The statement by German President, Joachim Gauck, (August 2016) that; “The elites are not the problem, it’s the people who are the problem”, reveals far more than perhaps was intended. Indeed, it is worth considering this opinion in a much wider context. This reactionary outburst was asserted in relation to the millions of German nationals who are increasingly opposed to the current levels of immigration. However, this arrogant attitude is symptomatic of a much broader characteristic demonstrated by the political and economic elites the world over. From the perspective of the economic and political elites, the people are always the problem when they do not agree with or follow their suggestions or dictates. This symptom applies to all elites, whether of the left, centre or right wing inclinations. When they are allowed to vote, people are capable of voting the ‘wrong’ (sic) way – according to the elite mentality.
For example, after the result of the Brexit vote in the UK, many pro-European politicians, economists, academics, pundits and commentators considered that the problem lay with the millions who voted against their wishes. These Brexit voting people were alleged to be ill informed, racist or just not capable of being rational. In the USA, the people who are supporting the elite loose cannon Donald Trump are likewise being characterised by the dominant media outlets as racist, or insufficiently intelligent to know any better. The people really are becoming a serious problem for the economic, financial and political elites the world over. This same elite attitude was also revealed not too long ago when the people of Greece massively voted against Brussels proposals for austerity. The Greek people were seen by the Brussels elite as causing a problem, not the political elite who created the sovereign debt issue by reckless borrowing and the finincial elite by their aggressive lending.
These three recent examples make clear that from the perspective of the elites, the ‘people are the problem’. This is especially so if they object to the way the current neo-liberal phase of the capitalist mode of production is being administered. In the advanced countries, when the people demonstrate or ‘occupy’ to protest they are considered such a problem that they are pepper sprayed, kettled, arrested and injured. In less advanced countries people who protest against elite corruption are incarcerated, tortured, assassinated or simply disappear. During the 20th century, the Bolshevised and Stalinised elites of Russia and China etc., despite a rhetoric of concern for the oppressed, still treated millions of working people as a problem requiring, torture, incarceration and assassination to get them to ‘toe the (Party) line’. For elites the world over, the manifold problems infecting and effecting the modern world are never caused by themselves or the system they uphold – it is always the people!
So the contemporary response of blaming the victims by the elites is nothing new. The 20th and 21st centuries are full of such examples. In the UK, the US and Europe, the people were celebrated when they fought and died in two world wars to defend the capitalist system. However, as soon as they tried to defend the living standards achieved in the aftermath of the Second World War, they once again became perceived as a problem. After having laboured to reconstruct the post-war economies and create new levels of wealth for the new elites, the ‘people’, particularly working people, were once again perceived as an intractable problem. They were considered a problem of such magnitude that the full force of the nation – states of Europe and North America were successfully marshalled to corrupt, marginalise and destroy their organisations of resistance (trade unions) and communal associations.
With the achievement of a partial socio-economic destruction of peoples lives and communities under the Thatcher and Reagan periods of the 20th century, a new (big-bang!) neo-liberal phase of the capitalist mode of production was introduced. It has been a period of unregulated and unchallenged financial domination in which everything except the air people breathe has been up for sale to those who had gained wealth during the previous stage of reconstruction. In the UK for example, water, gas, electricity, transport, communications, were privatised and transformed from public services into sources of further profit for the financial, economic and political elite. Not content with this, the same financial, economic and political elites also devised stealth inspired manouvres to get control of profitable areas of health and education.
Not surprisingly under the new conditions of large-scale unemployment, low pay, precarious employment and contraction of welfare services, working people are again faced with a serious predicament. Do they passively accept the policies handed down to them by their elites or do they resist them? It is clear that increasing numbers of the citizens of the various nation-states have little or no trust (or faith) in the established bourgeois methods of social democratic governance. In addition in most countries, there is a new generation of well educated, jobless young people who recognise the corruption, the self-interested greed and the general incompetence of the political elites. They are also rejecting the two Janus faces of bourgeois social democracy, Republican and Democratic; Labour and Conservative; or Socialist and Social Democratic. They have already realised, that the problem is not the people, but the elites.
That is the first stage of recognising the real problem. It may take some time before this new generation recognises that it is the mode of production which needs to be changed, not simply the political puppets (left, right or centre) who constantly dance to its various tunes. Meanwhile, faced with frustrated careers, social exclusion and austerity, these new workers may well vote for demagogues, not vote at all or even protest and riot. Sooner or later, however, if they conclude that ‘another world is possible’ they will need to become revolutionary rather than reformist or abstentionist. More importantly still they will need to be revolutionary – humanists if they are not to recreate the the patriarchal vanguardist pretentions and totalitarian conditions of the various 20th century Bolsheviks, Trotskyists or Stalinists. As revolutionary humanists they truly will become a problem for the elites of all political persuasions and at the same time collectively become part of the solution to the problems now facing humanity and the global eco-system upon which humanity ultimately depends.
Roy Ratcliffe (August 2016)