Class vs. Nation, Class and the Nation, Between Class and Nation? Labour's Response to the National Question c.1870-1939, with Special Reference to Britain and Germany


  • Stefan Berger


Few historians would doubt the huge influence of the metanarratives of “nation” and “class” on nineteenth- and twentieth-century history. Both had risen to prominence in the midst of the massive upheaval that followed nineteenth-century industrialization. Both were hugely successful defensive mechanisms promising stable identities and continuity in a rapidly changing world. In the second half of the nineteenth century, the nascent European labour movements began to build their political claims on the language of “class”, while being shaped to a considerable extent by their respective national frameworks. The tension between this “national” framework and the more international aspirations of the language of class was present from the beginning of the modern labour movement. Examples from Britain and Germany show how organized labour constructed identities that attempted to reconcile the languages of these seemingly antagonistic concepts.