Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Oligarchy and freedom - a brief note

The American dictionary Merriam-Webster defines ‘oligarchy’ as: “1) government by the few; 2) a government in which a small group exercises control especially for corrupt and selfish purposes, also a group exercising such control; 3) an organization under oligarchic control.” As examples it gives: “Their nation is an oligarchy”, “An oligarchy rules their nation”, and “The corporation is ruled by oligarchy”.

Why do we consistently and persistently refer to ‘Russian oligarchs’ but Western ‘CEOs’?

Any structure or system in which power devolves upwards is an oligarchy by the definition above. Even our ‘democracies’ in countries like the USA and Great Britain, even with American ‘checks and balances’, even with British ‘supremacy of parliament’, even with the presence on our active political stage of maverick representatives who try to keep alive in their minds that they are there to serve the people who voted for them, even with the consensual act of the electorate’s placing an ‘X’ on a piece of paper, even with the prospect of governments coming and going every few years, power nevertheless devolves upwards into the hands of fewer and fewer people – a ‘political class’, a handful of political oligarchs.

I know the above is arguable at best, but what I submit is not arguable is my assertion that capitalist corporations are oligarchies. I have said before that corporations are the least accountable structures since medieval feudalism (the notion that they are somehow ‘accountable’ to consumers is laughably disingenuous). So why not call a spade a spade. Rupert Murdoch, just to give an example, is an oligarch.

Our laws keep these oligarchies in place. Our political constitutions support the upward devolution of political power. Our civil and criminal laws though having a social component are broadly oriented towards the defence of whatever is proprietary. If we desire freedom, if we desire liberty, especially if we want to wrest those words back from people who champion political or economic oligarchy then – will we, nill we – we are going to bark our shins on these laws.

The following linked video is forty-eight minutes of lucid wisdom from the late Murray Bookchin on the subject ‘forms of freedom’, in which he expounds succinctly the democratic structures and movements, mostly suppressed from our history/ies, from which we can learn and from which we can draw inspiration in our drive to achieve real freedom. The lecture was given in 1985.

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