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Classes in Monopoly Capitalist Society
by Barbara and John Ehrenreich
Estimated Reading Time: 10 min


Yesterday's reading on the Petit-Bourgeois got us thinking about the more recent (and even more recently popular) idea of the "Professional Managerial Class"(PMC), coined by John and Barbara Ehrenreich in the last 1970s. We can be reflexively orthodox, so we've been a little resistant when we hear PMC getting tossed around, but science over dogma and all that, and we were pleasantly surprised when we started reading this.

Barbara Ehrenreich co-wrote this and kept on writing some pretty popular books. The most famous of which we're linking to the left: Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America. This essay is not in that book, but you can read some of it below. Enjoy.



The classical Marxian analysis of capitalist society centers on two classes and two alone—the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The other numerically large class of mature capitalist society—the petty bourgeoisie—lies outside of this central polarity, and is in a sense anachronistic: a class left over from an earlier social * "Our epoch, the epoch of the bourgeoisie, possesses... this distinctive feature: it has simplified: the class antagonisms. Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other—bourgeoisie and proletariat." (Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO) order, which undergoes a continual process of "proletarianization" (i.e., its members are progressively forced down into the proletariat).* Meanwhile, the working class not only expands to embrace the vast majority of the working population, but also becomes more and more homogeneous and unified.

As early as the turn of the century it was becoming evident that the class structures of the advanced capitalist countries were not evolving along quite so straight a path. The middle classes were simply not withering away; new, educated and salaried middle-class strata had appeared and were growing rapidly. Most Marxists, however, either ignored the new strata or insisted that they, like the old middle class of independent artisans and entrepreneurs, would become proletarianized. It was left to radical social theorists outside the Marxian mainstream (such as Emil Lederer and Jacob Marschak in Germany and C. Wright Mills in the United States) to analyze the "new middle classes". In these analyses, the salaried white-collar workers were not seen as a single class, but rather as a disparate group, ranging from clerical workers to engineers and college professors, connected to each other (and to the old middle classes) by little more than a common desire not to fall into the proletariat.

By early in the sixties, the explosive growth and continued social distinctiveness of the stratum of educated wage earners had become impossible for Marxists to ignore. But Marxian theorists were not yet ready to give up the attempt at forcing engineers, teachers, government workers and accountants into the proletarian mold. Pierre, Belleville, Andre Gorz, and Serge Mallet were the first Marxists to chronicle and analyze the emergence of what they called, in opposition to Mills, et al., the "new working class." The new working class, wrote Gorz in 1964, like the old working class, was defined by its antagonistic relation to capital.

1. Andre Gorz, STRATEGY FOR LABOR (Beacon Press, 1967), p. 104.

2.For similar views, see Pierre Belleville, UNE NOUVELLE CLASSE OUVRIERE (Juilliard, 1963); Serge Mallet, ESSAYS ON THE NEW WORKING CLASS (Telos Press, 1975); Alain Touraine, THE MAY MOVEMENT (Random House, 1971); Stanley Aronowitz, FALSE PROMISES (McGraw-Hill, 1973); Francesca Freedman, "'The Internal structure of the American Proletariat: A Marxist Analysis", SOCIALIST REVOLUTION No. 26 (Vol, 5, No. 4), Oct.-Dec, 1975, PP. 41-84,
Technicians, engineers, students, researchers discover that they are wage earners like the others, paid for a piece of work which is "good'' only to the degree it is profitable in the short run. They discover that long-range research, creative work on original problems, and the love of worksmanship are incompatible with the criteria of capitalist profitability .... 1

Despite their immediate consciousness as "middle class," the growing body of educated workers are, according to this analysis, a stratum of the working class. 2

A decade later, after the rise and decline of a New Left based heavily among students and educated workers, it had become apparent that the gulf between the "old" and "new" working classes was deeper than the earlier analyses had suggested, Nicos Poulantzas suggested making a distinction between labor necessary for production of commodities and labor necessary for the reproduction of capitalist social relationships. Thus, according to Poulantzas, workers in the state and other "ideological apparatuses"—schools, government agencies, welfare agencies, mass media, 3. Nicos Poulantzas, CLASSES IN CONTEMPORARY CAPITALISM (Humanities Press, 1975), p. 27.

4. Stephen Marglin, "what Do Bosses Do?", REVIEW OF RADICAL POLITICAL ECONOMICS. Vol. 6, No. 3 (Summer 1974); also see Katherine Stone, "The Origins of Job Structures in the steel Industry," RADICAL AMERICA, Vol. 7, No. 6 (Nov.-Dec, 1973).
etc.—must be considered as being in a different class from production workers.3

In the early 1970's Andre Gorz, too, broke with his own earlier analysis, arguing that it was not only workers in the ideological apparatuses who served reproductive roles, but also the engineers, scientists, managers, etc. in productive enterprises, The capitalist division of labor has been determined by the need to control the workers and the work process in the context of class antagonism, and not only by technological imperatives. 4 Thus, proposed Gorz, even at the point of production, a distinction must be made between productive and reproductive labor.

We shall not succeed in locating technical and scientific labor within the class structure of advanced capitalist society unless we start by analyzing what functions technical and scientific labor perform in the process of capital accumulation and in the process of reproducing social relations. The question as to whether technicians, engineers, research workers and the like belong to the middle class or to the working class must be made to depend upon the following questions: (1) (a) Is their function required by the process of material production as such or (b) by capital's concern for ruling and controlling the productive process and the work process from above? (2) (a) Is their function required by concern for the greatest possible efficiency in production technology? or (b) does the concern for efficient production technology come second only to the concern for "social technology," i.e., for keeping the labor force disciplined, hierarchically regimented and divided? (3) (a) Is the present definition of technical skill and knowledge primarily required by the technical division of labor and thereby based upon scientific and ideologically neutral data? or (b) is the definition of technical skill and knowledge primarily social and ideological, as an outgrowth of the social division of labor? 5

5. Andre Gorz, "Technical Intelligence and the Capitalist Division of Labor," TELOS, No, 12 (Summer 1972). pp. 27-28,

6.Nicos Poulantzas, "on Social Classes," NEW LEFT REVIEW, No. 78 (March-April 1973), p. 78.

Both Gorz and Poulantzas conclude that there is an "unbridgeable objective class distinction," as Gorz puts it, between professional, technical and managerial workers and production workers. The problem, then, is where to place these mental workers in the class structure of capitalist society. But Gorz, so far as we know, has not extended his analysis of the class position of "technical workers" any further. Poulamzas refuses to break with Marx's two-class model, taking refuge in the dogmatic assertion that to "maintain that capitalism itself produces a new class in the course of its development" is "unthinkable for Marxist theory" (emphasis ours), He ends by lumping the educated workers along with all other non-productive workers—wage earners (educated or not) in banks, commerce, service industries, government, etc.—in a stratum of the petty bourgeoisie which he calls the "new petty bourgeoisie." 6

We will argue that the "middle class" category of workers which has concerned Marxist analysts for the last two decades—the * "PMC" is, perhaps, an awkward term, but the more obvious. "new middle class" has been used with a variety of definitions (e.g., by C. Wright Mills and Richard Hofstadter, who include sales and clerical workers in It), which could only lead to confusion. Moreover, "new middle class" obscures the fact that the class we are identifying is not part of some broader middle class, which includes both "old" and "new" strata, but rather is a distinct class, separate from the old middle class. technical workers, managerial workers, "culture" producers, etc.—must be understood as comprising a distinct class in monopoly capitalist society. The Professional-Managerial Class ("PMC")*, as we will define it, cannot be considered a stratum of a broader "class" of "workers" because it exists in an objectively antagonistic relationship to another class of wage earners (whom we shall simply call the "working class"). Nor can it be considered to be a "residual" class like the petty bourgeoisie; it is a formation specific to the monopoly stage of capitalism. It is only in the light of this analysis, we believe, that it is possible to understand the role of technical, professional and managerial workers in advanced capitalist society and in the radical movements.

Let us begin by clarifying what we mean by a "class." With E.P. Thompson, we see class as having meaning only as a relationship:

.... The notion of class entails the notion of historical relationship, Like any other relationship, it ls a fluency which evades analysis if we attempt to stop it dead at any given moment and anatomize its structure. The finest meshed sociological analysis cannot give us a pure specimen of class, any more than It can give us one of deference or love, The relationship must always be embodied in real people and in a real context, Moreover, we cannot have two distinct classes, each with an independent being, 7. E.P. Thompson, "The Making of the English Working Class (1966), p. 9. and then bring them into relationships with each other. We cannot have love without lovers, nor deference without squires and labourers. 7

It follows that any class which is not residual—i.e., merely "leftover" from another era, like the European aristocracy in the nineteenth century—can be properly defined only in the context of (1) the totality of class relationships and (2) the historical development of these relationships. Thus, if we were going to fully and properly define a Professional-Managerial Class, we would not be able to restrict ourselves to a picture of this group as a sociological entity; we would have to deal, at all stages, with the complementary and mutually interacting developments in the bourgeoisie and the working class. The story of the rise and development of the PMC is simultaneously the story of the rise of the modern bourgeoisie and the modern proletariat as they have taken monopoly capitalist society. Here, of course, we can give only a fragment of this story, We will focus on the PMC itself, skimming lightly over the complementary developments in other classes.

From our point of view, a class (as opposed to a stratum or other social grouping) is defined by two major characteristics:

  1. At all times in its historical development, a class is characterized by a common relation to the economic foundations of society—the means of production and the socially organized patterns of distribution and consumption. 8. For more on the relationship between juridical ownership of the means of production and class, see Ross Grundy, "More on the Nature of Soviet Society," MONTHLY REVIEW, May 1976. By a common "relation" we do not mean a purely juridical relationship; e.g., legal ownership or non-ownership of the means of production.8 Class is defined by actual relations between groups of people, not formal relations between people and objects. The former may or may not coincide, at any given moment in history, with the legal relationships evolved over previous years. The relations which define class arise from the place occupied by groups in the broad social division of labor, and from the basic patterns of control over access to the means of production and of appropriation of the social surplus.
  2. However, the relation to the economic foundations of society is not sufficient to specify a class as a real social entity. At any moment in its historical development after its earliest, formative period, a class is characterized by a coherent social and cultural existence; members of a class share a common life style, educational background, kinship networks, consumption patterns, work habits, beliefs. These cultural and social patterns cannot be derived in any simple fashion from the concurrently existing relationship to the means of production of the members of the class. For one thing, culture has a memory: social patterns formed in earlier periods, when a different relation to the means of production (or even another mode of production) prevailed, may long survive their "owners" separation from the earlier relationships. (For example, the culture of an industrial working class newly recruited from a semi-feudal peasantry is quite different from that of habitually urbanized workers.) In addition, the social existence of a group of people is determined not only by its experience at the point of production, but by its experience in private life (mediated especially by kinship relations, which, in turn, are at most only distantly related to evolving relations of production). The relationship between class as abstract economic relationship and class as real social existence has been all-but-unexplored; for our purposes we shall have to limit ourselves to insisting that a class has both characteristics.

Having stated these two general characteristics, we should strongly emphasize that class is an analytic abstraction, a way of putting some order into an otherwise bewildering array of individual and group characteristics and interrelationships. It describes a phenomenon existing most clearly at the level of society as a whole. When, however, the notion of class is called on to explain or predict infallibly the actions, ideas and relationships of every individual, it ceases to be very useful.

Our description of the historical experience of the PMC will be abbreviated and episodic, leaving out many key developments in the history of the class {most importantly, any elaboration on the expansion of the state in the twentieth century)and restricting ourselves Let's read this definition tomorrow. to the United States. We will begin with a schematic definition of the PMC, then describe the emergence of its distinctive class outlook and its consolidation as a class in the early part of the twentieth century, and finally return to the situation of the contemporary left.

 
Classes in Monopoly Capitalist Society
Communism Is How We Forcibly Break Apart the Organized Power of the Capitalist Class
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