As a consequence of the process of bureaucratization, a new bureaucratic elite emerged, according to Meisner. He writes:
The imperatives of rapid industrial development . . . gave rise to two new bureaucratic elites . . . exercising increasingly formal control on the basis of their respective spheres of expertise. One was a political elite of Communist leaders and cadres rapidly becoming administrators and functionaries in the growing state apparatus that presided over the industrialization process; the second was a technological elite of engineers, scientists, and managers responsible for the operation of the expanding modern economic sector. These newly emerging social groups tended to become increasingly motivated by professional and vocational ethics, rather than by Marxist goals and communist values, and increasingly separated from the masses of workers and peasants by virtue of status, power, and material benefits (Meisner, 1999:124-25).
Meisner sees the problem of the emergence of a bureaucratic elite as a general problem in socialism, in that it occurred in both the Soviet Union and socialist China (1999:55, 157). He writes:
The problem of bureaucracy was a reflection of a larger and more general phenomenon, the growing cleavage between state and society. Socialism, according to Marxist theory, is a historical process whereby the social powers usurped by the state are restored to society. But in the People’s Republic, as in the Soviet Union, “the transition to socialism” had produced precisely the opposite historic result: the growth of a vast bureaucratic state apparatus that was increasingly alienated from society (Meisner, 1999:157).
The leaders of the Chinese Revolution were committed to economic modernization and development, because economic development would be necessary to protect China from foreign imperialism and to provide for the social and economic needs of its immense and growing population. Although Weber focused on the greater efficiency of bureaucratic organization in a capitalist market economy, it is reasonable to think that a revolutionary socialist state, committed to the efficient production and distribution of goods and services, also would find advantages to bureaucratic organization in the implementation of its goals. In the context of the development of socialist theory, one could view the growth of bureaucracy as capitalist penetration that undermines the socialist project, as did Mao. Alternatively, one could see it as a necessary and integral dimension of the advance of the revolution in the implementation of its goal of economic modernization and development, as did the Central Committee majority. In casting the expansion of bureaucracy as a violation of Marxist theory, Meisner is taking sides in this difficult question, and he does so from a social context removed from the real struggle to construct socialism in the context of determined national political, economic, and social conditions. From 1949 to the present day, the Chinese Revolution has maintained that it seeks to develop socialism with Chinese characteristics.
There cannot be doubt that, as a modern bureaucracy displaced the traditional Chinese bureaucracy during the 1950s, a new bureaucratic class came into being, composed of high and upper-level officials in the state, the Party, and industry. It follows that the members of the new bureaucratic class have interests different from those of peasants, industrial workers, and small-scale capitalists, even though there is a consensus within each and among all of these sectors with respect to affirmation of the basic principles and achievements of the revolution. The new bureaucratic class cannot be understood as having an economic and social position analogous to the power elite and capitalist class in the powerful nations and advanced economies of the modern world-system, inasmuch as the Chinese bureaucratic class manages a system that is controlled not by transnational corporations but by the Chinese state.
But who controls the state in China? Meisner maintains that the Party controls the state. However, he does not provide evidence in support of this central claim. He mentions in passing that the National People’s Congress elects the Chairman of the People’s Republic, which is the highest office in the state, but he considers this a mere formality (Meisner, 1999:68, 267, 395). He does not describe the actual structures of political power. He does not explain how the National People’s Congress is formed, if it is elected by the people or by elected delegates of the people, or if the Party selects its members. Yet such questions are central to the validity of Meisner’s claim that the Party controls the state. In this regard, I should note that Tian Yingkui, Department of Economic Sciences of the Central School of the Communist Party of China, writes that China today has a system of indirect elections, in which elected representatives elect representatives from level to level, until finally the deputies of the National Popular Assembly, the highest political authority of the country, are decided (Tian, 2008:182-83). If the acceptance of the recommendations of the Party is a formality, it may be a result of the fact that a solid majority of the National Popular Assembly supports the recommendation of the Party. I also should note that a similar process of indirect elections is used to constitute the National Assembly of Popular Power in Cuba, and the system enjoys legitimacy and exceptionally high levels of voter participation. (For more on the Cuban political process, see The Evolution and Significance of the Cuban Revolution, Pp. 130-42).
At the same time, Meisner blurs the distinction between the Party and the state, thus further mystifying the reader with respect to the actual structures of political power in China. He notes that there is a distinction between the Party organization and the administrative organs of the state, but he believes that “the distinction is a thin one” (1999:63), because Party leaders also hold key positions in the state. He refers to “Party bureaucrats,” by which he apparently means high officials of the Party or Party members who are high officials in the state (1999:123). Accordingly, he refers to the “Party-state apparatus” (1999:245) and the “Party-state bureaucracy” (1999:267). On the other hand, at one point he implicitly recognizes that the distinction between Party and state is more than a thin line or a formality, when he observes that factory managers who are Party members are primarily responsible to the economic demands of the state ministries rather than to the demands of the Party (Meisner, 1999:117).
Meisner also maintains that the high bureaucracy in China enjoys privileges, and that the bureaucratization of the revolution has led to levels of economic and status inequality that are similar to the major capitalist powers of the world-system. He describes economic inequalities between managers and workers, city and country, state workers and contracted workers, and rich peasants and poor peasants. However, his book does not describe efforts by workers, rural residents, contract workers, and poor peasants to demand and obtain greater materials rewards for themselves, giving the impression that such struggles have not emerged. The book describes two types of radical Maoist movements: students seeking to discredit and purge “capitalist roaders” in the high ranks of the Party and the state; and movements by workers in three cities to develop alternative structures of city and industrial management, in accordance with Marx’s interpretation of the Paris commune. And his account describes critiques from the Right by intellectuals, demanding bourgeois reforms with respect to freedom of speech. But he does not describe efforts by the people to utilize mass organizations and structures of popular power to seek reforms with respect to unequal distribution of rewards, as one would expect in conditions in which the majority feel that the distribution of rewards is unjust, and that the country is dominated by a materially privileged bureaucratic elite. The absence of such discussion of dynamics within the mass organizations and the assemblies of popular power is a manifestation of the invisibility of these political structures when the process is viewed from a vantage shaped by the assumptions of bourgeois representative democracy.
The issues that divided Chinese communists are complex and important, and there have been debates in socialist Cuba from 1959 to the present on these themes, taking the form of discussions of “moral incentives” versus “material incentives,” acceptable levels of inequality, and the relative weight in the economy of state ownership, cooperatives, private capital, and foreign capital. In Cuba, the Party listens to the people, who express themselves in mass organizations, formalized popular consultations, and assemblies of popular power. However, on the basis of the debate, the Party forms a consensus, and presents its recommendations to the National Assembly of Popular Power and the people. There never has occurred in socialist Cuba what happened in China from 1958 to 1967, when the historical leader of the revolution waged ideological battle with the Party leadership, with both sides seeking to mobilize the people, especially students. We will look at this social and political conflict between Maoists ideologues and pragmatic modernizers in the next two posts.
Gerth, H. H. and C. Wright Mills, Eds. 1946. From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology. Translated by H. H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills. New York: Oxford University Press
Meisner, Maurice. 1999. Mao’s China and After: A History of the People’s Republic, Third Edition. New York: The Free Press.
Tian Yingkui. 2008. Camino Chino: Concepción científica del desarrollo. Beijing: Ediciones en Lenguas Extranjeras.