A class act: Erik Olin Wright in perspective

Issue: 154

Joseph Choonara

A review of Erik Olin Wright, Understanding Class (Verso, 2015), £14.99

Erik Olin Wright has been worrying about class for 40 years. Much of his conceptual thinking and rethinking came about as a result of the empirical investigation Wright led into class structure and class consciousness—initially focused on the United States and Italy, but later widening in scope and continuing for two decades.1 He is not only a perceptive theoretician but also an unusually self-reflective, and even self-critical, one. It should come as no surprise that he has, over the past four decades, provided a number of insights that have both advanced and challenged traditional Marxist class analysis.

Anyone interested in understanding the class structure of contemporary capitalist societies will benefit from reading this collection of essays, written between 1995 and 2015. They include, as well as statements of Wright’s current views on class, critiques of the class frameworks developed by a huge range of writers,2 and a comparison of Karl Marx’s and Max Weber’s accounts of class. There is, too, a useful discussion of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, which recognises the importance of Piketty’s empirical account of the fall and rise of inequality over the past century, while identifying the key weaknesses in the work—particularly Piketty’s concept of capital and the lack of any rigorous notion of class. Also welcome is a chapter, published here for the first time, discussing Guy Standing’s notion of the “precariat” as a distinct social class. Wright dismisses much of Standing’s argument, preferring to see those in a precarious position as a “segment of the working class”, sharing an overarching long-term interest with the wider proletariat.3

Rather than discussing in detail the contents of this wide-ranging selection of essays, I want instead to take the opportunity to appraise some of Wright’s wider contributions to theorising class that inform the pieces in this collection.

The new middle class

Perhaps the best known contribution for readers of this journal will be Wright’s early account of what is often called the “new middle class”, an account influencing articles by both the current and previous editors of International Socialism.4

Marx envisages the polarisation of capitalist society between a capitalist class, who have effective control over (and usually ownership of) the means of production, and a class of wage labourers. He is aware of the existence of other classes pre-dating a fully developed capitalist system, who outlived the societies in which they emerged. The most important such group were the petty bourgeoisie, the majority of whom globally were, and still are, small-scale agricultural producers. Marx predicts that this group will, as capitalism develops, decline in relative size and capacity to impose itself on society.5

However, Marxism after Marx was confronted with the emergence on a large scale of other groups occupying an even less clear-cut position in the class structure. There are different views among Marxist writers of who exactly should be included in this new middle class category. Among the most compelling candidates are groups formed within capitalist firms performing managerial functions traditionally associated with capitalists but working for a wage like the proletariat. The renewal of Marxist theory from the late 1960s led to growing debate around the identity and nature of such groupings, which had, by this time, become a large section of the labour force in many advanced capitalist countries.6 If members of the new middle class were simply capitalists, then the capitalist class was far bigger and the line of demarcation between it and workers far more blurred than had previously been recognised. If they were simply workers, then the working class was still the overwhelming majority, but many of the class antagonisms characteristic of capitalism would have shifted into the working class itself, calling into question its ability to act in a coherent way to transform the world. New concepts were needed to explore this situation.

The critique of Poulantzas

One attempt to provide these new concepts was by the Greek Marxist Nicos Poulantzas. His approach reflected a far wider reconceptualisation of class. For Poulantzas, classes are not defined simply by their position in relation to the means of production or other classes, but also by their place in relation to “political and ideological apparatuses”. Economic position still supposedly has “the determinant role”, whereas the other two factors are merely deemed “very important”.7 However, from an economic perspective, for Poulantzas, workers only qualify as such if they are productive (in the Marxist sense of producing surplus value) and if they create a tangible commodity. Furthermore, at one point Poulantzas writes, “social classes coincide with class practices” and “classes only exist in the class struggle”.8 Poulantzas uses his analysis to argue that the “new wage-earning groupings…belong together with the traditional petty bourgeoisie”; they are, he says, a “new petty bourgeoisie”.9

Wright offers a devastating critique of Poulantzas. First, Wright argues, he defines the working class in far too restrictive terms.10 Because only productive workers qualify, wage labourers in unproductive areas such as banking or bookkeeping are excluded from the working class and absorbed into the new petty bourgeoisie.11 So too are those in the public sector.12 Not only does Poulantzas exclude these groups, despite the fact that they share with the wider working class similar conditions of labour, an interest in the overthrow of capitalist relations of production and so on, he also excludes anyone who engages in “mental labour” such as clerical work.13 This is on the grounds that such work “is in fact encased in a whole series of rituals, know-how and ‘cultural’ elements that distinguish it from that of the working class”, resulting in “the traditional esteem given to ‘paper work’ and ‘clerical workers’ in general”.14

Second, Wright questions the coherence of the “new petty bourgeoisie”. There are two key groups allotted to this category. The first are managers and supervisors, who Poulantzas assumes, incorrectly as we will see, to be entirely unproductive.15 These are marked by the “dominance of the political relations that they maintain”.16 However, it is far from clear what is especially political, rather than economic, about their function in the workplace.17 The second group, “engineers and technicians”, are considered to be productive, but they are involved in an application of science to production that is “interwoven with ideological practices corresponding to the dominant ideology”.18 Again, it is not at all clear why the supposed mental/manual division should be seen as a dividing line between classes, rather than simply dividing different groups for workers.19

Poulantzas’s work involves, on the one hand, a tight, rigid and erroneous set of categories defining workers. On the other hand, anyone who departs from these criteria, even if purely on account of their perceived political or ideological role, is lumped in with the petty bourgeoisie. Wright estimates that, according to Poulantzas’s definitions, this category would make up 70 percent of the US labour force in 1969.20 This is in violation of Poulantzas’s claim of a central role for economics; in reality politics and ideology “assume an almost equal footing”.21

Contradictory class locations

Wright’s alternative account forms the centrepiece of his 1978 work, Class, Crisis and the State. His concern here is to set out “an alternative way of dealing with…ambiguities in the class structure”, which requires that we “regard some positions as occupying objectively contradictory locations within class relations” thrown up by capitalism.22 It is necessary to study “contradictory locations…in their own right”.23 Wright goes on to specify three different contradictory locations:

Three clusters of positions within the social division of labour can be characterised as occupying contradictory locations within class relations… (1) managers and supervisors occupy a contradictory location between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat; (2) certain categories of semi-autonomous employees who retain relatively high levels of control over their immediate labour process occupy a contradictory location between the working class and the petty bourgeoisie; (3) small employers occupy a contradictory location between the bourgeoisie and the petty bourgeoisie.24

He uses his definitions to estimate the size of different groups in the US according to a 1969 survey, reaching the conclusion that 12 percent of the labour force consists of top and middle managers and technocrats, with somewhere between 18 and 23 percent occupying contradictory class locations closer to the working class. The working class proper, he writes, “consists of between 41 and 54 percent of the economically active population” and at “the boundaries of the working class are another 25-35 percent of the population… The total potential class basis for a socialist movement…is thus somewhere between 60 percent and 70 percent of the population”.25

Wright’s breakthrough leads to important insights, but there are problems. Indeed, through a painstaking process of debate and self-criticism, he points towards many of the unresolved issues. However, in trying to solve these problems, he revises his own early work in ways that make it even more deeply problematic and threatens to undermine his own valid insights.

One contradictory location or three?

The first problem is that the contradictory class location between the capitalists and workers has a different status to the other two locations (those lying between the petty bourgeoisie and capitalists and between the petty bourgeoisie and workers).

Once capitalism becomes the dominant mode of production, other pre-existing classes are assimilated to it. As Marx puts it: “In all forms of society there is one specific kind of production which predominates over the rest, whose relations thus assign rank and influence to the others. It is a general illumination which bathes all the other colours and modifies their particularity”.26 As this happens, the petty bourgeoisie is effectively forced to perform two contradictory roles within capitalism: those of exploiter and exploited, capitalist and labourer. They are “cut up into two persons”.27 Even “those kinds of labour which have not been subjugated by capital in reality are so in thought. For example, the self-employing worker is his own wage labourer; his own means of production appear to him in his own mind as capital. As his own capitalist he puts himself to work as wage-labourer”.28

The petty bourgeois business owner must necessarily play the role of both exploiter and exploited. They both reward themselves with a wage and appropriate their own surplus labour time as profit, and they feel the pressure to maximise their profitability through the process of capitalist competition. This implies that there will be members of this class who shade into the classes of capitalists and workers, in the first case as small capitalists and, in the second, as semi-autonomous employees who contract with capitalists, as hired consultants and so on. It is unnecessary to create two whole new contradictory class locations to describe this process of shading off. It is simply a question of the degree to which they perform these two roles.

Contrast this with the new middle class layers. They are not engaged in self-exploitation or property ownership. Instead, they perform a combination of the social functions of capital and of labour in a novel way generated by capitalist firms. It is this development for which Wright’s contradictory class locations concept is most appropriate.

Wright does note a difference in the statuses of the two kinds of contradictory class locations. Unfortunately he resolves this by situating the petty bourgeoisie in a mode of production outside capitalism, arguing that they inhabit a separate “simple commodity production” mode.29 However, while the trade in commodities has been a feature of many societies, simple commodity production has never existed as an independent mode of production that can be disentangled from, say, feudalism or capitalism. Even if we were to accept the historical existence of such a mode of production, Wright suggests the relevant classes are simply a historical hangover, operating outside of the logic of capitalism, rather than being classes that are taken up and integrated, albeit in a traumatic and contradictory manner, into capitalist society.

Autonomy, control and exploitation

In his later writings, Wright notes a second set of problems with his contradictory locations. In his earlier writing he argues that he made the chief characteristic of those groups located between the petty bourgeoisie and workers their autonomy. But the notion of autonomy as a property of the petty bourgeois is dubious, both because the petty bourgeois may have methods of work imposed upon them by the pressure of the capitalist system and because some workers have a relatively high level of autonomy in the workplace.30 Wright himself points out that by his own earlier criteria school janitors might be classed as more autonomous than airline pilots, and hence in a more contradictory location.31 As Val Burris asks, “at what point does their level of control become sufficient to exclude them from the working class?”32

Wright suggests more generally that in his early account, exploitation between classes is reduced to a mere “background concept” in favour of class domination.33 Domination is, of course, present within the workplace but flows from the exploitation of the worker. We must say what is specific to class domination or risk sliding into what Wright calls a “multiple oppressions” view of society characterised by overlapping forms of “domination—sexual, racial, national, economic—none of which has explanatory priority over any other”.34

Wright’s auto-critique is a little unconvincing in arguing that exploitation was peripheral to his early work. For instance, in Class Structure and Income Determination, published in 1979, he presents a fairly orthodox statement of exploitation: “exploitation within Marxist theory denotes a relationship within which the people in the dominant position are able to appropriate the surplus labour of people within the subordinate position”. Furthermore this is described as the “core of class relations”.35 More of an issue is how best to theorise exploitation. In the first volume of Capital Marx demonstrates the manner in which exploitation of workers occurs in the process of production. Abstract social labour creates new value, regulated by the socially necessary labour time required to produce a given commodity. The worker, by contrast, receives only the value, in the form of the wage, required to reproduce their labour power (including any additional component wrested from capital through past struggles).36 The gap, surplus value, is the characteristic form in which unpaid labour time is appropriated under capitalism.

Wright, though, in common with many Marxist and post-Marxist writers of the time, and more since, becomes increasingly sceptical about this aspect of Marx’s theory. Instead Wright moves in a common direction with a group of theorists describing themselves as analytical Marxists, including John Roemer, G A Cohen and Jon Elster.37 Along with Wright they argue that “what is most valuable and distinctive in the Marxist tradition are its substantive theses about the world. Marxian claims to methodological distinctiveness, generally, are misleading at best and harmful at worst”.38 Along with this dismissal of Marx’s method, and its replacement with methods derived from the academic social sciences, most of these theorists (Robert Brenner is a partial exception) accept the so-called “neo-Ricardian” or “Sraffian” critique of Marxist political economy.39

Whereas Marx treats capitalist production as a social and technical process, the Sraffians see production in purely technical terms. A particular set of techniques and physical inputs along with labour result in a particular physical output with its prices determined by that of the inputs. “Dead labour” (the value of machinery and so on) is treated in this account in much the same way as the living labour performed by workers. By producing sets of simultaneous equations governing the price of each commodity, Sraffians can solve their system mathematically, showing, for instance, that the rate of profit depends on a combination of the technical conditions of production and the wage rate. But this solution depends on adopting a mathematical approach in which the price of inputs into a given cycle of production is the same as their price when they emerge as outputs from the same cycle—in other words, a static equilibrium system in which time is effectively abolished.40

Wright claims, “While the idea of labour as a source of value may be a useful device for illustrating the idea of the exploitation of labour, there is no persuasive reason for believing that labour and labour alone causally generates value. Marx certainly provided no sustained defence of this assumption”.41 What Marx wrote in a letter about one early critic of Capital here applies equally to Wright:

The unfortunate fellow does not see that, even if there were no chapter on “value” at all in my book, the analysis I give of the real relations would contain the proof and demonstration of the real value relation. The chatter about the need to prove the concept of value arises only from complete ignorance both of the subject under discussion and of the method of science.42

Marx does have an extremely “sustained” defence of this assumption—the three volumes of Capital in which he develops an account of the dynamics of capitalism built on his value theory.43

Having rejected Marx’s position, when Wright chooses to put exploitation at the forefront of his analysis he plugs the gap with a concept of exploitation developed by fellow analytical Marxist John Roemer.44 This involves various models and game-theoretical thought experiments that locate exploitation in the appropriation of wealth outside of production. These kinds of approaches suffer two general weaknesses. The first is that they are entirely abstract. They say little about capitalism as a concrete historical system. As Burris writes, “Like the deductive models of neoclassical economics, Roemer’s method disregards what is historically specific about capitalist society and focuses on formal, ­ahistorical similarities”.45

The second issue is that they are based on “methodological individualism”, an account of society as composed of individuals rather than focusing on the collective capacities of groups such as classes, insisting on the “primacy of micro-level analysis over macro-level analysis”.46 So Roemer’s approach starts with individuals endowed with different assets and derives an account of exploitation from these; it is the precise opposite of a Marxist approach, which starts with the relations of production and situates individuals in this context.47

Wright is critical of the more extreme forms of methodological individualism.48 In the work under review he restates his argument, claiming that methodological individualism should not be confused with “atomism”. Yet he explicitly argues that there is no place in social explanation for “relations-among-relations”, as opposed to “relations-among-individuals”.49 This leaves little room for notions such as the contradiction between forces and relations of production or between capital (which Marx regards as a social relation) and labour. In practice, Wright often adopts language that relies on precisely these proscribed forms of argument, writing, for instance: “exploitation constitutes a social relation that simultaneously pits the interests of one class against another, binds the two classes together in ongoing interactions, and confers upon the disadvantaged group a real form of power with which to challenge the interests of exploiters”.50 It is hard to see how this useful description of exploitation differs from a “methodological collectivism” that “posits collective entities like classes as actors”.51

Recasting contradictory class locations

Wright’s reconceptualisation of exploitation has two profound implications for his class analysis. First, the focus of his writing shifts away from what takes place within the process of production and towards property relations—the way assets are distributed among different classes. He concedes that while domination at the point of production has been “an important feature of most historic forms of capitalist production”, it is the effective control over “productive assets” alone that really forms the “basis of the capital-labour relation”.52 But in any given historical society, rather than the ahistorical and imaginary societies of Roemer, it is impossible to separate the distribution of means of production from the way exploitation takes place within production. For instance, the fact that capitalists control the means of production in capitalist society, and workers do not, ensures that workers must sell their labour power to capitalists, that they must produce surplus value for the capitalists.53 The exploitation that ensues further entrenches the capitalist control of the means of production as capital expands through the process of accumulation.

Second, Wright identifies a range of different forms of assets—means of production, labour power, skills and “organisational assets”—that can be distributed across society, generating a far more fragmented class structure characterised by a series of heterogeneous contradictory locations. This shows the extent of Wright’s break with Marx’s labour theory of value, because now, as Guglielmo Carchedi puts it: “organisation, skills and capital are productive assets on a par with labour power. For the Marxian labour theory of value, on the other hand, only labour power is the source of value: other factors can only increase its productivity. Thus, Wright chooses a variant of the ‘factors of production’ approach”.54

Wright argues that those possessing skills to which there is limited access are exploiting others by virtue of the prices of the “marginal product” of the commodities they produce being higher than their values.55 “In skill exploitation, owners of scarce skills are able to extract a rent component in their wages. This is basically a component of the wage above and beyond the costs of producing and reproducing the skills themselves”.56 Elsewhere he argues, “The possession of skills and expertise defines a distinctive location within class relations because of a specific kind of power they confer on employees”.57

But it is not at all clear how skills are an asset that can be separated from labour power in the first place, nor does Wright explain how skilled labour power appropriates labour time from unskilled through the wage system.58 Placing skills within the context of Marx’s value theory is not straightforward. Indeed, the debate on skilled labour, known as the “reduction problem”, remains one of the great unresolved issues in value theory.59

My own view is that exceptional forms of skilled labour, which, following Marx, I prefer to call “complex labour”, act as knots within the fabric of capitalism where particular forms of labour have not yet been rendered abstract in a real, material sense that would allow them to be undertaken by a large pool of interchangeable labour powers. Capital as a “mode of material production” has not yet created the “adequate form” to allow the “real subsumption” of the labour process in question.60 Ultimately capital does tend to unravel these knots, submerging them into a sea of “simple” labour, either through breaking down and mechanising the labour process or by raising the general level of education and training of sections of the workforce, creating what David Harvey calls “non-monopolisable skills”.61 Before this historical process takes place, it is perfectly feasible, following Marx, to see these exceptional forms of labour power generating multiples of the value created by simple labour in a given period. Complex labour may also be remunerated to a greater extent, either because it is more expensive to reproduce or because these labourers can impose greater costs on capital.62 Workers in this position may well, for a time, identify with the new middle class given their common access to higher wages. However, due to their greater value-creating capacity, there does not need to be a process of exploitation of less skilled workers by skilled workers underlying this.

Complex labour in this analysis is not the same as what we might call ­“specialised labour”. Each worker occupies a particular position within the “collective labourer” characteristic of capitalist production, which blends different specialised labour powers in ways that prevent them being disentangled.63 There is no reason to assume that one specialised labourer necessarily produces any more value than any other in this context.64 Differences in wages here simply reflect differences in the way different labour powers are reproduced, embedded in labour market structures, in different allocations of the “historical and moral” component of the wage wrested from capital by sections of the labour force, and in wage differentials that can help distribute workers between occupations and fields of production.65 Nor is complex labour applicable to workers who happen, by dint of talent or training, to be more “skilful” than others. Such a worker simply contributes to a rise in the productivity of labour by reducing the labour time required to produce a commodity below the socially necessary labour time, an eventuality recognised by Marx.66

Without this kind of value theoretical approach, Wright tends to collapse “complex labour” into specialisation, which, in his own words, “blurs the sharp distinction between a relational class analysis and a gradational stratification analysis. Skills, after all, vary in more or less a continual manner… ‘Levels’ of skills thus suggest strata within a structure of inequality rather than locations within a structure of class relations”.67 It is unclear in this analysis at what point the “level” of skill becomes sufficient to lead to a situation of exploitation or to take the worker out of the working class proper. This problem is significant because, on the basis of rising levels of “experts” along with “expert managers”, Wright sees the predictions of theorists of post-industrial society as being more applicable than “traditional Marxism” in the US during the post-war period.68

The shadow of Stalinism

The concept of “organisational asset exploitation” is equally dubious, though the reasons for its emergence become clearer if we consider the period of history in which Wright’s theory was formed. Wright was forced to come to terms with the existence of the Soviet Union and similar societies modelled on it. Given the stark structural inequalities in these societies, how could they be understood as both class-divided and post-capitalist? As Wright argues, “the formal operational criteria used in much of the empirical analysis of classes could be applied to either capitalist or ‘actually existing socialist societies’ almost without modification”.69

There are two conclusions that could be drawn from this statement. The first is that of Tony Cliff, who describes the Soviet Union and similar societies as “bureaucratic state capitalisms”.70 These are societies in which the state bureaucracy plays the role traditionally occupied by private capitalists. Wright counterposes “authoritarian state coordination, in which the power of the state is used to command the allocation of resources for different purposes”, to economic coordination through the market.71 However, this treats the state in a state capitalist society as if it were able to allocate resources at will, rather than in the context of inter-imperialist rivalry between competing capitalist states, which tends to enforce conditions in production mirroring those of other capitalist societies.

Wright rules out such an analysis in advance, stating: “I do not in fact believe that state-socialist societies are ‘really’ capitalist”.72 Instead Wright conceives of such societies as post-capitalist class societies with a different logic of exploitation. He argues that exploitation is in this case down to control over “organisational assets” by members of the ruling bureaucracy.73 Controlling “organisational assets” gives the controllers power over how production takes place across society and therefore also over the appropriation of the surplus value of those who work. But how does this differ from traditional capitalism? Here too, ultimate control over production is of critical importance to capitalists. Surely they too control “organisational assets” by virtue of being a capitalist ruling class.74 It might be true thatthe masses legally owned the means of production in the Soviet Union but this was a charade. As Carchedi writes:

The separation between ownership of capital assets and ownership of organisational assets is meaningless since to control the organisation of capital assets is to own them, in the effective, economic sense. To hold to this distinction would mean to reduce ownership to legal ownership, an absurd result in terms of Wright’s problematic.75

Wright acknowledges, “State planners in a ‘statist’ society control the flow of investments throughout society, and if they ‘own’ or ‘control’ anything, therefore, they own the means of production and not just ‘organisational assets’”.76 The distinction, for Wright, seems to hinge on whether those managing the flow of investment can “capitalise” the surplus they control and turn it into a source of further exploitation.77 But those presiding over the Soviet Union had to invest much of the surpluses they extracted, just as their counterparts in the West did, leading to further exploitation and entrenching the position of the ruling class. And, incidentally, they did derive substantial material benefits.78

This confusion is particularly troubling because in Wright’s revised account of the class structure of Western capitalism managers, who in his early work had occupied a contradictory location between capitalists and workers, come to be defined in relation to their control over organisational assets.79 Indeed, Wright sees “manager-bureaucrats” as a potential rival to the capitalist class, usurping the role traditionally assigned by Marxists to the working class as alternative rulers over society.80 But in both Western capitalism and the Soviet Union there is a distinction between the ultimate organisation of production, including the allocation of surplus value to investments, which the capitalist ruling class oversees, and the organisational functions that can be delegated to supervisors and managers in the process of production.81

The overall result of Wright’s attempt to solve the problems of his early work by adapting his theoretical framework is to step towards a far more fragmented and chaotic conception of class, with various overlapping forms of exploitation, determined by several incompatible criteria (economic, organisation, skills-based).82 Now he writes: “capitalist societies should be understood as containing a variety of forms of exploitation, not simply capitalist exploitation as such”. The middle classes “are exploited in terms of capitalist mechanisms…but exploiters in terms of one or more of these secondary mechanisms of exploitation”.83

This recasting of Wright’s model leads to a system much more akin to Weberian sociology, a veritable “matrix of exploitation-based interests”.84 As Alex Callinicos puts it:

It is not clear what prevents this list of productive assets from being extended to include the kinds of sources of social power on which theorists of domination focus… If this is so, the difference between Wright’s conception of exploitation and Nietzschean and neo-Weberian notions of power and domination seems only verbal.85

Rethinking managers and supervisors

Before returning to Wright’s methodology, it is worth noting that there is a more effective way of conceptualising the contradictory class location of managerial layers. In fact this stems from Marx’s own account of production, conceived as both a process of appropriation of surplus value and a concrete process of labour. Even by the 19th century Marx had been forced to study how this process could lead to the creation of intermediate groupings:

If capitalist direction is thus twofold in content, owing to the twofold nature of the process of production which has to be directed—on the one hand a social labour process for the creation of a product, and on the other hand capital’s process of valorisation—in form it is purely despotic. As cooperation extends its scale, this despotism develops the forms that are peculiar to it… [The capitalist] hands over the work of direct and constant supervision of the individual workers and groups of workers to a special kind of wage-labourer. An industrial army of workers under the command of a capitalist requires, like a real army, officers (managers) and NCOs (foremen, overseers), who command during the labour process in the name of capital. The work of supervision becomes their established and exclusive function.86

With the further development of capitalism, the task of coordination and supervision assumes ever greater complexity and often takes place in large workplaces across giant enterprises. Guglielmo Carchedi, in a work written at roughly the same time as Wright’s first theorisation of contradictory class locations, but much less well known, identifies the growth of managerial layers with the ascendency of large capitalist corporations.87 He points out that in such workplaces managers perform a range of specific roles with differing social content. This again follows from Marx, who writes:

The work of supervision and management necessarily arises where the direct production process takes the form of a socially combined process, and does not appear simply as the isolated labour of separate producers. But it takes two different forms. On the one hand, in all labour where many individuals cooperate, the interconnection and unity of the process is necessarily represented by a governing will, and in functions that concern not the detailed work but rather the workplace and its activity as a whole, as with the conductor of an orchestra. This is productive labour that has to be performed in any combined mode of production. On the other hand…this work of supervision necessarily arises in all modes of production that are based on opposition between the worker as direct producer and the proprietor of the means of production. The greater this opposition, the greater the role that this work of supervision plays.88

Carchedi describes the two social roles identified by Marx as, respectively, a type of “function of the collective labourer” and the “global function of capital”.89 A particular manager can perform both functions at different moments of time.90 Carchedi writes:

The job content is…a purely technical description, a description in terms of operations…we want to emphasise that an agent, in performing one or more functions, is never only doing a technical job: at the same time his activity has also a social significance, a social function, ie he either performs the function of the (collective) worker or the (global) function of capital.91

To the extent that they perform the function of the collective labourer, managers are productive, generating new value like workers, and so producing a component of the value of their wage; to the extent that they perform the global function of capital they are not value generating and this element of their wage is a deduction from surplus value.92 For Carchedi, again following Marx, the functions of collective labour include the work of “coordination and unity of the labour process”,93 something that would hypothetically be necessary even in a world without antagonistic social relations. The global function of capital involves, by contrast, the work of “control and surveillance”:

Labour must be performed regularly, properly and continuously. The worker must not ill-use or damage the machines; must not waste raw materials; must not only reproduce his own labour power but must also produce surplus value, by working for a time longer than that contained in his wage, etc. Of particular importance is that since the quantity produced is a function of both the length of the working day and of the intensity of labour, it is necessary that the labourer works with the average degree of intensity.94

For those near the top of the managerial hierarchy their sole concern within production is the extraction of surplus value, and they will tend to identify more directly with the capitalists proper. And at the apex, the most senior managers of large enterprises should be seen as part of the capitalist class, the ­“personifications of capital” who effectively control capitalist accumulation. The key strategic decisions regarding investment, and hence the process of accumulation, tend to be retained in the hands of the capitalist class proper, even if certain elements of the implementation of their decisions are delegated downwards. Those lower down the managerial structure occupy a position closer to that of the working class, and their income is less dependent on surplus value.95 Carchedi’s account, like Wright’s initial formulation, allows us to conceptualise these managerial layers as forming a contradictory location in capitalist class relations. However, it does not suffer from the shortcoming of identifying these groups simply in terms of relations of domination; it also brings in the concept of exploitation and does so in rigorously value-theoretical terms.

In this account managers and supervisors constitute a group clearly distinct from the petty bourgeoisie. Indeed the new managerial layers lack even the limited potential class unity of the petty bourgeoisie. Rather than using the term new middle class, a far more accurate way of describing them is simply, following Wright, as managers and supervisors. As well as having the advantage of using terms that are familiar it also avoids giving them more coherence and historical stability as a social group than they merit.96

A product of capitalist development rather than a distinct social group threatened by it, it exists as a series of layers within capitalism, its position in society cut through with contradictions. At moments of social struggle, a powerful workers’ movement can sometimes draw some of these layers behind it. Individual managers and supervisors can feel their position to be under threat or can face attacks on their wages or conditions similar to those around them in the workplace. They might under these conditions join trade unions and even go on strike. At the same time, the higher echelons of management tend to spend less time alongside workers and tend to identify more closely with the capitalists, aspiring to rise ever-further up the career ladder, perhaps even joining the capitalist class proper themselves, and can pull lower layers along with them. Not only that, but the fact that managers are remunerated, in part, through surplus value, means that they can receive far higher wages than ordinary workers around them, which can bind them to the wider ruling class.97

Like the petty bourgeoisie they can be highly individualistic, but this is a somewhat different kind of individualism. As Wright puts it: “The individualism of the old petty bourgeoisie stresses individual autonomy, be your own boss, control your own destiny, etc”, while the new middle class layers exhibit “a careerist individualism, an individualism geared towards organisational mobility”.98

Furthermore, the particular arrangement of the bureaucratic hierarchy of management is far from static. It depends on the particular way that the labour process is organised and so it is constantly refashioned as capitalism develops. Traditional forms of managerial control used in industry can be extended to new spheres, as has happened in much of the public sector in recent decades, but at the same time capitalists can seek to render managerial hierarchies more efficient by removing layers of management.

This still leaves open the question of the estimation of the size of different components of the workforce. Here we remain reliant on the empirical work done in the framework developed by Wright. In the late 1990s, he estimated that in the UK about 61 percent of the workforce were “without authority” (even if some were “experts”), 12 percent were supervisors of some kind, and 12 percent were managers (the remaining 14 percent being capitalists or petty bourgeois). Given that some of the supervisors would be closer to the working class, and some of the petty bourgeoisie will be dependent on a single employer for work (a concealed form of employment common in the construction industry, for instance), this implies a substantial working class majority. The figures are similar for the US, Sweden, Canada and Norway, and differ for Japan only insomuch as there are higher levels of self-employment.99

The shadow of Weber

I note above a tendency for Wright’s early insights into class to collapse into a Weberian approach. In his response to a debate on his new model, Wright himself acknowledges as much:

Once you adopt a fairly differentiated Marxist class concept of the sort I have advocated, then in practice there is not actually all that much difference in the nature of the empirical class structure “variables” that are generated in neo-Marxist and neo-Weberian frameworks: after all, both acknowledge in one way or another that differences in property, skills/credentials/autonomy and authority are bases for differentiating locations in the class structure.100

An essay from his new collection offers a wider justification of this methodological shift:

While I continue to work within the Marxist tradition, I no longer feel that the most useful way of thinking about Marxism is as a comprehensive paradigm that is incommensurate with “bourgeois” sociology… What might be called a ­“pragmatist realism” has replaced the “grand battle of paradigms”… In my theoretical work in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I argued for the general superiority of the Marxist concept of class over its main sociological rivals—especially Weberian concepts of class and class within mainstream stratification research. It now seems to me more appropriate to see these different ways of talking about class as each identifying different clusters of causal processes at work in shaping the micro and macro aspects of economically rooted inequality in capitalist societies.101

It would be a mistake to dismiss this pick ‘n’ mix approach to social theory on dogmatic grounds. Indeed, Wright’s discussion of Max Weber is among the most interesting chapters in his new collection. He points out that Weber’s full views on class cannot be restricted to the fragmentary chapter on “Status Groups and Classes” in the posthumously assembled work Economy and Society.102 There are, for instance, various historical studies with a “decidedly Marxian inflection” that have generally been overlooked in later Weberian accounts of class. In addition, Weber’s best known work, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, deploys class categories to discuss how the “spirit” of capitalism manifests in different sections of society.103

Wright is persuasive on the commonalities between Marx and Weber’s accounts of class, adeptly picking out passages from each that mirror those of the other. He is also clear about the differences. “For Weber, the pivotal issue is how classes determine the life chances of people within highly rationalised forms of economic interactions—markets. For Marx, the central issue is how class determines both life chances and exploitation”.104

However, it is more questionable whether these different views of class, whatever the insights that can be gained from Weber and others, can be treated as simply different windows on the same landscape, offering different views that we can choose from at will. To understand this we have to explore the role of Marxism as a distinct methodology.

Marx and method

Wright gives short shrift to what he dubs “Hegelian Marxism”, in which the dialectical analysis of society as a “totality” takes precedence over the more mechanical social scientific language deployed by Wright.105 However, Marx’s adoption of this method was not simply an odd intellectual quirk. Marxism distinguishes itself methodologically from the social sciences because it sees the latter, not as a value-less scientific approach, but as historically conditioned ways of appraising society, limited by the kind of class societies in which they evolved.

Marxism is not simply a sociological discipline making substantive claims about the world that can then be tested through traditional sociological techniques. Marxism is the theory and practice of proletarian self-emancipation. It consciously identifies itself with the standpoint of the proletariat, learning from its struggles and basing itself on a critique of capitalism from a position that is inherently antagonistic to it. Wright argues that: “Marx [like Weber] also believed in scientific objectivity, but was sceptical that in social analysis the analyst could in practice keep the substance of ideas from being influenced by the analyst’s own relationship to social forces—especially class interests—in the society”.106 However, Marx goes far further, arguing that for methodological reasons even the greatest bourgeois thinkers such as Adam Smith and David Ricardo were incapable of fully penetrating the fetishistic surface appearance of capitalism.107 In this sense “scientific objectivity” requires a particular class standpoint.

What Wright calls Marxism’s “normative commitments to class emancipation” have methodological implications.108 It is not enough to say that different traditions of class analysis identify different “clusters of causal processes”.109 Some causal processes are more important than others. Prosaically, from this standpoint, the processes driving the Arab revolutions of 2011 are of greater significance than the question of whether people prefer to shop at Waitrose, Tesco or Lidl if our objective is to overthrow capitalism. More importantly, the class divisions identified by Marx, which lead to the capacities and interests of particular classes in broad historical terms, provide the framework within which other distinctions play out and into which they tend to, historically, resolve themselves.110 This is precisely the position that Wright rejects in his recent work:

For class analysis to constitute a research programme worth pursuing it is sufficient that it identify important causal mechanisms; it is not necessary that class be the most important or fundamental determinant of social phenomena… While Marxists generally believe that class relations constitute an enduring basis for conflict, much of the thrust of contemporary Marxism has been towards understanding the conditions under which class compromises are formed and class conflict is displaced from centre stage… Class may not be the most powerful or fundamental cause of “societal organisation,” and class struggle may not be the most powerful transformative force in the world today. Class primacy…is implausible.111

The shadow of reformism

The pragmatic approach to methodology is combined in Wright with a pessimistic pragmatism over strategy. Again, this has its roots in his earliest work. Back in 1978, in Class, Crisis and the State, Wright drew another comparison with Weber, this time contrasting Weber’s views of the state, in the work Parliament and Government in a Reconstructed Germany, with Lenin’s in State and Revolution. The comparison, and Wright’s attempt to synthesise the two positions, focuses on the problem of bureaucracy, a very real problem in the aftermath of the 1917 Revolution. While Wright recognises that for Lenin the rise of the Soviet bureaucracy reflected a low level of culture among the Russian masses and the low level of economic and industrial development,112 he largely ignores two other aspects of bureaucratisation in Russia. First, the rise of the bureaucracy was, as another leader of the revolution, Leon Trotsky, argues, in inverse proportion to the level of self-activity of workers; second, that this bureaucracy ultimately became a capitalist ruling class in its own right, reversing the gains of the revolution.113 In the absence of this kind of approach, Wright is left asking whether greater “intra-party democracy” could have counteracted the tendencies towards bureaucratic rule.114

The conclusion Wright drew from this in the late 1970s was to support the proposal, popular among the Eurocommunists of the time, that socialists should “control the capitalist state apparatus…and…use that apparatus systematically in the attack on…capitalist state power itself”.115 This was posed as a middle way between the Leninist approach of smashing the state and the social democratic approach of using it to introduce reforms within a capitalist framework, although in practice it operated as an alibi for Western Communist Parties to remodel themselves in a more traditional social democratic mode.116

Wright’s subsequent evolution drops even the ambition of transcending the capitalist state. Writing in the wake of the collapse of the Communist regimes he describes as “problematic” the claim that “capitalism produces a sufficiently homogenous class of proletarians to constitute its gravediggers”.117 In this context, Wright motivates for a shift from an emphasis on “classlessness” to “less classness”. In this view, classlessness still remains as “a utopian vision”, rather like the distant end goal of socialism in the view of the revisionist tradition inaugurated by Eduard Bernstein.118 He writes:

If one believes that systematic ruptural strategies of emancipatory transformation are not plausible, at least under existing historical conditions, then the only real alternative is some sort of strategy that envisages transformation largely as a process of metamorphosis in which relatively small transformations cumulatively generate a qualitative shift in the dynamics and logic of a social system.119

A lengthy chapter in the collection under review explicitly advances class compromise as a strategy. Here, for analytical purposes, the complex, fragmentary picture of class is dropped in favour of a model based on society polarised between workers and capitalists. This allows Wright to make the axis of working class empowerment its “associational power”, claiming that for Marxists this has traditionally stood in inverse proportion to the realisation of capitalist interests.120 However, this is an oversimplification. Serious Marxist accounts have never treated the trade unions, for instance, as homogenous proletarian bodies. It is certainly possible to have a high degree of unionisation and union recognition in a context of high levels of capitalist profitability. There is a crucial point missing from the analysis—the level of self-activity of workers, which is quite different from their associational power, and sometimes clashes with elements of it, as when an insurgent rank and file movement clashes with an entrenched trade union bureaucracy.

The organs of workers’ self-rule that can emerge from such activity provide a potential basis for a transition for socialism. But Wright, by contrast, views socialism as achievable by either electoral breakthrough—which he rules out because he believes the hardship and dislocation of the transition would lead people to reject socialism—or through “non-democratic rupture”.121 It is as if the only democracy Wright recognises is parliamentary democracy, rather than the far more far-reaching forms of democracy that can emerge out of workers’ activity in revolutionary transitions.

In some of his recent lectures and articles he further elaborates his new stance by outlining four approaches to anti-capitalism. There are two “macro-political” approaches: the traditional Marxist approach of “smashing capitalism” and the social democratic approach of “taming capitalism”. Then there are two “micro-political ones”: the first of “escaping capitalism”, through a range of individualistic retreats from the system, and the second of “eroding capitalism”, which seems to reflect the autonomist Marxist preoccupation with creating “spaces” free of capitalist domination. An adequate anti-capitalism involves giving up the “fantasy of smashing capitalism”:

Capitalism is not smashable, at least if you really want to construct an emancipatory future. You may personally be able to escape capitalism by moving off the grid and minimising your involvement with the money economy and the market, but this is hardly an attractive option for most people… If you are concerned about the lives of others, in one way or another you have to deal with capitalist structures and institutions. Taming and eroding capitalism are the only viable options. You need to participate both in political movements for taming capitalism through public policies and in socioeconomic projects of eroding capitalism through the expansion of emancipatory forms of economic activity.122

The problem is that this approach does nothing to overcome the traditional limitations of reformism and autonomism, and combining them can add to the difficulties. First, capital does not sit back complacently while workers carve out a space independent of it. Capital is a restless, expansive force that drills ever deeper into each and every sphere of society. The tendency historically is for the space for non-capitalist forms of production to shrink, and even when workers press against this, capital and the state press back. A programme of reform is an inadequate political response to this pressure. Second, reformism is inherently constrained by the extent to which capital is prepared to permit reforms. Wresting reforms from the system requires mobilising class power to force capital and the state to make concessions. Creating spaces outside of the sphere of capitalist production simply reduces the ability of the working class to impose itself on capital because it removes the most militant workers from a situation in which capital is dependent on them for its reproduction.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that smashing capitalism is the worst strategy…except for all the others. Wright may want to reject this approach on empirical grounds, in particular the failure of revolutionary socialism in the classical Marxist tradition during the 20th century. However, the reversal of the 1917 Revolution and its isolation as the revolutionary wave that swept Europe following the First World War ended in failure, created conditions in which Stalinism represented the main perceived alternative to traditional social democracy. For those of us who do not see the former Stalinist regimes as “actually existing socialism”, the revolutionary socialist strategy associated with Lenin, Trotsky, Rosa Luxemburg and others in the classical Marxist tradition has hardly been tested since the 1920s.

Furthermore, Wright does not subject his own approach to the same empirical test. Consider the way in which various Latin American countries have functioned as laboratories for strategies of radical reform and the erosion of capitalism since the late 1990s—with examples ranging from the Zapatistas in Mexico, through the Argentinean uprising of 2001 and the participatory budgeting used in the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre under the Workers’ Party government, to the experiences of Venezuela under Hugo Chávez or Bolivia under Evo Morales. Can we really argue in light of these experiences that erosion and reform of capitalism have proved an effective long-term response to the horrors inflicted on people by the system?123


If I have focused here on providing a critique of Wright’s work, this is in recognition of the influence he continues to exert on class analysis on the left. He has for decades been, and remains, an unavoidable reference point for anyone interested in developing a Marxist theory of class. Not only that, but, whatever the disagreements over his theoretical framework, Wright has produced, in works such as Class Structure and Income Determination and Class Counts, empirical material on the class structure of contemporary capitalist societies that is of enduring value.

This collection reaffirms his significance and deserves to be read and engaged with. However, in order to preserve and develop his many insights it is necessary to challenge his dismissal of Marxism as a distinctive method and his pessimism about the prospects of workers acting as a force capable of challenging and ­overthrowing the yoke of capitalism.

Joseph Choonara is the author of Unravelling Capitalism: A Guide to Marxist Political Economy, the second edition of which will be published by Bookmarks this spring. His second book, A Reader’s Guide to Marx’s Capital, also published by Bookmarks, is out in July.


1 Wright, 2000, p xv. Thanks to Alex Callinicos for helpful comments on an earlier draft of this article.

2 Including Charles Tilly, Aage Sørenson, Michael Mann, David Grusky and Kim Weeden, and Jan Pakulski and Malcolm Waters.

3 Wright, 2015a, p172.

4 See Callinicos and Harman, 1987.

5 For the famous passage on this from the Communist Manifesto, as translated by the US Marxist Hal Draper, along with a wider discussion of this issue, see Draper, 1978, pp613-627.

6 Prior to this, there was an earlier wave of discussion. In the 1890s, the German Marxist Karl Kautsky, in debate with Gustav Schmoller, argued that the new middle class would increasingly come to identify with the working class. In 1909 the Dutch Marxist Antonie Pannekoek wrote a piece entitled “The New Middle Classes”, which, by contrast, saw these layers as, at best, unreliable and vacillating allies of the working class and often its bitter enemies. The issue also featured in the polemic between Rosa Luxemburg and Eduard Bernstein, with Bernstein claiming the new middle class as evidence of capitalism’s ability to transcend the antagonism between workers and capitalists—Carter, 1985, pp16-31; Burris, 1995; Pannekoek, 1909.

7 Poulantzas, 1978, p14.

8 Poulantzas, 1978, pp14 and 16.

9 Poulantzas, 1978, p204.

10 By contrast, the definition of the bourgeoisie is very loose—see Wright, 1978, pp59-61.

11 Poulantzas, 1978, pp211-212.

12 Poulantzas, 1978, pp213-214.

13 Wright, 1978, p48.

14 Poulantzas, 1978, p258.

15 Poulantzas, 1978, p206.

16 Poulantzas, 1978, p228.

17 Wright, 1978, p52.

18 Poulantzas, 1978, pp241, 236.

19 Wright, 1978, p53; Carter, 1985, p77.

20 Wright, 1978, pp51, 55.

21 Wright, 1978, pp51-52. As another critic puts it, Poulantzas’s reliance on Louis Althusser results in a “peculiar style…that characteristic combination of a tight-laced conceptual system with a promiscuous application of class categories in practice… History becomes a kaleidoscope, whose pieces can be rearranged by a twirl of the conceptual barrel”—Connell, 1982, p135.

22 Wright, 1978, p61.

23 Wright, 1978, p62.

24 Wright, 1978, pp62-63.

25 Wright, 1978, p87.

26 Marx, 1993, pp106-107. See also, Marx, 1978, pp407-8.

27 Marx, 1978, p408.

28 Marx, 1990, p1042.

29 Wright, 1978, pp74, 79; Wright, 1985, pp48-52. Similarly, in later writings, Wright envisages state intervention into the economy in countries such as the US through, say, health and safety legislation as an instance of the “interpenetration” of modes of production, in this case a capitalist and socialist mode—Wright, 1994, pp244-245.

30 Wright, 1985, p53.

31 Wright, 1985, p55.

32 Burris, 1999, p316.

33 Wright, 1985, p56.

34 Wright, 1989a, pp5-6.

35 Wright, 1979, p15.

36 Those unfamiliar with Marx’s value theory can consult Choonara, 2009.

37 Wright says in the mid-1980s, this group “with varying degrees of sympathy to Marxism…meet once a year to discuss one another’s work”—Wright, 1985, p2.

38 Levine, Sober and Wright, 1987, p84.

39 Named after the classical political economist David Ricardo and the Italian economist Pierro Sraffa respectively.

40 A number of detailed critiques of the neo-Ricardian/Sraffian school are available. Andrew Kliman (2007, pp41-53) presents a brief historical account of the emergence of the controversy, and his book as a whole is especially sharp on the question of the lack of a temporal dimension and the tendency to replace a concept of value with one of “physical outputs”. Ben Fine and Laurence Harris present a superb critique of the neo-Ricardians, in particular their focus on distribution and circulation, rather than the process of production upon which Marx’s theory of exploitation rested—Fine and Harris, 1979, especially pp25-48.

41 Wright, 2010, p101.

42 Marx, 1988, p67.

43 Wright’s earliest writings attempt a much more traditional value-theoretical approach. See, for instance, the discussion of crisis in Wright, 1978, pp111-180. Even in his early attempts to adopt the Sraffian approach, Wright is reluctant to lose entirely the notion of surplus value. He adds it in as a kind of intermediate step between technical inputs into production and the profits obtained, operating as a limiting condition determining the range of profit rates available. However, like the Sraffians, he adds that changes in technical conditions and wages lead to changes to profits within these limits without altering the production of surplus value. Indeed, for Wright, “the choice of surplus value as a limiting condition is…arbitrary with respect to the specific problem of calculating profits”; any input into production could similarly be held constant and operate to limit profits—Wright, 1981, pp44 and 52.

44 See Roemer, 1982. For critiques of Roemer, written in the heyday of analytical Marxism, fortunately now long passed, see Callinicos, 1987c; Callinicos, 1995, pp68-76; Houston, 1989; Howard and King, 1992, pp335-355.

45 Burris, 1989, p165.

46 Wright, 2015a, p74.

47 Lebowitz, 2009, p53.

48 See Levine, Sober and Wright, 1987.

49 Wright, 2015a, pp73-75.

50 Wright, 2015a, p45.

51 Wright, 2015a, p73.

52 Wright, 1985, pp72-73.

53 Carchedi, 1989, p109.

54 Carchedi, 1989, pp112. See also, Meiksins, 1989, p176.

55 Wright, 1985, p76.

56 Wright, 1994, p251.

57 Wright, 2000, pp18-19.

58 Carchedi, 1989, pp110-111.

59 For a selection of the literature, see Rubin, 1973, chapter 15; Kidron, 1974, pp64-67; Itoh, 1987; Rosdolsky, 1989, chapter 31; McGlone and Kliman, 2004; Harvey, 2006, pp57-61; Bidet, 2009, chapter two. Each of these approaches differs from the others, and my own approach, which is developed at greater length in a forthcoming article in Science & Society, differs from all of them.

60 Marx, 1990, pp135, 1035. On labour as a “real abstraction” see Saad-Filho, 2002, pp10-12 and 55-61.

61 Marx, 1990, pp618-619; Harvey, 2006, p109.

62 However, there is no necessary relationship between the extra remuneration or the costs of producing complex labour and the extra value it yields—Bidet, 2009, p26.

63 Marx, 1990, p1024; Bidet, 2009, p29; Kidron, 1974, p67.

64 There is, in other words, a basic “egalitarianism” in value theory—Itoh, 1987.

65 For more on these issues, see Fine, 1998, pp175-200.

66 See, for instance, Marx, 1990, p129.

67 Wright, 2000, p19.

68 Wright, 2000, pp60-62.

69 Wright, 1985, pp55-56.

70 Cliff, 1996.

71 Wright, 2010, p34.

72 Wright, 1985, p56. That is not to say that Wright was especially sympathetic to Stalinism. His view is that the Stalinist states “were not socialist in the sense of society’s productive resources being democratically controlled by workers, they had supressed capitalist property, and their failure is thus consistent with the claim that private ownership of capital is essential for incentives and efficiency in developed countries”—Wright, 1994, p241.

73 Wright, 1985, pp79-80. See also Roemer, 1986, p82.

74 Brenner, 1989, p186.

75 Carchedi, 1989, p110.

76 Wright, 1985, p81.

77 Wright, 1985, p82.

78 Even excluding those at the pinnacle of the Soviet ruling class, the income of “important factory managers” was “some 25 to 30 times as great” as that of “unskilled workers” in 1953. Taking into account the regressive taxation system, this may have represented greater inequality than in the West—Bottomore, 1991, p51.

79 Wright, 1985, p88.

80 Wright, 1985, p90. The Ehrenreichs share a similar view that the new ruling class is a manifestation of a “professional-managerial class”—see Ehrenreich and Ehrenreich, 1979, p42.

81 See Brenner, 1989, p188; Bottomore, 1991, p59.

82 See Burris, 1999, p315.

83 Wright, 1989b, p191.

84 Wright, 1985, p123.

85 Callinicos, 1995, p193.

86 Marx, 1990, p450.

87 For Wright’s own assessment of Carchedi’s account, see Wright, 1980, pp361-365.

88 Marx, 1990, pp507-508. See also, Marx, 1975, pp496-498.

89 Carchedi, 1977, pp58-62.

90 Johanna Brenner writes in a similar spirit: “Managers may exercise authority in order to coordinate the labour process or they may exercise authority in order to control workers”—Brenner, 1989, p186.

91 Carchedi, 1977, p62. The position is summarised well by Bob Carter: “While it is still analytically possible to distinguish the function of capital and the function of labour, fewer occupations correspond with one function or the other in a pure way. An increasing number of people perform jobs the composition of which is made up from both functions”—Carter, 1985, p40.

92 I am assuming the workplace is one of productive capital rather than unproductive, but Carchedi’s account can be generalised to unproductive capital straightforwardly enough—Carchedi, 1977, pp64-65, 67-68. Incidentally, Carchedi’s account of the wages of managers overcomes a silly objection that in Marx’s account “empirical wages of employees” are equated with the costs of reproducing labour power and cannot include surplus value—see Wright, 1994, p251.

93 Carchedi, 1977, p63.

94 Carchedi, 1977, p63.

95 Carchedi, 1977, pp92-96. Wright, 1979, pp36-37, offers a perspective on managerial hierarchies similar to Carchedi’s, drawing on the latter’s work. Wright also offers a fascinating account of the determination of income of those in the managerial hierarchy—Wright, 1979, pp165-181.

96 Callinicos, 1987b, p35, notes the inadequacy of the term new middle class. It is better seen, he writes, as “a collection of heterogeneous social layers who have in common an ambiguous and intermediate position with respect to the fundamental contradiction between capital and wage labour”. See also, Harman, 1987, p74.

97 Wright, 2000, p17.

98 Wright, 1978, pp58-59. See also, Carter, 1985, p204.

99 Wright, 2000, pp44-45.

100 Wright, 1989c, p318.

101 Wright, 2015a, pp1-2.

102 Weber, 2013, pp926-939.

103 Wright, 2015a, pp22-25.

104 Wright, 2015a, p42.

105 Wright, 1994, p239.

106 Wright, 2015a, p55.

107 Marx, 1990, pp163-177.

108 Wright, 2015a, p2.

109 Wright, 2015a, p2.

110 For a detailed summary and defence of the classical Marxist tradition on class, see Choonara, forthcoming 2017.

111 Wright, 2015a, pp142-155.

112 Wright, 1978, pp220-221.

113 Trotsky, 1972, p105; Cliff, 1996, pp178-200.

114 Wright, 1978, pp224-225. Of course, intra-party democracy was among the demands of the opposition led by Trotsky to the rising Stalinist bureaucracy, but this alone could not have counteracted the absence of the material basis for a transition to a socialist society, which, as Trotsky points out, existed on the international terrain, thus making the Russian Revolution dependent on an international process of revolution spreading beyond Russian soil—see Trotsky, 1962.

115 Wright, 1978, p230. For a critique, see Harman and Potter, 1977.

116 Birchall, 1986, pp142-152.

117 Wright, 1994, p243.

118 Wright, 1994, p245.

119 Wright, 2010, p321.

120 Wright, 2015a, p186.

121 Wright, 2015a, p239.

122 Wright, 2015b.

123 See Gonzalez, 2013, for an attempt at a balance sheet of some of these experiences.


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