Politics and Philosophy

Exploring Political Issues Through Philosophy


Class Warfare

                Class and Class Warfare


Daniel Shattuck, Ph.D


The Problem with Class

A Definition of Class

The Varied Meanings of War

The Law as a Means of War

Class War From Above

The Resolution of Class Warfare

The Fascist Resolution

The Anarcho-Communist Resolution


Future Considerations





The Problem with Class.  Socioeconomic class is a political category. By that we mean it is a socio-economic category used to persuade, cajole, dissuade, mystify and bamboozle both political friends and political enemies.  Because class is all these things, it is also a highly unstable category, a category both embraced and denied, but always with self-interest at the heart of the telling.

Couple this unstable category with the concept of war and the resulting mindset of class warfare is a self-interested anathema to those that the top of the societal hierarchy and somewhat bewildering to those at the bottom. The self-interested reaction to class war at the top is understandable, as facing its possible actuality is ever present, at least in embryo.  The bewilderment at the bottom is equally understandable, given that the confusion is not only definitional (often deliberately fostered), but also exists in doctrinaire conflict.  This conflict in doctrine emerges from the political filters that underwrite all our ideas of social and political equality.  For those at the bottom, strong feelings of social equality hamper thinking that supposes inequality, as class seems to do when it runs up against a social paradigm of the powerful versus the powerless. 

It seems then, that in order for the subject of ‘class warfare’ to be discussed objectively, both war and class must first be analyzed and analyzed separately.  In this way their precise meaning can be uncovered. Only after satisfying this descriptive prerequisite can the two concepts be synchronized for their oddly harmonious fitting.  I say ‘synchronized’ rather than ‘aligned’, for class and war are part of same historical process, a mostly objective process that drives social change. To be clear, there is nothing about the concept of social class that makes it definitionally hostile to itself as in some inbred contradiction.  To fully grasp the cause of class antagonism, class friction, and potential class warfare, a precise description of social class is first condition. 

First, it is obvious that social class is prone to a wide range of interpretations, many of them being self-serving.  Much of this self-serving role in interpretation can be circumvented through careful phenomenal description; in addition, such a careful description will set us up for a better analysis for the type of class relations that potentially result in serious class friction and class warfare.   

A Definition of Class .  Academic economics and sociology are the primary sources for general descriptions of social class.  Often, these descriptions are vague and confusing.  There are quite a few reasons for the vagueness, but one such is simple self-interest.  In a very real analytical sense, the obscuring of class has the power to twist any notion of class warfare into a non-sequitur, a genuine non-starter.  It is easy to see that a dismissal of class, along with class conflict, is highly useful to individuals and groups interested in deflecting the reality of inequality in a society stabilized by a vision of social equality.  This desire to dodge the implications of ‘class’ through confusion will be especially appealing in ‘democratic’ societies. 

To offer a few recent examples of the indistinct quality of description:  It is sometimes claimed that there are no such a thing as class at all, but only social groupings,  that is, “collections of people who interact on the basis of shared expectation regarding one another’s behavior.”[1]  These grouping are typically seen as vertical social arrangements rather than horizontally, which takes the edge off visualizing them as provoking social friction.  In a similar vein, it is sometimes concluded that there are no sharply definable ‘class’ distinctions at all, but only a gradual shift in differing life styles and life defining experiences (education, professions, etc.).[2]  It is easy to see that when alternate, social (i.e., non-economic) standards are applied exacting and meaningful class differences can be fuzzed and obscured.[3]  These inchoate typologies all sidestep economic models – models which sharpen class distinction and often lead in the direction of confrontation with certain political and social groups, groups that find their social rank and political power increased in vulnerability, criticism and isolation, by a clear definition of their socio-economic positions.  

Much closer to an economic model is that featured by Michael Zweig, when he defines class in a political sense. Class, Zweig states, is:

“In large part based on the power and authority people have at work. The workplace engages people in more than their immediate work, by which they create goods and services.  It also engages them in relationships with each other, relationships that are controlled by power.  A relative handful of people have great power to organize and direct production, while a much larger number have almost no authority.  In a capitalist society such as ours, the first group is the capitalist class, the second group the working class.”[4]


With this definition, Zweig makes a foray into an economic profile that can most usefully characterize class as it appears in its more pugnacious form.  Yet the foray remains aloof from the pivotal agent of economic authority.  What Zweig says of work-a-day power is true enough, but by sticking with the ‘political’ relations he avoids a direct examination of the economic relations lurking beneath a politicized surface – those relations that give politics its form and character.  This becomes most clear when Zweig gets into defining the ‘middle class’ as the small business owners and professionals – a ‘class’ that stands between the capitalist and the worker.[5]  The introduction of this ‘middle class’ permits him to say that there is no real structural line separating classes, or that the separations are at best arbitrary and lack practical importance. It is quite correct, as Zweig says, that class is characterized by power relations, and unequal power relations at that, which can lead to political struggle; but it is only a logical next step to ask: from where does that unequal power derive?  Political struggle is clearly an expression of unequal power and by its very nature represents a battle over economic resources, but politics is also a slippery polemical devise.  Politics can be used to disguise the precise dynamic of the underlying economic struggle – in this case, class struggle – rather than bring that struggle to light for effective analysis.  Purely political wrangling must be punched through to get at the underlying economic causes for the struggle of classes.

All the above definitions seem to confirm the confusion over the meaning of class.   Without clear and sharp distinctions the use of class becomes a weak variable to insert into any analysis of social friction.  Additionally, these definitions depend widely on interpretation, subjective assignment, and above all, value judgments.  Who is to assess the value and meaning of a “life-style”, and does not “the power and authority people have at work” beg the question of the assigning of authority.  Such value laden assignments are just the opposite of a phenomenological approach.  Variable clarity must be brought to the subject of class warfare if understanding is to be promoted.

In a very interesting book,[6] Alejandro Portes lists four insights that make analysis of social class genuinely possible:

1.      Social phenomena are not explainable by their surface manifestation.  There is ‘deep structure,’ defined by durable inequalities, among large social aggregates.

2.      Classes are defined by their relationship to one another and not simply by a set of ‘gradational’ positions along some hierarchy.  In this sense, status rakings are a manifestation, not a defining feature of class.

3.      Classes are defined by differential access to power within a given social system.

4.      Class position is transmissible across generations.[7]


Portes identifies two general classes, the dominate class and the subordinate class.  Both are identified by the class-member’s need to sell their labor or skill.  The dominate class, as one might suspect, lives free of any need to sell their labor time, (though quite possibly the ‘skill’ to manipulate the market place may be a bone of contention).  Portes sub-divides this dominate group into the rentires, those who live off passive investments, the capitalists, who actively engage in the management of their investments, and the Grand Capitalists, those whose vast wealth allows them to impose their will on wide sectors of the political-economy.[8]

The second group, the subordinate class, are all those who are dependent on their labor and skill to survive.  He sub-divides this subordinate group into Elite Workers, which are skilled professional workers such as doctors and college professors – and who are quite often poised to cross the class divide – and Common Workers whose manual skill is sufficient to make a living but insufficient to acquire and amass wealth.[9]  This is a class description similar to what Marx describes in Grundrisse, where the worker is separated from the means of production by the need to sell labor to acquire the basics of subsistence.[10]

These descriptions, as Portes outlines them, are drawn directly by inference from the relationship these two groups bear to the means of production as reflected in market-place dynamics.  The worker is an individual that has turned the self into a labor commodity presentable at the market place; this working class produces use-value.  The capitalist is the consumer of the labor commodity found at market for the purpose of commanding and transforming that labor commodity into a stored use-value.  These two groups, the capitalist and the worker, exist in contingency with each other vis-à-vis a marketplace relationship to use-value created through the means of production.  It is not enough alone to say that one group owns and the other group works.  The actual definition of these two classes depends more on the structural relationship each bears to the market place, i.e., the marketing and consumption of use value rather than the actual work performed.

We might say that the ‘dominate’ group owns, but is separate from the actual process of production except insofar as it comes to command and consume the use value produced by the subordinate group.  The ‘subordinate group’ is far more fully integrated into the productive process and largely exists as an integral component of the means of production.  What sets this description apart from the above descriptions is that these two groups are indirect in the relationship they have with each other; these two groups relate to each other only through the marketplace and its command over use-value.  For these two groups, their phenomenological portfolios are clearly economic rather than political or social.  Such a marketplace description satisfies the definitional prerequisite for a concrete analysis of class.

What Portes describes in this way is nothing other than the deep structural and durable political and social inequalities that are market driven definitions of any contemporary socio-economic order.  Such a phenomenological portrayal offers up a clear and useful delineation between those that produce use-value and are subordinate, and those that command use-value and are dominant. It defines contemporary class structure in such a way as to give a real sense of legitimacy surrounding the pervasive mood of class antagonism. 

Even from the point of view of the academic and the successful artist, i.e., societies’ intellectuals, if you will, such a use-value description might be considered a downgrade in status – from a respected member of an elite to that of lowly worker.  Obviously this is a psychological reaction and not an objective one, a reaction springing from the values of a commercial social order rather than an objective universal system highlighting contribution to the social good brought by use-value.  The concept of worker has grimy connotations that can get under the nails of even the most sympathetic of intellectuals; being lumped in with a mechanic or carpenter is awkward for the would-be elitist – and never-mind the necessary social usefulness of these trades, the profound contribution to the social aggregate; Armani is preferable to Dickies, at least in commercial society.

And what about those who seem to have a foot in both camps, for example, the restaurant owner that is also the cook, or the plumbing contractor who labors daily alongside employees? Under purely Marxist description, these groups are referred to as petit bourgeoisie, which introduces a subgroup, but in the Portes analysis it is most appropriate to see this group as capitalist, for although they are directly involved in the productive process, they also command the use-value brought about by their labor.

The ‘common worker’ also has a status issue to bear. The feeling of being tossed to the bottom of the social heap may provoke a denial reaction.  Proletarian status in American society is not a desirable position, regardless of the actual social usefulness of the skill or trade and the worthiness of the individual wielding such a trade.  The worker as hero is not an image the average American has of the producers of necessary goods and services.

Such descriptions as Portes suggests, while clear and highly functional, create two problematic issues.  The first is that social status, as it is commonly thought of in commercialized societies, becomes a two-edged sword.  That is, in societies where amassed wealth is the leading indicator of authority, those with the greatest wealth and power are often those who contribute the least to the social aggregate.[11] The second issue is that class awareness, as it affects the producing class, (i.e., the worker) becomes negatively charged in a way so that class consciousness turns into an alien and hostile entity, causing the worker to be self-loathing. This operates to turn class antagonism inward, generating apathy and depression.  Of course, this self-loathing by the common worker is just the kind of negativity to be cultivated by the dominant class.

Even given the ‘drawbacks’ of Portes’ quasi-Marxist description of class, it would seem that identifying class on the basis of a use-value relation to the means of production, [i.e., by standing outside the productive process (the capitalist) or being integrated and a functional part of the productive process (the worker)], is the most phenomenological way of an empirical understanding class.  Of course, such a description eliminates the middle class. There is no way to introduce this subclass without the introduction of interpretation, a subjective assignment and value judgment which makes its elimination a positive elimination. It seems that while this description, which depends on the relationship to the means of production, is the most analytically appropriate, it is not without its psychological impact, an impact which creates a real barrier to acceptance – status is far more important than we would like to admit.  For the capitalist, and certainly the Grand Capitalist, such description defines the self as a kind of useless social canker, and for the worker, a description pregnant with the possibility of self-loathing.  Additionally, drawing strict lines that are not desirable to a political process working toward eliminating social and economic friction is also cause for rejection. Even so, for objective analysis, the relationship to the production and command of use-value found through the means of production, as described, remains the best tool to describe the deep structural social differences that manifest themselves politically. The political manifestation of these structural differences is what opens the door to class friction and on to class warfare.


Class Warfare

Background to Modern Class Warfare.  Class, as defined above, did not begin to take concrete form until somewhere around the turn of the 16th Century.  There was no clear cut point of departure from a ‘pre-class’ time, a time where individuals might be more realistically assigned to a ‘caste system’ rather than a class system.  The end of feudal relations and the development of new urban centers, together with the rise of Mercantilism (as an obvious innovation in socio-economic relations between competing groups) were not legislated into existence.  These structural economic changes came about developmentally through a very uneven historical transformation process. History, as a collective of competing groups, was in charge of these sweeping transitions, not individuals, at least not as individuals.

Consequently, prior to the 16th Century class warfare was an event more akin to slave revolts than class struggle.  For example, the issues that the Spartans had with the Helots, who outnumbered them at various times ten to one, lay at the root of many Spartan problems. The Athenian statesman, Thucydides maintained that most Spartan institutions were designed with a view to suppressing the Helots, an underclass of forced labor whose status fell somewhere between slave and the Medieval serf; Aristotle compared the Helots to an internal enemy that lay perpetually in wait.  Next, consider the three Roman Servile Wars, ranging from 135 – 71 BCE, with the famous Spartacus-led gladiator uprising being the Third Servile War(73- 71 BCE).[12]  Closer to our own time, there was the much touted Virginia slave revolt in 1831, led by Nat Turner.  The Turner revolt was crushed somewhat quickly, but it serves to underwrite that even in modern times, slaves, as a socio-economic group, were always consciously antagonistic to their status and position in the economic framework.  This self-conscious antagonism also strongly suggests that slaves, as an oppressed group, fit into the social milieu quite a bit differently than the wage-earner who does not automatically possess this self-aware class antagonism.

In more modern times, Machiavelli identified class conflict as “those natural enmities which occur between the popular classes and the nobility, arising from the desire of the latter to command and the disinclination of the former to obey, and are the causes of most of the troubles which take place in cities [bearing in mind that the cities of which Machiavelli speaks were the political-states of 15th Century Italy].”[13]  The attitude of the ‘popular classes’ was different from that of the slave.  In these ‘modern times’ the popular classes were no longer ‘fixed’ in the sense of the slave or the serf.  Urbanization meant that the population was no longer bound to the land, but this generated a kind of rootlessness that, while promoting a social anxiety, also brought a larger sense of freedom.  There was a much grander sense of entitlement, down to a budding sense of equality.[14]  For the popular classes a wider vision of the world developed, and along with it came a feeling that a greater ‘fairness’ was due them.

The point of all this is that while the potentiality for social strife has always gone cheek to jowl with political states, the development of new forms of production, and the changes in relationship they brought, produced changes in the nature of the social antagonism. The pertinent question for us seeking a resolution to class antagonism, and especially class warfare, is to study its new sources and directions.  In this way, a new sense of resolution can be uncovered, a resolution that stands a greater chance of non-violent success.  To a great extent this rests on the meaning of war.

The Meanings of War.  What exactly is war, that thing from which we derive the notion of class warfare? This is a question basic to our point. And as nearly all of this examination rests on the subject of warfare, an acceptable descriptive summary of the meaning of war seems necessary and appropriate.  Von Clausewitz, a reigning master of the art, explains his meaning through an analogy for war as a contest of wrestlers.  Clausewitz states that as “each [wrestler] tries through physical force to compel the other to do his will; his immediate aim is to throw his opponent in order to make him incapable of further resistance….War is thus an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will.”[15]  Of course, Clausewitz recognized that there is a problem with this definition, viz., what is the meaning of force?  So further, Clausewitz says: “Force…is thus the means of war, to impose our will on the enemy the object.  To secure that object, we must render the enemy powerless, and that, in theory, is the true aim of warfare.”[16]  So war, which is an act of force, is the means of imposing our will on an enemy by rendering the enemy incapable of further resistance.  And, as any elementary physics text will reveal, force is any influence that causes an object to undergo a change.  In the realm of physics, force is typically one that changes either direction or speed.  In the realm of politics, force means a change in immediate or long-term behavior.  The question then arises: Does force always mean violence and bloodshed?  No, not necessarily.  In fact, one of the better known statements by another master of the craft of war, Sun Tzu, goes like this: “Those skilled in war subdue the enemy’s army without battle…They conquer by strategy.”  This pronouncement by Sun Tzu has far reaching implications, implication that will become clear a bit further on.

For now, let us put the above considerations with another universally recognized observation by Von Clausewitz:  “War is the continuation of politics by other means.”  Such an observation raises possibilities.  A first would be that if, as Clausewitz claims, war is a force applied to compel an enemy to do our will, and if subduing the enemy can be done without battle, then force can be applied in any number of non-violent, coercive means.   It follows that such non-violent methods not only come in a variety of forms, but are very frequently preferable.  This is part of the art of winning through a system of non-battle, as Sun Tzu carefully states, the preferred strategy that the skilled warrior would adopt.

More or less overt acts of violent war by non-violent force are common throughout history.  Laying siege to a fortified position comes immediately to mind. Starvation is clearly an act of force.  In modern times, the coercive impact of the embargo is the preferred version of the siege and is widely recognized as an act of war.  Intimidation is also a suitable act of war. Often it is enough to gain compliance by merely menacing an opponent with embargo, or tariffs, or threatening the use of violence.  Imperialism is a violent foreign policy, and military occupation of conquered land is a people living with the continual threat of violence.  The quartering of troops, for example, is a most visible sign of force gaining compliance and ‘to render the enemy powerless.’  In consideration of Von Clausewitz, any deep feeling of helplessness is often a clear indication that some form of force is being applied and the ‘enemy’ is in the psychological process of giving up the struggle.

When applied, non-violent war through such things as the coercive power of tariffs and embargo, and even military occupations, are routinely dressed up in the garb of legal niceties.  Obviously, any new rules set in play by the conqueror must be rationalized and communicated; laws and edicts promulgated by an occupying force often represent, or at least imply, such rationalizations of force.  The poor laws of old, and more recent laws governing apartheid, and the current laws concerning same sex marriage, all may serve as obvious, even bald-faced examples of legally rationalized compliance by the threat of violence and force.  Military occupation of any kind would be extremely difficult if the subjugated population did not know the new rules in play. We don’t often think of the law itself as a fact of force, but certainly what stands behind the law (i.e., the potential for police violence) is clearly force.  These rules by themselves represent a symbol of coercion, a form of force, and like the wrestler cited above, these rules and laws are intended to render the opponent helpless. 

A second consideration would be that if war is an extension of politics, is not politics a form of war?  Such a question brings this descriptive analysis to an interesting point.  Might not law, even as an abstract entity, be considered a means of war?  While at first glance, such a notion appears awkward, or even silly, is not crime frequently presented as a war, as in the case of the ‘war on drugs.’  Clearly, laws meant to prevent murder have widespread practical and beneficial intent, and are not entirely delineated by class considerations, but other laws, such as apartheid laws, are meant to openly oppress and hold powerless huge segments of an occupied population. We might call this a form of domestic imperialism, where segments of the population are held in a quasi-colonial status through political force. This vision of apartheid makes the use of law as blunt force trauma insultingly obvious.  Other visions of the law as political force in the pursuit of class warfare are not so certain.

The Law as a Means of War.  In an occupied territory, laws favoring the occupier are clearly an extension of a war of conquest. Stripping the population of rights, forced quartering of troops, taxation to support the occupation, curfews, usurping the judicial system, ethnic or internal passports, etc., are all covert (and sometimes overt) signs of a continued war against a conquered and now occupied population.  Occupation and suppression of a conquered population are not always the final result of warfare, occupation and colonization are very often the continuation of warfare in its less violent form.

In a most general way, laws are a way of regulating and guiding behavior in a manner that is beneficial to certain social groupings.  Sometimes the ‘social group’ is society at large, which are reflected in wide ranging criminal statutes, but sometimes that group is smaller and the laws more specific to structural and privileged circumstance.  In a colonial setting this is obvious.  In a domestic setting it is not so clear; legal advantage that protects and enhances privilege is usually tucked away and out of sight.  Through analysis, however, the murky outlines of hidden advantage in the law become more distinct and can reveal structural positioning.  By way of contrast, laws against burglary, for example, have general benefit to a wide swath of society, while on the other hand, laws preventing the hoarding of gold, or laws against patent infringement, have a much narrower social position. Laws against trespassing and copyright violation say something about how force is applied on behalf of both physical and intellectual property; laws regarding prostitution and gambling speak to force governing cultural and moral attitudes.  If there are laws against killing, except in the name of the state, the political ‘position’ of the state is revealed (along with our tolerance for moral contradictions).  The laws are a symptom leading to precise diagnosis of the nature of many things about the state, especially who’s state, and the nature of its wars, and on whose behalf those wars are carried out.

Regarding class war, the above observations lead to questions of perspective.  How are we to view domestic laws in general?  Do laws pertaining to an original, domestic population, a population against whom no violent war was ever declared, show any tell-tale signs of intent to subjugate?  Can laws reveal such a thing as a form of domestic imperialism or internal colonization?  To what degree can those laws not directly pertaining to common criminal behavior represent a means of war, or at the very least, leave a footprint of the conqueror in a conquered land?  As it would seem that certain laws favor certain groups – (e.g., many laws protecting the accumulation of wealth can easily, nearly instinctually, demonstrate such a favoring) – we can conditionally say yes, and recognize the legal outline of protecting a lopsided distribution of wealth.  By way of illustration, and without condemning wealth, per se, it would seem that short-selling, public bailouts of private financial institutions, favorable tax laws, or even simple usury, all represent a few of the many routine forms of protection for accumulated riches.  It is also easy to see that such legal fortification for the accumulation of wealth sets up the conditions for adversarial positioning between the two major socio-economic classes.

In other regards, political laws clearly exist that suppress those who possess neither wealth nor power. For both ideological and doctrinaire reasons, these laws are notoriously difficult to describe in terms of class war.  However, the use of police power can be a tip off to class war, and more particularly, the nature of class war.  In the U.S., we might look to such historical events as the commutation fee that allowed the rich to avoid fighting in the Civil War, a law which sparked the Draft Riots of 1863; fast forward to the assault by federal troops on the Bonus Marchers of 1932, or the evicting of residents from the many Depression Era Hoovervilles that sprung up across the US in the nineteen-thirties, and the more recent dismantling, along with numerous arrests, of the citizens acting within the ‘Occupy Movements.’  It’s painfully obvious that none of the ‘suppressed’ in these illustrations were of the capitalist class, those owners and controllers of the means of production.  In fact, the population of all these suppressed groups was highly representative of a distressed working class being pressed by difficult economic and/or political circumstance. And all these assaults on the lower classes were done under the color of law and authority.  It is quite easy to interpret these, and many other episodes like them, as representing the laws of a suppressing occupying force.

Class war from above.  As Von Clausewitz’s exposition of warfare illustrates, the examples cited represent violence being applied to force ‘the enemy’ to submit to the will of superior might, the conquered submits to the conqueror.  Specified and described in these ways, class warfare clearly, by descriptive analysis, exists in Western democracies seemingly in perpetuity.[17]  It is, of course, the direction of the force being applied, against whom, and by whom, that should cock the eyebrow.  This is not the typical analysis.

When we consider class warfare, and how it is generally handle by politicians and the media, we think of those struggling at the bottom (i.e., the working class) attacking through strikes, rioting and mayhem, and the occasional rebellion, those at the top (i.e., in most contemporary societies, the capitalist class).  But in fact, given the wide range of the laws, it seems that the ongoing and unrelenting class warfare presses in the other direction, a ruling elite suppressing the class beneath it.  That it is those at the top who are waging a continuous war of occupation on those at the bottom can be convincingly argued through an examination of the laws governing a society. It is the nature of the established laws to protect the status quo. It is difficult to argue any other point of view.  The status quo in western democracies is a hierarchy that places the capitalist class at the top both as the rulers of the economy and as the dominate political elite.  Recall that if we agree with Clausewitz that politics is an extension of war by other means then it follows that class warfare is perpetrated by the capitalist political elite against the working class.  We might say, adopting more contemporary usage, that class war is perpetuated by the 1% against the 99%.  

Naturally, such a description as this is an anathema to the perpetrators of the class force and violence.  Any image revealing the nature of legalized class warfare will be resisted by any means possible.  Publically, this resistance takes the form of manipulation of political doctrine.  The first go-to for this manipulation is the touting of political equality that insists that all member of western democracy have equal access to great wealth and elite status.  Even in the face of the absurdity of this claim, it is heavily relied upon by members of the ruling class in order to deflect the images of oppression.  A second go-to is to cause the image of class war to be reversed in an attempt to show that it is those of the 1% who are the victims rather than the bottom 99%.  Most distortion of class war by the perpetrators of class violence will take a variation of one of these two paths.  Masking and deflecting analysis and criticism is a chief survival tool for the ruling elite.

The reason these deflections are not more widely recognized, and can, if you will, hide in plain sight, is that class warfare is a lawful system of repression rather than a sudden and ongoing frenzy of violence.  This system is the result of a successful warfare that has moved from open and periodic violence into the occupation phase of war, an occupation that can last scores of years, and even centuries. It is not farfetched to say that class warfare has never ceased, but is tireless, changing its legal form as dictated by historical transformation.  The wholesale dislocation of the Native American and the English Enclosure Movement, appear to be unalike, but actually bear many shared similarities.  The greatest similarity of all being the legal trappings which surrounded and cloaked the oppression and subjugation of the populations involved.   The 99% has been conquered by the 1% and the resulting occupation and repression follow in this, the next, the quieter, legal phase of class warfare from above.

In a very real sense, violent revolution is the most glaring symptom of this class warfare from above.  Revolution is its antithesis, its rejection, its dialectic dance partner.  Revolution is the sharp unmasking and rejection of class warfare from above.

This antithetical expression of class warfare is far more dramatic and obvious and abrupt, seeming as it might, to come from nowhere.  This expression of class violence is also rarer, though not, by any means, completely spontaneous. Rebellion and revolution (two different political events) both clearly arise in response to the above described system of class occupation and repression.  As revolution is the face of class war that attempts to overthrow the existing intuitions, it does not, and indeed cannot, hide in plain sight. The oppressive origins girding revolution may hide like a coiled spring in a legalistic jack-in-the-box, but not the eventual release. Revolution, and to a lesser extent, rebellion, are the obvious and dramatic expressions of class warfare from above.

The Resolution of Class Warfare.  It would seem that class warfare, as described in one of the two ways above (1) suppression and occupation, or (2) revolution, is all but omnipresent, with suppression and occupation being the most prevailing type of warfare.  Given these understandings, we should look with special care into the resolution of class warfare from above as it is the provoker of revolution.

Recall first that in western democratic societies, class war from above often goes completely unrecognized, cloaked as it is by constitutional niceties.  Thus, the commonplace and lawful occupation of an entire social structure often goes largely unseen.  Typically, any person pointing out or resisting this type of class warfare is, as the situation warrants, identified a common criminal, or insane, rather than a political enemy. In this way, the political side of the oppression can continue to hide behind the police and courts.  A most obvious and ongoing example of this type of legalized suppression is easily found by drawing attention to the plight of labor unions in their uphill struggle for recognition and a better, more equitable treatment for the working class.

In this sense, the domestic population is treated in a similar manner to that of an occupied nation. Once conquered, the first social elements suppressed are labor unions and intellectuals; labor leaders are arrested and universities closed. The Nazi conquest and occupation of France (and virtually any other German occupied nation) will stand as example of these techniques.  Where domestic occupation and suppression are long standing, such as in the United States, anti-union legislation and police action against workers are common place.  At the same time, general education is underfunded and left to languish, and teachers constrained and controlled.  Providing the 99% with the tools to analyze social circumstance is the last thing desired by the ruling elite.  Education is an uncovering process, and elites rule in comfort when ruling in secret.  This suppression of the 99% is a deliberate policy of the 1% and never a product of happenstance, though it is made to appear so.

This ubiquity raises a question: can there ever be any resolution to class warfare?  Can class warfare be resolved?  Even though any answer must be abstract, ideal and theoretical, we must remind ourselves that we are restricting this ideal answer to satisfy the concept of class as described in its economic relations, as laid out by the Portes model above.  Any answer here, in this paper, cannot hope to cover ‘differences in life styles,’ or who has ‘managerial’ authority in the workplace, or who is or is not ‘professional’.  We will concern ourselves with class as it relates to the means of production and distribution.  This seems less confusing and more directly meaningful to the most visible elements of class and class warfare.

As the means of production and distribution are not to be done away with in any practical sense, resolution of class friction (i.e., class warfare) can only take one of two paths: accommodation or elimination. Describing the details of these paths is less difficult than one might suppose, but the practical implications for politics are another matter.

To accommodate class friction and antagonism, it would be necessary to either alter the sense of the antagonism or change the perception of the friction.  In either an emotional or a structural sense, this is not an easy process.  Such an accommodation process usually implies the acceptance of some doctrine fostered by a corporatist image of the social order. A typical example of this approach would be that advocated by fascist theory.  Much fascist theory is woven into discussions of social peace far more often that one might suppose.  In fact, most forms of resolution-by-accommodation bear some of the earmarks of fascist doctrine.

The Fascist Resolution. Fascism, at least under the aegis of western democratic thought, is always dished a strong dose of disapproval. The very name, “fascism,” is an ugly anathema.  Looked at objectively, however, fascism should not be dismissed out of hand.  It must be noted that, to an extent much greater than we typically realize, most western democracies contain numerous fascist elements, though they are not usually picked up and analyzed as such (e.g., top down political authority, a state controlled over such societal elements as police and education, an impenetrable elite, etc.).  Having made that clear, we will return to our focus of class relations as it is directly impacted by fascist political theory.   We need only stress that doctrinaire prejudices often prevent us from clearly seeing important perspectives offered by other points of view.  In this case, the fascist point of view.

The fascist point of view seems almost automatically distasteful, particularly as fascism is very often equated with Nazi Germany; it can be noted that this comparison is a much debated issue among scholars, and typically considered a mistaken view.[18]  Nazism, as a totalitarian doctrine, took little direction from either the owners of the means of production, and none at all from the working class.  Nazi totalitarianism was thorough and absolute, whose leaders saw themselves as risen above class distinctions.  Although the last is a tenant of fascist doctrine, the actual reason that there was no noticeable class conflict under Nazism was because both factors of the conflict, the capitalist and the worker, were under strict state control; such tendencies toward social control exist within fascist doctrine, but not in the single minded manner as that seen in Nazi totalitarianism.  Fascism is not of any structural necessity a totalitarian theory.  Fascism requires the leadership of the state, but there is nothing automatic about the theory that requires a totalitarian rule such as Nazism. Rather than absolute obedience, as is a cornerstone of Nazi totalitarianism, fascist doctrine requires absolute cooperation from all classes with state-political leadership.  This statement is a bit more than a substitution of words.

Seen from the perspective of fascist theory, the individual, together with the individual’s class, is not only accepted, but develops into a positive and functional necessity of and within a prosperous socio-economic system.  Under Mussolini’s fascist doctrine, ‘cooperation’ – albeit a guided cooperation – was critical to the successful working of the state.  This cooperation and coordination was, in Mussolini’s words, a system he called corporativism.

“The Corporation is established to develop the wealth, political power and welfare of the Italian.  Corporativism mans a disciplined and therefore a controlled economy, since there can be no discipline which is not controlled.  Corporativism overcomes Socialism as well as it does Liberalism: it creates a new synthesis.”[19]


This type of social cooperation (i.e. fascism) is theoretically arranged through a vertical structure, somewhat like a train pulling forward toward a distant, prosperous horizon.  The structure is based on an organic model of the social order where each part (individual and class) contributes that part’s effort for the overall betterment of the entire society.  The individual, along with the individual’s class, draw benefit from this new reality of a fulfilled society; all this is accomplished under the controlling guidance of a political elite acting as the helm for the state.  This elite are members of a political class and not an economic class, thus they are able to act for the unbiased interests of all segments of the social order.  Each part of the social order will prosper as the whole will prosper, and safety and security will surely follow from this cooperation as structured through fascist corporativism.[20] 

“The nation is seen as a biological organism that lives, breaths, grows and, presumably dies, while individuals are seen as cells that perform their function and achieve fulfillment only insofar as the entire organism is healthy.  The individual simply does not exist without the nation, for humans are by nature social animals and can realize themselves only as members of a collectivity.”[21]


We see here in fascist doctrine that class and class warfare are no longer problems as each class is fully integrated into a common collective process lead by the wise men of the state, the engineers of the locomotive, guiding the organism for the betterment of all.   According to fascist theory, in place of class warfare comes class cooperation, cooperation for the common good.  There is no need to represent class in terms of the exploited and the exploiter, as this is like saying that the transmission of a car is being exploited by the fuel pump, or the stomach is exploited by the liver.  All the parts of the organism are necessary for the survival of the whole and both the individual and the individual’s class prosper because the collective effort is necessary for the betterment of all.  This is quite literally the burial of class conflict beneath the mantle of cooperation, a version of class cooperation rather than class warfare.[22]

This organic model by no means originated with Mussolini.  The organic model can be traced back to Plato – a philosopher much admired by Mussolini – and Plato’s Republic, which sketched individuals as working for the betterment of the whole by carrying out their assigned functions.  This is a very attractive model, especially for those with ‘higher functions.’  It goes without saying, however, that those whose functions reflected a more lowly social station may not have been so pleased with the fascist arrangement.

This leads to a striking difference between the fascist model and fascism in practice, as seen in fascist Italy.  In practice, the vertical structure in theory is a horizontal structure in practices, and  ‘fascist cooperation’ leads to something other than the betterment of all; the ‘betterment of all’ turns out, in reality, to be the betterment of the few. Class, fixed on the relationship to the means of production remains a ongoing factor that continues to agitate for resolution.  Under fascism private property, that is the means of production, remains private and inviolable.  Again, in the words of father of modern fascism:

“The corporative economy respects the principle of private property.  Private property completes the human personality.  It is a right.  But it is also a duty.  We think that property ought to be regarded as a social function; we wish therefore to encourage, not passive property, but active property, which does not confine itself to enjoying wealth, but develops it and increases it. The corporative economy respects private initiative.”[23]


As the means of production remains in private hands, class cooperation comes to mean something other than political equal and betterment for all.  Mussolini makes clear that the state, under the guise of equal reward, merely acts as the ombudsman for the owners of the means of production. Class is still present, an elite is still in control, the owners of the means of production still the principal beneficiaries of social cooperation.  Under fascism, the social organism is still organized for the purpose of class warfare, merely drafted under a different guise.

The Anarcho-Communist Resolution:  Just do away with class.  End social inequality based on its relationship to a privately held means of production.  Of course, to upend the economic system as it is defined by a means of production held as private property is not so simple to do as it is to say it.  Nonetheless, this abolition of privately held capital production and distribution is the prescriptive resolution advanced by that part of the left represented by orthodox Communist (the socializing of production and distribution) and Anarchist theory (the ending of authoritarian rule from above).[24] Karl Marx, in the Manuscript of 1844, said rather bluntly that:

“Communism is the positive abolition of private property and thus of human self-alienation and therefore the real re-appropriation of the human essence by and for man.”[25]


Whereas the fascist finds the need to do away with (or explain away) class warfare through the medium of social and economic cooperation, the communist would go directly after the cause of social friction.  If the warring factions find themselves on opposite sides of a barrier built by a means of production as private property, then the solution would seem to be to tear down the barrier.  Rip down the privately held means of production and build up a socially responsible system of production and distribution responsive to the need of an entire society rather than the needs of the 1%.

The communist is not so naive as to think that is will do away with individual distinction, or group differentiation, or even some measure of social pedigree (nor is there any compelling reason to eliminate such differences); however, the leftist does theorize that such a change will eliminate the more ugly rancor stemming from a vastly unequal distribution of wealth and political power that grips contemporary western democracies. Again, all concerned realize that attempting to fix these problems through the abolition of private ownership of the means of production is more easily theorized than achieved.  The overthrow of class hierarchy and authoritarian control is often preceded by a violent confrontation with the old order, with results that are far from predictable or conclusive. History has clearly revealed the truth of this claim.  Having said that, the mechanism of revolution, for this brief paper, is of less analytical importance than the end result of a possible communist victory, i.e., an anarcho-communist resolution to class warfare.  The issue before us at this point is to uncover what such a resolution of class warfare through anarcho-communist theory would look like in practice.

First, a glance at the theory. To paraphrase a modern patriarch of anarchy, Peter Kropotkin, anarchy is the no-government system of socialism.  In somewhat more detail, Kropotkin writes that anarchy is:

“A principle or theory of life and conduct under which society is conceived without government – harmony in such a society being obtained, not by submission to law, or by obedience to any authority, but by free agreements concluded between the various groups, territorial and professional, freely constituted for the sake of production and consumption, as also for the satisfaction of the infinite variety of needs and aspirations of a civilized being.  In a society developed along these lines, the voluntary associations which already now begin to cover all the fields of human activity would take a still greater extension so as to substitute themselves for the state in all its functions.”[26]


In this no-government system, the individual is expected to contribute according to talent and ability and take from the common aggregate according to need.  To fully grasp this, we will need illustrations, as without examples, words become little more than canards and platitudes. For fascism, we have the illustration provided by Mussolini’s Italy, but what about the actual practice of anarcho-communism?  

As both a model of anarchism and communism the Israeli system of the kibbutz can stand as a real-life example:

“The kibbutz is a voluntary, self-governing community, administered democratically by its members with neither legal sanctions nor any framework of coercive authority to ensure conformity to its collectively-agreed upon behavioral norms.  The source of political authority in the community is the general assembly of all members in which every member has an equal vote on every matter relating to kibbutz life, with decisions made by majority vote.”[27]


The political and economic structure of the kibbutz is based on the idea of communal ownership and direct democracy; that is, a living system based on a communist economic structure and anarchist political principles.  With the ownership of the means of production held in common, privilege based on the economic division of society is no longer a threat to democratic principles.  With a common ownership of production, the influence of great wealth is done away with, and a direct democratic power structure is not only made possible but seems to follow nearly axiomatically.  Democratic, political equality is no longer sidelined by the economic power of the owners of the means of production.  The problem of a corrupted and privileged pseudo-democratic political structure is in great measure solved by a system of communist ownership.

The actual day-to-day routine of production and distribution within the Kibbutz are run by elected committees that function in a series of rotation. This is a horizontal rather than vertical system of management.

“A horizontal management structure composed of a network of managerial committees, democratically elected by the general assembly of members and operating via a system of regular rotation.  To each branch was assigned a branch manager, with each branch consisting of several autonomous units operating independently[28]….Decision making within these groups was carried out on a directly democratic basis with each team free to choose a supervisor responsible for the day-to-day operations of the team.  The supervisor divided tasks among team members who then decided for themselves how to perform the work, and kept an overview of the work process.”[29]


After more than half a century of operation, the Israeli kibbutz system has shown remarkable resiliency and structural integrity.  This anarcho-communist system continues successfully to the present day. At the time of the present writing (c. late 2012) there are over 250 kibbutzim in operation.[30]

None of this description is intended to imply that ordinary, day-to-day human squabbling has ceased under this economic system. Rivalry, jealousy, envy, and just plain human rascality, are not done away with.  But the description and the actuality of the kibbutz seems to point out that the squabbling is personal rather than some ongoing result of social friction based on unequal power and authority. 

However, there is a downside.  Because of the lack of authority and coercive power, anarchy cannot guarantee any democratic outcome.  One might consider this to be the greatest and most general problem with anarchy.  Laws give consistency and predictability.  Functioning without these pillars of social stability leaves ad hoc, democratic decision making open to social insecurity.  Open, widespread democracy is inherently unstable and this would be a great source of anxiety for a good many people.   Living with freedom is never free.

“Anarchist ethical action lacks the coercive muscle that accompanies state law.  This approach to politics, therefore, prioritizes action and life over effectiveness, result, or outcome.  Anarchy thus seems to promise few guarantees in terms of specific outcomes, which means that it will probably be unlikely to be persuasive to those who insist on the kind of social engineering that is justified by its outcome.”[31]


The question then becomes rather to possess a security and predictability that can be had through the muscle supplied by a strong, top-down, authoritarian state, or to suffer the anxiety that arises from a purely democratic setting. This is not an easily answered question.  It represents an extreme form of existential tradeoff, a tradeoff tinged with strong, even compelling emotional overtones:  Does one want security or does one want freedom?

“If it is the result that matters at all costs, it will usually seem most guaranteed by resorting or appealing to institutions of power and coercion – that is those that can promise a result.  But if what matters more is the self-discovery of humanity, and if that self-discovery is dependent on humanity’s own action in the world, then what we have at hand is a process that cannot be foretold.”[32] 

Again, freedom is hardly free.  The anarcho-communist path might look appealing at first blush, but the choice for taking this leftist position demands that one also pick up enormous personal responsibility, a personal responsibility necessary for the freedom to carry out self-determined decisions with no else to blame.  The removal of economic (i.e. class) distinctions based on a market relationship to the means of production also weakens the power to guide, to control, to decide, to direct, to establish those factors of safety and security without which many individuals will feel adrift and frightened.  The choice presented by anarcho-communism, that is, the choice between freedom and security, is both personal and difficult.

Summation:  We began this project by demonstrating that the many descriptions of class based on social factors such as lifestyle, status and professional position, are uncertain, ambiguous and altogether inadequate for a rigorous analysis of social conflict.  Further, by description, we revealed that the best empirical explanation of class friction seems to be based on the conflicting economic relationship social groups have to the means of production and distribution.  Adopting the Portes model (outlined above) this relationship separates society into two distinct groups.  These are the two groups we typically see exhibiting antagonism toward each other: the capitalist class of elites who consume labor and the working class who produce labor, a la Portes.  Class conflict can best be seen as an outgrowth of the divergent way in which these two classes draw their unequal share of the common yield from their relative position to the means of production distribution.

Next, we found that class war, based on the general descriptions of war by Clausewitz and Sun Tzu, covered both violent and non-violent struggles, with the exploitation of occupied zones coming under the definition of war. Through phenomenal analysis, class warfare can be seen to be coming from both directions, from the bottom to be sure, but far more often from the top, that is, a class war carried out by the 1% against the 99%, to use contemporary vernacular.  We were able to tie the class warfare of the top against the bottom to a legal system acting in support of such warfare. This supporting legal system takes on the feel of the occupied stage of warfare.  This examination of lawful means of occupation excluded common criminal codes, but revealed the disguise such occupation laws took in hiding beneath criminal codes.  The unequal share of the common yield is held firmly in place by these laws.

Finally, we looked into two theories, with empirical support, for resolution of class warfare.  The first to be examined was fascism; the second was anarcho-communism. 

The first, fascism, attempted to resolve class warfare through a model of cooperation, a model that Mussolini called corporativism.  Through the fascist system, all aspects of the social order were to draw life and substance from the collective effort, which each part of society doing its fair share and drawing its fair share; the capitalist did their part and the producing working classes did their part, with a political class (the fascist party) riding at the top and guiding the state.  For the fascist, antagonism between classes was an absurd contradiction to the well-being of the social order, much like suggesting that the stomach wage war against the liver.  In practice, however, fascism supported private property and private holdings of the means of production, and class conflict was not so much turned into a system of cooperation as it was suppressed. The needs of the state were always paramount, but the Italian state, under fascist rule, was supported and supportive of the elite capitalist class, and class cooperation, largely a myth, meant in reality a ruthless suppression of the working class.

The second theory – anarcho-communism – resolved class conflict by simply doing away with a capitalist relationship to the means of production  and distribution and instituting collective ownership and control of production.  The doing away with private control over the means of production and a radically direct democratic structure, are what meld anarchy with communism.  By illustration we have demonstrated that this admittedly idyllic approach works successfully on a small scale within the modern kibbutz system.  This collective, democratic system has been in operation for several generations and while personal conflict between individuals remains, structural conflict between groups of individuals seems to have been eliminated.  There are, as yet, no large scale examples of an anarcho-communist system, which represents a downside to the system; how to enlarge this system to encompass a society larger than a few hundred remains for future analysis.  Other draw-backs to the system are such as the lack of enforceability for democratic rulings, or the often tedious and time-consuming meetings of the collective required for even the smallest decisions, and the tendency to drop out of the ongoing democratic process, etc.   While structural conflict seems to be minimized, the lack of a legal framework makes large scale institutionalization a paradoxical hurdle anarcho-communism cannot seem to get over.  Although attempts have been made to solve this problem, the successful anarcho-communist system remains a small scale enterprise.  Anarcho-communism seems out of reach to the great majority of the world’s citizens.

                                         ***   ***   ***   ***   ***

Future Considerations:  Lacking direct democratic institutions and the continued private ownership of the means of production makes class friction and class warfare inevitable; that is, unless fascist theory is absorbed by all classes of society.  However, the acceptance of fascist doctrine by the working class seems highly unlikely.   It seems an inevitable conclusion that until such time that direct democracy can be instituted and the means of production and distribution can be re-assigned for social well-being rather than private consumption, class warfare (with the emphasis on class warfare from above) is here to stay.

Size seems to be the central issue. The fascist model has shown itself to be viable on a widespread political plain; all actual large scale political entities possess some form of top-down, class dominated authoritarian rule.  Anarcho-communism is another matter.  Its seeming resistance to large scale institutionalization has minimized its attractiveness as a political alternative.  Future analysis may open a pathway to the general institutionalization of a more widespread democracy and greater equal distribution of the social yield, but for now it remains a thought somewhat less than even theoretical and therefore something of a moot point.

 If anything is taken away from this brief study it is that class warfare is inherent to current western democratic structures, together with its predominately top-down class warfare.  Further, the abolition of class warfare is dependent on the institutionalization of authentic and direct democracy and collective ownership of the means of production and distribution, no matter how impractical that might appear to us at the current time.  Practical resolution of this dilemma awaits future analysis.



[1] William Kornblum, Sociology: The Central Questions.  (Belmont CA: International Thomson Publishing,  1998)       p. 72

[2] See: Paul Kingston, The Classless Society, (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000)

[3] For example, see Andrew Cherlin, ‘Between Poor and Prosperous’, in Social Class and Changing Families in an Unequal America, ed. Carlson and England, (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2011)  pp. 68-84

[4] Michael Zweig, The Working Class Majority: America’s Best Kept Secret, (Ithaca NY: Cornell University Press, 2001)  p. 3

[5] Ibid.  pp 27-37

[6] Alejandro Portes, Economic Sociology, A Systemic Inquiry, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010)

[7] Ibid. p. 79

[8] Ibid.  pp 80-82

[9] Ibid.  pp 83-84

[10] See: Marx, Karl Grundrsse, (New York: Vantage Books, 1973)  p. 284

[11] In a rather odd admission of this non-producing status of the wealthy, Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase, stated during the financial crisis of 2008: “They [the public at large] want Wall Street to pay…They think we’re overpaid assholes.  There’s no politician, no president, who is going to sign off on a bailout.” Then in a moment of supreme clarity, he added:  “And why would you try to bail out people whose sole job it is to make money.”  As reported by Andrew Sorlin, Too Big To Fail, (New York: Viking Penguin, 2009)  pp. 335, 336

[12] It’s of interest to note that only about half of the Roman gladiators were slaves, with the other half being contract gladiators, men who signed up for the fabulous pay and the fame. It should also be noted that only about 10% of the gladiators were put to the sword.  The death of a gladiator meant that the organizer of the games had to pay the cost of replacement, a highly expensive luxury

[13] Niccolo Machiavelli, History of Florence, (New York: Harper and Row, 1966) p. 108

[14] See Machiavelli on: Discourses, translated by C.E. Detmold, ( New York:  Modern Library, 1950) p. 149

[15] Carl Von Clausewitz, On War, (New York: Everyman’s Library, Alfred A. Knoph, 1993) p. 83

[16] Ibid.  p. 83

[17] I am ignoring intra-class warfare, that is war between members of the same class, which is represented by nearly all international wars, as it is beyond the scope of this paper.  It is enough to say that this model of class warfare is the better known, and the most costly in terms of lives and material.

[18] Ingersol, Matthews & Davidson, The Philosophic Roots of Modern Ideology, (New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2001)      p. 214

[19] Benito Mussolini, as quoted in Herman Finer, Mussolini’s Italy (New York: Grosset & Dunlop, 1965) p. 502

[20] Zeev Sternbell, “Fascist Ideology,”  from Fascism, a Readers Guide, ed by Walter Laqueur, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976)

[21] Ingersoll, Matthews, & Davidson, op. cit.  P. 219

[22] For example, see: http://www.openyear.org/super-earners/class-cooperation-not-class-warfare/

[23] Benito Mussolini, as quoted by Gaetanho Savemini, in Under the Axe of Fascism (Oxford: Hesperides Press, 2008) p. 134

[24] Obviously, right wing anarchy (e.g., Libertarianism) is not considered in this article as unequal distribution and economic class are not done away with through Libertarianism, but only arrived at by other means.

[25] Karl Marx, Early Texts, ed by David McLellan, (Oxford: Oxford Press, 1971)  p. 148.

[26] Peter Kropotkin, “Anarchism,” from the 11th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica

[27] James Horrox, Living Revolution. Anarchism in the Kibbutz Movement (Edinburgh: AK Press, 2009)  p. 7

[28] Ibid.  p. 68

[29] Ibid.  p. 69

[30] http://www.kibbutz.org.il/eng/

[31] Mohammed A. Bamyeh, Anarchy as Order (New York: Rowman & little, 2009)  p. 34

[32] Ibid. p. 34






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