by D. Hunter
Since I published Chav Solidarity, plenty of people have either asked me what I think constitutes middle class, or suggested that, in targeting middle class activists so much, I am being divisive. So, in the spirit of class unity and seeking to participate in the building of a strong revolutionary movement, I am no longer going to use the term middle class. From now on I am going to use the phrases class traitors or class treachery.
These terms will be used when anyone uses economic, social or cultural power solely to improve their own position at the expense of someone else within the working class. This includes exploiting racist, patriarchal, transphobic or ablest paradigms. Do this, and I’ll be calling you (and maybe myself) a patriarchal class traitor, racist class traitor, etc.
I’m doing this in the spirit of working class unity everyone seems to be gagging for. The definition of middle class appears to have become too vague and nebulous, too recuperated by the liberal discourse to be of any use to me. Instead, I’m going to work with the notion that all of us who are in the position where we have to sell our labour (or are excluded from doing so, due to the oppressive social system we live within) in order to ensure food and shelter – no matter how well financially rewarded – are part of the working class.
But those formerly middle class folk join working class folk who hoard their resources, engage and support practices and process which marginalise, dehumanise or exploit fellow members, and will now be referred to as class traitors. It’s likely that I’ll expand my definition at some point to include those who are not actively seeking out ways to collectivise their resources with other members of their class. But one thing at a time.
One of the motivations for doing this has been recently reconnecting with a lot of more academically formal approaches to evaluating class. I won’t name-check anyone or their work here, as, while there is much I find frustrating, there is undoubtedly much that has enriched my understanding. The stuff I’ve been re-reading has tended to stem from usually Marxist or Anarchist political traditions or Sociological work, primarily inspired by Max Weber or Pierre Bourdieu. All of these have in the past been incredibly useful as I’ve developed my own ideas and understandings; however, much of the writing I’ve been re-reading lately seems at it’s most content when it’s dealing with classification – the process of precisely identifying what characteristics make up a specific class of people, whether those characteristics are social, cultural or economic.
Is a plumber with his own company working class or not? What about an academic on a zero-hours contract? What if the plumber likes ballet or dog racing? Will the parents of the academic be leaving them £1,000 or £10,000 when they shuffle off their mortal coil? Do they live in London or Burnley?
These questions and others like them are supposed to lead us to conclusions about class position. Often a choice between “working class” and “middle class”, but more and more new categories are being suggested. Categories like the precariat, the lower-middle class, the upper-working class, and the footballer. And this is all interesting, and I’ve thought and spoken in these terms as well, but I’m left wondering whether they’re useful.
There is also the type of writing that aims to determine what the working class looks like in the 21st Century, and what the most significant and revolutionary segment of the working class is. In case you wonder, the answer is always, what ever segment the author is from (see my book Chav Solidarity for a cracking example of this).
I’m just not very interested in talking about categories, and definitions of those categories. It feels like just a way to avoid talking about what defines those categories. What capital do we have? What power do we have?
That’s not to suggest we do away with categorisation as a way of explaining what’s happening in front of us all. There are the capitalists, the 1-5%, the ruling class, and the owning class, and then there are those of who live underneath them. As far as names go, the working class will do as a way to describe us – everyone else, the have-nots.
And it’s not to suggest there aren’t staggering levels of inequality within the working class, an inequality that simply must be engaged with, possibly remedied before any kind of working class movement in the UK achieves anything. Those of us in the working class who have access to resources, whether directly through economic capital, or via the social and cultural capital we have accumulated, need to be putting it to use for the common good, not just so that we can have a slightly more physically comfortable life.
This direction I’m trying to shift my thinking in, places emphasis on how we choose to act, and how we choose to use the capital and the power we have. To be a full on class traitor you have to work really hard in making the same type of choices on a daily basis: a cop, a member of the armed forces, a UKIP member or Chelsea supporter are some examples. Yes, there maybe understandable reasons why you join those groups, the world’s a fucking complicated shit show, and the decisions can happen when you’re young and in a specific context. But you can learn and grow and then choose to quit betraying your class.
Most of the time, though, people will just betray their class once or twice a week – maybe more, maybe less. When I moved cities at the start of 2019, I didn’t make sure I touched base with all the young people I worked with before I left, just to make sure they knew how to get in touch with me if needed. Two are now in prison, which might well have happened whatever I did, but I didn’t continue to use my power and resources to impact their lives in the way I had previously, and had intended to do. Class Treachery. If you’re squatting with others, and they are have no other option, but you’re in the financial position to purchase a house, or some land, or provide long term security for yourself and them. Class Treachery. If you get nicked for your involvement in direct action, and you’re white and have social and cultural capital that affects how you are coded by the press and the courts. And are then financially, socially and culturally supported through the judicial system, without redirecting that support and the resources that come with it to Black and Asian youth, who are not coded in the same way – guess what? Class Treachery.
Pejoratively calling someone middle class, especially as I have done many, many times, can leave people feeling passive – what can they do about the circumstances they were born into? They can’t stop being from a middle class background, can they? But in calling someone’s actions class treachery, well, any passivity that follows it suggests that they don’t give a shit, that they are comfortable with their behaviour. That class solidarity is an irrelevance to them. This feels more useful. If all we see from those who stand alongside us in social movements that resist capitalism is class treachery, then there’s a good chance that we’re surrounded by class traitors.
I was in two minds about adding the prefixes of racist, patriarchal, ableist and transphobic to the class traitor moniker. These oppressions are so intrinsic to the capitalist system that any act which supports them is in itself an act of class treachery; however, as I’m only subject to one of these specific systems of oppression, I decided it was not my place to subsume them into my latest praxis and therefore run the risk of devaluing the different ways those systems function.
Maybe for some of you there has never been a middle class – you’ve clocked it as a rhetorical tool to break up solidarity within the working class. Well, as a rhetorical tool it worked. We are broken up, we have been stratified by the uneven financial, social and cultural bribes from capital that we each receive. And, as we seek to repair our class solidarity, we must find ways to collectivise what we have, so that no one is left behind as we take on the capitalist class in a fight for control of our lives.
The long and the short of it is that in the name of class unity, I’ll be thinking some of you are class traitors from now on. I, of course, welcome any criticisms regarding my new approach to life, as I try to refine it.
D. Hunter is the author of Chav Solidarity.
Photography by Kelly O’Brien.
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