Working class and marginal groups

jones-bhandari djones at uclink.berkeley.edu
Thu Oct 27 03:03:04 MDT 1994


Jon posted the following:
>So what about a more general debate (invoking and describing analyses
>garnered from Negri, Castell or whomever) about the relation between the
>working class and "marginal groups" and how either are to be defined?

I would also like for this debate to be opened up.   He is busy trying to
launch the information age.  Below I comment on my understanding of the
working class and the existence of marginal groups within the capitalist
system.

Aren't marginal groups part of the working class? Drawing from Carchedi, I
don't understand the working class as only those workers who produce
surplus value. Non-productive sectors tendentially realize the average rate
of profit (though deducting from the mass of surplus value); and if they
are to do so, wages in these sectors must be homologated to those of
workers in the productive sector. The priviliges of the  so-called
intellectual worker are illusory.  These latter workers are oppressed (as
opposed to exploited as they are not directly producing surplus value) in
that if capitalists in unproductive sectors are to receive the average rate
of profit they must endeavor only to pay workers there the value of their
labor-power--no more and no less.  So once the conception of the working
class is so broadened, it follows that it has not so dwindled that it
cannot be the agent of change. The law of value still governs the life of
oppressed workers.  They must sell a commodity (labor-power) in order to
receive the Money necessary to purchase those commodities necessary to
reproduce themselves.  C-M-C. And their one commodity will only be
purchased if its use will enable a firm to tendentially realize the average
rate of profit.

I would like to offer a few comments on marginal groups and new social
movements that apparently lie outside proletarian politics.

First,  I have been attempting to argue that much oppression of so-called
marginal groups is understandable only in the context of Marx's theory of
accumulation and crisis.  This is obvious in the case of the neo-Malthusian
persecution of many  "marginal" groups (Marx used different concepts of
course).  This is obvious in the inability of the capitalist system to
provide a safety net for many people just as its stagantion turns the
relative decline in the demand for labor into an absolute one. But this was
all argued (quite beautifully I thought) by Juan Inigo in his posts on the
general law of accumulation (Hey Juan, where did you go?)

Now there are other sorts of arguments involved here.  About a decade ago
in New German Critique Moishe Postone attempted to understand anti-semitism
in terms of the epistemological catergories of the dialectic of abstract
and concrete labor.  For example, he explored that tenet of fascist
mythology which glorified the industrial entrpreneur (concrete) and
demonized a financial conspiracy (abstract).  I thought that this was very
interesting, though I think that I remain partial to Franz Neumann's
classic thesis (and explanation of the said tenet of fascist mythology)
that anti-Semitism was the logical result of a reactionary Proudhonism
peculiar to the small businessmen who experienced economic crisis in the
form of the restriction of credit--which was then perceived to be the
result of a Zionist conspiracy.  That is, Neumann pointed to
epistemological weaknesses inherent in the position of the petty
bourgeoisie. This was (I believe) a brilliant marxist analysis of the
persecution of a so-called marginal group.

Finally, I would like to say something about the family. As I have been
saying over and over, I  think that it would be a good idea to look at
Schumpeter's chapter Decomposition in his Capitalism, Socialism and
Democracy.  There he blames the decline of capitalism on the erosion of the
bourgeois family.  For him Kinder, Kuche and Kirche was the implied
solution to increase the savings rate.  Patriarchy finds its justification
here in a very economistic (and hopeless) attempt to shore up the status
quo. He opens up a side to the importance of family values other than the
family as a site of unpaid labor and the reproduction of labor power.

>From Schumpeter"...we need only recall tha the family and the family home
used to be mainspring of the typically bourgeois kind of
profit....Consciously or unconsciously (economists) analyzed the behavior
of the man whose views and motives are shaped by such a home and who means
to work and to save primarily for wife and CHILDREN...He loses the only
sort of romance and heroism that is left in the unromnatic and unheroic
civilization of capitalism--the heroism of navigare necesse est, vivere no
necesse est [seafaring is necessary, living is not necessary]. And he loses
the capitalist ethics that enjoins the working for the future irrespective
of whether or not one is going to harvest the crop...."

The rest of this paragraph is very interesting, and has informed the work
of George Gilder, Steven Schlossstein and other influential ruling class
ideologues on the importance of  bourgeois patriarchal family values, which
leave little room for feminists, gays, and lesbians.

I do not think that  "marginal" forms of oppression (racism, patriarchy,
anti-Semitism) or new social movements have thrown Marxism into any sort of
 crisis as a theory and critique of the capitalist system, class interests
and bourgeois ideologues.

At any rate, the problems are quite simple.  In 1839 Constatin Pecqueur
wrote; "One fact is certain, general....It is the silent but very decisive
struggle of the wokers against their masters with a view to forcing the
captains of industry to raise their wages...How can one not see that to
leave [the wage earners] dependent on the insufficiency of a fluctuating
wage is to wish to find oneself surrounded in times of crisis and general
unemployment by a famished multitude, to create riot and civil war, and
perhaps to arm new Spartans..." Quoted in Henryk Grossmann, Journal of
Political Economy, vol LI, no 6 (December 1943).
jb



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