Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Proletarian Cause

Michael Franc Wright

On The Analysis of Classes in North American Society

Part I. Why We Make a Class Analysis of Society

Let us ask ourselves the same question that Mao Tse-Tung asked the Chinese Communist Party back in 1926. “Who are our friends?” and, “who are our enemies?” Mao was referring to the friends and enemies of the socialist revolution in China; such was a fundamental question in the Chinese revolution as it is in any revolution. Now we must ask ourselves just who are the friends and enemies of the North American socialist revolution? Let us hope that we are correct in making our assessment for everything depends on it.

Our attitudes and behavior in society will be modified by the depth to which we understand the class analysis of society. < It is characteristic of North American society that a great many people, especially in the United States, are hopelessly unclear about the meaning of “class,” or having some notion of the dynamics of class struggle, hold the class analysis (with the social relations of production as the criterion) in the profoundest contempt. Such a class analysis of society is the mirror of history and the privileged exploiters of humanity do not like the future they see in that mirror. In it they are forced to see the relations that produce “the sound before the fury of the oppressed.”

In 1926 Mao made such an analysis of Chinese society. In it he concluded, among other things, that the Chinese national bourgeoisie (the middle bourgeois class) was predictably the enemy of the Chinese socialist revolution. He noted that this class and its political-military apparatus–the Kuomintang–could, however, become allies of the Chinese people in the immediate struggles of the day. The first major struggle was the democratic national revolution against the foreign capitalists who penetrated China through China’s top bourgeois class–the comprador bourgeoisie. The second major struggle was waged against feudalism and “war lord” domination within China. These two struggles characterized the bourgeois-democratic, or first stage of the Chinese revolution. But in the second stage, the fight for socialism, this ’national bourgeoisie would not sit idly by while the Chinese peasants, proletariat, and Communist Party, expropriated ;“their” private property and “their” private capital. It was for this reason then that Mao regarded this class and its army as the eventual enemy of the Chinese socialist revolution. Mao said that they were “inconsistent” in their attitude toward the Chinese revolution and that some of them might come over to the support of the fight for socialism but that the majority of them would go down as class enemies.

The national bourgeoisie proved to be very consistent with the aims of the national democratic revolution against its enemies, except when they included the Communist among the enemies–the first enemy. In fact, the Chinese Communist regarded the national democratic revolution as the necessary springboard into the socialist revolution, while the national bourgeoisie saw it as the springboard into capitalism. And it was less than a year later that the Kuomintang massacred 80% of the infant Communist party (ten thousand were left out of fifty-seven thousand). So even more than Mao regarded the Kuomintang (and the national bourgeoisie) as the eventual enemy of the socialist revolution, they regarded the Chinese Communist Party as the immediate enemy of their “bourgeois nationalist” revolution. The Communist and the Kuomintang had entered into an “alliance” against feudalism and imperialism; unfortunately, the “alliance” was very similar to that of the duck and the fox against the farmer as it turned out. Although the Communist had made a correct analysis of the general character of the national bourgeoisie’s attitude toward socialism, which was negative, they did subordinate themselves to the leadership of this Kuomintang for a fateful period. Mao recalls that his infant party was “wholly unprepared for Chaing Kai-shek’s surprise counter revolutionary attack.”

Thus out of necessity he and the Chinese Communists changed their base-building emphasis from the urban proletariat to the poor peasants. For here they could recruit an army capable of preventing any more massacres of the Chinese Communist Party and the socialist revolution. They did not by any means abandon organizing activity among China’s urban proletariat but they did considerably step up organizational and agitational work among the poor peasants, the method has been since called the technique of “armed propaganda.”

One recalls that Mao had earlier analyzed the poor peasants as one of the Chinese proletariat’s closest allies. The peasants made up 99% of the Chinese population then and make up 97% of it now, the poor peasants being the majority of them. The objective class analysis, then, lays the basis–the fundamental and indispensible basis–for making the subjective class analysis. The subjective analysis (which includes all those things under the category of social consciousness) is more difficult to assess, is more complex, but is the basis for making correct intelligence estimates of the future behavior of a class or class organization. Mao’s subjective class analysis of Kuomintang leadership was evidently not thorough enough or the Chinese communists would not have been caught by surprise. Yet, the practical test of Mao’s Analysis of Classes in Chinese Society, though marked by an initial set-back, set the stage for a more thorough, and successful, theoretical analysis and practical demonstration in later years.

So several lessons can be drawn from this event. The first is that, for revolutionaries, it is necessary to make a thorough class analysis of society; that is, to make a thorough scientific and objective analysis of class histories and objectives. Secondly, it is necessary to make as thorough as possible a subjective analysis of classes in society. This will enable us to understand what they are thinking, the style of their thinking, and what they are likely to do about their thinking. The combined and thorough analysis of the objective and subjective realities of a class teaches us to be all-sided about the question of friends and enemies, and to make intelligence estimates of class behavior (and not wild speculations on that matter.)

When one hears the categories of “class character” or “scientific laws of society” (and one hears talk of these things more each day) something of very great importance is being talked about. Indeed what is being said is that there is an overwhelming probability that this or that social phenomenon (person, group, strata, class, or class idea) will act in a predictable way with regard to certain situations. These are the key variables for social situations: (1) the real or fancied needs of the class (content), (2) the historic circumstances and methods of how this class satisfies or fails to satisfy its needs (the processes), and (3) which social person or group is involved and the social psychology (who) of their community.

So that we can better predict how groups of people, or individuals, are most likely to behave in a given political situation is why we make a class analysis. So that we can act correctly with regard to our friends and enemies and approach them with the correct educational techniques, this too is why we make a class analysis.

Part II

Marxists are not the only people who claim that their sociology is based on a class analysis of society. But first, in bourgeois North America, there are some people, who in fundamental identity with a backward slave’s mentality, are so brainwashed by the ideology of the advanced capitalist states that they declare North American society (the United States at any rate) to be a classless society. We are familiar with one variation of this thesis or another: “classless America,” “The melting pot society,” or “the pluralistic society.” Certainly these theories do not originate in the camp of the poor, but they are propagated there by the willing or unwilling agents of bourgeois ideology.

In the North American Black colony there is one variation of this theme. It holds that while classes do exist in the Black colony they do not exert a significant dynamic in the course of Black liberation. This sub-thesis continues with the judgment that the all pervasive condition of racism in our environment causes the classes to be unified and work toward similar objectives–namely “anti-racism,” or recently, “nation building.”

Not only do such sterile theories fail to grasp the class nature, characteristics, and modus operandi of racism (prejudice and discrimination), and not only does this theory offer no explanation for the beginning and development of racism itself (racism rationalized the colonialist and slaveowner’s mode of production which in themselves were mechanisms of capitalism), but this theory does not offer any rational explanation of what goes on in the Black colony today, and offers no solution to the problems, especially “nation building” problems, of the Black people who live in the North American colonies. That is, they offer no militant solution short of an all out race war or a protracted racial holding action, (and both of these would solve our problems alright.) They would also begin our departure from the course of world history. To argue that classes exist in the Black community, and then to argue that they are of no significance (that their dynamics don’t mean anything) is patently ridiculous. In this paper we will pay close attention to an analysis of classes in the Black colony. And based on a class analysis of consciousness within the Black colony we will see why some of our friends conclude that classes are of no significance (to them). But we will also see why our friends are absolutely (and even dangerously) in error.

The denial of classes and their significance in society serves the extreme right-wing cornerstone of imperialist ideology. For instance, the State Department of the U.S. imperialist government and the Ford Foundation (or any similar foundation) budgets money to send Afro-American rock-n’-roll stage shows to Africa. Their intention is to convey the impression that Blacks in America resemble these (apparently) happy, successful, affluent, popular, and “clean” stage performers from America. Their “appearance” (their “stage presence”) says that ’all goes well’ with Blacks in the ’land of milk, honey and gold paved streets.’ Their “appearance” is designed to be a value-producing and highly contagious cultural disease directed toward the new urban areas of Africa. But most of all, I reiterate, their “appearance” says that there are no class contradictions within the Black colony of America, and that there is no class struggle (political in forms) between the African colony in America and the American government. These “exemplary” Black performers are exploited by the Department of State on “tours” which are merely American propaganda shows; ’soul’ notwithstanding.

When the right-wing cornerstone of imperialist ideology fails in its mission, which is to deny the existence of classes and class struggle because the over-powering reality of class friction demonstrates, even to the once brainwashed people, that classes do exist, and that class struggle is a reality, then the bourgeois theoreticians hatch a new wave of “theory” designed to distort the meaning of class society. They resort to the most idealist “theories” to ’describe’ (and never more than empirically describe) the “classes” that they see, and to minimize or explain away their existence and struggles.

One must understand that at all cost the bourgeois class and its intellectual mercenaries (the sociologists) do not wish to be identified and named for what they are–the most methodical exploiters of humanity to have appeared in history. They do not wish for the exploited classes to understand who exploits them, and why they are exploited, that they are exploited and (the next logical question) why they allow themselves to be exploited when life under socialism could be qualitatively better. The key concept for the exploited and oppressed to recognize and understand is the concept of the relationship of classes, or the concept of class struggle from the point of view of their own interest. Another key concept to be understood is that they, the exploited and oppressed, are the producers of the material values of this society, and furthermore, that those who produce those values should use them. These are key concepts. But the key is hidden in the haystack of bourgeois sociology, and in the disguise of “property relations.”


The bourgeois are very clever in the way in which they attempt to distort class struggle, to make it easy for themselves. They teach in every school, and at every level, a theory of society based on the construct “social stratification.” Out of this framework they explain “class,” and “upward mobility,” and “deviance and control.” In fact they explain their whole sociology on the basis of “social stratification theory.” This theoretical construct is very valuable for the ruing class of this society, but is valueless for the exploited and oppressed. Any fool can see that the society is “stratified.” That says nothing more than that the society exists in a hierarchy of social communities. (1) It does not solve the problems of how these communities of society interact with each other. (2) It does not solve the question of the formation (the historical formation) of what they regard as the “strata” of society, and (3) because this theory does not solve these two problems (and does not care to do so) it can produce no revolutionary analysis of how to change society! In fact, “social stratification theory” does not successfully solve-the question of even identifying classes in society of which the theory concedes the existence. It cannot do this successfully because it cannot decide what criterion should be used. One theory of class (or status) uses “education” as the criterion for membership, while another uses “income,” a third uses “job classification,” while a fourth uses “social status” as the criterion. The more sophisticated bourgeois social theoreticians lump them all together and come up with a concept called “socio-economic status.” “Socio-economic status” as a concept solves none of the problems of the exploited either, for here is nothing more than a description of an empirical and behaviorisitc nature. It can tell you about how many people are in an income bracket, and what some of their apparent bourgeois habits are, but it cannot solve the historical problem of group or class origin, or future, scientifically. It tells us nothing about how these “socio-economic status” groups interact with each other in their day to day lives, and lastly it offers no basis for a revolutionary analysis of society, for all it purports to do is to (structurally) describe some levels of social communities. It tends to ignore the issue of contradictory class interest and motivations which is essential to understanding revolutionary activity, and claims to understand only the outward behavior (and statistical trends of outward behavior) of society’s groups. And even this is always couched in the constructs of bourgeois theory. Behaviorism, then, because it ignores the issues of motivation and for them provides only data on “trends” is a social theory of accommodation to the status-quo. Behaviorism like all other empiricist philosophies deals only with the apparent and does not seek to root out the scientific laws governing the behavior it claims to study, and consequently its theoreticians are not compelled to construct practical and scientific categorical abstractions–there exists no need to do so. For example let us look at how such a bourgeois theory of society fails the poor and exploited people.

Earlier we mentioned that “theory” that holds that the criterion for a given social status is “education.” Hence, a lot of bourgeois “education” and bourgeois sophistication means a lot of bourgeois “class.” How does this notion operate in the Black Ethnic Colony? Thusly: “Yea, baby, he (or she) sho’ got a lot of class?” Now how many times have we heard or said that or something very close to it? And what are we really saying in essence? Are we not saying that this person has a lot of finesse, style, ’cool,’ sophistication, reserve, dignity, savoir faire, in short, that this person has a knowledge of how to do things the sophisticated, stylistic (’hip’) and usually bourgeois way? With respect to “class” all of these things ultimately rest on the criterion of how much bourgeois education and (legitimate or “illegitimate”) bourgeois values one has. If a Black person does not have a bourgeois education, and the command of the English language that comes with it, then it is presumed that “they ain’t go no class.” We can tell that “they ain’t go no class” because in a social situation they always come up “loud and wrong.” “Just like a nigger–loud and wrong.”

Well the nigger, interestingly enough, was not supposed to get an “education” from the beginning. For the nigger in America the saying that ’a little knowledge is a dangerous thing’ had to be taken in dead seriousness during the period of slavery which characterizes the greater part of the Afro-American’s captivity here. But with or without any education what-so-ever the nigger could get no “class” that “A white man was bound to respect!” This says that “class” implies respect, and only those things that the white man respected were to be respected, and the nigger was not one of them.

This bourgeois theory of social class based on the amount of bourgeois education one has is still serving the imperialist well today! We only know, sadly, how well. Some black people have resigned themselves to self-defeat for erroneously thinking that they do not have enough “class” (bourgeois education). We live with these defeated black spirits every day in the black community. Many of our working class parents had to work very hard and wait for their children to get an education so that they (they too!) might get some “class” if only vicariously, in their families. This is the anxiety of what just one bourgeois theory has resulted in within the Black Ethnic Colony.

So from “no school in,” to “freedmen’s schools,” from “training schools” to “normal schools” (if you please), from “segregated and unequal public schools” to “coloured colleges,” from “training programs,” redevelopment rackets, and Black Studies to whatever may come next, bourgeois institutional education with respect to acquiring “class” meant for Black people generally that they could get no “class.” Thus in the final analysis one was a nigger with or without the benefit of a Ph.D., and even the most pompous of Black businessmen, professors, and professionals had harbored in the innermost recesses of that mental niche reserved for horrible thoughts the notion that they were still niggers and not quite as bourgeois as their respective white counterparts.

The bourgeoisie that runs this country and hires its racist propagandists, sociologists, and educators to propagate their class interest among the poor under the guise of “sociological” and “educational” theories does not much care what the particular “criterion” for establishing “class” is whether it be education, job income, job classification, social status (or any combination of these things). Its educational system teaches what has become a commonly referred to typology of class structure–the six-class typology that is, among other things, arbitrary and incapable of revealing interrelations between its categories:

A typical bourgeois concept of structure for class society

Upper Upper Class
Lower Upper Class
Upper Middle Class
Lower Middle Class
Upper Lower Class
Lower Lower Class

Such bourgeois theories of class structure as that listed above do one thing for Black people: they keep them from identifying the military-industrial bandits who are responsible for their oppression.

There is even a trend among some of our friends to use the concept of “socio-economic status” to determine who in this society is revolutionary and who is not. Some argue for instance that anyone who makes more than seven thousand dollars a year can be automatically written off as counter-revolutionary. This is not significantly different from, although an inverted version of, that theory about the Weatherman organization that held that unless one’s parents earned more than $30,000 dollars a year one could not become a Weatherman because that was the price for a sufficient degree of alienation. Now I don’t know if Weathermen seriously subscribed to this notion or not, or whether it was a joke in poor taste advanced by some of their detractors, but I do know that their line wrote workers off, by and large, as counter-revolutionary because they were not sufficiently alienated. To the extent that “socio-economic status” or “alienation” is based on income index, and in petty-bourgeois confraternities like the Weatherman it usually is, is the same degree to which “economism” has come to dominate the ideology and assumed vulgar dimensions. It is, in fact, closely akin to the equally absurd ”skin analysis” that held that light-skinned Negroes could not be expected to become revolutionaries! This thesis was based on a simple empirical correlation between light-skin among Blacks and higher social status as far as qualitative values in the Black community were concerned, but was not supported by quantitative facts (there are certainly more light-skinned Blacks without “high” social positions than there are those with it). So while it is true that one’s income does tend to positively correlate with one’s class position (with workers having the lowest income, petty-bourgeois the higher, and capitalist the highest) it is not true that one’s class position and consciousness is categorically dependent upon one’s income, or job, or education. Thus correlation should not be confounded with causality.

For instance, even though the exhibitionist habits of the lumpen-proletarian can waste a lot of money that the average worker would not, there are, proportionately, a great number of lumpen-proletarians who bring home more money in one night than the average worker brings home in a week. Who then can say on the basis of an income index which one of these persons is revolutionary and which one is not?

If anything, what one possess does not nearly propel one into political activity with nearly the force of motivation as the defense of what one is losing, relative to one’s accustomed status-quo, in a definite and short period of time. And in class society it appears that what one stands to lose, by averages, is a class question more so than an individual one... .even though one might at first blame one’s self or personal misfortune. For instance, the angry worker may be individually concerned about his or her pay-cut, or down-grading, but this happens (and he or she will soon find out) because the whole of the working class, or a significant minority within it, is facing the burden of shouldering the cost of capitalist-caused wars and inflations. The more rapidly the real wages and the real stomachs of this worker and those around him become diminished, the more rapidly he will see his problems as problems of the industry, and eventually the class. And the more likely he will be motivated to take class actions to solve them.


Marxists regard the social relations of production as the fundamental category of an objective social class. In capitalist society the two most important variables in this relation are the ownership of private productive property (capital) and exploitation of labor power. Capitalist “own” private property and exploit the labor power of workers. The petty-bourgeoisie either owns private property or exploits labor power, or does both on a very petty level. The workers and peasants neither own private property (not to be confused with personal property) nor exploit the labor power of others. Their only relation to the means of production is to sell their labor power to a capitalist in its operation.

Proletarian conceptions of class are based on the qualitative relations to the process of production, while on the other hand, bourgeois conceptions of class are based on the quantitative relations to the process of commodity (including education and status) consumption. The former conception, then, the Marxist conception, tends to de-mystify the actual relations in society; it is in short a re-humanizing conception. Bourgeois conceptions are useful for invigorating the exploitative processes of the capitalist economy, because they mask the human realities that lie behind the economic abstraction “commodity”–they are in the last word, de-humanizing.

Within the Ethnic Colonies the overwhelming majority of the population is either working class or petty-bourgeois. There remains in the United States a small peasantry in the South, West, and Appalachia. There is no “national bourgeoisie” to speak of in the ethnic colonies because there are few, if any. Ethnic capitalist (Black, Puerto Rican, Chicano etc.) who can claim to have the “Black nation” as a market arena. Most Ethnic capitalist are of the petty-bourgeois magnitude, yet the petty-bourgeoisie as a whole within the Ethnic Colonies is a significant force with very little objective stake in capitalism and no objective stake in imperialism what-so-ever.

This is one reason why the principal contradiction in this society today is between the entire American capitalist class and the oppressed Ethnic Minorities. We understand, of course, that the fundamental contradiction of this epoch is between labor and capital. When the “modified” law of emiseration cited earlier (modified by adding a factor of “time”) operates largely for the Ethnic Minorities, and for them alone, there exists then one condition for a fascist reaction in the entire country. On the other hand, if this law should operate generally and thus include white workers, technologists, and proprietor petty-bourgeoisie as well as the workers of the oppressed Ethnic Colonies–then this is when the “principal” contradiction would become identified with the “fundamental” contradiction–they will all become niggers inside the United States and a revolutionary crisis will occur and pass in favor of working class state power.

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Michael Franc Wright, is organizing workers in the Bay Area in California and is also a part-time university teacher. He is a member of the Black Workers Congress. (This paper is not an organizational statement of the Black Workers Congress.)