James Burnham’s “The Modern Machiavellians”
(1904 - 1981)
Paul Mattick Sr. (March 13, 1904 – February 7, 1981) was a Marxist political writer and social revolutionary, whose thought can be placed within the council communist and left communist traditions. Throughout his life, Mattick continually criticized Bolshevism, Vladimir Lenin and Leninist organizational methods, describing their political legacy as "serving as a mere ideology to justify the rise of modified capitalist (state-capitalist) systems, which were [...] controlled by way of an authoritarian state". (From : Wikipedia.org.)
James Burnham’s “The Modern Machiavellians”
Source: Paul Mattick Home page;
First Published: New Essays, Vol. VI no. 4, 1943;
Proofed: and corrected by Geoff Traugh, August 2005.
James Burnham’s second attempt to purge himself of the misunderstood Marxism of his earlier years is slightly more successful than his first effort, The Managerial Revolution. In the latter book, he still tried to explain the problem of power in economic terms, although no longer from the social point of view of Marx but from that of the technocrats. Nevertheless, he insisted that not the politicians, but those who control the means of production directly, are the real rulers of society. In the present book he finds that in addition to the economic there are several other modes of analyzing events, that one can reach approximately the same conclusions about history from any number of quite different approaches. This, of course, does not reconcile his former opinion that power must be explained in technical-economic terms – that economics is the determinative of politics – with his present Machiavellian point of view, which deals with the struggle for power in purely political terms.
Burnham begins his exposition of power politics with Dante in order to demonstrate what the Machiavellians are not. In Dante’s writing he discovers a divorce between its formal and its real meaning. Although the real meaning is there, it is rendered irresponsible since it is not subject to open and deliberate intellectual control. High-minded words of formal meaning are used to arouse passion, prejudice and sentimentality in favor of disguised real aims. This method cannot serve the truth, yet throughout history and down to the present it is consistently used to deceive people in the interests of the mighty.
The Machiavellians, on the other hand, proceed scientifically; they call a spade a spade. Like Dante, Machiavelli, too, pursued a practical goal. But he did not fool himself, nor others, as to the character of the goal nor as to the means to be used to achieve it. He divorced politics from ethics in the sense that every science must be divorced from ethics or, rather he divorced politics from transcendental ethics in order to locate both ethics and politics in the real world of space and time and history. He used words not to express his emotions and attitudes, but in such a way that their meaning could be tested and understood in terms of the real world. And he found that politics is the struggle for power among men.
Though it must be said that Machiavelli was often scientific by instinct and impulse rather than design, the modern Machiavellians – Mosca, Michels, and Pareto – have an altogether clear understanding of scientific method. They are fully conscious of what they are doing and of the distinction between an art and a science. Mosca, like all Mechiavellians, Burnham says, rejects any monistic view of history because such theories do not accord with the facts. In his search for truth – which is the purpose of all Machiavellians – Mosca discovers as the primary and universal social fact the existence of two “political classes,” a ruling class – always a minority – and the ruled. And he believes that not only has this always been and is now the case, but that it always will be.
Before dealing with Michels and Pareto, Burnham finds it necessary to say a few things about Sorel and the function of myth and violence. Sorel, a syndicalist, thought that if the socialists were to take over governmental power, this would lead not to socialism but merely to the substitution of a new elite as ruler over the masses. This fits him into the Machiavellians. However, he thought that a real revolutionary program could be carried out with the help of an all-embracing myth, which would arouse the masses to uncompromising action.
A true Machiavellian, Burnham continues, separates scientific questions concerning the truth about society from moral disputes over what type of society is most desirable. Thus Robert Michels makes no attempt to offer a “new system” but merely tries to promote understanding. He deals with the nature of organization in relation to democracy. The Marxists believe that the elimination of economic inequalities will lead to the attainment of genuine democracy. But they fail to demonstrate the possibility of organizing a classless society. The Machiavellians, Burnham says, agree with the Marxists’ negative critique of capitalism but, on the basis of evidence from historical experience, they hold the Marxist goal to be unattainable. Social life cannot dispense with organization. And by a study of organization, particularly labor organizations, Michels found that a tendency toward oligarchy is inherent in organization itself and is thus a necessary condition of life. The mechanical, technical, psychological, and cultural conditions of organization require leadership, and guarantee that the leaders rather than the mass shall exercise control. The autocratic tendencies are neither arbitrary nor accidental nor temporary, but inherent in the nature of organization. This iron law of oligarchy holds good for all social movements and all forms of society. It makes impossible the democratic ideal of self-government.
Pareto is the last of the Machiavellians interpreted by Burnham. Pareto, he says, disavows any purpose other than to describe and correlate social facts. To understand Pareto’s general analysis of society, one must be clear about the distinctions he makes between “logical” and “non-logical” conduct. A man’s conduct is “logical” when his action is motivated by a goal or purpose deliberately sought after, when that goal is possible, and when the steps taken to reach the goal are in fact appropriate for reaching it. If, however, any one or more of the conditions for logical conduct are not present, the actions are then non-logical. Recalling the disparity between the “formal” goal and the “real” goal discussed in connection with Dante, one can say that where this disparity exists action is non-logical. In logical actions, the formal goal and the real goal are identical. There exists, however, a tendency to logicalize the non-logical.
This leads to the concepts of residues and derivations used by Pareto. Man, Pareto says, is preeminently a verbal animal. Peculiar and deceptive problems arise in connection with his conduct which is verbal but at the same time non-logical. Examining this kind of conduct, Pareto discovers in it a small number of relatively constant factors which change little or not at all from age to age. These factors he calls “residues.” Along with these there are other factors which change rapidly and which differ from age to age and from nation to nation. These variable factors he calls “derivations.” “Residue” simply means the stable, common elements which we may discover in social actions, the nucleus, so to speak, which is left over when the variable elements are stripped away. Residues are discovered by comparing and analyzing huge numbers of social actions. They correspond to some fairly permanent human impulses, instincts, or sentiments. Pareto, Burnham informs us, is concerned not so much with the question of where residues come from as with the fact that social actions may be analyzed in terms of them, whatever their origin.
Residues may be divided into different classes as, for example, the instinct for combinations, group-persistencies, self-expression, sociality, integrity of the individual and his appurtenances, and the sex residue. These form the relatively unchanging nuclei of non-logical conduct which makes up the greater proportion of human action. Along with these residues go the derivations, that is, the verbal explanations, dogmas, doctrines and theories with which man clothes the non-logical bones of the residues. Concrete theories in social connections are made up of residues and derivations. The residues are manifestations of sentiments; the derivations comprise logical reasonings, unsound reasonings and manifestations of sentiments used for purposes of derivations. They are manifestations of the human being’s hunger for thinking. If that hunger were satisfied by logico-experimental reasonings only, there would be no derivations. Instead we should get logico-experimental theories.
Pareto believes, however, that derivations have little effect in determining important social changes. Residues are the abiding, significant and influential factor. The influence on people’s actions and on the course of events that derivations seem at times to have is always deceiving the surface observer. But the seeming influence of the derivations is in reality the influence of the residue which it expresses. It is for this reason that the “logical” refutation of theories used in politics never accomplishes anything so long as the residues remain intact.
Disputes over the best form of society and government are derivations which never reach objective stability but come and go with every shift in cultural fashion and sentiment. Such disputes, according to Pareto, may be interpreted in terms of the notion of “social utility.” And here it is necessary to distinguish between the utility “of a community” and the utility “for a community.” The first refers to the community’s strength and power of resistance as against other communities; the second to a community’s internal welfare. The first may be objectively studied. The second, however, is purely subjective or relative, since what is internally useful depends on what the members of the community want. Internal and external utility seldom coincide. Because a community is sub-divided into various groups, utility means different things to different people. Programs are put forward which, though favorable only to a particular group, claim to favor the whole of society. Because of the disparity between the internal and external utility, it is useful for society to make people believe that their own individual happiness is bound up with the acceptance of the community’s standards. Though this is not true, the truth is not always advantageous to society, falsehood or nonsense not always harmful. Whether one or the other should be employed can be found out only by concrete investigation.
Summing up Pareto’s ideas, Burnham mentions five forces that make society what it is and that bring about social changes. 1) The physical environment; 2) residues; 3) economic factors; 4) derivations; and 5) the circulation of the elites. The last point interests Burnham the most. Human beings, he says, are not distributed evenly over the scale. At the top there are very few, there are considerably more in the middle, but the overwhelming majority is grouped near the bottom. The elite is always a small minority. Within the elite we may further distinguish a “governing elite” from a “non-governing elite.” According to Pareto, Burnham continues, the character of a society is above all the character of its elite. The elite is never static. If, in the selection of members of the elite, there existed a condition of perfectly free competition so that each individual could rise just as high in the social scale as his talents and ambition permitted, the elite could be presumed to include, at every moment and in the right order, just those persons best fitted for membership in it. Under such conditions society would remain dynamic and strong, automatically correcting its own weaknesses.
But such conditions are never found in reality. Special principles of selection, different in different societies, affect the composition of the elite so that it no longer includes all those persons best fitted for social rule. Weaknesses set in and, since they are not compensated for by a gradual day-by-day circulation, are sharply corrected by social revolution. It follows that a relatively free circulation of elites is a prerequisite for a healthy society Otherwise society is threatened either with revolution or destruction from outside. Of course, it is not enough to keep the elite more or less flexible. The kind of individuals admitted or excluded is also very important, for the character of the society is determined not only by the basic residues present in the entire population, but also by the distribution of residues among the various social classes; and this distribution may change quite rapidly. Pareto’s theory of the circulation of the elites is, in brief, a theory of social change, of social development and degeneration.
At the end of his study of the Machiavellians, who speak mostly for themselves, (about half of the book consists of quotations), Burnham summarizes his findings into a few main principles in terms of which he then analyzes 1) the nature of the present historical period, 2) the meaning of democracy, and 3) whether or not politics can be scientific.
Before following Burnham in this endeavor it may be well to point out that his present respect for the Machiavellians most probably stems from his previous respect for Marxism. His interpretation of Machiavelli is, by and large, the long-accepted one of Marxism or, for that matter, of all reasonable people. Like science and industry, politics had to emancipate itself from transcendental ethics, that, is, from the power of the Church in feudalism. It should also be noted that all the modern Machiavellians Burnham deals with have been profoundly influenced by Marx. Most of their principles, as, for instance, that one must distinguish between the words and the meanings of programs, that one must recognize that most social actions are “non-logical,” that there are rulers and ruled, that politics is the struggle for power, that the elite determines the “character” of society and that its rule is based upon force and fraud, that ideologies support the ruling classes, that elites circulate, that revolutions are inevitable, and so on – all these ideas are also found in Marxism, though sometimes in another connection and with more or less meaning than is to be found in Burnham’s study. If Burnham nevertheless prefers the Machiavellian version to the Marxian, it is for the sole reason that he believes the former to represent an objective science of politics and society which describes and correlates observable social facts, whereas the Marxists do not believe that politics can be an objective science, neutral to any practical political goal. However, one must also differentiate between the Machiavellians’ avowed aim and what they are really doing.
Aside from the question of whether or not politics can be an objective science, Burnham’s Machiavellians did not succeed in making politics scientific. Their theories are part and parcel of the ideologies of their time. This may be noticed least in Sorel and Michels. But it is very clear in Mosca and Pareto and would be apparent in Burnham’s interpretations if he had been less taken in by the prevailing fascist ideology. It is, for example, a little more than fair to say, as Burnham does, that Pareto was less concerned with the question of where residues come from than with the fact that social actions may be analyzed in terms of them, whatever their origin. Pareto explained every sociological and psychological fact by assuming a specific instinct or sense for it in human nature. His vagueness and ambiguity in this respect must not be taken for disregard as to the origin of things, but rather as an indication of Pareto’s own limitations.
It is, furthermore, not possible to understand Pareto by merely dealing with his sociology, for the latter is closely bound up with his economic theory. Pareto was an ardent proponent of a liberal system of economics – the only system which he considered logical and scientific. But as there never was, save as an ideology, and never could be a capitalist system of economics such as he constructed in his mind, he could not help losing belief in its realization. But neither could he make himself admit its impossibility and thus he concluded that there was nothing wrong with his scientific theory, but that the unreasonable attitude which opposed liberalism was too strong to be successfully combated. Out of his disappointment came his theory of non-logical actions and their unchangeability. His thinking of the past, however, was not entirely wasted: it was utilized in his theory of the circulation of elites. His sociology may be explained as a byproduct of laissez faire ideology at a time when, due to the development of capitalism, the facts of the real world began increasingly to contradict its ideology, developed earlier.
Despite his apparent detachment from particular political interests, Pareto’s “scientific attitude” is a mere illusion. His treatment of observable facts” is on the same level that modern economics treats the facts of production and distribution. For apologetic and “practical” reasons, bourgeois economy rejected the labor theory of value and tried to develop a workable subjective value theory which only resulted, in the end, in its giving up all attempts to explain prices. The given market prices – the observable facts – became the economists’ sole concern. The value theory served merely decorative purposes. In Pareto’s sociology, too, the axioms with which he works are only decorated with, but not based upon, the residues he established. Despite his apparent attempt to search for the causes of social conduct, what is really important in his theory are unexplained actions, witnessed and described by him.
The categories of bourgeois economics are thought to hold good for all mankind, under all circumstances. In like manner Pareto’s residues are also unchangeables. Of course, actual changes cannot be denied but, just as in the case of economics where all such changes leave undisturbed the idea of human behavior as a relationship between ends and scarce means so in Pareto’s sociology, too, all changes, for whatever reasons, remain determined by the residues.
If it were not for the predictions made by the Machiavellians, most of what they said could be accepted; indeed there was little that they brought forth that had not already been recognized, in one way or another, by Marxism. Neither is there any objection to the application of scientific methods to social problems – in Burnham’s words to the accurate and systematic description of public facts – nor to the attempts to correlate sets of these facts in laws, and, through these correlations, to attempt to predict, with some degree of probability, future events. Of course the wish and the possibility are two different things. In many of its fields social science cannot be experimental. No social system is as empirical as are the natural sciences, not to mention the great and numerous difficulties that stand in the way of “objectivity” which the class character of society imposes. According to Burnham, predictions about future events must be based on evidence of the past. One could agree here, too. But what is the evidence of the past?
For Machiavelli the past simply meant that political life is never static but is continually changing. Deliberate actions of men have very little to do with this situation, which is laid at the doorstep of “fortune.” Fortune remains unexplained; so also is the reason for political life. The latter is merely acknowledged. Machiavelli is satisfied with “political man,” says Burnham, just as Adam Smith was with “economic man”; neither was interested in “human nature as a whole.” Contrary to what Burnham says, however, human nature for Adam Smith consisted precisely in “the propensity to truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another,” and “political man” is the whole man for Machiavelli. For both it was not the evidence of the past which caused them to be concerned only with “political man” and “economic man” but their interest in the developing capitalist society and in its prerequisite, the nation-state. In reality both “political man” and “economic man” were only the results of the development of the social forces of production which underlie all social change.
Because the real evidence of the past was considered neither by Machiavelli nor by Adam Smith, they had to introduce either “fortune” or the “invisible hand” which supposedly accompanies the social development, based, as it was, on the peculiar character of human nature, described as “political” or as “economic” man. It was Marx who showed how unreal this kind of “realism” really was, first, by showing that economics determine politics and, secondly, by showing that economics are determined not by human nature but by social relations which arise in connection with the development of the social forces of production.
In comparison with pre-capitalistic ideology, the new ideology of Machiavelli and Adam Smith was, of course, quite realistic. There simply is no such thing as “realism.” Like everything else, realism, too, must be considered historically. To accept Machiavellian realism at the present time is a step backward from an already established social realism corresponding to the present level of general development, to a level that belongs to the early stages of present-day society. In this connection it is amusing to notice that the same people who no longer believe in laissez faire ideology now find refuge in the still more primitive form of that same ideology, namely, in Machiavellianism. Such a great retreat cannot, of course, be regarded as an attempt to consider the evidence of the past. It is plainly an attempt to learn from the evidence at the disposal of the politicians of the Renaissance.
To be sure, when Marx showed that economics determine politics, he was dealing with a particular stage of capitalist development – its laissez faire stage – during which business and not naked force found emphasis. This stage had been preceded by political struggles in which business seemed to play a secondary role. But as Robert A. Brady recently expressed it, “the natural frame of reference of ownership is, and has been from the beginning, as clearly political as economic, as obviously ‘Machiavellian’ as ‘Ricardian’.” What bourgeois economy understood as “economical” in distinction to “political” was that the exchange mechanism itself established a social order which, save for external purposes, made political interferences quite unnecessary. And in fact, after the political basis for an national economy had been established by way of wars and revolutions and far-reaching state-interferences there came a time for the foremost capitalist nations, when politics was almost entirely subordinated to the needs of business, when the state was in fact the servant of capital. It was in this sense that Marx could speak of the determination of politics by economics.
However, by considering the attempts to establish, defend, or expand the national basis of capitalistic economics one can also speak of the subordination of economics to politics. If one is interested only in a definite phase of capitalist development under particular conditions one may speak of the predominance of “politics” or the predominance of “economics” in determining national policy. But if one speaks of capitalism in general, such a distinction can no longer be made, save for the methodological reason of showing more clearly different aspects of the same thing.
Internally, too, a distinction may be made between economics and politics, depending upon whether or not the social frictions, caused by the class character of society, demand the employment of direct force. At times economic control suffices, at other times it must be supplemented by open terror. Yet, for a considerable length of time, the direct use of force against the workers was the exception, not the rule. The control of the means of production was enough to guarantee the undisturbed exploitation of labor by capital. The capitalist ideology was strong enough to keep the police-budget low.
By saying that economy determines politics, Marx showed what behind Machiavellianism. But he also showed what was behind Machiavellianism and the capitalist economy by pointing out that history was the history of class struggles determined by the development of the social forces of production, which include both technics and social relations. The sum total of the relations of production,” Marx wrote, “constitute the economic structure of society – the real foundation on which rise legal and political superstructures and to which correspond definite social consciousness.” Definite systems of economics such as feudalism and capitalism which determine the politics of their time, are in turn determined – just as these politics are inseparably connected with the economic structure in which they operate – by the forces of social production in which the history of mankind characterizes itself.
This is the reason for Burnham’s charge that Marxism is a monistic theory, relating everything to the last cause of materialistic economics However, Marx’s concept of history is both monistic and pluralistic, depending upon what is to be investigated. When Burnham’s Machiavellians, Mosca for example, reject Marxism because of its monistic aspect, his own pluralistic theory of history is pluralistic only because he stops at a definite point of investigation. Because like all capitalist theoreticians, he refuses to recognize the merely historical character of capitalist relations, he is not able to go beyond the superficial investigation of surface phenomena. Like Pareto’s, Mosca’s ideas are based upon some constant psychological laws. But the validity of these psychological laws cannot be demonstrated. What remains of his theory are the so-called “social forces” which stand for all human activities with significant and political influence, such as those connected with war, religion, land, labor, money, education, science, technological skill, and so forth. These “social forces” account for Mosca’s theory of general social behavior, which is then boiled down to an investigation of politics. The whole endeavor finally yields nothing but this – that the stratification of society into rulers and ruled is universal and permanent.
We have seen that Pareto, too, speaks of five forces that make society what it is and that account for its changes. First, there is the physical environment. No theory of history disregards environment, that is, geographic and climatic factors, either utilized or combated by man. Without certain raw materials, furthermore, certain technical and social relations could not have been possible. But the existence of these production possibilities alone does not explain their utilization. The physical environment is a necessary condition for social history, but does not explain it. The second factor is residues, derived from a long-rejected instinct psychology. These we have already discussed. The third are economic factors. As an independent force, they make no sense in his theory. Pareto, as we know, considered economic theory as logical and scientific. It belongs thus to the derivations, which play no real part in history, determined as it is by residues. There remains the fifth factor: the circulation of elites, that is, the capitalist theory of economic competition expressed in political terms. As such this factor, too, belongs to the derivations. Thus the pluralistic approach boils down to a monistic psychological theory of history.
Marxism has no objection to dealing separately with the “social forces” enumerated by Mosca and to considering their influence upon society and upon the course of history. In contrast to Pareto, Marxism holds that “derivations,” that is, scientific theories and ideologies, are in one sense real forces in history. Because in class societies all factors are, so to speak, partly real and partly ideological, for all practical purposes Marxism cannot restrict itself to the underlying cause of all the separate movements and ideas that bring about changes in the social structure and social relations. It deals with the “logical” as well as with the “non-logical.” But instead of merely separating them, Marxism inquires into the reason for their being and discovers that history has been not only the struggle between men and nature but also, within this setting, the struggle between men and men. The latter struggle is based on positions with respect to the means of production, for one can exploit and rule only by exploiting the labor of others and by ruling over the laborers.
By recognizing that the double character of all activity and thought stems from social production relations, it is possible to see through the different fetishism that different societies adhere to at different times. One can at once admire Machiavelli’s attempt to rid politics of transcendental ethics or, for that matter, despite all the inconsistent and incoherent verbiage accompanying Mosca’s and Pareto’s ideas, agree with their re-discovery that society is divided into rulers and ruled. Marxism, however, is not interested merely in the recognition and classification of social facts. It wants to change the existing society. Being critical of all that exists gives it the incentive to search as thoroughly as possible for the reasons for previous social changes in order to be able to base its hypotheses on the evidence of the past and present. It was this revolutionary seriousness which led to Marx’s predictions, the correctness of which is now almost generally acknowledged – at least as far as economic development is concerned. The connection between class structure, economics, politics, and ideology which is brought to light in historical materialism and in the theory of the fetishism of commodities has, indirectly, also found recognition, though in a perverted capitalistic form, in the present vogue of Machiavellianism, semantics, psychology, positivism, and in the growing cynicism generally.
It was the class-approach, that is, the search for the weaknesses of present-day society, which made Marxism differ from bourgeois economics, sociology and philosophy. Whoever does not want to change society, will look for its strong points. Both approaches undoubtedly tend somewhat towards a distorted, one-sided picture of society and its possibilities. But history itself corrects it again. Each side, of course, always desires to se clearly both the weakness and the strength of the adversary but, aside from the power of ideology, the dearth of empirical data in the social field make this quite difficult. What can be gained are approximations of the true status of society at any particular time. And here the evidence points to the superiority of the Marxian approach.
Society is in continuous flux; to some degree all its changes affect its underlying socio-economic basis. At certain times the changes bring the underlying relations into sharper relief; at other times they cloud them still further. The restlessness of society itself prevents Marxism from crystallizing into a dogma. Where it became a dogma it ceased to be Marxism and turned into an ideology to cover up an un-Marxian practice. As an ideology it has been attacked and as such it need not be defended. But as a realistic theory for the struggle against present-day society it has found no substitute. There is no other scientific theory concerned with goals that presuppose the destruction of present-day society. There is thus no theory so critical as Marxism. And it is precisely the lack of criticism which prevents the non-Marxian scientist from going beyond the superficially given facts and which makes him, wherever he tries to do so, indulge in mysticism garbed in scientific phraseology.
Marxism as a dogma must be rejected. A Marxist will therefore appreciate the work of Sorel and Michels in so far as they shed light upon reality darkened by dogmatism. The development of labor organizations, investigated by Sorel and Michels, roughly paralleled the development of liberal capitalism. The rapid increase of exploitation allowed for both sufficient profits for capital accumulation and the betterment of proletarian living conditions in the advanced capitalist nations. The labor movement ceased to be a revolutionary force. It became a part of capitalism, one capitalist institution among others. Both the political and the economic organizations of labor changed into ordinary enterprises, supporting and participating in the exploitation of labor. Marxism served as the ideology which hid this fact, just as it serves in Russia today to cover up the exploitation of labor by the privileged under state-capitalism.
Sorel and Michels witnessed this development. Sorel thought that it had something to do with political parliamentarianism, which he considered an impossible way to reach socialism. It would merely change the personnel of the state apparatus but would not affect the lot of the workers. He also thought that the “scientific” approach of the socialists, being a part of the bourgeois ideology of science, was the wrong approach for the solution of social problems. This science was able to describe things, but unable to alter them. It could never lead to actions powerful enough to change social conditions. A social movement, in his opinion, needs ideas which guarantee success in advance of its struggle – a myth, so to speak, which, though not a strictly scientific theory, is nevertheless not arbitrary but able to direct energies towards the solution of social problems. The particular myth he advocated was the myth of the general-strike, for this myth, he thought, was capable of incorporating in itself all the ideas that were needed, and actually bound up, with class necessities and the desires of the proletariat. It was in the strike that the class struggle found its sharpest and truest expression, in which the interests and feelings of the workers came mostly to the fore. In the strike, furthermore, they were directly engaged, not merely represented as in the so-called political actions of that time. A real general strike could work as the lever which would dislodge capitalism. It could not, however, be brought about in a purely rationalistic manner. It must be initiated and carried on with a deep conviction on the part of the masses that it would succeed and solve their problems in order to arouse the maximum of proletarian solidarity, activity and strength.
Sorel was right in his criticism of the state-socialism of the Second International. But the same criticism could be made, and was made, from a Marxian point of view. One did not need to be a “Machiavellian” to recognize that the political success of the socialists would not lead to socialism but merely to a change of politicians in the state apparatus. This was quite obvious from the behavior of the socialists within capitalism. But Sorel’s road was not a road to socialism either. The “economic” organizations, syndicalist or otherwise, succumbed to the growing power of capital just as much as the political wing of the labor movement did. The “general strike” could not be made into an all-embracing myth, able to become a social force strong enough to destroy capitalism, for myth-making, too, is a capitalist monopoly. Controlling the means of production and destruction, capitalism controls also the making of myths and ideologies. To propagate a myth or to utilize science in order to get the masses into motion for the abolishment of present-day society are equally unrealistic.
Behind the ideas of socialists and syndicalists there was finally no more than the capitalist liberal ideology itself, that is, the illusion that capitalism would largely remain a competitive, decentralized, planless, uncoordinated system, by virtue of which it was possible to build something new in the shell of the old. Did not capitalism, too, develop within the framework of feudalism? The hope of being able to utilize liberalism for the class purposes of the proletariat was even stronger in the syndicalists than in the socialists. The syndicalists combated “Marxism” not only because it aspired to control the state, but also because it had no real objections to the centralizing forces of capitalism and intended to make the state the controller of all the means of production. This centralism, the syndicalists thought, would foster exploitative social relations. They favored the decentralization of power and production. A kind of non-capitalistic laissez faire system was to insure self-government of the various unions or syndicates. It must also be noted here that syndicalism flourished best in those nations where the centralization process of capital was only in its infancy, where numerous small enterprises dominated, whereas in the highly-developed capitalistic nations socialist unions professed to share the centralizing ideas of the socialist parties.
The “Machiavellian” in Sorel, of which Burnham speaks, did not prevent his falling victim to the ideology of liberal capitalism. The more Machiavellian he tried to be the more he succumbed to it. The Marxists at least recognized that the capitalist centralization process had its basis not only in capitalist competition but also in the increasing socialization of production by the spreading of the division of labor under capitalistic conditions, by the development of large-scale industry and the world-wide expansion of the capitalist mode of production, which created not only a different relationship between men and men but also a different relationship between man and nature. If capitalist competition can be changed, it must be changed in a manner which does not contradict the necessities of the increasing socialization of production. With the coming of capitalism, furthermore, centralization or de-centralization in the direction and use of the means of production ceased to be a debatable question, for capitalism always means the control over more means of production by always relatively fewer men. A new society can only be a society in which neither centralism nor de-centralism plays any important part, in which the producers organize their production rationally in accordance with the real needs of society without being too much concerned with questions of organization – where organization is merely a part of the production and distribution process like any other machine, factory, or material entering production, and not simultaneously a question of power and privilege.
In any class society, organization has two functions: to secure the life of society and to secure the position of the ruling class. The history that the Machiavellians deal with is the history of class societies. There is no doubt that the evidence of the past suggests an iron law of oligarchy based on the social need for organization which Robert Michels speaks of. Social life cannot dispense with organization, it is true, but from this it does not follow that social life cannot dispense with classes. It may not be able to dispense with classes under certain conditions. But conditions can be changed. Specifically, under conditions of a social production which is unable to satisfy the needs of the people, it is difficult to envision modern society as a classless society. In a society in which the necessities of life exist in potential abundance, classes may co-exist. Yet it is not impossible to envision such a society as classless.
It is certainly not scientific to conclude from the evidence of experience that no new experiences are possible. From the experience of organizations in class societies, one cannot draw the conclusion that organizations cannot be “democratic,” whatever the conditions. Organization by itself has no meaning; it has meaning only in connection with social activity and will mean different things for different activities in different societies. Michels' concept of organization is a timeless concept, more crude but of the same order as, for instance, Hans Kelsen’s timeless concept of law or, for that matter, the timeless economic categories of bourgeois economy. These timeless concepts, however, have their sole justification in methodology. They may or may not help in understanding the historically-conditioned and class-determined real law, real organization, real economy and so forth. But no direct conclusions with regard to past and present realities and the possibilities of the future can be drawn from these general concepts. The attempts to abstract political and economic systems from time and space in order to find elements common to all times and all people are made, of course, to enable bourgeois social scientists to proceed in their field with the “objectivity” that the natural scientists employ in their fields. Yet even if such common elements have been found, they must still be taken up anew in their specific historical setting. There they take on a new character in need of special investigation, for they never exist by themselves.
Michels advances some mechanical and technical reasons for the impossibility of “democracy” in organization. All of them, however, refer to democratic political organizations under liberal capitalism. His experiences in this field he offers as evidence for his position that all organizations, at all times, even the “economic democracy” of socialism, are by necessity always oligarchic. We have already pointed out that the labor organizations, investigated by Michels, had been thoroughly capitalized, so that their structure did not differ from the structure of so-called bourgeois democracy. Pareto’s theory of the circulation of elites is a re-statement of the theory of capitalist competition in political terms, whereas in Michels’ theory the experiences with bourgeois political democracy form the sole content of his seemingly timeless concept of organization.
According to Michels the need for organization and the mechanics of organization make a classless and democratic society impossible. In other words, social life itself prevents a real sociality. But one cannot deal with organization per se. There was, for example, a pre-capitalist division of labor which differed from the division of labor under capitalism which will differ from the division of labor under socialism. To repeat, for methodological reasons one may deal with the division of labor per se. Yet, in order to make statements referring to the world of facts, one must return from this abstract investigation to the division of labor under specific conditions, at a particular time. Therefore, when Burnham says that a Machiavellian will be “scientific,” that is, will be satisfied with “the systematic description of public facts and the attempt to correlate sets of these facts in laws; and, through these correlations, attempt to predict, with some degree of probability, future events,” the facts he can deal with are not the timeless concepts with which the Machiavellians operate – such as Machiavelli’s “political man,” Mosca’s “constant psychological law,” Sorel’s ever-necessary “function of myth,” Michels’ “iron law of oligarchy,” and Pareto’s “residues” – but the prevailing facts of the society in which the predictions are made.
A closer investigation than Burnham’s of the Machiavellian principles will lead to the recognition that they have been derived not from discovered permanent and universal laws operating in all societies but from the observable facts that characterize the capitalist form of society. To discover these capitalistic laws is to discover some of the secrets of capitalism’s strength and persistency, but not the permanency of exploitation and class rule. This whole endeavor serves either as an apology for capitalism which, after all, appears now to be doing only what is unavoidable, or it expresses the psychological state of despair that spreads in the turmoil of crisis when the first actions against capitalism are themselves still of a capitalistic character.
The Machiavellian ideology is finally nothing but the political expression of the prevailing fetishism of commodity production. In capitalism it is only at the point of exchange, on the market, that the social character of production can assert itself. The result of the market and price fluctuations, which determine the fortunes and misfortunes of individuals, is that the social movement of the producers takes on the form of a movement of things which rule the producers. Here the process of production masters man, instead of being mastered by him. The idea of the impersonal and automatic character of the economic order created by the exchange mechanism is carried over to other fields of human activity. It reappears in the “political laws” of Machiavellianism, which also supposedly control the behavior of men, and in the unalterable “laws of organizations” which subject men to their rule. But just as the exchange relations, which control men, are of man’s own creation, so the political laws and the laws of organization, too, are of man’s own making. If men made them, they can unmake them. If, by virtue of their own actions, men are now mastered by economics, politics and organizations, they may come to master directly and consciously their social problems by different actions.
The development of Machiavellian theory reflects the whole historical development of capitalism itself. Every particular stage in this development gave a particular twist to Machiavellianism, but it remained throughout, merely a special way of expressing the ruling capitalist ideology. The fetishism of commodity production and the false consciousness to which it gives rise cannot be ended short of the abolition of capitalism. Capitalism, however, is disintegrating. The present vogue of Machiavellianism is explained by the fact that the market mechanism, the basis of capitalist ideology has ceased to function as it did before. With the growth of monopoly and with increasing state-control, it becomes more and more difficult to reconcile the old ideology with the new facts of social life. The modern Machiavellians try to overcome the difficulty by a change of terminology. What hitherto has been expressed largely in economic terms is now expressed once more in political language. Although it does not matter what kind of terminology is used, there still exists indecision as to which one to choose. And this brings us back to Burnham who, in his earlier Managerial Revolution, tried to find the economic meaning of contemporary fascism, but is now quite ready to disregard all but the political and organizational aspects of this “new” and also “very old” Machiavellian movement.
From his newly acquired Machiavellian point of view, Burnham analyzes first the nature of the present historical period. It is still the Managerial Revolution. This revolution, he says, “was in fact anticipated and its general course predicted by the modern Machiavellians more than a generation ago.” This, of course, is not so. All that Mosca, Michels, and Pareto “predicted” was that there always will be rulers and ruled, and that a truly socialistic society is an impossibility. This view, as everyone knows, was shared by the great majority of people in all nations. It was challenged only by those who opposed capitalism.
This Machiavellian “prediction,” furthermore, has been proven “true” only for people who assert that the political and economic changes in the twentieth century were of an anti-capitalist nature that have led to new social relations and a new form of society. Without this assertion the “prediction” would be meaningless. It would amount to saying that capitalism consists of rulers and ruled. Nobody ever doubted that. However, Bolshevism, Fascism, and Nazism are transformations of capitalist society which have left intact its basic relationship, that is, the divorce of the workers from the means of production and the consequent exploitation of the many by the few. These transformations cannot prove the impossibility of socialism and the correctness of the Machiavellian point of view. They were designed from the first either to safeguard the existing basic capitalist relationships or, in backward nations, to install them more securely in order to counteract the onslaught of imperialism. The Machiavellian “prediction” consists of nothing more than the empty statement that socialism is not possible because it is not here.
For Burnham, a social revolution has the restricted meaning of a “comparatively rapid shift in the composition and structure of the elite and in the mode of its relation to the non-elite.” Yet even in this restricted sense one cannot define the present fascist movement as a revolutionary movement for, though in shifts the composition and structure of the elite, it does not alter the mode of the relation of the elite to the non-elite. Because this latter relation is not changed, Burnham has to confine himself to the more superficial aspects of the conditions for social change. He names as the “principal” one the contradiction between the institutions and the technology of society. This contradiction in his view, however, is merely the result of the incapacities of the old elite; they arise not from the social relations of production but from the degeneration of the ruling class which, instead of being self-confident and realistically brutal, becomes cultural, philosophical and interested in the pursuit of sensuous pleasures. And also because this elite refuses to assimilate the new up-starts clamoring for power.
The new elite, now in formation, will include elements of the old. But the new elite – specifically, the managers of industry and professional soldiers – will dominate society and determine future events. The whole content of the “social revolution” now in progress consists, for Burnham, in the fact that the managers have gained more power in determining the policy of particular enterprises, trusts, and cartels than they possessed previously, and in the fact that because of the war the professional soldier came to the fore. However, as Robert S. Lynd has put it, “behind the fiction of the ‘manager class’ ... stands the same old power. ‘The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau’.” The soldiers and managers of Burnham’s “world revolution” together with all other capitalistic groups and interests are not out to make a revolution; rather, they strive to prevent a possible revolution against the capitalist world. Of course from a Machiavellian, that is, from a capitalist point of view, the change of the elite is everything and the real social movement nothing, for capitalistically one can assert oneself only in a “revolution” which involves no more than a change of the elite. In a revolution which attempts to end the “circulation of elites,” Machiavellianism cannot serve as a guide to action. It is for this reason that a proletarian revolution can never be “Machiavellian.” It can, however, appreciate Machiavelli as a bourgeois revolutionist in politics. But Burnham’s “modern Machiavellians” do not think and act as Machiavelli did, that is, as a revolutionary force out to destroy a conservative force. Their world is not Machiavelli’s “real world of space and time and history.” They are merely apologists of capitalism, for the bourgeois revolution is long past. Today a revolutionary movement is exclusively of the non-elite, or it is not revolutionary. The theory of the non-elite, however, is still best developed in Marxism. And thus the line of revolutionary thinking does not lead from Machiavelli to Mosca, Michels and Pareto, but from Machiavelli to Marx.
Democracy is the second problem Burnham deals with. Historical experience forces us, he says, to conclude that democracy, in the sense of “self-government,” is an impossibility. The psychological tendencies and technical conditions of social organization, as shown by the Machiavellians, reduce democracy to a myth, formula, or derivation. As a myth it helps, of course, to make the ruling minority secure and to prevent the disintegration of the social structure. As a formula, democracy is used today to strengthen the international trend towards Bonapartism. But it is wrong to think, he adds, that Bonapartism violates the formula of democracy; it is rather the logical and historical culmination of the democratic myth.
Democracy can, however, be defined in other terms than that of self-government. It can be defined, Burnham says, as a system in which “liberty” exists, that is, “juridical defense” or the “right to opposition.” So defined, democracy is not a myth. In this sense it is a necessary condition of scientific advance and the only effective check on the power of the governing elite, for only power can restrain power.
This definition is, of course, the necessary one for Machiavellianism. Without it, the theory of the “circulation of elites” would have no base to rest upon. If there were not the right to opposition, there would be no new elite able to oppose the old. And also the “pluralistic view” of history would suffer greatly if there were not a number of “social forces” in society, fought or used by the opposing elites. And thus it turns out that a “true Machiavellian” must defend “liberty” as against the centralistic tendencies in the prevailing society. Behind Burnham’s reasoning still stands the same old laissez faire ideology.
“Liberty” is possible only, he says, if no single force among the various “social forces” enumerated by Mosca becomes strong enough to swallow up the rest. To be sure, he admits that present-day development tends to destroy the basis for social opposition. Nevertheless, he is not “yet convinced that freedom ... is impossible.” Private-capitalist property rights in the instruments of production, even under trust and monopoly conditions, he says, “were a sufficient fragmentation of economic power to provide a basis for liberty.” Complete state control of all economic power destroys this basis. But one does not need to defend the first in order to prevent the second, for there are other means than capitalist property rights to prevent centralization. The state itself, Burnham suggests vaguely, could be decentralized or organizations along syndicalist and corporative lines could be instituted.
To make the defense of Machiavellian “democracy” more to the taste of the non-elite, Burnham discovers finally that “through a curious and indirect route by way of freedom, we return to self-government, which we were unable to discover by any direct path.” The existence of an opposition in society, he says, indicates a cleavage in the ruling class. In a society with public opposition, the conflict within the ruling class cannot be solved within the ruling class itself. Since rule depends upon the ability to control the existing social forces, the opposition seeks to draw forces to its side. It must promise certain benefits to various groups and, when in power, it must keep some of these promises. And thus the “masses, blocked by the iron law of oligarchy from directly and deliberately ruling themselves, are able to limit and control, indirectly, the power of their rulers.” This tricky business is, of course, only another formulation of Hegel’s “cunning of reason” and of Adam Smith’s “invisible hand.” And under certain circumstances these ideas contain some truth, for the absence of regulation is itself a kind of regulation, and the various limitations that beset the actions of the ruling class give to its behavior a certain direction. Yet it is plain nonsense to say that the masses control their rulers because they are controlled by them.
To make promises and to keep promises are two different things. At times the former “Marxist” in Burnham recognizes that “the general pattern of social development is determined by technological change and by other factors quite beyond the likelihood of human control.” At other times, however, he forgets that there are objective limits to the actions of men and the actions of elites. At any rate, he does not trouble himself to find out in what situations the life-conditions of the non-elite may be improved by way of the struggle between the out-elite and the in-elite, and under what conditions the struggle of elites is unable to affect the life of the masses in other ways than negative ones. But without such concrete investigation, the idea of the “indirect rule” of the masses can serve only ideological purposes. It sweetens the “bitter truth” that masters there must be, and it soothes the conscience of the elite which, after all, appears now as the servant of the people.
We come now to the last question raised by Burnham: Can politics be scientific? The question itself he finds ambiguous. Before it can be answered, he says, it must be resolved into several more precise questions, 1) can there be a science of politics and society, 2) can the masses act scientifically in political affairs, and 3) can the elite, or some section of the elite, act scientifically?
The first question he answers with yes, for all that is needed here, he says, is the recording and systematization of observable events, from which generalizations and hypotheses can be derived and which can be tested through predictions about future events. That a social and political science is possible he demonstrates with academic researches in such fields as mortality, diseases, certain economic facts, suicide, crime, literacy and so on. The work of the Machiavellians and some findings of Marx he also offers in support of his affirmative answer.
One cannot deny that the application of scientific method to social problems has yielded some results. Indeed, as Peguy once said, under capitalism one knows more and more about less and less. Science has increased the knowledge of details. But this knowledge, too, largely serves the ruling class and the society it calls its own. Like everything else in capitalism, science is partly real and partly ideological. Since this is so it is not “neutral” but, like any other activity, machine, or organization it has the twofold purpose of making social life secure in order to make the life of the ruling classes secure. It can function only in this double sense or it is rejected as subversive and thus as “unscientific.” To be sure, in certain fields of scientific investigation the two-fold character of science, though never totally absent, is almost completely hidden. But in regard to political and social questions, it is not science that rules but class interests.
The second question– whether or not the masses can act scientifically– Burnham answers in the negative. To think scientifically, he says, means to consciously select real goals and to take the proper practical steps for reaching those goals. Scientific procedure, he says, in answer to his last question, is possible for sections of the elite. The ignorance of the masses as to the methods of administration and rule, the fact that they must spend their energies on the bare making of a living, a lack of ambition and ruthlessness and so on, prevents the masses from acting scientifically. It is different with the elite. Comprising sections smaller than the large mass groups, the members of the elite know all about administration and rule; they do not have to make their own living and have the time to cultivate their political skill. They are ambitious and ruthless and thus able to proceed logically.
For Burnham it is a “realistic goal” to stay in or to enter the elite. “Real means” to reach this goal are force and fraud. As far as politics is concerned, other goals and other means are non-logical, for society is forever condemned to be divided between rulers and ruled. The criterion for logical behavior is success. Individuals, he says, can “by deliberate scientific means, rise into the very top rank of social and political power.” But they must take the appropriate steps to secure their power and privilege. They must not fall victims to myths but proceed scientifically as previously described. A “logically acting” ruling class is a blessing for the ruled, for there is often “a certain correlation between the interests of the rulers and the interests of the ruled.” Such ruling elite will not fail to keep its ranks open. This too, benefits some of the ruled and “permits a greater expansion of creative social energies.” To keep the ranks open is “liberty” and this “liberty” is a safeguard against bureaucratic degeneration ... and a protection against revolution.”
The gist of Burnham’s writing consists of a plea, directed at the ruling class in the so-called democratic nations, to learn from the example of Bolshevism, Fascism, and Nazism what to do and what not to do in order to stay in power. The “Machiavellian way” is to defend “freedom.” It is, however, also a way to destroy it. If it can do both equally well, it is independent of a particular form of society or a definite historical period. It is therefore merely inconsistent of Burnham to maintain that a true Machiavellian should adapt his actions “to the broad pattern of social change established by factors beyond deliberate human control.” If these “broad pattern” change a liberal into a fascist society, a Machiavellian must also change from a defender to a destroyer of “freedom.” But if his actions are determined by social changes independent of the actions of men, then, whatever a Machiavellian does will be determined not by his “scientific” and deliberate activity, but instead, this so-called “scientific” and deliberate activity will be determined by uncontrollable social changes. Burnham’s argument, finally, boils down to his admission that, though the Machiavellians do not know what makes for social change, they have learned nevertheless that all previous changes did not alter the fact that some people ruled and others were ruled. Therefore, the smart man will be a liberal with the liberals and a fascist with the fascist, but he will always try to be on top.
Although, according to Burnham, “logical actions” open the way into the elite, they do not insure leadership. In order to use and control the masses, the leaders must stoop to their level of non-logical thinking. “The political life of the masses and the cohesion of society,” he says, “demand the acceptance of myths.” The leaders must profess belief in myths – in short, they must lie, for of course they know better. Since it is hard to lie continuously, the liars often fall victim to their own lies. The deceivers deceive themselves. They cease to be “scientific” and in consequence the whole society suffers. The “most shattering crisis of recorded history,” which we are experiencing today, is an example of what happens when an elite ceases to be scientific with the lie. However, all is not yet lost. Burnham still believes that our society will “somehow” survive, because out of its present crisis a new elite of better scientists and greater liars may emerge who perhaps can stabilize society once more.
All that can be said about Burnham’s “science” is that it yields no more than a few ordinary observations as to the “character” of the elite and a re-statement of the long-known difference between reality and ideology. The “logic” of the elite and the “non-logic” of the masses is of course identical with the relationship between owners and non-owners of the means of production. The appropriation of the means of production by a special class, the division of labor, and the expansion of production and commerce generally created a particular social relationship which gave rise to the prevailing ideology. Because the means of production are not directly the producers’ tools for making a living, but stand apart from and opposed to them as capital, people believe that capital is needed to secure the existence of society. The workers find it necessary for their existence. The capitalists are convinced that without them, work and life could not be carried on. Because class-division prohibits the direct coordination of social production to social needs, the indirect and round-about coordination which is seemingly brought about by way of the market, or by way of “planning” for class purposes, creates the illusion that the market or the “planners” are necessary conditions for the social life. In reality, however, not even that “order” which can be discovered in capitalism is brought about by way of exchange or by way of monopolistic planning, but – and in spite of these factors – by underlying social forces of production which the bourgeois mind refuses to understand. It is brought about by the development of the social forces of production which lead to crises and which help to overcome them, but which make it increasingly more difficult to solve social problems by way of existing class relations. The needs of society and the interests of its rulers have diverged more and more, until society finds itself constantly in crisis conditions. Unable to solve this contradiction basically by ending the class relationship, it appears to the bourgeois mind as a mere, though continuous, political struggle for power positions. Hence the modern Machiavellians. If for Pareto the ordinary capitalist competition was a “circulation of elites,” the “revolution” of which he speaks is only the ordinary crisis occurring in capitalism.
The prevailing ideology results from existing class relations. It holds sway over both rulers and ruled. In capitalism the rulers have the advantages. That is why they rule. They have them by virtue of their control of the means of production. To make this control secure, their rule is extended over the means of destruction. The workers have nothing but their labor power and, at times, their powerless organizations. Their behavior is necessarily “non-logical” because, lacking the means to reach objectives favorable to themselves, they have no such objectives. Their acceptance of the ruling ideology indicates their lack of power. The ruling class, on the other hand, has all the power. It can afford to adhere to any ideology. Generally, it accepts the obvious one which grows out of the existing social relations. It can also be “scientific,” that is, recognize where its real power lies. It can be aware of the function of ideology and also of the fact that ideologies are perishable. But whether the rulers are “scientific,” or “deceived deceivers,” in any case they have the power and exercise it in their own interests. At times, of course, they may trust too much to the force of ideology, or neglect necessary ideological “reforms,” or fail to coordinate ideology properly with military and economic instruments of class rule. And then they may be pushed aside by other politicians riding in on the crest of movements, breaking through the actual and ideological boundaries that enclose the masses. Or the entrenched rulers may be forced to share their power with the upstarts who are ready to replace them.
The “logic” of the rulers is, however, no more than a function of their power, just as the “non-logic” of the masses stems from their lack of power. If the situations were reversed, so would the distribution of “logic” between rulers and ruled be reversed. A successful revolution by a suppressed class will “prove” that the defeated did not act “scientifically.” The new class in power will have “logic” on its side. So it has been in all bourgeois revolutions in which one group of exploiters was pushed out of power by another group. The bourgeois era was the “era of enlightenment,” or “rationalism.” Yet it did not solve the problems of society, not even the problems of the bourgeoisie. In the name of “science” it spread a new kind of chaos all over the world.
The controllers are controlled by socio-economic forces beyond their comprehension. They are not merely “deceived” by their own home-made myths, but subjected to the social anarchy which they cannot end without ending their own existence as a ruling class. Being powerless in the face of the real problems which plague society – despite all their power over the masses – the rulers, too, find refuge in ideology which some of their spokesmen now prefer to call “science.”
If the evidence of the past shows anything, it shows that man has changed many things – his surroundings, his life conditions, and himself. Until now he has left undisturbed the class division of society. To do away with this relationship pre-supposes the removal of many obstacles in the way of a rational society, foremost among them an insufficient social productivity. However, more and more of these obstacles are disappearing; the time seems near when another decisive social change may be brought about. It is because of this that the ruling class strives harder than ever to safeguard the class nature of society. But the more “scientific” it becomes in order to secure its own existence, the more it disrupts the conditions of class rule Yet its enormous offensive against the further development of sociality makes it appear stronger than ever before. The powerless in society are more than ever conscious of their weakness, they bend their heads still lower. The frightened intellectuals rush forward to swear new allegiance to the dominant powers. In order to maintain some sort of self-respect they do not hesitate to represent their fear as “scientific insight.” Yet all the while, the contradiction between class rule and social needs is growing.
The means of production are still in the hands of the ruling class. But to keep them there, the means of destruction are now placed in the hands of the masses. With such means at their disposal, they can now have objectives. They can become “logical” and “scientific.” In times of great social crisis ideologies wear away quickly; new ones can hardly be developed fast enough to take full possession of men’s minds and to cover up and make bearable the reality of present-day existence, which has as its ends death and destruction. It is quite possible that favorable circumstances, or the force of circumstance, may allow, or force, the masses to act in accordance with their own interests. If they do, they can abolish classes, for history is made not by some men, but by all men. If some men try once more to reduce for their own narrow purposes the coming mass movements directed against existing powers, they may once again succeed. Yet they cannot succeed in terminating the social crisis which has its basis, finally, in nothing but the neglected need for abolishing class relations in order that the existing productivity may be utilized for the welfare of all. But then again they may not succeed, because the gap between their narrow goal and the real social necessities is already too wide. It may prove impossible to end the present slaughter of men by men in any other way than by the abolition of all special interests and privileges. Whatever happens, there is no single valid reason for assuming that classes cannot be abolished. Instead there are many valid reasons for believing that the abolition of class relations will solve some of the present’s most urgent problems.
From : Marxists.org
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