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February 16, 2017


Luis Enrique

when are alliances easier between two distinct parties (i.e. coalitions) or within one party? Perhaps middle class and working class lefties would find it easier to cooperate effectively as two separate parties?


Trouble is, the enhanced pricing power of labour that leads to the better wages, shorter hours and enhanced autonomy identified by Orwell as workers' principal goals aren't cost-free.

In the current context - record low unemployment, yet sclerotic growth in real incomes and in productivity - large-scale low-skilled immigration must surely play a part in undermining workers' ability to improve their lot.

While middle-class metropolitan socialists can point to endless papers disproving a link between migration and wage depression, or even suggesting a negative correlation, every working class voter can reference lived experience that contradicts their position.

The left therefore has to choose between discarding a value dear to the metros, relatively open borders, and alienating what was once the core vote.


'This is just what socialism should mean. Having “nobody boss you about” is desireable in itself, as Marc Stears argues.'

Someone should have told Engels -- his "On Authority" is based on the workplace being inherently authoritarian.

And, of course, Lenin took that perspective up with a vengence -- imposing "one-man management" onto the workers:

"Firstly, the question of principle, namely, is the appointment of individuals, dictators with unlimited powers, in general compatible with the fundamental principles of Soviet government? . . . concerning the significance of individual dictatorial powers from the point of view of the specific tasks of the present moment, it must be said that large-scale machine industry - which is precisely the material source, the productive source, the foundation of socialism - calls for absolute and strict unity of will, which directs the joint labours of hundreds, thousands and tens of thousands of people . . . But how can strict unity of will be ensured? By thousands subordinating their will to the will of one . . . unquestioning subordination to a single will is absolutely necessary for the success of processes organised on the pattern of large-scale machine industry. On the railways it is twice and three times as necessary . . . Today . . . revolution demands - precisely in the interests of its development and consolidation, precisely in the interests of socialism - that the people unquestioningly obey the single will of the leaders of labour." (Collected Works, vol. 27, pp. 267-9)

And best not mention Lenin's "What is to be done?" and its lovely picture of us workers being unable to develop socialist ideas by ourselves...

But, yes, that is what socialism should be about -- workers' self-management of industry and the community in the future and our own struggles and organisations in the here-and-now. Which has been, historically, the ideas of libertarian socialism -- anarchism -- rather than Marxism (at least most forms of Marxism -- exceptions include the council communists).


Nobody will be surprised when I argue that the detachment of the northern Labour working class from the New Labour southern middle class is due mostly to southern house prices.

Once upon a time both had a common interest: get a better deal from their bosses, whether they were blue or white collar.
But since most of the white-collar voters and many skilled blue-collar voters in the south have become property owners and they feel class solidarity with the Duke of Westminster, not with the ex-miners.

People who get 100% yearly profits on cash invested in southern property think that they don't need pensions, better wages, lower hours, unemployment insurance. They want lower wages, higher unemployment, social insurance cuts, a stronger pound, lower taxes.


«While middle-class metropolitan socialists can point to endless papers disproving a link between migration and wage depression, or even suggesting a negative correlation, every working class voter can reference lived experience that contradicts their position.»

I think that this grossly underestimates both the metro socialists and the working class.
Most of the working class know very well that lower wages and higher unemployment are the result of Conservative and New Labour determination to make labour cheaper and more docile, and that mass immigration is just one of the tools they use. They hold no grudge against immigrants, but they dislike immigration as a tool.

I also reckon that many of the metro socialists realize that the studies they cite often amount to clever dissembling, such as obfuscating significant distributional shifts into averages, astute selection of time periods, prevaricating between "impact on salaries" and "driving down salaries", etc.; but their maximum concern is not the worldwide greater good, not the greater good of their national working class, and as to that the poor of the world are so poor that sacrificing a bit their national working class is worthwhile.


If what you describe wasn't such a daily in your face reality, the fabric with which Conditionality rules have been fashioned over the past few decades, I could have said this was a perceptive piece.
Has the EU “long divided workers and the well-meaning middle class”? It was a non issue before the well meaning on the right concluded the time was right for the promised referendum on the shape of bananas. And so now, for Labour,if its to remain Labour, Brexit/or no is a cart not a horse.


«become property owners and they feel class solidarity with the Duke of Westminster»

MY usual quote:

«It was indeed at the diffusion of property that inter-war Tories aimed, as the pragmatic answer to the arrival of democracy and the challenge from Labour. There were even prophetic council house sales by local Tories in the drive to create voters with a Conservative political mentality. As a Tory councillor in Leeds defiantly told Labour opponents in 1926, ‘it is a good thing for people to buy their own houses. They turn Tory directly. We shall go on making Tories and you will be wiped out.’ There is much of the Party history of the twentieth century in that remark.»


«George Orwell. Describing an ILP meeting in London,»

An Orwell contemporary satirical writer, G Mikes, in his immortal "How to be an alien" describes thus the english genius for compromise in politics, and the ILP, this way:

«The Labour party is a fair compromise between Socialism and Bureaucracy; the Beveridge Plan is a fair compromise between being and not being a Socialist at the same time; the Liberal Party is a fair compromise between the Beveridge Plan and Toryism; the Independent Labour Party is a fair compromise between Independent Labour and a political party; the Tory-reformers are a fair compromise between revolutionary conservatism and retrograde progress; and the whole British political life is a huge and non-compromising fight between compromising Conservatives and compromising Socialists.»

Dave Timoney

We do indeed need a historical perspective here. Most of the intellectuals associated with the Labour Party, certainly up to 1970s, were not middle class but upper middle, a distinction that Orwell was keenly aware of. This began to change in the 1960s with the expansion of tertiary education and the related growth in professional roles, both in the public and private sectors.

The conflicts within the party that reached boiling point in the late-70s were a result of this new middle class formation (both on the right and left) competing for policy control with an industrial proletariat already in retreat. Despite the sentimental solidarity of the 80s, what was really happening was an acceptance by the middle class that the proletariat had missed its historic cue as an agent of progress and would have to take a back seat.

New Labour formalised that marginalisation and sought to redefine social democracy in a way that would appeal to middle class (rather than upper middle) values, such as technical expertise and managerialism. Culturally, Labour under Blair went from a high+low-brow mix to pure middle-brow (e.g. setting "output targets" for arts funding).

The current problem is not that the Labour Party's policies alienate the working class (policies can be changed), but that the working class are conscious of being expected to take a subordinate role (with no hope of change). Patronisation is ultimately a bigger issue for the party than immigration. Consider how often the latter is bookended by "I'm not racist but ..." and "but they [politicians] don't care". We laugh knowingly at the former and miss the importance of the latter.


«the working class are conscious of being expected to take a subordinate role (with no hope of change)»

That happened when Labour was run by upper-middle and working class leaders. I think that the low-income classes are resigned to being in a subordinate position, but angry that their interests are also in a subordinate position.

New Labour was/is a coalition of low-income and middle-income voters, run for the primary and even the sole benefit of middle-income voters; the Conservatives are a coalition of middle-income and upper-income voters, run mostly for the long term, benefit of upper-income voters, but giving substantial benefit to middle-income voters.

What has changed in New Labour is that sensible blairism ("the middle-income classes are now bigger than the low-income classes, so we need to take care of their interests too") has been replaced by vulgar mandelsonianism ("only middle-income class voters matter in marginals under FPTP, and low-income class voters have nowhere else to go, so we need to take care only of their interests").

The problem with vulgar mandelsonianism is that "low-income class voters have nowhere else to go" is not quite right: they can stop voting, which they have done, and they can come back and vote "Leave" in a PR national referendum.

The Stoke Central constituency that used to be Tristram Hunt's is paradigmatic of all this.

Igor Belanov

"Julian Coman describes how Wigan residents are angry at the “top-down high-handed way” a Labour council wants to destroy part of the green belt, and how working people feel “a sense of powerlessness.”"

I'm sorry, but where does destruction of the Green Belt fit in here? Green Belts themselves could quite easily be seen as an imposition by middle-class homeowners who like to see their property prices and suburban amenities preserved. The 'sense of powerlessness' felt over issues like this has existed for decades.

The problem with this kind of breastbeating about middle-class/working-class division within the Labour Party is that it is so ahistorical and lacking in perspective. According to psephologists, the Labour Party has been at death's door on many occasions, notably 1931, 1959, 1983 and 1992. It's not that long since people were saying that the party desperately needed to move out of its working-class heartlands and embrace the 'aspirational' strata.

What people tend to forget is that much of the middle-class is not comprised of flower-loving hippy liberals. Working-class people, on the other hand, are much less likely to be horny-handed sons of toil, and tend to have a lot more over-educated, low-paid liberals than some folks realise.

As the Manic Street Preachers sang in 'Gold Against the Soul':

'Working class clichés start here'

Igor Belanov

Oh, and you must surely have recognised the irony of using Orwell to make points concerning working-class distaste for middle-class socialists?


What is a working class intellectual to do?


Part 2 of Wigan Pier has many passages such as the one quoted. I don't think they're of value other than as a guide to Orwell's early prejudices. Fruit juice drinkers indeed.

John Johnson

Two Labour Old Etonians in the 1945 Labour Government (Hugh Dalton being most prominent) and 70-odd miners. The stratum that the current Labour benches draws from is pretty much as posh as those Old Etonians (narcissism of small differences between outstanding state schools in ultra-posh areas, independent schools like Haberdashers, and the more traditional public schools notwithstanding), certainly when looked at in terms of socioeconomic background and worldview, but there are fewer representatives from the working classes who have come through industry rather than the political or charity/campaigning route.

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