Red Letter
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A Definition [of the Professional Managerial Class]
by Barbara and John Ehrenreich
Estimated Reading Time: 12 min

Yesterday, we started with Barbara and John's opening section to their essay on the Professional-Managerial Class, "Classes in Monopoly Capitalist Society." Today, we look at how they define the PMC itself. Enjoy.

We define the Professional-Managerial Class as consisting of salaried mental workers who do not own the means of production and whose major function in the social division of labor may be described broadly as the reproduction of capitalist culture and capitalist class relations.* * We do not, of course, mean by "culture" merely "high" culture or the arts in general. By the culture of a social group we mean its total repertory of solutions and responses to everyday problems and situations. This is a transmittable repertory, and the means of transmission may be anything from myths and songs to scientific formulae and machinery.

Their role in the process of reproduction may be more or less explicit, as with workers who are directly concerned with social control or with the production and propagation of ideology (e.g., teachers, social workers, psychologists, entertainers, writers of advertising copy and TV scripts, etc.). Or it may be hidden within the process of production, as is the case with the middle-level administrators and managers, engineers, and other technical workers whose functions, as Gorz, Steve Marglin, Harry Braverman and others have argued, are essentially determined by the need to preserve capitalist relations of production. Thus we assert that these occupational groups—cultural workers, managers, engineers and scientists, etc.—share a common function in the broad * Throughout this essay, "manager," unless otherwise qualified, means lower- and middle-level managers. In advanced capitalism, the capitalists are the corporations, not the individual entrepreneurs of an earlier period, The people who as a group own a substantial portion of their stock, and as individuals have direct and dominant power over their functioning, can only be considered as part of the ruling class. The top officials of large non-corporate enterprises (i.e., government, large foundations, etc.) are also part or the ruling class.

9. Paul Sweezy, THE PRESENT AS HISTORY (Monthly Review Press, 1953), p. 124.
social division of labor and a common relation to the economic foundations of society.*

The PMC, by our definition, includes people with a wide range of occupations, skills, income levels, power and prestige. The boundaries separating it from the ruling class above and the working class below are fuzzy. In describing the class standing of people near the divide separating the PMC from other classes (e.g., registered nurses, welfare case workers, engineers in routine production or inspection jobs at the lower end, middle levels of corporate and state bureaucratic managers at the upper end), we must emphasize two aspects of our definition of class: First (in Paul Sweezy's words), "it would be a mistake to think of a class as perfectly homogeneous internally and sharply marked off from other classes. Actually there is variety within the class: and one class sometimes shades off very gradually and almost imperceptibly into another."9 Second, occupation is not the sole determinant of class (nor even the sole determinant of the relation to the means of production).

Consider the case of the registered nurse: She may have been recruited from a working class, PMC or petty-bourgeois family. Her education may be two years in a working-class community college or four years in a private, upper-middle-class college. On the job, she may be a worker, doing the most menial varieties of bedside nursing, supervising no one, using only a small fraction of the skills and knowledge she learned at school. Or she may be part of management, supervising dozens, even hundreds of other RN's, practical nurses and nurses' aides. Moreover, over 98 percent of RN's are women; their class standing is, in significant measure, linked to that of their husband, Some nurses do, in fact, marry doctors; far more marry lower-level professionals, while many others marry blue-collar and lower-level white-collar workers. So there is simply no way to classify registered nurses as a group. What seems to be a single occupational category is in fact socially and functionally heterogeneous.

Much the same kind of analysis could be made of most of the other groupings near the boundaries of the PMC. The situation of the groups near the PMC-working-class border, we should note, is especially likely to be ambiguous: It is here that the process of "de-skilling"—of rationalizing previously professional tasks into a number of completely routinized functions requiring little training—occurs, Moreover, a disproportionate number of people in these groups are women, for whom purely occupational criteria for class are especially inadequate.

Despite the lack of precise delineation of the boundaries of the PMC, by combining occupational data and statistics on property distribution we can make a very crude estimate of the class composition of U.S. society: By this estimate, about 65 to 70 per cent of the U.S. population is working class. (We accept Braverman's conception of the working class : craftsmen, operatives, laborers, sales workers, clerical workers service workers, non-college-educated technical workers.) Eight to ten per cent is in the ... old middle class" (i.e., self-employed professionals, small tradespeople, independent farmers, etc,), I think this number raised some marxist eyebrowsTwenty to twenty-five per cent is PMC: and one to two per cent is ruling class, That is, the PMC includes something like fifty million people.

The very definition of the PMC—as a class concerned with the reproduction of capitalist culture and class relationships—precludes treating it as a separable sociological entity. It is in a sense a derivative class; its existence presupposes: (1) that the social surplus has developed to a point sufficient to sustain the PMC in addition to the bourgeoisie, for the PMC is essentially nonproductive; and (2) that the relationship between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat has developed to the point that a class specializing in the reproduction of capitalist class relationships becomes a necessity to the capitalist class. That is, the maintenance of order can no longer be left to episodic police violence.

Historically, these conditions were met in the U.S. by the early twentieth century. The last half of the nineteenth century saw: (1) the development of an enormous social surplus, concentrated in monopolistic corporations and individual capitalists: and (2) intermittent, violent warfare between the industrial working class and the capitalist class. The possibility of outright insurrection was taken very seriously by both bourgeois and radical observers. At the same time, however, the new concentration and centralization of capital opened up the possibilities of long-term planning, the refinement of "management" (essentially as a substitute for force), and the capitalist rationalization of both productive and consumptive processes. In the decades immediately following the turn of the century, these possibilities began to be realized:

10. Harry Braverman, LABOR AND MONOPOLY CAPITAL (Monthly Review Press, 1975), pp. 85-123 and 155-168

11. Barbara and John Ehrenreich, "Work and Consciousness," MONTHLY REVIEW, July-August 1976.

12. U.S. Bureau of the Census, HISTORICAL STATISTICS OF THE UNITED STATES, COLONIAL TIMES TO 1957 (U.S. Government Printing Office, 1960).

1. At the point of production, the concentration of capital allowed for the wholesale purchase of science and its transformation into a direct instrument of capital. Science, and its practical offshoot engineering, were set to work producing not only "progress" in the form of new products, but new productive technologies which undercut the power of skilled labor. Labor was directly replaced by machines, or else it was "scientifically" managed in an effort to strip from the workers their knowledge and control of the productive process and reduce their labor, as much as possible, to mere motion, 10 As we have argued elsewhere, these developments drastically altered the terms and conditions of class struggle at the workplace: diminishing the workers' collective mastery over the work process and undercutting the collective experience of socialized production, 11

The huge social surplus, concentrated in private foundations and in the public sector, began to be a force for regulation and management of civil society, The Rockefeller and Carnegie foundations, each worth tens of millions of dollars, appeared on the scene in the first decade of the twentieth century; local governments increased their revenues and expenditures five-fold between 1902 and 1922. 12 Public education was vastly expanded; charity was institutionalized; public-health measures gained sponsorship and the authority of law; etc. These developments were of course progressive (in both the specific historical as well as the judgmental sense of the word). But they also represented a politically motivated penetration of working-class community life; Schools imparted industrial discipline and "American" values; charity agencies and domestic scientists imposed their ideas of "right living"; public-health officials literally policed immigrant ghettoes, etc. 13


14. Barbara Ehrenrelch and Deirdre English, WITCHES, NURSES AND MIDWIVES: A HISTORY OF WOMEN HEALERS (Feminist Press, 1973).

15. Stuart Ewen, CAPTAINS OF CONSCIOUSNESS: ADVERTISING AND THE SOCIAL ROOTS OF THE CONSUMER CULTURE (McGraw-Hlll, 1976); Paul Baran and Paul M. Sweezy, MONOPOLY CAPITAL (Monthly Review Press, 1966, Chapter 5).

3. Beginning in the I900's and increasing throughout the twentieth century, monopoly capitalism came to depend on the development of a national consumer-goods market. Items which had been made in the home or in the neighborhood were replaced by the uniform products of giant corporations. "Services" which had been an indigenous part of working-class culture were edged out by commodities conceived and designed outside of the class. For example, midwifery, which played an important role in the culture of European immigrant groups and rural (black and white) Americans, was outlawed and/or officially discredited in the early 1900's, to be replaced by professionally dominated care, 14 Traditional forms of recreation, from participant sports to social drinking, suffered a similar fate in the face of the new commoditized (and privatized) forms of entertainment offered by the corporation (e.g., records, radio, spectator sports, movies, etc.) The penetration of working-class life by commodities required and continues to require a massive job of education—from schools, advertisers, social workers, domestic scientists, "experts" in child rearing, etc. As the dependence of American capital on the domestic consumer-goods market increased, the management of consumption came to be as important as the management of production. 15

To summarize the effects of these developments on working-class life: The accumulation and concentration of capital which occurred in the last decades of the nineteenth century allowed for an extensive reorganization of working-class life—both in the community and in the workplace. This reorganization was aimed at both social control and the development of a mass consumer market. The net effect of this drive to reorganize and reshape working-class life was the social atomization of the working class: the fragmentation of work (and workers in the productive process, a withdrawal of aspirations from the workplace into private goals, the disruption of indigenous networks of support and mutual aid, For more thorough discussion of this phase in the history of the U.S. working class, see Stanley Aronowitz, FALSE PROMISES (McGraw-Hill, 1973); Stuart Ewen,CAPTAINS OF CONSCIOUSNESS (McGraw-Hill, 1976); and Harry Braverman, LABOR AND MONOPOLY CAPITAL (Monthly Review, 1975). The political implications of these phenomena for working-class struggles are very great, though beyond the scope of this essay. the destruction of autonomous working-class culture and its replacement by "mass culture" defined by the privatized consumption of commodities (health care, recreation, etc.).*

It is simultaneously with these developments in working-class life (more precisely, in the relation between the working class and the capitalist class) that the professional and managerial workers emerge as a new class in society. The three key developments listed above—the reorganization of the productive process, the emergence of mass institutions of social control, the commodity penetration of working-class life—do not simply "develop"; they require the effort of more or less conscious agents. The expropriation of productive skills requires the intervention of scientific management experts; there must be engineers to inherit the productive lore, managers to supervise the increasingly degraded work process, etc, Similarly, the destruction of autonomous working-class culture requires (and calls forth) the emergence of new culture-producers—from physicians to journalists, teachers, ad men and so on. These new operatives, the vanguard of the emerging PMC, are not simply an old intelligentsia expanding to meet the needs of a "complex" society. Their emergence in force near the turn of the century is parallel and complementary to the transformation of the working class which marks the emergence of monopoly capital.

Thus the relationship between the PMC and the working class is objectively antagonistic. The functions and interests of the two classes are not merely different; they are mutually contradictory. True, both groups are forced to sell their labor power to the capitalist class: both are necessary to the productive process under capitalism: and they share an antagonistic relation to the capitalist class. (We will return to this point in more detail later.) But these commonalities should not distract us from the fact that the professional- managerial workers exist, as a mass grouping in monopoly capitalist society, only by virtue of the expropriation of the skills and culture once indigenous to the working class, Historically, the process of overt and sometimes violent expropriation was concentrated in the early twentieth century, with the forced Taylorization of major industries, the "Americanization" drive in working-class communities, etc. The fact that this process does not have to be repeated in every generation—any more than the capitalist class must continually re-enact the process of primitive accumulation—creates the impression that PMC-working-class relations represent a purely "natural" division of labor imposed by the social complexity and technological sophistication of modern society. But the objective antagonism persists and represents a contradiction which is continually nourished by the historical alternative of a society in which mental and manual work are re-united to create whole people. It is because of this objective antagonism that we are let to define the professional and managerial workers as a class distinct from the working class.

We should add, at this point, that the antagonism between the PMC and the working class does not exist only in the abstract realm of "objective" relations, of course. Real-life contacts between the two classes express directly, if sometimes benignly, the relation of control which is at the heart of the PMC-working-class relation: teacher and student (or parent), manager and worker, social worker and client, etc. The subjective dimension of these contacts is a complex mixture of hostility and deference on the part of working-class people, contempt and paternalism on the part of the PMC.

The interdependent yet antagonistic relationship between the working class and the PMC also leads us to insist that the PMC is a class totally distinct from the petty bourgeoisie (the "old middle class" of artisans, shopkeepers, self-employed professionals and independent farmers). The classical petty bourgeoisie lies outside the polarity of labor and capital. It is made up of people who are neither employed by capital nor themselves employers of labor to any significant extent. The PMC, by contrast, is employed by capital and it manages, controls, has authority over labor (though it does riot directly employ it). The classical petty bourgeoisie is irrelevant to the process of capital accumulation and to the process of reproducing capitalist social relations. The PMC, by contrast, is essential to both.

A Definition [of the Professional Managerial Class]
Communism Is How We Forcibly Break Apart the Organized Power of the Capitalist Class
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