class and the economy

I’ve been pondering, evidently, productive and unproductive labor, which I have come to think do not function as economic explanations so much as explanations of the intersection between capitalism and the production of new class categories. Or perhaps I should say this: that Marx’s remark, in The Communist Manifesto, that the tendency in bourgeois society to shrink the fundamental class structure to just two – the bourgeoisie and the proletariat – does not express itself, in the social world of the nineteenth century, as a simplification, but rather as a complication. Dumezil’s notion of the trois functions – priests, warriors and producters – or clerks, nobles, serfs – defining traditional societies is prefigured in the proto-sociologists of the 18th century. In the three estates system, the estates are easily recognized and identified with. Under that system, class analysis is easier because it is written on the very face of any representation that emerges in that sphere. The destruction of the old order is heralded in the Sacre of Hegel’s Phenonenology, which is as a sort of grand Manifesto of the clerks. However the transition to a dominantly bourgeois society, which emerges as a result of radically overthrowing the long tripartite structure, makes class identity more difficult, rather than less.

I’ve been trying to return to the themes of the human limit, using the various things I have come to the surface with from my recent immersion in Marx’s ocean. Marx’s awareness of the human limit itself has a sort of obvious gravitational force that I have to defy, at some point, lest I be swept into the great orbit of perpetual commentary.

So, herewith a few more jumbled notes.

In Enracinement, Simone Weil notes that collectives through which we can remember (and through remembering, remain in continuity with) the past have dwindled, under the spell of modernity, to the state. The family has been hollowed out, so that there is no question, within it, of honoring or even showing any interest in the ancestors. Economic forms, the union, the firm, exist as instruments to destroy that continuity – or so she claims. Thus, the state is the only entity left standing.

While organized labor does have a stronger collective memory than she gives it credit for, I think this is generally sociologically true. This deracination, as she calls it, is a dimension of what I call the artificial paradise, which seals itself against the past as against a thing that the human cannot control. But I would give more credit than does Weil, ever the bearer of the absolute, to the clerks. The third life is where continuity with the past has come to rest.