The demonization of the working class

By Owen Jones
Book Review Details
Author: Owen Jones
Publisher: Verso Press Ltd
Edition: 2011
Page Details
Section: Book Reviews =>
Subjects: Class, Modern History (Post World War II)
Posted: Modified:

The backdrop of this book is the social and economic transformation of society in Britain over the last 30 years overseen by the political management of Thatcher and Blair; characterised by the erosion of the British organised industrial working class, through the destruction of British industry. However the book is not concerned with looking at that class war (when competing fractions of the bourgeoisie fought a war to the death while uniting to attack the combativity of the proletariat across the whole country).

Jones represents the interests of the remnants of the bourgeois fraction that lost out in the period of struggle the book covers – a fraction that ties together and unites the (supposedly antagonistic but in reality mutual) interests of manufacturers and Organised Labour.

His programme (see the conclusion) is reindustriaHsation, more mines and more factories and more ‘meaningful’ work for everyone (ask your grandad about that shit kids!). With political power back in the hands of individuals who are sociologically from the ‘working class’ more Prescott less Blair.

It’s no surprise then that this book doesn’t try and draw lessons from the class struggle of the period he looks at or how it’s left the balance of power between us and them- it’s not a manual of class struggle it’s a sociology book. It focuses on Owen Jones’s interpretation of a cultural/ideological element of the class war in that period; what he sees as a campaign by the dominant bourgeois fractions to demonise and marginalise the working class in all aspects of popular culture.

He suggests that the aim of this (in his opinion successful) campaign has been to encourage proletarians to see themselves as ‘middle class’ while viewing anyone outside of or antagonistic to the values of this ‘midd.e class’ as being in an ‘underclass’ of ‘feral chav scum’.

Anyone who watches television or reads newspapers will recognise this phenomenon.

No class

As a bourgeois intellectual, Jones is only able to understand this world within a narrow and limited framework (he is only able to imagine worlds like this one; a world with classes where we all go to work). So the book doesn’t have a class analysis in the (historical) sense that we understand class.

It covers a period of defeat and retreat for the working class internationally that followed a generalised global revolt against work from the late sixties to the early seventies, Jones doesn’t refers to this context – it’s a revolt outside his understanding of history. In Owen’s world and throughout the book the working class is the victim of history not the maker of it – shit just happens to us we don’t make shit happen (that’s why according to this kind of perspective we need the Left to champion and defend us).

To Owen Jones we are angels not demons and we are certainly not proletarians, to him the working class is not a class at all at least not in the historical sense that we understand class: Classes do not simply exist in themselves as defined by production (the production of things and the re-production of society) classes can only exist and be defined by their mutual antagonism to each other and their mutually antagonistic interests. Those who want to destroy this society of work and private property and those who want to defend it.

Ideas /Ideology as a material force All bourgeois ideologies must (by definition) conceal the reality of two polarised and antagonistic classes. The confusion and division that these ideologies cause is a real material (class) force against us.

So it’s no surprise that the cultural campaign that Owen Jones describes both detracts attention from and disguises the fact that society continues to be drawn towards two opposing poles – as all proletarians become more and more impoverished at the expense of the bourgeois minority.

It promotes the idea that proletarians who see themselves as middle class have a different, separate and conflicting interest to those who don’t. In the same way (and for the same reasons that) bourgeois ideology on race, gender and sexuality promotes the idea that black and white proletarians, male and female proletarians and proletarians who fuck in different ways have different, separate and conflicting interests.

As classes do not simply exist in themselves by their relationship to the means of production, neither do they simply exist conceptually. Proletarians might identify with the idea of the middle class and describe themselves as middle class- but that doesn’t mean that the middle class exists as a class. It doesn’t, it exists as an idea, an ideology and an ideological force against us and our movement (communism). In the same way the ‘underclass’ doesn’t exist as a class, but as an idea. And there is of course nothing new or modern about these ideological divisions. The bourgeoisie has always used the idea (and fear of) an underclass to terrorise proletarians and instil labour discipline. Some proletarians have always been pushed to the margins of society some have always been forced to live outside the wages system; they are still proletarians. Owning vans, some tools or renting market stalls does not make them ‘petit bourgeoisie’.

Our response to this and all other bourgeois ideology is the same, to refute and fight against this shit and assert a real class analysis. The ‘middle class’ /’underclass’ dichotomy like all other sociology tries to make our class appear smaller than it is divided and weak and confuse us so we don’t recognise ourselves and if we can’t recognise ourselves we can’t recognise each other, we can’t see where we are and where we’re struggling. We can’t come together and fight together for our own class interest and only in doing this do we truly and historically become a class. The last class. To abolish classes and establish human community.

The book? It’s a sociology book. That’s it’s limit.

Chavs: the demonization of the working class

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