The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

If “We’re All in this Together,” How Did the Rich Get So Much Richer?

Jun 13, 2021

"...and the rich got richer still.” That’s a line in a very old song. But it’s also the reality of what happened during this last year when most of the rest of us were struggling through the pandemic crisis.

In the course of the pandemic year, chief executives of the 200 biggest companies enjoyed another big increase in their income. Their haul grew nine times faster than did the wages of the average employee in those same 200 companies. These were the findings of a survey commissioned by the New York Times, which concluded that the gap between the wealth of executives and almost everyone else got even bigger last year than it was the year before.

The fact the rich kept getting richer and the poor kept getting poorer shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone.

Still, given the pandemic, given the fulsome declarations that “we are all in this together,” we might have hoped that executives who run these big companies would have made an extra effort to bring workers’ wages up during the pandemic.

Foolish hope, that was. The fabulous income of top executives comes very directly from the exploitation of the workers in their own company, and in all the other companies in which those 200 big American companies have sunk their claws. The fortunes amassed by the top executives come directly from the productive activity of the workers: from wages that are kept abysmally low, from the constant push for more production, the constant push for longer hours, the constant push to violate health and safety standards.

Executives were not the only ones to benefit from the exploitation of labor. So did the bankers linked with these companies. So did the corporate raiders who run the private equity companies that control a big chunk in most of these 200 companies. The whole interlocking financial system runs off the profits run up in the companies which actually produce goods and services. The executives are not the only ones to live off the proceeds of workers’ labor. They’re just a symbol of the whole capitalist class, including those who do nothing but own the corporations, the very large shareholders, many of whom simply inherited their wealth.

In the same week that the New York Times released the survey on executive income, another news service, ProPublica, released a report drawn from the income tax records of the 25 wealthiest Americans. That also showed what we already knew that the wealthy pay a much smaller share of their income in taxes than everyone else.

This tax system favoring the wealthy serves as an indirect exploitation of the working class. The money taken out of workers’ wages by the state apparatus is funneled through a deliberately skewed tax system into more income for the already very wealthy.

No, we are not “all in this together.” A very tiny, tiny share of the population exploit the vast majority, those of us who carry out the productive activity that society needs to survive.

It was true in 2019, the year before the pandemic, it was true in the pandemic year, it continues to be true this year, it will be true next year, and the year after next, and the year after, etc.

It will continue so long as the capitalist class is left in place, free to run the economy; so long as the political class installed in the two big parties is left in place, free to run society in the interests of the whole capitalist system.

Workers as exploited as we are are not victims. Our place in the very center of production gives us the capacity not only to throw out this old, used-up capitalist society. It gives working people the means to build up a new one in which we truly will “all be in it together.”

What’s lacking is not the capacity of the working class: what’s lacking is a profound confidence in our class, an understanding of the truly revolutionary capacity our class embodies.