The Mandel vs. "socialism" debate -- a good way to hidefrom reality

Mark Jones markjones011 at
Thu Jan 2 01:53:57 MST 2003

Doyle Saylor wrote:

>  What makes a bureaucracy chaotic?
> That would be useful for you to realistically describe.  If I'm
> employed to
> administer something some place, it is the management of the business that
> controls the work.   How are we to build organizations that are not
> bureaucratic?

Hello Doyle.

Henry answered this question the other day: bureaucracy and planning are
essential and indeed the hallmarks and conditions of existence of any
society with an extensive and technically-advanced division of labour,
especially when it is an industrialised society with a division of
intellectual and manual labour entrenched in the huge fixed capital, the
plant, processes and networks of modem science and technology. What made the
Soviet bureaucracy chaotic was firstly the circumstances of its birth, which
both Trotsky and Stalin well describe, analysed and understood, and both of
them also understood the great danger of creating an out-of-control
bureaucratic behemoth. Other things being equal, the Soviet bureaucracy
might in time have become the normal weberian civil institution of an
industrial society. But this was thwarted by World War Two which caused
immense material damage, killed up to 30 million people, and lopped the head
off the nascent Soviet intelligentsia. The chaos surrounding its birth
(which had parallels in the experience of other countries, for example
England where the Industrial Revolution caused immense suffering and a
near-breakdown of government by the 1830s). Secondly, reconstruction after
WW2 was totally derailed by the onset of the Cold War, which may have taken
longer but was no less evil and dangerous than Hitler Nazism. The Cold War
and the US monopoly of the Atom Bomb put terrible extra strain on Soviet
society and industry and the drive to create nuclear weapons (at a time when
US strategic arguments were about when, not whether, to launch nuclear
strikes at Russia) put an unsustainable burden on the system. It was then
that the bureaucratic behemoth really began to run out of control.

Thirdly, the Soviet bureaucracy far from being stalinist, was profoundly
anti-stalinist. After Stalin's death in 1953 and Khrushchev's victory in the
Kremlin power struggle, two things began which soon started the internal
decomposition of the Soviet order. Firstly, Khrushchev an his allies made
Peaceful Coexistence with the West not the short-term tactic within an
ongoing war against imperialism which it had been before, but the main plank
of Soviet internal and external policy. This, among many other negative
consequences, soon brought about the fatal split with Mao's China which was
the death-knell of the international socialist and communist movement. What
is also did was to make it possible to remove the Stalinist machinery of
terror, not from the backs of the masses (who continued to suffer under it
for decades) but the backs of the bureaucracy itself, which had been the
principle target of Stalin's purges. This took away the last impediment to
the wild and unimpeded growth of the cancer of bureaucracy.

Of course, if Stalin had sought to or had managed to install a genuine
workers' democracy as the main social control over the bureaucracy during
the 1930s, things would have turned out differently. But he didn't.

Comparisons with Cuba are highly relevant but remember that we do not yet
know whether the present variant of Cuban NEP will succeed or not. It is a
gamble and is almost as likely to result in the complete collapse of Cuban
socialism and wholesale capitalist restoration as it is in the victory of
the Cuban Revolution.  Bureaucracy is necessary and inevitable; it must be
placed under the direct political control of a mobilised and vigilant
working class. There are no other real guarantees.


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