Managerial Capitalism
8 min read

Managerial Capitalism

Managerial Capitalism

In Managerial Capitalism: Ownership, Management and the Coming New Mode of Production authors Gerard Duménil and Dominic Lévy seek to understand trends in global capitalism through the theorisation of a new mode of production contained within the label “managerial capitalism”. The book is an eclectic mix of materials: data on income trends, discussions of Marx's theory of history, discussions of the work of Althusser, E.P. Thompson and Foucault, as well as of the nature of class power and the potential for popular struggles today. What this produces is a provocative, if incomplete, argument about contemporary capitalism and the nature of class power which underpins it.

Central to Dumenil and Levy's argument is the contention that global capitalism today has witnessed the continued growth of a managerial class who now take precendence over capitalists in the functioning of the economic system. This trend is evidenced in part by the fall out from the 2008 financial crisis, the response to which amongst corporations was to cut capital dividends but maintain managerial salaries, a fact which for the authors only continues a longer running trend which has placed greater emphasis upon the management as against the ownership of capitalism.

Building upon ideas of managerial capitalism introduced by Alfred Chandler and John Galbraith who noted the importance in the era of state-monopoly capitalism of the separation of the ownership and control of capital and thus the growing importance of a managerial and technocratic class within corporations (what Galbraith would term the technostructure) which gained increasing control over how capital was employed and increasing autonomy from the owners of capital, notably shareholders. Whilst the advent of neoliberalism and the decline of ideas around state-monopoly capitalism suggested the decline of managerial power, as Dumenil and Levy argue, it has remained resilient through the process of restructuing. Whilst they don't discuss directly, their work has a great relevance to contemporary discussions around the new state capitalism, particularly in the global south.

Dumenil and Levy's discussion is however not as such with the theorists of managerial capitalism, as it is with Marx, and his failure to more develop the role of managers within capitalist production. Managers are present in Capital in the discussion on cooperation, an in the discussion on the separation of ownership and control in joint-stock companies in Volume 3, but the reality of managerial capitalism remained hidden from Marx who would eventually argue that the growing importance of managers in joint-stock companies would provide the basis for socialism, as the "the abolition of the capitalist mode of production within the capitalist mode of production". What Marx ignored, they would argue, is the way in which managers and bureaucracies whilst not a class – as understood from the perspective of the relations of production – continued to play a role within the capitalist mode of production, and not outside or against it.

To argue this Dumenil and Levy argue for a development of Marx's concept of mode of production, to take in two moments. The first the development of capitalist relations of production, through proletarianisation and stratification, producing class differentiation and the opposition between worker and capitalist. The second, and they argue the more overlooked, processes of socialisation which organise and manage human beings in their interaction with modes of production, consisting of all other relations which take place outside the division between capitalist and worker.  This sociality is defined by Dumenil and Levy as the process through which:

Human beings interact within sets of relationships in the realization of production and the conduct of general social processes, such as government or law, which are governed by mechanisms whose intelligibility oversteps the limits of class relations.

This suggests then two aspects to the functioning of capital, on the one hand the power dynamic between capitalist and worker of exploitation and surplus-extraction, and on the other hand a relationship of socialisation as the management and direction of individuals.

Returning to Marx’s theory of the workshop in his chapter on co-operation (Capital, Chapter 13) , they note two dynamics at work, the first the development of a distinction between the owners of capital and workers, producing an antagonistic division within the workshop, and the second  processes of co-ordination, supervision and administration, which work along more fine grained and diffuse lines to organise labour processes. The first defines individuals in reference to their relationship with the ownership of capital, the second based on their role within a managed and governed process. Dumenil and Levy are here reproducing the distinctions Michael Foucault would note when he would talk of the governmentality or governmentalisation of power, the distinction between governance and rule, and bring the problems of the administration and governance of populations within the analysis of mechanisms of power.

This returns Dumenil and Levy also to a long running debate within Marxism over the "relative autonomy" of the superstructure from the economic base and thus of the autonomy of relations of socialisation from relations of class. Whilst arguing that relations of socialisation always occur within the framework of class societies, and that there is no "factual disconnection" possible between class relations and relaitons of sociality, they talk rather of a two-sided historical process in which relations of sociality aren't contained within class relations but contain what they, following E.P. Thompson term their “own independent history and logic of evolution”. Thus quoting from Thompson's own Whigs and Hunters they echo Thompson's own discussions of law as not simply class relations translated into other terms, but as an institution mediating class relations, but with "its own characteristics" and “own independent history and logic of evolution”. As Thompson would himself argue, "The law may be rhetoric but it need not be empty rhetoric. Blackstone's Commentaries represent an exercise far more rigorous than could have come about from an apologists pen."

What Dumenil and Levy then argue for is a development of capitalism through a productive tension between class relations and relations of sociality, with the experience of life under capitalism being reducible to neither. For their part Dumenil and Levy wish to reproach traditional Marxism for a failure to understand the difference between the mode of production and processes of socialisation. Failure they argue to understand the difference has led to the development of a simplistic understanding of the relationship between the two with the assumption of socialisation in its broadest sense (social governance, social welfare, popular organisation) as being held back by processes of class domination, leading to the assumption that 1) capitalism, and capitalists, were opposed to a growth in socialisation, 2) the growth in socialisation would imply a growth in socialism as the growth in social welfare of a population. Rather they wish to argue, capitalist societies have been able to develop more complex relations between capitalist relations of production and processes of socialisation. This is of course to return to debates over the emergence of Fordism, the welfare state and Foucauldian biopolitics.

For Dumenil and Levy this process takes the form of a "hybrid mode of production" which represents a particular configuration of capitalism and socialisation, in which we can talk of neither class structures nor social structures independently, but always in relation to one another. This allows them also to redefine ideas around the politics of class struggle (Chapter 8) to understand the intersection between class heirarchies and social heirarchies which predate contemporary "managerial capitalism", for example pre-capitalist "capitalist feudalism", as well as hybrid revolutionary ideologies, which concern both class antagonisms, and social antagonisms, for example Chartism.

This focus on hybridity leads  Dumenil and Levy to conceptalise managerial capitalism as a “mode of production-socialisation”, defined by the growing centrality of managers in their relations to capitalists and workers.  The role played by managers and bureaucrats more generally is as "profit-rate maximisers" by this notion of profit-rate maximisation is centred on the kind of hybridity which managerial capitalism represents. On the one hand the maximise profit in the traditional form of increasing the returns on investment to capital, but on the other hand through the maximisation of the conditions in which the profitability of capitalism might be realised, a fact which concerns itself with the social fabric of a workplace or society, and the realisation of long term conditions within corporations and societies for capitalist production to be reproduced, a fact which addresses itself to the organisation of labour, education and other social relations.

The growth of managerialism then was linked to the crisis of capitalist profitability emerging towards the end of the 19th century and the tendency of the profit rate to fall . The rise of managerialism is then seen as a means of resolving macroeconomic crises of capitalist profitability, through on the one hand the revolution in private management which sought to resolve the problem of profitability through the increase in administrative and organisational knowledge, and on the other hand through the growing role of the state in the capitalist process through economic coordination, economic planning and social development and welfare.

This fact they argue has also modified the class structure of modern capitalism. Whilst the early era of industrial capitalism was marked by a division between capitalist and worker, the managerial class has increasingly come to mediate relations between capitalist and worker, and in with the growth of mangerialism, the contradiction between manager and managed has become central, bringing in a whole series of social contradictions within the management of capitalism on what they term the "obediance-authority spectrum". On the one hand this places emphasis on the politics of wages and the politics of distribution more generally, as a conflict between managers and managed, on the otherhand it can be said to place emphasis on the techniques of government and the contradiction between govenor and governed.

The great worth of Dumenil and Levy's work is on the one hand developing the role that government, bureaucracy and management apparatuses play in the functioning of modern capitalism, a fact which can help explain modern day "hybrid" capitalist formations particularly in the global south, new forms of state capital (State capitalism 2.0) and the important role of governance to the contemporary development of capitalism. Works like Kalyan Sanyal's work on post-colonial capitalism, as the relationship between accumulation and governmentality, as well as broader work on governmental relations between corporate and non-corporate capital can be placed in conversation with Dumenil and Levy's work. As can the growing literature on government-linked companies or state owned enterprises and both the governmental and economic role they play in developing societies.

At the same time in highlighting the antagonism between the managerial class and the popular masses, they help to bring in a whole series of struggles around economic distribution, welfare, employment and austerity, within the frame of capitalism, as antagonisms not only within social relations, but with a "mode of production-socialisation" in which what is at stake is the governance and reproduction of capital itself.

The question that the book ends on is however not the struggle between the managerial class and the popular masses but intra-class struggles within the capitalist-managerial bloc which might make possible new alliances between the lower managerial strata, not directly aligned with capital, and the popular masses. Yet a more concrete investigation of this idea is missing. What they hint at is perhaps the kind of anti-neoliberal populism which has been emerging in Europe (Syriza, Podemos, Corbynism etc.) which in proposing older forms of social democracy against neoliberalism appeals to more diverse class groupings. This politics is driven for Dumenil and Levy by social struggles which attempt to increase the social development of societies, improve their lives over and above the dictates of class society – a politics of emancipation which will occur within the terms of governmentality and existing social relations, yet whilst opening up a trajectory for socialism. The progressive role of lower levels of the managerial class in these struggles is questionable but the focus on an anti-capitalist politics outside of class antagonisms but between the managers and managed, governors and governed offers to open up analyses of capitalist politics to new political forms and to make them intellegible within the development of capitalism in more complex ways. Insofar however as Dumenil and Levy focus only on the American and European experience, they leave out the experience of a wide range of societies in which these struggles are particularly evident, and in which struggles over contemporary capitalism are increasingly taking place.