It is tempting — very tempting — to despair. The crises facing human civilisation are extreme, and are not being addressed by any of the structures which human civilisation set up. The destruction of all that we fought for in the anti-apartheid movement, of all the good that social democracy, socialism, communism, liberalism ever brought or promised, proceeds apace. Meanwhile, the propaganda system ensures that everything good is rebranded as bad, and vice versa; white is the new black. Under the new system of oligarchic capitalism, rather than “all that is solid melts into air”, we have “all that is palatable turns into shit”, because it is pre-eaten by the ruling class before it reaches us. And that goes double for the information system, which is attempting, at present, to validate itself by denying anyone but itself the right to do or say anything.
Ah, but there is a world elsewhere, and another world is possible, yonder lies your hinterland! (Funny, now the Creator thinks of it, but Rhodes and Lenin had essentially the same gesture, although Lenin carried it off better and also made much less of a hash than Rhodes did.) Let’s step back and ask the question: what went wrong, and can we structure things so that we can do it right? If we can’t, then presumably everything from Pacha Mama to OWS is a waste of time and we may as well stock up on canned food and rifle ammunition.
The OWS line is that what went wrong is the rich taking control of everything. The 1% versus the 99%, except that more than half of the 99% have been co-opted, browbeaten or deceived into supporting the 1%, which is the political problem. However, if we ignore this and focus on actual political power and policy, it is obvious that all of the problems facing the world, and virtually all of the problems facing individual countries, provinces and municipalities, exist because the rich make decisions on their own behalf with little or no concern for anyone else. They can do this because the political system is under their control.
It is easy to say that the solution is socialism; that once the fruits of the planet are shared by all, this problem will not exist. However, that did not pan out as anticipated in Russia or China. It is probably true that the capitalist system cannot be reliably reformed and therefore must be destroyed and supplanted by something which does not lead to an elite taking power and ruling in their own interests without regard for others. However, replacing capitalism with a state system under which a New Class of bureaucrats steps into the shoes of the former capitalist oligarchs makes little or no sense.
Obviously, one solution is democracy. If the bulk of the population is able to choose the leadership of the nation, then the leadership of the nation (so the theory goes) is responsible to the bulk of the population and is thus obliged to rule in their interests, failing which they will be voted out. The ruling elite has been able, right from the beginning, to subvert this goal of democracy. They paid large sums of money to ruling-class catspaws to put them in power in order to rule on their behalf — this is where conservative parties come from. They used their money to bribe or intimidate those members of parties which were not simply their catspaws into pursuing policies which they liked. Ultimately, these processes ensured that no parties in elections ran on any platform except those which were favourable to the ruling class. Hence the bulk of the population, confronted by policies which ran against their principles, could only vote for another party whose principles were opposed to them. This is the problem faced by all electorates today; there is nothing except ruling class stooges.
How can ruling class control of the system be avoided? Somehow, a bureaucratic structure needs to be set up which is not beholden to the ruling class. This is very much like our old friend the dictatorship of the proletariat. Unfortunately, such a bureaucratic structure would be inevitably under the authority of the ruling class, if it were bureaucratic, or would be vulnerable to penetration from the ruling class, if it were capitalist-oligarchic. How could the ruling class be prevented from taking control of the system?
The only easy way to consider this is that the bureaucratic structure overseeing the electoral process would have to be extremely transparent and very democratically appointed by the general public. In other words, there would have to be a representative democracy, and then a participatory-democratic system to oversee the elections for that representative democracy. This would have to function outside party and state structures; it would be something like a mass trade union to control the electoral system and to ensure that the parties involved in the electoral system were not dominated by special interest groups without the knowledge of the general public.
That sounds enormously complicated, but it also suggests that something relatively inchoate, like OWS itself, might be put in charge of the electoral process. Its task would be to oversee things like campaign funding, publicity and information, the processes of elections, and of course to prevent any bribery and corruption from arising. Under these conditions, laws could be passed to prevent parties from being funded by corporations, and indeed to prevent parties with enormous financial advantages from being able to exert these advantages in any meaningful way. The purpose of such an organisation would thus be to ensure that the parties in a representative democracy functioned without any dependence on financial support.
It goes without saying that such an organisation could also function to oversee or at least monitor the state structures intended to act against bribery and corruption within the administration. What we have here is something like a Soviet monitoring a Provisional Government, except that instead of being in competition, as in St Petersburg in 1917, the two would essentially be two arms of government.
The second leg on which capitalist oligarchy rests is propaganda. The media has no absolute power to change anything; their role is distraction, legitimation and demonisation. A major part of the media’s rule is to focus public attention on trivia and thus make them think about something other than the way in which their state is being used against them. Celebrities, sports figures, sex, crime and such things are part of this process. The bulk of the media, thus, is pabulum — although it is also worth considering that since celebrities and sports figures are generally rich people, and since a great deal of the rest of the media’s ostensibly non-political content relates to consumerism and the worship of affluent lifestyles, it is pabulum with the purpose of encouraging the public to think only in ruling-class terms and to assume ruling-class goals without question.
In addition, the legitimation of the goals of the ruling class in terms of national politics is a major role of the media. Parties which endorse ruling-class objectives are endorsed by the media, and individuals are promoted insofar as they promote those objectives. (In South Africa, a good example of such an individual enjoying media support despite his lack of any positive qualities is Kader Asmal.) Another important aspect of this legitimation is the incessant repetition of ruling-class ideals and, naturally, the suppression of alternative ideals — or, as in “greenwashing”, “consumer rights” and “black economic empowerment”, the seizure of such alternative ideals and their transformation into their opposite, or at least into a form through which the ruling class can profit. In effect, this is an ideological system through which the ideology is inculcated into the public in such a way that they will not be able to consider an alternative, or even find words to frame it — much like the system in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. In Orwell’s Newspeak, it was possible to say that “Big Brother is ungood”, but it was impossible to intellectually or rhetorically justify such a statement, because no words or concepts existed to conduct such justifications. In our present system, notions such as “The press is not free” or “South Africa rightly purchased arms to defend itself against foreign aggressors” cannot be communicated to the ideologues of the system because they lack the conceptual structures to internalise such things — it is like saying “Pee poo tits arse panties”. Their goal is someday to make all the rest of us as lacking in intellectual capacity as they are.
And, of course, there is demonisation. The personalisation of politics is a mode of avoiding intellectual engagement — particularly with policies. In order to condemn policies without intellectual engagement, persons who express the policies are attacked. So are whole categories of persons — “greenies”, for instance, i.e. persons actually concerned about the survival of the ecosystem in a form which can support the present human race — whose policies are anathema to the ruling elite. And, of course, organisations whose goals are opposed to them. But also, as Mencken observed, the media create hobgoblins, demons who are imaginary, or whose significance is wildly exaggerated, and this includes not only persons but episodes and occasions or circumstances which are distorted, fitted into the ideological framework, and used as spurious legitimation for the ruling class’s practices and desires.
What can be done to counter this propaganda, short of vigorous censorship and the sending of journalists to re-education camps? (No bad thing, thinks the Creator.) Actually, seizure of control of all the media would not solve the problem, because the ruling bureaucracy would take over and the result would almost certainly be as bad as the present media. (Think of the SABC and the Afrikaans press under apartheid.)
So we fall back on the need for a set of media — one print, one electronic — capable of challenging ruling-class propaganda and therefore national and cheaply available. And such a set of media would have to be independent of the ruling class, meaning that it would have to be subsidised by the state, but to keep it independent of the bureaucratic class it would, once again, have to be under the direct control of the general public. It would be extremely interesting to find out what the public actually wants to learn about from the media. Very probably, this is not what anyone expects that they ought to want to learn about. On the other hand, it is probably not the steady diet of sex, scandal and sport which is the aspiration of the South African media at the moment. It would be interesting to see what happened, and it would also be interesting to see some average people on the board of a broadcasting service, instead of the usual panel of stuffed shirts and corporate toadies.
The third leg of the capitalist oligarchy is the judicial system. The laws are drafted by lawyers who are trained to serve the ruling classes, even if the politicians instructed by the lawyers might hope otherwise. The laws are interpreted by lawyers also trained to serve the ruling classes, and the more successful a lawyer, the higher the fee the lawyer commands — meaning that the ruling class is at a natural advantage because its wealth enables it to hire the best lawyers. Furthermore, lawyers band together in affluent societies which enable them to operate in high society — essentially, organisations like the Law Society and the Bar Council are ruling-class coordinating committees. Judges are drawn from the most ruling-class-sympathetic elements among lawyers, and they, of course, are heavily influenced by ruling-class goals, as the record of the judges’ decisions on Jacob Zuma’s various legal problems illustrates. The entire system regulates itself; unlike the executive and the legislature, there is no question of anyone outside the oligarchy and the highest levels of the political system having any influence over a judge, let alone a lawyer, unless money changes hands.
How can this inherently corrupt system be deprived of its enormous political influence? Obviously, by eliminating the so-called “checks and balances” system, by which the judicial system is used by the ruling classes to prevent the public from establishing control of the political system. It should not be difficult to eliminate the judiciary from control of constitutional systems, or to remove lawyers as much as possible from the drafting of laws. Once again, these can be replaced by elected officials of the state supervised by popularly elected citizens under a condition of absolute transparency. Lawyers would then be reduced to what they deserve to be — the impotent, chaffering handmaidens of the wealthy, able only to influence matters in minor issues by their vapourings in junior courtrooms. Even judges should be supervised by the public rather than, as now, absolutely independent of everyone except rich and powerful people. (Once in the United States judges were elected officials; it might well be reasonable for that to be the case now, especially if laws were not written specifically to be obscure to everyone except the shitsmiths trained in legal fabrication and chop-logic.)
It can be done, and it should be done. We can turn our society into something which is politically accountable to the public instead of the richest of the rich. It remains to be seen if there is either the political will or the capacity to do this.