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Bert Cochran

Socialism, Power Elites and Bureaucracy

(February 1957)

From the American Socialist Collection of Sol Dolinger.
Copied from the American Socialist Archive created by Louis Proyect.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Theorists have long juggled with the notion that some kind of an elite must rule the world, as the masses cannot rule themselves. Has socialism got the answer to this claim?

THE most telling attack on the Marxist system was not the holes that economists may have exposed in its economic theory, which neither Marx nor his disciples had fully plugged up; it was not even that Marx had misread some of the directional signposts, and had miscalculated the speed with which history would play out its themes; and it was certainly not the incidental correction of factual data which later investigators were able to introduce. It was not any of these, important though some of the criticisms and new data have been to modify and supplement the system, and above all, to bring it up to date. The most basic criticism, however, has remained, and that is that Marx succumbed to the very utopianism that he was battling when he imagined that communism would bring an end to the class struggle and usher in a new classless and stateless society of free brotherhood.

Long ago the most astute of the middle-class thinkers understood that Marxism was not just another intellectualistic exercise of a German philosopher, which, while astounding the mind by its virtuosity, nevertheless had no immediate application to the mundane affairs of man. Long ago many of them concluded that Marx with the prescience of genius had caught the essential trends in modern history, and what was even more diabolical from their point of view, had devised a program of how to organize modern labor movements and hasten the historical trends along. In other words, they accepted as scientific Marx’s proposition that the modern class struggle would lead to the downfall of capitalism and the creation of a new collectivistic society.

But they thought that at this point Marx said goodbye to his science and turned himself into another doctrinaire and dreamer when he avowed that proletarian rule would be the instrumentality to abolish the class struggle and eventually do away with domination of society by a privileged minority. “All that is going to happen,” the worldly-wise assured us, “is the substitution of the rule of the capitalistic oligarchy by anew socialistic aristocracy.”

They rested their case on an admittedly powerful argument: all hitherto known societies have been dominated by ruling aristocracies, and since it has always been that way, a case can be made out for thinking that it always will continue to be that way. Or, as the positivists stated it, all talk of a future classless society is outside the realm of scientific discourse. Since we never saw it, we can’t know about it.

IT is necessary to return to this question as the rise of Soviet Russia and similar states in China and Eastern Europe, rather than resolving conclusively the theoretical problem, have merely transferred it onto a more specific arena of conflict. The theoretical question, moreover has assumed burning importance in everyday politics as the capitalist ideologists and propagandists are warning the peoples-not without successes-that the evidence proves that Communism represents merely the rule of a new elite based upon state ownership of property; that this new ruling class is more tyrannical and ruthless than the capitalist-and that the exchange would therefore not be in the popular interest.

We socialists are up against the fact of life that a new generation, especially in America, has to be convinced afresh that socialism does in fact represent a superior system for the peoples, that Marx’s idea of the eventual withering away of the state is not a pipedream, but a realistic if very rough sketch of the future state of human society. New cadres for socialism will be created only when young people believe these things again, and only be cogent reasoning and intellectual demonstration can we hope to convince them. They will certainly never be won by repeating the old, tired shibboleths, or by casuistry, or socialistic cant.

To return to our subject. At the very height of the era of Western democratic parliamentarism, liberalism, and social reform, when the idea of gradual and unlimited progress was accepted as an axiom of political life, there arose important exponents of a neo-Machiavellian school of political science. This development, running counter to the prevailing intellectual winds, would seem at first glance inexplicable on any materialist ground, until we remind ourself that Gaetano Mosca, Wilfredo Pareto and Robert Michels pursued their studies under the impact of the burgeoning mass socialist movements of Western Europe and the gathering war clouds on the international horizon. For these political students, trying to grasp the underlying meaning of what was going on around them, the apocalyptic visions of Marx did not seem far-fetched at all, but rather the basic substance of the true direction of events. Possessing greater insight than many of their philistine colleagues, they sensed the coming breakup of existing capitalist society. But as ideologists who identified themselves with the middle classes, they were inevitably propelled to blend parts of Marx with Machiavelli, Nietzsche, and in the case of Michels, even Rousseau, each arriving at the end at either a cynical or exalted variety of misanthropic Tory sociology.

WHAT interests us here is not a detailed exposition or critique of these writers, but the common conclusion that they all reached and believed to be a veritable law of the social process, namely, that in all society there is and must always be a ruling minority that grabs all sorts of special privileges for itself, and the ruled majority, whose destiny is to be directed and controlled by the minority and to toil on its behalf. This remains true whether the society is feudal, capitalist, slave, or socialist, or whether its form be monarchical, oligarchical, or democratic, and this will always remain the situation because the majority cannot rule itself.

Mosca insisted that the representation system under a so-called democracy inevitable leads to the people choosing from among two or three persons picked by organized minorities. The stratification of societies into rulers and ruled is therefore universal and permanent, and cannot be otherwise. Pareto analyzed various revolutions throughout history and concluded that all that was involved was a “circulation of elites.” Even where masses enter into the fray, nothing is changed, because masses can only succeed when the have leaders, and these soon install themselves as the new elite. So, while revolutions are sometimes necessary in order to pep up an old worn-out elite, or replace it entirely with a new vigorous elite, it does not and cannot change the basic law of minority rule.

This conception is by no means foreign to this country. Actually, beneath the facade of democratic rhetoric, it is a commonly accepted proposition on the part of both the rich and poor: The smarter, tougher, wilier, trickier, luckier, will always get to the top and live off the fat of the land; the rest will form the gray mass below. Charles A. Beard, who mirrored the spirit of this country in more ways than one, rested essentially on this same proposition although conceived and expressed in American business terms. He said: “ The grand conclusion seems to be exactly that advanced by our own James Madison in the Tenth number of the Federalist.” (James Madison there wrote: “Those who hold and those who are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society. ‘The regulation of these various and interfering interests forms the principal task of modern legislation’.”) In alluding to the developing inequalities and stratifications in the first years of Soviet Russia, Beard was scornful of the leaders’ promises: “Of course, they said that this was all temporary, and merely an introduction to the postponed millennium. That may be, but viewing politics from the standpoint of an experimental science, we cannot take into serious account dreams unrealized.” Beard concludes: “ In other words, there is no rest for mankind, no final solution of eternal contradictions. Such is the design of the universe.”

THE underlying note of a narrow pragmatism strongly permeates Beard’s impatience with what he considers as visionary schemes and pie-in-the-sky utopias. But at least he tries to understand the social process. Despite the scientific pretensions of Mosca and Pareto, their writings don’t go beyond intricate rationalistic constructions around power mechanics. Both give innumerable illustrations from both modern and ancient history, but the outstanding fact of their writings is the absence of a historical approach, and the determination to ignore the effects of social organization upon the mechanics and physiognomy of political struggles. When you get all through with the elaborate constructions, you are back to the proposition that beneath its various disguises, history has always operated that way and always will. As Beard said, “Such is the design of the universe.”

Actually, this hasn’t gotten us too far beyond the proposition that it is so because that’s the way human nature works. Regardless of the common-sense strictures that there must always be a small group of bosses on top and the mass that is bossed below, it is a fact that human society has made vast advances from the time of Moses and the Pharaohs to the present, not only in scientific knowledge and material enrichment, but in the altered status and growing power of the mass of people in relation to their rulers. At the very least, one must admit that the universal elite theory is barren in explaining and elucidating this evolution.

A MORE fruitful contribution to this question was made by the German sociologist, Max Weber, and his pupil, Robert Michels, both of whom wrote their major works in the immediate years preceding the first World War. Weber is considered by present-day sociologists as the founder of the systematic study of bureaucracy, and his writings are the subject matter of much annotation in university circles. As in so many other of the big questions confronting modern social science, the true farther of the discussion on bureaucracy, although it is no longer considered good form in the colleges to say so, was Karl Marx. He formulated the matter before others even knew of the problem’s existence. In studying the class struggles of France since the 1789 revolution, Marx came to an understanding of how the centralized state power of modern capitalism came to be organized. Here is the picture he drew with characteristically broad strokes:

This executive power with its enormous bureaucratic and military organization, with its artificial state machinery embracing wide strata, with a host of officials numbering half a million, besides an army of another half a million, this appalling parasitic growth, which enmeshes the body of French society like a net and chokes all its pores, sprang up in the days of the absolute monarchy, with the decay of the feudal system, which it helped to hasten. The seigniorial privileges of the landowners and towns became transformed into so many attributes of the state power, the feudal dignitaries into paid officials and the motley pattern of conflicting medieval plenary powers into the regulated plan of a state authority, whose work is divided and centralized as in a factory. The first French Revolution, with its task of breaking all local, territorial, urban and provincial independent powers in order to create the bourgeois unity of the nation, was bound to develop what the absolute monarchy had begun-centralization, but at the same time the extent, the attributes and the agents of governmental authority. Napoleon perfected this machinery. The Legitimist monarchy and the July monarchy added nothing but a greater division of labor, growing in the same measure that the division of labor within capitalist society created new groups of interests, and therefore, new material for state administration. Every common interest was straightway severed from society, counterposed to it as a higher, general interest, snatched from the self-activity of society’s members and made an object of governmental activity, from the bridge, the school-house, and the communal property of a village community to the railways, the national wealth and the national university of France. The parliamentary republic, finally, in its struggle against the revolution, found itself compelled to strengthen, along with repressive measures, the resources and centralization of governmental power. All the revolutions perfected this machine instead of smashing it up. The parties that contended in turn for domination regarded the possession of this huge state edifice as the principle spoils of the victor.

From his observation that the state bureaucratic machine survived intact in France during both the 1830 and 1848 revolutions which saw various shifts in capitalist rule, Marx concluded that a genuine peoples’ revolution will have to break up this bureaucracy and replace it with a new state mechanism of its own. He thought that the short-lived Paris Commune of 1871 indicated the outlines of how the new socialist society would operate to make the state apparatus a servant of society instead of its master. The Commune filled all posts – administrative, judicial, and educational – by election on the basis of universal suffrage of all concerned, with the right of the electors to recall their delegates at any time; and all officials, high or low, were paid only the wages received by other workers. Lenin in 1917 considered this the realistic course on which to run a socialist regime, which would gradually eliminate bureaucracy and eventually usher in a new society free of state compulsion.

FROM his entirely different end, Max Weber took off from Marx’s proposition about bureaucracy and proceeded to generalize it into a new universal institutionalism transcending social systems and class specifics. The urge to utter universal truths which spread across all human history from the times of Hammurabi to our own is well nigh irresistible to many an intellectual. We are confronted with discussions of bureaucracy in Egypt during the period of the New Empire, in the later Roman Principate, in the Roman Catholic Church since the end of the thirteenth century, and in China from the time of Shi Hwangti. All this weaving back and forth across the centuries and continents gave Weber a chance to show off his vast erudition, but it is doubtful that it shed much light on the question at hand. His attempted deepening of Marx’s proposition into the generalization that an existing bureaucracy will survive revolutionary changes hasn’t withstood the test of time, as witness the destruction of the Czarist bureaucracy after the 1917 revolution, and the old Kuomintang bureaucracy in China after the civil war.

What probably accounts for Weber’s vogue among a number of present-day sociologists is his concentration on the subject of bureaucracy. (He had an excellent model to work from in the Prussian state and military bureaucracy, which he apparently admired as an example of efficiency and rational organization.) His notion that there is a tendency toward bureaucratization of modern societies strikes a respondent chord among many students of society today, who think he caught the trend of the times when he said: “For the time being, the dictatorship of the official and not that of the worker is on the march.”

IF the student of sociology concludes that Weber’s speculations have been too diffused to have brought us very far along, he would probably be right. It was left to his co-worker, Robert Michels, to supply a semblance of proof for Mosca’s proposition that majorities are congenitally incapable of ruling. In his brilliant work, Political Parties, first issued in 1911, he subjected various political structures, particularly the German Social Democratic Party and the mass trade unions, to a truly searching analysis. In rapid order, he demonstrated that the modern capitalist-parliamentary state and the traditional conservative parties are not genuinely democratic. That is why he concentrated his attention on the mass socialist movement where democracy presumably should be in full swing.

Michels showed with a wealth of proof that in the socialist organization the same mechanics are at work that breed bureaucracy in the state and other political organizations: the necessity for a division of labor, the inevitable rise of a professional leadership, the conversion of the leaders into masters of the organization rather than its servants, because of their control of all the levers of power. Michels drew the general conclusion that there is an “iron law of oligarchy” which operates in all social movements and all manner of societies, and that the democratic ideal is consequently impossible. Society cannot exist without a dominant ruling group even through its elements may be subject to frequent renewal.

“The social revolution would not effect any real modification of the internal structure of the mass. The socialists might conquer, but not socialism, which would perish in the moment of its adherents’ triumph.”

If Michels had in truth demonstrated the universality of his law of oligarchy, then socialism would indeed be utopian, and the socialist conquest of power merely the prelude to a new circulation of elites. Let there be no misunderstanding: Michels’ analysis of the bureaucratism of the pre-war German Socialist movement was exceptionally cogent, and as far as it went, accurate. Its weakness and limitation is the general weakness of all followers of the elitist school: they blandly ignore the social relations upon which all political structures necessarily rest, and they cannot grasp that the mechanics of political struggle are subject to change under different social conditions. That is why all the elitists fall back finally upon an untenable cycle theory of history according to which, humanity, without sense or reason, continues to wage its fruitless struggles over and over again, with society ever revolving around the same series of stages.

MICHELS had certainly penned an invaluable sociological study of the German Social Democracy; moreover, his mechanics of mass organizations have considerable validity under various conditions of democratic capitalism and the present going levels of material and cultural attainment. Michels couldn’t see, however, that where he was describing the general apathy of a membership, he was talking not about a universal condition of mankind outside of spatio-temporal considerations, but a condition arising from the lack of leisure of the masses, and their consequent lack of time and energy for larger affairs – and that the same was true for all his other so-called innate laws of organization. He didn’t understand that he was describing working rules that operate only for a certain structure conditioned by specific social and political forces.

At any rate, the question stood on a purely intellectual plane up to the World War I period. None of the elitist thinkers directly influenced the mass movement with their theories because they were cloistered scholars, but their ideas were picked up by a host of capitalist publicists and used for all they were worth against the socialist movement. In their practical political effect, they constituted one more capitalist attack on socialism, and were largely viewed by socialists as a philosophical variation of the “you can’t change human nature” argument.

The revival of elitist theories of power represented in a certain sense an anticipation of the decline of the capitalist order. But these thinkers first elaborated their theories while official public opinion still believed the system to be firm and durable. It was the mass carnage of the first World War, the Russian revolution of 1917, the German revolution the following year, and then the breakdown of Italian parliamentary capitalism and the rise of Mussolini, that imparted a new public interest to their speculations. The Italian events seemed on the surface to vindicate the theory of the circulation of elites, and, as a matter of fact, Italian Fascism embraced Pareto as one of its patron saints.

The subtleties of political philosophers notwithstanding, the man-on-the-street pretty well understood, even if not in a sophisticated form, that fascism represented some newfangled variety of capitalist reaction and dictatorship, and that its triumph did not affect one way or another the validity of socialism-although it might be a reflection on the tactical effectiveness of socialist movements that permitted themselves to be outmaneuvered and cut to ribbons by their enemies. What affected liberal and radical opinion far more drastically than Italian Fascism or German Nazism was the Stalinization of Soviet Russia-the first big experiment in socialism.

HERE, after the first few years of high idealistic equalitarianism, a new bureaucracy of vast proportions arose that definitely constituted a favored caste in relation to the rest of the population, and whose topmost rungs enjoyed living standards and privileges that were positively aristocratic compared to the mode of life of the average Russian. What was even more disturbing was that with the first successes of industrialization, the gap between the mass and the aristocracy seemed every year to be growing rather than diminishing; and that the state authority rather than softening, much less withering away, was constantly growing more burdensome and oppressive. The empirical evidence seemed, as far as the naked eye could observe, to add up to a crushing refutation of Marx and Lenin and their hopes that proletarian dictatorship would constitute the first step toward the eventual introduction of a classless society. By the same token, it seemed to reinforce the elitist theory that no society can get away from the domination of a privileged minority, as well as Weber’s general notion that the trend was toward the hegemony of the bureaucrats. This Soviet development poses in truth a serious theoretical problem which Marx could not have foreseen and which this generation of socialist scholars is called upon to study and unravel.

There are three main lines of thought that seek to explain the underlying meaning of the Soviet experience.

The Stalinist school explains the problem by denying its existence. The stratification of Soviet society is systematically ignored or denied, and the meaning of the rise of a swollen bureaucracy is treated as involving purely bad habits and psychological defects, which, like red tape, rudeness, inattentiveness to complaints, etc., have to be eradicated by greater watchfulness and stronger administrative measures. The Twentieth Congress admitted the existence of tyrannical abuses but shied away from any social explanation to account for the rise of a bloody dictatorship. It put the blame on one man having gained too much power and turning megalomaniac. How the working masses can be the ruling class when they don’t even enjoy ordinary political rights is explained be a combination of empty rhetoric and a pointing to some of the profound difficulties facing the Soviet leaders in trying to build a new social system.

THE second main line of thought holds that a new minority ruling class has gotten ensconced in Russia. Some think it is a state capitalist class, others call it a new bureaucratic class. The relation between this alleged new class to capitalism on the outside is most often left up in the air. We are not told whether this new class has a universal character and is destined to replace capitalism on a world scale, or whether it’s some kind of a unique mutation, with only local significance. The most ambitious recent attempt to give the concept a theoretical expression was that of James Burnham and his European counterparts, who denominated Russian society as being ruled by a new class of managers destined to supplant decaying capitalism, and that the Soviet development was just one manifestation of world-wide movement in this direction, Nazi Germany and the New Deal in the United States representing different aspects of the same phenomenon.

Burnham’s managerial theory was the most brash attempt to set down what had been hinted and implied by Western writers from Max Weber to Thorstein Veblen. Unfortunately, for him, two of the alleged managerial states got crushed in the war, with old-style parliamentary capitalism taking over again; while in the Soviet Union, the managers and bureaucrats still have no right of tenure in the new system of nationalized production. The benefactions they draw from their positions cannot be passed on to their descendants (except for secondary personal property); and the bureaucracy as a whole lacks the necessary legal sanction and standing to permit its consolidation and insure its continuity that would warrant calling it a new class formation. These latter objections, let it be noted, do not appear impressive to those who define classes by how much political power they wield, or who deny the existence of classes altogether, and divide society into elites and non-elites, and subdivide them into status groups in accordance with whom they meet for lunch.

IN 1936, when the theories of a new bureaucratic class were traveling the rounds in intellectual circles, Max Nomad wrote an article for Calverton’s Modern Monthly which achieved a local fame at the time. It was called, Masters – Old and New. Nomad tried to splice together Pareto and Marx, and to combine the former’s elitism with a note of revolutionary fervor. Back in 1905, Nomad’s old teacher, the semi-anarchist Polish revolutionary writer, Waclaw Machajaski, had written that Marx himself was guilty of deliberately shielding the bureaucracy with his formula in Capital that higher or more complicated labor has a higher value than unskilled labor. Machajaski went on to accuse the socialist movement of giving aid and comfort to the intelligentsia, and that with malice aforethought it was not fighting to abolish all exploitation. Nomad now came forward in 1936 to announce that it’s worked out just the way it had been planned all along. The new bureaucrats and office holders have taken over in Russia and the workers and peasants have become their menials and serfs; although Nomad believed that the new system represented an advance historically over capitalism, and would be the next world form of the new exploitative society:

The abolition of capitalism, the result of the “final revolution” championed by the various political parties of the underdog, eventually leads to the establishment of a new class rule, of a new exploitation of man by man. That new form of class rule must naturally call forth a violent dissatisfaction both among the down-trodden manual workers and among the step-brothers or poorer relations of the new bureaucratic masters. There arises the urge towards a new “final revolution” in which the old process is repeated under the guise of a changed vocabulary. For whether they call themselves left communists, syndicalists or anarchists, the victorious rebels against the bureaucracy of a socialized form of exploitation cannot help establishing a new bureaucracy, a new ruling aristocracy – in other words, follow the example of the Russian communists. For the process of revolution is always the same: Seizure of power; organization of a new revolutionary government; its defense against the reactionaries at first; and then its consolidation against the masses as well as in the interest of a better paid aristocracy of office-holders, technicians, and other members of the educated layers of society ... That process knows of no millennium when full harmony has been achieved once for all eternity. There is no “happy ending” just as there is no “final revolution” that will eliminate all further class struggles.

As can be seen, we are back with Pareto’s endless circulation of elites, although Max Nomad gives the process a shrill anarchist-revolutionary tone, and injects into Pareto’s cycles the element of a spiraling upsweep. Whichever variation of the new ruling class theory we were to accept, it is difficult to see how we could avoid the conclusion that the socialist program, which was to inaugurate the rule of the majority for the first time in history, has been proven a utopia; that given the opportunity, the working class demonstrated its incapacity to rule, and necessarily exuded out of its midst a new exploitative elite.

IT may be held that this conclusion follows regardless of the nature of the explanation once you maintain that a privileged minority has taken over. Those who hold that the socialist program nevertheless retains its validity got around this difficulty by explaining the Soviet dictatorship as an abhorrent relapse that was due to straighten itself out in the course of historical development. This third line of thought on Soviet Union developments is commonly associated with the theory of Leon Trotsky. He believed that a privileged bureaucracy had arisen not because of universal characteristics embedded in leadership, or in the nature of society, but because of the backwardness of Russia.

“The basis of bureaucratic rule is the poverty of society in objects of consumption, with the resulting struggle of each against all. When there is enough goods in a store, the purchasers can come whenever they want to. When there is little goods, the purchasers are compelled to stand in line. When the lines are very long, it is necessary to appoint a policeman to keep order. Such is the starting point of the Soviet bureaucracy. It ’knows’ who is to get something and who has to wait. The poverty and cultural backwardness of the masses has again become incarnate in the malignant figure of the ruler with a great club in his hand. The deposed and abused bureaucracy, from being a servant of society, has again become its Lord.”

According to his analysis, because of the antagonisms between workers, peasants and bureaucracy, and the isolation of the country within a hostile capitalist world, a Bonapartist-like dictatorship was elevated to act as the supreme arbiter of the conflicting claims and to eradicate opposition by police repression. Trotsky held that the bureaucracy was not a new class because it had not worked out any new relationship to the nationalized mode of production, but simply represented a parasitic caste which had been thrown up because of the specific difficulties, and which would be undermined when those specific causes disappeared.

He accused the bureaucratic regime of a host of crimes relating to internal and international policies, but he thought that the sociological character of the Russian state had remained as it had been established by the Russian revolution because of the nationalization of property, planned economy and the monopoly of foreign trade. What was involved was a degeneration of the Soviet state and not its transformation into a different kind of state. As he saw it, when the laboring masses regained their strength and revolutionary ardor, they would put through a political revolution to remove the Bonapartist regime and restore Soviet democracy in all phases of government, planning, production, etc., but they would not disturb the existing economic foundations. He believed that the tendencies of bureaucratism which can be seen in the workers’ movement in capitalist countries will show themselves everywhere even after the socialist revolution, but that they will not prove so crude and unmanageable as they did in backward Russia.

ISAAC Deutscher, the noted writer on Soviet affairs, has introduced several important modifications into this conception, and in part, has drawn it out into the post-Stalin era. Here is his own summation:

Any realistic analysis of the Stalin era and of its conclusion must draw a balance of the Soviet industrial revolution of the last twenty-five years, the revolution by force of which Russia has from one of the industrially most backward nations become the world’s second industrial power. This process was accompanied by vast educational progress, into which the bulk of Soviet society has been drawn. Stalinist despotism and terrorism drove the Soviet people to carry through this industrial revolution, in part despite themselves, at an unprecedented pace, and in the face of unprecedented difficulties. The “primitive magic of Stalinism” reflected the cultural backwardness of Soviet society in the formative years and in the middle stretches of the Stalin era. From this argument I concluded that with the progress achieved in the 1950’s, the Stalinist terrorism and primitive magic had outlived their day and were coming into conflict with the new needs of Soviet society. The higher level of industrial and general civilization favored a gradual democratization of Soviet political life, although a military dictatorship, of the Bonapartist type, might also arise amid mounting international tensions. Both these prospects signify an end to Stalinism. An attempt to galvanize the Stalinist regime and orthodoxy was still possible and even probable; but it could hardly meet with more than episodic success.

We cannot say beforehand to what degree the privileged groups may resist any democratic-socialist and equalitarian trend emerging in Soviet society. It may be that they will defend their privileges tooth and nail and fight any such trend with stubborn cruelty. But it is at least quite as possible that the “class solidarity” of the privileged minority should prove weak, that its resistance to the democratic-socialist trend should prove half-hearted and ineffective, and that the first impulse for quasi-liberal reforms should come, as it has already come, from the ranks of the bureaucracy itself. This is not to say that one ought to expect democratization to be brought about exclusively by reform from above: a combination of pressure from below and reform from above may be necessary. Yet at a certain stage of development it is the quasi-liberal reform from above that may most effectively spur on a revival of spontaneous political action below or create the conditions under which such action may become possible after a whole epoch of totalitarian torpor.

One or more points remain to be made to conclude this introductory exposition. From Hegel on, bourgeois writers have been prone to view the bureaucracy as an autonomous body with ultimate power over all classes. Max Weber thought that “Generally speaking, the trained permanent official is more likely to get his way in the long run than his nominal superior, the Cabinet Minister, who is not a specialist.” Marxist writers, in contrast, have held that only classes rule, and classes are defined according to their relations to social production, which under conditions of civilization, have invariably embodied their special property rights in a legal code of law. The bureaucracy, consequently, no matter how big and powerful, remains an administrative arm of the ruling class. If this theorem applies to the Soviet bureaucracy as well as the capitalist bureaucracy, the political dispossession of the working class, which in legal fiction is presumed to be the ruling class of Soviet society, can only be given rational explanation on a theoretical level by an analogy with Bonapartist or Caesarian regimes in past history. These, while operating as dictatorships over all society, retained nevertheless their characteristic as representatives of slave-owning, feudal or capitalist classes by the forms of property that they safeguarded. If this applies to Russia, it would signify that the Soviet dictatorship retains its socialist character because of the socialist property forms that it safeguards.

THE experiences with socialist governments have not yet been conclusive, especially because both Russia and China started their revolutions as largely feudal countries, and because of their backwardness, were or are preoccupied in the first phases of their existence with the solution of pre-socialist tasks. Nevertheless, enough has taken place, especially when coupled with the existing bureaucratization of the trade union, Social Democratic, and even Communist movements in the West, to conclude that bureaucratism – that means the elevation of a specially favored caste-is the problem of problems facing the workers’ movement, both in its struggle for socialism and after it has succeeded in setting up a socialist government. The workers will be cheated out of their victory if while the Socialist Constitution declares them to be the salt of the earth, they continue to be oppressed in actual life. The difference between a class and a caste may have commanding importance in the theoretical sphere, but for the living generations, it makes little difference if they are kicked around by capitalist entrepreneurs or arrogant bureaucrats.

Finally, socialism will justify its boast of being a science only by its capacity to encompass the accumulated experience of the recent decades. It is necessary to subject the problem of bureaucratism both in the Soviet-bloc countries and the labor movements of the West to a scientific investigation and analysis, as a preliminary to devising the best safeguards against the menace. Scientific socialism has to become a tool again for going to the roots of existing social problems and pointing the way to their solution. If the tool is to be employed for apologetics and special pleading, it will surely be relegated to the museums with other tools of Man which in time became useless, or obsolete.

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