It is my privilege to give the Marx Memorial Lecture of 1978 and I want to use it to survey some developments in the British working class during the past 100 years. It is a long-established habit, on these occasions, to take the texts of Marx and Engels as our starting-point, but I shall not do so for two reasons. In the first place, as it happens, neither Marx nor Engels said much about the British working class between the end of the First International and the 1880s, and to the best of my knowledge they said nothing whatever about it exactly one hundred years ago. In fact on this very day (March 17, 1878) there appeared in an American journal the middle one of a series of five articles by Engels on the European workers (Werke 19, 117-138). This mentioned numerous untries from Russia to Portugal, but contained not one word about Britain. He remained totally silent—no doubt regretfully silent—about the admittedly uninspiring labour scene in this country a century ago. In the second place, and more to the point, what I wish to underline is something which a marxist analysis alone will help us to understand,but which Marx’s texts cannot; that the forward march of labour and the labour movement, which Marx predicted, appears to have come to a halt in this country about twenty-five to thirty years ago. Both the working class and the labour movement since then have been passing through a period of crisis, or, if you prefer to be mealymouthed about it, of adaptation to a new situation. Most of us, engaged in day-today struggle, have not paid as much attention as we ought to this crisis, though we can hardly fail to be aware of some of its aspects. My purpose is to see it in the long-term perspective of the changing structure of British capitalism and the proletariat in it. I see our task as marxists, and mine as the Marx Memorial Lecturer as applying Marx’s methods and general analysis concretely to our own era,and I hope Marx himself would also have seen it that way. Read Complete Article >>
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