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8 Reviews

Reviews
Retrieving
democracy?

c. B. MacPherson, Democratic
Theory: Essays in Retrieval,
Oxford University Press, hardback
E2.75, ISBN 1982 71875, paperback
El.25, ISBN 1982 71891

MacPherson presents two concepts of power corresponding to
the two concepts of man’s essential nature.

‘Extractive power’

is what a man has insofar as he
is a consumer; it can be passed
from one to another as labour and
is subject to indefinite appropriation.

So long as the levels of
extractive power were fixed by
the market there was no problem
about the deployment of extractive power.

But the corresponding
levels of satisfaction cannot so
easily be measured (or fixed by
the market). A new ontology of
human essence which treated man
as an agent, would substitute
‘developmental power’ for ‘extractive power’. Developmental power
can be measured by the removal of
the objective restraints which
contain the requirements of both
the new demands on the left and
the more traditional successes of
liberal society (individual human
rights). This argument, which
fills out MacPherson’s theme
insofar as it attempts to show
that the maximisation of developmental power would have practical
criteria, is surely unconvincing.

The problem is that the development of ‘essentially human capacities’ calls for subjective
criteria of what constitute these
capacities.

The problem is not solved by
insisting that restraints are objective and can be measured. For
the restraints are still restraints
of given capacities. This relates
to MacPherson’s persistent problem – the ethical character of his
thesis. He is concerned to show

Political philosophy has not
suffered exactly the same fate in
English-speaking higher education
as philosophy in general. The
concerns of political philosophy
have made it difficult to eAclude
the idea of a glimpse of reality.

This book is the present culmination of the work of one of the
most suggestive academics in
political philosophy.

In an essay in Laslett and
Runciman’s Politics, Philosophy
and Society, MacPherson argued
some years ago that a crisis was
ueveloping in western liberal
democratic theory. He claimed
that it could no longer justify
the society it s~stains either in
terms of absolute superiority of
consumer production or in terms of
individual power. This latter is
diminished by the transfer of
power from non-owners to owners
which is implicit in the private
ownership of the means of production. with the origins of this
society man came to be regarded
as essentially a consumer (thus
economic scarcity was permanently
insinuated into the system) so
~lat the rewards of unlimited
appropriation could act as a motor
for the massive expansion of prothat his position is not merely
ductive capacity that ensued.

subjective; whereas it would
However, the level of productsurely be a better tactic at this
ivity is now such that it is
point to insist that the contrary
again possible and necessary to
theory (in which each man’s satisrevert to the older idea of man’s
faction is quantified, falsely,
essential nature as a creative
in the market) is equally distortagent which the transfer of power
ingly subjective. The prejudice
in capitalist society offends.

that the subjective (and accordThis notion was used by Mill and
ingly the ethical) is politically
Green, but subsequently set aside
impractical is an illegitimate
by thinkers who made no attempt
extrapolation from the relations
at justification; hence MacPherson’s between men as consumers of
‘Essays in retrieval’.

commodities; and i t is this that
The outline of ~lacPhe:r.son’ s
MacPherson should attack.

argument has not changed since
MacPherson’s theory of property
then.

But it is developed in two
is similarly divided between an
analysis of the concept which
further directions in this book.

arose with market society and
First, the alternative notions of
that which is possible in some
power and of property which Macalternative. MacPherson describes
Pherson argues that we are going
the history of the concepts of
to need are developed in more
property held in common, property
detail. And secondly specific
as revenue and duties, and property
attacks are mounted against other
as something defined by society
current theories of democracy and
(perhaps in relation to God); and
freedom; particularly those of
finally of property as something
Berlin, Dahl, Chapman, Friedman
acquired by the direct appropriaand Rawls.

42

tion of some materials from nature
by the labour of the individual.

The latter provided a temporary
justification for the distribution
of property, but the justification
became inadequate as soon as the
available mean~.of production in
land had all been taken up. No
justification subsequent to it has
been forthcoming though the concept of property that went with
it has survived in our theory and
our usage.

Property is now
essentially private in that i t
excludes others from its use and
can be alienated freely; it is
possession of a thing rather than
its revenues and its responsibilities; it is, in short, property
that can move in a market. The
conditions now obtain where usage
and democratic pressures are tending to a reversion to property as
a right to revenue or even as a
right to participate in the collective distribution of revenue.

This original essay on the
concept o~ property shows up well
the strengthes and weaknesses of
MacPherson’s method. On the one
hand he gives us a perceptive
commentary on the history of
thought, neatly demonstrating how
our own ideas and arguments are
blinkered by the society that has
adapted them (and us) to its workings. The area is original; the
approach is illuminating.

Yet the
analysis requires more to justify
it than this sense of freedom over
our ways of thinking about our own
society.

It needs to show not
only how ideas had to develop in
a certain way with the market
society, but also to show that
they do not have to remain that
way. Yet MacPherson can offer us
only trendy straws in the wind the democratic ideas of participation, the separation of executive
power from those who have the
right to revenue.

MacPherson’s work is threatened by the paradox of relativism.

This is usually stated as a claim
that the historian of knowledge
cannot exclude the mere relativity
of his own assertions.

But I am
worried at the vacillation
between a clear explanation of
how concepts come to be as they
are, because of the context in
which they develop, on the one
hand, and on the other the assumption that we have a free choice
about changing them. MacPherson’s
reasons for commending new ideas
are weak compared with what he
shows to be the origins of misconceptions.

Here are some more examples
of the same problem. MacPherson
describes in Essays I and II the
development of the ontology of man

as essentially a consumer in terms
of the ‘making of two value judgements’ (pl7), (concerning freedom
of choice in work and productivity)
and later he describes it in terms
of the invention of ‘assumptions’

to ‘justify’ new institutions.

He attacks several theories of
power and freedom which are
opposed to his own. Thus he
criticises Dahl for employing the
narrow concept of man; but he does
not disprove the practical usefulness of Dahl’s conception as an
instrument of political science.

In order to do this, MacPherson
would have to show that political
power can be scientifically based
upon social context; while in
offering us moral choices, he
implicitly allows the separation
of power from its social base.

MacPherson is much more
successful in his attack on
Berlin’s ‘Two Concepts of
Liberty’. He shows that Berlin’s
inheritance of a crude notion of
restraint from classical liberals,
forces upon him a specious distinction between freedom and conditions
of freedom. For the welfare-state
programme that is Berlin’s own
objective, Macpherson’s own notion
of developmental liberty is far
more suitable.

But this is a case
where MacPherson and his adversary
already agree upon a moral programme – a plan of what one ought
to do with society made as it were
from outside it. Criticism remains moral; historical analysis
scientific.

Finally there is the case of
power. What we have there is a
juxtaposition: the concept of extractive power makes power transferc ‘e V~ ‘iable to appropriation
and
~onceivable in a society
where
.~ main activity is appropriati. T something else – labour
power; ,uwelopmental power is the
extensj
of the capacity for
indivi,. 1 self-conscious activity a~’ is conceivable in a
society that is truly democratic,
with equality and common ownership and control of the means of
production against a background
of high productivity. Two
societies; two concepts; a matter
of mere choice.

This is particularly distressing because MacPherson’s overall
theoretical position is the best
in political philosophy in English.

At the same time its weaknesses
account precisely for its suitability to the English context.

In the introduction to his classic
on Hobbes and Locke (The Political

Theory of Possessive Individualism)
MacPherson showed how the understanding of political philosophers
of the past requires understanding
of the society t~ey sought to
describe. He further argued that
what people called the naturalistic
fallacy in Hobbes was really
Hobbes’s own recognition of the
implications of the social structures he saw developing. The
implication is surely that we too
can communicate only in the light

of the social context of our expression.

Two essays in this volume
(X and XI) attack the scientific
inadequacy of what is also morally
inadequate. The model of political life borrowed from the economists builds in an assumption of
equilibrium that could never
stretch to political crisis.

It
does not go beyond the phenomena
of political demands to the fact~rs.

which bring people in~o the political arena: By contrast the classical tradition did exactly that:

A political theory may be
called scientific insofar as
it seeks to deduce the desirable or right kind of
political obligation from the
nature of man, and insofar
as its view of the nature of
man is based on enquiry as
scientific as is possible
within the prevailing limits
of knowledge and vision.

[pl98l

It is the lack of any suitable
material for this kind of deduction that makes MacPherson’s
straws in the wind so thin.

I alleged earlier that the
paradox of relativism appears in
various forms in MacPherson’s
difficulties. But the paradox
when explained may seem to have
turned out to be largely the
separation of facts and values.

MacPherson’s difficulty is that
he sees relativism and voluntarist moralism as the only alternatives. His strength is that
he is working upon a tradition
which is widely disseminated.

His weakness is that the institutions which preserve the tradition,
and which set themselves up to
speak for the whole of society,
cannot be professionally involved
in the explication of what becomes
possible through the victory of
one part of society over its
oppressors. Hence the force of
MacPherson’s argument that equilibrium theories of power will not
cover cases of crisis. Given the
universal ism of intellectual life
within our society (see SohnRethel’s article in RP6) any
recommendation must turn out to
be the voice of its dissociated
unity, its ideal. MacPherson
himself makes this point perceptively about Green and Barker.

It
rather seems that MacPherson’s
approach is a brilliant critical
success in an activity that can
go no further.

No doubt some of
Macpherson’s restraint has to do
with the Canadian context (though
it fits ours well enough too).

It knocks against the limits of
where we are. Yet the institutions exist tangibly and we should
not abandon them to the other side.

A justificatory theory of the
kind that MacPherson would approve
could best be developed through
the notion of power. Macpherson’s
hints about changing attitudes do
not admit to any specific origin
within the social structure. If

they did, they might possibly be
shown to be realistic as well as
moralistic possibilities. For
power has an unusual status among
the phenomena of society.

It is
a possibility of producing an
effect, rather than the effect
itself, and the signs of it are
as much in the perception of the
power-holder and of him over whom
he holds power as in the rest of
the situation (their views are
part of the real situation).

Thus to claim power for a certain
class of society is not only to
make an observation regarding
power; it is to make an intervention.

It is to a d~ree selfvalidating (Peter Binns was
attempting to say a similar thing
in RP4). Given MacPherson’s argument that the concentration of
power is based in the society
beyond the political sphere, and
that one must go there to discover
its scientific origin, the need
for a move like this would follow
from his argument.

Another peculiar feature of
power is its connection with the
fact that what is possible for
human agents is mediated through
the form of society, so that the
forms of society (which again
include the agents’ perception of
them) can be modifications of the
same agents’ power. This point
could bring together the two divorced types of power that MacPherson asks us to choose between.

The concentration in private hands
of the means of production
imposes a limitation on people’s
freedom. The repossession of
these means is the liftinq of· this
limitation, and hence an extension
of the power of those who expend
their energies through these means
of production.

In both cases we
are talking about the channeling
of the energies of real people.

Extractive and developmental power
are the power of the same people;
in one case limited, in the other
extended. They are not alternatives between which one simply
chooses.

Noel Parker

43

The hazards
of work
Patrick Kinnersley, The Hazards
of Work; How to Fight Them,
Workers Handbook No.l, Pluto
Press, 90p.

One day at work in a Frigidaire
factory in North London, Oavid
‘Adair was asked to clean foam from
the floor beneath a leaking insulation plant and so was exposed to
a chemical called toluene diisocyanate (TOI) which caused
permanent damage to his lungs (a
specialist described him as 30%
disabled), giving rise to severe
asthma, and reducing him to taking work as a lavatory attendant
because he could no longer do anything more strenuous than light
sweeping. Of the parties concerned, only Oavid Adair seems to
have regarded the incident as a
tragedy; Frigidaire were inclined
to dispute the occurrence of any
accident, and the High Court
awarded Adair a mere £4,000 comrensation.

Industrial workers are put at
daily risk from the machines, processes, and ever-increasing number
of chemicals with which they work.

Patrick Kinnersley reckons the
annual toll as around 2,000 killed
at work or dying from injuries,
1,000 killed by recognised industrial diseases, 1,000,000 injured
or off work for at least three
days with industrial diseases,
and 10,000,000 injured needing
first aid. Official figures give
around 600 dead and 300,000 injured
annually. There is a difference
between these two sets of figures
partly because official estimates
leave out any diseases which are
not ‘prescribed’. A prescribed
disease is a disease which the
Department of Health and Social
Security recognises as being an
occupational disease, so that
sufferers qualify for disablement
benefit. Reluctance to recognise
the extent of occupational diseases is therefore partly linked
to a fear that people who have
contracted their diseases privately
may pass themselves off as industrially disabled and ‘illicitly’

claim benefit. Asthma, for example,
is not a prescribed industrial
disease – although David Adair
could qualify for benefit as
industrially disabled, because his
asthma resulted from an accident.

Workers who contracted asthma more
gradually – as a result of regular
exposure to substances which
damaged them less rapidly than
TOI – might discover that what
had occurred had not been an
‘accident’ but a ‘process’, so
that they would not quality for
benefit.

Workers are also expected to
believe that, on the whole, they
themselves are mostly to blame
for the bad safety record in

44

industry. Safety manuals and
safety posters love to dwell on
the ‘carelessness’ of employees.

The official story goes that there
is no conflict of class interest
with regard to health and safety
at work. Indeed the Robens Report
(1972) goes so far as to claim
that there is ‘a natural identity
of interest’ between the two sides
of industry in matters of health
and safety. The Robens Committee
analysed the problem in terms of
‘apathy’ and appealed to industry
to ‘pull together’ to improve
safety conditions. The message
seems to be that if management
would take a more ‘positive attitude’ there’d be less slacking on
the shop floor. But apart from
exhorting management to exhort the
workers to be a little more careful, Robens thought industry could
carry on as before, i.e. industry
should regulate itself in matters
of health and safety; there was
already, the Report wearily
claimed, too much law:

Our present system encourages
rather too much reliance on state
regulation, and rather too little
on personal responsibility and
voluntary, self-generating
effort.

(Robens Report section 28)
If even the present law were
enforced it could touch industry
economically:

Mr E Peel, for the company
(Wand C French) said that if the
regulations regarding shoring up
of trenches were rigidly enforced
there would be a thousand such
prosecutions a day. There would
have been no prosecution now had
there not been an accident.

He added that contractors would
find many jobs economically
impractical if they shored earth
works as thoroughly as the
regulations demanded.

(quoted in Hazards of Work, p18)
The Robens Report provides tables
showing the ‘cost to the nation’

of industrial accidents, and computes the cost to the employer of
an accident, even working out the
costs on time lost for workers who
stop and stare. But the Committee
does not seem to have supposed that
questions of the cost of safety
were within their brief.

The Hazards of Work recognises
increase of profits, official terminology, management apathy and the
Robens Report as among the dangers
facing industrial workers. Patrick
Kinnersley has arranged the book
so that he is able to fight on
several fronts at once. He gives
basic information about dangerous
chemicals, and about how phenomena
such as noise and vibration can be
dangerous. He gives great priority to the hazards of stress traditionally thought more a
white collar risk – which can
make you both ill and ‘accidentprone’. He also gives basic
information about relevant laws,

how to use the law courts in order
to gain some compensation, what
sort of supplementary benefits
are available for whom. He discusses how best workers and unions
can organise – and have organised
to fight particular dangers,
giving forewarning of various
arguments that management like to
produce. And at the same time the
book provides an analysis directed especially against the
Robens Report, but also against
common assumptions underlying
remarks by management and professional safety specialists – of
why it is so dangerous to be an
industrial worker (or of working
Class family) and of who or what
is responsible for placing workers
at such risk.

JanetVaux

Rediscovering
women’s struggles
Alexandra Kollontai: Sexual
Relations and the Class Struggle
– Love and the new Morality
translated and introduced by
Alix Holt, The Falling Wall Press,
79 Richmond Road, Montpelier,
Bristol BS6 5EP,15p (+5p post)

The radicalisation associated with
the year 1968 has set.going a
process of rediscovery. There is
a rediscovery of revolutionary
history – so long buried under the
dead tomes of bourgeois hacks and
Stalinist falsifiers. There is
the rediscovery by the women’s
movement of previous struggles.

Alexandra Kollontai (the only
woman on Lenin’s Central Committee)
takes her place in both these
perspectives.

After the revolution she was
associated with the ‘Workers’

Opposition’ in the party; but she
was also active in the sphere of
women’s rights and sexual relations
generally. Later she made her
peace with Stalin and served him
in various diplomatic posts. In
fact, of the thirty-one members
and alternates of the October
Central Committee only two were
alive in 1946 – Stalin and
Kollontai. It mayor may not be
significant of Stalin that near
enough the only other member of
Lenin’s Central Committee to die
a natural death was a woman!

The pamphlet before us is a
translation of two of the three
essays originally published in
Russia in 1919 in one book, under
the title of The New Morality and
the Working Class.

(The third
essay, The New Woman, has already
been published in English as part
of the volume The Autobiography
ofa Sexually Emancipated ftloman.)
One of the essays is a review of

a book by Grete Meisel-Hess.

There is also a competent introduction situating the texts against
the background in Russia at the
time, and stressing the importance
of Kollontai’s struggle to raise
issues too many socialists dismissed as secondary.

In these essays Kollontai does
not adopt the partial standpoint
that treats the matter as a
‘woman’s problem’, but talks of a
generalized ‘sexual crisis’. Only
one of the basic issues she discusses relates to-the qu~stion
of sexual inequality:

the right of their wives to have
chichesbi (platonic friends and
admirers) and to receive the
‘devotion’ of other knights and
minnesingers.

It is the bourgeoisie who have carefull] tended
and fostered the ideal of absolute
possession of the ‘contracted
partner’s’ emotional as well as
physical ‘I’ …

The three basic circumstances
distorting the modern psyche extreme egoism, the idea that
married partners possess each
other, and the acceptance of the
inequality of the sexes in terms
of physical and emotional experience – must be faced i f the sexual
problem is to be settled.

To be rid of the eternallypresent threat of loneliness, we
‘launch an attack’ on the emotions of the person we love with
a cruelty and lack of delicacy
that will not be understood by
future generations. We demand the
right to know every secret of this
person’s being. The modern lover
would forgive physical unfaithfulness sooner than ‘spiritual’ unfaithfulness.

He sees any emotion
experienced outside the boundaries
of the ‘free’ relationship as the
loss of his own personal treasure …

While the treatment of inequality
and the relation of this problem
to the class struggle is of historical interest, it does not seem
to say anything not already
familiar in present debates.

What does seem more thoughtprovoking is her discussion of the
pair-bond in bourgeois society whether in a conventional marriage
or a so-called ‘free union’.

Two people who yesterday were
unknown to each other, and who
come together in a single moment
of mutual erotic feeling, rush to
get a t the heart of the otl1er
person’s being. They want to feel
that this strange and incomprehensible psyche, with its past
experience that can never be
suppressed, is an extension of
their own self.

We are people living in a world of
property relationships, a world of
sharp class contradictions and of
an individualistic morality. We
still live and think under the
heavy hand of an unavoidable
loneliness of spirit. Man exper: “ncer- this ‘loneliness’ even
In’ -ns full of shouting, noise
and
ryJe, even in a crowd of
close riends and work-mates.

Becaus, of their loneliness men
are apt to cling in a predatory
and unhealthy way to illusions
about finding a ‘soul mate’ from
among the members of the opposite
sex.

This compensatory activity,
she argues, takes on a highly
possessive character – not only
in familiar demands for physical
fidelity but even more so in the
‘no secrets’ ideal. This she sees
as a modern phenomenon:

Bourgeois morality, with its
introverted individualistic family
based entirely on private property,
has carefully cultivated the idea
that one partner should completely
‘possess’ the other.

It has been
very successful. The idea of
‘possession’ is more pervasive
now than under the patrimonial
system of marriage relationships.

During the long historical period
that developed under the aegis of
the,’tribe’, the idea of.a man
possessing his wife (there has
never been any thought of a wife
having undisputed possession of her
husband) did not go further than
a purely physical possession.

The wife was obliged to be faithful physically – her soul was her
own. Even the knights recognized

Reporting Vietnam
THE BRITISH PRESS AND VIETNAM
published by the Indochina
Solidarity Conference, 101
Gower Street, London WCl
20p, 31pp.

We publish in this issue an essay
by John Krige which is a case study
in the analysis of ideology and
its mechanisms as manifested in
certain texts concerning Chile
under Allende. For anyone contemplating doing this kind of work
a very useful startin~ point could
be the pamphlet The British Press
‘and Vietnam which contains a mass
of raw material for this kind of
analysis.

We ask a simple question: do the
media provide a balanced view of
the events in Indochina and of the
policies of all those involved –

has the basic principle of ‘giving
both sides of the picture’ been
adhered to? We conclude that
there has been, and continues to
be, an overwhelming bias in favour
of the official American line.

Not a surprising conclusion of
course, but the documentation
supporting it is fascinating.

. The pamphlet starts with an examination of terminology, of the
semantics of bias. There is a
No doubt defenders of the ideal
useful section on the treatment
would say that all they wish for
of the 1973 ceasefire and its
is ‘sharing’. Kollontai’s point,
violations in the press and on
however, is that, under present
TV. And an examination of the
conditions, such a hope takes on
role of some of our academic,
a neurotic character in that,
therefore ‘objective’, experts in
instead of being a natural developthe creation and perpetuation of
ment of increasing intimacy, it is
myths about Vietnam. Of partidemanded as a ‘right’ from the
cular value is the investigation
beginning – otherwise the relationof the way in which the press has
ship is seen as fatally flawed.

elevated to the status of indubIt is interesting that Kollontai
itable facts two mythical communhad already spotted the correlaist massacres of thousands of
tion between the neurotic intensnon-combatant civilians. The
ity of ‘nuclear’ family-life,
first case was that of the
and social atomisation, that is
slaughter that was alleged to have
even more familiar to us today.

taken place in North Vietnam in
It is this defense mechanism that
1956, which formed the basis of
makes more open relationships the predictions of a bloodbath
such as ‘group marriage’ schemes
that would occur in South Vietnam
– sa difficult. All of us suffer
should the communists ever succfrom basic emotional insecurity
eed in taking over. The story,
– compou~ded in the case of many
subsequently revealed by the
women by an economic necessity
Director of South Vietnam’s Psychoto ‘get her man’ and keep him.

logical War Service to have been a
Whatever the defects that
complete fabrication, was given
might be found in her presentathe seal of scholarly approval by,
tion, Kollontai was undoubtedly
among others, the expert of experts
right to raise these issues.

Patrick Honey of SOAS. The
They are certainly too pressing
second case, that of the alleged
today for socialists to postpone
Hue massacres during the Tet
to the future.

offensive in 1968, also turns out
to be a fabrication. The standard
Guardian challenge to those who
are narrow minded enough ,to have
made up their minds on which side
Most successful students said they
of the fence they stand on Vietnam
. – ‘But what about the communist
were more than satisfied with the
content of their ~ourses, yet among atrocities?’ – relies on these
those with poor degree results only myths, and they will no doubt
the highly religious students’

survive for a long time in people’s
minds as ‘facts’. The British
expressed satisfaction •
. Times Higher Educatio~Supplement,
press has a lot to answer for.

28 December 1973

Chris Arthur

lohnMepham

45

Eng.Lit.

Louis Kampf and Paul Lauter (Eds.)
The Politics of Literature:

Dissenting Essays on the Teaching
of English, Wildwood House, El.OO
ISBN 394 71S20 S

It is one of the delights and
terrors of living today that not
one of an individual’s acts can
be insignificant, either for himself or for those towards whom
his actions are directed. Life
may still appear meaningless or
absurd in a metaphysical frame
of reference, but we tend to
think within that social matrix
which shows off every speech,
gesture and role as heavy with
significance. There is nothing
which I may say or do which
does not tend to reproduce,
change or destroy at least one
among a multitude of social
institutions.

The resort to, sometimes the
imposition of, this way of thinkint must be attributed largely to
political developments. The rise
of the Women’s Liberation movement, for instance, obviously
explains male awareness of the
significance of previously takenfor-granted and naturalized
actions. Global revolt, along
with the dissemination of totalised theories and justifications
of that revolt, has limited or
abolished the possibilities of
privatising a whole range of
practices, whether the individual
Bad Faith of “I’m only doing my
job” or such institutionalised
forms as Professional Ethics.

The teacher and writer has been
as much affected as the soldier
and psychiatrist.

For teachers of Arts subjects,
the crucial questions which have
posed themselves can be summarised
in these terms:

What is the
significance of what we teach?

If significance is taken to mean
effects, and the reference point
is the social system, the answer
increasingly takes the form: The
effect of teaching in the Arts is
to reproduce the values and social
relations which sustain an imperialist, capitalist, racist and
sexist structure. It is from
this question and answer applied
to their own field that most of
the contributors to The Politics
of Literature make their departure. Kampf and Lauter write in
their Introduction that ‘Literature and literary practice, in
spite of the intentions of the
practitioners of aestheticism
are weapons in maintaining and
transforming the received order
of social relations.’ (p4l)
As socialists, they are opposed
to that ~eceived order, and hence
to a literature and literary
practice (teaching; criticism)
which sustains it.

Much of The Politics of
Literature is devoted to the

46

articulation of the functional
links between literature, literary practice and the received
order, though not without disagreements: whilst for Bruce
Franklin ‘New Criticism began
as a conscious counter-attack
on rising proletarian culture’.

(pl13) For Richard Ohmann the
New Critics ‘were sensitive and
well-intentioned men, whose main
effect on the academy was for the
better’ (p142) and who cannot be
blamed for the ‘viciousness’

(p143) of American culture at
large.

Two essays are devoted to the
critique of theories of linguistic deprivation and the practices,
such as Operation Headstart, that
they found. The editors have
imaginatively reprinted an essay,
‘The Logic of Non-Standard
English’ by someone outside their
working group, William Labov, and
followed it up with a short paper
by Wayne O’Neil which drives home
the political lessons.

Labov claims (a) that black ghetto
English is a dialect, not an ungrammatical language without proper
transformation rules; (b) that
black ghetto youths are verbally
fluent, when they are not placed
in hostile and potentially dangerous interview situations; (c)
that their dialect is capable of,
and their discourse contains, the
full range of grammatical and
logical operations; (d) that
the superiority of educated
English – what Basil Bernstein
would call the use of an elaborated
code – is often illusory, hiding
confusion and vacuity behind verbosity; (e) that, in consequence
of (a)-(c), practices like
Operation Headstart are bound to
fail, and inevitably (f) lead
their proponents into acceptance
of genetic inferiority. Jensen
has already trodden this path.

Even though (b)-(d) are
supported only with examples and
not systematic evidence or logical argument, Labov’s lucid and
witty article deserves the closest attention. It reminds me of
Chomsky’s critique of Skinner.

I wonder whether Labov will go
unanswered as long as Chomsky.

The criticism of theories of
literature and language and
their functioning is one of the
aspects of this book, sociological
if you wish, though I imagine that
collaboration with some professional sociologists could have
strengthened some of the links in
the conceptual chain. The other
aspect of the book formulates
alternatives to present theory
and practice. This is its revolutionary side. The editors
define at least four areas of
activity: reconstruction of the
canon of what is studied and
taught; change in the questions
we ask about literature and a
particular writer’s work; production of an alternative radical
scholarship; lastly, they write
that ‘while teachers can indeed

become more competent, can use
livelier, more relevant material
••• our problem is, finally, to
change those (teaching) roles
rather than merely the ways in
which we play them.’ (p7) Let
us take these four areas in turn.

Reconstruction of the Canon
Here the recognition of workingclass, black and women’s literature is obviously most important.

Martha Vicinus’ essay on 19th
century British working class
poetry stands in this collection
as an example of such recognition
and the radical,$cholarship to
which it can give rise. But it
seems to me that the activity of
reconstruction is hampered by the
classroom-bound context of the
discussion and the general, if
implicit, acceptance of the given
categories of Literature and
genre. More radically, I wonder
whether what is really needed is
a deconstruction of the very idea
of a canon into which historically specific works are assimilated. Consider, for example,
Ellen Cantarow’s discussion of
Prior to the task of educating
the workers, peasants and
soldiers, there is the task
of learning from them
(Mao Tse Tung – quoted
by ·Kampf and Lauter, p4S)
the effect on her of a CNT pamphlet, Collectivisations,
describing anarchist experience
in the Spanish Civi~War. She
quotes a passage from the pamph~
let and comments that when she
first read it ‘I wept. I tried
to think of a poem, a story, that
might parallel it’ (p79); contrasting it with bourgeoisindividualist literature, she
concludes ‘one teaches literature
that represents collective effort
because one has been moved, through
one’s own experience, by the
dignity, the humaneness, and the
. power of such efforts.’ (pSO)
I am led to ask: Isn’t the reference to literature and literary
forms either redundant or foreign
in this context? Might not the
message be betrayed just as much
as when the undergraduate student
of literature writes ‘Speaker.

Tone (define)’ beside the lines
‘Nothing so true as what you once
let fall,/ “Most women have no
Characters at all'” (p59)? Of
course, if one pursued these
questions one would end up
challenging the category of
teacher of literature, and the
frame of reference of this book
precludes that.

The Politics of Literature
addresses itself to teachers (why
not students?) and is written by
teachers, some of them long standing. Paradoxically, the book is
billed as an anti textbook – to
give it its full Newspeak title
it is a “Pantheon antitextbook”.

I

Whilst the inclusion of Labov’s
essay belies the implicit equation of the title between Literature and English, this equation
and the scope of address has
served to exclude any discussion
of plays, films, music, oral
tradition and mass media – though
the last are mentioned in passing
by Sheila Delany (pp3l6-l7).

This exclusion is, I think,
unfortunate, and would not have
been possible had the authors
worked with a general communicational theory, of which literary
theory might form a specific part.

On first reading, I did think it
a merit of this book to have been
structured around political theory
rather than in the familiar theoretical terms (genesis versus
structure; Lukacs versus Leavis
etc). On second reading, I came
to feel that the search for a
politically relevant teaching of
literature would have proved more
fruitful if there had also been
a theoretical acquaintance with,
for instance, some of the work
which impassions some readers of
Radical Philosophy. A book like
Roland Barthes’ Mythologies could
have formed the basis of an essay
on the possibility of the teacher
of language or literature organising critical work in the classroom
around the everyday, and not
specifically literary, coded
transformations and iconic representations of reality.

Change the questions we ask
The recognition of the sociological
dimensions of literary production
and response means that the critic
has to engage in what is being said
and not only with how it is being
said. Hitherto, classloads of
girls have been able to read and
study Pope, and do well on Pope,
py commenting ‘Speaker. Tone
(define)’ against ‘Most women have
no Characters at all’. A radical
teacher would expec~ a ‘bullshit’

at least. The new questions bring
us back, in a sense, to the
functions of an older criticism
which ‘tried to relate the
experience of literature more
intimately to the rest of the
readers’ lives’. (p20)
Changing roles
Since much of the book assumes
the teacher-class situation,
there is plenty of discussion of
teaching style and teacherstudent relations, though less
than is needed on the effects of
examinations: perhaps discretion
proved the better part of valour
here, Paul Lauter having been
fired from the University of
Maryland for ‘subversion of the
grading system’. (p4l5) There are
two points I’d like to discuss,
one idiosyncratic, the other major.

Sheila Delany, one of the most
successful essayists, mentions that
‘the radical teacher, like anyone

else, may be a performer, a group
therapist, or a bore’ (pp3l6-l7)
but doesn’t expand on this. Nor
does anyone mention what is for
me one of the most importa~t categories of teacher, and a category
which has,. I think, specific links
with radiaa~ism, namely that of
the maverick, the teacher who is
not the parte-parole of an
Authority, and who (like Brecht?)
forces his audience to judge what
he is saying as he says it, who
makes passivity impossible.

As for more substantial transformations of role, or abolition
of roles, it seems from this book
that the development of theory
must await the development of practice. Some of the contributors
are in the difficult position of
being ahead of their students and
the white community (for example,
Cantarow) and they cannot therefore be expected to produce either
a radical scholarship which is
more than new wine in old bottles
or detailed plans for general
‘participation in the composition,
distribution and performance of
literature’ (p46). Florence
Howe’s account of teaching poetry
to young mechanics reads primly
against one’s wild hopes for the
development of a hegemonic proletarian culture, involving multiple
linked practices, from street
theatre, street poetry (and its
theory; Mayakovsky – How Are
Verses Made?) and community papers
through to intense theoretical
debates involving audience and
authors as well as (in place of?)
radical professionals.

Trevor Pateman

Philosopher queen?

William Warren Bartley Ill,
Wittgenstein, Quartet Books,
Midway, £1. 50
ISBN 0 70433042 3
The heart of this book is some
new information about Wittgenstein’s life between 1920 and
1926 when, having published the
Tractatus, he was teaching
elementary school in Austria.

Bartley retails some gossip from
the now aged peasants who were
Wittgenstein’s pupils, about the
professional jealousies and local
conflicts and classroom discipline
problems which dogged Wittgenstein’s
teaching career. He also sketches
some of the theoretical background
to what was then the most progressive school system in Europe.

In addition, the book tries to be
an elementary, popular introduction
to Wittgenstein’s work as a whole.

Bartley gives a conventional
picture of Wittgenstein’s progress from a supposedly rigid
‘atomism’ to a free and easy
pluralism, and claims that
wittgenstein’s school teaching

bridges the gap.

(Amazingly, he
does not mention any of
Wittgenstein’s middle period
writings). Like nearly all
summaries of wittgenstein’s work,
it presents almost nothing that
would justify taking him seriously, so it is not surprising to
find Bartley announcing portentously ‘I reject the main tenets
of his early and later work’ .

(Good for him!)
The main selling point of this
book is that it says (without presenting evidence) that Wittgenstain was gay. The dus~ jacket
carries a garishly touched up
photo of wittgenstein, looking as
though grotesquely tarted up with
lipstick and eyeliner, and the
reader is soon told that
this pure and intense genius ..•
was also a homosexual given to
bouts of extravagent and almost
uncontrollable promiscuity.

Bartley clearly expects readers
to be thunderstruck by the revelation; and there cannot be any
doubt about who he really wanted
to shock – Wittgenstein’s
literary executors, jealous
guardians of the wittgenstein
archives. The conflict is completely unedifying and is going
to be of no benefit to people who
want to get to grips with
Wittgenstein’s work.

lonathan Ree
A R Manser’s inaugural lecture as
professor of philosophy at
Southampton University, The End
of Philosophy: Marx and Wittgenstein, University of southampton,

20p) is an unambitious piece of
work, but quite a lot of people
may find it helpful. It compares
a few passages in Wittgenstein and
Marx and tentatively suggests
that ‘what is now needed is someone to play the role of Marx to
wittgenstein’s Feuerbachian one’.

Every page communicates the
surprised pleasure which English
philosophers often feel when they
chance to read some Marx (at least
some young Marx) and find that
he was rather good at philosophy.

J.R.

‘KILL LEFTIE LECTURERS!’ PROFESSOR PLEADS
I have deliberately made nothing
of the tiny body of academic
staff – between 1 and 2 per cent
in most universities – who give
support to these outrages. They
do this because they cannot help
it: they act from instinct rather
than from mind, and are no more
to be blamed than dogs who chase
chats. When they really cause
impossible situations, they must
be put down, with the agony one
experiences: in parting with
domestic pets.

(Professor Guy Chilver, ex-Dean
of Humanities, Kent University
Times Higher Education Supplement

3 March 1974)

47

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