Review of The enemy is middle class by Andy Anderson

A review of "The Enemy is Middle Class" by Andy and Mark Anderson from Black Flag magazine.

INNOCENT BYSTANDERS?

THE ENEMY IS MIDDLE CLASS-ANDY ANDERSON AND MARK ANDERSON
(OPENLY CLASSIST PUBLICATIONS)

Andy Anderson's big idea is that "there are two classes in this country, this society, and two only. One dominates the other in every aspect of their lives. This dominated class is the working class. It will therefore be shown that the real enemy of working class people-the enemy that keeps them suppressed-is not capitalism, not the State, not the never defined "Ruling Class", but this dominating class, the middle class." His conclusions have been roundly dismissed by everyone from the (unlamented) Anarchist Workers Group to Class War. This review also will reject Anderson's central contention - it is, though, nevertheless the case that in doing so it has to be conceded that Anderson scores a few direct hits along the way.

The first problem is that Anderson says that he intends to "explain more clearly... what reason shows to be true" and then does no such thing,relying instead on assertions about class structure and hierarchy without substantiating any of it. The end result is that the "never defined "Ruling Class"" is replaced by an equally ill defined middle class. At no point does Anderson offer up a definition of the "middle class" or, crucially,their relation to the means of production.We are told that "Our failure to recognize our true enemy is the reason why today we are no nearer to our emancipation-to freeing ourselves- than ever we were"-but are offered no theoretical tools to help us in this task. Instead,we are are left with the assertion that "It is quite easy to see the great majority of the middle class for what they are." (Obviously not-otherwise we would be "nearer to our emancipation " than we actually are!)

We are told that there is no middle class in the accepted "leftist" sense-that the middle class are in effect the ruling class, but that "it ought to be obvious that-inevitably in a class divided society-there can be no clear cut line between working class and middle class. A few people do move from one class to another; this "area" is what the "sociologists" refer to as the "blurring of class lines."" -It is a remarkable "blurring" which allows working class people to move up to the ruling class,and members of the ruling class to slip down into the working class. A ruling class so fragile and unboundaried-it makes you wonder how it has survived so long!!

Later in the same section of the book, "Working Class or Middle Class?" ,Anderson tells us
"Income is a fair indication of class in many cases,but there are some where income alone is not; teachers,the vast majority of whom are middle class,have a smaller income than some working class people in other occupations; there are of course other indications: education, background,parents, life style, the way they speak, accent.. Any way, if you've still got the problem; if the conditioning to see class as either irrelevant or unimportant has still got its grip on you, well don't worry about it... The question only arises when a working class group devoted solely to the "emancipation " of our class is being formed... And if, at the time of such a formation, the class of someone who wants to join can't be decided, you could reasonably give her/him the benefit of the doubt, that is call her/him working class at least until it should ever become obvious that this is not so, then get rid of them."

So -it's vital to know your enemy,but it's not easy to always tell - so give them the benefit of the doubt if they say they're on your side!! Ah - the precision of science - don't you just love it? This is,obviously,complete gibberish. The reason Anderson ends up in such a mess is because his central premise is entirely wrong, and he ties himself in knots as a result.

Way back in 1964,in his (excellent) pamphlet, Hungary '56, Anderson quoted Marx favourably, as follows: "The emancipation of the workers contains universal human emancipation - and it contains this because the whole of human servitude is involved in the relation of the worker to production. Every relation of servitude is but a modification and consequence of this relation." Now, Anderson rejects all this, in part because Marx was himself "middle class." This is a pity, because it helps us far more in defining class roles than his present politics. The working class have no stake in the capitalist mode of production. The ruling class own the means of production. For the middle class to be the "ruling class" they would have to have some hold on the means of production. It defies all logic to suggest that a poorly paid teacher in a run down school in Poplar has the same stake in the survival of capitalism as, say, Richard Branson. Anderson's thesis conflates those who own and control the means of production with those who administer it and carry out repression on the ruling class's behalf. To recognise the existence of the middle class is not to imply it has a progressive role in the battle between capital and labour. The development of fascism in Germany and Italy in the 30s teaches us a different lesson. The middle class is like a frightened rabbit caught between two more powerful contenders. It will run with whichever appears the stronger force.

Again, in '64, Anderson argued "For years to come all important questions for revolutionaries will boil down to simple queries... Are you for or against workers management of production? Are you for or against the rule of the Workers Councils?" Anderson's new positions muddy the waters in this regard. If the revolutionary task of the working class is to take control of the means of production this has to imply the suppression of those who currently own the means of production - and a successful revolutionary strategy will be organised around this aim. If bosses are confused with their agents then the class war can be reduced to nothing more than a classroom rebellion; winding up the middle classes. In our day to day lives we are policed by the middle classes - probation officers and social workers, for instance, and part of our survival as a class will be through resistance to this policing process. The logic of Anderson's position, though, is to confuse defensive revolts with a wider struggle against capital. The end result of this is fairly clearly where some elements of Class War came unstuck-throwing rocks and cheering the odd battered copper come to pass for revolutionary politics. Just as importantly, calling everyone who carries out a policing function on behalf of the ruling class "middle class" lets off the hook the traitors in our own ranks - some front line local authority housing staff and DSS workers can be amongst the most hostile to other working class people - yet by all of the criteria set down by Anderson -income, background etc - they are clearly of our class - and traitors to it. Far easier to call them "middle class" than address the need to deal with our own divisions honestly (and harshly)!! Equally, large numbers of working class people have accessed a consumer oriented lifestyle which, a generation ago - would have been accessible only to the middle classes - with regard to videos, home ownership, foreign holidays, children staying on at school etc - yet their relation to the means of production - and their consequent exploitation - have remained unchanged. For all Anderson rails against "sociology", his definitions of class are entirely sociological and completely divorced from analyses of ownership and control of production.

It is, however, possible to agree with some of Anderson's conclusions without accepting the logic of his central argument. The book has valuable passages detailing the use of credit to ensnare working class people as a means of social control, sale of council houses as a means of fostering divisions within working class communities, education as the instillation of "obedience", and a celebration of the '81 riots as working class resistance. Moreover, Anderson's most useful conclusion is the one most vociferously condemned by his usual critics (for obvious reasons). If the emancipation of the working class is the task of the working class themselves, then it follows that working class organisation should be the property of the working class itself and that organisations which speak in the name of our class but which are dominated by middle class members have failed in their self selected task. "We must put no reliance whatever of any kind of middle class people helping us to break out of the prison." The end result of the abandonment of this position by supposed "workers" organisations -whether Trotskyist or anarchist - has been the effective abandonment of working class areas to either the parties of the status quo or of the far right, while the constituency of the "left" has become the campus or the Labour Party branch meeting. It is not to decry the efforts of sincere middle class militants (Anderson thinks they don't exist-I disagree) to acknowledge that a politics which has at its core the self emancipation of the working class has run aground if its membership and audience are predominantly middle class. It does not flow from this either that Anderson's redefinition of class roles is correct - the centrality of the working class to the revolutionary project is based on our class's role within the production processes of capital, and whether we accept the middle class as caught between capital and labour or see it as the "ruling class" makes no difference in this regard - if working class people are to bring about the end of class society, we have to control our own organisations to do so.

Anderson's book is wrong, but it is challenging, and at least Anderson is passionate about the history and traditions of the working class (as he says, "Look back with pride-and anger!). It's also a fair bet that most of those who usually slag him do so because they feel a bit caught out!!

Posted By

martinh
Oct 1 2006 18:41

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JoeMaguire
Jan 1 2012 09:57

That's a good balanced review of the nuisances of the book.

I thought the second half, 'Why the Revolutionaries Have Failed' said a good many things about the obscure language and meanings employed by libertarian groups, but, the book fell foul of not defining what it meant by the working class, and has you say lumping those who "administer it and carry out repression on the ruling class's behalf" into the ranks of the middle class.