We were discussing Trump at the Working Men’s Club and one of the blokes said, ‘At least he’s a politician who’s doing what he promised.’ Trump is therefore virtuous? By this reasoning, Hitler promising to get rid of the Jews became virtuous by doing so. Of course, behind this reasoning is a long line of broken promises from politicians and more generally, a feeling of class betrayal.
Class is a complex concept but the dictionary definition is simple: rank or order of society. The term arose during the industrial revolution when the new working class arrived- people without property who had only their labour to sell as a means to earn a living. They were seen as existing in conflict with the middle classes who owned the means of production, most commonly, the factory. In between existed a lower middle class of shopkeepers and professionals whose interests generally aligned with the middle class.
Unlike the previous caste ordering of society, where rank was given by birth, a working class person could rise, usually via education or through entrepreneurial energy – the colonies gave more scope for this upward movement. As well, the middle class or lower middle class person could fall through misfortune or bad management. Politics became the task of managing these tensions.
Now, because of technological changes, globalisation and the current emphasis on investment and finance, the model has altered. Michael Albert, a Chomskey-ite, emphasises the current rise in numbers and importance of a co-ordinating class: lawyers, teachers, managers, public servants, CEOs, bank officers, counsellors, doctors, IT specialists, building inspectors, politicians…the list goes on. They are the gatekeepers of the system and the people who ‘the multitude’ or ‘the precariat’ of workers, students, migrants, refugees, beneficiaries, unemployed come into contact with and often, into conflict with.
Above the co-ordinating class exist the more remote elite, the 1% (more realistically the 10%) who are wealthy and as we know, own an obscene portion of the world’s wealth. They may come from one of the wealthy dynasties, they may have risen through the entertainment industry or by hitting the jackpot in the digital sphere (invented facebook or Trade Me or own Microsoft or Apple), they could be an oil sheik or an African dictator, or a Russian mafioso or an ex Prime Minister or a CEO of an investment house earning a ridiculous annual salary plus share bonus.
Celebrities channel this elite to the multitude, giving them stories, scandals and dreams, so that instead of being seen as the class enemy, they become role models of aspiration or charity or fantasy, a live lotto ticket with generous boobs and perfect teeth. The resentment and anger is reserved for the co-ordinating class trying to cope with National Standards or DHB funding shortfalls or the effects of the Global Financial Crisis.
This co-ordinating class have also been keen on diversity, equal rights etc, the stuff of political correctness and this can cause resentment amongst what is left of the traditional working class as they are forced to face GLBT, treaty and environmental complexities plus Muslim fundamentalists occasionally blowing themselves up in public places. Along comes a narcissistic member of the elite giving the co-ordinating class the fingers and this inchoate resentment of a mass of people unaware of their real order and its contradictions, seize on the winged fantasies which fascism always flies on.
Two questions remain: Are the co-ordinating class resolute and tough enough to take on this combination of a confused sector of the multitude and the elite, and win?
In doing so, can they create a solidarity with the multitude?