America is burning. And so I thought I would finish a post I’d been keeping on the backburner for a while, about the elite and revolutions.
If you read this blog, you almost certainly read bigger blogs, so you are probably familiar with the concepts of Bioleninism (See: Spandrell) and Elite Overproduction (Turchin). I won’t go too far into that, so please read up on that before continuing if you haven’t.
Instead, I’d like to talk about the social composition of revolutionary parties and the significance of that. It is often asserted that revolutions are the middle class using the proles as a bludgeon to pry their way into elite status, killing off the innocent pre-Revolution nobles along the way. There is a lot of handwringing about Jewish bolsheviks killing off the Russian nobility or the rising merchant bourgeois in France destroying the Ancien Regime. It’s a neat little story.
It’s too bad that it’s bullshit.
In my typology of class conflict blog post, I explained that the middle class can rarely create a critical mass of followers because it’s too transparently self-serving. I’m going to elaborate on that. What would you expect the social origins of the early Bolsheviks to be? One would guess a bunch of Jews and middle class people and middle class Jews, right? To some extent, that’s not unfounded. The Party is about 15% Jewish and 44% middle class (Riga). Sounds pretty over-represented, right? Well, Riga is coding noble origins conservatively, since the line between service gentry (upper middle class) and true noble was blurry in the late empire, and still comes up with 13% of the Party being noble. I am less conservative about this, and estimate 15-20%. Commentary’s estimate of Jewish bolshevism skews higher, at 20%. Jews were 4% of the Russian Empire. At most, Jews are 5x over-represented in Bolshevism. The middle class numbered about 10%, so the middle class is also 4-5x over-represented. The nobility was 2.4% of the population (and formally included the service gentry upper middle class, so the broadest definition of noble), and at the very least over 5x over-represented, and perhaps as high as 8x over-represented. No wonder Trotsky, who was both Jew and noble, was a Communist.
Well, some people may say that the NKVD was 75% Jewish. For them, I have a quote from a man who went to observe the Red Army in action.
“Among them, many come from old Russian noble families, where military service in the position of commanders was a tradition of many generations, where military science, one might say, was im- bibed at the mother’s breast, and where military talk surrounded the child from the first years of his life. Cadet schools and military academies were the next steps in their training. Formerly 80 or 90 percent of the famous Russian military leaders as well as the rank and file of officers came from these privileged classes of old Russia.”
80 or 90%, huh? That’s a backbone of the Party. The Red Army wins the Russian Civil War. The Red Army kicks the ass of all the foreign powers intervening. Without the Red Army, there is no USSR. And not only are these the Tsarist officers, they’re the creme of the Tsarist Army. A scholar, Kenez, says of the White Army – their officers are cadets and young, unestablished men. The Red Army gets the old grizzled veterans, real nobles that have been blooded in war. And Trotsky leads them! If you’re Stalin, you can see why you have to purge the Red Army after purging Trotsky, even though you have wars to fight. Can’t have that power base lingering. So it’s a really important part of the power structure.
Okay, so let’s talk about the French Revolution then. Bunch of fucking bourgeois, right? Bzzt. 21 of the Society of Thirty are from the highest levels of the French nobility, almost half, and a majority are noblesse d’epee, which tend to be older and more established than the noblesse de robe. So what about the loyalists? What about the regime? Only 3 out of 36 of Louis’s ministers are of ancient feudal extraction. Far from a rowdy bourgeois element trying to make room for itself, it was the membership of the most pedigreed families that were upset.
So why would an established elite do this? The standard Marxist explanation is economics, historical materialism. Why would a old Bolshevik turn class traitor? True, there is some virtue, but don’t deify them, they are the product of larger material trends. In 1905, the Russian elite was more conservative – and then things went totally to shit. Agriculture produce prices were plummeting, roving bands of anti-semitic thugs called the Black Hundreds roamed the land looting, manors were attacked. Basically, it was becoming really fucking hard to be a noble. Even with so many impoverished peasants, there was not a lot of economic surplus to go around.
What about in France? Well, the French revolutionary families often had one thing in common. They were disfavored at court. That meant they didn’t get the juicy sinecures. Louis XIV was a smart guy, and he always distributed titles and sinecures around all the old families fairly, so that everyone felt like they got a piece. Not so with Louis XVI. Guy is dumb, and he lets his wife award all the best sinecures to her friends and favorites. Bad, bad move. But even with that, the kingdom was broke. They made a big stink about the necklace. Louis XIV did lavish stuff for the court, who complained then? But France then was able to handle it, and the cost of all his many wars. The American Revolutionary War was ruinous for Louis XVI’s France.
You may be sensing a theme here. By the time of the collapse, the state was no longer able to sustain all of its elites. This is Turchin’s elite overproduction in action, a classic set of examples. So why are these revolutions identified as bourgeois? Because there is a grain of truth to that. A truly middle class person has no resources or credibility to rouse the masses, since they have no skin in the game. But as history passes, new forms of maintaining elite power arise (See my post “The Second Technocracy”). One of the leaders of the French Revolution, the Duke of Biron, ran an early form of hedge fund. Does that sound like bourgeois merchant behavior to you? Yes, it does. While not all of the Party was middle class, almost all of it was “middle class” in the sense the early members almost always had a time they spent as itinerant intelligentsia. The managers and thinkers of the coming Managerial Revolution. These new ways of holding power create ways to be powerful and elite without being directly dependent on the state for your power base. It creates an origin point for an alternative state. When the state is rising, it is able to successfully assimilate a new counterelite. 19th century France assimilates the rising medical establishment into its power structure. But when the state is weak? They will have their pound of flesh.
And how do they do it? Signalling spiral. Leftism. Easy enough. Do they believe it? I’m sure they do. Few people are so cynical. You can very easily hold a belief even if it benefits you in a cynical way. Humans are wired that way.
It is too bad they picked an ideology so disastrous for them to personally signal. On comes the guillotine.
Luckily, we humans are smart.
As a non-white, upper middle class person, I would never associate with a political ideology that would harm me. Ha! That would be stupid. Oh wait.
Perhaps this deserves explanation. To be continued in part 2.
Knitting by the rolling carts,
Monsieur le Baron