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Regime change – past, present, and future
Regime change & elite groups
In any society, some groups of people have more discretionary power over the affairs of society than do other groups. In our society, for example, factory owners have more discretionary power than factory workers, and those who write the laws have more discretionary power than individual voters do.
How much discretionary power a group exercises depends on the roles the members of the group play in society, and it also depends on how coherent the group is. An unorganized group of factory workers has very little power, while a well-organized worker’s union may be able to secure better pay and working conditions. An individual factory owner’s power is localized to the factory’s business operations, while a well-organized manufacturer’s association may be able to exercise power on a broader scale, lobbing for new laws, engaging in price fixing, establishing cartel agreements, etc.
When there is a relatively small and coherent group that exercises considerable power over the affairs of society, that is an elite group. If such a group has decisive influence in guiding the general course of a society, that is a ruling elite. Before the republican regime changes mentioned in the previous section, it is easy to recognize the ruling elites involved: the top aristocratic families, and in particular the King and the Tsar.
In the case of the Soviet republic, it is easy for us to see that a Bolshevik clique hijacked the regime change, and that the Politburo became a new ruling elite, with Soviet citizens having no more power in society than subjects did under the Tsar. It is easy to see through other people’s mythologies, to see the mote in other people’s eyes.
Immersed as we are in our own mythology, and conditioned by state-serving schools and media, we are less aware of the reality behind our own myths – of the decisive roles played by elite groups before and during our own historic regime change, and the the roles played by such groups within the new regime.
History has repeatedly demonstrated, however, that regime changes always amount to a transfer of power from one ruling elite to another. Truly egalitarian societies have been a very rare breed, if they have existed at all, among civilized societies. (to civilize = to domesticate: the missionaries and soldiers civilized the surviving natives)
As I mentioned above, the colonies had been left alone to run their own affairs, and they made a very good job of it. Boston was the third busiest port in the empire. Those who did the running were the local aristocracy, who owned most of the land and had most of the wealth. Among these colonial elites were people who had their own reasons for wanting independence, reasons that had nothing to do with empowering ordinary citizens.
These folks were players in global markets; they knew they could do better without the restrictions placed on the colonies by the Crown, and they had their eyes on the continent spread out before them. Independence would mean the colonies could expand westward; the resources of a continent would be up for grabs. It was not just a new nation they envisioned. They were thinking in terms of a new imperial power, which is indeed how things turned out.
The movement for independence began among colonial elites, and the leaders of this initiative are the ones we refer to as the ‘Founding Fathers’. They had been doing their best to stir up revolutionary sentiment, with the anti-stamp-tax campaign, the Boston Tea Party, the slogan ‘no taxation without representation’, etc. They had some support among colonial elites, and some support among the populace, but not enough to get things moving. Only after Common Sense was published did a critical mass in support of independence finally materialize.
The rabble had been roused, so to speak, but the rallying cry was not just about independence, it was about government by and for the people. They wanted liberation from colonial elites as well as from royal elites. In order to ride the wave of this sentiment, the Founding Father’s promised, in their Declaration of Independence, all the things Paine talked about. The people would be able to change their government any time they saw fit, so it said. The promises matched the new republican mythology, but the reality was to be something quite different.
When independence was achieved, each of the thirteen colonies became a sovereign republic, bound to the others by the Articles of Confederation, under the leadership of the same elites that ran the colonies and led the revolution. This arrangement turned out to be too democratic, from the perspective of those who were dreaming of empire. A new movement was started, to ‘amend’ the Articles, and the Constitutional Convention was convened.
This convention of colonial elites was held in secret, and the new Constitution was designed so as to cure the problem of excess democracy, and ensure that the ‘better people’ could steer the course of the new nation. James Madison said as much in his contributions to the Federalist Papers. The promises made in the Declaration were abandoned, and the Bill of Rights was tacked on only because some of the states refused to ratify the Constitution without guarantees against the abuse of state power.
Nothing was said in the Constitution about political parties. The implication was that each constituency would elect someone to represent their interests. But already when the first election was held, the elites had formed two parties, and ever since then the party system has dominated the political process. Elites run the parties, the parties put forward the candidates, and the resulting government serves the interests of the elites.
I’ve oversimplified a bit, and there have been exceptional episodes (eg JFK), but that’s essentially the way the system works. Rather than policy being based on the ‘will of the citizenry’, the politicians, assisted by the media, do their best to bring public opinion into alignment with the polices they are implementing on behalf of their sponsors. As in the Soviet case, the reality in the US is quite different than republican mythology would have us believe.
While the Soviets had a relatively monolithic elite, American history has seen struggles among elites, and a number of what we might call incremental regime changes. The Civil War, for example, was not fought to free the slaves, rather it was a struggle between northern elites and southern elites over trade policy. The south wanted to continue with free trade, which made for very profitable cotton exports, and the north wanted tariffs, to facilitate industrialization. Industrialization won, and the regime shifted: the elites in the industrial northeast rose to the ascendency.
With the possible exception of the Civil War, the most significant incremental regime change in American history was the creation of the Federal Reserve in 1913. A considerable amount of skullduggery was required to bring that about, including a manufactured banking crisis, a President beholden to his sponsors, and a bill introduced when most of Congress was on Christmas break. The outcome was the ascendency of one particular elite group to the status of ruling elite: the central banking families who own the Fed. The nation has danced to their tune and fought in their orchestrated wars ever since.
It is a testament to the power of propaganda that people still believe in the republican mythology. The myth is sustained not only by the rhetoric of politicians, but by the stories told in history books, the spin and selectivity of news news, and the content of TV and movie entertainment. Even when corruption is being exposed, it’s always by rogues, and in the end we see integrity restored. On the screen ‘the system’ always works in the end; in reality it’s an entirely different kind of system that’s operating. It’s not that democracy has faults; it’s that democracy has never been tried.
At a micro level, with propaganda, we see stories being played out in a certain way. At a macro level, we are seeing the systematic maintenance of a mythological view of the world, and how it got that way. Once established, a society’s mythology becomes largely self-propagating, as everyone is taught it as they grow up. ‘History’ sets the foundation, and daily propaganda keeps the myth fresh.
Every human society has always had a mythology that ‘explains’ why the society operates in the way it does. It’s a basic need of humans, to be able to make sense of their environment. Even if presented with contrary evidence, people will tend to reject it, because if the myth is fundamentally a lie, they fear their whole world would collapse.
What I’ve been saying here is well known to those who craft propaganda, and well known to the elites who set the course of society. When a regime change is undertaken these days, be it minor or major, there is always a well-promoted shift in mythology to go with it. As we saw when Reagan and Thatcher came in, bringing with them the myth of ‘less government is better’, to mask the ascendency of corporate power and the introduction of the globalization project (and in fact government didn’t get smaller but got bigger).
Regime change & the end of capitalism