from Critique of Dialectical Reason. Jean-Paul Sartre, 1960


7 Bureaucracy and the Cult of Personality

Thus a sovereign group increases the inertia of collectives and governs by means of it. But, as I said above, it will be worth giving a brief account of how seriality reacts on the sovereign. There are already too many commentaries on it, so I shall not dwell on it for long. As we have seen the ensemble of the sovereign (sub-groups and constituted bodies) forms a complex system whose apparatuses, at the base of the hierarchy, are in direct contact with the masses and constitute what are variously called, very misleadingly, cadres, nuclei, liaison organisations, etc. In reality, these are inorganic instruments whose very inertia constitutes the surface which is in contact with serial inertia, and their role, defined by superior groups, is to manipulate the other-directedness of Others. I have already observed that these sub-groups are surrounded by series; and in separation, as I have shown, they in turn become serialised. Everyone becomes sovereign to himself alone; but, in the milieu of the Other, the sovereign elsewhere is other. On the other hand, other-directedness is based on the passivity of the masses; but this passivity conditions their own passivity: first, because for those who are other-directed they themselves become the embodiment of the standard lists, solidified exigencies, etc., and, in the unity of a single petrification, the representatives of the law — that is to say, of sovereignty — as an individual in so far as this produces itself as a universal power.

By this double petrification, they mean either to eliminate change or to control it, depending on the case. These sub-groups retain a practical appearance as long as they can really act as a mediation between the central authorities and the series. But such mediation cannot establish itself as a permanent function: a group may become the mediation between two groups, an individual between two communities; but mediation between the series and the sovereign cannot continue if the sovereign praxis is determined to keep the series in impotence and alterity. Needs will he determined and, where possible, satisfied from outside, in so far as they can be measured by biologists, doctors, etc., but not in so far as they are the object of a genuine demand. This is because their serial structure prevents individuals from forming a group on the basis of a demand, and because the task of other-direction is constantly to raise the threshold for effecting regroupment. In the world of the Other (which is the world of government) violence, rejection, exigency and even riots, sometimes occur: but such disturbances, which are quickly repressed, never serve as a lesson, or as an indication of the depth of popular discontent, precisely because it is always the Other who rebels or makes a demand: the Other, the alien, the suspect, the trouble-maker. The notion of a trouble-maker, in particular, is senseless except for a member of the sovereign group, that is to say, for a functionary convinced that the only ontological statute of human multiplicities is other-directed passivity. He controls this passivity in the light of the general interest; and the trouble-maker is an anti-sovereign who controls the same passivity in the light of his individual interest (or some other sectional interest). At this point the leader who is criticising the trouble-maker makes a self-criticism on the back of an Other, that is to say, as Other.

Thus there can never be any such thing as popular discontent from the point of view of the sub-group which is immediately responsible for arrangements, and this is for the good reason that discontent is the practice and exis of a group and that the serial statute rules out the possibility of regroupment. The relation between sub-groups and series becomes reified. They no longer do anything but act materially on the series by means of the serial combinatory, that is to say, the schemes which arise from a serial constitution and make it possible to interpret actions of seriality. The difference between the local leader and the led individual is almost imperceptible: they are both serialised, and both of them live, act and think serially; but the leader thinks the seriality of the Other and acts serially on other-directed series. Thus nothing can be transmitted from the local level to the top because there is no longer anything being transmitted from the popular series to the leader whom they have serialised. It is precisely for this reason that, for his superior, the local leader is the object of a sovereign and univocal praxis. He is a tool for stirring the human material, and no more than a piece of inorganic matter. His autonomy and powers could give rise to reciprocity, if, in virtue of his function, he were to express the people’s demands to his superior as human exigencies. But these demands and exigencies do not exist: which simply means that they are still the product of the living, suffering individual who is paralysed by alterity. If at some time in the future they do manifest themselves, it will be as those of a group which rejects all mediation and constitutes its own sovereignty; demands always become ‘known’ too late. This is either because they have no being, and emerge as revolutionary or because they remain unexpressed, depending on circumstances. For his superior, the local leader is an inert guarantee of the inertia of the masses and he becomes such because they do not offer him, nor does he accept, the counter-power of making demands to the sovereign on their behalf.

Thus, the multiplicity of subordinate agents appears, to the next level ‘up’, as a superior instance of seriality; and their passivity becomes a material to be worked by other-direction. But this by no means prevents everyone from being suspect, in that his operations could be carried out as a free, practical initiative, or, in other words, assert themselves as an individual’s individual sovereignty over the serialities which fill his practical field. Both other-direction and terror have the aim, in relation to local leaders, of replacing real activity by the inert practice of worked matter at every level. Thus each level treats the agents of an inferior level as inorganic objects governed by laws, and loses their guarantee and their free support in relation to the superior level; it, too, becomes serial in so far as it is effective. This means that throughout the hierarchy, objects which are governed by laws of exteriority govern other objects which are placed beneath them, according to these laws and other [in-]organic laws; and that the combination of laws which, at each level, makes it possible to move the material on the inferior level is itself produced within the leaders on this level by a combination of their laws which was created above them. The paralysis of the system necessarily rises from the series which are led to the top, the sovereign alone (whether a small group or an individual) remaining unaffected. Or rather he is affected with passivity as a totalising individual; he becomes inorganic from below, from the depths of the hierarchy; but there is no superior who can transform him into a thing.

In this new constitution of the group, we can observe the following characteristics: at every level of the hierarchy, everyone is a possible sovereign over the agents of an inferior level or a possible regulatory third party (taking the initiative in agitation or in the formation of a group); but everyone denies these possibilities out of mistrust for his peers and fear of being suspect in the eyes of his superiors. Towards his peers, indeed, he adopts the attitude of the pledge and binds himself to inertia in order to be able to lay claim to theirs: separation and recurrence both encourage the re-emergence of the discrete multiplicity which he rejects. The shifting alterity of his equals unravels interiorised plurality into relations of exteriority. The exteriorisation of relation, which we observed above is realised in the one who is the institution (and through all his peers). But the structure of sovereignty produces itself at every level as an institutional reinteriorisation; and so everyone, looking towards the superior level, demands perpetual integration from the sovereign; he dissolves his organic individuality in himself as an uncontrollable factor of multiplicity, and merges with his peers in the organic unity of the superior, finding no guarantee for his individual existence other than the free individuality of an other.

It is this triple relation — other-direction of the inferior multiplicity; mistrust and serialising (and serialised) terror at the level of the peers; and the annihilation of organisms in obedience to the superior organism — which constitutes what people call bureaucracy. We saw it emerge from sovereignty itself, when sovereignty was no more than an institutional moment of the group; and we now see it asserting itself as a total suppression of the human, except at a minute point at the top of the hierarchy, as a result of inertia at the bottom. Its form and dialectical meaning are obvious: the impotence of the masses is the support of sovereignty, and sovereignty undertakes to manipulate them by means of mechanical laws — that is to say, of other-direction — but this voluntarism (that is to say, the affirmation of the practical sovereignty, of man over man and the concerted maintenance of the practico-inert statute at the bottom) necessarily implies the mineralisation of man at every level, except the highest. It asserts itself everywhere as the opposite of freedom and tries with all its strength to destroy itself. Thus the impotence of the masses becomes the impotence of the sovereign; it becomes impossible for the half-paralysed man or subgroup at the top to maintain the pyramid of mechanisms, each of which is supposed to set the other in motion. The historical conditions for a bureaucratisation of powers are of course defined in the course of the historical process and through temporal totalisation. But this is not our subject. What relates to the dialectic from the point of view of temporalisation, can be expressed in a few words. Where the State is an apparatus of constraint in a society divided by class conflicts, bureaucracy — the constant threat to the sovereign — is easier to avoid than in the building of a socialist society: tensions between classes, partial and more or less organised struggles, and groupings — as a developing dissolution of serialities — force the ‘public powers’ into a more complex action, and confront them with communities, however ephemeral, which challenge the sovereign. He has to define a flexible, living praxis towards them through the other-direction of Others: the scintillating life of the fused group will either reject the old worm-eaten sovereignty of the bureaucracy, or, if it has already manifested itself, as a permanent danger, it will prevent the sovereign from being constituted in the most bureaucratised form, namely, as police.

The omnipotence of police, as an absolute petrification of the functions of the sovereign group, is based on the separation of impotence; such separation must exist for the police-state to maintain and use: in a society which is ‘hot’ — in LÚvi-Strauss’s excellent phrase — that is to say, in a society in which all forms of class struggle are perpetually alive in opposition to the statute of seriality (among the oppressed and the oppressors), the action of the sovereign will be a politics. Repression, though always in the background, will not be used as much as antagonisms (other-direction will partially disappear and re-emerge in the classic form of ‘divide and rule’), tactics and strategy will have to be worked out by apparatuses and the circulation of sovereignty will have to be ensured in both directions. The job of the subordinate functionary is not, of course, to express the demands of popular groups, but to inform on these groups and, in particular, on their demands. This will assure him a sort of quasi-mediating function; the permanent danger that seriality will dissolve around him may confront him with a vital hostile praxis whose menace and urgency demand immediate action. Even if no such thing actually happens, the subordinate agent is defined in his possibilities as capable of taking such an initiative. On the other hand, a particular contradiction sets the sovereign group, as the unity of the individual and the universal positing itself for itself, in opposition to the dominant class which produces it and sustains it (pays it) as its own apparatus. The dependence of the sovereign is, as we have seen, beyond doubt; but so too is the perpetual affirmation of autonomy with respect to every level. This leads to a tension, which varies with circumstances, and which can determine various methods of reconquest, in the power-groups of the dominant class: osmosis (regulated exchanges between government officials and economic groups), infiltration, influence (direct and indirect), etc. The sovereign group defends itself against these methods, which are in general aimed at altering its internal composition, by perpetual vigilance. But this vigilance, r white terror, does not have the paralysing effects of real terror, since in this particular case, the problem is to defend the sovereign against’ the over-solicitous concern of his original allies. Of course, they dream of denying either his legitimate sovereignty or the correctness of his praxis in the long term; but they do try to set aside (or suggest) short-term objectives, to propose some operation, etc., or (if a rebellion has been crushed) to push for sharp repression. All this has to be integrated by the sovereign group: it may take over the proposals, dissolve them in its praxis while appearing to accept them, etc., but it can neither reject them a priori nor ignore them. This bond of interiorisation between the wishes and common demands of the dominant class (as expressed by pressure groups) on the one hand, and sovereignty as praxis on the other, represents, so to speak, the class existence of the sovereign. It requires certain subordinate agents to become real mediations between at least one serial ensemble and the top: and this serial ensemble is just the dominant class, in so far as pressure groups form within it in order to create — in opposition to the policy of the government — independent sectors of other-direction.

These remarks are not designed to prove the superiority of sovereign groups in bourgeois democracies, but rather to show that they derive their life from the social contradictions they express. When a sovereign group, with its implacable homogeneity, has integrated every practical grouping into itself, in other words when sovereignty has the monopoly of the group, and when this grouping of groupings defines itself in the last instance by its direct hold over passive serialities and its strict practices of other-direction, and when this sovereignty is not a class product (like a monarchical or bourgeois state) and is necessarily recruited by co-option, producing its legitimacy by and for itself, then the sovereign pyramid will turn on itself in the void, regardless of its transcendent tasks. It will elude the control of a dominant class (for example capital) and will have to struggle only against itself, that is to say, against the dangers of separation and institutionalisation; and it is precisely this struggle against itself which will lead to bureaucratisation.

No one today could believe that the first stage of a socialist revolution realises the dictatorship of the proletariat. But, in a perpetual state of extreme emergency, and in the light of well known gigantic tasks, a revolutionary group has institutionalised itself and as such has produced its own legitimacy as sovereign and, monopolising the possibilities of grouping, it has set in motion and arranged serialities by practices of other-direction. It should be understood, in fact, by means of dialectical Reason itself, that any creation by a sovereign institutional group of a supposed regroupment of serial individuals (whether trade unions or other regimented formations) can only be a new differentiation and extension of the group itself to the extent that its members are all bearers of the sovereign power and that regimentation, even at the lowest level, does not transform the Other-Being of serial individuals into being-in-the-group, but rather, by means of a false, fixating totalisation, defines a new sector of intensive other-direction. The limit on the real power of the most dictatorial State is that it cannot create a group outside itself. all it can do is, when circumstances permit, grow to some extent and differentiate itself (by producing new sub-groups). The only effect of the determinations which it directly produces within inert gatherings is that it transfers them — in a given place and situation — from the serial level to that of an ‘other-directed zone’. Every group, in fact, in so far as its own totalising movement contains the abstract possibility of establishing its own sovereignty, constitutes itself either outside the State (even if it is more or less directly connected with it, through subventions, official encouragement, etc.), by positing the autonomy of its praxis, or, primarily in opposition to the State, as a denunciation and rejection of its transcendent sovereignty, through a practice of abstention, passive resistance, disobedience or revolt.

The internal contradictions of the socialist world bring out, through the immense progress that has been made, the objective exigency for debureaucratisation, decentralisation, and democratisation: and this last term should be taken to mean that the sovereign must gradually abandon its monopoly of the group (the question arises at the level of workers’ committees). In fact, in the USSR at least, the destruction of the Soviet bourgeoisie was completed long ago. This means that the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ was an optimistic notion, constructed too hastily through misunderstanding the formal laws of dialectical Reason: there was once a time when it was too soon for such dictatorship in the USSR: the real dictatorship was that of a self-perpetuating group which, in the name of a delegation which the proletariat had not given it, exercised power over the bourgeois class which was in the process of being destroyed, over the peasant class and over the working class itself. From the point of view of the masses the sovereignty of this group was neither legitimate nor illegitimate: its practical legitimation was due to the fact that the sovereign constructed his own illegitimacy by, his mistakes and crimes. this is the judgement of History. Today it is too late, and the problem which really arises is that of the gradual withering-away of the State in favour of broader and broader regroupments of other-directed serialities.

And the reason why the dictatorship of the proletariat (as a real exercise of power through the totalisation of the working class) never occurred is that the very idea is absurd, being a bastard compromise between the active, sovereign group and passive seriality. Historical experience has shown quite undeniably that the first moment in the construction of socialist society — to consider it at the still abstract level of power — could only be the indissoluble aggregation of bureaucracy, of Terror and of the cult of personality. This first stage seems to be approaching its end, despite some terrible setbacks; and, in any case, wherever a new socialist regime is established today, the developing socialisation of half the world will produce this new revolution in a conjuncture and historical totalisation quite different from those which characterised the revolution Of 1917. From our point of view, the impossibility of the proletariat exercising a dictatorship is formally, proved by the fact that it is impossible for any form of group to constitute itself as a hyper-organism. Bureaucratic terror and the cult of personality are just another expression of the relation between the constituent dialectic and the constituted dialectic, that is to say, of the necessity that a common action as such (through the multiple differentiation of tasks) should practically reflect upon itself so as constantly to control and unify itself in the untranscendable form of an individual unit. It is true that Stalin was the Party and the State; or rather, that the Party and the State were Stalin. But his violence is art expression, in a specific process, of the violent contradiction between the two dialectics, that is to say, of the impossibility that the group as constituted praxis should transcend the statute of this organic individuality which it contains within itself, and transforms and transcends in so far as it is, in common interiority, a function of multiplicity. However, the untranscendability of the ontological and practical statute of the regulatory third party is not a de facto and therefore unintelligible limit assigned to communities: we have seen how it arises, in the translucidity of the critical investigation, in the course of development of the constituent dialectic, as a free, organic praxis and as a human relation of reciprocity. In other words, the constituent dialectic, while producing itself as the Reason of action, and realising its structures in the light of temporalisation, already determines the possibilities and impossibilities of common praxis; it naturalises (nature) constituted Reason. Thus constituted Reason derives its very intelligibility — as the structured logic of common action — from constituent Reason: and if our critical investigation enables us to grasp the formal genesis of the second dialectic, in its double character as praxis and process, with its scope and its limits in terms of the practico-inert field and of dissolutions of seriality, this is enough.

Our investigation has now arrived at a shifting flight of elucidations: the practical unity of the group which organises itself lies in its object, in groups external to it; it passes momentarily through every participant in an undertaking as an ‘excluded third party’ (tiers exclu); and it resurfaces theoretically and practically in the activity of the sovereign. But it is never really given inside the group itself, in the way that the unity of the moments of an individual action lies in the unity of an active development. On the other hand, we can immediately see the true power of the group in the impotence of each of its members: this impotence endows functions with a material force of inertia, and turns them into hard, heavy organs which are capable of striking, crushing, etc. Thus the true efficacity of the group, as a praxis bogged down in matter, lies in its materiality — that is, in its becoming-process. But, in so far as praxis is process, goals lose their teleological character. Without ceasing to be genuine goals, they become destinies.