The Classes in Aotearoa

The most fundamental of all human activities is material production. If we did not produce, we could not live - politics, law, religion, philosophy, literature, recreation would all be impossible if we didn't have food to eat and shelter over our heads.For this reason the method of organising production has long been the most contentious of all problems faced by society. Society is characterised by the division of people into classes according to their role in the production and distribution of social wealth.

In Aotearoa, as in any capitalist society, the capitalist class and the working class are the two basis classes. The capitalist class owns the means of production and holds state power. The working class is the main and leading force in the revolutionary struggle. Between the two is a complex petty bourgeoisie (middle class).

The Capitalist Class

The capitalists are the ruling class in Aotearoa. They are the our main enemy in the fight for socialism. Through their ownership and control of the means of production they control the economic life of Aotearoa and live off the profits they squeeze from the working class. Through the National and Labour parties the capitalist class uses the government for its own ends.

The capitalist class includes the owners of factories, mills, mines, transport firms, real estate, large forms, large trading firms, the top managers and directors of the big corporations, and the highest capitalist politicians, state functionaries and officers of the armed forces.

The capitalist class makes up only three or four percent of the population. Of these only a handful belong to the monopoly capitalist class which, if families are included, numbers little more than 20,000. Through its control of the decisive sectors of the economy, the monopoly capitalists make the decisions which affect the whole of society.

For all its power, the capitalist class is not a totally united class. There are divisions between domestic and foreign capital, between monopoly and non-monopoly capital, between state and private capital. Foreign capital owns outright the majority of large corporations, banks and insurance companies, most of the transport and communications and much of the forestry industries. The non-monopoly capitalists do not have the international power of the monopolists but still exert considerable economic and political influence. Some of the large capitalists of the oppressed nationalities are in this strata.

The Petty Bourgeoisie

Between the capitalist class and the working class lies a large and varied middle class, called the petty bourgeoisie. It is composed of people who have some independent means of livelihood such as a small store, or those who have special technical or creative skills that they control and sell.

The petty bourgeoisie is a very unstable class. While they class generally have more security in their lives than the working clam, they are constantly threatened with ruin, or find their skills no longer in demand. Many face being driven down into the working class while a few succeed in scrambling up into the ranks of the capitalists. The individualistic mentality of "being your own boss" pervades the petty bourgeoisie.

In prosperous times it forms a very important social base for capitalism. In times of economic and political crisis, the petty bourgeoisie splits: some of its members side with the working class, seeking social change, while others go to extremes in their support of capitalism. Fascist movements draw their mass base from members of the petty bourgeoisie terrified by economic crisis and socialism alike.

The petty bourgeoisie consists of around 100,000 small employers, 175,000 self-employed and 200,000 managers and professionals. The petty bourgeoisie is divided into three main strata, distinguished by their incomes, working and living conditions, and social status.

The lowest strata includes self-employed shop owners, fishing people, artists, most teachers, craftspeople, family farmers, independent drivers and contractors. With incomes seldom greater than ordinary workers and working long hours to stay afloat, they can be won to the side of socialist revolution.

The middle strata includes semi-professionals, middle managers, doctors, lawyers, accountants, scientists, some teachers and medium sized farmers and small employers. Their standard of living is a lot higher than the working class and many of them (owning their own businesses) enjoy hidden incomes in the form of tax rebates and business cars. Socially, a lot of these people mix with the capitalist class, and while a few can be won to the side of socialism, most can be neutralised at best.

The upper strata consists of the elite of the professionals, large farmers, managers, top civil servants and the best off of the self-employed and small employers. This group will largely support the capitalist class since they are close to it and enjoy the rewards of power. Few will support the struggle for socialism.

The Working Class

The working class is the principal and leading force in the struggle for socialism in Aotearoa. The working class is composed of all wage-earners - mental and manual, urban and rural - whether in basic industry, manufacturing, service, farm, sales, domestic, clerical, public or other jobs. The working class is composed of skilled and unskilled, employed and unemployed. Some workers earn more money than some in the petty bourgeoisie, but they are still members of the working class because they do not exploit the labour of others and must sell their labour power to survive.

The working class comprises 1.4 million wage workers and their families, more than 75% of the population. industrial workers (in forestry, fishing, mining, manufacturing, energy and construction) make up over 35% of wage workers, around 500,000 workers; less than 25,000 workers, 2%, are rural labourers. Another 400,000 workers are employed in trade and transport, 160,000 in finance and 400,000 in government and social services. Around 250,000 workers, 10% of the working aged population, are officially unemployed or 'jobless'. Around 400,000 workers are retired and 175,000 people are engaged in full time child core, 100,000 supported by the Domestic Purposes Benefit. Wage workers were organised in 58 unions in 1992,13 with more than 10,000 members and 32 with less than 5,000 members.

Of the various types of workers, it is the industrial work force which is the most determined and resolute fighter in the struggle for socialists revolution. Industrial workers produce most of the material wealth Concentrated at the point of production in the large work places, subject to the discipline of the production line and the bosses. Their bitter experience has made the industrial working class the best organised section of the working class. They have always led the way in the battles with the employers and the state - in the mines and freezing works, pulp mills and factories.

Despite its huge numerical advantage, the powerful potential of the working class in Aotearoa has been frustrated by internal divisions and limited development of class consciousness.

A small number of advanced workers see the need for fundamental change and want to bring this about. They are often leaders of struggle and are open to the path of socialism and revolution. These workers tend to be found among the lower paid, less skilled and more oppressed strata of the working class. They have fewer illusions about the nature of society in Aotearoa. Many Maori, Pacific Island and women workers are in this group.

The majority of workers at this time do not understand the need for fundamental change to society. They have difficult lives but do not see how their problems can be resolved. They want an improvement in their lives and often struggle against their employers, but do not yet see the need for revolutionary change.

There are also backward workers who are generally content with their situation or feel that, even though things could improve, monopoly capitalism is the best system. They do not favour change and many are affected by racism and male chauvinism. These backward workers normally agree with the capitalist class on major domestic and foreign policy issues.

The labour aristocracy is a section of the working class with high wages and privileges, drawn from the highly skilled and the trade union bureaucracy, is a pillar of support for the capitalist class. The labour aristocracy materially benefits from imperialism and the suppression of the majority of the working class. While relatively small in number, this strata has influence far beyond its size through its control of much of the trade union apparatus and its influence in the Labour party, and the Liberal party before that. It is a major obstacle to the struggle for socialism and tries to lead the working class along a path that is acceptable to the ruling class.

With the help of advanced workers and communists, more and more of the majority of workers will become politically conscious and understand the need for revolutionary socialism. Through well-organised struggle and education, independent of the labour aristocracy, workers will realise that their interests lie in the overthrow of capitalist private property and the establishment of socialism.

Excerpt from 'Towards A Socialist Peoples Republic of Aotearoa', Programme of the Communist Party of Aotearoa (NZ)