11/7 meeting notes

Meeting with Stanley Aronowitz

Readings: How Class Works and Paradigm Lost: State Theory Reconsidered

These notes are meant to flesh out some of what we discussed with Professor Aronowitz, as well as some of the key ideas that emerge from the readings of his work we did for this meeting. My notes are oriented around three themes: 1) class formation and class struggle; which is very closely related to 2) historicizing class/revolutionary movements, especially in relation to the state; and 3) subjectivity.

1) Key to Professor Aronowitz’s arguments in How Class Works and to our discussion of it is that class formation is fundamentally overlooked in theories of class struggle. Aronowitz identifies two major contemporary approaches to conceptualizing class, which broadly fall into Marxian and Weberian camps. Building upon Weber’s idea of status groups, Talcott Parsons became the preeminent functionalist thinker of social stratification in the 20th century. In the Marxian tradition, ‘scientific’ Marxists (such as Eric Olin Wright) take structural relations to the means of production as categorically definitive of class positions. The problem with both of these approaches, as Aronowitz argues, is that they place class in varying series of atemporal grids, taking class as a given and dehistoricizing class formation (48-49). According to Aronowitz, the work of Pierre Bourdieu is a partial exception to this binary. Bourdieu temporalizes class as emergent from “what has been won in previous battles,” and theorizes class formation in vertical and horizontal (multidimensional) social space (51).

Aronowitz builds upon this situatedness of class formation in time and space to widen the scope of class into power relations more generally, drawing upon Gramscian notions of the subaltern and power/powerlessness to chip away at the traditional barrier between class and social movements (57-59). Also part of this widening of class formation is the inclusion of an analysis of consumption. Focusing on Fordism, Aronowitz fills out the much rehearsed treatment of Fordism as a change in production arrangements to point out that it also entailed major shifts in consumption habits that required a new extension of credit to ordinary people. In this analysis Fordism did not just usher in a new accumulation regime, but also a fundamental transformation of everyday life into consumer society (68).

What emerges from the text and from our discussion with Professor Aronowitz is his view that a class, as such, emerges when it divides society and forces it (society) to confront its questions. In this sense, classes are not a priori givens out of peoples’ structural relations to the means of production, but class formation is historically situated, and classes can form, grow, and even die out. This essentially builds on Marx’s 18th Brumaire and his (Marx’s) distinction between a class-in-itself and a class-for-itself, the latter of which is by no means historically assured of emerging. Class is thus more properly about class formation, which is to say a process of becoming more than a state of being.

2) As such, class formation and class struggle must be historiziced. In Chapter 3 of How Class Works, we get a detailed history of class formation and struggle in the U.S. One of the major historical shifts that Aronowitz identifies is the change in the role of the state in the early part of the 20th century from Adam Smith’s “Nightwatchman state” that exists solely for the purpose of protecting private property into “an organizer of capital accumulation and the chief purveyor of the fascist mass appeal” (72).

In our contemporary context, according to Aronowitz, the state retains three crucial functions: monetary policy, policing, and ideological functions (or what Lefebvre calls the reproduction of the relations of production). Gramsci and later Althusser rightly argue that the primary locus through which the state achieves the reproduction of ideology is the educational context, and to this end, we all should be careful not to be thoroughly turned into dopes by being trained for specialization in this or that!

Our conversation on historicizing class formation and revolution opened into a very thought provoking consideration of the relationship between class and the state. Aronowitz provided us a historical contextualization of the roughly decade post Bolshevik Revolution period. ‘Left Communists’ in Hungary and Germany such as Lukács and Korsch were either drawn in to the Leninist line (Lukács) or formed the opposition Council Communists (Korsch; see Paul Mattick for a discussion: http://www.marxists.org/subject/left-wing/icc/introduction.htm), while Trotsky and Kollantai were exiled. Aronowitz’s contextualization added (for me, at least) an otherwise obscured line to the commonly known split between Stalinist ‘socialism in one country’ and Trotskyist international ‘permanent revolution.’ Aronowitz also examined to greater or lesser degree the similar issue of revolution and state power that arose in both the Spanish Civil War and the May 1968 protests in France that very nearly toppled the French state.

Issues of the state and imperialism arise on the level of theory in Paradigm Lost. According to Aronowitz, the Miliband – Poulantzas debate is in many ways a replay of the earlier Lenin – Luxemburg debate, Miliband taking the Leninist position that the state is instrumental both to the capitalist class and for the organization and defense of the revolutionary party against imperialism, while Poulantzas assumes Luxemburg’s structural position that the state is by nature capitalist, such that working class movements must organize autonomously from it (xiii). According to Aronowitz, both Deleuze & Guattari and Hardt & Negri offer similarly inadequate versions of Empire. D & G put forth an “anarchist manifesto” of smooth space (xvi) that Poulantzas anticipated as missing the state’s territorial administration of capital accumulation, international power relations, and political struggle (xxv). The argument of H & N, meanwhile, misses that an inside/outside dialectic applies only to the vertical power of the state, and not the ‘limitless’ horizontal space of capitalism. Thus, the arguments of H & N for a locus of “power residing ‘above’ or ‘over’ or ‘beyond’ the territoriality of the state are necessarily incorrect unless some space other than that of the state…can be identified as being the generator and locus of alternative political power” (xx). H & N therefore “could not anticipate” the antiglobalization protests as “precisely against the institutions of the Empire,” which, while molecular and international in scope, “are conducted with the political culture, as well as the borders, of the nation-state” (xxi).

In Aronowitz’s reading, moreover, Poulantzas makes an important series of arguments concerning contemporary imperialism, specifically that it is a result of class struggle. In this view, the export of capital is less a search for new markets and raw materials and more a result of the falling rate of profit of national capitals due to “the more or less successful economic and political struggles of the working class to raise living standards” (271). Because these struggles play out in the nation-state frame, furthermore, Poulantzas rejects Hilferding’s thesis of superimperialism, on the grounds that the state is not simply instrumental to the capitalist class. In other words, there does not actually exist the independent framework through which an international capitalist class could operate a political hegemony (even the IMF and WB, for instance, are run by finance ministers representing various nation-states).

3) Finally, our discussion coalesced around the issue of subjectivity. In our discussion, Professor Aronowitz argued that there is a need to take Marx’s first thesis on Feuerbach seriously. In this thesis, Marx chides Feuerbach for grasping materialism only contemplatively and thus “not as sensuous human activity, practice, not subjectively”; it is because of this that “he does not grasp the significance of ‘revolutionary’, of ‘practical-critical’, activity.” Aronowitz argued that failure to take this seriously has led to the type of overly objectivist theory that is looking the wrong direction to truly grasp the consequences of the fact that capitalism is increasingly incapable of providing meaningful work to people. To this end, Aronowitz maintained that the work of Henri Lefebvre is key to grappling with the notion of subjectivity (indeed, the opening of Lefebvre’s Production of Space is a short journey through social theory’s attempted elimination of a historical, collective subject). This, according to Aronowitz, is the importance of Lefebvre’s three volume Critique of Everyday Life: it takes seriously the transformation of social life into consumer society, in which consent – even to imperial projects – is achieved as people “literally buy in to the system” (74, in Aronowitz).

Thus, while we appear to be straying a bit from imperialism here, I think only upon first glance. Aronowitz draws on the Frankfurt School’s thesis on fascism in a way that connects back to the issues of class formation and the nation-state. As against the orthodox Marxist thesis that the German working class had fascism imposed on them, critical theorists such as Adorno and Horkheimer argued that this missed the family and the workplace as crucial sites of ideological reproduction, with authority embodied in the father in the home, and in ‘the name of the father’ in society at large, especially in Nazi leaders. Thus, according to critical theory, “the whole culture, therefore, is caught up in the dynamism of history, and the cultural spheres…form in their interconnection, dynamic influences on the maintenance or breakdown of a particular form of society” (73). According to Aronowitz, then, the German working class had been integrated into the system of domination, and the subjectivities formed in home and school as preparation for the workplace are implicated in the working class acceptance of Nazism. Here we see subjectivity, class formation, and the nation-state all in play in Nazi Germany’s imperialist aspirations.

— Charles Dolph


Stanley Aronowitz, “Marxism and Democracy” in Crisis in Historical

Stanley Aronowitz, Dawn Esposito, William DiFazio, and Margaret Yard,
“The Post-Work Manifesto” in Post-Work, eds. Stanley Aronowitz and
Jonathan Cutler (1998)

Stanley Aronowitz and William DiFazio, The Jobless Future (1994)

Karl Korsch, Marxism and Philosophy (1923)

Karl Renner. I don’t think Aronowitz mentioned any specific titles,
but “The Institution of Private Laws and Their Social Function” (1929)
seems to be the one to look at.

Stanley Aronowitz in New Labor Forum. I didn’t catch the title for
this, but looking online, he recently published “One, Two, Many
Madisons: The War on Public Sector Workers” here. Unless this refers
to the place where his OWS piece will be published later?

Michael Tigar, Law and Rise of Capitalism (1977)

International Council Correspondence (aka Living Marxism), ed. Paul
Mattick. This magazine, published from 1934 to 1943, was printed in a
six(!) volume collection by Greenwood in 1970.
Its also here: http://www.marxists.org/subject/left-wing/icc

Lenin, Left-Wing Communism: an Infantile Disorder (1920)

Paul Mattick, Marx and Keynes: the Limits of Mixed Economy (1955)

Anton Pannekoek on workers’ councils. Not sure a specific reference
was given.

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