Hegemonic Resistance to Change

To properly understand how to drive the required social and economic changes we need to be able to understand how the powerful, who benefit from the current system the most and also tend to be the most indoctrinated in it, will react and attempt to stop such changes from happening. “Know your enemy” has always been central to winning any struggle. Fundamental changes will be required to reorient humanity towards a sustainable path, and many of them will challenge in place power and wealth relationships.

We must also accept that there is a viable model that would sustain much of the current power and wealth relationships, neo-feudalism. As economic activity and wealth are reduced due to lower amounts of available energy, stemming from the lower usage of fossil fuels (either by depletion or climate change legislation), a greater and greater percentage of the population will be without work and adequate wealth. In addition, the inability to repay interest-bearing loans will produce fire-sales of both private and public debtor’s properties (John Steinbeck’s the “Grapes of Wrath”1 shows this process during the 1930’s depression, and the current situation in Greece2, 3 provides a modern version). This will lead to a greater and greater concentration of ownership, with the mass of the population reduced to a hand-to-mouth existence as part of the contingent workforce. Such a process does seem to be underway in the United States where median incomes have kept falling during the recovery from the 2008/9 recession and are still below the level in 20004. The only age group that have kept up with inflation are those 65+, but as financial assets fall to reflect a no growth environment (at best) the pension plans and annuities upon which they rely would be severely impacted. In contrast the “1%” seem to be doing very well for themselves, and the sales of “dog friendly sushi” are booming5. The final winners of this will be the ones with “hard” assets such as land, control over supply networks, and connections within the government/military/police apparatus.

The ruling elements within industrial societies, whether capitalist, communist, or socialist, have developed and utilized highly effective techniques to co-opt the rest of society into their worldview, through extensive modes of indoctrination and propaganda. Where these processes fail to remove dissent, by curtailing the conceptual framework through which citizens assess society, incremental changes are offered that do not fundamentally challenge the underlying ideological mechanisms and overall social control. The Pecora Commission6 and the regulatory changes made in the United States in response to the Great Depression of the 1930’s can be seen in this light, as the capitalist system responding to a crisis, and appearing to punish the “guilty”, while not changing  the underlying economic and social configuration. The repeated UN Climate Change conferences would also qualify, producing the appearance, but not the actuality, of real changes. Such superficial changes serve to entice individuals into “working within the system” to meet their needs. Many environmental organizations and individuals have been entwined to some extent within the system, helping companies to be more “green”, supporting the concept of sustainable development7, or focusing on specific non-threatening causes, rather than challenging the underlying causes of ecological degradation8. Leading individuals may also be enticed away with highly remunerative offers from corporations and other entities that support the status quo. The acceptance of local alternative currencies which are not of a scale to threaten the dominant monetary system, and the “Rochdale” style consumer cooperatives, may also fall into this category of acceptable incremental actions. The implementation of superficial formal democracy, while keeping the real power away from democratic control, would also qualify. For those citizens and organizations where such co-option fails, direct actions by the hegemonic group with tacit or active state support can be utilized to nullify the challenge. As with the case for many alternative currency systems in the 1930’s, when they threatened to grow to the point of becoming significant alternatives, they may be shut down, or limited in such a way to minimize their impact to the status quo. The large scale worker cooperatives, and consumer cooperatives selling at near cost, could not be accepted by capitalist societies given their threat to undermine wage-labour and the market system. The reactions can be economic (e.g. bankrupting cooperative enterprises), institutional (banning alternative currencies), use media and social channels to have individuals deemed to be outside of acceptable social norms, or even incarceration (an example would be the Russian “Gulags” and the Chinese “Re-education” camps). Thus, non-conformists are faced with the choice of comfortably “fitting in” and pushing for change within the system, or stepping outside the system and accepting the consequences. The case of the Occupy Wall Street movement followed the general pattern, when marginalization and co-option were no longer seen as viable direct police action was used.

Foucault9 has extensively covered the move to control by indoctrination from control by state-sponsored violence, and many authors have covered the process of indoctrination through schooling10, 11, the media12, 13, and the control over what parts of history (and thus a society’s narrative) are deemed to be acceptable14, 15. Hound and Hou capture the scale of such efforts, “Indoctrination is, of course, present in every society. The permanence of the values which insure social stability could hardly be maintained unless schools, religious institutions, military organizations, and scores of other associations — both compulsory and voluntary — worked to implant in the minds the ethical norms and behaviour patterns of a social and political culture. The rigidity of such norms may vary from place to place, and there may be more or less uniformity in the messages issuing from agencies and organizations. Still, in any society, the area of consensus fostered by popular indoctrination needs to be substantial — particularly in times of internal and external crisis <author’s emphasis added>”16. A highly indoctrinated populace may resist changes which are objectively beneficial to them if such changes clash with the indoctrinated belief system, as captured in the Marxist concept of false consciousness. This could be the case with alternative and communitarian ownership proposals in countries, or regions, where the hegemonic belief system is one of private ownership and individualism. Remnick17 shows the breakdown of such indoctrination in the U.S.S.R. (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) during the period of Perestroika as the rediscovery and reinterpretation of historical and current events undermined fundamental parts of that belief system. This severely weakened the legitimacy of the Communist Party, through the destruction of its ideological base. Zinn14 covers many examples in the United States of the combination of attempted co-option, combined with the threat of incarceration or physical attack, to bring issue resolution within the purview of acceptable channels and beliefs.

Continued ruling beliefs in the efficacy of fractional reserve banking and complex derivatives, the need to restart exponential growth, and the privatized provision of debt-based money, even after the 2007-2009 financial crises, show the current strength of the ruling ideology with respect to the monetary and financial system. At no time during the discussions of Quantitative Easing (QE) has the possibility of the government directly spending money into existence rather than the central bank provision of funds to commercial banks and the bond markets, been addressed. Instead “market-based” solutions dominate discussions. The ability of the ruling elites to change the discourse from the causes of the financial crisis (the nature of the current financial system) into one about required government cuts to reduce public debts (exacerbated by bank bailouts, recession, tax cuts, and military expenditures), also shows the continuing strength of the current systems of indoctrination and propaganda to reinterpret events and alter the discourse to maintain the status quo. Such strength points to the need to carefully select the environment for reforms that reach beyond the local level, and for gaining significant allies and partners for such reforms. The process of overcoming such hegemonic control was eqloquently stated by union organizer Nicholas Kleingave in 1914, “First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you”.18


1. Steinbeck, John (1939), The Grapes of Wrath, Viking Press

2. Alexander, Harriet (2013), Greece’s great fire sale, The Telegraph. Accessed at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/greece/10007606/Greeces-great-fire-sale.html

3. n/a (2013), Greece in crisis, The Guardian. Accessed at http://www.theguardian.com/world/series/greece-in-crisis

4. n/a (2013), The average American household is now earning LESS income than it did at the end of the Great Recession, Mail Online. Accessed at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2400395/The-average-American-household-earning-LESS-income-did-end-Great-Recession.html

5. Robinson, Peter (2012), Top 1% Got 93% of Income Growth as Rich-Poor Gap Widened, Bloomberg. Accessed at http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-10-02/top-1-got-93-of-income-growth-as-rich-poor-gap-widened.html

6. Perino, Michael (2010), The Hellhound of Wall Street: How Ferdinand Pecora’s Investigation of the Great Crash Forever Changed American Finance, Penguin Press

7. Cattaneo, Claudia (2011), Ex-Greenpeace leader bats for oil sands, Financial Post. Accessed September 2nd, 2012, at http://business.financialpost.com/2011/09/26/ex-greenpace-leader-bats-for-oil-sands/

8. Stainsby, Macdonald & Jay, Dru (2009), Offsetting Resistance: The effects of foundation funding and corporate fronts, author published. Accessed September 2nd, 2012, at http://thewrongkindofgreen.files.wordpress.com/2010/03/offsettingresistance.pdf

9. Foucault, Michel (1980), Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-1977, Vintage

10. Illich, Ivan (1971), Deschooling Society, Marion Boyars

11. Loewen, James (1995), Lies My Teacher Told Me, Simon & Schuster

12. Herman, Edward & Chomsky, Noam (1988), Manufacturing Consent, Pantheon

13. Bernays, Edward (1928/2004), Propaganda, Ig Publishing

14. Zinn, Howard (1980), A People’s History of the United States, Harper & Row

15. Faludi, Susan (2007),The Terror Dream: Myth And Mysogyny In An Insecure America, Picador

16. Houn, Franklin & Hou Fu-Wu (1961), To Change A Nation: Propaganda and Indoctrination in Communist China, Free Press of Glencoe

17. Remnick, David (1994), Lenin’s Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire, Random House

18. Eoin, Carroll (2013), Political misquotes: The 10 most famous things never actually said, Christian Science Minitor. Accessed at http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Politics/2011/0603/Political-misquotes-The-10-most-famous-things-never-actually-said/First-they-ignore-you.-Then-they-laugh-at-you.-Then-they-attack-you.-Then-you-win.-Mohandas-Gandhi

                Note: As stated in the Chrsian Science Monitor article Gandhi never said a very similar quote that is attributed to him


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2 Responses to Hegemonic Resistance to Change

  1. entropee says:

    This article is interesting but pretty dry & limited in it vision of the future--both in terms of the dangers posed by "catabolic capitalism" & the prospects for resistance. The following articles on the same subject are more interesting & insightful.

    • rboyd says:

      In this article I was laying out how any modern power elite will resist challenges, and the steps from ignore/co-opt to aggression and violence (which is always there in the background). Thus it was more about understanding the tactics of the powerful in redirecting or shutting down threats, rather than looking at how to deal with them. Also, to understand where a given country is on the scale from "soft" to "hard" responses. Many people I find don't know the history of repression that was used to produce the current status quo, just like the population of the USSR before Perestroika (I will be putting Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States" in my book list), I understand that it is a bit dry, given that this is a fundamental part of the way we view elite actions I was trying to describe things in a very defined way.

      Capitalism is a social system that was quite consciously implemented to make sure that there was no alternative to wage labour for the majority, through the continuing expropriation of the commons (Perelman covers this very well in "The Invention of Capitalism"), and is a form of elite control in the same way that Communism is. Neither is an accurate description of how a "capitalist" society works, as the elite is more like the military/industry/political "Power Elite" of C. Wright Mills or a form of Corporatism that is becoming tighter and more established by the day.

      The "catabolic capitalism" that Collins talks about seems to me to be only a variation of the "disaster capitalism" of Naomi Klein, and has simply been extended to the more wealthy countries since the 1970's economic and social crises. Before capitalism was implemented there were still markets and still profits, but they were under strict social controls to stop price gouging etc. Thus I disagree with Collins that profits and a steady state economy are inimical. A monetary and financial system based upon interest bearing debt, and huge corporations who's only legal directive is to increase profits, and with more wealth than most countries combined with the rights of a real person, are. There are some good examples of more equitable and truly democratic societies, such as Kerala in India, or the very direct democracy of Switzerland. Once a country reaches a certain size though the style of rule does seem to tend towards the autocratic. The question is how we get from here to there, while also understanding that anywhere near our current material standard of living is not viable without fossil fuels or hydro-power.

      The issues are bigger than capitalism, communism, socialism though as all of those enlightenment philosophies assume that humanity has the right to take the earth for itself and that "technology" will rescue us from the negative effects. That has to be thrown away and we go back to a more reverent understanding that we only have one earth on which to survive and co-exist with other species. A final aspect is "how long do we have?" which seems to be shortening with every new scientific analysis.

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