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.
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.
Appearing on BBC Question Time last night, Owen Jones attacked the government's Health Reform Bill, stating that the "Tories have absolutely no mandate for what they're doing to our NHS", as well as slamming New Labour for "laying the foundations" for the privatisation of the health service.
An extract from an article originally published in the New Statesman
It was a few days before Margaret Thatcher marched into Downing Street in May 1979, but as far as the then Labour prime minister, James Callaghan, was concerned, the game was already up. "You know, there are times, perhaps once every 30 years, when there is a sea change in politics," he told his adviser Bernard Donoughue. "It does not matter what you say or what you do. I suspect there is now such a sea change - and it is for Mrs Thatcher." His pessimism was well founded. The postwar consensus, with its pillars of a mixed economy, strong unions and high taxes on the wealthy, was coming to an end. Callaghan could no longer preserve the disintegrating centre. What became known as Thatcherism - or neoliberalism - emerged victorious.
As I stood in Finsbury Square just outside the City of London, on Sunday 23 October, I could not help but be reminded of "Callaghan's Law". Around me was the first offshoot from Occupy the London Stock Exchange, a protest camp set up eight days earlier. A couple of dozen tents were neatly arranged in rows (apparently to comply with health and safety regulations) and several protesters were dancing cheerfully as a brass band called Horns of Plenty belted out left-wing anthems. It was just the latest addition to the fastest-growing political force on earth: the Occupy movement, which now has a presence in up to a thousand cities. Was this the most compelling sign yet of a "sea change" - of a global repudiation of the neoliberal order that began teetering when Lehman Brothers collapsed in 2008?
This drive to seize and hold urban space for political ends was born during the Egyptian revolution this year. Unlike the occupants of Finsbury Square, the Egyptian people directed their fury chiefly at a tyrannical regime, rather than the financial elite; but the images of defiant crowds occupying Tahrir Square beamed across the planet have inspired a new generation on every continent.
In an insightful and personal piece for the Guardian, Owen Jones, author of Chavs, draws on his own family history to explore the plight of Britishness as a collective identity today. He argues that while Britishness may be suffering a crisis of nationalism that threatens to divide us, our common heritage of radical dissent points to a hopeful future in which we are stronger together.