Brexit: a “workers’ cause”?

Submitted by AWL on 5 June, 2019 - 11:49 Author: Jim Denham
vote leave

Communist Party of Britain (CPB) general secretary Robert Griffiths had a piece in the Morning Star of 31 May entitled “Time for Labour to stand unequivocally by the working class”. He claims that the way to do that is for Labour to back Brexit. Brexit is a working-class cause.

Griffiths sets great store by the Ashcroft survey of UK voters which, he reports, “confirmed that support for leaving the EU remains highest amongst the working class, whether defined narrowly (social categories C2, D and E) or more broadly (plus C1).” Interesting, isn’t it, that a supposed Marxist defines class using categories developed by the marketing industry?

According to this scheme, originally associated with the National Readership Survey and now maintained by the Market Research Society, society is divided into “higher” (A) and “intermediate” (B) “managerial, administrative and professional”, “supervisory, clerical and junior managerial…” (C1), “skilled manual workers” (C2), “semi-skilled and unskilled manual workers” (D) and “state pensioners, casual and lowest grade workers, unemployed with state benefits only” (E). These are usually lumped together as ABC1 (the “middle class”) and C2DE (the “working class”).

From a Marxist viewpoint, the working class – those working for wages for the benefit of and under the control of capital – has never been only manual or blue collar workers. Still less so today. C1s and Bs (teachers, social workers, many civil service and local government workers) are the core of the working class in Britain today, 52% of the population, and especially of the younger sections of the working class.

Moreover, class has always been politically constituted – the working class is a class in itself, as Marx put it, with the shared experience of capitalist exploitation; but it only becomes a class for itself, to any degree self-conscious and united, with political education, organisation and struggle. The core of the organised working class is certainly C1 and B.

All the sociology here is designed for a political conclusion: that the response to Labour’s dismal performance in the European election should be just “don’t panic!” EU elections prove little, and anyway Brexit is a working-class cause and calls for a second referendum come only from middle class “liberals”.

The editor of the newly-revived Tribune, Ronan Burtenshaw, goes some distance in the same direction as the Morning Star. His piece in the latest Tribune is entitled “Hold the Line”. A “negotiated Customs Union and further developing a Norway model” will provide Labour with “grounds on which some form of renewed social democracy might be won in Britain.”

Ignoring left-wing campaigns like Labour for a Socialist Europe and Another Europe is Possible, Burtenshaw tries to make out that “People’s Vote is a movement for the restoration of the ancient regime” (i.e. for “the years of social liberalism before the financial crisis”). Burtenshaw advocates a form of “soft” Brexit that will satisfy no one and disparages Remainers on the spurious basis that they support “progressive social views” rather than what he defines as “class politics” (i.e. nationalist reformism).

Even so, Burtenshaw’s analysis is sounder than that of the Morning Star. He admits that: “The Brexit vote can’t be reduced to a ‘working-class revolt’ … That claim is typically based on polling from the C2DE category, which voted Leave by a wide margin. But in Britain’s modern economy, that category simply doesn’t correspond with the working class.” The beginnings of wisdom, Ronan!

• Jim Denham wishes to acknowledge the work of Rick Parnet in his article Elections, social grades and class, The Clarion, 25 March 2018.

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