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19 Reviews



The philosophy of opp..ession
.Rip Bulkeley
Hodge., Struckmann and Trost, Cultural Bases of
Racism and Group Oppression, California, Two
Riders Press, 1975
In the orthodox tradition of Philosophy, which we

not our concern. We examine past and present
patterns and thoughts tl) get an understanding of
the basic ingredients of Western culture today.

Our major purpose is not to determine that A
caused B in 500 BC, but to determine what
changes can take place today to effect beneficial
social change.

are supposed to believe stretches unbroken and unblemished from Socrates down to Strawson, there
have been no more central questions and answers
‘Culture’ is used here in a way which is common
than those concerning the nature of human beings,
in sociology and anthropology, and it refers to
or what people are. It is clear to many radical
the sum total of life patterns passed on from
theorists today that, down the ages, philosophical
generation to generation withiri a group of
doctrines on this topic effectively and continuously
people. Culture thus includes institutions,
sub served the merciless oppression and exploitation
language, values, religiOUS ideals, habits of
of most of humanity by a minority of people. Underthinking,
artistic expressions, and patterns
standing this about philosophy’s past is an important
of social and interpersonal relationships. In
part of seeing how and why philosophy can still have
Western societies, these ingredients of culture
such a role today. But despite the efforts of radical
have developed within the framework of i(ieas,
philosophers in many countries the smug selfvalues and structures expressed during the
satisfaction, with which academic Philosophy concenturies-old tradition of Western thiilking.

templates its own image of itself as a supremely
humane tradition, remains largely unperturbed.

Further work in the radical history of philosophy is.

As a Marxist, I can have no objection to the
urgent and important. But, sadly, this book does
writer’s recognition at this point that the relationnot get us very much further forward.

ship between human actions and human ideas is a
two-way affair, still less to his placing the requirements of social action to change society for the
The central theSis of Hodge, Struckmann and
better at a higher priority than any merely academic
Trost’s book (HST for short) is that the practices of research into that ‘relationship as it transpired in
discrimination and oppression directed against such the distant past. However, there are several problematic aspects of this passage, which is the most
groups as blacks and women in Western societies
have then- basis, in some sense, in certain ideas
careful treatment of the fundamental issues of
and values which are central to the Western cultural method and interpretation in the book. I believe that,
for all his apparent caution, Hodge has opted for a
tradition. This view is supported, in the series of
extended essays which make up the book, by surveys generally idealist orientation, that is, for the tacit
of some of the ideas and values in question, such as assumption that human thought somehow precedes
the will, domination, philosophical dualism, Freud- and makes possible human social reality.

Radical readers may already have noticed with, rationalism, etc, and by looking at these
notions in the work of thinkers such as Plato,
some reservations Hodge’s willingness to accept
Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Descartes and Freud.

the concept of ‘culture’, her’e explained, from
Throughout the work, the authors propose that the
standard bourgeois sociology without any critical
negative results of such a world-view can be overappraisal. And a careful look at the passage will
come, not by combatting it with political organisashow that Hodge does not really make it clear
tions built, in their view, on the very principles of
whether the ‘ideas’ are to be included within
authority and domination which are to be deplored in ‘cultural patterns’, or not. In the first paragraph
the’ existing social order, but primarily through
there appears to be a distinction, of a pretty obreplacing the old divisive and oppressive values and viously dualist kind by the way, between the two.

concepts with new collective, libertarian and
But in the second we are told that culture includes
egalitarian ones.

‘values, religious ideals, habits of thinking’. And
In his Introduction, Hodge tries hard to take up an if so, then clearly these items are neither the baSis
agnosti~ or neutral position between the alternatives for, ‘nor an explanation of culture, in which they are
of materialism and idealism in the history of
an integral part. Furthermore, if ‘culture’ includes

the totality of human social life, including for example oppressive relationships between the sexes or
The writings and ideas of these thinkers and
between age-groups, then obviously culture cannot
philosophers are not necessarily the ’causes’

be an explanation for such patterns of oppression of subsequent cultural patterns, but existing
whether or not it includes ideas.

patterns support certain ideas, and the expresThe concept of ‘culture’ supposedly clarified by
sion of these ideas reinforces the existing
Hodge covers everything, and therefore can explain
patterns. Thus, by examining the expressed
nothing. He and his co-authors escape this impasse
ideas, we get a view of some of the cultural
in the chapters which follow by substituting ‘ideas’

patterns existing when the ideas were expressed,
‘culture’, along the lines of the claim in the
and a view of some of the subsequent patterns
quoted paragraph, that a survey of ideas is an
supported and reinforced by those ideas. What
aPequate substitute f or a survey of a culture as an
the ultimate historical causes or originS are is

Historical idealism



entire nexus of patterns of social life. It is the ideas
values, and structures of Western thinking, we are
told at the end of the second paragraph, which have
provided the framework within which the rest of
Western culture, such as institutions and social
relationShips of all kinds, has developed. And two
paragraphs later (p3), Hodge puts this idealist view
of history still more bluntly:

‘. •• this oppression occurs because of some
basic features of these values.’

(emphasis in original)
The indifference as to the direction of causality is
short-lived! And as the Introduction continues, the
identification of culture with ideas becomes total,
and the cautious confusion of the explanation quoted
above is forgotten. The idealist causal hypothesiS
is repeated:

‘ ••• some of the basic causes of sexism in Western societies are derived from the same set of
ideas. ‘ (P5)
‘Our examination in this book of some of the
causes of this oppression ••• ‘ (p7)
– for the book examines nothing but ideas!

There is, of course, something very odd about the
pOSition taken in the first quoted passage above, that
we need to study the past in order to act effectively
to improve our present society, but that our understanding of past ideas and past cultures need not,
for that purpose, be a causal one! For if we are
content not to know what leads to what, how can we
make such fWldamental political choices as, for
example, that between giving primary emphasis to
the struggle of ideas, or giving primary emphaSis
to the struggle between social classes? But in
effect, HST have chosen the former of these two
alternative emphases, and their verbal derogation
of causal views in the history of thought is only
meant as a camouflage, behind which they entrench
their own causal view, which is decidedly idealist,
as I hope I have already begun to show. What I want
to suggest in the rest of this article are some
reasons for rejecting such an approach in favour
of a materialist one.

Innocent ethnocentrism
There is a flat contradiction between HST’s repeated
attacks, throughout the book, on the Western dualist
notion of the supremacy of the mind over ute body,
reason over ‘natur~’, the head over the heart etc,
on the one hand, and, on the other, their confident
belief that radical ideas in radical heads are all that
is needed to transform SOCiety in all its material
and practical aspects. The fact that such radical
intellectualism has been made ‘respectable’ on the
Left by thinkers like Marcuse and even, after 1968′,
Mandel, and by journals such as New Left Review,
should not blind us to its shortcomings, as these are
plainly instantiated by HST. Hodge, for example,
spends 37 pages documenting and deprecating the
primacy of the will in Western dualist conceptions
of people and society. Then,· without the least selfconSCiousness, humour, or embarrassment, he
concludes: ‘I want to believe that it is not daydreaming to speak of hope. ‘! (my emphasis)
So much for the primacy of the will in those who
oppose themselves to the primacy of the will on
purely idealist terms. And indeed, voluntartsm has
been the usual resort of radical idealists or liberal
rebels such as these authors.

In general, HST prefer to cite, as sources for
theories to agree with, the most recent, most
American and most sociological authorities they can

find. ‘Marx’ and ‘class’ are taboo words. When the
central thesis of historical materialism is referred
to (but not applied) on page 15, the quotation comes,
not from The German Ideology, but from two worthy
but innocuous American academics, writing in 1959
as if the idea had just occurred to them – which
perhaps, alas, it had. When a list of basic works
on imperialism is given (P12) , Fanon, Magdoff and
Gerassi are among those cited; Marx, Hobson,
Bukharin and Lenin are not. When the division
between mental and manual labour is discussed, we
are not referred to Marx. and Engels, but to the
more modish, new-left-ish, and above all American
treatment of some of their ideas by Eldridge Cleaver
in Soul On Ice.

The ethnocentric perspective, the Californian
limitations to HST’s historical understanding, can
be illustrated by the following remark (P210): ‘The
progress of science in mastering nature enables us
to have more; it does not enable us to be more. ‘

For who are the ‘us’, here assumed as interlocutors,
if not that minority of the world’s populatiotl, black
and white, who occupy certain class positions in the
rich metropolitan and also in the peripheral
countries? HST seem quite unaware that, despite
the technological explosion which is indeed one of
this century’s central features, the per capita real
income of humanity as a whole did not increase
between 1900 and 1950, so far as this can be calculated. The remark quoted could not be made, therefore, except from an ethnocentric viewpoint, whereby the ‘us’ does not stand for humanity as a whole,
still less for the working people of the world.

A similar distortion mars the outline history of the
African slave trade, given by Trost in Part I!. She
formulates the theSiS, which I have called ‘historical
idealism’, as follows: ‘It appears that if black people
had been less negatively perceived by white people
four hundred and fifty years ago, they might not
have been subjected to life-long bondage. ‘ (P53)
On her account, the modern imperialist slave trade
first began in the 16th century when ‘the English’

suddenly encountered ‘the Africans’. She ignores
all previous interaction between other European
peoples and African ones. She disregards surveys
by authors such as Hobson, Curtin or Braudel of the
way in which Venice, Genoa, France, Portugal an.d
Spain, together with military Orders like the Knights
qf St John, had pioneered sugar and slavery from
Crete to Brazil between the 14th and 16th centuries.

She seems unaware of the important continuity between
ancient and modern slavery in the Mediterranean
area, out of which the traffic of the Middle Passage
was developed. She neglects the role of the expansion of Islam, and especially of the Turkish seizure
of Constantinople in the middle of the :1 5th century,
in bringing about the assimilation of slavery with
‘colour’ for the first time in Western history. And
therefore, having suppressed or failed to look for
appropriate historical explanations, she offers instead an implausible psychological fable. The
English, who are incidentally supposed to have been
a nation of puritanical prudes in the age of Marlowe
and Henry VI I I, sort out their relationships to
Africans not by developing them within the earlier
framework of European invasion and the longstanding trade in gold and slaves, but only by means
of verbal aSSOciations surrounding the word ~black’.

The etymological speculation with which she supports
this claim is very dubiOUS, in that the available evidence for early English and related languages
suggests that ‘black’ and ‘white’ began life as terms
with very broad meanings, rather than starting out


as precise colour terms and acquiring their connotations only from a dualist view of the universe. But
leaving that question to one side, historical explanations which base everything on the conceptual
apparatus of a society seem unconvincing. Apart
from other defects, such an approach is almost
bound to fail to see how the ‘same’ thing may be said
in different epochs with very different effective
meaning, despite the verbal Similarities, and,
doubtless, cultural continuities which preserve a
form while its content changes.

Changeless dualism
HST’s view of Western intellectual history can be
summed up in the tag which says that the more it
changes, the more it stays the same. The basis and
origin of all that they are opposed to is a framework
of ideas – Western dualism. They claim that this
has always taken a wholly Manichean form. That is,
it has al way s seen the whole of reality as a struggle
between mind-good-white-male-reason, on the one
hand, and matter-bad-black-female-emotion, on the
other. From Plato down to Freud, through vastly
different historical stages of Western society, they
think this basis has been maintained without any
really important changes or development. Among
other things, this ahistorical interest in history
means they have nothing to say about the origins
and development of communist and monist ideas, in
opposition to the dualist tradition.

An idealist view of history can seem to explain
many things. But it cannot explain ideas, since
these are the basic causes which it proposes for all
else that happens. So it cannot be much interested
in the development of thought, and especially not in
the complex details of how thought actually develops.

To an idealist, such changes are likely to appear
arbitrary and inexplicable, and to be set down to
mythical factors such as ‘genius’, ‘effort’, ‘decadence’, ‘betrayal’ etc.

That is why HST do not explain racism and sexism,
let alone the detailed development of such ideas, in
terms of their historical functions at different
times. They ignore, also, the wider relation
between speCialised ideological conformations such
as these, and the general oppreSSion of most people
in most countries in all past eras and also in the
present. After all, not only had what was said about
blacks in the 17th and 18th centuries already been
being said about women for centuries before that.

But what was said about blacks and women was always also said about working people in general,
from Plato’s Republic down to Captain Pim’s bilious
outburst, at a meeting of the British Anthropological
Society in 1869, against ‘pandering to Negroes, the
working classes, and the Celtic Irish’!

Some of the complexities which HST never get
around to discussing are indicated in two articles
by R H Popkin and H Bracken (see Bibliography) to
which they make no reference. In these, it is shown
quite convincingly how difficult it was, and remains,
to base a racist or a sexist position on orthodox
dualism. Because dualism regards the material side
of people as inessential to them, and even as unreal
in some sense, it cannot accept that such a physical
characteristic as C’Oi’OUr”‘ or sex is in itself a true
quality of tbe immaterial person. The situation is
different with any Manichean version of dualism,
which sees both aspects of reality as having equal
status in constituting the being of any kind of thing,
including people. It is also different with empiricism and early materialisms. Since none of these
views think of matter, the human body and human

physiological features as unreal or irrelevant, they
link these things with inferiority and unreason,
and can thus provide an intellectual foundation for
racism and other oppressive ideologies. Popkin and
Bracken argue that it is the Lockean, rather than
the Cartesian tradition in early modern Europe,
which provided the best support for imperialism.

The Catholic Church was,not well equipped,intellectually, to legitimate the enslavement and brutal
oppression of Slavs, ASians, Americans and
Africans. Of course it could and did resort to all
kinds of deVices, such as sophistry, refusal to
acknowledge the facts, or straightforward concession to the worldly interests of its bourgeois clients~
so as not to rock its own very lucrative boat.

Dualist attempts to provide racist theories in
support of the European invasions were necessarily
limited to unsatisfactory assertions. One of these,
a re -worked version of the old Aristotelian lie
about women, was the claim that blacks had no
souls, but were rather, in Cartesian terms, soulless animals or biological machines, whose apparent
pain or pleasure, moral or other human qualities,
were no more than accidental simulations of the
real thing as found in white Europeans, and could
therefore safely be ignored for moral or legal
purposes. This ‘theory’ has remained as part of
the gutter resources of racism. But it never
became very influential in intellectual terms, and
it is worth pausing to see why. Briefly, the point
was that it was not only black chattels that the

Sohft in di.Qn ……

schiedeftero Ka.p.”,

die gleidwl See!., der
gleiche (iN woMen.


‘Can the same mind, the same soul, inhabit such different bodies?’

riSing bourgeois class needed to oppress with
theories of their inferiority. And a theory which
denied all human status to the oppressed was
simply not on, when the oppressed were closer to
their oppressors as workers and women were
inside Europe, and when once the free market
society had begun to make cases of rapid loss or
gain in social status quite commonplace.

Early modern racist theories, I suggest, were just
part of a more general attempt to solve an intellectual crisis brought about by the beginnings of a new
social order. The breaking open of the closed and
hierarchical medieval view of society and the world,
and the gradual formation of a modern Europe populated by nominally free (male) individuals in a free
labour market, may have taken centuries to come
about in reality. But at the level of ideology, of the
vindication of an oppressive social order, the
problems it posed were immediate, and were widely
and quickly taken up. It was not only Winstanley who
could see that such a society, based on legal equality and practical inequality, was in violent contradic



tion with itself, to say nothing of its relationships
with others which it might be destroying in
America or Africa.

Racist theories about the origins of supposed
national or regional characteristics, including
colour, had in earlier times been centred on
scientistic speculations about the effects of climate,
diet and other factors in producing variations in
humanity over time. Stretching back to Hippocrates,
such notions had become a commonplace of
European thought in the prejudices felt by every
‘nation’ towards all others. But such ideas were
wholly inadequate when it came to explaining why
persons of the ~ nation, the ~ sex and the
~ colour should receive such great disparities
in power and wealth. For this, only ‘a theory of
innate differences could provide aQpropriate

blacks, by asserting not so much that they had no
soulS, but that they had souls which were somehow
inferior, and which therefore merited an inferior
position in the social order. But though this looks
like an oppressive ideology in the dualist mode
identified by HST, I think such an interpretation
should not be adopted without caution. It is hard to
settle such questions, but there are very often
assumptions, examples, and suppressed premises
in such an ideological formation, which can mean
that in practice it was not quite so other-worldly as
it appears to be in its prinCipal written records and
dogmatic texts. For in practice what the Calvinist
~ by the absence of the state of grace was
nothing more or less than certain completely material and social features of the kind of people whose
oppression it was desirable to sanctify. This is
supported by the detailed records, regulations,
court proceedings etc extant from the Reformation.

What the pseudo-scientific genetic theories and the
pseudo-dualistic theological theories agree on, is
The earlier social order had indeed had its own
theory of innate differences, in the general distinc- that the masses of exploited working people are
tion, capable of various refinements, between ‘base’ appropriately placed in society because they are a
and ‘noble’ birth or ‘blood’. So long as birth did, by different kind of human being to their exploiters.

and large, serve to assure a person’s status or lack This ‘racism’, or really ‘class-ism’, was deployed
of it, these ideas were roughly satisfactory. But in
primarily and crucially within European societies.

the new, more open, more competitive society,
It was mere consistency and convenience to extend
birth was at least beginning not to be enough to
it to deal with the invasion and oppression of
protect or prevent people from obtaining the results peoples in other parts of the world. (An inverted
of their failure or success in the free market. The
form of the same link was the later claim, adopted
genetic basis for status lost or acquired would
by Gobineau and others, that the European lower
therefore have to lie more definitely in the individclasses were the descendants of earlier inferior
ual, and less so in their family background, as this European natives, subordinated by Aryan conquest.)
became less relevant in practical terms.

Parallels in treatment and attitude towards black
And so, towards the close of the medieval and
slaves and white ‘servants’ are quite common, but
start ,of the modern era, roughly in the 15th
perhaps it is worth mentioning that statistical
century, there is another raid on the intellectual
estimates for the horrifying loss of life amongst
store-cupboards of the Greeks and Arabs, and such slaves on the Middle Passage, at about 20 -25%,
a theory begins to take its place in the general
are much lower than the equally appalling figures
cultural vocabulary. Words like ‘humour’ and
for the Botany Bay fleets of white conVicts, at
‘temperament’ enter the English language, for
30-50%. Not only was the latter voyage much less
example, as part of the jargon of a doctrine which
within the teclmical capacity of’the age. The conpurports to explain why there should not or cat}not
victs, as government assets, were doubtless of far
be equal fulfilment or equal reward even within one
less consequence to those placed in charge of them
society, because ‘abilities’ are not equal.

than slave ‘goods’ being carried for vast private
At about the same time, Luther and Calvin and
profits. On the other side of the picture, it must be
others contributed a theological doctrine to support
stressed that there is absolutely no comparison in
numbers between the few thousands of transported
the material domination of a bourgeois ‘elect’ over
the -stormy sea of proletarian Jsinners’, despite the convicts sent to Europe’s penal settlements, and
the hundreds of thousands of Africans enslaved over
absence of any readily observable physical differences between the two groups. (Unless we are to
about four centuries.

remember those brought about by malnutrition, and
As genetic or at least ‘endowment’ theories of the
noticed indeed by some of the very first visitors to
inferiority of the oppressed were revived and cast
Europe from ‘this new world lately discover’d’,
into the mode of the new individualism, so too the
older climatic theories for the inferiority of foreign
according to Montaigne’ s entertaining account:

had to be abandoned, in the interests of
••• secondly, (they have a way of speaking in
white colonisation into non-European climatic
their language, to call men the half of one
conditions. Sun-hats or no sun-hats, Europeans
another) ••• they had observ’d, that there were
could not avoid living in the same climate as the
amongst us, men full, and cramm’d with all
‘natives’. So it must no longer be the
manner of conveniences, whilst in the mean
made the blacks inferior, but an
time, their halves were begging at their doors,
inferiority. In this case, indilean, and half starv’d with hunger and poverty;
be discounted, since the
and thought it strange, that these necessitous
point was to repress an entire, easily identifiable
halves, were able to suffer so great an inequality
and injustice, and that they did not take the others group beyond any chance of individual exceptions.

Thus the blacks were the occasion of a retreat from
by the throats, or set fire to their houses.

sophistication in the theory of the oppressors. Like
(Montaigne, E$say XXIV, trans. Cotton, 1700)
medieval villeins, they were all ‘vile’, in the
The Calvinist view is, if taken at face value, a
language of the hymn, and their baseness lay in
dualist one, which simply asserts a qualitative
their ‘blood’. Hence the nommal ban on miscegenadifference to inhere in the unobservable souls of the tion, as a potential threat to the inherited superiorprivileged as opposed to the underprivileged. This
ity of the conquerors. The ban had no intention to
view could easily be extended to cover women or
protect the oppressed peoples of the world from

Individua1 ‘differences’

sexual invasion and abuse. It was merely designed
to protect the oppressors from the undesirable
social consequences which might ensue if their
privileges began to be conceded to the demands of
~eople of ‘mixed blood’. Alongside this genetic
hcence for Saturday nights went an imperialist
Calvinism for Sunday mornings – the White Man’s
Burden or Manifest Destiny theory.

Hume’s contribution
In this context, the racist views of Hume can, I
hope, be understood more clearly than they are by
Popkin, Bracken, or HST. Though none of these
authors mention it, Hume tears the old climatic
variety of racism into little pieces. By the 18th
century there was a serious lack of any plausible
scientistic alternative with which to replace it. The
physiology of humours and temperaments, based as
it was in medieval physics and medicine, had been
undermined by more than two centuries of spectacular advance in those disciplines, but this had not
yet produced anything of much use to racism. In the
Lockean tradition, individual differences of ‘ability’

might be explained in terms of upbringing and
education. In the sphere of international, as
opposed to intra-national, exploitation, this view
was developed into ‘cultural’ theories of superiority
and inferiority, of which more later. But progressive thinkers were increasingly naive enough to ask
why~uch factors could not be made equally advantageous for every child within their society, and
eventUally for all children everywhere.

Hume, too, had nothing new to offer racist theory.

In 28 pages on the’ slave populations of the ancient
world, he refuses to justify slavery by reference to
anything more than naked force. He might almost
be said to have shirked his alleged ideologfcal role
altogether, were it not for the infamous footnote to
his essay ‘Of National Characters’, which is regularly quoted, but seldom analysed, by horrified

ConSistently with the historical background I have
sketched, the footnote offers a genetic racist conjecture, more an arrogant hypothesis than a worked.

out explanatory theory. (Like ‘soul’, ‘nature’ or
‘breed’ were not really explanatory concepts until
later biology had provided intelligible models of the
mechanisms of biological inheritance and individual
differences.) Alleging a total lack of achievement
in ‘negroes’ as compared with all other kinds of
people, Hume suggests that: ‘Such a uniform and
constant difference could not happen, in so many
countries and ages, if nature had not made an
original distinction between these breeds of men. ‘

With sound scientific instincts, Hume adduces the
example of Africans actually living in Europe as the
crucial case, in which he contrasts the Africans’

universal failure to advance themselves with the
occasional European instance of how ‘low people,
without education, will start up amongst us, and
distinguish themselves in every profession’. Hume’s
own prejudice prevents him from observing that
there was still some difference between African
slaves and free European proletarians, which had
nothing to do with the ‘breed’ of the former, but
everything to do with the different form of their
oppreSSion. And the same blindness stops Hume
recognising that in fact very many Africans had
‘advanced’ in Europe – in the relatively few cases
where they had been able to settle there as free

Apart from a few lightweight observations on
Hobbes, already made by Kropotkin 75 years ago,

HST are silent on materialist or anti -dualist traditions in European thought. They are also very
reticent about the historical origins of their own
idealist philosophical politics in the Romantic
tradition, with its ultimate sources in Rousseau and
Kant. Thus, in their one-sided characterisation of
Western culture as rationalist, theoretical, and
verbal, they suppress the’ past five hundred years of
respect for and use of music and the plastic arts, to
say nothing of the cult of health, youth and sexuality
which has been so prominent now for at least a
century. But the role of various anti-rationalist
movements in modern times ought to give us some
pause, before we accept that everything ‘wrong’

with Western culture can be solved by movements
away from rationality. Such movements have already
been with us some time, and have as much blood on
their hands as do the casuists of rationalism.

From Hume, HST’s sporadic historical attention
leaps on to Freud, thus passing over the whole
period during which the most abiding pseudo-scient,..

ific traditions in racist theory were founded by such
writers as Galton and Gobineau. Once and however
arrived at Freud, though, we get a 30-page essay
which is perhaps the best thing in the book. This is
because Freud, at last, is the kind of Manichean
dualist, even if a rather materialist or agnostic one,
which they have been looking for all along. The old
Pythagorean duality re-forms itself in Freudian
theory in the opposition between the principles of
life and of death, of eros and thanatos. But HST are
baffled by Freud’s overt refusal to take up any
evaluative preference between the two.

It is a pity that HST do not actually look closer, at
the way in which, as a sexist theory, Freudianism
elaborates a myth which disguises the reality that,
in capitalist society, the great majority of penisowners have no social power and no creative role in
the propagation of culture, which they do not so
much practice as consume. In the Freudian system,
a sexist machismo is to be distracted with delusions
as to its power over oppressed and ‘incomplete’

women. That power is real, and the women’s fight
against it is important. But Freud’s theory also had
a larger role to play. For instead of any real power
to control their own lives, it offered to men a substitute authority, which was not only a sham (since
power over those who are supposedly powerless is
not much power), but also the very opposite of power.

For sexist practices divide men from their invalidated Sisters, and make it impossible for working
people to achieve that collective solidarity which is
the essential pre-condition for their ever achieving
self-government. Thus sexist ideologies subserve
ruling class interests just as directly as do racist
ones. They are directed at women, or blacks, and
must be confronted on those terms. But they are
also articulated for the oppreSSion of most male
whites in metropolitan capitalist countries. HST pay
no attention to this function, which is every bit as
important as the other.

Cultural racism
Despite an idealist repugnance for any biologistic
theories of racism or sexism, HST do not hesitate
to offer rationalisations for ‘differences’ between
kinds of people, which seem to me to press their
cultural hypotheses very close to the boundaries of
genetic racism. They appeal to white bourgeois
sociologists and black radicals alike, only to claim
that what white racists have always said about
Africans and Afro-Americans (the jumbling together
of so many different kinds of society into a single


‘culture’ is that of HST and the racists, and not
mine) is true after all. ‘They’ are more ‘aesthetically oriented’, ‘nonverbal’, .’nonconceptual ‘ ,
‘concrete’, . ‘intuitive’, ‘sensual’ etc than ‘we’ are!

‘Part of the American tragedy is that the black man
..• has often denied the aesthetic, physical side of
himself .•• ‘ To confirm this, they cite that leading
Jim Crow of neo-colonialist ideology, Leopold
Senghor. And then they let him ca)? it all with a piece
of outright genetic myth: ‘The African’s spirituality
is rooted in his sensuality: in his physiology. ‘ !

(PP1 08 -1 0) But what is the innate self which the
black American is said to have often betrayed, if it
is not his ‘nigger blood’? He maybe a suburban
doctor with a taste for Mozart and bridge, but since
he’s black, HST seem to know what he needs, what
he must be hypocritically and ‘tragically’ denying
himself, is nothing but jazz, pot, and polygamy!

Surely these claims about a ‘culture’ which goes
with the colour of your skin are not so much intelligent theory as the compensatory fantasies of an
inadequate political practice.

HST have also assumec)., or rather accepted from
racist social scientists, that non-literate SOCieties,
such as those of parts of Africa in the past, of the
Incas, of north-west Europe in the megalithic
period, or of early American slavery, must always
be relatively non-theoretiCal, non-SCientific, nonconceptual. The achievements of the megalithic
culture in astronomy are enough to refute this at a
stroke. Of course it is unlikely that the slave
barracks echoed with abstract disputations in the
few hours granted as relief from miserable labour.

People uprooted from their own societies could not
preserve much of the theoretical and speculative
rich~s of their own civilisation in such traumatic
circumstances. But that is no proof that African
societies had no science, no philosophy. Americans
of all colours seem too ready to be told that normal
African societies before the invasions were culturally very similar to the damaged and thwarted life
of slavery. In black thinkers, this distortion may
ease the savage pain of an irrecoverable loss. In
whites, it has no such excuse.


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Progressive idealists must sooner or later
embrace a flight from reality. Thus, in the political
programme with which they close the book, HST
suppose without attempting to prove it that ‘alternative’ social groups and their associated counterculture will peacefully and gradually build themselves up until they replace the existing oppressive
social order. The existing institutions are expected
‘to crumble from their own inadequacies and internal
contradictions’. Though it may occasionally happen
that the alternative structures have to be ‘defended
from attempts by the existing structure to destroy
them’, and this may ‘have to involve the use of
arms’ (P252). (These Taoists evidently draw the
line at Buddhism!)
Now, liberals and idealists are fond of accusing
Mar.xists, incorrectly, of holding millenialist
beliefs to the effect that people do not need to act to
overthrow their oppressors, since history and the
inevitable crisis of capitalism will some day do it
all for them. But here HST, who I have argued are
idealists, really do think that in building alternative
structures it will be possible for them and their
friends to turn their backs on historical class action
to bring down the mighty oppressors of hiiiiiiiiity
from their thrones of power.

The social realities to which these political
fantasies belong, of drop-out commune dwellers
hawking their hand-made souvenirs to tourists’ along
the highways of California and New Mexico, scarcely
bear thinking about for very long. Such ‘structures’

provide comfortable enough accommodation on the
fringes of the system, within which a marginal
HST’s political remedy for the evils of dualism is
fraction of the population can cultivate their own
th~t we should continue to be dualists, but dualists
‘transformed’ selves. Such let-outs have always
in balance and integration, rather than in competi- existed. Far from being built by rebels who are
tion and oppression. We should become TaOists,
undermining the system, they are that part of the
seeking balance and harmony, and adopting a prac – system through which it disarms and contains its
tice in which ‘nothing needs to be fought or
rebels. A million Thoreaus are not going to keep
conquered to achieve balance (P126). HST never
the President awake nights. There probably are that
repudiate the distinction between mind and matter,
many snugged down in the communes, the campuses
soul and body, male and female, thought and feeling, and the macrobiotic restaurants of the United States
reason and emotion, science and art, proof and
already. But a million Mother Joneses would boil
intuition, ‘European’ and ‘African’. They confine
a different kettle of fish!

themselves to preaching, willing and permitting that Select bibliography of modern authors:

the hitherto despised and obstructed ‘side’ of life
Jacques Barzun, Race: A Study in Superstition, 1965
may now be graciously raised up into equal status
H Bracken, ‘Essence, ACCident and Race’, Hermathena 116
Fernand Braudel, The Mediterranean
alon gS 1’de 1’tS age-oId oppressor and ‘ superlor.

Rip Bulkeley, ‘How Western Philosophy Helps to J.V!aintain African Poverty’,
Thus, in their concluding section (249), HST
paper presented to University of Khartoum conference on ‘Development,
assert that ‘To move beyond Dualism is to see that Aime
Ideology, Religion and Philosophy in Africa’, November 1977
Cesatre, Discourse 00 Colonialism trans.1972
economiC, material factors and mental, psychologic, PO Curtin, The Atlantic Slave Trade, 1969
al , intellectual factors interact and mutually effect WO
Franz Fanoo, Black Skins White Masks, trans,1967
Jordan, White OVer BlACk, 1968
the social structure and our personal lives’. But
A E Kane, ‘.IIt1etaphYllique Occidentale et Enseignement de la Phllosophie en
. S ‘t “illter
. ‘ ano
t her name f or ‘dual’Ism,

Afrique’, Doctrinal de axmence 3, 1977
1 n
c ‘lQnlsm
0 A Lademajt, ‘NaUCiiiIenaaoo and the Crisis of Ideology’, Transitioo 46
HST give no reasons for their Cartesian assumption Paul Nlzan, The WatchdO!ls
that economic factors are always distinct from
RH Popldn, “he Phil080Pl11Cal Basis of E1g!1teenth Century Racism’ in
Racism in the Eighteenth cen~ ed, HE Pagliaro, Vol,III of Studies in
mental ones, or that material factors cannot be
EIghteenth Century ci!ture, an Western Reserve University
psychological ones. Both theoretically and politicWalter Rodney, How Europe UnderdeVelo’t:U~frica, 1972
S Rose, ‘SCientific Racism and ideOlogy’ The Political Economy c1 Science.

ally, they can t ry t 0 move beyond dualIsm
only on
eds.Rose and Rose, 1976
dualism’s own terms.

E WWiams, Capitalism and Slavery, 1944

Taoist solutions?

The king’s head
Graham Burchell
E Balibar, On the Dictatorship of the Proletariat,
NLB, London, 1977, £6.50 hb, with an introduction
by Grahame Lock and an afterword by Louis
Balibar’s title essay, which forms the core of this
book, was written in response to the decision of the
1976 Congress of the French Communist Party
(PCF) to abandon the notion of the ‘dictatorship of
the proletariat’ in its formulation of a ‘democratic’

strategy for a peaceful transition to ‘socialism’ in
France (‘socialism in French colours’: Marchais).

It is primarily concerned with the terms in which
this decision was conceived in the Party debate and
with outlining the elements of what the author conceives to be the ‘true definition’ of the ‘theoretical
concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat’.

Balibar’s el:)say marks out the distance that separates the conceptions informing the PCF’s decision
from those thought to comprise Marxist-Leninist

As well as Balibar’s essay the book also includes:

a dossier of extracts from the pre -C ongress debate
(G Hr.ddad, 3 pieces from Marchais, Balibar’s own
brief contribution, and a reply to Balibar from G
BeBse); a speech from Althusser presenting his
judgement on the ‘historical significance’ of the
debates and decisions (Ben Brewster’s alternative
translation of this can be found in New Left Review
104, differing in some interesting respects from the
translation provided here by Lock); a ‘Postscript’

to the English edition by Balibar; and an ‘Introductien’ by the translator Grahame Lock.

Connotations of power
It is extremely difficult to know how to review the
material collected in this book. Woven in and

around a political event are contributions ariSing
from diverse sourcesand functioning at many
different levels. Placed within the covers of a book
under the signature of Balibar (with Althusser and
Lock partially sharing authorial honours), these
contributions are called upon to play a role quite
different from the one they originally performed.

It is beyond the scope of this review to untangle the
multiple inj;criptions which either contributed to
this definite historical event or later ‘remembered’

it, but we should note the power of connotations
acquired by words in this context (‘The 22nd
Congress has taught us several times over to be
very careful with words’: Althusser).

Take, for example, the words of Georges
Marchais when he claims that the word “‘dictatorship” ••• has an intolerable connotation’, later
spelling out what it is that makes it so ‘intolerable’

in saying that it ‘automatically evokes the fascist
regimes of Hitler, Mussolini, Salazar and Franco
••• ‘ And ••• ? Althusser unkindly supplies the
silent connotations that everyone hears but which
are so intolerable to Marchais that he cannot bring
himself ‘to utter them: the Soviet Union, Stalin, the
Gulag •••
Or, again, take Balibar’s own contributions where
the qualification ‘theoretical’ gives his words a
different trajectory. This discourse, coming from
the pen of a master of the ‘theoretical’, is restrict;..

ed (modestly) to the ‘restoration’ of ‘definitions’


at the level of abstract theoretical ‘concepts’. It
works through its seeming to call into existence a
stable base of established ‘theory’ which, as the
foundation for Balibar’s theses, is already in place,
and from which his arguments are able to appear as
no more than deductions (bolstered of course by the
occasional rhetoric of reference to ‘historical
experience’). Like Marx’s coat into which the
tailoring has vanished, Balibar presents the instantly recognisable features of ‘concepts’ that ‘belong’

to MarXism as value ‘belongs’ to the coat. A return,
a restoration, a definition, a clarification (‘we have
only tried to clarify the terms of the discussion ‘) •
But all carrying the weight and. value, the authority
of a source and a tradition that flows from it. Or,
in other words perhaps, a vaniShing trick in which
the diverse sources of concepts and problems, out
of which has been woven that effect of recognisability, disappear.

In this review I will restrict my comments in the
main to the question of power in its relation to
‘class struggle’ as it is presented by Balibar.My
justification for this restriction is the belief that it
is the question of power that is central to the
‘discussion’ •

Out of the ghetto?

The force and attraction of the PCF’s new line (and,
perhaps, of the general phenomenon called ‘Eurocommunism ‘) is that it appears to open up the prospect of access to ‘some form of pOlitical power, in
particular, to governmental power within a ‘liberal
democracy’ • It appears to take this prospect
seriously and to engage realistically within the
existing field of politics in a way that offers calculable concrete possibilities for the transformation
of the conditions of modern forms of class struggle.

It appears to point towards a strategy with definite
consequences for the economic and political conditions of revolutionary intervention. It would seem
to offer a liberation from dogmatism, from the
gestural denunciations of ‘capitalism’ and ‘bourgeois
democracy’, from the imaginary and repetitive
scenarios of ‘revolution’: Marxism ‘creatively
developed and applied’, as the stock phrase has it.

The advantages of this over the abstract dogmatizing of the ‘left’, with its seeming fear of power,
appear to be immense. Against this, Balibar’s
excursus into the field of ‘definitions’ appears to
offer nothing in terms of an effective engagement
in the current political field. It appears to return
us to generalities formally deduced from a set of
axioms which are coupled with the usual ritual
pieties concerning the need for those ‘concrete
analyses’ which never seem to emerge.

But, on the other hand, what is the cost of the
PCF’s attempt to emerge from the political ghetto?

Does it imply a capitulation to the terms and conditions of the enemy? Balibar strongly suggests that
this is indeed the cost of the PCF’s bid for power.

The PCF, at the moment when it sees the prospect
of power, submits to terms and conditions which are
themselves the effects of a certain power. A bid for
power which proceeds with a kind of blindness to
power. Behind the abandonment of a word with
‘intolerable connotations’ is advanced an ‘alternative
strategy’ for the achievement of political power.


But in dropping this word the PC F succeeds only in
evading the question of power. And, in evading it,
unwittingly perhaps adopts other ‘words’ which are
the weapons of its enemies’ power. The adoption of
an ‘alternative’ strategy effectively transforms the
strategic objective, i. e. power itself.

In abandoning the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’

is anything lost that was indispensable to a revolutionary politics? Perhaps not, but in abandoning
the word we do not thereby abolish the question of
power itself. The problems of the dictatorship of
the proletariat and of State power have long been
reduced to a dead letter in Marxism – a set of
connotations and ‘famous quotations’ – does the
debate in the PCF succeed in bringing these
problems to life?

Balibar’s essay seeks to answer the question:

‘What is the dictatorship of the proletariat?’ A
problem of definition. But, in the context of the
decision of the 22nd Congress, there are in fact two
questions: what is the dictatorship of the proletariat
in ‘Marxist theory’? what is it in the PCF’s
decision to reject it? Is what the PCF abandons
the same as what Balibar defends through definition l
Balibar first sets out the terms in which the PC F
conceives proletarian dictatorship before proceeding to his restoration of the ‘true’ (i. e. Lenin’s)
‘definition’ •
According to Balibar, the PCF presents its rejection of the notion of dictatorship of the proletariat as
a result of a choice between alternative means of
reaching a given (unchanged) goal. He aims to show
both that this choice is illusory and that its effect
is to undermine the proper goal of Marxists. The
separation of strategiC means from their objectives
has the effect of erasing that which makes a
communist strategy communist. The PCF presents
a choice in terms of a series of oppositions which
define the alternatives democratic/dictatorial:

‘naturally’ it ‘chooses’ the former. Balibar claims
that the set of oppositions by means of which this
choice is conceived and made are: violent versus
peaceful means; legal versus illegal methods; and
majority versus minority basis for policy and
action. Once again we hear the reverberations of
‘intolerable connotations’. At the same time as
these sets of oppositions evoke a certain conception
of politics, at the same time as they mark an
‘adJustment’ to ‘new conditions’ and the recognition
of the possibility of a ‘peaceful road’ to socialism
in the West, they also silently refer to the Soviet
Union and its history as the locus of a set of
characteristics to which the PCF opposes its road.

The PCF presents its programme as a democratic
alternative for the achievement of socialism.

Alternative to what? The implied reference would
seem to be to that other ‘alternative’ adopted in the
Soviet Union for its achievement of ‘socialism’:

violent, ‘illegal ‘~inoritarian, i. e. dictatorial.

This posing of questions of strategy at the level of
a choice between alternative means of realiSing a
given same end (‘don’t think we have ceased to be
communists! don’t say that we have relinquished
our objectives! ‘) has definite implications. It
enables the PCF to simultaneously condemn the
‘crimes’ committed in the Soviet Union (illegality,
violent repression), to reject its ‘abuse’ of civil
rights (dictatorial methods), whilst nonetheless
‘saving’ the Soviets for ‘socialism (that – whatever
it is – is not in doubt). The implication is that the
goal of ‘socialism’ can be characterized independently of the social and political relations of power
which are conditions for its existence. That is, that

‘it can be characterized at the level of an economic
essence apart from the essentially contingent
‘superstructural’ forms of ‘democracy’ or ‘dictatorship’. This implication is inscribed in the use of the
oppositions dictatorship/democracy as absolutes
characterising ‘~ternatives’ at the level of political
means to a given (economic) end. This is a procedure which evades the essential. It evades (if it does
not make it impossible even to pose) the question of
the social and political relations of power that are
the conditions for the transformation and/or maintenance of definite economic relations. It evades
the question of the forms, operations and effects of
forms of social and political power in their articulation on to economic relations. By separating
political means from a supposedly given and selfidentical ‘economic’ end, the effects of definite
social and political relations and practices as conditions for the existence and/or destruction of
different forms of economic relations are elided.

Beyond the banalities of calls for the ‘participation
of the working people and of their representatives
• •• (and) their access to the control centres of
society’ (Marchais, who considers this ‘the key
problem of the struggle for socialism ‘) the PCF
also completely fails to analyse the concrete forms
of social and political power functioning within (and
by) ‘democratic’ regimes themselves. Marchais’

words recall Bent ham ‘s plan for the ‘panoptic on ‘

in which ‘access to the ‘control centre’ is positively
welcomed and to be encouraged – a ‘democratisation’ of power relations which leaves their effects
intact (1). The question of the possibility of a ‘nonviolent’ transformation of social relations is not at
stake here, nor yet questions concerning parliament
ary and electoral strategies. What is at stake is the
absence of any analysis of power; for the forms,
effects and operations of social and political power
are involved whatever strategy is adopted.

This central failure to examine the question of
social and political power follows from the presentation of the question of strategy in terms of
‘dictatorship’ and ‘democracy’ as absolutes defining
the field of political practi~e prior to an analysis of
the social relations and practices upon which these
political forms depend. This failure is essentially
linked to two other implications of the PCF’s
‘choice’ which can be cited here. Firstly, the
absence of an analysis of the nature and effects of
law, and the confinement of strategic options within
the range. of activities permitted according to
possibilities sanctioned by legal representations.

Secondly, the conception of the strategiC objective
as being socialism. Traditionally, socialism has
been conceived by Marxists as the means of
transition to communism, and not as an end it
itself. Without resting on the authority of this
‘tradition’, we can nonetheless see that this change
in objective has certain consequences. In conceiving socialism as the end to be achieved within the
stable order of existing political and legal forms,
and in retaining the juridical representation of these
forms (‘democracy’ as an absolute, pluralism,
popular will and representation, legality, etc.),
the PCF is unable to raise the question of the
relations of power between social forces, and their
articulation on to class relations, within socialism
itself. The question of the cootinued existence of
‘class struggle’ (for the PCF envisages the continued existence of classes and of their political
‘representatives ‘) simply vanishes, as also does
the corollary of this – the question of ‘socialist’

1 See M. Foucault, Discipline and Puniab (197?) pp195 -228


political relations as conditions for the process of
continuing struggle within the objective of eliminat~ classes. The PCF’s vision of ‘socialism’

would seem to be in danger of comprising less the
negation of capitalist society than its apotheosis.

Balibar, of course, would see these implications
as a direct consequence of the ‘PCF ‘s abandonment
. of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, and in the
light of such criticisms he proposes a return to the
‘true’ definition, to a ‘correct, Marxist definition’,
as the indispensable starting point ‘in the theoretical field’. This definition is obtained via Lenin who
provides the ‘elements’ for a theory in the form of
3 arguments concerning (i) State power (ii) the
State apparatus, and (iii) socialism and communism. All the problems of this ‘Marxist theory’ of
the State and State power are already present in
Balibar’s statement of the first of these three
‘arguments’: ‘State power is always the political
E..~~~r of a single class, which holds it in its
capacity as the ruling class in society . .. State
power is held in an absolute way by the bourgeoisie,
which does not share it with any other class .•• ‘

practices and relations, the State itself cannot be
conceived as having its source, or as owing its
existence and nature to the apparently origin -less
and absolute distinctions of juridical categories.

As Balibar says, ‘law is not an intangible absolute’

which determines the existence of the State according to its universal prescriptions. Of course, this
abstract-universalistic character of juridical
categories works to dissimulate their conditions and
‘source’, to generate the appearance that (like
philosophy) the law is ‘its own source’. This is
precisely one of the ways in which law functions
and produces its effects.

According to Balibar, the law works through the
imposition of rules and material constraints which
regulate social practices. Its categories, however,
have an abstract and universalistic character
endowed by legal ideology with an absolute status
and validity. It is a discourse addressed to abstract
individuals and which does not ‘recognize’ the
classes whose relations it thereby codifies and
regulates (with the sanction of a force ‘justified’ by
reference to the absolute status of its terms).

Supposing that we accept this schematic characterization of law (and it can be criticized in many
details), how are we to understand its operations in
terms of State power? Balibar rightly rejects the
State power, according to Lenin-Balibar, is the
illusion of an absolute validity and auto-justification
political power of a class. It is based on the ~­
of legal terms and distinctions~ From his charactertions of force between classes. It is specifically
ization of class rule as ‘absolute’, and his claim
that political power which is held, possessed by a
that (class) State power is ‘above’ the law, he is
ruling class. It is a power wielded, used as an
instrument by a class in order to maintain precisely forced to seek the secret of law in its source and
related function, i. e. as the instrument of a class
those economic relations from which it derives its
in its ‘dictatorship’. It is here that the problems
‘dominance’ (or, alternatively, in order to destroy

those economic relations to which it is sub or din ated). It is an absolute power in that it is prior to
State power can belong only to a single class just
the law and ‘above’ it, and it is not shared (it is the
because its roots lie precisely in the antagonism
power of a single class). It is, then, always a
between the classes, in the irreconcilable charac’dictatorship’ in that it determines the terms on
ter of this antagonism. Or better: in the reprowhich class relations are conducted, terms that are
duction of the conditions of this antagonism (76/7)
favourable to the class ‘possessing’ this power. It
rests ultimately on force (Violence, repression)
although it cannot function by violence alone.

the St_ate results from the irreconcilable,
Finally, it is the antagonistic nature of economic
antagonistic character of the class struggle,
class relations which necessitates the existence of
and is a tool of the ruling class in this
a ‘special organ’ of class power, 1. e. as the
struggle (77)
necessary condition for the continued existence (or
It is the Simplicity of this ‘just because’, of this
destruction) of these relations. It is the basis of
the State in these same relations that explains both ‘result’, that we have to examine. It is undoubtedly
the class nature of state power and, therefore, the true that certain legal and political forms may be
need of the proletariat for a state of ‘its own’ as the necessary conditions for the existence of economic
political instrument for the destruction of capitalist class relations, and it is no doubt possible to detereconomic relations and the construction of commun- mine the effects of legal and political forms in
ism. A state of its own, i. e. the dictatorship of the maintaining (or transforming) these economic relations through the ‘regulation’ of relations between

social forces. However. it is the extent to which
The two crucial terms to be analysed in this
this articulation of legal and political relations on
definition of State power are the notions of power
to economic and other social relations can be
as something that is QQ!)sessed (and its correlate,
power as instrument), and the notion of class as the reduced to the status of an instrumentality of a
class that is in question.

subject possessing power: the mutual implication
Let us look at Balibar’s image of power to pursue
of possession and possessor. The PCF, in its conthe
implications that follow from the logic of his
ception of ‘socialism’, is guilty of a kind of econom’definition’. State power is the power of a ~
ic reductionism; it remains to be seen whether
over another class which is derived from its
Balibar escapes the reductionist temptation in his
(ultimately violent) imposition of a system of
‘definition’ •
subjection-regulation realised in material instituThe analysis of law and the state is useful in
tions and practices (a special ‘apparatus ‘) which
illustrating Balibar’s conception of power. He
function by their determination of the forms of
correctly points out that the distinctions and catesocial practice through which classes are related.

gories internal to law (e. g. public/private) cannot
This power is unified by reference to its source
be the basis for a characterization of the State.

(class relations of force) and its function (its ‘ends’

Although such categories may be necessary £2lli!!.vis-a-vis class ‘interest’, or, more generally, the
tions for the functioning of certain forms of state,
‘needs’ of capitalism). This power of a class funcand although they have material effects in social

The Class is King


tions bhth through ‘institutionalized repression’ and
through ‘ideology’ (the ideology of a class). Pure
physical force is insufficient, says Balibar, to
maintain the relations of force between classes.

Although Balibar is not unambiguous on this last
point, it would seem fair to suppose that ideological
forces are essentially supplementary to the ultimate
sanction of state power, name~y, violence. (As in
the ‘first instance’ class power is an imposition, so,
‘in the last instance’ the reliance upon violence and
physical repression will reveal itself. We return to
this repression-ideology couple below.)
The central figure in this scenario is, of course,
that of ‘class’. How does it function in Balibar’s
‘definition ‘? Balibar recognizes (following Lenin)
that anyone who dreams of a pure confrontation
between essential economic categories – ‘proletariat’ on the one side, ‘bourgeoisie’ on the other will never live to witness such a mythical event.

Neither the ‘proletariat’ nor the ‘bourgeoisie’, as
economic categories, ever· appear ‘in person’ on
the social stage (which is not to say that they do
appear but in ‘disguise ‘). The ‘social forces’

(Balibar) which engage in the social struggles and
practices which construct social relations are irreducible to a ‘class’ which is the product of a
solely economic determination. (This is relatively
easy to acknowledge nowadays, usually with a
gesture.) Such ‘social forces’ are formed on the
basis of ‘economic’ and ‘non-economic’ conditions,
for example, in definite political ‘ideological’ and
economic organisations. If we refuse to reduce the
conditions of existence of such organisation of
‘social forces’ to the status of effects of an essential
economic class relation, what permits the identification of ‘classes’ with these organised ‘social
forces’? Such an identification is only possible on
the basis of a denial of the alleged non-reductionism
through a deduction of these ‘non-economic’ conditions from the ‘economic’ itself, i. e. as its
necessary effects. (Whether this deduction takes
place via the notion of essential ‘class consciousness’ and ‘class interests’, or via a teleology of
‘functions’ which arise from the ‘needs of capitalism’

is secondary here. Balibar flirts with all of these
alternative means to establish his class identification-reduction) .

Take the myth of ‘imposition’. How far is it useful
to conceive tIE process whereby a ‘system of laws
and legislation’ is constructed as one of an imposition by a class? (To be fair, Balibar also talks in
terms of an ‘evolution’, but even here are we to
understand this process as governed by its end,
which in turn is to be rooted in an essential ‘class
interest’?) Apart from the consideration that the
, ‘social forces’ involved in struggles for the £2!!..:

struction of such a system are in no simple way
identifiable with a bourgeois economic class, how
is it possible to deduce the character of political
and ‘ideological’ forms from the definition of an
economic· category of class? Of course it is simple
enough to refer to ‘non-economic’ conditions of the
existence of ‘classes’, but the problem remains of
how these conditions are to be determined as having
a class nature if their irreducibility to the ‘economic’ is maintained.

For example, to take just the categories and procedures of legal, political, philosophical, ‘cultural’

and other social discourses, their objects, forms
of order, concepts, sites from which they are
enunCiated, conditions of effectivity, etc. Can these
be reduced to the level of an ‘expression’ of a class,
of its ‘interests’? Can they be rigorously reduced

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to the status of an ‘ideology’ of a class? Indeed, it
seems inevitable that the notIon of state power as an
imposition by a class must proceed via the marsh of
‘theories of ideology’. And at this point Balibar
relies upon a confident expectation that the assertions which replace argument and demonstration
will be read as self -evident. This is precisely one
of those points in his discourse where the authority
of an absent theory is called upon to do its work.

However, this is not the place to interpret Balibar’s
‘Marxism’ in its totality, and we need only note the
‘difficulties’ involved in escaping a reductionist and
essentialist account of ‘classes’ and ‘class struggle’

(see RP 18 for a discussion of the logical structure
of Althusser’s and Balibar’s earlier attempt at a
non-reductionist account).

The dependence upon an (asserted) theory of class
ideologies can be seen when Balibar discusses the
‘relations of forces’ upon which State power rests.

He singles out in particular ‘the relation of e_c_onomic forces’ and the ‘relation of ideological forces’.

The economic relation is already a relation of
forces. The exclusive posseSSion of the social
of production by a particular category of
economic agents (a class) involves relations of the
exercise of differential powers, e. g. concerning
conditions of access to and use of the means of
production by the non-possessors, powers of direction and of the control of the conditions of production’ etc. These ‘powers’ certainly do arise from
a form of ‘possession’. But, they do so only in so
far as this ‘relation of economic forces’ always
already refers to other ‘forces’ which are its conditions’ e. g. legal conditions of ownership and
rights of disposal etc, ‘ideological forces’. For
Balibar these conditions comprise a ‘relation of
ideological forces’ in which ‘ideology’ is disposed
on the side of the bourgeoisie as its ‘ideology’ _
imposed on the proletariat, to which the proletariat
is subject, and in which it is ‘held’. It is difficult
to make sense of a notion of class ~ossession here.

(And, if it is difficult to conceive f e possibility
of a ‘possession’ of ideology, then may not the
notion of a straightforward economic ‘possession’

– a kind of Rousseauean appropriation – become
problematic in so far as it cannot be conceived
outside of any ideolotical relation?) Balibar insists
that the ‘historical relation of forces between the
classes can only be founded on the whole of the
forms of the class struggle’, but if the conditions



of these ‘forms’ are not merely the deducible
effects of economic class relations, then nothing
permits the identification of diverse ‘social forces’

formed on the basis of these conditions with classes
– the notion of a class possession of power becomes
problematic. On the other hand, if these ‘forces’

are deducible effects, then we are returned to a
reductionism which makes Balibar’s insistence
redundant: we are returned to an essentialist
conception of class struggle.

Theories of ideology involving the strict attribution of. a class character appear to function as the
inevitable hand maiden to theories of power as
possession and violent imposition. A conception of
a ‘power’ which appears to emerge at the frontiers
between contending classes. This repressionideology couple is central to Marxist conceptions of
class power and the State (cf. Althusser’ s essay
‘Ideology and the Ideological State Apparatus ‘). It
would be interesting to consider how far this model
remains within the horizon of Enlightenment
criticisms of the absolute power of the monarch,
i. e. the wielding of an absolute and arbitrary
violence justified and maintained by the religious
superstitions of the priests. In this scenario the
marxist’s ‘ruling class’ would be the modern
occupants of the place of the King.

Perhaps, then, we should revise our vocabulary
of power and cease to talk of power as a simple
‘possessicn’. This notion is misleading if only
‘just because’ one cannot determine power relations
as a function of an identifiable possessor. Which is
not to say that power is not exercised within definite
“SOCial relations crucially related to economic class
relations. Clearly, different relations involve
definite power-effects in the sense of differential
powers and capacities exercised within these
diverse social relations. But such an exercise of
power is not reducible to the function of an agent
and his ‘interests’ identifiable apart from the relations in which he is inscribed, and these relations
are not reducible to any primitive ‘class’ relation.

Perhaps we should say that ‘power’ as such does
not exist, only power-effects of specific and diverse
articulated relations of force.

The denial of a concept of state power as the
instrumental political power of a single class is
not a retreat to the notion of the State ‘above
society’. It is not even, if one likes, to deny the
functioning of an ‘economic imperative’ at the level
of the State. (But here again, it is interesting to
observe the way that ‘production’ can become a
‘categorical imperative’ in the hands of a left ‘in
power’, a moral injunction redolent with the virtues
of ‘discipline’ and ‘labour’: can these ‘ideological’

forms and the power-effects they may sustain be
class-reduced?) finally, it is not to ignore the
possible role the State has played in the unification
of social relations into a regulated system. What
this denial does refuse is to pre-judge the analysis
of the forms of articulation of diverse relations
between social forces. It refuses to seek the cause,
unity and function of the State in a postulated unity
of class -origin ‘represented’ with its ‘interests’ in
all aspects and levels of social practice. It refuses
to arrange all the forms of social power under the
sign of a unified State power of a single ‘ruling’


In this review I have concentrated almost exclusively on the fundamental question of State Power
as the political power of a class. This emphasis is
justified, I believe, on the grounds that this conception of power ultimately vitiates the many inter40

esting things Balibar has to say on other questions,
for example, his comments on the State apparatus
and on the popular political forms and practices
necessary for the successful transition to

Balibar argues that it ~s a fundamental error to
conceive of socialism as the goal of Marxist
revolutionary struggle. To do this is to suggest
that socialism is a stable mode of production and
social order on a par With capitalism. But socialism, according to Balibar, has always been for
Marxists no more than the ‘first stage’ of the
struggle for communism, a ‘transitional’ form
involving the objective Of the eventual elimination
of classes and so of the State and State power.

Socialism can only be properly understood from
this perspective of the struggle for communism.

It is the objective of communism that should
inform the social and political practice of socialism. Two different forms of argument are
combined in this claim.

On the one hand Balibar presents a number of
forceful arguments concerning the popular forms
of mass practice and organisation necessary if
communism is to be achieved and the State to
‘wither away’. These arguments need to be taken
very seriously and involve a neglected area of
analysis concerning the conditions necessary for a
continued transformation of social relations in a
definite direction, i. e. the forms which social
struggles take Wlder socialfSFCOiiditions.

But, on the other hand, this analysis is combined’

with a form of deductivism, and once again help is
required from an absent theory to support assertions which take ~he place of arguments. Balibar
deduces the nature of socialism as a transitional
form of society in the process of transforming
itself in the direction of commWlism. It is the
postulation of a general historical ‘tendency’

(already present in capitalism) that makes possible
the determination of the character of ‘socialism’ as
the continuation of an essential ‘class struggle’

between bourgeoisie and proletariat. This ‘tendential’ determination makes possible the deduction of
future social formations, and so also, the deduction
of the inevitably ~ nature of the State as
(‘tendentially~) ~ dictatorShip of the proletariat,
2!:,., dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. ‘Tendencies’

play here the same role as that other handy bag of
tricks: ‘determination in the last instance’. They
enable one to assert the governance of all social
forms by a general law of determination and at the
same time to suggest that the conditions necessary
for ‘realising’ this ‘tendency’ are not given but need
to be constructed by political practice (which logically implies that it need never be realised in fact)
(2). Balibar’s ultimately class reductionist conception enables him to determine the possible
forms of future existence as dedUCible consequences
from the essentially ‘tendentially’ determined
character of ‘classes’, ‘class struggle’ and ‘class
power’. The effect of this is to theoretically Wldermire the positive considerations of the conditions
of continued social transformation that Balibar
argues must be constructed in order to eliminate
class relations, i. e. the forms of popular practices and social organisation under socialism. The
‘necessity’ of these forms becomes less conditional
upon strategically constructed objectiveS than upon
what is required by theoretical deduction. It 1s this
also which determines the class character of these
constructions and of power as ‘proletarian’.

2 See Cutler, Hlndess, Hirst, HU!iS8J.n, lVlarx’s Ca ital and Ca itaUsm 1′()(Ia
vol.1 (1977) pp105 -34 for a discussion on e conce
en ency



Gh~sl w ..lllilgs
Lucien Goldmann, Towards a Sociology of the Novel
London, Tavistock, 1977, 181pp, £2.96 pb
Terry Eagleton, Criticism and Ideology, London,
NLB, 1976, 191pp, £4.95
Raymond Williams, Marxism and Literature,
London, OUP, 1977, 217pp, £3.50
The area of study that generally goes under the
name of the sociology of literature has been dominated for a long time by Marxist work, recently in
one or another combination with structuralist or
‘post structuralist’ thinkers. Yet the distance
between these texts is as great as that which can be
found, in other areas, between Marxist and nonMarxist work. Each is representative of a different
form of Marxist analysis – Goldmann of the Hegelianism of Lukacs, Eagleton of Althusser’s ‘structuralism’, Williams of the distinct cultural human …

ism of the British left of the post-war period. If
each were taken separately, a review would be a
matter of criticising or defending Hegelian Marxism, Althusser’s Marxism, or of discussing
Williams t relationship to Marxism. The defects
and insights of each are those of the theoretical
framework employed.

Reading them in succession, however, attention
is diverted to other issues; since they are all
‘about’ whatever it is we call ‘literature’ they construct collectively an object of analysis which seems
to overflow each of them. They produce a peculiar
dizziness: it is as if each explicitly or implicitly
refutes the others, but at the same time produces
its own inadequacies which call on the others for
identification and rectification. There is a logic of
absences which seems to lead in a never ending
circle, each work appears as part of some ghostly
whole yet to be discovered.

Goldmann is included here as Towards a Sociology
of the Novel has now been published in paperback,
two years after its initial translation and thirteen
years after its original publication in French. The
two theoretical chapters add little to what has been
available in English for a long time, and sandwiched
between them is a long study of Malraux’s novels, a
discussion of Robbe-Grillet and Nathalie Sarraute,
and a short piece on Robbe -Grillet’ s film

The way in which Goldmann attempts to analyse the
novel is well known. The relation of literature to
SOCiety is one of a ‘rigorous homology’ of’ structures rather than a reflection of content. The novel
is the form appropriate to the story of the problematic individual engaging in a search for authentic
values in a degraded and inauthentic society; tl1e
search is itself degraded and inauthentic, and
doomed to failure. The novelist’s problem is to
‘concretise’ an abstract and ethical ideal in the
story of the search, and this cannot be achieved
explicitly, but rather through the construction of
form and through irony. The novelist’s problem is
the problem of action in a· society dominated by
commodity production, the central structural feature
of which is commodity fetishism. The direct and
‘healthy’ relation between human action and its
product, which centres on the use-value of the latter,
is degraded and deformed by the dominance of exchange value in the market economy. Use-value
continues to exert its influence but its action
‘assumes an implicit character exactly like that of
authentic values in the fictional world’ (p8).

He presents a very general periodisation of history
in terms of the stages of development of commodity
production and matches this with an equally general
classification of the novel form. The ‘traditional’

Marxist position relates the literary work to its
social context through the consciousness of a groupsubject; the best work is the most systematic and
advanced articulation that that world-view can
achieve. In the introductory essay, Goldmann
argues that the development of monopoly capitalism
destroys this mediation in that all groups, including
the proletariat, which were previously a potential
source of alternative values, are absorbed into the
fetishised system. The mediating value – i. e.

exchange value – has become an absolute value, and
the novel now represents a generalised, unconceptualised social experience focus sing on the problematic nature of individuality as such. It is the product
of certain problematic individuals who have escaped
absorption into the system, such as creators,
writers and artists: apparently people write because
they escape absorption and escape absorption because they write. In the concluding essay, Goldmann
returns uncritically to the notion of the mediating
group subject.

The critical studies in the work reveal a number of
immediately identifiable deficiencies in his theoretical approach. To begin with, he seems unable to go
beyond very general indications of parallels between
a work and its context: for example, all that he
seems able to say about Robbe-Grillet and Nathalie
Sarraute is that they represent different stages in
the development of monopoly capitalism. And,
contrary to what he claims to be talking about, he
seems to have little to say about the form or
structure of novels and a lot to say about content.

The ‘structural’ study of Malraux’s novels is in fact
an interpretation of events and characters which
seems to reduce the work to the ethical/political
commitments of its author – at its most crude,
this novel is Stalinist, this one Trotskyist.

It would be tempting to list the sins of historiCism,
idealism etc and move on. However, Goldmann’s
own critique of structuralism, taken together with
the way in which Eagleton talks about social structure, produces second thoughts. Eagleton sets out to
analyse the relations between literature and the
social formation in a systematic way, but it is not
the case that he has an adequate concept of social
structure and Goldmann an inadequate one, and that
we can dismiss Goldmann in Eagleton’s favour. In
fact they share little but the word ‘structure’. When
Eagleton (or the structuralists criticised by Goldmann) use the term, they are referring to relations
between positions in a synchronic system, relations
between levels of the social formation, a causal
complex. When Goldmann employs the term, he is
referring to the relation between means and ends,
intentions and results, a structure of action which
is teleological and essentially temporal.

What this means is that we find in Goldmann’ s
work the ‘space’, the requirement for the type of
rigorous analySiS that Eagleton attempts, but that
Eagleton’s analysis does not replace Goldmann’s.

The ‘positive’ aspect of Goldmann, the ‘space’ that
he fills will not become apparent until we look at
Raymond Williams’ work; in the meantime we have
gained a better understanding of his ‘negative’

aspect. He can only draw general parallels because
he has no coherent concept of social structure which
can relate different actions or practices in a concrete way; and he can only reproduce the author’s
commitments through his textual analyses because

he has nothing else to which he can relate the text
directly but the author’s commitments. Finally, he
discusses content rather than form because he has
no concept of form, only of action as it temporalises
itself through the text, producing only very general
formal necessities.

Eagleton’s book begins with a discussion of the
ideological nature of literary criticism and a
critique of the work of Raymond Williams. The
latter has already produced a response (from
Anthony Barnett in New Left Review 98). The
former argues that a criticism which sees itself as
a sort of midwife, delivering a ‘real meaning’ from
text to reader, is an ideological criticism. Marxist
criticism, on the other hand, should aim to know
the text ‘as it cannot know itself’; it must reveal the
conditions of existence and production of the text
and the way in which it masks those conditions.

This is a scientific criticism, the concepts for
which Eagleton outlines in the following two chapters.

Next comes an analysis of the work of a series of
19th- and 20th-century British writers in the context
of what he sees as an ongoing crisis in bourgeois
ideology. Like the first chapter, a version of this
has appeared in New Left Review. The final chapter
directly attacks the problem of aesthetic value.

The two central chapters outline the concepts
which should enable the grasp of what Goldmann
missE;}s: specific ‘concrete’ links between the work
and the social formation. The first, ‘Categories for
a Materialist Criticism’, seems to me to fail on the
ground of a certain conceptual incoherence; the
second, ‘Towards a Science of the Text’, is the
place where Eagleton produces his own ‘lack’.

The ‘Categories’ begin with a definition of a
‘Literary l’vlode of Production’ (inevitably LMP),
which in theory should be the central concept
through which to grasp the literature/society relation, although he does not employ it in his own
‘practical’ criticism. The problem seems to be that
it carries a considerable metaphorical value but
little analytic value. It emphasises the material
nature of literary production, the fact that it is
carried on within specific social relations and that
these relations, together with the object and means
of labour, have a determinate effecton the final
product. It is defined as ‘a unity of certain forces
and social relations of literary production in a
particular social formation’ (p45) but this definition
seems to collapse when Eagleton employs the concept analytically. In practice he seems unable to
define this ‘unity’, which presumably should distinguish one LMP from another; instead he uses various differentiating features including the means of
labour (oral/written LMPs) and more general social
relations (LMPs involving capitalist relations or the
relations of petty commodity production). Indeed, the
‘social relations of literary production’ turn out t.o
be either the social relations of the mode of production proper or the relations between writer and
audience; and although the latter might be Significant!

if they are placed at the centre of the analysis we
end up with a literary equivalent of marginalist
economics. It would seem that the social relations
of literary production are only a specific instance
of the social relations of production proper, and it
is no more useful, and equally confusing, to talk
about an LMP as it would be to talk about a coal, or
a bread mode of production. A mode of production
is the basic level of the social formation and nothing


Following the LMP, Eagleton distinguishes a
number of ideologies which are articulated with the

social formation and which together comprise the
raw materials of the production of the text. The
problem here is that he offers no theoretical means
of distinguishing between ideologies, rather he
presents aJist ‘general’, ‘authorial’ and ‘aesthetic’

distinguished according to area or bearer. The list
is potentially arbitrary – ‘sexual ideology, political
ideology, class ideologies, status ideologies and so
on; any cut-off point must be arbitrary. Similarly,
in his analysis of ‘real’ ideologies he can only produce a list which takes over the normal terms of the
history of ideas: romanticism, utilitarianism, liberalism. He is unable to question this classification.

All in all, this chapter contains a useful ad hoc list
of social phenomena which effect the production of
literature, but it is presented as a conceItual
analysis which it is not, and it leaves him open to
the standard jibes about ‘Marxist jargon’.

In ‘Towards a Science of the Text’, the text is seen
as a production of ideologies in the same way that a
dramatic performance is a production of the dramatic text. The act of production constitutes the ideology in such a way as to reveal something about the
ideology’s (or ideologies ‘) relation to history.

History or ‘the real’ does not enter the text directly
as a reflection. Rather it produces certain crises
within ideology, and the text, what we call fiction,
is the attempt by ideology to overcome the criSis
and render itself in a complete form; to achieve
this it has to cut itself off from the real which it
both reveals and hides. What becomes apparent in
the text – thus distinguishing fiction from fact – is
the signifying practice of the ideology that is trying
to render itself. The literary text, then, is the
product of an ideology or ideologies attempting to
solve its internal problems, modes of signification
working on themselves and thus making themselves

It is here that it is possible to distinguish the
absence that Eagleton constructs for himself. If
there is a ‘crisis’ in ideology, a lack of ‘fit’

between ideology and the real such that it no longer
fulfils its function of masking contradictions, or if
there is a contradiction revealed within ideology
itself, then there is an area of existence which must
overflow ideology: there is ‘something’ which ideo”,,:

logy cannot account for or cover, otherwise there
would be no need for the work it carries out on itself
to produce literature. In other wordS, there must be
an experience not embraced by ideology. Yet this is
precisely what Eagleton will not allow: experience
– in the form, for example, of Williams’ concept of
the ‘structure of feeling’ – is defined immediately
as ideology. In the chapter on aesthetics, Eagleton
argues that the most valuable literary text is that
which in its production of ideology opens up the
widest play of meanings, yet if there is no experience beyond ideology, ideology would satisfactorily
confine the world within its meanings and the play
of meanings would be impossible and unnecessary •
Paradoxically it is Williams who provides some
indication of what is required to fill this space
created by Eagleton’s implication of an experience
which overflows ideology. Marxism and Literature
is notable as the attempt by a British socialist who,
for most of his life, distanced himself from Marxism, to come to terms with and incorporate new
and rediscovered Marxist traditions; of the three
books under review, it is perhaps the one which
shows most evidence of careful thinking. It is
divided into three parts: the first a consideration of
‘basic concepts’ – culture, language, literature and
ideology – the second concerned with cultural theory


and the third with literary theory. His position and
his method of argument is predictably the opposite
of Eagleton’s. Whereas Eagleton attempts precise’

conceptual analysis, Williams is concerned with
describing the changing meaning of terms in relation
to their changing social context -. the method of
Keywords. He is concerned to develop a type of
Marxist analysis that sheds rigidity and determinism.

And it is precisely this concern which prohibits him
from doing anything more than naming what is
missing in Eagleton’s analysis – a ‘structure of
feeling’, a conception of experience.

The tendency in Williams’ discussion of concepts
and ideas is to dissolve everything which is fixed,
determinate and determining into an ongoing social
process, which is considered central to life and to
literary analysis. A concept such as ‘overdetermination’, for example, might be ‘effective’ at an
‘abstract level’ but directs attention away from
lived, practical experience: ‘Any categorical objecttlication of determined or overdetermined structures
is a repetition of the basic error of “economism “‘at
a more serious level, since it now offers to subsume ••• all lived, practical and unevenly formed
and formative experience’ (pp88-89). Whilst
Williams’ humanism is plain and unrelenting and …

as far as this reviewer is ‘Concerned – essentially
praiseworthy, he seems to do his cause a disservice. He steadily demolishes the means by which
we can understand the absence of freedom, and such
an understanding is necessary before it is possible
to identify any genuine free or formative experience.

When he tries to draw distinctions in this ongoing
social process of which we are all a part, it takes
the form of a discussion of power relationships
which appear to have no real basis beyond the willpower of those who hold power. N or does he seem
able to conceptualise the experience of the process
as such; he can only point to the traces it leaves in
changing meanings and literary forms. And these
latter become unproblematic instruments through
which the writer expresses his experience. This
occurs most clearly in the critique of formalism
and semiotics; he suggests that we replace the concept of ‘sign’, with its implications of determinate
systems and rules, with that of notation:

‘. •. (which) are relationships expressed, offered,
te~ted and amended in a whole social process, in
which device, expression and the substance of
expression are in the end inseparable’ (pp1 71-2).

ExpreSSion is the result of a production but the productive tools are stripped of their autonomy. In
social analysis a similar stripping takes place: the
independent materiality of social structures is
dissolved in favour of an asserted materiality of
‘practice’ – which seems to mean only that our
experiences are real experiences.

Williams’ ‘lack’ consists in the fact that although
he is able to talk about experience, he is unable to
talk about that which is experienced. There is only
experience – which may be dominant, residual or
emergent, but such a classification seems to depend
on nothing beyond the passing of time. And there is
no real problem in the expression of experience,
yet he presumably believes in the need for radical
social change. From Williams we are led back to
Eagleton and an attempt to theorise what is experienced, and to Goldmann. Whatever his inadequacies,
Goldmann at least has some notion of a material
wor Id which has an independent existence which can
dominate our activity and make both our experience
and its expression problematic. The advantages of
Williams’ approach, beyond its emphatic insistence

on lived experience as a bal:?illce to Eagleton’s equal.

ly assertive dismissal, seems to be that his method
can grasp certain complexities and dimensions of
meaning that Eagleton’s more precise conceptual
argument misses. This is most apparent in his
identification of the social origins of the notion of
a separate aesthetic realm and his critique which
effectively destroys it. In this case at least, he
seems to be more of a Marxist than Eagleton.

However, the peculiar switchback produced by
these three texts remains. Perhaps the most helpful conclusion is that if it is possible to identify
absences, then we know what ought to be present.

They enable the definition of a series of theoretical
problems which go well beyond the study of literature. Neither together nor separately do they
provide solutions.

Ian Craib

M Ol’e a.b oul ….

M.· =~ .

es ern 8l’
Western lVlarxism: A Critical Reader, New Left
Books, 350pp, £3.50 pb
This book is a collection of essays, the majority of
which appeared originally in the New Left Review,
‘designed to answer two needs: firstly, clear exposition of the major theoretical systems within the
tradition of Western Marxism • •• and secondly,
critical assessment of these legacies’. This volume
is best read together with Perry Anderson’s
Considerations on Western Marxism, which was, it
seems, written as an ex tended introduction to it,
and which provides a clear overview and interpretation of the tradition of Western Marxism. It should
also be supplemented, as the book’s editor pOints
out, by two other New Left Review articles: Perry
Anderson’s ‘The Antinomies of Antonio Gramsci’

(NLR,100) and Valentino Gerratana’s ‘Althusser and
Stalinism’ (NLR 101). These various items taken
together do provide an extremely useful paCkage of
materials which should be of great value both for
teaching purposes and as a stimulus for reflection
on the Western Marxist tradition.

The essays collected together here are p:eneraHy
very good; they are clear and by and large avoid
academic showmanship and obscurity (the exception
to this is the essay by Glucksmann on Althum;el~).

The overall evaluation of the tradition of Western
Marxism which emerges from the bool{ is a negative
one (only Gramsci really escapes condemnation).

The essays include two on Lukacs (by Gareth
Stedman J ones and Michael LtJwy). Then there is
GtJran Therborn’s essay on the Frankfurt School,
and this should certainly be read by all those leftish
sociologists who are tempted to turn to Frankfurt
f or enlightenment (in the writings of the Frankfurt
School, he argues, there is ‘a double reduction of
science and of politics to philosophy. The specificity
of Marxism as a theory of social formations and its
autonomy as a guide to political action are thereby
simultaneously abolished’.) There is appended to
Therborn’s essay a timely ‘Note on Habermas’;
Habermas’s popularity (again primarily among
sociologists) might be less if it were realised that
he represents, as Therborn says, an ‘extraordinary
amalgam of the Young Hegel and Talcott Parsons’.

The other essays in the book are on Gramsci (by
John Merrington), on Sartre (by Andre Gorz an.d
Ronald Aronson), and on Althusser (by Norman
Geras and Andre Glucksmann). The book ends with


an interview with Lucio C olletti, a strange and
enigmatic figure: his affection for David Hume and
Karl Popper, and his empiricist, atomist ontology,
seem to me to make it unlikely that he is the one
who will lead us all out of the desert of Western
Marxism. But his final contribution is excellent:

it is a long declaration concerning the crisis from
Which Marxism is suffering, and it concisely recapitulates the central themes of his interviewer’s
Considerations on Western Marxism. The book
ends with Colletti’s judgement that ‘the only way in
which Marxism can be revived is if no more books
like Marxism and Hegel are published, and instead
books like Hilferding’s Finance Capital and
Luxembourg’s Accumulation of Capital – or even
Lenin’s Imperialism, which was a popular brochure
– are once again written. In short, either Marxism
has the capacity – I certainly do not – to produce at
that level, or it will survive merely as the foible of
a few university professors. But in that case it will
be well and truly dead’.

motivated resistance to self-knowledge and selfunderstanding, from reading them. And, if necessary, from reading around them, till the reader
understands allusive passages in the light of the
same kind of historical knowledge as informed their
composition. An index lists the names and dates of
everyone mentioned or q~oted or alluded to in the
text. If that sounds too much like a textbook, well,
firstly, the ‘art’ and wit of author and translator
have seen to it that the poems are not hard to read
just as they stand. But, secondly, don’t we need
poems we can learn from in this kind of way, as
well as others more immediately evocative or
flatly polemical?

Still, as one wry but lUCid, severe but compassionate death-mask after another hung itself up in my
mind, there were aspects of the book I disliked.

Why was there a total absence of women, and of nonEuropeans, from the roster of protagonists in this
would-be perspective on the history of the world?

Progress may be a male European goddess; but I
could not accept the book’s complete concession to
John Mepham
prejudices still so dangerously alive.

Less serious, perhaps, was the annoying and
fatuous bother of poems whose titles consist only of
the initials of the protagonists, whose identity then
has to be dug out of the index. I could not tinderstand how any socialist poet could perpetrate such a
H M Enzensberger, IVlausoleum, translated by
heavy put-down on the reader, and one which is of
J Neugroschel, Urizen Books (distributed by
course intensified in direct proportion to that
Pluto Press) £5.40 hc £2.70 pb
reader’S inexperience or lack of formal education.

I haven’t read his earlier collection, Poems for
from ‘Charles Babbage’

People Who Don’t Read ·Poems, but whatever
He hair-split pin-making into seven different parts: Enzensberger mayor may not have achieved there,
the poems of Mausoleum seem directed mainly to
drawing straightening pointing twisting heading
male intellectuals., Devoted exclusively to their
tinning papering,
European forbears, it invites them to a verbal rite
computing the wages expended in ~illionths of a
of parricide, ancestor-worship, and homosexual

incest. Sometimes Mausoleum even feels suspicious.

A few stone’s throws from Mr. Babbage’s heart,
ly like what ‘we i have all been waiting for, from
a Communist
Beach City to Katmandu, the talismanic BOOK which
sat in the British Museum, checking the arithmetic
can at last sustain the widely -craved illusion that
and finding it correct.

merely to read it is ~o act – when of course it is
It was a foggy evening. The mills and stores of
nothing of the kind. No wonder it has been lauded in
released a gentle, steady grating.

the Listener and the Observer (and doubtless also in
ttle New York Review of Books) as ‘destructive, yet
The great unfinished works: Das Kapital and the
exhilarating’, or as ‘that source of energy we seek
in history now to lighten the dark of the future’ in a
Analytical Engine.

ghostly Europe from which ‘power drained out •••
Forty Victorian years. The first digital computer,
with no vacuum tubes, no transistor. Weighing
generations ago’.

So if you can leave it alone, and good poetry is
fifty tons,
hard to resist, perhaps you should do so and walk
as big as a room, a gearwork of brass,
out of the bookshop? My reviewer’s thumb refuses
pewter, and steel, driven by springs and weights,
to move either way out of an indecisive horizontal.

capable of any computation whatsoever, even of
On the one hand, there is something sinister, or at
playing chess,
least depreSSing, about the irresponsibility of so
or composing sonatas, more than that: ‘to simulate
fine a left-wing poet, disguised as the ‘independence’

any process
which is the hallmark of the liberal intelligentsia
which alters the mutual relation of two or more
against which he has elsewhere written so effectthings. ‘

ively. (Is this perhaps the Gorky of our time?)
On the other hand, perhaps the defects in
These poems are sub-titled ‘Thirty-seven Ballads
from the History of Progress’. Ballads they are not. Mausoleum are a moving example of the point which
Enzensberger himself makes many times, in the
But each one makes an exciting and complex
traverse across the life and work of some known or course of his radical penetration into the entrails of
capitalist science and culture, to the effect that
unknown ‘hero’, who either helped or hindered
– usually both – the onward march of the Victorians’ capitalism stamps its deformities upon all creativity.

Not only upon that of its own best servants, such as
favourite goddess. Dense with insights, historical
F W Taylor (pp120-2); but also upon that of its most
reconstructions and realisations, they are written/
gifted enemies, such as Enzensberger.

translated with the same skill and humanity as they
have been thought. Socialists and radicals of many
different tendencies can all gain mUCh, to assist
our struggle against capitalism’s ideologically

Poet, heallhyself


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