This is a struggle for power.

“[D]espite their misgivings, conservatives have reconciled themselves to capitalism because the expansion of the market has also meant the growth of the private sphere of domination and control. . . . [C]onservatism is about the freedom and ability of some people to dominate, control, and extract from others, which capitalist inequality and hierarchy make possible.”
Peter Kolozi

The United States is a plutocracy. But ultimately that means oligarchy. The reason that the wealthy rule is because wealth is power. I would clarify a point, though. Wealth isn’t limited to direct power over the masses for it also allows the wealthy to control all aspects of society, even those not directly related to wealth.

The plutocrats aren’t powerful merely because of wealth. It is that they are part of a ruling elite that works together to shut out everyone else, to exclude the majority not just from wealth but more importantly from power. This means maintaining their control of privileges and resources, by controlling the system of politics, economics, media, and education.

This is why the United States is such a brutally oppressive society. Much of what the ruling elite does comes at great costs to themselves, although at even greater costs to everyone else, which is the point in always ensuring others are harmed more. First and foremost, the purpose is social control. Wealth is a means to that end, but there are many other means to that end: military imperialism, police-intelligence state, mass incarceration, media propaganda, and much else.

It’s not so much class war, in the simple sense. “This is a struggle for power,” as Caitlin Johnstone makes clear in the piece below. And at present most Americans are losing the fight. This isn’t a metaphor. Millions of Americans are victims — locked away or otherwise trapped in the legal system, struggling in poverty and homelessness, sick and dying because lack of healthcare. Millions more are barely getting by and, out of fear, kept in their place as slaves to the system. The power and its consequences are concretely and viscerally real.

It is a war with growing numbers of casualties. But if the American public could realize the power that exists in numbers, it could instead become a revolution.

On a related note, thoughts along these lines lead straight to issues of inequality. As with oligarchy, inequality isn’t only about who has most of the wealth. As a divide in wealth indicates a divide in power, what this means is a divide in political membership and representation. It becomes harder for most Americans to participate in politics, partly because they don’t have the time or money to participate.

It requires ever larger amounts of wealth and resources, not to mention crony connections, to engage a successful campaign. And for those who do get elected, they do so either by belonging to the oligarchy or by becoming indebted to the oligarchy. This is why, as Johnstone points out, studies have shown that politicians mostly do whatever the rich want them to do.

As the rich gain greater power, they gain greater leverage to take even more power. It’s a cycle that has only one end point, total authoritarianism. That is, unless we the public stop it.

Some ask why does it matter that an elite has more money than everyone else. What an unbelievably naive question that is. To anyone who is confused on the issue, I’d suggest that they simply open their eyes.

* * *

The Real Reason The Elites Keep Killing Single-Payer
by Caitlin Johnstone

The word “oligarchy” gets thrown around a lot in progressive discourse, usually to highlight the problem of money in politics, but not many people seem to really settle in and grapple with the hefty implications of what that word actually means. If you say that America is an oligarchy (and it certainly is, which we’ll get to in a second), you’re not merely saying that there is too much money in US politics or that the wealthy have an unfair amount of power in America. Per definition, you are saying that a small class of elites rule over you and your nation, like a king rules over his kingdom.

You’ve studied history, in school if nowhere else. How often have you read about kings voluntarily relinquishing their thrones and handing power to their subjects out of the goodness of their hearts? Once someone makes it to the very top of a society, how often have you known them to eagerly step down from that power position in order to give the people self-rule?

This isn’t about money, this is about power. The wealthiest of the wealthy in America haven’t been doing everything they can to stave off universal healthcare and economic justice in order to save a few million dollars. They haven’t been fighting to keep you poor because they are money hoarders and they can’t bare to part with a single penny from their trove. It’s so much more sinister than that: the goal isn’t to keep you from making the plutocrats a little less wealthy, the goal is to keep you from having any wealth of your own.

Power is intrinsically relative: it only exists in relation to the amount of power that other people have or don’t have. If we all have the same amount of government power, then none of us has any power over the other. If, however, I can figure out a way to manipulate the system into giving me 25 percent more governmental power than anyone else, power has now entered into the equation, and I have an edge over everyone else that I can use to my advantage. But that edge only exists due to the fact that you’re all 25 percent less powerful than I am. If you all become five percent more powerful, my power is instantly diminished by that much, in the same way a schoolyard bully would no longer enjoy the same amount of dominance if everyone at school suddenly grew five percent bigger and stronger.

Here’s where I’m going with all this: the ruling elites have set up a system where wealth equals power. In order for them to rule, in order for them to enjoy the power of kings, they necessarily need to keep the general public from wealth. Not so that they can have a little more money for themselves in case they want to buy a few extra private jets or whatever, but because their power is built upon your lack of power. By keeping you from having a few thousand extra dollars of spending money throughout the year, they guarantee that you and your fellow citizens won’t pool that extra money toward challenging their power in the wealth-equals-power paradigm that they’ve set up for themselves. […]

You can see, then, why the oligarchs must resist socialism and populism tooth and claw. You can see why their media propaganda outlets are so ferociously dedicated to tearing down any sincere attempt to fight the Walmart economy or allow an inch of ground to be gained in bringing any economic power to ordinary Americans. By asking for economic justice, you may think that you are simply asking for a small slice of the enormous pie the billionaire class could never hope to eat in a single lifetime, but what you are actually doing is asking for their crown, their throne and their scepter. You are making yourself a direct existential threat to their dynasty.

This is why they fought so hard to stomp out the Sanders movement. It wasn’t that Sanders himself was a threat to them, it’s that a large group of the unwashed masses was pooling their wealth together and leaping over seemingly insurmountable obstacles using nothing but tiny $27 donations as fuel. Imagine if Americans had more disposable income to invest in a better future for their kids by pointing it at changing America’s political landscape? Imagine a populist movement where Americans pushing for economic justice can suddenly all afford to pool a bunch of $270 donations to support a beloved candidate or agenda? Or $2,700? Under the current money-equals-power paradigm, the will of the people would become unstoppable, and the US power establishment would be forced to reshape itself in a way that benefits the people instead of benefitting a few billionaires.

* * *

Basalat Raja, Jun 24

This is why you will find them behaving in ways that are opposite to their “direct interests” — if you assume that their “direct interests” are making more money. A prosperous middle class will make the rich even richer, because more of us will be able to buy the products from the companies that they own large amounts of shares in, leading to more profits for those companies, and obviously, lifting share prices, making them richer.

But that means less control, since economically contented people are harder to herd. If you have a decent job and a decent house, it’s harder to tell you that Mexicans/Muslims/Russians/gays/etc. have stolen your job, etc.

8 thoughts on “This is a struggle for power.

    • That is a good review and analysis. I do appreciate a historical approach. But it would have been nice for it to have been grounded in more concrete details and data. The reviewer is mostly making an argument on the level of rhetoric in what makes it attractive, persuasive, and effective. And in doing so, he makes many useful points. I generally agree with the reviewer, although not on all points.

      “The argument meshes well with the theme of Corey Robin’s The Reactionary Mind, which makes sense given that Kolozi was Robin’s student.”

      I may have heard of Kolozi before. I’m not sure. I recall that one of Robin’s students was writing a book. Maybe this is that person. I do appreciate Robin’s perspective. I migh check out Kolozi’s book sometime.

      “But if both books are correct that conservatism and reaction are one and the same, what has made conservatism so appealing to so many for so long?”

      That is a key question. Robin went pretty far in answering it. But his book on the topic wasn’t as systematic of an analysis as it could have been. And I always wished that Robin or someone else would explore the relevance of the reactionary mind to liberalism, in terms of the twin nature of liberalism and conservatism. As I see it, conservatism is one variety of liberalism. And both of these are shackled to the reactionary mind, the shackles being what rattles whenever radicalism asserts itself.

      “One possibility is that conservatives always figure they are the elites who stand to benefit from such hierarchies. They are rich and white, or cis and able-bodied. This is true as far as it goes, but it still does not fully explain the millions of women who vote for misogynistic men or poor and working-class conservatives who vote Republican. Nor does it explain the mass attraction to the white ruling class in the South or the celebrity status of an arch aristocrat like Theodore Roosevelt or an arch plutocrat like Donald Trump.”

      I’d clarify the issue. Most Americans aren’t particularly informed or involved in politics. The majority doesn’t even consistently vote in elections. When the average American does vote, it is typically in line with however other people they know are voting — their family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, fellow church congregants, etc. This behavior isn’t so much reactionary as mindlessly social in nature. It’s not as if public education and mass media leaves the public all that well informed, even if when individuals escape the worst disinfo and manipulations which is rare. There really is no celebrity status toward Theodore Roosevelt, at least not among the general public, as few Americans at this point could say much about. him. As for Trump, he is an artificially created product of corporate media, what gets fed to the viewing public as part of spectacle and distraction.

      “Another possibility is that consolidated media, unequal education, voter suppression, gerrymandering, the undemocratic nature of the Senate and the Electoral College, and the party duopoly distort the relationship between what people want and who or what they support (assuming they are given the opportunity to support anyone or anything). That is, in a capitalist society, nothing is what it seems and few know what they are truly buying or selling (assuming they are given the opportunity to buy or sell).”

      That is my perspective. It’s hard to argue against this conclusion. I’m not sure how any informed person can take capitalist society at face value. That seems to be a central point made even by this reviewer.

      “This too offers a feasible if not fulfilling answer. Still, if it were entirely accurate, there would be no hope for progressive change, since a coherent left project cannot be built on wholly shapeless, treacherous ground. The level of collective trust required to build a better world presumes some level of confidence in the capacity to make that world, as well as some level of correspondence between belief and reality.”

      I’m not sure why it matters if it is fulfilling or not. The entire situation we find ourselves in isn’t fulfilling. That is the problem. There very well may be no hope for progressive change, that is to say gradual or partial reform from within the system. And this is why we have to look to radical and revolutionary change. I wonder why that possibility doesn’t occur to the reviewer. Trust can’t be presumed for that would lead to false confidence and failure. Instead, the foundation of trust has to be rebuilt. That is hard work, but there is no other choice. If we don’t like the reality we find ourselves in, then we need to go about making another reality possible.

      “This leaves us with a third possibility. Maybe there are things genuinely alluring about what conservatives have to say, and that these things allure regardless of one’s place in any hierarchy or society of the spectacle.”

      That goes without saying. Conservatives, as reactionaries, will do or say almost anything to persuade. By Robin’s definition, that is what makes them reactionaries. Much of their rhetoric and tactics were originally co-opted from earlier liberals and leftists. The power of reactionaries isn’t any specific thing they do or say, but the fact that they are willing to do or say anything to achieve their goal of rigid hierarchy. Liberals don’t need to borrow from reactionaries. They simply have to let reactionaries remind them of the earlier liberals and leftists who they co-opted from. From Thomas Paine to Adam Smith, there have been many non-reactionaries on the political left who in the past made similar arguments that reactionaries make now. We on the political left simply have to remember our own history, something we forgot because of the success of reactionaries co-opting it.

      “Social psychologists like Jonathan Haidt have been pushing this message for quite a while now, although they usually anchor their findings to static personality traits like authoritarian or rigid moral dichotomies like sanctity and degradation. But what if people are both susceptible to conservative ideas and more capable of changing their minds than some of these psychologists let on? What does that mean for the act of doing politics, specifically for leftists?”

      Haidt is a clear example of a clueless liberal. He is already halfway to becoming a reactionary conervative. We certainly aren’t going to find much insight from the likes of him. The initial question is good, but the first part could use some rephrasing: But what if a purposely un-/mis-/disinformed population is both susceptible to reactionaries who will persuasively say or do anything to gain power, from lying to the public to destroying democracy, and …? And with that rephrasing, the question following it is made even more important.

  1. We seem to be at the point where the GOP is about to pass another series of big tax cuts for the rich.

    It looks like they are doubling down on this. The question is, when will the backlash begin? How will it begin?

    • The backlash, as I see it, has already begun. But the ruling elite have so much power that it will take a while for the backlash to gain momentum and find leverage. I do know this much. The backlash will at least a generation and maybe multiple generations.

      I also suspect that this backlash will be far worse than anything else seen in recent Western history because it is going to force a global realignment. Western empires have been the leading global superpowers for centuries. That might not be the case in the near future. The American ruling elite are gambling everything. They are going for a strategy of total victory or total loss. Considering the conditions, the latter outcome is near inevitable.

      I couldn’t predict who might be the winner, though, assuming anyone ends up better off than before. It’s possible that the entire modern era across the world is in a slow decline that might take centuries before ending, as happened with the late Bronze Age and late feudalism. The demise of the American Empire might just be the canary in the coal mine. This could be the end of the age of imperialism.

    • A revolution could happen on the far right or the far left. The question is, can there be another Roosevelt, or ideally someone a lot further to the left?

      • Both Roosevelts maintained and strengthened American imperialism. They did so by lessening social divides in seeking concessions and compromise involving the lower and upper classes. The present American ruling elite may not have the capacity or even the desire to preserve the imperial order. The ruling elite in the past were typically economic nationalists and ethno-nationalists, but that is no longer the case. Instead, the ruling elite have increasingly become transnational corporatists with no national loyalty, patriotism, or noblesse oblige.

        Many of them don’t care if the American Empire collapses or they think they don’t care or maybe they just never give it any thought. It seems that, unlike earlier times, the present ruling elite in the US no longer assumes their interests are aligned with and their fate intertwined with the American Empire. They act like they are untouchable, as if there will never be any personal or financial consequences. That is what is different this time around. And that is why, without any Roosevelt-like presidency, there appears to be no way to avoid revolution.

        The ruling elite used to have a healthy fear of revolution. But now the ruling elite acts like its power is absolute. The modern intelligence and police state has given them false confidence. No ruling elite has ever before held this much power nor wielded such an effect system of social control and propaganda. On the other hand, there never before has been a political system so globally connected. The social order is a lot more vulnerable and precarious than many realize. When one part of it goes down, the whole thing might be pulled down.

        Then other concerns arise. Can we manage a softer landing? What might replace our present system? And who will gain power?

  2. Yes it may be that the elite are ever more divorced from the rest of us. They see themselves as world citizens and their loyalty is to their bank account above all else.

    It may be that they are in looting mode right now. They may see the US as something in terminal decline, to be looted as much as possible before it collapses.

    No, they will likely block any Roosevelts. Sanders was the closest that we saw to a Roosevelt and he had relatively mild reforms compared to what was desperately needed. They blocked him from ever having a serious chance.

    I’m not sure about the soft landing. The rich do act invulnerable …. hmm, it is an interesting question.

    • The Roosevelts had immense leverage. There was obvious instability at the time. And there were powerful left-wing and labor movements that went beyond any single country. If progressive reform was denied, the communists were in the position to take advantage of the glaring political and economic failure that was severely harming so many people.

      Also, international terrorism was going on that went far beyond what we’ve seen lately. There were many assassination attempts of powerful men, quite a few of them were successful assassinations including a US president along with, in other countries, aristocrats and kings. Also, there had been social and political tumult going on all over the world, particularly in North America and Europe. Progressive leaders and reformers at the time were able to use the compelling threat of revolutions, coups, mobs, assassinations, and violence in general to keep the ruling elite in line and getting them on board for reforms.

      Sanders didn’t have that kind of leverage. You might think that recent shootings, including of politicians, would make the ruling elite more cautious. But so far no member of the American ruling elite has been killed. And so far no Western government has been overthrown. That might change, though, in the near future. Still, it will have to get much worse before positive change is possible. The problem is that, by the time it gets bad enough, it might be too late for positive change. When things get that bad, all bets are off. It is what can make the difference between peaceful reforms as happened during the New Deal and the violent revolutions as happened in early America, France, Haiti, Russia, and China. At that point, anything can follow with no way to predict or control the results and consequences.

      I was talking to a friend the other day. She is a struggling small business owner and has had a long time interest in the economy. We were discussing the anti-competitive nature of our present system. It’s nearly impossible for small businesses to make a profit. Even mid-sized corporations are struggling because of the anti-competitive tactics and political power of the transnational corporations. Corporations like Amazon are destroying their competition and cannibalizing them. That is because they can avoid taxes and price gouge, especially as Amazon hasn’t made a profit in about two decades. I realized that maybe such corporations aren’t really businesses in the normal sense. Instead, these corporations are political tools and weapons being used to control the entire economic and political system.

      The manipulations might be more of a short term strategy, though. These corporatists probably have little concern about anything beyond their own lifetime, maybe not even concern for what happens to their own children and grandchildren. Quite a few of these economic elites are psychopaths and sociopaths who don’t think like normal people. What occurred to me is that they likely don’t even care about their own businesses. Jeff Bezos maybe is never planning on Amazon making a profit. He is simply redirecting assets to avoid taxes which can be funneled into tax havens. At some point, Bezos might let Amazon collapse by taking his loot and leaving Americans to deal with the externalized costs. It might be a false assumption to think that Bezos self-interest is actually or primarily business-related. Ultimately, such self-interest is about wealth and power, in any way that it can be gained. Once gained, the means of gaining it can be discarded.

      There is absolutely nothing stopping the economic elites from doing this and, in fact, our system incentivizes this kind of self-serving and destructive behavior. But what kind of society is so suicidal as to allow the economic elite to act in this way? And why is there so little discussion of this?

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