REVERSING THE FOCUS
Capitalist Strength and Working-Class Consciousness
It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being determines their consciousness.—Karl Marx , 1970:21
When we began working on American class perceptions, we were unsure of what we would find. What we discovered—over and over again—was that American workers are amazingly clear on the shape of the American class system and their place within it. We also discovered that our colleagues were often not pleased by our findings. The conventional wisdom that American workers were not class conscious had become ingrained in both the Left and the Right. As we continued to question other aspects of the’ paradigm of American exceptionalism, we were struck by how little hard evidence supported the conventional wisdom. In contrast, we were encouraged by the consistency of our results. The sum of the research adds up to a more convincing case than the parts taken singly.
First, Americans recognize class divisions. When they apply “middle class” and “working class” labels to themselves, they pay attention to where they fit in the dominance-subordination relations of production. If they supervise other workers, if they own their own productive property, and if they help plan the work or private lives of others, they are more likely to think of themselves as middle class. On the other hand, Americans do not assign class labels according to the prestige level of their occupations (Chapter 4). What matters is power, not status. Moreover, Americans recognize class divisions just as clearly as the British (Chapter 7), a society often assumed to be more sharply divided than the United States.
Working-class Americans are especially likely to recognize the class lines that divide them from the middle class. When they sort occupations into different social classes, the major line of division separates professionals and managers from all other workers. They are also more likely than middle-class Americans to isolate capitalists (i.e., big corporation executives) into a distinct category (Chapter 5). Middle-class Americans, on the other hand, are more likely to assimilate skilled and affluent blue-collar workers with themselves into a broad middle mass. This peculiarly middle-class image of society matches well the image drawn by much of American sociology. Workers have had a different image.
Moreover, Americans’ clear perception of class divisions has not diminished over the years. True, postwar prosperity increased the size of the American middle class, but the division between it and the working class remains much where it always was (Chapter 6). Indeed, the gradual upward shift in middle-class self-perceptions matches almost exactly the objective changes in the social structure. The coordination of the subjective and objective changes suggests that Americans’ models of class follow some absolute standard (i.e., the exercise of class power) and do not merely rank people along some relative scale of social status. The turning point in class perceptions has not been the postwar prosperity but may have been the Depression of the 1930s. That trauma apparently eliminated most pretensions to middle-class standing that were not grounded in objective conditions.
Second, most of the suggested causes of American exceptionalism do not seem to interfere with class perceptions. For example, Americans do not consider ethnic background relevant to determining class position. Italian-Americans are not less likely to think of themselves as middle class than are similarly placed native-born Americans of Anglo-Saxon origins (Chapter 9). Blacks (who are a partial exception to this rule in adopting unexpectedly high levels of working-class identification) draw their class dividing line just as white Americans do, placing professionals and managers in the middle class and others in the working class (Chapter 10). Living on the frontier or in the South (Chapter 11) makes little difference in class perceptions. And the upwardly mobile neither enjoy any special claims on middle-class standing nor support with special ardor a belief in the American Dream.
The accumulation of all this evidence requires a reconsideration of the prevailing wisdom about class consciousness in America. On what basis has previous work concluded that American workers lack class consciousness? How does their evidence differ from ours in a way that might explain the different conclusions? The first surprise we turned up in our search through the literature was that impressive evidence documenting the class consciousness of American workers was already on the record. Whether it was the “bitter feelings and fierce words” of a Newburyport worker, the Lynds’ record of “Middletown” workers’ contempt for but fear of “the business classes” (Chapter 2), or the New Haven mechanic’s analysis of class structure (Chapter 4), evidence abounded that American workers clearly recognize the divisions that separate them from the owners and managers who dominate society. In dispute here is the interpretation of that evidence. Thernstrom dismisses the fierce words as “an elaborate game”; the Lynds concluded that Middletown workers were “individualists in an individualist culture”; Bakke’s research has been neglected.
How could Thernstrom’s and the Lynds’ classic analyses of the American worker blithely dismiss their own evidence? And why had critics let them get away with it? Why was Bakke ignored? The problem originates, we believe, in the voluntaristic fallacy of explaining social outcomes with inferences about the psychology of the actors. American workers have not sponsored a socialist party with anywhere near the power of the European Left, and their union movement is a pale shadow of European unionism. These different outcomes led to the common inference of different psychological motivations—an inference so natural that not even critics noticed its psychological reductionism. Instead, debate flowed around the causes of this supposedly exceptional psychology: mobility, ethnic diversity, affluence, the lack of feudalism, and so on. Given so many possible explanations, nobody stopped to ask whether the phenomenon existed in the first place.
But there can be no simple one-to-one translation between workers’ psychology and societal outcomes. Class subordination always interferes with workers’ ability to realize their preferences. Inferences about workers’ psychology led the American exceptionalism debates into a totally circular path: levels of class consciousness were inferred from the outward behavior; the class consciousness was then used to explain exactly the same behavior. The best way out of this circle is independent evidence on workers’ class consciousness. But even where such direct investigations were undertaken, the conclusions were preordained: weak class consciousness was so obvious to all that interpretations of any new evidence were forced into the mold of the prevailing wisdom.
Blaming the American working class for its subordinate position pervades the theories of both the Left and the Right. The Left blames weak class consciousness among workers for the failure to lead a successful socialist movement. Conservatives contend that existing status differences are generally accepted as the just rewards due the privileged for their capital, hard work, motivation, and determination. In both cases, the blame for workers’ subordinate position is placed squarely in the heads of the workers themselves.
The concept of victim blame has been well known to American sociology for two decades. Most introductory textbooks now contain descriptions of the functions performed by victim-blaming, who benefits, and how to identify such arguments. American sociology usually rejects the idea that women, minorities, and the poor are oppressed because they prefer subordinate status, don’t work hard enough, have low self-esteem, and so on, yet it retains those types of arguments about the working class. Despite the longer history of social science research on class than on race or gender, blaming the victim still seems prevalent in much of the literature on the working class.
But what happens if we relinquish the victim-blaming approaches? If we accept the evidence for working-class consciousness in America, then the weak union movement and the failure of socialism still demand an explanation. Unfortunately, we have no easy or complete answers. We cannot offer a full-fledged alternative theory that will satisfy those who have come this far with us in questioning the conventional wisdom. That would require nothing less than another volume as large as this one. However, we can offer some suggestions about where to begin the search for solutions to the puzzle of American exceptionalism.
We believe that any attempt to understand the character of the American class struggle must focus on the exceptional character of American capitalists and on the resources that they bring to the struggle. It must also attend to the resources that workers have and to the battles they have already waged and continue to wage on a daily basis. In short, it is time to take a fresh look at both parties to class struggle in the United States.
The remainder of this chapter is divided into two parts. The first reports on new research that avoids victim-blaming and develops new insights into the daily character of class struggle as it is experienced by workers. To understand when, why, and how worker resistance takes place we look to this new research. The second focuses on the other party to class struggle and suggests some of the qualities that make American capital unique. To understand when, why, and how the resistance strategies of workers are successful, we should look to capitalist strength. In sum, the solution to the problem of American exceptionalism lies in the strength of capital as well as the consciousness and actions of the working class.
The most promising fresh look at the working class comes from scholars investigating the intersection of class, race, and gender—a pursuit that springs from the new scholarship on women. This new research puts women and racial ethnic minorities at the center of our attention (Collins, forthcoming), rather than viewing them as either more radical (racial ethnics) or less radical (women) deviations from the “normal” white male worker. It is an approach increasingly called for, since women and minorities now constitute a majority of America’s working class (Wright et al., 1982) and of its poor adults (Stallard et al., 1983). The theoretical value of focusing on women and minority workers is that it forces us to consider the interlocking connections between systems of oppression. As Rollins argues in her study of domestic workers:
This is precisely the value of this study: the potential for the findings to have applicability to and thereby enhance our understanding of other kinds of relationships of domination, relationships in which the psychodynamics might be obscured by the more impersonal, institutionalized nature of the domination (as in bureaucracy) or by the emotional and social bonds between the parties (as in marriage) but in which they are just as powerful in contributing to the perpetuation of inequality. (1985:8)
Thus, research on race, class, and gender takes for granted that research on domestics, hospital ward secretaries, or jewelry-makers is research on the working class and must inform our visions of class in America.
These studies express no doubt about the class consciousness of the workers they observe. Black women workers resist oppression every day in myriad ways, some of which might be easily overlooked if attention were narrowly focused on the institutionalized resistance of white male union movements. Moreover as Collins (forthcoming) argues, it is apparent that oppositional consciousness is itself a form of resistance to the demands for deference and the direct assaults on their personhood that many Black women workers confront every day and that it can coexist with unfree and apparently conforming behavior. For example, recent research on Black women domestics (e.g., Dill, 1979; Rollins, 1985) documents their ways of preserving a positive view of self in the face of harsh daily treatment. Domestic work is precisely the kind of job that past research has seen as demeaning, full of the “hidden injuries of class” for those Americans who never made it up the ladder of opportunity (Sennett and Cobb, 1972; see also Chinoy, 1955:123–29). But domestic workers reject devaluation in three ways: they acquire intimate knowledge of their employers’ lives that demystifies any ideology of superiority; they maintain values that contradict the white middle-class values of their employers (for example, they may measure a person’s worth more by the quality of his or her interpersonal relationships and community standing than by material success); and they develop an “understanding of the meaning of class and race in America” that explains their subordinate position (Rollins, 1985:212–13). In the words of one respondent, “Domination. That’s the name of the game. The more you know, the more you make the employer uneasy. . . . They want to dominate, exploit” (Rollins, 1985:227).
Participant observation in a costume jewelry factory identified three common forms of resistance practiced by the women workers (Shapiro-Perl, 1984:193–94). First, workers engaged in “pacing”: that is, selectively hustling and idling to regulate their output to serve their own economic interests. Second, workers participated collectively in griping and antics to protest the pay and work situation; because everyone grumbled, supervisors could not single out any individual for retaliation, despite the stress it created for them. And finally, workers quit—the defiant act of withdrawing their labor power.
One incident on the shop floor illustrates their solidarity despite their weak position. As workers prepared to quit during a struggle over work conditions, an older woman worker counseled an appropriate orientation toward their jobs: “You learn these things. Not to get upset by this. Never take the job seriously. Just go from one factory to the next. Stand up for what you think is right. You wait for the right time to say things. You’re young. You’ll learn this” (Shapiro-Perl, 1984:204). These are not the words of a woman who is confused about her place in the class system. Rather, they come from a seasoned veteran who knows the game and maintains dignity by leaving one job for another when she must.
In a southern hospital, ward secretaries organized a more collective resistance by walking off the job after less formal means of protest proved ineffective (Sacks, 1984). And since World War II, retail sales workers across the nation have developed work groups that foster solidarity and counteract the competitiveness encouraged by management (Benson, 1984:119).
Each of these actions is familiar to students of industrial sociology. What is new is the interpretation: these investigators see them all as daily acts of class-conscious resistance. The resistance varies from individual quitting to collective walkouts or strikes, from minor fights to major challenges, from low-risk complaining to putting jobs on the line. Even the “mild” forms of low-risk resistance that pose no serious threat to management’s power can validate the workers’ role in the ongoing struggle. Shapiro-Perl (1984:195) contends that these workers’ “conduct is no less than a calculated defense of class interests based on an experiential understanding of class struggle.” To view worker militance only in terms of conventional actions like strikes or walkouts is to overlook informal but ongoing fight-back strategies that may contain the embryo of future worker organization. As these scholars see it, resistance is a way of life in communities of oppressed people, not an isolated incident or series of incidents in their history (Bookman and Morgen, forthcoming). In fact, survival itself is seen as a form of resistance when the oppression of workers and their families has been so severe as to endanger life and community (cf. Davis, 1981, on slave women’s resistance; Dill, 1982; Schecter, 1982, on the battered women’s movement).
Past observers of such resistance have dismissed it as either destructive of organizational goals (the establishment critique) or as a poor substitute for class struggle (the Marxist critique). Michael Burawoy (1978) is typical of the Marxist perspective. Burawoy criticizes Braverman (1974) for not sufficiently recognizing workers’ struggles to resist management, and he documents the “games” that machine shop workers devise to win some control of their work routines. Yet rather than seeing these games as instances of class-conscious resistance, he draws the opposite conclusion: the games, he says, help to mystify the ongoing exploitation and produce consent to the power of management.
Why does Burawoy draw such a different conclusion from behavior that is quite similar to the actions reported in the studies of women workers? Part of the explanation lies in the conceptual baggage that researchers bring to their observations. Because the research on women grows out of a newly emerging field, researchers approach the study of class free from the weight of the theoretical perspectives that define and sometimes constrict the analysis of the working class. For Marxists, the shop floor games and the women’s griping, pacing, and quitting are pale attempts at class struggle. Class consciousness, in their view, demands radical forms of resistance.
The women’s research interprets shop-floor resistance as a more class-conscious struggle because it has a healthier respect for the power of management and owners. Recognizing that the balance of power rests with management, the investigators conclude that informal resistance may be the only alternative typically open to workers. For example, in their study of women workers in Silicon Valley, Katz and Kemnitzer (1984:214–15) observe:
At this juncture the initiative is in the hands of employers and . . . the options open to workers are not of their own making. While in one way this formulation is true, and available options allow workers to find a livable strategy only within narrow limits, this does not give “the system” total dominance leaving no role for the perceptions, actions, and choices of real human beings. Indeed, quite the reverse is true; as we observed, individual workers quite knowingly take advantage of the contradictions and interstices of the situations they confront.
The “failure” to engage in more radical confrontations results from an awareness of management’s power to stifle the protests by redesigning the workplace or firing all the protesters.
The researchers have no illusions about the limitations of informal means of resistance. The individualized choices workers can make have only the most limited potential for transforming the system. Quitting ultimately creates an industry with high turnover that robs the shop of its best leaders. After the successful walkout by ward secretaries, the hospital management took over the training of new ward secretaries in order to teach new workers “the right attitudes” and prevent worker self-training from developing solidarity among the secretaries (Sacks, 1984). Shapiro-Perl (1984:202) likewise points out how the pacing strategy of jewelry workers could be co-opted by management because of “the immense power management wields and the seemingly infinite ways it can step in to squelch worker resistance or turn it to its own ends.”
The respect accorded to the power of management and owners by the scholars cited here may be more readily forthcoming when the research task is to simultaneously address the meaning of class, race, and gender oppression in people’s lives.1 Given this explicit objective (Collins, forthcoming), it may be difficult to minimize the power of the oppressor in determining the success or failure of workers’ resistance efforts.2 In sum, our own research and this newly emerging body of work on race, class, and gender both point to the need to attend to the power of American capital if we hope to understand American exceptionalism.
We believe it would be a worthwhile corrective to past mistakes to entertain a model of class conflict which assumes that working-class resistance is a constant feature of all capitalist societies and that the variation in class conflicts arises mostly from the differential resources that capital can bring to bear on workers.3 Such a model denies the pluralist belief in the absence of a dominant class. It also reverses the usual order of priorities in the Marxist literature, which sees capital’s domination as a constant feature, indeed a definitional axiom, of capitalist society. Marxists usually interpret variation in class conflicts as arising from workers’ differential abilities—or worse, their differential predispositions—to overturn capitalist domination.
We do not pretend to be the first to think seriously about capital’s strength. But on the one hand, establishment social science has been too eager to minimize capital’s power; on the other, the Marxist critique has been too dogmatic in asserting capital’s domination to be of much help in explaining variations in capitalist strength. What we need is an appreciation of the power of capital as a variable feature of American society. We need to explore capital’s acquisition of power and its hold on society as a dynamic process.
Early work on revolutionary potential did not always look in the right places for its data. The first impulse was usually to examine workers. This impulse derives from Marx’s insistence that only the working class can deliver society from capitalist domination; it is the championing of workers’ struggles that sets Marxism apart from alternative “bourgeois” and “utopian” socialism. But acceptance of Marx’s emphasis on working-class struggles does not imply a belief that the only determinants of workers’ success lie within the workers’ movement itself. That only traps us into the victim-blaming fallacies we are trying to avoid.
Although the capital-worker relationship is central to the fate of capitalist societies, many of the determinants of that relationship lie outside the capital-worker dyad. International wars and resistance from precapitalist elites have weakened (and strengthened) capital in ways that determine its vulnerability to challenges from subordinate groups (Therborn, 1977; Skocpol, 1979). It is no accident that the Russian, Chinese, and Vietnamese revolutions followed immediately upon invasions by foreign armies. These invasions weakened the hold of dominant classes without replacing them with a permanent alternative. Revolutionary forces seize their opportunities when they can. The Russian, Chinese, and Vietnamese workers and peasants made their revolutions, but not by themselves—not under circumstances they themselves chose but under the “inherited circumstances they directly confronted” (Marx , 1974: 146). There was not enough that was exceptional about these forces to explain where and when their revolutions succeeded. What was exceptional was the weakened and disoriented opposition they faced.4
Jeffrey Paige’s (1975) analysis of class conflicts in agrarian economies is another significant step in the direction of paying closer attention to dominant classes. Paige builds a four-celled table based on the strength or weakness of dominant and subordinate classes. The advantage of Paige’s approach is that it assesses the strength of each class independently of the strength of the other class (cf. Korpi, 1978). Nevertheless, the distinction between revolutionary outbreaks and milder reformism is determined primarily by differences in the strength of the dominant class. Where the dominant class bases its power on the relatively strong resource of capital ownership, it is able to channel its labor opposition into the more manageable “reform-mongering” movements; but where the dominant class is weakened by its dependence on a fixed supply of land, it risks the outbreak of true revolution.
In contrast, the strength of the subordinate class affects only the type of revolution (peasant rebellions versus socialist/nationalist revolutions) or the oganizational structure of reformism (political action on commodity prices versus labor unions). It does not determine the more fundamental revolt or reform distinction. There may be a lesson here about the role of class consciousness in revolutions: class consciousness may be important not so much for destroying the old order (Moorhouse, 1976; Tilly and Tilly, 1981) as for the success of reconstructing society along truly socialist lines (Lukács , 1971:70). After the revolution, a mobilized and class-conscious proletariat must resist the creation of new forms of privilege that threaten to subordinate workers once again (see Kraus, 1981 and 1983, on the Chinese case).
Finally, Mark Traugott’s (1985) study of the Parisian insurrection of June 1848 again identifies dominant-class strength as the critical determinant of revolutionary outcomes. Traugott compares the social origins of the discontented workers from the National Workshops with the volunteers of the Mobile Guard who eventually repressed the revolution. He finds little class difference between the two armies; it was the organizational coherence of its officer corps that led the Mobile Guard into a reactionary role while the National Workshops dissolved into a revolutionary mob. Traugott interprets the failure of the 1848 insurrection as confirmation of Katherine Chorley’s (1943) conclusion that no popular revolt can defeat a well-organized and properly trained military. Once again, it is the nature of the dominant forces, not the insurgents, that best explains revolutionary outcomes.
So too, in explaining American exceptionalism, we need to look first at American capital to explain the failures of the American Left. Rarely in the voluminous literature on American exceptionalism does one get the idea that capitalists might have had something to do with the failure of working-class movements. Yet participants in American class conflict have not neglected the strength of capital. In 1912, Samuel Gompers was quite clear about what made America exceptional:
Nowhere in the civilized world is there such relentless, bitter, brutal war made upon the labor organization and the laboring men as here in the United States. In no country on the face of the globe is corporate wealth, the position of wealth, so powerful as it is here, (quoted in Dick, 1972:117)
The question that must be asked is not what weaknesses of workers undermined their protests but what resources of American capital gave it the capacity to thwart the challenges from below.
Foremost among these resources is American capital’s economic strength (Tawney, 1942). We cannot forget that American workers mounted their challenge against a capitalist class that was then building its hegemony over the entire world economy. British industrial workers faced a declining world power; German workers, a capitalist class kept in check by nearby rivals who had arrived earlier; Swedish workers, a vibrant but small class whose size permitted it at best a marginal role in world capitalism. American capital, by contrast, not only dominated its own working class but overwhelmed its European competitors as well. The profits garnered by such massive growth provided an ample cushion against periodic challenges from below.
Strikes. One area in which these economic resources prove decisive is in industrial conflict. Insofar as strikes become a test of strength between capital and labor, economic resources enable capital to hold out for long-term advantages, despite any short-term cost.
Two facts are crucial for understanding U.S. strikes. First, American strikes remain among the longest in the world. While strikes have become shorter (and more widespread and frequent) in most other countries (Shorter and Tilly, 1974), the “shape” of U.S. strikes has remained remarkably constant (Edwards, 1981). There is little sign of the short “demonstration” walkout now typical of European industrial relations (Korpi and Shalev, 1980:315). U.S. strikes still produce the extended dramas that test the will of capital and labor over the unions’ basic right to exist. Second, long strikes tend to be won by employers (Edwards, 1981:47). If management is going to capitulate, it tends to concede early in order to get back into the market. But if it wants a victory, it will hold out until the union breaks. In such a contest, U.S. capital rarely loses, partly because it has the financial resources to withstand enormous, if temporary, losses. This strategy would be self-destructive for weaker employers.
The great expansion of U.S. labor during the 1930s coincided with the lowest economic ebb of U.S. capital. Weakened already by declining markets and slashed stock values, capital had far less cushion with which to sustain prolonged shutdowns. One wonders also to what extent the economic disaster had demoralized American capital. The contrast with 1919 is instructive: then, U.S. Steel, still fattened by wartime profits, simply refused to consider any union demands.
Of course, the full story is more complex. Cyclical recessions, in contrast to the Great Depression, usually reinforce capital’s grip over labor.5 The 1930s may have reversed the usual order because of the government’s new restraint in backing capital. But the theoretical import remains the same: the ups and downs of the U.S. labor movement result more from the environment in which labor finds itself than from any actions of unions or workers themselves.6
Managerial control. U.S. capital’s extraordinary economic surplus may also help to explain how American corporations developed a series of ingenious control mechanisms to keep labor in its place: scientific management, the assembly line, welfare capitalism, company unions, the human relations school, continuous process automation, computerization, and quality circles. Even an incomplete list impresses the observer with the variety of organizational controls that management has adopted in the course of the twentieth century.
The historic force of these controls is their steady onslaught, with each new managerial tactic replacing earlier attempts (Clawson, 1980). No tactic was decisive in its own right. Even the most overawed observers of Taylorism admit its limitations. The control won by many other innovations proved equally transitory: the employee benefits and company unions so popular in the 1920s quickly dissolved in the face of the militant unionism of the 1930s. Similarly, the new “bureaucratic control” and job ladders, which now seem so “totalitarian,” will in the future have to be supplemented by further controls to maintain management’s power (Edwards, 1979:152).
But new schemes keep management on the offensive. It is easy for critics to underestimate how difficult it is for bosses to maintain authority. Capital must learn how to dominate; it is not born with this knowledge. Melvin Dubofsky sees the turning point in the 1880s:
At the start [in the 1870s] workers enjoyed a commanding position locally. Community merchants, professionals, and editors (clergy also) backed their working-class neighbors and customers in struggles against outside capitalists. Between 1877 and the next sharp outbreak of working-class violence in 1886, the balance of power between workers and their employers had tipped in favor of the industrialists. . . . Businesses grew in size and capital resources . . . many firms were in a stronger position to discipline their workers and to risk industrial warfare. In addition, many firms now operated more than a single plant. . . . Technological innovation also undercut the strength and security of workers. (1975:41)
John Commons, today considered a conservative labor historian, recognized in 1908 that U.S. corporations had further augmented their power to control labor:
Strikes are successful mainly in the early stages when employers have not learned the tactics of organization. After they have perfected their association, after these associations have federated, and especially after employers have consolidated in great corporations and trusts, their capacity for united action exceeds that of organized labor. . . . By wise promotions, watchful detectives, by prompt discharge of agitators, by an all-around increase of wages when agitation is active on the outside, by a reduction only when the menace has passed or when work is slack, by shutting down a plant where unionism is taking root and throwing orders to other plants, by establishing the so-called “open shop”—these and other masterful strategems set up a problem quite different from what unionism has heretofore met. (1908:280)
Of course, Commons mistook the growth of the giant trusts for a final culmination of the class struggle, though it was actually only a stage in a continuing dialectical process; both sides continue to learn new strategems and to deploy new weapons. But Commons did understand the fact that both sides developed in the course of the conflict; it is not just a question of the growth of class consciousness on labor’s side.
The proletariat is simultaneously developing its strength for many of the reasons Marx and Engels outlined:
With the development of industry the proletariat not only increases in number; it becomes concentrated in greater masses, its strength grows, and it feels that strength more. . . . This organisation of the proletarians into a class, and consequently into a political party, is continually being upset again by the competition among workers themselves. But it ever rises up again, stronger, firmer, mightier. (Marx and Engels , 1976:492–93)
But because capital has more resources at its disposal, its learning process is faster, making the more advanced industrial economies less susceptible to overthrow from below. Revolutions occur so often in the early phases of capitalism (as in France in 1789, Russia in 1917), because it is then that capitalists are most disorganized and most weakened by propertied rivals abroad and at home. Despite the numerical and organizational weaknesses of the early proletariat, it enjoys the advantage of a vulnerable moment in history when less strength is required to topple the new regime.7
A cross-national comparison of managerial control tactics would provide important evidence on the strength of U.S. capital. Some of these schemes originated in Europe or had European equivalents. But the wealth of U.S. capital may have permitted American corporations to invest more widely in new control mechanisms. Managerial controls are as much a capital investment as production machinery. Within the United States, it is monopoly capital firms that have usually pioneered in adopting new methods of controlling labor, from Rockefeller’s welfare capitalism to Polaroid’s bureaucratic controls (Edwards, 1979). They have had greater surpluses to experiment with a succession of plans devised to gain control of the workplace. American capital as a whole may have enjoyed the same economic advantage.
Repression. In 1912, Eugene Debs, the presidential candidate of the Socialist Party of America, increased his vote to 6 percent of the American electorate. By 1920, he was fighting his Democratic and Republican opponents from a jail in Atlanta, Georgia. Debs’s treatment was perhaps mild in comparison to the fate of other political radicals. Anarchists were hanged in response to Chicago’s Hay market riot of 1886, and radicals were deported by the hundreds during the Red Scare of 1919–20.
Military intervention in strikes has been an effective weapon against labor for over a hundred years (see Table 12.1). In 1877, when a railroad strike blew out of the control of the various state militias that had been called up to suppress it, President Rutherford B. Hayes sent the United States Army to “restore order.” In the process more than one hundred workers were killed and the strike was broken. After 1877 if the U.S. Army was not called in to quell a strike, it was often because state militias, the National Guard, or the local constabulary had already proved sufficient. One estimate counts 160 interventions by state and federal troops against striking workers (Taft and Ross, 1969:380).8
Government repression of the Left constitutes a long, if often poorly remembered, record in American history. And yet in cross-national perspective, has government repression in the United States been exceptional (Dubofsky, 1975:100)? Debs was imprisoned for his antiwar politics, but American socialists never faced the blanket outlawing that Bismarck imposed on the German Social Democratic Party or Tsar Nicholas on Lenin’s Social Democrats. And, to overstate the point, Atlanta was not Dachau.9
The comparative sociology of state repression has not yet been written, but we doubt that the United States would score high in such an infamous competition. Not all American governments were openly antilabor. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal wrote a labor relations act that in theory at least guaranteed the right of workers to unionize. The pivotal General Motors sit-down strike of 1936 succeeded only after the Michigan governor refused to use the National Guard to evict strikers.
If far more severe state repression failed to extinguish workers’ movements in Germany or Tsarist Russia, why did the U.S. Left wither after relatively mild government interference? Can we still maintain that dominant class power explains failures of the Left? Our answer is twofold. First, despite the exceptions, state repression remains a powerful force. Second, repression is too narrow a definition of state power; it ignores the less coercive but often more effective means of controlling subordinate groups.
It would be foolish to underestimate the effectiveness of state repression in controlling the Left. Although Lenin and the Bolsheviks survived Tsarist persecution, they triumphed only after the Russian state had been crippled by the German invasion. And although the German Social Democrats emerged from their nineteenth-century proscription as a major party, a radical Left could not repeat this success after the Nazi decimation. In most places, at most times, repression works—at least in the short run. Debs’s jailing and the federal troops at Coeur d’Alene made a difference. Any accounting of the problems of the American Left that neglects armed force simply misses an important part of the story.
This still does not explain why there appears to be a correlation between repression and socialist strength in the industrial world (Lipset, 1983). Nations that have most harshly repressed their labor movements have ended up with the strongest, most radical unions. The sooner workers are given the vote and collective bargaining, the more accommodating they are to capitalist domination. Thus, the United States, with early white male suffrage, has no true socialist party.10 The correlation suggests that not only is repression ineffective; in the long run it backfires.
This may seem to be a great paradox. It implies that the dominant classes that have resorted to repression must have been very stupid, since their repression only strengthened and radicalized the opposition. The paradox is fictitious, however. It is not repression but the cessation of repression that benefits the Left. Repression works, but only so long as it can be maintained.
Repression can also be useful if it is combined with an offer to workers of more conservative alternatives. This is largely the history of the U.S. labor movement. The IWW was crushed, while the more conservative AFL received official government approval.11 The Socialist Party was harassed, while the established parties opened themselves up to a mild reformism. American workers were left with a choice between a class-conscious but thoroughly defeated radical alternative and a conservative alternative that promised less but at least was permitted some successes.12
Repression fails in the long run if it is not accompanied by the prospect of alternative benefits. Similarly, democratic reforms will lead to more radical demands if the Left is not repressed. Historical analyses must recognize both sides of this state intervention if they are to provide an accurate appraisal of the role of the state. Establishment social science focuses on the opening up of reformist alternatives and neglects the repression that went before; the Left reverses this bias.
The critical factor, therefore, is not repression; all capitalist states have repressed radical challenges that are sufficiently threatening. The critical factor is whether other benefits and other control mechanisms are simultaneously developed by dominant classes. The power of the dominant class determines its ability to develop these alternatives. Weak and hard-pressed capitalist classes do not (and cannot) develop alternative means of control. State repression is their last resort, and when this fails, the Left is released for explosive growth. But where capitalist classes are blessed with sufficient power, they have the political space to experiment with less harsh methods of control and the economic resources to entice workers to abandon more radical alternatives. We turn now to some of these less repressive types of control, which, although less violent, may be more effective.
Public policy. The surest test of power is not physical coercion or even open subordination. Power has another “face” (Bachrach and Baratz, 1962, 1963, and 1970), which can be detected not in what the powerful do but in what they leave undone—issues that are never raised, inequalities that are never challenged, injustices that are never questioned.13 It was precisely this second face of power that the Lynds emphasized as the source of capitalist control in Muncie:
It cannot be too often reiterated that the [Ball family—the largest capitalists] control of Middletown is for the most part unconscious rather than deliberate. People are not, when one gets beyond the immediate army of direct employees of the family, dictated to. It is rather the sort of control that makes men hesitant about making decisions of importance unless these are in harmony with [Ball family] policies. Here we are witnessing the pervasiveness of the long fingers of capitalist ownership. (Lynd and Lynd, 1937:97)
Thus the fact that American labor is less often “dictated to” does not imply that American capital is any less powerful than elsewhere. Just the opposite may be the case: the infrequency of systematic state repression may indicate that capital is better able to mobilize the less coercive forms of power.14
To detect this second face of power, then, we must observe what is not done to supplement our understanding of what is done to control labor. Observing the unobservable is not so impossible as it may seem, especially if we bring a comparative perspective to the study of public policy. For example, labor law provides many crucial but (usually) nonviolent confrontations between workers and their government. We are handicapped by the lack of a systematic comparative sociology of labor policy, but we do know that these laws make a difference. State right-to-work laws reduce union organizing by about one-third (Ellwood and Fine, 1983). In contrast, Canadian labor laws restrain management’s ability to obstruct union organizing; as a result, unions expand north of the border while they falter in the United States (Freeman and Medoff, 1984:242). The ALF-CIO insisted on U.S. labor law reform as a priority for the 1970s. Union leaders knew its importance; their problem was that they failed to achieve it. At least part of the subsequent decline in union membership can be attributed to the state hostility that this failure reflects.
Throughout the industrial era American capital has maintained control of a state that is outwardly democratic.15 Much of Gompers’s distrust of political reform can be traced to his recognition of the hostility of the state. Seemingly prolabor legislation was turned against unions (the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, for example); eight-hour laws proved to be ineffective; courts were consistently precapitalist. British workers, even well before the rise of the Labour Party, experienced much less hostility (Dick, 1972:36). There, factory acts and trade union legislation benefited workers. We suspect that part of the reason for the lack of favorable labor legislation in the United States has been capital’s more direct and more nearly complete control of the state.
Mechanisms of state control
Postwar scholarship on political economy has swirled around the issue of exactly how capital manages to maintain this control. Numerous mechanisms, from election laws to summer camps, have been suggested as contributing to capitalist control.16 Without reviewing all of these avenues to power, we would like to suggest that American capital enjoys greater access to several of them than does capital in most other Western nations.
Elections. Liberals like to promote election law reform as their antidote to the power of capital. (Eschewing an explicit class analysis, liberals would merely point to the distortions caused by “wealth” and “special interests.”) Elections cost too much, they point out, and the necessity of hoarding campaign funds for the next election turns politicians into supplicants at the feet of big money. To the extent that the need for campaign financing biases politics in capital’s favor, U.S. capital enjoys a bigger advantage than capital elsewhere. American elections cost more than elections anywhere else in the world. Campaigns are longer and depend more heavily on expensive television advertising, which forces even the more working-class-oriented Democrats into currying favor with capital.
The result is that Republicans and Democrats divide the fractions of capital between them. Republicans represent corporate oil; Democrats, independent oil. Republicans represent commercial finance; Democrats, the savings and loan associations. In this competition for the pocketbooks of the rich, the interests of the American working class do not enter the balance. Indeed, Elizabeth Drew reports a concern among Congressional Democrats and Washington lobbyists that “we could end up with a dangerous situation in this country—where business is one party and labor the other” (1983:43). This is precisely the “danger” that obtains in most other Western democracies, without any undue consequences for the public safety.
Government officials. When the head of the nation’s largest stock brokerage becomes secretary of the treasury and then the White House chief of staff, it should be no mystery how capitalists exercise power. The practice of bringing corporate executives into the government has been so widespread—in Democratic and Republican administrations alike—that Donald Regan’s appointment scarcely raised an eyebrow. Kennedy’s and Johnson’s much-heralded secretary of defense, Robert McNamara, came straight from the Ford Motor Company. What Americans sometimes forget is how peculiar this custom is in international perspective. Where else would the secretary of labor be a large employer whose main qualification seems to have been sufficient wealth to become a major campaign contributor?
European cabinets rarely include corporate officials. The difference cannot be dismissed as merely the difference between parliamentary and presidential forms of government. That difference may explain why it is easier for U.S. capital to penetrate the state, but it should not obscure the fact that such direct penetration is much greater in the United States than elsewhere.17
Control of the economy. Recent neo-Marxist work on state power has emphasized the importance of capital’s control of the economy as the ultimate guarantor of its own political interests. The failure of “business confidence” in a city, a state, or a nation quickly erodes new investment and, thus, the health of the economy. The result is the demeaning competition among elected leaders to provide a “suitable business climate” that will attract new industry and more jobs. No government official, no matter how Left-leaning or sympathetic to labor, can escape such competition. Capital exercises this power over the government without the need for any conspiracies or even any direct political role. It is, to borrow a phrase once popular in the 1960s, “part of the system.”
Does capital in the United States benefit any more than that of other nations from its control of investment? We are not sure that capitalist economies vary along this dimension in any meaningful way. Nevertheless, a couple of factors suggest that, like other avenues to power, this one may be a little wider in the United States.
First, to reiterate a point we made in the first chapter, more of industry is in private hands in the United States than is typical elsewhere (see Table 1.1). Earlier, we used this fact as evidence of the weakness of the U.S. Left; now we must recognize that it may be both cause and consequence of that weakness. State ownership does not free a state from the constraints of an otherwise capitalist economy, but it may reduce the immediate leverage of private capital.
Second, geographic diversity and political fragmentation enable capital to play one jurisdiction against another in the contest for state concessions. The great expanse of the United States and its political federalism may give U.S. capital even more bargaining power than capital can wield elsewhere. Multinational expansion has further increased corporate flexibility in the postwar era. Northern states fear that their factories will flee to the Sun Belt, and Sun Belt states fear losses to the Third World (Bluestone and Harrison, 1982).
This economic leverage, because it is pervasive and structural, often defies recognition—much less measurement—in cross-national comparison. No money changes hands as in campaign financing, and no corporate officers switch seats to enter public office. But the political power that accrues to capital because of its control of jobs remains its most fundamental source of strength. Other avenues of access to the state may be shut off at some times in some places, but private capital always retains control over investment. The degree of control, however, varies from nation to nation; nowhere has capital’s control been absolute. To a greater or lesser degree, capital’s investment power has been checked by some compromises with the state or with other interests. In the United States, we suggest, these compromises have been minimal.
The media have become everybody’s favorite scapegoats for whatever they feel has gone wrong in society. Jesse Helms blames Dan Rather; women’s groups attack pornography. All are struggling over the control of ideas as a way to change society.
The Left has adopted a similar approach in recent years. Its spokesmen cite easy reminders of corporate influence on the ideas of our times: corporate editorials on the op-ed page; Wall Street takeovers of the major networks; and elite policy discussion groups like the Trilateral Commission and the Business Roundtable. Gramsci’s (1948) concept of “ideological hegemony” has won widespread acceptance as the explanation of capital’s hold over society.
We are understandably skeptical about much of this analysis. Especially when it assumes that capital’s ideological hegemony extends to the working class, we are unimpressed by the evidence of workers’ acquiescence. It is not the working class that reads corporate op-ed pieces. It is not the working class that reads the reports—much less participates in the discussions—of the Trilateral Commission. When the “ideological hegemony” critique simply assumes a link between corporate control of the media and workers’ attitudes, it falls prey to the psychological reductionism we have argued against so often.
Nevertheless, insofar as ideological hegemony refers to the internal cohesiveness of the dominant class and its hold over such closely allied groups as the middle class, it may explain some of the resilience of American capitalism. Forget workers, forget working-class consciousness: the real focus of study for the role of ideology should be the dominant groups. Max Weber, perhaps the first leading theorist of legitimacy, recognized why dominant groups need reassurance:
The man of fortune is seldom satisfied with the fact of being fortunate. Beyond this he needs to know that he has a right to his good fortune. He wants to be convinced that he “deserves” it, and above all, that he deserves it in comparison with others. He wishes to be allowed the belief that the less fortunate also merely experience their due. Good fortune thus wants to be “legitimate” fortune. (, 1946:271)
Here, the absence of a critical Left in the universities or in the media may contribute to American exceptionalism. The United States, which prides itself on its freedom of the press and freedom of speech, actually expresses a very narrow range of political opinion in its public discourse. The major debates occur well within the boundaries of conventional “bourgeois” economics. Marxist alternatives are dismissed with less attention than almost anywhere else in the industrialized world.
The conventionality of American political thought has its effect primarily within the dominant groups (not many workers attend lectures at Berkeley and Harvard, or at the Sorbonne or Cambridge), and its narrowness instills in the dominant classes a self-confidence in the legitimacy of bourgeois society that may be unparalleled in the world. Americans may debate reforms of this or that practice (environmentalism, consumerism, sexual morality) but not the fundamentals of the class system itself. Where few challenges are heard, dominant elites do not hesitate to make use of their power. The economic and political strength that capital can muster is thus reinforced by its conviction of its own “natural” right to organize society in its own interests.
The lack of feudalism
The source of this limited political thought lies partly in the failure of the Left itself. There is thus a danger of circularity in explaining bourgeois hegemony. But we can look in a second, more unlikely, place for an explanation of so thoroughgoing a bourgeois mentality. The United States, it has been often noted, was “born bourgeois.” It lacks the feudal heritage that European capitalism had to overcome before it became dominant. This is, in fact, one of the most common themes in the explanations of American exceptionalism (Wells, 1906:72–76; Gramsci, , 1971:286–87; Hartz, 1955; Bottomore, 1966:48; Burnham, 1974:718; Lipset, 1977 and 1983:2–6).18 But most of the theorists supposed that the feudal heritage had its main effects on the working class, making them more conscious of class divisions (see especially Lipset, 1963:198–290). Instead, we suspect that it made its major impact on capitalists: the presence of an alternative elite weakened European capitalists in a way that American capital never experienced.19
Among the legacies of the feudal-bourgeois conflict was an aristocratic tradition that tended to hold capitalism in contempt. The aristocracy eventually made its compromises with capitalism, but its sense of the sordidness of the scramble for wealth remains an underlying theme in European culture to a greater extent than in the United States. Bourgeois claims to ideological hegemony were far more contested in Europe than in the United States (Gramsci , 1971:20; Burnham, 1980:42–43). The difference is not so much that bourgeois thought triumphed only in the United States—it triumphed everywhere—but that in the United States it barely faced a contest. Unchallenged by precapitalist ideals, it had scant reason to notice socialist thought either.20
A rethinking of ideological hegemony requires us to ask questions of what was previously taken for granted: capital’s self-confidence in its own right to dominate. Michael Parenti, for instance, glosses over a very important question:
Those who support the ongoing social order seem convinced that their claims, nor should it surprise us that persons, classes, and nations believe in their own virtue. . . . Even fascists are sincerely convinced of the virtue of their goals. What is significant is not whether the propagators of a dominant ideology believe in their own virtue—we may presume that they do—but that others do. (1978:85)
Perhaps we should not “presume” quite so hastily; there may be variation in the conviction with which dominant groups believe in their own virtue. To use Parenti’s own example, it may have been the fervor with which fascists held their beliefs that gave them an advantage over bourgeois liberals in suppressing working-class resistance.
We began this research with a simple question. Do American workers perceive class? After extensive scrutiny of the responses of thousands of Americans to class questions, we came to the conclusion that they do. Our finding contradicts taken-for-granted tenets that undergird most views of class and stratification in the United States. It is equally problematic for perspectives as divergent as neo-Marxism and neofunctionalism.
Accepting this conclusion enables us to raise many new questions about established views of the social order, what holds it together, and what challenges the existing power structure. In this last chapter we have suggested many hypotheses about the power of capital and the nature of class struggle in the United States. We recognize that in so doing we have moved far from the careful attention to data and the workers’ own words that led us to this point. Nevertheless, we believe that such a theory offers the best possibility of making sense of many nagging anomalies in the existing treatments of American exceptionalism, such as the violence of American labor struggles, the political alienation of the working class, and low rates of unionization. We hope that others will also choose to raise old questions again and see what new light can be shed by attending to variations in the power of capital and by accepting the class consciousness and ongoing resistance of the American working class.
1. Despite its importance to understanding class in America, addressing the intersection of race, class, and gender is no easy task. For example, much of the new scholarship on women and patriarchy has replicated the exclusive tendencies of other fields and failed to incorporate race and class into the analysis; see Baca Zinn et al. (1986) for a summary of these problems. Nevertheless, we feel that such work is likely to help us reformulate our visions of class in America.
2. However, we cannot ignore the fact that the Marxist dismissal of informal resistance is a white male interpretation and that race, class, and gender research is conducted by women and people of color. We suspect that because they are themselves members of oppressed groups, these researchers are far more aware of the vulnerability of workers to powerful bosses. Their own experience of oppression has taught them that consciousness and militancy do not always enable subordinate groups to overcome their oppression. What many white males see as a failure of class consciousness, some women and people of color recognize as the best possible outcome of active struggle against a more powerful oppressor. The workers do not lack class consciousness; they lack power.
3. Friends have warned us that this alternative model is too extreme: surely the truth lies somewhere in between, part capitalist strength, part working-class weakness. We have avoided such intellectual caution partly because we suspect that it could never dislodge the dominant paradigm. Also, the more we have used the capitalist strength model, the more impressed we are by how much it explains. More research remains to be done, but it seems to us, the more seriously we entertain this “extreme” model, the faster we will make progress.
4. Lenin (, 1975 [vol. 3]:343) acknowledges the dual prerequisites of successful revolutions in his attack on “left-wing communism”: “It is not enough for the exploited and oppressed masses to realise the impossibility of living in the old way, and demand changes; for a revolution to take place it is essential that the exploiters should not be able to live and rule in the old way. It is only when the ‘lower classes’ do not want to live in the old way and the ‘upper classes’ cannot carry on in the old way that the revolution can triumph.”
5. Econometric analyses confirm the decline of strike activity during periods of high unemployment (Ashenfelter and Johnson, 1969; Hibbs, 1976; Shalev, 1980). Despite the greater grievances of labor, unions are more vulnerable during recessions. Temporary shutdowns present no threat to a management already gearing down for slack demand. High unemployment also robs workers of alternative jobs, thus making them more cautious than when employment choices are more abundant.
6. The labor historian David Brody remarks: “The evident fact [is] that the decisive factors for union expansion lay outside the labor movement. . . . The political changes, together with the economic impact of the depression, cut down the defenses of capital. Even the mightiest of corporations became vulnerable to unionization during the thirties. The labor movement was the beneficiary, not the agent, of the sudden turn in its fortunes” (1971:119,126). Brody also cites rank-and-file militancy as a contributing cause, but this seems to us to confuse cause and effect once more. Workers, like their union leaders, became more militant because the environment had become one in which successful confrontations were possible.
7. Alvin Gouldner (1980:141) has also explained the failures of working-class movements in advanced capitalism as a consequence of the growing strength of capital. But he equates capital’s strength with its ideological hegemony over workers (i.e., the failure of working-class consciousness). This is too narrow a way to consider capitalist strength and, as we have argued throughout this book, is ultimately a form of blaming the victim.
8. Leon Wolff, after noting the devastating effect of the state militia on the 1892 Homestead strike, lamented that “one searches in vain for a single case where the introduction of troops operated to the strikers’ advantage” (Wolff, 1965:228). Actually, the record is not that bleak; at least three cases can be cited. In 1894, Populist Governor David Waite sent the state militia to Cripple Creek, Colorado, where it dispersed an army of sheriff’s deputies and forced a settlement on union terms (Jensen, 1950:38–53). In 1898, Governor John Tanner of Illinois sent National Guardsmen to the Virden coal mines to prevent strikebreakers from entering town (Taft and Ross, 1969:289). And in 1934, Farmer-Labor Governor Floyd Olson of Minnesota sent the National Guard to Minneapolis during a teamsters’ strike and, after some hesitation, prevented the movement of most trucks (Walker, 1937; Bernstein, 1970:229–53). Nevertheless, one can be reasonably certain that the other 157 interventions in Ross and Taft’s accounting ended up helping employers to break strikes. Capital learned quickly from exceptions and deliberately set about regaining control of the state and shoring up its support among the middle class (Dubofsky, 1969:37–38).
9. On the other hand, Europeans were truly shocked by the government repression following the Haymarket riots. An 1888 English commentator expressed this dismay: “Even in despotic Germany and enslaved Russia they would hardly venture to hang men for having written articles and made speeches against the existing rule. It was left to the country whose political institutions are the delight of so many of our Radical friends to commit this crime” (cited in Moore, 1970:34).
10. We are less sure of how Lipset categorizes the American labor movement as being legitimized at an “early” stage, since before the National Recovery Administration (NRA) was established, both capital and the state consistently resisted union organizing efforts whenever and wherever they appeared. Indeed, the whole measure of “economic citizenship” in Lipset’s accounting seems more influenced by the eventual character of the left than by an independent assessment of the state’s sanction of the labor movement (cf. Goldstein, 1983:56).
11. In 1917 the U.S. Department of Justice raided IWW headquarters across the country and arrested “almost the entire first and second-line leadership” (Dubofsky, 1975:125). On the other hand, Gompers’s support of World War I won him access to President Wilson and some basic improvements in working-class life. Government-sponsored mediation boards settled labor disputes with a more evenhanded approach. The eight-hour day, equal pay for women, better working conditions, and higher wages accrued to the state-sanctioned AFL unions.
12. It bears repeating that in this environment the workers’ decision to align themselves with the more successful AFL says little about their lack of class consciousness; it reflects only a simple rationality in the face of a given historical choice. Better to accept half a loaf now than to rely on great promises that would likely lead to the destruction of the union and dismissal from work. But the terms of the choice were dictated by the ruling class, not by the workers. Workers were never allowed a choice between the AFL and a successful radical working-class movement. Even socialists who stayed within the AFL acknowledged that they did so not because they supported its conservative ideology but because the trade unions were their only viable alternative (Laslett, 1970:69).
13. The “third” face of power that Steven Lukes (1974) proposes, the ability to shape the consciousness of workers, is mainly another instance of blaming the victim.
14. Later, the Lynds acknowledged that coercion was sometimes necessary also, but “only in time of threatened labor trouble or political upheaval do those at the top bear down” (Lynd and Lynd, 1937:471).
15. Its power is not absolute; capital does not dictate the minutiae of all class politics. Compromises and setbacks can be readily identified but do not by themselves disprove the fact of political dominance. Critics of the neo-Marxist perspective sometimes like to think that a few counterexamples can refute the idea of capitalist control of the state. But dominant-class power, like all power, can be real without being omnipotent.
16. See Mills, 1956; Domhoff, 1967 and 1978. Our position in the debates about the means of capitalist control is that no single avenue is decisive. Shutting off any one of them could result in more political traffic flowing along the other routes. At the same time, political struggles over these mechanisms of power are not meaningless. The more methods capital has at its disposal for exercising power, the greater that power will be.
17. We are not claiming that appointing capitalists as government officials is a sufficient or even necessary factor in capital’s control of the state. Such instrumentalist theories overlook the importance of relatively autonomous states where capital “delegates” considerable power to independent state officials. But recognizing relative autonomy should not lead us to neglect the role of direct corporate penetration of the state. Instrumentalist theories were too limited; that fault is not corrected by successor theories that disregard means of capitalist power already identified by the instrumentalists. Our contention, which is little more than a working hypothesis now, is that—other things being equal—capital exerts even greater power in those governments in which it is directly represented.
18. Rosenblum (1973:19) complains that the feudalism explanation is not consistent with the similarly conservative labor movement in once-feudal Denmark, especially in comparison with the more radical and successful labor movements of Norway and Sweden, where feudalism had been weaker.
19. Although we emphasize here its enervating effect on ideological hegemony, the aristocratic heritage also diminished the economic and political strength of capital. Gramsci (, 1971:285), e.g., notes that the “leaden burden” of unproductive precapitalist classes greatly hindered European capital accumulation.
20. Kenneth McNaught (1966) argues that a transition from liberal to socialist ideas was weakened by the lack of an aristocratic tradition of eccentricity and intellectual discipline. Consequently, the ideology of the American Left was especially vulnerable to attack as an alien doctrine.