By Jan Makandal
December 8, 2015
[This was written as part of a debate about defining the working class].
I will argue that the definition of unproductive worker is quite a secondary point, since all will have to be organized in the struggle against capitalism. For us, whether an unproductive worker is considered a worker or a petit bourgeois in the social category of laborers, either way they need to be organized under the leadership of the productive workers—because the surplus value produced by productive workers is the source of all capital.
Our only difference in this case will be which class among the social category of laborers (or which fraction of the working class) is to construct that leadership role, and which class (or fraction of class in the social category of laborers) will be the fundamental allies of the proletariat. We have seen such orientation in Russia and China. It requires an analysis of the social formation we aim to radically transform.
A very interesting thing happened in Vietnam—due to a lack of working class presence in the Communist Party there, the party changed its name from the Communist Party to the Party of Labour, and then later went back to the Communist Party. Ho Chi Minh pointed out the irony of a Communist Party with no workers.
A synthesis of past practices, either of socialist revolution and/or national liberation movements, is enough to construct a theoretical framework that takes into consideration the limitations of these struggles and revolutions, at least so far as to determine the central role of the working class, and the role of intellectual petit bourgeois radicals and the need for their objective transformation into proletarian revolutionaries. One commonalty of those struggles is the heavy role played by petit bourgeois radicals, with a lesser role of leadership played by the workers (or no role at all).
We want to learn from these experiences in their respective social formations. In Russia, the Bolsheviks conflated leadership with control. And Mao attempted to introduce the working class into a party dominated by the rural petite bourgeoisie [sectors of the peasantry] in the revolutionary transformation of China. Only dogmatists will take these experiences as cast in stone, and will refuse to see the need to learn from them for the future. In fact, this is why we identify this moment as a moment of stagnation and ossification of proletarian theory. This period will continue as long as the petite bourgeoisie thinks they are Marxist.
To talk of the racism of Trotsky or his followers is a comment or statement disregarding all historical content. And to justify the repression of the Russian working class by the Russian Red Army under the command of Trotsky is a cop-out as well. If the Russian reactionaries were able to influence the workers, it can only show the limitations of the Party, and the importance of learning to overcome those limitations.
Trotsky was a petit bourgeois radical attempting to implement a mechanical concept of socialism by introducing series of measures, hoping those measures would lead to socialism. His measures included the militarization of the work force, and so-called Saturday communism. But socialism can’t be constructed based on a series of measures.
Socialism is, first and foremost, the radical transformation of social relations. Bureaucratic measures will not do it alone. Only the ideological transformation of the masses can lead to socialism. Both Trotskyists and Maoists are petit bourgeois followers of these militants, which is another consequence of the atrophy and stagnation of proletarian theory in the hands of the petite bourgeoisie.
Wage labor is not a social relation; wage labor is an effect of a social relation. Wage labor is a judicial measure. To declare that wage labor is a social relation is a mere statement or comment; it is deprived of an historical construct. It is outside of an understanding of the form of the relation that produces wage labor.
To say wage labor is a social relation is to reduce it to mere accounting, a difference of wages. This approach is a sociological (bourgeois) approach. It is not a difference of wages that makes a class. A class is a group of individuals, social agents [men and women], who are distinguished by their role or the place they are occupying in a system of production that is historically defined, vis a vis the means of production, in the social organization of labor. Classes are groups of individuals where one can appropriate the wealth of others because of the different role they play in a determined structure, the social economy.
Capital, in fact, is entirely based on the mechanism of production and distribution of surplus value, opposing capital and labor. And the distribution of capital is merely a consequence of the relation of classes in the production of surplus value. The distribution of capital to colleges or universities is a consequence of the relation of capital and labor, for the interest of capitalist reproduction. A simple historical analysis of most Ivy League schools and other universities will confirm that the origin of this capital is mainly linked to industrial capital and slavery. These universities were built on the continued quest for labor productivity for the accumulation of capital. The social division of colleges, universities and community colleges are, as well, an effect of class struggle for the replenishment of agents of production for the benefit of capital. Capital accumulation, and most policies of imperialism originating from NGO think tanks and specialized students inside those universities and colleges, are all feeding on the original extraction of surplus value from the labor power of the working class.
For argument’s sake, let say all work produces surplus value, a profit. The lawyer or the doctor charges a fee for services and makes a profit, the bank loans money and the interest is the profit, the professor or school teacher hired by an education institution allows the institution to make a profit (sometimes this institution is subsidized by the state). But all those profits are not part of a labor process; they are not extracted from production. There is no exploitation. Still we can observe domination in the relation between these and the associated forms of concentration of capital [doctor with insurance company] or the state.
We must acknowledge that even in the field of sociology there is distinction made, at the level of the whole society, between service providers (such as the lawyer, the doctor, the professor and the janitor), and the laborer directly involved in production of goods. Surplus value is already included in those goods, by adding a new value to that the means of production already present. In contrast, salary is a capitalist judicial measure, and as such it can’t be used as a criteria to define classes. Doing so would deny the antagonism that exists in the relation between capital and labor in the production of goods, in the process of which capital assigns a value to the labor power and extracts extra labor by not paying for it.
The distinction of the working class is not simply to identify a mass of individuals in the capitalist social process of production, but mainly to understand its historical task as an alternative to the capitalist mode of production. The relation of this group of individuals, the proletariat, to capital is based on an antagonism, and the only alternative for a viable solution to resolve that antagonism is revolution.
The bourgeois sociological approach of class analysis is based on a statistical empirical analysis of classification, mainly based on the wage scale coupled with external contradictions based on the effects of class struggle. Some workers make more in wages than perhaps a teacher or lawyer. But what makes them distinct—and this is what consists of proletarian [Marxist] analysis of class—is precisely the antagonistic structures and the process of transformation. A worker can escape exploitation by revolution, in contrast to a teacher, a doctor or a lawyer, who cannot do so.
Economism is reformism at the level of the working class. Economism is when workers think the struggle over wages is an alternative to exploitation. We have argued many times that whether in an imperialist social formation or a dominated one (independently of a wide differentiation in the scale of wages), workers in both types of social formations are exploited. None of these workers can escape the antagonistic structure in their relation to capital.
For Marxists, any class analysis is not only an analysis of social agents to production, but is also an analysis of their struggle for reproduction. Economism is workers avoiding the antagonism. And the struggle for equality, an inherently reformist struggle of the petite bourgeoisie, is a class line for the reproduction of that class.
Specific classes will disappear when a given system of production is no longer a societal form of organization for the reproduction of that society. For example, in many capitalist countries, all the classes and fractions of classes of the peasantry have progressively disappeared with the disappearance of feudalism (even if we find some remnants of ideological practices at the level of the superstructures, which are mainly still being used by capitalism as tools of oppression and domination). Scientific socialism is the pathway for the abolition of all classes.