The Third Wave & the Third Class

Since the 1999 "Battle of Seattle", we in "The North" have seen a variety of rallies, convergences, organizing and activism. The spark that caught flame in Seattle spread to alliances between Labor and the Environmental movement. The GLBT movement came out against bio-engineering. Today we have emerging cross-sections between the anti-corporate globalization movement and the anti-war movement. We have even taken notice of social movements in "The South"; in Africa, Asia and South America, which were happening well before the Seattle event – a big step for us.

Perhaps it’s safe to say, that a century beyond the Classical Left, and almost half a century past the New Left, what we see today is an emerging "Third Wave" of efforts to change the world. However, despite this progress, an important factor in the struggle for social change is being largely left out from our movement building — Class analysis. For this Third Wave to achieve a successful strategy for social change, to replace the inhumane institutions of society with ones that liberate human potential in all spheres of life, it must re-incorporate an updated version of class analysis.

First, I don’t want to pretend that Class is the only thing that is being left out and all else is fully accounted for. Race, gender and political issues still remain to be dealt with, on an equal footing. But, Class remains almost completely off the map. And, to the extent that it is used as one lens to view and analyze society, it is usually that of the classical variety, of the Marxist tradition. Basically, the Marxist class frame work boils down to this: There are two classes that matter in the strategy to transcend capitalism, the working class and the capitalists.

That’s basically it. It’s pretty simple. But, for better or for worse, even this simplistic view does not get much currency with today’s movements. Discussion of achieving a classless society, as a goal of social change, is virtually no where to be found. At least not outside corners of obscurity or academia, and certainly not in dialogue reaching out to communicate with the mainstream to educate and enlarge our movements. Why is this the case? Well, perhaps it’s because classical class analysis, although providing insights, as is, is a dead end. Perhaps, after looking at Soviet Communism people implicitly know that it leads to no good political and economic authoritarianism, so they don’t bother with it. This may also lead today’s movements to over look the importance of explicitly replacing capitalism, as an economic system, with something better. Perhaps this also explains why those who trumpet classical class analysis do so mostly to deaf ears. I would even add that this is why talk of class analysis among larger social movement gatherings, coalitions, and as a language for outreach, is virtually taboo. To me, all this makes sense.

However, some in the 60′s New Left proposed a new class analysis that saw beyond the classical view of workers and capitalists. They saw three classes: workers, coordinators and capitalists. Again, I want to emphasize that I don’t think that class liberation is the only key to a future society. A classless society is not the only kind of society we want. The New Left, in addition to class, also made progress on gender and race. Today, we also want a world without patriarchy, racism and unwarranted authoritarianism. But, again, class is just as important as any of these other focuses, but needs to be put back on the map and made part of our movement building to move forward. So, let’s look more at this third class of coordinators.

First, class analysis is used to identify social groupings with the same interests, needs and self-conceptions within the economic sphere of society – within their place in the realms of production and consumption. Our purpose for developing a class analysis is for social change. According to classical class analysis, workers have interests opposite that of capitalists. Workers sell their labor, want higher wages, better working conditions, more control over their work, and perhaps a shorter work day. Capitalists own the means of production, want to lower wages, while simultaneously extracting more labor and further weaken the bargaining power of workers, in order to gain more profit.

These classical conceptions of social groupings within the economy provide insight, understanding, and are helpful. However, they are limited. If society has a whole constellation of social actors who are potential revolutionaries, why view it through the simplistic lenses of the classical two class analysis there by making us blind to all others who are potential allies? The classical analysis abstracts away women, non-whites, sexuality and political considerations. But, even more, it shoots it self in the foot by abstracting away strategic actors in its own realm of economics: coordinators.

On the one hand coordinators have authority and power over workers. They do mostly empowering and conceptual work, and so benefit from their elite position. On the other hand workers below them do mostly rote and executionary work. This matters in so far as the kinds of work we do help shape and inform our skills for decision making and participation directly in our work places as well as in the institutions of society more broadly. Do we become apathetic and lackadaisical towards decisions whose outcome affect us, or do we become interested, informed, able and empowered? This all depends on what kind of institutions we seek when envisioning and creating a new classless society.

There is another reason to pay attention to the third class of coordinators. Revolutionaries of today seeking to transcend capitalism with another economic system may very well fall into a trap that has been played out over and over in various countries who have adopted some form of socialism. Because of classical class analysis’ blinders toward a third class, it does not see the rise of the coordinator class in all centrally planned economies. Coordinators in these economies were the central planners and managers. These central planners would decide what enterprises were going to do — what they were going to produced, how much was produced and where it was going to go. They would also make decisions about choosing, hiring and firing, appointing, rewarding, and disciplining managers of each firm. Likewise, each manager also had similar control over each individual enterprise that they operated within (notice the parallel to corporate hierarchies that we are opposed to today).

Coordinator decision making power went far beyond how much they themselves were affected by the outcome of their choices. Instead the influence of their decisions stepped exceedingly over their boundaries into controlling other people’s lives. The decision making power of workers and consumers over their own economic lives was token. The rise of a coordinator class, as central planners and managers, in centrally planned economies sent those societies on trajectories over long periods of time, where people developed warped characteristics; where coordinators develop the characteristics of planners and managers and the rest of society develop the characteristics of apathy.

We’ve been burned before because of this kind of thing. With a new wave of social change gaining momentum, are we willing to be burned again? Millions of people remain skeptical about our hope to change the world; about our hope to abolish corporate globalization, free market principles, free market institutions and corporate hierarchies. They remain skeptical about our hope in the rising tides of social movements across North and South America, Asia, Africa and Europe. Besides being fed large daily doses of pro-capitalist propaganda through media, education and culture, they have a right to their skepticism, to their pessimism, and to their disbelief. But, in the realm of history and ideas, we have the upper hand — we know that another world is possible.

However, with that knowledge comes responsibility. It is incumbent upon us to demonstrate it, to show millions of people that there is something better, something worth committing ones life to. And we won’t inspire that kind of commitment by invoking vague, although passionate declarations at large convergences. But we will make head way with equally passionate, but clear and articulate ideas about what the new world will look like.

Our US, British, and Canadian governments are complicit in murderous activities to subvert democracy around the globe. In many ways the success of movements elsewhere depends on are own ability to make social, political, cultural and economic change at home in our own countries. By incorporating a third class of coordinators into our class analysis and strategy we can begin to make head way. We can try to see which coordinators workers can ally them selves with. We can see which coordinators will side with the capitalist against workers. We can adjust our strategies today accordingly for a new approach which embodies our hopes for tomorrow. We can begin to seek the institutions which balance our work for desirability and empowerment. We can begin the struggle for a classless society and help ensure that efforts abroad aren’t subverted by our own government’s tyranny at home. And, if we’re really serious about it…we can make drastic inroads toward social change, towards a classless society, in 5-10 years. We could even fundamentally overhaul society’s core defining institutions within 20-30 years. What are we waiting for?

Chris Spannos lives in Vancouver, BC, is a member of the Vancouver Participatory Economics Collective and volunteers for ZNet. He can be reached by email at [email protected]



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