George Walford: Conclusion from Beyond Politics

In the opening pages I noted that a theory of ideology must account for the presence of differing ideologies within the one society. Systematic ideology explains the major or main-sequence ideologies as stages in the universal system of evolution and the minor ideologies, the more localised and transient ones, as specialised versions of one or another of these. No part of the evolutionary system is static; the major ideologies have not always existed as they are and we have to expect them to continue changing in future. But in ideology as elsewhere change moves at varying speeds, the category outlasting its individual constituents and the general enduring while particulars perish. Although the detailed ideas of the modern city-dweller have little in common with those of the early forager, the largest ideological group within our mechanised, computerised, automated, nuclear-powered, space-traveling civilisation retains substantially the ethos and the set of general assumptions by which the first human communities operated.

We must resist the temptation to draw any rigid distinction between fluctuating particular assumptions and unchanging general ones, for when the particulars change the general which they constitute cannot remain entirely unaffected. But one brick may crumble without seriously affecting the proposition that bricks are hard, solid things suitable for building houses, and a change in one particular may have its effect largely canceled by contrary changes in others; as some people die others get born and the human race goes on. The highly general assumptions forming the bases of the major ideologies change so slowly that when studying their influence upon human societies (rather than seeking eternal verities) they are best regarded as stable. Systematic ideology deals for the most part with enduring regularities; usually harder to discern than transient local disturbances, and often less dramatic, these are not therefore less worthy of study.

The major ideologies form a system, that is to say a structure in dynamic equilibrium, its parts interdependent and a change in one tending to produce compensatory effects in others. People trying to bring about social changes tend to work on the assumption that other things will stay as they are, and the limited validity of this accounts for much of the disappointment they so often suffer. Each change in the tax laws brings a fresh crop of devices for avoiding taxation, and the French leaders of 1789 did not have to contend with anything corresponding to the powerful, cohesive, widespread and deep-rooted conservative organisations of today; it was their own success that called these forth to hinder later revolutionaries. [1] Many attempts at change are absorbed without noticeable effect, while those that achieve a measure of success alter not only the abuse or malfunction aimed at but also other parts of the system with which it interacts. Being diffused their effect is usually less than their proponents hope and, touching on features these did not take into account, often different from what they expect. Instead of building up momentum the changes intended as steps towards socialism, communism or anarchism tend to be countered by reverse swings and backlashes.

Ideological behaviour, whether in politics or elsewhere, is purposeful by definition, but when multiple purposes interact the outcome is often something intended by none of the participants. The French revolutionaries did not intend the rule of Napoleon, the Chinese the events in Tiananmen Square, the original Bolsheviks the horrors of Stalinism or the English anti-monarchists the domination of Cromwell. The Weimar Republic did not intend to prepare the way for Hitler and neither the Bolsheviks nor the Nazis nor the scientists who first ‘split the atom’ intended a confrontation between two nuclear superpowers. Turning from great things to lesser, the electors who repeatedly voted Labour governments, with their socialist connections, into office, did not intend that these should be followed by a succession of administrations more vigorously and directly anti-socialist than any previously known in Britain. Although not static the ideological system is so integrated as to be self-adjusting, self-correcting, self-stabilising, and it tends towards a condition in which the influence exercised by each major ideology diminishes as it stands closer to the anarchist end of the range. There is nothing mystical about this; it has come about in the course of evolutionary development within a natural environment at best neutral and sometimes, in effect though without intention, actively hostile. If there were any societies which set out on a different course they have not survived.

In their search for dramatic headlines the media focus upon failure and disaster, but the worst problems immediately facing us arise from uncontrolled success. Acting as economic individualists, each person and each group pursuing their own perceived interests without regard for the effects upon the total human community, the eidostatics have brought society to a point where it possesses powers capable of providing for all its members with a profusion never known before. Those same powers also make it possible for even single firms to do significant damage to the environment, and for individual nations to destroy civilisation, perhaps to put an end to the human race. The eidodynamics seek, with greater single-mindedness as they are more extreme, to end these threats by doing away with (what they believe to be) the cause of them; they propose a society which shall suppress economic individualism and function by economic collectivism alone. They want to cut off the branch they are sitting on. They have not succeeded and do not seem likely to do so; the methods they advocate, even when tried, have not been widely taken up. Proudhon’s workshops and the communities founded by Fourier, Saint Simon and Robert Owen have faded away, Soviet Russia and People’s China are returning to a reliance upon competition and profit, and the socialistic kibbutzim are no longer seen as the flower of Israel. The eidodynamics can validly claim that the persistent adherence of the great numbers to the old familiar ways has frustrated them, but it was just that attachment they set out to overcome. To say that if the people had supported them they would have succeeded is like saying that if we all had wings there would be no road accidents; doubtless true, but not helpful.

The impression given by the above paragraphs, that the eidodynamics have so far failed, comes from judging them by their own standard; they have indeed made little progress towards a society operating exclusively, or even predominantly, by the principles of socialism, communism or anarchism; their effectiveness has lain in another direction. My earlier statement, that the eidostatics have brought this society close to the point where it becomes able to provide abundantly for all its members, was one-sided and incomplete. This has been achieved by our total society, with the eidodynamic parties and movements among its working parts. Not only the accepters, supporters and improvers of existing society but also its critics, opponents and would-be destroyers, the Diggers, the Communards, Babeuf, Karl Marx, Bakunin, the Chicago anarchists, Mao and his comrades of the Long March, the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, Trotsky and the socialists working inside the Labour Party, the Spanish POUM and the SPGB, all of these have helped to make it what it is. The effects they produced were sometimes direct, sometimes indirect, sometimes the contrary of what they intended. Some of the results of eidodynamic efforts can be traced in education, in ways of treating the sick and the insane, in attitudes towards immigrants, in restraints upon weapons and the use of war as an instrument of policy. Other results of their work may be harder to see but more pervasive, atmospheres or influences. Whenever the eidodynamics produced any effect at all they contributed towards our present condition. Before dismissing this as yet more evidence of their failure, let us remember that in spite of all the wars, famines and disasters the population continues to increase. The nearest thing we have to an absolute standard by which to judge a society is its ability to maintain human life, and now people are flourishing as never before. So much so that the freedom of individuals to reproduce will probably have to be restrained, for the sake of the whole community. A consequence mainly of improved medicine, sanitation and food-production, this is not failure but rather an overabundance of success; human abilities are coming to exceed the capacity of the planet. Pollution, damage to the environment, and the dangers that come with nuclear energy, from poisoning of workers in the industry to the threat of universal extinction, are all of them consequences of our increased power over the environment. Power is always dangerous, but so far humanity has benefited from it, and the eidodynamic insistence that the welfare of the total community must take precedence over the interests of individuals, whether these be people, firms, industries or nations, has had much to do with this. It may well be due to their efforts, especially since 1945, that we are still here at all. The eidodynamics have been playing their part in an undertaking which has created our present problems by succeeding beyond all expectation. If they choose to turn away from the achievement, dressing in sackcloth and ashes for their failure to set up socialism, communism or anarchism, well, that is a luxury they have earned. What might have happened without them we can never know. What has happened, the astonishing success that we have not yet learnt how to handle, has come about partly as a result of their efforts.

In the material-economic field the eidostatic with its demand for freedom of activity provides the driving force and the eidodynamic, with its insistence on the need for control, the stabilising restraint, while in political-intellectual matters this is reversed. We have seen something of the systematic relationships which closer examination reveals between the ideologies which constitute these classes. The arrangement leaves no ideology without its function and no social activity unaccounted for, and such neatness arouses suspicion, but this weakens when we recall that we are dealing not merely with correspondence but identity. To a large extent the society is the ideological structure, expressed as institutions and activities, and the ideological structure is the society (and the world), internalised as a system of sets of assumptions.

In speaking of relationships between ideologies, ideological classes and ideological groups I have not been proposing a new system which could work if only people would think and behave differently, but presenting an interpretation of what has happened in the past and is happening now. Projection into the future of the course followed to this point does not suggest that society has reached its final condition, but it does affect ideas about the changes that can reasonably be expected. Proposals requiring virtual elimination of the less sophisticated ideologies, or their reduction to impotence, are not likely to be any more successful in future than they have been in the past.

Everything real has at least two sides. This applies to social systems as well as material objects, and appreciation of the benefits brought by industrial society confirms the eidostatic stance, while recognition of the troubles and dangers it creates reinforces the tendency of the eidodynamics to seek radical changes. Insulated by the social structure from some of the greater natural limitations (a condition they sometimes express by saying the problem of production has been solved), the eidodynamics strive to overcome the limitations their society imposes but find themselves frustrated by lack of support. In moving through the successive eidodynamic stages this comes to be seen as the deepest problem facing them. Socialists treat it as little more than a result of inadvertence, something to be cured readily enough if only they could obtain control of the educational system and the means of mass communication. Communism ascribes it to the influence of the capitalist class and prescribes a proletarian dictatorship as the cure. Anarchism rejects this, pointing to the continuing suppression of political freedoms where the capitalists have been expropriated; it maintains that the liberated society can only come as a result of the free movement of the people themselves. At the eidodynamic extreme the SPGB add that for such an effort to be successful it must be undertaken by a majority which understands and accepts their account of the structure and operation of society. The people who work for a living, they say, run society ‘from top to bottom,’ operating not only the productive and distributive systems but also the schools, universities, banks, stock exchanges, newspapers, radio and television stations, police forces, armies and bureaucracies. On this analysis it has to be agreed that if the overwhelming majority of these people were to decide to brush the authorities aside and set up the liberated society for themselves nothing could stop them. The conception leaves only one question unanswered: Why does the general body of the people not accept these proposals?

Systematic ideology provides an answer, as yet only in general terms, and needing far more development, but supported by reason and evidence and opening the way to a new understanding of social development past and future. The undertaking has required an activity covered by none of the ideologies we have been discussing, namely the study of ideology conceived as one constituent of universal evolution. With this our work comes full circle, the theory of systematic ideology accounts for itself. The ideology underlying this book has to be added to the range. Lying beyond the eidodynamic it has evolved in the same way as the other major ideologies. That evolution, however, is far from having followed a smoothly continuous course, and the emergence of this further term in the series results from yet another revolution in thinking. For ideology to be understood in this way it has to be accepted as a relatively independent field, intimately related to other social activities (and, beyond these, to the biological and physical worlds) but not reducible to them without loss of the features that make it what it is. If we are to understand ideology and its consequences, the tendency to treat the major ideologies as secondary effects produced by the social structure, or some part of it such as class interests, has to be conceptually repressed. Rather is the social structure with its classes a consequence of ideology.

The question arises whether further major ideologies have yet to appear. It seems unlikely, for with the appearance of the ideology which has for its particular function the study of ideology the series turns back on itself. Does this mean that ideological evolution is finished? I know of no reason to think so. There are no perceptible limits to the growth of knowledge or the extension of understanding, and new versions of the major ideologies, new ideological species as it were, continue to appear. One recent instance was fascism, clearly cognate with Domination yet possessing features peculiar to itself. I have spoken above of the greens, a new eidodynamic construction, and many readers will have felt that other parties, tendencies or organisations should have been taken into account. More political movements than it is well possible to list struggle for a place on the stage, and party politics is only a small part of ideological activity. New sciences appear, new religions and new mysticisms, new theories, new professions, new trades, new psychologies and new entertainments, each of them an ideological development. More than ever before, our world is a boiling, bounding, bubbling ferment of ideological novelty, and the rate of change is accelerating. If the ideological system has reached completion it is only in the sense that a newborn child is complete.

Continue reading Beyond Politics by George Walford (1990):
Preface | Introduction | Politics as Ideology | The British Political Series | The World Political Series | From Politics to Ideology | Ideology Beyond Politics | The Beginnings | From Village to Empire | After The Empires | The Eidodynamic | The Origins of Ideologies | The Evolution of Ideology | Conclusion | Appendices | Notes & References | Select Bibliography | Index | Synopsis