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What is Class Struggle Anarchism?

category international | the left | opinion / analysis author Tuesday July 24, 2007 16:16author by Wayne Priceauthor email drwdprice at aol dot com Report this post to the editors

PART 1: Why the Working Class

Reasons for a working class perspective. What is wrong with a nonclass perspective. Rooting class struggle anarchism in an analysis of capitalism, a strategic orienation, and a moral perspective. [ Deutsch ] [Castellano]

PART 2: The Relation Between the Working Class and Nonclass Oppressions

What is Class Struggle Anarchism?

PART 1: Why the Working Class

Recently an activist friend, who has been influenced by Michael Albert’s Parecon program, wrote to me. He asked, “Why should we call ourselves class struggle anarchists instead of feminist-antiracist-green-class struggle anarchists?” In other words, why single out the struggle of the working class? At least his approach includes class conflict as one of the aspects of social struggle. There are many, liberals and radicals, who completely reject class struggle. Many denounce unions (from the right). Hardt and Negri have been influential in replacing the working class theoretically with a concept of the “multitude.”

Among anarchists, a great many reject any major role for class struggle by workers. This is true of those who say they reject civilization and industry altogether. Although otherwise disagreeing with such primitivists, it was also true of Murray Bookchin. In his “Listen Marxist!” essay, for example (in Post-Scarcity Anarchism, 1986, Montreal: Black Rose Books), he denounced “The Myth of the Proletariat.” “The working class [has been] neutralized as ‘the agent of revolutionary change’....The class struggle [has been] co-opted into capitalism.” (p. 202) He denied the revolutionary potential of workers, instead focusing on “youth,” the “people,” or “citizens,” who would change society for solely moral reasons.

Rejection of the working class is the real position of almost all Marxist-Leninists (including Communist Parties, Maoists, and orthodox Trotskyists). The Marxist-Leninists pay lip service to Marx’s belief in the centrality of working class struggle. Actually they believe that there can be “socialist“ revolutions without the working class (as in Eastern Europe, China, Vietnam, and Cuba). And that there can be “socialist” (“post-capitalist” or whatever) societies without working class participation, and, in fact, with the workers being brutally oppressed (as in the Soviet Union, China, etc.). In nonrevolutionary conditions, these views lead them toward class collaboration (reformism). Since socialism does not require rousing the workers, in their view, their parties might as well form alliances with capitalists.

Why then do we revolutionary anarchists call ourselves class struggle anarchists? My friend offered a partial explanation: It is not controversial on the left to call ourselves feminists or antiracists. Even liberals do. Some sort of ecological thinking or environmentalism is accepted by almost everyone but the far right. But a belief in a class-against-class perspective is held by only a minority. To be sure, there are many people who are for unions. Right now John Edwards is running for U.S. president on a program of supporting unions and fighting poverty. Yet his program is the opposite of class struggle. It is to get the workers to support his capitalist party.

Similarly, Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union (and far from the worst of union officials), makes coalitions with business. He has written, “Employees and employers need organizations that solve problems, not create them.” This is not the same as, “The emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working class themselves” (the first clause of the Rules of the First International, written by Marx and loved by revolutionary anarchists). By calling ourselves class struggle anarchists, we make a point about who we are for....and who we are against.

Class struggle anarchism continues the tradtions of communist anarchism and anarcho-syndicalism, and overlaps with libertarian (autonomist) Marxism, such as council communism. In his overview of current British anarchism, Benjamin Franks writes, “The organizations identified under the heading of ‘class struggle anarchism’ include those that identify themselves as such, as well as those from autonomist marxist and situationist-inspired traditions.” (Rebel Alliances, 2006, Edinburgh: AK Press & Dark Star, p. 12) I do not claim to speak for all such organizations, nor am I an official spokesperson for my own federation. Yet I think my views are consistent with the mainstream of class struggle anarchism. I am not going to review all aspects of class struggle anarchism (such as our goal of decentralized, self-managed, socialism). Instead, I will focus on the importance of a working class, class-against-class, approach.

Class Struggle is Central to Capitalism

Let us look at the “economic” system of capitalism--without yet considering how it relates to other systems of oppression, such as race or gender (these will be discussed in Part 2). I make no claim that individual workers are better, nobler, or nicer than individual capitalists, or farmers, or college presidents. Individually, workers can be just as mean as anyone else. The issue is the potential social role of the working class.

Workers, as a collectivity, have a special relation to the means of production. The means of production (and distribution, and social services) are owned by a minority, the capitalist class, who are driven to accumulate capital. We workers, lacking land or machines, must sell ourselves to the capitalists, or rather, must sell our ability to work for a time (the commodity labor power). We work until we have produced enough commodities to equal the value of our wages (or salaries). Then we continue to work, to produce more commodities, creating extra--surplus--value, which is the basis of the bosses’ profits. That is, we are exploited. We are exploited, not only as individuals, but as a collectivity, a whole cooperating mass of people, who are required to work together at the workplace and in society as a whole in order to keep the system going.

Looking at tables of employment, Michael Zweig defines 62 percent of the U.S. labor force as working class (in The Working Class Majority, 2000, Ithica, NY: ILR/Cornell Univ. Press). The U.S. Department of Labor, he also notes, classifies 82 percent of private sector, nonfarm, employees as nonsupervisory employees. “That is why I say, we live in a country with a working class majority.” (p. 30) The workers include blue collar and white collar workers, workers “by hand and brain” (and pink collar workers, as much of women’s work is called).

The working class, as a CLASS, is broader than immediately employed wage workers. It includes unemployed workers and retired workers. Besides employed women, it includes women homemakers married to male workers, and their children. It is a whole class, counterposed to another class.

(There is also what is usually called the “middle class.” This is typically regarded as including better-off workers--white collar and skilled workers--independent professionals, small businesspeople, and the lower levels of management. These middle layers are not really an independent class. Mostly they are part of the two main classes, capitalist and working class, and they usually orient toward one or the other.)

Traditionally, anarchism, like all varieties of socialism, opposed class exploitation, the alienated work which goes with it, and the poverty it creates. Anarchists and Marxists alike aimed at a classless society. Who would create such a society? Morally it is in the interest of all humanity. But surely those who are immediately exploited have a special interest in ending their exploitation. Their experience makes it easier for them to take a moral view. It is wrong to elevate “the people” or “citizens” over the workers in their direct need to end exploitation. This view would mean that those who are not immediately exploited by capitalism have as much reason to fight against exploitation as those who are forced into alienated labor. It regards the capitalist, the police officer, and the manager as just as likely to oppose capitalist exploitation as those who are “under the lash” as they work. This opinion is convenient for those who want to deny the need for a revolution.

In her brilliant defense of a working class perspective, The Retreat from Class (1998, London: Verso), Ellen Meiksens Wood criticizes various “post-Marxists” (but could just as well be criticizing Bookchin): “The implication [of their nonclass views--WP] is that the workers are no more affected by capitalist exploitation than are any other human beings who are not themselves the direct objects of exploitation. This also implies that capitalists derive no fundamental advantage from the exploitation of workers, that the workers derive no fundamental disadvantage from their exploitation by capital, that workers would derive no fundamental advantage from ceasing to be exploited, that the condition of being exploited does not entail an ‘interest’ in the cessation of class exploitation, that the relations between capital and labor have no fundamental consequences for the whole structure of social and political power, and that the conflicting interests between capital and labor are all in the eye of the beholder....This makes nonsense out of...the whole history of working class struggles against capital.” (p. 61)

It is not inevitable that the workers will become revolutionary (although Marx and Engels can be read as implying this). Better-off workers can be bought-off. Worse-off workers can be demoralized and beaten down. Bookchin argued that the hierarchical nature of the capitalist workplace teaches the workers to accept subordination. Be this as it may, those who are oppressed will resist. It is in the interest of the workers to resist their exploitation. In fact, there is dissatisfaction and constant (if low-level) struggle going on in every workplace. This conflict has resulted in revolutionary consciousness for at least a minority. Since the workers (unlike, say, peasants) do not have land or machines of our own, we tend to be collectivist and cooperative in our organizing and our programs. And, having our hands on the means of production, transportation, distribution, communication, and service, our class has an enormous (potential) power, which could shake all of society. Again, these are tendencies and potentialities, not inevitabilities.

The Negative Stereotype of the Working Class

It should not be surprising that most of the left -- anarchist and nonanarchist -- should have antiworking class views. The left is dominated by people from the middle class. Some, such as college students, may be more easily radicalized than most workers, because students do not have the immediate responsibilities of earning a living or supporting a family. But their relative privileges make them more likely to have class prejudices against workers. They may have unconscious elitist assumptions about their “right” to rule. Liberals look to bettering society by rising within the existing centers of power. The more radical are attracted to visions of bureaucratic class rule, with nationalization and centralized planning, as existed under the state capitalism of the Soviet Union, Maoist China, and Castro’s Cuba. Others imagine that they can create a better world by only living in bohemian personal freedom (which is not bad in itself but is not an alternative to building popular movements).

Middle class enemies of the working class argue that U.S. workers are ignorant, racist, sexist, superpatriotic, religiously superstitious, anti-immigrant, and politically passive. This is the negative stereotype. Like most stereotypes, it contains both truth and falsehood. It ignores the fact that the working class includes most People of Color, immigrants, women, etc. It leaves out that workers are generally for universal health care and for other social services, against the Iraqi war, suspicious of big business and politicians, pro-union, antifascist, and pro-democracy. To the extent that the negative stereotype is true, it is true of all classes. Workers are not more politically ignorant, racist, etc. than U.S. middle or upper classes.

What is certainly true is that workers (in the U.S. and everywhere else) are not revolutionary anarchists. But this is another way of saying that the population of the U.S. and elsewhere, regardless of class, is not for anarchist revolution. While some parts of the population may be more radical than others, overall we are very, very, far from a pre-revolutionary period in which most people want a big social change.

Unfortunately, there is all too much truth to the negative stereotype of the working class. It is not enough that the workers are no worse than the middle or upper classes. The working class needs to be better than the other classes if we are to create a self-managed society. How will the working class transcend its weaknesses? Only by fighting. In the course of struggle -- from shop floor and community issues to revolution -- our class learns and improves. Through struggle we educate ourselves. We become capable of a true democracy. There is no other way.

Right now, the minority which is in favor of anarchist revolution should be thinking about long-term strategy: who has an interest in ending capitalist exploitation? who has the potential power to stop all society and change the system? who has a history of fighting against capitalist exploitation? The answers to these strategic questions will lead us to a working class perspective.
PART 2 will discuss the relationship between a working class orientation and other oppressions, including those of gender, race, nationality, and issues such as war and ecological destruction.

written for

author by Joe Licentiapublication date Thu Jul 26, 2007 06:57author address http://question-everything.mahost.orgauthor phone Report this post to the editors

If you agree with the analysis in this article but also believe that other oppressions (racism, patriarchy, the state) are equally important are you still a class struggle anarchist? If so, what would you call someone who thinks class is the most important oppression?

author by Waynepublication date Thu Jul 26, 2007 10:05author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Joe, this is precisely the issue I will discuss in Part 2 next month!

author by Randy - CTC supporterpublication date Thu Jul 26, 2007 21:02author address author phone Report this post to the editors

There appears to be a certain fuzziness regarding class that begs clarification. First the author offers a model of society with two primary classes, the working and the owning. The middle class is explained away as being "not really independent" and "usually orientated towards one or the other" of the aforementioned classes. A stark dichotomy: excellent.

Further, we are told that the working class is a majority. I, at least, infer from this that the largest portion of what is commonly called middle class, is in fact working class (presumably with only the very uppermost portion of this "middle" class actually being low brow capitalists). No inconsistency so far.

But then we are told that the anti working class view of most of the left, follows from the fact of their "middle class" prejudices. How can this be? Are college radicals predominantly from the smaller, upper (capitalist) layer of the middle class (Ivy Leaguers)? Or are they "objectively" members of working families, who are deluded into identification with the capitalists? (And if the latter, does the phenomena extend beyond radical or revolutionary circles, and account-- at least in part-- for such things as anti-union prejudice in large swaths of non-capitalist society?)

Or is the dichotomy perhaps less sharp than originally presented (without necessarily negating the worker/owner model as a whole)?

author by Tompublication date Fri Jul 27, 2007 04:00author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Randy hints at a latent inconsistency in Wayne's analysis. I don't think mature capitalism can be fit into Marx's two-class box from the 19th century. With the emergence of the big corporation in the last two decades of the 19th century, you had the emergence of a third main class, made up of the people who dominant the decision-making, policy-making and design positions in the corporations and the state. These positions and the power they give over the working class is not based on private accumulation of wealth. Thats' why just eliminating private ownership of the means of production is not enough to liberate the working class. That was one of the fundamental mistakes of state socialism. The conception of socialism as centrally administered state-owned economy wasn't invented by the Bolsheviks. There were many pre-World War I social-democratic Marxists who held the same view. It derives from the two-class model of capitalism. so who was the ruling class in the Soviet Union? It wasn't private appropriators of wealth based in a market-governed system of private ownership.

The third class -- the class with a relative monpolization of the positions of power not based on ownership in the state and corporations -- tends to have a meritocratic ideology. "We've got the expertise, the university degrees, we're smart people. That's why we should be in charge." The great majority of university students nowadays in the USA are drawn from this class, and university degrees are part of the ticket into this class position. so the elitism of students that Wayne mentions fits in with a characteristic of this third class.

Moreover, unless one has a theory about what gives this class power one will not be able to develop an adequate program for dissolving its power over the working class. A merefly formal change such as change in ownership, formal control by assemblies, will not be sufficient to ensure liberation of the working class.

Wayne mentions that Zweig thinks the working class is 62% of the population in the USA. but Wayne doesn't mention the criteria that Zweig uses to make that determination. Zweig bases it on having to seek employment to live, not having management power over other workers, and not having professional autonomy in one's work. Managers and top professionals -- corporate lawyers, finance officers, top engineers, etc. -- are clearly not a part of the working class but they have a different basis of their life prospects than the capital owners.

Finally, the term "class struggle anarchism" is fatally confusing. The term came into existence in order to distinguish those anarchists who believe that class struggle is very important, and who still think in terms of working class self-emancipation, from those anarchists who reject class struggle.

So "class struggle anarchists" are not necessarily saying that only class struggle is important or even that struggle against racism and patriarchy are not equally important. Rather, what they are saying is that class struggle is important, is central, to human liberation, and is a process through which the mass of the population can liberate themselves. And that is consistent with saying that struggle against racism and patriarchy are equally important.

author by Waynepublication date Fri Jul 27, 2007 13:53author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Randy and Tom appear to agree with the main point of my brief essay, which is the importance of the working class in opposing capitalism. Instead, they focus on a few lines I wrote about the middle layers, usually called a "middle class." As to Randy's question: by middle class students, I mean youth from the lower ranges of managerial families to upper working class families (mostly white collar "professional" workers). By going to college, especially the better schools, they hope to rise to professional and/or managerial status, whatever class they came from. Hence the tendency toward elitist attitudes, even for those who have liberal or radical politics.

As a model of class society, I do not agree with the image of a layer cake. Rather I envision a bipolar field, such as the experiment we all did in school where a straight magnet was held under a piece of paper and iron filings were scattered on top of the paper. Immediately they arranged themselves into a pattern with two poles and lines of filings going from one to the other. There was no sharp separation between the middle and the ends, just two poles and everything else closer to one or the other (except the exact middle). So it is in capitalist society (feudal society had more distinct layers). At one end is capital, driven to accumulate, and those who are, in Marx's terms, the "personification of capital." At the other pole are the industrial workers, from whom surplus value is created. Everyone else orients one way or the other--mostly toward the capitalists because they have the power and the ideological hegemony.

As for "supervisory personnel," the upper end managers merge into the bourgeoisie proper. If they do not have stocks, they will soon be paid in stocks, so they become normal owners of capital. The lower levels of management are what Tom refers to as "managers and top professionals -- corporate lawyers, finance officers, top engineers, etc." These people are hired by business owners to serve the ends of capital accumulation, to keep the businesses profitable. They too are agents of capital. (Otherwise they would not be hired.) While they may be regarded as a class, if you like, they are not an INDEPENDENT class, independent of the process of exploitation and capital accumulation which is capitalism.

Bakunin and other anarchists predicted that such forces could become an independent ruling class under state "socialism." And we have seen that this was true, under the Soviet Union and China. But even then, they were still agents of capital accumulation, now their own "personification of capital," part of the process of exploitation and capital expansion under state capitalism.

Tom writes that " the term 'class struggle anarchism' is fatally confusing." This sounds as if he wishes to drop this fatally confusing term. I don't know. In any case, I will be discussing its relation to nonclass oppressions in Part 2 of this essay next month.

author by John C - SDS, IWWpublication date Fri Jul 27, 2007 15:03author email jcronan.iww at gmail dot comauthor address author phone Report this post to the editors

I know there is an editorial policy about cross posting and stuff like that, so I don't know if this is in violation; however, it is relevant to the conversation.

I, actually, am the friend Wayne talks about, so I figured I would share a pamphlet I just wrote. I wrote it in time for the SDS National Covention (I'm in Detroit as we speak), but it is for general use also. It is called "Did You Just Say Class?" and it introduces a coordinator class analysis, as well as talking about the implications of having such an analysis. Here is the link:

Obviously, I don't agree with Wayne's refusal to recognize the coordinator class, but I'm interested to see what he has to say in Part II ! We never went in depth about what he thought on the issue.

Cheers from Detroit

author by Tompublication date Sat Jul 28, 2007 02:20author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Wayne relies in his reply on an unexplained notion: "These people are hired by business owners to serve the ends of capital accumulation, to keep the businesses profitable. They too are agents of capital."

Everybody hired by corporations is hired to serve the profit-making ends of the owners. That doesn't differentiate management from labor. In other words, Wayne offers no understanding of what is important about the coordinators' position: the control they exercise over the working class and what this control is based on.

Recall that the Bolsheviks and other state socialists always said that the party in control of the state was "the agent of the working class", elected to serve the ends of the working class. Why is this a fallacy and the former not?

The coordinators have their own independent base of power because of the levers of day to day decision-making they control, and the knowledge and expertise they accumulate which is essential to that day to day control. The major shareholders are an external control on the professional/managerial structure. They control the boards of directors and the flow of funds to corporations. Management is subordinate to them, and is nominally charged with seeking the best return, which includes growing the company, thus expanding the shareholder value. But as the Berle and Means classic suggests, this is control has its limits.

Coordinator hierarchies also have their own logic and interests. This is to accumulate power and the information that gives them power. The coordinator class emerged at the end of the 19th century because the work of controlling the labor process in large ventures had become too complex and technical for the shareholders and entrepreneurs to manage. Certainly entrepreneurial CEOs like Larry Ellison or Bill Gates are capitalists and major shareholders in their companies. but the legions of VPs and corporate lawyers and so on who make up elaborate corporate hierarchies are not.

Michael Albert tells a story about a conversation he had with a man who owns a filmmaking company. He asked him why it takes so long to make movies. The man replied that he has to hire all sorts of managers, VPs of this and that, because he can't do everything. And then the VPs spend a lot of time developing relationships with the important persons hired, such as actors and directors, because it is in their long-term career interests to have these sorts of personal links. This tends to slow down the actual production process.

Not having a theoretical understanding of the coordinator class means one is likely to under-emphasize measures needed both in movements, as well as programmatically in a revolution, to prevent consolidation of a coordinator class regime.

In his book "The Working Class Majority", Michael Zweig calculates the working class as 62% of the population in the USA. His criterion is: not controlling other workers, being subject to management control, and not having professional autonomy in one's work, that is, being subject to close supervision and tracking in one's work.

The coordinator class has a stake in preserving a system where it makes the decisions, is in control over the working class. It doesn't need to have a capitalist system based on private ownership and market governance to do that. This is an important insight that is lost when one buys into the view that the Soviet Union was "state capitalist", which flows out of the Marxist two-class analysis.

author by Tompublication date Sat Jul 28, 2007 02:35author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Wayne writes: "Tom writes that " the term 'class struggle anarchism' is fatally confusing." This sounds as if he wishes to drop this fatally confusing term. "

i think labels are problematic. I find that a lot of libertarian left activists who I work with -- including even a couple members of my own political group -- don't like the "anarchist" label, due to dysfunctional behaviors and ideas they see among people who call themselves "anarchists." I suppose that Wayne's use of the modifier "class struggle" is supposed to get around that problem. I'm not sure that works. for one thing, it gives rise to the idea that we advocate a "class reductionist" view.

author by Joe Licentiapublication date Sat Jul 28, 2007 02:57author address http://question-everything.mahost.orgauthor phone Report this post to the editors

I look forward to part two, wayne.

As for coordinators, when have Vice Presidents ever seized power? The leaders of the bolshevik party were largely intellectuals, not managers.

author by Tompublication date Sat Jul 28, 2007 04:32author address author phone Report this post to the editors

joe writes: "As for coordinators, when have Vice Presidents ever seized power? The leaders of the bolshevik party were largely intellectuals, not managers."

you're confusing the class structure that emerges with who creates that mode of production. there were various programmatic and strategic features of Bolshevism that would lead to a coordinator class regime. this included setting up a system of central planning in Nov 1917, via the creation of Vesenkha, appointment of party intellectuals, union bureaucrats, and engineers to Vesenkha, to make the plans for the economy. once you have a central planning system they will want to have managers onsite to ensure their plans are fulfilled. in other words, central planning is inconsistent in principle with self-management. so then you had Trotsky and Lenin beating the drum for "one-man management" -- appointment of managers from above over workers. you had creation in spring of 1918 of a hierarchical professional army, recruitment of 30,000 former czarist officers for the management of this army. Lenin opposed proposals for election of the management boards of industry in 1921 on the grounds that there would then be no role for the "vanguard". the idea of the "vanguard party" is that in virtue of their relative monopolization of theoretical knowledge of a certain sort (Marxism) they are entitled to be in charge, make the decisions. this is a kind of meritocratic ideology, a coordinator class ideology because it empowers them.

not all coordinators are managers. the coordinator class is based on relative monopolization of the empowering tasks in social production. this includes the conceptual and design and decisiion-making work. often professionals such as engineers and lawyers work closely with management in fulfilling their aims and help to shape the direction.

the logic of taylorism led to the expansion of the coordinator class because it leads to the removal of design and decision-making tasks from workers and putting them in the hands of a hierarchy of managers and engineers, denying the development of the potential of workers to run social production.

the Russian intelligentsia who were in the leadership of the Bolshevik party were put into various administrative, decision-making posts. this was part of the beginning of creating a separate coordinatorist layer, that emerged around the hierarchical control structures that i described above.

author by Waynepublication date Sat Jul 28, 2007 06:26author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I will not go into all the arguments about the "coordinator" middle class theory of Pareconism. I discussed it in my series, on Anarkismo, about the nature of the Soviet Union. Part 2 discussed the nature of the collective bureaucratic ruling class and Part 3 discussed the theory of state capitalism.

As I demonstrated, Marx and Engels had long ago discussed the rise of "coordinator" managerial agents of the capitalists owners. And Bakunin and other anarchists had long ago discussed the danger of middle layer forces becoming new ruling classes under Marxist state socialism. Parecon theorists may be regarded as continuing this analysis, but not as if they just discovered a brand new insight. (For example, read NEFAC's labor document, which refers to the danger of the union bureaucracy.)

The theory of state capitalism does not lead to underestimating the danger of middle class misleadership. It states clearly that "middle class" elements can rise to a new, collectivist, ruling class, which will exploit the workers (in a capitalist manner).

So what is the issue? Opposition to middle class misleadership of the working class and oppressed? Failure to advocate socialist revolution-from-below? Hardly, since we class struggle anarchists do these things!

And for all the phumpering, it is Parecon theory which is reformist, at least in the writings of its founders and main theorists, Albert and Hahnel! They either advocate reformist strategies (Hahnel) or never say that a revolution is necessary (Albert). So who has a middle class program?

author by Tompublication date Sat Jul 28, 2007 13:53author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Michael Albert would probably say he is for revolution, but I wasn't defending the views of Albert and Hahnel on strategy, or anything other than the theory of the coordinator class and the so-called Communist countries, so Wayne's reference to Hahnel and Albert's views on strategy is a red herring. There are also social-democrats who subscribe to the two-class model and the state capitalism theory of the soviet union, but I don't use that to suggest Wayne is a social democrat.

author by Tompublication date Sat Jul 28, 2007 14:28author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I'll also mention that Bakunin had some insights about the potential of monopoly of knowledge to be the basis of a bureaucratic ruling class, but he didn't really have a theory of the coordinator class. that class had not yet become a main class, it was only in its infancy in Bakunin's lifetime. so it was unlikely for either Bakunin or Marx to have a theory of that class. the emergence of the coordinator class as a main class comes with the emergence of the big corporation and the beginnings of the complete redesign of the labor process through systematic removal of conceptual and decision-making tasks from workers, with the "scientific management" movement at the end of the 19th century. none of the things that Wayne cites have much to do with the theory of the coordinator class.

author by Waynepublication date Sat Jul 28, 2007 16:59author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I repeat, what are we talking about? If Tom and any other Pareconists want to have an academic, theoretical, discussion about the precise nature of the middle layers of society, this is okay with me.

But Pareconists claim that they are making a political point , a disagreement with others. What is this point?

That we should oppose "middle class" ("coordinator") elements who tend to dominate opposition movements? That we should oppose union bureaucrats? middle class liberal leaders of the women's movement? of the antiwar movement? etc.? We revolutionary, class struggle, anarchists have always said this.

That bureaucratic, middle class, elements could become a new ruling class under statist collectivism? We agree with this.

That a revolution-from-below is needed (and that this should be said)? We believe this while the founders of Parecon do not.

So what is the big deal? What is the issue here, if anything?

author by Tompublication date Sun Jul 29, 2007 06:57author address author phone Report this post to the editors

The issue is as follows. In the past anarchists often had a tendency to assume either that once ownership had changed and formal structures of direct democracy were established, liberation would occur "spontaneously." What was missing was an understanding of the ways that the systems of oppression are sustained through habits and expectations that are created in people by living and working under systems of oppression. so in the case of the coordinator class there is not only the tendency of this class to have a sense of its entitlement to make the decisions, but also a tendency in those who are subject to their control to defer to their expertise and authority and education. There is thus a tendency for concentration of knowledge and decision-making and expertise to "spontaneously" re-emerge. This means that movements need to have ways to systematically work to spread knowledge and build skills and self-confidence and be consciously attuned to ways that such hierarchies can revive. there needs to be a conscious intent to change the division of labor and attention to this in terms of our movements now, how they are organized.

In the Spanish revolution engineers and former entrepreneurs were put onto special technical committees in expropriated industries and given a great deal of authority. Although there were many cases of workers learning by doing, by taking over responsibility, as happens now in the recuperated factories in Argentina, there was not a systematic attempt at mass education so as to lessen things like dependency on engineers. thus former workers might learn how to do the accounts or do design work but this is not the same as spreading this sort of knowledge so as not to be dependent on a few people. of course it was diffciult to do this in wartime but i'm not sure they had an explicit program to do this, although it is true the Spanish anarchists did have a great emphasis on popular education in general, i'm just not sure they had a particular emphasis on this as needed to change the division of labor, by redesigning the jobs, so that engineering for example is not a separate job.

author by Randy - CTC supporterpublication date Mon Jul 30, 2007 03:57author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I do think it important that class struggle anarchists have a model of capitalist society that on the one hand takes account of the intricate nature of the modern economy, but that is also accessible to folks not immersed in political theory. If workers, when exposed to the social model of class struggle anarchists, don't recognize their world in the model-- or if the model is hopelessly complex-- our ideas will remain marginal.

Like Tom, I find it notable that the owning and managing aspects of capitalism appear to diverge in modern capitalism. But I am not sold at this point in time on the three class theory: I do not find it necessary to posit a third class, in order to see that the interests of capital are served by a meritocratic ideology, that autocratic and submissive habits would survive capital's overthrow, or that progressive movements should avoid concentrations of expertise. (I will not be commenting further here about this important, but somewhat tangential matter.)

The analogy of a bipolar field is a welcome addition to the worker/owner dichotomy of the original article.

author by Tompublication date Tue Jul 31, 2007 02:07author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I agree with the metaphor of class being a kind of force field. but i think there are three separate sources of it. There is the concentrated ownership of capital by the plutocracy, which is the most powerful force now, there is power that workers can develop through collective militancy and organizational strength and widespread self-activity, which waxes and wanes. but concentration of expertise and decision-making tasks through authortiarn hierarchies is yet another, independent source of power, which is shown by its ability to organize a mode of production.

Lastly I will point out that in calling advocates of participatory economics "reformists" Wayne is being sectarian. Participatory economics is a specification of a mode of production without markets, without either the class power of coordinators or capitalists, self-managed, and based on participatory planning rather than the market or central planning. that is all. in referring to "the social theory" of the main advocates, the relevant social theory, apart from the class theory, is that class, race/nationality, gender based oppressions are all equal and must all be fought simultaneously as part of the revolutionary movement. Nowadays in left-libertarian activist circles this is known as "intersectionality" and is widely held. I don't see anything "reformist" in any of these things. Just because Michael Albert rarely uses the word "revolution" that doesn't make him a "reformist." I myself often substitute the phrase "social transformation" for "revolution", because I don't see any point to being intentionally inflammatory when discussing with folks at present.

If Wayne thinks participatory economics is "reformist" then this implies he thinks I'm reformist since I advocate participatory economics. Can he prove that? This also implies that he thinks i and other advocates of participatory economics (and there are many of them in the new SDS for example) should be excluded from any revolutionary left-libertarian political organization. I think this is unnecessarily divisive. WSA itself is neutral between participatory economics and more traditional "anarcho-communist" formulations and i think, at this point, it is appropriate to leave this an open question for ongoing study. the fact is, there are some members of NEFAC who are participatory economics sympathizers. Is Wayne going to call for a purge?

according to the definition of "communist mode of production" specified by Wolf and Reznick "Class Theory and History" -- a very orthodox two-class Marxist work -- communism is a mode of production where the producers of the social surplus appropriate it. By that definition, participatory economics is a form of libertarian communism. Since Wayne favors Marx's schema, it would seem he'd have to agree.

author by ajohnstone - Socialist Party of Great Britainpublication date Tue Jul 31, 2007 07:43author email ajsc2755 at blueyonder dot co dot ukauthor address Edinburgh , Scotlandauthor phone naReport this post to the editors

For what it is worth , I think you are a reformist , Tom , because you are not intending to do away with wages , prices , or money , but advocating some sort of market-less , capitalist-less self -managed capitalism which still enforces the artificial rationing of buying and selling , that opposes a voluntarist society of " from each according to ability , to each according to need ".

It is implicit within Parecon's allocation of resources an acceptence of Vone Mises Economic Calculation Argument and that too is a reformist position .

I think i have to agree with Wayne , the nature of co-ordinator class is superfluous . Why not simply call the capitalist class and/or the co-ordinator class , the possessing class , or even more simply , the ruling class .

The real importance of all this "what is class analysis" has its roots in the claim made by Bolsheviks that somehow , the Russian Revolution and the Transitional State was a step towards Socialism , that the act of insurrection and their coup d'etat and the subsequent judicial abolition of the capitalist class changed the social relationships between capital and labour and created a new non-capitalist society . Reality , however , had to be understood and Trotsky's degenerate workers state failed to explain what existed , so in stepped Rizzi and Burnham with bureaucratic collectivism and managerial revolution , which Albert follows on from and develops .
A straw -man if 1917 is seen as what it was - a bourgeois revolution without the bourgeoisie and if the earlier description of Russia by non-Leninist socialists and anarchists as a State -capitalist system is accepted .

For the case for free access socialism and a moneyless world see

and also see the real alternative to capitalism here

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author by Waynepublication date Tue Jul 31, 2007 14:19author address author phone Report this post to the editors

(1) Tom states what he thinks "the issue" is, that is, what are the programatic implications of Parecon theory which are distinct from most anarchism and libertarian Marxism. I still don't see it. He agrees that anarchism (unlike state socialism) proposes not only social ownership but direct democracy in the workplace and community. But he adds that it is also necessary to point to the danger of a new ruling class arising out of experts and managers. Therefore jobs need to be reorganized and redefined in an equalitarian and democratic fashion.

Well, I will give the Pareconists credit for discussing this. But the need for reorganizing industry and all jobs is not unique to Parecon (nor have I seen much concrete discussion by Pareconists about HOW jobs might be redefined). In the 19th century, Fourier and other Utopians raised this as did Engels and especially Kropotkin, also William Morris. Castoriadis of Socialisme ou Barbarie often raised this. Paul Goodman discussed this, as did others. In these days of ecological concern, it has become pretty common among anarchists to say that technology and work will have to be drastically reorganized. And some of us have been aware of the studies by industrial psychologists and sociologists about the methods of worker participation and of job reorganization. So again, I do not see that Parecon is all that special in this area.

(2) Tom declares "that in calling advocates of participatory economics 'reformists' Wayne is being sectarian." He falsely interprets this as though I was saying that "participatory economics is 'reformist'", although he must know that is not what I am saying. Believing in Parecon is not necessarily reformist (and I have said this). But it is not necessarily revolutionary either. The question is not only the goal of a new society, but how you propose to get there.

Of the two founders of Parecon, Robin Hahnel has stated that he is for reformism. He wrote a whole book saying this (which I have reviewed on Anarkismo). The other co-founder, Michael Albert, may (in his secret heart-of-hearts) believe in revolution; who knows? But in his writings he never advocates revolution; he does not educate people that a revolution is needed; he does not WARN the workers that without a revolution, disaster awaits them (ecological catastrophe, nuclear war, economic collapse, and fascism). Tom cannot deny this, so he counterattacks with claims that I wish to purge the movement. Nonsense. It is this real, not imaginary, reformism which I completely oppose, just as I would oppose voting for members of the Democratic Party.

author by Tompublication date Wed Aug 01, 2007 01:13author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Wayne is incorrect when he says that Michael Albert doesn't advocate revolution. MA says that there are two revolutions possible, a coordinatorist one, and one that results in a classless society.

But i think it is a mistake to make too much of the word "revolution". A person who endlessly advocates getting rid of the power of the coordinators and capitalists and replacing this with worker and communtiy self-management, getting rid of markets, advocating a planned, socialised economy etc. is advocating a revolution whether they use the word or not. I'd talk about the strategy differently than MA but it's a bit sectarian to call him "reformist" just because he doesn't use your favorite rhetoric.

MA also wouldn't agree that it's just "the workers" who are the relevant force because MA and RH in their theory adopt the view of an intersection of forces for change based on the different intersecting oppressions, class, race/national oppression, gender.

In their book "Unorthodox Marxism" both of them do talk more openly about revolution, advocating there the formation of a "revolutionary councilist party".

but it's not my purpose to defend MA and RH. if Wayne agrees that the participatory economics conception of a socialized, classless economy is independent of the particular strategy ideas or proposals of MA and RH, then why does he allude to the alleged "reformism" of MA and RH in a discussion of the three-class analysis? It can't be because there are no "reformists" among advocates of the Marxist two-class analysis because in fact that is not the case, that analysis has been used by social-democrats for example.

It's not just a question of the need to redesign jobs, but of how. The issue is re-integrating the conceptual and decision-making tasks with the tasks of doing the work, for workers in general, so that all workers do skilled work. Harry Braverman advcocated something like this in one piece he wrote on the auto industry. Kropotkin's comments on this subject were not related to production but had to do with science. He wrote about this before the taylorist transformation of work in the early 20th century which he never discussed. Moreover, neither Kropotkin nor most others earlier on who talked about this didn't understand how a class system could be based on relative monopolization of conceptual and decision-making work, authority, in a hierarchy within social production. People in the '30s/'40s period who talked about the "managerial class" also didn't have this analysis, although they saw that a new class division had emerged, but they didn't link this awareness to the need to spread conceptual and decision-making tasks throughout the working class, not just have a formal democracy such as election of managers, or workplace assemblies, in order to avoid a class system.

Veblen for example saw that there was class conflict between the new layer of engineers and managers in the early days of Taylorism in the World War I era, but came up with a "new working class" theory. That's because he failed to look at the other side: the conflict between workers and those same managers/engineers, which was equally a class conflict.

author by Dave B - worldsocialistmovementpublication date Thu Aug 02, 2007 03:19author email balmer_dave at yahoo dot co dot ukauthor address author phone Report this post to the editors

To be pedantic, there are in actual fact three classes in Marxist economic theory. The working class, the capitalist class and the landowning class. However for the purposes of this discussion it is better, hopefully, to keep it to two, the working class and the capitalist class.

The orthodox Marxist definition of working class is everybody who is under an economic compulsion to seek employment and sell their labour power or whatever. This probably places most people living under capitalism simply into one category/class or the other.

Incidentally Karl uses the phrase middle class himself several times.

The problem I have with the theory of the coordinating class is the imprecise way it is economically defined as a class. The more coordinator class theory embraces sociological and cultural type parameters as part of its definition the more it falls outside Karl’s economic class theory and becomes irrelevant to it.

There is nothing wrong with different systems of classification as long as you don’t carelessly mix them up.

In my opinion a coordinating doctor and a non-coordinating plasterer are in the same economic position. They have both undergone training to perform a particular task and have thus acquired a set of skills as part of their labour power, which they need to sell on the market at the highest price available. It is that and the shared problems they both have as a result of their common economic position that places them in the same economic class. Whether or not either of them recognizes, or are conscious, of it.

In the end the waged ‘coordinator class’ of this kind are in the same economic position as any other skilled worker to quote from Karl;

“the more these wages of supervision, like any other wage, found their definite level and definite market-price, on the one hand, with the development of a numerous class of industrial and commercial managers, and the more they fell, on the other, like all wages for skilled labour, with the general development which reduces the cost of production of specially trained labour-power.”

We could all argue forever and a day about interrelationships of how the technical nature of a job and how much you can sell that labour power for on the open market effects your outlook on life or your degree of dissatisfaction with wage slavery.

No doubt in ordinary slavery we had a coordinating class of slaves. Perhaps they were well dressed, educated in the etiquette of polite society and waited on the master’s table. Or maybe they were overseers lashing the cotton picking slaves in the fields. Their attitudes to the merits of slavery may have varied accordingly and the slave overseers may have hunted runaways with a genuine enthusiasm, recognizing maybe their own immediate coordinating class interest.

At least however they were all, some of the time at least, conscious of the fact that they were all still slaves and because of that could perhaps see a common purpose to abolishing slavery.

Whilst they weren’t listening to Parecon theory anyway.

There is a place in Karl’s theory for non-functioning capitalists who obtain income from loaning or renting their capital out to other capitalists. And functioning (or coordinating if you like) capitalists who work with others capital and exploit the workers with it, taking a share of the profit.

Sharecropping for surplus value if you like. These two types of capitalists will often have conflicting interests owing to their slightly different economic positions.

That is in the chapters on Profit of Enterprise in Volume three.

For those of us who strive for a wage-less, moneyless society, call it socialism, anarchism or communism, the prospect of a co-ordinating class holds few fears. As there would be no prospect of obtaining any material advantage from it, and as in ‘News From Nowhere’ the road menders would be as well dressed, or even better dressed, as everyone else.

The only motivation of anyone in an ‘empowered’ position in socialism would be to perform that task well. As is sometimes still seen in the world of pure academia where the plaudits that come from ‘success’ is seen as a reward in itself.

author by daveB - worldsocialistmovementpublication date Thu Aug 02, 2007 04:29author email balmer_dave at yahoo dot co dot ukauthor address author phone Report this post to the editors

I am bit confused about what the Parecon theory on state capitalism in Soviet Russia is;

Is it the same as that of the Prophet of Parecon; Yugoslav Communist Party, Milovan Djilas in the debate with Ernst ‘Moonie’ Mandel also known as E. Germain in the debate about;

The Theory of “State Capitalism”
(June 1951)

or is this another Milovan Djilas?

author by daveB - worldsocialistmovementpublication date Sun Aug 05, 2007 07:47author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I know it is a bit like taking coals to Newcastle criticising Lenin and the Bolshevik party on an anarchist site, however.

In Wayne Price’s opening piece he says that the Marxist-Leninists believe that;

‘there can be “socialist” (“post-capitalist” or whatever) societies without working class participation’.

Quite, so from Lenin himself;

"Why have a Party, if industrial management is to be appointed
("mandatory nomination") by the trade unions nine-tenths of whose
members are non-Party workers? Bukharin has talked himself into a
logical, theoretical and practical implication of a split in the
Party, or, rather, a breakaway of the syndicalists from the Party."

V. I. Lenin The Party Crisis; Pravda No. 13, January 21, 1921

Or in other words why have a ruling class if the industrial management is appointed by the workers.

Unless of course the majority of the non-union, scab labour were themselves members of the Bolshevik ruling class party.

I myself believe that in free access socialism we will have to have elected and subject to recall ‘empowered’ industrial management. As a factory worker myself I do not believe all functions can be run by a committee.

However I for one wouldn’t be seeking a nomination, even as part of a balanced job complex, and have people sniggering at me and doing Adolph Hitler impersonations when my back was turned.

Just checking to see if the site is still operating really.

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author by Jonathan - ZACFpublication date Wed Sep 05, 2007 23:56author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Both parts of this article are now available in PDF here:

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author by boots - NEFACpublication date Sat Oct 06, 2007 01:18author email boots at nefac dot netauthor address author phone Report this post to the editors

College brings up another tricky issue as far as class goes. I know a great deal of working people who go to college now. Obviously if you are a radical you will not become middle class afterwards but some well intentioned people may become doctors or other professionals. Their class status changes but they still have roots in the working class. Conversely, if you come from a middle class family with no appreciable money stored up, and do not go to college you effectively have your interests rooted in class liberation. Obvioulsy in both cases people retain cultural distinctions. I think what is important is to move the issue away from any type of blame or emotion and just to focus on the strategy of the matter. Only the working class can build a new socialist society, and so no matter how well inentioned or libral they are, middle class people will always have to be in the background, or they should be if we are doing our job right.

author by paul - (wsm pers. cap.)publication date Fri Sep 11, 2009 18:32author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Unless I missed it, there is no obvious link to Part 2 on this page and the search facilities are inadequate to find it. Can somebody fix this please?

author by Jon - 1 of Anarkismo Editorial Grouppublication date Fri Sep 11, 2009 22:02author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Thanks for bringing that to our attention Paul. Links to and from Part 2 have been added.

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