(Note: The following 5,300+ word piece is a counter-review, debunking a “meta-review” which represented itself as a reply to my book review of a short book, The Worker Elite, by Bromma. Not everyone will find it worthwhile to follow this debate to the end (it ends here, below). This is a case of addressing “ants with a sledgehammer,” that is, it is an unnecessarily exhaustive and over-scrupulous refutation. If you’re looking for some more straightforward reviews of Bromma’s book, other than mine, this would be a better place to look: http://kersplebedeb.com/posts/notes-on-the-worker-elite. On the other hand, if you have any inclination to think that the meta-review to which the following is a reply might have any merit as an assessment of my article on Bromma, or indeed any merit as an account of Bromma’s book, then you owe it to yourself to read the following from start to finish, since it decisively and with unmistakable finality settles the matter once and for all, debunking the “meta-review” in full.)
By Stephen D’Arcy
Sometimes I complain that my activity as a lefty blogger is deprived of drama by the fact that nobody ever stops to denounce my posts, even when I take up highly controversial matters, like armed struggle or allyship discourse. I can complain no longer, since now one of my posts — my book review addressing Bromma’s The Worker Elite — has been subjected to a trenchant maoist “meta-review,” which in no uncertain terms lays out the case against “the likes of D’arcy” as a disreputable falsifier of Bromma’s views. The author of this so-called meta-review, J. Moufawad-Paul, posted his reply on his well-known blog, MLM-Mayhem.
On no less than nine occasions, the meta-review makes a point of affixing the label “dishonest,” not simply to “the likes of D’arcy” in general, but to D’arcy himself, that is, myself, or at least my review. According to Moufawad-Paul, “the dishonesty in D’arcy’s review” is so egregious that it “borders on the laughable.”
Supplementing the dishonesty motif with a second line of attack, Moufawad-Paul’s meta-review bluntly raises the possibility that the likes of D’arcy may not have done enough to have “embedded himself in working class struggles” to be a reputable participant in a debate over Bromma’s book in the first place. After all, only someone who has properly “embedded himself [or herself]” can “speak with … concrete certainty” about these matters. “Has D’arcy even been part of a union struggle…?”
Already, this fills me with self-doubt. Maybe Moufawad-Paul is correct when he classifies my writing as “the kind of idealist fluff produced by people who have never organized in a significant manner.”
Resisting the narcissistic impulse to make it all about me, however, I will attempt to feign an unshakeable nonchalance as I breeze past Moufawad-Paul’s polemical tone-setting gestures to fix my attention firmly on those of his points that I regard as earnest attempts to advance more-or-less substantive arguments against my stated views. After all, ritual denunciation is a formal requirement of the genre (maoist polemic), so it would be absurd for me to take any of it personally. Nevertheless, I hope readers (if any) will forgive the fact that my reply consists mostly of direct quotations from Bromma’s book, a maneuver necessitated by the sheer repetitiousness of Moufawad-Paul’s depiction of my review as brazenly and almost laughably dishonest.
It may be enough if I can attempt to do two things in this reply:
- First, I will try to re-affirm a point which I think can be established beyond any doubt (that The Worker Elite regards South Korean auto-workers, Californian nurses, and French tire-factory workers, among many others, as privileged workers, and precisely by virtue of being so privileged, as excluded from the ranks of the proletariat, and indeed as adversaries of the proletariat and allies of the ruling class).
- Second, I will show that one of my supposed acts of dishonesty, of which I am so repetitiously accused by Moufawad-Paul, consists of making a claim that my meta-critic himself affirms (that The Worker Elite rejects the possibility of doing class analysis without giving any central role to the concept of privilege, since Bromma’s class theory refuses to concede, to the likes of me, that we can understand the proletariat without deploying, at the very heart of our analysis, this “non-economic” notion, as Bromma calls it).
- Are Seoul autoworkers, California nurses, and French factory workers members of the proletariat, or not? And, if not, why not?
This line of questioning goes right to the heart of the matter taken up by the meta-review. I claim in my review (a) that Bromma regards the “workers” in question as non-proletarian, i.e., members of a class other than the proletariat, a “middle” class with interests that are in conflict with those of the proletariat, and (b) that Bromma bases this judgment on the claim that these employee-groups derive what Bromma calls “privileges” from their access to a share of wealth exploited from actual proletarians, which in turn creates a material basis for the predictable and de facto alliance between these workers and the capitalists who grant the worker elite their “privileged” status. If I am correct in both of these claims, then it would seem that – whatever my personal failings – Moufawad-Paul’s suggestion that I have both clumsily misunderstood and, even more so, dishonestly misrepresented Bromma’s position begins to appear ill-supported by plausible evidence.
Let me begin at the beginning. Moufawad-Paul says this: “The way in which D’arcy begins his review feels quite dishonest. He lists a series of bottom-up union movements based on significant demands and claims that The Worker Elite is treating these struggles as ‘the struggles of a parasitic elite attempting to defend its unearned privileges.’” When he says this, Moufawad-Paul is replying to the following question posed at the beginning of my original review:
“If a group of unionized nurses in Oakland, California, goes out on strike, to oppose their employer’s attempt to gut their pensions and benefits; or a group of autoworkers fights with the police in Seoul, South Korea, over an employer’s plan to lay off members of their union; or if a group of tire factory workers in the French city of Amiens holds a manager hostage, to negotiate better severance packages for laid off workers — should these actions be understood as “proletarian” struggles against exploitation, which ought to be actively and vigorously supported by the socialist Left? Or are these, on the contrary, the struggles of a parasitic elite attempting to defend its unearned privileges, which have been gained largely at the expense of the actual proletariat by means of a corrupt bargain struck with the capitalist ruling class?”
Now, Moufawad-Paul seems, in this exchange, to cast doubt on my suggestion that The Worker Elite regards the union activity of nurses in Oakland, autoworkers in Seoul, and tire factory workers in France as non-proletarian struggles. If so, it would be an odd and also false (but no doubt scrupulously honest in intention) way of characterizing the content of Bromma’s book. In the case of Korean autoworkers, Bromma comes right out and says that they are members of the worker elite: “Decades ago, Japan was a trailblazer in institutionalizing a large Asian worker elite. But today it is far from unique. Heavy capitalist investment in the South Korean shipbuilding and auto industries has been accompanied by the growth of a worker elite roughly modeled on those of the West and Japan. In 2001, the average compensation costs for manufacturing workers in South Korea was almost $19 (US) an hour, according the Bureau of Labor Statistics” (pp. 37-38). Benefitting from years of “tough labor battles,” Bromma says, “unionized Korean autoworkers” now enjoy a “middle class standard of living” (p. 52; emphasis added). And these Korean autoworkers are not the only labourers who are consigned by Bromma to the ranks of the “worker elite.” “At the cultural, political, and demographic heart of the worker elite are male workers who do blue collar manual labor — teamsters, construction ‘hard hats,’ firefighters, machinists, well-paid manufacturing workers, etc.” (p. 18). Presumably the tire-factory workers in France fit precisely in this group: “blue collar manual laborers,” such as “machinists, well-paid manufacturing workers, etc.” It hardly needs to be added that nurses and teachers, too, fall in the “worker elite” class, and not in the proletariat. After all, they tend not to live in the kind of dire poverty that typifies the proletarian condition as understood in The Worker Elite. “A privileged standard of living,” Bromma says, “is a basic characteristic of worker elites,” and this “includes preferential social benefits – health insurance, pensions, vacation time, sick leave, unemployment insurance, etc. Economic privilege may also take the form of better education, home ownership, or greater access to infrastructure and services (transportation, the internet, indoor plumbing, etc.)” (p. 19). Helpfully, Bromma adds this: “Similarly, an exemption from child labor – something which is entirely ‘normal’ in the proletariat – is a characteristic of worker elite households” (p. 20).
So, I hope we can take this as basic factual information: Bromma depicts autoworkers in South Korea, nurses in the USA, and tire factory workers in France as members of the worker elite.
Why, then, does Moufawad-Paul say that my review’s opening question (about whether we should support the union activities of these groups as proletarian struggles against exploitation, or take our distance from them as struggles of a parasitic elite to defend their privileges) “seems quite dishonest”? Moufawad-Paul explains himself as follows:
“While it is true that Bromma is trying to examine the existence/persistence of a ‘parasitic elite’ in the working class, at no point is this author arguing: (a) that all union struggles are determined by this parasitism; (b) that this parasitism has to do with ‘unearned privileges’.”
Here I must object. First, Bromma is certainly not examining a parasitic elite “in the working class.” On the contrary, Bromma explicitly rejects the term “working class” as a misleading, unscientific term, because it conceals the antagonisms between what are in fact three distinct classes. The “worker elite” is not a fragment or layer within a class. It is a distinct class in its own right, according to Bromma. Bromma writes: “In fact, what is generally referred to as the working class isn’t really a single class at all, but a family of three separate classes: the proletariat, the worker elite (‘labor aristocracy’), and the lumpen working class (‘lumpen-proletariat’),” and “each has its own specific class interests and politics” (p. 4).
With that said, let’s return to the objection: Moufawad-Paul denies that Bromma believes “(a) that all union struggles are determined by this parasitism; (b) that this parasitism has to do with ‘unearned privileges’.”
Since assurance from the likes of me will hold no weight in this context, let’s look at what Bromma actually says on these points. “[I]t is an undeniable fact that the worker elite is an intrinsically parasitic class. The treasured privileges of the worker elite are funded by the ongoing capitalist exploitation of the proletariat; by the oppression of nations and women; by war, genocide, and rape of the natural environment” (p. 11). These are what I meant when I said, “unearned privileges.” Bromma observes: “That middle class status doesn’t come about because of greater skill, either. Within modern imperialism, technical education and skills are themselves privileges” (p. 12). I believe that Bromma is very clear: the relatively (in global terms) high rates of pay, the pensions, benefits, and exemption from sweatshop conditions, that characterize the “worker elite” are regarded by Bromma as flowing from that class’s “intrinsically parasitic” position: these “treasured privileges of the worker elite are funded by the ongoing capitalist exploitation of the proletariat.” I have indeed depicted Bromma as arguing that struggles to establish or defend these beneficial terms of employment, these “treasured privileges,” are rooted in a “parasitism” that “has to do with ‘unearned privileges.’” Since I stand accused of being a serial fabricator of misrepresentations of Bromma’s view, I can only invite readers to judge the meaning of some relevant passages from Bromma’s book and draw their own conclusions.
“[The] class nature [of the worker elite] is fundamentally determined by its privileges” (p. 12.)
“There’s no magic income figure delineating the boundary of the proletariat…. As we have discussed, non-economic factors are decisive in the definition of worker elites. And privilege may look different in different societies” (p. 34).
“Most of the profits that pay for worker elite privileges have come historically from colonial theft, extortion, and exploitation” (p. 36).
“Their principal economic concern isn’t survival, but maintaining and enhancing their middle class status” (p. 35).
“The more reforms the proletariat demands, the more opportunity there is for the worker elite to appropriate those reforms and turn them into privileges. Ripping off the proletarians’ struggle, the worker elite succeeds at their expense” (p. 17).
“In fact, union membership is a typical badge of worker elite status. Every day in every part of the world, worker elite unions negotiate corrupt deals with capital and trash the interests of the proletariat” (p. 62).
“Proletarians can use unions to fight oppression, to strengthen their unity and combative power. Worker elites can use unions to achieve and solidify privilege…. All these differences are political, but at the most basic level they reflect differing class agendas” (p. 62).
“The proletariat must defeat the hegemony of the worker elite’s organizations, and battle to control its own…. This multifaceted struggle will only be successful if it is understood as a deep conflict among distinct classes with different material interests, rather than as just an abstract question of program, political line or ideology” (p. 63)
“Korean auto assembly workers …still have a reputation for struggling hard against corporate attacks, including a current wave of casualization. But the terms of conflict have changed dramatically. The workers are now defending elite jobs” (pp.68-69).
“Class struggle is going on every day inside the [so-called] working class. It’s time to choose where our class loyalty lies – with the proletariat or with its minders in the worker elite” (p. 75).
“Flattering a failing worker elite with crocodile tears for its lost privileges – like the right-wing populists do – leads to disaster for the proletarian forces” (p. 57).
“The worker elite also likes to define itself as a champion of the underdog, holding the front line against the rich. This is a dishonest and self-serving narrative. In fact, the worker elite as a class embodies accommodation with the bourgeoisie and betrayal of the proletariat” (p. 52).
“[I]t is an unavoidable fact that the worker elite is an intrinsically parasitic class. The treasured privileges of the worker elite are funded by the ongoing capitalist exploitation of the proletariat….The ruling class diverts a portion of the wealth that it [exploits]…to cultivating and maintaining worker elites, which in turn are persuaded to abandon and attack the proletariat and other enemies of capital….Its prized middle class status comes from a preferential social contract, approved and paid for by the bourgeoisie” (11-12).
“The parasitic and patriarchal agenda of this [worker elite] class must be defeated” (p. 74).
On the basis of passages like these, and many more like them, I suggested at the start of my review that Bromma, in The Worker Elite, takes the view that struggles like those of US nurses to protect their pensions and benefits, of Korean autoworkers to protect their job security, and of French factory workers to secure generous severance packages, were all struggles of a privileged elite – outside the proletariat – acting to defend its unearned privileges. Was my summary of Bromma’s view “quite dishonest”? Was it even mistaken? Was it less accurate than Moufawad-Paul’s claims (1) that Bromma is investigating parasitism within the working class, rather than between antagonistic classes, or (2) that Bromma doesn’t believe that parasitism is the leading variable determining the behavior of “worker elite” unions? I leave it to the reader (?!) to judge.
But notice: I actually quote Bromma on the points in dispute, whereas – and this strikes me as an extraordinary fact – Moufawad-Paul’s “meta-review” does not quote a single sentence (let me repeat it: not a single sentence!) from Bromma’s book. We are asked to believe that he has read the book that he so insistently claims that I have misrepresented, and without hesitation or qualification I take him at his word on that score. But at no point is a single sentence, much less the dozens that one might expect, marshaled as evidence that my interpretations are mistaken. Instead, the sheer repetition of magic words like “dishonesty” and “misrepresentation” are offered in lieu of textual citation and quotation.
With this observation, I turn to the second point that I hope to establish here.
- Can we understand the specificity of the class position of the proletariat without deploying the concept of privilege (as I claim), or not (as I suggest that Bromma claims)?
On this point, I’m optimistic that all parties – the likes of Bromma, the likes of Moufawad-Paul, and the likes of D’arcy – can converge toward a shared understanding of where they disagree. I believe that the Bromma/Moufawad-Paul position on this specific question is that, in order to properly understand the specific class position of the proletariat, we must take note of the fact that some working people (namely, the worker elite) gain access to privileges, in the form of benefits funded by the exploitation of other, less well-paid workers (namely, the proletariat). If we fail to note this, according to (as I claimed in my review) Bromma and (it seems) Moufawad-Paul, we will mistake some non-proletarians for members of the proletariat. This, in turn, would be disastrous, at least according to Bromma as depicted in my review, because it would obscure from the proletariat itself that those teachers, construction workers, nurses and autoworkers – far from being allies (much less members) of the proletariat – are adversaries of the proletariat and allies of the bourgeoisie (the capitalist ruling class).
I don’t know whether Moufawad-Paul would agree with Bromma that nurses, teachers, construction workers and autoworkers are, to the extent that they act in accordance with their class interests, class enemies of the proletariat. Possibly not. But there can be no doubt that Bromma believes this.
Bromma writes: “The worker elite…continuously attacks, restricts, and undermines the proletariat’s struggle for freedom. The predominantly reactionary role of this privileged class flows directly from its material interests” (p. 75).
“Along with their fellow middle classes, the worker elite everywhere makes defense of privilege their top priority” (p. 55).
“[T]he labor elite is always looking to augment its privileges, and will routinely betray the proletariat to gain more” (p. 54).
“When the worker elite wishes to employ the proletariat for leverage, its ‘anti-establishment’ aspect and rebellious rhetoric may come to the fore…At the same time, true to its fundamental class nature, the worker elite will work to control, manipulate, and eventually defeat such rhetoric” (p. 46).
“It’s time to choose where our class loyalty lies – – with the proletariat or with its minders in the worker elite” (p. 75).
But while Moufawad-Paul can’t plausibly substantiate any doubt that Bromma thinks of the worker elite as aligned with capital in a class struggle against the proletariat, which the proletariat must defeat, there is a further, slightly more subtle point to be addressed. Was I misrepresenting Bromma when I said that The Worker Elite uses “a privilege approach to class analysis”?
Here’s the relevant passages (describing the privilege approach to class analysis) from my review:
“In the privilege approach, class is understood as a location in a system of differences, but not primarily, or at any rate not exclusively, as a two-way antagonism between boss and worker. Just as important as the boss/worker conflict, from this point of view, is the antagonism or differentiation between differently located groups of workers. The differences between them — that is, the ‘privileged’ position of some working people, which sets them apart from other workers — may very well, according to this approach, necessitate that we treat differently positioned workers as constituting different, antagonistic classes: a privileged class of elite workers that benefits from unearned advantages that are denied to members of the genuinely ‘proletarian’ class of workers.… In contrast to the exploitation view, the privilege conception of class encourages us to view advantages or gains made by some (but not all) groups of working people, not positively, as ‘victories for our class,’ but rather negatively, as unearned advantages, subsidized by the continuing impoverishment of the lower paid, less advantaged workers.” (Quoted from my review of Bromma.)
Now, Moufawad-Paul could not credibly cast doubt on my attribution to Bromma of the view (1) that the worker elite is not part of the proletariat, (2) that it isn’t in the proletariat because it has special privileges to which the proletariat is denied access, and (3) that these privileges are subsidized or “funded” (as Bromma puts it) by the impoverishment and exploitation of proletarians, which (4) renders the worker elite a parasitic class. This analysis, as I have established here by means of extensive quotation, is clearly a key theme in Bromma’s book. But what Moufawad-Paul does want to dispute is that we can usefully distinguish between an exploitation approach and a privilege approach to class analysis.
Moufawad-Paul writes: “What Bromma is actually saying is that exploitation (yes, D’arcy, exploitation) is what determines the stratification of the working-class at the centres of capitalism and elsewhere, thus producing a measure of privilege for some workers due to the greater exploitation of others. The entire analysis [of Bromma] is driven by a theory of exploitation, which is treated as something that generates differentials of privilege, and so the entire ‘privilege vs. exploitation’ narrative concocted in this review [by the likes of D’arcy] is off-the-mark. Are there workers who are more exploited than other workers, and are there workers who benefit from the exploitation of their counterparts? This is one question The Worker elite attempts to address.”
Other than the part about my review being “off-the-mark,” I agree with this comment, at least most of it. I say in my original review that Bromma’s worker elite is “parasitic” precisely because it benefits from the exploitation (yes, meta-critic, exploitation) of the proletariat. I say this at least twice. The first time I say it is when I quote Bromma’s claim that “the treasured privileges of the worker elite are funded by the ongoing capitalist exploitation of the proletariat,” and that “the ruling class diverts a portion of the wealth that it [exploits]… to cultivating and maintaining worker elites, which in turn are persuaded to abandon and attack the proletariat and other enemies of capital….Its prized middle class status comes from a preferential social contract, approved and paid for by the bourgeoisie” (Bromma, p. 11-12, here presented as quoted in my review.) The second time I make the point is when I write: “Bromma…views class mainly through the lens of the concept of privilege. (I say ‘mainly,’ because Bromma does make use of the concept of exploitation, but it has a secondary role, largely to support the book’s analysis of ‘worker elite’ privilege).” Thus, I do acknowledge that Bromma uses the concept of exploitation in the “worker elite” class analysis. However, I say it has a “secondary role.”
Is the role of the concept of exploitation really “secondary” in Bromma’s approach to class analysis? And is the concept of privilege really primary in that approach? What Moufawad-Paul claims — I think — is that these two concepts are not really separable: that, in order to analyze class exploitation properly, we have to use the concept of privilege. Although I disagree on the substance of that claim, I take heart in the fact that, by taking this view, Moufawad-Paul has come around to endorsing the interpretation of Bromma (as insisting that class analysis needs to foreground privilege) that I offered in my review. In other words, Moufawad-Paul seems, unless I’m up to my old tricks, etc., to be saying that, for Bromma, you can’t analyze class with using the concept of privilege. This is, very precisely, the view that in my review I dubbed “the privilege approach to class analysis.”
That privilege approach does not reject exploitation. But it denies that two groups of workers that are both exploited by the capitalist class in the same general way (as wage labourers, employed via the labour market to work for capitalist firms) are just for that reason members of the same class. According to the privilege approach, a further crucial question has to be asked, before we can analyze the class position of these two groups. Is one of the groups privileged, in the sense of gaining access special advantages, like health insurance, pensions, a living wage, job security provisions in a collective agreement, etc., privileges which (according to Bromma) are “funded” by capitalist exploitation of the other group of workers? If so, then these are not two ‘layers’ or ‘sections’ of one class – the proletariat. Instead, one of these groups of employees are proletarians, and the other – the privileged group – are not proletarians, but members of a “middle class,” a “worker elite,” which has interests that are antagonistic to those of the proletariat.
I take it that this is the view that both I and Moufawad-Paul attribute to Bromma: that we can’t analyze class positions without deploying, at the heart of our analysis, the concept of privilege. I call it the “privilege approach.” I concede that my terminology is not that of either Bromma or Moufawad-Paul. But I certainly do not concede that I have in any way misrepresented Bromma’s view. I have not, for instance, made Moufawad-Paul’s apparent mistake of thinking that Bromma regards the worker elite class as simply having “non-proletarian consciousness.” No, clearly Bromma regards the worker elite as a different class, whose interests are antagonistic to those of the proletariat, quite apart from their “consciousness.” When Bromma calls the worker elite “an intrinsically parasitic class,” the idea is not that they have “non-proletarian consciousness.” It is that they benefit from the exploitation of the proletariat, and that they have therefore a material interest in maintaining the subordination of the proletariat, in collaboration with the capitalist class. The conflict between the proletariat and the worker elite, Bromma says, is “a deep conflict among distinct classes with different material interests, rather than…just an abstract question of program, political line, or ideology” (p. 63).
Having established that my attribution to Bromma of the view that we can’t do class analysis without using the concept of privilege (as a necessary supplement and corrective to the concept of exploitation, which might make a construction worker or a factor worker seem like a proletarian, which would be disastrous according to Bromma), I want to draw the discussion to a close by underlining the point where we disagree. I believe that exploitation is not co-central (alongside privilege) in Bromma’s class analysis (which I think is what Moufawad-Paul is trying to say), but firmly consigned to a secondary role. Since my testimony is tainted in this setting by the profusion of dishonesty charges, I will — as above — mostly just quote Bromma’s statements on this issue.
To say that “privilege” is primary and “exploitation” is secondary in someone’s approach to class analysis is to say this: that economic factors, e.g., exploitation, are not treated by them as decisive variables in assigning a group of people to a class, and that non-economic factors, notably privilege, are instead treated as the decisive variables. I regard this as, if not an obvious way to interpret “primary” and “secondary,” at least a non-eccentric way to interpret these terms. If this makes me dishonest, in the maoist frame of reference, then so be it. I take my stand here: I claim that anyone who regards privilege, not exploitation, as the decisive variable in assigning a group of employees to a class, thereby treats exploitation as secondary, and privilege as primary.
Having said that, I can get right to the point: Bromma comes right out and says that economic factors, e.g., exploitation, are not decisive in class analyis (specifically, in determining the boundaries of the proletariat), and that privilege is instead decisive.
Let’s look at Bromma’s words:
“There’s no magic income figure delineating the boundary of the proletariat…. As we have discussed, non-economic factors are decisive in the definition of worker elites” (p. 34).
But which “non-economic factors” are “decisive”? Bromma replies: “[The] class nature [of the worker elite] is fundamentally determined by its privileges” (p. 12).
Bromma adds, even more bluntly: “The worker elite is a mass class, comprising hundreds of millions of middle class workers around the world whose institutionalized privileges set them decisively apart from the proletariat. In short, entitled middle class workers” (p. 5; emphasis added).
Note two things about this passage: first, it the “institutionalized privileges [which] set them [the worker elite] decisively apart from the proletariat.” Hence, if it is dishonest for me to say that according to Bromma privilege is decisive in setting industrial and white collar workers in places like Korea or Canada apart from the proletariat, how much more dishonest must Bromma be, since Bromma has inserted these very words into the opening pages of the book! Second, note, too, that Bromma accepts, indeed introduces, the summary formula: “entitled middle-class workers.” Was that my mistake? That I said “privileged” instead of “entitled”? Was this my “quite dishonest” “misrepresentation”? If so, then, once again, Bromma is the worse offender, since the label “privileged” is applied to the worker elite again and again in the pages of The Worker Elite, as I have shown, and by no means only in the quoted passage about how “institutionalized privileges set them decisively apart from the proletariat.”
Even Moufawad-Paul himself insists, re-stating the point that I had attributed to Bromma both in my original review and in this rejoinder, that the class location of the “worker elite” is determined by “a differential of exploitation that produces a differential of privilege” (Moufawad-Paul). This formula demonstrates the key point: that exploitation gains its importance precisely because it generates what Bromma calls the “non-economic factor” which is “decisive”: “institutionalized privileges [which] set [the worker elite] decisively apart from the proletariat.”
Needless to say, I could go on. And on. If nothing else, I have proven that. I had thought that it would be fitting to make the length of this counter-meta-review exceed the 75 pages (with large font and photographs) of Bromma’s book itself. I even imagined a scenario where I would include the entire book within my counter-meta-review, one quoted passage at time. But I have a job and kids, so for now, I will cut it short, with the teasing promise that I may add further instalments, if the appetite of readers for a more thorough examination proves too great to ignore.
I should probably end with the question that began my original review:
“If a group of unionized nurses in Oakland, California, goes out on strike, to oppose their employer’s attempt to gut their pensions and benefits; or a group of autoworkers fights with the police in Seoul, South Korea, over an employer’s plan to lay off members of their union; or if a group of tire factory workers in the French city of Amiens holds a manager hostage, to negotiate better severance packages for laid off workers — should these actions be understood as ‘proletarian’ struggles against exploitation, which ought to be actively and vigorously supported by the socialist Left? Or are these, on the contrary, the struggles of a parasitic elite attempting to defend its unearned privileges, which have been gained largely at the expense of the actual proletariat by means of a corrupt bargain struck with the capitalist ruling class?”
Bromma, clearly, takes the second view: that such struggles are those of a parasitic elite attempting to defend unearned privileges, which it secures by way of an alliance with capital against the proletariat. This is an interesting claim. If it were convincing, it would have far-reaching consequences, many of which Bromma makes explicit (e.g., that we would have to choose which class we want to support in the class struggle between proletarians and the worker elite, including the construction worker chosen to illustrate that supposedly parasitic elite on the cover of Bromma’s book). That it advances, in clear and unflinching detail, such a provocative and interesting claim is reason enough to read Bromma’s book. Contrary to Moufawad-Paul’s suggestion, I don’t urge people to avoid reading the book. But let there be no doubt about this: I think Bromma’s central claims are mistaken. To the extent that they become more influential, I would think this a bad thing. But it has never occurred to me to suppose that dishonesty was needed to debunk those claims. We have marxism, i.e., “social scientific socialism,” to do that, and misrepresentation would only get in the way.