Identity or class

THERE’S a lot of discussion and very confused thinking about “identity politics” going about on social media at the moment, especially in relation to the efforts to portray the Labour Party, and the supporters of Jeremy Corbyn in particular, as riven with anti-Semitism. This is ironic in that historically the real anti-Semites have always accused socialists and Jews of being part of a massive global conspiracy together — along with free masons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals and mysterious trans-dimensional beings of the type rarely seen outside of episodes of Dr Who.

In this context identity seems to be an amalgam of ethnicity, culture, gender, age and individual feelings at any particular moment. And it is being used by our bourgeois culture not to find our common humanity but to separate us into small and smaller pigeon holes; to isolate us from one another.

The aspect of identity they miss out is class but it is our class that most governs our everyday lives. As workers we are wage slaves; there is no other way to survive. Unlike our distant ancestors we have no option to find ourselves a convenient spot in the woods to build a hut and there is not much food available to be hunted or gathered for free. The land and the means of getting our food all belong to someone else and we are forced to play by their rules to be allowed to subsist. And their rules are all-pervading.

Our employer determines what time we set our alarm clock to get up on the vast majority of the days of our lives. The location of our job determines the length of time we have to endure overcrowded public transport and our boss determines what we will do for the greater part of most of the days of our lives.

We will spend most of our lives working hard to make someone else richer but will have no part of those riches — just a wage to keep us on our feet to keep coming to work. And nowadays not even that. Millions of workers depend to government subsidies to augment their miserably inadequate wages.

Even those who work in the public sector are indirectly supporting the class of the employers, by providing services for them and for their workforces to keep them working as efficiently as possible.

The culture of our bosses is now to regard us as dispensable, so we don’t need as much maintenance as we used to. They are plenty more where we came from. So the public service sector is being drastically reduced. Benefits and welfare safety nets are being withdrawn and workers who need them are being thrown out of the system.

But they are doing it in an exceedingly cruel way. It would be better if the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) admitted that now it simply does not have enough in its budget to support all who need it — in which case the sensible idea would be to put the names of claimants in a hat and draw them out in a sort of lottery. If they did that they could at least say “hard luck” to the losers who are being left to starve.

But no, they have to go through a cruel pantomime of Work Capability Assessments and sanctioning claimants for the most ridiculous reasons in order to make it appear that if someone is starving it must be all their own fault. This is the sting that drives so many to despair and suicide.

This is our class, the working class. It doesn’t matter what the colour of our skin or eyes; it doesn’t matter if we are Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Pagan or Atheist; it doesn’t matter what our gender or gender orientation; it doesn’t matter if our parents were born in London or Lagos, Manchester or Mumbai, Cork or Clarendon. When our children are hungry we all feel the same; when we are drowning in unpayable debt and can see no way out, we all feel the same. And if we do not all look after each other no one else will.

That is what binds our class and it is a very strong bond; it is our humanity.

But we also have the potential, if we stick together, that we can throw off the class that is oppressing us. They are grinding us back to the place where we really do have nothing to lose but our chains — and we really do have a new, better world to win.