The LEFT OUT Discussion of Class
By Broderick Dunlap
In order to understand what class struggle means, first, we need to understand what class is. Generally speaking, economic classes are split into three groups, upper-class, middle-class and the poor but in reality there are only two classes. The bourgeoisie and the working-class, or the haves and have-nots. Income does not determine someone’s class status, although it may influence their political orientation. Class is determined by an individual’s relationship with the means of production “you either own it or you work for it.”
Each class has their own interests and priorities and they typically contradict one another, the relationship between the ruling-class and working class is an exploitative one. The working class is forced to work for survival and no matter what their job may be the goal is to accumulate wealth and resources for the people they work for. This has been the case throughout history, from the days of kings and peasants to the modern day retail worker and CEO. One class works for the benefit of another. The state exists as a tool of whatever class has power and constitutes a special class in society. The state is a special body of armed people and repressive institutions that upholds the interests of the rich who control society, the 1%. It is the result of systemic inequality inherent to class society, it seeks to regulate society on behalf of the dominant ruling class
No matter what kind of political system a society may have the state carries out the interest of a certain class. In socialist countries, the government answers to the working-class, the people who actually generate the wealth. In a capitalist country like the United States the state, is used by the ruling class to carry out the interests of the rich by any means, even if it is at detriment to the oppressed class. In Kwame Nkumrah’s Class Struggle in Africa, Nkumrah gave a succinct analysis on what class is: it is “nothing more than the sum total of individuals bound together by certain interests which as a class they try to preserve and protect.”
In the United States, class divisions have been divided along racial lines meaning the state’s primary purpose is to oppress Black and Brown folks. In order for capitalism to thrive there needs to be a clear master-servant or worker-owner relationship and cheap labour. Racial oppression and capitalist exploitation go hand in hand, you can not have one without the other and according to Nkumrah this exploitative master-servant relationship was actually the cause of racism and not the result. The bourgeoisie or ruling-class are extremely class conscious, they are aware of the power we have and they use race as a way to divide us. Black people have been placed in this permanent under-class, where even if we do work our way up through the social and economic ladder we will still be seen as less than and struggle to get out of poverty. For example Black women are the most educated demographic in the country but remain the most underemployed and are saddled with the most debt.
Being Black in the U.S. is unlike any experience in the world, we have a distinct history, culture and common descent that make us a nation unlike any other. However it is important that we view the political, social and economic landscape in this country through a class lens. Just because someone is the same race as you does not mean that they have yours or your community’s best interest at heart. Black politicians are presented to us and we are expected to just blindly throw our support behind them and vote them into office but we can not be fooled by these Black faces in high places. Because “All skinfolk ain’t kinfolk.” It is important to critically examine their track records, their political ideology and the political parties that they represent and the class character of that party.
As I mentioned before, the state is a tool that is at the disposal of whoever is in power, and political parties have the same purpose, while giving the working-class the illusion of choice. In Class Struggle in Africa Nkumrah said “In the case of the United States of America, for example Republican and Democratic parties may be said to be in fact a single party in that they represent a single class, the propertied class.” History has proven this to be true just in the past two decades. From the time of President Bush and the Republican party to Barack Obama and the Democratic Party and today under the Trump administration; the material conditions of the working-class have not gotten better, in fact they have gotten worse.
During one of the worst economic downturn in the county’s history, where millions of working class people lost their homes and jobs, President Bush was pushing for an unjust war on Iraq. Billions of dollars of our hard earned money was spent on bombs and guns to kill the working class people of the middle-east and to steal the oil from right under their feet, in order to pad the pockets of the rich. We were later introduced to Barack Obama who sold us a dream of hope for a better future, instead he bailed out the billionaire bankers that caused so many people to lose everything and bombed and destabilized African countries. Black people put him in office, we gave him power in hopes that he would relieve some of the pressure put on our communities for so long. Instead Obama oversaw the largest loss of Black wealth since reconstruction.
When Black people took the streets during the height of the Black Lives Matter Movement, President Obama told us to be patient and then turned around and signed the Blue Alert Bill also known as the “Blue Lives Matter Bill” to protect killer cops. This is because he was working in the interests of the billionaires that funded his campaign and his party and they have no interest in improving the lives of Black working-class people. In fact they profit off of our oppression and make money off our imprisonment.
The ruling class has no interest in what impacts our lives, they are too worried about maximising profit. It is important to view the political landscape through a class lens. In 2011, working-class people took action on Wall Street to protest against financial inequality, greed and the influence the rich have in the government. People from various backgrounds, cultures and races struggled together on the basis of class. They realized that it was the rich who are the real oppressors, they are the ones who cause us to lose our jobs when the market takes an inexplicable dip.
Former Black Panther, H. Rap Brown said “We’re not outnumbered, we’re out organized.” The ruling class is extremely class conscious and they look for any reason to divide us. Class struggle is the only way we can win. As Kwame Nkumrah said: “A non-racial society can only be achieved by socialist revolutionary action of the masses… It is only the ending of capitalism, colonialism, imperialism and neocolonialism and the attainment of world communism that can provide conditions under which the race question can finally be abolished and eliminated.”
In order for any mass movement to have an impact it needs solidarity. Solidarity is defined as “unity or agreement of feeling or action, especially among individuals with a common interest; mutual support within a group.” One of the most impactful movements in recent memory has been the Fight for $15 movement. A grassroots working class movement that originated in New York. Dominoes employees had been forced to work in a kitchen with temperatures close to 100 degrees during the summer with no air conditioning. Workers were fed up and began to organize themselves to demand better workplace conditions, a livable wage of $15 an hour and for the right to unionize. This message was strong when workers all over the city went on Strike because they wanted the same thing. Different organizations and unions joined low-wage fast food workers. Trade unions with electricians, construction workers and plumbers, activist groups like Black Lives Matter and immigrants’ rights groups all came together in solidarity with low-wage workers to fight for a better wage. Solidarity amongst working class people across all identities is what helped the Fight for $15 movement become a nationwide worker’s movement. Solidarity is the reason why a movement that started in New York helped workers in California get a $15 minimum wage.
Solidarity is important and without it the people will never win. However, it is important to show solidarity on a principled basis. In the book Black Power, Stokely Carmichael says: “The concept of Black Power rests on a fundamental premise: Before a group can enter the open society, it must first close ranks. By this we mean that group solidarity is necessary before a group can operate effectively…. The ultimate values and goals are not domination or exploitation of other groups, but rather an effective share in the total power of the society.” Solidarity cannot be one sided it must be a mutual relationship that is beneficial to both parties.
It is important to be mindful of who is giving you support, and what their ideologies are. For example, if a group is against police brutality against Black people but they have anti-immigrant sentiments then working with them would ultimately be counter-productive and counter-revolutionary because immigrants are impacted by police brutality and as we saw with the arrest of 21 Savage, there are Black immigrants too. Solidarity also requires discipline, we cannot get caught up in personal disputes with individuals and let that skew our view of an entire group of people, if they come from an oppressed group or nationality, it is important to remember that we have the same oppressor and that our oppressor wants us divided. A fist is stronger than five fingers, a united Black working-class is no match for the ruling class.