What are the major classes in society?
In Capital, Marx also succinctly notes that ‘in order to labour productively, it is no longer necessary for you to do manual work yourself; enough if you are an organ of the collective labourer, and perform one of its subordinate functions.'
On this view, it is clear that the ‘working class’ extends far beyond industrial and manual workers. But this extension also creates certain major difficulties for Marxist sociology and politics. For not only does the designation now cover white-collar workers and ‘service’workers of every sort, which is not a major difficulty: it also encompasses many other people as well, for instance managerial staff, executive personnel of high rank and even the topmost layers of capitalist production. ‘We are all working class now’ may be useful conservative propaganda —but it would be odd to have it legitimated by Marxist concepts; and, more serious, the notion of ‘working class’ would cease, on this basis, to make possible the differentiations which the class structure of capitalist societies obviously requires.
What is needed here is a set of criteria which do make possible these differentiations—in this instance between the various aggregates of people who constitute different elements of the ‘collective labourer’, and which allow the necessary distinction to be made between the ‘working class’ elements of the ‘collective labourer’ and the rest: between, say, the corporation executive and the factory worker. The criteria in question are partly —but hardly exhaustively—provided by Marx himself when he refers in the above quotation from Capital to those people who perform the ‘subordinate functions’ of the ‘collective labourer’. The notion of subordination is here crucial, though other criteria of differentiation may be linked to it, for instance income and status, and are usually related to it.
The ‘working class’ is therefore that part of the ‘collective labourer’ which produces surplus value, from a position of subordination, at the lower ends of the income scale, and also at the lower ends of what might be called the ‘scale of regard’.
This designation does not by any means solve all problems. But neither does any other. One such problem, which is embedded in the notion of class itself, is that of heterogeneity. Like all other classes, the ‘working class’ is divided into many different strata and by a whole set of differences, which vary according to time and place, hut some of which at least are always present. In the present designation, the main difference would be between industrial wage-earners on the one hand (themselves greatly differentiated) and ‘white collar’ and ‘service’ workers on the other—and the latter terms obviously cover a wide variation of occupations and grades.
Another such problem, which is a constantly recurring one in the discussion of class, is where to ‘cut off’—in this instance to decide at what point (if any) it is appropriate or necessary to draw the line between the ‘workers ‘just mentioned and the large and growing number of ‘workers’ who perform a variety of technical, intellectual, supervisory, and managerial tasks. As already noted, these people are indeed part of the ‘collective labourer’: but whether they are part of the ‘working class’ is an open question. The point