Lisa M’s “Downwardly mobile and loving it” really struck home with me, as someone who finds it increasingly difficult to identify with the student-oriented left. Her commentary on the middle class’ fascination with poor culture reflects a need to distinguish between those who are working class and those who are mistakenly labelled as such. Fringe groups and middle-class subculture often claim to be committed to the project of social democracy, but they continue to alienate and disengage from those who stand to benefit most from its aims. A genuine effort to represent the interests of the working class is a gritty undertaking that goes beyond recycled fashion and self-imposed poverty. It requires painstaking organization, agreeable policy preferences, and a consultative process that respects the dignity of all those affected.
M’s call for “owning up” to one’s class privilege is more than welcome but certainly an uphill challenge. Mainstream academia tells us that class consciousness factors very little in our elections. This is erroneously attributed to a classless image of Canadian society. But for those of us who’ve lived through the struggle, by the roll of the dice and less by choice, there is no denying the distinct worldview that emerges when we’re constantly looking up and never down at the forces that structure our lives. To believe in the myth of our classless society is to be neglectful of real inequality and experience.
Indeed, class privilege enables the middle class to participate in mainstream politics, nurture civil society, and even write radical columns for student newspapers. Unfortunately, such privilege – however declared or denied – is all too often used to reinforce a system that is more limiting than most of us would care to admit. The old-fashioned Marxist bleakly envisions the middle class as the up-and-coming bourgeoisie. Let’s hope there are more radical thinkers like M who understand their privilege and use it for more constructive aims.
U3 Political Science and Sociology