.. oyer, who are the exploiters ? Who makes up the dominant class today ? This question will become clear if we bear in mind there are two ways to move goods in society, by the use of violence, which is the political way, by trade and gifts, which is the economic way. Capitalism is the use of trade and gifts, not the use of politics, to distribute goods in society. All other regimes resort to violence. Marx and Engels emphasize the point themselves.
Feudalism and slavery are based on state coactive powers. The results of their work are simply confiscated from the workers, and if they do not like it and try to escape, policemen and soldiers will drag them back to where they belong, so they may continue to be exploited. Now, is there not a class today, who uses the powers of police and the army to confiscate the results of our labor ? Is there not a class today, who resorts to political constraint to acquire its means of living ? Those who resort to violence today to get their revenues, as the feudal lords did three hundred years ago, are, of course, all state employees. They do not make money in exchange for a service people find useful enough to pay for. State employees simply collect the means they need through the use of violence, coercion, racket, taxes (all these words being synonymous here).
They form the new ruling class. We are the oppressed. So it is obvious, my friends, that the class struggle is not over. We are still face to face with our exploiters, class against class, The mystery is why this exploitation by the ruling class of state employees and their lackeys is not obvious to everyone. How come does it last, how come the vast majority of the population does not become conscious of the oppression it is subjected to? For it is true that most people in Europe do not perceive taxation as robbery and government-imposed regulations and controls as coercion. You meet people nowadays who would take out a gun and shoot a youth who is stealing a cassette player from their car, and these same people allow the taxman to walk away with 50% of what they earn, every month, year after year, during their entire lifetime.
Furthermore, when you assess how much you are robbed by the taxman, it is not just what you pay today that you should take into account, but the compounded value of all what you have paid since the VAT you incurred on your first ever purchase and the income tax on your first salary, plus the opportunity cost of all the projects and desires you could not fulfill with that money because it was taken away from you. Try to figure out what these numbers add up to for yourself, youll be staggered. The Ruling Class Now the first answer to the question of why we allow ourselves to be exploited seems to be that the dominant class does not appear to be the wealthiest in society, and the fact is it is not. So how come they exploit us, if they dont make more money than the richest amongst us ? Some people in the new ruling class may not be rich, it is true, but neither were many slave owners or feudal lords. Many lived no better, even were much poorer, than commoners, who were active in trade and other businesses. It is not the amount of wealth that makes you a member of the ruling class, but the way this wealth, however modest, is acquired.
It is not how much you earn, but how you earn it, that qualifies exploitation. Do you make your money by political means or economical means? Is it earned or is it extorted ? Madonna makes 1,000 times more money than a secretary in the European Union Brussels bureaucracy, but no one is forced to buy Madonna records or attend her concerts. Every single penny, therefore, that Madonna gets is given to her, often enthusiastically, by her fans. Every single penny the EU secretary gets in salary is extorted from taxpayers. I grant you that some people who acquire their revenues through coercion may still render a useful service.
I am sure one finds learned professors in state universities and dedicated practitioners in state hospitals. The feudal lord too offered the services of justice, police and defense to his serfs, the official church provided education and social services. The question is : there is no way to know how much these services offered by state employees are really worth : are they rendered in an optimal fashion ? Do they correspond to the true needs of the people ? Because you are not free to pay for them (and often the provision of these services is a monopoly protected by law), no one can tell how useful the service really is, how much of this service would be needed and at what price. More importantly, the end never justifies the means. As Albert Camus used to say : “A political assassination is not a political act, it is an assassination”; likewise we may say : “Robbing the rich to assist the poor is not assistance, it is robbery”. You can test by yourself how useful a profession is by the way you would like those engaged in it to practice it.
You want an airline pilot, a hairdresser, a lawyer, a cook, a prostitute.., to be hard working, dedicated, and creative in their job, but now think of customs officials. If you have to pay them at all, pay them for doing nothing, you would get better value than paying them for interfering with your affairs. This is how useful these exploiters are to society. I must confess that, among exploiters, I nourish a special aversion for customs officials, and if I may make a pause here, I would like to tell you a story. It is about this tourist who is visiting a foreign city.
He notices a shop, like that of an antique dealer, and a very odd small statue of a cat in the window. The tourist walks in and asks for a price. “The statue is only $100, says the antique dealer, but the story that goes with the statue is $1,000”. “I dont need the story, the tourist shrugs, I want to bring a souvenir home, and this statue will do just fine.” “Ill sell it to you, but believe me, warns the antique dealer, youll soon come back for the story”. The tourist leaves the shop, with the statue in his pocket.
As he is returning to his hotel, he notices a cat is following him. This is unusual. He looks back again, and now four cats are on his tails, and soon twenty cats. The tourist realizes he cannot walk into the hotel with a herd of cats behind him, so, as he was crossing a bridge, he throws the statue into the river. Immediately, the whole army of cats jump from the bridge into the water and drown. Flabbergasted by what happened, the tourist pauses for a long moment ; then he takes a sudden decision and traces his steps back to the shop. The antique dealer wears an indulgent smile : “I see you are already coming back for the story.” “No, replies the tourist, I would like to buy a statue of a customs official.” With the transformation of society, the face of oppression changes to reflect different circumstances.
This is why we dont readily recognize exploitation for what it is. For instance, in most European countries, government bureaucrats are employed for life. It is the rule in France. When a talented young Frenchman is recruited by a state agency, the whole French society finds itself saddled with a legal obligation of 7 to 10 million dollars towards this new employee. This is how much it will cost society on average to fund this persons useless activity from the first pay-check through retirement and until she dies.
This 7 to 10 million dollars is the capital the exploited class is forced to guarantee by law each member of the state exploiters class. And in France, there are more than 5 millions of them, some 20% of the active population. “Drowning By Numbers..” This figure of about 20% of the active population, by the way, is at the high end of the proportion of feudal lords and the official clergy to the total population during medieval times. There seems to be a natural law that prevents the ruling class from growing above that number of 20%. Ecology offers us many examples of such a fixed ratio between exploiters and exploited, between the number of predators and their preys.
Wolves, for instance, feed on caribous. When the wolves population increases, they kill off too many caribous ; they start to go hungry, the weakest starve to death, and their total population settles back to where it was. This analogy tells us there is no difference in nature between socialism and social-democracy. The difference is only in degree. In the USSR, in Cuba and elsewhere, the predators exterminated their preys, at least those who did not manage to flee the country, so the predators ended up starving. Social-democratic states were clever enough not to scare off all the “caribous” and keep enough of them alive, so that the ruling class could prosper.
The environment however is changing before our eyes. Social-democratic economies are not growing as steadily as they did, and joining the predators class is seen as the short and safe way to make a living. Families want their daughters to land a job at a Ministry, farmers demand subsidies, industrialists beg for tariff protections, the elderly want higher pensions.. Every dominant class throughout history faced this demand from outsiders to participate in the loot. At first, the exploiters found ways to restrict entry. For instance, participation in the class of feudal lords came by birth only. But sooner or later, the dominant class had to give in to allies and dependants pressure.
Athens had to integrate its meteques, its resident aliens ; too many colonials became Roman citizens (think of the Apostle Paul) ; in France, under Louis XV, as state coffers were emptying, the King was simply auctioning off access to the noble ranks.. The present ruling class is even more vulnerable. It finds it impossible to restrain the number of predators, as new entries are conferred not by birth, but by an exam. This method of selecting predators on the basis of expertise was what the Enlightenment considered its highest achievement : “La carrire ouverte aux talents.” Not the scions of ancient families, but the ablest citizens, whatever their social origin, would rule the country. Of course, these new rulers, as they became in charge of public education, would make sure the curriculum would favour their own kin. You seldom see an ambassadors son working on a factory line, and they are not many factory workers sons who make it to an ambassadorship.
It is a defining characteristic of a ruling class that it perpetuates itself through generations. The problem for the present ruling class, however, as Marx anticipated, is again technological innovation. As the economy evolves from the Machine Age to the Information Age, it requires better qualified people, not illiterate factory line workers. Information Age workers are people who have the capacity to pass all the barriers for admission into the ruling class. So the number of predators is swelling. It is the ruling class “internal contradiction.” Democracy Of course, this is not the only problem the exploiting class is facing.
Its other worry is that the ideology which comforts its legitimacy, the Enlightenment philosophy, also supports the political regime known as democracy. Democracys perversity is that it turns all of us into accomplices of the violence exerted against society. We accept this violence inasmuch as we hope to become the oppressors ourselves. In a feudal society, it is clear who the oppressors are, and who are the victims, because you are born into one camp or into the other, as I was mentioning earlier. You are born a slave or a serf, and all your life, you remain an innocent victim of your oppressors. Democratic society blurs this line between villains and victims.
It gives everyone an easy chance to take part in oppression. Every time we cast our vote, we are signifying that we wish to take control over part of the population, that we want to impose upon these men and women our ideas and values and we want to extort from them the financial means to achieve our own goals. Democracy is the system that perverts every individuals soul and turns every man and woman into a racketeer. With the conjunction of democratic racketeering and an inflating ruling class, the burden on the exploited masses is getting unbearable. Exploitation is naked and brutish. Even ideology soon will not be able to explain away why we are ransomed.
The Big Lie Yet the ruling class ideology has done a good job so far, when you think of it. It made us believe that without the state, roads would not be built, the poor would agonise in the streets, hospitals would not be funded, and no one would write theatre plays any more.. On radio and television channels, in the newspapers, at schools and in universities, at churches, everywhere, we are told that democracy is the only viable regime ; that “social justice” is the common good ; that it is morally acceptable to coerce any individual if it is for the good of the collective ; that the end justifies the means ; that there are experts up there in government, who are taking care of our well-being, who know better than we do what is good for us, if only we would let them.. Conservative ideologues maintain that class struggle does not exist any longer, we are all middle-class now.. Leftist ideologues still believe in this idea that we are exploited, but exploitation, they say, comes from the rich, from multinationals, from Wall Street financiers and Swiss bankers.. No one ever mentions that the exploiters are the state bureaucracy and its lackeys, the military-industrial complex, subsidised farmers and industrialists.., living off funds extorted from the productive masses. Such blindness is amazing.
On my left, you have a class of people with guns. They run the army, the police, justice, they control the media through broadcasting licenses, they exert censorship. All the means at their disposal come from taxation, your revenues and savings extorted literally at gun point. On my right, you have multinationals and small entrepreneurs, productive workers and creators.. They bring you the food you consume, they build your houses, they connect you to telephone networks and television channels, they supply you with clothes, they manufacture your automobiles and your computers ; they are so afraid that you would stop buying their goods, which you can do at any time, that they spend zillions advertising them on glossy paper and video clips.
Now, who are the exploiters ? The people with guns, right, the people who dont offer you anything you wish to have, or they would have no need to confiscate your money in order to produce it, the extortionists ? Wrong. The exploiters are the capitalists. Isnt a feat of genius on the ideologues part that they have us believe the exploiters are the producers, the creators, the providers, of the goods you enjoy to buy ? The bigger a lie, the more faithfully it is believed. In a Franois Truffaut film, there is this schoolboy who arrives late in class. He knows the teacher wont believe any story about trains running late, bus accidents, and the usual excuses.
So he makes a sad face and declares : “My mother just died”. The whole school assembles immediately and offers sympathy ; no one suspects this tragic death could be a lie. Political lies have to be so gross as to be believed.