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Sean Ruth-International Liberation Reference Person for Middle-Class People

Middle-Class People and the Ending of Class Oppression

Middle-class liberation work is happening at a time when it is clear that we are in the final stages of the collapse of this economic system.

Capitalism has had the ability to stumble from one crisis to another. It has moved from periods of prosperity (at least for some people) to periods of economic recession (from “boom to bust”). The crash of 2008 was the second-deepest recession since the great crash of 1929. The system has been able to “recover” for those at the top and continue on only by a massive transfer of wealth from the bottom to the top, from those least well off [least prosperous] to those most well off.

If this were a more normal period, capitalism could perhaps once again stabilise and continue. However, there are two things that make this extremely unlikely. The first is the fact that we have reached, or are rapidly reaching, the limits of how much we can degrade the environment and extract the resources that are needed for economic growth. The second is global warming and the real danger of catastrophic effects if it is not prevented. These two factors put a time limit on how much longer capitalism as we know it can last. It cannot keep growing in the face of these obstacles. It will finally collapse, in the lifetimes of people reading this. Echoing Harvey Jackins, this raises the question of what we will do with the rest of our lives.

For many people in the world, the system has already collapsed. For those of us who have had more privilege, it has started to disintegrate. Increasingly, middle-class jobs are being eliminated and our privileges are being eroded. If we look around, we can see many other signs of the disintegration: increasing concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands; polarisation of political viewpoints; fundamentalism and extremism; a drift toward fascism* and erosion of human rights; scapegoating of minorities; increasing danger of war and possibly nuclear confrontation; growing numbers of refugees, along with desperate attempts to prevent them from reaching rich countries; and so on. The history of system collapse shows that periods like this can involve increasing violence and war and potentially huge loss of life.

It is important to also realise that the collapse of capitalism is not the same as the ending of class oppression. The present system could be replaced by an even more oppressive one.

Middle-class liberation work is not about feeling good. Given the current situation, the challenge for us, and everyone, is to organise ourselves to have a decisive influence on how the collapse is handled so that there is as little destruction and loss of life as possible. It is also to organise to have a decisive influence on the type of system that replaces the present one. Ideally, it is to see that the collapse leads to the ending of class oppression rather than to a different oppressive system. We have a limited amount of time to get ourselves organised to have this impact—probably less than fifteen years.

There are many people in RC who play middle-class roles and lead middle-class lifestyles but who do not “feel” middle class. For this reason, they have not been doing middle-class liberation work. These feelings are interesting, but they are not the point. If we have a middle-class role or a middle-class lifestyle, we need to take on this work regardless of our feelings. The pretence that we are not really middle class will make it less safe and more difficult for those who work directly in the production of goods and services to come into the RC Community.

Part of the confusion in this area is the belief that there is a group of people—for example, white raised-middle-class people—that is more middle class than others. However, regardless of our other identities or the differences in our distresses and patterns, if we play the role and have the lifestyle, we are as middle class as anyone. What matters is our place in the class system. (We may also have other class identities that we need to work on, and they are important, too.)

A key part of middle-class work is to organise to back [support] the leadership of working-class people and other groups that have been kept out of leadership. Part of my vision is that when working-class and raised-poor people look around, they will see an organised group of middle-class people, not just middle-class individuals, backing them.

As the collapse proceeds, clarity and leadership will come increasingly from groups that have not been at the centre of middle-class work—in particular, younger people, middle-class people who were raised poor or working class, People of the Global Majority, and Indigenous people. This means that the rest of us have to do the work to get ourselves in shape [in a condition] to back these leaders.

In the face of possible collapse, the class system wants middle-class people to be distracted, fearful, and committed to maintaining the status quo. We have to decide to give up organising our lives around comfort and security and decide to act with courage and integrity. This means actively deciding to organise our lives around ending class oppression. We have to decide to switch our allegiance from helping to maintain the class system to working actively to bring it to an end. Some of us will do this from within mainstream organisations while others will do it in various alternative settings.

The collapse of capitalism can feel like a threat to our privilege, status, and comfort. It is important that we discharge all our feelings about this. Huge resources go into making sure that we are confused and unable to think clearly about class and economics. If we can be completely honest with ourselves about our feelings about the collapse, we can discharge these feelings and recover our ability to think clearly about what kind of a world is rational.

The middle class is a group of people who were set up to ensure that capitalism functioned smoothly and efficiently. The fact that we are now organising and rethinking our place in the class system is one of the hopeful aspects of the current situation.

Seán Ruth

International Liberation Reference Person for Middle-Class People

Stillorgan, County Dublin, Ireland

(Present Time 188, July 2017)

* Fascism is a political philosophy, movement, or regime that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.

Last modified: 2019-05-02 14:41:35+00