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36 Reviews

REVIEWS
Post-Industrial Socialism
Rudolf Bahro, Socialism and Survival (trans. David
Fernbach), Heretic Books, f.3.50 pb
Andre Gorz, Farewell to the Working Class (trans. Michael
Sonenscher), Pluto Press, 1:.3.95 pb
The ‘debate on the concept of the proletariat’ is, suggests
Rudolf Bahro, ‘outdated’; it ‘tends right from the start to
be scholastic’. Farewell to the Working Class opens with a
contribution to that debate: Andre Gorz, in a lengthy
settling of accounts with his former political and philosophical consciousness, uncovers what he regards as the Hegelian roots of Marx’s ‘theological’ view of the proletariat as
a ‘transcendent subject’, ‘a subject transcending its
members’.

This argument, ‘scholastic’ or not, invites philosophical scrutiny, and Gorz’s exegesis of Marx is undoubtedly
open to challenge. It’s surely not of great importance, however, to know whether, and how far, Marx’s concept of the
proletariat may have been wishful and idealistic ‘from the
beginning’ (which is what Gorz aims to show). What matters
politically is to acknowledge its limitations as a guide to
action in the late twentieth century: a matter, not of textual criticism, but of attending to historical evidence. Here,
I am in full agreement with Gorz and Bahro when they
insist that it has become futile, and worse than futile, to
expect revolution to follow in the wake of some future
self-realisation of the proletariat as the universal class.

Nor is this a matter simply of a (still) insufficiently developed subjective class consciousness, for in the world context, as Bahro emphasises, it is at best controversial to
assert that the objective self-interests of European working
classes correspond with the universal human interest, (at
least in the short or medium term: of course, in the end we
live or die together).

It’s necessary – especially for intellectuals, who are
often quite wealthy and whose work is intrinsically rewarding – to recognise the essential defensive role of workers’

organisations (and some of Gorz’s silences trouble me,
here). But it’s equally necessary to recognise that these
organisations, in the ‘developed’ world, are integrated into
the structure and reproductive functioning of capitalism.

More often than not, the ‘marxist science’ which refuses
this evidence leads solely into a supercilious attitude to
non-proletarian movements: feminism, the disarmament campaign, green politics. Militant offers the purest illustration;
and I recall, too, the entirely predictable headline on the
issue of Socialist Worker on sale at the recent Burghfield/Greenham/Aldermaston CND action: ONLY WORKERS’

POWER CAN STOP THE BOMB. We were to be educated in
the harsh realities of a Marxism whose first lesson would
instruct us in our own impotence.

Of course, and I don’t write this ironically, we may indeed
be impotent. The economic power of a united proletariat
may constitute the sole force capable of pushing through
revolutionary, or any major, change. Unfortunately, capa-

city does not entail desire. And it’s not just that European
proletariats clearly do not want revolutionary change. The
telling question is whether it is not becoming absurd to
speak as if ‘it’, ‘the proletariat’, can be said to ‘want’ anything, to have any collective political project as a class.

Perhaps it is .necessary to look elsewhere. Perhaps
socialists have to ask, in an empirical spirit and with every
awareness that our forces may be too weak, what social
basis there ~ for our political programme.

Gorz’s answer to the question is cast in a more technical, or (pseudo-) philosophical, vocabulary than Bahro’s.

He writes of ‘the non-class of non-workers’, the ‘neoproletariat’. This is variously defined as ‘the stratum that
experiences its work as an externally imposed obligation’

(this definition, however, would surely encompass all ‘traditional’ proletariat too); as ‘those who are resistant to the
sacralisation of work’; as ‘those who do “any old thing”
which “anyone” could do’.

There are some insights, as one wotJld’ expect from
Gorz, into the effects of changing labour processes on the
composition and political beliefs of the working class. But
Gorz’s ‘non-class’ seems an unhelpful and unreal concept.

What, one asks – except, paradoxically, an inveterately
Marxist habit of mind – obliges Gorz to identify socialist
consciousness with any particular class? If, as he claims,
‘the realm of freedom can never arise out of material processes; it can only be established by a constitutive act
which ••• asserts itself as an absolute end within each individual’, then by what logic does it follow that ‘only’ those
who have a particular relation to ‘material processes’ – the
‘non-class’ – are ‘capable of such an act’?

We are told that this ‘non-class’ ‘alone embodies what
lies beyond productivism: the rejection of the accumulation
ethic and the dissolution of all classes’. So: no sooner has
the proletariat been stripped of its Hegelian universality as
historical subject, then it is assigned the rather less enviable role of ’embodying’ the ‘productivism’ of a particular
epoch. Here’s a fine inversion: yesterday, the proletariat
alone could create the revolution, but today it finds itself
debarred, and just because of its class nature, from having
anything to do with it.

Bahro – whose book, repetitive though it sometimes is (it’s
a compilation of speeches, articles, interviews), I find more
consistently thoughtful and stimulating than Gorz’s more
formal essay – seeks to posit no such identities between
social class (or non-class) and ideological or psychological
disposition. Objective factors, he argues, are promoting the
formation of a new political alliance, based on a recognition of the ecological crisis (in all its forms, including the
arms race) and on a growing dissatisfaction with the modes
of consumption which industrialism enforces. In this alliance (Bahro likens it to the ‘historic compromise’ advocated by Italian Euro-Communists), proletarians will play a
part on the basis, not of their proletarian condition, but of
their humanity, their reason, their political education and
29

convictions; on the same basis, then, as anyone else.

Bahro’s political energies have lately been devoted,
beyond the urgent campaign for European nuclear disarmament, to the building of such an alliance in West Germany,
where the Green Party is of course its focal point. It is at
this date an open question how far similar eco-socialist
movements may be built, based perhaps on the existing disarmament movements, in some other countries of Western
Europe: Holland, Scandinavia, Britain. In any case, and this
is a point left all but unexamined, the political and institutional forms of such movements, their relations to the
established practices of parliamentary government, require
much thought.

Certainly there seems something peculiar, to the
left-wing imagination, in the reliance on ‘bourgeois democracy’, and the frank acceptance of political pluralism,
which both these books manifest. Who, on the other hand,
wants to invoke notions of ‘the workers seizing power’, or
to speak of ‘armed struggle’ followed by ‘the dictatorship
of the proletariat’? It’s hardly possible to use without irony
that kind of Leninist terminology. But between its mythological emptiness, and the equally vacuous hope in the sufficiency of existing political institutions, there is a large
unfilled space. Does the left now have a vocabulary in
which to discuss the forms through which socialist power
(if ‘power’ is the term we want) might be gained, and exercised, in a modern state?

If neither Gorz nor Bahro gives proper consideration,
here, to the forms of socialism, each has useful remarks on
its content. Bahro reminds us again of the objective limits
set by ecological crisis – a crisis equally of resources and
of the destructive effects of industrialism – to traditional
socialist programmes based upon continued, or even accelerated, economic growth. He also places at the centre of
debate the gross gap between the wealth of metropolitan
populations (including the ‘developed’ proletariat) and the
poverty of the rest of the world.

Gorz, less sensi tive to global issues, and concerned
less with constraints than with opportunities, sketches in
an avowedly utopian spirit some positive features of a new
(French) socialism. His central schema involves a distinction

between ‘autonomous’ and ‘heteronomous’ work. ‘Heteronomous’ work is, if you like, ‘alienated’, but knows itself to
be so; it accepts and uses capitalist economies of scale and
productive technologies in order to provide, at minimal
labour-cost, a range of basic and socially indispensable
goods and services (‘indispensable’ being a term, as Gorz
recognises, whose definition requires a political decision
about what we need).

There is no pretence that ‘heteronomous’ labour can be entirely agreeable, or that it can be
controlled by individual workplaces or communities. But
alongside this sphere – which Gorz would expect to see
reduced to a politically agreed minimum, and in which
everybody would ‘take a turn’ – a flourishing is envisaged
of ‘autonomous’ work, work not subject to the market dictate of ‘efficiency’, and situated in the cultural as well as
the economic sphere. There should be ‘an inversion of the
scale of priorities, involving a subordination of socialised
work governed by the economy to activities constituting
the sphere of individual autonomy’ – a process already
under way, and which already prefigures ‘the transition to
post-industrial society’.

This review, like these books, is deliberately suggestive,
tentative, provocative. I’ve not always pursued my own
agreements and disagreements with the author’s positions,
and there are disquieting passages in both books which I
haven’t touched upon. Nonetheless, the debate in which
Gorz and Bahro are engaged is surely of vital importance.

Almost everywhere in Europe, socialism as represented (inadequately, of course) by the social democratic parties is
ideologically and politically on the defensive. When in
‘power’, such parties show no intention of fundamentally
altering European societies. But the ‘true socialism’ of intransigent Marxist-Leninist-Trotskyist orthodoxy is as incapable of breaking the ideological hegemony of consumer
capitalism as it is irrelevant to many of today’s most
urgent crises. We have indeed, as Bahro .writes, to ‘reexamine our ent ire theoretical inheritance’.

Martin H. Ryle

Feeling out of it
R.F. Geyer and D. Schweitzer (eds.), Alienation, Routledge
and Kegan Paul, l12.50 hc
The discussion about alienation has received new impetus
from Braverman’s documentation of the changing nature of
the labour process and the possibilities this contains for
political and affective incorporation of new social layers
within the working class. Braverman’s work on the deskilling of mental and manual labour with the concomitant
loss of control over the labour process provides a welcome
infilling of the category of ‘capitalist mode of production’.

Alienation evidences that this has kindled an interest
in the phenomenon of that name in some followers of
Althusser. This leads to some fascinating theoretical contortions when an attempt is made to rehabilitate alienation
within the Althusserian schema without at the same time
undermining the latter’s refutation of the ‘problematic of
the subject’. Althusserians Horton and Moreno opt for an
instrumentalist approach to the problem by arguing that
30

‘alienation’ works well enough on the political and ideological levels of analysis even if it cannot be accommodated by theory; it lacks the necessary scientificity,
belonging to a ‘bourgeois’ or ‘petty-bourgeois’ paradigm.

However, this is not argued for and one is left feeling that
the real reason for its supposed theoretical inadequacy is
its incompatibility with the work of their maitre de pensee.

Whilst Horton and Moreno do pinpoint the crucial role
of the (alienating) labour process in mediating social reality
to the subject in capitalist production in particular, they
also recognise sites of alienation beyond those associated
with the creation of surplus value: for instance, the functioning of the state, racial and sexual exploitation, also
embody forms of alienation. This wider usage of the term
seems to denote a recognition of shifts of meaning it
undergoes in Marx’s writings – for example from ‘economic’

exploitation through commodity production effecting interpersonal and institutional estrangement and domination, to
alienation as an attribute of practice within capitalist

society in general. This latter meaning is located by
Archibald et al in a paper linking alienation to differential
class experience: the capitalist and the self-employed
person also experience alienation. Commodity production
seems to take on a life of its own, dictating the behaviour
of the owner of the labour process. A further meaning is
found by the writers in Capital Vol.3 where Marx observes
that there is some inevitability about alienation which is
due to the division of labour per se; for instance, the problems of communication and coordination which arise from
any separation of tasks. The writers usefully suggest that
alienation above and beyond this level might be referred to
as ‘surplus alienation’. They also aptly point out that many
critiques of Marx’s theory of alienation fail because they
address themselves to a different set of concepts. Bourgeois critics have taken Marx’s conception to be basically
psychological. They have attempted to relate alienation and
the non-possession of property as extraneous variables,
whereas in fact it is the ali~nation of ‘property’ from its
producers in the act of production which Marx sees as
fundamental to capitalism.

In a paper linking alienation and social integration,
Torrance emphasises Marx’s (logical?) distinction between
alienation as estrangement with its Hegelian connotations,
and alienation as ‘loss’ with its filiation to ‘exploitation’,
‘surplus value’, ‘labour process’ etc. He goes on to argue
that ‘estrangement’ is the best instrument with which to
link social structure and SUbjectivity. In this Torrance
commits the error, pinpointed by Horton and Moreno, of
taking alienation (gua estrangement in this case) as only
externally related to labour power; labour is seen only to
be estranged from its exploiters and not lost to itself. For
Marx, the product’s otherness stems from its loss to the
producer and the latter’s loss of control over its production. So if ‘loss’ is removed from the concept’s relevant
content, alienation is reduced to a subjectivity without a
related objectivity, i.e. ‘mere subjectivity’. Hence forrance
attempts to link an unmediated subjectivity directly with
‘external’ structural factors such as property ownership
rather than via a mediating praxis (labour).

Although the writer makes ‘loss’ disappear as a category of alienated labour, it sneaks back a t the level of distribution as ‘property ownership/non-ownership’, a criterion
in the measurement of estrangement. Thus alienation
accomplishes its transformation from a concept relating
psychological states via ‘labour’ and ‘class’ to a determinate form of production, to one relating individuals’ psychology to property distribution. Methodologically, this is

Footnote
1 This sense of estrangement can be exemplified by the case of racialism, where ‘the
black’, ‘the Jew’ etc. is represented as otherness or alterity. The Other has a kind
of unifying effect upon those who perceive ethnic minorities in this way; the relationship between those ‘brought together’ in this way is one of serialit. Such
agents have nothing intrinsically in common (given by this relationship and the
unity of the series consequently lies outside it. The potential for ‘divide and rule’

but a stone’s throw from the finding of empiricist sociology
that class is not determined by position in the productive
process so much as by consumption patterns (‘purchasing
power’ figures as an important determinant of social position for non-Weberians such as Rex).

Torrance goes on to indicate the importance of a
sense of estrangement for the operability of social control
mechanisms (e.g. ‘divide and rule’ tactics). In this sense
alienation is indeed underplayed in modern Marxism. One
has to turn to the concepts of Sartre’s Critique to find an
articulation of this aspect – through alterity and seriality
(1). (There is no mention of Sartre either here or elsewhere
in this collection.)
Although alienation is explicated from its negative
side (as loss and estrangement) as Torrance implies, Ludz
attempts to point to its positivity viz. for him the way it
appears in the Gnostic tradition. In this sense, alienation is
‘otherness’ gua the process of enlightenment/revelation
which follows from the subject’s confrontation with contingency. Ludz argues that such confrontation provides a
therapy against over-discursive theorising (theoreticism).

However, its supposed remedial effect seems to be undermined by a purely static (contemplative) characterisation.

(Compare with Sartre where contingency must be confronted historically and overcome by correct practice if it
is to be constituted (totalised) as an object of practice and
hence cognitively assimilated.)
Sartrean alterity/seriality again seems relevant for a
paper by Thibault which highlights the alienation (estrangement) of sociologists from the socially subordinate groups
they study. Sociologists, he argues, have a responsibility
due to their special knowledge of social mechanisms to
assist in projects of dis-aliena tion (gua self-emancipation)
and they can only overcome their own alienation (serial
relationship with those they study?) by participating in
collective projects of dis-alienation (producing the groupin-fusion?). There is a need, it is argued, for self-reflexivity on the part of social theorists re t~eir. situatedness
within the social· totality, both as theorists and activities,
(in the latter case lest they enter into a manipulative relationship with those they seek to ‘direct’).

Alienation provides a good read for those interested
in the development of the term’s usages, and the papers
mentioned reflect the strengths and weaknesses of the
collection, but anyone hoping to find a debate based on
recognisably common terrain will be disappointed.

Howard Feather

within the series is signified by a double movement: the creation of collectivities
with an absence of reciprocity is conditioned by the prevention of reciprocity with
those outside the series, viz. the Other.

The opposite of the serial relationship is the group-in-fusion, produced in the case
of the proletariat, for example, by the re-interiorization of a lost reciprocity which
dissolves its seriality. However, the fused group is an ideal type, and Sartre notes
that even group members will display seriality in aspects of their behaviour and
attitudes.

31

Taking in the Surroundings

Necdet Teymur, Environmental Discourse, Question Press,
P 0 Box 162, London N2 9LZ, l11.95 hc, 1:.4.95 pb
Everybody loves the environment. We are all – well most of
us – in favour of trees, greenery, whales and clean air. We
would like to inhabit a more pleasant rather than a less
pleasant environment. That much is clear. And a series of
professions and interest groups exists to confirm and reinforce our general sympathies. But if we were asked to
define just what we meant by the environment that might
be a bit more difficult. Where does it begin and end? What
would be excluded?

This book approaches the environmental question
from an unusual and stimulating direction. No attempt is
made to define the environment and discuss the scope for
and constraints on human intervention into it. Teymur
argues that such attempts, however well meaning, have in
the past become trapped in an ‘environmental discourse’

whose assumptions actually make it more difficult to solve
most of the practical problems it takes as its own. A first
step in breaking the hold of this discourse is to explore its
nature and outline its implications. Teymur suggests that
its very claims to universality – which make it so superficially appealing – are a source of basic weakness since they
reduce complex sets of relations to a simple dichotomy.

This man/environment dichotomy, he says, is at the heart
of most writing on planning, architectural and ‘environmental’ issues.

Teymur succeeds admirably in his sharp critique of
approaches which operate as if the world could be neatly
divided into compartments labelled man and the environment in which ‘he’ operates. Such a division implies that
the ‘environment’ is a thing which can be effectively
planned or defended or which technically proficient or
inspired designers can improve. Even the most radical of
‘green’ politicians are likely to be hampered by a perspective which fails to see how those objects generally jumbled
together arbitrarily under the heading ‘environment’ are
actual products of social processes. As Taymur puts it:

‘What the designers design and the planners plan is not
“environment” but complex sets of objects and relations
whose physical existence as well as theoretical conception
are socially determined’ (p.19!).

Yet, finally the book delivers less than it seems to
promise. Teymur makes rather grand claims to develop a
method of discourse analysis appropriate to the topic. He
repeatedly emphasises the need for theoretical clarity,
justifying the opacity of his prose and what appears to be
frequent repetition on the basis that he is breaking new
theoretical ground. But at times the statement of a critical
theorist’s (or researcher’s) ABC is presented with apparently portentous significance: ‘Even most commonly recognised
statements and terms,’ we are told, ‘may be highly questionable’ (p.l!).

Teymur does not carry his theoretical baggage lightly, yet seems more committed to stating it than to using it
effectively. Thus, despite his frequent statements that
environmental discourse is a social practice, it is generally
discussed without reference to society or social practice.

Teymur does not, for example, explore the significance of
the use of thesame word in advertisements for a VW Golf,
32

an architect’s discussion of public housing and even the
insistence of the Swedish delegation at one international
conference on the environment that the dropping of bombs
on Vietnam by the US Air Force was an appropriate topic
for discussion. His examples simply seem intended to show
the astonishing r·ange of issues and relationships which are
considered environmental. But that does not take us very
far. Yes, ‘environment’ is clearly a prime candidate for
inclusion in iarx’s list of ‘chaotic conceptions’, but if
there is to be a serious debate about some more or less
coherent discourse, we need rather more convincing evidence for its existence. Repeated assertion is not enough.

Some familiar problems of ‘theory’ surface again in
this book. It is as if by claiming a theoretical project, a
discussion of social practices is unnecessary. Unfortunately
in this case the two have to be woven tightly together,
since only an understanding of the latter makes the former
a possibility. In the book, one aspect of this comes out particularly clearly: despite criticisms of environmental discourse for being ahistorical, the discussion is curiously lacking in history. We get no idea of where ‘environmentalism’

came from, nor by which social practices it may be defined, so there is a real danger of retreat into a rather
timeless linguistic analysis and a generalised – if unexceptionable – critique of dualistic approaches.

Both the weakness of the analysis and its potential
strength come out in some passing references which need
to be developed if we are to gain a proper understanding
of the inadequacies of ‘environmental discourse’. These references take the form of bald statements requiring further
explication and explanation. It is suggested, for example,
that ‘environmental discourse’ reflects the ideology of liberal capitalism in its emphasis on the rational (free) individual making choices about ‘his’ environment (p.163). But
there is little discussion of why (or how) this might be the
case, nor of the reasons for the growth of such an ideology
in the post-war period. Links are frequently (and sometimes
helpfully) made to past traditions of thought, but there is
insufficient discussion to indicate why this particular version – or ‘discourse’ – is so important today.

Similarly, there is little reference (a footnote on
p.gO) to, or interrogation of, the strange dominance of Man
(with a capital M) as the protagonist of the environmental
discourse. One assumes that within the discourse women
are held to be part of the ‘environment’ or are subsumed
into the generality of manhood, while in practice male architects and planners define just what that general abstract
manhood amounts to and is interested in. Some hints in the
text suggest that even where advertisers note greater
‘environmental’ awareness among women, it is a male profession which defines what that is, in a demand for pleasant smells, pastel colours and small cars.

Had there been a greater focus on the environmental
discourse as a social practice, explorations of the mechanisms at work here would have been possible or, allowing
the book its theoretical pretensions, the need for them
would have been made explici t. As it stands, one is left
instead with a set of worrying absences and questions
about the book’s theoretical substance.

Allan Cochrane

Understanding Benjamin

Richard Wolin, WaIter Benjamin
An Aesthetic of
Redemption, Columbia University Press, i16.75 hc
Julian Roberts, WaIter Benjamin, Macmillan Press, i5.95 pb
Anyone attempting a critical and coherent study of WaIter
Benjamin is immediately faced with difficulties. Firstly, the
work, being fragmentary and essayistic in character and
sententious in style, does not easily lend itiself to a reductive interpretation. Secondly, there is the problem of doing
justice to the plurality of theoretical standpoints Benjamin
upheld during his lifetime. The work is usually divided into
an early ‘theological’ phase and a mature ‘materialist’

phase. Benjamin was one of those who are born posthumously, and since interest in his work began in the late
1950s controversy has raged over which of the two sides of
this self-professed Janus face represents the authentic
Benjamin.

These two books, the first full-length studies of
Benjamin to be written in English, compound rather than
clarify the problem of evaluating Benjamin’s work. Wolin is
sensitive to the myriad problems which Benjamin’s work
presents, and sets out to modify the commonplace, undialectical opposition between the two Benjamins. In an
effort to treat the work systematically he seeks a leitmotiv
which will serve to unite the various strands of Benjamin’s
thought into a coherent whole.

Taking his cue from Habermas, he finds this leitmotiv
in ‘a relentless desire for redemption which represents the
inner drive behind the entirety of Benjamin’s theoretical
oeuvre’ (p.3!). But this is only achieved at the cost of significantly distorting Benjamin’s work by constantly undermining the sincerity of his commitment – political and
intellectual – to Marxism. We are told, for example, ‘in
many ways, he always considered his flirtation with Marxist
principles over the last fifteen years of his life as a kind
of experiment’ (p.l08). While the validity of Benjamin’s
‘dialectical materialism’ is perpetually held in doubt, his
theological pretensions are never critically examined. If
Marxism is to feel compelled to enlist the services of theology to be victorious, then Wolin needs to produce a more
convincing argument, instead of unsubstantiated judgements
on ‘the degenerate nature of orthodox Marxism in the present historical epoch’ (p.249). Implici t in his argument is
that, like Benjamin, we should all be thinking on the forty
nine levels of the Torah!

The book does offer a comprehensive and wellorganised account of Benjamin’s life and thought. Yet despite the informative chapters on the early epist,emological
and aesthetic concerns (the years 1916 to 1925) and the
munificence of the systematic presentation, some severe
criticisms can be made of his portrait of Benjamin. In
Chapter 7, entitled ‘Benjamin’s Materialist Theory of
Experience’, and the concluding chapter, an attempt is
made to assimilate Benjamin to traditions of cultural
pessimism, enlisting him in the services of an aesthetic of
despair. This is done in two ways.

Firstly, he describes Benjamin’s theory of culture in
terms of a Marx-Weber synthesis, claiming that for the
later Benjamin the paramount concern became the problem
of the ‘rationalisation’ of contemporary life (p.217).

Rather, the problem for the later Benjamin was how to
bring about an effective political mobilisation of intellectuals against Fascism and challenge capitalism’s cultural
hegemony. Instead of recognising the vitality and relevance
of this challenge for present concerns, Wolin prefers to
incarcerate Benjamin in the Weberian iron cage. Secondly,
in order to support his claim that the concern for redemption represents the inner drive of Benjamin’s work, he
imposes – without acknowledgement – Marcuse’s aesthetics
onto Benjamin. Art, according to Marcuse’s thesis in The
Aesthetic Dimension, contains a promesse de bonheur whose
redemption and preservation for future generations is the
task of the critic.

Thus, argues Wolin, the basis of a materialist cultural
criticism for Benjamin becomes the redemption of the
hidden utopian elements contained within lost traditions
and great works of art, not the politicisation of aesthetics
and the ‘culture industry’ as he had argued in his so-called
Brechtian essays (pp.262-4). This seems to me a highly reactionary programme for a so-called Marxist aesthetics,
reinforcing the elitist practices of bourgeois cultural criticism. It is also the very opposite of how Benjamin saw his
task. His task was to disrupt, not increase, the pile of cultural treasures heaped on humanity’s back. ‘For Benjamin the
work of art is only the beginning of a complex play of
forces and relations, not a thing or end in itself: ‘the rigid,
isolated object (work, novel, etc.) is of no use whatsoever
but must be inserted into the context of living social relations’ (Understanding Brecht, p.87).

Benjamin’s relevance for historical materialism, we
are told, lies’ in the reverential attitude he assumes toward
tradi tion, a position which to be sure stands in sharp contrast to most Marxist accounts’ (p.264). By the time Wolin
has finished his evaluation, Benjamin is barely distinguishable from conservative cultural critics like George Stein er.

To go beyond what he sees as the decrepit nature of
current Marxism, Wolin endorses the call made by the
American social theorist Paul Piccone for a return to ‘a
broad existentialist critique of the Enlightenment and of
bourgeois civilisation’ (p.16).

This absurd regression
receives further endorsement when Wolin urges contemporary social theory to resurrect the bourgeois autonomous
individual of the nineteenth century (p.160). But, as defined
by Wolin, all a materialist cultural criticism can offer this
individual are empty promises of happiness. In the hands of
Wolin Critical Theory reaches hitherto unknown levels of
despair and impotence.

Julian Roberts, like Wolin, offers a study of Benjamin
that is both an exercise in intellectual history and a critical evaluation. Roberts is of the conviction that we can
only fully understand Benjamin’s contemporary relevance by
firmly situating him in his proper historical and intellectual
context, rather than throwing him in the current philosophical ring, battling it out with Derrida and deconstruction in
a raging sea of floating signifiers (the mistake of Terry
Eagleton’s lucubrations on Benjamin). But this approach
also makes for the major weakness of the book, that is, in
its organisation. A biographical understanding of Benjamin
is necessary, but almost half the book (nigh on 100 pages)
is devoted to establishing the intellectual background of his
33

thought, without, one feels, any real connections being
made. We have sections apportioned to Dilthey and Geisteswissenschaften, Heidegger and new ontology, etc. but
where Benjamin fits into all this is not exactly’ clear. This
makes for unrewarding reading. The book also borders on
the superficial at times – for example, the inclusion of
Hegel on Stoicism in a discussion of Benjamin’s Trauerspiel
book. It is a book that frequently appears as a piece of
intellectual tourism which takes the reader nowhere.

Despite these organisational problems Roberts does
have some original points to offer on Benjamin’s work.

While Wolin pays too much lip-service to the views of
others (especially those of Adorno and Habermas), Roberts
assumes an· irreverential attitude towards the problem of
Benjamin’s legacy. The centrepiece of the book is a section
entitled ‘From Ethics to politics’ (p.l03), where he
attempts to revise the idea of a ‘radical break’ between
the early and later Benjamin. His evaluation takes the
exact opposite course to Wolin’s. Through a fastidious political reading of the abstruse arguments of the 1925 preMarxist Trauerspiel book, Roberts aims to show that there
is a remarkable continuity in purpose between Benjamin’s
early theological standpoint and his overtly communist
standpoint of the 1930s.

In contrast to Wolin, who holds that the authentic
Benjamin is to be found in his last reflections, the famous
Theses on the Philosophy of History, where, it is asserted,
the theological Benjamin once again gains the upper hand,
Roberts provocatively suggests that the Theses are ‘no
more than a bizarre recapitulation of the views of

Heidegger and Klages skimpily dressed in the language of
revolut ion’ (p.6).

The book suffers from a real lack of any sustained
discussion of Benjamin’s texts and the problems they raise.

Although Roberts makes the admirable point that
Benjamin’s ideas are not just another model for the analysis
of texts but ‘an immensely sophisticated set of propositions
about the function and impact of ideological labour’, the
book insufficiently applies itself to probing Benjamin’s
unique intellectual output in any great depth. Too much
emphasis on Benjamin as ‘a strategist in the literary
struggle’ results in a portrait of Benjamin as a jack of all
trades, and the challenge of the actual content of the work
is not articulated. For while Roberts correctly stresses the
pedagogic aspects of Benjamin’s work, the precise nature
of his contribution to Marxist theory is not sufficiently
examined. A greater discussion of the work would have
enabled Roberts to define more clearly and in much greater
depth the aims and aporias of a materialist cultural theory
and practice. Still, Roberts’ book does more than any presentation so far to challenge the evisceration of Benjamin’s
thought by an academic oligarchy, and to dismantle the
misleading image of him as a kind of wayward ‘man of
letters’ •
Both books offer a useful introduction to Benjamin’s
work and its complex nature, but with their different interpretations and emphases they testify to the fact that
WaIter Benjamin is a difficult phenomenon to evaluate.

Keith Pearson

Changing the Subject
Richard Rorty, Consequences of Pragmatism, Harvester,
1983
In Radical Philosophy 32, there was an interview with
Richard Rorty, followed by a critique of his Philosophy and
the Mirror of Nature by Joe McCarney. This is certainly
an acknowledgement of the visibility of Rorty on the contemporary philosophical scene. Yet my feeling was that
some RP readers may not have got a sense of the real
worth of Rorty’s contribution. The interview was fairly
snappy and inconsequential, for one thing. And whilst I
would not disagree with some of the things Joe McCarney
says about the ‘incoherences’ in Rorty’s positions, the
heavyweight tactic of going straight to the fatal weaknesses had the effect of playing down his considerable
strengths.

Some of my reasons for liking Rorty’s work are in a
way autobiographical. He powerfully expresses many of the
raw grievances we put before mainstream philosophy as disgruntled students in the formative year of the radical philosophy movement. These were that academic philosophy
was narrow, arrogant, empiricist, ahistorical, detached from
real-life issues, and all that. Moreover, philosophers seemed
unable or unwilling to sketch out the broad connections
between the different ‘technical’ branches of the subject,
between past and present debates, and between philosophers and those dealing in ideas who happened to belong to
other university departments. Rorty, by contrast, has an
enviably lucid and stylish manner of cutting out the arc of
significant debate. And he speaks up for those thinkers
whose moral and political focus has earned them dismissal
as not being ‘real’ philosophers at all in the eyes of the
34

professionals. Finally, being myself someone who has
experienced the drift from ‘specialist’ philosophy to the
more dubiously amorphous ‘cultural studies’, it is good to
be able to enlist the support of a writer who theoretically
endorses that broadening out, yet who cannot be put down
as lacking analytical precision or philosophical scholarship.

The following definition of the philosopher’s role usefully
encapsulates this stimulating part of Rorty’s project:

Philosophers could be seen as people who work with
the history of philosophy and the contemporary
effects of those ideas called ‘philosophic’ upon the
rest of the culture. (p.87)
Consequences of Pragmatism is a collection of essays
written between 1972 and 1980, and it covers the same
ground as the more systematic Philosophy and the Mirror of
Nature. In fact, I prefer it to the latter, since the collection format serves to emphasise the strengths of Rorty’s
‘negative’ criticisms rather than the more questionable
‘positive’ side of his pragmatist standpoint. His main target
is the obsessive and (in his view) unsupportable idea. that
Philosophy (capital ‘p’), and the science it idolises, can reflect, represent, or capture the essence of the world ‘as it
really is’. And he tracks down this ‘illusion’ of episte~n­
ology and ontology into philosophical areas which are not
in other respects very similar: the Greeks, British empiricists, Kant, Marxism, ordinary language philosophy, Husserl,
semantics, and so on. The absurd hope of discovering
‘nature’s own language’, Rorty argues, has led philosophers
to ignore the fact that the uptake of beliefs and theories
occur because of fundamentally non-epistemological considerations, such as where you study, what you read, who you
talk to, what the pressing cultural problems are, etc. To

condemn or diminish all these ‘schools’ because of their
common ‘illusory’ objectivism seems on the face of it a
rather crude point to stand on. But Rorty’s arguments are
crude in the sense of being fundamental rather than being
unsophisticated. His writings exemplify the fact that, however necessary the attention to fine detail in philosophy
and outside it, large scale assumptions, intentions, and
goals are seldom obliterated. It is this, after all, which
makes philosophy the magnet for the naive and concerned
as well as. the smart and cynical.

As a ‘realist’ myself, I think much of Rorty’s critique
can be accepted as reminding us of the inescapable ‘transitive’ dimension of metaphysical commitment. I would certainly be: prepared to concede to Rortyish critics that
attempts to show the superiority of realism over pragmatism, rationalism over ‘discourse theory’, inevitably involve
elements of cultural prejudice, logical circulanty, and
base-line intuition. And the perennial itch to resolve the
‘problem’ of justification, or to refute the sceptic, does
indeed border on the neurotic (Rorty has some interesting
speculative passages on the relation of philosophy to sexuality too).

These concessions do not, it seems to me, make
Rorty’s conception of philosophy wholly acceptable, or his
cri tique of realism definitive. He sees philosophy becoming
more culturally useful and intellectually therapeutic by
dropping questions of truth and rationality altogether. This
is not to advocate instead irrationalism or subjectivism; it
is simply ‘to change the subject’ (p.xiv). But what would
the subject be in post-philosophic culture? Rorty is not
only against truth-seekers and world-representers, he seems
suspicious of problem-solvers and argument-makers (at least
he praises Heidegger and Derrida for their refusal to solve
and argue). This picture makes the image of philosophy
quoted earlier on look redundant, since assumptions about
truth and reason are spread throughout the history of phil-

osophy and in the wider culture. They are part of the coinage of those realms. For philosophers to have any effect,
they must at least be prepared to claim something about
life! In this context, there is something parasitic and decadent about Rorty’s further characterisation of the philosopher’s function as ‘an all-purpose’ intellectual who advertises ‘commentaries about commentaries’ on ‘how things
hang together with everything else’ (p.xxxiv, 93).

Moreover, his arguments about the illusions of objectivism are not aimed strictly to refute realism. He freely
admits that the pragmatic or deconstructivist option can
only thrive in the very atmosphere of its opponent. He
rejects the posturing of Foucault’s and Derrida’s epigoni,
who seem to assume that textuality or disconnection are
the newly privileged metaphysical modes. And it is clear
that Rorty finds no contradiction in combining historicism
about the criticism of knowledge with naturalism in the
explanation of knowledge-acquisition (e.g. p.82). It seems
that as long as we recognise naturalism to be one vocabulary amongst any number of others, then we can carry on
using it. If it helps us to cope, then realism is instrumentally justified.

So there is a basic conciliatory impulse to Rorty’s
deconstruction of Philosophy, and it tempers his iconoclasm. Towards the end of the collection, he declares that
all he really wants is to ensure that life in the faculty can
go on harmoniously in the face of fundamental theoretical
disagreement. Politics is inescapable in philosophy, he says,
but let it be fought out within philosophy. Neither the
political tolerance nor the theoretical instrumentalism
strike me as sufficiently persuasive or desirable to stand as
clear alternatives to ‘objectivism’ in either science or
politics. But then I have these illusions about the real
world ••••
Gregor McLennan

Frye: Sexual Politics
Marilyn Frye, The politics of reality, Crossing
feminist series, Trumansburg, New York, 1983, $7.85

Press

This book is a collection of essays on aspects of feminist
theory, in which Frye explores concepts such as that of
‘sexism’, and links this conceptual ex pI ora t ion to observation and analysis of women’s lives and experiences. There
is a great deal in the book which is very sensitively and
acutely observed and written.

In the essay on ‘Sexism’, for example, she puts up for
discussion her own earlier definition of sexism, which goes
as follows:

The term ‘sexist’, in its core and perhaps most
fundamental meaning, is a term which characterises anything whatever which creates, constitutes, promotes or exploits any irrelevant or
impertinent marking of the distinction between
the sexes. (p.18)
The trouble with this definition, she argues, is that in a
sexist cultural or economic system, sex in a sense always is
relevant. Relevance is an intra-systematic thing, and there
is no ‘pure’ definition of it which we can appeal to which
is untainted by the very sorts of distinctions between the
sexes that we might want to question. Thus, she says:

What is wrong in cases of sexism is, in the
first place, that sex is relevant; and then that
the making of distinctions on the basis of sex

reinforces the patterns which make it relevant.

She discusses very interestingly the all-pervasiveness of
‘sex-marking’ behaviour, the extreme importance we attach
to being able to identify someone’s sex, and the degree of
anger and discomfiture which often results when we are
unable to do so, or find ourselves mistaken.

I think that the main strength of the essays really
lies in her discussion of issues like this; and of the ways in
which male perceptions of women, male behaviour towards
women, and male attitudes towards one another, subtly
mesh and reinforce each other such that, whilst isolated instances may appear trivial or harmless, their cumulative
effect is a system of immense power in which women are
systematically disadvantaged. Whatever other advantages or
privileges a person may have, or whatever forms of oppression they may suffer from, simply being male, Frye argues,
rarely works to someone’s social or economic disadvantage,
whereas simply being female usually does.

There are questions, however, that I want to raise
about some of the essays, in particular that entitled ‘In and
out of harm’s way’. In this essay Frye discusses, among
other things, the way in which women can be psychically
dominated or shaped by their oppressors, can collude with
them, and can come to define themselves in the oppressors’

terms. She compares the situation of women with that of
slaves; she discusses the way in which in extreme circumstances such as the abduction of a girl and her forced
35

introduction into a life of prostitution, the will and autonomy of the victim may be totally bent to that of her captor, and she will be effectively annihilated as an agent.

She mentions The Story of ‘0’, the sado-masochistic pornographic work in which the whole physical and psychic being
of ‘0’ is subjugated to the will of her male masters.

Now there is an interesting analogy between her discussion, and the view of black slavery in the ante-bellum
southern states of America put forward by Stanley Elkins
in 1959, in his book Slavery. Elkins argued that the conditions of black slavery, which he compared to those of a
concentration camp, produced, or tended to produce, a certain sort of personality-type among slaves which in some
cases did, correspond to the ‘Sambo’ stereotype. During the
Sixtiesand Seventies, a number of critics attacked the
Elkins thesis about slave personality violently, arguing that
any view that blacks were psychically ‘damaged’ was
racist, failed to recognise the immense contribution of
blacks to American culture, and did historical violence to
the existence of a culture with its own lively traditions,
including that of resistance, on the southern plantations.

In a reply to his cri tics, written in 1975, Elkins
argued that in some of the discussions of slave culture and
plantation life that had been critical of his work, the brutality and oppression of slave life seemed almost to have
disappeared. It is inconceivable, he argued, that a regime
such as that of slavery, which dominated the lives of its
subjects to such an extent, could have had no damaging
psychic effects at all. The problem was how to admit the
possibility and the existence of ‘damage’ while at the same

time recognising the vitality and resistance of slave
culture.

I think that feminist theory often finds itself in a
similar dilemma. How do we steer a course between on the
one hand stressing women’s psychic subjugation or presenting models with which to try and understand it (such as
that of abduction or the story of ‘0’) which tend to make
it difficult to see how women could resist at all, or depict
them as mere creatures and objects created by men; and on
the other hand, depicting women’s resistances, their (often
hidden) achievements, their undermining of the structures
which try to dominate them, and their construction of
alternative views of human life and relationships, in a way
which makes them appear psychically immune or untouched,
merely constrained and coerced?

I do not think we have yet solved this problem, and
my worry about Frye’s essay is that I wonder if she lays so
much stress on women’s psychic subjugations that it is
difficult to reconcile this with a recognition of women’s
strengths and achievements. And, just as I think Elkins’

comparison of slavery to life in a concentration camp can
be questioned, so I am doubtful about the extent to which
situations of abduction etc. can really be used to show
something about the condi tions under which all women live.

I think there is a great deal of interest and value in
Frye’s book, and the problems it raises seem to me to be
central ones that all feminist thinking needs to come to
terms with.

Jean Grimshaw

It’s Only Natural
Norman Geras, Marx and Human Nature: Refutation of a
Legend, Verso, 1983, £12.50 hc, 1:.2.95 pb
Norman Geras has written a short but very powerful assault
on a ghost that won’t exorcise: the myth that the ‘mature’

Marx did not hold to any theory of human nature. It is an
openly polemical book, trying only to establish a minimum
posi tion – that Marx did continue to hold to some theory of
human nature, and that he was right to do so. The exact
nature of the theory is not Geras’ concern.

It is of the nature of polemics that they are hard to
summarise. Put baldly, Geras goes through three stages.

First, there is an extended analysis of the Sixth Thesis on
Feuerbach, perhaps the most cited of all t1arx quotations
supposed to show a rejection of ‘human nature’. It is where
Marx calls the ‘essence of man’ the ‘ensemble of social
relations’. With infini te care and patience, Geras unwraps
the many possible meanings this Thesis could have. It is a
very elegant and thorough logician’s job, and it leaves him
in the end with three possible meanings.

(1) The ‘nature of man’ (this not necessarily implying
a conception of a fixed, limiting nature) is conditioned, but
not wholly determined, by the ensemble of social relations;
(2) ‘Human nature’ or the ‘nature of man’ (i.e. either fixed
or unfixed) is manifested in the ensemble of social relations; or (3) human nature is wholly determined by, or
dissolved in, the ensemble of social relations. This last is
the view he is out to refute for ever.

The next part of the book is a historiographical demolition of the third position. He simply shows that Marx just
repeatedly says the opposite. This is well done. I could not
36

but delight in his quotations which show Marx saying his
apparently most anti-essentialist things in his Early Writings, the ones which reputedly he later overcame because
of their essentialism. And then showing Marx, in his
‘mature’ writings, saying things every bit as essentialist as
the Early Writings!

Finally after the historiographical demolition comes a
briefer critique of a whole series of arguments which have
been put forward to show that, whether or not he did
reject ‘human nature’, Marx ought to have done so. There
is excellent meat for discussion in Geras’ arguments here,
and he has done a most useful job in bringing them all to
the surface together, as well as in criticising them.

This is all very good polemic, and I wholly agree with
its minimal conclusion. I do sincerely wish it would have
the desired effect of ending the hagiographical arguments
once and for all. For I think that Geras is right in seeing
the view he is criticising as actually extremely silly. If
only we could get that agreed, we could get on with discussing the substantive questions which instantly arise the
moment Geras moves beyond his minimal position – as inevitably he does.

In the course of his argument, he quite properly distinguishes views of human nature as a fixed quantity (and
usually conservative) from what he calls views of the
‘nature of man’: ideas about general human needs and capaci ties which exist as general conditions and potentials,
rather than as immediate determinants or absolute limits.

He also introduces many of Marx’s specific statements on
particular needs and capaci ties.

The trouble is that these are of very different kinds,

and we can know about them in very different ways. Needs
for food, shelter, rest, company, sex – though these are all
different enough, for goodness’ sake – are given fairly
immediately, whereas Marx’s ‘need for breadth and variety
of activity’ is a far more abstracted claim. Then there are
Marx’s suggestions about mechanisms by which needs and
capaci ties are produced, as in the famous: ‘Men can be distinguished from animals by language, religion, anything you
like. They begin to distinguish themselves from animals
when they begin to produce their means of existence.’

These are not all claims on the same level of analysis.

The question, what kind of a theory of human nature
Marxism needs, is a big one. I suspect – though the evidence is only partial – that Geras is after one which is

pretty immediately checkable by evidence. He says for
example that Marx’s claim that we have needs for breadth
and variety of activities should be empirically testable. I
am not so sure. I fear that virtually any direct empirical
test would be equivalent to the experiments American
sociologists were fond of, that tried to measure ‘degrees of
alienation’. That way did not lie revolutionary socialism.

These are the big questions and, to be fair, Geras is
not really tackling them. He is polemicising, to good effect,
that to say Marx had no theory of human nature is just
silly. And I agree.

Martin Barker

Imagined Communities

Michael Taylor, Community, Anarchy and Liberty,
Cambridge University Press, 1982, 1.14 hc, 1.4.95 pb
For some years Michael Taylor has been worried about the
logical coherence of anarchy, and has had a nagging doubt
that Hobbes just might have been right. In his Anarchy and
Cooperation (London, John Wiley, 1976) he tried to find the
answer in what he modestly called ‘some elementary mathematics’ (dauntingly complex though this was to nonmathematicians), and concluded that cooperation was sometimes possible without a state, though usually only in very
small groups. In his latest attempt to put the Hobbesian
state behind him, Taylor has abandoned mathematics and
embranced anthropology.

The starting point of the book is that all societies
need to create social order of some sort, and cannot rely
on individuals voluntarily refraining from doing those things
that threaten social order. Taylor thus parts company with
many anarchists in dismissing the possibility that we will
all become faultless altruists as soon as the state is removed from our backs and our psyches. Such easy solutions
are indeed unconvincing, though there could have been
more consideration of such evidence as there is on whether
altruism will increase significantly in the absence of a
coercive state. Nevertheless, Taylor cannot be accused of
making things easy for himself when he chooses to work
with such unpromising human material.

If social order has to be created, and if you don’t like
it created for you by the Hobbesian state, you’ll look
around fairly carefully for something else. Michael Taylor’s
eyes have alighted on ‘community’, and most of the book is
an examination of how it works: this is where the anthropology comes in. Many ‘primitive’ societies have been characterised as stateless yet succeeded in securing social
order for thousands of years: how did they do it? By, it
seems, a mixture of structural characteristics that eased
tension (e.g. the exchange of women in marriage – something for anarchist feminists to ponder), and various forms
of threats (ranging from blood-feuds to social disapproval,
through witchcraft and withdrawing assistance). (For reasons not entirely clear to me, Taylor wishes to play down
socialisation and education.) And these threats only worked
because the societies were communities: that is to say,
smallish groups of persons with some shared beliefs and
values, who interacted frequently with each other in various different ways, some of which combined short-term

altruism with long-term self-interest.

Communi ty so
defined, then, is an alternative to a state. Anarchic cooperation has thus been shown to be feasible in small and
stable societies, which is a considerable advance over his
earlier proof of its possibility only in very small groups.

It must be said that this is interesting and persuasive
as far as it goes, but some important questions remain unasked. It’s far from clear exactly what the conditions are
that allow communities to function adequately: it seems
rather odd, for instance, not to ask whether the Nuer or
Hopi solutions are not closed to us today. (Alternatively,
perhaps we can construct stateless societies in ways that
they didn’t.) Surprisingly, whilst Taylor acknowledges that
the state destroys community, he doesn’t ask whether this
destruction is permanent or not – which is surely crucial to
the prospects for anarchy now. Little cheer is provided by
his exploration of the reasons why communities everywhere
gave way to the state: his favoured theory is that communities need to split from time to time in order to survive ei ther when they grow too big, or when irreconcilable
internal divisions occur. Such splittings can only occur if
there is somewhere for the new community to go to; when
there is no longer room, communi ties grow too large and
become states. This’ inspires little optimism about the viability of anarchy in a crowded world’ (p.139), which somewhat understates the case.

But Taylor is not really interested in such mundane
problems – he wants to show that anarchy is coherent,
however impossible of attainment. So he devotes considerable space to a criticism that anarchy is self-defeating
since it would require a state to support it; this since, on
Taylor’s account, a rough economic equality is a necessary
condi tion for community and hence for anarchy, and yet
(the criticism goes) economic equality can only be sustained
by state intervention. Again the anthropologists are
wheeled on (together with evidence from peasant societies)
to show that equality not only can but has been sustained
without a state – by the threats and social pressures of
various kinds that occur within communi ties. So egalitarian
communi ties are shown to be possible, and anarchy is thus
rescued.

The ‘liberty’ of the title is dealt with in a chapter
that examines the claim that community and indiVIdual liberty are incompatible. The anthropologists get left out of
this one, which is mainly a summary of different analyses
of ‘liberty’, reaching the rather weak conclusion that there
37

is no reason to believe liberty is impossible in communities.

The arguments here are unconvincing, and since Taylor
stresses that he’s not committed to individual liberty as a
central value anyway, one wonders why he bothered.

So this short book is about anarchy, but not anarchism
or anarchists. It deals in an interesting way with a rather
abstract intellectual conundrum; but even if successful, this
book only succeeds in meeting an objection to anarchy, it
does not say much about what a contemporary anarchist

theory would look like. Occasional flashes of this appear in
the discussion of ‘intentional communities’ (particularly
contemporary communes) in which we see tantalising
glimpses of what anarchism is all about, but these ideas are
not developed.

If you lie awake at night wondering how the Nuer
avoided Leviathan, this may be the book for you. If you
want to avoid Leviathan yourself, I’d take out a subscription to Freedom.

Pete Morr iss

In Defense of Utopia

Barbara Goodwin and Keith Taylor, The Politics of Utopia:

A Study in theory and practice, Hutchinson, 1982, £.5.95 pb
This book sets out to describe the utopian tradition as a
key aspect of both the history of political thought and
modern politics, and hence to legitimise utopian modes of
thinking about societies, as well as the study of such
modes, vis-a.-vis existing academic classifications and the
theoretical biases of dogmatic Marxists and liberals alike.

For many on the left, the idea of utopia has been a problematic one since Engels’ famous distinction between
‘utopian’ and ‘scientific’ socialism, with the latter representing the theoretical superiority of the materialist conception of history and its various adjuncts. For hard-core
liberals, and most notably the school of Popper, Hayek and
Talmon, all forms of utopian thinking have involved an
exclusivist and authoritarian political outlook in which an ~
priori model of rational human society is to be forced upon
an otherwise diverse, individualistic reality capable only of
piecemeal alteration.

During the last 20 years a renewed enthusiasm for the
history of utopian ism (as well as its actual practice) has
combined with a relative decay of both orthodox Marxist
and Popperian liberal views to facilitate the reclaiming of
the utopian act and heritage. Marx’s scientistic emphasis
has been revealed to have concealed a posi tivistic tendency, and while no revival of pre-Marxian socialism has
taken place, a less sharp distinction between iarx and his
predecessors is now often pointed to, and the value of the
speculative bent of the latter in such areas as sexual relations and varieties of property ownership has been more
greatly appreciated. Liberalism, meanwhile, has shirked
some of its anti-socialist phobias in maturing beyond the
Cold War rhetoric of the 1950s (though the same cannot be
said of modern conservatism).

These are necessary but not sufficient condi tions for
the sort of rescue bid Goodwin and Taylor have in mind.

Their treatment of the subject is divided into two main
sections, the first dealing with the relation of utopia to
political theory, and the second to political practice, with
a concluding section being entitled ‘In defence of utopia’.

The first of these parts (by Goodwin) concentrates on justifying why, since so few utopian works concentrate upon
politics per se, we should take the genre as a serious
element in the history of political thought, and offers in
addi tion a brief survey of utopian literature oriented
38

towards exploring how the ‘constant’ of politics, the problem of order, has been treated. Further sections here discuss in detail the relation of utopia to ideology and
scienc~, as well as the basis of modern liberal and conservative attacks on utopian models of thinking.

The second section (by Taylor) dwells primarily upon
‘utopian socialism’ and communitarianism, hence overlapping
to some extent (about 20 pages verbatim). with Taylor’s
recent Political Ideas of the Utopian Socia’lists. Here Taylor
generally presents a very useful account of the relationship
between the origins of socialism and the utopian urge to
completely transcend existing society, as well as a very insightful analysis of Marx’s rejection as well as incorporation of his ‘utopian’ predecessors.

Little of the material on 19th-century American communitarianism (the principal modern tradition of small-scale
utopian practice) is new, with Taylor deferring instead to
R.M. Kantner’s Commitment and Utopia: Communes and
Utopias in Sociological Perspective. Goodwin and Taylor
then contribute a chapter each to the concluding section,
with the former defending utopian ism as the necessary
presentation of counterfactual ‘possible worlds’ which allow
us to reintegrate elements of human experience too often
otherwise ignored. Taylor briefly reviews a number of
modern utopian writers (Bahro, etc.) and emphasises the
valuable and necessarily utopian elements in the modern
ecological movement.

On the whole, both authors do succeed in showing
that utopianism is ‘a key ingredient of the whole process of
modern politics’ (p.9) quite convincingly, while offering us
the best modern introduction to the general topic. Much
more might have been said about Marxism, and those interested in the key question of the disappearance of ‘politics’

into ‘administration’ will find this given very short shrift
(pp.34-7) considering its importance. There are a few dubious points of interpretation, especially in cases where
secondary literature is relied upon (e.g. that an important
part of Owenite education was the inculcation of bourgeois
morality and discipline). On the whole, however, this is a
well-written, well-integrated and important contribution to
the literature on utopias which students of political theory
will also find superior to existing accounts, of which there
are very few of this precise type.

Gregory Claeys

Does the Emperor have any Clothes?

Wayne Hudson, The Marxist Philosophy of Ernst Bloch,
MacMillan, 1982, i.20 hc
Bloch’s philosophy is not yet well known in the Englishspeaking world, and yet it forms a remarkable contribution
to the Marxist tradition. Bloch 0885-1977) was born and
educated in Germany. During the Nazi period he was forced
to emigrate to the US, but in 1949 he returned to East
Germany as Professor of Philosophy at Leipzig. However,
he exiled himself to West Germany in 1961 and spent the
remainder of his life there.

His philosophy is an extraordinary amalgam of utopian,
metaphysical, speculative and religious themes, drawn, as
Dr Hudson shows, from a great range and variety of
scholarly sources, and all combined within the framework
of a quite orthodox Marxism – adherence to which enabled
him to live and work in East Germany for over a decade
without problems. This book is the first full-length treat-

ment of his work in English and, as such, it is welcome.

However, beyond summarising some of the larger themes in
Bloch’s work, the book is not useful either in helping one
to understand Bloch’s philosophy or to appreciate its significance.

The approach is diligent and scholarly, but unenlivened and unilluminating. One is given a good sense of
the amazing scholarly range of Bloch’s work, and of his
openness (so unusual in a Marxist writer) to themes of a
utopian, speculative and even mystical character. But
whether it all adds up to a coherent system of thought, or
whether it is just an unrigorous and specious eclecticism, is
never made clear. Does the emperor have any clothes? This
is the doubt that has been raised by other commentators on
Bloch’s work. Unfortunately, this book does not really help
one to settle it.

Sean Sayers

NEWS
Realism and the Philosophy
of Science
Critical Review of the conference of the Northern Association for Philosophy at Manchester Polytechnic, 25-26
February 1983.

This conference was timely in capturing the trend towards
‘realism’ apparent in seemingly diverse areas of philosophical thinking: the growing interest in De Re modality (for
example in Kripke’s a posteriori necessities) in analytical
philosophy, the ‘Formal Ontology’ movement in phenomenology and the concern with realist theories of science in
the work of Bhaskar and Hillel Ruben.

Six papers were read and discussed by contributors
from Britain and Germany. Two symposiasts: B. Smith and
J. Shearmur (both of the University of Manchester) en~aged
in what they called Dialogues Concerning Naturalistic
Realism. Both are phenomenologists and formal ontologists.

Formal ontology is the description of, for example, part whole relations where, say, ‘if a is a part of band b is a
part of c then a is a part of c’ is held to be necessary and

where this necessi ty is held to obtain actually in the objects and not, say, in some convention of language or constraint on the human imagination or in some logical rule
such as ‘p is necessary if not p is self contradictory’. Most
of the examples of De Re necessities (or as they preferred
to call them ‘existential necessities’) were drawn from the
study of colours. For instance on this view it is de re
necessary that no phenomenal colour can be unextended, no
two colours can simultaneously and exhaustively occupy
numerically the same extension etc. The symposiasts conceded that there are logical and a priori necessities but
allowed a further class discoverable a posteriori.

One possible drawback of this approach is that the
concept of necessity has to be taken as ‘primitive’; not
capable of further analysis. Theorists agree that ‘nothing is
red and green all over’ expresses a necessary truth or that
in some very strong sense the purported state of affairs
the sentence describes cannot obtain. Precisely what we
are interested in though is the nature of this necessity. A
regress is generated by saying the necessity is itself necessary. To say it is just a fact that nothing can be red and
green all over is to restate the problem and not to solve it.

If we say in some respects the world cannot be other than
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