When the five billionaires aboard the OceanGate submersible went missing in June, the internet exploded with memes. These were shared by millions of low-paid and young workers. The arrogance of the rich finally backfired on them.
America is highly polarized these days. The rich and poor divide has never been greater. Half of Americans now own less than 1% of America’s entire wealth.
Young people are generally locked out of any kind of wealth. They overwhelmingly work the worst-paid jobs that trap them into insecure housing and healthcare. Their education is either another unaffordable ongoing cost, or a debt they will drag around behind them for decades.
So, is it an accident that young people are getting screwed? Or is that the plan?
Amazon has a million employees. If you are one of those mostly-young workers, you absolutely know that Jeff Bezos’ $150 billion wealth comes directly from your labor. Uber, fast food companies, Big Pharma – they’re all getting rich at the expense of their workforce. And then there’s the climate criminals of Big Oil who are not just extracting fossil fuels but robbing the world of its sustainability. Capitalism, big business, the billionaire class – whatever you call it – is organized robbery. And its extraction addiction only gets worse.
The United States is also long in decline. Despite the proliferation of shiny new tech like phone apps and driverless cars, for decades the US offshored its manufacturing and was more inclined toward stripping its own assets than turning around the economy.
How Do They Get Away With It?
The outcome of presidential elections is not really what decides the power in society. Like any 1970s political thriller worth its salt, the real decisions are made behind the scenes in the corporate boardrooms and the vast network of families of the 1%. The important decisions are decided in the exclusive country clubs and dinner parties, where Ivy Leaguers and billionaires, and top Judges and paid Senators gather.
When a crisis threatens their profits they will meet it: within two days of the Silicon Valley Bank run in March, the heads of the big banks, the Federal Reserve, and the White House got together on a Sunday morning to decide how the government should respond. As Marx said, the government under capitalism acts like a managing committee of the ruling class, always holding up and defending the values of the profit-based system.
Education, Media, Politics, and Prison
Probably around ten thousand people constitute America’s ruling class. But the working class numbers in the hundreds of millions. This is problematic for capitalism. So their paid-for politicians are continuously engaged in a battle to prevent the working class from becoming an obstacle to exploitation-as-usual. Over centuries they have learned to effectively divide the majority: they use racism, sexism, LGBTQ-phobia, and anti-immigrant rhetoric to their advantage. And, if they are not trying to divide us, they are trying to disorient or demoralize us.
Beyond their two big political parties, each funded by big business, capitalism rules ideologically through many institutions in society. They use the corporate mass media and their university system to protect and promote their ideas. Prestigious universities educate the elite and disseminate the latest, palatable version of capitalist ideology all the way down to the lower rungs of the state education system. And if there are gaps in this huge ideological network, then the ruling class funds NGOs to fill those voids.
The media, the education system, and the NGOs serve two goals. Firstly, to justify their system, but also to bring idealists under its wing, so as to drown any notion of real, fundamental change in false hopes for incremental change within the system.
As poverty rises, individuals are increasingly forced to break laws that prevent them from a meal or shelter. Then the brutal side of the ruling class’ power comes into play. The policeman, with his pretense of serving everyone, steps in to incarcerate the nonviolent drug offender while the billionaires who promoted Oxycontin get fined a tiny percent of their profits.
Freedom, to those at the top, means their right to exploit and use their money as they wish. Democracy, to the extent it exists, is a temporary concession to the majority to legitimize the system. When the working class rises up, you can hear the ruling class arguing for change, but this is only to save their own skins. Like any abuser, they want to appear that they have learned their lesson.
The Rise of the Working Class
Every right working people have won is a result of mass movements or the threat of mass movements.
After the widest series of demonstrations ever in US history, following George Floyd’s murder, in 2020, the elites made all sorts of promises that this time they would change. Three years later, the police were never de-funded, and corporate America is firing their Diversity, Equity and Inclusion board members.
Democracy is impossible without equality.
Most friend circles are a kind of informal democracy where no individual gets to make all the decisions. Its foundation is that everyone’s equality is respected. However, once you go to enter the workforce that disappears, however much they paint over it with corporate language about “teamwork” and a “big family”, the workplace is a dictatorship of the bosses.
US society is like one huge workplace but with more sophisticated mechanisms to try to make us feel like it’s not a dictatorship. Every four years, big business offers us two candidates to oversee the nightmare.
Inequality, far from disappearing in America, continues to rapidly accelerate. In the 1950s, the average CEO made 20 times more than the average worker. Today, they make almost 300 times more.
Despite the fact that you can fit all of America’s billionaires into a single city bus, they continue to grow substantially richer, through all the legislation passed to enable that process. And even if the US economy’s pie is growing, the slice of the pie for the majority keeps shrinking.
Can The Ruling Class Be Overthrown?
The real power in society, however, shouldn’t be measured by money. The real power is the source of all new value: labor. It is labor that delivers a package, builds a house, or flips a burger. Only labor adds value to make products. Inversely, only labor can stop all production. This is our power if we choose to use it.
The working class is the only class in society with the means – our role in keeping the system running – and common interests necessary to drive historical progress forward. Unlike the bosses, the working class is organically collective and naturally democratic. We are the 99%.
Only on the basis of the working class taking over society can big business’ destructive dictatorship be ended and a genuinely democratic society be established.
History has taught us many times that the ruling class can be overthrown, but only by a class as well-organized as they are. While sometimes they make stupid mistakes, like cramming into poorly-designed submarines, as a whole the capitalist class has been able to maintain its system of exploitation and oppression for hundreds of years, with important exceptions. When they are threatened, they mobilize all their institutions, the police, the courts, the media, and ideology to try to save their system.
This is the place of organizations like Socialist Alternative. We fight for the self-organization of the working class and for that class to take power, as peacefully as possible, away from Big Oil, Big Tech, and the billionaires. The ruling elite is incapable of solving society’s problems, and they should have been dumped many years ago.