In recent weeks there has been much talk about “class warfare,” mostly from Republicans accusing the Occupy Wall Street Movement – and even Obama – of fomenting unfair and divisive hate against the wealthy, of “dividing Americans.”
Terms like “class” and “class war” are usually deliberately avoided in the mainstream corporate media. When “class” is mentioned, it is mentioned negatively – as a term that only crazy ideologues or Marxists use. There is a good reason for this: The ruling elite don’t want working people to see the massive division in wealth between the 1% and the rest of us. They especially don’t want us drawing the political conclusion that working people, the poor and young people have common interests that are opposed to those of the richest 1%.
There is no escaping the fact that working people have been on the receiving end of “class warfare” in America. For example, since 1979 the gap between rich and poor in the U.S. has quadrupled. According to MotherJones.com, in 2009 the average CEO made 185 times what the average worker made, whereas in 1964 it was “only” 24 times higher. From June of 2007 to June of this year, median annual household income declined by 7.8 percent, to $56,320, for non-Hispanic whites and by 6.8 percent, to $39,901, for Hispanics. For blacks, household income declined 9.2 percent, to $31,784 (NY Times, 10/9/2011).
This type of “class war” is constantly going on in this country. It is “class war from above:” a continuous assault on working people by the rich, a fact politely ignored by corporate media, right-wing pundits and others who represent the interests of the tiny minority of super-rich.
Where Do the Terms “Class” and “Class Struggle” Come From?
Karl Marx used the terms “working class” and “ruling class” to define the major classes in the capitalist system. This division is based on which class owns the factories and other workplaces and which class doesn’t. One class, the working class, has to work for a living in factories and workplaces, the majority of which are owned by a tiny, rich elite. That rich elite takes the profits and pockets them. The rest of us hardly earn enough to get by and then have to go back to work the next week in an endless struggle to get our heads above water. According to Marx, this is the fundamental contradiction of interests that lies at the root of social problems such as inequality, hunger, poverty, war and environmental destruction.
There is often a misconception that the term “working class” is restricted to blue collar workers. This is incorrect. Marxists and socialists has always defined “working class” to include all those who work for a wage, are looking for work or preparing to be workers, like students. By this description, the working class in the United States is over 90% of the population.
Recognizing the central role of the opposition of interests between workers and their bosses is important because it shows how to permanently change this country and its economic system. Because of their position in economic production, the working class has the key role to play in a fundamental transformation of society. To permanently end the power of Wall Street and the ruling class as a whole, their dominant position in the economy needs to be eliminated.
The only force in society that can end this domination is the working class. By building a powerful movement that takes Wall Street, the big banks and major corporations into public ownership, the economic power of the rich bankers and executives would be finished. Instead of society being run by the economic elite and their bought-and-paid-for politicians of both parties, an economy can be built and run democratically by those who do all the work – the working class.
Unlike in the Soviet Union, for example, the workers would run society democratically through committees elected in the workplaces and neighborhoods who would coordinate production and distribution on a regional, national and, eventually, a worldwide level.
A socialist society, with the active involvement and decision-making by the majority, would then be able to make real decisions about all aspects of life. Democratic decisions would determine the direction of investment, not profit. A clear plan could be developed to rebuild the economy.
A living wage job, quality health care, housing and free education would become a reality for everyone. Adopting new technology and eliminating the profit motive could reduce the work week. That would allow the broadest possible participation in decision-making. Racism, sexism and war, “normal” ingredients under capitalism, would wither away, since they would no longer serve the interests of a small propertied minority seeking to attain global power while dividing working class resistance.
This is the only way a modern industrial economy and society as a whole can be run in the interests of all of humanity – not the profits of the few.
What about the “Middle Class”?
This fear of working-class power is the reason why the only class-related term we hear in the corporate media is “middle class.” What does this mean, and where do they fit in? The overwhelming majority of the so-called “middle class” consists of people like nurses, teachers and other people with decent-paying jobs, often union jobs. They are, in fact, just slightly better-paid “workers.” The media likes these people to see themselves as “middle class” so as to blur the distinction between opposing class interests. It makes better-paid workers feel as if they are a part of the system and have an interest in its continuation, rather than being part of the broader working class.
Despite this media illusion, class struggle by the working class is the only way to change society fundamentally. This is why it’s important for social movements like Occupy Wall Street to appeal to working people and the labor movement for solidarity and to work with them to fight for fundamental social change.