Routes To Economic Vision: Classism

Historically, a frequent route to trying to describe a better society is to demand classlessness.

Classes are groups who share sufficient conditions and circumstances due to their economic position that they have broadly similar interests and motives, which usually also engender similar overall cultural and social attachments.

Marxist analysis, and that of virtually all other schools by now, realizes that ownership relations can induce class differences. If you own means of production but I only own my ability to do work, and if you hire me to work for you and you pocket whatever surplus you can generate beyond expenses and what you pay me, as profits – your relations to work and to gaining income are very different than mine. You want to extract from me as much actual labor as possible. I want to give as little as possible. You want to reduce expenses associated with my work as much as possible. I want the best conditions possible, regardless of cost. You want to pay me as little as possible as wages. I want to receive as much as possible. You want a longer work day. I want shorter. You want whatever enhances your power and profit making prospects. I want whatever enhances my circumstances and wages. We are at odds – and this is classical Marxist class struggle, capitalists against workers.

With this perspective that the origin of class division resides in property relations, the injunction to get rid of classes says we should eliminate the conditions supporting the capitalist class by making all productive assets publicly or collectively owned.

So far so good. But, if we want to eliminate all class division, it isn’t enough.

It turns out that there is another broad divide among those in the economy. Even with capitalists gone due to eliminating private ownership of means of production, with typical corporate divisions of labor still in place, some people will do primarily authoritative, information intensive, and otherwise empowering and fulfilling or at least not overly onerous work, whereas other people will do primarily rote, obedient, and otherwise disempowering and generally quite tedious and debilitating work. The former I call the coordinator class – managers, doctors, lawyers, engineers, etc. The latter is the traditional working class. The former oversees, tends to, and ultimately rules the latter.

The instruction for us is clear. If we want classlessness we have to eliminate not only the basis for the capital worker distinction, but also the basis for the coordinator worker distinction. Put differently, however we accomplish production, consumption, and allocation to meet needs and develop potentials, we should not do so in ways that produce this class division.

But the proximate point of creation of this division is the division of labor which gives some people overwhelmingly empowering work and other people overwhelmingly rote work. The first lesson, therefore, is that we must eliminate the corporate division of labor and replace it with a way of combining tasks into jobs that apportions to each actor a comparably empowering overall work experience.

Second, however, even if we eliminate it as a starting place, this division of labor can be re-imposed against our desires by other institutional choices. For example, both markets and central planning create the coordinator/worker distinction and re-impose on society the corporate division of labor. Markets do it through the implications of competition for cost cutting to win market share and then for the organization of the workplace. Central planning does it by way of the hierarchy of power and influence intrinsic to is logic. To attain classlessness, we must use some means of horizontal negotiation to arrive at economic choices, not competition or authoritarian imposition.

It turns out, in other words, that to define a desirable economy by way of seeking classlessness leads inexorably toward parecon.

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