T. Cliff


(Summer 1961)

First published in International Socialism (1st series), No.5, Summer 1961, pp.28-29.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Power Without Property
Adolf A. Berle
Sidgwick & Jackson. 15s.

This book is a rehash of Burnham’s Managerial Revolution, an apologetic for US capitalism. Everything in the process of capital accumulation and concentration is seen upside down. Thus the separation of management from ownership is not seen as the deputization of the managerial function by big business, but as the antithesis of big business. And, naturally, when the managerial function is separated from the whole economic context which determines its working, it becomes classless, an empty vessel into which any social content may be poured. Managerialism free of the laws of capitalism – the subordination of everything to capital accumulation – is absolutely arbitrary. One need but compare the image of Burnham’s Managerial Revolution with that of Bruno R. and A.A. Berle to see this clearly.

In Berle’s eyes the managers of the large US corporations are simply servants of the people. They are quite aloof from property motivations. “These men are detached from the conventional workings of the profit system; they become, in fact, an unrecognized group of professional administrators distributing the fruits of the American industrial system, directing its present activities, and selecting the path of its future growth.” (p.18). In the ‘good old days of laissez faire’, liberals believed that the ultimate protection of individuals lay in the play of the big corporations, the liberal economist economic forces in a free market. Now, with the undeniably monopolistic role of must seek another safeguard. Here it is the ‘public consensus’. ‘Our studies may have downgraded the individual as an economic factor. But he is still very much alive, visible, and active as a political factor.’ (p.92)

The final authority, we are told, is the body of consumers. “The aggregate of these personal choices determines the currents of what economists call ‘consumption’. In final account, they govern the product and operations of the industrial apparatus, which must, ultimately, meet the level of individual choice.” (p.135) What more could one wish for in the way of freedom and democracy!

It is quite interesting to see that this ‘managerialist’ apologetic of US ‘People’s Capitalism’ describes the Russian set-up as differing only marginally from his picture of the US. (pp.141-158)

The futility of Berle’s book is a reflection of the futility of any social analysis of form that overlooks content. The decisive factor of any society is not its formal organization, but the laws of motion dominating it.

Last updated on 25 February 2010