How to think about the relation of race, class, and contemporary capitalism?
We don’t have much choice except to, because C-19 has destroyed capitalism as we knew it–all the available ventilators are now affixed to its expiring body–and because Trump has forced us to see that the restoration of the status quo ante (“law and order”) means the subjugation of black bodies, the erasure of citizenship, the protection of property as against persons, black or white, and of course the deployment of ostensibly working-class people–the police, the military–to enforce this necromantic agenda.
The practical question of the day–how to reform, “defund,” or abolish police departments–illuminates, or just is, the theoretical question I began with, asked in a different voice. For it makes us think, at the very least, about the function of labor unions in articulating and enacting working-class goals. Are unions, by definition, the instrument of class struggle and the medium of class consciousness?
My short answer is, No. (Yeah, Lenin had one too, but I beg to differ.)
Here’s the long answer. Until the 1960s, the American Left instinctively and rightly sided with both trade unions (the AFL) and industrial unions (the CIO). The AFL-CIO’s complicity in the imperialist idiocy of counter-revolution in Latin America and then all-out war on Indochina alienated every component of the remaining pluralist Left from the labor movement, even after the triumph and the tragedy at Lordstown.
I used to bemoan this alienation, and, back in the mid-70s, I urged a rapprochement between the comrades on the pluralist Left and the guys on the line as represented by the AFL-CIO. Now I think that, like socialism itself, labor unions have no predictable political valence. They don’t necessarily represent the interests of the working class; all too often they represent and enforce the interests of the oppressors, the bosses as against the proles, the capitalists as against the rest of us, the 99%.
The police unions of today are a case in point. Like their counterparts in the armed forces–the All-Volunteer Military that keeps the American Empire intact–most cops are working-class kids who enlisted to achieve some combination of three purposes. First, see the world before you settle into the obligations of adulthood, before you move back into the old neighborhood, or out to the suburbs. Second, acquire the means of upward mobility, skills and money for education, assuming you survive your tour of duty. Third, kick some ass, do something significant in the name of something larger than yourself–world peace, human rights, safe streets, brotherhood, sisterhood, whatever is that big, go ahead and do it.
But in achieving these perfectly legitimate purposes, conceived as both individuals looking out for themselves and as members of a larger social body, the cops, like the enlisted men and women who survive the wars they fight, are protecting class positions and interests they didn’t decide on–they’re protecting property they don’t own or control, not persons who, like themselves, are already at risk. Which means they’re acting on purposes that were assigned to them by those of superior rank, who are themselves following orders from the highest levels of civilian authority.
In other words, the working-class origins of most cops and grunts have nothing to do with their acquired class position or interests, no matter how meager their income or education–what they stand for, even what they die for, has nothing to do with where they came from. Because they act on the interests and orders of a ruling class, they are, practically speaking, adjuncts or agents of that social stratum, not, again, the one they sprang from.
My (re)thinking of race, class, cops, and capitalism is prompted by my reading of the original pragmatists, who insisted that our identities can’t and don’t exist prior to the social situations in which our selfhood is elicited and enunciated; by my reading of the political scientist Adam Przeworski, who rightly claimed that class is a product of ideological struggle, not a sociological category from which we can deduce political interests; and by my reading of the feminist theorist Judith Butler, who demonstrated that gender is determined not by biological endowments but by its/their performance.
More immediately, my (re)thinking is prompted by the differences within DSA recently articulated by a debate between the chapters in NYC and Philadelphia on the priority of class or race in deciding how to advance the cause of socialism. The occasion for this debate was the NYC chapter’s critique and sabotage of a “political education” event originally sponsored by a working group of DSA-Philly, under cover of complaint by the Afrosocialist caucus of the NYCDSA.
That event was to have featured the remarks of Adolph Reed, Jr., the brilliant political scientist from Penn who has long inveighed against the American Left’s surrender to identity politics–“anti-racism” or “racial politics,” or “left-identitarians,” as he calls them–on the grounds that the politics of class struggle provide a broader and more durable platform on which to build a multi-racial coalition dedicated to the overthrow of capitalism.
Reed pulls no punches. The “race politics” of our time are conducted, he declares, by the Human Resources types who now manage diversity from within a corporate consensus that assumes social-democratic programs of income redistribution are “off the table,” and will remain there, out of sight, as long as race regulates programmatic political debate on the Left.
Here’s the summary statement, from nonsite.org (2/!!/2018): “Contemporary anti-racism [is] a critique entirely within bipartisan neoliberalism and therefore a rhetorical and ideological legitimation of that larger regime of inequality.” Reed cites Ava DuVernay and Ta-Nehesi Coates as exemplars of such politics. (To judge from The Bellows Zoom podcast of 6/12/2020, Reed hasn’t changed his mind about “race politics’ and their representatives. He and Walter Benn Michaels are, if anything, even more convinced that the cause of socialism can’t be served by identity politics. See also Adolph Reed, Jr., “The Myth of Class Reductionism” in The New Republic 9/25/2019.)
The DSANYC chapter denounced Reed’s alleged “class reductionism,” and moved to adjourn the political education event accordingly. Announcements of the event quickly disappeared from Facebook and Instagram, and it didn’t happen. Why not, I mean apart from the social media mechanics?
For me that question is, how to transpose from the key of race to the key of class, and back again, so that we–us leftists–might carry the same tune at the same time. I’m all for intersectionality as per the NYCDSA Afrosocialist Caucus, I just want to know why it works in this instance as a political project that excludes Reed’s. And vice versa. Aren’t reparations a program of redistribution, of transferring income to right a wrong that still disfigures the American experiment?
Here’s a start on an answer. Reed’s periodization of race and racism is the key to his argument:
“For most of the 20th century, throughout the [Jim Crow] period when legally enforced social subordination and officially countenanced discrimination were injustices that, in principle if not always in practice, confronted the race universally, it was reasonable to assume that black Americans were united across the board in opposition to enforced racial inequality and in support of equal opportunity. That is, the basis for presuming a unitary black agenda rested on concrete historical facts of life rather than racialist mysticism.” (My emphasis.)
Reed then approvingly quotes Ralph Bunche’s 1939 criticism of the National Negro Congress on the grounds that black Americans were already too divided along lines of class to unite as a race: the NNC wrongly assumed “’that the common denominator of race is enough to weld together, in thought and action, such diverse segments of the Negro society as preachers and labor organizers, lodge officials and black workers, Negro businessmen, Negro radicals, professional politicians, professional men, domestic servants, butchers, bakers, and candlestick-makers.’”
Reed and Bunche are clearly right to mark a sea change in black life at some point in the 20th century. I’m sure they’d agree that this moment came between 1920 and 1960, when the Great Diaspora(s), the Harlem Renaissance, the Great Depression, the Popular Front, the Second World War, the sudden industrialization of the Old South, and the Civil Rights movement combined to place black Americans in every function of modern-industrial life, from farms to factories, from country to city, in every region of the US and in all occupations, from peasant to poet, proletarian to professor.
For Bunche as for Reed, the consequent class divisions within the black population are the “concrete historical facts” that make any appeal to racial solidarity unrealistic if not mystical. Yet at the same moment, which saw a geographic dispersal of that population and a deepening division of labor within it, the New Negro came of age–at this moment black men and women like Marcus Garvey, Alain Locke, Zora Neale Hurston, and W. E. B. Du Bois preached racial solidarity and imagined a black nation within a nation.
In 1925, for example, Locke wrote the signature piece for his edited volume of the same name, The New Negro. First he dismissed the idea that black folk were a homogenous mass, as would Bunche and Reed years later: “With the Negro rapidly in process of class differentiation, if it ever was warrantable to regard and treat the Negro en masse, it is becoming every day less possible, more unjust, and more ridiculous.” But then Locke declared Harlem the capital of a new nation: “In Harlem, Negro life is seizing upon its first chances for group expression and self-determination. It is–or promises at least to be–a race capital. . . . Without pretense to their political significance, Harlem has the same role to play for the New Negro as Dublin has for the New Ireland or Prague for the new Czechoslovakia.”
This cross-class yet nationalist attitude, which Harold Cruse, Robert Allen, Cedric Robinson, Malcolm X, and yes, Ralph Bunche and W. E. B. Du Bois themselves, specified as the predominant impulse in 20th-century movements for black liberation–this is what goes missing in Reed’s analysis, and with it any possibility of invoking race as an organizing principle or rallying cry, even in these times, when the most salient “concrete historical fact” is the murderous violence visited purposefully and relentlessly on black men, women, and children by armed police forces.
Du Bois always denied that he was a black nationalist. But in Dusk of Dawn (1940), which came after Black Reconstruction (1935) and the controversial editorials for The Crisis (1934-35), he called for the self-imposed segregation of the black population as the necessary condition of its eventual self-determination. (He also, and not incidentally, called for the use of black folk’s economic power as consumers in bending the will of the white majority to the needs of the black minority.*) By this time he was thinking with Garvey and Booker T. Washington, not against them–like them, he was no longer thinking of equality between black and white individuals, as per the lawful integration of education or public facilities, but of equity between the white majority and the black minority, as per diplomatic agreements between sovereign peoples, or, if you will, between advanced capitalist nations and less-developed countries, former colonies.
Reed cites Michael Rudolph West to discredit the notion of “race relations” as conceived by Washington, Garvey, et al.–that is, as diplomatic compacts between peoples with different cultures, divergent interests, and asymmetric powers:
“Historian Michael Rudolph West, in The Education of Booker T. Washington: American Democracy and the Idea of Race Relations (Columbia UP, 2006), points up the anti-democratic premises and corrosive effects of [Washington’s] race relations idea as it took shape at the end of the 19th century in the context of massive disfranchisement of black voters and imposition of the segregationist regime that effectively denied blacks’ citizenship rights. The race relations framework, West argues, appealed to white elites because it sidestepped the troublesome fact of blacks’ constitutional claims to full and equal citizenship by proposing a focus on the evanescent issue of how the ‘races’ relate as an alternative to matters like denial of rights and equal protection under the law.”
This formulation of the issues at the turn of the last century recapitulates, pitch perfectly, Du Bois’s exasperated critique of Washington in The Souls of Black Folk (1903) and his merciless ridicule of Garvey in The Crisis (which he finally tempered in Dusk of Dawn). It echoes innumerable books and essays that cast Washington as the Uncle Tom who did the bidding of Rockefeller’s General Education Fund to preserve Tuskegee’s financial standing among black colleges, and who publicly approved the legal apparatus of Jim Crow to preserve his own standing among powerful white people, including Theodore Roosevelt.
West’s story is appealing to academics because it pits the radical intellectual (Du Bois) against the bourgeois businessman (Washington) and the provincial yahoo (Garvey), both of whom, so the story goes, wanted only to exploit the gullible black masses, who somehow believed in racial solidarity as the cure for Jim Crow. To my mind, this story is “uplift” in a new guise, an intellectual retrofit for our time. For the “concrete historical facts” of the early 20th century included a genocidal white rage against any kind of black power, whether economic or political, and it was not confined to the old Confederate South. (See: Springfield, Illinois, 1906, Chicago and East St. Louis, Illinois, 1919, Tulsa, Oklahoma, 1921.).
What was to be done? Washington and Garvey thought of their constituencies accordingly, as maroons already in motion, as people who needed a redoubt against genocidal violence–which meant strategic retreat rather than surrender to white power. Garvey proposed “Back to Africa,” thinking that his followers would want to flee the benighted USA. Washington publicly acquiesced to segregation and secretly bought up real estate in Harlem, knowing that thousands of black escapees from the Jim Crow South would need a place to stay. (The National Negro Business League and the Afro-American Realty Co. were Washington’s devices for this prescient move into Manhattan, aided and abetted by Philip A. Payton.)
Garvey and Washington believed in racial solidarity as shelter from the storm of their time. In the abstract, Du Bois agreed–he had been on record since 1897 in favor of the “conservation of races.” And The Souls of Black Folk is a warning against bleaching a distinctly African-American culture to comport with white norms. Still, in argument against Washington in particular, Du Bois was the liberal individualist, the integrationist, the prototype of the mid-century civil rights activist with credentials from SNCC who, disillusioned by the lack of black economic progress, would turn to racial solidarity, or Black Power, rather than class struggle, to address the issue.
This intellectual genealogy is interesting in view of the fact that Reed and his comrade-in-arms, Walter Benn Michaels, are fierce critics of both liberalism, because it’s grounded in the priority or autonomy of the individual, and of Black Power, because it’s derived from a “commitment to a race-first communitarian ideology”–making each an effective diversion from the social-democratic politics of redistribution. Here’s how Reed makes the case:
“Black political debate and activism through the early 1960s focused on concrete issues [I take this by now to mean issues that carry the rhetorical load of ‘material reality’]–employment, housing, wages, unionization, discrimination in specific venues and domains rather than an abstract ‘racism.’ It was only in the late 1960s and 1970s, after the legislative victories that defeated southern apartheid and restored black Americans’ full citizenship rights, that ‘racism’ was advanced as the default explanation for inequalities that appear as racial disparities. That view emerged from Black Power politics and its commitment to a race-first communitarian ideology that posited the standpoint of an idealized ‘black community’ as the standard of political judgement.”
But just how does this race-first communitarian ideology deter anyone from a commitment to social-democratic programs of redistribution, which would presumably unite working-class people of all races and genders?
“Consistent with [Michael] West’s observation regarding the race relations idea, this black ethnic politics requires abstracting away from the many materially and personally meaningful identities that black people share with others to condense around race as a singular concern.”
And now Reed begins to sound like a distant echo of Bunche in 1939: “It [black ethnic/racial/anti-racist politics] requires, that is, that black people disappear from and often be contrasted to broader categories of teachers, students, homeowners, landlords, renters, clerks, parents, stamp collectors, steelworkers, public employees, electricians, cable technicians, carpenters, people concerned with health care, climate change, foreign policy, etc.”
As Bunche said, race is not a common enough denominator to characterize black people, so an appeal to race as the groundwork of a social movement for justice of any kind–political, economic, criminal, whatever–is utopian at best, ridiculous at worst. But consider the “broader categories” Reed invokes. Broader than what, and how?
Teachers, students, homeowners, landlords, and renters are each a larger proportion of the US population than African Americans, who comprise roughly 13% of the total. But then for three centuries race has been the regulative principle in determining which Americans have had access to education or real estate. Surely people concerned with health care, climate change, foreign policy, etc., comprise more than 13% of the US population, or any other nation’s.
But then the C-19 crisis has demonstrated that people of color have suffered most, and disproportionately, from woeful deficiencies in health care, from the catastrophes of climate change (drought, hurricanes, new viruses, etc.), and from the disasters of recent US foreign policy.
Black lives matter more than most because they are most at risk. That is the plain lesson of the last six years, not to mention the previous 403. No wonder race has become the organizing principle and rallying cry of the people in the streets over the last two weeks–even though half of them, by all visual and verbal accounts, are ostensibly Caucasian.**
Now we come to the heart of the matter, how to weigh class against (or with) race in thinking about capitalism and its sequels. In questioning the propriety of the May 25 event sponsored by the Philly DSA chapter, the Afrosocialist Caucus of the NYCDSA stated this: “What Reed and other class reductionists continue to misunderstand or overlook is that race isn’t bad in and of itself. Racism is bad and needs to be destroyed. That’s an important distinction that class reductionists are continually intent on denying.”
The Philly DSA chapter’s retort was this:
“To the contrary, it is impossible to conceive of a category of race without racism, as Barbara and Karen Fields explain in their seminal work Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life: ‘Race too often recommends itself as a guiltless word, a neutral term for an empirical fact. It is not. Race appears to be a neutral description of reality because of the race-racism evasion, through which immoral acts of discrimination disappear and then reappear camouflaged as the victim’s alleged difference.’”
This is metaphysical prancing on the head of a pin, as far as I can tell. Barbara and Karen Fields are denying that what is artificial can be real, something like acknowledging that the Hoover Dam isn’t natural and then saying, as a result of this insight, that it’s not really there. Of course race isn’t natural, not anymore than gender is, of course it’s an artificial “cultural construction,” as we used to say–of course it’s performative. But it’s still real, recognizable, measurable, and consequential. Don’t take my word for it. Ask Alain Locke or W.E.B. Du Bois or Zora Neale Hurston. Or Angela Davis, or Donna Murch.
In these terms, class is no less artificial, and no less real, than gender or race. It’s a product of struggle, not an inert sociological category. But Reed, Michaels, and their advocates at the Philly DSA chapter equate class position with social origin, and thus become reductionists despite their stated opposition to any such intellectual demotion.***
The Philly chapter does so by bemoaning the social composition of DSA, noting that 80% of its members have BA degrees, as against the general population, of which only35% can claim such educational attainment, and that possibly 30% of its members earn more than $100K a year, as against 9% of the general population–as if social standing as measured by educational or income level can or does predict, or has ever predicted, political purpose.
Reed makes the same move by profiling the leadership of racial/identity politics as a social stratum removed from a multi-racial working class: “What is typically called identity politics reflects the perspective of a different class, the professional and managerial strata who are relatively insulated from the negative impacts of the four-decades long regime of regressive redistribution and better positioned to take advantage of the opportunity structures it opens.”
The problem with these formulations is, again, simple–they reduce class position to social origin or social standing, as if political purpose can be divined from census data, and they abstract from the material conditions that permitted the articulation of race as a principle of social organization in the first place. I’ve already explained why class is just as “performative” as gender, in the sense that it’s a product of struggle rather than a sociological category determined by income or education.
Let me now venture a periodization of race that acknowledges the profound differences between the 19th and 20th centuries, but allows us to see the continuities as well.
There were no African-Americans until the 1830s, but by the 1850s the idea of a black nation within the larger American nation was almost a commonplace. Why? Until the 1820s, the slave population of the US was a centrifugal social formation, divided by tribal or regional origin, custom, language, and comportment. The differences between Africans were more significant than their similar phenotype or legal standing as enslaved people. But once the slave trade was closed in 1808, according to the US Constitution, the next generation of Africans in North America became more socially and culturally homogeneous. They had their own Great Awakening around then, and thereafter, equipped with a literacy inflected by Christianity, they began to understand themselves as Adamic figures, novice actors on a new stage of history–in short, as Americans.
David Walker, Henry Highland Garnet, and Martin Delaney were the voices of this new consciousness, as Sara Grimke was the voice, at the same antebellum moment, of a similar urge to explain the profound differences between men and women without relinquishing any claim to equity between males and females. “We are a nation within a nation,” Delaney said, in the same year, 1852, he negotiated a treaty with a West African tribe that would allow settlement of American freedmen and women there. He renounced his expatriate intentions in 1862, when he began recruiting ex-slaves on behalf of the Union Army, and then he went South as a carpetbagger in 1866, working as an agent of the Freedmen’s Bureau.
Thereafter the black nationalist agenda was sometimes separatist, sometimes not. Segregation appeared as the curse of the Devil or as the evidence of a fortunate fall, depending on one’s expectations of a specifically African-American future. Garvey, Washington, and Du Bois divided over this very issue, until they didn’t–until Du Bois was the last man standing, and, as such, reconsidered his liberal, integrationist, individualist opposition to his erstwhile rivals.
But he never did give up on the idea that culture was the soft underbelly of white supremacy, where the New Negro could assert himself or herself as the best representative, the proper spokesperson, of a beautifully mongrel American future. Nor did he ever stop thinking that a new, corporate-bureaucratic political economy had created this opening for a black aesthetic. From “The Criteria of Negro Art” in 1926 to “A Negro Nation Within a Nation” in 1935, on toward “The Colored World Within,” (chapter 7 in Dusk of Dawn), Du Bois assumed that the “technological displacement”–his phrase–of black and white workers from the scene of goods production was the central social fact of his time; that’s why he argued in 1940 that consumers rather than producers held the balance of power in deciding the future of black America.
As this displacement of workers from goods production unfolded, to the tune of a net loss of 2 million jobs in manufacturing from 1919 to 1929–and as white-collar employment in the service sector expanded–the quantity of “socially necessary labor” declined both relatively and absolutely. The older class relation of capital and labor thus described, included, or determined a diminishing proportion of social relations as such. The possibility of choosing or achieving an identity derived from a position outside the social complex of goods production increased accordingly. Hence the New Negro and the New Woman of the 1920s–subject positions animated by association with race and gender, instead of, or in addition to, class origins or affiliations.
In this thickening space of civil society, cultural politics, now known as identity politics, flourished. John Dewey studied it carefully in three books, Reconstruction in Philosophy (1920), The Public and Its Problems (1927), and Individualism Old and New (1929). Here is how he summarized what he saw happening:
“Compulsory associations have been replaced by voluntary ones, rigid organizations by those more amenable to human choice and purposes–more directly changeable at will. What upon one side looks like a movement toward individualism turns out to be really a movement toward multiplying all kinds and varieties of association. Political parties, industrial corporations, scientific and artistic organizations, trade unions, churches, schools, clubs and societies without number, for the cultivation of every conceivable interest . . . . As they develop in number and importance, the state tends to become more and more a regulator and adjuster among them, defining the limits of their actions, preventing and settling conflicts.”
In The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual (1967), Harold Cruse cited C. Wright Mills to make the same point about the eclipse of state-centered, policy-oriented, electoral politics, and the concurrent rise of cultural politics:
“19th-century capitalism was an industrial system without the 20th-century trappings of the new industry–mass cultural communications, a new and unprecedented capitalist refinement of unheard of social ramifications. Marx never had to deal with this monster of capitalist accumulation. Mass cultural communications is a basic industry, as basic as oil, steel, and transportation, in its own way. Developing along with it, supporting it, and subservient to it, is an organized network of functions that are creative, administrative, propagandistic, educational, recreational, political, artistic, economic and cultural. Taken as a whole this enterprise involves what Mills calls the cultural apparatus.”
In these terms, Reed, Michaels, Kenneth Warren, Cedric Johnson, et al., are wrong to deride cultural/identity/racial politics as a diversion from the real thing, from what would make income redistribution and the pursuit of equality programmatic promises, to be decided by electoral means. For the cultural bent of, say, Du Bois and Locke, or DuVernay and Coates, presupposes the fundamental transformation of capitalism which Du Bois and Locke experienced and which Mills, Cruse, and many others thereafter measured. As Reed himself quips, “race politics is at bottom a class politics.” He means that race/identity politics as now conceived and articulated is a way of promoting the interests of the black population’s professional and managerial stratum, at the expense of its working-class component. But regardless of his intent, he’s right.
Black Lives Matter, for example, is not the organ or the outlet of the DNC’s neoliberal agenda. It’s a social movement that asks all Americans to witness how the denial of rights and of equal protection under the law–not exactly “evanescent issues”–is systematically administered by appointed agents of the state. It speaks to everyone who has been abused by police forces and the so-called criminal justice system, but it speaks for those who have been targeted by those forces and this system–that is, for those whose only offense is the color of their skin. It has at the very least changed the terms of debate on policing, and thus forced all media, including the mainstream, to see how protecting the rights of property inevitably violates the rights of persons.
“True,” Reed says in The New Republic essay cited above, “African Americans, Latinos, and women are disproportionately poor or working class due to a long history of racial and gender discrimination in labor and housing markets–conditions that worsened alongside the postwar deindustrialization of American cities. But this means that these populations would benefit disproportionately from initiatives geared to improve the circumstances of poor and working-class people in general.”
Reed is of course right: redistribution just is recognition. But the reverse is also true. Any collective claim to the equal protection of the laws, or to the just compensation of redistribution, requires standing at the law, and this means prior recognition of the claimants’ legitimacy, as a group, at the law, and in the larger culture. That’s what cultural/racial/identity politics is all about–the articulation of subject positions that have hitherto lacked legitimacy. Thanks to that articulation, black lives now matter as they have not in our distant and recent pasts.
*Reed, Michaels and many others ridicule Black Lives Matter, suggesting that it’s just another neo-liberal diversion from real socialist politics, because its agenda has been endorsed by corporations such as Nike and Quaker Oats. In reply, I would say that this attitude reflects a traditional and mostly unspoken bias against consumer culture, or, more pointedly, a bias toward producers–workers–as against consumers. This bias is neither Left nor Right, it’s common to both positions on the political spectrum. In view of the connotations still attached to consumer culture–passivity, ignorance, effeminacy–it also reflects a profoundly gendered standpoint. In Dusk of Dawn (1940), Du Bois predicted that the power of black consumers would make the difference in the future of black liberation; he was right, as the Montgomery bus boycott soon proved. Since then, although hamstrung by Taft-Hartley and other legislation, consumer boycotts have become the contemporary equivalent of the fabled sit-down strikes of the 1930s. That is why corporations who sell directly to consumers have fallen into line behind BLM. They fear boycotts, and their advertising agencies know that if they lead with African-American images, they will sell more goods.
**According to Thomas Byrne Edsall in The New York Times, 6/16/2020, 65% of the protestors in Washington, D.C., 61% of those in New York City, and 53% of those in LA were white.
*** To my mind, class is a matter of mind as well as body. The working class becomes a class in and for itself only insofar as it becomes conscious of its purposes, which may or not be political as in state-centered and policy-oriented utterance or action. The mere assertion of what Marx called “the historical and moral element” in the determination of wages is a class-conscious act, as far as I’m concerned, because it refuses the reduction of living labor to an economic function–a “factor of production”–to be priced by market forces. But let me quote from my Origins of the Federal Reserve System (1986), to see if that clarifies what I mean:
“I assume that a social class may be defined as a collective historical actor whose constituent (occupational) elements share a common relationship to the means of production (the resources, instruments, and techniques with which labor is undertaken) because their actions or outlook negate or affirm existing relations of production (the social norms and technical/legal rules that govern the appropriation of human labor and its products). This definition is distinguishable from those of Max Weber and C. Wright Mills, since it neither equates class position with market position, as Weber does in “Class, Status, Party,” in H.H. Gerth & C. Wright Mills, eds., From Max Weber (New York, 1944), 180-96, nor limits the relevant criteria to legal claims on means of production, as Mills does in The Power Elite (New York, 1958), 277ff. It is a pragmatic definition in the strictest Peician terms, because it includes the knower in the known. Hence it makes intelligible the apparent contradiction between “objective” juridical positions in the property system and class allegiance, as, for example, the case of “managerial” proletarians in the 20th century.” p. 231n.20.