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Why class matters

category international | worker & community struggles and protests | opinion/analysis author Wednesday July 09, 2008 10:24author by Bob Kavanagh - WSM - Workers Solidarity Report this post to the editors

The concept of class is fundamental to the anarchist understanding of society. The goal of anarchist communism is to create a classless society where everyone is on an equal footing, where all have equal access to wealth and contribute to society as best they can. Why then do anarchists argue that only the working class has the power to create a free and equal society? Many figures in the economic and political elite argue that we now live in a classless society. While it is true that class as an economic and social phenomenon has changed as capitalism has developed, this is not to say that we are no longer divided by class, just that the boundaries and definitions have become more complex.

First of all, lets try to define what we mean by "class". The simplest way to begin looking it is to look at the two main classes: the working class and the capitalist class. The working class may be broadly defined as those who must work to survive but have little control over the nature of their work or indeed the circumstances of their lives. In todays Ireland, this includes both blue-collar workers (the "traditional" working class) as well as (due to our changing economy) many in white-collar jobs. It also includes the many women who do the unwaged work of child rearing and housekeeping which ensures a steady supply of new workers for the bosses. Those dependent on the welfare state are also part of this class, since their payments are based on either work they have done or their potential to work.

The distinction between the working class and the capitalist class is best described in terms of their ownership of the things which are needed to do work: land, factories, raw materials etc, which we refer to as "the means of production". In a nutshell, the capitalist class own and control these things. The capitalists pass some of this wealth back to the workers in the form of wages and social infrastructure like education, health and other public services; the rest is profit or "surplus value" for the capitalist class. In other words, work generates wealth but this wealth is not controlled by those who do the work, it is controlled by those who manage and direct the workers. Examples of those in this class would be high-ranking businessmen, large landowners and members of the political elite.

The working class far outnumbers those in the capitalist class; under capitalism a very small number of people have most of the wealth and power. The interests of those at the bottom (housing, good working conditions, healthcare etc) are in conflict with those at the top who wish to maintain their privileged position; this is what is meant by "class struggle". Anarchists contend that it is a fundamental force shaping every society in human history.

The divides are not always so black and white; there are those workers who have a higher standing than those lower down the scale. These are the so-called "middle classes", which can be difficult to define as at each end they shade into the class above or below. Examples would be white-collar workers with some degree of managerial power, self-employed businesspeople or farmers. The creation of a "middle class" enables the capitalists to rule more effectively and invisibly; by creating a sort of "class ladder", individuals are encouraged to compete for a better position. The possibility for collective action to improve the position of all workers is thereby ignored. This is quite understandable, as any working person will tell you they wouldn't mind higher wages or better working conditions. The old tactic of "divide and rule" by the capitalist class also serves to pit one section of the class against each other, divided under gender, ethnic or other lines.

Anarchists argue that it is in the long-term interests of all, regardless of their relative position in the current system, to unite against the capitalists. For this to happen, it is necessary that a class consciousness be developed, so that individuals recognise how they are being exploited and realise their collective power to change society. Unfortunately, this does not always come about spontaneously.

Some libertarians argue that focusing on class is unnecessary and means ignoring other forms of oppression such as sexism and racism. Other leftwing tendencies have argued that these are "side issues" to the issue of class. Anarchist communists see all forms of oppression as having a connection and serving to re-enforce each other. Anarchists are not saying that once we get rid of class, that such things sexism and racism will disappear automatically. Neither are we saying that class is the only oppression but rather that it must be a focus if we are to achieve any lasting change beyond token reforms. For example, admitting more women to positions of power in the current system does little to improve life for the majority of women in the working class.

A truly revolutionary movement can only come from the action of the working class as a class. We are the ones who keep society running, it is well within our ability to remove the political and economic apparatus that forces most of the population to work for the benefit of a privileged elite. Our experience of working co-operatively under capitalism prepares us to take control and victories in our everyday struggles to improve working and living conditions teach us confidence.

author by Ronpublication date Wed Jul 09, 2008 12:57author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Homo are no different from any other species of animals - our closest relations in the animal kingdom are chimpanzees and gorillas who form a hierarchical groups with a top male or males with subordinate males and females. The top male has the choice of the females, he makes the decisions for the group and his familial relations have positions of priviledge and the rest do the hard work of gathering food and fending off rival groups and predators.
Males lions spend most of their time sunning themselves while the females and teenage males do the hunting. The male lions gets the largest portion of the kill, then their his a hierarchy of females and finally the cubs get the scraps or nothing at all.
Male lions who usurp the leader of the pride usually the kill the cubs and the females submit to their sexual needs.
From what we know of the behaviour of primitive prehistoric ancestors and from the study of primitive tribes in remote parts of the world, there is a similar hierarchy to our own society - either by formal or informal consent or by tyrannical rule an elite of chiefs and warriors control the direction and decisions of these primitive societies just as in our modern civilised capitalist society.
The various revolutions since 1776 and 1789 when American and European civilisations first began their experiment with democracy and the alternatives first in Russia, then China, then Cuba and many other countries of the world where serious experiments in communism were attempted there was little or no effect on the elimination of a elitist hierarchial system.
Aristocrats have given way to parliamentarians and capitalists or communist officials and yet mankind continues to expoit one another.
The degree to which this exploitation of one class by another is regulated by the rule of law.
In societies like North Korea or Zimbabwe there is no regulation whatsoever.
In the United States and European Union the rights of workers and employees and consumers are protected but there is a realisation that a class system is the inevitable result of a pitiless natural world that reward people who by accident are more academically gifted, more inventive, more cunning, more ambitious, more ruthless and more lucky than the rest of society.

What is to be done?

Well go onto a child's football pitch and you will see the bespectacled weakling with the bony girl arms is usually picked last.
Go to a nightclub and the good looking confident men usually end up with the most goodlooking women while the less attractive men either setttle for the ugly birds or get drunk.

Life is unfair if you are an unattractive, slow-witted, awkward loser.

And thats it.

author by O'Beachain - RSPIpublication date Wed Jul 09, 2008 15:25author address author phone Report this post to the editors

A revolutionary movement requires praxis as knowledge requires power. By praxis , we mean real political action.

Sexual reproduction serves to perpetuate the ruling class as we have seen.

We can identify the various spheres in which the relationships between the capitalists and their females are played out:

(1) The educational system ; from Nursery school onwards

(2) The courting process where financial hegomony masquerades as natural selection

(3) Contractual arrangements whch underpin and give longevity to the relationship

(4) Handing on of wealth and privelege to the next generation

Each of these 4 spheres requires a separate and thorough analysis and we invite party members to freely contribute to this area of study.These studies will clearly mark out the need for praxis. In short what can we do to subvert this appalling yet largely unrecognised blemish on the face of our pre-revolutionary state .

May I modestly suggest:

(1) The establishment of especially constructed boarding schools where the off-spring of such unions would be re-educated . The children would be foster chilren of the state rather like the children of ancient Irish chieftains were fostered out to neighbouring chieftains to produce alliances as well as strengthening the moral fibre of the said children. The parents of these children would only be allowed to visit their off-spring when their revolutionary fervour was deemed of sufficient strength to allow them to safely interact with their children

(2) The farming out of lifestyle trophy wives to males at the opposite end of the social spectrum.

This would have the effect of in some measure compensensating the most miserable, the most downtrodden of the underclass males for their lives of subjucation to the boss class. These lives of abject misery had witnessed the exploiters of their labour enjoying carnal pleasures with
the lifestyle trophy wives (LTW).The LTWs would have the pleasure of what in common parlance has been known as a bit of rough trade and would be subjected to a genuine mind expansion experience. In the past to the LTW 'mind expansion ' meant little more than abuse of mind altering substances , a phenomenon of late capitalism's decadence. Now, mind expansion would mean identification with non-bourgeois perceptions of our commonly shared world. Off-spring of the envisaged carnal encounters would become hero pilots of a new world order.

I would recommend that we begin this process by inviting the particpation of the most oppressed of the 'new Irish',refugees mainly from Nigeria. The scramble for Africa by the colonial powers for the dark continent would be transmuted into the scramble by Africa for a different sort of dark continent.

(3)Commodity fetishism would be turned on its head. The reproducers of the producers of commodity fetishism would become the objects of sexual fetishism. An interesting new dynamic would emerge whereby all levels of human relationships would be forever irrevocably transformed - a bit of strange would only be strange for a time until a new eroticism emerged .

The recreational socialist party is open to new and innovative forms of all economic production and sexual reproduction . As we saw earlier there is a mutually inclusivity between the two and as we now notice there is a similiar inclusive relationship between commodity fetishism engendered by late capitalism and our praxis whereby we make post capitalist reproducing females the objects of dark desire and in the process open up new possibilitities of sexual fetish.

author by lulupublication date Wed Jul 09, 2008 22:48author address author phone Report this post to the editors

We still have vestiges of the caste system of our Indo-European ancestors, reinforced by trashy media tales; for instance, people who are homeless, however clean, are perceived by many as 'untouchables'. Rich people are presented as enviable, happy, & a standard to aspire to.
Also, cities being large, tribes of similar income or taste break populations into manageable groups.
A sad fact is, most of us will exploit others, & global capitalism encourages this by exhorting us to over-consume & join the exploitation of farmers, overseas workers & the environment.

author by Stevepublication date Thu Jul 10, 2008 02:43author address author phone Report this post to the editors

This is directed to Ron.

We can prepare food so as to make it as appetising and nutritious as possible.
We can heal serious injuries and disease and restore good quality of life to sufferers.
We can safely and efficiently travel long distances.
We wear clothes.
We have technology which improves our individual and collective quality of life on many levels.
We have philosophy and spirituality.

Why then, do you think that rudimentary instinctive wild animal behaviour should apply in terms of social organisation?

author by Ronpublication date Thu Jul 10, 2008 09:53author address author phone Report this post to the editors

We are also selfish, sectarian, xenophobic, intolerant, violent, vengeful and mean-spirited.
These traits exist in human beings for a good reason - they are essential to our survival.

author by Padraig Murraypublication date Thu Jul 10, 2008 11:23author address author phone Report this post to the editors

If a child is born in the poorest neighbourhoods in Dublin, chances are that child is born to a teenage mother who is forced to leave school before she completes her leaving cert to bring up her child on state support in the absence of a father. The child will probably complete primary and secondary school without basic literacy or mathematical skills and sufficient Leaving Cert points, if indeed the child remains in education that long, to progress to Third Level. The child will probably have experimented with drugs, underage sex, committed petty crime and will be an habitual smoker and binge drinker by their early teens.The prospects for this child in adulthood are low payed labour or long term unemployment. Males are likely to father children but have little or no part in their upbringing while females are likely to become teenage mothers and the cycle continues.

If a child is born in a wealthy neighbourhood in Dublin, chances are that child is born to a professional married couple in their early to late thirties. That child will nurtured and supervised by their parents and encouraged to be amitious and to excel at school. They will likely seek to imulate their parents and seek higher education and a high skilled well paid job. The child is likely to be brought up in a religious atmosphere or enlightened humanist household that would discourage them to experiment with drugs or alcohol or sex at a young age and if they do experiment they will risk being punished by their parents. If the child is involved in crime or vandalism or underperforms at school the child will have access to counselling, psychotherapy and other help to steer them back to the straight and narrow. The prospects for this child are good and it is almost a certainty their future is in stable employment. They are likely to form stable relationships married or otherwise and the cycle continues.

Upper and middle classes kids are told to steer clear and to look down on "scumbags" and "knackers" in case their misfortunate and "bad" habits rub off on them.

In adulthood their most likely interaction with the working classes is when they give them orders, evict them from their property or downsize them, report their crimes, arrest them or represent them in court or parliament, treat them in hospital, educate them, preach the word of God to them or bury them.

The upper and middle classes either despise the working classes as unwashed ignorant neantherthal scum or seek to turn them into model citizens just as long as they can retreat back to their posh neighbourhood and wash of the dirt at the end of the day.

author by lulupublication date Thu Jul 10, 2008 19:50author address author phone Report this post to the editors

These traits are likely to destroy us; I would not wish to encourage any of them in my kids, but the media do so constantly. A little virtue, whatever yr income, can go a long way towards making you happier.

author by lulupublication date Fri Jul 11, 2008 12:00author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Terrific example of how we perceive class differences - remember also, the poor kid is more likely to end up 'in care' & @ risk of abuse by its 'betters', but also having a chance of an improvement in culture by adoption/fostering.
The less afluent people's crimes are obvious, muggings, theft, or whatever, but affluent people are able to hide their crimes - investment in monstrously unethical companies (weapons, oil, etc.,), white-collar fraud, withdrawing health & housing services, selling their country down the river, & retire honoured & maybe even get a State funeral!

author by M. O'Beachain - RSPIpublication date Fri Jul 11, 2008 16:42author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Following on from our last post The Recreational Socialist Party of Ireland presents :

Towards A New Theory of Feminism

The RSPI is concerned that a feminist perspective that emerges from bourgeois intellectualizing is likely to misunderstand our position on the relationship between sexual and economic (re)production

Currently, such a mindset would typically view our proposals as chauvinistic, irrevocably bound to a male world view. Such a mindset in its more ‘developed’ forms sees even our language itself as always already contaminated by male hierarchical oppression. An example of this would be the fact that the name of the father rather than the mother continues through the generations.

Following the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan ,feminist theory has seen the primal unity of the child has with its mother as being ruptured by the entry of the father, the phallus .The entry of the phallus is coincident with the entry of the child into the symbolic order or more simply into language itself.

According to this thinking, the child spends the rest of its life trying to regain the lost primal unity. This hankering for lost unity once captured by the field of language defines itself as a longing for a transcendental signifier – something which would ground or be the basis for language and at the same time be transcendental to it.

The RSPI is proud to announce that the days of seeking are now drawing to a close.

How so?

The entrapment process of language is predicated upon the existence of binary opposites such as male/female, rich/poor, beautiful/ugly, national/non-national, white/coloured, city/country.

‘Unity’ is not possible because the individual always sees her/himself self as different to the ‘other’ whether that other is perceived to be, for example, rich or poor relative to oneself. In other words a (wo)man knows her/himself to be poor because s/he sees the difference between her/his poverty and the wealth of others, or we know ourselves to be nationals because of our difference from immigrants etc etc .

The RSPI proposals are designed to smash this whole field of difference by destroying the functioning of the capitalist state. It is the capitalist state which produces this binary opposition because human beings are always defined by economics, by one’s place in a social hierarchy which is itself produced and sustained by one’s access to the means of production. For example, as we have seen the LTW( Lifestyle Trophy Wives) define themselves by their difference from proletariat females. To release such perpetuators of an unjust social hierarchy into forced marriages with the most oppressed of the male proletariat, Nigerian refugees, would immediately subvert the white/black, rich/poor, bourgeois educated/ non-bourgeois educated sets of binary opposites that sustain the capitalist system .

It might be ventured that inevitably a new set of binary opposites will emerge with new hierarchies such as newly liberated children of the forced mixed race marriages/ white children of the newly liberated proletariat. These opposites will not, however, remain static , they will always be in flux. For example, intermarriage between these sets of opposites will occur spontaneously as the class structures that produced and sustained the collusion between capitalists and LTWs is forever sundered.
In Our Brave New World Order binary opposition will function like the classic Marxist dialectic of thesis/ antithesis which necessarily produces a synthesis that itself becomes a new thesis ad infinitum. Economic subjugation of one class by another will not be possible because control of reproduction will pass from the capitalist to the proletariat .Readers will recall the establishment of a clear interdependability between sexual and economic product ion in the capitalist system.

Sexual freedom and enjoyment will be the keynotes of our new world order – the boundaries that divide humans through sexual selection will be smashed.

It might further be ventured that we have not dealt with the male/female divide and the fact the language that we are now using is itself always and inevitably contaminated with the traces of male subjugation of females.
In Our Brave New World government will alternate between female and male control.
As to the language we use itself being soiled by male discourse , we imagine that during the female periods of rule that our dictionaries can be rewritten , our schools will teach new languages as our citizens enjoy new and exciting modes of social and sexual interaction..

As to the final synthesis, the Nirvana of a classless society – when there will be no need for further production of binary opposites – We leave this for another day. In the meantime readers are recommended to visit http//recreationalsocialist.blogspot.comm
Here they can begin to get a glimpse of the final solution.

Mick O’ Beachain
11/07/08

author by And sopublication date Fri Jul 11, 2008 16:50author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I can see the RSPI having a very low funny-halflife. Revolutionary rhetoric leading to silly proposals - mildy amusing first time, tedious second time, obsessive thereafter.

author by anarchist (non WSM) public capacitypublication date Fri Jul 11, 2008 22:49author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I found this article and its comments and its mirroring on other sites very interesting. I believe O'Beachain of the RSPI proposed a 4 point paradigm for class awareness.

1) indoctrination & initial socialisation or "skool".
2) sexual fulfillment & gratification in a post-feminist society "shagging"
3) codified protections and obligations for binary relationships established under state (& religious) law which cover everything from who owns which DVD to who switches off a life support machine.
4) inheritance & patrimony.

_____________________________________________________

Do correct me if I got you wrong O'Beachain!

_____________________________________________________

Alas, though I can deal with most of that 4 point paradigm, I think you've all missed something later on when it comes to the real oppressed if we understand first that even a very poor Irish person of whatever sparkling anarchist conviction or qualification is very very rich on the global scale. & that does something to their class. Don't you know.

It's a revolutionary cliché to say that if educate women given that they are generally primarily responsible for the first indoctrination the individual receives - you educate a generation. But like most clichés which have got passed around and printed up on t-shirts carefully fabricated in oriental sweat shops by teenage females not having babies - it presumes you've thought it out properly.

Class consciousness begins with the Mammy and her snobbery

I believe many of the feminist anarchists of platform group or none could thrash that one out a bit more in their steps to articulating a post-feminist theory for Ireland.

author by o'Beachain - RSPIpublication date Sat Jul 12, 2008 00:19author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Please check out :

http://recreationalsocialist.blogspot.com/

author by anonpublication date Sat Jul 12, 2008 21:24author address author phone Report this post to the editors


class always matters - those who matter don't mind and those who mind don't matter!

author by just a rung on the career ladderpublication date Sat Jul 12, 2008 22:07author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Many rich people/middle class people, from wealthy capitalist families, who've always been rich, and always will be rich, don't like the idea of the 'working class or underclass', unfortunately many of these rich/middle class people with their inherent class allegiences and snobberys have infiltrated the echelons of various pseudo left, community, socialist and anarchist organisations.

These people are placed within community groups, have no social skills, or empathy with the poor and the vunerable, who they meet at the coalface, thus they work to give community groups and charitable organisations a bad name and discredit community/charitable organisations.

Many such charitable advice/welfare groups, now work to a business agenda, and are sponsored by businesses that have close ties with government departments and government policies.

A form of PR in reverse, and this works to disillusion and demoralise the very needy, who turn away from such organisations.

There is no need for overt Brit military operations in Ireland anymore, when covert brit psychological ops are working flat out, at their Holywood barracks HQ.

author by Maggiopublication date Sun Jul 13, 2008 14:44author address author phone Report this post to the editors

This article is a thoughtful if not particularly insightful exposition of classical Marxist teaching. I wonder what the 'means of production' is exactly for a nurse, a teacher or a shop worker. In today's Ireland the struggling small farmer often owns his means of production, while the factory manager likely does not.

The idea of 'surplus value' is a little more useful, as it does define a clearly exploitative relationship between employer and employed. Given the division of labour in the modern economy however it can be fiendishly difficult to calculate in the individual instance. Owners make a profit off the backs of workers in general (as a class) but it's not necessarily true that each individual worker creates surplus value for the employer. The idea of alienation wasn't mentioned here but it always struck me as a more pervasive, stubborn and contemporary aspect of the ordinary person's relationship their work.

Many of these ideas were developed or came to prominence in the nineteenth century and work very well in an early industrial context. I'm not sure if they work so well as analytical concepts in today's Ireland where the tertiary sector is far more important to the economy than industry or agriculture. We all agree that there is inequality in society and that it is in the interests of those of us who suffer from this inequality (that is the vast majority of us) to combat this. Many people may feel this as a moral imperative but it can also be a case of naked self-interest: if the wealth that exists in society were distributed equally I'd be a hell of a sight better off.

How can we analyse class then in a way that is meaningful in modern Ireland? I'm really not sure but I'll make some suggestions:

1) Property - Ownership of property seems to me a big issue. There seems to me to be a threefold division - those who rent the place they live from a landlord, those who own their own property (the family home) and those who rent property to others. It's not an infallible determinant of class but if you want to know who is working class, who is middle class and who is upper class in Ireland 2008 that's not a bad place to start - renter/owner/landlord.

2) Income - How much money comes in the door every month? This effects a person's relationship to property, their access to health, their stress levels and obviously their ability to procure goods and services. It seems to me we have four categories here - people who don't earn enough to pay income tax; people who pay at the standard rate; people who pay at the top rate; and people who avoid paying much of their tax in one way or another (eg owning a business, not declaring rental income, offshore accounts, clever accountants etc.). We might call the first two groups working class, the others middle class and upper class respectively.

There are a host of other variables which influence the a person's place on the pyramid. Traveller/settled person, woman/man, young/old, straight/LGBT, EU /non-EU to name just a few. Access to education and culture and mental and physical health also seem pretty important in this discussion. The non-WSM anarchist above also rightly pointed out the importance of inequality on a global scale.

Come on people we need to have an honest and creative discussion about this. It's important. Class does matter but this isn't the nineteenth century and we have to be able to articulate inequality in terms that are clear and meaningful for people. It's difficult to do that if we just constantly grab Marx off the shelf. Likewise we should try to approach this question openly and without bigotry - social Darwinism, questionable anthropology and inverted class snobbery aren't very helpful in this regard.

author by Cael - Sinn Féin Poblachtachpublication date Mon Jul 14, 2008 15:06author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Is the ending of private property not essential to Anarchism? If so, doesnt that mean the land and capital of the nation is owned by everyone equally, which necessitates a state structure to hold that land and ensure that greedy individuals dont take more than their fair share?

Related Link: http://admin2.7.forumer.com/index.php
author by lulupublication date Mon Jul 14, 2008 18:09author address author phone Report this post to the editors

If you've ever lived in a shared house, there's an unfortunate trend for shared, or everyone's, property to become no-one's, and get ill-treated. This is the general way of it, but luckily it doesn't always hold true; however, people wd need a lot of education to learn sharing.

author by darlapublication date Mon Jul 14, 2008 20:03author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I once had a guard tell me that he thought it was unfair that an unmarried mother should be able to rent an apartment in a georgian house while he hd to make do with a rented bedsit. He said this in front of several witnesses,who were as stunned as i was. He then said to my ex-boyfriend,who was listening to this'what are you paying rent for her for?'. as it so happens, he wasnt but the guard simply could nt get his head around the idea that a single parent could exist outside of a council estate without financial help. We asked him to leave but not before letting him know that we were going to call another guard and report his unprofessional behaviour. He then tried to insist that we shouldnt do this,that we had no right to do that. Naturally we ignored him. When the next guard arrived,he listened to what happened and told the other guard he was a 'dumb fuck'.;). Then we could finally report the reason we were calling the guards in the first place.

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