Social classes nowadays 2nd part

In the article’s first part which was published in the previous number, the class inclusion criteria and Marx’s thought about the question were examined, while an answer was given to confusions and questions that are widespread in the left. In the second part which is published in this number, we are going to study the classes in the current society, class mobility and the laws that govern it, as well as the historic mission of the working class.

Social classes nowadays

2nd part

Social reality is always more complex in relation to the theories attempting to interpret it. However, in any science, those who formulate a theory, i.e. a model serving to explain reality, take into consideration the main elements of the phenomenon to be examined. The success of a scientific model depends exactly on the extent to which it can manage to detect the basic elements of a phenomenon and discriminate them from the secondary ones. Every model is justified or rejected with respect to whether it manages to explain sufficiently the present data and foresee the future data.

This is the case in studying human society as well. From the point of view of the dialectic materialism, human society is the highest level of organization of material, and as it happens at any level of organization of material, it has its own specific laws explaining its movement.

The capitalist society’s complex division into classes, the social mobility and the improvement or the deterioration of the position of sections of the population or entire classes, are phenomena that seem impossible to be explained by general laws at a pre- scientific level of simple observation. But within this seemingly chaotic situation, one can distinguish the tendencies verifying the laws governing the movement of the society, as they were explained by the founders of the scientific socialism.

The main social classes, the middle strata, class mobility

The main antagonist classes of the capitalist mode of production are the bourgeoisie and the working class. The members of the bourgeoisie are those who own means of production who can realize a reproduction of their capital on a wide scale (industrialists, ship owners, great land owners, bankers, business share holders, big real estate owners). Their income comes from exploiting the working classes.

The members of the working class are the salaried workers doing a simple executive work, their main income comes from selling their working force and does not seriously exceed the middle working salary. Salaried workers working in the material production and producing surplus value (industrial workers, land workers, countryside semi-proletarians, transport and communication workers etc) but also salaried workers contributing to the realization of surplus value (shop assistants, bank employees) are included in the working class. Furthermore, there are also included workers who just contribute to the increase in their employer’s profit (those working in entertainment), lower state employees, as well as workers who are not paid with capital but out of their employer’s income (e.g. domestic help).

Between the two basic classes there are the middle strata. The members of the traditional middle strata (TMS) are the owners of means of production who cannot achieve a reproduction of their capital on a wide scale (middle farmers, small merchants, professionals etc) whereas the members of the new salaried middle strata (NSMS) are salaried workers whose work is described as intermediary or directive in labor division. Their salary usually exceeds enormously the middle working class, especially that of the directive executives.

It goes without saying that the classes are not separated by impenetrable walls. There is class mobility up and mostly downwards. This is an issue that has raised a lot of discussion in the left but also in the bourgeois theoreticians, especially during the last decades. Phenomena such as the improvement of the standard of living of the working class, under the pressure of its movement by the crisis in 1973, and the reduction of manual workers brought about theories supporting that the working class tends to disappear and the middle strata are rising. These theory structures are related to wrong conceptions that limit the working class strictly to the manual workers or those who produce surplus value.

Social mobility has various traits. If one studies the social division into classes in capitalist countries, they realize, in the long term, that the Marxist view about the destruction of the middle strata and their deterioration into the proletariat is verified, while even some bourgeois strata cannot avoid social precipitation. To give an example, the farmers who some other time represented the majority of the economically active population and the overwhelming majority of the TMS do not reach a higher rate than 2 or 3 % of the economically active population in the developed imperialist countries.

“Upwards” mobility is real as well, but anyway is far more limited than what various bourgeois theories wish to present. The improvement in income and living standard of various sections or all of the workers is on no account identified with a change of class. In fact, there are some individual cases of social ascent that do not however discredit the general tendency. Besides, the bourgeoisie’s capacity to maintain its supremacy depends on its capacity to incorporate persons of high intellectual capacity coming from lower classes. Apart from renewing the bourgeoisie, such cases are a perfect “social example” of the opportunities offered by capitalism.

All told, data verifies the laws governing class mobility as they were described by the Marxist current. According to these laws the squeezing of the middle classes, the growth of the working class and the social polarization between the bourgeoisie and the working class, two main classes of the capitalist mode of production are deterministic.

The working class’s historic mission

Apart from the views claiming that the working class is on the wane and tends to be eliminated, some theories emerged from within the left in that same period; these views, bearing in mind the same phenomena, drew the conclusion that the working class has been incorporated in the system and has lost its revolutionary role. The politic current influenced by these theories looked for the social subject of the revolution in other strata; Of course, they failed.

On the contrary, Marxism claimed that the working class is the vanguard force that will lead towards social emancipation and this is the reason why the classic theoreticians mentioned the “working class’s historic mission”.

And this is justified because besides the fact that it is the main exploited class in the bourgeois society, it is the class that produces the greatest rate of the social wealth, the only class that can revolutionize the production relations, it is historically unique in relation to any other oppressed classes in history:

It is the class that, if it prevails, it cannot impose its own mode of wealth appropriation, as it was the case of a class which changed from dominated to sovereign class in previous systems (feudalism, slavery). It is forced to suppress the modes of appropriation of the sovereign class and simultaneously suppress its own specific mode of appropriation.

The revolutionary “being” of the working class does not mean that workers will automatically acquire a revolutionary conscience. The conscience is not determined by “being” in a “linear” and automatic way but only eventually. The linear relation of “being” and conscience was a view supported by the Soviet Marxism, which nevertheless leads us to a dead end. And that because, if one should accept this position, then the supremacy of bourgeois conceptions over a worker conscience would only mean that the working class’s “being” is not revolutionary and, thus, the Marxist theory is wrong.

Nevertheless, the possibilities defined by the material circumstances are not realized regardless of human action. Marx and Engels considered the determinism, the laws of movement of society in a dialectic relation to this action. One should confront the social determinism, the objective laws of movement of society as well as the “historic mission of the working class” and the liberation of society from exploitation in this way.

That’s why “the duty of the scientific socialism, the theoretic expression of the proletarian movement, is to explore the historic conditions and, consequently, the nature of this world –liberating act and thus, create a conscience in the action orientated and nowadays oppressed class of the conditions and the nature of its action”. (Engels, the evolution of socialism from utopia to science)