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Place and Time in Socialist Theory

Place and Time
in Socialist Theory
Michael Rustin

Sources of Contemporary Pluralism
Pluralism has become fashionable on the left. This new-found
enthusiasm for diversity and choice is in part a defensive response
by socialists to the decline of the mass support hitherto provided
by the working class, to the ‘Forward March of Labour Halted’ 1,
to the rise of new social movements. The socialists of the Greater
London Council attempted to make a politics out of this new
vision, seeking out new radical constituencies, and empowering
them with funds and political access, in a city in which the
industrial working class has long been in decline, and in which it
in any case had never been dominant. On the theoretical plane, the
concessionary pluralism of Althusserian Marxism – economism
and classism qualified, but only to a degree, by the relative autonomy of other levels of the social formation – has evolved in some
minds into a thoroughgoing departure from the essentials of
Marxism. Paul Hirst2 has become a social democrat, and holds decentralised and pluralist self-activity, rather than class struggle, to
be the main object of radical hope. Laclau and Mouffe, in
Hegemony and Socialist Strategy 3 have espoused radical republicanism, arguing that only the idea of democracy, not the shared
interests of class, can unify the dispersed oppositional subjects
constituted by modem forms of domination. Common to these
positions is an implicit preference for Rousseau and Durkheim
over Marx – the idea that value and legitimacy resides in selfconstituted communities with their own distinct moral identities,
not with the collectivities of class constituted, ultimately, by
modes and relations of production.

Among more orthodox social democrats, like Roy Hattersley4
and Bryan Gould 5, socialist pluralism is concerned less with an
accommodation to the claims of new collective identities, and
more with the problems posed for socialists by the increasingly individualist climate of market society. The fundamental terms of
this revisionist agenda are set, at base, by Kant and Mill rather than
by the ideals of participatory democracy. The hope is to reconstruct a defensible social democracy from the idea of rights, by
fmding some acceptable balance between the claims of equality
(political, economic, and social rights conferred on all), and those
of freedom. The idea is that the differentiated and selfish ends
pursued by individuals can be made compatible with the general


welfare, if there is an appropriate regulatory and redistributive
framework. The emphasis on social rights, and the commitment
to the framework of an extended idea of freedom suggest that the
intellectual antecedents of this perspective lie less in socialist
traditions than in the collectivist liberalism of the turn of the
century. It is interesting to note that the radical individualism of
the present period has thus generated two oppositional responses
whose nineteenth-century precedents lie in social rather than
socialist critiques of capitalism. In the recently-revived dialogue
between liberal and socialist strands of thought~of. which the
attempt to reconcile the principles of equality and freedom is a
major part, liberalism seems to have been getting the better of the

Parallels can be seen between these lines of thought and contemporary critiques of State socialism in the East. On the one
hand, there is the critique in terms of radical democracy, rationality
and new subjectivities, of Feher and HelIer 6 and Bahro 7 which
contest bureaucratic socialism in terms of authentic collective
self-definition. On the other, there are the ideas of ‘market
socialism’ developed so convincingly by Alec Nove in his The
Economics of Feasible Socialism 8, which assert the claims of
individual consumer choice and its inevitable consequences for
economic organisation. Whilst the former critique demands on
democratic Voice, Nove calls for the economic citizen’s right of
Exit 9 , as the precondition for modernising and humanising State
socialist systems. The contemporary appeal of market socialism
lies in the dire equivalence of equality and uniformity in East
European societies, and proposes by contrast to reconcile the
virtues of equality (retained through social ownership of the major
means of production) with freedom (achieved through the choices
conferred by markets). It is easy to see why these ideas make sense
from the standpoint of reformers in Prague or Moscow. Given the
realities of actually-existing socialism, the freedoms and differentiations provided by markets seem self-evidently attractive. But
from the point of view of those living under market regimes, the
appeal of socialism currently seems less strong. (Markets and f:heir
attendant hard-selling seem hardly escapable under Thatchensm,
whether one is watching the brand-names on footballers’ shirts, or
dialling 123 on the telephone and hearing that the time of day is
now sponsored.)

The Thinness of the Contemporary
Egalitarian Idea
Contemporary socialists have had little option but to respond to the
break-up of their core constituencies, to the wider choices made
available to individuals by the market, and to the diversification of
life-styles that seems to have followed the ‘desubordination’ 10 of
the late 1960s. The difficulty for them has been that their core
ideal, equality, has become too thin and minimal an idea to anchor
an alternative vision of society. Its main referent in experience is
a fast-fading memory of working-class communality, born of
hardship and territorial segregation. Unfortunately, these communities, and the industrial working class which they supported, have
been to a considerable extent dispersed and dissolved, by the
positive opportunities provided for mobility as well as, more
recently, by the demoralisation of redundancy and industrial
collapse. The miners’ strike of 1984-5 showed the limits (as well
as the remaining strengths) of this declining spirit of rooted class
solidarity and endurance.

It seems too that the identification of nation with shared
suffering and hope, achieved during the Second World War in a
rare progressive defmition of British nationhood, is also for the
time being lost. The war and its effects may in any case have prolonged a moment of class history beyond its natural span, not only
because of its appropriation and extension of the idea of the
popular nation into a consensus for social reform, but also because
of the effects of the war in prolonging the hegemony of old
industries – and thus the size and strength of their workforces which were already, in the 1930s, in evident decline. A fatal tilt
towards the past may have been imparted to British Labour by its
years of greatest good fortune. The idea of a unified ‘progressive’

nation has in any case now been shattered by emerging division,
and national self-respect shaken by decline and the loss of the
virtues of peaceful civil life. For the moment, the damaged object
of the nation is covered over by strident and unrealistic selfassertion, bearing little relation to any sustainable role that the
United Kingdom might play in the world.

I intend to argue that the lack of contemporary resonance of
equality as a social ideal is a consequence of the more general
limitations of abstract universalism, in both its liberal and socialist
forms. Socialists of several kinds have taken over too uncritically
from the liberal tradition the idea of the isolated individual subject
as the building block of an alternative social philosophy. In the
utilitarian tradition, influential through Fabianism on British
social democracy, it has seemed natural to contrast the interests of
majorities with those of the privileged, as if socialists wanted the
same things as liberals except that they should be for more people,
or ultimately for everyone. Some versions of Marxism also
postulated individual interests as their implicit foundation, though
in this case aggregating them not as the greatest happiness of the
greatest number (or equality of opportunities or life-chances, in
the English empiricist tradition of social book-keeping 11) but as
the idea of ‘the masses’. ‘The masses’ implies an aggregation or
shapeless heap of individuals whether the term is used by conservative mass-society theorists (as Raymond Williams pointed out)
or by revolutionary socialists. The idea that the fundamental units
of society are social and not individual is in each case implicitly
overlooked or denied. The consequence is in each case to legitimise the State as the agency of betterment or control, and to
diminish the value to the social order of the intermediary institutions of ‘civil society’.

In particular, I propose that it is the denial of the particular
location of human lives in place and time that has led to this
abstracted individualism of the left, which has so impoverished the
vocabularies of contemporary socialism. The universalistic spirit

of the Enlightenment sought to defme humanity independent of
such local ties and claims, seeing these as the props of feudalism,
hereditary privilege, and traditional ways of thinking, and thus as
obstacles to rational progress. Marx took over this dynamic spirit
of universalism, as the Manifesto makes particularly clear. Liberals, and the dominant streams of socialism, have each defmed
themselves in opposition to conservative, traditionalist, and organicist ideas, with serious costs, I shall argue, to their vision of
life. The influence of the Romantic tradition on the left has been
some corrective to this. Through Romantic social criticism,
radicals have maintained some links with these pre-capitalist
modes of social thought Raymond Williams’s Culture and
Society 12 was an attempt to rewrite the British socialist tradition in
these terms. E. P. Thompson’s historical writing, notably The
Making of the English Working Class 13, though much more hostile
than Williams to conservative thinkers, also took as its point of
departure the meaning and value of a particular lived experience
of capitalism, against the causal and deterministic grain of much
of the existing Marxist tradition. The influence of Gramsci on
contemporary Marxist thought has given rise to a similar emphasis
on society as a system of lived meanings rather than as a mere
aggregation of material interests, and to civil society rather than
the State. But the influence of such ideas has so far been confmed
to the radical oppositional cultures of certain capitalist societies,
and has little affected (at least in Britain) the dominant political

Time and Place In Socialist Theory
Marxism is, of course, pre-eminently a historical mode of
thought. Marx also attached great importance to local particularities in his analytical work – his writings on the class struggles in
nineteenth-century France are the foremost example of this. It
may seem odd, in view of this, to protest at the a-temporal
character of most socialist views of man. But liberalism too was
historical in the sense of postulating a future that would be
radically different in kind from the past, and of seeking to find the
laws that would explain progression from one stage to another 14.

The eighteenth-century account of rational enlightenment, and of
the progress to be brought to the world through trade and industry,
anticipates and is then taken up and re-made by Marx, who
displaces the bourgeoisie with the proletariat and universal man,
not as the original heroes (which they remain) but certainly as the
final bringers of universal human fulfilment. Whereas conservative and religious modes of thought dwelt continuously on the
temporal limits of each life, and the constraints they impose,
rationalist thinking (in both its liberal and Marxist forms) instead
celebrates the collective, historical transcendence of such limits,
through positive transformation of entire ways oflife and thought
Time and place cease to be conceived as essential limits of each life
(of course, this is not denied, merely ignored) and instead become
the mere markers of stages in the development of a higher life for
all. It is in this sense that rationalist thought has been profoundly
historicist whilst also being radically a-temporal in its social

Marx’s ruthlessness in thinking through the consequences of
this view is an uncomfortable aspect of his thought for many
socialists today. Few now join him in commending the progressive historical role of the bourgeoisie, still less of imperialism IS.

Even if some are willing to concede Marx’s point about the
progressive role of the bourgeoisie in the context of the 1840s,
when the Communist Manifesto was written, it is heresy indeed to
take this view of our contemporary bourgeois. Yet who is to say,
in Marx’s terms, that the necessary historical work of capitalism
is yet fully done? Marshal Berman’s All That is Solid Melts into

Air 16 more than any other recent work shares Marx’s zest for transformation, for the ceaseless overtmning and renewal of the given.

Yet to most readers the argument of this book, exciting as it is,
probably seems more consistent with the spirit of capitalism, and
of socialism.

Marxists were formerly as rejecting of the claims of place as
they have been of the claims of the past. Socialists postulated a
universal, placeless, and especially nation-less identity, that of
‘workers of the world’, to replace conservative particularisms.

They have then, in the twentieth century, had to suffer the bitter
disillusionment of seeing nation triumph over class, and identities
of place prevail over the universal solidarity of mankind, in the
onset of two world wars.

More recent developments in Marxist thought have sought to
give greater weight to these complicating historical and geographical dimensions of material and social change. Althusser 17,
in particular, incorporating the insights of French historical writing of the Annales School, and recognising the irretrievable failure
of the universal ‘stage theories’ of Second International Marxism,
incorporated into contemporary Marxism the idea of multi-levelled and uneven historical development. Not every sector of
social life evolved at the same pace- the ‘unified totality’ of at least
the Hegelian version of idealist Marxism was refuted. Uneven development was acknowledged also in its spatial dimensions. The
idea of the particularity of historical conjunctures, of decisive
moments (the exemplary cases being those of the Bolshevik and
Chinese Revolutions) in which the balance of class forces could be
decisively re-shaped, depended on the idea that societies differently located in space as well as in time could be expected to have
different developmental possibilities and outcomes. Althusser’s
work, and the different but nevertheless in some ways parallel
kinds of historical thinking developed by Marxist historians in
Britain, led to the political conclusion that socialist practice must
be grounded on the particular analysis of societies, with their
distinctive locations in space and time. Gramsci’s analysis of the
differences between Eastern and Western social formations has
generated similar conclusions for socialist practice in the West.

Historical materialism is now seen more often as a resource for the
description and explanation of specific cases, than as a source of
concrete explanations or political prescriptions in itself.

These recent modes of Marxist thought have given searching
attention to the specificities of historical development. Yet while


history is viewed in less determinate ways than previously, seen as
progressing as often on bye- or back-roads as on the orthodox
highways, the object of this understanding remains primarily
teleological. The past and present continue to be regarded by
Marxism instrumentally, as stages, or stepping stones across a
history of exploitation and suffering, on the way to a quite different
order of society. This view of the world Marx of course inherited
from the rationalism of the Enlightenment, and Hegel in particular,
though for liberals the new order was already well on the way to
having already arrived. This transcendent perspective also informs Marxist ideas of political practice. Whereas liberalism instrumentalises individual action, as the means to fulfilling personal desires, Marxism has tended towards an instrumental view
of social action, viewing it as a means to collective and historical
transformation rather than as necessarily of immediate benefit to
the collective actors themselves. It is this larger historical vision,
this sense of the unintended consequences of social acts (to the
actors themselves) which often distinguishes revolutionary from
merely ameliorative politics. In this sense Marxism is necessarily
a form of historicism. (Merleau-Ponty 18 was one writer in the
Marxist tradition who came to understand the potentially tragic
consequences of the priority of the claims of historical transformation over present lives, while nevertheless recognising that this
historical dimension was central to socialist thought. Therelationship between programmes for the long and the short term have
been recently discussed in democratic socialist terms by Bernard
Crick 19).

It seems to be a distinctive quality of utopian social thought
that in its intensity of imagining an alternative possible world
(perhaps unconsciously infused by many who think in this way
with lost memories of harmony and beauty drawn from infancy),
it displaces attention away from the specific qualities of the
present. In this respect political utopianism perhaps shares some
psychological properties with the experience of being in love, in
both its inspirational and delusional aspects. In each case, the
present world is obliterated or diminished except in so far as it
resembles or leads towards a desired object. Of course without
such transformative visions, men would easily remain trapped
within limits which only appear to be fIXed through lack of
imagination of alternatives. On the other hand, a more sustained
attention to the innate properties of human lives might enable us
to devise’ social imaginaries’ which are closer to people’s sense of
reality and thus of the possible. In so far as a refusal to contemplate
the properties of the present is encoded in the forms of socialist
thought (in so far, that is, as they are concerned mainly to find
means of transforming it to the shape of an imaginary object of
desire) these modes of thought may themselves be a limit to
My central argument is that the boundedness of human lives in
time and space needs a greater acknowledgement and centrality in
socialist thought. Both for individuals and collectivities, identity
is largely constituted by relation to a specific history. The greater
the density and richness of meaning of lives, the more important
the awareness of connectedness to the past (or rather, to specific
pasts) is likely to be. This developed sense of continuity and
indebtedness characterises most of the activities that we might
consider exemplary ones for a future of human self-fulfilment.

This is no less the case for many forms of popular culture – cinema,
sport, rock music – than it is for the high cultural genres ofliterature
or painting. Once anyone gets to be serious about any activity,
whether it be philosophy, gardening, or jazz, they need to establish
their relation to the traditions and vocabularies of that activity’s
past. The remembered or available history, in the case of some
popular cultural forms, is shorter only because they are of more
recent invention, or because they have only lately become objects

of lasting record. One important consequence and gain of ‘mechanical reproduction’ 20 is that it has allowed popular and everyday experience to achieve the same represented and publicly
accessible status as the experience of social elites in the past – the
family photograph as the universal equivalent of the family
portrait The broadcasters’ recall on Cup Final Day of earlier great
Cup Finals, the line of past players in which a generation’s leading
performers in any sport will rapidly be placed, in the light of
perceived affinities and contrasts, speak to a widely-felt wish in
almost everyone to recognise historical meaning and continuity in
their own experience.

The importance of a sense of place is somewhat analogous. It
seems to be in the nature of ‘modernity’ to fracture the continuities
of both place and time, making into matters of conscious choice
and achievement connections that used to be merely given or
ascribed by birth. In pre-capitalistEurope, one belonged in the line
of a (patriarchal) family, related by dependence and obligation to
other families. One was in effect tied to a place, if not by law then
by inescapable circumstance. It is not surprising that rationalist
and individualist thought sought to negate such limiting and
degrading ties, and instead postulated a free individual, legally
entitled to move physically where he wanted and to associate with
whom he pleased. Both the positive and critical theorists of
capitalism rightly stressed its tendency to surpass the limits of
physical space, to make its effective domain the whole world.

Even highly-rooted individuals in modern societies, for whom ties
to a particular place seem important, are as likely to be attached to
a place which they have freely chosen, as to a place which has, so
to speak, chosen them. Both the elements of the past and the
locations with which we find affmities are now likely to be selected, to a degree, in relation to our specific values and identities.

Places and times seem to have become objects of decision, not
fixed points around which identities are unconsciously constructed. Traditions too, in the modern world often have this
‘arbitrary’ or invented form, and sometimes turn out to be of
remarkably recent and deliberate origin 21 •
Nevertheless, the idea that Marx took from Hegel that
mankind’s proper relationship with the world is one which involves the realisation of meaning seems to have implications for
the physical world, for relationships to place, as well as to the
social world. Places – especially buildings, but also landscapes,
contain and convey meanings 22, and are impoverished where they
do not. Even though mobility and choice of place has grown,
territorial locations remain nodes of association and continuity,
bounding cultures and communities. It is partly the role of place
as itself a locus of meaning, through physical care, conscious
expression, shared memories, and the elaboration of such meanings in many forms, which makes belonging to a common place a
significant marker of social identity. The idea that it need not and
should not be, in the modern world – that attachment to place has
been made obsolete by ease of communication – doesn’t seem a
very promising one, from a social point of view. New countries
like the United States have their attractions by contrast with their
old ones, in their openness and acceptance of innovation. Nevertheless, it seems that in the end freedom from all particular ties and
identities is limited by the absence of texture, density, and difference 23. Freedom is lessened, not enhanced, when there is a dearth
of identities and communities among which to choose. What such
a condition seems to produce is cultural homogeneity and social
estrangement under a surface of freedom and sociability.

Human identities are of course created in infancy through the
highly particular, emotionally intense, and asymmetrical relationships of parents and children 24. A sense of the particularity of
physical space seems initially to be a genetically-given aid to
survival (an aspect of ‘species being’) in the infant’s need in early

life for proximity to parents or parent substitutes, and then to
extend culturally outwards from this origin. Relationship to the
past is established through the knowledge of parents whose lives
and memories extend prior to the child’s experience; arelationship
to the future is lived in both parents’ and children’s minds by the
knowledge that children are likely to outlive their parents, and in
turn bear children of their own. It is hard to see the importance of
this basic fact of generational succession being modified greatly
by any likely social transformation, even though the reciprocal
roles of older and younger can be and are assigned by many means
and criteria other than those of physical kinship. On the whole
such ties between generations seem a source of cultural strength
and richness, as well as of well-being, and the segregation of
generations by age – for example, in the establishment of the
retirement community as the locus of a whole life-stage – seems
hardly a desirable pattern to follow.

The origins of the human sense of relatedness in infancy and
childhood also reveal to us the complexities and ambivalences
inherent in the adult relation to place and time. There is, unavoidably, an inherent conflict between the life-worlds of young and old,
reconciled by graceful compromise or ultimately by nature as this
mayor may not be. (Mental or cultural conflicts do not necessarily
end with the physical death of a protagonist.) Timpanaro, discussing the consequence of the life-cycle for Marxism 2S, drew attention to the unavoidably tragic aspects of the limited life-span.

Equally important, however, are the conflicts which follow from
generational succession. Respect the pastas we may, there is never
going to be room to preserve all of it and also to make space for
what members of new generations create for themselves. Each
canon of admired works of art stands in the way of alternative valuations and criteria. Attacks on an established canon (such as those
of’ expressive realism’ or humanism in English literature in recent
years 26) lead to an unstable situation, since any set of evaluative
criteria is liable to generate a new canon in its turn. It is difficult
to do without some ordering and selective principle in the transmission of a culture. Nevertheless, to create, as many radical
innovators have realised, it is usually first necessary to destroy.

Just as it is a crass kind of traditionalism that does not recognise
the inevitability of such destruction, so it is a simplistic radicalism
that imagines that everything can or should be made anew, and that
our experience would be richer if it were. One’s view of this
balance changes with age.

Foundations of a Socialist Pluralism
Socialist pluralism would have a more adequate foundation if it
was built on an acknowledgement of the specific temporal, spatial,
and relational ties of most human lives. These are major axes of
difference from which a pluralist culture can be built It is such a
relational perspective which should distinguish a socialist pluralism from the more usual liberal-socialist attempts to balance
individual against collective needs, according to which the collective is mostly perceived as the minimal or basic precondition
making it possible for the real source of value, the individual, to
develop. A good society would acknowledge and cultivate the
space for such relations, both for communities and individuals. It
would value the activities of memory, of external public expression, and of specific social attachment, which give meaning to
such differentiated identities. It is to these purposes of developing
distinct and different forms of life and culture that man’s huge
material powers should be devoted, once elemental scarcities have
been overcome.

These kinds of awareness have been an important topic of
some recent socialist writing, as well as, of course, central preoccupations of earlier socialists such as Morris. Benedict


Anderson ‘s Imagined Communities 27 gives an unusually sympathetic account of the meaning of nationalism, as the attempt to
create a social identity in a rapidly-modernising society in which
traditional identities were breaking down. Patrick Wright’s On
Living in an Old Country 28 describes a number of instances of the
defence or celebration of some aspect of ‘Englishness’, from the
National Trust’s cult of the country house, to a householder’s
defiant attempt to defend her cottage from demolition by the
planners. Wright is well aware of the usual appropriations of
national traditions for conservative purposes, but he also understands and empathises with the need for some expressive relationship to the past. While particular definitions need to be contested,
as part of any adequate contemporary politics, the general importance of these dimensions, for left as well as right, is demonstrated
by Wright’s book.

Historical writing has been a principal means by which concerns such as these have become recognised on the left. History
Workshop Journal and those associated with it have developed a
form of work (following the example ofE. P. Thompson) which is
often evocative and commemorative of the experiences of past
generations more than it is interested in scientific generalisation or
in drawing prescriptive lessons. The often descriptive, memorial,
or reportorial method of this work has the effect of making those
described into objects of value and meaning in themselves, in
virtue of having lived their lives. Such writing is an act of moral
identification and solidarity, helping to define a social identity (for
example a feminist identity) in the present by finding ancestors or
virtual kin in the past.

One of the most important features of the miners’ case in the
1984-85 strike was its assertion of the claims of generational
continuity by mining communities, as Raphael Samuel and his
colleagues have pointed out 29. These claims were for continued
livelihoods for children in the places where their fathers and
maybe grandfathers had worked, thus linking the concepts of
place, time, and identity through family. The Coal Board’s offer
to safeguard the interests of presently-employed miners, through
a no-redundancy guarantee and the option of relocation, was seen
as insulting and beside the .point in this argument, misdefming, in
typically capitalist terms, as a problem for separate individuals
what was being experienced as the crisis of a whole community
and way of life. The widespread involvement of miners’ wives in
the organisation of the strike further demonstrated and extended
these communal meanings.

Unfortunately this was by no means the only way in which the
miners’ struggle was conducted, represented, and perceived.

Widespread sympathy won for the rights and needs of communities was at the same time driven away by the triumphalist style of
the miners’ most visible leader, and by the tone of militant selfassertion of the NUM as a vanguard group seeking to repeat its
1973-74 success in bringing down a Tory government. The
argument of a universal right to consideration for whole communities to retain their means of life required a more inclusive and
conciliatory call for solidarity than was in fact chosen. The
arguments of physical and moral force in this struggle were not
easily combined. The political resonance and potentiality of a
politics which explicitly incorporates the moral claims of connection with place, and of the ties between past and future generations
of workers thus still remain to be tested in other circumstances, and
by different means.

There has also been a reassertion of the signficance of the category
of space within the field of urban geography. David Harvey 30, in
particular, has developed a theory which describes the dynamics
of capital accumulation in spatial terms. Territorial space, in this
major development of Marxist ideas on a geographical plane, is
seen as generating factors favourable to the accumulation of profit


(through locational advantages of different kinds) and of resistance to exploitation, through the social relations which are built
up through the sharing by workers and their families of a location
and a life-space. The rise and fall of land values is explained by
the dynamics of class struggle, stocks of capital invested in
buildings and the urban fabric being upwardly or downwardly
revalued as profit potentials rise and fall. The interventions of the
State in the spatial domain – through land-use planning, housing,
infrastructural investment – are seen as largely determined by the
interests of capital in maintaining the conditions for accumulation.

The relevance of Harvey’s work to the present argument is its recognition that collective identities are formed through the common
occupancy of space, and are constituted in relations of particularist
kinds. Capital is mobile, universal, and free; resistance to these
forces most often defmes itself in terms of the local identities of a
specific group defined by its common history in a location. The
recognition of a specifically spatial level of determination of
social relations has been the objective of a significant school of
social geographers 31. in addition to Harvey.

We can thus see a new emphasis on the particularities of time and
of place in contemporary radical thought. The development of
interest in primary relationships, especially those of family (good
and bad) through the influence of feminism and also through
interest in psychoanalysis, are a further aspect of the new particularism of radical thought. The ecological movement focusses its
version of this attention to the given – to the facts of being – on
man’s relation to nature, identifying irreplaceable gifts of the earth
– threatened species, natural environments, etc. – as objects to be
protected against the dynamic forces of universal accumulation or
abstract power. It seems clear that these tendencies of thought incorporate into a radicalism of the left themes whose origins lie in
a conservative, organicist, even religious mode of thought. At the
same time, these ideas continue to infuse more traditionally conservative movements, which sometimes overlap, in conservation-

ist causes for example, with anti-capitalist protests of the left. (In
recent years the membership of a wide range of conservationrelated organisations, conservative and radical, has gone up substantially 32.) The ideological identification of such campaigns in
opposition to the instrumental rationality and the power of market
forces or bureaucratic States is often clearer than their location in
more conventional left-right terms. The electoral success of the
Greens in West Germany seems due in part to their success in
incorporating some of both these strains of protest against the
dominant economy and polity.

It seems that an attention to the specific qualities of the social
is now given by many radicals, in an examination of the possibilities of the present, where formerly radicals would project their demands forward into a mainly utopian future. Socialists adopted
the dynamic, future-oriented, interest-based logics of capitalism
itself, in order to decipher the means of its destruction, and took
over in the process a similarly instrumentalist view of the present.

The actual hardships and miseries of exploitation may also have
encouraged such radical displacements of human hope, either
backwards, in an idealisation of ways of life being destroyed by
change, or forwards into a post-revolutionary dawn.

Now, with previously undreamed-of material abundance
achieved for the majority of citizens in the West, it is hardly
convincing to most to imagine the future as a wholly different
world, the negative of what is already known in experience. Most
would not, in any case, change everything – why should they wish
to? More consistent with reality is the idea that the future has to
be made from materials already at hand, sometimes casting aside,
sometimes preserving, most often developing from an existing
model or example. For better or worse, the future has in part
already arrived. It is this sense that any contemporary socialism
has to take account of what is, of what is valued in people’s actual
lives, that has brought this hidden turn of some radical thought
away from its dialectical engagement with liberalism against the
common enemy of traditional reaction, and cautiously instead
towards some of the concerns of conservative thought, always
more attentive, like romanticism, to the feelingful and aesthetic
aspects of human life .

That is not to say that the project of modernisation and
universal emancipation is complete, still less to endorse the
revived claims of conservative traditionalism against it. The
expressive, textured, and rooted lives identified by conservatives
as possible only for a privileged minority should by contrast be
claimed by socialists as universal human goals, made imaginable
for the vast majority by the overcoming of material scarcity. The
point is that the realisations of such human possibility are bound
to be particular in their form, related in innumerable different ways
to specific locations in time, place, and cultural tradition. What
must be recognised and repudiated is the inheritance of ‘mass
thinking’ which the left took over uncritically from the frightened
liberalism of the mass society theorists of the early years of this
century. (This unconscious appropriation of mass society ideas
included communists’ own habitual use of the idea of ‘the masses’

as a term of mobilisation. Even the socialists’ alternative of’ class
theory’ to the right’s ‘mass theory’ took over some of the reductionism of their opponents’ conceptions, each influenced by the
social upheavals and conflagrations of the early twentieth century33.) A hostility to differentiation has continued to pervade the
socialist movement, in both East and West, and to some degree
accounts for its vulnerability to critique from the individualist
right. What we require are vigorous social imaginaries to contest
the dominant values of individual freedom and satisfaction now so
effectively deployed by the advocates of market society. Time and
place are essential constitutive dimensions of such a pluralism 34.

This is not to say that the project of modernisation and
universal emancipation is complete, still less to endorse the
revived claims of conservative traditionalism against it. Continued economic development remains essential for the world-wide
conquest of material scarcity, costly and even catastrophic as this
frequently is in its specific effects. This process of modernisation
is often contradictory to the needs and moral claims of existing
communities whose members have only one life to live. The
dilemmas of how to balance such claims of generalised future
benefits against present and concrete harms might be dealt with
better if they were the subject of more conscious reflection.

Edited by Roy Edgley and


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See the essay of this title by E. Hobsbawm in The Forward March
ofLabour Halted?, ed. M. Jacques and F. Mulhem, Verso, 1981.

See P. Hirst, Law, Socialism, and Democracy, AlIen and Unwin,
1986, and on Paul Hirst’s development see G. Elliott, ‘The
Odyssey of Paul Hirst’, in New Left Review 159, Sept-Oct 1986.

E. Laclau and C. Mouffe, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy,
Verso, 1985.

Roy Hattersley, Choose Freedom: The Future of Democratic
Socialism, Michael Joseph, 1986.

. Bryan Gould, Socialism and Freedom, Macmillan, 1985.

F. Feher et al, Dictatorship over Needs: an Analysis of Soviet
Societies, Blackwell, 1986.

R. Bahro, The Alternative in Eastern Europe, New Left Books,


A. Hirschman, Exit, Voice and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in
Firms, Organisations, Harvard University Press, 1972.

This useful idea was put forward in R. Miliband, ‘A State of
Desubordination’, in British Journal of Sociology, Vol. 29, 4,

John Rex discusses British sociology and what he calls the
bookkeeping of social reform in Sociology and Demystification
of the Modern World, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1974.

Raymond Williams, Culture and Society, Chatto and Windus,

E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class,
Gollancz, 1963 (Penguin, 1968).

On evolutionism in English social thought, see J. W. Burrow,
Evolution and Society: a Study in Victorian Social Theory,
Cambridge University Press, 1970; and Philip Abrams, The
Origins of British Sociology 1834-1914, University of Chicago
Press, 1968.

See Bill Warren, Imperialism: Pioneer of Capitalism, Verso!


Marshall Berman, All that is Solid Melts into Air, Verso, 1982.

L. Althusser, For Marx, Allen Lane, 1969; L. Althusser and E.

Balibar, Reading Capital, Verso, 1970.

M. Merleau-Ponty, Humanism and Terror, Beacon Press, 1969;
Adventures of the Dialectic, Northwestern University Press,
1973. Steven Lukes in his Marxism and Morality (Oxford University Press, 1985) sharply criticises Merleau-Ponty’s position,
though without recognising how far some measure of historical
consequentialism is inherent in any transformative politics.

Lukes’s book fmds Marxism seriously deficient in its ethical

B. Crick, Socialist Values and Time, Fabian Society, 1984.


W. Benjamin, ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical
Reproduction’ , inIlluminations: Essays and Reflections (ed. with
introduction by H. Arendt), Cape, 1970.


T. Ranger and E. Hobsbawm, The Invention ofTradition, Cambridge University Press, 1974.

See K. Lynch, The Image of the City, M.lT. Press, 1960; What
Time is this Place?, M.lT. Press, 1972. See also M. J. Rustin,
‘The Fall and Rise of Public Space’, Dissent, Summer 1986.










See A. MacIntyre, After Virtue, Duckworth, 1981; C. Taylor,
Papers Vol. 2), Cambridge University Press, 1985.

See M. E. and M. 1. Rustin, ‘The Relational Preconditions of
Socialism’, inB. Richards (ed.), CapitalismandInfancy, Free Association Books, 1984.

S. Timpanaro, On Materialism, New Left Books, Verso, 1980.

Among works recently critical of English literary critical humanism are T. Eagleton, Literary Theory, Blackwell, 1983; C. Belsey,
Critical Practice, Methuen, 1980; P. Widdowson (ed.), Re-Reading English, Methuen, 1982.

B. Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin
and Spread ofNationalism, Verso, 1983.

P. Wright, On Living in an Old Country, Verso, 1983.

R. Samuel, B. Bloomfield, G. Boana (eds.), Enemy Within: Pit
Villages and the Miners’ Strike of1984-5, Routledge and Kegan

David Harvey, Consciousness and the Urban Experience, Basil
Blackwell, 1985; The Urbanisation ofCapital, Basil Blackwell,

See for example D~ Gregory and J. Urry (eds.), Social Relations
and Spatial Structures, Macmillan, 1985.

Data showing large increases of membership of a large number of
conservationist organisations such as Friends of the Earth, the
Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and the National Trust,
are given in Social Trends 17, HMSO, 1987 (ch. 11).

Raymond Williams’s important critique of the idea of ‘masses’ in
The Long Revolution (Chatto, 1961) and Keywords (Fontana,
1976) omits reference to the damaging role of this concept in leftwing thought.

Time, space, and the individual are the three categories set out by
Kant as constituting ‘bounds of sense’. From the point of view of
social thought it seems valuable to take the first two seriously as
well as the third. It may be a different matter to universalise the
conception of individuals located in a specific relation to time and
space, than to think of the rational individual agent in a wholly
abstracted and mentalistic way. The phenomenological concept
of the embodied self developed by Merleau-Ponty (and in England, Stuart Hampshire) is a complementary step towards viewing human experience in relation to its necessary biological and
material constraints.

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