Now, if we want to apply a Marxian critical theoretical analysis to the surface of the above ideological appearances what relations could be found beneath them?
Whenever the time comes in a Soviet-type society to criticize the system, the thought of Milovan Djilas69 is invariably brought up according to which persons to whom the above appearances are referred have no social impact as a function of their personal qualities. In fact, in this system social power is not exerted by persons at all, but is assigned by bureaucracy to a position in the social structure and is attached to the individual only insomuch as he legitimately occupies a given position. Thus, among other things, disposition over the means of production is not attached to a person as a possibility mediated by his owning these means privately; instead, it is attached to positions of various levels in economic management through the mediation of which the powers of an economic injunction can be borne by any person who happens to be legitimately in the given position.
This hypothesis – that the deep structure of a Soviet-type society is determined by the system of bureaucratic relations – is seemingly reinforced by Max Weber’s 1922 statement that the organization of a socialist economic life “would only entail the enormous increase in the professional bureaucracy”. At the same time, Weber also noted that bureaucracy as an all-pervasive tendency was produced “not only by capitalism, but principally and undeniably by it’ because it needed a rational, predictable management technique for the running of large enterprises. In the final analysis, Weber states, “the economy, irrespective of the fact whether it is organized in the capitalist or socialist manner, ...would only mean the enormous increase in the professional bureaucracy,” if socialism aspires to the same level of technical performance as capitalism.
If Weber were right in considering the bureaucracy a common characteristic of both socialism and capitalism, it wouldn’t be very fruitful to identify the deep structure of a socialist (as opposed to a capitalist) society with bureaucracy. The real situation is quite the contrary.
Charisma and appointment
One common feature shared by several diverse mass movements of the 20th century is the tendency toward anti-bureaucracy. Explicitly or implicitly, wittingly or unwittingly, such movements oppose the bureaucratic principle which claims that social power is not the person’s who exerts it but belongs instead to the position the person occupies in society.
Despite many and sometimes mutually exclusive differences, these mass movements have in common the attempt to set power to persons directly and independently of the positions occupied by each of those persons, respectively. The tendency is apparent, for instance, in the charismatic leader who derives his social power from the very anti-bureaucracy, anti-state movement and not from the bureaucratic state authority.
It would be hard, for example, to conceive of Lenin’s powers as a function of his position as head of government in the new Soviet state organized after the revolution, or to derive those powers from the fact that he was one of members of the Bureau of the Party’s Central Committee. Although I shall return to the peculiar nature of Stalin’s charisma later; but let it be noted here that it too cannot be derived from his being the head of the Party apparatus (secretary general). In non-communist mass movements as well, we find that the social power of the person is independent of the position he takes; e. g. after 1934 Ghandi did not occupy any position either in his Party or, after the proclamation of India’s independence, in the state.
In the historical process in which the anti-state movement overthrows and seizes power in various countries, the movement itself is not only the medium of the leader’s charisma but is also the subject of a sort of collective charisma.
Even more pronouncedly becomes the subject of a collective charisma the Party that leads the movement and still more the Party’s headquarters staff. It is to be noted that the collective charisma also sets directly to its bearer a social power. This is done in such a way that the wider the circle of the carriers of the collective charisma, the narrower the set of powers assigned to this group of people. It is also important to note, however, that both the bearers of the charisma and those under its influence may find such power legitimate, no matter how the powers are distributed among persons in the group that bears those powers.
At the beginning after the victory of a revolutionary movement the members of the charismatic collective exercise the power they have seized not as functionaries but as commissaries. What happens is not that some Party members begin to replace former functionaries in the positions of the bureaucratic structure in order to obtain the powers set to those positions, but that one or another Party member gets direct commission to exercise a certain power.
Later, of course, when the new power stabilizes as state power, the principle of bureaucracy gains ascendancy: those commissioned to exercise certain powers become gradually appointed to positions with those powers as their functions. What’s more, with the development of the Party apparatus the principle of bureaucracy also penetrates into the Party: e. g. five years after the Russian revolution 15,325 functionaries were active in the apparatus of the Party, and another fifteen years later there were about three times as many Party functionaries at the intermediate level alone.
Far more important is that while the collective charisma sets social powers to persons directly, independently from appointment, however these persons start to get installed into that collective charisma by appointment. Invest someone by appointment with power that is independent from appointment – this paradoxical social structure did emerged during the Bolshevik history.
In May 1923 the C(b)PSU had 386,000 members who had made themselves Bolsheviks during their underground activity, revolution and civil war and the social power they had at that time was provided them by this past record. Now, within a year the above number grew by more than 90%, and only in the four months following Lenin’s death 240,000 people were, upon Stalin’s initiative, appointed communists without any corresponding past record.
In 1930 69% of the secretaries of the Central Committees of the Soviet republics and of the regional Party committees had been Party members since before the revolution and thus carried personally the collective charisma of the old Bolshevik guard. Nine years later 80.5% of those invested with this charisma had become Party members after Lenin’s death in 1924.
The tragically grotesque reverse of the paradox of being inaugurated into the charisma by appointment was the fact that the members of the old guard were “dismissed” from the collective charisma of which they had partaken on account of their past record, while they were at the same time “appointed” to the position of “the enemy of the people”.
When we view the cult of leader’s personality in the light of this, it can be asserted that Stalin also obtained his personal charisma by appointment. The paradox that having social power independently of appointment itself has become dependent on appointment is lucidly illustrated by Bukharin’s reply to a western sympathizer who wanted to find out how it was possible that with all those bright and excellent personages in the revolutionary central committee of the Bolshevik Party, the mediocre Stalin was chosen for the top. Not much before his arrest Bukharin answered: “It was not he personally that we placed our trust in, but the man whom the Party honored with its trust.”
Thus in this structure the leader’s charisma does not irradiate from the depths of his own personality but from the Party’s appointment of him to this individual charisma. On the other hand, this is the very Party whose members partake of collective charisma not on account of their past record of participation in a collective history, but because they owe their appointment to Party membership from that very leader.
The leader can be replaced by a collective leadership (Politburo, Secretariat; see below), at one end, while at the other end Party membership may get reduced to the Party apparatus; what does not change at all in this process is the perfectly efficient paradoxical feedback mechanism between the two ends.
The principle of such a feedback of structuring and functioning of Bolshevik-type parties is that of democratic centralism.