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Tag Archives: Inchicore

Years ago when my friend, Eamon Tuffy, was the Labour Party candidate in Dublin West, something odd occurred at an election committee meeting and quite often it comes back to me. The constituency included Inchicore, the working class area in which I was reared; so my activism was personal as well as political. You see, Eamon has a Masters degree and some at the meeting felt that this should be kept secret, that it should not appear on posters and leaflets for fear it would alienate working class voters. When it sank in that they weren’t joking, I thought briefly that they were out of their minds. It took time to realise that their understanding of “working class” was different to mine. It is that difference that hinders socialist argument today.

Let’s talk briefly about my Dad, indeed about my extended working class family and all the similar families in the area. Those people all left school early and they all knew that to be a deprivation. They were all nevertheless educated, sophisticated, ambitious, thoroughly decent people, who held typical working class values. The idea that the likes of my Dad would be alienated by a candidate’s university education was not just preposterous but a gross, patronising slur on the working class.

Now, during the 70s and 80s it became clear that industry work and jobs had become so complicated that identifying the working class was no longer easy. Marxists could see that they had a problem and they had to address the composition of working class. Technology had dictated a virtual revolution in skills, professions and management. While manual work had decreased spectacularly, trade union membership had reached into areas – the professions, management, the very well paid – not previously regarded as workers. If the working class was to remain the engine of progress, its membership had to be recalculated or they would be too few to have much effect. It became customary to apply a range of material criteria like house ownership or education and recalculate. Depending on the criteria used, the outcome was depressing or encouraging in terms of the numerical strength of the working class.*

More or less contemporaneously the polling industry was growing, becoming more sophisticated and concerned with class. Media, marketeers and psephologists were anxious to know the views and habits of citizens categorised by income, education and employment. Eventually the pollsters labelled their categories uncontentiously as ABC1 etc. but in day to day conversation and in media their categories were discussed as indicative of class.

Class for Marxists and non-Marxists alike was now utterly materialist. If it had political implications, they were “objective” – divorced from messy considerations of values. I’ve written elsewhere on why Marx viewed the working class as progressive ** and I won’t go into it here. I should add too that I’ve not gone somewhere vaguely “spiritual”; values are materially determined. There is therefore no compelling reason to exclude them when identifying class, progressive groupings or progressive politics.

Some socialists today try to identify with, mollify and patronise citizens and groups whose expressed views are clearly right wing and sometimes shameful because they see such people and groups as working class.*** It is a mistake commonly made by socialists who do not originate in the working class. It is, moreover, an easy and attractive mistake. It is the way of popular media. 

The confusion is easy to explain. The greater number of citizens now self-identify as middle class partly out of simple snobbery but also to distinguish themselves not from the poor or from workers but from those they see as crude, abusive and overly aggressive. Unfortunately, in common usage and in conventional media this latter group has come by default to be mislabelled, working class. A badge of honour has been twisted and expropriated. The upper-class socialist finds aggression seductive. It is redolent of revolution with a willingness to take to the streets in opposition to the establishment. The price paid, however, is support for right wing positions that now characterise anti-establishment, alienation of those who hold traditional working class values and the abandonment of plausible socialist argument. 

In itself it is not a great problem for socialism generally that a few small parties – often dismissed as sects – sometimes led by upper class converts, create a bizarre right-wing parody of socialism. It becomes a problem when they are presented as perhaps misguided, foolish and incoherent but nevertheless representative of true socialism or leftism and their leaders as principled. Socialism then is portrayed as a thing of street politics, chanted abuse and implausible argument. It appears both alien and silly to citizens who are most open to coherent political argument – and that includes the sort of thoughtful, sophisticated, decent people who reared and made me: the working class.

 

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* The old maximizing approach of counting all who are paid a wage remains popular today: “In these days of identity politics and what you might call ‘the selfie-fication’ of political thought, Marxism remains refreshingly bracing in its view of the world. Distilled to its essence, whatever you think you are, if you aren’t an owner of the means of production or part of the mercantile bourgeoisie, you’re probably a proletarian. Wayne Rooney is a wage slave – albeit a very nicely off one – whereas George Osborne isn’t. Wayne can grow as rich as Croesus but he will never step across the threshold of the boardroom or the Bullingdon Club. Granted, this level of analysis won’t get you a first in PPE but it still strikes me as pretty sound.” – Stuart Maconie, http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/uk/2017/07/i-m-marxist-we-are-misunderstood-both-left-and-right

** https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2016/04/20/no-karl-marx-was-not-out-of-his-mind/

*** It is what has become of the once progressive term, anti-establishment, which now refers to a liberal, right wing, individualism, implacably opposed to state controls, taxation, trade unions, the educated, politics etc.

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Sometimes I can’t resist a smile when I hear wistful talk about the nuclear family and its importance to a good society. You see, when I first became aware of the term, it was applied not to a desirable way to rear children but to the polar opposite.

When I married and bought a house in the early seventies, I moved from an urban village to a suburban town. I was part of a movement which was discussed as a cause for concern. Growing up, my extended family lived within one postal district; everyone was a bus trip or even a walk away. Many other families were closer still, with grandparents, aunts and uncles in their immediate vicinity. By the 70s young people were moving to suburban housing estates built on expensive, rezoned lands, where everyone was of an age and income, and lived very similar lives, disconnected from routine daily family contacts. Public transport and other infrastructure had not been a condition when approving housing estates. Visiting became a chore and the better off kept up wider family contact by buying a car. Concerned debate focussed on the role of planning in pulling communities and the extended family apart, and reducing society to, yes, nuclear families. Perhaps if “atomic family” had become the term, subsequent debate would have been clearer.

I’m not offering this as an explanation for the recent English street violence. I’m setting it down now because some of the media comments reminded me. You see, the idea that different people and different age groups might not have a shared view of the police is hardly novel. Indeed it’s not an insight at all but it illustrates the need for policing that is close to impeccable. Here’s the story:

I was fortunate to have been reared in Inchicore. In my teens in the 60s we socialised in the city, or “town”, as we called it. Late at night we walked home (Dublin City centre to Inchicore isn’t a long walk but it takes time.) in groups, ate chips, talked into the early hours about music and putting the world to rights. Those walks are very happy memories to me.

There was, however, a problem. Not all of the groups on the streets at night were walking and talking. Some were involved in thuggery. We had to be careful to avoid certain gangs and to be prepared to run when necessary. One of the “gangs” to be given a wide berth was Gardaí who to us were normally antagonistic and occasionally violent. They certainly were a not a force that kept us safe on the streets at night.

Now, I guess they saw all groups on the street as potential trouble and they couldn’t tell the difference between one group on a street corner having a conversation and another group up to no good. However, we could tell the difference (I like to think I still can!) and they should have been able to tell the difference too. That is an essential skill for a police officer if the force is to enjoy popular support.