Marx, Marxism and the British Working Class Movement: Some Continuing Issues for the 21st Century

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For Marx the British working class was both a practical inspiration and a challenge.
Britain’s was the world’s first majority proletariat and in the 1840s was also the first to create
a mass working class party. Yet in the second half of the 19th century British trade unions
changed direction, allied themselves with bourgeois political parties and worked within the
assumptions of the existing system. Marx’s explanation of this transformation is, the article
argues, of continuing importance for our understanding of working class consciousness—with its
key elements carried forward by both Luxemburg and Lenin in their critique of the revisionism
of the Second International. The main intent of the article is to use more recent examples of
working class mobilization in Britain to show the continuing relevance of this analysis. It focuses
in particular on the issue of the relationship between the working class and a Marxist party. In
doing so it draws on the Soviet school of Vygotsky and Leontiev to argue for a dialectical and
materialist understanding of the development of working class consciousness in which the role
of a Communist Party, in Marx’s terms, remains critical.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)671-686
Number of pages16
JournalWorld Review of Political Economy
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2011


  • Communist Party
  • Marx
  • Lenin
  • British working class
  • social consciousness


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