How can working class not be the majority ?

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Jan 3 2012 15:19
How can working class not be the majority ?

How can the working class not be the majority ? I saw some post in the DofP thread that was talking about how the dictatorship of the proletariat can only work if the working class the majority, and therefore that the Russian revolution might of worked better in say Britain. This may be putting it in simple terms but Im confident that was the jist.

I just can't imagine how the working class could be the minority in a capitalist society when coming from the view that there are only two classes, working and ruling, that I thought was the standard anarchist position, at least, its the one I hold. I would understand how the working class could be the minority in medieval feudal times, with loads of land owners sub infudating lots of times. But I just cant imagine that arising in capitalism. Sure there are some working class people that are better off than others and like to make a new sort of culture based on higher 'taste' and consumption of pricier consumer goods/services (what I think the middle class is), but they are not ruling class.

Can some one try and explain ?

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Jan 3 2012 15:45

Simply put, in the case of Russia there was a vast population of peasants who owned land and/or were not employed by capital as waged workers. At the same time, smaller parts of Russia were already industrialized and populated by an industrial working class, which was demographically a minority, but important for the economy as a whole. The situation was somewhat similar in Germany in the first half of the 19th century. On the one hand, the economy was no longer centered around the feudal mode of production or other pre-capitalist relations, but on the other hand, capitalist production only dominated parts of the economy.

Of course, capital is constantly seeking new opportunities, new markets, and hence new labor power. Sooner or later, the non-working class population is proletarized as capital takes hold of the production process.

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Jan 3 2012 16:17

Oops, I probably missed something. You mention you believe there are two classes: the working and the ruling class. From this point of view, what I called a "population of peasants" could perhaps be considered a part of the "working class" – after all, unlike the priests or factory owners, the peasants work the fields smile.

But this is not what I meant (nor the poster you were referring to, probably). When I said "working class" I meant workers who sell their labor-power as a commodity to capitalists, who then consume this commodity in a production process they set up. The reason why the workers do this is that they have no other choice – they don't own any means of production or any assets they could sell, so the only way to earn a living is to sell labor-power for a wage (of course, a part of the working class are also those who would like to sell their labor-power but can't find a buyer – the unemployed; this may seem as a contradiction in terms, i.e. "a non-working working class", but it isn't smile). The reason why a capitalist does this is that it brings profit.

In extremely simplified terms, a capitalist buys commodities, like wood, and labor-power for a total sum of $ x. He then uses the labor-power (whose bearer is the worker) to transform the commodities into something else, say wooden chairs, adding more value to them, and then sells the commodities for more than $ x, say, for $ x + 10. The 10 bucks are the capitalists' profit.

Now, if a peasant (or an artisan) owns a piece of land (or a workshop) which he and his family work on, he's in a very different situation than a worker. He is not compelled to go sell his labor-power to someone else. Of course, he may sell his produce at a market. He may even be forced to do so to at a very low prices to make a living. He may be taxed like hell by the authorities and generally live in horrible conditions, but from the point of view of social relations he engages in, he's in a different position than a worker. So this kind of peasantry is not the working class.

How a peasant population is turned into a population of industrial and agricultural waged workers is a complicated question for which many examples can be given, and I won't go into that now. Obviously, wage labor has not always existed, so there must be some sort of a historical process behind its emergence. However, it should be clear now that at early stages of capitalist development in a country, it's possible (nay, necessary) for the working class to be a (growing) minority.

This tends to pose problems for revolutionaries in those kind of countries. How do we make a revolution if the proletariat is a minority? Well, one answer to that was to make an alliance with the peasantry against the bourgeoisie and the landowners and then betray, starve and proletarize the peasants (which is what the Bolsheviks did).

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Jan 3 2012 16:37

You say the the working class includes those who would like to sell their labor power. Wouldn't the peasants want to do that ? It might make them more money then selling stuff on the market and marginally better quality of life.

snipfool
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Jan 3 2012 16:45

Peasants' labour went towards their own sustenance, whereas wage labour goes partly towards your wage but also to the capitalist you work for.

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Jan 3 2012 17:11

Well, some of them surely would. And yeah, it may even be an improvement. Not only in terms of getting more money, but also escaping the traditional mode of life with its patriarchal traditions, religious or sexual oppression etc., getting an education, moving to a city, supporting one's family back in the countryside etc. That's the story of millions of Chinese workers today, for example, and it was the story of young Italians moving from the South to work in the factories of the North after WW2.

But then there's the other side of the deal: as a wage worker, you lose all control of the production process, your job is reduced to a few repetitive tasks, your destiny depends on the fortunes and misfortunes of the economic cycle etc. For these and other reasons, the process of proletarization usually faces a lot of resistance from the would-be proletariat and is often very brutal.

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Jan 3 2012 16:52

Snipfool, not necessarily. As long as taxes or other ways of extracting "surplus labor" are in place, the labor of peasants may contribute to sustaining other classes too.

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Jan 3 2012 17:12

so if them some of them surely would, then some of them are working class. Because you said the working class includes the un employed because they want to work.

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Jan 3 2012 17:30

You got me there smile. A very nice piece of reasoning (really), but the important thing, I might add, is (economic) coercion. As long as a peasant – who can comfortably sustain himself and his family – is merely contemplating getting a waged job, I wouldn't consider him a part of the working class (similarly, a worker does not become a capitalist just by thinking about buying a factory). If he finally decides to look for a waged job, doesn't find one and goes back to his plot of land, he's still a peasant, not a worker. Now if he leaves the countryside only to find no job in the city, without any way back to the old mode of life (perhaps he'd sold his land to repay debts), he effectively becomes a part of the industrial reserve army, i.e. of the working class.

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Jan 3 2012 17:43
jura wrote:
Snipfool, not necessarily. As long as taxes or other ways of extracting "surplus labor" are in place, the labor of peasants may contribute to sustaining other classes too.

yes, good point. also, I didn't mean to present the benefit of peasant labour as being wage labour plus the value that would otherwise have gone to a capitalist. the productivity of peasant labour is generally lower than under capitalism because the means of production are less developed. instead i was hinting at the "other side of the deal" you described. (please tell me if i've said more stupid things.)

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Jan 3 2012 17:44

One important thing to add to this discussion, perhaps, is that all this talk about a working class which owns its labor-power and works on contracts made between free and equal legal subjects is very abstract and mostly an instrument for criticizing the presuppositions of bourgeois economic theory. The reality of the wage relation is much less "free and equal" and things like extra-economic coercion, various forms of peonage or even outright slavery were (and still are) absolutely essential to the global capitalist economy. Marcel van der Linden makes this point in a book called Workers of the World (2008, get it for free on library.nu), David Graeber emphasizes this as well in his recent book on Debt.

bzfgt
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Jan 3 2012 17:52

It's not true that the peasantry mostly wanted to sell wage labor but couldn't find work, most of them had been living off the land for generations and resisted proletarianization. See EP Thompson's "The Making of the English Working Class" and the sections on primitive accumulation in Capital v. I.

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Jan 3 2012 18:05
bzfgt wrote:
It's not true that the peasantry mostly wanted to sell wage labor but couldn't find work

Yeah, but nobody really said that – the peasant wanting to get a job but finding none was a hypothetical argument to distinguish working class from peasantry. Obviously there were centuries of resistance to proletarianization in England and elsewhere, but also (well-documented in the case of contemporary China) great expectations tied to fleeing the countryside, getting a job in the city, living the modern life and never looking back. "Living off the land" may also mean living a pretty terrible life, especially if you're a woman.

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Jan 3 2012 18:04

Yeah. That's a good point. The wage and working for someone else was avoided like the plague for a long time. Part of the primitive accumulation process was to accustom people to work for a wage

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Jan 3 2012 18:45
Khawaga wrote:
Part of the primitive accumulation process was to accustom people to work for a wage

To add to Khawaga's point about 'accustoming people' to capitalism, and also resistance to that 'accustomising' process, E. P. Thompson's famous article is worth a read:

http://libcom.org/library/time-work-discipline-industrial-capitalism-e-p-thompson

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Jan 3 2012 18:46
Khawaga wrote:
Yeah. That's a good point. The wage and working for someone else was avoided like the plague for a long time.

It's interesting how this exists in USA aswell. See The Misfits (with Marilyn Monroe) or a couple of the older men in http://interviewproject.davidlynch.com

For people who transitioned to wage labour it seemed to be a very traumatic process. In addition to the above I've seen quite a few american films interviews etc. where this is mentioned. This memory doesn't really exist anymore and everyone consider wage labour completely "natural", I wonder if the memory (possibly across generations) of not working for a wage is beneficial/critical? for revolution.

bzfgt
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Jan 3 2012 21:28

Great movie!

martinh
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Jan 3 2012 21:48

This process is still going on, as Jura said above in China, but also most of the world outside Northern Europe, the US, Canada, Japan and Australasia, since WW2, accelerating recently. A lot of the Mexican migrants to the US are poor peasants thrown off their land by NAFTA allowing subsidised US corn to destroy their markets.

Historically the first wave of industrial workers, i.e. people who once were connected to the land, have been far more militant and resistant to ideas of work discipline. Which is why there is often a lot of simmering militancy in factories in China and the Indian subcontinent.

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Jan 3 2012 23:08
martinh wrote:
Historically the first wave of industrial workers, i.e. people who once were connected to the land, have been far more militant and resistant to ideas of work discipline. Which is why there is often a lot of simmering militancy in factories in China and the Indian subcontinent.

Yes, I was about to mention China and Bangladesh in my post above but was on my phone at work so saved some typing.

I'm just wondering if there are any lessons in this perspective. Presumably someone wrote about it already.

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Jan 4 2012 09:01

I can't remember for sure if Beverly Silver (in Forces of Labor) makes exactly this point, but she definitely deals with "waves" of workers vis-a-vis industrialization and technological revolutions, and how likely it is for them to engage in struggles.

As far as China is concerned, I'm not quite sure if the recent struggles in Honda and elswhere involved the very first "wave" of ex-peasants keen on returning to the land. From what I've read and from talking to people who have done research into this, it seems more like it's the "second wave" or "second generation" – the grown-up children of people who already once went to the cities to work and then went back to the countryside. IIRC, the difference between the first and second waves was that the current generation has no hopes of returning to the "old life". Quite the contrary, generally they wish to stay in the city, "live the modern life" and improve their own lives as workers. This partly explains their militancy (as opposed to their parents).

We (Mouvement Communiste + KPK) mention this in a brochure called Worker's Autonomy Strikes in China (PDF version, HTML version on libcom):

MC+KPK wrote:
The low wages of the migrants were up until now the basic precondition for the expansion of capital accumulation in China. But the new generation of young migrant workers already do not want to live like their parents. They can very easily make use of computer technologies, are better educated, know foreign languages and do not want to spend the rest of their lives between the walls of factories and dormitories.

I've seen this point raised elsewhere: see, for example, the articles by Mr. Ralf Ruckus, Pun Ngai and Lu Huilin here (in German, sorry for that), this book by Pun Ngai (in German, sorry again), and in the many texts on this site (Ger... sorry). In English, there's this, or this specifically on women. There is quite a lot of academic literature on this as well (if anyone's interested, see the references in the articles above).

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Jan 4 2012 09:09

Also, IIRC Beverly Silver makes the point that after each technological revolution (and recomposition of the working class), it takes some time (Did she mention something like 20 years? I really should have made notes from that book) until the workers get accustomed to the new organization of labor and find ways of resisting effectively. She demonstrates this on historical data from various sectors.

Anyway, according to my elaborate computations, there will be a strike wave in the Czech and Slovak car industry around 2020 smile.

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Jan 4 2012 10:13

This is a difference between Anarchist and Marxist class theory in which Anarchist theory shows a little more depth.

While the two are closely related, Anarchist theory stretches beyond conditions of here and now and goes into any and all possibilities of authoritarian rule. While Marxist class theory asserts that once the working class (as opposed to subsistence peasants) are the majority of the population, socialist revolution will inevitably take place and the working class will appropriate the means of production and redistribute them from each according to, etc., etc., we all know the lines, Anarchist class theory states that any oppressed people have the ability to overthrow their rulers now. The distaste for capital in all forms is too urgent to wait for every oppressed person to become an industrial worker.

Anarchist class theory is much greater because it views not only the current industrial capitalist divide between the bourgeoisie and proletariat, but any and all relationships of power and domination that have been or could be. There is no need for wishy-washy transitionary periods of capitalist democracy in order to create enough surplus value for a communist economy to take place as Marx suggested. People are dominating and oppressing people right now, and those that are ruled can and should overthrow their rulers here and now rather than wait for some sort of positivist progression of society into statist social democracy in hopes that the state will "wither away."

Basically, Marxist class theory limits itself to divisions based on relations to production in which their are only two categories, whereas anarchist class theory divides into relationships to power. Peasants and workers may have little in common when it comes to production, but they have much in common with their relationship to the over-arching power structure. Just as lower tier workers and higher tier workers have more in common in a lack of autonomy than they do a relationship to production.

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Jan 4 2012 10:30
birthdaypony wrote:
the working class will appropriate the means of production and redistribute them from each according to, etc., etc., we all know the lines

Redistributing the means of production "according to needs"? Presumably to create independent enterprises? Clearly an expert on Marx.

birthdaypony wrote:
People are dominating and oppressing people right now, and those that are ruled can and should overthrow their rulers here and now rather than wait for some sort of positivist progression of society into statist social democracy in hopes that the state will "wither away."

The question is how you construct a society which develops ever richer needs as well means of satisfying them, and reduces necessary working time to the benefit of "free time", with ploughs and handlooms, rather than machines and automation.

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Jan 4 2012 10:36
jura wrote:
Redistributing the means of production "according to needs"? Presumably to create independent enterprises? Clearly an expert on Marx.

Ironically, "from each according to his [sic] ability, to each according to his [sic] needs," is a line from Kropotkin, if I'm not mistaken. It went on to become a maxim for communists of all stripes though, and today is usually (falsely) attributed to Marx.

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Jan 4 2012 10:42
Birthday Pony wrote:
Ironically, "from each according to his [sic] ability, to each according to his [sic] needs," is a line from Kropotkin, if I'm not mistaken. It went on to become a maxim for communists of all stripes though, and today is usually (falsely) attributed to Marx.

I'd suggest you stop making a total ass of yourself right now.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/From_each_according_to_his_ability,_to_each_according_to_his_need

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Jan 4 2012 10:47

My bad! It appears I've confused that misattribution with the theory of creative destruction, and also confused Kropotkin with Bakunin. That's what insomnia gets you. *shrug*

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Jan 4 2012 10:52

Quoted from the linked article:
Although Marx is popularly thought of as the originator of the phrase, the slogan was common to the socialist movement and was first used by Louis Blanc in 1839, in "The organization of work",[4] as a revision of a quote by the utopian socialist Henri de Saint Simon, who claimed that each should be rewarded according to how much he works.

And hell, doesn't even seem like I was wrong about it not being OG Marx, even if I had a completely different thing in mind.

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Jan 4 2012 11:00

Care to respond to any of the relevant points in #23?

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Jan 4 2012 14:02
Birthday Pony wrote:
Peasants and workers may have little in common when it comes to production, but they have much in common with their relationship to the over-arching power structure. Just as lower tier workers and higher tier workers have more in common in a lack of autonomy than they do a relationship to production.

I think this is really why I struggled to not see peasants as not working class. Im sure no one here is really going to not advocate a resistance from the peasants because they are not technically working class but yes, that statement from Birthday Pony sums up why I was struggling with this issue.

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Jan 4 2012 15:16

I've also been thinking about this and, to agree with Croydonian and BP, in this day in would imagine there are very few subsistence farmers who escape the reach of the capitalist market. The tradition conception of a peasant relied not only on owning their own tools and producing for themselves, but other community and kinship networks for credit and barter. Surely most peasants today don't have access to that and instead have to enter the capitalist market to acquire such things.

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Jan 4 2012 15:21

Chilli Sauce, sure, but as long as they're not selling labor-power, they're not a part of the working class.