“The State in Capitalist Society is recognized as one of the most important books in political sociology published since the Second World War. In the wake of a neo-liberal era recognized almost universally as one which saw the retreat of the state, the massive scale of sate intervention today makes the republication of this classic study extremely timely;” (from the back cover of the 2009 edition; the first publication was in 1969)
Miliband: “More than ever before men now live in the shadow of the state. What they want to achieve, individually or in groups, now mainly depends on he state’s sanction and support. But since that sanction and support are not bestowed indiscriminately, they must, ever more directly, seek to influence and shape the state’s power and purpose, or try and appropriate it altogether”. The state as an institution, says Miliband, has in recent times received far less attention than its importance deserves. “A theory of the state,” he claims, “is also a theory of society and of the distribution of power in that society. But most Western ‘students of politics’ tend to start with the assumption that power, in Western societies, is competitive, fragmented and diffused: everybody, directly or through organized groups, has some power and nobody has or can have too much from it. In these societies, citizens enjoy universal suffrage, free and regular elections, representative institutions, effective citizen rights, including the right of free speech association and opposition; and both individuals and groups take ample advantage of these rights, under the protection of the law, and independent judiciary and an free political culture.”
In short, the notion of a ruling class or ruling elite is irrelevant in a democratic system, where the state is subjected to a multitude of conflicting pressures from organized groups and interests. Needless to say that this assumption is profoundly erroneous, certainly for Marxists. “But Marxist political analysis,” Miliband argues, “notably in relation to the nature and role of the state, has long seemed stuck in its own groove, and has shown little capacity to renew itself.” Marx’ vision on the state is summarised in the famous formulation in the Communist Manifesto: “The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie”. Marx and Engels acknowledged that the state could, in exceptional circumstances, enjoy a certain degree of independence, “but they never departed from the view that in capitalist society the state was above all the coercive instrument of a ruling class, itself defined in terms of is ownership and control of the means of production.”
Lenin’s State and revolution reaffirmed and elaborated Marx’s vision on the state in the era of imperialism and until Miliband’s book, the only major Marxist contribution to the theory on the state was that of Antonio Gramsci. But are those views still valid in societies with a large complex, highly integrated and technological advanced economic base and a substantial ‘public sector’, through which the state owns and administers a wide range of industries and services, Miliband asks. Today the state is the largest customer of the private sector and some major industries could not survive in the private sector without the state’s custom and without the credits, subsidies and benefactions which it dispenses. “The scale and pervasiveness of state intervention in contemporary capitalism is now immeasurably greater than ever before, and will undoubtedly continue to grow; and much the same is also true for the vast range of social services for which the state in these societies has come to assume direct or indirect responsibility.”
“The importance of the public sector and of state intervention in economic life generally is one of the reasons which have been advanced in recent years for the view that ‘capitalism’ had become a misnomer for the economic system prevailing in these countries. Together with the steadily growing separation between the ownership of capitalist enterprise and it management, public intervention, it has been argued, has radically transformed the capitalism of the bad old days.”
Miliband strongly disagrees with the idea that these countries have become ‘post-capitalist societies were the need to abolish capitalism has disappeared. “Notwithstanding the existence of a ‘public sector’ these are societies in which by far the largest part of the economic activity is still dominated by private ownership and enterprise: in none of them the state own more than a substantial part of the means of production.” And, very important in relation to the socialist program: “In all advanced countries there is to be found a vast scatter of individually or corporately owned small and medium-sized enterprises, running into millions of economic units, constituting a distinct and important part of their economic landscape, and profoundly affecting their social and political landscape as well. No doubt, economic trends are against small and medium sized business, and many such enterprises are in one way or another dependent upon and subsidiary to large-scale concerns. But their importance in the life of these societies remains considerable and ought not, whether from an economic, social or political point of view, be obscured by the ever-greater importance of the giant corporation. ‘…) Advanced capitalism is all but synonymous with giant enterprise; and nothing about the economic organisation of these countries is more basically important than the increasing domination of key sectors of their industrial, financial and commercial life by a relatively small number of giant firm, often interlinked.” It is worthwhile noticing that these lines were written in the golden age of state intervention, more then a decade before the rise of neoliberalism.
And what was his prognosis? “There is every reason to think that this domination of capitalist economies by giant enterprise will become even more marked in the coming years, not least because state intervention itself tends, directly or indirectly, to accelerate the process, notwithstanding the often-expressed intention to protect small business and to oppose monopoly.” Another major feature of modern capitalism (in 1968) is that more and more large corporations are assuming an ever-growing transnational character, in terms of ownership and management. “At the same time a similar process of capitalist internationalisation has recently gathered force in Western Europe, sometimes in opposition to American penetration, more often in conjunction with it. New and formidable capitalist complexes are thus coming into being in Western Europe, whose transnational character has very large implications not only in economic terms but in political terms as well. The European Economic Community is one institutional expression of this phenomenon and represents an attempt to overcome, within the context of capitalism, one of its major ‘contradictions’, namely the constantly more marked obsolescence of the nation-state as the basic unit of international life.”
I think the following passages are important to define or redefine some basics concepts such as ruling class, working class, middle class, the relationships between them etc. These might seem obvious, but I feel there is no harm in reminding us of them. Then, in the light of the developments of the last 45 years, we can see if those definitions and concepts still hold.
In all these countries a relatively small number of people own a markedly disproportionate share of personal wealth and have an income that is largely derived from that ownership. Miliband calls them at the beginning of his study ‘economic elites’ which, by the virtue of ownership or control or both, do command many of the most important sectors of economic life. The working class in advanced capitalist countries has always been and remains highly diversified, and the internal composition of the working class in these countries also differs. “Yet … inside countries and between them, the working class remains everywhere a distinct and specific social formation by virtue of a combination of characteristics which affect its members in comparison with members of other classes. (…) The proletarian condition remains a hard and basic fact in these societies, in the work process, in levels of income, in opportunities or lack of them, in the whole social definition of existence.”
“The economic and political life of capitalist societies is primarily determined by the relationship, born of the capitalist mode of production, between these two classes –the class which on the one hand owns and controls, and the working class on the other. (…) The political process in these societies is mainly about the confrontation of these forces, and is intended to sanction the terms of the relationship between them.” What about the other ‘classes’? “One may distinguish in all capitalist societies a large and growing class of professional people –lawyers, accountants, middle-rank executives, architects, technicians, scientists, administrators, doctors, teachers, etc. –who form one of the two main elements of a ‘middle class’, whose role in the life of these societies is of great importance, not only in economic terms but in social and political ones too. The other element of this middle class is associated with small and medium sized enterprises. (…) Finally, these societies all include a large number of ‘cultural workmen’ – writers, journalists, critics, preachers, poets, intellectuals of one sort or another, who way either be included, in the case of the established and more or less affluent, in the professional middle class, or, for the rest, among independent craftsmen or white collar workers.”
Beside some other groups like criminals and students (!) that are left out of this summary, “the largest omission is that of the people who are professionally concerned with the actual running of the state, either as politicians, or as civil servants, judges and military men. (…) (This omission is due to the fact that) their place in the social and political system is of crucial importance in the analysis of the relation of the state to society.” Miliband develops these points further in his book.
Economic elites and dominant class
Miliband writes: “In the Marxist scheme, the ‘ruling class’ of capitalist society is that class which owns and controls the means of production and which is able, by virtue of the economic power thus conferred upon it, to use the state as its instrument for the domination of society.” But does such a class exist?
First, one cannot deny off course very large differences in the distribution of income. “Even if it is true that share ownership is now somewhat wider than in the past, this hardly warrants the belief in ‘People’s Capitalism’. For not only is the share ownership still extremely restricted, but also very unbalanced in the sense that the vast majority of share holders hold very little, while a relatively small number have extremely large holdings.”
What about the argument that the significance of ownership is declining because it is hinged by a multitude of legal, social and political restrictions, but also because of the growing separation between ownership and control by management. “That managerialism represents an important phenomenon in the evolution of capitalism is not in doubt,” replies Miliband, referring to the fact that this tendency was already noticed by Marx himself. “This separation of ownership and control, at least in large-scale enterprises, had become one of the most important features in the internal organisation of capitalist enterprise”. But: “At the same time, it is entirely incorrect to suggest or to imply, as is constantly done, that this process id all but complete, and thus to ignore the continuing importance of what Jean Reynaud calls ‘un vigoureux capitalism familial’, not only in regard to small and medium-sized enterprises but to very large ones as well.”
Despite the fact that a bit less than a third of the Fortune top 500 is family-owned and at least ten family-owned companies rank among the top hundred, the most dynamic and powerful concerns are led by appointed or co-opted managers and executives. “The trend is uneven but it is also very strong and quite irreversible; the alternative to it is not an impossible return to owner-management but public or social ownership and control.” (my emphasis). Subsequently, Miliband quotes Adolf Berle: “In practice institutional corporations are guided by tiny, self-perpetuating oligarchies.”
But does that make any difference? The following passage is illuminating for those who think that the profit motive is the one and only driving force for ‘capitalists’: “For the classical entrepreneur’s motives and impulses were surely quite as various, complex and possibly contradictory as those of the modern corporate manager. (…) An early study of managerial behaviour suggested that ‘the most important spurs to action by the business man, other than the desire for goods for direct want-satisfaction, are probably the following: the urge for power, the desire for prestige and the related impulse of emulation, the creative urge, the propensity to identify oneself with a group and the relating feeling of group loyalty, the desire for security, the urge for adventure and for “playing the game” for its own sake, and the desire to serve others.” These kind of psychological motivations were also recognized by Marx who spoke of the capitalist being caught in a “Faustian conflict between the passion for accumulation and the desire for enjoyment.” Today, this Faustian conflict may assume a variety of new and different forms. “Nevertheless, like the vulgar owner-entrepreneur of the bad old days, the modern manager, however bright and shiny, must also submit to the imperative demands inherent in the system of which he is both master and servant; and the first and most important such demand is that he should make the ‘highest possible’ profits.” In effect, the pursuit of the highest possible profits is the most important purpose of businessmen, and to it must be subordinated all other considerations, including the public welfare.
This is not a matter of ‘selfishness’ in the soul of the entrepreneur or manager. This ‘selfishness’ is inherent in the capitalist mode of production and in the policy it dictates. Like old-style capitalism, managerial capitalism is an atomised system which is more than ever marked by the supreme contradiction between its ever more social character and its enduring private purpose. Or as Baran and Sweezy put it: “Profits, even though not the ultimate goal, are the necessary means to all ultimate goals. As such, they become the immediate, unique, unifying, quantitative aim of corporate policies, the touchstone of corporate rationality, the measure of corporate success.” Indeed, as Miliband points out, the modern manager may well be more vigorous in his pursuit of profit than the old style entrepreneur because profit-orientated rationality is more and more representative of business behaviour. In addition, Miliband points out that managers themselves are often large stockholders in their enterprises, and that they are able by way of stock options, to increase their holdings on the most favourable terms. They receive very high salaries, stock bonuses and stock options at reduced rates, which may double their income. Remember, that was the situation in 1968!
“Managerialism means that the most important elements of capitalist property have now grown too large to be both wholly owned and efficiently run by owner-entrepreneurs. (…) Like all other large employers of labour, managers in charge of complex, multi-process enterprises have an obvious interest in smooth labour relations and in the ‘routinisation’ of conflict inside the firm: and in seeking to achieve this, they may well see the unions as allies rather than opponents –or rather as both.”
Even some working-class children can nowadays ‘get to the top’, although the obstacles are enormous. But, argues Miliband a greater ‘equality of opportunity has nothing to do with genuine equality, given the context in which it occurs. “It may enable more working-class children to reach ‘the top’. But this, far from destroying the class hierarchies of advanced capitalism, helps to strengthen them. (…) For the upper and middle class in these societies, including its entrepreneurial and managerial element, is still largely self-recruiting and therefore to a marked degree socially cohesive. Indeed that class is in one sense now more socially cohesive than in the past.”
Despite specific differences among themselves, “dominant classes have so far fulfilled a great deal better than the proletariat Marx’s condition for the existence of a ‘class for itself’, namely that it should be conscious of its interests as a class: the rich have always been far more ‘class conscious’ than the poor,” concludes Miliband.
The State System and the State Elite
The state is not a thing that exists as such. It stands for a number of specific institutions which together constitutes its reality, and which interact as parts of what may be called the state system. This point is by no means academic, Miliband explains: “For the treatment of one part of the state –usually the government- as the state itself introduces a major element of confusion in the discussion of the nature and incidence of state power, ad that confusion can have large political consequences. Thus, if it is believed that the government is in fact the state, it may also be believed that the assumption of government power is equivalent to the acquisition of state power.” As this is clearly not the case, it is necessary to distinguish and then to relate the various elements which make up the state system.
The government speaks on the state’s behalf, and is formally invested with state power, but that does not mean that it effectively controls that power. A second element of the state system which requires further investigation is the administrative one, which now extends far beyond the traditional bureaucracy of the state. It “encompasses a large variety of bodies, often related to particular ministerial departments, or enjoying a greater or lesser degree of autonomy –public corporations, central banks, regulatory commissions, etc. – and concerned with the management of the economic, social, cultural and other activities in which the state is now directly or indirectly involved. The extraordinary growth of this administrative and bureaucratic element in all societies, including advanced capitalist ones, id of course one of the most obvious features of contemporary life; and the relation of its leading members to the government and to society is also crucial to the determination of the role of the state.”
“Formally, officialdom is at the service of the political executive, its obedient instrument, the tool of its will. In actual fact it is nothing of the kind. Everywhere and inevitably the administrative process is also part of the political process: administration is always political as well as executive. (…) Karl Mannheim once noted that ‘the fundamental tendency of all bureaucratic thought is to turn all problems of politics into problems of administration.”
Then, Miliband makes a very interesting point concerning top civil servants: “Nowhere do these men not contribute directly and appreciably to the exercise of state power. If the regime is weak, with a rapid minster turn over, and with no possibility of sustained ministerial direction, as happened under the French Fourth Republic, civil servants will step into the vacuum and play often dominant part in decision-making”. He continuous looking at the military: “In most capitalist countries, this coercive apparatus constitutes a vast, sprawling and resourceful establishment, whose professional leaders are men of high status and great influence, inside the state system and society.” As for the judiciary system: “In contrast, it is not at all the formal constitutional duty of judges … to serve the purposes of their governments. They are constitutionally independent of the political executive and protected from it by security of tenure and other guarantees. (…) but the judiciary is an integral part of the state system, which affects, often profoundly, the exercise of state power.”
To sum up: “These are the institutions – the government, the administration, the military and the police, the judicial branch, sub-central government and parliamentary assemblies –which make up ‘the state’, and whose interrelationship shapes the form of the state system. It is these institutions in which ‘state power’ lies, and it is through them that this power is wielded in its different manifestations by the people who occupy the leading positions in each of these institutions –presidents, prime ministers and their ministerial colleagues; high civil servants and other state administrators; top military men, judges of the higher courts, some at least of the leading members of parliamentary assemblies, though they are often the same men as the senior members of the political executive; and, a long way behind, particularly in unitary states, the political and administrative leaders of sub-central units of the state. These are the people who constitute what may be described as the state elite. (…) It is necessary to treat the state elite, which does wield state power, as a distinct and separate entity. It is particularly necessary to do so in analysing the relationship of the state to the economically dominant class.”
In 1902 Karl Kautsky observed that the capitalist class rules but does not govern, and added that it contents itself with ruling the government. Miliband argues that the entry of businessmen in the state system has often been greatly underestimated, although “Businessmen themselves have often tended to stress their remoteness from, even their distaste for, ‘politics’; and they have also tended to have a poor view of politicians as men who have never had to meet a payroll and who therefore know very little of the real world –yet who seek to interfere in the affairs of the hard-headed and practical men whose business it is to meet a payroll, and who therefore do know what the world is about.” He points out that in the United States, from 1889 to 19469, business where in fact the largest single occupation group in cabinets; in British cabinets between 1886 and 1950 close to one third were businessmen, including three prime minsters. Businessmen control to a large extent state owned financial institutions and nationalised industries: “business has carved out an extremely string place for itself in the directing organs of that sector; or rather; that business has been invited by governments, whatever their political coloration, to assume a major role in the management and control; of the public sector.”
However, it remains true that businessmen constitute now not more than a relative small minority of the state elite as a whole. “It is in this sense that the economic elites of advanced capitalist countries are not, properly speaking, a ‘governing class’, comparable to pre-industrial, aristocratic and landowning classes. (…) However, the significance of this relative distance of businessmen from the state system is markedly reduced by the social composition of the state elite proper. For businessmen belong, in economic and social terms, to the upper and middle class- and it is also from these classes that the members of the state elite are predominantly, not to say overwhelmingly, drawn”.
Miliband disagrees with Max Weber who claimed that the development of bureaucracy tended to ‘eliminate class privileges, which include the appropriation of means of administration and the appropriation of authority as well as the occupation of offices on an honorary basis or as an avocation by virtue of wealth’: “This singularly underestimates the degree to which existing class privileges help to restrict this process, even though they do not arrest it altogether. (…) It is undoubtedly true that a process of social dilution has occurred in the state service. (…) But to speak of ‘democratization’ in this connection is somewhat misleading. What is involved here is rather a process of ‘bourgeoisification’ of the most able and thrusting recruits from the subordinate classes.”
So, in conclusion: “In an epoch when so much is made of democracy, equality, social mobility, classlessness and the rest, it has remained a basic fact of life in advanced capitalist countries that the vast majority of men and women in these countries has been governed, represented, administered, judged, and commanded in war by people drawn from other, economically and socially superior and relative distant classes.”
The Purpose and Role of Governments
Governments of different political compositions come and go in democracies and there is a continuous political ‘debate’ going on between competing parties. “This diversity of views, attitudes, programmes and policies, on an infinite number of issues” says Miliband, “is certainly very striking and makes for live political debate and competition. And the impression of diversity and conflict is further enhanced by the insistence of party leaders, particularly at election time, on the wide and almost impassable, or actually impassable, gulf which separates them from their opponents and competitors”. This suggests that electors are actually making a choice between fundamental and incompatible alternatives: “For one of the most important aspects of the political life of advanced capitalism is precisely that the disagreements between those political leader who have generally been able to gain high office have very seldom been of the fundamental kind these leaders and other people so often suggest. What is really striking about these political leaders and political office-holders, in relation to each other, is not their many differences, but the extent of their agreement on truly fundamental issues –as they themselves -, when occasion requires, have been wont to recognize, and as large numbers of people among the public at large, despite the political rhetoric to which they are subjected, recognize in the phrase ‘politicians are all the same.” To put it more concretely: they all agree over ‘the foundations of society’, meaning above all the existing economic and social system of private ownership and private appropriation. Miliband: “Capitalist regimes have mainly been governed by men who have either genuinely believed in the virtues of capitalism, o who, whatever their reservations as to this r that aspect of it, have accepted it as far superior to any possible alternative economic and social system, and who have therefore made it their prime business to defend it. “
However, this basic consensus amongst bourgeois politicians does not mean that there are not important differences between them. In addition: “It has always been possible to make an important distinction between parties and leaders, however committed they might be to the private enterprise system, who stood for a large measure of state intervention in economic and social life, and those who believed in a lesser degree of intervention; and the same distinction encompasses these parties and men who have believed that the state must assume a greater degree of responsibility for social and other kinds of reform; and those who have wished for less. (…) Even the most determined interventionists among them have always conceived their proposals and policies as a means, not of eroding –let alone supplanting- the capitalist system , but of ensuring its greater strength and stability. To a much larger extent than appearance and rhetoric have been made to suggest, the politics of advanced capitalism have been about different conceptions of how to run the same economic and social system, and not about radically different social systems.” (My emphasis)
“This consensus between political office-holders is clearly crucial. (…) The fact that governments accept as beyond question the capitalist context in which they operate is of absolutely fundamental importance in shaping their attitudes, policies and actions in regard to the specific issues and problems with which they are confronted, and to the needs and conflicts of civil society.” In fact, political office-holders don’t see themselves as ‘defenders of he capitalist enterprise’ or as defenders of one class or another; they see themselves as being ‘class neutral’. Ralph Miliband: “That most political leaders in positions of power do hold this view of their office, and of themselves, with sincerity and conviction need not, in general, be doubted. Indeed, to dismiss their proclamations of freedom from class bias as mere hypocrisy leads to a dangerous underestimation of the dedication and resolution with which such leaders are likely to pursue a task of whose nobility they are utterly persuaded. (…)
Opponents of capitalism believe it to be a system whose very nature nowadays makes impossible the optimum utilization of resources for rational human ends; whose inherent character is one of compulsion, domination and parasitical appropriation; whose spirit and purpose fatally corrode all human relations; and whose maintenance is today the major obstacle to human progress.
“Bourgeois politicians and governments view the system in precisely opposite terms –as most closely congruent with ‘human nature’, as uniquely capable of combining efficiency, welfare and freedom, as the best means of releasing human initiative and energy in socially beneficent directions, and as providing the necessary and only possible bias for a satisfactory social order.”
On liberal democracy, Miliband quotes the American sociologist Robert Lynd, who wrote in 1943: “Liberal democracy has never dared face the fact that industrial capitalism is an intensely coercive form of organisation of society that cumulatively constrains men and all of their institutions to work the will of the minority who hold and wield economic power; and that this relentless warping of men’s lives and forms of association becomes less and less result of voluntary decisions by “bad” men or “good” men and more and more an impersonal web of coercions dictated by the need to keep “the system running”. Off course, those in power cannot see the system as such, and this is what makes them claim hat their policies are essential empirical, undogmatic, pragmatic and practical. Miliband: “They accept the notion that the economic rationality of the capitalist system is synonymous with rationality itself, and that it provides the best possible set of human arrangements in a necessarily imperfect world.”
“The first and most important consequence of the commitment which governments in the advanced capitalist countries have to the private enterprise system and to its economic rationality ifs that it enormously limits their freedom of action in relation to a multitude of issues and problems.” It is obvious that governments do not take measures that go against the fundamental interests of owners, “But it does not appear so to most Western political scientists who view the state as free from the inherent bias in favour of capitalist interests... That bias has immense political implications. For the resolution, or at least the alleviation of a vast range of economic and social problems requires precisely that governments should be willing to act ‘in fundamental opposition’ to these interests. Far from being a trivial matter, their extreme reluctance to do so is one of the largest of all facts in the life of these societies.”
However true this statement is, it obscures a basic aspect of the state’s role: “For governments, acting in the name of the state, have in fact been compelled over the years to act against some property rights, to erode some managerial prerogatives, to help redress somewhat the balance between capital and labour, between property and those who are subject to it. This is an aspect of state intervention which conservative writers who lament the growth of ‘bureaucracy’ and who deplore state ‘interference’ in the affairs of society regularly overlook. Bureaucracy is indeed a problem and a danger and the experience of countries like the Soviet Union has amply shown how greatly unrestrained bureaucratic power can help to obstruct the creation of a socialist society worthy of the name. But concentration upon the evils of bureaucracy in capitalist countries obscures (and is often intended to obscure) the fact that ‘bureaucratic’ intervention has often been a means of alleviating the evils produced by unrestrained private economic power.” Another ‘obscuring’ word is “the economy”: “Governments may be solely concerned with the better running of ‘the economy’. But the description of the system as ‘the economy’ is part of the idiom of ideology, and obscures the real process.”
What about the neutrality of the state? “On innumerable occasions, and in all capitalism countries, governments have played a decisive role in defeating strikes, often by the invocation of the coercive power of the state and the use of naked violence; and the fact that they have done so in the name of the national interest, law and order, constitutional government, the protection of ‘the public’, etc., rather than simply to support employers, has not made that intervention any the less useful to these employers. (…) They enter that conflict in the guise of a neutral and independent party, concerned to achieve not the outright defeat of one side or the other but a ‘reasonable’ settlement between them. But the state’s intervention in negotiations occurs in the shadow of its known and declared propensity to invoke its powers of coercion, against one of he parties in the dispute rather than the other, if ‘conciliation’ procedures fail.” There are also other means, like incomes policy, by which governments undermine the power of labour: “What they tend to achieve, by such means as an ‘income policy’, or by deflationary policies which reduce the demand for labour, is a general weakening of the bargaining position of wage-earners.” … “Wage-earners have always had to reckon with a hostile state in their encounter with employers.”
On the ‘militant left’, Miliband observes: “In no field has the underlying consensus between political office-holders of different political affiliations, and between governments of different countries, been more substantial and notable –the leaders of all governmental parties, whether in office or in opposition, and including nominally ‘socialist’ ones, have always been deeply hostile to the socialist and militant left, of whatever denomination, and governments themselves have in fact been the major protagonists against it, in their role of protectors and saviours of society from the perils of left-wing dissidents. (…) Governments, in other words, are deeply concerned, whatever their political coloration, that the ‘democratic process’ should operate within a framework in which left-wing dissent plays a weak a role as possible.”
Freedom under capitalism means first and foremost the freedom of private ownership and the freedom for businesses to make profits at home and abroad. “In this perspective,” comments Miliband, “the supreme evil is obviously the assumption of power by governments whose main purpose is precisely to abolish private ownership and private enterprise, home and foreign, in the most important sectors of their economic life or in all of them. (…) The important point is rather that they defined freedom in terms which made capitalist enterprise one of its main and sometimes its sole ingredient. On this basis, the defence of freedom does become the defence of free enterprise.”
After the Second World War, in various capitalist countries, socialist or social democratic parties (alone or in a coalitions government) came to power. Before proceeding with his analysis on those experiences, Miliband argues that it is necessary to consider first an entirely different experience, namely “that of the Fascist regimes in Italy and Germany, where déclassé adventurers, one of them a ‘revolutionary socialist’ in his early days, and both full of anti-capitalist and anti-bourgeois rhetoric, proclaimed it as their purpose to effect the total transformation of their societies, and held what may properly be described as absolute power for a good many years. (…) The Fascist rhetoric of total transformation and renewal, with its anti-bourgeois resonances, is obviously important, if only because the fascist leaders could not, without it, have acquired a mass following.
Miliband explains how Hitler vigorously encouraged private enterprise to the Reichstag in March 1933: “One such ‘encouragement’, of immense importance to any kind of assessment of the Fascist regimes, was off course the physical destruction of all working-class defence organisations –parties, unions, cooperatives, their ancillary organisations, their press, their parliamentary representation- and the creation of new controlling bodies dominated by employers and the state. (… Quoting Salvemini:) ‘A Socialist state would nationalise capital on the ground that it is redeeming the worker from the slavery of wages. The Fascist state has nationalised labour and hires it out to private capital at the price that it, the state, deems expedient’. In so doing, these regimes also earned the gratitude of millions of wage-earners, who found employment on such terms preferable to no employment at all. But their gratitude and support does not affect the point that fascist conquest of power entailed an immediate and dramatic increase in the power of capital over labour.” He continues analysing the social composition of the state machine under Nazism (a substantial part of the Nazi elite was not only middle class but distinctly upper class), but adds that “at the same time it is also true that the privileged classes in both Italy and Germany had to pay a high political price for the immense advantages which were conferred upon them by the Fascist regimes. For while they retained many positions of power and influence, they had to submit to a dictatorship over which they had no genuine control at all. (…)
But then came the threat of terrible retribution. For defeat in war and the collapse in the fascist regimes raised the spectre of social revolution which they had sought to exorcise once and for all by surrounding their faith to the Fascists. (…) However, the Italian and German privileged classes, having lost their fascist masters and protectors, now found a new set of protectors in the shape of their British and American conquerors and occupiers. (…) A few years after the war, big business in the defeated countries was bigger than ever, and launched on a spectacular course of expansion; and businessmen in both Germany and Japan had achieved a position in society more exalted than at any time previously.
What about the social democratic governments that came to poser after the War? “Governments issued from labour and socialist parties, or which have included men drawn from such parties, obviously present an altogether different case. For here are instances where the political executive (…) has been composed (…) of men representing parties and movements whose declared purpose was the ultimate transcendence of the capitalist system and its replacement by a socialist system based upon the appropriation into the public domain of the largest part of the means of production, distribution and exchange, including of course all the lost important and strategic sectors of industrial, financial and commercial activity. And even where the fulfilment of that purpose has been conceived, as social-democratic parties have always conceived it, in terms of a gradual and piecemeal process of collectivist erosion, or even where it has been abandoned altogether, these parties and movements have at least been committed to the immediate use of the state power by their governments for extensive reforms, notably in the social and economic field, designed to benefit the working classes and to eat into the power and privileges of the dominant ones.”
Miliband sees only one example in the history of advanced capitalism where a reforming administration has shown a genuine will to overcome some at least of the constrictions imposed on it by traditional bureaucratic structures: the administration of Franklin Roosevelt in its famous first ‘Hundred days’. “It is quit possible that no leader of a government in this century has been more hated, and even feared, by business elites than was Roosevelt in the early (and even in the later) stages of the New Deal – much more so than any social-democratic prime minister in other capitalist countries. Yet no one believes that Roosevelt sought to weaken American capitalism.”
New governments on the left come normally to office in conditions of great economic, financial and social difficulties and crisis. But they use these conditions as an excuse for conciliation of the right and reduce their own ambitions to the point where they have ceased to hold any kind of thread to the reactionary forces. Miliband uses the example of the popular front government of Léon Blum in France: “It is scarcely an exaggeration to say that this ‘revolution of 1936’ was a most dramatic working-class rebellion, albeit a mainly peaceful one, against managerial authority and domination, and an equally dramatic assertion of labour demands for improved conditions. (…) There was at least one thing over which the government and its opponents, inside Parliament and outside, were wholly agreed: the strikes and occupation of enterprises must be brought to an end. (…) (The government brought) capital and labour together and (had) them accept the famous Matignon agreements. These agreements endorsed the 40-hour week, a general increase in wages of the order of 7 to 15 per cent, and the acceptance by the employers of substantially enlarged trade union rights. Léon Blum intended to administer the bourgeois state, not to transform the social system. It is true that under the pressure of the popular movement, his government went beyond its original program of reforms, but its impact on the social economic system remained very limited and did not affect fundamentally the distribution of economic and political power in France.
Next, Miliband turns to the Labour government which was elected in Britain in 1945: The nationalisation programme (…) was a good deal less extensive than the Labour activists had wished, or than those who had voted for Labour in July 1945 would in all probability have been ready to support, but it was nevertheless substantial, including as it did the Bank of England, coal, gas, electricity, railways, a part of inland transport, cable and wireless, and, very half-heartedly, in the later stages of the government’s life, the iron and steel industry’ (However), nationalisation not only did not weaken British capitalism, in some essential regards it strengthened it.”. (…) It was also in 1948 that the Labour government brought into being a National Health Service and a comprehensive system of social insurance. These measures, which were the pillars of the welfare state, represented off course a major, it could even be said dramatic, extension of the system of welfare which was part of the ‘ransom’ the working classes had been able to exact from their rulers in the course of a hundred years. But it did not, for all its importance, constitute any threat to the existing system of power and privilege. What it did constitute was a certain humanisation of the existing social order.”
This did not mean off course that the conservatives were happy with these reforms. However, as Miliband points out: “From a conservative point of view, it was no small thing that the price which the dominant classes knew they would have to pay, because of the radicalism of war, for the maintenance of the existing social order should have been so relatively low. For this they had to thank the Labour leaders –and a Labour movement which accepted without too much demur the ‘moderation’ of its leaders. (…) One clear indication, among many others, of how much continuity could be hoped for in the coming period of change, was the fact that the new government accepted without any kind of question that it should be served by precisely the same civil servants who had served its predecessors.”
Servants of the State
“For the most part, administrative elites in these political systems are not expected to be party men”, Miliband explains. “On the contrary, the claim is insistently made, not least by civil servants themselves, that they are politically ‘neutral’, in the sense that their overriding, indeed their exclusive concern, is to advance the business of the state under the direction of their political masters.” This is clearly not the case, but the opposite point of view, that bureaucrats in fact run the country and that elected ministers only provide a façade for them, is exaggerated at least: “The general pattern must be taken to be one in which these men do play an important part in the process of governmental decision-making, and therefore constitute a considerable force in the configuration of political power in these societies.”
“Higher civil servants in the countries of advanced capitalism may generally be expected to play a conservative role in the councils of the state, to reinforce the conservative propensities of governments in which these propensities are already well developed. (…) It may plausibly be argued, that, since the scenario has never been written in an advanced capitalist country, the precise role which high civil servants would choose or be able to play if a government bent on revolutionary change came to power must remain a matter of speculation. In any case, such a government would presumably seek to make far-reaching changes in the administrative apparatus, and to bring in men upon whose zeal and support it could count.” (my emphasis) … Any government bent of reforms which have a ‘radical’ connotation is most likely to find many if not most of its career advisers much less than enthusiastic and quit possibly hostile.”
The conservatism of top civil servants in advanced capitalist countries needs not to be seen in general terms but in specific ones, related to the class configurations and hierarchies of these particular societies, and to have as its major purpose not simply the defence of a social order, but of the particular social order typical of these societies in all its major manifestations. In other words, top civil servants in these countries are not simply conservative in general, they are conservative in the sense that they are, within their allotted sphere, the conscious or unconscious allies of existing economic and social elites (…) In all capitalist countries, though with different degrees of thoroughness (the United States easily leading the field) candidates to the civil service and members of it are subjected to screening procedures and security checks which have become a familiar and permanent feature of Western administrative life. (…) They are required to exclude ‘security risks’ (…) But the notion of what constitutes a ‘security risk’ is an elastic one and can easily by stretched to encompass anyone whose opinions and ideas on important issues depart from a framework of ‘soundness’ defined in terms of the prevailing conservative consensus.”
“There is, to begin with, the fact that state intervention in economic life entails a constant relationship between businessmen and civil servants, not as antagonists or even as representatives of different and divergent interests, but as partners in the service of the ‘national interests’ which civil servants, like politicians, are most likely to define in terms congruent with the long-term interests of private capitalism.
Furthermore, the world of administration and the world of large-scale enterprise are now increasingly linked in terms of an almost interchanging personnel. We have already seen that more and more businessmen find their way into one part or other of the state system at both political and administrative levels. But so do high civil servants ever more regularly find their way into corporate enterprise.” To emphasise this statement, Miliband quotes the French writer Dieterlen who in 1946 called the administration ‘but the anti-chamber to a business position’ and speaks of a ‘construction of one single oligarchy of managers and technocrats working in business, public industries or governments. In addition: “This interchangeability between government service of one kind or another and business is particularly characteristic of the new breed of ‘technocrats’ who have been spawned by the economic interventionism of the ‘neo-capitalist’ state, and who wield considerable influence and power in a variety of departments, planning organisms, regulatory boards, financial and credit institutions, nationalised industries and services; and it also applies to the even newer breed of institutional ‘technocrats’ who man the supernational institutions which have come into being as a result of the internationalisation of advanced capitalism.”
Labour, Miliband argues, has little to offer to administrative elites. “As between contending classes and interests in advanced capitalist countries, civil servants are not ‘neutral’: they are allies, whether they are aware of it or not, of capital against labour. The state bureaucracy, in all its parts, is not an impersonal, unideological, a-political element in society, above the conflicts in which classes, interests and groups engage. By virtue of its ideological dispositions, reinforced by its own interests, that bureaucracy, on the contrary, is a crucially important and committed element in the maintenance and defence of the structure of power and privilege inherent in advanced capitalism. (…) In this light, contemporary capitalism has no more devoted and more useful servants than the men who help administer the state’s intervention in economic life.” The same off course is true for the military. Miliband points out that: “Retired generals and admirals in unprecedented numbers went into the executive staffs of American corporations.”
Miliband also explores the chances for the military coming to power in advanced capitalist countries. “It is in fact very remarkable that the officer corps in advanced capitalist countries has very seldom played an independent political role, and that it has even more seldom sought to substitute itself for civilian governments by way of military putsch or coup d’état. (…) The most important of these difficulties, in these countries, is that no overt ‘unconstitutional’ challenge from the Right can have any serious chance of success without a substantial degree of support from one part or other of the subordinate class, preferably from a substantial part of the working class, disillusioned with its own economic and political defence organisations. (…) In short, a challenge from the Right requires something like a Fascist movement with a wide popular basis.
“As for a military attempt to usurp power without a fair measure of popular support, the danger of failure must appear overwhelming. For one thing, the army, from this point of view, is not a monolithic bloc, and differences of rank crucially affect the propensity to adventurism, the most senior officers being much less likely to show such propensities than more junior ones. As Mr. Ambler notes, ‘colonels, who have more to gain than to lose, have figured heavily in the history of military revolt in both Western and non-Western countries.’ (…) It is only where the labour movement is exceptionally weak, or paralysed, that military men bent on seizing power can afford to ignore its hostility or hope to overcome it.”
Then, Miliband looks at the ‘independence’ of judges in advanced capitalist systems: “The notion of judicial independence requires to be considered more broadly, for it tends in its restricted sense to obscure some major aspects of the judicial role in these systems. One such aspect is that judges of superior courts (and of the inferior courts as well for that matter) are by no means, and cannot be, independent of the multitude of influences, notably of class origin, education, class situation and professional tendency, which contribute as much to the formation of their view of the world as they do in the case of other men. (…) In the legal system … there is room, inevitably, for judicial discretion in the application of the law and for judicial creativity in actually making law. (…) In thus interpretation and making law, judges cannot fail to be deeply affected by their view of the world, which in turn determines their attitude to the conflicts which occur in it. (…) Particularly in periods of crisis, judges are much less likely to recognize their partiality, nor in any case would they wish to avoid a partiality which their every instinct and mental process would suggest them to be a duty; (…) More generally, and particularly in the circumstances of permanent ‘Cold War’ and social crisis, judges have often shown a disposition to share the zeal of repressive authority and to view the erosion of civil liberties which was its result as a lesser evil or as no evil at all.”
“This, however, is only part of a more general bias which the courts, in their concern to protect ‘society’ (i.e. unequal class societies) have consistently displayed in favour of privilege, property and capital. Thus, the history of trade unionism in capitalist countries is also the history of an unending struggle against the courts‘ attempts to curb and erode the unions’ ability to defend their members’ interests. (…) No doubt, judges, like governments and capitalist interests themselves, have come to recognize that trade unions, far from constituting a menace to ‘society’, could in fact greatly contribute to its stability and help to limit rather than to exacerbate social conflict; and judicial attitudes to trade-union rights have consequently ceased to be defined in terms of an unremitting hostility which would, in any case, have been difficult to sustain without exposing the judges to massive and damaging criticism.
In this chapter, Miliband argues that business enjoys a massive superiority outside the state system as well which, as compared with labour and any other interest, it is able to exercise in the pursuit of its purposes. Here he refers to “the pervasive and permanent pressure upon governments and the state generated by the private control of concentrated industrial, commercial and financial resources. The existence of this major area of independent economic power is a fact which no government, whatever its inclinations, can ignore in the determination of its politics, not only in regard to economic matters, but to most other matters as well. (…) The point is rather that the control by business of large and crucially important areas of economic life makes it extremely difficult for governments to impose it policies to which it is firmly opposed.
Miliband refers to the American political scientist Andrew Hacker, who noted in relation to regulation: “Can any public agency determine the level of wages, of prices, of profits? Can it perhaps, more important, specify the level and direction of capital investment? Can any government bureau allocate raw materials or control plant location? Can it in any way guarantee full employment or the rate of economic growth? Has any writ of the anti-Trust Division actually broken up one of our larger corporations in any appreciable way? The simple answer is that measures such as these are neither possible under the laws nor do we know what the reaction to them would be.” Miliband however disagrees with this statement because it underestimates the influence governments do have, even in the United States. But he adds: “Nevertheless, the limits of intervention, at least in relation to business, and particularly against it, are everywhere much more narrow and specific than insistence on the formal powers of government would tend to suggest; and the area of decision-making which is left to private enterprise is correspondingly greater than is usually conveyed by the assiduously propagated image of a ‘business community’ cribbed and confined by bureaucratically meddlesome governments and their agents.” Quoting Jean Meynaud in a reference to Italy, he notes that private ownership and control “…makes it very difficult to undertake a policy of reform within the framework of established economic structures. Any government concerned to engineer a certain redistribution of economic power and of the social product without bringing into question the foundations of the system rapidly comes up, in the medical sense of the word, against a kind of intolerance of the regime to such changes.”
“It has sometimes been argued that governments have now come to possess one extremely effective weapon in relation to business, namely the fact r-that they are now the largest customer of private enterprise and have thus ‘an important and speedy instrument for influencing the decisions of private industry and commerce in such a way as to enable the government to achieve on time its major national industrial objectives. (…) In practice governments which are minded to use these powers and resources –and most of them are not- soon find, given the economic and political context in which they operate, that the task is fraught with innumerable difficulties and perils (that are best epitomised in the dreaded phrase ‘loss of confidence’)”
Politics is the art of the possible. “But what is possible is above all determined by what the business community finds acceptable,” says Miliband, who adds a point that is even far more important today than 40 years ago when these lines were written. “Nowadays, however, it is not only with the power of their own business class that reform-minded and ‘left-wing’ governments have to reckon, or whose ‘confidence’ they must try and earn. Such governments must also reckon, now more than ever before, with the power and pressure of outside capitalist interests and forces –large foreign firms, powerful and conservative foreign governments, central banks, private international finance, official international credit organisations like the IMF and the World bank, or a formidable combination of all these. Economic and financial orthodoxy, and a proper regard for the prerogatives and needs of the free enterprise system, is not only what internal business interests expect and require from their office-holders; these internal interests are now powerfully seconded by outside ones, which may easily be of greater importance.
Capitalism is now more than ever an international system, whose constituent economies are closely related and interlinked. As a result, even the most powerful capitalist countries depend, to a greater or lesser extent, upon the good will and cooperation of the rest, and of what has become, notwithstanding enduring and profound national capitalist rivalries, an interdependent international capitalist ‘community’. (…) And so long as a country chooses to remain part of ‘the community’, so long must the wish not to incur its disapproval weight very heavily upon its policy decisions and further reduce the impulses of reform-minded governments to stray far from the path of orthodoxy. Central bankers, enjoying a high degree of autonomy from their governments, have come to assume extraordinary importance as the guardian of that orthodoxy, and as the representative par excellence of ‘sound finance’.”
“Moreover, radical governments, as was also noted earlier, normally come to office in circumstances of severe economic and financial crisis, and find that credits, loans and general financial support are only available on condition that they pursue economic and foreign policies which are acceptable to their creditors and bankers and which are only martially distinguishable, if at all, from the conservative policies they had previously denounced.” Very instructive under the current circumstances of financial crisis, budget deficits and state debt.
“In the light of the strategic position which capitalist enterprise enjoys in is dealings with governments, simply by virtue of its control of economic resources, the notion, which is basic to pluralist theory, that here is but one of the many ‘veto groups’ in capitalist society, on a par with ‘other veto groups’, must appear as a resolute escape from reality. Of these other groups, it is labour, as an ‘interest’ in society, whose power is most often assumed to equal (when it is not claimed to surpass) the power of capital. But this is to treat as an accomplished fact what is only an unrealised potentiality, whose realisation is beset with immense difficulties.
For labour has nothing of the power of capital in the day-to-day economic decision-making of capitalist enterprise. What a firm produces; whether it exports or does not export; whether it invests, in what, and for what purpose; whether it absorbs or is absorbed by other firms – these and many other such decisions are matters over which labour has at best an indirect degree of influence and more generally no influence at all. In this sense, labour lacks a firm basis of economic power, and has consequently that much less pressure potential vis-à-vis the state. This is also one reason why governments are so much less concerned to obtain the ‘confidence’ of labour than of business.
Moreover, labour does not have anything, by way of exercising pressure, which corresponds to the foreign influences which are readily marshalled on behalf of capital. (…) For wage-earners in the capitalist world, international solidarity is part of a hallowed rhetoric which seldom manifests itself concretely and effectively; for business, it is a permanent reality (my emphasis)
The one important weapon which labour, as an ‘interest’, does have is the strike, and where it has been used with real determination its effectiveness as a means of pressure has often clearly been demonstrated. Again and again, employers and governments have been forced to make concessions to labour because of the latter’s resolute use of the strike weapon, or even because of the credible threat of its use.”
“One important weakness which affects labour as a pressure group, as compared to business, is that the matter’s national organisations are able to speak with considerably more authority than can their labour counterparts. (…) The equivalent of labour organisations on the other hand nowhere include a majority of age-earners, and mostly include far less. Business associations, in this sense, are much more representative than trade unions. Secondly, and more important, business is nowhere as divided as labour. (…) Business, it could be sais, is tactically divided but strategically cohesive; over most of the larger issues of economic policy, and over other large national issues as well, it may be expected to present a reasonable united front. This is certainly not the case for trade union movements anywhere. Their outstanding characteristic, in fact, is division, not unity; and the divisions from which they suffer, far from being tactical and superficial, are more often than not deep and fundamental.
Trade unions have off course always been divided from each other (and often, indeed, within themselves) in terms of the particular functions and skills of their members, sometimes by geography, often by religious, ethnic or racial factors. (…) In some countries, for instance France and Italy, these divisions find institutional expression in the existence of separate, distinct and often bitterly antagonistic federations –Communist, social-democratic and Christian, whose conflicts are a profoundly inhibiting factor in their encounter both with employers and with the state, and in their effectiveness as pressure groups. Nowhere does business suffer anything remotely comparable to these divisions.”
“The division between leaders and members is also one which has not usually affected business associations. The basic cause of that division, from which Communist unions have by no means been immune, lies in the profoundly ambiguous role which trade union leaders tend to assume in capitalist societies. For on the one hand, these leaders are expected to defend the ‘sectional’ interests of their members with the utmost determination, both against employers and, where occasion arises, as it often does, against the state; but on the other hand, they are also expected by ‘public opinion’, and often required by the state, to act ‘responsibly’, ‘in the national interest’, which generally means that they should curb and subdue their members’ demands rather than defend and advance them. This is particularly true in regard to strike action.”
Trade union leaders and labour leaders in general come under enormous pressure from ‘environmental influences’: “They include not only the mass media, which may be relied on, almost unanimously, to blast the ‘irresponsibility’ of any major (or even minor), strike. (…) Such action is likely to involve a serious drain of union resources. It is also likely to strengthen the hand of militant elements inside the unions whose challenge to the authority trade union leaders are naturally concerned to resist.”
“For while American trade union leaders explicitly accept capitalist structures as beyond challenge, their counterparts in other countries have tended, in practice, to act on the same view, and to treat as irrelevant to trade union strategy whatever commitment they may have to another social order. This has greatly eased the relations of trade union leaders with employers and governments and provided a firm basis for a process of collaboration between them which has turned these leaders into junior partners of capitalist enterprise. That process has now assumed a much more official character than in the past: trade unions are now regularly ‘consulted’ by their governments, and their representatives are also to be found in various organisms of the state system. Trade union leaders have found it easy to believe that, because they have been recognized as a necessary element in the operation of capitalism, they have also achieved parity with business in the determination of policy. In fact, their incorporation into the official life of their countries has mainly served to saddle them with responsibilities which have further weakened their bargaining position, and which has helped to reduce their effectiveness.”
“An additional and important reason for this difference (with business) is that labour, as a pressure group, always appears as a very much more ‘sectional’ interest than business. Its demands, however worthy in themselves, are easily capable of being construed as detrimental to economic and financial viability, as inflationary, as inimical to the efficient conduct of industrial or other affairs, as dangerous to the maintenance of ‘confidence’, not lest abroad, as certain to imperil the competiveness of home enterprise, as ‘selfish’ or ‘unrealistic’ or ‘unsound’ –in short, as clearly against the ‘national interest’. The demands of business, in contrast, are always claimed to be in the ‘national interest’.”
What about parliament? “Legislative assemblies in advanced capitalist countries now tend to play a subsidiary role in the decision-making process,” Miliband argues. “… Governments seek increasingly to insulate themselves from effective parliamentary pressure. Nevertheless, legislatures do retain a certain degree of influence; and while major ‘interests’ now tend to consider them as auxiliary instruments in the advancement of their purposes, they still find it worthwhile to exert what pressure they can through representative assemblies. (…)
Left wing members of parliament are just as much under ‘environmental influences’ as social-democratic trade union leaders and officials. That includes parliamentary groups of revolutionary parties, although they are protected by a thicker ideological carapace. “Yet, parliamentary participation,” Miliband argues, “which parties pledged to revolutionary change cannot reasonably shun in the political conditions of Western-type regimes, does greatly enhance opportunistic tendencies, and provides much encouragement for the view that politics is above all a matter of parliamentary strategy, tactics and manoeuvre, for the sake of which much in terms of principle and purpose may be scarified.”
“Just as legislative assemblies have lost power to the executive, so have local and regional units of government in advanced capitalist countries become ever more markedly dependent on central power and subordinate to it.” What about left wing councils? “… In relation to community power, … a number of cities and even regions have in this century passed under the control of labour, socialist and communist authorities, thus sometimes forming veritable ‘red enclaves’. (…) As a result, many such authorities have been able to boast of substantial achievements in housing, welfare, civic amenities, etc; and their own example has often established criteria of local administration which have served an important purpose. The power of these authorities gas, however, been severely circumscribed, both by the general context in which they have operated and by central governments. (…) Middle-class radical councils may well do much for their working class electorates; the point, however, is that at this level as at national level not much is done by the working class.”
The Process of Legitimation – I
The regimes of advanced capitalist countries do not have to rely on systematic oppression of the opposition to maintain power. “(They) have admitted, though no doubt with different degrees of tolerance, a very large amount of opposition, including opposition whose explicit purpose was the wholesale recasting of capitalist society and even its overthrow. Where that purpose has assumed dangerous forms or has been construed as having assumed such forms (not at all the same thing), the state has deployed its coercive forces in order to meet the threat, real or imagined.” (…) And inside that framework, the socialist forces, though no doubt with various more or less serious impediments, have been able to organise and to compete for popular support. (…) Under conditions of relative but nevertheless considerable political freedom, the parties of the working classes, the parties explicitly pledged to the defence and the liberation of the subordinate classes have generally done much less well politically than their more or less conservative rivals, whose own purpose has pre-eminently included the maintenance of the capitalist system. The most obvious token of that fact is that these latter parties have regularly achieved much better results in elections than the working-class parties, and have obviously done so because they have attracted very substantial sections of the subordinate classes, in addition to the largest part by far of the middle and upper classes.”
“The answer which Marx gave to that question was, in a famous formulation, that ‘the ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas’ and that the reason for this was that the ‘class, which is the ruling material force in society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force.”
Miliband argues that the general acceptance of the capitalist economic and social order is the result of a process of massive indoctrination: “Indoctrination is an ugly word, and brain-washing an even uglier combination of words. It describes an activity which is assumed to be unique to totalitarian, dictatorial, one-party regimes; and it is also assumed to be incompatible with, indeed impossible in, more-than-one party systems, conditions of pluralistic competition, freedom of opposition, the absence of monopolistic control over mass media, etc. This is a mistake. For indoctrination to occur it is not necessary that there should be monopolistic control and the prohibition of opposition: it is only necessary that ideological competition should be so unequal as to give a crushing advantage to one side against the other. (…) The second preliminary point that needs to be made concerns the role of the state in this process of ‘political socialisation’. Gramsci saw the establishment and perpetuation of ideological hegemony as primarily the task of the dominant classes and of the cultural institutions they controlled; hegemony in this sense was the artefact of ‘civil society’, with the state mainly providing the required balance between coercion and consent. For the most part, this has indeed remained the position up to the present: the ‘engineering of consent’ in capitalist society (Noam Chomsky speaks of ‘Manufacturing Consent, in his famous book written in 1988) is still largely an unofficial private enterprise, in fact largely the business of private enterprise.”
“One form of intervention in ideological and political competition which the state alone can undertake (… is) the actual suppression or near-suppression in some capitalist countries of certain parties and organisations (Miliband refers to the prohibition of the communist party in Germany); and, in other countries, various less dramatic forms of harassment and discrimination. (…) But there are many and less obvious forms of intervention in favour of the conservative consensus in which the state now engages, as will be shown at different points in the course of the discussion, to which we may now turn, of the main agencies of ‘political socialisation’ in capitalist society.”
“Still, there is usually one party in each country which is the conservative party, which commands the greatest degree of support among the members of the dominant classes, and which is pre-eminently ‘their’ party. (It is) the ‘party of government’ par excellence, with other political formations, particularly on the left, only occasionally achieving office and remaining … ‘guests in power’. (However) dominant interests do not necessarily manage to create dominant parties; but this need not, given other means of influence and pressure, be particularly crippling.”
Miliband finds the capacity of old, aristocratic and ore-industrial political formations like the Conservatives and Liberal parties in Britain to adapt themselves to modern conditions and create a popular base quit extraordinary. “With endless variations in timing and character, the process has everywhere been the same: parties who primary purpose is the maintenance of the existing social order, and whose programme therefore includes as a central feature the defence of capitalist enterprise, are solidly implanted (with the possible exception of France) in all capitalist countries, and include among their members and activists large number of people who belong to the lower-middle and even to the working classes. (…) In many cases, these parties (…) have at least a wide popular base in terms of membership as the working class parties of the Left. (…) Not is it to be denied that they fulfil an ‘aggregative’ function and that they do ‘articulate’ many aspirations, demands and interests of groups and classes other than those of the dominant classes. (…) Conservatism does not entail the rejection of all measures of reform, but lives on the contrary by the endorsement and promulgation of reform at the least possible cost to the existing structure of power and privilege.”
Miliband sees quit some disabilities of the political parties of the Left in comparison with their conservative rivals. “To begin with, there is the fact that some of the most important parties of the Left, namely the social-democratic ones, have mainly been led by men who, in opposition but particularly in office, have always been far more ambiguous about their purpose, to put it mildly, than their conservative rivals. After all, however aggregation-minded and reform-oriented conservative leaders have been, they have never actually pursued revolutionary politics. But social-democratic leaders have quite often supported and pursued reactionary ones, at home and abroad, and acted, as in the clear case of Germany in 1918, as the saviours of a social order in a state of collapse.”
“There are, in this respect, no conservative equivalents of Harold Wilson, or Guy Mollet, or Paul-Henri Spaak, or Willy Brandt, or any of the leading or not so leading figures of European social-democracy, past and present. This has nothing to do with the personal attributes of social-democratic leaders as compared with those of conservative ones. The question cannot be tackled in this way. It rather needs to be seen in terms of the tremendous weight of conservative pressure upon labour leaders; but also in terms of the fact that the ideological defences of these leaders have not generally been of nearly sufficient strength to enable them to resist with any great measure of success conservative pressure, intimidation and enticement. This ideological weakness, and the political failures and derelictions associated with it, have had as one inevitable consequence a situation of more or less constant tension and often open warfare inside social-democratic parties between their leaders and various more radical-minded minorities.”
“Relatedly … is the fact that these large and powerful political formations have been singularly weak agencies of mass education in socialist principles and purposes. The abolition of capitalism I Western societies obviously requires an enormous transformation in popular consciousness, at least part of the responsibility for which must rest on party organisations. It is a responsibility which social-democratic parties have not (particularly in recent decades) been at all keen to discharge –not very surprisingly since their leaders have not included anything remotely resembling the abolition of capitalism as part of their purpose. In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that these leaders and their parties have not seldom turned themselves into agencies of determined propaganda against socialist ideas and purposes, and used their considerable audience with large parts of the working classes to cast discredit on any concept of socialism other than, at best, their own blurred and exceedingly anaemic version of it.”
On the divisions amongst the Left, most notably between social-democratic and communist parties, Miliband points out that these are far more fundamental and bitter than divisions between the parties that make up the conservative camp. “What did make it crippling was the exceedingly negative features which soon came to mar the Soviet regime, combined with the fierce insistence of the Communist parties that these features were of no account, or that they were a pure invention of bourgeois reaction. Legitimate solidarity thus turned into slavish apologetics of every aspect of what came, much later, to be known as Stalinism, and the automatic endorsement, not only of every twist and turn of internal Soviet policy, but of Soviet policies concerning the international Communist movement in general and specific countries in particular –very often, as in the case of Germany, with quite disastrous results. (…) Moreover, and largely because of the distorted focus, communist parties were greatly unhinged by alternating bouts of sectarianism and opportunism and, indeed, quite commonly, by both simultaneously.
Contemporary conservatism … has relied much less on traditional religion than on that most powerful of all secular religions of the twentieth century – nationalism. (…) There have off course been many situations and circumstances where nationalism has been profoundly ‘dysfunctional’ to the political and social order, and turned into a formidable weapon against dominant classes and the prevailing political system. Thus, the will to independent statehood, which is an essential ingredient of nationalist sentiment has been an enormously explosive and disruptive force in regard to colonial and imperial domination and has been mainly responsible for the end of colonial rule over large areas of the globe. Similarly, nationalist sentiment has also been a disruptive force inside a number of established states, where distinct national or ethnic movements, for instance in Belgium or Canada, have come to claim greater independence than was afforded them by existing arrangements, or have even demanded independent statehood.”
“And it is also in the name of nationalism that powerful movements have on a number of occasions come into being, particularly on the morrow of defeat in war, to challenge traditional political elites, deemed incapable of defending the integrity and interests of the nation. (…) From the point of view of dominant classes, nothing could be so obviously advantageous as the assertion which forms one of the basic themes of nationalism, namely that all citizens, whoever they may be, owe a supreme allegiance to a ‘national interest’ which requires that men should be ready to subdue all other interests, particularly class interests, for the sake of a larger, more comprehensive concern which unites in a supreme allegiance rich and poor, the comfortable and the deprived, the givers of orders and their recipients.”
“It is particularly in the competition with their opponents of the Left that conservative parties have exploited national sentiment, insisted on their own patriotic dedication to the nation, and regularly, often vociferously, opposed this national dedication to the allegedly less patriotic or positively unpatriotic and even anti-national concerns of left-wing parties. (…) In the exploitation of national sentiments, conservative parties are powerfully helped by innumerable agencies of civil society which are, to a greater or lesser degree, involved in the propaganda of a ‘national’ view and of a ‘national interest’ defined in conservative terms –the press and other mass media, educational institutions, youth organisations, ex-soldiers’ associations and leagues, specifically nationalist organisations, the Churches, business, its association and lobbies etc.
In a next chapter, Miliband looks at the 1964 election campaign in Britain, where individual steel companies and the Steel Federation spent £ 1,298,000 in opposition to steel nationalisation: “But that propaganda was not simply focused on the technical merits or demerits of private versus public ownership of the steel industry. It was the Labour Party, which, deeply concerned not to appear a ‘doctrinaire’ party, bent on nationalisation on principle, sought to confine its advocacy f steel nationalisation to technical considerations. The steel interests, for their part, widened the debate to encompass the general virtues of free enterprise, the evils of state control and bureaucracy, freedom, individual rights and what not. This pattern is typical of the encounters between reforming governments and business interests. The former place great stress on their purely pragmatic, empirical, undoctrinaire, in no sense ‘anti-business’ purpose. It is the business interests themselves which widen the debate, and aggressively invoke larger, ideological and political issues.”
Miliband illustrates his point by quoting the American writer Professor Heilbroner: “The striking characteristic of our contemporary ideological climate is that the ‘dissident’ groups, labour, government, or academics all seek to accommodate their proposals for social change to the limits of adaptability of the prevailing business order. There is no attempt to press for goals that might exceed the powers of adjustment of that order.”
Miliband then turns to the political and ideological role of advertising and the public relations industry, referring to David Ogilvy, a leading figure in the advertising world: “advertising is a place where the selfish interest of the manufacturer coincides with the interest of society. (…) Here (…)is where the giant enterprise becomes ‘soulful’, public-orientated, socially responsible, and all but literally obsessed with the welfare and well-being of YOU, the customer. Here is where the corporation is most concerned with service, least with profit, and only concerned with profit because it affords the corporation a better chance to serve the customer and the community. (…) Even more diffuse but no less notable is the persistent effort of corporate enterprise to associate not only its products, but itself and free enterprise generally, with socially approved values and norms: integrity, reliability, security, parental love, childlike innocence, neighbourliness, sociability, etc. (…) Finally … business advertisement powerfully contributes to the fostering of values associated with what Tawney called ‘the acquisitive society’. This is not ton attach moral reprobation to the comforts and pleasures which are to be derived from a large variety of ‘gadgets’ – a word which has acquired an undeservedly pejorative connotation. Nor is even the main point here that so much advertising is devoted to the creation of wants whose fulfilment is altogether irrelevant to, or incompatible with, the fulfilment of genuine and urgent human needs, which remain largely or wholly unmet because it is not in the interests of private enterprise that they should be met. This is only another manifestation of a fundamentally irrational system, able to impose its irrationality upon the societies in which it thrives.
… However loose, diverse and even discordant the voices may be, they speak the language of adaptation to capitalist society, and do so no less when they speak of reforms which are usually conceived as part of that adaptation. This is why, despite the diversity of forms and idioms their language may assume, they must be seen as engaged, together with the state, in a combined and formidable enterprise of conservative indoctrination.
The Process of Legitimation – II
Concerning the media, Miliband explains that anti-establishment views are not confined to marginal channels of expression held by tiny minorities, quite the contrary (remember Miliband was writing in the sixties): “Such ‘controversial views’ do find their way, in all these countries, in mass circulation newspapers and magazines; they are presented in book form by large publishing houses, often in vast paperback editions; they are heard on the radio and seen expressed on television; they inspire films which are shown by major cinema circuits, and plays which are performed in the ‘commercial’ theatre –and no one (or hardly anyone) goes to jail. The importance and value of this freedom and opportunity of expression is not to be underestimated. Yet the notion of pluralist diversity and competitive equilibrium is, here as in every other field, rather superficial and misleading. For the agencies of communication and notably the mass media are, in reality, and the expression of dissident views notwithstanding, a crucial element in the legitimation of capitalist society.”
“The ideological function of the media is obscured by many features of cultural life in these systems, for instance the absence of state dictation, the existence of debate and controversy, the fact that conservatism is not a tight body of thought and that it looseness makes possible variations and divergences within its framework, and much else as well. But … the fact remains that the mass media in advanced capitalist societies are mainly intended to perform a highly ‘functional’ role; they too are both the expression of a system of domination, and a means of reinforcing it. (…) Whatever their endless differences of every kind, most newspapers in the capitalist world have one crucial characteristic in common, namely their strong, often their passionate hostility to anything further to the left than the milder forms of social-democracy, and quite commonly to these milder forms as well.”
“At the core of the commitment lies a general acceptance of prevailing modes of thought concerning the economic and social order and a specific acceptance of the capitalist system, even though sometimes qualified, as natural and desirable. (…) Most organs of the press have always been utterly dedicated to the proposition that the enlargement of the ‘public sector’ was inimical to the ‘national interest’ and that the strengthening of private enterprise was the condition of economic prosperity, social welfare, freedom, democracy, and so forth. Similarly, and consistently, the press for the most part has always been a deeply committed anti-trade union force. Not, it should be said, that newspapers in general oppose trade unions as such. Not at all. They only oppose trade unions, in the all too familiar jargon, which, in disregard of the country’s welfare and of their members’ own interests, greedily and irresponsibly seek to achieve short-term gains which are blindly self-defeating. In other words, newspapers love trade unions as long as they do badly the job for which they exist. Like governments and employers, newspapers profoundly deplore strikes, and the larger the strike, the greater the hostility: woe to trade union leaders who encourage or fail to prevent such manifestly unsocial, irresponsible and obsolete forms of behaviour. The rights and wrongs of any dispute are of minor consequence; what counts is the community, the consumer, the public, which must n-be protected, whatever the cost, against the actions of men who blindly obey the summons of misguided and, most likely, evil-intended leaders.”
“… For such newspapers the history of the world since 945 has largely been a Manichean struggle, imposed upon the forces of goodness, led by the United States, against the forces of evil, represented by aggressive communism, whether Soviet or Chinese. Revolutionary movements are almost always ‘communist-inspired’, and by definition evil, however atrocious the conditions which have given rise to them” This is interesting, because it is clear that since the collapse of Stalinism this argument can not be used in the same way as in the past against the present mass movements that are spreading throughout the world.
“While social-democratic governments, however conservative their policies, must expect very much rougher treatment at the hands of the press than properly conservative ones, the latter are not at all immune from press criticism and attack. In this sense the press may well claim to be ‘independent’ and to fulfil an important watchdog function. What the claim overlooks, however, is the very large fact that it is the Left at which the watchdog generally barks with most ferocity, and that what they are above all protecting is the status quo. (…) In most ways, however, this assumed impartiality and objectivity is quite artificial. For it mainly operates in regard to political formations which while divided on many issues, are nevertheless part of a basic, underlying consensus.”
The next lines are probably one hundred times more true today than when they were written: “The pattern of concentration which is evident in all other forms of capitalist enterprise is also evident here: the press, magazines and book publishing, cinemas, theatres, and also radio and television wherever they are privately owned, have increasingly come under the ownership and control of a small and steadily declining number of giant enterprises, with combined interests in different media, and often also in other areas of capitalist enterprise. (…) The right of ownership confers the right of making propaganda, and where that right is exercised in the service of strongly conservative prejudices, either by positive assertion or by the exclusion of such matters as owners may find it undesirable to publish. (Miliband refers to Axel Springer’s media empire and others, running their papers as ‘monarchs’). “However, it is not always the case that those who own or ultimately control the mss media do seek to exercise a direct and immediate influence upon their output. Quite commonly, editors, journalists, producers, managers, etc. are accorded a considerable degree of independence, and are even given a free hand. Even so, ideas do tend to seep downwards, and provide an ideological and political framework which may well be broad but whose existence cannot be ignored by those who work for the commercial media. They may not be required to take tender care of the sacred cows that are to be found in the conservative stable. But it is at least expected that they will spare the conservative susceptibilities of the men whose employees they are, and that they will take a proper attitude to free enterprise, conflicts between capital and labour, trade unions, left-wing parties and movements, the Cold War, revolutionary movements, the role of the United States in the world, and much else besides. (…) This assured, room will be found for a seasoning, sometimes even a generous seasoning, of dissent.
“A second source of conformist and conservative pressure upon newspapers and other media is that exercised, directly or indirectly, by capitalist interest, not as owners, but as advertisers. (…) A third element of pressure upon the mass media stems from government and various other parts of the state system generally.”
“Yet an explanation of the character and intended role of the mass media in terms of pressures, private and public, so far considered is inadequate. For it suggests that those who are actually responsible for the contents of the mass media –producers, editors, journalists, writers, commentators, directors, playwrights, etc. – are the unwilling tools of conservative and commercial forces, that they are suppressed rebels, cowed radicals and left-wingers, reluctant producers and disseminators of ideas and opinions which they detest, angry dissenters straining at the capitalist leash. This is not a realistic picture. There are of course a good many such people working in and for the mass media, who suffer various degrees of political frustration, and who seek, sometimes successfully, often not, to break through the frontiers of orthodoxy. But there is little to suggest that they constitute more than a minority (…) A realistic picture of the ideological tendencies of those who work for the mass media would divide them into three broad categories: those just referred to who belong to various shades of the Left; people with a more or less strong conservative commitment; and a third group, which is probably the most numerous, whose political commitments are fairly blurred, and who wish to avoid ‘trouble’. (…) Like their committed conservative colleagues, they mostly ‘say what they like’; but this is mainly because their employers mostly like what they say, or at least find little in what they say which is objectionable.”
The education system is the next subject Miliband tackles. “In the case of education even more than in that of the media, it is essential to make a distinction between political indoctrination in a narrow, explicit and party sense, and a much broader, more general and diffuse degree of ‘political socialisation’. As for the first, it may readily be granted that schools and teachers do generally –though by no means always- try to steer clear of overt party bias and cling, in this sense, to a formal stance of impeccable political neutrality. In the second and broader sense, on the other hand, schools may or may nit consciously engage in ‘political socialisation’ but cannot in any case avoid doing so, mostly in terms which are highly ‘functional’ to the prevailing social and political order. (…) The total message is one of attunement to and acceptance of the prevailing economic and social order, and of its main institutions and values. The schools may not always induce acceptance of the prevailing system of power; but they teach it, in a multitude of both diffuse and specific ways.”
Also universities play an important role in that process: “This is not their main function, just as it is not the explicit function of the schools or the mass media. But it is a function which with different degrees of intensity and cusses they do nevertheless perform, and it is the more necessary to stress it because so much that is said and written about the ‘role of the university in the modern world’ obscures the fact.”
Miliband explains that universities are an essential component of an integrated machine that consists of the state, business and the universities: “The system depends on fee and frequent interchange of staff between the government, business and the academic world.” He quotes Professor McConnell: “In this interchange the universities have almost certainly lost some of their prerogative to criticize, some of their freedom to speak out on controversial political and economic issues.” That does not mean that there are no academics whose independence of mind and whose critical powers are not eroded by this involvement with the state and business. “But it is at least as likely that, for most academics that involvement produces an ‘understanding’ of the ‘problems’ of government which makes for a kind of ‘responsible’ criticism that bears a remarkable resemblance to more or less sophisticated apologetics.”
“Apart from the state, the most important influence on universities is that of the business world,” explains Miliband. “…More and more academics are now drawn into that world as consultants and advisors. (…) Like their ‘officialised colleagues in relation to government, they too are most likely to shown an acute ‘understanding’ of ‘problems’ of business. (…) Most academic economists, for instance, are likely to believe that Marxist economics is nonsense. Their reluctance to see a Marxist economist appointed in their department is therefore not, God forbid, based on anything as vulgar as prejudice, but on the view that no such person could conceivably be a ‘good economist’, not surprisingly since good economists are by definition not Marxists.”
“For while universities are centres of intellectual, ideological and political diversity, their students are mainly exposed to ideas, concepts, values and attitudes much more designed to foster acceptance of the ‘conventional wisdom’ than acute dissent fro it. (…) “Nevertheless, young men and women do often leave their university in a frame of mind more rebellious than when they entered it. (…) Students are much more likely to be taught to understand the world in ways calculated to diminish rather than enhance their propensities to change it. Yet the purpose is often defeated by the determination of growing numbers of students to escape the conformist net woven for them by their elders. (…) Such rebelliousness may well jeopardise the prospect of a career for which, in many cases, particularly in regard to children of the working classes, great personal and parental sacrifices have often been made. (…) Then stern expectations of the ‘outside world’ after graduation are such as to induce in many graduates a sense that rebelliousness and nonconformity are expensive luxuries with which it may be prudent to dispense until some future date. But very often, somehow, the future in this sense never comes; instead erstwhile rebels, safely ensconced in one part or other of the ‘real world’, look back with a mixture of amusement and nostalgia at what they have come to see as youthful aberrations.”
“The question of the role of universities in the legitimation process is in many ways connected with the more general question of the role of intellectuals in the fashioning, as distinct from the transmission, of ideas and values. (…) In the German Ideology Marx speaks of intellectuals as “the thinkers of the ruling class;” However, in the Communist Manifesto Marx explains that ‘in times when the class struggle nears the decisive hour … a portion of the bourgeoisie goes over to the proletariat, and in particular, a portion of the bourgeois ideologists who have raised themselves to the level of comprehending theoretically the historical movement as a whole.’
“Since then, the world at large has tended to view the role of intellectuals in very different fashion indeed, and so have many intellectuals themselves. The word itself came into being at the time of the Dreyfus Affair, and was then used in a pejorative sense to describe some of those who refused to accept the national and patriotic view of the issue. ‘Intellectual’ has ever since continued to bear the marks of its origin, and to be associated, not with an apologetic vocation, but with a dissenting one; and the role which many intellectuals have played in working-class movements and parties has greatly served to confirm this view. And so has the strong ‘anti-intellectualist’ bias which has been characteristic of most movements of the Right. But this view of the intellectual as a ‘natural’ dissenter is to a large extent an optical illusion, produced by the greater visibility of dissenting intellectuals, by the very fact that they stand out as dissenters. (…) More important is the fact that what may properly be described as conservative intellectuals have always greatly outnumbered dissident ones. History mainly remembers the Voltaires, Rousseaus and Diderots; and thus makes it easier to forget that until quite late in the France of the Age of Reason these men were not only fighting the Ancien Régime, but also the vast army of its intellectual supporters.”
“Quite clearly, the greatest of all dangers to the capitalist system is that more and more people, particularly in the subordinate classes, should come to think as both possible and desirable an entirely different social order, based upon the social ownership of at least a predominant part of the means of economic activity, and dedicated to the elimination of privilege and unequal power; and that ‘the masses’ should also seek to give expression to this belief in terms of political action. (…) Provided the economic bias of the social order is not called into question, criticism of it, however sharp, can be very useful to it, since it makes for vigorous but safe controversy and debate, and for the advancement of ‘solutions’ to ‘problems’ which obscure and deflect attention from the greatest of all ‘problems’, namely that here is a social order governed by the search for private profit. It is in the formulation of radicalism without teeth and in the articulation of a critique without dangerous consequences, as well as in terms of straightforward apologetics, that many intellectuals have played an exceedingly ‘functional’ role.
Finally, Miliband looks at one last aspect which is of crucial importance since it underlies all the others: “This is the degree to which capitalism as an economic and social system tends to produce, in itself, by its very existence, the conditions of its legitimation in the subordinated classes, and in other classes as well. In the classical Marxist scheme, it is precisely the reverse process which was held to occur: capitalism, out of its own contradictions and derelictions, breeds in the proletariat the conditions which makes it will its own emancipation from it.”
This ‘natural’ subordination does not exclude the will to improve the conditions in which it occurs, explains Miliband: “But it does, in general, establish formidable mental barriers against the will to remove these conditions altogether. This is off course what Lenin meant when he wrote, in a famous passage of What is to be Done?, that ‘the g-history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own effort, is able to develop only trade union consciousness. (…) A thousand influences constantly press a workingman down into a passive role. (…) Moreover, classes, including the working class, do not only reproduce themselves physically, but mentally as well, and tend to instil in their children the consciousness, expectations and mental habits associated with their class. (…) Working-class parents are ambitious for their children (…) and this is also most likely to lead them to try to persuade them that the path to success lies not in rebellion against but in conformity to the values, prejudices and modes of thought of he world to which entry is sought. In short, the condition of the working class is itself a major element in its ‘political socialisation’, and provides fertile ground for all the other forces which seek to enhance that process.”
Reform and Repression
The final chapter is probably the most important one because it synthesises the main ideas sketched out in the book. “The most important political fact about advanced capitalist societies is the continued existence in them of private and ever more concentrated economic power. As a result of that power, the men –owners and controllers- in whose hands it lies enjoy a massive preponderance in society, in the political system, and in the determination of the state’s policies and actions. Given this permanent preponderance, the familiar claim, indeed the familiar assumption, that these are countries which have long achieved political equality, whatever may be the case in regard to economic and social equality, constitutes one of the great myths of the epoch. Political equality, save in formal terms, is impossible in the conditions of advanced capitalism. Economic life cannot be separated from political life. Unequal economic power, on the scale and of the kind encountered in advanced capitalist societies, inherently produces political inequality, on a more or less commensurate scale, whatever the constitution may say.
Similarly, it is the capitalist context of generalised inequality in which the state operates which basically determines its policies and actions. The prevalent view is that the state, in these societies, can be and indeed mostly is the agent of a ‘democratic’ social order, with no inherent bias towards any class or group; and that its occasional lapse from ‘impartiality’ must be ascribed to some accidental factor external to its ‘real’ nature. But this too is a fundamental misconception: the state in these class societies is primarily and inevitably the guardian and protector of the economic interests which are dominant in them. Its ‘real’ purpose and mission is to ensure their continued predominance, not to prevent it. (…) Class rule in these societies has remained compatible with a wide range of civil and political liberties; and their exercise has undoubtedly helped to mitigate the form of class domination in many areas of civil society. The main agent of that mitigation has been the state, which helps to explain why it has been able to present itself, and why it has been widely accepted, as the servant of society.”
(However) “It is a dangerous confusion to believe and claim that, because ‘bourgeois freedoms’ are inadequate and constantly threatened by erosion, they are therefore of no consequence. (…) The point of the socialist critique of ‘bourgeois freedoms’ is not that they are of no consequence, but that they are profoundly inadequate, and need to be extended by the radical transformation of the context, economic, social and political, which condemns them to inadequacy and erosion. Indeed the largest of all questions about Western-type regimes is how long their (bourgeois-democratic’ framework is likely to remain compatible with the need and purposes of advanced capitalism; whether its economic, social and political contradictions are of such kind as to render unworkable the political order with which it has, in general, hitherto been able to accommodate itself. This was the question which was asked, with anxious insistence, about capitalist regimes in the late twenties and thirties, when Fascism and Nazism appeared to many people on the Left, and not only on the Left, to foreshadow the direction in which ‘liberal capitalism’ in many countries other than Italy and Germany was likely to travel. That question was, in subsequent decades, buried deep beneath the celebration of Western democracy, the free world, the welfare state, the affluent society, the end of ideology and pluralistic equilibrium.”
“In order to fulfil their human potentialities, advanced industrial societies require a high degree of planning, economic coordination, the premeditated and rational use of material resources, not only on a national but on an international scale. But advanced capitalist societies cannot achieve this within the confines of an economic system which remains primarily geared to the private purposes of those who own and control its material resources. Similarly, and relatedly, these societies require a spirit of sociality and cooperation from their members, a sense of genuine involvement and participation, which are equally unattainable in a system whose dominant impulse is private appropriation. It is forever said that industry is a partnership, a cooperative enterprise, a social venture, and so forth. This is certainly what it needs to be, yet which the very nature of the capitalist system renders impossible.
The ‘two sides of industry’ remain two conflicting sides, in permanent and inevitable opposition. Indeed, the whole of society, steeped as it is in a miasma of competition and commercialism, is a battlefield, now more active, now less, but with no prospect of genuine peace.
No doubt, the transcendence of capitalism –in other words, the appropriation into the public domain of the largest part of society’s resources –cannot by itself resolve all the problems associated with industrial society. What it can do, however, is to remove the greatest of all barriers to the solution, and at least create the –basis for the creation of a rational and humane social order. (My emphasis)
It is the need for this transcendence of capitalism which all the agencies of legitimation seek to obscure. Yet they cannot obscure the discrepancy between promise and performance. They cannot obscure the fact that, though these are rich societies, vast areas of bitter poverty endure in them; that the collective provisions they make for health welfare, education, housing, the social environment, do not begin to match the need; that the egalitarian ethos they are driven to proclaim is belied by the privileges and inequalities they enshrine; that the structure of their ‘industrial relations’ remains one of domination and subjection; and that the political system of which they boast is a corrupt and crippled version of a truly democratic order.”
The consciousness of these discrepancies does not by any means automatically lead to a rejection of the social system which produces them; and even where it does lead to it, the rejection may often be in favour of pseudo-alternatives which are perfectly ‘functional’ and therefore self-defeating. In fact, experience has sufficiently shown that the translation of a consciousness of deep ills into a will for socialist change is a painful, complex, contradictory, ‘molecular’ process, which can be greatly retarded, deflected and distorted by an endless variety of factors.
“Yet, a deep malaise, a pervasive sense of unfulfilled individual and collective possibilities penetrates and corrodes the climate of every advanced capitalist society. Notwithstanding all the talk of integration (…) never in the history of advanced capitalism has there been a time when more people have been more aware of the need for change and reform. (…) The immediate target of their demands may be employers, or university authorities, or political parties. But it is the state which men constantly encounter in their relation with other men; it is towards the state that they are increasingly driven to direct their pressure; and it is from the state that they expect the fulfilment of their expectation.”
“The trouble does not lie in the wishes and intentions of power-holders, but in the fact that the reformers, with or without inverted commas, are the prisoners, and usually the willing prisoners, of an economic and social framework which necessarily turns their reforming proclamations, however sincerely meant, into verbiage.”
I think that what Miliband has to say about reforms are of great value, because I think we are entering a period of reform combined with repression. Reform in the context of advanced capitalism: “has to be confined within the structural limits created by the economic system in which it occurs. These are often described as the inevitable limits imposed upon state action by a ‘democratic’ political system: much more accurately, they are the limits imposed by property rights and unequal economic power, and which the state readily accepts and defends.” (…) But when popular pressure is unusually strong (…) even this kind of reform may help to mitigate some at least of the worst ‘dysfunctionalities’ of capitalist society, and, … this mitigation is indeed one of the most important of the state’s attributions, an intrinsic and dialectical part of its role as the guardian of the social order. (…) But as reform never meet the expectations, the state comes under renewed and increased pressure and “In order to meet it, the state then exercise a second option, namely repression; or rather, reform and repression are tried simultaneously. These are not alternative options but complementary ones. However, as reform reveals itself incapable of subduing pressure and protest, so does the emphasis shift towards repression, coercion, police power, law and order, the struggle against subversion, etc.”
(However) for no more than reform does repression achieve its purpose. (…) It is along that road that lies the transition from ‘bourgeois democracy’ to conservative authoritarianism. This transition need not assume a dramatic character, or require a violent change in institutions. Neither its progression not it end result need be identical with the Fascism of the inter-war years. (…) The gradual transition of capitalism into socialism may be a myth: but the gradual transition from ‘bourgeois democracy’ into mire or less pronounced forms of authoritarianism is not.”
“This view of the evolution of advanced capitalist regimes appears to leave out of account the forces of the Left, working-class movements and parties, and the strength of their ‘countervailing power’ in these societies. Unfortunately, it is precisely the present condition of these forces, the crisis in which they find themselves, which provides an additional element of likelihood to this evolution.
Historically, labour and socialist movements have been the main driving force for the extension of the democratic features of capitalist societies; and it is also they who, from very necessity, have been the strongest defenders of civil and political liberties against infringements primarily directed at them, and at their capacity to act as agencies of counter-pressure. But their performance of this role has been very substantially and very negatively affected by the constantly more pronounced ideological and political integration of social democratic leaders into the framework of capitalism.”
“By thus turning themselves into the pillars of the established order, social democratic leaders produce two contradictory reactions. On the one hand (…) a search for genuine alternatives (… that) is likely to be slow and difficult, with innumerable diversions and false trails. On the other hand, social democratic failures and derelictions also produce, and more commonly, a marked movement away from the Left, and an increased vulnerability to the blandishments of the Right. The failure of social democracy implicates not only those responsible for it, but all the forces of the Left. Because of it, the path is made smoother for would-be popular saviours, whose extreme conservatism is carefully concealed beneath a demagogic rhetoric of national renewal and social redemption, garnished, wherever suitable, with an appeal to racial and any other kind of profitable prejudice. (…) A serious revolutionary party, in the circumstances of advanced capitalism, has to be the kind of ‘hegemonic’ party of which Gramsci spoke, which means that it must be capable of ‘creating a unity, not only of economic and political aims, but an intellectual and moral unity, posing all the issues which arise, not on the corporative level but on the “universal” level’, and ‘coordinated concretely with the general interests of subordinate groups’. But the creation of such a party is only possible in conditions of free discussions and internal democracy, of flexible and responsive structures.”
Nor is this essential only as a means of obviating ideological anaemia and political sclerosis. It is equally essential as a demonstration of the kind of social and political order which such a party seeks to bring into being. It is in its own present structures, in its own present modes of behaviour, attitudes, and habits that it must prefigure the society to which it aspires. For it is only by so doing that it can convince the vast majority of the population whose support it requires that its purpose is not to replace one system of domination by another, conceivably worse. If socialist democracy is its aspiration for tomorrow, so must internal socialist democracy be its rule today. Mere proclamations of future intentions are not enough.”
Miliband does not believe that the existing communist parties can fulfil that role, and the same is even more evident in regard to other groupings to the left of social democracy. “For the foreseeable future at any rate, no formation of the Left will be in a position seriously to place the question of socialism on the agenda of the most advanced capitalist societies. Nor certainly is this to b achieved by spontaneous eruption. The events of May-June 1968 in France showed well enough the yearning of fundamental change which simmers beneath a seemingly placid political surface and the degree to which the ‘small motor’ of a student movement may activate the ‘big motor’ of the working class. But these events showed equally well that, in the absence of appropriate political organisation, what is possible is turmoil but not revolution. (…) By the time a socialist movement has reached such a commanding position (…) that it has become a vast popular movement, extending well beyond the working class, it may be too late for the forces of conservatism to take up the authoritarian option with any real chance of success. It is when labour movements and socialist parties are divided and unsure of themselves and of their purpose that the realisation of that option becomes possible. Historical antecedent seem to confirm this view.”
Sooner or later, and despite all the immense obstacles on the way, the working class and its allies in other classes will acquire that faculty. When they do, the socialist society they will create will not require the establishment of an all-powerful sate on the ruins of the old. On the contrary, their ‘faculty of ruling the nation’ will, for the first time in history, enable them to bring into being an authentically democratic social order, a truly free society of self-governing men and women, in which, as Marx also put it, the state will be converted ‘from an organ superimposed upon society into one completely subordinated to it.’
op Wednesday, October 12, 2011