Revolution #249, November 6, 2011

ask a communist

What Do You Think of the Slogan
“We are the 99%”?

“We are the 99%” has been a unifying theme of Occupy Wall Street. The slogan speaks to the grossly unequal distribution of wealth and income in U.S. society. But this is just the tip of the iceberg.

1) The decisive question is ownership. A small class owns and controls the means of production: land, raw materials and other resources, technology, factories, etc. Because of this, a class of wage-laborers must work for these capitalists in order to live—they must sell their capacity to work to these capitalists. This system is organized around production for profit and is based on exploitation.

The “1%” are not some amorphous grouping of super-rich, parasitic, and corrupt bankers and investors. They constitute an actual capitalist ruling class. On the basis of its economic dominance, this class controls the state—the government, the military, and other repressive forces. It shapes and uses the state-repressive apparatus to enforce a whole system of ownership and political-social domination.

You can’t correctly evaluate people’s place and role in the system simply by how much money they earn. The police may have middle-class incomes, but they are not part of the “99%.” They are part of the repressive arm of the state; they “serve and protect” the ruling class.

2) Capitalism is a unified economic, social, and political system. By 1900, it had developed into the world system of imperialism. Three “savage inequalities” have shaped and continue to shape U.S. society:

* There is the ongoing oppression of Black people, Native Americans, Latinos, and other oppressed nationalities. This oppression began with the kidnapping of slaves to work plantations in the South and with the genocide against Indians. This savage inequality has been and continues to be a source of economic and political strength for U.S. capitalism.

The conditions of life of Black and other minority nationalities have changed over the centuries, but exploitation and oppression remain. This savage inequality has also been a vital support structure for the system. White people, even those with lower incomes, have certain privileges in U.S. society—and white supremacy has not only justified the continuation of systematic discrimination but functions as an ideological social glue that maintains an oppressive, unequal status quo.

* There is the savage inequality of America’s dominance over the impoverished nations of the world. The U.S. economy is the home base of a global network of exploitation that operates through political and economic control, and through military power. People in the Third World are subjected to horrific conditions of oppression: sweatshop labor producing iPads, exploitation of child labor, plunder of resources and environmental devastation. America is an empire—and the standard of living in the U.S. is inseparable from America’s brutal dominance in the world.

*There is the savage inequality of women’s oppression. Women defined as breeders of children and sex objects... subjected to all kinds of economic and social discrimination... working in the worst of conditions in global sweatshops... trafficked as prostitutes... degraded by the explosion of pornography... denied control over their bodies and reproductive decisions... subjected to physical abuse. The oppression of women, the deep inequality between men and women, is part of the DNA of this system.

“1% vs. 99%” tells us something about U.S. society. But things don’t have to be this way. A society and world without exploitation, and that can overcome these savage inequalities and all oppression, is possible. People should get into BAsics and the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal) to learn more about the nature of capitalism-imperialism and the kind of revolution needed to truly emancipate humanity.


Send us your comments.

If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.

What Humanity Needs
From Ike to Mao and Beyond