Has the stroke of a corporate media pen attempted to define “working class” away in your city? Once again, it has in mine.
A June 23 article in the St. Paul Pioneer Press illustrates the point made by Communist economist Victor Perlo: the capitalists attempt to divide the working class by confusing “class” with “income.”
In the article, “Our Middle Class Hangs Tough,” which profiles a union pipefitter, “class” and “income” are used interchangeably:
“A new study ranked the Twin Cities first out of the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas for its share of middle-income families, and No. 21 for the high proportion of middle-class neighborhoods here.”
“With 26 percent of families in the Twin Cities earning middle-class incomes, the metro area ranks No. 1,” the article says.
Perlo, who headed the Communist Party USA’s economics commission and launched the PWW’s People Before Profits column, once wrote: “[An] important weapon of capitalists in their attempt to split the working class is to define ‘working class’ away, so to speak.”
Marxism teaches us to look for the economic and class interests behind institutions and events in our society. V.I. Lenin, who applied Marxism to the struggles of Russia’s working class, wrote, “The fundamental feature that distinguishes classes is the place they occupy in social production, and, consequently, the relation in which they stand to the means of production.”
Classes, he said, are “large groups of people who differ from each other by the place they occupy in a … system of social production, by their relation … to the means of production, by their role in the social organization of labor, and, consequently, by the dimensions of the social wealth that they obtain and their method of acquiring their share of it. Classes are groups of people, one of which may appropriate the labor of another, owing to the different places they occupy in the definite system of social economy.”
Perlo commented that, “in Establishment writing, workers are divided into two categories, ‘underclass’ and ‘middle class.’ The former are those tens of millions working for poverty level wages or less, and those who are unemployed for long periods of time, including the youths who never had a job. The basic fact, however, is that they are a major, important section of the working class, along with those who are better paid.
“‘Middle-class’ workers,” he continued, “are portrayed as those whose historic status as wage workers has been so improved that they can plausibly be considered to have advanced out of the working class proper and into the ‘middle class.’” He pointed out, “The term ‘middle class’ as used by the capitalists actually refers to people in a supposed ‘middle income group.’”
Perlo always emphasized that workers make gains only through their collective struggles, and regardless of how much workers earn, or whether they have a job or not, they still have to sell their labor power, and their labor still produces the “social wealth,” as Lenin called it, much of which is appropriated by the boss as profits.
This Marxist-Leninist analysis teaches us that what distinguishes classes is not differences in income, habits or mentality, but their relation to society’s means of production.
It teaches us to oppose ideas that serve the capitalist class against the working class, and to fight for ideas that help organize the broad people’s movement, led by the working class, to overcome the power of the capitalists and build socialist society.
We should not let the stroke of a corporate media pen, in your city and mine, foment division among the working class. It serves the interests of monopoly capital and provides ideological support to the Bush agenda.
Michael Wood is a working-class activist in Minneapolis, Minn.