One of the more important books that I read during the 1970s was Milovan Djilas' work "The New Class, An Analysis of the Communist System". I have the third printing from August, 1957.
His pedigree as a socialist was impeccable: he founded the Yugoslav partisans along with Tito, fought the fascists, met Stalin and the leadership of the Soviet Union during the war and was in the battle to liberate Belgrad from the Wehrmacht. He was Vice-President of the newly proclaimed Yugoslavia with Tito. He was also in charge of propaganda, a key post in any communist or socialist government and one that is always, invariably, filled with someone whose principles were above reproach and whose obedience to the commands of the Party complete.
He was being actively groomed to be Tito's successor, the number 2 man in the country, when he started writing about how a new ruling class was being formed in Yugoslavia, and given the fact that this ruling class was centered around Tito, his patronage and hence privileges, he did not last long: he was sentenced to 18 months in prison for saying, to the New York Times - now, isn't that ironic - that his country had become totalitarian, ruled by undemocratic forces and reactionary elements. For writing The New Class, Djilas was sentenced to another seven years in prison. Read his life story at the link above: he was a man that refused to compromise, regardless of what it cost.
Here are some key quotes (p37/38):
The greatest illusion was that industrialization and collectivization in the USSR, and the destruction of capitalist ownership, would result in a classless society. In 1936, when the new Constitution was promulgated, Stalin announced that the "exploiting class" has ceased to exist. The capitalist and other classes of ancient origin had in fact been destroyed, but a new class, previously unknown to history, had been formed.
It is understandable that this class, like those before it, should believe that the establishment of its power would result in happiness and freedom for all men. The only difference between this and other classes was that it treated the delay in the realization of its illusions more crudely. It this affirmed that its power was more complete that the power of any other class before in history, and its class illusions and prejudices were proportionally greater.
This new class, the bureaucracy, or more accurately the political bureaucracy, has all the characteristics of earlier ones as well as some new characteristics of its own. ... It did not come to power to complete a new economic order but to establish its own and, in doing so, to establish its power over society.
The emphasis is in the original. While Lenin was the embodiment of the revolution, Stalin became the embodiment of dogmatism: under Stalin, this new class established firm and complete control; after Stalin, they gave up nothing.
The heroic era of Communism is past. The epoch of its great leaders has ended. The epoch of practical men has set in. The new class has been created. It is at the height of its power and wealth, but it is without new ideas. It has nothing more to tell the people. The only thing that remains is for it to justify itself.
To the extent that one class, party, or leader stifles criticism completely, or holds absolute power, it or he inevitably falls into an unrealistic, egotistical, and pretentious judgment of reality. ... They spend more time defending themselves from world reality and attacking it than they do in getting accustomed to it. Their adherence to obsolete dogma incites them to senseless actions, from which, on more mature thoughts, they constantly retreat, but with bloody heads. ... The power of reality and the power of life have always been stronger than any kind of brutal force and more real than any theory.
Now read this.
As the best and brightest claimed power in order to rule better and with greater radiance, their critics came to dub them a "new class" in order to draw attention to their sanctimonious aspirations to pursue their own interests by remaking society in their own image. Paradoxically, the conservative critique of the new class could make the "Marxist" move of pointing out how universalist claims masked particularist interests. What ensued was a decades-long conflict between, on the one hand, advocates of more enlightened and ever more expansive administration of society, and, on the other, proponents of reduced state oversight, defenders of society against the state, and the deregulated market against the long reach of political power. The political wrangling of our current moment still takes place within this framework. The complexity of the new class and its culture, however, is that while it sets out to administer society and establish bureaucracies to regulate social and economic life domestically, at the same time it attempts to ratchet down the political and military power that might be projected externally: a strong state toward its subjects, a weak state toward its enemies!
The new class transition to linguistic, cultural, and technocratic expertise unfolded during the profound shift toward a symbolic service economy—new class ascendancy took place during the era of the dramatic decline of manufacturing and the concomitant shift of unionized labor organization primarily into the public sector—and it privileges capacities of semiotic manipulation over material production or even military prowess. Its signature contribution to foreign policy is "smart power," a term that nobly implies that boots on the ground are dumb and that some—still elusive—strategic rhetorical eloquence will make enemies vanish without ever firing a gun, since language is its ultimate power. The corollary economic policy is negative, defined by discourses of environmentalism that imagine achieving greener national spaces by exporting dirty manufacturing and energy consumption to the developing world: not in our backyard. This is not to deny environmental concerns, but rather to recognize them as laden with implications for traditional economic sectors. Most importantly, the transition to the culture of the new class has, in complex ways, taken part in the revolution of the new technologies, with the new class at first benefiting from them, thanks to their advantaging the educated and wealthy—that social inequality known as the "digital divide." But the new technologies, especially the new networks of communication, have undermined the former concentrations of media power and opinion-making, allowing for the emergence of new populist forces, decidedly not new class in their character and programs. ...
It is the assertion of the primacy of logic against the complexity of living, and it runs the risk therefore of collapsing either into an irrelevant ineffectiveness, an idealism incapable of grasping the real, or a destructiveness, when it tries to refashion ways of life into its own invented programs.
I added the emphasis in that last paragraph. This is exactly what we are seeing with the Obama Administration and the Democrats in Congress: an idealism incapable of grasping the real and hence needing to refashion life into its own invented program.
What I find particularly intriguing is this:
The complexity of the new class and its culture, however, is that while it sets out to administer society and establish bureaucracies to regulate social and economic life domestically, at the same time it attempts to ratchet down the political and military power that might be projected externally: a strong state toward its subjects, a weak state toward its enemies! ... Its signature contribution to foreign policy is "smart power," a term that nobly implies that boots on the ground are dumb and that some—still elusive—strategic rhetorical eloquence will make enemies vanish without ever firing a gun, since language is its ultimate power.
This sums up the entire foreign policy side of the Democrats and the Obama Administration: the reason to ratchet down political and military power is that it fails to serve the interests of the new class. The interests of the new class is to administer society and regulate social and economic life domestically: external threats can only serve to distract from this, and hence the external threats are belittled, dismissed, and solved with elusive strategic rhetorical eloquence that makes enemies simply vanish.
Ye gods. That way lies madness, as we are now seeing.