Socialism: Ideals, Ideologies, and Local Practice

By C. M. Hann | Go to book overview

Chapter 5

Party, bureaucracy, and grassroots initiatives in a socialist state

The case of Sungusungu village vigilantes in Tanzania

Ray Abrahams and Sufian Bukurura1

Socialism has many faces. At the ideological level, it is clearly a system for the sharing of control and ownership of a society's resources, and this is commonly taken also to imply a substantial degree of sharing in policy-making and the management of public affairs. At the level of action, this ideal of popular participation has been often tempered by a number of real or asserted practical constraints. In many socialist regimes, 'socialism from above', sometimes in quite oppressive forms, has been deemed necessary for the sake of efficiency and, at least temporarily, for the control and/or re-education of recalcitrant and unenthusiastic groups still burdened by their bourgeois aspirations.

At a structural level, government under such regimes frequently involves a readily recognizable and to some extent predictable combination of institutions. The institutions themselves are found in many other systems, and it is the form of their mixture which is special. A common pattern includes a single party, which may be varyingly populist or elitist, a governmental and bureaucratic structure, and an elected chamber. There is also typically a military whose role varies greatly from one period and one country to another. There is commonly a substantial overlap between the party leadership and that of other institutions, and this can sometimes make it difficult to distinguish them in practice, but there are also tendencies to divisions of interest and often struggles for power between them. The party tends to assert the ideology of the system, and demand its dominance in the formulation and implementation of policy. Governmental staff and bureaucrats are likely to be much more sensitive to practicalities of administration and to the demands of their own inherited norms and modus operandi. 2 They are also likely to be the most highly educated element in the system. An elected chamber may perhaps be expected to exhibit a special respect for the demands of an electorate, but this is not always the case, and such a chamber rarely has the same amount of power and influence as the other major structures we have mentioned. Of course, the ideals of the system stress that all the organs we have mentioned should work together for the enhancement of the interests of

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