Wright, Erik Olin. Classes. 1985. London, EN: Verso, 2023. Paperback: 9781804290484.


“Questions of class, power and distribution have reemerged as central concerns in the public discourse. When we talk about class, we don't always know what is meant. Is class about income or affect or the ownership of the means of production? Perhaps it is about authority or autonomy? But what happens when, as is often the case in complex advanced economies, people can occupy social and economic roles that seem to indicate membership in more than one class? And what does this mean for the supposed relationship between class and potential political capacity and affinity? In *Classes*, , the greatest American Marxist sociologists, rises to the twofold challenge of both clarifying the abstract, structural account of class implicit in Marx, and of applying and refining the account in the light of contemporary developments in advanced capitalist societies. What Wright calls 'contradictory class locations' can make the class landscape appear much more complex than the simple model presented in Marx. Despite this complexity, common interests and therefore political alliances can still be found. In a society, like the US, characterized by extreme inequality, Classes provides not just a useful descriptive account of the operation of class but also the tools to understand the interplay of class interests and political (re)alignment.”



“I have had a significant change in what sociologists call my ‘reference group’, the circle of people whose opinions and evaluations are in the back of my mind as I type away on my word processor” (13)

“My reference group while a graduate student was a circle of Marxist scholars affiliated with the journal Kapitalistate and a loose organization called the ‘Union of Marxist Social Scientists” (14)

“Most of these people were students, most had been radicalized during the heyday of the civil rights and anti-war movements of the 1960s, and most were committed to some variety of Marxist approach to social theory” (14)

“As it is commonplace to say, times have changed. Many of the students who engaged in the revitalization of American Marxism in the 1970s have subsequently been employed in professional and academic posts, and a good number of the academics have by now received tenure” (15)

“Marxism has become the object of considerable criticism on the academic left, and many radical scholars are identifying with what some have labelled ‘post-Marxism” (15)

“I have also become more aware of the problems in Marxist theory and the need for a more rigorous and reflective approach. But I have not, I hope, shifted my basic commitment to the project of Marxist theory and to the fundamental insights contained within it” (15)

“I have also become more aware of the problems in Marxist theory and the need for a more rigorous and reflective approach. But I have not, I hope, shifted my basic commitment to the project of Marxist theory and to the fundamental insights contained within it”

“Unlike my student circle in Berkeley, the Class Analysis programme in Madison is ideologically much more diverse and certainly less wedded to a traditional Marxist perspective”

“I have become very involved with a group of leftist scholars of varying degrees of sympathy to Marxism who meet once a year to discuss one another’s work. This group includes G. A. Cohen, John Roemer, Jon Elster, Philippe van Parijs, Robert van der Veen, Robert Brenner, Adam Przeworski and Hillel Steiner. The central intellectual thread of the group is what they term ‘Analytical Marxism’, by which is meant the systematic interrogation and clarification of basic concepts and their reconstruction into a more coherent theoretical structure”

“In the transition from graduate student to tenured professor I have also become integrated into a nexus of rewards that is very alluring”

“As a Marxist materialist and class analyst, I cannot suppose that all of this has no effect on me and that by an act of will I can immunize myself from the seductions of the safe and comfortable life of an affluent academic in a liberal-democratic advanced capitalist society”

1. Posing the Problem: The Agenda of Class Analysis

The Legacy of Marx

“in the one place where he promises such an elaboration—the final chapter of Capital Volume 3, entitled ‘Classes’—the text stops after only a page. Just before the end of this incomplete text Marx wrote, ‘The first question to be answered is this: What constitutes a class?’. Two short paragraphs later comes Engels’s sad comment, ‘Here the manuscript breaks off”

“As has frequently been remarked and bemoaned, Marx never systematically defined and elaborated the concept of class, in spite of the centrality of that concept in his work”

“most of this work revolves around two problems: the elaboration of abstract structural maps of class relations, and the analysis of concrete conjunctural maps of classes-as-actors”

“the social organization of production determines a structure of ‘empty places’ in class relations, places filled by people”

“the ways in which the people within class structures become organized into collectivities engaged in struggle”

“While he gives us a list of descriptive categories corresponding to the actual actors in the conflicts, he does not provide a set of precise concepts for decoding rigorously the structural basis of most of those categories”

“What we have then, in Marx’s own work, is a polarized abstract concept of the ‘empty places’ generated by class relations and a descriptively complex map of concrete actors within class struggles, with no systematic linkage between the two”

The Agenda of Contemporary Marxist Class Analysis

“among wage-earners, the growth of professional and technical occupations and the expansion of managerial hierarchies in large corporations and the state have at least created the appearance of a considerable erosion of a simple polarized structure”

“the six possible foci of class analysis”

  1. “Polarized Class relations”
  2. “Epochal struggle between classes”
  3. “Co-existence of classes based in different modes of production and different stages of development of a given mode”
  4. “Class alliances”
  5. “Institutional variability in class relations in given jobs”
  6. “Concrete class organizations: parties, shop floor organization unions”

“Class structure refers to the structure of social relations into which individuals (or, in some cases, families) enter which determine their class interests”

“class structure defines a set of empty places or positions filled by individuals or families”

“While this does not imply that class structure exists independently of people, it does mean that it exists independently of the specific people who occupy specific positions”

“If class structure is defined by social relations between classes, class formation is defined by social relations within classes”

“Class formation, on the other hand, refers to the formation of organized collectivities within that class structure on the basis of the interests shaped by that class structure”

“Class formation is a variable”

“Class-based collectivities may be organized, disorganized or reorganized within a given class structure without there necessarily being any fundamental transformations of the class structure itself”

“Three levels of abstraction typically characterize Marxist discourse on class: mode of production, social formation and conjuncture”

“The highest level of abstraction is mode of production. Classes are here analysed in terms of pure types of social relations of production, each embodying a distinctive mechanism of exploitation”

“Without shifting levels of abstraction, it is still entirely possible to define different forms of a given mode of production”

“The term ‘social formation’ has come to derive its meaning from the analysis of societies as specific combinations of distinct modes of production or types of relations of production”

“The analysis of the specific ways in which different forms of capitalist relations are combined within a given society is also a problem”

“Conjunctural analysis involves the investigation of societies in terms of the concrete institutional details and contingent historical factors that enter the story”

“The conjunctural level of analysis is also the level of abstraction at which the most sustained analyses of the relationship between class and non-class relations and practices usually occur (e.g. class and race or class and gender)”

“the bulk of Marx’s analyses of classes is concentrated in the upper left hand cell and the lower two right hand cells. Of course, Marx had something to say somewhere about every cell in the table, but he never provided a systematic theoretical exposition of the lower two levels of abstraction of class structure. Nor, as already stated, did he ever provide a sustained theory of the causal linkage between class structure and class formation, of the process through which positions within class structures analysed at different levels of abstraction become formed into organized collectivities”

“new class analysis has had two principal thrusts: first, filling in the undertheorized cells in the structural side of the typology; and second, much more systematically analysing the problem of the translation of this structure of relations into the formation of collective actors”

2. The Biography of a Concept: Contradictory Class Locations

“Increasing attention is being paid to the theoretical dimensions of variability in ‘actually existing capitalisms”

“it is not enough to have good abstract concepts of the capitalist state, of bourgeois ideology, of the capitalist labour-process and of the capitalist class structure; we also need a repertoire of concepts capable of specifying the variabilities in each of these at more concrete levels of analysis”

“the process by which a particular concept for solving the problem of the middle classes in capitalism was produced, the concept of ‘contradictory locations within class relations”

“a kind of logical reconstruction of the process”

The Logic of Concept Formation

“Concepts are produced. The categories that are used in social theories, whether they be the relatively simple descriptive categories employed in making observations, or the very complex and abstract concepts used in the construction of ‘grand theory’, are all produced by human beings”

“They are never simply given by the real world as such but are always produced through some sort of intellectual process of concept formation”

“in any given situation there is only a limited range of possible concepts that can be produced; while concepts are produced by the human imagination, they are not produced in a completely free and unstructured manner which makes anything possible”

“concepts have theoretical presuppositions. In some instances these presuppositions function as explicit, systematic theoretical requirements imposed on the production of a new concept; in other instances, the theoretical presuppositions act more as unconscious cognitive filters implicitly shaping what is thinkable and unthinkable by the theorist”

“Concepts must not only conform to the conceptual rules and assumptions specified in the theoretical framework, they must also be used in explanations of various sorts”

“Scientific concepts, no matter how embedded in an elaborated theoretical framework, are never constrained exclusively by theoretical presuppositions. They also face what can be called ‘empirically mediated”

“The fact that a concept is consistent with its theoretical framework does not, in and of itself, establish that it will be capable of an effective role in explanations of any empirical problem using that theoretical framework”

“On the basis of empirical ‘findings’ concepts may be adopted or their boundaries redrawn or they may even be abandoned altogether”

“In other theoretical frameworks, the theoretical requirements imposed on the production of concepts are systematic and elaborate, and applied with self-conscious consistency. A powerful critique of a given concept is to show that it is inconsistent with some of these theoretical requirements and that it is therefore not a ‘legitimate’ concept”

“if the imposition of such systematic theoretical constraints runs ahead of the explanatory success of the theory, then the theory runs the risk of ‘theoreticism’, that is, of effectively immunizing the theory from the operation of empirical constraints required by the explanatory tasks of the theory”

“It is an achievement of a scientific theory for such theoretical constraints to operate systematically and consciously on the production of new concepts”

“if a theory is organized in such a way that it blocks the development of such self-conscious theoretical constraints, then it is guilty of what is sometimes called ‘empiricism”

“Conceptual adjudication is a double process. It compares rival concepts in terms of their respective consistency both with the abstract conceptual requirements of the general theory in which they figure and with the empirical observations generated using the theory”

“What is needed is a balance between theoretical commitment to maintain and strengthen the coherence of given general theoretical frameworks with theoretical openness to allow for concept transformation and theory reconstruction”

“dogmatism’ is the refusal of a theorist to call into question elements of the general theory in light of such repeated failures”

“Eclecticism’, on the other hand, is the refusal to worry about theoretical coherence”

Steps in the Analysis of the Formation of the Concept of Contradictory Locations

“our analysis of the development of the concept ‘contradictory locations within class relations’ will proceed in the following steps”

  1. “The Empirical Setting”
  2. “Theoretical Constraints”
  3. “Alternative Solutions”
  4. “Building a New Concept”
  5. “Unresolved Issues”

The Empirical Setting

“Empirical research on stratification has been at the very core of American sociology, and as a graduate student I thought that it would be a good idea to bring the general Marxist critique of sociology to bear on this body of research”

“to launch this kind of empirical study we immediately faced the problem of how to categorize people with respect to class”

“the taxonomic problem was really a conceptual one. How should we deal with the numerous cases of people who did not really seem to be either bourgeois or proletarian?”

“These diverse positions are colloquially referred to as the ‘middle class’, but this designation hardly solves the conceptual difficulties. The problem of concept-formation which we faced, therefore, was how to generate a class concept for concrete analysis which adequately maps these locations while at the same time preserving the general assumptions and framework of Marxist class analysis”

Theoretical Constraints

“there is hardly a consensus among”

“Marxists as to what constitutes the general Marxist theory of class relations, and depending upon how the constraints within that general theory are characterized, the range of possible solutions to the transformation of a specific concept of class will be different”

“The task at hand, then, is to specify the constraints imposed by the abstract theory of classes in Marxism on the process of producing more concrete concepts, in this case a concrete concept capable of dealing with ‘middle classes’ in contemporary capitalism”

“The concept of class figures as an explanatory principle, in one way or another, in virtually all substantive problems addressed within Marxist theory”

“CONCEPTUAL CONSTRAINT 1: Class structure imposes limits on class formation, class consciousness and class struggle”

“classes have a structural existence which is irreducible to the kinds of collective organizations which develop historically (class formations), the class ideologies held by individuals and organizations (class consciousness) or the forms of conflict engaged in by individuals as class members or by class organizations (class struggle), and that such class structures impose basic constraints on these other elements in the concept of class”

“The argument that the class structure imposes the basic limits on class formation, class consciousness and class struggle is essentially a claim that it constitutes the basic mechanism for distributing access to resources in a society, and thus distributing capacities to act”

“Class consciousness, in these terms, is above all, the conscious understanding of these mechanisms: the realization by subordinate classes that it is necessary to transform the class structure if there are to be any basic changes in their capacities to act”

“realization by dominant classes that the reproduction of their power depends upon the reproduction of the class structure”

“Class formation, on the other hand, is the process by which individual capacities are organizationally linked together in order to generate a collective capacity to act, a capacity which can potentially be directed at the class structure itself”

“Other mechanisms (race, ethnicity, gender, legal institutions, etc.) operate within the limits established by the class structure, and it could well be the case that the politically significant explanations for variation in class formation or consciousness are embedded in these non-class mechanisms rather than in the class structure itself”

“The interconnections among these four constituent elements in the concept of class can be formalized within what I have elsewhere called a ‘model of determination”

“In the present context, three of these are particularly important: limitation in which one element imposes limits of possible variation on another; selection, in which one element imposes narrower limits of variation on another element within a range of already established broader limits; and transformation in which a practice by social actors (individuals and organizations of various sorts) transforms a given element within the constraints of limitations and selections”

“Consciousness, class formation and class structures are all objects of class struggle and are transformed in the course of class struggles. Such transformations, however, are constrained structurally. In the most direct way, class struggles are limited by the forms of class organization (class formations), which are themselves limited by the existing class structure”

“CONCEPTUAL CONSTRAINT 2: Class structures constitute the essential qualitative lines of social demarcation in the historical trajectories of social change”

“Class structures constitute the central organizing principles of societies in the sense of shaping the range of possible variations of the state, ethnic relations, gender relations, etc., and thus historical epochs can best be identified by their predominant class structures”

“class struggles are the central mechanism for moving from one class structure to another. If the map of history is defined by class structures the motor of history is class struggle”

“There are three basic ways in which class struggle has been defined: by the nature of the agents in conflicts, by the objectives of conflict, by the effects of conflict”

“Agency definitions of class conflict insist that for a given conflict to count as ‘class struggle’, the actors involved must be class actors (either individuals in given classes or organizations representing given classes) and the lines of opposition in the conflict must be class lines”

“Objectives definitions, on the other hand, argue that to count as class struggles the balance of power or distribution of resources between classes must be a conscious objective of the struggle”

“effects definitions argue that any conflict, regardless of objectives or actors, which has systematic effects on class relations should count as a ‘class struggle’.”

“The first of these definitions seems to me to be the most fruitful theoretically”

“The thesis that class struggle is the ‘motor’ of history, then, means that it is conflict between actors defined by their location within class structures which explains the qualitative transformations that demarcate epochal trajectories of social change”

“the thesis that class struggle constitutes the basic mechanism for movement between forms of society remains a broadly held view among Marxists, and, in spite of uncertainties, it is generally thought to be one of the hallmarks of the Marxist concept of class”

“As an abstract concept, the Marxist concept of class is built around four basic structural properties: classes are relational; those relations are antagonistic ; those antagonisms are rooted in exploitation ; and exploitation is based on the social relations of production”

“Such relational concepts of class are to be contrasted with purely gradational concepts of class.20 In gradational notions of class, classes differ by the quantitative degree of some attribute (income, status, education, etc.) and not by their location within a determinate relation”

“CONCEPTUAL CONSTRAINT 3. The concept of class is a relational concept”

“The names of classes, therefore, are derived from the relations within which they are located: lords and serfs within feudal class relations; bourgeoisie and proletarians within capitalist class relations”

“Thus the names of classes within gradational approaches have a strictly quantitative character: upper class, upper middle class, middle class, lower middle class, lower class, and so on”

“Of course, relationally defined classes also have gradational properties—capitalists are rich, workers”

“a relational specification of the positions which become formed into contending groups has more explanatory power for such formations than a non-relational specification. ‘Upper’ and ‘lower’ classes have no necessary relation to each other and therefore this gradational distinction does not, of itself, give any explantory leverage for understanding the generation of real social conflicts”

“Now it may happen in a particular society that the positions designated as ‘upper class’ in a gradational approach in fact do have some sort of determinate social relation to the positions designated ‘lower class’, and thus a structural basis for the formation of opposing groups in conflict between upper and lower classes would exist. But in such a case it is still the social relation which defines the line of cleavage, not the sheer fact of the gradational distinction”

“class relations are capable of explaining the essential features of gradational inequalities (distributional inequalities)”

“Defining classes in terms of social relations, therefore, identifies the concept with a more fundamental structure of social determination than distributional outcomes”

“the relations which define classes intrinsically generate opposing interests, in the sense that the realization of the interests of one class necessarily implies the struggle against the realization of the interests of another class”

“CONCEPTUAL CONSTRAINT 4: The social relations which define classes are intrinsically antagonistic rather than symmetrical”

“CONCEPTUAL CONSTRAINT 5: The objective basis of these antagonistic interests is exploitation”

“To say that feudal lords exploit serfs is to say more than they are rich and serfs are poor; it is to make the claim that there is a causal relationship between the affluence of the lord and the poverty of the serf. The lord is rich because lords are able, by virtue of their class relation to serfs, to appropriate a surplus produced by the serfs”

“Because of this causal link between the wellbeing of one class and the deprivation of another, the antagonism between classes defined by these relations has an ‘objective’ character”

“interest in increasing their consumption, but they do have an interest in reducing the toil necessary to obtain whatever level of consumption they desire”

“The assumption is that people always have an objective interest in their material welfare, where this is defined as the combination of how much they consume and how hard they have to work to get that consumption”

“There is therefore no assumption that people universally have an objective”

“An exploitative relation necessarily implies either that some people must toil more so that others can toil less, or that they must consume less at a given level of toil so that others can consume more, or both”

“In either case people universally have an objective interest in not being exploited materially, since in the absence of exploitation they would toil less and/or consume more”

“It is because the interests structured by exploitation are objective that we can describe the antagonisms between classes as intrinsic rather than contingent”

“CONCEPTUAL CONSTRAINT 6: The fundamental basis of exploitation is to be found in the social relations of production”

“While all Marxists see exploitation as rooted in the social organization of production, there is no agreement among them as to how the ‘social relations of production’ should be defined, or about what aspects of those relations are most essential for defining classes”

“I have argued that classes are defined by various relations of control within the process of production”

“In all of these cases, however, class is defined as a production-centred relational concept”

“These six constraints imposed by the general Marxist theory of class constitute the conceptual framework within which the attempt at transforming the ideological concept ‘middle class’ into a theoretical concept will occur”

“This attempt may fail, in which case the more complex problem of rethinking or transforming some of these basic presuppositions may be necessary. But to begin with, I will take these elements as fixed and use them to try to produce the needed concept”

“Such a clarification involves two essential tasks: first, establishing the conceptual criteria by which the working class is distinguished from non-working class wage earners, and second, establishing the conceptual status of those wage-earner locations that are excluded from the working class on these criteria”

Alternative Solutions

“The gap between the simple class map of capitalism consisting solely of a bourgeoisie and a proletariat and the concrete empirical observations of actual capitalist societies has been apparent to Marxists for a long time”

“As a result, considerable attention has been paid in recent years to the problem of theorizing the class character of the ‘middle class’. The motivation for these analyses has generally been a realization that a conceptual clarification of the ‘middle class’ was needed in order properly to specify the working class”

“Four alternative types of solutions to the problem”

“The gap between the polarized concept and reality is only apparent. Capitalist societies really are polarized”

“Non-proletarian, non-bourgeois positions constitute part of the petty bourgeoisie, generally referred to as the ‘new’ petty bourgeoisie (and sometimes less rigorously as the ‘new middle class’)”

“Non-proletarian, non-bourgeois locations constitute a historically new class sometimes referred to as the ‘professional-managerial class’ and sometimes simply as the ‘new class”

“Nonproletarian, non-bourgeois positions should be referred to simply as ‘middle strata’, social positions that are not really ‘in’ any class”

“The simplest response to the emergence of social positions in capitalist societies which appear to fall neither into the working class nor the capitalist class is to argue that this is simply ‘appearance’; that the ‘essence”

“professional and managerial wage-earners constitute a privileged stratum of the proletariat, but their existence or expansion does not require any modification of the basic class map of capitalism”

“The rationale behind this claim is that managers and professional employees, like all other workers, do not own their means of production and must therefore sell their labour power in order to live. This, it is argued, is sufficient to demonstrate that they are capitalistically exploited, and that in turn is sufficient to define them as workers”

“A simple wage-labour criterion for the working class does conform to some of the theoretical criteria laid out above. It is consistent with a general historical typology of class structures distinguishing capitalism from pre-capitalist societies (constraint 2), it is a relational concept (constraint 3), the relations do have an antagonistic character to them (constraint 4), nearly all wage-earners probably suffer some exploitation (constraint 5) and the basis for the exploitation under question is defined within the social organization of production, although perhaps in a fairly impoverished way (constraint 6)”

“Where this view of the ‘middle class’ fails dismally is in satisfying the first theoretical constraint. It is hard to see how a definition of the working class as all wage-earners could provide a satisfactory structural basis for explaining class formation, class consciousness and class struggle”

“Such wage-earners, it is argued, in a sense ‘live off the surplus-value produced by productive workers and thus occupy a different position from workers within the relations of exploitation”

“The first systematic solution proposed by Marxists in the recent debates over the conceptual problem at hand is to classify the ‘middle class’ as part of the petty bourgeoisie”

“Sometimes the rationale for this placement is that such positions involve ‘ownership’ of skills or ‘human capital’, and this places them in a social relation with capital akin to that of the traditional petty bourgeoisie (owners of individual physical means of production)”

“A more common rationale for this solution revolves around the category ‘unproductive labour’, i.e. wage-labour which does not produce surplus-value (eg. clerks in banks)”

“Yet such non-working-class wage-earners are clearly not part of the bourgeoisie because they do not own or even really control the means of production”

“The concept of the ‘new petty bourgeoisie’ suffers from some of the same problems as the simple polarization stance”

“It is very hard to see how the diverse categories of unproductive and/or supervisory and mental wage-earners (secretaries, professionals, managers, unproductive manual workers in the state, salespersons, etc.) are in any sense homogeneous with respect to the problem of class formation, class consciousness and class struggle”

“Dissatisfaction with both the simple polarization and new petty bourgeoisie solutions to the problem of the ‘middle class’ has led some Marxists to suggest that these various non-proletarian, non-bourgeois positions constitute a new class in its own right”

“This new class has been defined in various different ways. Gouldner defines it primarily in terms of its control of ‘cultural capital’; Szelenyi and Konrad emphasize the ‘teleological’ function of intellectuals as the key to their potential class power; Barbara and John Ehrenreich argue that the new class—the ‘professional-managerial class’ in their analysis—is defined by common positions within the social relations of reproduction of capitalist class relations”

“they view this new class as essentially an emergent tendency within capitalism (Szelenyi), a rival to the bourgeoisie itself for class dominance (Gouldner), or simply a new kind of subordinate class within capitalism (Ehrenreichs)”

“All of these views have one critical feature in common: they solve the problem of the ‘middle class’ by redefining such positions in terms of their relationship to cultural production in one way or another”

“This solution to the problem of producing a theoretical outline of the category ‘middle class’ avoids some of the problems of the other solutions. At least some of the categories included in the ‘new class’ clearly do have the potential to form organizations for collective action, distinct from both the bourgeoisie and the working class”

“And a good case can be made that ‘new class’ positions generate distinctive forms of consciousness”

“While such diverse positions may have some cultural features in common by virtue of education or expertise, it is difficult to see them as occupying a common position within production relations, sharing common exploitation interests, and thus constituting a single class by the criteria laid out in the general concept of class”

“What is much less evident is whether or not the concept is consistent with the fifth and sixth criteria. It is not usually clear how the diverse categories of ‘intellectuals’ subsumed under the ‘new class’ rubric share common interests based on exploitation or occupy a common position within the social relations of production”

“this formulation is itself a theoretical stance: some positions in the social structure, it is argued, simply do not fall into any class locations at all. Calling them ‘middle strata’ reflects the peculiarities of their social location: they are middle strata rather than middle classes because they are outside of the basic class relation; they are middle strata, rather than some other kind of social category, because in the class struggle they are forced to take sides with either the bourgeoisie or the proletariat. They are in a sense ‘caught in the middle”

“The final alternative solution is undoubtedly the most popular. Rather than transform any of the specific class concepts, positions which do not seem to fit into the bourgeois-proletarian dichotomy are simply labelled ‘middle strata”

“the view that the categories identified as ‘middle strata’ are generally ‘outside’ of the basic classes of capitalist society is not satisfactory”

“Many of these positions are directly involved in production, they are directly structured by the relations of domination and exploitation within the production system”

Building a New Concept

“None of the available alternatives, therefore, seemed adequate. In one way or another they were inconsistent with at least some of the theoretical constraints of the general theory of class”

“The starting point for the formation of a new concept for mapping the ‘middle class’ was the observation that all of the other alternatives implicitly share a common thesis, namely, that every position within a class structure falls within one and only one class.”

“It was assumed that there is an isomorphic relationship between the categories of the class structure and the actual locations filled by individuals”

“In the first solution, all positions are either in the working class, the capitalist class or the traditional petty bourgeoisie; in the second solution, the only change is that the petty bourgeoisie has two segments, old and new; in the third alternative every position not in the traditional classes of capitalism falls into a ‘new class’; and in the final alternative, positions which are not part of the traditional classes are treated as non-class positions—middle strata”

“If we drop this assumption, an entirely new kind of solution to the problem of conceptually mapping the ‘middle class’ becomes possible. Instead of regarding all positions as located uniquely within particular classes and thus as having a coherent class character in their own right, we should see some positions as possibly having a multiple class character; they may be in more than one class simultaneously”

“The class nature of such positions is a derivative one, based as it is on the fundamental classes to which they are attached. Such positions are what I have termed ‘contradictory locations within class relations”

“Contradictory locations are contradictory precisely in the sense that they partake of both sides of these inherently contradictory interests”

“Workers in their relationship to capitalists, therefore, should be considered the most ‘contradictory location”

“But why should positions which are simultaneously bourgeois and proletarian be viewed as ‘contradictory’ in any sense?”

“The rationale is that the basic class relation of capitalism generates objectively contradictory interests for workers and capitalists, interests which are intrinscially (rather than just contingently) opposed to each other”

“The actual process by which this new concept was formed began as a problem of formally operationalizing class locations within the statistical study of income inequality discussed earlier. We had two pieces of data in that initial project which we used to operationalize classes: (1) whether the individual was self-employed; and (2) whether the individual supervised the labour of others. With two criteria, each of which had two values, we immediately had a little four-fold table”

“In a seminar discussion of the conceptual framework, the suggestion was made that this was not quite precise: such positions were really both fish and fowl”

“The diagnonal cells in the table (upper-left and lower-right) posed no problem: self-employed people who supervised others were capitalists (typically quite small); employees without subordinates were workers”

“And self-employed without subordinates also fell nicely into a conventional Marxian category: the petty bourgeoisie. But what about the non-self-employed with subordinates? In the first presentations of the research we referred to such managerial positions as having an ‘ambiguous’ class character, neither fish nor fowl”

“they should be seen as internally contradictory rather than ambiguous”

“That shift in labels—from ambiguous locations to contradictory locations—was the crucial step in the development of the new concept. ‘Ambiguity’ suggests that the problem is taxonomic: some people don’t fit the slots properly; ‘contradictoriness’, on the other hand, suggests that the slots themselves have a complex character that can be identified as internally contradictory and given a positive theoretical status”

“Managers were considered bourgeois in that they had the capacity to tell workers what to do, to punish them for doing their jobs improperly and in various other ways being directly involved in central decisions concerning the process of production; they were proletarian, on the other hand, because they were themselves told what to do and could be fired by their employers and because they were excluded from basic control over the flow of resources into production itself (i.e. they were non-owners of capital assets)”

“In their relation to workers as positions of domination they were in the bourgeoisie; in their relation to capitalists as positions of subordination, they were in the working class”

“Within this category were simple line supervisors and top executives, positions which involved vastly different kinds of control not just ‘degrees’ of control. Some further elaboration seemed necessary in order to have a more nuanced class map of the contradictory locations of managers”

“there were positions which did not meet the criterion of supervising/con trolling the labour of others which did not correspond to an intuitive idea of the working class. A wide range of technical and professional jobs, both in the capitalist firms and the state, are usually viewed as ‘middle class’ but do not involve supervision”

“Balibar’s discussion of the distinction between ‘ownership’ and ‘possession’ of the means of production proved particularly helpful in furthering the elaboration of the concept of contradictory locations”

“In my use of Balibar’s distinction, I defined ‘ownership’ as real control over investments (the flow of financial resources into and out of production); ‘possession’, on the other hand, referred to control over the actual operation of the means of production”

“Such control, I argued, could itself be broken down into two dimensions: control over the physical means of production as such, and control over labour within production (authority or supervision)”

“Capitalists could now be defined as positions of control over investments, the physical means of production and labour; workers were positions excluded from all three kinds of control. Various kinds of managers could then be specified, depending upon the specific combinations of these three criteria”

“with respect to each of the ‘resources’ in the three dimensions of control—money, physical means of production, labour—it was not true that a position either did or did not involve control”

“Because different positions were structured into a complex hierarchy of domination relations, they also involved different ‘amounts’ of control”

“Some supervisors could only issue warnings to subordinates; others could fire subordinates; and still others could control the authority hierarchy as such, not just their immediate subordinates”

“some account of such ‘levels’ of control was needed”

“There were three criteria or dimensions of class relations—relations of control over money capital, physical capital and labour—and several ‘levels’ of control within each of these relations—full, partial, minimal and none”

“The result of these elaborations was the ‘class map’ illustrated in figure 2.2. While I subsequently made various modifications in this picture—adding a position called ‘non-managerial technocrats’ between managers and semi-autonomous employees and adding ‘franchise operators’ between small employers and managers—this diagram remained the basic representation of the reformulated concept of class structure which I proposed”

“At the end of all of my previously published empirical work I had always bemoaned the fact that the data used in my statistical investigations had been gathered by bourgeois sociologists and economists, using non-Marxist categories”

“While this provided me with a convenient excuse for problems in my own analyses, I felt that it would be useful to generate a substantial body of statistical data explicitly gathered within a Marxist framework”

“the global concept of ‘contradictory locations within class relations’ needed to be formally differentiated into two distinct sub-concepts: contradictory locations within a mode of production, and contradictory locations between modes of production”

“I was convinced that the central defining criterion for the social relations of production, which in turn provides the basis for defining classes was the unity of appropriation relations and domination relations”

“This led to a simplification of my original criteria for capitalist class relations from three to two”

“This re-conceptualization meant that to define properly the category of semi-autonomous employees we had to specify the appropriate criteria for the petty bourgeoisie, i.e. for the class determined within simple commodity production.”

“I now felt that control over the operation of the physical means of production and direct control over work should be treated as two alternative mechanisms of domination of workers, rather than two dimensions of class relations with equivalent conceptual status to control over investments”

“Classes, and accordingly contradictory locations, are therefore to be defined by their”

“In these terms, the problem became one of specifying appropriation and domination relations within simple commodity production. I took the appropriation relations to be unproblematic, defined by individual appropriation of the product of one’s own labour (i.e. self-employment).41 Domination relations within simple commodity production were, in a parallel manner, defined as self-control, (i.e. the individual self-direction within the labour process). Such ‘self-direction’ in operational terms was the ability to put one’s own ideas into practice within work, or in traditional Marxian language, the ‘unity of conception and execution”

“These modifications lead to the final version of the class typology of contradictory locations represented in Table 2.2. This is a long way from the initial, simple four-fold table which began the story of contradictory locations. And, as we shall see, there were sufficient remaining problems with the conceptual framework that eventually I became convinced that it in turn needed to be superseded”

Problems With the Conceptualization

“The concept of contradictory locations within class relations was, I believe, an advance over the alternative ways of dealing with the problem of the ‘middle class’ in advanced capitalist societies. Both in terms of the explanatory agenda for the concept of class and in terms of the abstract structural properties of the concept, it fared better than its rivals. Yet, from the start there were problems”

“Four of these problems were particularly significant”

1) “The Contradictoriness of Contradictory Locations”

“From the first publication using the concept of contradictory locations, the use of the term ‘contradiction’ has been criticized”

“What I have called ‘contradictory locations within class relations’, therefore, may be ‘dual’, or ‘heterogeneous’ locations, but except in the case of managers and supervisors, they are not obviously ‘contradictory’ locations. The term could therefore be retained for what I called contradictory locations within modes of production, but seems less appropriate for contradictory locations between modes of production”

2) “Autonomy as a Class Criterion”

“The only thing which defines the petty bourgeois is ownership of certain kinds of assets—land, tools, a few machines, perhaps in some cases ‘skills’ or credentials—and self-employment, but not work autonomy”

“Structurally, the characterization of autonomy as ‘petty bourgeois’ rests largely on what may be a rather romantic image of the petty bourgeoisie as independent direct producers characterized by a ‘unity of conception and execution”

“The characterization of work autonomy as petty-bourgeois is also very problematic when looked at historically. The semi-autonomous employee category contains two quite distinct sorts of positions: highly autonomous craft wage-earners, and professional-technical wage-earners”

“The kinds of autonomy that occur within contemporary bureaucratically organized institutions cannot be treated as remnants of ‘simple commodity production’, but this is what is implied by treating semi-autonomous class”

“The concept of class is meant to designate fairly stable and structurally determinate properties of locations within the social relations of production. At a minimum, the seemingly contingent character of autonomy in certain jobs is a weakness in the claim that autonomy is a class criterion”

“The polarized class structure between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat within capitalism thus paralleled the polarized historical alternatives between capitalism and socialism”

3) “Classes in Post-capitalist Societies”

“Classical Marxism was absolutely unequivocal about the historical prognosis for capitalism: socialism—and ultimately communism—was the future of capitalist societies”

“The actual historical experience of the twentieth century has called into question, although not unambiguously refuted, this historical vision, and it is thus necessary at least to entertain the possibility of post-capitalist class structures”

“there is very little theoretical work which either systematically conceptualizes post-capitalist classes or shows how they emerge within capitalist societies”

4) “The Shift from Exploitation to Domination”

“the concept of contradictory locations within class relations rested almost exclusively on relations of domination rather than exploitation”

“Managers, for example, were basically defined as a contradictory location because they were simultaneously dominators and dominated”

“This same tendency to substitute domination for exploitation at the core of the concept of class is found in most other neo-Marxist conceptualizations of class structure”

“Exploitation intrinsically implies a set of opposing material interests”

“For some people, of course, marginalizing the concept of exploitation is a virtue, not a sin. My own view, however, is that this is a serious weakness for two reasons”

“the shift to a domination-centred concept of class weakens the link between the analysis of class locations and the analysis of objective interests”

“domination-centred concepts of class tend to slide into the ‘multiple oppressions’ approach to understanding society.”

“Class, then, becomes just one of many oppressions, with no particular centrality to social and historical analysis”

“this displacement of class from the centre stage may be viewed as an achievement rather than a problem. However, if one wants to retain the traditional centrality Marxism has accorded to the concept of class, then the domination-centred concept of class does pose real problems”

“there are two main theoretical alternatives that could be pursued”

“One possibility is to celebrate the shift to a domination-centred concept and use this new class concept as the basis for analysing both capitalist and postcapitalist society”

“This would lead class analysis firmly in the direction of Dahrendorf’s analysis of classes as positions within authority relations”

“A second alternative is to attempt to restore exploitation to the centre of class analysis in such a way that it can both accommodate the empirical complexities of the ‘middle class’ within capitalism and the historical reality of post-capitalist class structures”

“I will persue this second course of action in the next chapter chapter.”

3. A General Framework for the Analysis of Class

“My dissatisfactions with the concept of contradictory locations accumulated for a long time before I saw any viable strategy for transforming it in a constructive way. It was only after an extended engagement with the work of John Roemer, particularly his work on the concept of exploitation, that I began to see a coherent solution to these problems”

Roemer’s Account of Class and Exploitation

“in Roemer’s analysis the rich are said to exploit the poor when it can be established that the welfare of the rich causally depends upon the deprivations of the poor—the rich are rich because the poor are poor, they are rich at the expense of others”

“To describe an inequality as reflecting exploitation is to make the claim that there exists a particular kind of causal relationship between the incomes of different actors”

“Note that this need not be the case for all inequalities. Suppose that two subsistence farmers each have land of the same quality, but one is lazy and works minimally on the land while the other is industrious. In this case there is no causal relationship between the affluence of the one and the poverty of the other. The rich farmer would not become worse off if the lazy farmer started working harder. To count as exploitation it must be demonstrated that one person’s welfare is obtained at the expense of the other”

“In Marxian exploitation one class appropriates the surplus labour performed by another class through various mechanisms”

“The Labour Transfer Approach. The analysis of labour transfers is an extension of the traditional”

“It is not simply that some producers work less than others for the same subsistence, but that the workers who work less are able to do so because the less-endowed producers have to work more”

“Roemer demonstrates that exploitation can occur in an economy in which every producer owns his or her own means of production and in which there is no market in labour power and no borrowing (i.e. no credit market)”

“Roemer argues that market-based exploitation and the class relations associated with it can be formally derived simply from inequalities in the distribution of property rights in the means of production”

“The Game Theory Approach. The labour-transfer approach to studying exploitation and class is a powerful and compelling one under certain simplifying assumptions. It runs into difficulty, Roemer demonstrates, when some of these assumptions are relaxed”

“Roemer introduced a second strategy for exploring exploitation, a strategy rooted in ‘game theory”

“The basic idea of this approach is to compare different systems of exploitation by treating the organization of production as a ‘game’. The actors in this game have various kinds of productive assets (i.e. resources such as skills and capital) which they bring into production and which they use to generate incomes on the basis of a specific set of rules. The essential strategy adopted for the analysis of exploitation is to ask if particular coalitions of players would be better off if they withdrew from this game under certain specified procedures in order to play a different one. The alternative games differ in the ways the assets are allocated. Different types of exploitation are defined by the particular withdrawal rules that would make certain agents better off and other agents worse off”

“When people disagree about whether or not a given category of actors is exploited, we can examine whether they differ over the choice of the appropriate alternative game used to ‘test’ for exploitation, or whether they disagree in their evaluations of the verdict of a similar test”

“Roemer uses this strategy to define four kinds of exploitation”

  1. “feudal exploitation”
  2. “capitalist exploitation”
  3. “what he refers to as socialist exploitation”
  4. “something he calls ‘status’ exploitation”

“What Roemer demonstrates is that if the coalition of all wage-earners were to leave the game of capitalism with their per capita share of society’s assets, then they would be better off than if they stayed in capitalism, and capitalists would be worse off. The ‘withdrawal rule’ in this case—leaving the game with per capita shares of physical assets—then becomes the formal ‘test’ of whether or not a particular social system involves capitalistic exploitation”

“the withdrawal rule which specifies feudal exploitation involves leaving the game with one’s personal assets (rather than one’s per capita share of total assets). This is equivalent to a situation where the feudal serf is freed from all obligations based on personal bondage. Peasants would be better off in such circumstances and feudal lords would be worse off”

“workers in capitalism are not feudally exploited; they would be worse off, not better off, if they withdrew from the game of capitalism with only their personal assets”

“The concept of socialist exploitation is less systematically worked out in Roemer’s analysis. The withdrawal rule in this case is leaving the game with one’s per capita share of inalienable assets (roughly equivalent to talents or skills). A coalition will be said to be socialistically exploited if it would improve its position by leaving with its per capita skills while its complement would be worse off under such circumstances”

“This implies that people with high levels of skills in the existing game receive high income not simply because they have a high level of skill, but because of the skill differentials among actors”

“Although Marx referred neither to the inequalities in income in a socialist society as the result of ‘exploitation’, nor to the relation between the skilled and unskilled as a class relation, Roemer’s account nevertheless corresponds well to Marx’s analysis of inequality in socialism as laid out in his Critique of the Gotha Programme”

“Marx emphasized that skill-based inequalities would persist in socialism and that distribution would be on the basis of ‘from each according to his abilities, to each according to his work”

“Only in communism would distribution be on the basis of need, which in effect implies that skills would cease to be a form of private-property assets”

“The final form of exploitation discussed by Roemer is what he has termed ‘status’ exploitation.13 The exploitation exercised by bureaucrats is the prototypical example”

“Status exploitation is much less systematically theorized in Roemer’s analysis than any of the other forms he explores. Its theoretical function is to provide a way of understanding the bureaucratically-based exploitation in ‘actually existing socialist societies’, but it does so in a way that does not fit comfortably into the rest of the analysis”

“The central message of both of Roemer’s strategies for analysing exploitation is that the material basis of exploitation lies in inequalities in the distribution of productive assets, usually referred to as property relations”

“Classes are then defined as positions within the social relations of production derived from the property relations which determine the patterns of exploitation”


“In previous work I have criticized Roemer’s position on this issue.16 I argued that class relations intrinsically involved domination at the point of production, not simply in the repressive protection of the property relations as such. I now think that Roemer is correct on this point”

“While the fact that capitalists supervise workers within production is unquestionably an important feature of most historic forms of capitalist production and may play an important role in explaining the forms of class organization and class conflict within production, the basis of the capital-labour relation should be identified with the relations of effective control (i.e. real economic ownership) over productive assets as such”

“What now seems clear to me is that definitions of classes in terms of property relations should not be identified with strictly market-based definitions. Property relations accounts of classes do not define classes by income shares, by the results of market transactions, but by the productive assets which classes control, which lead them to adopt certain strategies within exchange relations, and which in turn determine the outcomes of those market transactions”

Towards a General Framework of Class Analysis

“Different mechanisms of exploitation are defined with respect to different kinds of assets and different class systems are defined by the social relations of production that are built upon property rights in those assets”

“it is necessary to modify and extend Roemer’s analysis in several respects: first, it will be helpful to introduce a distinction between economic exploitation and economic oppression; second, we need to recast Roemer’s account of feudal exploitation in terms of a distinctive type of productive asset; and third, we need to replace Roemer’s concept of status exploitation with a new concept, which I shall label ‘organization exploitation”

“While Roemer’s procedure allows us to assess inequalities that are the result of causal interconnections between actors, it lacks the additional force of the view that the inequalities in question are produced by real transfers from one actor to another”

“I think that it is possible to restore the central thrust of the traditional Marxist concept of exploitation by making a distinction between what can be called ‘economic oppression’ and exploitation. I would argue, that in and of itself, the withdrawal rule procedure simply defines a situation of economic oppression”

“What, then, is added by the distinction between economic oppressions that involve appropriation of the fruits of labour and those that do not? The critical addition is the idea that in the case of exploitation, the welfare of exploiting class depends upon the work of the exploited class”

“In a case of simple economic oppression, the oppressing class only has interests in protecting its own property rights; in the case of exploitation it also has interests in the productive activity and effort of the exploited”

“the exploiting class needs the exploited class. Exploiters would be hurt if the exploited all disappeared”

“Exploitation, therefore, binds the exploiter and exploited together in a way that economic oppression need not”

“It is this peculiar combination of antagonism of material interests and inter-dependency which gives exploitation its distinctive character and which makes class struggle such a potentially explosive social force”

“This notion of exploitation has a relatively straightforward intuitive meaning for feudal exploitation, where feudal lords directly appropriate a surplus produced by serfs, and for capitalist exploitation, where capitalists appropriate the total product out of which they pay the workers a wage”

“It is much less obvious that what Roemer calls ‘socialist exploitation’, exploitation rooted in skills, should be viewed as exploitation in this sense”

“The answer to this question is easiest when skill-asset exploitation is based on credentials which have the effect of restricting the supply of skills”

“In Roemer’s own formulation, only two kinds of assets are considered formally: physical assets (in his terminology alienable assets) and skill assets (inalienable assets)”

“In his exposition, the distinction between exploitation in feudalism and capitalism revolves around the nature of the withdrawal rules with respect to physical assets, rather than the nature of the assets themselves”

“The feudal case, however, can be characterized in a somewhat different way. Labour power is a productive asset.24 In capitalist societies everyone owns one unit of this asset, namely themselves. In feudalism, on the other hand, ownership rights over labour power are unequally distributed: feudal lords have more than one unit, serfs have less than one unit. This is what ‘personal bondage’ means economically: feudal lords partially own the labour power of their vassals”

“The empirical manifestation of this unequal distribution of ownership rights over labour power in classical feudalism is the coercive extraction of labour dues from serfs”

“The withdrawal rule which defines feudal exploitation can then be specified as leaving the feudal game with one’s per capita share of society’s assets in labour power, namely one unit”

“Reformulating feudal exploitation in this manner makes the game-theoretic specification of different exploitations in Roemer’s analysis symmetrical: feudal exploitation is based on inequalities generated by ownership of labour power assets; capitalist exploitation, on inequalities generated by ownership of alienable assets; socialist exploitation, on inequalities generated by ownership of inalienable assets”

“Corresponding to each of these exploitation-generating inequalities of assets, there is a specific class relation: lords and serfs in feudalism, bourgeoisie and proletariat in capitalism, experts and workers in socialism”

“it seems unsatisfactory to characterize societies like the Soviet Union simply in terms of skill-based exploitation. Experts do not appear to be the ‘ruling class’ in those societies, and the dynamic of the societies does not seem to revolve around skill inequalities as such. How, then, should exploitation be understood in ‘actually existing socialism’?”

“Roemer has attempted to deal with this problem by introducing what he termed ‘status exploitation’. This is not, I believe, a very satisfactory solution”

“the category ‘status exploitation’ is outside the logic of the rest of Roemer’s analysis of exploitation. In each of the other cases, exploitation is rooted in the relation of people or coalitions to the forces of production”

“Each of the other forms of exploitation is ‘materialist’ not just in the sense that the concept is meant to explain material distribution, but because it is based in this relation to the material conditions of production”

“Status’ exploitation has no necessary relationship to production at all”

“The problems with the concept of status exploitation can potentially be solved by analysing exploitation based on a fourth element in the inventory of productive assets, an asset which can be referred to as ‘organization’”

“As both Adam Smith and Marx noted, the technical division of labour among producers was itself a source of productivity”

“The way the process of production is organized is a productive resource distinct from the expenditure of labour power, the use of means of production or the skills of the producer”

“organization—the conditions of coordinated cooperation among producers in a complex division of labour—is a productive resource in its own right”

“In contemporary capitalism, organization assets are generally controlled by managers and capitalists: managers control the organization assets within specific firms under constraints imposed by the ownership of the capital assets by capitalists”

“In statist societies (or, perhaps, ‘state socialist’ societies), organization assets assume a much greater importance.29 Control of the technical division of labour—the coordination of productive activities within and across labour processes—becomes a societal task organized at the centre”

“Control over organization assets is no longer simply the task of firm-level managers, but extends into the central organs of planning within the state”

“When it is said that exploitation in such societies is based on bureaucratic power what is meant is that the control over”

“organization assets defines the material basis for class relations and exploitation”

“This notion of organization assets bears a close relation to the problem of authority and hierarchy. The asset is organization. The activity of using that asset is co-ordinated decision-making over a complex technical division of labour. When that asset is distributed unequally, so that some positions have effective control over much more of the asset than others, then the social relation with respect to that asset takes the form of hierarchical authority”

“Authority, however, is not the asset as such; organization is the asset which is controlled through a hierarchy of authority”

“The claim that the effective control over organization assets is a basis of exploitation is equivalent to saying (a) that non-managers would be better off and managers/bureaucrats worse off if non-managers were to withdraw with their per capita share of organization assets (or, equivalently, if organizational control were democratized); and (b) that by virtue of effectively controlling organization assets managers/bureaucrats control part or all of the socially produced surplus”

“Two objections to the characterization of ‘organization’ as an exploitation-generating asset need to be addressed: first, that this asset is not ‘owned’ and thus cannot constitute the basis of a property relation; and second, that as an exploitation-mechanism it is effectively indistinguishable from the means of production itself”

“Ownership’ has come to have two kinds of meanings in contemporary Marxist discussions of class: ownership as a property right and effective economic control. In the first usage, to ‘own’ something fully implies that one can sell it, dispose of it or give it away; in the second usage, to ‘own’ something is to exercise the real control over its use”

“A good case can be made that managers and bureaucrats do have effective economic control over the use of organization assets. Even though capitalists retain the right to fire managers, in practice in the modern corporation the actual exercise of control over organization assets is in the hands of managers”

“while managers individually cannot sell organization assets, there is one sense in which they have a kind of property right in such assets, namely in their collective control over the transfer of rights to use the asset”

“it does seem an abuse of the term ‘ownership’ to say that managers personally own the assets as a result of such control. As a result, in our analysis of organization assets I will generally talk about the ways in which these assets are ‘effectively controlled’ rather than ‘owned’.”

“State planners in a ‘statist’ society control the flow of investments throughout the society, and if they ‘own’ or ‘control’ anything, therefore, they own the means of production, not just ‘organization assets’.”

“In all exploitation relations, whether based on ownership of labour power, skills, means of production or organization assets, what exploitation generates is effective claims on the social surplus”

“This in turn gives exploiters at least some effective control over investments, at least in so far as they have the ability to dispose of that surplus for”

“investment purposes”

“Skill exploiters in capitalism, for example, can invest the surplus they appropriate through credentials”

“The issue at hand in the present context, however, is not what exploiters do with the surplus they control, but rather on what basis they gain control over that surplus”

“in capitalism, when skill or organization-asset exploiters invest the surplus which they obtain on the basis of their skills or organization assets, they will, in the future, begin to obtain a flow of surplus from these investments themselves. They can, in other words, capitalize their skill and organization exploitation”

“In a statist system of production, this is precisely what is not possible. Except in very limited ways, managers, bureaucrats and state planners cannot convert the surpluses they control into future exploitation except in so far as their use of the surplus enhances their organizational position (i.e. their control over organization assets). They cannot capitalize their present exploitation”

“The contrast between capitalism and statism is parallel in this respect to the contrast between feudalism and capitalism”

“in capitalism, capitalists are prohibited from feudalizing their surplus”

“Just as bourgeois revolutions block the feudalization of capitalist exploitation, so anti-capitalist revolutions block the capitalization of organization and skill exploitation”

“If we add organization assets to the list in Roemer’s analysis, we generate the more complex typology presented in Table 3.2 below”

“Anti-capitalist revolutions attempt to eliminate the distinctively capitalist form of exploitation, exploitation based on private ownership of the means of production. The nationalization of the principal means of production is, in effect, a radical equalization of ownership of capital: everyone owns one citizen-share”

“What anti-capitalist revolutions do not necessarily eliminate, and may indeed considerably strengthen and deepen, are inequalities of effective control over organization assets”

“Whereas in capitalism the control over organization assets does not extend beyond the firm, in statist societies the coordinated integration of the division of labour extends to the whole society through institutions of central state planning”

“It would be utopian to imagine that in any society with a complex division of labour all productive actors would share equally in the actual use of organization assets. This would be equivalent to imagining that the equalization of ownership of means of production implied that all such actors would actually use an identical amount of physical capital”

“This need not imply a thoroughgoing direct democracy, where all decisions of any consequence are directly made in democratic assemblies. There will still be delegated responsibilities, and there certainly can be representative forms of democratic control”

“Equalization of control over organization assets means essentially the democratization of bureaucratic apparatuses”

“The historical task of the revolutionary transformation of statist societies revolves around the equalization of effective economic control over organization assets”

“But it does mean that the basic parameters of planning and co-ordination of social production are made through democratic mechanisms and that the holding of delegated positions of organizational responsibility does not give the delegates any personal claims on the social surplus”

“Lenin’s original vision of ‘soviet’ democracy, in which officials would be paid no more than average workers and would be subject to immediate recall, and in which the basic contours of social planning would be debated and decided through democratic participation, embodied such principles of radical equalization of organization assets”

“Once in power, as we know, the Bolsheviks were either unable or unwilling seriously to attempt the elimination of organization exploitation. Upon that failure, a new class structure emerged and was consolidated”

“The equalization of organization assets and the eradication of class relations rooted in organization exploitation would not in and of itself eliminate exploitation based on skills/credentials. Such exploitation would remain a central feature of socialism”

“In this conceptualization of socialism, a socialist society is essentially a kind of non-bureaucratic technocracy”

“Experts control their own skills or knowledge within production, and by virtue of such control are able to appropriate some of the surplus from production”

“because of the democratization of organization assets, the actual making of planning decisions would not be under the direct control of experts but would be made through some kind of democratic procedure”

“the actual class power of a socialist technocratic-exploiting class will be much weaker than the class power of exploiting classes in previous class sytems. Their ownership rights extend to only a limited part of the social surplus”

“This much more limited basis of domination implied by skill-based exploitation is consistent with the classical claim in Marxism that the working class—the direct producers—are the ‘ruling’ class in socialism”

“The democratization of organization assets necessarily means that workers effectively control social planning”

“Another way of describing socialism, then, is that it is a society within which the ruling class and the exploiting classes are distinct”

“In these terms socialism (in contrast to statism) could be viewed as a society with exploitation but without fully constituted classes”

“while skills or credentials may be a basis for exploitation, this asset is not really the basis of a class relation, at least not in the same sense as labour power, capital and organization assets”

“Such a characterization of socialism is also consistent with the spirit, if not the letter, of Marx’s claim that socialism is the ‘lower stage’ of communism, since classes are already in a partial state of dissolution in a society with only skill-based exploitation”

“Communism’ itself would be understood as a society within which skill-based exploitation had itself ‘withered away’, i.e., in which ownership rights in skills had been equalized”

“the equalization of ownership rights in skills implies that differential incomes and control over the social surplus cease to be linked to differential skills”

“Two different kinds of non-polarized class locations can be defined in the logic of this framework”

“A petty-bourgeois, self-employed producer with average capital stock, for example, would be neither exploiter nor exploited within capitalist relations.39 These kinds of positions are what can be called the ‘traditional’ or ‘old’ middle class of a particular kind of class system”

“Since concrete societies are rarely, if ever, characterized by a single mode of production, the actual class structures of given societies will be characterized by complex patterns of intersecting exploitation relations. There will therefore tend to be some positions which are exploiting along one dimension of exploitation relations, while on another are exploited”

“Highly skilled wage-earners (e.g. professionals) in capitalism are a good example: they are capitalistically exploited because they lack assets in capital and yet are skill-exploiters. Such positions are what are typically referred to as the ‘new middle class’ of a given class system”

“Table 3.3 presents a schematic typology of such complex class locations for capitalism. The typology is divided into two segments: one for owners of the means of production and one for non-owners”

“It is thus possible to distinguish within this framework a whole terrain of class-locations in capitalist society that are distinct from the polarized classes of the capitalist mode of production : expert managers, non-managerial experts, non-expert managers, etc.”

“On the one hand, they are like workers in being excluded from ownership of the means of production;40 on the other, they have interests opposed to workers because of their effective control of organization and skill assets”

“What is the relationship between this heterogeneous exploitation definition of the middle class and my previous conceptualization of such positions as contradictory locations within class relations?”

“Within the struggles of capitalism, therefore, these ‘new’ middle classes do constitute contradictory locations, or more precisely, contradictory locations within exploitation relations”

“This conceptualization of the middle classes also suggests that the principle forms of contradictory locations will vary historically depending”

“In feudalism, the critical contradictory location is constituted by the bourgeoisie, the rising class of the successor mode of production”

“Within capitalism, the central contradictory location within exploitation relations is constituted by managers and state bureaucrats”

“They embody a principle of class organization which is quite distinct from capitalism and which potentially poses an alternative to capitalist relations”

“in statist societies, the ‘intellegentsia’ broadly defined constitutes the pivotal contradictory location”

“One of the consequences of this reconceptualization of the middle class is that it is no longer axiomatic that the proletariat is the unique, or perhaps even universally the central, rival to the capitalist class for class power in capitalist society”

“That classical Marxist assumption depended upon the thesis that there were no other classes within capitalism that could be viewed as the ‘bearers’ of a historical alternative to capitalism”

“there are other class forces within capitalism that have the potential to pose an alternative to capitalism”

“it was not the peasantry who became the ruling class with the demise of feudalism, but the bourgeoisie, a class that was located outside the principal”

“Alvin Gouldner and others have argued that the beneficiaries of social revolutions in history have not been the oppressed classes of the prior mode of production, but ‘third classes”

“exploitation relation of feudalism”

“A similar argument could be extended to manager-bureaucrats with respect to capitalism and experts with respect to state bureacuratic socialism: in each case these constitute potential rivals to the existing ruling class”

“in the advanced capitalist countries, corporate managers are so closely integrated into the logic of private capital accumulation that it seems quite implausible that they would ever oppose capitalism in favour of some sort of statist organization of production”


“even for state managers, who arguably have a power base that is at least partially independent of capital, it still seems very unlikely that they would ever become consistently anti-capitalist because of the multiple ways in which the interests of the state are subordinated to and co-ordinated with the interests of capital”

“Since in a capitalist society state revenues depend upon privately generated profits (because the state itself does not organize production), the state is systematically constrained to act in a way that supports the profitability of capital and thus capitalist exploitation”

“Behind each of these claims about the effective integration of managers and bureaucrats into the capitalist social order is the assumption that capitalism is successful as a system of exploitation and accumulation”

“So long as firms, in general, are able to make profits, they are able to integrate their managers into a logic of capital accumulation; and so long as capitalism reproduces a revenue base for the state, state managers will have their interests tied to the interests of capital”

“But what happens to these interests and strategies if capitalism permanently”

“stagnates? If profits can no longer be assured in the long-run? If the career prospects for large numbers of managers became very insecure and precarious?”

“one can imagine historical conditions under which managers and bureaucrats even in the advanced capitalist countries (let alone third world countries) would find anti-capitalist, statist solutions attractive”

“the process of class formation and class struggle is considerably more complex and indeterminate than the traditional Marxist story has allowed”

“the exploitation-based concept of contradictory locations helps to provide a much clearer material basis for analysing the problem of alliances”

Once Again, Unresolved Problems

“Four such problems seem particularly pressing: (1) the status of ‘organization’ in organization assets; (2) the relationship between skill exploitation and classes; (3) causal interactions among forms of exploitation; (4) non-asset-based mechanisms of exploitation”

“Even if one accepts the claim that managers and bureaucrats are exploiters, one might still be rather sceptical of the argument that the basis of their exploitation is the control—let alone the ‘ownership’—of organization assets. Two alternatives should be considered: first, that these are really just a specialized type of skill asset—managerial ability; and second, that this is just a special case of a more general problem that might be termed ‘positional’ exploitation”

“It is difficult to know how one would refute this argument empirically”

Commentator Note: The existence of bad managers is one. One need not have sufficient skill as a manager to still be invested with control over organization assets by virtue of credentials and position.

“the responsibility attached to a position by virtue of its control over organization assets gives the incumbent of such a position a claim on the surplus that is distinct from any claims rooted in skills/credentials”

“Managerial positions, in these terms, are one instance, but by no means the only instance, of jobs which are difficult to monitor but are highly sensitive to differences in conscientiousness”

“the possibility that it is not the organization assets as such which are the basis for exploitation, but a more general property of these positions, the property of their ‘strategic’ importance within organization”

“Strategic jobs’ can be defined by the intersection of two dimensions: first, the extent to which the tasks in a job are well-defined and can easily be monitored continuously; and second, the extent to which variability in the conscientiousness and responsibility with which individuals carry out those tasks can affect the overall productivity of the organization”

“Strategic jobs pose a serious social-control problem to employers”

“The absence of easy, ongoing monitorability makes it difficult to rely on repressive sanctions as a strategy of social control, but the potential impact on productivity of job performance makes such social control necessary”

“The solution to this problem is a heavy reliance on positive rewards, particularly positive rewards built into career trajectories, as a way of eliciting the necessary responsible, conscientious behaviour”

“The exploitation transfers commanded by managers, therefore, should be viewed as a ‘loyalty dividend”

“The exploitation in such jobs, therefore, should be characterized as ‘positional exploitation’, rather than organization exploitation”

“this social control view makes it possible to distinguish skill-based exploitation that works through mechanisms involved in restricting the supply of particular kinds of skilled labour power, and skill-based exploitation that revolves around the organization of work itself”

“this alternative makes it possible to define certain positions which may involve neither organization assests nor skill assets and yet occupy strategic jobs requiring ‘loyalty dividends”

“While the ownership of skill assets may be the basis of exploitation mediated by market exchanges and internal labour-markets, it is much less clear that it is the basis of a class relation, except insofar as skills or talents enable one to gain access to other kinds of assets”

“Experts may have distinct interests from non-experts, but they are not clearly constituted as a class in relation to non-experts”

“One possible strategy for dealing with this situation may be to treat skill exploitation as the basis of internal divisions within classes”

“Class fractions could be defined as positions which share common locations within class relations but occupy different locations with respect to exploitation”

“Even if we grant that the ownership of organization and skill assets constitutes the basis for mechanisms of exploitation, there is still an important potential problem in linking these mechanisms to class structures”

“even though managers are not in the capitalist class in relational terms, they effectively partake in capitalist exploitation and accordingly share basic class interests with capitalists by virtue of the way capitalism enhances their organization exploitation”

“If we drop the assumption that forms of exploitation do not reinforce each other, then the relationship between the map of class locations defined with respect to assets and objective class interests becomes much more problematic”

“This does not necessarily destroy the usefulness of the basic strategy of analysis proposed in this chapter, but it does add considerably to the complexity of the analysis of the inter-relationship between assets, exploitation and classes”

“I will generally continue to adopt the simplifying assumption that forms of exploitation are independent of each other”

“Throughout the analyses of this chapter I have self-consciously limited the discussion to exploitation rooted in control or ownership of productive forces”

“But there may be other mechanisms through which individuals or groups may be able to appropriate part of the social surplus”

“Control over the means of salvation may give Churches an ability to exploit believers”

“Control over military violence may give the state an ability to appropriate part of the surplus whether or not it is also involved in controlling aspects of the forces of production”

“Male domination within the family may enable men to appropriate surplus labour in the form of domestic services from their wives”

“Racial domination may enable whites as such, regardless of economic class, to exploit blacks”

“why should property relations be privileged in the analysis of classes?”

“the mechanism which allows priests, officers, men or whites to exploit others is their ownership”

“While these non-asset social criteria would be important in explaining the social distribution of productive assets, it would remain the case that class and exploitation would remain defined in terms of property relations”

“The difficulties arise when various kinds of non-productive categories have direct, enforcable claims on the surplus, unmediated by their relationship to the system of production”

“Men, for example, may appropriate surplus labour from women simply by virtue of being men within the gender relations of the family and not by virtue of the gender distribution of productive assets”

“the concept of class is meant to figure centrally in epochal theories of social change, theories of the overall trajectory of historical development. In such epochal theories, the development of the productive forces—of technology and other sources of productivity—play a pivotal role”

Commentator Note: Considerations of technologies that specifically changed the nature of women’s labour (like the washing machine), or of epochal technologies attached to women’s labour, and so erased, may change this concept of class. See St. Clair, The Golden Thread, for instance.

“whatever directionality historical development has is the result of the development of the productive forces”

“Such control—property relations broadly conceived—defines the basic terrain of interests with respect to historical development”

Commentator Note: Interesting synergy with Deleuze in Empiricism and Subjectivity, and the centrality he accords property rules.

“Other mechanisms of exploitation are essentially re distributive of a social product already produced within a set of property relations; property-based exploitation is directly bound up with the social production of that product in the first place”

“production relations are a distinctive basis for exploitation because of the way they are systematically implicated in the basic subsistence of the exploited”

“Property relations not only determine mechanisms by which surplus is appropriated; they simultaneously determine mechanisms by which the exploited gain access to subsistence, to their means of existence”

“This distinctiveness does not, in and of itself, say anything about the relative importance of class exploitation over other forms of exploitation. Military exploitation or gender exploitation could be more fundamental for understanding social conflict than class exploitation”

“The distinctive form of interdependency constituted by production based exploitation, however, does provide a rationale for restricting the usage of the concept of ‘class’ to that kind of exploitation.”

“In the next chapter we will explore a range of theoretical issues using the framework elaborated in this chapter. This will be followed by three chapters which use the concept to investigate a variety of empirical problems”

4. Implications and Elaborations of the General Framework

Alternative Class Theories

“Certain parallels can be drawn between some of the elements in the concept of class structure elaborated here and other sociological concepts of class, particularly those found in the Weberian tradition”

“Frank Parkin’s characterization of Weber’s concept of social closure as ‘the process by which social collectivities seek to maximize rewards by restricting access to resources and opportunities to a limited circle of eligibles”

“both he and I emphasize effective control over resources as the material basis for class relations”

“the relationship between class and exploitation is also similar in certain respects to Alvin Gouldner’s conception of cultural capital and the ‘new class’.”

“there is an important relationship between the arguments I have laid out and the familiar three-class model proposed by Max Weber and further elaborated in the work of Anthony Giddens and others”

“Effective control over productive resources is the material basis for class relations, and different classes are defined with respect to different resources”

“The typical characterization is that Weber adopts a definition of classes based on market or exchange relations, whereas Marx adopts a production relations definition”

“Both Marx and Weber adopt production-based definitions in that they define classes with respect to the effective ownership of production assets: capital, raw labour power and skills in Weber; capital and labour power (for the analysis of capitalism) in Marx”

“Weber views production from the vantage point of the market exchanges in which these assets are traded, whereas Marx views production from the vantage point of the exploitation it generates, and this in turn, as I will argue below, reflects the fundamental difference between a culturalist and a materialist theory of society”

“The Marxist critique of Weber’s analysis, therefore, is that Weber collapses together two quite distinct levels of abstraction in the analysis of classes: the levels of abstraction of mode of production and social formation”

“What this implies is that although the formal criteria for classes in capitalist society are closely related in Weberian and Marxist analysis, the logic for the use of those criteria are quite distinct”

“In the Marxist framework, the material interests embedded in these processes of exploitation have an objective character regardless of the subjective states of the actors; in the Weberian perspective, it is only because rationalization implies a particular kind of subjective understanding of material interests by actors that one is justified in describing these relations as class relations at all”

Mode of Production and Social Formation

“Actual societies, as I have argued, can never be characterized as having only one type of exploitation; they are always complex combinations of modes of production”

“Three axes of variability seem especially important: 1) the relative weight of different types of exploitation in a given society; 2) the extent”

“to which these diverse exploitations are linked through internal or external relations; 3) for the internal relations, the extent to which the exploitation relations are overlapping or distinct”

“This means, above all, specifying the salient ways in which these combinations vary”

“When we say that a society is feudal, or capitalist, or statist, or socialist, we are claiming that one specific form of exploitation is primary in the society”

“First, relative weight can be a claim about destinations of the social surplus. Owners of different exploitation-generating assets appropriate parts of the surplus based on their property rights; relative weight is a description of the relative, aggregate magnitudes of those appropriations. A society is feudal if the largest proportion of the surplus goes to holders of feudal assets”

“Second, relative weight can be a claim about the class power of the actors who obtain surplus through different mechanisms. A feudal society is one in which feudal lords—people who appropriate surplus by virtue of their ownership of distinctively feudal assets—are the ‘ruling class’, even if as a proportion of total surplus, some other class should receive a greater share”

“Third, relative weight could be interpreted in a functionalist manner as is characteristic of certain treatments in the Althusserian tradition. In this strategy, the dominant mode of production is said to ‘assign’ specific functions or roles to the subordinate modes of production within the gestalt of the ‘structured totality’ of society”

“Finally, the relative weight of different forms of exploitation could be defined by the dynamic effects of different exploitations. A society, in these terms, would be characterized as capitalist if the logic of development of the society were most pervasively structured by the properties of capitalist exploitation”

“Given the overall explanatory objectives of Marxist theory, dynamic primacy is in many respects the most fundamental sense in which one can talk about the relative weight of different modes of production and their associated forms of exploitation within the gestalt of a social formation”

“There are two principal ways that different forms of exploitation can be linked concretely. By an ‘external’ link I mean that the two forms of exploitation each exist within distinct production processes, but interact with each other”

“Internal’ relations, on the other hand, imply the simultaneous operation of different forms of exploitation within a single production process”

“Finally, societies will differ in the way a given set of exploitation relations combines to create actual positions filled by individuals and families”

“The extent of overlap of exploitation relations determines in part the extent to which the problem of class formation is a problem of class alliances. Where there is little overlap alliances become much more important, because contradictory locations within exploitation relations—the ‘middle classes’—are likely to be more important. Where the different mechanisms of exploitation largely coincide with one another, the concrete class structure will have a much more polarized character to it”

“Taken together, these three dimensions of variability provide a basis for elaborating a much more nuanced typology of forms of society than is possible by simply identifying a society with a single mode of production”

“The analysis of the combinations of forms of exploitation may also provide a strategy for specifying more rigorously the variability in class structures in different types of capitalism”

“Capitalist societies clearly differ in the ways these different types of exploitations are combined. The expansion of the large corporation and the state, for example, can be viewed as increases in the role of organization asset exploitation, and may define the distinctive difference between advanced capitalist societies and competitive capitalism”

“The co-existence of a dominant highly exploitative capitalist form of exploitation with a sizeable proportion of the population having their ‘per capita’ share of capital assets (i.e. subsistence peasants) and a significant presence of secondary feudal elements may characterize the ‘compound’ of many third world capitalisms”

“The addition of a relatively strong presence of organization asset exploitation in certain of these societies may be the characteristic ‘compound’ of those post-colonial societies that are sometimes described as having an ‘overdeveloped state”

“If Marxist class analysis is to develop into a more powerful and nuanced theory, the investigation of these ‘compounds’ is essential”

The Theory of History

“It is in terms of them that practical revolutions are waged, that possibilities for social change are opened up or closed off”

“Typology of class structures”

  • “Historic task of revolutionary transformation”
  • “individual liberty”
  • “socializing means of prod.”
  • “democratization of organizational control”
  • “substantive equality”
  • “self-actualization”

“In what sense can we say that the above set of historical transitions constitutes a meaningful sequence of transitions? How can it be argued that this constitutes a trajectory of some sort? The basic argument is that the probability of successfully accomplishing these transitions monotonically increases with the level of development of social productivity”

“It takes a higher level of productivity to successfully socialize the means of production than to equalize ownership in labor power assets; it takes an even higher level successfully to democratize (equalize) control over organization assets, and a still higher level to successfully equalize control over skill assets”

“For example, the attempt at creating stable, democratic control over organization assets in a situation where workers must work long hours to produce the basic subsistence needs of a society is much less likely to succeed than in a society in which there are high levels of automation, workers have the time to participate in managerial decision-making and democratic economic planning, managerial tasks can be rotated in a reasonable manner, and so forth”

“One such possibility that revolutionary Marxists have often appealed to is ideological commitment. If there exists a sufficiently high level of ideological commitment on the part of the actors attempting such a transformation (or, at least, on the part of some critical set of actors), then they may be motivated to endure the kinds of sacrifices needed to overcome these relatively unfavourable material conditions. However, since it is difficult to sustain ideological fervour over long periods of time, there would be tendencies for revolutionary transformations occurring under these conditions to restore at least some forms of exploitation and domination”

Commentator Note: This is the problem with vanguardism, and leads to the atrocities of Stalinism, Maoism, etc.

“The claim that these forms of class relations constitute a sequence—a trajectory of forms—does not imply that it is inevitable that societies will in fact pass through these stages. The trajectory is a sequence of historical possibilities, forms of society that become possible once certain pre-conditions are met”

“The actual transition from one form to another, however, may depend upon a whole range of contingent factors that are exogenous to the theory as so far elaborated. This is one of the central problems with traditional historical materialism”

“Traditional historical materialism argues, in effect, that whenever a transition from one form of class relations to another becomes historically possible, forms of class struggle will develop that guarantee that such transitions will occur. It is asserted, but not systematically argued, that the capacity for struggle will always be forthcoming when the ‘historic task’ of struggle is on the horizon”

“Class interests beget class capacities. While classical historical materialism may provide a compelling account of the possibilities, it does not elaborate a coherent theory of the necessity of the transitions to actualize those possibilities”

“the characterization of socialism as a form of society with its own distinctive form of exploitation runs counter to the traditional Marxist view of socialism as simply the period of transition to communism. Socialism, in traditional Marxist theory, is decisively not a mode of production in its own right”

“the view that socialism is the immediate immanent future to capitalism is brought into question. The transition from capitalism to socialism involves equalizing two kinds of exploitation-assets—means of production and organization—and there is no logical necessity for these to occur at the same time. There are thus at least two futures inherent to capitalism—statism and socialism—and therefore the fate of capitalism is much less determinate than is often allowed”

“the relative openness of capitalism’s futures implies that the proletariat can no longer be assumed to be the only bearer of a revolutionary mission within capitalism”

“does this reconstruction of the stages of historical development undermine the traditional Marxist idea of history as having a progressive character to it? I think not. The sequence of stages are marked by successive eliminations of forms of exploitation”

“In this sense capitalism is progressive relative to feudalism, statism relative to capitalism, socialism relative to statism. Capitalism may no longer be thought of as the last antagonistic form of society in the trajectory of human development, but the progressive character to the trajectory is retained”

Legitimation and Motivation

“class systems will in general be more stable and reproducible to the extent that some sort of consensus over the legitimacy of the class structure is established”

“Each system of exploitation thus brings with it particular ideologies which”

“Class systems tend to be legitimized by two different sorts of ideologies: one which makes appeals, explicitly or implicitly, to various kinds of rights in order to defend privilege and another which appeals to the general welfare in order to defend privilege”

“The rights defences of privilege may be important under certain historical circumstances, but the durability of class systems over long periods of time depends more pervasively, I believe, on the cogency of the welfare ideologies”

“Where claims to privilege based on welfare lack any credibility, their defence in terms of rights will tend to erode over time”

“By welfare arguments I mean those defences of a system of inequality—in our terms a class system—which claim that the underprivileged would in fact be worse off in the absence of the greater benefits enjoyed by the privileged”

“In each case it is argued that the specific form of inequality is necessary for production to efficiently proceed for the general welfare. In effect, the status of these inequalities as exploitative is denied ideologically by virtue of the alleged general welfare which they promote”

“These kinds of welfare defences of exploitative relations are not fabricated out of thin air. Each ideology has a material basis which gives it credibility”

“In all of these cases there is in fact an objective, motivational basis for the ideological system which legitimates exploitation”

“In each case, it is in fact true that in the absence of exploitation, the productive asset in question will either be withdrawn from production or used less productively”

“But legitimation depends upon the view that either the asset inequality in question or the motivations associated with that inequality are unchangeable, and that as a result, all incentive questions must take these property relations as fixed”

“The critical issue then becomes the extent to which these asset inequalities and the motivations associated with them are in fact alterable”

“While I do believe that property rights in these various productive assets are radically changeable, the belief in their inevitability and unchangeability is not a completely irrational mystification”

“The actual historical process by which a given kind of exploitation is eliminated involves tremendous costs since exploiting classes vigorously resist, often violently, attempts at the redistribution of their strategic assets”

“If these ‘transition costs’, to use Adam Przeworski’s expression, are sufficiently high and prolonged, then it may well be reasonable for actors to treat the existing form of property relations as inevitable for all practical intents and purposes”

“Quite apart from the transition costs imposed by threatened exploiting classes, it can be the case that attempts at eliminating certain forms of exploitation may have a very low probability of succeeding”

“Even if the transition costs for eliminating a given asset inequality are not prohibitively high and the historical conditions structurally allow for such an equalization, it remains to be seen how far the motivational correlates of a given kind of inequality can themselves be radically transformed”

“Many Marxists argue that the motivations associated with a given system of exploitation are directly caused by the system of exploitation itself. Capitalism engenders the kinds of motivations necessary to make capitalism work.20 If capitalism were to be destroyed, then it might be possible to make a fundamental change in those motivations”

“Non-Marxist theorists, particularly neoclassical economists, on the other hand, tend to regard the distinctive motivational patterns of capitalism as basically trans-historical, as fundamental attributes of human nature. In the absence of exploitation (or, what they would characterize as differential income returns to capital, skills and responsibility) productivity would at least stagnate and probably decline”

Class Structure and Form of the State

“The different logics of class exploitation presented in table 3.2 have certain systematic implications for the nature of the political institutions likely to be associated with those class relations”

“feudalism, given that the exploitative relation is based on differential ownership rights in people, it is likely that the exploiting class will need to have direct access to the means of repression in order to exercise those ownership rights”

“In capitalism, in contrast, the elimination of ownership rights in people means that the capitalist class no longer needs to exercise direct political control over the labour force. Domination is needed to protect the property relations as such, but not directly to appropriate the surplus”

“organization. The”

“Finally, in socialism, the state is likely to take the form of some variety of participatory democracy (undoubtedly combined in some way with institutions of representative democracy)”

Class Structure and Class Formation

“The transformation of the working class from a class-in-itself (a class determined structurally) into a class-for-itself (a class consciously engaged in collective struggle over its class interests) may not have been understood as a smooth and untroubled process, but it was seen as inevitable”

“As Adam Przeworski has argued, class struggle is in the first instance a struggle over class before it is a struggle between classes”

“Most neo-Marxist class theorists have questioned the claim that there is a simple relationship between class structure and class formation”

“The class structure may define the terrain of material interests upon which attempts at class formation occur, but it does not uniquely determine the outcomes of those attempts”

“class structure should be viewed as a structure of social relations that generates a matrix of exploitation-based interests”

“But because many locations within the class structure have complex bundles of such exploitation interests, these interests should be viewed as constituting the material basis for a variety of potential class formations”

“The class structure itself does not generate a unique pattern of class formation; rather it determines the underlying probabilities of different kinds of class formations”

Class Alliances

“Once class analysis moves away from a simple polarized view of the class structure, the problem of class alliances looms large in the analysis of class formations”

“Rarely, if ever, does organized class struggle take the form of a conflict between two homogeneously organized camps”

“Individuals in contradictory locations within class relations face a choice among three broad strategies in their relationship to class struggle: first, they can try to use their position as exploiters to gain entry as individuals into the dominant exploiting class itself; second, they can attempt to forge an alliance with the dominant exploiting class; third, they can form some kind of alliance with the principal exploited class”

“The immediate class aspiration of people in contradictory locations is usually to enter the dominant exploiting class by ‘cashing in’ the fruits of their exploitation location into the dominant asset”

“the exploitative transfers personally available to managers and professionals are often used to buy capital, property, stocks, etc., in order to obtain the ‘unearned’ income from capital ownership”

“contradictory locations”

“When such ‘hegemonic strategies’ are effective, they help to create a stable basis for all exploiting classes to contain struggles by exploited classes”

“One of the elements of such a strategy is to make it relatively easy for individuals in contradictory locations to enter the dominant class; a second is reducing the exploitation of contradictory locations by the dominant exploiting class to the point that such positions involve ‘net’ exploitation”

“The extremely high salaries paid to upper level managers in large corporations certainly mean that they are net exploiters. This can have the effect of minimizing any possible conflicts of interests between such positions and those of the dominant exploiting class itself”

“It has been argued by some economists that this corporate hegemonic strategy may be one of the central causes for the general tendency towards stagnation in advanced capitalist economies, and that this in turn may be undermining the viability of the strategy itself”

“The erosion of the economic foundations of this alliance may generate the emergence of more anti-capitalist tendencies among experts and even among managers”

“Where class alliances between workers and various categories of managers and experts occur, the critical question for the working class becomes that of defining the political and ideological direction of the alliance”

Women in the Class Structure

“So far I have had little to say about forms of oppression other than class. Much of the recent debate in radical theory has revolved precisely around the issue of such oppressions, particularly around the relationship between gender domination and class”

“I will not attempt here to present a sustained discussion of the general relationship between class structure and gender relations. Rather, I want to focus on a much narrow issues: the direct implications of the asset-exploitation approach to class for understanding the location of women in the class structure”

“It has often been noted that the average wage of women wage-earners is much lower than that of men—about 60 per cent of the male wage in the United States and 85 per cent in Sweden”

“Throughout our analysis, the focus has been on the consequences of ownership of productive assets; the acquisition of productive assets has been largely ignored”

“Gender relations constitute one mechanism among many that helps explain the distribution of exploitation assets among people”

“gender itself could be conceived as a special kind of ‘credential’ in skill/credential exploitation”

“Sex-segregation of occupations may function in a quite parallel way, by ‘overcrowding’ women into a few categories of jobs and reducing the competition in certain jobs held by men”

“The fact that both feudalism and patriarchy are often described as paternalistic-personalistic forms of domination reflects this common structure of the relation”

“gender discrimination could be conceptualized as a truncated form of what we have called ‘feudal’ exploitation. In effect, there is not equal ownership of one’s labour power if one lacks the capacity to use it as one pleases equally with other agents”

“The common observation by both Marxists and liberals that discrimination is a violation of ‘bourgeois freedoms’ reflects this ‘feudal’ character of patriarchy (and, similarly, of racism)”

“The approach to class and exploitation elaborated in this book suggests that to ask this question we must define the pertinent assets effectively controlled by housewives, the counterfactual games in which they would be better or worse off, and the social relations into which they enter by virtue of their ownership of those assets”

“To the extent that male workers exploit and dominate their wives within household relations of production, they occupy a kind of contradictory class location: they are exploiters within one relation (household relations) and exploited within another (capitalist relations)”

“Housewives of workers are embedded in two production relations: first, they are in a social relation with their husbands within the subsistence production in the household; and second, since their family receives its income through wages, as members of a family they are in a social relation with capital”

“the housewives of workers are in the working class in their relation to capital and in a variety of possible classes with respect to their husbands. An assessment of the latter depends upon the real relations of control over assets, income and labour time within the family”

“A capitalist woman is a capitalist and exploits workers (and others), both men and women, by virtue of being a capitalist”

Commentator Note: Gatekeep, gaslight, girlboss.


“the exploitation-centred concept provides a much more coherent way of describing the qualitative differences among types of class structures than has been possible with alternative concepts”

“the exploitation-centred concept provides a much more coherent strategy for analysing the class character of the ‘middle classes’ in contemporary capitalism”

“the exploitation-centred concept provides a much clearer link with the problem of interests than do domination-based concepts”

“the new concept is more systematically materialist than domination concepts”

“the new concept is more historically coherent than the alternatives”

“the concept of class elaborated in this chapter has a particularly sustained critical character”

“Concepts are peculiar kinds of hypotheses: hypotheses about the boundary criteria of real mechanisms and their consequences. As such they are provisional in the way that all hypotheses are. To the extent that a particular concept is more coherent than its rivals, meshes better with the overall theory of which it is a part and provides greater explanatory leverage in empirical investigations, it is to be preferred”

5. Empirically Adjudicating Contending Class Definitions

“The empirical investigation in this chapter will therefore focus on the debates over the line of demarcation between the working class and ‘middle-class’ wage earners”

“Many Marxist sociologists adopt a fairly loose definition of the working class that includes all non-supervisory manual labourers plus ‘proletarianized’ white collar workers (clerical workers especially)”

The Empirical Strategy

“class structure is meant to explain (along with other mechanisms) class conflict”

“all other things being equal, two people who fall within these lines of class demarcation will have a higher probability of behaving in a similar fashion within class conflicts than will two people falling on different sides of the line of demarcation”

“Take the problem of the identification of the working class with manual labour. Even if one rejects the claim that this is an appropriate way of defining the working class, one might still believe that for a variety of reasons the manual-non-manual distinction constitutes an internal division within the working class”

“This could imply, for example, that white-collar workers would be less ideologically pro-working class than manual workers and yet would still be within the working class”

Operationalizing the Adjudications

“even though Marxist class analysis is, above all, a macro-theory of social relations and social change, that theory must be linked to a microtheory of outcomes for individuals if it is to be complete”

“For class structure to explain social change it must have systematic effects on individual action”

“This does not prejudge the question of the extent to which the practices of individuals are explainable by class relations or by other determinants, but it is hard to imagine how class structure could explain class struggle and social change if individual behaviours were random with respect to class”

“Class location is a basic determinant of the matrix of objective possibilities faced by individuals, the real alternatives people face in making decisions. At one level this concerns what Weber referred to as the individual’s ‘life chances’, the overall trajectory of possibilities individuals face over the life cycle. In a more mundane way it concerns the daily choices people face about what to do and how to do it”

“this subjectivity mediates the ways in which the objective conditions of class locations are translated into the active choices of class actions”

“Those objective alternatives must be perceived, the consequences (both material and normative) of different choices assessed, and a specific alternative chosen in light of such assessments”

“This process is partially the result of conscious, active mental evaluations and calculations; it is partially the result of what Giddens refers to as ‘practical consciousness’, the routinized ways people negotiate and understand their social world; and it is partially structured by largely unconscious psychological determinants”

“the critical link in the argument is between class location and forms of stable, class-relevant subjectivity”

“this is not to claim that class is the sole determinant of consciousness, but simply that it generates sufficiently systematic effects that consciousness can be used as the basis for evaluating contending views of class”

“The conceptual map of class relations adopted in this book is fairly complex. It is based on three principal dimensions of exploitation relations—exploitation based on control of capital, organization and credentials/skills—combined in various ways”

“Differential ownership of assets in the means of production generates two principal classes in capitalism: workers, who by virtue of owning no means of production must sell their labour power on a labour market in order to work, and capitalists, who by virtue of owning substantial quantities of means of production are able to hire wage-earners to use those means of production and need not themselves work at all”

“These two categories constitute the traditional polarized classes of the capitalist mode of production”

“Three other sorts of class positions are also potentially important”

“First of all, there are people who own just enough means of production to reproduce themselves, but not enough to hire anyone else. This is the traditional ‘petty bourgeoisie”

“Secondly, other persons own some means of production, enough to provide for some of their subsistence but not enough to reproduce themselves, thus forcing them to also sell their labour power on a labour market. This is the classic ‘semi-proletarianized wage-earner’ of early capitalism”

“finally there are people who own enough means of production to hire workers, but not enough that they really have the option of not working at all. This is the small employer—employer artisans, small farmers, shopkeepers, etc.—who work alongside their emloyees, frequently doing much the same kind of work as the people they hire”

“Organization assets consist in the effective control over the coordination and integration of the division of labour”

“such assets are particularly salient in defining the exploitation relations of management, although not all jobs which are formally labelled ‘manager’ involve control over organization assets”

  1. “Managers: positions which are directly involved in making policy decisions within the workplace and which have effective authority over subordinates”
  2. “Supervisors: positions which have effective authority over subordinates, but are not involved in organizational decision-making”
  3. “Non-management: positions without any organization assets within production”

“Assets in credentials are quite difficult to operationalize in a nuanced way”

“because of the rapid expansion of education over the past two generations and the changing formal education requirements for certain kinds of jobs, any formal credential variable would have to involve cohort specific credentials and some provision for historical devaluation of credentials over time”

“a formal credential only becomes the basis for an exploitation relation when it is matched with a job that requires such credentials”

“We will solve this complex of issues by using a combination of occupational titles, formal credentials and job traits as a basis for distinguishing people in jobs where certain credentials are mandatory”

  1. “Experts: This includes (a) all professionals; (b) technicians and managers (by occupational title, not by the criteria used to define the organizational assets specified above) with college degrees”
  2. “Skilled employees: (a) school teachers and craftworkers; (b) managers and technicians with less than college degrees; (c) sales-persons or clericals with college degrees and whose jobs have real autonomy”
  3. “Non-skilled: (a) clerical and salespersons not satisfying the credential or autonomy criterion for skilled employees; (b) non-craft manual occupations and service occupations”

“many theorists are hesitant to adopt a simple mental-manual distinction as the basis for defining the working class”

“In spite of these reservations, I will adopt the conventional blue-collar criterion for defining ‘manual labour’, and thus the working class. Since this definition is the least self-consciously theorized of the ones we are considering and does, in fact, rely most heavily on categories given in everyday discourse, this operationalization is, I believe, faithful to usage”

“Poulantzas’s efforts represent a particular example of a more general intuition among Marxists, namely that the working class consists of productive, subordinated manual wage-earners”

“One finds this definition in Adam Przeworski’s empirical work, in some of Goran Therborn’s writings and elsewhere, even if the conceptual details are not identical to those found in Poulantzas”

“The task of operationalizing Poulantzas’s definition, therefore, revolves around specifying four core criteria: productive-unproductive labour; mental-manual labour; supervisory-non-supervisory labour; decision-maker-non-decision-maker”

“There is much less agreement over a wide range of other positions: administrative positions within production, service workers of various sorts (eg. health workers), technical and scientific positions within manufacturing, and so on”

“Productive labour is defined as labour which produces surplus-value; unproductive labour is labour which is paid out of surplus-value”

“There is a general agreement among Marxists (at least among those who accept the framework of the labour theory of value) that employees in the sphere of circulation (finance, retail, insurance, etc.) and most state employees are unproductive, while production workers in manufacturing, mining and agriculture are productive”

“Poulantzas formally defines ‘mental labour’ as positions which have real possession of the ‘secret knowledge of production’, by which he means the intellectual control over the production process”

“Poulantzas’s concept of supervision is centred on control and surveillance. It therefore excludes what could be called nominal supervisors—people who are conduits for information but have no capacities to impose sanctions on subordinates”

“Poulantzas’s discussion of decision-making is less clear-cut than his discussion of supervision as such. He argues that managers who are engaged in basic decisions concerning budgets and investments—basic profit and accumulation decisions—should actually be considered part of the bourgeoisie proper, rather than even the new petty bourgeoisie. However, he never explicitly discusses the broad range of production, organizational and marketing decisions that are the preoccupation of most managers for a majority of the time”

Empirical Results

“If one accepts income as an appropriate criterion in this adjudication, this strongly supports the exploitation-centred definition over the definition based on productive labour proposed by Poultantzas”

“The data on class attitudes also supports the exploitation-centred definition of the working class over Poulantzas’s definition”

“An obvious rejoinder to these results is that they are artifacts of some other determinant of income and attitudes which is correlated with the categories in the adjudication debate. Two candidates for generating such spurious results are gender and union membership”

“The disputed category in the comparison between Poulantzas’s definition of the working class and the exploitation-centred concept I have proposed is made up primarily of lowerlevel white collar employees and state workers”

“These are the kinds of positions which would be considered unproductive and/or mental labour in Poultanzas’s analysis of class relations (and thus part of the new petty bourgeoisie), but because they lack credential assets or organization assets would be considered workers in my analysis”

“Such positions are also, as we know, disproportionately female and much less unionized than the agreed-upon workers”

“The data in table 5.10 indicate that results of the adjudication analyses cannot be attributed to the sex and union compositions of the various categories. The basic pattern observed in table 5.6 and 5.7 holds when we examine men and women taken separately, when we examine non-unionized employees separately, and when we examine unionized employees on the income variable”

“The one exception to the previous patterns is among unionized wage-earners for the adjudication involving class attitudes”

“The first thing to note is that union membership makes much less difference for attitudes among the agreed-upon workers than among the other categories under consideration: unionized and non-unionized agreed-upon workers differ by just 0.7 points on the pro-working class attitude scale, whereas within the disputed category and the agreed-upon ‘middle-class’ category, union membership increases the value on the scale by 2.7 and 2.9 points respectively”

“One possibility is that there is some self-selection operating here: that among non-working class wage-earners it is precisely those who have particularly strong ideological dispositions against the bourgeoisie who are likely to become union members in the first place”

“Perhaps more plausibly, the results for ‘middle-class’ wage-earners suggest that when contradictory class locations become formed into unions—a typically working class form of organization—their consciousness begins to resemble that of workers to a much greater extent”

“This is precisely what the concept of contradictory locations is meant to suggest: such positions have an internally contradictory character, being simultaneously exploiters and exploited, and are therefore likely to have their attitudes more strongly affected by organizational and political mediations, such as unionization”

“What unionization indicates is that such positions have in fact been ‘formed’ into the working class, and once so formed, have a consciousness profile that is much more like that of workers”

“A final interpretation of these results is that it is the more proletarianized locations within the ‘agreed-upon middleclass’ category that become unionized, and that, therefore, the unionization variable is really just an indirect measure of the proletarian weight of the location”

“Taken together these results indicate that productive-unproductive labour is not a legitimate criterion for defining the boundary of the working class”

“The fact that in some countries, such as Sweden, the rate of unionization among white collar non-supervisory employees is virtually the same as it is for manual workers supports the view that variations in levels of unionization between non-supervisory manual and non-manual wage-earners is more the result of political and ideological determinants than of possible differences in their class location”

“With respect to proletarianized white collar employees, therefore, the data offer no support to the claim that they are ‘middle class’ and considerable support to the claim that they are part of the working class”

“Indeed, this may be why their ideological stance is significantly less pro-working class than the agreed-upon workers even though they are much closer to agreed-upon workers than agreed-upon ‘middle’ class”

“Most of the incumbents of positions in disputed category 2—blue-collar employees in managerial and supervisory positions—have biographies that are tightly bound up with the agreed-upon working class category”

“many of the people in disputed category 2—proltearianized white-collar employees—are likely to have biographies tied to the agreed-upon ‘middle-class’ locations”

“Class consciousness does not emanate from the relational properties of the positions people fill at one point in time. Rather, it is formed through the accumulation of class experiences that constitute a person’s biography”


“Two basic conclusions can be drawn from the investigation”

“In the debate over Poulantzas’s conceptualization of class structure, there is very little support for the view that productive labour is an appropriate criterion for distinguishing the working class from non-working-class wage-earners”

“In the debate over the manual-labour definition of the working class, there is almost no support for treating this division as a class distinction”

“there are, after all, real people in that class structure, real people who are systematically affected in various ways by virtue of being in one class rather than another”

“Unless one is prepared to argue that the effects of class on individuals are completely contingent—that is, that there is nothing systematic about those effects that are rooted in the class structure itself—then the results reported in this chapter have to be explained, and those explanations have to be consistent with the structural map of class relations employed in the theory”

“All of the adjudications we have explored in this chapter have been between positional definitions of class structure”

“which revolve around essentially static characterizations of the locations of people within class relations”

“Yet, as the results in the adjudication of the manual-labour definition show, the existence of class trajectories may significantly influence the observed results”

“Proletarianized white-collar jobs that are really pre-managerial jobs should therefore not be considered in the same location within class relations as proletarianized jobs which are not part of such career trajectories”

“Ultimately, I believe that a trajectory concept of class is preferable to a positional one”

“The concept of interests always implies some sort of time horizon on the part of the actors who hold those interests”

“The exploitation-centred interests which constitute the basis for defining classes, therefore, must be treated as having a temporal dimension to them. The class position of an exploited apprentice is different if that apprentice knows that he or she will become a master artisan than if this is a rare event, because the real interests linked to that exploitation will be different”

“Such a trajectory notion of class structure implies that the class character of a given position must in a double sense be viewed in probabilistic terms”

“Concepts are not simply produced, formed and transformed; they are also used. Ultimately, the point of worrying about the correctness of definitions is that, on the one hand, we want to use the concepts in building general theories of social processes, and on the other, we need them in order to pursue concrete empirical investigations of various sorts”

“Exploring such uses of the exploitation-centred concept of class is the basic objective of the rest of this book”

6. Class Structure in Contemporary Capitalism: A Comparison of Sweden and The United States

“According to one estimate, as a result of state policies Sweden has the lowest level of real income inequality (after taxes and after transfer payments) of any developed capitalist country, while the United States has one of the highest.1 If we take the ratio of the real income at the ninety-fifth percentile to the real income at the fifth percentile, this figure was only about 3:1 for Sweden in the early 1970s, whereas in the United States it was 13:1”

“Politically, Sweden has had the highest level of governance by social democratic parties of any capitalist country; the United States, the lowest”

Commentator Note: Although this has been changing in recent years.

“Sweden has a higher proportion of its civilian labour force directly employed by the state than any other advanced capitalist nation, well over forty per cent, while the United States has perhaps the lowest, under twenty per cent”

“We therefore have two countries with roughly similar economic bases but sharply different political ‘superstructures”

Class Distributions

“work in the United States appears to be significantly more supervised than in Sweden”

“While the working class is the largest class in both countries, it is somewhat larger in Sweden. If we combine pure proletarians with semi-credentialled workers (cells 9 and 12 in the typology), the Swedish working class is about nine percentage points larger than the American (61.3 compared to 52.1). Most of this difference, as we shall see later, is attributable to the higher levels of supervision in the United States”

“if we look only at people with high levels of credential/skill assets—experts of various sorts—a considerably higher proportion in Sweden are completely outside of the managerial apparatus: 45 per cent of Swedish experts have no organizational assets, compared to only 31 per cent of experts in the United States”

“while in both the United States and Sweden the vast majority of the labour force are wage-labourers, there are slightly more self-employed in the United States”

“the proportion of the labour force with strong petty-bourgeois experiences is considerably larger in the United States than in Sweden”

“In both countries women in the labour force are disproportionately in the working class, while men are disproportionately in exploiting class positions, particularly the capitalist class and managerial positions”

“The image which is still present in many Marxist accounts that the working class consists primarily of male factory workers simply does not hold true any longer (if one adopts the concept of class proposed here”

“Looking at the distributions the other way around—the class distribution within sexes—approximately one third of all men in both Sweden and the United States are clear exploiters (managers, experts and employers), compared to only about one fifth of women”

“in the United States the proportion of women who are working class does not vary substantially in different age groups between age twenty-one and sixty-five. Among men, on the other hand, there is a clear age pattern: the proportion in the working class declines until middle age and then rises slightly among older men. The age distributions among managers differ even more sharply between men and women in the United States: an increasing proportion of men are managers as we move from early stages in careers to mid-career, whereas for women there is a monotonic decline in the proportion in managerial positions as we move from the 21 to 25-year-old group to the 56 to 65-year-old group”

“These various age-class profiles within sex categories suggest that men have much greater probabilities of promotional mobility from working-class positions into managerial positions than women do, particularly during the early and middle stages of careers”

“Because of the racial homogeneity of Swedish society, it is not possible with the data at hand to explore the issue of class and race in Sweden. Table 6.4, therefore, only presents the data for the United States”

“The pattern of racial differences in class distributions is, if anything, more pronounced than the pattern for sexual differences. 59 per cent of blacks are in the working class, compared to only 37 per cent of whites; at the other extreme, about 16 per cent of whites are employers or petty bourgeois compared to less than 3 per cent of blacks”

“These racial contrasts become even more marked when we break them down by sex: Nearly 70 per cent of black women in the labour force are in the working class, compared to only 27 per cent of white men, with white women and black men falling between the two at about 50 per cent”

“white males are clearly in a highly priviliged position in class terms. About one white man in six is either a capitalist or an expert manager, that is, in class locations which are either part of the dominant class or closely tied to the dominant class”

“If we add to this other managers and experts, over a third of all white men in the labour force are in solidly exploiting class positions”

the working class in contemporary American capitalism is constituted substantially by women and minorities. As already noted, 60.5 per cent of the working class in the United States are women. If we add black men to this, the figure approaches two-thirds”

“In one respect, for which I can offer no interpretation, the US and Swedish data are quite different. In the United States, the large corporation has by far the highest proportion of supervisors in its labour force: 27.6 per cent. When combined with the nearly 13 per cent managers, this brings the total employment in the managerial apparatus in the managerial apparatus in these corporations to over 40 per cent in the US. This is considerably larger than in either the state (just under 33 per cent) or the middle size corporation (36 per cent). In Sweden the pattern is quite different: the proportion of supervisors is quite low in the largest corporations, even by Swedish standards—under 7 per cent of their labour forces—and overall the size of bureaucratic apparatuses does not vary very much across organization size (23.7 per cent in medium sized corporations, 24.2 per cent in large corporations and 25.5 per cent in the state)”

Explaining Differences in Class Structures

“In the initial decompositions of the overall differences in class structure by economic sector and state employment, we concluded first, that in general the class effects were greater than the sector effects, and second, when the distribution of employment across sectors did matter, the role of the state was generally implicated”

“This was followed by a decomposition of the class effects themselves, and here the basic conclusion is that the differences in the authority distributions in the two societies and the linkage between authority and credentials accounts for most of the differences in the distributions of contradictory class locations in the two societies”

“The most general interpretation of these results is that the differences between the class structures of Sweden and the United States largely revolve around political determinants”

“How can these political determinants of class structures themselves be explained? There is an extensive literature on the growth of the welfare state which attempts to explain why it is that countries like Sweden have such a large welfare-state sector. While there is not a consensus in such research, the explanations seem to suggest that the relatively more rapid expansion of state employment in Sweden compared to a country like the United States is to be explained both by specific constraints on accumulation faced by a small country in the world capitalist system and by the forms of political struggle adopted by workers and capitalists within those constraints”

“As far as I know, there is no research which addresses the question of why the organization of authority within production differs so drastically between the United States and Sweden”

“What these results seem to indicate is that the critical difference between Sweden and the United States is the extent to which the supervisory aspect of managerial functions has been delegated to positions which would otherwise be part of the working class. In particular, highly skilled working class positions—craft occupations—tend to be assigned supervisory authority over other workers in the United States much more frequently than in Sweden”

“In particular, managerial employees in the United States are generally excluded by law from the union bargaining unit. This means that it is in the interests of American capitalists to integrate into the lower levels of management at least some jobs which fall within key categories of wage-earners, categories which otherwise would remain working class”

“The extension of supervisory functions to segments of the working class may be one facet of the general efforts by capital to weaken the union movement in the United States”

“the greater centralization of the labour movement in Sweden means that unions themselves may be able to perform certain control functions over workers which otherwise would have to be handled directly by supervisors within production”

Class and Family

“The interests which are determined by class exploitation, therefore, will vary depending upon how they intersect the class compositions of families”

“In about 10 per cent of all labour-force households in the United States both husband and wife are in the working class. An additional 29 per cent contain one working class single person or married person in a family in which the spouse is not in the labour force”

“Looking at the other end of the class structure, 18 per cent of the households in the United States have at least one self-employed person, and of these households 61 per cent are class homogeneous”

“What about contradictory locations? Taken separately, the three types of contradictory locations in table 6.12—credentialled managers, uncredentialled managers and non-managerial experts—all live in families that are much less class homogeneous than is the case for either the working class or the bourgeoisie”

“In the United States approximately 50 per cent of each of these class locations are in homogeneous families, while in Sweden the figure is closer to 30 per cent. If we consider these classes a block—the usual ‘middle class’ of popular discourse—then the class homogeneity of households rises to 68 per cent in the United States and 52 per cent in Sweden”

“The number in mixed class households involving workers is not trivial—about one in four in the United States and one in three in Sweden—but still most workers live in unambiguously working-class families”

“in both countries a substantial majority of workers live in households that contain only workers”

“the differences in class homogeneity across classes is greater in Sweden than in the United States”

“The critical source of this variation between the two countries is in the number of households that contain one ‘middle-class’ spouse and one working-class spouse: in Sweden, of the households with at least one person in a contradictory class location, 42 per cent also contain a worker ; in the United States the figure is only 24 per cent”

“A similar contrast exists for the self-employed: 30 per cent of households with one self-employed person in Sweden also have a worker in them; in the United States the figure is only 18 per cent”

“These contrasts suggest the following general characterization of the differences in the two countries: while the working classes in the two countries do not differ very much in the extent to which their families are firmly part of the working class, the American ‘middle class’ family is structurally more isolated from the working class than in Sweden”

“working-class women have a higher probability than working-class men of living in families in which some of the income comes from exploitation”

Class Structure and Income

“The conceptualization of class elaborated in this book is built around the concept of exploitation. While the relationship between the theoretical concept of exploitation and empirical data on personal income is not a simple one, nevertheless, personal income should be systematically linked to exploitation relations. As a result, if the conceptualization being proposed is to be a compelling one, then there should be a strong relationship between class location and expected income”

“Hypothesis 1. Income should be polarized between the working class and the bourgeoisie”

“Hypothesis 2. Average income among wage earners should increase monotonically as you move”

“Hypothesis 3 The pattern for unearned income should also be monotonically increasing along each of the dimensions of the class-structure matrix”

“In the United States, income is strongly polarized between the proletarian cell in the typology and the bourgeoisie: the former earn, on average, just over $11,000 a year, the latter over $52,000”

“Hypothesis 1 is thus strongly supported in the United States, and at least provisionally supported in Sweden”

“What is particularly striking in the pattern in table 6.17 is the interaction between the two dimensions of exploitation relations among wage-earners. The increase in average income is relatively modest as you move along either organization assets or credential assets taken separately (i.e. as you move along the bottom of the table and the right hand column). Where the sharp increase in incomes occurs is when you combine these two exploitation mechanisms (i.e. moving along the top of the table and the left hand column among wage earers). Hypothesis 2 is thus strongly supported”

“Such discretionary income should be closely linked to exploitation, and thus it would be expected that income from investments should follow the predicted monotonic pattern across the dimensions of the class matrix”

“The results in table 6.18 support this hypothesis. Although proletarians and uncredentialled supervisors (cells 12 and 11) have more unearned income than marginally-credentialled workers and supervisors (cells 9 and 8), the overall pattern in this table still basically conforms to the expectations. Expert managers have over four times the unearned income of workers, and twice the unearned income of non-managerial experts and uncredentialled managers”

“Overall, then, each of the three hypotheses concerning the relationship between class structure and income is broadly supported by the data we have examined: income inequality is polarized between the bourgeoisie and the working class, incomes vary monotonically along the dimensions of exploitation taken separately and together, and unearned income varies in much the same pattern as wage income. These results add considerably to the credibility of the exploitation-centred concept of class”

7. Class Structure and Class Consciousness in Contemporary Capitalist Society

“The problem of ‘class consciousness’ has frequently been at the heart of Marxist theoretical and political debates. Indeed, in the recent renaissance of Marxist scholarship, one of the central lines of cleavage has been precisely over whether consciousness is a legitimate concept at all”

‘“Structuralist’ writers in the tradition of Louis Althusser have argued that consciousness is an epistemologically suspect category and of dubious explanatory relevance, whereas Marxists identified with the ‘humanist marxist’ tradition have placed consciousness at the centre of their analysis”

“The idiom of the discussion revolves around questions of whether or not human beings are the ‘authors’ of their own acts, whether intentions have explanatory power, whether the distinction between ‘subjects’ and ‘objects’ is an admissable one, and so on”

“The result is that, with relatively rare exceptions, the systematic discussion of class consciousness in the Marxist tradition has not focused on empirical problems of its explanation and consequences.”

What is Class Consciousness?

“There are two quite different usages of the expression ‘class consciousness’ in the Marxist tradition”

“For some theorists it is seen as a counterfactual or imputed characteristic of classes as collective entities”

“whereas for others it is understood as a concrete attribute of human individuals as members of classes”

“The first of these usages is closely associated with the Hegelian strands of Marxist theory and is probably best represented in the work of Georg Lukács”

“Lukács defines class consciousness in the following manner:

Now class consciousness consists in fact of the appropriate and rational reactions “imputed” to a particular typical position in the process of production. This consciousness is, therefore, neither the sum nor the average of what is thought or felt by the single individuals who make up the class. And yet the historically significant actions of the class as a whole are determined in the last resort by this consciousness and not by the thought of the individual—and these actions can be understood only by reference to this consciousness”

“Lukács defines class consciousness counterfactually: it is what people, as occupants of a particular location within the production process, would feel and believe if they were rational”

“It is the next step in the argument that is most problematic and which has lead to such sharp criticism of Lukács’s position. Lukács argues that while class consciousness as ‘imputed consciousness’ does not correspond to the actual consciousness of individuals, nevertheless, this imputed consciousness is causally efficacious”

“Such a claim, of course, could be just a short-hand way of talking about historical tendencies for the individuals involved to become rational in the counterfactually specified manner”

“The second general usage of the expression ‘class consciousness’ identifies it as a particular aspect of the concrete subjectivity of human individuals”

“In practice, when Marxist historians and sociologists employ the term ‘class consciousness’, they frequently amalgamate these two senses of the concept”

“On the one hand, one often encounters expressions like ‘the proletariat lacked the necessary consciousness to do X’ or ‘the bourgeoisie in this period was particularly class consciousness’. Such expressions seem to suggest that consciousness is attached to classes as such. On the other hand, consciousness is also treated as an explanation of individual actions and choices”

Commentator Note: A Marxist retelling of Foundation, or an Asimovian approach to Marxism, would be interesting here. Psychohistory is precisely the discipline of understanding supra-individual consciousness across grand time scales. The point for Asimov (and which the Apple TV adaptation gets wrong) is that it’s all statistical. We can only talk in probabilities, likelihoods. This is the new realism required of a probabilistic reality, as Heisenberg makes clear.

“I will use the concept of class consciousness in this discussion strictly in the second general sense. It is at best awkward, and more frequently theoretically misleading, to employ the concept as a way of characterizing real mechanisms operating at supra-individual levels. This is not to imply, of course, that supra-individual social mechanisms are unimportant, but simply that they should not be conceptualized with the category ‘consciousness”

“Understood in this way, to study ‘consciousness’ is to study a particular aspect of the mental life of individuals, namely, those elements of a person’s subjectivity which are discursively accessible to the individual’s own awareness”

“This conceptualization of consciousness is closely bound up with the problem of will and intentionality. To say that something is subjectively accessible is to say that by an act of will the person can make themselves aware of it”

“While the problem of consciousness is not reducible to the problem of intentionality, from the point of view of social theory the most important way in which consciousness figures in social explanations is in the way it is implicated in the intentions and resulting choices of actors”

“This is not to suggest, of course, that subjectivity only has effects through intentional choices; a wide range of psychological mechanisms may directly influence behaviour without passing through conscious intentions”

“The way in which I will use the term ‘consciousness’ is closely linked to the problem of ideology, particularly as that concept has been elaborated in the work of Goran Therborn”

“Therborn defines ideology in the following way:

Ideology is the medium through which . . . consciosness and meaningfulness is formed . . . Thus the conception of ideology employed here deliberately includes both everyday notions and “experience” and elaborate intellectual doctrines, both the “consciousness” of social actors and the institutionalized thought-systems and discourses of a given society. But to study these as ideology means to look at them from a particular perspective: not as bodies of thought or structures of discourse per se, but as manifestations of a particular being-in-the-world of conscious actors, human subjects. In other words, to conceive of a text or an utterance as ideology is to focus on the way it operates in the formation and transformation of human subjectivity”

“Given this definition of ‘consciousness’, ‘class’ consciousness can be viewed as those aspects of consciousness with a distinctive class content to them”

“If class structure is understood as a terrain of social relations that determine objective material interests of actors, and class struggle is understood as the forms of social practices which attempt to realize those interests, then class consciousness can be understood as the subjective processes that shape intentional choices with respect to those interests and struggles”

“Where I want to indicate specifically the presence of a particular type of class consciosness, therefore, it will be necessary to employ suitable adjectives: pro-working class consciosness, anti-capitalist class consciousness, revolutionary working-class consciousness, and so forth”

“This way of understanding class consciousness suggests that the concept can be decomposed into several elements”

  1. “Perceptions of Alternatives. To choose is to select among a set of perceived alternative courses of action”
  2. “Theories of Consequences. Perceptions of alternative possibilities are insufficient by themselves to make choices; people must also have some understanding of the expected consequences of a given choice of action”
  3. “Preferences. Knowing a person’s perceived alternatives and their theories of the consequences of each alternative is still not enough to explain a particular conscious choice; in addition, of course, it is necessary to know their preferences, that is, their evaluation of the desirability of those consequences”

“The problem of legitimation revolves around the value preferences of actors. The problem of mystification is, above all, a problem of the theories actors hold about the causes and consequences of particular practices and social relations. And the problem of hegemony revolves around the way social possibilities are structured so as to restrict the perception of the possible options to those that are compatible with dominant class interests”

“These three dimensions of subjectivity—perceived alternatives, theories and preferences—have been the object of classical Marxist discussions of consciousness and ideology, although generally under different names from those given here”

“My argument will be based on an assertion about a certain kind of preference, which I believe people in general hold even if they are not consciously aware of it, namely an interest in expanding their capacity to make choices and act upon them. This preference may be blocked, but ‘deep down inside’ people in general have a desire for freedom and autonomy”

“It is possible, for example, to distinguish between ‘hegemonic’, ‘reformist’, ‘oppositional’ and ‘revolutionary’ working class consciousness in terms of particular combinations of perceptions, theories and preferences”

Causal Logic

“Premiss 1. The material interests rooted in exploitation relations and thus linked to the class structure are real; they exist independently of the concrete subjectivities and personal characteristics of the incumbents of class locations”

“Premiss 2. While consciousness-formation is a process that occurs within individuals, the process itself is heavily conditioned by social structural and historical factors”


“To identify with a particular class is to perceive the world in certain categories, probably to hold some theories about the causes and consequences of class membership, and to hold at least some evaluative sense of interests tied to that class”

Empirical Results

“The Overall Pattern of Variations. In table 7.1 the overall pattern of variations in means (not the absolute value of the means, but the patterning of the means) is quite similiar in the United States and Sweden. In both countries the table is basically polarized between the capitalist class and the working class (in neither country is there a statistically significant difference between proletarians and the marginal categories adjacent to the working class)”

“In both countries the values on the scale become decreasingly pro-working class and eventually pro-capitalist class as one moves from the proletarian corner of the table to the expert-manager corner of the table”

“The Degree of Polarization. The degree of polarization in the two countries is very different. In the United States the difference between the capitalist class and the working class is just over 2 points on the scale; in Sweden the difference is 4.6 points. (The difference between these differences is statistically significant at the .05 level)”

“Class Alliances. The patterns of class alliances—the ways in which the terrain of class structure becomes transformed into class formations—suggested by the patterns of consciousness in table 7.1 varies considerably in the two countries”

“These data indicate that there is basically an international consensus within the capitalist class on class-based attitudes, whereas no such consensus exists in the working class: Swedish and American workers on average differ on this scale by nearly as much as American workers and capitalists”

“Class Alliances. The patterns of class alliances—the ways in which the terrain of class structure becomes transformed into class formations—suggested by the patterns of consciousness in table 7.1 varies considerably in the two countries”

“In Sweden the only wage-earner category with an average pro-capitalist position is expert managers; in the United States, pro-capitalist positions penetrate much further into the wage-earner population”

“In general the degree of class polarization among men is considerably greater than among women. Male proletarians and expert managers differ by 2.8 points in the United States and 3.6 points in Sweden, whereas their women counterparts differ by only 1 point in the United States and 1.9 points in Sweden”

“Most of this lower degree of polarization comes from the fact that women expert”

“managers are considerably less pro-capitalist than men expert managers, probably reflecting their concentration in lower levels of management”

“In one other respect the table differs between men and women: the uncredentialled manager cell does not ‘behave’ properly for women: in Sweden this cell is nearly as pro-working class as the proletarian cell and certainly does not follow the prescribed monotonic pattern; among American women, on the other hand, it is the least pro-working class of all the wage-earner categories. I cannot offer any explanations for these specific results”

“Union membership is likely to be among the most important intervening factors in the consciousness formation process”

“class structure shapes consciousness not simply via the effects of class structure on class formation (as measured by union membership), but also because of a direct impact of class location on the incumbents of positions”

“in Sweden the labour movement has been able to unionize significant segments of management and as a result has driven a wedge into this class location, generating a fairly sharp line of demarcation between upper level managers and the bulk of managerial employees”

“In part because of legal obstacles to unionizing managers, and in part because of the general weakness of the American labour movement, this has not happened in the United States, and as a result the rank-and-file of management is firmly integrated with the bourgeoisie ideologically”

“for the United States, the bourgeoisie itself is now less pro-capitalist then nearly any of the wage-earner categories that are pro-capitalist. My expectation had been that the ideological stance of capitalists would be more directly tied to their class position than would be the case for wage-earners, and thus their adjusted means would be less affected by the inclusion of intervening variables in the equation. This is indeed the case in Sweden, but not in the United States”

“Finally, even though we have observed dramatic differences between Sweden and the United States, if we pool the two samples into a single equation (not shown) in which country appears as a dummy variable, nationality is by no means the best predictor of consciousness. In this pooled equation, working-class consciousness depends more upon whether or not one is a worker or a union member than whether or not one is a Swede or and American”


“The strategies of parties and unions in Sweden have also had the effect of shaping the real and perceived interests of various categories of wage-earners. State-welfare policies pursued by the Social Democratic Party have generally had a relatively universal character to them, distributing benefits of different sorts to most categories of wage earners, thus reducing the tendency for wage earners in contradictory exploiting class locations to see their interests as polarized”

“Above all, perhaps, the effectiveness of the Swedish labour movement in massively unionizing white-collar employees and even substantial segments of managerial employees, has heightened the degree of perceived community of interests among wage earners in different class positions”

“In contrast to the Swedish case, political parties and unions in the United States have engaged in practices which, wittingly or unwittingly, have undermined working-class consciousness”


The Exploitation Centred Concept of Class

“My earlier work on class structure suffered, I have argued, from the tendency to displace the concept of exploitation from the centre of class analysis. This weakened the sense in which class relations were intrinsically relations of objectively opposed interests, and posed a series of specific conceptual difficulties”

“Classes in capitalist society, I now argue, should be seen as rooted in the complex intersection of three forms of exploitation: exploitation based on the ownership of capital assets, the control of organization assets and the possession of skill or credential assets”

“these diverse empirical results lend considerable support to the new conceptualization of class structure”

The Class Structure of Contemporary Capitalism

“there are two broad generalizations that we can make”

“First, in both countries, in spite of the technical and social changes of contemporary capitalism, the working class remains by far the largest class in the labour force”

“Second, and equally important, while the working class is the largest class, a substantial proportion of the labour force occupies exploitative locations within the class structure”

Class Structure and Politics

“Class structure is of pervasive importance in contemporary social life. The control over society’s productive assets determines the fundamental material interests of actors and heavily shapes the capacities of both individuals and collectivities to pursue their interests”

“the effects of class structure are mediated by politics. Class relations may define the terrain upon which interests are formed and collective capacities forged, but the outcome of that process of class formation cannot be ‘read off the class structure itself”

Political Implications

“The preoccupation throughout this book has been on conceptual problems in the analysis of classes, and the theoretical and empirical implications of a proposed solution to those problems. Except in passing, relatively little attention has been given to the implications of the analysis for socialist politics”

“Three such implications seem particularly important:”

“the centrality of radical democracy in the political agenda for socialism;”

“the necessity of conceiving the process of class formation in contemporary capitalism as a problem of class alliances;”

“and the importance of creating the political mediations which will make such alliances possible”

“It then becomes necessary to think through rigorously what it means to struggle positively for socialism rather than simply against capitalism”

“The reconceptualization of class proposed in this book suggests that the heart of the positive struggle for socialism is radical democracy”

“Socialism, as it has been defined in this book, is a society within which control over capital assets and organizational assets are no longer significant sources of exploitation”

“the arguments in this book suggest that the struggle for socialism and the struggle for democracy are two sides of a single process”

“For this to occur, private ownership of capital assets and hierarchical-authoritarian control over organization assets must be eliminated”

“Without a redistribution of organization assets through a democratization of the process of control and co-ordination of production, organization-asset exploitation would continue and upon that exploitation a new structure of class relations would be built”

“Democracy is not simply a question of how the political institutions of the state are organized; it also bears directly on how class relations themselves are constituted”

“It is difficult to imagine a scenario in which socialism would become a real possibility in these societies without the co-operation of a significant segment of the people in such contradictory locations”

“Yet, at least in terms of their material interests, the incumbents of these contradictory locations are either directly threatened by socialism, or at least have relatively ambiguous material interests in a socialist transformation”

“This poses a deep dilemma for socialists: socialism is achievable only with the co-operation of segments of the population for whom socialism does not pose clear material advantages”

“There are basically two kinds of approaches that are implicit in socialist arguments”

“The first is to basically deny the problem. Socialism, it is argued, will so radically eliminate the massive waste in capitalism (excessive military spending, advertising, conspicuous corporate consumption, etc.) that the vast majority of the population will be better off in a socialist society”

“In terms of the analysis in this book, real productivity of useful consumption would expand so much that many people in contradictory locations within exploitation relations would actually be better off, and only a very few would be worse off, if capitalist and organization exploitation were eliminated”

“This kind of argument often meets with a fair amount of scepticism”

“For example, under democratic conditions workers may opt for a slower pace of work which could reduce total social productivity. It is therefore very difficult to know in advance what will happen to overall social productivity in a socialist society, and thus what will be the fate of the material interests of people in contradictory locations in capitalism”

“The second solution to the general dilemma faced by socialists in trying to gain the collaboration of people in contradictory locations is to emphasize a range of interests other than individual consumption. Arguments for socialism in terms of the quality of life, the expansion of real freedom, the reduction of violence and so on, provide a basis for building class coalitions for socialist objectives”

“political reforms have the potential to enlarge the social space for socialist struggles”

Appendix I: Practical Strategies for Transforming Concepts

“Many, perhaps most, theoretical innovations hinge on the introduction of new concepts or the reconstruction of old ones”

“Three circumstances typically stimulate such changes: encounters with empirical problems, discoveries of conceptual inconsistencies and dealing with the ramifications of earlier conceptual transformations”

Forms of Concept Formation

“New Demarcations. One of the basic ways in which an existing concept may prove unsatisfactory is that it incorrectly subsumes quite heterogeneous cases under a single heading. The task of concept formation, then, is to specify a new line of demarcation within the conceptual field”

“Respecifications of Lines of Demarcation, It may happen that the problem with a concept is not that it needs to be split into a number of distinct concepts, but that the criteria which define its boundaries need modification. There may be redundant criteria, insufficient criteria or simply incorrect criteria”

“Reaggregating Categories. A third way of transforming concepts is to subsume them in a new way under a more encompassing concept, a concept which identifies a more fundamental boundary criterion for the concepts aggregated within it”

“Decoding the Dimensionality of Taxonomies. The final general strategy of concept formation is perhaps the most complex. It involves transforming the taxonomies used descriptively in social theories into conceptual typologies”

“A taxonomy is a list of categories which are differentiated on the basis of immediately apparent empirical criteria; a typology, on the other hand, is a theoretically constructed set of categories differentiated on the basis of theoretically specified dimensions”

“When successful, however, the process of concept formation opens up new insights and possibilities within theories, enhances the explanatory capacity of the theory and points towards new research agendas”


“Georg Lukács, History and Class Consciousness, Cambridge, Mass. 1971, (original edition), 1922, p. 51”

“Goran Therborn, The Power of Ideology and the Ideology of Power, London 1980”

“D. W. Livingstone, Class and Class Consciousness in Advanced Capitalism, Toronto 1984”

“Michael Mann, Consciousness and Action among the Western Working Class, London 1973”

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