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Reification, Class and ‘New Social Movements’

Reification, Class and
‘New Social Movements’

Paul Browne
All significant social movements of the last thirty years
have started outside the organised class interests and
institutions. The peace movement, the ecology movement, the women’s movement, solidarity with the third
world, human rights agencies, campaigns against poverty and homelessness, campaigns against cultural
poverty and distortion: all have this character, that they
sprang from needs and perceptions which the interestbased organisations had no room or time for, or which
they had simply failed to notice. This is the reality
which is often misinterpreted as ‘getting beyond class
politics’. The local judgement on the narrowness of the
major interest groups is just. But there is not one of
these issues which, followed through, fails to lead us
back into the central systems of the industrial-capitalist mode of production and among others into its system of classes. These movements and the needs and
feelings which nourish them are now our major positive resources, but their whole problem is how they
relate or can relate to the apparently more important
institutions which derive from the isolation of employment and wage-labour.

Raymond Williams, Towards 2000
In recent years a debate of considerable proportions has arisen
around the relationship in contemporary capitalist societies
‘between class politics and social movements (especially
movements addressing the issues of disarmament, women’s
oppression, racism, ecological devastation and human
rights). 1 A central issue in this controversy has been whether
the Marxist concepts of class and class struggle can and must
be at the heart of any theoretically satisfactory explanation of
these ‘new social movements’. In the eyes of many, the only
tenable, non-reductionist approach involves decentering the
concept of class, combining it with other explanatory strategies, or even revising it completely.

The following reflections are intended as a modest
intervention in this debate. I believe that if the issue is regarded dialectically, it is possible to hold both to the central
character of class struggle in the conceptualization of society,
and to the specific character of social movements, without
falling into either eclecticism or reductionism.

The aim of social analysis must be to conceptualize
social formations as ‘a rich totality of many determinations
andrelations’ .2 This is above all a task of mediation. Beginning with the ‘incoherent abstractions’ of everyday experience, analysis must labour to discover the most fundamental

structural features of social reality. This being done, the latter
must then be reconstructed in all of its complexity and historicity. As Lukacs has argued in his Ontology of Social
Being, the totality of society is a historically constituted and
developing complex of complexes. As such it is one yet many,
continuous yet discontinuous, homogeneous yet heterogeneous.

In the first part of this paper I will argue that reification
is the structuring principle of the capitalist mode of production which provides the key to the conceptualization of the
relation between working-class politics and ‘new social
movements’. The second part of the article will concretize
this by showing that the all-pervasive character of reification
in capitalist society (so well analyzed in Lukacs’s History and
Class Consciousness) is still only a tendency (albeit a dominant one), and when taken in isolation, an abstract universal.

Capitalism in its complex totality, as a concrete universal, has
to be understood as the contradictory historical unity of this
tendency and all of its counter-tendencies. This ongoing process of totalization and retotalization of society can be understood in abstract terms as the capital-labour relation analyzed
in Marx’s Capital. But in concrete terms it must be grasped as
the process of formation of individual, class, gender and race
through conflictual social activity. In concluding I will thus
claim that the capital-labour relation is primordial from the
point of view of the theorization of capitalist society, but that
this does not automatically translate politically into the centrality of the labour movement in the struggle for human
emancipation in any given conjuncture. A genuine, emancipatory revolutionary strategy must find ways to synthesize the
struggles against all forms of exploitation and oppression,
without reductively and dogmatically attributing vanguard
status to one form of struggle among others.

Reification and Real Abstractions
The capitalist division of labour produces an ever greater
integration and systematization of all human activities within
a social totality which is the world market. At the same time,
the specifically capitalist nature of the process consists in its
mediation by the private appropriation of the means of production and products of labour. Although all productive activities become more and more interdependent as part of a
fully integrated system, nevertheless the different moments or
stages within this process are only linked by commodity
exchange, by the purchase or sale of what has been produced.

These many different moments of production taken as a whole
constitute total social labour. But this social character does
Radical Philosophy 55, Summer 1990


not manifest itself fully in the planning or execution of production. It does so fully only in the process which links the
different sites of production to each other, namely the process
of commodity exchange. Individual labour and its products
only acquire their social appearance in the commodity form.

Therefore, the social relations which link together the many
different labour processes in the world economy do not appear immediately to be social relations between the producers
themselves. Rather they appear as relations of equivalence
between these producers’ products.

According to Marx, the measure of how many of one
type of commodity can be exchanged for how many of another is value. The latter is predicated on the quantity of
socially necessary labour time that is required to produce each
commodity. The exchange of commodities involves the exchange of two aggregates of human labour. To be commensurable, these aggregates must be homogeneous and abstracted
from their specific qualities as different kinds of concrete

If different types of labour are only joined with other
types – and thus only become social- by means of commodity
exchange, then, in Marx’ swords, ‘the mutual relations of the
producers, within which the social character of their labour
affirms itself, take the form of a social relation between the
products. ‘3 The overall division of labour in the world market,
and the level of development of productive forces which
determines the amount of labour time necessary to produce
each commodity, only appear to each individual human being
in the form of relationships between individual commodities:

‘the relation of the producers to the sum total of their own
labour is presented to them as a social relation, existing not
between themselves, but between the products of their labour.’4
The exchange value of commodities, determined by
the amount of socially necessary labour time embodied in
them, is in no way conditioned by the physical properties of
the objects exchanged. In being exchanged, commodities in
fact display a dual objectivity: on the one hand they are
specific types of things with their respective, diverse, mate-

between the social character of labour and the private appropriation of its products, this real abstraction asserts itself in
the face of individuals as an alien power, as a force of nature,
independent of their wills, namely as the laws of the
marketplace. This reification, or fetishistic character of commodities as Marx calls it, is paralleled by the fetishistic
character of the state, law and religion: in each case social
relations between people assume the form of real abstractions, of forces existing independently of human will, and
dominating human existence like forces of nature.

In History and Class Consciousness, Lukacs combined
Marx’s theory of commodity fetishism with Weber’s concepts of rationalization and bureaucratization in order to analyze how intellectual and manual labour processes, as well as
social relations and structures of personality, are transformed
under capitalism into rationalized, autonomous, self-regulating processes which confront individuals as objective things
to which they must submit. It is thus not just products of
labour which appear in such a way as to conceal the social
relations between their producers. Human activity as such,
and the institutional structures within which it takes place
(objectifications of collective practice) become reified. Reification consists in situations in which human activity and its
products confront and dominate human beings, taking on the
appearance of objective, independent entities and processes
governed by seemingly natural laws.

Following Marx and Weber, and laying the basis for
Braverman, Cooley, Hales, Marglin, Thompson, and others,S
Lukacs shows how capital redesigns the production process
according to the logic of profit. The precapitalist, concrete,
organic connection of the individual artisans to their labour,
craft and products, is abolished and replaced by a new, abstract, mechanical relation of wage-labourers to their labourpower and the means of production. The capitalist rationalization of production is meant to subtract it as much as possible
from the workers’ cognitive and practical grasp. 6
Processes of rationalization, systematization and quantification extend to all spheres of society. Impersonal, reified
systems are created which separate individuals from their

rial properties, which make them useful for diverse purposes
and to different people. On the other hand commodities all
appear to have homogeneous, uniform, social character, insofar as they are exchange values. The labour of separate private
producers under capitalism has a double character, (a) as
specific concrete labours (key-punch operator, design engineer, construction worker) forming constitutive parts of total
social labour; and (b) as abstract labour, i.e. as the common
essence of all the products which enables them to be exchanged for each other.

Abstract labour is, however, no mere mental construct,
but the social character of human labour. As such, it is, in
Marx’s words, a real abstraction. Thanks to the contradiction

own activity, knowledge, skills and products, and subordinate
them to a rationality independent of their will. By means of a
detailed division of labour, all of society is decomposed and
redesigned as a series of lawlike, rule-governed processes
which can be predicted, planned-for and applied, regardless
of the specific object to be processed or of the peculiar
characteristics of the individual subjects. Rationalization and
uniformization increasingly make all individuals interchangeable and transform them into mere objects, functionaries
reproducing and perpetuating the rule of capital, of alienated
human powers and products, over humanity. This applies as
much to capitalists and intellectual workers as to manual

Radical Philosophy 55, Summer 1990


Even individuals’ psychological aptitudes and propensities are separated out from their personalities, made autonomous from them, and objectified as integral parts of specialized, rationalized systems, where they can be quantified and
manipulated, ‘like the various objects of the external world’:

‘The specialized “virtuoso”, the vendor of his objectified and
reified faculties does not just become the [passive] observer
of society; he also lapses into a contemplative attitude vis-avis the workings of his own objectified and reified faculties. ‘7
To the extent that individual traits surface at all in objective
processes (such as production), it is as sources of error interfering with the alien rationality of the system’s laws of operation. In this way, the individual’s subjectivity is fragmented.

All individuals exist on the one hand as agglomerates of
characteristics imprinted by different objective systems. On
the other hand they also possess an inner self, in relation to
which these objective concrete aspects of personality appear

Social processes come to appear as a ‘second nature’;
and indeed, capital abstracts, rationalizes and quantifies phenomena in just the same way as the natural sciences do: ‘all
human relations (viewed as the objects of social activity)
assume increasingly the objective forms of the abstract elements of the conceptual systems of natural science.’ As a
corollary, ‘the subject … likewise assumes increasingly the
attitude of the pure observer of these – artificially abstract processes. ‘8 Specified as free individuals, yet simultaneously
caught up in a web of events which controls their every
effective action, subjects first become conscious of the great
complex of social powers and relations as something foreign
to them, and the course of their own liv.~s comes to appear as
a destiny which they must suffer.

The structure of bourgeois society shows all the symptoms of Hegel’s ‘cunning of reason’: a multitude of individuals, all acting independently in pursuit of their own individual
goals, realize an outcome which none of them had intended,
foreseen or comprehended, but which embodies a more fundamental rationality. And yet, as Lukacs points out, the latter
is purely formal. The sum of separate rationalized complexes
which make up bourgeois society may appear to lay the basis
for a totalizing theoretical system of general laws. However,
once society is broken up into a series of partial, autonomous
systems, each governed by a logic of its owon, the relationship of these complexes to each other is quite contingent. For
example, the realization of exchange value on the market
does not follow automatically from the production of commodities. The rationality of each limited sphere thus stands in
glaring contrast to the irrationality of the whole system: ‘It is
evident that the whole structure of capitalist production rests
on the interaction between a necessity subject to strict laws in
all isolated phenomena and the relative irrationality of the
whole process. ‘9 In normal circumstances, the contingency in
relation to each other of different economic spheres does not
reveal itself plainly, as the separate complexes appear to
function without difficulty. In a time of economic crisis, this
contingency bursts into view as an incomprehensible irrationality.

Reification involves the splitting apart of abstract and
concrete, of form and content, of universal and particular, of
subject and object, etc. Dominated by reification, social life
under capitalism is riven by antinomies (the contradictions of
capitalism); it is impossible, while remaining on the ground of
such a society, to mediate these antinomies adequately in
theory or in practice, and thus fully to grasp the totality. Such
mediation can only be accomplished by a totalizing movement (which can only be collective, mass activity within

society) which brings about dialectical supersession, constituting a new, higher synthesis. Reified theory and practice are
most typically characterized then by the opposition between
the formal rationalism of partial spheres of theoretical/practical activity, and an irrationalist mysticism of the content and
of the whole, standing in for the unattained grasp of the
concrete universal (examples of this can be found in the state,
law, the market, medicine, nuclear-war planning, or Nazi
concentration campsJO).

From Real Abstraction to Concrete Class
Reification is a dominant structuring principle of the capitalist mode of production. In Althusserian terms, one could call
it la problematique des probtematiques. But the description
of reification just provided is itself an abstract universal. It is
necessary to specify its concrete content and manifestations.

The state, law, the market – these are really existing abstractions. But it is necessary to avoid discussing them in an
abstract way. Concrete analysis here means showing how
these real abstractions, which are the common structuring
principles of all capitalist societies, manifest themselves
concretely, what their specific aspects are in a given time and
place. 11
Marx shows that the content of abstract relations of
equality between individual citizens in the liberal-democratic
state is class struggle, and that abstract market relations between capital and labour conceal class exploitation. In concrete terms, reification is generated and reproduced only in
the complex process of social struggles within bourgeois
society. Marx’ s presentation of class relations in Volume I of
Capital is abstract. The concrete process of class formation is
one of dynamic and contradictory forms of struggle, in which
the specific character of classes is constantly. evolving. For

Radical Philosophy 55, Summer 1990

this reason, Marx’ s discussions of class struggle in France in
1848-1851 seem quite different from what he presents in
Capital. 12
In order to grasp the generation and reproduction of
reification more concretely it is necessary to move from the
analysis of the mode of production in the abstract to that of the
concrete social formation, from the study of capital to that of
capitalism. 13 The starting point for this passage to the concrete is the real abstractions of market, state, law, etc., in other
words Marx’s and Lukacs’s analyses of reification. But the
latter is now to be grasped as a terrain of struggle. From the
revolutionary Marxist point of view, the highest manifestation of this struggle is the proletariat’s revolutionary war to
overthrow capitalism in its entirety. But such a totalizing
struggle against capitalism only emerges out of the mediating
processes of partial struggles within which revolutionary
consciousness is first forged. These partial struggles are forms
of resistance to reification which remain on the ground of
reification. Because they do not address reification in its
totality, but challenge only some of its manifestations taken in
isolation from the whole, such struggles do not bring about
revolutionary change in and of themselves. They therefore
can be seen as constituting the contradictory overall process
of the reproduction of capitalism in ever renewed forms.

Within this process it is possible to discern two aspects, which
I would call the fetishism of particularity and the fetishism of
spurious totality. It is important to bear in mind here that,
because struggle is a process involving many parties, these
two forms of fetishism may be understood as being both
developed from below and imposed from above.

Radical Philosophy 55, Summer 1990

The fetishism of particularity is generated within the
blind alley of ‘partial’ struggles which do not address the
totality of social relations, but only aspects of them, and
which therefore fail to pursue the genuine universal interest of
human emancipation, being diverted instead by the exclusive
pursuit of particular sectional interests as an overriding goal.

Obvious examples of this are social reformism a la Bernstein,
or workers’ struggles which do not go beyond immediate
issues within the workplace. 14 In becoming fully integrated
within state and economy, trade unions and reformist parties
end up reproducing the reifying rationality of those spheres.

The ‘blind alley of partial struggles’ gives rise to the enclosure of theoretical and practical activity within partial spheres
of abstract rationality and therefore within the antinomies of
bourgeois life. However, it is important not to view this
simply as the imposition of the objective power of real abstractions on impotent individual subjects. Reification here is
both the ground upon which struggle takes place, and the
outcome of that struggle. As various analysts have shown,15
life within the institutions of capitalist society is always
determined by complex patterns of resistance, negotiation
and accommodation between contending forces. This is why
‘partial’ struggles do not just reproduce existing spheres of
abstract rationality, but give rise to new ones within the very
logic of the capitalist system (see for example the passage
from Taylorism to ‘softer’ management strategies, the institutionalization of collective bargaining, or the development of
the welfare state).16
The fetishism of spurious totality is the site of the
generation of the irrational content of the abstract-universal
forms of rationality which structure bourgeois society. It
consists of processes which compensate for the formal and
impersonal character of real abstractions. A number of typical
compensatory processes can be distinguished here:

(a) religious mysticism (religion as the ‘opJum of the
people’, as the ‘heart of a heartless world’);
(b) fulfilment in labour (aesthetic pleasure derived
from artisanal work, or even from the rhythm of routine
(c) consumerism;
(d) forms of leisure/style of life (and thus also status in
the Weberian sense);
(e) the formation of community identities (group closure: religious and other forms of sectarianism, sexism, nationalism, racism).17
The formation of community identities can draw upon precapitalist formations (structures of kinship, partriarchy, etc.),
which become integral parts of the reproduction of capital.

However, I would suggest that the very logic of the reproduction of capitalism through struggle tends to generate such
community formations – they an the alienated realms in
which individuals form bonds of affection with each other in
the face of the cold impersonality of the real abstractions of
state, law and market. But to the extent that these formations
do not genuinely challenge the antinomies of abstract and
concrete, and of form and content, which structure capitalism,
they end up reproducing them, and in new forms at that. Thus
there arise the fetishes of religion (which scientific enlightenment has not exploded, due to the abstract, ill-mediated relation of science to everyday life under capitalism 18), of the
‘master race’, of ‘abstract masculinity’,19 and so on.

The classical Marxist view was that the proletariat is
the privileged agent of social emancipation because it is

totally alienated and has no stake in the preservation of existing social relations. But the capital/labour relation presented
in Capital is an abstract universal: it must not be confused
with concrete, empirical oppositions between capitalists and
workers. In Marx’s day, the empirically given relation between capitalists and workers was self-evidently the privileged site of revolutionary consciousness-raising (because of
workers’ immiseration, etc.). As Istvan Meszaros has pointed
out, the proletariat in the 1840s appeared to be a class in, but
not 0/, civil society. But this cannot be said to be universally
the case. Notwithstanding the testimony .of the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts,20 it is possible to claim that
workers (and not
just capitalists) can
sometimes find
enjoyment in alienating conditions.

Perhaps the very
self-evidence of
the conditions described by Marx
disguised the necessary distinction to be made between different levels of
abstraction (mode of production – social formation, capital capitalism) in trying to understand the formation of social
classes and revolutionary consciousness.’

The study of reification (or fetishism) in capitalist
society can now be seen to be inseparable from the concrete
study of class formation through struggle; but at the same
time it can be seen that the process of class formation in
concrete terms yields a complex pattern of individual and
corporate identities. The contradictory, dualistic structure of
capitalist social relations identified at the beginning of this
paper can still be viewed as the dominant structuring principle; but at the same time it can now be understood as only
produced and reproduced through the mediation of a complex

Working-Class Politics and
‘New Social Movements’

If ‘new social movements’ did not in any way challenge

reification, then they would indeed have to be considered a
diversion from the genuinely radical struggle for emancipation. At best they could be regarded as a potential recruitingground for the class war. But movements such as those of
women, oppressed racial and national groups, ecologists and
advocates of disarmament, are all fights for empowerment;
they are all ways of resisting the reified real abstractions
which dominate social life, including those abstractions (such
as abstract masculinity, dominant forms of nationalism, etc.)
which can arise from the very struggle against reification.

Of course, the ‘new social movements’ do not immediately address reification in its totality. At least at first they
address only relatively narrow, sectional interests. But the
same can be said of all emancipatory struggles, including
those of the working class. If one form of struggle becomes an
end in itself, abstracted from other struggles, then it fails to
attack reification at its root, and ends up being subsumed
within the reified system; as such it can modify capitalism,
but not abolish it. It ends up being part of the contradictory

process of the reproduction of capitalism. Campaigns against
‘the Bomb’ offer excellent examples of this.

‘The Bomb’ is a universality which is so formal and
abstract that it can be filled with a wide range of heterogeneous particular contents, namely the fears of those who become
cognizant of it. ‘The Bomb’ is the ultimate abstraction, like
Parmenides’s Being; it represents utter cosmic annihilation.

Such a thing cannot be imagined in any concrete way, but only
conceptualized abstractly. Consequently, when it is filled
with content, the terror aroused by ‘the Bomb’ has nothing to
do with any experience of annihilation itself, the way
a person who has
almost drowned
might fear water.

Rather, fear of ‘the
Bomb’ takes on the
flavour of each particular person’s
nightmares. Like
God, who can be
each person’s personal saviour, and
yet remain utterly
remote and mysterious as an inscrutable abstraction, ‘the Bomb’ is a fetish
which remains impenetrable while yet striking to the very
core of each person’s psyche. To be truly successful, disarmament movements must mediate the form and content of ‘the
Bomb’ , its abstractness and concreteness, by educating people
about its political and economic reality. If they try instead to
campaign against it simply on the basis of the terror it occasions and the idea that ‘together we can stop the Bomb’ ,21 they
resist this fetish on the very ground of reificatfon.

There is a widespread habit of describing many ‘new
social movements’ as ‘single-issue campaigns’, in contrast
with the labour movement which is seen as universal in the
scope of its historic mission. But looking at the matter from
the standpoint of reification and its counter-tendencies, it
becomes clear that all ‘partial’ struggles are ‘single-issue
campaigns’, including strikes, elections and parliamentary
activity. They only cease to be such when they tend beyond
their abstracted sphere, when they are mediated to each other
as a more totalizing struggle against reification in all of its
aspects (i.e. those aspects pertaining to capital as such, and
those arising out of the very resistance to capital- e.g. racism,
sexism, sectarianism, etc.).

The common message of theorists such as Lenin, Luxemburg, Lukacs or Gramsci, is that the universal must mediate the particular, the final goal of the abolition of capitalism
must mediate everyday struggles against oppression. The
ultra-left position is to repudiate ‘partial’ struggles, because
they are not immediately revolutionary, or to treat struggles
other than workers’ struggles centered on the point of production simply as temporary recruiting-grounds for party militants. Such an approach remains trapped in an abstract-universal vision of the ‘pure’ struggle between capital and labour. The universal must mediate the particular, but the universal must itself be mediated by concrete particularity. Experience can only become a politically progressive and effective
force when mediated by reason; but reason must itself emerge
out of subjective experience. Theory which is not rooted in
everyday life is abstract and hence false. People can only
accede to a truly radical challenge to reification by working
Radical Philosophy 55, Summer 1990

through their concrete situations, not by escaping from them.

This does not mean that people should fight for the emancipation of women, gays and lesbians, or oppressed racial and
ethnic groups, because such a fight will prepare them for an
allegedly more important class struggle. Rather, such movements are crucial in themselves. They attack reification, and
in doing this they constitute (potentially) revolutionary

In the final analysis, of course, if the enemy is reification, then it must be attacked and extirpated root and branch.

The social relation capital is the ground upon which all
struggles develop in bourgeois society. But in concrete terms,
capital only exists in the complex totality of specific relations
and identities which arise out of the fetishism of particularity
and the fetishism of spurious totality. Struggles against reification are constantly going on spontaneously in every aspect
of the everyday life of bourgeois society. Truly radical politics require that reification be attacked consciously, i.e.from a
totalizing perspective, on all fronts. On this condition, and
depending on the evolution of society as a whole, in any given
conjuncture struggles over women’s oppression, racism,
housing, environmental issues, etc., have no less revolutionary potential than strikes or participation in parliamentary

Because capitalism as a concrete social formation, and
Earlier versions of this article were presented to the Joint Seminar of
the Departments of Sociology and Political Science ofthe University
of Regina, Regina, Saskatchewan, on 5 April 1989, and to the annual
conference of the Society for Socialist Studies, Laval University,
Quebec, on 1 June 1989. Some material for this article is drawn from
my D. Phil. thesis, Lukacs’ s Aesthetics and Ontology, 1908-23, University of Sussex, 1989. My thanks go to the members of Brighton
Anti-Nuclear Campaign (1980-82); to Sheila Somers, Pat Lupton,
Kelly Diebel and Joe Roberts; and especially to Bill Livant and
Michelle Weinroth.




See Jean Cohen, Class and Civil Society: The Limits of
Marxian Critical Theory, Amherst, 1982; Social Research,
Vol. 52, No. 4, Winter 1985 (special issue on social movements); J. Yvon Theriault, ‘Mouvements sociaux et nouvelle
culture politique’, Politique, No. 12, automne 1987, pp.

5-36; Emesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, Hegemony and
Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics,
London, 1985; Ellen Wood, The Retreatfrom Class. A New
‘True’ Socialism, London, 1986.

Karl Marx, Grundrisse, Harmondsworth, 1973, p. 100.

Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. 1, London, 1977, p. 77.


Harry Braverman, Labor and Monopoly Capital, New York,
1974; Mike Cooley, Architect or Bee? The Human/Technology Relationship, Slough, n.d.; Mike Hales, Living Thinkwork, London, 1980; Stephen Marglin, ‘What Do the
Bosses Do? The Origins and Functions of Hierarchy in Capitalist Production’, Review of Radical Political Economists,
Vol. 6, No. 2, 1974; E. P. Thompson, ‘Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism’, Past and Present, No. 38,

Harry Braverman analyzed this process exhaustively, and
formulated a general law of the capitalist labour process,
according to which capitalist development entails a general
tendency towards the ever greater polarization of simple and
complex labour.

Georg Lukacs, History and Class Consciousness, London,
1971, p. 100.

Radical Philosophy 55, Summer 1990

not simply capital in the abstract, is the enemy, the opposition
of working-class politics and ‘new social movements’ is false,
sectarian and sterile. What is needed is not some theorization
of the priority of one over the other, but rather a theory of the
dialectical process of formation of counter-hegemony. This
can only mean understanding the unity-within-difference of
the diverse emancipatory struggles and discovering those
tendencies within them which can lead to a sublation of their
contradictions with each other. The starting-point of this
process can only be the radical resistance to reification entailed by popular empowerment, by a mass movement for
democratization at every level of society. Mass movements
alone provide the laboratories of social change and forms of
struggle which can bring this about. But this must not be seen
from the perspective of an eclectic coalition, of a simple sum
of different movements. We must seek a concrete universal,
something more than a juxtaposition of abstract universal and
concrete particular, more than the simple sum of discrete
individual and group identities. The dialectic of everyday
struggles and final goal of human emancipation has to be the
guiding principle; and both the final goal and the movement to
achieve it must constantly be in the process of being consciously transcended and reconstituted on ever higher levels,
in a totalizing dialectical process.






Ibid., p. 131.

Ibid., p. 102.

In general, on these themes, see Georg Lukacs, History and
Class Consciousness, and Zur Ontologie des gesellschaftlichen Seins, Neuwied, 1985 (Vol. 1), 1986 (Vol. 2); Henry T.

Nash, ‘The Bureaucratization of Homicide’, in E. P. Thompson (ed.), Protest and Survive, Harmondsworth, 1981;
G. Lukacs, ‘Uber Preussentum’ and ‘Schicksalswende’, in
Schriften zur Ideologie und Politik, Neuwied, 1967.

Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. 3, London, 1977, p. 791.

For this reason too, the much-debated issue of class boundaries (e.g. in E. o. Wright’s Class, Crisis and the State, or in
Nicos Poulantzas’s concept of the ‘nouvelle petite bourgeoisie’ in Les classes sociales dans le capitalisme aujourd’ hui,
Paris, 1974) is perhaps something of a spurious problem, to
the extent that much of the reason for the debate disappears
if the concept of boundary is grasped dialectically, rather
than in a static fashion. Poulantzas can be seen to be absolutely on the right track in seeking to define classes in
political and ideological, as well as abstractly economic
terms, and in advancing his distinction between modes of
production and social formations. On the other hand he loses
his way in viewing totality on the undialectical Althusserian
model of a combination of instances and modes of production. As a follower of Mao, he ought perhaps to have followed the Chairman’s recommendation not to try to combine
two into one, but rather to discover how one divides into two
– in other words to reject eclecticism and embrace dialectics.

The following comments, and the passage from abstract to
concrete here, can be related to some of the critiques of
Harry Braverman’s Labor and Monopoly Capital. See for
example Michael Burawoy, The Politics of Production, London, 1985; Anthony Giddens, The Class Structure of the
Advanced Societies, London, 1980; David Stark, ‘Class
Struggle and the Transformation of the Labour Process: A
Relational Approach’, Theory and Society, No. 9,1980.

See Rosa Luxemburg, Social Reform or Revolution, in D.

Howard (ed.), Selected Political Writings of Rosa Luxemburg, New York, 1971; V. I. Lenin, What Is to Be Done? in
V. I. Lenin, Selected Works (in 12 volumes), Vol. 2, London,
1936; G. Lukacs, History and Class Consciousness.





See Michael Burawoy, Manufacturing Consent. Changes in
the Labour Process under Monopoly Capitalism, Chicago,
1979; Michael Apple, Education and Power, London, 1982;
Paul Willis, Learning to Labour. How Working-Class Kids
Get Working-Class Jobs, Aldershot, 1980.

It is this process of constant struggle back and forth between
labour and capital which in concrete terms forms classes in
capitalist society. See David Stark, op. cif. Erik Olin
Wright’s notion of ‘contradictory class locations’ provides
some sense of this, although he presents it in a rather static
and abstract way.

Consumerism, status and community identities (items (c),
(d) and (e) correspond roughly to David Lockwood’s construction of three ideal-types of working-class consciousness in Britain, the ‘privatized’, ‘deferential’ and ‘traditional’ worker respectively. See D. Lockwood, ‘Sources of
Variation in Working-Class Images of Society’, SociologicalReview, Vol.I4,No.’2, 1966. These three types of course
also correspond roughly to Max Weber’s notions of individual, status and class. See Economy and Society, Berkeley,

There have been many studies of the ways in which justified
resistance to oppression by particular groups takes on forms





oppressive to other groups. See for example Paul Willis’s
attempt, in Learning to Labour, to show how working-class
youths may derive a sense of empowerment from the cultivation of a sexist and racist male culture. An incomparable,
albeit fictional expression of this can be found in Yilmaz
Giiney’s film Yol, which portrays men crushed by state
repression who find a sense of identity and empowerment in
the embrace of an even more reactionary, murderous patriarchal culture.

On this idea of the ill-mediated character of science and
everyday life, and how it perpetuates religious ontologies,
see G. Luk.ks, Zur Ontologie des gesellschaftlichen Seins,
especially the introduction and chapters 3 and 4 of Volume

On ‘abstract masculinity’, see Nancy Hartwock, Money, Sex
and Power. Toward a Feminist Historical Materialism, New

See Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts
(1844), in Early Writings, introduced by L. Colletti, translated by Gregor Benton and Rodney Livingstone, Harmondsworth, 1975, pp. 322-34.

The slogan of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament on its
massive national demonstration in London in October 1981.


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Radical Philosophy 55, Summer 1990

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