The attempt by the Conservative Party in Britain to rebrand itself as the ‘Workers’ Party’ will provoke both mirth and dismay from people who can remember the long, distinguished and continuing history of that party in destroying the lives of working class people.
But such a rebranding is not intended to win the hearts of all workers. Rather, what it seeks is a mainstay of Tory policy for decades: winning over just enough working class people in order to maintain political hegemony, as part of the striving towards the dream of a bourgeoisie without a proletariat.
What is perhaps new is the way the opposing pole of ‘Worker’ in this system of signs is not ‘Capitalist’ (there are no longer capitalists, only entrepreneurs) but those who do not work – the ‘workshy’, those who are dependent on benefits to survive, those culturally represented as ‘chavs’. The division between the dominant and the dominated is effaced, rendered unnameable in the regime of political representation, and in its place is a division between the healthy body of one nation on the one hand, and, on the other, the pestilence. It is no accident that the Nazi Party in Germany was the National Socialist Workers’ Party: fascism is a production of capitalism that seeks to annihilate the articulation of a political opposition between the oppressor and the oppressed, and, in its place to present the fact of oppression as the basis for liberation. Remember: Arbeit Macht Frei.
But if this attempt proves successful, it will be not least down to the rebranding of the ‘Labour Party’ that has already taken place, according to which ‘Labour’ no longer refers to the flesh and blood human beings exploited by Capital, but a commodity sold on the ‘labour market’. Witness Ed Miliband’s exaltation of ‘strivers’ (against scroungers, skivers and other suggested categories of untermensch), or, in Ireland, JobBridge Joan Burton’s declaration that Labour is the ‘Party of Work’.