The demonization of the working class cannot be understood without looking back at the Thatcherite experiment of the 1980s that forged the society we live in today […]
To understand Thatcherism’s attitude to working-class Britain, it is important to start by looking at Thatcher herself. Some of her warmest admirers have often been at pains to portray her—wrongly—as a person of humble origins. As the staunchly Thatcherite Tory MP David Davis told me: ‘Margaret was always a bit more middle class than she made out.’ It is almost a cliché to describe her as a grocer’s daughter, but it was this that coloured her entire political outlook.
Growing up in the Lincolnshire market town of Grantham, her father had instilled in her a deep commitment to what could be called lowermiddle- class values: individual self-enrichment and enterprise, and an instinctive hostility to collective action. Her biographer, Hugo Young, noted that she had little if any contact with working-class people, let alone the trade union movement.
Her attitudes were undoubtedly cemented when in 1951 she married a wealthy businessman, Denis Thatcher, who believed that trade unions should be banned altogether. She surrounded herself with men from privileged backgrounds. In her first Cabinet, 88 per cent of ministers were former public school students, 71 per cent were company directors and 14 per cent were large landowners. No wonder, then, that one of her Cabinet ministers told a journalist just before the 1979 election: ‘She is still basically a Finchley lady…She regards the working class as idle, deceitful, inferior and bloody-minded.’
If Thatcher had one aim, it was to stop us thinking in terms of class. ‘Class is a Communist concept,’ she would later write. ‘It groups people as bundles and sets them against one another.’ She wanted to erase the idea that people could better their lives by collective action, rather than by individual self-improvement: that is, ‘pulling yourself up by your bootstraps’. Just months after her election victory in 1979, she had intended to spell this out to the country in stark terms.
In the UK this month austerity has revealed itself to be in the mode of naked class war. Monday began with welfare reforms, the introduction of the notorious bedroom tax and reductions in the access to Legal Aid. These attacks will be followed in the coming weeks by the replacing of disability living allowance with a personal independence payment policed by Atos, the reduction in the 50p tax rate (providing tax cuts to the rich) and the introduction of the controversial Universal Credit scheme. Combined with other aspects of late capitalism (from food prices to housing shortages) the reality of life in austerity Britain is uglier than it has been for some time.
With textbook ideological manoeuvring these assaults have been accompanied by a rhetoric designed to divide the working classes between “workers and shirkers.” To the chorus of the right wing press, statements, such as this one by Liam Fox or this from Iain Duncan Smith, ultimately aim to crush the possibility of an organized resistance. Most revealing this week has been efforts by the right wing to frame the horrific Philpott manslaughter as a result of ‘benefit dependency.’ Almost beyond belief, this story’s beginnings in the Daily Mail and right wing blogs were reinforced yesterday with this statement from the grubbiest man on earth: Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne.
With the global economy in a protracted crisis, and workers around the world burdened by joblessness, debt and stagnant incomes, Marx's biting critique of capitalism — that the system is inherently unjust and self-destructive — cannot be so easily dismissed. Marx theorized that the capitalist system would inevitably impoverish the masses as the world's wealth became concentrated in the hands of a greedy few, causing economic crises and heightened conflict between the rich and working classes. "Accumulation of wealth at one pole is at the same time accumulation of misery, agony of toil, slavery, ignorance, brutality, mental degradation, at the opposite pole," Marx wrote.
A growing dossier of evidence suggests that he may have been right.
Stuart Jeffries gives an overview of the mainstreaming of Marx in today's Guardian, featuring Verso authors Alain Badiou, Jacques Rancière, Owen Jones and Slavoj Žižek as well as the new edition of The Communist Manifesto.
Class conflict once seemed so straightforward. Marx and Engels wrote in the second best-selling book of all time, The Communist Manifesto: "What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable."...
Today, 164 years after Marx and Engels wrote about grave-diggers, the truth is almost the exact opposite. The proletariat, far from burying capitalism, are keeping it on life support.
Jeffries interviews Jacques Rancière, philosopher, radical social historian (and Ségolène Royal's favourite thinker) to shed light on the 'new Marxism':
Aren't Marx's venerable ideas as useful to us as the hand loom would be to shoring up Apple's reputation for innovation? Isn't the dream of socialist revolution and communist society an irrelevance in 2012? After all, I suggest to Rancière, the bourgeoisie has failed to produce its own gravediggers. Rancière refuses to be downbeat: "The bourgeoisie has learned to make the exploited pay for its crisis and to use them to disarm its adversaries.
Are you drowning in deluded celebrations of a reactionary political system, a country facing economic collapse and a sporting spectacle sucking funds from our welfare system?
Are you disgusted by pleas for everyone to 'pull together in this time of austerity' when the only thing that isn't being cut is the Queen's flotilla?
After you've torched the street party and hung an effigy of 'our' monarch you may want to read these: