To End the Class Society Is in Everyone’s Interest

From talks by Tim Jackins at the West Coast North America Reference Persons’ Workshop and the Teachers’ and Leaders’ Workshop in Coventry, England, January 2014

Early in the existence of our species, nobody was in good enough shape1 to keep the discharge process functioning, so we lost a great deal of its benefit. We functionally lost the ability, early in our childhoods, to use discharge to keep our minds operating. That ability is there and functions whenever the conditions are right. It was there back then, but the conditions weren’t right, yet somehow we survived. Perhaps evolution had given us enough of the right physical characteristics, or maybe we had enough mental ability in spite of our vulnerability to distress patterns. We did survive, though barely sometimes. Our total population shrunk to something like five thousand on occasion. We were adaptable and able, but sometimes just barely enough to get through.


At some point, we started forming societies. We started to organize. There is a general tendency in the universe for things to organize. There are physical laws we know well, like gravity, and some we don’t understand well, like those involving dark matter and dark energy. Anytime there are forces acting, things tend to organize. Molecules organize. Solar systems organize. The tendency to organize goes on without thought, it’s not intelligent, and it happens at all levels. And once a complex entity like us occurred, it showed up with us—and we organized societies based on the forces that were operating at the time.

Some of those forces were distress patterns, and they were made use of in organizing—in particular, the patterns that made people feel like they never had enough resource to be secure and so were always in danger, and then made them thoughtlessly do things to try to salve and muffle those feelings. In our history we have done many horrible and destructive things to each other, and to other life forms and the environment, out of the drive to not feel endangered all the time.

In all societies, the organizing tendency has taken advantage of the distresses that cause people to feel like their existence is threatened and they need more resource to protect it. The threat was real for our species for most of its existence. There was a doubt about whether we could survive collectively because of lack of resource. That’s not a real question any longer, but humans have continued to feel that way.

People who accumulated resource and took power could make use of their own patterns and the patterns of others to exploit people’s minds and their ability to produce things. We learned how to organize by manipulating distress patterns. Societies were exploitive. They were oppressive. We took advantage of each other. We also took advantage of other organisms. We hunted. We learned how to do animal husbandry. We learned how to do agriculture.

We kept developing our ability to handle the world and producing things that helped to ensure our survival. We became good enough at organizing and producing that we created a surplus beyond what we needed to survive. Then there was a reason to steal by exploitation. If you steal  from people who have no excess, the people die and there is nobody left to exploit. But when people can produce more than they need, a society can be organized so that others can steal the excess while keeping the exploited people alive so as to create an ongoing stream of produce. It has happened in different ways depending on the development of production. There was slavery, there was feudalism, and we are in capitalism. These are all different ways of organizing. One shifted into another as people understood how to produce things more effectively. New forces were created that got organized in new ways.

We have all benefited tremendously from these advances. Everybody in this room, everybody alive today, has actually benefited tremendously from oppressive societies. Their increasing organization and productive capacity have made it possible for our species to grow enormously in understanding and skill. However, the advances have come at a tremendous cost to our species. We have destroyed many people. We have installed heavy distress patterns on each other.

In some ways we can say that it was necessary to exploit each other in order to gain slack for learning, development, and understanding of the world. Someone had to have the slack to think. Exploitation let that happen. On the other hand, if we had been able to think more clearly we might have organized differently. We might have organized thoughtfully, using the slack and resource to develop our capacities without pushing people to the edge of existence. However, because of distress we were not able to. It could be argued that all of the exploitation was necessary to get us here, that it was a sad but necessary destructive process.

At some point we acquired enough slack to start thinking about what was happening—not trying to guide it, but trying to understand it. After understanding it, we wondered if we could make something happen. Maybe we could have an effect on society, maybe make it less harsh. Some of us got the idea that maybe even bigger changes could happen. Some of us got the idea that changes were going to happen no matter what, that there were driving forces that would keep things changing and reorganizing whether or not anyone thought about them, and that maybe we could guide change; not just be swept along by it. That perhaps it wasn’t necessary to wait for a new accumulation of power to reorganize things; that it was possible to think about how to do it.


At this point it is clear that exploitation is no longer necessary. There are a couple of reasons for this. One is that we understand how to produce things well enough that everyone could have a good life, a life in which he or she had slack to think, without anybody being exploited. We’ve reached that point in understanding things. We don’t need exploitation anymore.

The other is that now there aren’t just blind forces pushing for things to be organized. We have developed to where we can think much more clearly. We can organize thoughtfully and awarely. We can be aware of the consequences of our actions and make intelligent organizing decisions. It’s not just blind forces pushing in some direction. We have choices now that did not exist before.

We are clearly at the point of being able to change the way humans organize. We can see what doesn’t work. We can see what is too expensive in terms of humans and other entities and the environment. It is lucky that we are at the point where we can think about this, since we are now destroying everything. It will be an interesting race. It will be interesting to see what wins—thought, or the momentous buildup of patterns that has destroyed so much.


We are at the point where we get to make the change. So how do we do it? How do we end the destructive class society—end capitalism and all exploitive societies—not only for the benefit of individuals but also in the interest of all living things?

“Why are you against capitalism?” We are not just against capitalism. We are against all exploitive societies. Capitalism happens to be the one we are embedded in, so yes, that is the one we talk about. But we are opposed to any society that exploits anybody. It’s a much bigger principle than being anti-capitalist.

We don’t want to be pulled into a reactive debate—this group of people against that group of people. The struggle is against the patterns embedded in our minds. Arguing about which group should benefit is always restimulating and confusing. Anytime we set people up against each other, it clouds the whole issue. That’s part of why things stay confused. It’s not about a particular person or group. It’s not about the actions some people took in the midst of the distresses they carried. It’s about ending the distresses—not allowing them to have any sway, any influence, on what we do.

As a society develops, there is a conscious manipulation of distress. People are more and more conditioned to not think about the way the society operates. It’s only as it starts to break down that people get pushed to look at it. And it breaks down first where it is most exploitive. People in the working class witness the failure of the society when there are not enough jobs for them.

But capitalism is not just hard on the working class. This isn’t a battle between people in the various classes. It’s a battle against the unthinking distressed structure and what that structure makes happen.


We are in a unique situation. Only recently has an exploitive society threatened the existence of our entire species, as well as other species. This does not change or modify anything about class; it simply adds another compelling reason for change. This irrational society, and any other irrational society someone tries to replace it with, can’t work any longer. Tremendous forces are operating, and causing enormous damage, and we can’t control them in the context of an irrational society.

Thus we now have a second, even more compelling, reason for changing this society. Not only can this society not sustain itself without being very destructive to many, many people, it can’t keep from damaging every living thing—at least every complex living thing. It is clearly in the interest of us all to end this particular society’s reach and power.

All sorts of phony conflicts are created, for example, “It’s either jobs or the environment.” This confuses us if we do not understand class. We have to understand class to end the destruction of the environment. This is a strong, ever more obvious truth about present-day reality. It is in the interest of every living thing to end the class society.


So how do we do that? How do we, this nice little mild-mannered group of people (laughing) foment world change, foment ongoing, continuous world revolution? It isn’t enough for things to change in the way they have in the past. Things shift thoughtlessly unless we are thinking about them and acting on them. We have to be able to think well enough that change is guided by intelligence, that blind forces don’t move things, which they push to do.

How do we do this? I think we have to look at the effects on us of living in a class society. Living in this society has had gigantic effects on us that we don’t always keep track of. Our whole lives have been lived under a certain set of conditions. The way that we look at everything is conditioned by a set of distresses caused by those conditions. An example is how we relate to each other. Why is it so hard for us to depend on someone else? Part of the reason is our early hurts. But after those happened, all the distresses of racism and sexism and classism came in and took root in that already-made-frail ground.

Our picture of how we can dare to trust in someone else has been heavily influenced by sexism, by racism, by class. Would you trust your life to someone? Uhhh—no. Our picture of life in a capitalist society is that we must independently see to2 our own survival, generate what will sustain us without counting on anyone else.3 It’s a capitalist ideal. We have our own retirement fund. We bury our own little acorns here and there, hoping they will get us through a long winter. The perspective is, how do I sustain this organism, how do I survive? It isn’t, how do I sustain the wonderful existence of all these organisms that are interconnected in so many ways?

In reality, the only way we are going to exist well is if everything can be sustained. If we want things to be better, we need to make things better for all of us. That’s what will carry us on, keep us thinking, keep us moving through our distresses, keep us moving closer and closer to each other. And the better connections we make, the more we will get to think together and the more creative we’ll be in figuring out new and bigger things to do together, things that are also more interesting and fun.


So on to class. You were born into a particular class. You may have been middle class. You may have been owning class. You may have been working class. If you were born in the United States, odds are that you have a mix of class backgrounds. There has been some shifting between classes in this country, because of the historic period and conditions in which the United States developed. So those of us from the United States likely have a mixed-class background, with distresses from each of the classes. The mixing could have occurred a generation ago, or three generations ago, but nobody discharged along the way, so the distresses got passed down. The hurts may not have happened to you—maybe they hadn’t happened for two centuries—but you got them because they were acted out at you by your folks, and you had no escape.

So what are you? Are you working class? Are you middle class? Are you owning class? Each class has its own set of distresses that have been systematically put on it, and everybody gets to work on his or her set. It’s all right whatever class you were born into. It’s all right to be in any class you happen to be in.

Jo Saunders has been the International Liberation Reference Person for Owning-Class People for a long time. She has done wonderful work. She has great perspective. She and my father4 decided that the direction for the owning class was to give up what they inherited. That was the main direction. It’s a nice direction. But I proposed to Jo that the owning class have a second direction: that as long as they have inherited wealth, they use it—thoughtfully and rationally against the patterns of the societal structure. We want some people in the owning class who are thinking.

So my question is, what can you do in the position you’re in? Knowing what we know, can you stop being pushed by the distresses that have come with that position? Can you free yourself from the patterned behavior and look at what’s possible in the position you are in? What could you do there that maybe somebody in a different position couldn’t do?


The working class is the only class that has a future. It’s fine if you are in a dying class. (laughter) That the working class is the only class with a future simply means that we no longer need a class that exploits other people. This doesn’t have to happen anymore. It’s not useful for it to happen. We also don’t need a class—the middle class—that mediates and manages the exploitation. We don’t need an owning class or a middle class anymore. However, we will always need things produced, we will always need a way to live, hopefully more and more intelligently and with less and less destructive impact. There will always be a need to be productive, so the working class is the class that has a future.

There are great benefits to having grown up working class, or having working-class ancestors. There’s an understanding that is partly in response to the oppression. If you have been involved in production, you have an understanding of reality that you don’t get if you are involved in managing production or seeing that other people are exploited. You have more contact with reality, and you get a certain kind of contact with other people.

Historically, the working class benefited greatly from having to be tightly organized in industrial work. Nobody had had that advantage before. Working-class people had to learn to work together. They got the experience of a close interaction making big things happen that single individuals couldn’t have made happen. They got to know how much power there is in being organized and working and thinking together. There are benefits to doing things together in production, and because the working class has had the best chance at those benefits, they know the most about them. It’s not a matter of different intelligence; it’s a matter of opportunity.

We don’t get things for nothing. Work has to be done to produce enough for our survival. There will always be the need to work. It is fun to work. It is interesting to work. You get to interact with the world in an interesting way and see things really happen. I like manual labor. I like noticing how my body works. I like the soreness. I like the exertion. I like to see that what I did made a physical difference in the world that’s there at the end of the day. I think we like to interact with the universe in that way. We enjoy being alive and interacting with the universe.

Work is not the problem. Whether or not we are paid enough for our work is often an important issue, but the main problem is the distresses, attitudes, and interactions that become a part of the society once the exploitation is there. Part of what we produce is stolen from us, is put somewhere else and used by others, and as a result, hurtful attitudes and interactions develop between different groups.


So what class are you? Dare you be proud of the class you are in? There is a lot of work to do on being proud of our people, our family—where they come from and the struggles they had, no matter what class they were in.

We also need to look at how classes put each of us in a position to oppress other people. Even if we have always been a victim in the economy, we have patterns with the other flavors of oppression. We have middle-class tendencies, we have owning-class tendencies, of trying to exploit someone else—and we have acted them out. If we haven’t had the chance to act them out economically, we have acted them out at home or in some other place. We all have all of these distresses, and we have acted oppressively because of them.

It is relatively easy to work on being small and victimized, but it is a bad perspective to get stuck in. We don’t move and change things from that position. It’s understandable that we get stuck there. It’s understandable that it’s scary to step out and look at the oppressive side of our distresses. It’s scary to say, “I have been hard on people in this way. There are times when I did that.” It’s okay that you did. It’s sad, but you shouldn’t be attacked for it. You shouldn’t be belittled for it. Everybody tries to resist the pull of the distress as long as he or she can. We are in the midst of an oppressive society, and until we can do enough discharging, we are vulnerable to being pushed in oppressive directions. So we need to talk about and discharge both sides of the distresses.

For a lot of us, one way to begin working on class is by being proud of our own class. That means talking about our ancestors, talking about the struggles they went through. We can cry about the struggles they had, because we carry that material.5

There is confusion about the term “selling out.”6 A lot of us have shifted out of the working class into the middle class, and we often feel like we should have somehow stayed in solidarity. Your folks wanted you to get an education. They often understood that there was a price to it, that something would be lost, but they wanted you to have a bigger chance than they did, and they weren’t incorrect. They didn’t understand it to the extent we do, but they understood that there were costs to it, and it seemed to them that it was worth it. It might have been worth it. It might not have been a mistake to take that path and try for things, even though society suppressed you badly and took away options because you did it. It might still have made sense.

We seldom get to make a move in an oppressive society that doesn’t cost us something. That’s why it all has to change. In an oppressive society, there is no avenue forward that isn’t corrupted. We look at society and the opportunities, we figure out what moves us forward, and we try those things. You may have shifted to the middle class and feel bad about it because you feel that you abandoned somebody. The pressures on the newly middle class are to abandon, to deny where you came from, to deny the strengths and power of the working class, or to give them up rather than take them with you and use them from a new position.

I don’t want you confused in that area. Wherever you are, wherever you came from, is okay. You get to be proud of what you have managed to do. It has worked out just fine. You are here, and now we get to actually think about it together. We get to figure things out together, and we each get to decide what to do next.

1 “Shape” means condition.
2 “See to” means assure.
3 “Counting on anyone else” means assuming anyone else will help us, be on our side.
4 Harvey Jackins
5 “Material” means distress.
6 “Selling out” means betraying one’s cause or associates, especially for personal gain.

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