[OPE] Collapse of identity politics?

From: Jurriaan Bendien <adsl675281@tiscali.nl>
Date: Sun Jan 18 2009 - 08:46:55 EST

Rightwing British liberal journalist Nick Cohen, who has a special fascination for class treachery, complains in "The Guardian" about the stupidity of Tory class analysis:

"Unlike the crisis of the Seventies, which shifted middle-class opinion rightwards, today's crash cannot be blamed on striking trade unionists. The worst you can say about the mass of ordinary people or, indeed, the mass of middle-class people, is that they allowed the bankers to persuade them that they could safely borrow to excess. Speculators running riot brought this emergency. The lazy regulators at the Financial Services Authority who did not and, if their lifting of the ban on short selling is any guide, still do not see the need to control financial capitalism, were their accomplices.

The characteristic villain of our day is not a modern equivalent of Arthur Scargill, but Sir Fred Goodwin, who made 20 million from the Royal Bank of Scotland and NatWest, then left the taxpayer with an unlimited liability for the cost of cleaning up the mess. That we are living through chaos unleashed by the wealthiest on all beneath them, strikes me as one of those points that are so obvious I wonder about the need to type it out. But it is not obvious to the Conservative politicians and newspapers who presume to speak for middle England. They argue that equality, not inequality, is the real danger. Specifically, they accuse Harriet Harman of "declaring war on the middle class" by imposing a statutory requirement on public bodies to close the gap between rich and poor. (...)

For good reasons, feminism and anti-racism helped to stop the left concentrating on inequalities of income. Tony Blair reflected the concerns of his generation when he licensed his ministers to argue about the failure of women to break the glass ceiling or the under-representation of ethnic minorities in the professions, but refused to criticise the gap between rich and poor. There were honourable motives behind the change in priorities - the targets of racism, homophobia and misogyny come from all classes - but the result was often extraordinarily hypocritical as liberals and the public sector institutions they dominated ignored the main cause of disadvantage in society: the lack of money. (...) There is a limit to how long a party of the centre-left can carry on with identity politics before its absurdities become too much. (...) Measures to help the working class do not sound so terrible when you have a terrible premonition that you may soon be joining it." http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/jan/18/nick-cohen-middle-class

What Nick Cohen forgets however is:

(1) the middle class makes a lot of money from identity politics, mediating between the rich and the poor. Just because a particular cultural market is collapsing doesn't mean however that the middle class is collapsing. After all, the middle class - even if it has lost money - has savings and assets, and there will be rich and poor in the future too. To get the rich helpings of public money, you just need a different theme (a different storyline) now, that is all.

(2) The bulk of the jobs that are being lost now, aren't middleclass jobs, but workingclass jobs; redundancy rates are in fact highest in industry and trades, while managerial-professional occupations show robust growth rates. The neoliberal enterprise management model is based on the idea of subcontracting: at the apex of the hierarchy, there are the rich bureaucrats and technocrats who have permanent employment contracts, and control budgets; below them, different ranks of ordinary employees on annual contracts, who are subcontracted to do the work, according to personality and power; and then casual and temporary employees at the bottom, brought in to do the work that the other employees cannot do because they lack the skills, or don't want to do because it's beneath them. The people who do not have fixed contracts, are the first to get the boot.

(3) As unemployment rises, a much more intense competition for scarce resources emerges, a bitter fight to preserve privileges ensues, and the amount of informal whoring, huckstering and hustling increases. This creates new ideologies of "why I should be chosen ahead of the next guy" and new racial, class and ethnic tensions. So, a whole new middleclass market opens up, to mediate and police in all this, and gain more control over, or meddle in, other people's lives - the pickings are rich. In other words, "crisis management" creates a lot of new middleclass professional jobs to supervise the crisis.

The incoherence of British politics is just that the bourgeois parties - Labour, Conservative, Liberal - are the parties of Money, not parties of the People. They are all united in the belief that people should obey the social order of rich elites (after all they worked hard to get to where they are) - the only differences concern the kinds of subservience which are especially valued, but that is only a matter of cultural tradition.

Jurriaan

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Received on Sun Jan 18 09:34:05 2009

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