Well, since you ask
, the ruling class in the UK has been estimated
to comprise about 0.1% of the adult population - at the time of this estimate (1991), this would have been 43,500 people. That is the number of people who would both form part of the capitalist class, and rule politically. Today, if the same proportions held, the ruling class would comprise about 50,000 people. However, a caveat. Quantifying the ruling class in this way can be useful for social imaging, but such figures should be taken with a pinch of salt. The ruling class should be understood not first as a quantity, but as a relation. And since those relations are in constant flux, constantly needing to be produced and reproduced, and since capital (and political power) tends to be progressively concentrated among smaller numbers of people, there will be a tendency for the ruling class to shrink relative to the population. At any rate, no such quantity is stable.
Further, in addition to the capitalist class itself, there is a bourgeois penumbra, a set of institutions and agents who rule alongside and on behalf of the capitalist class and whose social power is derivative of the capitalist class - these elites are particularly concentrated in the state. Which brings us back to the point I left you with yesterday, namely that a ruling class is such when it commandeers the state - it must not merely hold wealth but rule politically by virtue of that wealth, and the most important strategic space within which political antagonisms are resolved is in the national state. In the historic development of capitalist social relations, the emergence of a distinctly capitalist ruling class results in a distinctly capitalist form of state power. Robin Blackburn, in the discussion of Hanoverian Britain in The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery, describes how after the 'Glorious Revolution' of 1688 the new political arrangements favoured the direct rule of capital, inasmuch as a monarch with weak legitimacy allowed the propertied oligarchy to be assertive of its interests in parliament, while dominating most state posts at a local as well as national level - as County Commissioners, Lords Lieutenant, or Justices of the Peace, as well as MPs. Highly lucrative public offices - such as the Bank of England and chartered companies - were held as private property. As statesmen, they established corporations; as corporate members, they profited from the enterprise. As MPs they legislated; as Justices of the Peace they interpreted the law. Blackburn points out that this system, with its narrow franchise and rotten boroughs, represented bourgeois rule at an immature stage. As a result of this immaturity, the British capitalist state then had to proceed through centuries of struggle and adaptation, incorporating a franchise for the middle class, then working class men, then women, while also incorporating some popular demands in the form of social democracy. But the major offices of the state, its laws, its apparatus and its division of labour (social as well as technical) were elaborated under bourgeois domination, thus giving us a concrete example of how a state becomes 'impregnated' (in Therborn's phrase) with the drives of a particular social class, the capitalist class, allowing that class to rule politically.
So, this brings us to the role of the police, whose relationship to News International becomes all the more understandable once the former's role is better understood. This relationship included not merely the bribing of junior to middle rank police officers, and not merely wining and dining of senior officers, but the constant circulation of personnel between News International and the Met. There was a confluence of interests and a concert of actions. For example, when the police murdered Jean Charles de Menezes, it was the newspapers, particularly News International that they turned to to vilify the dead man. Lo and behold, we discover that News International was hacking the phone belonging to Menezes' cousin. And the favours were returned. The police not only failed to properly investigate News International's phone hacking when it was revealed, but actively applied pressure on the competition not to pursue the case. To say that this relationship facilitated a criminal conspiracy may be an understatement - when all the facts are out, it may prove more accurate to say that it was a criminal conspiracy.
But why should the police force be so available for corruption in tandem with the reactionary press? To answer this, it is important not to start with too much of a 'police' conception of the police. They are not merely a repressive apparatus. Nicos Poulantzas points out (State, Power, Socialism) that even ‘mainly’ repressive apparatuses such as the army, police, courts, prisons etc., all produce the ideological bases of capitalism. The distinction between the repressive and ideological apparatuses can thus only function at a purely indicative level. To insist on a strict division of labour along these lines leads to a mistaken conception of the state, in which it secures acquiescence either by means of coercion or through 'false consciousness', ignoring the fact that the state must produce a material substratum for consensus, organising aspects of productive relations in such a way as to generate consent. There is a tendency to see the state's role as extrinsic to the economy, as merely the guarantor of an autonomous, self-sufficient capitalist economy. This depends on a certain mechanistic 'base-superstructure' model of the relation of political structures to the economy. It would be more accurate to say that the state constitutes the economy in various ways, in that it condenses, concentrates, organizes and materializes the politico-ideological relations that are already inherent in the relations of production. The police, by upholding the system's political and legal relations, assist in the reproduction of its productive relations; at the same time, by punishing transgressions (and normally issuing statements explaining the normative basis for such punishment), they assist in the moralization and legitimation of the same productive relations.
Let's take a concrete example. The police are aware of a protest that is due to take place in Whitehall. They anticipate what they would term serious violence and disorder. Part of the reason is that this protest is organised by people who challenge the existing social-property relations, and the police consider any attempt to seriously realise such a challenge, however peaceable and democratic, an affront to their authority. Anyway, they coordinate a set of responses intended to bring the protest under tight spatial and physical control, until it can be dispersed. But those responses are not merely technological and technocratic. They proceed in a very ideologically sensitive manner, careful to produce the political-ideological pretext for each move they make. Even if this involves nothing more than arresting many people on trumped up charges, the very fact of people having been arrested will certainly be presented in the media as evidence of serious disorder and violence, because the media automatically accept the legitimacy and validity of police claims until such time as they are rendered ridiculous - and sometimes not even then. That is, the police don't merely exercise a part of the state's monopoly of legitimate violence; they are the authoritative moral arbiter. And it is only because they are such that their highly ideological, politicised action is treated as neutral.
We proceed with the example. The police use a repertoire of violence to coerce and contain the protesters - punches, slaps, baton strikes, mounted charges - and finish the day by isolating a manageable number of protesters and kettling them in a space so confined as to be physically dangerous for a prolonged period of time. The explicit reasoning is that they are being held to prevent a breach of the peace, and that their detention will last no longer than is necessary to assure a peaceful dispersal. But this, of course, is an intensely ideological depiction of affairs, and requires a great deal of ideological preparation and foregrounding for its conduct to be coherent. Certain things must be automatically airbrushed or discounted for. Hence, the media, and especially the most right-wing and authoritarian tabloids, will be a natural ally in this process, particularly in the subsequent witch hunts. At every step here, the police have conducted a series of movements along various dimensions - political, ideological, legal, economic, etc - which isn't reducible to the forms of repression deployed. Even in its repressive moment, the state is enacting ideology - because ideology is not just a field of representation, but precisely a set of material practises, customs, lifestyle etc. When the police punish individuals (and, relevantly, fail to punish others), they contribute to these practises.
So, what is left that is mysterious about the relationship between the police and the media? Yesterday, I said that the capitalist media operates in a specific vector of class power concerned with the reproduction of ideas and images and that its relationship with politicians was thus very natural as the latter also play a key role in the reproduction of ideology. The capitalist media's ability to reproduce the dominant ideas and images in society is expressive of the dominance of capital in and over society. If the state, as we have also said, concretises social relations, then the police in a capitalist state concretise the political and ideological dominance of the capitalist class. Nothing is more logical than an alliance of mutual dependence between a sector of capitalist class power that is ideologically dominant, and a sector of state power that materializes that ideological domination in its day to day practises. Such an alliance, even a corrupt or criminal one, merely formalizes the implicit systemic co-dependence of the two. The fact that it took the form of this kind of criminal conspiracy owes itself to more concrete determinations than we have discussed here - the specific history of the Metropolitan Police, the evolution of the Murdoch empire, the accumulated outcomes of past struggles, the politics of the modern Conservative and Labour parties, and so on. But those will have to be followed up tomorrow.
Labels: capitalist ideology, media, metropolitian police, new labour, police brutality, propaganda, ruling class, rupert murdoch, tories