[Marxism] Part 2: Working class for itself

Anthony Boynton northbogota at yahoo.com
Sun Nov 5 10:39:36 MST 2006

Part 2 "Working Classes for themselves"

In his attempt to explain why the working class of the
United States has not yet become a "class for itself"
Joaquin wrote in (RE: [Marxism] Re: [foil] article by
Joaquin Bustelo on Class Consciousness vs. Americanism
/ White Male( Worker)'s world view
# From: "Joaquin Bustelo" <jbustelo at bellsouth.net>#
Date: Sun, 5 Nov 2006 00:41:09 -0500# Delivered-to:
lnp3 at panix.com# In-reply-to:
20061105032316.97520.qmail at web23003.mail.ird.yahoo.com),

"I have posited that this explanation is to be found
in male and imperialist
privilege, which in turn is based on the
oppression/exploitation of women
and super exploitation of the Third World. And I have
argued that there are
mechanisms of exploitation at work that are not
recognized by Marxists, that
haven't been analyzed and integrated into Marxist

I think this points in the right direction.

Later in the same post, he wrote that " We have a
Marxist economic theory that says the main mechanism
of exploitation is simply that the bosses buy one
thing (labor power) and wind up with something
entirely different (the products of labor)."

This is, in my opinion, the central issue that needs
to be revised in Marxist theory, which has big
implications for Marxist political practice.

19th and 20th century Marxist theory, to the extent
that it did not become political apologetics and
ideology, focused on the rise of capitalist social
relations of production, and to a lesser extent of
distribution, in Europe. They frequently imagined that
those social relations would dissolve all other social
relations of production and distribution and lead to a
world divided neatly into workers and capitalists with
no other important social classes, and no other
important social relations of production or

With hindsight we can say the theoreticians, including
Marx and all of his most important followers, were
dreaming when they indulged in that kind of thinking
(which was not all of the time.)

Other social relations of production and distribution,
and other social classes, have continued to survive,
to be reproduced, and to flourish.

In my view social relations of production and
distribution in the real world divide into two kinds:
market relations, and non market relations. Purely
capitalist relations of production involve the
purchase and exploitation of workers' labor power, and
the appropriation and sale of its products, by

Other market relations involving rent, self-employed
petty bourgeois producers, theft and sale of goods,
taxation, etc. are very important parts of the really
existing economy, and they are "impurely" i.e. not
completely" capitalist.

Non-market relations of production and distribution
include much of the world's subsistence agricultural
production, including back yard tomato plots in Los
Angeles, theft for direct consumption (rather than
sale), much of the cooperative sector, and a large
part of production and distribution by states,
including an important part of military production.

Making it much more difficult to analyze all of the
various really existing social relations of production
and social relations of distribution is the fact that
all of them interpenetrate.

The interpenetration of these activities is very, very

Here is a mental exercise showing this
interpenetration, based on my families history.

During the depression in the United States, my
mother's family lived in the Midwest.

Her cousins owned a farm in Kansas which they held on
to tenaciously even when they could not grow anything,
or sell anything they did grow. When they couldn't
sell wheat at a decent price, they grew corn and
raised pigs. A lot of the corn and pigs were given
away to family members who were working in the cities.
Those family members helped pay off the taxes and the
mortgage on the farm, and donated used clothes, a can
of gas for the tractor, etc.

My grandfather was a civil engineer. Work was scarce,
so he ended up leaving his family, and going to
wherever he could find a job, sending money home to
his wife and five children. Sometimes it didn't arrive
on time.

Luckily the family had a big garden. They raised all
kinds of vegetables and fruit, canned what they didn't
eat, baked their own bread, raised chickens, ate the
eggs, etc. Without this little subsistence farm, and
the annual pig from the country cousins, life would
have been very grim.

When they needed cash, and my grandfather's check had
not arrived on time, my grandmother made cinnamon
roles, and my mother and her brother would take
baskets of them to sell around the neighborhood and

My grandfather believed that his sons should go to
college, but not his daughters. 

So the social relations of distribution within the
family were simple. Money was set aside to send the
boys to school, but not the girls.

My grandmother did not approve. So the kids were sent
out with cinnamon roles even when the checks arrived,
and the money was put aside for my mother and her
sister to go to college. When my grandfather
discovered this, he left the family in a rage, not to
return for several months. My mother and aunt both
went to college to his chagrin.

What social class did my mother's family fit into?
They rented the house they lived in, my grandfather
worked, but the cousins owned a large farm, even
though they had no money, much of what they consumed
was home produced and never purchased or sold, but
when they had a surplus they sometimes sold it...

This example of how different social relations of
production and distribution interpenetrate is not an
exceptional example, it is the rule of really existing

Some of my high school friends were auto workers, and
some of them were drug dealers, and some of them were
the same people.

A cleaning lady I know here in Bogotá owns a little
subsistence farm in Boyacá where she, her husband, and
her sons grow the family potato crop, some maracuya (a
kind of fruit) to sell, and a variety of other things.
All of her sons work, some in factories, one as a
hospital administrator. On the other hand she cooks
and cleans other people's houses for money, and then
goes home and cooks and cleans for her sons and
husbands, who do not contribute a peso to household

The neat division of society into working class and
capitalist class, exploited and exploiter, is such an
enormous over-simplification of real, social,
economic, and political reality that it can not serve
to explain real past and present social and political

Even studying the real social relations of production
and distribution is a challenge.

In a country like the United States the degree of
interpenetration between the working class of wage
earners, the petty bourgeoisie class of independent
small business owners and professionals, and
subsistence production and distribution relations has
always been enormous, and has never been well
measured. Similarly the interpenetration of different
social relations of exploitation such as the
employment of wage earners in production, the
appropriations of rents, and appropriation through
theft by capitalists has always been enormous, but
rarely seriously studied.

US Department of Labor statistics simply do not
reflect subsistence economic activities in any serious
way, and do not include theft as and economic
category. Obviously corporate P&L and Balance sheets
do not even hint at subsistence activities, and go to
great lengths to cover up theft.

In countries like Colombia the bourgeoisie and its
professional bureaucracy is very, very aware of these
interpenetrations. Measuring the "informal" economy is
one of the great headaches of government bureaucrats.

My time is up, I hope to continue this later.

All the best, Anthony

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