George Walford: Doing the Splits (49)

The series running under this title has a dual theme; that the eidodynamic movements tend to split while the eidostatic ones do not. The “tend” matters; it is not being suggested that all eidodynamic movements are always splitting while all eidostatic ones enjoy perpetual internecine peace Anarchists are often able to operate in small groups while within conservatism, a firmly eidostatic movement, distinct trends often appear – wets differing from drys, for example; Michael Forsyth and Malcolm Rifkind, Tory ministers in the Scottish Office, were recently reported in dispute. But they disagreed only over tactics, and one response from a senior Tory was “It’s time Maggie knocked their heads together to make them see sense,” placing a value on cohesion, even when imposed, hardly to be found among the reformers and revolutionaries. (Sunday Times 12 Aug)

The eidodynamics expect growth of rational understanding to lead towards agreement, but experience does little to confirm this. Dissension increases as one moves along the ideological range from expedience towards repudiation (in political terms from non-political towards anarchism). and there are grounds for seeing the prevalence of disagreement among the intellectuals as the effect of an underlying logic. Rational thinking requires precise definitions, and the more hard-edged the concepts become the more they tend to clash. At the extreme we find the (A-) SPGB claiming its own definition of “socialism” to be the only valid one and also declaring itself “determined to wage war against all other political parties.”

The tendency is not merely political but ideological; it was noted long before political parties as we know them first appeared, Erasmus drawing attention to it in 1523: “The sum of our religion is peace and unanimity, but this can only come about when we define as little as possible and leave the judgment free on many matters.” (Quoted in Kamen H. 1967 The Rise of Toleration. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 27)

But even Erasmus and his followers believed it necessary for Christians to define, and reach agreement on, a small number of fundamental propositions, and those proved to be the rock on which the Church split apart.

Analysis and observation both indicate that it is not among the dear thinkers, but rather among the people not inclined towards intellectual activity that cohesiveness is to be expected. Certainly it is mainly the left, and especially the extreme left, that proclaims the need of solidarity, and what you feel the need of is what you haven’t got.

Some more examples of eidodynamic divisiveness:

“In the balmiest days of the great Red Scare [of the 1920s] there were about 150,000 Communists and Anarchists in [the USA], and the Communists were divided into thirty-two different groups, one of which numbered two members. The whole lot were about as dangerous as a flea on an elephant – or not that dangerous, because they spent their time biting each other.” (Phil Stong, “The Last Days of Sacco and Vanzetti”, in: Leighton Led. 1949 The Aspirin Age. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 181)

Reviewing a new life of Daniel De Leon by Stephen Coleman (Manchester U.P.), Discussion Bulletin says that in and after the 1890s: “The success of ‘socialist’ politicians in transforming the ‘immediate demands’ of the socialist parties into their dominant programs caused splits in nearly all the parties of the Second International. In the U.S. the anti- DeLeonists left to help form the Socialist Party identified with Hilquit, Debs, and Haywood. In Britain both the Socialist Party of Great Britain (to which Coleman belongs) and the British SLP left Hyndman’s Social Democratic Federation. In Russia the situation produced the Menshevik-Bolshevik split and in France, Germany, the Netherlands, and elsewhere splits and factional disputes that were often resolved by events precipitated by the Russian Revolution.”

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David Miller in TLS 25 May 90: “It is often impossible to foretell the consequences of the full implementation of a proposed change from observing its partial implementation. You cannot, for instance, predict how an economy run wholly on co-operative lines would work by examining the behaviour of a few co-operatives in a capitalist economy.”

from Ideological Commentary 49, January 1991.