Notes on Class Analysis


by Jan Makandal

“The proletariat, the modern working class, developed – a class of laborers, who live only so long as they find work, and who find work only so long as their labor increases capital. These laborers, who must sell themselves piecemeal, are a commodity, like every other article of commerce, and are consequently exposed to all the vicissitudes of competition, to all the fluctuations of the market.”
(Communist Manifesto, Marx & Engels)

The question of classes is one area of historical materialism that has not been developed. This has created confusion, and sometimes very erroneous political lines, in particular populism. Mao made some very important contributions to the concept of classes, but these were very limited due to his own populism and opportunism.

I will identify in the above quote the points I disagree with, and those I agree with:

First, historically there is no such thing as a class of laborers or a class of working people. Laborers/working people/peoples’ camp refer to social agents who are participating in similar social activities but have distinctive class appurtenances. A worker is a laborer, but not all laborers are workers. Workers and peasants are both laborers but belong to different classes. The petit bourgeoisie and the peasants are both laborers, but are not part of the working class.

Mao, in his class analysis of the Chinese social formation, correctly went as far as indicating that sectors of working people are the fundamental allies of the working class. He correctly declared the working class to be the fundamental class of the revolutionary struggle, capable of leading all working people, and identified some fractions of the peasantry in the Chinese social formation as the principal force.

Some general lessons can be drawn out of that experience and used as a guide in our class analysis of the specific social formations to which we belong, but not as formulas. The class constitutions of all social formations are different from each other, because no social formations are the same, and therefore the historical constitution of classes in each one cannot be the same.

Laborers in general do not sell themselves as commodities. This relation exists only under slavery. The working class sells only their labor power to capital. In the capitalist process of production (an activity that is solely specific to capitalism), all elements—labor power, means of production, raw materials—are capitalized. The new value is capitalized as well, and is consummated as such when finally exchanged for money. So the labor power, the means of production, and the new value are all exposed to the vicissitudes of competition.

Only the working class (as part of the social category of laborers) produces new value, a productive surplus value. Only the working class sells their labor power. All other laborers exchange their labor, a service rendered, for a fee. The teacher, the lawyer the doctor, the janitor, the store clerk, and the fast food employee assembling a burger, all exchange their services for a fee. Other than the difference of pay scale, all of those activities are similar.

I do agree with the connection of this particular type of activity to the increase of capital through the accumulation of profit. But for society, no new value is being generated; it is being circulated.


If we are to be able to explain and appropriate the concrete base of capital, we can’t simply and solely analyze the dialectical economic determination of the dialectic of class struggle. We must also analyze the superstructure, the functioning of which is necessary to the reproduction of all social relations. The analysis of class struggle is imperative for our appropriation of capital.

The working class is the only producer of productive surplus value. Surplus value is not only a profit. It is a social form in the process of capital accumulation. Again, visit my previous posts. In a very concise way, we can affirm that two forms of profit exist. One that is productive for capital (since new values are created), and one is nonproductive, since it is generated from existing value and no new value is created. A hospital makes a profit, but no new value is created. McDonald’s and Burger King make a profit, but no new value is created. The assembly of burgers does not require the production of new value. These entities are part of the nonproductive sectors of capitalism.

These points are important when we look toward a communist mode of production, in particular for the transition period of scientific socialism. Mao developed a line that is worth learning from, by addressing the nonproductive sector of capitalism in the process of class abolition (examples include integrating barefoot doctors into production, as well as the process of socialization of the peasantry). The analysis of the capitalist mode of production of capitalism is, at the same time, an analysis of the communist mode of production.

It is important to grasp two questions that bourgeois and petit bourgeois economists have done their utmost best to avoid. These questions are closely related to the historical structure of exploitation, the antagonistic relation of capital to labor, and the nature of the relations of capitalist production. They are: 1) Which “social labor” creates value? 2) What is the structure of the social process that determines a quantity of goods under the form of value? Many bourgeois and petit bourgeois economists will rush to invoke the social division of labor, without considering the social form within which it is being done.

All modes of production are fundamentally characterized by the nature of the relations of production, not by the division of labor. Exploitation will always exist in the relation of capital to labor, even at the level of the aristocratic fraction of the working class.

Any mode of production that demands, as a necessary organic condition for its functioning for social production, the presence of a class of non-producers appropriating the means of production, is inherently a mode of exploitation and of the domination of “social labor.” So the problematic of any mode of production is fundamentally the problematic of its historical form of exploitation. This is the reasons why the problematic of the mode of production is also the problematic of resistance to exploitation.

Proletarian revolutionaries identify the fundamental contradiction as capital and labor, because only the working class creates surplus value, the source of all forms of capital and of its circulation. The struggle of the working class is to weaken capital and deprive the capitalist class of its capacity to dominate.

Theoretical precision is needed in order to debunk any revisionist shift of the fundamental contradiction to some other form of motion. The process of exploitation of labor power and the process of production of surplus value constitute the fundamental elements of the relations of capitalist production. Most financial capitalists originated from industrial capital. Industrial capitalism is the backbone of capital.

In previous centuries, proletarian revolutionaries have been fundamentally correct in identifying the fundamental elements of capitalist production as the social process of exploitation of labor power and the process of the production of surplus value. Their theories are still valid nowadays. Any political line must be defined by the conceptualization of these two processes, or it will inevitably lead to populism or opportunism, and a vague (populist) notion of communism, such as we have seen articulated by much of the left.

The circulation or movement of capital on the financial market, of money capital and of goods, and hence the motions of their competition and concentration (with all their specific contradictions), all depend on these fundamental elements of the capitalist process of production. The motions of capital, including the contradiction between anarchy and socialized production, are secondary elements—necessary of course, because of their implication in the reproduction of the whole ensemble (economic, political, ideological) of the capitalist relations of production.