"Working class gone to heaven": from working class to middle class and back
(Institute of Ethnology and Folklore Research)
Sanja Potkonjak (University of Zagreb)
Paper short abstract:
This paper problematizes the relationship between the working and middle classes in the socialist context of consumer culture and state of welfare and the extinct middle class in the post-socialist context of economic crisis and economically defined but politically void „new“ working class.
Paper long abstract:
In socialist Yugoslavia, the idea that all particular social interests are essentially the class issue that will be automatically resolved by abolishing relations of inequality produced a meaningless, politically manipulative concept of the working class. However, the economic realization of the Yugoslav socialist model - a hybrid of planned and market economies - combined the capitalist idea of the state of welfare with the communist execution of social rights. The consumer culture in socialism, "searching for welfare", soon resolved the class issue by establishing a homogenous middle class as the nomen of its own social success, leaving the " working class" to be conveniently invoked only in ideological manifests of the governing nomenclature. The discussion about the capitalist restoration of post-socialist period suppresses the issues of class relations and focuses on the lament over the extinct middle class and its high standard of living, while the unemployment rate in Croatia today is 16.6% and 36,000 of the employed do not receive their salary, the majority of whom are low- or middle-skilled workers, i.e., working class. This new relationship between the working and middle classes problematizes the socialist inheritance of transforming the working class into the middle class, the recent phenomenon of economically defined working class without political meaning, the post-socialist class inequality between the employed and the unemployed, and the emancipation of the worker as "the scorned subject" and his mobilization without being inevitably included in the middle-class political activism for "general good".
Rethinking class: from utopia to reality and back