A discussion about class

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Jun 1 2005 10:07
A discussion about class

=====

Note: I've moved this thread into Thought. It was orignally a discussion between within the libcom group about class- so that we used the same terms in the things we are writing for the site.

We thought it might be interesting to other people, and also it would be good to get more input into it to clarify people's ideas (mine, for instance).

pingtiao

=====

Alright,

was thinking we should have a discussion about class, cos Jack's doing his class FAQ, and we should be writing more of our ideas now soon, and so internal theoretical conflicts are gonna come out more.

Since class is the basis of it all, and I know we have different ideas on it, I thought we could have an open discussion... Maybe it'd be better in real life than on here? I dunno... Anyway a main point should hopefully be coming up with a common language we use in our writings, that's clear and makes sense

Anyway I basically subscribe to the 2 class model, workers and capitalists, although I don't think capitalists as a class are a problem as such, more the institution of capital generally, so I dislike slagging off "the ruling class" or what have you. I'm not sure how we should refer to "the enemy"... I think in the intro I put ruling institutional structures or something.

IMO any talk of "middle class" is anti-socialist, bourgeious sociological balls, and I think should be completely avoided. Talk of a co-ordinator class I think is not as bad, although I don't see its existance as a distinct class - just another group of workers who act against their class interest, like bailiffs and paedos. And indeed most/all workers all the time pretty much, cos we're the ones who reproduce society every day anyway.

Right well discuss away - disagree with bits of this/all of this, are we all on the same page?

(Oh NB I think if you wanna define "middle class" as "co-ordinators", no one else in the world does so I think it's very unhelpful.)

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Jun 1 2005 10:16

Does anyone understand this stuff about "cultural capital"?

As you all know, I find the two-class analysis simplistic. I think that it is rooted in an age where managerialism was much less frequent, and was generally an accurate description of the factory set-up. The best chances of advancement of workers was collective.

Those days have gone, and I think our theories need to adapt to the new environment. Whereas before there would be much lower numbers of foremen etc, now there are shit loads of positions with a managerial component, and workers' best chance of advancement is individually through a career structure.

There are also whole layers of occupations disconnected from production, and concerned with management of production (not people directly). Stock brokers, lawyers, corporate accountants etc.

I don't have a solution yet. I have an inkling that these new people are not engaged in producing exchange value, but seem to just be producing use-values for capital. I think that might be torn apart, but it is a direction my thought needs to move in.

go.

cheers for this john.

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Jun 1 2005 10:27
pingtiao wrote:
Does anyone understand this stuff about "cultural capital"?

Yeah - some people have it, enabling them to advance in society basically by fitting in with higher-status people. Having the right accent, the right interests, and I think friendship networks are sometimes included in this too, and are massively important.

Quote:
workers' best chance of advancement is individually through a career structure.

That's actually not true, because only a tiny number of workers can advance. It appears that way because solidarity has been decimated. It has always been the case that in the short term workers could best advance individually, but the idea + practice of solidarity meant that a lot of people ignored this for collective advancement, which is greater in the longer term (i.e. scabbing you earn shitloads, but eventually lose out with the rest).

Now the experience of solidarity has been lost in our generation, leaving us fucked.

Quote:
There are also whole layers of occupations disconnected from production, and concerned with management of production (not people directly). Stock brokers, lawyers, corporate accountants etc.

If you're saying this, you have to stretch it out to include administrators, photocopyers, filing clerks, call centre workers... You are being selective with your professions "disconnected from production" - why? Cos you don't want to be saying call centre workers aren't w/c? Also of course these people have always existed. Well for a few hundred years anyway.

Edited to add - i don't wanna sound dismissive or rude or anythin, am just in a hurry, and i figure this is only a discussion amongst us so it's cool to dispense with pleasantries, right? 8)

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Jun 1 2005 10:48

Do you agree that the managerial layer has expanded relative to the number of workers with no management responsibilities? This hierarchisation doesn't come from nowhere, it is instituted precisely to undercut struggle by making people attempt to internalise the bosses' demands. If you admit that this stratum (!) has grown then you admit that this form of advancement has become more important relatively.

I don't think that call centre workers and corporate lawyers are equivalent, i think that there is something going on there with the content of the labour that is different. The latter are helping smooth out the production process in the interests of capital. This weekend Ellie's sister revealed she is working on a test-case that will set a precendent to prevent workers' final-salary pension schemes from being transferred as part of the responsibilites during a merger or acquisition. That is qualitatively different labour than filing or working in a call centre. Do you disagree? It is concerned with aiding restructuring in an active way.

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Jun 1 2005 11:20
John. wrote:
Yeah - some people have it, enabling them to advance in society basically by fitting in with higher-status people. Having the right accent, the right interests, and I think friendship networks are sometimes included in this too, and are massively important.

Ease of social mobility does not define your class, or we are going to have to take into account that someone buys lottery tickets on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and that makes them more middle class than their neighbour, because they have a tiny chance of becoming very rich.

pingtiao wrote:
Do you agree that the managerial layer has expanded relative to the number of workers with no management responsibilities? This hierarchisation doesn't come from nowhere, it is instituted precisely to undercut struggle by making people attempt to internalise the bosses' demands. If you admit that this stratum (!) has grown then you admit that this form of advancement has become more important relatively.

Many of these new 'managers' do the same work as the people under them. Your line manager normally earns £1 more an hour than you, they will also be doing some of the same work as you, but inaddition also some admin tasks like sorting out offduties, holiday time, interviewing people back off sick leave, etc. This isn't surprising is it? Capital is explicitly trying to blur the lines between classes.

pingtiao wrote:
I don't think that call centre workers and corporate lawyers are equivalent, i think that there is something going on there with the content of the labour that is different. The latter are helping smooth out the production process in the interests of capital.

How can you define somebodies class by the 'content of the labour'? Are we judging people on the work they do know? like technicians making jet fighters? Hell even British soldiers in Iraq fit this definition "smooth out the production process in the interests of capital". We all fit that category, we all help reproduce the current society.

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Jun 1 2005 11:28

Do you see no stratification in that at all?

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Jun 1 2005 11:29

We can all see that capital is trying to change the way we see class, be it sociology taught in schools, more poinless white collar jobs, allowing workers to become 'managers' for £1 more an hour. Why should we except this? We don't have to buy into these new definitions if they aren't useful. Am I wrong? or should any one in a job that "smooth out the production process in the interests of capital" be considered an enemy? If there is a recognisable section of society called the 'middle class', what in pratical terms should our approach be? I would be surprised if you didn't say "we should have the same approach as we do with working class people".

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Jun 1 2005 11:30

that wasn't the original question though- it was whether there were more than two classes.

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Jun 1 2005 11:32

Yeah i pretty much agree with john's first post... I think the co-ord "class" is important, but shouldnt be thought of as its own class as it is just a w/c layer, but thats not to be said that it should be ignored. Kinda the same as with what john was saying about cultural capital. As a concept which fits in with the existing structures above it, it is important. But as gav says - cultural cap. in itself does not define class.

In the end tho im not that interested in total objectivity in an old school marxist stylee and think that while thats what i believe in the here and now its open to interpretation and everyone will see it in a slighlty different way wink

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Jun 1 2005 12:23
pingtiao wrote:
that wasn't the original question though- it was whether there were more than two classes.

i thinks its an important question, if for the sake of argument there are three classes, what is our approach to the coordinator class? do we allow them to join our unions?

also for the sake of clarity, is this your definition of the coordinator class? "There are also whole layers of occupations disconnected from production, and concerned with management of production" or is it wider than this?

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Jun 1 2005 12:30
pingtiao wrote:
that wasn't the original question though- it was whether there were more than two classes.

I don't see the point in abstract theorising for its own sake – I posed the question so we can try to work out “If there is a recognisable section of society called the 'middle class', what in practical terms should our approach be?”

And if our approach should be the same, as gav suggests, then surely that means there is no practical difference, or that if there is its irrelevant to us?

Pingtiao I think if you go down that line you will tie yourself in more + more ideological knots... more later

Gav + rkn – yeah cultural capital’s a meaningless concept for communists, it’s more sociology, I was just explaining it cos pingtiao asked

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Jun 1 2005 17:29
pingtiao wrote:
Do you agree that the managerial layer has expanded relative to the number of workers with no management responsibilities? This hierarchisation doesn't come from nowhere, it is instituted precisely to undercut struggle by making people attempt to internalise the bosses' demands. If you admit that this stratum (!) has grown then you admit that this form of advancement has become more important relatively.

Maybe it has grown in the public sector... it may well have decreased in agriculture and manufacturing. Either way I don't see what relevance it has from the POV of saying a 2 class model is inadequate.

Quote:
I don't think that call centre workers and corporate lawyers are equivalent, i think that there is something going on there with the content of the labour that is different. The latter are helping smooth out the production process in the interests of capital. This weekend Ellie's sister revealed she is working on a test-case that will set a precendent to prevent workers' final-salary pension schemes from being transferred as part of the responsibilites during a merger or acquisition. That is qualitatively different labour than filing or working in a call centre. Do you disagree? It is concerned with aiding restructuring in an active way.

I really don't think it's that simple at all. Like gav said, shitloads of people do work which you could say is particularly "bad" because it looks like it aids capital more directly than some other work. People who manufacture police batons, or cooks in the Liffe building who prepare food for stockbrokers, thus helping them manage capital better.

What about your corporate lawyer example, if what she's doing is particularly "bad" (worse than an averager worker), then is say another big lawyer *opposing* that particularly "good"? Better than the activities of an average worker?

Ultimately I don't see any point to saying "look at these people, cos of the jobs they do they're bad", because it's all of us who are responsible for re-creating the social relationships of capitalism. These people just slot into positions that are created by the current economic conditions.

Do you have a concrete definition for this co-ordinator class?

If a "class" is defined as a group with a particular relationship to the Means Of Prod., then what is this class's relation?

Quote:

There are also whole layers of occupations disconnected from production, and concerned with management of production

I still don't get this sentence... The majority of workers in the west meet this description, are you saying they shouldn't be considered part of the w/c?

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Jun 1 2005 22:14

OK. I agree principally with John's original statement and Gav on this, especially Gav pointing out that a lot of 'managers' are managers in name (and an extra quid) only.

The growth of the 'co-ordinator' class is a function of capital having to impose work on a society where the majority of work is no-longer necessary. Reducing class to specific examples of workers acting against their interests - the lawyer - is the same mistake as reducing it to consumption. For the legal system to function effectively, you need to have lawyers fighting both sides of cases. As such the lawyer defending workers' rights legitimates a negative ruling as much the one working for the CBI or whatever. It's the structure we need to challenge, not individuals.

I think the problem, or my problem, is that we all know what constitutes working class, but it's difficult to draw the distinction as to who's in the ruling class (fwoabw).

Capitalism imposes work on the working class throught wage labour and the commodity form. Therefore, those who are dependent for their survival on wage-labour are working class.

Those who

I think there's tipping point somewhere where the proportion of income earned through one's own labour is outweighed by the surplus value you receive.

There are those who depend on surplus value for their income, capitalists, rentiers, usurers. Some of these are small enough that they have to spend a lot of time competing with other capitalists, and again a proportion managing labour directly.

Then those who depend on wage labour for their income, but the qualitative aspect of their labour is ensuring that surplus value continues flowing from the working class to capital. I think this is pingtiao's use-value class. Directly employed by capital to maintain it's position. Middle-upper civil servants, police, army, estate agents, bailiffs, recruitment agencies etc. etc. because of the hierarchies within these sectors, those at the lower end may still identify with labour more than conservative elements of the traditional working class. Because of the mobility of abstract-labour, and the fact that only some of these jobs are 'professions', I don't think this consitutes a distinct class. Having a job like this might make you realise just how much people get fucked over and increase your radicalisation, although someone wouldn't then stay in that job for long. I don't think people identify with their jobs to a great enough extent that the content of the job, rather than it's place in the overall structure is that important. My MHA admin job was protecting a psychiatric hospital against being sued by its patients, so I quit shortly after I realised that was what was going on.

Mike Harman
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Jun 1 2005 22:19
John. wrote:

Do you have a concrete definition for this co-ordinator class?

If a "class" is defined as a group with a particular relationship to the Means Of Prod., then what is this class's relation?

Quote:

There are also whole layers of occupations disconnected from production, and concerned with management of production

I still don't get this sentence... The majority of workers in the west meet this description, are you saying they shouldn't be considered part of the w/c?

They shouldn't be considered a part of the industrial proletariat, but they should be considered working class. For the working class to be revolutionary, it has to constitute the vast majority of people. And I think we agree that it's in the interests of the majority of people for us to move towards a libcom society. Maybe not financially, but when you take quality of life, environment etc. into account then most people.

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Jun 1 2005 22:33

The financial reward is what gets me though. There seems to be a tipping point around that as well- where the financial rewards seem to genuinely outway the loss in quality of life.

These lawyers this weekend- they sometimes work 9-11, 9-2AM... they get 70-80K a year, and genuinely think it outways the loss. There is very little chance that these people would ever subscribe to an ideology that threatened their material priviledge.

I am saying that despite being workers, these people are almost always going to side with the bosses.

Mike Harman
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Jun 1 2005 23:15

Yeah they will. But then there's radical liberal lawyers who work for Liberty, maybe for TUs and other stuff like that. Could go either way as much as anyone else. The status of "lawyer" is just one factor in determining whether someone's going to be counter-revolutionary or not in the future.

It's something that comes down to actual individuals, rather than a definable class relationship though I think. Although if we're going to talk about income, 75K is about 3-4 times average UK wage isn't it?

It's a dangerous road to go down though mate, one that potentially leads to a third-worldist position IMO.

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Jun 1 2005 23:32

Right, I am a bit drunk, so bear with me if this doesn't make sense.

pingtiao wrote:
The financial reward is what gets me though. There seems to be a tipping point around that as well- where the financial rewards seem to genuinely outway the loss in quality of life.

These lawyers this weekend- they sometimes work 9-11, 9-2AM... they get 70-80K a year, and genuinely think it outways the loss. There is very little chance that these people would ever subscribe to an ideology that threatened their material priviledge.

There are many factors that would mean a working class person might not 'side with us', it could be the amount they earn, their already held political views, there job is in direct contradiction to libcom aims (cop, bailiff) and for whatever reason (disipline, habit, not really thinking, etc) they aren’t willing to be disobedient, media coverage, peer pressure, etc, etc.

Basically there are loads of different factors that could effect why, on an individual basis, some working class people won’t side with us. Money may be the main reason, but it isn’t the be all and end all, so it would be reductionist to define a new class only using that criteria.

Catch wrote:
I think there's tipping point somewhere where the proportion of income earned through one's own labour is outweighed by the surplus value you receive.

This is certainly an important point, and a tricky one at that, however I would still argue that at whatever arbitrary point is chosen, on one side is the working class, and on the other is ruling class, and a middle class does not help in the analysis.

An interesting sort of aside point to this however is, how capital attempts to make us all complicit, in terms of our pension funds (if we are lucky enough to have one!) are now very larger players in share ownership of plc's, and makes us (in a very small way) bourgeois, of course I think the correct response is not to give in to the definitions capital trys to impose, but to view things from a communist prospective, which acknowledges the reasons behind this development.

Catch wrote:
Then those who depend on wage labour for their income, but the qualitative aspect of their labour is ensuring that surplus value continues flowing from the working class to capital. I think this is pingtiao's use-value class. Directly employed by capital to maintain it's position. Middle-upper civil servants, police, army, estate agents, bailiffs, recruitment agencies etc. etc.

Lets take this as a definition of a coordinator class, a) I don’t think its useful because most jobs are not this clearcut, "qualitative aspect of their labour is ensuring that surplus value continues flowing from the working class to capital" almost every job has an element of “ensuring that surplus value continues flowing” to it, and almost no jobs doesnt’t have element of it. So really its a question of degree, and hence not suitable for a binary class analysis. b) What difference does it make, because we are still going to support teachers taking strike action, and firefighters, doctors etc.

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Jun 2 2005 07:42
Quote:
This is certainly an important point, and a tricky one at that, however I would still argue that at whatever arbitrary point is chosen, on one side is the working class, and on the other is ruling class, and a middle class does not help in the analysis.

Agree with that.

I think of police/bailiffs more as enforcers than co-ordinators. But still don't think they can be construed as a class. The class relationship of the job is the same, it's just a nasty one.

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Jun 2 2005 07:56
Catch wrote:
I think of police/bailiffs more as enforcers than co-ordinators. But still don't think they can be construed as a class. The class relationship of the job is the same, it's just a nasty one.

I agree with this, if we were going tocreate a class of "capital's coordinators", then we may as well make one of "capital's protectors" and "capital's clerical assistants" etc etc.

of course we could easily start creating new, definable classes (advertising people use a 6 class model), but whos interests would that serve? ours or Capitals?

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Jun 2 2005 08:42

Cheers, some good things to think about there.

I don't have a defined position on this by the way, i'm just trying to puzzle out what I think...

I'll come back on this when I've had a think about it.

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Jun 2 2005 08:43
gav wrote:
I agree with this, if we were going tocreate a class of "capital's coordinators", then we may as well make one of "capital's protectors" and "capital's clerical assistants" etc etc.

of course we could easily start creating new, definable classes (advertising people use a 6 class model), but whos interests would that serve? ours or Capitals?

Exactly.

Re: the boundary line, well in the definition in the glossary of w/c I basically tried to hint at it - that it's the point at which you can get by *without* selling wage labour, so you could estimate an actualy financial figure for that but it wouldn't be particularly useful...

Quote:
The financial reward is what gets me though. There seems to be a tipping point around that as well- where the financial rewards seem to genuinely outway the loss in quality of life.

These lawyers this weekend- they sometimes work 9-11, 9-2AM... they get 70-80K a year, and genuinely think it outways the loss. There is very little chance that these people would ever subscribe to an ideology that threatened their material priviledge.

I am saying that despite being workers, these people are almost always going to side with the bosses.

Firstly, after a few years on 70k a year a lot of those people will own enough property (one or two houses, investments, bank account...) to not be workers any more.

But secondly and more importantly I just cannot see how you can be such a determinist. Saying that amounts of money will change people's actual concrete ideas in their heads. And it doesn't stand up to any kind of evidence whatsoever. There are shitloads of rich communists, and always have been. On u75 you call yourself Kropotkin ffs!

I think a lot of those people on big wages and long working hours get caught up in an addictive culture they can't get out of - socially of financially. Cos of the behaviour of friendship groups, mortgages, saving for kids' private education, maybe supporting a partner (or a gold-digging one), having to go to the right places, have the right drinks, drugs... But that's not even that important - people's ideas aren't shaped entirely by how much money they earn. If you are trying to argue this, please provide some evidence.

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Jun 2 2005 08:57

I'm not trying to argue that, but your last paragraph above- that gives lots of reasons for people internalising the dominant ideology based essentially on their income/position with the structure- sort of undermines your argument.

I'm not a hard determinist, but I do think that it is an influence, something you just admitted.

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Jun 2 2005 09:15
pingtiao wrote:
I'm not trying to argue that, but your last paragraph above- that gives lots of reasons for people internalising the dominant ideology based essentially on their income/position with the structure- sort of undermines your argument.

I'm not a hard determinist, but I do think that it is an influence, something you just admitted.

I wasn't trying to argue that - I was saying that I think a lot of people keep doing that basically against their wishes cos they get trapped in it. Like the mega-rich who still work ridiculously hard.

I think this is highly determinist:

Quote:
These lawyers this weekend- they sometimes work 9-11, 9-2AM... they get 70-80K a year, and genuinely think it outways the loss. There is very little chance that these people would ever subscribe to an ideology that threatened their material priviledge.

If anything I think more than the income the thing which influences these kind of people would be their friends + social circles they would move in. And also of course non-socialists would probably be more likely to get these jobs in the first place, cos I mean I could get one of them if I could be arsed. I value my time more.

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Jun 2 2005 09:30

Do you not think that freinds and social circles are influenced by the amount of money you have?

People tend to consume at a level that is determined by their wage- posh restaurants, nice flats, expensive bars. People's colleagues and neighbours are generally from a similar income band are they not? these things screen out others who cannot afford to go on holiday every month, pay £50 for bottles of Crystal and £20 for starters.

Saying that there is "very little chance" is not determinisitic, as it admits other influences.

In terms of whether this is useful or not, I think that people whose perceived material interests are at odds with socialism- even if economically they are workers- are not likely to be a receptive audience for outreach materials <hehe>. Isn't that useful in some way? It helps us to direct our energies in a more productive direction doesn't it? It doesn't preclude the ability of those people to become socialists, it just says it is less likely as it acknowledges a pressure in their lives that is largely absent for workers on lower salaries

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Jun 2 2005 09:52

I think we're straying... if you're now saying people on high wages constitute part of this co-ordinator class? What about plumbers/electricians/engineers on £70k?

Do you still think there are more than 2 classes? Can you define them?

Hmmm thinking about it, the main thing about class is the contradiction of capitalism:

bosses want workers to work the longest hours for the least money, workers want the opposite.

What's the other class's interest, and how does it manifest itself?

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Jun 2 2005 10:01

I don't think that the 'middle class' or 'coordinator class' exists in any substantially definible way, no. I do think that a class analysis that fails to take into account the layers within the w/c that are materially (and culturally?) bound to the r/c is simplistic.

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Jun 2 2005 10:10
pingtiao wrote:
I don't think that the 'middle class' or 'coordinator class' exists in any substantially definible way, no. I do think that a class analysis that fails to take into account the layers within the w/c that are materially (and culturally?) bound to the r/c is simplistic.

Materially?

If a class is defined by its relationship to the MOP then that means it has an economic interest as a class - by definition. Therefore the economic, or material, interests of a workers are by definition opposed to the bourgeoisie. As I pointed out, from your examples someone on a very high wage can leave the class rapidly by buying enough property. (but then these individual things are not very important anyway)

Are you accusing anyone of being so simplistic as to not realise that some workers act against their own interests? If not then surely the second statement is superfluous surely?

I wouldn't say "culturally" exactly, but ideologically sure - that's hegemony, no?

Mike Harman
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Jun 2 2005 17:46

It's also important to see class and classes as social relationships, not as collections/sets/groups of people. I know we do all do this, but I find myself referring to classes as sets of people as a short hand in discussions, and almost wrote "middle class" about something but checked myself...

I think this is OK for working class to an extent, but ruling class/bourgeois/upper/middle/owners of mop are all shit terms, and either don't make any sense, or bring to mind Bush/Gates etc.

I've started using Capital, or Capital and the State, or "the forces of Capital" to denote "ruling class". Is this a decent shorthand, or do we need something else.

It'd be great to find something we can all agree on, at least for the purposes of stuff we're writing for the site. Whether we can or not I'm not sure.

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Jun 2 2005 18:02
Catch wrote:
It'd be great to find something we can all agree on, at least for the purposes of stuff we're writing for the site. Whether we can or not I'm not sure.

Agree with your post above totally, this is kinda the aim of this thread in my mind. Cos from us individually a lot of contradictory things go out, which is not a big problem but will be when explaining our ideas in detail

Quote:
Capital, or Capital and the State, or "the forces of Capital" to denote "ruling class"

Yeah they're all good, but can be abstract for people.

It'd be good to come up with a work referring to the "middle class". Basically most people when they say it mean semi-intellectuals (which is fucking patronising to the rest of the w/c), don't know how though...

Quote:
They're a distinct social grouping, but not a distinct class

What do you mean by this?

I spose i don't like "ruling class" cos different bits of it are opposed to each other, and any co-operation between elements of it are more just forced by socio-economic structures than by devious top-hatted fatcats like Jack reckons wink tongue

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Jun 2 2005 18:27
Quote:
It'd be good to come up with a work referring to the "middle class"

Professionals? Is that unjargony/accurate enough?

If I hear professionals, I think managers/doctors/teachers/civil servants/engineers anyone who "yuppie flats" are aimed at, about right for the sort of people we want to talk about without clouding our general class position? We could also use "aspirational professionals"!!

Does anyone have a problem with using (forces of) Capital/Capital and the State for general non-working class elements? If it's linked to the glossary then that'd explain it to anyone unfamiliar. There's very little room for misunderstanding with those terms, and I'd rather have a short (then expanded) explanation of Capital, than constant discussions on the main forum about "what does libcom mean by class", or other groups starting threads on their boards to take the piss out of our analysis like we do to them....

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Jun 2 2005 18:28

i am happy with that, though as john says, it isnt the most clear phrase for the uninitiaited