Rising Global Ruling Class Transforming World Economy and Society
Today a rising global ruling class is accumulating unprecedented wealth, not so much from buying labor power and extracting surplus value, but mainly through financial transactions that are increasingly removed from actual production. At the same time, this class is still a capitalist class. It functions within a world where the buying and selling of labor power and the production of value still go on. This rising global ruling class is leading the motion to create a society based on a new form of private property and exploitation. As part of this process, the outlines are becoming clear of the formation of a fascist state imperialism that can operate to guarantee the interests of the capitalist while repressing all who challenge its rule.
The Ruling Class
Revolution is an historical process by which a subordinate class overthrows its ruling class, establishes itself as a new ruling class and creates a new political system to facilitate its interests. It is important to discuss who is the ruling class in order to put the various groupings within it in their proper relationship to one another. We have to identify groups of people by the way they move in society, and what they are capable of doing to alter and change society, as well as by their relationship to the means of production.
The capitalist class is the ruling class. It is the class that owns and controls the means of production. But to rule the capitalists need a circle of people whose job and expertise is to rule. They need this ruling circle because the capitalist class is not united politically. This is not to say that there are two wings of the capitalist class as there were during the Roosevelt period. It means that there are different pulls, ideologies and groupings within the capitalist class.
For example, the banking sector wants high interest rates. Owners of industry want low interest rates. Differences emerged around the Bush administration’s unilateralist, heavily militarized approach. Some billionaires paint Obama as a Nazi and a socialist. Others — Forbes Magazine calls them “Obama’s billionaires” — favor what they consider to be the more “liberal” Democratic Party. Some critique the “excesses” of capitalism, saying wealth must be more equitably distributed. Others say the role of business is only to maximize profits.
Yet not one, regardless of where they make their money, has put forth anything that would in any way disturb the existing property relations. None has or will support the workers whom the system no longer needs. All sectors of the capitalist class are fundamentally united around private property and the new forms of rule that are needed today.
Karl Marx succinctly described these ruling circles when he wrote in the German Ideology, “The executive of the modern state is nothing but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie” In America, these groupings are the leaders of the major political parties, the politicians, major corporations, the intelligentsia, the police, military, judges, among others.
In his July/August 2010 article “America’s Ruling Class — and the Perils of Revolution” published in the conservative magazine The American Spectator, Angelo Codevilla brought Marx’s summation to life:
“The leaders of the Republican and Democratic parties, of major corporations and opinion leaders, stretching from the National Review magazine (and the Wall Street Journal) on the right to The Nation magazine on the left, agreed that spending some $700 billion to buy the investors’ ‘toxic assets’ was the only alternative to the U.S. economy’s ‘systemic collapse.’ In this, President George W. Bush and his would-be Republican successor John McCain agreed with the Democratic candidate, Barack Obama. Many if not most people around them also agreed upon the eventual commitment of some 10 trillion nonexistent dollars. In fact, Republican and Democratic office holders and their retinues show a similar presumption to dominate and have fewer differences in tastes, habits, opinions, and sources of income among one another than between both and the rest of the country. They think, look, and act as a class.”
The New Super Rich
This year, Forbes Magazine tracked an all-time high of 1,226 [U.S. dollar] billionaires in the world with a combined wealth of $4.6 trillion. (Seven years ago there were 447, which shows how rapidly the wealth is being transferred.) There are 10 million millionaires in the world. [It is said that real wealth begins when you have around $10 million.] 59 countries have billionaires. Brazil has 36, Indonesia has 17, Turkey has 34; China has 95, Germany has 55, the United Kingdom has 37, India has 48; Russia has 96, up from 82. The U.S. has 425. Mexico’s Carlos Slim Helu is the richest man in the world with a net worth of $69 billion, slightly down from $72 billion last year. Bill Gates (second richest) has $61 billion, up from $56 billion and Warren Buffet (third richest) has $44 billion. (Forbes Online Magazine, April 12, 2012)
Most billionaires come from wealthy families having made their money in industry, then moving on to investments and speculation. Warren Buffet started with family money, buying stock in Berkshire Hathaway’s insurance operations in 1964 to finance his investments. He is now known globally for his hedge funds and famous “investment strategies.” Others have made their money through the new technology, and then moved on to financial investments and speculation. Bill Gates, who made his money with the computer giant, Microsoft, now makes 70% of his fortune from global investments and speculation. Larry Ellison, sixth on Forbes’ 2012 billionaire list, made his fortune through the software giant, Oracle. He now owns 75 companies worth $40 billion. Over one third of the 57 U.S. billionaires made their fortune through speculative activity, property and the stock market. New wealth has also been made in other ways, such as through privatization in countries like Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union, as well as Latin America, Europe and the U.S.
A New Economy
A new economy is developing around the global rich, and along with it a new level of consumption. A typical U.S. billionaire’s home consists of a several hundred acre spread, a massive mansion, numerous guest cottages each the size of a single family home, and estate grounds landscaped with emerald green grass, fountains, bubbling streams, waterfalls and exotic plants and flowers. These estates include their own full-service spas, often multiple swimming pools, and private golf courses with their own clubhouses.
There is no price limit on their luxuries. They wear jeweled watches costing as much $600,000. They drive Maybachs, the German luxury cars which cost anywhere between $375,000 and $465,000. They willingly pay $400,000 for membership in prestigious golf clubs, and spend hundreds of millions speculating on art. Many own multiple “mega-mansions” throughout the world. They are constantly working to make more money, even while vacationing on their yachts in far corners of the globe. A new sector of highly paid service workers is being created to service the elite. Some billionaires have hundreds of workers servicing their estates. There is even a television channel, Wealth TV, launched in 2004 and distributed around the world, dedicated solely to the lives and interests of the ultra wealthy.
Articles and books document the new character of these global rich. The new millionaires and billionaires “are creating a new social hierarchy built on money and more money rather than breeding and lineage”, Chrystia Freeland wrote in the January/February 2011 Atlantic Monthly article “The New Global Elite”. They “are forming a global community, and their ties to one another are increasingly closer than their ties to hoi polloi back home.”
Robert Frank comes to the same conclusions in his book Richistan. They are becoming “less and less attached to their own countries and more like global citizens of Richistan”, he writes. They “invest around the world, think, live and buy as Richistanis, not as Americans, Indians or Russians.” It matters little to them whether one job is lost in the U.S. when four are created in another country. “I can get [workers] anywhere in the world”, Thomas Wilson, the CEO of the insurance giant AllState told an audience of business leaders in 2010. “It is a problem for America, but it is not necessarily a problem for American businesses. American businesses will adapt.”
The capitalists have the power to reshape the world, and they are using their wealth to do so. Speculators, for example, exert great influence on global economies and politics in the world. Speculators influence oil and gas markets, industrial growth or death, the global stock market, national and local political campaigns, and more. Social venture capital invests in businesses deemed socially and environmentally responsible. Bill Gates, once seen as a modern robber baron, is now the most prominent and active private philanthropist in the world. His foundation, and those of others like him, control billions of dollars. These private funds are used politically throughout the world, attempting to bind the poor to capitalism while creating the basis for greater profits.
The poverty and wealth gap has never been as apparent as it is now, given the potential of abundance made possible by electronics. Worldwide, the richest .5% own over a third of the world’s wealth. On the home front, the U.S. ranks 41st of 135 countries highest in inequality, with greater inequality than in over half of developing countries, including China. Data from tax returns shows that the top 1% of households in the U.S. received 9% of all pre-tax income in 1976. In 2008, the top 1% share had more than doubled to 21%. (See www.incomeinequality.org)
Within this process speculative capital exacerbates the economic instability and thus social and political instability. It accelerates the increasing polarity between wealth and poverty and intensifies the severity of the inevitable global collapse.
The growing economic and social inequality is spelling danger for the ruling class, making the need for fascism a necessity for them. The ruling class cannot continue to allow the growing number of propertyless to make decisions that affect their wealth and privileges. Fascism is already arising economically through the merger of the state and the corporations. The political aspects of fascism are also in place with such laws as “Stand Your Ground” and the National Defense Authorization Act. Along with this is developing a fascist social culture that disregards the cheapening of life and suffering in society, and even accepts murder for anything from the color of a person’s skin to a passing comment.
At the same time, and despite the barrage of lies from the ruling class to disorient them, there is a growing social response to the deepening economic polarization. The middle sector that previously tied workers to the capitalists is being liquidated. Formerly “middle class” children are not only going to bed hungry, they are becoming homeless in rising numbers. Faced with such conditions people are becoming increasingly aware that the country is being run in the interests of the corporations and not the American people as a whole. They are yearning for answers, for solutions. The opportunity to teach about the real source of the problems we face and to present a solution to the problems the American people face has never been greater.
This article originated in Rally, Comrades!
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Rally, Comrades ! May/June 2011