My name is Marc Mulholland. I am a Fellow (lecturer and tutor) in the History Faculty of Oxford University. My College is St Catherine's. I come from Ireland.

This is a blog relating to my book published in 2012 by Oxford University Press, Bourgeois Liberty and the Politics of Fear: From Absolutism to Neo-Conservativism.
Now on sale here and here. If you want 20 per cent off the price, I can arrange that! Send me a message or leave a comment, and I'll tell you how.

The thesis my book is examining was rather pithily summarised by Leon Trotsky in 1939: "Wherever the proletariat appeared as an independent force, the bourgeoisie shifted to the camp of the counter-revolution. The bolder the struggle of the masses, the quicker the reactionary transformation of liberalism." [Context is here]

However, my book isn't a defence of Trotskyism, or indeed any particular ideology. It's a study of an idea that took shape in Left, Right, and Centre variations.

This blog has tid-bits not included in the book, and other thoughts that occur.

You can see book details at the
OUP website.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Laswell and the Social Basis of the 'Socialist Ideal'

Harold Lasswell, a political scientist, used to be very well known, though I don't think one comes across his name much now. His 1935 book, World Politics and Personal Insecurity, sold in very large numbers. It's hardly weathered as well as E.H. Carr's legendary The Twenty Year Crisis, but at the time seemed to many to be of the same standard.

Laswell noted the commonalities of the dictatorships in Italy, Germany, and Russia. They were all three boldly anti-liberal, and favoured a good deal of state direction of the economy. Laswell concluded that they should be understood by a common species of 'elites analysis'. They formed the extreme edge of a wider movement, apparent also in tendencies towards 'planning' in capitalist democracies (Roosevelt's New Deal etc). There was, since 1914, a socialistic-authoritarian drift. He wrote,

"Who gains by the centralized dictatorship which is in transition towards a socialist state? The answer appears to be the skilled, those who sacrifice to acquire technique. … This suggests that the socialist ideal is, in fact, the ideal of the lesser bourgeoisie, springing from resentment at the capitalistic distortion of the relationship between reward and sacrifice exhibited in the rise  of plutocracy."

[Harold D. Lasswell, World Politics and Personal Insecurity (New York: The Free Press, 1935, 1965), pp. 202-3.]

Certainly fascism fumed and raged against the indolent rentier bourgeoisie, whilst lauding heroic self-made men as natural managers and leaders of workers. Communism was a bit more complex: the managerial specialists were relatively privileged in material terms, but they were also mistrusted by the regime as essentially disloyal, class enemies in formation. Not infrequently, this mistrust of the intelligentsia turned to persecution.

Communist leaders really preferred an industrial working class as the surest base to such consensus as they were ever able to muster. Working class interests, thus, were carefully balanced with inducements for managers and technical experts. Elite specialists didn't enjoy anything like the same income increments over unskilled workers as they did in capitalist economies.

It's quite plausible that the 'progressive movement' more generally has found sustenance in an alliance of worker and 'lesser bourgeoisie' against the 'plutocracy'. Gerard Duménil and Dominique Lévy have argued that just such an alliance backed up the full-employment / welfare consensus between World War II and c. 1973. In the 1970s, they argue, there was a shift of professionals away from organized labour to the side of the super-rich, leading to marginalization of organized labour, and a rise in inequality. This alliance, they go on,  may in turn be breaking up in the fall-out of the Great Recession. Well, we'll see.

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