Letter: Who Are Workers?: A Response to Jacque Erie's Critique of Chris Maisano

Date: 2021-11-16T20:23:33+00:00

Location: cosmonautmag.com

Against Sectoral Chauvinism

I am writing to express disappointment with Jacque Erie’s article critiquing Chris Maisano.1 Specifically, I am disappointed with the sectoral chauvinism expressed therein.

To be sure, the last two steps in Chris Maisano’s arguments are full of reductionism.  His critique of base building stems from binary thinking on electoral work versus protest movements, a carryover from his International Socialist Organization days. This binary thinking was discussed in greater detail in CPGB comrade Mike Macnair’s Revolutionary Strategy, and also in a December 2019 article:

Both the Fabian/revisionist ‘democratic socialists’ and the Marxisant-Bakuninist ‘revolutionary socialists’ have thus swallowed whole what is best explained as an intellectual operation of Nato’s cold-war intellectual agenda to contain the workers’ movement in ‘safe’ forms. Fabianism is safe because of its constitutional loyalism; Marxisant-Bakuninism is safe because it condemns its practitioners to ineffectiveness.2

His narrow vision of facilitating class formation via Democratic Party primary campaigns speaks enough volumes.  That said, Jacque Erie’s attempt to criticize the first step in Maisano’s argument is an expression of sectoral chauvinism.

In my earlier work, I have discussed the point that the modern proletariat can be divided into three main social strata: manual workers, clerical workers, and professional workers.  All three strata share at least one thing: they all depend on the general wage fund.

Back to Revolutionary Strategy:

If the proletariat is not the whole social class dependent on the wage fund, but only waged workers (or, worse, ‘industrial’ or ‘productive’ workers) any variant of Marxist political strategy is indefensible.3

I repeat: Lower-level professionals are proletarians, not so-called “PMC” of the Ehrenreich school of thought!

Professional workers include the ever-increasing number of doctors who are not small business partners (traditional petit-bourgeoisie) or self-employed, but rather non-management employees on hospital salaries.  Yes, MDs, not just nurses.

Professional workers include the majority of modern engineers who perform non-management jobs on a salary.  Likewise, professional workers include the majority of architects who perform non-management jobs on a salary.

Last, but not least, professional workers include the as-old-as-time majority of accountants who work in financial accounting or financial accounting-related jobs on a non-management salary, whether in industry, government, or non-profit: management accounting, audit, tax, and corporate finance.

Unlike police officers, they can be productive, too.4

Back to Erie’s argument:

The problem is that there is no priority given to proletarian organization in facilitating the emergence of such a movement.5

It is due to geographic considerations that particularism for manual labour, or blue-collar labour is no longer the main sub-agent for progressive change, let alone change far to the left of the usual social democracy.  The geographic shift of manual labour away from large urban areas has gone hand in hand with manual labour losing its’ progressive agency.

Future momentum in left politics belongs to other strata, or collars.

[One could argue against a couple of my points because of semantics.  There is no perfect overlap between the identified strata and the other non-blue collars: traditional white collar, gold collar, red collar, pink collar, and so on.  For obvious reasons, professional workers are not limited to protected professions.  In any event, there are two main strata of non-blue collar workers that can be identified based on their tertiary education prerequisites and even quaternary education prerequisites.]

Unlike Chris Maisano or Goran Therborn, however, there is a long-abandoned safeguard for class independence which not even they are aware of: workers-only voting membership policy.  The last thing we need is a mirror image on the left of the right-populist “white working class lie” propagated by small business owners and self-employed individuals: small business owners and self-employed individuals calling themselves “working class” or proletarians.  In one historic argument, none other than August Bebel was wrong, while Kautsky the Marxist was correct!

A late comrade who won me over to this woefully underrated policy over a decade ago explained to me the compatibility of his membership stance with the social strata that I have identified, and that he was not a sectoral chauvinist.

-Jacob Richter

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  1. https://cosmonautmag.com/2021/11/is-this-the-left-that-jacobin-wants-chris-maisanos-perilous-drift-towards-post-marxism/#easy-footnote-bottom-19-5255.
  2. https://weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1266/containing-our-movement-in-safe-forms/.
  3. http://ouleft.org/wp-content/uploads/Macnair-Revolutionary-Strategy.pdf.
  4. http://www.dcs.gla.ac.uk/~wpc/reports/unprod3b.pdf.
  5. https://cosmonautmag.com/2021/11/is-this-the-left-that-jacobin-wants-chris-maisanos-perilous-drift-towards-post-marxism/#easy-footnote-bottom-19-5255.