άρθρο

Class structure, forms of class subjectivity, class alliances and the new social movements.

Εισήγηση από το συνέδριο «Κρίση, Κράτος και Δημοκρατία. Αξιοποιώντας τη θεωρία του Νίκου Πουλαντζά για την αντιμετώπιση του αυταρχικού καπιταλισμού». Πάντειο Πανεπιστήμιο, 12-13 Δεκεμβρίου 2014

 

Georgios Daremas (Nicos Poulantzas Institute; Attac Hellas)

Class structure, forms of class subjectivity, class alliances and the new social movements.

Class hegemony in the imperialist chain underpinning the European crisis

Poulantzas designates the current state of the capitalist mode of production as that of monopoly capital. This does not mean that competition has ceased to exist but that it takes place among high concentrations of capital which have attained the form of ‘’conglomerates’’ (unified ‘economic property’ over productive processes established in different branches, sectors and national social formations). Monopoly capitalism is articulated in an ‘’imperialist chain’’ that connects the world metropoles with each other in relations of dominance and dependency under the hegemony of ‘’American capital’’. This is the primary new phase in the current imperialist stage of monopoly capitalism. The imperialist chain rests causally on the ‘’imperialist social division of labour’’1 which results from capital flows and investment patterns geared towards the production hubs of the metropoles where intensive exploitation or extraction of relative surplus value takes place. This mode of value accumulation is the primary trend organising the imperialist chain (and reveals the ‘inter-imperialist contradictions’), not the center-periphery polarity argued by the dependency school. The center-periphery domination is being displaced into a ‘’division within the industrial sector of productive capital’’ (PR, 237) shaped through direct investments of capital and the export of manufactured products (attended by industrialization of agriculture and of services).2 This pivotal phase of restructuring the allocation of capitals within the Western metropoles impacts on the ‘centre-periphery’ relations by promoting peripheral industrialization. Within the context of the current post-2008 European crisis, this ongoing trend Poulantzas has identified suggests the following effects. A prevalent explanation of the crisis of the banking sector that shook European economies is attributed to over-accumulation of money capital. This ‘explanation’ is rather descriptive than genetic for it does not account for the reasons why such stagnant money capital has been amassed unable to find investment outlets and was channelled into the US sub-prime mortgage market. According to the Poulantzian schema, the intensive inter-metropolitan direct capital investment (primarily of American capital) resulted in the increased organic composition of concentrated (big) capital. The rising organic composition of capital holds an inverse relation to the average rate of profit. Hence the greater concentration of monopoly capital results in an intensified fall of the average rate of profit. This decline of the average profit rate becomes a hindrance to the reproduction of the accumulation process. It compels accrued money capital to seek ‘speculative’ outlets for extraction of profit as in the case of the sub-prime mortgage crisis. The dominance of US banking capital over the European banking sector affected drastically the solvency of European banks depending on the degree of penetration and exposure to US bank assets.3 This is one instance of the hegemony of US capital over European banking capitals. Such hegemony is also reflected politically in the EU policy framework. Illustrative cases are the growing pressure towards loosening the restrictions for introduction of US-led genetically modified crops and substances in the food chain, the compromises arrived at in the REACH directive concerning chemical substances in the chemical industries, the current TTIP negotiations over the abrogation of the national legal frameworks adjudicating foreign investment agreements, and the nonchalant response of European political elites to the widespread industrial espionage and violation of privacy rights of European citizens by the collection and monitoring of telecommunication data conducted by the US government.

Class structure and class determination of social categories

Poulantzas demarcates the class structure characteristic of monopoly capitalism by unfolding the effects generated by the Marxian category of ‘’productive labour’’.4 ‘Productive labour’ in the CMP rests on the fundamental division between possession and (economic) control of the means of production and exclusion from their ownership. Thus two classes emerge, the bourgeoisie and the working class polarized around possession/dispossession of the means of production. The bourgeois class is internally differentiated according to the form of capital they command, i.e. industrial, commercial, landowning and money capital forms. Hence, the notion of ‘class fractions’ and the intra-class ‘contradictions’ among them vying for hegemony and constituting a ruling ‘power bloc’ per se (but not necessarily ‘reigning’ the capitalist state itself). This qualitative distinction between forms of capital is further complicated by a quantitative distinction into big (monopoly and non-monopoly), medium and small capital agglomerations.5 Finally, depending on the type of insertion of a social formation in the imperialist chain and the international social division of labour there is a further classification of the ruling class into ‘indigenous’, ‘comprador’ and ‘’internal bourgeoisie’’ (the last being a conceptual innovation of Poulantzas). The working class is a unitary class,6 due to its common subjection to the extraction of surplus value. All other participants in the social division of labour belong to the petty-bourgeoisie.7 In particular two broad population segments are of significance to be defined class-wise, the ‘’social categories’’ employed in the state’s administration and the state apparatuses and the ‘salaried wagers’. Poulantzas’ s class conceptual matrix rests on a theoretical couplet that distinguishes between ‘’structural class determination’’ and ‘’class position’’. The first term designates the condition that no social category or group can exist outside or next to or along the class structure of a social formation. Hence every social category necessarily belongs in a class. ‘Class position’ refers to the tendentious conditions in any given historical conjuncture that incline social categories, social strata belonging to the petty-bourgeoisie to ‘polarize’ towards the working-class or the bourgeoisie. Moreover, ‘’class position’’ (and ‘structural class determination’)8 is affected by political and ideological relations. The predominant one being the relation of ‘authority’ inscribed in the organizational framework of production relations in capitalist enterprises and in the organizational hierarchy of the state apparatuses. Consequently, the top echelons of the state bureaucracy tend to affiliate with the bourgeoisie and the rest vacillate depending on the ‘internal contradictions’ of the state itself and the manner class struggle permeates directly and indirectly the ‘condensation of class relations’ within the state. As far as the salariat is concerned, it includes all ‘wage labourers’ employed in the circulation and realization spheres whether of commodities or money. Managers, technocrats, technicians, supervisors, commercial and financial employees constitute a distinctive social class, that of the ‘’new petty-bourgeoisie’’.9 The rigorous theoretical pinning down of who belongs to which class is of the utmost importance not only in specifying the particular interests associated with classes and their fractions but in defining the revolutionary strategy of class alliances which is absolutely necessary for the mobilization of popular movements and the ‘radical transformations of the state’ on the road to the transition to democratic socialism.

Class subjectivities and new social movements

Poulantzas attributes the primacy of determination of class constitution to class struggle. In spite of its salience in the articulation of his theoretical approach, the category of ‘class struggle’ is used nominalistically without fleshing out a taxonomy of forms of struggle and how these are connected with the peculiarities of the various social classes and their fractions.10 Such methodological blindspot is caused by the total neglect of the concept of ‘class consciousness’ and the modes of articulation of class subjectivities. This neglect results from Poulantzas’s opposition to historicist Marxist approaches and from certain structuralist bias in his account. The excision of the notion of the ‘subject’ leads him to object (correctly) to the idea of the state as the expression of a unitary ‘’rational will’’ and, moreover, to affirm the paradoxical and counter-factual position that the state and its apparatuses do not have any power at all. 11

To grasp the formation of class subjectivities one has to consider the impact of the socialization processes upon the constitution of the individual. Hence not only class position but also class origin is constitutive of the individual’s make-up. Marx in the German Ideology explicitly claims that individuals are actually born into pre-constituted class conditions that predetermine considerably their life chances and the class trajectory they will follow. So not only a synchronic but also a diachronic sociohistorical dimension affects the class make-up. Secondly, it is not only the particular entanglement in given production relations that imputes certain class generated ideological perceptions but the very modes of involvement in the reproduction sphere of life (leisure patterns, care of the self, age cohorts, political participation, gender identity, forms of mass media consumption, peer groups, family status etc.) exercise a determinant role on the overall class self-understanding of the individual.

At a more fundamental level no class analysis can ignore the impact of two large-scale societal processes underpinning capitalist modernity, namely competitive individualization and commodification of everyday life. These processes construct the modern individual as a self-centred egotistical being who has to compete endlessly for his/her survival or to ‘succeed’ in life while prioritizing a self-owned commodity self as the supreme value in social life. It is the widespread fabrication of such ‘narcissistic’ subjectivity in the Western world that can account for the ‘popular’ (trans-class) acceptance of neoliberalism and its main ideologemes (competitiveness, consumerism, quantitative growth, technolatry).

The fragmentation of community life and the rampant alienation produced by the encroachment of the capitalist mode of production almost over all particular spheres of life has generated a gamut of resistance sites mainly expressed by the formation of separate new social movements promoting single-issue agendas, the class basis of which is recruited primarily from the ‘new petty bourgeoisie’ or the so-called middle classes. The late Poulantzas has insisted that there is no chance of success for the deepening of representative democratic institutions and the transition to democratic socialism if political parties of the Left do not take up seriously the new social movements’ themes (feminism, environmentalism, anti-privatization platforms etc.) while safeguarding their autonomous existence. Even a Left government in power will not escape the fate of ‘the social-democratic experience’ if it has not deployed a strategy of strengthened class alliance between the working-class and the petty-bourgeoisie (old and new) and thus be supported by an active popular movement espousing direct and rank-and file forms of democratic participation.

1 N. Poulantzas, ‘Internationalization of Capitalist Relations and the Nation-State’ (1973) in The Poulantzas Reader: Marxism; Law and the State, ed. by James Martin (London: Verso, 2008), p. 237. Abbreviated as PR.

2 Contrary to the so-called Post-Fordist consideration of the services as a post-industrial sector, we can reasonably claim that the productive relations in the service sector are fully industrialized on the model of assembly-line processing and serialized sequencing of products/persons (see f.ex. work chains in supermarkets, call centers, hospital clinics, retail chains).

3 It must be noted that Poulantzas distinguishes explicitly ‘finance capital’ which designates the ‘’fusion process’’ of fractions of capital and their mode of functioning in this ‘fusion’ from banking capital. (PR, 230).

4 ‘Productive labour’ is not any useful labour but solely the form of labour that produces surplus value. In this sense, capitalist production of weapons of mass destruction is productive but not ‘useful’, whereas the reproductive work of mothering done by housewives is (socially) useful but not productive.

5 Small capital formations tend to fade into the traditional petty-bourgeoisie.

6 The working class consists of layers (f.ex. ‘labour aristocracy’). The neglect of study of its internal differentiation was a major lacuna in the analyses of the appeal of fascism to ‘popular masses’. N. Poulantzas, ‘On the Popular Impact of Fascism’ (1976) in PR, p. 260.

7 A social formation is a combination of various ‘modes of production’ under the dominance of capital in capitalism. This means that pre-capitalist social classes may still survive in current social formations like peasants, serfs, slaves and artisans.

8 N. Poulantzas, Classes in Contemporary Capitalism (London: Verso, 1978), p. 224.

9 Poulantzas includes in the ‘new petty-bourgeoisie’ all labourers employed in the sphere of value realization and thus this class obtains a sizable magnitude. I maintain some reservations over the wholesale allocation of the strata engaged in the realization sphere to the ‘new petty bourgeoisie’ instead of to the working class, on the basis of Marx’s admonition that unrealized value is tantamount to its complete waste as if it were not ever produced hence the requisite character of realization labour (e.g. in the material circulation of commodities) to finalize commodity exchanges. Additionally, Marx’s characterization of transportation labour as productive. Also, I find Poulantzas’ s refutation of E. O. Wright’s alternative solution of ‘’contradictory location’’ for the class positioning of the skilled and managerial strata, rather weak.

10 Poulantzas himself owns up his fault of ‘’formalism’’ and of ‘’a certain neglect of concrete analyses’’, albeit he does not rectify such faults in his late works. See: ‘The Capitalist State: A Reply to Miliband and Laclau’ (1976) in PR, p. 274.

11 ‘’I have refused to apply the concept of power to the state and to its specific structures […] [B]y state power one can only mean the power of certain classes to whose interests the state corresponds.’’ NP, ‘Reply…’, PR, p. 281.