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Guardianship: The Utopia of the new class

(Quadrant, April 1983)

Bureaucracies of virtue and power

You can’t keep a good idea down. You can be gently derisive and hope it will go away. You can make things hot for True Believers by exposing their ideas to ridicule and scorn. Or adopting a more serious approach, you can research and write and publish two mighty volumes of overwhelming argument printed in several editions over a period of forty years, which make vividly clear the intellectual error of Platonic politics, the practical folly of using them as a guide to action, and the numberless vices which invariably ensue.

But naught availeth. If enough people in high places come to believe the Utopia of their dreams should be run by a New Class specially chosen and trained in universities, a class which miraculously unites “goodness and power” (as Professor Gouldner puts it in The Future of Intellectuals and the Rise of the New Class) or telos and techne (as Professor Szelenyi puts it in The Intellectuals on the Road to Class Power) then there’s really no way of preventing the Guardians from taking over.*

[*Alvin Gouldner, The Future of Intellectuals and the Rise of the New Class, NY Seabury Press. 1979. George Konrad and Ivan Szelenyi, The Intellectuals on the Road to Class Power. Harvester Press. 1979. Gouldner’s book consists of sixteen numbered “theses”, and the bracketed numerals appended to quotations refer to these. Szelenyi’s book was written in Hungary in collaboration with George Konrad. When given the opportunity to leave Hungary and go into exile, Konrad stayed. For his part Szelenyi left, eventually taking a post at Flinders University where the manuscript of the book caught up with him. Because of his public association with it in the West, and because he has subsequently published on the same subject as sole author, I have taken the lilberty of referring to The Intellectuals on the Road to Class Power as if Szelenyi (now at the University of Wisconsin) had written it on his own. It should be remembered however that this is not the case.]

Now I don’t want to be misunderstood. Professors Gouldner and Szelenyi are democrats—at least if a distaste for Stalinism is any guide. It may be true that the late Max Weber Research Professor of Social Theory at Washington University was a swashbuckling sort of a fellow who, in his last years, styled himself a Left Hegelian Marxist Outlaw. But there is no evidence to suggest that Alvin Gouldner actually walked the campus with pearl-handled dialectical six-guns on his hips, and we are all indebted to him for explaining the historic mission of the New Class as clearly as he has.

It is equally true that Professor Szelenyi represents one of Hungary’s most distinguished academic exiles; that he and his collaborator wrote their book about the power of the intellectuals in East Europe as a form of samizdat; and that a main reason for writing it at all was that the authors “came to realise that the dictatorship of the proletariat is a myth, an ideology which legitimises the power of an oppressive new social force.” If men as clear-headed as this should occasionally appear to favour a

Platonic social order, and if they should refer in a rather indulgent way to guards and guardians… well, perhaps we should be fair to writers—even sociological writers—and allow them their metaphors without complaint.

But I am not entirely convinced. For the fact is that we live at a time when custodianship is very much in the air and when a new generation of thinkers on the Left is happily anticipating a period of unprecedented intellectual hegemony over our lives and thought. In these circumstances the arresting spectacle of Plato’s Guardians insinuating themselves into the pages of New Class sociology does rather catch the eye.

For example, Szelenyi finds it natural to characterise Hungary’s thought controllers as “the guardians of doctrine”, and speaks in a similar way about the Communist Party itself. To the Party, he says, falls the responsibility for standing guard over socialism’s finest achievement, the political co-ordination of the economy and the consequent integration of individual bureaucracies.” (pp236–161; my italics)

In the striking passage which stands at the head of Popper’s text, Plato urges as a general principle that a man “should get up, or move, or wash, or take his meals … only if he has been told to do so” — advice which bears an uncanny resemblance to Szelenyi’s account of the responsibilities of New Class intellectuals in the East: “In redistributive society order must prevail, and keeping order is the business of the intellectuals: Thus we might summarise most succinctly the ethos of the intellectual class. One may argue, while still remaining within the logic of the system, about who should tell people where they can build houses — the ministry, the planning office, or the municipality — but no one can question that somebody has to tell them where they can build without betraying the whole class ethos.” (p 62;italics in original)

Fastidious scholars might say that Szelenyi’s political Platonism is a minor and barely visible theme in his discussion, something only a critic would introduce. But Gouldner is a man who has written a book on Plato and knows whereof he speaks. And when his account of the pretensions of the New Class recalls the Athenian origins of rationalist aspiration, it is certainly by no slip of the pen:

The New Class believes its high culture represents the greatest achievement of the human race, the deepest ancient wisdom and the most advanced modern scientific knowledge. It believes that these contribute to the welfare and wealth of the race, and that they should receive correspondingly greater rewards. The New Class believes that the world should be governed by those possessing superior competence, wisdom, and science — that is, themselves. The Platonic Complex, the dream of the philosopher king, is the deepest wish-fulfilling fantasy of the New Class. (11.15)

Most of us have wish-fulfilling fantasies at one time or another. But according to Gouldner the New Class is unique in that it has mastered the art of getting its fantasies fulfilled. It has been to university and acquired “the Culture of Critical Discourse” — an essential attribute for all ambitious Guardians today. At its best this is simply the Western tradition of rational enquiry, while at its worst it is all that is destructively antinomian in modern culture. But the main thrust of Gouldner’s argument is that this language, this procedure, this antinomianism, has now been captured by one social class above all, an elite which is making it the instrument of its domination and control.

The culture of discourse of the New Class seeks to control everything, its topic and itself, believing that such domination is the only road to truth. The New Class begins by monopolising truth and by making itself its guardian. (14.4; my italics)

Ministries of truth and love

With the Ministry of Truth around the corner, can the Ministry of Love be far behind? Yet it is surely right and proper that Gouldner and Szelenyi should depict the destiny of the New Class in Platonic terms, and are to be found occasionally writing about it as the guardian of truth, or of doctrine, or of “socialism’s finest achieve­ment”. This is because both authors are ambivalent toward their subject matter, and the word “guardian” precisely expresses this attitude.

Guardianship is first of all legitimate authority. But in ordinary usage the legitimacy of guardianship is qualified by our sense that too much protective custody offends the liberty of free men. For this reason the notion of a guardian’s authority is something we simultaneously concede and resent. And one possible explanation for the uneasily ironic tone and attitude often found in these authors is that they are driven by the logic of their arguments to concede a degree of power to the New Class which they know in their bones to be wrong.

It might easily be thought that the first requirement of an ambitious New Class would be a New Classroom with a New Curriculum — along with a brigade or two of ideological shock troops to get the message across. In recent years the more pessimistic Marxist critics, such as Herbert Marcuse and Louis Althusser, certainly felt that nothing less than an all-out effort of this kind was needed to break the sinister grip of conservatism on the schools.

But Gouldner disagrees. Why worry about new class­rooms when the existing ones are doing such an excellent job? Already the members of the Old Class (the old property-owning middle classes) are “unable to reproduce their values in their own children”, and are equally powerless to prevent their children being converted to New Class causes and programs. Both of these developments prove (contra Marcuse and Althusser) that schools and universities have now become the primary agents for radicalising capitalist society.

Of course the New Class (composed of technically credentialled “cultural capitalists”) is helped in this by the visible disorders and delinquencies of Old. Class family life — in itself the cause of numerous defections. But whatever the predisposing influences in any particular case, it is in the schools that Old Class parents part company with their children, handing them over to lower-echelon New Class Guardians whose task (Gouldner explains) is to undertake the process of “linguistic conversion” by which “the Culture of Critical Discourse” discredits and supplants the common tongue.

7.1 The necessary institution for the mass production of the New Class and its special culture of critical discourse is the historically unique system of “public education”, whether at the secondary or tertiary levels. This system is characterised by the fact that (a) it is education away from the home and thus away from close parental supervision;(b) it is education mediated by a special group of New Class, “teachers”, whose role requires them to take the standpoint of the collectivity as a whole, and who train students to believe that the value of their discourse does not depend upon their differing class origins, that it is not the speaker but the speech that is to be attended, (c) All public schools, therefore, are schools for a linguistic conversion, moving their charges away from the ordinary languages of their everyday lives and moving them toward the CCD (ie, the culture of critical discourse). (Italics in original)

There is much here which is familiar, and some which is obviously true. Specialised educational institutions are found in all advanced societies. And struggles over curricula have frequently, and rightly, required teachers to take a standpoint differing from that of either the family circle or the government in power. To a much greater degree than art, the heritage of science is a necessarily cosmopolitan heritage which rejects local habitations as too constricting and recognises no national home.

But this very cosmopolitanism was liberating precisely because it disclaimed absolute truth and disowned rigid doctrine: what will be the consequences of academic teaching when it is conducted by men and women who see it as their mission to “monopolise truth” and to “guard doctrine”, and who are temperamentally inclined to do just that? But Gouldner’s sixteen “theses” are widely separated, there are many pages and many thoughts between theses 7.3 and 14.4, and the darker side of the dialectic is the least of his worries as he dwells appreciatively on the positive benefits of “linguistic conversion to the CCD”. Once a student has successfully learnt the tricks of the dialectical trade

all authoritative claims are now potentially open to challenge … A grounding is established for the training of members of the New Class and for their alienation from the Old Class. Colleges and universities are the finishing schools of the New Class resistance to the Old Class. (7.2; italics in original)

Once the training of the New Class recruits is concluded, and their emotional alienation from the Old Class is complete, they go forth into the world—very often the world of the unemployed. Gouldner’s account of the intellectuals may lack the civilised fatalism of a Schumpeter or the historical detachment of an Irving Kristol—but it does have statistics. His figures for the overproduction of educated manpower in the US, drawn from labour economics, strongly suggest that a good deal of resentment and hostility toward the Old Class would be floating around whether or not the academic Guardians had done their damnedest to create it.

Too much educated manpower

As long ago as 1973 the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education predicted that the supply of educated manpower would soon outrun demand, and that although about half the college-age cohort would have gone to college, half of these in turn would either find themselves unemployed or would be “working at jobs requiring less education than they have, and less interesting than they sought”.

The social science departments in Australian CAEs are crowded with such people; and since no university department with any sense of self-preservation would dream of voluntarily reducing its intake, a growing population of over-qualified resentfuls will be distributed more and more widely as the years go by.

Soured hopes, unfulfilled expectations, the problem of what sociology calls “blocked ascendance”, these are a potent cause of alienation world-wide. Two years after the Carnegie Commission’s report was issued, a labour economist estimated in the Winter 1975 US Occupational Outlook that between 1972 and 1985 the number of job openings for PhDs would be 187,000, while the available supply in the same period would be 580.000.

By 1985 more than twice as many PhDs would be available for work in PhD-type jobs as there are jobs … in physics, the supply would be about half again more than the demand; in mathematics, only about one-eighth more. In contrast, projected supply may be twice as high in life science or social science and psychology; three times in arts and humanities; 4 times in education; and 8 times in business and commerce. (11.18)

Now I am sure Gouldner would have agreed that it is vital to take a dialectical view of the matter. As capitalism stumbles blindly along its contradictory course, benevolently overproducing a super-abundance of PhDs which then resentfully bite its hand, we must look further down the road and try to see what the long-term future holds. Let us suppose the New Class is fully established in power—”hegemonic power”, as they say. How will all these academically credentialled folk conduct themselves then? What is their Utopia going to look like in operation?

It is at this point that the East European picture presented in The Intellectuals On the Road to Class Power is helpful, for by a singular stroke of good fortune Professor Szelenyi has already answered these questions for us. “The interests of the socialist intelligentsia”, he writes, “are quite different from those of the intellectuals in market economies.”

They are bound up with a defence of the value of the university diploma, which leads to restrictions on the number of degrees that can be obtained. Thus the number of university admissions is limited by administrative means, and the competition on the entrance examinations for the limited number of places remaining is so intensified that ten applicants may appear for each place; for the only legitimate way to rise in society leads by way of the university.

Moreover, highly disagreeable sanctions are applied to ensure that the New Class maintains a proper exclusiveness:

If someone with a degree accepts a lower-ranking job he is made the object of general social disapproval, and such deviants can expect punishment from a number of quarters, ranging from the press to the public prosecutor’s office. (pp26-27)

This picture of the press dealing out punishment in league with the public prosecutor’s office is instructive. Perhaps it should be seen as the logical extension of present trends—of the moralising censoriousness of New Class journalism. In East Europe the administrative obligation to keep the intellectuals themselves in line makes journalists not merely Guardians, but the Guardians of the Guardians, a vocational fulfilment which some of our more ambitious Left media pundits might find hard to resist.

The difference in the journalistic enterprise, East and West, is gradually reducing itself to this: in places like Hungary the media function to defend the privileges wrested (in the name of the proletarian revolution) from the Old Class by the New. While in the West this battle has yet to be won: here the intellectuals still see it as their main duty to discredit and destroy the Old Bourgeoisie— the enfeebled obstacle still standing in their path.

Resentful tertiary spillage

Gouldner’s figures for the growing surplus of educated manpower should be borne in mind in any account of New Class media performance, for it is the world of journalism which provides a hospitable refuge for countless academics manqués. Indeed, it would be hard to understand the rancour, the tendentiousness and the ceaseless moralistic whine of so much “current affairs” without taking into account the resentful spillage from mass tertiary education.

The more literate of this overflow ends up in the print media. But hundreds more drift into TV news and documentary programs where an inability to spell usually goes unnoticed. In any case a rather different talent is required. As numerous “documentaries” show. and numerous victims will testify, the ability to crucify one’s political adversaries by tricks of interviewing and editing is what is most in demand. This may seem a far cry from the rarefied world of the Culture of Critical Discourse, but as Gouldner indicates, the translation of academic “critique” into the ordinary malice of daily journalism is just one of those things which was bound to happen along the way:

4.4 Short of going to the barricades, the New Class may harass the old, sabotage it, critique it, expose and muckrake it, express moral, technical, and cultural superiority to it. and hold it up to contempt and ridicule. The New Class, however, does not seek struggle for its own sake. No class does. It is concerned simply about securing its own material and ideal interests with minimum effort. Class struggle is only one device in a larger repertoire with which the New Class pursues its interests. No class goes to war without first seeing what it can secure through negotiation or threat.

What it can secure by threat is in fact impressive: and Gouldner’s discussion of the process (though for rather different reasons) almost equally so. Like others who have watched the New Class over the years, he sees the drive to increase its share of the national product as a “fundamental New Class objective”, along with an ability “to appropriate privately larger shares of the incomes produced by the special cultures they possess”.

To do all this they need to control some other things as well — the terms and conditions of their own employment being high on the list. And the key to it all is sufficient political power to put the seal of public approval on the whole package. “The struggle of the New Class is, therefore, to institutionalise a wage system, ie, a social system with a distinct principle of distributive justice: ‘from each according to his ability, to each according to his work’, which is also the norm of ‘socialism’ “. (5.7)

Tenure—the goal of all employment

As art aspires to the condition of music, so employment aspires to the condition of academic tenure—especially all bureaucratic employment. It may well be that the privileges of tenure were originally devised to guarantee the unimpeded movement of the mind, to secure a safe environment for scholars, and to underwrite the conditions of impartial research.

But in today’s bureaucratic context (when this can be distinguished from the academy proper) tenure can be more easily seen to guarantee that if movement can be impeded, it will be; to secure a safe environment for personal incompetence and economic inefficiency; and to underwrite a large quantity of highly partial research— a veritable deluge of self-sponsored, self-serving reports designed to justify the expansion of government departments in such a way as to do for the New Class exactly what Gouldner says it does: “to increase its own share of the national product”.

What all this has to do with institutionalising the principle of “from each according to his ability” etc may not be immediately obvious. But it becomes clearer as we go along, especially when the economic philosophy underlying the New Class’s ambitious income claims is spelled out. Gouldner presents this in Thesis Five: The New Class as a Cultural Bourgeoisie, where the Old Class with its property advantages (the Old Bourgeoisie) is distinguished from its modern challenger, the New Class of culturally and educationally advantaged.

Like a number of other neo-Marxists who have found Marx’s own conception of capital too restrictive, he speaks of the specialised training and professional credentials of the New Class as “cultural capital”, and then proceeds to lump everything together in a “general theory of capital” according to which “Education is as much capital as are a factory’s buildings or machines”. Indeed:

5.14(4) Anything is capital when it serves as the basis olf enforceable claims to the private appropriation of incomes legitimated for their contribution to the production of economic valuables or wealth. Capital differs, then, from fraud, force, violence or domination that are used to extort wealth as ransom, loot, booty, or tribute. Capital is neither theft nor extortion but acknowledges the norm of reciprocity, claiming that it is entitled to what it gets because of what it has contributed. (Italics in original)

A generalisation of this scope necessarily contains some truth. But when we come to consider the “enforceable income claims” of the modern public servant — some Therapeutic Bureaucrat of The Age of Discontent — it becomes obvious that it also contains a very large untruth. In a market economy the returns on money capital are not guaranteed. It may of course be true that it is implicit in the theory and practice of investment that the investor is entitled to some share of the returns on whatever has been invested. And if Gouldner or anyone else .wishes to call this a “norm of reciprocity”, then so be it. What is noticeable is the way he then proceeds to obfuscate the crux of market legitimacy: that if there is no contribution to the production of social wealth, there can be no legitimate claims.

But a denial of the rule “no returns, no claims”, is exactly where his argument is leading. And in only a few more lines we are invited to consider situations (situations Gouldner regards with equanimity) where without any increase in productivity at all the power of the New Class is so great that its position becomes “a form of ‘domination’ where incomes are extracted by the threat or use of force or violence” (5.15) whether or not the capital increases productivity. Some of us would regard this as a not unfair description of the state of Australian industrial relations today. Should this procedure become the model for similar claims by a hegemonic New Class on the Left we can all look forward to exciting times. From this assumption—that there is no necessary relation between incomes and productivity, and that there need not be—policies follow which must bankrupt any state.

Economics supersedes politics

Irving Kristol once observed that the New Class “tries always to supersede economics by politics—an activity in which it is most competent, since it has the talents and the implicit authority to shape public opinion on all larger issues”. As the “hegemonic bloc” of Left Guardians materialises, and its political influence develops into a “form of domination”, it becomes increasingly important for us to know what sort of politics these will be. Under the prefigured form of domination is there going to be any room for an opposition? Will there be only one party? Or will we be allowed to have two? For his part Gouldner emphasises that a communist dictatorship offers the New Class significant advantages (in what follows I have replaced ‘socialist’ with ‘communist’ throughout, since that is what in fact he means).

4.6 A ‘welfare’ state and a ‘communist’ state are both political strategies of the New Class. An essential difference is that in a communist state the hegemony of the New Class is fuller, its control over the working class is greater.

These advantages are fully confirmed by Szelenyi in a section which discusses “the meaning of the dictatorship of the proletariat under rational distribution” (ppl7l-172) and which describes the combined exegetical and political functions of the Party as follows: “It makes certain that economic and technical decisions will always be primarily political decisions and that these politicised decisions will always be correlated with a unitary socialist ideology … The leaders’ speeches provide a running exegesis of the classic Marxist texts which changes constantly yet is the only valid and authoritative one at any given time. The Party is above the parts, the Party is above parties; it is not one factor in the political mechanism, it is the political mechanism… That is why it cannot recognise any legitimate political alternative to itself and its policies, and cannot submit to any popular representative body. Even if it comes to power through parliamentary elections it must shake off parliamentary control as soon as it is in power.” (p 162)

I repeat: Professors Gouldner and Szelenyi are democrats. They clearly prefer societies in which there is personal liberty and the vote, to societies in which there is neither—or in which voting is purely ceremonial. Professor Szelenyi is not celebrating the Guardianship of the Party in the passage quoted above—and least of all when he talks about that doctrinal exegesis “which changes constantly yet is the only valid and authoritative one at any given time”. The tone may be unfamiliar, but it is a recognisable species of East European humour—political gallows humour, black, thin-lipped, and cynical.

Nor does Gouldner whole-heartedly endorse the march to power of the New Class he so vividly portrays: it would be truer to say that he half-heartedly endorses it instead. He is not without some sympathy for the Old Class which is being inexorably displaced, but in his eyes it is beyond salvation—partly because it is incapable of effective self-defence. It has lost to the New Class the decisive symbols of legitimacy in the modern era: science, technology, professionalism, and morality.

As the Old Class helplessly begets its New Class children—professionals, technicians, scientists and intellectuals to a man—each child pits his own chosen symbol of legitimacy against the faded proprietorial assumptions on which the parental home was built. As regards morality, even if the New Class were not busily making careers out of their public destruction, the private conduct of many of the Old Class elite is unappealing, That of the Miami Kimberlys and Pulitzers, for example, might well have cast a shadow over their senatorial prospects in ancient Rome.

Analysis without prognosis

But this is really beside the point. The point is that the sociology of these books leads inevitably to political conclusions. And one would like to know exactly what political dispensation and what constitutional arrange­ments Gouldner sees replacing the world we know. Like a thousand critics of similar views, on this question he is silent.

We are told that Marx got his classes wrong; that he backed a loser in the proletariat; that instead it will be the New Class which succeeds to power—”hegemonic power” being the favoured phrase for describing this long-anticipated apotheosis of the intelligentsia. But what institutions will restrain this power? Again one asks: Will there be two parties? Or is it in the nature of “rationality” to permit only one? What will guarantee the personal liberty which Professor Gouldner so comfortably assumes, and which Professor Szelenyi had to go into exile to discover?

Regarding these important questions the authors have nothing constructive to say. Hegemony cometh: the constitution of liberty will have to look after itself. For his part Szelenyi minutely lists the daily degradations which a political system unable to “submit to any popular representative body” necessarily inflicts upon its citizens. But at the end of it all he has no concrete suggestions to make beyond the fond hope that his book will contribute “to the theory of a new, self-managing socialism—a free association of direct producers’ … ” For my part I can only wish Szelenyi the joys of a tenured professorship in a prominent American university, and enough time to spin out his theories until retirement.

In The Future According to Alvin Gouldner, on the other hand, we shall all have to place our trust in that miraculous guidance system, the Culture of Critical Discourse. When it’s working properly it is a very paragon of civic virtue—”reflexive”, watchful, self-disciplined, orderly, and circumspect … All of them things which rationalism hopes for in human life; all of them things which rationalists have told us we need more of if we are to survive.

But then comes an unpleasant revelation. It now appears that the CCD doesn’t always work properly, and that sometimes it doesn’t work at all. It is even admitted to have vices. And these vices are all the things which Professor Oakeshott has warned against and argued that we need less of in any polity worth the name, and certainly in any polity which is to remain sane and bearable.

Our university-educated Critical Discoursers, the “embodiment of societal rationality” who “claim the right to sit in judgment over the actions and claims of any social class and all power elites” may also (on their off days) be “inflexible” and “dogmatic”. Worse still — much, much worse: “Political brutality, then, finds a grounding in the Culture of Critical Discourse; the new rationality may paradoxically allow a new darkness at noon.”

Nice word, “paradoxical”. Could the paradox of universal scepticism collapsing into universal dogmatism have any relation to the unwisdom of discussing “society” in a political vacuum? Or the dangers inherent in a rationality stripped of institutional restraints?

In Frank Parkin’s excellent Marxism and Class Theory, he drily remarks that “the political theory of liberty in the classless society or in the transitional socialist state is not to be found ready made in classical Marxism or its offshoots. Nor for that matter have latterday Marxists given it the prominent place it might be thought to deserve in a program ostensibly designed with human emancipation in mind.

Despite the avowed responsiveness of Marxism to the lessons of history there is still no general schema of a socialist political system that indicates how power should be distributed, how conflicting interests should be represented and resolved, how abuses to socialist legality should be checked, and so on. There are no principles or guidelines of even the most general kind pertaining to the conduct of political life under the dictatorship of the proletariat, nor any attempt to systematise Lenin’s own scrappy remarks on the subject. Miliband’s judgment that the exercise of power under proletarian dictatorship is the ‘Achilles heel of Marxism’ is in no obvious danger of becoming outdated by current theory or practice.” (p178)

It can safely be said that Miliband’s judgment is in no danger of being outdated by these books. The exercise of power under “the hegemony of the New Class” is the new form of an old problem, and like a long line of Marxist predecessors these authors choose to ignore it. But it would be wrong to underestimate their significance, for in the history of Marxist revisionism they may well represent an important turning point.

This is the point when disenchantment brings the abandonment of the millenarian vision, the abandonment of any hope of that bright dawn when a “universal class” will establish universal equity, and the abandonment of that age-old religious dream of a world freed of alienation. It is a stage which many have reached before — and have then turned aside to do more useful things. The remarkable feature of these books (but more especially Gouldner’s) is that although the religious goal is now admitted to be absurd, the effort to subvert, displace, or even to violently overthrow the 0!d Class is in no way discouraged — is indeed implicitly upheld as a still desirable and appropriate goal, whatever the consequences.

Total cynicism and totalitarian goals

Marxism since Lenin has always been tactically opportunistic. But however distasteful their day-to-day manoeuvres, neither in their writings nor in their characters could Marx, or Lenin, or Trotsky, be accused of seeking power simply for the sake of the material benefits power brings, or for the mere pleasure of exercising it. On the interpretation set before us in these books, however, these are the motives which largely account both for the rise of the New Class in the West and for its unbudgeability in the East.

More remarkable still, this is not seen to require a wholesale reconsideration of political goals. Gouldner tells us that Marxism is “the false consciousness of radicalised cultural bourgeoisie”, but thinks little the worse of it for that. It is rather as if Raymond Aron, having pronounced Marxism to be “the opium of the intellectuals”, were then to commend opium addiction on the ground that it might still have exciting results.

Stripped of its religious goals, Marxism has the makings of a very cynical creed indeed. When the Knights of Totality no longer believe their own liberationist rhetoric, when the Guardians have come think that their hegemonic power is a necessary feature of socialism whatever the result, then “demystified” Marxist politics have arrived with a vengeance.

In the East they arrived some time ago. Szelenyi’s account represents the ultimate fulfilment of the trends Gouldner describes. And what his account portrays is a political organism deprived of its original moral rationale, a structure in which the old egalitarian impulse is exhausted, but which persists for the very good reason that the material benefits accruing to the dominant class provide it with a sufficient motive for hanging on to power (as in Poland) come what may.

One remembers Weber’s epitaph for the Protestant Ethic, as he contemplated a devitalised bourgeoisie spiritlessly tending the petrified mechanism their ancestors had raised. Adapted, without apology, it might also be used to depict that petrified Utopia of the New Ruling classes of the East:

Rulers without honour, administrators without heart, priests without conviction, this nullity imagines that it has attained a level of civilisation never before achieved.

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