Commentary on Political Economy

Monday 14 November 2011

Max Weber between Bureaucracy and Factory

This is the introduction to a study of Weber's political sociology that will form one of the later chapters of 'Krisis'.                                            


In a modern state real rule, which becomes effective in everyday life
neither through parliamentary speeches nor through the pronouncements
of monarchs but through the day-to-day management of the
administration, necessarily and inevitably lies in the hands of officialdom,
both military and civilian. The modern high-.ranking officer even
conducts battles from his ‘office’. (145)

In statistical
terms the numbers of office workers in private firms are growing
faster than manual workers, and it is quite ridiculous for our litterateurs
to imagine that there is the slightest difference between the
mental work done in the office of a private firm and that performed
in an office of the state.
Fundamentally they are both exactly the same kind of thing.
Looked at from a social-scientific point of view, the modern state is
an ‘organisation’ (Betrieb) in exactly the same way as a factory; indeed
this is its specific historical characteristic. (146)

Weber’s approach and theorization of the Rationalisierung experiences a marked and dramatic evolution between the year 1917 when he writes and publishes the articles on Parlament und Regierung and the year 1920 when he completes the Vorbemerkung to the Aufsatzes zur Religionssoziologie. This last contains a definition of the Rationalisierung encompassing its origins in both state administration and in industrial capitalism that reveals a decisive convergence to a substantive definition of rationalization from the previous “parallelism” of 1917 and indeed from the “ideal type” sociology of the Ethik. Already, the tide of events – the worsening of the military position of the Reich and apprehension over its domestic political repercussions – had forced Weber to turn his attention sharply to the re-structuring of “Parliament and Government in a ‘Newly-Ordered’ [neu-geordneten] Germany”, and particularly to the role of “the nature of political parties” (Parteiwesen) and of the existing bureaucracy (Beamtetum, officialdom) within the overall problematic of the Demokratisierung consequent upon the obvious crisis of the old European absolutist regimes and the rise of the industrial working class.

To be sure, “looked at from a social-scientific point of view, the modern state is an ‘organisation’ [Betrieb] in exactly the same way as a factory” – which is why it is of “fundamental” importance to understand their “symbiosis” and “con-currence” in the fact that if indeed it is the “specific historical characteristic” of the “modern state” to be “organized in exactly the same way as a factory”, it was also the new asset of the European absolutist nation-state that made possible the concentration of political power that enabled the bourgeoisie to impose “the rational organization of free labor under the regular discipline of the factory” on the rest of society!

The literati, the nostalgics and apologists for the aristocratic status quo, for the “republique des notables” overlook the reality that “there is [not] the slightest difference between the mental work done in the office of a private firm and that performed in an office of the state”. Indeed, “the number of office workers in private firms is growing faster than that of manual workers”. There is a profound and immediate need to understand the transformation of capitalist industry and labor process because it is this that forms the foundation of the modern nation-state – it is its “model” that must be examined closely so that the “machinery of State” may adapt to the “needs” of society, of its “economy” in such a way that the “political will” of the economically decisive parts of society may be expressed “powerfully” – for there to be “positive politics” and not the present “negative politics” whereby Parliament is “prevented or impeded” from exercising the vital functions of “leadership” that the “national economy” – the economy understood in terms of the Machtsstaat – demands and requires.

The capitalist “entrepreneur” here has been already side-lined. It is not that his “function” is unimportant: it is rather that the entrepreneurial function itself is incapable of “mediating” and “realizing” the trans-formation of the economy, of capitalist “development” in the broadest sense, even in the manner championed by Schumpeter! The genial Austrian economist had sought to identify and describe precisely the “mechanism of transformation” that is specific to the capitalist economy and that leads to its “development”. But this “development” is dependent on society not just in the sense that it occurs in a social context but also in the far more important sense that the “trans-formations” that capitalist industry generates have far-reaching political implications and consequences that need themselves to be mediated and mustered to maximize the Macht of the Nationaloekonomie, the power of the nation-state and of its leading class, and not only “profits”. The differentiation between the “dynamic” role of the “entrepreneur” and the “static” or passive one of the rentier or “capitalist” is duplicated at the political level by the pressing need to by-pass the passive and abulic inertia of the machinery of bureaucratic state administration with the active powerful leadership of a parliamentary elite that is not imposed on the country from above but that instead rises from its midst as the powerful expression of the political will of the nation, of its industrially relevant components - “the representatives of the truly important powers in the economic world today”(93).

This “problematic” had been completely missing in Weber’s earlier studies on the Protestant Ethic and the “entrepreneurial spirit of capitalism”. Armed with the insights of Schumpeter’s Theorie, however, Weber is now able to integrate the Austrian’s “theory of economic development” with a much more powerful Nietzschean account of parliamentary politics “in a society that is destined to remain capitalistic for a long time to come”! The essential and urgent task is how to co-ordinate the Demokratisierung of social forces within the institutional framework of the Parlamentarisierung. The problem is no longer so much to interpret the role of the entrepreneur as the herald of capitalist development within the “organisation” that is the capitalist factory. Instead, the essential and urgent task of preserving the rule of the bourgeoisie and of invigorating the nation-state is to understand whereupon and wherefrom capitalist industry derives its explosive dynamic “power” – a power that drives the national economy and therefore its “Macht” a lot more efficiently and rationally than does the state administration. It is not the specific role of the entrepreneur within the “congealed spirit” represented by the capitalist machine that interests Weber, but rather the “source” of the energy, of the productive power that the entrepreneur musters and channels in the direction of “development”. And if, as Schumpeter argues, “development” is really the entrepreneurial channeling or use of crisis, then the state bureaucracy must learn in equal fashion how to muster and channel its own “crisis”, how to relinquish the romantic utopian dreams of “social equilibrium” in order to utilize social conflict, to mediate and to govern it so as to preserve the power of the nation in the global arena.

That the capitalist economy can occasion and provoke “crises” cannot be put in doubt. Weber had already experienced the economic convulsions of 1905 and their political complications even in Germany – causing him even to engage in a rapid study of the Russian language! But now the October revolution of 1917 in Russia brings prepotently to the fore this “problematic” of capitalism, of how to “guide” its development within a social body that is dramatically more “interdependent” and “interconnected” than ever before – in which capitalist “development” can provoke “crises” that threaten and traverse the entire “fabric” of society by reason of its own “socialization” (Vergesellschaftung). The Bolshevik “leap forward” to the dictatorship of the proletariat in conditions that Lenin himself admits are “premature” shows that “socialization” need not mean “evolution” – that it can portend revolution! - and that it poses “problems” not just for capitalism but also for socialism itself! Capitalist development poses the Problematik of “rational Socialism”.

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