Labor History and the Labor Movement

  • Published on
    07-Jan-2017

  • View
    226

  • Download
    10

Embed Size (px)

Transcript

  • Labor History and the Labor MovementWorkers: Worlds of Labor by Eric Hobsbawm; Languages of Class: Studies in English WorkingClass History, 1832-1982 by Gareth Stedman Jones; The Working Class in Modern BritishHistory: Essays in Honour of Henry Pelling by Jay Winter; Labour and Socialism: A Historyof the British Labour Movement, 1867-1974 by James Hinton; Poor Labouring Men: RuralRadicalism in Norfolk, 1870-1923 by Alun HowkinsReview by: Jeffrey CoxJournal of British Studies, Vol. 25, No. 2 (Apr., 1986), pp. 233-241Published by: Cambridge University Press on behalf of The North American Conference on BritishStudiesStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/175650 .Accessed: 08/05/2014 21:00

    Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at .http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp

    .JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.

    .

    Cambridge University Press and The North American Conference on British Studies are collaborating withJSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Journal of British Studies.

    http://www.jstor.org

    This content downloaded from 169.229.32.137 on Thu, 8 May 2014 21:00:57 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

    http://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=cuphttp://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=nacbshttp://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=nacbshttp://www.jstor.org/stable/175650?origin=JSTOR-pdfhttp://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsphttp://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp

  • book might be forthcoming under the aegis of the Urban History Coun- cil. Both the early modern town and the Victorian city have much mileage left in them yet, and the hares set running in the works consid- ered here will keep scholars well occupied. The real virgin territory is, of course, the twentieth-century city, with whatever models of counterurbanization et cetera we need to understand it. The planning historians have led the way, and suburbia has already been visited. Yet the twentieth-century conurbations have much yet to tell us about those diverse issues that are the current concerns of social historians: the role of women and families; employment and, with sharper contem- porary focus, unemployment; trade unionism and work practices; oc- cupations and social mobility; leisure pursuits; and the diversity of a multicultural society. And outside the academic walls urban historians should not ignore the interests of the wider citizen community. Perhaps the most compelling social justification for urban history remains the explanation and understanding of the townscapes in which people live and work today.

    DEREK FRASER Department of Education and Science, Leeds

    Labor History and the Labor Movement

    Workers: Worlds of Labor. By ERIC HOBSBAWM. New York: Pantheon Books, 1984. Pp. xi+369. $11.95 (paper).

    Languages of Class: Studies in English Working Class History, 1832- 1982. By GARETH STEDMAN JONES. Cambridge: Cambridge Univer- sity Press, 1983. Pp. viii+260. $39.50 (cloth); $11.95 (paper).

    The Working Class in Modern British History: Essays in Honour of Henry Pelling. Edited by JAY WINTER. Cambridge: Cambridge Uni- versity Press, 1983. Pp. xii+315. $39.50 (cloth).

    Labour and Socialism: A History of the British Labour Movement, 1867- 1974. By JAMES HINTON. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1983. Pp. ix+212. $22.00 (cloth).

    Poor Labouring Men: Rural Radicalism in Norfolk, 1870-1923. By ALUN HOWKINS. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1985. Pp. xiv + 225. $14.95 (paper).

    book might be forthcoming under the aegis of the Urban History Coun- cil. Both the early modern town and the Victorian city have much mileage left in them yet, and the hares set running in the works consid- ered here will keep scholars well occupied. The real virgin territory is, of course, the twentieth-century city, with whatever models of counterurbanization et cetera we need to understand it. The planning historians have led the way, and suburbia has already been visited. Yet the twentieth-century conurbations have much yet to tell us about those diverse issues that are the current concerns of social historians: the role of women and families; employment and, with sharper contem- porary focus, unemployment; trade unionism and work practices; oc- cupations and social mobility; leisure pursuits; and the diversity of a multicultural society. And outside the academic walls urban historians should not ignore the interests of the wider citizen community. Perhaps the most compelling social justification for urban history remains the explanation and understanding of the townscapes in which people live and work today.

    DEREK FRASER Department of Education and Science, Leeds

    Labor History and the Labor Movement

    Workers: Worlds of Labor. By ERIC HOBSBAWM. New York: Pantheon Books, 1984. Pp. xi+369. $11.95 (paper).

    Languages of Class: Studies in English Working Class History, 1832- 1982. By GARETH STEDMAN JONES. Cambridge: Cambridge Univer- sity Press, 1983. Pp. viii+260. $39.50 (cloth); $11.95 (paper).

    The Working Class in Modern British History: Essays in Honour of Henry Pelling. Edited by JAY WINTER. Cambridge: Cambridge Uni- versity Press, 1983. Pp. xii+315. $39.50 (cloth).

    Labour and Socialism: A History of the British Labour Movement, 1867- 1974. By JAMES HINTON. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1983. Pp. ix+212. $22.00 (cloth).

    Poor Labouring Men: Rural Radicalism in Norfolk, 1870-1923. By ALUN HOWKINS. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1985. Pp. xiv + 225. $14.95 (paper).

    REVIEWS REVIEWS 233 233

    This content downloaded from 169.229.32.137 on Thu, 8 May 2014 21:00:57 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

    http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp

  • British labor history is one of the success stories of recent histor- ical scholarship. Since the late forties, when the discipline was domi- nated by institutional histories of unions and political organizations, labor historians have become social historians too and have placed those institutions in their social and cultural context. Alun Howkins explains how "talking to the old men and women who had worked the land of Norfolk in the latter part of the period ... altered my approach to the subject from being a 'labour historian' to being, I hope, a histo- rian of the Norfolk labourer" (p. xii). In perhaps no other field, cer- tainly not in the history of the family, of the city, of religion, or of population, has the social historian's ambition to write "total history" produced such impressive results as those to be found in Howkins's book and the others under review.

    At the same time there is evident in these books a sense of crisis. The assumptions that have guided labor historians of the last genera- tion, and indeed of all previous generations, are no longer persuasive. Most labor historians have had some kind of political commitment to or emotional sympathy with an abstraction known as "the labor move- ment." Belief in the existence of a "labor movement" encompassing socialist intellectuals, unions, and the Labour party and the assump- tion that this movement was becoming more important during the course of industrialization have provided an intelligible general framework for the details of local labor and social history.

    Faith in the existence of this abstraction extends far beyond the relatively small group of Marxists for whom it takes a well-defined and theoretically coherent form. "The rise of the labor movement," like "modernization" or "secularization," guides the thought of many peo- ple with no formal allegiance to social theory and, consequently, of many historians who are not Marxists. The concept is part of the language that people use to understand British history in the same way that people use the language of class to make sense of British society.

    The sense of crisis comes from the inability to take the rise of the labor movement for granted anymore, and it takes two forms. There are those historians who now dismiss the belief in a unified growing labor movement as, in Gareth Stedman Jones's words, "something of an optical illusion" (p. 243). There are others, like Eric Hobsbawm, who believe that the study of British labor history confirms the hy- pothesis that a unified labor movement existed and was becoming more important in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The difficulty for him and other socialist historians is that they are per- suaded that this march through history has reached the end of the road, that "the great class movements of the classical era of mass socialist workers' parties have not very successfully survived the extraordinary economic, social, and cultural transformations of the 1950s and 1960s" (p. 80). Labor's forward march, Hobsbawm fears, has halted with the disintegration of the proletariat under conditions of capitalist affluence,

    234 REVIEWS

    This content downloaded from 169.229.32.137 on Thu, 8 May 2014 21:00:57 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

    http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp

  • and the consequences of that halt for the socialist belief in labor's ultimate victory are depressing and debilitating.

    Hobsbawm's seventeen readable essays, written mostly in the 1970s or early 1980s, cover a wide variety of topics. His pessimism about the labor movement's future is balanced by his optimistic con- viction that the emergence of unions and socialist political parties in western Europe between 1870 and 1930 more or less confirms the broad outlines, if not the specific predictions, of Marx's view of the future. Hobsbawm pioneered the writing of the history of the connec- tions between working-class life and culture, on the one hand, and working-class industrial and political institutions, on the other, and demonstrated that a Marxist need not be a vulgar Marxist. He accepts the wisdom and accuracy of many of the generalizations about the working class that are confidently cited by anti-Marxist historians as "refutations" of Marxism. Hobsbawm's working class is socially con- servative, willing to take advantage of social mobility, internally di- vided along lines of ethnicity, religion, skill, and "respectability," and usually a bulwark against revolution.

    Nevertheless, he insists that working people in capitalist societies have common interests, that in the right circumstances they may con- stitute a "class" in the Marxist sense, and that in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the European working class, through its support for unions and socialist political parties, provided a historical challenge to the logic of capitalism and won some important victories in the process. This view is explicitly argued in his short essay "The Making of the Working Class, 1870-1914," which challenges E. P. Thompson's The Making of the English Working Class (New York, 1963) on materialistic grounds. "The hand-mill gives you society with the feudal lord," Marx argued, and "the steam mill, society with the industrial capitalist." Only large-scale industry organized on a national scale, Hobsbawm argues, can produce a society with a national, class- conscious working class. Since large-scale industry organized on a national scale appeared in Britain only after 1870, Thompson must be wrong to identify the years before 1832 as the crucial ones in the making of the English working class.

    Before dismissing the argument in this outline form, read Hobs- bawm's essays, for he is particularly good at assembling evidence from the details of working-class life during this period. For instance, he cites the case of W. P. Richardson (1873-1930), a collier of Usworth, County Durham, Usworth parish councillor, director of the Usworth Colliery Primitive Methodist chapel choir, and author of a column on poultry for the local newspaper. Here is a man whose life was full of purely local concerns, a man of whom "it is safe to say that if, say, Manchester had been wiped out by an earthquake, it would have made no practical difference to him" (p. 199). Why should this Durham miner, whose predecessors had little or no concern for the miners of

    235 REVIEWS

    This content downloaded from 169.229.32.137 on Thu, 8 May 2014 21:00:57 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

    http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp

  • South Wales or even of Yorkshire, become a founder of the local Independent Labour party branch, a member of the board of the Daily Herald, a champion of the nationalization of all mines, and a national treasurer of the Miner's Federation? Those who believe that the rise of the working class is an "optical illusion" have a great deal of evidence to explain away. Why should working people all over Britain adopt the cloth cap as a class symbol between 1870 and 1914? The spread of fish and chips shops (there were 25,000 people employed as "fish fryers" in 1914), the emergence of working-class seaside resorts, the growth of professional football, and the popularity of the music hall become, in his hands, the raw material of class consciousness rather than evidence of social conservatism.

    His great weakness is an evident lack of curiosity about possible nonmaterialistic explanations. His essay "Man and Woman: Images on the Left" explains the very interesting replacement of women by men in labor and socialist iconography in the nineteenth century as a conse- quence of changes in the structure of industry and of work. The evi- dence, as usual, is marshaled with great care and skill and cleverness, but the possibility of other explanations does not enter his argument. His essay "Religion and the Rise of Socialism" assumes that religion is doomed to inevitable decline and decay in the modern world because of the underlying changes in the economy. Capitalist development "causes" modernization, which in turn "causes" secularization. Al- though willing to examine the uneven progress of secularization with some interest, he is unwilling to question the basic metaphor.

    It is not so much Hobsbawm's historical materialism that is trou- bling as his failure to address alternative explanations that might occur to his readers and an unwillingness to respond directly to the rising tide of skepticism about his kind of history. His essay "Labour History and Ideology" simply fails to address the concerns of Gareth Stedman Jones, who is certainly speaking for others when he argues that "the 'halting' of the 'forward march of labour' suggests a need not simply to examine 'the halting', but also to question the metaphor itself" (p. 1). What is being q...