Commentary on Political Economy

Monday 5 December 2011

Addendum to "On Revolution"

These notes on Weber are really a continuation of the material of "On Revolution" posted yesterday. As you can see, we are trying to formulate a conceptual framework that will allow us to integrate our critique of economic reality in an overall strategy of political trasnformation, a project of liberation from the strait-jacket (ever more hideous and odious) of capitalist command of living labor through the money-wage (the material on Keynes adumbrates these matters - just search this site using the facility on the top left-hand corner of this page). Again, apologies for the "difficult" nature of the discussion, but the task is urgent given what is happening at the moment....

Weber’s Political Sociology

If we return now to the more specifically political aspects of Weber’s social theory, we will find that our lengthy but thorough exegesis of his version of Nietzschean Rationalisierung and of capitalist society is enormously useful in the interpretation of his political theory as well as sociology. Suddenly, what seemed to be disconnected and far-flung ideas and suggestions for the “re-construction” of Germany after the Great War, fall into place and form a coherent strategy (not just an “ideology”) for the preservation and renewal of bourgeois hegemony over society. Let us take a look.

Let us now turn to parliament.

First and foremost modern parliaments are assemblies representing

the people who are ruled by the means of bureaucracy. It is,

after all, a condition of the duration of any rule, even the best

organized, that it should enjoy a certain measure of inner assent from

at least those sections of the ruled who carry weight in society. Today

parliaments are the means whereby this minimum of assent is made

manifest. (166)

Clear is the “division of labor” indicated by Weber between “the bureaucracy” on one side, which simply “administers” to “the most basic needs of social life”, that is, the “rationality” of capitalist enterprise that has now become “social capital” and on whose “profitability” the entire reproduction of “the society of capital” is dependent. It is this “bureaucracy”, which is both “official” (military and civilian) and “private” (capitalistic), that effectively “rules the people” who are in turn “re-presented” by “assemblies that constitute modern parliaments”. Weber therefore assumes the pre-existence of a pyramid of “power” (potestas) that runs from officialdom to private capitalistic enterprise that “rules the people” of a modern nation-state who are in turn merely “re-presented” by an assembly called “parliament” which they have “selected” to secure for the “rule” – that is, importantly, for the “bureaucracy”, official and private – “a certain measure of inner assent”, which means “legitimacy and authority”, “from at least those sections of the ruled who carry weight in society”!

By this last phrase Weber must mean principally the owners of capital – because we must remember that a nation-state is “a nation-state among many”, in the sense that capital is free to be withdrawn from the territory of a nation-state. Still, it is evident that not only officialdom but also private capitalist enterprise needs a minimum of legitimacy in terms of its ability to provide for the needs and wants of most members of a society, in particular its workforce which is part of “those sections who carry weight”. Yet this “assent” (legitimacy and authority) seem to depend very much on the ability of “the rulers” (the combined bureaucracies, public and private) to deliver the goods of growth and development. And the means to ensure that this happens, first, in a manner that does not endanger the wage relation and, second, in a manner that perpetuates the existing system of political domination, that is, by means of a “tool” that dispenses political power in accordance with a pool of economic resources drawn from the productive activities of workers.

There is a political discrepancy, then, between the “collection” of resources for the public budget through taxation, and the “dispensation” of these resources that go through the “filter” of the state bureaucracy. It is obvious that the greater is the role of the government budget in the economy, the more politically explosive the role of the State becomes and the more precarious will grow the role of Parliament – also in its role as “direct employer of wage labor”. In other words, the “delivery” or less of “growth and development” tends, yes, to become an “apolitical” form of control, but it also makes the failure of delivery a direct threat not just to “private capital” but to “the collective capitalist” as well!

For certain acts, the public powers are obliged to use the form of an

agreement in law after prior consultation with parliament,

the most important of these is the budget. Today, and ever since the

time when the prerogatives of the estates were first created, the right

to control the budget, the power to determine the manner in which

the state procures its finances has been parliament's decisive instrument

of power. (166)

The potestas of Parliament consists in its ability to decide over how to devolve social resources drawn from civil society, from the economically significant sectors of it, which means from those sectors that generate “profits”. In so doing, Parliament plays an intermediate role in the sense that its own operation is not “for profit”, and yet it aims at preserving the means for the generation of “profits”. The overriding aim of Parliament therefore is to preserve a “private economic sphere” in which at least “putatively” the profitability of the entire system is drawn, even if this means the “subtraction”, at least temporarily, of entire areas of “investment” from private capital. Parliament plays the role of a safety-valve that is able to release political pressure by “monitoring”, by “redistributing”, by “planning” its future distribution (“electoral promises”), and by intervening where necessary to neutralize or destroy or even prevent the formation of alternative sources of “power” (in the sense of potestas – so that in fact the State does NOT have a monopoly of “power” – only of potestas, not of potentia). This is the essence of liberalism!

There is therefore a “latency” to “power” that a “negative politics” on the part of Parliament may well not detect and that may lead to social and political upheaval. This is what Weber’s “positive politics” is meant to prevent.

Admittedly, so long as parliament’s only means of

lending weight to the population’s complaints about the administration

is to deny the government finances, to refuse its assent to legislative

proposals and to put forward motions of its own which lack binding force,

parliament is excluded from participating positively in

political leadership. It can and will then engage only in 'negative

politics’ confronting the leaders of the administration like some hostile power,

and hence being fobbed off by them with the irreducible

minimum of information and being regarded as a mere hindrance,

an assembly of impotent grumblers and know-alls. On the other hand,

the bureaucracy in turn tends to be regarded by parliament and the

voters as a caste of careerists and bailiffs ranged against the people

who are the object of its tiresome and largely superfluous arts. (166)

A “negative politics”, one in which Parliament begins to fail in its “mediating” role between social needs and “profitability”, threatens the stability of the bureaucracy as well, because the bureaucracy merely “executes” the will of the leadership – but if this “leadership” is merely hierarchical and sclerotic and wishes to preserve the status quo, it will lack the dynamism required by a capitalist system in which “labor” is “free” – “free”, that is, to indicate how the money-wage is to be spent, again, a “negative” purchasing “power” that leaves intact the “limits to production” imposed by the need of capital to re-produce or “renew” the money-wage on an expanded scale (either “quantitative expansion” or “qualitative development”).

The situation is different in countries where parliament has established

the principle that the leaders of the administration must either be

drawn directly from its own ranks (a 'parliamentary system' in the true

sense), or that such leaders require the expressly stated confidence

of a majority in parliament if they are to remain in office, or that they (166)

must at least yield to an expression of no confidence (parliamentary

selection of the leaders). For this reason they must give an account of

themselves, exhaustively, and subject to verification by parliament or

its committees (parliamentary accountability of the leaders») and they

must lead the administration in accordance with guidelines approved

by parliament (parliamentary control of the administration). In this case,

the leaders of the decisive parties in parliament at any given moment

necessarily share positive responsibility for the power of the state.

Then parliament is a positive political factor alongside the monarch,

whose role in helping to shape policy is not based on the formal

prerogatives of the crown (or at least not mainly or exclusively on such

rights), but on his influence, which will be very great in any case but

will vary according to his political astuteness and his determination

to reach his goals. Rightly or wrongly, this is what is called a popular

democracy (Volksstaat), whereas a parliament of the ruled confronting

a ruling body of officials with negative politics is a variety of authoritarian

state (Obrigkeitsstaat) , what interests us here is the practical

significance of the position of parliament; whether one loves or hates the whole parliamentary business it is not to be got rid of. (165-6)

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)

The Beamtetum (officialdom) that Weber has in mind here is not restricted to the strictly “lifeless” machinery of production and government administration, but involves also the “leadership” of this “machine” that “embodies” within its structures “the care for external goods” that is the “autonomous market demand for the provision of needs and wants” expressed by “formally free labor”. It is this “iron cage” of needs and wants that gives “life” in the “form” of a “congealed spirit” to the “machinery”– “both military and civilian”, no less than “economic” – of “everyday life” that is subject to the “rule” of “the modern state” that “becomes effective” through the active “management of the administration”.

What matters to Weber is the re-presentation, the faithful and accurate and “effective management” – that is to say, trans-mission and co-ordination and implementation – of the system of needs and wants that constitutes the “everyday life” of “the nation” and therefore also its “political will”.

What interests us here is the question of the political legacy bequeathed

by Bismarck as a result of all these things. He left behind

a nation entirely lacking in any kind of political education, far below the

level it had already attained twenty years previously. And above all a

nation entirely without any political will, accustomed to assume that

the great statesman at the head of the nation would take care of

political matters for them. (144)

Not only does Weber believe that “the political will of the nation” is a “unity”, an entity that can be given a specific shape and expression, but he believes also that the expression of this “political will of the nation” is a “rule”, in other words, that it is imposed from above on the “ruled” below, whose “totality of interests” it both “re-presents” and “manages” through the “administration”, the bureaucracy – military and civilian and economic – that is drawn from the body politic.

At the same time his [Bismarck’s] enormous prestige had the purely

negative consequence of leaving parliament utterly without power.

It is well known that, after leaving office, he accused himself of having

made a mistake in this respect) and was then made to suffer the consequences

as part of his own fate. The powerlessness of parliament also meant that its

intellectual level was very 'low.' Admittedly, the naively moralising

legend of our litterateurs would have us believe that cause and effect

were in fact the other way found, namely that parliament deserved

to remain powerless because of the low quality of parliamentary life.

The true state of affairs, self-evident on any sober reflection, is indicated

by some very simple facts and considerations. Whether a parliament

is of high or low intellectual quality depends on whether great

problems are not only discussed but are conclusively decided there. In

other words, it depends on whether anything happens in parliament and

on how much depends on what happens there, or whether it is merely

the reluctantly tolerated rubber-stamping machine for a ruling

bureaucracy. (144-5)

The “power” (potestas) of Parliament is not derived from its formal legal statute but rather from the effective exercise of its administrative functions. Weber intends power to be the dual relationship between “the discussion of great problems” that are re-presented by members of parliament authorized from their “constituencies” or “electorates” so to do, from the bottom, but also the effective exercise of this “legislative power” into its administrative implementation. Consequently, the “power” of Parliament is “political” in a functional sense – as an extension of “the management of the administration”. No mystique here, no halo, no aura about the “role” of the leitender Geist! No “creativity”, no “innovativeness”, no Individualitat or Personlichkeit! It is not “innate talent” or “intellect” or (indeed!) “charisma” that determine the “ability” of parliamentary leadership: it is the actual performance of the “leadership functions” that hones the “task” of political “responsibility”.

The leading spirit, the ‘entrepreneur’ in the one

case, the politician in the other, is something different from an

‘official’. Not necessarily in form, but certainly in substance. The

entrepreneur, too, sits in an 'office'. An army commander does the

same. The army commander is an officer and thus formally no differ-


ent from all other officers. If the general manager of a large enterprise

is the hired official of a limited company, his legal position is also no

different in principle from that of other officials. In the sphere of the

state the same applies to the leading politician. The leading minister

is formally an official with a pensionable salary. The fact that, according

to all known constitutions, he can be dismissed at any time and

can demand to be discharged distinguishes his position outwardly

from that of many, but not all other officials. Yet much more striking

is the fact that, unlike other officials, he and he alone is not required

to demonstrate any kind of qualification based on training.

What the bureaucracy “cannot do” is actually “to decide” – this is the “function” of the leitender Geist, but not in a “Caesarist” sense! Even when Weber “mentions” the term “Caesarism”, he clearly and explicitly does not intend it to be as a
charismatic leader” whose task or role in government is “special” or “elevated” or different in quality from other “managerial administrative functions”: it is simply a “function”!

For it is not the many-headed

assembly of parliament as such that can 'govern' and 'make’ policy.

There is no question of this anywhere in the world, not even in

England. The entire broad mass of the deputies functions only as a

following for the 'leader' - or the small group of leaders who form

the cabinet, and they obey them blindly as long as the leaders are

successful. That is how things should be. The 'principle of the small

number' (that is the superior political manoeuverability of small leading

groups) always rules political action. This element of 'Caesarism' is

ineradicable in mass states.

But it is also this element alone which guarantees that responsibility

towards the public rests with particular individuals whereas it would

be completely dissipated within a many-headed governing assembly.

This is particularly evident in true democracy. (174)

“True democracy” is then a parliamentary “oversight” of “bureaucratic rule” based on the “exact calculation of profit” consequent upon the “autonomous demand of workers” (free labor) whose “industrial work” is a homogeneous “force” (labor power) to be “organized rationally” by capitalists in accordance with this “autonomous demand” or “iron cage” – an “oversight” that is “governed” by “leaders selected” by Parliament through debate and compromise and whose continued leadership is dependent on their “continued success”. Weber does not define “success” but we can take it that this pivots on the “profitability” of the system which is the ultimate sanction of its “rationality”. Once more, Weber’s reliance on the Hobbesian and Schopenhauerian “pessimist or eristic individual possessivism”, – refined by Nietzsche (philosophically) and by the Neoclassics (economically) - is unmistakeable.

The point Weber makes above about the “speed of decision-making” which he calls “the superior political maneuverability of ‘small’ leading groups” is something that Robert Michels takes up in Political Parties to substantiate their supremacy over more “democratic” or “consiliar” deliberative bodies. The “responsibility” of the leitender Geist, then, is something that is owed to “the public”, especially in “mass states”, and that “would be completely dissipated within a many-headed governing assembly” if it did not “rest with particular individuals”. Again, “political responsibility” is conceived of in terms of “results”, of “economy”, of “efficiency” – not in terms of “political freedom”. Given that the “power” (potestas) of the “rulers” is derived from “the provision for the system of needs and wants” (“rational” under bureaucratic rule), it is entirely evident here how Weber relies on an external or extrinsic notion of “free labor”, one based on “labor power” and not on “living labor” which he would identify with “the politics of conviction” as against “the politics of responsibility”!

But the main question here, the impellent one, is: - what happens when “responsibility” (read “profitability”) becomes “ir-responsible” because “profit” becomes “a barrier to production”? This “barrier” is not a “technical” or “economic” one: it is a “political” barrier in the broadest sense – and with this notion of “living labor as a barrier to the accumulation of dead labor” both Arendt’s and Weber’s notions of “freedom” (voluntaristic the first, mechanical the latter) can be overcome. Of course, the only way in which Weber’s “rationality” can be reconciled with the “freedom” of “labor” is if this “freedom”, by which he means “autonomous demand for consumption goods on the part of workers” is limited prepotently, violently, by capitalists so as to ensure the “profitability” of “capitalist economic action” – that is to say, the “renewed exchange(!) of living labor with dead labor”. As Arendt reminds us in chapter five of “On Revolution”, “every builder stands outside the object built”, and therefore it is utterly impossible “to exchange” the human “ability to act” with an object pro-duced by that living activity! (Although, to cavil at it, Arendt does not see that the “distinction” between artist and artifact, worker and work, is valid only to establish the impossibility of an equal or free exchange between living and dead labor outside of “violence”. This is not to say, however, that the artifact has nothing to do with the artist: indeed, this “identity” of being human with the objectification of being human is the aim of our historical project.)

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