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The Bureaucratic Ruling Class vs. Democratic Self-Management
international | the left | opinion / analysis Tuesday May 23, 2006 03:18 by Wayne Price - NEFAC drwdprice at aol dot com
Part 2 of The Nature of Stalinist Societies
This part goes over the theories that Communist Party-ruled societies are neither pro-socialist nor capitalist but are a new kind of class society. These theories are correct in believing that the collective bureaucracy is a new ruling class but wrong in denying that these societies are a variety of capitalism. They raised questions about the nature of Fascism. Such theories bring out the need for participatory democracy and workers’ self-management.
Bakunin and MarxIf any one person could be called the founder of the international anarchist movement, it was Michael Bakunin. While agreeing with much of Marx’s analysis, he criticized Marx’s program, because Bakunin feared that it would lead to the rise of a new ruling class. This class would be created out of the better-off workers and middle class intellectuals. They would claim to represent the workers and oppressed, but would become new rulers.
He warned that “...the upper layer, the aristocracy of labor...this semibourgeois layer of workers would, if the Marxists had their way, constitute their fourth governing class....Former workers, who, as soon as they become the rulers of the representatives of the people, will cease to be workers and will look down at the plain working masses from the governing heights of the state.” (Bakunin, 1980, pp. 294 & 331) Referring to Marx’s claim to “scientific socialism,” Bakunin also opposed the domination of scientific-minded intellectuals, “...the rule of the new society by socialist savants--is the worst of all despotic governments.” (ibid, p. 295)
The Marxist David Fernbach admits that Bakunin had a point. “Bakunin’s...warning of the dangers involved in the proletarian seizure of political power raise questions that Marx did not solve altogether satisfactorily....Bakunin, for all his errors, was conscious in advance of the revolution...that there is a real problem of bureaucracy in the post-revolutionary period....” (Fernbach, 1974, pp. 51-52)
Karl Marx did not foresee the danger of a new, bureaucratic, ruling class. However , contrary to the theorists of “Parecon” (Albert, 2006), he did predict the increase of bureaucratic middle layers under capitalism. He expected the decline of independent professionals and small businesspeople, but he predicted the rise of a wide range of middle level officials in business and the state. This was part of his prediction of the increased concentration and centralization of capital, an important aspect of his theory. (He predicted the semi-monopoly capitalism of today’s imperialist-globalized epoch.) These officials, he claimed, combine useful labor such as scientific and technical work, as well as the necessary work of coordination, with the coercive domination required for capitalist exploitation.
Marx and Engels’ Communist Manifesto said of the workers, “As privates of the industrial army, they are placed under the command of a perfect hierarchy of officers and sergeants.”
(Marx, 1974, p. 74) In Capital, Marx noted that the industrial capitalist, “...can easily shift this burden [of management] to the shoulders of a superintendent....Stock companies in general... have a tendency to separate this labor of management as a function more and more from the ownership of capital....” (Vol. III, quoted in Shachtman, 1962, p. 49) Throughout his writings there are references to the need of the capitalists for managers, overseers, and salaried professionals to run their factories, keep the workers in line, and deal with various other aspects of business. (See “The Alleged Theory of the Disappearance of the Middle Classes” in Draper, 1978, pp. 613-627.) Politically, Marx and Engels often wrote about the rise of the semiautonomous state, especially the executive branch, with its hordes of officials (they called this “Bonapartism”).
The Theory of Bureaucratic CollectivismIn the 1930s, a number of theories were developed about Stalin’s Soviet Union as a new class society. These were mostly worked out by dissident Trotskyists. They rejected Trotsky’s concept that the Soviet Union was still a “workers’ state,” even if badly degenerated, supposedly because it maintained a nationalized economy. The most important was the theory of “bureaucratic collectivism” as thought out by Max Shachtman and the group around him, such as Joseph Carter and Hal Draper (the “Shachtmanites”).
Shachtman wrote: “Where the bourgeoisie is no longer capable of maintaining (or, as in the case of Russia, of restoring) its social order, and the proletariat is not yet able to inaugurate its own, a social interregnum is established by a new ruling class which buries the moribund capitalism and crushes the unborn socialism in the egg. The new ruling class is the Stalinist bureaucracy. Its social order, hostile both to capitalism and socialism, is bureaucratic or totalitarian collectivism. The bourgeoisie is wiped out altogether and the working classes are reduced to state slaves.” (1962, p. 29)
This new order was not capitalist, he argued, because there was no bourgeoisie, that is, no class owning stocks and bonds, also no internal market and no labor market. The capitalists hated the Soviet Union and correctly saw it as their class enemy. (These arguments will be refuted in Part 3, on the theory of state capitalism.) However, he agreed, “Stalinism,” as an exploitative class society, was closer to capitalism than to socialism. Faced with the “danger” of a workers’ revolution, the Communist Parties would always bloc with the capitalists against the workers. This is what they have done throughout Western Europe.
The system was not socialist, nor tending toward socialism, nor a “workers’ state.” It was true that the state owned the economy, Shachtman said. But who “owned” the state? That is, what class controlled the state and thereby had the use and benefits of its economy? In terms of “property forms” (legality), everyone was equal because no one owned the means of production. But in terms of “property relations” (reality) the various social sections related differently to the state, to industry, and to each other. One grouping, the bureaucracy, ruled and the others obeyed. One group got most of the benefits of the economy while others were exploited. The top officials lived enormously better than the poor workers and peasants at the bottom. It is true that the rulers could not give property to their children, but their children “inherited” places in the officialdom through education, training, and family contacts.
Shachtman and his comrades declared that the proletariat cannot rule indirectly, through some other social grouping. As I have already pointed out, the bourgeoisie enriches itself through the market, through its ownership of property. This continues whether the state is a bourgeois democracy, a monarchy, a military dictatorship, or fascism. But the modern working class is propertyless; it has no stocks, no slaves, no parcels of land. It rules collectively, and democratically, or not at all. While collectivized property forms (nationalization, to Shachtman) were necessary for socialism, they were not sufficient. To move towards socialism, it is necessary for the workers and oppressed to make a revolution, smash the state, seize power, and (I would say) establish a self-managed society. (Price, 2006)
To the end of his days, Trotsky had believed that the Soviet Union’s bureaucracy was very temporary and brittle. Unless overthrown by a workers’ revolution, he expected it to soon reinstate (private) capitalism. He was sure this would happen by the end of World War II, at the latest. Shachtman said that Trotsky never understood the nature of the collective bureaucracy. It did not wish to give up its rule to a bourgeoisie. It was quite capable of strengthening its power and increasing its wealth by expanding nationalized industry.
Contrary to Trotsky’s predictions, in 1929 Stalin led the bureaucracy in a war against the peasants, forcibly collectivizing millions. He abandoned the free market program of the NEP in favor of a massive state industrialization campaign, includng slave labor camps. After World War II, he expanded the statified totalitarian system into a third of Europe. The nationalized economic system lasted for about 60 years. Finally it did break up, and the bureaucracy did transform the system into a traditional capitalism. This leads to a criticism of Shachtman’s theory of bureaucratic collectivism (he did not expect this to happen) but it does not support Trotsky’s expectations.
Was Fascism a New Class Society?Some thinkers believed that bureaucratic collectivism existed not only in the Soviet Union but also in Nazi Germany and perhaps even (incipiently) in the U.S. New Deal. This was argued by Dwight Macdonald, a member of Shachtman’s party who was to eventually become an anarchist. To Shachtman, this ignored the key difference between the nationalized-collectivized economy of Stalinist Russia and all societies which maintained capitalist private property. It was based on a comparison of Nazi Germany with a (mostly mythical) image of free-market, democratic, capitalism instead of on a class analysis of what was actually happening under fascism. (Also, the fascists used anti-capitalist rhetoric when campaigning for power--Nazi being short for National Socialism, and Italian Fascism claiming to be for “corporatism.” But this should not be taken seriously as anyone’s practical program--as the Italian and German capitalists knew when they backed their fascists.)
“Fascism... was called to power deliberately by the big bourgeoisie in order to preserve its social rule, the system of private property....The system of private ownership of socially-operated property remains basically intact. After being in power in Italy for over 18 years, and in Germany for almost 8, Fascism has yet to nationalize property, to say nothing of expropriating the bourgeoisie....It controls, it restricts, it regulates, it plunders--but with all that it maintains, and even strengthens, the capitalist profit system, leaves the bourgeoisie intact as the class owning property. It assures the profits of the owning class....” (Shachtman, 1962, pp. 53-54)
Of course the German bourgeoisie paid a price in buying up Hitler’s gangsters, giving them bribes and seats on their boards of directors. The rich paid taxes to maintain the police state (to hold down the workers for bigger profits) and the military apparatus (to wage imperialist war in the interests of big business). The proof came after World War II. When the Nazi bureaucracy was removed, German capitalism appeared alive and healthy and ready to go on doing business.
Rule of the Middle ClassesMarxist-Leninism (“Stalinism”) became a worldwide movement. In a number of countries its leaders came to power and established imitations of the Soviet Union: Eastern Europe, China, North Korea, Indochina, and Cuba. Shachtman wrote, “The elements of the new ruling class are created under capitalism. They are part of that vast social melange we know as the middle classes...intellectuals, skilled, semiskilled, and unskilled; individuals from the liberal professions; officials and employees of all sorts, including those from the swollen but impoverished governmental apparatus; and above all else, labor bureaucrats....” (1962, pp. 29-30)
Under the right conditions, such “middle class” forces can be assimilated into a revolutionary working class movement. Under other conditions they can be part of a fascist movement. But they have an organic attraction toward Soviet Union-type systems. Intellectuals are easily attracted to the vision of a society in which “brains” rule (what Bakunin had called the despotism of “socialist savants”). The workers and peasants are seen by them as potential weapons in their hands to overthrow the current rulers. “In Stalinism they find a movement able to appeal to the masses for the struggle against capitalism, but yet one which does not demand of them--as the socialist movement does--the abandonment of the ideology which is common to all oppressor classes, namely: command is the privilege of superiors, obedience the lot of inferiors, and the mass must be ruled by kindly masters for its own good.” (Shachtman, 1962, p. 30) This is the main theme of Hal Draper’s essay on The Two Souls of Socialism: “socialism-from-above” versus “socialism-from-below.” (1992, pp. 2-33; Price, 2002)
Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel, authors of the program of “Parecon” (“participatory economics”) have also developed their own new-class, third-system, theory of Soviet Union-type societies (Albert, 2003, 2006; Albert & Hahnel,1991). Besides the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, they correctly say, capitalism generates a layer of managers, engineers, planners, lawyers, and other professionals, which they label the “coordinator class.” This class is capable of replacing the bourgeoisie as a new ruling class, using either markets or central planning to manage the economy. They call this “coordinatorism.” This theory has virtues (discussed below) but also has a weakness in its lack of consideration of earlier bureaucratic collectivist and state capitalist theories.
Such authoritarian middle layer tendencies also lead to liberalism, social democratic reformism, and even elitist varieties of anarchism. But many middle class radicals today are still attracted by modern Stalinisms, such as Castroism, Nepalese Maoism, and/or the Colombian FARC, as well as by statist-reformist nationalism, such as that of Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.
Political Implications of the TheoryTo the Shachtmanites, the main political implication of their theory was the importance of democratic revolution, the complete merger of radical democracy and working class socialism. Shachtman wrote, “...the all-around and aggressive championing of the struggle for democracy is the only safeguard against the encroaching social decay and the only road to socialism.” (1962, p. 27). In an essay on free speech, Draper wrote from the point of view of those “...who are fighting for a socialist democracy. Our aim, by its very nature, requires the mobilization of conscious masses. Without such conscious masses, our goal is impossible. Therefore we need the fullest democracy....We, because of the nature of our goals, have no fear of the unlimited unleashing of democratic initiatives and drives....Revolutionary socialists...want to push to the limit all the presuppositions and practices of the fullest democratic involvement of the greatest mass of people. To the limit: that is, all the way.” (1992, pp. 170 & 172)
Shachtman and Draper continued to support the Russian October revolution (as I do, from an anarchist perspective). But they came to criticize Lenin and Trotsky for establishing a one-party state. They believed that the Leninists should have permitted opposition socialist parties to compete for power in democratic soviets. “The Bolsheviks...gave no sign of realizing that a legal monopoly for one political party was incompatible with democratic rights (the right of choice in the first place) for the people or even for the working class...and that the denial of democratic rights to those outside the party could be enforced only by the denial, sooner or later, of the same rights to the members of that very party itself.” (Shachtman, 1965, p. 3)
No doubt, Draper wrote, there had to be repression and violations of democratic standards in the course of a bitter civil war and resistance to foreign invasions. Even so, the error of the Leninists, he believed, was to turn these apparently-necessary exceptions into the norm (a point which was argued by Rosa Luxemburg at the time). In any case, by 1921 Lenin and Trotsky had established a police state, which outlawed all other parties, opposition caucuses within the one legal party, and independent labor unions. They had created the juridical framework for totalitarianism. There is no socialism without democracy.
This is an excellent insight. Some anarchists say they oppose “democracy,” often because of the term’s use to rationalize capitalist rule, and sometimes out of fear of a tyranny of the majority. But I have argued that socialist-anarchism is best thought of as the most extreme, most radical, participatory, form of democracy. (Price, 2000) This is the view of many anarchists, such as Chomsky, Goodman, and Bookchin; most anarchists who oppose the term “democracy” advocate “self-management,” which is the same thing.
A Limited View of DemocracyBut the Shachtmanites’ conception of democracy was limited due to their Trotskyist (and Leninist and Marxist) heritage. Consistent with their tradition, they conceived of socialism as a centralized, state-owned, economy, managed through a central plan. They insisted that a socialist economy must be mainly run by elected representatives at the top. They also believed in local organizing, labor unions with the right to strike, opposition parties and caucuses, a free press, etc. But they had no conception of the importance of decentralization and direct democracy. Draper wrote, “The great problem of our age is the achievement of democratic control from below over the vast powers of modern social authority. Anarchism...rejects this goal.” (1992, p. 13) True enough; anarchism aims to break up those “vast powers” and to overthrow “modern social authority.”
This may be contrasted with the views of Cornelius Castoriadis, of Socialisme ou Barbarie, which developed from dissident Trotskyism to libertarian socialism. He described the Soviet Union as “bureaucratic capitalism,” which really was a new-class, third-system, theory. From his analysis of the bureaucratic ruling class of the Soviet Union, he drew more radical conclusions than Shachtman. It was not enough to have a democratic representative system. It was necessary, he said, to completely destroy the distinction between the order-givers and order-takers (what Marx refers to as the division between mental and manual labor)--in production as well as in every other aspect of daily life . This includes, not a democratic state, but the end of the state.
“...A socialist revolution cannot stop at barring the bosses and ‘private’ property from the means of production; it also has to get rid of the bureaucracy...it has to abolish the division between directors and executants....This is nothing other than workers’ management of production, namely the complete exercise of power over production and over the entirety of social activities by autonomous organs of workers’ collectives....Self-management... implies...quite particularly the abolition of a State apparatus separated from society....” (Castoriadis, 1988, p. 10)
Similarly, Albert and Hahnel believe that the rise of the “coordinator class” to power can be avoided. They advocate an economy planned from the bottom up through rounds of negotiations among democratic workers’ and consumers’ councils (“participatory economics”). They propose to reorganize and redesign existing jobs into “balanced job complexes.” In these, the more tedious and physically demanding aspects of labor will be integrated with more satisfying and self-determining aspects. The distinction between directors and order-takers will be abolished. “Parecon...is anarchist economics....” (Albert, 2006, p. 178)
The implication for todays’ movements was drawn by Tom Wetzel, “This means that a movement run by and for workers, that is characterized by the properties of internal self-management espoused by participatory economics, will be essential in the revolutionary process and the emergence of such a movement will prefigure and foreshadow that change. The only way that we can ensure that a society which is self-managing emerges...is if the main movements that are working for change have a self-managing character and practice, so that people have developed the equalitarian and democratic practices and habits required for society itself to be self-managed.” ( 2003)
Weaknesses of the TheoryThird-system theories (such as those of Shachtman or Albert and Hahnel) are correct in presenting the collectivized bureaucracy (or whatever they want to call it) as a new ruling class, distinct from the stock-owning bourgeoisie. But I believe that they are wrong to hold that these societies are a brand new, noncapitalist, system.
The problem is that they start from an essentially sociological analysis of the ruling bureaucracy instead of analyzing the relations between the classes in the process of production. Had they done so, they would have had to demonstrate that the workers in the Soviet Union related differently to their bosses than do the workers in the U.S. and other obviously capitalist countries--which would be difficult to do. Also, they take too seriously the claim that these Communist Party-ruled nations were run through central planning. Instead they should have analyzed how these economies really ran. (These points will be discussed further in Part 3.)
To Marx (and I accept his view), the working class (proletariat) under capitalism is defined by its part in the conflictual capital/labor relationship, which is what drives the whole system. If there is no capital in these countries, then the working class is not a proletariat. Shachtman meant to be quite literal, in the first passage I quote from him above, when he called these workers “state slaves.” Yet these workers have struggled using typically proletarian methods: strikes, go-slows, mass organizing, independent unions, and revolutionary workers’ councils. A theorist of state capitalism points out, “...Any relationship of exploitation requires two specific classes. A propertyless class that sells its labor power can only be exploited by a class that buys that labor power, a class of capitalists--those who embody capital.” (Daum, 1990, p. 18)
What would be the internal dynamic of alleged noncapitalist economies? There is supposedly no capital/labor relationship, no internal market, no law of value...presumably the only internal drive is the desire of the ruling class for increased personal consumption. The only source of economic dynamics would seem to be external pressure, mostly military--just as under feudalism. Stalin’s Russia should have stagnated from the very beginning, instead of building an industrial society through rapid accumulation (even granted its eventual stagnation).
If this system lacks an internal dynamic, then we should expect it to last much longer than capitalism (which turned out not to be true). Unlike capitalism, presumably it does not have an internal contradiction which would lead to its overthrow by the proletariat. And it requires a monolithic dictatorship, totalitarianism, due to the collectivism within its ruling class. Once the prison door is shut on the workers, it is shut for good. Capitalism, at least, is able to have a limited (bourgeois) democracy and limited freedoms. Therefore, logically, bureaucratic collectivism (or coordinatorism, or whatever) should be regarded as worse, more reactionary, than capitalism. Revolutions run the risk of replacing “democratic” capitalism with such a reactionary post-capitalist system. Therefore, reasonably, it would be better to avoid revolution altogether.
Over time, this is what Shachtman concluded. Eventually he and his followers became out and out supporters of Western imperialism, supporting the U.S. invasion of Cuba and the war in Vietnam. (Drucker, 1999) His emphasis on the importance of democracy became support for capitalist democracy, an excuse to abandon socialism in practice. Hal Draper broke with Shachtman to the left, but still followed a left-reformist practice. His tendency, in the U.S., ended up as today’s centrist (semi-reformist) International Socialist Organization and Solidarity. Similarly, of the Parecon theorists, Robin Hahnel has advocated a reformist program. (Hahnel, 2005; Price, 2005) Michael Albert (2006) advocates “non-reformist reforms,” but does not advocate an eventual revolution. I do not say that advocates of a new bureaucratic ruling class theory must, inevitably, become reformists or worse. There is no such one-to-one correspondence between this theory and people’s political programs. But I think that this theory gives a shove in that direction. This set of views, then, provides significant insights but contains significant weaknesses.
[The concluding Part 3, next month, will discuss the theory of State Capitalism, as it applies to Soviet Union-type regimes and the modern world.]
Albert, Michael (2003). Parecon; Life After Capitalism. New York: Verso.
Albert, Michael (2006). Realizing Hope; Life Beyond Capitalism. London/New York: Zed Books.
Albert, Michael, & Hahnel, Robin (1991). Looking Forward; Participatory Economics for the Twenty First Century. Boston: South End Press.
Bakunin, Michael (1980). Bakunin on Anarchism. (Sam Dolgoff, Ed. & Trans.). Montreal: Black Rose Books.
Castoriadis, Cornelius (1988). Political and Social Writings, Vol. 1, 1946-1955. (David Ames Curtis, Ed. & Trans.). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Daum, Walter (1990). The Life and Death of Stalinism; A Resurrection of Marxist Theory. New York: Socialist Voice Publishing Co.
Draper, Hal (1978). Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution; Vol. II The Politics of Social Classes. New York: Monthly Review.
Draper, Hal (1992). Socialism from Below. (E. Haberkern, Ed.). NJ: Humanities Press.
Drucker, Peter (1999). Max Shachtman and His Left. New York: Humanity Books.
Fernbach, David (1974). Introduction. Karl Marx, Political Writings, Vol. III; The First International and After. (Pp. 9-72). New York: Vintage Books/Random House.
Hahnel, Robin (2005). Economic Justice and Democracy; From Competition to Cooperation. New York: Routledge.
Marx, Karl (1974). Political Writings, Vol. I; The Revolutions of 1848. (David Ferbach, Ed.). New York: Vintage Books/Random House.
Price, Wayne (2000, Aug.) Anarchism as Extreme Democracy. The Utopian. Vol. 1. http://www.utopianmag.com
Price, Wayne (2002, Nov.), Socialism from Above or Below: "The Two Souls of Socialism" Revisited. The Utopian. Vol. 3. http://www.utopianmag.com
Price, Wayne (2005). Parecon and the Nature of Reformism. http://www.anarkismo.net/newswire.php?story_id=737&search_text=Wayne%20Price
Price, Wayne (2006). Confronting the Question of Power. http://www.anarkismo.net/newswire.php?search_text=Wayne+Price&button
Shachtman, Max (1962). The Bureaucratic Revolution; The Rise of the Stalinist State. New York: Donald Press.
Shachtman, Max (1965). Introduction to the 1965 Edition. The New Course by Leon Trotsky and The Struggle for the New Course by Max Shachtman. (Pp. 1--6). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Wetzel, Tom (2003). Participatory Economics and the Self-Emancipation of the Working Class. http://www.zmag.org/parecon/writings/wetzel_emancipation.htm
Written for www.Anarkismo.net
Part 1, What Do We Mean By Anti-Capitalism? can be found at http://www.anarkismo.net/newswire.php?story_id=2925