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Corporate Globalization Resistance

The Power-Elite Model & Global Reality
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by Muhammad Asadi

Towards a comprehensive understanding of under-development

In his pioneering work, The Power Elite (1956), C. Wright Mills pointed out that the Power Elite (as applied to the U.S. elite) involves the (1) “Uneasy coincidence of economic, military and political power” (Mills 1956:278, where (2) Chosen elites (chosen through co-optation and socialization) move within and between these three institutional structures. Further, this Power Elite possesses a (3) specific and clear ‘class consciousness’ and unique image of self as a psychological fact (considering themselves separate and superior to the rest of society), regardless of ideological label or party membership. Factions might exist among the Power Elite but their coinciding (4) “community of interests” and the resulting inner discipline bind them together even across differences (Mills 1956:283). Given these forces that are at play among them, the way they have emerged and the (5) institutions that have shaped them, it is impossible for them to break away from the corporate world and its interests in the decisions they make while in public office. These interests are driven by their worldview, (6) the “Military Metaphysic”, which has, since the end of the Second World War, come to describe the economic life of the U.S, in the form of a permanent war economy.

C. Wright Mills, before his untimely death in 1962 (at the age of 46), was working on expanding this Power Elite model on an international level, he termed it Comparative Sociology. In his 1959 book, The Sociological Imagination he stated (almost 15 years before Immanuel Wallerstein developed the World Systems Theory):

“In our time problems of the western societies are almost inevitably problems of the world. It is perhaps one defining character of our period that it is one in which for the first time the varieties of social worlds it contains are in serious, rapid and obvious interplay. The study of our period must be a comparative examination of these worlds and their interactions...” (1)

In his 1958 book, The Causes of World War III, Mills writes:

“Imperialism (the new form of colonization) by definition involves the interplay of economic, political and military institutions and men. No event of significance can be understood without understanding how these interests come to points of clash or of coincidence. "The International System" of the world today cannot be understood without understanding the changing forms of their interplay." (2)
The Power Elite model, expanded on an international level, will involve reworking and converting the classical Marxian model utilized by Wallerstein to one that utilizes the linkages and consequences of the Military Metaphysic espoused by the U.S. Power Elite. The use of the Military Metaphysic by this elite is an empirical fact seen by the unbroken chain of continuous wars instigated by the Core since the end of the Second World War. Compare this to the “Labor Metaphysic” utilized by classical Marxism (where revolutions and the resulting rule by the proletariat result from class struggles, thus making the Core/Periphery linkage a temporary phenomena), which has to-date never become an empirical reality.

The importance and timeliness of such research cannot be overemphasized. In the United States, the Military-Industrial Complex requires heavy state involvement in the economy and huge military budgets. The U.S. military budget for 2005 was over $420 billion. This is going on under the pretext of another “Cold War”, the so-called “War on Terrorism”, (a projection of the “Military Metaphysic”) even though over 36 million in the U.S. experience chronic hunger every year and over 43 million have no health insurance or protection from catastrophic illness. Funds for other social programs have been cut as well. According to the 2006 US discretionary spending budget, outlays for Defense (military) are greater than those on all the other programs combined and reflect a 41% increase over 2001. Add to these figures the non-discretionary part of the budget that can be attributed to Defense and we come up with a whopping figure of over $800 billion (according to a line by line analysis of the budget). Overseas, the effects of this Military Metaphysic are clearly evident in what is going on in the Middle East and in the entire Peripheral region. In general, the one part of those countries that is “developed” is their military; also, their military institution is almost always involved with the state and is in most cases armed by and in close contact with the economic, political and military elites in the U.S.

Once developed, this model could be tested among any of the Peripheral nations. Since under-development is a universal phenomenon among the Peripheral nations, the linkages with the Core that result in such under-development, could also be universally deciphered given the history of the particular nation state and its social structure. We should, for example, find that the military institution in a particular country, modeled and supplied by the Core would have elites that often directly deal with Core elites, often ignoring their own country’s political leadership. Zia of Pakistan, Indonesia’s Suharto, the generals who led the coup against Salvador’s Allende are all examples of this phenomenon. A similar though less recognized event was the visit of the Deputy Commander of U.S. Forces in Europe, General Huyser to Tehran before Khomeni’s “revolution”. As revealed by the Shah’s own memoirs, General Huyser met with his military generals without informing him or his political leadership, to facilitate a change in political leadership. Similarly, U.S.elites, before the 2003 Iraq war, seeking land passage through Turkey to invade Iraq, were talking directly to Turkey’s military leadership in order to circumvent their political process and public opinion.

The military in these countries thus acts as the indigenous “base” of an “absentee” colonizer. We should also see that whenever the political elites in these countries become too “independent”, or when their indigenous economic elites compete with the interests of the Core elites, this indigenous “military base” is mobilized and martial law is declared with the military assuming all political power and protecting the Core nation’s economic interests. As a result underdevelopment is perpetuated decade after decade regardless of good and bad economic cycles. Were the rulers in the various Middle East nations to become “too independent”, we should see a similar phenomenon. If the military institutions in those nations are not fully linked with the Core, then we should see an outright invasion by the Core (as was the case with Iraq in 2003), if the Core’s global hegemonic order is threatened.

Within a similar framework, we can determine the role of the new Iraqi military. No secret is being made of the fact that the “new” Iraqi military is being trained so that the foreign occupying power can transfer its role and purpose to this new indigenous “military base”. If the political elites in Iraq fall out of line, we can similarly predict that this “new” military will play its appropriate role, in tune with the desires of the U.S. Power Elite. The military institution in these countries thus has greater power relative to their economic and political institutions. The military is not subordinate or a servant to their political institution and their political is not a “committee” that serves their local bourgeoisie.

An important part of the Power Elite model is the social psychology of these elites, and the institutional mechanisms that shape it. On an international level this would explain why the lower officer ranks of the military (those that have not internalized the “Military Metaphysic” of the Core) in these Peripheral nations differ in their national sentiment and outlook from the senior military elites that follow the desires of the Core. Often lower rank military officers have led rebellions in these nations that have been crushed by the senior elites. Survey analysis can be an important tool in determining attitudinal differences among the ranks in the military institution. The results can then be reworked to better understand the institutional mechanisms that lead to such differences. If the institutional structure of the military, which shapes such personalities, is understood, perhaps political institutions in these countries can be more effective in restructuring them.

Finally, the Mills model, having its origin in 1956, still has pragmatic strength of prediction within the hegemonic ‘power-state’ itself: As part of that mythology perpetuated by the ‘power-elite’, through the media of mass communication, deeply believed in by the masses, is the idea that the government works for the ‘common good’ of the public, doing everything in its name, what C. Wright Mills referred to as “The Great American Celebration”. During times of unstructured disaster, tears appear in this mythological shroud, and we see a brief interlude in the “celebration”. The recent Hurricane Katrina disaster revealed (see Pew poll September 8, 2005) that many questioned the delayed, impersonal response of an administration that had been reminding them since 9/11, through multi-colored codes and alert-levels, that their safety was the government’s number one priority. Americans, in large numbers, were wondering whether their government actually cares about them or merely feigns concern for ulterior motives (also shown by the AP-Ipsos Poll, September 10, 2005). After having witnessed first hand the destruction of an entire city due to the misplaced ’values’ and neglect of its decision makers, Americans begin to understand concerns of people around the world who have suffered the destruction of countless cities as a direct result of the American war machine and its ’values’ of sanctioning the powerless.

 On the other hand a review of memos put out by Neo-Conservative think tanks like the Project for the New American Century and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, revealed that these elites either had no comments on this large-scale disaster or suggested that it should have been taken care of on the local level. In the impersonal response by this elite, we can empirically confirm what C. Wright Mills referred to as the “crackpot realism” (1956:356) of this elite and their success within the “American system of organized irresponsibility” (1956: 360-361). These are the same people who advocate preemptive strikes against "gathering threats" to "protect the American people". Yet when an actual massive disaster strikes that cannot be explained in terms of the ‘military metaphysic’, it is ignored. Their near unanimous response (or lack thereof) in September, 2005 was predicted by the Mills model in 1956 and amounts to an empirical verification of his following statement:

"...In part at least this has resulted from one simple historical fact, pivotal for the years since 1939: the focus of elite attention has been shifted from domestic problems centered in the ’thirties around slump, to international problems, centered in the ’forties and ’fifties around war (the permanent war economy and its link to resource theft and the defense industries)...” (The Power Elite, 1956)
We need to move beyond the "feel good" mythology of pluralism that is largely based on fiction as applied to the current global scene, further we also need to rework the classical Marxian model to reflect the realities of today’s world. In bridging the gap between these two, the Mills model offers the greatest hope and is closest to empirical reality. Let us take this model, expand upon it and understand our world, and use it to break free from the cycle of underdevelopment forced upon us by the Core ‘power-elite’.