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Stalinism and the Public Service – the WHADWITYY B Principle

I spoke recently to Emeritus Professor Leonie Bronstein at the Canberra campus of the National University of  Australia.

Professor Bronstein is an acclaimed expert in Marxist behavioural analysis in a societal and organisational context. Her speciality is the Australian public service.

She has a new book coming out on April 1 called the WHADWITYY B Principle.

It’s about how the Public Service top-down command structure mirrors that of Stalin.

I began by asking her what prompted the book.

The Department of the Future, Unforeseen Circumstances, Knowledge, Education and Design funded a project for me last year on relational decision making and  hierarchical inspiration. It has been very rewarding both financially and intellectually.

What did you find?

Oh, that was amazing. The public service is based on the Stalinist model. I mean, just look at it. Public service agencies have a supreme leader whose word is law.  He or she gathers around  them a small clique of  like minded people who govern ruthlessly.  Their role is to develop and implement policies for governments and keep workers under tight control.

What else was there in your findings?

These Stalinettes and their Politburos wield incredible power.  They can hire and fire almost at will. They can re-organise tens of thousands of workers in their empire, always for efficiency reasons.


Well this was interesting too. The more efficient you are, the less work you can do.  It makes standing in line in Siberia somewhere positively archaic.

So where do the rest of us fit in?

Just as Stalin could not survive without his chain of command built on fear and reward, from the politburo down to the apparatchiks and then on to the hoi polloi, so too my studies showed all public service systems are built on the reward/punish approach. Fascinating, and so simple.

But you know, it goes further than that. The modern day Stakhanovites – those who are exemplary workers – do not become Stalins. They work hard certainly, but don’t have the special skills, talents and desires needed to rise to the top or near the top.

But isn’t the public service based on merit?

Professor Bronstein laughs.

Nominally yes.But there are no Trotskyists leading any agency.  The show trials, purges and banishments make sure of that.

How do these leaders stay in power?

To reinforce their rule, the Stalinettes need to manufacture an us and them mentality.  The goodies are those who toe the party line.  The baddies are those who question, contradict and disagree.

But the best of all are those dialectical thinkers who question, contradict and disagree in order precisely to toe the party line.  That is where your future Stalins lie.

Do you see any other historical analogies here?

Absolutely.  The great purges of 1996 removed untrustworthy Stalinettes by painting them as Trotskyites and sent 25000 workers to Siberia.

But purges are normal.  They are done periodically to create fear and ensure the loyalty and hard work of those who do the day to day work. I am predicting the purges in this forthcoming budget may well rival those of 1996.

The need for enemies is just too great. Fear of the other carols us all into the circle of their wagons.

Will you be doing any more Public Service work?

No. The Department is very upset with me because of the book. I have been banished.

What’s the meaning of the title – the WHADWITTY B Principle?

It captures the essence of my research.  It stands for ‘work harder and do what I tell you, you bastards’.

Leonie Bronstein The WHADWITYY B Principle (Ninel Press Canberra 243 pp) 1 April 2009.

I have recycled this, slightly changed, because I have more readers, many of whom may not have seen the previous article, and because 1 April is approaching and I am having a contretemps with one section of the bureaucracy.


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