New Class, The
New Class, The
The New Class is a term made popular by Milovan Djilas’s book The New Class (1957), which describes the privileged ruling group of top government bureaucrats and party functionaries that typically arises in all Stalinist “party-states.” The idea of a new technocratic and nonproletarian ruling class in Communist societies has been used to criticize the centralized social-welfare state of Soviet-type socialism. But it is also linked to the notion that a new influential class of skilled intellectuals, technocrats, and managers has emerged in modern capitalist societies to reshape the traditional class conflict between capital and labor, as well as to the proposition that the rise of such a technocratic-managerial class signals the emergence of a new, post-capitalist social order.
In the first half of the twentieth century, neo-Marxist theories of a new social stratum of managers, engineers, and other technocrats—sometimes called the “intellectual proletariat”—became popular among left-wing intellectuals, especially in Western Europe. In his famous novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell predicted that this new social stratum “would control this world.… The new aristocracy was made up for the most part of bureaucrats, scientists, technicians, trade-union organizers, publicity experts, sociologists, teachers, journalists, and professional politicians” (1984, p. 169). Anarchists, anarcho-syndicalists, Left Communists, Trotskyists, and other leftist critics of Soviet-style socialism associated this technocratic meaning of the term with the “new class” of top government and party bureaucrats, industrial managers, professional propagandists, and so forth, that had emerged to dominate the Soviet Union under Stalin’s system of state capitalism.
A very similar notion of a new ruling class was advanced by Milovan Djilas (1911–1995), a dissident politician in post–World War II (1939–1945) Yugoslavia. Djilas was purged from the Communist hierarchy in 1954 for advocating democratic and egalitarian ideals, which he believed permeated the original theories of Marxism, socialism, and communism, but ran counter to the dominant Stalinist dogma and practice of his day. Djilas observed that the leading government and party officials in all Stalinist regimes assumed the role of a new ruling class—a heretical idea that was at variance with the ideological claims of the governing Communists, who argued that the Communist revolution had resulted in the extinction of the dominant capitalist class and its replacement by the “dictatorship of the proletariat.” He claimed that the new class exercised collective political control over the means of production as a new form of “monopoly ownership,” which allowed capitalist-style relations of inequality, domination, and exploitation to persist even in the absence of a hegemonic capitalist class and its private ownership of economic production. Djilas’s “new class” thus overlaps with the so-called “nomenklatura class,” a term used in other critical descriptions of the governing bureaucracy in the Soviet Union (see Voslensky 1984).
A somewhat similar claim has been made about the “three-way polarization” of advanced capitalist societies between the capitalist class of private corporate owners, the working class, and an influential “new class” of college-trained technocrats, which Barbara and John Ehrenreich called the “Professional-Managerial Class” (PMC). This wage-earning technocratic class is generally hostile to the capitalist socioeconomic order over the issue of private ownership and control of the means of production, as well as over the unequal and unfair distribution of the fruits of material production. This anticapitalist hostility has turned the PMC into “an enduring reservoir of radicalism”—from Progressivism and the Socialist Party to the New Left (Ehrenreich and Ehrenreich 1979, p. 42). But there are also tensions with the blue-collar workforce due in part to the interest of the highly educated “new class” in extending its cultural and technological hegemony over the working classes. Their mutual antagonism has been “over the issues of knowledge, skills, culture” (Ehrenreich and Ehrenreich 1979, p. 45)—that is, over the PMC’s elitism and patronizing attitude vis-à-vis working-class people. Without the pivotal assistance of the PMC, however, the ruling capitalists cannot effectively dominate the working classes, nor can the latter resist being controlled and exploited by the capitalist class.
In The Future of Intellectuals and the Rise of the New Class (1979), neo-Marxist sociologist Alvin Gouldner similarly challenged the central political and theoretical premise of Marxism—namely, the historical class conflict between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat—by claiming that a “New Class” has emerged under modern capitalism, comprising intellectuals, managers, and the technical intelligentsia. The New Class is not a ruling class yet and is also internally riven by important tensions between the technical intelligentsia and the humanistic intellectuals. But as an embryonic new “universal class,” these bearers of specialized knowledge are the best hope for social progress in contemporary capitalist societies given the historical failure of the traditional working class (or the “industrial proletariat”) to bring about a social revolution and progressive change. A basic strategy of the New Class is to cultivate an alliance with the mass working class in order to undermine and supplant the ruling capitalists and their hegemonic position in the old social order.
In like manner, Robert Reich (who served as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton) has suggested the idea of a new class consisting of what he calls “symbolic analysts”—engineers, attorneys, scientists, university professors, business executives, journalists, consultants, and other “knowledge workers,” who engage in processing information and manipulating symbols for a living. These well-educated individuals occupy a privileged position in society because they can sell their valued professional services in the global economy. According to Reich,
Symbolic analysts solve, identify, and broker problems by manipulating symbols. They simplify reality into abstract images that can be rearranged, juggled, experimented with, communicated to other specialists, and then, eventually, transformed back into reality. The manipulations are done with analytic tools, sharpened by experience. These tools may be mathematical algorithms, legal arguments, financial gimmicks, scientific principles, psychological insights about how to persuade or to amuse, systems of induction or deduction, or any other set of techniques for doing conceptual puzzles. (1991, p. 178)
Given the worldwide drift toward “laissez-faire cosmopolitism,” Reich believes that only “symbolic analysts”—because of their more advantageous position in the globalized economy—can be confident of being the “winners” of twenty-first-century capitalism.
SEE ALSO Anarchism; Bahro, Rudolf; Bourgeoisie, Petty; Bureaucracy; Bureaucrat; Capitalism, State; Class; Communism; Credentialism; Democracy; Egalitarianism; Elite Theory; Left Wing; Managerial Class; Marxism; Meritocracy; Middle Class; Oligarchy; Power Elite; Professionalization; Socialism; Stalin, Joseph; Stalinism; Syndicalism; Totalitarianism; Trotsky, Leon; Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
Djilas, Milovan. 1957. The New Class: An Analysis of the Communist System. New York: Praeger.
Ehrenreich, Barbara, and John Ehrenreich. 1979. The Professional-Managerial Class. In Between Labour and Capital, ed. Pat Walker, 5–45. Brighton, U.K.: Harvester Press.
Gouldner, Alvin W. 1979. The Future of Intellectuals and the Rise of the New Class: A Frame of Reference, Theses, Conjectures, Arguments, and an Historical Perspective on the Role of Intellectuals and Intelligentsia in the International Class Contest of the Modern Era. New York: Seabury Press.
Orwell, George. 1949. Nineteen Eighty-Four. New York: Penguin, 1984.
Reich, Robert B. 1991. The Work of Nations: Preparing Ourselves for 21st-Century Capitalism. New York: Knopf.
Voslensky, Michael. 1984. Nomenklatura: The Soviet Ruling Class. Trans. Eric Mosbacher. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.