George Walford: Steam Engine Time (56)

Continued from IC54.

Under this title IC54 pointed out that although Buddhism, Christianity and Marxism each had its origins in the idiosyncratic vision of a powerful personality, as they have grown to exercise social influence, becoming established and institutionalised, each of them has departed from the intentions of its founder, coming under determination by one or other of the major ideologies. Since writing that piece other examples of the process have come to notice.

Freud’s work created an upheaval, but psychoanalysis has now settled down among accepted treatments, and in doing so has stabilised its own set of conventions. Charles Rycroft, a 1930s communist who transferred his allegiance from Marx to Freud, eventually withdrew from the British Psychoanalytical Society, ‘discomfited by [its] resistance to any unorthodox views.’ Opposing the conception of the analyst as a scientist detachedly observing a specimen, Rycroft insisted that analysis entailed interaction between two people, both members of the same culture and of equivalent status; orthodox analysts did not welcome this approach. [1]

Some movements originated with a group rather than a single founder, but the rule still holds: as they attract the large numbers so they depart from their original objects, adapting themselves to the preexisting ideological structure. ‘For anarchists it is interesting to watch how movements, which began as
civil rights campaigns and women’s liberation struggles in the 1960s, have lost their fragrance as their causes have been taken over by institutions and their members have joined the establishment.’ [2]

Whether they become large and institutionalised because they abandon their original stance, or vice versa, will doubtless provide matter for debate in future as it has done in the past, but the presence of a significant connection between the two tendencies hardly remains open to doubt. It finds its explanation in the ‘ideological pyramid‘; [3] movement originating in the uppermost levels, where small numbers of people hold highly revolutionary views, can win substantial numerical support, and the power it brings, only by adjusting its thinking towards acceptance of the assumptions prevailing in the lower part, where the great numbers support or accept familiar conditions. While doing this, it may retain the original propositions as a set of ideals not meant for this ‘workaday world, as the Stalinist and Maoist movements professed concern for the peasants and workers they slaughtered and bishops bless the guns in the name of the Prince of Peace.

This explains what is often called the failure (sometimes even the treachery) of Marxism. Where this has become institutionalised (as formerly in the USSR and still in China, Cuba and elsewhere) the organisation promoting it has developed the authoritarian hierarchy that it set out to combat. It has done so because the great numbers stubbornly reject Marxist principles in favour of familiar practices, presenting the movement with a choice between abandoning the attempt to achieve its objectives or of adopting – only temporarily of course – methods that cannot be integrated with them.

In his recent history of the Russian Revolution Richard Pipes says the Bolsheviks emulated other rulers in using terror as a substitute for mass support. [4] He overlooks the significant difference that while the proclaimed ultimate objectives of, for example, the Nazis, were easily reconciled with mass murder, those of the Bolsheviks were not. We have quoted above David Edgar’s comment: ‘One glance at any nazi publication followed by one glance at any communist one would demonstrate that leninism was a serious attempt to address the most fundamental questions of earthly life, while fascism was a stew of spite, stupidity, hysteria and kitsch.’

[1] TLS 8 November.
[2] Mack the Knife in Freedom 30 November 1991.
[3] See page 2 above.
[4] Pipes R. 1989 The Russian Revolution 1899-1919 Collins.

from Ideological Commentary 56, May 1992.