Friday, February 26, 2021

Working Class — who isn’t? (1946)

From the February 1946 issue of the Socialist Standard
  "Again I ask what is the difference between working and non working class? Is it financial? If so, where do you draw the limit? Is a man a member of the working classes if he gets, say, £6 a week, but a non-worker if he gets £10 or £9 15s. 6d.?
  Or is it educational? 1 was not at Eton like Dr. Hugh Dalton ... or at Winchester like Sir Stafford Cripps. But I don’t think I regard them as non-workers . . . on that account.
   Is it purely manual work that counts? When I see, as I sometimes do, Mr. Aneurin Bevan, the Minister of Health, leave his charming house in Cliveden Place, in Belgravia, enter a large saloon car, and being driven by a chauffeur to his ministry, I don’t think I say, 'Ah, there he goes, you can see he’s not a member of the working classes. Look at the car and chauffeur. . .’ 
   The 'Nye’ Bevan, who is striving to provide houses for the people, is just as much a "worker” as ever he was, when he was at the coal-face. . . .
   The truth, I think, is that to-day the phrase has no meaning whatever. We are all workers. . . . The old bad gap between the extremely rich and the miserably poor is rightly being steadily and inexorably narrowed.” 
—Mr. Edward Denny, Evening News, 21 Nov., 1945. 
The phrase "working-classes,” says Mr. Denny, is inverted snobbery, with "no place” in "the hard-working, classless State we are creating.”

Mr. Denny asks a number of questions. We answer these before going on to his unproven assertions.

First, "working-classes ”: Mr. Denny does not understand the meaning of the term "class” in the social sense.

In political economy, a class is a body of people united by economic interests.

Therefore there cannot be two, or more, working-classes. Those linked by the common material interest are the class. There is just the working-class—that’s all.
It is quite logical for the man who starts, like Mr. Denny, by talking about the "working-classes” to conclude that there is no "working-class” at all.

Second, how is the working-class defined? "Society today is divided into two classes: one of which is called the working-class, because its members have to work for their living.” —"Socialism,” p. 3.

It follows, therefore, Mr. Denny, that if the necessity of work defines a member of the working-class—the converse denotes a member of the other class—capitalists do not HAVE to work for a living; some do work, but they could live opulently without.

Therefore, all Mr. Denny’s saloon-bar chatter about whether Dalton was at Eton, or Bevan at the coal-face, has no bearing whatever upon the social problem of what is the working-class.

In so far as Cabinet Ministers participate in some sort of administrative work—they are working; this does not necessarily make them members of the working-class—neither is it possible to define the class position of every single individual.

Mr. Denny evidently has some vague suspicion of this. After having posed his silly questions about £6 or £10 a week, and whether a beer-drinker is a worker, or a whisky-drinker not (according to this erudite classification most Fleet Street journalists are workers and non-workers at the same time), whether a "white collar is the hall-mark of a drone” and so on; he goes on to his real contention—that classes have disappeared in "this little island” where we have "all got to work hard” in "the hard-working classless State we are creating.”

The ground for this claim that classes have disappeared ("we are all workers' ”) is that the "gap between the extremely rich and miserably poor is narrowing.”

Inextricably mixed up with all this is Mr. Denny’s claim that the so-called middle-classes "are the working and worrying classes.” Determined to be right, whatever happens, Mr. Denny backs it both ways! "There are no classes ('we are all workers’). The middle-class (undefined) is the working class (‘hard-working class ’).”

It will be noticed that Mr. Denny carefully writes "the gap between the extremely rich and miserably poor is narrowing.”

If this means that there are fewer very rich and very poor people it is also untrue.

What "miserably poor” is, is undefined. The Oxford Dictionary defines poverty as "want, deficiency, indigence.”

Some are frightfully poor, yet very happy. This kind of happiness is usually a mental hallucination, based on some religious view which makes suffering a virtue, leading eventually to an ideal existence of comfort and ease.

It does not help in investigating the social problem of poverty one iota.

We are quite willing to assess as "miserable poverty" those living below the minimum income estimated by authorities like Sir Wm. Beveridge, Sir John Boyd-Orr and Mr. Rowntree, as indispensable to reasonable health and efficiency.
"Sir John Orr found that 10 per cent. were in poverty in 1936. Mr. Rowntree found that 31 per cent, were below his estimated poverty line and 14 per cent, in extreme poverty.” York, 1936.
Facts for Socialists. Fabian Society.
It is quite true that the advent of the war brought employment and relative prosperity to this "extreme poverty” group.

While there cannot be any statistics of normal capitalist conditions for a year or two. Socialists nevertheless contend that "extreme poverty” will increase.

Mr. Bernard Harris, City Editor of the Sunday Express, gave on September 16th, 1946, a few facts about " extremely ” rich men:—
Henry Ford . . . £158,000,000
Pierre Du Pont           . . . £143,000,000
John D. Rockfeller    . . . £100,000,000
Andrew Mellon         . . . £100,000,000
Don Simon Iturbi Patino  £100,000,000
Sir John Ellerman            £1,000,000 a year 
Duke of Westminster       Probably the same
These vast fortunes among the largest the world has ever known, are growing at a great rate.

Thus the subtractions made by Death Duties, on their present scale, has been more than offset by the additions, which the opportunities of the capitalist system make possible, to the wealth of the fortunate minority. The Death Duties do not, as yet, arrest the process of the continuous concentration of wealth in few hands. They only slow it down. The rich in Britain are still growing richer.

Mr. Dalton, Chancellor of the Exchequer, wrote the following in 1935: — 
   "Over the last ten years the total net capital value of estate liable to Estate Duty rose from £442 millions in 1923-4 to £538 millions in 1929-30, fell to £517 millions in 1930-1 and to 467 millions in 1931-2, rising again to £516 millions in 1932-3.
     In 1933-4 all previous records for a single fortune were broken by the monstrous estate of Sir John Ellerman, which exceeded £17 millions.
     The wealth left by millionaires alone has averaged over £31 millions a year during this period, and the number of millionaires dying each year has varied from three to twenty-two, with an average of just on twelve a year.
    Yet the great majority of those who die leave property so small it is not worth the while of the Inland Revenue to value it.”
—" Practical Socialism for Britain.” p. 338.
It is still true that the great majority of those who die possess no property worth mentioning and so it will remain while capitalism endures, notwithstanding that Mr. Dalton is now Chancellor of the Exchequer and a Labour Government is running the system.

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