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The Forum > Article Comments > Re-affirming the politics of class > Comments

Re-affirming the politics of class : Comments

By Tristan Ewins, published 7/6/2007

Surely those on the Left must be considering their options in the face of Laborís lurch to the Right.

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It's hard to say how you can talk seriously about 'the working class' after 10 years of Howard. It assumes there is still some mysterious 'class consciousness' out there that binds certain income groups together, when the experience of the past decade is that most people, if anything, see themselves as 'middle class'.

In reality, the class analysis of traditional Marx-inspired socialists is redundant. It makes suppositions about shared ideologies that simply do not exist. The old left-right distinctions also don't work anymore.

I think the old left needs a new vocabulary that doesn't involve
class warfare rhetoric. It would do better if it saw the conflict as a cultural one - a conflict pitting the corporatisation of every aspect of our lives against communal, non-material imperatives.

That, for me, was what Rudd expressed so eloquently in his article in The Monthly - the realisation that the conservatives have gradually enclosed the commons of our lives and defined everything in their terms, including religion.

But if you go flying the red flag and speaking about the evils of global capitalism, you will be cutting your throat before the race even begins.
Posted by Mr Denmore, Thursday, 7 June 2007 9:24:46 AM
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You make some interesting points.

I consider myself a bleeding heart lefty. I believe we should focus more on community than the individual and we should aim for equality and environmental sustainability.

Having said that, I've spent a fair amount of time around the socialists at uni and they drive me crazy, half of them don't have an opinion of their own. They merely regurgitate what others have said. They criticize both major parties and offer no realistic alternative.

What you said about cutting ones throat before the race begins i can definitely relate to. I as soon as i start talking to people who aren't inline with my viewpoint, they label my in their mind and have no ability to take an objective view of what I'm saying.

With regard to the class warfare - I think we have so much material wealth these days that we all live like kings in comparison to previous generations. Despite this people are seem to be trying to move up in class and live beyond their means via personal debt, which is frightening. It seems people would rather strive for material wealth than value the other things in life.

Do you have a link to that article by Rudd?

-Petroz
Posted by Petroz, Thursday, 7 June 2007 9:58:29 AM
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Petroz, here is a link to the Rudd article in The Monthly. It's highly recommended:

http://www.themonthly.com.au/excerpts/issue17_excerpt_001.html
Posted by Mr Denmore, Thursday, 7 June 2007 10:03:07 AM
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Tristan,

Rudd and Gillard have done a much better job on the Union Movement than Howard ever could.

But they have left the door open for those Unions who are smart enough to change their ways, to increase their membership.

When engaging in an EBA.
1. That members always ask to be represented by their Union.
2. That the Union always request a copy of the company's Business Plan.
3. Ensure that the outcome means a Win for the Employer, the Employee and the Nation.
4. Those who are non members and wish the Union to represent them must pay a fee equal to the Annual Membership.
5. That gains made only apply to those represented by the Union.

If we remain stubborn than the Union movement will face extinction within the Labor Movement. Remember there are elements who would rejoice if that were to happen.

Don't let Peter Lalor efforts stand for nothing.
Posted by southerner, Thursday, 7 June 2007 10:20:44 AM
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Tristan, thanks for the article.

The Marxist critique of capitalist economics remains powerful and as we know, shares a great number of key assumptions with Adam Smith and others whose legacies are less politically problematic.

One wonders though, whether class consciousness is really possible in the absence of material deprivation, which is something simply not currently being experienced in any meaningful sense by something like 80% of the Australian population. This is not to be accepting of those being left behind, but to recognise the essential point made by Hamilton, McKnight and others of late, that the working class project has - in a material sense at least and for the historical moment - been achieved.

Yet in another sense of course, 'our' working class is expanding on a vast scale and is being treated worse than ever: it is just that they live in China, Vietnam and so on. 'Our' working class is overseas.
Posted by Gazza2121, Thursday, 7 June 2007 10:42:21 AM
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Again, terms like "the language of class water" muddy the waters: progressives need still to make workers aware of their collective condition and interests.

Workers still have little input into the public sphere, and the media is overwhelmingly controlled by monopoly interests.

Under Howard, from 1999-2007, the wage share of the economy has fallen from 70.3% to 66%. Why does this receive virtually no attention, and if workers do not have a collective interest here, what else?

Something like 90% of shares are still help by 20% of the population, while the lowest 50% own only about 1%. Capital is still overwhelmingly in the hands of a distinctively capitalist class.

Most of us have material living standards that go behind previous deprivation. But there are still issues that could bind most working Australians together. Neglect of public schooling, and the public-private schooling divide. Some are on waiting lists 3 years for 'elective' surgery while living in constant pain. Howard's IR laws have attacked organised labour and undermined wages and conditions.

Nevertheless, it's true that class consciousness is in decline: along with traditional working class culture and identity. If there is to be a new class consciousness, it will focus around not only wages and conditions and lack of democratic control of industry and media, but also collective access to social services. It will also be a 'civic consciousness' - which connects with the plight of the poor and the marginal, and seeks to extend services, income (through welfare and IR regulation) and recognition; and which can conceptualise issues such as the need for media diversification and accessible education.

Class identity and consciousness still exists, but the class struggle imagined by Marx has passed its high point, and may not be able to be revived in the immediate future in the wealthy countries. But as one reader recognised, a working class with clear interests is rising in the developing world. The benefit of my politics is that I'm a voluntaristst and not a materialist: and that it's still possible to fight back.
Posted by Tristan Ewins, Thursday, 7 June 2007 12:04:26 PM
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