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Towards a lumpenproletariat

A look at the changes in UK class society in the early 1960s. We disagree with this article but reproduce it for reference.

THE COUNTRY IS INHABITED BY "TWO NATIONS", now, as in the more distant past. The educational system, that is, the organization schools, is likely to be the factor which will lead to the division between the "two nations" becoming increasingly distinct.

In the nineteenth century the clear-cut division in society was due to the brutal fact of poverty. A large section of the populace really were poor, and it is difficult to grasp nowadays the extent and severity of the bitter material deprivation which was the lot of the mass of the people. We have by no means abolished poverty today, but it is the misfortune of certain minority groups today who must suffer as the calculable by-product of certain aspects of social planning. Such poverty has little in common with the essential poverty of the working class of the nineteenth century. According to Marx's thesis the capitalist-dominated society of his day would necessarily result in the increasing poverty of the proletariat and a sharper division of society between a small bourgeoisie and a large proletariat, the latter encompassing many marginal middle-class types and intellectuals.

We have seen that Marx's thesis was incorrect. Precisely the opposite development has taken place; the proletariat became subject to a process which has been labelled by the delightful term "embourgeoisification". The middle class has swollen, and the sociologists have had a high old time analyzing its substrata in terms reminiscent of geology. According to some sociologists, social mobility is the keynote of our present society. However, this period of social movement may well be a transitional stage leading to a stable (or stagnant, your choice of adjective will reveal your attitude) form of society in which there are very definite social castes which will become essentially separate, as foretold in Huxley's "Brave New World", or Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty-four".

In Marx's time, and indeed in the earlier part of this century, the degree of inequality of opportunity was very great. Many factors combined to frustrate the upwards social mobility of individuals of superior intelligence and ability who were burdened with working class origins. Such individuals, being largely denied the opportunity of personal advancement for themselves and their families therefore tended to devote their superior talents to the emancipation of the working class itself. Thus the impoverished and frustrated working class had a considerable leaven of highly intelligent, forceful and competent men and women within it. Such a leaven raised the all round level of the social and political consciousness of working people in spite of the degrading influences of their general poverty. The early history of the radical and socialist movement of this country is a tribute to the vision and energy of numerous people of humble origins who had to struggle hard for education and enlightenment.

By contrast, the ruling class sheltered a far greater proportion of incompetent dim-wits than it does today. It was often sufficient to be "well connected" to occupy a position of considerable power and influence. In the Victorian age when a somewhat vulgarized version of Darwinian ideas about the survival of the fittest was being fostered to justify terrible poverty and inequality, it must have seemed likely that a ruling class which fostered so many nincompoops in office was unfitted to survive in the face of any determined revolutionary upsurge from the working class.

It has been remarked that the prophesies of Marx have utterly disconfirmed. But so have the pipe-dreams of William Morris, beautifully set out in his "News from Nowhere". Will the trends of the future lie more in the direction of social engineering by painless biological and psychological conditioning outlined in "Brave New World", or by the sort of terror outlined in "Nineteen Eighty-four"? It is the purpose of this article to suggest that both the ectogenesis and foetus-processing of the former book, and the terror of the Thought Police of the latter, are unnecessary. We already have the means of complete social differentiation, and it is working. We already have the means of producing hewers of wood and drawers of water who will accept their humble role in society, clerks who will aspire to nothing more than clerkhood, research physicists who will research into nothing else but physics, and in fact all the limbs and organs which make up the great body of Leviathan. Oh individual man with your individual spirit of enquiry, of longing, of discontent and unique aspiration, where will you be? Will such groups as produce and read this journal become a mere cancer in the body politic, and as a cancer, be cut out or cured?

The means which we have for effecting stable social stratification is of course the screening process of the schools interacting with the social effects of such screening. Note that here we have a process in which neither variable is pure cause or pure effect, but that cause and effect enter into each. To observe the process at an age no earlier than seven, we can look at the average Junior School. Here these seven-year olds are labelled A, B or C, which in the context of the average school stands for brighter, dimmer and dimmest. The criteria for the allocation to these three streams are (i) the report from the Infant school, (ii) the apparent level of education of the child's parents. Both these criteria of selection are in fact good rough and ready means for separating out the children on the basis of their probable future academic success. Sometimes we may go to a school where the headmaster declares that there is no streaming. He has 90 children aged 8 who are divided equally between Mr. X and Miss Y. and how is the allocation effected — by tossing a penny? Well no, by suitability. Then we find that Mr. X is a reasonably competent teacher and has some chance of getting a few children up towards the 11+ pass level, so he gets the A stream, whereas Miss Y is herself a dim-wit so she gets the dullards, and helps to make them duller by her mis-handling of them. Some people point out that it is discouraging to a child to label him "C stream" at an early age, and so it is, but even the dimmest child learns the meaning of being allocated to Miss Y's class. In a certain English town there is a Junior school known to me where there is "no streaming"; Mr. Z's class is known on paper by his initials, but is known in speech as "the riffraff". Children often live up to the role which we assign to them.

I need hardly dwell much further on the continual screening processes which go on throughout the child's life at school. The 11+ exam is the most critical for the child in determining whether or not he is to become a hewer of wood and a drawer of water. But let us not lose sight of the fact that screening within the school system is not an entirely independent factor. Educational status largely determines future social status, but again, the social status of the parents largely determines the future educational status of the child. Thus in the first generation, parents of low social status will have a large percentage of their children attaining only poor educational standards and therefore, later on, achieving only low social status themselves. The small percentage of their children who are really bright will be creamed off, given opportunities for higher education and, later on, a place in the occupational and social structure that brings with it a way of life which effectively cuts them off from the family of their origin. The second generation of children of low social status will tend to marry among social peers and hence produce children who are, on the whole, even dimmer than their parents. The percentage of really bright children to be creamed off by the educational system will be even smaller in the second generation, and so the process of creaming off the brighter children from parents of low social status goes on. What is achieved is the same as the result of the selective breeding of plants or animals. Intelligence is being bred out of the working class. This process must result in their becoming stupider and stupider from generation to generation.

I do not suggest that this inevitable degenerative process of the working class is in any way a consciously intended policy. It is the by-product of a system which has been put forward by many well-intentioned reformers. Talent and the capacity for hard work in children is being rewarded by making opportunities for more advanced education open to them — their humble origins are no longer held against them if they are bright enough to compete with children of more privileged background. Where is the harm in that? If we are to criticise the inevitable result of it we must criticise the whole system of differential rewards and the competitive structure of our society.

As the process of the breeding out of intelligence from the working class has been mentioned, certain questions concerning genetic inheritance, and the nature of human intelligence must be considered more closely. The first is the question of the "biological regression to the mean". If we consider any attribute of a population, say their physical height, we find that it is distributed approximately "normally", that is there are very few adults who are dwarfs or giants, rather few adults under 5 feet or over 6 feet and most of us somewhere about 5½ feet tall. The statistics are of course different for the two sexes, but actual measures of the heights of a large number of adults give nice bell-shaped distributions humped up at the mean and tailing off towards the two extremes. Now if a rather short man has a family by a rather short woman, the children, when mature, will tend to be rather short in stature also. But if the children are numerous enough for comparisons to be made, it will be seen that although a few may be even shorter than their parents, the majority will be taller than their parents. The same holds if two unusually tall people breed — a few of their offspring may be even taller than their parents, but the majority will be nearer the population mean. It is this factor of regression to the mean which maintains the approximately "normal" (i.e. bell-shaped) distribution of characteristics common to an identifiable population.

Now as far as intelligence is a genetically determined characteristic, the process of regression to the mean ensures that the majority of the offspring of very stupid couples will be generally cleverer than their parents, and the majority of the offspring of very intelligent couples will be generally less clever than their parents. So the thesis to which I have devoted the earlier part of this article will tend to be invalidated by the phenomenon of biological regression to the mean. But such a normalizing process presupposes (a) complete genetic determination, and (b) a high degree of random mating within the population. Neither of these conditions hold with respect to the characteristic we are considering — intelligence. Babies are not born with equal potentialities of intelligence any more than they have equal potentialities for growing to the same physical height. A great deal of the potentiality is determined at conception. The degree to which the existing potentiality of the individual is fulfilled is largely determined by his nurture. Thus the child of only moderate intellectual potentiality who is born into a family where there is a high level of intellectual stimulation will develop a higher all-round intelligence at quite an early age compared to another child of similar potentiality who is born into a family where the level of intellectual stimulation is low. At an early age, say 8 years old, there is already an enormous difference between the children of the professional class and the children of the working class. Some observers may be deceived by superficial silliness and prep-school affectations of manner in the former group, but on a wide variety of tests of ability the working class children are significantly inferior. In former times such a difference in capacity could be attributed to the generally lower standard of nourishment and health of working class children, but this is not the case today. The difference in intelligence which is manifest at the age of 8, widens as the children grow older.

I am aware that I am describing a phenomenon which is only just beginning to be manifest today. There are probably more children from working class homes going to the university and obtaining high-status jobs today, than ever before. But these successful people are from working class homes. Their children, although perhaps maintaining contact with working class grandparents, will not grow up in a truly working class environment. What I am calling attention to is a process which is just beginning and which in a few generations may have quite spectacular results in the creation of a genuine, mass lumpenproletariat. Perhaps they will be well-fed and housed, but they will have the minds of cattle. No social system has ever achieved such mass degradation of the intellect before. Where a peasantry has been oppressed for centuries, or a proletariat kept in ignoble poverty, no such degenerative process has occurred, for acquired characteristics are not transmitted genetically. In every frustrated proletariat the clever have lived alongside of the stupid and the vagueries of sexual desire achieved some of the beneficent effects of random mating. But now in our civilization we have a clear-cut plan which results in selective breeding. Even our most "progressive" measures aid the process, for girls are being given opportunities more equal to those of boys. The bright lad from a working class environment no longer tends to pick from among the more physically attractive of a bunch of girls who are all equally uneducated; he is more likely to pick from among the brighter girls who also have been creamed off to go to grammar school and university.

All that I have set forth above may lead some readers to conclude that I am trying to make out a case against the degree of opportunity for advancement which now exists for children of lower socio-economic origins. Indeed, my last paragraph might be misinterpreted to indicate that I oppose equality of educational opportunity for girls and boys. I am trying to make out no such case, nor to mock at and deride the working class in the manner of Evelyn Waugh. I am merely concerned to point out the logical consequences of a social policy, for human populations are as susceptible to the results of selective breeding as are other animal populations. Above all, I do not claim that the inevitable results of such a policy are either desired or anticipated by those who have introduced the policy. I do not suggest that this policy should be reversed and that we should go back to what some people may regard as "the good old days" when the more intelligent sons of the working class were frustrated and had to educate themselves, and strove to rouse their duller brethren by soap-box oratory at the street corners.

The answer to the depressing prospect which I have outlined lies outside the realm of educational selection. The educational system subserves the concept of a society based upon differential rewards in the occupational structure. The rightness of this concept is unquestioned by all brands of political parties, right and left; the anarchists alone question the rightness of the fundamental principle of the wages system. We now have the technical capacity in human engineering to ensure a meritocracy, but the achievement of such a conditions also results in a stagnant and dull-witted proletariat. What should be our aim?

G.

Posted By

Steven.
Jun 26 2016 19:12

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