The Oppression Of Classism

The fundamental oppression in all class societies is classism. This is, basically, the economic exploitation of one group of people by another. It consists of the taking away from people who produce value by their work, of that value, by another group of people, with the robbery organized and supported by the society. This economic exploitation, this taking of the wealth produced by some people away from them by others, is the whole motivation for class societies. It is, therefore, the fundamental oppression. All other oppressions have been invented and devised as means of supporting this fundamental oppression. These other oppressions operate for dividing the economically exploited group of people against each other on the excuse or pretext of race, sex, etc., thus weakening their unity against the exploitation and maneuvering each group to assist in enforcing the other groups to submit to the economic oppression.


It is important to say to begin with that all human beings are very much the same, that any differences which have been used to divide us are superficial. We are all very closely related. We're not only all members of the same species, we're members of the same sub-species. There has never been any dependable evidence of inherent differences in intelligence or basic nature between any groups of people. All presently existing human beings are very much alike in their fundamental nature.

We have ample reason to conclude that every human's fundamental nature is one of great intelligence, cooperativeness, and loving, zestful enjoyment. Members of all economic classes are inherently the same. The great differences in their behaviors and in the roles they play are conditioned differences, differences that have been installed upon them through distress recordings, misinformation, and indoctrination.


The first kind of class society to arise has always been a slave society. The principal classes in a slave society are the slaveowners and the slaves. The slaveowners own everything, including the slaves themselves. The slaveowners not only take the wealth the slaves produce, they can also dispose of the persons of the slaves themselves in any way they wish. The slaves, the ones who are owned, who do the work of the society, who produce all the value which is taken from them by their owners, own nothing, not even themselves, and have no rights at all.

Slave societies existed in some places for as long as six or seven thousand years. They everywhere eventually collapsed from their internal contradictions, as well as from the continual rebellion of the slaves against the oppression.


Slave societies were everywhere replaced by the second kind of class society, the feudal society. In feudal societies the principal classes are the barons (or "nobles") and the serfs. The barons own almost everything but do not own the serfs outright. The serfs are dominated completely by the nobles, have most of their production taken from them by the nobles, and are bound to them by many oaths of fealty and obligation. The serfs legally have certain rights to stay on their plots of land and work them (or to their jobs in a guild hall or handcraft shop) even though much of the produce goes to the baron.

The feudal society lasted approximately a thousand years in most civilizations. It collapsed mostly because of its own internal contradictions and also because of the development within it of a more efficient kind of production and of a wealthier oppressing class, the owning-class. Feudal society was succeeded by the third type of class society, the owningclass or capitalist society, which continues today.

In these present societies the two principal classes are the owning class and the working class. The owning class owns all the means of production - the factories, the mines, the banks, the raw materials, the railroads, trucking companies. The working class owns no significant means of production, but is not bound to a particular piece of land or to a particular job as were the serfs. Working-class people are "free" to (or forced to, by poverty) negotiate the sale of their labor to the owning class in return for part of the value which their labor produces. These capitalist societies have existed for approximately three or four hundred years. They have severe internal contradictions inherent in them which have produced recurring economic crises of increasing severity. They are all presently collapsing and are in the final stages of collapse. This collapse arises principally from the society's own internal contradictions, but also from the resistance of the wage-workers to the increasing exploitation and insecurity, And people's increasing revulsion to the irrationality of society's operations, its degradation of the environment, and the total danger created by the society's inherent production of wars in an era of nuclear arms.


In every class society there have been minor "classes" who have particular roles in the interaction between the oppressors and the oppressed. These include clergy, supervisors, managers, educators, and "professionals" of various sorts. Though the economic relation to production of each individual falls into one or the other of the principal classes, they are often thought of as distinct classes because the conditions of their life are quite different than those of either the main oppressive class or the main oppressed class. These people are often referred to as "middle" classes. (The same term is often applied to "small" capitalists, to relatively unsuccessful members of the owning class.) Their actual role in society is always in change. The conditions of their lives vary a great deal from individual to individual and group to group. Their ideology is always confused, sometimes by happenstance, but usually as a part of the indoctrination processes of the society itself.


We now realize that class societies could not continue to exist except on the basis of distress patterns. Distress patterns were already in existence before the beginning of class societies and were used in their establishment. Class societies, in particular owning class or capitalist societies, have devoted increasing amounts of their energies to the deliberate and organized installation of distress patterns to condition people to play their distressed roles in the society, either of exploiter or exploited, without rebelling against the irrationality of the system.


Before class societies developed, economic relations between people were quite democratic. In general, everyone had to work to produce enough food and clothing and shelter to survive and, in general, adults survived on their own efforts at hunting or food gathering. There was no basis for the exploitation of another person. No person at these low levels of production produced a significant surplus. Undoubtedly individuals were robbed and killed in the course of robbery or died from the losses sustained from robbery, but they did not continue to be exploited while alive, so that no class divisions developed.

At some point production became so efficient that one person could produce more than the bare minimum needed for his or her own survival. This took place classically with the development of agriculture (the planting and tending of crops instead of the gathering of wild crops) or with the development of animal husbandry (the herding of animals instead of hunting them). (In some localities such efficient production developed around the catching and drying of fish.)

Distress patterns were already in existence and tended to produce recurring small wars, raids, and battles between tribes. At some point the possibility of producing more efficiently and patterns of greed apparently motivated the victors in some of those battles to take prisoners and keep them captive and use them to produce food, clothing, and so on for their captor. This was the beginning of slaveholder-and-slave classism.

Classism was begun through the use of ruthless, naked force, including the threat of death, and is still maintained the same way. It is also maintained by installing patterns of submission in the oppressed persons and of arrogant domination in the oppressor persons.

Naked force and conditioning were also reinforced, from the beginning, by rationalized arguments for "cooperation" by the exploited with the exploitation. The argument was that the organization of production which could take place under the oppression of the slave owner brought a more "secure" life for everybody. More children could grow to maturity in the "organized society" of slaveowner and slave than did in the free relationships which had preceded the establishment of slavery. If a pharaoh or other large slaveowner owned large numbers of slaves he could have them build granaries in which grain from years of surplus harvest could be stored to carry people through a famine year. Populations would (and did) increase much faster than they did under the free but in secure life of pre-slavery times. It was also possible to use some of the surplus wealth taken from the labor of the slaves to support a class of priests or scholars, who, for example, could study the stars, determine a calendar, predict when the Nile would flood, and greatly enhance the productivity of agriculture. So there was some reason, or apparent reason, in addition to the naked force and the conditioning by brutal treatment for our ancestors to submit to being enslaved. Class society apologists claim for the oppression the benefits of the organization which accompanied it but which, rationally, can be quite separate from it. The reason for class societies is the systematic, socially-enforced robbery of most of the population by a small minority of the population. The excuse for class societies is the better organization of production. There was some appearance of validity for this excuse in the early stages of each class society because each did at first allow a surge in productivity compared with what had preceded it. In its moribund stages however (such as the present stage of capitalism) the class society severely inhibits the development of productivity through economic crisis, unemployment, and preoccupation with armaments.

All class societies, including the present owning-class-wage-worker society (capitalism), act to dehumanize all human beings contained within them. In order that adult humans should cooperate with their assigned roles in the oppressive society, whether the role be that of an exploited worker or an exploiting owner, they must be hurt as children and distress patterns installed on them or their intelligence would forbid their participation in the irrationalities of the class society. Initially the same kind of pattern is installed upon the children intended to be exploited as upon the ones that are intended to be the exploiting ones. These are patterns of oppression installed by adultism, by the systematic mistreatment of children by adults. The primary difference between the conditioning of the working-class and the conditioning of the owning-class person is that the working-class person is kept in the exploited end of the pattern, while the child intended to be an owningclass person is manipulated into the exploiting end of the distress recording.

All class systems, all class societies, have dehumanized all their members. Although to the greed-biased patterned vision of the conditioned slaveowner there might have seemed to be advantages to the exploitation of slaves, the slaveowners' lives as humans were very limited by their role. Occasionally, some very aware individuals, usually poets or intellectuals, spoke about this loss, even in ancient times. The lives of the slaves, of course, were, in general, made completely miserable. The capacity of the baron or baroness for being human in feudal society was severely limited by their roles. Even though their theologians assigned noble characteristics to themselves, in practice their lives were degraded by the role, in a different way, but almost to the same extent, as the lives of the serfs were degraded.

Under capitalism, or owning-class-working-class society, the working-class person suffers from conditioning to devalue himself or herself, to feel powerless, to submit to and endure insecurity and mistreatment, but the individuals in the owning class lead largely vacuous, guilt-ridden lives, as well.

No class society promotes humanness. Each class society, and this includes the present one to an intense degree, is antagonistic to the real interests of all members of the society.

Each of the three class systems that have existed has had a number of things in common. The main purpose of each of them has been for exploitation of many people for the supposed "benefit" of a few. Each of them has had to divide people from each other in every possible way by the initiation and installation of subsidiary oppressions such as racism, sexism, and adultism and of antagonistic patterns on individuals within and towards every or almost every other group. Each such society could function only on the basis of repressing the natural cooperativeness of humans and conditioning them to be antagonistic toward each other and struggle with each other. Each of these class societies has been beset by internal contradictions which kept them from working well, even for their own limited goals, and which have created severe, recurring problems. Each of them eventually became unworkable and threatened the survival of all the humans who comprised it. Each of them in turn has reached the point where it is necessary that it be replaced.

What shall our goals be with regard to the classism which has been installed upon all of us in these various forms? How shall we cope with it? How shall we survive well in spite of it? How shall we eliminate it, individually and in society as a whole? What are our goals?

I think that we can now state some general goals that will be true for every human being regardless of his or her class position or imagined class position. The first such goal is to free every individual from the illusions and the patterned, pseudo-reality which the distress, misinformation, false information, and oppression has placed upon her or him. We will need to seek a spreading participation in Co-Counseling to discharge and re-evaluate all the distresses that hold these illusions in place.

I think that individuals from all classes, as they become free of the illusions, need to join in planning the transformation of the society to a non-exploitative one. In such a society the relationships that people will hold to each other will be for purposes of cooperation and effective organization, not for exploitation or advantages of one individual or group of individuals over another. We must seek, in effect, a classless society where there will be division of work and roles, but not exploitation of one person or group by another.

I think we must seek the elimination of all the subsidiary oppressions that have been installed, all the patterns and institutions of sexism, of racism, of adultism, of mistreatment of the physically disabled, of language oppression, of country versus city antagonisms, of agriculture versus industry. We will seek instead to organize a completely cooperative society which will have as one of its aware programs the elimination of the oppression patterns from the individuals who comprise it. Without such a program these patterns might otherwise pull people back into regression to an exploitative society (as witness the experiences of Soviet Russia and China).

In other discussions Re-evaluation Counselors have begun and made considerable progress on exposing the subsidiary oppressions, such as racism and sexism, and have written draft programs of liberation for many and diverse oppressed groups. In regard to the fundamental oppression of classism, I think we need to formulate an overall liberation program to eliminate classism in all its manifestations but that we also must examine the position of individuals in each of the separate classes and formulate liberation programs for them as well. We will need to take into account the many different cultural manifestations which have been perpetrated in the effort to divide and fragmentize the working class and so-called "middle class." We will need to enable individuals of the owning class to achieve the clarity necessary to eschew the apparent advantages of loyalty to their class position and instead throw in their lot with the rest of humanity towards a society without exploitation.


The working class includes almost the entire population. The more capitalism decays, the larger the percentage of the entire population that is clearly in the exploited position and the smaller the percentage that is in the exploiting position. Capitalism, although in theory it offers the opportunity to transcend working-class backgrounds and become an exploiter (and a rare individual under special circumstances still does this occasionally), in practice encourages members of the owning class not only to exploit workers but also to cannibalize on each other. There is a continual downwardly mobile stream of former members of the owning class being pushed into the working class, into the "declassed" population, or into one of the many confusing groups lumped together under the term "middle class." For every worker who successfully becomes an owning-class person, there are several score owning-class people who have lost their privileged position and become exploited, instead of exploiters, in the same period of time. This means that in an industrially developed country such as the United States at least 85 to 95% of the population is working-class in the sense that it sells its labor and receives back only a portion of the value produced.


People who clearly work for wages, either in producing goods or services, are the vast majority of the working class. Some of these are highly productive. A skilled worker, using advanced technology in a modern factory, will produce $100,000 worth of value in one shift of work and will receive back, at most, -1/1000 of that as wages. An agricultural worker, working under primitive conditions, may produce $40 worth of value in one difficult shift and receive back $10 in wages. The working-class person working under either of these conditions in general knows that he or she is working-class, tends to be aware of the oppression and insecurity, and is assisted by the conditions of production to understand the need for organization, struggle, and change. The distress patterns from which such wage workers need to assist each other to emerge are, of course, varied, but elements in common tend to be: feeling that one is unintelligent or ignorant or that one is regarded by others as unintelligent or ignorant, powerlessness, timidity or submissiveness to the exploitation and the insecurity.


Workers who do office work have been kept separated from factory workers (and largely unorganized) by carefully fostered illusions that, on the one hand, they are "middle class" or "professional," and, on the other hand, that their work is valueless and that they could be "dispensed with." The reality is that they produce value just exactly as does the factory worker. The invoice that accompanies the machined part is part of the value of the shipment. The computer or word processor makes the office worker far more productive; it does not replace her or him, just as the automatic lathe makes the machinist more productive but does not replace her or him as the producer of value.


Workers who do not directly produce goods, but perform services instead, are sometimes claimed to not be working class. This is nonsense, intended to pacify workers with the hope that class exploitation is disappearing and everyone is going to become "middle class."

The proportion of service workers in the working class is continually increasing, but this is because the productivity of the workers who are engaged in production of goods continually increases with improvement in technology. Service workers also produce value, just as production workers, but its realization in goods is one or two steps removed from the production of the goods. A health care worker, for example, enables the cared-for production worker to produce a larger amount of value.

Wives or husbands of workers, who manage households, produce a great deal of value which is realized through the production of the worker, but which is largely unpaid. Parents, who produce the most valuable "goods" that exist, whether these are seen from the human viewpoint as new human beings or from the capitalist viewpoint as new wage-workers to be exploited, are totally unpaid for this crucial and exhausting work.


In traditional agriculture, on "family-size" farms, the class relations were mixed. The farm-owner tended to treat himself as a worker and work very hard, as well as exploit wife and children and whatever hired, usually seasonal, labor he could employ. The oppression of agriculture by industry - the "farming of the farmer" by the banker - generally impoverished the farm-owner himself and concealed the class nature of the exploitation. As large-scale agriculture becomes dominant, the class relationships are plain. Corporations now produce most of the food in western countries and agricultural labor is openly and ruthlessly exploited. This same ruthlessness also is destroying the precious topsoil and exhausting precious underground aquifers for the sake of "quick" profits.


Owning-class society has always tended to destroy and over-exploit the members of the working class. Survival has been difficult and survival rates have been low ever since the beginnings of capitalism. Unsafe working conditions, lack of health care, over-exhaustion, hunger, bad housing, and the deliberate promotion of addictive agents such as alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs, in order to distract and repress rebelliousness among the exploited, has operated to make large numbers of people "unemployable." Such people are too sick, frail, weak, injured, diseased, or addicted to be attractive to employers as sources of surplus value.

The subsidiary oppressions have often prevented national or ethnic minorities from being employed because of the antagonisms which have been generated in other groups.


As the general crisis of capitalism has deepened, very large numbers of otherwise excellent workers have become permanently unemployed simply because the collapsing capitalism can provide no market for the goods they would produce. New generations of young workers come into the labor market without finding a place. Older workers are laid off. Adding these to those unemployed because of economic crisis (many of whom are permanently unemployed), the too-distressed-to-work people, the physically disabled or handicapped people, the alcoholics, and those addicted to drugs, and they constitute a group that are simply divorced from production, are allowed no productive role in the society. So a large portion of the working class is increasingly divorced from the whole process of production. This creates intense hardship, ameliorated only slightly by various measures of government relief, Social Security, government medical plans, and so on. Their conditions are handled by the society by starvation or meager social support or "charity."

These so-called "declassed" people are members of the working class. In this collapsing, unjust society they are not allowed to produce, but this does not lower their humanity or their class role one whit. These are the humans which the intensified exploitation has consigned to the scrap heap who are not yet dead from the pressure. These are working-class brothers and sisters, even those of them presently alcoholic and classless, who were only recently alcoholic and owning-class. Now they are all one of the sub-groups of the working class.


The term "middle class" is used as a confusion and sometimes as a deliberate deception. Many different groups of people who have different class roles are included within it. Almost all the "middle class" are essentially working-class in relation to the means of production, that is, they do not own any significant means of production and they do not live off the labor of others. They have been encouraged and allowed by the owning-class society to acquire advanced education or technical training in order to play certain roles which are useful to the owning class and sometimes, incidentally, to the working class. These include the "professionals" whose incomes may be much better than those of the industrial workers, but who essentially sell their labor for part of the value it produces.

Management personnel also do this and their salaries may be very high, but they are producing more value than they are paid or they would not continue to be employed. Many "professionals," such as doctors and lawyers, hire other people to work for them and may very well intend to exploit them, but the actual relationship is much more that of fellow members of a team with those of different skills being paid different amounts, rather than outright exploitation.

The term "middle class" is also confusing because it is often applied to "small" owning-class people who play two different class roles. A farmer, for example, who owns his farm, may work very hard, but also will hire additional labor, which he exploits, so that he is both working-class and part-time owning-class.

Smaller capitalists are often termed "middle class" by the larger owning-class operators to belittle them because they have such a small number of workers. Under some descriptions, industrial capitalists who have less than 500 workers in their factories are called "middle class" as a pejorative term to indicate the fact that they have no real power of decision in the system, but are satellites of the large owners. So the term is a confusing one and deliberately so.

It is also often used to describe workers who are assigned supervisory roles and who are bribed and deceived with a little more money and a lot of propaganda to think that their interests lie with the exploiters, with the owning class, and against the workers. The "lead man" who models for eight or ten fellow workers, the foreman who supervises thirty or forty, the superintendent who manages a plant, in general all come from the working class. They perform special functions necessary in production, and receive higher wages because they contribute more to the overall success of production. Such individuals sometimes are thoroughly convinced that their interests are with the owning class and would call themselves "middle class," even though, except for ideology, they are wholehearted members of the working class.


The owning class consists of a smaller and smaller group of the poopulation as the general crisis of capitalism increases. These are people who own the means of production, either directly in their own names or through their possession of stocks. (The development of "artificial persons" called corporations has allowed the intensification of, and concealment of the depth of, exploitation from the majority of the population. The actual ownership of resources is often difficult to detect for the person who would examine it.) Essentially a small percentage of the population lives totally from the labor of others. Some of their incomes are vast, running up in the billions of dollars. (Some are very low. You can have an elderly person trying to live on a few shares of telephone stock who is close to starving and yet, in relation to the means of production [and often ideology] is purely owning class and lives only from the labor of others.) As the intensification of monopoly proceeds, a smaller and smaller number of owning-class people own more and more of the means of production. The concentration of accumulated profit and capital in the banks has for a long time been at a crisis condition.

In terms of political power, only a very small percentage of the owning class actually wield much political power. (See Ferdinand Lundberg's books America's Sixty Families and The Rich and the Super Rich.) Within the owning class, the less wealthy ones are likely to be called "middle class" and the more wealthy ones, the extremely powerful ones, are likely to be either unknown or household words.

Harvey Jackins
Seattle, Washington, USA

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00