The origin of economic classes.
A basic understanding of the economic origin of classes is of the utmost relevance to problems currently faced by humanity. It will help explain the motives and actions of modern global elites and those they rule. It also clears away the confusion caused by economic jargon and consequently reveals the underlying similarities between the ideologies of Neo-Liberalism, Socialism, Communism and Fascism.
For this general outline, the long evolution of humanity, can be usefully divided into two periods. The first (pre-history) stretches over millions of years and across numerous continents. It lasted until humanity developed a systematic form of writing. The second period (history) commences with symbols on tablets of clay, stone/stela, papyrus, vellum and later paper.
The invention of writing developed along with changes from hunter-gathering, herding and pastoral modes of production to settled agriculture. The latter enabled a regular surplus of grain production to be created along with fruit and vegetables. Regular surpluses removed the need for some community members to produce their own daily sustenance and therefore to specialise in other forms of activity, such as writing, pottery, music etc.
That way a socio-economic division between essential workers and other occupations was first established. By the Greek and Persian period of ancient history, forced, repetitive agricultural labour by slaves and semi-slaves had become the economic basis for the rise of towns and cities. On this foundation of ‘strong government’, successive ruling elites maintained possession of the main means of production and control of the lives of essential workers, who were then forced to produce such basic needs.
Control of means of production and labour, enabled historic elites to obtain a tithe or tax (a percentage) of everything produced. Regular surplus-production kept the elite (and other artisans) in the manner they directed. The historic separation of essential workers and other classes, also helps explain why history has been plagued by wars and class struggles.
Class struggles and uprisings occurred because slaves and semi-slaves (or later peasants, serfs, workers) resented being forced to work to support the elite. They would often rebel when compelled to work exceptionally hard. Wars were undertaken by elites to gain additional products and extra surplus-production from sources other than their local essential workers.
Although far more complex than earlier modes of production, capitalism is just a modern version of a society divided by class. This is revealed by the fact that essential workers are still required to work long and hard at repetitive boring tasks, for relatively little reward; and their surplus production is still used to support the capitalist/ruling class and other non-essential occupations.
Modern economic jargon such as capital, money, interest, rent, taxation, salaries, wages, productivity, division of labour, fiscal responsibility, banking law and custom etc., merely masks the underlying economic foundations of capitalist societies. These still comprise of an under class of essential workers whose labour supports an over class who make the rules and direct the administrators.
Of course, capitalism is based upon complex globalised industry and agriculture, so workers who are now essential cover many more occupational categories than previously. Daily essentials such as food, water, shelter and warmth are still needed, but the essential worker class has grown. Factory workers, transport workers, educational workers, building workers, health service workers, administrative workers, shop and warehouse workers, energy supply workers, communication workers, sewage and infrastructure workers, have now become essential.
Moreover, the conflicts between essential workers and those who rule over them have not gone away. Indeed, there are more.
The level of capitalist production now extracts more from nature than can be replaced and produces more goods and waste than can be sold or ecologically dealt with. The greed for wealth that the ruling classes and their middle-class supporters have is destroying the natural basis of all life on the planet. There is clearly a need to replace capitalism with something more humane and sustainable.
In the 20th century, the suggested alternatives Socialism, Communism, Fascism and Neo-Liberalism were all tried. They all tinkered with some symptoms of capitalism before reverting to the aggressive class-divided, strong government type. This outcome is not difficult to understand. These ‘isms’ kept the ancient economic structure intact. Each ‘alternative’ had either a Social democratic ruling elite, a Fascist ruling elite, a Communist ruling elite, or a Neo-liberal ruling elite.
Each political elite once in power selected the administrators it required along with a loyal pro-regime military and police force. These ‘forces’ made it difficult for essential workers to dispute or prevent whatever type of ruling class exploitation was in place. Moreover, the greater the numbers of the unproductive ruling, administrative and military classes, the harder and more efficiently those essential workers were forced to exert themselves to meet societies (!) needs.
The more pressure these superficially different political elites exerted upon their essential workers, the more the latter resisted – the class struggle in various forms continued. The extra production needed to support the various professional–managerial–class occupations also increased the mass of products, waste materials and environmental damage. Despite the different elite political ideologies, essential workers and other life-forms were still oppressed and exploited.
At face value, the political ideologies of Socialism, Communism, Fascism, and Neo-liberalism, appear to have little in common. However, beneath the sophistry and jargon of political and economic discourse, they have the same underlying economic purpose. They all desired to live off the surplus-production of essential workers. The various ideologies and the illusory categories swirling around the intellects of those political elites disguised this fundamental similarity.
A debt is owed to those activists such as Karl Marx, who forensically analysed capitalism and developed the revolutionary-humanist perspective. For this perspective revealed that the solution to the problems inherited, created and exacerbated by capitalism, was to end the historic separation of working people from the means of production and from decisions on how and what should be produced.
Consequently, an important stage in working class consciousness will occur when the mass of essential workers begin to question not only the remuneration levels of their society-supporting labour, but the very nature and ultimate purpose of their exertions. Such questioning of the purpose of class divisions in essential economic activity will also serve to distinguish between those who genuinely support working people in the historic need to found society anew, and those who resolutely do not.
Roy Ratcliffe (February 2021)