The Working Class Returns
Workers have suffered throughout Western history, because making people work harder for lower wages is how capitalists make money. In the USA, Black workers have suffered more, while White workers could hope to rise, but without question they have all suffered. They lived in tenements or shacks; they worked dawn to dusk on factories or farms while rich people enjoyed life. This disparity led to a union movement, the rise of socialist ideas and New Deal social programs like unemployment insurance and social security. Racial discrimination and resultant racist attitudes divided the people and slowed the movement, but didn’t come close to stopping it.
Then after World War II, when the US suddenly dominated a war-ravaged world, American workers became middle class. Not rich, but compared to what they had been used to or compared to workers anywhere else in the world, they were better. They owned homes; they bought cars; their children went to college. They considered themselves ‘Middle Class’ and the USA became a ‘Middle Class country.’ There was no longer a working class in America, at least not among White people.
As had happened in the UK at the height of the British Empire, America’s new “middle-class” workers became conservative; they became the ‘silent majority’ supporting US imperialism. This was mainly a White worker phenomenon, because they had it better and could identify more easily with their White overlords. (Though not exclusively. I vividly remember attending a pro football game, which featured a pre-game flyover by military jets. An African-American man sitting next to me jumped up and started yelling ‘USA. USA. Love it or leave it, baby!’)
Because their base now self-defined as middle class, the Democratic Party, which had established itself as the workers’ unreliable friend, started to lose voter share and power. In response, Dems started moving to the Right, to the point where there was not even a pretend Left in either capitalist Party.
But times have changed. With unions and their political representatives weakened, most of the good jobs, the ones with decent pay and benefits, were either shipped to other countries or transformed into bad jobs. Workers have become poor again, including nearly a million who have become homeless and two million in prison. Talk of class and even of socialism has become possible for the first time in 80 years. Bernie Sanders is saying things that would have been unthinkable from a presidential candidate even ten years ago. So, don’t be fooled into thinking that his line, which is essentially FDR’s New Deal, is too extreme. The country has changed dramatically and is continuing to transform in front of our eyes. Trump is extreme. The times are extreme.
Our rulers are well aware of this dynamic. They have overseen the impoverishment of the American people at least since Ronald Reagan’s presidency in 1980. The housing crisis of 2008, in Bush’s presidency, wiped out the majority of African-American wealth in this country. The ongoing bank bailout that followed during Obama’s presidency created the enormous and growing wealth disparities we have now. They have forced a regime of austerity and war on us and have no intention of rolling it back.
And they have prepared for our pushback, long before many of us even realized what has happening. Their media machine, with twenty flavors of propaganda all saying the same thing in different ways to different groups; creates constant spectacles of distraction and nonexistent threats. Their police and surveillance state have already added you to a watch list just for reading this. They are powerful and they are scared, but they have a plan, similar to the plan German capitalists used after World War 1. There, newly impoverished workers were persuaded that immigrants and Jews were the source of their problems. The rulers renewed society by uniting Germans against the non-Germans in their midst, while meeting people’s needs with socialist programs. Hence, National Socialism.
This is where support for fascism comes from: masses of people pushed from the middle class down into the poverty they had worked so hard to escape, then manipulated by the rulers that pushed them there. This is the White Nationalist program of Steve Bannon and Richard Spencer, demonizing and attacking immigrants, on which Donald Trump rode to victory. We can’t fight this movement with centrism or moderation, and we can’t fight it by focusing on their declassed foot soldiers, who, with a different narrative, could just as easily be our soldiers. We need to fight their narrative; we need to fight the system.
Can the Sanders campaign change the struggle in this way? I don’t know. It’s not a fair fight; most people don’t even know the fight is happening. They are constantly told to blame and fear some foreign country or some ethnic or political group. The rulers have the political parties, the military and intelligence services, the corporate media, and the money. We only have the power of the people, and that is largely theoretical at this point. People power is not strong when divided by race, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual preference, age, and whatever other schisms the rulers’ think tanks can create.
But the future remains unknown, and it is largely up to us. The cliché is true: We are many; they are few. If we speak out, reach out, come together and fight back, we could win. Imagine a battle that is not Sanders supporters vs. Trump supporters, or White vs. Black, but Sanders and Trump supporters, White and Black against the rulers, a class struggle. How would that go? The billionaires impoverished workers to enrich themselves, but in impoverishing us, they forced us to recover some class consciousness. And who knows where that will lead? It’s our narrative vs. theirs. Spread your story.