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Cold War Thinking

CoIcI War Thinking
No-one will expect us to have such illusions of
grandeur as to publish a condemnation of the
Russian occupation of Afghanistan. Big powers are
not to be bothered by such Lilliputian salvoes.

Nonetheless, we should be bothered by it, or rather
by the way that the western media, western politicians, and in due course no doubt western culture,
are reacting to it. For a shift in the strategic
boundaries between Russian and American power is
taking place in a fashion that allows comparison too
easily with the time when, shortly after the Second
Wvorld War, the lines of international hegemonies
in Europe were being redrawn. Then, the West’s
political structures (the Treaty organisations) and
its economic ones (the dominance of the dollar)
were not yet firmly established. Now, these
structures are becoming once more insecure.

Then, the insecurity of the western ruling ciasses
prompted a tightening of ideological discipline which
cast communists, marxists, socialists and progres·
sives of every hue into the same void, and impoverished intellectual life for a decade and more. In
other words, the western ruling classes exerted
pressure in the ideological sphere with more
determination when they had to struggle politically
and economically on the international plane. These
prior conditions exist again today. Must we then
expect a similar ideological counterattack by the
Right? It is already taking place.

History will not, of course, repeat itself. It is
worth recalling, however, the contribution of
British intellectual life to the establishment of the
America-dominated ‘free world’, sometimes voluntarily and sometimes with financial help. Karl
Popper’s philistine account of Marxism (and Freud)
became the text for Right-minded Thinkers against
Totalitarianism everywhere. English philosophy
came to be characterised by a blindness to the
content of moral and political discourse rooted in
material life outside the liberal warmth of the
academy; and along with this went an exaggerated,
insular respect for the subtleties of our native

In the light of this, what are the prospects for the
Eighties? The first point to be made is that the
process of refurbishing old rightist ideas has been
going on for some time. Ideas from the New Right
are ready to hand as politics moves to the right in
an effort to confront economic and political problems. Now they are being daily insinuated into the
media, regardless, of course, of their theoretical
crudeness. How can Tory pOliticians afford to shrug
their shoulders at the hardships visited upon the
working class for the sake of the survival and prosperity of the richest of the bourgeoisie, and urge
others than themselves to submit to the tough
medicine prescribed by ‘common sense’? Because

it is widely trumpeted that politics has neither
power over nor responsibility for the inequality
generated by the market economy. How can the
feebleness of the British economy be laid to the
charge of mythical abstractions: the workers’

‘level of effort’ when productivity is low; their
‘disruptiveness’ when they protest; their ‘unwillingness to work’ when they are unemployed? Because,
against the entire tradition stretching back to the
Philosophical Radicals, it has become respectable
to attribute economic success and failure to the
moral qualities of individuals. How can the Tory
government claim to improve education by cutting
the state sector and facilitating selective entry into
fee-paying schools? By implicitly reverting to the
old meritocratic notion of a correlation between
testable intelligence and ability to gain from education. Again, the Cold War atmosphere has already
revived a feature of the old Cold War philosophies,
the tendency to lump together many different forms
of opposition. The quality of intellectual life as
much as the survival of the Left depends upon
challenging the crude theoretical sirhplicities which
the Right employs. In this issue we publish an
analysis of the strength of conservative ideology;
by the time the issue appears, a day school on the
New Right will have already taken place, and we
hope to run a further day school on educational
theory in due course. We hope that these will
generate more, and more thorough, criticism of
the positions of the Right.

The second point is that there was a common
theme in the philosophies of the late Forties cited
above: the retrenchment of the dominant ideology
in Britain meant turning inwards to reject European
ways of thinking, which the Left consequently looked
upon with greater interest. Though ideological
insularity in some form may be essential to
retrenchment, it is most unlikely to be English
insularity in the old form. With the Empire now
embarrassingly dominated by populist democracies
and military dictatorships, it is hard for the
British to look down their noses at the wealthier
European mainland. But European insularity is
also possible. The New Right movement in France,
for example, has developed a specifically European
nationalism, idealising’ European’ traditions of
individualism and Christianity.. It is important not
to fall into the error of believing that any continental
stick will do to beat the dog of British philosophical
conservatism. Jonathan ReEf considered this tempta·
tion in his article in RP23, and Pete Dews surveyed
the French ‘New Philosophers’ in the last issue.

In this issue we begin a series of articles on
Heidegger, in the hope that the left can gain from
the arrival of this reactionary thinker on the
British philosophical scene.


The third point is that the ideology of the Right
now appears strong not only because the media are
adept at disguising the crudity of right-wing ideas.

The Right plays also on those issues where the
Left has hitherto been weak; and these are issues
which we cannot simply ignore. Foremost among
them is the question of human rights, the defence of
which has traditionally been associated with liberalism. Take, for example, the use made by the New
Philosophers of the revelations coming from the
Russian Human Rights movement. In response to
these developments, the Left needs to take very
seriously the whole question of socialist democracy
and the task of showing how socialism can fulfil its
promise of realising more authentically those
liberties which the Right purports to hold dear.

The day school on human rights announced elsewhere in this issue (p. 0 ) will, we hope, contribute
to the working out of this response.

These are some elements of the intellectual scenE
as the Cold War is revived. The prospects for the
Left are bad; and it will need whatever strengths it
can call upon.

The Editorial Subcommittee


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The Case
of B..ilish Conse..valism

Ideology has an affinity with religion. Its success
depends upon its capacity to proselytise. The task
of ideologues is to convince as many as possible
that, of the competing pictures of society generally
available, their perspective is the most plausible
and compelling. This seems to place ruling-class
ideologies at an immediate disadvantage in so far
as their ‘natural’ subscribers are in a minority.

Social reality makes sense from the standpoint of
the economically privileged as an integrated, func-·
tional structure in which inequalities of wealth and
powe-r appear just and mutually beneficial. The
dominant class thereby emerges as the authentic
custodian of the national interest: its ec onomic and
political ascendancy operating within a benevolent
system of stratification by providing the skill and
guidance from which emanates the well-being of
those lower down the social hierarchy. The materially disadvantaged majority, in contrast, might be
expected to favour an alternative image of society.

Their aspirations are best enshrined in a conflictmodel of society which represents inequality as the
outcome of class exploitation. Yet, besides serving
the self-conception of the privileged minority, an
effective ruling-class ideology must deflect the

‘natural’ inclination of the majority to perceive
society as an antagonistic structure pivoted upon
class hostilities. For, in order to sow seeds of
social cohesion, it must gain general approval for
the existing power structure. The mission of a
ruling-class ideology, therefore, is to win converts
amongst the subordinate class by persuading them
that its particular slant on the social order is
correct and indisputable.

Ideology in Everyday Life
How, then, does a ruling-class ideology fulfil its
herculean mission? Clearly, it could not compete
successfully in the ideological arena if it consisted
merely of a curtain of false ideas drawn across the
eyes of the unsuspecting masses. Ordinary people
are unlikely to be bewitched by fairy tales spun out
of the fertile imagination of capitalist hobgoblins.

Figments conjured from thin air and superimposed
in a willy-nilly fashion would be a poor guarantee of
what Gramsci termed ideological hegemony: the
process whereby the authority of the dominant class
so permeates the s QC ial order that others willingly
accept their subordinate location within it. So that

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