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Labour History, the 'Linguistic Turn' and Postmodernism Author(s): Dick Geary Source: Contemporary European History, Vol.

9, No. 3, Theme Issue: Reflections on the Twentieth Century (Nov., 2000), pp. 445-462 Published by: Cambridge University Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20081764 . Accessed: 13/08/2013 20:50
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Labour History,
Turn'

the 'Linguistic

and Postmodernism

DICK

GEARY

Prologue This paper is primarily concerned with changes in the nature of historical writing class in the late twentieth century, rather than with a about the European working over one hundred years (a decidely un-postmodern but the last of labour history its concluding section does propose distinction). However, meaningful a few brief and highly schematic theses about changing working-class identities from
the turn of the century to the present day.

nonetheless

Autobiographical Postmodern

confessions

that historians, theory informs us that there are no disinterested is always autobiographical and that, when we write history, we historical writing 'privilege' one historical narrative' at the expense of other possible narratives'. We
need to realise what we exclude, as well as what we include, in our chosen narrative,

and we
made. 'labour

have
Hence historian',

to recognise
I begin with if that

and in some way


a series I am, of and chose

seek to justify
to write about

the choices we
I became and conflict class

have
a in

autobiographical

confessions.

is what

the 1960s, when


to expose social

Iwanted,
injustice

for reasons which


and to destroy its

were

obviously

autobiographical,
For me, as a student

both
at

foundations.

in the mid-1960s, the study of labour and of Marxist theory (where I Cambridge an was to instrument of this politics of liberation. My first book, be really started) Labour Protest, 1848?1939, though it appeared much later (1981), still had its European to identify those factors which origins in this agenda and was primarily concerned Even bred collective working-class so, my narrative, like that of many of my protest. some of the commonplaces was of the contemporaries, capable of grasping postmodern
nomic

critique

of
and

'traditional'
a teleology

labour history,
of class-consciousness.

supposedly

anchored
Labour

in eco
Protest

determinism

European

related to only indirectly and problematically recognised that concepts in that they found first expression in artisan protest, that workers 'industrialisation', at the forefront of the most modern forms of industrial production were rarely labour protest before 1914, and that labour organisation was predominantly
Contemporary European History, 9, 3 (2000), pp. 445-462 ? 2000 Cambridge University Printed in theUnited Kingdom Press

of class were

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446
recruited period. used from Thus to be skilled there described that issues was as of males no

Contemporary European History


rather necessary than from 'in general' being a worker other generation in this

wage-earners between I also realised,

early

connection

and what labour and

'class-consciousness'. ethnicity, religious

like many gender,

historians,

confession,

or destroyed 'class' solidarity; threatened, fragmented, locality and that where such solidarity did exist, itwas not necessarily there to stay. European Labour Protest was further convinced of the centrality of politics, of the role of the state rather than the market, in the production of class (as distinct from occupational) sometimes dissolved
identity and action. My awareness of the fragility of 'class', however, was not the

result of a disdain of'meta-narratives'

observation of labour movements that is, of attempts at comparison. Collective protest and class identity still formed my central narratives, and my work largely ignored, except most fleetingly, the issue of too It also said far little about distinct from agency (as gender. structure) and even less about the role of culture and community in the formation of identities.1 more I the had become concerned with the elements By early 1990s
? fragmented Issues more Catholic though of working-class ethnicity, than confession, they nationalist last case my had solidarity gender, in my workers, treatment for political, as well and as as academic, now nationhood did conservative and it was women elementary.

(? la Lyotard) but rather a consequence in different regions and different countries,

of the

that

reasons. featured workers, workers, That

generation earlier work,

strongly workers, in the

working-class was as cursory

Tories as

neither

industrial

'class' (as distinct


than multiple before, and

labour nor workplace experience necessarily explained or local) solidarity was stated more from occupational
I had become identities. more Yet aware my views of the were simultaneous in no sense

or caused forcefully
of I

co-existence 'postmodern'.

working-class

was disgracefully ignorant of the 'linguistic turn', of the French postmodernists and of historians such as Hay den White, whose of all critique grand theory, but now strike me as rather familiar and ancient, especially of Marxism, despite their erstwhile (and now possibly demode) fashion. I still attempted to explain differences within
structural

and between
terms ?

national
uneven

working
economic

classes
development,

in

'old-fashioned'
different

and primarily
systems of pay,

differences

in skill, in residential and social structures, the various, often conflicting, at work, in the market place and experiences of young and old, men and women was not in the world But of this crucially politics. politics (pace Patrick Joyce or

Stedman Jones) construed as discourse; what concerned me were rather the concrete provisions of constitutions, the behaviour of regimes during strikes and the varied policies of employers towards their workers.2 Although I have recently paid more attention to the culture of the German classes, I still portray that working Gareth culture
residential

as one

constructed
For

within
me

the spaces of real cities,


communities are not simply

in distinct
'imagined'

kinds
but

of
also

communities.

built

in spaces of bricks

and mortar

(territoriality

has been

a distinctive

aspect of

1 2

Dick Dick

Geary, Geary,

European

European Labour Protest, 1848-1939 (London: Croom Helm, 1981). Labour Politics from 1900 to theDepression (London: Macmillan,

1991).

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Labour History, working-class

the Linguistic Turn' and Postmodernism 447

of cartographers, pace daily life and is not simply an invention never I and have is that believed constructed Bourdieu); identity primarily or or these Yet are.3 culture, (to important independently by language though ? a are and identities claim that communities constituted by stereotype) it is in such rather than by structural realities cultural discourse, that the distinctiveness of much postmodern social history resides.4

Class In Britain,
has been

and the 'new

labour history' labour history has emerged, which


post-structural thought, expressed

France and the United


informed by currents

States a new
and

of postmodern

most
work

influentially
on the

in the work
of text

of Derrida
and language,

and Foucault.
and Foucault's

Starting
insistence

from Derrida's
that discourse

autonomy

the subjects and objects it purports to represent, this historiography rejects positivist accounts of historical change and in particular historical accounts constitutes
rooted in an 'economic reductionism'. Following Jean-Fran?ois Lyotard, the

is postmodern displays incredulity History must about the unique and the contingent, and it thus leave questions of causality most unresolved historians influenced tend to forget (although by postmodernism this part of the rubric in their formulations of what cultural determinism). The new history, championed
La Capra and Paul Ricoeur, when these further are contests as interests, construed

condition

towards

all meta-narratives.

I later chastise as linguistic or by Hayden White, Dominick


couched some way in terms of and in

explanations being

especially

'objective',

is sceptical of all historical writing,


identities, such as gender, ethnicity,

which

privileges

class at the expense


and inter-class

of other

nationhood

communities.

(Strictly speaking, rigorous


narratives of gender, race

postmodernism
and nation too.)

is - or should be - sceptical of the meta


History is no longer an account of the

past but
constructed social 3

a terrain of competing
autobiographically. independent of

discourses
Communities or

or narratives,
are culture. 'imagined', Classes

which
not and

are themselves
created communities by some are

reality

language

Dick 'Beer and Skittles? Workers in Germany and Culture in the early Twentieth Geary, Australian Journal of Politics and History, Vol. 46, no. 3 (2000), 388-402. Century', 4 about history from the perspective of postmodernism turn (or about and the linguistic Writings Press, these) include Hayden White, (Baltimore: Metahistory Johns Hopkins 1973); idem, University Tropics of Discourse (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins European Intellectual History University (Ithaca, NY: Press, 1978); idem, The Content and the Form University La Capra and Steven L. Kaplan, Modern Press, 1987); Dominick Cornell University Time andNarrative Press, 1982); Paul Ricoeur, The New Cultural History Press, 1984/85); Lynn Hunt, (Berkeley:

of Chicago (Chicago: University of California Geoff Bennington and Robert Press, eds., 1989); Derek University Attridge, Young, Poststructuralism and theQuestion ofHistory Press, 1987); Keith Jenkins, (Cambridge: Cambridge University The Condition (London: Routledge, 1991); David Harvey, Re-thinking History (Oxford: of Postmodernity History: Postmodernism and theCrisis ofHistorical Sequel to S. Roth, The Ironist's Cage: Memory, Press, 1992); Michael Trauma, and the Construction ofHistory Press, 1995); David D. Roberts, (New York: Columbia University of California Press, Nothing But History: Reconstruction and Extremity after Metaphysics (Berkeley: University Chartier, On the Edge of the Cliff: History, Language and Practice (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins 1995); Roger Ermath, University Press, 1997); Alan Munslow, Deconstructing History (London: Routledge, 1997). Basil Blackwell, 1989); Elizabeth Deeds Time Princeton (Princeton: University

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448
constructed

Contemporary

European

History

autobiographically

and

never

safe.

They

are

fragile,

transient,

shifting,

than unity. Identities are forged from Diversity overlapping. engagement with cultural and political discourses and in the course of action; they are not social realities, which exist before and give rise to actions, language and is stressed rather
culture. Needless to say, such an approach drives a coach and horses through an

of begins antiquated teleology industrialisation and proletarianisation, and one of the prime targets or victims of the turn and has been the construction of labour history in theory linguistic postmodern an economically to the postmodernists) determined and (according as as of well which have class as their dominant outdated concept class, histories, narrative.5 It should be said, of course, that some of the French and British historians terms of whose is discussed below dislike the postmodern label, and few of them see as But their work has been strongly influenced by the history only autobiographical. scepticism. In particular they tend linguistic turn and certain aspects of postmodern work
to play down explanations couched in terms of socioeconomic structure and stress

of class formation,

which

and ends with

a narrative

the formative
'post-structuralists'.

role of language

and culture. They

are perhaps

better

described

as a

In French
massive tion and

labour historiography
and become consequences.

the narrative of class formation


detached for from the old has narrative identified

has undergone
of industrialisa the roots

transformation its

Sonnenscher,

example,

of

artisan solidarity in a pre-industrial language and in particular in the realm of law (an subject and one which might go some way towards admittedly much neglected divide in the starkness of the blue-collar/white-collar for example, explaining, Germany identity
socioeconomic

in the early twentieth century). in France in the first half of


explanations and concentrates

Sewell's
its

seminal
attention

the nineteenth to both the

study of radical artisan is sceptical of century


on pre-industrial lan

traditions, relating guage language of he which artisans and the discourse of the French Revolution, together regards as being of prime significance in the constitution of labour's identity in France in the too insists on the power and longevity of first half of the nineteenth century. Reddy and cultural pre-capitalist
him the market

time-honoured

modes

of discourse

in French
rather

labour before
than a mere

the FirstWorld
economic

War.

For

is a cultural

construct

reality.

Jacques

Ranci?re

stresses the mythical


themselves, created class rather structure.6

the June Days


struggles socially 5

nature of artisan identity, while Traugott's analysis of of 1848 sees identities and solidarities being forged during the political
than as the product of some previous economically or

See

Chicago Michel

Things Practice (Ithaca, NY: Cornell Press, idem, Counter-Memory, 1979); idem, Power/Knowledge: University Selected Interviews and Other Writings Press, 1980); Mark Poster, Foucault, Marxism (Brighton: Harvester and History (Manche Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition Polity Press, 1984); Jean-Fran?ois (Cambridge: ster:Manchester 6 Michael University Sonnenscher, Press, 1984). Natural Law, Politics, and the Eighteenth-Century French Trades

note. See also Jacques Derrida, Writing of and Difference (Chicago: University Press, 1973); 1978); idem, Speech and Phenomena (Evanston: Nortwestern University The Archaeology Foucault, 1972); idem, The Order of (New York: Harper & Row, of Knowledge and Civilization House, 1973); (London: Tavistock, 1973); idem, Madness (New York: Random the preceding Press,

(Cambridge:

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Labour History, In Britain

the Linguistic Turn' and Postmodernism 449

an equally impressive historiography has sought to remove the it has stressed cross-class solidarities and centrality of class from its narrative. Rather sees patriotism as a unifying non-class divisions. Thus Linda Colley theme of
eighteenthand early nineteenth-century Britain, Sonya Rose raises the significance

of gender
Vernon

above
replace

that of class, and Gareth


a class narrative with that

Stedman Jones, Patrick Joyce


of a more classless 'populism'.

and James
Somewhat

differently
political

John Benson's
realm of workers

work
as

has emphasised
To look

the essentially
at two of

private
these

and non
more

consumers.

authors

closely: Stedman Jones, in his seminal study of Chartism, pays close attention to the language of its adherents and concludes that its ideology was rooted in a discourse of
populism as this and article radicalism is concerned that was a not primacy class-specific. of language He also in the claims crucially, of as far social construction

but actually reality: language in this account is not the product of experience Patrick Joyce similarly discusses a populist constitutes, gives birth to experience. rhetoric, and although he sees that this was never completely devoid of class tones,
he nonetheless asserts the autonomy of language and culture. Joyce recognises the

coexistence
more properly

of different
English)

and sometimes
workers, and, as

contradictory
already noted,

identities
does not

among British
deny the existence

(or

of class. But he denies society before the dominant narrative

that class was War.

the First World

any more important than classlessness in British For Joyce, as for Vernon and Stedman Jones,

of English a labour before 1914 was radical populism, a rather than class-based rhetoric formed the political discourse, supposedly by experience of industrial wage labour. As in the case of Stedman Jones, the primacy of production
discourse replaces

in the construction
economic structure

of

labour's
as the

identity

is disputed

and political
It is the

crucial

formative

variable.7

claim of the primacy


which forms the object

of language
of this essay.

and culture
That

in the determination
constitutes our

of identities
only access to

language

Cambridge Cambridge (Cambridge:

University University Cambridge

Press, Press,

1989); William 1980);

University

(Cambridge: Cambridge University G?n?rale of the Artisan', International Labour and Working-Class d'Editions, 1976); idem, 'The Myth Armies of the Poor idem, La nuit des prol?taires (Paris: 1981); Mark Traugott, History, Vol. 24 (1983), 1-16; Press, 1985). For surveys of this literature see Lenard Berlanstein, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Turn in French Labour History', 'Working with Language: The Linguistic Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 'Social History, "New Cultural History" 33, no. 2 (1991), 426-40; James F. Mcmillan, and the Rediscovery of Polities', Journal ofModem History, Vol. and the 66, no. 4 (1994), 755-72; to Lenard R. Berlanstein, introduction ed., Rethinking Labour History (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois, 1993), 3-37. 7 Linda Britons: Forging the Nation Limited Colley, 1707?1837 (London: 1994); Sonya Rose, Livelihoods has qualified the significance Press, 1992). More (Oxford: Oxford University recently Rose of gender relative to other identities: 'Gender and Labor History', International Review of Social History, Vol. See also Gareth Stedman 38 (1993), supp. 1, 145-62. Jones, Languages of Class (Cambridge: Visions Press, 1984); Patrick University Joyce, of the People (Cambridge: Democratic Press, idem, 1991); University Press, Subjects (Cambridge: Cambridge University Politics and the People Vernon, Press, (Oxford: Oxford University 1993); John Benson, Consumer Society in Britain 1880?1980 (London: Longman, 1994). Specifically Joyce, Visions, Cambridge Cambridge 1994); James The Rise of 9.

H. Sewell, Work and Revolution in France (Cambridge: The men and Women idem, Structure and Mobility: of Marseilles M. Reddy, The Rise Culture Press, 1987); William of Market La Parole Ouvri?re Press, 1984); Jacques Ranci?re, (Paris: Union

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450
is not if this

Contemporary European History


self-evident, claim were as occulists true, it would and not out. reality In any apart case, from

'reality' even

neurologists mean that

might there

point is no

language.
so far as

In fact those historians


to make to claim that

influenced
there

by postmodern
knoweable

theory rarely, if ever, go


'out there', for such a

is nothing

claim would

render any distinction between history and fiction untenable and there as those who mark undergraduate essays know! The achievements of the new labour history after the 'linguistic turn' are in some a Its proponents have prevented labour history from becoming regards formidable. (John Saville), they have destroyed crassly reductionist 'eulogy for dashed hopes' is such a distinction,
theories the of class formation of non-class ever more identities rigorously, among and workers, they have although opened we our knew eyes about to

significance

multiple
disclaim

identities
characterisation

long

ago. Post-structural
as 'labour' or 'social'

historians
historians

(many
and reject

of whom
the

would

postmodern

into the social-historical the political dimension label) have rightly reintroduced more us to in our reading of the critical be have Above all they taught equation. 'texts' of labour, to ascribe proper significance and pay due attention to language, we or not and to be aware of the fragility and transience of ascribed identities. Whether has their work and of Stedman conclusions with the Sewell, agree Jones Joyce, as as in its theoretical underpinnings, and labour often been impressive in its detail a gut dismissal of the new once was. as as cannot it Nor will be unreflective history as 'faddish' or 'too-clever-by-half' empiricists by Anglo-Saxon historiography suffice to restore an unreflective

and positivist labour history, common though such a reaction is. (Imust confess I partly share this instinctive rejection, not least because an absorption of manual work, in the texts of labour can miss the physicality claims of Yet the and action.) methodological working-class play working-class
some postmodernists need to be contested on grounds other than the strong

desire to punch autobiographical constituted scarcely by language!).

them on the nose

(and thus give rise to a reality

The The conclusions identities

'linguistic

turn' and historical

method

to dispute the centrality of class and stress concerned labour history before 1914 are, of course, far from novel. Indeed there are times when Joyce (to a lesser extent), Stedman Jones, and Vernon as they rejoice in the shared values of (in particular) sound positively Whiggish, have for years recognised that income, historians Furthermore labour Englishmen. skill, occupation, locality, region, religion, political loyalties, tradition and consump of historians other in British novel

is of workers' tion all play a part in the differentiation thoughts and actions. What is the insistence of the new history on the primacy of language and culture. principles, (Strictly speaking, of course, such a claim itself falls foul of postmodern a causal explanation in their insistence on the which defy anything resembling unique and which reject a dualist distinction between the cultural and the material.) The first problem I have with the claim that language or text constitute amd do status. In what way is a claim not simply reproduce reality lies in its epistemological

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Labour History, of

the 'Linguistic Turn' and Postmodernism 451

different from a claim that linguistic or cultural primacy methodologically are economic structures? Both positions identities are primarily determined by us a can with method of unless enquiry, they provide philosophically disreputable, which could substantiate one claim as against the other. Neither has ever done this satisfactorily. At this level both claims are essentialist and locked in competition a diffuse linguistic/cultural/political reductionism on the one hand and a between on the other. Both claims (primacy of culture versus crass economic determinism primacy of economy) also rest upon the feasibility of making meaningful between the cultural and the material (a quaintly familiar mind/matter distinctions distinction), and thus result in a latter-day Cartesian dualism. Such a dualism, of course, itself contradicts postmodernism's critique of the untenable distinction between language and reality and was the central target of Foucault. But the trouble is that many of the

historians

influenced by postmodern theory do end up claiming the primacy of an repertoire of understanding that end with and couched in is, culture, up language dualist terms. Furthermore, the study of a particular problem in a particular period in artisan Britain, (Chartism politics in France) could never in itself constitute a demonstration even of a universal proposition about the primacy of language and culture, if it did succeed in demolishing specific structural/economic/social explana tions of artisan radicalism or class identity. That some types of analysis based on
of economic and social structure fail to deliver satisfactory answers to

accounts

specific historical questions is clear (for example, the growth of mechanised factory production does not explain the emergence of the language of class and class-based politics). in general or the could be because such socioeconomic explanations are in But of class it could concept general inadequate. equally be because of a a stem from the fact that there are still specific rather than general inadequacy, could This
areas of material existence and experience or aspects of class as yet unor under

explored,
inadequate.

or because
For example,

the understanding
if class concepts

of social and economic


pre-date widespread

structure

is itself in the
at least

factory

manufacture,

as they do, this does not necessarily mean


realm of the of political discourse alone. is purely artisan and or culture, (And of non-economic that in the

that their origin resides exclusively


realms there of the non-economic, such of relations craftsmen, for thing or is no

in the course An or independent

as a structure/ structures power between certainly of

event/action dependence merchant

economic.) workplace,

analysis changing

changing of

capitalists

nominally

example,

turns out account

of John Breuilly, one of the few real comparatavists, shows, even if the old and simple narrative of industrialisation is inadequate.8 The emergence of similar
8 John Breuilly, Nineteenth-Century Merchants Gordon, (Alabama: University France 'Artisan economy, ideology in idem, Labour and Liberalism and polities', in See also David Press, 1992), 115-59. University and Provincial Politics in Nineteenth-Century France Hanagan, Press, Nascent Proletarians: Class Formation of Sewell in Post see B. H. 1989). For a further critique

changes as the work

of artisan socialism than any helpful to an understanding of industrial mechanisation and factory labour. Yet this still means that in the organisation of production were central to changing artisan identity, to be more

Europe (Manchester: Manchester and Capitalists: Industrialization of Alabama, 1985); Michael (Oxford: Oxford University

Revolutionary

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452
artisan to the

Contemporary

European

History

responses

phenomenon

of merchant

capitalism

in Britain,

France

and

Germany formulated

in the first half of the nineteenth in purely cultural or linguistic I have with Sewell's

century cuts across any explanation terms that are nationally specific. This account of artisan radicalism in France; of English and German artisans, different from that of their French
to his essentially national?cultural

explains the problem for similarities in the discourse inhabiting


counterparts,

and behaviour and culture


are limits

a world
suggests

of

language
that there

explanation, with its focus on the language of the French Revolution. and Joyce do recognise and treat as important the continued Reddy
small-scale, contextualised non-factory in their labour, account.9 that is, the persistence therefore, of pre-industrial historians cannot In practice,

Furthermore existence
discourse and do not

of
is

simply start from text or language, whatever


or cultural primacy.

claims they might make

about linguistic

revolves around the view of language as independently problem constituitive of social reality. It may be true that we can only comprehend and construct reality through language and culture, although I should have thought that A second and without words. But this does not physical experience does exist neurologically mean that reality does not exist apart from language. Nor does itmean that there is no connection between the signified and the signifier. Language is not necessarily or always wilful. The historian who wants to deny that there is anything 'out there' beyond
and most

our cultural constructions


of us are aware of rules

should get out of history,


of evidence, which of

for history
necessity

is not fiction
some

preclude

kinds course,

even though they do not provide of interpretation, do go this far.) And despite few postmoderns
narrative does not constitute explanation.10

us with the
Such

certainty. (Of conceit of some


a view may stem

postmodernists,

from a particular French intellectual style, but it is only one style and one that is it came. The preference for French cultural arguably pass? in the world, from which and linguistic theory might almost be said to obscure other, possibly more profitable, There is more of understanding. great deal of'discourse analysis', especially avenues
world, not only does not claim the

than one kind


or

of critical
of

in corpus linguistics
autonomy

theory, and a in the Anglo-Saxon


language/text but

primacy

actually finds
they are

'language' and 'texts' themselves


Indeed, for one school

insubstantial
of discourse

and problematical
analysts, even

until

contextualised.

particular

grammatical
also to both

forms are seen to relate not only


the immediate speech context

to the context
and other, more

of language
distant,

itself but coined

non-textual

contexts
the term

of politics
'discourse

and power
analysis'

(Halliday).

Significantly
in 1952,

Zellig Harris, who


was concerned

in a seminal

article

'to correlate

"culture" with

language

(i.e. non-lingustic

and linguistic behaviour)'.

For Van Dijk,

Moss,

France and the United of the Working Class in Britain, and the Making Socialism 'Republican not only stresses 35, no. 2 (1993), 402 ff., which States', Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. of new solidarities but also disputes Sewell's for the emergence of competition the significance reading of the texts of French labour in the 1830s and 1840s. 9 Rise of Market Culture. ; Joyce, Visions, 3 3 3 Reddy, 10 This is claim in Deconstructing History. Munslow's

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Labour History, itmatters


meaning communicate events'. constitutes In this and

the Linguistic Turn' and Postmodernism 453 is used but who


be dissociated: they do . . . and therefore, The

not just how


and context ideas corpus and

language
cannot beliefs of work, reality.

uses it and when


'people so as the case use part of of more Foucault,

they use it, that is,


in complex discourse order to social both

language

as in central

represents

objective

of Norman

Fairclough's

the study of language, for example, has been to integrate discourse analysis with in his Now be social analysis of sociocultural change.11 Fairclough may misguided
enterprise, but for many discourse analysts language and its meaning are not

that Joyce and Stedman point are to of discourse learn from wrong (and they are analyses post-structural Jones about context) but rather to point out that many such immensely knowledgeable abstracted from external The here
analyses realm. point away from any primacy of language, text or autonomous cultural

context.

is not

to language and texts ? in fact to give meaning to language and texts - is a central to give multiple, possibly competing meanings obviates the possibi conclusion of modern discourse analysis and methodologically The fact that context is required
lity of the autonomous primacy of language or text. What is more, use of the same,

inherited On

terminology,

does not of itself indicate

this ground Dorothy Thompson reading of Chartist texts. Similarly Axel K?rner has demonstrated how a continuity in the language of French working-class 1840 and 1890, invoking songs between does not preclude the republican and popular (as distinct from class) terminology, to I of class their have increasing centrality meaning. argued myself that the adoption

a core and unchanging meaning. and others are able to dispute Stedman Jones's

of the same texts by the cultural organisations of German workers and those of the or Schiller) did not indicate an German middle class (as in the case of Goethe identity of understanding or preclude class, for their respective readings of the same texts were often different.12 This point brings us back once again to context and the social. The openness of texts precludes the kind of essentialist reading which informs the work of both those who read only class and those who read only populism
therein. When it comes to the populist reading of texts, historians need to

narratives

heed
tools

the injunction
can be deployed

to be more
as much

'sceptical'
against

and

'playful',
of populism,

that is, the same critical


as against a narrative

a narrative

of class. Stedman Jones


11

is certainly right when

he claims that the term 'class' should


Van Dijk, 'The study of 1997), 1-34; M. A. K. and R. Hasan, Halliday Language and Fairclough, Polity Press, 1992);

'Discourse Analysis', Language, Vol. 28 (1952), 1?30; T. A. Zellig Harris, as Structure and Process, I (London: in idem, ed., Discourse discourse', Sage, 1978); M. A. K. Halliday, Language as social semiotic (London: Edward Arnold, Press, 1985); Norman Language, Context and Text (Geelong: Deakin University Power (London: Longman, 1989); idem, Discourse and Social Change

(Cambridge:

idem, Critical Discourse Analysis 1995). (London: Longman, 12 The Chartists of Smith, 1984); idem, 'The Languages (London: Temple Dorothy Thompson, Class', Bulletin of the Society for the Study of Labour History, Vol. 52, no. 1 (1987), 54?7; idem, Outsiders: VT: Ashgate, Kirk, ed., Social Class and Marxism Class, Gender and Nation (1993); Neville (Bookfield, and Class (Manchester: Manchester Kirk, Change, Continuity Press, 1998); io96), 7; Neville University Axel Das Lied von einer anderen Welt K?rner, (Frankfurt/Main: Campus Verlag, 'Beer and Skittles? Workers in Early Twentieth-Century and Culture Germany', Politics and History, 46, 3 (2000), 391 ff. 1997); Dick Geary, Australian Journal of

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454 be analysed in its linguistic


autonomous of other, not

Contemporary

European

History

context,
necessarily

but that linguistic


linguistic, contexts.

context
This

is neither
is not to

singular nor
say that the

populist reading is itself incorrect, and Stedman Jones is, of course, well aware of context. But it is to say that the dismissal of material or structural historical or cannot of of class narratives follow from this explanations identity linguistic or culturalist methodology alone. It is of some considerable that many significance historians of the cultural/linguistic bent have rarely engaged in any systematic status of the claims they make about primacy attempt to address the epistemological or causation (although in this they are scarcely alone), other than to point out the
limits of the crassest forms of economic reductionism and to unveil the often

unconscious

past labour history. teleogies a this latter have Their work does makes us (On strong case.) point they certainly a major think about language and culture, and in this it has performed task in our of historical identities and the precariousness of domi refining understanding
narratives. To do this, however, is not to establish the explanatory, heuristic or

of class which

have

informed

so much

nant

primacy of language or culture. Nor does it mean that the concept of ontological or redundant either as a heuristic device or as a class is invariably wrong reality or actors. individual historical To substantiate such claims of negate experienced by a the of method of which could demon primacy requires discovery investigation,
strate about or negate such claims a of the autonomy would of look language like. But. and culture. . . I am far from clear what

methodology

'Amaterial I do not wish


'economic reality'.

world'

(Madonna) identities are determined


as claims of

to claim
Such a

that class or other


position is as

by

some
and

problematical

linguistic

cultural primacy; and there is no reality that is purely economic. I am in complete a was with Patrick he writes that 'class agreement Joyce when fairly late arrival and
was for long subordinate versions stressed of that, to other ways constantly overarching of seeing reproduce class the social order' and My occupational) that own 'ideological work has classlessness where an themselves'.13 from

(as distinct

it manifests identity does become historically significant and in particular where itself in the political arena, this usually relates to factors outside the workplace and
the realm of the production, attitudes in of other particular social to groups aspects and of above popular all culture, of residential the state, as structures, the nature

well

as the creative I recognise


the adoption

role of

institutions

historians,
cut across

the existence
of

and political parties. Like most labour of a host of concerns which militate against and
identities: concerns of

class-based

confession,
However,

race, region
I am suspicious

and
of

the

at the most
'rush to culture'

basic
to

level
explain

gender,

religious

individual
diversity.

psychology.
Iwould

What

claim is that many


to the cultural or

of the divisions
at least the purely

among workers
cultural, and

can be explained without


lie at least in part in the

resort
uneven

13

Joyce,

Visions,

8, 217.

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Labour History, nature of economic


rather than another can

the 'Linguistic Turn' and Postmodernism 455 and secondly


groups not

development,
among often, specific although

that the dominance


as well related to as

of one discourse
the timing factors of its or

of workers, be

dominance,

external

where conjunctures and the state, how employers indeed aworld

always,

structural

people live, the job they do, how these variables are changing/have

they are treated by changed. There is

of freedom, there are political choices to be made. But the world of not only by discourses but also by constitutions, is occupied armies, politics it is the behaviour of these and often agencies parties, parliaments, policemen,
which makes one discourse more meaningful than another. In short, choices and

It is possible to make informed guesses/ and rarely wilful. of about the European socialist parties before 1914 in likely membership predictions terms of gender, skill and place of residence, or about the likely incidence of strikes and power which take us out of the world of discourse to relations of exploitation discourses
across much national more boundaries. sense than the A Weberian nominalism comparative of postmodern methodology singularity can make of sense cross-cultural

are structured

regularities
the say, openness apparently

(aswell
of

as the unique)
applies discourses couched in

in working-class
as much can terms be of to non-class open

behaviour
as to class to class. or

and identity.
identities; the

Finally
that is to of not

discourse non-class

In short, social

inadequacy need

certain

explanations

economic

structure

always lead to a rush to 'culture' to find the answer. been characterised by uneven Industrial growth, for example, has everywhere and localities. The different pace and between countries, regions development states in various industrialisation the of European timing produced and still produces national national bound labour forces with markedly different structures. Within of some regions has been and is being accompanied by the of others. To take some examples from the last century: despite de-industrialisation the growth of large-scale mining and metallurgical industries in the Ruhr and aries the industrialisation
industrial expansion in the cities of Saxony and Berlin, Germany's vast agrarian

largely untouched by this process, as did much of the provinces In France Languedoc de-industrialised, in contrast Main. south of the river country to Paris and the north-east; and in Italy the gulf that separated the mezzogiorno from in the east remained the Genoa?Milan-Turin
economic development

triangle grew
were if anything

notoriously
even more

large. Differences
pronounced in

in regional
Spain, Russia

and Austria-Hungary.
industrial sector to

The
another:

timing of technological
Germany, for

modernisation
possessed

varied from one


highly capital

example,

intensive the

electrical and chemical

industries but domestic

shoe manufacture

even into of

France had a large artisan sector but was 1920s, while automobile and synthetic textile production before European nisation was and its timing also varied within as true of knitting in Troyes as itwas
there existed simultaneously

at the forefront

1914. Such moder one and the same industrial sector. This of the Bielefeld engineering
very different

industry.
structure.14

In

consequence

workforces

of

14 A

classic

of Germany

is F. B. Tipton, Regional study of uneven development CT: Press, 1976). The (Middleton, University Weslyan

Variations theme

is also central

in the Economic History to Sydney

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456 These were

Contemporary European History

further fragmented by hierarchies of pay ? different forms of payment or skilled and unskilled labour, or payment for blue- and white-collar workers, by seniority and length of service. Some of these differences have become more and not less marked in the twentieth century. Additionally employers have adopted to set worker the strategies against worker, provision of welfare benefits including for particular groups of employees and the physical separation of different national
ities in segregated housing colonies. Thus the absence of a unitary and 'class

conscious' working class has been hampered not only by the presence of other, non class identities, not just by cultural factors, but also by the nature of the economy itself. The extent of solidarity has also tended to be greater in times of economic
upswing than periods of depression, which can set worker against worker, men

young against women, against old, and employed against or to to get jobs, aswas evident in the Depression struggle keep
been noted in the recession of the 1970s and 1980s.15

unemployed of 1929?33

in the and has and

Of
non-class

course,

this does not give the lie to linguistic/cultural


amongst labour. It does not, for example,

accounts of division
explain why workers

identities

in similar jobs in similar factories were sometimes divided along lines of religious confession or ethnicity in imperial Germany (with Catholics and Poles staying away from the 'socialist' Free Unions and the SPD), or why others overcame the diversity of workplace
of class.

and occupational
that certain

identities
structures

to join amovement
informed the option

speaking
for

the language
socialist rather

However,

than

liberal,

Membership manual wage


that of being a workers

individualist, discourse, of virtually all European labour or socialist parties was dominated by labourers in the period before the 1960s. Admittedly this did not mean
was belonged ever sufficient to the to determine organised labour membership: movement, a majority although have never

for

collectivist

rather

than

is undeniable.

wage-labourer

increasingly

European discourse was


centrality

large numbers countries. It does usually not


labour

1918 and 1950 in most that the choice of a particular political suggest, though, ? of social position. This perception the independent socialist between
to voting behaviour was even repeated by studies of

did vote

of manual

affluent workers national


case of

in the United
or

similarities
printers

in the early 1960s and reinforced by cross Kingdom in working-class behaviour over long periods of time, as in the
workers. Union and socialist party members were almost

dock

Pollard, developed

Peaceful Conquest (Cambridge: Cambridge in essays on France, Italy and Spain

Europe before 1914 (Cheltenham and A. Zollberg, eds., Working the uneven pace of modernisation Taylorsystems

of region is Press, 1983). The importance University in Dick Geary, in ed., Labour and Socialist Movements in I. Katznelson 1989), and further stressed by A. Cottereau Spa: Berg, Class Formation Press, 1986). On (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University

in specific industrial sectors see Heidrun Homburg, 'Die Anfange des in Deutschland', Geschichte und Gesellschaft, Vol. 4, no. 2 (1978), 170 ff.; Karl Ditt, in Bielefeld', und Strukturver?nderung inWerner Wandel der Fabrikgesellschaft 'Technologogischer Conze and Ullrich im Industrialisierungsprozess eds., Arbeiter 1979); Engelhardt, (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, The Logic of Solidarity (Champaign: University of Illinois Press; 1980), 3-27. Hanagan, are explored in J?rgen Kocka, hierarchies und Angestelltenschaft Unternehmerverwaltung und gewerkschaf Vetterli, Industriearbeit, Arbeiterbewusstsein 1969); and in Rudolf (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, tliche Organisation 1978). (G?ttingen: Vandenhoek, Pay

Michael 15

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Labour History,

the 'Linguistic Turn' and Postmodernism 457

skilled and male before 1945. They were also more everywhere predominantly likely to live in towns than in the countryside, though there were some significant Po variations and the French these variations (the Midi). However, valley regional
are market themselves and amenable spatial factors, to explanations that is, structural in terms as well of integration as more into specifically a capitalist cultural

variables. That and mortar regular

social-democratic

(as well distribution

culture in Germany before 1945 was built in bricks as a secularised Protestant culture) is indicated by the fairly towns of different sizes and of levels of support between

confessional and ethnic variables are held particular types of housing, where adherence to Catholicism was not sufficient to deter all constant.16 Additionally, in imperial Germany from support for socialist politics. It is true Catholic workers that the Social Democratic Party (SPD) made only slow inroads into the Catholic
vote from 1871 to 1914, but where it did so was not random. It was more successful

with

Catholic

newcomers of the

communities

to the Ruhr, for example, than that hold the of Catholic is, region,

in settled Catholic 'culture' was not

of such regularities which of other variables.17 It is the perception independent in terms of makes possible the activity of historical explanation. Weber got it right
comparative method, at least!

be the first to agree that this is not the end of the matter. People join unions and political parties for different reasons, while the discourse of many and company unions, liberal voting) was not (Catholic organisations working-class of class. Arguably dominated by considerations the greatest national variations in Iwould working-class precisely in the degree of support for the liberalism or independent working-class politics politics of class. The can of numbers of British workers be contrasted with the populism large strength in of SPD its the in Marxist and the daily Germany language of class, reproduced behaviour and its cultural organisations, and with the weakness of working-class in Germany before the First World War. Here, then, were significant differences in the political choices of industrial workers that seemed to override a discourse of liberalism
uniform identity as wage labourers. However, there were differences in the

were

to be found

labour, especially in terms of residence (the a 'modest domesticity', in the of United for example) and possibility Kingdom more success in in the market British unions much labour (with strength enjoying 'material' world of British and German

16 Geary, Ritter, Mann, Fricke, Ritter,

ed., Der Aufstieg 'Die SPD und

von Saldern, Labour Protest, 70-80; 'Wer ging in die SPD?' in Gerhard A. Adelheid der deutschen Arbeiterbewegung (Munich: Oldenbourg, 1991), 163-71; Bernhard die preussischen in Ritter, 41; Dieter 1893 ?1913', Landtagswahlen Aufstieg, al., der Parteiorganisation der deutschen Sozialdemokratie', in the Class Structure, 3 vols. The Affluent Worker

Aufstieg,

'Die Entwicklung und Ausbreitung et 157; John Goldthorpe

Press, 1968-69). (Cambridge: Cambridge University 17 imWilhelminischen Karl Rohe, 'Die Ruhrgebietssozialdemokratie Kaiserreich', Ritter, Aufstieg, im deutschen Kaiserreich and Klaus Tenfelde, Arbeiter 325 ff.; Gerhard A. Ritter (Bonn: Dietz Verlag, and Working in Politics and Society, Vol. Class Formation', 19 1992), 598 ff.; Wilfried Spohn, 'Religion Dieter 109-32; Groh, (1991), Negative Integration und revolution?rer Attentismus (Frankfurt/Main: Propyl?en, (Colloquium 1973), Verlag, 282 ff; Gerhard A Ritter, Die Arbeiterbewegung im wilhelminischen Deutschland 1989), 73-78; Mann, 'SPD', 41 ff

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458

Contemporary European History

than their German go some way, struggles with employers equivalents), which no means the whole towards I agree, way, although by explaining these differences.
nonetheless, that an essential element of liberal or socialist choice, of class-based or

cross-class politics, lay in the political sphere. This political sphere was constructed, not just by a repertoire of discourses but by different political structures however, In the German and British case before 1918 this and different forms of government. involved a contrast of semi-authoritarian rule with limited but nonetheless real of great with relatively small state intrusions into private parliamentary government, and industrial relations, of relatively more with relatively less repression.18 It seems to me, of economic, social and political therefore, that it is in the comparison
structures and agents as well as of the ideologies or discourses, of different nations,

regions, that some kind


constructed.

localities

and social groups, that a solution to our problem can be found, of measure of the autonomy of language and culture can be that this is the conclusion of labour
structures

It is no accident of the development


account local

of Ronald urban

Aminzade

in different
and

settings

in his comparison in France. Taking into


he writes of 'the

economic

institutional

alternatives,

political

importance actors.19 Another

of class relations

in shaping constraints and opportunities' historian of French labour, Michael Hanagan,

faced by agrees that

can only be understood context in a specific political and sees the importance and irrele significance of class as something held in a flux between to deny the centrality of class but vance.20 The point is not that it is always wrong as an organising construct of the lives of workers is rather that its significance language chronologically
terms language of differing and culture,

and spatially variable,


economic that and is, by means

and that the variability


structures of systematic or comparison

is often
some

explicable
as well reasonably

in
as

political

conjunctures,

successful predictive variables can be derived. We noted earlier that discourses, which may
may nonetheless embrace class in both less

seem at first sight devoid


obvious ways. Thus

of class,
Dorothy

and more

Thompson Chartism.21

combine class-informed linguistic with readings of can of simultaneous identities further yet possibility multiple of the non-class identities. workers Catholic may in compound problem supposed social democracy; but many of them did join the main have rejected German and Neville The

Kirk

in strike waves in the Ruhr in 1905 and in Upper together with socialist workers is more, the Silesia in 1913, as well as the socialisation campaign of 1919. What of imperial Germany, 'Christian' (largely Catholic) Unions initially chaired by
18 The role of these factors is explored in Dick Geary, Labour Protest, 47-70; idem, 'Class in

1850-1930', Germany, Bradford Occasional Papers, 9 (1988), 42-61. 19 Ronald Aminzade, Class, Politics and Early Industrial Capitalism 1981); idem, Ballots (Albany, NY: Princeton and Barricades (Princeton: Politics idem, 'Class Analysis, Press, 1993). Specifically University in Lenard R. Berlanstein, and French Labour History', ed., Rethinking Labor History (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993), 95. 20 in Berlanstein, 182-200. 'For Reconstruction in Labor History', Michael Rethinking, Hanagan, 21 VT: Also Neville See n. 12 for Dorothy Kirk, Social Class and Marxism (Brookfield, Thompson. 7. 1996), Ashgate,

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Labour History,
and industrial

the Linguistic Turn' and Postmodernism 459


action, came to resemble their socialist

priests

eschewing

increasingly

rivals in initiating
played workers a major voted part for

strikes and giving


in the creation conservative election

out strike pay.


of a fragile welfare candidates,

In the Weimar
state.22 yet proved

Republic
Mazamet of solid

they
and

In France capable

of company lengthy industrial conflict, and there is some evidence that members unions in Germany voted for the SPD when ballots were secret and that they were in 1920.23 later involved in ultra-leftist uprisings during the civil war in the Ruhr Poles in the same area formed to the cause of Polish support action and were Ruhr before and gave their political nationalism, yet they played a major role in strike aware of their class identity. In fact to be a Pole in the their own, separate union

certainly In this case national and class identity 1918 was to be a worker. reinforced each other, as they have in many colonial struggles subsequently.24 The by a reading of texts and cultures thus needs to be extended and complemented
study of actions, poets. male This workers, and there seems who are times when relevant lacked the actions to the speak history to louder than the words women organisa of and of many join workers'

worker unskilled

especially often

resources

tions, yet played a significant and growing role in informal protest as well as in strikes. It was particularly true in the social and political upheavals of 1917-23, silent folk erupted on to the stage of when apparently quiescent and previously in numbers. Female labourers may have been put off by the protest unprecedented of class on the part of the dominant, male organisations gendered construction labour, but their actions indicate that they also knew that they were workers.25
the an study attempt of texts, cultures, actions silence and and organisations inaction. By needs to be complemented the circumstances to understand even

of So
by

comparing

of the different understanding


obscure.

(and not just observing difference), we may insistence on difference which postmodernism's labour's discourse
of labour history. We

come

closer

to an

and diversity may step in


what

So understanding
the reconstruction

is an important but far from sufficient


do need to know where people lived,

they did, how many of them did it. (Of course, Stedman Jones, Joyce, Sewell and do know these things, and that iswhy they can do what they do so well.) Reddy
From the linguistic turn we can and must learn many things. But save us from the

'hubris of wordmakers

who

claim to be the makers

of reality' (John Toews)!

Die Christlichen Gewerkschaften L. Patch, Jr, Michael Schneider, (Bonn: Dietz, 1992); William Christian Trade Unions in theWeimar Republic (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985). 23 Klaus Die Gelben (D?sseldorf: Droste, 'The Industrial Bourgeoisie Mattheier, 1973); Dick Geary, and Labour Relations in Germany, and Richard 1871-193 3', in David Blackbourn J. Evans, eds., The German Bourgeoisie (London: Routledge, 1990), 140-61. 24 Polnische Bergarbeiter im Ruhrgebiet & Ruprecht, Kiessmann, Christoph (G?ttingen: Vandenhoek The Foreign Worker and the German Labour Movement 1978); John J. Kulczycki, (Oxford: Berg, 1991). 25 in Chris Wrigley, Dick Berlin', ed., Challenges Geary, 'Revolutionary (London: of Labour und Revolution, des Instituts idem, 'Rhein, Ruhr 1900-1923', 1993), 24-50: Routledge, Mitteilungsblatt zur Geschichte der europ?ischen Arbeiterbewegung, Vol. 7 (1984), 30-38.

22

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46o

Contemporary

European

History

The European Up to this point to the sidelines


schematic points

working

classes

in the twentieth

century

sought to contest an historiography which has relegated class in its understanding of labour. I now want to make a few, very I have
about 'class' and the working classes in twentieth-century Europe.

i. In the late nineteenth


European countries organisations

and early twentieth


(sometimes

century

there emerged
but more

in most
usually

anarcho-syndicalist

socialist), which
working-class

did speak the language of class and claimed


interests, that is, the collective interests of

to represent
wage

specifically
earners.

all dependent

In some

countries

working-class
Even in Germany,

these arguably became the dominant of political expression itself before 1914. identity, as in German Austria and in Germany
however, these organisations, and had to compete with Catholic,

Polish

and 'yellow'

Liberal opponents to speak for the whole places,


identities and rhetoric

(company) workers' organisations; in Holland with Catholic and within the working-class, and in general they could never claim

of organised, let alone for unorganised, labour. In some in France often and Scandinavia too, cross-class primarily Britain, though
remained as important as, if not more important than, class

specific attitudes, at least in the world of politics, while powerful unions rested on rather than on amore general class solidarity (especially evident in the occupational case of skilled engineers and miners in the United Kingdom before 1914). In all
places the values and dreams of the unorganised largely remained veiled in silence.

2. Variations
were

in the

universal working-class
not random or but

strength independent interest and an idea of difference


to factors such of as the

of

class

(awareness of a identity from other social groups)


and to nature recognise of the state the unions,

related

role

(parliamentary

autocratic),

the willingness

employers

strength or weakness of liberal political parties, the strength or weakness of religious or impossibility of a 'modest observance, patterns of residence (the possibility or a and the absence of commercial leisure presence domesticity') industry to
compete 3. For the edge with more class-based period ? forms of recreation. the rhetoric of class seemed to be revolutions on a short of victory in continental in the Russian, Europe Austrian,

German

and Hungarian

of 1917/18/19,
most massive

in land seizures and factory occupations


waves of strikes that Europe was to see before

in Italy in 1919/20,
1945, and in

in the

spectacular

strength of the parties of labour and the membership of trade unions between this happened when the 1917 and 1922. Significantly were at traditional forces of social control the end of the First seriously weakened World in the labour market itself in a strong position in the and when numbers of previously postwar boom, (albeit temporarily) large as rural labourers, white-collar women, (such workers) joined unorganised workers the ranks of protest. For a short period class did appear as one of the forms, if not the of European workers. Even at this high dominant form, of identity for millions War, when labour found
point, however, counter-revolutionary forces were able to re-establish control, not

increases in both

the electoral

least because
first allegiance

labour was
even to

rarely united
some diffuse

and because many workers


concept of class, let

did not give


to

their

alone

class-based

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Labour History,

the Linguistic Turn' and Postmodernism 461 they did, however,


versus interwar labour's Communists, France identity or

revolutionary
against alists), 4. worker

politics.
(Social

Even where
Democrats

politics
both versus Spain. 'class'

often

set worker

anarcho-syndic

as inWeimar In the 1920s

Germany, and 1930s

republican separate

as a

remained

fragile

than before might have broken with as is suggested by the electoral fortunes of many European labour bourgeois politics, parties, but processes of residential segregation and social housing presented some workers with the possibility of a private family leisure and segregated working-class
communities in new ways, while a popular leisure culture (one which was not class

and contested.

More

industrial workers

(and of young specific) made ever greater inroads into the daily life of workers in particular) between workers the wars, although its spread was still limited by real
poverty always was among precarious, advanced apace, many were at groups of European in new Europe, workers. ways. by The the The structures of of solidarity, threatened least in central process experience de-solidarisation of mass and long

tern unemployment, which hardened generation and gender divisions within the in and Fascist and In this class, Germany by working Italy regimes. period factory
labour's percentage of the workforce had already begun to decline, and an increase

employment Thus many of those factors which are held to have eroded the centrality of class in western Europe since the Second World War - the restructuring and re gendering of the labour force, the reduction in size of industrial labour, the arrival of observed. private
1945. standing

in both white-collar

and female

labour outside

the home

could be

leisure and consumerism,


and classless popular Postmodernism's of working-class

increases in welfare
culture on diversity therefore, were is at

provision
already more points

and decent housing,


even to than before relevant in time an under at others,

a commercial

intimated,

emphasis identity,

clearly some

but it should not obscure proletarian


century

the fact that 'class' remained of workers in many

politics

for millions

the organising conception of European countries for half a it did. The


meta-narratives consumerism, de-industrialisation

or more.26

5. It was
class and other

no accident
grand

that postmodernism
was located Privatisation, labour, female

arrived when
in a world in which

critique
were

of

concepts untenable. casual

becoming tive affluence,

increasingly welfare,

commercialism, labour and

rela have

arguably done for the old working and homelessness unemployment

parts of Europe since 1945, though have generated a largely impotent and marginal underclass (not Marx's proletariat) in the post-industrial in turn countries, which on have become increasingly dependent the labour of the Third World. Previously upper-class percolated difference
working-class 26 Politics These bald

class inmany

down as well

tastes and opportunities the social scale, as economic


(for example, summarise of which tastes

(foreign

travel,

international choices

although resource, while


attendance

specific what were


at soccer

cuisine) still reflect

have social

formerly

and primarily
percolated

matches)

have

Statements articles, 20-34.

and other

some Identities

the arguments of my European Labour Protest, European Labour are mentioned occurs above. Further elaboration in Dick 1850S-1930S', Australian Journal of Politics and History,

Geary, 'Working-Class Vol. 45, no. 1 (1999),

in Europe,

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462
At the same

Contemporary

European

History

upwards.

time

fashion

has

become

more

classless

in most

Western

of the advertisement. Much of societies, especially through the pervasive medium the distinctiveness of working-class culture has been displaced by universal television In Britain (ormore precisely England), the accents and by car and home ownership. and language of class do still reproduce themselves daily. In eastern Europe it still
means something to be a worker. Life chances are far from equal, even in western

Europe,
and

and they have become


where communist

less so in places where


regimes have been

'Thatcherism'
replaced by

has held

sway
forces.

especially

free-market

But world.
not

in these cases it is clear that the residues of class lack an agenda to change the Indeed agendas themselves are increasingly formulated around issues that are
class-specific as but the its but which find animal primacy supporters welfare, most and gender). certainly opponents Class has, may not least across not social have environment, all-encompassing

necessarily (such

divides disappeared,

because

of labour is now global rather than national, and because the old enemy and yet simultaneously (materially and ideologically) (capitalism) ismore powerful more diffuse and less tangible, at least in the 'First than it once was. The World', nation and international between capitalism renders increasingly disjunction political the division marginal the national-political agenda of class, as it was classically formulated and in Europe between least for this reason 1850 and 1950. Not easily comprehended have we the Blairs and Schroeders of the present epoch.27

A Social History Kaelble, 1880-1980 of Western Europe, Affluent Worker; Hartmut Goldthorpe, E. Paterson and Alastair H. Thomas, Gille Macmillan, eds., The Future of Social 1990); William Press, 1986); Frances Fox Piven, ed., Labor Parties in Postindustrial (Oxford: Oxford University Democracy Societies (Cambridge: Press, (London: 1991); Eric Hobsbawm, Age of Extremes University Cambridge the transformation of the and Chris Wrigley, Abacus, 1995), 302-9; Margaret Walsh 'Womanpower: (Dublin: UK on 'Comparative to a conference Labour since 1945', paper delivered labour force The and David Stefan of eds., 1999); (November Berger Broughton, University Nottingham History', and theWorking Classes (Oxford: Berg, Force of Labour. The Western European Labour Movement 1995). and USA

27

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