Friday, 17 February 2017

Capitalism's Saviours: The Professional-Managerial Class.

"Hi! We're from the Professional-Managerial Class, and we're here to help!" The PMC downgraded the common experiences of economic exploitation which had formerly bound the Left together, supplanting them with exploitation narratives grounded in the experiences of race, gender and sexuality. Capitalism doesn’t oppress humanity, went the PMC’s argument, racism, sexism and homophobia do.
 
BARBARA AND JOHN EHRENREICH spotted the looming disaster on the Left nearly 40 years ago. This was an impressive achievement given the temper of the times. For right-wingers, the 1970s were a decade of dread. They feared that the Left was on the cusp of an irreversible victory. They would have been delighted to learn that their ideological foes faced disaster, but they would have struggled to identify the vector of their demise.
 
But the Ehrenreichs knew what it was. They had even given it a name: “The Professional-Managerial Class.” (PMC)
 
In the rather leaden Marxian prose then in vogue, the Ehrenreichs defined the PMC as “consisting of salaried mental workers who do not own the means of production and whose major function in the social division of labour may be described broadly as the reproduction of capitalist culture and capitalist class relations.”
 
In slightly less daunting language: the role of the PMC was to explain and justify the workings of capitalism to everyone who was not a capitalist, a professional, or a manager.
 
Who were they talking about? Well, in addition to the more obvious groups “hidden within the processes of production” i.e. “middle-level administrators and managers, engineers and other technical workers”, the Ehrenreichs controversially nominated “workers who are directly concerned with social control or with the production and propagation of ideology”. These they identified as “teachers, social workers, psychologists, entertainers, writers of advertising copy and TV scripts”.
 
Now, if you’re thinking: “Hey, that sounds like a description of the membership of the Labour Party and/or The Greens!” Well then, take a bow, because you have grasped the essence of the Ehrenreichs’ troublesome prophecy.
 
The PMC was already on the rise politically when the Ehrenreichs’ seminal paper was published in 1979. Its impact was clearly visible in the Democratic Party where a new generation of liberal politicians were ruthlessly marginalising the defenders of Roosevelt’s New Deal in preparation for the Carter Administration’s turn towards the “monetarist” ideas of the right-wing economist Milton Friedman.
 
The “turn” in the United Kingdom had come even earlier, in 1976, when the Labour prime minister of the time, Jim Callaghan, told his stony-faced party conference:
 
“We used to think that you could spend your way out of a recession, and increase employ­ment by cutting taxes and boosting Government spending. I tell you in all candour that that option no longer exists, and that in so far as it ever did exist, it only worked on each occasion since the war by injecting a bigger dose of infla­tion into the economy, followed by a higher level of unemployment as the next step.”
 
If Callaghan’s pronouncement prompts the thought: “But that sounds just like the sort of thing David Lange and Roger Douglas used to say!” Then, once again, take a bow.
 
The institutions that Callaghan’s and Carter’s little helpers were most concerned to rein-in were the trade unions. Organised labour represented a dangerously independent repository of economic, political, social, and, most crucially, class power. While they persisted there was always the worrying potential for explanations and justifications unfavourable to the “reproduction of capitalist culture and capitalist class relations.”
 
By the 1970s, trade unions in Scandinavia and the United Kingdom had even begun to construct practical alternatives to the capitalist way of doing things. The arguments of class solidarity and collective action were acquiring an unprecedented degree of persuasiveness.
 
The policies of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan eventually put paid to the union threat. But the iron fist of neoliberalism urgently needed covering with a velvet glove.
 
The PMC was there to take on the task. They downgraded the common experiences of economic exploitation which had formerly bound the Left together, supplanting them with exploitation narratives grounded in the experiences of race, gender and sexuality. Capitalism doesn’t oppress humanity, went the PMC’s argument, racism, sexism and homophobia do. Eliminating these evils requires education, training and a willingness to embrace cultural diversity. A task far beyond the capacity of the working-class Left.
 
The Ehrenreichs knew how this would end. With the politics of identity and the politics of class in conflict – and left-wing unity shattered. The PMC and the working-class could have confronted the capitalists over who should own and control collectively created wealth. Instead, they confronted each other over the barricades of knowledge, skills and culture.
 
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 17 February 2017.

43 comments:

Nick J said...

Beautiful. Saw it all. Now the bill is about to be presented to the PMC as it has been to the workers.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Capitalism doesn’t oppress humanity, went the PMC’s argument, racism, sexism and homophobia do. "

All of these in fact oppress humanity. The black worker's experience in the USA and almost certainly elsewhere is not identical to that of the white worker. Neither is that of the female worker or the gay worker. The unions in the US were complicit in the general bigotry of the time, and therefore an instrument of oppression. So it's maybe not surprising that black people end other minorities have/had different priorities. Socialism has not necessarily been the solution to discrimination either. Discrimination doesn't automatically disappear when you rein in capitalism.

jh said...

The Reverend Waddell preached "the sin of cheapness" in St Andrews (Dunedin). A hundred years later Mike Moore (under an open-border economist - Phillipe Legarde) is praising cheapness. Spoonley teams up with Bob the developer (MBIE) to study all the great things that are happening in Auckland and the there is the well funded Spinoff etc greasing a corporate agenda?

Olwyn said...

GS, you are overlooking an important sentence toward the end of the piece, " With the politics of identity and the politics of class in conflict – and left-wing unity shattered." These two aspects of the left being in conflict is the damaging thing. Capitalism has long relied for its survival on divide-and-rule, since the "invisible hand" does not by itself confer authority. The identity/class conflict is the most recent version. And as Nick J points out, in the US at least, the current batch of PMCs now find themselves under threat. This isn't due to any advance for the working class, but a change of the guard at the top. Which is why we need both strands if we are to effectively stand up to them - each by themselves are dispensable. Sanders seems to manage to incorporate both aspects. It is disappointing to me to see many of the liberal left in the US running to affirm their worth to their establishment sponsors instead of re-connecting with the working class. They seem to be more-or-less saying "Well, OK, we failed to keep the lower orders at bay, but we are still good for selling a new cold war." This move may allow some of them to retain their status, but at the cost of further alienating the working class.

SharpTack said...

Capital v Labour is the only struggle.

Tiger Mountain said...

BAFTA winner “I Daniel Blake” details the Kafkaesque (now there’s an oldie) travails of an unemployed veteran carpenter and widower after a heart attack, trying to get some state assistance before he starves

PMCs including anonymous, unseen “decision makers” and other office staff threaten him with increasingly sadistic sanctions and impose pointless “Catch 22” style bureaucratic mazes per NZ WINZ/MSD

there is indeed an army of such people to be found in the managerial layers of the health system in particular along with most business operations, the “mine mine mine” ideology now like a mantra after 30 years, it is hard to swim against such a tide but some of us still do! these lieutenants of capital, as the smarmy gits are, are on a slippery slope in the longer run though as they discovered at Fonterra several years back

the working class can still be organised in the global and digital era as Fight for $15 and all sorts of struggles around the world show

Pinger said...

It's true that the Left have been hood-winked by the identity politics nonsense.

AB said...

The technical and service ranks of the PMC is being outsourced to India and other places. They are learning now that they were always dispensable.

Jens Meder said...

Since without saving for investments - i.e. capitalism - we would still be hunters and gatherers living in caves, -

why is there (seemingly?) such reluctance to at least discuss resolving the struggle between Capital and Labour by making sure that all citizens participate directly in capitalism by (being helped) building up (or inheriting eventually) at least a minimally meaningful level of capital ownership, thus eliminating and preventing poverty, and society progressing into a higher level of socio-economically egalitarian solidarity than what has been experienced in human history so far ?

David Stone said...

Olwyn

Adam Smith's invisible hand you refer to; he might not have realised but the neoliberals putting his theory into practice have shown it to be the hand of a thief.
D J S

Guerilla Surgeon said...

GS, you are overlooking an important sentence toward the end of the piece, " With the politics of identity and the politics of class in conflict – and left-wing unity shattered."

Not necessarily overlooking it, but I'm not sure it's not the left's fault that it forgot about identity politics. IP isn't in fact necessarily a bad thing by the way. Interesting how those who use the word identity politics and SJW seem to think that there's something wrong with identity politics and social justice.
If you take the case study of black people in America, or for that matter in Britain the left has done little to stop the discrimination that they face almost every day. from employers, from the police, from banks. As I said, their problems are not necessarily the same as those of the majority. And redistributive policies aren't necessarily going to go all the way towards solving them. It's time the left saw this, rather than bitching about identity politics.

Sanctuary said...

"...The technical and service ranks of the PMC is being outsourced to India and other places. They are learning now that they were always dispensable..."

The Sonderkommandos are to be replaced at regular intervals.

Prang said...

There's nothing worse than a working class arsehole that becomes a professional manager arsehole. Nothing.

Carolyn_nth said...

The post is correct in indicating that in the UK in the 1970s, collaborative groups and networks, with socialist values, were pretty strong. Class-focused struggles overlapped, intersected and at times collaborated with anti-racist, women's liberation and gay campaigns. This was seen in the miners strike when feminists, and gay groups actively supported the miners' strike.

Thatcherism set out to destroy those networks and groups, based mainly in urban centres. At the same time that union and class-focused groups and campaigns were watered down, the same thing happened to the women's movement, anti-racist groups, etc.

The image of the scruffy, anti-fashion, boiler-suited women's libber in Doc Martens, was replaced by the whole material girl power thing, plus the "power-suited" women manager image. The latter is the kind of managerialist woman represented in the image above. Though, at the time in the 1980s, it was the Joan Collins "Dynasty" style, designer label, big shoulder pad, type of "power suit".

It is incorrect to represent the anti-racist, anti-sexist, etc campaigns as somehow being privileged by neoliberal managerialism. This is actually doing what the post accuses others of doing: splitting the left.

When the class struggle was downgraded by the dominant culture, was too were grass-roots, anti-sexist and anti-racist: they were narrowed, and very often commodified, and contained from above.

pat said...

@GS

"Not necessarily overlooking it, but I'm not sure it's not the left's fault that it forgot about identity politics. IP isn't in fact necessarily a bad thing by the way. Interesting how those who use the word identity politics and SJW seem to think that there's something wrong with identity politics and social justice.
If you take the case study of black people in America, or for that matter in Britain the left has done little to stop the discrimination that they face almost every day. from employers, from the police, from banks. As I said, their problems are not necessarily the same as those of the majority. And redistributive policies aren't necessarily going to go all the way towards solving them. It's time the left saw this, rather than bitching about identity politics."

and if those seeking to promote such a position presented it in such a reasoned manner rather than scattering unthinking knee jerk labels such as 'racist' ,'misogynist' etc, then they may find more discussion support and success for their causes....no?

It has become an article of faith not to be questioned or modified amongst the self appointed high priests/priestesses of the IP cult...they are nothing more than fanatics/zealots and should be dismissed as such.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"and if those seeking to promote such a position presented it in such a reasoned manner rather than scattering unthinking knee jerk labels such as 'racist' ,'misogynist' etc, then they may find more discussion support and success for their causes....no?"

You are assuming that the labels are undeserved. If black people are stopped while driving more often the white people for instance, if once stopped their cars are searched more than white peoples', if they are arrested for drugs more often, even though white people use drugs at a slightly higher rate than black people, how would you describe it? You want them to skirt round it to save your feelings or something? Hell no. You can in fact make reasoned arguments and still put the labels racist or misogynist in there. And it's often done. And I suspect that no matter how reasoned or rational the argument nothing will be done without some form of coercion. Whether that's verbal or physical. Power is never given only taken.


Guerilla Surgeon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Charles E said...

.....teachers, social workers, psychologists, entertainers, writers of advertising copy and TV scripts...

Not really managerial or professional classes are they. Just people with Arts degrees who have found a job with good pay. Fair enough. Yes that does form a large part of the LabGreen membership I guess.

Are you saying they are traitors to socialism even though they think they are socialists or at least supporters from the side-line? If so I would agree but add their main fault is they care above all about money, yet they are very insecure and lack the courage to start a business and certainly the skill or will for a trade. They actually look down on such people which is such a hoot. Their prime ambition is 'a well paid job' especially in the public sector or at least billed to it.
They often are deluded that they have succeeded because they have brains whereas actually all they have achieved is a partial 'education'.

Jens Meder said...

Since profitable or surpluses delivering capitalism is the primary need before any other needs on the material level can be met, should not the left give up all "class warfare" demagoguery and focus on organizing a more fair, egalitarian and effective application of capitalism ?

Otherwise, without strong and credibly profitable economic policies for plentiful welfare availability, the left can hardly expect steady, long term support growth and maintenance, as excessive welfare not covered by production profitability just is not sustainable beyond the point where all reserves have been consumed.

Isn't that the most important matter to be discussed and resolved ?

pat said...

"You can in fact make reasoned arguments and still put the labels racist or misogynist in there. And it's often done. And I suspect that no matter how reasoned or rational the argument nothing will be done without some form of coercion. Whether that's verbal or physical. Power is never given only taken."

"Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all others" Winston Churchill

You seem to have forgotten we are supposedly a democracy.....power is conferred by the majority. The increasingly strident tone would appear to result from an inability to reach a position that resonates with the required majority....that suggests the position either needs to be modified or that it is ahead of its time...if you agree with Churchill then the tactic you are championing is at best counterproductive and at worst destructive....unless of course you dont agree with Churchill?

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"In the age of Trump, conservative thought has died at last"

A headline on Salon. Sadly true judging by Charles's ravings. All I can say is – no they don't, no they aren't, no they don't, no it isn't, nothing wrong with public sector jobs, try doing without them Charles, no they are not, and what the hell is a partial "education". Typical 'drive-by'From Charles. Long on opinion, short on facts, general irrelevance.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"The increasingly strident tone would appear to result from an inability to reach a position that resonates with the required majority"

And if the required majority is simply racist or misogynist? I say again, since when has being nice ever gained anything for minorities? And in fact the required majority often isn't a majority, simply a majority of the people in power. A majority of ordinary people often supports positions which those in power don't. And guess who gets their way most of the time. Unless you are rude, or threaten public order and property.

jh said...

It occurred to me that Trumps difference is that he is a return to a kingly style of leadership: something humans are comfortable with.

mikesh said...

@Jens Meder

By the fifties Russia, under communism, had built up one of the world's most productive economies. In fact some economists, notably Samuelson, believed the Russia would eventually overtake the West economically. However its economy was based on heavy industry and 'economies of scale' and proved to be too inflexible to respond to changing needs.

Galbraith (in his book Economics and Public Policy) suggested that companies, when the reached a certain size, should be regulated. Small companies, since they lacked market power, could be left unregulated, and this would provide reasonable flexibility.

jh said...

The problem with public sector jobs is when they become dominated by ideology so they are the levening and the people are the dough: "in New Zealand we celebrate diversity"; "ninety percent say they want to live in a multicultural society"; "for multiculturalism to succeed dentities need to be transformed" (TVNZ - "how kiwi are you" - re-evaluating the NZ identity)

jh said...

Mediawatch has item on Nigel Latta. He speaks to TVNZ's corporate clients about selling stories and associating it with their brand. Now I thought the telos of Nigel Latta was championing the truth, not representing corporate interests, but that could explain why (that) immigration is good is "no brainer".

Jens Meder said...

Yes mikesh, that's right, because Soviet communist productivity was rigidly based on perceived "needs", regardless of profitability and market supply and demand fluctuations.

Samuelson was right in that the with the high savings for investments rate enforced in the Soviet Union (comparable to war time austerity rates enforceable in Western Democracies only for a war effort) - it would have overtaken the West - if it had paid attention to the essential priority of profitability and taken advantage of free market supply and demand revelations.

(Instead they joked in Moscow: "We have to allow for at least one capitalist country to keep going, in order to at least know the true cost of the items we produce".)

The quoted proposition by Galbraith is just marginal tinkering compared to straightforward personal participation in profitability focused capitalism by all citizens, as e.g. was very successfully introduced in Singapore.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"It occurred to me that Trumps difference is that he is a return to a kingly style of leadership: something humans are comfortable with."

It is actually called presidential, and it's usual in the USA.Because they have traditionally had presidents, who have a lot more power than prime ministers in a parliamentary system. Its also spread outside the USA comparatively recently. Humans are comfortable with lots of things.You can get used to anything. Doesn't make them good.
I can't for the life of me understand your last comment so I'll let it go.

pat said...

@GS
i'll take it then that you don't agree with Churchill.......or democracy.

Not only is it mind-blowingly hypocritical to demand tolerance all the while being the epitome of intolerance, it is thoroughly impratical.

Anonymous said...

Actually, Jim Callaghan was anything but a PMC. He was the second (and last) UK Prime Minister from a genuinely working class background. What you were seeing was the realisation that the British economy in the mid-1970s was in crisis (whether his analysis and response to the crisis were correct is a whole other matter, but this wasn't some divide-and-conquer plot from the middle-classes).

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Then you take it wrong Pat. Firstly intolerance of intolerance itself is not a bad thing. Secondly, Churchill was great on democracy for white people, less good on democracy for everyone else. So I get a little bit tired of people quoting that old saw.

pat said...

" Firstly intolerance of intolerance itself is not a bad thing."

examine that statement ......it is an impossibility

Nick J said...

The PMC until recently had the ascendancy in the delivery of opinion. That has either gone or they have changed their minds.......or perhaps something deeper is going on. I base this observation of democracy appearing to be alive and well (if you base your definition upon the elected people delivering to the majority who elected them). To challenge this I Googled "executive decision approval ratings". This showed that Trump had the backing of the people (demos) for pretty much all his policies. At the same time in UK the parliamentarians who to a man / woman declared against Brexit have decided to honour the will of the people who voted out. That appears to me to be democracy in action.

Some may see this as demonstrating that the people are intolerant, ignorant, not politically correct, racist, just plain wrong etc etc. The PMC are very good at attaching labels to and judging people as being unworthy of their exalted standards that underpin their own status. It would appear that their judgement has been called to question which IMO is long overdue.

mikesh said...

@ Jens Meder

Galbraith's perception was that large scale industry in the US was dominated by monopoly and oligopoly. It had to be in order to justify the large investments required. And of course it also needed market control, and this was achieved through advertising. Such control justified regulation, and, compared with the myth of "profitability focused capitalism by all citizens", such regulation was hardly "Marginal tinkering".

greywarbler said...

@pat 18/2 15:13
"It has become an article of faith not to be questioned or modified amongst the self appointed high priests/priestesses of the IP cult...they are nothing more than fanatics/zealots and should be dismissed as such."

I think you are right about the disdain for being questioned. I suggest that ultimately they are utopians with their own visions on how to get to the end of the rainbow. Call them then fanatics or zealots, it is bound to end in tears for some, and in the end some of these groups can no longer face harsh reality and kill themselves, believers and doubters. So watch out for utopians I say; give credence to people aiming for better, appreciating each other, studying past methods and present and future disruptions and distortions, and allowing for our human nature on the way.

Anonymous said...

Secondly, Churchill was great on democracy for white people, less good on democracy for everyone else.

White rich people. The guy sent tanks onto the streets of Glasgow in 1919.

Victor said...

Anonymous@20:36

I half agree with you.

The developed world in the 1970s faced a fairly unusual set of inflqationary pressures,of which the most pressing was almost certainly the soaring price of oil (and other raw materials) and which made it difficult and perhaps impossible for governments to spend their way out of recession.

But, even before these problems grabbed a legitimate center stage, the neo-liberal, ideological counter-revolution was starting to erode the beneficent consensus of the postwar years.

I suspect that Jim Callaghan was less influenced by such ideological factors than by the quotidian realities of keeping the ship afloat in very choppy waters. Even so, he certainly contributed to neo-liberalism's new ideological dominance.


Moreover, since the 1970s, oil prices have shot down and up again time after time. But we're still stuck with a neo-liberal policy default that may have made sense in the near to unique circumstances of the 'seventies but have not done so for most of the time before or since.

jh said...

GS
Nigel Latta is a brand: someone the people can trust (a Dr Phill), but he goes in boots and all for TVNZ's corporate clients using his knowledge as a psychologist and the power of television to reach the largest audience "if YouTube reach this many people we would be on Youtube" A bit like someone who hunts with the hounds and runs with the hares.
TVNZ's corporate clients would have been thrilled that the benefits of immigration are a "no brainer". The left-wing broadcasters will keep their jobs too as will the $6 million dollar layouts at HRC.

jh said...

Here's some racism\sinophobia\xenophobia
http://www.vdare.com/articles/importing-sino-fascism

Thinking ill of foreigners is condemned as racist and xenophobic. Difference is celebrated. Susan Devoy ($203,000 puppet) seeks examples of racism - must have been expressed in English.

jh said...

GS
A King is head of the tribe; a President is just the biggest cog in a machine.
Trumps wall is very symbolic since it says "our place; their place". The media are with the outsiders: pushing open borders etc, etc. They have undeserved influence as they control the tv and radio stations but don't represent ordinary people.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

" Firstly intolerance of intolerance itself is not a bad thing."

"examine that statement ......it is an impossibility"

You examine it. Of course it isn't, don't be ridiculous.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"The guy sent tanks onto the streets of Glasgow in 1919."

I did not know that – thanks.

pat said...

"You examine it. Of course it isn't, don't be ridiculous."

Lmao...thats your defence?...you must hate yourself.

if you desire a society that accepts and tolerates difference then ipso facto you must accept and tolerate difference....unless you are without society.