Am I Working Class? Are You? Are you sure?

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Lumpen's picture
Lumpen
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Jan 6 2010 13:26
cantdocartwheels wrote:
Class has no use as a system of individual classification, we should leave that sort of nonsense to the sociologists.

Fair point.

cantdocartwheels wrote:
Likewise all this stuff about ingrained attitudes misses the point, penty of people have ingrained hierarchical atttitudes, the point is that struggle is the forge of new ideas and methods. So struggle shows us for example that sexism and racism divides the working class.

Okay, that's a bit of a leap and I'm not sure what you mean by mentioning it – the "hierarchical attitudes" between different classes aren't equivalencies. An all-new, all-tolerant capitalism is possible despite class struggle – and likely because of struggle.

Class is muddy and the processes of authority and hierarchy are complex. The fact that capitalists can diffuse class by establishing proxies in management is as much a feature of that layer as anything.

The privilege that comes along with being middle class isn't 'nonsense' and has demonstrable effects on the character of struggle when they become involved. If the question is "what role for an individual who is middle class exists in revolutionary struggle", I did say there was one. I do think it pays to be mindful that being middle class is not a neutral condition and there are problematic aspects of middle class involvement.

cantdocartwheels wrote:
The whole point of class struggle is that there isn;t a middle ground, you can;t sit on the fence in a strike, thus also in political terms, talking about a middle class is futile.

And yet there are whole swathes of people who do sit on the fence during a strike. It simply doesn't follow that there is no middle class, just because of the way you use the word 'middle' to mean 'neutral'. The middle classes aren't the synthesis of the ruling and working classes or a separate entity outside of the labourer/exploiter dynamic. The etymology of the word bourgeois offers a clue – being citizens who resided in the town. Presumably this meant the skilled artisans who didn't need to labour in the field. The role of the modern bourgeois in the struggle against capitalism can be ambiguous but as it stands, their interests are not the same as workers. The point, for me, is that it is a struggle to abolish class and not to simplify it by collapsing the proletariat with the bourgeoisie.

cantdocartwheels wrote:
Generally the term middle class just leaves graduates, office workers, ''professionals'' and other skilled workers floundering because they think socialism and class struggle somehow doesn;t apply to them, so its really not a term anarchists should go around using that much.

The ones who are paralysed by this aren't the ones I worry about. groucho

The middle class, defined as a layer of bureaucrats and managers, could conceivably be done away with while capitalism remains. In that sense I agree that it's foolish to centralise either analysis or struggle around the abolition of the bourgeoisie.

I'm certainly not saying anyone with a private school education and a degree should be told to get fucked, but I'm not going to pretend that it means nothing, either. I say they should get involved and sort it out as they go.

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Udo_Bukowski
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Jan 6 2010 13:54

Cocktail, JK?

While you may be spinning in your interpretations, most people - not me of course, I still believe in a proletariat - may be impressed by, what...dnrr.... petey in the snow not-arguing with the missus.

Up until this point I have never cared either.

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Udo_Bukowski
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Jan 6 2010 14:21

Dance, like its 1923.

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oisleep
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Jan 6 2010 14:36
no1 wrote:
Being 'working class' (in the cultural sense) constitues a rejection of the above in favour of an attitude to life that is less individualist and values solidarity and community

bit of a rose tinted spectacle view there is it not? not to mention a fairly sweeping generalisation

(although i've no idea what working class in the cultural sense means so perhaps i've misunderstood)

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@ndy
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Jan 7 2010 06:09

Of particular relevance to Australia:

Bob Connell, Ruling Class, Ruling Culture: Studies of Conflict, Power and Hegemony in Australian Life (Cambridge University Press, 1977);
Bob Connell & Terry Irving, Class Structure in Australian History (Longman Cheshire, 1980);
R. Kuhn and T. O’Lincoln (eds), Class and class conflict in Australia (Longman, 1996);
R. W. Connell, 'Moloch Mutates: Global capitalism and the evolution of the Australian ruling class, 1977--2002', overland, No.167, Winter 2002.

Fletcher
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Jan 7 2010 10:28
no1 wrote:
Being 'middle class' means wanting to have a career and identifying with your job, being university educated, owning a house and thinking of it as giving financial security, having a cleaner and perhaps an au-pair, sending your kids to a school that increases their chance of getting a well-paid job etc. Plus of course feeling superior to everybody who does not have a 'middle class' lifestyle..
no1 wrote:
Being 'working class' (in the cultural sense) constitues a rejection of the above in favour of an attitude to life that is less individualist and values solidarity and community. There is of course a material basis to these two cultures. Being middle class works really well in material terms for professionals, because the individualistic career-focus will allow you to succeed in an work environment that rewards these characteristics.

What a load of patronising bollocks!!!
Why not just say that the working class all have cloth caps, keep pigeons and drink down the miners social club. You have bought hook line and sinker into the states attempts to divide our class.

So you claim that what you call working class leads to more "solidarity and community"? So explain anti social behaviour on council estates, child neglect, the thousands of working class scabs that sided with the bosses against the postal workers.

And as for your "middle class" which feels "superior to everybody who does not have a 'middle class' lifestyle", how does that explain strikes by groups such as teachers and the militant action taken by civil servents in the south of Ireland.

Splitting the proletariat (our class) into groups like this does us no favours. What the state has defined as working class is nothing to do with the economic basis of class and should be rejected as another attempt to divide us.

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PartyBucket
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Jan 7 2010 12:43
Liam_Derry wrote:
Why not just say that the working class all have cloth caps, keep pigeons and drink down the miners social club.

I think 'attitudinal' or 'aspirational' are better adjectives than 'cultural', when referring to the 'middle class', or else yes there is the danger of heading down this road.

petey
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Jan 7 2010 15:34
Liam_Derry wrote:
What a load of patronising bollocks!!!

yyyyyup

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Jan 7 2010 15:55
oisleep wrote:
while a definition of middle class may be useless in terms of classical marxist notions of class (which to be honest largely belong to the 19th century, not the 21st) i think the reasons given for its rejection are not particularly helpful in recognising the existence, and operation of, unequal/unfair power relations in society?

unequal power relations re economic power, social power, political power, cultural power, physical power etc.. exist within capitalist society and to collapse everything down into a definition of working class which effectively includes 98-99% of all people in society while being theoretically correct and in accordance with the gospel of saint marx, is a rejection of anything other than a two class analysis a sufficient base from which to work from for people who are supposedly opposed to all unequal and unfair power relationship in society?

.Firstly class is not a real thing, it is simply a abstract cateogory or concept, To communists class is a vague tool to describe generalised collective interests in struggles.
A communist view is basically one that says that the most fundamental contradiction (though not the only one) of capitalism is that between the interests of labour (the proletariat) and capital (the ruling class/bosses). Thus when we talk about class we talk about how it reflects that contradiction because generally communists beleive that its that clash of interests that could unravel capitalism if the majority of proletarians realise that labours interest would generally be best served by getting rid of capitalism and the ruling class and running things themselves thus negating/abolishing class society.
I might seem like i'm stating the obvious a bit here, but if you don;t agree with that basic communist idea, then your view of class is going to be entirely different. I'm not sure if you agree with it or not i might add, fair play either way tbh, i can hardly blame anyone for coming to the sadly rather logical conclusion that communism is pretty unlikely.

Quote:
cantdo - that quote from duave above (which i think is pretty meaningless crap) is pretty much diametrically opposed to the stance you took in the post above, i.e. duave reduces the working class to the minimum those who have absolutely nothing and nothing to lose, i.e.

those who are desperate, those who have no reserves, who have nothing to lose but their chains; those who are nothing, have nothing, and cannot liberate themselves without destroying the whole social order

while you expand it to its maximum (i.e including those who are not desperate, who have reserves, have plenty to lose, who are 'something', have something etc..) - so not sure how you can praise the duave quote while arguing something that to me seems to be at the other end of the spectrum from it - for what it's worth I agree more with you than duave

You've missed out the first line in that sentence which is

Quote:
The proletariat is the negation of this society. It is not the collection of the poor

I'd probly disagree with dauve on a lot of things but on this he's pretty solid. I mean this paragraph is simpy an erudite way of putting a standard soclalist description of wage slavery. When dauve says no reserves, what he means is no choice other than to sell your labour for a wage.
As he goes on to point out

Quote:
Worship of the proletariat has become one of the most efficient and dangerous weapons of capital. Most proles are low paid, and a lot work in production, yet their emergence as the proletariat derives not from being low paid producers, but from being "cut off", alienated, with no control either over their lives or the meaning of what they have to do to earn a living.
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Jan 7 2010 16:59
Quote:
Firstly class is not a real thing, it is simply a abstract cateogory or concept, To communists class is a vague tool to describe generalised collective interests in struggles.
A communist view is basically one that says that the most fundamental contradiction (though not the only one) of capitalism is that between the interests of labour (the proletariat) and capital (the ruling class/bosses). Thus when we talk about class we talk about how it reflects that contradiction because generally communists beleive that its that clash of interests that could unravel capitalism if the majority of proletarians realise that labours interest would generally be best served by getting rid of capitalism and the ruling class and running things themselves thus negating/abolishing class society.
I might seem like i'm stating the obvious a bit here,

yes it does seem like that a bit, having worked for 21 years since leaving school at 16 and having read all three volumes of capital and countless secondary texts, means i'm somewhat aware of the contradictions between capital and labour. However my post was about all unequal and unfair power relations within society, now while the economic one is substantial and to a large extent determining of a lot of things, it's by no means the only one and these other things can not be reduced to being byproducts of the economic one - which was the point of my post, i.e. for a people who are supposedly interested in combatting unfair/unequal power relations in society a classical marxist definition of class, bu itself, is not fit for purpose

Quote:
but if you don;t agree with that basic communist idea, then your view of class is going to be entirely different. I'm not sure if you agree with it or not i might add, fair play either way tbh, i can hardly blame anyone for coming to the sadly rather logical conclusion that communism is pretty unlikely.

I think you collapse two different things into one here, someone could agree with the basic marxist analysis of capital and capitalism, agree with the tensions, contradictions, wastage and all the other associated stuff, agree that the working class is the only class who has the possibility of not just liberating themselves, but all of humanity, but also realise from a practical current world point of view that there's much more chance of capital destroying itself and gorging itself from the inside without so much as a helping hand from labour (in fact in such a case it's more likely that labour would lend a stabilising hand to capital in the event of such a crisis - as in the short term it's likely to be in labour's own interests to help capital survive), and that there's probably more chance that any mode of organising society post-capitalism will be even less progressive, in relative terms, than the current one

In my idealistic and utopian world I want communism, but in the real world I realise that it's likely that it's time has come and gone (if it ever existed), and when capitalism finally ends it will probably do so under conditions which will take with it the seeds that made communism a possibility - the problems faced by the world in the 21st century - resource expletion, energy crisis, environmental crisis, population explosion in areas that struggle to offer minimum living standards to it's present inhabitants, a thoroughly de/apoliticised populace etc.. etc.. all don't exactly form a backdrop which a communism could be predicated upon - a communism which resulted in the global population being equal in society in economic, social, political terms etc. (which lets face it is the only thing that true communism could be), but at a standard of living that sent some back centuries in terms of living standards would not last long - yet for a communism to provide 9bn with equality in terms of economic, social, political rights etc... and based on current western living standards is something that just doesn't seem possible given the contemporary backdrop

Quote:
I'd probly disagree with dauve on a lot of things but on this he's pretty solid. I mean this paragraph is simpy an erudite way of putting a standard soclalist description of wage slavery. When dauve says no reserves, what he means is no choice other than to sell your labour for a wage.

well fair enough, if he means those that have no choice other than to sell your labour power to access the means of reproduction when he says those who are desperate, those who have no reserves, who have nothing to lose but their chains; those who are nothing, have nothing, and cannot liberate themselves without destroying the whole social order then i'd agree with him, however i'd have to query why he couldn't just say that in the first place - phrases like those who have nothing to lose, those who are nothing or those who have no control either over their lives or the meaning of what they have to do to earn a living. in no way is an adequate description of large swathes of the wider working class - sure we could all with our clever cloggist alienation cap on say to them that, even though they may think they are something, have some control over their lives or what they do in their work, that they actually don't because we know better and are using a different benchmark from which to make that call, but i doubt we'd have much success in that regard, so clever communists objectively deciding on behalf of someone else what they do or do not have isn't likely to be of much use to the project that they've named themselves after

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Jan 7 2010 23:39
oisleep wrote:
yes it does seem like that a bit, having worked for 21 years since leaving school at 16 and having read all three volumes of capital and countless secondary texts, means i'm somewhat aware of the contradictions between capital and labour. However my post was about all unequal and unfair power relations within society, now while the economic one is substantial and to a large extent determining of a lot of things, it's by no means the only one and these other things can not be reduced to being byproducts of the economic one - which was the point of my post, i.e. for a people who are supposedly interested in combatting unfair/unequal power relations in society a classical marxist definition of class, bu itself, is not fit for purpose

There are plenty of purposes class analysis isn't fit for, i don;t really see why it should be fit for them though. Class struggle isn't about a utopian vision for solving every problem in society or helping you with your love life, its about working class self management.

I'm not that well read, never read capital at all. Again class for me is just a tool, class isn;t real its simply a concept to cut through a societies impenetrable maze of individual interests. It just means you approach a strike or a go slow at your work or a commnity issue where you live and you broadly identify class interests, you talk to your workmates and look at what interests you and your co-workers have in common and what interests your bosses have and what demands or actions each group takes. From that you can then find out what you and other groups of workers have in common and so on.
In the same fashion as you do with the IWCA, you go round you talk to people and you identify things in the community that broadly speaking working class people in the area have in common.
Sure there are people in the middle, managers and the like, but in struggles you'll generally find they and the cops and soldiers you mention are either acting in the bosses interests or losing their jobs, they dont have a class interest of their own, they simply enforce the bosses interests. Hence as you well know if you go off to die in the trenches you're fighting for the bosses interests not your own, and before you start its not patronising to say that you think this, its more patronising not to say it.
In fact for all yoru protestations about ''saint marx'' if anything i'm far less of a ''classical marxist'' on this than you are, as you know old charlie m beleived the petit bourgeoisie were a class in their own right with their own interests (a subject on which orthodox marxists obsess over), which probably at the time the peasantry were but not so much in 2010, certainly not in Britain anyways.

Quote:
but if you don;t agree with that basic communist idea, then your view of class is going to be entirely different. I'm not sure if you agree with it or not i might add, fair play either way tbh, i can hardly blame anyone for coming to the sadly rather logical conclusion that communism is pretty unlikely.
Quote:
I think you collapse two different things into one here, someone could agree with the basic marxist analysis of capital and capitalism, agree with the tensions, contradictions, wastage and all the other associated stuff, agree that the working class is the only class who has the possibility of not just liberating themselves, but all of humanity, but also realise from a practical current world point of view that there's much more chance of capital destroying itself and gorging itself from the inside without so much as a helping hand from labour (in fact in such a case it's more likely that labour would lend a stabilising hand to capital in the event of such a crisis - as in the short term it's likely to be in labour's own interests to help capital survive), and that there's probably more chance that any mode of organising society post-capitalism will be even less progressive, in relative terms, than the current one.

Oh for sure i'm quite pessimistic about our chances, but I'm pretty much of the opinion that its the old socialism or barbarism in the long term. I severely doubt capitalism will solve the environmental crisis its created and while its staved off nuclear devestation for the last 60 years, i'd remain uncertain that it will be able to do so in an increasingly multi-polar world.
Attempts to reform capitalism and make it more humane are globally speaking abysmal, over a billion live in abject poverty, and 30 million people die of hunger every year and none of that is going to change any time soon. So yeah sure we probly won;t end up with communism or socialism, but in the long term i cant see much else on offer.

Quote:
well fair enough, if he means those that have no choice other than to sell your labour power to access the means of reproduction when he says those who are desperate, those who have no reserves, who have nothing to lose but their chains; those who are nothing, have nothing, and cannot liberate themselves without destroying the whole social order then i'd agree with him, however i'd have to query why he couldn't just say that in the first place -
phrases like those who have nothing to lose, those who are nothing or those who have no control either over their lives or the meaning of what they have to do to earn a living. in no way is an adequate description of large swathes of the wider working class

Oh come off it its obviously just a bit of bog standard rhetoric. I doubt anyones going to read it and go ''hey i happen to really like my job and life is wonderful, don't assume things about me thats mean'', its quite obviously a generalisation about work and capitalism being a bit shit and you having to sellf your labour power rather than some half crazed lament about every living moment of every individual workers life being some sort of vast existential trauma.

gypsy
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Jan 8 2010 10:48

To be fair I think if you work for a boss and a wage you are the same class as everyone and that means you are working class is stretching it abit. For example, does this mean I am in the same class as Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney or Didier Drogba ?

No I am minimum wage level, I have little in common with any of them. The same goes to high earners who work for a boss like in the city of london. They live comfortably under capitalism while most struggle for a lil comfort. So my conclusion is that under capitalism there is different classes and a middle class who even though work under a boss, enjoy doing so and don't want to see an end to this disgusting system.

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Jan 8 2010 11:41
Quote:
There are plenty of purposes class analysis isn't fit for, i don;t really see why it should be fit for them though. Class struggle isn't about a utopian vision for solving every problem in society or helping you with your love life, its about working class self management.

given the centrality of exploitation to class analysis - my post was merely pointing out the various types of unfair unequal power relationships that exist within our society which give rise to forms of exploitation that are not captured by a classical marxist definition. I don't want to bend the stick to far away from capital/labour, however a crude blinkered focus on this on its own, in my opinion, is not befitting of a group of peeople (anarchists) who are against all forms of unfair power relations in society

Quote:
I'm not that well read, never read capital at all. Again class for me is just a tool, class isn;t real its simply a concept to cut through a societies impenetrable maze of individual interests. It just means you approach a strike or a go slow at your work or a commnity issue where you live and you broadly identify class interests, you talk to your workmates and look at what interests you and your co-workers have in common and what interests your bosses have and what demands or actions each group takes. From that you can then find out what you and other groups of workers have in common and so on.
In the same fashion as you do with the IWCA, you go round you talk to people and you identify things in the community that broadly speaking working class people in the area have in common.

I agree, however as i said above, it's not the only tool that's required in the 21st century

Quote:
In fact for all yoru protestations about ''saint marx'' if anything i'm far less of a ''classical marxist'' on this than you are, as you know old charlie m beleived the petit bourgeoisie were a class in their own right with their own interests (a subject on which orthodox marxists obsess over), which probably at the time the peasantry were but not so much in 2010, certainly not in Britain anyways.

this is another example of the problem of transporting a mid 19th century marx to the here and now - where's there's much that can and should be retained in terms of an understanding of the deep essence of capital - there's a lot that is insuficient when transported blindly - yes he believed the petit bourgeoiisie existed but he also believed their existence was not a permanent factor but a transitionary phenomena, and has largely been proved right in this regard - not sure what the reference to the peasantry in mid 19th century britiain relates to though, in england for example the peasantry had (in relative terms) disappeared centuries before this - and certainly wouldn't be considered petit bourgoisie regardless

Quote:
Oh for sure i'm quite pessimistic about our chances, but I'm pretty much of the opinion that its the old socialism or barbarism in the long term. I severely doubt capitalism will solve the environmental crisis its created and while its staved off nuclear devestation for the last 60 years, i'd remain uncertain that it will be able to do so in an increasingly multi-polar world.
Attempts to reform capitalism and make it more humane are globally speaking abysmal, over a billion live in abject poverty, and 30 million people die of hunger every year and none of that is going to change any time soon. So yeah sure we probly won;t end up with communism or socialism, but in the long term i cant see much else on offer.

I agree with your post, but it feels like it's a response to someone who has claimed that capitalism can be reformed and that some form of social democratic capitalism is the answer and would be able to solve the looming problems of the future - I don't believe it can and I never said it could/would. i think the reality of it is is (and this is probably just my overly gloomy presentimental nature) that it's going to be barbarism or even more barbarism in the long term - sure utopianally communism is the answer but it's not going to happen, unfortunately

Quote:
Oh come off it its obviously just a bit of bog standard rhetoric. I doubt anyones going to read it and go ''hey i happen to really like my job and life is wonderful, don't assume things about me thats mean'', its quite obviously a generalisation about work and capitalism being a bit shit and you having to sellf your labour power rather than some half crazed lament about every living moment of every individual workers life being some sort of vast existential trauma.

i just think it's a shit collection of words that doesn't capture the multi faceted reality of capitalist society - development of productive forces by capital despite leading to an ever increased exploitaition of the working class has also delivered vastly (although inherently unstable) increased living standards in absolute terms to that same class - clearly this isn't a result of altruism or intent, but just a necessary means for, and by product of, the search for surplus value - but it does result in the case where people, materially speaking, are nothing like the condition duave attributes to them - i've never really been that taken by alientation in general to be fair, while i realise you can't comletely separate these things i'd rather suffer alienation at work and be free of value exploitation/market society/not being dependent on market for accessing the means of reproduction etc.. than the other way around - i agree alienation is real and an interesting area to ponder on, but there are far more other things more so real that, in my opinion, the majority of the working class are much more concerned about

Pyotr Tchaikovsky
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Jan 9 2010 08:10

Class analysis is a bit outdated. A rich 'worker' is going to have more in common with a capitalist than he does with a poor 'worker.' Naturally, a rich worker isn't going to be part of the revolution, because he gets to lose a lot by favoring it.

Bottom line, it's the accumulation of wealth that counts, not who owns the MoP. This is the 21st century, not 1855.

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Lumpen
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Jan 9 2010 11:29
Pyotr Tchaikovsky wrote:
Bottom line, it's the accumulation of wealth that counts, not who owns the MoP. This is the 21st century, not 1855.

wall

Jared
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Jan 9 2010 20:54

Without having read all of this thread, I'll post some definitions that have helped me. I feel its not a matter of classifying individuals as 'worker', 'middle class' etc etc — but identifying the sites of struggle that can most damage capitalism. Here's a great quote from Brinton:

Quote:
We hold that the 'relations of production' — the relations which individuals or groups enter into with one another in the process of producing wealth — are the essential foundations of any society. A certain pattern of relations of production is the common denominator of all class societies. This pattern is one in which the producer (worker) does not dominate the means of production (workplace etc) but on the contrary both is 'separated from them' and from the products of his own labour. In all class societies the producer is in a position of subordination to those who manage the productive process. Workers' management of production — implying as it does the total domination of the producer over the productive process — is not for us a marginal matter. It is the core of our politics. It is the only means whereby authoritarian (order-giving, order-taking) relations in production can be transcended and a free, anarchist communist society introduced.

We also hold that the means of production may change hands (passing for instance from private hands into those of a bureaucracy, collectively owning them) without this revolutionising the relations of production. Under such circumstances — and whatever the formal status of property — the society is still a class society for production is still managed by an agency other than the producers themselves (ie Russia, China, Cuba etc). Property relations (or who owns the factory), in other words, do not necessarily reflect the relations of production. They may serve to mask them — and in fact they often have..."

This clearly flies in the face of the concept that class no longer exists, that we're all 'middle class' or that it's an outdated struggle.

Another definition that's helped me is from the libcom/parecon debate:

Quote:
Class is not a two-class system, but a bipolar one. Firstly, to recap on what capital is, as briefly as possible: money making more money. But this doesn’t happen by alchemy, but by human labour, which has the capacity to produce more than is needed to sustain it, a surplus which is appropriated to expand the original capital advanced. This establishes two poles of a spectrum. At the one end, those with nothing to sell but their capacity to work and nothing to lose but their chains (working class). At the other, those with the capital to hire workers to expand their capital (ruling class). Thus capital isn't just money in motion, but a social relation between classes.....

...Usually, the personification of capital is the boss. The boss may be a shareholding capitalist, or a hired manager. Under other circumstances we face union bureaucrats as the personifications of capital, as they divide and diffuse our struggles. Politicians, community leaders, or in the case of co-ops operating in a market, workers themselves can also become the personifications of capital. They are compelled to act in the interests of capital by their structural position within the bipolar capital relation....

....A union leader for example could have a background as salt of the earth as they come, but still become the personification of capital due to their structural role in capitalist society. The same is true of managers, politicians and capitalists themselves. The function of a class analysis is to understand the tensions within capitalist society as opposed to classifying individuals into two, three (or four or five) classes.

My two cents....

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Lumpen
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Jan 10 2010 07:37

I reckon they are good definitions, too.