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(en) Anarkismo.net - The Bureaucratic Ruling Class vs. Democratic Self-Management by Wayne Price - NEFAC

Date Fri, 30 Jun 2006 06:52:29 +0300

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.

Part 1, What Do We Mean By Anti-Capitalism? can be found at

Bakunin and Marx
If 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
The Theory of Bureaucratic Collectivism
In 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

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
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.

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 Classes
Marxist-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.

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 Theory
To 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

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 Democracy
But 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 Theory
Third-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:

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

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.

Price, Wayne (2005). Parecon and the Nature of Reformism.

Price, Wayne (2006). Confronting the Question of Power.

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

Wetzel, Tom (2003). Participatory Economics and the
Self-Emancipation of the Working Class.

Written for www.Anarkismo.net

Part 1, What Do We Mean By Anti-Capitalism? can be found at
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