A Nation of Shopkeepers: The Unstoppable Rise of the Petite Bourgeoisie

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A Nation of Shopkeepers: The Unstoppable Rise of the Petite Bourgeoisie

A Nation of Shopkeepers: The Unstoppable Rise of the Petite Bourgeoisie

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His concern is critiquing the left rather than looking to how we build working class power in the workplace and organise to build the widest possible solidarity within the class. New Labour’s ‘neoliberalism with a human face’ placed issues like anti-racism and sexual equality onto the government-sanctioned terrain of ‘community cohesion’ and cultural pluralism, whilst diverting attention away from glaring economic inequalities. The book provides some frameworks for thinking about class in modern Britain in new ways and seeing beyond prejudices on various sides to consider where it came from and what impact it has. Even the working class in the imperial core *does* have something to lose — the massive privilege and power that simply being a part of the empire affords us.

These frustrations have been at the backbone of much of the turn to social democratic politics in the past decade. This will mean leftists tackling with the complexities of the modern class system, rather than hiding behind liberal self-referencing, as in the social media trend of dismissing Britain as ‘rainy fascist island’ whenever things don’t suit their worldview.However, as is often true with political and sociological topics, some of its analysis didn't work for me and at times it felt a bit repetitive whilst barely covering other things it mentioned. The book’s most impassioned passages censure the left for purportedly mimicking the liberal social views espoused by the professional-managerial class (PMC). This individualism is also influenced by the relative autonomy in their labour that many TPB workers exercise, and perhaps even those who do not, such as modern gig-economy workers who are tethered to an algorithm instead of a looming supervisor.

Though the project unfortunately derailed, for reasons that can be found in this piece by FW Pete Davies, it is a model that could be adapted and practiced in different circumstances. The IWW model of workplace organising, where all workers are given the responsibility and power to run their own union and direct their own struggle, directly opposes the managerialism and bureaucracy that all workers despise. Building on the work of thinkers such as Poulantzas, Bourdieu and Marx, his analysis challenges syndicalists to learn how to build alliances with those fractions with whom we share common interests. Will these members be willing to knuckle-down and get rooted in working class communities if they are planning to leave their regional town for London or Manchester at the nearest oppertunity?Dan Evans knows his readers are probably members of the ‘new’ petty bourgeoisie (he remarks that he has spent most of his adult life among them). The old working-class habitus with its strong associational cultures of industrial labour has been hollowed out. A brilliant examination of the life and ideology of the petty bourgeoisie, the silent majority of ‘normal people’ whose safe, suburban, newbuild lifestyle belies their huge political influence and violent history.

Although such an informal approach in an informal environment is understandable, it inevitably raises problems, evident in Evans’ own claim - notably in a book on class, not a casual chat - that the likes of current Labour Party leader Keir Starmer and previous Labour Party leadership candidate Owen Smith are “the left at the upper echelons”. In 2021, in the EU, there were twenty-one million micro-businesses, making up 93% of all companies within the bloc, employing over eighty million people. In the neoliberal era, this class has grown significantly and replenished by “deskilled, proletarianised white collar service workers. In particular, there's a few throwaway complains about identity politics and intersectionality being too individualist, but it feels like if this is a reason to not consider the impact on intersectionality, whether as it applies to individual people or broader groups, then it could've been expanded to actually argue a point about "identity politics" rather than use it as a vague complaint against some parts of the left new petite bourgeoisie.The problem with such narratives are their ahistorical erasure of the processes by which a radical identity-conscious politics of building solidarity across recognised differences became the victim of ‘elite capture’. Dan Evans’ new book cuts through the nonsense and provides useful working definitions for fractions of the Middle Class and their role in the capitalist system. Evans’ superficial account of left-wing attitudes to the referendum is reflective of his wider approach to questions of class and identity.

The conclusion offers suggestions for how the petite bourgeoisie, which Evans positions as vital in modern Britain, could come together with the working class to actually make a difference. Through a series of characters drawn from his own life in South Wales – the Porthcawl plasterer who was ‘culturally working-class’ but loved Thatcher, or the ‘incidental’ Cardiff landlord who was also a trade unionist – Evans skilfully demonstrates that class boundaries are far more complicated than you’d imagine. Indeed, it was precisely the convergence of internationalism and economic redistributionism – no matter how mild – that drew such ruling-class opprobrium. In the 1970s, the concept was elaborated into a permanent neo-Gramscian strategy known as ‘Eurocommunism’ – of which Poulantzas was a prominent but heterodox theorist.He also lambasts the left’s preoccupation with social issues/representation, its pro EU tendencies, and its blanket support of authoritarian Covid measures. Thankfully, there are aspects of the IWW’s organising model that are suited to some of the issues raised. It would however be a mistake to take Evans’ diagnosis of the class composition of the left as given. To correct the new middle class bias of the left, says Evans, what is needed is an anti-establishment appeal to working-class and ‘old’ petty-bourgeois communities, whose hostility to ‘globalisation and big capital’ reflect material interests that are not reducible to being ‘innately reactionary or racist’.

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