Recent and future class struggles.
Previous to the Covid 19 pandemic, the brunt of the transfer from a welfare-state model of capitalism to the current neo-liberal model were born by the organised working classes. The export of production from Europe and North America, to low waged and low tax countries saw the progressive demise of traditional working class occupations. Large scale engineering, textiles, shipbuilding, docks, mining, automobile manufacturing and railway transport, all but disappeared. The decades of working class struggle to maintain jobs and income levels were undermined and defeated.
Austerity was the term commonly used to avoid exposing the relative and absolute poverty created by neo-liberal elites. Working people over subsequent decades learned to cope on benefits, low-paid precarious employment, or retraining for other jobs. Some started their own small businesses and/or joined the ranks of commercial, leisure or hospitality sectors. It is this latter class which are now bearing the brunt of the current stage of the crisis of capitalism. This is because this sector depends upon a sufficient number of daily or weekly paying customers to keep their individual businesses solvent.
Historically, this section of society neither worked for large, industrial, agricultural or commercial capital (workers) nor owned a big business (capitalists) and have been classed as a petite bourgeois class. This French derived term, refers to the class of self-employed small business traders. Successful members of this class generally enjoy better remuneration, job satisfaction and status than low-paid employed people, but are constantly threatened by big capital moving into their business sector and ruining them. For example supermarkets replacing local shops, individual coffee houses replaced by Costa, Starbucks chains, local pubs closing down when a Wetherspoons or another bar ‘chain’ moves into town, etc.
The socio-economic position of this petite-bourgeois class, thus gives rise to both a feeling of hostility and envy toward big capital. The economic situation of the petite bourgeois has been rapidly exacerbated by the 2020 Covid 19 pandemic. It is this class which are consequently, the main forces behind the global pressure to quickly end lock-downs everywhere. Their class struggle has also taken the form of public demonstrations and campaigns in the USA, UK and Europe, directed at shortening or lifting Covid restrictions. Assorted individuals from other classes have joined these demonstrations, but the main core and thrust of these campaigns is motivated by the social and economic position of the petite-bourgeoisie.
In contrast, the big bourgeoisie have been well supported by government handouts and have other means of putting pressure on governments. Many super rich are even getting richer during lock-downs so this class have yet no need of radical alternatives. Meanwhile, the working class (as a class) are existing on furlough, benefits or still using coping strategies. Consequently, the only class actively rebelling in the short and near term, are the small to medium petite-bourgeoisie. For example, a majority of the ‘rebels’ fired up by Trump and who then stormed the Capitol building on 6th January 2021, were undoubtedly from this petite-bourgeois economic background. (see link below)
However, without the support of the working classes or the big capitalists the petite bourgeoisie efforts at self – survival are doomed to failure. Although they would like to think they are essential, in a long lasting severe crisis, as Covid 19 has demonstrated, they are not essential to community survival, nor strong enough to endure it. As large capital formations weather (or ride) the storm and workers wait for something to trigger their revolt, most of the petite bourgeoisie will be forced to rejoin the ranks of the employed or unemployed working class.
Meanwhile petite-bourgeois class interest will continue to press for authoritarian political solutions to the crisis. In the past, they have looked for strong leaders who will implement measures to save their way of life. The class of individuals based upon small, private enterprise, is one of the dominant factors behind the rise of populist politics in North America, UK and Europe. However, their time is running out.
There is no easy political or economic solutions to petite-bourgeois problems. The historic trend of small to medium capital being squeezed out by large capital continues to be the logical direction of the capitalist mode of production. They can neither restore their previous economic conditions under capitalism nor satisfactorily exist in the current or future conditions now dictated by it.
Accordingly, they can either try to ally themselves with one or other of the political wings of the pro-capitalist class, dominated as these are by billionaire elites whose class interests are not the same. Consequently their only use in mainstream party politics is as voting fodder or bully boys to help crush any future working class discontent.
Alternatively, they could ally with the working classes and save themselves and their futures by changing the entire system and playing a positive role within it. The other side of that potential alliance, – the working classes – have both the responsibility and opportunity to begin to reach out, not only to the workers in the entertainment and hospitality sectors, but to the ex-industrial and commercial workers now hanging on to their own increasingly threatened self-employment and small businesses.
It is certainly not beyond the wit and wisdom of working people to suggest – to all people who work for a living – that a future mode of production with a decent, guaranteed, public-service level of income for all, with all the basic elements of modern living, is sensible and possible. This guaranteed income to be afforded by leveling down the billionaire, millionaire and other extraordinary high earning elite classes and by democratising all aspects of working and social life.
Such a programme benefiting workers in, entertainment, hospitality, leisure, essential and non-essential production and activities of ecological benefit to the local, national and global environments, would be immensely attractive to most rational adults. In particular it would be attractive to the millions of young people in countries and continents faced with unemployment, poverty and an increasingly polluted and ecologically damaged planet.
Roy Ratcliffe (February 2021)
[For an initial attempt at identifying the class identity of the Capitol rioters in the USA see mronline.org/2021/1/20/the-class-composition-of-the-capitol-rioters-first-cut ]