Wednesday November 30, 2022

The rules of the ruling class : Part - I

September 06, 2022

Elected presidents, prime ministers and parliamentarians hold the power to draft legislation keeping in view the interests of the people. They are considered a symbol of power and authority, who make important decisions like declaring war against or announcing a ceasefire with an enemy state.

It is perhaps this authority that explains why the US president is called an elected monarch or the British prime minister is considered a powerful personality of the country. But those who closely analyze the functioning of a state assert that one should distinguish between rulers and ruling classes all over the world.

Rulers could be a group of people who may have made it to parliament and the corridors of power by contesting elections or even staging a military coup, but they are just one element or part of the ruling elite which calls the shots. On the surface they are the masters of their countries, making every decision – from establishing a national body to scrapping any agreement that was made with another country in the past. In reality, it is an invisible tiny minority of oligarchs, corporate leaders, the landed gentry, businessmen and their middle-class collaborators who wield real political power.

It may seem absurd to assume that ruling classes and rulers are two separate entities, but in reality, that is the case. To understand the difference between the two, one needs to see why all-powerful chief executives renege on their electoral promises and come up with policies that serve the interests of powerful lobbies. What pressure prevents them from implementing a pro-people agenda that they vehemently present during their election campaigns? US President Joe Biden was an ardent supporter of policies that were meant to curtail carbon emissions, waive off student loans and raise minimum wages. He also appeared to be in favour of moves that were aimed at reining in corporations and upholding the cause of human rights.

But after coming into power, the president is reneging on a number of promises. He has miserably failed to deal with gun culture, surrendering to the power of the strong gun lobby by making cosmetic changes to the law that will not be effective in preventing a culture that claims over 30,000 American lives a year. Biden once advocated the full cancellation of students’ loans, but he has now succumbed to the pressure of various stakeholders and ordered to waive off only $10,000 of student debt of qualifying individuals.

So, who influences the policies of the most powerful chief executive in the world? This is where ruling classes come in, like powerful business lobbies. In the US, this powerful class funds both Democrats and Republicans. Prominent American intellectual Noam Chomsky asserts that there is only one political party in the US – the corporate business lobby, which has two branches, Democrats and Republicans. And when it comes to policies, the two branches come up with the same agenda.

Both political parties want to wage wars and benefit the military industrial complex. Both of them want to serve the interests of rapacious corporations. None of them has ever opposed hefty defence budgets that largely benefit Lockheed Martin, General Electric (GE), oil companies and other powerful lobbies. From 1940 to 1996, a period that includes several cycles of war and peace, including the arms race of the cold war, the US spent $16.23 trillion on military (of which $5.82 trillion was spent on nuclear weapons), $1.70 trillion on healthcare and $1.24 trillion on international affairs. This is in addition to the whopping $5 trillion to $8 trillion that is said to have been spent by the US on the ‘war on terror’.

Debates on defence budgets in the US Congress are rarely met with any opposition to these hefty military budgets because many policymakers, including military generals, politicians, diplomats and bureaucrats, serve on the board of directors of oil companies, work as consultants for arms manufacturers or help private security companies secure lucrative contracts or deals. But when it comes to pro-people policies, the same congressmen would create a hue and cry over the ‘squandering of public money’ on ‘lazy and sluggish people’ who want to live on taxpayers’ money.

History shows that before coming to power, almost every American presidential nominee talked about human rights and fundamental rights, but after coming to power, the president would authorize – directly or indirectly – the sale of arms to military dictators, brutal monarchs and authoritarian rulers. Almost all African dictators and authoritarian leaders benefitted from the generous arms flow from Washington DC. Almost all non-democratic regimes in the Global South signed arms deals with the powerful arms lobby of the US, circumventing the laws that were meant to prevent them from doing so.

Similarly, the US claims to be the greatest champion of upholding rule of law, but the truth is that Washington has invaded a number of countries directly or indirectly since 1945. Its notorious intelligence agency has toppled many elected governments in various parts of the world, trampling over all principles of the American constitution and democracy.

It was not Americans who did not want to see democracy in Iran, Guatemala, Chile, Indonesia or any other part of the world. It was large corporations and American business entities that started conflicts with several elected governments in the Global South, pressuring chief executives of the mighty state to do their bidding by sanctioning military coups. The Anglo-Iranian Company had disagreements with the then Iranian prime minister, refusing to increase the rate of royalty or profit. American oil interests seized the opportunity striking a secret deal with the British to let Washington claim a lion share from the loot that they might get after the government of the elected prime minister was deposed. And this is what happened after the Mosaddegh government was toppled. American and British oil firms benefitted from the removal of a nationalist leader and installation of a stooge as the head of state.

Americans might not have wanted the reign of terror unleashed by Reza Shah Pahlavi or been comfortable with the idea of trampling over the fundamental rights of the Iranian people. They must have been appalled had they heard about the horrifying stories of torture and violence perpetrated by the Shah’s secret police that was notorious for brutally crushing opposition. They might have taken to the streets had they known that such brutalities were being committed in their name.

This putsch did not benefit American people. But the new policy of the Shah greatly favoured American oil firms and business entities. The dictator reversed Mosaddegh’s nationalization policy, creating a favourable business environment for American and Western firms that ruthlessly plundered the country’s national wealth.

These companies may have grown by leaps and bounds, but the Iranian nation was plunged into an abyss of barbarism and darkness. The policy to dislodge a democratic government was not formulated by those who believed in democracy and democratic norms but by the vested commercial and business interests that were not ready to tolerate an elected government which opposed the idea of granting carte blanche to American and Western companies.

To be continued

The writer is a freelance journalist who can be reached at: