William Z. Foster, the former leader of the Communist Party USA and a great Marxist-Leninist, once said that "The bourgeois contention that there are no classes and no class struggle in the United States is, of course, silly. Here, as in other capitalist countries, are well-defined social classes and a constant struggle is going on between them over the division of the toiler's products and for political control. The class struggle is just as American as Plymouth Rock." (William Z. Foster, Twilight of World Capitalism, 1949)
Years after William Z. Foster penned these words, ideologists from both the right and the left pick up the bludgeon of capitalist ideology to deny the existence of the class struggle and to snort with derision at the working class of the United States. In the 1987 book, Working Class USA, Gus Hall, the leader of the CPUSA after William Z. Foster, penned that "one of the basic theoretical concepts that has of late come under question and suspicion, and is in fact being openly challenged, is the Marxist concept that the working class is the only consistent progressive and revolutionary class in our society." (Gus Hall, Working Class USA, 1987, International Publishers)
Karl Marx and Frederick Engels made no bones about the working class' role. "Of all the classes that stand face to face with the bourgeoisie today," Marx and Engels declared, "the proletariat alone is a really revolutionary class." (Marx and Engels, Communist Manifesto, 1848)
So, who is the working class? Karl Marx and Frederick Engels wrote in a footnote to the Communist Manifesto that the proletariat is "the class of modern wage labourers who, having no means of production of their own, are reduced to selling their labor power in order to live." The proletariat (the working class) is defined not by it's income but by it's relation to the means of production. The exploited class, with it's various income levels, doesn't own the means of production so it is forced to sell their labor-power to a capitalist. And the laboring class isn't the hackneyed stereotypes assigned to it by ideologists of both the right and the "left". Gus Hall pointed out that the working class includes both unionized and unorganized workers, Black folks, women and unemployed people and those on welfare, among others. The American working class is multi-racial, multinational, male-female and young and old but it is united as a class.
But Henry Winston, an African-American militant with the Communist Party USA of yesteryear, made the point that the while all toilers have a common interest in fighting against state-monopoly capitalism, they "do not all have a common place within the capitalist system from which to carry on that fight." Industrial workers are the "front rankers in the class struggle." He declared that "the basic industrial sector has a common interest with the majority of wage workers but it does not have an identical place with them in the system of capitalist exploitation and the struggle against it." Industrial workers, "the greatest direct producers of surplus value, the source of capitalist profit," occupy the central position within the system. Winston taught that "it is these 'front rankers' who will provide the most consistent leadership in raising the struggle to higher levels." Workers in the industrial sector are "decisive in forging the unity of all the diverse segments of wage workers and in forming an alliance between the workers of hand and brain with all the exploited and oppressed." (Henry Winston, Class, Race and Black Liberation, 1977, International Publishers)
Afanasyev, a Soviet philosopher, put it correctly said in his book Marxist Philosophy:"the bourgeoisie and the proletariat are the basic classes of capitalist society. The bourgeoisie, in quest of profit, exploits the proletariat and this exploitation is intensified as capitalism develops. The worker's labor is increasingly speeded up and he is reduced to a mere appendage of the machine. The proletariat especially suffers from such intrinsic features of capitalism as economic crises, unemployment and predatory wars.
"The working class naturally cannot reconcile itself to all this. The nature of capitalism which robs the worker of the fruits of his labor and the workers position in society impel him to fight the bourgeoisie. The history of capitalist society is therefore the history of struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. This struggle is law-governed and is the primary source of capitalist development. The struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie grows especially keen in the epoch of imperialism when the economic and political contradictions of capitalism become extremely acute.
"It is the proletariat's mission to abolish capitalism and build a classless communist society, for no other class is consistently revolutionary.
"The bourgeoisie was only revolutionary when it fought the fuedal lords for domination in society. But having captured power, it became more and more reactionary, and now its sole aim is to perpetuate exploitation.
"The middle sections, in particular the peasants and artisans who are quite numerous under capitalism, are not revolutionary to the end. They hold no independent position in society and, with the development of capitalism, they become stratified. The majority...are ruined and join the ranks of the proletariat; only a negligible number breaks its way into the capitalist class...
"The intelligentsia (engineers and technicians, doctors, teachers, scientists and others) cannot be consistently revolutionary either. The overwhelming majority of intellectuals are compelled to serve the exploiting classes.
"The proletariat is the only consistently revolutionary class in capitalist society. It is connected with the most progressive form of production, machine industry, and is constantly growing and developing. The very nature of capitalist production helps unite, organize and educate the working class. The workers are deprived of property and have nothing to lose in the struggle. In fighting for its liberation, the proletariat is capable of organizing and leading all other working people who share its hatred for the capitalist system. By emancipating itself, it emancipates all other working people and abolishes forever exploitation of man by man. On gaining victory, it returns to the working people everything they produce, eliminating the greatest social injustice--a social system in which a handful of oppressors appropriate the fruits of labor of the millions." (Afanasyev, Marxist Philosophy, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow)