Wednesday, March 21, 2007
From the Berlin Wall to the Billionaire Waltz: a recent history of the ruling class. posted by Richard Seymour
In the same year that the Berlin Wall was broken down, the late marxist sociologist Tom Bottomore and his colleague Robert Brym co-edited a book bringing together experts from various countries on their capitalist classes. The aim of these data-heavy surveys was to elaborate the development, coherence and structure of indigenous capitalist classes, and to pop a few myths as well - the main one being that there was no longer any such thing as capitalists or capitalism or classes or workers or indeed society as such, only protean narcissists fannying about in a post-industrial consumer society.
Pretty soon, in the triumphalist era of the 1990s, not only was there a capitalist class, but practically everyone was in it. Newsweek had a famous story entitled 'The Whine of '99: Everyone's Getting Rich But me!' They weren't talking about the fact that workers wages had started to increase for the first time in a couple of decades, under the spur of a sudden productivity boost and a brief revival in trade unionism. They were seriously contending, despite the information provided in their own article, that most people could expect to get seriously rich, and those who didn't were whiners.
Who would even try that today? No one even pretends things are working out. Wages have fallen for six years straight in the world's largest capitalist economy - during periods of sustained growth at that - and a third of all US jobs pay low wages. Meanwhile the income of the richest 1 percent has gone through the roof, the richest 0.1 percent even more so. Doesn't matter, there's a war on. Get on board or fuck off.
In that vein, James Petras has a new Counterpunch article on the global ruling class. That formulation is misleading: he's only talking about the very richest, the supremos, the billionaires who have raked it in off the financial markets, and I am very sceptical of the idea of reducing the ruling classes to those individuals, however you conceive the importance of finance capital today. I mean, I figure you have to include at least the top five percent in the wealthiest capitalist states, or perhaps the top 2 percent of the world's population which owns more than half of all the wealth. To put it another way, I'd try and include as much of the capitalist class in that designation as possible: it's a matter of knowing who the enemy is, and even an unsuccessful capitalist is still a class enemy (they can sometimes be the worst). But despite that and some other disagreements, Petras' article is still well worth reading. The billionaires are especially stacking the funds in India and China these days, but of course the greater number of them are concentrated in the US. And Germany at number two.
And, er, Russia - where the neoliberal reforms put per capita income on a par with Namibia for some time, and killed so many hundreds of thousands of people during the 1990s. Most of their wealth came, as I said, from speculation rather than productive capital, although Petras makes clear that a great deal of the wealth was jacked by Mafia-style entrepreneurs. Again, however, he covers up for the old bureacratic ruling class, as if inefficiency in the old state capitalist enterprises and economy was a fucking invention of Western "spin masters" - it isn't necessary to believe this to see how the economy was ripped off and expropriated by a bunch of emerging Caesars after the collapse of the Russian Empire. It was obvious what would happen: investment collapsed, the ruble's value plummeted and incomes for most were drastically depleted, which basically means that there was a massive, politically engineered transfer of wealth to the richest, the conscious creation of a 'bourgeoisie'. This was often quite intentional. As Peter Gowan reports it, Lord Howe, "appointed adviser to the Ukrainian government in 1991, was quite frank on this point. He urged the need for the development of what he called ‘bandit capitalism’ in Ukraine and drew a favourable parallel with the great robber barons of American capitalism in the nineteenth century." The Economist argues that the criminal capitalists should be encouraged to go legit, while Edward Luttwak asked "Does the Russian Mafia Deserve the Nobel Prize for Economics?" In his book, The Global Gamble, he quotes Jeffrey Sachs commending Lenin's phrase about 'bourgeois democracy' - so apt for what the planners were trying to acheive.
Meanwhile, in Latin America, the richest of the capitalist class are indebted to the Washington Consensus enforced by successive waves of US-backed terror, with the following results:
Of the total $157.2 billion owned by the 38 Latin American billionaires, 30 are Brazilians or Mexicans with $120.3 billion . The wealth of 38 families and individuals exceeds that of 250 million Latin Americans; 0.000001 per cent of the population exceeds that of the lowest 50 per cent. In Mexico, the income of 0.000001 per cent of the population exceeds the combined income of 40 million Mexicans. The rise of Latin American billionaires coincides with the real fall in minimum wages, public expenditures in social services, labor legislation and a rise in state repression, weakening labor and peasant organization and collective bargaining.
The billionaires' and the White House's anger and hostility toward President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela is precisely because he is reversing the policies which create billionaires and mass poverty: He is re-nationalizing energy resources, public utilities and expropriating some large landed estates. Chavez is not only challenging US hegemony in Latin America but also the entire PDD edifice that built the economic empires of the billionaires in Latin America, Russia, China and elsewhere.
Well, that's exactly what Senator McCain's Presidential bid is going to be based on. It is astounding that Washington has allowed Latin America to slip out of its grip and give the locals crazy ideas about socialism and genuine democracy. There'll have to be more terror regimes, one assumes.
One last question - given the kind of enormous power and privilege he depicts, how on earth does Petras reach the conclusion that some 'Israel Lobby' is manipulating the American ruling class into accepting a foreign policy that they fundamentally oppose and is not in their interests?