November 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard
"The class war is over," Blair proclaimed at the Labour Party Conference in Bournemouth last month. "The 21st century," he went on "will not be about the battle between capitalism and socialism but between the forces of progress and the forces of conservatism."
The class war—as the struggle between those who own productive resources for profit and the rest of us—is far from over. It can only end with the dispossession of the owning minority and the consequent disappearance of classes and class-divided society. In other words, with the establishment of the common ownership and democratic control of productive resources that is the basis of socialism.
Blair probably wouldn't disagree that the end of the class war means the disappearance of classes. Only he claims that this is what has already happened: that the vast majority of us are already classless. This is not the case, neither in the facts nor even in people's minds. A minority still monopolise productive resources and live in luxury off the profits they derive from this, and most people still consider themselves members of the working class—some 55 per cent according to an ICM poll published last September (surprisingly high given the barrage of propaganda for the view that "we're all middle class now").
Those who proclaim that "we're all middle class now", "goodbye to the working class", "the class war is over" are not stating a fact. They are putting forward a political programme. They want us to think that we are all just isolated classless individuals who can only improve our lot by our own individual efforts. It is an attempt to disarm the working class ideologically, to get us to give up the idea of collective struggle, whether on the industrial front or to replace capitalism with socialism.
At the moment—as a result of the continuing economic crisis and the defeats of the 80s—things seem to be going their way. People do seem resigned to trying to improve their lot only individually. But the class struggle is a matter of structure not ideology. It is built-in to the capitalist system, based as this is on the extraction of surplus value from the work of those who are forced to sell their mental and physical energies for a wage or salary (and that includes the mythical "middle class"). In other words, on exploitation. And wherever there is exploitation there will be struggle, first to lessen it and then to bring it to an end.
The 21st century will prove Blair wrong. As governments continue to fail to solve problems, as profits continue to be put before needs, as exploitation continues, "the battle between capitalism and socialism" is by no means off the agenda. The class war is not yet over.