Norms and Values
From National ‘Power Elite’ to Global Political Class

C. Wright Mills exposed the political leadership of the USA in the 1950s as a ‘power elite’.   [The Power Elite. Oxford University Press,1956.  ] The pillars of political power were constituted by the military (the ‘warlords’), capitalists (the ‘corporate rich’ and ‘chief executives’) and the Washington DC political establishment (‘the political directorate’).  These elites formed a unitary ‘power elite’ sharing interdependent  political, economic institutions and a common ideology.  

Mills focussed on hegemonic countries as dominating world politics.  The Marxist conception of imperialism defined territorially based capitalist classes driving capitalism, whereas Mills defined other sources of power resting in the military and the state. International political conflicts were rooted in the politics of dominant states – particularly the then hegemonic powers of the USA and the USSR.  [See for example, The Causes of World War Three. London: Secker and Warburg 1958 ] The ‘power elite’ was defined in terms of decisions which were national in scope - politics was territorial. While Mills’s work was widely criticised, it was recognised as a critique not only of American democracy but also as a key to the understanding of the drivers of American foreign policy.  

Global Capitalism

By the end of the twentieth century, neoliberal capitalism developed as a global capitalist system in advance of its nineteenth century national imperialist form. Underlying the shift to capitalist globalisation were three major interconnected economic and political advances. 

First, major economic corporations, headquartered in the hegemonic Western countries became transnational companies. Such corporations became geographically spread through subsidiaries in the world economy though their ownership and leadership remained principally in the USA, Western Europe and Japan. 

Secondly, a qualitative shift took place in the spatial relationships between countries and regions consequent on the globalisation of economic and social relations. Borders between countries became porous as electronic communications facilitated instant and spontaneous financial and personal linkages.

Thirdly, these economic developments resulted in parallel social changes and new forms of political and economic coordination. The class structure of national capitalism was transformed from segmented national territorially based capitalist classes to a global form constituted by an enlarged global political class.

The Rise of the Transnational Political Class

The global nature of economics changed the pattern of international politics. The global political class contains new coordinating, policy making, and ideational bodies. These groups form a cluster of mutually reinforcing interests, which I define as a transnational political class.   [Sociologists, such as  Leslie Sklair, have defined it as a transnational capitalist class (TCC). This term is misleading because it includes groups which are not capitalist. Leslie Sklair, Globalization: Capitalism and its Alternatives. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2002.   ] There are six major components. The first, the ‘transnational capitalist class’, is composed of the executives and major shareholders in transnational corporations. Wright Mills’s domestic capitalist class remains loosely linked, though sometimes in opposition, to this new class formation.
Other factions of the transnational political class are constituted from elites which are not ‘capitalist’ in an economic sense, though they are part of the apparatuses which constitute global political power. 

The second faction is formed by the political elites of state and regional politicians and officials: state Presidents/Prime Ministers, members of the Commission of the European Union. While such leaders are, constitutionally, representatives of citizens of states (or regions) they have become identified with, and sponsor, policies promoting globalised capitalist political interests. ‘Populist’ parties oppose these political elites.

Thirdly, to coordinate global capitalism has been put in place the administrative/technical faction, made up of  elites of ‘globalising executives’ – board-members and policy formulators of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the World Trade Organisation, the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development, and the Bank of International Settlements. These institutions provide coordinating mechanisms for markets and the financial system to work on a global basis. The work of these bodies also has political implications.

Fourthly, the ideological faction includes the influential members of national and international political think tanks and policy associations, academic bodies (universities and research institutes, particularly in economics), and media managers - editors of publishing houses and ‘quality’ newspapers. Such elites articulate, and respond to, an economic ideology of neoliberal globalisation. They define ‘what we believe’. They also interpret  international affairs and are closely synchronised with political elites. Here they construct notions of the self and ‘the other’ – the adversaries of the civilised West.  Contemporary world politics are not, as suggested by Samuel Huntington, a ‘clash between civilisations’ but an adversarial conflict between a universal Western liberal civilisation and other civilisations. 

The fifth ‘consumerist’ faction is composed of merchants and media which promote and profit from consumerism. The minds of people have been captured not by religion but by the need to pursue the unremitting consumption of commodities and services. This faction is particularly important in spreading the culture-ideology of economic growth and consumerism: it includes companies and associations in the mass circulation print media, television, cinema, radio media companies, showbiz and commercialised sport. 
Six, the military-industrial-security complex retains an enforcement role and, through organisations such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), promotes and defends institutions and economic and political values. I add to Mills’s military-industrial complex the crucial  state security elites - the CIA and DIA in the USA, the BND (German Federal Intelligence Service) and the Military Intelligence Agencies in the UK. NATO is the major coordinating institution in this complex. 

Divisions in the Global World Order

Awareness of these class factions and their territoriality may clarify current political conflicts. Sanctions against Russia in its war with NATO/Ukraine, for example, may be favoured by the transnational hegemonic political and media interests, energy producers and the military-industrial-security sector of the global political class. Whereas manufacturing and consumerist elites in Germany and France oppose sanctions on Russia which raise their production costs. Globalised politicians and executives of international economic coordinating institutions, taking their cue from the USA, are willing to support a Western sanctions policy legitimated by Western media. The Western military-industrial-security sector gains immensely from war between NATO and Russia.

Outside the global political class, some states have retained, well into the twenty-first century, traditional political parties. Nationally orientated political and economic interests remain within capitalist states, and often adopt a ‘populist’ character. In rising countries, such as Russia and China, the global political class only partially penetrates these societies. National elites in such rising countries have tried to devise their own civilisational ideology, their own economic institutions, forms of property relations and independent military power. Conflict arises when the rising states are reluctant to accept the rules made by the global political class.

Economic Statecraft
Hybrid War and Hybrid Peace
Ivan Timofeev
The main problem of hybrid warfare is that it is easy to start and even easier to accelerate its momentum. Stopping it is extremely difficult, if not impossible. Moreover, a smouldering and self-sustaining hybrid war may well devalue political agreements and diplomatic efforts, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Ivan Timofeev.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.