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EDITORIAL PERSPECTIVES (continued)

One notes, nevertheless, on looking through the conference program and related materials, two salient biases: first, overwhelming emphasis on the working class and on the cultural heterogeneity and specificity of the various components of the subaltern strata in our society, with comparative neglect of the upper pole of the class structure. Multiple traditions of research and study zero in on working communities, the poor, people of color, women (especially the connection between gender and poverty), ethnicity, etc. The microscope is turned "downward," so to speak. But -- and in contrast to earlier, more confident periods in the intellectual history of the left -- we rarely turn our attention upward, toward the capitalist ruling class. A "Call for Papers" presented in "Editorial Perspectives," S&S, Summer 1998, projected a Special Issue devoted to this study, and drew attention to the absence of scholarly interest in it; our point has been confirmed by the failure of that Issue to emerge! We therefore hereby renew the Call, which stated: "It is high time to turn the spotlight upward once again."

The second bias in the "How Class Works" conference is the apparently overwhelming tendency to treat social class as a classificatory category -- as a matter of identifying attributes of individuals -- rather than as a relation, or complex of relations. Thus, a Study Guide that appears on the conference website (www.workingclass.sunysb.edu) offers this definition: "A capitalist is a person who is personally removed from the actual production process, but who controls it and sets the general strategic direction for the business -- what and how to produce, how to invest and grow the company, and so on." The categorical equation "capitalist = person" simply obliterates social relations, and winds up validating, however implicitly and unintentionally, the apologetic attribution of a productive role to capital. Thus, one can immediately hear the sardonic reply from the right: how can a person who has the skill to "control," and to "set the general strategic direction for the business" be considered to be "removed" from the production process?

In line with the unifying theme of this essay, I refer once more (and for the last time) to the Capital I front matter, this time (again) to the Preface to the First German Edition, where Marx writes (p. 10):

To prevent possible misunderstanding, a word. I paint the capitalist and the landlord in no sense couleur de rose. But here individuals are dealt with only in so far as they are the personifications of economic categories, embodiments of particular class relations and class interests. My standpoint, from which the evolution of the economic formation is viewed as a process of natural history, can less than any other make the individual responsible for relations whose creature he socially remains, however much he may subjectively raise himself above them.

Classes in general, and the capitalist ruling class in particular, are relations, not among individuals but among institutions that (partially) comprise the production structure. To see this, let's imagine a militant (but neophyte) worker, who goes on a mission in search of the person or persons who are the source of her exploitation. The foreman (or supervisor) sends her to the plant superintendent (or general office manager). This latter person quickly points out that he is a mere cog in the wheel, hired and fired by the firm's top management. So our worker doggedly works her way up the hierarchy, through (e.g.) divisional vice-presidents, etc., until she finally encounters the CEO of the corporation. At this meeting -- which, we may assume, took quite a while to arrange -- the CEO Protests -- accurately! -- that his professional survival depends on meeting the goals of the owners: the stockholders. So our worker goes in search of a stockholder, and most likely winds up with an elderly couple, who are trying to live on Social Security, plus the dividends from a portfolio of stocks (perhaps a Mutual Fund or Keogh Plan). If she persists, she may (or may not, depending on the ownership structure of this particular firm) be able to locate a significant owner, holding stock of sufficient amount to wield power. At last, our worker has found a capitalist! But no. The inside stockholder tells her -- again, accurately! -- that the owners and managers of the firm are subject to the "laws of the marketplace," and that their policies, however injurious, are dictated by the impersonal imperatives of competition.5

Moreover, the capitalist class process requires the existence of a social upper class, with a distinct life-style and mode of interaction based on (what might be called) power consumption. This establishes a crucial mechanism for reproducing succeeding generations of personnel for the power structures (ownership; management), provides a means of drawing talented and energetic members of the subaltern strata and classes upwards, and validates the presumption of privilege upon which the exercise of authority rests.

The upshot: our militant worker comrade must drop her search for "capitalists" in the form of discrete human beings, and look instead at the more abstract intersection of institutions and sites -- ownership, management, the social upper class, the market -- which together create the antagonistic capitalist class power that weighs so heavily upon her, and upon us all. For this purpose she will need theory, and Capital (front matter and text) is as good a place as any to start -- Provided, of course, she does not reduce her investigation of this treasure to a form of Bible study, or succumb to the illusion that Marx's published or unpublished work will produce final answers, or absolve us of the need to choose among existing paths, and forge new ones.

IN THIS ISSUE

The articles in this issue study two fundamental aspects of the terrain surveyed above: class, and consciousness.

John Manley's "Marx in America: The New Deal" addresses an old claim in American history: whatever relevance Marx's categories may have for Europe, they are on foreign soil in the United States and offer little insight or explanatory power. Arguing forcefully to the contrary, Manley provides a thumbnail sketch of the u. s. 1930s, drawing upon multiple sources to reveal a decade of profound class conflict, and widespread social and political consciousness of that conflict and its implications. His paper makes exciting reading, and is ideal for classroom use. There is a deeper message as well: contrary to the view that the centrality of class can only be established by examining less "overt" decades than that of the 20th century's Great Depression, Manley argues that many structural and ideological fundaments of later development were laid in the 1930s, and that that decade is therefore crucial to unearthing the social -- class roots of subsequent history.

Consciousness -- reified, revolutionary, latent -- remains perhaps the thorniest, and in some ways most important, topic of research. Guido Starosta, in his "Scientific Knowledge and Political Action: On the Antinomies of Lukács' Thought in History and Class Consciousness," returns to that seemingly inexhaustible thinker for a new assault on this problematic. Starosta subjects Lukács' work to critical interrogation, avoiding both the celebratory tone present in some Lukács scholarship, on the one hand, and over-emphasis on the political, on the other. Systematic criticism reveals, Starosta argues, a contradiction between the posited source of reification in the real subsumption of labor, and the proposed basis for its transcendence in the formal subsumption (property relations). This contradiction has major implications for our conception of the genesis of productive subjectivity and (eventually) revolutionary consciousness.

Jerry Harris' Communication, "Transnational Capital and the End of u. \s. Hegemony," pursues the discussion of modern class formation initiated in S&S with the article by Harris and William I. Robinson, "Towards a Global Ruling Class: Globalization and the Transnational Capitalist Class" (Spring 2000), and continued in a "Symposium" on the topic among Giovanni Arrighi, Michael Mann, Jason W. Moore, Kees van der Pijl, Robert Went, and Robinson (Winter 2001-2002). We are also pleased to be able to present Bertell Ollman's thoughtful essay, "Marxism: This Tale of Two Cities," adapted from the Introduction to his forthcoming book, Dance of the Dialectic: Steps in Marx's Method.

We round out the issue with two Review Articles. Edward Tverdek ("Fool Me Once") examines The Sokal Hoax, a collection of materials prepared by the Editors of Lingua Franca. And Ricardo Duschesne ("Eurocentrisin and Historical Variety") reviews Eight Eurocentric Historians, by the late J. M. Blaut, continuing the investigation into principles for understanding world history and divergences in development treated recently in Duchesrie's "Between Sinocentrism and Eurocentrism: Andre Gunder Frank's Re -- Orient" (Winter 2001 -- 2002). This discussion will continue in future issues.

D. L.

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1. Price: $3.25! I have no idea how to partition the meagerness of this amount into its component parts: deficient perception of late-capitalist inflation, and Soviet subsidy. There is a copy of the 1906-09 Kerr hardcover edition of all three volumes on my shelves, but the International paperback is definitely the workhorse.

2. "Value and the Quest for the Core of Capitalism," Review of Radical Political Economics, Vol. 34 (2002), where six "false trails" in the study of value are identified: empiricism, formalism, matheinaticism, monetarism, temporalism, and textualism.

3. This is actually not quite accurate; Dussel does refer, for example, to "a future theory based on Marx's categories, which is still waiting to be developed" (198). It is the almost total absence of engagement with the huge corpus of Marxist work since Marx that justifies the characterization in the text.

4. The major exception is France; see "Editorial Perspectives," Winter 2002-2003, on The Eighteenth Brumaire.

5. In Marx, capitalists are powerful, but at the same time subject to objective laws, as the above quote implies. By contrast, in capitalist economics capitalists are either all-powerful, as with Keynes' unconstrained investors with practically unlimited financial power, or are reduced to the status of passive utility maximizers behaving parametrically in response to price signals.

 

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