Concluding my previous article, ‘Corruption and Rhetoric’ (May 4), I wrote: “To fix a disease you need to identify the root cause first. And for corruption, it is class structure”. I received a few emails asking me to shed light on this statement. This compelled me to explain why a change in government and a complete reform of the system cannot eradicate corruption if the current class structure and mode of production prevails.
The reason why class structure is not taken into account while discussing corruption is because of the narrow concept of the latter, which is fed to us by the media and other narrative-building organs.
Our understanding of corruption is limited to the abuse of government and bureaucratic positions for financial gains. Although this act of rent-seeking out of self-interest in the political arena does fall under corruption, the concept is much larger.
In broader terms, real corruption is the failure of liberal democracy to fulfil its promise to serve the public good. It is the weaker position of society at the disposal of market forces, the power of capital and the influence of wealth in electoral politics. In a nutshell, it is the accumulation of resources and social surplus in a few hands with or without the involvement of the government – either legally or illegally.
Let’s compare two separate scenarios: one where the government regulates the minimum wage but inflation remains on the rise due to tax evasion, and second where inflation is at bay but the wages are low because the government does not regulate minimum wage anymore. In both cases, the capitalist class is robbing the working class by expropriating the social surplus (the combined profit of society).
The only difference is that in the former case there is direct corruption in terms of bribes or rent sought by government functionaries for their self-interest. Therefore, modern business professionals prefer the second scenario, where the cost-benefit analysis could be more stable as bribes usually vary in amount and are unpredictable.
The irrelevance of the mode of government and the regulations contributing to corruption force me to go back to the basic variable on which corruption stands. And that is self-interest – plain and simple.
While praising Bismarck’s experiment, Hegel maintains that the disinterestedness of government officials is a necessary ingredient for a corruption-free state. For instance, if the rulers were running steel foundries, then the regulations and provisions associated with that industry could0 be manipulated to increase their profits.
The businesses being run by different state institutions are bound to abuse their authority to maximise profits. This strengthens the argument of the neoliberal pundits that rests on laissez faire. But the Baldia Factory incident is enough to explain the extent to which corruption can be caused in the market.
For the expropriation of social surplus, workers are underpaid through the contractual labour system and there is no concept of health and safety regulation. Another neglected factor is the abuse of the environment through which industries accumulate the social surplus of the society.
This brings us to the capitalist mode of production, which results in the class structure, and tensions between and within these classes for the share of social surplus.
The fiercer the level of competition this mode of production guarantees, the fiercer the level of corruption within the government and the market will be. Even if the business class is forbidden from taking part in politics and securing government and state positions, the power they possess by virtue of their wealth is enough to influence both the government and the market.
Similarly, international organisations like the IMF, World Bank and the WTO played key roles in the proliferation of neoliberalism. The condition of defaulting countries is no different from that of the children who work under harsh conditions to pay off the debts that their grandparents owed.
Unlike any conspiracy, the whole process is driven by personal interest – which actualises itself in terms of class interest – and sometimes to secure this interest the privileged few inflict harm on each other.
Consider the case of the Panama Papers, which exposed many families, including those of the Pakistani and Chinese premiers. The ICIJ, the organisation that leaked the papers, is funded by organisations like the Ford Foundation, which has served the US ruling classes for a long time. The fact that not even a single US politician was named in the Panama Papers only sheds light on the corruption within this corruption leak.
No field is free from corruption under this class-based system and structure. Corruption takes root when a rich child is born in a well-equipped hospital while the child of a labourer fails to find a decent clinic. Corruption is nurtured further when a rich child attends the best school while a labourer’s child struggles to acquire even basic education. And corruption rules when after a few years, the same rich child influences the government while the child of a laborer remains robbed of basic rights by the same state.
The writer is an educationist and
former central organiser of the National Students Federation (NSF).