CLASS IN THE 21ST CENTURY
While there are a number of plausible labels that might be attached to the 20thcentury, in terms of social history it was clearly the age of the working class. For the first time, working people who lacked property became a major and sustained political force. This rupture was heralded by Pope Leo XIII—leader of the world’s oldest and largest social organization—in his encyclical Rerum Novarum in 1891. The Pope noted that the progress of industry had led to ‘the accumulation of affluence among the few and misery (inopia) among the multitude’; but the period had also been characterized by the ‘greater self-confidence and tighter cohesion’ of the workers.  On a global level, trade unions gained a foothold in most big industrial enterprises, and in many other firms too. Working-class parties became major electoral forces—sometimes dominant ones—in Europe and its Australasian offshoots. The October Revolution in Russia provided a model of political organization and social change for China and Vietnam. Nehru’s India set itself the avowed goal of following a ‘socialist pattern of development’, as did the majority of post-colonial states. Many African countries spoke of building ‘working-class parties’ when they could boast no more proletarians than would fill a few classrooms.
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