Class and the Military-Industrial Complex

By Christian Sorensen, September 4, 2023

Working Class

Workers are the economy’s lifeblood. A worker is anyone who puts in a day’s labor and is given a wage in return. The profit the worker creates for a corporation is far greater than the wage the worker receives.

It’s no different in the U.S. war industry, which is comprised of corporations that develop, market, and sell goods and services to the U.S. (military and intelligence) and allied governments. The bundling of these corporations with the U.S. military establishment forms the infamous military-industrial complex.

Working-class jobs in the U.S. war industry include, but are not limited to:

  • engineer, physicist, mathematician,
  • computer programmer, system administrator, cloud developer,
  • welder, machinist, electrician, pipe fitter, mechanic.

These workers do not determine what a given corporation makes, how the products are produced, or to whom the corporation sells. Those decisions are made by the capitalists: the executives.


What does the ruling class do with the profit that the workers create? Corporations issue dividend payments to shareholders and pay top corporate executives 7- and 8-figures. They also buy back stock, increasing the value of each share.

What’s this look like?

  • General Dynamics’ dividend yield (dividend payment shown as a percentage of current stock price) is currently 2.34%;
  • the RTX chief executive is compensated over $22 million (see p. 45);
  • and Lockheed Martin buys back $7.9 billion of its own stock.

Sometimes war corporations use the profit to build more factories or office space in which the workers will create more profit. For example, Lockheed Martin broke ground in 2022 on a missile facility in Huntsville, Alabama, and Boeing broke ground earlier this year on a facility in Jacksonville, Florida, for repairing military aircraft parts.

People born into this economic system are rarely taught about the ways in which it harms the working class.

Ruling Class

The capitalists at the top of the system can be divided into four groups.

1. Executives. The job of the corporate executive (e.g., chief executive officer, chief financial officer, chief operating officer) is to maximize short-term profit. A board of directors makes sure executives do so.

2. Financial tycoons. Many war corporations are public, i.e., they issue stock that is traded on exchanges. Large banks and asset management firms (e.g., Vanguard, State Street, BlackRock) hold a lot of this stock. These firms can be seen as the institutional stockholders at the top of the war industry.

Banks also provide loans and lines of credit to war corporations and advise in mergers and acquisitions.

A private equity firm is a different type of financial organization. It is composed of a few wealthy people who buy a corporation, restructure it, and then try to sell it at a profit. Private equity has in its hands everything from news media to grocery stores to war corporations to hospitals.

3. Elected officials on the Armed Services and Intelligence Committees in the Senate and House, and the Foreign Affairs Committee in the House and the Foreign Relations Committee in the Senate. In general, the role of capitalist politicians is to create the conditions wherein capitalists, not workers, profit.

Instead of exercising strict oversight of military and espionage activities, these elected officials accept campaign funding from the war industry, coordinate with lobbyists, and pass legislation that empowers armed bureaucracies and enriches industry.

Most members of Congress are quite wealthy. Some even profit from war, as documented by Sludge, Business Insider, and the New York Times.

4. Top bureaucrats administering military and intelligence organizations.

Individuals ascend by conforming—never daring to address, let alone dismantle, the military-industrial complex. A California Congressman, for example, became a White House insider in the 1990s, then ran CIA, and then ran the Pentagon.

Top bureaucrats also include the highest-ranking U.S. military officers. They oversee a state of permanent warfare when in uniform and then retire and generally make a lot of money (e.g., Mattis, Austin, Petraeus, Goldfein, Votel) at war corporations, financial institutions, or corporate instruments (e.g., think tanks, lobbying firms, and 501(c) nonprofits).

Decision Time

The capitalists and the politicians they steer—via financing campaigns, lobbying, manufacturing interventionist narratives at think tanks, and “educating constituencies” at nonprofits—are the ones making the major decisions in society.

The biggest of these decisions—what to spend money on as a country—benefits the war industry. Roughly half of the annual federal discretionary budget is military spending. And over half of that military budget goes to corporations in the form of contracts for goods and services. War corporations have also taken over much of the intelligence workload.

A given U.S. military installation is a dollar sign in industry’s eyes. All such installations, whether located in the United States or abroad, are avenues through which corporations route goods and services. The troops (soldier, sailor, airman, Marine, guardian) are mostly not cannon fodder, as was the case in the First World War. They are users of corporate goods and services.

Class is essential to military function. Loan repayment, in-service tuition assistance, the GI Bill, and a steady paycheck and healthcare are among the enticements that military recruiters use to get people to enlist. An increase in non-military economic opportunity in the United States could hurt military recruitment, a fact members of Congress occasionally let slip. Commercials for military recruitment, and the broader campaigns to get people to join the military, are designed by advertising agencies (e.g., GSD&M Idea City, Wunderman Thompson, Young & Rubicam, DDB Chicago), not the Pentagon. In other words, the military contracts with corporations to create slick visuals that convince the poor and the working class to join the military, which the ruling class uses as a way to profit.

Enlistees fill out the military’s ranks. They are stationed stateside and deployed abroad, garrisoning the globe. The poor and the workers of the world on the receiving end of U.S. military and intelligence operations, which the U.S. ruling class orders and oversees, suffer greatly, particularly in terms of lives lost and environmental devastation.

The Jobs Card

The executives in charge of U.S. industry automate jobs (e.g., RTX, Lockheed Martin), send jobs abroad (e.g., Mexico, India) where labor is cheaper, and regularly cut and shuffle jobs; the war industry employs far fewer people today than during the first Cold War.

Nonetheless, capitalists and their public relations teams are adept at playing the “jobs” card when pressuring or coordinating with elected officials at the federal, state, and local level. For example, in testimony to the California legislature regarding potential 9-figure tax breaks each, representatives from Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman emphasized that building new bombers in California would “create hundreds of high-paying jobs and business for small companies that supply parts,” in the words of the LA Times.

Talking points are trite. “We’re committed to growing our economic impact through the expansion of our… operations and the continued investment in high-technology jobs that support vital national security programs,” affirms the vice president of one corporation. “This [facility] expansion will bring hundreds of new jobs to the area and increase our supplier base significantly,” vows another. “[O]ur business has a wealth of talent at all levels, and it is our greatest strength and source of opportunity,” states a third.

Federal spending on other parts of the economy (e.g., infrastructure, healthcare, sustainable energy, public education) creates more jobs than spending on the military budget.

Economist Heidi Peltier explains, “Clean energy creates about ten percent more jobs than the military, for the same level of spending, while healthcare creates almost twice as many jobs, and education on average supports almost three times as many jobs as the military, dollar for dollar” (pdf).

War is not about jobs. It’s about profit—for the ruling class.


In implementing a policy of permanent warfare, the ruling class harms the public twice:

  1. The ruling class doesn’t fight the wars. It profits. The poor and the working class fight the wars. Some die. Many are maimed physically and/or mentally.
  2. Tax dollars could be going to healthcare, infrastructure, education, debt relief, affordable housing, and other programs that help the public. Instead, they are funneled into war.

Ending the state of permanent warfare and healing as a society requires rescinding all pertinent legal code, starting with the core legislation: the 1947 National Security Act and the 1947 Labor Management Relations Act. The former entrenched the military-industrial complex, created the Central Intelligence Agency, and formed the National Security Council, while the latter banned many of the tactics and techniques that the working class could use to organize and fight back.

Supreme Court rulings that have given corporations immense political authority also must also be rescinded.

Worker unionization and organizing are a key part of changing the status quo.

The ruling class dreads a united working class, because a united working class can use superior numbers to push back against the profit-over-people economic system known as capitalism. An assertive, united working class could redirect tax dollars away from the business of war and into helpful programs (e.g., healthcare, education, infrastructure, disaster relief), even going as far as converting the business of war into industries that actually benefit humanity.

Given the intertwined mass extinction and climate crises in which we are living, it is imperative that the working class unites across racial lines and gets to work. And the sooner the better.

Christian Sorensen is a researcher focused on the business of war. He is the foremost authority on the bundling of military and big business. A U.S. Air Force veteran, he is the author of the book Understanding the War Industry (Clarity Press, 2020). His work is available at Sorensen is a senior fellow at the Eisenhower Media Network (EMN), an organization of independent veteran military and national security experts who understand that U.S. foreign policy is not making them, or the world, safer.

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