Class and need: Social surplus and Marxian theorization of development


by Anjan Chakrabarti

We know that there have been two paths of development, paths that are not always considered complementary to one another. The first and still the dominant path would contemplate economic growth as the basic indicator of capturing the increase in standard of living (either measured as GDP per capita or GDP per worker) which represents development of a nation or region; thus poor and rich countries are differentiated in terms of, say, the level of GDP per capita and resultantly, the path to development of poor countries lie in expanding the latter as fast as possible. High growth that in turn is believed to be best produced under a competitive market driven capitalist system is the pathway to development; growth and (capitalist) development become synonymous here. In this vision, the other aspects such as literacy, life expectancy, etc., are seen as functions of growth in the sense that they are important because they facilitate growth, and growth in turn helps expand all social investments for these purposes. Increase in GDP per capita for example will enable each person on an average to spend more on health care and education which in turn, through productivity increase, will further facilitate increase in income per capita allowing for even more spending by each person thereby creating a virtuous cycle of ever increasing standard of living. In short, the social sector is secondary in the model of development in which growth is the beginning and the end.

What we have at best is a growth centric view of the social sector and social investment. One notices as well a certain economization of the social sector, since education, health, etc., is now located and analysed in relation to its ability to facilitate growth; in this sense, the social sector could be seen as means of growth and not an end in itself. The second and a contesting position refuse to accept social sectors as means. It does not deny the relation between growth and the social sector nor does it say that growth is unimportant. Instead, it shifts the evaluative terrain by refusing to accept a growth centric perspective and considers standard of living as comprising of many aspects including GDP per capita; for example, it would consider life expectancy, literacy, human rights, etc., as constituents of analysing standard of living. Indexes (Human Development Index, Multidimensional Poverty Index, etc.) have been created to aggregate such multidimensional indicators of standard of living. In short, the social sector elements are to be seen as ends and not means of development. GDP per capita stands in a relation of equivalence with these other elements; the latter cannot be reduced to the former and hence to what makes possible the former namely growth. This position then appeals to a broader conception of development that in recent times has been gaining strength and beginning to influence policy making and development practice in countries such as India.

If the first position constitutes the classical school of development then the second one is a revisionist school of development. The debate between these two schools have been fierce, particularly so in recent times in India. For example, Jagdish Bhagwati and Amartya Sen would occupy the two positions respectively and they had a well-publicized and quite ugly spat on their preferred model of development. Our point is not to enter into this debate, but to specify the Marxian analysis of development as distinct from these approaches. More than infer about the ideal path of development, our focus here is mainly trained on unpacking a unique evaluative terrain opened by an extension of the class focused Marxian analysis.[1] Once we have that, one can interrogate the justice question in relation to it as we shall very briefly do.


From our adopted Marxian perspective, if the reference is to the domain of growth then understandably we are focusing on the creation of value in general and surplus in particular; if to social needs then to distribution of the surplus. However, the issue is that thus far the surplus (which, as we shall explain, is related to the definition of class) has been connected to its distribution to those who provide its conditions of existence and not for social needs which, as we shall see, is a distinct non-class process that demands a very different idea of distribution than what we have furnished thus far. The problem before Marxism (and we believe that it is a very important problem) is simple but profound: can class be related to the development space of social needs? Can distribution for social need be distinguished from distribution on account of class distribution? If the transition to capitalism of post-colonial nations are driven by the trope of development then can we connect Marxian theory to development? Does class matter for development related issues such as poverty? These sets of questions animated Chakrabarti (2001) which was later expanded and formalized in Chakrabarti and Cullenberg (2003, ch 7), Chakrabarti, Cullenberg and Dhar (2008) and Chakrabarti and Dhar (2009, 2013a). It gave way to a displacement of the class focused approach in a new direction. In this process of recasting the Marxian approach, class (thesis) is now connected to needs (anti-thesis) in order to not only produce a transformation of both class and need, but also enable a synthesis (which now becomes a thesis in turn and so on) that has enormous implications. Central to establishing the connection between class and need and hence Marxism and development is the concept of social surplus.

How would we place our question and intervention in the annals of Marxian theory? Till now, Marxian interrogation of development tends to be concentrated on the issue of power in general and violence in particular, say, through primitive accumulation. This is a legitimate discussion (I too along with my co-authors have been participants in this) that has tried to draw attention to the unsavoury character of the growth logic inherent in the trope of development said to be propelled by the creation and expansion of capitalism through a process of dislocation and displacement; the state-capital nexus, among others, have invited particular attention and criticisms. What has however surprised me is the inability and unwillingness to confront the other revisionist idea of development which internalizes the benevolent attitude of state and international agencies such as the World Bank in its distributive role. Perhaps the unwillingness stems from the fact that Marxism has not been able to develop an evaluative space to confront the dimension of social need to which this distributive role is directed.


Whatever the reason, this is one area which I along with my co-authors have been trying to develop and in the process recast Marxian theory to make it more relevant to confront the present transition process of countries such as India and beyond. Transition to capitalism in England and the West (that Marx made the ground for developing his theory) and that to capitalism in the present juncture are two different historical episodes; one must ask, as we do, whether a new ‘critique of political economy’ is needed to comprehend the current transitional juncture of capitalism that some say is shifting the home of capitalism to China, Brazil, India, South Africa and so on. To mime western interpretations of Marxism as is usually the case thus far is useless not only to understand the arrival of capitalism in the Southern context but the acquired novel character of capitalism as such in today’s historical juncture. The inability to confront the revisionist theory of capitalist development is just one among many proofs of this uselessness.[2] To that examination of comprehending capitalism as such, it is also our contention that the idea of social surplus can be thought as a more generalized concept, as a general principle of distribution related to public policy in any space, local or global, ‘developed’ or ‘not developed’. We however do not deal with this issue here and choose to concentrate on the space of development to make our case for social surplus.

Finally, it is perhaps important to specify what we are not doing here. Our focus is on producing an evaluative space to hold and interrogate the idea of social need from within a Marxian theory. It is to point to the connection of Marxian theory with this development space and leave it at that. The details of it, especially in terms of hegemonic articulation and Marxian politics or of the connection of primitive accumulation and social needs (the referred two versions of development) in the trope of capitalist development, are not the object of this intervention here; they are explored elsewhere by us for which the interested readers may consult the references.

We shall first briefly introduce the class focused approach and the minimum corpus of concepts needed to explain and argue for social surplus and its interpretative role in Marxian theory and politics.


Class Focused Frame

Class focused Marxian theory is geared to explain the overdetermined and contradictory relation of class and non-class processes; how each is the cause and effect of other processes. This theory is distinguished from other theories, Marxian and non-Marxian alike, which follow, in contrast, deterministic epistemology and/or a non-class focus. Let us explain.

Generally, all produced goods and services come into being through the transformation of material forces of production by labour, known as labour process. The labour process in turn embodies necessary labour and surplus labour. Necessary labour captures the amount of labour performed to produce the ‘subsistence’ basket of goods and services required to reproduce the labourer’s capacity to labour or, what is referred to as labour-power. Surplus labour, on the other hand, is defined as labour performed over and above necessary labour. Total labour time exerted in any labour process would contain a certain portion of labour time spent on reproducing the necessary labour and another portion spent would be surplus labour. This quantum of labour (necessary and surplus) is thus embodied in any produced good or service; while the necessary labour equivalent is paid back in real wages or kind, the surplus labour equivalent is unpaid. Surplus labour can take the form of surplus product (as, say in the household) if the product is directly consumed or it could take the form of surplus value if it is mediated by the market and hence expressed in money. Surplus product and surplus value are thus forms of surplus labour that is embodied in produced goods and services. Money is the generalized expression of surplus value.

Following an interpretation of this lead in Marx’s Capital and Theories of Surplus Value, Resnick and Wolff (1987, 2006) define class as process of performance, appropriation, distribution and receipt of surplus labour and makes it the entry point of Marxian theory; class is thus not a noun but a process and that too predicated on surplus labour rather than power, property or income. Class struggle is fundamentally a struggle over process of surplus labour and not between two homogenous groups of social actors with pre-given interest derived from their structural locations. However, class process cannot occur alone but only in conjunction with non-class process (economic, political, cultural and natural). They formalized this idea of relationship in terms of the non-deterministic epistemology of overdetermination which refers to mutual constitution of processes such that no process can be taken as the privileged core or essence existing independently of the rest of the processes; rather than being separated such that one can be reduced to the other as in case of deterministic epistemology, here each process is simultaneously the cause and effect of other processes.


Each process coming into existence through the combined effect of constituting processes – its condition of existences – is thus literally an embodiment of the whole (since it contains the totality of all effects) and at the same time is a part in its role as constituting other processes; being both the whole and part, the somewhat problematical classical distinction between the whole (say, structure) and part (say, individual) is dissolved. Moreover, because each of the conditioning providing process is distinct and impacts unique effects, the constituted process is literally a bundle of contradictions being pulled and pushed into various directions from these effects. Relationships of overdetermination are sites of contradiction too. Consequently, in terms of the class focused approach, no event, individual, social actor or institution, all now seen as combined effects of infinite number of overdetermined and contradictory processes, can be explained through their reduction to class or economy, whether as the ultimate determinant or the final instance. Even as the entry point reflecting the focus of Marxian theory is class, class determinism or economism is epistemologically ruled out in this theory.

Class process are differentiated and named according to the mode of performance and appropriation of surplus labour. Regarding who appropriates the surplus, there are three possibilities that then pan out into a differentiated economy of various class processes (Chaudhury and Chakrabarti 2000, Chakrabarti and Dhar 2008). Appropriation is exploitative if the direct producers are excluded from the process of appropriation of surplus labour. Exploitative mode of appropriation has been analyzed as capitalist, feudal, slave and CA communitic class process[3]. It is considered unjust by virtue of this exclusion from appropriation of surplus (appropriative injustice), by the fact that it excludes workers from the process of distribution of surplus since the few appropriators are now in charge of distribution (distributive injustice) and in excluding workers from participating in decision making of the enterprise in which they are embedded, including those concerning surplus (democratic injustice). Exploitation thus encapsulates these three moments of exclusions.

Non-exploitative mode of appropriation occurs if the direct producers are not excluded from the process of appropriation; instead, in some commonly decided manner, they participate in the process of appropriation of surplus labour. Non-exploitative mode of appropriation includes the communist type and AC communitic type class process. Finally, the mode of appropriation is self-appropriating if both the performance and appropriation of surplus labour is done individually; independent class process is self-appropriating. Varieties of exploitative, non-exploitative and self-appropriating modes coexist across the social terrain, spanning possible sites in industry, agriculture, state, household, school, university, brothel, etc. This should warn us though that appropriation by itself is not exploitative and not all kinds of exploitation are capitalist in form. This also tells us that the idea of the economy and that of capitalism are not the same; capitalist class process is one among many class processes transpiring in an overdetermined structure of economy and society; if, on the contrary, the economy is seen, analyzed and practised through the lens of capitalism then it reflects a kind of determinism named as capital-centrism by Gibson-Graham (1996).


Because exploitation is found to be lacking on the three mentioned attributes, Marxists find social forms such as capitalist organization of surplus as also the order of capitalism built on its presumed centrality unacceptable and, in response, posit the end of “appropriative injustice”, “distributive injustice” and “democratic injustice” as its uncompromising standpoint to confront and terminate exploitation and systems such as capitalism that are founded on it (Cullenberg 1992, 1998; De Martino 2003; Wolff 2012). Moreover, these three negative features of exploitation, alone or in combination with other process, have also been argued to have contributed to the scenarios of systemic instability, unemployment, alienation, marginalization, inequality, poverty, stratification, violence, ecological imbalance and environmental degradation. These effects materialize because of the manner in which organization of exploitation, via cause and effect, can appear in conjunction with other social processes. That is, the scope and span of the effects of exploitation far exceeds its immediate mandate and tend to give shape to, in conjunction with other process, a systemic form.

For the sake of convenience, Resnick and Wolff (1987, ch. 3 and 4; 2006) make another move by dividing the organization of surplus labour into two components: fundamental class process and subsumed class process. Class processes can be grouped into fundamental class process (FCP) comprising of the performance and appropriation of surplus labour, and into subsumed class process (SCP) as embracing the distribution and receipt of surplus labour. By virtue of the various class moments of performance, appropriation, distribution and receipt of surplus labour constituting one another, the fundamental class process and subsumed class process are not independent or autonomous of one another but rather overdetermines one another and, through processes of overdetermination, bring each other into existence.

Furthermore, those who are related to fundamental class processes as performers and appropriators of surplus labour occupy fundamental class position. Similarly, those who are related to subsumed class processes as distributors and receivers of surplus labour occupy subsumed class position. This reference to class position never suggests that the individual must belong exclusively to that fundamental or subsumed class; for example, as buyer of labour power (a process of exchange) the capitalist occupies a non-class position, as appropriator of surplus value a fundamental class position and as distributer of surplus value he takes a subsumed class position. Neither can we claim that the particular class position which he personifies defines and drives his decision-action or constitutes his subject-hood. We can simply say that as persons who occupy certain processes and encounters activities, practices and relationships which these processes contain, they do occupy this and that process, including some class processes. Subject constitution as also his decision-action is a distinct problem that is related to but not reducible to any process or position. It too, like other entities, remains an outcome of the combined effects of overdetermined and contradictory processes that are in a state of flux.

India's landless march in Madhya Pradesh

A cluster of overdetermined class (FCP and SCP) and non-class processes that occur together in a specific site is called a class enterprise/structure. Instead of seeing enterprise as an economic entity reducible to class process or some exclusive process such as capital accumulation or profit maximisation, it is instead viewed as an overdetermined and contradictory site of class processes and their constituting economic, cultural, political and natural processes. In this sense, an enterprise such as a capitalist one is a de-centred totality. It is a de-centred totality in the sense that it is simultaneously a totality of the combined effects of all processes that constitute it and it also is a part in so far as it constitutes other processes and sites in society; there is no centricity or privileging that can be attached to this totality, whether in how it is constituted or in how it in turn constitutes others. Therefore, a capitalist enterprise cannot be reduced to one or a few privileged entities such as profit or capital accumulation; nor can it serve as the centre in terms of which other kinds of enterprises or economic outcomes should be judged.

To ensure the continuous existence of FCP and indeed of class enterprise, the appropriated surplus is distributed as subsumed class payments to those agents who are providing its direct non-class conditions of existence. Consequently, an array of individual and social actors could be construed as working to reproduce the non-class conditions of existence of a specific FCP: managers, merchants, banks, landlords, state, etc., providing non-class economic conditions; the supervisors, state administration, politicians, trade unions, etc., providing political conditions; the media, educational institutions, religious institutions, advertisement enterprises, etc., providing cultural conditions; the state and community, for example, providing natural conditions. Those who are the direct recipients of surplus from the appropriators occupy at least one class and non-class position – as receivers of surplus value they occupy subsumed class process and as personifying the non-class condition of existence a non-class position.

The received surplus may be further distributed to employ workers who would, on behalf of the condition providers, secure the non-class conditions. That is, while the subsumed class agents are personifying subsumed class process and as such are held responsible for delivering the non-class condition to the appropriators, the execution of that could and is usually delegated to another group of experts and workers. To exemplify, take the case of a bank capitalist (or its personification in the board of directors) who activates the non-class process of advancing money loans to the productive capitalists against which they receive a portion of surplus value.[4]


The process of advancing loans is itself not a process of surplus labour (hence not a class process) while that of receipt of payments is certainly one since it is a first-hand distributed portion of surplus value. The bank capitalist thus occupies a subsumed class position (direct receivers of surplus value) and non-class position (advancing loans to the productive capitalists which itself transpires in the process of circulation). To secure the subsumed class position, the process of advancing loans must materialise. For that to happen, the bank capitalists employ an army of people such as managers and assistants (accountants, clerks, dealers, etc.). In this bank enterprise, the managers and assistants are not direct receivers of surplus value, but their wage income is in fact a component of an already distributed surplus value that has fallen in the hands of the bank capitalist. Generally then, class distribution or payments encompass all those who are involved in providing conditions of existence to the FCPs.

Similarly, the existence and nature of SCPs too are continuously moulded by the exact specification and dynamics of FCPs and non-class processes. The effects of FCPs and SCPs, in turn, constitute the non-class processes. In this way, the SCP, FCP and non-class processes mutually constitute one another.

This corpus of concepts is enough for us to proceed further. We shall now argue that the above framework generated by the class focused analysis is not sufficient to address the kinds of questions regarding social needs and related distribution that we have adduced to. It exposes the deficiency of Marxian theory in locating and addressing questions of transition and development in countries such as India. To that effect, we recast the class focused frame to internalize the kinds of issues that we have raised here.


Beyond Subsumed Class Process

One must address questions regarding the ‘marginal’ existence of the poor, the old, the unemployed, the children, the mentally dis-eased, as also preservation of nature and so on who may not necessarily provide conditions of existence to any class process. If we are to follow the class distributions that tie payments to conditions of existence the agents provide, then these people do not qualify as justifiable recipients of fragments of subsumed payments. This means that distribution of surplus must not pertain singularly to payments for processes providing conditions of existence to class processes, but also towards those who provide no conditions of existence (direct or indirect) for any kind of class process as is the case with agents we have pointed out. Surplus by definition cannot be exhausted in the payment against class conditions; it must exceed subsumed class payments.[5]

There is another way to state the problem. Suppose we ask: why cannot all payments out of surplus be taken as subsumed in nature? If that were to be the case then every such payment would have to be construed as somehow connecting the condition providers to the performance and appropriation of surplus labour (FCP). After all, subsumed class process (SCP) is defined as payments for facilitating the non-class processes (advancing loans, selling commodities and realizing the value of them, etc.) that provide conditions of existence of the fundamental class process (FCP). Let us call this class distribution. To say against this backdrop that funds directed towards the poor or the mentally dis-eased are facilitating non-class conditions seems to be a far-fetched idea. The domain of, say, poverty (especially extreme ones) is very different in comparison to those conditions that facilitate FCP. Distribution for such non-class social needs are special and irreducible to class distribution. Let us call distribution for social needs as developmental distribution. By reducing development distribution to class distribution we will be obscuring and misinterpreting the effects that meanings, struggles and practices relating to the process of social needs produce. If we are to still reduce all the diverse kinds of distribution to the point of production, then we will be in danger of falling into the trap of economism once again. Moreover, we shall perhaps be doing a great disservice to the analytical power of this approach if we fail to sharply distinguish the relation of FCP and SCP with that of FCP with social needs. Only through this distinction can we make sense of the relation between class and need as it also opens the space for locating and analysing public policy and developmental struggle.


The Idea and Importance of Social Surplus

To differentiate between these two forms of distribution, the concept of surplus is split between production surplus and social surplus. Production surplus consists of subsumed payments, SS, required to meet the conditions of existence of FCP. We have already referred to this realm of class. In contrast, social surplus, SS, represents the socially determined needs of the people (such as relating to poverty, environment, unemployment, to name a few; such as relating to the needs of children, the old and the mentally dis-eased) who provide nearly no conditions of existence to the FCP. Put in another way, the surplus over and above the production surplus (subsumed class payments/revenues) is social surplus. Social surplus represents the fact that a part of the total surplus moves beyond the point of appropriation to another point of social axis in order to be distributed and received by socially determined criteria of need that are dissimilar to the ones which are channelled for class related conditions of existence. Although related, possession, distribution and receipt of social surplus are an altogether different set of processes as compared to that of class processes. Consequently, their effects are diverse also.

The development space, as we understand, is the domain of need and its associated flow of possession, distribution and receipt of social surplus. In contrast to class distribution (capturing the relation of FCP with SCP), we have designated development distribution as referring to the flow of social surplus for various socially defined needs. By connecting social needs with distribution and receipt of social surplus, this alternative terrain helps shape a radically different meaning of development space in comparison to what mainstream economics, institutions, policy makers and politics like to offer. Consequently, it is bound to give rise to a different kind of interpretation, intervention and transition politics.

Taking off from our point of reference and departure, TSV (total surplus value) is now equal to SC (production surplus qua subsumed payments/revenues) plus SS (social surplus); which is the same as saying that distribution of total surplus is directed to reproduce FCP and social needs, two different purposes. Evidently, social surplus is determined by total surplus labour performed and appropriated (fundamental class process) as well as subsumed distributions (subsumed class process). Social surplus opens an evaluative terrain that is able to integrate class and need. Surplus directed towards production surplus and those directed towards social surplus would be in an overdetermined and contradictory relation; for example, given the quantum of TSV, increase or decrease in one would have a correspondingly inverse effect on the other. If the struggles over the nature of class process and over production surplus are struggles over class related processes and are consequently class struggle over class distribution, then the struggles over the nature of need process and over social surplus are need related development struggle over development distribution. By virtue of the fact that each affects the other, both become integral components of Marxian analysis and struggle now.


Food Security Debate: A Marxian interpretation

To exemplify our insight, we now consider the debate that transpired over the food security act in India. To keep the record straight, the demand for Food Security as a right qua radical need gained prominence in various social movements in India before and since Independence; their contribution in generating a process of long run thinking over the issue of Food Security cannot be diluted, let alone ignored. As an offshoot of the ideas derived from these social movements, the question of Food Security of India in the last two decades has been theorized as a human right issue by many who organized themselves into the ‘Right to Food’ campaign. The ‘Right to Food’ campaign camp inculcates in its purest form the idea of food security as a radical need for battling and ending poverty by demanding universal coverage as encapsulated in its proposed “Food Entitlements Act”. Evidently, the quantum of social surplus needed to guarantee this coverage would be the maximum among all possible models. The rest of the positions including those in the current debate on the Food Security of India, that we will allude to, take this movement as their point of reference and departure. Two contrasting positions have gained prominence. The first is the official position pioneered by the National Advisory Council (NAC) which is headed by the Congress Party supreme leader Mrs. Sonia Gandhi. It has finally proposed the ‘The National Food Security Bill’ after many rounds of suggestions and recommendations which was finally passed in the parliament in 2013. Without going into the details of the exact nature of the bill, we can still infer that while NAC retains the spirit of food security as a radical need, it does move away from the ideal of universal coverage by considering the constraints of food production and procurement as also subsidy.

By default, it internalizes the effect of what increased demand for social surplus would do to the other need considerations and indeed the rest of the economy including the class processes. It seeks to distribute 5 kg of food grains per person per month to Priority households and 35 kg per household per month to Antyodaya households; food grains include rice/wheat/millet. The combined coverage of Priority and Antyodaya households (called “eligible households”) shall extend “up to 75% of the rural population and up to 50% of the urban population”. In this context, the food security act has been particularly criticized by activists for failing to account for nutritional security (such as by providing pulses) given that a huge population of India especially children continue to suffer from malnutrition. However, the more ferocious attack has come from the pro-growth lobby even as it is clear that the social surplus demanded by NAC recommendation of food security is lower than that of the ‘Right to Food’ campaign or what was initially contemplated by NAC. This third position was fanned by the Rangarajan Committee Report (expert committee appointed by the Prime Minister of India).


Its clear dithering on the NAC suggestion suggests a different understanding of the issue at hand and one which has been considerably expanded in recent times by the business houses and also the mainstream media. The latter’s position seems to give the least consideration to the idea of food security as radical need which shows off in its emphasis on budgetary prudence, distortions on food grain supply and prices, negative signals to the investors, etc., as reasons for rejecting the idea of Food Security. The criticism finally boiled down to the fact that a greater social surplus for food security can only be extracted from the production surplus thereby possibly effecting the high value producing class processes itself and hence further problematizing the growth story of India in an already depressing atmosphere of economic crisis. Some even flatly reject any suggestion to giving any further doles ‘calling’ into question the very existence of food security as social need, that is, whether it can be conceived at all as social need. Clearly, this debate over food security is also a struggle over the distribution of social surplus including its procedure, scope and even its existence and by default, as invoked in the debate, over class processes as well.

Finally, this can also be seen as class warfare at its vintage best where the group favoring the ability to appropriate, distribute and retain the surplus is going all out to scuttle any move to disturb that ability and role in any form. The furnished reasons for attacking the idea of food security must thus be seen as trying to retain its control over certain class positions and roles; this is a case where the apparent development struggle (struggle over the meaning of food security and validity of social surplus) gets combined with the class struggle to secure for itself the ability to appropriate, distribute and retain wealth. While the term class is understandably absent in this debate by virtue of its foreclosure from the discourse, it is evident that our Marxian approach helps produce a particular interpretation of this debate as a struggle over class distribution and development distribution struggle, albeit in relation to one another.


Need and Public Policy

Our understanding of need is not referring to a naturalized pre-defined objective end. Rather, like all entities, need too is overdetermined. This means that what emerges as need is contingent to the cluster of process (economic, political, cultural and natural) that constitute it in that specific situation. Therefore, need is always expressed as, and indeed appears in, specific forms. That is, need by itself is a vacuous category; it gets flesh or form in specifically concrete situations defined by overdetermined processes. Need is what it is by virtue of those constituting effects that produce it.

Not surprising then, what emerges as need and in what form it is socially determined, remains open to interpretation and change, that is, remains open to socio-political articulations; what is ‘necessary’ is thus ‘socially constructed as necessary’; need space is a contested terrain and any appearance of need must be construed in terms of a struggle. This takes us away from reducing need to any naturalized state. Therefore, to forward a case, that rural employment for the poor could be considered as social needs started emerging in the 1960s following massive social upheavals amidst a deteriorating condition in rural India; it finally took the form of a public works programme initiative in the 5th five year plan. Since then this need form has been changing, not least due to ground level inspired social movements in rural India. As an exemplification, one can draw particular attention to the movement and initiative of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS), a non-party political formation in Rajasthan, who brought the importance of rural employment as a right into the forefront. Its initiative opened a debate that ultimately gave way to the MGNREGA programme.


The connection of need forms and various kinds of social need bring to surface the importance of public policy. By drawing attention to the unavoidable articulation of FCP, SCP and social surplus, our evaluative space opens the route to a unique rendition of public policy; in which class and need, while conceptually different, remain locked in an overdetermined and contradictory relation. Public policy pertaining to any social need would thus have to contend with this class-need space which not surprisingly, given the nature of this space, makes its appearance, form and continuation open to various kinds of effects and influences, some over which even the policy makers would not have control over or even know of. These effects and influences may not be merely from the hegemonic quarter which is intent on defining and displacing social need in ways which secure the position and power of capitalists and their cohorts. They may instead come from various other directions and sources, not least following social movements from below. In addition to the case for Food Security showing the divergent positions, our example of MKSS influence on the formation of MGNREGA is also noteworthy in this regard. It is important since it shows us that policy formation, especially in the progressive direction, may not be always top down; social movements too play a role in bringing their influence to bear on the policy menu to be considered. This is not to suggest that these movements would get what they want in ways they sought; this may not happen due to the other contending positions that may have emerged to oppose the demands.

Therefore, the demand for universal coverage on account of Food Security could not be met and the original demand, to the disappointment of many activists, was a watered down version of what was sought. This shows the precarious nature of public policy and its non-teleological trajectory, facets that are instilled by virtue of its location in the class-need overdetermined and contradictory plane and the ensuing complexity of diverse and contesting positions with respect to class distribution and development distribution that emerge and clash in any specific context. Whether such a complex space and array of struggles arises or how far they will be accommodated within a political principle of participation would depend on the presence or absence of political democracy and how deep it goes in any society/country. It is thus not surprising that those who favour the missile of growth strategy as the uncompromising position are often in conflict with the need to provide or deepen participation in political democracy; their aversion towards social needs as encapsulated in that strategy reinforce this suspicion and at times aversion to public participation. They rightfully understand that vibrant political democracy that allows participation will only open the door to a very complex space in which social movements, activism and voices of the poor and workers can only strengthen and grow louder thereby rendering public policy very different from what they would be if these were not present. This in turn, from our class focused perspective, only reaffirms the importance of deepening political democracy and the need to reassert a Marxian position in the class-need space and dynamics.


Development Justice

In so far as the set of social needs constitute the development space, Marxian theory would consider the terrain of need to be flexible, contingent, unstable and open to interventions and articulations rather than being closed off into a universal set of needs handed down from the top (say, by the World Bank or the state). The latter set of needs, made to appear as natural and pre-given, are what they actually are: hegemonic need. One axes of development struggle concerns what should emerge as socially necessary need; it is thus no surprise that what constitutes need, even hegemonic need, has tended to change over time.

Given that there is thus scope to define and reshape the meaning and location of need in ways very different from what the hegemonic mainstream would propose, it opens the door for the Marxian perspective to forward its case where the content of its need related development struggles would, in ways it deems fit, be specified by struggles over the meanings of need as also over the manner, mechanism and forms of availability and distributing social surplus as also over who should be considered the rightful recipient of social surplus. This opens up the terrain of shaping the idea of development justice, which would demand connecting the meaning and presence of what it deems as progressive social need to social surplus such that any violations of it would be considered as unjust; it becomes the point of reference for envisaging development politics from a Marxian perspective[6]. While here we do not delve into its details, our analysis does point to development justice as the fourth coordinate of the justice criterion, with appropriative, distributive and democratic justice being the other three; in this regard, for example, we have elsewhere forwarded the case of poverty related social need as a case of development justice, a scenario that may even require intervention at the level of FCP and SCP thereby showing how both class and need be taken into account in any such consideration of a specific justice position such as eradication of poverty.[7]

However, it is worth reminding that by virtue of our evaluative terrain, interventions along the Marxian line would constitute only one position in this contesting terrain.  The players converging in the need space who forward their own idea of social needs and confront one another over the appropriation, distribution and receipt of social surplus include, to name a few, central governments, local governments, local bodies, NGOs, international agencies such as the World Bank, individual class enterprises (such as state class enterprises, private class enterprises including corporations and so on), the political parties and the social movements. The conflict over social needs is indeed murky and intense as it usually is.


While we have till now focused on class based struggle and need based development struggle, it is important to realize that other non-class processes (related to gender, race, caste, nature, etc.) not only produce distinctive effects of their own but, in the process, also generate significant impact on the existence, amount, composition and destiny of production surplus and social surplus. Class struggle (struggle over fundamental and subsumed class processes), need struggle (struggle over processes related to social surplus) and other non-class struggle (struggle over processes that determine production and social surplus) constitute one another in deciding the amount of surplus to be made available for distribution towards various ends such as that of poverty related need.

Take an example. Numerable studies have pointed to the deplorable state of gender relations in India. Figures pertaining to sex ratio, income, body mass index, literacy, and access to resources (including property) highlight this point of discrimination (India: Human Development Report 2011). Take a fairly established position: Indian girl child/women have greater nutritional deficiency than the boy child/male. That a relatively larger portion of social surplus goes to male children implies a certain relation of class-need processes to gender process. Within a household, the position of female children becomes an issue in the domain of gender and patriarchy, which determines the relative balance of the sexes within that household. This balance within the household could be part of broader social priorities that favor male over female children. Such gender-power driven relationships in turn help shape the sexual division of labour within the household in generating the surplus (female children may end up giving more surplus labour and be exploited as well) and the patterns of distribution, both in the form of subsumed payments and social surplus.

Finally, at a policy level concerning the state and local bodies, we witness social surplus/based distributional struggle between the various social needs, including that related to female children: a non-class need struggle. As a result, a host of class and non-class factors impacting various sites play a crucial role in determining the specific status of female versus male children within and outside the household. The marginalization of the female child, captured by her restriction from performing activities presumed normal for a boy, is a product of struggles over modes of appropriation (class struggle), production surplus (class distribution struggle), social surplus (development distribution struggle) and gender-power meanings. Absence of a class-focused approach will blind us to the complex class processes underlying the subordinated status of girls and the dynamics of intra-household poverty. Similarly, failure to locate various kinds of non-class effects, such as need process and gender-power related ones, would blind us to their role in the formation of class processes and of marginality and poverty.


Inclusive Development

We can use the class and need relation to reinterpret inclusive development (Chakrabarti and Dhar 2012a, 2012b, 2013b) as partly a result of struggle over class and need processes regarding, first, what gets defined as social needs; second, how much is to be released for social surplus for these social needs related programmes; third, who gets what portion for the projected social needs; fourth, how these distribution effect FCP and SCP and vice versa. Therefore, who gets what portion of social surplus is not only determined by the exact form of relation between the availability and distribution of social surplus and social needs, but even which social need will attract greater attention is a result of intense struggle and possible conflict as our example of food security demonstrated. The point is though that such a connection and struggle is inescapable.

Moreover, our formulation also lays bare the connection of growth and inclusion, since how much is available for inclusive based social programmes will depend upon the surplus generated in the most productive sectors of the economy, that is, the growth emanating through the expansion of surplus value in FCP and how much accrues to the subsumed class actors. This means that both the dynamics within and across the TSV, SC and SS makes the relation between them complex, unpredictable and in a state of flux. Therefore, our framework unpacks the point that, along with other factors, class matters for distribution for social needs and vice versa. It also highlights that not only should Marxists pay attention to issues of development as part of their evaluative terrain, but the unique connection/relation of class and need it generates distinguishes the Marxian approach to development from other approaches. It helps produce novel interpretations and shapes politics in ways that are different as well as in opposition to mainstream consensus where such a class-need relation is not readily available. Therefore, what Marxian theory can allow us to see, explain and practice cannot be done by others. Marxism matters for and in development, even when it is dished in its most benevolent form.



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End notes:

[1] For class focused approach, see Resnick and Wolff (1987, 2006) and Gibson-Graham (1996, 2006). For the details of the extension and displacement of the class focused approach along the lines that are discussed here, see Chakrabarti and Cullenberg (2003), Chakrabarti, Cullenberg and Dhar 2008, Chakrabarti and Dhar (2009, 2013a), Chakrabarti, Dhar and Cullenberg (2012).

[2] See Chakrabarti, Dhar and Cullenberg (2012) and Chakrabarti and Dhar (2009) for a more detailed treatment on this aspect.

[3] In contrast to the rest of class processes that are well known, communitic class process refers to two possible scenarios where (i) even as direct producers may collectively (C) produce surplus, only one of these producers (A) would appropriate the surplus and the rest would be excluded, and (ii) even as direct producers perform surplus labour individually (A), the appropriation is done collectively (C) such that nobody is excluded from participation in it. The former constitutes CA communitic class process and the latter AC communitic class process. An example of CA communitic class process is a family based agricultural farm in which all members labour but where only one member, say, the head of the family who also is a direct producer alongside others appropriates the surplus individually by excluding the rest (this is in contrast to slave, feudal and capitalist class form in which the appropriators are not direct producers of surplus); an example of AC communitic class process is an agricultural arrangement where farmers farm individually in their respective land but decide to come together to appropriate the surplus collectively (this is in contrast to communist class form where a collective performs and appropriate surplus).

[4] Following Marx, productive capitalists personify those who appropriate (and also distribute) the surplus value (whose money form is capital) produced by the direct producers/productive workers in the labour process; workers who produce surplus value through the labour process are defined as productive labourers. This is in sharp contrast to the unproductive capitalists who personify the creation of capital (given value creating more value) that takes place not through surplus labour creating labour process but process of circulation whereby an advanced money fetched more money. Examples of such unproductive capitalists include money-lending/bank capitalist, merchant or trading capitalist and shareholder capitalist, all of whom advances a value M to receive a greater value M1. Workers employed by unproductive capitalists to secure their surplus value in the process of circulation are unproductive labourers.

[5] Marx (1977) himself pointed to the need to further divide the surplus depending upon the distribution of surplus related to production and distribution that had nothing to do with production, capturing, in his own words, “the general costs of administration not belonging to production,” “that which is intended for the common satisfaction of needs, such as schools, health services, etc.” and “funds for those unable to work, etc., in short for what is included under the so-called poor relief today.” While subsumed payments would partly, but not totally, capture the administration expenditure and common need, it will most certainly not capture the payments on account of poverty related need. It also suggests that any possible relation between surplus distribution and poverty must follow from the conceptual premise that surplus distributed to the point of production and those away from it, while not independent, are distinct.

[6] See Chakrabarti 2001, Chakrabarti and Cullenberg 2003, Chakrabarti, Cullenberg and Dhar 2008, Chakrabarti, Dhar and Cullenberg 2012.

[7] See Chakrabarti, Cullenberg and Dhar (2008) and Chakrabarti and Dhar (2013) for details.


[Thank you indeed Anjan for this important essay]

The writer is Professor of Economics, Calcutta University. He is the author of’ Transition and Development in India (with Stephen Cullenberg), Dislocation and Resettlement in Development: From Third World to ‘world of the third’ (with Anup Kumar Dhar) both published by Routledge; and ‘world of the third’ and Global Capitalism (with Anup Kumar Dhar and Stephen Cullenberg) published by Worldview Press. He has recently edited a book with Sarmila Banerjee called Development and Sustainability: India in a Global Perspective. Springer: New Delhi (2013).

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