Passion for Socialism

A society based on sharing and caring.

Passion for Socialism

A society based on sharing and caring.

Image by ErikaWittlieb from Pixabay

Class Analysis for
Anti-Capitalist Struggle 


by Antagonism


Every civilized society has been a class society. Each of these societies has based its civilization, its culture, its technology, on the oppression of the majority by a minority. The earliest civilizations were based on open class power. The main productive class were the slaves, who originally were kidnapped from free communities or rival civilized societies. Over time, the master slave relationship became accepted by both parties as normal, and the slaves participated in the reproduction of their slavery.


In more recent times, the place of the slave class was taken by that of the peasant. The peasants lived in their own village communities. But these communities were not the free communities that existed before (or outside of) civilization. The communities were dominated by the power of the lord, the church, and eventually the state. These forces were external to the agrarian community but none the less played an important role within it. The lord was the protector of the community (providing a form of protection that is usually associated with organized crime), the peasants worked perhaps one day a week on his lands in return for his care. This relationship, also tended to become accepted, and both lord and peasant recognized a system of complementary rights and duties.



The society we live in is capitalist, characterized by wage labor, a centralized state, commodity production, the accumulation of capital. Can we still talk of class being determined by power in this society? The first "coherent" class analysis I came across was a Trotskyist version, touted by the Workers Revolutionary Party, the then official British section of the 4th International. The class theory they put across was that class position is determined by whether or not a person owned capital. Those that owned a large amount are the bourgeoisie, those who own a small amount, petty bourgeois, the rest of us working class. This theory (which is held by many more or less Marxist groups) obviously has a lot going for it. Ownership of capital definitely is important in capitalist society! But the theory also has serious flaws in it. The biggest problem was revealed by the WRP's analysis of the Soviet Union. The USSR had all the typical social relations of capitalism; wage-labor, commodity production, etc. However, it did not have a class of people who owned capital. The position of the WRP was therefore that the USSR did not have a capitalist class and was a form of worker's state. The idiocy of this position does not come from the WRP misusing the theory, but from the theory itself. A class analysis that looks only at whether individuals own capital or not to determine their class position, is worse than useless. It provides a theoretical justification for supporting particular states which are in every way capitalist. It fails to locate the real fault lines in all modern societies.


Ownership of capital is a crucial determinant of class; if you own a large amount of capital you are a capitalist. But it is incorrect to turn this statement round. It is not true that not owning capital makes you proletarian. The Soviet Union was a capitalist state with a class society. The class contradiction was not one of ownership against non-ownership, it was one of possession of social power against powerlessness. The ruling class, the capitalist class of the USSR were the top managers who commanded its economy, its state and its ideological apparatus. The intermediate class between capital and labor was primarily that of the lower managers, whose job it was to rule the enterprises on a day to day basis. This recognition of the forms of class power in the USSR leads us directly to an examination of so-called mixed economies such as Britain. In Britain too there is state ownership of certain industries. Certainly, traditional bourgeois benefit from these industries (through the advantages of planning, or subsidies etc.) but these industries are not capitalist by proxy. State industries are in no way "socialist" (in the non-capitalist sense). The nationalized industries use wage-labor in order to produce and accumulate surplus value; this is the very essence of capitalist production relations. The individuals who run these industries are themselves a part of the capitalist class in their own right. Finally, we look at private enterprises. The stereotypical description of a capitalist enterprise is of a factory owned by a capitalist who controls it directly. This quaint vision must be well over a century out of date (in as much as it was ever really accurate). Typical private enterprises today are owned collectively by capital, through multiple share ownership by both individuals and institutions. They are not operated primarily by individual bourgeois but by top managers. In free market societies, as in state-controlled societies, the capitalist class includes top managers, the middle class includes lower managers. In the free market these strata exist alongside private capitalists and petty bourgeois. The bourgeoisie, the owners of capital, are ruling class not because they are rich, and we aren't. The bourgeoisie are ruling class because their ownership of capital gives them certain rights, abilities, power over productive forces (including variable capital, i.e. their employees). Ownership of capital is only a form of class power that appears in particular variants of capitalism. It has its own characteristics but also has some continuity with other forms of domination, just as the proletarian condition has similarities (as well as differences) to historical forms of subjugation.

Image by skeeze from Pixabay


I will mention another variety of false class theory. Sometimes, it is claimed that class is determined by the amount of wages that a person receives. Now, there is a class difference between the rich and the poor, but this is not due to wage differentials. A class analysis based on wage differences would result in "an infinity of classes". There would also be the problem with differences in wages paid in different regions; either we have regional class differences or regional variations in class analyses. Silly. More to the point such a theory fails to understand what wage differences are about. At one level, wages are determined by the class war, with higher wages reflecting successful struggle by workers. But this is only one side of the story as wages are determined within the context of the capitalist system. In part they reflect the different exchange value of different forms of labor power; some people are paid more because their labor power is more expensive to reproduce. More commonly, wages vary due to fluctuations in the labor market, reflecting supply and demand for different types of labor. Most importantly, wage differentials are deliberately created by capital in order to divide the proletariat. The class is divided by jealousy or elitism, against itself. Basing a class analysis on wage differentials means taking artificial divisions created by capitalism to ensure its own survival, and then deliberately accentuating them. Such theory does capitalism's work for it, and against us.


Class theory and its use

So far, a way of determining the class position of different groups in society has been identified, by analyzing the amount of social power that they wield. But it has not yet been said what this characterization means, how it helps us. The utility of class analysis is in identifying the material interests of different social groups, both in the day to day running of capital, and in the ongoing struggle against it. The main reason why the proletariat is so often identified as the revolutionary class, is precisely because it has no material interest in the maintenance of capitalism, either immediately or in the long term. The capitalist class, both owners and top managers, are the class that directly benefits from the present society and will organize whatever measures are necessary to ensure its continued existence. The middle class be they petty bourgeois, peasants or the new middle class, are society's leftovers.


The middle class are both exploiter and exploited, or they are neither; they have some small privilege but no real security. Proletarianization is a constant imminent danger for the middle class, and something they always fight to prevent. This struggle can be reactionary where it means a struggle against the proletariat to defend middle class position. But it can potentially be revolutionary when it is a struggle against capital's encroachment and can lead to united action with the proletariat. In general, the middle class are only defined by their position in this society, and not by their struggles. This is because this class has no clear class interest in or against capital, and so never struggles as a class.


The proletariat is defined first by its dispossession. It exists as a negativity, as something alienated from this society, and which can never be wholly integrated. These radical chains lead to radical struggle. Proletarian struggles are always anti-capitalist (in potential) because the proletariat can find no liberation within capitalism. Its struggle therefore tends towards an all-out struggle against capital. This tendency comes to the fore only too rarely. Most of the time the proletariat exists primarily as a class defined by capitalism. Only through struggle can it form itself into a community consciously opposed to capitalism. The material conditions of existence of the class precede radical class consciousness.


The capitalist class is a small minority of the world population. Capitalism requires competition and therefore struggles between rival capitals. The capitalist class can therefore never be fully unified. However, capitalists must struggle not only against themselves, but also against all the other classes. The ruling class is under permanent assault from many directions. This results in a high degree of class consciousness possessed by the capitalist class. When a powerful anti-capitalist struggle breaks out, rival capitals can temporarily bury the hatchet and act in concert against the proletariat. The usual stereotype of the bourgeois is of a fat, top-hatted oaf, smoking a large cigar. It should be realized that the ruling class is small, fast and ruthless.


So, who are our enemies; just the capitalist class or both they and the middle class? When it comes down to it the answer is: neither. What really destroys us is not the rich or their functionaries, it is the social relations of capitalism. It is the accumulation of capital, wage labor, social isolation, the state, borders, and more besides, that we are really need to do away with. In as much as the capitalist class, the middle class, or even the working class defend these relationships they act against our own liberation and the liberation of humanity as a whole. The point about class analysis, is that we can see who is most likely to defend these relations, and who is most likely to attack them. I once had a talk with someone who said that we should reopen Auschwitz and exterminate the richest 2% in this country. This kind of extremism has a sort of gut appeal. But there were a couple of problems. One was that this guy was a South African fascist who identified himself as an Anglo-Saxon. He argued that apartheid was more strongly established in the UK than it then was in South Africa, and that the ruling class was entirely of Norman origins. His wish to wipe out the rich was akin to the Nazi extermination of (Jewish) finance capitalists. The second problem was the industrial, and therefore capitalist, nature of his solution. The reason that we can't use prisons, concentration camps, or even firing squads for our liberation is not that we are liberals who respect an absolute right to life. It's because these are dehumanizing institutions for the jailers as well as the condemned. Rebel violence can be liberating but can never be institutional. We use enough violence to achieve our aims; we need to create a new community out of our struggle, hopefully as many people as possible can be integrated into this human community as rapidly as possible. As the revolution develops, more and more people will be attracted to it. We aim to unite with whoever really shares our struggle no matter what role they play under normal conditions. The situationist Ratgeb/Vaneigem expressed this brilliantly: "Doesn't it give you a certain sense of pleasure to think how, someday soon, you will be able to treat as human beings those cops whom it will not have been necessary to kill on the spot?"


Source | The Anarchist Library | Condensed