The third volume of Marx’s Capital ends with a short chapter on class, albeit an unfinished one. Based on some recent scholarship on class theory in Marx’s mature writings from the domain of the critique of political economy, I will argue that these writings nevertheless contain a coherent structural class analysis of the capitalist mode of production in its ideal average. What they do not contain, however, is a theoretical basis for the ‘optimistic fatalism’ of much of traditional marxism, i.e. the belief in the inevitability of an anti-capitalist or revolutionary political orientation of the working class. In fact, Marx’s analysis in Capital can be shown to provide systemic theoretical arguments against such a reading. To say that the passage from the analysis of the structural class position to (revolutionary) political subjectivation cannot be assumed to be predetermined and/or automatic is not to deny the relevance of structural class analysis for anticapitalist politics (as post-marxism would have it). Rather, it points to the necessity to differentiate between levels of abstraction in analysis: investigating the explanatory scope and limits of structural class analysis of the capitalist mode of production and differentiating it from empirical, historical and sociological class analysis of concrete capitalist societies is a necessary step in overcoming reductionism and developing a more adequate understanding of the complex relationship between class and politics.
Stipe Ćurković is a member of Centre for Labour Studies.