Facing and Organizing to End Classism and Class Oppression

A letter to middle-class leaders from Seán Ruth, the International Liberation Reference Person for Middle-Class People

Hi everyone,

I want to raise some questions with you and invite your thinking about them. I’ve been trying to think about some of the areas we need to focus on as we do middle-class liberation work. In particular, I’ve been thinking about three different processes that we sometimes confuse with one another: class oppression, classism, and internalised oppression.

We’ve done well at clarifying the nature of internalised middle-class oppression and figuring out ways to work on it. Most of the work we have done has been in this area.

We have done much less work on classism in the sense of the oppressive ways we think and act around working-class people and people who were raised poor. A challenge here is being completely honest with ourselves about what goes on1 for us, discharging the feelings connected to our relationships with people who have a different class identity, and deciding to build close relationships and support working-class and raised-poor leaders.

I think we sometimes assume that working on internalised oppression is the same as working on classism, when the two are not the same. A challenge we face is to do much more work on how classism enters into and interferes with our relationships.

I think we can also confuse working on classism and internalised oppression with eliminating class oppression. For example, I can be comfortable with and committed to a decision to eliminate classism from my relationships. At the same time, I can have mixed feelings about ending the systematic exploitation and oppression of working people and, as part of that, replacing the capitalist economic system with a non-oppressive one.

There is a danger of slipping into a pretence of commitment to eliminating class oppression when we have never actually discharged how we feel about that or what it might involve.

Given the current global financial crisis and the desperate attempts to prop up capitalism by transferring money from the less well-off2 to the wealthy, it makes sense to tackle all the confusion, fears, anger, disappointment, and other feelings we struggle with. Doing this makes even more sense when we also consider the damage being done to the environment by the pursuit of economic growth and profit.

It is possible to get our minds back in relation to the bigger picture. We can think about the economic system. We can look at what it would mean and how it would feel to eliminate the system of class oppression. We can look at the possibility of the collapse of the capitalist economic system and all of our feelings connected to that. We can think about the implications for our lifestyles of eliminating class oppression and caring for the environment. We can look at what we would have to discharge to be able to think about all this and play some kind of leadership role.

I think the next stage of our work is to focus much more on the twin areas of eliminating classism and ending class oppression. Working on classism and our oppressor material3 may not, to begin with at least, feel as satisfying as discharging the internalised oppression. Working on ending class oppression may not feel as easy or as immediately relevant as tackling either internalised oppression or classism. However, I think we would be selling ourselves and working-class people short4 if we ignored this third area.

Let’s encourage people to start looking at their feelings about the collapse of capitalism and its replacement with a non-oppressive economic system, about giving up organising their lives around comfort and security, about settling for having enough, about climate change and the degradation of the environment in the pursuit of economic growth and profit.

Running through all of this is the challenge to be more strategic about this work and to organise to take charge of what is happening in the world around us. It is not enough that individually we feel better or that our immediate relationships are in good shape.5 We have to figure out how we, individually and as a group, can organise to support working-class people to bring about6 the ending of class oppression.

This is easy enough to point to, but what does it actually mean to organise? We haven’t talked much about this. I think it would be useful to try to spell out what it might mean.

It might include getting more people doing and taking leadership in this work, increasing the number of middle-class support groups, developing a clear and comprehensive theory about class oppression and our part in it, setting clear goals, spreading our work beyond RC and having an influence in the wider world, backing7 working-class leaders and being clear about what that means in practical terms.

What else does it mean to organise? I would like to hear what you think. How should we organise? What direction do you think we should move in? What should our priorities be in the coming years?

Stillorgan, County Dublin, Ireland
Reprinted from the RC e-mail discussion
list for leaders of middle-class people

1 Goes on means happens.
2 Well-off means affluent.
3 Material means distress.
4 Selling ourselves and working-class people short means not doing all we could for ourselves and working-class people.
5 Shape means condition.
6 Bring about means make happen.
7 Backing means supporting.

Last modified: 2014-10-18 00:48:17+00