Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Twilight of the Oligarchs

Michael Murph
Last week I published a brave prediction:

I see the political elites and their oligarch puppet-masters becoming endangered species in the United States before too long as the populace, including their own bodyguards, turns against them.

As usual, I made no attempt to specify what I mean by “before too long” because making predictions as to timing is a fool's game. And, as usual, I got a flurry of emails expressing a wide range of rationalizations but all adding up to the same sentiment: “not any time soon.”
Some people thought that the populace, consisting as it does of zombified overfed clowns addicted to Facebook and internet porn is unlikely to stage the revolution. Others thought that the oligarchy will manage to manipulate financial markets, destroy one country after another in order to drain all remaining wealth out of the world and consume it, and by so doing manage to placate the populace with bread and circuses, well into the future. The bodyguards are unlikely to rebel, some said, because they are so well paid.

Getting back to basics, it is a fairly obvious and increasingly well-recognized fact that the American empire, the empire of military bases, the Federal Reserve, the IMF and the World Bank, is on its way out. And it is a well-known fact about empires that when they fail those who held positions of power and privilege within them are quickly recycled into punching bags and pincushions. Oddly, nobody mentioned any of the mechanisms by which this transformation tends to take place, so I thought I'd mention them briefly.

First, when empires start falling apart, this is manifested in a few ways. One is loss of control over the periphery, as a shrinking pool of resources is used to shore up the center. Another is loss of control over the use of violence, as a wide variety of violent entrepreneurs enter the scene and the center is forced to play them against each other and make deals with them. And as the unraveling progresses, the violent entrepreneurs develop agendas of their own, which, inevitably, involve having the cooperation flow the other way: instead of cooperating with those formerly in charge, they demand that those formerly in charge start cooperating with them. And it is here that the scene turns bloody.

The violent entrepreneurs tend to follow certain general outlines as well. They form war bands by recruiting angry young men—a demographic which is in ever more plentiful supply in a failing empire. The war band is a totalitarian structure, in which the recruits pledge absolute allegiance to the organization and pass an initiation ritual that involves an arbitrary act of murder. In the case of groups as radical as ISIS, this may involve mass murder. There tends to be a clean break with the old, collapsing society, which is motivated by money and prestige within society at large, because these entrepreneurial groups are motivated by honor and prestige within the in-group only. Another feature is the extent of radicalization that happens within these groups, which influences the type of warfare these groups tend to wage. Whereas official military forces follow certain rules of engagement, such as trying to spare civilians, and especially women and children, and have as their goal the enemy's surrender, followed by negotiations, these groups aim for simple extermination, and, as any exterminator will tell you, exterminating the adult males of a population is not as effective as exterminating their young. This level of radicalization can be observed right now among the neo-Nazis in the Ukraine, whose death squads have been specifically targeting schools and maternity clinics in the east of the country; burials of some of the schoolchildren recently murdered by Ukrainian artillery were held just week. If you think that Ukraine is too extreme an example to apply to the US, think again: Uncle Sam and his Ukrainian mail-order bride happen to have a lot in common.

Of course, such practices are repugnant to the populace at large, but here we encounter the other key aspect of such developments: terrorized by the war bands, the populace becomes powerless to act. What's more, the level of cognitive dissonance between the public messages they hear and the daily reality to which they are subjected causes a large percentage of the population to become psychotic; this is also clearly the case in today's Ukraine, where many of the returning enlisted men are found to be too psychologically damaged to serve in any capacity whatsoever. For now, the Ukrainian oligarchs and their CIA puppet-masters are holding it together by throwing the radicalized groups at a phantom enemy—the so-called “Russian separatists,” while most of the country is being controlled by mercenaries hired by the oligarchs, to whom the American-installed junta handed out regional governorships after the February coup. But that campaign is going very badly, with extraordinarily high casualty rates and no victories to report, and it is a matter of time before the radicalized groups turn on those who sent them into battle: the junta and the oligarchs.

The oligarchs are protected by their various bodyguards and security services which go by a variety of names, but there is one name that fits particularly well: mercenaries. These people are paid to fight, and money, it turns out, is far less effective as a motivating factor than the honor and allegiance of a war band. In his chapter on mercenaries, Niccolò Macchiavelli points out a constant about them: they prefer to run away rather than die. This is true even today: in Ukraine, the American and Polish mercenaries fighting on the side of the junta saw very little action and were mostly kept away from areas where casualty rates were high. Some Polish mercenaries did get to see the front lines (and died there). Some said that this was because their life insurance is cheaper. But the general principle still holds: don't expect mercenaries to die for you; they work for money, and working for money involves staying alive long enough to spend it.

And so it stands to reason that the battle between the war bands and the oligarchs will be a short and uneven one: the oligarchs' body guards and mercenaries run away and the war bands take over. Some of the action is bound to be quite shocking; for instance, while the elites and the oligarchs themselves are rather well defended, at least initially, their children, ensconced in various elite schools, academies and universities, comprise a soft target, setting the stage for school take-overs, mass kidnappings and shootings of a very different sort from the ones seen to date. The general populace will jump of its skin to pledge support to whatever war band intimidates them the most. And the old political elites and their oligarch puppet-masters will fade from view.


Dime novels from Oblivion said...

"Of course, such practices are repugnant to the populace at large, but here we encounter the other key aspect of such developments: terrorized by the war bands, the populace becomes powerless to act."
All throughout college I'd hear hip liberal types quote Margret Mead,
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed its the only thing that ever has." They always seemed sure they were referring to themselves, or at the very least some imaginary band of altruistic revolutionary saviors, and not the number of well armed right wing militias, drug lords, etc. The historical examples of the sort of "small minorities" that actually have created change seemed lost on them.

Rhisiart Gwilym said...

Dmitry, if you have time and inclination, could you offer a brief comment on this piece by Prof. James Petras?


There seem to be two violently-opposing strands of comment developing, at least amongst Western commentators, about the - alleged - vulnerability and economic fragility of Russia.

Obviously, the clap-trappers of the Western lamestream media - a few of whom I would have expected to know better, or at least to have known that they don't know enough to offer a firm opinion - are chorusing that Russia is now in dire economic trouble because of the punishment meted out to them by the mighty USukisnato-axis; and this - it's alleged - is going to get worse, until VVPutin is deposed and Russia is brought to heel.

But mere common sense, plus other commentators who either speak Russian as natives, and can surf widely across a quite different database, or who know Russia well as frequent visitors and residents, and who have good fluency in the language, offer a sharply different picture.

Yourself, The Saker, Dr. Catherine Brown, and the people at 'Russia Insider', to name a few, offer lots of pieces of this alternative picture.

I suspect that this second picture is much more firmly anchored in the real world, rather than in rancid-empire wishful thinking. But is there some body of information that savvy people marinated in the Permanent Bullshit Blizzard of the Western lamestream media can get at, to get a truly clear and authoritative idea of its correctness, can you say, please?

How near the bullseye is Petras? Usually, I find him worth attention. But is this piece close to reality?

Anonymous said...

Here's an article I published a couple days ago. Yourself and the Wizard are a huge influence. Thanks for the inspiration.


I'm thinking about doing a review of Unspell next if that's ok.

Marc L Bernstein said...

I was about to say "I hope that you're right about the vulnerability of the oligarchs, Dmitry" and then I reflected on what it might be like to be ruled by a warlord. We're "between the devil and the deep blue sea" it appears.

In any case, your conclusions and scenarios have much in common with those proposed by John Michael Greer, who even used the word "senility" to describe the oligarchs (Greer uses the term "elites" which is more or less the same as "oligarchs") near the end of their period of ascendancy. I believe that Greer is correct about the oligarchs becoming so accustomed to being in control that they fail to take notice of crucial threatening developments going on around them, or underestimate them.

There is a statement pertaining to those who are gamesmen, sportsmen or gamblers - "those who are accustomed to winning a rigged game become stupid".

There is a countervailing force that works to preserve the oligarchs at least for awhile, something that Greer talks about, which is the large number of intermediaries within the economy in whose interest it is that the status quo be maintained. These intermediaries are not warriors but they may help to prolong the reign of the oligarchs for awhile.

In any case, your statement about the fragility of the loyalty of mercenaries seems quite accurate.

Sam Holloway said...

The U.S. is a country chock full of well-armed, paranoid, belligerent simpletons who won't quite know what to do with themselves when the things they take for granted (plentiful fossil-fuel-based power, ease of movement, cheap imported consumer goods, industrial food supply, etc.) start running out or stop entirely.

I imagine that as collapse commences, there will be a mad rush to rally behind reactionary demagogues who will point fingers at the usual perennial bugbears, but once they run out of black and brown people to hunt and kill, they'll swiftly turn on each other. Assuming global warming doesn't kill us all first, any reasonably sane people surviving the bloodbath might be begging and praying for foreign intervention and occupation.

jwl said...

In every empire, particularly as evinced by Rome, the emperors "lived" in constant fear of the imperial guard.

Unknown said...

@ Sam Holloway

On this matter, one should read "The Drowned Cities", by Paolo Bacigalupi:



Odin's Raven said...

First the barbarians attack the Empire, then they protect it; then they are it.

yvesT said...

"And it is a well-known fact about empires that when they fail those who held positions of power and privilege within them are quickly recycled into punching bags and pincushions."

Do you have example of these from post empires declines ?

This doesn't sound trivial to me at all (maybe one or two symbols at the very top), but the power casts ?

For instance after the fall of the USSR, didn't many high ranking guys from the communist party kept some key positions ?

And what is ahead seems so munumental that anyhting can happen ...

Stegiel said...

I fail to see why the collapse of the US empire will mean the ruling oligarchs lose power. The National Security State will not disappear. It did not in Russia or Eastern Europe or the Reich. It is protean. The Anglo-American security system will survive by concentrating power even more tightly. Probably by creating a North American Union to ensure the revenue/resource stream to the military/security/banking apparatus remains secure.

Jon said...

What you are describing is a coup. This National Security State would be run by other than the current oligarchs. Also, I suspect we will see a Balkanization of North America with several regions consolidating their own power and vying with each other for supremacy. After all, it was a strong central government that forced often unwilling regions to join in the first place. Old resentments never die.

Before Rome was an empire, it was a republic governed by a Senate. After it fell (the eastern Roman Empire, at least) it fell into regions run by war lords and ‘Mafia Dons.’ The only difference between a Senator and a war lord is legality.


O said...

Do you think Putin will ever be in a position to "relocate" the Chelsea owner?Oligarchs were certainly not all dealt with,pin cushioned etc.What are the statutes of limitation like in Russia these days?


I think in reality we will see a mixture of things: some oligarchs will become war lords or continue to have power and control for some other reasons; some will flee or get killed together with their families; and yet others will manage to co-exist with war lords, sharing power and responsibilities, so to speak. Different regions will have different "combos". But violence and bloodshed are bound to take place everywhere, as war lords are going to compete with other war lords in addition to trying to displace oligarchs. It will be a tricky task for ordinary citizens to not get caught in a cross fire, literally and figuratively.

Island Poet said...

One very large and seldom addressed point in on-line discussions is control of the nuclear stockpile. The US military, clearly distinct from the blathering idiots in Washington, DC has control (mostly) of the world's largest collection of nuclear devices. Does anyone actually think they will not use the threat of those to maintain the status quo? What I fear most is an ambitious General...

yvesT said...


After the western Roman Empire fell you mean ?
I'm not sure it was run by "mafia doms", there are a lot of hypothesis around this.
(and different cases, Italy, France then Gaul, Eastern Europe, North West Africa, etc)
But our time is so different anyway...

Jon said...

YvesT, right. I noticed the error after I sent the comment. Thank you. My point is that sometimes symantics plays a big role in our interpretation. War lords, mafioso, barons, senators. What's the difference? Ultimately, no matter how corrupt or virtuous a ruler is they still have to maintain a certain amount of order, otherwise they are replaced.


Anonymous said...

I see the oligarchs being overthrown when the system collapses, but not before. Until then, probably the 2030s in my view, the present US government will survive because enough imperial tribute from gradually declining trade will flow to US elites. There are already right wing crazies that join war bands in the CIA and US military that can overthrow the US government, but there is also enough of a remaining middle class to provide resistance. A neglected area of the analysis of peak empire is the racist nature of that empire; I expect a brutal fight in US cities involving black and brown people, a fight that before was conducted in the third world by the radical right and the oligarchs.

mm said...

It is a misconception that the IMF is controlled by the US. China has called for a global currency to be controlled by the IMF as a conduit to support the internationalization of the yuan, which will integrate into the SDR basket.


Here's a good overview of the role of the SDR in the context of a rapidly devaluing USD:


Of course no one is attributing this attempt at a global debt consolidation to peak oil, which is clearly the underlying reason for it.

Anonymous said...

The collapse of political power happend at least once in US, widely unrecognized by public and suppressed by deep state.
It was 9/11. The figure, Bush 43-rd, was forced to postulate every day a prayer: 9/11 9/11 bad weather: 9/11, unemployment: 9/11, foreign or domestic policy: 9/11.

He was forced from behind to do, what he was told to do.

Something similar we can see now with Hussein Obanana: even a politician from Middle East reminds him of Grassy Knoll, and follow the script.