The Labor Aristocracy: A Reply

— Charlie Post

SEBASTIAN LAMB, TOM Smith, and Steve Bloom(1) raise important issues in their responses to my articles on the labor aristocracy(2). On the one hand, Lamb and Smith share my criticisms of the labor aristocracy theory, but disagree with elements of my alternative theory of working class conservatism. On the other, Bloom defends the idea that super-profits derived from imperialism in the global South provide material privileges that explain working class conservatism and reformism.

Lamb and I agree that working class reformism and conservatism are rooted in the experience of capitalist social relations of production. Both of us reject elitist explanations that reduce workers to "passive empty vessels" into whose heads are poured all sorts of "garbage" by the ruling class. Our differences on the material foundations of working class conservatism are, in my opinion, matters of nuance.

Sebastian Lamb argues that my explanation of working class conservatism is reductionist. For Lamb, the "socio-material basis" of working-class conservatism is:

"…competition between workers (as sellers of labor power, but also as people who need quality housing, education and other often-scarce services) and simultaneously the forms of oppression that cut through society placing people in privileged and oppressed groups as well as into classes. Workers powerlessness is also part of the socio-material basis of working class conservatism." (41)

I agree with Lamb. The competition among individual sellers of labor power includes not simply the direct competition for particular jobs, but the competition for housing, education, and social benefits. Clearly, the competition for stable conditions of social reproduction (housing, education, etc.) cannot be reduced to competition for a stable place in production (full-time, secure jobs). However, the competition for secure employment is the foundation for the competition for secure conditions of reproduction.

Put simply, a "good job" is the necessary, but not sufficient, condition for good housing in a "safe" neighborhood, good schools for your children, and access to decent health care, pensions and the like.

The experience of "having little control over their lives on or off the job" -- working-class powerlessness -- is also rooted in the competition among workers as individual sellers of labor power. The constant reproduction of the reserve army of labor -- the unemployed and underemployed -- creates generalized competition and insecurity in the working class. The threats of unemployment resulting from the business cycle, mechanization and outsourcing reinforce workers' insecurity and anxiety.(3)

Thus, "when working-class movements are weak it's the experience of powerlessness that usually shapes lives and politics" (43) -- leading workers to defend themselves as whites, males, native-born or straight against the threat of the reserve army of labor, who are disproportionately non-white, women and immigrants.

Finally, I agree with Lamb that national, racial and gender oppression cannot be reduced to class exploitation. Various forms of oppression predate the emergence of industrial capitalist production, and capitalists grab hold of these already existing "differences" among workers to order access to employment, housing, education, health care, and the like.

However, we should avoid returning to the notion that there are autonomous systems of oppression (sex/gender, race, nationality) and exploitation (class).(4) A more fruitful approach focuses on intersectionality -- examining how capitalist class relations shape and reshape relations of gender, racial and national oppression.(5)

Self-Organization of the Oppressed

Tom Smith's criticism moves us in exactly the opposition direction -- back toward reductionist analyses of gender, racial and national oppression; and of working-class consciousness. In a rather idiosyncratic use of the term "autonomism,"(6) Smith rejects both the self-organization of the oppressed and the self-activity of the working class as necessary conditions for the development of revolutionary working class consciousness.

Smith argues that socialist support for the self-organization of people of color, immigrants, women, gays and lesbians and other oppressed groups is "a kinder gentler form of separatism" that:

"…has been a disaster for the Left [.] Each super oppressed group working apart from each other is a recipe, not for socialist politics, but instead for bourgeois identity politics; for what Gramsci would call an a-political economo-corporatism. Each group, led now by movement bureaucrats, with no conception nor any interest in socialism, is out for themselves. They are driven only by a conservative, self-aggrandizing engine, away from each other and from militant struggle, toward lobbying and electoral support for the Democratic Party." (42)

Smith is correct that the social movements of the 1960s -- the liberation struggles of African-Americans and other people of color, the women's, gay, lesbian and anti-war movements -- have all become bureaucratized and their leaders integrated into the Democratic Party.

However, this is not simply the result of their separation from one another and from the labor movement. The social movements of the 1930s -- where struggles of women and African Americans tended to gravitate toward the industrial workers' struggles -- suffered the same fate. The bureaucratization of the labor and social movements of both the 1930s and 1960s were the result of concrete political and social struggles in the context of episodic mass mobilizations.(7)

More importantly, Smith's position fails to grapple with the reality of the real advantages -- privileges -- that white, male, native-born and/or straight workers receive in the competition for jobs, housing and the like in capitalist societies. To expect these workers to initiate struggles against sexism, racism, homophobia, nativism and other forms of oppression is simply not materialist.

As socialists, we understand that taking up the struggle against oppression is in the interest of all workers. However, this is not the "common sense" of most workers in periods when collective class organization is weak, and collective class responses to the employers' offensive appear unrealistic.

Smith and others on (both the reformist and revolutionary) left argue that the self-organization and self-activity of people of color, women, gays, immigrants, and other oppressed groups are "divisive" to the "unity of the working class." In fact, the opposite is true -- the working class is already divided along the lines of citizenship, race/nation, gender, and sexual orientation.

Only the effective integration of these struggles and demands can achieve working class unity. Without the self-organization and self-activity of the oppressed, their demands have been ignored by other workers and their organizations. Only the experience of collective class organization and activity will create a receptive mass audience among more privileged workers for these struggles against oppression.

Smith also reduces the development of socialist consciousness among workers to educational (propaganda) by socialist intellectuals. He argues that socialist intellectuals need to "convert the mass of workers from bourgeois ideology to socialism."

According to Smith, "a principle means for this vanguard party, integrating socialist intellectuals and advanced workers into collective leadership organization, to educate the working class is to create a national, daily newspaper, financed by the dues paying party members." Socialists, like myself, who argue that the major task for revolutionaries today (along with socialist educational activity geared to small groups of activists) is to promote solidarity, militancy and democracy in the labor movement reduce themselves to "helpers" rather than "leaders" of the working class.

Unfortunately, the development of mass revolutionary consciousness is not simply a matter of appropriate socialist education. Smith's position is another variant of what Lamb has called the "garbage can" theory of workers' consciousness. Instead of the ruling class pouring their ideology into the workers' heads, socialist intellectuals pour "scientific truth" into these empty vessels.

This theory is not only profoundly elitist, but it is false. If "the correct program" explained through "daily newspaper" were all that were required to build a mass revolutionary organization in the working class, such parties should already exist.

It is as collective producers that workers experience their collective strength and collective interests in struggle with capitalists. Without the widespread, direct experience of collective and successful struggle against capital and the state, workers remain individualized, competing sellers of labor-power, open to the reactionary ideas -- racism, sexism, nationalism/nativism, homophobia and the like.

The experience of workers acting collectively as a class against capital is the necessary condition for the development of radical, democratic and collectivist ideas -- class and socialist consciousness -- in the working class. Put simply, without widespread class organization and struggle -- independent of capital and the labor officialdom -- there will be no mass audience for class radicalism and socialist politics in the working class.

The Question of Unequal Exchange

In his defense of the theory of the labor aristocracy, Steve Bloom makes three arguments. First, he argues that imperialist super-profits (derived from "unequal exchange" and plunder) derived from the global South underwrite the higher wages (individual and social) earned by the labor aristocracy in the global North. Second, Bloom claims that higher paid workers, while militant in economic struggles, tend to be conservative "on questions specifically relating to war and imperialist exploitation." (44) Finally, he challenges my alternative theory of working class conservatism.

According to Bloom, I miss "the essence of Lenin's conception":

"…which was not actually based on the enrichment of individual capitalist corporations, acting as individual corporations, through the direct exploitation of workers in colonial nations. Rather, Lenin saw imperialist super-profits arising from the enrichment of entire ruling classes acting through imperialist states. The mechanism was the exploitation of entire nations, not individual workers or group of workers. The "monopoly profits" Lenin talked about came from the monopoly of trade between an imperial power and subjugated nation, enforced not by capitalist economics so much as by an occupying imperial army. Thus all of Post's statistics, to prove that the economics of the capitalist market work in ways that would undermine his paraphrased version of Lenin's theory, prove nothing with regard to Lenin's actual theory." (43)

Bloom only specifies one mechanism by which the ruling classes of the global North exploit the global South as a whole:

"One major mechanism by which wealth is accumulated in this way is the enforcement of unequal exchange. Prices for agricultural goods and raw materials produced by the colonial nation are set artificially low. But the cost of manufactured products that is has to buy are set at a market price, or even artificially high. Under imperialism, as practiced in Lenin's time, the global market cannot correct this discrepancy because such a price structure is enforced by military domination of the less powerful nation by the more powerful one -- a military power that excludes other imperialist state from engaging in competition which might alter the terms of trade." (43)

Bloom offers no statistical data on the volume of profits earned through unequal exchange or what portion of total wages earned in the global North is made up of these profits. More importantly, he doesn't try to make his notion of "unequal exchange" compatible with the dynamics of capitalist competition and accumulation, or what Marx referred to as the "law of value."(8) Instead, Bloom argues that various forms of non-market coercion -- unequal trade treaties and direct colonization in Lenin's time, and corporations' "monopoly power" to buy inputs below cost and sell finished goods above cost -- account for the "exploitation of entire nations" through the mechanism of unequal exchange.

Unfortunately, the use of non-market coercion -- military power, monopoly power, etc. -- is the distinguishing characteristic of pre-capitalist, not capitalist imperialism. As Ellen Meiksins Wood argues in Empire of Capital(9), what distinguishes capitalist from pre-capitalist imperialism is precisely the absence of non-market coercion.

The distinguishing feature of capitalist social relations is the absence of non-market coercion in the exploitation of direct producers. Rather than relying on legal, juridical and other non-market forms of coercion to ensure that producers perform surplus labor for their exploiters, capital relies solely on the operation of the market in labor-power to ensure the production of surplus-value.

Just as capitalist production dispenses with non-market coercion in the exploitation of labor, capitalist imperialism -- the internationalization of capitalist social relations ("the export of capital") -- dispenses with exactly the sort of mechanisms that Bloom identifies. In a recent contribution, Wood argues:

"Capitalist imperialism extends this purely economic mode of exploitation beyond national borders, relying on, indeed imposing and enforcing, the market-dependence of subordinate economies. Global capital can accumulate by "economic" means, as these economies are drawn into the orbit of the global market and become subject to economic pressures emanating from the major capitalist powers."(10)

Thus, while capitalism requires a state (or a system of states in the case of capitalist imperialism) to create the general conditions of capitalist production (separating laborers from the means of production, organizing the legal framework for market competition, suppressing challenges from below, etc.), it does not require direct political or military interference in the production of goods and services to ensure exploitation at home or abroad. Put simply, capitalist imperialism does not require the use of either political or "monopoly" power to artificially depress or raise prices to generate profits.

The notion that such use of non-market power is necessary for capitalist imperialism today runs counter to the globalization of neoliberalism -- the removal of any and all political and institutional obstacle to the "free" operation of capital, labor and commodity markets.(11) The U.S. ruling class, through both diplomacy and military intervention, has successfully destroyed most political and institutional "obstacles" to the "free operations of the market" -- whether the remnants of the bureaucratic command economies in the East, or the use capitalist state power to promote national development in the global South.

The Limited Power of Plunder

Shifting gears theoretically, Bloom argues that wage differentials(12) between workers in the global North and global South (and among workers in the global North) flow from different levels of mechanization (organic composition of capital) and the resulting differences in labor productivity (rates of surplus value).

Bloom claims, however, that these differences are the result of unequal exchange and outright plunder. Conflating profits derived from capitalist production organized by transnationals in the twenty-first century, IMF and World Bank structural adjustment policies in the twentieth century, and colonial plunder and mercantile manipulations in the sixteenth and seventeenth century, Bloom argues that the "massive quantity of capital" in the global North "was derived, in significant part, from the global south via all of the mechanisms, direct and indirect, noted above." (44)

While the notion that plunder, mercantile fraud, unequal exchange and other forms of imperialist super-exploitation over the last five centuries is a "significant" source of capital invested in the global North is a common argument on the left, it has little historical foundation.

If outright plunder in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were a significant source of capital accumulation, then Spain and Portugal -- the most effective early modern pre-capitalist empires -- should have experienced the break through to industrial capitalism well before England in the eighteenth century. Similarly, if profits from slave-based plantation agriculture in the Caribbean and the transatlantic slave trade in the seventeenth and eighteenth century were decisive to the capitalist industrialization, then France -- which possessed the most lucrative plantation island, St. Domingue, now Haiti -- should have preceded England in the industrial revolution.

Ellen Wood(13) provides an alternative explanation of the relationship of colonial plunder to the breakthrough to industrial capitalism:

"Marxist historians have persuasively demonstrated, against many arguments to the contrary, that the greatest crime of European empire, slavery, made a major contribution to the development of industrial capitalism. But here, too, we have to keep in mind that Britain was not alone in exploiting colonial slavery and that elsewhere it had different effects. Other major European powers -- France, Spain, Portugal -- amassed great wealth from slavery and from the trade in addictive goods like tobacco which, it has been argued, fueled the trade in living human beings. But again, only in Britain was that wealth converted into industrial capital -- and here again the difference lies in the new capitalist dynamic which had already transformed the logic of the British economy, setting in train the imperatives of competitive production, capital accumulation, and self-sustaining growth."

Put simply, the breakthrough to capitalist industrialization in Britain in the eighteenth century -- and the continued accumulation of capital in the global North today -- is primarily the result of the specific economic dynamism of capitalist social relations of production. The breakthrough to capitalist class relations in English agriculture in the sixteenth century was the result of a unique series of struggles between peasant farmers and landlords.(14)

These struggles unleashed a dynamic that compelled farmers to "sell to survive" -- to specialize, accumulate and innovate in order to survive in the competitive market place. The development of agrarian capitalism in the English countryside paved the way for industrial capitalism -- through the creation of both a mass of property-less wage workers from the ranks of "failed" capitalist farmers, and a Ahome market@ for capitalist produced consumer and capital goods.

Imperialism Today

Today, the role of imperialism in maintaining capitalist accumulation in the global North is equally complex. On the one hand, imperialism plays a crucial role in maintaining profitability and accumulation in the advanced capitalist societies. Transnational corporations earn higher than average profits derived from labor-intensive operations in the global South. Neoliberal "accumulation through dispossession"(15) -- the massive privatization of formerly publicly owned land and industries and their sale at extremely low prices -- also increases the transnational corporations' profits. As argued in my original article, imperialist investment and the globalization of neoliberalism constitute important counter-tendencies to falling profits in the global North.

On the other hand, profits derived from foreign direct investment -- the only concrete measure we have of profits from imperialism -- made up between 5% and 10% of total U.S. corporate profits between 1948 and 1969 (the long wave of expansion), between 10% and 25% between 1970 and 1999, and exceeded 30% only in 2000 and 2001. The vast majority of foreign direct investment is in other countries of the global North.

Thus, the total share of profits from the global South only exceeds 10% of total profits after 1970 -- after profitability falls in the global North. Put simply, the total profits derived from imperialist investment in the global South constituted too small a portion of total profits to explain the differential levels of accumulation and mechanization in the world economy.

War and the "Labor Aristocracy"

Bloom claims that I distorted the theory of the labor aristocracy to suggest:

"...that the consciousness of the labor aristocracy reflected some absolute or generalized conservatism on all questions. The theory was, instead, focused on explaining one particular form of mass consciousness, the capitulation of large segments of working people in Europe to the feelings of national/racial superiority that are used to enlist working people on the side of their own ruling classes in wars and colonial conquests. In terms of other aspects of capitalist oppression, in particular those that directly affect even relatively privileged workers in the imperialist heartlands, it was still reasonable to expect that struggles would erupt." (44)

Bloom then proceeds to dismiss my analysis of the major working class struggles -- economic and political -- led by relatively well paid workers as irrelevant. "If we understand the labor aristocracy theory as positing that layers of the northern working class have been conservatized on questions specifically relating to war and imperial exploitation then there is no refutation of this whatsoever in the list of other kinds of struggles that Post presents." (44)

This is certainly not the case of the struggles of skilled industrial workers in the early 20th century. These workers not only led militant workplace struggles against deskilling and speed up before, during and after the First World War, but they engaged in strikes and demonstrations against the war. These workers were the social base of the anti-war/anti-imperialist wing of the labor and socialist movements in France, Britain, Germany, Italy, and most notably Russia.

The vast majority of the Bolsheviks in Russia were these well-paid, skilled industrial workers. These "relatively privileged" workers were the back bone of the newly formed revolutionary Communist parties after World War I -- which they attempted to make into instruments of their uncompromising struggle against capital at home and abroad. The notion that these workers' higher wages and other material privileges made them conservative on the question of "war and imperial exploitation" is simply not historically accurate.

Clearly, most of the other examples of the mass struggles in the United States, Europe, Brazil and South Africa I discussed were not explicitly anti-war or anti-imperialist. However, the well-paid workers who led these struggles in the 1930s and again in the 1960s and 1970s often displayed a political radicalism that transcended a defense of their "relative privilege."

Again, these were the workers who were the cadre of the radical and revolutionary left through the 1940s -- joining parties and organizations that linked militant workplace struggle with a broad political agenda that included the struggle against racism and war. More importantly, workplace militancy is the necessary pre-condition for working class political radicalism -- including the development of anti-war and anti-imperialist consciousness and activism.(16)

Bloom claims that my alternative theory of working-class conservatism is "rooted in essentially ideological factors." To repeat, I believe that working-class conservatism is rooted in the structure of capitalist social relations of production, specifically the working class' simultaneous existence as collective producers and competing individualized sellers of labor power.

When workers act as collective producers against capital and the state, there is a potential for workers to develop radical, revolutionary class consciousness -- a consciousness that rejects racism and national chauvinism. However, workers' collective action against capital does not take place spontaneously -- without organization and leadership from below.(17)

In the absence of effective class organization and activity -- organization and activity independent of the labor officialdom -- workers lived experience as competing sellers of labor-power leads them to defend themselves against other workers rather than against capital. Put simply, this "war of all against all" in the working class provides a fertile environment for racism, national chauvinism and all sorts of other reactionary ideas.

Bloom presents the fundamental difference between us as follows:

"To adequately confront and combat racism and national chauvinism it is essential for socialists to understand that this is a phenomenon with deep material roots in the privileged life style of workers in the northern countriesY Racism and national chauvinism are not going to be easily combated or uprooted, no matter how militant, how collective, how self-organized the struggles of the working class might become. The problem will require our constant attention and a constant struggle -- now, up through, and after a socialist revolution in the United States." (44)

I agree with Bloom that militant, collective, working class self-organization and self-activity alone will not uproot racism. Nor will the overthrow of capitalism, by itself, abolish racism. As I argued against Smith, both will require the self-organization and self-activity of the oppressed -- especially people of color. However, socialists recognize that the overthrow of capitalism is the necessary precondition for the eventual abolition of racism and national chauvinism, because this form of society provides a fertile environment for these forms of oppression.

Similarly, I would argue that collective, militant, working class self-organization and self-activity is the necessary precondition for combating racism and national chauvinism in the working class, because workers' experience as competing sellers of labor-power provides a fertile environment for these forms of oppression. The "relative privilege" of some workers in the global North is neither derived from the super-exploitation of workers in the global South, nor an insurmountable obstacle to both workplace militancy and political radicalism.

A Note on Bakunin and the "Labor Aristocracy"

IN MY ORIGINAL contribution, I discussed how Frederick Engels introduced the notion of the "labor aristocracy" into discussions among revolutionary socialists in a series of letters to Marx, the earliest from 1858. Although it's not relevant to the present debate, I have recently discovered that the "labor aristocracy" had a parallel history among anarchists. Mikhail Bakunin, an elitist critic of Marx's "socialism from below,"(18) introduced the notion among anarchists in his 1872 polemic against Marx, "On the International Workingmen's Association and Karl Marx":(19)

"To me the flower of the proletariat is not, as it is to the Marxists, the upper layer, the aristocracy of labor, those who are the most cultured, who earn more and live more comfortably than all the other workers. Precisely this semi-bourgeois layer of workers would, if the Marxists had their way, constitute their fourth governing class. This could indeed happen if the great mass of the proletariat does not guard against it. By virtue of its relative well-being and semi-bourgeois position, this upper layer of workers is unfortunately only too deeply saturated with all the political and social prejudices and all the narrow aspirations and pretensions of the bourgeoisie. Of all the proletariat, this upper layer is the least social and the most individualist.

"By the flower of the proletariat, I mean above all that great mass, those millions of the uncultivated, the disinherited, the miserable, the illiterates, whom Messrs. Engels and Marx would subject to their paternal rule by a strong government -- naturally for the people's own salvation! All governments are supposedly established only to look after the welfare of the masses! By flower of the proletariat, I mean precisely that eternal "meat" (on which governments thrive), that great rabble of the people (underdogs, "dregs of society") ordinarily designated by Marx and Engels in the picturesque and contemptuous phrase Lumpenproletariat. I have in mind the "riffraff," that "rabble" almost unpolluted by bourgeois civilization, which carries in its inner being and in its aspirations, in all the necessities and miseries of its collective life, all the seeds of the socialism of the future, and which alone is powerful enough today to inaugurate and bring to triumph the Social Revolution."


    1. ATC 126 (January-February 2007), 41-44.

    2. ATC 123-124, (July-August 2006 and September-October 2006).

    3. I am indebted to Mark Nelson (Personal Correspondence, June 25, 2006) for this insight.

    4. The classic form of “dual-systems” theory posited the existence of autonomous systems of capitalist class relations and patriarchal sex-gender relations. See L. Sargent (ed.), Women and Revolution: A Discussion of the Unhappy Marriage of Marxism and Feminism (Boston: South End Press, 1981). For excellent critiques of this perspective on gender and class see L. Vogel, Marxism and the Oppression of Women: Toward a Unitary Theory (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1987); and J. Brenner and M. Ramos, ”Rethinking Women’s Oppression,” in J. Brenner, Women and the Politics of Class (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2000). Despite its insights into the changing structure of racism in the US, M. Omi and H. Winant, Racial Formation in the United States: From the 1960s to the 1990s (New York: Routledge, 1994) suffers from similar problems as “dual systems” theories of class and gender.

    5. J. Brenner’s “Intersections, Locations, and Capitalist Class Relations: Intersectionality form a Marxist Perspective,” in Brenner, Women and the Politics of Class is an excellent example of this type of analysis.

    6. “Autonomism” generally refers to those currents on the revolutionary left, inspired by the Italian Autonomia Operaria of the 1970s, who believed that spontaneous—unorganized—struggles of workers could induce a capitalist crisis and initiate a transition to socialism. Initially focused on the “collective worker” in the large industrial plants in the Italian north, the autonomists later came to identify more marginal social elements—students, the unemployed, casual laborers—as the key to overthrowing capitalism. For an excellent discussion of autonomism and its most important theorist, Antonio Negri, see T. Abse, ”Judging the PCI,” New Left Review (Old Series) 153 (September-October 1985); and A. Callinicos, Toni Negri in Perspective,” International Socialist Journal (New Series) 92 (September 2001).

    7. For an analysis of the decline of these movements, see J. Misnik (ed.), New Politics or Old? Jesse Jackson and the Rainbow Challenge (Detroit, MI: Solidarity Pamphlet, 1988); and Bush’s Wars, the Movements and the 2004 Elections (Detroit, MI: Solidarity Pamphlet, 2004).

    8. Both Arghiri Emmanuel, Unequal Exchange: A Study of the Imperialism of Trade (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1972) and Ernest Mandel, Late Capitalism (London: New Left Books, 1975), Chapter 11, attempt to construct theories of “unequal exchange” consistent with Marx’s analysis of the capitalist mode of production. See Anwar Shaikh, “Foreign Trade and the Law of Value, Parts I-II,” Science & Society (Fall 1979 and Spring 1980) for a thorough theoretical critique of these attempts.

    9. (London: Verso, 2003).

    10. “Logics of Power: A Conversation with David Harvey” Historical Materialism 14,4 (2006), 17. Wood’s article is part of an excellent symposium on Harvey’s The New Imperialism. Robert Brenner’s contribution, “What Is, and What Is Not, Imperialism?” makes similar arguments.

    11. The best synthesis of the Marxist discussion of neo-liberalism is D. Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).

    12. Bloom correctly chides me for reducing the “relative privilege” of workers in the global North to their direct, private wages, and ignoring the much higher social wage—social services, etc. However, recent research has demonstrated that the “social wage” is funded by taxation on workers’ wages, not on capitalist profit. See A. Shaikh, “Who Pays for the “Welfare” in the Welfare State” Social Research, 70,2 (2003) (

    13. The Origins of Capitalism (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1999), 101. Her argument is based on the exhaustive review of secondary sources in R. Blackburn, The Making of New World Slavery (London: Verso, 1997), Chapter XII. See also Wood, “Eurocentric Anti-Eurocentrism,” ATC 92 (May-June 2001) (

    14. This argument reprises the “Brenner Thesis” on the origins of capitalism. See R. Brenner, ”Agrarian Class Structure and Economic Development in Pre-Industrial Europe,” in T.H. Aston and C.H.E. Philpin (eds.), The Brenner Debate: Agrarian Class Structure and Economic Development in Pre-Industrial Europe (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985); and Wood, The Origins of Capitalism.

    15. D. Harvey, The New Imperialism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003); History of Neo-Liberalism introduces the notion of “accumulation through dispossession.”

    16. Bloom presents six reasons for “affirming this more optimistic notion about the real potential for struggles on the part of the northern working classes without in the least denying the existence or significance of the labor aristocracy.” I find none of these objectionable historically or theoretically. However, all of them point to the fact that “relative privilege” – higher wages, more secure employment, access to social welfare, etc.—does not constitute an enduring basis for working class reformism or conservatism.

    17. Bloom’s reference to the fact that the existence of mass unions and workers’ parties in Europe did not prevent their capitulation to imperialism in 1914 is a bit of a red herring. These mass unions and parties were thoroughly bureaucratized. Long before Lenin acknowledged the victory of “opportunism” when the Second International collapsed in 1914, Luxemburg and Trotsky had identified the party and union officialdom as the layer of the workers’ movement most committed to class collaboration both at home and abroad.

    18. H. Draper, Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution, Volume IV: Critique of Other Socialisms (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1990), Chapter 6.


ATC 127, March-April 2007