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All living humans have some vague idea of what ‘class’ is. In some cultures the idea of class is so deeply engrained within the common psyche, individuals can hardly maneuver their lives destiny outside its frame of reference. The more hierarchical a society, the more acute its class distinction hence class awareness! For example, feudal societies had land owning aristocracy/nobility positioned on top, while the serfs/slaves occupied the bottom rung of the class division. Since the modem world system came into existence, (about five hundred years ago) the issue of class has become more and more entangled with that of caste, race and ethnicity.
The advent of industrial capitalism accentuated the class configuration by constituting the owners of the ‘means of production’ (capital, etc.) as the ruling class of the system and those with only their labors to sell, (mostly to the former) as the proletariat. Classical Marxism inappropriately and somewhat derogatorily calls the in-between classes the ‘petty bourgeoisie’. To be fair (means of production), at the time of Marx’s elaboration, the ‘pettys’ were not invested in equity markets, directly or through their pension funds. Moreover, in those days the ‘pettys’ cannot readily set up their own ventures (means of production). Up to now, this large segment of the class system has managed to sustain the peace between the two archenemies (capital & labor) in many of the advanced industrial countries. The reason; this large segment of society was systemically availed a relatively decent existence, sandwiched between the two antagonists of the capitalist system. To some extent, this is what the American dream is/was all about!
Turbo capitalism, which is being pushed on all of us as the be-all and end-all economic system, besides missing the very objective of existence, is actually untenable. To start with, the prevailing modem world order came into existence because of very potent, cheap and handy source of energy (fossil fuel.) It facilitated the whole modern machinery of production, transportation and services. Repeating the same exercise all over the world, at a time when the earth is painfully & palpably exhibiting compounded
exhaustion, (resource depletion/extensive pollution, climate change, etc.) is at best ludicrous, the global status quo’s hallucination aside! Nonetheless and on the ground, besides shortages of basic resources, technological advancements have and will further conspire to reconfigure the global division of labor. Without being unduly learned and dogmatic, we can get some insight on the global class problematic by heuristically examining the scenario as it pertains to the US, the most formidable capitalist society on earth.
The trajectory of class Stratification in many of our African countries will be somewhat different from that of advanced industrial countries, for obvious and not so obvious reasons. Industrialization as it happened in the West cannot be replicated in toto in Africa. The global economy has entered an era of production/services without much need for the massive preponderance of human labor! This has serious implication to the so- called third world countries, including the African multitudes. For instance, Ethiopia’s peasantry is the large part of the beast (human mass.) Though it might be poor, it certainly is not without some means of production, unlike its urbanized proletarian cousin. That is why smallholders belong to the category of the petty bourgeoisie. Given the above scenario, one cannot help but ask; what is the benefit of uprooting the multitude from its organic dwelling place (the countryside) if gainful employment cannot be secured in urban areas? Urbanization & industrialization go hand in hand. For instance, in the US only 2% of the population is on the farms, while producing plenty to feed the world. The displaced multitude is/was employed in the modem sector, manufacturing & services. The situation in regards to the future of our reserve army (the redundant peasantry on the land) is not very appetizing. This year, China will overtake the US as the biggest economy in the world, in terms of real goods/services, not nominal pricing (PPP – purchasing power parity.) At the same time, even these resourceful Maoists/Chinese are having difficulties resolving their agrarian question (over half of China’s population belongs to the peasantry)! This is an interesting topic to which we shall return some time in the future, but right now let’s look at a class/strata that is becoming increasingly common in almost all the countries of the world, developed, developing or undeveloping.
The new & upcoming ruling classes across the breath & depth of our earth are by and large oligarchs. There are many definitions of this strata/class. This class constitutes of individuals whose claim to wealth is essentially based on close connection to political power and the global/local predatory financial regime. Swiftly rising oligarchs tend to dominate countries that just emerged from centrally planned economies, like Ukraine, Russia or even Ethiopia. In our case, most of the oligarchs prefer to operate clandestinely by fronting useful idiots! These individuals are quite parasitic in their outlooks and activities. They consider productive and competitive entrepreneurs as bunch of losers to be eliminated from economic scene. They might not know it, but disfranchising citizens/states of their real assets by leveraging credit secured locally/internationally, (phony money) under all sorts of pretexts (privatization, foreclosures, etc.) has already sown the seeds of political instabilities across the world. Unfortunately, some of these victimized states have allowed oligarchs to establish their own private banks/financial institutions to expedite their stealing projects. If truth be told, even countries like ours cannot be excepted, disinformation & camouflaging aside! Ultimately, when things go haywire and don’t work out for these criminals, they take cover behind the state, claiming ‘too big to fail’! When this class earnestly starts to dominate collective societal life, you can bet your last dime chaos will become the order of the day! Here is the definition from the kebele pub house: “Oligarchs are those who steal their ways from rags to riches.” Good Day!