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New Left Review I/26, July-August 1964


J. H. Westergaard

Capitalism without Classes?

The years since the early 1950’s have echoed with the claim that the old class structure of capitalism is steadily dissolving. The labels attached to that new order of society which is believed to be emerging from the ruins of the old—the ‘welfare state’, the ‘affluent society’, the ‘home-centred society’, the ‘mass society’, ‘post-capitalism’, and so on—have become the clichés of contemporary debate. Their variety and imprecision indicate some of the uncertainties of diagnosis and prognosis. Evaluations, too, have differed widely: reactions to the trends discerned range from triumph to despondency. But the descriptions offered of current trends generally have much in common: the assertion that the old sources of tension and class conflict are being progressively eliminated or rendered irrelevant; that the structure of contemporary western societies is being recast in a mould of middle class conditions and styles of life; that these developments signal ‘the end of ideology’. Such notions in turn are infused with a sense of a social fluidity which is felt to falsify past characterizations of capitalism.

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