You’re sitting in a bar. You are surrounded. A man is talking. Do you know what he is saying? Does he want you to know what he is saying or does he just enjoy saying it?
You pick up on words you’ve heard in passing, skimmed over in books, spent hours trying to grapple with, rip off the edge of his tongue as if he was raised with them. They fall out his mouth, words like eschatological, ontological, dialectical. A friend, a woman, tries to break in and ask what they mean. She is ignored. You break in and ask what they mean and wish you never had.
This is the Left as I experience it. Where revolution is planned and conducted in lecture theatres, chess moves towards liberation made between essay plans and summer trips abroad with the family. Middle class students looking at three years of reading and hoping for some action before graduation is swept away by job offers and internships and a Labour membership form drops through the letterbox. “Our priority right now is Corbyn.”
I have heard every one of them say ‘Class does not exist, it is a social construct and to talk about it is divisive’. This is the gentrification of revolution. Those conversations above used to exclude those who haven’t studied Derrida or Deleuze into remaining quiet, asked to forget our lived experiences in poverty so that we can be rescued by those who can be trusted to make change, those who say ‘let’s not get into identity politics’ just so they can focus on respectability politics.
Class is a social construct. So is racism and sexism and queerphobia. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist and it doesn’t mean that people like me haven’t been subject to the material conditions that construct provides.
Here’s the thing. I don’t know what those words mean. Why? Because I can’t afford the books that tell me what they mean and even if I could, I couldn’t afford the time to focus on them because, y’know, I actually have to work. Forty hours a week. At minimum wage. To survive. Hardly enough time to even think about revolution or social justice or, even, how one goes about guillotining Ian Duncan Smith.
We as the working class are silenced. We are dehumanised by the overread minds of the middle class. We’re considered reckless in our behaviours, sometimes violent, which stem from a heightened propensity to mental illness, or childhood trauma or some sort of other lack of safety that you often find in well to do families. We’re turfed out of our homes for stadiums we can’t afford to go to, cereal bars we can’t afford to eat in and universities we can’t afford to learn from. We’re locked up for lashing out, for taking direct action away from theory and when we do sit back and listen to people who say they want change just as much as we do, we’re bored fucking senseless.
On average, the poorest of us are more likely to suffer from depression. According to Poverty.org.uk:
Depression is one of the most common forms of mental illness. Its effects can spread into all dimensions of a person’s life including their work, home and social environments. Possible triggers identified for development of this illness include unemployment, redundancy or the threat of it, and financial difficulties.
A poor working environment and social isolation are also factors which heighten the risk of depressive illness. The chosen indicator of mental health shows those classified as being at high risk of developing mental illness, where this proportion differs substantially by level of household income.
When we can’t work, we’re dependent on the State to help us until we are. This, if you’ve been paying attention, has become almost impossible since 2010. When we can work, we’re more likely (university educated or not) to have less access to jobs with higher salaries. When we can’t, we’re scroungers, leeching off the middle classes who, let’s not forget, are made wealthy by the labour that we sell for pittance. Our work is precarious or non-existent. Our identities are fractured by our ever changing working environments, but thank god for transferable skills, eh?
Revolution in this context for the students who aim to practice it their way falls down to one thing:
They want to be us, but they don’t want to see us. They’ll live in filth, lie about which private school they went to, they’ll drop their t’s and they’ll complain about how poor they are (all the while the family unit pays their rent). They’ll live that experience to the best that they can recreate it, but when it comes to crippling depression or personality disorders, when it comes to a higher suicide rate or getting their hands dirty before the police and the state, often with devastating consequences, they’ll step back out of their voluntary poverty and they’ll remember their roots.
Talking about class is divisive. It divides those who live the through the unerring darknesses of austerity, who lose loved ones, their homes and their rights as workers, from those that don’t. These people, who might complain about the hunt but still allow them on their land, are the very same people who complain about capitalism but allow it to pull them up by pushing us down.
And we are done with them.
PS: Fuck Jeremy Corbyn.