The bureaucratic spirit – Sebastian Frank


Living Marxism: International Council Correspondence, Vol. VI (1941-1943), No 3 (Spring 1943)

The life of a modern man has come more and more under the sway of party, trade union, army and state. These organizations are made up of men, it is true, but the human individual stands small and powerless before the huge apparatus. Everything is decided by the directors at the top, and the average citizen, or the average party or union member understands neither the workings of the complicated apparatus nor its real aim. So an ideology has been created to justify this relationship, an ideology wich preaches that men must blindy subordinate themselves to “their” organization, placing their lives at the disposal of a “whole”, whether state or party. Rational organization thus leads to irrationality; the organization no longer exists for men, but men exist for the organization. Originally a means, organization in our time tends to become an end, a fetish to be worshiped. The bureaucrats function as the high-priests of this new religion.

bureaucratization of life has gone farthest in Nazi Germany and in Soviet Russia, but the tendency is neither peculiar to this age nor limited to the totalitarian countries. Industrial mass production, the proudest achievement of the United States, has long antecipated the organizational principles of the Comintern and the Third Reich. Here the mass of the workers perform only single functions. Knowledge of purpose is not only immaterial to the performance of these functions but often remains concealed from the workers. The individual laborer is taken into account along with coal, limestone, lubricants and other materials of production; all that is required of him is that he submit passively to the disciplined production process. That the mass of the workers are not expected to understand the process as a whole becomes clear when their union leaders make feeble proposals in this direction as in the case of the Reuther and Murray plans for war production. “Planning” and “rationalization” in this instance do not raise the intelligence, the consciousness, or the self-reliance of the masses. On the contrary, it relieves them of the necessity of employing these faculties and hence of developing them. And understanding of the workings of the whole productive process is limited to top-executives, and it is this know-ledge that helps them hold their power positions.

In modern totalitarian states, it is as though the assembly line of a rationalized factory extended through the entire fabric of social life, reducing the human being to the status of a slave of his tools. In his book, The Worker, the fascist novelist Ernst Juenger wrote in 1932, “There will be an order based on command instead of on the social contract.” In the interests of efficiency and cheap production costs, all personal freedom is destroyed, every individual is manipulated by the state, which extends its scope to the intellectual sphere, to private life and personal beliefs. Despite the well-known limitations of freedom in bourgeis society, the individual, as Marx pointed out in The German Ideology, had still left to him “the enjoyment of accident. The right to take advantage of these accidents under certain circumstances has been called ‘personal freedom’.” But in totalitarian society, central regulation becomes so extensive that even this “accidental” freedom ceases, and laissez faire fades out of personal as well as out of public life. All human experience is geared to the assembly line.

The triumph of the bureaucratized state has been maturing for generations in the womb of bourgeois democracy. It was over a century ago that the French sociologist, Alexis de Tocqueville, after traveling through the young American democracy, predicted the ultimate defeat of democracy by the centralized bureaucratic state, and the rise of functionaries – to “a nation within the nation” – occupying the position of a new aristocracy. In the fouth volume of his Democracy in America he predicted that the citizens in “The democratic nations which have introduced liberty into the political sphere at the same time that they have fostered despotism in the administrative sphere… will son become incapable of exercising the larger political powers.” But the most remarkable antecipation of the process of bureaucratization is to be found in the writings of Marx, especially in his early Criticism of Hegel’s Philosophy of the State.

It is fashionable today to emphasize certain authoritarian tendencies in Marx, more temperamental than theoretical in any case, and to ignore the main content of his life work that recognizes as the enemy whatever alienates man from himself, whatever reduces him to an object, instead of elevating him to the dignity of a subject. Mar’x political and philosophical system can best be understood as the completion, not the negation, of the humanitarian and democratic tradition of the eighteenth century; and the himself so understood it. “The bureaucratic spirit”, he wrote in 1842,

“is through and through a jesuitical, theological spirit. The bureaucrats are the state-jesuits and state-theologians, the state priesthood. It conceives of itself as the ultimate object of the state. Since the bureaucracy has made its formal purposes into the content of state policy, it finds itself in conflict everywhere with the real content of this policy. Therefore, it must call form content and content form.”

And has not the Stalinist bureaucracy, for example, constantly made the form, that is, the maintenance of the state machine and the party organization the content of its politics? International socialism has long been degraded by the Comintern to a means of mobilizing the international working class in support of the foreign policy of the Kremlin. The party organizations in various countries no longer serve any general political ends of the working class. The bureaucrats shift their political lines according to the changing interests of the Soviet Union, keystone of their apparatus.

“The general spirit of the bureaucracy”, Marx wrote in his Criticism of Hegel’s Philosophy of the State,

“wraps itself in a mysterious cloack of knowledge which the hierarchy maintains inside the bureaucracy, and which, from the outside, looks like the secrets of a fraternity… Authority is therefore its article of faith, and the deification of authority is its conviction. The spiritualism (expressed in this attitude) becomes inside the bureaucracy a crass materialism of passive obedience, belief in authority, of mechanically fixed, formal procedures… As far as the individual bureaucrat is concerned the ends of the state become his private ends: promotion, the pursuit of a career. He considers real life to be primarily materialistic because the spirit of life has an existence of its own in the bureaucracy… In the second place, life is for the bureaucracy only an object for manipulation, because its spirit is precribed, its purposes lie outside of it… By now the state exists only in the form of the various bureaus whose interconnection is based on subordination and passive obedience… While on the one hand, the bureaucracy is thus nakedly materialistic, it reveals its crass spiritualism in that it wants to do everything, that is, it makes Will into a first cause. For the bureaucracy, the world is merely and object to be manipulated.”

The fact that the bureaucrat[1] views the world only as an object is the basis of his morality, a morality founded on contempt for humanity.

Where man is reduced to a mere factor in a political calculation, anything which serves to make him obedient appears as moral – the lie for instance. The systematic use of the lie[2] as a “technical means” for leading the masses can arise only out of this spirit. In a passage in Mein Kampf, omitted in later editions, Hitler wrote that the “Germans have no ideia how one has to swindle the people in order to get a mass following”. Here the irreconciable anti-thesis between the Marxian conception and that of the bureaucratic leadership reveals itself. The basic Marxian thesis is that class-society will be overthrown only when the oppressed class comes forward as the subject of the transformation of society. But the bureaucrat is interested in the people only as the object. He is not concerned with what the people can make of themselves, but with what he can do with the people. “We have to take men as they are and take into account also their weakness and brutality”, Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf. He is interested not in changing existing human qualities but in using them.

Because the bureaucracy always see itself wiser than and superior to all other people it believes that the obedience of people is in their own interest. It feels justified in using any means against opponents who disturb the relationship between leaders and followers. The bureaucracy does not suffer from a bad conscience. Its opponents are lumped in an amalgam (Jews, Trotskyists, etc.) and invested with every diabolical property because all opponents, whatever their motives may be, frustrate the wise aims of the bureaucratic leadership and incite the masses to think for themselves. As far as the bureaucracy is concerned, opposition is the evil principle. It makes use of such formulas as “Fuehrer-Gefolgschaft” (leader-followers), “Mannestreue” (loyalty) and “Party-discipline” in order to condemn the opposition in principle. The Stalinist bureaucracy justifies all its actions, however cowardly and base, with party-discipline. The party as a fetish justifies all means. The idea is spread about that only clever calculation and disregard for all feelings can make a revolutionist. This is called “Bolshevik toughness”. As the bureaucracy understands discipline to mean only submission to itself, so it understands heroism to mean only toughness against others in the interest of its own power position.

Where such morality becomes a state-principle, all humanism ceases. Exalted to a fetish, state-interest not only subordinates the political sphere to itself but science as well. The German psychologist N. Ach, for example, stated in this paper Toward a More Modern Study of Will, read before the meeting of the German Association of Psychology in 1936, that “will is a habit of voluntary response to the command of the superior leader”. Political theory degenerates into pure and simple apologetics, and at becomes incense-burning. Individuals seek to better their personal situations through Bizantine slavishness. To denounce someone as a disloyal servant of the only true fetish and its hierarchy becomes a moral act and a daily method of rising within the bureaucracy.

Where contempt for humanity becomes a universal principle, self-respect no longer has any value. The uncritical adherence to commands, the renunciation of one’s personal opinions, and the acceptance of the official creed as infallible lead finally to a type of intellectual masochism, to a readiness to do penance at once for every independent idea. Thinking transforms itself automatically into a justification of official acts. The Nazi psychologist, Pintchovius, wrote that only one idea may fill the soul and that the aim of propaganda is the “narrowing of consciousness”.

The possibility of rising in the hierarchy is bound up with special qualities. The bureaucratic spirit corresponds to a definite type of personality. The Nazis try to cultivate this type artificially in their so-called Ordensburgen where, according to a phrase of the youth leader Baldur von Schirach, an elite is to be educated in which each individual is formed and “stamped” according to a certain type. No sensitive personality has a chance; ruthlessness is the only method of getting on in the bureaucratic apparatus. Critical ideas are viewed with suspicion. The totalitarian rulers have a feeling of inferiority in the presence of people representing critical thought who merely provoke them into demonstrating the extent of their power. The vigorous, practical men who know and successfully exploit the average qualities of people are those who advance. Their only passion is for power. Possessed by this passion, they know neither contemplative leisure nor sensibility. They think cynically about one another. German Rauschning, who once belonged to the Nazi hierarchy, writes: “In the higher circles of bureaucracy one speaks openly about the personal shortcomings of certain members of the elite. Rivalries and deadly enmities are cynically admitted.” Where ideas are only a means to power and not rooted in conviction, cynicism, of course, alone remains.

Today people are fascinated by the fact that the totalitarian form of organization is successful, that the ruthless and exactly calculated use of human material is superior to the unplanned form of organization. And as the planned factory is more profitable than the unplanned one, so the planned state is more powerful than the unplanned one. However, the belief that class society can be overthrown by a bureaucratic leadership has proved to be an error. “One of the principal moments in previous historical development was the consolidation of our own creation into a real power over us, a power that outgrew our control, destroyed our expectations, and frustrated our hopes”, Marx wrote in the German Ideology. The totalitarian state and the totalitarian party – no matter what ideology they may use – only continue this historical trend.

However, then the organizational apparatus places itself above men and makes them its slaves, we find that begind the assumed “general interests”, to which subordination is demanded are concealed only the interests of the bureaucracy which considers itself final. We have said before that modern methods of production accustom the people to bureaucratic direction and thus we know the psychological foundation of the belief in leadership. For example, to those who share this belief, even the stripping of the working class in Russia of all its rights may appear as a first and necessary step towards true democracy. The growing differences in income may seem necessary for the realization of socialism, for all this – devised by a clever leadership – may, despite all appearance, lead to a good end. The legend that a party with iron discipline which excludes all criticism, will be prerequisite to the struggle towards a classless society has not as yet been destroyed. Many anti-fascists believe that it is possible to do away with all oppression by the very means of fascism. Many still think that Hitler has shown us how we have to do it ourselves. The Trotskyists, for instance, – relentlessly persecuted by the Stalinists – never understood that the real socialist aim needs other organizational means than those used by the Stalinists, because a totalitarian party necessarily generates a bureaucratic spirit.

Real democracy, realized only when those who produce cease being the slaves of their tools and themselves have the power to rule over the means of production, can be attained only by democratic means. All means reflect the ends which they serve. As Hegel has pointed out in his Logic, and end can be attained only when the means have already been penetrated by the nature of the end. The aims of democratic control over the means of production can therefore not be reached through the help of an organization over which the members have no control. In order to accomplish this aim, there must be a progressive change of the environment through permanent expansion of the democratic sectors, as well as a change in the people themselves. The people can acquire the ability to decide their destiny for themselves only through their own political experience. Marx therefore insisted that the revolutionary task does not consist in a momentary sharing of the booty of demagogy, but in saying to the workers, “You will have to go through 15, 20, 50 years of civil war and national struggles not only to change conditions, but to change yourselves so that you can qualify for political rule.”

The bureaucratic spirit sees in the problem of organization only a technical problem. The Marxist who sees relationships between human beings behind such “technical problems”, unmasks bureaucratic organization as a new form of domination which can be overcome only by a political conception in which the masses come forward as the agents of action. Major changes in society are not brought about through clever arrangements. Cunning, business ability, political chicanery, conquests of organizational offices do not replace ideas which become a material force when they take hold of the masses. The ideas, without which no progressive transformation of society is going to be accomplished, do not come from clever, practical politicians who subordinate and adapt them to a poweful organization but from revolutionary personalities, who at any time are prepared to give their bureaucratic critics the answer that Friedrich Engels gave them: “No party in any land can condemn me to be silent when I am determined to speark… You of the party need the science of socialism, and this science cannot live without freedom of expression.”

The masses are not aroused by crafty tactical resolution or bureaucratic formulas. When the time is ripe, they are receptive to bold and inspiring ideas. These ideas cannot be kept from the world by any defeats, by book-burnings, by concentration camps, by Moscow trials, or by executions. “To overt acts”, Marx wrote, “even though they be carried out en masse, one can answer with guns as soon as they become dangerous. But ideas which conquer our intelligence and which overcome our conviction, to which reason has welded our conviction, these ideas are chains which cannot be ripped from a man without tearing out his heart.” The totalitarian state can achieve victory for its principles only when the critical faculty is exterminated. The overcoming of the bureaucratic spirit begins with criticism which attacks every instance of the lowering of the human being, with the doctrine, to speak once more in Marxian language, “that man is the supreme being for manking”, and therefore with the “categorical imperative to oberthrow all conditions in which man is a degraded, servile, neglected, and contemptible being.”

[1] Bureaucracy neither signifies here the simple administrative worker or civil servant, nor does it deal with criticism of “red tape”. In our context, bureaucracy denotes the rule of men who possess the key position in either an organization or the state, and who acquire power through their function.

[2] The lie is always a means of political rule. All revolutionary movements in history have served the truth because they have attacked lies which sought to justify privilege. The difference is that the political lie was usually used when needed, as an after-thought or a justification, whereas here it is used systematically, primarily in order to prepare the people for particular purposes of the leadership.