E P Thompson - Paul Foot - Adam Curtis TV - John Pilger - George Orwell - W E Gladstone - Robert Bartlett TV - Warren Buffett - Karl Marx - F R Leavis - Eugene Debs - George Carlin - Victor Hugo - The Roman Empire TV - Virginia Woolf - Steve Brouwer - Pierre Beaumarchais - The Exterminating Angel 1962 - Albert Einstein - L P Hartley - Stafford Cripps - John Foster - Raymond Chandler - Oscar Wilde - Voltaire - Alan Bennett - William Sylvis - Horizon TV - Melvyn Bragg - William Beveridge - Housing Problems 1935 - Walter Greenwood - Gore Vidal - Albert Camus - Pamela Cox TV - Joseph Stalin - Alan Bleasdale TV - Noam Chomsky - Robert Tressell - They Made Me a Fugitive 1939 - Lord Acton - Patriot Games 1991 - Mark Thomas TV - John Healy - Plutocracy: Political Repression in the USA 2015 - Plutocracy II: Solidarity Forever 2016 - Plutocracy III: Class War 2017 - Geoff Norcott TV - How to Break into the Elite TV - How to Crack the Class Ceiling TV - Chris Hedges - Paul Krugman - Helen Mirren - Janina Ramirez TV - The British TV - Robert Bartlett TV -
And class happens when some men, as a result of common experiences (inherited or shared), feel and articulate the identity of their interests as between themselves, and as against other men whose interests are different from (and usually opposed to) theirs. The class experience is largely determined by the productive relations into which men are born – or enter involuntarily. Class-consciousness is the way in which these experiences are handled in cultural terms: embodied in traditions, value-systems, ideas, and institutional forms. If the experience appears as determined, class-consciousness does not. We can see a logic in the responses of similar occupational groups undergoing similar experiences, but we cannot predicate any law. Consciousness of class arises in the same way in different times and places, but never in just the same way. E P Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class
For thousands of years there have been oppressors and oppressed; rich and poor; powerful and weak; and through all that time the first group have robbed the second. During all that time, too, people at the bottom have dreamt of a world where there would be no oppression but where people would live in peace without being robbed. Most of these Utopias were in heaven. The few that ever existed on earth were always in isolation from the real world.
In feudal times, there was less than enough to go round: nothing like enough, for instance, to feed everyone. If anyone was to progress at all from the lowest form of human life, they had to turn themselves into rulers, seize the land and steal a surplus from the people who tilled it. Obviously they could not do this as individuals. They had to band together into classes, to pool their resources with others so that they could more effectively rob the majority, or go to war with other rulers in other parts of the world. Paul Foot, The Case for Socialism ch1, 1990
The market is driven not by reason or need, but by irrationality and greed. In each new burst of investment workers are taken on, and there is a short boom. When the investment is over, workers are laid off and more goods come on the market at prices they can’t afford. So there is a slump.
This switchback ride from boom to slump has been going on ever since the beginning of capitalism. For thirty years after the Second World War, capitalists started slapping each other on the backs and telling themselves they had overcome the tendency of their system to crisis. But since the mid-1970s the crises have returned with a vengeance. ibid. ch4
Great disparities of wealth in society, however, restrict freedoms every bit as much as restrictions on voting. Everyone is ‘free’ to send their children to private school, to have tea at the The Ritz, to gamble on the stock exchange. These ‘freedoms’ are defended far more vigorously than the freedom to vote, yet they are in fact restrictions on freedom. For every one person who can have tea at The Ritz, there are a hundred who cannot do so because they have not got the money. If 10 per cent can send their children to private school and secure for them a straight route back into the privileged class from which they came, 90 per cent cannot do so – are banned from doing so – because they cannot afford it.
Thus the ‘freedom’ handed out by capitalist society is more often than not the opposite of freedom. Yet the idea of freedom still prevails, because the prevailing ideas of any society are the ideas of the class which runs it.
So the people who fight against these ideas – whether in strikes, demonstrations, popular protests or just in argument – are always, or almost always, swimming against the stream. They are the minority. But this minority, unlike the passive majority, can involve other people far outside their immediate orbit. And once involved in struggle against the old society, people’s ideas can change decisively. ibid. ch6
The rise and fall of the ‘business cycle’, capitalism’s ‘booms and slumps’, do not wait to see which government is in office. They follow economic laws over which parliamentary laws have nothing but the remotest control. Governments can shell out money for the unemployed, but only enough to keep them worse off than the very lowest-paid of the employed. They can employ a few, train a few. But no government can alter the rules of a catastrophic economic system.
... The market and the struggle between classes which it creates lay down the priorities for society. If there is full employment, and the trade unions are strong, they fight for decent housing and welfare. This is just as likely to happen under a Tory government as under Labour. Houses, hospitals and schools then get built for the masses, because the employers and the moneylenders can afford them. But when capitalism is in crisis, the battle for every penny intensifies. Unemployment weakens the unions, and it is the employers who feel strong, militant and confident. ibid. ch6
The theme of this book is that fire down below. If society is to change in a socialist direction and if capitalism is to be replaced by socialism, the source of that change must be the fight against the exploitative society by the exploited people themselves. To knuckle down to the notion that changes can only come from the top is to accept the most debilitating and arrogant of all capitalist arguments: namely that there is at all times in human history a God-given elite, a few who are equipped to rule, while most people are not capable of government or politics and should count themselves lucky to have the occasional chance to choose which section of the elite should govern them.
This assumption of the rights of the few and the ignorance and inefficiency of the many is the hallmark of class rule through all our history. The reformer who believes that an educated elite in a parliament can change things for the masses, can – in the words of the Labour Party’s famous Clause Four – ‘secure for the workers ... the full fruits of their industry’ – is really playing the same game and making the same assumptions as the most bigoted class warrior. Both believe that whatever is right and wrong for most people can only be determined by the enlightened few. ibid.
This was the grand idea of the ‘representative democracy’ which first stirred in England in the revolution of the 17th century, and was taken up with much more force at the time of the French Revolution. Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man denounced all governments which were not chosen by the people. To the government of the day, which was chosen by a handful of brigands and courtiers, this was dangerous subversion, and Paine was sentenced to death for it. Similarly, when the Chartists in the late 1830s and 1840s demanded the vote as part of an organised working class movement of strikes and physical force, the rulers set their faces firmly against the proposal.
The idea of a representative democracy is essentially distasteful to a class of people who owe their wealth to the process of robbing the majority. Exploitation of the many by the few is the most hideously undemocratic process imaginable. How could the minority exploiters agree to a system where the majority can vote?
After the Chartists were beaten in open class warfare, the British ruling class, then the strongest and most cunning in the world, applied itself to this question. It was obviously impossible forever to resist the popular demand for the vote. Was it not possible, however, to concede the vote bit by bit, making sure that the concessions coincided with relative industrial peace, and above all making sure that as each new concession led to new governments, those governments could be constrained against any action which would threaten the wealth and power of the ruling class? So, for a hundred years (1867-1970) the vote was conceded piecemeal. Governments were elected of many different colours; but the real power, especially the economic power, stayed exactly where it was.
The result was that the representative system was deprived of the very essence of representation: the ability of the government to act in the interests of the people who voted for it. How was this done? By keeping tight in the clutches of the ruling class the areas in society where real decisions were made and acted upon. Industrialists who in a day could decide the real fate of thousands if not millions of workers were not affected by the elections. They remained in charge of their industries. So did the banks, which by a flick of the wrist could transfer billions of pounds and ‘bankrupt Britain’. The media moguls were free after the election as well as before it to blabber on incessantly about the Red Menace. Judges and civil servants gloried in the fact that they were not elected. Army officers and police chiefs were rarely threatened by a change of government, even when they were openly hostile to that government. All these people came from the same class. They had real power, and were prepared to use it to protect their class against any elected government. Thus the parliaments (which were quickly set up all over the world as soon as the success of the British experiment became obvious to other rulers) became, in Lenin’s phrase, ‘mere talking shops’. Paul Foot, article November 1991, ‘Will Labour Make a Difference?’
In Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution he discusses again and again the difference in tempo between the ponderous, predictable progress of social democratic politics – elections every so often; conferences every so often; meetings every so often, and everything hammered in to fit that timetable – and, on the other hand, the unpredictable but much more decisive pace of the struggle between the classes.
The conference/election cycle seems often the more powerful since it seems in a careful and rational way to gather together the entire force of the party or the union for a particular course of action.