Social Classes in Classical and Marxist Political Economy

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Social Classes in Classical and Marxist Political Economy.


John Milios

Issue: April, 2000


ABSTRACT. The notion social class attains a well-defined theoretical content in the works of the classical political economists, who defined classes on the basis of the specific income form that each category of people (class) obtains. This approach to class constitutes a first form of a "friendly merger" between political economy and sociology. When combined with the classical labor value theory, it has led to a theory of class exploitation of the laboring class by the capitalist class. As economic theory became increasingly apologetic after the "Marginalist Revolution" (setting itself the aim of justifying capitalism), the theory of class has been totally banished from the corpus of "modern (neoclassical) economic science." This paper claims that the scientific elements inherent in classical political economy's class theory were preserved by the Marxist class theory, which further revolutionized the classical approach, creating a new, purely non-economistic and non-mechanistic "relationist" class theory, an d forming thus a vivid economic-sociological approach to social classes. On the basis of the Marxist approach, complex problems concerning the class structure of contemporary societies can be tackled.



THE THEORY OF CLASSES MAKES UP one of the most controversial chapters of the social sciences, in the sense that it comprises a forefront of confrontation between the different theoretical schools that are formulated within the field.

To clarify what is to follow, I therefore reiterate the position that was stated by de Ste. Croix: "It seems to me hardly possible for anyone today to discuss problems of class, and above all class struggle (or class conflict), in any society, modern or ancient, in what some people would call an 'impartial' or 'unbiased' manner, I make no claim to 'impartiality' or 'lack of bias,' let alone 'Wertfreiheit,' freedom from value-judgements" (1983, p. 31).

The purpose of this paper is to show that social classes can be scientifically defined and investigated only from an economic-sociological point of view, i.e. on the basis of a "friendly merger" between political economy and sociology. In this framework, I will defend the ability of Marxist class theory to form such a "friendly merger" for investigating the structure of modern capitalist societies.


Social Classes in Classical Political Economy: An Early Formulation of the "Friendly Merger"

THE NOTION OF SOCIAL CLASSES acquires for the first time theoretical-analytical content in the works of the classical school of political economy, beginning in 1776 with Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations, and ending in 1848, with John Stuart Mill's Principles of Political Economy with some of their Applications to Social Philosophy (Roll, 1989, Rubin, 1994).

The notion of social class first appears, of course, in ancient Greek and Roman society. However, for the ancient writers, social class consisted of either a clear descriptive term with practical use in the formation of the "commonwealth" of the city (separation of the free citizens into "classes" according to the amount of property), or as a normative notion (a description of an ideal social organization, in the framework of which are determined the "classes," by mainly political criteria). [1] The approaches to class during the Middle Ages had a similar normative character.

The precursors of classical political economy were, of course, the physiocrats, who articulated a concept of social class on the basis of a series of theoretical deductions. However, the society (and the classes) that the physiocrats described was a model that they were dreaming of imposing upon France with the assistance of the monarchy: an agricultural-capitalist society that derived its characteristics a) from the conviction that only agricultural economy can create a surplus above the costs of production, and b) from the idealization of certain elements of British capitalism in the second half of the eighteenth century.

Adam Smith puts an end to these normative approaches, placing as the object of his analysis that which he perceived as the substantial content of human economy in general (and which, according to Marx, was nothing more than the historically determined social framework of capitalism): the economy of generalized commodity production. Within this framework, he defines the classes on the basis of the objective position of the individuals who constitute them in economic (and social) life. In other words, the objective class integration of each individual is considered to be the consequence of his or her specific economic function, independently from its particular technical or natural characteristics. Following suit, each class is defined by the classical school of political economy in relation to the particular form of income that is earned, independently from whether this income is acquired in one sector of the economy or another.

Smith and the other representatives of the classical school thus define three classes: the capitalists (owners of the means of production), who gain profit as income; the workers who gain wages as income; and the land-owners, who gain rent as income (from the renting of their fields to the capitalist-farmers).

Although focusing on the income form, the classical notion of class shall not be regarded as a purely economic but an economic-social one, encompassing also non-economic aspects such as social ethics and ideology, policy questions and the form of polity. Classical political economy therefore constitutes a first "friendly merger" between economics and sociology.

It is clear of course that classical economists stress mainly the economic element of (capitalist) societies, since they conceive it to be the determining characteristic of all other social forms. According to Smith, for example, the full domination of the capitalist economic forms (of the generalized commodity production) would also inevitably lead to the political regime "of ideal liberty and ideal justice" (Smith 1981, IV. IX 28, p. 674), that is to the developed bourgeoisie-parliamentary political system. This is due to the fact that classical economists conceived the economic processes as being historically stronger than political or any other form of social processes.

John Stuart Mill was the classical economist who further extended in his Principles the "friendly merger" inherent in the definition of classes of the school by incorporating a historical element in his analysis, which led him to examine how non-economic parameters like government, tradition or "custom" [2] influence the class structure of society.

After having reformulated the classical concept of the three social classes, [3] Mill noted that this class configuration concerned a form of (developed capitalist) society that did not actually exist in every country (or did not manifest itself in every sector of the economy):

But although these three sometimes exist as separate classes, dividing the produce among them, they do not necessarily or always so exist. The fact is so much otherwise, that there are only one or two communities in which the complete separation of these classes is the general rule. England and Scotland, with parts of Belgium and Holland, are almost the only countries in the world, where the land, capital, and labour employed in agriculture, are generally the property of separate owners. The ordinary case is, that the same person owns either two of these requisites, or all three (Mill 1902, 145: Book 2, Chap. 3).

This thesis led Mill to consider the economic but also, to some extent, the social elements that accounted for the preservation of pre-capitalist or non-capitalist forms such as slavery (Book 2, Chapter 5), independent peasant husbandry (Book 2, Chapter 6 & 7), metayer-agriculture (Book 2, Chapter 8), and the cottier tenure (Book 2, Chapter 9).

Summarizing the above presentation, we may say that the concept of the three class divisions of society remains a steady theoretical thesis of the classical school [4] since it epitomizes the school's theory of distribution of the net product. However, it is not embedded exclusively on an economic approach to the capitalist society, but also entails considerations of historical-sociological character. This "friendly merger" was most eloquently developed in the work of John Stuart Mill.


The Abolition of the "Friendly Merger" in Neoclassical Economics

THE CONCEPT OF THE CLASSICAL ECONOMISTS about the (objective) class division of society may imply a theory of class exploitation. More specifically, the view of the division into classes according to the particular type of income, in connection with the Ricardian labor theory of value (according to that the value of a merchandise is determined by the total labor which is expended for its production), leads to the theory of surplus value: the perception of profit as a part of that net (new) value, which although produced by the workers, is acquired by the capitalists.

Profit emerges since wages comprise only one portion of the worker-produced net value, since "the natural price of labour is that price which is necessary to enable the subsist and to perpetuate their race" and it, therefore, "depends on the price of the food, necessities, and conveniences required for the support of the labourer and his family" (Ricardo, 1992, p. 52).

The theory of surplus value was developed, of course, by Marx; there is, however, in an implicit form in the work of the classical political economists and particularly of Ricardo, as is apparent from the above excerpt. Furthermore, the labor theory of value inevitably concludes with a perception of competition between capital and labor. Because if we ignore the land-rent (and wearing down of the means of production), "the whole value of commodities is divided into two portions only: one constitutes the profits of stock, the other the wages of labour" (Ricardo, 1992, p. 64). Thus, given the value of a commodity, which "is regulated by the quantity of labour necessary to produce it...profits would be high or low in proportion as wages were low or high" (ibid.). [5]

It is not by chance, then, that the theory of social classes makes up a constituent element of economic science as long as the classical school dominates it. From the middle of the nineteenth century, that is, from the moment that those theoretical approaches originating from the apologetic ideological stand dominated economic thought (from the effort to defend, if not sanctify, the capitalist system in opposition to its critics), from that moment then, the notion of social class is gradually omitted.

With the work of J. B. Say (1767-1832) there is already an attempt to a) replace the labor theory of value with the theory of subjective utility (as the determinant factor in the formation of prices) and b) replace the theory of classes with the theory of "production factors." According to this last concept, which constitutes the theoretical foundation of contemporary neoclassical theory, each of the three major "production factors" (capital, labor, land) produce that portion of the net product which the possessor of the said "factor" receives as income (Rubin 1989, pp. 301-306).

Contemporary neoclassical theory erases any element of the classical theory of the classes that could be implied even in the concept of "production factors," introducing the model of "circular flow of income" (the "income cycle"), which describes the reproduction of the "economy." In this model, there appear only two types of economic subjects: businesses and households. The households (or more precisely the individual members of the households) are possessors of the various "production factors," which they offer (exchange) to enterprises for an income. With their income, the households purchase "goods" which the enterprises "offer" (produce).

With the income cycle, any mention of the social relations of production disappears. (See also Weeks, 1989, p. 12 ff.) The individuals (members of the household) decide on the "quantity" of "production factors" that they offer, according to the income that they "wish" to acquire or to their "choices" between "free time" and "labor." The dominant (neoclassical) economic theory excludes any concept of class, and thus of class antagonism or class exploitation. Accordingly, the "friendly merger between political economy and sociology vanishes also.

The neoclassical constitutive notion of marginal utility does not derive from any form of social theory, either economic or sociological. It only constructs a (supposed) relationship between the individual and useful objects (i.e., use-values). In this sense, the isolated individual is supposed to represent the whole society. Society, as a theoretical notion, is absorbed by the individual, whose "nature" is considered to be nothing more than the "principle of utility." In the words of Jeremy Bentham, the philosopher who devoted his life to the theoretical foundation of the principle of utility, "individual interests are the only real interests" (Bentham, 1931, p. 144).

This principle of substitution of society by the individual constitutes the major premise of neoclassical theory: "A true theory of economy can only be attained by going back to the great springs of human action--the feelings of pleasure and pain.... A second part of the theory proceeds from feelings to the useful objects or utilities by which pleasurable feeling is increased or pain removed" (Jevons, 1866). The "Economy" derives now from what is supposed to build the "human nature"; thus it is not considered to be a social process possessing its own (socioeconomic) regularities. This approach again leaves no ground to a "friendly merger" between political economy and sociology.


The Marxist Theory of Class Power within Class Struggle [6]

MARX ADOPTS THE APPROACH of classical political economy concerning classes as the initial theoretical precondition for the formulation of his class-theory. [7] The specific position that each "individual" acquires in the social relations of production constitutes the initial condition that determines his or her class integration.

Marx, however, is not restricted to this position. He identifies, isolates, and develops the "relationist element" which contains the position of the classical economists, and in this way, he formulates a new theory of social relations, and of classes as the main element of these relations. Marx develops the position of the classical political economists in two directions.

First, he demonstrates the element of class antagonism, of the conflicting interests between the main classes of capitalist society and particularly between the capitalists and wage-laborers. Even further, he grasps the unity between the competing classes of society, the unity and coherence of society, in terms of social-class power.

Power no longer constitutes the "right of the sovereign," or the "power of the state" in relation to (equal and free) citizens, but a specific form of class domination. Power is always class power, the power of one class (or a coalition of classes), of the ruling class, over the other, the dominated classes of society. This power, which stabilizes on the basis of dominant social structures, is reproduced within class antagonism, within the struggle of the classes. The specific unity of society is, therefore, inseparable from the unity of the specific class power, which is insured within the class-struggle. "That which connects social groups and individuals is not a higher common interest, or a legal order, but a clash in continuous development" (Balibar, 1988, p. 217). [8]

The Marxist theory of classes thus constitutes a theory of class power within class struggle. The classes are, therefore, defined exclusively on the field of class struggle. They do not pre-exist class struggle, and consequently "they cannot be defined separately one from the other, but only through the social relations of an antagonism, which brings the one class in confrontation with the other" (Balibar 1986-a, p. 620). This means that the classes shall be perceived mainly as social relations and practices and not as "groups of individuals."

Class practices, which always develop within the framework of a system of class power and domination, have therefore, according to Marxist theory, an objective dimension, independently of whether or not there is the capacity (in each circumstance) to acquire consciousness of their common social interests, of those who are part of classes that are oppressed and subject to exploitation. In fact, a crucial element of class power is its capacity to avert the realization of common class interests by those who belong to classes that are being dominated or are sustaining economic exploitation (Dimoulis, 1994). [9]

Secondly and parallel to the construction of the theory of class power, within the context of class struggle, Marx perceives that specific societies consist of a mosaic of social-class relations (and of specific historical manifestations of these social relations), which do not all belong to the same type of social coherence (the same type of class power). They constitute, rather, the specific historical result of the evolution of society, which, as a rule, allows the "survival" of elements with roots to previous types of social organization, to previous historical systems of class power (e.g., feudalism).

Marx seeks and isolates, in this way, those elements of social relations that a) comprise the unique character of capitalism, of each capitalist society, and of capitalist class domination generally and discerns this from the corresponding elements of other types of class domination (and of the corresponding social organization), and b) constitute the permanent, "unaltered" nucleus of the capitalist system of class domination, independently from the particular evolution of each specifically studied (capitalist) society.

That is, he removes those consequences of class struggle that are ascribed to the particular forms in each case of the historical manifestation of the capitalist system, and that do not necessarily constitute elements of the core of the class relations of power.

Thus a new theoretical object emerges: the (capitalist) mode of production. On the basis of the theoretical analysis of the mode of production, each particular class society can thus be studied in depth.

To summarize: Marx establishes the foundation for the theory of class struggle on the basis of the theoretical position that the relations of which society consists are for the most part relations of power of one class (or a coalition of class forces) over the other classes of society. Furthermore, these social relations of power are organized historically with different ways. This means that if we remove from each country the particular forms with which social relations appear at each particular conjuncture, and seek the deeper structural elements of these relations, we will find that there are certain modes of production, i.e., characteristic ways of organization of societies (of social power), which in each case are dominant. Moreover, as I will argue in the next section of the paper, to each of these modes of production corresponds a unity of economic, political, and ideological structures of a specific type: that is, a specific type of economic domination and exploitation corresponds to a specific type o f organization of political power and the domination of a specific type of ideological forms.

Classes denote a structured social whole, encompassing all social levels and forms of practices. Marxist theory exists thus only as a (form of the) "friendly merger" between political economy and sociology.


The Marxist Concept of Modes of Production and the Classes: A "Friendly Merger" between Political Economy and Sociology

ACCORDING TO THE VERSION OF MARXIST THEORY I REFER TO, each mode of production has as its basic foundation the relationship between social classes (those which produce and those which acquire the surplus of this production) with the means of production (and therefore with the final product), without being restricted to these "economic" relations alone: "Certain relations of production presuppose the existence of a legal-political and ideological superstructure as a condition of their peculiar existence . . . [T]his superstructure is necessarily specific (since it is a function of the specific relations of production that call for it)" (Althusser, 1997, p. 177). This means, as Rubin states it, that "it was Marx who introduced a sociological method in political economy. It was in this social nature of material categories that Marx saw their 'internal connections'" (Rubin, 1972, 26). [10]

The capitalist mode of production constitutes precisely the causal nucleus of the totality of capitalist power relations, the fundamental social-class interdependencies that define a system of social power (a society) as a capitalist system.

It is established in the capital-relation initially on the level of production: in the separation of the worker from the means of production (who is thus transformed into a wage-laborer, possessor only of his labor-force) and in the full ownership of the production means by the capitalist. The capitalist has both the power to place into operation the means of production (which was not the case in pre-capitalist modes of production) as well as the power to acquire the final surplus product.

The capitalist mode of production does not, however, constitute exclusively (nor mainly) an economic relation but refers to all of the social levels (instances). It also contains the core of capitalist political and ideological relations of power. In it, there is thus articulated the particular structure of the capitalist state. Consequently, it is revealed that the capitalist class possesses not only the economic, but also the political power not because the capitalists occupy the highest political offices of the state, but because the structure of the political element in capitalist societies, and more especially of the capitalist state (its hierarchical-bureaucratic organization, its "classless" function on the basis of the rule of law, etc.) corresponds to and insures the preservation and reproduction of the entire capitalist class domination. Similarly it becomes apparent that the structure of the dominant bourgeoisie ideology (the ideology of individual rights and equal rights, of national unity and of the common-national-interest, etc.) corresponds to the perpetuation and the reproduction of the capitalist social order and of the long-term interests of the capitalist class. The dominant ideology thus constitutes a process of consolidation of capitalist class interests, precisely through its materialization as a "modus vivendi," as a "way of life" not only of the ruling class, but in an altered form of the ruled classes as well. [11]

In order for the laborer to be transformed into a wage-earner, the "ruler" must give way to the modern constitutional state and the ruler's "subjects" must be transformed, on the judicial-political level, into free citizens: "This worker must be free in the double sense that as a free individual he can dispose of his labor-power as his own commodity, and that, on the other hand, he has no other commodity for sale, i.e., he is rid of them, he is free of all the objects needed for the realization of his labor-power" (Marx, 1990, pp. 272-73).

In pre-capitalist modes of production, by contrast, the ownership of the means of production by the ruling class was never complete. The ruling class had under its property the means of production, i.e., it acquired the surplus product, but the working/ruled classes still maintained the "real appropriation" (Poulantzas 1973, p. 26) of the means of production--the power to put them into operation. This fact is connected to significant corresponding characteristics in the structure of the political and ideological social levels as well. Economic exploitation, that is the extraction of the surplus product from the worker, had as its complementary element direct political coercion: the relations of political dependence between the dominant and the dominated, and their ideological (as rule, religious) articulation. [12]

The mode of production, therefore, describes the unique difference of a system of class domination and class exploitation. In a specific society there may exist more modes (and forms) of production, and therefore a complex class configuration. The articulation of different modes of production is contradictory and is always accomplished under the domination of one particular mode of production. [13] The domination of one mode of production (and particularly of the capitalist mode of production) is connected to the tendency toward the dissolution of all the other competing modes of production. However, the final domination or the deflection of this tendency is not a given a priori; its outcome is always determined by existing social correlations. In most cases, the break-up of the pre-capitalist modes of production takes the form of agricultural reform, precisely since it involves modes of production that are mainly based on pre-capitalist property relations in the land (Milios, 1989).

Summarizing, we may say that Marxist theory conceives classes--on the basis of the theory's cardinal concept, the mode of production--as complex practices on all social levels. This means that Marxism approaches society as a structured whole, and that in doing so it removes the demarcation lines between political economy and sociology. Marxist theory thus constitutes by definition a "friendly merger" between these two disciplines of social sciences, rejecting the inherent economism of classical political economy, which gave only a limited attention to non-economic social structures and to their influence on economic processes.


Classes in a Specific Capitalist Society: A Marxist Approach

As WE SAW IN SECTION II OF THIS PAPER, it was J. S. Mill who stressed the fact that the class configuration of a specific society may deviate from the schemes of theory--specifically, from the three-class theoretical scheme of classical political economy. More precisely, Mill argued that the class of landlords may not exist in cases where the capitalist (or the laborer) is also the owner of the land. However, Mill restricted himself to a descriptive presentation of the problem, since classical theory could not render him the tools for gaining a deeper insight into the social processes that account for the transformation of class relations of power in a given society or for the transition of societies from (the domination of) the one mode of production to the other.

In what follows I will try to show that Marxism can theoretically address such problems in a coherent conceptual approach, although there is not only one answer given by Marxists to such questions, and the theory of class still constitutes a subject of dispute among Marxist theorists.

I will start my own approach to the subject by reminding readers that the mode of production refers exclusively to the core of class relations, not to class relations as such. After subtracting from all the particular historical forms in which class relations exist, [14] each mode of production leads to only two classes: the class of the dominant-exploiters, and the class of those dominated, who become the object of exploitation. In the capitalist mode of production are thus defined the capitalist class, and the class of wage-laborers; in feudalism the class of the feudal lords, and the class of serfs, and so on. It is apparent that the corresponding pairs of classes are internally ordered according to the number of modes of production that coexist in a specific society (or in one social formation). However, in any specific class society there are always more classes than those connected to the existing modes of production, due to the following reasons:

1. Classes are formed in correspondence with forms of production, which always exist at the borderland of the main class formations, as a result of the given correlation of forces.

2. New classes may originate from transition processes, as some modes of production dissolve under the weight of the expanded reproduction of a new dominant mode of production.

3. In capitalist societies, a part of the functional exercising of social (economic, political, ideological) power is entrusted to non-members of the ruling class. Thus the "new petty-bourgeoisie class" emerges.

The typical example for case (1) is the traditional petty-bourgeoisie class of self-employed producers who own the means of production that they use. The traditional petty bourgeoisie class is constructed in reference to a form of production: the production of simple (and not capitalist) merchandise, that is, merchandise that doesn't contain a profit.

The typical example for case (2) is the class of land-owners in some capitalist countries (e.g., Britain) which emerges from the transformation-adjustment of the class of the feudal lords: with the break-up of the feudal mode of production, feudal ownership is transformed into a capitalist type (complete ownership of land), and the serfs are evicted from the land (which is now fenced off by the land-owners), and are deprived of any of their previous rights to the (use of) land. Within this process, the feudal lords become land-owners in the contemporary (capitalist) sense: owners of the land who, as we have already noted, enjoy as a special form of income the capitalist land-rent, through the renting of their lands to the capitalist-farmers.

The class of land-owners, however, does not constitute a component element of the capitalist mode of production, that is, an inevitable result of its dominance, but constitutes a manifestation of a specific historical variation of this domination. It is thus understandable how the reduction, or even the disappearance, of the class of land-owners occurred in countries where the domination of capitalism led to class relations of power in rural areas that favored the peasants or the capitalist-farmers. The most common historical case is the splitting up of lots and their acquisition by those who directly cultivate them, a portion of whom are transformed into self-employed producers of simple commodities and another portion into capitalists (who employ wage-farm workers on a permanent or seasonal basis).

The mode of production as the main aspect of social-class relations (their causal structural nucleus) always refers to class positions and functions, independently from the agents that perform these functions. Thus, two types of class functions are discerned, and consequently two classes: the functions of the ruling class (acquisition of surplus value, exercising political power through the state, organization of ideological power through the ideological apparatuses of the state), and those of the ruled class (production of value and surplus value, reproduction of the material--economic, political, ideological--conditions of wage-relations). The functions of the two basic classes are thus integrated and compose the particular characteristics of capitalist power relations, and at the same time delineate the field of class antagonism between the two.

In specific capitalist societies, one part of the function of the dominant capitalist class (of capital) is given over to agents (individuals) who are not part of the ruling class, and who are, in fact, often subjected to direct capitalist exploitation. This includes the following: functions that insure the extraction of surplus value, such as the supervision-overseeing-control of the production process (technicians, engineers, etc.); functions that insure the cohesion of capitalist political power (state bureaucracy, the judicial apparatus, the military, etc.); functions for the systematization and dissemination of the ruling ideology, such as education.

The product that emerges from the staffing of the apparatuses and processes of the exercising of capitalist power (within the existing social formations) with elements that are not part of the ruling class is, then, the new petty-bourgeoisie class.

That is, these are categories of wage-earners which are not part of the working class, precisely because of their position in the web of functions involved in the exercise of capitalist (economic, political, ideological) power. In a parallel way, these elements are not part of the capitalist class, to the extent that they are not owners of the means of production (capitalists).

The theoretical approach to the new petty-bourgeoisie class has always constituted a problem for Marxists who ascribed all really existing classes to a mode of production. Characteristic is the case of N. Poulantzas (1973-a), who considered the new petty-bourgeoisie as an outcome of the "monopolistic phase" of the capitalist mode of production., [15] In reality, the new petty-bourgeoisie does not constitute a phenomenon of some "contemporary phase" of capitalism, but appears from the very first period of its domination, along with the bourgeoisie state and industry. [16]

The above thesis concerning the class position of higher production staff, as well as of higher employees in private enterprises or the state, is based on arguments that do not originate from an economic analysis in the strict sense, but incorporate sociological and political considerations in regard to the overall power relations in capitalist societies.

Precisely since, according to Marxist theory, the classes are defined on the field of class struggle on all social levels, one must always consider complex criteria of an economic, sociological, and political nature for the analysis of classes in specific capitalist societies, Having this thesis as a base, I consider the position of N. Poulantzas (1974) to be correct, according to which the self-employed producers of simple commodities (the traditional petty-bourgeoisie class) and the wage earners who are not part of the working class (the new petty-bourgeoisie class) shall be regarded as fractions of one and the same social class, the petty-bourgeoisie class. Poulantzas shows that the social role of both groups and their relations to the main classes of the capitalist society (the capitalist and the working class) attain converging features, which justifies the thesis that they belong to the same class.

The above brief discussion aims at illustrating that the valuable element in Marxist theory of classes lies in the fact that it constitutes a system of analysis of the entire social reality: [17] it is neither subjectivist (reducing classes to conscious action) nor "economistic" (it doesn't "attribute" the classes to the economy; it doesn't consider that they are defined by exclusively economic criteria). By adhering to the analysis of total (economic, political, ideological) power relations, the Marxist theory of classes therefore avoids the one-sidedness of classical political economy and points the way toward a genuine economic sociology.

(*.) John Milios is an Associate Professor of Political Economy and the History of Economic Thought at the National Technical University of Athens (Department of Humanities, Social Sciences, and Law). He is director of the quarterly journal of economic and political theory Theseis (published since 1982 in the Greek language) and a member of the Board of Scientific Advisors (Wissenschaftlicher Beirat) of the annual journal Beitr[ddot{a}]ge zur Marx-Engels-Forschung: Neue Folge (Berlin, Germany). He is author of a large number of papers and of several books, of which the most recently published are: Marxism as a Conflict between Schools of Thought (Athens 1996), Theories of Global Capitalism: A Critical Approach (Athens 1997), Modes of Production and Marxist Analysis (Athens 1997), all in the Greek language. He is the editor of a collective volume in the English language entitled Rethinking Democracy and the Welfare State, Ellinika Grammata, Athens 1999.


(1.) The most characteristic case is, perhaps, the division of classes in the ideal Republic of Plato: The class of rulers--leaders, that is, administrators of the Republic--should be philosophers, possessors of knowledge, who would be deprived of any private property. Subsequently the class of guardians is defined, who would be responsible for military security, and finally the class of creators, that is, all those involved in "economic life" (Plato Republic 1, 434C, 421 C).

(2.) "When the two parties sharing in the produce are the labourer or labourers and the landowner, it is not a very material circumstance in the case, which of the two furnishes the stock.... The essential difference does not lie in this, but in another circumstance, namely, whether the division of the produce between the two is regulated by custom or by competition" (Mill 1902, 183: Book 2, Chapter 8).

(3.) "The three requisites of production, as has been so often repeated, are labour, capital, and land.... Since each of these elements of production may be separately appropriated, the industrial community may be considered as divided into landowners, capitalists, and productive labourers. Each of these classes, as such, obtains a share of the produce: no other person or class obtains anything, except by concession from them... These three classes, therefore, are considered in political economy as making up the whole community" (Mill, 1902, 145: Book 2, Chapter 3).

(4.) "The produce of the earth--all that is derived from its surface by the united application of labour, machinery, and capital, is divided among three classes of the community, namely, the proprietor of the land, the owner of the stock or capital for its cultivation, and the labourers by whose industry it is cultivated" (Ricardo, 1992, 3).

(5.) It is thus understandable why Carey, who considered that the capitalist economy embodies the Harmony of interests wrote in 1848 that Ricardo's book "is the true manual of the demagogue, who seeks power by means of agrarianism, war, and plunder." (Carey 1848, The Past, the Present and the Future, Philadelphia, pp. 74--75, quoted by Rubin, 1989, pp. 327--328).

(6.) It is obvious that when I refer to Marxist theory, I mean a specific version of Marxism, which will be described in following, different from many other versions such as "Soviet Marxism." Marxism has never been a "single and unique" theory. (See Milios, 1995, and the related bibliography which is included there.)

(7.) In the unfinished 52nd chapter of the third volume of Das Capital, Marx notes: "The owners of mere labor-power, the owners of capital and the land-owners, whose respective sources of income are wages, profit and ground-rent--in other words wage-laborers, capitalists and land-owners--form the three great classes of modem society based on the capitalist mode of production." He immediately hurries to note however, that the criterion of form of income does not close the theory of classes and posits the question: "What makes wage-laborers, capitalists and land-owners the formative elements of the three great social classes?" (Marx 1991, p. 1025--26). On issues related to this "temporary" definition of classes by Marx, see Balibar (1986 & 1986-a, p. 620 ff.).

(8.) The non-class relations which exist in a society, such as the relations between adults and minors, the relations between the two sexes, the various "races," or the various religious groups, are always determined and shaped in correspondence to the main aspect of social relations, the class relations of power. For the substantiation of this Marxist position, see Dimoulis (1994, esp. pp. 47--51). Also the very penetrating analysis of Wallestein on the concepts "race" and "prestige group-formations" (Balibar/Vallesrstein, 1988, 254, ff.), in which the conclusion is also substantiated that "prestige group-formations (such as parties) constitute confused collective representations of the classes" (p. 279).

(9.) For the critique of the opposite theoretical approach, according to which "a class exists as such only from the moment when it possesses a class consciousness of its own," see Poulantzas (1973, p. 78 ff.). Also see Ste. Croix (1984, p. 102): "If ancient slaves are indeed to be regarded as a class, then neither class consciousness nor political activity in common . . . can possibly have the right to be considered necessary elements in class."

(10.) "It is in each case the direct relationship of the owners of the conditions of production to the immediate which we find the innermost secret, the hidden basis of the entire social edifice, and hence also the political form of the relationship of sovereignty and dependence" (Marx, 1991, p. 927). As Ste. Croix correctly observes, according to Marxist theory " the collective social expression of the fact of exploitation, the way in which exploitation is embodied in a social structure" (1984, p. 100). (Emphasis added.)

(11.) "It is not enough that the conditions of labor are concentrated at one pole of society in the shape of capital, while at the other pole are grouped masses of men who have nothing to sell but their labor-power. Nor it is enough that they are compelled to sell themselves voluntarily. The advance of capitalist production develops a working class which by education, tradition and habit looks upon the requirements of that mode of production as self-evident natural laws" (Marx 1990, p. 899).

(12.) See also Marx 1991, p. 927 as cited in Note 10 of this paper.

(13.) Productive processes which do not lead to relations of exploitation (production and detachment of the surplus product), as is the case with the self-employed producer (simple commodity production), do not constitute a mode of production, but a form of production (Poulantzas, 1973).

(14.) The position, for example, that the capitalist mode of production dominates in a country means that the dominant (and not necessarily the largest numerically) social relation is capital which exploits wage-labor, that the surplus product takes mainly the form of surplus value, etc. Beyond this, however, nothing is clarified concerning the specific form of capitalist power relation: for instance, if the duration of the work-day is twelve, ten, or seven hours; what is the dominating form of capital (e.g., commercial or industrial); if the work force has high or low specialization; if the reproductive functions of the capitalist state (education, social welfare, etc.) have been developed to a greater or lesser degree, etc.

(15.) "In contemporary France ... the two fundamental classes are the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. But we also find there the traditional petty bourgeoisie...,the 'new' petty bourgeoisie...dependent on the monopoly form of capitalism" (Poulantzas 1973-a, p. 33).

(16.) "Mr. Ure has already noted how it is not the industrial capitalists but rather the industrial managers who are 'the soul of our industrial system"' (Marx, 1991, p. 510).

(17.) This position doesn't mean that Marxist theory has "resolved" every issue that is related to the scientific study of class societies. Beyond the fact that the production of scientific knowledge is an unending process, an important role is played here by the inherent "conflictedness" of Marxism, and the necessity of it being employed on the field of social antagonisms as a precondition for its scientific objectivity (Althusser, 1977). However, the "open problems" (Balibar, 1986-a) which are still to be found within Marxist class theory do not refute the fact that it is a theory which can claim the titles at coherence and scientific objectivity.


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