How the wealthy maintain their power over the working class

In the modern world one thing is pretty certain, the rich and powerful do not become so by being better human beings than anybody else, but all too often by being more exploitative, uncaring, ruthless and nastier individuals. That has been seen time and again down the ages. Royalty and nobility did not arise from noble motivations, but rather from brutality, extortion, theft, rape and murder. Even religions that start out as altruistic and humanitarian in their intent are quickly subverted and corrupted by status and privilege. They become effective instruments of control for the ruling elite, working in tandem with them to keep the ordinary folk ‘in their place’.

How the rich see the working class of today, skivvies to be exploited and ill-treated

One prime modern example is Iran, where Islam is used to keep the people under the thumb of an ugly, tyrannical theocracy. In Russia prior to the revolution, the Russian Orthodox Church worked hand-in-glove with the Romanov Tsar to prop up the ruling elite. Lenin was entirely correct in his statement that ‘religion is the opiate of the masses’; salvation can be a narcotic in its own right. Today in the West, where Christianity is in rapid retreat, that position has been taken by television, computer games, mobile phones and social networking. It is simply the old Roman bread and circuses repackaged and presented afresh for the twenty first century.

Cynical belief

I was always impressed at how the Christian church in medieval Britain managed to control the peasants on behalf of the ruling elite, mind you they were one and the same to a very large extent, given that most Bishops, Abbots and Monks came from noble families of varying seniority. In those days the clergy lived high on the hog eating the finest food, wearing the finest cloth and enjoying elevated social status, just like the ruling noble families of the day.

The one lever of control used by the church that most illustrates its position as an organ of the elite is the position it took on entry to heaven. The peasantry were told that although their life was full of often brutal drudgery and difficulty, as they sweated for their masters who formed the landowning elite, those rich masters would not be able to enter the kingdom of heaven, unlike the down-trodden and ill-treated peasantry who by fearing God and towing the line, would have automatic entry to heavenly paradise. Implying that by putting up with earthly suffering they would ensure salvation after death, it is certainly a unique selling point.

Now an intelligent peasant would soon begin to ponder on the fact that if his life on Earth was harsh and almost unbearable on Earth, suicide would facilitate early entry into the much promised paradise. The church had also cottoned on to that dangerous notion as well, and to prevent such practicality, and loss of free labour to the landowner, they stated that no person who committed suicide could enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

To me it is all rather convenient for the wealthy elite, to whom the church was happy to sell absolution of sins to allow the rich man to reach heaven, and was also happy to receive gifts of land, buildings and precious metals to boost the chances of the landed elite walking into paradise, waving at St. Peter as they confidently strolled past and into paradise.

The price of paradise

One prime example of such generosity towards the church that leaps from the pages of history is that of Harold Godwinsson. He later became King Harold II of England in the year AD 1066. The Godwin’s were a fabulously rich and powerful Anglo-Danish family who prospered under the reign of King Cnut, the Danish King of England who reigned from AD 1016 - 1035.

Harold established the church in Waltham Abbey, Essex that at one time was a very wealthy and influential religious establishment. It was the intended place of burial for Harold and indeed, his body was brought there after the Battle of Hastings.  Harold endowed the church with amazing gifts including, gospel books bound in gold covers, silver bound books, precious metal artwork including, silver and gold vessels for the altar, gold and silver reliquaries and candlesticks. Perhaps Harold’s most astounding gifts were life size statues of the twelve apostles and two lions, all covered in gold.

The value of it all staggering; when William Rufus the son of William the Conqueror stripped Waltham Church of much of its treasures, they were valued at a some of £6,000, a vast sum in those days. In today’s currency the monetary figure would look like a telephone number. It all goes to show that the mega rich were very serious about buying their place in heaven.

Squeezing the workers

Over time the lot of the people became ever more onerous as they were bound to their social superiors by tribute and service. There is an eleventh century text on estate management that makes all this quite plain. It states that –

‘the ‘gebur’ a low status labourer must perform week-work for two days each week of the year … and for three days from the feast of the Purification of Easter … And from when the ploughing is first done until Martinmas, he must plough one acre each week (for his lord), and he must present the seed to the lord’s barn… When death befalls him, let the lord take charge of whatever he leaves’.

Wouldn’t today’s employers just love to have such arrangements now, where the employee is obligated to work for nothing to increase their wealth and profit? It certainly seems as if they are gradually working towards it with their cheap imported labour, stagnant wage levels and their outrageous and rancid zero hours contracts of employment.

Just to show that some things never change when it comes to ancient feudal lords or modern employers, there is a lovely little anecdote from the story of the Life of St Kenelm which reads this: –

At that time the priest in Pailton, as was the custom, directed that the feast of St Kenelm should be celebrated by a break from work. When the lady who presided over the village heard this, as she reclined at dinner on that very feast-day, she refuted it with arrogant pride, hurled impatient words at the saint, and commanded with haughty contempt that no work should be interrupted, ‘Just because of Kenelm,’ she said, ‘I don’t know why we should lose a day’s profit’.

Child labour in Victorian England, how the wealthy get rich off the backs of the poor & vulnerable

Today we hear much the same refrain from greedy, exploitative employers in respect to bank holidays in the UK, notwithstanding that the UK has some of the fewest number in Europe. The grasping, money grubbing elites of today can trace their lineage right back to those rotten land owning elites of the early middle ages. They have been playing the same game down the millennia, keeping their boots firmly on the throat of the working class whether they are industrial or agricultural.

Forcing change

Times are maybe, just maybe beginning to change though. The economic collapse of 2008 caused by the unfettered greed of irresponsible bankers sent shockwaves around the world. The worst effected, as ever, were the ordinary working people. In the UK they saw job security disappear and wages fall through the floor as they not only struggled to stay in work, but at the same time had to compete with a flood of cheap foreign labour willing to work for poverty pay.

Outside of the UK, the massive protests that took place in Brazil during June 2013 started over the redevelopment of a park, but then took on momentum as other simmering issues came to the boil. Brazil is another one of those nations where an elite cabal of mega rich own the vast bulk of the country’s wealth, leaving the majority of the population to fight for a slice of the remaining economic pie, or the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table.

This is the real consequence of global capitalism. Ignore the smoke and mirrors of cheap consumer goods, designed to keep the ordinary people distracted and docile, the real aim is to further enrich the wealthy. It is all about creating secretive and select global elites, who will eventually overtly run the world economy for their own benefit. Whilst not quite a slavocracy, after all the waged working poor must be able to purchase the baubles and trinkets that keep them in a bovine, submissive state, but it is pretty damn near modern feudal serfdom.

Brazil may yet be the catalyst for a global awakening. It may even have begun with the ‘Arab Spring’, wherein people remove their blinkers, put down their games consoles, switch off their TV’s and smart phones, put aside their mindless entertainments and wake up to what is really happening all around them and demand change. That change will probably have to be forced on the streets, as it always has been with entrenched power elites down the ages.

Turkey has also been in turmoil during 2013, but there the issue is a reaction against the creeping Islamic fundamentalism that is beginning to eat away at the secularism and democracy created by Kemal Atatürk in 1923. The east has Islam and the West has global capitalism, both are equally capable of holding ordinary people in shackles and denying them freedom, democracy and equality. Both are also equally capable of throwing their people in front of machine guns in senseless wars in order to maintain their power and control.

Power is taken from the rich, it is never given by them

It may well be that 2013 is the year that people begin to awake from their slumber, and realise that they have been drunk on cheap consumer goods, often produced by exploited child labour in the third world. They may yet realise that materialism and greed have enslaved them and dumbed them down, whilst the global capitalist elites are laughing all the way to the off-shore bank. I hope that is the case, because they urgently need to wake up and smell the coffee. Revolution is in the air and the people want real change.

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©Copyright - James of Glencarr