In almost all of the essays on this page, and in socialist literature, there is a constant reference to "the ruling class." Who exactly is the "ruling class"?
The ruling class, to put it simply, is the class that controls the political institutions and the economy. It can be divided into two sections: those who own the system, and those that run the system. This division is somewhat artificial since there is a lot of intermingling and crossing-over between the two sectors and both have a common interest in preserving the capitalist status quo.
For example, Bill Gates is a member of the ruling class. He owns a huge amount of wealth, because he owns the means of production; these means are worth billions. Therefore, he has political power.
Colin Powell is a member of the ruling class, although he doesn't own any means of production (at least to my knowledge). Yet he is part of the ruling class because he has a lot of power in the state machine. He has a vested interest in keeping the system going and keeping the workers in their place. It's his job after all.
These two groups, those who own and those who control, are not necessarily distinct. Dick Cheney, for example, is vice President and former CEO of Halliburton, the company which got billions of dollars in contracts for "rebuilding" Iraq in the wake of the invasion; needless to say, this is no coincidence. Similarly, Thomas White, the Secretary of the Army (before he was fired by Rumsfeld for disagreeing) was a former member of the executive board of Enron. But Cheney aside, how do these two groups come to identify their interests as one and the same?
The ruling class, in addition to the revolving doors between political office, the Pentagon, and the boardrooms of Corporate America, is bound together by a network composed of schools, colleges, fraternities, clubs, various exclusive organizations, political fundraisers, parties, concerts, plays, get-togethers, and a host of other associations. Of course, they don't state that the purpose of these associations is to help the ruling class cement itself together; rather, they say that "upstanding citizens" and "pillars of the community" must come together "for the common good."
In addition, there are layers of people who have no actual power, political or economic, and yet they identify with the system and aid the ruling class in its never-ending quest for new ways to make profits and expand its power. People like Thomas Friedman, a columnist for the New York Times, who supports everything from Israel's brutality against the Palestinians to the use of force against peaceful protestors in Seattle. This group of intellectuals, media correspondents, columnists, priests, historians, and even some college professors serve as mouthpieces for the ruling class. Their role is to transmit the ideas of the people at the top to the people at the bottom; usually these ideas are accepted as "common sense", "human nature," "that's the way the world works," or "eternal truths." In a nutshell, their job is to justify the unjustifiable, to defend the indefensible.
But all of this is a description of the ruling class of today, the capitalists. This is not a description of what the working class would be like if it was in charge, if it controlled the political institutions and owned the means of the production.
By contrast, its organs would not be elitist or exclusive. It would be the most democratic, open, and just system the world has never known. The workers' councils (see the earlier article on how workers can run society) will combine economic and political power, and serve as the means through which ordinary working people exercise their power collectively as a class. Lenin described what such as state would be like in his famous pamphlet, State and Revolution:
... the break from bourgeois democracy to proletariat democracy, from
the democracy of the oppressors to the democracy of the oppressed
classes, from the state as a "special force for suppression" of a given
class to the suppression of oppression by the whole force of the
majority of people...
A revolution awakens ordinary people to their power, and awakens their creativity; it stirs them into action, and in the process, they find their own humanity admist the most desperate of conditions. In Ten Days That Shook the World, John Reed wrote:
All Russia was learning to read, and reading - politics, economics
history - because the people wanted to know... The thirst for
education, so long thwarted, burst with the Revolution into a
frenzy of expression. From Smolny Institute [HQ of the Soviet]
alone, the first sixth months, went out every day tons, car-loads,
train-loads of literature, saturating the land. Russia absorbed
reading matter like hot sand drinks water, insatiable...
... We came down to the front of the Twelfth Army, back of Riga,
where gaunt and bootless men sickened in the mud of desperate
trenches; and when they saw us they started up, with their pinched
faces and the flesh showing blue through their torn clothing,
demanding eagerly, "Did you bring anything to read?"
Marx and Engels wrote in the German Ideology that a revolution was necessary, "...not only because the ruling class cannot be overthrown in any other way, but the class overthrowing it can only in a revolution succeed in ridding itself of all the muck of ages and become fitted to found society anew."
In the process of fighting against the capitalist system, in the struggle for socialism, the workers will teach themselves in order to become the rulers of tomorrow. Thus the working class will differ fundamentally from the ruling class today, which is corrupt, promotes all which kinds of divide and conquer tactics (racism, sexism, homophobia), which is brutal, and is rotten to the core. When the working class "wins the battle of democracy" and becomes the ruling class, it will be the final victory of the oppressed over the oppressors, the exploited over the exploiters; it will be the triumph of humanity over barbarism.