George Walford: What’s Wrong With S.I.? (48)

Nobody has yet claimed that systematic ideology has all the answers; if it had, then all human problems would be solved and IC could close down. Yet knowing that further answers are needed is one thing; finding out what they are, or indeed what the unanswered questions may be, another. One approach is to look at the answers already given, comparing them with each other and looking for discrepancies; where these appear, something needs doing.

One discrepancy, and a big one, lies between the view of the primal ideology put forward up to January 1987 and the accounts of it given since that date. From Walsby’s first political formulation of his theory, through his Domain of Ideologies onward, this ideology was held to be intimately associated with anti-intellectualism, for example in the movements variously known as Nazi or Fascist (though not through the Stalinist communism occasionally lumped in with them); in George Walford’s Ideologies and their Functions, 1979, it was also said to be responsible for military activities and production.

That view is no longer advanced; this one universal ideology, the one we all retain throughout our lives (though for many of us it comes to be submerged under more sophisticated ones) has been renamed “the ideology of expediency” and the conception of it now held in s.i. is marked with the features that term implies; these do not include either the functions formerly ascribed to the ideology or enduring association with any political movement. With the adoption of the revised view (set out in Beyond Politics), the former one was discarded, the change having been noted in “Correction with Apologies” in IC25 (January 1987). The discrepancy between old views and new has been dealt with, the contradiction if there was one resolved by discarding one of its poles.

Another, comparatively minor but still needing attention, appears in IC‘s criticism of the (A-) SPGB. One of the principal themes of s.i. is that political behaviour, being purposeful, derives from the ideological structure of the person or group concerned; in particular, it is because most people and groups are identified with ideologies other than that expressed in the Party case that they do not support it or accept its

In IC25, however, these sentences appear:

People generally are not interested in dialectic, or self-contradictions and their poles, they do not work out in detail what is wrong with what the Party says. But they are sane and sensible, they recognise muddle when they hear it and they will have nothing to do with it. That is one reason why the overwhelming majority of those who have heard the Party ‘case’ have consistently rejected it and continue to do so. (p. 15)

(Merseyside Branch may have had this in mind when writing the comments which appear in the lower lefthand part of p. 13, IC47).

A paragraph quoted by Merseyside in IC 47 (p. 13) takes a similar line:

Will the working class support the Socialist Party? Not if they’ve any sense they won’t. And so far, on that question, the working class have shown very good sense indeed.

The approach appears again in other references to possession of good sense by the workers, and not the Party, on p. 16 of IC versus SP; a written debate 1986.

These passages all run counter to one of the main themes of systematic ideology. They all speak as if rationality (appearing as “sense” or “good sense”) could be taken as a standard, independent of ideology, by which the actions of any group may be judged, and this assumption is unjustified, for rationality does not possess this independence. What is rational or sensible by the standards of one major ideology is arid intellectualism, or meaningless, or even irrational by those of another; there are no good grounds for assuming the existence of any intellectual standard that does not derive from the assumptions of one ideology or another. These passages are accordingly withdrawn, discarded, deleted, disowned, recanted, renounced, annulled, repudiated, or whatever one does do on recognising that something has been said which would have been better not said. (The item containing the first passage quoted recognises that contradictions will doubtless be found in the efforts of IC and that one way of dealing with them is to abandon one of the poles).

There are doubtless other discrepancies or self-contradictions remaining within the literature of s.i.; they will be reported and dealt with as they come to notice.

from Ideological Commentary 48, November 1990.