[Marxism] middle class ghettoes

Ben Courtice benj2006 at connexus.net.au
Tue Mar 14 19:22:39 MST 2006

A great article from the Monthly Review web zine.  For all those on the 
left who fear that progressive political opinion is something restricted 
to an educated "elite", or that the left is unable to break out of the 
trendy inner-city, I found this article has a number of constructive 
insights, into not just the broadly progressive "middle-class" public 
(however you define them), but also the activist groups that many of us 
from that background are involved in.
Ben Courtice

Full article available at <http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/engel140306.html>

I Live in a Ghetto
by Michael Engel
I live in a ghetto, with all its attendant social pathologies: 
isolation from the outside world; customs, language, and behavior alien 
to the larger society; inability to act collectively in the common 
interest; and class and racial homogeneity.  Ghetto life is like living 
in a state of siege.  The residents display a smug self-confidence and 
false bravado to cover up their fundamental insecurity.   The only 
security against a hostile environment is sticking with one's own kind. 
  Although some may describe it as a community, it is a socially 
fragmented aggregation of individuals doing exactly as they please.  The 
result is an inability to accomplish meaningful political and economic 
It is not that these people are insincere, ignorant, or hypocritical. 
It is that they are firmly middle-class.  They simply cannot stomach 
collective action that threatens what they believe to be their personal 
space.  Ultimately, most also fear a radical transformation of society, 
even though they may claim to desire it.  It is very comfortable in the 
Pioneer Valley, and one can rationalize that uncommon comfort by taking 
individual and mostly symbolic actions against political and economic 
ills without risking anything.  Of course, there are a number of radical 
activists in this area who have gone beyond that and risked their lives 
or freedom for social change.  But they are a largely older group and a 
distinct minority.  "Virtual organizing," such as MoveOn.org, is much 
more comfortable for the new generation of middle-class progressives 
than face-to-face organizing.  No structure can develop out of this 
approach.  Thus, as in so many other places, the middle-class peace 
movement that sprang up before the Iraq War disappeared as quickly as 
computer images as soon as hostilities began.
A successful movement to transform America is going to have to shed its 
middle-class ghetto mentality and the individualism that goes with it. 
This is no easy task for a middle-class American, as I discovered in 
that organization.  It is also not easy for an activist group to take 
that path without sacrificing democratic values in the process. 
Progressives in the Pioneer Valley and elsewhere are spinning their 
wheels and stuck in the mud because they refuse to face up to those 
issues.   I believe that socialists in this country have also paid 
insufficient attention to them.  If we are serious about achieving 
socialism, we are going to have to do a lot better.

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