class analysis- "the middle class"

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Apr 7 2012 20:35
class analysis- "the middle class"

On the 1960-today: Skinhead culture post there is an interesting exchange of views on class between libcom admin Steven and regular contributor Red Marriot:

Steven. wrote:
Whoops, this is a little embarrassing. I have unpublished the article for the time being. TBH I hadn't looked at this article since I copied it over from the old site six years ago. I know nothing about skinheads, so am happy to defer to those who are more knowledgeable.

I'm not that surprised about this being reproduced: this has been one of our most popular articles for a long time…

Red, not to get into this with you again, but we have no problem with the idea of a "middle class" but this doesn't have a distinct economic interest separate from the proletariat.

Red Marriott wrote:
Steven wrote:
Red, not to get into this with you again, but we have no problem with the idea of a "middle class" but this doesn't have a distinct economic interest separate from the proletariat.

Well without 'getting into it again' too much - and ignoring the 'not really a valid category' implication of your usual "m/c" in inverted commas - the above "libcom"-signed article claims a distinct economic disparity of income and resulting disparate "economic interest" in consumption;

Quote:
While the middle class Mods were able to carry on pursuing the latest Carnaby Street clothes and fashionable haircuts, this was out of reach to most working class Mods. In a scene so heavily based on consumerism, this undermined the working class Mods' status and ability to take part in the scene.

There are also pretty clear "distinct economic interests" and outcomes energetically pursued by the middle class in the 'consumption' of education; eg, for their offspring via the stratified public/private education system and relative disparate working and middle class access to it.

Steven. wrote:
You disagreed with the point about consumption in the article. But regardless of that, having different consumption habits does not equate to having not having a shared economic interest under capitalism in the abolition of capitalism, and resulting in the abolition of their own exploitation.
Red Marriott wrote:
Well, as an abstraction, that's just as true for all classes (whether they realise or not), including for the ruling class - we'd be all hopefully be happier, more fulfilled beings in a classless society (bit pointless otherwise).

As I pointed out - and as functional definitions of classes must take account of - consumption habits aren't abstractions detached from the economic role of classes, those habits are defined/made possible largely by the economic role; by the available spending power and so access, by leisure as cultural reproduction of distinct classes etc. Your error is to repeatedly and absurdly pretend that 'middle class' is merely a description of consumption habits without bothering to define what the material basis of those habits is and their origin and function in socio-economic reality of class relations. With this sleight of hand you avoid explaining how a purely "cultural middle class" supposedly emerged historically (and subsists) as a class supposedly without any socio-economic base to its culture - surely an idealistic impossibility for any class. Hence my reference to educational privilege - but I have to remind myself that I'm talking to someone who has previously denied to me that UK public schools (for foreign readers; the most expensive, exclusive schools) are an educational form of class privilege (rather than just some supposed abstract non-class privilege). But rather than waste time re-running our previous disagreements here I'd rather just publish our earlier private message debate on this.

Sometime ago on Libcoms intro to class I raised a similar points Red Marriot has about the "middle class" and got dismissed by Libcom editors of the article (which was fair because it would have lengthened the article):

Awesome Dude wrote:
Maybe a section on 'pro working class' organisations like trade unions and 'workers' parties and the bureaucrats that have a hand in running them.
Quote:
When talking about history and social change it can be useful to refer to this group as a middle class in order to understand the behaviour of different groups. Class struggle can sometimes be derailed by allowing the creation or expansion of the middle class - Stakhanovite workers in the USSR received extra benefits in return for identifying with the Soviet government and working hard as individuals for example, and in South Africa the creation of a black middle class helped derail workers' struggles when apartheid was overturned. Bosses try to find ways to materially and psychologically divide the working class.

Might be worth expanding on the sociological development of the middle classes in advanced 'free market' economies (opposed to state capitalist ones) and the decisive role competitive educational establishments have in determining social position and status (both psychological and material).

My personal feeling now is that limiting the scope of that intro article was wrong. Like the Libcom skinhead post I think it's too simplistic and fails to take into account the historical track record and function of the "middle class" (trade union and soviet party beauros included) as a mediating and stabilising force within capitalist society.

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Apr 8 2012 01:05

We've done a separate introductory article on the unions: http://libcom.org/library/unions-introduction

the unions' role is the same regardless of the social class of the activists within it

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Apr 8 2012 15:41

Awsome Dude, how are you using the term middle class? I think there are some interesting and worthwhile analyses which use the term as a shorthand, but it's hard to know what it means unless people specify. Like, is it people in a certain income bracket? People with certain cultural features? People who play a managerial/decision making role in capitalism? A mixture of things?

I think the best way to understand class is as a series of social processes, which people to a greater or lesser extent embody. The trouble with the term middle class is it might tell you a fair bit about a person, but it (unless specially defined) usually doesn't tell you much about the social processes they embody.

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Apr 8 2012 21:05
RedEd wrote:
The trouble with the term middle class is it might tell you a fair bit about a person, but it (unless specially defined) usually doesn't tell you much about the social processes they embody.

Very well put. The term seems to be a bit of a black hole where endless discussions can be had but nothing of clear political relevance can come out of it.

It would seem to me that libertarian practice and organisation is the best defence against the middle class (almost regardless of how they are defined).

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Apr 9 2012 11:27

Just wrote something that might be relevant here:

...class is about your relationship to the means of productions. It doesn't matter if your father was a prince, if you have to sell your labour to capital for a wage, you're part of the working class.

Nor do I buy this pseudo-sociological definition of "middle class". Middle income, yes, but that doesn't change the nature of class society. There is the tricky case of managers (a term that could be used quite widely to include civil servants or trade union officials), but even if they don't own capital, their job role (like cops) dictates that enforce capital's interests upon the working class.

grupo_ruptura
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Apr 9 2012 11:47

I hope the analysis we made some time ago could be useful. A whole section is dedicated to so-called 'middle classes':

http://libcom.org/library/classes-capitalist-society

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Apr 9 2012 13:40

Bless the middle classes
with fair trade coffee mortgages
and gay marriages

Curse the working class
with Maccy D mortgages
and common laws

Bugger the rich
with organic Duchy mortgages
and pointed sticks

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Apr 9 2012 23:29
RedEd wrote:
Awsome Dude, how are you using the term middle class? I think there are some interesting and worthwhile analyses which use the term as a shorthand, but it's hard to know what it means unless people specify. Like, is it people in a certain income bracket? People with certain cultural features? People who play a managerial/decision making role in capitalism? A mixture of things?

Good question. "middle class" is used differently in different parts of the world. In Britain it refers to a group that is distinguished by it's social and consumption habits: skinny fairtrade latte, prawn sandwiches, second home in France and holidays in the Bahamas. Heres an interesting guide of hot spots for the "middle classes". Note the footnote in the description of pembrokeshire coast:

Quote:
*All those ethnic markets you get at local festivals have established
dual-language signage as the embodiment of Aspirational Otherness

Above all else the "middle classes" are distinguished by the "prestige" well paid jobs they end up in. This is achieved by a ruthless domination of the best schools available to young people of school going age (which translates into university places years later). Seeing the middle class parent going about their business to get young Rupert into the right school really is the marvel of the "free market" capitalist age. No effort is spared...they'll do absolutely anything, e.g. change religion (or suddenly find jesus when Rupert is 5 years old and needs a good primary school), change post code or purchase a second home near a good state school (thereby depriving local "working class" kids of a decent education) or resorting to "naked" bribes such as inviting the head teacher to a posh dinner party (sometimes disguised as a school fund raiser) and lavishing them with expensive gifts (latest LV handbag...yes please).

Chilli Sauce wrote:
...class is about your relationship to the means of productions. It doesn't matter if your father was a prince, if you have to sell your labour to capital for a wage, you're part of the working class.

That's not in dispute. This is not just aimed at you Chilli, but why do some posters regurgitate (marxist) text book definitions of class, I suspect as some sort of defence, when the issue of the "middle class" pops up. Lets put down the textbook for a moment and actually describe what the fuck happens inside the "working class" from workers actual experences of class society.

Chilli Sauce wrote:
Nor do I buy this pseudo-sociological definition of "middle class". Middle income, yes, but that doesn't change the nature of class society. There is the tricky case of managers (a term that could be used quite widely to include civil servants or trade union officials), but even if they don't own capital, their job role (like cops) dictates that enforce capital's interests upon the working class.

Being a top end manager, civil servant or high level trade union official is well paid and relatively "prestigious". These are jobs that wouldn't embarrass Rupert having a drunken chat about careers with his chums at Boujis on a friday night or mummy and daddy at a posh dinner party (the trade union thing...er job can easily be explained away as Rupert's silly youthful obsession with lefty politics...but he's doing ever so well out of it).

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Apr 10 2012 00:04

Awsome Dude, you are talking about a certain type of wage labourer right? Not a cross class category including middle income petty bourgoisie and bourgoisie? Basically important functionaries of capital who are none the less wage labourers?

If so I very much agree that these roles -basically of implenting capitalist discipline and ideolgy- require a special analysis, including the social mechanisms that train people to undertake these roles. (I went to a university that is very much geared towards producing these people, luckily my disability means I am not fit for anything other than menial prole work wink )

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Apr 10 2012 10:48

ooops double post

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Apr 10 2012 11:35

Meh i find myself a bit torn here. Three class stuff definitely often overfocuses on the issue and tends to revolve around producing a class analysis that is mostly based on individual classification. Likewise there is sometimes an over focus on culturl aspects of class.
I'd say its best to avoid using the term middle class in public discourse because its so badly used in the media/sociological academia and thus adds up to a rather muddling concept as it is interpreted by a lot of people (eg the idea that anyone who works in an office is middle class, or the macho elements of such divisions) and often among many acts as a guilt trip barrier to taking action on issues that directly affect them.

That said i think that some on this thread are too quick to brush aside certain contradictions. Similar to the way in which say the left virtually completely ignores the complications inherent in an organisation like the PCS. Class is not some black and white issue, its various shades of grey.

Quote:
...class is about your relationship to the means of productions. It doesn't matter if your father was a prince, if you have to sell your labour to capital for a wage, you're part of the working class.

And i'm sorry chilli but this for example is patently ridiculous. I wouldn't exclude someone because of their class background, as even ian bone once said, if prince charles had a nervous breakdown and decided to renounce his lands and titles and become an anarchist we'd probly have him on board. However, if he then started wandering round the pembury telling everyone they should do an immediate rent strike and angrily ranting at them for their supposed lack of militancy*, we might have a problem since he would be obviousy lacking an awareness of certain class contradictions (and of course it wouldn't matter if he'd managed to get a job in the local pub either).

So ok we're using a comedic OTT example here but I do think that being aware of class contradictions is very important. In the same fashion that we're aware of other factors that influence society and interplay with struggles, eg gender, race, family, migration/citizenship and so on. Sometimes the left and anarchists can gloss over these contradictions, in the same fashion that some on the left gloss over the fact that the union leaderships effectively ignore and exclude large chunks of the working class.

In short you can go too far beating yourselves up about things (eg that ncafc motion about having a position set aside for people with low income which in itself is glossing over all sorts of contradictions) but as others have said just trying to brush it all under the carpet is pretty pointless aswell. If thats your attitude you can end up acting like the broom sweeper brigade after the riots or liek those who overplay the word community to the point where they whitewash the class divisions within it.

*surely an anarchist prince charles is a meme waiting to happen

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Apr 10 2012 17:42

I agree with those saying both forms of class exist. I mean from a revolutinary persepective the fundamental contradiction in capitalism is capital and labour and in that sense it is those who work for a wage that are working class.

But the 'sociological' class analysis is not just some fantasy shit either. There are clearly big disparities between people in terms of economic priviledge (whether that be income, status or whatever) and we should not pretend these don't exist. I think half the problem with the term 'middle class' for some socialists is simply the use of 'class' in the name. Hardly anyone is going to deny economic/cultural divisions within the working class yet call this division a 'class' division and suddenly it's just media nonsense. It's also true that class in the sociological sense is quite claerly not clear cut either and more like a scale.

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Apr 10 2012 17:53

D, that pretty much nails it.

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Apr 10 2012 22:49

‎"Even the moral self-feeling of the German middle class rests only on the consciousness that it is the common representative of the philistine mediocrity of all the other classes."

They see Marx trolling, they hatin!

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Apr 10 2012 23:01

class is a power relation between groups, not just to the means of production. there are several distinct forms of power involved. there is the monopoly over use of, access to, means of production, or assets in general that could be used to obtain a living, including funds that could be used to buy means of production. This relative monopoly by a minority forces most of the rest to seek employment with the firms set up by the owners. In other words, there is a labor market and the class that monopolizes the means of production is the buyer. In the early years this included actual laborers in bondage who weren't paid wages, who were just means of production, but nowadays is mediated by the wage. this relation of a mass of would-be laborers, of being forced to seek work from employers, is a power relation between them and the firms, derived from the relation to the means of production, that is, of monopolizing access to them.

But the ownership over the means of production also then includes another power, the power to manage the labor of those who use the means of production, reorganize the work, and thus control the personal development of skills and knowledge by others, and thus to deny to the subordinate class the means to control their work & personal development.

With the emergence of the big firms this led to increased stratification and the growth of a separate class of managers and experts who advise management, through relative monopolization over relative forms of expertise & info, such as lawyers, senior engineers, top accountants, HR experts, industrial engineers (who design work organization) etc. Because this group as knowledge and info about details of the production system not available to those higher up, they have a certain autonomy and power, and also have an antagonistic relation to the workers who they manage.

I call this group the bureaucratic class but some call it the "new middle class" to distinguish it from the "old middle class" of owners of small amounts of capital who manage small firms and often lack the means to hire all kinds of experts and managers as the big firms can. The bureaucratic class also includes the groups that Bakunin was thinking of when he talked about this class, the people who command the armed bodies of the state, and control the levers of the state administration, such as judges, administrators and politicians (who are not usually members of the big capitalist class).

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Apr 10 2012 23:06
Chilli sauce wrote:
...class is about your relationship to the means of productions. ... if you have to sell your labour to capital for a wage, you're part of the working class.

So then our salaried MPs are fellow proles and Parliament is actually a workers council? And the simple technicality of 'wage-earner' is sufficient as 'analysis' without talking into account their social function in class society? And the fact that some rich people earn such large "wages" that it becomes constantly expanding capital via reinvestment, interest, landlordism etc, also irrelevant? As said elsewhere (in reply to a 2-classist claim that "magistrates, lawyers and beggars are in the same class");

Quote:
In a courtroom where a rioter is being sentenced there are no class relations embodied in the situation? The life/career path to being a judge or legal professional is in no way dependent on any class privilege and its accompanying educational access? So capitalism is a pure meritocracy? There's nothing of class privilege that determined that one became a judge and one a beggar? The fact that ex-soldiers are disproportionately represented among street homeless - but by those from the lower non-officer ranks - that too has nothing to do with class?

And historically this has always been true? Or what happened, did the middle class (as identified by Marx, Bakunin and later observers) disappear, supposedly become totally proletarianised?

Many recent western prime ministers and presidents come from the legal profession - so according to jacobian, they went straight from the proletariat towards the highest level of politics (whether as wage earning PMs/Prez's they supposedly 'remain' proles is unclear).

The idea that if one earns a wage therefore one is an exploited prole is unconvincing, wrongly assuming that one's "relationship to the means of production" is solely defined by this. If one ignores all social function and power relations as a factor, then by their wage MPs, judges, CEOs etc are also proles. For me this is a pretty useless analysis based on abstract economic technicalities. http://libcom.org/forums/theory/pro-revolutionaries-academia-15102011?page=2#comment-451116

Sure, there's grey areas, but core areas too; I don't see the middle class as a subsection of the working class at all - those who believe that should stop calling it a class, (and esp. a "class") as classes are defined by their relation to other classes. To talk as if 'middle class' is only some recent media/sociological distortion ignores the long history of the term and concept and its use by all classes (and by most radical analysis) - due to its apparent descriptive functionality. Of course there is a stereotype representation of m/c in the media/culture - but that doesn't invalidate the category of class anymore than Eastenders or Downton Abbey do. In my experience most m/c people don't deny their class, but often positively self-identify as that and fight tooth n nail to maintain and pass it on to their offspring.

It might be more accurate to say that the middle class is defined by its relationships to the means of reproduction. It's historical role in mediating class relations in the legal, religious, cultural, medical, political, intellectual, managerial etc fields is imo at least as homogenous an entity as the working class and has a crucial role in reproducing class society, its dominant values and specialised divisions of labour. Some professions have maintained a continuity of restricting access to their ranks to only those from similar cultural and income backgrounds for centuries - ie, reproduced their class and its identity, part of that reproduction being maintaining the exclusion of lower classes. (This has also often been maintained territorially via neighbourhood stratification, nimbyism, gentrification etc and via exclusivity of membership to leisure institutions.) All managed 'objectively' and impersonally, of course, largely by a stratified educational system and its exclusive old boy networks, 'daddy get me an internship' being a modern form of this. Likely lifestyle outcomes and 'class ceilings' are still largely determined by what family you're born into and what location. By denying or ignoring this the 2-classists strongly imply that capitalism is a meritocracy. Maybe class divisions are a bit more blurred in the modern arrangement of office work; some 2-classists seem strangely reluctant to even admit there is any class relation embodied by management and workers in the white collar workplace. But I don't accept that, and there are various jobs in eg the building trade, domestic employment, service industries where there is a very clear and stark middle class/working class relationship at work - and both sides know that, even if some 'communists' don't.

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Apr 11 2012 09:48

Hmm,

This is a fascinating discussion and really has been building for a long time.

I would see the "three-class" analysis as coming from the classical workers movement and from Marx. It is strong connected to the situation of the "Mass Worker" or factory worker not just being exploited but having different position in the production process - the concrete, good-producing factories being something like a natural area for this group to exercise collective power.

I would see the orginal "two-class" model as coming from Dauve, the Situationists, Socialism Or Barbarism (Cardan) and so forth. Here, the important facet was that the entirety of wage-earners were exploited by being dispossessed, being order-takers and such. The thing about this formulation, however, is that it had the corollary position that the entirety of the dispossessed had to reject their position within the social machinery before they actually would be opposing capitalism. The expansion of capitalist relations means that the whole system is more and more of-a-piece. Or, a person is only actually dispossessed at the point they are experiencing capitalism's pseudo-compensations as pseudo-compensations. If you're upper middle class and loving-it, that couldn't qualify. Until there are circumstances or a movement or something that puts a group in the condition of being dispossessed and knowing it, being proletarian, well, then that group isn't proletarian.

I think both approaches has some coherence.

All that said, it seems like there is a "libcom theory" brewing that is something of a sloppy and opportunist melding of the two approach. In this approach, there are two classes but you can otherwise carrying-on analyzing things and organizing just like you're back at the era of the classical workers movement except you can ignore more completely the problem of intelligentsia running such a movement. That is, uh, problematic to say the least.

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Apr 11 2012 11:00
Quote:
If you're upper middle class and loving-it, that couldn't qualify.

Are you implying that actually perfectly fulfilling your role in a social hierarchy and having the ability to consume all the pseudo-needs you want is a fulfilling life? If so then it seems to me you are accepting that capitalism would be fine if we could all enjoy as many wide screen tvs and package holidays as we liked. The point is that capitalist social life is shit for everyone, in different ways and to different extents yes, but it is still shit. The commodity form makes people's experiences poor and as much as it makes people poor in a purely economic sense. It seems that a lot of people think life would be great if you were loaded when time and again rich people are committing suicide and telling us they are depressed. Being rich in the capitalist sense is still being poor in a Situationist one. (I'm not saying I wouldn't like to win the lottery as it would make my life easier but I also don't think it would change the fact that modern life is rubbish). This is why people like Debord from a middle class background, or Marx even!, can identify their lot with the proletariat. Please stop with the clichés about middle class people. It's just as much bullshit as taking the piss out of "chavs" and is about as useful to transforming social relations as voting for Labour.

LBird
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Apr 11 2012 11:22
RedHughs wrote:
Hmm,
This is a fascinating discussion and really has been building for a long time.
I would see the "three-class" analysis as coming from the classical workers movement and from Marx.

Yeah, discussions about ‘class’ are always fascinating. But I always think that it’s best to be clear from the start what is meant by ‘class’ (especially ‘what’ they are and ‘how’ they are related).

The essential difference (though there are many) between Marxist and Weberian notions is that, for Marx, classes are inescapably related. For Weber, because his ‘classes’ are based on ‘appearances’, they are not necessarily related. His is a system of ‘classification’, not ‘class analysis’. In a classification scheme, any element can be removed without affecting the other elements: dogs, cats and rats could be placed in a ‘pet’ class(ification); but if cats died out, the other two could remain in this ‘class’. However, ‘class analysis’ is very different, because the ‘classes’ are intimately related through their exploitative relationship, a bit like a vampire and a victim. The relationship defines the various ‘classes’

On another thread, I posted the following outline of a “three-class” model, which I think is helpful as a basis of continued discussion.

LBird wrote:
Very broadly speaking (really, just as a contrast to the nonsense of 'liberal sociology'), I would put the percentages in most current capitalist societies at:

5% - bourgeoisie
15% - petit bourgeoisie
80% - proletariat

And I would define these categories, so:

bourgeoisie - 1. owns/controls large productive property (banks, factories, shipping, transport, chain stores, etc.)
2. employs labour
3. does not have to work (might choose to, but this is immaterial)

petit bourgeoisie - 1. owns small productive property (corner shop, crafts, market stall,etc.)
2. employs labour
3. has to work (labouring or supervising, but compelled by lack of resources)

proletarian - 1. owns no productive property
2. cannot employ labour
3. must sell own labour to bourgeoisie (of either type)

This is meant to capture a social structure, not to account for individuals’ lifestyles, to provide a theoretical basis for explaining society, not merely to describe society, and to provide a dynamic model for processes, not a static account of appearances.

Also, I think a three-class model is indispensable for historical and political reasons, ie. the rise of Fascism in the 20th century, which I don’t think can be explained by a two-class model.

Anyway, let’s continue to discuss. We really should be able to publish an outline of class that fits onto an A4 piece of paper, that any worker can follow. It’s not fuckin’ rocket science (though many academics would like to pretend that it is, and we need them to ‘explain’ exploitation to us).

no1
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Apr 11 2012 11:52
LBird wrote:

5% - bourgeoisie
15% - petit bourgeoisie
80% - proletariat

[snip]
petit bourgeoisie - 1. owns small productive property (corner shop, crafts, market stall,etc.)
2. employs labour
3. has to work (labouring or supervising, but compelled by lack of resources)

Is this meant to apply to contemporary UK society? Do you really think 15% of the population own corner shops and market stalls, and that these people are powerful enough to merit special consideration?
I think if you're going to go for something more complex than a polar two-class system, the most important class to add is the bureaucratic class of managers in business and public sector.

jolasmo
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Apr 11 2012 11:52
Quote:
Sure, there's grey areas, but core areas too; I don't see the middle class as a subsection of the working class at all - those who believe that should stop calling it a class, (and esp. a "class") as classes are defined by their relation to other classes. To talk as if 'middle class' is only some recent media/sociological distortion ignores the long history of the term and concept and its use by all classes (and by most radical analysis) - due to its apparent descriptive functionality.

It's very simple - when people talk about "the middle class" in scare quotes or the sociological middle class or whatever, they mean middle class as it is commonly used today and as people self-identify as middle class. It doesn't mean a class in the Marxist sense, any more than "working class" in the sense of people that do manual labour/live on council estates, or "upper class" in the sense of people that go foxhunting and live in stately homes, constitute a class sensu strictu. However, that doesn't mean it's useless, from the point of view of analysis, to consider these categories.

I think if you think there are three classes, in the strict Marxist sense, in society then how do you define the relationships between these classes? The definition you give above is vague at best, appealing to culture, medicine, religion etc. etc. and invoking the 'sphere of reproduction', but without actually addressing how these complex social relations amount to a class relation that is distinct from the relation between working class and ruling class.

The way I would describe it, the working class is that class which is dispossessed and sells it's labour power to the ruling class in order to live; the capitalist class is that propertied class which buys labour power from the working class for the purpose of profit-making. Now I can imagine individuals and broad sociological groupings at both ends of that spectrum of relationships, and in the middle (self employed people, workers in a coop who are their own bosses, or workers who in one way or another have a stake in and some role in the management of profit making). What I don't see is the third axis which defines the middle class as a distinct class from these two.

~J.

LBird
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Apr 11 2012 12:04
no1 wrote:
Do you really think 15% of the population own corner shops and market stalls, and that these people are powerful enough to merit special consideration?

Haven't you missed the vital 'etc.'? In an outline small enough to fit on a leaflet, I gave three examples of 'small property'. Why not use your imagination to add to that list?

Or just come up with a meaningful criticism of my outline, and substitute one of your own, for discussion? If you really don't think a 'small property owning' class named the 'petit bourgeoisie' is useful for an analysis of society, why not? What do you propose instead?

LBird
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Apr 11 2012 12:16
jolasmo wrote:
What I don't see is the third axis which defines the middle class as a distinct class from these two.

I know your question wasn't aimed at my outline, but I think it could apply, all the same.

Firstly, I wouldn't use the liberal sociological term 'middle class', which is meaningless from the point of view of class analysis (unless used as a quick synonym for 'petit bourgeoisie').

What make the p-b distinct is the size of the property that is owned.

This leaves the p-b far more vulnerable to the problems of capitalism, than either the organised proletariat or the big capitalists, who can ride out these problems with more ease, as perhaps the 1920s and 30s showed. Under the pressure of inflation, it was the fools who'd taken on board the ideology of 'the individualistic market', unlike workers in unions or the wealthy, who suffered most by savings being wiped out.

I think that this provides a good historical and empirical basis for including a 'small property owning' class in a three-class model.

no1
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Apr 11 2012 12:41
LBird wrote:
no1 wrote:
Do you really think 15% of the population own corner shops and market stalls, and that these people are powerful enough to merit special consideration?

Haven't you missed the vital 'etc.'? In an outline small enough to fit on a leaflet, I gave three examples of 'small property'. Why not use your imagination to add to that list?

Or just come up with a meaningful criticism of my outline, and substitute one of your own, for discussion? If you really don't think a 'small property owning' class named the 'petit bourgeoisie' is useful for an analysis of society, why not? What do you propose instead?

As my post implied, I don't think owners of 'small productive property' who are forced to work themselves are particularly important, in comparison to bureaucrats/managers (in Parecon-speak, the 'co-ordinator class'), who I believe to have far more collective power than shopowners etc., but who by your definition would be classed as proletarian I suppose.

LBird
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Apr 11 2012 12:58
no1 wrote:
As my post implied, I don't think owners of 'small productive property' who are forced to work themselves are particularly important, in comparison to bureaucrats/managers (in Parecon-speak, the 'co-ordinator class'), who I believe to have far more collective power than shopowners etc.,...

From this, I presume that you're an Anarchist? The issue of 'power', rather than 'economic exploitation', as the basis of a social analysis, seems to separate the Anarchist from the Marxist wings of LibCom.

FWIW, I think that the 'power' of 'bureaucrats/managers' relies on the owners/controllers of economic power, rather than a disembodied 'power'.

Of course, the state can come to own/control the economy, but then, as a class, the basis of their power is economic.

If the state doesn't own/control the economy (the Nazis, eg.?), then their 'power' is shortlived.

A class analysis based upon economic exploitation is the difference, I think, between Marxists and (non-class struggle) Anarchists. That is, political power is based upon material resources, not rank/status within a social system (whose economic basis is ignored).

no1 wrote:
...but who by your definition would be classed as proletarian I suppose.

No, most big bureaucrats/managers own many shares, and so would be in the 'bourgeoisie'. If you mean the local job centre staff, they're proletarians.

no1
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Apr 11 2012 14:54
LBird wrote:
no1 wrote:
As my post implied, I don't think owners of 'small productive property' who are forced to work themselves are particularly important, in comparison to bureaucrats/managers (in Parecon-speak, the 'co-ordinator class'), who I believe to have far more collective power than shopowners etc.,...

From this, I presume that you're an Anarchist? The issue of 'power', rather than 'economic exploitation', as the basis of a social analysis, seems to separate the Anarchist from the Marxist wings of LibCom.

FWIW, I think that the 'power' of 'bureaucrats/managers' relies on the owners/controllers of economic power, rather than a disembodied 'power'.

Of course, the state can come to own/control the economy, but then, as a class, the basis of their power is economic.

If the state doesn't own/control the economy (the Nazis, eg.?), then their 'power' is shortlived.

A class analysis based upon economic exploitation is the difference, I think, between Marxists and (non-class struggle) Anarchists. That is, political power is based upon material resources, not rank/status within a social system (whose economic basis is ignored).

I'm not sure I'm still following the thread of what you're arguing. You were saying that 3-class analyses are superior to 2-class analysis (personally I find 2-class analysis more useful) and then you presented a model that adds a third class of small productive property owners. What I'm asking you is to explain the analytical merits of your model, compared to a model (similar to the one proposed by the Parecon people) that adds 'co-ordinators' as a third class.
To me, shopowners etc. can just be treated like they are part of the bourgeoisie, adding them as a third class seems like complicating things without gaining anything much.

LBird wrote:
no1 wrote:
...but who by your definition would be classed as proletarian I suppose.

No, most big bureaucrats/managers own many shares, and so would be in the 'bourgeoisie'. If you mean the local job centre staff, they're proletarians.

That's irrelevant (according to your own comments here emphasising the relationship between classes) - if a fraction of managers are being paid in shares, that doesn't affect the relationship between a bureaucrat/manager class and capital or proletariat, in the same way that the fact some workers own shares doesn't change their proletarian nature.

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ocelot
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Apr 11 2012 15:05

In the interests of provocation, I would argue that all these speculations on "two, three, many classes" are besides the point. Historically and ontologically speaking, there is only one class, THE class, the proletariat.

Of course the labour - capital relation of exploitation is a binary, but all other classes define themselves negatively in relation to the proletariat. All other classes are a historical dead-end. They can do nothing other than reproduce their own existence by reproducing capital. They have no autonomy, they cannot valorise themselves other than vicariously through valorising capital. Only the proletariat has the historical freedom of action to choose not to reproduce capital or the other classes. In terms of auto-valorisation, only the proletariat has the capacity, in the pursuit of its own reproduction, to valorise itself without valorising capital. Only the proletariat can inscribe on its banner "Death to all Classes!" and have the power to bring that about.

The middle class exist in the same way the master race exists - as an ideological shibboleth, a moment of the decomposition of the class. The middle class are forever seeking their non-proletarian majority utopia by invoking difference - what about the blacks, the gays, the women, etc, etc, they cry? Are we not, together, the majority of a non-proletarian society? Yet the difference is simple. To be black is experience first of all as an external imposition of negativity - racist society imposes blackness as a "non-white" status. Through resistance, the counter is posed as positive assertion - "black and proud". But there is no contradiction in asserting oneself as person of colour, as woman, as gay, as differently abled, or what have you, while at the same time being proletarian. By contrast the middle class cannot both assert themselves as middle class and reconcile themselves to being at the same time proletarian. To be middle class is an internally imposed negative - "not proletarian" - in complete contrast to the positive identities that assert themselves in resistance and opposition to the racism, sexism, heteronormativity, etc of existing society.

So much for the subjective/political determinations. As regards the materialist/structuralist determinations, certainly the bases for differentiation, division and hierarchisation exist within the technical composition of production. The very process of deskilling and depriving labour of control or initiative over the immediate process of production - the tendential reduction of concrete labour to abstract labour - of necessity creates the need for new levels of supervisors and technical specialists in whom the very "big picture" oversight of the production that is progressively removed from shop- or office floor workers must be entrusted. But again, does this give them autonomy? No. The exercise of their supervisory power of necessity must incorporate the self-valorising needs of capital for increased productivity. Does this mean that those who identify with and internalise these social roles, in the way that the overseers of the plantation identified themselves with the racist ideology of the master race, do not present a problem to the movements for proletarian autonomy and revolution? No, clearly all movements for the recomposition of the class need to be aware of, and take steps to frustrate and block, the innate tendencies, both conscious and unconscious, of the specialists of mediation and knowledge monopoly, from reproducing the relations of dependency and alienated power that they know. But in the end they are barren, they can create no future or alternative, only always the return to the same.

LBird
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Apr 11 2012 15:05
no1 wrote:
I'm not sure I'm still following the thread of what you're arguing. You were saying that 3-class analyses are superior to 2-class analysis (personally I find 2-class analysis more useful) and then you presented a model that adds a third class of small productive property owners.

You're baffled? You agree I presented a three-class model, then argue I added a class, which gives... a three-class model? Surely I'd have had to have presented an initial two-class model, or end with a four-class model, due to maths and logic alone?

no1 wrote:
What I'm asking you is to explain the analytical merits of your model, compared to a model (similar to the one proposed by the Parecon people) that adds 'co-ordinators' as a third class.

Since I define a class by its relationship to an exploitative economy, I don't see how 'co-ordinators' can be a class.

The analysis, and political consequences, flows from our axioms, mate.

'Managers' are dependent upon the 'bourgeoisie' for their 'power'.

no1 wrote:
That's irrelevant, according to your own descriptions of class here - if a fraction of managers are being paid in shares, that doesn't affect the relationship between a bureaucrat/manager class and capital or proletariat, in the same way that the fact some workers own shares doesn't change their proletarian nature.

So, for you, the difference between a manager with 1,000,000 shares and a worker with 100, is of no consequence?

I'd say the manager can live off the exploitation embodied in 1,000,000 shares, while the worker is still overwhelmingly dependent upon their own sale of labour-power.

But then I use class analysis. Economic exploitation, as the measure, not 'power'.

yourmum
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Apr 11 2012 15:10

its a stupid idea coming from wanting to classify people as "working class" or "capitalist" that an individual has to be locked on one position of a social relation. just drop it.

jolasmo
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Apr 11 2012 15:39
LBird wrote:
jolasmo wrote:
What I don't see is the third axis which defines the middle class as a distinct class from these two.

I know your question wasn't aimed at my outline, but I think it could apply, all the same.

Firstly, I wouldn't use the liberal sociological term 'middle class', which is meaningless from the point of view of class analysis (unless used as a quick synonym for 'petit bourgeoisie').

But you just used the term middle class, right there.

This idea that we shouldn't ever use the *words* middle class for fear of staining our Marxist credentials is just ridiculous.

Quote:
What make the p-b distinct is the size of the property that is owned.

But how does that differentiate them from the capitalist class at large? So they have less capital, they can still be described as capitalists, just small capitalists. Even if I bought your argument that small capitalists are more vulnerable to crises than workers, which is a silly idea anyway, that wouldn't change what defines them as a class, which is their relationship to other classes.

~J.

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Apr 11 2012 21:30
ocelot wrote:
But again, does this give them autonomy? No. The exercise of their supervisory power of necessity must incorporate the self-valorising needs of capital for increased productivity. Does this mean that those who identify with and internalise these social roles, in the way that the overseers of the plantation identified themselves with the racist ideology of the master race, do not present a problem to the movements for proletarian autonomy and revolution? No, clearly all movements for the recomposition of the class need to be aware of, and take steps to frustrate and block, the innate tendencies, both conscious and unconscious, of the specialists of mediation and knowledge monopoly, from reproducing the relations of dependency and alienated power that they know.

Nice, unfortunately you wordiness have outed you as thoroughly middle class wink I jest

The question is if the problem of the "middle class" is of a different class (pun intended) than the problem of authoritarianism or even fascism that can be present in the working class proper. If it is the third class it is required if it isn't it isn't.