Friday, August 17, 2007

Chomsky on Class

Michael Albert of Parecon doesn't accept the "two-class" theory of Capitalism . In addition to the Capitalist and Working classes he also counter-poses the Coordinator class - " doctors, lawyers, engineers, managers and others who have a monopoly on empowering labor are a class above workers who do overwhelmingly disempowering labor". What makes classes real for Parecon is that different classes have "very different economic situations, power, income/wealth, views of one another" . Therefore , there are certain part of the population in particular occupations who have their own interests and aspirations and thus they constitute a separate class - the Coordinator class .

Noam Chomsky who has been quoted as being sympathetic to Parecon , however , in this interview he appears to have some different views on class than Michael Albert .

"...there was substantial discussion—not just in the United States but in Europe, too—of what was then sometimes called ‘a new class’ of scientific intellectuals. In that period of time there was a level of knowledge and technical expertise accumulating that allowed a kind of managerial class of educated, trained people to have a greater share in decision-making and planning. It was thought that they were a new class displacing the aristocracy, the owners, political leaders and so on, and they could have a larger role—and of course they liked that idea.

Out of this group developed an ideology of technocratic planning. In industry it was called ‘scientific management’. It developed in intellectual life with a concept of what was called a ‘responsible class’ of technocratic, serious intellectuals who could solve the world’s problems rationally, and would have to be protected from the ‘vulgar masses’ who might interfere with them. And it goes right up until the present.

Just how realistic this is, is another question, but for the class of technical intellectuals, it’s a very attractive conception that, ‘We are the rational, intelligent people, and management and decision-making should be in our hands.’ ...

...It’s not an entirely new conception: it’s just a new category of people. Two hundred years ago you didn’t have an easily identifiable class of technical intellectuals, just generally educated people. But as scientific and technical progress increased there were people who felt they can appropriate it and become the proper managers of the society, in every domain. That, as I said, goes from scientific management in industry, to social and political control...

...My feeling is that they’re nowhere near as powerful as they think they are. So, when, say, John Kenneth Galbraith wrote about the technocratic elite which is taking over the running of society—or when McNamara wrote about it, or others—there’s a lot of illusion there. Meaning, they can gain positions of authority and decision-making when they act in the interests of those who really own and run the society. You can have people that are just as competent, or more competent, and who have conceptions of social and economic order that run counter to, say, corporate power, and they’re not going to be in the planning sectors. So, to get into those planning sectors you first of all have to conform to the interests of the real concentrations of power...

...People do not want—or often are not able—to perceive that they are conforming to external authority. They feel themselves to be very free—and indeed they are—as long as they conform. But power lies elsewhere. That’s as old as history in the modern period. It’s often very explicit.

Adam Smith, for example, discussing England, quite interestingly pointed out that the merchants and manufacturers—the economic forces of his day—are the ‘principal architects of policy’, and they make sure that their own interests are ‘most peculiarly attended to’, no matter how grievous the effect on others, including the people in England. And that’s a good principle of statecraft, and social and economic planning, which runs pretty much to the present. When you get people with management and decision-making skills, they can enter into that system and they can make the actual decisions—within a framework that’s set within the real concentrations of power. And now it’s not the merchants and manufacturers of Adam Smith’s day, it’s the multinational corporations, financial institutions, and so on. But, stray too far beyond their concerns and you won’t be the decision-maker.

It’s not a mechanical phenomenon, but it’s overwhelmingly true that the people who make it to decision-making positions (that is, what they think of as decision-making positions) are those who conform to the basic framework of the people who fundamentally own and run the society. That’s why you have a certain choice of technocratic managers and not some other choice of people equally or better capable of carrying out policies but have different ideas..."

Which is a rather different proposition from Albert's Coordinator class .

The so-called Coordinator is nothing more than the monkey and not at all the organ-grinder , that Albert assumes . And to acquire and maintain the comforts and a privileges a "coordinator's" status within capitalism offers , he or she must act in the interests of the real ruling class , not independently and in opposition to , as the working class must . It is not a matter of the tail wagging the dog as Albert would make us believe but the Coordinators are being simply the mere overseers and facilitators and intellectual apologists at the service of those who really own and control . Just glorified workers who align themselves with the master class and who can just as easily recognise their own actual powerlessness and subjugation and desert the capitalists for the solidarity of the working class ranks .


ajohnstone said...


Read this article on managers a few hours later which touches on much the same.

Anonymous said...

yeah i've heard of this coordinater class bolloocks and being your actual working class i tell you they should just change their name to the bullshitter class, so theres some pig headed cunts about, big deal, what are they 'middle class' it don't change nuffin they work for the man same as any body else.

ellen9 said...

"coordinator class" my ass.

Right, they're not really working class cuz they're so much smarter, see! That's what they tell themselves. Self-deluded wankers.

Chomsky's right: read Confessions of a Corporate Hit Man for a nice example of just how empowered the engineers and managers are when they recommend action that makes money for their corporate masters. And just how disempowered they are when they don't.

Albert's coordinator class sounds like the product of the old divide and conquer strategy - pit sectors of the working class against one another so they don't see their common interest.

Anonymous said...

Chomsky was simply stating that the "technical elite" is not the ultimate ruling class, because they must conform to the larger decisional framework imposed by the "real concentrations of power" (ie corporate capitalism).

Actually this does not seem incompatible with the concept of a coordinator class, at least to me. Alan, you say that:

The so-called Coordinator is nothing more than the monkey and not at all the organ-grinder , that Albert assumes .

But Albert, like other supporters of the three-class theory (which I believe was first developed by Barbara Ehrenreich) never assumed that the coordinator class is the top class in capitalist societies.

The concept was introduced, I believe, because it helps explain why the abolition of private ownership of the means of production (ie abolition of the owners class) is not enough to attain classlessness; in particular, it helps explain the social structure of centrally planned/market socialisms, where privileged coordinators/managers/planners that monopolize economic decision-making rule over a majority of disempowered workers.

Besides, I wonder how you can read this observation by Chomsky:

for the class of technical intellectuals, it’s a very attractive conception that, ‘We are the rational, intelligent people, and management and decision-making should be in our hands.’

and not acknowledge that there exists in fact a class/group/whatever dynamic that, if not seriously addressed in our movements, would naturally tend to reproduce a class division even in a post-capitalist society. The concept of a coordinator class, as I see it, is basically there to help us understand the dangers of implicitly accepting that a group of people should be allowed to have a monopoly on knowledge, skills, and decision-making power.
(The parecon answer to that dangers is essentially based on the introduction of balanced job complexes, self-management and participatory planning.)

About the "divide and conquer" concern raised by Ellen, I would like to paste here MA's reply to a comment on his blog that contained a similar point. Here we go:

Strata, not Class

By Davidson, Carl

Instead of torturing perfectly good conceptions of class to invent a new one, why not call 'coordinators' a strata, with an upper, middle and lower, with the left wing, a right wing, and a middle, most of whom are in the working class and some of whom are in the capitalist class?

The first question of strategy is 'Who are our friends, who are our adversaries?' By inventing this enemy class, you make enemies out of many friends, at least to my way of thinking.

MA's reply:

Carl, [...] You seem to think that if we call this group a coordinator class that precludes organizing with them, as them, etc. - and includes only attacking them. I don't see any reason why that should be the case. It isn't even the case for the owners - witness Engels, as you know.

The reason I want to call those who have a relative monopoly on empowering work a class is perhaps the flip side of why you want to call it a strata. You want to more or less slide into lower visibility the differences from this group to workers below - I want to admit and highlight those differences. Why? Because, if we don't, we will have coordinator class dominated movements which will not win classlessness, or even try to win classlessness.

If we do highlight this difference, however, you are correct, I think, that some coordinator class folks will have initial fears, or worse... but the idea that such folks won't have those same reactions if we don't address the issues head on makes very little sense to me, I am afraid. Ignoring the issues will alleviate concerns, yes, but that is no more the right way to alleviate concerns then ignoring private ownership or, say racism or sexism. Indeed, It seems to me, instead, that just as with racism or sexism, and even ownership, the way to move forward is to identify the problem and its sources and counter it with positive changes.... if we don't identify this class difference we not only won't deal with it, it will bury our aspirations...

In short, to say the coordinator class has interests, due to its position, contrary to those of workers, is simply true. But that doesn't mean you have to look at them like they are the devil - or the enemy - only that you shouldn't be unaware of the differences and inadvertently or explicitly act so as to enforce them and subvert movement aspirations. I think that that negative result is virtually inevitable if this class isn't named what it is, and addressed forthrightly.

One indication is that you support, I believe, variants of market socialism, where I support parecon. Since market socialism is, in my view, an economy that elevates the coordinator class to ruling status, while parecon is one that eliminates class division and hierarchy - it is not hard to see why for you highlighting the class relations seems counterproductive, whereas for me it seems critical.

that's all folks! let me know what you think.