New class

From Academic Kids

The new class is a term to describe the privileged ruling class of bureaucrats and Communist party functionaries which typically arises in a Stalinist communist state. Generally, the group known in the Soviet Union as the Nomenklatura conforms to the theory of the new class. Earlier the term was applied to other emerging strata of the society. Trotskyists argue that the bureaucratic elite is not technically a class (since they do not directly own productive property), but a caste. They sometimes refer to Stalinist states ruled by such a caste as deformed or degenerated workers states.

Djilas' New Class theory has also been used extensively by classical liberal and conservative commenters within the West, in their criticism of the technocratic socialist welfare state.



Prior to 1917 theories of a new stratum of managers, engineers and other technocrats were highly popular within the broad Socialist movement. In particular, managers, engineers and other technocrats used the idea that they were an "intellectual proletariat" to argue that they could be a motive force for revolution separate to the mass of wage earning labourers. At the time, as these technocrats did not work for wages, their claim lies outside of standard Marxist understandings of the proletariat.

In his 1948 novel 1984, however, George Orwell would note that "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."

This technocratic meaning has continued to be associated with the term "new class" throughout the twentieth century.

see also: proletarianisation public choice theory

Early theories

Theories describing the elite in the Soviet Union as a new class initially emerged in 1917. These theories were pursued most strongly by anarchist theorists and occasionally by syndicalists, left communists and council communists. This strand of analysis has remained one of the major positions within anarchism on the role of the elite in the Soviet-style societies.

see also: Solidarity (UK)

Djilas' New Class

A theory of the new class was developed by Milovan Djilas, who participated with Tito in the Yugoslavian Revolution, but was later purged by him as Djilas began to advocate democratic and egalitarian ideals (which he believed were more in line with the way socialism and communism should look like). The theory of the new class is in contradiction to the claims of certain ruling communists, such as Stalin, who argued that their revolutions and/or social reforms had resulted in the extinction of any ruling class as such. It was Djilas' observation as a member of a communist government that party members stepped into the role of ruling class - a problem which he believed should be corrected through revolution. Djilas' completed his primary work on his new class theory in the mid 1950s.

Djilas claimed that the new class' specific relationship to the means of production was one of collective political control, and that the new class' property form was political control. Thus for Djilas the new class not only seeks expanded material reproduction to politically justify its existence to the working class, but it also seeks expanded reproduction of political control as a form of property in itself. This can be compared to the capitalist who seeks expanded value through increased sharemarket values, even though the sharemarket itself does not necessarily reflect an increase in the value of commodities produced. Djilas uses this argument about property forms to indicate why the new class sought parades, marches and spectacles despite this activity lowering the levels of material productivity.

Djilas proposed that the new class only slowly came to self-consciousness of itself as a class. On arriving at a full self-consciousness the initial project undertaken would be massive industrialisation in order to cement the external security of the new class' rule against foreign or alternative ruling classes. In Djilas' schema this approximated the 1930s and 1940s in the Soviet Union. As the new class suborns all other interests to its own security during this period, it freely executes and purges its own members in order to achieve its major goal of security as a ruling class.

After security has been achieved, the new class pursues a policy of moderation towards its own members, effectively granting material rewards and freedom of thought and action within the new class -- so long as this freedom is not used to undermine the rule of the new class. Djilas identified this period as the period of Khrushchev's government in the Soviet Union. Due to the emergence of conflicts of policy within the new class, the potential for palace coups, or populist revolutions is possible (as experienced in Poland and Hungary respectively).

Finally Djilas predicted a period of economic decline, as the political future of the new class was consolidated around a staid programme of corruption and self-interest at the expense of other social classes. This can be interpreted as a prediction of the Brezhnev era stagnation by Djilas.

While Djilas claimed that the new class was a social class with a distinct relationship to the means of production, he did not claim that this new class was associated with a self-sustaining mode of production. This claim, within Marxist theory, argues that the Soviet-style societies must eventually either collapse backwards towards capitalism, or experience a social revolution towards real socialism. This can be seen as a prediction of the downfall of the Soviet Union.

Robert Kaplan's 1993 book Balkan Ghosts: A Journey through history also contains a discussion with Djilas, who used his model to anticipate many of the events that subsequently came to pass in the former Yugoslavia.

Similarity to other analyses

Of course, the specific notions of Djilas are his own development, however the idea that bureaucrats in a typical Marxist-Leninist style state become a new class is not his original idea. Bakunin had made this point in his IWMA debates with Marx in the mid to late 19th century. This idea was repeated after the Russian revolution by anarchists like Kropotkin and Makhno, as well as some communists. It was later repeated by a leader of the Russian Revolution, Trotsky. Further on, Mao Zedong also had his own version of this idea. Of course, this wide range of people over the decades had different perspectives on the matter, but there was also a degree of core agreement on this idea.

From the other side of the fence, the work of Friedrich Hayek also anticipated many of Djilas' New Class criticisms, without placing them in a Marxist context. See esp. The Road to Serfdom.

Related articles

Further reading

  • Milovan Djilas, New Class: An Analysis of the Communist System, Harcourt Trade Publishers, 1982, paperback, 224 pages, ISBN 015665489X (First published 1957)
  • Milovan Djilas. Unperfect society; beyond the new class, 1969.
  • The Revolution Betrayed (, Leon Trotsky's famous work regarding the alleged betrayal and corruption of the Russian Revolution by Stalin and the new bureaucratic ruling caste
  • Ed. Marian Sawer. Socialism and the new class : towards the analysis of structural inequality within socialist societies, Bedford Pk, Australia: Flinders University, 1978.
  • Friedrich Hayek, The Road to Serfdom (paperback), London: Ark Paperbacks, 1986. The book was first published in 1944.
  • Robert Kaplan, Balkan Ghosts: A Journey through history, Vintage reprint, 1994. An excerpt from his discussions with Djilas can be found here (

Technocratic new classes

  • George Orwell, 1984 (paperback), Harmondsworth: Penguin Books Ltd., 1983. The book was first published in 1949.
  • Alvin Ward Gouldner 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, London: Macmillan, 1979.
  • Eds. Hansfried Kellner, Frank W. Heuberger, Hidden technocrats : the new class and new capitalism,New Brunswick, USA: Transaction Publishers, 1992.
  • Christopher Lasch The Revolt of the Elites And the Betrayal of Democracy, W. W. Norton & Company, 1995.
  • Grace Budrys When doctors join unions Ithaca: ILR Press/Cornell University Press, 1997.

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