Climbing the London Ladder

‘Society’ means class society–to be more concrete, in this context it means capitalist class society–and it is the evolving struggle between classes which constitutes the dynano at the basis of the process of urban developnent. Let us examine this assertion. In this society, as in most existing and previous societies, there is a basic contradiction within the mode of production between,   as Ben Brewster has put it: “the real conditions of appropriation of nature–all the social relations,cultural and physical factors that go into the process of production–and the conditions of erpropriation– the relations determining the ownership and distribution of the product.” The fact that the process of production and reproduction of material life is overwhelmingly social in its character and consequences, contradicts the private character of the ownership and control of the process of production and reproduction itself and of the distribution and reinvestment of the outputs of this process.


Any society must– if it is to develop the capacities of its mode of production and thereby its potential for improving the material existence of its members–produce a surplus, over and above the amount of productive effort which is necessary to supply the consumption of, to reproduce, the actual producers; and it must develop a particular mode of distributing that surplus and ensuring that most of it is reinvested so as to expand its productive capabilities in defined directions. Under capitalisn, control over this process does not rest with the   actual producers, and this is the social basis of the contradiction [151 within the mode of production, state above. Exploitation, in the non-pejorative sense of the word, is built into capitalist society and this forms the social foundation of class formation and of the struggle between classes. Thus, class derives,in an objective sense, out of the relation ships in which individuals stand to the mode of production. These relationships are a function of both the division of ownership and control of property and the division of labour, which together define the social relations of production.


Capitalist society, both historically and contemporaneously, consists of only two objective classes: one having a canmon interest in preserving and extending the capitalits power and property relationships and division of labour, and the other having an antagonisn of interest on this issue. The former constitutes the daninant capitalist class whose members own the means and control the process and directions of production, the latter,the subordinate working class, the non-owners and non-controllers. In   the words of Jeffrey Rudin: “Membership of the dcninant class is objectively confined to owners [and controllers] of the means of production, all levels of management and the various appendent groups [lawyers, teachers, planners, police, administrative public workers, etc. who are not directly involved in the process of production and distribution but perform functions necessary to maintain the mode of production.] All other people who live by selling their labour–and this explicitly includes technocrats and the so-called white collar workers–objectively form the subordinate class.”


These social relations of production make up the objective base of class. The fact that they are determined in a perpetual   process of struggle enanating froma the fundamental endogenous contradiction of the mode of production, implies that they are dynamic, constantly changing and evolving as the struggle unfolds. Thus, class is a relational and oppositional concept. However, understanding this objective dimension of class is not sufficient to gain an understanding of the total behaviour of the members of a class. To complete the whole, we must understand the subjective superstructure of class, which is, once again, not merely a passive reflection of the base but actively interacts with it. It is also vitally important in understanding class aspirations in connection with urban living.


Briefly, the superstructure of class refers to life style, racial and religious prejedices, educational achievement, etcetera, all of which can be subsumed under the heading   of ‘status’, both subjective status and accorded status. The relative autonomay of the superstructure (consciousness) of class means that individuals may or may not be conscious of their objective class allegiance: while they do canprise a class in itself, they may or may not comprise a class for itself. The lack of congruence between the objective and subjective dimension within the subordinate class, which seems to be the prevalent situation, makes it easier for the dominant class to maintain control.


A good example of the interaction between the base and superstructure of class is the behaviour of the ‘labour aristocracy’ during the 19th century: they accorded themselves the status of “junior partners in British Capitalisn Limited” and so did not present a challenge to the dominant class. At least not until the 1980’s when   they began to develop a subjective class consciousness which was more concordant with their objective position. It also meant that their needs and aspirations in relation to urban living differed substantially fran those of the less privileged sector of the working class. And their failure to realize these needs and aspirations within the prevailing socio-economic institutions played an important part in their development of a working class consciousness towards the end of the 19th century.


The developnent of the West End during that century further underlines the importance of the superstructure of class in the determination of patterns of urban living. Leading capitalists attained the status, both subjective and accorded, of landed aristocrats, and thus gravitated towards the West End where they could live like and with their aristocratic ‘buddies’ who welcaned them. As a result, the West End grew in size and has to this day maintained its image, and much of its quality, as the the home of the wealthy. The fact that both the ‘labour aristocracy’s’ and the capitalist’s status goals originated out of struggles within the base of class, and the reasons behind this, have been developed in Chapter 1 and should not be overlooked. The dialectical interaction between the base and superstructure of class must, therefore, be an important variable in the radical theory of urban development. It raises a number of important conclusions about the process of urban development as a whole, and urban living in particular. One of these is developed below, saome others in subsequent sections of this chapter.


Given the importance of the superstructure of class, and the   fact that the residential environment constitutes a very significant element in the expression and satisfaction of superstructural class aspirations, the conclusion must be drawn that struggles within the sphere of urban living should be considered as part and parcel of the overall process of class struggle. Thus, the radical theory of urban development must expand our understanding, which is severely limited at present, of the mechanisms by which, and the extent to which, certain forms of urbanisn tend to pranote, and others (more usually) to subvert, working class consciousness, that is, a concordance between the base and superstructure of class.


Indeed, John Foster argues that this provides a useful means of cmanparing towns as a   whole. In an interesting paper, he “…puts forward a method of comparing nineteenth-century English towns; comparing them in terms of the class consciousness of their inhabitants. This [he argues] provides a way of comparing them as a whole–not just bits of them (birthrate, street-plan, council comanposition).


As a whole (or nearly so) because the degree to which labour was politically and socially united very largely determined a community’s mass social structure–housing and marriage, language and politics. As a whole because class consciousness or labour fragmentation refers to a canmunity reaction to the essential nature of contenporary English society; a reaction to it as a structured, politically endorsed system of economic inequalities.”



March 26, 2018


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