Beyond mere equality - a politics of class analysis not ‘evidence’

Winter 2016

Recent years have seen the emergence of a politics of ‘fairness’, partly inspired by the work of Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett and by the tax justice lobby. The problem is that a rhetoric of fairness allows a shift of emphasis away from equality and the idea of exploitation of one class by another. According to Edward Thompson’s conception of Experience I and Experience II, it is when the experience of exploitation breaks through socially mediated versions of reality that people open up to the ideas of socialism. The potential active agents of socialism are people in the top fifty per cent of income distribution but outside the top decile, whose standards of living are currently being eroded. These are the modern version of the labour aristocracy. The radical reformism of Old Labour was a means for resolving a crisis in industrial capitalism. The current task is the articulation of a programme for resolving a crisis in post-industrial capitalism. For this fairness is not enough. We need to take on the exploiters and change the balance in the allocation of the social product, away from the exploiters and towards those who produce it - class war, even if simply a war of position.

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Soundings 64: Critical times