Thursday, 7 April 2011

The ignorance of arrogance

A rather boring and tired complaint in the press is that 'left and right are just too similar nowadays'. Whilst this is blatantly not true, there is perhaps an element of truth in what they are saying. What that is, is that appealing to the centre-ground has never been so important. And what is that centre-ground? Essentially, people who neither have a burning desire for immediate social justice, but are not particularly selfish; people who are somewhat ambivalent about the 'class system' (whatever that means); people who want to see what a government can do for them, whilst giving a toss, to a variety of extents, about what happens to other people.

This is an unashamedly Labour blog, by the way. I am a fair and square social democrat. My argument here is that classic Marxism simply won't work in order to improve the electoral chances of Labour. I smash back the criticism that this means parties are just in it to win - of course they need to win to get power and thus implement their policies - but there must be ideology behind it. Marxism, and all those who are determined to turn the Labour Party into this kind of party, doesn't work - because it is deeply arrogant. It is misplaced arrogance, as well, and alienates the huge number of people who support the Labour aims, but don't identify as 'working class' - and it is deeply patronising to those who do.

It's rather similar to the selfishness of those far to the right (the keep-the-poor-in-their-place mentality) - it's the obsession with class. Blair famously said this is a classless society - this is, sadly, seemingly rubbish. We do have some form of class, in that we have some form of social strata. It's not a nice thing to have, but we have to accept it's there, and try to find a way to break it down. But Marxists love, just love, to go on about it, and about how to 'change' it. Let's be very clear here, if you are not 'working class', then you cannot help with bringing about the 'revolution'. They are not arguing for social change, with improved social mobility, with higher lower wages (or indeed closing the wage gap). No, instead, they say that the 'working class' are the only ones who have the ability and, let us say, 'right' to bring change - that is by bringing down the government and instigating measures such as public ownership etc. This isn't a review of Marxism - just a review of why it doesn't make any sense for the party to adopt it.

The Labour Party needs to have this discussion, and they need to have it now - even if it has been had before - because opposition can lead to extremism, if left unchecked. If they go down the Marxist line, it will be a total disaster. On the CULC blog, the argument has been made that we need a Labour party for the working class labour movement. What Labour has come to represent is so much more than that. Atlee, speaking of Labour, summed it up, that Labour legislation was ‘designed not for one class but for all’ (which is not denegrating the poorest, but appealing to the richest). The working class labour movement is, of course, at the heart - the heart which is all about social justice. But that now includes so much more than the outdated and unacceptable idea that firstly, there is something called the 'working class' that will always be the same, and is immobile; and secondly, that people who were, by chance, born into a different background, cannot care about social justice, improving the lot of the poorest, etc. What utter tosh.

Let me say it - the scrapping of the old clause 4 was one of the best things done by New Labour. New Labour got a lot wrong - of course - but that particular (unpopular) move was a triumph. The Labour Party needs to stand for social justice, and mustn't lose its roots - in the trade union movement, supporting the employed (that is, people) against the sometimes uncontrollable excesses of capitalism. But it also needs to keep its wide-church feel. It needs to welcome (in fact, recruit) anyone who cares about social justice in all its forms - rights for the underrepresented, a fresh look at immigration, removal of oppression and discrimination, improved lowest wage, increased education, improved ecosocial mobility, and so on.

The Labour Party needs to be the party of the people - that is, all the people who can get over selfishness, and care about protection of the most vulnerable. It isn't, and shouldn't, become a party for 'class war', because that, in and of itself, is deeply arrogant, and deeply flawed. The fact that the government front bench is full of Etonians (where George Orwell, of course, attended) should not be what is attacked per se - rather, it should be their policies, which may (indeed must) have been influenced by their backgrounds (look at Atlee, Gaitskell, Foot and Blair). The whole idea behind social democracy and its Labour incarnation is that accident of birth shouldn't lead to oppression - and a sharp swing to 'the left' (and I'd argue that calling it left is spurious) is dangerous and pointless, directly contradicting this.

So, Labour, keep attempting to attract the centre, because otherwise the Labour Party will become irrelevant. You don't have to be 'working class' to care - and you shouldn't need to be, to be part of the Labour Party. Class war is damaging, dangerous, and spurious - and an obsession with it, based on political philosophy, rather than an inclusive ideological and pragmatic application of social democracy, cannot be accepted by the public at large (including those who support Labour ideals), nor allow Labour aims to be implemented.


  1. A lot of people seem to think that the most tangible part of Mrs Thatcher's legacy was closing the mines or setting fire to Nigel Lawson or something. I rather think that one of her most significant acheivements was changing the game entirely - politics today is still very much affected by the shift towards a "greed is good" sort of economy. The "fight" stopped being about the working class and became about the aspirant lower-middle-1.7-children-ford-mondeo-calss.

    Of course what we now have is a rather more insiduous "political class". The feudal spirit is one thing, but I rather feel that a layer of party hacks, union barons, quangocrats and "Executive Directors of Digital" have filled the shoes of the traditional suppresssor of genuine political freedom.

  2. This is a very confused analysis, that lacks a basic understanding of Marxist theory, but more importantly, of its praxis. For example, there is a huge body of work within 'classic Marxism' devoted to explication of the role of the bourgeoisie, even members of the upper class, within progressive alliances, whether revolutionary or not. It is untrue to say that Marxism sees no agency for members of the middle class, the point is that capitalist exploitation creates the conditions of resistance, and those who are most oppressed are therefore at the forefront of fighting for social justice

  3. The ignorance of Charlie Bell. Have you read much Marx, Charlie?

    "Marxists love, just love, to go on about it, and about how to 'change' it. Let's be very clear here, if you are not 'working class', then you cannot help with bringing about the 'revolution'."
    - Charlie Bell, 'Bemused ramblings', 7/4/2011

    "Finally, in times when the class struggle nears the decisive hour, the progress of dissolution going on within the ruling class, in fact within the whole range of old society, assumes such a violent, glaring character, that a small section of the ruling class cuts itself adrift, and joins the revolutionary class, the class that holds the future in its hands. Just as, therefore, at an earlier period, a section of the nobility went over to the bourgeoisie, so now a portion of the bourgeoisie goes over to the proletariat [not Charlie, of course, who has his own class interests firmly at heart], and in particular, a portion of the bourgeois ideologists, who have raised themselves to the level of comprehending theoretically the historical movement as a whole."
    - Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto, 1848.