Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Lukács

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

An old story

‘Respectability is the death of all working-class movements. With the change in the public attitude towards trade unionism came a change in the social standing of the officials. They too became respectable, and with their new position came their divorce from the working-class point of view, the growing breach between the official caste and the rank and file. Divorced from manual labour, the leaders ceased to understand the needs of the wage-earner, and with the crowning camaraderie of the House of Commons died the last semblance of the old unity. The Labour leaders entered the governing classes, and Labour was left, perplexed and unmanned, to find new leaders from its own ranks...’
G.D.H. Cole, The World of Labour, A Discussion of the Present and Future of Trade Unionism, (1913).

'The trade union movement has become, like the hereditary peerage, an avenue of political power through which stupid untrained persons may pass up to the highest office if only they have secured the suffrages of the members of a large union. One wonders when able rascals will discover this open door to remunerative power.'

'The position of privilege, irrespective of capacity – a position occupied by many trade union officials – is becoming the most scandalous circumstance of the Labour movement.'
Beatrice Webb, 1917 and 1918 (respectively), from Diaries, 1912-24, pp. 89,109.

‘There must be something in the nature of the life of a bureaucracy, whether it be of a government, trade union, political party or a religious institution, that deadens the receptive faculties and smothers the imagination. Whether it is the comfortable life of the office, the necessary routine of their work, with its rules and regulations, or a cynicism induced by their escape from industrial life, I, for the moment, leave to the sociologist and the psychologist.’
J. T. Murphy, Sheffield engineering shop stewards’ leader in the first world war, in New Horizons (1941), p. 50.

‘The imperialist era has seen the rise of a social group whose function it is to keep the rank and file firmly tied to the capitalist wagon: the body of Labour leaders and officials. For these the mere creation of a State monopoly capitalism provided new functions, new status, new jobs. With every advance in the strength of the Labour movement, the politeness with which they as individuals are treated, grew.
Whatever the fortunes of the rank and file in the imperialist era, for them it has quite clearly brought an almost unqualified advance.’

Eric Hobsbawm, ‘The Taming of Parliamentary Democracy’, Modern Quarterly, Autumn 1951.

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