Martha E. Gimenez
Department of Sociology
University of Colorado at Boulder
The substance of my response to Barbara and John Ehrenreich's (1977) essay is clearly indicated in the title of this work. I will argue that the Professional/Managerial Class (PMC), defined as consisting of "salaried mental workers who do not own the means of production and whose major function in the social division of labor...(is)...the reproduction of capitalist culture and capitalist class relations" (Ehrenreich, 1977:11) is a concept alien to Marxism; it is a product of the spontaneous consciousness emergent in developed capitalist social formations rather than the result of rigorous Marxist theoretical analysis.
A good deal has been written around the issue of class. It would be unnecessary, however, to include a review of the literature in an essay of this nature, intended as a specific response to a specific statement. My remarks will therefore reflect my own approach to the question of class based upon my current understanding of historical materialism. THE
PROFESSIONAL/MANAGERIAL CLASS: A MARXIST CRITIQUE
The notion of the Professional/Managerial class as a "new class" generated by processes unique to the monopoly stage of capitalist development is both appealing and misleading.
It is appealing because of two important reasons: 1) it corresponds to the immediate consciousness of its members who, with few exceptions, are likely to perceive themselves as "middle class" or "upper middle class," rather than as working class; and 2) it corresponds to the immediate common sense perception of social reality dominant in contemporary capitalist social formations, where the differences between the PMC and the working class in terms of functions in the division of labor, income, education, "social status," "life style," etc. have acquired the obviousness of well-established "social facts."
It is, on the other hand, misleading because, as a concept, it is a hybrid bringing together sociological and Marxist theoretical insights corresponding to two levels of social reality: the level of the mode of production and the level of social formations.
At the LEVEL OF THE MODE OF PRODUCTION, classes are the relations among people mediated through their relation to the means of production; in the capitalist mode of production those are the relations between capitalists and workers. At the LEVEL OF CAPITALIST SOCIAL FORMATIONS, which are characterized by historically specific combinations of capitalist and precapitalist modes of production, the class structure has greater complexity not only because of the presence of pre-capitalist classes(FN#1) but also because of the heterogeneity given to the capitalist and working classes by the social and technical division of labor which in turn reflects the stage of capitalist development and the overall strategies of capital accumulation characterizing a given social formation at a given time.(FN#2)
The processes of concentration and centralization of capital, the development of the productive forces, and the social and technical division of labor that follows have quantitative and qualitative effects upon the capitalist class which, however, do not change its basic place in the mode of production nor its identity at the level of social formations.
On the other hand, those processes have a different and more "visible" impact upon the working class which, at this level of analysis appears increasingly stratified. Capital accumulation, the outcome of political and economic processes, determines quantitative and qualitative changes in the demand for labor and, consequently, the level of employment, the size and composition of the reserve army, population composition in terms of occupation, education, and income: in other words, social stratification. It is at this level of analysis and in the context of the social stratification brought about by underlying capitalist political and economic processes that it is possible to identify the PMC or "middle layers of employment" (Braverman, 1974).
It should now be obvious to the reader that the PMC is defined both in terms of Marxist criteria for class membership (relation to the means of production) and sociological criteria for the construction of socioeconomic status categories (type of occupation or function in the division of labor, income, education, culture, life style, etc.). This lack of conceptual clarity is a consequence of the Ehrenreichs' empiricist reading of Marx which is clearly revealed in their distinction between the "abstract" and the "real" notions of class.(FN#3) They have reduced the relations of production, which are the foundations of capitalist social reality, to an "analytical abstraction" useful as a tool to "...order...a bewildering array of individual and group characteristics" (Ehrenreich, 1976:11) while defining the level of ideological relations (culture, life styles, family relations, consumption patterns, etc.) as the level of "real social existence."
Having adopted this empiricist standpoint which relegates the Marxist concept of class to the limbo of useful analytical abstractions, the Ehrenreichs could of class to the limbo of useful analytical abstractions, the Ehrenreichs could not solve the theoretical problem posed by the heterogeneity of classes at the level of social formations except through a taxonomic approach which resembles Weber's (1968 analysis of the social aspects of the division of labor:
From a social point of view, the modes of the division of labor may be further classified according to the mode in which the economic advantages, which are regarded as returns for the different functions, are appropriated. Objects of appropriation may be: the opportunities of disposing of, and obtaining a return from human labor services; the material means of production; and the opportunities for profit from managerial functions" (Weber, 1968:125-126).
For Weber (as well as for Marx), the capitalist appropriation of the material means of production is "identical" to the appropriation of managerial functions by the owners of the means of production who can exercise those functions directly or by appointing others (Weber, 1968:136). In spite of their stress on the notion of class as a social relation and the development of the argument to show that the PMC's development cannot be understood in isolation from the rise and development of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat (Ehrenreich, 1976:9), the Ehrenreichs seem more Weberian than Weber in their stress on the appropriation of skills and managerial functions as a basis for defining class. It has been said that Weber intended "...to 'round out' Marx's economic materialism by a political and military materialism: (Gerth and Mills, 1966:47). Marx's discovery of the theoretical and political importance of the process of appropriation of the means of production is considered by Weber as an instance of similar processes of appropriation taking place in different areas of the social structure: e.g., appropriation of the means of administration, of the means of management, of the means of research, of the means of violence, etc. The notion of the PMC as a class certainly "rounds out" Weber's analysis of the general process of bureaucratization and rationalization without advancing our understanding of classes from the standpoint of historical materialism.
The identity between the ownership of the means of production and the appropriation of managerial functions in the broadest sense (which is neither lost for Marx nor Weber) is minimized by the Ehrenreichs who stress that the PMC owes its existence to "...the expropriation of the skills and culture once indigenous to the working class" (Ehrenreich, 1976:2, Part II). They thus emphasize the power of the PMC over the working class rather than the PMC's subordination to the capitalist class. This theoretical emphasis follows from their empiricist approach which leads them to overestimate the realities of social stratification and underestimate the value of the Marxist analysis of the processes determining the forms of social stratification. Hence their reliance on Braverman (1974) whose work provides the best empirical analysis of changes in the labor process and in the structure of the working class, and the notable absence of Marx from their sources.
Without denying the importance of Braverman's work, it must be acknowledged that, THEORETICALLY, it adds little to the analysis developed by Marx in CAPITAL, Vol. I, specially in the chapters on Cooperation, Division of Labor and Manufacture, and Machinery and Modern Industry. A reading of Braverman in isolation from historical materialism can lead, because of ambiguities inherent in his work, to a romantic critique of capitalism similar--in its search in the past for images of what the good society of the future should be like--to that of sociologists (who lament the loss of "community") and "critical theorists." While the latter mourn the loss of Culture and its replacement by mass consumer culture, the Ehrenreichs romanticize working class skills and culture which they see obliterated by the actions of the PMC inside and outside factories.(FN#4)
The notion of the PMC as a separate class is based precisely on the idealization of the working class and of the past, and on the empiricist focus on the obvious differences in "life style," ideologies, power, etc. which the social and technical division of labor have created among waged and salaried workers in the course of capitalist development. The Ehrenreichs' focus on the level of social stratification and their neglect of the mode of production and its effects upon the development and stability of existing patterns of social stratification leads them to minimize the dependence of the PMC on the capitalist class and the way in which changes in the relations between capital and labor could affect not only the composition but the very existence of the PMC. Furthermore, they endow the PMC with such self- understanding that turns it, rather than the capitalist class, into the major agent determining the processes affecting the working class. The "...reorganization of the productive process, the emergence of mass institutions of social control, and the commodity penetration of working class life" are viewed as results of the efforts of "more or less conscious agents": the PMC (Ehrenreich, 1976:18).
Two issues arise at this point. The first one centers around the question of the development of capitalist institutions and culture. Although they pay lip service to the progressive aspects of those processes, their analysis is basically a restatement of "the good old days were better" theme. It is not clear what the alternative could be for it is impossible to even imagine the development of any mode of production without revolutionizing, in time, its entire institutional framework. The way in which that is accomplished may vary in content and speed from one social formation to another but the theoretical principle is the same. Their romantic view of the past not only runs counter to what elementary sociology, let alone historical materialism, teaches us about social change but also overlooks the costs of the good old days for the working classes in terms of health, life expectancy, and opportunities for selfdevelopment.