- ‘A new study has suggested that British people no longer fit into just three social classes, with only one in seven in the ‘traditional working class’. According to the BBC’s online Great British Class Survey, which had over 160,000 respondents, six per cent of the population fall into an ‘elite’ class, who have savings of more than £140,000, extensive social contacts and education at top universities. Researchers found the established model of an upper class, middle class and working class has ‘fragmented’ and there are now seven classes ranging from the ‘elite’ to the ‘precariat’.
- Independent, (03/04/13) http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/britain-now-has-7-social-classes–and-working-class-is-a-dwindling-breed-8557894.html
“Is this just a load of academic nonsense or should we be thinking about how the working class has changed shape since the 1980s?” [Discuss – ‘Britain now has 7 social classes – and working class is a dwindling breed’, Posted on April 3, 2013 by Will]
Since the ISN doesn’t seem willing to debate with non-members anymore, let me post on my blog that the proposition is complete and utter bullshit.
This new reactionary analysis takes as its starting point previous nonsense that it tries to knock down. This is straw man propaganda by those unable to address critics of capitalist society.
We are socialists, comrades. We are scientific socialists, are we not? The key struggle taking place throughout society today is – as was the case in all previous class societies as well, going back thousands of years – a class struggle. Under capitalism it is between those who own and control the means of production, distribution and exchange and those with nothing to sell but their labour power. The latter are wage slaves. And those wages slaves in Britain today are the overwhelming majority, as they were while Karl Marx was still alive. What has changed in the interim is that Britain is no longer unique in that respect. The working class has grown in relative as well as absolute numbers everywhere, as has our economic potential.
There is an inherently exploitative relationship between the propertied classes and the wage slaves. The latter have no option but to combine together to raise the bargaining power of labour power. However, this merely sets limits on the rate of their exploitation of the wage slaves. It cannot put an end to it in and of itself. So long as there are profits to be made, as well as rent and interest that goes as unearned income to classes of landlords and bankers, those who live parasitically, the class struggle is inevitable. That class struggle necessarily creates social friction. And that in turn hampers the full flowering of human civilization.
One solution to the barbaric consequences of class struggle is to put an end to this exploitative relationship. Alas, the property owners are not minded to voluntarily sign on for that project. Typically, the propertied classes have a monopoly of the means of mental production as well: universities, print and broadcast media being the most important in modern capitalist societies. However, exploited classes have always fought back. And, since adult literacy became important to the working class, we have had our own press. Social media (YouTube, twitter, Facebook, blogs, live streaming of occupy demonstrations etc) gives the exploited and oppressed greater power than we have ever had before. However, in order to deploy our forces efficiently, socialists need to know what the bottom line is. And that happens to be the irreconcilability of class antagonisms even in order to ameliorate them.
The wage slaves fund Ed Miliband’s party. They do it through the trade union political levy. They vote in large numbers for the Labour Party, partly out of habit but also because the first-past-the-post electoral system, and the mass media, have succeeded in convincing workers that voting for parties to the left of Labour can only help the parties that are explicitly and exclusively for those who own the means of production, distribution and exchange: Tories, Lib Dems, UKIP.
TUSC can make no progress so long as it is ambiguous about the class nature of capitalist society. No ifs, no buts. The same is true of any new party that emerges from the debates around Ken Loach’s call for Left Unity.
However, the Tories have never appealed solely to big business. What sense would that make in a world of universal suffrage? Tories, Lib Dems and others need to appeal to intermediate classes: the middle classes. Note that I refer to the middle classes, and not the middle class? That is because their very existence stops any of these social groups behaving like a class. Leon Trotsky referred to them as human dust. That sounds harsh. However, it captures an important element of truth: their inability to organise themselves as a class, condemned forever to the role of atomized King makers: workers or capitalists. The choice is theirs. What that decision turns out to be depends to a considerable degree on what the leadership of the working class provides.
The middle classes existed even in Britain when Karl Marx kicked the bucket, although they had long since ceased to be a majority. And new intermediate classes have been forming ever since, to take the place of those sections of the traditional petty bourgeoisie that have been driven into the ranks of the proletariat, as Marx had predicted. And they in turn have been proletarianised, including most service workers and white collar workers.
All those who do not sell their labour power for wages, regardless of how low, by the mere fact they own their own means of production (that includes all the self-employed who are, thereby, incapable of forming collectives to withdraw that labour power) are beyond the working class.
Additionally, there are salaried employees. Many of these have a role in the production process that is less about adding value to commodities (goods or services), in the Marxist sense. Their role is to ensure that the actual wage slaves are disciplined by management. Their inability to unite with others to protect themselves from their employer, their work conditions and vastly inflated salaries, far beyond what is explicable in terms of any labour theory of value (not to mention shares options, bonuses and perks) remove them from the ranks of the working class proper. However, there is no sharp dividing line that allows us to neatly place every individual into one category rather than another: there are gradations, with foremen and team leaders capable of being pulled one way or the other.
Socialists can place most individuals into one category rather than another. However, that remains an academic exercise when we come to the margins. The important thing to remember is that the working class, while the leading class when it comes to socialism, the class with nothing to lose but its chains (its ‘radical chains’), in emancipating itself emancipates the whole of humanity. However, it clearly cannot do this all on its own.
Even in societies where the proletariat is a small minority of the total population, the mass of petty bourgeoisie – especially the peasantry – can be lead to side with the working class. Whether such an alliance is possible or not depends on the strategy and tactics scientific socialist use to establish hegemony within the working class itself and then to its potential allies. This has worked once and once alone so far: Russia in 1917.
Family businesses who do not employ others are crushed in recessions by monopoly capital. They can be lead by the media owned by the capitalists to blame that section of the working class that has managed to hold on to its job and is fortunate enough to have the industrial muscle to, at least in part, defend their wages. These are the ones who form the backbone of fascist movements.
However, we are in a period when the economic crisis globally poses a big question mark over the legitimacy of surplus value in all its form: profit, rent and interest for separate classes that rely on unearned income. This places atop the political agenda stark alternatives: socialism or barbarism. One of these can solve the crisis on a national basis. Socialism, on the other hand, cannot. Golden Dawn can restore the order of the graveyard to the Greek people. Syriza lacks the economic resources internal to the Greek economy to indefinitely solve their crisis. But why must they surrender to national solutions? Why shouldn’t the workers of the world unite? The national leaders of the Eurozone, the rest of the EU and the rest of advanced capitalism wants to foment xenophobia, as one of their many scapegoating bag of tricks. But socialists needn’t surrender to this divide and rule bullshit.
The petty bourgeoisie, and sections of the new middle class can be won to the class struggle of workers if we see them not as our enemies but as victims of capitalist chaos and, thereby, as our potential partners in the socialist project. These social groups will not be won to a man and a woman to left unity. The same holds true when we turn to the special bodies of armed men and woman.
The capitalist state has the armed forces and police officers at their disposal. These people tend to be further to the right than the center of political gravity at each and every point in time. However, they also tend to be recruited (when it comes to the troops on the ground) from family backgrounds unconnected to the richest 1%. The actual sons and daughters of our rulers tend to end up as generals, or chief constables, possibly spending a little time slumming it with the plebs, something they may want to do as part of a public relations exercise.
Those from working class backgrounds or from the lower middle classes who are attracted to careers in the military or police forces tend to lack even the most rudimentary class consciousness. Theirs is far from the collectivist perspective of the trade union militant or socialist.
However, when there are cuts to be pushed through by desperate pro-austerity capitalist governments, and when the police and army are deployed to smash the skulls of their brothers and sisters on picket line, mass demonstrations etc, while simultaneously having their own wages and conditions cut savagely, large sections of the police and armed forces can be won to side with the good guys. But that can only become a possibility if socialists don’t a priori ignore the potential of our winning a significant section of the special bodies of armed men and woman to our side.
We are dealing here with strategy and tactics, and not at all with mere prediction. Scientific socialism, let us never forget, is not a dogma, but a guide to action.