Middle Class? Fuck Off!

Article from Class War issue 73 on the role of the middle class in revolutionary politics, and acknowledging some of the shortcomings in the Class War Federation's understanding of class.

Submitted by Farce on December 5, 2009

The relationship between revolutionary politics and middle class people has been a perennial problem on the Left/anarcho-scene and a problem that sometimes borders on obsession with some working class revolutionaries. Marx said that the emancipation of the working class is the task of the working class itself - if we want to be free, we've got to do it ourselves. It is a statement we take literally. Despite what some people may say, Class War has always been overwhelmingly composed of people from working class backgrounds. Middle class people have been - and still are - involved, but they have always been in a minority and this is how it should be. If you have a revolutionary organisation and it is comprised predominantly of middle class people, and they hold the positions of power as a result of their better education, greater confidence, and so on, then clearly this is a big problem. Most of the Left is like this - the SWP are a prime example.

On the other hand, is it possible to make a revolution in which only working class people participate? Is it possible to create a purely working class organisation? We suspect that it isn't. After all, how do you determine who is allowed to get involved? Do you have a class-based means test or is it down to intuition? What about the numerous grey areas? This doesn't mean that we don't know who the enemy is, but nor is everything black and white.

The problem arises because in our day-to-day life we do not directly confront the ruling class. Those who really run society never put a foot outside their heavily protected worlds. For most of us, our immediate enemy is the middle class: management, social workers, magistrates, teachers and all the other functionaries of capital. This is no accident. Part of the reason why the middle class arose was to act as a buffer zone between us and the ruling class, as a first line of defence for the bosses. But the middle class, as traditionally defined, has also expanded massively over the past fifty years, partly with the growth of the welfare state, but mainly because we have been encouraged to forget our class position and call ourselves middle class. If we recognise that some 'middle class' people occupy contradictory positions, it doesn't mean we're ditching class politics.

So how does a group such as Class War relate to middle class people who are committed and have proved themselves? Do we tell them to fuck off, or that they can only make the tea, or do we accept what they can offer, at least until proven otherwise? Of course, if they are running the show then that's a different matter. But this problem has become an obsession with some people: this has only led to a negative outlook and political paralysis because people are defining themselves in terms of the individuals they are against rather than what they are for. We believe that this issue is a red herring (at least within Class War) and we get tired of having to deal with it.

A prime example of this sort of attitude is the recently published anonymous pamphlet Educating Who About What? This is a searing rant against the middle class dropouts, 'academics', and other lifestylists who inhabit so much of the anarchist ghetto. They lead the author to conclude that '90% of the anarchist movement is a joke'. The presence of middle class elements and 'politicos' is seen as almost entirely to blame for the failings of the whole anarchist movement, and in particular the various national anarchist groups and networks. The movement gets slagged off for being a social club for misfits, dropouts and social inadequates, and for being far removed from the working class.

Many of the pamphlet's statements are so blindingly obvious that it's impossible to disagree with them, and the author is right to raise all those uncomfortable issues that the revolutionary movement needs to face. However, it's also true that Educating Who About What? contradicts itself again and again: it's laid out as a series of vitriolic slogans and very personal statements, rather than as a coherent argument. It tends to oversimplify and generalise on too many points - for instance, the author demands a purely working class organisation to overcome middle class infiltration, but makes no real attempt to define either middle class or working class. Who would decide who can join or not - the author? In fact we suspect that the 'middle class' is composed primarily of people who disagree with the author, regardless of their real class.

This work could have been much better if the bloke who wrote it had not allowed his own petty jealousies and dislikes to interfere with what he had to say. He is someone who has been close to both Class War and the band Chumbawamba, so it's pathetic that he wastes so much space smearing both with lies and distortions (we could write pages and pages about this, but to be honest it would a waste of time).

As we said, Educating Who About What? is symptomatic of a lot of the muddled thinking about class that passes for 'theory' within the anarchist movement. We hold our hands up here and admit that Class War has done little to make things clearer. Too often we talked and acted as if class is something totally static and unpolitical - 'you either know it or you don't'. We unconsciously swallowed the most obvious stereotypes of class and acted as if it was all 'common sense' - the working class was composed entirely of young white blokes on council estates, and class was all about culture and background. Which is fine if you are a young white bloke, but fuck-all use if you're not.