the final end of the working class in the UK: Corbyn and consciousness
in the 1970s capitalism became a global structural system. the ruling class became global too. the proletariate did not. in fact it ceased to exist in a boiling confusion of racist nationalism.
this disintegration of the working class into fractious divided localised fragments was completed and entrenched by the early 1980s. the working class had ceased to exist because workers, although they still inhabited exploited social positions, did not see any connexion or relationship between themselves. the workers of one place in that global system had only themselves as a cultural horizon and idea that they should share a consciousness with workers in other places (Taiwan, China, Africa, etc) was unthinkable. the advent of global capital c1970 and a global ruling class in by 1980 meant that the working class was defeated everywhere at the same time and then crushed out of existence.
class politics came to an end. as a result the parties of the political left all changed. all of them had to move to populist centrism with redistribution by stealth. Blairism being the best example of this new strategy.
without the reconstruction of the working class the parties of the left could not change. as this reconstitution had to be an at least international effort only forging closer relationships with other nations on social issues could get anywhere close to slipping through the cages of nationalist thought the workers of every place were trapped within.
this could not be done openly. it could not be admitted and acknowledged that the working class had ceased to exist and then gladly imprisoned itself within a nationalist cage because no one would ever want to believe that of themselves. the few occasions on which this most terrible open secret has slipped out have been disasters for the politcal left (eg Gordon Brown’s ‘bigoted woman’ problem) because the self-defeating nationalist workers could not abide that the political left had been forced to lie to them because of their collapse into asymmetric class relations. if one has once been part of a class discovering that one has been forced out of it is devastating.
the political right had already taken advantage of the collapse into asymmetric class relations to announce the non-existence of class itself (historians of the political right were very quick to adopt this absurdly anti-intellectual position). in which situation the political left could not acknowledge the disintegration and subsequent non-existence of the working class for fear of the common sense obliterating them entirely as class traitors and so forth.
the political left was forced into lying to the majority of its own constituency just to defend its place in the war of position. revolution was not and never had been possible in the major industrial nations because of the secure density of their civil society (even a state as pathetic as Italy was able to survive the crisis of 1917–1926 thanks to its civil society – fascism emerged from the matrix of Italian civil society). this raw force of civil society prevents any more radical stance by the political left especially now given the drag caused by the asymmetrical nationalism of the workers.
with no revolutionary alternative and without a secure class basis for their position the political left did they only thing it could. it clung on. it triangulated. it lied. it was just not in the gift of the political left to reconstitute the consciousness of the working class.
since the end of neoliberalism in the disaster if the 2008 the possibility of reconstituting the working class by, at first, building a substantial transnational class consciousness has receded. in the UK the total failure of the electorate to understand the situation of 2008–2010 lead to the ConDem government and the crisis of nationalisms (SNP/Yes, EVOL, UKIPs, Leave) which has brought the country to the point of apocalypse. part of the cause of that failure to understand and regression into conservative reaction and nationalist idiocy was exactly the non-existence of the working class. workers were too keen to support SNP, UKIPs, Tories, Leave because there had long been a majority of nationalist bigots amongst them.
Now, however, things are even worse. The class factions just outside the ruling class still retained a class consciousness. a international-global bas-bourgeoisie of professionals – the ‘dominated dominant’ of Bourdieu – retained a class consciousness because there cultural horizons were differently shaped by more years of formal education. this group could act as a lever for the political left to move politics a little bit in its direction but although they vote they are few in number and split up between liberal & left politics (Green, Centrist, Left) and their class consciousness leaves them committed to cosmopolitan internationalism. cosmopolitan internationalism that workers need but have now rejected (by voting Leave) or have had rejected for them by Jeremy Corbyn.
Corbyn’s unilateral triangulation with UKIP on 24th June has created a situation in the UK in which the fragmented déclassé workers are being cut away from the bas-bourgeoisie whom they have shared political interests with (the continuation of employment and women’s rights, the protection of the NHS and the education service, the non-disappearance of the university sector, etc). Further intensifying the political isolation and powerlessness of the workers.
Corbyn’s pro-Brexit position will not be supported by any still existing class faction because they will by definition be global in outlook. They could not have survived as even a class faction without that.
Now this cosmopolitan internationalism of the lower bourgeoisie was always a minor per of politics but it was something upon which the consciousness of the working class could have been grafted so that it might reappear. Now with this very group turning away from Corbyn’s Labour Party at the very moment the nationalist bigots are collapsing back into the Tories there is no hope of even the ghost of working class consciousness surviving. There is no one to provide the ‘directions for living’ a cosmopolitan internationalist life to the workers now that the last vaguely liberal-left class faction with that consciousness is turning its collective back on the Labour Party under Corbyn. Leaving the workers to be political represented by autarkic isolationists who have not understood the nature or scale of the problem and live in a nostalgic dream world of working class consciousness and political power. As though each was the Fred Kite of their own bathroom.
The lower bourgeoise are, of course, not alone in this flight from Corbyn but there is no doubt that beacuse of this flight Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party is the final nail in the coffin of the working class and that he really doesn’t seem to care. The autarkic isolationism that Corbyn stands for is an iron cage that will trap the working people of the U.K. within whatever mechanism of exploitation the post-Brexit right (& it will be a far right) wish to impose.
The class factions still committed to internationalist cosmopolitanism will take advantage of the continued fluidity of the ‘knowledge economy’ and just leave for the EU that so very many of them will be able to get passports for. The rest will be left behind to suffer the, horrific, consequences of Corbyn’s championing of autarkic isolationism.
Bauman Z, Liquid Times: Living in an Age of Uncertainty, Polity 2007.
Gauntlett D, Media, Gender and Identity:An Introduction, Routledge, 2008
Gramsci A, Selections from the Prison Notebooks, Lawrence and Wishart, 2005
Mann M, The Sources of Social Power, Vol1, Cambridge University Press, 1986.
I’m Alright Jack, Boulting et al, British Lion Films, 1959