Identity and the Professional Managerial Class

Yves here. This post by albrt reviews and analyzes Barbara Ehrenreich’s seminal work on the Professional Managerial Class and how her views changed over time. To add a few thoughts:

1. It appears Ehrenreich depicted the fall in class mobility as happening earlier than it did (and this is not my opinion but reflected in US data on income mobility, which is a crude proxy). On the anecdata front, I not only have blue collar friends from my childhood who successfully made their way into the Professional Managerial Class, but I even hired a secretary who successfully moved up class-wise and not by virtue of marriage (her being way too smart and pro-active to stay a secretary helped, but in most organizations she would have become a well-paid executive secretary, a position she refused).

2. This analysis missed the critical change in the relationship of the C-suite at public companies and fund managers to capital. Ehrenreich would depict them as “not owners” and therefore Professional Managerial Class. But in fact, “ownership” is a bundle of rights. Public shareholders do not meaningfully “own” shares unless they have a controlling bloc. They are not privy to critical details of the company’s plans; they are too competitively sensitive to share with diffuse, anonymous shareholders. They do not determine the pay of any of the managers as a private company owner would. They cannot fire any executive or board member. They get dividends only when the company makes money and the board and execs feel like paying them out.

The picture is even more stark with asset managers. Let’s look at private equity. In the typical fund, the limited partners like CalPERS provide 97% to 99% of the money and the so-called general partner, the balance. Yet as we have seen with CalPERS, the limited partners get limited information about investee companies and have no say on general partner compensation. The Kauffman Foundation argued forcefully that it did not have to be that way and presented detailed reform in its classic paper, We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Us.

One effect of the hollowing out of the position of actual capitalists is that someone is twice as likely to become a billionaire in asset management as in tech.

3. Ehrenreich has a significant body of work, so perhaps she covers more of its origins than I see in albrt’s recap. But to me, the origins of the Professional Managerial Class lie in Napoleon creating a professional bureaucracy and standardizing education across France so as to allow for the identification of bright young men from poor families could be tracked into the grandes écoles. In the UK, a big purpose of Cambridge and Oxford was to train smart and ambitious members of middle class to run the empire. Michael Young’s The Rise of the Meritocracy was published in 1958, again well before Ehrenreich, as was William Whyte’s The Organization Man, published in 1956. According to a review by Deborah Popper and Frank Popper, qu in Wikipedia:

[The book] offered a new perspective on how post–World War II American society had redefined itself. Whyte’s 1950s America had replaced the Protestant ethic of individualism and entrepreneurialism with a social ethic that stressed cooperation and management: the individual subsumed within the organization. It was the age of middle management, what Whyte thought of as the rank and file of leadership, whether corporate, governmental, church, or university.

Now to the main event.

By albrt. Originally published at his website

This post attempts to apply principles about identity from previous posts to a current problem.  I’m working my way around to tackling the concept of identity politics, but not quite there yet.  To review:

Western cultures have assumed for a long time that individuals have something called an identity, but social scientists didn’t really start asking questions about how individual identity works until the mid-twentieth century.  Erik Erikson had a lot to say about the development of individual identities, but he also pointed out that identity is not just an individual problem. Widespread identity issues tend to go hand-in-hand with social and political instability, when too many young people are not finding satisfactory options to build an identity they can live with.

Erikson said that identity takes shape in late adolescence (maybe into early adulthood if the process is difficult) based on multiple factors. Some of the most important are childhood experience, individual capacities, available ideologies, and available roles. Of these variables, ideology is a wild card because a new (or old) ideology can unexpectedly become available to the individual much more easily than any of the other variables can be changed.

Setting aside value judgments about particular ideologies and roles, Erikson (and most psych professionals since) thought it was important for an individual to develop a strong identity in order to be happy and productive.  Having a strong identity does not mean you are locked in and can never change—in the post-enlightenment West, having the identity of an open-minded person should be a perfectly fine option.  What matters is that you become comfortable and confident enough with your identity that you can stop behaving like an insecure adolescent and focus on adult things like personal relationships, community, or work.

But . . . this process sometimes goes wrong, especially at difficult periods in history. If a young person was having trouble building an identity and the issues became acute, Erikson called it an “identity crisis.” Such crises occur fairly regularly in young people, but they seemed to occur even more regularly starting in the 1960s and 70s. In the current version of Western culture, some people might even have incentives to interfere with the development of strong identities on a mass basis.  They might want to manipulate the masses with all-consuming ideologies that substitute for a strong individual identity, or they might want to sell identity boosting products to insecure people throughout their lifetimes, and not just be limited to selling pop songs and weird haircuts to tweens and teens.

This brings us to the subject of today’s post—the social group widely known as the Professional Managerial Class (“PMC”), a group which has suffered a few different identity crises on a widespread basis.  The PMC was christened by Barbara and John Ehrenreich in a 1977 article called The Professional Managerial Class in a small journal called Radical AmericaRadical America during this period did not contain a copyright notice and appears to be in the public domain, so I’m going to quote from the article very liberally.  It’s a terrific article and cannot easily be improved upon 46 years later.  You should read it.

Radical America assumes some degree of familiarity with Marxist ideas, so here is a superficial review for those who came in late.  Marxists generally believe that society is divided into two classes:  the owners of the means of production are the bourgeoisie, and everybody else who must sell their labor to survive are the proletariat.  Marxists have always debated how to categorize people who seem to be in between.  The most established category of tweeners is the petty (or petite) bourgeoisie, who in the 19th century were basically mini-capitalists such as shopkeepers, tradesmen, and small property holders.

The editors of Radical America introduced the Ehrenreichs’ PMC concept this way:

Various groups on the Left have either classified professionals and managers as part of the petty bourgeoisie or else have described them as part of the working class.  But neither of these views is satisfactory.  The term “petty bourgeoisie” is used as a catch-all for non-proletarian, nonbourgeois people . . . .  Yet, the “petty bourgeoisie” properly describes the class of small owners, who have no chance of competing with the big bourgeoisie and are therefore doomed to dwindle in number relative to the population.  Professionals and managers, on the contrary, are a growing segment of society.

The view that society consists solely of a huge working class and a tiny ruling class, however, defines “working class” so inclusively as to make the term strategically useless. . . .  The experience of Left groups in recent years . . . should be ample confirmation of the immense cultural gap that separates the blue- and white-collar working class from the professional and managerial strata out of which a great many college-educated Left activists have come. . . .

In the first section of a two-part article, Barbara and John Ehrenreich postulate the existence of a new class which includes technical, professional and managerial workers in advanced capitalist society, a class antagonistic in certain ways to both capital and the working class.  While we do not feel that the only alternative to a two class theory is one which proclaims this particular “new class”, we think the Ehrenreich’s analysis is important because it forces us to think more precisely about where the Left is coming from and what the class contradictions are in America today.

Even today it is not difficult to find examples of doctrinaire Marxists insisting that the PMC are nothing more than petty bourgeoisie, because many members of the PMC own houses, or something something.  Contrary to the doctrinaire Marxists, I think the PMC concept adds a great deal to classic Marxist analysis.  The Ehrenreichs started out:

The Professional-Managerial Class (“PMC”), as we will define it, cannot be considered a stratum of a broader “class” of “workers” because it exists in an objectively antagonistic relationship to another class of wage earners (whom we shall simply call the “working class”).  Nor can it be considered to be a “residual” class like the petty bourgeoisie; it is a formation specific to the monopoly stage of capitalism.  It is only in the light of this analysis, we believe, that it is possible to understand the role of technical, professional and managerial workers in advanced capitalist society and in the radical movements.

*              *              *

We define the Professional-Managerial Class as consisting of salaried mental workers who do not own the means of production and whose major function in the social division of labor may be described broadly as the reproduction of capitalist culture and capitalist class relations.

Their role in the process of reproduction may be more or less explicit, as with workers who are directly concerned with social control or with the production and propagation of ideology (e.g., teachers, social workers, psychologists, entertainers, writers of advertising copy and TV scripts, etc.). Or it may be hidden within the process of production, as is the case with the middle-level administrators and managers, engineers, and other technical workers whose functions, as [Andre] Gorz, Steve Marglin, Harry Braverman and others have argued, are essentially determined by the need to preserve capitalist relations of production.  Thus we assert that these occupational groups – cultural workers, managers, engineers and scientists, etc. – share a common function in the broad social division of labor and a common relation to the economic foundations of society.

The Ehrenreichs highlighted the inherent antagonism between the proletariat and the PMC:

We should add, at this point, that the antagonism between the PMC and the working class does not exist only in the abstract realm of “objective” relations, of course.  Real-life contacts between the two classes express directly, if sometimes benignly, the relation of control which is at the heart of the PMC–working-class relation: teacher and student (or parent), manager and worker, social worker and client, etc.  The subjective dimension of these contacts is a complex mixture of hostility and deference on the part of working-class people, contempt and paternalism on the part of the PMC.

The interdependent yet antagonistic relationship between the working class and the PMC also leads us to insist that the PMC is a class totally distinct from the petty bourgeoisie (the “old middle class” of artisans, shopkeepers, self-employed professionals and independent farmers).  The classical petty bourgeoisie lies outside the polarity of labor and capital.  It is made up of people who are neither employed by capital nor themselves employers of labor to any significant extent.  The PMC, by contrast, is employed by capital and it manages, controls, has authority over labor (though it does not directly employ it).  The classical petty bourgeoisie is irrelevant to the process of capital accumulation and to the process of reproducing capitalist social relations.  The PMC, by contrast, is essential to both.

The Ehrenreichs recognized that some job categories (they used the example of nurses) can be hard to classify.  Some nurses do hard, dirty work with few supervisory responsibilities while others manage whole departments.  The Ehrenreichs also recognized that 98% of nurses at that time were women, and “their class standing Is, in significant measure, linked to that of their husband.”  Because the boundaries are not always obvious, the definition is important – the PMC is defined by its role in “the reproduction of capitalist culture and capitalist class relations” rather than production of necessary goods.

This definition solves a number of otherwise difficult problems.  For example, doctrinaire Marxists (like the ones linked above) may struggle with the role of teachers because teachers don’t own their means of production, so they don’t easily fit within the petty bourgeoisie label.  Yet most teachers take pains to distinguish themselves from proletarians, and to discourage their students from becoming proletarians.  If the PMC is defined by reproduction of capitalist culture and capitalist class relations, then teachers are obviously central to the PMC mission.  The core of their job is to determine what class each member of the next generation will belong to, to teach them how to relate to the other classes, and to encourage young proletarians to become members of the PMC if they seem to have the ability.

If you care a lot about doctrinaire Marxism, it is possible to analyze the PMC as petty bourgeoisie by reifying the concept of social capital, and arguing that the PMC are owners and purveyors of this valuable social capital.  The idea has merit, and potentially explains some things such as the reactionary tendencies of the PMC when defending their socio-political turf.  I don’t necessarily reject the idea that the PMC acts like a petty bourgeoisie because it holds social capital, but I think the idea provides us with less analytical firepower than the Ehrenreich framework, at least for the issues I am trying to get at right now.

The idea of a buffer class between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat was certainly not new with the Ehrenreichs, and earlier writers recognized that some of the members of this class were not strictly limited to owners of land or small businesses.  As Lenin wrote in 1920:

The divergence between “leaders” and “masses” was brought out with particular clarity and sharpness in all countries at the end of the imperialist war and following it.  The principal reason for this was explained many times by Marx and Engels between the years 1852 and 1892, from the example of Britain.  That country’s exclusive position led to the emergence, from the “masses”, of a semi–petty-bourgeois, opportunist “labour aristocracy”.  The leaders of this labour aristocracy were constantly going over to the bourgeoisie, and were directly or indirectly on its pay roll.  Marx earned the honour of incurring the hatred of these disreputable persons by openly branding them as traitors. . . .

*              *              *

The abolition of classes means, not merely ousting the landowners and the capitalists—that is something we accomplished with comparative ease; it also means abolishing the small commodity producers, and they cannot be ousted, or crushed; we must learn to live with them.  They can (and must) be transformed and re-educated only by means of very prolonged, slow, and cautious organisational work.  They surround the proletariat on every side with a petty-bourgeois atmosphere, which permeates and corrupts the proletariat, and constantly causes among the proletariat relapses into petty-bourgeois spinelessness, disunity, individualism, and alternating moods of exaltation and dejection.  The strictest centralisation and discipline are required within the political party of the proletariat in order to counteract this, in order that the organisational role of the proletariat (and that is its principal role) may be exercised correctly, successfully and victoriously.1

Lenin was grouping all the tweeners together, but it seems pretty clear some of the people he was describing were the predecessors of the PMC.  Another pre-1977 view comes from George Orwell’s 1937 book The Road to Wigan Pier (Harcourt Brace ed. 1958), where he discusses his own upbringing in the “lower-upper-middle class”:

Practically the whole family income goes in keeping up appearances.  It is obvious that people of this kind are in an anomalous position, and one might be tempted to write them off as mere exceptions and therefore unimportant.  Actually, however, they are or were fairly numerous.  Most clergymen and schoolmasters, for instance, nearly all Anglo-Indian officials, a sprinkling of soldiers and sailors,2 and a fair number of professional men and artists, fall into this category.  But the real importance of this class is that they are the shock-absorbers of the bourgeoisie.  The real bourgeoisie, those in the £2000 a year class and over, have their money as a thick layer of padding between themselves and the class they plunder; in so far as they are aware of the Lower Orders at all they are aware of them as employees, servants, and tradesmen.  But it is quite different for the poor devils lower down who are struggling to live genteel lives on what are virtually working-class incomes.  These last are forced into close and, in a sense, intimate contact with the working class, and I suspect it is from them that the traditional upper-class attitude towards ‘common’ people is derived. Wigan Pier at 124-25.

*              *              *

In such circumstances you have got to cling to your gentility because it is the only thing you have; and meanwhile you are hated for your stuck-up-ness and for the accent and manners which stamp you as one of the boss class. . . .

The analytical leap that the Ehrenreichs made was not the recognition that a buffer class existed, or that it was often antagonistic to the working class.  The big leap was to point out that the composition of the buffer class had changed in an important way since the 19th century, and as a result the PMC was experiencing spectacular growth rather than dying out as Marx had expected the petty bourgeoisie to do.  The Ehrenreichs wrote in some detail about the development of the PMC over time.

The role of the emerging PMC . . . was to mediate the basic class conflict of capitalist society and create a “rational,” reproducible social order. . . .  Many people, of all classes, subscribed to parts of this outlook and stood to benefit one way or another from the Progressive reforms which were associated with it.  For our purposes, the striking things about Progressive ideology and reforms are (1) their direct and material contribution to the creation and expansion of professional and managerial occupational slots; (2) their intimate relation to the emergence and articulation of the PMC’s characteristic ideologies; and (3) their association with the creation of characteristic PMC class institutions (such as professional organizations).

*              *              *

The introduction of modern methods of management was a reform which was understood by contemporary observers to be part of the overall Progressive cause.  In fact, scientific management first became known to the public as a tool for the Progressive attack on corporate greed: In the “Eastern Rates” case of 1911, the Interstate Commerce Commission turned down an increase in railroad rates after scientific-management expert H. Emerson testified that proper management would cut a million dollars a day off the cost of rail shipments.

In short, the PMC is defined by its expertise, and the Ehrenreichs described how belief in expertise was raised to the level of an ideology.

Erik Erikson summarized his working definition of ideology as “a highly charged attitude rooted essentially in a general need for a world view coherent enough to attract one’s total commitment and to render forever unnecessary the upsetting swings in mood and opinion which once [in adolescence] accompanied identity confusion.”  Erik Erikson, Life History and the Historical Moment at 258 (W.W. Norton 1975).  Ideology in this sense does not need to be expressly political, it just needs to be convincing enough to form a solid foundation for adult relationships and effort.  So how satisfactory was the PMC ideology from an individual identity standpoint?  The Ehrenreichs were alreadu noting signs of trouble in 1977:

Paul Sweezy has argued that the basic test of whether two families belong to the same class or not is the freedom with which they intermarry.  The children of PMC members do overwhelmingly tend to marry within the class; marriage “‘down” to the working class or “‘up” to the ruling class is comparatively infrequent. In line with the frequency of intermarriage, the class exhibits a substantial degree of intergenerational stability: children of PMC families are more than twice as likely as children of working class families to themselves enter PMC occupations.

Moreover, the class is characterized by a common “culture” or lifestyle.  The interior life of the class is shaped by the problem of class reproduction.  Unlike ruling-class occupations, PMC occupations are never directly hereditary:  The son of the Chairman of the Board may expect to become a successful businessman (or at least a wealthy one) more or less by growing up; the son of a research scientist knows he can only hope to achieve a similar position through continuous effort.  Traditionally, much of this effort has come from the women of the class.  Since, according to psychologists, a child’s future achievement is determined by the nuances of its early upbringing, women of the class have been expected to stay home and “specialize” in childraising.  Both sexes, however, are expected to perform well in school and attend good colleges, for it is at college that young men acquire the credentials for full class membership and young women acquire, in addition to their own degrees, credentialed husbands.

As a result of the anxiety about class reproduction, all of the ordinary experiences of life – growing up, giving birth, childraising-are freighted with an external significance unknown in other classes.  Private life thus becomes too arduous to be lived in private; the inner life of the PMC must be continously shaped, updated and revised by – of course – ever mounting numbers of experts: experts in childraising, family living, sexual fulfillment, self-realization, etc., etc.  The very insecurity of the class, then, provides new ground for class expansion.

The PMC is capable of expanding at the expense of the other two classes by constantly identifying social and technical problems, and creating new experts to solve them.  That gives the PMC a class interest distinct from the interests of either the bourgeoisie or the proletariat.  The cultural component of capitalism is precisely the product that the PMC is in charge of producing under the Ehrenreich definition, so to some extent they should control their own destiny.  But it isn’t a durable product so it needs constant care and maintenance.

The “anxiety about class reproduction” has only grown since 1977, and the “insecurity” has blossomed among PMC offspring.  The Ehrenreichs noted in a 2013 follow-up article:

But the PMC was not only a victim of more powerful groups.  It had also fallen into a trap of its own making.  The prolonged, expensive, and specialized education required for professional employment had always been a challenge to PMC families—as well, of course, as an often insuperable barrier to the working class.  If the children of the PMC were to achieve the same class status as their parents, they had to be accustomed to obedience in the classroom and long hours of study.  They had to be disciplined students while, ideally, remaining capable of critical and creative thinking.  Thus the “reproduction” of the class required a considerable parental (usually maternal) investment—encouraging good study habits, helping with homework, arranging tutoring (and SAT preparation), and stimulating curiosity about academically approved subjects.

KLG, in a guest post at Naked Capitalism, expressed this feeling a little more bluntly in a review of Catherine Liu’s The Virtue Hoarders:  the Case Against the Professional Managerial Class:

The “good enough” mother and father are likely to produce a human being who will grow into a mature adult who is at one with the world.  The perfect helicopter parent often produces fear and misery, which with lucky outcomes will not lead to catastrophe.  But few of those bathed in the backwash of that rotor, however outwardly successful, are likely to ever be fully independent.

I have no children and very few opinions about children, so I will not predict how the youth of today are likely to turn out, but I will say that perfectionism honed through an often arbitrary meritocracy does not seem like an easy ideology to integrate into a strong individual identity, at least for a human.  Perhaps Chat GPT will eventually do better at it.

Aside from the operational part of the PMC ideology that instructs how to be a good professional, there is also the political or philosophical part that describes what PMCs believe would be normatively good outcomes for society.  The Ehrenreichs assumed that the normative part of the PMC ideology would be rational as the Ehrenreichs understood rationality in 1977—something along the lines of “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”  Instead the PMC gradually moved more and more toward the neoliberal version of rationality—something along the lines of “him who grabs the fastest gets the mostest.”  In her book Fear of Falling, the Inner Life of the Middle Class (Harper Perennial ed. 1989), Barbara Ehrenreich wrote that her theme was “the retreat from liberalism and the rise, in the professional middle class, of a meaner, more selfish outlook, hostile to the aspirations of those less fortunate.”  Fear of Falling at 3.  It is not clear to me that this was inevitable, but it certainly happened among the PMC in the United States and it seems to have metastasized to much of the Western world.

By 1989, Ehrenreich maintained that the PMC had achieved class consciousness, aware “of being a class among others, and, ultimately, of being an elite above others. . . .  [T]his emerging self-image has led to . . . the adoption of the kind of political outlook appropriate to an elite, which is a conservative outlook, and ultimately indifferent to the nonelite majority.”  Fear of Falling at 11.  Yet “[i]f this is an elite, it is an insecure and deeply anxious one.  It is afraid, like any class below the most securely wealthy, of misfortunes that might lead to a downward slide.  But in the middle class there is another anxiety:  a fear of inner weakness, of growing soft, of failing to strive, of losing discipline and will.”  Id. at 15.

By this point Ehrenreich had also changed her definitions, writing about the professional middle class and defining the class in terms of education rather than economic and political function.  Her powers of observation remained sharp and her descriptions of propaganda, prevailing narratives, and shifting allegiances are well worth reading, but she largely abandoned the insights that made the original 1977 article so useful.  Interestingly, the Ehrenreichs originally argued that the PMC could not be considered part of the petty bourgeoisie because the PMC was growing, while Marxist doctrine called for the petty bourgeoisie to be squashed and proletarianized by competition from the big-time capitalists.  But in their 2013 article, the Ehrenreichs argued that substantial portions of the PMC were being squashed and proletarianized after all.

By the time of the financial meltdown and deep recession of the post-2008 period, the pain inflicted by neoliberal policies, both public and corporate, extended well beyond the old industrial working class and into core segments of the PMC.  Unemployed and underemployed professional workers—from IT to journalism, academia, and eventually law—became a regular feature of the social landscape.  Young people did not lose faith in the value of an education, but they learned quickly that it makes more sense to study finance rather than physics or “communications” rather than literature.  The old PMC dream of a society rule by impartial “experts” gave way to the reality of inescapable corporate domination.

While it is true that some professions have suffered setbacks, the PMC as the Ehrenreichs originally defined it continues to expand as professional qualifications are demanded of more and more of the American workforce.  The Ehrenreichs recognized this in their 2013 article, but they argued that college educated workers had become more of a “demographic category” than a class capable of making history by participating in a materialist dialectic.  The Ehrenreichs seemed to have lost track of their original PMC definition—if you want to know whether college educated workers are part of the PMC, the question to ask is whether they are engaged in reproducing capitalist culture and capitalist class relations rather than producing necessary goods?  I would say mostly yes.  Certainly not very many of them are working on farms or moving to China where most of the factories are now located.

The fact is, the PMC is continuing to grow in numbers, but it is not achieving socialism, and it is also not achieving the liberal/neoliberal dream of enlarging the PMC’s share of the economic pie or delivering good economic outcomes to all the little PMCs who work hard and hew to the PMC line.  The PMC ideology was difficult for many people to incorporate into a firm identity to begin with, and now it is failing outright because the credentialing process does not reliably produce acceptable role opportunities for individuals.

So how did the PMC go wrong?  They’re still the buffer between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, but they seem to be losing a lot of the practical and political power they once had, and many of them are losing ground economically, especially the younger ones.  For one thing, at the same time the PMC was struggling with identity issues, they were running into a buzz saw of political opposition.  As the Ehrenreichs wrote in their 2013 article:

The right embraced a caricature of this notion of a “new class,” proposing that college-educated professionals— especially lawyers, professors, journalists, and artists—make up a power-hungry “liberal elite” bent on imposing its version of socialism on everyone else.

This gets right to the heart of what has happened in American politics since 1980.  The bourgeoisie figured out that they could kneecap the smart alec PMC experts politically with a caricature that is really not all that much of a caricature.  The PMC are the bossy gatekeepers that everybody hates, and they have lost most vestiges of their (real or feigned) mid-twentieth century concern for the welfare of the proletariat.  The current PMC pretty uniformly regards the working class as deplorable.

As the Ehrenreichs pointed out in 1977, “[e]very effort to mediate class conflict and ‘rationalize’ capitalism served to create new institutionalized roles for reformers – i.e., to expand the PMC.”  The essence of the PMC ideology is a giant jobs program for bureaucrats and experts, not socialism that would benefit the poor or subsistence workers. If you substitute “PMC managerialism” for the word socialism in right-wing rhetoric, then the proletarian/deplorable reaction to a lot of things starts to be a little bit more understandable.  Every issue that is dear to the PMC, from climate change to forced diversity, can be interpreted by the working class as just another excuse for the PMC to boss the working class around (and possibly also to boss the capitalists around a little bit if the PMC succeeds in imposing new rules and government departments to enforce the rules).

Of course, there are many compelling ways of describing the political and economic divisions in the United States today.  Chris Arnade (and Lambert at Naked Capitalism) have used a classroom analogy to characterize the friction as being between “back row kids” and “front row kids.”  This certainly has some truth to it, but (as Lambert acknowledges), it leaves the bourgeoisie out of the picture. I think the PMC class analysis gives us a more detailed framework, providing more insight into widespread motives, actions, and consequences.  I plan to keep plugging away to demonstrate the usefulness of these concepts, but today’s post needs to end somewhere.

So what have I learned from writing this down?

First, calling the PMC a class is analytically useful.  Per the Ehrenreichs’ 1977 definition, the PMC consists of “salaried mental workers who do not own the means of production and whose major function in the social division of labor may be described broadly as the reproduction of capitalist culture and capitalist class relations.”  The PMC has identifiable class interests and is at least somewhat conscious of itself as a class. The position of the PMC has some inherent challenges and contradictions based on class interests that are inherently adverse to both the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.

Second, the ideology and reproductive strategy of the PMC for the last 30 years has created additional challenges for individual members of the PMC.  The PMC ideology is enervating for many people, and aspiring PMC youth cannot count on achieving satisfactory roles even if they comply with all the practical and ideological demands.

Third, the PMC is minimally organized as a class and acts in its own class interest only in the very broadest terms.  It is second nature for the PMC to view creating more rules and more PMC jobs enforcing those rules as the solution to every problem, but the PMC appear to have no competent class leadership or strategy to keep the proliferating PMC jobs from being devalued and proletarianized.  They are being squeezed economically, and we are going through a phase where neither the bourgeoisie nor the proletariat is listening to the PMC’s expert pronouncements.  In fact, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat seem to be uniting behind, of all people, the anti-expert, Donald Trump!

Fourth, as Erik Erikson explained, a mismatch between the expectations of young people and the ideologies and roles being offered to them goes hand in hand with instability.  Based on the PMC’s current inability to reproduce itself effectively and its increasingly antagonistic relationship with the proletariat, the PMC may be contributing more to the downfall of a balanced and prosperous capitalist order than to reproducing it.


Hat tip to Lambert at Naked Capitalism for a recent and serendipitous link to this document.


Orwell raises an interesting question about whether the police and the military should be included in the PMC.  The Ehrenreichs mentioned the police several times in their 1977 article, but not the military.  The Ehrenreichs state that the PMC

is in a sense a derivative class; its existence presupposes:  (1) that the social surplus has developed to a point sufficient to sustain the PMC in addition to the bourgeoisie, for the PMC is essentially nonproductive; and (2) that the relationship between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat has developed to the point that a class specializing in the reproduction of capitalist class relationships becomes a necessity to the capitalist class.  That is, the maintenance of order can no longer be left to episodic police violence.

We certainly seem to be seeing a great deal of sympathy among the PMC for military officers and intelligence agencies these days, if not for local police per se.  Perhaps the answer is that when policing activity becomes less episodically violent and more continuous and surveillance-oriented, then at least some of the police have entered the PMC.

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  1. zagonostra

    The PMC has identifiable class interests and is at least somewhat conscious of itself as a class…the PMC is minimally organized as a class and acts in its own class interest only in the very broadest terms.

    Although I agree that “calling the PMC a class is analytically useful,” I don’t think it is “self conscious” in any meaningful way, one which would lead to some organized action having the capacity to create or shift public policy in its self-interest.

    I think both WWI and WWII have historical borne out that nationalist, ethnic, religious, racial, and other group identities can be used by Power Elites [use your own favorite term] to dislodge/sublimate class-based identity – I wish it were otherwise.

    1. albrt

      I agree that the PMC is not self-conscious in any useful way, but they seem very conscious of being different from and superior to the working class, and of being entitled to different treatment on that basis.

      1. digi_owl

        Lately i have come to wonder if we are seeing something similar to bastard feudalism, where those that wore some lords livery sometimes got drunk on the authority that afforded them. With the modern corporate logo replacing the livery of old.

    2. Paleobotanist

      I have always thought of PMC = noblesse de robe and our oligarchic elites = noblesse d’épée.
      By this I mean that the origins of the proto-PMC are quite old. Looking at them in this way does convey the quite strict endogamy practiced by the PMC (and perhaps the elites).

    3. Lambert Strether

      >Although I agree that “calling the PMC a class is analytically useful,” I don’t think it is “self conscious” in any meaningful way, one which would lead to some organized action having the capacity to create or shift public policy in its self-interest.

      Quite the contrary. The “organized action having the capacity to create or shift public policy in its self-interest” even has a name: RussiaGate, and its various hideoous post-2016 progency. As I wrote in ““What It Took”: The Price of Democrat Victory in 2020” (2020):

      1) The PMC attained class consciousness. As Thomas Frank has shown (Listen, Liberal!), the PMC has replaced the working class as the Democrat Party base[1]. During the period 2016-2020, the PMC, collectively, experienced Trump’s election as literal, actual trauma (as pain, as an energy suck, as constant stress, as depression, etc. Parents wept to tell their children, and so forth. That the burden of such trauma is — with respect to the post-traumatic stress disorder suffered by, say, soldiers. abuse victims, or the homeless — quite slight may lead some — well, me — to mock it (“How was brunch?”), but the trauma is deeply felt and real). Importantly, as Steve Randy Waldman has urged, the class position — and hence the class consciousness — of the PMC is marked by “predatory precarity“; the predation comes from what a professional must do to maintain their class position in a financialized economy driven by rent-seeking; the precarity comes from the fact that their class position is maintained, not by the ownership of capital, or the inheritance of a title, but by expensive “positional goods” like credentials. Trump’s right-wing populism, with its distrust of experts — the same meritorious experts whose Esq.s were on every foreclosure notice or dunning letter, and whose M.D.s were on every surprise medical bill — struck directly at both exposed nerves. Not only might they not be consulted on how best to rule, their very credentials might turn out to be worthless. Hence the rage, the fear, the hate, certainly universally expressed in the press, but also in such organizations as Indivisible, the Women’s March, etc. The PMC as a class came to consciousness screaming Make it stop!

      (As I point out here, Trump even invaded their dreams.) Tomasky give a fine example of the screaming, which hasn’t let up for eight years, quoted in Water Cooler here: “For me and for most of my friends—and I’m guessing for you—the Trump presidency was daily hell for four years…. The pain and outrage never let up until shortly before noon on January 20, 2021. That was life inside my bubble. ”

      And then came RussiaGate. This was written in 2020, when we didn’t know much that we know now. Nevertheless, the broad outlines were clear:

      2) The PMC was and is embubbled by a domestic psyop. Make it stop! was, however, followed hard upon by I didn’t do it! Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes, in Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign, describes how Robbie Mook deployed RussiaGate to delegitimize the newly elected President in a meeting with the rest of the defeated Clinton camp the day after Election Day 2016. RussiaGate became the Goebbelsian propaganda operation that it was — if there had been anything to it, Pelosi would have impeached Trump for it, Mueller Report or no[2] — through an unholy alliance of the Democrat Party apparatus, the intelligence community, and the press. All were variously motivated — “There in stately splendor, far removed from the squalid village below, they fight their petty battles over power and money” (Bob and Ray) — but the effect on the PMC was extraordinary: To this very day, any opposing or dissenting force to the liberal Democrat orthodoxy of the day can be dismissed with a one-liner about Putin! I’ve never seen anything like it.[3] Both (1) and (2) combined to drive turnout, voluntering, donations, and everything else. (That the Democrat base is too slim to rule on its own is another issue entirely.)

      Today I would write “self-embubbled,” or “auto-embubbled,” but the reflexive nature of the process is clear enough from the personnel and their actions.

      1. albrt

        Thanks Lambert. The questions around PMC class-consciousness overlap with the issue of whether the PMC should be considered a class or a caste, and I think the questions are really quite difficult. Certainly caste seems a better description of how members of today’s PMC act and view the world, but I think it is necessary to consider the PMC’s class position and interests in order to determine why the things the PMC does are not working out very well, and to make predictions about what might happen next.

  2. Feral Finster

    “3. Ehrenreich has a significant body of work, so perhaps she covers it. But to me, the origins of the Professional Managerial Class lie in Napoleon creating a professional bureaucracy and standardizing education across France so as to allow for the identification of bright young men from poor families could be tracked into the grandes écoles. In the UK, a big purpose of Cambridge and Oxford was to train smart and ambitious members of middle class to run the empire. Michael Young’s The Rise of the Meritocracy was published in 1958, again well before Ehrenreich, as was William Whyte’s The Organization Man, published in 1956.”

    Add James Burnham “The Managerial State” to the list.

    1. Cat Burglar

      It goes back some way. In History And Class Consciousness Lukacs annexed Weber’s idea of the rational organization of state and social relations by a bureaucracy to the Marxist model as a necessary step in increasing production and also routinizing social relations, creating the social illusion of a natural-like fixity and fatality in society and politics, ending in the loss of any revolutionary political consciousness.

      The Ehrenreichs had been SDS activists in the 1960s, and by the time of their 1977 article, they were reflecting on the demise of the Movement as they saw their peers head into conventional liberalism and middle class life. Their US generation seems to have experienced the 60s as a period of political disjunction, where they were unwilling to take up their role in reproducing the relations of power that had produced the Vietnam War (for one). In France, one of the earliest versions of the PMC idea was that students were being trained to become “knowledge workers,” were part of the working class, and therefore there should be worker-student unity working toward a self-managed society — and in May 1968, with the entire country on strike, it came as close to happening as it ever has.

      1. albrt

        Thanks for this. Lukacs:

        The movements of these intermediate strata are truly spontaneous and they are nothing but spontaneous. They really are nothing more than the fruits of the natural forces of society obedient to ‘natural laws’. As such they are themselves socially-blind. These strata have no class consciousness that might have any bearing on the remoulding of society. As a result of this they always represent particular class interests which do not even pretend to be the objective interests of the whole of society.

        Remarkably prescient. The PMC are by nature “corrupt, bureaucratised and revolutionarily unreliable elements.”

        1. Cat Burglar

          No surprise then, that identity politics, as administered by the Dems, is political particularism. It is designed that way to divide the electorate into competing groups.

    2. Lambert Strether

      It’s unfortunate that we have to rely so heavily on PMC self-reflection for class analysis of the PMC (from historians, sociologists, political scientists, etc.). I do not exempt myself from this!

      On Cambridge and Oxford, I would add C. Northcote Parkinson’s wry Parkinson’s Law.

      “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion” (original; lots of misquotes on this). I don’t think that applies to, say, a railroad engineer or a fast food worker, but it certainly applies to the PMC*. The insurance industry provides a prime example.

      NOTE * To be fair, I think the Law might not apply to anybody who, by virtue of their social position, understands the time value of money, i.e. capital. So the Law provides a rather neat heuristic or litmus test.

      UPDATE It’s even more unfortunate that we have to rely on PMC self-reflection because as we have seen, they are very, very bad at it.

  3. Michael Fiorillo

    “Yet most teachers take pains to distinguish themselves from proletarians.”

    The UFT (United Federation of Teachers) in NYC, the largest local union in the US, also includes nurses, social workers, occupational and physical therapists, etc., inside and outside the schools. Its tag line is “A Union of Professionals.”

    1. JonnyJames

      Yes, many do identify as such, but a significant number do not: at least the professors, teachers and other academics I have worked with in California and Europe don’t. I certainly don’t identify as the PMC. Those that do, must have some sort of psychological, social inferiority, or hierarchy issues. From an economic perspective, teachers, professors, etc. are clearly NOT management, they are employee-workers. Having a higher education does not alter that fact. Academics have no managerial/hierarchical power.

      The authoritarian, top-heavy and over-paid administration (management) of colleges, universities, public schools etc. treat faculty like subordinate workers and have little respect for expertise or teaching ability.

      Given the cost of higher education, academics and teachers are paid a pittance, one is never going to make any decent money as an educator. So perhaps to feel more important, educators fancy themselves as part of the PMC and not working class. Also, social indoctrination facilitates the identity of educators as distinct from “the proletariat”. I know plumbers and electricians who make much more than academics and teachers.

      Having said that, the indoctrination may not be enough. One example, after the Sept. 11, 1973 assassination of Salvador Allende and the installation of Pinochet in Chile, many teachers and academics were targeted for murder, many were “disappeared” as well. If the teachers were compliant members of the PMC, perhaps they would not have to be murdered and could be used as a buffer against the working-class. (The “guardian class”) They would identify as PMC and be a natural ally of the capitalist/authoritarian state.

      1. JBird4049

        >>>If the teachers were compliant members of the PMC, perhaps they would not have to be murdered and could be used as a buffer against the working-class. (The “guardian class”) They would identify as PMC and be a natural ally of the capitalist/authoritarian state.

        The spread of DEI and other ideas into higher education even among the teachers might be considered as a means of keeping them and their students from the working class even if economically they are poor. How the adjuncts who taught me have been paid and generally treated is bad. But even if they want to be part of the working class, their ideas might keep them separated.

        1. JonnyJames

          I don’t agree: Lambert, then why did the Pinochet regime (and other authoritarian regimes) murder academics and teachers?

          How can one be a capitalist or PMC if you make less than working-class wage?
          If you identify with a group, you will be more likely to act in its interests

          If you teach anti-capitalist, anti-establishment material and criticize the status-quo, how can that be acting in the interests of the PMC?

          1. hk

            I think this is where “ideology” (defined slightly differently from Erikson’s) comes in: teachers and academics, as well as other “ideologically motivated” PMC would not suborn themselves to a regime that is too openly different from themselves: one important distinction between Biden and W regimes is that the imperialism and warmongering by the former drew praise from many members of the “liberal” PMC while the latter drew opprobrium, even if they are fundamentally alike. The same is true with domestic issues: Obamacare good, Romneycare bad…even if they are literally identical

            1. JBird4049

              Accents, dress, vocabulary, preferred terms, religion, your very body, all indicate class or social position, clique, native state, race, even age in the United States. It might not as accurate as it was fifty years, and it is never as precise as the British have it, but it is definitely there.

              I think that Americans, along with the “there is no class” horse manure, have also blinded themselves to a conscious seeing and hearing of all the tells that identify a person. But unconsciously, it is all there and we all react to it.

              But ask your self, if you meet a group of people for whatever reason, how hard is it to identity the most likely teacher, government apparatchik, police officer, office worker, laborer, student, baker, bus driver, upper middle class PMC, waitress, coal miner, and what part of the country, even what state or city, if you are good with accents they are from?

              It is automatic and goes straight into your subconscious, and from there it colors how your treat them, without any conscious thought. Any of them could be saying the exact same sentence about whatever, but how credulous or respectful you are is likely very different. Obamacare and Romneycare got very different receptions.

              The same with the various wars of the past three decades or the various expansions of the security state. It depended on who was doing the proposals as to how they were received.

              1. hk

                I think that’s a different, orthogonal problem. What I am getting at (and underscored by several of Aurelien’s writings) is that PMC, as a class, is committed to symbolism rather than substance: ie Obamacare is infinitely better, to Romneycare because of the symbolism, even if they are identical in substance. Pretty much all “permitted” politics focuses on symbols and performance, every the would-be-actors fleeing as soon as they have to take responsibility–eg GOP keeps “repealing” Obamacare as long as whatever they do doesn’t matter and Dems keep milking Roe v Wade but do nothing.

                What do these performative acts add up to? Well, they are opium for the “masses,” or so they hope, I suppose, in the manner Marx described it originally. Politics of “class,” I think are fundamentally about the substance–about how the resources are divided up and for whose benefit they are used. Symbolic and performative politics exist to obfuscate the substance.

                This brings us back, I suppose, to identifiers of “class.” The consequence of the obsession with “diversity” today, especially in the US context, I suspect, that we have created too many “classes,” with too many cultural cues serving as signifiers of class distinction that are, quite frankly, made of whole cloth. I suppose, in this sense, just repeated the point Cat Burglar made (and long made by folks like Adolph Reed as well).

                What I wonder is how long this facade of performative politics that neglects the substance endure, especially when there is genuine discontent arising from different corners about the state of “substance.”. The emerging discontent does not have a “direction”: it recognizes priblems and that the political status quo is incapable of delivering a way out, but the discontented themselves cannot formulate a way out…well because it is a genuinely hard problem. In an ideal world, we’d want to stop the act, put together a working meeting of “substantive people” behind closed doors (to shut the “performers” up), and try to figure out the problems and what to do about them. But the truth is that we don’t know how to even begin–and you hear about how “democravy dies in darkness” (whereas I am convinced that it dies under bright lights of a performing stage). At any rate, no one would and should trust meetings behind closed doors unless those doing the meeting have earned serious credibility from “communities” through real deeds…and we hardly have communities let alone “communal trust.”.

                1. JonnyJames

                  “…I think are fundamentally about the substance–about how the resources are divided up and for whose benefit they are used. Symbolic and performative politics exist to obfuscate the substance…”

                  I agree, that’s what it all boils down to.

                    1. Lambert Strether

                      > PMC = performative managerial class.

                      The ceremony in which the diploma representing a degree is conferred is, in the exact technical sense, performative (words that change reality, in the sense that the words “I do” in a marriage ceremony changes reality).

                      (The diploma and degree being a fine example of the accumulation of symbolic capital, and the networking done during the educational process a fine example of the accumulation of social capital.)

          2. lambert strether

            Claim: To identify as a capitalist doesn’t make me a capitalist.

            If you want “identify as” do the work you want it to do, then disprove that claim.

            1. Dan

              I think many members of the PMC deny they are such. I am a PMC and am fine with it, because that is where the money is.

              My question is – do you recognize that the writers of this blog are members of the PMC and they act as such?

            2. JonnyJames

              I’m disappointed in your response Lambert, you don’t address my points, oh well. Not a very convincing retort. We’ll just disagree on this one

              1. Yves Smith Post author

                Sorry, Lambert is right. The onus is on you to prove the claim, particularly since there are tons of people who do identify with the PMC who have precariat status. Start with adjuncts and many other non-tenured academics.

      2. Roop Dogg

        I certainly agree – in the UK, the teaching profession has polarised, with ‘leadership’ or ‘management’ adopting the tics and fetishes of the PMC: the creepy smiles, jargon, dress code, love of homework, and generation of spreadsheets, graphs and other performance metrics. There seems to be more and more of them and they spend less and less time in the classroom and more and more time emailing or in meetings. Meanwhile, it’s as if somewhere, at PMC headquarters, grunt or front line teachers have been classified as working class, with increasingly coercive performance management, heavier workloads, more extreme pay disparity and responsibility for unthinkingly implementing the products of managerial navel gazing/blue sky brainchildren. Relative exposure to COVID since the pandemic also makes clear which boxes we have been sorted into.

        1. JonnyJames

          Exactly, more coercive management, extreme pay disparity etc.
          It looks like this is part of the financialization and privatization of education and it is running apace.

          I may be biased since I have a hostile relationship with “administration” (management) and I have been vocal about it with colleagues, students etc. Although not the majority of faculty, I am certainly not alone. That is not acting in the interests of the PMC, quite the contrary.

  4. Vicky Cookies

    Brilliant analysis, albrt. Thank you for the expertise I can now peddle, and perhaps create a position for myself with!

    The precarious position of the PMC can be seen in the DEI initiatives, which, once they ceased to serve the bourgeoisie as a shield from accusations of racism, began to come under attack. Big capital often mobilizes segments of the working class, those with an inspired hatred for their PMC priests, to advance big capitals interest at the expense of the PMC.

    There is some hope in the proletarianization of chunks of the PMC; Peter Turchins theory of ‘elite overproduction’ tells us that the declasse elite, or proletarianized PMC sometimes ally with their new class and participate in or lead movements.

    The remaining, core segments of the PMC would then likely become more and more conservative, returning to the traditional role of the priestly class: justifying and naturalizing power relations, without that pesky radicalism.

    1. Lambert Strether

      > Peter Turchins theory of ‘elite overproduction’ tells us that the declasse elite, or proletarianized PMC sometimes ally with their new class and participate in or lead movements.

      Worth noting that the French Revolution of 1789 was driven in significant part by provincial lawyers (and journalists). Lenin was a lawyer, and indeed the Bolsheviks were conceived of as a party of professional revolutionaries. From links earlier this month:

      The importance of a mass movement MR Online. Commentary:

      It is common knowledge that the masses are divided into classes, that the masses can be contrasted with classes only by contrasting the vast majority in general, regardless of division according to status in the social system of production, with categories holding a definite status in the social system of production; that as a rule and in most cases—at least in present-day civilised countries—classes are led by political parties; that political parties, as a general rule, are run by more or less stable groups composed of the most authoritative, influential and experienced members, who are elected to the most responsible positions, and are called leaders. All this is elementary. All this is clear and simple. Why replace this with some kind of rigmarole, some new Volapük?

      — V. I. Lenin, “Left-Wing” Communism: an Infantile Disorder (1920). The only other place I’ve encountered the word “Volapük” is William Gibson’s Spook Country. Not sure what to make of that.

      It may be that the professionalism of the Bolsheviks had ulimately tragic consequences*, though there’s no denying their initial success in terms of taking power from the Romanovs.

      NOTE * I don’t even know what to read on this, given that Russia studies are so polluted by neo-cons.

      1. Daniil Adamov

        “It may be that the professionalism of the Bolsheviks had ulimately tragic consequences*, though there’s no denying their initial success in terms of taking power from the Romanovs. ”

        Well, for one thing, they didn’t take power from the Romanovs. They took the power from the Provisional Government (which was a coalition that came to be dominated by professional left-wing revolutionaries of a more democratic stripe by the time of the Bolshevik coup; Kerensky was one of those French-style revolutionary lawyers, for example).

        As of when the Romanovs were overthrown, the Bolsheviks were politically insignificant in Russia; they were a marginal party, their leaders mostly in exile or deep in the underground, with little support among the population and at odds with more popular parties (most notably the left-populist Socialist Revolutionaries, who gave us Kerensky et al). They grew quickly in the months that came after, thanks in no small part to the mind-boggling incompetence of our democrats. Although it’s worth noting that even after the coup and with fierce harassment of their opponents, they couldn’t win an election; fortunately, they could just override the undesirable results by force.

        But that aside – yeah, the Bolsheviks proved exceptionally skilful at taking and holding on to power, and at forcing through their agenda. As for tragic consequences, that seems to be in the eye of the beholder. They killed a few too many of my countrymen and relatives (all over the social and political spectrum, but, on reflection, mostly left-ish and “professional” as far as relatives go – some, of course, were Bolsheviks themselves even before it was cool, heh) without any sufficient need to do so for me to be very well-disposed towards them, I confess. On the other hand, some people like that sort of thing.

        1. Lambert Strether

          > But that aside – yeah, the Bolsheviks proved exceptionally skilful at taking and holding on to power, and at forcing through their agenda.

          Yes. For the rest, you are correct. I wrote carelessly and in haste. Mike Duncan’s Revolutions podcast gives a terrific summary of all the twists and turns, which is as you describe, and is so much more fair-minded and useful than almost all “Russia Studies.”

          1. Daniil Adamov

            Thank you. It’s a pity I’m no good with podcasts, but I might look that one up anyway at some point. Does it get into the civil war as well? That had even more “twists and turns” – Whites initially organising as the People’s Army under a socialist government, internal ideological and practical bickering on both sides, many White and Red units consisting largely of re-recruited PoWs from the other side, Chinese migrant workers turned highly effective mercenaries, independent Red and White warlords, etc.

        2. hk

          I tend to think the victory of the Bolsheviks is a fairly typical “problem.”. Stable institutions endure because it has a huge “coalition of tolerance”: that is, people may not be “happy” with the status quo, but it’s good enough, and more importantly, it’s “fair enough” that people are willing to put up with it–which is to say there’s enough chance that someone who is sufficiently competent and “fair-minded/cynical (really, they are the same thing)” enough to spread payoffs broadly. Institutions collapse when the insiders become simultaneously incompetent, greedy, and shortsightedly cynical, typically by rigging institutions so that they can’t be driven out and refuse to spread payouts broadly so that there are multiple groups who can’t tolerate the status quo and are willing to gamble on tossing it aside and take chance on whatever that might happen next.

          “Lawyers” (and PMC more generally) often wind up holding the initial reins after the status quo gets overthrown because they are experienced in drawing up the “written rules” and, well, if you have tossed aside old rules, you’d better have new ones. But there’s no reason why anyone should obey the new rules, certainly not on the account of their being written by people who think they are better than fellow citizens. The old rules were obeyed partly because their keeper spread goodies broadly (and actually had the ability to do so for whatever reason), because of inertia–because they’d been doing it a long time (which, in turn, helps them with the ability to gather the goodies to spread in the first place–chicken/egg and all that), and there’s some reservoir of sufficiently widespread trust/confidence/goodwill (again, for whatever reason). No group of upstart lawyers, do to speak, could deliver on these, unless all stars are aligned just right, especially when they have to appease multiple and diverse factions that just ran out of patience and helped overthrow the old institutions. At times like this, a group that can act decisively and cohesively without making “too many” enemies (that is to say more than it can defeat militarily or “buy off” piecemeal: so you had a Napoleon, a Caesar, the American Founding Fathers, and the Bolsheviks: buy off the clericals (the Napoleonic concordat), the slaveowners (3/5 compromise), independence (independence of Poland, Finland, and the Baltics, and so on), and crush the others and so on.)

          1. Daniil Adamov

            “At times like this, a group that can act decisively and cohesively without making “too many” enemies (that is to say more than it can defeat militarily or “buy off” piecemeal: so you had a Napoleon, a Caesar, the American Founding Fathers, and the Bolsheviks: buy off the clericals (the Napoleonic concordat), the slaveowners (3/5 compromise), independence (independence of Poland, Finland, and the Baltics, and so on), and crush the others and so on.)”

            This is one thing that Lenin is quite justly credited with: he had absolutely no problems with making painful concessions, from the Brest-Litovsk treaty with the Germans to the NEP that appeased disgruntled peasants (he had other reasons for that one too, but pacifying the peasants was certainly a part of it). He could adjust course and back away from core parts of his program without losing sight of his goal.

      2. Daniil Adamov

        “NOTE * I don’t even know what to read on this, given that Russia studies are so polluted by neo-cons.”

        This, by the way, is very fair. It is an unfortunate state of affairs that people mostly denounce the atrocities of those with whom they disagree ideologically, and then in an oftentimes exaggerated and hysterical manner, while overlooking or downplaying the atrocities on “their” side. It makes it difficult to trust anyone’s righteous condemnations, as they are often more or less lies, conscious or not.

        That said, is a neocon site? One of the few English-language write-ups of this often forgotten but interesting event is found there, and it aligns with things I’ve read in Russian from somewhat diverse but admittedly anti-Bolshevik sources:

        1. JBird4049

          But I want some large books that go deeply and honestly into Eastern Europe and Russia from First World War to today, but I do not know enough to know what I don’t know. I certainly cannot ascertain how good or honest a writer would be. I am an innocent, ignorant, scholarly lamb unable to see the propagandistic wolves. It is a scary feeling. But even a good Russian history for dummies would be nice.

          It is not like American history, where I do know what I don’t know, and I can tell from what perspective the writer is coming from.

          1. Daniil Adamov

            That’s fair, but I hardly know where to start with recommendations. I suppose I’m in a similar position with regards to Russian history as you are to American history (although a Russian and a historian by education, I primarily studied British political history, so I am not a specialist here – a hobbyist at best). I know some good works, but they are 1) in Russian and 2) focus on particular aspects. The big sweep histories tend to have extreme ideological biases of some sort or other (which is not to say that they are worthless, just that they require extreme caution). As far as I know, a lot of the primary sources that entered academical circulation over the past four decades still haven’t been suitably generalised and popularised. Instead, various narratives (usually liberal, communist or conservative-reactionary; sometimes a curious blend of the latter two) rule the day.

      3. Daniel

        Volapük was an invented language, intended to be a universal second language, proposed slightly before Esperanto, that was notoriously abstruse and difficult to learn. So here, it’s a term of abuse for a novelty that doesn’t need to exist.

  5. eg

    I’m struggling a little bit with how many layers really map onto current circumstances as opposed to those of the past, and to what extent the old labels still have explanatory power as opposed to adding confusion when they don’t map as directly as they used to?

    Nonetheless I still believe this sort of class analysis is useful and I appreciate any grist for the mill.

    Certainly the anxiety of downward mobility and the challenges of social reproduction rhyme with Turchin’s observations about “the wealth pump” and “elite overproduction.”

    1. Lefty Godot

      Turchin’s theory definitely comes to mind in this context. Maybe the expansion of the PMC happened during the “a rising tide lifts all boats” phase of American industrial capitalism. Since we’ve transitioned to an extractive financial capitalism, the PMC has been subject to the musical chairs rule of diminishing prosperity and real production. There are also gradations within the PMC, where some members were always barely on the lower fringe of it economically while others were maxmizing their opportunities to advance into the ownership class. Now the middle is being squeezed toward one direction or the other, and it’s easy to guess which one is more likely.

      Plus the credentialing system just may not be able to react intelligently to changes in economic and social conditions (especially resulting from newer technology or applications of existing technologies). Pushing everyone to get a STEM degree so as to become a “knowledge worker”, on the assumption that STEM jobs would 1-for-1 replace manufacturing jobs, was always a recipe for chasing after diminishing returns.

      1. albrt

        I am working on a review of Turchin’s book, probably in two weeks. I think it will fit in this sequence of posts quite well.

      2. digi_owl

        Dunno how it is in the rest of Europe, but back in the 90s Norway revised its education system with the aim to get more people to get university degrees. This with the hope that it would stop the constant bickering over wages between unions and companies.

        But 30 years on what has happened is that the nation has become dependent on migratory workers to take care of craft and service jobs, while there is a ever growing number of young people on welfare after having dropped out of the more theory heavy education system.

  6. New Okie

    This might be a dumb question but… Within this framework, to which class do non-managing professionals belong? I am mostly thinking of engineers here, but I suspect there are other examples too. To all appearances they are card-carrying members of the PMC, nearly always married to another member of the PMC and with kids who are as likely as the children of teachers, doctors, or lawyers to enter the PMC and marry another member of the PMC.

    Yet I cannot see how the “major function” of their profession is “the reproduction of capitalist culture and capitalist class relations.”

    Is the PMC merely the class of knowledge workers, most (but not all) of whom work to reproduce capitalist culture?

    1. albrt

      Ehrenreich does address engineers and similar professionals who are more directly involved in production than lawyers and professors and such. I think the idea is that they contribute to reproducing class relations by designing products and production processes, for example. They also tend to take on management responsibilities as they get more senior.

      One aspect of the 1977 article that I did not really address is that the PMC has appropriated a lot of its functions from the working class – so engineers take over design work that would have been done by skilled trades or crafts in a simpler time with a flatter heirarchy.

      1. albrt

        In other words, de-skilling the proletariat can be seen as a function of the PMC that helps reproduce capitalism.

        1. Martin Davis

          Is there not a further paradox here. The PMC, if it includes tech workers, is presently starting to engage with the automation of professional tasks, just as the automation of ‘less skilled’ tasks (sometimes a terminology which obscures the complex nature of the activity in question, such as driving) has been ongoing from the inception of the Industrial Revolution, if not before. The ChatGPT models, progressively improved, are expected to increasingly provide increased access to skills and information usually restricted to the PMC, to the wider population. Recent studies of the impact of ChatGPT as work aids demonstrate task improvement at all levels, but most sharply with poorer performers. And since skills are defined by the cost and time of acquiring credentials and achievement of organisational position, wider access to these skills by definition devalues their renumeration. If anyone can do it, why pay more for specialist education? Where might this end, I wonder?

  7. zach

    When the hortator no longer has a galley full of oarsmen for whom to beat out a rhythm, through the connivance of the bourgeois merchants, militarists, and enginers…

  8. Schopsi

    Before Britain had a professional civil service based on any idea of meritocracy on it’s home islands the Honorable East India Company felt compelled to develop one to be able to control (and efficiently exploit) it’s domains in India (which is ironic on a whole number of levels).

    The East India Company in turn was directly inspired by China’s imperial civil service.

    The professional bureaucracy of Imperial China was also admired and held up as an example to be emulated by various enlightenment thinkers, with Prussia and Austria/the Holy Roman Empire under Friedrich (“Frederick”) II and Josef II (even to a limited degree Maria Theresia before him) respectively trying implement it systematically before France, even if they probably didn’t yet open the gates to non aristocrats as widely as Napoleon did.

    Napoleon really kickstarted the spread of such a system to all of Europe of course and from there eventually to the US.

    David Graeber wrote very interestingly about the outright utopian expectations the enlightenment thinkers and their ideolocal and political heirs associated with professional bureaucracies and things like the prussian postal service (later also the american one).

    Not even without reason, as clearly the modern administrative state can and did do a world of good, as long as it is/was not deliberately used for evil purposes and stayed reasonably uncorrupted (Graeber rightly calling the modern state itself one of humanity’s greatest, near miraculous achievements despite the many downsides and serious dangers including an inherent propensity for totalitarianism it brings with it).

    Which of course is ultimately impossible under all corrupting capitalism that invariably turbocharges the worst aspects and tendencies of the stateform while undermining the best and sadly quite possibly at least in the long run impossible under any system or economic arrangement.

  9. Patrick Morrison

    > [The book] offered a new perspective on how post–World War II American society had redefined itself. Whyte’s 1950s America had replaced the Protestant ethic of individualism and entrepreneurialism with a social ethic that stressed cooperation and management: the individual subsumed within the organization. It was the age of middle management, what Whyte thought of as the rank and file of leadership, whether corporate, governmental, church, or university.

    Stephen Ambrose makes a very similar point at the end of ‘Citizen Soldiers’, that the US soldiers who’d become socialized into how to conduct themselves as part of the military in WWII became the employees/management/executives of 1950’s US corporations and they carried their habits and practices with them.

    1. Dadda

      I read something many years back that suggested the exponential growth of the logistics in the WWI British army opened the door for the later managerial approach.

    1. hk

      During 19th century (although there were murmurs of varied loudness at different times before that), Chinese reformers came to argue how the Imperial Examinations were the problem, for reasons that sound rather familar today. People got vcaught up in the performative and formulaic: so you had examinations evaluated on strict adherence to the right format, florid language, and so on, but not the substance–whoch, by necessity, wiuld be hard to evaluate anyways. One irony is that one of the key propnents of this, Kang Yuwei, who took the exam when he was fairly old, wrote a formulaic masterpiece that had him pass with flying colors, while his disciple, Liang Chichao, who took the exam at the same time, gave himself away by being too flippant with the form….

      1. CA

        A terrific exchange.

        Harvard arguments were being formally made just a little while ago, that the Chinese were incapable of being innovative.  At the same time, Xi Jinping was repeatedly urging innovation and the encouragement of innovation.  The Chinese had of course been showing just how innovative they were and could be for years, but the need was critical and Chinese teachers began to formally teach to being innovative….

  10. David in Friday Harbor

    As I’ve argued before, I think that a more useful framing is caste rather than class, even though the present American caste system is not necessarily defined by the circumstances of one’s birth. Most definitions of caste are linked to profession and carry with them certain exclusionary social relations, just like those that our current Professional Managerial Caste observes.

    This is a useful discussion, but Marx described his own time; Marxism is a useful frame of reference but does not describe the present. I suspect from her last writings and interviews that Ehrenreich would have been open to the framing of caste. The transition of American society in the past 25 years under globalization from industrial production to a “service economy” has largely transformed the proletariat into a Precariat Caste who must sell their labor while being completely disconnected from the production of material goods.

    What I’m seeing is the transformation of America under globalization causing the Professional Managerial Caste and the Precariat Caste to question their relationship to one another and to the “bourgoisie” — Our Billionaire Overlords.

    With global over-population and diminishing availability of natural resources creating a planetary struggle to maintain a certain quality of material life, this questioning appears to be turning very ugly under the antagonistic “dog-eat-dog” ideology of libertarianism adopted by Our Billionaire Overlords in order to justify their status.

    1. albrt

      I would agree that the PMC seem to be striving to make their position more caste-like. To figure out what’s going on I think it makes sense to view it from as many angles as you can.

      One of several things I did not include here because I was not able to think through – reconciling the idea of producing services with any materialist analysis. It seems to me the core concept of ‘service” is just labor. If labor is your product then I guess you are a some kind of manager or broker. Yeah, you can call a product such as a software program a service, but that is really just a con so you can charge for a recurring subscription.

      As I said, I have not thought through it yet.

    2. Cat Burglar

      How do you see caste as an idea that better catches what is going on? You do see it as connected to labor market position.

      It certainly describes things endogamy, or social stigma attaching to the deplorables.

      My favorite is the convention of professional journalists: only professionals have credible opinions; regular people only have “feelings” — they have no political ideas or observations worth listening to. It is an excellent PMC convention for repressing popular thought.

      The Marxists would contend that the globalized economy maximizes the returns to capital by separating each part of the reproduction of capital into a world-wide least-cost system. So working four precariat jobs in Seattle to pay rent — including pulling ‘spro as a barista for Boeing execs and “Am-holes” — is a position fully integrated in the world system. And if you have ever worked at that level in that own, your caste analysis sure rings true.

    3. JBird4049

      In my cultural anthropology and sociology classes, I remember we were talking about the precariat, which is a term used in those fields, and how the educated class, namely us, were the precariat or at least the occupation that we were or are in would be. One of the teachers was an adjunct after all and almost nobody in the class seemed well off.

      I think that the students and teachers of today, unlike thirty years ago, are very aware of increasing precariousness that they, and most of the rest of society, are in. You get a degree, but unless you graduated from one of the Ivies, or a top tier school like Stanford or Berkeley, with the connections and debt, your chances of success, of grabbing that chair is not good.

      There is also a growing separation from the Boomer PMC and Generation X from the next generations. I know that my Boomer parents didn’t quite understand that most of the rungs of the ladder are gone. It is not stupidity, it is their experiences and it is the apparent sameness to the path of success, which would also include formerly working class jobs that my family used to do. They are blinded by that. The difference in the cost of living and of wages is much, much greater than my parents’ generation. Even if they had failed in the transition from labor to a “knowledge worker” the economy was so good, and education so cheap and dischargeable, there was no real risk. A decent life was almost guaranteed.

      Today, I think that most college students and teachers know that they are the precariat and probably the disposables as well even if they are not the deplorables. How that might change their views about the PMC or even the Deplorables, I don’t know as I haven’t talked to anyone about it. However, seeing as how even surviving is harder every day for everyone, but those at the very top, no matter how hard you work or what your abilities are, some of them might be happy to start a revolution.

      1. ambrit

        “…some of them might be happy to start a revolution.”
        More probably, this emerging Precariat Class will be amenable to ‘participating’ in a revolution. Here is where I see Lenin’s emphasis on a “Professional Revolutionary” cadre to lead the way has merit. I read somewhere that a well organized minority can gain and wield power in a society. It has happened many times over the ages.
        Since one of the most prominent characteristics of the active cadres of any movement is the emergence of a class of “True Believers,” I see the ‘education’ of such a class as crucial to the propagation and continuance of any revolutionary movement. Thus, the continuing struggle for the control of the “means of narration.” Now there is a worthy goal for an ambitious PMC.

    4. Lambert Strether

      > This is a useful discussion, but Marx described his own time; Marxism is a useful frame of reference but does not describe the present. I

      What an absurd statement. Marx’s class analysis holds up quite well today in broad outline. Capital has adapted so analysis must adapt too, which doesn’t look beyond a level of effort (analytically at least; practice is another matter). The “buffer class” was a big problem, then and now. See this comment quoting Volume III of Capital.


    I’m in the camp that PMC is no different than Orwell’s dogs.

    Police are good to enforce private property but you need something a bit different to make sure someone shows up to work on time and gets vaccinated and has the proper worldview and stays in debt.

    And unlike police they can’t use brute force so they have to be given some privileges/class distinction to maintain authority.

    1. Cat Burglar

      Fatalism is what they need: this is the way it is, this is the way it has always been, this is the only way it can be, so make your payments and get back to work. They need to produce fatalism.

  12. Pookah Harvey

    Graeber has somewhat come to the same conclusion. From his paper “On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs”

    If someone had designed a work regime perfectly suited to maintaining the power of finance capital, it’s hard to see how he or she could have done a better job. Real, productive workers are relentlessly squeezed and exploited. The remainder are divided between a terrorized stratum of the universally reviled unemployed and a larger stratum who are basically paid to do nothing, in positions designed to make them identify with the perspectives and sensibilities of the ruling class (managers, administrators, etc.)—and particularly its financial avatars—but, at the same time, foster a simmering resentment against anyone whose work has clear and undeniable social value. Clearly, the system was never consciously designed. It emerged from almost a century of trial and error. But it is the only explanation for why, despite our technological capacities, we are not all working three- to four-hour days.

  13. Gulag

    “The PMC are the bossy gatekeepers that everybody hates and they have lost most vestiges of their (real or feigned) mid-twentieth century concern for the welfare of the proletariat. The current PMC pretty uniformly regards the working class as deplorable.”

    This statement is so so accurate.

    In their 2013 analysis, Barbara and John Ehrenrich reflected back on the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 and argued that the PMC now “lies in ruins” due to centrifugal forces that have pulled parts of it higher into a financialized corporate stratosphere, while propelling much of the former PMC down into precarity due to offshoring or collapse of PMC occupations.

    The Ehrenreichs’ dream was that a portion of the PMC might ally with the working class against the bourgeoise following Occupy Wall Street. Such a dream now seems to have been a delusion.

    However, I would now argue that a still robust inheritor of the PMC legacy is the PMC national security state/intelligence wing which has neither been proletarianized or financialzed.

    It is this key power faction which is now ready to implement a domestic color revolution in the U.S. built once again around “Russia, Russia, Russia.”

    1. doubting thomas

      I’ve noted with some irony that their daughter, Rosa Brooks, is rather firmly entrenched in that PMC national Security/ intelligence wing.

  14. LY

    Addressing the second footnote, I’d say commissioned officers in the modern US military are members of the PMC. Most have bachelor degrees, with many with advanced degrees. Those degrees do lean towards practical such as engineering, supply chain, logistics, etc. but it’s not necessary.

  15. Henriux Miller

    Many thanks to Yves and albrt for this post.

    I believe that the ideas of Antonio Gramsci should be part of any discussion about the PMC, its members, its role in society, and particularly its status as a sort of “intermediate” class.

    I am thinking, in particular, of Gramsci’s writings about education, intellectuals, and his concept of the “organic intellectual”.

    He wrote: “Every social group, coming into existence on the original terrain of an essential function in the world of economic production, creates together with itself, organically, one or more strata of intellectuals which give it homogeneity and an awareness of its own function not only in the economic but also in the social and political fields.”
    [And]: “School is the instrument through which intellectuals of various levels are elaborated. The complexity of the intellectual function in different states can be measured objectively by the number and gradation of specialized schools: the more extensive the “area” covered by education and the numerous the “vertical” “levels” of schooling, the more complex the cultural world, the civilization, of a particular state.” Antonio Gramsci, “The Formation of Intellectuals” (1929-1935).

    In an introduction to Gramsci’s ‘Prison Notebooks’ we read that: “The central argument of Gramsci’s essay on the formation of the intellectuals is simple. The notion of “the intellectuals” as a distinct social category independent of class is a myth (…) there are the “organic” intellectuals the thinking and organising element of a particular fundamental-social class. These organic intellectuals are distinguished less by their profession, which may be any job characteristic of their class, than by their function in directing the ideas and aspirations of the class to which they organically belong.”
    (Introduction by Q. Hoare and G. N. Smith to: Gramsci, Antonio. 1971. “The Intellectuals”, in Selections from the Prison Notebooks).

    1. Roger Boyd

      Thankfully somebody isn’t wasting yards of complicated but useless words on dancing around the elephant, that of the actual capitalist class and its utilization of a courtier class of organic intellectuals. At a time when wealth and the means of production have become more and more concentrated it is amazing how the majority of “thinkers” get utterly lost when all they have to do is read Gramsci from a century ago! The desperate need to not identify the actual ruling class is redolent across the social sciences and public intellectuals.

      1. digi_owl

        I do wonder if Gramsci gets overlooked because the war and the post-war effort to keep Italian communism suppressed (Operation Gladio etc). Thus the focus is instead on USSR and China as the example of communist thought (and failure).

    2. albrt

      It seems to me a major function of the current incarnation of the PMC is to make sure that there are no organic intellectuals to stir up trouble among the working class, by co-opting them into a distinct class with different values and incentives.

      You just don’t have a ton of people like Richard Wright, working at the post office during the day and writing for the Daily Worker at night.

      I think the PMC co-optation machine reached its peak about 10 years ago and is becoming less effective, but how this will play out is not clear, at least to me. Of course, I don’t know a lot of working class 20 year olds who would make up the new cadre of organic intellectuals.

      1. digi_owl

        This brings to mind a lament of a Norwegian labor party politician.

        About how back when he got involved in local politics in Oslo, after WW2, he could combine that with a full time industrial job as the meetings where held after work hours. But since then even the local level has become so mired in bureaucracy that one have to chose between a job and politics pretty much right out of school.

        End result is that Norwegian politics see an ever larger number of career politicians. Perhaps even dynasties forming as the children or grandchildren of high ranking post-war politicians rise to the top thanks to their family name.

      2. Lambert Strether

        > It seems to me a major function of the current incarnation of the PMC is to make sure that there are no organic intellectuals to stir up trouble among the working class, by co-opting them into a distinct class with different values and incentives.

        See Adolph Reed. As I quoted in 2016, where the late, great Bruce Dixon interviewed Reed:

        DIXON: … the unbelievable use of identity politics to undermine a class-based argument. You diagnosed this problem before we even got to this problem. … In this election, I’ve seen like a swift-boating of class-based arguments, using race to the detriment of black people.

        REED [O]ne of the nice things about being an old guy — and there aren’t a lot — but one of them is that you see phenomena like this happening and you recognize what’s going on, and what’s happened now — and I think that this largely was consolidated by the Clinton administration — and subsequently the centrist or dominant wing, I should say of the Democratic Party as its been tightening its grip — is a disconnection of the notion of social justice from economic inequality and economic security.

        And that’s a notion of racial justice that first of all fits very comfortably with the people in elite colleges where I’ve been teaching for the last 35 years because they’re all expected to be part of the upper class, but it also has meant that we have a national politics now. And this takes us back to the fault lines in the current race, that that we have a national politics now that has for 20 years at least, longer, given us two choices. And one of them is a party that’s committed to Wall Street and to neoliberalism and is deeply and earnestly committed to a notion of diversity and multiculturalism, and a party that’s committed to Wall Street and neoliberalism, and is deeply opposed to multiculturalism and diversity.

        So, if we have to choose between those two, obviously for most of us who are committed to the ideals of justice and equality, the one that’s committed to multiculturalism and diversity is less bad than the one that’s opposed to them. But the deeper problem is that they’re both actively committed to maintaining and intensifying economic inequality

        Reed also has this brilliant article in The Baffler on “voices,” representatives of this of that identity, and the careers to be made there.

  16. Robert McMaster

    This is devo-Burnhamism. Who allowed that the emerging class of the sergeants united would be threaded from constituent threads from other consituencies. This after all, was the Stalinist reflex. To gang together, to ‘club’, form self-interest leagues based on material advantage. In other words, a ‘mob’. sort of. The managers such as they find themselves find commonality given their regulated estate. Under pressure, they bend and direct to their benefit. At some qualitative point, they are the de facto managers. And the dispersed owners are easil manipulated. And so forth.

  17. KD

    James Burnham was a Trotskyite turned Right-Wing Cold Warrior who wrote the Managerial Revolution in 1941. This book influenced Orwell, and supposedly Emmanuel Goldstein/The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Socialism in 1984 was based on Burnham and this book. According to Wikipedia:

    Burnham agreed with Marxists that the capitalist class would inevitably lose the class struggle, but disagreed that they would lose to the working class due to this class being too disorganized and weak. He instead argued that a new class called the managerial class would win against the capitalist class. Burnham defines this new class as the individuals responsible for “the tasks of the technical direction and coordination of the process of production.” The managerial class is responsible for directing technical experts, including “operating executives, superintendents, administrative engineers, supervisory technicians; or, in government… administrators, commissioners, bureau heads, and so on.” According to Burnham, the managerial class has risen due to the increasing complexity and large scope of modern economies. Because doing certain tasks requires hyper specific technical knowledge, the capitalist class cannot perform all of the necessary tasks by themselves. This means that the capitalist class has to employ individuals who manage other individuals engaged in technical work. By doing this, the capitalist class has made themselves obsolete, since the managers are the individuals who actually control production. Although the managerial class is still employed by the capitalist class, Burnham argued that this arrangement was irreconcilable. This would eventually result in the managerial class who actually owns production seizing it from the capitalist class who owns it in name only. According to Burnham, the managerial class would seize power by implementing state ownership of production. Due to the complexity and large scale of modern economies, Burnham argues that this form of state ownership would prove more efficient than rule by individual capitalists. The “managerial revolution”, according to Burnham, would result in the decline of capitalist democracy and the rise of managerial control of production while using “the unlimited state” as a vehicle.

    Issues with Burnham: i.) since the late ’60s, the power appears to have shifted to the capitalists, and the managers are lackeys, so his thesis is wrong, ii.)
    the power seems centered in finance, not production, iii.) the “therapeutic managerial class” (developed by Christopher Lasch and others) rises in tandem with financial capitalism, neoliberalism and a dramatic shift against workers, so rather than a threat to capital, the PMC appear to concern themselves with symbolic manipulation to manufacture the false consciousness the workers require to stay in line. I think they are distinct from the police and the military because they are the foxes who rely on mass hypnosis to preserve the power structure, and the fuzz only comes out when the trance fails. On the other hand, is Burnham’s account a decent description of Socialism with Chinese characteristics?

    On the other side, you had C. Wright Mills “Power Elite” in 1956 which is probably closer to standard Marxist analysis, and distinct from Burnham. There was also a style of sociology in the Neoconservatives back in the ’70s which devoted itself to the professional managerial class and/or the therapeutic managerial class (many also former Trotskyites), also from a right-wing perspective and influenced by Burnham, but interesting.

    In any event, concern with the Professional Managerial Class goes back at least to Burnham in the 40’s.

    1. Gulag

      I think that certain aspects of Burnham’s managerialism can be detected in China with some aspects of state control over the private sector (determining what gets produced) paralleling Burnham’s otherwise largely erroneous predictions.

      But as Branko Milanovic has more generally argued, managerialism did not replace capitalism; capitalism, in some form, has currently, largely been globally triumphant.

      Yet, it is conceivable that if capitalism fails to generate steady growth, then differing forms of managerialism (like limiting the role of financial capital) may become quite attractive.

    2. Roger Boyd

      As Marxism, especially that of Gramsci, becomes more and more relevant due to the Gilded Age levels of wealth concentration and lack of unionization we have the academy and public intellectuals focusing us all on the PMC which are just the bunch of people who act as courtiers to the rich and act as Gramsci’s organic intellectuals. Just another attempt to hide where true power lies in Western “liberal democratic” nations, with the ruling capitalist ownership class.

      China has a bureaucratic Party-state that does not allow for capitalists to become a ruling class, that’s why China is so much better organized and efficient. Market incentives are used to drive productive development, but the resulting capitalists are never allowed to take control of the state. Putin is slowly coming round to this arrangement.

      1. digi_owl

        On that note, something by Micheal Hudson recently got me thinking about how so much of current thinking was perhaps shaped by intellectuals back when England was turning towards mercantilism.

        I think it was his mention of how the term tyrant had become a negative compared to its use in biblical times. As back then it had referred to someone with the power to nullify debts by decree and thus free those who had been enslaved due to unpaid debt (or some such).

        This because the altered meaning was leveraged against the king and nobility that could potentially curtail the power of the rising merchant class (much like you mention the Chinese bureaucracy appear to be doing right now), and instead pushing for “democracy” that in truth meant the merchants got to rule as voting rights were limited to those owning property etc.

        Then as industrialization kicks off, this gets expanded to cover all capitalists. And later, reluctantly, to cover every adult male (and later female). But by then the party system has evolved such that the actual democratic vote becomes not much more than a pick between those already vetted by the capitalist class.

      2. Lambert Strether

        > As Marxism, especially that of Gramsci, becomes more and more relevant due to the Gilded Age levels of wealth concentration and lack of unionization we have the academy and public intellectuals focusing us all on the PMC which are just the bunch of people who act as courtiers to the rich and act as Gramsci’s organic intellectuals.

        Gramsci’s organic intellectuals were working class, not PMC. Like so many workers in E.P. Thompson’s wonderful The Making of the English Working Class, they were highly educated, yet not credentialed. (Since Gramsci was writing from a fascist prison, he had to be careful in his wording. I would speculate — I can’t quote the literature — that Gramsci meant party member, but a party member who was active in learning and study, not simply regurgitating tracts and pamphlets).

    3. albrt

      Thanks for this. The Ehrenreichs’ 1977 article cited Burnham and others – “It is necessary to emphasize this point. The PMC (or the managerial portion of it) has not become a new ruling class (as Berle and Means, Burnham, Galbraith and others have suggested)” and most of the PMC remains “subordinate and dependent.” But your comment suggests that thinking about Burnham’s point of view could help in figuring out how the PMC went in the direction that it did.

    4. Lambert Strether

      > According to Burnham, the managerial class would seize power by implementing state ownership of production.

      Too bad the Boeing engineers didn’t do this (back when Boeing could still do engineering).

  18. hemeantwell

    Many thanks for this albrt.

    As I read through it and the comments, it strikes me that more needs to be said about how elements of the PMC relate to the state, particularly as a source of funding through taxation, because this will have important ramifications for the PMC’s understanding of their interests, potential alliances and opponents. (Here I believe I’m running through arguments that people like James O’Connor raised in his The Fiscal Crisis of the State.) Raising this in turn raises questions, or urges caution, about how far one goes in assuming that the more or less functional role of participating in the “reproduction of class relations” obliges one to support capitalism in an explicit, as opposed to a functional way.

    Teachers, for example, are typically prone to support taxation for educational services. We are quite far away from the heyday of welfare capitalism when state expenditures were more tolerantly accepted by capitalist elites, and currently teachers qua state employees are often at odds with capital as it defines its interests. This clearly isn’t the same as being anticapitalist. But then again, what prevents a teacher from not only arriving at such a standpoint, and even trying to convey it to students? To go back to the question of state finances, what prevents them from wanting to soak the rich? As I write this I wonder if the Ehrenreichs were incautiously drawing on analyses of the educational system of that time, e.g. by Bowles and Gintis in Schooling in Capitalist America, that loaded heavily on broad institutional mandates, i.e. get kids ready to be subordinated workers, and missed how teachers themselves might chafe at their enlistment to a capitalist project.

    It’s getting late on a Friday afternoon, and this may not be fully baked, but that line of thought leads me to wonder how much of the characterization of PMC ideology often used at NC best applies to the peak PMC apparatchiks — here, those in school administration who are answerable to legislators and state government — but becomes weaker at the level of the line worker. If so, then it becomes important to distinguish between strata in the PMC, with those at the top serving as ideological disciplinarians against those on down.

    1. albrt

      I think in 1977 the Ehrenreichs believed that the PMC mostly would chafe at capitalist mandates and would support socialistic reforms. That did not prove true for the most part. I certainly agree that nowadays PMC ideological fervor becomes more mandatory at the higher levels of PMC, whose job is to boss the lower PMC as the lower PMC bosses the workers. This dynamic probably explains a lot, actually, including administrative bloat and intense power signaling among elite aspirants.

  19. Lefty Godot

    If all production of real goods is done by machines and all provision of real services is delivered by robots and AIs, how would you classify the rest of the population that does not have more than token ownership in any of the goods and services industries? Is everyone now a member of the PMC or a proletarian? Or is everyone just dead of starvation and disease because no one will pay them to do anything?

    Somehow I think the concept of higher level “expertise” is central to PMC membership, as much as (non-) ownership of the means of production and job content that directly provides a good or service to the public. In a large corporation, one used to have (and perhaps in some cases can still find) secretaries, who did not make anything or service customers. And one could also find senior consultants, for whom the same could be said. But in many cases the secretary did real work and provided real value, while the senior consultant generated white papers and strategy documents that often were only cursorily read and had little or no value. But the senior consultant had a supposed higher level of expertise and could expect to be paid multiples of what the secretary made. To me, the secretary is not a member of the PMC, while the senior consultant is. The prestige of credentialed expertise outweighs the lesser (sometimes negative) value to the business that the senior consultant provides.

    When the Ehrenreichs talk about engineers, I assume they mean the highly credentialed employees produced by engineering programs in the 1970s. But since then there has been a lot of job title inflation. A code pusher now who is nominally titled “software engineer” may have no equivalency to that sort of engineer and may not be credited with that degree of expertise by his or her employer. So there’s a good chance some of the people with that title are nowhere near the PMC, even if they are providing value to the enterprise in their work. The more one’s prestige depends on credentialed expertise versus value provided, the more likely one is to fall within the PMC category.

  20. Matthew G. Saroff

    It seems to me that David Graeber described the bulk of PMC activity in the 2 word title of one of his books, “Bullsh%$ Jobs.”

    I think that the hostility of the PMC toward the working class might stem from a sense of inadequacy coming from the fact that the working class actually does things.

    Then again, I am an engineer, not a psychologist or a sociologist, so I am speaking from a position of profound ignorance.

  21. Matthew

    Related to this is how education and advanced degrees have gradually incorporated ideology and conformity into the professional class. It’s hard to imagine a professor 30 years ago being fired for putting his foot in his mouth, but this happens regularly now. The sphere of true discourse of truly different views has gotten smaller in higher education. The effect of this is that the PMC has been trained to not question fundamental narratives, and those that do can face consequences.

    I remember talking with someone in HR at a sizeable company. She said there are many jobs where a degree doesn’t actually provide useful skills, but they’ll still always hire someone with a degree, because they tend to question authority less. That says something.

  22. The Rev Kev

    If the Professional Managerial Class did not exist then the elite would have had to create it. It’s development over time has paralleled that of the development of Neoliberalism which means that this class not only served to implement that philosophy but also has take on its values. And that is the poison pill for this class. Let me step back a minute. In the 19th century entire generations of British students were given excellent education and were sent throughout the Empire to administer and to serve it from major cities to small hamlets. They served as local cultural beacons who spread western values as these students were embedded with the idea of ‘public service’ and it was an outstanding success whether we agree with it or not. But the Professional Managerial Class has no concept of public service and only thinks of its own personal advancement, especially when so many of their positions are precarious. They are more than ready to take on the latest narrative, no matter how idiotic it seems to us, for their own personal survival in their positions. The results are already in and whether we talk about the response to the Pandemic, geopolitical thinking, dealing with homelessness or even military logistics we are seeing incompetency right across the board. As a class they have no center in their character and thus they show their real incompetency.

    1. skippy

      Actually Kev its a cornerstone to all societies dating back through antiquity, magic number 3 has something to do with it long before Bernays i.e.

      You have the Ruling Class which wraps itself with divinity of some sort underpinning its authority over everything else.

      Administrative Class which is basically old school HR which is a firewall between the divine and the unwashed.

      Lastly the enforcement via soldiers or police in compliance for elites dominion over others.

      So basically the only thing that ever changes is the response from the elites when things get frisky due to their collective[tm] [lol] machinations. Historical odds say more totalitarianism with only a few FDR moments scattered though out human history …

      1. Lambert Strether

        > a cornerstone to all societies dating back through antiquity, magic number 3 has something to do with it long before Bernays i.e.

        Not precise enough to exert any leverage over, however (“the point is to change it”). For example, I’d argue it really does matter whether the society is a slave society or not, etc., etc.

        1. skippy

          In my mind the term slavery can only be seen in the historical context of its time, Lambert. What constitutes it during a period of history. Per se antiquarian ownership of humans as personal property that you can do as you please with, see OT Bible after that, FF to Christendom in middle ages where maybe your not locked or chained up at night, yet your ownership to someone of wealth and class is plain as day, moving on to the musings of Locke in the framework of freewill, anyone not fighting to the death to stay free deserves slavery/servitude in a natural rule context, and lastly, atomatistic individualism in the framework of a market society where pay to play means the vast majority are burden with so much debt – too absentee investors – both at home and internationally, amplified by the lack of individual or group agency which establishes the political and legal frameworks which favor absentee investors above all else …

          On the latter I think Ukraine is a prime example IMO.

      2. zach

        Damn skippy. I’ll be your second.

        The hortator was the PMC of the Roman galley – I guess I didn’t use enough $10 words in my comment before.

        Although truth told you lost me a bit on your second reply.

        1. skippy

          What constitutes slavery in the context of ‘A’ society in question, during what time period changes drastically. Today some think they are free in regards to the question, but I ponder all the claims made on everyone today not in the top financial percentile.

  23. Lee

    The pyschopathy of power. All thinly disguised toxic male hierarchical thinking?

    Even down to having elections every 4-5 years to give the appearance of democratic control by ‘The People’.

    Ambition the work of the devil.

    That why the business minded wanted Starmer and Reeves over Corbyn…

    The Sting
    Newman’s line: ‘That’ll be when he decided to be a somebody’

    Electronic Democracy

    The People vote on all policy, all of the time.

    Remove executive power completely.

  24. JD

    The PMC ideology is enervating for many people, and aspiring PMC youth cannot count on achieving satisfactory roles even if they comply with all the practical and ideological demands.

    I would quibble that, had the PMC been allowed to keep a greater percentage of the profits that their productivity innovations created (for the owners, on the back of the workers), none of them would find anything intrinsically enervating in their ideology. If jobs in law, medicine, academia, the arts, etc, were plentiful and well-paid, the PMC would be happy as clams going to school for 20 years, working their way up the hierarchies, competing with each other for prizes, and the like. It’s only when the owners have sucked even this dry, killing the goose that lays the golden eggs, that the PMC becomes enervated and depressed. But it’s nothing intrinsic to their preferred life if they can get it.

    1. albrt

      There are certainly some people who are born to be PMC strivers, but as Lambert is wont to say, there are not very many of the Shing.

  25. Roland

    The PMC are indeed petty bourgeois. Their credentials are their capital, and they jealously defend their “property rights” in that regard.

    Is this form of capital a mere social construct? Of course: all capital is socially constructed. Moreover, there is trend of abstraction, of etherealization, that takes place across the capitalist spectrum. This is best exemplified by the phenomenon of finance capital, but the trend applies also to the holdings of the inferior and adjunct sorts of capitalist.

    Like all of the petty bourgeoisie, the professional petty bourgeoisie face the ever-looming threat of being proletarianized. We see this happening before our eyes, in real time. Lawyers and physicians are losing their professional independence in a fashion little different from how the shopkeepers and artisans lost their commercial independence.

    The small rural landowners, too, once engaged in a long and desperate struggle to maintain their holdings, until they succumbed to the debts they incurred through their efforts. With the professional petty borgeoisie, a comparable kind of debt peonage has developed.

    The superstructural, cultural, mindset in a capitalist society dictates that capital is the manifestation of virtue. Therefore, it is understandable that the petty capitalists, whether commercial or professional, prove willing to make great personal sacrifices in order to establish or maintain any semblance of bourgeois status. The bigger the personal sacrifices, the more virtuous the efforts appear to those making them. Merit becomes a moral mania.

    More ominously, as the professional petty bourgeoisie obsess themselves with their lifelong struggle to maintain their virtue, these petty bourgeois develop a profound contempt for, and even resentment of, the proletariat, who are unable or unwilling to suffer so much to acquire this kind of, “merit,” or who have fallen short in the pursuit of this overriding, “life goal.”

    The petty bourgeoisie, when disclassed, or threatened with disclassment, usually become authoritarian in their politics, and ally themselves to the big bourgeoisie, upon whose patronage and indulgence the petty bourgeoisie increasingly depend for whatever security or opportunities remain to them. With the credentialled professional petty bourgeoisie, we see this in the sponsorship and funding of the academic complex by finance capital. In a bid to stay “respectable,” in a capitalist sense, the once-proud professionals are made to prostitute themselves to the capitalists who are ruining them.

    1. Lambert Strether

      > The PMC are indeed petty bourgeois. Their credentials are their capital, and they jealously defend their “property rights” in that regard.

      It is true that credentials are a form of symbolic capital. Yes, ””property rights”” is in shudder quotes, but, really, credentials are not property, not anything like property. If they were, then a doctor would be able to sell the diplomas on their wall to anybody else, who would then become a doctor. There’s no aftermarket in credentials.

      More subtly, credentials cannot be inherited. That is, in fact, a dilemma common to the PMC as a class. If the PMC were aristocrats, yes, credentials could be passed along from generation to generation. As it is, the PMC must educate and prepare each generation anew (my entire family going back generations is an example of this), converting social capital into symbolic capital over and over again.*

      NOTE * I believe I’ve read somewhere, maybe Gramsci, that in Italy, the son of a doctor becomes a doctor, over generations (perhaps only in the south). Nevertheless, the son is not simply granted the title “doctor,” as he would if he were inheriting land.

      1. Daniil Adamov

        Of course, in many times and places (but for example, in Russia until the middle of the 18th century), aristocrats were expected to perform certain duties and could lose their status if they failed to do so. In practice this meant they had to be trained for it as well, and generally were. The distinction seems a bit blurry. I suppose there is still a distinction between getting a status automatically unless you lose it and having to work to get it, but then again, a widespread enough expectation of inheriting professional status (like with those Italian doctors) would bring the two groups closer again.

  26. Lambert Strether

    > Marxists generally believe that society is divided into two classes: the owners of the means of production are the bourgeoisie

    Wrong (although I can’t speak for vulgar Marxists). Four, not two. From “The Idea That the Republicans Can Become “The Party of The Working Class” Is Beyond Absurd” (January 28, 2024):

    Capital, Volume III, p. 652 (PDF):

    The first question to be answered is this: What constitutes a class? – and the reply to this follows naturally from the reply to another question, namely: What makes wage-labourers, capitalists and landlords constitute the three great social classes?

    At first glance – the identity of revenues and sources of revenue. There are three great social groups whose members, the individuals forming them, live on wages, profit and ground-rent respectively, on the realisation of their labour-power, their capital, and their landed property.

    However, from this standpoint, physicians and officials, e.g., would also constitute two classes, for they belong to two distinct social groups, the members of each of these groups receiving their revenue from one and the same source. The same would also be true of the infinite fragmentation of interest and rank into which the division of social labour splits labourers as well as capitalists and landlords — the latter, e.g., into owners of vineyards, farm owners, owners of forests, mineowners and owners of fisheries.

    [Here the manuscript breaks off.]

    (“Here the manuscript breaks off” [pounds head on desk]). This holds up pretty well, IMNSHO. We have the set membership function (“the identity of revenues and sources of revenue,” or, in the vulgate, “follow the money”). The Bearded One would be the first to admit that his schema, developed in the UK in the 19th Century, might be usefully modified for the 21st. For example, we might distinguish between international, national, and regional (“local gentry”) subclasses of capitalists (“globalism”). We might also conceptualize the owners of intellectual property (Silicon Valley) as akin to landlords. And interestingly, Marx, hitherto so crisp, goes a bit mushy when he merely alludes to “physicians and officials,” what today we would call the PMC, without attempting to analyze this class? subclass? any further. Finally, the “infinite fragmentation of interest and rank into which the division of social labour splits labourers” might usefully be seen as foreshadowing the identity politics of today. We might also wish to think about new forms of wage labor derived from the “sharing economy.” Still, all in all, not too shabby for 1894! In all cases, the same set membership function would apply. So Marx is quite the analyst, and I’m going to put the above quote under a notional magnet on my notional refrigerator.

    The difficulties we have analyzing “buffer classes” were mirrored when Capital was written. “The identity of revenues and sources of revenue” is the ticket, analytically.

    1. skippy

      I am with Lars on this mate, its not a duopoly between Capital and Labour, misses the bit about the customer that purchases good of service post that dynamic and its reverberations through out the social construct ..

  27. Pokhara

    It seems important to distinguish between the corporate wing of the PMC, on the one hand, and the ‘public service’ or ‘welfare state’ wing, on the other. But it’s equally important to note that the blurring of this distinction is a key aim of neoliberalism. Case in point: Margaret Thatcher’s imposition of ‘general management’ on the NHS back in the early 1980s, which was followed by the construction of a hugely expensive and wasteful ‘internal market’ (or pseudo-market). As a teacher here in the UK, I’ve seen how the marketisation & quasi-privatisation of English schools has involved the mushroom growth of a management cadre (‘leadership teams’) who play no part in actually delivering the service. Their only role is to maintain the pseudo-market in education, by gathering and analysing ‘data’ (test & exam results), setting targets, developing ‘strategies’, ‘innovating’, etc, etc. It is a pathetic simulacrum of corporate culture. At this point, these people are mainly ex-teachers — usually the debris of the profession — but, if for-profit education ever becomes a reality, they will quickly be jettisoned in favour of the real thing — the corporate PMC.

  28. Tom Pfotzer

    I have a rather different slant on this problem of evolving economic roles.

    Some call those role-sets “classes”, some call them “castes”, I call them transient categories that are morphing and adapting in response to very powerful forces loose in the technical (what’s possible), economic (how the tech is applied – to what ends, to produce what goods) and then political-economic (who gets what share of the pie) realms.

    “Capital” is the capacity to create and own production apparatus. That capital can be in private hands or public hands. No capital, no productive capacity.

    The petty capitalist, the PMC, the apparatus-operators don’t have nearly the ability to create and own the apparatus as the capitalists. That is, in my mind, the most revealing and consequential contrast between the elites (who own the capital, and all the future rents from that capital) and everyone else.

    The increasing velocity of product-evolution and the power these new products confer is rapidly widening the gap between capital and everyone else. This force has been gathering momentum gradually, and then very suddenly (in spots) over the past two centuries, starting with the Industrial Revolution in England (coal: concentrated energy, then steam engines (application of that energy) thru railroads, then electric motors, semi-conductors, communications, (enables an Amazon), supply-chain management (enables a Walmart, and global sourcing) and so forth.

    And now the specter of Chat GPT, which is an arrow directed right at the heart of the PMC.

    So the phenomenon of the “precariat”, and the momentary stop-gap of the “bullshit jobs”, and the hangers-on of Empire Operations are strategies that our society is employing to cope with the rapid consolidation of economic power – the ability to create and own the crucial production subsystems – into the hands of the persons that have accumulated the capital to date.

    The “neo-liberal” finance practices are designed to, and have served to consolidate that ownership way, way faster than the normal “industrial capitalism” would have.

    That finance capability enabled the capitalist to take over whole countries, not just a few segments of domestic industry.

    I re-draw the economic game-space (I didn’t say “battlefield” on purpose) using the highs and lows of creative powers as the critical topological feature.

    And now I’ll repeat my remedy-thesis: in order to cope, we have two choices:

    a. Ride a diminishing pie downward toward desperation and irrelevancy, (the current U.S. trajectory) or
    b. Get good at creating and owning productive capacity

    Is socialism the way to get “b” to happen? Maybe, but in the current U.S. environment, I’m doubtful that this is achievable anytime soon, absent major external intervention.


    I’ll close with a link to a presentation, MC’d by Mr. Putin, wherein he’s conducting a town-hall meeting to exhort his entire country to contribute ideas, which are subjected to vetting and systemic improvement on a collaborative basis, which the State will finance, to produce the new products that Russia’s economy and environmental relationship will depend upon in the years to come.

    Mr. Putin then asks the originators of a few of those ideas to step forward, explain the idea’s what-and-why, and then Mr. Putin provides commentary to put the product into the context of Russia’s current and future economic, social and environmental trajectory.

    Here’s the link. Hat tip to Karlof1 @ MOA for bringing it to my attention.

    This material is germane to this discussion because it offers another societal coping strategy to:

    a. Form a durable, rewarding, economically-viable identities and roles in a healthy culture
    b. Level the playing field between the concentrated-wealth-holders and everyone else
    c. Build a commons that contains the creator toolset(s) in order to dramatically lower the entry-barriers and remove gate-keeper controls

  29. Gulag

    Extremely worthwhile discussion.

    Just a few additional points to plug my current obsession.

    The old Marxist dictum that casts the bourgeoise as the power behind the Washington swamp is indeed far from straightforwardly false but this framework may tend to overstate its modern significance.

    I much prefer to focus on the contemporary national security state as a key emerging power center (see writings of Mark G.E. Kelly) whose tendrils extend into the private sphere, politics, and universities. It is an apparatus with longevity and power beyond that of mere politicians and contains a substructure, the Intelligence community, which, while lacking the direct financial clout of the bourgeoise, has capacities for coordination and force, that the bourgeoise as such lacks.

    Furthermore, in academic “theory” any detailed accounts about the role of the national security state tends to be lacking which can be taken as a sign of being onto something.

    I believe the PMC is collapsing and the key remnant of the PMC, the intelligence community is now united with the bourgeoise against the perceived dangers of populism in all its forms.

    The U.S. national security state is trying to keep alive the original PMC dream of a rule by “experts.” Its rule is not conspiratorial, but rather ideological in the sense of promoting a common moral framework that allows them to identify common social enemies and work against them.

    It is this ideology which has now replaced the PMC, possibly led by an intelligence community apparatus that has greater and greater influence on a domestic politics that ensures its funding.

  30. B Popolo

    Personally, I have a hard time posing a sharp division between managers and “the working class.” I think there is very frequently a shared ideological and cultural grounding in punitive mental frameworks, particularly in that US.

    The base is one thing, but that superstructure is something else.

  31. B Popolo

    Okay, so, I am under the impression that the Ehrenreichs started writing about the pmc because increasingly the bearers of leftish ideology appeared to be something other than the traditional working class. This, broadly and as the story goes, in the era when the hard hats aligned with the police in NYC to literally beat the crap out of the students and the dirty FHs.

    What difference does it make when the presumed bearers of class consciousness are actually the enforcers of social order and the self anointed imposers of discipline, and the “something other”-conscious are coming from somewhere else?

    I have also always been under the impression that is BECAUSE the American “working class” was like this that the subsequently emerging pmc decided it was maybe okay to hang them out to dry, something we can still see in the Democratic Party today.

    And, to be even-handed, the far right thinks it’s okay to literally run down protestors in the street.

    1. Amfortas the Hippie

      im sad as hell that i was underneath a pile of manure when this post/thread was timely,lol

      regardless…the d’s and r’s look like 2 factions of a single thing…and each with their mobilisable followership(now aging and dwindling in number).
      but all of them(2 parties, 2 ready reserves of geezers, as well as the hidden elite they all work for, consciously or not) are all For the most important things…like war and keeping us’ns fighting over scraps.
      i reckon that hard hat thing you mentioned was an early application of the COIN tactics and strategy to domestic needs.
      sad to report that we’ll see the entire playbook visited upon us.
      we would do well to learn about it, and figger out how to counter its influence.
      endeavor to break bread with your neighbors…come at them with palms up to where they are at(in their heads/worldview/etc) , and find common ground on the broadest and most non-specific of terms::there are universals…identify and exploit them….and thereby build connections, beginning at your door.
      have that barbecue in the front yard, etc.

      1. B Popolo

        I have been working since COVID, in public health. I can’t tell you how many times low-mid level admin staff hired for their Spanish language skills, usually women, have offered the talking point about how much harder they are willing to work than X-ephemeral Other Party(ies).

        I understand why they do this and why they feel the need to do this– I am deeply grateful that I don’t necessarily feel the need to do the same– but this is an ideology and a discipline. It is weaponized outward, not just inwardly felt, and it is punitive and it is coming from the working class.

        There is nothing universalist about it.

        1. Amfortas the Hippie

          and what you describe is taught…not inherent.
          we were made into atomistic hyperindividuals…enterprises…sad little kings(or queans)…on our sad little hills…until the very idea of humanity …let alone solidarity with our nearest fellows…never even occurs to us.
          and if it does, by some chance, we have no idea how to implement it.
          we’ve had those skills beaten out of us.
          there in fact are universals….i, and you, and everyone on the planet, wants to see our kids do well…and not starve.
          and not die by violence, instead of old and contented.
          …for instance.
          break that dynamic….atomisation…and we begin to claw back some semblance of society.
          the fuc*ers killed the Humanities for a reason.
          to deny us the tools for thought outside their narrative framework.

          1. B Popolo

            It is most certainly compulsion. But if we don’t find the origins of the contemporary pmc in the working class, I will eat my left shoe.

            The central tragedy of Marx is that he tells us proletarianization is toxic sludge and then promptly turns around and forgets it.

        2. CA

          I have been working since COVID, in public health. I can’t tell you how many times low-mid level admin staff hired for their Spanish language skills, usually women, have offered the talking point about how much harder they are willing to work…

          [ Importantly observed and recorded. Thank you. ]

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