George Walford: Ideology in the Reviews (53)

Systematic ideology presents political movements as expressions of stages in ideological development. In establishing this view it criticises the Marxist view that they arise, fundamentally, from class interest. Daniel Bell reviews Arpad Kadarkay’s George Lukacs: life, thought and politics. [1]

Lukacs ranked with Gramsci and Marcuse as a major figure in Western Marxism. His father, director of the Hungarian General Credit Bank and one of the most powerful men in the Austro-Hungarian empire, paid to be ennobled; Lukacs used the aristocratic “von” (and lived on a handsome allowance from his father) until he joined the Communist Party. His mother belonged to one of the oldest and wealthiest Jewish families in Eastern Europe. Yet Marxism presents communism as the movement of the working class. Incidentally, Moscow forced Lukacs to repudiate History and Class Consciousness, “a work of prolix opaqueness.” [1] Oxford: Blackwell. 384 pp £25 1557 861145).

S.I. posits particular connections between revolutionaries and theory, between traditionalists and practice, and between the revolutionary movement and internecine dissension.

Julian Symons reviews Neil Jumonville: Critical Crossings: the New York intellectuals in postwar America. [2]

Remarking that revolution in America seems less likely now than it did in the early 40’s, Symons criticises the book for suggesting that the neo-conservatives of the 80’s, such as Norman Podhoretz and Irving Kristol, descend ideologically from Partisan Review. The revolutionaries, Rahv and Sidney Hook for example, were strong on political philosophy but weak on power and its uses; the neo-conservatives go the other way, street-smart but showing little interest in ideas that don’t offer more or less immediate benefits.

The book conveys well the ferocity of the fighting among the revolutionary groups supporting respectively Partisan Review, Dissent, and Trotskyist papers such as New International. No band of compliant brothers, these socialists, but individualists struggling among themselves for political and intellectual supremacy and doing so rather because of their socialism than in spite of it. [2] Berkeley: University of California Press 291 pp, $24.95, 0 520 06858 0.TLS 31 May.

ERIC Griffiths concludes his devastating review of Terry Eagleton’s new book Ideology: An Introduction [1] by quoting from its conclusion: ” Ideology is a matter of… certain concrete discursive effects… It represents the points where power impacts upon certain utterances… the concept of ideology aims to disclose something of the relation between an utterance and its material conditions of possibility, when those conditions of possibility are viewed in the light of certain power-struggles… ” [3] Systematic ideology often seems highly unsatisfactory, it falls far short of its aspirations. But it does better than that. [3] London: Verso. TLS 28 June.

ONE view of the Roman empire presents it as having sought defensible frontiers within which it could conduct its own affairs, leaving surrounding peoples to attend to theirs. The concept, with its implications of definite limits (they have even been called ” scientific frontiers”), and self-determination for each polity (“nation” would be an anachronism), suggests the ideology of Precision, and it would be more than surprising to find this exercising so much influence so early.

Benjamin Isaac has just published The Limits of Empire: the Roman army in the East [4] in which he holds this view of Roman methods to be a modern invention. In the East (he does not deal with the Western Empire) from the late Republic to the sixth century A.D. the Romans displayed a consistent pattern of aggressive expansionism. A feature of the ideology of Principle and Domination / submission, this fits well both with other parts of the behaviour of empires and with the general level of ideological development for the Roman period. [4] Oxford, Clarendon Press. TLS 22 March.

WHATEVER we may expect to follow the state, the attractiveness of life before it appeared diminishes with the recognition that the foragers practised infanticide and senilicide. Now it appears we wouldn’t win by going even farther back; gorillas, too, kill their young. They also push their women around, transferring females out of established groups to new ones. (George B.Schaller in TLS 5 July, reviewing Hayes H. The Dark Romance of Dian Fossey. London: Chatto & Windus).

REVIEWING several works on contemporary culture, Geoffrey G. Harman speaks of “the feedback loop operating in Western democracies, where, through polls and television, what the public ‘wants’ precisely matches what its leaders ‘promise.'” He undoubtedly has a point, but although the two interact they do not constitute a fully circular structure. Leaders and would-be leaders have promised many different things; those promises become functional, or not, as the public accepts them or not. The appearance of a feedback loop lies mainly on the surface; a deeper understanding comes when we see the leaders (and not only in politics) giving to the unformulated tendencies of the people a shape consonant with the conditions of the place and time. (And holding their places only so long as they succeed in doing this).

S.i. shows that once the eidodynamic ideologies, with their drive towards control of economic affairs by the collectivity or its representatives, have entered social life, they exert influence although usually excluded from office.

Reagan and Thatcher; the names have come to stand for a time when the public sector of the economy dwindled and private enterprise – or what the right wing like to call by that name – took over. Robert Kuttner takes this view in The End of Laissez-faire: American economic policy after the Cold War. His title expresses an aspiration, he urges “a substantial public sector” to counter-balance “the chronic instability of capitalism.” Reviewing the book, Paul Craig Roberts points out that in fact government spending in the USA increased over the Reagan years, from 38 percent of national income in 1970 to 40 per cent in 1980 and 43 per cent in 1990. Far from Reagan freeing industry from government control, during his reign (January 1981 to January 1989) the Federal Register printed 430,780 pages of new regulations.

We may add that Britain follows no different course. In 1910 less than 6 pence in the £ of the nation’s wealth went to the public sector; in 1980 around 60 pence in the £. Over the first two years of the Thatcher regime public spending rose from £60.6 to £85.99 billion, with a forecast for 1981/2 of £106 billion. [5] Leslie Chapman 1983, Waste Away, 16, 25).

S.I. presents development of the means of production as an aspect, rather than the fundamental determinant, of ideological development. The belief that slavery died because it lost efficiency no longer holds the field. Hugh Brogan, for example, has condemned it as ” absolutely wrong”. [6] He quotes Eltis’ book on the slave trade [7] to show that it remained as profitable and promising as ever on the eve of abolition. [6] TLS 22 April 88. [7] Eltis D. 1987 Economic Growth and the Ending of the Transatlantic Slave Trade Oxford: OUP).

IC has repeatedly quoted statements, by students of hunter-gatherer communities modern and ancient, saying that they treated the environment as best suited them, without concern for its welfare; only their lack of the power to do so kept them from seriously damaging it. Some have still not got the message. Max Oelschlager has published The Idea of Wilderness, from prehistory to the age of ecology (Yale UP). It shows him believing that the Paleolithic foragers did not try to dominate plants or animals but lived in a state of harmony with nature. (Reviewed by Keith Thomas, Observer 26 May).

Discussing freedom, IC points out that freedom of action for those on one side of an issue can only come with with suppression of corresponding freedom for their opponents. Peter Brock has written Freedom from Violence: Sectarian non-resistance from the Middle Ages to the Great War. (U of Toronto, distributed in UK by Hemel Hempstead: IBD). Reviewing it, Peter Brock points out that the title raises the question: Whose freedom? That of the anti-war sects or that of the great majority who do not feel a conscientious objection to military service? (TLS 6 Sept)

A more cogent point would seem to be that sects can enjoy freedom from violence only so far as those wishing to use violence against sects are deprived of the freedom to do so.

IC has had a good deal to say about the conflict between anthropological studies of foragers and the aboriginophilia common among the reformers and revolutionaries. It now looks as though a common reformist view of peasant life also goes against the conclusions of those who have studied the subject.

Edward Friedman, Paul Pickowicz and Mark Selden have produced Chinese Village, Socialist State (Yale). Allowed to make a field study of a poor village 20 miles from Peking – the first American social scientists to win such permission – they paid 18 visits over 10 years and the reviewer, Jonathan Mirsky, describes the result as the best book on the impact of the Chinese Communist Party on peasant life. (If it surpasses Hinton’s Shenfan and Fanshen then it deserves high praise indeed).

They started with the belief that socialism (or what the Chinese called by that extremely elastic name) would provide benefits for the Chinese, but growing knowledge of the suffering of the people, much of it caused by malice, incompetence and corruption in the Chinese Communist Party, convinced them otherwise. Rural life may have been better under Chiang Kaishek.

Discoveries of that sort in the countries under communist rule grow increasingly familiar – they have indeed become so orthodox that one begins to expect a reversal of the trend. This book brings out something else, not introduced by the communists but a traditional feature of Chinese peasant life. During the terrible famine which accompanied the Great Leap Forward Communist Party officials of course continued to eat well, but villagers resorted to digging up the dead for food, not as a terrible novelty but – in the authors’ words – following the practice of “traditional cannibalism in time of famine.”

When we recall, in addition, that peasant civilizations destroyed most of the forest in the old world, killed off practically all the wild life, and operated in a strongly authoritarian way, it hardly seems likely that a return to or towards this way of life would bring any improvement on what we have.

TAXES: In 1981 the Public Accounts Committee estimated that undeclared money-earning activities amounted to £16 billion annually, costing the revenue about £4 billion. Other realistic estimates had the taxman losing between £7 and £28 billion. [8] It sounds as though these activities deprive the Treasury of enough to do the NHS or the schools some good, but could the authorities be trusted to use any extra revenue in that way? [8] Chapman L. 1983,Waste Away, 16.

from Ideological Commentary 53, Autumn 1991.