Thursday, July 21, 2011

André Gorz on technocrats

Just a few words by André Gorz from nearly a half century ago:
By its very function, technocracy tends therefore to locate itself "above the classes," to deny the necessity for class struggle, to set itself up as mediator and referee and in so doing to enter into contradiction with the classes. The famous "depoliticization" of the mass which technocracy pretends to take note of is not a fact it observes; it is rather the end it pursues, the result it wants to obtain -- and does obtain in a very limited degree. "Depoliticization" is the ideology of technocracy itself. The so-called "neutrality" of the State is the ideology which justifies the power and the domination which technocracy is led to claim for itself by the logic of its structure.

The conflict of technocracy with the working classes as well as with the bourgeoisie is always profoundly ambiguous: this caste refuses from the outset to make decisions on the political terrain. Objectively progressive (or "on the Left") in its conflicts with the monopolies, technocracy is subjectively conservative ("on the Right") in its conflict with the working class. Attempting to eliminate in advance the question of power, which it thinks can be held only by professional managers, it tries to keep a clear conscience in the midst of the contradictory criticisms to which it is exposed. Toward the monopolies it internalizes the conservatism of which the Left accuses it by showing that the rationalization measures which it proposes consolidate and protect the capitalist system. Toward the labor movement it boasts of its conflicts with the monopolies in order to underscore its objectively progressive role.

This double game is obviously a mystification: to pretend to keep a balance between a bourgeoisie which is in power and a working class which is not necessarily to play into the hands of the former. Technocracy is conservative ideologically (subjectively) to the very degree that its objective progressivism serves it as an alibi in its efforts to consolidate the existing System, to arbitrate its conflicts, and to absorb anticapitalist forces.

It shares this conservatism with all technicians insofar as they are empiricists. Conductor of an apparatus which interests him only for its smooth and efficient functioning, the technician cares a great deal more for the instrument than for the ends it serves. He lives from the beginning in a ready-made rationality with predetermined purposes which his work and his education do not lead him to question. The only truth, for him, is smooth functioning; and he sees value only in immediately applicable propositions. The rest is utopia.
Gorz, in Strategy for Labor, then goes on to discuss the conditions on which the above attitude is supported, including the appearance of no alternative to the capitalist system, the appearance of incompetence among anticapitalist forces, and the strength of the labor movement. The lack of a strong labor movement, according to Gorz, will lead technocracy to essentially coopt and neutralize labor. A strong labor movement (and strong anticapitalist forces) on the other hand will lead to a large proportion of technocrats to cast their lot with labor. Like the bulk of the rest of the middle class, technocrats will likely be skeptical about socialist alternatives unless they perceive that there is a reason for socialism to succeed, that there are indeed viable alternatives to the prevailing capitalist system. If we think about our current political and economic context in the US, we can understand where are technocrats are coming from, and understand why there is little that one might consider "hopey-changey" in the words and deeds of the current generation of technocrats (or neoliberal left, as has been said elsewhere).

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