I have just finished four months in the U.S., in Madison, Wisconsin, where the ‘culture wars’ have succeeded in mobilizing rural resentment against the cultural elites in order to fuel one of the most regressive state policies, one that actively dismantles social and environmental protections in favour of the real financial elite. This is happening one way or another in the whole of Europe, where former working class areas are shifting towards the same type of politics. The Brexit vote was strongest in the regions previously marked by the revolt of the Luddite movement and the birth of the labor movement in the 19th century.
This is a key division that must be overcome, between the old working class that is pushed out of the remaining social protections and the new knowledge-based working class that is engaged in precarious ‘autonomous’ work, but linked through networks and digital knowledge commons. Think taxi drivers against Uber drivers as another example of such a destructive division.
Joseph Todd expresses this well in an article for ROAR, that deals with the fall-out of Brexit vote (excerpt):
“This is the narrative sweeping the media; one of an irrevocable, all out culture war. A nation split down the lines of leave and remain. A battle of class, race and geography. And it is one that will only end badly for the left. If this narrative takes hold, we’ll hemorrhage support to the center and the right. If we are to build a progressive majority, we must begin to articulate a very different story.
The left need to reach two constituencies if it is to build power. First are the young, urban, educated and often culturally middle class; those who were promised stable, fulfilling and well paid employment and instead suffer a largely precarious, freelance and uncertain existence. They get by, but only through a mixture of agency, bar and office work. They find somewhere to live, but only by paying 60 percent of their income in rent.
The second are the the rural and semi-rural working classes of former mining and industrial towns. Those who the press term “core Labour voters”. They live in areas torn apart by Thatcher. Where the little employment that exists is provided by the state. Where migration of the young is endemic. Where investment is nowhere to be seen.
Both these groups have a potential left inflection. The former are young, socially liberal and economically precarious. They’ve been raised on networks rather than hierarchies, gifting them an anti-authoritarian, open source impulse. They are unlikely – as their parents were – to be bought off with cheap housing and decent salaries as neither are readily available.
The latter are those worst hit by austerity. Most dependent on government run services. More likely to have had child tax credits or disability living allowance perniciously snatched away. They find themselves enmeshed in the disciplinary mechanisms of the job center, police station and courtroom. They are the ignored and unrepresented. Absent for decades from mainstream political discourse.
A progressive alliance between the two would be explosive. It could deliver Corbyn enough seats to govern. Yet such a possibility is threatened by this manufactured culture war, by the establishment’s framing as impossibly oppositional; defined by Leave or Remain, as if it were the only determinant of ideology and identity.”