Could Britain have its Tahrir Square, its equivalent to Castro’s 26th of July Movement? Let a young woman dream. After last year’s riots and today with most of Britain alienated from the rich men in its government’s Cabinet, only a fool would rule it out.
For a different perspective I catch up with Owen Jones, 27 year-old poster boy of the new left and author of the bestselling politics book of last year, Chavs: the Demonisation of the Working Class. He’s on the train to Brighton on the English south coast to address the Unite trade union’s conference.
“There isn’t going to be a bloody revolution in Britain, but there is hope for a society by working people and for working people,” he counsels.
Indeed, he says, in the 1860s the later Marx imagined such a post-capitalist society as being won by means other than violent revolution.
“He did look at expanding the suffrage and other peaceful means of achieving socialist society. Today not even the Trotskyist left call for armed revolution. The radical left would say that the break with capitalism could only be achieved by democracy and organization of working people to establish and hold on to that just society against forces that would destroy it,” Jones said.
Jones recalls that his father, a far-left Militant supporter in the 1970s, held to the entryist idea of ensuring the election of a Labour government and then organizing working people to make sure that government delivered.
“I think that’s the model,” he says.
How very un-New Labor. That said, after we talk, Jones texts me to make it clear he’s not a Militant supporter or Trotskyist. Rather, he wants a Labor government in power that will pursue a radical political program. He has in mind the words of Labor’s February 1974 election manifesto, which expressed the intention to “Bring about a fundamental and irreversible shift in the balance of power and wealth in favor of working people and their families.” Let a young man dream.
What’s striking about Jones’ literary success is that it’s premised on the revival of interest in class politics, that foundation stone of Marx and Engels’s analysis of industrial society.
“If I had written it four years earlier it would have been dismissed as a 1960s concept of class,” Jones says. “But class is back in our reality because the economic crisis affects people in different ways and because the [UK] Coalition [government] mantra that ‘We’re all in this together’ is offensive and ludicrous. It’s impossible to argue now as was argued in the 1990s that we’re all middle class. This government’s reforms are class-based. VAT rises affect working people disproportionately, for instance.”
“It’s an open class war,” he says. “Working-class people are going to be worse off in 2016 than they were at the start of the century. But you’re accused of being a class warrior if you stand up for 30 percent of the population who suffers this way.”
This chimes with something Ranciere told me. The professor argued that “one thing about Marxist thought that remains solid is class struggle. The disappearance of our factories, that’s to say de-industrialization of our countries and the outsourcing of industrial work to the countries where labor is less expensive and more docile, what else is this other than an act in the class struggle by the ruling bourgeoisie?”