‘Anti Woke’ Socialism: An Infantile Disorder – Labour Article
When you’re on the left, people want you to lose. Even other leftists. Is woke culture to blame?
In politics, we are at a fork in the road. Or, perhaps, we just have a squeaky wheel on the bandwagon: “What do we do about the ‘woke’ problem?” I know you can already picture the type of person who decries woke-ism. A certain type who’s rich; past their prime; very angry that they’re not the centre of attention anymore. Putting Laurence Fox’s ‘legitimate’ concerns aside, we must discuss the push back against woke-ism coming from the left as well as the right.
George Galloway gave Labour’s own Kim Leadbeater a run for her money in Batley and Spen taking up a crusade against the ‘woke’. Additionally, Paul Embery – who is a favourite among my conservative colleagues and his “Blue Labour” movement – says that woke politics is leaving behind ‘real’ working-class voters. Even former-war-criminal, Tony Blair, spoke out that Labour could die under the “woke left”.
Identity politics can take a lot of different forms under a lot of different ideologies, but what can OUR movement show about uniting people who live vastly different lives? Are Galloway and Embery right? Are the young leftists of today pushing out the “real working class”?
It All Comes Back to Marx
Karl Marx: history’s greatest monster to the types of Tories who wish they’d been born in America. He certainly had some opinions about class. He wrote that the working class was a product of the society we live in. The ability to accumulate wealth through owning capital results in a social class that creates this wealth through the exchange of labour for a wage. That’s what dialectical materialism is.
Marx identified that the working class was not one group competing with capitalism, but an integral part of how capitalism exists. In his critique of contemporary German Social Democrats, Marx wrote about how focus had shifted to redistribution of goods under a capitalist state and away from the abolition of the private property leading to the abolition of “the working class” itself. Without the coal mines and steel mills in the north, we wouldn’t have a working-class in Britain.
Too often our contemporaries view that appealing to the woke will split the working class into unnecessary lines. However, the working class will always exist as we live in a for-profit system. On the other hand, redistribution under a capitalist system isn’t the end goal either as that requires a class of workers to continue to be exploited under the same conditions for minimal wages. Instead, only through the total abolition of private property can we destroy the system that exploits us.
Intersectionality and Revolution
Adolph Reed is an American professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania. He is one of the highest regarded socialist scholars in the United States. Reed, a Black Marxist, argued that identity politics is rooted in capitalism’s response to and co-option of Black liberation movements in the ‘60s as a method of demobilising the movement.
He argues that only a certain stratum of the Black community has actually benefited since the end of segregation; these being newly elected Black representatives of government and policing in the 70s. In other words, Reed believes that the movements in the 1960s only entrenched Black people as a part of the capitalist machine rather than destroying it. Reed believes that focusing too much on race will undermine multi-racial organising against the real culprits of poverty: capitalism.
Reed’s criticisms are not unfounded. Black politicians and Black police officers did aid in quelling protests for the police killing of Freddie Gray. Even former Black Panther Party leader, Eldridge Cleaver, made a Senate bid as a Republican in 1986. However, Reed largely forgets the revolutionary movements of the 60s were definitely multi-racial.
For example, Fred Hampton organised the Rainbow Coalition in Chicago in the 60s to push for change under a radical multi-racial socialist message. The FBI identified him as such a threat due to his organising. They had continuously undermined him and eventually drugged and assassinated him with help from the Chicago Police. He is famously quoted: “We’re not going to fight capitalism with Black capitalism, but we’re going to fight it with socialism.”
Furthermore, there was the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement, an organisation founded by young Black and older Polish women. These women successfully challenged the all-white United Auto Workers union leadership and carved out greater representation among the ranks and challenged a head structure that was ignoring their issues.
Looking to Britain specifically, the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners and other groups raised £22,000 for striking families of the National Union of Mineworkers in the 80s. In return, the National Union of Mineworkers were outspoken against Margret Thatcher’s homophobic section 28 law and were critical in voting in for resolutions at the 1985 Labour party conference which started the commitment of the Labour party to LGBT rights.
The fact is there is space for us all to benefit under revolutionary action. These are just three examples, but there are countless other stories of working people of all creeds coming together. Thus, it is sad that plenty of people wish to revise these worker’s histories.
More often than not those who say that we cannot cooperate in worker spaces like this seek to push out others, especially minorities, rather than build a consensus where everyone can benefit; i.e. the George Galloways and Paul Emberys of this world.
“But Joseph,” I hear them say, “racism and homophobia don’t exist anymore because it was made illegal and the telegraph says transphobia is all a conspiracy funded by George Soros. How does this apply to modern Britain?”
What is class today?
Experiencing 28 consecutive years of neoliberalism hasn’t been fun. The decimation of union rights, manufacturing, community investment and public services has meant you don’t get the typical Sheffield steelworker with his peak hat and tweed coat anymore. Instead, we had the idea to get the Global South to make everything whilst we Britons can become wedding planners or boutique dog food makers.
Marx’s theory that the working class is not a societal group but a cause and part of capitalism holds even more true today. The working class hasn’t “disappeared”. We still live in a system where capital dominates society’s wealth. Class always lacks identity.
What *has* disappeared is the traditional working-class culture of social housing, industrial labour and trade union militancy. Class consciousness now floats freely. As Stuart Hall said: “politics does not reflect majorities, it constructs them.” Meaning that ruling classes are free to create any justification for their mandate to be ‘popular’. When it comes down to it, the politicians get to pick their voters to be “the working class”.
These days we have a mish-mash of proletariat tokenism such as the Conservatives’ claim to have the working class majority when they win the older, mostly home owning red wall in the north. It can be seen in how Khalid Mahmood can rally against his own national voters, the “London-based bourgeoisie […] walking around with their laptops and sitting down wherever,” as though the ideal worker has never seen a laptop. Or a chair.
The rally against London isn’t a rejection of identity politics but a full embrace of it. South vs North isn’t the right way to look at who’s working-class and who isn’t. Especially as there are parts of London where child poverty tips over 50%.
There isn’t a “red wall” and a “blue wall”. Constituencies are more determined to vote Conservative if they own a home. The Conservatives have their class consciousness, the class of property owners, where do we get ours from to form an opposition?
Naturally, all these points are only worth the time if we respect the demands of the likes of George Galloway and Paul Embery as genuine. After all, a pundit from the opposition, who will agree with any conservative on any issue, would stand to make a lot of money writing books or appearing on the likes of GB News and Russia Today.
Culture does not exist in opposition to class, but it’s what makes class tangible. Thirty years of neoliberal rule has left us with a definition of the proletariat that doesn’t include workers. That regards old homeowners as ‘left behind’ and young food insecure Deliveroo drivers living as ‘elites’.
While it’s unclear how we take on the real class divide of Britain, it is clear through analysing our history that our movement building through communities of vulnerability has always been our strength, not our weakness.
Written by Senior Labour Writer, Joseph McLaughlin
Point of Information
We Need a New Socialism beyond Class and ‘Wokeness’ – A Liberal Response
Joseph is right to say that culture does not oppose class. Both culture and class are engaged in a complicated dance with one another. To construct the working class in opposition to a woke culture (a construction itself) is a mistruth that Embery and Galloway often lean into. As Joseph shows well, there is a long history of socialist support for cultural and ideological movements which these pundits would consider ‘woke’.
However, modern socialism is in crisis. Today’s dance between culture and class plays out on a highly individualised level. Living in the atomized society which neoliberalism has given us, class and culture do not pre-determine or define each other. To say that the working class is becoming more ‘anti woke’ is an overgeneralization. Even defining ‘class’ has become more difficult.
Joseph displays how flexible ‘class’ as a term is today. But to define the working class, they draw a line between the homeowner and the renter; the exploiter and the exploited. Many do not see the class divide on these terms though. In turn, Joseph risks separating many in the ‘Red Wall’ from their deep-seated belief as working class.
Whether this is a political fabrication or not, it is clear the individual now defines their sense of class for themselves, regardless of the reality of the class divide. Homeownership is only one defining factor. Many would prioritise income, employment type, deprivation, or background instead of defining their ‘class’. Therefore the old-time homeowner in a mining town (such as my Grandad) may consider themselves to be working class, whilst the student on a zero-hour contract may not.
Culture is not just a regional thing, as Joseph shows well. The whole of London is not some bourgeois ‘woke’ bastion. But neither is ‘wokeness’ purely class-based either. Whether a working-class, middle-class, or upper-class person today supports progressive movements or not is rooted in an idea of the individual more than anything. Contrary to Joseph, culture does not make class tangible.
We cannot ignore what the critics of the modern left have to say. One central message of Embery’s Despised, despite its anti-woke tirades, is the need for community again. Unfortunately, the support for progressive causes has become overwhelmingly pictured as a struggle for individual liberation alone. This should be a means, rather than an end.
What the modern left has failed to do is to bridge this individual liberation to a shared community. We must be a community of individuals who can fully express themselves, not just atomized beings disjointedly existing with this or that identity. With this shared community, we can fight back against exploitation from the power-corrupted few.
However, the pundits go about it wrong. As Joseph notes, the critics of woke culture often fall into a false sense of community artificially created by those same exploiters in power. In reality, they should fully acknowledge how individualised British society and its politics have become. This should be their bread and butter. ‘Wokeness’ is a disingenuous term that confuses the goals of the left. We must forget about it.
We must instead reinvigorate the modern left with a new socialism. Class identity could be an avenue. However, ‘class’ in a purely socio-economic sense may obfuscate rather than build our need for community. Class, like culture, has also become highly individualised.
Instead, we need a socialism rooted in the dignity of all human beings, based on our common desires for happiness and freedom. Identity needs to be reframed in the process. Our differing identities should empower, not divide, this common community. With this, we can battle modern exploitation head-on.
Written by Chief Liberal Writer, Frank Allen
The Modern Left Has Forgotten Its Roots – A Conservative Response
While Joseph highlights the past intertwining of culture and class, the modern story could not be more different. The modern left has largely been split into two factions. As a result, it is failing to provide either credible opposition or a governing coalition of voters. And yes, this divide is between class and culture.
This divide has occurred because of the global/neoliberal revolution. As globalisation has occurred, there has been a change in class. The peak hat tweed suit wearing Sheffield steelworker doesn’t exist anymore because the industry has moved on. This traditional image of class was born out of cohesion and organisation. As the steel working industry or mines were one coherent and stable industry, they were able to unionise. And, because of the times that they lived in, they were less progressive.
However, since these industries have declined a new working class emerged: those who are born into and are defined by instability. This is categorised by the dwindling number of stable jobs and an internet economy where you are not only competing against your fellow countrymen but anyone across the world from anywhere.
These people however are born into a more globalised and fluid society and so are often more open and tolerant of ideas. This is to say nothing of the more tolerant and socially progressive middle-upper classes, those in academia for example.
So, when these two sides of the left try to mesh, it simply isn’t possible. A key example of this would be Brexit and Jeremy Corbyn.
There was a clear divide with people who voted Leave and Remain, both in education, region and cultural values. Those with higher education, urban residency and largely progressive cultural values were more likely to vote Remain. Those who lived in rural areas, have less education, and held less progressive cultural values were more likely to vote Leave. The younger demographic of the first group were more likely to vote Remain, whereas the traditional, now older Sheffield steelworker my colleague pines over were more likely to vote Leave. This divide split the Labour party and exposed cultural divisions.
Initially, these divisions held together for the 2017 election but collapsed in the 2019 one. This is because, even though the 2019 Labour manifesto was more left-wing than the 2017 one, culturally Labour had shifted. They, and other left-wing parties, betrayed the Brexit vote, and so betrayed their traditional bases. That Sheffield steelworker was now being talked down to, was being told that Brexit was a mistake. Another referendum had to be held for the ‘right’ decision could be reached.
This split the two sides of Labour apart. The younger, culturally progressive side of Labour broke from the older, less progressive side.
My colleague is quick to criticise the older household owners for the collapse of the red wall, but they ought to do well to remember that those are the same people that used to work in the steel and mining industries. The very same the left used to represent. Most are voting Conservative for the first time ever, and feel abandoned by the left. Those red wall seats held strong for decades. The idea that old people can be solely blamed for their fall is ridiculous. There are deeper reasons for that, and culture is one of them.
Ultimately, in modern times culture has become more visibly present. While Joseph retells the history of culture’s relationship with class, they fail to note its present state. And it’s through this denial that the left-wing isn’t able to unite under a banner, to either form credible opposition or the support needed for a government.
Written by Co-Chief Conservative Writer, Kieran Burt