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Do You Have Class?

I have to admit one of my biggest irritations is the M word. Americans are strange creatures, anyone from the super poor to the super rich identify with the concept middle class.   I am not middle class nor do I ever want to be. I am a proud member of America’s fighting working class.

At best the middle class is a fetish which Zizek explains rather well.

…today, the only class which, in its ‘subjective’ self perception, explicitly conceives of an presents itself as a class is the notorious ‘middle class’ which is precisely the ‘non-class’: the allegedly hard-working middle strata of society which define themselves not only by their allegiance to firm moral and religious standards, but by a double opposition to both ‘extremes’ of the social space – non-patriotic ‘deracinated’ rich corporations on the one side; poor excluded immigrants and ghetto-members on the other. The ‘middle class’ grounds its identity in the exclusion of both extremes which, when they are directly counterpoised, give us ‘class antagonism’ at its purest.

In Marxian terms middle class serves as a buffer of sorts between the working and capitalist classes. It is not a central organizing class of society, but more a reflection of the working and capitalist class struggles. Simply put, if you make your wealth from labor you are working class, if you make it from capital – stocks, bonds, interest – you are the capitalist class. Middleclass becomes this hybridization with its identity based within both class struggles.

We can see this with members of the working class becoming more dependent on pensions and generating wealth from money. But for the vast majority of the working class their wealth generation comes from work not capital.    Most of their pension is deferred wages rather than wealth made from those deferred wages. So, while there is clearly a middle class it is certainly not a class most Americans belong to.

Middleclass is foremost a capitalist, or its sympathizers, tactic of driving a wedge through the working class. Recently WSJ Chris Rickert used it as a device to put a wedge between “middle class” public union folks and private sector workers. Chris was perplexed as to to why those on Badger Road and  Allied Drive were supporting protests over collective bargaining. Rickert believed that unions, public sector ones, should have their back in return.

While I question the wedge tactic that was used, I think Rickert has a point. Unions have been as guilty as everyone else in building up the mythical middle class.  In the process we have created a public – private schism, and one between unions (mostly public) with labor in general. We need to as Mahlon Mitchell pointed out honor labor, not only unions. We must preserve the House of Labor, and to do so is to abandon the capitalist construction of a middle class.

So please, when we are talking about the protests, unions, working people, lets call them by their name, working class. In short, we will refuse to use our slave name any more.

7 responses to “Do You Have Class?

  1. tracktops ⋅

    I struggle to believe someone begging on the street homeless will consider themselves middle calss but I suppose it depends what you mean by “super poor”.

    This also troubles me:

    “I am a proud member of America’s fighting working class”. I think this is workerist. Fair enough if you fight in someway to bettter your conditions and those around you, there is certainly nothing wrong in that. But, I find no pride in being a member of the working class. I don’t want to be working class, but this doesn’t mean I want to be middle class or a member of the bourgeoisie. I want to transcend classes. Perhaps this ‘pride’ is something to do with your blog sub-heading which mentions “proletarian culture”?

    I’m not sure there is such a thing quite frankly. Maybe you could try and convince me otherwise. I suppose it depends what you mean by culture? Solidarity, community? Or old punk bands crying on about the working class. Manual labour work, miners and builders as being ‘proper jobs’ or ‘real work’… no more real than typing in an office of course. ‘Proletarian culture’ of course also brings to mind the worse kind of cult of the working class embodied in Stalinism.

    I see what you’re getting at with people thinking themselves to be middle class when they are of course working class. I put it mainly down to a lack of class consciousness or a false consciousness. There are obvious reasons why this is such a problem in the US. The fight against ‘Communism’ and the cold war is a good place to start. The weight of bourgeois ideas, propaganda, the reproduction of the existing society etc.

    I think this is a pretty good account of why you’re fucked in the US (in terms of class consciousness):

    1. The U.S., unlike Europe, never had feudalism, so it went through a much different transition to capitalism. It had slavery, but that began with colonization. It never had the rigid, stratified hierarchies of the caste system of older societies. Pre-capitalist social relations, like those of the Native Americans, were vanquished through genocide.
    2. American society offered upward social mobility for some whites, but denied it to most non-whites. Since the second phase of Bacon’s Rebellion in the 1670s, race has effectively been used as a wedge to divide the class. With identity politics and PostModernism, race trumped class. Which gave the ideological ammunition to deny that the latter even exists.

    3. After World War II, the motor of capitalist accumulation shifted to consumerism. Today, 2/3 of production is for personal consumption.

    4. Cold War politics killed off the already irrelevant and weakened Old Left, which was easy for the right to do with the CP taking marching orders from Moscow for popular fronts for anti-fascism. The CP’s class collaboration in World War II began the ideological separation of race from class, making easier the denial of the latter. Marx became associated with class while Cold Warriors demonized Marxism.

    5. The Mass Media has become the opiate of the masses. Where once there was a vital working class culture resistance based on face-to-face interaction and spaces to facilitate that, now atomization is the norm. This goes hand-in-hand with suburbanization and consumerism. Debord’s Society of the Spectacle is a brilliant exposé of this.

    6. Labor’s connection to pro-capitalist Democratic Party; “The ballot box is the coffin of class consciousness” Alan Dawley wrote is his book Class & Community: The Industrial Revolution in Lynn. Labor unions give millions of dollars to the anti-labor Democrats and slightly less to the anti-labor Republicans. In the 2008 elections the AFL-CIO contributed over $400,000,000 to the election industry; the SEIU alone gave $80,000,000 to the Obama campaign.

    7. Ideological conditioning: Jean Anyon’s essay in Harvard Educational Review 49 shows that high school textbooks only teach about three strikes – the 1877 Great Upheaval railroad strike, the 1892 Homestead Steel Strike, and the 1894 Pullman Strike on the railroads – all of them brutally violent and all three ended in bitter defeat. The message is that striking is something that happened in the 19th century and to cast doubt on “striking as a valid course of action” today. Class struggle was something that ended in the past, so negotiating contracts and arbitration of grievances is not about class struggle but is about “industrial relations.” Unions are then seen to be representing workers as a “special interest” group, with their purpose being the substitution of “civilized collective bargaining for jungle warfare.”

    8. The expansion of credit. This follows the consumerism of #3. Until the current economic crisis, workers could acquire the middle class goods that they couldn’t afford by using readily available credit and tethering themselves to even further economic dependency. This made up for real wages that have been on the decline since the mid-1970s. The home ownership rate for the entire population is around 67% (and falling: it peaked at 69% in 2004), and with the refinance craze of the early 2000s, Americans put themselves even further into debt. Total individual debt was $1.7 trillion in 2008, more than the GDP of many countries. While the ratio of outstanding consumer debt as a percentage of disposable income was 62% in 1975, it reached 127% in 2005 (it reached 163% in the U.K.).

    From forum thread ‘A working class culture’


  2. Annie K.

    OMG, what a preening know-nothing twit that person is OxO
    could he possibly POSSIBLY be more condescending while also being a such a complete human bookend?

    and…”comradely” ! whahaha Henry, can I jack “Debord’s Society of the Spectacle” up his Eton-y ass? The complete self-assurance of absolute “rightness’ while yet not showing the LEAST grasp of what like is actually like here, what Americans and/or Wisconsinites might actually be like… I’ve read a lot of nonsense over the years in blog comments but that was a real Stand-out…

    So,whew! just ignore all that detritus, gawd. That was so awful I actually can’t recall the response I meant for y’all Hank! I
    oh well nice post.

  3. Annie K.

    lol, sorry for the typos – c ya

  4. tracktops,

    Few points. My point of the “super poor” was more of an identity. Polls show Americans from the super poor to the super rick identify with the construct of middle class. As far as not wanting to be working or middle class but transcend it, I will only say in a certain sense that is what the middle class construction attempts to do, although much more of a denial than transcendence.

    Interestingly you question my use of proletarian culture yet invoke class consciousness. I guess I would see those as one in the same.

  5. Yes, Annie K, it was on the dogmatic end. But there were some truisms nonetheless.

  6. tracktops ⋅

    Annie K, would you like to contribute something or just whine, moan and insult people? You’re not engaging with anything that I’ve commented on or the post I added to my comment which was not written by me. I’m not sure what parts you are even responding to. Why do you have a problem with the use of ‘Comradely’? I meant it respectfully and that however critical (of what has been written) or wrong I might be in what I say I want to engage with someone who may also wish to do the same on the terrain of proletarian politics. What is dogmatic and why Henry?

    • tracktops,

      Mostly thinking about the extra quote. But there was not much about the quote I could take issue with, it was right on. I think in the US comrade or comradely might invoke different emotions. Think Red Dawn with Marxists marching to the midwest from Alaska and Maoists marching north from below the border.

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