The need for class politics

15 Mar, 2019 at 19:13 | Posted in Politics & Society | 6 Comments

The Marxian idea of class does matter. For one thing, it is an objective fact that millions of people live lives of poverty, unfreedom and insecurity because they lack access to capital.

0*LU4hw4S7RjzIlsmgAnd for another, it does help explain the popularity of Corbynism among the so-called “middle-class”: at the last election, 35% of “ABs” voted Labour. Many people even in erstwhile good professions have no hope of owning property and face stress and domination from their managerialist overlords. The harm caused by class division extends far up the income ladder. Even quite posh people are working class – however many avocados they eat – and many of them vote accordingly.

You might argue that if so many people are working class then the definition is useless. Far from it. The fact that they are vindicates Marx’s claim that “the lower strata of the middle class sink gradually into the proletariat.” It also means that class makes for a less divisive type of politics. Whilst identity politics risks splitting us into countless hostile groups – made more bitter because they are personalized – class politics can unite most of us. And it can do so in a more humane way. Class is a matter of social structure, not of goodies against baddies. This should take personalities out of political discourse and so permit more sober analysis. I know it is an odd thing to say given the historical record, but Marxism has the potential to be a more civilized type of politics than we currently have.

Stumbling and Mumbling


  1. From A Study of History, Chapter V: The Disintegrations of Civilizations. Page 365:

    … we have found already that the ultimate criterion and the fundamental cause of the breakdowns which precede disintegrations is an outbreak of internal discords …

    … [T]he horizontal schism of a society along lines of class is not only peculiar to civilizations [as opposed to primitive societies, say] but is also a phenomenon which appears at the moment of their breakdowns and which is a distinctive mark of the periods of breakdown and disintegration, by contrast with its absence during the phases of genesis and growth.

    PS: The cycle of civilization is one gigantic business cycle.

  2. “…but Marxism has the potential to be a more civilized type of politics than we currently have.”
    It might have the potential but history seems to show otherwise. Any regime approximating a Marxist one has been either, brutal, murderous, totalitarian, corrupt or inept or all of those things.

    • “Any regime approximating a Marxist one has been either, brutal, murderous, totalitarian, corrupt or inept or all of those things.”

      I don’t think it is quite as simple as that Henry. Stay away from the red and the blue. For a one time reorganisation of resources, Marxist systems has achieved a lot for countries that faced no chance of getting on the growth curve. Although neo-liberals like to argue that market liberalisation was responsible for China’s growth, a Sinologist would tell you how vital a closed economic system that focussed on the grass root level development (was well as being a top down command system – a contradiction? – you will have to read it to understand) achieved the foundations of its industrialisation. Without these prerequisite conditions being achieved first, China would have almost certainly done very differently once it opened up to globalisation. Sinologists have known the importance of the Marxist system’s contribution since at least the 90s – and for them it is uncontroversial, but historians in economic departments are perhaps only beginning to become aware of it. Marxist style land and other resource ownership redistribution is also very important for understanding Japanese industrialisation.

      This is another case of people having to stay away from models and look at the complete picture – I am not accusing you of this, but rather those who see models and neo-classical theory when they look at the real world and miss the most important things, drawing distorted conclusions.

      • “I don’t think it is quite as simple as that..”

        Perhaps not. But I would argue that most of my characterizations of historical Marxist states apply to China.

        Would you not agree that China’s road to development has been long and arduous but also tumultuous? It has cost millions upon millions of lives. It has cost the freedom of its peoples. Look at the way it treats the Uighers, the Tibetans.
        Would you not agree that China is a totalitarian state and looks like being so into the future? (I would say it is a fascist state – it marries total state control with mega private business interests.)

        Western democracy and capiltalism may not be perfect – I would say they preferable.

  3. You are right. And I agree with your last sentence (although I prefer not to always put democracy and capitalism together; you can have socialism and democracy; you can have totalitarianism and capitalism – and have had.) The mixing of capitalism and democracy is based on classical liberal notions of individual freedoms, which they use an argument for free markets. This is something the neo-liberals took up with a vengeance.

    However, as ugly as the story of China and Japan’s industrialisation could sometimes be, they arguably also got a lot of things right. China also did not end up like Russia after the end of the communist period because they did not submit to Jeffrey Sachs/IMF prescription led ‘shock therapy’ treatment. They kept a lot of the former socialist command system intact. (Although Sachs is doing good things now.)

    It is important to understand why some countries have made it and others didn’t. Understanding the role of the closed command systems in places like Japan and China is how we do that. Important in these policies, for example, were policies that empowered village level production through land reforms. Policies to build up an important substitution structure (and yes that was definitely their policy) to some extent started here. They were also in some respects democratic, in that there was a high level of worker level representation that was fed through a decentralised structure to the very top.

    From my own experience, the first thing you need to do to start understanding what happened in such countries is to put all the economic theory you learned away; it is more unhelpful than it is helpful. The late, and great, Alice Amsden (one of the few Anglo Saxon economists to properly look at what went on), who in particular looked at South Korea, argued that key to its success, was that it “got prices wrong”.

  4. The Marxian idea of class does not matter. For one thing, it is an subjective form to put fight between dominated peoples counter England. in Marx times, England domination causes that millions of people live lives of poverty, unfreedom and insecurity because England domination prive all peoples from to have Manufacture. The first thing that England domination in India was to eliminate production of textiles, and India fall in misery to become that is to day. Marx suffer of “Stockholm syndrome” and repeat thesis of David Ricardo devoted to hide England domination rol in world misery.

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