[Marxism] looking for general guidance: class analysis of today's society; practice-theory

Jurriaan Bendien andromeda246 at hetnet.nl
Sun May 16 04:34:50 MDT 2004

Carrol wrote:

My sense of the difference between weberian & marxian approaches to
class is that for the former "classes" are boxes into which one puts
different colored marbles, while for the latter class is a relationship,
not a collection of persons. The weberian, therefore, can arrive at
class analysis by describing the features or activities of those who
make up the class, while the marxist must focus on the structure (or
more accurately, dynamic, since we are dealing with process) of the
entire social order which constitutes the classes which constitute it.

I don't think this is quite fair to Weber, as discussed by Rosemary Crompton
& Jon Gubbay in Economy and Class Structure, by Anthony Giddens in The Class
structure of the Advanced Societies, and by Erik Olin Wright in various
writings (see http://www.ssc.wisc.edu/~wright/#Principle%20Publications ) on
two counts.

(1) Weber suggests that class structuration (how social classes are
constituted) must not be understood only in terms of objective relations of
production defined by property-ownership, but also by relations of
distribution (incomes) and by class cultures;
(2) in order to specify class relations, we must be able to specify the
social groups being related, and these groups are aggregations of people. We
may not be able to allocate people to social classes with mathematical
exactitude, nevertheless social classes as defined by property and income
relations are groups of people.

Marx himself wrote in his book The Poverty of Philosophy that:

"Economic conditions had first transformed the mass of the people of the
country into [wage-]workers. The combination of capital has created for this
mass a common situation, common interests. This mass is thus already a class
as against capital, but not yet for itself. In the struggle, of which we
have noted only a few phases, this mass becomes united, and constitutes
itself as a class for itself. The interests it defends becomes class
interests. But the struggle of class against class is a political struggle.
In the bourgeoisie we have two phases to distinguish: that in which it
constituted itself as a class under the regime of feudalism and absolute
monarchy, and that in which, already constituted as a class, it overthrew
feudalism and monarchy to make society into a bourgeois society. The first
of these phases was the longer and necessitated the greater efforts. This
too began by partial combinations against the feudal lords. Much research
has been carried out to trace the different historical phases that the
bourgeoisie has passed through, from the commune up to its constitution as a

We see already here that for Marx a "mass" in the population constitutes
itself as a "class" only when when the battle between workers and property
owners flares up and becomes open and explicit, taking the form of a
political struggle between large groups of people, in which the combatants
actually identify themselves as belonging to a class which has common
interests to defend. Normally this occurs in the context of a social or
economic crisis in which trade relations and economic growth can be
sustained only by taking incomes and rights away from people. Outside of
that power-conflict, social classes exist only in a sociological or cultural
sense, as strata in the population. This interpretation is repeated by Marx
in his essay "The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte" when he talks
about French peasants:

"Insofar as there is merely a local interconnection among these
small-holding peasants, and the identity of their interests forms no
community, no national bond, and no political organization among them, they
do not constitute a class. They are
therefore incapable of asserting their class interest in their own name,
whether through a parliament or a convention. They cannot represent
themselves, they must be represented. Their representative must at the same
time appear as their master, as an authority over them, an unlimited
governmental power which protects them from the other classes and sends them
rain and sunshine from above. The political influence of the small-holding
peasants, therefore, finds its final expression in the executive power which
subordinates society to itself.

The process of "class formation" is therefore seen by Marx a cultural and
political process, in which it is discovered, through episodes of conflict,
what common interests actually exist. The level of class consciousness among
the population is therefore normally proportional to the intensity of social
conflict, and the level of political organisation and political activity. In
this sense, Weber is not so wrong. Capitalist society, being based on
private property relations, is characterised by incessant competition, which
includes competition between owners of capital, competition between
employers and workers, and competition among workers themselves. This
competition is constantly being mediated and diffused, by governmental
institutions and other social institutions. A process of class formation
could therefore be seen as the "crystallisation" of this competition in a
specific way, such that workers recognise their common interests vis-a-vis
Capital, and employers recognise their common interests vis-a-vis Labour.
That is, the basic ownership relations governing the production of wealth,
which are the foundation of capitalist society, become recognised being as
the fulcrum of the contest. In part, therefore, class formation is the
result of political organisation, but also in part due the changes in the
objective circumstances of large masses of people.

Marx basically defined social classes in terms of ownership relations and
income source. Thus, the working class includes all those people who,
lacking other means, are socio-economically compelled to work for a living
through the sale of their capacity to work to owners of capital, or directly
dependent on that sale for survival. Conversely, capitalists (the
bourgeoisie) are those who, because of their ownership of capital assets,
are not compelled to work or sell their labor, and employ labor for profit
income or can live by interest or dividend income. Between these two classes
are intermediate strata, such as the new middle classes and self-employed
proprietors, who might own substantial property, but also work in
professional occupations, i.e. their income level is not sufficient for them
to be freed from the compulsion to work altogether.

Carrol wrote:

The idea that workers (proletariat) must be manual workers is simply
bizarre. It reflects an extreme form of methodological individualism.

It is true that workers are not necessarily manual workers - Poulantzas, who
included only industrial workers in the proletariat, committed suicide by
jumping out of a window. So that definition is not very healthy really. To
show basic proportions, we can statistically derive the basic employment
categories in the USA in 2002 in approximate figures from Bureau of Labor
Statistics data as follows (ranked by group size):

American total resident population 288 million
population (16+) 224 million
economically active population 218 million
total civilian non-institutional population (16+) 215 million
population 16-65 years 188 million
civilian labour force 145 million
employed civilian labour force 137 million
wage & salary earners 136 million
employees 127 million
private sector workforce 105 million
employers 10 million (4.9 million distinct firms, 7 million establishments)
self-employed (farm) 1 million
selfemployed (non-farm) 9 million
government employees 20 million
Parttime workers non-farm 27 million
Parttime workers farm 0.5 million
Unpaid family labor 0.03 million
private sector waged employees 95 million
unionised wage earners   18 million

We also look at the proportions of the whole American population in terms of
social and occupational status in 2002, in approximate figures (ranked by
group size):

Children (under 16, not working for pay) 64 million
Retired (over 65, not in the labour force) 28 million
Fulltime housewives or -husbands and idle adults 22 million (own estimate)
Industrial production workers 26.2 million
Managers and executives 15.8 million
Clerical and administrative workers 15.3 million
Sales workers 15 million
Reserve army of unemployed 13 million
Engineers, architects, technicians, programmers and scientists 10.5 million
Employers of workers, all kinds 9.8 million
Supervisors of workers, all kinds 9.1 million
Teachers, paid childcare workers and childcare assistants 8 million
Transport workers 5 million
Unskilled labourers, handlers and helpers  4.8 million
Aides, ushers, guides, orderlies, and attendants 4.8 million
Personal care, health and medical workers 4.3 million
Cleaners, janitors, private cooks, maids & housekeepers 3.7 million
Accountants, auditors, underwriters, and financial officers 2.6 million
Adults in institutional care n.e.c. 2.5 million
Specialists & consultants in HR, PR and labor relations  2.1 million
Prison & jail inmates 2 million
Artists, entertainers, designers, athletes, recreational services 1.6
Nursing home residents 1.6 million
Criminals and lumpenised people, not incarcerated 1.5 million (own est.)
Lawyers, judges and legal assistants 1.3 million
Therapists, counselors, welfare workers 1.2 million
Police, detective, and law enforcement officers 1.2 million
Physicians, dentists, vetinarians, optometrists, and podiatrists 1.1 million
Military personnel (domestic) 1.1 million
Groundskeepers, gardeners, animal caretakers (non-farm) 1.1 million
Security guards   1 million
Farmers 1 million
Prostitutes 1 million
Working children (under 16) 1 million
Inspectors (construction, production and compliance) 0.9 million
Editors, writers, reporters, proofreaders, librarians, archivists, and
curators 0.6 million
Adult hospital patients 0.5 million
Religious clergy, and employees of religious institutions 0.4 million
Corrective institution & prison officers 0.3 million
Firefighting, fire prevention and pest control workers 0.3 million
Water, sewage and electricity workers 0.2 million
Hospice inpatients 0.1 million
Adult psychiatric patients 0.2 million

And then we can look at the basic proportions of the occupational structure
of the employed labour force (including salaried and self-employed) in the
USA in 2002, more specifically as follows (ranked by group size):

Managers and executives 15,800,000
Supervisors 9,100,000
Teaching staff, all kinds  6,600,000
Machine operating and assembly workers 6,400,000
Food & beverage preparing and service workers 6,100,000
Administrative support clerks n.e.c.  5,800,000
Construction trade workers  5,300,000
Aides, ushers, guides, orderlies, and attendants     4,800,000
Mechanics and repairs workers 4,500,000
Technicians 4,300,000
Cleaners, janitors, private cooks, maids & housekeepers 3,700,000
Retail sales workers 3,400,000
Truck drivers    3,200,000
Secretaries, stenographers, and typists    3,000,000
Scientists 3,000,000
Sales representatives in finance and business services  2,900,000
Cashiers     2,900,000
Accountants and other financial officers 2,600,000
Engineers, architects, and surveyors     2,600,000
Freight & stock handlers, baggers & packers, machine feeders 2,400,000
Labourers & helpers 2,400,000
Registered nurses    2,300,000
Financial records processing clerks     2,200,000
Management analysts, specialists & labor relations consultants  2,100,000
Materials recording, scheduling, and distributing clerks    1,900,000
Sales representatives in mining, manufacturing, and wholesale    1,500,000
Childcare workers and childcare assistants 1,400,000
Lawyers, judges and legal assistants 1,300,000
Barbers, hairdressers, cosmeticians, pharmacists, dietitians 1,300,000
Therapists, counselors, welfare workers 1,200,000
Artists, entertainers & designers 1,200,000
Police, detective, and law enforcement officers 1,200,000
Military personnel 1,100,000
Physicians and medical specialists 1,100,000
Receptionists    1,000,000
Security guards   1,000,000
Working children under 16 1,000,000
Prostitutes 1,000,000
Farmers 968,000
Non-financial records processing clerks, 995,000
Inspectors (construction, production and compliance) 955,000
Groundskeepers and gardeners (non-farm) 940,000
Industrial transport operators 898,000
Metal workers 826,000
Farm workers 726,000
Computer programmers 605,000
Bus drivers 605,000
Bank tellers 477,000
Postal delivery workers, messengers & couriers 468,000
Editors, writers, reporters and proofreaders 417,000
Religious clergy and employees of religious institutions 393,000
Personal services n.e.c. 348,000
Taxi drivers and chauffeurs 340,000
Street and door-to-door sales workers 334,000
Corrective institution & prison officers 328,000
Doctor's and dental assistants 318,000
Firefighting and fire prevention workers 262,000
Electrical and electronic equipment assemblers 237,000
Librarians, archivists, and curators 231,000
Butchers and meat cutters 229,000
Dressmakers, tailors and shoe repairers 189,000
Professional photographers 178,000
Animal caretakers (non-farm) 170,000
Interviewers 169,000
Airplane pilots,  airplane staff, air traffic controllers 152,000
Bakers and baking workers 148,000
Recreational services workers 129,000
Telephone operators 119,000
Oil & mining extraction workers 115,000
Railway workers 111,000
Furniture & wood-workers 104,000
Newspaper vendors 103,000
Ship captains, sailors, mates & deckhands, fishermen 98,000
Professional athletes  95,000
Social welfare eligibility clerks 86,000
Sales demonstrators, promoters, and models  77,000
Water and sewage treatment plant operators  77,000
Forestry & logging workers 77,000
Optical goods workers 72,000
Other precision production workers n.e.c 72,000
Pest control workers  63,000
Food batchmakers  54,000
Other plant & system operators 45,000
Electric power plant operators 35,000
Bookbinding workers   35,000
Nursery workers 33,000
Hand molders & shapers 21,000
Patternmakers, layout  workers, & cutters 12,000
Bridge, lock, & lighthouse tenders 3,000
Professional hunters & trappers 2,000


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