The ways of the establishment

September 4, 2022

The establishment has steadily enhanced its influence

The ways of the establishment

Karl Marx argues that history unfolds through a series of stages like the Asiatic mode of production, antique feudalism and modern bourgeois. Each stage is characterised by the prevailing conditions under which the wealth is produced. The motive force for the development from stage to stage is the ever-present class struggle or class war.

Thus, history is human society in dialectical motion. “The history of all hitherto existing society,” declared The Communist Manifesto, “is the history of the class struggle.” Conclusively speaking, the conflict, as dialectical materialism avers, is what galvanises the course of history.

Some serious practitioners in history look askance at such a reductive, if not too simplistic, interpretation of multi-layered and extremely complex phenomenon that even defies definition. Despite the description having been called facile and not-very-convincing, the fact remains that conflict, war, rebellion, mutiny and militant insurgency fill human history to the brim.

Inequitable distribution of wealth causes conflict but so does the acquisition of power. A close reading of historical stages reveals that on countless occasions equals fought against each other to secure power. Mughal princes are an avid example of the internecine struggle for power. Failing to grab it, they were more than willing to embrace death.

The phrase takht ya takhta describes this bent of mind typical to the scions of the Mughal royalty. The point worth underscoring is that the victorious had mostly been the ones supported by the establishment of the day. A more frequent feature was the rebellion, mutiny or insurgency by the dispossessed against the rich and the powerful.

The rebellion of the slaves led by Spartacus against the Romans signified such a struggle. In early modern history, the largest and most significant slave rebellion in the British North American colonies, the Stono Rebellion (1739), revealed tensions that continued in slave states throughout the 19th Century. Slaves were oppressed by a brutal system of forced labour and sometimes violently rebelled.

The ways of the establishment

One function of the establishment during the Cold War era was to stem revolutionary ideology. In its modern sense, the term was popularised by the British journalist, Henry Fairlie.

In the United States, three of the best known revolts during the 19th Century were led by Gabriel Prosser in Virginia in 1800, Denmark Vesey in Charleston, South Carolina in 1822 and Nat Turner in Southampton County, Virginia, in 1831. These revolts and rebellions did not immediately yield the intended results.

The fate of the peasant revolts happening in the Indian history was similar. These revolts challenged the status quo that suited the interests of the groups and individuals, constituting proto establishment of the time.

The establishment represents conservativism and usually acts to deny people’s rights. Historically, it has served itself (the elite and the dominant). While the expression ‘establishment’ entered the political lexicon in 1955, an amorphous (yet powerful) structure had been in existence since the outset of political history.

The establishment connotes a dominant group or elite that controls a polity or an organisation. It may comprise a closed social group that selects its own members or entrenched elite structures in specific institutions. One can refer to any relatively small class or group of people who can exercise control as The Establishment.

Conversely, in the jargon of sociology, anyone who does not belong to The Establishment may be labelled an outsider. This includes those rising in revolt or rebellions (as opposed to an ‘insider’). Anti-authoritarian/ anti-establishment ideologies question the legitimacy of the establishments, seeing their influence on society as undemocratic.

One function of the establishment during the Cold War era, had been to stem revolutionary ideology. In its modern sense, the term was popularisd by the British journalist, Henry Fairlie, who in September 1955 in the London magazine The Spectator defined the network of prominent, well-connected people as “the Establishment”. He wrote: “By the ‘Establishment’ I do not mean only the centres of official power — though they are certainly part of it — but rather the whole matrix of official and social relations within which power is exercised. The exercise of power in Britain (more specifically, in England) cannot be understood unless it is recognised that it is exercised socially. 

The ways of the establishment