The battle to define it is as old as the first European wars.
When the propaganda of the enemy takes over, even tools of analysis from progressives are hoodwinked and muddied. We (history students) at least have an appreciation that we cannot be defined by the terms of the enemy, that the enemy’s strategy is to label and discredit us, and to carve us into its imagery.
Since Russian President Vladimir Putin sent his troops to Ukraine to remove the puppet regime led by President Volodymyr Zelensky on February 24, as well as its Nazi supporters, and thus liberate citizens from the liberal hegemony imposed by America, a lot of Western media have labelled him as an irrational dictator with an “imperialist” agenda.
They have also accused Putin of trying to redraw European borders and rearrange the continent’s post-Cold War security order through the barrel of the gun. As expected, they have imposed sanctions on Russia, including leaders like Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Russian members of parliament as well as the central bank and other financial institutions.
US President Joe Biden and his EU allies have also removed Russian banks from Swift, closed Russian media organisations such as RT news channel, forced Western companies to withdraw from the country and seized the assets of Russian billionaire businessmen, whom they labelled “oligarchs”.
Sanctions is the use of economic pressure to achieve political ends. But what is an oligarch? By definition it is ascribed to be “someone who is a very rich businessman/leader with a huge political influence”. Other definitions describe oligarchy as the rule of a country by powerful and rich businessmen who sometimes make laws and government policy according to their interests.
However, it’s worth mentioning that these Russian billionaires built their wealth in tandem with the national interests of their motherland, which financed them. Similarly, Jack Ma, a Chinese billionaire trained and resourced by the Communist Party of China to counter Amazon via its Alibaba consortium, is equally an example of the importance of having party-trained billionaires who are loyal to national interests.
The term oligarchy has been vulgarised and weaponised by Western leaders and their media propagandists to target Russian businessmen such as mining and property mogul Roman Abramovich, the owner of English soccer team Chelsea, and Alisher Usmanov. They accuse them of being Putin’s associates and enablers.
If the oligarchy definition is sufficient, how do we then look at the world’s most powerful economy, the US? Who controls it? One of its oligarchs, Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, is responsible for 80% of genetically modified maize in the third world through his company Monsanto.
Through his Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which finances the World Health Organization (WHO), and which has shares in several pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer, Gates is responsible for 80% of the developing world’s vaccine market. Steve Jobs-founded technology company Apple, which is now a clandestine US government telecommunications organisation, is at loggerheads with Chinese rival Huawei over what political scientists call the first “technological war” of this century.
In the US, Huawei is considered a Communist Party of China spy operation. Yet Apple, which gets its cobalt in the Democratic Republic of Congo through its steady military bases across the Great Lakes region, is seen as a scientific innovator. Google, through its Android software, powers the majority of our cellphones, lives and emails and social media.
American billionaires influence debates in the US Congress, so much so that the US government has placed sanctions on Huawei. Despite publicly available evidence showing their role in US politics, Western oligarchs such as Gates are seen as innocent and innovative entrepreneurs who have no close ties to the political elites. However, the Russian billionaires, who mostly made money through their country’s natural endowments like gas, crude oil, and coal, are deemed economic terrorists.
Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned gas-oil-fuel company, has never invaded another country. Instead it built pipelines across border streams to supply the rest of Europe and the world with gas. The TurkStream connecting Russian gas to Turkey, the Nord 2 Stream to Germany through Kazakhstan, and the new 2019 pipeline from Kazakhstan to China are just examples of sheer brilliant trading.
The same can hardly be said about Western conglomerates like British Petroleum (BP), which has effectively occupied Nigeria for decades. Who can forget the death of activist Ken Saro-Wiwa who defended the people of Ogoniland who were mercilessly murdered by the British?
Another Western petroleum company, Shell, owned by the Royal Dutch Shell Group, is from the Netherlands and has a British lineage. I do not need to remind you of how large, ruthless and filthy rich the British colonial empire has been.
So why is the “oligarch” label reserved for Russian billionaires when we know the US is the playground of Wall Street bankers linked to multinational companies like Nike, Coca-Cola, McDonalds, and the like? Most of all, oligarchs who kill to forcefully occupy countries that don’t toe their line?
I am reminded of an argument back home about black capitalists. In Letters To my Comrades, a book by Pallo Jordan, he opines on the National African Federation Chamber of Commerce situation in the 80s that black capitalists are necessary in that capitalism, as a cultural embodiment of struggle, equally needs businessmen from our front who know the meadows of uneven development. I think this is what informs the ANC’s idea of a “patriotic bourgeois class”.
My point is that there need to be billionaires who are unapologetic defenders of the people's struggle, who are natives of the land, and who shall use their might in defending the fatherland. To label them as oligarchs simply because they are Russian, and happened to be close to Putin, is malicious propaganda.
Former president Jacob Zuma was copying the model of Putin and Chinese president Xi Jinping. Of course the owners of the wealth in South Africa quickly called on their global conspirators to label and attack him using the Gupta family as a stick with which to beat him up.
The Guptas are businessmen from India, the fastest-developing economy in the Indo-Asia region. Their businesses were closed, accounts frozen, their media outlets which were pro-BRICS were shut down, simply because our enemies know the strength of having a capitalist class that is not a ruling class in a colonised society. According to white monopoly capital in South Africa, the Guptas were Indian oligarchs who “captured the state”.
The Guptas were treated the same way as Abramovich, who is the subject of needless investigations in the UK for merely owning a football club as successful as Chelsea, while having been supported as an entrepreneur by the Kremlin under Putin.
It seems to me that words are losing their meaning in this era of misinformation and deliberate disinformation. Abramovich would disappear in a blink of an eye if he were to go against Russia, just like Jack Ma. Yet Gates can give America’s CIA money and even influence the election of US presidents without being subjected to any labelling and smear campaigns.