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By Massimo Pivetti

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Sample text

This is extraordinarily difficult, if the positions selected as the contradictory ones are to largely coincide with those that the earlier, division-of-labour concept designated as such. Not every kind of contradictory positions will do for that purpose. It is not enough, for example, to be a ‘part-time’ exploiter and a ‘part-time’ exploited. For example, we can envisage a relatively well-off farmer in a poor rural environment, who can afford to employ and in fact does seasonally employ a number of labourers to work on his fields and to help with the harvest.

The whole point of the concept of class within the Marxist theory is to be one of the fundamental building blocks from which the explanations and even predictions of historical situations can be derived. Thus, the membership in the working class, or in the bourgeoisie, or any other class, should give us some idea of what to expect of the individuals in terms of their ideological and political orientation. But Poulantzas reverses this order. Instead of class being the exogenous variable, it becomes the endogenous one.

Claiming that these people form a single ‘class’ is a way of creating the impression that an explanation was given where none in fact is forthcoming. If Poulantzas were correct, however, and both the ‘new’ and the ‘old’ petty bourgeoisie were part of the single class, what would this imply in terms of our discussion above? Recall that a polarised, two-class view is inherent in the concept of the mode of production. It is precisely Poulantzas himself who makes a distinction between such abstract description of the society and more realistic social formation, in which several different modes of production are combined.

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