The Rise and Fall of Class in Britain

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INTRODUCTION Beyond Class--Forward to Class? "The rise and fall of class in Britain" is both an allusive and ironic phrase, totally correct yet also at least half mistaken. It is allusive (and correct) because, during the last twenty years or so, the once-fashionable and widely accepted view that class structure and class analysis provide the key to understanding modern British history and modern British life has been disregarded by many historians and abandoned by almost all politicians. Yet it is also ironic (or mistaken), because it remains a generally held belief, not just in Britain but around the world, that class, like the weather and the monarchy, is a peculiarly and particularly British preoccupation. It certainly has been in…show more content…
In trying to understand and explain the evolution of past societies, Marx believed it was essential to deal not just with the politics of their ruling elites but also with the histories of their whole populations. But how were these whole populations to be encompassed and described in a comprehensive and convincing way? What were the abstract concepts and collective nouns he thought it appropriate to employ for this purpose? Marx 's solution--which proved exceptionally influential--was to classify individuals in collective groupings according to their different relations to the means of production. This enabled him (and his followers) to place everybody in one of three categories: landowners, who drew their unearned income from their estates as rents; bourgeois capitalists, who obtained their earned income from their businesses in the form of profits; and proletarian workers, who made their money by selling their labor to their employers in exchange for weekly wages. For Marx, these were the three fundamental, constitutive classes of human society, and it was in the conflicts among them, which had raged unabated
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