Need to Oust Professional Society

direct democracy

In his book The Rise of Professional Society England since 1880, Harold Perkin wrote: “The 20th century has seen the dissolution of the concept of absolute property. It has been replaced by a contingent concept of property based on professional service, which has inserted a series of intermediated subinfeudated tenants or beneficiaries into the hierarchy of ownership. This system is in danger of lapsing into a further round of exploitation by would-be absolute owners.” He quotes Peter Scott, the then editor of the Times Higher Education Supplement.

“An unintelligeable intelligentsia retreats from reality into a self- indulgent world, while professional technocracy pursues its amoral, mechanistic philosophy of scientific progress oblivious of its implications for mankind. Beneath this intellectual failure lies a deeper, moral one. It is nothing less than the repeal of modern society, the unravelling of its political, intellectual and moral fabric. The backlash against professionalism is a symptom of the collective condescension of the professions for what they perceive as the uncomprehending masses incapable of understanding their message.”

(1) The backlash was felt in India as the BJP won the Parliamentary elections in 2014 and 2019 by mobilising the vote of new caste combinations who had hitherto been excluded from the heist of public and private resources and claiming that their party was being treated as untouchable by professional elites in the Congress party. They
accused the Congress party Badralok, Babudom, Brahmins, forward caste and educated elites of benefiting from corruption and of depriving their party members of access to global benefits. Now in the Corona crisis we see the BJP similarly establishing their members in professional fiefdoms. India is not a professional society, but the influence of the rise of professional society is shaping and damaging democratic politics. The basic structural moral failure of
professional society is also getting reproduced in India.

Three issues with regard to the Corona pandemic illustrate the negative effect of professional fiefdoms on democracy. One, rapid communication via internet and mobile phones showed other Governments how the Government of the Republic of China locked down. Governments, including the Government of India found the authoritarian opportunities provided by the global pandemic and the lockdown irresistible. Actually numerous studies have shown that there is no difference in the course of the virus through a country whether a country practices lockdown or not. The UK practiced lockdown and Sweden did not, but the numbers of deaths and the rise and fall in numbers were similar in both. (2) But the Chinese model for controlling a pandemic was spread from one country to all other countries because of the mutual peer support of the global professional class, regardless of whether or not it is useful to the public. So this was the first horror of trans-national professional control of health as illustrated in the Corona episode.

Secondly, not all local population groups are afflicted equally by Corona. If each Gram Panchayat and town ward did its own epidemic control we would have very different health and care practices. Thus the second problem with health being a global subject managed by global professional society is that it results in enormous unnecessary
hardship to billions of people. Because we are in the grip of professionals who have a vested interest in controlling how the global pandemic unfolds, and who go in and out of the revolving doors of Governments, we the people lose the capacity to provide practical, individually tailored treatment not only for Corona but for any pain or suffering.

Thirdly, following from the previous two points, because professionals don’t care about the impacts on the public of their strategies and are only interested in the dead capital they can appropriate from the situation, everything their Corona policies touch becomes dead capital that is useless to the public. (3) So in this 2020 Corona pandemic the
public has suffered a triple whammy: one, we have to put up with the hijack of health by professionals, two, we have to put up with their indifference to the impacts of lockdown, and three we have to deal with the negative impact of the continuing creation of dead capital on democracy.

So we must ask ourselves, given the massive opposition to the present health arrangements and not least also the lockdown and the creation of a virtual Government, can we not turn all this round to our advantage and get a people’s movement to support any political parties that put forward something completely different? By identifying the real culprits, namely professional society, we have a strategy for destroying the main political enemy so that the path is free for the types of politicians we really want and need. In the place of professional society we want a democratic society. We want elected members of Gram Panchayats and town wards, and people’s assemblies in
gram sabhas and public meetings, powerful enough to put forth ideas and implement a practice of democratically controlled local public health budgets and institutions responsive to whatever health emergency or chronic health problem each individual in the community may be suffering from. Thus we want to overthrow the horrendous
international “intermediate subinfeudated tenants or beneficiaries in the hierarchy of ownership” that Harold Perkin identified more than 50 years ago as the bane of democracy.

The demand overlaps with the demand for more State powers against the Centre and more local democracy. Public health and party politics must free themselves from professionals. We must stop party politics being a competition to acquire professional fiefdoms. Professionals are never accountable, by definition they are above the public. They are
in it for themselves. Whatever happened to the Health For All by 2000 campaign of the United Nations? It never happened. Instead what we got in India is the most privatised health services in the world because the very professionals who were its greatest advocates were not in it for its public purpose at all, but only for themselves, and private money it turned out is more easily captured by professionals. The NDA that rode to power in Parliament on the basis of accusing Congress party of corruption has turned out to be as corrupt now as Congress was then. The problem are the professionals, who are the fons et origo of all corruption in this world. Maybe the Congress party can draw some lessons from this, reform itself, and come to power with a new willingness to democratise society in general, and health services in particular.

(1) Harold Perkin, The Rise of Professional Society England since 1880
(accessed 23 July 2020)
(3) For the concept of dead capital see Mathew Kuriakose, in Fascism,
Caste and Dead Capital.

Anandi Sharan  is a political commentator




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