Class Conflict in Britain

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Class Conflict in Britain

"Class conflict has gradually been diluted by growing affluence."

"The history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class

struggle." This famous opening line from Marx Communist Manifesto

refers to the struggle between the labouring, working classes and the

bourgeoisie owners of the means of production. The proletariat are

exploited by the capitalists for profit and are therefore forced to

live in poverty and dire conditions. Marx predicted that eventually the

proletariat would overthrow this capitalist system and replace it with

a system which is often referred to as Communist - whereby the workers

have control. Today, whenever the words 'class' or 'class conflict' are

mentioned people usually turn to Marx definition and picture the poor

worker fighting for better pay, better living and working conditions.

The typical class conflict is typified as workers versus the owners, or


In Britain this struggle did not develop in the way that Marx predicted

- there has never been a genuine proletariat revolutionary threat. In

its place has been a tradition of reformist socialism with the Labour

Party and the Trades Unions being the main campaigners. In Britain the

traditional class conflict is often depicted as Labour Party versus

Conservative Party. The Labour Party have fought for workers rights and

have been supported at elections by the working class, whereas the

Conservatives have drawn most of their support from the middle classes.

It is argued that today this traditional class conflict, depicted in no

better fashion than the Miners' Strike of 1984, has been diluted by

growing affluence. In otherwords the working class have become

economically better off. They were given the right to buy council

houses, to own shares and have, it is argued, become more middle class.

The working class today have a lot more to lose in a fierce class

struggle and are therefore happy to uphold the system. The huge decline

in the traditional industries, such as coal, has coincided with a rise

in the size of the non-manual, service industry - the sphere in which

the 'middle classes' tend to be employed. In 1964 50% of the workforce

were employed in the manual sector, compared to 36% in 1992. These

figures coincide with a 15% rise in the non-manual, 'petty bourgeoisie'


Whilst there may be some truth in this 'embourgeoisement' theory,

there is also no doubting the fact that it is an exaggerated view. To

say that 'we are all middle class' (Blair 1998) is an absurdity. Class

conflict may have been subdued but not only because of growing

affluence. The capitalists have managed to silence what was once a
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