1920s >> 1920 >> no-195-november-1920

“Middle-Class” Respectability

One hears a good deal about that portion of society yclept the “middle class.” In reality the successive class struggles throughout history have wiped out all but two classes, viz, the capitalist class and the working class; but apparently the title “middle class” is still given to those unfortunates (or fortunates as the case may be) who wallow not in luxury or in mud ! Their main function seems to be to keep up the moral tone of mankind and save for humanity its chiefest virtue, Respectability.

To the discerning Socialist the capitalist system is, most of it, naked rottenness, while the rest of it is covered by a thin veneer that only accentuates the filth beneath. The working class, it would seem, do not notice the rottenness, but are deceived by the veneer. This veneer manifests itself in a variety of ways, in conventional respectability, religious and military ceremonies, persiflage, and, above all, in treating as “taboo” the ugly truth !

The shibboleth of the “middle class” is “respectability.” It believes itself, on that account, as distinct from and above the working class as the dwellers upon high Olympus are from and above the cowherds of the plains below. It calls its ugly little villa “The Lindens,” and marries its daughters respectably, whereas the working class lives in a tenement and very often does not marry its daughters at all, and therein lies the difference.

But when the Socialist comes along and points out that both portions are alike inasmuch as they are equally exploited and robbed by the capitalist class, what a raising of hands and eyebrows there is, what a fluttering in the dovecotes of Suburbia! But it is nevertheless true that the so-called middle-class man is as fearful and afraid for his economic position as any member of society who is forced to sell his power to labour in order to live.

To a very large extent capitalism thrives on this self deception of the “salariat.” Most of the apologists of the system spring from this section of the working class. And though some of its opponents are of the “middle class,” they have met with their most bitter opposition in its ranks. For why ?

The “middle class” knows that slums exist; it also knows that people starve to death occasionally. It will admit, when its young people are out of the room, that prostitutes abound in lasge numbers in great cities ; that venereal diseases fill hospitals. But then, you know, it is not usual to talk of such things—it is not respectable!

I once asked some young men of this “middle class” at the beginning of the recent war, why it was they rushed to avenge the outraged women of Belgium yet observed without indignation thousands of women forced to sell their bodies on the streets to avoid starvation. I think their answer was to call me a pro-German ! To them and their section fighting Germans was the proper thing to do. But to think why they should or should not never occurred to them.

It is not to be wondered at that the capitalist Press, particularly during a strike, keeps the “middle class ” distinct from the rest of the community. But as Marx has pointed out, this section of society is gradually being brought face to face with its true position in relation to the rest of society, and the time is not far distant when “respectability” will have ceased to be a stumbling block in the path of progressive thought. We read now-a-days of unions for the protection of clergymen, bank clerks, doctors, and others who, perhaps unwillingly enough, are beginning to see thst so far as the capitalist system is concerned, there is not an atom of difference between the man with a pen or lancet and the miner or road-mender.

But they should bear this in mind and act upon it too: Capitalism can do nothing for them. There is one remedy only for the evils and discomforts they are up against, and that is the abolition of capitalism and the establishment of Socialism.

Stanley H. Steele