The Cunning of History

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Rubenstein, Richard L. The Cunning of History: The Holocaust and the American Future. Introduction by William Styron. 1975. NYC: Harper & Row, 1978.

Follows Hannah Arendt and others in seeing bureaucracy central to carrying out the Hitlerian Holocaust. This offers an emotionally-charged context to quote Max Weber getting literal on the bureaucratic apparatus as a machine. Rubenstein quoting Weber, collected in From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, translated, edited, introduced by H. H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills (NYC: Oxford UP, 1946), ch. 8, cited as pp. 214-16:[1]

The decisive reason for the advance of bureaucratic organization has always been its purely technical superiority over any other kind of organization. The fully developed bureaucratic mechanism compares with other organizations exactly as does the machine with the nonmechanical modes of organization. [...] (Italics added [by Rubenstein; Cunning p. 23])

Rubenstein continues,

Weber stressed "the fully developed bureaucratic mechanism." He was aware [...] that actual bureaucracies seldom achieve the level of efficiency of the "idea type" he had constructed. Nevertheless, he saw clearly that bureaucracy was a machine capable of effective action and was as indifferent to "all purely personal . . . elements which escape calculation" as any other machine. (p. 23)

Following Marx & Engels, Communist Manifesto (1848),

Unlike the old feudal order, the relations between the mill and mine workers and their employers were totally impersonal. The workers were unsentimentally regarded as a necessary component in the production mechanism, but each worker was seen as an interchangeable, easily replaceable unit in a depersonalized mechanism that was calculated solely in terms of minimum cost and maximum profits. * * *

In Victorian England, the wage-slaves had become servo-mechanisms of the machines they tended. As Marx had observed, "as machines become more human, men become more like machines." [Note 19] (pp. 55-56).

[Note 19, pp. 108-09:] For Marx, workers are not only "slaves" of the "bourgeois class" and the "bourgeois state", but of the very machines they themselves have produced. [Citing Manifesto collected Basic Writings p. 14].

No widespread communist revolution because "[...] it was never possible for bourgeois society totally to reduce labor to a commodity" and make human laborers sufficiently desperate. "Only when men can be reduced to thinglike automatons, capable of fulfilling assigned tasks but incapable of any effective protest on their own behalf, can a perfectly rationalized system of production or domination be achieved." Nowhere did such robotization occur in the 19th and early 20th centuries. "The Germans were about to create such a [labor] force in the death camps" (p. 57)."

Note 13 for ch. 3 (p. 40) on conditions of free workers in Europe's "industrial centers" in the first half of the 19th c. — quote from U.S. Senator Martin Griffin of Massachusetts, report Senate Judiciary Committee 29 April 1865: "The result of the prosperity of which we boast ... has a tendency to make the working man little else than a machine" (sic; Cunning p. 106).

Comment on I. G. Farben at Auschwitz, producing artificial rubber: "As [Max] Weber could not have foreseen the ultimate potentialities of systematic domination given twentieth century technology, neither could Marx or Engels have foreseen the extent to which terror" of being gassed for not fulfilling work quotas "could replace all other incentives in human exploitation. One wonders what refinements might have been added, had the SS possessed computers" (p. 61; see also p. 77).

Of supreme importance as a weapon of bureaucratic domination is the modern computer. Few weapons were as indispensable to the Gestapo as its files. When one compares the laborious task of maintaining comprehensive files as short a time back as World War II with the instantaneous retrieval of data about anyone the police or any other governmental agency might be interested in today [1975], we see how greatly the problem of keeping tabs on people has been simplified. (p. 79, in ch. 6: "Reflections on A Century of Progress," with ironies reinforced in a footnote that includes a reference to Lewis Mumford's The Myth of the Machine.)



See also The Bureaucratic Experience.


RDE, finishing, 2June24f.