T. Cliff


(Autumn 1961)

First published in International Socialism (1st series), No.6, Autumn 1961, p.33.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The Ruling Servants
E. Strauss
George Allen & Unwin Ltd. 1961. 30s.

This book deals with the role of bureaucracy in state and mass political organizations, which is one of the most important and controversial problems of today. Strauss’s methodology, however, is sadly defective.

He demonstrates with a wealth of detail that bureaucratic rule results from strong tension between conflicting social interests. He could thus be assumed to conclude that bureaucracy would wither away with the abolition of classes and class conflicts. Not so. For Strauss the bureaucracy is an inevitable growth of the mass society: ‘Modern man must live with Leviathan, and the question is not how to kill it but how to tame it.’

This conclusion stems from a failure to grasp the central theme of the development of class society: the rise of a bureaucracy as well as the division of society into classes have a common historical root, namely, the division of labour expressed in the separation of manual and mental labour. The complete victory of socialism means the complete abolition of this separation. Clearly it would be impossible to abolish it immediately after the socialist revolution, but workers’ control over production will become an immediate bridge between mental and manual labour, and the point of departure for their future synthesis, the total abolition of classes.

Accepting the division of labour, and above all the separation of mental and manual labour, as permanent phenomena, Strauss cannot but consider the bureaucracy in the same light.

He is largely influenced by the German economist and social philosopher Max Weber, who used the word bureaucracy primarily as a description of a rational system of administration in general. Thus in his hymn of praise to the Prussian civil service, Weber describes its characteristics thus: ‘... precision, speed, unambiguity, knowledge of the files, continuity, discretion, unity, strict subordination, reduction of friction and of material and personal losses’. He forgets that where intellectual potentialities are presented to the majority of workers as the property of another class, the whole of humanity is thereby impoverished, and that the price of the technical ‘rationality’ of the bureaucracy is general irrationality, including what is called mass apathy. Not at all clear as to the basic irrationality underlying the ‘rational bureaucracy’, Strauss, starting out to condemn the Leviathan, remains, it seems, to praise it. For him Marx’s words would be quite meaningless: ‘Of all instruments of production, the greatest productive power is the revolutionary class itself.’ And a revolutionary class is the enemy of all bureaucracy, of all manipulations of people by reactionary – including State and Party – machines.

The best part of the book is the historical section which deals with Russia, France and Britain. To the extent that the State, in a class society manages to raise itself above the contending classes serving the ruling class (the classical case of ‘Bonapartism’), the study of the relatively autonomous movement of the State can be very interesting. This Strauss describes quite well. One must only bear in mind that this autonomy of the State is very limited and relative, and depends in the final analysis on the historically transitory class society.

Last updated on 25 February 2010