The intimidatingly well informed Brad Delong used the following quote from Rosa Luxemburg to bid “good riddance” to Fidel Castro. I don’t know enough to agree or disagree, but as I read Luxemburg’s words, I wasn’t thinking of communism. I was thinking of managerialism. I’m not seeking to suggest any moral equivalence with the gulags. But there are plenty of systems of tyranny, petty and otherwise, in our lives as the stuffing somehow oozes out of our institutions.
A generation ago academics were a privileged elite jealous of their privileges (and as is the case with privileges, some grew fat and lazy on them.) Ditto bureaucrats including of course the bureaucrats running private companies. Professionals could be directed within professional structures (an engineering firm say). But all such people owned a degree of fiduciary duty to the public and some independence from their bosses. Today managerialism runs rampant over such things and these people are so many lab rats in a Skinner box hitting their KPIs and (of course) learning to manipulate them apace as well as learning to pump out the bullshit in ever increasing quantities.
In the passage Luxemburg appeals to some basic principles of socialism about which she might be right, but presumably isn’t. To de-ideologise what I get out of her eloquent words, let’s just say that I get from them, just the same sustenance I get from Edmund Burke’s insistence on the importance of life taking its course, of the significance of the little platoons. Anyway, your world-weary correspondent leaves you in the capable hands of Rosa, writing on the tyranny of the Russian Revolution:
Freedom only for the supporters of the government, only for the members of one party — however numerous they may be — is no freedom at all. Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently… because all that is instructive, wholesome and purifying in political freedom depends on this essential characteristic….
The tacit assumption underlying the Lenin-Trotsky theory of dictatorship is this: that the socialist transformation is something for which a ready-made formula lies completed in the pocket of the revolutionary party, which needs only to be carried out energetically in practice. This is, unfortunately — or perhaps fortunately — not the case…. What we possess in our program is nothing but a few main signposts which indicate the general direction in which to look….
The socialist system of society should only be, and can only be, an historical product, born out of the school of its own experiences, born in the course of its realization, as a result of the developments of living history… socialism by its very nature cannot be decreed or introduced by ukase. It has as its prerequisite a number of measures of force — against property, etc. The negative, the tearing down, can be decreed; the building up, the positive, cannot. New Territory. A thousand problems.
Only experience is capable of correcting and opening new ways. Only unobstructed, effervescing life falls into a thousand new forms and improvisations, brings to light creative new force, itself corrects all mistaken attempts. The public life of countries with limited freedom is so poverty-stricken, so miserable, so rigid, so unfruitful, precisely because, through the exclusion of democracy, it cuts off the living sources of all spiritual riches and progress….
The whole mass of the people must take part in it. Otherwise, socialism will be decreed from behind a few official desks by a dozen intellectuals…. [Lenin] is completely mistaken in the means he employs. Decree, dictatorial force of the factory overseer, draconian penalties, rule by terror…. It is rule by terror which demoralizes.
When all this is eliminated, what really remains?… Without general elections, without unrestricted freedom of press and assembly, without a free struggle of opinion, life dies out in every public institution, becomes a mere semblance of life, in which only the bureaucracy remains as the active element. Public life gradually falls asleep, a few dozen party leaders of inexhaustible energy and boundless experience direct and rule. Among them, in reality only a dozen outstanding heads do the leading and an elite of the working class is invited from time to time to meetings where they are to applaud the speeches of the leaders, and to approve proposed resolutions unanimously — at bottom, then, a clique affair — a dictatorship, to be sure, not the dictatorship of the proletariat but only the dictatorship of a handful of politicians, that is a dictatorship in the bourgeois sense….