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November 23, 2014

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Deviation From The Mean

When you look at the polls we see that a majority of people (68 - 70%) favour higher taxes on the rich, yet we never see higher taxes on the rich. Again a majority want investment in public services but we never see investment in public services in response to such polls.

So while I accept class consciousness is not exactly overflowing it does exist but is often just ignored.

This means we need a special sort of class consciousness, an active, revolutionary one. A consciousness that aims at political and cultural revolution and doesn't see the big issue of the day as being one of how to increase real wages but to abolish real wages. Nothing short of that will do.

From Arse To Elbow

Your use of the word "paradox" is surely ironic. The egalitarian hegemony you point to is the product of capital's instrumental lack of discrimination (and a desire to turn lifestyle into a set of commodities) rather than the success of the left in "winning the culture war".

Class, both the simultaneous maintenance and denial of, is central to capitalist ideology. Racism, sexism and homophobia are merely sites of opportunity. When there is more money to be made being anti-racist than racist, then the ideology adjusts accordingly.

What working people need (and yes, I mean need not want) is not a party advocating more Tory women in the boardroom, or promising to "understand the concerns" of racist idiots, but one that promotes worker autonomy. It is, as you say, practical steps in this direction that would have the single largest impact on class consciousness.

Unfortunately, the Labour party (which is the party that manages labour, not represents it) is incapable of such a seismic shift in its thinking.

nino

I think Emily Thornbury got it spot on. The St George flag has become synonymous with the far right. To claim that it was displayed in connection with the England football team ... er! Are these the same nice people indulging in anti Catholic sectarian chanting at the England Scotland game? Call it anti IRA if you want but it had a lot to do with the game being played at Celtic Park.

e

@Deviation From The Mean
But (the big but) support for ‘fair’ distribution policies don’t translate into support for any sort of cultural revolution. And thank ‘god’ because currently the only direction on offer is backwards. However, I’m all for active (inclusive) class consciousness of a type that recognises all people, as opposed to all statistics, have agency. The problem as I see it is simple solidarity with groups being nudged towards a path to ruin (becoming fodder for corporations) isn’t enough, and the marketization of “active solidarity” is a fait accompli. To my mind it is not “us” that must grow up and transform, it is our political institutions that must be made to do so. Neoliberal institutionalism, or institutionalism, must become more “flexible” more agile, more trusting, and most of all, categorically distinguishable from a media that (perhaps rightly perhaps not) has no responsibility for anything.

windsock

Nino: No. She thought she was being clever. I'm being repetitive here, but what I said on the last thread was: What that tweet shows is that Emily Thornberry is a crap politician. She was buying into the idea that the cross of St George England flag = UKIP = (BNP+EDL+NF). All she had to say under the photo was "Rochester. Great to see enthusiastic patriotism. Hope they are voting Labour!".

But she chose to be a cryptic smartarse, leaving people to interpret it according their prejudices (i.e. you are patriotic = you are right wing politically = you are thick). You don't have to be on the right to be patriotic. And we in the working classes can be intensely patriotic. Unfortunately many in Labour seem to have forgotten where the party came from.

Ceiliog

windsock: Judging my the comments from the man living in the property, I think Thornberry got it right. Have you seen the 'Business Insider, India' webpage http://www.businessinsider.in/This-Picture-Shows-The-Scandal-Over-MPs-Rochester-Picture-Is-Manufactured/articleshow/45224518.cms ?

Luis Enrique

We sorely lack a popular left wing media presence. The Guardian couldn't be better designed to alienate most people. It frequently makes me reluctant to call myself left wing if that's what it consists of. We need Soros to buy The Sun and reorient it.

windsock

Ceiliog: context is everything. My point stands. Maybe she should have nabbed a passing person with brown pigmentation to stand in front of the Rochester house? It would have changed the context completely.

Brett

You'd have to make ownership stakes part of every unionization and worker rights effort, and try to at least get it on Labour's agenda. I don't know about the UK, but the big unions here in the US tended to be opposed to lobbying for more compensation in profit-sharing form as well as more worker ownership, out of the fear that it would "cloud their bargaining position"*. It's a good idea, though, and there are some noticeably big companies that are employee-owned.

Even on the libertarian right, you can get greater worker profit-sharing and autonomy. That's one of the cruel ironies of the Koch Brothers - Koch Industries firms actually tend to heavily utilize bonuses and greater lower-level control over the workplace for greater performance.

* I suspect "clouding the bargaining position" was code for "fears that we might be hurt financially if our members are invested in their companies beyond their jobs" and "fear that our workers might identify more with their companies than with us if they have more individual power and rewards from company performance beyond fixed pay schedules".

magistra

If you want class consciousness, you’d have to agree how you define class, wouldn’t you? And Marx’s theories, which put a self-employed hairdresser in a different and higher class from a salaried GP, don’t work anymore. So instead you end up with educational and cultural markers of class that mean that a millionaire who left school at sixteen is more working class than an unemployed graduate or one who’s a shopworker. You might get further with ideas based on the precariat, but then you’ve got an interesting paradox. The person with the most insecure job in the recent affair is Emily Thornberry, who can lose her cabinet job (and its salary) on the arbitrary decision of her superior.

That’s why the idea of the 1% is potentially valuable: because it provides an account of class that actually reflects some of today’s economic realities, not those of the Industrial Revolution. The problem is translating that into policies that actually benefit the majority of people. And that ties into a previous post of yours about reluctance to do politics. Saying that some people near the top are going to lose out is unpopular because the losers are far more vocal than the winners and the media is keen to amplify their voices. But an emphasis on class consciousness suggests that Labour are planning to attack the salariat, whose support they actually need.

Icarus Green

I think Luis above makes the most salient point about why class consciousness isn't reality. As much as I agree with most of the stuff in the guardian, and admire its journalistic quality, that and other left leaning sources suffer from Gywneth Paltrow syndrome: a desire to promote a lifestyle more than a set of ideas.

You don't see the Daily Mail and Telegraph writers talking about their embarrassingly out of touch lives or interests, just quick direct to the point money shot arguments about why the mansion tax will damage grandma and why European health and safety regulations are a bane on freedom.

What Chris is alluding to on hegemony around social issues but not economic issues is what a call 'Buzzfeed liberalism'. Feel good liberalism that has its merits, and is important but doesn't tackle the biggest problems in society and basically only serves to improve the lives of small tiny categories of society rather than the great majority that Marx had in mind when he was writing.

From Arse To Elbow

@Magistra, you're somewhat misrepresenting Marx when you say he "put a self-employed hairdresser in a different and higher class from a salaried GP".

Marx's views on class can appear contradictory - partly because he didn't finish that chapter in Kapital and partly because he recognised the mutable nature of class interests and their social representation - however he thought it ultimately boiled down to those that "live on wages, profit and ground rent, respectively, on the realisation of their labour power, their capital, and their landed property".

Clearly, it is possible for the same person to live on all three revenue streams, however the vast majority depend on one. Owning a house (unless BTL) does not make you a landowner as there is no ground rent, and a mortgage is simply debt bondage where the collateral is the worker's future labour. Similarly, owning shares through a pension or mutual fund does not make you a capitalist.

You're right to say that the "1%" is a useful image, not least because it reminds us that 99% of us largely depend on wages, but not that this is a departure from the Industrial Revolution. That fraction would have been as accurate a representation of the dominant force in society in 1814 as it is today (the key point of Piketty).

Ceiliog

windsock: Why should she do that? The 2012 photo was o.k. because it was the Football World Cup and included the Candidate standing at the gate. The Rochester photo, to many working class people (including myself), means that the occupier is trouble and should be avoided.

Deviation From The Mean

"And Marx’s theories, which put a self-employed hairdresser in a different and higher class from a salaried GP, don’t work anymore."

Using the exception to disprove the rule is wrongheaded. However, generally speaking, someone who owns a small business will have a different outlook and different objective interests to someone who is a wage earner. For example and generally speaking, the small business owner will want to cut red tape, lower taxes and ditch worker friendly EU policies, the worker will want the opposite. But on other things, house value, type of car they drive etc they probably appear very similar, while the Doctor appears as a class apart.

I personally don't subscribe to the 99%/1%, I would say more like 70% and 30%.


"But (the big but) support for ‘fair’ distribution policies don’t translate into support for any sort of cultural revolution."

That was sort of my whole point! Except I think this is a shame, where you see it as a blessing.

windsock

Ceiliog: working class here too. I don't see trouble. I see a family establishing an identity, albeit ia bit shouty, but not aggressive. Where do you see the trouble?

Mark

So to promote employee ownership we should vote with our money and use employee owned businesses to serve us whenever we can and look to work for them too. (Those of us who live off wages!)

Are there any helpful lists of such organisations?

magistra

To pick up on some of the responses, I'll admit I haven't read Marx himself, I'm getting vulgarised versions of his theories. But the point is that these vulgarised versions often don't match today's economic reality. There's no point in saying that there's a difference in outlook between small business owners and wage earners when more and more of us don't fit neatly into either of those categories. I'd get laughed at if I claimed to be working class, even though I've been employed on temporary contracts for a substantial chunk of the last 20 years (as a librarian and then a history lecturer). The Labour Party's references to "hard-working families" may be irritating (especially for single people), but they're at least trying to reflect the economic reality that the vast majority of us do mostly just have labour power to sell, even if that labour gets very varied rewards.

Blissex

«we need more class-consciousness. Rightists often argue that class war can be divisive and mean-spirited.»

This is something so completely ridiculous, and the following comments too, that it astonishes even me.

In the UK there is deep, extensive *right wing* class consciousness, and it it characterized by deep, extensive meanness and divisiveness.

Do people who comment in this blog ever read the Telegraph and the Mail? They are chock full of class consciousness and class spite.

Most incumbent south eastern property owner voting tory (either flavour, New Labour or Conservative) has a very high class consciousness, she thinks she is a landlady of the micromanor, thinks she is in the same class as Cameron and the Duke of Westminster.

Typically she is even more mean spirited and divisive against the poor and disabled and Northern scroungers than Cameron and His Grace may be, and indeed a lot of Conservative politics is to try and catch up with the bottomless spite towards the lower classes of their very class obsessed voters.

My usual quotes on Sierra Man and the "conservatory building classes":

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/columnists/rachelsylvester/3556538/Brown-and-the-conservatory-building-classes.html
«The problem with Gordon,” a senior minister said to me recently, “is that he doesn’t understand why anyone would ever want to build a conservatory.”
There is a growing concern in the Government that the Prime Minister is alienating the aspirational middle classes who put Labour into power in 1997 and have kept it there ever since.
... Although Mr Brown talks a lot about aspiration, he means it in the sense
that people at the bottom of the pile should be able to get to the middle,
rather than that those in the middle should aspire to get a little bit further
towards the top. His preoccupations with child poverty, Africa and banning plastic bags are all very worthy – but they leave the conservatory-building classes thinking: what about us?
... With the cost of housing, energy, childcare and food going through the roof, people who are relatively well paid can no longer afford to live the way they did even a year ago. As the middle classes book holidays in Torquay rather than Tuscany, drink tap water instead of San Pellegrino and put the conservatory they had been planning to build on hold, they start to question the amount they have to pay to the Government.»

http://www.britishpoliticalspeech.org/speech-archive.htm?speech=202
«I can vividly recall the exact moment that I knew the last election was lost. I was canvassing in the Midlands on an ordinary suburban estate. I met a man polishing his Ford Sierra, self-employed electrician, Dad always voted Labour. He used to vote Labour, he said, but he bought his own home, he had set up his own business, he was doing quite nicely, so he said I’ve become a Tory. He was not rich but he was doing better than he did, and as far as he was concerned, being better off meant being Tory too.
In that moment the basis of our failure – the reason why a whole generation has grown up under the Tories – became plain to me. You see, people judge us on their instincts about what they believe our instincts to be. And that man polishing his car was clear: his instincts were to get on in life, and he thought our instincts were to stop him.»

Blissex

«Clearly, it is possible for the same person to live on all three revenue streams, however the vast majority depend on one. Owning a house (unless BTL) does not make you a landowner as there is no ground rent, and a mortgage is simply debt bondage where the collateral is the worker's future labour. Similarly, owning shares through a pension or mutual fund does not make you a capitalist.»

Perhaps the above is true for a strictly Marxist analysis (but I think that Karl was rather more perceptive than that).

But *for the people involved* owning a house makes them feel like landlords and owning shares makes them feel like capitalists, more often than not.

I have often repeated in my comments here that the foundation of right-wing politics since 1980 in most Anglo-American countries has been a study thqt showed that people who owned a house, shares, car voted to the right regardless of income and social class.

Sierra Man surely did:

«Dad always voted Labour. He used to vote Labour, he said, but he bought his own home, he had set up his own business, he was doing quite nicely, so he said I’ve become a Tory.»

And as to The ridiculous idea that;

«Owning a house (unless BTL) does not make you a landowner as there is no ground rent,»

One of the crucial tools of right-wing social engineering has been ensuring high levels of tax-free effort-free large capital gains for decades cashable via low interest remortgages by any so-called Middle England tory. My usual figures:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-19288208
«In 2001, the average price of a house was £121,769 and the average salary was £16,557, according to the National Housing Federation. A decade on, the typical price of a property is 94% higher at £236,518, while average wages are up 29% to £21,330»

In the South East that means a two-up-two-down terrace house, that has given £12,000 a year tax free to a working class owner who bought it in 2001, and that might be nearly doubling their after tax income.

Again, do people who write comments like above read the Telegraph or Mail, if not commonly published statistics?

Deviation From The Mean

"There's no point in saying that there's a difference in outlook between small business owners and wage earners when more and more of us don't fit neatly into either of those categories."

I don't accept this for a minute actually. I don't know many people who are wage earners by day and then small business owners by night. I really don't. I would accept that there has been a reduction in factory labour and an increase in office labour, I would also accept that more women have entered the labour force. But that is another story.

From Arse To Elbow

@Blissex, you are confusing the ideology of home-ownership with the legal and financial reality. Perhaps you've been reading the Torygraph and the Daily Hate a bit too much.

If you take out a mortgage on a property, you do not own that property. Legally, the mortgagor does. That is why you do not get the title deeds until full redemption of the capital loan.

Upon redemption, you own the property and can sell it to realise a capital gain. However this is only a notional gain for most people as you would then be homeless. You can realise a true gain if you downsize and buy a cheaper substitute property, but this means a much smaller net gain than the capital appreciation figures trumpeted by the press.

That actual gain is theoretically equivalent to the loss in utility occasioned by moving into a lesser property. Everyone's utility is different, so some people may feel the gain is greater than the loss, but at the level of society this will be neutral as it reflects aggregate buyer valuations.

As you say, what matters is how people "feel" about this, and how they perceive their social status as a result. A mortgage is "the freedom to own your own home" rather than debt bondage, while sole traders think they are small businesses rather than casual labour. Class consciousness is the issue.

Blissex

«what matters is how people "feel" about this, and how they perceive their social status as a result.»

Yes, but it is not just social status, this is the thing that some people seem to be unable to consider: thanks to the dark-side magic of remortgages etc. petty property speculators can also cash in a good chunk of spendable money, so it is not just "social status", it is cold cash.

The £12,000 (at least) of capital gains cashable even by working class voters in the South East for a decade (and more!) is something that they are fully aware they probably would not get from trade unions, good jobs and pensions etc.; because it is the fruit of squeezing the mass of people poorer and weaker than you.

«A mortgage is "the freedom to own your own home" rather than debt bondage, while sole traders think they are small businesses rather than casual labour. Class consciousness is the issue.»

But the sole trader, the doctor, the lawyer, the property speculator *have class consciousness*: they think that they nowe belong in the propertied and business-owning classes, and their earnings from what they consider their property and their business show that it is substantially (but not wholly or even mostly) true.

I could understand the argument that they have the *wrong* class consciousness, but our blogger, most commenters, and seemingly you too seem to make the rather different claim that they do not have class consciousness.

My argument is instead that Sierra Man and many others it has simply switched from (mild) "worker class consciousness" to (rabid) "propertied/business class consciousness" (even if they were wrong).

And for many people it is actually mostly true "technically": all those divorced, widowed, retired "'poor' ladies in mansions" (or "many 'poor' ladies and some 'poor' men with good old-style pensions") are nearly 100% rentiers, and they vote ruthlessly for higher property and stock prices, for higher profits and rents, and for lower wages and lower employment.

Also many of the (functional) middle classes, the doctors and lawyers who derive most of their income from business and property (their credentials) ownership and not their labour.

I have noticed that there are many in the delusional left who think that the socialist policies of the Foot, Benn and Kinnock governments of the 80s and 90s have dulled the class consciousness of the working class who having gained and maintained their good jobs and pensions and enjoying the low prices of property and low cost of dentists they now think that class consciousness is something from the past and everybody is comfortably working class now.

But they ought to *wake up* and read the Telegraph and the Mail, or at least the Giles Radice pamphlets in the "Southern Discomfort" series.

Igor Belanov

"the socialist policies of the Foot, Benn and Kinnock governments of the 80s and 90s have dulled the class consciousness of the working class"

Pardon?

Is this clumsy satire or are we dealing with an alernative universe?

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