A book about the capacity of workers
Are They Rich Because They’re Smart? Class, Privilege and Learning Under Capitalism,
by Jack Barnes, 111 pages. Pathfinder Press, 2016.
BY MARK THOMPSON
This is a book about us — working people — and our capacity to organize and to learn, to transform ourselves and all social and human relations as we fight to end capitalist rule and establish workers power.
It is also a book about them — those who rule and the millions of privileged, well-paid professionals who administer their state power and its institutions over us — and why they continually discount our abilities and worth.
As the author, Jack Barnes, explains, that’s “the greatest of all battles in the years ahead” for the working class — the battle to throw off this image of ourselves that the rulers teach us.
Numbering just over 100 pages this book is highly accessible. It contains three articles by Barnes, national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party, taken from talks and reports he gave to large public audiences between 1993 and 2009. More recent information has been incorporated into the text to make the articles more up-to-date and useful.
The reader will find a wealth of material that helps better understand the world we live in and the political and economic conflicts and battles we are living through. More importantly, it offers a perspective for how to act as part of a fighting working-class movement.
Outbursts portraying working people as “uneducated trash” have been a feature of numerous articles in the media over recent months. What underlies this, explains Steve Clark in the book’s introduction, is “fear that exists at the highest levels of government … about what’s building up among working people” in response to capitalism’s “slow-burning global depression.”
Barnes notes that the bosses also see “the potentially explosive consequences of what is happening in the world capitalist economy, including the effects of the employers’ ‘successes’ in downsizing and cost cutting.”
Barnes explains that the problems we face are rooted in the capitalist system. Far from working people being worthless, it is our “social labor that makes possible all civilization and the advance of culture,” he says. “Through our labor, the working class, in this country and worldwide, produces more than enough wealth to provide education, health care, housing, and retirement to every human being on earth, for a lifetime.”
Not only that, but “we’re capable of taking power and reorganizing society,” Barnes says. To do that we need to come to see our own worth and to “begin to transform ourselves and strengthen bonds of human solidarity” as we build a working-class movement to confront capitalist rule.
The book looks at the sharpening class inequalities in the United States and the rise of a high-earning, “self-designated ‘enlightened meritocracy,’” a “social layer of middle-class professionals, technocrats, managers and academics” numbering in the “millions, if not tens of millions.”
This is a bourgeois layer “in its class interests, its values, its world outlook — in who it serves. But it’s not a section of the capitalist class,” nor is it on the road to become that, Barnes explains. It is “largely divorced from the production process” and has “a parasitic existence.”
To rationalize their privileged status and wealth, the meritocracy has become a leading voice in support of capitalism and its values and its demonization of the working class.
This layer holds that their “brightness” and “quickness,” Barnes says, “give them the right to make decisions, to administer and ‘regulate’ society for the bourgeoisie.” As the concentration of powers in the executive branch of the imperialist state has increased, they have become an ever-greater weight in centralized government bureaucracies, with ever-more invasive powers over our daily lives.
Barnes also looks at the function of education under capitalism. Its purpose is not to educate, he explains, but to give “certain privileged social layers a license to a higher income” while for workers it teaches “us to be obedient,” to “become units of production.” For learning to be a lifetime experience requires that society is reorganized, first “to get rid of the capitalist state and use the workers state to begin transforming humanity, to begin building human solidarity,” he says. “I cannot think of a better reason to make a socialist revolution,” emphasizes Barnes.
This is a book that all workers should buy and read, and then help to get copies into the hands of friends, co-workers and others.