I had a go at a jeu d’esprit and it turned into a hoofooraw, so let me talk about something else. All of us cable news junkies have been up to our ears in hysterical discussions of Trump’s removal of John Brennan’s security clearance. The damage to Brennan has been described as dire, and he is being hailed as a hero for not succumbing to the assault. One estimate I read suggested that former government officials with their clearances intact can earn five to eight percent more than those without, so Trump has not exactly condemned Brennan to public assistance. What is more, the current administration is not likely to want to call on Brennan anyway for his expertise in matters of spycraft. The whole affair makes Trump look both petty and weak, which, from my point of view, is all to the good.
The uproar, however, reminds me of something I have long known but tend to forget when I am spinning fantasies of American socialism. Modern mature capitalist states, of which America certainly is one, have enormous bureaucratic infrastructures [or superstructures, if you want to be rigorously Marxist about it] that administer on a daily basis the laws, regulations, and policies of the central and state governments. These governmental structures are staffed by quite literally millions of men and women, most of whom are career employees. Call them the Bureaucracy, the Establishment, the Deep State, call them the Enemies or the Defenders of the American Way, they are there, they are in place, and every day they make the decisions, implement the directives, and process the paper [or computer entries] on which society runs.
Because they are career employees, and because a career lasts typically for thirty or forty years, this huge group of people constitute a powerful conservative drag on change, regardless of whether that change is politically progressive or reactionary. Let us recall that the modern Welfare State was put into place by a Congress that, for three generations, was controlled by the Democratic Party. Between 1931 and 1995, the House of Representatives was Democratically controlled for all but two two-year breaks! What is more, from 1933 to 1969, the Democrats controlled the White House for all but the eight years of the Eisenhower interregnum. The generations of career employees, laid down like strata of sedimentary rock by successive Democratic Administrations, have proved an almost impenetrable obstacle to the reactionary aspirations of post-Reagan Republicans, despite the fact that the Republicans have controlled the House for all but four of the last twenty-three years.
Which brings me to my dreams of socialism. Let us suppose, if you will follow me down the rabbithole to Wonderland, that a surge of millennials and post-millennials elect a Democratic Socialist as President and a House and Senate controlled by Democratic Socialists [you can see how far into an alternative universe I have wandered.] And let us also suppose that this miraculous collection pass and sign into law legislation designed to fundamentally alter the structure of capitalist America [I am not even capable of imagining exactly what that legislation would be, but let that go for now.] It would then fall to the vast numbers of career government employees actually to implement the legislation, to translate it into the decisions, regulations, studies, guidelines that would actually constitute socialism on the ground, if I may put it that way.
Career bureaucrats would have to rule against corporations and in favor of workers in hundreds of thousands of cases involving workers’ rights, safety, pensions, family leave, and all the other things that the Democratic Socialists in the Congress had legislated about.
I am not saying it would be impossible. Not at all! But the amusing Brennan kerfuffle can serve to remind us just how much work and time would be required to transform the American economy and society into something recognizable as socialism.