4 Social Protest and a New Class

Submitted by Juan Conatz on December 22, 2010

The appalling progress and prospects of the Destruction State, the increased powerlessness of the individual, and the increased meaninglessness of party or established beliefs held all over the world, gave an enormous impetus to social protest. It was a secular revolution against the neo-Churches. It began on well-worn anti-militarist lines, if with some imaginative overtones, but nevertheless tended to follow certain patterns of the class struggle. This was against the expectations of some of those who, like many radical leaders, think that to run a little ahead of the crowd is to lead it.

The general climate of social protest was a revival of militant liberalism. Political liberalism was institutionalised and dead, and in the new form the old radicalism walked again on earth. It developed ideas and gimmicks anticipated even by the Suffragettes, but moved further on in face of the accepted irrelevance of protest as such. Protest had become a ritual part of the scene, officially tolerated and even encouraged within limits. But when it had gone beyond those limits, police defence of the status quo, in some countries reaching the point of brutal social conquest, which is the nature of the State, had sharpened the teeth of protest. The Dutch Provos, perceiving this, had the idea of deliberately provoking the State to do so, and show its true nature.

It was natural that anarchists would be among those militant in the protest movement, since demonstrations on the streets against the State, like strike action, must weaken the sequence of command-and-obey. It would not have been illogical for the revolutionary anarchist otherwise to have taken the stand of a few sectarian Marxists who stated that such a movement was irrelevant to social change and should be ignored. As it happened, the anarchists were usually the main targets for police attack because they included the most militant protesters, and conversely, the anarchist banners rallied the most militant protesters because there the police attack would be strongest. So anarchism has appeared to many, solely on the street level without consideration of other factors, the most aggressive form of dissension. This might be so, but the conclusion, that the most aggressive form of dissension must therefore be anarchism, was quite false, though it was assumed to be true by many going forward from CND (xxxi).

Hence the confusion, amusing or irritating to the revolutionary anarchist according to temperament, that militant liberalism and anarchism are the same thing. The former sometimes assumes the name of anarchism, at least with the dilutive hyphenation pacifist-anarchism. That is not to say that a person professing the pacifist creed could not be an anarchist, or vice versa;1 but the hybrid, pacifist-anarchism, certainly as expounded by the fakirs of Peace News, is so patently militant liberalism as to make it difficult for Young Liberals to tell the difference.

Perhaps militant liberalism may be included under the umbrella of the libertarian movement. The definition has become somewhat wide in the last few years. It is an abuse of words, however, to call it anarchist, however it may label itself. It cannot comprehend a means of social change, short of an appeal to the rich to give up their possessions, as advocated by Vinoba Bhave and the Gramdan movement in India and lauded by the orthodox peace movement. Even those who believe in many-handed gods and are afraid when the lizard croaks, find it hard to believe this is possible.

The limitations of the protest movement, and of all militant liberalism however radical and libertarian it might become and however advanced it has developed in the United States, rest on its inability to comprehend the class struggle, without the recognition of which social change is not possible. It may try to justify itself by criticising "outmoded conceptions" which were never in mode except by way of hyperbole rather than analysis (for instance, by denouncing the Kingsleyan-type messianism and attributing it to "Marx and Bakunin").

This advanced liberal thesis, masquerading as pacifist-anarchism, has attracted a substantial section of a generation of radicals. And further, in Hegelian terms, this thesis put forward by those coming from a middle-class background, has confronted its antithesis, the "fascism" of their parents which springs from a paranoiac fear of state communism. This basic fascism, of the primitive Mussolinian type, is a sort of homoeopathic remedy for state communism, which leads them to advocate its measures.

Thesis and antithesis call into being a synthesis which is seen in the "situationist" movement in particular, and in the hippie movement and variations upon its theme. Understanding this enables us to dispense with reliance on the "generation gap" beloved by journalists. In the various splits and counter-splits of, the situationists, in the American-inspired hippie movement, the old jazz-'n'-drugs scene, the International Times and its esoteric successors and competitors, the antithesis is worked out. There is a contempt for the "masses" -- "Alfs" is the word given by the magazine "Oz" -- for the squares, prollies, lumps -- mingled with peace-movement gimmicks to wake up the bourgeoisie (but directed at them all the same). The vanguard of social progress becomes educated youth, the students, the "provotariat". The natural elite of society is "the beautiful people". Society is despised for itself and not for its accepted values. There is a cult of death, manifest in an addiction for the hard stuff and in the way such movements move on to Eastern mysticism and the cults that produce Books of the Dead. The way to change society is to go off on trips to the astral plane by way of narcotics, so that everything becomes ideal while remaining exactly the same (liberal reformism in a new guise?).

Alternatively, though in essence similarly, there is the idea of self-responsibility, the pretensions to curb individual aggressiveness, or the creation of outlets for frustrated youth to enable it to adjust to society. Voluntary social welfare is taken to be social revolution. Do-goodism adopts a swinging image -- first-aid for junkies, meth-drinkers and vagrants -- and inspires, for instance, the "Catholic Worker" movement with its Romanist charity obsession (that was guyed in Buñuel's Viridiana), with the tramp-glorification of American individualism ("Hallelujah, I'm a bum!") and this has gone round the scene in various guises.

Nevertheless, this is not to criticise any or all of these too severely, at least not as long as they understand their unimportance (which so few of us do). It is certainly not to join in the petty bourgeois disapproval of them for their shock value. Anything will shock the petty-minded, from a variation in hair-styles to the use of narcotics not hallowed by commercial exploitation nor legal sanction.

"Dropping out", the slogan of the hippie movement, is fine, whether one thinks of it as ignoring the rat race, or in terms of a community of neo-Diggers, Utopian socialists, or saints in a co-operative farm; or, for a sufficiently well-heeled Thoreau (xxxiii), in the rustic delights of a cottage by the sea. The week-end hippie, who drops out when he is not working in the bank, is no more to be derided than the vacation yachtsman, a son of the sea when he is not calculating actuarial statistics on life expectancy.

There have been some well-intentioned radicals who have told us that if we wish neither to be exploited nor to exploit others, we should be window-cleaners or sell hot dogs. The point of view is a vocational hazard of individualism. It is an idealisation, such as it is, of what happens to the formerly independent craftsman. People with the cash availability may equally think in terms of owning their own desert island and getting away from the wicked world. It is all very true, but has nothing to do with social change which is dependent upon economic liberation.

If national liberation has been said to be a good breakfast but a poor, supper, militant liberalism is a good mid-morning snack, and may even, if we are not too demanding, serve as the mid-day meal itself; it cannot last us until evening.

The new liberalism has not remained still. A large part of the "elite" dissatisfied with its inadequacies, has adapted it to greater militancy. In some cases they have gone on to revive the theories of Blanqui or make a cult of Che Guevara. It is, however, only the press, invariably less informed than the public it serves, which sees the protest movement solely comprised of students, and the university composed of the "New Left". The industrial worker lags in his support of this New Left because he sees it in terms of the old liberalism writ large. It is not untrue that he is more inclined to be conservative in his manner of thinking when he is not directly relating it to his own experiences. The new radical student may get infuriated when the industrial worker distrusts him, recalling the student of 1926, as if the students who helped to break the strike then were not now nearing retirement age, and were then, in any case, very different in social origin and outlook from those of the present time. But university radicalism, like artist bohemianism, may for some be fashionable and harmless, even possibly useful to a future career. It is another matter to be blacklisted in the only trade to which one's apprenticeship applies.

It is for this reason that those most active in defiance of the State have become, except on purely industrial issues, those most divorced from productive work, yet remaining socially of the lower class rather than the upper and certainly having no responsibility for the domination of society. They may be working in driving jobs, offices, shops or other peripheral trades. They may have come through the universities. They are often the end-product of sausage-factory grammar-school education. They have in common the fact that they can chop and change around so far as employment is concerned, admittedly not always to their financial benefit. They can, however, be reasonably independent of induced public opinion, certainly until family responsibilities overtake social commitments and force a surrender to the conformity of the petty-minded.

Here we see a new class in the making. In one sense it is independent, and though in times of depression it is disastrous to lose jobs, yet at other times it does not really matter two hoots to people in this class whether they have one job or another. A clerk, for example, may jump from the wine trade to the Post Office and finish up exporting dry goods, with all the careless abandon of a cabinet minister swapping portfolios.

The not unnatural, if commercially unjustifiable, desire of business executives to have pretty girls showing their legs around the office has led to higher wages (which the "could never afford" for a nurse or factory girl) being offered to younger shorthand-typists and secretaries. This has been enhanced by the free use of the individual strike, flitting from job to job, which has put up salaries still more, though many of the girls concerned might shake their heads sadly at the thought of other peoples strike action, which everybody knows is the reason "the country" is going to the dogs.

Despite all this apparent independence, the class to which we are referring is still helpless as far as social a affairs are concerned, and alienated from any voice in political matters or economic betterment. It can only "trust the government", and the clerk tends to blame his problems upon whatever politician happens to be in office at the moment, if not upon the trade unions or the financiers according to ideology. The park keeper and meter reader, who do not usually identify themselves with the middle class, out of social prejudice, are in a similar position. They do not have the productive power of the aeroplane engineer, for instance, although their degree of social usefulness might be higher or might be lower.

Unless such workers happen to work in large numbers (dustmen or postmen for example), their power to strike is diminished, and the conception of the struggle becomes more nebulous for them than it does for those on the factory floor. Indeed, it often appears that the more socially useful a job is, the more difficult it is to perceive that there is in fact a class struggle. It is easy to see that there are two sides in a car plant, less easy to see a division of interest on a farm, and almost impossible to understand it working in a hospital. Because of this, the conception of workers' control becomes less clearly understood where there is at a given moment a shared interest in a job. A commercial traveller, working upon commission, could only discover the nature of the struggle by his reading or understanding, and might conclude it was an academic conception.

What distinguishes this class, consisting of varied occupations and degrees of prosperity, which gets bigger while the industrial class gets smaller? It is the fact of dispossession of a class from all productive work that is not marginal to the economy.

Is there a precedent? Nineteenth-century capitalism developed a class that consisted of the permanently unemployed, and of the "rogues and vagabonds" of feudalism, as well as of those evicted from the land. It was swelled by workers dispossessed by machinery, by unmoneyed idlers, lazy out of their appropriate class, and, by those who struggled for general labouring jobs at the bottom of the social ladder. It included the pedlar, the beggar, the petty criminal. Marx labelled this class, somewhat condescendingly, the "lumpenproletariat", the rogue-workers. It was the substratum, seen in the "children of the Jago", the London of Dickens and Mayhew, the "submerged tenth", the "people of the abyss", those in "darkest England". Perhaps it is seen in the worse American Negro "ghettos" of today.

It is a productive class deliberately made unproductive for the most part, and productive only by accident. It has been referred to by some sociologists as the Lazarus class.

By a similar exegesis we may refer to the other, newer class deprived of its productive ability, though not in this case its capacity to work, as the Naboth class. The vineyard of which it has been dispossessed is that of independent productiveness. Unlike the Lazarus class, it is not dependent on the rich man's (in practice, more often the poor man's) table for crumbs. On the contrary, even without the vineyard it remains a useful part of society, though the least useful the tasks it undertakes, the more commercially rewarding they appear to be.

In the mighty office blocks towering to the glory of our modern chequebook Caesars, tribute to the mighty is counted not by the centurions at their command but by the number of staff beneath them. However poky or inadequate the factory might be that produces the wealth on which the office block subsists, if indeed the whole edifice does not deal in invisibility, the prestige office soars to the heavens and those who produce its memos are better paid than those who produce its wealth.

What point is there in saying that most people probably enter the servitude of this class voluntarily? That applies to every class from the most submerged to the most oppressive except that most people prefer to go upwards rather than downwards. For years the grammar schools have churned out pupils in the sausage-machine of education, divorcing them from their social class but failing to give them the opportunity to escape from it economically. They left the humanistic cultures of the sixth form to fill up inkwells and write in ledgers, or in the case of girls to learn shorthand at 100 words per minute to take dictation from bosses who think at 20 words per minute. Only in the last few years has the wastage become apparent, and higher education open for less obviously time-filling jobs. The separation from social origins, however, remains the same.

In these circumstances some have come to think of themselves, contrary to all reason, as "middle-class", or at any rate "lower middle-class", when they are nothing of the sort. In the inter-war period, fascism made the most of its appeal to those who, thinking of themselves as "lower middle-class" -- lower class economically, middle-class in aspiration, therefore felt a kinship to the dominant class that was not reciprocated except by way of idealisation (ex-service, comradeship, or fellow-membership of "the nation" ). Reaction directed their sense of frustration at the nearest available scapegoat. They felt a vague resentment at being thought of as petty bourgeois, in the new insulting sense, by the socialist movement, and the face-saving definition of "workers by hand and brain" made no impression. (One may speculate on the interesting possibility of working without either or both, except in a government department or a factory for the handicapped.)

But while fascism out of power tried to make a bid to rally this emerging class, to give a larger base to an elitist movement, it had no role but demo-fodder for anyone not of the elite. It extended its bid, once in power, to include the industrial workers, and used the people as a whole as cannon-fodder. The nazi philosophy embraced the notion of a civil war against the lower orders in order that a preordained ruling class might take power in the State. The master-race was seen as a ruling class within the nation. Only during the bid for popular support was the theory re-phrased in such a way that it might appear that the nation was regarded as being part of the master-race.2

Once fascism got over the initial shock of putting the bully-boys of opposition into the halls of the mighty, it fitted comfortably into an administrative bureaucracy, exactly the feature of state communism that most repelled those to whom the fascist appealed. Even the mass-murder camps of Hitler's Germany were run by an established civil service that settled into a routine which, given time, might have introduced competitive examinations and birthday honours.

It was regarded as the major reform of fascism to "problem of unemployment" by taking workers evicted by the processes of capitalism from their capability of productiveness, and placing them at the service of the State. Instead of letting them filter into light or non-essential industry, which was the only alternative in a capitalist society to mass unemployment, it diluted private capitalism with state serfdom and made them serve the war machine or engage in pyramid-type achievements such as the autobahn.

Seen in this light, the concentration camps were not divergence from fascist ideas, as Bernard Shaw thought at the time and the apologists for nazism have since proclaimed. They were primarily, of course, the means of inflicting terror, since the party, even before its accession to power, had picked on a scapegoat and isolated it as a smaller, distinct section. Its display of strength upon that minority, which fell back on constitutional protests and even appeals to conscience, never heeded in power politics, meant that it could isolate other sections and terrorise each of them in turn, too. This is normal street gang or police tactics and part of the technique of divide-and-conquer which leads to command-and-obey. In addition, however, the concentration camps were an essential part of the switch from capitalism to State-control. Finally, even the great industrialists who had financed Hitler found themselves subordinate to the governmental complex, and the possession of wealth became less important than the right connections in a ministry. The existence of a terror machine was a gun pointed at the capitalist and the army officer no less than at the worker. Naturally it was possible to solve the unemployment problem if everyone had to work where they were told, at dictated conditions and wages.

The Soviet forced labour camps had the same political and economic aims. Russia, being tied to a non-competitive ideology, was slower to evict workers from productivity and to reduce them to State-fodder, in the same way as the capitalist countries did with their unemployed. Scarcity in any case meant that the country needed goods and was short of workers rather than otherwise. But for the State to exercise full control, it was essential that there be a pit into which the recalcitrant could fall. Since it was not the stagnation of unemployment amidst depression, it had to be taming the Siberian wilds. They did not require a totally non-productive class. Since the State was master, it might as well keep the "people of the abyss" building useless pyramids. Had there not been political offenders, it would have been necessary to invent them.

Totalitarianism is not bound by the new economics which teaches that labour is the most expensive item on the sheet, and the Russian commissars are therefore more inclined than otherwise to keep the socialist definition that labour is the measurement of everything. So the escapes by way of opting-out of the system are closed, except for a few from the vanishing lumpenproletariat who can carry on street trading for a time and a few from the "intelligentsia" who will sing and paint the glories of the regime.

Even so, the tendencies towards a "Naboth class" are not entirely absent from Russia as the bureaucracy "liberalises" economically, i.e. moves from state communism to state rule and so to state capitalism. The same conditions as in state capitalism are being created. The civil service needs its quota of clerks, counting its glory in the number of serfs at its disposal. The school conveyor-belts turn out students geared to serve the dictated needs of the bureaucracy. It is not surprising that rebellion begins to grow among the younger generation, which now realises that this process is coming to be regarded as inevitable.

The capitalist is less inhibited than the Soviet commissar in feeling, or thinking that he ought to feel, that labour is the source of his power. On the contrary, he resents being dependent on the worker, and the new, literate generation of capitalists is inclined to throw back the charge. "You are the parasites on us!" is what in effect their political mouthpieces say to the productive worker, and the press expands on the theme, sometimes with more tact and sometimes with less. Labour is "expensive", it is capable of becoming "redundant", it ought to be more "mobile" It is the "dearest item of cost". Once the boss said, "We give you work". Now he is able to say "We do not need you". Labour "fails to adapt itself to new methods" -- so bring in the machinery, push out the men! The robots are taking over, the productive processes bring in -- not Kropotkin's Utopia, because it is not willed -- but the Anti-Utopia of Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" and George Orwell's "1984".

Once labour ceases to be the vital element of society, there remains the problem of what to do with the displaced. One can leave the economy alone and create a vast class of unemployed. One can set out to create a lumpenproletariat. Alternatively it is possible to put labour into the side jobs of the economy. Creating unemployment, the first method, has been tried and found dangerous to the stability of the regime. It is even now advanced, at least in minor touches, by influential sections of the Conservative Party as the best way to flick the whip, but most moderate politicians are afraid that the beast will get out of control after the lashing. Creating a lumpenproletariat is seldom done deliberately by the State. When it is done irresponsibly by laissez-faire capitalists, it causes a bourgeois reaction to cheap government. They call for stronger rule, as in parts of the USA today. The most favoured method now of dealing with displaced labour is to take it from being a class of producers and to make it a peripheral class. Shipyards are closed, but they cannot find enough doormen for the vast office blocks. University degrees are given in means of cutting down the number of workers employed in creative work, but there is an acute shortage of bookkeepers.

The moment one begins to consider staff shortages, the whole question of emigration and immigration arises. Changes in the economy are always accompanied by the shifting around of populations. It is part of the normal pattern of social conquest. The military subjugation of the Scottish Highlands was inseparable from the change in its way of life, and evicting the crofters was as much part of military conquest as it was of economic change. Emigration is the prophylactic of revolution, as seen clearly in Ireland even up to the present day. "Here or nowhere is your America," said Goethe. The French, said Heine somewhat too optimistically, do not emigrate: they stay where they are and let their tyrants emigrate -- in short, they create a revolution.

It has suited the capitalist class to see huge numbers of workers go out, and in some cases be driven out, to create new markets in Australia, New Zealand and Canada. It is both more bourgeois and more civilised than Russia's colonisation of Siberia by prison labour, at least since deportations to Australia became obsolete. New markets for expansion are created in this way, and the home economy is transformed by getting rid of those whom it is no longer necessary to exploit.

The ruling class in the new countries tend to be more democratic in their habits than those in the older countries, but sooner rather than later a new moneyed aristocracy is re-created, and the gap between rulers and ruled made plain.

Emigration from one country means immigration into another, and normally immigration brings problems of adjustment, especially when the immigrant cannot hide his identity because of language, religion or colour. All the usual State ideology -- "our country" as opposed to theirs, meaning we were the serfs of the government first -- reacts against the immigrant even when not aggravated by living cheek-to-jowl in the slums with people of different customs or cookery. Only when immigration can be seen giving demonstrable benefits, whether real or imagined, does the established working class accept it, as in Israel. The ruling class will not accept it unless it brings practical benefits to them, chiefly by way of cheap or diluted labour, but not if it brings labour problems in its wake. One has only to examine the progress of the US immigration laws.

Opposition to immigration today has become in Britain a bandwagon on which discredited fascism has jumped. It is no accident that the section of the Conservative Party, exemplified by Enoch Powell, which advocates the touch of the whip by unemployment, also opposes immigration, at least to the extent of creating feeling against it. But they do not seriously intend to take positive action since the situation of having discontent suits them, and it would be fatal to dispense with a scapegoat. It is convenient for them to encourage emigration and to discourage immigration only to the point of creating dissension and so to "change the colour" of the working class, as it were: to have the "troublesome" labour jobs, in transport for instance, filled by those who would be subject to discrimination and dislike not because they are workers, but because they are racially distinguishable.

It is a sophisticated version of the Hindu caste system. It is not fascism, even though the adherents of the latter advocate it to save themselves from oblivion. The big fist against the workers is not required by capitalism, and men like Powell have learned that fascism is a two-edged weapon. The German capitalists found it was as much a boomerang as Ludendorff's "sealed train" strategy. In any case, the identification of fascism as such with a defeated imperialism makes it unable any more, of itself, to be a popular rallying point, which was its original attraction to the capitalists. The measures of the corporate, state have long since been adapted to democratic government by liberally educated economists to whom the brutality of Hitlerism has no attraction when not necessary. An argument over immigration, pro and con, may suit the political book, but fascism has become a gadfly. It has no relation to class issues, and so far as any effectiveness is concerned, joins the anti-vivesectionists or the militant teetotallers or the spiritualists as flies upon the wheel. Such movements are socially irrelevant. They may be good (anti-animal cruelty); bad (scientology); or delightfully indifferent (Joanna Southcott's box). They may make an impact upon people's lives (Jehovah's Witnesses). It is, for instance, unpleasant to have a fascist group-irrespective of the fact that it is never likely to gain power-nagging away at one's colour without even offering a helpful suggestion as to how to change it. But no such grouping can make any fundamental change in the community. This must have some connection with the relation of one class to another. If we all joined the Lord's Day Observance Society, we would be in for some dreary Scottish-type Sundays, but a change in the structure of the economy would not be effected by Sabbatarianism.

It may well be asked if the libertarian can make an impact upon society, or if he is doomed to be lumped with the advocates of funny money or pure water. This was certainly the case in the 'twenties when the issue of free decentralisation seemed as irrelevant to the changing pattern of society as the preservation of the waterways. But it cannot be said now. The industrial worker has to choose between taking over society or disappearing as a productive class. The Fabians were right when they predicted that "the working class would disappear". But they did not imply that we should all become film stars or advertising executives or chairmen of companies. Those occupations are the wrappings around the monolithic State. When the "working class disappears" it will be a major disaster like the dispossession of the peasantry.

It is happening slowly, but it is implicit in the patterns of today. For this reason any protest movement arising even out of a purely negative character, hostile reaction to mass annihilation, comes to be identified generally with resistance to the Destruction State, whether passively or actively. From it has come a movement of spontaneous revolution that is spreading across the world. If mankind survives the State, the academic and journalistic illusion that this movement is only a manifestation of youthful high spirits will be laughed at by history.

  • 1It is possible to be a nationalist and a socialist. James Connolly (xxxii) was. As a nation implies a State, it is not possible to be a nationalist and an anarchist. The hybrid word national-socialist means something as different from Connolly as chalk from cheese, though to be sure it has elements of both nationalism and state socialism. So too the hybrid pacifist-anarchist means something different from pacifism and anarchism.
  • 2The French Revolution, and the English Civil War, were seen as risings by the inferior races against their natural masters. The Jews were not (until the Nuremberg Laws) classed as an "inferior race" but as one that had obtained world domination and was especially dangerous to the German "helots" without their "Aryan" masters. "Aryanism" was a conception similar to that of "Norman blood", a ruling section within the nation.