George Walford: Various Small Items

Those who maintain that society embodies mainly the preferences of the ruling few land themselves with the task of explaining how these manage to impose their will. They sometimes claim that it is done by force, but again, how? In The Politics of Obedience (Montreal, Black Rose Press 1975), Etienne de in Boetie suggests that the mainspring of domination is less physical force than a chain effect; the ruler directly dominates some five or six confidants, these control, say, 600, and these in turn dominate 6,000. Very illuminating. All we need to know now is how 6 control 600 and 600, 6,000. Experience suggests that when one person is determined to carry six others to the left, while they insist on taking the one to the right, the right has it, and the effect grows stronger as the disproportion between the two sides increases.

There are, of course, many instances in which a few maintain control over many, but in such cases the many are predisposed towards compliance; the two dozen police at a football match have to suppress a few troublemakers, not the audience of twenty thousand. There are occasions when one group encounters another determined not to submit, and the outcome does not suggest that the few are able to force their will upon the many. These occasions are known as wars.

Rather than thinking of the dominant ideology in a society being imposed by its ruling class, it makes better sense to think of the ruling class as having, for one of its qualifications, acceptance of the dominant ideology of the society.

There does seem to be at least a rough correspondence between the size of each of the two great ideological classes and the circulation of the journals catering for it, although it holds good more for categories of journals than for individual ones. The eidostatics (roughly, those holding the ideologies which underly the attitudes of the nonpolitical people and of those engaged in supporting or maintaining traditional society) have the wide range of magazines dealing with sex, sport, hobbies and D.I.Y., togethei with the establishment-minded newspapers and most, if not all, of the tabloids. The eidodynamics, on the other hand, have only the anarchist periodicals – mainly BLACK FLAG, FREEDOM and the SOCIALIST STANDARD of the (A-)SPGB – the communist and Trotskyist journals, the NEW STATESMAN AND SOCIETY, numbers of reformist and revolutionary journals which rarely attain public sale and, among the mass circulation newspapers, hardly more than a few of the most adventurous passages in the GUARDIAN and the OBSERVER. No doubt there is room for argument over this classification, but the main point seems indisputable; the journals supporting reformist and revolutionary viewpoints have a far smaller circulation than those expressing acceptance of existing society or support for it.

This sometimes produces the argument that the size of the movements is governed, or at least substantially affected, by the circulations of the journals, that anarchism for example remains a small movement because it does not possess the resources to produce a mass-circulation newspaper.

This overlooks the fact that political divisions (even if not those we know today) preceded the press. From the corantos of the 17th Century through the TIMES of the 18th and the multifarious journals of the 19th to the million-fold circulations of today, each new journal has entered a world in which divisions of opinion on political and other matters were already established, and in order to win the audience without which it could not survive it has had to address itself mainly to one or another group: It may well be true that newspapers will go far to please their advertisers, but first they must win an audience; without that the advertisers will not be interested. The differing circulations of the various journals are a result, rather than a cause, of the sizes of the groups to which they appeal, and the same holds good for the size of the audience attracted by the differing types of television programme.

Each major ideology tends to produce persistence in a given course of behaviour, a persistence resisting the effects of changing circumstances, and this often leads to complaints of rigidity. Acceptance or rejection of these depends upon the ideology of the commentator, but one general remark may be made: Without some stability in volitional behaviour it would not be possible for people to live together in complex societies, and such stability is a consequence of ideology. By rendering our actions predictable (within limits) ideology enables us to work together, thereby securing greater satisfactions than could be obtained in isolation. Although ideological processes operate largely outside formal rationality they are none the less effective and of positive social value.

Systematic ideology encounters a good many problems not of its own making, some of the most intractable arising from the tangle of words and meanings centring around “intellect” and “intelligence”; the Russians make their own contribution to this with “intelligentsia.”

Through the Stalin and Brezhnev years the intelligentsia, stigmatised as, a hangover from Tsarist days, were suppressed.The term does not carry the same meaning in England as in Russia; there an intelligent (the “g” hard, and accent on the last syllable) is not necessarily one of the university-educated brain-workers termed intellectuals here. An intelligent is a person of culture, one who thinks of others and seeks to make the world a better place. The term carries a strong sense of advanced thinking, and the magazine OGONYOK defines its meaning as “someone capable of thinking independently.” It seems that in Russia the intelligentsia comprises the reformers and revolutionaries or, in the term used by systematic ideology which extends beyond the merely political field, the eidodynamics. (Based on an article in the SUNDAY TIMES 8 January 1989).

HIGH-VOLTAGE power lines carry no risks to the health of those living underneath them. So the Central Electricity Generating Board assures us. But when the BBC Panorama” team investigated in April 1988 they found just one British scientist willing to buy a house near one of these power lines. He was Dr. Cox, Chief Medical Officer of the CEGB. (OBSERVER 8 January 89).

STEPHEN HAWKING‘S Brief History of Time was the No. 1 best seller for weeks, and in the charts for seven months. Can anybody now doubt that the general level of intellect is rising? Well, a tiny doubt does creep in when one notices what has pushed it out of first place: John Hasleden’s ‘Allo ‘Allo, The War Diaries of Rene Artois, a book of humour based on television scripts.

MICHEL PECHEUX complains that the rhetoric of production disrupts communication between the workers and their work. When he come to pass on his own ideas this believer in unhindered communication says:

Interdiscourse as transverse discourse crosses and connects together the discursive elements constituted by interdiscourse as preconstrued, which supplies as it were the raw material in which the subject is constituted as speaking-subject, with the discursive formation that … tends to absorb-forget interdiscourse in intra-discourse… (Language, Semantics and Ideology 1983. London: MacMillan. I cannot claim to have read the book; the quotation is given by a reviewer in TLS 30 September 1983)

WHEN CONSIDERING whether economic influences govern political behaviour and, in particular, whether party attachment is significantly affected by class position, it is well to bear, in mind conditions when the Marxist class theory was formulated. In its most straightforward form it appears in the Communist Manifesto of 1848. At that time, and until 1867, the great majority of British workers were excluded from political life, and it could reasonably be expected that when they did get the vote they would use it to assert their interests. In a sense they did, but the interests they chose to assert were ideological rather than economic. The reformers and revolutionaries interpret “interests” to mean material interests. To the great body of the people it means something else. They show themselves to be ideologically inclined towards supporting control in political-intellectual affairs and freedom in economic matters, and the fact, that the outcome for most of them is a position low down in the economic pyramid they are prepared to accept. This began to appear even in Marx’s time. It quickly became obvious that the movement of social affairs did not agree with the predictions of the Communist Manifesto and was not coming to do so. Marx was obliged to abandon his belief that the mere fact of being a class would lead the proletariat to form themselves into one political party and spent the rest of his life struggling to reconcile his theory with the results of obsrvation.

THE ASSERTION that the workers and peasants are oppressed has failed to make much headway against the refusal of most of them to feel themselves in this condition. Almost universally, they find some category other than an oppressed working clfiss with which to identify, seeing themselves as British, Russian or Hindu, as male, female or homosexual, as Buddhist, Moslem or Christian, as plumbers, soldiers or policemen, as footballers, cricketers or snooker-players, as teen-agers, family men or pensioners, as blonde, bearded or long-haired, and in these capacities they feel themselves rather privileged than oppressed.

Those who feel oppressed are the revolutionaries. They have reached a stage in ideological development marked by a high degree of intellectual individuation; this produces independent thinking but also, especially in people not aware of what is happening to them, feelings of isolation, alienation and exclusion from the community. Like all other ideological groups the revolutionaries try to universalise their assumptions, and one way of doing this is to project their feelings upon the workers. The great majority, of whatever class, give every sign of finding their society acceptable; when called upon they die in their millions rather than set themselves against it. The revolutionaries dismiss this as mere error, an outcome of propaganda and miseducation, and ascribe to the people who work for a living a degree of suppressed resentment and resistance, a convictionthatradicalandfar-reachingchangeis needed, that is in fact experienced only by themselves.

from Ideological Commentary 38, March 1989.