'Class Warfare' Rhetoric Masks Truth About the Class Struggle

The People
May 13, 1995
Vol. 105 No. 3

'CLASS WARFARE' RHETORIC MASKS TRUTH ABOUT THE CLASS STRUGGLE

BY NATHAN KARP

Capitalist politicians, economists, columnists and other self- designated experts and analysts frequently discuss or debate, with considerable heat and exaggerated claims, their superficial differences on how best to advance capitalist interests. The ongoing controversy over welfare provides some cases in point. For example, the current speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, recently charged that editors and other print media writers who have questioned or challenged some of his atrocious claims and proposals were "socialist" -- a sort of 1995 effort at redbaiting, a tactic that always serves to confuse or distort any issue that may be under discussion.

There has also been a marked increase in name calling, character assassination and just plain viciousness, with Republicans and Democrats charging one another with waging "class warfare." As can be seen, both sides have resorted to this type of political demagoguery and mudslinging -- not uncommon practices among political adversaries.

Recently, Messrs. Germond and Witcover, who write a syndicated joint column, ventured to "explain" the latest developments in these respects. Noting that "the country is being treated once again to competing accusations of waging 'class warfare,'" they observed that the phrase was easier to understand in the past because "there were fewer rich and more poor in the American economic mix."

Today, however, they contended that with the "success" of the social programs instituted by the late President Franklin D. Roosevelt and succeeding Democratic administrations, general "economic prosperity" and "the growth of a broad middle class," "class warfare" had become "somewhat muddled." Regarding the alleged middle class they observed that, "Just who is in the middle class seems to depend on whether you're in it or not." It would be hard to give a more meaningless definition.

"In any event," Germond and Witcover went on, "the simpler old equation of class warfare as the defenders of the rich against the defenders of the poor won't do any longer" because "today, most voters are haves to one degree or another." They did not attempt to explain what it is that most voters have that makes them "haves."

They did conclude, however, that "the real class warfare these days" was between the Democrats, who seek "to garner support from the middle class by painting the Republicans as slavish servants of the rich," and the Republicans, who are trying "to cozy up to the middle class by painting the Democrats as slavish servants of the minority [sic] poor."

One would think that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to get so many misstatements into so short a space. But, then, one probably could do so if one tried. Messrs. Germond and Witcover not only seem to have tried, they have succeeded. To begin with, the contention that the differences of opinion among groups of capitalists and/or capitalist spokespersons over what economic and political policies may best serve capitalist material interests generally, or serve to bolster the system and retard its disintegration, amounts to "class warfare" is ridiculous on its face. That fact was expressed matter-of-factly by Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) when she said: "I think it is disingenuous," she said, "to say Democrats are only for one thing and that the Republicans are only for the other. That's an insult to everyone's intelligence." (SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, April 9.)

The phrase "class warfare" obviously is an outgrowth of the more commonly used and correct term, "class struggle." While the Republican "Contract With America" is an unqualified attack on working people, the resultant debate or controversy among capitalist elements is not reflective of the class struggle. The real class struggle is between the working class and the capitalist class of the nation. It has its basis in the struggle between those two classes over the wealth produced by the workers.

Accordingly, declaring that there has been a renewal of "class warfare" between the so-called liberal forces defending the welfare system and those who wish to cut welfare reveals a total lack of understanding of the forces of history and the meaning, impact and implications of the class struggle. Marx and Engels summed up the meaning, impact and implications with the following statement in a letter they issued jointly in September 1879: "For almost 40 years," they wrote, "we have stressed the class struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat as the great lever of modern social revolution."

Incidentally, the reality of the class struggle was not and is not a product of Marxist propaganda. Long before Marx and Engels wrote the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO (1848), numerous observers had noted the fact of the basic class antagonism in capitalist society. As Marx himself wrote in 1852, "no credit is due me for discovering the existence of classes in modern society nor yet the struggle between them. Long before me, bourgeois economists had described the historical development of the class struggle and...the economic anatomy of the classes." One such observer was Samuel Clessen Allen, who had been a member of Congress and twice a candidate for governor of Massachusetts. In 1833, Allen wrote:

"There are two great classes in the community founded in the relation they respectively bear to the subject of wealth. The one is the producer [working class], and the other is the accumulator [capitalist class]. The whole products are divided between them. Has not one an interest to retain as much as it can, and the other to get as much as it can?"

The objective of the liberals in seeking to retain or modify existing welfare provisions, or to enact additional ones, is and always has been to bolster the capitalist system, which is quite the same as the objective of the conservatives. On this point we have the blunt testimony of no less an expert on welfare than Franklin D. Roosevelt himself, who, during a campaign speech on Sept. 29, 1936, declared: "The true conservative seeks to protect the system of private property and free enterprise [fundamental characteristics of capitalism] by correcting such injustices and inequalities as arise from it...Liberalism becomes the protection for the far-sighted conservative...'The voice of great events is proclaiming to us -- reform if you would preserve.'"

There is, indeed, a great class struggle underway in capitalist America. It is not between elements of the capitalist class, but between the working class and the capitalist class, and it will not be resolved until the working class assumes control of the instruments of production and distribution and operates them in the interest of all society. In the meantime, it is essential that we keep the matter of what constitutes the class struggle clear.