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Bureaucracy

Marxist Dictionary

Bourgeois layer dedicated to the management of the state apparatus

The bureaucracy in Europe

In most European countries the bureaucracy of today’s state capitalism is the direct heir -literally in many cases- of the managers of the absolutist state characteristic of the long decadence of feudalism. In France or Great Britain, it is not difficult to find among the “high civil service” or diplomacy, long lineages of bureaucrats who represent elements of continuity of the state apparatus between the ruling classes of feudalism and capitalism.

Even more so in Spain or Portugal, where the bourgeoisie did not come to power in a revolutionary way, but as a result of a process of fusion with other exploiting layers: aristocracy, landowners, etc. This process culminates late, already in the 20th century and at the very moment when capitalism as a whole enters into decadence. And it does so precisely around the state of the Restoration and its bureaucrats, to form the basis of the state capitalism we know today.

As a result of its own situation in the state and its stability as a group, the bureaucracy continues today to be a very important link in the political articulation of the bourgeoisie, a link between the managing bourgeoisie, both corporate and financial, and the political leaders.

The Stalinist bureaucracies

The state capitalism consolidated by the counter-revolution in Russia was a particular, extreme and yet defining case of capitalist decadence. With the proletarian revolution in Russia isolated, drowned in a sea of millions of small land owners (petty bourgeoisie) and the proletariat that had made the revolution disbanded by hunger and the mobilization of the civil war, production was consciously reconstituted as a state capitalism under the control of very weakened soviets. Real power soon fell to a bureaucratic layer whose future was linked to the reconstruction of national capital. Its political expression would be stalinism, its first slogan “socialism in one country”, its main enemy the revitalization of the world revolution and its legacy the long breath of counterrevolution, a new imperialist world war and an ultra-bureaucratic model of state capitalism that with different variants, marked the twentieth century.

To all this, what kind of property relations did the October Revolution establish? Certainly not socialist ones. That revolution was made by true communists, but they had no other goal than permanent revolution (Lenin in the April Theses) in the hope that the proletariat of the developed countries would come to their aid. Even the tactics of the Bolsheviks before the seizure of power were completely inspired by this perspective, which is enough to reject it in the present hour. After the magnificent attempt called war communism, which far from responding only to the urgent needs of civil war pointed directly to the disappearance of wage labor, it turned to state capitalism as Lenin conceived it, capitalist relations of production and distribution, but real political power of the proletariat, based on the soviets. The effective preservation of this power was, in Lenin’s eyes, the only guarantee of future socialist development, which would allow it to await the victory of other revolutions in industrialized countries and to move together to the transitional society and communism. It can be said today that the only thing that existed as true socialism in the former Soviet Union, despite its defects, was political power. Once the power of the soviets disappeared and the Bolshevik party was corrupted, there was nothing left but state capitalism, which was consolidated and recognized as such from the NEP to the five-year plans. Property, production and distribution relations were brought back to the most rigorous capitalist standards. Thus, a counterrevolution was carried out which history had never seen before, and whose main tribulation was to avoid any proletarian revolution in the world. Is further proof needed after the abandonment of power to Hitler in 1933, the crushing of the Spanish revolution, not by Franco, but by the Russian government and its Spanish stalinists, after the imperialist policy of national resistance and all the reactionary work of Moscow and its parties since the postwar period?

“Critique of the Draft Manifesto for the New Workers’ Party of the Worker’s League of England,” 1961

The bureaucracy as a group with its own interests and perspectives within the ruling class

As a product of the state, the bureaucracy has its own characteristics that reflect its logic within the ruling class. These characteristics are all the more central as decadence progresses. Unlike the corporate bourgeoisie, which still claims to reflect the entrepreneurial myth and product of the market, and the political leaders, who are linked to the democratic myth, the bureaucracy understands the extra-economic nature of its power as the main guarantee of the preservation of social order. It is therefore a fundamentally conservative group that will emphasize the procedural and normative aspects, that is, the regulation of disputes between factions of the ruling class and the framing and, if necessary, repression of the class struggle. The bureaucracy presents and understands itself as the guarantor of the conditions of accumulation and is called upon to play a greater political role as the contradictions within and around state capitalism become more acute: from its participation as ministers to the “judicialization” of political conflicts, from “technocratic” governments to military juntas.