[The following is the first chapter of the FIST-authored book What is Marxism All About? – A Street Guide for Revolutionaries, an introduction to Marxist ideas in non-technical language. Read and download the whole book here or go to the “Books and Pamphlets by FIST” tab at the top of the site]
“The workers have nothing to lose but their chains.”
“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.”
“Workers [and oppressed] of the world unite!”
These are just a few of the slogans still in use today that Karl Marx and Frederick Engels first popularized in 1848 when they wrote The Communist Manifesto. These popular slogans, and the class society they describe, are just as relevant today as when they were first written more than 150 years ago.
The Communist Manifesto describes the process by which society developed over time so that today it is divided into roughly two great classes. Marxists often refer to the ruling class as the bourgeoisie and the working class as the proletariat.
Each class is defined by its relationship to the major means of production. The ruling class makes up a tiny minority of society. This class owns all the pr more. Most politicians in capitalist democracy are either direct members of the ruling class or its hired agents. Managers, police officers, judges and corporate newspaper editors are also ruling-class agents. The ruling class makes its profits by exploiting the labor of the working class. These capitalists see money as a means to make more money and increase their power. The money reinvested to make more money is called capital.
The ruling class is a small bunch. Many of their names are easily recognized. Warren Buffet, Michael Bloomberg, the Koch Brothers, Bill Gates and the Walton family (owners of Wal-Mart) are just a few of the biggest names in modern capitalism. These five names alone had a net worth that exceeded $331 billion in 2013.
The working class includes all the people who create all the goods and services in capitalist society. These workers are only able to survive by working for someone else – a capitalist. A person is still a member of the working class even if their income is supplemented by investments in their 401K or stock options that the company provides its employees in lieu of direct payment.
The unemployed are also workers. Unemployment is a constant and necessary feature of capitalism. The ruling class purposefully forces a significant number of workers into unemployment as a reserve army to compete with employed workers and force down wages. The reserve army also provides the capitalist with the flexibility to rapidly hire these unemployed workers at low wages during periods of economic expansion. Stay-at-home parents are also members of the working class. Their unpaid labor is necessary to raise the next generation of workers for exploitation by the bosses. Children are workers’ dependents who are being brought up and trained to be future workers. The children of workers are members of the working class.
The working class is an international class that is artificially divided into separate countries because of the history of captalist rule. The U.S. working class is multinational. A large portion of the workers here belong to oppressed Black, Latino/a, Asian, Native and Arab nationalities. Some are immigrants and may be documented or not. Workers from the oppressed nationalities, including documented and undocumented immigrants, form a super-exploited segment of the working class. One thing all workers have in common is that their labor produces all the wealth in society.