in Imperialism had talked about a financial oligarchy
presiding over vast amounts of money capital through
its control over banks and using this capital for
diverse purposes, such as industry; speculation; real
estate business; and buying bonds, including of foreign
governments. The finance capital that Lenin was talking
about belonged to particular powerful nations; correspondingly,
the oligarchies he was referring to were national
financial oligarchies. He talked for instance of French,
German, British and American financial oligarchies.
But in the current epoch of ''globalization'' when finance
capital itself is international in character, the
controllers of this international finance capital
constitute a global financial oligarchy. This global
financial oligarchy requires for its functioning an
army of spokesmen, mediapersons, professors, bureaucrats,
technocrats and politicians located in different countries.
The creation of this army is a complex enterprise,
in which one can discern at least three distinct processes.
Two are fairly straightforward. If a country has got
drawn into the vortex of globalized finance by opening
its doors to the free movement of finance capital,
then willy-nilly even well-meaning bureaucrats, politicians,
and professors will demand, in the national interest,
a bowing to the caprices of the global financial oligarchy,
since not doing so will cost the country dear through
debilitating and destabilizing capital flights. The
task in short is automatically accomplished to a large
extent once a country has got trapped into opening
its doors to financial flows.
The second process is the exercise of peer pressure.
Finance Ministers, Governors of Central Banks, top
financial bureaucrats belonging to different countries,
when they meet, tend increasingly to constitute what
the distinguished Argentine economist Arturo O'Connell
has described as an ''epistemic community''. They begin
increasingly to speak the same language, share the
same world view, and subscribe to the same prejudices,
the same ''humbug of finance'' (to use Joan Robinson's
telling phrase). Those who do not are under tremendous
peer pressure to fall in line; and most eventually
do. Peer pressure may be buttressed by the more mundane
temptations that Lenin had described, ranging from
straightforward bribes to lucrative offers of post-retirement
employment, but, whatever the method used, conformism
to the ''humbug'' that globalized finance dishes out
as true economics becomes a mark of ''respectability''.
But even peer pressure requires that there should
be a group of core ideologues of finance capital who
exert and manipulate this pressure. The ''peers'' themselves
are not free-floating individuals but have to be goaded
into sharing a belief-system. There has to be therefore
a set of key intellectuals, ideologues, thinkers and
strategists that promote this belief system, shape
and broadcast the ideology of finance capital, and
generally look after the interests of globalized finance.
They are not necessarily capitalists or magnates;
but they are close to the financial magnates, and
usually share the ''spoils''. The financial oligarchy
proper, consisting of these magnates, together with
these key ideologues and publicists of finance capital,
can be called the ''global financial community''. The
function of this global financial community is to
promote and perpetuate the hegemony of international
finance capital. And here the most critical issue
concerns the relationship of this global financial
community to the politics of particular countries.
To say that the World Bank and the IMF are the main
breeding ground for these key figures who are part
of the global financial community and mediate the
relation between particular countries and globalized
finance is to state the obvious. True, the Fund and
the Bank are not the only institutions; there are
sundry business schools and departments of economics,
of business administration, and of finance in prestigious
Anglo-Saxon universities. But even for the products
of the latter institutions, the Fund and the Bank
often act as ''finishing schools''.
The relation between the key ideologues of finance
capital and the governments of the various countries
has itself undergone a major transformation in the
more recent period. Earlier these ideologues were
transplanted from the Fund and the Bank, as part of
an implicit conditionality, to the Ministries of Finance
in different countries, and the whole effort was to
ensure that they functioned to promote the interests
of international finance capital while remaining free
from political intervention. They operated in short
as career bureaucrats; governments might come and
go, elections might make people throw off ''neo-liberal''
rulers and replace them with the critics of ''neo-liberalism''
who had hitherto occupied oppositional space. But
''neo-liberalism'' persisted notwithstanding such changes
in government, because key bureaucratic positions
continues to be occupied by members of the ''global
financial community'', either the same ones serving
ever new governments, or new ones that came with government
change but from the same flock. And there were various
instruments devised to ensure that the new governments
could not interfere in their functioning, such as
the Fiscal Responsibility legislation that tied the
hands of governments, or the so-called independence
of the Central Bank that took a whole range of economic
policies outside the purview of elected governments,
or the sheer hard-sell of something called ''development''
that was just a euphemism for the neo-liberal agenda.
But with the Fund and the Bank getting increasingly
marginalized as international lenders, and hence as
the gendarme of international finance capital, owing
mainly to the paucity of funds at their disposal,
strategy, though still practiced, has needed to be
supplemented by more forthright measures whereby members
of the global financial community are directly inducted
into political appointments. From occupying bureaucratic
positions within an overarching political process
they have started moving directly into political positions.
Obama's political appointees include people like Rubin,
Geithner, and Summers, who are indubitably members
of the global financial community and who collectively
are in complete charge of economic matters in the
Obama administration. Bush's replacement by Obama
has merely led to the replacement of Paulson by Geithner.
The Wall Street giant to which one of them is loyal
may be different from the one that commands the other's
loyalty, but each of them is loyal to some Wall Street
giant, and is a true exponent of the ideology of finance
capital. Larry Summers, another political appointee,
who had occupied an important position in the Clinton
administration, has been re-inducted into the Obama
administration, having occupied the position of the
President of Harvard University for a while in between.
He reportedly earned $8 million last year, $5.2 million
from a leading hedge fund D. E. Shaw, and $2.77 million
from forty speaking engagements before executives
of banks and financial firms. Lecture fees of this
order, amounting to about $70 thousand per lecture,
are not paid merely for satisfying intellectual curiosity
or quenching the thirst for knowledge. They are a
pay-off for preaching the ideology of finance capital,
for imparting to neophytes the belief system shared
by the members of the global financial community.
It is of some interest to know that as Clinton's Treasury
Secretary, Summers had turned down all suggestions
for regulating hedge funds, claiming that those who
operated such funds were smart and sophisticated enough
to invest prudently!
How people like Summers, Geithner and Rubin come to
occupy such important political positions within the
U.S. system is pretty obvious. American Presidential
elections require massive amounts of money, a good
chunk of which invariably comes from Wall Street.
The story doing the rounds for a while was that Obama
had got most of his funds from small donations of
$100 each garnered through the internet; but this
was complete nonsense. Obama like others before him
had also tapped Wall Street and the appointment of
the trio, who had organized Wall Street finance for
him, was a quid pro quo. The elevation of members
of the global financial community to run the American
economy therefore should cause no surprise.
What is more surprising is the way the financial community
has insinuated itself into political positions even
in a country like India which had a prolonged anti-imperialist
struggle whose legacy still remains, and where politics,
admittedly electoral politics, is taken very seriously
by the people. The case of Manmohan Singh is too well-known
to be recounted here, but in recent years members
of the financial community have been smuggled in through
the Rajya Sabha route into the nation's politics and
kept in readiness for important political positions.
None of them has ever participated in any political
activity; none of them has ever won an election on
the basis of popular mandate; and none of them has
ever even been particularly loyal to the political
Party which nominates them. Nonetheless they emerge
as key political figures and promote even within a
system marked by universal adult suffrage the interests
of international finance capital.
Similar examples can be cited from a host of other
countries. Everywhere, members of the global financial
community are implanted upon the political process
to look after ''economic affairs'', which means to promote
and protect the interests of international finance
capital by ensuring that the neo-liberal policies
are carried on. This dialectical interaction between
traditional politics on the one hand and the members
of the financial community implanted upon it on the
other, constitutes one of the most significant aspects
contemporary bourgeois life.
Marxists, when they speak of ''bourgeois democracy'',
are often accused of resorting to hyperbole. ''Democracy''
after all is ''democracy''; why talk of ''bourgeois''
democracy and ''peoples''' democracy? True, one must
never pooh-pooh bourgeois democracy, since, of all
the possible forms of bourgeois rule, it is the one
that gives the people the widest possible scope for
organizing themselves into a force of resistance.
But the limitations of bourgeois democracy, the sham
that the bourgeoisie is forever attempting to reduce
it to, are equally palpable. This country is at present
engaged in a remarkable electoral exercise, but once
the results are out, the jockeying to ensure that
the economic levers of the country continue to remain
in the hands of the members of the global financial
community, will be equally intense. It is as if after
the people have spoken the real game will begin to
ensure that their words count for nothing. Winning
elections is not enough; defeating this post-election
game acquires even greater significance.