Published: 10 July 2016.
Author: Jonathan Clyne (TSN Policy Coordinator).
Intro by: TSN Editor.
Below is Chapter 3 of the first draft of a new book written by Jonathan Clyne entitled ‘The Transition to Socialism’. This will form the basis of a discussion at a future meeting of The Socialist Network’s international coordinating committee as part of a process of creating a new Socialist Manifesto. For this discussion around the book we wish to encourage the widest participation and feedback from members of the Network and the socialist movement in general.
Part 3 THE WORKING CLASS
Part 4 SOCIALIST ECONOMY
Part 5 SOCIALIST DEMOCRACY
Part 6 THE MOVEMENT
Chapter 3 The Working Class
The Changing Structure of the Working Class
CLASS IS A CONCEPT THAT IS INTEPRETED IN MANY DIFFERENT WAYS, especially in regard to the working class. This is not very surprising considering the many and diverse interests that are connected with how it is defined. Class has been identified with caste. Caste is something, for better or worse, you are born into and remain within the rest of your life. Connected to the idea of class as caste is identifying class as a type of behaviour, something which money cannot buy. In this view, class is not necessarily something you are born into, but breed into. The upper class are those which define themselves as having manners and style. Mirroring this, some on the left will define the working class as those with a brutal honesty.
Class as caste or breeding has been used to justify that the upper classes lord it over the rest, because they belong to a caste that is superior. Bureaucrats in the Soviet Union, Maoist China, and left-wing groups justified their rule because of their working class or peasant heritage. As part of neo-liberalism’s idea of freedom, class as caste has been used as an excuse by them to reject the concept of class altogether. As Thatcher put it: “There’s no such thing as society.“ Everybody is considered as merely an individual, with the possibility of choosing goods, services, and identity.
A different idea about class is that it is simply a categorisation of income. However, many who run their own businesses can slave away all the hours of the day and barely make enough to live on, while some oil workers on offshore platforms can make far more than the vast majority of the world’s workers ever dream of. Generally speaking, workers do have lower incomes than those that own businesses. Normally, this results in worse health and shorter life spans. Yet parts of Sardinia, Costa Rica and the Aegean Islands have extreme longevity, despite being poor.
Finally, there is a view of class that has gained traction in past decades among some neo-liberal propagandists. The working class is everybody who works, and then there are those that live off those that work hard.
All these views of class are descriptions, not analysis. There is grain, but no more, of truth in all of them. Fortune-telling individuals’ destiny or a statistical categorisation does not get one very far. Class is best understood as the underlying structure of society – a means of understanding how the economy functions as an interaction between groups of people. This is an analysis of the economy far from the mysticism of the ‘market’ as a sort of force of nature that simply hits people and that nobody can do anything about.
The capitalist class is the class that has property rights over most of the means of production and therefore receives profits. The working class has no alternative but to sell its labour power in order to get access to buildings, machines, raw materials, and a distribution system to produce things without which survival is difficult. This relationship constitutes the main class relationship in the world today, both in the developed and the developing world. Individuals can travel up and down the structure, but that does not change the structure.
The extraction of profits from workers for the benefit of capitalists is not the only type of economic relationship under capitalism. Some capitalists make profits from finance. Some workers own shares. Some are self-employed. Some workers are employed to look after other worker’s health or education. Some workers are employed to create stability in the system through upholding the state or by producing ideology in the media or churches. There are a vast range of different types of workers and capitalists. Yet the extraction of profits is what makes the system tick. This is not even particularly controversial among mainstream economists, but they obscure that this is a relationship between people and not a formula.
In most developed societies, the working class is at least 70 per cent of the population. The ruling class is about 15 per cent, of which the capitalist class is no more than a couple of per cent. The middle class have part of their income from owning businesses, but also rely on income from their own wage labour, even it means they are employed by their own companies. They are about 10 per cent. A small minority of 5 per cent never worked or are long-term unemployed. In developing countries with a large agricultural and informal sector, the working class is smaller.
Conflicts and Solidarity
THE WORKING CLASS IS NOT A HOMOGENOUS MASS. There are all kinds of differences within it in terms of income, outlook, gender, race, geographical location, nationality, religion and so on. These differences can give rise to conflicts within the working class. Conflicts can be large in a period of ebb of the class struggle, like during the neo-liberal era. Then strikes reached a low in many countries not seen since the beginning of the labour movement. When a struggle, whatever the form, against the ruling class picks up, conflicts within the working class suddenly become secondary or insignificant. Choices of identity, religion and beliefs come and go, but class structure remains – until it can be abolished.
Although the basic class structure under capitalism continues, that does not mean that classes remain the same. On the contrary, capitalism is a dynamic system and therefore the working class has undergone numerous changes.
IN THE EARLY DAYS OF CAPITALISM MOST WORKERS were craftsmen working in small workplaces where they often controlled the pace of work themselves, because they knew more than the owner. They created the original organisations of the labour movement – trade unions, worker’s education societies, and the first international political organisations.
Larger industries developed. Initially, this new working class was considered un-organisable. The big factories were like military fortresses. Every minute spent inside was controlled by the bosses. Once outside, workers traipsed home exhausted. Nobody had time to educate themselves. Women would spend their time when not at the factory or mine, looking after the home and children, with men often at the pub or cafe. Or that is what socialists thought. However, for the best part of a century, workers in these factories, the mines, and the railways and docks that connected them with the market were the core of the labour movement. They made the labour movement into the biggest organised movement ever. They educated themselves within it. In the last four decades, the working class has undergone another substantial transformation.
Outsourcing of Workers
‘Outsource’ and ‘concentrate on the core business’ have been the watchwords of capital since the 1980s. That means that specialisation has been placed at the centre of the drive towards higher productivity. The outsourcing of components made it possible to create big companies for each component that is a small part of the final product. A car company can outsource production to over one thousand other companies. The companies that produce the batteries or the plastic bumpers or the seats have their own factories, although they are partially or completely dependent on supplying to one or a few car companies. Things are not freely bought and sold in a market, but regulated by longer-term contracts. These contracts specify exactly what should be produced and when. Thus component producers have very close relationships with the main producer which can include inputting design ideas for the main product.
The outsourcing of cleaning, catering and transport has created giant service companies while reducing the number of workers that are counted as industrial workers. Outsourcing of accounting, receptionists and other business services has created big companies in those areas and reduced the number of white collar workers in industry. However, white collar work as a whole has expanded massively. An accountancy firm can employ tens of thousands, and have five or six hundred employed at a single office. Each individual white-collar worker has less oversight over the total work process. Monitoring and creativity has been transferred to a swollen top-layer of managers and administrators.
Meanwhile, investments in more focused and technically complex plants has made factory work cleaner, less physically heavy, and plants smaller. As such, the working conditions of Industrial workers have tended to become more like white collar workers.
Despite smaller factories in the developed world, those counted as industrial workers have remained about the same in absolute terms, although they have declined relative to the rest of the population. In the USA, often used as an example of de-industrialisation, the industrial working class (both blue- and white-collar) has actually risen from 27 million in 1972 to 30 million in 2002, while the population as a whole grew from 210 to 280 million in the same period. In contrast, Britain is one of the few developed countries that has de-industrialised.
On a global basis, the industrial working class has expanded greatly, especially in China, South Korea, and a few other places.
Concentration of Capital
The concentration of capital, measured by the growing size of firms, marches steadily on. The revenue of the top 200 US corporations as a percentage of total US business revenue rose from 21 per cent in 1950 to 30 per cent in 2008. It has slipped back slightly since on account of the recession.
The world economy shows an even more pronounced trend. Figures from the Fortune ‘Global 500’ show that the big companies that took 19 per cent of total world income in 1960, by 2008 accounted for 39 per cent. This concentration of revenue into fewer hands is matched by the concentration of employment in fewer companies. On the surface, outsourcing and smaller factories have broken the bonds between workers, but in many ways the practical connections between workers is stronger. More than ever, workers globally work under similar conditions and have the same small group of bosses.
Outside of industry, many work places have expanded. Corner shops have turned into giant supermarkets. The largest workplaces in developed countries are no longer factories, but hospitals, airports, universities, and so called IT campuses. At Google’s central office, Googleplex, almost 20 000 people are employed.
Changes in Employment
There has also been a general increase in the number of technical and scientific jobs. While finance has expanded vastly in terms of its importance for the economy, in terms of jobs it is less significant. The exceptions are the two main financial centres of the world: New York and London.
Education has become a major industry, even though there has not been an equal expansion of the need for a more educated workforce. Degrees have become a proxy for qualifications for a job. Because it has become more difficult to get a job, employers can pick and choose. A high school degree is no longer sufficient for many jobs, so a BA degree and then an Masters has become a means of sorting among hordes of applicants. This inflation in education is financed by a dramatic increase in student debt at high interest rates. Education has become an industry where private companies reap large profits.
Some labour-intensive and environmentally destructive industries, such as textiles and tanneries, have closed down in the developed world. Instead, they have grown up in countries with cheaper labour. However, every year from the early eighties until the crisis in 2008, even during the briefer recessions, the number of jobs in absolute terms in the OECD (the organisation of developed countries) has increased. Developing countries have not ‘taken’ jobs from developed countries.
Nor has automation ‘destroyed’ jobs. Some jobs are always being destroyed under capitalism, while others are being created. It is the level of investment that determines the proportion between the creation and destruction of jobs. Because investment in real things (gross fixed capital formation) declined from 25 per cent of GDP in the seventies to 20 per cent since then in the OECD countries, the amount of jobs created has not been sufficient. A large army of unemployed has remained even during booms. During the golden years of the post-war upswing, both investment and productivity increases (partly as the result of automation) were higher and there was near full employment.
Urbanisation and Emigration
There has been a change in the demography, not just in the industrial structure, of the working class. The biggest urbanisation wave in history has taken place. The majority of the world’s population now live in urban areas. China has passed the half-way mark. In almost all of Latin America, and countries such as Iran, Turkey, and Malaysia urbanisation is above 70 per cent. Nevertheless, in many of the developing countries large numbers work in the informal sector with unregulated hours and uncertain jobs.
Migration of people across borders in search of a better life has also been unprecedented. Globally, 150 million people are migrants (ILO). Migrants have mainly moved to service jobs in developed countries, especially women entering domestic service. Due to emigration from Latin America more people speak Spanish in the USA than in Spain. Indeed, only Mexico has more Spanish speakers. Within the EU, there has been a massive movement of people too. In many oil-rich Middle Eastern countries the working class consists mainly of migrants. To these migrants, refugees must also be added. By 2015, the spread of failed states raised the number of refugees to levels not seen since World War II, causing a further internationalisation of the world’s working class. That said, the majority of refuges have moved between developing nations because of the barriers to entering the richer countries.
Another significant change in the demography of the working class has been the number of women joining the workforce. Partly as a result of the wish for greater independence, partly because families have needed more members to work in order to make ends meet, and partly because employers have been able to use women as cheap labour, women are now half of the workforce in most developed countries. In developing countries, in the factories of the multinational corporations, 80 per cent of the workers are women.
Insecurity and Inequality
The restructuring of the working class provided the opportunity for capital to advance its position and create a more ‘flexible’ working class during the past four decades. Jobs became more precarious. Casual and part-time work is common. Employment contracts are individualised or even abandoned in favour of turning individuals into freelancers hired only when needed.
For a minority with highly specialised skills this has meant increased freedom and higher income. For another group this flexibility has offered a chance to work for ‘pin-money’ – supplementing one’s income while drawing a pension, studying, or looking after a family while one’s spouse works.
Within the working class there has been an unprecedented increase in inequality, with those in the middle ranks being the biggest losers, while the top ranks have seen their living standards suffer least. The working class has to a large extent returned to the conditions that preceded the Golden Years of the post-war upswing. Secure, well-paid jobs for the majority were a mere interlude of three to four decades in the history of capitalism.
There was nothing inevitable about this retrograde development. The capitalist system has always undergone great changes and the character of the working class has changed with it. Indeed, the changing structure of the working class has most often led to a strengthening of the labour movement, with only briefer periods of retreat. Often, the uprooting of people from their previous lives has been a driving force for people to organise themselves. During the decades that preceded the First World War, globalisation and immigration proceeded at a very rapid rate. Those were the days before passports and restrictions on immigration. Tens of millions of European migrants left their home country for the wealthier parts of Europe and the US. Jews from Eastern Europe formed large communities in East London. Irish in Glasgow. By 1930 there were 2.7 million immigrants living in France. In absolute terms, more than in any other country except the USA. There was also large scale emigration from Europe to the rest of the world. Trade and foreign direct investment between developed countries was higher as a proportion of GDP than in the 1990’s.
This was also the time in which the Second International was built into a genuine international mass movement attracting overwhelming support and participation from Western European workers. Migrants played a key role in spreading socialist ideas both in the countries they came to and if they returned home. In 1936, France elected its first left-wing government.
The long period of working class retreat since the 1970s cannot be blamed on the restructuring of the working class. Instead, it was the incapacity of all the ideologies of the labour movement, especially Social Democracy and Communism, which enabled the recent restructuring to be used to weaken the labour movement.
The dominance of utopian Ideologies
The revolt of the late 1960’s began as a spontaneous movement that bypassed the social democratic and communist organisations. By the mid-seventies the leadership of these organisations had regained control by partially adapting themselves to the new movement and by using the authority they had accumulated during the previous decades. However, by the mid-eighties, they led the movement to defeat, especially symbolised by the crushing of the miners’ strike in England.
In the past, major defeats took ten to fifteen years to recover from. That was sufficient time for lessons to be drawn and a new generation, untainted by past defeats, to come of age. But with the defeats of the 1980s it was different. The social democratic and communist ideologies came crashing down together with the systems that had nourished them – the welfare state and the Soviet Union. These utopian ideologies had been the glue keeping their respective parts of labour movement together. The labour movement was not only defeated. It was the beginning of the end of a long utopian epoch in the history of the labour movement.
The Rise of Utopian Ideology
Shifts back and forth between utopian ideology and realistic perspectives have characterized the labour movement historically. Each phase preparing the ground for the next. In 1797, Gracchus Babeuf was put on trial for his part in the Conspiracy of Equals. In his defense, and as a warning to those that sentenced him to death, he exclaimed that “the French Revolution was nothing but a precursor of another revolution, one that will be bigger, more solemn, and which will be the last.”
Just like in the preceding English and American Revolutions, the people who did the hard fighting of the revolution – tradesmen, poor farmers, artisans, casual labourers, some intellectuals, and even a few aristocrats – were not satisfied with seeing one elite replaced by another. They gave birth to the idea of a socialist society long before the means existed to realise it. They looked forward to a society with full democracy, and economic and social equality. In this way, the political and philosophical utopia of anarchism was formulated, and Robert Owen and Charles Fourier spawned ideal communities. Dreams are needed to inspire one forward, to give one a vision of what one wants, but they must be linked to a clear analysis of what is and how things can be realistically changed.
As the working class began to take form, this dream began to acquire the substance of reality. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels analysed how the development of capitalism had prepared the way for a new society. Capitalism had not only brought forth the material pre-conditions, but was also creating the agent for change – the working class. The development of the First and Second Internationals confirmed their analysis. The Second International gathered the working class and all the oppressed – women, poor farmers, people dominated by colonialism. And in 1898, August Bebel, member of the German Reichstag and leader of the biggest socialist party of the day, made the first known defense of gay rights in a public debate.
The Internationals became the forum within which to work out a concrete strategy for a socialist transformation of society. At the centre of that struggle was the fight for basic democratic rights that were going to provide the arena for winning a majority for socialism. This struggle culminated in the Russian Revolution, the first successful worker’s revolution in history.
In a backward country like Russia, the only way socialism could be successful was if the Russian Revolution was the prelude to a socialist revolution in at least one advanced capitalist country. This was the view of the Bolsheviks, the party of the majority of workers in Russia in October 1917. This perspective was born out, but in a negative sense. After several failed attempts at revolution in other countries, what remained of the Russian Revolution was transformed into a totalitarian dictatorship under Stalin.
Social Democracy and the Communist States
THE FAILURE OF THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION has had a profound impact on all events until the present day. Its significance has been far greater than the Russian Revolution itself, especially on the labour movement. Stalin’s regime and its successors hung unto socialism in words, but reduced it to a dream of jam tomorrow, if only the hardships and oppression of today were accepted by Soviet workers. Internationally, they projected the illusion of the Soviet Union being “really existing socialism” with the Communist Parties internationally defending this illusion.
It was a bogus idea, and many workers saw through it. They provided a base for another utopian dream – that a socialist transformation could take place bit by bit under the auspices of the leaders of the social democracy.
Despite sharp differences on several questions, communism and social democracy shared a common bag of utopian ideas, as did much of the remaining left. They all agreed on a schematic view of history with a single inevitable line of development from primitive communism through slavery, feudalism, capitalism, and then onto socialism. Workers were expected to follow their leaders down a path that was already decided upon. Once socialism had been achieved, the economy would be run by their leaders. The social democrats and the communists just differed on how those leaders should be elected.
In both ideologies, the means of production were presented as a driving force embodying a potent spirit that developed all by itself. If social relationships hindered this force, they would be crushed. Each ideology then anointed the leaders that could master these dark forces and wield them to the benefit of the majority. The role of the majority was to be loyal supporters.
There was also accord about what a socialist economy was – state ownership and quantitative planning like in the Soviet Union. The difference was about when and how it could be achieved. Communists internationally saw socialism as a readymade package, which could be imposed anywhere overnight, even in countries where there was not even a working class.
The social democrats promised a similar kind of economy, in the distant future and combined with parliamentary democracy. In the meantime, the market and private ownership were to remain dominant. Socialism was presented as the future crowning glory, once regulated capitalism had produced abundance.
Finally, both leaderships had the same view about how the labour movement should be organised. The inner workings of the leadership were to be hidden from the membership. Any disputes in the leadership were kept within the leadership. A united face had to be shown by the leaders to the members and by the party as a whole towards those outside the party. The selection of the leadership was done by wheeling and dealing behind closed doors. The leadership maintained a firm grasp on the means of communication. Utopianism was combined with authoritarianism.
These socialist ideologies got an extended life. In the east, the USSR was transformed into a superpower and was joined by many other Communist regimes, not least in China. In the West, the welfare state was constructed during the Golden Age of capitalism from the early fifties to the mid-seventies. Both parts of the world seemed on inevitable paths into the future. Social Democratic and Communist organisations were both strengthened.
The utopianism of all tendencies was mutually dependent. Social Democrats could point to the dictatorship in the Soviet Union to justify their ideology. Likewise, Communists could strengthen theirs by showing that Social Democrats were not changing the fundamental nature of capitalism.
Failure of the Utopian Ideologies
These utopian ideologies were doomed. The stagnation of the economies of the East and the rapidity with which people embraced capitalism, spelt the end of most communist parties. Then, decades of counter-reforms in the West emptied social democratic ideology of any vitality it once had. Illusionary views of socialism were ground down together with the organisations that had used them as their beacon. This began with the defeats of the eighties, and speeded up after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989.
Many communist parties disappeared; others deepened the process that began after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. These so-called Euro-communists had started to criticize the Soviet Union and say that there were many ways to socialism, yet they continued to maintain that the Soviet Union was “really existing socialism” and that quantitative planning was the end-goal. The fall of the Soviet Union completed the transformation of these Euro-Communists into mild social democratic parties, as they tried to take the empty space that was left when social democratic parties went to the right. Some communist parties remained unrepentant, retaining the loyalty of a section of workers, but isolating themselves from most workers.
For social democratic parties it was more of a slow decline as one counter-reform was piled on another. For many bureaucrats it was a short step from defending utopian ideologies to supporting neo-liberalism.
The collapse of the utopian ideologies and the rise of neo-liberalism led to socialism being struck off the agenda of workers parties. When this goal was abandoned or reduced to some vague phrases about people being nice to each other in the future, the organised labour movement became an electoral machine to elect people who in one way or another defended the existing system. From having been workers parties that helped further the movement, they became obstacles to the movement, and the movement declined. Strikes, protests, and eventually these parties themselves declined.
The bankruptcy of the old ideologies in combination with the structural changes within capitalism caused a massive disorientation within the working class. Instead of looking to each other for a common struggle to improve life, isolated individuals strove to improve things for themselves and their families. In the main, this meant keeping one’s head down and working more and harder. It was like trying to get out of quicksand – the more one tried to get out of it, the worse the situation got and the deeper one sank into debt. A few escaped by winning the competition lottery, but that route was closed for most.
Thus there was no longer an oppositional movement nor an alternative to capitalism. Of course, some small groups continued to support the idea of socialism, but they focused on angry denunciations of capitalism, shouting slogans about socialism, while putting forward suggestions for mild ameliorations. They pretended they had a socialist alternative, but it was merely the ghost of Soviet planning. That was what remained after the movement based primarily on the industrial working class was defeated, its ideologies dissipated, and its workplaces downsized. Then, a new left emerged.
A New Left
THE NEW LEFT of the 1990 and onwards CAME FROM AN UNEXPECTED PLACE – the ideology transmitting institutions. In the past, education, television, radio, magazines, the gaming industry and advertising had been a relatively small part of society. It had been tightly controlled by the ruling class, although some parts, like local school teachers, had played an important role in the worker’s movement. In the sixties and beyond there was a massive expansion of education. The neo-liberals ‘freed’ media developed into many competitive agencies in the eighties. It too expanded drastically. The institutions became a field in which large sums of money could be made, and many companies moved into them.
The ruling class was confronted with a serious problem in relation to the ideology transmitting institutions. When they expanded, more young people with a background in the traditional working class, brought up with egalitarian ideals, had to be employed. For storytelling to function well it must be made by creative people, who tell stories in new and interesting ways. They must also have the ability to catch people’s emotions. They cannot be completely lacking in empathy.
In the neo-liberal epoch, the simplistic concept of profit-maximizing individuals was promoted in a wide field of human activities. It was rampant in academic research in social sciences and television soaps. Art was not graded by its intrinsic value, but by the price it commanded. Theatres were valued by the size of their audience. This produced neither good research or education, nor entertainment, or art that left a lasting impression. Cultural workers employed by the institutions felt a natural distaste against the task of producing such work, yet struggled to do their best within the framework provided.
In the late sixties and seventies, cultural workers overwhelmingly orientated themselves to the industrial working class, their movement, and their ideologies. When the industrial working class was pacified and neo-liberalism dominated, cultural workers tried to exploit the limited space available. A form of resistance is to try and use the ruling premises to try and turn them against the rulers. To reform the system from within.
The neo-liberal idea of profit-maximising individuals also contains the premise that everybody should have an equal opportunity to profit-maximize. Keeping within the framework of existing hierarchies and neo-liberalism, cultural workers have used this part of neo-liberalism to try and enforce equal opportunities within hierarchies. Of course, abolishing hierarchies, or even just democratising them a bit, was off the agenda.
They allied themselves with others that felt they might have something to gain from advancing within the hierarchies – professionals and white-collar workers in large cities, especially in the rapidly expanding IT sector, and those affected by discrimination. It was a coalition of forces capable of winning elections, like New Labour’s landslide victory in Britain in 1997, despite a lower turn-out. Many felt alienated from all parties.
Left neo-liberalism had a substantial impact. The first black president was elected in the USA, equal representation of women in many governments, and openly gay ministers were appointed. And in some countries, like the UK, ethnic minorities are proportionately attending universities. In the innermost echelons of military and economic power, the decisive hierarchies, less changed. Despite that, left neo-liberalism achieved a deep-seated transformation of social norms.
The Limits of this New Left
LEFT NEO-LIBERALISM HAD ITS LIMITS. Neo-liberalism could absorb equal opportunity for people to rise in hierarchies, but it had to undermine both the achievements of the working class and its position in society. The struggle of the working class, especially industrial workers, had been responsible for the creation of the welfare state. Left neo-liberalism agreed to hand over the welfare state to the ravages of the market.
Left neo-liberalism went further than this. Insult was to be added to injury. In a gesture of loyalty to mainstream neo-liberalism, the industrial working class was to be disenfranchised from participating in public debate. From having a central and proud role in the old socialist ideologies, it was to be dismissed as privileged, white, and male. Its youth were contemptuously called “chavs” or “white trash”. They were lectured about what language was correct to use, a language which was constantly being changed.
Nor did it lead to improvements for the bulk of working women. The washing machine, employment, shorter working days, cheap and quality kindergartens and old-people’s homes have done more for gender equality than a balance at the tops of hierarchies and a careful choice of what words to use in order not to oppress others on a personal level. There were no quotas for either working class men or women in the hierarchies.
For most workers, white and black, women and men, things were made worse by pressure on the welfare state which resulted in job insecurity, rising working hours, down-sizing, and intensification of work. For white industrial workers, especially men, the fall was proportionately greater. The death rate for white workers 45-54 years old with only a high school diploma in the USA has gradually increased since 1998, while it stagnated for those 35-45. This is completely unprecedented in a developed Western country where medical advances have guaranteed a continuously declining death rate. The death rate for blacks is higher, but because it continues to fall, the death rates will soon be the same. For Hispanics it is lower than both other groups.
In the poorer industrialised countries of Eastern Europe and Russia, neo-liberalism created an even more dramatic decline. Between 1990 and 1998, there were 3.4 million premature deaths, i.e. deaths that would not have occurred had trends continued as before the neo-liberal shock therapy.
Apart from health, white male workers have lost in education too. In the UK, women are in a clear majority at university, while white working class boys have worse results than all other ethnic groups. 26 per cent of white British boys on free school meals gained five grades, compared with 40 per cent of black boys and 63 per cent of all other pupils on free school meals.
Working Class Support for Neo-traditionalism
The neo-traditionalists draw some of their social base from industrial workers that previously supported the utopian socialist ideologies. In Western Europe, only a minority of these workers support the neo-traditionalists. In Eastern Europe, which has undergone a vast de-industrialisation, support is larger. With the disappearance of the old socialist ideologies, neo-traditionalism appears to offer them a sense of community, importance, and opposition to the system.
The ideological transition to supporting neo-traditionalism is not that great for some industrial workers. In the 1950s and 60s, socialist ideologies adapted themselves to the ruling elites in East and West and their traditionalist ideology. Elements of nationalism, racism, and sexism were a part of the labour movement. These attitudes were particularly rife among the bureaucracy of the labour movement. Women were supposed to know their place, and foreign things, whether it be garlic or people, were treated with suspicion. Internationalism and gender equality, just like calls for socialism, were confined to May Day.
Another strand of working class support for neo-traditionalists comes from those that have previously voted for conservative parties. Sometime called the aspirational middle class, a large relatively well-off segment of mainly white-collar workers rarely supported worker’s parties. In the present crisis a layer has moved towards neo-traditionalism. As believers in capitalism, they prefer to blame immigrants, rather than the system, for the troubles they face.
There is also a geographical dimension to working class support to neo-traditionalism. The widest popular support comes from people, especially older people, in smaller towns and villages who live in communities that rely upon mutual aid based on geographic proximity. They have traditionally been suspicious of people who are outside the system of reciprocated obligations, whether they be people from cities, or from abroad, or gays or people with odd clothes. They are not necessarily even slightly racist and uncaring of others.
Within this group there is a floating line of demarcation, sometimes within the same family, between having a well-paid job and running a business and working as a badly paid worker or scraping by on support from the state. Geographical community can trump other communities. The neo-liberal ideology of individual competition was a threat to good neighbourship. Likewise, the sudden arrival of proportionately large groups of refugees. They are often placed in smaller towns and rural areas. There is more accommodation there, as many younger inhabitants have left for the large cities. The intrusion of outsiders and the running down of the welfare state and the increasingly precarious nature of work results in these communities worrying that their social cohesion will break down, even though they are generally not in economic trouble themselves. The neo-traditionalist parties’ message that ‘we must stick together’ and ‘the problems come from the outside’ confirm what they feel.
Just like communism and social democracy fed off each other, neo-traditionalism and left neo-liberalism do too. White trash against the pc elite. Both the conflict between communists and social democrats and the one between neo-traditionalism and left neo-liberalism split the working class. The only ones that have and will benefit from this are members of the ruling class. However, the modern day ideological conflict does not have deep roots in the working class like the old one did. It is more like the clash of waves on top of the ocean. It is dependent on the passivity of the vast majority of the working class.
Most workers that support neo-traditionalists today maintain their opposition to class inequality and they defend the public sector. Although neo-traditionalist parties sometimes play up to this, it puts them on dodgy ground. To gain power, the neo-traditionalist parties will have to strike a deal with big capital. That means attacking the public sector and either doing nothing about inequality or making it worse. The steep electoral losses of the True Finns Party, one they sat in government, are an indication of this.
The Nazis of the 1930’s propagandized against finance capital, although they had no intention of doing anything about it. When they came to power, worker’s rights were destroyed and wages were slashed. The Nazis remained popular because the bastions of their support, peasants and small businessmen, lost nothing when the working class was attacked. Cheaper labour made things better for many of them. But neo-traditionalists are not Nazis. Their main base comes from the working class. Workers will rapidly change sides if neo-traditionalist governments attack them.
Potential for a New Movement
A new movement has begun. It is broad because its puts its finger on the decisive problems of the day – austerity and that the vast majority are excluded from the political debate and decision-making. It contains within itself the beginning of a discussion about the transformation of society. It is the only force that can cut across the development towards neo-traditionalist authoritarianism.
The understanding of left neo-liberals of equal rights regardless of sex, race, sexual orientation, ethnic origin and so on must be incorporated into the new movement. At the same time, the neo-traditionalist understanding of the need for community is decisive. Unity is essential to achieve improvements for all, but it must be a class-based unity and one where all can participate on equal terms. Only by opposing all forms of oppression can the movement be truly united.
In individual struggles such unity can be obtained. Strikes for higher wages, demonstrations against cuts, and even electoral campaigns are all occasions when widespread class unity can be achieved despite extensive preceding conflicts. However, these are struggles that come and go. When they recede conflicts reappear.
In the past, the organised labour movement embodied the long-term unified spirit of the working class across all boundaries. It did so because it stood for an alternative society, one that could replace capitalism and all the conflicts that it embodies. This was what kept the labour movement together and gave it strength.
The labour movement had its problems. There were considerable elements of racism, sexism, homophobia and other prejudice within the movement, not least among its bureaucratic leadership. To a greater or lesser extent, there was a cult of leadership on all sides of the labour movement, closely linked to maintaining the privileges of this leadership. It was a product of the ideological baggage tied to Stalinism regardless of whether or not the Soviet Union was supported. But in words at least, the labour movement had to maintain the vision of being a movement against all oppression. And as such, it retained a powerful ability to unite people. The disintegration of the labour movement due to the collapse of its ideologies has been far from a positive thing, despite the prejudices that existed in the movement in the past. The result has been neo-liberals turning individuals against each other, and neo-traditionalists turning groups against each other.
A modern labour movement, with a realistic idea about what the alternative to capitalism is, can rapidly become the prevailing force for unity. It can become the umbrella under which all struggles against oppression and bad living standards can collect, and thereby it brings to life the future society in the present.
Society is structured into classes, based on how production is organised. Within that structure, the overwhelming majority confront a small minority. If the majority unites, the ruling class can be easily defeated. It is urgent to do so. Hoewver, to achieve that unity, there must be a clear idea about what to replace capitalism with.
2 For a more detailed description of the economic relationship that defines classes see Appendix 1 or read Marx: https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1847/wage-labour/index.htm or https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1865/value-price-profit/index.htm
3 The July-September 2014 Labour Force Survey in the UK classification (in per cent):
1. Higher managerial, administrative and professional occupations 11.4
1.1 Large employers and higher managerial and administrative occupations 2.7
1.2 Higher professional occupations 8.8
2. Lower managerial, administrative and professional occupations 21.0
3. Intermediate occupations 10.8
4. Small employers and own accounts workers 8.0
5. Lower supervisory and technical occupations 6.2
6. Semi-routine occupations 11.4
7. Routine occupations 8.7
8. Never worked and long-term unemployed 4.5
9. Full-time students 7.3
10. Not classified: Occupational information not present/inadequate, or other reasons. 10.8
An estimate of the working class would be categories 2+3+5+6+7 = 58.1 per cent. To this one can add some of those in category 4 who are really people with precarious forms of employment (say 4 per cent), a slice of full-times students who are dependent on their working class parents (another 4 per cent), and at least half of those that are not classified (5 per cent). This adds up to a working class of about 70 per cent. The ruling class (including capitalists) are category 1 (11.4 per cent) plus some students (say 1 per cent) and a part of the unclassified (2 per cent), bringing them up to about 15 per cent. The middle class includes categories 4 (4 per cent), 9 (2 per cent), and 10 (4 per cent). All in all, about 10 per cent. The remainder are an underclass with 5 per cent. It is assumed that all classes have about the same proportion of dependents.
4 2002 is the last year that the ILO has statistics for. The amount of industrial workers may have fallen since then. The ILO does not define industrial workers. I have included four categories of workers among industrial workers. Those working in mining, manufacturing, construction, and the electricity/water/gas industries. A comparison between 2002 and 1972 shows that the proportionate employment in different industries has changed. There are fewer in manufacturing and mining and more in the construction and electricity/water/gas. However, that might be because 2002 was a recession year. In 2000, there were almost exactly the same amount of workers in manufacturing as in 1972.
5 ‘Monopoly and competition in 21st century capitalism’, Monthly Review April 2011, p.7
6 ibid p.12
7 Among some social democrats there was a drift away from the complete ownership of the means of production as the final goal. Although influential, the ideas of people like Tony Crosland were to the right of mainstream reformism, and a minority.