The Chronic Patterns of Classism

The fundamental oppression in our society is the economic exploitation by the society of the people who work, for the supposed benefit of the people who own the means of production. A very large majority of the population (even in supposedly "advanced" and relatively prosperous countries such as the United States) own little or none of the means of production (the land, the buildings, the factories, the mines, the power plants, the communication facilities, the banks and the distribution structures). As the society develops, a smaller and smaller group of owners owns a larger and larger portion of the total means of production.

Because modem technology has made production so efficient in the latter years of this epoch, the total amount of capital, including the means of production, becomes larger and larger, but a smaller and smaller percentage of the population owns and dominates a greater percentage of this wealth.

The number of "millionaires" and "billionaires" goes up, at least in some periods, but the number of individuals who have any real say in the economy and the political and economic structures that grow out of it becomes smaller and smaller.

Increasingly we Re-evaluation Counselors seek to understand the content and mechanism of the society into which we were born and which dominates our lives so thoroughly, and we have pursued this goal with increasing clarity. Participation in Co-Counseling itself and in the accompanying activities tends, as yet (1992), to be by people of the "middle-class" sections of the population and even of owning-class people, but we systematically are seeking to include all sections of working people in our activities. Already we have a large number of working-class people surrounding RC and looking toward it for guidance.

We have finally evolved to a clear understanding that all classes in this society are oppressed by the society itself. We are trying to forge bonds of unity across the most intransigent class barriers of the past, towards creating a movement which will include people from all classes, comprising the great majority of the population, and dedicated to creating a rational society.

Many of us began Co-Counseling in an effort to "feel" better, but almost all of us have for a long time now been pursuing the goal of thinking better, of "re-emerging." Most of us now also are pursuing liberation both of our particular oppressed groups and of the population as a whole, since it became evident many years ago that at least a majority of most people's distresses had been laid in by oppression. Now we are beginning to reach for "taking charge," for "reclaiming our power" in addition to recovering our intelligence and ending our oppressions. This all-round re-emergence is of central importance, not only as an end in itself but also because it is the tool which most expedites our handling of all other issues.

As we try to Co-Counsel with each other well across our class divisions we are detecting certain common chronic patterns attached to members of the same class.


In encouraging working-class RCers into leadership, the chronic patterns which cause difficulties are likely to be lack of confidence, feeling "dumb" or unintelligent, feeling that "it's no use to struggle," that "one can never win." Other common working-class feelings are, "If I take leadership all my friends will think I am being too good for them and won't support me any more," and feelings that one must copy the speech, mannerisms, accent and clothing of middle-class people or owning-class people in order to be taken seriously.

Chronic patterns of working-class people that interfere with taking responsible leadership can include grievancing as a substitute for action, and "comforting" oneself with food or alcohol or preoccupation with sports, on or off TV.

Once leadership has been accepted, chronic working-class patterns that can make one's leadership difficult or ineffective may include: identification with the owning class; misuse of a leadership position for "profiteering" or economic well-being rather than to use the security for more effective leadership; resistance to taking on broad political issues, and clinging to narrow economic ones (which can never be successful, in the long run, by themselves). Distressed behavior on a larger scale, to which top union officials often have become addicted, is putting the interests of one's particular group against the interests of other working people and thus cooperating with racism or the imperialist exploitation of workers of other countries in exchange for tiny advantages or economic concessions for one's own group.


Some of the chronic patterns which commonly tend to keep middle-class people from assuming responsible leadership include strong feelings that one must fit into, be approved by, and support the oppressive society as "the only world one has ever known." Others are a fearful need for approval and pats-on-the-head from the "powers that be," a passionate (fearful) belief in reform rather than fundamental change, and the "liberal" attitude that "one can never be sure that one is right."

The chronic patterns that make leadership difficult for middle-class people once they've assumed it include self-doubt, a fearful need for conformity, and assumptions about the "eternal verity" of the system in which one is functioning.

Chronic patterns that derail the leadership of middle-class people can include timidity in the face of threats, the conditioned ambition to "become owning class" or act like it, hoping to "share power" with owning-class people, and clinging to the illusion that ownership produces wealth instead of realizing that it only robs wealth from the real producers.


Owning-class people's chronic patterns that keep them from assuming rational leadership will include patterns of laziness and self-indulgence, the conditioned belief that they must enjoy themselves at all costs, irresponsibility, and the feelings that they do not dare "become visible" lest they meet reprisals. There is also a factor that they rarely admit to themselves and never acknowledge to others: that deep down they don't believe in themselves.

Some of the patterns that tend to limit their leadership are unfaced commitments to the present oppressive system, and a difficulty in conceiving that they can be accepted as allies by the working and middle classes because of the resentment which they assume the members of these classes feel toward them.

The chronic patterns which will tend to keep people of owning-class backgrounds from becoming effective leaders are the familiar "second levels of distress for owning-class people," the patterns which seem to have a pseudo-survival value. These include "taking over" under all conditions; trying to attain prestige, financial advantage, and other benefits. Other patterns are condescending manners, arrogance, and identifying one's own interests as the "interests of everybody." Arrogance patterns sometimes show up in the "bold" taking of initiative without consultation, which we might encourage in a working-class person, but with the owning-class person would tend to be done for self-serving reasons.

No class background need remain a barrier to a person becoming an excellent RC leader, but the person must work successfully to discharge such chronic patterns, and must have firm, loving insistence from other members of the Community for operating against and outside of these patterns, or the patterns will distort and limit the person's leadership and hold back or harm the Community. The clearer the rest of us are about the class roles of these patterns, the more helpful we can be to the Communities and to the individuals themselves. We can push relentlessly for the working-class person to take bold initiative, to think of herself or himself as brilliantly intelligent, while remembering that such apparent behavior from an owning-class person can very well be cementing them into their pattern. We need to urge this owning-class individual to "lead from behind," to be a principal support of working-class leaders, to be modest in behavior and in demeanor.

We have realized that all cultures are composites of useful lore or knowledge and of "cultural" patterns, and that part of our re-emergence consists of examining these cultures and differentiating between their components, respecting and sharing the valuable lore, and rejecting and discharging the patterns. In a similar manner, it will be useful and necessary for us to examine and sort out the components of the class backgrounds of our Community members and allies and, especially, of those we advance into leadership.

Each class background will tend to confer certain advantages on its members. Working-class people, for example, will tend to competence and "getting the job done," to cooperation with others, to ability to survive. Middle-class people will generally have access to information or know where to find it, to think in terms of organization and responsibility rather than individual roles only. Owning-class people have generally been left with confidence that initiative can be taken by them in any direction.

If we become skilled at eliminating the patterns involved in class roles, we will be left with only our strengths.

Of course, the patterns that we face in our clients will be individual and unique also, as individual and unique as the individuals whom they affect. They must be located, contradicted and discharged as they are, not treated only as categories. However, just as we have learned to probe for, challenge and contradict the patterns left by the oppression of women on any woman client, and the patterns left by male oppression on our men clients, so our taking charge of freeing all our clients from the particular patterns left by classism will make a great difference in their lives and functioning.

Harvey Jackins
Seattle, Washington, USA

Last modified: 2016-12-20 06:43:20-08