Ken Loach (Oxford) discusses with Left Unity rising star Salman Shaheen (double first Cambridge) how to build a working class party. Well kick you two out for a start.



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  1. Dora Kaplan

    Well done, Ian. Post of the year. I’ve been laughing all day. Who will they invite next to their deliberations, The Hon. Sir Jonathon Espie Porritt, 2nd Baronet, Magdalen College, Oxford, CBE, perhaps?

  2. obviously wonderful working class credentials.

  3. As we said in This is Class War: ‘Working Class people must take responsibility for their progressive revolutionary politics – fly by night middle class radicals have been the bane of our movement for as long as the Working Class has existed.’

  4. james?

    to be fair to them they are called left unity not working class unity, some of them talk about building a working class party but left unity was set up to unite the left not the working class.

    • To be less than fair, ’cause these cunts aren’t, the point is almost every ‘left wing’ intellectual from Oxford and/or Cambridge has ultimately betrayed the left and the working class by embracing the principal of controlled capitalism, and we know where the nicey-nicey lefty-capitalists have led us. They are the fodder of the true-blue capitalist, for whom I have a greater respect because they do not betray their principle of ‘me first, me most and me only’.

      At least you know where you stand with those arseholes.

      What these educated, intellectual sometime-lefties should be doing is working to ensure that working class people who cannot afford the education they enjoyed are rocketed into seats in parliament.

      I saw a slogan a while ago; it read “What if the cure for cancer is trapped inside the mind of someone who can’t afford an education?”

      The intellectuals and capitalists fear the proposal “What if the answer to capitalism is trapped inside the mind of someone who can’t afford an education?”; in other words, keep the working class uneducated so they are less of a threat to our greed and pelf.

      • y

        If someone ends up at Oxford does that no longer make them working class? Looking at Ken Loach’s Wikipedia page – it says he went to a grammar school in Nuneaton followed by Oxford, then a life in the “Arts”. His parents may have been coal miners for all I know.

  5. b

    Many working class people, given the opportunity, would make a better film than Cathy Come Home, but give Ken Loach credit where it’s due for that superb piece of work (1966).

    Smiling Carcass – thanks for teaching me the word “pelf”, which I hadn’t heard before, but do you really have more respect for say the CEO of Goldman Sachs, or army generals, or the royal family, or politicians such as Iain Duncan Smith, or whoever else you’d class as “true blue”, than someone like Ken Loach? If so, would you go as far as saying the middle-class left is the main enemy? I don’t agree that knowing more clearly where you are with someone is reason to have more respect for them. Got to admit that I have much more respect for someone like Ken Loach than I do for Tory scum.

  6. Bit harsh Ian. I’m a state-school educated leftie who happened to go to Cambridge. The experience didn’t dent any of my commitment to changing the system in favour of the 99%. Don’t judge a person by their background, by where they’ve been. Judge them by their ideas, where they want to go.

    • b

      What, so people shouldn’t be judge by their actions? 🙂 I’m not having a go at you, Salman, but just want to list some of the things you may be missing.

      1) If you say people shouldn’t be judged by their backgrounds, why do you give your own ‘state-school educated’ background pride of place in what you have just said about yourself?

      2) You must surely be aware, having gone through Cambridge, that those who run that institution put out a lot of bullshit propaganda about how they’re forever seeking more undergraduate applications from pupils at state schools, obscuring the reality that most (not all) of those who do go to Cambridge after attending state schools are still from privileged backgrounds.

      E.g. they may be the offspring of headmasters or senior teachers, or they may go to one of the handful of state schools at which most of the pupils are sons and daughters of the bourgeoisie. Only a small minority of Cambridge undergraduates who went to state schools are not in one of those categories, and an even smaller minority are from non-privileged backgrounds. The position is that a state school background is very often mentioned for bullshit reasons. I’m not saying you’re doing that, but I have to question how come you’re not aware of the reality here; how much reflection you have given to the issue (or you gave to it when at Cambridge); and how much will-power you have to lay things bare. And laying things bare is part and parcel of working class self-liberation, right?

      There’s even a state school in Cambridge itself, called Hills Road Sixth Form College, which gets listed as one of the ‘top’ state schools in the country, at which places are reserved for pupils who come from private schools. The son of an acquaintance of mine, who went to a bog-standard state school in the area, got a place there, which was then removed a few hours before he was due to start, after he had already been given his ID card, which they arrogantly asked him to return to them. Investigations showed that they had given some places at the last minute to a couple of brats from a private school. So my acquaintance’s son got told to get out of the way.

      That’s what Britain is like, Salman. If you get the point, engage with others who also get it. If you don’t, well fuck off basically. But I hope it’s the first.

  7. I mention my state school background because this article implies I’m part of some kind of old boy’s network, which carries with it Etonian / private school implications. I was certainly not part of any such network while at Cambridge. I was, however, active in campaigns against the Iraq and Afghan wars, arms trading, the demonisation of immigrants and travellers, poverty and human rights abuses. I do get your point, and I do recognise my privilege. I’ve never claimed to be from a working class background. All I have ever claimed to do is stand on the side of working class, vulnerable, victimised and exploited people in their struggle for equality. I recognise what Britain is like and like you I want to change that.

    • Darren

      Of the 500/600 people who were at the founding conference of Left Unity, how many of them were middle-class and how many were working class (as in, have low-paid jobs or are currently on benefits)?

      Whilst your intentions may be good (I’m sure you’re a nice bloke), why is there a middle-class, Cambridge graduate talking on behalf of the working class? Was there nobody actually working class who was capable of being the spokesperson for Left Unity? (Hence my first question)

      • There are, Left Unity has plenty of working class people in the press and speaking publicly. And at National Council meetings, the majority are low income. I happen to be a journalist, so I use what avenues I have to get left wing views aired to a wider audience. In this case, it was interviewing Ken Loach for the Huffington Post. If you have a platform, it would be silly not to use it. The right are certainly using theirs. And every time I do, every time I stick my head above the parapet, I get a hail of shit thrown at me by Labour, by the Tories, by racists. It’s a bit harsh to come under criticism for my background from the left too when I’m on your side.

      • b

        Darren – good question in your first paragraph, which Salman doesn’t answer. Years ago Rene Riesel of the Situationists suggested that revolutionary workers’ organisations might reverse what apparently was at one time the rule for the Bolsheviks and ensure that 80% or 90% (can’t remember the exact figure) of members (delegates?) should be working class. I’m not sure that’s the right answer (although it may well be), but at least it’s an answer to the right question, which I’ve never heard a lefty ask.

        Middle class people who join the working class struggle, or even just want to help out from time to time, should be welcome to do so, but let’s apply military commonsense when traitors to the other side come over to ours: split them up and send them to the front lines. Failing that, at least split them up for fuck’s sake!

      • Darren

        As I understand it, Left Unity is set-up to be an alternative to Labour, to be to the left of Labour and a party that represents working class interests.

        But look at the Labour Party. There are some good members, some of them even MP’s who are working class, who are left wing and who hate the political status quo. However these people get marginalised and never get to influence policy. And who comes to the fore? The Oxbridge educated, middle-class types. And we’ve seen how that turns out.

        So when I see Left Unity represented in the mainstream media by someone like yourself (with that aforementioned background) I can’t help thinking “here we go again.”

        I’m one of the 5 million or so people who earn less than what is deemed the living wage. I’d like to see someone in that number given a go as being representative of my interests; being talked to as opposed to talked at, by our own people.

      • b, I don’t know the answer to the first question, but I do know the majority of people who travel to National Council meetings register as low-income. Darren, I’m not Left Unity’s only representative in the media, we do have working class people in the press too. I recognise that there is a gross underepresentation of working class people in the national media, and that is wholly unfair. But you here are prioritising one form of underrepresentation over another. There is also a gross underrepresentation of ethnic minority people in the media. Left Unity is not just a working class party. It is a party that is seeking to tackle all forms of prejudice and inequality, including racism, sexism, homophobia and ablism. I think it’s worth considering that before rolling your eyes at my role.

  8. Jack

    OK so you can be working class and go to Oxbridge, you can also be working class and stinking rich and go to posh private schools. Lefty people can emerge from these nightmarish Hogwarts type scenarios, but the point is these institutions should be abolished -so come on Loach, films about the Spanish civil War all fine and dandy, but have the balls to make a film about how divisive these places are, and how the individuals excreted from there, network with each other and run the country

    • b

      Brilliant idea Jack. If Ken’s reading this…or maybe Salman can forward the idea?

      PS “working class and stinking rich and go to posh private schools. I’m not parroting these disgusting institutions’ propaganda and saying they have something to do with equal opportunity, but there are a very few working class people who aren’t stinking rich and who are at, or have been to, private schools, even top ones. They usually have a hard time there from day one, sometimes a very hard time, and don’t join the enemy. Probably talking about one or two a year at each of the top schools.

  9. The Shadow Speaks!

    So when two middle class men educated at Cambridge conspired with a stockbroker’s daughter to articulate the voice of the working class on their behalf, calling themselves “The Angry Brigade” (though none of them had ever experienced working class existence for more than five seconds), then that’s somehow different to what Loach is trying to do here. Or is it just Oxbridge educated people with the right politics you approve of? Or just their politics, regardless of education and background, in which case you can get Prince Peter Kropotkin back into the picture as well, in which case I am totally confused about which class your class war is fighting against.
    One with a lot of caveats and exceptions by the look of it Ian,

  10. WHS

    Oxbridge-educated or not, bollocks to that smug 12-year-old arsehole Owen Jones.

  11. b

    @Salman. “I recognise that there is a gross underepresentation of working class people in the national media, and that is wholly unfair. But you here are prioritising one form of underrepresentation over another. There is also a gross underrepresentation of ethnic minority people in the media. Left Unity is not just a working class party. It is a party that is seeking to tackle all forms of prejudice and inequality, including racism, sexism, homophobia and ablism.

    Well at least that’s a clear statement. But it’s one that I’ve got hardly any time for.

    I write as a working class person who wants a social revolution which abolishes class society and exploitation, and therefore gets rid of wage-labour and money. Last night I watched Ken Loach’s Spirit of ’45 film, and although in many places the on-the-ball accounts by working class people brought tears to my eyes, I won’t be buying John Rees’s pathetic criticism of the implementation of nationalisation which goes no further than saying it was insufficiently controlled from below. For fuck’s sake, how about getting rid of exploitation, of wage-labour, of the rich? How about even mentioning the rich?

    The rich are the class that capitalism is for. The rich are why we live under capitalism. The rich are why we live in shit. Yet the rich hardly got mentioned in the film, unless you count the standard reference to city traders in the 1980s and one reference to private quacks. It’s as if nationalised corporations didn’t have anything to do with private contracts, or the NHS right from its inception didn’t have anything to do with pharmaceutical companies.

    Far be it from me to put out some stupid ultra-left criticism of nationalisation which says it doesn’t matter whether the railways are privatised or nationalised because it’s all capitalism. On the contrary, I can relate very positively to the desire to talk about the Spirit of ’45 and the view that Nye Bevan was the best prime minister we never had. Even posh Clement Attlee, well, yes, he was in the war cabinet during the second world imperialist war, blah blah, but the guy went down to Victoria Station to meet the surviving British workers off the train back from the Spanish civil war. Kinnock, Blair, Brown and Miliband wouldn’t be fit to lick his boots. Nowadays the workers who went to Spain to fight fascism would have been arrested as terrorists with Labour support before they even left! So I’m not pushing an ultraleftist line. But for goodness sake, get a clue about what capitalism is. The ‘market’ and ‘bureaucracy’ aren’t polar opposites. Those who have read Marx should have heard of M-C-M’. Well bureaucratic clout functions as M. Nor is socialism the replacement of ‘bureaucratic’ management of enterprises with control ‘from below’.

    Let’s say the working class is 80% of the population. I don’t think the answer to the social question is to have 80% of newsreaders, politicians, political editors and celebrity talking heads hailing from working class backgrounds, even though that’s unlikely ever to happen. Which doesn’t mean it’s not important to suss that the ruling class is mainly hereditary, and that it’s middle-class fuckers who mediate almost everything that working class people are supposed to think about social matters, and who foster deference right the way across the board.

    Capitalism is about the rich stitching everything up and breeding and culling us like capital, which necessarily involves rich bastards not just competing with each other but also hobnobbing with each other and ensuring their wealth gets passed on to their favourites, whether inside or outside their own families. (Here’s something I’ve never seen any lefty or anarchist address: the role of ‘equity’, probably the most important contribution of English law to the world, which is essentially about rich bastards keeping hold of their money.)

    As for the idea of putting the exploitation of working class people on the same level as prejudicial discrimination against people because of their ethnicity or sexual preference, just…leave it out. The exploitation of the working class is the foundation of this society called capitalism.

    • b

      “breeding and culling us like capital”

      Oops – I meant to type “cattle”, not “capital” !! 🙂

    • I agree with much of what you’ve said, but I do not believe that turning society on its head and having it run by and for working class people (which I want to see happen) will automatically provide a solution to gender, racial and sexual discrimination. I think it’s essential any left-wing party addresses all these issues, and I do believe they all intersect.

      • Darren

        Just want to say that B’s long post was a good one, mainly for this bit:
        “Far be it from me to put out some stupid ultra-left criticism of nationalisation which says it doesn’t matter whether the railways are privatised or nationalised because it’s all capitalism. On the contrary, I can relate very positively to the desire to talk about the Spirit of ’45 and the view that Nye Bevan was the best prime minister we never had. Even posh Clement Attlee, well, yes, he was in the war cabinet during the second world imperialist war, blah blah, but the guy went down to Victoria Station to meet the surviving British workers off the train back from the Spanish civil war.”
        And for what it’s worth, I’ll give Salman a nod of respect for reading and replying on here. I will watch Left Unity with interest and hope that they can manage two things: stay true to working class roots and avoid too much shitty jargon and theory that has had ultra-left parties going around in circles since forever.

      • I hope for the same thing Darren.

  12. Uncle Sam

    Loachy on Desert Island Discs chose for a book the 3-vol book on Trotsky by the Sunday Telegraph op-ed writer Isaac Deutscher — both obvious raging loons.


    • Justoh

      This is about the only place i’ve seen that seriously discusses the way that working class people are absent on tv except on talent shows and (fictional versions) on some soap operas. Left Unity is a load of well-intentioned neo welfarist horseshit. Mainstream politics TV, newspapers and the comedy business are coming down with uberconfident privately educated Oxbridge dinwits. Do we need yet another left of centre coalition of the nice? Time for workers politics that points to solutions to the shitty pay and conditions being bossed about by some other cunt, crappy housing, rotten food, poor transport, worsening hospitals, corrupt imperialist wars, warming seas and all the rest. The only way to get back to that politics is for working people to get into their communities and build a party or parties of resistance. I admire beyond words anarchists such as the Wobblies but i cant imagine anarchism ultimately changing the world. The main point- time to give two fingers to the privately educated twats who run politics and TV.

      • INCUBUS

        This also so true as to be almost beyond words too,especially when you have the bare-faced arrogance of parasites like Fergus and Judith Wilson parading their class-hatred on national TV with the blessing of media luvvies, who then have the fucking nerve to portray the community in Tottenham as a bunch of animals- Two landlord scum literally lording it over hundreds or working class people…Whereas the media would hardly ever give time to any of our class venting our justifiable class hatred. Incidentally, the corpulent Fergus,(who does a magnificent job of presenting himself as a tight fat capitalist bastard), seems to have sprung from working class roots, picking up his politics from the columns of the Daily Heil along the way- a paper written by yet more of the dross from the public school system.

      • Tom Ferrour

        The Wobblies are not all anarchists; the IWW is a union; but it’s members are all against Capitalism.

  13. TimP

    Some definitions would be useful here. What exactly is meant by working class? What is meant by middle class? Does working class = working people or is that something different. According to some definitions I would be middle class, as a university-educated professional, but I can hardly be called a member of the bourgeoise as I have to work for others for my living and am periodically unemployed. It would be handy to know which side I’m supposed to be on.


      That makes you a proletarian, seeing as you are exploited rather than an exploiter- the defining things are whether you have a position of authority, own any means of production, or have a load of capital yourself which you invest in order to reap the benefits of exploitation. The middle class delude themselves that one day they too can join the ranks of the ruling elite ( a position that is increasingly untenable as their wealth declines)- if you don’t suffer from this particular delusion, and you hate the hierarchy, then you’re on the right side.

  14. Janet

    Salman Shaheen said “I happen to be a journalist…”

    You don’t ‘happen’ to be a journalist any more than I happen to be a part time cleaner. Do you think your privileged background and privileged lifestyle are unrelated?

    Salman Shaheen said “…I’m on your side”

    Thank you very much guvnor. Very kind of ya ta say. I can sleep safe now too right I can.

    I agree we should accept the repentant enemy into our arms. But we don’t want them running the shoiw just because of their privilege. So I ask, how is this Shaheen fella not just another posh prick carving himself a career out of the suffering of others?


      Well said- I saw him on the RT News channel today, talking some shit about the EU, looked like any other smooth-talking politician all nicely suited and booted and ready for his shiny career- no doubt he really does think he is a champion of the poor and the working class, but soon enough the unconcious motivations of power and status will creep in, and he will convince himself he is ‘doing good for the common man’ no doubt cos he thinks he knows ‘what’s best for us’ as he climbs the greasy pole of political recognition. ‘Just another posh prick’ is right.

  15. b

    Salman – can you comment on the notorious anti-black racism of Cambridge and Oxford universities?

    Click here (very highly discriminatory practice against black students applying for undergraduate admission: 10 Cambridge colleges and 11 Oxford ones made no offers to black students whatsoever for the academic year 2009-10), here (racist policy restricting hiring of black academics), here (cockily racist academic very welcome at Cambridge), here (follow-up in Huffpo to the first article cited).

    The FoI data also shows that of more than 1,500 academic and lab staff at Cambridge, none are black.

    One Oxford college, Merton, has admitted no black students in five years – and just three in the last decade.

    (At Oxford>, one black Caribbean student was accepted in 2009, out of 35 applications.

    And note well: the racist bastards at Oxford and Cambridge intend to keep things as they are at those institutions.

    Click here (Daily Mail), for example. And some official cunt at Cambridge was bullshitting on, keeping a straight face, about how the figures are all wrong, and that the real reason that you hardly see a black face in Cambridge is because applicants often come from nearby and there aren’t so many black people in East Anglia as there are in London and the West Midlands etc.

    Of course, it’s really about class and about the Malthusian ideology that is the real ideology of the British elite. And of course, above all, research universities are about big business in a very direct way.

    I think class domination is the foundation of racism. You may disagree. But … on the main point…are you going to help put the boot into these institutions of the ruling class, even on the matter of their glaring racism?

  16. Sophie

    A lot of hatred and prejudice here. In the words of Alexander Berkman:

    “Every progressive, radical, and revolutionary movement within the past hundred years has been inspired, mentally and spiritually, by the efforts of the finest element of the intellectual classes. The initiators and organizers of the revolutionary movement in Russia, for instance, dating back a century, were intellectuals, men and women of non-proletarian origin and station. Nor was their love of freedom merely theoretical. Literally thousands of them consecrated their knowledge and experience, and dedicated their lives, to the service of the masses. (…) Who were the Garibaldis, the Kossuths, the Liebknechts, Rosa Luxemburgs, the Landauers, the Lenins, and Trotskys but intellectuals of the middle classes who gave themselves to the proletariat? The history of every country and of every revolution shines with their unselfish devotion to liberty and labor.”

  17. Leveller

    For the life of me, I can’t understand why Salman Shaheen is being vilified so much! Does his background really need to overshadow his efforts and ambitions?

    Look at it this way: Should William Wilberforce not have been listened to because he didn’t know what it was like to be a slave? Should Thomas Paine have been ignored because he wasn’t an American colonist? Should Tony Benn’s endeavours be disregarded on account of him being an Oxford old boy?

    I should go on record here to say I’m not completely sold on the concept of Left Unity. However, I am very much of the opinion that this country needs more left-of-centre activism than ever, so – to me at least – it doesn’t really matter where it comes from, as long as it is genuine and heartfelt.

    Now I don’t know Shaheen from Adam; he seems like a decent bloke, but for all I know he could be a complete a***hole. But to discredit him immediately, to shoot his ambitions (to pursue a more socialist agenda it should be noted, not a working class one) down simply because he went to Cambridge and has the temerity to wear a suit and speak well in public seems supremely counterproductive. There is after all a far bigger picture to consider here: if we want to make significant changes in our society, to make it a fairer one for all, then we on the left need to embrace diversity, not retreat behind the same class divides which the far right take so much joy in perpetuating.

    Surely, telling well-meaning people they’re not welcome in ‘our domain’ of politics because they don’t hail from a working class background is not in the best interests of those who want to engender real and lasting political change? If anything, it is a form of snobbery (albeit of the inverse kind), not that far removed from the kind of things the Old Boy networks might muster.

    Not all people from privileged backgrounds are wankers.
    Not all people from working class backgrounds are savours.

    There are good people (from all backgrounds) out there who are keen to achieve good things for the benefit of those who are unwilling and/or unable to make changes for themselves. Why shoot them down before they’ve even had the chance to show everyone what they’re made of..?

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