Social classes nowadays 1st part

Social classes nowadays

1st part

Class segregation criteria- the Marxist methodology- questions- bourgeois views

According to Marx and Engels, “the so far written history is the history of social fights”. Even though Marx does not provide in a separate part of his works an answer to the question of the class definition (the manuscript of the 3rd volume of the “Capital” is interrupted in the 52nd chapter bearing the title “classes”), the class definition criteria are everywhere in the “Capital” as well as in other classic writings and were compressed in the passage included in Lenin’s article under the title “the great initiative”.

“Classes are great groups of human beings who are differentiated one from another by the position they hold in a historically fixed social production system, by their relation with the production means (which is mostly consolidated and formulated in the form of laws), by their role in the social organization if labor, and, consequently by the ways they appropriate the portion of social wealth that they have as well as by the size of this portion. Classes are the groups of humans that one of them can appropriate the work of the other thanks to the different position they hold in a fixed social economy system."

That is to say, the criteria for class incorporation are: the position in production, the relation with the production means, the position in the social division of labor, and the high of income, taken not as separate elements but as a whole.

Consequently, the members of the working class are those who do not possess any production means, carry out executive labor, and their income comes mainly out of selling their working power and varies around the medium working salary.

First of all, to which extent these criteria are nowadays acceptable by the Left is quite a problem. For instance, the position that the members of the working class are only those who produce surplus- value is quite widespread. It is strange but those who hold these positions do not usually commit an error about those whom they classify in the working class. Nevertheless, there is a confusion about what is exactly the surplus- value and the value and this is why they believe that the whole working class somehow produces surplus- value. This position is absolutely wrong. Surplus- value is extracted in the material production, that is to say where new value is produced. Consequently, only the members of the working class working in the material production produce surplus- value; but the surplus- value production does not constitute a criterion for the inclusion in the working class. Thus, members of the working class are those as well who contribute to the surplus- value realization, that is to say those working in the field of capital circulation, such as shop assistants and bank employees. In addition, members of the working class are also salaried workers who simply contribute to the increase in their employer’s profit.

Another widely held view not taking into consideration the Marxist analysis is that the members of the working class are the manual workers and that those who are not employed in a manual work but do a mental work do not belong to the working class, but at least to the middle strata. This conception is wrong as well. The criterion for the class inclusion is the position one has in the labor division; in consequence all the salaried employees who do a simple executive work, either manual or mental are members of the working class.

Any confusions or wrong conceptions are usually related to a fragmentary study of Marxism. While writing the “Capital”, Marx examined in a fragmentary way the question of the division of the society into classes and some passages of his writings may lead to misunderstandings.

Examining the material production in the 1st volume of the “Capital”, and especially the production which is incorporated in products, Marx distinguished at the level of social classes between on the one hand the industrialists capitalists, who possess the means of production and, on the other hand, the industrial workers, whom the surplus value is extracted from and thus, provides a definition of the classes which remains at this level. He will complement this definition in the 2nd volume. There, studying phenomena concerning the capital circulation (commerce, banks etc) he spots that at this level there are not only industrialists capitalists but also trades people and bankers on the side of the bourgeoisie, while on the side of the working class there are shop assistants, bank employees, etc apart from industrial workers. That is to say, at this level, the members of the working class are not only those who directly produce surplus value but all the salaried who contribute to the surplus value realization.

Finally, in the 3rd volume of the “Capital”, there is one more level of abstraction, the one referring to a social economic formation. The relation of the classes with the means of production, the role in the labor organization, the high of income and the ways of acquiring it are examined as a whole at this level. According to these criteria, except for the capital possessors, the higher directors of the capitalist business are included as well in the bourgeoisie, since they have a directive role in the production organization and they get a high income, as well as the higher executives in the state pyramid structure. Respectively, the lower strata of the bourgeois state machine are included in the working class (apparently, with the exception of the security forces).

Finally, the working class comprises the reserve army as well, that is to say, the unemployed. It must be pointed out that the Marxist discrimination between the active and the reserve army of the working class is one of a methodological rather than ontological nature. They do not constitute two different classes.

In addition to overlooking the Marxist criteria out of ignorance or empiricism, their correctness is questioned as well. First of all, by the bourgeois theoreticians, who claim there is a tendency to the elimination of classes, especially of the working class, while the middle class is increasing and in the same time they agitate for the fundamental bourgeois conception of a peaceful co-existence of the classes. In the same time, doubts are expressed by confused left people, based on some new or “new” phenomena which cannot supposedly be interpreted by Marxism. Let’s have a look at a few questions:

  1. On the relation with the means of production. Some believe that those who hold business shares possess means of production. Consequently, if a worker possesses shares, either ceases to be a member of the working class or a new phenomenon has appeared that the traditional Marxism fails to explain. This conception was widely spread when Thatcher was in government, when the chief catchword of the rising liberal current was “popular capitalism”. According to this doctrine, the circulation of shares in the lower social strata would eliminate the class differences and the social tensions and would lead to what John Major, Thatcher’s successor, defined as a goal that Tories government should achieve “non-class capitalism”!!! In fact, in the 90’s, the number of those holding shares in Great Britain rose from 10 to 15 million. However, the overwhelming majority out of them –approximately 12 million- held one or a couple of shares, while those who held over ten shares were limited to cardinal numbers. It is clear that anyone who holds one, two or a few more business shares could not be supposed to possess any means of production, in the first place because they rule over nothing in the company and, secondly, their income is not altered in any way as their main income source remains selling their working force. Moreover, one should note that the “propagation of shares” is not a new phenomenon, especially as far as Great Britain is concerned. In 1916, in his work called “Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism”, Lenin mentioned the following declaration of Siemens, the German Industrialist: “ The one pound share is the grounds of the British imperialism.”

The most serious questions about the criterion of the relation with the means of production concern the ravaged middle strata that maintain part of their property, and often the conscience of their former class position. For instance the farmers who accumulate debts under the pressure of the antagonism and are either forced to sell their land or their estates are confiscated by the banks, usually maintain a small part of their property, which is of course a means of production. In this case, the mechanistic conception of Marxism and the fragmentary reading of the class inclusion criteria may lead us to an absolutely wrong conclusion, that these strata belong even to the bourgeoisie, since they own means of production. Nevertheless, a fuller approach indicates that these ravaged middle strata are now forced to sell their working force, and their main income is extracted from their work. The land they managed to reserve in their ownership just provides them with a supplementary income, which is not sufficient in order to maintain their position as middle strata. These semi- proletarians of the countryside are definitely part of the working class.

  1. The position in labor division. It often seems difficult to distinguish between those who do an executive work and those who have a directive or intermediary role in today’s business, as it has become quite popular to allocate chief and head roles, under the guidance of modern management. However, at a company level, it is usually easy to do so. If one overlooks the titles and the “stripes”, it is obvious who have a directive role, who are really chiefs and have an intermediary role in the labor division by arranging the work of other working men, and who, regardless of titles, do an executive work. The existence of salaried workers who have an intermediary role in labor division is of course not a new phenomenon. These working men (clerks of works, production engineers, chiefs etc) make up the new salaried middle strata (NSMS) their proportion remains trivial in total economically active population and a marginal increase can on no account found the bourgeois theories for an increase in the middle class. On the contrary, the general tendency for a dwindling of the middle strata remains today in the way that Marx described it, while, even in periods that the middle strata (both the traditional and the salaried ones) temporarily grow, their economic power is on the wane. “In the countries where the contemporary civilization has been developed, a new petty bourgeois class was formed, swaying between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, and as a supplementary part of the bourgeois society, it forms itself from the beginning every time, but its members are constantly dashed down, towards the proletariat, and because of the development of the great industry, they can see the moment come that they will be thoroughly eliminated and replaced in commerce, manufacture and agriculture by supervisors and servants.” (Marx, Engels, “The Manifest of the Communist Party”) A look at the most developed imperialist countries is enough to prove that this prediction is correct.

  2. The high of income. The dispute on the criterion concerning the size of the wealth portion mainly rises on the question of where is the standard for the inclusion in the working class.

This is not a question that can be answered by appointing a number which will be the inviolate boundary for the inclusion in the working class. But one could say that the members of the working class are the salaried working men whose income does not seriously overcome the middle working salary. It is reasonable that there is no question when it comes to a petty part of salaried with extraordinary salary who are members of the middle strata or the bourgeoisie (e.g. business directors). Moreover, if one takes into account that this is not the only criterion but is related to the other criteria, one reaches the conclusion that this dispute concerns a few cases of salaried working men who have quite high income without being part of the NSMS on the basis of their position in labor division.

However, one should keep in mind that there are differentiations within a class, differentiations not as far as the conscience but the being is concerned, with respect to the income, the mode of working etc and, which is of prime importance, keep in mind that “capitalism would not be capitalism if the “pure” proletariat were not surrounded by a huge variety of extremely multiform transitional types, ranging from the proletarian to the semi- proletarian (ie the one who gains his half income by selling his/ her working force), from the semi- proletarian to the farmer, if within the proletariat itself there were no divisions into more and less developed strata, local, professional divisions etc”. (Lenin, Leftism, an infantile disease for communism)