Broken: the implicit contract between the rulers and the ruled. Part 1 of 2.

2 Aug

Insulate Britain  protests, 2022

My previous post, Ruling class devilry and the Holy Bible, alluded to the fact that:

… some at least of the billionaires in whose interests the planet is being trashed, even as nuclear Armageddon looms on Russia’s borderlands and in the South China Sea, are buying boltholes in New Zealand. It’s a weird kind of funny if you’re in a good mood.

I’m not a young man. I shed decades ago my youthful insistence on equality in every sphere of human experience. I call myself a socialist not out of burning egalitarianism. (Though inequality now stands at levels as dysfunctional as they are obscene; an indictment less of capitalism per se  than of its hyper-financialised and increasingly non productive Western forms. 1 ) Rather, I do so because I see no ground for contesting Rosa Luxemburg’s 2 claim, made from a prison cell as the dictates of profit had dragged humanity into the oceanic blood bath of WW1, that in the age of modern imperialism, 3 humanity’s sole alternative is barbarism.

That stark choice strikes me as even more exhaustive now than in Rosa’s day. A key clause of an unspoken contract between rulers and the ruled lies irreparably broken. In the face of the two existential perils just cited, the former are now systemically unable to safeguard the latter.

It’s not even their fault; at least, not in any individual sense of culpability. As I put it in my 2017 essay on the Reformation:

The horrors I speak of flow from laws of motion few understand (least of all economists, their salaries dependent on their not understanding) and which leave us with clear beneficiaries, yes, but not identifiable agents in the sense of individuals who by making other choices could reverse those laws of motion. On the contrary, by making different choices those agents would see their ‘power’ evaporate in an instant. I call them a ruling class, and with good reason, but ultimately that’s no more than a useful fiction when they too are enslaved. 

Culpable or not, however, their acts of commission and omission are hurtling us all to ecocide and Armageddon. “Well”,  you say, “what’s new? Haven’t their self-serving ways always put us in danger?”

Yes and no.


The neolithic revolutions of 10-12,000 years ago enabled, for the first time in our 140,000 years as homo sapiens sapiens, 4 a reliable surplus of human wealth – but the vastly increased yields of farming over hunter-gathering posed a novel challenge. How would wealth, over and above that required to produce and daily reproduce the material conditions of human existence, be divvied up?

Unlike this tiger, humans are ill equipped for solitude. To survive, we must form social relations.

The rest is history. (Literally so, one of many game-changing consequences 5 of surplus wealth being the written word. 6 ) The subsequent development of humanity has been one long saga of haves and have-nots – or, related but distinct, of rulers and ruled. Though the social relations of wealth creation have taken successively altered forms – as slavery, feudalism and capitalisms of mercantile, industrial and financialised stripe – a constant has been the existence of a ruling class defined by its monopoly ownership of some essential of wealth creation: land, capital, or the producers themselves. From this monopoly ownership, all other aspects of class rule follow.

A bad thing? Not entirely. What distinguished Marx from his ‘utopian socialist’ contemporaries was his recognition that for all their bloodshed, tyranny and exploitation, each ruling class was progressive insofar as it oversaw advances in human productivity – right up to the point where it didn’t. At which point, with new and better productive forces blocked by existing relations of production, something had to give. The new had to find ways of overcoming the old. More often than not, those ways involved violence.

(Two examples being the French Revolution and American Civil War. Both were conducted in the name of noble causes but the materialist as opposed to idealist inquirer, while not denying the sincerity of many who embraced those causes, is inclined to lift the bonnet for a closer look. As with all wars and upheavals, the real drivers of those momentous events were less altruistic but more insistent. In the one, a decadent aristocracy was thwarting the aspirations of an up and coming bourgeoisie typified by men like the lawyer, Robespierre. In the other, slavery on southern plantations was creating a bottleneck to the flow of wage labour – so raising its price as per the law of supply and demand – to northern mills and factories desperate to compete on a level playing field with those of Britain and Germany. 7 )

From these dozen or so millennia of class societies of one form or another, an implicit social contract can be inferred. In return for the masses’ subservience, surrender of the surplus fruits of their toil and readiness to kill and be killed in – or nowadays simply to cheer on – its wars of plunder sold as virtuous …

Why, of course, the people don’t want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece. Naturally, the common people don’t want war … That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship … voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.

Herman Goering, in a prison interview with Gustave Gilbert during his Nuremberg trial 8

… the duty of every ruling class has been to provide stability, security and the conditions in which a modicum of prosperity may be pursued. Peace at sword or gun point is no oxymoron. Not for nothing do we speak of a Pax Romana. History is riddled with evidence that exploited peoples will tolerate entrenched privilege and high (though not infinitely so) levels of social injustice if the only perceived alternative is the tyranny of lawlessness and destitution. Never more so than when narratives so all embracing and mutually reinforcing as to appear as simple common sense make – at every turn, and more by insinuation and the marginalising of counter narratives than by explicit assertion – the case for said privilege and injustice. In a brilliant post of May 2023, reproduced here, Caitlin Johnstone tells us that:

Western civilization is dominated by a power structure that has invested more heavily in “soft power” (mass-scale psychological manipulation) than any other power structure in history. It pervades our media, our internet services, our art — literally all of mainstream culture.

The politicians lie, the news media lie, the movies lie, the internet lies, the advertisements lie, the shows between the advertisements lie. They lie about our world, they lie about our government, they lie about what’s important, how we should think, what we should value, and how we should measure our level of success and worthiness as human beings.

Do read her post. My extract notwithstanding, its message is one of hope. But my preceding it with talk of lawlessness brings me up to date by way of a Pax Americana  now unravelling with astonishing and perilous speed. Astonishing because a mere thirty years ago the USA stood as the world’s sole superpower. Perilous because its proven capacity to take reckless measures to hold onto that status may yet send us all to mushroom clouded oblivion.

And lawless? With the active support of the compradors who manage the junior imperialisms of Europe, the Antipodes, Canada and elsewhere, it has invaded with impunity … reneged on or torn up every treaty no longer deemed to further its interests … bragged of its lies, theft and treachery … insisted on its right as ‘the Exceptionalist Nation’ to flout and replace international law with a ‘rules based order’ as blatantly self-serving as it is arbitrarily imposed …

… and, as I put it in early January:

rings the planet with 800 military bases, outspends on weaponry the next ten spenders put together, has been at war for almost its entire history and has slaughtered millions – by bombs, invasions, murderous ‘sanctions’ and terror unleashed – in this century alone. Mostly in far off lands.

In what moral universe can anything remotely similar be said of China or Russia?


I’m not anti American. I don’t locate the criminal insanity of those for whom such barbarities are committed in some peculiar disorder of the American psyche. I locate it in that country’s status as the world’s foremost imperialism, at a time when that status is being called into question by the sun setting on 500 years of Western supremacy – as evidenced not just by China rising as a formidable competitor, but by its doing so on the basis of a saner vision of human wellbeing.

As evidenced too by Russia’s refusal, at once more principled and  more successful 9 than ‘our’ media and politicians would have us believe, to accept the unacceptable.


These are the conditions, prevailing in a Western bloc led by but by no means confined to Wall Street by way of Washington, in which our rulers are proving increasingly incapable of fulfilling their side of that tacit contract with the rest of us.

Part 2 here  ..

* * *

  1. China’s model of capitalism – discussed at some length in Why read Michael Hudson? Part 1 – has had the effect of lifting, as even the US led World Bank has acknowledged, close to a billion of its citizens from extreme poverty.
  2. See my review of Red Rosa – Kate Evans’ literally graphic biography of this remarkable woman.
  3. A useful definition of ‘modern imperialism’ – aka  ‘indirect rule’;  aka  ‘neocolonialism’  – is of the export from global north to south of monopoly capital, and the south to north repatriation of profits. This is not to be confused with the direct rule of colonialism, though both are exploitative, underwritten by force of arms and, with minor additions and subtractions, involve the same players in the same power relations. (That last is unsurprising since the one laid the basis for the other.) The upshots are many, dire and interwoven but those I most invoke are (a) thwarted prosperity and self determination in the global south; (b) a hyper-financialised global north whose FIRE led economies have been enfeebled by decades of de-industrialisation for the enrichment of rentiers; (c) as with colonialism, a drive to wars of asset grab and to thwart rival empires; (d) a systemic inability to prioritise environmental sanity. NB, unlike many Marxists I do not see Russia or China as imperialist under the definition just given, but do see America’s war on Russia in Ukraine as also aimed at weakening its European rivals and binding them even more tightly – in the face of manifest opportunities for European businesses of trade with an ascendant Eurasia – to its orbit.
  4. Homo sapiens sapiens – doubly wise. Not only do we know. Blessed and cursed with self awareness, we know that we know.
  5. Other ‘game changing’ consequences of a dependable surplus are trade, the production of wealth for intended and routinised as opposed to ad hoc  exchange, and ever finer divisions of labour.
  6. On the origins and effects of literacy, see David Olsen’s masterful The World on Paper: The Conceptual and Cognitive Implications of Reading & Writing
  7. Other examples of materialist readings of history are given in Why read Michael Hudson? Part 3. Take this passage:

    … as the growing complexity of industrialisation [in Britain] demanded a better trained and more experienced workforce, longevity became an issue. Workers dying in their thirties had not much mattered in the early days – provided they bred copiously first – but now the expenses of training argued for taking better care of them. Cue for Factory Acts, Food Adulteration Acts, public sanitation projects and curbs on child labour from the 1840s onwards.

    (I don’t doubt that Lord Shaftesbury was genuinely horrified by children in coal mines; Charles Dickens by the street urchins he immortalised in Oliver Twist. Nor that such widely aired moral outrage expedited parliamentary action. But insofar as it marched in step with more material drivers of change, it pushed at doors already opening.  Humanism is blind to such realities, inclining us to a rose-tinted reading of modern history as the onwards and upwards march of Enlightenment values. Does this matter? Yes. It leaves us wrongfooted by the reversal of gains made under one set of material circumstances – which under capitalism equate to the needs, some more direct and obvious than others, of private profit – when those circumstances change.)

  8. Gilbert, a German speaking intelligence officer granted access to Goering by his Allied captors, protested that the Reichsmarschall’s  argument ignored a key difference. In a democracy, Gilbert opined, the people have a say in their countries’ wars. On this if on nothing else I come down firmly on the side of Goering. Any ‘say’ by ‘The People’ is illusory. Consent is meaningless if uninformed and, as the extract from Caitlin Johnstone implies, on matters vital to our ruling class, informed consent is singularly absent in our largely bogus democracies. And no matter is more vital to a ruling class than its ‘right’ to wage war in defence of its interests.
  9. Even Western media – including an Economist which, having a decade ago descended into self caricature with its gleeful doomsaying on China’s economy, now does the same on Russia’s military in Ukraine – are rowing back on their earlier triumphalism as they prepare us for AFU hence NATO ‘setbacks’. See this recent report by Simplicius the Thinker. The bias of its Russian author is obvious but there’s too much evidenced detail and refreshingly candid acknowledgement of what we can’t know for us to dismiss him on that count. Other sources – ex US Marine Brian Berletic, ex US Army Colonel Douglas McGregor, the Saker, and the Duran – are equally valuable counterweights to Western media which, for reasons given many times on this site, are systemically incapable of being truthful on matters vital to power. And as I keep saying, ‘our’ corporate media, like ‘our’ political leaders, have been misleading us (and probably themselves) as much about the war’s progress as its causes.

9 Replies to “Broken: the implicit contract between the rulers and the ruled. Part 1 of 2.

    • Thanks Jams. I want to re-read the piece you link to at greater leisure. It has an incisive opener:

      It is becoming increasingly clear to more and more people in the West that something has gone terribly wrong with the Ukraine project. Predictions and projections didn’t pan out and the West doesn’t seem to know what to do. The Russian economy wasn’t a house of cards as predicted, Russian weapons weren’t inferior as predicted, Russian soldiers and commanders weren’t incompetent as predicted, and Russian technology wasn‘t inferior as predicted.

      Pending a closer read, a few initial thoughts:

        As regards the aside I was making on human self awareness, it’s a non sequitur.

        As regards the main thrust of my post, it’s highly relevant.

        I’m wary of where the author is coming from – as I am of the world views of others, like the Saker, who nevertheless offer valuable insights on the Ukraine War – but his introduction is spot on.

        What follows that intro is also valuable. But by locating Western incompetence in cultural factors (including those at play in armed forces and industries facing, by proxy, a peer adversary for the first time since WW2) I find it accurate but limited. What drives the cultural factors he eloquently pinpoints is the deeper malaise of finance capital having hijacked government in the West. Russia has superiority in SAMS and hypersonic missiles because her arms sectors, while largely private, are regulated by a dirigiste government. This reflects the wider truth that post Yeltsin Russia, and more decisively China under the CCP, puts capitalism at the service of the state. In the west it’s the other way round.

        (Joseph Heller’s depiction of Milo Minderbinder in Catch-22 was prescient. The primary concern of Boeing, Raytheon, Lockheed-Martin etc is not to deliver effective deterrence but the best returns to shareholders.)

        A key delusion of Western leaders was a wildly overstated emphasis on GDP as an accurate measure of a nation’s prosperity and economic clout. We all recall John McCain’s characterisation of Russia as ‘a gas station with nukes’, and Joe Biden’s vow to ‘reduce the rouble to rubble’, but these clowns only expressed in egregious ways the deeper malaise that, in the hyper-financialised forms Western capitalism has taken – its Anglo-Saxon variants especially – GDP is a crap metric.

      • Another reason for Russia’s and, increasingly, China’s missile superiority is that, with no empire to defend and advance, they have been free to concentrate on defence. Here’s a footnote to a post already cited:

        Russia having focused her deterrence efforts on surface-to-air and other missile systems (as has China) removes US capacity to launch a first strike, aimed at taking out most of her response capability, secure in the knowledge it could deal with the remnants through ‘star wars’ shields. There is currently no answer to incoming missiles at Mach 10 or higher. To which I add only this. It is a habit with bullies to see any diminution of their power to abuse as an act of aggression by the abused.

      • On second thoughts, and credit where it’s due, the second paragraph of the piece Jams has linked to says this:

        In some respects the Russians even seem to be superior to the West. Their weapons are effective and in many cases outright technologically superior, as clearly demonstrated by their hypersonic missiles, SAM systems and electronic warfare systems. Their economy appears to be surprisingly advanced and diversified and based on real wealth creation rather than financialization and debt like the West’s. Their strategic and tactical thinking also seems to work, while the West‘s clearly doesn‘t. [Emphasis added.]

        I agree. But four paragraphs later the author says:

        … the cause [of Western malaise] is far deeper than the deindustrialization of the West or economic problems in general. The economy doesn’t explain the incredible incompetence shown by the West before and during the war in Ukraine. [Emphasis added.]

        I say it does. While a society’s material infrastructure interacts with its culture in complex and dialectical ways not to be subjected to the crassly deterministic summations of “vulgar marxism”, I do hold that “the incredible incompetence” of which this author speaks is in the final analysis to be located in the West’s hyper-financialised, FIRE-led economies.

        But our differences here are a clash of axioms, by definition irresolvable by appeals to evidence. In any case, the piece’s many valid insights make it a worthy read.

    • I read this piece yesterday and submitted a BTL comment:

      Whilst the process this piece on Larry Johnson’s blog describes certainly matches my experiences over the past four decades or so in terms of the growth of stellar levels of incompetence everywhere at every level (including the LP!), where it falls down is that it bases its analysis on the very tools, models, approaches and faulty assumptions responsible for the outcomes it accurately criticises.

      Including inadequate, if any, definitions of the key terms and concepts – such as “ideology” – as well as dubious and out of context usage of reductionist models of “competence”, intelligence” and related issues. Arguing an absurd position that compartmentalises competency into two distinct categories of which everyone has an “innate” ability in only one whilst at the same time doing exactly the same thing as the incompetent PMC managerialists – who are the main subject of its very valid and accurate main critique – by trying to shoehorn the spread of that “innate attribute” into a “normal” (ie Gaussian) distribution.*

      * sidebar: An exercise we ended up repeating in constant and regular three monthly work appraisement’s which always pre-assumed what they aimed to deduce by ensuring that the predicted “normal” distribution always occurred. They even had group “levelling meetings” to produce the desired results. Results which assume 20% of your workforce is by definition always underperforming and therefore useless. You ended up with an unofficial roster in which two or three of the staff in any one unit took it in turns to “take one for team” in each iteration by going through the PIP (Personal Improvement Programme). It does “wonders” for morale.

      Although I enjoyed the piece up to a point- given its obvious flaws and limitations – I found this one more accurate and comprehensive in terms of process description:

      The PMC (Professional & Managerial Class/Caste) can only think normatively, and in abstract, left-brain terms. Ukraine is winning because reasons. If Ukraine is not winning, that would imply that the normative ideas that guide the PMC must be wrong, and that is impossible. So Ukraine must be wining.

      More importantly, Russia must be losing, and any force that makes that possible, including macho men with Nazi tattoos, needs to be supported. Because this caste lives in a world where discourse is the only reality, as they learned somewhere at university, can’t quite remember the details, they’ve grown up with the idea that control of discourse means control of reality. Repeat after me, these are not Nazi tattoos.

      When the truth is too painful to handle, you try to cancel it, and if that doesn’t work you find a safe space somewhere. The problem is that, whilst this approach can work in a system, such as a university, where you have total practical control, it can’t work when the real world comes knocking at your door, and you have to do something.

      As this gem of an example from Nebojsa Malic in an RT op-ed on 16/08/2021 explains in painful detail:**

      the US political establishment got so used to creating its own reality and imposing it through media and entertainment, upon its own citizens as well as on foreigners, that it simply doesn’t know what to do when confronted with people on whom this trick doesn’t work – in this case, the Taliban.

      This sort of thinking was on display last week when a prominent “security expert” advised her colleagues to look away from the images from Afghanistan to avoid getting triggered or traumatized – as if what was happening would somehow stop or vanish if they just averted their gaze.

      ** sidebar: normally I’d post the URL links but, given RT is cancelled in the West, unless you are using TOR its unreachable.

      In a description of the PMC which we used to refer to as “Seagull Management” (they fly in from out of town; shit over everything and everybody; and then fly back again) the writer of this piece warms to his theme with this salient observation:

      “the main danger they (the PMC) pose to people like you and me is the fatal collective, ingrown confidence that they and their ideas can never be wrong, and that in the end nothing is ever really serious. If they break something, it doesn’t matter.”

      Because someone else, someone not of the PMC/elite/whatever label you want, is left to clear up the mess. The incompetents, having never grown up, never, ever take responsibility. That’s for plebs. For the “deplorables”.

      Which is why I argue that the Western oligarchy has made the entire system, its institutions and organisations; its structures and processes and everyone permitted to participate in it in their image. Orwell’s 1984 predicted a future of a boot stamping on a human face, forever. The reality seems to have turned out more farcical. One in which a pampered group of physically grown up but emotional and intellectual adolescents have manufactured a society of mardy arsed clones of themselves who stamp their feet in a unison tantrum when they can’t get their own way.

      And the results are already starting to trickle through as reports grow of those who can voting with their feet. From Germans with family ties to Russia moving in droves to Kaliningrad; to Americans decamping from Democrat Party run dysfunctional Cities and States in growing numbers.

      Meet the new boss – and don’t forget to change their nappy.

      • As it happens another friend and steel city reader had already sent me that elegantly composed essay by Aurelian – “reality would like a word”. Like the piece by Larry Johnson (aka Gaius Baltar) I intend to cite it in part 2.

        normally I’d post the URL links but, given RT is cancelled in the West, unless you are using TOR its unreachable.

        If only Guardian readers would wake up to the extent of censorship. (Which need not be absolute: it suffices that accessing alternative narratives takes more effort, so ensuring that most folk stay unaware of their existence.) The TOR browser, with DuckDuckGo search engine, is faster than IE, Chrome etc, and as you suggest, does not apply empire-friendly information filters.

        • I confess I am a bit wary of both Larry Johnston and ‘Aurelian’. Johnston seems to be a gun using person which I’m not keen on, and kind of too right wing for comfort, and Aurelian it seems to me has a habit of indulging in subtly pro establishment propaganda, which I have commented on in his site (under the name of Ahminra Cludjee – which those of you who speak Glaswegian will understand*). Anyway, I’ve yet to come across a website that I entirely agree with, (not even this one), apart from Caitlin Johnstone’s. I don’t even read her stuff any more as it’s just a case of going “yes, yes, well put, yes, exactly, yes”.

          * For non-speakers, it means “I am in the toilet”

          • I confess I am a bit wary of both Larry Johnston and ‘Aurelian’. Johnston seems to be a gun using person which I’m not keen on, and kind of too right wing for comfort, and Aurelian … has a habit of indulging in subtly pro establishment propaganda …

            It’s a sign of our times – dominated by what Tariq Ali memorably called “the extreme centre” – that voices on the right frequently utter truths which genuine socialists as opposed to those who, as Aurelian put it, “slunk off” to join the IdPol credulati will recognise as such. (Oborne, Hitchens and even Tucker Carlson spring to mind.)

            While I don’t agree with all that either Johnston or ‘Aurelian’ is saying, both get too much right to be dismissed. As I said to the (French) pal who first drew my attention to the Aurelian essay, “it chimes not only with much of my own thinking, but equally with my own experience”

            For his part Johnstone/Baltar strikes a chord with the closing words to his forceful and cogent essay:

            Fixing the problems of the West will require an economic revival, where a real economy will replace the current fake financialized service economy. This cannot be done without putting the hated 1.5/8 group [his term for the talent marginalised by the Extreme Centre] into positions of power. Therefore, it will not be done as long as the current western ruling class is in power. Western societies will not survive an economic revival in their current ideological configuration. Conflict is therefore the only remaining option for the ruling class to hang on to power.

            He may be wrong about what constitutes a ruling class. Wrong too in his economically illiterate fixation on a “debt crisis”. But those closing words ring chillingly true.

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