Michael Bakunin on Privilege, and the Modern Privileged Hatred of the Working Class

Owen Jones devotes a whole chapter in his book, Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class (London: Verso 2012) to the way the media has also contributed to the demonization of the working class as feckless, drunken, drug-addicted promiscuous and violent wasters. He quotes expressions of such class, and also racial prejudice towards the White working class, not only from Right-wing columnists, such as James Delingpole, Amanda Platell and Janet Daley, but also Liberal anti-racists such as Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. He quotes Boris Johnson’s sister, Rachel on the very narrow class basis of the journalists now sneering at the underprivileged and the working class, stating

As Rachel Johnson (editor of the Lady and sister of Boris Johnson) puts it: ‘What we’re having is a media which is run by the middle classes, for the middle classes, of the middle classes, aren’t we?’ She is spot on. The journalists who have stirred up chav-hate are from a narrow, privileged background. Even papers with overwhelmingly working-class readerships join in the sport. Kevin Maguire told me of a Sun away day in which all the journalists dressed up as chavs. Chuckle at their venomous columns by all means, but be aware that you are revelling in the contempt of the privileged for the less fortunate. In the current climate of chav-hate the class warriors of Fleet Street can finally get away with it, openly a flagrantly: caricaturing working-class people as stupid, idle, racist, sexually promiscuous, dirty, and fond of vulgar clothes. Nothing of worth is seen to emanate from working class Britain. (p. 119).

He then goes on to describe how such hatred and contempt for ‘chavs’ has become an amusing pastime for the privileged members of the Middle Classes, including Prince William, at Oxford and Cambridge Universities.

This chav-hate has even become a fad among privileged youth. At universities like Oxford, middle-class students hold ‘chav bops’ where they dress up as this working-class caricature. Among those mocking the look was Prince William, one of the most privileged young men in the country. At a chav-theme fancy dress party to mark the end of his first term at Sandhurst, he dressed in a loose-fitting top and ‘bling jewellery’, along with the must-have ‘angled baseball cap’. But when the other cadets demanded he ‘put on a chavvy accent and stop speaking like a Royal’, he couldn’t do it. ‘William’s not actually the poshest-sounding cadet, despite his family heritage, but he struggled to pull off a working-class accent,’ one cadet told the Sun. Welcome to twenty first century Britain, where royals dress up as their working-class subjects for a laugh.

To get a more detailed sense of what the ‘chav’ phenomenon means to young people from privileged backgrounds, I had a chat with Oliver Harvey, an Old Etonian and president of the Oxford Conservative Association. ‘In the middle classes’ attitudes toward what you would have called the working-class, so-called chav culture, you’ve still got to see class as an important part of British life,’ he says. ‘Chav’ is a word Harvey often hears bandied around beneath the dreaming spires of Oxford. ‘You’d think people would be educated here, but it’s still something people find funny.’ Unlike other students, he dislikes the term because of its class meaning. ‘I think it shows a patronizing attitude and is rather offensive. It’s a word used by more fortunate people towards less fortunate people… Unfortunately it’s now a popular term that has been transplanted into people’s everyday consciousness.’

A place like Oxford is fertile ground for chav-hate. Nearly half of its students were privately educated, and there are very, very few working-class people attending the university at all. It helps unlock the truth behind the phenomenon: here are privileged people with little contact with those lower down the scale. it is easy to caricature people you do not understand. And indeed, many of these students owe their place at Oxford to the privileged circumstances that brought them a superior education. How comforting to pretend that they landed in Oxford because of their own talents, and that those at the bottom of society are there because they are thick, feckless or worse.

Bakunin Book Pic

Michael Bakunin: aristocrat and Anarchist revolutionary. Probably wouldn’t have been a fan of David Cameron

All this seems to bear out what the great 19th century Russian Anarchist revolutionary, Michael Bakunin, had to say about the corrupting effects of social privilege:

It is the peculiarity of privilege and of every privileged position to kill the intellect and the heart of man. The privileged man, whether he be privileged politically or economically, is a man depraved in intellect and heart.

131010benefitdenier

IDS: Just about everything about him corroborates Bakunin’s comments on privilege.

Clearly not everyone in the upper or middle classes is a mass of seething hatred and contempt for the working class, despite the efforts of the columnists of the Daily Mail and Telegraph. And very few would wish to see present society destroyed rather than reformed in the wave of apocalyptic violence Bakunin recommended. ‘Even destruction is a creative act’, as he described his attitude to the exploitative state and contemporary society. But it does describe the class attitude, and privileged hatred of the poor and disadvantaged shown by the very upper class members of the Tory front bench. After all, with Cameron, Clegg, Osborne and IDS presiding over an administration determined to destroy the welfare state, reforms that have resulted in as many as 38,000 deaths per year, it’s difficult not believe that Bakunin had a point about the corrupting influence of privilege. This needs changing, and fast. And it must be through the ballot box that such class hatred, oppression and exploitation must be removed.

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One Response to “Michael Bakunin on Privilege, and the Modern Privileged Hatred of the Working Class”

  1. Michael Bakunin on Privilege, and the Modern Pr... Says:

    […] Owen Jones devotes a whole chapter in his book, Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class (London: Verso 2012) to the way the media has also contributed to the demonization of the working class …  […]

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