Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Passing Show: Mr. Wilson on class (1963)

The Passing Show Column from the August 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mr. Wilson on class
In a recent interview published in the Observer, Harold Wilson, Leader of the Labour Party, made some extraordinary statements. Among other things he said:
“The Labour Party must represent the whole country. If you mean what class do I think I am—well, what is the answer? Elementary school, Oxford common room, what does it add up to? There are millions of people—trained, skilled, professional—for whom these phrases about class are becoming more and more meaningless. The white coat, the growing technological character of modern industry is making some of the old battlegrounds unreal.”
Wilson apparently thinks that if a worker can speak grammatically, or do a skilled job, he is no longer a worker. It seems that in some unexplained way the worker can, in Wilson's view, become a capitalist by taking English lessons at night school. What a maze of unreality must surround a man who thinks that wearing a white coat instead of overalls alters a man's class position in society. And the statement that "the Labour Party must represent the whole country "' is merely ridiculous when put against the fact of the vast chasm which yawns between the ten per cent, of haves and the ninety per cent, of have-nots.

There are no prizes for the answer to Wilson's question about what class in society he is in. In fact, the answer is here—if he has enough property to live without working, he is a member of the upper class; if not, he is a worker. There are also no prizes for the answer to this question—in whose class interest is Wilson working? With his talk about "representing the whole country" and his denial that the class struggle even exists, the answer is crystal clear: Wilson is working in the interest of the capitalist class.

Too much
Earlier in the same series, Wilson actually committed himself to the following remarks:

“Quite honestly, I've never read Das Kapital. I got only as far as page two— that's where the footnote is nearly a page long, I felt that two sentences of main text and a page of footnote were too much.”

This is despite his own claim that "economics became his field."

Mr. Wilson was apparently in such a haze that he could not distinguish page two from page fifty-two, or the beginning of a chapter from the end of it. The first footnotes in Das Kapital which might reduce the main text to this extent are the ones that concern Ricardo, at the end of chapter one, on commodities. In the edition nearest to hand (William Glaisher, London, 1909) these footnotes begin at page fifty-two. In no conceivable edition could they come on page two.

But what a pity that Wilson was not able to overcome the tremendous hurdle presented to his comprehension by some rather long footnotes (he was, after all, only an Oxford lecturer on economics). He might have learned that there is more to a man's position in society than the colour of the coat he wears. He might even have learned that there are two classes in society—an owning class and a working class. One feels that he might not have survived the shock.

Fruits of victory
Colonial "freedom fighters," leaders of "independence movements," run so true to form as soon as their countries have achieved their "independence" that it becomes almost farcical. Once they themselves are in power, once the native capitalist class has ousted the imperialists, their tune always changes immediately and abruptly. They always make the same speech to warn all the suckers who supported  the "independence movements," thinking it would make a radical change, that the workers' position will be exactly what it was before; only the nationality of the exploiters has changed.

Jomo Kenyatta is the latest to make this speech (The Times, 29/5/63):
We are not going to compromise our independence by begging for assistance. The Government will make it quite clear that our progress, our hopes, our ambitions will be fulfilled only if we have hard work from every citizen.
So now the struggle is over, we've all fought hard, victory has been won: and your reward is—a lot more hard work, and don't you forget it.

And yet the workers all over the world still go on falling for these confidence tricks.

It's easy for some
Two small girls, one none, the other twelve, are "to share in a 25,000,000 development scheme in Hampstead, London. The investment has been given to them by their father, 42-year-old property man Mr. Peter Robins (Sunday Express, 28/4/63). By the time the girls are respectively nineteen and sixteen, they should have an income of about 10,000 per year each.

The way to get into the capitalist class, the capitalist class tell us, is to work hard and save. But the capitalists themselves always seem to start off by being capitalists. It's certainly a lot quicker when Daddy gives you such a lovely start, isn't it?
Alwyn Edgar

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