Comments about the death of class and of class identity have a long history. I think this is only half correct. Identity may be on the wane if it exists at all, but class as an objective  social relation certainly has not. Here I draw upon the work of Graham Scambler and Erik Olin Wright to outline a simplified class concept, one that I have adhered to for decades. It helps to cut through the discussions about who is in what class and why, to focus attention on what really matters – the social mechanisms of class that people face every day that impact on life chances and health outcomes. I will first discuss what I think class is, then go on to outline who the class warriors are and the forms it takes. Of particular relevance is the actions of the capital executive. This is because the unintended and intended consequences of their strategic decisions towards capital accumulation and social responsibility have huge impacts on the lives and health of billions around the globe. 

Understanding class is therefore fundamental to taking action towards social, economic, racial and environmental justice. 

Having read yet another piece by Graham Scambler, (2019) the relevance of social class for understanding contemporary society is, in my view, reinforced. Graham very helpfully set out his set of premises with which I have long agreed with, forming as they do the basis of my reading of Marx over the years: 

  1. Despite the ill-informed and stupid opprobrium it attracts in much of bourgeois mainstream commentary, Marx’s analysis has ‘retained its bite’ in the 21st century. 
  2. The work force in the UK has radically altered since the 1950s. The ‘industrial proletariat’ has shrunk massively from the majority of the workforce that it once was. We no longer have steel works, dockyards, coal mines, factories and a railway working class.
  3. Yet, Class remains the dominant structural force, a social mechanism affecting our life chances, while working often ‘behind our backs. The politics of identity and the salience of ethnicity and gender are intersections to the main structural class differences most pertinent for people’s lives. Rishi Sunak, Alok Sharma, Kwasi Kwarteng and Priti Patel have more in common with Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees Mogg and Theresa May than they do with any BAME working class man or woman.
  4. Sociologists, Economists and Psychologists and many others have neglected the role of the 1%: The Capitalist Executive/Capital Monopolists (aka the ‘greedy bastards’) in bending governments and policy to their will and advantage, made even more relevant in the current era of financial and rentier capitalism in the United States and the United Kingdom. For sociology, this neglect is in part a function of the absence of the Capital Executive and Capital Monopolists from class schema such as the NS-SEC or the British Class Survey
  5. Capital ownership and the state power it buys – or increasingly exercises direct from within the Cabinet – to manipulate policy is now concentrated among a small core of the capital executive. The capital monopolists comprise well under one per cent of the population.
  6. The capital executive/monopolists and the state’s power elite have purchased allies or ’co-optees’ from across all classes; what Guy Standing calls ‘precarity’ is now also commonplace across class boundaries; and as Wright’s notion of ‘contradictory locations’ rightly avers, many middle-class locations are ‘betwixt and between’: in other words there is often a considerable heterogeneity of assets, interests, aspirations and loyalties withinoccupational clusters.           
  7. While objective class relations have grown more salient, subjective class relations (how we feel, how we think about our identities and our social class if at all), have diminished the impact of those objective conditions. Thus we have the phenomenon of many working class people voting (‘Angels in Marble’) for Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson. Class no longer informs workers’ identities as it used to. Class consciousness is much diminished and far more difficult to arouse.  
  8. While class solidarity and mobilisation are still vital for meaningful social transformation, subjective class relationships makes their realisation problematic. Thus ‘middle class’ subjective experiences and any working class identity formation along gender, ethnic and LGBTQ lines, can obscure the reality of still only having one’s labour to sell. Those with ‘middle class sensibilities’ are apt to distinguish themselves from the actual precarity of white collar occupations which exist often within the framework of ‘bullshit jobs’, and often fail to fully acknowledge their increasing exclusion from long term security as housing, health and social care costs escalate. 

Denying the salience of objective class relations because one ‘feels’ that class no longer applies, is a marker of the petty bourgeois mind. 

I am indebted to Graham for his contributions. He is a contemporary sociologist who still appears to have a forensic interest in class and its ramifications.

“Gissa Job.” Only their Labour to Sell.

Marx’s thesis that the working class are those that have only their labour to sell is still, for me, a starting point for cutting through the morass of identity and the ‘we are all middle class now’ arguments.  Those earning £45K plus, with a new car on finance, a mortgage, a career structure, holidays once a year plus city breaks with aspirations to shop in Waitrose, will not identify as working class despite the objective fact that their current position in the social structure is often precarious, dependent as it is on work and health. Six months of unemployment or long term sickness could easily strip them of their gains. This will be more salient as old age beckons and social care costs soar, and also if we adopt a system of private health insurance. Many middle class people voting for welfare cuts and austerity do not think they are voting against their actual interests as they falsely aspire to be the 1%. 

Born into nothing, to parents who have to work to pay the rent and provide food because they have no capital or no independent means, is the starting point for many. Those in the middle class who eschew identities as working class based on their cultural tastes and social contacts may wish to argue that this does not apply to them. However, how many middle class kids have parents who fully own their home, who could give up employment and live mortgage free? Those same middle class parents might spend huge sums on private education, drive new cars and holiday in the Dordogne, but they still have to sell their labour in the form of professional practice, employment or self employment in the gig economy. 

Those same middle class parents might have very big mortgages and are working towards increasing a pension pot to enable them a satisfactory retirement in their late 50’s. Unless they own property and have become one of Picketty’s rentiers, they are still working class no matter how much Chablis they drink. 

Until that point they are working class, or petty bourgeois at best.

I worked continually, with breaks for education, since the age of 16 during the era of ‘Welfare Capitalism’ which lasted until about 1980. I chose occupations which provided benefits and a measure of protection from unemployment and sickness. I could start to afford taking holidays and to take out a mortgage. This experience was fertile ground for the development of middle class attitudes. However, the protections from the consequences of losing my ability to sell my labour were hard won by socialists and social democrats. Despite these protections the base principle was true. If I did not work, I was at the mercy of the welfare regime in place and my ability to protect myself long term via a pension would have vanished. Since 1980, the era of neoliberalism and financial capitalism, those protections and benefits have been slowly eroded for millions of workers so that today, should they be unable to sell their labour, they will face a harsh future. 

Note: the Covid 19 pandemic of 2020 is revealing this class fracture very clearly. 

Erik Olin Wright on ‘Understanding Class’

For those wishing for a more detailed understanding of what we mean by class, Erik’s 2015 book is highly recommended. Erik helpfully outlines differing theoretical positions and attempts an integration rather than the setting up of oppositions. 

Three strands of class theorising in sociology are identified:

  1. Seeing class as ‘individualist attributes’ associated with the Stratification tradition.
  2. Seeing class as ‘opportunity-hoarding’ associated with Weber.
  3. Seeing class as ‘exploitation-domination’ associated with Marx.

Individual Attributes. 

Upper, Middle and Lower Class

This is the way that lay people tend to understand class. Some sociologists adopt this manner of thinking as well. 


  • People have a variety of attributes (age, sex, education, intelligence…)
  • People have a set of material conditions in which they live. 

‘Class’ is then a way of discussing and describing the relationship between individual attributes and the material conditions in which they live

It is a way of trying to outline the economically important attributes that provide opportunities and constraints that affects people’s material conditions. Having the attributes of being male, white, affluent, with a private school education might be important attributes for experiencing a high standard of material life (!). 

Class is talked about in these terms, and we can ‘stratify’ people into classes according to clusters of material conditions and important attributes. A key attribute is education, but also one’s cultural resources, social connections and individual motivations. Thus we talk of upper, middle, lower and underclass in these terms. For example, the lower class is supposed to lack the personal motivation of ‘aspiration’. A more sophisticated approach is that of Mike Savage’sGreat British Class Survey’. Pierre Bourdieu’s work is salient:

Class can be defined in relation to:

  1. Economic Capital
  2. Cultural Capital
  3. Social Capital 

An important question here is “how do people acquire the attributes (including the Bourdesian ‘capitals’) that place them in one class or another?” 

This is usually done by the 99% through an occupation, ‘paid work’ (This is Marx’s ‘only having their labour to sell’). There is focus here on class background and how people get the cultural, social, educational and motivational capital to get a good job. 

This approach to understanding class is about sorting people into positions relative to one another. 

In this approach to class, the advantages and disadvantages of one’s ‘attributes based’ class position are independent of another person’s ‘attributes based’ class position. There are no causal connections between the upper, middle and lower class. The rich are rich because they have the attributes to be so, the poor are poor because they lack them. Improving the attributes of the poor, e.g. via education, does not harm the affluent. 

Opportunity Hoarding.

This approach to class focuses on the position itself.  ‘Opportunity Hoarding’ is associated with Max Weber. 

Occupations that have high status, and high rewards must have ways that allow the holders of such jobs to exclude other people from accessing them, otherwise too many people would be able to compete for the few jobs available and will reduce the price for their labour.  This is known as ‘social closure’ – the process of excluding some and reserving jobs for others. 

One way to get social closure is to make entry into those jobs very costly in terms of money, time, social, cultural and educational requirements.

The private school system is one way of fast tracking people into educational credentials that have been deemed necessary for entry into ‘elite’ jobs’. It excludes those on low incomes, and thus reduces the competition into law, medicine, politics, journalism, the officer class and the higher civil service. It also more recently serves as gateway to the arts. 

Other forms of excluding:

Colour, Marriage and Gender bars.

Religion, cultural style, accent, manners.

A very important method of exclusion is private property rights, both of ownership of the means of production and of economic capital in, for example, property itself. Opportunity Hoarding is thus enforced through the legal rules of property ownership. This is so taken for granted, that it is seen as ‘natural’ and any discussion of the basis of private property is often met with outright hostility. Inheritance tax, wealth tax and land tax is seen by many as anathema, and protestations against them rarely state that they would “reduce my ability for opportunity hoarding for me and my family”, although of course that is the very point of them. Instead, justifications for hoarding and passing on wealth and opportunity usually runs along the lines of ‘tax is theft’ or ‘I worked hard for it’ and therefore, ‘I earned it’. 

Class then is:

  1. Capitalists: defined by their ownership of the means of production.
  2. Middle class: defined by their mechanisms of exclusion to education and jobs.
  3. Working class: defined by their exclusion from educational credentials and capital.

A key point here is:

‘Opportunity Hoarding’ means that the advantages people get from being in a privileged class are causally connected to the disadvantages of people excluded from the same class positions. In short the rich are rich because in part the poor are poor. The rich do things to secure their wealth, things that contribute or even cause the disadvantages poor people face. Removing the mechanisms of exclusion potentially undermines the position of the affluent. 

The wealthy know this, the aspirant middle class know this, that is why they fight a class war to protect their privileges and their ‘mechanisms of exclusion’. 

Exploitation and Domination.

As you might expect, this view is most associated with Marx. According to Erik Olin Wright, most sociologists ignore this set of mechanisms. Exploitation and Domination are for them controversial terms. They are not ‘neutral or scientific’ enough, they imply a moral judgement.

  • Domination refers to the ways people can control the activities of other people
  • Exploitation refers to the acquisition of economic benefits that accrue from of the work of other people who are dominated

It is not just the case that some people are able to use the mechanisms of exclusion (e.g. supporting the private school system), rather it is the case that some people are also able to control the labouring effort of other people for the first group’s advantage. In a modern capitalist society in which a significant % of the population are born into zero wealth and this have no means of survival, they must offer their labour in a market characterised not only by mechanisms of exclusion but also by exploitation and domination. For example, landowners and factory owners (and the shareholders by proxy) can employ migrant labour cheaply, exploiting their very weak bargaining positioning made worse by various mechanisms such as weak trade union law. In addition mechanisms of exclusion. such as poor cultural capital, English as a second language, make it very difficult to escape exploitation and domination.

Erik Olin Wright’s position is that these three perspectives can be integrated, that they can offer a fuller understanding of class. 

The lower class, the working class, can lack attributes, they can be excluded and they can be dominated and exploited. The lack of attributes is partly down to lack of material assets to gain those attributes, the lack of inclusionary mechanisms is beyond their control unless they gain political power to challenge the rich, and exploitation and domination make it even harder to get beyond ‘only having one’s labour to sell’.

A key point is that class is not just where you are in a social hierarchy, or the habits and tastes you acquire, it is also a result of the actions of other social groups to exclude, dominate and exploit. 

What is Class?

Erik Olin Wright’s argument is that we need ‘an abstract simplified class concept’. He argued, and I agree, that this would allow us to see more clearly the real mechanisms that people face in their everyday lives.

So, what is this abstract simplified class concept?

“I define capitalists as those people who own and control the capital used in production and workers as all employees excluded from such ownership and control. In this abstract analysis of class structure I assume that these are mutually exclusive categories. There is thus no middle class as such (my emphasis). No workers own any stock. Executives, managers, and professionals in firms are either amalgamated into the capitalist class by virtue of their ownership of stock and command of production, or they are simply part of the working class as employees.”

Let me state again clearly that this is a simplified concept which if overused will not capture the many differences in culture and socio-economic positions of people. If at this stage you object and argue there is a middle class, then you have just missed the important point.

Therefore, given the above, the base objective definition I use is: If you only have your labour to sell, you are working class. This includes many ‘middle class’ professionals who only live the lives they do because they earn. 

For a more detailed outline of class see Scambler’s classification (2015) which has 4 categories: 

  1. Capital Executive (the 1%). 
  2. New Middle Class
  3. Old Middle Class
  4. Working Class

My overly simplistic working definition is useful in that it reminds us that work, selling labour, is the basis in a capitalist society for the working and middle class and is therefore the fundamental divide between the ‘bourgeois middle and upper’ and working classes. Of course there are gradations such as many working class people who benefitted from low house prices and then house price inflation since 1980 and built up property portfolios to become part of the rentier class. Arguments about what class someone with a property portfolio of three flats and £50,000 of shares is interesting only to those who wish to discuss the finer cultural distinctions and details. This would be the individual attributes approach. 

Erik Olin Wright’s argument is that we need ‘an abstract simplified class concept’. He argued, and I agree, that this would allow us to see more clearly the real mechanisms that people face in their everyday lives.

So, what is this ‘abstract simplified class concept’?

“I define capitalists as those people who own and control the capital used in production and workers as all employees excluded from such ownership and control. In this abstract analysis of class structure I assume that these are mutually exclusive categories. There is thus no middle class as such (my emphasis). No workers own any stock. Executives, managers, and professionals in firms are either amalgamated into the capitalist class by virtue of their ownership of stock and command of production, or they are simply part of the working class as employees.”

Let me state again clearly that this is a simplified concept which if overused will not capture the many differences in future and socio-economic positions of people. If at this stage you object and argue there is a middle class, then you have just missed the important point.

Therefore, Given the above, the base objective definition I use is: If you only have your labour to sell, you are working class. This includes many ‘middle class’ professionals who only live the lives they do because they earn. For a more detailed outline of class see Scambler’s classification (2015) which has 4 categories: 

  1. Capital Executive (the 1%). 
  2. New Middle Class
  3. Old Middle Class
  4. Working Class

My overly simplistic working definition is useful in that it reminds us that work, selling labour, is the basis in a capitalist society for the working and middle class and is therefore the fundamental divide between the ‘bourgeois middle and upper’ and working classes. Of course there are gradations such as many working class people who benefitted from low house prices and then house price inflation since 1980 and built up property portfolios to become part of the rentier class. Arguments about what class someone with a property portfolio of three flats and £50,000 of shares is interesting only to those who wish to discuss the finer cultural distinctions and details. This would be the individual attributes approach. 

Yet it matters not if someone from a council estate, born without the proverbial pot, later identifies as a Chablis drinking middle class Tory voter because of a university education or success in the property market. A focus on moving up and down the structure, although crucial for the individual, misses the wider point of the very structure and operation of class relationships itself. 

The relevance of class is not fine cultural distinctions, but the continuing actions of the 1% – the Capitalist Class Executive, who engage in both opportunity hoarding and domination/exploitation. 

The Capitalist Executive

It is the actions of the ‘Capital Executive’ (CE) which needs much more forensic analysis and bringing out into the open. The middle class categories identified above are useful for a more detailed analysis but for me they sit upon the base ‘labour to sell’. These middle class people can be capital apologists, helpers, enablers, easing the path of capital accumulation for their own benefit and in so doing work against working class interests regardless of the fact of having to sell their labour

The CE have myriad aims and objectives, even professing to consider the needs of workers, the environment and wider society. They may espouse ‘corporate social responsibility’ or sign up to ‘sustainable development’, however these have to sit upon the primary drive: capital accumulation. 

This often unacknowledged, hidden or taken for granted drive sits behind a good deal of thinking about social policy and results in a one dimensionality towards problem solving issues such as that of an ageing population and social care costs. When capital accumulation and the current structure of wealth meet the health and social needs of populations, then capital tends to raise the draw bridge unless forced otherwise.

The current tussle among capitalist elites over actions to address climate change exemplifies for many of them their cognitive dissonance in knowing current business practices are unsustainable while knowing also that they have a ‘bottom line’ – the more one’s bottom line is rooted in the current carbon intensive economy-society, the greater the dissonance and the greater the need for denial.

This is a side show when it comes to understanding class relationships.

Power plays a very important part. Inequalities in income and wealth which arise from the class structure, are sustained by the exercise of power, not simply by the actions of individuals. Inequalities that result from opportunity hoarding require the use of power to enforce mechanisms of exclusion. Inequalities arising from exploitation require power to supervise, to monitor and the imposition of sanctions to labour power in order to enforce labour discipline. This is also done by those who aspire to get advantage, and the enablers of that advantage. 

See the pushback on issues such as universal basic income, universal health care, abolition of private school charity status, reducing the working week, gender pay equality, parents leave, living or minus wage. Post hoc rationalisations using economic models are often employed but these sit upon a fear of losing class privilege. 

So, they wage class war.

As for how wealth is accumulated read this on billionaires.

Class War.

There’s class warfare, all right,” Mr. Buffett said, “but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.” (said in 2006). 

“…Mr. Buffett compiled a data sheet of the men and women who work in his office. It turned out that Mr. Buffett, with immense income from dividends and capital gains, paid far, far less as a fraction of his income than the secretaries or the clerks or anyone else in his office.“How can this be fair?” he asked of how little he pays relative to his employees, “How can this be right?”

The root dynamic for class war is that working people require decent wages, pensions, housing, education and public services while the capitalist class require capital accumulation and have a fiduciary duty towards shareholders. Capital accumulation requires stability in the system, a legal framework that protects private property and the current transfer of wealth, trade (all are mechanisms of exclusion for opportunity hoarding) and minimal interference in the process. It needs infrastructure and a healthy educated workforce which has to be paid for. This sets up another aspect of the tension of the relationship between capital and labour.

This conflict of interest between workers and capitalists, even in the 21st century, is inherently violent. If actual physical violence is not meted out, then the system that capitalists have created, is institutionally and structurally violent, violence is threatened, always in the background. Extinction Rebellion and Occupy threatened the very fabric of current capitalist relationships, and the degree of violence meted out will match the degree of disruption and perceived threat. Examples from history are legion, from deportation to Australia to cavalry charges at Peterloo to Orgreave.

To avoid violence, the system has to distract, disillusion and disengage people from understanding the true nature of the system in which they live their lives. National sports and TV entertainment provide this function among the other benefits they bring. 

The control of narratives, the stories we tell and are told, is an important aspect of keeping the lid on inherent violence. Some things are just not up for discussion such as the current structure of wealth ownership. This is one method of domination – get the working class to police themselves. 

Self confessed ‘centrists’, or those who call themselves ‘possibilists’, cut down discussion to those things which, in their view, can be achieved. Basing this on the argument that politics is the ‘art of the possible’, they are unwilling to challenge current structures of wealth and power that could make other things possible. They are slow to address opportunity hoarding , possibly because they are opportunity hoarders themselves! 

It is understandable. The wealthy and powerful do not give up wealth and power readily. They will use violence to defend current structures of exploitation and domination.  Therefore confining change to piecemeal reforms, gradually, without direct challenge to power in this view prevents more violent change. 

The working class to date in the UK has chosen peace and stability, by voting New Labour and Tory, rather than radical change, even if that results in increasing wealth inequality, increasing precarity, the loss of protections, workers rights and of public services. 

I repeat, ‘Social struggles that challenge these forms of power potentially threaten the privileges of people in advantaged positions’. The Anti Corbyn rhetoric is testament to the emergence of the fear of the CE of losing privilege, of a working class backlash against the neoliberal status quo that has served them so very well.  

The antisemitism slur is class war based. A tool reached out for, out of fear of what a Corbyn government might do. The Labour Party has had members who for decades have been highly critical of Israel and of Zionists. Some are actual antisemites, but it must be remembered that anti-Semitism is as much, if not more, a right wing phenomenon. Criticising Israel or Zionism are political acts, they are not ‘Jew Hatred’.  It is not a new phenomenon. If there are antisemites now, there were antisemites for decades, and yet under Blair not a word was spoken about it in the Right Wing Press. 

Raising the State Retirement Age is class war.

Arguing the State Pension Age (SPA) is unaffordable unless people work longer, is an attempt to head off criticisms of wealth ownership. This therefore heads off challenges to opportunity hoarding based on decades of domination and exploitation which created the gross inequalities in wealth and income we now see. 

Ian Duncan Smith endorsed a report from the Centre for Social Justice, which despite its name is a right wing think tank, on raising the SPA.  In ‘Ageing Confidently’ (2019) the report suggests accelerating the SPA to 70 by 2028 and to 75 by 2035 to keep the ‘Old Age Dependency Ratio (OADR)’ within 20-25. The OADR is the ratio between the number of people aged 65 and over and the number of persons aged between 15 and 64. The value is expressed per 100 persons of working age (15-64). 

Why is this suggestion class war? Because it places the needs of older working class people as secondary to an arbitrary economic goal that is designed to placate the capitalist class by not raising taxes or asking for structural reforms in wealth ownership. 

  1. It deliberately and knowingly fails to address Health Inequalities  – the social gradient indicates that those lower down on the socio-economic scale experience lower life expectancy and fewer disability free life years. The working class die younger and experience more ill health. Many workers do not earn enough to retire on a decent occupational pension, especially with the disappearance of final salary pension schemes. Many also work in physically damaging occupations which means the ability to keep working diminishes. This group will be hit hard by the expectation to work for longer before getting a state pension. Many will die before qualifying or end up on sickness benefits. The Tory Government knows all of this. 
  1. The 0.01% do not want discussion on the amount of capital they have already and historically, accumulated which if redistributed could obviate the need to retire later. It is based on the OADR, which suggests the working class population needs to support its own working class older population. The current SPA is deemed unsustainable but it omits discussion that the OADR fails to account for wealth already accumulated but which is out of reach of the working class due to the strategic decisions of the capitalist executive and capital monopolists. The 0.01% ‘rentiers’ will wish to protect the wealth they have accumulated, largely based on inheritance, rent, structural inequalities and on the work of the working class. 
  1. It forms part of ‘Systematically Distorted Communication’ which conflates the interests of the Capital Executive with that of the working class. By focusing on the unsustainability of the current model of the SPA, which the OADR implies, this frame of reference is an attempt to infuse into the common discourse used by the electorate in their everyday ‘lifeworld’ rendering them less able to think about the much wider structural inequalities. If working class people think, and the papers they read argue, that the SPA is currently unaffordable because the government cannot raise the required taxes based on a reducing ratio of working aged people to older people (the OADR), they have uncritically accepted the Capital Executive’s strategic narrative. This narrative is based on protecting the CE’s, position, rather than an alternative based on examining the fundamental of class based wealth ownership.  It therefore uncritically accepts the OADR as a baseline to work towards while ignore the structure of wealth which renders such ratios as problematic. It matters not if the OADR is 50/50 if the structure of the distribution wealth was more equitable? The OADR is therefore used as a tool to keep older people at work to prevent a discussion of such redistribution. The very idea of wealth redistribution is anathema to many in the 1% and of course to the enablers in the new and old middle class.

The greedy bastards of the 0.01% can discuss this with impunity because to them it is a mere exercise in social policy thinking without any consequences for themselves. The GBs will ask the bottom 20% to work longer even if they die younger and suffer more ill health which they know already happens

Public Schools are instruments of class war.

A very clear example of Opportunity Hoarding and a mechanism of exclusion.

The link between social mobility and entry into ‘elite’ occupations via private education is well established. The Sutton Trust, The Equality Trust and the Social Mobility Commission, among others,  have provided a mass of data which clearly shows how class privilege in education is replicated and reproduced. Supporters of Eton et al use arguments about scholarships for the working class and excellence in attainment. This is spurious. Private schools are the engines of class privilege, ensuring the children of the very well off get a huge head start. Private schools facilitate the transfer of financial, cultural and social capital that underpins the current class structure and militate against its critique because it is not in their interests to do so.

‘Choice’ is also rolled out to support the status quo, as if those on the bottom of the income and wealth scale have much in the way of choice. ‘Choice’ is a middle class obsession based as it is on a certain degree of material wealth to enable choice to be exercised. “Don’t take away my middle class choice, but we can continue to ignore your lack of working class choice”. The working class is on the whole excluded. 

Even when working class children get into Oxbridge, they experience class barriers. The gaps in financial, social and cultural capital for many working class students becomes apparent as soon as they start.  Their public school ‘peers’ know how to exclude and marginalise the working class and they do so unreflexively in their shared values, assumptions, speech forms and knowledge rather than by using overt class discrimination. Internships and family networks ease the path of the wealthy into well paid jobs, a path denied to many working class graduates. 

Working Class ‘wealth’ exemplifies class war.

The United States is the best example of how to wage successful class war in that we have good data on the unequal distribution of wealth. The Federal Reserve published a report called the “Distributive Financial Accounts”, one analysis of which suggests that the top 1% increased its total net worth by $21 trillion between 1989 and 2018. The bottom 50% saw its net worth decrease by $900 billion in the same period. That is not ‘trickle down’ economics. It should be called ‘Hoovered Up’ economics. The top 1% owns $30 trillion of assets while the bottom 50% owns less than nothing, they have more debt than assets.


In the UK:

The Equality Trust argue: “Wealth in Great Britain is even more unequally divided than income. In 2016, the ONScalculated that the richest 10% of households hold 44% of all wealth. The poorest 50%, by contrast, own just 9%. More than that, for the UK as a whole, the WID found that the top 0.1% had share of total wealth double between 1984 and 2013, reaching 9%.

Cuts to public services are class war.

Just one example: “A system in crisis? Ombudsman complaints about special educational needs at alarming level”. The Ombudsman stated:

I am now particularly concerned some authorities may be putting in place extra barriers to ration scarce resources, rather than basing support on children’s needs. While I can empathise with the difficulties authorities face, there can never be an excuse for failing to meet the statutory rights of children.” 

One is left wondering what happened to the call in ‘Fair Society Healthy Lives’ to “Give every child the best start in life” ? The children of the wealthy will be protected from cuts in public services because of the ‘material health assets’ of their parents. The 1% know this, they read the news, they listen to radio. But they do not care enough to change priorities because they believe in the mantra that to have  ‘healthy public services you need a healthy economy’ that ‘we must reduce the deficit’ that ‘we are all in this together’ that ‘there is no magic money tree’ . Theresa May’s speech in 2016 clearly shows she knew what the issues where, but was unable and or unwilling to really do anything about them, perhaps she was distracted by Brexit or perhaps this was mere propaganda when she said:

 “That means fighting against the burning injustice that, if you’re born poor, you will die on average 9 years earlier than others…If you suffer from mental health problems, there’s not enough help to hand.”

Capital apologists always retort “we have never lived longer, been healthier or wealthier than we are now, so what is the problem?” These are facts that are true at the population level, but it hides very real disparities and inequalities and of misery. 

The promised reversal of Austerity by Boris Johnson merely attempts to curry favour with the population and is of course electioneering. The extra spending promised  – What? There is a magic money tree? – gets nowhere near enough to repair the damage to public services since 2010. The extra hospitals and police numbers will not heal the wounds inflicted by Cameron’s class war coalition. Injustice is still killing people:

…the Marmot review of the English health inequalities strategy argues that social injustice is killing people on a large scale: up to 2.6 million extra years of life could be gained across all social groups if health inequalities were significantly reduced.1 Despite the considerable effort and resources that have gone into research and action over recent decades, the health gradient has remained largely unchanged and in some instances has worsened.

Climate Change Denial is Class War

Jane Mayer writing in the NewYorker :

If there is any lingering uncertainty that the Koch brothers are the primary sponsors of climate-change doubt in the United States, it ought to be put to rest by the publication of “Kochland: The Secret History of Koch Industries and Corporate Power in America,” by the business reporter Christopher Leonard. This seven-hundred-and-four-page tome doesn’t break much new political ground, but it shows the extraordinary behind-the-scenes influence that Charles and David Koch have exerted to cripple government action on climate change.”

The climate crisis will not only affect the working class, but it will do so disproportionally and is already hitting the poorest in the poorest regions of the globe. The Kochs, the fossil fuel lobby and fossil industries know the scale of the problem but are putting investment and hoped for capital return above the needs of people everywhere, especially the working class and the absolute poor. 

Climate change denial is mostly a right wing phenomenon because the answer relies on international state cooperation and interference with the global market in treasured industries such as aviation, cars, tourism and of course fossil fuel extraction.  Not all CEO’s in those industries are climate change deniers and many are taking pragmatic business decisions to change their dependence on oil. It remains the case however that those who fund denial have a vested interest which they place above the urgent need for change. Capital v Labour? Capital v Planet? 

Other forms and agents of class war using both ideological and repressive mechanisms

  • The Demonisation of the Working Class
  • The Lack of Aspiration claims
  • Changes to Trade Union Laws
  • Changes to working conditions and pay – Precarity
  • The Right Wing Press
  • Right Wing think tanks 
  • Dark Money
  • Austerity
  • Stigma, Shame and Blame
  • Deserving and Undeserving Poor
  • Aspects of Globalisation

There is ample evidence for the existence of the above processes and ideas. 

Who are Class Warriors?

Graham Scambler in a series of blogs helps us to identify those who engage in class war. He has written about  Jacob Rees Mogg, Philip May and Philip Green as archetypal ‘greedy bastards’ who surf the structural waves of wealth and privilege.

Another example: Cadbury UK owner MONDELEZ UK Ltd (controlled by Kraft Foods Switzerland) whose reported accounts in Dec 2018 shows turnover of £1.7bn, a profit of £35m, but paid tax of only £271k. The dividend to the owner was £200m (2017, £247m), while its pension scheme deficit was £36m. 

General Motors paid  $22 million to its CEO Mary Barra while also laying off workers and closing 5 plants in the US. This even attracted criticism from Donald Trump! But of course it is entirely legal and part of the structures for wealth accumulation created by the Greedy bastards and their enablers in the old and new middle classes, such as corporate lawyers and those in the political power elite who do nothing to prevent this happening. 

Look at the 1%, the players and enablers of capital accumulation, who place making profits above the interests of workers at every conceivable opportunity, who fight any protective legislation, who oppose unions. Look for the politicians they fund and who speak to their interests. 

Class War?

So class continues to be relevant even if you deny it. Objective class relations; the structure of wealth ownership and capital accumulation; private schools; J K Galbraith’s ‘Private affluence and public squalor’ of run down public services; health inequalities; household debt; pension withdrawal; poor housing and the continuing demonisation of the poor and working class, are some of the manifestations of the root dynamic of worker’s interests being in conflict with the imperative of capital accumulation and the strategic decisions of the ‘Greedy Bastards’. 

That’s class war. 

Denying it is class war. 


Scambler, Graham. (2015) Taking Social Class Seriously.

Scambler, Graham (2015) Scambler’s Classification of Social Class.

Scambler, Graham (2015) Scambler’s Social Class Classification: An Addendum or Six.

Scambler, Graham (2015) A sociological Autobiography: 47 Social Class and the ‘GBH’

Scambler, Graham. (2019) Class, Classism and Class Struggle: More notes.

Scambler, Graham (2020) How might class drive a movement?

Wright, Erik Olin. (2015) Understanding Class. London. Verso.