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Affluence, comfort, and ‘the silken web of managerialism’.

By WALTER A. WEISSKOPF [The New York Review of Books] – A kind of “socialism” has already arrived in the US but in a rather disappointing form: Galbraith has described it in The New Industrial State: quasi-public agencies called corporations in the private sector; “quasi-private” governmental agencies, in the public sector; (they are quasi-private because they cooperate closely with corporations); all are parts of the industrial-governmental-military establishment. Corporations and public agencies are cooperating and competing with each other for the accumulation of power; the profit motive is by no means dead but it is amalgamated with and obliterated by the drive for power. And the power is exercised not by atomistic independent individuals but by large-scale organizations; whether they are called GM, ITT, or “Armed Forces” makes very little difference. In all these organizations, managers, bureaucratic administrators of the funds and the assets of others, are making the basic decisions. And these decisions, whether they concern advertising, products, services, war, or taxation determine our fate.

The resistance of revolutionary intellectuals against the concept of managerialism has been increased by the errors of its proponents. It is as wrong to talk about a managerial revolution as it is to talk about an industrial revolution; both were and are long-run developments. But more important, the idea of managerialism has been used to whitewash the existing system. Especially the watering down of the profit motive was sometimes used as a defense against the charge that in capitalism goods are produced for profit, and not for “use.” It may be that [David] Bazelon is guilty of this when he thinks that a managerial society would be friendly, tolerant, and non-competitive. The hub of the matter is that the rebellion and attack against the managerial system has to become much more sophisticated than the traditional Marxist and/or lib-lab line. Max Weber talked about the iron cage of industrialism in which the individual is imprisoned. What we are oppressed by today is the silken web of managerialism that does not oppress directly but bribes us into submission by incredible affluence and comforts. What’s more, this bribe is extended to the majority. For the first time in history the majority is relatively affluent and only a minority (at least within this country) is poor and deprived. This is why the traditional class-struggle ideology relying on the upheaval of the oppressed masses against the oppressing capitalists will not work at home. (It will work abroad; that is why the intellectual rebels find in neocolonialism such a convenient outlet for their class-struggle theories.) And finally the system of organization, specialization, and professionalization has become so complex that it is more and more difficult to know where to begin with reform. It is so complex that even the managers are hardly able to steer it in any desired direction, or even to know which direction is desirable.

This makes rebellion and social critique much more difficult. It will have to acquire the sophistication and professionalization that is available to the managerial elite. This is not a comfortable position for intellectual rebels of the traditional variety.

– A reply, from 1967, to a review by Christopher Lasch of David Bazelon’s Power in America: The Politics of the New Class.

Continued in The New York Review of Books | More Chronicle & Notices.

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