Labor aristocracy

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The labor aristocracy is understood to mean the elite within the working class ( working class ) in the industrialized countries of Western Europe and North America, which formed from the middle of the 19th century.

Use of terms

The term was already used by Karl Marx (1818–83) in his work Das Kapital , he understood it to mean the “best paid section of the working class, (...) its aristocracy”. Friedrich Engels , too, speaks of an “aristocracy in the working class” who found their organizations in the “great trade unions”. “They have managed to force a relatively comfortable situation for themselves, and they accept this situation as final.” As early as 1858, Engels stated in a letter to Marx that “the English proletariat is in fact becoming more and more civilized, so that this, the most bourgeois of all nations, seems to ultimately want to have a bourgeois aristocracy and a bourgeois proletariat alongside the bourgeoisie. "

With Lenin (1870-1924) the labor aristocracy became a battle term in the context of his imperialism theory and was directed primarily against Western European and North American trade union and party leaders (see also trade unionism ). Lenin defines the causes and effects of the development of a labor aristocracy as follows: “Causes: 1. Exploitation of the whole world by the country concerned; 2. Its monopoly on the world market; 3. its colonial monopoly. Effects: 1. Citizenship of part of the English proletariat; 2. A part can be led by people who are bought by the bourgeoisie or at least are paid by it. "

Against the Leninian definition it can be argued that the improvement of the proletarian living conditions did not affect a minority and was not the result of the bribery of workers, but of the wage struggles in times of capitalist prosperity.

Analytically , the term is partly understood as an internal differentiation of the working class. The term, which is based on the Marxist tradition, plays an important role in English social history in particular . There it is applied to the particularly well-qualified class of workers striving for (petty) bourgeois respectability. Eric J. Hobsbawm examined this group primarily for the period from 1840 to 1990. The most important characteristics for him were regular employment and higher wages. In addition, he introduced the category of a super aristocracy . However, the analytical fuzziness and inadequate delimitation of the concept of the labor aristocracy has often been criticized.

Labor aristocracy in Germany

This discussion was also held for the German case. In Germany, too, there had been a labor aristocracy since the mid-19th and early 20th centuries, but its structure has changed significantly over time. This initially included artisanal “class” workers such as miners in ore mining, in metal and glass works, state manufacturers, etc. with their professional privileges (hence “aristocracy”). This class, which monopolized important professional experience and was often able to “bequeath” it to its sons, was replaced towards the end of the century by a new (above all large) industrial labor aristocracy: As a result of the long-lasting economic boom 1895–1914 in connection with the increasing export success of the coal and steel industry , mechanical engineering and the electrical industry as well as with increasing size and bureaucratisation of the companies, numerous new positions were created for permanent workers and foremen, foremen and inspectors. These were permanently employed and some of them enjoyed new privileges such as company apartments and company pensions (for example in coal mining, at Krupp, Siemens, in the naval shipyards, etc.). The spread of vocational training in more and more professional groups resulted in a certain homogenization of the German workforce. The existence of a labor aristocracy was consequently less pronounced before the First World War than in Great Britain.

With Fordism , however, a "workers bureaucracy" emerged in all western countries in the 1920s, which was absorbed by the growing number of white-collar workers.

Since 1941/42, the qualified permanent and skilled workers in the German armaments industry faced an army of mostly poorly qualified forced laborers , whose working and living conditions were extremely different from those of the permanent workers.

Probably in order to avoid ideological references, the concept of the labor aristocracy in German-speaking countries only plays a subordinate role even in retrospect of the 19th century. Terms such as performance, function and value elites became more important. In the 1970s, the distinction between core and fringe workforce was repeatedly used as an analytical concept for employment relationships in the Federal Republic of Germany.

Viewed on a global scale, it could be argued today that the Western working classes are assuming the position of a labor aristocracy in relation to the rest of the working classes in the world, to labor immigrants or "ethnic lower classes" in Western countries.


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Karl Marx: The capital . In: Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels: Werke (MEW), Volume 23, p. 697.
  2. ^ Friedrich Engels: Foreword to the English edition of the "Situation of the Working Class". (1892). In: Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels: Werke (MEW), Volume 22, p. 274.
  3. Engels to Marx, October 7, 1858, MEW 29, 358.
  4. Lenin : Imperialism as the highest stage of capitalism . 1917; Lenin: Imperialism and the split in socialism. 1916.
  5. Lenin: Imperialism as the highest stage of capitalism . LW 22, 289
  6. ^ EJ Hobsbawm: "The labor aristocracy" in nineteenth-century Britain. In: EJ Hobsbawm (ed.): Laboring Men. London 1964, chap. 15th
  7. ↑ In summary: HF Moorhouse: The Marxist theory of the labor aristocracy. In: Social History 3 (1978) 1, pp. 61-82 online
  8. Johannes Laufer: Professional tradition and industrial production in the 19th century. In: Structure and Dimension. Festschrift for Karl Heinrich Kaufhold . Edited by Hans-Jürgen Gerhard. Volume 2, p. 372 ff.
  9. Jürgen Schmidt: Core workers as a labor aristocracy? In: Zeitschrift für Unternehmensgeschichte 39 (1994) 1, pp. 1–17.
  10. The discussion summarizing with references to basic literature: Gerhard A. Ritter , Klaus Tenfelde : Arbeiter im Deutschen Kaiserreich. 1871-1914. (= History of the workers and the workers' movement in Germany since the end of the 18th century. 5). Dietz, Bonn 1992, ISBN 3-8012-0168-6 , p. 464.
  11. See e.g. B. Peter Hauptmanns: Rationalization and Qualification Development: An Empirical Analysis in German Mechanical Engineering. Springer Verlag 2013, p. 175.
  12. ^ Labor aristocracy. In: Critical Dictionary of Marxism . Volume 1, 1983.
  13. ^ Douglas S. Massey, Nancy A. Denton: American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass. Cambridge, MA 1993.