When the worker elite does choose to fight the ruling class, it’s often for overtly reactionary causes. For example, the South African worker elite conducted a militant populist struggle to help establish apartheid. (“Workers of the World, Unite and Fight for a White South Africa” was one of their slogans.) The first “union label” campaign in the US was mobilized for the purpose of freezing Chinese labor out of the cigar rolling industry in California.
When abandoned by “their” capitalists, failing worker elites generally embrace right-wing populism, including the scapegoating of proletarians and other oppressed people. We might wish that disintegrating worker elites would choose to unite with the proletariat in its violent, dangerous, underdog fight against capital. But this isn’t what comes naturally. In practice, abandoned worker elites cling to their privileges as natural entitlements. There is an instinctual tendency to seek out the “traitors” who “stabbed them in the back,” singling out immigrants, women, religious or national minorities, Jewish bankers and other “disloyal” types of capitalists as the cause of their problems.
Despite the wishful expectations of some radicals, people pushed out of the worker elite do not readily accept “demotion” into the proletariat. It’s one thing for an established worker elite to use proletarians as shock troops for leverage. It’s something else entirely for them to view themselves as proletarians when the ruling class decides to revoke their middle class status. The spontaneous, materially-based desire for a return of the old corrupt social contract, including its “traditional” patriarchal and patriotic ideology, is deeply rooted and hard to overcome.
This desire for the old privileges, and the accompanying narrative of betrayal, is ready fuel for fascism and other forms of reactionary populism. Hitler and Mussolini leveraged these impulses to attract and recruit workers whose economic prospects had been crushed by the Great Depression. In fact, much of Nazism’s popularity came from its corrupt promise to raise “Aryan” workers out of the proletariat for good. The Nazis promised to build an imperial Reich on the backs of the labor of conquered and enslaved non-“Aryan” proletarians. The superprofits from that atrocity would be used to subsidize a rarified German parasitic worker elite.
— The Worker Elite: Notes on the Labour Aristocracy