Finding uncommon ground: working-class identity politics after Labourism

Finding uncommon ground: working-class identity politics after Labourism[1]

Don’t talk to me of fucking representing

the class yer were born into any more.

Yer going to get ’urt and start resenting

it’s not poetry we need in this class war.

 

Yer’ve given yerself toffee, cunt. Who needs

yer fucking poufy words. Ah write mi own.

Ah’ve got mi work on show all ovver Leeds

like this UNITED ’ere on some sod’s stone.

Tony Harrison, V

 

You don’t choose the family or the circumstances you are born into but you can choose your tribe

Katy Perry

 

Between tribe and multitude: the shape-shifters of class

For many on the British left, ‘identity politics’ emerged out of the radical student and youth cultures of the late 1960s, at a time when the onward march of Labour was beginning to grind to a halt in the face of the first wave of de-industrialisation. Identity politics was essentially about ‘non-class issues’ – about sexuality, gender, generation, ethnicity and race. For some traditional Marxists, the culture wars that developed around these issues were distractions from the class struggle; they were seen largely as the preoccupation of students, middle-class professionals and the liberal intelligentsia, and as indirectly serving to widen the ideological gulf that existed between the latter and ‘ordinary’ working-class people. This was at a time when long established working-class cultures and communities were under attack, as their material basis in Fordist production, long term investment in industry, and the post-war settlement between Capital and Labour was being rapidly eroded by the advent of a globalised economy based on new information technologies. In contrast, for the New Left, inspired by Gramsci and the growth of Cultural Studies, identity politics constituted an exciting new field of political and personal action, uncontaminated by the ideological baggage of either Labourism or economistic Marxism.

The starting point for this article is, firstly, that identity politics has never not been about class – it has always involved the class articulation of non-class issues; and, secondly, that working-class identity politics have a long, complicated and conflictual history, rooted in the founding moments of the industrial revolution in Britain. We cannot grasp what is at stake in the political fallout from the current unravelling of working-class identities – whose effects Tony Harrison so painstakingly traced in his poetic dialogue with the skinhead who had defaced a family gravestone in his home town – unless we seek an understanding of the process in the long durée.

Class consciousness today is no longer dependent on the intervention of a class based ideology or party that seeks to unify and transform a class-in-itself (as defined by its objective place in the social division of labour) into a class-for-itself (i.e. a class that is actively organised and conscious of its own political interests). Instead, class identity has sought to base itself on relationality, and this has undermined the old classical Marxist model: class relations today are formed and re-formed through a trajectory of positive and negative proxy identifications. And, through these identifications, a ‘class-from-itself’ (a class that seeks to reconstitute itself through its external identifications) is continually reconfigured as a ‘class-to-itself’ (a group defined to itself by new forms of internal identification); what’s more, these new forms of ‘class-to-itself’ frequently morph into ‘class-from-itself’, and vice versa.

 In the first, centrifugal, moment of class-from-itself, collective identities associated with becoming working-class (via the various informal apprenticeships offered by the family, school, workplace or neighbourhood) are decentred and dispersed into more or less transient assemblies of individual citizens/workers/consumers/residents, pursuing particular interests, desires, grievances or demands. The narratives of aspiration which sustain these groups tend to refer to social origins as an obstacle to advancement, something that has to be overcome in order to transform bad beginnings into happy endings (the ‘triumph over adversity’ story); or, alternatively and more nostalgically, class origins are seen as a locus of lost solidarities that can be sentimentally retrieved  (the ‘there goes the labourhood’ story). This trajectory provides the material sensation of mobility, of making real life  transitions, but it is an evanescent momentum which mirrors an underlying socio-economic stasis.

In a second and centripetal moment, which often occurs as the pursuit of particular quests or claims hits up against the general limits and conditions imposed by existing power structures, these assemblages – if they do not become completely atomised and disappear altogether – may regroup to define themselves as the sovereign representatives of People and/or Nation; a sense of heritage, of enacting a social destiny, is an important feature in this narrative, along with a drive to re-centre  demands for social justice within the body politic as a programme for its democratic transformation. This trajectory generates the semblance of arriving at a point of stable anchorage for re-formatting working class identities but remains haunted by  a sense of their social dislocation.

Working-class identity politics thus takes a dual form. The class-from-itself moment is created through drawing on diverse elements external to the working class (e.g. via social movements, or virtual communities of interest); in so far as it holds on to principles of solidarity and mutual aid, these are expressed through the figure of the Multitude, as described by Hardt and Negri; the multitude can be seen as providing a bio-political platform for ‘bridging capital’ which connects people across differences and allow them to sustain relatively fluid identities and affiliations.[i] This in turn enables people to behave proactively, mainly by building opportunistic partnerships that can reduce the risk of common projects becoming destabilised by global market forces. Its populist meme, addressed more or less self-referentially, is ‘For the Many not the Few’.

In contrast, the centripetal class-to-itself moment reproduces itself from inside itself.[ii] It emphasises principles of self-reliance and self-sufficiency; politically, in the past   it was associated with ‘workerism’, the belief that the emancipation of the working class is a task which can only be accomplished by the organisations of the class itself, led by an ‘organic’ intelligentsia.. Today however it is embodied in the figure of the Tribe, which as Michel Maffesoli points out has increasingly substituted itself for ‘the masses’ as a rallying point for a whole array of subcultures pitching themselves against  a suffocating and homogenising  individualism. As a means of returning the working  class to itself it is a reactive strategy, and one which seeks to develop bonding capital (see note 1), binding people together around common filiations, fixed identities and more or less fictive kinships, as well as shared  memoryscapes linked to local prides of place. Street gangs, community heritage projects or NIMBY style urbanism all represent defences against the de-territorialisation of identity and the de-stabilisation of the life course resulting from the de-regulation of market and civic economies. At the same time, this response is a recipe for the elaboration of a narcissism of minor difference, whereby to live in the wrong street, support the wrong football team, wear the wrong clothes, or go to the wrong school, is to find yourself a pariah within what is notionally a community based on a  common class culture. The tribe’s populist meme, addressed exclusively to its own members, is ‘One for All and All for One’.

These two responses, and their respective social imaginaries of community, offer complementary ways of putting Humpty Dumpty back together again. But neither Multitude nor Tribe can heal   the hidden injuries of class. The first deals with anxieties about class influence through the incorporation, and sometimes neutralisation, of social differences; but its effect is to displace status anxiety into ever new circuits of projective identification. The second operates through disavowal, foreclosing the opportunities opened up by the loosening of the class template by reiterating an aboriginal class identity in and for itself.

 

Backbone of the nation, race apart: a tale of labour’s two bodies

The liberal left intelligentsia has often been ambivalent about manual labourism as a site of working-class community; this culture has sometimes been idealised as site of heroic masculinity and fraternal combination, but – for that very reason – just as often disregarded or treated with suspicion as a reactionary sexist obstacle to social progress. This split perception has a long history, one that is rooted in material circumstances and in actual divisions within the class but also in the ways these have been represented. Many years ago, Edward Thompson argued that what was unique about the English working class was that it was present at its own making.[iii] England had the first industrial revolution, and hence the first industrial proletariat. There were no historical precedents, no narrative templates laid down for how this social force should be represented, politically, culturally or aesthetically. The historical prematurity of its birth meant that the class had to invent its own myths of origins to explain how it had come into being and what its destiny was to be.

One way this was attempted was by appealing to imagery and language that gave the emergent class a heroic, Promethean and largely pre-industrial provenance. Elementary, or rather elemental, forms of labour – labour that worked with the elements of fire, water, earth and air in various combinations, and used both skill and physical strength to transform nature into a productive force – came to be regarded as occupying a privileged position in the ontology of labour power. Workers whose labour embodied these principles: miners, navvies, blacksmiths, farm workers, fishermen, foresters, mariners, dockers, foundry men, and more recently, ‘roughnecks’ or ‘roustabouts’ working on oil rigs, steel erectors, and tunnellers – all these became privileged icons of a heroic form of working-class masculinity, hailed as providing the backbone of the nation. At the same time, the physical degradation and abject poverty associated with many unskilled categories of manual labour, and with dirty or taboo jobs, led to their associated communities to being treated as belonging to a ‘race apart’.[iv]

Labour’s two bodies, promethean and abject, were not mutually exclusive. They could be two sides of the same story. The history of some social  groups can be traced as a progression from one subject position to the other – and then back again. Cockneys, for example, started out life as an alien underclass whose moral physiognomy was compared unfavourably and invidiously to that of ‘hottentots’, but then turned themselves into music hall performers singing popular patriotic songs and cracking cheerful-chappie jokes, until by the 1940s they emerged as national heroes of the Blitz – only to fall from grace once more in the multicultural 1990s when, thanks to Alf Garnett and the Pub Landlord, they become a byword for in-your-face chauvinistic attitudes, or, alternatively, the sentimental ‘knees up mother brown’ schlockney of Chas and Dave.

Miners have suffered a similar fate, and one significantly bound up with their historical association with a home-grown tradition of blackface. Blackface was part of two quite distinct strategies for representing The Other; the first linked black slavery to the unfreedoms of wage labour and the abjections of dark satanic mills. The second drew on popular traditions of masquerade and the practices of ‘blacking up’ associated with the English guiser, mumming, Morris, and the defence of ancient national liberties against foreign yokes. The miners, those ‘white negroes’ whose coal-blacked faces spoke eloquently of their dual existence as the backbone of an industrial nation and as a race apart from the rest of the working class, were also part of a wider struggle by  sections of the labour movement to tear off the black mask and ‘whiten’ skins, to erase the stigma of grime from public representations of the class, whether through the improvement of working conditions or the provision of more hygienic living environments. If, nevertheless, it was the miners who were singled out by Margaret Thatcher as the ‘enemy within’, it was precisely because they had come to represent the backbone of the industrial working class, and its claim to be the true creators of the wealth of the nation.

It was this same white skin/black mask dialectic that came into play in the original moment of emergence of East London skinheads in the context of the closure of the docks in the late 1960s. Their fathers may have marched in support of Enoch Powell, and signed up to his inverted vision of them as the backbone of an island race whose mission was to ensure that England remained a providential nation apart. But the sons and daughters, with their preference for Ska and two-tone music, not to mention cosmetic ‘darkening’, gave a more positive charge to the story – at least initially. And nearly half a century later, rappers like Dizzee Rascal and Kate Tempest emerged from the multi-ethnic council estates of East and South London to give a new twist to the meaning of Grime – one that invented its own vernacular shout about what it was like to grow up on the ‘wrong’ side of the class tracks.

The subject positions that I have briefly sketched here are internalised and transformed within working-class communities in a multiplicity of ways. Groups positioned as a race apart have tended to develop an ethnic nationalism of the neighbourhood, where prides of place are asserted through strong forms of territoriality, in ways that give a positive value to their cultural and physical distinctiveness and neutralise their marginalisation within the wider body politic. Such quasi-tribal attachments, whether via the street gang or matrilocal family, promote the closure of solidarities around real and fictive kith and kin, and hence emphasise ‘ethnic’ loyalties and cultural homogeneity as a self-defining characteristic. On the more positive side, they also support the growth of dense networks of mutual aid and shared resource, linked to stable if restricted models of the life course.

In general, these labourhoods have provided their inhabitants with a defence against and refuge from some of the more destructive and de-stabilising forces of capitalist modernity; they have offered precarious toeholds, or bolt holes in what was otherwise regarded as a hostile and uncertain world.  They have supported a strategy of community stake-holding based on bonding capital, and on enhancing the community’s capacity to claim privileged access and symbolic ownership over public resource by appealing to a sense of customary entitlement. But what happens when these principles of  entitlement are challenged, or simply become redundant – when networks of collective self-reliance become hollowed out by the process of de-industrialisation and can no longer withstand the implosive pressure of neoliberal individualism? The answer is to be found in social statistics – in mounting rates of addiction, mental illness, crime, obesity, domestic violence and chronic ill health, now honed into postcode indices of multiple deprivation. And , at a political level a visceral rejection of  New Labour and New Times.

In contrast, working-class communities that come to see themselves as the backbone of the nation, as the true creators of its wealth and prosperity, develop a strong narrative sense of place identity and belonging, based on civic, not ethnic, entitlement. These labourhoods offer those growing up within them a prospect of the world as a field of social opportunity and engagement, based on bridging capital, the capacity to build partnerships with other groups in pursuit of shared political and social goals. Historically these micro-communities have been in a stronger position to minimise the social costs of modernity and maximise its benefits, and to correlate their own incremental gains (viz in living standards) with a wider sense of entitlement linked to progressive causes and forces in society. Their prides of place are anchored to a network of civic institutions and norms of public propriety through which they have learned to embrace a more ethnically diverse and multitudinous vision of solidarity. But what happens when the pillars of this proletarian public realm begin to crumble, when these communities find themselves suddenly, within a generation, thrown onto the scrap heap, no longer promethean creators of the nation’s wealth but abject recipients of EU handouts, a new kind of race apart? The answer is a vote for  Brexit.

As a concrete example of how these positions can interlock   consider contemporary forms of gentrification. Rather than a simple material  displacement of one housing class by another  it involves a complex process of cultural appropriation and resistance  mediated through  a play of cross- class identifications that progressively  transform the character, meaning and perception  of a place. Hipsters may find a working class  area desirable precisely because  of its  aura of industrial  heritage, its  street markets adding ‘local colour’.  Young people growing up in the remaining social housing may resent this neo-tribal invasion and re-assert their own territorial protocols: we still rule round here. But they may also  be fascinated by the alternative life styles on offer, even if they cannot afford to actually buy into them. In such cases of d-i-y gentrification, bonders may become bridgers as the affluent and the poor learn to live chic by growl.

 

 Apprenticeships and inheritances: the hidden injuries of growing up working-class

Identity issues used to be an exclusive feature of middle-class adolescence, a staple ingredient of the bildungsroman, a conjunctural rite of passage, a bit of ‘storm and stress (or dress)’ to ease the transition into the bourgeois world with its stable career structures and secure livelihoods. The working classes had their own stable principles of the life course. Growing up working-class – until the second half of the twentieth century – usually took the form of an apprenticeship to an inheritance negotiated through the family and the labourhood.[v] The life cycle unfolds as a more or less congenital link between origins and destinies. You can only become what you always and already are, by virtue of the social identity which has been entailed in your life course, from the moment of conception onwards. Within this framework, every part of the child’s body or behaviour may be recognised as the signifier of some ancestral virtue, or vice. Baptismal naming fixes identity. You have coal in your bones. Hairdressing in your fingertips. You are a Scouser or a Cockney born and bred. This closed reproduction of positions may become racialised, or alternatively may serve to shore up the boundaries of ethnic identities under attack. But in order to accomplish this task, the code has to be effectively transmitted to an up-and-coming generation. It has to be articulated through particular cultural forms of apprenticeship in which life is unfolded as so many stages in the mastery of a  set of dispositions and  skills, linked to making ones way in the world..

Today, old heads are no longer so easily placed on young shoulders, and even young fogeys tend to deny that they are chips off the old block. Growing up working-class no longer means being apprenticed at an early age to an inheritance of trade or domestic knowledge passed on from parents or elders in the workplace and community. What now counts is the disposition of intellectual, cultural and social capital entailed in practices of learning, both physical and mental, mediated through the apparatus of extended scholarisation.

For those who are having to grow up working-class without work, and without a language of class to articulate their experience, the code of inheritance can provide a sense of life’s historical continuity and identity. For the middle class, however, the material basis of inheritance in the transfer of wealth not only continues to over-determine life chances, but achieves ever higher salience with the financialisation of personal assets. For generation rent, waiting for long-living parents to die so that they can get hold of  their property, and hence be able at last to afford to buy a place of their own, has re-animated the whole psycho-drama of dis/inheritance which was once such a staple plot line for Victorian novelists, not to mention the classic who-dunnit. Ironically the Theresa  May social care reform plan at the heart of her 2017 Election manifesto attempted to rewrite the story line so that it became a win/win situation. Only to find that she had unwitting opened the proverbial can of worms.

As long as the psycho-social dynamics of apprenticeship/inheritance remained confined within structures of patriarchal authority, they routinely involved ritualised forms of quasi-oedipal conflict between ‘apprentices’ and masters or mistresses whom they would one day replace. Jobs and the social knowledge they entailed were regarded as held in trust by one generation of workers for the next. Once sons and daughters no longer followed fathers and mothers into the same occupational culture and community, other life journeys became imaginable. But while this opened up new horizons for the lucky few, it was not linked to any realistic opportunity structures for the majority.

Apprenticeship, although it nowadays scarcely exists in its traditional indentured form, except in a few highly-specialised crafts, has nevertheless led a vigorous afterlife as an existential metaphor and learning model. Modern apprenticeship, uncoupled from inheritance and the power of elders –who know -better, offers a viable model of peer-to-peer transmission within informal communities of practice both inside and outside the workplace. Just think how skateboarders learn how to do their moves from each other, graduating from an initial position on the edge of group observing what the ‘old hands’ do to a more central role as they gain in confidence until they in turn become expert. In the contemporary service economy we find a whole array of coaches, trainers and mentors who have mastered not only specialised work skills  but also the values and attitudes of mind and body that go with them. The apprenticeships they offer through their various mimetic disciplines involve forms of living labour which have been abstracted from specific workplace cultures and communities and rendered transferable, often being translated into middle-class idioms of vocation or career.

You can trace this happening in a new genre  of aspirational memoir, organised thematically around  triumph over adversity. Here a legacy of disadvantage, often associated with family dysfunction becomes a prompt for a personal struggle for survival and transcendence.  Despite being couched in  such an  individualistic idiom these narratives offer us a glimpse of one possible way to unlock the frozen transitions of a working-class generation whose coming-of-age story never comes. At the very least, reconnecting modern apprenticeship to an enlarged sense of a. birth right  , an inheritance still to come will help to focus  ambitions – and frustrations – on material demands around affordable housing and secure well-paid, meaningful work.

Against this background we need to argue for a new life-course politics – and this does not imply a return to a one-size-fits-all cradle-to-grave welfarism, but, rather, a re-assertion of the value of apprenticeship as a life-long biographical trajectory embedded in structures of collective aspiration and legacy open to all. Failing that generational inequalities within working class families will continue to be  focussed  around an endlessly deferred apprenticeship  disconnected from viable markers of maturity,  or alternatively, the passing on of  an embodied inheritance  uncoupled from any incremental process of gaining the know- how, cultural memory, or aspirational horizon required  to become a fully fledged citizen of a labourhood.[vi]

But this is only half of the story. We also need to re-align the code of inheritance within a moral and civic economy of worth that is no longer beholden to the espousal of a superior, interiorised authenticity associated with belonging to a race apart, or being the backbone of any nation. The legacy we need to pass on , is not only  a memoryscape of particular campaigns and struggles  but an oral tradition of militancy grounded in the textures of everyday life.

 

Finding un/common ground

To summarise the argument so far: contemporary forms of class consciousness are not based on the expression or frustration of some pre-existent rational class interest ; they emerge in and through an oscillation between two equally transient moments of incipient class identification, which, however, remain embryonic – prototypes of some yet-to-be-realised ideal, whether regressive or progressive. To extrapolate from this unstable matrix a solid social entity such as ‘the white working class’ or ‘the precariat’ and imbue it with a singular voice, a common culture and concerted agency, requires a strenuous effort of sociological imagination, if not wishful thinking, on the part of those dedicated to the preservation of the ancien regime of binary class politics.

The volatility of the contemporary electorate derives in large part from this oscillation of  class subject positions. In both pre- and post-Brexit discourse we have seen unravelling working-class identities being re-composed – so that the class becomes once more a unitary being, native to these Disenchanted Isles – by placing the re-formed entity in juxtaposition to its Other Scene, inhabited not just by people of colour, but by all who come to these shores without a cultural passport to enter its promised heartland. Within this populist framing, the now aboriginal working class get to play Tribe (at last at home in and for itself), while Johnny Foreigner is cast as a to-and-fro-ing Multitude: an exact inversion/transposition of class subject positions into more or less racialised ethnic relations. This move is facilitated by the familiar device of setting up a zero-sum game, in which one side’s gain (in jobs, housing, education and social amenity) is always the other’s loss, and won at their expense. Conspiracy theories are ready to hand to prove that the rules of the game are rigged so that ‘Multitude’ always trumps ‘Tribe’, and the ‘indigenous’ always lose out and end up as proverbial ‘strangers in their own country’, in a paradoxically predictable switcheroo.

The rival memes of the Remain and Leave Campaigns dramatised the splitting of working-class identity politics I have been discussing. ‘Better Together’ evoked – unconsciously and in a suitably displaced but scaled-up form – the lost solidarities of the labourhood and its civic attachments, now better enunciated by urban multicultures; while ‘Take Back Control’ carried an echo of working-class syndicalism and its now hollowed-out forms of territoriality, but transposed into a cartography of exclusion drawn around the fault-lines of religion and race, and inscribed within the fictive physical geography of anglo-ilishness.

We will understand nothing about the dynamics of  the working class Brexit vote unless we recognise that it was not just a knee jerk reaction to globalisation by the so called ‘left behinds’  but a profound response to  the  de-regulation not only the market and civic economies ( the neo-liberal agenda ) but  of  the moral economy of the labourhood. Its replacement by the gig economy with its just –in time production of the self, its  permissive unfixing of gender and generational identities, has had a profoundly dislocating effect. The traumatic impact of de-industrialisation on working class communities  is not just about the loss of jobs, but of a whole way of life, a mode of social being – and becoming- in the world based on a sexual and generational division of labour which has been rendered obsolete.

Until recently the Left has largely watched these developments from the side-lines and with dismay. There have been strenuous bouts of finger wagging, shoulder shrugging, head scratching and fist shaking, interspersed by mea culpas from the progressive commentariat. In the meantime, the recriminatory post-Brexit debate polarised between Blairites and the Corbynistas, each in their own way committed to the view that in order to save the Labour Party it is necessary to destroy it.

The unpalatable fact is that Jeremy Corbyn  inherited a dead Labour Party, a party long dominated by a technocratic vision of social change, delivered through a bureaucratic command and control structure. Momentum set out  to breathe life back into this corpse, to turn what had become a cartel party under New Labour back into a mass party. Objectively  the conditions for such a project no longer exist, but in acting as if they did,  its activists have succeeded, against all the odds  in creating some of    its subjective conditions . Nevertheless there  remains a tendency for this initiative to be pulled in two different directions at once – as an extra-parliamentary social movement with limited demographic appeal beyond its student and progressive middle class progressive base, and as  a  political subculture lodged as a noisome antibody within the Westminster apparatus of government.

The challenge now  is to move beyond this to create a party of living labour, a party dedicated to releasing the creative power and imagination that is integral to the moral economy of the workplace (something that is not reducible to productivist norms), and which is also embedded in the everyday cultures of mutual aid that are evidenced today in all manner of peer-to-peer networks and communities of practice. A living labour party would support the development of a collective enterprise culture based on the recognition that innovation in any field of endeavour comes from sharing knowledge/power, not from seeking to monopolise or commodify its use. This is the true modernising impulse – and one that avoids both the techno-utopianism of advocates of so-called ‘smart cities’ and the retro-utopianism of so many small-is-beautiful grass roots initiatives..

A living Labour Party has to  enact a new language of the commons that could articulate resurgent nationalisms of the neighbourhood to civic prides of place, rather than to ethnic or racialised identity politics. This shift towards a translocal but still grounded class consciousness could build on and help disseminate the norms of civility and visceral multiculturalism that have emerged in many areas of hyper diversity in the inner city. But it could also pull upon more locally situated aesthetics of land, sea and townscape, celebrated in music, poetry and the visual arts, and embodied in a host of popular recreations and sports.

At the same time, the scaling-up of what might otherwise remain at the level of a localist ‘folk politics’ depends on a renewal of municipal socialism and its civic economy of worth, to re-organise the role of the local state as a facilitating environment, and not merely a regulator of conflicts in civil society.[vii] And while it is always worth looking back at historical traditions like Council Communism, Guild Socialism or Anarcho-Syndicalism for inspiration, the real challenge is to engage with the shifting ground of contemporary class identity politics. In practical terms this means developing organising strategies and projects that combine bonding and bridging capital into a single exercise in capacity-building, seeking to avoid the traps of both an introverted communitarianism and an extraverted but vacuous populism. Such a site-specific but translocal reconstitution of the ‘national-popular’ promises to yield a narrative offering a more inclusive heritage of democratic struggle than one that is confined to the labour movement and left alone: a birth right of the many not the few.[viii]

Labour’s election manifesto was a partially successful attempt to stitch  disaffected voters back into the Labour Party by offering a   alternative to austerity politics without   pandering to the more reactionary forms of identity politics. And it notably addressed the discontents of ‘generation rent’ who came out to vote in unprecedented numbers. Yet  despite its Grime  charm offensive the campaign  did not succeed in mobilising large numbers of working class  non-student youth.  To resume the onward march of Labour  requires more than traditional Keynesian  policies coupled with a strategic use of social media.   To rebuild the moral economy of the labourhood means challenging and transforming  the defensive , insularised, and  backward looking  formations that have emerged to fill the  ideological and social void created by the end of labourism through  a new kind of cultural politics.

As a simple but concrete example of the approach I am advocating, consider how a living Labour Party might have intervened in the celebrations of Magna Carta two years ago. In contrast to the official platform, which reiterated a safe message about law and property being the foundation of civil liberty, an alternative reading would focus on the struggles for enfranchisement and empowerment that have used Magna Carta as a rhetorical reference point over the centuries. Working in collaboration with local artists, schools, youth projects, civil liberties and campaign groups, as well as a wide range of community organisations, an aim might be for each constituency to produce its own pictorial/narrative Great Map of liberties and commons, past, present and future, incorporating local places and events associated with popular democratic struggles. Whether in the form of a physical or digital map, a tapestry or a banner, each constituency would add its own distinctive features to a deep cartography of popular democracy. Not only would the project bring together different elements of the class from- and to-itself in a common project: it could also provide a platform for a nationwide public deliberation about the relation of civil society and the state, helping to create the conditions for the formulation of a new constitutional settlement enshrined in a Bill of Rights.

The period of  political uncertainty  we are now entering offers a great opportunity  for the Cultural Left to  engage in this kind of activity,  exploring the uncommon ground opened up and shared between Tribe and Multitude, to transform Dead Labour into Living Labour – and without the need for any second coming of Blair Brown, or the invention of yet more party tails to wag a now non-existent dog.

Nothing can be taken for granted, neither victory or defeat. The danger is that the immediate euphoria generated by Labour’s unexpected, if still limited,  success, will lull us into thinking that one more big heave will do the trick and get rid of the Tories. As I argued in an earlier Soundings article (Summer 2015) we are living in a bi-polar political culture, which  continually flips between prophecies of Doom and New Dawn and where optimism of the intellect is often accompanied by pessimism,or paralysis, of the will. Instead  of  creating yet more social imaginaries of our New Jerusalem we need to get down to the hard graft of  building  coalitions of shared concern around translocal issues. Central to this project is to explore new ways to reach out to those who are still growing up  working class, together with their parents and grand parents  who for too long have been  abandoned to the vast condescension of sociological analysis, or burdened with  unrealistic political hopes or counsels of premature despair. There can be no rebirth of Labour without them.

[1] I would like to thank Sally Davison for her editorial comments   and the many friends and colleagues with whom I have discussed these ideas over the past two years.

[i] The idea of bridging and bonding  comes from Robert Putnam’s model of different forms of civic investment and stake-holding that link people to others in relations of trust; but the concept is here extended from social capital (as in Putnam) to include the accumulation of bio-political capital , as  hearts, minds and bodies are mobilised around the production and legitimation of social identities. See Robert Putnam, Bowling Alone: the collapse and revival of American Community, Simon and Schuster 2000. For Multitude see Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire, Penguin/Random House 2005.and for Tribe see Michel  Maffesoli The Time of the Tribe :the decline of individualism in mass society London Sage 1996

[ii]  The  distinction between these   two different  bio-political orders is between   a process of  auto-poesis in which a system appears to  function autonomously and lack nothing  in order to perpetuate itself,  and allo-poesis in which a system necessarily produces something other than itself, and requires something other than itself in order to survive .  The disembedding of capitalist economies (and especially finance capital) from civil society is an example of the first. A  car assembly line  is an example of the second.

[iii] See E.P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class Penguin, Harmondsworth 1980.

[iv] See Phil Cohen ‘Labouring under whiteness’, in Ruth Frankenberg (ed), Dislocating Whiteness, 2004; and Chapter 5 of Material Dreams: maps and territories in the un/making of modernity (forthcoming Palgrave Macmillan).

[v] For further discussion of these points see Phil Cohen, ‘Apprenticeship à la Mode’, in Pat Ainley and Helen Rainbird (eds), Apprenticeship: towards a new paradigm of learning, Berg 2006; and ‘From Here to Modernity: Rethinking the Youth Question with C. Wright Mills’, in Shane Blackman and Michelle Kempson (eds), The Subcultural Imagination, Routledge 2016. For an American perspective see Jennifer M. Silva, Coming up Short: working-class adulthood in an age of uncertainty, Oxford University Press 2016.

[vi] As will have become apparent I am using this term to refer to a nexus of cultural practices and social institutions that weave a web of  association  between workplaces and  communities. Labourhoods do not depend on physical proximity of where people live and work, (as in industrial villages and towns) but  on the  often translocal networks through which filiations and affiliations are sustained.

[vii] For a discussion of folk politics and its limitations see  Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams  Inventing the Future:post capitalism and a world without work  Verso 2015

[viii]  For Gramsci   the  ‘national popular’ represented a common set of references  shared by large sections of the population ( for example  football,  the internet, video games  and social media), in a way that makes  the boundaries  between elite and vernacular  culture more permeable. However he did not anticipate how tribalised and fragmented  the  national  popular would become. Its re-constitution as a  platform which is neither populist or nationalistic depends on cultural initiatives   that develop new  forms of bridging capital.

m Robert Putnam’s model of different forms of civic investment and stake-holding that link people to others in relations of trust; but the concept is here extended from social capital (as in Putnam) to include the accumulation of bio-political capital , as  hearts, minds and bodies are mobilised around the production and legitimation of social identities. See Robert Putnam, Bowling Alone: the collapse and revival of American Community, Simon and Schuster 2000. For Multitude see Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire, Penguin/Random House 2005.and for Tribe see Michel  Maffesoli The Time of the Tribe :the decline of individualism in mass society London Sage 1996

[ii]  The  distinction between these   two different  bio-political orders is between   a process of  auto-poesis in which a system appears to  function autonomously and lack nothing  in order to perpetuate itself,  and allo-poesis in which a system necessarily produces something other than itself, and requires something other than itself in order to survive .  The disembedding of capitalist economies (and especially finance capital) from civil society is an example of the first. A  car assembly line  is an example of the second.

[iii] See E.P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class Penguin, Harmondsworth 1980.

[iv] See Phil Cohen ‘Labouring under whiteness’, in Ruth Frankenberg (ed), Dislocating Whiteness, 2004; and Chapter 5 of Material Dreams: maps and territories in the un/making of modernity (forthcoming Palgrave Macmillan).

[v] For further discussion of these points see Phil Cohen, ‘Apprenticeship à la Mode’, in Pat Ainley and Helen Rainbird (eds), Apprenticeship: towards a new paradigm of learning, Berg 2006; and ‘From Here to Modernity: Rethinking the Youth Question with C. Wright Mills’, in Shane Blackman and Michelle Kempson (eds), The Subcultural Imagination, Routledge 2016. For an American perspective see Jennifer M. Silva, Coming up Short: working-class adulthood in an age of uncertainty, Oxford University Press 2016.

[vi] As will have become apparent I am using this term to refer to a nexus of cultural practices and social institutions that weave a web of  association  between workplaces and  communities. Labourhoods do not depend on physical proximity of where people live and work, (as in industrial villages and towns) but  on the  often translocal networks through which filiations and affiliations are sustained.

[vii] For a discussion of folk politics and its limitations see  Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams  Inventing the Future:post capitalism and a world without work  Verso 2015

[viii]  For Gramsci   the  ‘national popular’ represented a common set of references  shared by large sections of the population ( for example  football,  the internet, video games  and social media), in a way that makes  the boundaries  between elite and vernacular  culture more permeable. However he did not anticipate how tribalised and fragmented  the  national  popular would become. Its re-constitution as a  platform which is neither populist or nationalistic depends on cultural initiatives   that develop new  forms of bridging capital.