[Marxism] Reply to Mark about "bourgeois sociology"

Jurriaan Bendien andromeda246 at hetnet.nl
Fri Aug 13 21:11:05 MDT 2004

Mark wrote:

> Juriaan wrote, "I doubt sociologically though that 90% of the US
> population is working class, if you look more closely at asset
> ownership, incomes and occupations."  I have to say this AGAIN--this
> time in caps for emphasis: SOCIOLOGY IS BOURGEOIS, nothing petty about
> it.  It is part of the arrogant social pseudo-sciences by which
> capitalist society understands and rationalizes the status quo.

Nikolai Bukharin must have been bourgeois, because he subtitled his opus on
historical materialism "a system of sociology". No, Mark, this won't wash.
The concept that scientific disciplines are generally "bourgeois" is a
Stalinist concept, a concept used by bureaucrats who are afraid of ideas
they might not be able to control, and who want to purge them without
arguing with them or taking them seriously. The connection between
scientific thought and class interests permits of many variations, and you
know that. Sociologists aim to interpret, contemplate and research society,
social relations, social groups, social classes and social phenomena
generally. That is an endeavour which ought to be defended, especially in
the USA, even if there are also reactionary sociologists as well and Human
Resource freaks. If I simply call sociology a bourgeois activity, this does
nothing for the defence of free inquiry in universities, or the defence of
the intellectual autonomy of universities, or for the ability of black
Americans to study the situation of black Americans in aggregate. And of
course social science is about the aggregate effects of the interactions of
large masses of people, effects which you cannot simply observe in everyday
life because you are only one person - unless you think you are God (I never
had that idea).

> Let me recall the origins of the American "war on poverty" under
> JFK--implimented, of course, under LBJ.  The government social
> scientists did a study of poverty in which they figured out what you
> needed to support a family of four and issued a press release.  Oops!
> The numbers placed something near to half of America's households under
> the poverty line.

Well, that was a scientific discovery, nothing bourgeois about that.

> So, they went back to the drawing board.  They were told that a 10%
> poverty level was what the government wanted--big enough to be concern,
> but not serious enough to raise questions about the fundamental justice
> of the market forces.  They simple rationalized the poverty line to get
> that amount.  Well, they said, if you had a family of four and land, you
> could plant a garden and cut your grocery bills, so you didn't need as
> much . . .  You get the picture.

Yes, I had to read the Coleman Report as a student. So would you rather have
a war against the poor, than headstart programs ? Everybody knows
governments want to buy information that justifies their policies. I worked
for nearly four years in a Government Statistics Department, I should know.
I evaluated, designed and redesigned expensive surveys on farm risk,
marijuana use, balance of payments, health, and all sorts, departmental
efficiency and what not, and I designed survey questionnaires for them. I
even did a course on B.O.P. according to IMF guidelines. I wrote reports on
labor mobility statistics design, response order effects, standard
classifications systems and measures of skill in the workforce. The
Department axed measures of real disposable income (i.e. after-tax real
income), so there would be no basis for policy there, and turned the whole
department into a data factory supplying household data to the Treasury for
interpretation. After the cock-and-bull. the Government Statistician went
off to Britain for a promotion. But that doesn't make statistics as such
"bourgeois". At most it means that any scientific activity can be perverted
to suit ideological or political purposes or sectional interests. Point
however is not to accept the perversion of the truth, as you know it, and
you don't get anywhere with that aim, if you start claiming that a science
is intrinsically "bourgeois". Would you rather that Erik Olin Wright was not
there ? That C. Wright Mills had not been there ? That Richard Sennett
wasn't there ? That Studs Terkel wasn't there ? It doesn't make any sense to
me. GW Bush is on record as saying he would like to get rid of the whole
idea of "groups", which is a sociological concept. The real aim should be to
defend sciences against dogmatism which is alien to science. Numerous
American scientists are currently concerned about how the US government is
blocking or distorting scientific research to suit its purposes. Do I get
anywhere, by saying what they are doing is "bourgeois" ? Obviously not. That
is not the issue at all. The issue is the integrity of scientific inquiry
and the respect for scientific truth, and the moral obligation to respond to
that truth in a rational way, without resorting to Jesus Christ stories. I
could go on about this. If David Ricardo was "bourgeois", why did Marx
accept many of his ideas and argue with him ? Wasn't Marx from a "bourgeois"
family himself ? What if there had been no factory inspector's reports,
where would Marx have been then ?
> The best definition of class I ever heard was Peter Camejo's...if you
> don't know what class you're in, quit your job and go to bed.  If you
> start getting hungry, you're working class.

Been there, done that. With due respect to Peter, whom I support, it's not
true. When you are hungry, you are hungry. You don't give a shit about what
class it is.

I'd be very surprised if 7% of the U.S. population were employers,
unless they're fudging the numbers tremendously, which I don't doubt.
That's how they got the figures for online businesses in the 1990s.
Maybe this includes people who have people mow their lawns or do

I never said "the U.S. population", I said the US working population, which
is not the total population. In previous posts, I gave a detailed breakdown
of the US division of labor calculated from BLS< ILO, Census and other data.
My source for "employers" is the International Labor Organisation at
http://laborsta.ilo.org/cgi-bin/brokerv8.exe which provides a 2002 figure of
9,756,000 employers for the USA. According to the ICSE standard, an
"employer" is defined as a person who operates his or her own economic
enterprise, or engages independently in a profession or trade, and hires one
or more employees. This data is supply by BLS, which itself refuses to
publish data on employers online. Ökay, so you are skeptical about
statistics. But I would rather study it, than waffle through a hole in my
head about "class". In measuring and quantifying, we are forced to specify
exactly what we mean. Marxists may waffle about class, but my job is to know
what it means. A Marxist might talk about "a concept of relatedness" but my
job is to find out what exactly is being related.

In future I will post a piece on Marxism and science. For now, I have to
sleep. You luddite hedonists can play in the weekend, but I have to work,
earn a living, that sort of thing. Call me self-employed petty-bourgeois if
you like. But don't waste my time with bullshit.



PS - my estimate of US class structure was a bit of a joke. Most "Marxists"
don't think further about class than a sociological concept or a "meaningful
other" experience ("it's there but it's not there"). Good God, the very idea
that you would investigate the quantitative dimensions of it ! Wasn't it
Hegel who regarded quantity as just one subsidiary category in the grand
progression of dialectical categories ? Better go back to reading the Bible,
oops, Das Kapital. You should vote Bush, Mark. You won't have to worry about
scientific issues ever again. God and Jesus Christ have the Answer to

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