- Capitalism and Alternatives -

Toward an Understanding of the 'Middle Class'

Posted by: Barry Stoller on November 01, 1999 at 14:11:42:

SDF has intelligently articulated the central difference between the capitalist and the worker in this post. To recap his thesis, he stated:

(3 a)
There is the exchange-ritual Marx called C-M-C, commodity-money-commodity, which is the ritual of the working classes, who sell their commodity, labor, for money, which they then spend upon another commodity, the expropriated produce of other workers, as a means of subsistence. The material indicators of C-M-C are that the first C in C-M-C is always LABOR-POWER (the physical energy coming out of the laborer himself), and that the last C is the use of commodities not for further trade, but rather for the relationship of the consumer to the natural world. I might trade a popsicle, but within the model of 3a) I buy a popsicle in order to eat it. C-M-C is an expression of the production and consumption of use-values by the working class.


(3 b)
There is also the exchange-ritual that Marx calls M-C-M, money-commodity-money, the ritual of the capitalist classes, who use money to buy two commodities called "labor-power" and "capital" (as defined below), which are then used to produce a line of commodities, which then are used to fetch money from the buying public. In this ritual it is important to remember that the middle C always includes an element of capital, defined as the system of physical entities (factories, work teams, raw materials, stores, markets) needed by capitalists in order to make monetary profits. All of which PHYSICALLY EXISTS as something one can POINT TO. The expression "M-C-M" expresses a use of material things so that capitalists can make monetary profits off of the exchange values of things as they are understood within the capitalist money-system.

Both working classes and capitalists buy.

The worker buys means of survival---food, clothing, shelter, family expenses, as well as cultural nourishment appropriate to the historically determined social needs of his or her nationality. This is final consumption

The capitalist also buys---in order to profit. The capitalist buys materials, plant, and labor, the combination of which produces from their constituent use-values new use-values that can be then exchanged on the market. This is productive consumption.

It is obvious that final consumption is final; it simply feeds the 'machine' that is called labor.

Productive consumption, on the other hand, transfers use-value into exchange-value, the process of which realizes surplus-value (the profit).

SDF finishes up:

The two basic social classes, expressed in abbreviated form as "labor" and "capital," exist EMPIRICALLY insofar as one can point to the OBSERVABLE PERFORMANCE of the above rituals, respectively, 3a) and 3b). In most capitalist societies, one class of people is responsible for enacting C-M-C, and another class of people is responsible for enacting M-C-M, although this second class may also enact C-M-C.

To this constructive and concrete explication of class differences, I would like to append another distinction. This would be the distinction within SDF's example (3 a). This would be the distinction between the working class and the 'middle class.'

The 'middle class' are certainly characterized by the ritual C-M-C.

Yet, there seems to be 'something more'---some difference in skill, some difference in 'lifestyle,' some difference in commitment to the ruling class, etc., when the middle class is considered in contradistinction to the 'blue collar' worker...

I think the difference is that the middle class occupies a professional space within the circulation sphere whereas the 'blue collar' worker occupies a professional space within the production process.*

The global implications should be obvious...

Let us now turn to Marx for a lucid explanation of circulation:

The general law is that all costs of circulation which arise only from changes in the forms of commodities do not add to their value. They are merely expenses incurred in the realization of the value or in its conversion from one form into another. The capital spent to meet those costs (including the labor done under its control) belongs among the faux frais of capitalist production. They must be replaced from the surplus-product and constitute, as far as the entire capitalist class is concerned, a deduction from the surplus value or surplus-product, just as the time a laborer needs for the purchase of his means of subsistence is lost time.(1)

Alternately, Marx calls the work of circulation book-keeping, transportation, even credit.

His description of transportation applies to all:

Quantities of products are not increased by transportation. Nor, with a few exceptions, is the possible alteration of their natural qualities, brought about by transportation, an intentional useful effect; it is rather an unavoidable evil. But the use-value of things is materialized only in their consumption, and their consumption may necessitate a change in location of these things, hence may require an additional process of production, in the transport industry. The productive capital invested in this industry imparts value to the transported products, partly by transferring value from the means of transportation, partly by adding value through the labor performed in transport.(2)

Circulation is the process in which commodities are sold. Whatever speeds this process up is sought by the capitalist to ensure the shortest possible turnover time (a major factor in realizing surplus value). Whatever 'finds' a customer is sought by the capitalist to ensure that reproduction is finalized and a profit is guaranteed.

As competition between various capitals increase (especially between various nations of increasingly comparable capitalist maturity), the circulation sphere becomes more and more integral in the realization of surplus-value. Call it 'progress,' that ever-proliferating complexity that envelopes developed economies. Nonetheless, the increasing importance of circulation adds not one iota of value to the product:

[N]o value is produced in the process of circulation, and, therefore, no surplus-value. In fact, nothing occurs there outside the metamorphosis of commodities, and this has nothing to do as such either with the creation or changes of values.(3)

What then is the state of those---the 'white collar' workers---who occupy this professional space?

Trotsky, I believe, came the closest to describing the space occupied by the middle class in the overall circuit of capital, the overall mode of production (as expressed in the language of its corresponding social relations):

[I]n reality, one might agree that, numerically, the middle-class elements in the town, and especially in the country, still maintain an extremely prominent position. But the chief meaning of evolution has shown itself in the decline in importance on the part of the middle-classes from the point of view of production: the amount of values which this class brings to the general income of the nation has fallen incomparably more rapidly than the numerical strength of the middle classes. Correspondingly, falls their social, political, and cultural importance.(4)

The implications concerning the possibility (or I should say improbability!) of socialist revolution in mature capitalist countries (characterized by ever-proliferating circulation circuits) I trust is evident.


* This hypothesis minimizes the 'productive' / 'unproductive' paradigm in Marx's work for the sake of theoretical clarity. Such 'white collar' workers as teachers, hospital staff, etc. would occupy space within the circulation sphere---in that such services primarily facilitate the work of those in the circulation sphere. What is inferred by this is that education, health care, etc., are essentially out of reach of 'blue collar' wages.

1. Marx, Capital, vol. 2, International 1967, p. 149.
2. Ibid., pp. 149-50.
3. Marx, Capital, vol. 3, International 1967, p. 279.
4. Trotsky, The Defense of Terrorism: A Reply to Karl Kautsky [1921], George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1935, p. 32, emphasis added.

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