The following text has been automatically reproduced by an Optical Character Recognition (OCR) algorithm. It may not have been checked over by human eyes. For matters of precision please consult the original pdf.

31 Reviews


Philosophies of African Liberation

Journal of African Marxists, Issue No.l, November
1981, Zed Press, London, twice yearly, Sub: £2.

This ·new and attractive journal aims to provide a
forum for progressive African intellectuals, and all
those committed to African liberation, to discuss the
struggle against neocolonialism and racism. The allAfrican editorial board, supported by local committees
in a dozen African countries, declares itself ‘wholly
independent and.not associated with any political
movements or organised political tendency’. Its
admirable continental scope is confirmed by its
acceptance of articles in English, French and Portuguese and the provision of summaries of each article in
all three languages. Its aims are the discussion of
political and economic strategies, the testing of
Marxist and Leninist categories against African
realities and the debunking of the ideologies of
Negritude, African Personality, African Socialism,
African Authenticity, African Humanism etc., and in
particular that of the idyllic classless Africa.

This first issue contains five essays. Gilbert
Mudenda of Zambia opens a needful debate by presenting
an outline examination of various methodologies
employed in the study of African societies. He condemns those such as structural functionalism which
ignore or conceal the existence of classes in Africa
or which claim to be value-free while actually conserving the neocolonial status quo. Even though much
of a broad critique such as this is now familiar, its
application in detail to the bourgeois sociology of
Africa is urgently required. One hopes that in future
issues Mudenda and others will give us critiques of
specific accounts of African societies which make the
errors he condemns; and even more do we need critiques
of what he calls those ‘neo-Marxist’ approaches which
manifest ‘pitfalls’ and ‘blind alleys’ even though
they do employ class analysis. In this last regard
Mudenda only mentions, without illustrations, the
French radical anthropologists, although he also gives
the single example of Ben Magubane’s work and its use
of the concept of the ‘colonial capitalist mode of
production’. But we are not quite sure whether
Mudenda feels there is something wrong with this
concept and, if so, what it is.

A timely essay by Bonaventure Swai of Tanzania
stresses the unity of theory and practice in the life
of the Guyanese historian WaIter Rodney, recently
assassinated by agents of the Forbes Burnham government for his leadership role in the Working Peoples’

Alliance of Guyana. Rodney, of course, was the
author of How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, a very

influential work in progressive African circles.

Swai discusses Rodney’s work at the University of
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (a future second part will
focus on Rodney in the West Indies and Guyana), and
argues that Rodney was neither a ‘pure’ academic
‘neutrally’ recounting the African past (such
accounts usually end up as apologies for colonialism
and slavery) nor did he fall into the opposite error
of activism without learning. One might wish that
Swai had said more about what Rodney actually did in
Tanzania and about the principles and content of his
novel historiography of Africa. It seems that Swai
tries to say too much about the unity of theory and
practice rather than showing its unity in Rodney’s

Perhaps the most thought-provoking article is that
on development strategy by Mohamed Babu of Zanzibar,
an ex-minister of economic development in the
Tanzanian government, thought-provoking because one
is forced to explain to oneself the uneasiness, even
perplexity, one feels at certain points in his argument. The essay is a chapter from a forthcoming book
African Socialism or Socialist Africa? (Zed Press),
and it may be that one needs to read the whole book
to begin to dispel the difficulties. Anyway, let us
take just three of them: the claimed need that an
underdeveloped nation has for morality, democracy
and capital.

Babu argues that a state geared to balanced development in Africa requires officials with high ‘moral
qualities’, indeed a whole range of ‘super-qualities’.

He says, ‘experience has shown that, whatever their
power base, proletarian or bourgeois, modern states
tend to develop or degenerate in more or less the
same manner’, that is, increasing bureaucratic privilege and corruption, repression etc. Central
planning tends to increase the possibilities of
corruption, he feels, and if we add to this the
African nations’ lack of administrative mediation
between state and society then the demands on morality are very great.

A number of questions may be posed: Is not
corruption in the socialist bloc directly proportional
to the degree of deficiency of ‘proletarian power
base’? Is it central planning which increases the
opportunities for corruption or central (undemocratic)
government? If there is a lack of administration on
the intermediate and local level, is the answer a
more ‘scrupulous’ state or greater administrative
autonomy at the local level? Should one not observe
that it is often the most repressive and undemocratic
of regimes which makes the most vociferous demands

for ‘morality’ and ‘discipline’? Is morality really
the problem at all, or only the symptom of the problem – the problem being the commercial and central
role of the neocolonial state apparatus which is the
main access to wealth for anyone lucky enough to get
near it? Everyone, in fact, in a country like
Nigeria is aware of the scale and pervasiveness of
corruption, and ‘codes of conduct’ are promulgated by
the dozen to combat it. But all the evidence indicates that they make not one jot of difference.

Babu does recognise, of course, at another point,
that neocolonial dependency must be broken. But he
frames the problem too simply perhaps in terms of the
need for capital. His main proposal is ‘massive and
disinterested assistance from the socialist countries’

and mentions as his models North Korea, China,
Vietnam, and Albania. Obviously, revolutionary
regimes require assistance from friendly nations, but
putting the emphasis on its being ‘massive and disinterested’ rather than on mass mobilisation and the
radical reorganisation of agriculture may create
painful illusions.

Again, Babu does speak of the need for popular
democracy and mobilisation. It is not that he has
forgotten it; the difficulty is that one cannot be
sure how he orders the priorities temporally and
logically. Thus, it is not clear how Babu’s repeated
demands for popular democracy fit in with the
importance he attaches to the need to develop the
forces of production and his proposals for doing so.

Babu certainly does not approve of Stalinism and its
‘ruthless measures’, and he rejects increasing the
burden of taxation on the working people, but he does
not appear aware of other anti-democratic risks. For
example, when he writes that the development of an
‘independent national economy in the neo-colonies is
the most essential prerequisite for the emergence of
a virile and dynamic working class who will be the
future leaders of socialist revolution and who will

exercise the dictatorship of the proletariat’, he
seems to recognise that one needs to create a
proletariat, without thinking that there is only one
way to create a proletariat – by exploitation.

Indeed it is only by exploitation that the forces of
production can be developed to the minimal level
necessary for socialist society. To put it simply:

if low salaries are required to rapidly develop the
forces of production, what does one do about workers’

strikes for higher salaries: repression or moral
appeals? Or both?

An interesting article in French by Elenga
Mbuyinga, Vice President of the Union of the Peoples
of Cameroon, makes a case for a Pan-African revolutionary alliance to fight for and build ‘a Union of
African Socialist Republics’ as such a union is, in
his view, a precondition for genuine economic independence on the continent.

Ben Magubane of South Africa, whose well-known book
The PoZiticaZ Economy of Race and CZass in South
Africa (1979) is discussed separately by Sam
Nolutshungu in the reviews section, gives a useful
overview of the southern African situation and the
economic, political, military and ideological devices
of Western imperialism in the area.

The journal also contains a section for news and
documents from African liberation movements. The
subjects of future articles promised include: classes
in Africa, transnationals in South Africa, Frantz
Fanon’s theory, and the class struggles in Nigeria,
Zambia, Guinea Bissau and Cameroons.

Of course, it is easy enough to make ad hoc
criticisms of revolutionary and development strategies
as we have done here. The problems are profound and
immense. One can only welcome the efforts of this
lively new journal to participate in the great
historical challenge of solving them.

Geoffrey Hunt

Racism and Philosophy
Martin Barker, The New Racism, Junction Books,
£12.50 hc, £4.95 pb
Enoch Powell raged against the entry of Asians
and Africans into Britain, when Tory MPs rose in the
House to advocate a discriminatory immigration policy,
they were careful to distance themselves from the oldfashioned racism of the Nazis or the League of Empire
Loyalists. They made no claims about the superiority
of the white race. Their appeal was instead to the
‘genuine fears’ of ordinary British people who were
seeing their neighbourhoods ‘invaded’ by people with
an ‘alien’ culture. To have these fears, Powell
insists in a speech advocating repatriation, is human
nature, something no government can afford to ignore.

It is natural and right for us to defend our culture
and customs against outsiders, not because they are
inferior, but because they are different.

This is the new racism which Barker identifies and
attacks in his book. It is a racism which rests on an
appeal to the sanctity of traditions and the British
way of life. As an ideology it answers to the needs


of the Conservatives who can no longer count on
economic prosperity to weld disparate classes and
interest groups together into one nation under Tory
rule. Nothing is new in appeals to tradition and
culture – Tories have been making them for centuries.

However, Barker argues that, this time round, the
ideology of the nation has been worked up into a
systematic doctrine which cannot only be used to argue
against Asian immigration, but also to defend the
family, patriarchal relations and the capitalist way
of life. Behind the new racism is a theory about
human nature. The main support for this theory is
provided by sociobiology, that recent offspring of the
social darwinist tradition. Armed with their new
ideology, Tories are not only able to argue for a
racism untainted by nazism, but also to dismay the
Labour opposition, who seem all too ready to give way
in the face of those ‘genuine fears’ which Powell and
others are so anxious to legitimize. The purpose of
Barker’s book is to expose the roots of the new
racism and thus to make the opposition to it more

Though Barker finds these roots mainly in what he
calls ‘pseudo-biological culturism’, he traces them
back to earlier manifestations. There have been
others who have founded their social philosophy on
human nature. In particular there was that grandaddy
of conservatives, David Hume.

It is a point of great importance to my way of
thinking, that the Tory Party has turned back
to principles – by and large, Humean principles
– and in doing so, has very much captured the
ground of argument for their ‘language of

Barker never does explain why Hume’s contribution to
the new racist ideology is important enough to examine
at length. And since his chapter on Hume is also
difficult and obscure – especially for non-philosophers – the reader might be tempted to leave Hume alone.

Nevertheless, I want to pay some attention to Barker’s
treatment of Hume, for it shows up some of the
difficulties in his own project.

Hurne argued that our moral distinctions and
behaviour are grounded in the feelings and impulses
of our human nature. Political doctrines and schemes
which derive our obligations from reason are misconceived and possibly mischievous. ‘Reason is, and
ought only to be, the slave of the passions.’ These
passions that spring from our bosoms centre on the
self; our generosity reaches not much further than
our family, our friends and the people of our community. But Hume has to show how human nature can underwrite justice, the rights of property and the rule of
law in a nation which, even in his day, contained
different races, classes, people with different
customs and ways of life. His task was, in short, to
find a foundation of politics and morality which
would make the nation safe for a bourgeois way of
life. Barker argues that Hume solves this problem by
stressing the primacy of traditional loyalties: ‘For,
reasoning aright, we should come to Humean conclusions …. That reason, per se, is powerless, except
as embodied in traditions, in custom and sympathy’


This is an interesting and plausible way of understanding Hume, but not, in my view, one that squares
with Hume’s philosophy or politics. Hume does stress,
against social contract theorists, that people develop a desire to keep the customs and laws of their
land which goes beyond a realisation that the rule of
law is convenient. But this doesn’t make him a blood
and iron nationalist. In fact, Hume was more whig
than tory, a philosopher of the passions, but not of
passion [1]. He distrusted collective enthusiasms
as much as he distrusted rationalism. His social
philosophy is best understood, as I have suggested,
as an attempt to provide a foundation for the relations of civil society without resorting to Hobbesian
machinations. His solution to the problem of social
cohesion is true to his individualistic standpoint.

Though he continues to insist that our generosity is
limited, in his Inquiry Concerning the Principles of
Morals he looks once again into the human breast and
finds that we have a ‘fellow feeling’ for all human
creatures which is just strong enough to underwrite
justice and the rule of law, but weak enough to make
sure that within the boundaries of bourgeois law and
order self-interest predominates.

If Barker is not right about Hume, he is certainly
right about the close relation between Hume’s view of
human nature and the standpoint of sociobiology.

Other philosophers have seen it too. Two recent
popular books on moral philosophy – J.L. Mackie’s
Ethics and Peter Singer’s The Expanding Circle – both
take for granted the Humean axiom, that our altruistic
impulses are contained in a small circle that centres

on ourself. And both think that this ‘fact’ is to be
explained by biological theory, namely by Richard
Dawkins’ theory of the selfish gene [2]. It’s the
struggle for the preservation of the genes which confines our natural generosity to those who share our
genes and to those with whom we have relations of
reciprocity. The only thing unusual about Singer’s
and Mackie’s approach to moral philosophy is that
they make use of biological explanations. But to the
extent that Humean assumptions about our natures are
ideological, so is a lot of mainstream ethical and
social theory.

Barker is not interested in attacking the ideology
of individualism, but rather in exposing the ideology
of a collectivism which exhorts us to find our identity and focus of our loyalties in the British way of
life. Thatcher’s brand of toryism – as he points out
– needs both: a stress on individual initiative to
get the entrepreneurial juices flowing again, and
some patriotic pieties for those who are gettiHg
kicked in the teeth by the free enterprise system.

What’s surprising is that he thinks he can find a
systematic theory behind this inconsistency.

However, there is no doubt that sociobiology and
the other forms of modern social darwinism have been
providing rightwingers with arguments for their new
racism. And therefore, it is these theories which
Barker is most concerned to examine and criticise.

His book contains an excellent account of the varieties of social biology and their relation to earlier
theories about instinct.

There have been two recent attempts to find a
biological basis ‘for human social behaviour. The
ethologists, like Lorenz and Ardrey, take as their
main theme the problem of accounting for social cohesion in the face of intra-species aggression. Like
earlier advocates of the instincts, they have been
led to postulate the existence of a social drive something which binds us together for the sake of the
survival of the group. It is not difficult to see
how racism can arise from this account of our natures:

the same instinct which binds us together also makes
us turn a hostile face to outsiders, a reaction as
natural, so these ethologists claim, as territoriality in other social animals.

On the other hand, sociobiologists, like E.O.

lVilson and Dawkins, don’t countenance ‘social
instincts’. They insist that the unit of evolutionary selection is not the group, but the individual
(or the individual gene). Thus the main problem for
sociobiologists is to account for altruism and its
limits. As we have seen, their view of human social
behaviour, centering as it does on calculating selfinterest, fits neatly alongside traditional individualism. This is what makes it particularly congenial
to those advocates of capitalism who are looking for
an ideology of human nature. On the other hand,
sociobiology is not well-equipped to account for
collective loyalties. It is true that sociobiologists sometimes claim that they can explain such
things. Wilson in On Human Nature has a go at deriving nationalism, xenophobia, religion, political
loyalties, from our supposed propensity to sacrifice
ourselves for those who carry the same genes. But
the gap between what he wants to explain and what he
has to explain it with is impossibly large, and in
the end, as Barker points out, he resorts to the
group selection thesis which, as a sociobiologist,
he is supposed to eschew.

I have suggested that the philosophy of modern
conservatism has to be inconsistent. Barker’s examination of social biology shows that inconsistency is
embedded in the biological foundation of this philosophy. The problem with his critique is that he
doesn’t seem to realise what a devious enterprise

sociobiology is. Far from finding the systematic
theory behind toryism, he has uncovered a nest of
inconsistencies, a battery of weak and strong positions which are taken up or abandoned depending on
the needs of the moment. This is why Barker’s main
complaint against the sociogiologists – their
inability to account for the adaptability of human
behaviour – can’t be as decisive as he hopes. When
faced by opponents who object to their deterministic
view of human behaviour, they typically retreat to a
weaker thesis; they say that we are merely inclined,
but not necessitated, to act in particular ways.

Then as soon as our backs are turned, they once again
begin making social prescriptions which rest on a
determinist thesis. This display of adaptability
makes sociobiology no less effective as an ideology,
but it presents difficulties to those who oppose it.

What makes the ideological nature of sociobiology
especially clear, Barker explains, is the way it takes
as given ‘culturally available units of behaviour’

and writes them into human nature. This is no less
true for ‘xenophobia’ as it is for ‘aggression’ or
‘male dominance’. Thus an effective way of combatting
social biology as an ideology behind the new racism is
to examine more closely those fears, insecurities and
hostilities which Tories like to take as manifestations of social cohesion, and discover their real
context and social orlgln. This is more of a task for
a sociologist or a historian. Barker can’t be blamed
for not doing it. My worry is that his own general
characterisation of xenophobia could get in the way of
a proper understanding of its cause and its cure.

Though it is usually clear that it is the ideology of
the nation that he is attacking, sometimes he seems to

be promoting the idea that any appeal to collective
loyalties, any attempt to maintain a tradi.ion or way
of life is inherently racist [3]. But what kind of
social existence does Barker favour? If we are to
escape that other ideology, the ideology of individualism, and the kind of society that goes with it, we
will want to promote some forms of collective identity
and solidarity – the kind of collectivity which depends for its success on overcoming the hostilities
caused by differences of race, culture or sex.

One of the problems for opponents of racism is
that community and working class organisations which
they usually want to defend, sometimes do harbour
racist attitudes. This is why the new racism is so
dangerous, and why Barker’s attack on it is especially
timely and necessary. For though racism is an ideo.logy, it can also be a material force by becoming
embedded in our social lives:

For all its falsity, we could live it out; the
decision to follow it could be made, with all
the terrible consequences for the transformation
of social and material environments which that
would entai 1 .

Janna L. Thompson



Hume supported the ‘revolution’ of 1688. He also argued in A Treatise of
Hwnan Nature that people provoked by enormous injustices would be justified
in overthrowing their government.

Mackie also argues for sociobiology with a form of group selection in ‘The
Law of the Jungle’. Philosophy. 53 (1978). Neither Mackie nor Singer attempt
to base their ethics on sociobiology; they just use it to explain something
about human nature.

He suggests that Wittgenstein and Winch’s idea of a form of life which is
self-validating ‘ … fits in remarkably closely with the idea within the new
racism of a “way of life'” (p.10).

Is the Philosophy of Biology Diseased?

Michael Ruse, Is Science Sexist?, D. Reidel,
Dfl.80.00 hc, Dfl.32.50 pb
MARVIN: You know, I talk a lot with kids your
age around the country – around the world,
some – and they all have that same, drab,
mature understanding of the current sociobiological situation. I think that’s what
makes your whole generation a little dull.

(from Robert Patrick’s T-Shipts, 1978)
In RadicaZ PhiZosophy 26 Martin Barker observed that
‘Philosophers have generally been very backward in
dealing with biological issues’. Michael Ruse is an
exception, and far from backward. In 1973 his book
on The PhiZosophy of BioZogy was published, and this
new collection of ten essays gives a ‘fair picture of
my decade-long interests in the philosophy of biology’

(p.xvi). How far, then, can this book, with its
engaging and promi$ing title, be seen to exemplify for
us the role of the philosopher in relation to the
content and implications of modern biology? Does it
show us the way forward, clarify our concepts, broaden
our analytical frameworks, challenge our preconceptions, unite theory and practice?

I fear not. Indeed, while reading his final, most

recent, essays I was reminded of Sir Peter Medawar’s
remark about the statements of I.Q. psychologists,
that they were ‘so foolish as to make it hard to
believe that they were not made up with the intention
of bringing their subject into disrepute’. This was
surely not Mr Ruse’s intention, though he can be a bit
of a tease. (After lauding the virtues of historical
insight he delivers the judgement:

Before 1859 people believed that the organic
world had been created miraculously by God.

After 1859 people believed that the organic
world was caused naturally by the action of
unbroken law,
which leaves the reader uncertain whether this is
intended as a parady of 1066 And AZZ That or to bring
history into disrepute.)
Let us assume his book is
to be taken seriously. Indeed, we should take it
seriously, for it will sell a lot of copies (one
judges from the publisher’s confidence in issuing it
in paper and hardback simultaneously), presumably to
the eager readers of Mr Ruse’s SociobioZogy: Sense op
Nonsense? (1979, reviewed RP24) and The Dapwinian
RevoZution: Science Red in Tooth and CZaw (also 1979).

It is not that Mr Ruse holds extreme views. Not
even his severest critic would accuse him of that.

‘Sexist’ and ‘offensive’ he tells us his work has been
called; but it cannot be said that he does not see two
sides to every question. Whether the other side is a
caricature, or whether the question in itself makes
sense, he has less apparent concern for. He seems to
interpret his brief as one of examining biological
‘problems’ in the terms laid down by biologists,
which rather reduces the role of the philosopher to
that’ of an apologetic lap-dog. Which is a pity, when
one thinks of the service that could be rendered, in
philosophical clarification and location of the
perspectives developed by biologists. As the Brighton
Women and Science Group wrote in their recent book
AZice through the Microscope,
It is the biological sciences that contribute
uniquely to women’s oppression, simply because
we are defined so often in terms of our biology
and the limitations that that supposedly places
upon us.

Issues of race and of sexual orientation, too, cry
out for philosophical assessment of the beliefs of
biologists. So it is a depressing thought that, for
so many readers of Mr Ruse’s book, here speaks the
voice of ‘the philosophy of biology’: Is Science
Sexist? (Answer: No); Are Homosexuals Sick?

(Answer: Not all are).

The earlier essays are fairly uncontentious
defences of neo-Darwinian and allied topics. Here
and in some of the later essays his judgements can be
unexceptionable: he advances good reasons for not
letting the recombinant DNA debate drop out of sight;
and warns of the dangers in genetic counselling, that
At the moment we seem to be on a speeding
train driven solely by medical technologists,
who think that because they have developed and
administer the technology, this qualifies them
to talk about and decide on all the related
topics, whether these be philosophical,
economic, or whatever.

But for some reason (it’s something genetic, I fancy)
Mr Ruse cannot see that this is precisely the problem
arising from sociobiology: the question of who is
qualified to speak about something (that is: within
what framework something should be discussed). The
central vision is of a unified science, unified on
the sociobiologists’ terms:

The only way forward is to study human nature
as part of the natural sciences, in an attempt
to integrate the natural sciences with the
social sciences and humanities.

(On Human Nature, p.7)
So when Mr Ruse’s final judgement on whether Sociobiology is Sound Science or Muddled Metaphysics turns
out to be (p.2l7) ‘Sociobiologists should stick to
sociobiology’ (as opposed to venturing into ethics),
this comes across as rather like cutting down God’s
pretensions by advising him to stick to the Cosmos.

Mr Ruse’s views on ‘Is Science Sexist?’ (which
means, the reader will not be surprised to learn,
‘Is Sociobiology Sexist?’) are bold. His defence of
sociobiology is: ‘Against the most fundamental charge
of sexism, the conclusive refutation can be made that
the theory may, in fact, be true’ (p.24l). Alas!

This is wholly inconclusive, since those who regard
sociobiology as sexist do not generally share Mr
Ruse’s simple-minded conception of Truth. Despite
his occasional protestations that he does not believe
science to be separable from ideology, or facts from
values, such formal nods towards a more radical
philosophy seem somewhat disingenuous when set against
how he actually argues.

Let us look at Mr Ruse philosophizing. He is trying to show that sociobiology is plausible (and therefore can not be sexist) by claiming that its predic-

tions about sexuality are verified. Now, one of the
summits of sociobiological scholarship is Donald
Symons’ The EVoZution of Human SexuaZity. Symons
believes in ‘the fact that homosexual men behave in
many ways like heterosexual men, only more so, and
lesbians behave like heterosexual women, only more
so’ (qu. on p.240). Mr Ruse cannot understand why a
reviewer poured scorn on Symons’ views, and goes on
to assert that recent Kinsey Institute work
confirms absolutely the difference between
male and female homosexuals. Males have vast
numbers of virtually anonymous sex partners;
lesbians are much closer to the heterosexual
norm (Bell and Weinberg, 1978).

(pp. 240-41)
This is all a dreadful muddle, conceptually and
methodologically. Firstly, Bell and Weinberg’s text
does not justify this crass summary. Secondly, the
connection Mr Ruse seems to see between behaving
‘like heterosexual men, only more so’ and having
‘vast numbers of virtually anonymous sex partners’

is ludicrously inept. Thirdly, Symons’ ‘fact’ – the
‘acid test’ of his whole sociobiological thesis – is
based largely on American sources of variable
quality, to an extent which almost suggests his book
is more accurately ‘The Evolution of Californian
Sexuality’. And in any case, and fourthly, while
lesbians and gay men are certainly ‘different’, an
analysis based on sexual acts is hardly adequate.

This most importantly is at the heart of Mr Ruse’s
problems. He would argue here, as he does earlier in
his defence of sociobiology as sound science, that
sociobiologists have to problematise things the \Tay
they do because that’s the paradigm they’re working
within. (Does that sound circular? It seems so to
me, too.) There, he was defending sociobiologists
against charges of bias against gay people:

We have seen that their whole progr~mme is no
more than an attempt to explain social behaviour
within the Darwinian framework. But this means
that sociobiologists accept the central premise
that life is a struggle for existence, or more
pertinently, a struggle for reproduction. For
them, therefore, homosexuality is a problem:

not a moral problem, but a conceptual one.

Homosexuality is behaviour which, prime facie,
reduces reproduction – hence as people committed
to the belief that (in one sense) reproduction
is the key to everything, sociobiologists would
be derelict were they not to attempt to explain

Really? Then let us consider how sociobiologists
should account for the evolution of the Catholic
priesthood (a subj ect on which ~1r Ruse is strangely
silent): ‘For them, priestliness is a problem: not a
moral problem, but a conceptual one …. Sociobiologists would be derelict were they not to attempt
to explain priestliness.’ If sociobiologists have
been thus derelict (Richard Dawkins is perhaps an
exception), this shows that Mr Ruse’s ‘defence’ is
so much flannel. Their.theories are built on preconceived and unanalysed assumptions, and the philosopher is derelict who does not attempt to tease
these out. Mr Ruse, though, adopts with no qualms
the same framework of assumptions as the sociobiologists, about what kinds of things should be explained
as well as how to explain them. The idea that homosexuality may not be a category susceptible to sociobiological analysis – that it may be, for instance,
a historical artefact whose meaning changes from time
to time and place to place – does not seem to have
occurred to him. (This blinkeredness is probably
brought on by spending too much time reading people
like Symons, whose chapter on ‘Copulation as a Female

Service’ (!) discovers cases of ‘male homosexual rape’

among anthocorid bugs and acanthocephalan worms!)
Mr Ruse excels himself with ‘Are Homosexuals
Sick?’. His answer to this extraordinary question is
a paradigm of what the blurb rightly calls ‘the same
judicious sense of inquiry that so distinguished his
highly successful Sociobiology: Sense or Nonsense?’.

Mr Ruse’s judiciousness is that of one who when faced
with two deep-water channels steers straight onto the
rocks in between. His final solution is:

I am not saying that the adaptationist/phobic
theorist is wrong. I am saying that as things
stand at present, perhaps the presumption is
that such a theorist is not right. In other
words, I do argue that, given what we know or
can best presume, it is unwise and unfair to
assume that all homosexuals are sick. The
presumption is rather that many homosexuals
enjoy full mental health.

(Gee, thanks a lot, Mike!) In his progress towards
this momentous conclusion, Mr Ruse has strapped on
his blinkers more tightly than ever. He briefly
notices that Szasz and others see the notion of
mental health/illness as incoherent, but refuses to
‘get side-tracked’, not recognising that this is the
1east·of his problems: his naive concept of ‘homosexuality’ makes his essay offensively irrelevant.

The very question he seeks to answer strikes me as
‘committing what we philosophers have learned to call
a “category mistake” (Ry1e, 1949)’ (p.2l9, where he
rightly argues it makes sense to ask if science is
sexist): homosexuality is just not the kind of
descriptive concept which it makes sense to ask
questions of sickness about. (In the past the question was asked, and was understandable then; which

goes to show that philosophical categories do not
inhabit a timeless ahistorica1 world.) Nor is homosexuality the kind of thing of which it makes sense
to seek ’causes’ (within Mr Ruse’s framework, anyway).

It is distasteful to contemplate the concept of moral
action held by someone who creates a tortuous confection in which arcane concepts of sickness are
correlated with ’empirical facts’ and aetiological
theories about ‘homosexuality’, and serves it up as
an essay in the philosophy of biology.

The irony is that Mr Ruse means well: in the
preface he writes:

Given the hatred, and bigotry, and condescension,
that variant sexual orientation causes in our
society, I shall feel justified in what I have
written if I can persuade but one person to
change their future beliefs and actions towards
the course of reason and away from that of

The effect he has had on this reader, however, is to
bring about an even fuller perception of the moral
blindness and social irresponsibility inculcated by
the very dichotomy between reason and emotion. Mr
Ruse’s belief in this, like the other dichotomies
which permeate his pages (truth/falsehood, biological/
moral, fact/value, science/ideology), would benefit
from a much fuller self-critical awareness. This is
surely the very least we can expect of a ‘philosopher
of biology’ .

This book lends urgency to Martin Barker’s plea
for philosophical responses to the issues – conceptual, territorial, social – raised by the work of
biologists and their tame apologists.

John Fauve1

Defences of Inequality

Philip Green, The Pursuit of Inequality, Martin
Robertson, £12.50 hc
This is a very useful and important book. Philip
Green has offered us a compendium of very effective
and powerful criticisms of all the main trends of
neo-conservatism: those ‘new’ theorists who have once
again set out on the road of justifying inequality.

Green breaks them down into two groups, although
recognising the interconnections between the two.

On the one hand are the attempts to prove that inequalities are biologically rooted in us. Here, his
eyes fall with great effect on Jensen’s pseudoscience
of IQ, on Herrnstein’s conception of a genetic underclass, and on Goldberg’s much-praised but quite
ridiculous bio10gising of male dominance. None of
these is new ground to cover, but many of Green’s
arguments are new, and all are written with a clarity
and punch that is very attractive. These make it
particularly useful for students, or those new to the
area and wanting some key points to hold onto.

For example, he nicely puts his finger on the
absurdity of abstracting intelligence from its lifeconditions and use, by making a simple comparison for
us. Compare the idea of genetic determination of IQ,

with the idea of a genetic determination of lifeexpectancy. We know that blacks live less long lives
on average, and yet the absurdity of a ‘worse’

genetic coding for life is obvious. He is also very
clear and apt (by comparison, for example, with
another recent book in the same area, James Flynn’s
Race, IQ and Jensen) on tbe conceptual silliness of
Jensen’s idea of ‘cultural bias’ in IQ tests.

The second half of the book begins with what I
found the most interesting part: an analysis of the
assumptions underlying the debate on ‘reverse
discrimination’ and ‘affirmative action’. (Although
no such programmes have ever been established in
Britain, that does not lessen the relevance of the
He follows this with a discussion of
Friedman, Kristol and other ‘free-marketeers’, who
seek to complement biological justifications of inequality with political and economic ‘proofs’ of its

There are many other books in these areas, but
this one will stand up well for a long time. Not for
Green’s positive views, I think, but for what precedes
them. Green ends with a defence of the case for what
he calls ‘democratic egalitarianism’. There are many
problems with this positive account, which is heavily

moral and strangely apolitical (especially given
recurrent references through the book to a Marxist
tradition of criticism). But the heart of the book

is the scholarly, verveful and accurate attacks on
the New Right.

Martin Barker

The Anthropology of Anarchy

Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, Carnival at Romans: a
People’s Uprising at Romans 1579-1580, Penguin,
The appearance of this book in paperback is an
occasion to argue for the essential seriousness and
political significance of the work. For Ladurie is
currently the most prestigious practitioner of the
Annales school of historians and the marketing of
him that has occurred since Montaillou may obscure
what is important.

In February 1580, half-way through the forty years
of the French Wars of Religion, a sordid little battle
took place in the southern French town of Romans.

Amid increasing apprehension about lawlessness and
peasant uprisings in the countryside of the Dauphin6
and in the face of a prolonged tax strike and threats
to their own authority in the town, the local oligarchy of Romans turned on the tradesmen’s and craftsmen’s party during the pre-lenten carnival and
engineered the murder of its leaders. They then
cooked up evidence of conspiracy and called in royal
authority to have surviving leaders stripped of their
property and in some cases executed after show trials.

Around these incidents Ladurie has written an
intriguing book.

One of Ladurie’s strengths for the general reader
is his ability to hold his climax in suspense. We are
over two hundred pages into the book before we learn
precisely what happened in February 1580 at Romans.

But, suspense apart, this apparently excessive delay
is justifiable on other grounds. The movement of the
book as a whole manifests a methodological disposition
with political implications.

The book begins, albeit somewhat apologetically,
with a statistical breakdown of the ranks of Romans
society (patrician bourgeoisie living largely from
rents and/or appointment to public office; tradesmen,
some very successful; craftsmen, especially those in
the cloth industry; and ‘ploughmen’, who worked on the
land but lived in the town), and with a statement of
the basic underlying economic conflict, the system of
tax exemption that held back urban traders and craftsmen and positively impoverished peasant landowners.

These last found their tax burden increasing as they
became poorer. For the more land they had to sell off
to tax-exempt nobility, the more tax they had to pay
on what they had left. Taxation was not merely a
political appendage to the social structure but, insofar as the monarchical state (by visitation of the
queen mother herself indeed) defended tax exemption,
manifested and reinforced that structure. Then, in an
account of the social unrest in and around Romans in
the years immediately before 1580, Ladurie gives a
vital grounding in the symbolism of carnival and the
impulses behind peasant and urban uprising. In short,

Ladurie moves to the events only via the explanatory
material base of social relations and the semiology of
contemporary social life. Both these elements are
vital preliminaries.

Why for example did the drapers and ploughmen
celebrate St Blaise at Carnival? Because (pp.l02-03)
St Blaise was both a disreputable bear-like figure in
the annual rebirth after winter hibernation which
moved on to fecundity in crops (and whose smile also
aided the fecundity of women) and was the martyred
victim of flails and cards, and the implements of
agriculture and Cloth-making. The symbolic language
of the traditional choice of carnival patron then
became, in 1579, the medium of a slight but crucial
political gesture, the election by the followers of
St Blaise of a carnival king to press their demands
for lower town taxes and control over the government
of the town. Throughout the events political moves
and counter-moves via a symbolic medium Gontinue: the
elected leader, subsequently imposed, with a number
of his followers, upon the corporation’s meetings,
appeared in disrespectful garb, a bear-skin; and in
the next year’s carnival, leading up to the massacre,
different factions goaded each other with competing
‘reynages’ in which ‘kings’ dressed up as different
animals (sheep, hare, capon, eagle), each with their
symbolic meaning, were chosen by competition and
paraded processions through the town.

After the symbolic, political and economic complexes have been joined in the events of 1580, Ladurie
moves back again towards an economic and anthropological typology of European revolts. Here, I suggest, is
the true motive for Ladurie’s study (in spite of his
ingenuous statement at the start that he chose Romans
because he wanted to write a monograph on a small
city and the Romans records were good), and certainly
its ultimate interest. Having unravelled the background, currents and language of the Romans revolt,
Ladurie defines (in Chapter 13) two paradigms of
revolt: the historically earlier peasant uprisings
against seigneurial power and privilege; and the
urban revolt against expanding central government and
its local beneficiaries. Roughly speaking, then,
these are feudal and modern forms of revolt. The
vital interest of Romans is, then, the way that
peasant and urban insurgents were united in their
struggle against the nobility whom the state favoured
by tax exemption. For the Romans revolt finds both
types together.

Now let me return to the political implications of
the movement of the book. In the closing chapters
Ladurie’s reading in social anthropology shows
through clearly. Earlier he has brought it to bear
on the interpretation of popular protest. Now it
emerges that he is reaching for a semiology of a
rebellious impulse that he sees as a more or less

constant phenomenon in class-divided social structures
The meaning of that movement from social structure,
to symbolism, to events is now clear. Ladurie’s
study helps to map the impulse and language of
popular protest onto the economic structure that
underlies it, and the beauty of Romans as an example
is that it demonstrates the continuity of the former
in a period of historical transformation for the
latter. And this in turn allows Ladurie (in his
final chapter) to study the bourgeois, and hence by
comparison modern lawyers and writers who made common
cause with the tax rebels in the 16th and 17th
centuries. In this way Ladurie’s approach rescues
those popular upheavals from the shadow of the interpretation given them by Norman Cohn in The Pursuit of
the MiZZenium, where popular uprisings appear as outbreaks of primal, irrational urges engendering
totalitarianism. Ladurie has fused history, materialism and anthropology to make possible a new kind of
account of popular movements of the past.

This approach also entails a challenge to the
statism that marxists (and others) can often display.

For, having established that the symbolic language of
revolt is worthy of consideration in its own right,
Ladurie can force the reader to consider whether the
opposition to the state that is so common in history
is something more than mere friction in the wheels of
progress which marxists customarily see in the growth
of the modern state. Through their complex symbolic
languages peasants and craftsmen fought for local
autonomy against an advancing state which they
rightly supposed would only reinforce their exploitation. To a degree, then, Ladurie’s manner of interpretation rehabilitates in history local anarchism,
which remains a powerful impulse in European regional-

ist, separatist and indeed socialist opposition to
the modern capitalist state.

This is all to the good. But there is one point
where I suspect Ladurie has allowed himself an inept
anachronism. Part of the continuity of popular
protest is opposition to taxation, and Ladurie in his
foreword defends the relevance of his approach by
pointing out the resurgence of tax revolt – in the
talifornian Proposition 13 movement and its allies
(which would include Thatcherism and Reaganism).

Granted that taxation is a fundamental mechanism and
hence a fundamental issue in any developed political
structure, it is, I feel, na~ve of Ladurie not to
recognise the difference between taxation in such
very different political environments. There are at
least two obvious differences. Tax-collecting in a
peasant economy only partially gone over to a cash
market, and with marked local class differences and
antagonisms (which Ladurie himself points out elsewhere) is experienced in a quite different way from
that in modern economies. And, partly as a consequence of this, there has been a curious inversion of
the stated justification for taxation, and of the
opposition to it. For today taxation can be thought
of as an effort at redistribution, and opposition to
it can be led by those wealthy enough to believe that
they are subsidising the undeserving poor. In other
words, taxation has come to occupy a different place
in the vocabulary of political relations. A naIve
identification between oppressive taxation and the
state would grant anarchism too much by obscuring the
extent to which the state is a focus of conflict
between classes.



The Subject at the Movies

Stephen Heath, Questions of Cinema, Macmillan,
£12.50 hc, £4.95 pb
This collection of essays makes available work which
Heath has done over the past six years. With the
exception of two relatively short essays it has all
previously appeared elsewhere in a diversity of cinema
oriented journals. The stress should perhaps be
placed on the ‘diversity’, because Heath’s contribu-

Escalllted conflict


tion is as much, if not more, to structural theory
than specifically to cinema.

The questions of cinema, from which the book takes
its title, transpiTe to be questions of the interrelation of materialism, psychoanalysis and linguistics, roughly in that order. It is necessary, then,
to start a certain distance from the object (cinema/
screen); nothing is to be taken for granted, everything is at risk, in question. Materialism too is in
question, it takes on a transformed meaning as one of
many designations of the ideological as ‘subject’ and
as ‘subjectifying’. Cinema may have a material
history; one tied to its profit orientation, its
technical progress and the mechanics of the camera
(pp.19-76); but Heath’s thesis is essentially that
‘there is a material history of the construction of
subjectivity and that history is also the social construction of the individual as subject … ‘ (p.2l3).

Cinema and film appear to necessarily express the
ideological construction of the subject as the
spectator of the filmic narrative. A discourse
becomes the discourse of representation: the ‘presence’ of a naturalised narrative which the film
produces as its necessary mode of intelligibility.

The enemy is representation, ‘a specific subject-

construction’ and an ideological effect. This is
because for Heath ‘any social formation depends for
its existence not only on the economic and political
instances but also on a reasoning of the individual
as subject, reproduced in images, identities of meaning, finding his or her delegation there’ (p.239).

Suffice it to say that the essays are particularly
interesting on the psychoanalytic and linguistic constructions of the subject in the narrative space of
the film. Analyses of ‘suture’ and ‘langue’ follow

easily in the context of the ‘imaginary’ and
‘symbolic’ – this is how it is done. What is less
clear is how this theory is to be practised and what
it can tell us about the more mundane politics of
cinema. Will ‘different “viewings”, and new “hearings'” (p.2l7) really transform filmic practice outside the economic and political instances which
produce cinema and its audience?

Peter Goodrich

Who was Brentano Anyway?

F. Brentano, Sensory and Noetic Consciousness,
Routledge and Kegan Paul, £8.50 hc
At the turn of the century Franz Brentano was known
as a towering figure in German philosophy. A man of
great charisma, he fired generations of students at
Vienna with high ideals of the philosophical search
for truth and for permanent values. Husserl and
Meinong were amongst those who had sat at his feet.

Others, like the young Heidegger, who had no personal
contact with him, were nevertheless inspired by his
writings to choose philosophy as a vocation.

Brentano was, however, a complex figure, difficult
for us today to locate in the confused map of continental philosophy before the First World War. We are
given little help in this by the current series of
translations which RKP have been publishing. In the
past thirteen years most of his major works have
appeared, though the latest, Sensory and Noetic
Consciousness, hardly falls into that category. It
is a posthumously edited collection of writings which
range from clear, continuous argument to fragmentary
observations. The highly specific topic, plus the
lack of context will tend, for most potential readers,
to leave this particular little book stranded high on
the beach of incomprehension.

The title might be warning enough; but to those
who think they understand it – you probably don’t.

lfuat Brentano means by ‘noetic’ is different from
Husserl’s better known use of the term. The latter
once said: ‘Never write a critique until you have
understood what you are criticizing in its straightforward sense.’ In the present case such understanding would be no mean achievement, in spite of the
simplicity of Brentano’s prose style. We find turnof-the-century psychology alongside extensive discussions of Aristotle and invocations of God’s omnipotence. The straightforward sense is not graspable
as if this were a 1980s work in the analytic tradition
The English reader needs a proper introduction to the
book. Here are a few notes towards it.

Brentano, who began his work in the l860s, was
firmly convinced that philosophy was in crisis.

German Idealism had collapsed in ruins; natural
scientific knowledge was triumphant, and it was not
at all clear that philosophy – so recently the queen
of the sciences – had any role left to play at all.

Brentano’s self-appointed task was to restore philosophy to its rightful place at the centre of intellect·
ual endeavour and achievement. The past greatness of
philosophy had declined through long ages of decay

until the ‘ultimate degeneration of human thinking’

was reached in Hegel! But the time was ripe for a new
age, a new incorruptible philosophy, a universal
revolution which would affect all humankind. This
spiritual rebirth, which would also lead to a renewal
of religion, was possible because philosophy had at
last come to its true method. It was the method
which had proved itself in application to physical
nature, and more recently in the biological sciences.

Scientific method was now ready to be applied to the
human mind itself. The method was empirical; the
resulting science would be psychology. What was
needed then was Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint (the title of his projected major work) which
was in fact identical with true philosophy. It would
provide the essential and only true foundation for all
the human sciences (Geisteswissenschaften). Humanity
would gain a new self-conception which would first be
the property of the intellectual elite, but would
gradually filter down to the populace at large.

This was the project behind the proposed five
volumes of Psychotogy from an Empiricat Standpoint.

The first two volumes appeared in 1874; the remaining
three were never written. Material which might have
formed the third volume in the original scheme is
gathered together in the present Sensory and Noetic
Consciousness – hence its subtitle: Psychotogy from
an Empiricat Standpoint, III. Dilthey characterized
this project ‘scholastic psychology’, and not without
reason. A Catholic and one-time priest, Brentano
knew well his scholastic philosophy and its classical
roots. Aristotelean distinctions were deeply embedded
in his thinking: they played an important part in his
classification of mental phenomena. He used them to
oppose the degeneracy of historicism. He abhorred
the relativism of the historical school (in which he
included Dilthey) as an offence against all standards
of eternal truth. The scientific psychology which he
aimed to establish would be a bulwark against
historicist corruptions.

What Brentano meant by empirical psychology was
clearly different from what we mean. He meant philosophical psychology, empirical only in the sense of
being based upon the description of mental phenomena.

Later, he came to call it ‘descriptive’ psychology,
as opposed to ‘genetic’ psychology which was concerned with patterns of causation and included the
psychophysical. His method, then, was in a way
phenomenological, and there is no doubt that Husserl’s
method developed out of Brentano’s – indeed, Husserl
originally subtitled his Logicat Investigations an

essay in ‘descriptive psychology’. But as Husserl
developed his own position the two men diverged
ideologically. Brentano accused Husserl of a platonic hypostasization of ideas; while Husserl accused
Brentano of failing to escape the ‘naturalistic
attitude’, with its subservience to natural science.

For this reason the editor of the present work uses
the clumsy term ‘phenomenognosy’ instead of the more
obvious ‘phenomenology’ which Husserl came to

Central to Brentano’s whole philosophical psychology is the distinction between act and content.

Introspection, as direct observation of one’s own
mental processes, he held to be impossible: emotion
observed is emotion transformed. But mental acts were
unities in which there is not only awareness of content (the things thought about) but a subsidiary awareness of the process of thinking (the ‘self’-awareness
of consciousness). This awareness of the act itself
could be made the object of a (temporally) subsequent
reflection. We can thus distinguish between direct
and ‘oblique’ objects of consciousness – the latter
in this case a sort of reflexive self-awareness. On
the basis of such reflections, Brentano held that
there is an absolute distinction between presentations
(Vorstellungen) of objects – in which they are directly giv~n – and judgments about or emotions towards
these objects. In each case the object is the same,
but the mode of relatedness of consciousness to it

It was here that Brentano deployed the scholastic
notion of ‘intentionality’, though in a changed sense.

In each type of conscious act, he said, the same
object is intended (in the sense of being indicated
or pointed towards), but the mode of intentionality
(the act) differs. This was a concept which Husserl
took up and transformed. For his part, Brentano
argued, in the second book of Psychology from an
Empirical Standpoint, that there is a further distinc-

tion amongst conscious acts which cuts across the
other types – namely, the Aristotelean distinction
between sensory and ‘intellective’ acts. Crudely, a
sensory act is one in which a particular object is
directly given, whereas an intellective act involves
the conceptualization of something in a general sense.

‘Noetic’ consciousness is the term Brentano uses to
refer to this intellective act. The relation between
sensory and noetic consciousness – the theme of the
present book – is thus the problematic relation between what is immediately given, and abstract thought.

Personally, I think the writings of Brentano
collected in the present volume are primarily of
historical interest only. There is an interesting
discussion of the temporality of the sensory process,
but one which was superseded by Husserl’s 1905
lectures on the ‘Phenomenology of Internal TimeConsciousness’. Certainly, phenomenologists of every
ilk (and Heideggereans not least) would be dismissive
of the editor’s claims that ‘Never before in the
history of philosophy and psychology has such progress been made on the time problem’. Brentano’s
tripartite division of mental acts into presentations,
judgments and emotions on the basis of their relationship to the intended object is surely no longer
tenable. And the fundamental ambiguity about the
existential status of the intended object (i.e. the
identification of real object ‘as presented’ with the
‘content’ of the mental act) has been more than
comprehended in the onslaughts on Husserl’s position
– to say nothing about Meinong’s critique of his

It is a pity that this book falls, unadorned by
any explanation, into a sea of ignorance about
continental philosophy before the First World War.

But since it does, its course can only be that of
the proverbial pebble.

Roger Waterhouse

Simmons: Ideals and Dogma
D. Simmons, Ideals and Dogma – a Critique of Pure
Marxism, Third Avenue Press, 1980, £3.95 hc
This book is a timely repackaging of the cold war
myths of the 1950s about Marxism, renovated to
accommodate subsequent political developments, and
now masquerading as an informed critique condensed
into pamphlet form. A primer for the right-wing
ideologist, its aim is suitably comprehensive – ‘to
show that the cumulative effect of all the contradictions in Marxism is to totally destroy its value,
both as a philosophy, and as a practical method of
social change’ (p.8) – but its primary concern is
limited to political theory. (The ‘pure’ of the
subtitle is the opposite of the ‘mixed’ not of
‘practical’). Less than one-sixth of the book
(Chapter 2) deals with issues of general theory, and
these pages simply reiterate Popper’s critique of
Marx, verbatim: ‘There is little that any author can
write on the scientific validity of Marxism that has
not already been covered by Sir Karl Popper … ‘ (p.19)
No attempt is made to investigate the conceptual

structure of any of Marx’s work, and his materialism
is interpreted as the metaphysic of behaviourist
psychology, and then denounced as such (pp.28-32).

In the idea of dialectics Marx is said to have
inherited a ‘totally irrational system of philosophy’

from Hegel, who, it is claimed, ‘possessed limited
knowledge and even less logic’ since he didn’t disapprove of contradictions (p.34); but there is no
consideration of any of Hegel’s work.

Simmons moves from this parody of misrepresentation
to a quite independent discussion of Marxism as a
politics, which he constructs from an ethical and
instrumentalist perspective, abstractly, as a theory
about ‘the type of society we (who?) should aim for’

and how it can be achieved (p. 4 7). This is the
central section of the book and its ideological core:

an attempted justification of the McCartheyite claim
that ‘Every person who accepts the claims of Marxism
is taking his (sic) country, his political system,
that much closer to dictatorship’ (p.48).

It consists of an account of the standard moral
and economic objections to the centralisation of power

in the state presented as a ‘critique of pure Harxism’

on the basis of the claim that ‘The Harxist utopia is
one of centralisation and state power’ (p.48).

Russia, it is argued, became an authoritarian state
‘by adhering closely to the practical guidelines laid
down by Harx’ (p.119). So, ‘The failings of Soviet
Russia are the failings of Marxist theory’ (p.124).

This familiar argument (The God that Faited is
cited as documentation) is supplemented with a discussion of Yugoslavia as ‘the typical representative
of modern communism’, whose ideology ‘may not be
pure, but it is Marxist’ (p.126); moves towards
decentralisation in Yugoslavian society, and their
effects, being taken to suggest that it ‘may perhaps
represent the ultimate development of communism’

(p.126). Whereas Soviet Russia, as a planned economy,
is seen to be faceu with technically insurmountable
planning problems, to minimise consumer choice, since
no effective information mechanism exists, and to
provide no incentive to maximise production, Yugoslavia, as a federation of workers’ councils, is
pictured as ‘crippled by democratic indecision’ and
bureaucratisation (p.134). These alternatives are
presented as the inevitable outcome of social ownership of the means of production. There is no discussion of class, or of the dialectic of forces and
relations of production.

The strategy implicit in Simmons’ derivation of
the most important and fraudulent pr~mise of his
argument – ‘The Marxist utopia is one of centralisation and state power’ – is worth noting, for it is
one which, though to a lesser extent, vitiates most
debates about ‘Harxism’ in general. It is to isolate
a particular aspect of marxist theory from its context within the general theory of historical material~
ism and to identify the position of a particular
tendency within the tradition of marxism on this
issue with ‘Marxism’, which is conceived, at least
implicitly, as a homogeneous doctrine. In Simrnons’

case it is the politics of the Second International
which is elevated in this way. The main argument of
his book is thus invalid in relation to all but an
increasingly small minority of contemporary marxists,
functioning only as a cheap political smear. As
Korsch, the initiator of a tradition within Marxism
which Simrnons ignores, said:

For the Marxist there is no such thing as
‘Marxism’ in general any more than there is

a ‘democracy’ in general, a ‘dictatorship’

in general or a ‘state’ in general. There
is only a bourgeois state, a proletarian
dictatorship or a fascist dictatorship, etc.

Throughout the book, Sirnmons consistently fails to
make distinctions of this kind, conflating, for
example, Marx’s concepts of ‘alienation’, ‘class’

and ‘exploitation’ with those of everyday usage.

The two critical standards applied – a technical
concept of economic efficiency and a radically
individualistic conception of ‘freedom of choice’ are presumed self-evident, as is a fixed conception
of human nature. Only once is it indicated that
Marx’s work presents a philosophical challenge to
such assumptions, and the nature of this challenge
is not examined. The idea that a transformation of
‘human nature’ would accompany a fundamental change
in the social relations of production is simply
asserted to be ‘less than rational’.

Overpowered by the strength of his own argument
(an effect of his tunnel vision), Simmons is left
searching for an explanation as to why there are any
Marxists. Having accounted for this by a combination
of different factors – desire for revenge, misunderstanding of capitalism and lack of an alternative
counter-ideology – the book concludes with Simmons’

new alternative: a return to the mid-19th century,
‘a totally fractionated economy; the extreme form of
small business economy’ (p.188)! The extraordinary
naivety of Simmons’ fantasy – alienation will be
overcome by ‘the simple human wish to keep things
on a friendly basis’ (p.194)’ – contrasts sharply
with the illustrative detail of the main section on
eastern Europe; and his basic indifference to the
ownership structure of the firms in hlS ‘fractionated economy’, which in the most astonishing of
dialectical inversions he presents as the realisation of Marx’s ideals, underlines his failure to
comprehend even the rudiments of historicai

None of this would be particularly significant if
Simrnons’ academic pretensions were confined to the
discourse of the academy, but Ideats and Dogma is
directed elsewhere; and by providing a spurious
intellectual legitimation of the commonplace rightwing stereotype of Marxism, it can contribute only
to the reinforcement of political dogmatism.

Peter Osborne

Lukas: Social Being

G. Lukacs: Ontotogy of Sociat Being, Vol. Ill, Merlin
Press, £2 pb
This volume is the third part of a series being published by Merlin Press which is itself a selection
from the complete Ontotogy. The two previous volumes
dealt with aspects of Begel and Marx.

In the Ontotogy Lukacs establishes labour as his
central category for analysis of social being. This
contrasts with his view in History and ctass
Consciousness that commodity fetishism is the
decisive feature, i.e. starting point, for analysis

of capitalism.

Lukacs relates his approach to the subject to the
concepts of teleology found in Aristotle and Hege1.

Both had noted the teleological character of labour;
it appears in Aristotle’s Metaphysics as dynamis
(human creative potential) and similarly in Hege1’s
Jena Lectures of 1805-6.

The approach adopted by Lukacs in Labour is that
of abstraction: labour is abstracted from the complex
social determinants which lie beyond the simple
active relationship between the subject and nature
and is thus dealt with in an idealised form. This

method enables Lukacs to uncover the ontological and
epistemological implications arising from labour pep
se. The author notes that his method involves °re_
inserting labour into the social totality (at a later
stage in the ~1toZOgy) when the argument comes to
deal with the question of how labour reproduces

In the course of outlining the main themes in
Laboup, (this review is exegesis rather than criticism) I will indicate what seem to be some of the
more concrete implications of this essentially philosophical treatment of labour.

Luk§cs sees labour as having a double-sided to be successful it must employ an accurate knowledge of causal processes in order to achieve
desired goals; secondly, in the act of transforming
nature, the labouring subject is also transformed by
the various agencies through which labour is mediated
– the labour process, management, trade unions,
exchange value, for example.

The mediations of labour produce reflections in
consciousness of what the labour process is like.

These reflections, however, inevitably depart from
reality as they are te1eo1ogica11y oriented, that is,
they are interest or purpose-laden perceptions.

Often the reflections are produced by agencies which
interpose themselves between the labouring subject
and labour, rather than reflections of teleological
positings which arise from labour itself. But even
the latter are partial perceptions of a really existing totality. By ‘teleological’, Luk§cs means that
every act of labour is oriented towards an objective
and therefore an act of labour embodies a choice
between alternative courses of action; it consequently
contains within it the values and interests which have
given preference to one course of action rather than
another. The argument then runs that teleological
positings within the labour process itself embody an
interest in the success of the labour process and
will therefore motivate a dispassionate investigation
of the causal processes therein in order to ensure
its success. However, the teleological positings
made by mediators outside the labour process are less
likely to produce a true picture of it as these
mediators are less directly concerned with the
success of the labour process than with that of their
own positings in realising their group interests via
a complex chain of social causality which only indirectly involves the successful reproduction of the
labour process.

Obviously, workers will tend to see their situation
in terms of a consciousness produced by external mediators e.g. management, mass media etc., but the
reflections produced in labour itself, when abstracted
from other reflections will arguably lead to conscious
ness of the inconsistency of those reflections produced by management, media, the state etc. with
reality reflected directly in labour. However,
Lukacs does not really spell this out and one is left
to fill in the gaps, the argument remaining at a level
of extreme generality.

Lukacs sees the teleological character of human
practice as rooted in the objective potentialities
of natural causality. The latent causality in nature
can be activated by labour. For example, a stream
can be harnessed to drive a water wheel. In this way,
objective potentiality in nature gives rise to the
Aristotelian dynamis, the capacity of labour to
exploit the potentialities of nature to posit successfully alternative goals via causal processes. Thus
in labour natural potencies and teleology are inextricably related, the former providing the ontological ground for the latter.

The category of dynamis or obj ective human potential
has an important bearing on our view of freedom,

Lukacs argues. He notes that Engels was right to
reject the customary counterposing of the categories
freedom and necessity, having perceived that freedom
lay in grasping the law-like regularities which govern
natural and social life. Luk§cs questions the adequacy of this account, though, because it excludes
the realm of objective possibility, that is, it seems
an overly positivistic account excluding, as it does,
hidden (because not activated) causal mechanisms.

Engels thus ignores the significance of choice between
teleologically posited alternative possible courses of
action in his account. The absence of dynamis necessarily weakens any argument in favour of a purposive
human subject, and consequently enfeebles Engels’

view of freedom.

Echoes of the early Luk§cs of HistopY and CZass
Consciousness are detectable in Laboup. In the former
work Lukacs used the category of ascribed consciousness when dealing with the proletariat’s historical
objective potential as a revolutionary class (to
denote a possible revolutionary consciousness). In
his essay there on Class Consciousness, he cites Marx
at the outset:

The question is not what goal is envisaged for
the time being by this or that member of the
proletariat, or even by the proletariat as a
whole. The question is what is the ppoZetapiat
and what course will it be forced historically
to take in conformity with its own natupe.

Again, the surface regularities can only be fully
comprehended in terms of the underlying causal mechanisms, the concentration of determinations which constitute the proletariat’s natupe, its objective

Although the objectively possible is most likely
to be grasped in labour itself, Luk§cs argues, it is
necessapiZy grasped in a one-sided way. The epistemological basis of thought, reflection, is determined
by the fact that all acts, that is, “all attempts to
harness the objectively possible in human practice,
are teleologically oriented. All acts have a particular purpose or objective; they are not oriented
towards the totality of being but rather some
particular aspect of it. Thus knowledge which is
gained in reflection on practice is necessarily
partial, one-sided. Concerning this, Luk§cs refers
to Marx’s comments (Theses on Feuepbach) on human
activity as objective activity, i.e. the subject’s
necessary cognitive contribution to the comprehension
of objectivity. Further, the contradictions which
arise in reflections on human practice because of
their purposive, one-sided quality are incorporated
within being as the reflections always embody ‘a
certain possibilistic character’ which can be realised as teleologically posited causality. Thus
because of its teleological nature, social being
reproduces itself in a contradictory way.

The significance of contradictions is related to
the degree of distancing involved in reflections on
the object of a practice. It would be much greater
in science than for labour, for example. The more
mediately the object of a practice presents itself,
the greater the possibility of its reflection will be
influenced by other teleological projects.

Lukacs’ conception of knowledge (following Marx)
as ppacticaZ in the sense outlined above would seem
to carry implications for our view of science. The
idea that all practices (and hence all forms of
knowledge) are teleologically oriented would seem to
subvert the suggestion (by some) that epistemologically, science relates to other forms of knowledge
through a science v. ideology dichotomy, where
science reveals a ‘pure truth’ in its totality.

It is Lukacs’ view that in labour reflections
approach objectivity most closely because the success

of the labour process (in reproducing itself) is a
matter of the first importance for the survival of
the human species (or, on another level, for keeping
one’s job?). This fact motivates the labouring
subject along ‘the path of struggle for self-mastery
from natural determination by instinct to conscious
self control … ‘ Successful labour necessitates the
grasping of nature’s regularities and objective
potentialities, the victory of an objective attitude
over impulse and instinct. The high level of generality of Labour perhaps prevents Lukacs from elaborating on what seems to be a kind of ‘workers have the
word’ thesis. Presumably the self-mastery required
by the worker to gain control over the labour process
implies the ability to abstract direct reflections
and the former can then be totalised, that is, their
partial nature relatively overcome by interpretation
in the light of Marx’s critique of capitalist

It is important to distinguish here between
objectivity and totalisation, for whilst a worker,
according to Lukacs, will have a relatively correct
knowledge of problems related to labour, the intellectual function of inscribing this knowledge within an
overall picture of capitalism is also necessary for
revolutionary practice. On the other hand, the
intellectual function must take the direct reflections
of the labouring subject on labour as a point of
departure for revolutionary theory.

Lukacs’ view on labour would then seem to indicate
that rank and file workers’ actions (unofficial
strikes, go-slows etc) stem from a less distorted
perspective of the labour process than would be obtained from reflections of the labour process mediated
for example by management or official union bureau”‘cracy/organisation. Workers’ attempts at selfmastery/mastery of labour presuppose for Lukacs, it
seems, that the struggle against alienation must be
taken as an objective category of labour, an original
and spontaneous property of labour, ontologically
prior to motivations which arise beyond the act of
labour in the course of its mediation via group
interests, belief systems, values etc.

Apart from his argument about the epistemological
status of reflections emanating directly from the act
~of labour, Lukacs makes a claim about the ontological
status of labour which has a bearing on the debates
about the relationship between ‘base’ and ‘superstructure’. Again, the claim is made at such a high
level of generality that it is difficult to see what
the real mechanisms linking labour to other social
practices are supposed to be.

The problem of base-superstructure relations, as
generally posed, runs along the lines that if the
two distinct elements in this idealization of social
relations within a social formation are causally and
functionally interdependent, how can we posit one
element as causally prior, ‘determining in the last
instance’ etc? Lukacs’ answer is that labour or the
‘base’ is ontologically prior as it represents the
ontological foundation for the ‘superstructure’.

~’ Some light is cast on this when Lukacs comments that
the essence of what is new in social existence is
contained ‘in nuce in labour’. The argument seems
to be that a process of ontogenesis takes place
through which new developments in the labour process
simultaneously give rise to new developments elsewhere in the social structure via means of ‘internal
relations’. Between labour and other social practices there is a relationship of identity and nonidentity. It is in the moment of identity, presumably, that events in the base are in some way echoed
in the superstructure; that contradictions in the
labour process are voiced in mediations of labour
which lie outside labour itself. Perhaps it is the

case that, in this moment, superstructural elements
function as relations of production e.g. private
property, a juridical form is indispensable for
capitalist production and hence necessarily or
internally related to the latter, whilst other
juridical forms are clearly not necessarily so
related and consequently remain purely super structural
(moment of non-identity). However, we can only
surmise. Lukacs nromises to deal with these mechanisms concretely i~ his next chapter, Reproduction
(which Merlin have yet to publish).

Another way in which the claim that labour is the
ontological foundation of social being is expressed
in Labour via the idea that labour provides a model
of social practice in general. This is a very
familiar idea, when seen expressed in terms of ‘base
and superstructure’. In sociology and elsewhere
social formations are characterised as ‘feudal’,
‘capitalist’ and so on. In other words, they are
defined in terms of their ‘base’ or mode of production (or any relation of dominance-subordination
between co-existing modes). Modes of production are
frequently seen as characterising the types of social
relations, processes and beliefs to be found in a
society. Hence, superstructural elements can be
referred to as typical of capitalist, feudal, etc.

social relations. Indeed, this is a common approach
in the sociology of beliefs (Weber, Mannheim etc.).

By treating the labour process in abstract, it is
possible to gain some understanding of how labour
becomes a model of social practice. Lukacs comments
that in labour the subject not only transforms nature
but is itself transformed in the process. It is
possible to see how the reflections of labour in
mediations beyond it provide the worker with a sense
of self; for example, as a trade unionist, a member
of the works’ darts team, member of the working class,
revolutionary, a family role as bread winner and so
on. However, Lukacs observes, it is the work situation, involving self-mastery/mastery of the labour
process, which is decisive for identity formation.

Different working environments will obviously demand
different skills and forms of self-mastery, thus personality formation will be occupationally specific.

In terms of the ‘base-superstructure’ model, what we
have then are different types of ‘base’ (labour
process) producing occupationally specific identities
and hence occupationally specific subcultures (which
will be overdetermined by the hegemonic culture of
the social formation).

Occupational determination of personality is a
familiar enough idea to anyone who has looked at
industrial sociology, even at ‘O’-level, where the
issue is framed in terms of ‘work and leisure’ relationships (rather than ‘base-superstructure’). The
characterological consequences of the labour process
are well documented in industrial sociology (see, for
example, Tunstall’s The Fisherman, Goldthorpe and
Lockwood’s The Afj7uent Worker, Dennis and Slaughter’s
CoaZ is Our Life, Parker’s The SocioZogy of Leisure).

The motor industry provides (in a negative sense)
a good illustration of how Lukacs’ concept of work
mastery/self-mastery relates to the relative success
or failure of a labour process, and consequent worker
personality formation (behaviour, attitudes etc.).

Assembly line motor production is an example of the
relative failure of a labour process. This is inqicated by its strike proneness which is probably the
highest of any industry. But the strike proneness
itself is a secondary feature, indicating the failure
of the labour process through the lack of mastery or
control of this type of labour by the subject, in
whom this is reflected directly as alienation, and
characterologically, in terms of the forms of strategy
developed for overcoming alienation (means by which

the worker tries to gain mastery over the labour
process). The contradictions arising directly from
this type of work are arguably near-maximal for free
labour: labour allows negligible mastery of skills;
the efficacy of labour is felt to be external to the
labour process and is located in the spheres of circulation and exchange. It is through consumer power
that the worker feels at home in the world; labour
power is ‘recognised’ as consumer power. Character
formation consequently involves individualist types
of spending pattern, domestic habits and attitudes,
which are thought to compensate for the emptiness of
work (‘consumerism’). However, contradictorily, work
remains the decisive arena to contest the terms of
exchange between capital and labour and such contest-

ation involves collectivist character traits necessary
for attempts at mastery of the labour process (strikes
etc.). This all points to the validity of Luk~cs’

claim about the primacy, as a category of social
being, of control by the subject over the act of
labour, whether as a consequence of more mediate considerations arising from social labour (e.g. wages/
workers’ control) or those intrinsic to the act

The many points of departure for theory development
contained in Labour make it worthwhile (if difficult)

Howard Feather


News Items
If you attend of hear of events related to Radical
Philosophy’s broad interests or aims, or belong to
a group with goals in co~non with those of Radical
Philosophy (whether or not the group is concerned
with the narrowly philosophical), other readers may
like to hear about it. Why not send us a short
report for the News Section, at the editorial

one that took place in the afternoon. Perhaps for the
first time in this country, a group of feminists
involved in some way with philosophy met to talk about
the relationship between their feminism and their
philosophy. We discussed the ways in which our
feminism either might or does influence our teaching.

A few texts were mentioned as potentially useful in
this regard. Some were American publications written
by American women in a similar position to ourselves.

It emerged that there were political differences
between us, but these were not sufficient, at least at
the outset, to deter us from deciding to continue the

Alison Assiter

Women’s Studies Conference
Recently a conference on teaching Women’s Studies was
held in London. The day began with a presentation, by
women involved in Women’s Studies and related courses,
of some of the joys and pitfalls of their teaching and
studying. One of the most interesting, and revealing,
sessions was run collectively by the students in their
final year of the MA in Women’s Studies at Kent
University. They had had to confront several problematic issues – for instance the question of men teaching on the course, and the more general worry over the
nature of the teacher/student relationship. Their
general position was that they did not object to men
qua men teaching, but they did have qualms about, for
instance, a particularly aggressive male teaching a
course on sexuality. And they believed that there
were ways in which the role differences of teacher and
student could be minimised. But some people at the
conference had reservations about the possibility, or
indeed, the legitimacy, of playing down the difference
in function of teacher and student.

For us women in philosophy an exciting session was

RP Dayschool on Hegel
Marx and Dialectic
As readers will know from Joe McCarney’s letter in
RP 30, with the revival of interest in Hegelianism in
Britain and North America it is very much a live issue
whether the study of Hegel and Hegelianism should be
a major concern of Radical Philosophy. The dayschool
on ‘Hegel, Marxand Dialectic’ held on 22 March at
Goldsmiths College in London went some way to showing
how it might be.

Two themes of importance were explored. Chris
Arthur and Peter Osborne (from Sussex) read papers
which both bore on the question of the leverage upon
social critique afforded by Hegelian concepts.

Chris’s argument, in many ways a development of his
article in RP 30 – with, incidentally, his first

Buy the newest RP in printDownload the PDF