From The Making of Society: An Outline of Sociology, edited by V. F. Calverton, 1937.
MASTERS -- OLD AND NEW
A Social Philosophy Without Myths
By MAX NOMAD
As a saying credited to Machiavelli has it, "nobody has yet killed his own successor." That dictum has often been applied to the coming "final struggle" between the beneficiaries of decaying capitalism and their proletarian successors. Its soothing value to the still waiting inheritors is certainly incontestable.
When, feudalism lay in its death throes its enemies predicted the succession of the rule of the people. That "people" turned out to be the modern bourgeoisie. With capitalism in a similar predicament, history seems to be repeating itself and playing the same trick upon the "proletariat."
The beneficiary of that momentous piece of sleight-of-hand is no longer in hiding. Sandwiched between the capitalists and the manual workers there has emerged an ever growing stratum of neo-bourgeois or not-yet-quite-bourgeois engaged in mental or near-mental occupations. "Intellectual workers," "privileged employees of capital," "new middle class" -- these are the various terms used interchangeably for this amazing variety of people: office-holders, teachers, professional men, technicians, clergymen, commercial and financial experts, journalists, writers, artists, politicians, professional revolutionists and agitators, trade union organizers and so on. In short, a vast crowd of educated and semi-educated people, all of them "propertyless," who may or may not have a college degree, but can make a livelihood without resorting to manual or lower clerical labor.
Sometimes scions of the prosperous capitalists, of the "privileged employees" or of the lower middle classes, and sometimes self-educated upstart workers, the intellectuals are divided into various income groups, just as the property holders are. Some of them, the "ins," are satisfied with the existing system; others, the "outs," the underpaid or unemployed, are just as strenuously opposed to it. The "ins" devour an enormous part of the national wealth: they enjoy a bourgeois standard of living, and in their large mass are always ready to side with the existing system against the manual workers.
In short, formally "employees," the "ins" are in fact, due to their higher educational qualifications, minor partners of the capitalists as a whole: the lesser nobility, as it were, within the great bourgeois aristocracy of the modern age. And in proportion as the major partner, the capitalist, becomes a mere consuming parasite, leaving most of the functions of technical and commercial management to his "paid employees" -- in the same proportion these "employees" become the potential successors of their employers. But, being satisfied with their social position, they are naturally a conservative element; they are not in a hurry to dispossess their masters (or major partners); for any serious interference with the property relations may disturb the social peace and endanger their own privileged incomes.
Against these defenders of the status quo are arrayed the "outs," the unemployed or underpaid journalists, lecturers, college graduates and undergraduates, "lawyers without clients and doctors without patients" (Marx), educated exworkers in search of a white-collar position -- in short all that motley army of impecunious or starving intellectuals, near-intellectuals and would-be intellectuals, who are dissatisfied with the existing system and are very often militantly active in the various radical or fascist movements. It is the members of this group who have the ambition of eliminating the capitalist class of parasitic consumers and of establishing their own rule in a system based on government control or ownership of industries, and an unequal distribution of incomes.
The first case in history when this group came into its own was the Bolshevik revolution and the establishment of the! so-called Soviet system. That system has evolved an enormous hierarchy of intellectuals who are bureaucrats at the same time: administrative office-holders, technical managers and engineers, judges, savants, journalists, writers, professors, higher transport and postal employees, Marx-theologians, army officers, actors, singers, scientific spies, bank accountants, trade union and sports organizers -- all of them government employees who owe their bourgeois comfort to the labor of the uneducated workers and peasants. Having eliminated the old parasitic strata of feudal lords and capitalist proprietors, these office-holders have become the only consumers of privileged incomes. The badge of admission to this new privileged class is a certain amount of education or training exceeding the average level of the manual workers. That amount of higher education or training guarantees its owner a soft job and a salary which is above the average wage of the manual worker.
It is this class which, being identical with the government, has become the collective owner of the country's socialized economy -- its industries and its land. The workers and peasants are merely the nationalized laborers, menials and serfs of the new ruling class which has combined the fiction of the "proletarian dictatorship" with that of "the factories and fields belonging to the workers and peasants."
The bolshevik form of class rule and inequality of incomes is not a distortion of the original equalitarian character of socialism, as some sentimental souls may believe. Stripped of its emotional content and reduced to the simplest economic terms, socialism has always meant merely government ownership of the means of production. In other words, socialism means primarily a change in the form of production, or in the ownership of the means of production. The rest is poetry and propaganda. The question of distribution has always been considered a secondary matter by the various socialist schools after the first and most important task of socialization had been carried out. Practically all socialist theorists take it for granted that immediately after the socialist revolution, during "the first phase of communism," to use an expression of Marx, there would be no equality of incomes. It is only under "the higher phase of communism," after God knows how many generations or centuries, that the principle of "from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs," would be applied. A formula which is as hazy as it is deceitful. For who is to determine a man's needs? None other apparently than the bureaucrats, the same men who in present-day Russia determine that a high class manager "needs," or, let us say, "deserves," several thousand rubles a month, while for an ordinary laborer or other plain worker one hundred or one hundred fifty a month is sufficient. In other words, for the future as for the present the real meaning of that formula is to be conceived as "from the workers according to their abilities, to the bureaucrats according to their needs".
Only the beneficiaries of such glaring inequalities of income can assert that the means of production under the new dispensation are "owned by the workers." They are owned, collectively of course, by those who hire and fire; by those who constitute the government machine, the bureaucrats, the sum total of all educated people who have good apartments in city and countryside, who have the best food, the use of the available automobiles, domestic servants, and all the other comforts from which the enormous majority of manually working "owners" are excluded. Only paid propagandists, or would-be "ins" of such a new system of exploitation, can speak of a "proletarian state" because the maximum proportion of inequality is "merely" one to one hundred, instead of being one to one thousand as in the typically capitalist countries.
The Soviet example has proven that exploitation is just as much possible under socialism as under any other previous social system. (Granting of course, that any system of planned, socialized economy, historically speaking, represents a great step forward as compared with the productive process under private capitalism with its calamities resulting from the business cycles). If one were to indulge in prophecy one could make a guess that the coming universal form of exploitation of man by man, as foreshadowed by Russia's system of government ownership and inequality of incomes, will simply be called socialism, and that in the ears of the underdog this word will, in time, assume the same connotation of master-and-slave-relationship as feudalism and capitalism. Like the previous social systems that relationship will be self-perpetuating. For while the entire offspring of the new masters is given all the facilities of higher education, only the most gifted children of the lower orders get those opportunities of the higher schooling that will enable them to rise above the level of manual labor. Whether it is inaugurated by communists or socialists, whether it maintains the strictest political one-party absolutism, Bolshevik style, or is ready to permit democratic competition of various political currents -- the distribution within the new system is to be based upon the immemorial aristocratic principle of giving ihe greater share to the "more deserving." "Socialism is not equalization" Otto Bauer, greatest theorist of the socialist wing of Marxism, wrote in his magazine "Kampf" in May 1936. "It levels society by abolishing the classes, thus removing the privileges deriving from descent or property. But it differentiates society by rewarding those whose achievements for society are particularly outstanding, and by raising them above the masses in matters of income [my emphasis -- M.N.] and social prestige." * (The "abolition of classes" under socialism with the higher incomes going to the more deserving, i.e. to the bureaucracy and occasional "shock workers," is on a par with the bourgeois theory of the "nonexistence of classes" under a system of capitalist democracy where every one has the vote and an "equal opportunity" of acquiring property. Under socialism "every one" owns an "equal share" in the nation's means of production, and has an "equal opportunity" of becoming an office-holder, provided he had selected the right parents or was endowed with those special gifts which in America enable "every" officeboy to become a high-class executive.)
No wonder then that ever increasing sections of the more enlightened part of the intelligentsia in non-fascist Europe and America are flocking now to the various radical parties. They see in the Russian example the possibility of putting an end to their economic insecurity, the hope of throwing off the financial magnates, and the prospect of themselves becoming masters of the country. They are the pioneers of their class -- opposed not only by the well-paid "ins" who are satisfied with their present condition, but by a large number of other educated "outs" and declasses as well.
* In a lecture delivered in Vienna (Arbeiter-Zeitung of September 25, 1931) Paul Goebbels, Hitler's chief propaganda expert, expressed the following opinion: "We say 'to every one his due.' Hence we take the aristocratic point of view: not according to property or rank, but according to ability and achievement." Cynic though he may be, the Fascist Goebbels, by frankly admitting the aristocratic nature of this principle, is more honest than Socialist or Communist Marxists who defend inequality of rewards as a "proletarian" theory.
If a large part of the intellectuals in various countries, instead of turning socialist or communist, join the fascist ranks, they do so largely for the same reason for which many workers likewise don the black or brown shirt. No doubt, the influence of reactionary ideology plays a certain part in the process. But it is largely their impatience, their desire for a short cut to power, that is responsible for the success of the new gospel. Many of the fascist intellectuals would join the communist movement, if they saw that it had any chances, or at least intentions of winning immediately. For by now it has become obvious to most observers that the leading communists of the non-fascist countries have altogether ceased to be revolutionaries: that ever since 1923 they have been ordinary Russian patriots abroad, actually opposed to any revolutionary steps that might disturb the international status quo in which the U.S.S.R. has been interested for many years. Like the socialists of pre-war times the communists -- meaning of course the official leadership -- have become a party of "gradualist" anti-capitalist protest and reform, and not of anti-capitalist revolt. (It is only the extreme-left fringe of radicalism, as represented by the followers of Trotsky and of various anarchist or syndicalist groups, that now advocates going beyond the mere defense of the bourgeois-democratic status quo.)
The fascists in power, in spite of the reverence they show towards all the taboos of the past, are not just flunkeys of the capitalist class, as most of the socialists and communists believe or pretend to believe. They are their major partners; they swallow an ever growing share of the nation's wealth; and while in some countries they are now greatly favoring the munition magnates, their taxes and assessments are impoverishing the bourgeoisie as a whole in order to feed an enormous bureaucratic machine. That machine is both a "protector" of the rich, and their blackmailing parasite at the same time; largely comparable to the Praetorians of the Roman Empire, who, while permitting the property-owners to exist, actually were the masters of the country and lived at the expense of all the other classes of the population.
The fascists' present close association with capitalism doe not imply that this association will have to be permanent. History is replete with cases where mercenaries of various sorts, Mamertines, Praetorians, Mamelukes, Condottieri, became the masters of those who hired them. There is an openly anti-capitalist wing within the Italian fascist party which recommends the "road to Moscow," i.e. the expropriation of the capitalists. Mussolini himself, if driven to a corner, will not hesitate to turn Bolshevik if by doing so he can save the rule of his party -- the rule of the most determined section of the Italian intelligentsia. His widely publicized threats to do away with capitalism, and the serious character of these threats, contributed their share in preventing capitalist Europe from interfering with his Ethiopian expedition. Similar anti-capitalist tendencies are becoming more and more discernible among certain unorthodox German Nazis, as well as within Japan's officers' caste and its bureaucratic and would-be-bureaucratic hangers-on.
There is no reason why the rank and file as well as the leaders of the job-hungry fascist intellectuals should be opposed to the elimination of the capitalists -- provided they themselves can get the best positions to the exclusion of their leftist competitors. Socialism, as a new form of class rule, is possible under all forms of philosophical "superstructures." A system embodying the mastery of the office-holders' class is just as compatible with a Paretist-Mussolinian aristocratic nationalism and its glorification of the "elite," as it is with a Marxist-Leninist "proletarian internationalism" with its no less aristocratic "proletarian vanguard," or with Bauer's democratic socialism which takes for granted the higher incomes enjoyed by men of "achievement" and "prestige." Just as private capitalism can gather its profits both under the Voltairian iconoclasm of the French Republic and under its crassest opposite -- the medieval Emperor-God worship of a militarist semi-absolutism, Japanese style.
Thus the abolition of capitalism, the result of the "final revolution" championed by the various political parties of the underdog, eventually leads to the establishment of a new class rule, of a new exploitation of man by man. That new form of class rule must naturally call forth a violent dissatisfaction both among the down-trodden manual workers and among the step-brothers or poorer relations of the new bureaucratic masters. There arises the urge towards a new "final revolution" in which the old process is repeated under the guise of a changed vocabulary. For whether they call themselves left communists, syndicalists or anarchists, the victorious rebels against the bureaucracy of a socialized form of exploitation cannot help establishing a new bureaucracy, a new ruling aristocracy -- in other words, follow the example of the Russian communists. For the process of revolution is always the same: Seizure of power; organization of a revolutionary government; its defense against the reactionaries at first; and then its consolidation against the masses as well in the interest of a better paid aristocracy of office-holders, technicians, and other members of the educated layers of society.
Does this all, in its final analysis, amount to the old philosophy of "thus it had been, thus it is, thus it will be?" In other words, does this conclusion consign the poor to statistics and to eternal slavery?
No, this "skepticism," if skepticism there be, is the very opposite of submission to fate. On the contrary, it implies permanent revolt against any status quo: capitalist exploitation of today, as well as socialist inequality of tomorrow. It is directed both against the property-owning oppressors of today and the job-holding "liberators" of tomorrow; against the middle class of yesterday which used the workers in its struggle against feudal tyranny; and against the new middle class of today which uses them against the capitalist bourgeoisie; against the college-trained apologists of the coming form of slavery, and against their competitors from the ranks of the self-educated ex-workers.
However, that "skepticism" likewise implies the realization of certain phenomena which hitherto have been consistently overlooked or glossed over: The acknowledgment of the non-proletarian neo-bourgeois character of the educated non-capitalist strata of society roughly comprised under the designation of "intellectual workers" to whom the dissatisfaction and the struggles of the manual workers offer an opportunity for taking the place of the old masters; and the admission of the tragic dualism involved in the composition of the labor movement with its inevitable partnership between mass and leadership. A partnership which, though to a certain extent beneficial to the masses, invariably results in a conflict between the interests of the leading elite and those of the masses constituting the following.
Those leading elites, even if they rise from the working masses themselves, being more educated and consequently better endowed than their following, are essentially aristocratic in character, no matter whether they profess to be democratic, anarchist, socialist-communist, syndicalist or fascist. Like all aristocratic groups they are inevitably Machiavellian or amoral in their policies, keeping up their "morale" with all sorts of philosophical justifications ("rationalizations") and resorting constantly to a conscious or unconscious deception of the masses. For all their activities and endeavors converge in the single purpose of obtaining and maintaining all power and its resulting benefits for their specific revolutionary or counter-revolutionary group. And to strengthen their hold upon the masses they evolve certain religious features within their respective movements -- the analogy with the material growth and the spiritual decay of many of the great religions being particularly striking. The intolerance and ruthless suppression oŁ any unorthodox opinion, as well as the divine veneration bestowed upon the Leader are the common characteristics of most of these groups, whether they place themselves at the extreme right or at the extreme left.
The desire to concentrate all the power and the privileges deriving from it within a restricted circle results in an ever recurring competition for power between various groups of educated malcontents leading, or aspiring to leadership of, the dissatisfied masses. Some of these groups may be more crude than the others in their efforts to win the masses; some of them may be in the pay of domestic capitalists or of foreign bureaucrats; but at bottom even the most "honest" and "consistent" group cannot claim to be "really proletarian" in its aims. For every organization wants only one thing: power, that is privilege, for itself and for its more active members. That competition for power between the various groups is a guaranty against stagnation and against the perpetuation of the status quo. Under the present conditions of a decaying private capitalism it is bound to hasten the inauguration of some system or other of a socialized economy.
After the elimination or a considerable restriction of the capitalist owners, that competition for power leads to an internecine struggle between various groups of intellectuals and educated ex-workers for predominance within the government machine, that is, the office-holding class, now ruling supreme. It is the ever recurring struggle between the Trotzkys and the Stalins, or the Roehms and the Goerings, caused by the oligarchical tendencies prevailing within each ruling class. The urge to win forces the rebellious rivals to appeal to the dissatisfaction of the manual workers and of the lower clerical force and to assist them in obtaining a larger share of the national income. This process is accompanied by the rise of the most educated and most intelligent elements among the manual workers themselves, joining either of the contending groups or making their own bid for power.
Each of the contending parties or groups constituting the opposition is bound to include disinterested idealists or "romanticists" whose sentiments are with the horny-handed underdog and who, consciously at least, care neither for power nor for personal advantage. These quite naturally will push forward any mass struggle for better conditions, as expressed in higher wages, shorter hours and jobs for the unemployed. And they will denounce the leaders who for one reason or another may be suspected of restraining the masses or of selling them out. Yet the very success of his revolutionary opposition may force the disinterested rebel, in a given .situation, to accept the responsibilities of leadership and power -- and to imitate the example of those whom he had just denounced; when he will in turn be opposed by a new set of fighters who, again, may go through the same cycle. Until that blessed time, when the miracle of all miracles, the "good master" will have made his appearance.
The permanent change of masters and the accompanying striving of the masses in the direction of an ever greater approach towards equality in the enjoyment of the good things of life forms the basic content of the historical process. That process knows of no millennium when full harmony has been achieved once for all eternity. There is no "happy ending" just as there is no "final revolution" that will eliminate all further class struggles. For the working masses every "final victory" proclaimed by their victorious leaders, even if it is a real step forward, can be only another starting point in their endless struggle for more and always more.
The chasm separating the great toiling majority from the men of "outstanding achievement," from those wielding the most efficient combination of knowledge, intelligence and ruthlessness, from the socialist and communist aristocracy of superior brains and incomes -- may never be bridged completely. But the "evil passions" (Bakunin) of the underdog, his legitimate envy of, and hatred for, his luckier "betters," will drive him forward -- under ever changing leaders. Those leaders may fall by the side, martyrs in defeat or masters in victory, but the struggle will go on.
That struggle is the permanent revolution. Permanent -- not as conceived by those who would cut short their "dialectical process" the moment they themselves are enthroned over a socialized world; but in the real meaning of the word.