“In the long term I think the centralized political power ought to be eliminated and dissolved and turned down ultimately to the local level, finally, with federalism and associations and so on. Sure, in the long term that’s my vision. On the other hand, right now I’d like to strengthen the federal government. The reasoin is, we live in this world, not some other world. And in this world there happen to be huge concentrations of private power which are as close to tyranny and as close to totalitarian as anything humans have devised, and they have extraordinary power. They are unaccountable to the public. There’s only one way of defending rights that have been attained or extending their scope in the face of these private powers, and that’s to maintain the one form of illegitimate power that happens to be somewhat responsibe to the public and which the public can indeed influence. So you end up supporting centralized state power even though you oppose it. People who think there is a contradiction in that just aren’t thinking very clearly.” (Noam Chomsky, Class Warfare, pp. 122-3)
So this is the most basic problem. How do you deal with a ruling class which wishes to destroy the community and crush everything that is human about it in order to make themselves more comfortable — not because they are now uncomfortable, but because there are a few tiny elements which might cause discomfort at some stage, or else, because they merely wish to display their power and demonstrate that nobody else has any? What is the proper moral, intellectual and political response?
One very logical response is to eliminate the ruling class. This was, more or less, what happened in the USSR and the PRC. You identify the people who are the source of the problem — people who simply do not care at all about the people whom they exploit and oppress, who simply use the system for their own personal benefit. Having done so, you kill them. As Stalin said, “No person, no problem”. After all, if you do not kill them, then they will continually attempt to take power away from you (who act in the name of the people, and who know more or less what the people want, or you would not have taken power in the first place). If you wait long enough, they will succeed. This was what happened in Nicaragua, and would have happened in Chile if the CIA and the International Telephone and Telegraph and the Anaconda Copper Company had been prepared to wait long enough. It is what almost happened in Venezuela, and might still happen except that Hugo Chavez is so much more intelligent than his opponents (including, particularly, his opponents in London and Washington).
But there is a snag with this. To be precise, there are two snags. The first snag is moral, and it is not just a simple “tut, tut”. Once you get into the habit of murdering your opponents, however justified the action might appear to be at some stage, you will find it difficult to stop. Other opponents will also have to be murdered. Middle-class people who may seem to support the working class — how can one be absolutely sure that they do so? Is it not safer, and therefore in the interests of the working class, to murder them? Professionals who serve the community — yes, but they were brought up as middle-class people and they may in fact seek to reconstruct a ruling class. Why not murder them to be on the safe side? What about people who disagree with you? In the end, if they disagree with you, and you are absolutely right, then they are undermining a system which ought rather to be supported. In other words they are (effectively, even if not intentionally) trying to restore the authority of the ruling class. Surely, then, they ought to be murdered.
You end up in the position of Stalin or Pol Pot, murdering anyone who wears spectacles or anyone who disagrees with you or even can be represented as possibly, at some stage, intending to disagree with you.
There is another snag. You eliminate the ruling class. You liquidate them. You murder them. Fair enough, but then who runs the country? Your people, of course. But they must be people who are trained, and probably specially skilled as well. Other people are not so well trained or skilled, and — of course — the people whom you have placed in positions of authority are people whom you trust. The Party, in effect. Other people have to do what these people tell them to. Naturally, some people will not wish to, but they must be forced to. Even if what these people say is objectively wrong, it is better that people should obey them than not — because in general, the Party is the leadership of the nation, and without the Party the nation will be enfeebled. Will lack leadership, and be a prey to the ruling class which is a constant global peril. So it is necessary to have a cadre who issue the orders, and who are needlessly praised, whose word is law, who have a huge propaganda apparatus endorsing them, and who cooperate with one another against those who are opposed to the cadre . . .
It is then obvious, although probably not to you, that this is a fresh ruling class raised on the bones of the old. There was, in the 1950s, Milovan Djilas, who argued that this was not precisely a new bourgeoisie. Instead, he called it a “New Class”, arguing that it was a product of the new society of socialism. Of course he did not like it, because it fulfilled the same function as the ruling class which he had fought against in Yugoslavia, but at the same time he did not acknowledge that it was a ruling class.
But it is at once apparent that it was a ruling class, even if it ruled through its monopoly of political power more than through its access to wealth.
Therefore, we seem to be up against Catch-22. Destroy the ruling class, and you destroy your own moral sense and therefore your legitimacy of rule. Meanwhile, having destroyed the ruling class and your own moral sense, you find that a new ruling class rises up. The fact that it happens to be on your side blinds you to this fact. Yet the fact that it is on your side does not mean that it is on the side of the working class — it is not. It is interested in its own power. Time and again this has happened in Communist societies, often enough for it to be virtually a rule. What is more, in impoverished societies particularly, such as Angola or Guinea-Bissau, the ruling class has seized power under the pretense of serving the workers, and has then become even more exploitative and self-interested and unpatriotic than the ruling class which it pretended to oppose — and, more often than not, the new Communist ruling class has cooperated with ruling classes in capitalist societies.
But this has not only happened in Communist countries, of course. The United States’ ruling class captured control of its political system from the beginning, because there was no feudal-bourgeois conflict, as there was in Europe, to confuse and disrupt their absolute power. As a result, the United States has always been run by a ruling class which was also a political class. This is why American political leaders all seem to come from the same families — and when it is felt that someone pretending to be new has to be generated, as with Goldwater or Carter or Clinton, a close inspection of their credentials reveals that they are entirely products of the ruling class, emerging from its educational system, trained up by its political structures and only released when it was absolutely, chemically certain that not a single new idea would ever be generated there. (In consequence, the only time when a radically new idea was produced by an American President, it was done by someone who was a millionaire scion of the Roosevelt family, an absolutely reliable and obedient servant of the rich who, astonishingly, suddenly turned out to feel that the ruling class would have to make some sacrifices in order to remain on top — for which the ruling class has excoriated him ever since, although his party has to pretend to like him because he was so phenomenally popular with the general public.)
The British Tory journalist Peter Oborne’s The Triumph of the Political Class outlines what has happened in Britain — and, to be fair, Oborne is almost as critical of the Tories as he is of Labour, though this is probably more tactical than moral on his part. He argues that a small grouping, what he calls the “political class”, has taken over Britain in a sort of Illuminati conspiracy, except that it is more or less in the open, yet unseen because essentially unreported-on. He has a point, but he neglects to note that this has only happened because this “political class” is acting on behalf of the British ruling class and with their support. So, when (as recently) Britain introduces rules against photographing policemen and soldiers, thus bringing British freedom in line with that of Sudan during the civil war and the USSR under Brezhnev, this expression of national paranoia is opposed by virtually everybody — yet it is accepted because all the powerful people want a national security state. The plebs don’t want it, but they can be fooled or bullied, and are. So Oborne, despite his apparent radicalism, is (probably inadvertently) actually covering up for the crimes of the ruling class — by claiming, for instance, that his “political class” is dependent on the state, while it is obvious that it derives most of its power and wealth from corporate capital..
So it seems that the ruling class cannot be destroyed (for it recapitulates itself like a primitive worm — so after the destruction of the Communist Party a new nomenklatura arose in Yeltsin’s Russia). But if it is left alone, it will simply take over everything. In fact, the ruling class is the cancer which exists in every society, destroying everything in order to feed itself, careless — essentially, unaware — of the welfare of anything but itself. (The dominance of the ruling class is the principal reason for the collapse of Western society and, now, economy.) So what are we to do about the ruling class? Give up?
The answer seems to be Chomsky’s answer, feeble as it might seem. The ultimate weapon against a ruling class is the mass of the people. If informed and organised, the people can resist anything, even in an undemocratic society. Yet, of course, the danger is that any organising force for the people must be a potential ruling class in itself. It follows from this that no Bolshevik-style vanguardist party can ever defeat the ruling class. Therefore, in order to eliminate the ruling class as a political threat to the majority, democracy is required. Democracy, of course, entailing freedom of speech and assembly and of the press and so forth — all freedoms which are being significantly curtailed across the world, but especially in Western countries where they were once taken for granted. This is natural, because the ruling class recognises democracy as a threat even while it pretends to stand for democracy. In South Africa this has not yet been taken to the extreme which it has reached in some countries, but in general, all ruling class societies aspire to the condition of Equatorial Guinea, where all power is to the highest and all democracy is simply a pretentious facade for ruling-class control.
A democratic party, internally consistent and with considerable latitude for the rank and file to control policies and appoint or remove leadership, is what is required. Unfortunately, the ruling class can often manipulate that rank and file, so there has to be some sort of centralised control to prevent this. This centralised control, itself, can turn the party into a squadron of zombies obeying orders from on high, which is what both the ANC and DA have become, and these zombies, of course, are then easily vulnerable to ruling-class control.
It’s a conundrum. However, the first obvious steps are to acknowledge the existence of the ruling class as a threat to freedom, and to acknowledge the need for democracy as a bulwark against that. If we can get these points accepted — and we are moving in the opposite direction in South Africa, where “democracy” is routinely interpreted by ruling-class propagandists as “getting rid of the ANC and replacing it with a ruling-class front” — then we will at least have got somewhere.