Letters: The Middle Class

Although when the SPGB refers to the working class it means all people who receive a wage or salary in return for their labour-power, most people still think in terms of the “working class” to mean industrial blue-collar workers and the “middle class” to mean white-collar workers.


These two “classes” appear to represent two different outlooks on life or two different ideologies, e.g. attitudes towards thrift, private education, health and morality. These different attitudes appear to be represented by the Labour and Conservative Parties and appear to be incompatible. As capitalism’s problems become more intense the confrontation between the two sets of ideas and therefore the two “classes” will also become more intense. This is what most people think of when they hear the term the class struggle or class war.


What is the SPGB attitude to the above and how does it argue to convince the two “classes” that they share the same enemy? Since I assume you believe that Socialism can only come about when the majority of both “classes” and not just one understand and want it.


David Bird




Though, as you say, large numbers of people believe there is a “middle class” and they are in it, it has never been defined successfully. It is not necessarily white-collar occupations: income, education and an assortment of traditions add to the confusion.


We do not agree that “middle class” equals Tory and manual-worker equals Labour. Certainly some industrial areas, such as South Wales and Lancashire, have strong pro-Labour majorities and some allegedly “select” areas nearly always elect Conservatives. But the opposite is also true. Some of the most dependably Conservative areas are rural districts with a lot of poverty-stricken farm workers, while “quality” papers for the “middle class” frequently favour Labour (e.g. the New Statesman, and see “The Observer Guide to Voters” in our last issue).


You ask how we can convince them that they are all one working class. We go on expounding the working-class position, of course—but capitalism is unable to avoid making the exposure, in any case. There are large sections such as teachers and civil servants who not many years ago would have thought trade-unionism and strikes beneath them. Eventually they have had to act as, and line up with, engineers, building workmen and the rest; and begun to discover that they are not different after all. Editors.




While offering my congratulations for the extremely interesting special issue of the Standard on China, I’d like to make a few points to supplement what is said in some of the articles.


To deal with the first article first. I believe the present Chinese view is that the “socialist revolution” began straight away in 1949; I think the Chinese have changed their minds on this matter, since they used to claim, as the article states, that only in the mid-fifties did the changeover to “socialism” begin. To be pedantic for a moment, concerning the name of the Chinese party: the Chinese language only permits a word order equivalent to the “Chinese Communist Party”, but not “Communist Party of China”. This article gives a very useful account of Party control mechanisms, but I feel that it would also have been pertinent to give an analysis of who the “privileged” are: it’s not sufficient to equate them simply with “the Party”, since many lower-level Party members are just dogsbodies.


I’d agree with the article on Chinese history that far more research is needed before drawing conclusions. In the meantime, here are a couple of considerations: firstly, I think there’s plenty of evidence to show that in Imperial China it was not the state that built or managed public works (including irrigation works); rather it was the “local élite” or “gentry” (call them what you will) who stepped into the power vacuum that existed between the all-but powerless village headmen and the local magistrate. It’s easy to overlook how small the local bureaucracy was in comparison to China’s size; each magistrate had to administer such a large area that he couldn’t possibly be responsible for much of what went on in it. Secondly, it’s just not true that “manufacture and trade belonged to only three or four well-populated areas”, unless the qualification “large-scale” be added. Probably every village had its own market town within walking distance, where the peasants would go to transact business with itinerant tradesmen. It’s been suggested that marketing systems played a a vital rôle in China’s rural social structure, and that to a large extent the marketing area defined the peasant’s social horizon.


Paul Bennett,
London E.2.




Concerning the name of the CCP, we think you miss the point. It is not the possibilities of Chinese syntax, but the reason why whatever it is is universally translated into other languages as Chinese Communist Party instead of Communist Party of China. Editors.