Organising to End Class Oppression

Seán Ruth* and I led a middle-class workshop for six RC Regions. Because Seán could come for only twenty-four hours, we had to adjust the schedule so as to get the most from him that we could. This meant that the theory about middle-class roles in capitalism, which he would usually have done on Saturday, was covered on Friday night. The theory about the collapse of capitalism, how to bring about change in society, and how we as middle-class people can change our role and work to end class oppression, instead of being presented on Sunday when people would have had plenty of discharge, was covered in a long class on Saturday.

I had been working with a group of leaders on Friday afternoon, and we had played a game of making farmyard noises whenever the material we’d been trying to face had felt too restimulating. Halfway through Seán’s outline of the roles, I felt the usual depression. The catalogue of roles we middle-class people play is really rather awful and still upsets me even after my having heard it many, many times. It seemed likely that others were restimulated as well, so I started quacking like a duck, and some responded by mooing like a cow, and so on. With little time for mini-sessions, this game made us laugh and got our attention out. Seán remained relaxed and continued as soon as the noise died down. 

The next day we contemplated the probable collapse (soon!) of the only system most of us have ever known, and the current destruction, due to patterns of greed and disconnection, of many things we love and depend on. We were challenged to decide to end class oppression (not on our own, but we do each need to make our own decision) before having much of an idea of what that means or how to do it. We had time to discharge, of course, and to notice that we are together.

I’m still impressed that we faced all this and remained in rather good shape right up to lunchtime, when Seán had to leave.

I wondered what we should do in the Saturday evening class. I wanted to make it real, so I asked people to choose one corner of the room to go to. One was for people who didn’t agree with what Seán had said, who wanted to argue. One was for people who were confused or unsure (for some people this was their first middle-class workshop, and for two it was their first RC workshop; they did well). One was for people who felt “ready to go.” Another was for people who felt that what Seán had asked for was “too hard.” We divided into threes within those groups and discharged.

On Sunday morning we worked on organising. Seán had emphasised that human beings probably have fifteen to twenty years in which to organise to stop climate change from accelerating in even more destructive ways and to manage the massive changes we expect, including the huge changes in society, so that they will be as minimally destructive as possible. This must include organising to develop new ways of living and new sorts of societies. However, we can’t take it for granted that new sorts of societies will be less oppressive than capitalism. We have to decide to end class oppression. Middle-class support groups, though important, are only a small part of what is needed. Our vision needs to be wide and long-term.

Our families were the first organisation we were ever in. So on Sunday morning I asked people where they were in their families and whether that had affected their attitudes toward organisations and organising.

There were older children who felt responsible for everything and whose safety seemed to depend on controlling. There were children with no siblings who felt it was their job to keep their parents alive so that the family-organisation could continue. There were middle children who had never felt that they had a place. There were youngest children who felt that the whole family, with its rules and customs, had been set up without consulting them and was not in their interests. There were sisters who had been abused by brothers while being expected to take care of and defer to them. There were brothers who had been bullied. There were people who had felt that their whole family was under siege from racism.

If you counsel on early hurts, all this is probably familiar. But somehow it makes a difference to ask, “How have the frozen needs and other chronic distresses I acquired in my family affected my attitude toward organisations?”

If we want to be equal to the challenge of climate change and making RC as powerful as it can be in this next period, we cannot be passive. We need to ask ourselves, “What is RC like? How does it work? What can it do? What can’t it do? Can it, should it, be changed so that it can do more? If so, in what way?” And, “Am I personally doing everything I can to make RC as effective as it can be?”

Similarly for non-RC organisations, we need to ask what their aims are, whether they are capable of meeting them, who is in them, who isn’t in them, how are they set up, what record have they, and how they could or should be changed to maximise what they are capable of.

We are not just choosing the best organisation to work in. Actually, we could work effectively in many very different types of organisations. We are choosing the best one for us—for our experience, our situation, our strengths—the one in which we will work the best.

If you want to put a cup of hot liquid down somewhere, you are aware of its characteristics. You are also aware of the characteristics of the surfaces on which you might put it. You would never put it down on a cushion.

I think we need to ask, “What is the current situation? What is possible? What could I do—taking into account my situation, experience, networks, relationships, and chronic distress (which has to be part of the picture, since it won’t disappear overnight)? Where could I already function usefully and enjoyably?”

I counselled a few people who had used similar questions to choose which wide world organisations to work in. We could see how pleased they were with what they could now do, whether that was by having an influence within the organisation or by being part of its collective strength. We could tell that their own lives had improved as a result.

Caroline New

Bristol, England

Reprinted from the e-mail discussion list for RC Community members

(Present Time 184, July 2016)

* Seán Ruth is the International Liberation Reference Person for Middle-Class People.

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00