Elite and Mass
The 2nd article in the series "Miscellaneous"

This article was published in Ácrata, a Peruvian libertarian review.

The brother-in-law of ex-president Fujimori of Peru received the Japanese nationality. The shah of Iran could stay in the United States after he was overthrown, president Marcos of the Philippines also found a new house in that country. Several African dictators could spend their last years in peace in a castle in France. The elite cares well for those who have served the interest of the group even if they stole so much money that other members of the elite had to stop their greediness. How different it is when someone from the masses want to leave his country because he want to have a better life and more freedom.

There is a big difference between elite and mass. The elite is living very well in the present and it has ambitions for the future. It wants to keep its power and wealth, it wants to have always more than the masses and it wants to transfer its privileged position to its progeny. It wants to continue its existence as a closed group of leaders.

The masses have no future, they try to survive in the present. When you lose your job or fall ill in the richer parts of the world, your are protected by a social security net. The situation in the Third World is different. After the Financial Crisis of a few years ago the number of prostitutes and the amount of child labour increased significantly in Thailand. The population of Bangkok was reduced by more than ten percent because many people had to return to their family in the countryside though they went to the city because a decent life in the countryside had become nearly impossible. But the poorer and the richer masses have one thing in common, they are powerless against the whims and wishes of the elite.

When a natural disaster occurs in the rich West the negative effects for the victims are limited. In the poorer countries the masses suffer even more than before. Natural disasters as a typhoon or a draught period or human disasters as wars nearly only hurt the masses, the elite can live on in their nice and protected quarters. When you compare the world with a big rotating disk the elite lives in the middle and never can fall off. The masses in the West are still in a safe part of the disk but the numerous people who belong to the poor masses of the rest of the world live in the vast outskirts of the disk. They go over the edge when something unexpected occurs.

The unequal position of people on the disk is caused by the unequal partition of power. Most power is concentrated in the top though the elite comprises only a few percent of the population. Only when the elite has secured its own interest it thinks about the wellbeing of the masses. The masses have virtually no power. Sometimes they rise up and gain some small benefits. But these successes are revoked when the economical situation deteriorates. Wages of workers are going faster down than incomes of the top when the economic situation worsens.

The intermediate class between elite and mass has also some power. It is sometimes called Middle Class though it embraces not more than twenty percent of the population and so belongs to the upper quart of the world. Sometimes it urges for decisions that favour the masses. Examples are the abolition of slavery, the introduction of general education and the prohibition of child labour. Most of these humane laws are only valid in rich countries. In the rest of the world the old situation of a greedy elite and poor masses continues to exist. The power of the intermediate class can however never change the self-imposed right of the elite to have more than the others and to safeguard its privileges for its successors. Changes in governments are only caused by differences inside the elite, when one part of the elite tries to get more privileges at the cost of another group. The recent changes in power in Peru, Indonesia and even South Africa only confirm the century old theory of Gaetano Mosca about the circulation of elites.

In the paragraphs above I have re-established in some way the existence of classes. I do not agree that a classless society can be achieved by mass organisations as political parties or trade unions. Trade unions are useful for temporary improvements but they do not contribute anything to the necessary change in the balance of power between mass and elite. They suppress the individuality and the autonomy of common citizens. In the beginning of the last century Roberto Michels determined already that big mass organisations changed very fast from democratic institutions into organisations led by an oligarchy. The hierarchical situation that exists everywhere in our society was copied in mass organisations. The masses, which were already powerless in regard to the elite, became also dependent on their own leaders. They did not develop an autonomous power. The social struggle in the last century was mostly a struggle between the top-elite and sections of the Middle Class. By using the power of mass organisations some leaders of the Middle Class penetrated in the elite. The Middle Classes benefited most from this development while the masses continued to be the lowest, poorest and most powerless part of humanity.

The power of an individual member of the elite is for the greater part based on his social position. Sometimes the possession of capital is significant but a social function in which he can use the available capital is even more important. Because all persons in his network of relations belong to the elite the opinion and the interest of the elite dominates all decisions. The masses have to make clear that there are also other people on the world. They have to force leaders to listen to the demands of the masses. All actions that aim to undermine the private power of a leader must therefore include an attack on his elitist network. In their actions the masses must penetrate and change the mind of the elite person. This process will take some time. But only in this way the interest of the whole population will be taken into account. Some small results of this kind of actions are described in my book "The Power of the Autonomous Human"

Though I have travelled extensively in the Third Word I am not sure that actions that penetrate the mind and the environment of the elite are possible in the Third World. There the elite lives apart from the masses though also in the rich West the elite likes to live in its own quarters. However because a part of the network of the Western top-elite can be found in the Third World, an attack on the elites in those countries will have a profound influence on the power structure in the whole World. But the decisive attack on the elite has to take place in the centre of the power structure that is situated in the rich countries. Only then a new world can be born where every citizen will be free because he has the same possibilities to exert power as everyone else and the same status as any other human. 

Freedom, a free society, free trade etceteras are not possible when power is unequally distributed The starting-point of every individual and also of every state must be equality. Therefore I am against the WTO, the IMF, the expansion of the European Union with weak states or the trade agreement between the United States and Mexico. The Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg were roughly equal so they could form the Benelux. But the balance of power between the United States and Mexico and even between the United States and the much smaller Canada is false.

Actions must always have the purpose to change the balance of power. Freedom and power go hand in hand. The Middle Classes are freer because they have some power. The elite possesses even more power and so it has still more freedom. The small group at the top has far more power than the masses at the bottom. To destroy this power pyramid you have to attack the binding factor, the group of high-placed people that is not under any pressure from lower echelons in the pyramid. I repeat again that power must become roughly equally distributed. In our world we are very far from this situation, a director can sack a worker, workers (plural!) can never sack a director. I propose action methods that give power to people who do not have any power. During the action they will learn to be confident of their own autonomous power. Then freedom can emerge. But that will only occur in a totally different society.

I have to add a last remark. Though I sympathise with the activists, the anti-Globalisation actions in Genoa are off the mark because the elite is not even touched. Only one social problem is highlighted. The WTO, the GM-food, the poverty, the debt-problem etceteras are indeed important problems. But I do not want to discuss about an optimal WTO, about the safest GM-food, about a solution for the abolishment of poverty in twenty instead of forty years, about the forgiving of debts that afterwards again accumulate. When you are powerless you discuss from an underdog position and in the end the elite always benefits most. Those separate problems are only examples of how wrong our social system is. They can never be solved when the root of the problems is not attacked. And the root is the partition of the world in an elite and a mass, in the rich and powerful who dominate the poor and powerless. Therefore I propose action methods against the elite that will change the balance of power. All people can become powerful when they use and develop their creativity and their autonomy. Then they will become free individuals.

Joost van Steenis (August 1 2001)


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3. Terrorist Wars
To the index of  "Miscellaneous"