George Walford: Miscellanea

BACTERIA inhabited the earth by themselves for two billion years. They have not been eliminated in the course of further development. (C. Vita-Finzi)

NATURE is an artificial construction.

IDEOLOGY plays a larger part in current thinking than sometimes appears, its presence often disguised by coded language. When, for example, the socialists and communists assert that the major problems of present society would be solved were the means of production brought under common ownership, they mean more than they say. A mere change of ownership, with all other social features left as they were, would be undone as easily as nationalisation is now being unwound. In order to produce noticeable effects, in order even to endure, such a change of ownership would need as accompaniment a change, on the part of people generally, in attitudes towards ownership and in thinking about ownership. A change, in short, of ideology.

WORKING to formulate s.i. sometimes comes to seem almost unnecessary, so much of it has been presented, in scattered pieces, by other and better writers. Here is J. M. Keynes on Conservatism. (Bonar Law was a former Conservative Prime Minister):

Mr. Bonar Law’s Conservatism was not based on dogma, or prejudice, or a passion to preserve certain sides of English life. It proceeded from caution, scepticism, lack of faith, a distrust of any intellectual process which proceeded more than one or two steps ahead, or any emotional enthusiasm which grasped an intangible object, and an extreme respect for all kinds of Success. (Keynes J. M. 1961 (1951) Essays in Biography)

DISCUSSING the contradictions within capitalism that would (he believed) lead to the communist revolution, Engles said this:

modern industry, in its more complete development, comes into collision with the bounds within which the capitalistic mode of production holds it confined. The new productive forces have already outgrown the capitalistic mode of using them. And this conflict between productive forces and modes of production is not a conflict engendered in the mind of man, like that between original sin and divine justice. It exists, in fact, outside us, objectively, independently of the will and actions even of the men that have brought it on. (“Socialism Utopian and Scientific,” quoted in Socialist Studies No. 10, SPGB 1993).

Engels says this conflict, between productive forces and modes of production, exists independently of the will and actions even of the men that have brought it on. That shows him committed to a level of mysticism beside which original sin and divine justice look like gross material realities.

Interaction among a number of individual purposes commonly produces an outcome intended by none of the participants, and many features of capitalism arise in this way, including productive modes and relationships and the conflict between them. But this does not by any means show them to be independent of the people taking part. Just the contrary; it shows them to be dependent on the intentions and efforts of all these people collectively rather than those of any one or any few.

NATIONAL self-determination? Excellent! – once everybody has agreed which groups rank as nations and which don’t. The British enjoy it while refusing it to the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish, so the English don’t have it either. Americans admire George Washington for enforcing a demand for it and Abraham Lincoln for suppressing one. Events in Yugoslavia and the former Soviet Union reveal the murderous ambiguities behind President Wilson’s bland assertion that ‘every people has a right to choose the sovereignty under which they shall live.’ With every minority containing further minorities, where does self-determination stop?

from Ideological Commentary 62, November 1993.