[Marxism] Quiting Marxism, embracing what?

Haines Brown brownh at hartford-hwp.com
Mon Dec 4 05:33:38 MST 2006


Thanks for pointing us to the Mosley article. I read it quickly, but
was disappointed. Perhaps I hoped for a serious discussion of class in
the US., but instead the article offers the usual capitalist
propaganda. Why is my assessment so harsh? Let me explain.

Class is a central category in Marxism. Although some contributors to
the present thread seem to have recently had doubts about Marxism and
their identity with the modern working class, they have offered no no
alternative to the definitions of class offered by Marxism and
capitalism, and so I can focus just on the quoted article.

The capitalist definition of class is empiricist in that it refers to
groups of people who share certain traits in common, such as power,
economic advantage or life-style. Empiricism has its origin in the
context of capitalist political economy, and has been closely
associated with capitalism every since. There is no doubt about their
historical connection, just as there is no doubt that empiricism is
just one of a number of scientific viewpoints that is certainly open
to criticism and has in fact been much criticized. 

The important thing in the empiricist "definition" of class is that
there is no objective dividing line that distinguishes one class from
another, but merely arbitrary points on somewhat arbitrary empirical
continua. For example, if you have a house in the suburbs or make over
25,000, you might be in the middle class. There should be no question
whatsoever, for it is a truism in the sciences, that such empiricist
categorical definitions are un-scientific and are not operational for
any kind of explanation. There should be absolutely NO DOUBT about
this here, for it is well understood everywhere else.

Why would I associate an empiricist definition of class with
capitalist ideology? Simple, for an empiricist definition of class
denies any objective basis for the claim that there is a working class
and therefore the possibility for knowing you are in it. Class
membership in empiricit terms is not a function of the kind of system
we live in, but refers only to one's personal attributes. Some
conclude that everyone in the U.S is middle class, some being upper
and some lower. So there is no other class identity, and so
class-solidarity can make no sense. You have only yourself to blame if
you have not arrived at a comfortable middle class life style. The
empiricist notion of class is a fundamental part of capitalist
ideology, for it deconstructs class. This point is both obvious and
apparently never contested.

On the other hand, an empiricist definition of class has nothing at
all to do with Marxism. In Marxism "class" is not defined in empirical
terms at all, but instead class is represented as a "process". That
is, it is defined as a person's relation to potentials that account
for that person's development, that represents that person as a
process. To represent something as a process, we posit its causal
relation with its environment as being essential to it, as being
definitive. In Marxism this relation is called a "relation of

The capitalist's relation of production is his private ownership or
possession of productive capital. That's how he develops thanks to the
self-expansion of capital. The working class does not own or possess
significant means of production, but instead offers labor power as one
factor in the productive process. This means that the worker cannot
develop through the economy and has no choice but to develop through a
relation with his social environment, through class solidarity. This
represents a real and substantial potential, not just because in unity
there is strength, but because in labor power is embedded all the
potentials of society as a whole. Marx goes on at great length about
this in Capital.

And then there's the petite bourgeoisie. Originally this referred to
people who had small-scale means of production, such as professionals
and artisans. Contrary to what was anticipated, this class did not
disappear with the development of capitalism, but remained an
important part of the economy. These would be people with titles or
licences that ensure an income, small businesses, movie stars, etc. In
Marxist terms, they are represented as having a contradictory class
position because while they possess or own means of production, these
means are not capitalist. At the same time, they are not selling their
labor power as a factor in production. Their development depends on
their personal talents and skills, not on social solidarity, not on
social capacities.

Now, this little sketch has simplified things quite a bit, but my
point was not to say the last word about the Marxist notion of class,
but merely to remind us that there are two quite contradictory notions
of class, one being Marxist, which is the natural working class view,
and the other being capitalist, and the natural view of
capitalists. How the petite bourgeoisie might feel about class is a
flip of the coin, but they usually adopt the capitalist position,
having no notion of class of their own.

The quoted comment about the rich getting richer undoubtedly is true
(in general systems theory it is called deviation amplification), but
it has absolutely nothing to do with a working-class notion of class,
and everything to do with a capitalist one, for it sees class in
empirical terms.

That is, the material quoted from the Nation article is nothing but
capitalist apologetics, whatever the author's intention, and I wish it
would have been recognized here as such. Yes, some people are
abandoning the working class to hitch themselves to the petite
bourgeoisie (and implicitly to the capitalist class), but the petite
bourgeoisie are always uncertain of where they are going. I wish them
good luck, but I would hope that most people associated with a Marxist
newsgroup retain their allegiance with the working class.

It must be clear that a rejection of Marxism is a rejection of one's
support of the modern working class. Sure, Marxism has evolved and
gone in different directions, but at its core it remains the only
ideology specific to the modern working class. If there were an
alternative working-class ideology, that would be exciting news, but
so far there just isn't. Let me repeat: there is no alternative
working-class ideology. You adopt the ideology of either the working
class or that of the capitalist class, and there is nothing in
between, for ideology is a function of objective class contradictions,
not just a loose set of ideas. If one adopts an empiricist
explanation, one is either very foolish or knowingly breaking with
the working class. Those who would do so in this group should at least
have the honesty to admit it.

Sorry about the polemical tone of this note, but it is frustrating to
see people pose as members of the working class, but who really end
betraying it. Hopefully it is only the result of their naivete, but
after so many years of discussion and debate, what excuse is there
left for ignorance? Unfortunately, I can lay claim to no expertise,
but what I've been pointing out here is both elementary and obvious.

       Haines Brown, KB1GRM
   	 Dialectical Materialist        

More information about the Marxism mailing list