The word “classist” has been coming up again on my various social media feeds. The term itself has a couple of problems. The first I’ve commented on before: it reduces the class struggle—a clash of real, objective forces, and the most fundamental cause of oppression—to a prejudice, to a mere idea, to people “thinking wrong.” But there’s another problem with how I’ve been hearing it used.
So often I’ve heard something called “classist” for objecting to ignorance and backwardness among among sections of the working class. As in, it is “classist” to expect or demand a certain level of education, or culture in the working class. It is not “classist” to wish for people to have a good working command of their own native language; it is sad when they do not (I am not here referring to slang or vernacular, I’m referring to an inability to communicate clearly in written or spoken language). I’ve heard basic courtesy disparaged as, “bourgeois manners.” Well, pray, what other sort of manners are available at this time? Feudal? No thank you; my knees are too old to bow properly. None at all? Accepting rudeness, boorishness, and lack of respect for others as laudable? I don’t think so.
It is the misfortune, not the fault of the working class that so many are deprived of good education, of access to culture. But the solution is not to pretend it is “snobbish” to value those things, the solution is to fight to raise the cultural level of the class. People, there is a reason that throughout history, revolutionists would teach the oppressed to read! They didn’t say, “Objecting to illiteracy is classist,” they gave reading lessons—to peasants, to slaves, to workers.
Marxists believe that the working class is revolutionary, not because of how they think, but because of their objective social position, because they produce all value. This does not mean accepting backwardness and calling it a virtue, it means fighting against it.
If we encounter bigotry among white workers, we do not shrug our shoulders and smugly dismiss it as, “Well, that’s how they are.” No, we fight it as part of building class solidarity. The same is true of other forms of ignorance.
(My original discussion of the term, dealing with the more fundamental issues, is here.)