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50 Years Ago: Mr. Wilson on Class

In a recent interview published in the Observer, Harold Wilson, Leader of the Labour Party, made some extraordinary statements. Among other things he said:

‘The Labour Party must represent the whole country. If you mean what class do I think I am—well, what is the answer? Elementary school, Oxford common room, what does it add up to? There are millions of people—trained, skilled, professional—for whom these phrases about class are becoming more and more meaningless. The white coat, the growing technological character of modern industry is making some of the old battlegrounds unreal.’

Wilson apparently thinks that if a worker can speak grammatically, or do a skilled job, he is no longer a worker.

(…)

Earlier in the same series, Wilson actually committed himself to the following remarks:

‘Quite honestly, I've never read Das Kapital. I got only as far as page two— that's where the footnote is nearly a page long, I felt that two sentences of main text and a page of footnote were too much.’

This is despite his own claim that ‘economics became his field.’

Mr. Wilson was apparently in such a haze that he could not distinguish page two from page fifty-two, or the beginning of a chapter from the end of it. The first footnotes in Das Kapital which might reduce the main text to this extent are the ones that concern Ricardo, at the end of chapter one, on commodities. In the edition nearest to hand (William Glaisher, London, 1909) these footnotes begin at page fifty-two. In no conceivable edition could they come on page two.

But what a pity that Wilson was not able to overcome the tremendous hurdle presented to his comprehension by some rather long footnotes (he was, after all, only an Oxford lecturer on economics). He might have learned that there is more to a man's position in society than the colour of the coat he wears. He might even have learned that there are two classes in society—an owning class and a working class. One feels that he might not have survived the shock.

 (From ‘The Passing Show’ by Alwyn Edgar, Socialist Standard, August 1963)