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What Antifa and the alt-Right have in common Far from being posh kids playing at activism, the militant subsets are drawn from a precarious middle class

Fascists go around dressed in black telling people what to do, whereas anti-fascists... (Photo by Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Fascists go around dressed in black telling people what to do, whereas anti-fascists... (Photo by Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)


June 4, 2020   6 mins

In my twenties, I inhabited a fringe of the London political activism scene that included full-on black bloc anarchists. I had begun working life as a middle-class graduate in London, soaked in critical theory and hostile to the economic system I was expected to join.

Instead of knuckling down in a Big Four consulting firm like much of my graduating year, I spent most of my twenties flip-flopping between temp work and jobs I hated in industries that filled me with cynical despair, living in sketchy house-shares while pursuing trendy but unremunerative activities such as avant-garde writing, conceptual art and political activism.

In the course of this I met many anti-capitalists, the forerunners of today’s Antifa militants, the far-left radicals behind much of the violence in the United States.

But then of course, because of America’s extreme polarisation, many believe it’s not Antifa fanning the flames of riot in the US, but neofascist accelerationists. Rumours are swirling about provocateur involvement in the rioting by hard-left groups, as well as white supremacists.

Depending on your filter bubble, it could be white nationalists seeking, as Gavin Haynes put it in these pages last week, to give the system “just one final heave-ho before it crumbles” in favour of a new racist utopia. Or if you follow different blue-ticks on Twitter, it’s Antifa creating mayhem in order to bring down Donald Trump.

To muddle things further, far-right activists may be posing as Antifa in order to heighten both these narratives. Trump himself has come down firmly on one side of the partisan divide by designating Antifa a terrorist group.

Between hyper-partisan reporting and confused messages from the front lines, perhaps there is no making sense of US events — certainly not from this side of the pond. But if we step back from trying to pinpoint one ‘side’ as ‘goodies’ and the other as ‘baddies’, and see both Antifa and the alt-right as two sides of the same phenomenon — alt-right and alt-left in fact — there are plenty of warnings here for British politics.

Both alt-left and alt-right have a presence in Britain, though their antagonism doesn’t (yet) approach the running battles that now regularly occur in the United States. Plenty has been written about the constellation of beliefs on both alt-right and alt-left. But — demographically speaking — who are they?

The fact that the radical fringes are often less than keen to have their real identities known makes it difficult to find reliable data on the demographics of these groups today. But a look at past studies offers some clues. First, Ukip: though many ‘Kippers would be offended to be described as ‘alt-right’, the 2018  three notorious alt-right social media figures joining the party in 2018 does little to dispel the sense of at least some relationship. And 2017 YouGov data shows Ukip members be typically less educated and heavily concentrated in the lowest income brackets.

Over the pond, 2018 research from the US-based Institute of Family Studies supports the contention that adherents of the kind of white identitarian politics common on the ‘alt-right’ is associated with lower education levels, lower earnings and higher unemployment.

This is complicated somewhat by recent reports suggesting that far-right groups such as Generation Identity are focusing their recruitment efforts on young graduates. But the longer-term picture suggests the stereotypical alt-righter is male, working- or lower-middle-class, without a degree, frustrated by stagnation in economic opportunities and liable to blame his problems on immigrants and the ‘globalist elite’.

In contrast, the alt-left are seen as being far higher up the social scale, and in the war of words between Left and Right, figures such as Carl Benjamin and Brendan O’Neill accuse Antifa of being pampered middle-class leftists playing at activism. But from my own recollections, I don’t think it’s that simple. Rather, I think the new alt-left is deadly serious — just pointing the wrong way.

My overwhelming recollection of the movement was a mixture of middle-class culture with economic precarity: people with serious smarts and groaning bookshelves working jobs in bars to fund activism, while complaining about The System that excluded them. (I include myself in this description, in case you think I’m sneering.)

I argued recently that the massive expansion of higher education is creating a new ‘Everywhere precariat’. This group comprises graduates who’ve absorbed a worldview that trains them for ‘metropolitan elite’ job types that turn out to be far scarcer than the graduates competing for them.

The result is a frustrated would-be middle class, treading water in what the writer Venkatesh Rao has called ‘premium mediocre’ lifestyles, a rented simulacrum of a genuinely prosperous existence designed to signal preparedness for the day when, by luck or application, they make it into the dwindling numbers of the real bourgeoisie.

These graduate left-behinds are then stuck in a holding pattern, in precarious housing and employment, as opportunities to take the big steps into adult life — traditionally home ownership, coupledom and kids – recede ever further into the distance. A recent Pew report showed 30% of millennials living with a spouse and child, a fall of 10% on Generation X and a whopping 40% drop on the 1968 generation. That’s America, but ONS datashows the age of first child climbing relentlessly in Britain too — while the birth rate is falling in all cohorts save the over-40s.

Ed West argued back in 2016 that the disappointed also-rans in the graduate-job Ponzi scheme were increasingly turning to far-left political figures. Both Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders, who proved popular especially with 18-30 voters (if not to anyone else) have made heavy use of words such as ‘rigged’. A 2017 NBC interview with an American Antifa student at an elite Bay Area university expresses this sense of a receding dream:

“These false promises we’ve been told throughout our lives that we just have to follow the American dream of working hard and things will be all right. We’ll get a middle class existence with house, lawn and the picket fence,” Daniel said. “This promise, this future has never materialised, and we kind of realized that the system’s rigged against us and we need to do something about it.”

Seen from this angle, the principal distinction between supporters of the alt-right and alt-left is not, contra Carl Benjamin and his ilk, social class. Rather, it’s between different types of ‘left-behind’. Many on the alt-left aren’t really privileged young people playing at radicalism before settling into steady jobs.

Perhaps that’s how they planned it; but the steady jobs they were banking on settling into after a stretch moonlighting as an activist have evaporated, leaving a bleak economic future distinguished from the alt-right version chiefly by different taste in music, coffee and radical aesthetics.

This is supported by a 2017 European Union Politics paper that studied support for radical-right and radical-left parties. While ‘alt’ and ‘radical’ versions of Left and Right may not be quite the same, the paper’s conclusions are suggestive. It showed that in bare economic terms, radical-left and radical-right supporters don’t differ a great deal but where they do — significantly — is on education. That is, both are heavily drawn from economically precarious groups, but for radical leftists these economic grievances are overlaid with cosmopolitan values inculcated via higher education.

Both radical Left and Right are, the authors suggest, “different segments of the same pool of losers of globalization”. The left-behind bottom rungs of the new graduate precariat mix cosmopolitan style identity politics with a simmering anger at a system that feels rigged against them, and a demand for economic redistribution — in other words, the Corbyn/Sanders formula.

Meanwhile, adherents of the alt-right face similarly left-behind economic prospects, just without the graduate worldview. So the main mode is the same anger at a rigged system, just overlaid with the mirror-image of the cosmopolitan worldview: nativist identity politics. We might call this the Tommy Robinson formula.

The urbanist Joel Kotkin has argued recently that developed economies are heading for a form of neo-feudalism. A tiny class of oligarchs, he warns, is emerging in conjunction with a ‘clerisy’ comprising universities, media and culture that propagates its values. These two classes are in the process of stripping wealth, property and influence from pretty much every other sector of society.

In Kotkin’s terms, we could see both alt-right and alt-left as different subsets of the ‘Third Estate’ losers of this hollowing-out. They may be a militant subset right now, but as we exit lockdown into the teeth of a brutal recession, the precariat is going to get bigger. It’s also likely to get angrier: coronavirus is strengthening the hand of finance, big tech and the biggest corporations, even as it’s eviscerating the middle class. In other words, the pandemic has accelerated many of the trends contributing to the twin radicalisms of alt-right and alt-left.

From the point of view of effecting political change, then, the tragedy of the alts is that they should waste their energy quarrelling among themselves. Alt-left and alt-right represent different subsets of an ever-swelling precariat, watching in real time as the last of the twentieth century social contract goes up in smoke. Right now they largely see the enemy as one another. Should that change, though, we could see our faltering political settlement shaken to its core.


Mary Harrington is a contributing editor at UnHerd.

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Matthew Powell
Matthew Powell
4 years ago

Given that billions are squandered every year on university courses which add no economic value to the country; whilst working class communities are denied funding for skills based training, housing and support for raising families. I know which side I have greater sympathy for.

Steve Gwynne
Steve Gwynne
4 years ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

Too bloody right. National resilience building means developing and sustaining manufacturing capacity and other essential capacity in order to sustain our domestic market needs.

Critical race theory, race ideology or any other intellectual frivolities contributes absolutely nothing either to national resilience or domestic capacity.

matthew hilton
matthew hilton
4 years ago
Reply to  Steve Gwynne

way to go shopkeeper…

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
4 years ago
Reply to  matthew hilton

What’s wrong with being a shopkeeper?

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
4 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

Nothing, they thrashed the Corsica upstart Napoleon Bonaparte at Waterloo for starters.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
4 years ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

Quite so. Anyway, I regard a 22 year old electrician as better educated than a 22 year old gender studies graduate. He/she will certainly have a better grasp of applied logic than some twerp with a head full of critical theory.

David Morley
David Morley
4 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

And they’ll be able to distinguish easily between the male and female ends of a cable!

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
4 years ago
Reply to  David Morley

That too!

johntshea2
johntshea2
4 years ago
Reply to  David Morley

Sexist! First they should ask the cable what its pronouns are and whether it identifies as Asexual or Non-Binary.

Kelly Mitchell
Kelly Mitchell
4 years ago
Reply to  johntshea2

Well, I guess Alternating Current provides some insight.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
4 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

We most certainly do not need gender studies graduates. And it is this type of nonsense that is destroying our societies from within.

Kelly Mitchell
Kelly Mitchell
4 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Of course we need them.
Somebody has to be wrong no matter what.

Andrew Harvey
Andrew Harvey
4 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

They are mutually exclusive. Paying to train someone in gender studies, means less money for training electricians.

gordon.pedersen
gordon.pedersen
4 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Harvey

In the US, the degree of mutual exclusivity flows from decisions about where to direct the public resources. There’s less money sloshing around today than decades ago, but still plenty to support both kinds of education if if were deemed important. Not sure about the UK.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
4 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

We really, really don’t need any gender studies graduates.

Liscarkat
Liscarkat
4 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

Gender Studies graduates are not only useless, they are destructive. Electricians, on the other hand, are extremely useful and productive members of society, and generally more intelligent than university graduates.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
4 years ago
Reply to  Liscarkat

Exactly.

Neil John
Neil John
4 years ago
Reply to  Liscarkat

I agree some s-too-dense really are useless, though a Dr. I know who lectures in computer science took his 18th edition test recently as he’s been expecting to be ‘purged’ for a while, most of the students he teaches are useful, not just for flipping burgers.

David Lawler
David Lawler
4 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

The only use for gender studies grads as far as I can see, is for target practice.

d.tjarlz
d.tjarlz
4 years ago
Reply to  David Lawler

Who is the fascist now? Of course, you’re “only joking, just pretending”.

gordon.buckman
gordon.buckman
4 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

As an electrician myself, I wholeheartedly agree:).

Brian Dorsley
Brian Dorsley
4 years ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

Matthew, you’ve hit the nail on the head. I live in the US and see so many prestigious colleges receiving generous donors and grants as well as charging high tuition fees, while community colleges are languishing and struggling to survive. I used to teach at a 4-yr college and then changed jobs to a community college. I have regained my joy in teaching again. There is an honesty about community colleges which is totally lacking in 4-yr colleges. I could never come to terms with colleges preaching equality while charging students $20,000 a year for a degree. There is a such a huge cognitive dissonance among the college-educated, because they now have accrued so much debt in attaining these useless degrees, but are no more employable than if they had just left high school (probably less so, because they’ve been indoctrinated).

EJ Winston
EJ Winston
4 years ago
Reply to  Brian Dorsley

That’s neo-liberal marketization for you

EJ Winston
EJ Winston
4 years ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

Which particular courses do you mean and how many students are taking these courses? Do you include Business and Admin? Also, is the economy the only important factor in life or are you OK with self improvement or knowledge for its own sake?

Nigel Clarke
Nigel Clarke
4 years ago
Reply to  EJ Winston

We live in an era where an economy provides the framework for societal pursuits such as self-improvement and the acquisition of knowledge, amongst many many other laudable pursuits that improve lives.
Don’t recall reading much on self-improvement and knowledge acquisition in medieval Europe or the UK, do you? No economy.
Or do you think grinding poverty, short lifespans, high child mortality, war and famine are a prerequisite for self-improvement and knowledge acquisition?

David Waring
David Waring
4 years ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

The so called black kids are the victims of supremacists desperate to maintain their relevance now Covid has hit.

Andrew Best
Andrew Best
4 years ago

I only have some GCSEs
Been a working class manual worker all my life still am
C2de as your type like to call us unlike you nice abc1 types
But that makes my alt right then?
I have lived in squats with pseudo intellectuals, middle class, lefties like you,
Insufferable ardent types who after spending 10 minutes in their company give you a headache and a life long aversion to them

Steve Gwynne
Steve Gwynne
4 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Best

To be fair to Mary, she is not designating you, I or anyone else who is working class alt-right.

The confusion to some extent is that the social sciences, and especially the radical social theories of the alt-left, do not incorporate ecological science, especially population ecology.

For you and me, that is working class common sense, there is only so much land that a hungry population can accommodate.

This doesn’t mean we are alt-right, although many figures on the alt-right spectrum do indeed understand the relationship between population growth and national economic/ecological capacity.

The difference is in the rhetoric. Alt-right focuses in on ‘immigrants’ largely from a white identitarian point of view whilst ecological science focuses in on ‘population dynamics’. Hence what is truly required in Britain is population stabilisation. How this is achieved is through an assortment of policies ranging from border controls and immigration policy, unwanted or accidental teenage pregnancies, birth control and fertility measures including restricted child benefits and self restraint, control over illegal immigration etc etc. These aren’t specifically alt-right.

Where the contention really does lies is in population genetics which does indeed bridge between genuine ecological science (in particular population ecology) and alt-right race ideology. Population genetics looks in detail at the genetic stock of a population. In theory and possibly in practice, a population will incorporate genetic diversity which is a natural resilience factor in all species populations. However, it is likely and highly probable, although hugely contentious, that a given national population for example will contain genetics which are best adapted to local biomes (environmental adaptation).

This will possibly be explored if the higher proportion of BAME covid deaths is attributed to genetics which might conclude, people with maladapted genetics in relation to the biome in which they live is putting excess strain on their immune systems.

However, it is likely that such conclusions will be hidden or downplayed by the Liberal Establishment.

So in summary, having ecological science concerns about population growth within a relatively stabilised economic capacity or ecological science concerns about population growth within a reducing ecological capacity is not alt-right, it is standard working class common sense. Unfortunately, many within the Liberal Establishment including their supporters and followers have yet to catch up with our working class common sense and typical of the arrogance of much of the millennium generation do not have the humility to learn.

Such is the nature of a superiority complex and the need to be distinguished by rank, office or qualifications. What we really need is a levelling down.

d.tjarlz
d.tjarlz
4 years ago
Reply to  Steve Gwynne

Agreed, although as I understand it, the education of women is a great way to reduce fertility rates.

Nigel Clarke
Nigel Clarke
4 years ago
Reply to  Steve Gwynne

A very good, coherent and well thought through comment.

What we really need is a levelling down

I believe we are heading for one…

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
4 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Best

I very much share your disdain for pseudo-intellectual middle-class lefties, but why are you attacking the author of this piece? She was only highlighting some of the commonalities and differences between the alt-right and the alt-left.

matthew hilton
matthew hilton
4 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

Do you have a concept of an intellectual or only a concept of a pseudo-intellectual?

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
4 years ago
Reply to  matthew hilton

The difference between them is that intellectuals respect the deliverances of logic, reason, and observation, whereas pseudo-intellectuals read critical theory.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Best

We middle class right wingers can’t stand those turds either.

Kevin Thomas
Kevin Thomas
4 years ago

The alt-right started as a name that young, anti-establishment right wingers like Milo Yioannopolis and Paul Joseph Watson used to differentiate themselves from mainstream conservatives. The term was then hijacked by a white nationalist named Richard Spencer, who applied it to his movement, after which Watson and Yiannopolis, who are not white nationalists, disavowed the term. Not one of the people mentioned in this article is alt-right. “Alt-right” when used by the media seems to be a blanket term used to mean anyone who is opposed to political correctness and identity politics. There is no persuasive evidence that any right wingers have participated in the US riots posing as Antifa. This seems to be excuse-making and wishful thinking.

It strikes me that the left wing worldview is now based heavily on the fear of minor, exaggerated or non-existent right wing movements being poised to bring back fascism. Meanwhile, the left’s angry, brainwashed foot soldiers are looting, burning, assaulting and killing people.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
4 years ago
Reply to  Kevin Thomas

“the left wing worldview is now based heavily on the fear of minor, exaggerated or non-existent right wing movements being poised to bring back fascism” … which is itself fundamentally of the left.

Michael McVeigh
Michael McVeigh
4 years ago
Reply to  Kevin Thomas

Spot on – Brendan O’Neill is a left winger.

Billy Biscuits
Billy Biscuits
4 years ago
Reply to  Kevin Thomas

Meanwhile, the left’s angry, brainwashed foot soldiers are looting, burning, assaulting and killing people.

So the police aren’t responsible for assaulting and killing people?

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
4 years ago

This is a very well-written article, basically describing my kids: successful 20-something professionals who can barely afford the rent and are lamentably leftwing.

EJ Winston
EJ Winston
4 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

If they’re successful professionals, why can’t they afford the rent?

Nigel Clarke
Nigel Clarke
4 years ago
Reply to  EJ Winston

£1850.00 a month rent for a small one-bedroom flat in London. that’s £22k a year. And that comes out of your net salary. Plus all the usual extras, but we all have to pay CT, bills etc..
£1400 if you want one with mould and damp.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
4 years ago
Reply to  EJ Winston

They can afford it, but living in London is very expensive.

Nigel Clarke
Nigel Clarke
4 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

2 kids, 20 and 22. Trying hard to make sure they don’t succumb to the lefty-victim role many of their peers thirst for. At least they read the articles that I email them.

Lizzie B
Lizzie B
4 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

You’re doing better than I. Mine aren’t even successful professionals! By choice. AND lamentably left-wing.

Michael McVeigh
Michael McVeigh
4 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

Don’t worry too much – “If a man is not a socialist by the time he is 20, he has no heart. If he is not a conservative by the time he is 40, he has no brain.”

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
4 years ago

True. Thanks for reminding me.

Nick Whitehouse
Nick Whitehouse
4 years ago

It still amazes me that graduates expect a graduate premium.
If roughly half the young are now going to university, there is no scarcity value to produce a premium, as compared to when only 3-4% went to university.
I see this as like the position of clerks – who could read and write and hence were able to command a premium wage – to the loss of their premium wage when the Victorians taught everybody to read and write.

Michael McVeigh
Michael McVeigh
4 years ago

Yes, Blair made the usual mistake – thought education was intelligence.

Kevin Thomas
Kevin Thomas
4 years ago

The jobs the graduates were banking on have not vanished. They have never existed. We currently send approximately half the nation’s 18 year olds to university. How many graduate jobs do you think there are, or ever were? How could half the jobs conceivably be graduate jobs? Therefore how can a degree guarantee you one? Unless you are going to a reputed red brick university or studying something inherently useful that has a demand for graduates, you are essentially being scammed out of tens of thousands of pounds in return for 3 years of fun away from your parents and a worthless piece of paper at the end of it.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
4 years ago
Reply to  Kevin Thomas

Graduates tend to earn more than non-graduates.

David Waring
David Waring
4 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

Soon it will be BAME graduates running things.

Alan Matthes
Alan Matthes
4 years ago

I think there are multiple factors that have led us here. The takeover of the education system by the far-left which discourages personal responsibility in favour of a blame culture, (not to mention the proliferation of useless degrees). Mass immigration that has eroded social capital and put huge upward pressure on house prices whilst keeping wages down. And I might also mention the haemorrhaging of nation wealth to finance our EU membership. I can’t really subscribe to the idea of 2 ‘alts’, there’s the Alt Left and there is what used to be called common sense. 😉

matthew hilton
matthew hilton
4 years ago
Reply to  Alan Matthes

what is “social capital”?

Alan Matthes
Alan Matthes
4 years ago
Reply to  matthew hilton

This is the wikipedia definition I would go along with; ‘a shared sense of identity, a shared understanding, shared norms, shared values, trust, cooperation, and reciprocity.’

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
4 years ago
Reply to  Alan Matthes

It sounds quite like the underpinnings of traditional Scrutonian conservatism.

jpreisser58
jpreisser58
4 years ago
Reply to  matthew hilton

“Social capital is a set of shared values that allows individuals in a group to work together effectively to achieve a common purpose.”

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
4 years ago

‘A tiny class of oligarchs, he warns, is emerging in conjunction with a ‘clerisy’ comprising universities, media and culture that propagates its values. These two classes are in the process of stripping wealth, property and influence from pretty much every other sector of society.’

Well, yes, but we have known that for many years. That aside, this is just another article about the moaning members of the middle classes who were sold ‘degrees’ that are more or less worthless.

John Ellis
John Ellis
4 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

It doesn’t hurt to re-state it from time-to-time though, Fraser. Although Mary possibly identifies more with her “alt-leftists”, and thus writes more about them, she makes a fair point in identifying their basic agenda with their apparent enemies on the alt-right. And if you identify with neither the oligarchs nor the alt-xes, what do you reckon is to be done?

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
4 years ago
Reply to  John Ellis

I don’t there is anything that can be done. It is too late and the rot is too deep.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
4 years ago
Reply to  John Ellis

I agree, she’s really quite even-handed for someone of the modern left.

Rybo Adders
Rybo Adders
4 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

On the money again Fraser. The continued equivalence of the well
documented alt-left extremist activities with the alt-right is
nonsense. The alt-right (or far right ““ or in fact any creed not in
total agreement with left-think), has proven to be a mirage. You
simply have the rest of the adult population who pay taxes, work for
a living, and vote accordingly at the elections. Fortunately this is
the majority at this time.

benbow01
benbow01
4 years ago

‘ Ukip members be typically less educated and heavily concentrated in the lowest income brackets.’

Compared to what, Labour supports in the ‘Red Wall’?

I was forgetting Labour supporters are all ex-public school and uni graduates.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
4 years ago

Put simply, the alt-Left believes the world owes them a living, the alt-Right believes in taking responsibility for yourself. With or without the ‘alt’ prefix this has been the key distinction between the left and the right for some decades now, and it is the reason why the working/useful classes have gradually stopped voting for Labour in the UK.

jpreisser58
jpreisser58
4 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

It is the exact same turn of events in the U.S. Decades ago the Democrats used to be the party of the “working man”, supporting labor unions and whatnot, but have gradually moved away from it.

mike otter
mike otter
4 years ago

Good piece, the comments below largely nail it further…at a time when we are desperate for genuine STEM workers to compete globally we have a mass of social science, humanities graduates and increasingly dodgy life science degrees (no such thing as race, gender etcetc)
Sure most are easy pickings for the lure of disaffected hate based activism – mostly leftist but some “identitarian right” too. This is largely because you don’t need a degree – real or ersatz, to flip burgers and drop off amazon parcels. However this leaves a lot of genuine graduates and a few from “post modern” subjects who are clever and hard working so will get on anyway. The reason the mostly fake Uni’s got away with this stems from the parents of these “graduates” never going to Uni. Gen X and Z will be much better able to advise their kids that a degree only works if it works, wiser to be a solvent plumber than a broke activist. That is the critical point here, the notion on the left that all plumbers and pipefitters are thick. We ain’t, its just a trick.

Monica Elrod
Monica Elrod
4 years ago

Fascinating article. I agree with the author that the middle class is being eviscerated, and millenials have fewer opportunities to buy a house and do the nice vacations and put money aside for retirement. Over my decades as a worker I’ve seen companies I work for continue to reduce benefits and paychecks haven’t gotten any bigger since the 70s. Gone are pensions, most people can expect to spend whatever money they’ve saved on medical care in the US. Many people go bankrupt due to medical bills. Corporations get the tax breaks, young people have to resort to multiple gig jobs without benefits to get by. The pandemic has forced 45 million or more out of work. My daughter, a software engineer, is barely making enough money to cover her apartment and basic expenses and has no car. I feel so discouraged for ALL young people and the lack of companies to fulfill their end of the bargain to provide living wages and benefits for their employees. Huge corporations like Amazon continue to take advantage of people who badly need work. Seems we are back to a new version of serfs and royalty with nothing in between. I only hope that the so called extremist groups can get together and fight for living wages and benefits. We need to stop the accumulation of wealth in the top 2% and greatly expand the middle class.

David Isaac
David Isaac
4 years ago
Reply to  Monica Elrod

It is expanding massively, but in Asia and not in the West.

migdia.chinea
migdia.chinea
4 years ago
Reply to  Monica Elrod

Amazon must be broken up. Please read.

https://www.google.com/amp/

Mark Beal
Mark Beal
4 years ago

There’s a point lurking in the article above, which deserves greater exploration.

Simply put, the clerisy and the university educated precariat share a world view, one based on Critical BS. Large parts of both these groups have convinced themselves that there is some huge ‘alt-right’ conspiracy to bring back slavery, chain women to the kitchen and ‘eradicate’ alphabet people. Some probably know this is a fantasy, but far more have no critical faculty whatsoever (which is kind of ironic) and actually believe it. Consequently large chunks of both groups think of themselves as ‘radical’ in some sense.

But what is actually happening is that the university educated precariat is being conned by the very group, the clerisy, to which it believes it has a divine right to belong, since the clerisy – whatever it may claim – controls virtually every institution in the land. It’s not some ‘alt-right’ bogeyman creating the precarious conditions large sections of the university educated find themselves in, it’s the institutions that the clerisy itself inhabits and upholds.

Take the current BLM riots/protests. The university educated precariat gets to be called things like “brave” and “principled” (characteristics you don’t normally associate with sheep) by the clerisy, who simultaneously condone destruction, more death and general mayhem under the guise of “reporting the news” and more generally “being on the side of the oppressed”. Yet all of it is a distraction. The more the clerisy can get people to believe in things like “institutional” racism, sexism and waste time shouting about female penises, the more it gets to strengthen its own position by portraying itself as a “progressive” voice striving for a better world, as opposed to all those wicked people demonized as ‘alt-righters’, but who, for the most part, turn out to be sane and rational individuals.

From this point of view the university educated precariat are little more than useful idiots. They share the very world view that underpins their own precarious situation. For that reason I don’t see them joining the non-university educated precariat any time soon. Besides, they despise the working class, and in any case, they believe that their rightful station in life is with the clerisy, so why would they want to overthrow it?

At least the non university-educated precariat know they’re being shafted, and by whom they’re being shafted.

PS. I’m not convinced that the university-educated precariat exhibit “serious smarts”. I’ve heard enough of them tie themselves in knots trying to justify ridiculous notions that the tiniest smidgen of common sense would disabuse them of to be highly suspicious of their intellectual capacity.

Walter Egon
Walter Egon
4 years ago
Reply to  Mark Beal

Yes, well put.

Brian Dorsley
Brian Dorsley
4 years ago
Reply to  Mark Beal

I’m a grad student and I completely agree with you. The Critical Theory professors I’ve had are crazy scary. I once questioned a professor’s ‘doctrine’ and was soon after given the ‘talk’ by the dean.

naomimoan
naomimoan
4 years ago

Quite interesting article and I very much relate as a US expat living in UK, owner of a liberal arts degree (Black Studies) and Masters degree in Theatre and the $100K debt to accompany it. Now I’m my early 40s with a husband and small child, I consider truly recommending that my child, marry and start a family young, and not go to uni unless on scholarship or by saving up. Debt is a huge factor of disgruntlement – so Britain watch out the university business is booming and all your children will soon be like me…but even less able to afford the rent or housing!

I’ve recently, however, fallen off (or been kicked out of) the liberal band wagon. I thought liberals (who were the majority of my FB echo chamber) we’re ones to question the media, politics, critically think and not be swayed by emotional manipulation. I was very wrong and left social media for fear of losing actual friends when I started to (mildly and kindly) question the Covid-19 narrative and social media censorship. It’s now looking like I’m becoming a closet conservative and actually fear that the fact that I question the effectiveness of movements like BLM could lead to me being labelled fascist which is so far from the nature of my character.

Brian Dorsley
Brian Dorsley
4 years ago
Reply to  naomimoan

Your experiences are similar to mine. I’ve seen zero evidence of a pandemic beyond news media reports. I was also astounded at how quickly those who insisted we strictly follow lockdown rules eagerly forgot them to go protesting. I feel I can’t really talk to them anymore. It’s making me feel socially alienated and I’m often left wondering if everyone is insane or am I the crazy one?

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
4 years ago
Reply to  naomimoan

‘Quite interesting article and I very much relate as a US expat living in UK, owner of a liberal arts degree (Black Studies) and Masters degree in Theatre and the $100K debt to accompany it.’

Are you for real? Or a new Titania McGrath?

angersbeagle
angersbeagle
4 years ago
Reply to  naomimoan

I do sympathise, particularly the last paragraph.
Nothing makes me despair of our society quite so much as the absolute refusal of our “caring liberals” to accept any (even very mild) criticism.
It seems that absolute obedience is required….quite Stalinist…”Š.just ask JK Rowling.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
4 years ago
Reply to  naomimoan

Hallelujah! Another soul is saved!

Homer Simpson
Homer Simpson
4 years ago

Just because the Guardian describes Watson, Meechan and Benjamin as “alt-right” doesn’t mean that they are. Depending on your opinions, they may be absolute gits, but the alt-right is a neo-nazi movement. That’s simple demonisation of people who hold unpopular opinions, in order to prevent their ideas being heard.

David Morley
David Morley
4 years ago

The result is a frustrated would-be middle class, treading water in what the writer Venkatesh Rao has called ‘premium mediocre’ lifestyles, a rented simulacrum of a genuinely prosperous existence designed to signal preparedness for the day when, by luck or application, they make it into the dwindling numbers of the real bourgeoisie.

Could this be why they cling so firmly to bourgeois cosmopolitan values – because it’s really all that distinguishes them from the rest. They are the values of the class to which they aspire, and without them there would be little to distinguish them from the Trump and Brexit voters they despise.

Russ Littler
Russ Littler
4 years ago

UKIP?…Alt-right?…. I can just see it now, all these British pensioners pulling on their jack-boots and unfurling their Swastika flags…haha…what planet are you on madam?

Liscarkat
Liscarkat
4 years ago

Articles like this consistently confuse “educated” with “schooled”. Those on the left may, in general, have spent more time at university; however, they are not necessarily more educated. What they are, undoubtedly, is more indoctrinated into leftist ideology. I have a university degree, and have spent most of my adult life working in a white-collar profession with other graduates, including many with Master’s and Ph.D. degrees. The difference in intelligence and wisdom between those people and the electricians, mechanics, and builders I know who have not spent years and years in college is astoundingly in favor of the latter. As Henry Fielding said, “It is as possible for a man to know something without having been at school, as it is to have been at school and to know nothing.”

vince porter
vince porter
4 years ago

Or, eventually the “educated” alt-left will realize that their gender and race studies were indoctrination rather than preparation for life on the outside, and, will perhaps migrate alt-right. Recall the ultra urbane Albert Speer hearing for the first time a man he despised, Adolf Hitler, and concluded that perhaps there are times when we need a peasant to lead us.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
4 years ago

‘And 2017 YouGov data shows Ukip members be typically less educated and heavily concentrated in the lowest income brackets.’

Yet more sneering regarding those who are ‘less educated’. My own view, based on some experience, is that the more ‘educated’ someone is, the less useful they are in most circumstances. The most intellectually curious person I know at the moment is an electrician who speaks three languages and reads serious literature in two of them. I’m happy to say – based on his purchases of very good wine – that he also seems to have more disposable income than all those idiots with degrees.

When you want something serious fixing – a blocked drain or a broken boiler or whatever – you don’t call someone with a so-called degree from one of our so-called universities. You call a proper person.

William Cameron
William Cameron
4 years ago

Bring back Polytechnics – teaching vocational subjects.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
4 years ago

We could call them alt-Polys. They would be places where people learn to do something useful.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
4 years ago

Astonishingly the Polys were destroyed by a Conservative Government lead by one John Major back in 1992.
The actual executioner was, off course, Ken (hush puppy) Clarke, otherwise known as the Archangel of Remoaners.

David Lawler
David Lawler
4 years ago

Antifa are the paramilitary wing of the Guardian. Like the IRA was to Sinn Fein.

By the way, I’ve never seen the alt tight wearing black masks and beating people, they don’t like the look of.

angersbeagle
angersbeagle
4 years ago

Funny how this very interesting article reminds me of Mr Tony Blair and his promise of a “degree for everyone”…
This has subsequently devalued university education and fuelled exactly the kind of expectations alluded to in this article.

steviej757
steviej757
4 years ago

What a system “higher Education” is…

Invent a business then convince everyone that it is so critical that you purchase our product that people will be elastic to incomprehensible price increases (despite no promise of payback). Then get the government to subsidize your model with limitless funds, knowing you will always be paid, and that you are ‘too big to fail’.
As a bonus, you can hide radical leftist professors who then indoctrinate your children with an incorrect and damaging ideology, all while flooding the market with millions of unprepared and underskilled sheep who were led to believe they were entitled to something. As their discontent grows, it reinforces your original mission to tear the country apart.
Brilliant! Get rich while accomplishing your ideological check list…

David Waring
David Waring
4 years ago

Absolutely none of these privileged class give a fig for the kids abused by Islamic rapists. No doubt from similar tribes who sold their ancestors to EU slavers
Currently 8436 underage white working class English girls, 200 Sikh girls and 44 white working class Scottish girls all Facilitated by the British Labour Party and the SNP.
Black Lives Matter? it really depends which tribe you back.
The media and their Liberal/Labour chums are stirring up hatred and will all be swept away in the conflagration they are busy creating

Lydia R
Lydia R
3 years ago

Mary makes a good point that many young people can no longer aspire to decent housing and long term employment and that is the fault of capitalism. No wonder they feel they have nothing to lose.

wayneprosser
wayneprosser
4 years ago

Now as much as I agree with many points this article makes. There are other factors regarding the left which can not be measured here. When interviewing for a new position your past is looked at, assuming the interview is professional. My brother works in such a postion and the stories he has of interviews with young graduates is the stuff of night mares. The wrong degree wrong mind set play a large part in getting that first real position. To say the system is rigged and that’s why you don’t succeed is not the whole story.

newbonic
newbonic
4 years ago

“In the course of this I met many anti-capitalists, the forerunners of today’s Antifa militants,”

Antifa date back to the 1930s with the backing of Stalin.

migdia.chinea
migdia.chinea
4 years ago

I have a useless UCLA MFA in film I’m ashamed to admit. I won’t go into the long story. But the universities must share in this fraud. I hate them.

Mark Bishop
Mark Bishop
4 years ago

I see the Antifa left as casualties of social mobility: the intellectually challenged offspring of the clerisy, unfit for work in their parents’ class, struggling to find better work than burger-flipping with their third-class degrees in non-subjects from former polytechnics. With their class origins comes an element of entitlement, an expectation of a lifestyle, and a political influence, that their lack of intellect and education prevents them from achieving. Solution? Smash the system! Bypass democracy!

David Waring
David Waring
4 years ago

Had to Google Critical Theory, it appears to be a wasteful use of human intellect as it does nothing to further the well being of humanity. Perhaps that is its purpose to facilitate the waste of human intellect?

LCarey Rowland
LCarey Rowland
3 years ago

Reading this as a 69-year old American grad English major who spent most of my life working as a carpenter, loving one woman and raising three now-grown progeny. . .
I see your analysis as very perceptive, mostly accurate, but overlooking one aspect of these developments.
Faith.
Alt-Left generally dismiss religion as irrelevant and naive. They place their emphasis on human-constructed philosophic-based systems, i.e. the State, or the .gov. Their statism is typically grounded in marxism and/or socialism.
Alt-Right generally have a family background grounded in faith and/or religion.
And this does make a difference.
It also makes a difference to me because I am a Christian, as is my wife and three grown children, who have all three earned bachelor degrees from two prominent North Carolina universities.
Those family/faith roots do extend deeply into a person’s upbringing and ultimately their life values.
In my case, as a University graduate, I didn’t mind banging nails all my life to feed my kids while my wife served as an ICU nurse.
And writing/publishing four novels, 900 blogs and hundreds of poems presents a not-too-shabby legacy as well as some personal contentment.
Education is dangerous, but one can manage and moderate it, as Ringo testified, with a little help from me friends.
Mary, thanks for sharing your very interesting research and personal perspective. Keep up the good work.

Steve Gwynne
Steve Gwynne
4 years ago

Good piece but whether radical liberalism and radical conservatism can be reconciled is a highly doubtful proposition. The former is largely based on aspiring middle class worldviews where individual aspirations are unleashed within a globe trotting universalism which resists the restrictive framework of nationalism because they want to bypass the in built disadvantages of democratic demagraphics. The latter on the other hand are keenly aware that national frameworks do embody fortuitous democratic demagraphics.

In this respect, the alts are specifically fighting over democratic demagraphics with the full knowledge that open or closed borders alters democratic demagraphics in advantageous or disadvantageous ways.

However, where I feel your analysis of the untapped potential of collectivity lies is in amalgamating the working class between the provincial working classes (indigenous) and the metropolitan working classes (emigres). On the ground this is already happening which is why many former emigres voted to leave the EU Treaties. In this respect, it is the middle class Liberal Establishment and in many ways the middle class leaders of the alt-right that specifically seeks to divide the working class, not the working class themselves.

That said, a huge knowledge deficiency on the part of the alt left and the alt right is structural prosperity degrowth which is unleashing realistic conflict theory in the form of infighting over growing resource scarcity, especially decent jobs, decent incomes, decent housing etc etc.
https://surplusenergyeconom

Without addressing structural prosperity degrowth then mindless violence and thuggery will simply continue.

P. S strangely enough, when I moved to Birmingham ten years ago (in my mid 40s) to pursue a MSc in Global Ethics, which I left after the first semester for being too anthropocentric, my life experiences followed a very similar trajectory to your 20s lifestyle. However I soon realised anarchism is a fundamentally flawed ideology and will simply end up mirroring the state/society dichotomy (as you already know). This took my activism in a more working class direction which had significant results.
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/

Bill Gaffney
Bill Gaffney
4 years ago

Madam, you have about as much sense about America as a turnip. The chattering class invented “alt”. Much as the chattering class, having nothing else to do, as they do much of nothing concrete nor relevant, has to invent things in order to try to prove their relevance. America, as it has, will muddle through these idiots without your limited perspective. But, bless your little pea-picking heart for trying to understand us..and as usual, failing.

John Geste
John Geste
4 years ago

Good quality writing here. Seems that most Americans aren’t even aware that Antifas are surreptitiously smashing the first windows and placing bricks conveniently at protest locations.

migdia.chinea
migdia.chinea
4 years ago
Reply to  John Geste

We are aware

Jason Smith
Jason Smith
4 years ago

“but the steady jobs they were banking on settling into after a stretch moonlighting as an activist have evaporated, “

I’m intrigued. What are these steady jobs that have evaporated? I’m not sure they ever really existed.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
4 years ago
Reply to  Jason Smith

The steady jobs did exist, in banks and insurance companies and the like. But you didn’t need a degree to get those jobs.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
4 years ago
Reply to  Jason Smith

John Major is a perfect example of someone with lacklustre qualifications who managed to secure a ‘good job’ in a reputable Counting House (bank).

davidlcrs
davidlcrs
4 years ago

Good article.
The real difference between the two groups is that the Left aspire to joining the global elite as winners, but the Right know that will not happen and so attack the root of the problem.

Ev Rock
Ev Rock
4 years ago

What the Alt-Right, (BNP etc’) and the Alt-Left (Antifa, Stop the War, SWC) have in common is that they’re all fascists. Just from different ends of the socialist tree.

Gary Hunt
Gary Hunt
4 years ago

Excellent piece. One difference between the left and right is that the right sees some reason to be hopeful. Trump’s economy has put the non-college to work and most of them continued to work during the virus and a lot of these jobs will not go away. Those on the left have less reason to be hopeful. Their elected representatives continue to give away jobs that could be theirs at the behest of their Silicon Valley overlords. Maybe both are by design.

Teo
Teo
4 years ago

The UK precariat will indulge in sociopolitical conflict but it will be a horizontal conflict for resources – not a vertical conflict for ideology.

Hannah Cohen
Hannah Cohen
3 years ago

What a fantastic article! So incredibly insightful and well-reasoned.
Your explanation of “Everywhere precariat” describes my personal experience to an absolute t. I’m someone who got a degree in an academic and cultural milieu that had set me up for high expectations for life. Meanwhile, I was fully engaged in woke identity politics. Promptly realized upon graduating that I was in a saturated field with low-paying jobs, and got a relatively well-paying job in construction. The tragedy being that now I’m making what should be considered a middle-class wage, but I’m stuck in one of the hottest housing markets in the US, and I can barely afford an aging one-bedroom condo with outrageous HOA fees, let alone a house. So here I find myself, with a middle-class wage, no housing prospects, no hope for the future, living in a two-bedroom apartment with a roommate. Meanwhile, the far left and the far right have no suggestions or ideas to make life better for normal, everyday Americans, and seem engaged in a death spiral of stupidity to the bottom. Let’s focus on housing policy and infrastructure and start to provide actual futures for folks.

J D
J D
4 years ago

Good article but I can’t agree at all with the branding of Meechan and Benjamin as alt-right
– ‘notorious’ or otherwise. The author should know better than to accept the Guardian’s classification of people as alt-right, given that that means basically everyone who isn’t brainwashed by Guardian groupthink.

Teo
Teo
4 years ago

A British aspirational class that at the moment are probably going from iPhones to benefit sanctions, a conglomerate mainly of the lower middle class and the upper working class – both cohorts despised the traditional values of their root class. Because of the animosity towards their root class they were only ever ideologically dabbling in the alt movements – the repulsion of that aspirational class is deep in the alt foundation were elements of traditional values are to be found (or if you want common sense).

Marcus Leach
Marcus Leach
4 years ago

Ms Harrington if you don’t know what the Alt-Right is don’t be foolish enough to write a piece on it.

I will help you: The Alt-Right are white supremacists/nationalists. The three genrlemen that joined UKIP: Carl Benjamin, Paul Joseph Watson and Mark Meechan have never endorsed and white supremacist views or orgabisation.

Benjamin is a liberal in the traditional sense.
Watson is more defined by his opposition to Leftist ideolgy
Meechan is, I think, a humourist who enjoys pointing out the insanity and contradictions of Leftism.

Marcus Leach
Marcus Leach
4 years ago

If the author does not even know what the Alt-Right is, it is foolish to try to write about it.

I will help you: The Alt-Right are white supremacists/nationalists. The three gentlemen that joined UKIP: Carl Benjamin, Paul Joseph Watson and Mark Meechan have never endorsed any white supremacist views or organisations.

Benjamin is a liberal in the traditional sense.
Watson is more defined by his opposition to Leftist ideolgy
Meechan is, I think, more a humourist who enjoys pointing out the insanity and contradictions of Leftism.

Marcus Leach
Marcus Leach
4 years ago

Let me help the Author: the Alt-Right are a white supremacist/nationalist group.

Marcus Leach
Marcus Leach
4 years ago

test

Nigel Clarke
Nigel Clarke
4 years ago

The alt-right…hahaha…yeah, what alt-right? The alt-right has been invented by the alt-left because there is an alt-left. The alt-left is very very well funded through global actors and is well followed by all those well known people tweeting their glee and satisfaction at anything that destabilises societies.
The label alt-right is used to denote what we used to call the working class, what the alt-left now want to destroy as they think it is the alt-right that is preventing them from attaining their marriage, children, jobs and mortgages.

The alt-left are useful idiots employed by various global actors through “activist” organisations in order to destabilise nations and economies in an attempt to push through the ever harsher and more insidious authoritarian laws the global elite require for the continued pursuit of their aims and goals.

It is going to get worse, much worse.

garethbrynevans
garethbrynevans
4 years ago

An interesting article with much to commend it.

For my part I’d like to point out there are many on the ‘alt-right’ who went to University but rejected, saw through or recoiled from the Marxist guff they were subjected to.

nadeemaslam2880
nadeemaslam2880
4 years ago

Interesting article, good article, but let’s not forget the major difference between the alt-right and alt-left, the former is saturated with racism, while the latter is not.

ky.cao
ky.cao
4 years ago

Trump didn’t come down on one side of the divide by classing Antifa as terrorists. He had already classed white supremacists terror groups Last year. Just evening up.

Billy Biscuits
Billy Biscuits
4 years ago

The author writes ‘Antifa’ as though it is the name of an actual organisation, rather than an umbrella term for any number of anti-fascist groups.

Me The first
Me The first
4 years ago

The shrieking entitlement of middle class leftists.

LCarey Rowland
LCarey Rowland
3 years ago

Well, Mary, this re-heated serving of your 11-month old analysis is surprisingly appropriate as we approach the halfway point of 2021.
The accurate resilience of your perspective seems to indicate that things haven’t changed much in the last year. Maybe that’s good news. For as desperate as young people of both stripes could potentially be, together they comprise their respective segments of a citizenry that is weathering this covid (or post-covid, or cyclic-covid) cycle quite peacably, all things considered, except for those frantic Portland people that Stan wrote about.
Perhaps this is what Huxley was catching site of when he named his classic novel. Our young people are inhabiting a brave new world that will indeed require courage along with craftiness if they are going to plot their own course through the detritus of my baby-booming 20th century. Also required will undoubtedly be a couple of the traditionally admirable attributes: patience and long-suffering. Because . . . as the greatest generation said back in the 1930’s: there’s no free lunch, and robbing Peter to pay Paul only goes as far as Peter is willing to bear the dear expense of it.

Geo Otter
Geo Otter
4 years ago

Of course the alt-left and alt-right squabble over meaningless little things like deep-set racism, hard-line, exclusionary immigration policies and inept policing and incarceration policies. The little things.

M Blanc
M Blanc
4 years ago

What a load of rubbish. This individual knows absolutely nothing about the American right. Zip, Nada. Nichts. Rien. Just another Leftist attempt to slander the Right.