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9 Reviews

Tragic Marxism
Theodor Adorno: Minima Moralia,
New Left Books, £4.25
The note on the inside cover
describes Minima Moralia as
‘unlike any other book by [Adorno],
or any other work in the Western
Marxist tradition’. For some,
indeed, it might be debatable
whether it falls into the Marxist
tradition at all;l if it had
appeared in translation ten years
ago, then it would perhaps have
been central to the concerns of
the radical left in England and
America, being absorbed into probably at the expense of understanding – the critique of repressive ‘consumer capitalism’ of
which Marcuse came to be taken as
the leading exponent. In a period
of apparent affluence and a quiescent working class, Adorno’s work
would have needed no justification.

Today, however, it is a book that
needs justifying, one which, if
not discounted as ‘Hegelian Marxism’ of academic interest only, is
r likely to remain on the fringes of
the revolutionary left in this
country. It is, for this very
reason, a more important work than
it would have been if the translation had appeared ten years ago.

It is a very difficult book, both
in form and content; a collection
of aphorisms written over the
period 1944-47, and published in
1951 in honour of Max Horkheimer,
it is not a book that can be read
easily from beginning to end, but
at the same time it is more than
a ‘commonplace book,2 that can be
dipped into at random. It is
united by an ‘inner form’ that a
brief review cannot even begin to
bring out and also by an overriding critique of modern capitalist society.

It is not the sort of book that
easily lays itself open to summary:

Adorno’s style, even in translation,
is tight and deliberate; subordinate clauses are built into the
centre of each sentence, not strung
out at the end of a series of
reservations and qualifications,
and each aphorism takes us smoothly
through a series of contradictions
and transformations in which each
sentence plays its role. Each
sentence, each aphorism is a
specific manifestation of the
dialectical method that informs
the work as a whole: a unity of
opposites. On top of this, the
myriad of philosophical, artistic,
literary and musical references
seems a comparatively minor complication – a complication eased
further, it should be noted, by


some useful footnoting by the

It is divided into three parts
according to the periods in which
the aphorisms were written, and a
staggering variety of topics is
covered, moving in each section
from the most intimate personal
experiences to the most general
theoretical problems. The subtitle, ‘Reflections from Damaged
Life’ indicates the roots of the
work in Adorno’s own experience,
but even where this experience is
most closely touched we learn
little about Adorno himself.

Each experience, each topic is
lifted immediately from the
particular to the general; he
examines his childhood and finds
the forewarnings of Fascism, a
sleepless night is the grounding
for a discussion of time, a whole
social system is revealed behind
a landscape, a hotel, two lines
in a newspaper obituary. The
-topics range from sexuality and
love, generosity, kindness, and
tolerance to the role of the
family, the position of women and
of intellectuals, bourgeois
manners, personal relationships,
and the roots and nature of
fascism; there are critiques of
mass culture, film, literature and
music and theoretical critiques of
psycho-analysis and philosophy.

A simple listing of the topics
becomes pointless; what each
aphorism expresses is a general
critique of late bourgeois
society, outlined in the introduction and which moves in the opposite direction to each of the
sections, from the general to the
individual and provides the
justification for the book itself.

The category ‘subjectivity’

appears as the principal topic
for several of the aphorisms and
it is the hidden topic of all of

‘Individuality’, ‘the
subject’, ‘subjectivity’ is the
product of the bourgeois economy:

each individual is defined as such
by his market relationships to
other individuals, he is the
product of a totality and as such
to begin from individuality, to
‘start with the individual’ as
does bourgeois thought, is to mask
the real nature of the totality.

This subordination of the individual to the totality has its
origins in Hegel:

The conception of a totality
harmonious through all its
antagonisms compels him to
assign to individuation, however
much he may designate it a driving moment in the process, an
inferior status in the construction of the whole. 3
Yet at the same time it is only
through the individual that the
totality realises itself, and it
is in the individual that the
totality may be revealed. Having

created the individual and realised
itself through his subjectivity,
bourgeois society in its later
development sets about destroying
him. The free play of the market
has produced all-powerful monopolies, the division of labour that
gave birth to the individual has
now eradicated individual differences, has created a series of
interchangeable elements, a
homogenous mass:

In the period of his decay, the
individual’s experience of himself and what he encounters
contributes once more to knowledge, which he had merely
obscured as long as he continued
unshaken to construe himself
positively as the dominant
category. In the face of the
totalitarian unison with which
the eradication of difference is
proclaimed as a purpose in itself, even part of the social
force of liberation may have
temporarily withdrawn to the
individual sphere. If critical
theory lingers there, it is not
ort-Zy with a bad conscience. 4
Coincidentally reading Minima
Moralia.· after Goldmann’ s The Hidden
God,S I was struck by ·the parallel
between Adorno’s Marxism and
tragic thought. There is by no
means a strict analogy, and this
is not the place to give a full
exposition of Goldmann:s work, but
the similarities can be pointed
out and they are instructive.

Goldmann sees tragic thought as
the most advanced forerunner of
dialectical thought; like the
latter, tragic thought takes the
totality as its major category
and, against bourgeous rationalism, stresses the contradictory
nature ot truth. ~ut tragic
thought lacks a historica~ consciousness, it cannot see the
development and solution of contradictions that, for Marx and
Hegel, came from history. The
world is seen not as developing
dialectically but as static
totality of paradoxes, an ‘unstructured totality’ in the true
sense of the word; there is no
starting point and no end point
for tragic thought, no infrastructure which provides the base
of the totality, only a series of
contradictions that may be related
in any number of ways. Hence the
fragment form of Pascal’s
Pensees, in which we find a
parallel to Adorno’s aphorisms.

The latter have a more tangible
order since Adorno comes after
the discovery of history, but
history no longer seems to entail
the development of the contradictions of the totality to a higher
level, rather it threatens to
suppress them altogether, hiding
itself from thought in the process,
forbidding any rational grasp of
its mechanisms. It is only


through the fragmented experience
of a subjectivity conscious of its
own fragmentation and destruction
that we can grasp the totality at

The critical theorist, like the
tragic thinker, is ‘in the world
but not of it’: both pursue the
realisation of absolute values the values of Christianity in the
latter case, the value of an end
to alienation, of reconciliation
with self in the former – and
neither will accept compromise.

At the same time, both recognise
the impo~sibility of achieving
those values in the world and that
the slightest relaxation of their
demands only strengthens the world
they reject, and they also recognise that it is impossible to
escape from the world. Using the
term loosely they are both caught
in the same ‘double bind’: to
retire from the world, to give up
the struggle within it, is
implicitly to approve it, yet to
remain in the world whose values
they reject is equally a compromise.

For the tragic thinker, salvation
– God – is both always present and
always absent, he is constantly
watching but never reveals himself,
there can be no proof, no rational
certainty of his existence. For
Pascal, Goldmann argues, all that
was possible was a wager on God’s
existence, and it is the concept
of the wager that is at the centre
of his thought, the one possible
organising principle. For the
critical ~eorist it is the proletariat that is always absent and
always present: always present
because it once offered the
possibility of salvation, always
.absent because that possibility
has now passed; the proletariat
has been absorbed by the system,
disappeared into a ‘mass society
As Adorno was to write at a later
date, ‘philosophy which once
seemed outmoded is now alive
because the moment of its realisation has been missed,.6 In
Minima Mora1ia the ghost of the
proletariat remains in the subjectivity of the critical theorist: it
is this that plays the role of the
wager as an organising principle.

What is the present day relevance
then of this tragic, subjective
moment of Marxism? Over the last
few Years the proletariat has reappeared in western Europe and
‘salvation’, if not imminent, at
least seems to be lurking over the

Hegelian Marxism, of
which Adorno is perhaps the most
Hegelian representative, has been
subjected to a thorough critique
that claims to show its inadequacy,
its ideological character, and
which presents a scientific Marxism that can offer a clear analysis of social structure in contrast to the homogenous ‘ex~res­
sive’ Hegelian totality, the all-

powerful unitary system t~at
Adorno saw as destroying subjectivity. Frankfurt Marxism is
becoming an object for Marxism,
something to be understood and
explained in terms of the specific
conjuncture in which it appeared
– a conjuncture now passed into
history – and the class position
of its proponents. 7 Adorno’s
concern for sUbjectivity and
morality, which dominates Minima
Mora1ia, can be seen as an ideological deformation on the
theoretical level, and as irrelevant and secondary to the renewed
everyday struggle on the practical

Yet it is precisely
because of the pressing urgency
of the everyday struggle and
because of the rejuvenation of
scientific Marxism that what
Adorno has to say is so much more
urgent now that it was when he
said it.

Perhaps the best way of revealing
his importance is on the basis of
an example, a specific embodiment
of the general dialectic outlined

I have already mentioned
the problems of summarising Adorno;
it should be recognised that the
following does violence to his
style and eliminates innumerable
dimensions of meaning in favour of
the central dialectic.

Two consecutive aphorisms, ‘How
nice of you, Doctor’ and ‘Antithesis,8 at the beginning of the
first section discuss the possibility of morality in capitalist
society, and the position of the

In the face of the
horrors of fascism, the technological terror of the modern
world, the ‘little pleasures’, the
spontaneous expressions of joy in
the face of beauty take on a
sinister meaning, they become a
callous escape from the world:

‘Even the blossoming tree lies the
moment its bloom is seen without
the shadow of terror’. Even everyday sociability is a pretence, a
compromise with evil, a hiding of
the fact that the possibility of
communication between human beings
is being systematically destroyed:

For the intellectual, inviolable
isolation is now the only way of
showing some measure of solidarity. All collaboration, all the
human worth of social mixing and
participation, merely masks a
tacit acceptance of inhumanity.

It is the sufferings of men that
should be shared: the smallest
step towards their pleasures is
one towards the hardening of
their pains. 9
But this very isolation is an

The detached observer is as much
entangled as the active participant; the only advantage to the
former is insight into his en-·
tanglement, and the infinitesimal
freedom that lies in knowledge as
such. His own distance from
business at large is a luxury
which on1~ that business confers.

This is why the very movement of
withdrawal bears features of what
it negates. It is forced to
develop a coldness indistinguish.ab1e from that of the bourgeois. ID
The very fact that the intellectual thinks reveals his privileged
status, his dependence upon the
bourgeois system of production:

There is no way out of entanglement. The only responsible
course is to deny·oneself the
ideological misuse of one’s own
existence, and for the rest to
conduct oneself in private as
modestly, unobtrusively, and unpretentiously as is required, no
longer by good upbringing, but
by shame of still having air to
breathe, in he1l. 11
On the most immediate level, this
is a radical critique of the possibility of moral action in a capitalistic society, the revelation of
its impossibility.

In this area,
scientific Marxism, in its
Althusserian or any other form,
remains silent.

Yet the Marxist
is still engaged in personal
relationships, still holds some
position within capitalist
society, is still involved with
his comrades some of whom will
be friends and lovers as well,
with whom he has to live every

It is in these relationships that the question of moral
action becomes most urgent. The
~rgument that the only moral
action is that which attempts to
change the system is no answer the problem is not whether or
not one should work for change
but rather the way in which one
should work for change.

Adorno shows is that to ignore
this problem is itself to revea~’j
the strength of the tendencies of
late capitalism, to reproduce
within the revolutionary movement
the fragmented and inhuman relationships of bourgeois society.

Simply to accept Adorno’s conclusion that moral action is
impossible is to du the same
thing, to transforIY’l a valid insight into a grueso!Ye symptom: the
impossibility of moral action can
only be known through the constant
attempt to act morally – it is
only in this way that the ‘infinitesimal freedom that lies in
knowledge as such’ can be achieved.

At a deeper level in this case,
although several times in the co~rse
of the book it rises to the s~rface,
there is a critique of revolutionary action and orgrtnisation itself.

In the same way that moral action
is transformed into an example of
immorality, so can revolutionary
action be transformed into a reproduction of bourgeois oppression;
implicit in Adorno’s method is an
attempt to grasp the way in whi,ch,
for example, revolutionary violence
may become the reproduction of
bourgeois terror or – in some
ways even worse – a reproduction
of the random meaningless violence
that characterises bourgeois


society in its more fully developed
state, the way in which revolutionary discipline may reproduce the
tyranny of capitalist organisation, the way in which sexual
liberation may become a dehumanisation of the sexual act. Although it is only intermittently
apparent as such in Minima Moralia,
Adorno provides the basis for such
a thoroughgoing Marxist selfcriticism, and he does indeed end
by a criticism of his own method;
dialectical argument is by no
means the privilege of the revolutionary, its central category
of the totality may become a
tool of conservative, even reactionary thought; insofar as it
encourages, through its revelation
of alienation, of the destruction
of subjectivity, a naive bourgeois
self-assertion, it becomes a tool
in the interest of the society it
criticises; insofar as it falls
back into simple debating procedure,
where its origins are to be found,
it becomes simply ‘the serene
demonstration of the fact that
there are two sides to everything :’12

Critical theory seems then to fill
a space unknown to scientific
Marxism, however sophisticated it
may be, and at the same time it
r;~rovides a critique of scientific

Insofar as the latter
eliminates the subject and grasps
the totality through a series of
analytically related scientific
concepts, it reproduces at its
very heart the reification and
alienation that critical theory
sets itself the task of revealing.

Yet knowledge of reificiation, of
the ali~nated system, is essential
to its demystification and it is
through scientific Marxism that
this knowledge is achieved.

Adorno’s brand of dialectical
thought perhaps reaches its peak
when it reveals its own inadequacy. The displacement of
philosophy by science has led to
the separation of the two elements
which for Hegel comprised philosophy: reflection and speculation;
science takes over the realm of
reflection and is degraded to the
reproduction in thought of the
world simply as it is, the basis
for criticism disappears, while
philosophy becomes the empty shell
of former theories, mere private
speculation. 13 At the same time
there is a reluctance to come to
grips with, science, a recognition
of the dangers involved in
embracing science and those
involved in ignoring it, a conscious immobility that Frankfurt
Marxism at any rate does not seem
to be able to go beyond:

The intellectual, particularly
when philosophically inclined, is
cut off from practical life:

revulsion from it has driven him
to concern himself” with so-called
things of the mind. But material
practice is not only the pre-


condi tion of hi.s practice, it .is
basic to the world which he
criticises in his work. If he
knows nothing of this basis, he
shoots into thin-air. He is
confronted with the choice of
informing himself or turning his
back on what he hates. If he
chooses the former he does
violence to himself, thinks
against his impulses and in addition runs the risk of sinking to
the level of what he is dealing
with, for economics is no joke,
and merely to understand it one
has to ‘think economically’. If,
however, he has no truck wi th it,
he hypostatises as an absolute
his intellect, which was only
formed through contact with
economic reality and abstract
exchange relations, and which can
become intellect solely by reflecting on its own conditions.

The intellectual is thereby
seduced into the vain and unrelated substitution of the
reflection for the thing. 14
It is precisely in the ‘substitution of the reflection for the
thing’ that we find the roots of
the tendency of ‘humanist’ or
‘Hegelian’ Marxism to produce easy
answers already presupposed in
the questions that it asks, the
vagueness and generality that
leaves this type of Marxism open
to the criticisms of bourgeois
philosophy and sociology on the
one hand and Althusser on the
other. The categories of thought
are assumed to have a real existence and their manipulation in
thought is seen as producing a
real solution.

It is a weakness
we find in early all its exponents – Lukacs, Goldmann, Garaudy
and so on – typified by the
tendency to take, for example,
the formula that ‘men make history
but under circumstances not of
their choosing’ as the answer when
it is in fact a very first approximation of the problem, or the
parallel tendency to take
‘alienation’ and ‘reification’ as
self-explanatory concepts when in
fact they are both movements in
reality which remain to be discovered, whose mechanisms and
development need to be revealed
in each specific situation.

both cases the theoretical formulations are taken for reality
whereas they in fact hide reality
in all its specific complexity.

It is perhaps a sign of the
rigour of Adorno’s thought that
nowhere is he interested in producing such easy answers, that he
seems to be fully aware of the
permanent dangers represented by
the possibility that ‘alienation’

,may itself become reified as a
concept. But he still remains
unable to incorporate a scientific
Marxism within his thought; the
totality for Adorno remains undifferentiated, unstructured
beyond the simple base/superstructure differentiation, a
homogenous whole which is forcibly

suppressing the contradictions
that threaten it. The unstructured
totality and the absorption of the
proletariat are by no means unconnected features of his thouqht.

At the same time, in the process
of being destroyed by the homogenous, unstructured totality,
there is a similarly homogenous
unstructured SUbjectivity. The
fact that he talks about subjectivity as opposed to subjectivities
goes some way to explaining why,
in a book rooted in personal experience, we discover so little
about Adorno personally” Althouqh
he starts from subjectivity, it
tends to be dissolved immediately
into the general, the individual
reveals the general but there is
no sense in which it is a specific
reproduction of the general. This
is a second and equally important
tendency within Hegelian Marxism
which also leaves it open to the
criticisms we have already mentioned, a tendency to ignore the
specific in favour of the general
despite itself; each particular
becomes a subordinate and anonymous
representation of the general.

There is no equivalent to the
Althusserian conception of the
‘conjuncture’ •
If critical theory is to play an
important role in the centre of
Marxis~.development, then it would
appear to have before it two tasks. A
Firstly, it needs to come to grips
with the precise relationships
between scientific and dialectical
thought – not simply by pointing
out the critical role pf the latter
in relation to the former but
through a rigorous concep~ualisa­
tion of the way each may be transformed into the other; what are
the concepts that enable us to
move from an Althusserian analysis
of class structure to the dialectical criticism of that analysis
thought dividing and opposing the
two. The ‘epistemological break’

must be shown to be a two-way
bridge rather than a gaping hole
– and the emphasis must be on
‘shown’, the simple assertion of
the relationships is not enough.

As long as this bridge is unconstructed, then dialectical
thought will continue to appear
speculative, scientific thought
will lack the ‘reflexivity’ that
allows it to understand itself
at the same time that it understands the world, and it will be
open to the same criticism as
bourgeois positivism: that its
blindness in relation to itself
prohibits the production of
knowledge about the world.

Secondly dialectical thought must
move beyond the notion of con-sciousness and subjectivity as
unproblematic collective categories, which remain all too
reminiscent of the Hegelian Spirit;
until it is able to talk about
consciousness, subjectivities which
enter into specific sets of relationships with each other to
reproduce the general in specifically different forms, it will be

unable to accommodate scientific
thought which is precisely concerned with the close analysis of
the specific conjuncture.

Ian Craib
(l)See e.g. Martin Jay: The
Dialectical Imagination, London,
Heinemann, 1973.

(2) This is
the way in which it is likely to
be interpreted by non-Marxist
critics – see e.g. the sunday
Times, 14.7.74.

(3) Minima
Moralia p17.

(4) Ibid p18.

(5) Lucien Goldmann: The Hidden
God, London, Routledge and Kegan
Paul, 1964.

(6) Theodore Adorno:

Negative Dialectics, London,
Routledge Rnd Kegan Paul, 1973,
p3 (quoted in Jay, op cit.

See e.g. Goran Therborn: ‘Frankfurt
Marxism: A Critique’, New Left
Review 63.

(8) Minima Moralia
pp25-8; the first title is a
quotation from Goethe’s Faust.

(9) Ibid.p26. (10) Ibid. (11) Ibid

(12) Ibid pp244-7; a
critique of the experience of the
American left, in the spirit of
Adorno, if not in his style, can
be found in Russell Jacoby: ‘The
Politics of Subjectivity, New Left
Review 79 (May/June 1973).

(13) Ibid pp68-9. (14) Ibid p132.

Socialist HUmanism
E P Thompsqn: ‘An Open Letter to
Leszek Kolakowski’, Socialist
Register 1973 (eds Ralph Miliband
and John Saville), Merlin Press
1974, ISBN 850 36179 6, £2.00

What does it mean to be a revolutionary socialist intellectual
– now in 1974, here in Britain?

Whether your political life is
frantically active or morosely
inactive; whether you are working
for a socialist party or, like
most of us – tens of thousands of
us, I should think – uneasily
unattached, one thing is fairly
certain: you are unlikely to be
suffused with a sense of brotherly
and sisterly trust, or happy
solidarity in the aspiration
towards an unalienated system of
social relations – the sort of
trust and solidarity which has
characterised all socialist movements that have c’ome anywhere
near success.

In 1940, George Orwell sneered
disloyally at the ‘hysteria’ about
Spain of British socialist intellectuals in the preceding decade:

‘All the familiar idiocies, spy
hunting, orthodoxy sniffing
(Sniff, sniff. Are you a good
anti-Fascist? ‘) – (‘Inside the
Whale’). No doubt he would
criticise our suspicious behaviour,
forty years later, with the same
wry relish. This time he would
find a new set of ‘idiocies’.


he would make a comparison with exclusivist Protestant
sectarianism, and suggest that
being a socialist presents itself as a calling of awesome rigour
and appalling difficulty: a task
requiring moral vigilance and
self reliance; an arduous and
never-for-a-second to be abandoned watch against the cunningly
disguised traps of bourgeois
ideology. Or perhaps he would
liken it to the bitchiness of
careerist academics: socialist
intellectuals regarding each
other as rivals, and trying to
slay one another with scornful
darts of irony and intellectual

Such descriptions and comparisons
might be false; but they would
not be without foundation.

there ought to be solidarity there
is distrust, even self-distrust.

Socialists are constantly sniffing each other, and aware that
others are sniffing at us too.

(Sniff sniff. Are you [and am I?]
a good anti-humanis:, or antirevisionist, or anti this that or
the other: reformist, historicist,
theoreticist, voluntarist, idealist, mechanical-materialist etc?)
As you pick your way across
terrain mined with such weapons,
it is hard indeed to hold in
your imagination the idea of
being carried forward by a surging mass of cheering comrades.

This may not always have been
so: after all the range of forms
of activity available to socialists changes.

Sadly, though,
existing socialist organisations
– at least organisations of soc·ialist intellectuals – have short

It is unusual for
different age groups in a society
or class to be proportionally
represented in them; they re1′)resent, not just cliques, but
generations; and the average age
of their members goes up by
exactly one year every year.

The situation is recorded with
blank matter of factness by Eric
Hobsbawm: ‘The Marxists who
reached the point of publishing
widely-read books and occupying
senior positions in academic
life in the 1950’s, were often
only the radicalised students of
the 1930’s or 1940’s, reaching
the normal peak of their careers’

(‘Karl Marx’s Contribution to
Historiography’ in Ideology and
social Science, ed. Blackburn,
Fontana pb, 1972, p283). The
socialist intellectual youngsters
occupy the buildings, while the
socialist intellectual oldsters
occupy the chairs.

The range of forms of activity
available to socialists at a given
time is an instantaneous slice
from a convnluted historical
development. Each generation
chooses from a range of forms
produced by the interaction of
a changing capitalism and traditions of socialist struggle. But
memories of the transformation of

these forms, even since the war,
are incredibly dim: -Jho ever
thinks now of the euphoria of the
Labour victory in 1945, of the
formation of the National Health
Service and the great socialist
hopes of nationalisation; of the
exodus of a third of the membership of the CP after 1956 – 10,000
people in all; of the growth of
the New Left as a national movement and the spectaCUlar popUlarity of CND? The hopes and disappointments of those years, it
‘seems, might just as well never
have occurred.

In those far off fifties days,
socialist intellectuals tried to
find their iden’tity in political
terms: their allegiance was to
the British Labour movement however much they might criticise

In the sixties (especially
after the disillusion with the
1964 Labour government), the
forms of socialist struggle
became very different.

Peter sedgwick’s ‘Varieties of
Socialist Thought’ in Protest
and Discontent, eds. B Crick
and W A Robson, Pelican, 1970).

Allegiances were defined in
terms of theoretical position of Marxism or Marxism-Leninism
rather than in terms of an actual
mass movement. Centralised vanguardist parties moved towards
the middle of the stage, their
life interweaving with the
student movement which flared
up from 1968-70; and the contact
with the actual experience of the
masses became more and more

Now, in 1974, the forms of
activity available to us seem
very limited: work for a vanguardist party, or nothing.

Supporters of other socialist
movements – commune movements,
anti-sexist organisations,
‘academic liberation armies’

(like the Radical Philosophy
Group) tend to feel uncertain of
the political nature of what
they are doing, and to feel subservient to ‘politics’ as defined
by these parties. Yet the process
by which the alternatives have
come to assume their present form
have stayed well below the level
of conscious intentions or conscious perceptions; and so the
impression has been created that
the forms of socialist activity
currently on offer are the only
possible ones: they impose themselves on British socialists as
though they were natural facts
outside the flux of historical

To understand the alternatives
now available, how they have come
to be what they are, and how they
may be transformed in the future,
requires some political archaeology; and for the last twenty
years, Edward Thompson’s ‘Open
Letter to Leszek Kolakowski’ is
an indispensible guide: although
it bears the marks of rather
brutal editing, it effectively


revives the political and philosophical arguments which, even if
they have now been largely forgotten, have formed the present
outlook o,f the British Left.

Edward Thompson might be classed
as one of Hobsbawm’s socialist
oldsters who is now more famous
for publishing widely read books
(especially The Making of the

English Working Class, 1963),


than for his political work.

If he doesn’t occupy a chair, this
is because he resigned from teaching after sup~orting the ,1970
student occupation at Warwick,
where he used to work.

Warwick University Ltd., ed.

E P Thompson, Penguin Education,
1970). Long before that, he was
in the Communist Party, eventually being thrown out in 1956;
he was a leader of the New Left
of the late fifties (now known
as the ‘Old New Left’) and a
founder of the New Left Review.

Looking back on the struggles of
that period, and on what became
of them since, he observes that
‘the battle was lost’. He still
regards himself as a revolutionary
socialist, but he has an anguished
sense of having been elbowed
aside by a younger generation,
and now lacks all ‘sense of
audience’ ( 11). In the ‘Open
;T,etter’, Thompson says, he is
‘casting some thirty years of my
own private accounts’ (p94).

Thompson’s ‘open Letter’ is an
appeal to the Polish philosopher
Lesz~k Kolakowski, who used to be
a courageous defender of the
positions of the Old New Left
within Poland, and was eventually
forced to leave his country in
1968. NOw, to the dismay of all
socialists, Kolakowski is in an
Oxford College playing the role
of aposta~e from socialism in the
old God that Failed tradition.

Thompson’s letter is an attempt
to get him to recognise what he
is doing, and stop doing it.

(Kolakowski will reply in the
next Socialist Register). But
this form is misleading: for
Thompson’s ‘Letter’ is really
addressed to all British socialists.

Thompson’s ‘Open Letter’ takes
us back to the philosophical
positions of the Old New Left,
in the years 1956-61. These were
the years in which he, together
with John saville, edited the
short lived Reasoner, an organ
for dissidents within the CP, and
then, after expulsion, the New
Reasone’r (NR) ~hich brought ouiten issues between 1957 and 1959,
established a circulation of 3000,
and built up a large readership
based on a network of ‘Left
Clubs’ throughout the country.

The New Reasoner was an exemplary
piece of socialist journalism.


Ev.ery issue showed a lack of sectarianism, an openness of style,
a direct responsiveness to readers, and a willingness to admit
editorial fallibility which few
modern socialist publications can
rival. And much of what they
printed is of enduring interest
– writings by Hobsbawm, Charles
Taylor, Christopher Hill, Doris
Lessing, Ronald Meek, Ralph
Miliband, and even Alastair
MacIntyre – then a Trotskyist who tried in a fine, but flawed,
long article (‘Notes from the
Moral Wilderness’ NR 7 & 8) to
link moral philosophy and concrete
political theory; and above all,
the writings of Edward Thompson
himself, in nearly every issue.

The subtitle of the New
Reasoner was ‘A quarterly journal
of socialist humanism’; which
indicates a commitment which
almost no one would admit to today.

aut what was socialist humanism,
and what did it repre~ent in
terms of the choices available
to the late fifties? The philosophical problematic of socialist
humanism is expressed by Thompson
in terms of ‘the xadiating
problems of historical determinism on the one hand, and of
agency, moral choice, and individual responsibility on the
other’ (pl). How on earth, one
may ask, did this odd looking
problematic come to be proposed
as the basis for socialist theory?

The answer is simple: Stalinism
and the reaction against it – what
Althusser calls the ‘couple’ of
economism and humanism. Stalinism, in the eyes of Thompson and
many other communists who left
the CP in 1956 was an ‘ideology’

(NRl pl07) which reduced all
activity to th~ ‘iron laws’ of
the ‘economic base’ – laws which
had to be interpreted and applied
by the leadership of the centralised party. Rejecting Stalinism
but remaining a revolutionary
socialist, Thompson and thousands
like him emphasised ‘free moral
choice’ against economic determinism and ‘humanism’ against
economic reductionism.

Thompson’s ‘Agency and Choice’ in
NR5) •
The philosophical side of this
‘socialist humanism’ of the fifties is expressed in Kolakowski’s
essays of 1956-8, which are
translated in his Marxism and
Beyond (Paladin pb, 1971). These
essays reveal a familiar set of
moral-philosophical beliefs,
which can be reduced to three
theses: (a) Moral evaluation is
independent of factual theorising, and is not subject to any
norms of rationality or science.

(b) Moral evaluation is essentially an activity of the autonomous individual. (c) Morality, in
this sense, is the only factor,
apart from compulsion, which can
move people from contemplation to

In short, individuals project
values into the world, rather

chan discovering them there.

If I have not done too much
damage to Kolakowski’s beliefs
by summarising them so briefly,
then I think it must be obvious
that they do not deserve any
very special recognition – however
much courage it may have required
to enunciate them in an atmosphere of Stalinism. For these
theses are indistinguishable from
those of the old fashioned liberal
moral philosophy still taught in
Britain today, and those of its
intellectual twin, existentialism.

As MacIntyre observed at the time,
Kolakowski was not really grappling with the stalinist idea of
history; he was ‘simply taking a
Stalinist view of historical development and adding liberal
morality to it’ (NR7 p93).

Most~th~ ‘open Letter’ is a
painstaking attempt to develop
and transform these ‘socialist
humanist’ philosophical positions
and in particular to investigate
the supposed gap between histor~­
cal fact on the one hand and
freely chosen moral values on the
other. Thompson begins by taking
on ‘Determinism’ and the idea of
‘historical laws’, accusing
Stalinism of confusing the idea
of laws of history (which,
Thompson supposes, conflicts with
the idea of free human action),
with th~ idea of a logic of historical process (which apparently
leaves human agency free). (pp2930). Thompson’s bald diagnosis
of this ‘semantic confusion’

seems to me rather unsuccessful.

For one thing, his assertion of
‘human agency’ is unsupported:

And for another, it does not get
him anywhere.

It might just mean
that some events can be described
as ‘human acts’ but this is compatible with determinism, since
these could be held to be determined just like any other events.

Alternatively it might mean that
human agents are autonomous in
that their actions are not determined by natural or historical
circumstances – which might
perhaps be incompatible with
determinism, but which would also
be completely implausible.

either case, the confrontation of
‘history’ and ‘agency’ does not
do much to explain what is wrong
with the Stalinist view of

In order to discuss and’ locate
the category ‘human agency’ relative to history, it is not necessary to sort out the metaphysical problem of freedom and

Instead one’ should
look at the following question:

how do the categories which

structure people~s conscious and
unconscious actions r e.’g. moral
categories] relate to the categories which describe the historical developments in which they

Thompson obliquely approaches
this question in another part of
his essay in the guise of the
problem of the relation between


history and moral values. His
starting point is Kolakowski’s
assertion that values can only
be discovered in history if they
have first been ‘inserted’ by
the observer (p40). Thompson’s
excellent portrayal of historical knowledge shows very clearly
how unworkable this familiar idea
is. He describes how, because
of the systematic nature of
social relations (their ‘logic’)
a historian’s ’empirical’ description can reveal not only
what happens on the observable
surface of human affairs, but
also what is hidden and even what
does not actually happen at all.

There are potentialities which
can be made visible by historical
study and which can be made
actual by class struggle.

‘There is, precisely, an empirical
potentia which does not actualise

itself “in history”, and which
can be inferred from historical
knowledge’ (p55). But these
remarks are suggestive rather
than systematic, and they leave
many of the questions posed by
the socialist humanist theory of
the separation of morality and
history untouched.

The fate of attempts like Thompson’s to move beyond the socialist humanism of the fifties can
only be understood in terms of a
story which has never been
properly told: the story of the
New Left Review. As far as one
cal tell from looking at the
journals of the time, the storv
~ was roughly as follows.

In 1957 the Universities a;d
Left Review (ULR) began life.

Like the New Reasoner, ULR aimed
to revive ‘socialist humanism’

in the aftermath of Stalinism.

But its ambience was rather
different. The editorial team
(Stuart Hall, Gabriel Pearson,
Ralph Samuel and Charles Taylor)
were young university intellectuals, and, at least to begin
with, they gave the impression
of believing that there was not
much in the way of culture or
social analysis which they, with
their casually mentioned first
class degrees from Oxford or
their fellowships at All Souls,
could not rather easily encompass.

But they published descriptions
of contemporary mass culture, and
did their best to establish two
way communication with their
readers. They immediately
opened a ‘ULR Club’ in London,
with skiffle evenings and discussions; and they could soon
claim an attendance of 200 at
their weekly meetings (ULR 2
p79). By the end of the year
they had raised enough money to
open the ‘ULR coffee house’, an
‘anti-expresso bar’ at 7 Carlisle

At first the New Reasoner was

rather critical of ULR ~ although
Edward Thompson himself did a
certain amount of writing for it.

But at the end of 1958, merger
talks between the two organisations were begun. The ULR club
and Left Clubs began to cooperate; there were joint pamphlets and conferences; and a
series of books called New Left
Books was launched.

(New Left
Book No.l was Out of Apathy, ed.

E P Thompson, Stevens and. Sons,
1960). By the end of 1959 the
two editorial boards were able to
announce that they were going to
merge to produce a new journal:


(ULR 7, p6). There would be a
large editorial board (chaired
for the first ~wo years by John
Saville), a full time editor
(Stuart Hall), and a concerted
effort to build up a national
network of Left Clubs.

‘The New
Left Review will be more than a
journal, but not quite a movement’ (NRIO p128) .

New Left Review 1 came out at
the beginning of 1960.

In the
first two years, the eclecticism
of ULR seemed to hav~ been multiplied by that of NR and the
result was something like a bimonthly New statesman. But the
Left Clubs flourished and there
were forty of them by the end of
the year. However, there were
obviously bitter conflicts on the
editorial board.

In NLR 1,
Edward Thompson had reiterated
the idea the Review should be
‘more than a journal’, saying
that ‘the publication and distribution of a socialist journal is,
in itself, a socialist action
which runs athwart the normal
drives of capitalist society’

(p64). But this intention turned
out in the end to be unviable.

NLR 11 (Sept-oct 1961) reported
that ‘considerable “reconstruction” is under way’. There were
desperate financial problems, and
NLR 12 announced that, in addition, subscriptions were falling.

(They had apparently not reached
the projected 5,000). But with
the following issue (a dOUble
issue – NLR 13-14, January-April
1962), a new leadership had taken
over, by means which were not
explained to the readers. stuart
Hall had left, and he was replaced with a small team of new
editors: Gabriel Pearson, Dennis
Butt, Ralph Samuel, and Perry
Anderson. The rest of the large
editorial board seemed to have
vanished, and the financial
problems had mysteriously been
solved. NLR 15 showed another
unexplained change. Perry
Anderson was now the sole editor,
assisted by Gabriel Pearson,
Robin Blackburn and Tom Nairn.

The Left Clubs soon became a
thing of the past. There had
been a political coup: the
founders of the Review were
ousted, but the journal itself
was saved.

Ed-..,ard Thompson’ s recollection
of these events is bitter.

tends to see them in terms of
the replacement of a group of
intellectuals, the Old New Left,
who were committed to the British
labour movement, with a coterie
of wr iters who were committed to
noth1ngbut their own intellectual
purity. Of course there were
serious theoretical and political
arguments at stake. But Thompson
justly remarks that ‘the debate
was never raised to any theoretical
articulation; it was resolved by
an administrative decislon’ (plO).

And today the very language of
the Old New Left which Thompson
represents – its ‘morality’ and
its ‘humanism’ – is enough to
ensure that its work is generally
dismissed without much attempt
either to understand it, or to
assess its historical importance.

The ‘obligatory face-making at
“humanism”, “moralism” etc.’,
says Thompson, makes one wonder
‘how far the militant tradition
has ever absorbed or worked
through the full historical experience of stalinism’ (p13).

Offended as he may be, even
Thompson is appreciative of the
brilliant work Anderson has done
with the Review. But with its
circulation at 10,000 (the same
as ULR fifteen years ago), and
half of it abroad, NLR cannot
pretend to be ‘more than a
journal’ any longer; nor is there
any attempt to make its publication and distribution a ‘socialist action’. The editorial board
which is now listed in the Review
never meets, and changes of
editorial line (for example on
the ‘Althusser case’) are not

explained, let alone discussed,
in the Review’s paqes.



The trajectory of the New Left
was largely producen by general
political changes in response to
a changing national and international situation. But it was
also, in part, a result of conditions internal to the New Left.

To this extent, the development
can partly be understood, I think,
in terms of the vicissitudes of
the category ‘socialist intellectuals’, and the way it has
affected the communicative
practice of NR, ULR and NLR.

From its very beginnings, the
members of the New Left identified themselves as ‘socialist
intellectuals’; and in their
conception of intellectuals
they – some of them at least seem to have unwittingly included two irredeemably bourgeois preconceptions. On the
one hand there was the idea that
it is the task of intellectuals
to enact the artistic and theoretical aspiration of the rest
of society; and on the other


hand, there was the idea of the
intellectual’s audience being
abstract, ‘public opinion’ (the
same target, incidentally, as

In the Preface to New
Left Book No.l, Norman Birnbaum

New Left Books is not an academic series … We write for
the entire labour movement – and
for those outside it who at the
moment have no politics more
complicated than a sense of
moral unease and a persistent
(nuclAar) anxiety’.

[Out of Apathy p xi]
(See also Thompson’s ‘Socialism
and the Intellectuals’ in ULR 1).

The result of such intentions was
a style of communication on the
part of the Old New Left which
was demo-ratic and welcoming, even
if it did not reach a mass audience.

But as NLR developed increasingly astringent and difficult ~ocial theory, their style
of communication inevitably
adapted itself, until their
audience was clearly neither
‘public opinion’ nor ‘the entire
labour movement’ – but simply a
small group of serious and
committed Marxist intellectuals.

In spite of this change, or even
perhaps because of it, the New
~~ Left believed all the more
fervently in the historic importance of the culture of intellectuals like themselves – however
cut off they might be from the
masses or the labour movement.

Edward Thompson has directed
several polemics against those
he holds responsible for this
development. His critiques of
the British Labour Movement, it
is true, have always lamented its
lack of competent theorists (see
for example the editorial in NRl
p2); but he has objected to the
much louder and shriller expressions of the complaint which have
since occurred in the work of the
new NLR, especially in articles
by Anderson and Nairn published
in 1963 and 1964. (The main ones
were Anderson’s ‘Origins of the
Present Crisis’ (NLR 23, reprinted
in Towards Socialism, ed~. Anderson and Blackburn, Fontana pb,
1965) and Nairn’s ‘The English
Working Class’ (NLR 24, reprinted
in Ideology and Social Science.

See also Anderson’s ‘Components
of the National Culture’ in NLR
50, reprinted in Student Power,
eds. Cockburn and Blackburn,
Penguin, 1969J In these articles,
the lament for Br’itain’s failure
(unlike France) to produce a
‘true intelligentsia’, a ‘distinct intelligentsia’, a ‘significant body of intellectuals’,
or even an ‘Enlightenment’ is a
constant refrain. Thompson
replied to Anderson and Nairn
in ‘The Peculiarities of the
English’ (Socialist Register,
1965), suggesting, in the course
of a long and wide-ranging historical argument, that there were
more important things to look for


than an ‘independent intellectual enclave’, and affirming that
‘The “oppositional” mentality of
the British Left is certainly a
limiting outlook; but it has
grown up simply because our Left
has had so bloody much to oppose’


In NLR 35, Anderson
replied to Thompson’s criticisms,
returning to the fact that there
is no ‘serious Marxist tradition
in Britain’ and implying that the
trouble with the British labour
movement was that ‘It has not
produced a single major Harxist
thinker in the twentieth century’

(pp25-26). To at least some
people, he gave the impression
that he thought that the production of intellectuals was more
important than the production of

In his ‘Open Letter’ Thompson
attacks Kolakowski for holding a
similar view of the importance of
the culture of intellectuals:

Your formulation characteristically proposes culture and
rationality as the perquisites
of intellectuals, workers or
‘illiterate peasants’ as inert
and culture-less, as ‘vehicles’

waiting in line for intellectuals
to drive . [p82]
One tragedy of intellectuals in
revolt within both Western and
Eastern societies in the past
two decades is that they have
been, except for brief moments,
isolated from larger popular
movements, and they have sometimes perforce found these
movements as their antagonists.

Hence socialist aspiration, in
its intellectual expression,
walks gauntly along, picking at
its own flesh. [p84]
The real issues at stake in
these polemics and counterpolemics about the culture of
intellectuals are how the theory
which the labour movement needs
is to be produced, and how it is
to be communicated to the movement. The problems include the
political problem of connecting
the common sense morality of the
Br i tish labour movement vii th a
correct analysis (presumably by
intellectuals) of the forces
actually at work in transforming
social relations in Britain.

~lthough of course effective
intervention need not wait upon
such an analysis). Then there
is the closely related point
which I referred to above as the
problem of how ‘the categories
which structure people’s conscious
and unconscious actions relate to
the categories which describe the
historical developments in which
they participate.’ This in turn
is inseparable from the problem
of making sense of the history
of the development of the left
since the ‘populism’ of the
‘socialist humanism’ of the fifties – the problem, in other
words, of the history of the
New Left Review. Anderson’s

reply to Thompson in NLR 35
contains a savage attack, by
means of selective quotation, on
the ‘maundering populism’ of
Thompson’s political writings in
NR and ULR up to 1961 and seems
to presuppose that an appeal to
generous democratic sentiments
is the only possible argument.

But it is not so, for Thompson’s
positions on these problems, and
neither the appeal to sentiment
nor the attack on it get anywhere
near the real issues.

It is a well known fact that it
is dangerous to try to build a
socialist movement purely on
‘moral outrage’, as some of the
anti-Stalinist ‘socialist humanists’ of the fifties seem to have
hoped: the categories of ‘moral
outrage’ are not those of class
struggle, even if they may be
effective i_n it. In explanation
of this, it is often said that
socialist categories and bourgeois categories (including those
of ‘morality’) belong to different
‘conceptual spaces’, that they are
‘conceptually incompatible’ or
that there is a ‘break’ or ‘discontinuity’ between them. Fair
enough. But this does not mean
(as some ‘anti-humanists’ suppose)
that there can be no translation
from on~ to the other. On the
contrary, it implies that there
can be such a translation; ,otherwise there could be no question
of their being incompatible.

Socialist categories would coexist with bourgeois sqcial theory
as peacefully as they do with,
say, the theory of electricity.

The fact that the categories’ of
‘moral outrage ‘. are not those of
socialist theory can only mean
that a careful, tactful, precise
and systematic work of translation is required.

This work is not merely academic
or theoretical. The range of
available forms of action for
socialists is not going to stay
the same for long (the crisis of
British capitalism will see to
that); and one direction in which
every socialist must wish it to
change is towards collecting
active support both from workers
and from morosely inactive socialist intellectuals. People will
not become active socialists
without at least passing through
commonsensical moral questions;
and socialist scorn should not be
allowed to deter them.

Jonathan Ree
Free Choice
‘In education, the proposals
rightly fell short of mounting
a campaign against the singlesex school. That is a legitimate
matter of choice for those who
can afford to exercise it’

[The Times, 7.9.74]


Noam Chomsky: For Reasons of state,
Fontana, £0.60.


Chomsky has attracted considerable attention amongst philosophers
in recent years. The motivation
no doubt has been a feeling that
his views about language and
innate ideas can add some meat to
the arid practice of conventional
analytic philosophy. But Chomsky
is not only an innovator in linguistics and a reviver of apparently dead philosophical debates.

He is also a social critic of considerable importance. Furthermore, the various strands of his
thought are by no means unconnected. His approach is a
synthesizing one of a kind much
needed in philosophy. There are
then good reasons why radical
philosophers should concern themselves with Chomsky’s ideas. This
book provides a useful introduction to these ideas.

At its broadest, Chomsky’s
interest is in human nature.

is this which animates his linguistics, as he has often made clear.

It is also central to his politics.

His approach to politics is
essentially that which he attributes to Rousseau in ‘Language
and Freedom’, the final essay in
For Reasons 6f State. Rousseau,
he comments, ‘wants to see man “as
nature formed him”.

It is from
the nature of man that the
principles of natural right and
the foundations of social existence must be deduced.’

endorses such an approach when he
writes later in the same essay
that ‘Social action must be
animated by a vision of a future
society, and by explicit judgements
of value concerning the character
of this future society. These
judgements must derive from some
concept of the nature of man,
and one may seek empirical foundations by investigating man’s
nature as it is revealed by his
behaviour and his creations,
material, intellectual, and
social.’ In an era of behavioural
science and the naturalistic
fallacy, such views have a
curiously old-fashioned ring to
them. Chomsky himself would be
the first to recognise this.

In a number of places, he has
presented his work as a return to
traditional intellectual concerns,
neglected in this century.

Cartesian Linguistics and Language
and Mind)
At the heart of Chomsky’s thought
are two contrasting conceptions of
man. The first we can call,
following Chomsky in his Russell
Memorial Lectures (Problems of
Knowledge and Freedom, Fontana,
1973), the ‘humanistic conception’.

The second can be termea the
‘behaviourist conception’, although its roots go back to well
before the emergence of behaviourism. The humanistic conception,
whose origins Chomsky locates in
Cartesian philosophy, emphasizes
the complexity of human behaviour
and stresses human freedom and
creativity. Such a view of human
nature is advanced and given substance by work in linguistics.

It also suggests libertarian modes
of social organization. The behaviourist conception, in contrast,
pictures man as an essentially
random and reactive organism.

This conception with all its
authoritarian ideological potential
is undermined by developments in

In the essay ‘Language and Freedom’, Chomsky discusses the
emergence of the humanistic conception in the 18th century and
the role ideas about language
played in its development. He
pays particular attention to
Rousseau and von Humboldt, and
seeks to show how their radical
politics derive from an essentLally Cartesian view of human

In Humboldt’s work the
connections between language and
freedom are especially clear.

For Humboldt, ‘to inquire and
create – these are the centres
around which all human pursuits
moreo-r less directly revolve.’

It is from this standpoint that
Humboldt develops his libertarian
politics. The same view underlies
his work on language. As Chomsky
puts it, language, for Humboldt,
‘i~ a process of free creation;
its laws and principles are fixed,
but the manner in which the
principles of generation are used
is free and infinitely varied’.

This is, of course, very much the
view of language to be found in
Chomsky’s own work.

For all his admiration of
Humboldt, Chomsky is well aware
of the limitations of his thought.

He observes that ‘Humboldt had no
conception of the forms that industrial captialism would take .. ‘.

He did not foresee that “Democracy
with its motto of equality for all
citizens before the law and
liberalism with its right of man
over his own person [would be]
wrecked on the realities of capitalist economy”.’ The quotation
here is from the anarchist Rudolf

It is to the anarchist
tradition and libertarian socialism that Chomsky turns in ‘Notes
on Anarchism’, the preceding essay
in For Reasons of State. Chomsky
has in a number of places indicated
his commitment to some form of
libertarian socialism.

In the
introduction to American Power and
the New Mandarins, for example,
he describes ‘the revival of
anarchist thinking in the “New
Left” and the attempts to put it
into effect’ as ‘the most
promising development of the past
years’. Here he develops this

view further.

He argues that it
is libertarian socialism that
‘has preserved and extended the
radical humanist message of the
Enlightenment and the classical
liberal ideals that were perverted
into an ideology to sustain the
emerging social order’, and goes
on to endorse Daniel Guerin’s
view that ‘the constructive ideas
of anarchism retain their vitality, that they may, when reexamined and sifted, assist contemporarv socialist thouqht to
undertake a new de”parture [and]
contribute to enriching Marxism’.

What is particularly interesting
here is the extent to which
Chomsky’s socialism derives from
liberal premises. He suggests that
‘on the very same assumptions that
led classical liberalism to oppose
the intervention of the state in
social life, capitalist social
relations are also intolerable’.

Chomsky has attacked behaviourist
views of man on many occasions.

He characterises the ideological
content of such views succinctly
in ‘Language and Freedom’ when he
comments that ‘If in fact man is
an indefinitely malleable, completely plastic being, with no
intrinsic needs of a social character, then he is a fit subject for
the “shaping of behaviour” by the
state authority, the corporate
manager, the technocrat, or the
central committee’. He explores
the ideological significance of
behaviourism further in the essay
‘Psychology and Ideology’.

part this is a review of Skinner’s
‘Beyond Freedom and Dignity’.

Chomsky’s criticisms here are
essentially those he made in 1959
in his review of Skinner’S Verbal
Behaviour (reprinted in J A Fador “~
and J J Katz (eds.), The Structure
of Language: Readings in the
Philosophy of Language, 1964).

Skinner, he argues, ‘confuses
science with terminology. He
apparently believes that if he rephrases commonplace ‘mentalistic’

expressions with terminology drawn
from the laboratory study of
behaviour, but deprived of its
precise content, then he has
achieved a scientific analysis of

It would be hard to
conceive of a more striking failure to comprehend even the rudiments of scientific thinking.’

More interesting is Chomsky’s
discussion of Richard Herrnstein’s
argument that American society is
moving towards ‘a stable hereditary meritocracy’. Here the relation between the behaviourist
doctrine that human beings only
act when their actions are reinforced and the capitalist ideologyof ‘incentives’ is particularly clear. As Chomsky notes,
Herrnstein’s conclusions depend
crucially on ‘the assumption that
people labour only for material
gain, for wealth and power, and
that they do not seek interesting
work suited to their abilities that they would vegetate rather



than do such work.’

Since no
argument is offered for this crucial assumption, Herrnstein’s
conclusions cannot be taken very

I have concentrated in this
review on three of the seven essays
in For Reasons of state. These
three deal with some of the most
basic themes in Chomsky’s thought.

They illustrate particularly well
the breadth and originality which
has attracted philosophers to
. Chomsky’ s work. Philosophers are
right, I think, in suspecting that
there are insights here whose
exploration could enrich philosophy.

I doubt, though, whether
the piecemeal approach of analytic
phi’losophy is likely to make much
of such insights. What is needed
is a more systematic approach of
the kind that Radical Philosophy
has sought to foster.

Bob Borsley
and ideology
Len Wincott: In~ergordon Mutineer,
r.eidenfeld and Nicolson, £2.50
The refusal of duty by the whole
Atlantic Fleet at Invergordon in
1931 was unprecedented for a century, and accelerated the final
departure of Great Britain from
the gold standard.

It gave a
great stimulus to the working
class in its state of depression
following upon the collapse of the
National strike in 1926. Invergordon Mutineer by Len Wincott,
recently published by Weidenfeld
and Nicolson, is the most authentic record of the mutiny, now
set down by its first spokesman
and leading participant. So
isolated the Fleet was at Invergordon from any contact with the
press, so sudden and unexpected
was the episode, and so quickly
achieved was its victory, that
the accounts of it at the time
were garbled in the extreme,
having to find their sources in
gossip from the fringes.

that the official records of the
Admiralty are available, these
too only emphasise how completely
they were taken by surprise, and
had to put the best interpretation on events they could.

It is a plain tale which Wincott
tells, and told in a manner that
carries conviction, besides being
corroborated by the testimony of
such surviving witnesses as the
BBC were able to trace, for its
programme on July 25; including
that of the young lieutenant who
confronted Wincott at the time,
and who is now a retired admiral.

Wincott came from Leicester of
a poor working class family, and
was twenty-four years of age,


having been in the Navy since a
boy of sixteen. He had had no
experience of industry, nor of
politics, and did not know that
such a person as Lenin had ever
existed. He was proud of the
Navy and his keenest desire was
to improve his already excellent
record in gunnery. The highest
ambition open to him in his
chosen career was to rise to
become a chief petty officer, and
with this prospect he was content.

He was as surprised by the course
of events as was the Admiralty.

In the economic crisis the
Government had decided to cut the
pay of the three services by
twenty-five per cent, and thi~
was to apply also to the police
and to the teachers. Whilst the
Admiralty had no grounds for
fearing any special disaffection
in the fleet, they thought they
were prudent in taking the fleet
away from contact with centres of
industrial unrest before the cuts
were announced; hence they came
to be at Invergordon.

It was on
Sunday September 13th that the
announcements were posted, and the
seamen learned that their pay of
four shillings per day would henceforward be only three shillings.

Wincott describes the state of
mind of the men as being not so
much of anger as of shock. The
cut was unbelievable, yet there
it was in black and white, and
the unanimity of the men’s reaction throughout the fleet
became evident almost immediately
through the agency of the
Catholic church service.

Anglicans remained upon their own
ships for divine service, but
Catholics from all ships came
together to one place by boat.

On their return they spread a
vague sense of solidarity.

Wincott got the feeling that
the men were looking for a lead
but no-one knew how to give it.

He had served on a Seamen’s
Welfare Committee, and determined
that if no lead came, he himself
would attempt it. When he went
ashore to the canteen he stripped
off such of his badges es would
have helped identificatton.

As the men gathered in the
canteen he jumped on a table, and
asked the question ‘What are we
going to do?’

He went on to contend that they should do what the
miners would do in such a case;
they should go on strike. Assent
was immediate and general, and
Wincott called for one man from
each ship to undertake to consult
his shipmates and return to the
canteen on the morrow with the
result. The men came forward,
and he listed them on the back of
a cigarette packet. From that
point the whole thing went through
with the minimum of doubt or
opposition, so that on the Tuesday morning, as the men were
required to turn to, they gathered
instead on the forecastles, and
set up a great cheer as a signal
to other ships that they had done


On the ‘Norfolk’ a popular
officer addressed the men and
asked what they wanted. Wincott
undertook to supply the men’s
demands in writing, and thereupon
he composed and dictated extempore
to a shipmate with a typewriter
what became known as the ‘Sailors’

Manifesto’. This read:

We, the loyal subjects of His
Majesty the King, do hereby
present to the Lords
Commissioners of the Admiralty
their representation, to implore
them to amend the drastic cuts
in pay which have been inflicted
on the lowest paid men of the
Lower Deck.

It is evident to all concerned
that this cut is the forerunner of tragedy, misery and
immorality amongst the families
of the Lower Deck, and unless a
guaranteed written agreement is
received from the Admiralty, and
confirmed by Parliament, stating
that our pay will be revised, we
are resolved to remain as one
unit, refusing to sail under the
new rates of pay.

The men are quite agreeable to
accept a cut which they cons~der

The Admiralty and the government quickly deferred the cuts
and promised reconsideration.

The men agreed to sail their
ships to their home ports, and
there was to be no victimisation.

Within a week the cut was reduced
to ten per cent, not dnly for the
navy, but also for the other
services, the police, and the

Within a few’weeks, twenty-four
men who had distinguished themselves in the ‘strike’ were dismissed from the service as no
longer required, and Wincott was
among them. His discharge papers
record ‘Ability: excellent.

Conduct: very good’. For weeks
he signed on at Paddington as
unemployed. The only job he could
get was for a short time, peddling
rubbishy products from door to

Inevitably the Communist
Party eventually made contact with
him, and gave him work in a ‘front’

organisation. He was not averse
to being used in unemployed de~on­
strations and in raising money
for strikers. After some months
he joined the party, and in 1934
he ~”as sent to Leningrad to work
in the international seamen’s
club there. He has remained in
the Soviet Union ever since,
having become naturalized as a
Soviet citizen. He and his
Russian wife got permits to visit
this country in July in connection
with the publication of his book
on the mutiny.

It was the first
time for forty years that he had
seen this country.

During his month’s stay here
Wincott was meticulous to observe
the undertaking he had obviously
given that he would confine his
public statements entirely to

matters connected with his book.

It is plain that since 1934 he
must have unclergone remarkab12
experiences. It was known before
he came that he served in Leningrad throughout the famine and
seige; and that in the social
chaos at the end of the war he
was sent to a labour camp. He
did not recover his freedom for
at least nine years during the
stalin period. Since then he has
earned a living in Moscow by
writing for British-Soviet friendship magazines, and by dubbing
films requiring the English
language. Yet to talk to him
after all those years it is extraordinary how he still retains the
bearing and humour of a typically
robust British seaman.

It was alleged at the time, as
it always is in such cases, that
the mutiny was the work of ‘s~lb­
versive elements’, reds, politically motivated men; and the
Communist Party was only too
~ag~r to take the credit.

Wincott knew otherwise, and he
pokes fun at the Communist Party,
which so eagerly deputed two of
its members to make contact with
the sailors who did not know one
end of a ship from the other, and
who fell easily for the stool
pigeon the Admiralty set in their
path. The mutiny was not a
planned conspiracy: it was an act
of pure proletarian spontaneity,
of which l’lincott was, and still
is, an exemplar. Robustly class
conscious, he was aware instinctively that thefofficers were part
of the ruling class for whom the
lower deck rating was a dumb tool
and no more. His summing up of
British politics, then and now,
ts this: in the 1930s a typical
Liberal or a Tory spoke with Cin
Oxford accent, whilst a Labour
man spoke with the accents of the
people. Today, the accents of
all three are usually alike.

Wincott has a contempt for
academic and student ‘lefts’, for
‘Bloomsbury types’, and for
educated defectors like Philby,
Burgess and ~1aclean. He regards
them as mostly ineffectual people
who like to toy with ideas without knowing “‘hat is really
involved. He professes that with
advancing years he has come to
look upon ~Jhat life brings more
contemplativelv, and he has a
touch of sardonic cynicism, to
the effect that he says that
people only throw off one boss
to take on another. But as one
talks to him it is plain that
this attitude is out of character.

lIe regrets no step he has taken,
and in similar circumstances
would act in the same way again
(as far as the severe angina he
suffers from would permit him).

There has been a good deal of
discussion in Radical Philosoph~,
lately, on ‘ideologies’, the
‘self-emancipation of the proletariat’, and the like. This

goes on interminably in an
extremely rarified atmosphere of
abstraction. It would be a salutary thing if these questions
were to be brought down a little
more often into relation with
concrete contemporary or historical instances. The Invergordon
mutiny is a case in point. The
episode was one of pure proletarian consciousness and instinctive
spontaneity. The material circumstances and class relations
forced upon the sailors an action
drastically in conflict with the
bourgeois ideology in which we
all live and have our being, and
which, in normal circumstances we
absorb with every breath we take.

The young man Wincott was a
typical and most suitable candidate for his instinctive proletarian consciousness to be developed into a systematic proletarian
ideology, thus making him an
emancipated working man. In him
the circumstances had broken down
all resistance to it, and he
willingly accepted the approaches
of the Communist Party. Within
two years he em’igrated to work in
the one country where the initial
political revolution had taken
place. .For forty years he has
lived there, his proletarian
instinct unsullied, and yet quite
unassimilated into a developed
ideology. Yet surely he should
be an exemplar of it if the
criterion is ‘the stopped
assembly line’, the ‘authority
mocked’, and the ‘mass fightback’, as Ranciere quotes from
.11 thus ser. He remains as he was,
with reactions almost entirely
personal and concrete. He came
into conflict in Stalin’s Russia
as he did here. When it was
suggested to him that he was a
natural non-conformist, he replied
that, no, he was Church of
England. l’Vflen he was asked what
his ambition would have been, had
things turned out otherwise than
they did, he said that he would
have hoped to become a petty
officer in the best navy in the
world, which this country had
made its greatest mistake in
running down.

This apparently admirable candidate remains as little of the
emancipated proletarian there as
here. Surely there are some
conclusions to be drawn from
this, and phenomena for our
theorizinq to illuminate.


Marxism versus
Shaw; Marxism Versus
Sociology: a guide to reading,


Pluto Press, £0.90 pb ISBN
o 902818 44 9, £2.70 hc ISBN
o 902818 45 7

Martin Shaw has produceq an
annotated bibliography designed
primarily for sociology students
attempting to develop a marxist
critique of their discipline.

The references are selected and
organised in relation to the
conventional sociological categories, with the emphasis on
analysis, and ultimately rejection
of these categories. There is an
important role for this kind of
guide, and it will no doubt be
used and welcomed by many students.

However, Shaw’s book highlights
some of the general problems of
reading guides. He makes no claim
to academic ‘impartiality’; he
sees it as a ‘partisan guide’ for
the student who is ‘taking sides
against capitalist society’, and
thus his assessment of the various
books and articles is presumably
in terms of his ideas of politica~ correctness.

But since he
refuses to elaborate his own
conception of Marxism – beyond
quoting Engels’ definition: ‘the
doctrine of the conditions of the
liberation of the proletariat’ the basis of his judgements may
remain obscure to many students.

Thus, for example, the student is “”.1
warned of M. Nicolaus’ ‘maoist
quirks’, but given no explanation
of what Shaw understands by
Maoism; he is told which analyses
are the ‘most adequate’ or
‘crucial’ within a particular
field, but often without a hint
of the reasons for this acclaim.

This kind of shorthand may be
vaJia in the context of a group, whose members
share and understand certain
common assumptions, but in a book
which aims at all thOSE: students
taking sides against capitalism
(a pretty varied lot), it reads
as a somewhat disingenuous evasion
of contemporary debates wi thi.n

Anne Phillips

Subscribe 10



Finding the
Feminist Past
Alice S Rossi, ed. The Feminist
Papers, Bantam Inc. 60p pb
Columbia UP £6.76 hc; Werner

The Emancipation of
Women. The Rise and Decline of
the Womens Movement in German
Social Democracy 1863-1933, Pluto


Press £1.50 pb £3.75 hc.

Three or four years ago it was
possible to suppose that the
history of feminist thought consisted, more or less, of
Wollestonecraft, Mill and the
suffrage movement. But this sort
of list is not just very incomplete,
it is also misleading because it
gives an unbalanced picture of the
social and political milieu in
which feminism has prospered; it
stresses the liberal, middle-class
associations and underplays the
radical and working class association~. The only reasonably balanced
brief history of women’s reaction
to their oppression seems to be
Sheila Rowbotham’s Hidden from
History (pluto Press), which covers
the period from the 17th c. to the
-1930s. Because of its scope,
r~owbotham’s book cannot do much
more than indicate many areas of
theoretical development, and she
has confined herself to a basically British perspective.

However it is a very useful
preliminary guide to placing the
more detailed material which is
gradually being researched and

But The Feminist Papers (ed.

Rossi), which is supposed – at
least by its publishers – to be
a ‘comprehensive’ selection of
feminist texts, is not a useful
preliminary guide at all.

It has
a very American bias, but this is
not the problem (it would be
exciting to have an American
counterpart to Hidden from History)
– the problem is the enormous
predominance given to one small
group of feminists who were
associated with the women’s rights
movement which was initiated in
Seneca Falls in 1848 and had its
roots in the evangelical abolitionist, temperance movements. The
writings of these women – described
by Rossi as ‘moral crusaders’ make up a large central part of the
book, and around them are scattered,
in a haphazard sort of way, various
other writers whom, for a variety
of reasons, one might want to call

Because the ‘moral
crusaders’ were a small’and fairly
closely knit group, their works
are presented in a way that makes
their social and political background fairly evident; this tends
to make their presence in the book
even more powerful, and this is a
little odd because their importance
is really in their initiation of


the women’s civil rights movement
in America. Theoretically, they
seem a little eccentric and weak
nerved. But the organisation of
the book is such that they present
a solid and united front against a
lucky dip of eminent liberals,
anarchists, Marxists, Utopians etc.

However, this book is useful for
providing some sources which were
not easily available before (e.g.

more Frances Wright than I have
come across in any other anthology), and it is a very useful
study of the early days of the
American women’s civil rights
movement which was then essentially
a suffrage movement.

sadly, it is
largely a story of insights which
get lost, and conclusions which
fail to get drawn.

of this, is the way in which they

possible for them to question
accustomed notions of marriage
and sexuality and look forward to
more human relations between men
and women. For the Seneca Falls
crowd this was not on, not even in
their wildest fantasies.

In consequence, in their personal reactions
many rejected marriage and theoretically they looked towards an
’emancipated’ wife as a pure
creature who will ‘raise’ her

I can think of no reason
at all for taking this to be’ a
feminist conception.

What the publishers of The
Feminist Papers would cosily like
to think is that the conservatism
of such women is actually An
aspect of their feminism, or a
type of feminism:

In these pages we meet religious
women as well as atheists;
conservative moralists as well
as radicals; women in deep
rebellion from their families
and society as well as women in
comfortable happy circumstances.

There are calls not only for
political rights, but also for
economic, sexual, educational
and reproductive liberation. The
variety of lives and circumstances
and styles of feminist effort is

Since its-such-a-funny-mixed-upthere’s no
need trying to look for any consistent theory or above all thinking you can change things too much.


Another publishers whose views on
feminism are to be approached with
caution are Pluto Press, who should
know better. Their blurb to
Th~nnessen’s study of feminism
within the SPD is patronisingly

Illustration from the cover of
The EmanCipation of Women, reviewed
in this issue.

keep letting the opposition draw
up the lines of argument; so, for
example, they keep getting bogged
down in arguments about the
‘natural’ inferiority of women.

Though Antoinette Brown Blackwell
takes on Darwin himself with great
skill, even she concedes a
different (but, of course, equal)
mental nature to women and men:

He was emphatically a logician;
she had quick perceptive powers.

The one was a strong man, the
other a strong woman. [p372]
The tendency to sentimentalise
women is something of a blight upon
the group. Possibly this reflects
the lack of any realistic vision of
emancipation for women. For
example, some earlier feminists had
been associated with groups or
individuals with whom it was

Nearly all of the problems posed
by women’s liberation today were
discussed politically in the
German labour movement at the
turn of the century. T~nnessen’s
book – the first major study to
appear in English – is a careful
record of these discussions. It
also records the non-solutions
accepted at the time by socialist

T~nnessen warns of the dangers
of token equality which is all
that capitalism can offer.

[their emphasis]

Have you got the message?

existence of women’s liberation
today seems to be the greatest
problem which it poses for some
sections of the British left.

However, the blurb is fortunately
quite misleading about both the
tone and the emphasis of
Th~nnessen’s book.

ThBnnessen records are the
struggles of feminists within
the SPD, above all Clara Zetkin,
to develop a theory of socialist
feminism appropriate to the
situation of the – German and
international – workinq class

movement in the late 19th and
early 20th centuries. This
project was seriously threatened,
first by what Th~nnessen calls
‘proletarian anti-feminists’ and,
later, by anti-feminist, antiMarxist ‘moderates’ within the
SPD. The later attack was in fact
so successful that hy the end of
the first world war the SPD rump
had virtually lost all its most
competent women and feminists to
the communist splinter group;
Clara zetkin apnears to have been
hounded out of the SPD and was to
become the organiser and leader of
the international women’s communist

Proletarian anti-feminism, that
is, antagonism to feminis~ on the
part of men within the working-class
movement, was clominant in the German
working class movement in the
heginning of the perincl dealt with
by Th6nnessen, being particularly
favourecl by the then-influential
Lasalleans. I~ldinq that the
position of women could only he
improved through the position of
men, the Lasalleans fought strenuously to maintain women in their
‘sphere’ – that is, the home, and
Certain occunatinns where they did
not compete for ‘men’s johs’. These
ideas were initially countered by
simnle clemands for equal treatment
for women; in 1866, high-minded
demands for
the equal rights and equal status
v/hich must be earned by serious
work amonq serious work-mates.


IIowever, all that this could
realistically mean at the time was
the dropping of restrictions on
wOien entering ‘men’s johs’. Given
the particular vulnerability ofr
working-class women to exploitation, it required some vision to
see such cheap drudges as liherated.

Therefore an emphasis on the need
for special protection for female
workers was combined with a recognition that although full participation of women in the labour
market was by no means liberation
itself, it was a condition of
their being in a position to

In effect, this meant
leaving hehind a simple definition
of women’s emancipation in terms
of ‘equality’. However central
the equality of men and women might
be to the eventual socialist reality, fighting for the emancipation
of women meant viewing women
workers as a very special case.

This sort of argument brought
Zetkin and others into conscious
opposition to the bourgeois feminism which had been their own
starting point.

I suspect that
the Pluto blurb writer may want to
apply the critique of bourgeois
feminism developed by Zetkin and
others to the mass of the modern
women’s moVement. But My impression
is that many of Zetkin’s arguments
have now been arrived at by most
contemporary feminists.

anyone who could still believe that

the granting of civil rights and
legal guarantees of ‘opportunities’

immediately brought liberation would
be out there enjoying their freedom
of competition, instead of bothering to clear up a few remaining
anomalies. Both the tendency to
regard civil rights as a weapon,
rather than an end in itself, and
the emphasis on special rights for
women to counter their special
disadvantages seem to be in the
spirit of Zetkin. Of course the
modern women’s movement is not
unambiguously socialist, but it
is certainly not a 19th-century
type bourgeois movement, and cannot
be accused of class bias on the
grounds of characteristics it
doesn’t own.

I suppose that the ‘socialist
women’ the blurb writer wishes to
reprimand are the anti-feminists
who again became influential in
the SPD after the·split with the
Communists, though, as Th6nnessen
makes clear, this group did contain
a fair number of men.

there were some women left, such
as Frau Dr Schofer, who discovered
the next best sphere to home:

Woman is the born guardian and
protectress of human life; that
is why social work must seem so
very appropr ia te to her. Bl]
allocating to women the task of
guarding over human life we
simultaneously provide a posit_ive
answer to the question whether
women have a task in politics
at all.


Th6nnessen remarks that this idea
of giving women the social work
appealecl to the Nazis also.

Th~nnesson’s book is both careful
and enthusiastic, and very important
for anyone interested in the development of socialist feminism.

far as I can discover, there is no
other book in English which studies
the SPD women’s movement, Clara
Zetkin, or the feminist-Marxist
paper which she edited, Die Gleichheit.

Nor do any ~f Zetkin’s
writings seem to be available in
English, except for her short
reminiscence of Lenin, ‘Lenin on
the Nomen Question’. August
Bebel’s Woman under Socialism, a
product of and influence on SPD
feminism, is available (Schocken
Books, pb £2.00).



Eric Aarons, Philosophy for an
Exploding World, Brolga Books,
Sydney Australia, 1972, $A 1.95.

No-one doubts, apparently, that
we live in times of unimaginable

Once realised, this
seems to affect people in different ways – some go mad, some
write books about it, and some do
both. A striking example of this
latter would be Alvin Toffler,

whose opus Future Shock (Pan
Books, 1971) is, arguably, the
classic of its genre. For those
unfamiliar with the style, it
contains many fascinating facts,

In England, architect Cedric
Price has designed what he calls
a ‘thinkbelt’ – an entirely
mobile university intended to
serve 20,000 students in North
Staffordshire. [p61]

co-ordinated by fatuous rubbish,

We close doors, wear sunglasses,
avoid smelly places and shy away
from touching strange surfaces
when we want to decrease novel
sensory input. [p339J

Now Eric Aarons is, I hasten to
add, nowhere near this class, but
there are, in his book, some
similar unfortunate tendencies.

Toffler argues that it is the
present rate, not the kind, of
change, that is crucial, and that
it is making us ill:

Future shock is the dizzying
disorientation brought on by the
premature arrival of the future.


But Aarons sees this degree of
change, not so much as pathogenic,
but rather as the foundation of
‘Today’s Values Revolution’

(this is the subtitle of his
book) :

Associated with the turmoil and
change of our century there is
already a groundswell of new
thinking – the kind of revolution of attitudes and ideas that
has accompanied and prompted
every major social change in
history. [p7-8J


Aarons asserts:

There is mounting evidence that
a revolution in thinking, and,
perhaps more important, a revolution in feeling is taking place
in industrially developed
societies. [pll )

But to carry any conviction this
claim must be supported by close
examination of this ‘evidence’.

Unfortunately this we do not get.

Aarons mentions three major areas
of this ‘values revolution’: race
or nationality, Women’s Liberation,
and self-management. One needs a
remarkably good imagination to
see, in the advanced i.ndustrial
countries at this moment, the
start of even this theoretical
kind of revolution, against racism
or in favour of workers’ management.

So I think Aarons feels
happier with.the example of
Womens Liberation:

… a revolutionary factor of
great importance because it is
doing so much to bring about the
transformation of values necessary for the making of a social
revolution. [p18]

Yet, just from the point of view
of values, the example of Womens



Liberation could be taken to make
quite an opposite point.

comparative ease, for instance,
with which the ~edia have assi~il­
ated it by turning it into so~e­
thing a little absurd and quite
harmless called “,’iomens Lib’,
might suggest the i~possibility
of any values revolution being
prior to a political or economic

lie also mentions, in a footnote,
the well-known journal, nadica1
Philosophy, and, though it isn’t
ouite clear from the context, 1
think he must regard it as symIJtomatic of his values revolution.

Hut has it turned out to be more
than just any other kind of
academic journal – though catering
this time for unhappy rather than
happy professional nhilosophers?

See, tor example, the editorial
corrunent on this in the Summer 1973
edition (No.S).

For cl final piece of evidence,
we get down, as usual, to the
street corner:

11eatniks, hippies, dropouts,
surfies may not be models of
the rounded men and women of the
future, but their rejection of
such false values symptomizes
in some wa ys the growth of
revolution. [p24J
This particular example shows
rm~st clearly the fundamental weakness of Aarons’ position.

course, once one accepts such a
theory as his, confirmations
abound: unfortunately so many
theories can be thus confirmed.

Toffler, also, has a place for
those society rejects –

The quiet.ism and search for new
ways to ‘opt out’ or ‘cop out’

that characterizes certain (though
not all) hippies may be less
motivated by their loudly expressed aversion for the values
of a tecimo1ogica1 civilisation
than by an unconscious effort to
escape from a pace of life that
many find intolerable.

It is
no coincidence that they describe
society as a ‘rat-race’ – a term
that refers quite specifically
to pacing. [p44-5J
And, if you remember that man
Marcuse The reign of such a one-dimensional reality does not mean
that materialism rules, and that
the spiritual, metaphysical,
and bohemian occupations are
petering out. On the contrary,
there is a great deal of ‘rvorship
together this week’, ‘rvhy not
try God’, Zen, existentialism,
and beat ways of life, etc.

such modes of protest and transcendence are no longer contradictory to the status quo and
no longer negative.

They are
rather the ceremonial part of
practical behaviourism, its
harmless negati~n, and are
quickly digested by the status
quo as part of its healthy

[One-Dimensional Man,
Sphere Books, 1970, p28J


So the apparent factual support
for such theories evaporates.

As long as the theory remains
vague and the ‘evidence’ is not
examined in too much detail, the
theory can explain it; in fact
it can explain pretty well everything.

But so can other such

Our hippies, beatniks
etc have not the status of evidence but are merely illustrations.

If we reMain on this
level it just becomes a matter
of taste whether one chooses
optimisM (Aarons), nessimism
(~arcuse), or delirium (Toffler).

Now it might be claimed, in
Aarons’ defence, that his little
book is in~ended, as he says in
the introduction, to be a ‘ …

non-academic and non-specialist

Certainly it must be
difficult in practice to write
a short introductory or general

And among the major
defects of academia and specialisation, mystification and
a~tention to detail for its own
sake must surely rank highly
But attempting to write with
some (mythical) ‘general’ reader
in mind – in Aarons’ case ‘ …

anyone feeling concern for the
present condition and prospects
of humanity … ‘ [p9J – is to be
avoided if it means confining
oneself to more or less vague
generalities and eschewing
necessary detail.

If you think
you have something important to
say you must, it seems to me,
take a chance on someone being
willing to make the necessary
effort to read it.

I want to
mention one further criticism,
also, I think, of a fundamental

Aarons, like many others
before him, is keen to avoid any
suspicion of economic determinism.

:n reality, he says, there is

It is
a matter of overcoming what
is, at the hands of most marxists
the traditional philosophical
relegation of consciousness to a
subordinate and determined position, and of emphasising both
the inti0ate interaction of all
facets and the need to concretely
analyse the unique situation we
are in today. [p127J

Thus he places himself in that
distinguished tradition, beginning with Engels,.who showed him-~
self an enthusiast for ‘inter-‘

action’ in ; famous series of
letters to Bloch, Schmidt,
Mehring, and Starkenburg 1890-94.

This represents an essentially
‘philosophical’ retreat from
~arx’s standpoint, and, judging
by his disclaimer at the end of
the relevant section of his
letter to Starkenburg, Engels
wasn’t too happy with it either.

Let me briefly suggest what might
be wrong, with reference to
another influential 19th century
philosophical movement Pragmatism.

It is vital to distinguish Marx’s
attitude to philosophy from that

of, say, Dewey.

It is well known
that bott stress the primacy of
action, oppose ‘contemplative’

accounts of knowledge etc; but,
in the end it is these similarities that make the difference so

Ivhere Dewey, remaining the philosopher, writes of
abstract man and his abstract
actions – he oscillates between
the models of man as craftsman and
man as experimentalist – Marx is

He considers man under
a particular mode of economic organization, e.g. capitalism.

It is
capitalism, not Marx, that has
represented real social relations
between men as ‘objective’ economic relations, beyond their control.

Either one’s activities
serve to perpetuate capitalism in
all its dehumanizing etc aspects,
– then one should, more properly
be seen as reacting – or else they
aim to transform it:

The coincidence of the chanqing
of circumstances and of human
activity or self-changing can
only be grasped and rationally
understood as revolutionary

[Thesis on Feuerbach IIIJ
For ~arx, philosophy, as critique
of ideology, must come round to
criticizing itself.

It recognizes
its own~mpotence and realises
itself. in revolutionary practice.

(This is the meaning of the oftquoted 11th thesis on Feuerbach.)
For Dewey, philosophy recognises
itself as omnipotent:


Philosophy recovers itself when
it ceases to be a device for
dealing with the problems of
philosophers a,nd becomes a
method, cultivated by philosophers, for dealing with the
problems of men.

[The Need for a Recovery of
Philosophy, p66-7J
Philosophy, as he sees it, must
realise itself within philosophy
– as philosophy of education,
which Dewey calls ‘ultimately
the most significant phase of
philosophy’ .

So, on the one hand, we have
philosophy leading to socialist
revolutionism; on the other, to
liberal reformism.

Either man’s
freedom is limited by the relations of production; they must
be transformed to realise it or, the relation of production
are limited by man’s freedom,
he must be educated to change

Now Aarons’ view of philosophy
is Dewey’s, not Marx’s:

‘” i f we are to interact
profitably with the historical
situation in which we find
ourselves, we must base our
values and the actions that
spring from them on the solid
ground of an adequate philosophy. [p9J
His notion of ‘interaction’ is
non-specific and totally lacking
in explanatory power.

On central

issues, in fact, Aarons and Dewey
are interchangeable. Dewey expresses Aarons’ main problem as

The problem of restoring integration and co-operation between
man’s beliefs about the world in
which he lives and his beliefs
about the values and purposes
that should direct his conduct is
the deepest problem of modern
life. It is the problem of any
philosophy that is not isolated
from that life.

(The Quest for Certainty, New
York, 1929, p255J
Aarons capture’s in a line Dewey’ s
emphasis on the philosophy of
education, when he asserts
To change the school, is to
change society. [p22J
So where does that leave Aarons?

We are facing him with that
dilemma which socialists are duty
bound to take seriously – reform
or revolution? – and he looks to
be firmly impaled on the wrong
prong. However much a socialist
might disagree with ~arx, one
would expect his even more total
opposition to such as Dewey.

I dare say Aarons has a ready
answer to my criticism, but,
whatever this is, it isn’t readily
derivable from the book. There
are passages where he appears not
insensitive to possible allegations of reformism If all great social changes
involve, and in a’ sense are
brought about by, a revolution
in philosophy and values .•.

this would have a great bearing
on the conceived model of
revolution. (p151J
On the same page there is just
a hint that he might think the
issue to have been superseded yet another consequence – apparently, of contemporary society’s
incredible rate of change. But
even if it were possible to remain
simply on the level of values,
some similar problem would still
arise. Aarons nowhere indicates
how one is to distinguish a
values-revolutionary, like himself, from a values-reformist
(whatever that might turn out to
be). And, of course, it isn’t
possible to remain just on the
level of values, for, whatever
else values might do, they must,

sooner or later, result in

In conclusion, let me mention a
few things in the book’s favour.

It is easy to read. This encourages the reader to have a few
thoughts of his own along the way,
instead of, as too often happens,
having to expend all his mental
energy on just trying to understand what the author is on about.

Also, and to his eternal credit,
he neither mentions Lukacs’nor
Gramsci, and Korsch only gets a
few lines in a footnote. Apart
from this the book is recommended
mainly for some good quotations he
has dug out. My favourite is the
anguished cry of the Philosophy
Lecturer, in a letter to the
Sydney Morning Herald There has been a noticeable
decline in the ability of
philosophers to distinguish
between what is philosophical
and what is not ..•
[quoted p34J

Rob Gill

Summer school in Korcula


Last August, I participated, as
an invited contributor, in the
tenth annual Korcula Summer
School, sponsored by the Yugoslavian Philosophical Association.

It was my second such participation in the school, the first
having been in 1971.

I shall attempt to relate, with
all possible brevity, some of
the principal significances of
this gathering under the following headings: Recent historical
background; Socio-politica1
import; Theoretical orientation;
Aftermath and conclusion.

I want immediately to stress I cannot do so enough – that
post-war Yugoslavian philosophy
has by no means been monolithic,
and that in fact the view that
it has been so is one of the
most detrimental misconceptions
of the Yugoslavian scene that
have been prevalent among
American radicals. For one thing,
the non-Marxist contemporary
philosophical currents that have
affected the style and thought of
some of the best-known figures in
Yugoslavian philosophy have
differed greatly; to indulge in
a gross over-generalization for
brevity’s sake, it could be said
that the Zagreb philosophers,
such as Gajo Petrovic, have on
the whole paid more attention to
recent Continental philosophy,
whereas Anglo-American currents
have been somewhat more influen-

tial in the formation of some of
the Belgrade philosophers, such
as Mihailo Markovic and Svetozer
stojanovic. As a matter of fact,
the post-war burgeoning of Yugoslavian philosophy as an important, internationally-recognized
phenomenon was only made possible
by the fact that, as I have already noted, a certain degree of
diversity of thought came to be
regarded as healthy and desirable
in Yugoslavia dUring the 1950’s
and 1960’s. On the other hand,
certain traits were common to all
the figures who dominated the
Yugoslavian philosophical scene
during this time and still dominate it up to the present: a deep
interest in the thought of Marx,
combined with the view that
Marxism required re-thinking in
light of the new social and
economic situations of the midtwentieth century: a strong belief that philosophy, to be at
all valuable, should be deesotericized and applied to
current social problems, though
not at the expense of rigorousness of thought or with a loss
of a sense of the history of
philosophy; and a commitment to
abetting the development of a
more fully socialist society in
Yugoslavia, a task in which the
philosophers could best play some
part by calling critical attention to evidences of opposite

Although the above catalogue may
read like an idealization, I do
not consider it to be at odds
with the gross historical facts.

Documentation of them is readily

available, among other places,
in articles that have appeared
over the years in the philosophical journal, Praxis, published under the auspices of the
Serbo-Croatian (now Yugoslavian)
Philosophical Association. The
same general rationale lay behind
the establishment of the Korcula
Summer School. One additional,
~ /
but perfectly obvious, consideration should be noted: the postwar Yugoslavian philosophers have
been very anxious to share their
insights and activities with
like-minded, or even potentially
like-minded, foreigners. Thus,
the International Edition of
Praxis has enjoyed a wide circulation, and the Korcula Summer
School attracted intellectuals
from both the political ‘West’

and the political ‘East’ – at
least until 1968.

In retrospect, that year can be
seen as the single most important
turning point. Intellectual retrenchment was already proceeding
apace in the USSR and other Warsaw
Pact countries. However, prominent
younger philosophers from at least
one of those countries, Hungary,
were still in attendance at the
1968 Korcula sessions, which were
under way when the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia took place.

The members of the School formulated an official protest. The
Hungarians returned home early,
never since to go back to Korcula;
in their own country, they have
been the victims of a still-ongoing repression (censure, deprivation of passports,’ cessation of
contacts with students, and even-



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