From the Analysis of Bureaucracy to Workers Management - Castoriadis

Submitted by libcom on July 25, 2005

From the Analysis of Bureaucracy to Workers Management
Cornelius Castoriadis

How does one characterize such a regime from a Marxist point of veiw? Sociologically speaking it was clear that it should be defined in the same way as the Russian regime. And it is here that the weakness and the absurdity of the trotskyist conception became evident. For the definition that they gave to the Russian regime was not Sociological, it was a simple historical description: Russia was a "degenerated workers' state." And this is not just a question of terminology. For Trotskyism, such a regime was possible only as the product of the degeneration of a proletarian revolution; it had ruled out from its point of veiw the possibility that property might be "nationalised", that the economy might be "planned" and that the bourgeoisie might be eliminated without a proletarian revolution. Should it characterize the regimes of the CP in Eastern-Europe as "degenerated workers' states"? and if they were one must admit that the seizure of power by atotalitarian and militarily organised party was at the same time a proletarian revolution -- which was degenerating as it was developing. These theoretical monstrosities -- from which the Trotskyist "theoreticians" have never retreated -- remained, however, of secondary interest. Historical experience, as far as Marx and Lenin were concerned, taught that development of a revolution is essentially the development of the autonomous organs of the masses-commune, soviet, factory committees or counciland this had nothing to do with a fetishism for organisational forms:The idea of a dictatorship of the proletariat exercised by a totalitarian party was a mockery, the existence of autonomous organs of the masses and the effective exercise power by the latter was not a form, it was the revolution itself and the whole revolution.

Likewise Trotskys' conception revealed itself to be false on the central point on which it had been constituted and which alone could have provided Trotskyism with a foundation for its right to historical existence as a political current: the social and historical nature of stalinism and of the bureaucracy. The Stalinist parties were not reformist, they were not preserving but rather were destroying the bourgoisie. The birth of the Russian bureaucracy in and through the degeneration of the October Revolution, essential in other respects, was accidental with respect to the latter:Such a bureaucracy also could be born in another fashion and be, not the product, but the origin af a recime that could be characterised neither as working class nor simply capitalist in the traditional sense. If, for a time, some miserable quibblings concerning concerning the presence of the Russian army in Eastern-Europe as the cuase of the CP's accession to power were possible, the installation, since then, of an aoutochthotonous bureaucracy empire over a few odd hundred millions of Chinese ought to settle the question for all those who are not trying to blind themselves.

We therefore had to come back to the "Russian question" and set aside the historical and sociological exceptionalism of Trotsksy's conception. Contrarary to the latters prognosis, the Russian bureaucracy outlived the war, which had not resolved itself into revolution;it had ceased to be"bureaucracy in one country,"as similiar regimes musceled their way into power al over Eastern-Europe. The Russian bureaucracy therfore, was neither exceptional nor a "transitory" formation in any nonsophostical sense of this term. Nor was it a mere "parasitical stratum" but rather an altogether dominant class, exercising absolute power over the whole of social life,and not only in the narrow sphere of politics. It is not only that, from a Marxist point of veiw, the idea of a seperation(and, in this case, of an absolute opposition) between the alleged "socialist bases of the Russian economy" and the totalitarian terrorism exercised upon and against the proletariat is grotesque;it sufficed to consider seriously the substance of the real relations of production in Russia beyond the juridical form of "nationalised" property in order to discover these Actually are relations of exploitation, that the bureaucracy entirely assumes for itself the power and functions of an exploiting class, the management of the production process at all levels, the disposition of the means of production and decision-making authority over the appropiation of surplus production.

A host of consequences of the highest order sprang from the considerations, for the "Russian question" was, and remains, the touchstone of the theoretical and practical attitudes that call for revolution, and this question was also the richest vein, the royal road to the comprehension of the most important problems of contemporary society. The sterility of Trotsky and of Trotsky is an is only the reflection of their incapacity to enter on to this route. The historical justification of Trotskyism, which could have laid its foundation as the establishment of a new and independent political current, had been an analysis of the nature of Stalinism and the bureaucracy and of the implications of this new phenomenon. This new stage of the history of the working class movement As well as of society worldwide required a new effort, a new theoretical development. In place of this, Trotsky never did anything but repeat and codifiy classical period of Leninist practice(or rather, what he presented as such), and even this he did only after period of concessions and compromises which had ended only in 1927. Completely disarmed before the Stalinist bureaucracy, he was able only to denounce its crimes and criticise its politics according to the standards of 1917. Clouded by the pseudo- "theory" of Stalinist theBonapartism , hampered by his impressionistic view of the decline Capitalism, he refused till the end to see in the Russian regime anything other than a momentary accident, one of his famous "blind alleys" of history;he never furnished anything but superficial descriptions for the bureaucratic regime, and one would seek in vain in the revolution be trade for an analysis of the Russian economy:if the productive forces developed, it is thanks to nationalisation and planning;if they develop less rapidly and less well land they should have, it is on account of bureaucracy. Here is a substance of what Trotsky and the Trotskyists have to say about the Russian economy. He wore himself out demonstrating that communist parties were violating Leninist principles work and were ruining the revolution - whereas they were aiming at entirely different objectives, and to criticise them on this perspective makes no more sense and to reproach a cannibal who raises children in order to eat them, for violating precepts of a proper pedagogy. When at the into his life he agreed to consider a different theoretical possibility concerning the nature of the Russian the regime, he tied the theoretical fate of the analysis of Russia immediately and directly to the actual fate of his prognostication concerning the development of the revolution by the war that was just beginning. His pitiful heirs have paid dearly for this theoretical monstrosity;Trotsky had written in black-and-white ( in defence of marxism) that if the war ended without a victory of world revolution, the analysis of the Russian regime would have to be revised and it would have to be admitted that Stalinist bureaucracy and fascism already had sketched an outline of the new type of exploitative regime which he identified, moreover, with barbarism. His epigones where obliged for some years after the end of the war to maintain that the war, or "crisis "issuing therefrom, had not really ended. Probably for them it still has not ended.

Those who, like me, had admired his audacity and acuity could have been astonished by Trotsky's blindness about Stalinism. But he was not so free. This blindness was blindness of its own origins:of the bureaucratic tendencies organically incorporated into the Bolshevik party from the start (which he had, moreover, seen and denounced before joining up with the party and identifying himself with it), and of what, already in marxism itself, was preparing a way for bureaucracy and making it the blind spot, the invisible and irreparable segment of social reality that made it impossible, beyond a point, to think about this reality within the theoretical framework that marxism had established.

This new conception of bureaucracy and of the Russian regime allowed asked to tear the mystificatory veil from "nationalisation" and from "planning" and to rediscover-beyond juridical forms of property ownership as well as beyond the methods adopted by the exploiting class for managing the overall economy (whether these methods be realised through the "market" or through a "plan") -the actual relations of production as the foundation of the division of society into classes. There was in this, obviously, only a return to the genuine spirit of Marx's analyses. If classical private property is eliminated and yet in spite of that it workers continue to be exploited, dispossessed, and separated from the means of production, the division within society becomes the division between directors and executants in the process of production, the dominant strata assuring its stability and, given the opportunity, the transmission of its privileges to it is descendants by additional sociological mechanisms are hardly mysterious.

This new conception also allowed us to understand the evolution of Western capitalism, where concentration of capital, the evolution of technique and the the organisation of production, increasing intervention of the state, and, finally, the evolution of the great working-class organisations had led to a similar result:the establishment of the bureaucratic stratum in production and in the other spheres of social life. The Theory of the bureaucracy thus was finding its socioeconomic foundations at the same time that it was fitting into a historical conception of modern society. Indeed, it was clear that the process of capital concentration and of its interpenetration with the state, as well as the need to exercise control over all sectors of social life, and in particular the workers, involved the emergence of the new strata managing production, the economy, the state, and culture as well the proletariats trade union and political life;even in the countries of traditional Capitalism we are witnessing increasing autonomisation of this strata vis-a-vis private capitalists, and the gradual fusion at the summit of these two social categories. But of course it was not the fate of individuals but the evolution of the system that matters, and this evolution organically led the traditional Capitalism of the private business firm, of the market, of the state, to the contemporary Capitalism of the bureaucratised enterprise, of regimentation, of "planning," and of the on the omnipresent state. This is why it, after having For brief lapseof time envisaged the "third historical solution" I adopted the term "bureaucratic Capitalism. "I say "bureaucratic Capitalism" and not , "state capitalism," the latter being almost completely meaningless expression that not only improperly characterises traditional capitalist countries (where the means of production are not state run) is also is unable to put its finger on the emergence of this new exploiting stratum, masks a problem central to a socialist revolution, and creates a disastrous confusion(upon which numerous authors and left groupshave foundered) for it makes one think that capitalism's economic laws continue to hold after the disappearance of private property, of the market, and competition, which is absurd. How much bureaucratisation has become the central process of contemporary society during the following quarter century hardly deserves being mentioned.

More decisive still are the consequences pertaining to the aims of the revolution. If such as the foundation of contemporary society, a socialist revolution cannot stop at Barring the bosses and "private "property from the means of production;it also has to get rid the bureaucracy and the influence the latter exerts over the means and the process of production-in other words, it has to abolish the division between directors and executants. Expressed in a positive way, 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. This can also be called self management, provided that we do not forget that this term implies not the refurbishing but rather the destruction of the existing order, and quite particularly the abolition of a state apparatus separated from society and of parties as organs of management and direction;provided also, therefore, that self management is not confused with the mystifications that for some years now have been circulating under the name or with Marshall Tito's efforts to extract More production from Yugoslavian workers by means of the salary based upon collective output and by taking advantage of their capacity to organise their work themselves. That the experience of being exploited and being oppressed by the bureaucracy, coming on the heels of private Capitalism, left the rising masses no alternative but to demand workers management of production was a simple logical deduction, formulated as early as 1947 and amply confirmed by Hungarian revolution of 1956. That the management of production by the producers, and the collective management of their affairs by those directly involved, in every domain public life, will impossible and inconceivable except through an unprecedented outpouring of autonomous activity on the masses part reaffirmed that the socialist revolution is nothing more and nothing less than the explosion of this autonomous activity, instituting new forms of collective life, eliminating as it develops not only the manifestations but also the foundations of the previous order and, in particular, every separate category or organisation of "directors" or "managers" ( whose existence signifies ipso facto the certainty that there will be returned to the previous order, or rather testifies by itself that this order still there), creating at each of its stages new bases of support for its further development and anchorages these in social reality.

Finally, there followed some consequences that was just a significant for the revolutionary organisation itself as for its relations to the masses. If socialism is the outpouring of the autonomous activity of the masses and if the Objectives of this activity and its forms can spring only from the experience the workers themselves have of exploitation and oppression, it can be a question of either inculcating them with a "socialist consciousness" produced by a theory or of acting as their substitute in directing the revolution or in constructing socialism. Thus then needed to be a radical transformation of the Bolshevik model, of the types of relations that exist between the masses and the organisation as well as of the latter's structure and internal modus vivendi.

These conclusions are clearly formulated in "Socialism or Barbarism ". Nevertheless, I was not able to draw out all the implications right away, and many ambiguities remained in the first text devoted to this question(" Le Parti Revolutionnaire", May 1949 ), ambiguities already removed in part in a subsequent text (is "proletarian leadership," July 1952). Beyond the difficulties that are always present when one breaks with a great historical legacy, two factors seem to me to have been determinative of my attitude to in this period. The first factor was that I was measuring , in its full breadth , the extent of the problem of centralisation modern society-and, concerning which, I have always thought that it was underestimated by those in the group who opposed me on this question-aand that it appeared to me, wrongly, that the Party furnished one element of an answer. As far as I am concerned, this question was resolved, as much as it could be writing, in "on the content of socialism, 2". The second factor was the antinomy involved in the very idea of revolutionary organisation and activity: to be aware, or to understand, that the proletariat has to arrive at conception of the revolution and of socialism that it can only draw from itself, and yet not to fold ones arms for all that. This ultimately is the formulation of the very problem of praxis, as it is encountered in pedagogy as well in psychoanalysis, and I was able to discuss it in a manner that satisfied me only 15 years later (Marxism and revolutionary theory).