‘Oligarchy and the State’ – By Saeed A Malik
Through history, thinking persons have thought on this subject. Many have recorded their thoughts. Some of these I quote below:
Plato observed that: ” an oligarch becomes two cities, Rich and Poor, as great wealth is opposed to the masses, and almost everyone outside the ruling class is a pauper.”
Michael Hudson [economist ]: ” Most fortunes throughout history have been obtained by appropriating the public domain….”
Constantine Vll dilating on limitless avarice with which the high and mighty of his reign were infected, said of the dirty rich man, that he felt ” ill treated if someone else seemed to surpass him in greed.”
Romanos Lecapenus in passing a law to save the realm from the greed of the “elite”, described them as: ” people who, in their passionate greed and mean-spiritedne, are engrossed in so great a pursuit of gain, [that they] consider none of the ways to achieve wealth disgraceful, and impose the burden of [this] on the freedom of others.”
Seneca, speaking of chaos and disorder: ” avarice and luxury had broken the bonds which held mortals together.”
Seneca [again]: ” it was avarice that introduced poverty. ”
Jesus, in contrasting the demands of morality and wealth, had this to say: ” No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Mammon.”
Michael Hudson: ” poverty goes hand in hand with its cause: covetous greed.”
Frederic Bastiat: “When plunder becomes a way of life in a group of men in a society, over the course of time they create for themselves a legal system that authorizes it, and a moral code, that glorifies it.”
After reading the above and thinking over these thoughts, it is difficult to evade the conclusion that most great wealth is built on great plunder; that the greatest cause of unendurable poverty at the bottom of society is unaccountable riches at the top; that here lies the greatest cause of injustice in society; and that the oligarch is so driven by greed that he will undermine the state if this state stands in his way of satiating it.
It is not for nothing that Noam Chomsky [or was it Robert Fisk??] in one of his talks defined democracy as a system that prevents the formation of oligarchy!
Even in ancient Sumeria periodic debt cancellation was normal. One reason for this was that peasantry falling into debt slavery could be avoided, because slaves, as opposed to free peasantry could not form part of the army, nor could slaves be called upon to deliver free corvee labor for the king’s [i.e the state’s] projects. But the other [and affiliated] reason was to prevent the formation of an oligarchy i.e the nobles becoming strong enough to challenge the state.
The Israelite kingdoms adopted the practice of debt forgiveness from the Sumerians. Every fiftieth year among them was called the Jubilee Year, when exiles were permitted to return, amnesty for various crimes declared, and many debts forgiven. It was later that this tradition stopped being observed because it went against the interests of the very rich in society. Indeed, some historians are of the view that the crucifiction of Jesus Christ was instigated because of his efforts to reinstate the Jubilee Year so that the lot of the poor could be improved.
It was in Rome, that the tradition of periodic debt forgiveness finally met its defeat, and great oligarchies were spawned. And they ended up overthrowing the Roman Republic in favour of a kingship.
So where does the Pakistan of today stand vis a vis its oligarchs?
Nothing can throw a harsher light on this than two statistics i.e at the beginning of the Zardari-Sharif decade of plunder, our total national debt, beginning from 1947, was six trillion rupees. In their ten years at the helm, this jumped to thirty trillion rupees!
Now juxtapose this with billions and billions looted from this country, which is only now becoming apparent. Only the dim witted among us, or those utterly inured to the idea of limitless plunder, will not be staggered by the sheer immensity of the misfortune visited upon us by those sworn to serve us.
Very sadly for me, and for very many others I’m certain, there stand among the ranks of the “unstaggered”, three Lt Gens still holding on to the coattails of the Sharifs!
And what are the oligarchs now demanding from the state? Stripped down to bare bones, their demand is that their plunder be invested with legitimacy, and their immunities restored. They are demanding this on the basis of long tradition and unbroken usage [the “dastoor”] that since no mega thief has been held accountable before, their right to immunity stands established.
They were defeated, yes. But disarmed? No. They have their power. They have their wealth. And this they are now deploying against the state.
From the time Nawaz Sharif undertook his drive on G.T Road after being cashiered, he tested the resolve of the state each step of the way. He pushed back every red line. The state continued to retreat.
And now the time has come when he can sit in the safety of London, trying to incite the people of Pakistan against the army, and the junior ranks against the senior, and every manner of mutiny his addled mind can think of. He has become the cynosure of every anti-state element within, and the axis of those without–whether persons, or states.
The state has been found to be unequal to the situation. It clearly lacked the power to put a stop to the escalating attacks against the rule of law and the efforts launched to undermine it. In short the state is overwhelmed by the powers arrayed against it.
There is a remedy for such state of affairs when the state is whelmed over by powers inimical to its being. We all know this remedy. It is about time that instead of retreating any further, the PM, the C.J, and the COAS sit together, and take the decision to use this remedy and save the state.
There is no more space left for the retreat. Do not wait for a time when such harm is inflicted upon the state, which is irreversible and which its debilitated health does not allow.