Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Under old management?


My reading habits tend to launch themselves in odd, arbitrary directions based on glimmerings, hunches or just plain old "hmm, this sounds interesting." I'm blogging this just as much for myself as for y'all. It's easier to Google and find it here than it is to dig through the stacks of books that keep threatening to push me out the door, and then dig through the books themselves to find those sets of connections that brought up the "I need to follow up on this" impulse in the first place.

First connecting thread:

In the past, I've held that the differences between political systems among the world powers circa the 1930s were differences of degree, not of kind. Some a little earlier, some a little later, some in a tighter orbit around the organizing princple and some a little further out from it, but still more or less the same prevailing ... oh, call it Zeitgeist for the moment, but don't read too much into that, as we're going elsewhere quickly.

The above is not an especially controversial claim if we're just talking about Mussolini's Italy, Franco's Spain, Hitler's Germany and Tojo's Japan. And most people have come to grips with the similarity between the "fascism" of those four and the "socialism" of Stalin's Soviet Union. I'm not just talking about those five, though -- I'm also including New Deal America, Churchill's Britain, etc. (and let's not forget Ireland under Eamon DeValera). This is usually the point where the same people who freely refer to FDR as a "socialist" start sputtering -- they don't like his social programs and "socialist" is an easy term of oppobrium, but they draw the line at comparing, say, the US and Germany circa 1938.

Still, let's look at it less from a "social programs" point of view and more from a "what are the absolute limits of the power of the state" perspective. A lot of of people (even libertarians, unless they notice one brief reference to it in something by Ayn Rand) don't know that FDR attempted to introduce labor conscription under the rubric of the National Recovery Act, and was only stopped from doing so by the Supreme Court. Few remember that today's Planned Parenthood was founded on the "eugenics" vision of Margaret Sanger, who was awarded a medal by Hitler for her contribution to the theories underlying his monstrous racial programs. Most people write off factors such as the wartime internment of Japanese and nisei, the virtual nationalization of industry, food rationing and other horrors as temporary wartime measures necessitated by emergency and therefore not of great philosophical import. While there's certainly a case to be made for "wartime necessity," it's still true that, according to our own mythology, Americans didn't bat an eye at this stuff, once Pearl Harbor opened that eye. A populace doesn't just jump into that mindset ... insert the old "boiling a frog" analogy here if you like.

Some kind of general political trend was cresting in the 1930s, and while it may have reached its heights of horror in the camps of Stalin and Hitler, it was felt everywhere. What was that trend?

Second connecting thread:

I just finished re-reading Isaac Deutscher's three-volume biography of Trotsky (The Prophet Armed, The Prophet Unarmed and The Prophet Outcast). I re-read it (the last time was oh, a decade or more ago) for a particular reason: I wanted to trace the elements of Trotsky's influence in the current "neoconservative" movement.

Briefly, the "neoconservative" movement has strong roots in Trotskyism, or at least in the work of Trotskyites, from Irving Kristol's first New York "study group" to the influx of Social Democrats/Shachtmanites into neoconservatism in the mid-to-late 70s -- for example, Jean Kirkpatrick (Ronald Reagan's ambassador to the UN), Paul Wolfowitz (former assistant Secretary of Defense, now president of the World Bank) and Joshua Muravchik (of the American Enterprise Institute) -- and all the way back to the founding of National Review ... by right-wing enfant terrible William F. Buckley, yes, but also by James Burnham, one of America's leading Trotskyites in the 1930s and founder of the Socialist Workers Party.

That Trotskyites have had primacy of place in the neoconservative movement is beyond question, but in precisely what ways and to what extent Trotskyism itself has affected neoconservative theory -- and American political policy -- is a somewhat murkier matter. So, anyway, I wanted to know. While I was aware of the fact that Burnham, while still nominally a Marxist, had written The Managerial Revolution, which had in turn influenced Orwell's 1984 (indeed, Goldstein's book in Orwell's novel is alleged to be a thinly disguised edition of Burnham), I was unaware of the roots of his theory going further back even a little deeper in internal Trotskyite debate, to a tract called "The Bureaucratisation of the World" by Bruno Rizzi.

With me so far? Those of you who knew all of this already, pat yourself on the back for being more well-read than Kn@ppster. Those are the threads. What do they sew together?

Rizzi's work came to my attention via The Prophet Outcast, and a passage jumped out at me that hadn't caught my attention all those years before on my first reading:

"State control and planning were predominant not only in the Stalinist regime, but also under Hitler, Mussolini, and even under Roosevelt. In different degrees Stalinists, Nazis, and New Dealers were the conscious or unconscious agents of the same new system of exploitation, destined to prevail the world over. As long as bureaucratic collectivism stimulated social productivity, Rizzi concluded, it would be invulnerable."

Trotsky took exception to Rizzi. He held that even under Stalin, the Soviet Union was a "workers' state," albeit a "deformed" one for the nonce, and therefore qualitatively different from the Third Reich and New Deal America, which, if also "deformed," were still (in Trotsky's opinion) capitalist. As a Communist, Trotsky therefore held that the Soviet Union must be defended against all enemies by Communists, even while Stalin remained in charge. This argument culminated in the breakup of the Trotskyite movement in the US. Against the background of the Hitler-Stalin pact and the Soviet invasion of Finland, Burnham and Max Shachtman held that "revolutionary defeatism" a la World War One's Zimmerwald movement, was the proper attitude toward all the belligerents in the coming second world war -- that the Soviet Union was no longer a "workers' state" but rather just another imperialist regime to be overthrown.

I'm waiting to find a reasonably priced copy of The Managerial Revolution -- it's $38.50 a pop at Amazon -- to explore Burnham's take more deeply, but I believe that we can follow this thread a little further without direct reference to it, especially given Orwell's freely available 1946 essay on Burnham. Orwell summarizes The Managerial Revolution as follows:

"Capitalism is disappearing, but Socialism is not replacing it. What is now arising is a new kind of planned, centralised society which will be neither capitalist nor, in any accepted sense of the word, democratic. The rulers of this new society will be the people who effectively control the means of production: that is, business executives, technicians, bureaucrats and soldiers, lumped together by Burnham, under the name of 'managers.' These people will eliminate the old capitalist class, crush the working class, and so organise society that all power and economic privilege remain in their own hands. Private property rights will be abolished, but common ownership will not be established. The new 'managerial' societies will not consist of a patchwork of small, independent states, but of great super-states grouped round the main industrial centres in Europe, Asia, and America. These super-states will fight among themselves for possession of the remaining uncaptured portions of the earth, but will probably be unable to conquer one another completely. Internally, each society will be hierarchical, with an aristocracy of talent at the top and a mass of semi-slaves at the bottom."

We know that Burnham eventually served in the Office of Strategic Services in WWII, and that after the war he came out not just as an anti-Stalinist but as an anti-Communist. He went on to play a large role in the "rebirth" of American "conservatism" -- a "rebirth" that looks, in retrospect, suspiciously like a complete re-crafting under entirely new principles. As the Cold War blossomed, the Old Right ethos of "America First" non-interventionism which had dominated the Republican Party before Pearl Harbor virtually disappeared from "mainstream" conservatism. What replaced it? Back to Orwell, this time on Burnham's second book, The Machiavellians (even more expensive -- available used at $60 and up):

"Where the second book departs from the earlier one is in asserting that the whole process could be somewhat moralised if the facts were faced more honestly. THE MACHIAVELLIANS is sub-titled DEFENDERS OF FREEDOM. Machiavelli and his followers taught that in politics decency simply does not exist, and, by doing so, Burnham claims, made it possible to conduct political affairs more intelligently and less oppressively. A ruling class which recognised that its real aim was to stay in power would also recognise that it would be more likely to succeed if it served the common good, and might avoid stiffening into a hereditary aristocracy. ... Here Burnham undoubtedly contradicts his earlier opinion. In THE MANAGERIAL REVOLUTION, which was written in 1940, it is taken as a matter of course that 'managerial' Germany is in all ways more efficient than a capitalist democracy such as France or Britain. In the second book, written in 1942, Burnham admits that the Germans might have avoided some of their more serious strategic errors if they had permitted freedom of speech. However, the main thesis is not abandoned. Capitalism is doomed, and Socialism is a dream. If we grasp what is at issue we may guide the course of the managerial revolution to some extent, but that revolution IS HAPPENING, whether we like it or not."

Apparently Burnham liked it ("in both books," writes Orwell, "but especially the earlier one, there is a note of unmistakable relish over the cruelty and wickedness of the processes that are being discussed. ... it is clear that Burnham is fascinated by the spectacle of power ..."). And, apparently, he went to work to bring the "managerial revolution" into the "conservative" movement, and the "conservative" movement into power.

In 1952, Commonweal (a Catholic magazine) published an article titled "A Young Republican's View." In that article, the author -- a young Yale man who was serving a tour with the CIA in Mexico, a tour he'd signed up for under the auspices of his favorite professor, ex-Trotskyite (and ex-OSS/CIA operative) Willmoore Kendall, and Kendall's friend, ex-Trotskyite (and ex-OSS/CIA operative) James Burnham -- set out a stark political vision for the conduct of the anti-Communist struggle.

... we have to accept Big Government for the duration -- for neither an offensive nor defensive war can be waged given our present government skills, except through the instrument of a totalitarian bureaucracy within our shores ...


In other words, Burnham's "managerial revolution" -- a "bureaucratic deformation" of American polity under the guise of necessity for the defeat of Communism.

The young Yale man, of course, was William F. Buckley, Jr., who went on (with Burnham's assistance) to found National Review, the de facto journal of record for the "conservative movement" from the mid-1950s through the Reagan era ... indeed, until the current administration, under which the even more overtly "neoconservative" Weekly Standard has gained ground on it.

For 35 years, the formula worked flawlessly: Endless war without victory or defeat, endless growth of the managerial class (which may simply be the "political class" referred to in libertarian class theory as opposed to the Marxist variant), endless growth of government power, endless blurring of the lines allegedly separating the two "parties" within the managerial framework.

Then, the stumble: One of the partners in the enterprise collapsed. The wheels came of the Soviet Union; freedom threatened to break out; even as Europe worked desperately to consolidate its own managerial superstate, the EU, NATO seemed to be fading into obsolescence. The warfare state as an idea seemed to be on life support -- no monsters presented themselves for slaying, and the beast was reduced to feeding on feuds between small Middle East dictatorships and would-be potentates in the Balkans. In the US, the Old Right seemed to be at the edge of renaissance. "Isolationist" Pat Buchanan racked up surprising (and, to the neocons, disturbing) vote totals in presidential primaries as long as he remained within the GOP fold. The Republican congress began to question Bill Clinton's foreign adventurism ... and in 2000, a new president was elected on the platform of "a more humble foreign policy."

The neoconservative vision was on the ropes -- it even looked for awhile as if the "managerial" innovations of the New Deal might eventually come under siege. And the warfare state? Burnt toast. The new president seems to have allowed the appointment of neoconservatives to key defense positions to please his veep, placate a small constituency which had served the GOP for 25 years, and because there was nothing to do there -- no pretext upon which the managerial class could hope to crank up the war machine again in any substantial way.

No wonder, then, that the neoconservatives grasped with both hands for the opportunity which presented itself when Osama bin Laden, the figurehead of an increasingly marginal trend in Islamic politics, contrived to knock down the World Trade Center. Over the course of only two years, the neoconservatives, operating from their remaining bases of power -- the neocon press, "think tanks" like the American Enterprise Institute, and tailor-made bureaucracies such as the National Endowment for Democracy -- managed to turn the suppression of a rag-tag terror network (a military task of at best middling difficulty) into what they like to call "World War Four."

While much has been made -- and much should be made -- of the similarities between Trotsky's theory of "permanent revolution" and the Bush/neocon horror-hash called "world-wide democratic revolution," it seems to me that we may have missed the point. The situation we find ourselves in may be partially rooted in Trotskyite ideology, but it is, in all probability, in greater measure rooted in a self-designated "managerial" class's desperation for return to power and aspiration to total power.

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