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Monday, September 1, 2014

Class Warfare


What Are The Origins Of The Term 'Class Warfare'?

All Things Considered, NPR, click here

Representative JOHN FLEMING: Again, class warfare has never created a job.
Senator LINDSEY GRAHAM: Well, that's class warfare.
Representative JOHN BOEHNER: I don't think I would describe class warfare as leadership.
President BARACK OBAMA: This is not class warfare. It's math.
NEARY: That's President Obama and his Republican critics, House Speaker John Boehner, Senator Lindsey Graham and Congressmen John Fleming and Paul Ryan.
All of this got us wondering, when did this idea of using class warfare as an accusation and as a weapon itself first take hold in American politics? To help us answer that question, we're joined by Julian Zelizer, professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University.
Welcome to the program. Good to have you with us.
JULIAN ZELIZER: Thanks for having me.
NEARY: So where did this idea of class warfare begin?
ZELIZER: Well, we've seen the concept of class warfare circulated in American politics since the late 19th century and early 20th century. During that time, the influence of Karl Marx and socialism was very strong. You found emerging unions here in the United States who were thinking and talking about how the battles between capital and the wealthy and labor was going to be central to the kind of country that we had going into the 20th century.
But the term starts to be used less frequently during the Cold War through today. Many liberals feel defensive and they are worried that if they start to use the term class and they talk about class warfare they will be tagged in the Cold War as communists and, more recently, as far left wing extremists.
NEARY: Well, was there ever a time in the beginning of 20th century and in the 21st century where anyone politically was comfortable with the whole idea of using the word just class itself, dealing with the idea of class?
ZELIZER: Well, conservatives have been very comfortable using it throughout much of the 20th century as a way to attack Democrats. During the 1930s, for example, the American Liberty League said that the dragon teeth of class warfare are being sewn with a vengeance, talking about President Roosevelt.
And since then, you've often heard this charge that we now hear against President Obama that secretly any effort to enact a liberal program is really an effort to divide the classes.
NEARY: Well, did liberals start backing away from it in the 1950s because of the intense anticommunism at that time?
ZELIZER: That's exactly what happened. Many on the right would attack liberalism, even if it was, you know, mainstream liberalism that respected capitalism as being a form of socialism. Many liberals backed off. They didn't want to talk about economic classes. They talked about other issues and they talked about it in different ways.
NEARY: You know, this aversion that Americans have to the idea of class warfare, is that, in a sense, part of the reason why almost everybody seems to define themselves as middle class?
ZELIZER: Americans often and historically like to think of themselves as a classless society. There were even polls during the height of the Great Depression which famously showed that many Americans thought of themselves as being in the middle class, even those who were struggling with unemployment and who had nothing to subsist on.
There is a belief in this country that someone who doesn't have a lot of money, one day, has the opportunity to have a lot of money. And because of this, it's often been very hard for those on the left to use the notion of class conflict as a rallying cry as a way to organize social protest.
NEARY: Julian Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. Thanks so much. It was good talking to you.
ZELIZER: Thanks for having me.

Lynn Neary speaks with Julian Zelizer, Princeton professor of history and public affairs, about the origins of the term "class warfare" — and how it has evolved over the years.

Click "read more" below for a partial transcript, or click above to a link to listen to the story.



LYNN NEARY, host: Even before President Obama officially unveiled his plan yesterday to reduce the deficit, Republicans lambasted both the president and his proposal. In the chorus of criticism that followed, two words stood out.
(SOUNDBITE OF BROADCASTS)
Representative PAUL RYAN: Class warfare, Chris, may make for really good politics, but it makes for rotten economics.
Representative JOHN FLEMING: Again, class warfare has never created a job.
Senator LINDSEY GRAHAM: Well, that's class warfare.
Representative JOHN BOEHNER: I don't think I would describe class warfare as leadership.
President BARACK OBAMA: This is not class warfare. It's math.
NEARY: That's President Obama and his Republican critics, House Speaker John Boehner, Senator Lindsey Graham and Congressmen John Fleming and Paul Ryan.
All of this got us wondering, when did this idea of using class warfare as an accusation and as a weapon itself first take hold in American politics? To help us answer that question, we're joined by Julian Zelizer, professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University.
Welcome to the program. Good to have you with us.
JULIAN ZELIZER: Thanks for having me.
NEARY: So where did this idea of class warfare begin?
ZELIZER: Well, we've seen the concept of class warfare circulated in American politics since the late 19th century and early 20th century. During that time, the influence of Karl Marx and socialism was very strong. You found emerging unions here in the United States who were thinking and talking about how the battles between capital and the wealthy and labor was going to be central to the kind of country that we had going into the 20th century.
But the term starts to be used less frequently during the Cold War through today. Many liberals feel defensive and they are worried that if they start to use the term class and they talk about class warfare they will be tagged in the Cold War as communists and, more recently, as far left wing extremists.
NEARY: Well, was there ever a time in the beginning of 20th century and in the 21st century where anyone politically was comfortable with the whole idea of using the word just class itself, dealing with the idea of class?
ZELIZER: Well, conservatives have been very comfortable using it throughout much of the 20th century as a way to attack Democrats. During the 1930s, for example, the American Liberty League said that the dragon teeth of class warfare are being sewn with a vengeance, talking about President Roosevelt.
And since then, you've often heard this charge that we now hear against President Obama that secretly any effort to enact a liberal program is really an effort to divide the classes.
NEARY: Well, did liberals start backing away from it in the 1950s because of the intense anticommunism at that time?
ZELIZER: That's exactly what happened. Many on the right would attack liberalism, even if it was, you know, mainstream liberalism that respected capitalism as being a form of socialism. Many liberals backed off. They didn't want to talk about economic classes. They talked about other issues and they talked about it in different ways.
NEARY: You know, this aversion that Americans have to the idea of class warfare, is that, in a sense, part of the reason why almost everybody seems to define themselves as middle class?
ZELIZER: Americans often and historically like to think of themselves as a classless society. There were even polls during the height of the Great Depression which famously showed that many Americans thought of themselves as being in the middle class, even those who were struggling with unemployment and who had nothing to subsist on.
There is a belief in this country that someone who doesn't have a lot of money, one day, has the opportunity to have a lot of money. And because of this, it's often been very hard for those on the left to use the notion of class conflict as a rallying cry as a way to organize social protest.

LYNN NEARY, host: Even before President Obama officially unveiled his plan yesterday to reduce the deficit, Republicans lambasted both the president and his proposal. In the chorus of criticism that followed, two words stood out.
(SOUNDBITE OF BROADCASTS)
Representative PAUL RYAN: Class warfare, Chris, may make for really good politics, but it makes for rotten economics.
Representative JOHN FLEMING: Again, class warfare has never created a job.
Senator LINDSEY GRAHAM: Well, that's class warfare.
Representative JOHN BOEHNER: I don't think I would describe class warfare as leadership.
President BARACK OBAMA: This is not class warfare. It's math.
NEARY: That's President Obama and his Republican critics, House Speaker John Boehner, Senator Lindsey Graham and Congressmen John Fleming and Paul Ryan.
All of this got us wondering, when did this idea of using class warfare as an accusation and as a weapon itself first take hold in American politics? To help us answer that question, we're joined by Julian Zelizer, professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University.
Welcome to the program. Good to have you with us.
JULIAN ZELIZER: Thanks for having me.
NEARY: So where did this idea of class warfare begin?
ZELIZER: Well, we've seen the concept of class warfare circulated in American politics since the late 19th century and early 20th century. During that time, the influence of Karl Marx and socialism was very strong. You found emerging unions here in the United States who were thinking and talking about how the battles between capital and the wealthy and labor was going to be central to the kind of country that we had going into the 20th century.
But the term starts to be used less frequently during the Cold War through today. Many liberals feel defensive and they are worried that if they start to use the term class and they talk about class warfare they will be tagged in the Cold War as communists and, more recently, as far left wing extremists.
NEARY: Well, was there ever a time in the beginning of 20th century and in the 21st century where anyone politically was comfortable with the whole idea of using the word just class itself, dealing with the idea of class?
ZELIZER: Well, conservatives have been very comfortable using it throughout much of the 20th century as a way to attack Democrats. During the 1930s, for example, the American Liberty League said that the dragon teeth of class warfare are being sewn with a vengeance, talking about President Roosevelt.
And since then, you've often heard this charge that we now hear against President Obama that secretly any effort to enact a liberal program is really an effort to divide the classes.
NEARY: Well, did liberals start backing away from it in the 1950s because of the intense anticommunism at that time?
ZELIZER: That's exactly what happened. Many on the right would attack liberalism, even if it was, you know, mainstream liberalism that respected capitalism as being a form of socialism. Many liberals backed off. They didn't want to talk about economic classes. They talked about other issues and they talked about it in different ways.
NEARY: You know, this aversion that Americans have to the idea of class warfare, is that, in a sense, part of the reason why almost everybody seems to define themselves as middle class?
ZELIZER: Americans often and historically like to think of themselves as a classless society. There were even polls during the height of the Great Depression which famously showed that many Americans thought of themselves as being in the middle class, even those who were struggling with unemployment and who had nothing to subsist on.
There is a belief in this country that someone who doesn't have a lot of money, one day, has the opportunity to have a lot of money. And because of this, it's often been very hard for those on the left to use the notion of class conflict as a rallying cry as a way to organize social protest.


LYNN NEARY, host: Even before President Obama officially unveiled his plan yesterday to reduce the deficit, Republicans lambasted both the president and his proposal. In the chorus of criticism that followed, two words stood out.
(SOUNDBITE OF BROADCASTS)
Representative PAUL RYAN: Class warfare, Chris, may make for really good politics, but it makes for rotten economics.
Representative JOHN FLEMING: Again, class warfare has never created a job.
Senator LINDSEY GRAHAM: Well, that's class warfare.
Representative JOHN BOEHNER: I don't think I would describe class warfare as leadership.
President BARACK OBAMA: This is not class warfare. It's math.
NEARY: That's President Obama and his Republican critics, House Speaker John Boehner, Senator Lindsey Graham and Congressmen John Fleming and Paul Ryan.
All of this got us wondering, when did this idea of using class warfare as an accusation and as a weapon itself first take hold in American politics? To help us answer that question, we're joined by Julian Zelizer, professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University.
Welcome to the program. Good to have you with us.
JULIAN ZELIZER: Thanks for having me.
NEARY: So where did this idea of class warfare begin?
ZELIZER: Well, we've seen the concept of class warfare circulated in American politics since the late 19th century and early 20th century. During that time, the influence of Karl Marx and socialism was very strong. You found emerging unions here in the United States who were thinking and talking about how the battles between capital and the wealthy and labor was going to be central to the kind of country that we had going into the 20th century.
But the term starts to be used less frequently during the Cold War through today. Many liberals feel defensive and they are worried that if they start to use the term class and they talk about class warfare they will be tagged in the Cold War as communists and, more recently, as far left wing extremists.
NEARY: Well, was there ever a time in the beginning of 20th century and in the 21st century where anyone politically was comfortable with the whole idea of using the word just class itself, dealing with the idea of class?
ZELIZER: Well, conservatives have been very comfortable using it throughout much of the 20th century as a way to attack Democrats. During the 1930s, for example, the American Liberty League said that the dragon teeth of class warfare are being sewn with a vengeance, talking about President Roosevelt.
And since then, you've often heard this charge that we now hear against President Obama that secretly any effort to enact a liberal program is really an effort to divide the classes.
NEARY: Well, did liberals start backing away from it in the 1950s because of the intense anticommunism at that time?
ZELIZER: That's exactly what happened. Many on the right would attack liberalism, even if it was, you know, mainstream liberalism that respected capitalism as being a form of socialism. Many liberals backed off. They didn't want to talk about economic classes. They talked about other issues and they talked about it in different ways.
NEARY: You know, this aversion that Americans have to the idea of class warfare, is that, in a sense, part of the reason why almost everybody seems to define themselves as middle class?
ZELIZER: Americans often and historically like to think of themselves as a classless society. There were even polls during the height of the Great Depression which famously showed that many Americans thought of themselves as being in the middle class, even those who were struggling with unemployment and who had nothing to subsist on.
There is a belief in this country that someone who doesn't have a lot of money, one day, has the opportunity to have a lot of money. And because of this, it's often been very hard for those on the left to use the notion of class conflict as a rallying cry as a way to organize social protest.
NEARY: Julian Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. Thanks so much. It was good talking to you.
ZELIZER: Thanks for having me.

9 comments:

Bill Bartels said...

Everyone champions a cause. You never hear anyone praising hard work, commitment, and sacrifice. I guess that which allows us to get ahead is just dumb luck and there's only so much of it.
Bill Bartels COM101-6003

Art Lynch said...

Before you comment, listen to the story and what it says. Critical Thinking involves being open minded and listening. What does the NPR story say? Does it report both sides? What is is really about?

Anonymous said...

I tried to listen to the story, but was unable to.

Referring to the picture, not everyone can be rich, there has to be some on the bottom to serve the ones on top.

Angelina Gomez
HN4041

Nick Pellegrini Com101-6002 said...

I was unable to listen to the story, but I do believe that there will always be poverty. According to our country's current economic situation, I think it is accurate to say that the rich are becoming more rich, and the poor are becoming even more poor. A large deal of politics are geared towards protecting the rich, so they make more profit. The poor continue to work for everything they have while the value of the dollar steadily decreases. This may be completely wrong, but this is how I see it.

Maura Goldberg 6002 said...

It's a hard realization that there is class warfare in our society. Even the middle class are only a few months away from being lower class. We don't measure our class by actual bank account balances, but by what we have in terms of assets & real estate. There is a very small % of upper class and I think most people are middle-lower class. What I got out of the story is that it's taboo to mention class warfare but it's existed and will always continue to exist.

Jessica Johnson said...

I agree with Angelina. I couldnt get it either. Without the plumbers, the laborers, the assembly lines, the fruit pickers, the farmers(big and small), the janitors, all these jobs that people dont want, well, it is necessary so that we have the conveniences, the comfortable lifestyles. There has to be a balance. There are some that are very happy in the 9-5 job. An honest living. There are those that aim for more. Lately, there are those that dont want to do anything but still get everything. I believe that we have a choice. If we dont want to be poor, then find a way to change that and understand that it will require work.

Anonymous said...

Like Angelina and Jessica stated, the big guys will always need work done by the little guys. Classes have, do, and will exist in society, I believe it is inevitable.

Michael Dubia COM 101-6002

Anonymous said...

Jeff (Phoenix HUM/114) This story reflects only a republicans view of class warfare. The comments are one sided and attack President Obamas economic plan. The description of the economic class has been around for centuries and is not something that will go away. However, the public will always view class differently than politicians and will always be debated on whether someone without economic status will ever achieve a high level of economic status. This story does not reflect both sides and does not have an open mined point of view.

Anonymous said...

Referring to what Jessica said, I think it is especially true that my generation ( I am 20) expects to do little and still get everything. I know when I was growing up I was spoiled and then when the economy turned and both my parents lost their home, their jobs. And reading that comment, it automatically made me think about when the proffessor was lecturing in class and talking about how certain generations of students expect certain grades instead of just earning them...
Apparently it refers to money with those students also...

Nicole Baxter COM 101-4080