For some time, I have been hearing political radicals say that we must exploit the split in the ruling class. Is there really such a split? If there is, can progressives actually exploit it and get progressive results?
Who Are the Ruling Class?
We make a lot of mistakes on this simple concept. One is that we really don’t know what “class” means. It is a collection of people holding a common outlook because of their position in the economy. It’s the way that they accumulate money. We make an even bigger mistake when we consider the “ruling class” abstractly as an ideology. They aren’t an abstraction, they are certain people with names. Many of their names are listed every year in Forbes Magazine. It is not a big list.
We make another, possibly even more fatal, mistake when we assume that the ruling class has limited control. In America, they are virtually unchallenged in their control over the entire electoral system, both major political parties, all three federal branches of government, and nearly all state and local governments. A handful of American families control the economy as well as the government. They also control almost all information sources and use them to disguise or misrepresent their actual roles.
How Are They Divided?
The idea of a “split in the ruling class” is especially popularized today because of the growing polarity between the Democrats and the Republicans. Recently, because of the demagogue Trump, we have begun to associate one party with democracy and the other with totalitarianism. But the differences are essentially tactical and not at all fundamental to who runs what.
America never had, and does not have today, total democracy. Democracy, like everything else, is not static, but in a state of continuous change. In 1776, Americans had almost the same amount of democracy that Britains had created for themselves. Through struggle, Americans increased their levels of democracy fairly consistently until the late 1970s. From that point forward, a concerted effort from the ruling class has diminished democracy. If Donald Trump had succeeded in setting aside the 2020 elections, then democracy would have taken a drastic setback. The election of Joe Biden means that our American democracy may hold its own or move forward slightly, but it is not likely to be much.
The ruling class adopted its anti-democratic stance after the civil-rights and anti-war movements had threatened their control and at a time that their post-war international economic hegemony was challenged from abroad. From their point of view, American workers had to be harnessed more effectively than before, and certainly more effectively than their international competitors were harnessing their own workers. Democracy was an obstacle to be overcome. That economic situation was never rectified and cannot be rectified short of world war. The only thing that the American ruling class could do was out-compete other nations by driving down unit labor costs. “Unit labor costs,” to all effects, is how they think of the rest of the American population.
If the ruling class continues to be unchecked, they will continue to drive down unit labor costs and they will diminish democracy to do so. Democrats or Republicans, conservatives or liberals, leftist or rightists, the ruling class will agree.
A split in the ruling class?
Perhaps over tactics and timing, but not over who controls what. A good lesson can be learned from the current arguments in Congress. The Democrats and Republicans are unable to agree on a COVID relief package. But, during the same period, they agreed by more than a 2/3 majority on gigantic military expenditures! Contrast the difference! The military bill goes directly to the immediate interests of the ruling class, the COVID-relief bill primarily affects only the rest of us – their unit labor costs.
Even the details of the COVID-relief bills being discussed tell us something about ruling class control. They would give a small amount in relief to the unemployed, small amounts for schools (private as well as public), substantial amounts to save the airline industry, some amounts for “small” business, and some amounts to keep state and local governments running.
Have you heard anything about job creation through infrastructure projects? Did you hear anything about simply buying the airlines and other failing corporations to run them for the public good? No, you haven’t and you won’t, because those are measures that actually do speak to the essential question of who runs what.
The bosses have some differences, but they’re only about “how” to run things, never about who runs them.
I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” radio talk show every Saturday at 9AM Central Time. We podcast it along with “Workers Beat Extra” on Wednesdays on Soundcloud.com. If you are interested in what I really think, check out my personal web site