Class and the Left

Andy at Socialist Unity has a long, thoughtful post about why The Labour Party may well get crushed in the next general election. Much of the reason is due to Labour ignoring their traditional constituency as well as changing attitudes about class.

The proportion of society that is self-consciously working class is diminished, and there have been huge changes in social attitudes, and cultural diversification that have led to the traditionalist left being increasingly marginalised.

The common retort to which is that many of those who don’t see themselves as working class objectively still are, and if there was a higher level of class struggle then their political attitudes would change, but this puts the cart before the horse.

Traditional leftist analysis always comes back to this. If the masses knew how badly they were being shafted, then they’d do something. Well, maybe they do know but aren’t interested in your solution as presented. This ties in with Marxist dogma (which seeps in everywhere) that social change can only come from the working class,so, by God, if you aren’t what we define as working class then you must be worthless boojies. By that bizarre reckoning, Marx, Lenin, Castro, and Che would have been excluded because they came from well-off non-working class backgrounds.

In Marx’s day, class distinctions were distinct and obvious. But today, they are blurry and mashed-up. The Left unintentionally marginalizes itself by trying to force events of today to fit political theory from 150 years ago. Is class important? Absolutely. But since the Left is demonstrably not making inroads into organizing the working class (however it might be defined) then clearly new ideas and tactics are needed.

Mass change happens when the masses act together. Thus, to organize them you need to appeal (and listen) to all of them. Not just to those you deem most oppressed. More to the point, you need to light the fuse, provide initial help and guidance, then step out of the way and let them organize themselves. Because how else can a massive cross-class coalition happen except if it is organized by members of those very same classes? And not by hardcore Lefties trying to steer it.

Because too often such mass work is done by a little sectarian faction as a way to recruit for their organization. Sorry, can’t have it both ways. Either it’s really for the people or it’s for a Leftist corpuscle. The whole concept of a vanguard party somehow steering the masses in our current era of instant communications and feedback is archaic and no longer works – if it ever did. (Lenin didn’t do it the way Leninists often think he did. Instead, he had genuine mass support and encouraged internal disagreement.)

Socialist Unity ends with quoting Zoe Gannon

It is, and will always be, the challenge of the centre left to construct a cross class coalition – based on the hopes and fears of all; and understanding who the middle classes are and what they really care about is essential. How we do this is a challenge which will always be at the heart of the progressive left.