- Created: Friday, 05 April 2013 16:00
- Last Updated: Monday, 01 May 2017 09:08
- Published: Friday, 05 April 2013 16:00
- Written by Colin Sumner
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Eeh, bah gum, it's great to be back in the UK for a brief Easter break after working my socks off in austere Ireland for the last few months; back to the Victorian class war that poses as a modern society. Whatever happened to that ludicrous notion, held only by sociologists of course, that we had entered postmodernity? Well, maybe they had a point: the nature of internet publishing is such that I can now, several days later than the original, add a paragraph at the end on Thatcher who has just died, rounding off my picture of the week to an exact T. Your CrimeTalk editor, in touch with the zeitgeist, working for you....
Iain Duncan-Smith, the multimillionaire liberal idiot wing of the multimillionaire Tory party, declared that people can get by on £53 a week, whilst £200,000-a-week Carlos Tevez, the multimillionaire ghetto idiot wing of the multi-billion pound Premiership soccer league, gets a £1000 fine, community service and a 6-month ban for a batch of driving offences which if I, as a poor idiot United-supporting sociologist, had committed would have led to a £4 million fine, a year in prison, excommunication from churches I don't even belong to, public mutilation, my car being scrapped and transportation to North Korea.
So the class war is alive and kicking; back 'home' in my comfort-zone of shameless class cultures - what you might call the de-spiritualized zone between Ireland and France. In Ireland, quite a few people are committing suicide, especially men, and many youngsters are emigrating, with urban unemployment around 20% and national at 14%, but in England we are protected from the dangers of shattered expectations by being repeatedly reminded that it makes no sense to have any hope unless you are a millionaire. Ireland seems to breed optimism: 'sure it'll be grand' seems like a pervasive cultural matrix and compares well with our 'sure it'll be shit'. Ireland's aphorism at least inclines towards a friendly, albeit surprisingly authoritarian, conformism in the comfort that the new Pope will sort it.
Having little cultural and social capital is actually OK, providing you don't expect it to make a blind bit of difference to the barbarism of the British class system. You can tune out, find your own vibe and just live, which is just about possible if you can deploy one of many ways of not actually paying for things [benefit claims, identity theft, drug deals, investment banking, a political career, inherited wealth, grow your own, join the share-net culture, get everything free from Don't Dump That, etc etc] and don't want to watch Premiership football. That's why we've not had any serious rioting since, errr, the summer before last.......
So it was no surprise to hear that the Tories were considering cutting benefits up North - where the unemployed actually are and whose teams sit atop the Premiership. Well, there'd be no point in cutting them in the South-East, would there? Anyway, how would you cut the benefits of running a bank: the knighthood, the multi-million pound salary, the second and third homes, the island in the Caribbean, the membership of the House of Lords, the golf club, the moat with its duck house, the maid, and of course the bloated pension fund. Technically quite difficult, that one. It might involve chivvying one's chums instead of those awful 'chavs', what, old boy?
But it was tragic to read about the death of the young film-maker, wanting to apply for an investigative journalism course by making a realistic film about the homeless and 'sleeping rough' on the streets of a very cold Newcastle. He froze to death after 3 days. You see Mr Duncan Smith, the poor have to learn how to survive, it doesn't come easy; not like being a rich fool. Class has material consequences and that is not changed by having social and cultural capital. The latter might increase your status but they do not change your class - it is your class that gives you your social and cultural capital, and you have to take it from there. You can give young footballers £100,000 a week but they will just buy fast cars and commit an amazing number of driving offences, that is, when they've stopped drinking and shagging everything that moves. OK, Georgie was my idol as a teenager on the Stretford End....
To top it all off, this orgy of ludicrousness, some esteemed sociologists this week came up with a new classification of social classes which seems to leave Rupert Murdoch, who may still own a lot of our media but has absolutely no cultural capital over here any more if indeed he has an address here, in a lower social class than some middle-class law graduate with 400 'friends' on Facebook and a lot of hobbies.
What class are you? [The Guardian]
Of course, the newly redundant wrote in to deny being correctly allocated in the elite and leading sociologists of class made the obvious point that by deriving class from its symptoms all that is achieved is confusion and deception, at least amongst the "new affluent workers" and the "precariat" who have yet to recognize themselves in their new non-designer labels. Of course, the 'established middle-class' always identified with the workers with their denims and scruffy look.
Little solidarity over the question of class [The Guardian]
So I truly despair, and will return to the emerald isle next week refreshed with enthusiasm as a member of the well-established, semi-affluent, semi-technical and forever non-emergent precariat, that unholy mix of the proletariat and the precarious but as the 1 in 30 who got a university education and the 1 in 10 million who somehow became a Cambridge don. Having observed Tevez and Iain Duncan Smith this week, I can honestly say that the deepest truth about class, even above the fact that it is governed by your position in the political economy, is that class is permanent and form merely temporary. Just look at George Osbourne, the hapless Chancellor of the Exchequer, trying to suggest that a man who killed 6 of his children illustrated the evil of the culture of welfare dependency, as if Mick Philpott could be typical of anything.
Or as journalist Paul Routledge put it: "The rich and powerful, and employers with the ability to sack you, are in a different league. They're on the other side, always have been, always will be. They want to control and exploit. That's the real class issue, not your music tastes or TV viewing habits" (5 April 2013, "No such thing as class? That's rich", Daily Mirror).
And then the Iron Lady died yesterday. Margaret Thatcher, the woman who single-handedly turned the clocks back in Britain a hundred years, making a mockery of British Summer Time.The Nation put its assessment this way:
She was a proper woman, one who toughened and widened the power of the state whilst advancing rampant privatisation and declaring the subservience of the state to the power of the free market, thus ensuring right up to today that there was nothing that couldn't be shopped for, nothing that couldn't be sold, nothing that couldn't be turned into a commodity and that even public office was an opportunity to capitalise on one's good fortune. No wonder Barack Obama tweeted that she proved to women that there was no glass ceiling that couldn't be broken! After Thatcher's destructive periods of office, there wasn't much that wasn't broken. Still, despite the aggressive selfishness, the oh-so-LIncolnshire mean-spiritedness and rural short-sightedness, she only turned the clocks back a hundred years and failed in her real target of around 600 years, when she might have created a world without any society, any social aspiration or any forms of association bigger than the family. We can turn them forward again and recreate the forms of association, new forms of manufacture and energy, the democratic political organizations of ordinary people and an idea of a society worth the name.
The real question we stil have to answer directly, and then act upon, is why did we give her so much power? No one can blame the ruling classes for choosing their own class warrior to lead them to their idea of the promised land. But we can ask why so many working-class people thought and still think that Thatcherite views make sense and even worse would actually work as functional political ideology. Until socialistic political organizations work that one out we will remain in a Thatcherite period of British politics where all the leaders of the major political parties are actually Thatcherite and openly so. The mass of working people need to grasp that:
1] The welfare state was always created in exchange for the lives of millions killed 1939-45 and was never understood as a business or profit-making proposition; all public sector enterprises have to do is to deliver quality services and break even. It is the task of capital to make profit and accumulate.
2] Class still rules in all societies, not just Britain, and that, just because we are not ready for socialism does not mean that we should not regulate and keep a very close eye on the profiteering of our own ruling classes and their capitalistic enterprises.
3] There is no free ride for anyone and neither personal nor social development will come through cheating, bullying, idling, stealing or exploiting on either a local, national or international scale. The entrepreneurial capitalism so encouraged by Thatcher has not yet served its historic role to advance the means of production to a point where no more profit is possible. So let us welcome globalization and immigration as potentially advancing social production, human well-being and the wealth of nations, whilst rejecting all forms of parasitism and crime yet embracing a forgiving inclusiveness towards all those who find the whole thing impossible, heart-breaking, confusing and bewildering.
I remain more Groucho than Karl, more Lennon than Lenin. Let's now get our heads straight and have some imagination, but not join the club that will have us.