Class Position, Class Ideology and Class Voting: Mobilization of Support for the New Democratic Party in the Canadian Election of 1984

By Nakhaie, M. Reza; Arnold, Robert | The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology, May 1996 | Go to article overview

Class Position, Class Ideology and Class Voting: Mobilization of Support for the New Democratic Party in the Canadian Election of 1984


Nakhaie, M. Reza, Arnold, Robert, The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology


For Marx, while objective position in the organization of production defines a "class-in-itself," this is not a sufficient condition for class action. If this is to follow, class consciousness must arise to create a "class-for-itself." Its actions on its own behalf will be facilitated by such conditions as visibility of class differences, ready communication among class members, and the establishment of political organization (Bendix and Lipset, 1953: 33; Wolpe, 1970; Ollman, 1972; Giddens, 1973: 115; Buraway, 1989). Similarly, Weber noted that "a class does not in itself constitute a community" (1946: 184) and stated that class action was most likely to occur where large masses were in similar class positions and could come together easily when immediate, vital interests were in conflict and where leadership stressed understandable goals (1947: 427-428). Recent writers, including Olson (1965), McCarthy and Zald (1973), Zald and McCarthy (1977), Oberschall (1973; 1978), and McAdam (1982) have followed the classical theorists in examining social solidarity, ideologies, and class organization as bases for class action (see also Gamson, 1975; Tilly, 1978; Carden, 1978; Fireman and Gamson, 1979; Shalev and Korpi, 1980; Przeworski, 1985; Griffin et al., 1989).

Despite the interest of influential theorists in the question of how class position is translated into class consciousness and class action, the way in which class consciousness develops, and its impact on political life, has only gradually been worked out in empirical detail. Many recent Canadian writers have presented evidence that position in the working world is central to the development of class consciousness (Rinehart and Okraku, 1974; Coburn and Edwards, 1976; Stevenson, 1977a; 1977b; Goyder and Pineo, 1979; Ornstein et al., 1980; Johnston and Ornstein, 1982, 1985; Baer et al., 1987: 14; Langford, 1992: 475; but see Stevenson, 1977b: 278). A strong discussion of related matters in the U.K. is found in Butler and Stokes (1971). American research has shown that unemployment produces political dissatisfaction, protest, and leftist tendencies (Szymanski, 1978: 60; Leggett, 1968; Schlozman and Verba, 1979: 140). More generally, it has been argued that the lower one's position in the system of structured inequality, the higher the probability of dissatisfaction with the status quo and the higher the probability of developing working-class consciousness (Stevenson, 1977b: 278; Johnston and Ornstein, 1982: 206). This relationship, however, may not be clearly linear (Nakhaie, 1992; Brym et al., 1989).(1)

Class consciousness is, however, multidimensional; some authors argue that its key elements develop in a linear progression (Landecker, 1963; Leggett, 1964; Morris and Murphy, 1966; Wolpe, 1970; Giddens, 1973; Ollman, 1972; Mann, 1970; 1973; Przeworski, 1977; Hunter, 1986). Leggett (1964: 239-240), for example, conceptualized working-class consciousness as running from an ability to verbalize the existence of classes and one's own class position through scepticism about the merits of the class system to class militancy and finally to egalitarian ideology. His data on 375 male blue-collar workers in Detroit was consistent with this characterization. More abstractly, Giddens argues that class consciousness "involves, first of all, the recognition, however vaguely defined, of another class or classes" (1973: 112, emphasis added). At this level, individuals define themselves as members of a social class, in contrast to one or more other classes. Giddens, then, distinguishes this level of awareness from a conception of class conflict. The connection between the two levels of consciousness involves mainly a "process of developing and clarifying ideas which are latent in perceptions of class identity and differentiation." Conflict consciousness involves the ability of class members to see the interests of their class as in contradiction with those of other classes. Conflict consciousness, on the part of the working class, can lead to unionization, or be furthered by unions (Parkin, 1967; Keddie, 1980; Nakhaie, 1992; but see Langford, 1992: 476).

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