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A BRIEF DISCUSSION ABOUT THE DEFINITION OF THE WORKING CLASS (1)

by Ranjbaran, 13 September 2012

With the development of technology and the gradual automation of work through mechanical devices – especially the second half of the 20th Century – the intellectual circles of the bourgeoisie, with the assistance of a handful of revisionists and those university professors of the type who are servile to capitalist interests, actively sought to create disarray among the defenders of the working class by denying the relevancy of Marxism. They started preaching about the gradual elimination of the working class and the replacement of human labor by machines.

The working class is the most dangerous enemy of capitalism and of course of imperialism as well. Therefore, the producers of surplus value are under relentless criticism. Intellectually bankrupt imperialist think-tanks seek to undermine their constructive role in the production of material as well as intellectual goods of human society. In Iran too, although with a few decades delay with respect to their Western counterparts, a handful of these capitalist servants have tried desperately to refute the Marxist theory of the role of the working class. And this despite role of the Iranian working class of Iran and its vanguards - with determination, vision and sustained endurance – in the relentless and merciless criticism of the unjust capitalist system in Iran. On a daily basis, despite heavy casualties, the working class resolutely pursues its historic role, persevering through the whiplashes of oppression, repression, imprisonment, torture and executions in order to finally eliminate this cancerous tumor from Iran and the world.

On this basis, and in defense of their revolutionary role and in defense of the increasing role of the working class in the world, Communists must unanimously condemn this deviationist trend of criticizing Marxism. They must not allow these rapacious weeds, disguised as Marxism and scientific communism, to strangle the blossoming working class revolution. Here we shall concentrate on an overview of the issues regarding production in the world, the role of individuals in production from the point of view of scientific communism and the ever increasing importance of the working class.

The definition of working class, and in general of classes, gets its real meaning directly in relation to necessary material and intellectual production - and how they develop and share their social status. Therefore, in order to establish such definitions, it is best to spend some time on the role of production.

1 - The Role of Production in the Socialization of Humanity:

Human beings, throughout our existence, even during the epochs when only small bands of humans existed, were forced for the sake of survival to work collectively to provide the basic necessities of life and to maintain the kind of life they knew. During the epoch of primitive communism everyone, without exception, participated in the gathering of edible fruits and roots and everyone had a share of what was gathered. Without such a collective effort, given the existing dangers and threats to life, humans would not otherwise have been able to sustain life.

With the mastering of fire came greater facility to consume hunted meat and fish. With this higher quality food, they became more willing and able to produce collectively - ultimately domesticating animals, developing production tools, domesticating plants [the beginning of agriculture], developing methods for the safe storage of food and generally improving their means of subsistence. With the progressive increase in production and improvement of fabrication methods, the division of labor came to existence. All these collective activities served inevitably to dramatically improve the living conditions of humanity. Only when this division of labor reached a level that enabled the formation of patriarchal relations and private property rights over the means of production, was the initial equality which existed between humans during primitive communism replaced by inequalities which led gradually to class rule.

But throughout the history of all modes of production, and the several thousand years of class societies, the role of a minority of the people became reduced to that of parasites: those who did not participate in collective work, as the owners of the means of production. Instead they seized the fruits of the labor of others. The vast majority of people continue, up to this day, to directly or indirectly participate in the production of goods and the perpetuation of human life.

The necessity of collective, social production is not only limited to humans. Honey bees, ants and termites are also creatures which produce in a collective manner and benefit collectively. There are also some other animals at different levels of complexity which hunt collectively for food.

The role of production in the socialization of humanity and by the same token the role of human socialization in the development to production is a dialectical relationship between humans and nature. Those relationships which arose on the basis of the ownership of the means of production and exchange by a handful of people who had parasitic characteristics were transformative: they generated a high degree of “self-alienation” and the destruction of nature. It is thus that the surgical removal of the cancerous tumor of capitalism, for the recovery of human health and of nature, has become urgent. Only by that surgery will humanity achieve reconciliation with itself and with nature. To be healthy, both physically and psychologically, humans must be productive; their position in society must be more than that of leeches and parasites. Social production has consistently required socialized people.

2 - Production and its Perpetuation Are Not Possible Without a Steady Supply of Labor :

It is a well-known fact that from the very beginning that production inevitably requires people to provide the labor power. First of all, human society without human production is not viable. In this manner, the production of labor power on the one hand and the labor of the producer of essential consumer goods on the other hand are the two basic factors among other necessary requirements for sustaining and improving human life.

The role of women as producers of labor power, to this day, has not been recognized and appreciated by the ruling classes. Bees and ants pay special attention to the protection of their queen, in order to sustain their small communities. However, in human societies it was only during the epoch of primitive communism that women had the primary role in directing affairs. In class societies, most women became slaves of the patriarchal class systems, and were severely suppressed and exploited. Therefore, today’s vanguard needs to relentlessly struggle for women’s reproductive rights and for gender equality in human society. This must be pursued without qualification.

It is true that from a natural standpoint, women, for a substantial period of their lives, have the ability to produce children. But the “production” of children in preparation for them to join the work force also includes the duty of nourishing, protecting and educating. And in any case, even if more than 90% of their basic duty were to supply labor, given all of that is required of them to work at home, women are clearly very productive and their work is very valuable. Therefore, as the owners of “half the sky”, the role of women in production, in any society, must consistently be taken in to account. Human production is the most valuable production in human society, and the role of women in society is primordial.

Production without Services is not viable:

To be productive, people need nourishment, education, health, rest, exercise, recreation, transportation and so on. Lack of attention to each of these categories can harm the health of productive people or diminish the level of production to the point of jeopardizing their survival as well as the continuation of the production of any given commodity - which all together, would be a serious risk.

Therefore, all those people who perceive labor power only in people directly engaged in production, have a mechanical perception of productive activity, and are not able to correctly evaluate the various factors that are needed for production. They ignore the social character of production. As the Persian proverb says: “Only when the clouds, the moon, the sun and the heavens are put to work, will you be able to earn your daily bread without neglect!” With this account, to reduce production in human society [is a social imperative] to the province of a single set of individuals or groups, results in dubious claims e.g. “The number of workers is decreasing every day, and automation has taken over”. Such claims rely upon one sided counting of the number of industrial workers in advanced countries only; it ignores the rest of the world and the ever increasing numbers of the working class there. Such claims segregate the service and intellectual sectors from among the ranks of the labor force and in this manner, sacrifice the growth of the global working class to a trend of a few advanced industrial countries. Automation in those advanced countries serves to make the working class dependent on automation and to create an unemployed reserve army of labor to be exploited. And at the same time, lots of manufacturing activities that are labor intensive are taken to the peripheral (Third World) countries to take advantage of abundant and cheap labor in those countries, with low wages paid to the workers in those countries, to achieve substantial surplus value of labor.

Given these considerations, we proceed to define the working class:

4 -The Definition of the Working Class

Considering the above points and noting that for women during pregnancy and nursing, the care and upbringing of children must be considered as part of the productive forces, we can define the working class as follows.

In Terms of Economic Infrastructure and Productivity:

All social groups that lack ownership of the means of production and exchange, and generally capital; who are wage or salary earners (whether by physical or mental labor), or who are unpaid [even the producers and breeders of the work force during the early years of newly born children (i.e. women)] but who are the creators of surplus labor and value, are considered to be productive working class.

In the present context, they are directly or indirectly being exploited by the global capitalist system. Of course, that segment of the physical or intellectual workforce who meanwhile sell their labor force or receive salaries, but whose work does not directly generate capital for the capitalists, would be considered an unproductive sector of the working class. They mainly are working in the service sector and often are employed in the public sector.

Also, the boundary line between the working class and the petite-bourgeoisie is not always very clear and migration from one class or strata to another class exists, including those who are half workers and half petite-bourgeoisie. But their number is not a determining factor in the composition of the entire working class.

In terms of superstructure and politics:

A segment of white collar workers or intellectual workers earn (due to the nature of their work) a larger share of social wealth; some of them join the ranks of the capitalists. There are also women who are capitalists or who serve the bourgeoisie and ruling classes (either in terms of their politics or because of the capital they control). They do not assist the working class in its struggle against the exploitation of the capitalist system. They are in the camp of the ruling class. At the same time, there are segments of the ruling classes who are pro-working class, in that politically they are friends of the working class.

Thus, the economic identity of different segments of the working class must then be separated from their political identity. We must also acknowledge that a small portion of the working class in capitalist societies lose their economic identity, and will join the ranks of the exploiting classes.

Based on the above definition, the situation of the working class in Iran can be determined as follows:

According to semi-reliable 2006 statistics, the entire working age population in Iran was 20.5 million people. About one million people enter the job market every year, and presently there are 25 million people in Iran who are eligible for employment (whether currently employed or not). According to the 2006 statistics presented by Fariborz Raisdana (an Iranian economist), “the entire 2006 working population (in millions) consisted of : skilled workers, 4; agricultural workers, 0.5; technicians, 1.1; laborers, 2.6; self- employed, 4.56; for a total of 12.76 million. If we include intellectual workers, the total would reach 15 million. And assuming that each household has at least two children [and deducting the number of employed women (2.75 million) which has been published in Raisdana’s statistics], the number of working class people as part of the total population would be at least 40 million. The population of Iran in 2006 was 70 million. This would indicate that working class people account for about 60% of the total population. Note that pregnant women and those that are raising children are not part of Raisdana’s statistics.

Based on this brief assessment, the class makeup of Iranian society is as follows: The working class and the toiling masses, with their families that make up the majority of the population of Iran, have an antagonistic contradiction with the ruling bourgeoisie in Iran. Workers struggle for bread, for housing, and for the abolition of private property; they struggle for the establishment of collective, and ultimately social, ownership. Their battle is against the ruling capitalist system.

Other contradictions, such as the contradiction between the various factions of the bourgeoisie, relate to the division of created wealth in the society; these contradictions play out under the false banners of “defense of democracy”, of secularism, of anti-imperialism, anti-discrimination, national sovereignty, etc. These demands may in some cases be serious and principled. But what the bourgeoisie wants is that which as a class it is capable of achieving. The Iranian bourgeoisie, in all its factions, with its nationalistic tendencies, even if it were to seize power, is incapable of satisfying these demands in the era of “socialism or barbarism”. This task has fallen squarely on the shoulders of the working class.

Therefore, the solution to society’s problems, both in terms of infrastructure and superstructure, can only be implemented by the workers and laborers through the overthrow of the capitalist system. The other classes and strata such as the bourgeoisie and petite-bourgeoisie cannot take on this mission.

Thus, those who blow the tarnished trumpet of decadent capitalism, declaring the disappearance of the working class and denying the revolutionary theory of the working class and scientific communism, including those in Iran, should not influence any serious person who is aware of the objective conditions of Iranian society, and of those of the world over. Rather, they expose themselves as barren of accomplishment; they merely parrot the viewpoints of imperialist circles.

K. Ebrahim, January 30, 2012

(1) - I intend to quote part of the teachings of scientific communism in relation to production and the definition of class for our readers to ponder.

Fredrick Engels, in his book, “The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State”, describes the constitution of creation and the loss of existence in regard to the history of human evolution, from the beginning stages of life, as follows:

“According to the materialistic conception, the determining factor in history is, in the final instance, the production and reproduction of the immediate essentials of life. This, again, is of a twofold character. On the one side, the production of the means of existence, of articles of food and clothing, dwellings, and of the tools necessary for that production; on the other side, the production of human beings themselves, the propagation of the species. The social organization under which the people of a particular historical epoch and a particular country live is determined by both kinds of production: by the stage of development of labor on the one hand and of the family on the other.” (Preface to the First Edition, 1884).

Other notable writings:

…they (Marx and Engels) introduced an “amendment” to the formula of the materialist conception of history indicating that, in addition to the production of material values, a determining factor is the production of man himself, i.e., procreation, which played a primary role in the primitive era, when the productivity of labor was still very undeveloped.” (Lenin- What the “Friends of the People” Are and how they fight the Social Democrats?, A Reply to Articles in Russkoye Bogatstvo Opposing the Marxists, Part I, Pg. 15).

“A commodity is therefore a mysterious thing, simply because in it the social character of men’s labour appears to them as an objective character stamped upon the product of that labor; because the relation of the producers to the sum total of their own labor is presented to them as a social relation, existing not between themselves, but between the products of their labour. This is the reason why the products of labor become commodities, social things whose qualities are at the same time perceptible and imperceptible by the senses. In the same way the light from an object is perceived by us not as the subjective excitation of our optic nerve, but as the objective form of something outside the eye itself. But, in the act of seeing, there is at all events, an actual passage of light from one thing to another, from the external object to the eye. There is a physical relation between physical things.” (Karl Marx, Capital Vol. I)

“Production to consumption, whether it is for productive or none productive, however, it is productive capital only if it is good investment…as far as it relates to the worker. (In exact meaning of the word), the wealth that he creates is a form of wealth which is directly associated with the work that is the capital. Then, the productive work is the one that directly adds to capital.” (Marx, Grundriesse, Critique of Political Economy, Vol. I, pg. 271, Internet Archives)

“Exchange of money in the form of income or, the means of simple circulation for the purchase of wage labor for personal consumption, never converts money in to capital, and the kind of labor that has been purchased from such exchange is never a wage labor with respect to the economic meaning of the word.” (Ibid, Internet Archives).

“In bourgeois society itself, all exchange of personal services for revenue — including labor for personal consumption, cooking, sewing etc., garden work etc., up to and including all of the unproductive classes, civil servants, physicians, lawyers, scholars etc. — belongs under this rubric, within this category. All menial servants etc. By means of their services — often coerced — all these workers, from the least to the highest, obtain for themselves a share of the surplus product, of the capitalist’s revenue.
But it does not occur to anyone to think that by means of the exchange of his revenue for such services, i.e. through private consumption, the capitalist posits himself as capitalist. Rather, he thereby spends the fruits of his capital. It does not change the nature of the relation that the proportions in which revenue is exchanged for this kind of living labor are themselves determined by the general laws of production.” (Marx, The Grundreisse, 1857, Internet Archives)

“About the town’s handicrafts, although they are necessarily relying on exchange and the creation of the exchange values but, the direct and main target of this production is to provide subsistence for the craftsman and apprentice craftsmen, and as a result, it is the creation of the consumption value, wealth, not as an exchange value exchanges value. Therefore, always the production of these manufacturing industries from fixed consumption, and supply follows demand and its expansion is very slow.” (Grundreisse, 1857, Internet Archives)

“Classes are large groups of people differing from each other by the place they occupy in a historically determined system of social production, by their relation (in most cases fixed and formulated in law) to the means of production, by their role in the social organization of labor, and, consequently, by the dimensions of the share of social wealth of which they dispose and the mode of acquiring it. Classes are groups of people one of which can appropriate the labor of another owing to the different places they occupy in a definite system of social economy.

Clearly, in order to abolish classes completely, it is not enough to overthrow the exploiters, the landowners and capitalists, not enough to abolish their rights of ownership; it is necessary also to abolish all private ownership of the means of production, it is necessary to abolish the distinction between town and country, as well as the distinction between manual workers and brain workers. This requires a very long period of time. In order to achieve this an enormous step forward must be taken in developing the productive forces; it is necessary to overcome the resistance (frequently passive, which is particularly stubborn and particularly difficult to overcome) of the numerous survivals of small-scale production; it is necessary to overcome the enormous force of habit and conservatism which are connected with these survivals.” . (V. I. Lenin-A Great Beginning, Lenin’s Internet Archives, June 28 1919)

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