Book Review from the April 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard
'Poverty Safari: Understanding the Anger of Britain’s Underclass'. By Darren McGarvey. (Luath Press. £7.99)
McGarvey was brought up in the Pollok area of Glasgow. His mother (who had been raped when young) drank heavily, was violent and ran up a massive drug debt, so he had a dysfunctional home life. One consequence was that he felt a deep sense of grievance against anyone he considered well-off and he blamed the ‘middle class’ (the capitalists don’t feature here at all).
A large part of his book attacks the ‘poverty industry’, where people make a good living from dealing with problems; not solving everything but leaving some sort of ‘legacy’, with enough problems still remaining for the industry to continue growing. Outside organisations that address poverty encourage dependency rather then self-sufficiency, and if you are poor it is best not to offend such organisations and those who work for them. In Scotland, ‘the poverty industry is dominated by a left-leaning, liberal, middle class’. In contrast, the poor, McGarvey says, need to become ‘more active, engaged and resilient’. Identity politics has supposedly replaced class issues, but again is just another means for the socially mobile (which often is equivalent in these pages to middle class) to dominate public discussion. But, considering how unclear his own views on class are, this is not very convincing.
It is odd that he emphasises the importance of taking personal responsibility and not just blaming others while at the same time writing eloquently on the lifelong consequences of childhood poverty and the crucial role played by emotional stress in influencing people’s health and social mobility. Many of those who end up in prison have experienced violence or other forms of abuse while children. Child abuse itself is driven by social deprivation.
As may have been gathered by now, McGarvey’s own views are not at all well explained. He sees Socialism in completely anodyne terms, as ‘about providing a decent quality of life for everyone in society’. He is now the father of a young son and as such is frightened by the thought of a revolution: but he does not say why, or what such a revolution would involve. Moreover, there is nothing at all here on what the underlying causes of poverty might be. So, if his book has an overall message, it is left very unclear.