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« The men of the rich class are so well aware of their privileged situation that, when it is a question of improving the lot of the workers, they hasten, conscious of their role as masters, to present projects of all kinds for the organization of the life of their slaves »(1)

Leo Tolstoy

« The major contradiction of the system is not, as Marx thought, that which opposes the class of owners to that of workers, but that which sees a will to infinite power meet a finite reality. »(2)

Christian Godin

« […] to maintain the ideal of a society free from domination and exploitation (or at least to fight against their current forms), it is necessary to get rid of the illusions of abundance and to criticize industrial development and the bureaucratization that goes with it. »(3)

Aurélien Berlan

George Orwell saw it as  » an infinitely complex problem « . The French right-wing politician Alain Peyrefitte (1925–1999) called it  » an idea of the 20th century ». Still under the grip of their historical materialism, Marxists continue to cling to it, seeing it as the main, or even the only key to reading the contemporary world that is valid, again and again. In 2018, what is really going on with the  » class struggle « ? Is it the engine of history? Is the idea still fully operational? Does it make sense to the mass of voters-consumers? Does it represent a hope in the short, medium or long term? Is it not drowned in parliamentarianism and devitalized by it(4)?


To begin with, let us take up this fundamental distinction, the class  » in itself  » and the class  » for itself « . Class itself is a sign of the apprehension of a total social fact: society is undeniably divided into strata according to the level of wealth (income and assets). In this respect, nothing has changed since the time of Marx and Engels. On the contrary, no one can reasonably dispute that inequalities have only increased. Things get tough when you consider the class for yourself. Ideally, each class is supposed to have full consciousness of itself, i.e. of its objective place in the production process and of its own interests(5). Thus, it is in the interest of the bourgeoisie to maintain the exploitation of labor and cultural domination, just as it is in the interest of the workers to at least demand a better distribution of the fruits of labor and, better still, to overcome capitalism so that a classless society may come into being, after a period of dictatorship of the proletariat. We are far from it and, moreover, definitely, let’s bet on it… The dominated that we are should be attentive to the little phrases of the rich who do not say only lies or stupid things (contrary to what the leftist vulgate claims). The remark of the American billionaire Warren Buffet, on CNN in 2005, should even serve as a detonator to revitalize the struggle:  » There isa class war, that’s a fact, but it’s my class, the rich class, that is fighting this war, and we are winning it . We can’t say it any better. The bourgeoisie has always been a class unto itself, just as the proletariat was once(6). As Michel Pinçon and Monique Pinçon-Charlot say, there is no other solution for the dominated than to reconnect as soon as possible with their class consciousness(7), provided they overcome their seriality(8). This is where the problem lies. Since the end of the Second World War, the middle class has emerged in the industrialized countries, blurring the boundaries and rules of the game(9). Between the two historical adversaries, capitalists and proletarians, it acts as a buffer. In love with comfort, distinction and conspicuous consumption, she fights for her recognition today more by her performances (economic, professional, artistic, sports, media and sexual on the Internet) than by her position (Hartmut Rosa, 2010). It has transformed the « simple » individualism inherited from the Enlightenment into a trendy and postmodern hyper-individualism. The battle for places is on! Its members have the very bad idea of  » compare themselves with each other » and « to identify with the « rich  » that they hope to become one day, either through hard work, talent, persistence and court games, or through the luck of the lottery, or both, but certainly not through inheritance! That’s why some of the poor vote right(10).  » When I get rich, I don’t want to be bothered with redistribution issues, so let’s plan ahead and go for blue, or even brown . The situation is reversed, since in the past the bourgeoisie was despised for its taste for luxury and its veneration of the Golden Calf; today, this  » termite mound for the middle classes  » (Gilles Châtelet, 2010), these  » proletarians with money  » (Alain Deneault, 2016), fantasizing about the eternity and inalterability of their model(11)They have only one desire, to be like him, even if some remnants of bad conscience lead them from time to time, fleetingly, to be moved by the fate of the « excluded » of all kinds. At the end of the 1960s, « […] Herbert Marcuse defended the idea that the traditional working class would now be ‘integrated’ into the capitalist system and that only the ‘active minorities’ and the ‘young intelligentsia of the middle classes’ would be capable of radical political action(12) ». Marcuse was an estimable thinker, but let us recognize the falsity of his prognosis in the second part(13).


Nowadays, what are the obstacles, the sources of alienation(14) that prevent a re-emergence of class consciousness? The overall answer could be  » our way of life « , but let’s take two examples. First of all, our relationship to technology and particularly to digital information and communication technologies (ICT). Although he did not have the time to get to know them, Cornelius Castoriadis, who died in 1995, would surely have seen them as a particularly powerful instrument of class exploitation. As alienating as they are standardizing, they have the characteristic of « diabolically » capturing attention through their screens, this attention thus becoming the scarcest and therefore the most precious resource. Activists know this when they try to get their little message across, live or through limited media, in the ocean of information and notifications (infobesity). This is one of the reasons for their powerlessness. The illusion of mastering time and space, as well as the perception of an  » egalitarian horizontality  » finish convincing that, all in all, everyone can at least exist on the Web by expressing themselves.  » Trump tweets and I tweet too! « . This reification of the other, of all the others, by the ICT, prevents us from perceiving the society divided into classes because an avatar is not a shareholder, nor an employee, nor anything else, it is first of all an avatar equal to oneself. Further proof, if any were needed, of the non-neutrality of the technique(15).

Second example. The relative ease of travel, embodied in mass (and class) tourism, is another cause of class (and mass) blindness. When workers, or even welfare recipients(16), fly to tourist factories in the tropics, they will experience a sense of abundance (even if it is only relative). With the massification of tourism, a double blow for the business bourgeoisie, which fills its coffers at the same time as it administers a dose of analgesic to employees exhausted by their work. There is nothing like a good mini-trip to evacuate your stress and discomfort, by eating, drinking, dancing and screwing, and then return to the office refreshed!  » The tourist, who has little tolerance for long-term situations and commitments, surfs, zaps, and sails according to his geographical desires and his quest for different experiences. Its psychic fuel is dissatisfaction. He is driven by a vague desire to renew his sensations through movement in space, which must bring its share of strange novelty, provided that it is harmless and that his experience is duly lined with « safety cushions and marked distress lanes »(17) ». An individual who claims to be anti-capitalist, ecologist or degrowthist should therefore take as a first symbolic personal (and climatic!) measure to definitively throw away his ornaments of tourist(18). Since this activity has nothing to do with natural needs, it is therefore possible not to leave  » the order of necessary and sufficient needs to access the superfluous without being able to really access comfort and luxury(19). Taking a step back to theoretical height, here is what else stands in the way of class for its own sake:  » A Process of Objectification of Social and Subjective Life  » (Marc Weinstein, 2015);  » The constraints and promises of acceleration and growth inherent in the capitalist economy « (Hartmut Rosa, 2010); a homogenization of lifestyles that does not prevent the renewal of class levels, as well as a particular privilege that proclaims itself universal and normative to justify parasitic consumption (Michel Clouscard, 1973).


The re-establishment of class consciousness will be the result of cultural work that those in power will do everything to impede. For example, politicians could remove advertising from public spaces, but do not, with some exceptions(20).

In the Wallonia-Brussels Federation, they could introduce a philosophy course in compulsory school, but they still do not do so, despite repeated calls from associative actors over the last fifteen years(21), because such a course would be potentially subversive. For their part, the unions could start an ideological work to question some of their pet ideas, such as the defense of purchasing power, which is only the power to make other employees work (hard) for their own fleeting pleasure. If some of its members, more open than others, do so willingly during debates with environmentalists, degreeners and alterglobalists, the apparatus refrains from raising the issue officially. As for the rich, let’s not be naive, they want to maintain and deepen the alienation of the masses. For them, we will never be alienated enough! In the 1990s, oligarchs, including Zbigniew Brzezinski, even invented the concept of tittytainment : providing the plebs with a mix of games, entertainment and enough food to keep them from thinking about revolting. Let’s not listen anymore to Marxists who claim that the reappropriation of the means of production alone would bring the solution. Let’s stop justifying, in the eyes of others and ourselves, our hyper-individualism, this subjective ferment of technological and financial capitalism.  » [Et] for four decades now, the constant reference to the defense and promotion of individual freedom, reputed to be now experimentable in all the new spheres opened by all the successive technological revolutions, is in fact a veil thrown over the contemporary forms of domination and alienation(22) ». Finally, let’s reclaim time by devoting less of it to salaried work.

Bernard Legros

Notes et références
  1. Léon Tolstoï, L’esclavage moderne [1901], Le pas de côté, 2012, p. 97.
  2. Christian Godin, La haine de la nature, Champ Vallon, 2012, p. 112.
  3. Entropia, « L’Histoire désorientée », n° 15, Parangon, automne 2013, p. 61.
  4. Comme l’avait déjà signalé Rudolf Rocker (1873–1958) dans Théorie et pratique de l’anarchosyndicalisme (Aden, 2011).
  5. À moins qu’idéalement il n’existe justement plus de classes, rétorqueraient certains !
  6. Dans les années 1930, Orwell remarquait déjà que « la classe ouvrière anglaise a[vait] versé dans la servilité à une vitesse assez effrayante », in Le quai de Wigan, Ivréa, 1995, p. 142.
  7. Ce couple de sociologues devenu célèbre arrive à cette conclusion après avoir étudié les pratiques sociales des riches, empreintes de solidarité et même d’une forme de « communisme » interne, tandis que la compétition interindividuelle ronge les classes moyennes. Cf. Sociologie de la bourgeoisie, La Découverte, 2007.
  8. « La sérialité est ce qui disperse la collectivité en un agrégat d’individus discrets qui ne se rapportent plus les uns aux autres que sur la base d’identités creuses ou narcissiques » (in Jonathan Crary, 24/7. Le capitalisme à l’assaut du sommeil, Zones, 2014, p. 128).
  9. Pour une analyse aussi fine que percutante des classes moyennes, cf. Alain Accardo, Le petit bourgeois gentilhomme. Sur les prétentions hégémoniques des classes moyennes, Agone, 2009. L’auteur utilise aussi le terme de « petite bourgeoisie ».
  10. Cf. Thomas Frank, Pourquoi les pauvres votent à droite, Agone, 2013.
  11. Visible par exemple dans cet appel au retour des Trente Glorieuses ou dans l’optimisme irréaliste.
  12. Daniel Zamora (dir.), Critiquer Foucault. Les années 1980 et la tentation néolibérale, Aden, 2014, p. 89.
  13. Sauf si l’on considère les luttes de l’« intersectionnalité » (LGBTQI+) comme des actions politiques radicales.
  14. Au risque de chagriner ou de courroucer les épigones de Deleuze, Rancière, Ehrenberg et cie, le concept d’aliénation est plus idoine que jamais. Reprenons-en la définition de Dwight McDonald : « Le fait que l’être humain est rendu étranger à sa propre nature par des forces sociales qu’il a lui-même libérées » (in Le socialisme sans le progrès. The root is man, La lenteur, 2011, p. 151). Je suis néanmoins conscient qu’une désaliénation intégrale est une chimère ; mais on peut quand même régresser dans les stades de l’aliénation, une régression qui représente ici paradoxalement un progrès !
  15. « La technique est neutre, tout dépend de ce que l’on en fait » est l’un des pires poncifs, rétif à l’argumentation. Cf. note de lecture sur l’ouvrage de Christian Godin Les lieux communs d’aujourd’hui.
  16. Que le lecteur se garde de voir ici un quelconque propos « classiste ». Je serais favorable à l’interdiction des vols touristiques et des croisières pour tout le monde.
  17. Rodolphe Christin & Philippe Bourdeau, Le tourisme : émancipation ou contrôle social ?, Le Croquant, 2011, p. 17.
  18. Ce qui n’empêche pas de continuer à se déplacer, mais moins loin, moins vite et moins souvent. Ainsi ai-je renoncé à prendre l’avion depuis 2004.
  19. Michel Clouscard, Néo-fascisme et idéologie du désir. Les tartuffes de la révolution, Denoël, 1973, p. 37.
  20. Même si on peut le classer dans les « écotartuffes », le maire EELV de Grenoble, Eric Piolle, a pris cette bonne décision. Cf. Didier Moineau, Dérives dans une « ville créative », CMDE, 2018.
  21. Cf. La philosophie à l’école, Luc Pire, 2001.
  22. Daniel Dagenais (dir.), La liberté à l’épreuve de l’histoire. La critique du libéralisme chez Michel Freitag, Liber, 2017, p. 107.
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