The Problem with the “Middle Class”

The problem with the “middle class”, an essay in 5 points.

One of the great tropes of American politics is that politicians of both corporate parties – and democrats in particular – always talk about how their policies will help the “middle class”. Not the rich, not the poor, but the middle. This is important for a number of reasons.

1. It’s Classist AF.

The existence of a middle-class pre-supposes the existence of a lower class. Politicians who only ever talk about helping the “middle” are explicitly saying they won’t help the poor. And that’s only attractive to people brainwashed to believe that they are “temporarily embarrassed millionaires” and not members of the working class.

“Middle class” people who identify with their bosses more than themselves vote for deregulation that lets corporations destroy the world to grow profit margins. They vote against universal healthcare because multi-millionaire TV anchors tell them it’s too expensive – all the while never questioning how the empire can afford to spend trillions on war.

2. It’s Racist AF

Take a moment and think about who Americans think of when they picture the folks too poor to qualify as “middle class”. I’ll give you a hint: it’s not a white person. So politicians who frame their proposals strictly in terms of the “middle” are implicitly telling their supporters that those programs won’t help people of color. This is a problem for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that the majority of poor people actually are white.

This trick where conservative Democrats uses anti-poor rhetoric and racist dogwhistles to get working class white people to vote for things that hurt them has a long long history. Bill Clinton’s welfare “Reform” is a classic example – by trotting out racist stereotypes of black welfare queens he was able to convince working class white people to let him gut a program that helped poor people as a group.

3. It’s part of a long tradition of divide and conquer in American politics

We need to understand racism didn’t happen by accident – fostering ethnic and racial resentment and divisions has been a favorite tactic for the Anglo ruling class since Cromwell set up the Ulster Plantation in Northern Ireland. In north America, the Anglo-American ruling class used those same tactics to intentionally create divisions between workers of different ethnicities, inventing Race and Racism along the way as a means to justify themselves. I’ll say that again: Race and racial identity were deliberately created by capitalist elites in early America as a way to justify slavery and as a way to prevent poor and working class people from working together for change.

Under slavery, white workers whose wages were depressed by having to compete with enslaved people were tricked into supporting an incredibly brutal system because their bosses told them their white skin made them better. This is bigger than black and white, of course, using strikebreakers of a different race or ethnicity than the majority of workers they are scabbing on has a long long history in American labor disputes. I could write a book here, but you get the point. Politicians talking about the “middle class” when they really mean working class white people are continuing that long tradition.

4. There is no “middle class”

If you ask Americans to tell you what “Class” they belong to, people living in trailers and people living in gated communities in the hills will both tell you they’re middle class. The term is meaningless. And – importantly – the actual middle has been shrinking for decades. While the wealth of the 1% has skyrocketed since the 70’s, wages for the vast majority of people have stagnated or shrunk once you adjust for inflation. Americans may want to believe that we’re all middle class but it just isn’t true.

5. A real Class analysis is a pre-requisite for change

As long as working class people are deceived by false consciousness, building the broad multi-racial working class coalitions we need to fight for and win change is impossible. The whole notion of being “middle class” is a fantasy designed to draw lines where they should not exist and blur the lines that matter. As ecosystems collapse around us over the coming decades and the rich retreat to their fortified bunkers, being “middle class” won’t get you a ticket in the door. All it does is prevent you from building solidarity with your working class neighbors and fighting for a better world.

The only way we will ever win the changes we need to save our world and break up the empires that have caused so much damage is to build a broad-based and radically diverse resistance movement of the entire working class.