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We've all heard the story that the White House is seeking a new "high-powered Czar" to get the war moving in the right direction:

The idea for creating the new position follows concern over longstanding disputes between civilian and military officials in Iraq. The war czar would have the authority to issue directions to the Pentagon, State Department and other agencies.

This got me thinking about something I'd read years ago. In the early 1920s the Soviet Union, at the time ruled by Lenin, created the position of General Secretary. The idea was to have a single office with which to direct recalcitrant agencies and bureaus.

The man chosen for the job? Joseph Stalin.

I decided to do a little digging, and I came across an interesting essay by Marxist historian, Alexander Podsheldolkin, which describes in detail the methods Stalin used to consolidate power -- right under the nose of the Central Committee:

The first plenum of the Central Committee after the XI. Congress, on 3rd April 1922, with open voting and with the participation of Lenin, unanimously accepted the proposal of Kamenev naming Stalin as the General Secretary of the Central Committee. This post was created in order to direct the work of the Secretariat of the CC, which, above all, involved the sending of reports together with the selection and distribution of party cadres. A defined hierarchy already existed in the party, with directives coming from above and a military discipline concerning their fulfilment. Only at the higher level of political decision making, with Lenin in the Politburo, was relative collegiality maintained. The post of General Secretary objectively turned itself into the control centre and linking point for the hierarchy. As Tucker correctly stated: "Lenin didn't think that the post of Secretary had the capability of converting all power in the hands of only one person ... The Secretariat, meanwhile, could influence the order of debate and the political direction, which enabled it to have an important strategic position in relation to the orders of the leadership, as well as the right to fill posts, which made the Secretariat an ideal instrument for political manipulation"(1).

Not much time passed - less than nine months - and already in December 1922, Lenin proposed to remove Stalin from this post, alleging that "he had concentrated an enormous power in his hands".(2)What happened in those months? What facts led Lenin to this opinion?

The process of concentration of `unlimited power' in the hands of Stalin, his temporary allies and personally loyal functionaries, manifested itself in various ways in 1922:

  1. A growth of the apparatus of both party and state, which came to be the same thing;
  2. The creation of a rigid mechanism of submission to the centre, not to the CC nor the Organisation Buro, but directly to the Secretariat of the CC;
  3. An increase of the powers and privileges of the apparatus, and consequently, the bureaucratic transformation of its majority.

Is this beginning to creep you out a bit?

Podsheldolkin's essay goes on to describe in detail the system of kick-backs and patronage that consolidated Stalin's power-grab:

In the summer of 1922 it was revealed that the number of functionaries who received their salary and budgetary necessities from the party (the party leadership) was 15,325, and with their families, 74,470. To this must be added 1920 members of the party, functionaries of the Soviets and central organs.

According to the decision of the Org. Buro of 27.9.22, the number of functionaries increased to 20,000 persons, and the number of support personnel, including technicians, who also received special supplies, up to 40,000 persons. After December, in the Secretariat of the CC itself, there were 275 `posts of responsiblity' and 372 `technical staff'.

Now, I'm not suggesting that something like this will happen; I'm merely suggesting that it can happen.

The erosion of the Separation of Powers, a (still) neutered Congress, a "strict constructionist" judiciary, etc., are all good reasons why we should be very wary of this kind of power being concentrated in the hands of someone who is not necessarily subject to constitutionsl safeguards. This person would not be a cabinet official, rather a politial appointee who wouldn't have to answer to Congress, or, at the very least, be subjected to Congressional vetting and approval.

With all the General Boykins running around, these days, one has to wonder if this "War Czar" thing is such a good idea.

Originally posted to Tod Westlake on Wed Apr 11, 2007 at 06:51 PM PDT.

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