Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Lukács

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Blair and the Power Elite

I am still trying to digest the news that Tony Blair, while still no doubt devoted to his 'civilising mission' bringing peace to the Middle East, thinks things are going so well in that arena that he has time to take a part-time job at US investment bank JP Morgan. 'I have always been interested in commerce' he told the Financial Times. That is the kind of expertise which gets you a salary of $1m (£500,000) a year at an investment bank apparently.

I suppose I should try to hurl some sort of insult such as 'corporate cock-sucking bastard' or perhaps, with a nod to cockney rhyming slang, trying to think of things which might rhyme with 'investment banker'. However, this blog is always very refined and serious in its analysis and would never stoop to such lows. I have, however, always thought that Blair was 'a bit of a banker'. Anyway, the best background reading on understanding just why Blair, still a member of the Labour Party, might well get such a job can perhaps be found in the most recent edition of Variant magazine, in an article reviewing the work of the American sociologist C Wright Mills by John Barker, in particular Mill's 1956 book The Power Elite.

Blair is apparently going to offer the bank 'strategic advice and insight on global political issues and emerging trends'. He can do this arguably because he is such a representative member of the new power elite, where state power and corporate power have become more intertwined than ever under militarised neo-liberalism. Mills pointed to the ‘military definition of reality’, and so as Barker shows took apart 'the self-idealization in which a free and independent capitalism chafes at the hindrances and costs of the state.' As Barker continues:

The reality of revolving doors shows in graphic style how the anti-statist ideology of this neoliberalism is disproved by its political, economic and financial dependencies on the state, whether it be military contracts or central bank rescues. The existence of a ‘global power elite’ as represented by Peter Sutherland for example, the idea of which has got US ultra-nationalists like Samuel Huntington into hysterical mode, implies a different set of revolving doors. Even so, Sutherland sat on the board of ABB with the militarist and nationalist Donald Rumsfeld. This is not to argue against the existence of a global capitalist class, or capitalism as a global mode of production, but to point to the flimsiness of neoliberal ideology. Equally, individuals are replaceable and scandal by itself changes nothing, but individuals of the power elite, both singly and collectively, are responsible for decisions which have consequences not for themselves but for millions of other people of whose lives they know nothing. They have never sat in waiting rooms, stood in queues, or gone hungry. Such basic but unstated apartheid is integral to the power elite’s irresponsibility and unctuous inhumanity? Certainly, in the world of geopolitics this is what is nailed down in an exceptional newspaper article by former diplomat Carne Ross. Talking from bitter experience he describes the filtering of information to a very small group of decision-makers: "They make decisions based on abstractions many removes distant from reality. Even on the ground, the strictures of security prevent diplomats from all but the briefest contact with the everyday reality of Afghans and Iraqis."

Thomas Pynchon’s fictional Mason in the novel Mason & Dixon warns 18th century Americans against the dangerous English ruling class who amongst other things, "will not admit to error." A minimum requirement of bourgeois democracy is that it should have the strength to prevent its leaders from making stupid and murderous decisions. When it came to the US-UK invasion of Iraq it failed to do the job. For the many considered and intelligent people who opposed the war, this has been a demoralising experience. Though there is a crowded bandwagon of wise-after-the-eventers, these, like the armchair Spartan Richard Perle, don’t take any responsibility for what happened, standing by the invasion decision. There have been no admissions of error from its cheerleaders. ‘Star’ political writer of The Observer, Andrew Rawnsley, on 26th January 2003 praised Tony Blair for not ‘pandering’ to anti-war public opinion – pandering in other words to the stupid masses. At the 2006 Labour Party Conference, Blair himself said: "The British people will, sometimes, forgive a wrong decision. They won’t forgive not deciding." This is the elite-speak of the political class in a representative democracy that has been hollowed out to such a degree that there is no need even for the pretence of a popular sovereignty. Blair’s sheer cheek is hard to match. Rawnsley, who one would have thought would have had the good grace to shut up, thought it a "masterclass." This fetishizing of the power elite leadership, which has a long proto-fascist and corporatist linage, is truly scary stuff.



At 12:21 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, very good. Although, if you do eventually go in for cheap insults I'll offer you "Tony Blair is prefab-rictus zombie-whorebeast".

At 4:48 am, Blogger blackstone said...

Another book i suggest is Who Rules America by G. William Domhoff. Even though, this study is on America, the class dominance theory can be used on the UK as well, in terms of the corporate community, policy making organizations and the upper class, combine to form the power elite and how the power elite in terms dominates government.


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