“The subject is one which can be appropriately treated by a British Marxist, since the concept of an “aristocracy of labor” is one which Lenin clearly derived from the history of British nineteenth-century capitalism. His concrete references to the “aristocracy of labor” as a stratum of the working class appear to be exclusively drawn from Britain (though in his study notes on imperialism he also remarks upon similar phenomena in the “white” parts of the British Empire). The term itself is almost certainly derived from a passage by Engels written in 1885 and reprinted in the introduction to the 1892 edition of ‘The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844’ which speaks of the great English trade unions as forming “an aristocracy among the working class”. The actual phrase may be attributable to Engels, but the concept was familiar in English politico-social debate, particularly in the 1880s. It was generally accepted that the working class in Britain at this period contained a favored stratum – a minority but a numerically large one – which was most usually identified with the “artisans” (i.e., the skilled employed crafts—men and workers) and more especially with those organized in trade unions or other working-class organizations. This is the sense in which foreign observers also used the term, e.g., Schulze-Gaevernitz, whom Lenin quotes with approval on this point in the celebrated eighth chapter of Imperialism. This conventional identification was not entirely valid, but, like the general use of the concept of an upper working-class stratum, reflected an evident social reality. Neither Marx nor Engels nor Lenin “invented” a labor aristocracy. It existed only too visibly in Britain of the second half of the nineteenth century. Moreover, if it existed anywhere else, it was clearly much less visible or significant. Lenin assumed that, until the period of imperialism, it existed nowhere else. The novelty of Engels’s argument lay elsewhere. He held that this aristocracy of labor was made possible by the industrial world monopoly of Britain, and would therefore disappear or be pushed closer to the rest of the proletariat with the ending of this monopoly. Lenin followed Engels on this point, and indeed in the years immediately preceding 1914, when the British labor movement was becoming radicalized, tended to stress the second half of Engels’s argument, e.g., in his articles “English Debates on a Liberal Workers’ Policy” (1912), “The British Labor Movement” (1912), and “In England, the Pitiful Results of Opportunism” (1913). While not doubting for a moment that the labor aristocracy was the basis of the opportunism and “Liberal-Laborism” of the British movement, Lenin did not appear as yet to emphasize the international implications of the argument. For instance, he apparently did not use it in his analysis of the social roots of revisionism (see “Marxism and Revisionism”, 1908, and “Differences in the European Labor Movement”, 1910). Here he argued rather that revisionism, like anarcho-syndicalism, was due to the constant creation on the margins of developing capitalism of certain middle strata – small workshops, domestic workers, etc. – which are in turn constantly cast into the ranks of the proletariat, so that petty-bourgeois tendencies inevitably infiltrate into proletarian parties. The line of thought which he derived from his recognition of the labor aristocracy was at this stage somewhat different; and it is to be noted that he maintained it, in part at least, to the end of his political life. Here it is perhaps relevant to observe that Lenin drew his knowledge of the phenomenon not only from the writings of Marx and Engels, who commented frequently on the British labor movement, and from his personal acquaintance with Marxists in England (which he visited six times between 1902 and 1911), but also from the fullest and best-informed work on the “aristocratic” trade unions of the nineteenth century, Sidney and Beatrice Webb’s Industrial Democracy. This important book he knew intimately, having translated it in his Siberian exile. It provided him, incidentally, with an immediate understanding of the links between the British Fabians and Bernstein: “The original source of a number of Bernstein’s contentions and ideas, – he wrote in September 1899 to a correspondent, – is in the latest books written by the Webbs”. Lenin continued to quote information drawn from the Webbs many years later, and specifically refers to Industrial Democracy in the course of his argument in ‘What Is To Be Done?. (…) But if the argument is in principle more general, there can be no doubt that what was in Lenin’s mind when he used it was the aristocracy of labor. Time and again we find him using phrases such as the following: “the petty bourgeois craft spirit which prevails among this aristocracy of labor” (“The Session of the International Socialist Bureau”, 1908); “the English trade unions, insular, aristocratic, philistinely selfish”; “the English pride themselves on their ‘practicalness’ and their dislike of general principles; this is an expression of the craft spirit in the labor movement” (“English Debates on a Liberal Workers’ Policy”, 1912); and “this aristocracy of labor” – isolated itself from the mass of the proletariat in close, selfish, craft unions” (“Harry Quelch”, 1913). Moreover, much later, and in a carefully considered programmatic statement – in fact, in his “Preliminary Draft Theses on the Agrarian Question for the Second Congress of the Communist International” (1920) – the connection is made with the greatest clarity: «The industrial workers cannot fulfill their world-historical mission of emancipating mankind from the yoke of capital and from wars if these workers concern themselves exclusively with their narrow craft, narrow trade interests, and smugly confine themselves to care and concern for improving their own, sometimes tolerable, petty bourgeois conditions. This is exactly what happens in many advanced countries to the “labor aristocracy” which serves as the base of the alleged Socialist parties of the Second International». This quotation, combining the earlier and the later ideas of Lenin about the aristocracy of labor, leads us naturally from the one to the other. These later writings are familiar to all Marxists. They date in the main from the period 1914-1917, and form part of Lenin’s attempt to provide a coherent Marxist explanation for the outbreak of the war and especially the simultaneous and traumatic collapse of the Second International and most of its constituent parties. They are stated most fully in the eighth chapter of Imperialism, and the article “Imperialism and the Split in the Socialist Movement”,  written a little later (autumn 1916) and complementing it. (…)” [Eric Hobsbawm, ‘Lenin and the “Aristocracy of Labor”‘, Monthly Review, New York, August 1970] [Lenin-Bibliographical-Materials] [LBM*]