Interview: Battle Stations
Unions: The Workers, United
Politics: The Lost Weekend
Industrial: Truth or Dare
History: A Class Act
Economics: The Numbers Game
International: Blonde Ambition
Training: The Trade Off
Review: Bore of the Worlds
Poetry: The Beaters Medley
The Locker Room
After the Action
Power and the Passion
Mao and Then
The Third Way Hits A Dead End
Unfair For All
What Is To Be Done?
Black Hawk Up
A Class Act
Class, Pay Attention. Classy music, a classy book. The Working Class can kiss my arse.
All are meanings of class. It is a word bandied around. Many progressive thinkers use the term in reference to the working class, or the upper classes. Marx used it in certain ways that people are still arguing about. E.P Thompson attempted to explain the word, or at least how classes came to be, in his Making of the English Working Class. The crucial aspect that Thompson set out was that classes are made and are constantly being made. Class is a relationship.
Many today see the old working class-ruling class/owners divide as passé because so many earn such large amounts as directors or whatever whilst not actually being owners. This ignores the relationship aspect that Thompson and others have emphasised.
It also ignores power. Power and wealth, political economy and history. All important tools if we want to understand the society we live in, and want to change for the better. The forces that do control our society do understand the importance of power - they have it, we want it - but so many of those who have been educated in the lingo that advises the governmental decision-makers do not have a grasp of these matters. Economics and accounting as taught at our educational institutions is so narrowly prescriptive and removed from realities that it suits the ruling class to keep it that way.
There I am assuming class is monolithic in the previous sentence. Clearly it isn't completely or we would have an even narrower range of opinions and I wouldn't have any ability to question the way things work. And the authors of "Class and Struggle in Australia" wouldn't have written what they have.
We want classes of students to think about class relationships. Social relationships of production and reproduction. The authors look at these social relationships and how they are reproduced in schools, universities and families. How the labour movement, seen as the anti-systemic force by Marx that would throw off the chains and lead the way to socialism and communism, is part of the system that reproduces class. How racism and class should be carefully considered and how racism has been a tool for division of the anti-systemic forces, when it is the ruling class who are the racists. Australia's imperialist attitude to neighbours, and its lapdog approach to the imperial powers such as the US and the UK are analysed. The importance of environment and ecology to a rounder understanding of class and what we can do about power finishes the collection.
The authors are drawn from the intellectual class, but have been active in social and political movements in various ways, and have acted to bring reality to their beliefs and interests through involvement in co-operative ventures and commercial enterprises under capitalism. They have been and are active in the labour movement that many write about in their contributions.
To often those in power find it easy to divide oppositional forces. One way they do this is by sneering at academic ivory towers and contrasting the "middle classes" with the "workers". Te Daily Telegraph does this on a daily basis.
One of the most talked about books in the early 1980s in left wing circles was Bob Connell and Terry Irving's "Class Structure in Australian History". I can remember the debate swirling. Intervention journal ran a symposium and the authors responded and counter-responded. Humphrey McQueen entered the fray from another angle. I chiefly remember from all this that the book was most notable because about half its length (I may be exaggerating) consisted of the sources (reading it as a student was a mater of skimming a few bits!!). No-one accused Connell and Irving of lack of research. Is this book a kind of follow-up? It is a different type of animal. Footnotes do not dominate. Connell and Connell and Irving are discussed in Sam Pietsch first chapter where he sets out the debate about wealth and power. Pietsch importantly talks about how the ruling class rule, and about contrasting positions from the left. The nationalist viewpoint, a current in Australian oppositional movements since the "legends of the [eighteen] nineties" is discussed in relation to the recent work on Empire by Hardt and Negri whose study has become the touchstone for many, whether they agree or disagree.
Editor Rick Kuhn, well known for writings on political economy and socialism in many publications over the years sets out Pietsch's view and the approaches taken by the book in a good introduction to themes and issues. Power, forces of power, consciousness and ideology, interests and struggle, nationalism and "imagined communities are all reported on as he sets up the book. This sets the scene for the broad approaches taken and also helps show where we have moved in left historiography, sociology and political economy since the early 1980s. In a book with so many authors it is hard to maintain a focus on key issues, but I feel this collection does that well, with authors using the areas of research they have gone deeply into as sound backgrounds for chapters that address "Class and Struggle" and use class as a way of charting a way forward for progressive movements.
Kuhn in Chapter two also takes on the debate that is ongoing on the role of the state. Is the state an instrument of the capitalist class is there room for relative autonomy, what is the scope for oppositional forces to act upon the state apparatus?
Diane Fieldes and Tom Bramble address the role of the oppositional movement seen as the key to transformation, the labour movement. Fieldes looks at division within working classes, and the role of trade unions in the labour movement. Tom Bramble looks closer at the power within trade unions and how it can operate to suppress opposition and how trade union leadership, through education in the narrow tertiary factories, are divided from their memberships interests. How can working class parties operate and should trade union members act to create a new type of party? Perhaps a stronger connection between green and labour movements could provide part of the answer. Jeff Sparrow looks into this in his chapter. The shape of oppositional political action should change. In the USA the ideas given most public airing in the online Counterpunch (www.counterpunch.org) by writers such as Alexander Cockburn, Jeff St Clair and others are the most positive and creative I have seen on this issue. For a breath of fresh air see the recent interview with Cockburn by Bill Forman http://www.counterpunch.org/forman05192005.html
Cockburn is talking about the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of the Democrats and how the "left" keeps holding its nose and supporting them. Substitute the ALP and the story is not quite so bad but the currents are strong in mainstream parties whose survival and structures depend of cheapening not deepening democracy. Class struggle is participatory democracy. Many voices raised against the few who have power and control. This book shows the wide range of voices and issues the left must address.
Andre Gorz (not a contributor), a thinker who has continued to hope for a better way, and who has many ideas, has expressed it thus (writing in 1999):
"For 25 years western societies have been reversing into the future, either incapable of reproducing themselves in accordance with past norms or of exploiting the unprecedented freedom of choice made possible by savings in working time. Over those twenty or so years, the societies produced by Fordism have been falling apart without any other form of society establishing itself. They have fallen apart and been replaced by non-societies, in which a tiny dominant stratum has grabbed almost all the additional wealth which has become available, whilst the absence of political bearings and of a political project has led to the dissolution of all social ties, to a hatred of everything, including hatred of life and self." (my emphasis)
As a textbook for universities and as a reader for a broader interested public who could use it to push deeper into key issues the work succeeds. We can only hope that those students trapped into narrow econometrics and who have to take any casual work they can to survive the impoverished university life bestowed upon them by governments since the re-introduction of fees under Dawkins (see the chapter by Graham Hastings), will find the space to consider this work, as it will help them understand that the battles they face are part of the broad push of neo-liberal capitalism to assert absolute power, but also that there are historical alternatives, that it was not pre-ordained that the mighty would inherit the earth, and that this history is one of class struggle, which they are a participant in, not a hapless spectator.
If the words are too much, the terrific cartoons of Hinze (David Pope) should help get the message across.
Class and Struggle in Australia edited by Rick Kuhn (French's Forest, NSW: Pearson Longman, 2005). Contributions by Rick Kuhn, Sam Pietsch, Diane Fieldes, Tom Bramble, Graham Hastings, Sandra Bloodworth, Rachel Morgain, Mick Armstrong, Phil Griffiths, Tom O'Lincoln and Jeff Sparrow.
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