1960s >> 1966 >> no-743-july-1966

What is Class?

Whilst class consciousness often shows up in some form or other in the class struggle, the class struggle, in the main, is singularly lacking in class consciousness. This being so, one sees its aims limited to demands for increased wages or even a voluntary relinquishing of the struggle by an acceptance of “speed up“ methods at the expense of health and safety. A recent example of this was stated by T. Hopkins, Mines Safety Inspector, in an address to the South Wales Miners Union. In his speech Hopkins was emphatic that miners faced with the threat of pit closures were ignoring safety and health regulations in order to reach the norm set by the National Coal Board.

It can be seen from a survey of industrial agitation that the motivation, in many cases, is as much a question of job preservation as demands for increased wages.

The question of class consciousness, then, so distinct from class struggle is one that requires to be looked at from time to time—this is, if we are to remind ourselves that the only form of class struggle which will ultimately bring about the downfall of capitalism is the struggle arising out of the workers’ place in society.

It is no longer “fashionable” to use terms like “class struggle” and “class consciousness” in modern political writing. On the few occasions when they are mentioned they are given a totally false meaning. We can only assume that such falseness is rather the result of design than ignorance on the part of those who pride themselves with a sound knowledge of social and economic affairs. There is a conspiracy shared by Tories and Labour alike to delude the working class that they are different from what they were in the past, and will be different again in the future from what they are now. Behind this lies the implication that capitalism (another unmentionable word) can go on functioning, indefinitely, to the advantage of society as a whole. There can be no reason, other than this for Labour’s Prices and Incomes Board, the Tories’ proposed legislation for bringing Trade Union Law “In line with the 20th century” or the idea of nationalisation which the Tory Party does not condemn out of hand.

These false political and economic pundits are, of course, using an old trick; having established their false promise — one that is accepted due to prevailing ignorance and apathy — the rest is easy. So it is that the workers are carried along the highways of duplicity, nodding their heads in assent like automated marionettes.

Sooner or later in any discussion on “class” the business of class snobbery crops up. Our advocatees of the “diminishing class struggle” find it necessary to bring it forward in order to hide the real nature of the class struggle together with the fact that it exists. They say, that with the continual “levelling off” going on, the workers themselves are now responsible for delaying the march towards the “egalitarian society” by throwing up attitudes of personal and group snobbery. This, they point out, is shown in the frantic race for a bigger car than the neighbours; the intense struggle to pay for a house in a desirable area (the exodus from the council ghetto as one writer puts it).

It does appear strange that though we are told class society is practically extinct there still remains a “middle class”. One presumes from this that it is a “class” though “In the middle” has no defined class either side of it—or perhaps it has, though both the two “end classes” are in a semi-dissolved state. What nonsense all this is!

What the spokesmen of capitalism are doing, of course, is playing up to that section of the working class who by reason of their relatively higher “status” in the capitalist scheme of things, aided and abetted by a certain amount of pettiness and snobbery, are mistakenly led to the belief that they no longer belong to the working class.

One can see where all this leads. One is asked to believe a that capitalist society is really composed of one class sub-divided into well off, middling well off and not so well off. The latter section, they are forced to admit with the proviso that they can, if they work hard enough, climb into the “middle” or even “upper” class.

Socialists, of course, realise that classes (and there are only two) are divided in a horizontal manner. Membership either side of the line is determined by one’s economic status. No arguments—and there are many strange ones such as educational background, mannerisms of dress and accent and even residential qualifications—can overcome this bald economic fact

The term “class struggle” indeed is one that needs to be placed before the working class continually. This will never be done by the agents of capitalism. It is a job that can— and is being done by socialists. It is because the Socialist Party is adamant in reminding the working class of their historic struggle with their annoying phraseology of capitalism “class war”, “wage slaves”, etc., we are dispensed with as archaic.

The term “class struggle” was coined by socialists to denote a social and economic fact that has been with us since the advent of class society. This struggle has, at different times, taken on a varying degree of consciousness. Sometimes workers have been more conscious than at other times (the act of joining the socialist movement is a case of class consciousness). At no time up to the present have the working class as a whole fully realised the true nature of class society. Nevertheless, such are the economic consequences of class divided society that, whatever governments may do workers will continue to demonstrate the existence of the class struggle (as they have under the recent Labour Government). This struggle in its highest conscious aspect is carried on in the political field by the Socialist Party in Great Britain and elsewhere.

Socialists cannot but draw attention and participate the class struggle until such time as capitalism is defeated Then, and only then, will the term become “archaic” as classes themselves will cease to exist.

W. Brain