George Walford: Ideology in Practice

Systematic ideology has one feature in common with every other theory covering a wide area: when people start to think about it they usually find the predictions it gives diverging from the results of their own observation. A theory undertakes more than an account of self-evident facts, and its propositions often need analysis before the connection with what actually happens can be seen. Here we take up one discrepancy between systematic ideology and familiar political life.

The theory divides ideologies into two principal categories, the eidostatic (in political terms those favouring tradition and the established) and the eidodynamic (broadly speaking, the reformers and revolutionaries). It credits the eidostatic with a preference for restraint and control in political life, the eidodynamic with a commitment to freedom of activity, but political practice often contradicts this, the states under conservative rule offering greater political freedom than those with communist governments. Britain and the USA enjoy a multiplicity of parties, an activity of the press and rights of assembly and public speech that begin to appear in the USSR only as communist control weakens, and Solzhenitsyn has even said that one enjoyed greater freedom under Franco than in the Soviet Union. [1] One tends to think of the Nazis as exerting the most rigorous political control in recent history, but the Communist rulers of East Germany employed nearly three times as many political police as the Gestapo had needed for a population several times larger. [2] Things start to fall into place only when we recall that the actions of any movement or party do not result simply from its own ideology but also from interaction with other groups or movements.

Down through history the major ideologies have emerged one after another and they now form a range, running (to use political terms) from non-political through conservative, liberal (here occurs the transition from eidostatic to eidodynamic), socialist and communist to anarchist. They appeared in this order and, in this order, numbers fall off along the range, the non-political group being the largest and anarchism the smallest.

Each group beyond the non- political aims to realise a particular version of society; these become increasingly distinct from current practice in moving towards the eidodynamic end of the range, but they start in close contact with the life we know. Conservatism largely restricts itself to maintaining familiar conditions of life, with improvements (a higher standard of living) provided these do not put existing achievements at risk. It does, for the most part, what has already proven acceptable and the general body of the people, their customary expectations mostly satisfied, seldom demand more political freedom than conservatism can easily accept. Even when an election deprives conservatism of office the state continues to operate mainly on the principles it favours. On the occasions when it does find itself faced with serious widespread resistance, as with the Poll Tax (and with Prohibition in America), it tends to recognise that it has got out of line and to give way. Only against deviants (these including the minority of “extremists” trying to upset things) does it need to use coercive force internally. Only under exceptional conditions, as in wartime, does it feel any tiled to enforce widespread restrictions [3] on such occasions these tend to meet with approval from the eidostatic majority and rarely entail any serious conflict within the conservative movement, for the domination-submission relationship forms a main part of its ideology.

When a communist movement attains power it fords itself in quite another position, with the great majority of the people it rules committed to practices radically different from those it favours. For it to emulate conservatism, leaving the citizens for the most part free to express their preferences and follow their “bourgeois” and “reactionary” inclinations would mean betraying its ideals. An alternative offers. and communist parties in power have chosen it; they have tried to use state power to force the majority into compliance with their ideas, at the cost of “temporarily” suppressing the political freedom communists value. (The French have a phrase: reculer pour mieux sauter, to draw back in order to jump farther forward).

They have been able to do this because, in the communist ideology the features of the ideologies which emerged earlier in the series undergo repression but not elimination. They remain available for use when the alternative (in this instance abandonment of what looks like an opportunity to establish communism) appears even more distasteful. But modes of behaviour which come easily to conservatism cause severe stresses in a communist movement. The Communist Party of the Soviet Union did suppress competing movements, democracy even within the Party, the liberty of the press and political freedom generally, but before it could do so most of the Old Bolsheviks had to be killed off.

Although the Bolsheviks, and communist movements generally, present the imposition of political control as a regrettable expedient forced upon them by circumstances, yet some of the more realistic communist theoreticians had envisaged a need for something similar, Marx of course providing the outstanding example with his remarks on the dictatorship of the proletariat. (When he wrote it seemed nothing worse than premature to identify the proletariat with the communists). Anarchism stands farther along the range than communism, and accordingly has the tendencies towards suppression even more strongly repressed. Yet individual anarchists do sometimes re-accept them in much the same spirit as the Russian, Chinese and other communist movements have done. Individual anarchists have attempted to impose extreme suppression on what they saw as authoritarian people or tendencies, using explosives for the purpose, and there would seem to be little doubt that some of those who fought on behalf of the Government in Spain, struggling to suppress the freedom of Franco’s supporters to express their ideas in practice, were committed anarchists who found the alternative even more repugnant. Usually, however, anarchism refuses to re-accept suppression, preferring purity to power.

To sum up, the degree of political freedom found in any state does not result from decisions made by the rulers or their ideology alone. It comes as the outcome of interaction between rulers, ruled, and outside influences, each of the three ideologically complex. A parallel may be drawn with the chemical elements; as found in nature these commonly exhibit features radically divergent from those by which they are defined, hydrogen for [missing in original – TB]

[1] Reported in Todd O. 1991 Cruel April; the fall of Saigon London: Norton. Quoted TLS 8 March 91
[2] Gellately R. 1991 The Gestapo and German Society: enforcing racial policy 1933-1945 Oxford: Clarendon Press. Reported in a TLS review 8 March 91.
[3] In their own view at least, our present conservative rulers are only incidentally restricting the local councils; their aim is to increase the economic freedom of poll-tax payers.

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Advanced thinkers habitually stress the importance of “the individual.” When they apply the term to everybody, and insist that we must not be seen as members of groups, they reduce us to a featureless mass of indistinguishable individuals. Real, concrete individuality lies in the possession of particular features, and when you have large numbers of individuals then, although each will have his or her unique combination, yet numbers of them will also possess features in common, thereby forming themselves into groups. A person distinguished as tall, or short, or white-haired is thereby defined as belonging to a group but also acquires a more concrete individuality. Similarly, and more significantly, with ideological features. Distinguishing a person as inclined towards one major ideology rather than another does not detract from recognition of their individuality but rather helps to constitute it.

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REFORMERS often point out that the last Tory administration was put into power by a minority of the electorate. They less often mention that in the 1990 local elections Labour in Islington gained just under 49 per cent of the vote but took 94 per cent of the seats Lambeth, Hackney and Newham showed similar discrepancies. On the other hand, the report giving these local figures did not mention the Tory minority vote. Observer, 31 March.

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“WARS will stop when men refuse to fight.” (NW in Freedom, 23 March, ascribing the remark to Nansen).

Doubtless so, but do we have to wait until then? Many animal species display fighting as a biological response – “fight or flight.” War has different roots, it belongs not with fighting, sex and hunger but with purposive social activities, slavery and imperialism for example. These still survive, but they now appear in new and less aggressive forms, slavery largely mechanized and imperialism commercialized. We can reasonably expect something of the same sort to happen with war, and indeed it has already begun; for the first time in history the most advanced powers cannot mount an all-out attack upon each other with any reasonable hope of benefit.

from Ideological Commentary 52, Summer 1991.