International Labor and Working-Class History

ILWCH Roundtable: What Next for Labor and Working-Class History?

Katznelson's Working Within the System Now

Lizabeth Cohena1

a1 New York University

Germany has been reunified. The Soviet Union and Eastern Europe have fractured into ethnically defined nationalist republics trying to dismantle decades of communist political and economic structures and replace them with free markets and free marketplaces of ideas. It seems only fitting that Ira Katznelson should publically embrace liberal political theory with a new “zest for political engagement”, enthusiastically endorsing the old liberal vision of political science as a discipline, and thrusting both onto labor historians as the perfect solution to political and epistemological crises in their field.In response, I would say to Katznelson, “You're working within the system now, but do we all need to?” Even more significantly, did the working-class populations we study operate within a liberal framework sufficiently enough to make liberal, state-centered concerns—the relationships and negotiations between actors in civil society (particularly articulated through unions and parties) and the liberal state—the “most potent tools” for political and historical analysis?