Review by Beryl Bainbridge of
    Helping Themselves - The Left Wing Middle
    Classes in Theatre and the Arts

    How The Middle Classes Stole Labour

         Gregory Motton - A  Butcher of  Presumptions

    I think this book may be brilliant , it is certainly  
    disturbing. It reads like a handbook for rebellion
    against  the theatre and  academic and political
    establishments;  Its opening paragraph doesn't
    pull punches; "The past four decades have seen
    a social revolution. It is part of the propaganda
    victory of the new middle class establishment
    that they have managed to present their rise to
    ascendancy as a popular movement, and to
    associate it in people’s minds with socialism,
    and, by extension, with the working classes. This
    impression is false."   

    With these 56 words Motton rejects the
    presumption that the past 40 years  has seen a
    move towards greater liberalism - The apparent
    march to social freedom Motton sees  as a
    revolution of the prosperous middle classes, who
    snatched power from the class  above them; they
    remade society to do it, and it was the poor who
    paid the price.    Effectively this stands
    conventional politics on its head. Modern
    Leftwingism, says Motton, is anti-working class.
    Motton puts this in the context of the huge
    increase in poverty  since the 1970s, including  
    13 years under  Labour.  In 1979, 2 per cent were
    on very low income,  now its 9 per cent - no
    policy shift between Conservatives and Labour -
    and the betrayal began under the Wilson
    Social conditions too have changed for the
    worse, a fact  denied or ignored by middle class
    "socialists". A surge of violence has made many
    of the working classes, especially children,
    afraid to leave their homes. There are 80,000
    people in prison, most of them are working class.
    But the plight of the poorest hardly featured in
    the election campaign
    The stealing of the Labour party by the middle
    classes is central to this process. Modern
    Leftwingism is a doctrine which serves the
    material  needs of the non-conservative middle
    classes, and their self image - but  has little to do
    with the  working classes, whom, in Motton's
    opinion,  they generally despise.  Motton writes
    with wit and clarity about the doctrine from
    Rousseau to Marx to Althusser and Marcuse. He
    points out that the working class movement in
    Britain would have been more successful without
    any of them, and reminds us that Socialism
    came before Marxism, not the other way around,
    - and it must mean the working classes fighting
    for their own interests
    The book describes how the presumptions of
    conventional modern enlightened thinking
    (much of which Motton dares to challenge)
    transformed our society from a peaceful, safe
    one, into a violent one,  He traces them back to
    some of their  earlier manifestations, giving the
    book an , at first, curious seeming range of
    topics,  from art critic Herbert Read, to the Oz
    Trial of the 1970s, Concept Art (there's a
    penetrating chapter on the visual arts), Freud (a
    fraud),  and violence in the theatre and
    television. But it gives us a painful tour of  left
    wing middle class opinion.
    In an entertaining chapter on the Royal Court,
    he reveals the expensive public schools behind
    the fake working class posture of most of its
    leading lights of the 1960s and 70s, and puts
    their self-styled political radicalism in the
    illuminating and damning context of the Labour
    movement which too had by that time been
    taken over by the middle classes.  - According to
    Motton this led to the betrayal of the unions by
    Labour; When the unions tried to get a bigger
    slice of the pie, their wage claims were seen by
    the Labour government as inflationary ; Motton
    argues,  against modern left wing wisdom, that it
    was the bosses who were inflationary when they
    passed the wage rises back as price rises; A
    working class government  would have
    supported the unions; - It was a turning point;
    He attributes  continuing poverty in Britain to
    the lack, even then, of a  working class Labour
    The middle class leftwingism in the theatre of
    the 1970s  and 80s  grew easily into what Motton
    calls "collaborators theatre" of violence and
    amoral individualism of the 1990s; "Radicalism"
    eagerly combined  with fashion, which it
    continues to follow; theatre doesn't criticise
    society, it merely ingratiates itself with so-called
    popular culture.  Its failure to treat violence as
    anything more than a game earns Motton's
    particular censure.  Sarah Kane and In-Yer-Face
    theatre,  come in for fierce criticism; Motton is
    never afraid to attack the sacred cows, he is a
    butcher of presumptions.  And despite a
    remarkable consistency in his thought,  you
    never know  from which direction he will
    There is a forthright attack too on academia;
    Motton, in a fascinating section on education,
    denounces deconstructionism as a new-
    establishment tool  to make rebellion in the arts
    almost impossible, by effectively silencing the
    text and taking away from the writer the power
    to rebel. Motton  recommends students to take
    direct action against it.
    Motton says that while Labour  leaders  despise
    their working class supporters as bigots,  the
    middle class left might still miss the point of
    their electoral defeat. Already in theatre  they
    are dusting  down the self-righteous clichés from
    their last period of opposition.   Motton's
    liberating analysis, in a witty and impassioned
    way, tears to pieces the idea that the middle
    class left help anyone but themselves. It  points
    the way forward to  a rebellion against them in
    the arts, and in theatre, and in education, and
    reminds us of the possibility of a genuine
    working class labour movement. This is a clever
    and controversial book, -  it challenges the
    orthodox views that we the middle classes have
    somehow mistakenly clung to for the last 40

    By Beryl Bainbridge
The Review, whose
commissioning publisher
wouldn't publish it, of the
book whose
commissioning publisher
wouldn't publish it.
Beryl Bainbridge in her home in Camden
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