Sunday, 7 April 2013

Class Consciousness

The notion of class has once again become popular in popular culture. This recent interest owes its existence almost exclusively to BBC coverage of The Great British Class Survey (GBCS) run be several Universities. The study is described as “a new way of measuring class, which doesn't define class just by the job that you do, but by the different kinds of economic, cultural and social resources or 'capitals' that people possess.”

Although it may be interesting socio-economically to divide people into various class groups that may appeal to modern sensibilities the harsh truth is that, politically speaking, there are at most just three classes. The first can be described using the GBCS terminology; these are Elite and Established Middle Class. The third is everybody else.

By reference to politics I mean the relationship that people have with their government. The Elite are either part of the ruling class or retain so much power that they are unaffected by national politics. The established middle class retain sufficient independence that they are largely unaffected except perhaps through financial institutions. The rest of us are at the mercy of the large corporations that have captured global influence over our everyday lives.

For the sake of convenience I shall use the old-fashioned term ‘working class’ to characterise us minions that are the pawns in this game. A term not in favour with many people, it nevertheless describes our position in the neo-feudal hierarchy that dominates our political landscape.

The fact that men are not ‘class conscious’, at all times and in all places does not mean that ‘there are no classes’ or that ‘in America everybody is middle class’. The economic and social facts are one thing. Psychological feelings may or may not be associated with them in rationally expected ways. Both are important, and if psychological feelings and political outlooks do not correspond to economic or occupational class, we must try to find out why, rather than throw out the economic baby with the psychological bath, and so fail to understand how either fits into the national tub..
[C. W. Mills, Power, Politics and People, ed. by I. L Horowitz, 1962, p. 317]

The Labour Movement started out with the intention of representing the industrial working class, a class which is now much reduced. The constitution of the early Labour Party did not, however, just define ‘workers’ as those from heavy industry but those who by “hand or brain” sell their labouring power. The decline in industrial manufacturing in this and other western developed nations has also seen a decline in independent self-employed artisans and shop-keepers and a parallel increase in the numbers of office workers, both professional and administrative. The change in employment has resulted in a realignment of class-consciousness even if the economic and social predicament of these groups of workers has not. 

The Labour movement has long recognised that whether the work is manual or mental, the control manifested in the relationship between employer and employee is still unequal. If in order to reclaim the title of the people’s party this means reclaiming the idea of class as a rallying point then so be it. The work of the Labour Party must be to engage all people in recognizing that the working classes, although not homogenous, are a distinct entity.

"Power today resides in control of the means of production, exchange, publicity, transportation and communication.  Whoever owns them rules the life of the country, not necessarily by intention, not necessarily by deliberate corruption of the nominal government, but by necessity.  Power is power and must act, and it must act according to the nature of the machinery through which it operates.  In this case, the machinery is business for private profit through private control of banking, land, industry, reinforced by command of the press, press agents and other means of publicity and propaganda.  In order to restore democracy, one thing and one thing only is essential.  The people will rule when they have power, and they will have power in the degree they own and control the land, the banks, the producing and distributing agencies of the nation.  Ravings about Bolshevism, Communism and Socialism are irrelevant to the axiomatic truth of this statement.  They come either from complaisant ignorance or from the deliberate desire of those in possession, power and rule to perpetuate their privilege. . . ."
"As long as politics is the shadow cast on society by big business, the attenuation of the shadow will not change the substance. . . ." John Dewey

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