Debating Economic Vision for a Society without Class

[This is a reply to “The Sad Conceit of Participatory Economics” by Odessa Steps, which appeared in The Northeastern Anarchist 8.]


Two Classes or Three?


The working class is a subjugated and exploited group within capitalism. As class struggle anti-authoritarians, we believe that the working class has the potential to emancipate itself from class oppression, and in doing so it creates a new social structure without a division into classes. But how is this possible exactly?


As I see it, participatory economics (often abbreviated as parecon) is an attempt to specify the institutions of a new economic system in which class oppression no longer exists.


A vision of a society beyond capitalism is important both to motivate struggle today as well as to provide guidance on the strategy for social change that we pursue.


But what creates the division of society into classes? A class is a group differentiated by power relations in the production of goods for each other in society. There can be different structures in society that can provide power that is the basis of a class.


First, there is ownership of land, buildings, and other means of production by a minority investor class. The rest of us are thus forced to sell our time to the owners in order to live. Marx held that ownership is the basis of class division within capitalism. From this he inferred that capitalism has two main classes, workers and capitalists. Odessa Steps belongs to the Anarchist Federation (in the U.K.), which also has a two-class theory:


“We see today’s society as being divided into two main opposing classes: the ruling class which controls all the power and wealth, and the working class which the rulers exploit to maintain this” (from the AF web site).


But there is not just one class that has “all the power” to which the working class is subordinate. In addition to the capitalist and working classes, capitalism generated a third main class — the techno-managerial or coordinator class. The coordinator class includes managers, and top experts who advise managers and owners, such as finance officers, lawyers, architects, engineers and so on. These are the people who make up the chain-of-command hierarchies in the corporations and the state. The bosses who working people deal with day to day are mostly the coordinators.


The members of this class may have some small capital holdings but mostly they live by their work. The basis of their prospects in society are things like university educations, connections, and accumulated expertise.


The capitalist and coordinator classes together are about a fourth of the population in

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