By this I mean what do you consider your role to be?
There are, of course, many possible answers, but most of them are to a major extent, self-kid or even jingoism! For, what you do depends largely upon your social and economic position, and this is particularly true for the poor, for they have little or no choice. Without work, such people worldwide would not survive.
So, like it or not, the question posed does not have a wide variety of answers for the vast majority of the population. They must work!
And what they work at will be determined, in the main, by factors over which they have absolutely no control.
The well endowed financially, do, on the contrary, have a measure of choice, but only because they have others providing their resources and freedom-to-choose. That is the Freedom you hear so much about: but it certainly isn’t the freedom from Work for the poor: they know that they have no choice.
It is the freedom to do what you like, which is only conceivable among the privileged, though among the vast numbers of unemployed youth there is a growing myth that they like not having to work everyday for the benefit solely of their “betters”, and instead try to copy the “freedoms of the privileged” even without any disposable income, and fill their lives with what they consider worthwhile. BUT, the Prodigal Son is a feature of a privileged background.
They don’t get such people in the working classes, just as they don’t have fathers to welcome them home and put silks on their backs. Such are definitely a feature of the well endowed, where the expected recipient of inherited largesse, takes his “freedom” literally and indulges his preferences against the wishes of his funders.
But such handy fallback positions are not universally available for the vast majority, while, on the contrary, in a privileged family there would have to be an “eldest son”, whose job was to maintain that situation, and his siblings, who would have more freedom, but less support, could join the “family firm” or strike out on their own to success or failure.
The Working Class, on the other hand, don’t think in terms of Success or Failure. They must work to provide for themselves and their family.
How can you be a “successful” miner, factory worker or bus driver?
Such “options” were never available to the majority, whose main task was to get, and keep, a job, if they were not already earmarked and prepared for one by their betters.
Of course, these templates do not exhaust the full possibilities, but to, in any way, insist that there exists a wide range of possibilities is certainly a myth. The one possible route to escape the enforced possibilities for the poor is, and always has been, Education.
But, such a path is never automatically open to the majority of the poor, or if they do manage to get into it, are they guaranteed to make good their escape?
For though our form of Society needs ever more educated workers, it is intent on them also subscribing to the status quo, and never being allowed to get too big for their boots.
They are therefore selected for both intelligence and a necessary ambition to climb the social ladder, and if they pass these criteria, they are then groomed to serve the status quo, with, of course, a small but noticeable measure of financial gain, and the myth of “perhaps” ultimately joining the governing elite - or even joining in with the freedoms of privileged.
I was intended to take this route!
In Manchester, England, where I come from they even had different types of Grammar Schools to prepare intelligent children for their various roles in current Society. The Top School, Manchester Grammar, was for the wealthy, but also selected by examination a small number of lower class boys to be schooled to be “on the right side” when they went out into the World. While Manchester Central High School for Boys was basically a Grammar School for intelligent working class boys (and, perhaps surprisingly, also for Jewish boys), and prepared the working class incumbents in a very different way to Manchester Grammar.
Now, it turned out that significantly better grants could be obtained for the whole duration of their degree courses, if the recipients undertook to work for their funders on graduation. I, and many of my fellow students, was taken down Coal Mines and into Car factories (Rolls Royce and others) to see what sort of jobs they could be guaranteed, if they decided to go for these grants. I didn’t apply, but many certainly did.
Somehow, I had got the idea that Education was a preparation for Life, and not a preparation for Work!
When I passed my Scholarship (the only passport to Grammar Schools for the Working Class), I was the only one in my age group at my particular Elementary School to pass.
To give you some idea, I had started in the Nursery section during the Second World War in 1942 aged 2 and a half, and almost everybody else remained there until they left, aged 15, and went to work in one of the many factories that were within yards of our houses. One wall of Armitage Street Elementary School playground was that of an Engineering factory and it was 60 feet high.
Now, my having passed to a Grammar School was so rare that my teachers insisted that I also sat the entrance exam for Manchester Grammar, but I wasn’t successful!
In retrospect, this was a surprise, because throughout my career at MCHS I was top of the class in the “A” stream, and evidently clever enough for Manchester Grammar, but somehow, and in some way, I evidently just didn’t come up to the required scratch.
At that time, there was another middle strand in education, which they called Central Schools. These were for possible future technicians and foremen, and though another boy from my area had passed years earlier to get into such a school, and did very well there, but he never got the job that he had gained full qualifications for there and in subsequent Further Education at “tech” – a management role in a Cotton Mill.
His name was Eli Vessa, and he was black.
Nevertheless, he was the cleverest boy I ever knew in West Gorton, and he took me under his wing and told me about Astronomy and Science long before I even got to Grammar School. I met him because his mother looked after me after school, while my mother (a sewing machinist) was working making clothes for the Co-op. My sister, though intelligent, had no such mentor, and did not pass her Scholarship, and went to the Third Tier type school – a Secondary Modern, where she did subjects like Domestic Science (Cooking and Cleaning), while Woodwork and Metalwork prepared the boys for factory and foundry work.
Now, clearly, these different institutions were conceived of by politicians to bring the Education System “up to scratch” to serve the needs of the incumbent economic system – Capitalism, and its major motive force – Profit!
Yet, during that system’s initial and inexorable rise, when these were the ONLY drivers, and the prior system of education had been uniformly dire for the Working Class. In spite of evident intelligence, my mother had zero education, my Grandmother could neither read nor write, and my Dad was an unskilled labourer. Clearly, the prior system was nowhere near appropriate for a constantly changing economic system, and was not delivering a suitably trained Working Class for the multiple new roles within businesses and production in the Capitalist System. But, though this was understood by the politicians, they did not necessarily address everything that was necessary for healthy and fully functioning society at all levels.
It was becoming evident (though very slowly) that apart from the production of Surplus Value, there were also unavoidable Social Services, that were necessary to look after the health and welfare of the people at large, and particularly the Working Class poor, who never had any spare finance to spend on Doctors or Sewerage. So, among the Liberal-Humanist wing of the capitalists, there arose a tendency that considered these services to be absolutely essential, both religiously and practically to deliver large sections of the population from penury and ill health... Another Principle emerged, which we call Service.
[Elsewhere, I have written a short Paper with the title Service or Success?, which outlined alternative motivations for what people did with their lives (if, of course, they had any choice) And it was clear that these alternatives did not sit well together in a capitalist system. Indeed, they were frequently in direct opposition to one another- as it was debateable especially in the short term, whether it contributed to increasing Profit]
A political tendency arose within the Middle Classes, which saw Service as a vital component of social life, and social purposes, and this was writ large in their political slogans and policies. And they turned out to be much safer than another rising force led by Marxist revolutionaries, who directly resolved to work towards the total overthrow of Capitalism, and for the hegemony of the Working Class in a subsequent service-defined, Socialist State.
So, this alternative, purely service-oriented, and clearly safe group were allowed to grow to hopefully win the poor to such an agenda, which would improve their lives without revolution. These “liberal” organisations grew out of the existing Whig Party, so it was, from the outset, pro-capitalist (but “increasingly, with a heart”), and they re-labelled themselves as the Liberal Party. But they never managed to satisfy an increasingly organised Working Class, and their ever-growing Trades Unions looked instead to set up a Labour Party of their own, which would be much more closely allied to the Working Classes.
So, now we are well into the 20th century, and the Liberals, in spite of their “good hearts”, were already well on the wane, and yet a clearly inadequate Labour Party was nevertheless gaining a fast growing support almost exclusively among the Working Class, though many Liberals changed horses on seeing the ever more evident demise of their own, usual political vehicle.
The Working Class in their millions were switching to a Party that they believed would serve their interests, and in spite of a major betrayal by Ramsey MacDonald in joining a coalition with the Tories (the Conservative Party), they in 1945, after a Second World War between capitalist states, voted in an immense landslide for Labour.
Now, the demands, and indeed clamour, for the takeover of the citadels of capitalist society, was rising at an alarming rate among the millions of working class soldiers recently returned from armed conflict in a shooting war, and the leaders of the new Labour Government, who had been members of Churchill’s Coalition Government throughout the war, remembered the Russian and German Revolutions at the end of the First World War, and were as scared as the Tories of the possibilities of this avalanche of support.
So they instead “nationalised” the most important failing industries, which “served” the country, and had been so organised as such for the last six years to “win the war”. They took over the Coal Industry, the whole Railway System nationwide, the production of Electricity and Gas, the Road Transport System (for Goods Traffic), and even the whole canal network as British Waterways, and perhaps most remarkable of all, the whole Nation Health Insurance system, including all doctors, nurses and Hospitals. And they intended to run them as The National Health Service (NHS). But they didn’t touch the Banks or the Stock Exchanges!
Now, this wasn’t a Socialist Revolution: indeed it was a major move from the top, to avert such a possibility, and it worked!
Though driven along by an unstoppable groundswell from below, and the remnants of true socialists within the Party. It was a political move that couldn’t really be avoided.
Yet the Working Class, both as those served, and those involved in doing the serving, had found a new way of being helped along the way, or making a worthwhile living serving the community, and that transformed many attitudes.
Of course, it was entirely from below and the officer positions in all these institutions were still entirely staffed by the old privileged classes, so from the outset, this new attitude was being undermined. So, it certainly wasn’t an ideal world by any means.
Nevertheless, very large numbers of people were involved in occupations that were dedicated to Service, and most of those involved acted accordingly.
In spite of the great austerity after the Second World War, the prevailing attitude within the Working Class was of optimism and mutual service. There was a community spirit and a work ethic of Service that raised the level generally.
But, such motives within that class were not ideal from the point of view of those in charge – the capitalist class. Indeed, taken to the limit, they could only lead to Socialism and the demise of their own lucrative support system. So, what could the economic elite do to defuse that threat?
First, they had to use every power at their disposal to undermine the Labour Government and its Nationalised Industries. They wanted them back!
So, though they were in no position to stop the establishment of these nationalised industries, they could most certainly play a role in sabotaging them, and thereby “proving” that only they were up to the job of owning and running such important pillars of the economic system and its supports.
So, from the doctors demanding profitable rights, without which they would NOT participate in the National Health Service – or by those demanding compensation for their lost enterprises, which they could they invest in even more lucrative enterprises – like Oil, for example. And all this is not to mention the fact that literally ALL newspapers were pro-capitalist, and kept up a daily assault on the endeavours of the Labour Government. Indeed, even the USA demanded pay back for their loans during the War, blackmailed their debtors worldwide into fixing the price of gold on dollars (The Bretton Woods Agreement), and thus severely compromised the possibilities open to this Labour Government, in spite of its vast popular support and parliamentary majority.
And such blackmail continued even with the Labour Governments of the 1960s and 1970s, and only finally subsided with the clear indication that Blair’s New Labour had finally vanquished any residual Socialism within his Party from 1997 onwards, to finally deliver a completely non-socialist and pro-capitalist “alternative” to the Tories.
Gradually, the Service Ethos in the National Health Service (and other services) has been reduced, so that in some of them, once banker areas have been almost completely extinguished.
Now, you would think that in a capitalist world beset by its own inevitable economic crisis and the domino effect of the Arab Spring Revolutions, that the Socialist Alternative would again arise to terminate this defunct and increasingly damaging system.
It hasn’t happened yet!
But there is absolutely NO other alternative!