Showing posts with label middle class. Show all posts
Showing posts with label middle class. Show all posts

Sunday, July 07, 2013

The middle class



Marx uses the term “middle class”. In the Victorian period this term was used to refer to the bourgeoisie or capitalist class. In modern Marxist terminology the words “middle class” would be replaced by “bourgeois” and “bourgeoisie“ as appropriate.

Class is defined by the position in which you stand with regard to the means of production. In capitalist society there are two basic classes: those who own and control the means of production and those who own no productive resources apart from their ability to work. The job you do, the status it might have, the pay you receive and how you chose to spent it, are irrelevant as long as you are dependent on working in order to live. This means we are living in a two-class society of capitalists and workers.

The existence of a “middle class” is one of the greatest myths of the twentieth century. In the last century, the term was used by the up-and-coming industrial section of the capitalist class in Britain to describe themselves; they were the class between the landed aristocracy (who at that time dominated political power) and the working class. However, the middle class of industrial capitalists replaced the landed aristocracy as the ruling class and the two classes merged into the capitalist class we know today. In other words, the 19th century middle class became part of the upper class and disappeared as a “middle” class. The term, however, lived on and came to be applied to civil servants, teachers and other such white-collar workers.

Having to work for an employer was how Marx defined the working class. Commodities express the amount of labor time embodied in them and that is how Marx has defined money.

The traditional division between “working class” and “middle class” implies that there is a conflict between these two groups, with the middle class being better paid, educated and housed, often at the expense of the working class. In order for the left liberal politics to maintain its appeal, the enemy had to be found, not in the abstract workings of a social system, but in the concrete everyday realities. The owning class is too remote to be tangible, and certainly too remote to be vulnerable. So the left reformers dragoon the “middle-class” into the role. Their immediate enemy is the “middle class” ie the lower /middle echelons of management, civil servants, social workers, teachers and all the other functionaries of capital. Making a supposed middle-class into an enemy is as divisive as anything dreamed up by the owning class.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

class loyalty

The media and the political mouthpieces of capitalist ideology have done their job well. Scottish workers are being caught up by the "patriotism" of the referendum debate - either for independence or for the union. Capitalism has reached a point at which it threatens all humanity and not just the divided national, religious, racial (or other falsely labeled) identity groups.

The patriotism of the capitalist class is better called national chauvinism. This "patriotism" equates loyalty to the nation with loyalty to the capitalist-controlled government and its policies. It seeks the acquiescence of workers in the crimes, aggressions, depredations and depravities of the ruling class and its agents.  It is intended to trick workers into sanctioning whatever is deemed in the interests of the business class. It's nationalistic baloney asserts that our interests as a “nation” are totally bound up with, if not identical , to those of our exploiters. But as we know, in class societies the state does not serve everyone equally. Instead, its main efforts are directed to helping the class that rules over the economy. In capitalism, that means essentially helping the capitalist class accumulate capital, repress opposition to their exploitative rule, and legitimise all the forms in which this goes on.  But to do this job well, the state has to appear legitimate in the eyes of most of its citizens, which requires above all else that its consistent bias on behalf of the capitalist ruling class be hidden from view. The flag and other patriotic symbolism are crucial to the success of this effort. Throughout, emotions play a much larger role than reason or thinking generally, and the strongest emotion evoked by patriotism is the pleasure of belonging to a cooperative social community where everyone is concerned with the fate of others. Unfortunately, the social community only exists in the shadow of an illusory community dominated by the ruling economic class and its state, where none of this applies.

Then there is a form of patriotism to which workers should adhere; it is loyalty, not to the institutions of the nation, but to the people; more precisely, to the majority of the people -- the working class -- with whom they share a common material interest. For workers today, class consciousness -- loyalty to one's class -- is patriotism. International working-class interests are the paramount interests to be served -- not those of any capitalist nation state. Without solidarity to one's class and to one's comrades. workers are helpless in the face of the ruling class's monopoly of the means of production. If workers can stick together, they can respond to employers' control of work. Solidarity between workers is therefore an essential prerequisite for success in class struggle. Class consciousness is the key to working-class victory in ending the class struggle.

Patriotism works to disguise the real differences which exist amongst people—which are differences of class and which involve irreconcilable differences of interests—and to encourage workers to identify with the institution—the state—which is the primary defender of class society. The slogan “workers of the world unite” is in part a call on proletarians to acknowledge that their home is in the company of other members of their class wherever they are to be found.

Scotland is divided into two classes -- the working class and the class of employers/investors that lives off its labour.  We can wonder how a capitalist party which of course the SNP is can keep on winning all the elections. The answer often lies far less in their programs than in the flag and other patriotic symbols with which these programs come wrapped. Most workers vote against their class interests because they "love" their "country".

There are a various definitions of what class is. Many of them assign people to class groups on the basis of cultural and behavioural attributes such as dress, speech, education levels, shopping habits, and employment sector. Such concepts are fallacious in that they reduce class to a matter of choice, taste, when it is nothing of the sort. Whether you read the Sun or the Times, or whether you shop at Asda or at Sainsbury's, is entirely irrelevant. The middle class are, in reality, workers. They too have to sell their labour to a master in order to survive, and the fact that the wages of that labour may be more, or that the job may be “white collar” rather than “blue collar” is of no significance.

In essence, there are two classes: the working class and the capitalist or ruling class. What matters is your relation to capital. The working class are the vast majority of people on the planet, those who must sell their labour in order to earn a living and survive. The ruling class are, to use a rough figure, the top one-percent of society. They do not have to sell their labour or work, but instead are maintained by expropriating rent, interest, and profit from the working class who produce it. They are, in short, parasites. The bourgeoisie are united across the national divide and therefore so should we. The working class must unite to fight against attacks and refuse to be divided or distracted. This is the only way to defend the gains of the past and fight for a future society worth living in.

Working people have only one country—the planet earth. There is only one foreigner—the boss.


Saturday, January 16, 2010

Class

The newspaper reads "The number of middle-class homeowners in Scotland who are declaring themselves bankrupt is rising dramatically...The trend is being blamed on the well-off no longer being able to use rising equity in their homes to finance their lifestyles and pay off debts.."

Oh , how often we come across the expression "middle class" , as if those people are somehow different from the working class. This article from the archives of the Socialist Standard explains why there is no such thing as middle class and that we are all members of the working class.

Getting the blues in suburbia

There aren't many factory workers like me in the area where I live - a pleasant suburb called Giffnock which lies just over the south side of the Glasgow boundary. I moved there about five years ago and when my workmates heard where I was moving to they were amazed. Al­most all of them live in council flats or houses (Scotland has a much higher percentage of council and other rented housing than England) and they seemed to place Giffnock in the same wealth bracket as Beverley Hills or Mayfair. "They've all got money up there" I was told.


Of course, when I moved into the place I found the reality to be just as I expected. Nearly every household is de­pendent on at least one wage or salary earner and so far I haven't met or even heard of a single millionaire. On the other hand, I have met people who have equally strange notions about factory workers. They presumably get their ideas (preju­dices would be a better word) from the media and are quick to condemn strikes and wage demands which they imagine industrial workers indulge in every five minutes, just for the fun of it.
Obviously, different sections of the working class have false ideas about the others, but it only needs a look beneath the surface to see the essential sameness of all their lives.


Every morning from Monday to Friday, excluding holidays, I leave home at three minutes to seven. I buy my news­paper in the newsagent round the corner and stand in a shop doorway waiting for my lift to work. I get picked up about five minutes past seven and we are on our way. The streets are deserted and as we approach Eastwood Toll we, pass the big houses and the tall blocks of luxury flats which sell for around £80,000. All of them are in, darkness so the occupants must still be in bed, and' it's the same with the bungalows just along the road.
In the next ten minutes we pass through the massive Pollok council estate. There's plenty of lights burning in the houses here and lots of activity, with people walking along the streets, standing at bus stops or waiting at corners for their lifts. Most of them probably feel, like me, that it's tough having to start so early, but in an hour's time the Fenwick and Kilmarnock roads will be jammed with the cars of the salary-slaves from Newton Mearns, Whitecraigs, Williamwood and Giffnock all heading into. the city. For despite what my workmates may think, most of those who live in the big houses, luxury flats and bungalows are employees too, and the fact that they start around nine changes nothing-except that they get home in the evening an hour or two later than we do.


So there are superficial differences between these owner-occupiers and council tenants but the things they have in common are much more important. Like problems, for instance. When we read about all those redundancies in factories, shipyards and steelworks, does anyone imagine that only the shopfloor workers are involved? "White-collar" workers, right up to the highest levels of management, get the push, too. They are not immune to this (nobody is these days) and many of them live in places like Giffnock.


Just recently we noticed that Ian, one of near neighbours, was home a lot during the day and, his car was usually parked outside his house. Eventually we learned what had happened. He worked as some kind of executive (he sometimes talked about his "staff" ) in a big whiskey com­pany, and as the trade is in the middle of its biggest slump in over fifty years his employers had "let him go".
Ian's problem now is to find a new employer. Naturally, a man in his position will look up the situations vacant columns in so-called "quality" news­papers like the Scotsman and the Glasgow Herald rather than the more "popular" Daily Record. There was a time when he could have made an appointment at the impressively titled Executive Register, but not now. The Register was closed as part of the government's economy drive so instead of a private interview in a posh office with a fitted carpet, Ian may have to go to the local Job Centre the same as anyone else.


It cannot be denied that the in­habitants of Giffnock are generally a bit better off than those in, say, Pollok. Here and there you can see an extension being built onto the back of a house or maybe double glazing being installed, but they feel the pinch just the same as workers in industry. Another neighbour, Colin, hasn't taken his family on holiday for two years. "Can't afford it", he tells me; the high interest rates which mortgage payers currently face could be the reason. There must be lots like him in Giffnock.


So some of them try to earn a bit extra just as electricians, plumbers, painters, joiners, and other workers do by taking on "homers" in their spare time. The local newsagents have some cards in their windows which demonstrate this. For example, a local man who is probably an architect will draw up plans for your new extension or garage; an accountant offers his services and someone who is "fully qualified" will provide English tuition in the evenings. In the next street there is a woman who does part-time market research. They need more cash, too.
The classified ads in the newspapers also tell a story. Some years ago the dis­covery of oil in the North Sea encouraged speculation that the fuel would cost next to nothing, so people in places like Giff­nock rushed to have oil-fired central heating systems installed. Nowadays the rush is to convert to cheaper gas and the ads are filled with unwanted oil burners and tanks but you can't give them away. I know, I had to pay the local dustmen to get rid of mine.


The fact that many people in places like Giffnock live in better houses, do different work or earn more money than some others does not elevate them out of the working class. They still have to work for a living, worry about making ends meet, face the indignity of the sack and in one degree or another, suffer the prob­lems created by capitalist society. This is what places them firmly in the ranks of the workers whether or not they like it or my workmates know it, and the passing of time makes it more and more evident.


V.V.
Socialist Standard January 1981

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