Monday, 31 July 2017

Does A ‘Ruling Class’ Still Exist?

Morning Star 
Monday 31st July 2017
YES, it does, though it’s changed a bit since Marx’s time. Most industrial and commercial capital — factories, machinery, distribution and communication systems — the means whereby wealth is created (with a little help from workers, of course) is rarely any longer owned directly by individuals but by companies.
Though most land is still privately owned (and that’s excluding the house and garden that you and I may own — land becomes “capital” only when it can be used to make a profit) increasing amounts are held as investment by financial institutions.
However despite the significant sums that are held by pension funds, local authorities, universities and other institutions that you and I may feel we have a stake in, capital — stocks, shares, bonds and other “investments” — are overwhelmingly in the hands of a relatively small number of individuals.
Their assets are spread to minimise any risk (that’s what “hedging” is all about) and most have little involvement in the processes of production, unlike the entrepreneurial capitalists of Marx’s and Dickens’s day.
Don’t let the fact that you may receive some benefit from your own Isa or pension fund (if you are lucky enough to have one) fool you into thinking you’re a capitalist yourself.
The interest of course does come from other people’s labour but you have no control over how these funds are used and you probably don’t reinvest most of the income you get from them.
Even if you do it’s likely to be pretty small stuff compared to the power of the funds themselves and of the large investors who make the decisions as to how they are used.
Those who lived through the Thatcher years will remember the privatisation of British Gas and the “Tell Sid” television campaign meant supposedly to persuade people to buy shares.
Over 94 per cent of shares in Centrica (British Gas’s current owner) are today owned by institutional investors, not by individuals.
Today public assets are simply flogged off without any pretence of creating a share-owning democracy.
From aerospace to the water companies, privatisation has put hardwon public assets into the hands of the powerful, at enormous cost to working people.
The housing crisis, exacerbated by the ongoing sale of council housing, has proved a bonanza for developers.
Where wholesale privatisation has proved impractical, as in the NHS, the profitable bits are hived off or outsourced.
In general the ruling class comprises those who (in any social system) are able to appropriate the surplus produced by labour and who therefore have a collective interest in enforcing and reproducing the social conditions needed for its extraction.
Marx and Engels wrote in the Communist Manifesto how “the bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production and thereby the relations of production and with them the whole relations of society. […] Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation, distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all other ones.”
This has proved as true in relation to the composition of the capitalist class — and to the way that they rule — as to everything else.
Our former Tory chancellor George Osborne is an example. His inherited wealth includes an annual income of some £40,000 from his father’s wallpaper business.
But Osborne himself is no industrialist. His income as the new editor of the Evening Standard remains a secret. But it comes on top of his £650,000 for less than one day’s work a week as “adviser on the global economy” to Blackrock, an investment management firm (everything from commodities to armaments), over £1 million for speeches given in the six months from September 2016 (some £65,000 for every speech!), £120,000 per annum as Kissinger fellow for the McCain Institute (a US “do-tank” seeking to promote “Western values” around the world) — and an honorary chair (as professor of economics) at the University of Manchester. All good compensation for the loss of his £74,000 salary and influence as an MP.
While the engine of capital is profit, individual capitalists are driven by complex motivations — money, power, security. Donald Trump, for example, said: “I don’t do it for the money. I’ve got enough, much more than I’ll ever need. I do it to do it. Deals are my art form. Other people paint beautifully on canvas or write wonderful poetry. I like making deals, preferably big deals. That’s how I get my kicks.”
And, in similar vein: “Money was never a big motivation for me, except as a way to keep score. The real excitement is playing the game.”
Quite what the game (beyond money) is for Osborne is not clear — one theory is that he has ambitions to “return” to politics, as if he had ever left it!
Most capitalists, unlike Osborne, Trump etc (you list them, starting with “Sir” Philip Green) prefer to keep a lower profile.
Others still like to front their money-raking activities with “good works,” but in a rather different way from Dickens’s day when some at least did endow local libraries, hospitals, schools, public parks and sports facilities — the very assets which are now being flogged off or closed.
A recent study of the Bill Gates Foundation (he of Microsoft, the world’s biggest philanthropic donor) by Global Justice Now, demonstrates how “philanthrocapitalism” acts as a cloak for super-exploitation, ultimately enhancing Microsoft’s profits and power.
Corporate sponsorship is today much more than merely an advertising gimmick. It seeks to draw people into believing that the very system that exploits them works in their favour.
And of course the domination of the media by a handful of giant corporations — and powerful individuals — is just the most obvious manifestation of the way that public consciousness is controlled and manipulated in the interests of capital and the status quo.
Yes, capitalists exist all right, and both directly — through their capital (the “means of production”) — and through their domination of the media, the state that they control and ultimately their coercive supremacy (think International Monetary Fund, Orgreave or a thousand other instances) that guarantees them their power, they constitute the “ruling class.”
June’s election results represented an important first step in challenging their power and building a better Britain.

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