[Marxism] Who’s Afraid of the White Working Class?: On Joan C. Williams’s “White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America” - Los Angeles Review of Books

Nick Fredman nick.j.fredman at gmail.com
Sun May 21 14:36:15 MDT 2017


On Mon, 22 May 2017 at 3:32 am, Richard Sprout via Marxism <
marxism at lists.csbs.utah.edu> wrote:

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> https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/whos-afraid-of-the-white-working-class-on-joan-c-williamss-white-working-class-overcoming-class-cluelessness-in-america/


This is a pretty good response to the simple-minded anecdotal assertions of
the right-wing "white-working class vs educated elite" crowd, who cause so
much confusion about Brexit, current polls in the UK, voting patterns in
Australia for both the Greens and One Nation, etc. But it's got a few
inadequacies.

David Roediger, here anyway, doesn't add a lot of clarity about what class
is and how class can be used in empirical analysis of politics. He alludes
briefly to a Marxist definition but then seems to take up an income
definition after criticising Williams for the same. But in Australia and I
assume the US skilled members of the most militant unions — builders,
electricians and miners — can easily earn over $100K, while many
shop-keepers, farmers and contractors struggle on much less (and lower to
middle managers no more).

He rightly criticises an education definition, a definition which made a
bit more sense 50 years ago (at least in terms of association rather than
causation) but is totally outdated now with the capitalists' demand to get
more and more education - improved labour power - into workers, at no
expense to them. I.e. the "credentialism" affecting many jobs, like e.g. my
partner's occupation of midwifery, which once required a 2-year diploma but
now has an entry level of a 4 year degree, or commonly a nursing degree
plus a post-grad diploma, and to get very far required extra post-grad
courses and very commonly a masters through a career. But David seems to
see education as inadequate in explaining class in terms of the
low-to-median sort of income of the higher-educated. That's relevant but
more so is the much decreased control over work and lack of ownership of
any means of production of the higher-educated: they're much more like any
other proles than they were 50 years ago (it's absurd that some people
still use 50-year-old terms like "new middle class" as if the processes are
"new" or haven't changed, like describing the 1965 class structure as if it
were the same as in 1915).

It's also unfortunately symptomatic of the lack of understanding of how
class can be studied empirically that David suggests it's hard to do any
better relating class to voting with the available data. It is hard if you
rely on immediate and easily available aggregate poll data or district
election results. But there's the American National Election Studies, which
has plenty of data to categorise a representative sample of individuals by
whether they own a business and employ people or not, and whether they have
any managerial control at work or not, and to what extent, as well as
income, education, ethnic background, attitudes to various questions,
political participation and voting patterns, including a longitudinal
panel. This would allow a pretty good approximation to a Marxist
categorisation — differentiating people by ownership and control over the
means of production, i.e. workers as non-managerial employees, small and
medium business people and managers — and how this structure affects
attitudes and voting along with other factors (it'd lack the dynamism of
complexity of actual class relations but would be a lot better than
Williams et al.). I don't know if the US individual-level data is a bit
complicated to get like the Australian Election Study or freely available
like the British Election Study, and to use it would require some skill in
stats and a stats package, but an academic studying these areas should at
least know about it and studies using it.

An overall problem for social science seems to be than those doing serious
quantitative work mostly aren't Marxists and Marxists as a whole aren't
very good or very interested in serious quantitative work, Erik Wright
being a bit of an eclectic exception (personally I missed the
fast-disappearing tenure boat for working on what I'm actually interested
in and have ended up, apart from a couple of articles, mainly being a stats
prole on other peoples' projects on changing patterns in education and
evaluating an NGO's social programs — the drastically decreased level of
funding and tenure in any radical research probably exacerbating the
overall problem).

For some Marxists there's wilful misunderstand of contemporary class
structure that suits certain schemas. For Socialist Alternative (Australia)
highly-educated employees are workers when they go on strike but
middle-class when they vote for the Greens.



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