[FOUNTAIN]Union leaders became part of aristocracy“How would I have known that his passion is political, not romantic or domestic? How would I have known that he would spend so many hours in the reading room of the British Museum as if he doesn’t hear the cries of our three children?”
Karl Marx’s wife, Jenny, wrote about her husband with remorse as a lonely spouse. The detached philosopher had left his family in a small flat in London and devoted his time and energy in a reading room theorizing about revolution. No matter how his family felt, he must have been happy at the time. It is not just because he could finally settle down in London after being expelled from the homeland of Prussia and wandering around France and Belgium. London was the center of capitalism, the very subject of Marx’s study. In London, he could witness extorted laborers and forecast the contradiction of capitalism, which would be overturned by a revolution. He published a series of classics, including the famous “Das Kapital” in 1864. However, when he passed away in 1883, only a handful of people attended his funeral in Highgate Cemetery in London.
On the lonely funeral, French historian Andre Maurois had said that they couldn’t find any class struggle fighters in England at the time. The British workers had already lost their revolutionary spirit. They were ruled by unions, and minds were dominated by Fabian socialism. Named after the Roman general Fabius, who defeated Hannibal through attrition and harassment, the Fabians advocated a gradual “evolution” to abolish the contradictions of capitalism over a radical revolution. Unions were legalized 40 years before Das Kapital. Around the time of the publication, nationwide organizations were formed. In 1906, the Labor Party entered Parliament. In 1923 on the centennial of the legalization of the union, the Labor Party seized power for the first time.
With its highly developed labor culture, the concept of labor aristocracy originated from England. The high-paid, high-skilled workers have the mindset and lifestyle of the bourgeoisie rather than those of the proletariat. Nowadays, they are rather called professionals, not labor aristocrats. The term is more suitable for some bureaucratic union leaders. The corruption of the union leaders who received bribery from job seekers is beyond the scope of labor aristocracy.
by Oh Byung-sang
The writer is the JoongAng Ilbo’s London correspondent.