs, wages, machinery, and  hours.  A  similar  logic  pushed  the  Birmingham  trade  societies “to re- define their relationships, not only with the employers, but also with other trades  who  shared  the  experience  of  change  in  the  workplace.”11   But the broader mass of proletarianized wage-workers fitted uneasily into this ar- tisanal culture. The “aristocratic” craft workers treated farm laborers, fac- tory  and  detail  workers,  Irish  migrants,  the  unskilled,  paupers, casual la-

borers,  and  vagrants  with  disregard  if  not  contempt,  leading  to  serious conflicts. Such tensions were better handled in Chartism, but ideals of pro- ducer  democracy  only  slowly  subsided  before  more  inclusive doctrines of socialism.

Apart  from the followers of Robert Owen, Charles Fourier, and other utopian  socialists,  the  democracy  of  early  radical  movements  was  also  a male  preserve.  Chartism’s  Six  Points  for  democratizing  the  British consti- tution  in  1837–38  expressly  excluded  votes  for  women.12   Such  discrimi- nation  repeatedly  emphasized  women’s  place  in  the  home and  the proper ordering of sexual difference. Women were certainly active in Chartism and other radical agitations, but when they spoke, they did so only within the walls of the embattled popular community itself. It was men who addressed the outside world “in the first person for the community as a whole.” Public discourse proper—including socioeconomic discontents, campaigns for civil freedoms, struggles over the law, and demands for the vote—was closed to women.13

For radical working men—the modest master craftsmen, displaced do- mestic workers, artisans and mechanics, and skilled factory operatives pro- viding   the   backbone   of   Chartism   and   contemporary  movements—the household’s integrity was basic to political identity. Whatever the reciproc- ities  between  women  and  men  in  the  household  division  of  labor,  as  a system  of  domestic  authority  the family  was centered on masculine privi- lege.  Thus  in  raging  against  capitalist  industry,  which  undermined  their skills  and  pulled  their  wives  and  children  into  factories,  radical  artisans were also defending their own sexual and economic regime within the fam- ily. “Their status as fathers and heads of families was indelibly associated with  their  independence  through  ‘honorable’  labor  and  property  in  skill, which identification with a trade gave them.” Women had no access to that independence. They were excluded from most trades, practising a craft only by  virtue  of  their  male  kin.  Woman’s  skill”  was  in  her  household,  her

property in the virtue of her person.” But “separated from the home, her family  and  domestic  occupations,  or  outside  the  bonds  of  matrimony,  a woman  was  assured  of  neither.”14   A  woman’s  political  identity  was  sub- sumed in the man’s. Rare proponents of female suffrage also limited their advocacy  to  “spinsters  and  widows,”  because  wives  and  husbands  were simply deemed to be one.15

This thinking adapted easily to industrialization. Demands for “protec- tive  legislation  became  clamorous  by  the  1830s.  Protecting  women  and children against the degrading effects of work in the new mills meant de- fending an idealized notion of family, hearth, and home, where benevolent patriarchy and healthy parental authority ordered the household economy by  “natural  differences  and  capacities”  of  women  and  men.  When  wives and children were forced into factories by the unemployment and depressed earning  power  of  the  husband-father,  this  natural  order  was  upset.16   To this  dissolution  of  moral  roles—the  “unsexing  of  the  man,”  in  Engels’s

phrase—were added the effects of women’s cheap labor, whose attractions for capitalists spelled loss of jobs, status, and skill for the men.17  This fusion of anxieties—resistance to the capitalist reorganization of industry; the de- sire to  quarantine the family’s moral regime—powerfully motivated those skilled workers with a strong enough bargaining position. After 1850, with Britain’s  new  prosperity  and  greater  political  stability,  such  groups  came into their own.

Women’s  work  was  crucial  to  this  system  of  distinction. Women were certainly a strong presence overall—around a third of employment in Brit- ain, Germany, France, and Italy by 1914, a fifth in Sweden—but appeared only  in  certain  industries,  mainly  textiles  and  clothing.  In  basing  their working-class ideals not only around workplace solidarities and crosstrade cooperation  but  also  around  sharply  gendered  notions  of  respectability placing women in the home, nineteenth-century democratic movements af- firmed models of dignified masculinity, which consigned women to depen- dency. Such positive models of working-class domesticity were also a direct rejoinder  to  bourgeois  attacks  on  the  moral  disorder  and  degradation  of the poor. Working-class radicals celebrated their own ideals of responsible manliness  and  womanly  virtue  in  reply.  But  this  politics  of  respectabilty militated  against  gender  equality  and  women’s  public  participation,  pre- cluding  other  models  of  civic  mobilization  asserting  women’s  rights.  By choosing certain strategies of community defense over others, working-class radicals shaped an enduring ideology of domesticity, limiting effective cit- izenshipto men.

The  result  was  a  recharged  domestic  ideology  of  masculine  privilege, embodied by those skilled men whose earning power supported their wives and  children.  Irregular  and  seasonal  labor  markets  invariably  meant  that male earnings needed to be supplemented by whatever income the rest of the  family  could  secure,  usually  in  casual,  sweated,  or  home-based  em- ployment  or  in  the  local  informal  economy.  But  if  the  skilled  craftsman keeping  his  wife  in  domesticated  unemployment  was  in  a  privileged  mi- nority  in  that  sense,  early  trade  unionism  was  virtually predicated on the system of female exclusion, and the new ideal of the “family wage” was a main mechanism separating the small e´lite of unionized craftsmen from the rest. Not only did it strengthen that e´lite’s material advantages but it also normatively  marginalized  women’s  employment  as  something exceptional and undesirable, confining it to the low-paid, unskilled, and often hidden areas of waged work.18

In  this  respect  too,  therefore,  the  working  class  was  a  complex  social formation. Though based on common social structures produced by capi- talist  industry  and  urbanization,  as  a  social  identity  it  was  structured around differences not easily stabilized into a unity for political purposes. To the divisions already mentioned—gross sectors of industry, agriculture, and services; various branches of industry; regional disparities; diverse dem- ographics  of  proletarianization;  the  major  faultline  of  skill—should  be

added gendered differences between working-class women and men. Across industrializing Europe, the ideal of a household managed by the nonwork- ing  wife  was  available  to  only  a  minority.  Women’s  earning  power  may have been vital to working families, but its status was practically and ex- plicitly  devalued.  Thus  in  building  the  collective  ideal  of  the  working class—in  shaping  the  disorderly  facts  of  industrialization  into  a  basis  for politics—socialists  embraced  only  some  parts  of  working-class  life  while derogating  others.  In  the  centering  of  class  identity,  some  working-class experiences became valorized, others ignored or effaced.19

As independent labor movements began forming in the 1860s, including trade unions and socialist parties, they inherited these gendered traditions. The earliest initiatives, in the European strike wave and political upheavals of 1868–74, were borne by representatives of the skilled crafts. Subsequent heavy-industrial expansion—in coal, iron and steel, shipbuilding, transport, chemicals,   heavy   machine-building—directly   generated   few   jobs   for women. So labor movements institutionalized precisely the systems of dis- tinction that were least conducive to a genuinely inclusive and gender-blind working-class  political  presence.  While  invoking  the  interests,  authority, and  collective  agency  of  the  working  class  as  a  whole,  those  movements were actually far more narrow and exclusionary.


How  a  working  class  was  recruited  also  shaped  the  possible  forms  of working-class  politics.  Where  industry  grew  slowly,  from  protoindustrial communities with long histories of industrial or semiindustrial employment, the  labor  movement’s  prospects  differed  from  those  where  industry  was freshly  introduced.  This  contrast  is  dramatically  illustrated  by  the  west German  cities  of  Hamborn  and  Remscheid.  From  1861  to  1910,  Rem- scheid,  a  metals  center  since  the  seventeenth  century,  grew  steadily  from

16,000  inhabitants  to  72,000,  recruiting  its  workers  from  the  immediate countryside  and  preserving  the  small  scale  of  its  craft-based  industry.  In contrast, Hamborn exploded from a village of 6,000 in 1895 into a huge company town of 103,000 by 1910. Its workforce was recruited from far and wide, brutally inducted into a new proletarian life.20

The  two  environments  could  hardly  have  been  more  different:  Rem- scheid,  with  its  slowly  accumulating  continuity  of  working-class  culture, securely  rooted  in  the  self-improving  ethos  of  skilled  artisans;  Hamborn, with its uprooted mass proletariat, dragooned into the mines and iron and steel  works,  crammed  into  the  company-owned  rental  barracks,  lacking either the dignity of work or the reserves of a self-confident labor movement culture.  Across  many  criteria,  including  housing  conditions, occupational health, infant mortality, educational provision, violent criminality, drunk-

enness, levels of poverty, and regimes at work, Hamborn workers were by far worse off.21  Hamborn’s extremely unrespectable and turbulent workers were the very epitome of the brutalized and exploited factory proletariat. Yet  Remscheid  workers  had  the  more  developed  class  consciousness, measured by strong union and party organizations. The Remscheid parlia- mentary seat was SPD from 1895, and reforms were also wrested from the liberal  city  council.  In  Hamborn, the SPD  was weak, and  union relations with  the  bulk  of  Hamborn  workers  were  fraught  with  mutual  suspicion, even contempt. This contrast surfaced vividly in the German Revolution of

1918–19.  Remscheid’s  labor  movement  took  local  power  behind  a  left- socialist  but  orderly  program  of  political  demands.  Hamborn  workers showed  more  violent  rank-and-file  militancy,  rallying  behind  economistic demands over wages, work, and control of industry but outside the frame- work  of  any  left-socialist  party  and  ultimately  lacking  in  political  direc- tion.22

Neither one nor the other, the skilled craft-conscious trade unionist nor the  unskilled  and  unorganized  laborer,  formed  the  “authentic”  working class  in  pre-1914  Europe.23   One  set  of  conditions  was  superficially  more conducive to socialist organizing. Yet the other conditions generated work- place  militancy  that  seemed  more  radical—violent,  spontaneous,  less  re- spectful  of  authority  and established procedures, ready for confrontation. How far different conditions directly determined different forms of action, in  the  sense  of  ruling  out  the  alternatives  and  how  far  they  left  socialists with space for maneuver was unclear.

What  was  clear  was  that  socialists  had  a  problem—how  to  devise  a politics for both. Then to this starker contrast came a still wider diversity of  working-class  experience.  “Typical”  workers  included  not  only  skilled metalworkers in Remscheid and heavy-industrial proletarians in Hamborn but also a multiplicity of manual occupations: dockers, seamen, transport- workers, construction workers, skilled machinists and semiskilled machine- minders, textile operatives, laborers in the chemicals, woodworking, food and drink, and clothing industries, skilled workers in specialized manufac- ture,  and  all  manner  of  traditional  craftsmen,  including  printers,  book- binders,  tailors,  leather-workers,  shoemakers,  carpenters,  masons,  house- painters, potters, and the like. Still others tended to be marginalized from the  emerging  imagery  of  the  industrial  working  class,  including  domestic servants,  agricultural  laborers,  shop-assistants,  clerks,  uniformed workers on  the  state  railways  and  mails,  and,  last  but  not  least,  women  home- workers in textiles, clothing, tobacco, and other trades. Just as fundamen- tally, whole areas of work—like housework, family maintenance, and do- mestic labor or the “assistance” provided by women and children to male breadwinning heads of household—rarely counted as “work” at all.

Moreover,  workers  of  whatever  kind  led  lives  beyond  the  workplace, however overshadowed by the daily grind of recuperating to face the next working day. They lived in neighborhoods, residential concentrations, and

forms of community, cheek by jowl with other types of workers and along- side  other  social  groups  as  well.  They  lived  in  complicated  households, sometimes resembling the stereotypical nuclear family but more often not. They came from diverse regions and birthplaces, spoke different languages or dialects, and bore profoundly different cultural identities from religious upbringing  and  national  origins.24   They  were  young  people  and  mature adults,  and  of  course  women  and  men.  How  all  this  might  be  fashioned into a single working-class identity was the operative question for socialists. The  rise  of  the  urban  working-class  neighborhood  was  crucial  to  this project. Initially, lower-class loyalties were held within superordinate struc- tures of deference and paternalism, often ordered by religion, and increas- ingly dominated by liberals. Across Europe, government policies and party actions regulated popular culture by interacting with the social histories of urbanization in ever more ramified ways. From the 1890s, states intervened with  gathering  intensity  in  the  everyday  lives  of  working  people,  assisted by  new  knowledges  and  professions  and  targeting  social stability and the national  health  via  powerful  ideas  of  family.  In  the  process,  powerfully gendered  images  of  the  ideal  working  father  and  the  responsible  mother permeated the politics of class. Then socialist parties, too, began organizing working  people  into  collective  political  agency  beyond  the  neighborhood and workplace, with an impact on government, locally and municipally, in regions,  and  eventually  the  nation.  All  these  processes  helped  shape class

identities institutionally.

But  no  less  vital  were  the  complex  ways  neighborhoods  spoke  and fought back.25   If the workplace was one frontier of resistance, where col- lective agency could be imagined, the family—or more properly, the neigh- borhood solidarities working-class women fashioned for its survival—was the other:

Working men faced industrial capitalism . . . in long, cold walks to the job, exhausting labor, occupational injuries and diseases, and grim pe- riods of unemployment. The wives met the forces of the industrial sys- tem at other points: sometimes at their own paid jobs, always at the local market street, with the landlord, with the charities, and with

such state institutions as hospitals, schools, and sanitary authorities.26

The  challenge  for  the  Left  was  to  organize  on  both  fronts  of  social dispossession. The practical policies of socialist parties inevitably registered the separation, but usually by adopting the normative gender assumptions rather  than  bringing  them  into  critical  and  truly  democratic  focus.  This remained  one  of  the  Left’s  most  perduring  misrecognitions: “labor move- ments”  implied  a  socialism  beginning  from  the  workplace,  centered  on strikes,  and  borne  by  militant  working  men;  yet  those  movements  were actually  more  broadly  founded,  also  requiring  women’s  efforts  in  house- holds,  neighborhoods,  and  streets.  Even  where  this  duality  was  acknowl-

edged, the primacy of the male-gendered class-political languages was sel- dom escaped.27

By 1900, the new urban societies were starting to solidify and coalesce.28

In  Britain,  some  80  percent  of  working-class  marriages  were  now  made from  common  backgrounds,  while  residential  segregation  encouraged the extended  family  networks  of  working-class  community  life.  Dense  socia- bility of pub and street and the spread of collective associations—friendly societies,  working men’s clubs, cooperative societies—thickened the infra- structure  of  common  identity,  while  new  organized  hobbies, mass sports, betting  on  horses  and  dogs,  the  continuity  of  home  and  street,  and  new commercial  entertainments  all  separated  working-class  people  from  the rest. This was “the working class of cupfinals, fish-and-chipshops, palais- de-danse, and Labour with a capital L,” recognizable “by the physical en- vironment in which they lived, a style of life and leisure, by a certain class consciousness  increasingly  expressed  in  a  secular  tendency  to  join  unions and  to  identify  with  a  class  party  of  Labour.”29   This urban sociopolitical coalescence implied a certain kind of manageable and interconnected com- munity, “places where work, home, leisure, industrial relations, local gov- ernment,   and   home-town   consciousness   were   inextricably   mixed   to- gether.”30

Organizing political consciousness was easier in smaller single-industry towns  like  Remscheid  or  Solingen  in  Germany  with  an older trade union culture, or their British equivalents like Sheffield, or “Red Limoges,” Rou- baix,  Lille,  and  Montluc¸on,  where  French  socialists  were  capturing mun- cipal government in the 1890s, or the northern Italian socialist municipal- ities enabled by local government laws of 1903.31  Working-class institutions also  afforded  citywide  frameworks  of  action,  like  the  friendly  societies councils  and  trades  councils  in  Britain;  “Chambers  of  Labor”  in  Spain, Italy,  and  France;  or  the  labor  secretariats of  the German  SPD. These al- lowed  some  influence  over  the  urban  environment,  where  workers  still lacked full democracy in the vote. The earliest cases of municipal socialism, such as the Labour Group’s brief rule in East London’s West Ham in 1898–

1900, made housing, public health, and social improvement into vital sites of action. But the first goal was mastering the casualized labor market, by creating a municipal works department, promoting investment, using pub- lic contracts, and requiring union rates.32  Such political action was key to class formation, as unions and work-based organizing still tended to priv- ilege the older craft societies.

Once urbanization passed a certain threshold, the city’s everyday life— notably in transport and rented housing—became a practical infrastructure binding working people together, particularly as reforming city administra- tions built mass transit systems and public housing of their own. Resulting concentrations of working-class people loyal to the city became a vital re- source  for  socialist  city  governments  after  1918,  the  bedrock  of  socialist electoral success. Red Vienna was the most imposing example of a general

pattern,  where  municipal  housing,  public  transport,  direct  labor,  and  the city  payrolls  grounded  the  Left’s  twentieth-century  urban  hegemonies.  In

1914–45, expanding central government provision of social goods, such as unemployment relief, health, education, housing, and social security, were also  disbursed  locally,  giving  the  working  poor  key  incentives  for  organ- izing. It began really to matter who was sitting in the council chamber or wearing the mayor’s chain of office.33

However, the local weight of a city’s working class needed the franchise to be felt. It was only after 1918, via revolutionary insurgencies, new con- stitutions,  and  a  wave  of  popular  enfranchisement  that  socialist  parties came  to  local  power.  This  was  startling  in  its  rapidity  in  northern  Italy during 1918–21, before Fascism violently brought an end to it. But in Wei- mar Germany, many urban locations of Scandinavia, Britain, and France, and  especially  Red  Vienna,  socialist  city  governments  pursued impressive programs  of  general  working-class  reform.  These  rendered  sectionalism more  manageable,  especially  once  the  post-1918  union  expansion  finally loosened the dominance of skilled workers and craft traditions, easing new partnerships  with  industrial  and  public-sector  unions.  Craft  exclusiveness was also complicit in ideologies of domesticity keeping women from public voice,  and  so  its  decline  potentially  weakened  the  masculinity  of socialist political cultures too. Municipal socialism, with its expanding welfare ap- paratus,  gave  women  new  opportunities  everywhere,  but  in  Scandinavia and  Britain  these  brought  wider  political participation. Following enfran- chisement  in  1918,  women  moved  the  Labour  Party  toward  a  stronger social agenda during the 1920s (via nursery education, maternal and child welfare, public health), shifting it further from the old trade-union ground. By the mid-1920s, Labour’s women’s sections had 200,000 members, with

155,000 in 1933, or 40 percent of the whole.


Thus,  working-class  formation  was  no  simple  result  of  industrialization. Capitalism certainly brought a distinctive social structure via common pro- cesses of dispossession, exploitation, and subordination, until working peo- ple kept few means of livelihood past selling their labor power for a wage. Capital’s regimes of accumulation, the practical circumstances of industrial production, and patterns of urbanization also shaped working-class life in powerful  ways.  The  spatial  architecture  of  the  working-class  presence  in society—the social geography of industrialization, the growth of cities, the concentration of working people in segregated quarters, the visible massing of  workers  in  all  these  ways—likewise  structured  common  trends  of  col- lective belonging. Working-class cultures displayed strong unifying regular- ities  across  neighborhoods,  occupations,  industries,  regions,  religious and linguistic barriers, and Europe’s national frontiers. In light of these conver-

gent  processes,  “the  working  class”  became  a  resonant  and  meaningful term of social and political address. By 1900, it described a palpable reality of European politics, social administration, and everyday life.

Yet workers were not the only popular class in European society. They coexisted  with  peasants  and  lower  middle  classes,  usually  in  equivalent numbers  with  continuing  societal  strength.  Moreover,  distinctions within the working class remained strong, not just outside work but in the multiple differences of the workplace itself, in wages, security of employment, sen- iority, job control, and of course skill, quite apart from sectional divisions from  industry  to  industry  and  firm  to  firm.  Despite  the  wage  relation’s universalizing logic, industrialization itself continuously invented new dis- tinctions,  notably  around  new  technologies.  The  most  troublesome  divi- siveness,  in  variable  but  persistent  forms,  centered  on  gender  and  work. Relatively small numbers of workers commanded higher wages and better conditions  via  their  skill,  as  against  the  low  wages,  irregular  work,  and stricter subordination of the mass of the working poor. And not only did working  women  fall  consistently  on  the  disempowering  side  of  this  skill line,  but  the  prevailing  structures  of  working-class  respectability  also  si- lenced  and  marginalized  women  via  cultures  of  family,  home,  and  public masculinity.

How  these  complex  and  countervailing  logics  of  unity  and  difference worked with and against each other in particular times and places depended crucially on politics—on the fashioning of working-class organizations and on  the  rivalry  of  religious,  philanthropic,  party,  and  governmental  inter- ventions  seeking  to  shape  and  secure  working-class  allegiance.  In  this  re- spect, social administration, public health, policing, the law, and the ram- ified  institutional  machinery  of  local  and  national government, as well as constitutional  frameworks  and  the  character  of  public  spheres,  all  deter- mined  the  course  of  working-class  formation.  As the working class made its collective appearance in European history, these were not external forces acting on a working class already made from economics and sociology but an intimate part of the making of the working class tout court.


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