Friday, 21 January 2011

Show me your cred(entials)

Im attached to defining myself as coming from a working class background. That’s not imagined but from that point on things do grow more murky, in becoming ‘ten pound Poms’ and emigrating to somewhere that gave better employment/housing and educational opportunities things changed for me. From an early age my life began to shape in significantly different ways from those in my extended family who remained in the UK.

Education in particular is one of the things that marks me as separate from my birth family and creates the feeling of belonging to something of a class diaspora.
When I return to the place where I was born I can find myself checking my own class credentials, trying by visual and cultural means to affirm that I really DO have a working class background and by doing so to justify for myself the discomforts I often find in trying to navigate in certain social circumstances.

Im am one of those people who can get annoyed with those who are visibly/audibly more middle or upper class than myself. I tend to play out via hostility the inferiority I have felt in the past when entering social spaces I didn’t know how to be in – anywhere from a restaurant/what I deem to be a ‘posh’ store or an educational establishment – I would also throw in dealing with institutions of most kinds/authority figures and getting very grumpy and envious towards people who have a sense of automatic entitlement.

Much as its an easy way out to say ‘oh that one has a real chip on their shoulder’ I also bloody well love the times when I mention feeling uncomfortable about stuff like this to other people and instead of bemused/blank or (oh fucking god help me) guilty and defensive looks I get the response of ‘YES! I know how you feel’. Those moments when I can safely acknowledge YES there is a system of privilege in operation and it adversely affects me.

But when looking for means of opening a wider discussion I approached one of the people I would like to invite to Beograd later in the year to speak on this. (Usually we aim for a balance of people from within the Balkans and those from outside the region who we think can bring in valuable experiences and ideas) it was he who raised the idea of ‘class complex’ - being able to consider class not as a rigid single issue but of something existing as a compound of factors (so in conjunction with issues of race/gender/freedom to cross borders and so on) and that is not static but complex and in movement.

His analysis of the current situation in the UK, particularly the attacks on education by the tories gave me much pause for thought – and I will give a rough paraphrase. It may not be news to you but it helped me to gain another perspective: ‘in the past there has been some idea of a situation of class equality, or class mobility coming about via education – that everyone will in effect become ‘middle class’ via an equal access to education and better jobs and so on because of that. In this current climate what the tories want and envisage is to reshape Britain as a manufacturing and exporting power, therefore there is a less of a need for educated white collar workers and more of a need for actual blue collar workers. The scraping of the supported education programme is part of a move to drive people into apprenticeships rather than higher education, to create a greater pool of working class.’

im very happy for people to chip in with better explanations of class complex and this snapshot analysis of tory 'vision'. what im trying to do is sketch out some ideas as a basis for our eventual project/discussion in Beograd.

For my next installment I want to write a little about how people survive, financially, from day to day. What kind of work we do both paid and unpaid and how we organise and sustain and ourselves to do this work.


  1. I've heard a lot of my friends talk about the same thing of crossing class lines and then having trouble with smug middle class people in posh or poncy settings.

    FWIW, I don't think the Tories want there to be a vibrant working class and I don't think there are going to be manufacturing jobs. I think they want people to work in the service industry and are happy to let all the unemployed people eat cake. They do want to shrink the middle class, but this doesn't mean they have any work or space for working class people.

  2. I tend to take a contextual/functional and Marxist approach to class, although I have different conclusions than Karl.

    Personally was brought up in a middle class family with the attendant expectations (eg tertiary education) but with my alienation from my family I was also alienated from my class. Went from blue collar worker to skilled labour and eventually to the middle class in the Public Service. My mental illness lead to a return to the blue collar proletariat for a while, whereas now I am firmly and happily entrenched in the lumpen proletariat (sickness benefit). And yet throughout my life, whatever class I find myself in, I have considered myself to be an anarchist and insurectionary, sometimes involved in reformism (I was a union delegate) but never as a replacement for direct action.

    Although I DO have a class analysis of society I follow Bakunin's analysis that it is not neccessarily the traditional "working class" that will make the revolution, especially not the proletariat of the developed world which has consciously turned to reformism to meet it's demands. The truly insurrectionary class is the lumpen proletariat and the disenfranchised proletariat, such as in developing countries and the "under employed", cause they truly have nothing to lose and everything to gain. I use the term insurrectionary rather than revolutionary quite deliberately; revolution indicates another turn of the wheel; insurrection a rising up.

    Many good insurrectionists have come from the middle or even upper classes (eg Oscar Wilde, Emma Goldman), because they have either been subjected to oppresion or because they saw it first hand, and many working class people are very reactionary (eg NAZIsm had a true working class basis, as have other fascist movements). I believe more in (enlightened) self-interest than class as an indicator of insurrectionary potential, and as an anarchist I believe that ANYBODY can participate in the insurrection, as long as they agree upon the goals...

    The analysis of the deskilling of labour under the Tories is very interestingand I wonder how many of those thagt voted for them realise what they are getting...