V. The Forces of Revolution and Counter-revolution

We have discussed each of the major classes in the U.S. individually, but the whole picture only appears once we discuss them together. Setting aside, for a moment, scientific class distinctions (based on production relations), the revolutionary potential inherent within the U.S. social structure can be seen by the polarization of income, the great gulf in income between the people and the capitalists. Table D-l divides the working population into income brackets.

Table D-l

Income Classes in the United States {1980)1
(Total money earnings of civilian workers 15 years old or older)

Income Class   Number Percent of Total
$75,000 and Over




$50,000-59,999 776,000 .7
$40,000-49,999 1,422,000 1.2
$30,000-39,999 4,398,000 3.8
$25,000-29,999 5,439,000 4.7
$20,000-24,999 9,969,000 8.6
$15,000-19,999 14,318,000


$10,000-14,999 20,792,000


$5,000-9,999 23,419,000


Under $5,000 34,688,000


Total 116,178,000 100.0

Over half of the working population earned less than $10,000 a year (an average of $192 a week) and over 80% of the working population earned less than $20,000 ($384 a week). On the other hand, the truly rich, those that made over $50,000 a year, made up less than 1.5% of the working population. The gulf between the income of the proletariat and of the monopoly bourgeoisie cannot be completely appreciated looking at this table alone because the monopoly bourgeoisie count their annual income not in thousands, but in millions of dollars. The wealth of some individual monopoly capitalists is known to be well over a billion dollars which, even in "lean" years, should yield annual returns of over $100,000,000. If reduced to an "hourly wage" (for purposes of comparison) this sum would amount to about $50,000 an hour. Such stupendous incomes tower not only over the proletariat but also over the incomes of the "middle classes" like a skyscraper over hovels.

The complete extent of class polarization, however, can only be seen if we return to property relations. Table D-2 represents our effort to approximate the sizes of the main classes within the "labor force". Because our data is incomplete, these figures can only be approximate.

Table D-2

Social Classes In The United States*

Class Class Size Percent of Labor Force Divisions Within the Class Division Size






Labor Aristocracy


Small Proprietors









Petty Bourgeois Employees



Managers, Police & Related Employees









Under 2,000,000



Under 2,000,000


Under 10,000

Tota1** 108,500,000



*Only includes those in the "labor force"
**Independent rounding may result in totals varying from the sum of the individual units

Of these classes the two largest – the proletariat and the petty bourgeois employees – who together make up 89% of the total, own no means of production. The petty proprietors own less than 6% of the means of production. The bourgeoisie, who make up less than 2% of the total, own 94% of the means of production.*

* More precisely, they own the businesses that are responsible for 94% of all business sales (see Table A-1).

The class structure of the U.S. is typical of present-day highly developed capitalism. The main characteristics – the domination of the monopoly bourgeoisie, the sharp decline of the petty proprietors, the rapid growth of the proletariat and the petty bourgeois employees are shared by all the developed capitalist countries. Other general features, such as the decline in productive labor compared to non-productive labor and the chronic growth of the army of the unemployed, can also be found in all developed capitalist countries. In the U.S. these characteristics are, in general, more developed than elsewhere – i.e. production is more concentrated, the number of petty proprietors is fewer, the number of proletarians is greater.

All of these developments, which were predicted by Marx over 100 years ago, have led to ever greater class polarization (the division of all society into employer or employed), and have thus prepared the objective conditions for proletarian revolution and socialism to an unprecedented degree.

The proletariat is a massive class, by now the great majority of society. It is the class that will lead the struggle for socialism, and from its ranks will be drawn the great mass of the revolutionary combatants. The conscious elements of the proletariat must first concentrate on the organization and political development of their own class, heighten its consciousness of its class interests, which are distinct from those of all other classes and strata in society, and of the vanguard role that it must play. But the proletariat does not stand alone against the bourgeoisie; it must also identify and win over its allies in this struggle.

Chart D-3
Population by
Social Class

Chart D-4
Ownership of the Means of
Production by Social Class

When the decisive moment of the class struggle arrives, when this conflict erupts into civil war and the members of all social classes are forced to choose between revolution and counterrevolution, between the two great classes in society – the proletariat and the bourgeoisie – the proletariat can expect to be able to win the great majority of society to the side of the revolution.

The working class itself will violently split during a revolutionary conflict and the labor aristocracy will, in Lenin's words, "inevitably, and in no small numbers, take the side of the bourgeoisie".2 But the overwhelming majority of the working class (92%) are common workers whose class interests demand socialist revolution.

The small proprietors will split according to economic interest. The rich small proprietors, who live mainly by exploiting labor, will side with the bourgeoisie. The great majority of small proprietors (at least 62%), however, belong to the lower stratum which does not exploit labor, and which is increasingly impoverished and faces impending ruin at the bands of the capitalists. These working people have every reason to side with the socialist revolution.

The ranks of the wage earning petty bourgeoisie will also split. Management personnel and the officers of bourgeoisie's organs of repression can be expected to overwhelmingly side with their masters. The intelligentsia, on the other hand, will be sharply divided. The upper strata, which enjoy tremendous privileges, will overwhelmingly stay with the bourgeoisie. The majority of the intelligentsia (60%), however, rank among the lower strata (teachers, nurses, technicians, etc.). A large number of these working people, particularly those of the lowest strata whose income and working conditions are similar to those of the proletariat, can be won to the side of the revolution. The number will depend on the strength of the proletariat (its organization, consciousness and independent action) and the severity of the revolutionary crisis.

The lower strata of the petty bourgeoisie (both among the small proprietors and the employees) are natural allies of the proletariat in the struggle against the bourgeoisie. These strata, however, are not innately inclined to fight for socialism. Their inclination, in fact, is to support private property and class distinctions and therefore, they can never be the vanguard of the struggle for socialism. But they stand to gain tremendously from the overthrow of the bourgeoisie and the establishment of socialism and, therefore, they can be won to the side of the proletariat.

The proletariat and its natural allies make up the great majority of the population. But even beyond these prospective class allies, the rest of the population cannot necessarily be counted as allies of the bourgeoisie. Other strata are also exploited by the bourgeoisie and face ruin at its hands. Many petty proprietors and petty bourgeois employees who are in an intermediate position oppose proletarian rule because they want to hang on to their petty privileges, but they are also at odds with the bourgeois exploiters. The proletariat cannot expect to win these strata to fight on its side, but it must work to keep them in a neutral position and prevent them from actively siding with the counterrevolution.

As the capitalist crisis becomes more aggravated, the bourgeoisie will bear down harder on these strata and many will be stripped of their privileges. The ranks of the labor aristocracy will be narrowed, many professional and technical workers will be reduced to the level of the less privileged, and small proprietors will be massively expropriated and driven into the ranks of wage labor. The capitalist crisis expands the ranks of the lower strata and narrows the capitalists’ base of support. Of course, the pressing down of the middle sectors will not only provide recruits for the revolution; it will also provide recruits for fascism.

The class structure of the U.S. has within it tremendous potential for socialist revolution and for socialist construction under the dictatorship of the proletariat. This potential can be unleashed with the sharpening of general crisis of capitalist society and the development of a revolutionary situation. But it can only be unleashed if the proletariat and its allies are led by a vanguard revolutionary party. Only such a party can curb the influence of the labor aristocracy, national chauvinism and bourgeois ideology, unite the revolutionary forces of the working class, give their struggle definite political direction, and win over their class allies.


1. Money Income of Households, Families and Persons in the United States, 1980, Census Bureau, 1982.

2. V.I. Lenin, Collected Works, V. 22, p. 194.

Click here to return to the Social Classes Contents