Letter: It's the PMC, Silly

Date: 2021-09-05T18:37:48+00:00

Location: cosmonautmag.com

I found Renato Flore’s article “The Procedural is Political” to make some important points. But I found it even more frustrating, if only because it edges upon what exactly the problem is while simultaneously refusing to name it. Flores talks about “people who enter the socialist movement from a middle-class background” and “who have participated in more “respectable institutions” holding power in the left because of their knowledge and ability to navigate political procedures. He also hints towards the “power imbalances weighted towards middle class, white and male voices”, but in the end, this type of language only mystifies the real issue. And the issue is the professional-managerial class or PMC. 

The PMC is not something the left likes to talk about, often because so much of the left comes from the PMC. The PMC are those workers whose labor is paid in a salaried form yet is not exploited like the typical waged laborer. Rather than producing surplus value for capitalists, the PMC does the skilled labor of reproducing capitalist relations. They are the lawyers, doctors, engineers, professors, and HR managers who don’t own capital but aren’t part of the working class either. They are often the ones bossing the working class around, or at the very least telling the capitalists how to boss the workers around. Rather than identifying the problem that the PMC comes into the left and dominates it using the rules they learn at these jobs, Flores takes the typical leftist take that there are just too many white male privileges voices rather than seeing that there are too many PMC voices who are disproportionately white and male.

So much of the left is stuck in a myopic worldview where everyone is either a capitalist or a worker, a seller of labor-power or a buyer, and this is the only class division that matters. Flores at least mentions a middle class but is stuck with this vague and imprecise term that blocks a full recognition of the problem because of its vagueness. The concept of the PMC, developed by Barbara and John Ehrenreich to assess the failures of the New Left by using actual class analysis, pierces through this vagueness and reveals the problem for what it is. The left is run by a class that is outside the workers who feel themselves above them, yet in denial, they are even a class outside of the workers because of the previously mentioned “two-class” theory. They are just ordinary workers like anyone else; they just happened to study harder and get a better job. No wonder the left screeches like children if you dare mention the PMC by name.

Rather than dancing around the problem by talking about “privileged backgrounds” or “middle class” we need to use the most effective theoretical language available to us, and that is the theory of the PMC. That said, we need to take things further than Ehrenreich did. An understanding of the PMC can allow us to have an immanent critique of Marxism itself, which has come to essentially be a form of the procedural code speak that Flores correctly finds so frustrating. With its pretensions of having a scientific understanding of society, Marxism is the perfect tool for legions of PMCs to assert themselves as the rulers of the working class, whether it’s in the People’s Republic of China or a DSA meeting. Tom Clarke, whose work “The State and Counter-Revolution” came out of his own reflections in the New Communist Movement, developed this theory to masterful ends. This may be going too far for the readers of Cosmonaut, who see themselves as “developing a scientific socialism for the 21st Century”. But I urge them to ask themselves if they are seeking to develop this scientific socialism to accredit themselves as the future righteous leaders of the workers or if the workers can do this stuff themselves without a scientific socialist professor leading the way.

Until Marxists take Marxist class analysis beyond its own limitations to develop a critique of the class basis of Marxism itself they will continue to find themselves in the kinds of situation Flores describes. Meetings will be dominated by the PMC and ruled according to their meritocratic codes of conduct, whether in an “intersectional” or “scientific socialist” guise. Sadly, they have every reason to not, as the only rational path to take after truly applying a class analysis to their own movements will be to commit class suicide and truly join the ranks of the proletariat or give up their pretensions of leading the working class.

For workers self-emancipation,

John Jay

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