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Blast it home

Broken home




The Working Class, where's it gone?

Marx wrote that all history was the story of class struggle, historical change was the product of antagonism, the struggle between opposing classes.

"The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles." 1848

And Marx witnessed those struggles first hand. He lived in an honest age, when the lords in their castles talked openly in the mother of parliaments of the need to keep the working class in its place and cautioned against educating the working man beyond the needs of industry. A century and more on by some miracle that struggle between opposing classes has disappeared - apparently.

The apparent, the appearance of things is vital to our understanding the world. Not only has the struggle disappeared, a whole bloody class has disappeared - a 2011 uSwitch survey revealed that 70% of working men and women questioned believed they were middle class. Note: less than a third of these respondents were highly paid doctors and lawyers. In reality these people do not represent some kind of homogenous class related to income or work, they are self identifiers, all using a range of life styles and products to label themselves.

The director of consumer policy at, said:

“Three-quarters of us now think we are middle-class even if our parents and grandparents weren’t. Instead of being defined by class, Brits now feel the sky’s the limit.”

What Brit in their right mind would feel in 2011 that the sky was the limit, unless Starbucks have started putting some kind of hallucinogen in their over-priced coffee. The answer to that question is straightforwardly simple, a representative sample of the entire British population. If that doesn't worry you, you must be buying your overpriced coffee at Starbucks.

In the world of Marx, opposing classes had their rallying points, on the one hand preserving the status quo, on the other, seeking its overthrow.

The Absence of Struggle

What we needed was a struggle, an ideology, something to strive for, something to believe in, something bigger than ourselves; what we didn't need was self-delusion, we never wanted to become Neil Kinnock.

We certainly didn't need Lord Bragg of Wigton, otherwise known as working class northern son of toil Melvyn, telling us that people no longer identify themselves by class, but by culture. He thinks that people define themselves by the music they listen to and books they read. Well, we know that the Morning Star's readership has dropped off a bit in recent years but Bragg is bending fiction to fit the facts. That's the problem with idle intellectuals, always creating blind alleys, always leading people up the garden path because they've made some remarkable discovery, which requires several TV programmes to unpick and we like suckers watch, fully prepared to be astounded by Bragg's blinding insights, only to be left cheated by a collection of superficial reminiscences.

The political landscape is one of sterile aridity, full of charlatans and clowns, thieves and liars, all sharp suits and dull wits. Without a struggle to hone those wits; everywhere we see the political class with their to-do lists, the trades unions sweeping up the crumbs from under the table, the churches seeking accommodation for the public buggery of their representatives. And we see the consumer being sucked in and consumed by gimmicks, creating life-styles in mesmerised contentment,as their pockets are picked clean.

Politicians manoeuvre like 'resting' actors to improve their media profiles. All actions are now predicated on microcosmic views and an obsession with self. The struggles of long gone past were based on some kind of vision, big ideas of how society might be organised for the benefit of the majority. As late as 1945, the Labour government were still capable of talking about a Commonwealth of Socialism. They of course didn't mean it, by then politics had already become reactive.


Masses of confusion

A Commonwealth of Socialism? The masses were confusing technological change with progress, this made them more comfortable but not more happy, not more fulfilled, not more actualized - just better off materially. Baths and inside toilets, and for some, electric lights, the New Jerusalem had arrived. Soon there would a televison in every home, beaming optimism throughout the green and pleasant land. And finally, the masterpiece of capitalist tinkering, hire purchase - now everything was within reach. And as a backstop, Labour gave the nation, the Beverage Report.

The intellectuals thought deeply; Fromm (1) told us that people feared freedom, and a bit later, Marcuse (2) said they were alienated, and C Wright Mills said they had no imagination. These guys were really making their own sense of things but there was not much in what they said to reassure anyone, especially those seeking to make sense of things. Their stunning revelation; oppression in the modern age came from affluence not poverty. The crumbs from the table were now enough for modern man since they now came wrapped very nicely, with fancy names and brands to build a life-style around.

Marx turned in his grave, what chance now for the revolution, for genuine progress, what chance now for the working class to fulfill its historical mission - none, they'd been let down by their leaders and then bought off with trinkets, duped as easily as South Sea islanders by pirates like Captain Cook.


1. Erich Fromm, The Fear of Freedom, 1941; 2. Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man, 1964; 3. C Wright Mills, The Sociological Imagination, 1959.


Philosophers have only interpreted the world... in fact, they made some things up as well.

A few years after Marx played his last working mans' club, Adorno observed:

"philosophy, which once seemed obsolete, lives on because the moment to realize it was missed".

Very clever, this was Adono's cover story for the failure of the working class to realise its potential as a revolutionary force for change. The fact that the working class had missed the boat didn't negate the possibility of some future resurgence of working class realisation. What a relief, that was 1920 and history was still alive and well - potentially anyway.

E. P. Thompson, in his The Making of the English Working Class, 1963, observed that the working class was "present at its own making". In the space between then and now the working class seems to have disappeared, present at its own demise, no doubt.


A new class system

In April 2013, BBC research was published in the Sociology Journal. Some 161,000 people were surveyed to construct a new class system based on seven categories:

  • Elite - the most privileged group in the UK, distinct from the other six classes through its wealth. This group has the highest levels of all three capitals
  • Established middle class - the second wealthiest, scoring highly on all three capitals. The largest and most gregarious group, scoring second highest for cultural capital
  • Technical middle class - a small, distinctive new class group which is prosperous but scores low for social and cultural capital. Distinguished by its social isolation and cultural apathy
  • New affluent workers - a young class group which is socially and culturally active, with middling levels of economic capital
  • Traditional working class - scores low on all forms of capital, but is not completely deprived. Its members have reasonably high house values, explained by this group having the oldest average age at 66
  • Emergent service workers - a new, young, urban group which is relatively poor but has high social and cultural capital
  • Precariat, or precarious proletariat - the poorest, most deprived class, scoring low for social and cultural capital

Individuals were placed in these categories based on their income/wealth, social capital (how many people you know and what their status is) and cultural capital (the extent and nature of your cultural interests).

And the purpose of this exercise was? Who knows? Perhaps the advertisers and marketers needed a new indexing system to help to sell their wares. Beyond sales targeting, this 'research' has no purpose.

A professor of sociology at Manchester University took some time from her extended lunch break to say that some of these people didn't see themselves as working class or middle class.

"The survey has really allowed us to drill down and get a much more complete picture of class in modern Britain." and:

"...there's a much more fuzzy area between the traditional working class and traditional middle class." Fiona Devine, Manchester University.

The professor and her colleagues could have drawn the same conclusions without getting out of bed.

Class is not a subjective collection of moods that shift with the amount of change in your pocket, it's an objective fact related to the economic base. Some people own the means of production and tell the politicians what to do, everyone else works for wages and does what they are told.

And when they get fed up with being told what to do, they can take two weeks off in Torquay and pretend they are not willing slaves.