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Herbert Marcuse

Industrialization and Capitalism

The vision of industrialization and capitalism in the work of Max Weber is


questionable in two respects: his view of them as the historical destiny of the
West, and as the present destiny of the Germany created by Bismarck. Weber
believed them to be the destiny of the West because they were the decisive
realizations of that Western rationality, the idea of Reason, which he searched for
everywhere, in all its open and hidden, progressive and regressive, manifesta-
tions. He believed them to be the destiny of Germany because for him they
determined the policy of the Reich: the historical vocation of the German
bourgeoisie to overthrow the conservative and feudal State, to democratize the
nation, and then to fight against revolution and socialism. It is essentially this
idea of the interdependence of industrialism, capitalism and national self-
preservation which inspired Weber’s passionate and—it cannot too often be
said—malevolent struggle against the socialist attempts of 1918. Socialism con-
tradicted the idea of Western Reason and the idea of the Nation-State—there-
fore it was a world-historical error, if not a world-historical crime1. For what-
ever else capitalism meant to mankind, it must first of all, before any evaluation,
be understood as necessary Reason.
3
In Max Weber’s analysis of industrial capitalism, philosophical,
sociological, historical and political elements are indissolubly fused.
His theory of an internally value-free science revealed itself as what in
practice it was: an attempt to ‘free’ science for the acceptance of binding
values whose source lay outside science. The function of Weber’s theory
of science was clear from his inaugural address at Freiburg onwards—
an address in which he openly and unblenchingly subordinated his
value-free economics to the demands of imperial power-politics. He
later expressed himself quite unambiguously, at the meeting of the
Verein für Sozial Politik in 1909: ‘The reason why I denounce with
such extraordinary fervour on every occasion—with a certain pedantry
peculiar to me—the confusion between “ought” and “is”, is not be-
cause I undervalue the problem of the “ought”, but just the opposite:
because I cannot bear problems of world-shaking importance, of im-
mense ideal proportions, in a sense the highest problems that can move
a human being—I cannot bear these problems being turned into a
technical “question of productivity”, and discussed here as if they
were within the province of a specialist discipline like economics.’2

The problems of value, of ‘ought’, that are thus separated from science
(as a mere specialist discipline), are at the same time protected from
science and sealed off from scientific criticism. From the evidence of
scientific work ‘the value of any ideal can never be deduced’.3 It is
precisely Max Weber’s analysis of industrial capitalism that shows,
however, that the idea of scientific neutrality, or rather impotence, in
relation to values and ideals, is untenable. The pure, value-free,
philosophical-sociological conception becomes in its own development a
critique of values; and conversely pure, value-free scientific concepts
reveal their own hidden valuations—they become a critique of the
given in the light of what the given inflicts on man and things. The
‘ought’ reveals itself in the ‘is’. The inexhaustible dynamism of the
concept brings it into the open. In the most value-free of all Max
Weber’s works, Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft, a veritable bacchanalia of
formal definition, classification and typology, formalism itself becomes
the most concrete of contents. This authentic concreteness is the result
of Weber’s mastery of his huge mass of material, his erudition (which
would be impossible today) and his intelligence—which gave him a
capacity for abstraction based on a constant discrimination between the
essential and the inessential, the reality and the appearance. Weber’s
formal theory achieves with its abstract concepts what anti-theoretical,
pseudo-empirical sociology strives after in vain: a true definition of
reality. The concept of industrial capitalism in Weber’s works becomes
concrete in his formal theory of rationality and domination—the two
fundamental themes of Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft.

Let us try to set out, first of all, the connection between capitalism,
rationality and domination in Weber’s thought. It can be summed up
1
We may allow ourselves to wonder what Weber would have said if he had seen that
it was not the West but the East which was to unfold the most extreme forms of
Western rationality, in the name of socialism?
2
Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Soziologie und Sozialpolitik, Tübingen (Mohr) 1924, p. 419.
3
Ibid, p. 402.

4
in its most general form as follows. The specifically Western idea of
Reason is incarnated in a system of intellectual and material culture (an
economy, a technology, a science, an art, a way of life) that achieves its
fullest development in industrial capitalism. This system tends towards
a specific type of domination, that is the destiny of the present epoch—
total bureaucracy. The idea of Reason, as Western rationality, is the
fundamental, linking concept. We shall begin with it.

Formal Rationality

For Max Weber, there is a kind of rationality that has only come into
existence in the West, which formed or helped to form capitalism, and
which will decide our foreseeable future. The attempt to seize the
manifold (and often contradictory) manifestations of this rationality
makes up a large part of Weber’s work. The ‘spirit of capitalism’, as he
describes the first volume of his Sociology of Religion, is one of these
manifestations: already the preface to this work indicates program-
matically that the rationality which becomes incarnate in capitalism
distinguishes the Western form of industrialization fundamentally from
all other forms of economy and technology.

The characteristic elements of Weber’s concept of reason were:


(1) progressive mathematization of all experience and knowledge,
spreading from its spectacular successes in the natural sciences to the
conquest of the social sciences and then to the very way of life itself;
(2) insistence on the necessity of rational experiment and rational proof
in the organization of science and life; (3) constitution and consolida-
tion of a universal, specially trained organization of officials, that tends
towards ‘an absolutely inescapable control over our entire existence’.4
This last was for Max Weber the crucial result of the whole develop-
ment. His definition of it effects the transition from theoretical to
practical and historical reason. Weber’s concept of reason initially
contained a consciousness of its specific historicity. We shall see that in
the course of Weber’s analysis this consciousness weakens, and finally
abdicates any decisive position. In his sociology, formal rationality be-
comes indivisibly capitalist rationality: it appears as the imposition of a
systematic discipline on the irrational ‘desire for gain’, and its typical
expression becomes the ‘inner-wordly asceticism’ of puritanism. In this
discipline, Western Reason becomes economic reason—the drive for
ever-renewed profit in the continuous capitalist enterprise. Rationality
becomes the condition of profitability, which in turn is oriented towards
systematic, methodical calculation, ‘capital accounting.’5
At the root of this rationality is the abstraction which is a theoretical and
practical product of the new scientific and social organization, the
abstraction which defines the period of capitalism: the reduction of
quality to quantity. This universal functionalization, which takes the
economic form of exchange value, becomes the precondition of cal-
culable efficiency—universal efficiency, in so far as functionalization
4 Preface to the first volume of the Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Religions-soziologie,

Tübingen (Mohr), 1920, p. 1 ff.


5 Ibid, pp. 4–5.

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allows domination over all particularities, and their reduction to
quantities and exchange values. Abstract reason becomes concrete in a
calculable and calculated domination over nature and man. Thus
Weber’s conception of reason reveals itself as technical reason: the pro-
duction and transformation of physical and human material by a
regulated, scientific apparatus, constructed to realize a predictable
efficiency. The rationality of this apparatus organizes and controls
things and men, factories and bureaucracies, work and leisure alike.
Controls for what purpose? Weber’s conception of reason has hitherto
remained formal: the quantification and abstraction of all particularities,
which makes possible the universal, predictable efficiency of the
apparatus of capitalism. Now, however, the limits of formal reason are
revealed: neither the aim of scientific-technical construction, nor the
content of this construction (its subject and object) can be deduced from
it. They spring from a domain that is prior to formal, value-free reason.
In capitalist rationality, as Max Weber analyses it, these prior elements,
which delimit the content of reason, appear as two historical facts:
(1) Provision for human needs—the aim of the economy—is realized
within the framework of privately calculated possibilities of gain, that is to
say, the profit of the individual entrepreneur or enterprise.
(2) The existence of men is therefore dependent on the profit opportuni-
ties of capitalist enterprise—a dependence that is incarnated in the ‘free
labour’ which is at the disposal of the entrepreneur.
These facts are assumed as given by Weber’s conception of formal
reason. But they are historical facts, and as such they limit the general
validity of his conception. Weber thought that capitalist rationality was
intrinsically linked to the private firm: the entrepreneur was a free
person, fully responsible for his calculations and his risks. The entre-
preneur is, in fact, a bourgeois, and the bourgeois way of life finds its
characteristic expression in ‘inner-wordly asceticism’.
Is this conception still valid? Does the bourgeoisie which Weber saw
as the vector of industrial development still play the same role in late
capitalism? Is late-capitalist rationality still an inner-worldly ascetic-
ism? I think that the answer must be ‘no’. The climax of capitalist
rationality abolishes and supersedes the forms attributed to it by
Weber; and with their abolition, the reason of capitalist industrializa-
tion appears in a new light—in the light of its irrationality. To take only
one example: ‘inner-worldly asceticism’ is no longer a motive force in
late capitalism—it has become rather a fetter on the evolution of the
system. Keynes denounced it as such, and in the ‘affluent society’ it is a
danger wherever it stands in the way of the production and consump-
tion of superfluous goods. Of course, late-capitalism is also built on
‘denial’: the struggle for existence and the exploitation of labour must
become ever more intense, so that expanding accumulation may still be
possible. Planned obsolescence, methodical anti-reason become social
necessities. This is no longer the traditional way of life of the bour-
geoisie, as the class which develops society’s productive forces—it is
the advent of productive destruction and total administration. The
calculation of mathematical profitability and efficiency celebrates its
greatest triumphs in the calculation of annihilation—the chance of
6
one’s own destruction against the chance of destroying the enemy.

Bad application of reason, or its inner social development?

A bad application is an inherent possibility of this reason. A science


which declares itself ‘neutral’ and ‘not competent’ to judge what ought
to be, subserves the social powers which do determine what ought to be
—and what is.

In the development of capitalist rationality, then, irrationality becomes


reason—reason as the furious development of productivity, the plun-
dering of nature, the increase of the stock of goods (and their availability
to broader strata of the population). This reason is irrational because
higher productivity, domination of nature, and social wealth become
destructive forces—destructive not merely metaphorically, in the sale
of so-called higher cultural values, but literally: the struggle for
existence intensifies within the nation-states and between them.
Dammed up aggression overflows in the legitimation of medieval
cruelty (torture) and in the scientifically planned extermination of men.

Did Max Weber predict this development? The answer is no—if by


predict we mean foretell it. But it is implicit in his thought as a possi-
bility of technical reason. The value-free conception of capitalist
rationality becomes in Weber’s mature analysis a critical conception. It
ceases to be ‘purely scientific’ and becomes ‘evaluative’ and goal-setting, a
critique of reification and dehumanization.

At this point, however, the critique stops, and accepts what it claims to
be inevitable. It becomes an apologia—worse, a denunciation of the
possible alternative: a qualitatively different historical rationality. Max
Weber himself lucidly defined the limits of his vision: he described
himself as a ‘bourgeois’ and identified his work with the historical
mission of the bourgeoisie. In the name of this mission, he accepted the
alliance of representative sections of the German bourgeoisie with the
organizers of repression and reaction. He demanded the lunatic
asylum, the zoological garden, and revolver fire for his political
opponents and the radical left. He, the most intellectual of all sociolo-
gists, raged against intellectuals who had sacrificed their lives to the
Revolution.6 The personal here serves only as an illustration of the
conceptual. It shows how far the conception of Reason itself, in its
critical content, becomes arrested at its origins. ‘Reason’ remains
bourgeois reason—and even only a part of this, namely capitalist reason.

Capitalism and Domination

Let us now try and reconstruct the inner development of Weber’s


conception of capitalist reason. His inaugural address at Freiburg
envisages capitalist industrialization as a power-political totality: as
imperialism. Only big industry unleashed can guarantee the indepen-
dence of the nation in conditions of intensified international competition.
6The documentation for this has been excellently assembled and analysed by
Wolfgang Mommsen in Max Weber und die deutsche Politik, Tübingen (Mohr) 1950.

7
Imperial power-politics demands intensive and extensive industrializa-
tion—and vice-versa. The economy must serve the Raison d’Etat of
national power and work with its instruments. Colonization and
military force are such instruments—instruments for the realization of
extra-scientific aims and values, to which value-free economics has
subordinated itself. As historical reason, Raison d’Etat demands the
political domination of that class which directs industrialization and so
promotes the rise of the nation—the domination of the bourgeoisie. It
is a danger when an ‘economically declining class has power in its
hands’—as the Junkers had in Germany.7 In this way, economic
science becomes in Weber’s thought—under the impact of non-scientific
political value-judgements—a political and sociological critique of the
State created by Bismarck. This critique anticipates the future: the
historically elect class, the bourgeoisie, is ‘immature’ in Germany, and
in its weakness it yearns for a Caesar to fulfil its role for it.8

The assumption of power by the bourgeois class meant at the time the
democratization of the still pre-bourgeois State. But the political im-
maturity of the German bourgeoisie predisposed it to Caesarism. In-
stead of the democracy that should have corresponded to capitalist
industrialization, there threatened plebiscitary dictatorship; bourgeois
reason supplicated irrational charisma. This dialectic of bourgeois
democracy, indeed of bourgeois reason, perpetually disquieted Weber—
as can be seen most clearly in Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft, to which we
shall return later. Here, it should be pointed out that Weber predicted
the later evolution of the other class that is the bearer of capitalism, the
proletariat, more accurately than most socialists of his time: ‘There is
no danger from the masses’, he declared in his inaugural address (in
1895!)—they would not hinder, let alone end, imperialism.9 It was far
more ‘the ruling and rising classes’ who represented a threat to the
chances of the nation surviving the struggle of international competition.

Conservative character of the masses, Caesarist tendencies of the


dominant classes—Weber foresaw these mutations of late capitalism.
He did not anchor them in the structure of capitalism itself, as Marxist
theory does. ‘Political immaturity’ is a bad category, as long as the
factors which underly it are not defined—in this case, the inability of
capitalist production to preserve the free market and free competition.
Capitalist productivity encounters a barrier in the democratic institu-
tions of market society. Domination becomes concentrated in and over
bureaucracy, as the necessary apex of regimentation. What appears
‘politically immature’ in the framework of liberal capitalism, is the
political maturity of late capitalism.

And the ‘docility’ of the dominated? In Max Weber’s life-time they


were still—for one historical moment—ready to end imperialism.
Thereafter, however, the political maturity of the bourgeoisie and the
material and intellectual efficacy of capitalist productivity took things in
hand and fulfilled Weber’s prophecy.
7
Gesammelte politische Schriften, Munchen (Drei Masken Verlag), 1921, p. 20 ff.
8
Ibid, p. 27.
9
Ibid, p. 29.

8
Let us now look at Weber’s vision of capitalism in the study where
apparently—it is most detached from any concrete connection with
imperialist power-politics, and is developed in all its value-free scien-
tific purity—in Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft. Here capitalism as a type of
‘rational economic enterprize’ is defined as a ‘special form of monetary
accounting’:

‘Capital accounting is the valuation and verification of opportunities


for profit and of the success of profit-making activity, through the
valuation of the total assets of the enterprise, whether these consist in
goods in kind or in money, at the beginning of a period of activity, and
the comparison of this with a similar valuation of the assets still present
or newly acquired, at the end of the process—or, in the case of a profit-
making organization operating continuously, it is matter of accounting
periods, which draw a balance between the initial and final states of the
enterprise.’10

The tortured syntax itself testifies to the—one might almost say pro-
vocative—determination to define capitalism in ‘purely scientific’
terms, to purge it of everything human and historical: as if to say, here
we are dealing with business and nothing else. By contrast, it seems al-
most a shocking lapse when we read on the next page: ‘Capital account-
ing of the most formally rational type presumes the struggle of man
against man.’11 What capital accounting does to man is more clearly
expressed in its abstract definition than its concrete description: in-
humanity is hidden in the urbane rationality of the balance-sheet.

The ‘most formally rational’ type of capital accounting is that in which


man and his ‘aims’ enter only as variable quantities into the calculation
of gain and profit. Mathematization, in this formal rationality, goes as
far as a calculus of the negation of life itself. The extreme risk of the
propertyless, death by starvation, becomes a motor force of the
economic system: ‘A decisive element in the motivation of economic
activity under the normal conditions of a market economy for those
without property. . . is the coercive force of the risk they run, both for
themselves and their personal dependents—such as their children,
wives, sometimes parents—of going without any vital provision. . .’12

Max Weber again and again defines formal rationality in opposition to a


substantive rationality which considers the satisfaction of economic
needs ‘from the standpoint of determinate ethical postulates’,13 however
formulated, But is formal rationality, as it finds expression in a capitalist
economy, really so formal? Here is Weber’s definition of it:
10 Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft, Tübingen, 1922, p. 48.
11 Ibid, p. 49. (It is worth noting that the English translation of Wirtschaft und
Gesellschaft, by Henderson and Parsons, mistranslates this sentence—‘Die Kapital-
rechnung in ihrer formal rationalsten Gestalt setzt daher den Kampf des Menschen
mit dem Menschen voraus’—as ‘Thus the highest degree of rational capital account-
ing presupposes the existence of competition on a large scale.’. . . . The Theory of
Economic and Social Organization, p. 178—Tr).
12
Ibid, p. 60. My italics. (The phrase—‘under normal conditions’—is omitted from
the English translation. The Theory of Social and Economic Organization p. 197—Tr).
13
Ibid, p. 44.

9
‘The term “formal rationality of economic action” will be used to
designate the extent of quantitative calculation or accounting which is
technically possible and which is actually applied. . . A system of
economic activity will be called “formally” rational according to the
degree in which provision for needs, which is essential to every rational
economy, is capable of being expressed in numerical, calculable terms
and is so expressed.’14

It is obvious that, in terms of this definition, a totally planned economy


—that is, a non-capitalist economy—is from a formal point of view
more rational than a capitalist one, in which the particular interests of
private firms and the (even regulated) ‘freedom’ of the market pose
inherent limits to calculability. When Weber declared that such a
planned economy was a regression or even an impossibility, he did so
first of all on technical grounds. He thought that in a modern industrial
society, the separation of the worker from the means of production was
a technical necessity, which demanded individual and private control of
the means of production: that is, the domination of the personally
responsible capitalist over the enterprise. The extremely material,
historical reality of private, capitalist enterprise becomes, in Weber’s
analysis, a formal, structural component of capitalism, and eventually
of any rational economy.

But the rational, social function of individual domination of the enter-


prise, built on the separation of the producers from the means of pro-
duction, goes still further: it is the guarantee of the technically and
economically necessary work-discipline, which provides a model for the
discipline demanded by modern industrial society as a whole. Even
socialism, Weber thought, had its origins in factory-discipline: ‘Out of
this life-situation, out of the discipline of the factory, socialism was
born.’15 The private-economic ‘subordination to work-discipline’ is
thus on the one hand the rationale of a personal hierarchy in the enter-
prise; on the other hand, it represents the reasonable domination of
things over men—‘that is, of the means over the end (the satisfaction of
needs)’.16 With these words, Weber cites a socialist thesis. He does not
dispute it; but he believed that a socialist society would in no way alter
the fundamental fact of the workers’ separation from the means of
production, because this was simply the form of technical progress
itself, of industrialization. Its rationality remained obligatory for social-
ism, if socialism was to fulfil its promise to achieve general provision
for human needs and to pacify the struggle for existence. The irrational
domination of things over men could only be replaced by the rational
domination of men over men. The question, then, was for socialism
too: ‘Who shall take over and command the new economy?’17

Industrialization is the destiny of the modern world, and the fundamental


problem for socialist and capitalist industrialization alike is simply:
what is the most rational form of domination over industrialization and
14 Ibid, pp. 44–45.
15 Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Sociologie und Sozialpolitik, p. 501 (‘Der Sozialismus’).
16 Ibid, p. 502.
17 Ibid, p. 511.

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therewith over society? ‘Rational’ still in the sense of that formal
rationality, which is only realized in the calculated, regulated, predict-
able functioning of an entire social complex. But in the course of its
conceptual development, this formal rationality has significantly
changed: in accordance with its own inner logic, it has subordinated
itself to the rationality of domination. To the precise extent that this
formal rationality does not exceed its own determinations, and takes its
own system as the norm of reckoning and calculable activity, it is as a
whole dependent, and determined from the outside, by something other than
itself. It thus becomes, in Weber’s own definition, ‘substantive’.

Industrialization is a ‘destiny’, domination is a ‘destiny’. Weber’s concept


of destiny is an illustration of the substantive content of his formal analy-
sis. ‘Destiny’ lies in the impersonal laws of economy and society, in-
dependent of individuals, which can only be defied under pain of
self-dissolution. But society is not nature—who decrees this destiny?
Industrialization is a phase in the development of men’s capacities and
needs—a phase in the struggle of man against nature and himself.
This development can debouch on to very different kinds of organiza-
tion and goal. Not only the forms of domination, but also the forms
of technology, of needs and their satisfaction, are in no sense a ‘fatality’.
They become so through their institution in society—as a result of
material, economic and psychological coercion. Weber’s concept of
‘destiny’ is derived ex post facto from this: he generalizes the blindness
of a society, whose mechanism of reproduction occurs behind the backs
of the individuals in it, a society in which the laws of domination appear
as the objective laws of technology. These laws are neither ‘formal’ nor
‘fatal’. The historical context in which Max Weber’s analysis is situated
is that of the development of economic reason into dominative reason
—domination almost at any price. This fate is the result of an evolution,
and as such it can be surpassed. A scientific analysis which is not predi-
cated on the possibility of its supersession, defines itself, not as pure
reason, but as the reason of established domination. Mathematized,
‘scientific’ capitalism remains mathematized, technological domination
over men, and scientific, technological socialism can only be the recon-
struction or destruction of this domination.

When Weber’s formal analysis of capitalism becomes an analysis of the


forms of domination, there is no break in his conception or his method.
‘Purity’ reveals itself as impure, not because Weber was a bad or in-
consistent sociologist, but because he was an authentic sociologist,
possessed by the quest for knowledge of his object. Truth becomes
critique, becomes accusation, and accusation becomes a function of true
science. If his inaugural address provocatively subordinated economics
to politics, this tour de force appears in the light of Weber’s whole
work as inherent in the logic of his method. Your science must remain
pure: only so can you keep faith with the truth. But this truth forces you
to recognize that you have no power over what produces and deter-
mines the objects of your science from the outside. Your ‘neutrality’ is
as compulsory as it is illusory. For neutrality is only real where you have
the power to repel interference: if you do not, you become the victim
and assistant of any power that chooses to use you.

11
The formal rationality of capitalism encounters two limits: the estab-
lished fact of private enterprise and of the private entrepreneur as the
true subject of the economic calculus, and the established fact of the
separation of the workers from the means of production of ‘free labour’.
These two facts belong for Weber to the specific rationality of capital-
ism:18 they are for him technological necessities. He does not ask the
question, whether these necessities are really and truly ‘technological’ or
whether they are not rather the technological mask of specific social
interests. For Weber, they are the foundations of legitimate domination as
an integral component of capitalist, indeed economic, rationality in
modern industrial society. In consequence, domination itself must be
shown to be a form of modern economic rationality. Max Weber under-
takes to do this in his analysis of bureaucracy.
Bureaucracy
Bureaucratic domination is inseparable from advanced industrializa-
tion. It imposes the perfected efficiency of the individual enterprise on
society as a whole. It is the most formally rational type of domination,
thanks to its ‘precision, stability, stringency of discipline, and reliability;
that is, its calculability for the heads of the organization and for those
acting in relation to it’19 and it is all this because it is ‘domination
through knowledge’, fixed, calculable and expert knowledge. In
reality, it is the apparatus which dominates, since domination of the
apparatus through expert knowledge is feasible only when the latter is
completely adapted to its technical demands and possibilities. There-
fore mastery over the apparatus ‘is only possible to a limited extent for
the non-specialist: the permanent trained official is more likely to get
his way in the long-run than the non-specialist Cabinet Minister’.20
Weber once again repeats that any ‘rational socialism will have to take
over and augment’ bureaucratic administration, because bureaucratic
administration is a pure substantive domination, demanded by the
substance of things themselves: it is thus equally obligatory for what-
ever kind of different political, cultural and moral aim or institution.
And this ‘substance’ is the established, ever more productive and
efficient, ever more precisely predictable, apparatus.
The expert administration of the apparatus as the most formally
rational type of domination: this is the reification of Reason—the
apotheosis of reification. But this apotheosis will become, must become
its own negation. For the apparatus, which dictates its own substantive
administration, is itself instrument, means—and there is no means ‘in-
itself’. Even the most productive, reified apparatus is a means to an
external aim. This is true of the economic apparatus of capitalism. It is
not enough to define its aim as provision for human needs. The con-
cept is too general, too abstract in the bad sense of the word. For, as
Max Weber himself saw, provision for human needs is a by-product of
the capitalist economy, a by-product subordinated to profit—or rather
18 Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft, p. 19–23.
19 Ibid, p. 128.
20 Ibid, p. 129.

12
the primordial material of the economy, which is moulded by the form
of the capitalist system. Human need is necessary and rational to the
system, as long as it is a question of living men as consumers (as pro-
ducers they are already partially unnecessary), to whom atomic shelters,
a sub-human existence under the earth, and annihilation can be sold.
But when the bureaucratic administration of the capitalist apparatus in
all its rationality remains a means, and thereby dependent, its reaches
its own limits as rationality. Bureaucracy subordinates itself to a power
above and beyond bureaucracy—a power ‘alien to administration’.
And when rationality is incorporated into administration and only in-
corporated there, then this law-enforcing power must be irrational.
Weber’s concept of reason ends in irrational charisma.
Charisma

Of all Weber’s concepts, charisma is perhaps the most questionable:


simply as a term, it reveals the preconception that every form of suc-
cessful, ostensibly personal leadership imparts a religious inspiration.
The concept itself, however, is not under discussion here. It will only
be explored in so far as it illuminates the dialectic between rationality
and irrationality in modern society. Charismatic domination appears as
a stage in a two-fold process. On the one hand, charisma tends to be-
come transformed into the consolidated domination of particular
interests and their bureaucratic organization: on the other hand, it
subjects bureaucratic organization itself to a charismatic summit.
In his chapter ‘The Transformation of Charisma’, Weber describes
how pure charismatic domination tends to change into a ‘permanent
possession’. In this process charisma ‘is delivered into the hands
of the powers which condition and dominate everyday life, above all
economic interests’.21 What begins as the charisma of a single man and
his personal success, ends in the domination of a bureaucratic apparatus
of acquired rights and functions, in which the devotees of charisma
become well-behaved, tax-paying, duty-fulfilling ‘subjects’.
But this rational administration of masses and things cannot dispense
with an irrational charismatic apex. For otherwise administration, to
the degree that it really is rational, would tend to supersede domination—
and become simply administration of things. But the apparatus of
administration is still built on domination and is oriented towards its
maintenance and growth. Truly ‘rational’ administration would be the
use of social wealth for the free development and satisfaction of human
needs. Technical progress makes this an ever more real possibility. But
it is a possibility contradicted by the rationality of the apparatus, which
is built on productive repression. To the degree to which this contradiction
becomes open and irrational, it must be superseded by a new form of
domination—if domination is to survive. The far-reaching demo-
cratization which is a consequence of technical progress—egalitarian
tendencies are the result of growing productivity—is thwarted by the
control and manipulation of democracy. Domination as the privilege
of particular interests, and self-determination as the demand of general
21
Ibid, p. 762.

13
interests, are in this way fused. The classic manifestation of this
resolution of social contradictions is the plebiscitary democracy in which
the trained (and terrorized) masses themselves install their leader,
periodically confirm him in power, and even ratify his policies—under
special, carefully controlled conditions.22 Thus for Weber universal
suffrage is not only a result of domination, but also an instrument of
domination in the period of its technical maturity. Plebiscitary demo-
cracy is the political expression of reason become irrationality.

What are the manifestations of this dialectic of reason (formal reason)


in the development of capitalism? The prosaic power of capitalism
appears to act as a barrier against charisma; Weber is reticent in his
application of the term to present industrial society, although his
behaviour and his language during the war and in the struggle against
revolution after the war come very near to a charismatic decadence.
But the fact is there: the formal reason of the technically perfected
apparatus is subject to the irrational. Weber’s analysis of bureaucracy
penetrates through the mists of ideology: he showed in his own time
the hallucinatory character of modern mass democracy, with its
alleged reconciliation and harmonization of class contradictions. The
bureaucratic administration of industrial capitalism is, in fact, a ‘level-
ling’, but: ‘The decisive phenomenon is rather the exclusive levelling of
the dominated under the bureaucratically integrated dominant group,
which can thereby enjoy a more or less autocratic position, factually
and often formally as well.’23

Again and again, Weber declared that the technically mature apparatus
of administration, precisely because of its formal rationality, was a
‘supreme instrument of power’ for ‘those who have the bureaucratic
apparatus at their disposal’. He wrote: ‘The dependence of the material
fate of the masses on the permanently correct functioning of ever
more bureaucratically co-ordinated private-capitalist organizations
steadily grows, and the very thought of the possibility of eliminating
them becomes ever more utopian.’24 Total dependence on the function-
ing of an omnipresent apparatus becomes the ‘basis of all order’, so that
the apparatus itself is no longer questioned. ‘Trained adjustment to
obedient conduct in this order’ becomes the cement of a subordination
which is no longer conscious as such, because the order is so terrifyingly
rational—that is, it administers and disposes so competently and calcul-
ably of the whole world of goods and tasks which the individual can no
longer survey or control. Max Weber did not live to see how developed
capitalism, in all its efficient rationality, creates prosperity out of the
planned annihilation of millions of men and the planned destruction of
work; how open madness becomes the foundation not only of pro-
gress, but of a more agreeable existence. He did not live to witness the
‘affluent society’, which squanders and misuses its unimaginable
technical, material and intellectual resources in the service of perman-
ent mobilization, oblivious of the inhuman misery and systematic
cruelty it creates. Even before the growth in power of this Reason,
22
Ibid, p. 156 ff, p. 174, p. 763 ff.
23
Ibid, p. 667.
24
Ibid, p. 669.

14
Weber pointed out the danger of a rational-bureaucratic apparatus of
administration that, by the logic of its own rationality, places itself
under the domination of an alien apex.

Thus capitalism ends, with all its rationality—or rather because of its
specific rationality—in an irrational, ‘accidental’ vertex, not only in its
economy, but in its control over bureaucratic administration, in its
State apparatus. It is hard not to be reminded here of Hegel’s Philosophy
of Law, in which the apex of the bourgeois State which incarnates
Reason, is the ‘accidental’ person of the monarch, defined as such by
the contingency of birth. In Hegel as in Weber, the analysis of bourgeois
Reason betrays its own limits: it negates itself in its own completion.

Technology and Liberation

Let us now look back briefly at the stages of Weber’s thought—and of


the object of his thought. For Weber, capitalism moves under the goal-
system of national power-politics: imperialism. Its inner administra-
tion, however, remains formally rational: bureaucratic domination.
This administration realizes the domination of things over men:
rational, ‘value-free’ technique means the separation of men from the
means of production, and their subjugation to technical efficiency and
necessity—within the framework of private enterprise. The machine
decides, but ‘the inanimate machine is a congealed ghost. Only because
it is such, does it have the power to force men into its service’.25

And because it is a ‘congealed ghost’, it is also the domination of men


over men. Thus this technique and reason reproduces slavery. Sub-
jection to this technique becomes simply subjection to domination:
formal technical rationality becomes material political rationality. Or is
it the other way round? Was technical reason from the beginning the
domination of the private firm over ‘free labour’? The destiny that
Weber foresaw in one his most compelling formulations has, at all
events, been fulfilled on a grand scale: ‘Together with the machine, the
bureaucratic organization is engaged in building the houses of bondage
of the future, in which perhaps men will one day be like peasants in the
ancient Egyptian State, acquiescent and powerless, while a purely
technically good, that is rational, official administration and provision
becomes the sole, final value, which sovereignly decides the direction
of their affairs.’26

But just here, at this sharpest point of Weber’s insight, where his own
analysis becomes self-criticism, it becomes clear how deeply Weber
remained fixed in his other identification: the equivalence of technical
and capitalist reason. This belief prevented him from seeing that it was
not ‘pure’, formal, technical reason but dominative reason that was
building the ‘houses of bondage’—and that the completion of technical
reason could well become the instrument of the liberation of man. To
put it another way: Max Weber’s analysis of capitalism was not value-
free enough. For he imported into the ‘pure’ definition of formal ration-
25
Gesammelte politische Schriften, p. 151.
26
Ibid, p. 151.

15
ality the specific values and norms of capitalism. Such was the develop-
ment of the contradiction between formal and substantive rationality,
and its obverse: the ‘neutrality’ of technical reason as against all external
substantial values. It was this neutrality that made it possible for
Weber to accept the (reified) interests of the nation and of its power-
politics as the values which commanded technical reason.
For the concept of technical reason is itself perhaps ideology. Not merely
its application, but technique itself is domination—over nature and
over men: methodical, clairvoyant domination. The aims and interests
of domination are not ‘additional’ or dictated to technique from above
—they enter into the construction of the technical apparatus itself. For
technique is a social and historical project: into it is projected what a
society and its ruling interests decide to make of man and things. The
aims of domination are ‘substantive’, and belong to the form of
technical reason itself.
Max Weber abstracted from this irreducible social material. We have
indicated the justice of this abstraction in his analysis of capitalist
reason: the abstraction becomes a critique of this reason to the extent
that it shows the degree to which capitalist rationality itself abstracts
from man, is indifferent to his need, and through this indifference
becomes ever more productive and efficient, ever more calculable and
systematic—and therewith builds and furnishes (luxuriously furnishes)
‘houses of bondage’, and makes them available to all. To this extent,
Weber’s abstraction is justified by his material: it is a rational judgement
on rational exchange-society. But this society tends in its development
to surpass its own material foundations. The private entrepreneur is no
longer the individual, responsible subject of economic rationality, and
‘free labour’ is no longer slavery enforced by ‘the whip of hunger’.
Exchange society, in which everything is so free and rational, comes
under the domination of economic and political monopoly. The market
and its freedoms, whose ideological character Max Weber described
often enough, becomes subordinate to a ruthlessly effective regulation,
in which general interests are rigorously conditioned and thwarted by
dominant particular interests. In this ominous sense, reification is
‘overcome’. Separation from the means of production, in which Weber
rightly saw a technical necessity, becomes subordination of the whole
industrial complex to the programme-manager. The formal rationality
of capitalism celebrates its greatest triumph in the electronic computer,
capable of serving any aim, which has become a powerful instrument of
manipulative politics, able to calculate chances of loss or gain with the
utmost certitude—in the last resort, the chances of the annihilation of
the whole, with the consent of the equally ‘calculated’ and obedient
population. Mass democracy becomes plebiscitary in economy and
society: the masses elect their own leaders in the houses of bondage.
But when technical reason stands revealed as political reason, it is only
because they were from the beginning this technical reason and this
political reason: determined and limited by specific dominative interests.
As political reason, technical reason is historical. Its separation of men
from the means of production is a technical necessity—the serfdom
organized through it is not. Its own achievements—productive and
16
predictable mechanization—contain the possibility of a qualitatively
different rationality, in which men’s separation from the means of pro-
duction becomes separation from socially necessary, but dehumanizing
labour. In an epoch in which automated production, controlled by men
thus freed from labour, is possible, formal and substantive values need
no longer be antinomies. Formal rationality need no longer dominate
impassively over men. For as a ‘congealed ghost’, the machine is not
neutral. Technical reason has hitherto been the dominant social reason:
it can be changed in its own structure. Technical reason can be trans-
formed into the technology of liberation.

For Max Weber this possibility was—utopia. Today, it appears as if he


were right. But when industrial society triumphs over its own historical
possibilities, it is no longer Weber’s bourgeois Reason which is the
victor. It is hard, in the darkening houses of bondage, to see reason of
any kind. At the last, only technical rationality is left. Or was irony
hidden in Max Weber’s concept of reason, the irony which understands
and disavows? Perhaps he is saying: and is that what you call reason?

17
Raymond Williams

The British Left

Any analysis of the state of the Left in Britain must begin with an analysis of the
nature of the Labour Party.1 For here is a mass party, based on an essentially
undivided trade union movement. For at least the last 20 years, it has been
always a potential government, and in good times for the Left it is capable of
governing alone. From its foundation, it has been a coalition of Left organiza-
tions, and the essential political battles of the Left have been fought out within
it. The Independent Labour Party offered an alternative political organization
until its merger with the Labour Party in the early 1930’s: one more strand was
then added to the coalition. The Communist Party, since the early 1920’s, has
worked as a militant wing of the Labour movement: often involved in local
struggles against the Labour Party, often influential in particular trade unions,
but never looking likely to become a mass party. A Labour Government, with
the maintenance of a militant Communist minority, has in practice been its
normal political aim.
18
The strengths and weaknesses of this domination of the Left by a mass
party capable in the short term of winning decisive parliamentary
power are then the essential terms of any realistic analysis. The weak-
nesses are easy to see. The fact that the Labour Party is a coalition has
led to an evident poverty in theory: any attempt to go beyond quite
general definitions leads at once to strains on this complicated alliance.
The prospect of parliamentary power, within the existing political
system, leads regularly to a muting of necessary arguments, and the
needs of the Party, in parliamentary and electoral terms, are given a
quite frequent priority over political principle. The prospect of power,
in this constitutional way, leads to a strengthening of those already
large elements in the Party who broadly accept the existing political
and economic system and who, apart from substituting themselves for
Conservatives as Ministers, wish to make only comparatively minor
reforms. When these lines of opportunism or liberalism become very
pronounced, there is a scatter of breakaway movements, and the very
structure of the Labout Party is widely seen as the principal weakness of
the British Left. Among intellectuals of the Left, this kind of movement
is particularly common. But the strengths of this peculiar organization
are quite steadily underestimated. At several times and for different
reasons in the last 30 years it has indeed seemed likely that the Party
would disintegrate: that its contradictions and tensions were too deep
for it to last. The Right, in and outside the Labour Party, have pro-
posed a detachment from the class identification with the trade unions,
and from the formal commitment to socialism. The Left, in and out-
side the Labour Party, have proposed a detachment of militants from
this unprincipled and amorphous and often compromised organization,
and the building of a principled Socialist Party. It needs emphasis that
from these successive and different crises the main strength of the
Labour Party has emerged relatively unscathed. The inability, as yet, of
the Right to shatter this organized strength is, in fact, deeply encourag-
ing. Certain deep strengths are here, as well as the obvious weaknesses.
The similar inability of the Left to detach any significant body of the
working-class from its Labour allegiance is a fact about British society
as a whole. In one sense, this allegiance is an obstacle to militant social-
ism, but in another sense it keeps open the possibility of putting
socialism on the political agenda without civil conflict or violence.
There is a balance, here, of strengths and weaknesses, which is our
real political context.
The existence and endurance of the Labour Party has tended to confine
the arguments about socialism to parliamentary terms. These are
evidently insufficient, but even so there have been many false statements
about this matter of voting strengths and it is worth correcting them.
The most common is the assertion that the relative post-war affluence
of the working-class has led to a weakening of the Labour Party. The
Conservative victories in 1951, 1955 and 1959 have been widely inter-
preted in this way. The effects of relatively full employment and higher
real wages are indeed complicated, but in this matter of voting strengths
it is indisputably true that the Labour Party has been stronger in the
1
This article was originally written for the French review Esprit—it has been slightly
amended for publication in NLR.

19
post-war period of relative affluence than it ever was in the pre-war
periods of mass unemployment and poverty. Its victory in 1945 was
gained with 12 million votes. Before the war its vote had never been
higher than 8-21 million. The situation after 1945 is said to be one of
voting decline due to ‘affluence’, but the figures are: 1950, over 13
million; 1951, nearly 14 million; 1955, over 12 million; 1959, still over
12 million; 1964, again over 12 million, which, with a decline in the
Conservative vote, was enough to regain power. The relative decline
during the 1950’s, which cost Labour power, is still within the terms of
an absolute and major improvement over the pre-war situation. The
truth is that as the 1945 Labour Government carried out its programme,
it gained some working-class support but also united against it a for-
midable and in the end decisive body of opinion. When it lost power in
1951, it still had, due to the pecularities of the electoral system, a
higher popular vote than the Conservatives. The evident material
improvements in Britain during the 1950’s gave the Conservatives the
relatively narrow advantage in the popular vote on which they governed
for 13 years. In 1964, this advantage was marginally altered, and
Labour could again form a government. Additionally, all through this
period, Labour has retained a clear majority among men; it is the anti-
Labour majority among women which has kept them out. In the large
towns and the industrial areas, including, recently, the most prosperous
industrial areas, Labour has been exceptionally strong, even under
Conservative rule.
The Labour Party remains then, in spite of post-war changes, a mass
party and a permanently potential government, based primarily on the
most organized sections of the working class. Yet, given this strength
why has it seemed so often an improbable instrument of socialist
change? Here we have to turn from the limited arena of parliamentary
politics and examine the complicated intellectual and structural tradi-
tions of other kinds of social criticism and opposition.
The origins of the British working-class movement, in the years 1780–
1835, show a complicated combination of political radicalism and
defensive industrial organization. (The period has been well described
in Edward Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class). The
major challenge of Chartism in the 1840’s failed, but produced in the
ruling class, in the following decades, a series of reformist attitudes and
measures, in the beginning as the explicit cost of avoiding revolution.
Within these reforms, a leading section of the previous movement—
the artisans and skilled workers—became relatively acclimatized to a
capitalist society which was growing in wealth and steadily extending
the suffrage. When economic depression came again in the 1880’s,
there was a revival of general trade union organization, but the political
consequences of this were confused. The acclimatized trade union
leaders saw no need for a new political party. It was from the leaders of
the new unions that the demand for a political initiative came. An
ambivalence, in the trade unions’ attitudes to working-class political
initiatives, was thus already evident. In practical terms, the new leaders
won, but the ambivalence has continued. Even when, in subsequent
decades, the Labour Party had been accepted as the political instrument
of the trade unions, there was a clear division of opinion, among trade
20
union leaders, on what this political role should be. On the one hand,
the Labour Party was seen as an instrument for the transformation of
capitalist society and its replacement by socialism: an aim to which a
number of the unions are, by their written constitutions, committed.
On the other hand, by a majority of trade union leaders, the Labour
Party has been seen primarily as a representative of working-class
interests within the existing system, so that when it governs it need go
no further than certain limited kinds of protective and welfare legisla-
tion. These opinions have fluctuated according to the nature of in-
dustrial conflict. The General Strike of 1926 was a major working-class
challenge to the existing political régime, but it is significant that it was
defeated, not by any failure in popular support, but by a final willing-
ness to compromise among the trade union leaders. After this defeat,
the tide ran strongly towards acclimatization, and there was a further
development of bureaucracy and centralized control within many of the
most important unions. These factors are all still apparent, and there is
still an important section of the trade union leadership which, while
formally supporting the Labour Party, might even welcome the separa-
tion of the trade unions from political commitments, leaving them as
only negotiating and bargaining bodies. American influence in this
direction has been particularly strong. At the same time, the undemo-
cratic nature of many of the largest trade unions is itself a source of in-
stability. The most striking recent demonstration of this was the suc-
cession of Cousins to Deakin (after a brief interregnum) as General
Secretary of the Transport and General Workers’ Union, with a
membership of more than a million. Under Deakin, this union had
been the principal supporter of the Right leadership. Under Cousins it
has been the most important supporter of a whole range of Left
policies, in domestic and international affairs. The fact that a million
votes can be swung so completely from one side of the power struggle
to another is a clear sign of how far bureaucratization has gone. It
shows also, however, how what looks like a powerful and monolithic
orthodoxy can be quite seriously, if only temporarily, disturbed. The
internal politics of the Labour Party, in recent years, are best under-
stood as a series of struggles between essentially undemocratic groups.
The Party Conference is dominated by the trade union bloc votes. The
Constituency parties normally represent only the militant minorities of
party members. The Parliamentary Party claims a practical independence
of the other bodies, when policies conflict, and, by the nature of its
involvement with the parliamentary system, is drawn continually into
the orthodoxies of contemporary capitalist politics. Out of this com-
plex situation, continually biased towards accommodations with exist-
ing political power, the general trend of Labour policy emerges. Thus
we have the paradox of a mass party, formally committed to socialism,
in practice functioning as the inheritor of the reforming Liberal Party
with which the first generations of the working-class movement eventu-
ally worked. At the same time, the commitment to socialism, however,
formal, is often an electoral weakness, and is exploited as such by the
Right, while the continued loyalty to the Party of the majority of
organized workers prevents any significant initiatives from the Left.
This situation is reinforced by the nature of the inherited systems of
ideas. Here, again, there is a complicated mixture of strength and
21
weakness. The main ideological element in the British working-class
movement is one of moral critique. Again and again, even during the
periods of fervent political radicalism, this moral critique has revealed
itself as the decisive line. The ideas of brotherhood and co-operation,
against selfish individualism, have always been more influential than
ideas about political power as such. The developed language of
Marxism, with its emphasis on class power, has sometimes qualified but
never altered this decisive bearing. Thus it has often seemed that the
British working class have been more interested in building their own
brotherly and co-operative institutions than in taking overall political
power. This has led to many weaknesses, for the obvious theoretical
reason that the brotherly and co-operative institutions have been
forced to function within an individualist economy, and the margin
has often been very narrow indeed. Again and again, it has seemed to
Marxists that the British working-class movement is in this sense hope-
less: that the option, under pressure, is always for the maintenance of
their own institutions rather than for the transformation of the society
as a whole. In many circumstances this has indeed been a weakness, but
also outside observers have normally overlooked its strengths. For just
this factor has been responsible for the maintenance of an essentially
undivided mass party, which is capable of parliamentary power. Further,
as many right-wing ideologists sadly admit, this inward-turning
loyalty of the British working-class has created a continually surprising
endurance and resilience, under the pressure of economic or political
defeat. It would indeed be very difficult to imagine the British working-
class movement, or any significant section of it, being captured, even
temporarily, by an opportunism from outside itself. When it is betrayed,
as so often, it is from within, but it is again surprising how com-
paratively little these frequent betrayals affect the main body of
strength. Nor is it only a matter of the endurance of an organized
and undivided movement. It is also a question of the endurance
of certain pre-political values, which to a surprising degree sur-
vive the political frustrations and betrayals. The Right wing of the
Labour Party, to say nothing of the Right in the country as a whole,
has won an almost continuous succession of victories, in the short
term, only to find that there is still ranged against it, almost as if the
victories had not happened, the same complex of moral pressures and
demands. Even here, the weakness of this social character of the British
working-class movement is often evident. It can be frequently limited,
or even corrupted, by nationalism, as it was so grossly corrupted by
imperialism. The fact that the pre-political values have not often become
politically significant has commonly been the very cause of the frustra-
tions and defeats. Yet, in the persistence of this self-generating tradi-
tion, the option for the future, as well as the organization of the present,
is continually there. In one sense, this kind of insularity (of an island,
indeed, within an island) has to grow beyond itself, if there is to be
socialism in Britain. The process of this transformation is all that
matters, politically, in Britain. But it has been significant, recently, how
most of the attacks on insularity have come from the Right. There is a
very brisk line of right-wing argument designed to detach the British
working-class from its own social traditions, and it is not only because
of the sources of this argument that one sees it as double-edged. The
truth is that if the British working-class movement could be detached
22
from its own kind of unemphatic and pre-political self-reliance, the
way would be completely open for the triumph of the new capitalism.
The campaign to ‘modernize’ Britain, and to make it less ‘insular’, is, in
its most common forms, a campaign especially directed against the
particular strengths of the British working-class.
The moral critique of industrial capitalism, which has mainly informed
the British working-class movement, has been paralleled, throughout,
by a literary tradition of comparable importance. At the level of local
organization, the working-class movement has been nourished by the
important tradition of religious nonconformity. Puritanism has taught
it restraint and the limitation of human demands, and in this sense has
been frustrating and weakening. Puritanism has also taught it self-
reliance and endurance, and these, correspondingly, have been strength-
ening. But there has been an important tradition of ideas and feelings
which is not Puritan, and which in my view lies just as deeply in the
moral consciousness. The claims of Cobbett, Ruskin, William Morris—
to name three of the most influential writers—were no more Puritan
than the novels of Dickens. What is asserted in this tradition is the
claim to life, against the distortion of humanity by the priorities and
disciplines of industrial capitalism. D. H. Lawrence is best seen as the
latest writer in this important tradition. If we actually look at British
working-class life, rather than at the stereotypes provided for political
analysis and export, we find this, again pre-political, emphasis breaking
out again and again. It is often anarchic, in its immediate forms, but in
its insistence on satisfaction and excitement it is a moral challenge of no
less weight than that of Puritanism. Nobody really knowing British
working-class life would suppose that Puritan was a whole description
of it. In recent years, with the weight of economic suffering lifted, this
energy, if still crude, has flowered, and is now, factually, the most
important challenge to the routines and orthodoxies of a society basing
itself on the class satisfactions of industrial capitalism. Here, if still at
a pre-political level, the grey routines of an alienated society are so
strongly challenged that more alarm is caused, to the effective ruling
class, by the way people take and use their leisure than by any overt
political challenge. The sound of the young in Britain, so terrifying to
all who have accepted the routines, is a deep and living sound, and it is
significant that where it becomes political it is against the whole
structure of the society rather than for or against a particular group in
parliamentary politics.
Unfortunately it is just here that the Labour Party is at its weakest. It
tries, from time to time, to get in on this life, but its whole bureaucratic
and official structure is against it. Against it, also, is its inheritance of
two other systems of ideas, which in essence are those of the 19th-
century bourgeoisie. Cobbett, Dickens, Ruskin, Morris, Lawrence: all
these, in their lifetimes, fought utilitarianism, and all, except Ruskin,
fought the kind of moral paternalism which was the other main line of
reform. What they claimed, positively, was man’s absolute priority as a
creative and independent being. From this creativity and independence
came co-operation and a good society. From the setting of other
priorities—political duty, economic discipline, the postponement and
fragmentation of satisfaction—came the essential denials of life which
23
bred competition and inhumanity. But just these priorities—duty,
discipline, the division not only of labour but of life—were being
enforced by industrial capitalism. The utilitarian criterion of efficiency
was often progressive, against the early anarchies of industrial capita-
lism, but in its later stages it reduced all social questions to this bleak
and limited dimension. Its reduction of life to a simple process of
reciprocal production and consumption made it the perfect ideology of
developed industrialism. Moral paternalism was the only qualification.
All the human needs which the system of production and consumption
could not satisfy were relegated to a special area: art and suffering,
education and pleasure—these by-products or by-processes of the
system were to be dealt with by charity, by the administration of
experts, to the degree that could be afforded within the absolute
priorities of the economic system. People should have nothing for its
own sake, and nothing as themselves. All the satisfactions outside the
straight economic system would be administered by a charitable
minority to the ‘deserving poor’.
Utilitarianism survives in Britain in its crudest forms. Moral paternal-
ism has become more sophisticated, and has even been built into the
organs of state: education and the social services are administered in
essentially its spirit. Between them, these kinds of thinking have
dominated the modern Labour Party. On the older moral critique of
industrial capitalism there was superimposed this other and alternative
ideology. The principal agents of this were the Fabians, who really saw
life in this way. And here is another complication. When the minority
of English Marxists challenged the Fabians, as the makers of Labour
ideology, their weaknesses were of a complementary kind. They too,
whether in betrayal or uncritical acceptance of the main Marxist
tradition—taught the priority of the economic system, and its inevitable
control of other human activities and demands. Instinctively, they were
often against the Fabian spirit, but they worked in the same way:
regarding the people as the material of power, and offering their
revolutionary cadres as an alternative to the expert cadres of the
Fabians. Between them, they confirmed the Labour Party in a tradition
of economic priorities and rigid centralized direction. At every level,
this was a direct denial of the mainstream of the moral tradition of the
British working-class movement, with its emphases on local democracy,
participation, and the setting of human above economic standards.
Thus the moral tradition not only failed to develop into a fully political
maturity, but found its main political instrument dominated by the
very ideologies it most bitterly opposed. The subsequent confusion, often
expressed as a cynical withdrawal from politics, has been very great.
Thus when we look at the contemporary Left in Britain, we find many
paradoxes, from many sources. The Labour Party as led by Wilson is,
in the short term, an effective government, and is the most likely
agency of the deeply necessary changes in British economic policy. As
such it is, for any short-term programme, the only choice for the Left.
But it is not only that its international policy is profoundly and
dangerously obscure: in itself a sufficiently serious limitation when it is
remembered that the last Labour Government, with its useful domestic
programme, was finally corrupted by the pressures of international
24
politics and the Cold War. It is also that the spirit likely to dominate it
is that of a reforming middle-class, accepting the main purposes and
organization of contemporary society, but concerned to make just
this society more efficient. The deeper causes of ‘inefficiency’ are then
inaccessible to it, and its conceptions of modernization are a mere
blinking towards the future, with little real human content. It proposes
not to alter social relations but to rationalize them, and at the first
choice between economic orthodoxy and human need, as in the case
of the pensioners, chooses orthodoxy as if this were need. Similarly, it
offers to rationalize military aircraft production, or the command
structure of the alliance, but hardly attempts to alter, or even discuss,
the foreign policy which these serve. Even, it displays a dangerous
petty-chauvinism, as in talk of the tradition of the Navy in dealing
with ‘brush-fires’—an extraordinary description, by a Left government,
of policies towards the revolutions of the Third World. The tired
phrases of Kiplingesque imperialism, such as ‘East of Suez’, come from
the same lips which seem to know no word for the future but ‘modern-
ization’. In these respects, a Labour Government will not only fail to
satisfy the deeper human demands of contemporary politics, but can
even operate directly against them. And if the Labour Party were only
this, it would be necessary to oppose it.
Yet much of the real strength of Labour is drawn from quite different
human sources, and, further, the loyalty to it is of a kind to make cer-
tain that any real advances will come from developments within the
movement, which cannot be captured from outside. Thus, as the Labour
Government runs into the seemingly inevitable contradictions between
its official structure and ideology and the mainstream of the British
working-class movement, the next decisive stage in our growth may
well have been reached.
It is for this reason that two movements outside the Labour Party are
now important, quite apart from the Communist Party with its guaran-
tee of a measure of militant vigilance. The Campaign for Nuclear Dis-
armament has been, in recent years, the main bearer of the long moral
tradition in British politics, and its relation to the official Labour Party
has always been controversial. Because of its nature, it will not either
support or oppose a Labour Government; it will support or oppose
actual policies. Since it is not part of the formal coalition of the Left, it
is in a position to take initiatives which the existing structure of the
Labour Party often prevents. In view of the continuing importance of
the issue of nuclear politics, CND is of critical importance. It is, in fact,
now deeply confused by the familiar conflict of loyalties on the Left,
since so many of its members are active Labour supporters. But,
equally, many are not, and nothing is more certain than that CND, or
the grouping represented by it, will continue its challenge, at the level of
argument and at the level of demonstrations, where it should be
remembered that it is the only recent movement in British politics to
have brought active political dissent into the streets.
The other relevant movement is the New Left. This is not, in spite of
the intentions of some of its originators, an organizational political
grouping. Its partial attempt to become one broke on the usual rock
25
of majority loyalties and the centralizing pattern of British politics. But
this, in my view, was never its real importance or function. What it can
do, and what in present circumstances it alone can do, is to challenge
the governing ideology of the Labour movement, and in particular its
attachment to utilitarianism and paternalism. The New Left is a group
of writers and political thinkers, essentially based on the tradition of
the moral critique of industrial capitalism which has been so important
in the British working-class movement. From this position it is able to
attack the Fabian ideology which captured the official Labour Party, and
also to take part in the general attack on dogmatism within the Marxist
tradition. There are already signs that it has in important ways in-
fluenced some Labour Party thinking, though it would be wrong to
over-estimate this degree of success. It must also be emphasized that
the New Left has still a great deal to do in clarifying and developing its
own positions. It has succeeded in defining the cultural crisis which is
perhaps the most specific feature of advanced capitalism, and thus
opening up a new political perspective. It has also emphasized the new
international context of socialism, with the development of alternative
paths in communist societies and with the evident variations of social-
ism in the Third World. What it has not been able to do is to show,
convincingly, the necessary consequences of ideological change on the
structure of the British Left. Here, as we have seen, the issues are so
complicated that prediction is virtually impossible. But perhaps we can
say, in conclusion, that the mounting internal and external pressures on
the present structure of British society make it likely that the changes
will have to be lived rather than only debated. The critical period began
in October, with Labour’s narrow victory, which was nevertheless
sufficient to break the set of the last 13 years. An extraordinary in-
stability of politics, reflecting the deep and postponed tensions of the
society itself, seems now ahead of us. In this situation, the development
of the British Left is again open and active.

26
Giorgio Fanti

The Resurgence of the Labour Party

After 13 years, the biggest and most influential socialist party in the West has
returned to power. What are the likely consequences of this event, in Britain and
on the international scene? It is obvious to anyone who has followed at all
closely the internal battles and evolution of the movement during the last decade
that today the Labour Party is in certain ways a new party, a party whose inner
balance of forces has changed considerably, a party with political, economic and
social attitudes quite different from those imposed by Wilson’s predecessor as
leader, Hugh Gaitskell. It is also true that these new elements are still in process
of formation. The new balance of power in the Party has still to be consolidated,
and might yet be overthrown. However, three main great problems, which
mark the course of contemporary history, all appear destined to act positively
upon the Labour Party, to stimulate its creative forces and to benefit in return
from its influence upon them.
27
The first of these is the crisis of neo-capitalism, in its specifically British
form. The ‘affluent society’ is now an outworn myth, unable to hide the
realities of British society; social stagnation, economic decline, a public
morality rotten with hedonism, a bankrupt ruling class. Thanks to the
avant-garde action of left-wing intellectuals and to considerable
pressure from the masses, the country has undergone a phase of self-
criticism and is now largely convinced of the need for big changes. The
only remedy the Conservatives had was entry into the Common Market;
when this failed miserably, they were left defenceless, with neither
ideas nor policies. Labour succeeded in identifying itself with the
universally-felt desire for change; its chance had arrived. All the con-
ditions therefore existed for a Labour victory more significant and more
meaningful than that of 1945. The latter was a revolt against the war
and all it had meant, including the man who won it, Churchill; it was a
deep emotional reaction which carried Labour to power unexpectedly.
Today, on the other hand, the wish for change springs from a more
solid basis than the emotions, it is a matter of rational conviction.
The second problem concerns foreign policy. The transition from the
‘Cold War’ to real coexistence has still to occur. Almost everybody
agrees on its necessity but so far nobody has produced the solutions
that will lead to and guarantee it. The Labour Party put coexistence and
economic collaboration among the different world groupings in the
forefront of its electoral programme, hence its rise to power should
make important new developments possible in this field.
The third problem is constituted by the international socialist move-
ment. The later phases of the Cold War gave rise to two great events,
events whose true meaning is only beginning to become clear. One
was scandalous and spectacular—destalinization. Much less attention
has been paid to the other—that is, to the defeat in Britain of the neo-
capitalism incarnated by the late Hugh Gaitskell. Since the 20th Con-
gress of the Soviet Communist Party, we have seen ideas and tendencies
that seemed hopelessly paralysed by decades of hostility spring into life
again. For the first time since the radical scission caused by the First
World War, the Communist and Social-Democratic wings of the socialist
movement have begun to move together. This convergence has scarcely
begun, it is in its very early stages, yet only the most politically short-
sighted can fail to observe what is happening. We are living through a
process of the greatest importance, the beginning of a whole new
historical phase, the leading forces of which are already clear: on one
side, the Yugoslav, Italian and Polish Communist Parties (as well as the
Soviet Party); on the other side, the British Labour Party and—though
in a very different context—the Japanese Socialist Party and the French
SFIO. This is no short-term, merely tactical convergence like that seen
in the thirties, during the Popular Front against Fascism. It involves
basic strategy, and its elaboration needs courageous intellectual and
theoretical preparation. Given today’s political climate, the Labour
Party in power will play an important role in this process.
Labour and the Conservatives

I happened to be in Britain on the eve of the previous General Elec-


28
tion, in 1959, and obtained an interview with Nye Bevan which turned
out to be memorable (for me, at least). My first question was really a
judgement: why should the voters choose the Labour Party when its
electoral programme was more or less indistinguishable from the Con-
servative one? Bevan’s reply was a typical outburst of indignation. He
was wrong, however, and at bottom must have known he was, while my
own judgement was borne out by subsequent events. There was not
‘too much socialism’ in the electoral programme of 1959, as Gaitskell
maintained, but too little.
How different was the last electoral campaign! The political choice was
a clear one, both in domestic matters and in international affairs, and
Harold Wilson brought it out in all his election speeches. He spoke of
Labour’s ‘alternative philosophy’ to the Conservatives—who ‘identify
the national interest with the interests of the money-makers, not with
the interests of the wage-earners, with the speculators and not the
producers’—and repeatedly stressed that Labour’s objective was social-
ism, that is a society whose mainspring ‘will no longer be private profit
and the accumulation of personal wealth’, a society without classes, a
society that will be ‘open, not exclusive, where everyone has the same
right to work and to serve, where intelligence is more important than
birth and ability is more important than caste’. Gaitskell was careful
never to utter the word ‘socialism’. Wilson declares that the inspiration
of all Labour policies is ‘the old principle of socialism: from each ac-
cording to his ability, to each according to his needs’.
Was Wilson justified in emphasizing the radical nature of the choice to
this extent? To answer this question properly, we must look as
objectively as possible at recent British history, and at the historical
character and ideals of British Labourism. Traditional canons of judge-
ment are no longer to be trusted; especially in Britain.
The critical year was 1956: during it all the symptomatic trends of the
previous five years crystallized into something new. Historians will
certainly look back to it as the beginning of that new phase in the
evolution of the socialist movement already referred to. For com-
munists, the old a-critical, a-historical myths suddenly crumbled, and
reason re-emerged to fill the vacuum; systematic doubt and the
dialectic became essential criteria of thought once again, theory re-
turned from being an absolute to becoming an instrument of research.
The repercussions on the other sector of the working-class movement,
among the socialists, were striking and immediate: it seemed that the
American neo-capitalist myths would win the day, everywhere. The
race towards ‘revisionism’ was accelerated, the central preoccupation
of socialist and social-democratic parties seemed to be to rid themselves
of the last vestiges of marxism, the very term ‘socialism’ had become
embarrassing and had to be practically outlawed. The years of the
German and Italian ‘miracles’ and of French stabilization had arrived.
The European boom carried everything before it, and the infallible
recipe for all future problems had been invented: international economic
integration. Capitalism was showing a new capacity for stable equili-
brium, the ‘Welfare State’ was on the way to absorbing all social
conflicts and would make of economic difficulties and ‘contradictions’
29
things of the past. Macmillan coined the slogan which was to win the
1959 elections in Britain, ‘You’ve never had it so good’. It was this
forward-looking atmosphere, this overwhelming neo-capitalist opti-
mism, which enabled the Conservatives to survive the shock of autumn,
1956, when the Suez disaster unexpectedly demonstrated that the
Empire was finished, and that no openly imperialist policy was any
longer even conceivable.
The Revisionist Race

Looking now at the facts with as much detachment as is possible in the


face of contemporary history, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that this
wave of revisionism was the most outstanding by-product of the Cold
War and of the neo-capitalist theories which accompanied European
economic revival. No part of the socialist movement was immune from
it. In Italy Nenni and the right wing of the Italian Socialist Party con-
ceived of the ‘Centre-Left’ experiment as deriving from long-term
capitalist stabilization and the ‘Welfare State’. The communists were
affected by it: for instance, in the positions taken up towards the
question of European political and economic integration, first of all by
the Italian Communist Party and then by the other European Parties
(the Russians included). Respect for realism led to this being considered
an ‘objective tendency’ rather than a technical or political expedient.
But in Britain anti-socialist ‘revisionism’ and the neo-capitalist ideas
victorious in Europe were to encounter an unexpected and intense
reaction—a reaction completely unlike anything seen in Germany, for
example, during the anti-marxist ‘revision’ of German Social-Democ-
racy in 1960. Given the absence of a vital, indigenous communist party,
the argument raged within the only genuine political expression of the
working-class movement, the Labour Party.
This old and solid organism was shaken from top to bottom by the
controversy, an irreparable break seemed to threaten it; its leader, the
leading prophet of revisionism, was publicly disavowed and defeated.
The marxist Left had always considered Labourism to be the least
coherent of socialist parties ideologically, the least ‘hegemonic’ party in
Gramsci’s sense; yet this was the very party to defeat ‘revisionism’ and
generate a reaction that would alter the subsequent course of European
socialism. Plainly what needed ‘revising’ were the old criteria of judge-
ment of the marxist Left, which did not explain this development and
still obscure its true meaning.
Gaitskell’s revisionist battle was fought out on the critical terrain of the
Labour Party’s Constitution, and concerned its most vital provision,
the famous Clause IV.
Attacking this, Gaitskell was attacking the heart of Labourism, its
explicit socialist vocation in the classical marxist sense. ‘We lost the
elections because we were too socialist,’ said Gaitskell, in effect, ‘we have
to turn ourselves into a modern radical party.’ The theoretical and
sociological presuppositions of this position were the same that led to
‘revisionism’ in other socialist and social-democratic parties: that is,
30
they were founded upon the abstract hopes of an expansive period of
capitalism, rather than on any deep study of social and economic realities.
Britain can be taken as something of a test case in this regard; the
‘Affluent Society’ reached it a good deal earlier than other European
countries. Gaitskell held that the working class was vanishing under
these conditions, that it was being absorbed into the middle class. But
more thorough workers in the sociological field insisted that class
divisions remained untouched, that they seemed practically immune
from the great assault on working-class attitudes and ways of life
carried on through the mass media. The conclusions of the best econo-
mists were as much at variance with the revisionist theses: having
reached its most advanced point, the ‘Welfare State’ was now showing
its organic incapacity to solve social and economic problems. Instead
of facing and doing away with the remaining areas of poverty, and
generating a steady increase in production and social wealth, the
Welfare State had condemned the nation to stagnation and an unending
cycle of short-lived booms and consequent slumps.
Economic stagnation was accompanied by a general backwardness of
economic structure: left largely intact by the war, British industry had
not been forced to reconstruct and modernize like its European com-
petitors, and so still belonged in part to the old imperial era of safe,
protected markets. Gaitskell’s attempt to reform the Labour Party
coincided with the crisis of the ‘affluent society’. While he was preparing
his attack on Clause IV, there was a growing number of unofficial
strikes led by shop stewards, in protest at the rising cost of living and in
opposition to an ‘official’ trade union line often afflicted by bureaucratic
sclerosis. The wave of national self-criticism launched about 1956 by the
more advanced intellectuals went on apace, as did the demolition of
national mythology. A new theatre, a new narrative style, a new
cinema, new poetry, were all created, parts of a search for a new
identity to replace the old one that was rotting away. The Campaign for
Nuclear Disarmament was finding enormous support, and in a very
short time the largest and most influential pacifist movement in the
West had won over the Labour Party. Since then, the renunciation of
nuclear arms has been the fundamental pledge of Labour’s foreign
policy, in the complete opposition to Tory foreign policy.
These were the main features of the period in which Gaitskell carried
out his revisionist campaign, and they certainly go some way towards
explaining his defeat. But the explanation is still far from complete. We
mentioned already the surprising fact that revisionism came to grief in
this, the least ‘hegemonic’ of socialist parties, in the movement which
should therefore—by normal standards of judgement—have been most
open to revisionist pressures and non-socialist theories. A proper ex-
planation of this odd turn of events requires some consideration of the
nature of Labourism, of its main organizational and ideological traits,
and its historical formation.
The Nature and Structure of Labourism

The Labour Party stands alone, among socialist movements. It belongs


31
to the Socialist International, indeed it largely dominates that body, but
unlike the other members it refuses to call itself either ‘Socialist’ or
‘Social-Democratic’. It is the product of the first organized movement
of the working class, out of which marxism was born, yet it is no
marxist party. It is undoubtedly a political party, but has a structure and
a way of working different from all other parties: in European terms, it
would be more exactly described as a federation. It has no common
ideology, no homogeneous structure, it resembles rather a complex
system of weights and counter-weights corresponding to the various
social, ideal and organizational forces that come together in it. Never
theless, it is without doubt the most class-conscious of socialist parties,
the most strictly working-class in outlook. The least marxist of parties,
it has also shown itself to be the most decidedly anti-revisionist.
The marxist Left has always levelled one well-founded—if rather
obvious—reproach at the Labour Party. Deprived of any ‘universal’ or
unifying mission, the British working class has remained a prisoner
shut within the corporative limits of its own class existence; instead of
turning into the conscious, outward-looking leader of its country it has
stuck to the narrow care of its own particular interests. It is a class that
has failed to acquire a consciousness of its own historic mission. The
Labour Party, far from being the vehicle of any such wider vision or
function, has been the principal agent of the absorption of the working-
class movement into the bourgeois-democratic order, of its ‘institution-
alization’ into the status quo. Just as the statue of Oliver Cromwell is
comfortably ensconced behind the safe, protective walls of Westminster,
so nowadays trade union leaders sit dressed in ermine robes on the
red-upholstered benches of the House of Lords.
Although this type of criticism is essentially just, it is often over-
extended in an excessively abstract and schematic way; and this fault is
not unrelated to the general lack of influence of the extreme Left,
whether Labour or Communist, on British politics. Reality is more
complex than these schemas, and instead of twisting it to suit them we
must measure our criteria against the concrete realities of history.
Nearly a millenium of history uninterrupted by foreign invasions has
provided the external condition for the formation of the British ruling
class; this, and its well-known inner flexibility and social adaptability,
have made of it the most politically able of classes. The ruling circles
have always been a little ahead of the times, and have anticipated
social and political developments before it was too late. They were the
real inventors of the law recently formulated by Prince Tommaso of
Lampedusa: everything has to be changed, so that everything can
remain as it always has been. They destroyed feudalism before a
bourgeois revolution capable of really endangering their position
could arise.
In a recent series of articles, New Left Review has attempted a Grams-
cian-style exploration into the secret of this ‘hegemony’ exercised for so
long, with such uninterrupted success. The British bourgeois revolu-
tion began in 1640, 150 years before the French Revolution. The
British proletariat steps on to the scene of history in the early years of
32
the 19th century, long before 1848 and 1871. The contrast is even more
striking on the plane of ideas, vital to our understanding of the inner
nature of hegemony: while the French Revolution went hand in hand
with the great ideals of the Enlightenment, the British bourgeoisie
produced only Utilitarianism, the British equivalent to Voltaire was
Jeremy Bentham. After Cromwell’s revolution had achieved its partial,
pragmatic success it was as if glorious ideals and universal aspirations
were rendered constitutionally impossible. The bourgeoisie was solidly
integrated with the landed aristocracy, and empiricism and puritanism
became the ideological cement of this ‘new-old’ ruling class. Subse-
quently the great tempests of the Industrial Revolution utterly trans-
formed the economy, the society, the political life, even the geography
of Britain; and yet everything remained as it has always been.
The rise of the socialist and working-class movements brought about a
remarkably similar operation. The bourgeois-aristocratic ruling class
reacted to the heroic Chartist era which saw the first glimmerings of
socialism with procedures faithfully reproduced later on in the im-
perialist period and against the challenge of de-colonization. First
some repression, then concessions, then absorption. Thus the Fabian
tortoise became the symbol of the movement, instead of the Communist
Manifesto. Bernard Shaw and Sidney Webb were its prophets, not
Marx and Engels. The operation seemed to have succeeded perfectly
once more: the trade union secretaries and political chiefs of the work-
ing-class movement were welcomed into the House of Lords, as the
great industrial entrepreneurs had been welcomed before them, in the
early nineteenth century.
British Peculiarities

Before going any further, it may be in order to remark on a common


lacuna in this analysis. In the field of ideas, hegemony is not exercised
only by one system of thought. If we were to stop short at Utilitarian-
ism and Empiricism, little idea would be gained of how such general
notions have been translated into popular habits and ways of life—of
how philosophy is turned into a common mental climate (Gramsci’s
‘common sense’). In Britain there appear to be two essential, permanent
instruments of this transformation. The first is nationalism: the first
revolutionary impulses at the beginning of the 19th century were
strangled in their infancy by the call to defend the homeland against
Napoleon. It was in this way that the ideas of the French Revolution
and the works of Tom Paine were safely outlawed. More recently, the
patriotic call goes some way to explaining the Labour movement’s
attitudes during the colonial era and the First World War, from which
the Labour Party emerged much less damaged than other European
socialist parties.
The second is the Protestant Reformation, in its peculiarly British
manifestation. After 60 years more of historical experience, there is no
doubt that Weber’s ideas on Calvinism as an expression of the bour-
geois-capitalist ethos appear sounder than ever. There has been no
revolution in any Christian country where the Reformation had pre-
viously succeeded. Russia, Yugoslavia, and Cuba all stand witness to
33
this point. It is further confirmed by the present political state of
Christian Europe, where Catholic Europe has a Left dominated by
communist, revolutionary parties and northern, Protestant Europe a
predominantly moderate, social-democratic Left. In the United States
the ‘extreme’ Left is represented by the radical wing of the Democratic
Party. The Protestant Reformation appears therefore as a major vehicle
of bourgeois hegemony, as the most effective sort of immunization
against the universal ideals of socialism. Here is another side of Marxist
theory which requires re-thinking and development. The Italian com-
munists took a first step in this direction, with the theses of their 10th
Congress, but it is the general ideas of Marx and Lenin about religion
that should be re-examined historically. More particularly, the ‘common
sense’ (again in the Gramscian meaning) of the Catholic world ought to
be studied critically: it is universal and collectivistic in essence, and
must be sharply distinguished from the generally conservative function
of the Catholic Hierarchy and its power apparatus.
In Britain the Reformed religion, and its offshoot Nonconformity,
absorbed a great deal of the anti-capitalist rebellion during a critical
period in the formation of the working-class movement. In this way,
salvation from social misery was found in individual communication with
God, in the ‘privacy’ of the single soul. The Methodist, Congregational-
ist and other independent Churches all nurtured this useless form of
outburst, acting as most efficient safety-valves of the capitalist order
which was emerging out of the chaos and incredible sufferings of the
Industrial Revolution.
If one looks more closely at this process of hegemonic ‘absorption’ of
the British socialist movement, however, one sees that the process is by
no means complete. The circle is not an entirely closed one, as the
Marxist judgements we mentioned above tended to assume. The chains
of hegemony remained untied, in one vital area. For the working-class
movement, the missing element in the operation was really the funda-
mental one: that is, social integration. Whereas the integrative process
had been total, both ideological and social, among the upper strata of
society, it could not be extended in quite this way to the proletariat. The
latter could scarcely be absorbed in the same manner as the industrial
bourgeoisie had united itself to the landed ruling class. It is here that
Marx takes his revenge on those who have employed the categories of
his system too rigidly, Labourism is deprived of any unitary, universal
body of ideas, it is true; but the the class it is founded upon remains
unintegrated socially, as a class, the British workers remain—even after
the experience of the ‘Welfare State’—solidly us, a we separated by an
uncrossable barrier of customs, manners and ideas, from them, the
rulers, the upper classes or ‘Establishment’ as the British put it. That
narrow-minded corporativism which still characterizes British trade-
unionism, is a social class force, in spite of its inertness, a force which
maintains intact its combative force even if it makes little use of it, and
is a possible basis for advanced socialist development. The defeat of
Gaitskellite revisionism was ensured by the natural alliance established
between on the one hand the centre-left and left-wing groups and, on
the other, the main body of ‘corporative’ trade-unionists. The former
were theoretically and ideologically motivated, the latter abandoned
34
their customary allegiance to the right wing out of a deeper loyalty to
class traditions. In this way, the trade unions demonstrated the positive
potentiality locked in their corporativism, undermining the right-wing
leadership and opening the door to Wilson as the next leader of the
Party.
Even although it is the unions which give vitality to the party, instead
of the other way round as in most European countries, even if the trade
unions do maintain an over-riding control over the Labour Party, this
does not mean that trade-union corporativism is the dominant ideology
of the Party. Reflecting a social and class reality whose positive nature
has been borne out by events, it is nevertheless only one facet of the
Labour Party’s pluralistic soul, alongside Nonconformity, Radicalism,
Fabianism and Marxism. It is often said that this incongruous ideo-
logical mix-up has prevented Labour from being a hegemonic force
and condemned it to play a subordinate role. Of course, it is very true
that the British socialist movement has never produced a Gramsci, a
theorist capable of tackling traditional culture critically and of so
digesting socialist theory into the dense texture of existing attitudes,
ways of thinking, and traditions as to create eventually a distinctively
national theory; but it is also true that the Marxist Left has looked at
British reality and at Labourism mainly in the light of foreign cultural
experience and the notions drawn from that experience.
Labour’s Hegemonic Role

It must be emphasized in the first place that Labour’s ‘plural soul’ has
not stopped it from exercising a very basic kind of hegemony, which
has stamped the character of the socialist movement and left permanent
traces in British political history. The period in question was a limited
one, but of fundamental importance: the era of the Chartists, which saw
the birth of the working-class movement and its entry on to the his-
torical stage. The 11 years from 1837 until 1848 were years in which the
nascent movement attained a universal character which is still not
exhausted today. Chartism was created out of sheer economic necessity,
as part of the struggle of the wage-earners and the dispossessed against
the inhuman Poor Laws, but was turned into a political move-
ment by the Convention of 1839. The six demands of the ‘Peoples’
Charter’ were to become—with the single exception of the demand for
Annual Parliaments—the new bases of British democracy in the de-
cades that followed and left a decisive imprint on the socialist movement
which had produced them. In other words, political democracy was a
conquest of the workers in Britain, the solitary—but essential—‘univer-
sal’ message expressed in their movement.
There is hardly space here to say much about the frequently a-historical
character of Marxist theories of the State, except what directly regards
current views of Labourism. Marx was writing before the passing of
the Second and Third Reform Acts in Britain, in 1867 and 1884, when
France was still far from attaining the precarious stability of the Third
Republic and Prussia still lay in the iron grip of the Junkers. Lenin’s
‘State and Revolution’ was written primarily as an arm in the fight to
overthrow the Czarist autocracy. In addition, it should not be forgotten
35
how every society which gives way to another transmits something of
itself to this new order. While representative political democracy is
undoubtedly a legacy of bourgeois thought, its realization in practice as
an institution was everywhere fought for and in varying degrees im-
posed by the socialist movement, by the working class and the trade
unions—it was ‘universalized’ by being turned into their cause. The
authoritarian degeneration of Leninist democracy—the dictatorship of
the proletariat—has posed the problem of the State once more, with
dramatic urgency, to the whole working-class movement. To the
communists, most acutely, in ways we can do no more than roughly
indicate here; but also to socialists, who are faced with the task of
transforming parliamentary democracy from a static myth mechanically
opposed to the idea of proletarian dictatorship into a means to some-
thing else, that is, into a historical transition out of which economic
democracy and socialism will be able to evolve. The question of just
how this can come about has hardly been considered yet.
Having taken the trouble to emphasize this ‘hegemonic’ aspect of
Labourism, it is plainly in order to recall an obvious truth: in today’s
industrially advanced countries, the only real hope of attaining power
for parties calling themselves socialist lies in the acceptance and effec-
tive re-interpretation of representative democracy. But only provided
they have previously achieved a genuine hegemonic capacity, real
cultural superiority and an admitted socio-political competence. Other-
wise, in the absence of a coherent alternative vision of what society
should be, such political integration will be merely passive and a
form of weakness, a kind of subordination to the status quo.
Is this true of the Labour Party? I do not believe so. Primarily because
of the universal character of the movement’s democratic inheritance,
already referred to. Also because of certain other characteristics which
the marxist Left commonly rejects in its un-dialectical condemnation of
Labourism. The favourite target is the most obvious one: Fabianism.
Right from the beginning, the self-castrating tendencies of the latter
were only too obvious: the Fabians wilfully refused to expound any
general conception of things, limiting themselves to the strictly
utilitarian tasks of ‘gas and water socialism’ and failing to propose to
the country anything more stirring than the Webbs’ ‘minimum national
standard of living’. It was the Fabians who—true to their programmatic
name—paralysed ideological debate within the Labour movement and
channelled its energies into the backwaters of dreary practicality. They
saw the State not as an apparatus of power to be reconstructed but as a
neutral instrument that should be used in the interests of the masses.
However, this and other aspects of the Fabian credo ought to be re-
examined with some care today—for example Beatrice Webb’s much-
deprecated ‘socialist snobbery’, and the Webbian ideal of ‘permeating’
capitalist society from within. These things should not be merely
dismissed. It is too easily forgotten that the renowned political ability
of the British ruling classes did not miraculously fall from heaven—
how much of the tolerance which characterizes the British way of life
today is due to the Fabians? Is there not something of value in the im-
munity from Utopian dreams—as distinct from general, philosophical
ideas—which they helped to strengthen and transmit? To what extent
36
has their influence helped to make the present-day ruling class accept
democratic rules so completely? Beatrice’s ‘permeation’ may not have
been entirely useless and negative in its effect.

The Marxist Strain

In any case, Fabian indifference to ideology did not prevent the basic
principles of socialism from being communicated to the Labour Party.
The Labour Constitution’s ‘Clause IV’, Gaitskell’s great target, derives
from ideas put forward in 1900 by such figures as Shaw and Hardie
when the Labour Party was being founded. Ever since then, a Marxist
strain has always been at work in the Party. Part of the creative influence
exerted by this element is a certain current of thought in the movement
which today, after de-stalinization, has again become important. I
mean the ‘Guild Socialism’ of the period 1910–20, whose most promin-
ent theoretician was G. D. H. Cole. Based on the ideas of William
Morris and the French anarcho-syndicalists, this line of thought
developed the theory of ‘workers’ control’ and bears significant resem-
blances to the Gramscian ‘Factory Councils’ of 1920, and also to the
more recent ‘Management Councils’ and the Yugoslav self-manage-
ment committees.

It was out of this current of ideas that a British version of ‘Austro-


Marxism’ was developed—that is, the socialist international movement
aimed at reconciling and uniting the two wings of the working-class
movement, socialist and communist. Plainly, this vain attempt is of the
greatest interest to us today as an anticipation of our own problems,
and should be carefully studied.

Another historical theme requiring much closer attention than it has


received so far is the influence of such theorists as Cole and Harold
Laski upon the formation of what were to become leading nationalist
groups in the British colonies, an influence exerted both directly and
through the wider and more ambiguous ambience of the London
School of Economics. The leaders of many countries in Africa and
Asia, and even Latin America, were formerly pupils of Cole and Laski,
and it is therefore to the latter that we must concede the parentage of
such significant trends as ‘active neutralism’ and the search for a new
‘African’ or ‘Asian’ socialism, or the creation of ‘Guianese’ socialism in
South America.

Modern Labourism is partially derived from this original and fecund


tradition of thought, which provided the theoretical bases of ‘Bevanism’
and inspired the revolt of the Left during the ’fifties. And it was in
Bevanism, and in the battles fought by Bevan, Tribune and the left-
wing group around them—against rearmament generally, and German
rearmament in particular—that the seeds were sown of the socialist
revival of the sixties which has produced the defeat of revisionism and
the leadership of Wilson. Wilson was, in fact, one of the leading
figures of the Bevanite group, second only to Bevan himself, and others
in it (such as Richard Crossman and Barbara Castle) now occupy
prominent roles in the formulation of Party and government policy.

37
It may be objected that Wilson and the men round him are not the
whole Labour Party. But one should not forget, either, that Wilson’s
rise to the leadership is a clear sign of the changing internal equilibrium
of the movement resulting from the battles over Gaitskellism, Uni-
lateralism and ‘Clause IV’. Thanks mainly to the influence of Frank
Cousins and his gigantic Transport and General Workers Union, the
main axis of the Party has been shifted leftwards. Nor should it be
overlooked that the British Constitution awards to a Prime Minister—
and also implicitly to his opposite number, the Leader of whatever
party is in opposition—practically unlimited power. Hence, the per-
sonality and aims of Wilson and his followers have become (at least for
a time) decisive, and deserve closer scrutiny.
Wilson: his personality and purpose

Not long after his election as Leader of the Labour Party Wilson de-
clared in a well-known interview that he had never read a word of
Marx’s ‘Capital’. In a more recent article, he has spoken sharply about
the ‘communist degeneration’ of socialist principles so as to leave no
doubt just where he stands. Episodes like these spread alarm on the
Left and revive old memories. The right wing heaves great sighs of
relief. Just who is Harold Wilson, in reality?
Naturally gifted, with a formidably retentive memory and exceptional
powers of work, he left Oxford to become one of the Labour Party’s
bright young men. At university he had been one of the assistants of
Lord Beveridge, the author of the Report which was one of the most
important foundation stones of the Welfare State. From his Congre-
gationalist father he inherited the traditions of Nonconformity, from the
family’s environment—the industrial area of Colne Valley—he learned
about social problems at first hand and acquired a lasting contempt for
all the typical English phenomena of caste and snobbery. He does not
know Marx, in spite of his training as an economist, but has ‘read about
him’. He has always been something of a puzzle to most political
observers: his coldness, his well-known very calculating approach to
issues, the skill with which he has chosen the right moment to speak
and act—all these things have given rise to repeated accusations of
ambiguity and opportunism. Wilson has none of the qualities of the
popular tribune—none of the contagious passion and enthusiastic
warmth which made Bevan such a fascinating figure, for instance. His
oratory is biting and caustic, but fails to carry the audience away like
Bevan’s. However, he does not have Bevan’s characteristic faults,
either. The gulf between feelings and reason is very evident in Wilson,
and this makes of him a real politician where Bevan was not. Not,
however, a politician ready to sacrifice basic convictions at the first
opportunity. On the contrary, fidelity to principle is the most striking
feature of his character.
When Bevan resigned from the Attlee government at the beginning of
1951, he wanted his friends Wilson and Freeman to stay in the govern-
ment. But Wilson would not listen: he was at this time a ‘brilliant’
young Minister, only 35 years old, and had negotiated with Mikoyan
the first trade agreement with the USSR, but he chose to resign rather than
38
compromise his principles. He would have nothing to do with a foreign
policy that rested on massive rearmament and would undermine social
policy completely. The later development of his political career con-
firmed this fundamentalism. In the period 1953–54, he was a leader of
the campaign against German rearmament: the motion opposing it
defeated in 1954 by only two votes in the Parliamentary Labour Party
was tabled by Wilson. Later, however, he began to evolve a personal
position increasingly distinct from that of Bevan. When Bevan resigned
from the ‘Shadow Cabinet’ again, this time Wilson chose to stay in it.
More interested than Bevan in the practical possibilities of power, he
began to react against the crude and peremptory character of Bevanism,
now threatening to destroy party unity. This divergence concerned
tactics, not essentials, and in the end Bevan was to some extent in-
fluenced by it. While he remained in essential agreement with Bevanism,
the disagreement with Gaitskell was both tactical and strategic, and
sprang from a basic difference of outlook.
After the death of Bevan in 1960, Wilson took a key role in the defeat of
Gaitskell. The Leader was humiliated by the defeat at the Scarborough
Conference in 1960, and by the vote in favour of unilateral renunciation
of nuclear armaments. We have already emphasized the great import-
ance of this positive reunion between the socialist elements in the
Party, now led by Wilson, and its class basis. From then onwards
Wilson could present an open challenge to Gaitskell and the right-wing
leadership, even if there was no hope of any immediate, tactical success.
Basic principles were at stake, and Wilson did not hesitate to act
accordingly. In 1960 he stood against Gaitskell as the left-wing
candidate in the election for the leadership, and was defeated. In 1962
he was the Left candidate for the vice-leadership of the Party, and was
again defeated. Yet, the following year, after Gaitskell’s sudden death,
he was elected triumphantly to the leadership against the combined
opposition of the right wing, which favoured Brown, and the centr-
ists, who preferred Callaghan.
In an astonishingly short time, Wilson surprised even his admirers by
the fashion in which he won the confidence of the movement and healed
the grave wounds caused by Gaitskell’s tenure of office. All the more
so, as—for the sake of Party unity—he kept around him the right-wing
ruling group he had inherited from the old régime. Indeed, in the long
history of the Labour Party, there has never reigned such complete
harmony. Wilson also managed to heal the breach between the Party
and the intellectuals outside it created by Gaitskell’s policies—a success
all the more important because of the increasing cultural ferment of
recent years. The Left looks to Wilson as its own natural leader, there-
fore, and the Right is conquered by his immense capacity for smooth-
ing out differences and inventing British-style compromises. Is this
opportunism? Not really, for one can be sure that the Left, hyper-
sensitive as always to questions of principle, would not be faithful if
this was all there was to his leadership. His secret is a different one.
Anyone who still expects drastic changes of direction or other dramatic
developments from the Wilson government is sure to be bitterly
disappointed. When Wilson took action to force the Labour leadership
39
to swallow unilateralism, we saw how he simultaneously took good
care to distinguish this policy clearly from neutralism. This was
possibly the most revealing moment of his career. We have seen what
Wilson’s basic convictions are, and how firmly he holds to them. But
politics is the realm of the practically possible, not the realm of mere
desires and dreams. The adoption of a frankly neutralist policy, in
present-day Britain, would simply have ensured a fourth, disastrous
electoral defeat. Wilson’s essential characteristic, I believe, is his ability
to confer a concrete sense on the profound but vague aspirations of the
Labour movement, firmly excising from them every trace of ineffectual
abstractness and projecting them into the future as the real guiding-
lines of practical, day-to-day politics. The key points of his domestic
and foreign policy, while anchored in that general ‘alternative philoso-
phy’ discussed above, all share in this common character. The ideas
and feelings of neutralism, frontally and totally rejected by the Right
in Gaitskell’s day, have been re-thought and re-directed under
Wilson’s aegis into a concrete programme: they have been turned into
politics.
International Prospects
The premise of Wilson’s foreign policy is a recognition of the present
state of international relations, that is of the two power-blocs and their
respective military and political alliances. But instead of visualizing
them statically in the usual way, he sees them as in course of transfor-
mation, parts of a world whose social and economic structure marches
onwards far more swiftly than its political organization. The old
ideological division between East and West is giving way to a much
more perilous one between the Northern and Southern hemispheres,
to a conflict at once racial and economic between rich and poor nations,
‘white’ and ‘coloured’ peoples. Wilson’s object is to define a new role
for Britain within the framework of this analysis, as leader of the
movement to establish co-existence and collaboration with the nations
of the ‘Third World’. A textual study of various Labour Party docu-
ments (the last election Manifesto, Wilson’s speeches, etc) brings out
this commitment to a positive reform of traditional ways of thinking:
from being a primarily military alliance, NATO should be turned into an
alliance against world poverty; Central Europe should be disarmed and
above all ‘de-nuclearized’ and every effort should be made to find
common ground between Russian and American positions: the Multi-
Lateral Nuclear Force must be opposed as an insuperable obstacle to
both disarmament and the solution of the German question; the
German question itself can have no solution not founded on recogni-
tion of the present Eastern frontiers.
The Labour Party’s present ideas about European integration and the
Common Market are of some importance, and merit more detailed
consideration. Labour opposition to the Macmillan government’s
negotiations for entry into the Common Market goes back to the
autumn of 1962, and to the Party Conference held at that time.
Gaitskell’s intransigent speech on the subject united the Party behind
him for the first time. But he had hesitated for a whole year before
deciding his attitude, and it was Wilson and a few others who had
40
helped make up his mind. This was the second major defeat of neo-
capitalism in Britain. Economic and political integration had been
reduced to its proper dimensions by the Labour debate, as a technical
expedient with some ideological overtones (and not a law of evolution
compelling obedience). Labour demanded that the European com-
munity should be ‘open’ and free from political discrimination, devoted
to stimulating the economic growth of the backward countries rather
than merely to further expansion in Europe. Thus, Wilson has indicated
Yugoslavia as a typical example of a nation which ought to be in the
community, and has repeatedly challenged the Conservatives to accept
Labour’s ‘five conditions’ as the only possible basis for British entry
into the Common Market. These would mean in practice the end of the
Common Market’s ‘ideological’ character, the shelving of the endless
palaver about political unification in Europe, and a radically new
direction for European development. Again, for the second time in only
two years, the Labour Party had decisively obstructed the progress of
neo-capitalism.
A ‘unilateral’ renunciation of nuclear weapons is clearly the heart of
Labour’s international alternative. Three main considerations serve to
determine this move’s political respectability, as well as its evident
moral significance. The first is economic: only the super-powers can
realistically permit themselves the colossal expense involved. The
second is strategic: the ‘overkill’ capacity of the USA and the USSR now
renders superfluous any addition to it by a third power. The third is
political: after the Moscow treaty, Labour’s decision will facilitate a
further relaxation of international tension—which sooner or later must
proceed via an agreement against the dissemination of nuclear weapons.
This is a wise policy, but also a courageous one. Britain still clings
strongly to certain imperialist traditions and is ultra-sensitive to matters
touching on her great-power status. While Labour presses ahead with
this altruistic policy, the British know that De Gaulle and Mao Tse
Tung are busy building up their own national nuclear arsenals, and
that the nuclear ambitions of nations like Federal Germany, Israel,
Egypt, and even India, grow stronger every day. The weak point of the
Labour design is perhaps that it depends upon the American govern-
ment’s continuing to follow the Kennedy line in foreign policy faith-
fully.
It would be outside the scope of this essay to tackle a closer analysis of
the Labour programme. Consideration of Labour’s internal policies
leads in general to the same conclusions as we have come to in dealing
with international affairs. With one significant addition, however.
Wilson contributed something to the unilateralist swing of 1960, but
only a part—the dramatic change was brought about by manifold forces,
by the great pacifist agitations of previous years, by sustained pressures
from the Left, by the changing cultural climate itself. The correspond-
ing turning-point in domestic policy came three years later, with the
Scarborough Conference of 1963. And this time Wilson was entirely
responsible for it, with his famous speech on the scientific revolution
and socialism. This remains the fundamental document for an under-
standing of Labour’s long-term ambitions, and the best attempt so far to
41
give a concrete and attainable sense to socialism in Britain. With this
speech, Wilson reinforced the crucial re-uniting of the Party’s essential
class basis with its most important strain of socialist thinking, and took
it a creative step further.
Nationalization

Up to the time of the defeat of Gaitskell, the Labour Left had always
fought its battles on ‘dogmatic’ lines. Basing its position on the strong
constitutional argument provided by Clause IV, it had always presented
nationalization as the most necessary and characteristic aspect of a
socialist programme. Its lists of industries and services to be national-
ized, re-presented on every suitable occasion, never functioned as more
than a sort of inert counterweight to the anodyne radicalism of the
Right. And while the two wings of the Labour Party pursued this
sterile quarrel, the average British elector was merely dismayed by the
Left’s imposing ‘shopping-list’ (which no Communist Party in Western
Europe would have dreamt of putting in its electoral programme). This
is not to deny for a moment the real value of the Left’s tenacious strug-
gle to hold the Labour Party firm to some sort of socialism. Without
that struggle, none of the more recent developments we examined
would have taken place. But the Left’s positions of ‘principle’ had no
real and effective translation into terms of practical politics, they
remained largely immobile and abstract. Once again, we return to
Wilson’s secret, present also in his Scarborough speech: he has pro-
vided the translation. With him, left-wing socialism has lost its nine-
teenth-century feel and become a form of practical idealism speaking of
an attainable future, a new world close at hand. Socialism has become
the solution of Britain’s problems.
Without ignoring basic principles—the common ownership of the
means of production, distribution and exchange—Wilson’s analysis of
economic reality begins from the present conditions of the British
economy, from its stagnation and backwardness of structure. The
‘profit motive’ has shown its organic inability to modernize the system
and grasp the possibilities of the scientific and technological revolution
which is under way. The need for socialism has never been so clear or
so comprehensible as in this situation, for only co-ordinated action by the
State can now meet the enormous costs of introducing the latest
scientific and technical advances on to the shop floor of industry. New
plant, new factories, new techniques are needed, and only the col-
lectivity, through the State acting on its behalf, can provide them.
Such new State or State-aided industries will represent the most dynamic
and up-to-date sector of the economy, and their influence will ensure
the dominance of the public sector over the private sector—the ‘com-
manding heights’ will really and truly be public property, and as a
consequence Britain can turn into a socialist country. The Labour
Party is for the present united behind this socialist vision of its leader.
The old ‘shopping-lists’ for nationalization have disappeared.
As happens at great turning-points in the history of a political move-
ment, a new and meaningful political message has emerged, and its
validity can be tested with two measuring-rods: on the one hand, the
42
internal support it arouses, on the other hand its external universality.
The Labour Party feels itself to be moving meaningfully into the
future, the bearer of a valid solution to all national problems, a solution
no-one else could furnish. The repercussions of this change of attitude
have been far-reaching. Even the Tory Right admits that Wilson is
addressing himself to real ills and proposing realistic cures; scientists
and technicians see a future for themselves as essential and appreciated
parts of the social fabric of Britain, instead of as reluctant refugees to
America; the Conservatives begin—most significant of all—to trail
behind the Labour programme, discovering the technical and scientific
revolution belatedly in their turn, and trying to compete with Labour in
their promises for the social services. All this is the very opposite of
what happened in the period before the 1959 election, when Gaitskell
trailed behind Macmillan and the Conservatives and tried vainly to
out-bid them with meaningless and vulgar reassurances to the mythical
consumers of the ‘affluent society’.
In short, I believe that Wilson has begun to trace the outlines of a
truly hegemonic policy and programme, for the first time in the history
of the Labour Party. The conquest of genuine hegemony must remain
far in the future, even so. But perhaps in this one respect, the future has
already begun.
Postscript — The Hundred Days

Three months of Labour power have both confirmed this analysis and
the various doubts and reservations along with it.
Labour overlooked something of prime importance when it took office
—the extremely close economic inter-relation of the Western world,
and the resistance which the City and other major economic groups
would put up to a programme like Wilson’s. Hence they were un-
prepared before the storm, and had to retreat, forsaking some of their
early intentions. From the City’s point of view, the results of the
election were ideal. They offered a prospect of being able to ‘condition’
the new régime, so that it would accomplish just what the pillars of the
old régime wanted, and no more: that is, the necessary amount of
economic renovation, without too much damage to vested interests.
Better still, with no damage to vested interests. When Wilson refused
to compromise and declared his intention to go ahead with the full
economic programme, the City’s reaction hardly suffers by comparison
with the counter-attack staged in Italy against the ‘Centre-Left’ legis-
lation. There, the bank vaults were emptied by capitalists running
away to Switzerland with their money. Here, the City contributed 600
millions to the total of 800 million sterling thrown on to the internation-
al money market in October and November last.
A failure to foresee and take precautionary measures against internal
manoeuvrings against the pound seems to have been at the root of the
government’s uncertainties and the rather zig-zag course it pursued
during and after the crisis. However, one must give it credit for resist-
ing the pressure for a straightforward deflationist policy coming from
the City and international financial circles. The positive results of this
43
resistance are now beginning to show themselves, and later this year
there should be a decisive up-swing.
One must now, however, have much stronger reservations concerning
one side of Wilsonism. Wilson’s preoccupation with finely calculated
tactics and his disposition to ‘play it cool’ almost proved fatal to the
Labour Party during the electoral campaign. A country like Britain can
only change significantly if public opinion is constantly stirred up, if
everything is constantly argued about, and if the Labour Party has a
strong and positive line on the issues at stake. Otherwise everything
lapses into the usual stupor. The lesson of the sixties is clear for
Labourism: it was the tumultuous, upsetting experience of doubt and
self-criticism which gave Labour its chance of power. Wilson’s mistake
over the election has been aggravated, if anything, since he has taken
office. As Crossman has put it, ‘there is no two-way traffic’ between 10
Downing Street and the Constituencies. Wilson’s immense political and
tactical self-confidence may in this way worsen one of the chronic ills
of Labourism (and of most other western democratic institutions,
incidentally): the separation between those to whom power is delegated
and mass movements and opinions, the abyss between the rulers and
the ruled.
This combination of general tactical over-confidence and the serious
immediate error of ignoring the City’s quite predictable manoeuvres
has led to some strange consequences. In foreign policy, American
support during the sterling crisis has had the effect of curtailing the
government’s freedom of action. The Malaysian question, an essen-
tially political affair offering no hope of anything but a political solution,
has been treated in an openly militaristic fashion. In Europe, the govern-
ment’s failure to take any positive initiative has left General De Gaulle
even more isolated in his ‘grandeur’ as the only Western statesman still
capable of original political action. Internally, the government’s isolation
and absorption in short-term measures have also resulted in mistakes
like the postponement of the pension increases, and the vacillations
over the Concord affair and the reorganization of the aircraft industry.
The consequences will be of the gravest sort, for European socialism as
well as for the Labour Party, if the government continues to lapse into
‘muddle through’ whenever it is faced with difficult problems.
However, Wilson is hardly the man to ignore the lessons of hard
experience, and the general state of health of the Labour movement is
still good. More than ever, we must hope that the marxist Left—
whether in or out of the Labour Party—will be able to perform its proper
task. Neither feeble acquiescence in Wilson’s every decision nor a
prejudiced and undiscriminating opposition will help the government,
or the cause of socialism. What is required is constant discussion, and
the stimulation of the government with constructive criticism; and
these will only be what they should be, and function effectively, if they
are founded on something else. That is, on an awareness of the truth:
we too are responsible for what happens. The Left has to learn to feel the
responsibility, the dimensions, of power in its own bones and speak and
act accordingly. How else can Marxism hope to grow into a dominant
political and cultural force, as distinct from a protesting voice?
44
scanner

The High Cost of Dissent


in the U.S.A James and George Cockcroft

A US intellectual is free to hold whatever opinions he likes on Vietnam,


Cuba, the Congo, or other foreign policy issues, but his freedom to
express these views publicly is often limited in several subtle ways. The
most effective of these is money. From grants, subsidies, and research
centres, both public and private, money is available to intellectuals who
wish to study a wide variety of non-controversial subjects. However, it
is less likely to be available for an analysis of more ‘sensitive’ subjects,
unless the scholar’s approach assures his avoiding controversial con-
clusions and implies his agreement with the viewpoint of the Estab-
lishment.
Such economic facts have two disastrous consequences. The number of
books and articles expressing any significant dissent is vastly reduced,
thus diminishing the variety of non-Establishment views available to
the educated audience. But worse, young intellectuals suffer a constant
subtle pressure to pursue only those interests which may lead to econo-
mic and professional rewards; to study only that which is safe (for
example, political scientists backed by lucrative grants are interviewing
Cuban exiles in Miami to learn ‘the truth’ about Castro’s Cuba).
In brief, economic realities diminish the variety of viewpoints actually
held by US citizens on any controversial subject. The subsidization of
books and magazines by the CIA is only the worst symptom of a more
general sickness. So absurd has the situation become that foreign
policy truths are ‘unspeakable’, as Senator J. William Fulbright put it in
his famous speech vainly attempting to destroy myths and broaden the
range of foreign policy debate. When those truths are spoken, as by
Senators Wayne Morse and Ernest Gruening on Vietnam, for months
at a time they go unreported or are buried in the back pages of the
national press.
What has been happening in the United States in the past decade is not
a series of persecutions, open and brutal, against alleged ‘crypto-
Communists,’ as in the McCarthy era, but rather a less open and more
45
wide-ranging series of indirect pressures against all those who dare to
challenge the main premises of US foreign policy.
Thus, correspondents of major newspapers and magazines who report
brutal tortures made possible by the US military presence in Vietnam, or
describe the reactionary, repressive nature of military takeovers in
Latin America, are transferred to other areas or resign at an early age.
John Gerassi found his reports to Time magazine edited beyond
recognition and so quit, later writing The Great Fear, the Reconquest of
Latin America by Latin Americans. The book sold poorly, since re-
viewers, echoing the Establishment line, ridiculed Gerassi for his
‘naivete’ and ‘ignorance’ about ‘Fidelismo’. Gerassi’s journalistic
talents momentarily saved him when Newsweek, under new liberal
ownership, hired him. But his exposé of the fascism of Brazil’s new
military junta led to his quiet removal from the Latin American editorial
desk of Newsweek. There are innumerable other cases of journalists—
and of government officials reporting from foreign areas—who
have been silenced or transferred to new appointments in recent
years.
This expanded and institutionalized pressure against dissent has also
touched the universities, which have become increasingly dominated by
economic pressures of Government and Foundations. Publicized
university voices no longer dissent, but instead unimaginatively parrot,
whether consciously or not, the sentiments of big business, federal
government, and the military. Those that do dissent are sometimes
dismissed from their jobs, as in the case of former Michigan State
University history professor Samuel Shapiro—and innumerable others
who in less publicized cases became ‘suspect’ because of their unortho-
dox viewpoints about Castroism (as in Shapiro’s case), socialism, or
other controversial subjects.
When a dissenting voice achieves a wide public forum, the university
community often moves to muffle it. For example, C. Wright Mills’
analysis of the US ‘power elite’, which earned international respect,
produced from his social scientist peers not acclaim, but a series of
erudite articles in the leading journals demonstrating that Mills was
‘wrong’ in various respects. Eventually, Mills found himself ostra-
cized by a large part of the university community—he was too ‘con-
troversial’.
Professor Ronald Hilton of Stanford University, a leading US authority
on contemporary Latin American affairs, has also suffered the conse-
quences of being an articulate dissenter. His journal, the monthly
Hispanic American Report, in the past few years had tripled its circula-
tion and gained a reputation as a definitive source on Latin American
events. Recently Latin America has become immensely important and
controversial in the eyes of the Establishment and the Stanford
University work has been heavily endowed by the Ford Foundation.
But following this boom in the subject, in late November 1964 the
Hispanic American Report, at the very height of its influence, was sus-
pended by the University administration as Hilton ‘voluntarily’
resigned. Although not widely publicized, the Hilton case deserves
46
close attention, for it is representative of a series of such indirect
reprisals against honest and intelligent dissent.
Hilton had been guiding a new generation of young instructors through
his Ph.D. programme at Stanford’s Institute of Hispanic American
and Luso-Brazilian Studies, instructors who, unlike many of their
older peers—and the official State Department line—suffered few
illusions about the alleged ‘progressive’ nature of Latin American
military juntas or the degree of meaningful freedom in most Latin
American ‘democratic elections’. These and other graduate students
wrote the hundred pages of every monthly edition of the Report, basing
their detailed, objective political and economic analysis of each Latin
American country on a reading of all the major Latin American press.
The only editorializing was contained in a two-page commentary,
usually written by Dr Hilton.
There, Hilton was a free-wheeling and eclectic critic of all viewpoints
which oversimplified or did gross injustice to the facts. He believed that
eminent US universities were coming under the control of those ‘who
seem to view with favour the development of organizations and groups
which quietly promote not only a traditional capitalistic viewpoint but
a militaristic outlook sometimes involving the concept of terror’. He
realized that the Cuban Revolution was not only misunderstood in the
United States, but also, if understood, could prove a young instructor’s
undoing; he said: ‘The simple fact is that the Cuban issue does not
appear to the outside world as it does in the United States, but the
young instructor had better not say so. It is not a question of Com-
munism, or even of pro-Castroism. He will find himself described as
‘controversial’, and it is an indication of the sickness of American
universities that this word is highly unfavourable. He will not get a
promotion or his contract will not be renewed. The moral to young
faculty members is simply that they should say nothing that will cause
complaints if they hope for steady promotion. Otherwise the mania for
thinking may prove fatal to them.’
Ostensibly, Hilton resigned because the Stanford administration felt
that his Ph.D. programme was not of high enough calibre. ‘Structural
changes,’ including the dropping of the Ph.D. programme, would have
to be made at the Institute. Hilton ‘unreasonably’ resisted these
‘necessary’ changes and therefore ‘abruptly’ resigned. Such is the
official explanation.
However, the fact is that after having asked, without success, Hilton to
drop his editorials, the administration imposed these fundamental
changes without even consulting him. The result was that the Institute
was henceforth to train people for practical work on the M.A. level, its
Ph.D. candidates to be transferred to ‘regular’ departments—thereby in
effect removing the advanced students without whom preparation of
the Report was impossible.
This programme had been in operation for 16 years. Why—even if the
‘structural changes’ were just, which seems dubious—were they made
only now? Over 500 letters of protest from all over the world, were
47
sent to Stanford in regret of Hilton’s ‘resignation’. The administration
chose to ignore the many embarrassing questions that were raised.

The Hispanic American Report’s final editorial, written in its November


1964 issue, said of the Inter-American Press Association congress held
in Mexico City: ‘In a meeting presumably about freedom of expression,
there was little open debate. . .’ The same may too often be said of
meetings of intellectuals in the United States, where dissenting voices
like those of Mills and Hilton are heard but briefly and the majority of
professors in attendance plod on, often lost in methodological irrele-
vancies, and usually silent on fundamental issues. It is as if the money
financing such intellectual gatherings bought not only the drinks but
also the minds.

The United States has long been rightfully proud of its freedom of
thought, speech, and press. The price of that freedom is the vigilance
provided by articulate criticism. To silence one’s critics is to commit
intellectual suicide. This may be the principal danger confronting the
United States and its intellectuals today.

The Italian Presidential Elections Lucien Rey

Christmas, usually a political dead season, was enlivened in Italy by the


election of a new president. Indeed, on Christmas Day itself, deputies,
senators, regional representatives, ex-presidents, etc, trooped into the
Palazzo Montecitorio—368 to say ‘I abstain’ and another 100 to drop a
blank paper into the urn. Eventually, after 21 ballots and 12 days,
Giuseppe Saragat received the necessary absolute majority and was
declared President. His election was, above all, a blow to the Christian
Democratic party, the dominant partner in the ruling centre-left coali-
tion: they were confronted, for the first time since the war, with a
president who was not one of their own but came from a lay party and,
what seemed even worse, had been elected by the switch of Communist
votes at the decisive moment. The centre-left coalition and the Christian
Democratic party had been revealed as spectacularly divided among
themselves and incredibly inept. The Christian Democrats had half
anticipated discomfiture: although President Segni was paralyzed by a
stroke, they had delayed replacing him as long as possible by exploiting
the lack of any clear constitutional procedure for declaring him incap-
able. And when it finally came, it came at a cheerlessly sensitive time:
shortly after the coalition had seen its vote slump badly at the municipal
elections, in an atmosphere of mounting discontent (both within and
without the government) at the dust gathering on its legislative pro-
gramme.

The ebbs and flows of the election were exceedingly complex, but it is
worth giving some account of them: it is rare that the workings and
tensions of party caucuses and coalitions are so transparent to the obser-
ver. The role of president is not entirely formal. He has patronage at
his disposal, he can intervene decisively in the political flux, he can
contest certain ill-defined prerogatives with the Prime Minister. At any
48
sent to Stanford in regret of Hilton’s ‘resignation’. The administration
chose to ignore the many embarrassing questions that were raised.

The Hispanic American Report’s final editorial, written in its November


1964 issue, said of the Inter-American Press Association congress held
in Mexico City: ‘In a meeting presumably about freedom of expression,
there was little open debate. . .’ The same may too often be said of
meetings of intellectuals in the United States, where dissenting voices
like those of Mills and Hilton are heard but briefly and the majority of
professors in attendance plod on, often lost in methodological irrele-
vancies, and usually silent on fundamental issues. It is as if the money
financing such intellectual gatherings bought not only the drinks but
also the minds.

The United States has long been rightfully proud of its freedom of
thought, speech, and press. The price of that freedom is the vigilance
provided by articulate criticism. To silence one’s critics is to commit
intellectual suicide. This may be the principal danger confronting the
United States and its intellectuals today.

The Italian Presidential Elections Lucien Rey

Christmas, usually a political dead season, was enlivened in Italy by the


election of a new president. Indeed, on Christmas Day itself, deputies,
senators, regional representatives, ex-presidents, etc, trooped into the
Palazzo Montecitorio—368 to say ‘I abstain’ and another 100 to drop a
blank paper into the urn. Eventually, after 21 ballots and 12 days,
Giuseppe Saragat received the necessary absolute majority and was
declared President. His election was, above all, a blow to the Christian
Democratic party, the dominant partner in the ruling centre-left coali-
tion: they were confronted, for the first time since the war, with a
president who was not one of their own but came from a lay party and,
what seemed even worse, had been elected by the switch of Communist
votes at the decisive moment. The centre-left coalition and the Christian
Democratic party had been revealed as spectacularly divided among
themselves and incredibly inept. The Christian Democrats had half
anticipated discomfiture: although President Segni was paralyzed by a
stroke, they had delayed replacing him as long as possible by exploiting
the lack of any clear constitutional procedure for declaring him incap-
able. And when it finally came, it came at a cheerlessly sensitive time:
shortly after the coalition had seen its vote slump badly at the municipal
elections, in an atmosphere of mounting discontent (both within and
without the government) at the dust gathering on its legislative pro-
gramme.

The ebbs and flows of the election were exceedingly complex, but it is
worth giving some account of them: it is rare that the workings and
tensions of party caucuses and coalitions are so transparent to the obser-
ver. The role of president is not entirely formal. He has patronage at
his disposal, he can intervene decisively in the political flux, he can
contest certain ill-defined prerogatives with the Prime Minister. At any
48
rate, it is a post which is coveted. To get it, a great deal of bargaining,
bludgeoning and bidding for support is necessary. No less than seven
parties put up their own candidate, each of them ready, if need be, to
switch behind one of the others. Moreover, several of the parties—
particularly the Christian Democratic party—are split among them-
selves and caucus leaders can muster votes quite outside the control of
the official party secretary. The vote is secret and so discipline therefore
is difficult to maintain: the only way to trace an elector’s vote is if he
abstains. In these circumstances, tactical skill is at a premium; the
leadership of the Christian Democrats needed it most of all; it turned
out to have it least.
In 1959, a group of dissidents, since known as the dorotei, plotted at the
Convent of St. Dorothy, near Rome, the downfall of Amintore Fan-
fani, at that time secretary of the Christian Democratic Party and Prime
Minister. The intrigue was successful and today the dorotei control the
party machine and are thus the hub of the centre-left coalition which
they inherited from Fanfani. Power is shared: Moro, who has some
following of his own, is Prime Minister; Rumor is party secretary;
Colombo, the treasury minister, has the confidence of the Confindustria
and big industrial capital; Bonomi, the head of the Federconsorzi,
controls rural patronage and has a base among the sourthern land-
owners and farmers. The dorotei were able to count on well over half of
the Christian Democrat electors and evidently felt strong enough to
push through their own nominee, Giovanni Leone, a lawyer from
Naples and former president of the chamber. They hoped to get the
votes of most, if not quite all, of the centre-left coalition plus some sup-
port from the Liberals on the right and a few strays. There were, how-
ever, two principal obstacles: the candidacies of Saragat and Fanfani.
Saragat, the Social Democrat foreign secretary, had made it quite clear
that he wanted the post; sooner or later either he or Leone would have
to withdraw in order to avoid splitting the centre-left vote. Fanfani had
a score to settle with the dorotei. He could rely on a following of about
90 Christian Democrats, built up in the days when he controlled the
machine and persisting as a pole of antagonism to the dorotei. He calcu-
lated that if there was a deadlock he could assemble a very heterogene-
ous majority stretching from the Communists right across to the
Fascists and Monarchists, united by a wish to prise away the dorotei’s
grasp on the system. He had pleased some on the left by canvassing the
enlargement of the centre-left to include the Communists, others by the
prospect of creating dissension in the Christian Democrat party and the
ruling class at large; his autocratic personality and his record under
fascism attracted the far right.
In the event, it seemed unlikely that Leone would get a majority. At the
first ballot he was well over a hundred short and from then on his vote
progressively decreased, most of the defaulters drifting to Fanfani at a
pre-arranged tempo. Despite successive infusions from the Liberals and
the Neo-Fascists his vote continued to fall, so that by the tenth ballot
it was 20 below the first. Saragat, seeing that the situation was dead-
locked, had already dropped out, reserving himself the chance to re-
enter later when the Christian Democrats came to abandon Leone.
Fanfani, with the help of the Unitarian Socialists, was now well past the
49
hundred. Pastore, the candidate of the left wing of the Christian Demo-
crats and the Catholic trade unionists, had 40. The Christian Democrats
were now openly split into three tendencies and the dorotei desperately
tried to restore party discipline. They forced the withdrawal of Fanfani
by threatening him with explusion, but they could not force his sup-
porters to vote for Leone; most of them dropped blank papers into the
urn. Pastore too was compelled to withdraw and Donat Cattin, a
deputy minister and the most prominent Catholic unionist, was sus-
pended from the party when he openly admitted he had not voted for
Leone as a protest against the latter’s acceptance of Neo-Fascist votes
for his candidacy. For a time it seemed that Pastore himself, minister for
the South, would resign from the cabinet.
But still the dorotei obstinately persisted in running Leone. Meanwhile a
new candidate appeared: the Socialists put forward Pietro Nenni, the
vice-premier. This was clearly a response to the character of Leone’s
candidacy which was not at all, as it pretended to be, a candidacy of the
centre-left but of the right, supported by the dorotei, the right-wing
Christian Democrats around Scelba, the Liberals and the Neo-Fascists.
For a time, the configuration of Italian party politics changed from a
grouping of centre parties with both extremes in opposition and became
a straight left-right confrontation. At the thirteenth ballot, the Com-
munists, who had previously supported their own candidate, Terracini,
switched to Nenni, who thanked them in an effusive letter. It looked as if
Nenni would soon overtake Leone: it was only necessary for the
Unitarian Socialists to drop their scruples against backing Nenni, from
whose Socialist party they had broken away less than a year before. At
this point, finally, Leone withdrew. On Christmas Day, at the sixteenth
ballot, the whole Christian Democratic party abstained while the
search began for a compromise candidate.
The Christian Democrats first considered and then rejected the pos-
sibility of an extra-parliamentary candidate: Brosio, the secretary-
general of NATO, for instance, or Carli, the governor of the Bank of
Italy. Fanfani was out of the question because of the bitter animosity
between him and the dorotei—his chance would only come if no com-
promise could be found. Eventually a short-list of three was drawn up:
Piccioni, chairman of the party, Pastore and Saragat. Piccioni, rather
right of centre, would hardly have attracted more support than Leone.
Pastore was at that moment involved in a serious inner-party quarrel.
Besides, he was self-educated and unpolished, disabilities—so many
thought—for a President, and might prove even more favourable to
the left than Saragat. Finally, Saragat was the choice.
Saragat re-entered at the eighteenth ballot. For a time the Socialists
and Communists continued to vote for Nenni, joined now by the
Unitarian Socialists; but at the twenty-first count finally switched to
Saragat, who was thus elected. (The Unitarian Socialists did not make
the switch but joined the bulk of the fanfaniani and other malcontents
in casting blank votes.) The Christian Democrats did their best to
cover up their discomfiture, pointing out how Saragat’s wife went to
mass and how ‘responsible’ he was, and so on and so forth. The general
opinion, however, as expressed even in the right-wing press, was
50
that they had been humiliated as a result of their incompetance and
obstinacy. If they had supported Saragat on the first ballot, he would
have been elected there and then. Many blamed the Vatican for putting
pressure on the Christian Democrats not to vote for a candidate from a
lay party.
The Communists greeted the result as a victory. Certainly it brought
credit to Pietro Ingrao, leader of the Communist party parliamentary
group. But it is not at all clear whether the victory was symbolic or
substantial. At any rate, it had impressed most Italians with the
weaknesses of the dorotei.
The Christian Democrats had more difficult problems of analysis to
contend with. Donat Cattin was eventually brought back into the
party, but probably only because of Pastore’s resignation threat. The
left is still simmering with indignation. Fanfani, whose hand had
been so crudely forced—again, probably under Vatican pressure,
which expressed itself in a fanciful call for ‘unity of the faithful’—had
yet another score to settle with the dorotei. The far right was disgruntled
at the final compromise choice of Saragat, who had once—as a pupil of
Kautsky—been a ‘marxist’. Moro tried to slip away from the main
group of the dorotei and present himself as a ‘mediator’. The dorotei’s
difficult situation was made even worse by the fact that the party
executive was technically only provisional and had not been officially
approved by the last party congress, where the dorotei had just fallen
short of a majority. Anti-dorotei groups claim that they cannot be
disciplined by a provisional executive and demand either an agreed
party programme or a reconstituted executive. Eventually the dorotei
managed to find a very unstable solution to their dilemma; they agreed to
a new executive which would include representatives of all tendencies.
This was accompanied by a strident proclamation of anti-communism,
as a concession to the right-wing, with whose help the dorotei now
hoped to retain power. And, apart from places on the executive, all the
tendencies including the scelbiani were to have cabinet posts. In this
way, a bipartisan configuration of politics was broached and the centre-
left put under additional strain.
The socialists, led by Nenni, also took the opportunity of putting
pressure on the dorotei. They demanded a ‘clarification’ of the meaning
of the centre-left. Little has been done to implement the programme on
which the Christian Democrats agreed when the Socialists entered the
coalition and Nenni now insists that, since the centre of gravity of
popular opinion and effective political power has obviously moved to
the left of the dorotei, more should be done to put through planning and
welfare measures. Colombo indignantly denied the need for any change
of speed or direction. Should the dorotei persist in their inertia, there
would be a serious strain on the centre-left’s cohesion, particularly as it
has so far done badly at the polls. Already the left wing of the Socialists,
mostly followers of Lombardi, are demanding not merely implementa-
tion of the existing programme, but a more radical programme. The
centre-left is certainly a viable political formula, but its centre of gravity
is too far to the right. If the dorotei refuse to relinquish any of their pre-
dominance, it could collapse beneath shock-waves building up from
51
its own left. The introduction of a right-wing Christian Democrat into
the cabinet, coupled with demands that the Socialists should break their
remaining ties with the Communists, makes this even more possible. On
the other hand, the Christian Democrat shift to the right has transferred
the odium of decision to a weak-willed Socialist party. The wider
strategic implications of the crisis in the Christian Democratic party
and the government are still difficult to discern. On the Left and, in
particular, in the Communist party there are, broadly speaking, two
currents of thought, which represent two alternative political configura-
tions. First there are those who envisage the party inserting itself step
by step into power, like the camel into the bedouin’s tent: first the head,
then the neck, and so on. They welcome the possibility of a leftward
shift in the present government coalition as increasing the likelihood of
eventual Communist entry into it. This line of thought has one obvious
drawback: it is difficult to imagine a coalition to include both Com-
munists and Christian Democrats which did not entail such concessions
from one or the other (presumably the Communists, in a seller’s market)
as would amount to demobilization. It is much more plausible that a
pronounced leftward shift would pose a choice between alternatives:
either the Communists or the Christian Democrats. It is a half-articu-
lated fear of such a development, rather than mere greediness, which
stops the dorotei from relaxing their hold. The second current of thought
in the Communist party therefore envisages a return to a bipolar con-
figuration. It is now clear that the Right is not strong enough to govern
—this was first shown by the fall of the Neo-Fascist-supported Tam-
broni government in 1960 and was underlined once again by the failure
of Leone to approach a majority. At the present moment, the same is
true of the Left—Nenni had hardly more chance than Leone. The
prerequisite for building a majority of the Left must be the detachment
from the Christian Democratic party of its left trade-unionist wing.
From this point of view, the Presidential elections were evidently very
encouraging, in that they brought the Pastore tendency to the verge of
expulsion. It remains to be seen whether the Christian Democrats will
be able to heal their wounds and, on a different level, whether they will
ever be willing to let the centre-left move leftward for fear of losing
hold of it all together. The interest of the presidential election was that,
in stylized form, like a game of chess, it showed the Christian Democrats
confronting these dilemmas and being humiliated. The Communists
and the Left won a symbolic victory; it remains for them to win a
substantial one.

Ethiopia Zenon Merida

The successful overthrow of Abboud’s long-standing military de-


spotism in the Sudan in late 1964 was a major victory for revolutionary
forces everywhere in Africa. It transformed, almost overnight, the
prospects of the Congolese National Liberation Army—rendering
impossible a consolidation of counter-revolution in the Congo. At the
same time, it has brought the day of reckoning closer for Ethiopian
feudalism. Defeated in 1960, the struggle against the barbarous tyranny
of the Imperial regime in Ethiopia is today gathering strength again,
on a new basis and in a new perspective.
52
its own left. The introduction of a right-wing Christian Democrat into
the cabinet, coupled with demands that the Socialists should break their
remaining ties with the Communists, makes this even more possible. On
the other hand, the Christian Democrat shift to the right has transferred
the odium of decision to a weak-willed Socialist party. The wider
strategic implications of the crisis in the Christian Democratic party
and the government are still difficult to discern. On the Left and, in
particular, in the Communist party there are, broadly speaking, two
currents of thought, which represent two alternative political configura-
tions. First there are those who envisage the party inserting itself step
by step into power, like the camel into the bedouin’s tent: first the head,
then the neck, and so on. They welcome the possibility of a leftward
shift in the present government coalition as increasing the likelihood of
eventual Communist entry into it. This line of thought has one obvious
drawback: it is difficult to imagine a coalition to include both Com-
munists and Christian Democrats which did not entail such concessions
from one or the other (presumably the Communists, in a seller’s market)
as would amount to demobilization. It is much more plausible that a
pronounced leftward shift would pose a choice between alternatives:
either the Communists or the Christian Democrats. It is a half-articu-
lated fear of such a development, rather than mere greediness, which
stops the dorotei from relaxing their hold. The second current of thought
in the Communist party therefore envisages a return to a bipolar con-
figuration. It is now clear that the Right is not strong enough to govern
—this was first shown by the fall of the Neo-Fascist-supported Tam-
broni government in 1960 and was underlined once again by the failure
of Leone to approach a majority. At the present moment, the same is
true of the Left—Nenni had hardly more chance than Leone. The
prerequisite for building a majority of the Left must be the detachment
from the Christian Democratic party of its left trade-unionist wing.
From this point of view, the Presidential elections were evidently very
encouraging, in that they brought the Pastore tendency to the verge of
expulsion. It remains to be seen whether the Christian Democrats will
be able to heal their wounds and, on a different level, whether they will
ever be willing to let the centre-left move leftward for fear of losing
hold of it all together. The interest of the presidential election was that,
in stylized form, like a game of chess, it showed the Christian Democrats
confronting these dilemmas and being humiliated. The Communists
and the Left won a symbolic victory; it remains for them to win a
substantial one.

Ethiopia Zenon Merida

The successful overthrow of Abboud’s long-standing military de-


spotism in the Sudan in late 1964 was a major victory for revolutionary
forces everywhere in Africa. It transformed, almost overnight, the
prospects of the Congolese National Liberation Army—rendering
impossible a consolidation of counter-revolution in the Congo. At the
same time, it has brought the day of reckoning closer for Ethiopian
feudalism. Defeated in 1960, the struggle against the barbarous tyranny
of the Imperial regime in Ethiopia is today gathering strength again,
on a new basis and in a new perspective.
52
Very little is known about Ethiopia: even the most basic fact of all—the
size of its population—can only be placed in a range of 15 to 22 million.
As for more explosive details about national income, literacy, the dis-
tribution of wealth, none of this is forthcoming.
For a description of the society’s dominant class, there is no better
source than the official Guide to Ethiopia. ‘There have as yet been no
basic changes in the structure of Ethiopian society. The Emperor is the
hereditary ruler... Then there are the great land-owning families whose
heads bear titles of nobility and who serve as ministers, officers of state,
governors of provinces, military leaders and Church officials. Below the
Imperial Family and the nobles are the Amhara and Galla landed gentry
who have been the major beneficiaries of educational opportunities
abroad and make up much of the government service personnel.’ Below
this feudal class, entrenched in the Church, the Army and higher posts
of the Administration, comes the wealthy merchant class, most of whom
are foreign—apart from 50,000 Arabs there are many Italians, Greeks,
Armenians and Indians. There is definite nationalist feeling among the
indigenous Ethiopian traders, in favour of the expropriation of the
foreign merchant class, and among professionals and general intelli
gentsia—although the educated members of the middle classes are
liable to defect to the materially rewarding feudal establishment.
Below this small stratum of the well-to-do is the vast majority of the
population: illiterate peasants subject to savage feudal exploitation by
their landlords, the social content of the ‘colourful medievalism’ and
‘surprising contrasts’ praised by tourists and apologists. The Imperial
Family owns 50 per cent of the land, and the Coptic Church owns
another 20 per cent or so. The economic consequences of this regime
are devastating. 180 million hectares of the world’s richest farm lands
lie fallow. According to Mennen Williams, an official US economist has
calculated that, if properly cultivated, the Ethiopian highlands could
feed all of Western Europe. Under feudal exploitation, Ethiopia suffers
from a fast-growing trade deficit and periodic famines. The per capita
income is generally placed between 35 and 40 dollars a year, although
some estimates put it as low as 17 dollars. The real income of the feudal
peasants in the subsistence sector (90 per cent of population) is naturally
still lower, since the per capita figure covers the ostentatious riches of
the wealthy as well.
More than 20 years after Haile Selassie announced that ‘a free public
education is the right of every child’, illiteracy claims somewhere
between 95 per cent and 99 per cent of the population. 3·8 per cent of
children aged 5–15 were in school in 1961 (UNESCO calculation), and
0.2—0.5 per cent of children over the age of 15. The University, until
1960 run by French Canadian Jesuits and since then by Mormons from
Utah, mustered 426 students in 1961 and produces only 75 graduates
per year. Under the Five-Year-Plan 1961–65, the Government plans to
spend 1.8 per cent of its total expenditure on education (per capita
expenditure on education rising to the sum of 3s. 6d.).
In 1961 there was not one Ethiopian dentist and only 21 Ethiopian
doctors. Supplemented by 150 foreign doctors, there are less than 175
53
doctors for a population of 15–22 million. Of the 822 ‘children of the
landed gentry’ who were studying abroad in 1960, only 30 studied
medicine. There is one hospital bed for every 3,500 people. Infant
mortality is one of the world’s highest: 47 per cent. One-third to one-
half of the adult population suffers from syphilis, which reaches
epidemic proportions in some prostitute and tourist-infested urban
areas. Leprosy, too, is endemic. 5–11 million people live in malarial
areas, producing a steady malarial death rate of 20,000 per annum.
Under the 1961–65 Plan, precisely 2.3 per cent of expenditure is
allocated to public health. By contrast, military expenditure runs at
30–35 per cent of the budget.
There are no political parties to contest the Lower House elections.
The members of the Upper House, the Prime Minister, and the Cabinet
are all appointed by and responsible to the Emperor. Some of the
ministers are related to the Emperor, some have been ‘in power’ for 20
years. The official Guide says of the Cabinet and Prime Minister that,
although ‘certain powers’ are delegated to them, ‘His Imperial Majesty
retains a key interest in a wide range of government activities.’ It goes
on to attribute to the ‘prestige’ of the Emperor the fact that, ‘in practice,
despite the structure of democratic government. . . most policy ques-
tions of any importance are referred to him’.
The character of Selassie’s regime can be seen particularly clearly in his
treatment of Eritrea since it was handed over to him by the UN in 1952
(he had rendered yeomen service to the UN in the Korean War). A
self-governing province federated to Ethiopia in 1952, it was by 1962 in
a fit condition to be assimilated into Ethiopia. By then, Selassie had
succeeded in eliminating the previously strong political parties and
trade unions, abolishing the constitution and finally the parliament
(which had already become a rubber-stamp on the Ethiopian model).
How secure is this abysmal feudal régime? Having promised to lead the
Ethiopian resistance against Italian invasion, Haile Selassie fled
hurriedly abroad in October 1936—taking with him the contents of
the Treasury. An unrelenting and heroic struggle by the Ethiopian
people against the Italians was succeeded by an equally bitter struggle
against the British troops ‘bringing Haile Selassie back to his people’.
The coalition of British imperialism and Ethiopian feudalism finally man-
aged to reinstall the ancien régime. With the help of Generals Wingate
and Sanford (the latter being rewarded with a considerable place in the
feudal establishment), after two years of struggle against the anti-
feudal forces, Haile Selassie had the satisfaction of seeing the leader of
the peasant resistance—Belay Zellake—hung in public. As a Christian
Science Monitor correspondent pointed out, for the Ethiopians ‘the
return of the Emperor meant a continuation of feudal autocracy’.
Immediately after this first counter-revolution, the Weyanne Peasant
Revolt broke out and lasted for no less than a year before being finally
crushed by heavy bombardments by RAF planes based on Aden. In
1945 there was another tax-refusal revolt. In 1948, the British were
called in again to put down a rebellion in Ogaden. There was a plot in
the Imperial Family to assassinate the Emperor in 1952. Then in 1958 a
54
peasant revolt in Wollo Province (Chaffa District) led to the eradication
of a whole chain of villages from the map of Ethiopia.
By the time of the putsch of 1960, the United States had taken over from
Britain as the dominant protector of Ethiopian feudalism. Ethiopia had
loyally sent troops to fight in Korea and the US communications base
in Ethiopia had been of some importance in the War. In 1955, the US
and the Emperor signed a Mutual Defence Pact by which the Americans
agreed to modernize the Army and to secure the régime against ‘com-
munist subversion’—if necessary by military force. Liberia was the
only other African country to subscribe in this way to the Eisenhower
Doctrine. The value for the US was—and is—clear: the Asmara base is
an important link in the global American communications network.
Ethiopia has become a key US diplomatic centre in Africa; the number
of Americans in the country is now estimated to be about 5,000. The
economic importance of the US alliance for the Ethiopian régime is
great. In the period 1946–60, Ethiopia received 72 million dollars of
non-military aid and 42.5 millions of military aid. Even more important,
however, was US assistance against ‘subversion’.
While Selassie was abroad in 1960, a Palace Revolution took place in
Addis Ababa. It was led by the General of the Imperial Bodyguard, the
chief of the Secret Police and the chief of the general Police Force. It
immediately received strong support from the educated urban stratum,
which heralded the end of what it called 3,000 years of oppression.
Ambassadors in foreign countries cabled their allegiance, military
cadets and students demonstrated their support. The nature of the
social forces behind the putsch was, however, amply demonstrated by
the fact that while it called for the restitution to their owners of urban
properties seized by the Imperial Régime, it made no mention of
agrarian reform. It dissolved the Parliament but said nothing about
future elections or political rights, did not mention the political pris-
oners formerly hunted down by the secret police, and contented itself
with announcing the integration of the various armed forces into a
single organization and raising the payment of the military. It appealed
to urban proprietors, those interested in the construction of factories,
and promised the reinstatement of students expelled from school and
the development of technical education. It was not surprising, there-
fore, that in the final confrontation the ‘revolutionary government’ was
reduced to the status of a minority military faction (the Imperial Body-
guard) enjoying the support of the urban bourgeois stratum and the
students. The disinherited 90 per cent of the towns and above all of the
countryside were given no incentive to move—and did not move.
Against the 7,000 men of the Imperial Bodyguard, the Emperor could
muster the 30,000-strong Army and Air Force. US Military Advisory
Groups participated fully in the ground-attack, and when a number of
Air Force pilots refused to fly against the new government they were
immediately replaced by US pilots. Since the new régime threatened to
revise all foreign agreements not in the national interest, its suppression
was a matter of urgency both for the feudal establishment and for the
USA. The failure of the revolutionaries to mobilize mass support sealed
their doom. It is henceforward unlikely that any attempt to overthrow
55
the feudal-imperialist coalition in Ethiopia from the narrow social base
of urban privilege will be successful.

The succession of plots, bomb attempts and confused initiatives since


1960 have underlined the ineffectiveness of the isolated urban coup as a
means of changing the political situation in any socially significant way.
The discontent of the educated stratum in the towns remains as deep as
ever, but the dissidents in the towns seem incapable of any effective
contact with the peasant majority. Were Selassie to be put out of action,
the ‘constitutional monarchists’ would either be forced to continue the
present relationship with the US or, if they tried for a more independent
status, would be incapable of offering resistance to the heavily equipped
and trained army.

In the countryside, however, drawing lessons from the failure of 1960,


an attempt is at last being made to prepare the peasantry for a revolution
from below. The Ethiopian Peoples Movement Council now operates a
powerful clandestine radio transmitter—but the effectiveness of its
work of propaganda and organization will be revealed only in the
coming crisis of Ethiopian feudalism. Meanwhile outside the country,
it is vital that socialists should sweep aside the hypocrisies and myths
of the past, and should begin the task of unmasking the régime inter-
nationally.

56
A Chinese Village

Exaggeration is easy. Privation is one thing, poverty to the point of wretchedness— ‘la
misére’—another. A sturdy self-reliant stock may grow in a stony soil. But, when due
allowance has been made for the inevitable misconceptions, it is difficult to resist the con-
clusion that a large proportion of Chinese peasants are constantly on the brink of actual
destitution. They are, so to say, a propertied proletariat, which is saved—when it is saved—
partly by its own admirable ingenuity and fortitude, partly by the communism of the
Chinese family, partly by reducing its consumption of necessaries and thus using up its
physical capital...

A population which has no reserves is helpless against calamity. Calamity is more fre-
quent in China than in the West, even when allowance is made for the different forms
which it assumes in the latter. . . Over a large area of China, the rural population suffers
horribly through the insecurity of life and property. It is taxed by one ruffian who calls
himself a general, by another, by a third, and, when it has bought them off, still owes taxes
to the Government in some places actually more than 20 years taxation has been paid in
advance. It is squeezed by dishonest officials. It must cut its crops at the point of a bayonet,
and hand them over without payment to the local garrison, though it will starve without
them. It is forced to grow opium in defiance of the law, because its military tyrants can
squeeze heavier taxation from opium than from rice or wheat, and make money, in
addition, out of the dens where it is smoked. It pays blackmail to the professional bandits
in its neighbourhood; or it resists, and, a year later, when the bandits have assumed uniform,
sees its villages burned to the ground.

The indirect effects of the chaos are as disastrous as the direct. Expenditure on war
absorbs resources which should be spent on elementary improvements, such as roads and
primary education. Trade is paralysed, and such communications as exist are turned by the
soldiers who seize them from a blessing into a curse. Capital flies from rural districts,
where it is urgently needed, to be buried in the Concessions. Population flies with it; here
and there whole villages are on the move, like animals breaking from cover as the beaters
advance. When human enemies are absent, the farmer must still reckon with a remorseless
nature. ‘What drove you to settle here, so far from home?’ a peasant was asked in the
presence of the writer. The reply was ‘Bandits, soldiers, and famine.’
57
The number of deaths caused by famine has been variously estimated. That of
1849 is said to have destroyed 13,750,000 persons; the Taipeng Rebellion, with
the widespread economic ruin which accompanied it, 20,000,000; the famine of
1878–79, 9,000,000 to 13,000,000; that of 1920–21, 500,000. In reality,
however, to concentrate attention on these sensational catastrophes, as though life
ran smoothly in the intervals between them, is to misconceive the situation. Famine
is a matter of degree; its ravages are grave long before its symptoms become
sufficiently shocking to arouse general consternation. If the meaning of the word is
a shortage of food on a scale sufficient to cause widespread starvation, then there
are parts of the country from which famine is rarely absent. In Shensi, stated an
eminent Chinese official at the beginning of 1931., 3,000,000 persons had died of
hunger in the last few years, and the misery had been such that 400,000 women
and children had changed hands by sale. In Kansu, according to Mr Findlay
Andrew, one third of the population has died since 1926, owing to famine, civil
war, banditry and typhus. There are districts in which the position of the rural
population is that of a man standing permanently up to the neck in water, so
that a ripple is sufficient to drown him. The loss of life caused by the major
disasters is less significant than the light which they throw on the conditions pre-
vailing even in normal times over considerable regions . . . Famine is, in short,
the last stage of a disease which, though not always conspicuous, is always
present.

R. H. Tawney, Land and Labour in China, 19321

Tawney’s description of the Chinese countryside before the revolution


remains one of the classic accounts of scarcity in a social economy racked by
rural feudalism. Today, whole populations in Asia, Africa, and Latin
America endure a similar experience—the permanent violence of our age. The
burdens of drought and famine are yoked to the carrying poles of peasants
weighed down by the secular exploitation of landlords, generals and para-
sitic functionaries. Tawney wrote of China in 1932: ‘The revolution of 1911
was a bourgeois affair. The revolution of the peasants has still to come.’ It came
sooner, perhaps, than he expected. We have chosen to quote his panorama of
the China of 30 years ago, as a reminder of the past, before printing a con-
temporary report on a village in north Shensi.

Jan Myrdal, the author of Report from a Chinese Village2 from which the
extracts below have been taken, has travelled in Afghanistan, Burma, India
and China. He spent part of his childhood in Solvarbo, a village in Dalecarlia,
that province of Sweden which is known as the home of peasant insurrection.
These different experiences enabled him, he writes, to identify himself with
the peasantry and people of Liu Lin,3 the village in north Shensi in which he
and his wife stayed.

Their visit to China, which lasted a year, was made on their own initiative and
financed from their own resources. Within certain limitations—they could
not stay in a village in a military or ‘closed’ zone—their choice of Liu Lin was

1 George Allen and Unwin. Reissued 1964.


2
The following extracts are published by permission of William Heinemann Ltd
from Report from a Chinese Village by Jan Myrdal © 1963, translated by Maurice
Michael. The book will be published later this year.
3
Liu Lin, literally Willow Grove, was visited by Edgar Snow in 1960 and is des-
cribed in his book, The Other Side of the River (Gollancz 1963). Readers interested in
corroborating Myrdal’s account can compare the two experiences.

58
a free one. Myrdal wanted a village that was situated in one of the ‘old
liberated areas’, a village where the agrarian revolution had been carried out
by essentially local forces; for this reason he chose the area to the south of
Yenan.4 On his arrival there, the authorities proposed a number of villages
from which he selected, for various reasons, Liu Lin. In the first place it is a
typical north Shensi village, it is not an average village, but shows certain
features of the revolution amongst peasants in their purest form. The Com-
munist leaders of the village are all old revolutionaries, peasants who had
started their struggle even before the arrival of Mao in Yenan. In Liu Lin too,
some of the earliest experiments in collective and co-operative farming took
place. The village is on the loess highland of China. Loess, or ‘yellow earth’
as it is known in China, is an unleached soil which has been deposited here
by the wind. It is of great potential fertility if only it could be adequately
irrigated. But the rainfall in north Shensi is unpredictable and irregular, at
at one time the crops wilt for lack of water, at another, the soil is washed
away by a cloudburst.

With the exception of the first section on the rhythm of life, which is an
amalgam of many reports and conversations, the extracts are individual
stories, the voices of peasants talking about themselves as they see themselves
or as they wish others to see them. Myrdal spoke to all the villagers through
interpreters.5 He says that he preferred this technique of interview, for by
it questions are ‘cooled down and estranged’ without becoming impersonal.
As a social document the report aims at the target of reality from all sides.
It eschews speculation and the ‘informed’ opinion.
4 Before the Chinese Communists under Mao reached Shensi at the end of their Long

March in 1935, local partisans led by Communists like the notable Liu Chih-tan,
had been conducting the struggle there for at least three years.
5 The Wade Giles system of romanization is used here, although imperfectly for lack

of the original characters.

59
Jan Myrdal

Liu Lin

The Rhythm of Life. Long talks with Ching Chi and the
Old Secretary, Li Yu-hua, and shorter ones with practically
all the women of Liu Lin
The mothers of Liu Lin suckle their babies until they are two or three.
Many go on even longer, especially if it is the last child, or if the mother
wants to avoid having any more children for a time. If a mother does
not herself have milk, she does not get another woman to suckle
her baby. Here, in north Shensi, a woman does not suckle another’s
child. In these cases the baby is given goat’s milk. Some children drink
milk up to the age of seven, but never after that. ‘Milk is bad for your
health.’

A baby starts being given other food than breast milk when it is seven
months old. It then starts being given a thin gruel of millet and rice and
water; then a thin porridge of millet and water. At one year old, the
child starts getting thicker porridge, then noodles and steam-baked
bread soaked in gruel, but no vegetables at that age: ‘Vegetables are too
difficult for children’s stomachs to digest.’

At three, when a mother normally stops suckling her child, it starts


being given steam bread with bean stuffing, eggs and vegetables. While
I was talking with Tuan Fu-yin’s wife, she had her youngest daughter on
her knee, and there the child sat, clutching its mother’s right breast in
one hand and a tomato in the other, and taking alternate sucks and bites,
while we talked. This was not usual, though.

After three, a child starts to eat with the family. It is given soft, easily
masticated food without strong spices. All members of the family help
to feed it. Then it begins trying to eat with chopsticks, after which its
diet becomes progressively like that of the others in the family.

Up to the age of six all children wear trousers which open behind. There
60
is no flap or fall arrangement, but the actual fork of the trousers is hem-
med on both sides where in adult garments there is a seam, so that when
the child squats or sits, this gapes, forming a large opening through
which the child can relieve itself. People reckon that a child ought to be
‘house-trained’ by the time it is 18 months and able to walk properly;
by three, it should be able to keep itself dry, and by six it is considered
to have sufficient control of its bladder to wear trousers with the seam
sewn up.
On the whole, boys and girls are treated alike at this age. If a child is an
only one and consequently has a lot of people helping look after it, it
will be strictly brought up, but otherwise it will be able to play all day
and its parents won’t bother about it or what it does. In wintertime
children stay indoors during the morning and afternoon, playing on
the warm k’ang6 with their brothers and sisters or, perhaps, the neigh-
bours’ children. The k’ang is the children’s place, too, when it rains.

Boys and girls start being treated differently at the age of seven, when
boys will be sent by their mothers to collect wild grass for the pig.
Girls are not made to help much in such ways, but they are expected to
help with the housework. At ten, a girl ought to be able to help her
mother unpick quilted jackets and trousers and wash them, and she
should also be able to wash vegetables and cook a meal. At this age
boys start fetching the water from the well, not by themselves with a
carrying pole over their shoulder, but in pairs with a bucket slung on
a pole carried between them. The girls mend clothes and help their
mothers do the washing in the river. Normally they use nothing but
the water. Soap is seldom used, but they do occasionally use soda.

It is not easy to keep the children clean. They are washed in water, and
if very dirty, given a scrub with river sand. Their parents wash when
they get back from work. The children are washed in the morning and,
if dirty, at night as well. Children go to bed at about half past eight in
summertime and at eight in the winter. In the morning they are allowed
to lie longer than their parents, not usually waking till seven, and half
an hour later in winter, by which time their father is already at work in
the fields and their mother busy with the housework. After that they
lie on the k’ang playing and chatting till it is time to go to school.

Between seven and twelve, little girls play hopscotch, and in the after-
noons you can see them skipping, either holding their own rope or
skipping over one held by two others. They sing counting songs: ‘One
two two one, one two three three two one, one two three four four
three two one, one two three four five’, etc, and there is great rivalry to
see who can go on longest. They also dance round-dances and sing.
Nowadays they are said to sing mostly songs that are ‘in tune with the
times’, like ‘Chairman Mao has come to our village to visit us’. Girls
grind salt and make covers. Girls and boys do not play together
after the age of seven except in school, where the teachers make them
play and dance and sing together, but the moment the teacher’s eye is
off them, they split up into separate groups of boys and girls. Boys of
6 K’ang: a raised brick bed which is heated beneath.

61
this age play with balls, hoops, diabolo and hopscotch. In wintertime
they go sliding. They will sing, but they won’t dance unless they are
made to.

Most of the children go to school, but not all. The younger parents
send their children to school: ‘I want my child to be a kan-pu’.7 Now-
adays most people consider that children ought to be taught to read,
write and do arithmetic. Even the older women want their children to
go to school. It’s the grandparents who spoil them. It is always they
who are closest to the children. They have the most time for them and
talk with them most. If a child goes to its granny and says: ‘It’s horrid
at school’, ‘I’m so tired’, ‘It’s so cold in school’, or ‘It’s so hot in school’,
granny will get into a state and say to the child’s parents: ‘It’s too much
for the poor child to go to school’. Whenever a child wants to do
something its parents won’t allow, it has only to go to its grandparents
and weep; then the grandparents go to the child’s parents and read
them a lesson.

At 12 or 13 girls stop skipping and playing hopscotch and such


games, and play cat’s-cradle instead. And there is far less talking and
joking with boys. After the first menstruation, which may be any time
between 12 and 16, they become more and more shy and bashful. They
talk less, play the fool less often and sing less. They are shy when
talking to strangers, especially if they are men. They stay mostly at
home and devote themselves to domestic work instead of playing.
When they reach 18, girls begin getting their trousseau ready, whether
they are engaged or not. They make shoes and clothes and bedcovers.
At that age they will also have begun helping with the farm work.

There is no corresponding change in boys at this age. They begin


playing ball games and ping-pong; then they start working in the
fields; but boys are considered to stay childish into their late teens. They
are shy if they meet a girl of their own age; but otherwise they are not
bashful, not even with married women. People say that a boy always
gives the impression of being younger and less mature than a girl of the
same age.

There is no special ceremony to mark entry into youth or manhood.


The only outward sign of sexual maturity is bashfulness and the end of
giggling and chattering. Girls marry at a younger age than boys. There
is a shortage of girls in Liu Lin, in fact in all north Shensi, and so girls
often are able to choose between several suitors. The Old Secretary,
Li Yu-hua, said this of the shortage of girls: ‘I don’t know why it is,
but it is a fact. Just look at my family. I have nine grandchildren: six
are boys and three are girls. In Liu Lin there are 36 boys and 22 girls.
There have always been far more boys born here than girls; and with
us a girl child has never been an unwanted burden, as in other parts of
the country. In the old days in Szechuan, in the old society, they used to
kill girl babies, because they were just a burden on the family; but with
us here in north Shensi girls have always been precious. We have never
7
Kan-pu: A cadre. Originally a professional revolutionary, now a person who works
in the Party or for some mass organization.

62
looked down on girls so much as people have in other parts of the
country. In the old days, parents here in north Shensi used to get a lot
for their daughters when they married them off; thus a girl did not
deprive her family, but added to its possessions. That’s an important
thing to remember. So there was never such a great difference between
the way girls and boys were treated here in the old days. We have
always been short of manpower and at the same time always had more
men than women. That is one of the reasons why widows always marry
again here. But I have never been able to fathom why it is that so few
girls are born here.’
There are three principal ways of arranging marriages:
(1) The boy and the girl live in the same village. They work together in
the fields and they talk together. He likes her and she admires him.
They fall in love and, as they know each other, they tell each other and
they marry, if their parents agree. They marry of their own free will.
(2) They live in the same village and see each other occasionally. The
boy likes the girl and the girl likes the boy, but they dare not tell each
other; so each asks some older person to act as go-between and tell the
other: ‘So-and-so is in love with you.’ It’s mostly boys who get an
older person to speak for them.
(3) A person with a son over 20 and not yet married grows anxious lest
his son become an old bachelor. He happens to have a relative in another
village, who has a neighbour with a daughter who is not yet engaged,
so the man takes his son and they go together to visit this relative. The
boy and the girl cannot meet otherwise. Things are arranged so that the
two can see each other, and afterwards they are asked: ‘Did you like
him?’ ‘Did you fall in love with her?’ After that, the two young people
meet again and perhaps they do fall in love, become engaged and get
married.

When a girl considers the boys with an eye to choosing one to marry,
she looks for one who is strong and healthy and able to work well.
Girls attach great importance to behaviour: the boy they choose must
be even not quick-tempered. Appearance is less important. As the
girls say: ‘We have a long life to live together. He may look handsome
now, but his looks will soon go. But if he is faithful and kind and hard-
working, we can have a good life together,’ Boys who are known to be
lazy seldom get married.
When a boy considers a girl, the first thing he asks himself is: ‘Can she
look after a home?’ Next in importance is that she should be even-
tempered. Appearance plays a certain part, but not a great one. In
Liu Lin no one will say that a girl is ugly or plain, just that she ‘looks
well enough in her way’.
‘In the towns the girls will tell you the same as those in the villages, but
they will only do that because it is the thing to say. In reality, town
girls want smart, dashing-looking boys.’
Once they are engaged, the boy and girl meet often. Li Chin-wa and
Lo Han-hung spent hours sitting together in his cave. They were
always alone then and no one would disturb them. ‘We aren’t so feudal
63
in Liu Lin that we won’t leave them alone together.’ There is no inter-
course prior to marriage. That is held to be immoral. ‘No girl in Liu
Lin has ever had a baby before she was married. That happens very
seldom up here with us in north Shensi.’ The age at which girls norm-
ally marry is such that there is no large group of sexually mature but
unmarried women.
Later on, when they are to marry, the two young people go to the
authorities and register. They have to say how old they are and they are
asked: ‘Do you love each other? Do you want to marry? Are you doing
this of your own free will?’ Only after that are they given a marriage
licence. Having got that, they are legally married, but it has never yet
happened that a couple have begun living together as man and wife
after just this legal marriage. There has to be a ceremony as well, and
for various reasons there can be an interval of anything up to six
months between the legal marriage and the wedding.
The wedding is in the bridegroom’s home and it will be well attended.
There can be more than a hundred guests. All relations, neighbours and
friends are invited. There will be wheaten bread, buckwheat noodles
and cakes of ‘sticky millet’ to eat. Altogether there ought to be eight
courses; four is the minimum. There should be meat and wine and spirits,
and everyone will eat and drink and sing and joke. At the start of the
ceremony the guests are seated, gathered round the couple, who stand
in front of the table, the bride on the right, the bridegroom on the left.
There should be wine and a dish of sweetmeats and melon seeds and
cigarettes and a looking-glass on the table; and there should be a
picture of Chairman Mao hanging on the wall in front of the couple.
The bride takes some flour and puts it in a porcelain bowl. Bride and
bridegroom bow low to the portrait of Chairman Mao; then they turn to
their parents and bow to them, then they bow to the elders and lastly
to their guests.
Then the guests ask them to tell how they fell in love with each other,
to tell ‘the story of their love’, and they both become very embarrassed
and look at each other and urge each other to do the telling. And the
people call out: ‘Quickly! Quickly!’ Then the bridegroom will
mumble something in a low voice. Some just say a word or two like:
‘We met and so we married.’ Then all the guests ask lots of questions.
They pretend that they have seen the two together and say things like:
‘We saw you! You were walking very close together down by the
river.’ Everyone jokes and tries to make them blush as much as possible.
The old women say that in the old days you were not allowed to choose
whom you married. A young couple were not allowed to meet before
the wedding. When a girl was 16 or 17, the marriage-broker would
come and say: ‘I have seen a young man in such-and-such a place and
he does this or that and he is healthy and strong and of good family,
and he is rich and even-tempered.’ If the girl’s mother was interested
in the offer, a day would be fixed for the young man to be presented. On
the day appointed, the marriage-broker and the suitor would arrive
with presents of wine and meat and other good things, as well as cloth
for the girl. The girl’s mother would take the meat and cook it and
64
warm the wine, and then they would eat and drink. Meanwhile the girl
would be kept hidden. She was not meant to meet her suitor. If the
mother was satisfied with the suitor after she had seen him, she would
say: ‘It is well’, and then they would settle the financial arrangements.

Nowadays divorce is very rare. There having been no free choice of


partner under the old system, there was a sudden rush of divorces
when the new order began. But that is a thing of the past. If there are
children, people think it immoral and wicked to leave them. Even if
the marriage is childless, people still consider divorce immoral, because
now that people can choose whom they will marry, they will have
chosen each other and should put up with the consequences. One can
always adopt a child. If, in spite of all this, they still want a divorce, the
various organizations, the party, the League of Youth, the women’s
group, try to instruct them and explain what is the decent thing to do
and the one consistent with socialist morality. If they persist, the matter
is taken up by the mediation committee of the people’s commune,
which goes into it thoroughly with them and explains to them why
they ought not to divorce, but should live together and agree. If, after
all this, they refuse to give in and still want a divorce, they are, of course,
entitled to go to the court in Yenan and start proceedings for a divorce;
but that has not yet happened in Liu Lin, nor have any divorces been
heard of in the neighbouring villages for many years, for it is a long
time now since women have been granted equality and marriages have
been entered into voluntarily.

Brawling and fighting were said to be unknown in Liu Lin, nor had
anyone heard of anyone suffering from jealousy. Infidelity was unheard
of in the village, and they had not had any great dramas of passion, let
alone crimes passionnels.

Chia Ying-lan, the woman who was sold, aged 53


I am from Hungshan hsien.8 Ours was a poor family, and when I was 16
I was married off to a pedlar and tinker, who took me to Hopei. He
began smoking opium and stopped working his land and so he lost it.
He began going round the villages mending cooking vessels. He was
often away for long times at a stretch.

I looked after our house in Wuan hsien. I don’t know what he paid for
his opium, but I got less and less from him and in the end I was getting
nothing at all. As I did not want myself and our daughter to starve to
death, I took a place with a farmer called Sung. He was a middle
farmer with his own land. I worked there for four months. I had no pay,
but food for myself and my daughter.

8
Hsien: a large administrative area which approximates to the county.

65
When I was 22 I was sold. [Weeps.] My husband came one day and
fetched me and my daughter and took us to a slave dealer called Yang.
[Weeps.] He sold us so as to get money for opium. I never saw him
after that. Some years ago I was told that he was dead. When I had been
two days with Yang, the slave dealer, he sold me. He sold me and my
daughter for 220 silver dollars to a farmer called Ho Nung-kung.

I was very unhappy. Mr Ho was an old man. He was 23 years older than
I was. We did not love each other. But he was kind. I wasn’t ill-treated
there, neither by him, nor by his family. Actually, he was a nice old man.
[Weeps.] He had his own household and did not live with his family. I
bore him a son, so everyone was kind to me.

Then he fell ill and died. I was 35 then. I had a daughter and a son. One
child by either marriage. [Weeps.] Ho Nung-kung died on 29 April
according to the lunar calendar. That was during the war. It was 1944.
[Weeps.] In January the following year, I gave birth to a daughter. She
died when she was seven. [Weeps.] I was pregnant when Mr Ho died,
so they had not been able to marry me off again immediately.

I was, of course, a widow and a burden on the village. The landlord


wanted to marry me off. My husband’s relatives, that is Mr Ho’s
relatives, wanted to marry me off, too, in order to get the house and my
children. There was a man in the village who was willing to buy me.
I don’t know how they arranged it, and I don’t know who he was. But
I didn’t want to any longer. I just wanted to be with my children.
[Weeps.] In order to get out of this new marriage, I lied and said that I
was already 41. Then he thought that I would not be fertile any more
and wouldn’t have me. That was what I had reckoned on. After that I
was left in peace.

Some years after that we were liberated, and the new government
protected us widows and the fatherless.

Li Kuei-ying, woman pioneer aged 32


We moved to Yenan in 1950. I don’t remember anything of our life in
Hungshan. But my father, Li Yu-hua, and my mother say that they
worked for a landowner, and that, though they worked hard, they did
not have enough to eat. There were six of us in the family when we
moved; Father, Mother and four children. Father carried two worn
quilts and a felt rug on his back. I walked and walked, and I was so
tired that I cried. When we reached Yenan, we still had to work for a
landowner.

In 1951, we were told that the Party school in Yenan was having a
training course for female kan-pu. It was said that as half the population
consisted of women, trained women were needed as well. Our labour
group for mutual help was now to be turned into a Farmers’ Co-opera-
tive. It was Father who forced that through. It was the first of its kind
66
and it was an experiment. The labour group for mutual help told the
Party school about me, and I was accepted and sent off to attend the
course and study for six months. Ever since I had been small, I had
dreamed of being able to learn to read and write. I had dreamed day-
dreams of becoming a student. Yet when they talked with me and told
me that I had got permission to go to the Party school, I became
worried. Because what could a farm girl learn at school? I was worried
about the housework too: the spring sowing was about to start and
there was so much that ought to be seen to at home.
When I got to the school, I met a lot of women and men there. After a
couple of weeks, I had got accustomed to being in school. The main
object was for us to learn to read and write. That time at the Party
school was the decisive time of my life. It was then I realized what I must
do with my life. I came back to Liu Lin in July 1951. I could then read
and write, and I took part in the autumn harvest and, in the winter, I
began organizing the women to study. When I got back, the women
said: ‘We didn’t think grown-ups could learn to read and write, but
you have.’
That winter I taught ten women to read and write a hundred characters
each. That isn’t enough to be able to read a newspaper or such, but it is
enough to be able to write simple accounts and receipts and to keep
notes. They have gone on with it since, but it has been difficult for them.
They can’t read much more now after ten years, though I have been
working with them the whole time.
There were three labour groups in the Farmers’ Co-operative in 1953.
Two of men and one of women. I was chosen leader of the women’s
group. At the meeting, the women said: ‘She is young and hard-work-
ing and she can read.’ So I thought that, if they had such faith in me, I
must show that I was worthy of their opinion of me. That I must work
much harder than before. I wanted to get the women as a group
moving. I wanted to get them to break away from the past. I was
thinking of the time when Hu Tsung-nan9 had occupied the area. There
was a cavalry regiment quartered here in Lin Liu then. Its duties were
to track down and capture deserters. They shot the deserters in our
potato plot. Every day I used to stand by my cooking stove in the cave
and see them shoot deserters down there. I thought then that that must
never be allowed to happen again. That we women must all get to-
gether to see that it never happened again.
That winter I opened a winter school. We helped the women to make
shoes and clothes and to improve their agricultural tools. We gave them
lessons in feeding poultry and in spinning. We had discussions after the
lessons. We tried to get the women to tell us themselves what things had
been like before, and how it was now, and how it ought to be in the
future. For example, they said: ‘My feet were bound so that I could not
walk. In the old society, a woman was not supposed to go beyond the
threshold of her home for the first three years of her marriage. We
weren’t allowed to eat on the k’ang, but had to sit on a stool when we
9
Hu Tsung-nan was the KMT general operating in this area.

67
ate, and if my parents had decided to marry me off with a cur, then I had
to be content with a cur. But now you are allowed to see your husband
before you marry, and you can refuse to marry him, if you don’t like
the look of him.’ We discussed whether women are men’s equals or not,
and most said: ‘Within the family, man and woman are equal. We help
the men when they work in the fields and they should help us in the
house.’ But many of the older women said: ‘Women are born to attend
to the household. A woman cannot work in the fields. That can’t be
helped. It is just that men and women are born different. A person is
born either a man or a woman. To work in the fields or in the house.’

The first time we women took part as a group in an open discussion was
at the meetings about whether or not we should turn Liu Lin Farmers’
Co-operative into the East is Red Higher Agricultural Co-operative.
Officially, we had the same political and economic rights as the men.
We were citizens too, so Shi Siu-ying and Li Yang-ching asked to speak
and stood up in the middle of the meeting and said: ‘The old women still
say that they don’t understand things and are just women, and that it is
the men’s business to decide and that the women should do as the men
decide. But we say that we do understand. We are women and we know
what this discussion is about. Everything has to progress. We must
increase production. It isn’t fair to pay a dividend on land. That can
mean that a person who works a lot can be paid less than one who works
less well. That is not right. We must increase our investment instead, so
that we can all increase production and be better off by doing more
work. Therefore we must join forces and do away with land interest.
That is progress and we stand for that.’

Li Ying-te, who is an old man then said: ‘We should not listen to
women when it is a question of serious business. They understand
nothing. After all, they are only women and ought not to disturb our
discussions. We do not need to concern ourselves with what they have
said.’ But my brother, Li Hai-tsai, replied to this: ‘Why shouldn’t we
listen to the women? Every other Chinese is a woman. They have a lot
of sense to speak. In what they’ve just said about investment and pro-
duction and land interest and joint effort, I am entirely with them.’

We won. Gradually the others were voted down and persuaded and
got to agree. I was elected a member of the committee of the East is
Red Higher Agricultural Co-operative. Besides this, I had three child-
ren.

I joined the Party in 1955, and after joining, I studied the Party pro-
gramme, the series of articles called ‘How does a party member serve
the people?’ Comrade Liu Shao-chi’s ‘How to become a good com-
munist’, our party’s history and different articles on topical questions.
We studied together in the Party association and after the studies held
discussions. Besides this, we studied on our own. After this, I thought
that everything had become clearer and easier to understand. I have
become more assured in my work. After studying those questions, I
could understand the whole implication of them. If I make mistakes,
the others come and tell me and help me to put it right.
68
We have continued our work with hygiene and public health all the
time, especially since 1958, when we formed the People’s Commune.
The public health work was better organized after that. We go to see the
women who are pregnant and talk with them about what to do in their
pregnancy. We instruct them in the new delivery art and tell them how
to look after their infants. Before, a woman had to be sitting straight
upright on her k’ang three days after having her baby. And you can
understand how that must have felt. Now we say to them: ‘That is all
just stupidity and superstition. Lie down with the child beside you and
rest. You’re not to sit up at all.’ We tell the women to let themselves be
examined regularly and follow the doctor’s advice. We instruct them in
birth control and contraceptive methods. A lot of women still believe
that they can’t become with child as long as they are suckling. And each
time, they are as surprised as ever, when they find they are pregnant
again. But we are working to enlighten them.

In certain families with lots of children, the women would like birth
control, but their husbands won’t. In those families the husbands say:
‘There’s not going to be any family planning here!’ Then we women go
to them and try to talk sense into them. We say: ‘Look how many
children you have. Your wife looks after the household and sees to all
the children and she makes shoes and clothes for both you and the
children, but you don’t think of all she has to do or of her health, but
just make her with child again and again. Wait now for three or four
years. Then you can have more if you want.’ Usually, they will eventu-
ally say: ‘If it isn’t going to go on all one’s life, then all right. But if
she’s going to go on with birth control for ever, then I’m not having
any.’ In those cases, all goes well and usually they do not decide to have
any more afterwards. But in other cases, the husband just says: ‘No.’
Then we women speak to him about it every day, till he agrees to birth
control. No husband has yet managed to stand out for any length of
time, when we are talking to him. Actually, of course, they know that
we are right. They know, of course, that they are responsible. It’s only
their pride that stands in the way, and we have to tell them that such
pride is false and not at all right. But there are, too, families, where both
husband and wife are agreed that they want to have children all the
time. We can’t do anything there. The whole thing’s voluntary. The
chief thing is to have a healthy family, and that the mother feels all
right.

Since 1958, we have also established a children’s day nursery and a


collective dining-hall. These are used in the busiest of the harvest
season, when it is important that as many as possible work, and so the
women have to be relieved of their domestic work for a time. It’s the
same at the ploughing. During harvest and ploughing, the women who
are pregnant and the old ones with small, crippled feet do the work in
the day nursery and the collective dining-hall. All the others are out in
the fields. It works very well. In that way the women earn money. They
like that.

69
Ching Chung-ying, leader of the Market Gardening
Group, aged 54
I am from Hungshan. My family has always lived there, but for several
generations we have not had the land to make a living from. We had
ten mou and Father worked as a day labourer for various landowners.
Ours was not good land; it lay high up the hillside. We were five
brothers. Life was hard for us and when I was 12, I had to go out and
earn.

It was in January 1920 that I began working for a landowner called


Wang Kou-ho. I was to get ‘two strings of cash’ for the year; that is to
say from January to October according to the lunar calendar. The
landowner woke me when the cock crowed. I had to carry the water
and shit. I had to do everything. One summer day, when the melons
had ripened, I dropped one on the ground and it split open. It was a
sheer accident, but Wang Kou-ho was furious and took his mattock
and hit me on the head. You can still see the scar. I was unconscious,
and it was late afternoon when I came round; I was soaked in blood
and he had just left me lying where I fell. [Weeps.] No one knows how
the poor people suffered. I was 12 and had no trousers, and the land-
owner struck me without cause. He often struck me. Everything was
my fault. I often got five or six beatings a day. He was a big landowner.
He had 600 mou. It was both valley land and hill land.

One day Wang Kou-ho took me with him when he went out to the
sheep. That was in the summer and it was hot. We went eight li from
the village. At dinner-time I was sent back to fetch his food. First he
took off my cloth shoes and pissed in them, then he said: ‘You must be
back with my food before my piss has dried.’ It was a hot summer and
I had to run barefoot across sand and I could not stop and rest on the
way. I ran as fast as I could, but when I got back the landowner’s piss
had already dried, because the sun was strong, and Wang Kou-ho beat
me after he had eaten. [Weeps.] I was only 12.

The following year he leaves the landlord to work for another by whom he is
better treated though his son used to amuse himself by thrashing him. After a
series of different employers he finds himself working for another farmer.

When I was 20, the great famine came. That was 1928. One of my
brothers died. After that, Father and I and my three other brothers
went to Shensi. It was better there. We sold my two youngest brothers.
We were forced to do that in order to survive. We got 28 silver dollars
for one and 20 silver dollars for the other. I don’t know where they
went. I have never heard of them since. After that it was only Father
and I and my younger brother, Ching Chung-wan. He lives in Liu Lin
too now. I fell ill. But I survived and two years later we came back to
Hungshan again.
70
It was only in 1938 that I met a communist. He was called Wu Shen-tsai.
He was middle-aged, 30 or thereabouts. He had come up from Yenan
to make propaganda. He talked with me in Hungshan. He said: ‘You
toil all year round for a landowner, but your life is wretched. You
gather riches for others, while you go hungry yourself.’ Then he talked
to me about Yenan. That was in February 1938. After that I talked with
Father, and we decided that I should go down to Yenan and see if it
were true, as was said, that there people were given land, and that the
government there was good. One night I set off for Yenan. When I
reached the town, I didn’t know where to go, so I asked a woman kan-
pu. She was polite to me. That surprised me. Then I saw that this was a
good place. It was true what people said.
He returns home to find that his father has died, the only family possession is a
cast iron cooking pot—they set off for Yenan.
I was given land in Liu Lin, and, since I came here, I have never worked
as a farmhand for others. I worked hard, but I did not have to toil as I
had done when I was a farmhand. And every year life became better.
At the beginning of 1947, we had six cattle, three big pigs, two
donkeys and 21,000 chin of corn. After that Hu Tsung-nan came. His
troops plundered. They stole everything we had. They destroyed
everything. They took the seeds in the fields to feed their horses.
Everything was destroyed. In 1947 we had another famine. After 13
months’ occupation Hu Tsung-nan left us in March 1948. We then had
nothing to eat and no seed. There was seed-corn in Lochuan. We got
that from the government. That spring I went between Lochuan and
Liu Lin with seed. I walked hundreds of li and carried two sacks on a
carrying-pole on each trip. At night, I slept on the sacks by the road-
side. Then we began building Liu Lin up again.

First we organized a labour exchange group. On the other side of the


valley the Old Secretary, Li Yu-hua, and some others were building up
their Farmers’ Co-operative. We watched them. Their working together
there seemed to bring them luck. More people meant more strength
and more manpower. They did the ploughing better than we and they
manured more thoroughly. They had nice harvests. We discussed
whether we shouldn’t form our own labour group for mutual help.
That was in February 1952.
Some of us were for this. I thought it would be good. Mao Ke-ye and
Ma Jui-ching also worked for the proposal. Others were against the
idea. Fu Hai-tsao, for example. Their family had more manpower. Both
he and his father worked. Also they had good land in the valley. They
said: ‘We two can manage our fields ourselves. We don’t really like the
idea of others looking after our land.’ Then I went over and talked to
them: ‘If the others on the other side of the valley can do their job
properly, why shouldn’t we be able to do so?’ I said. Three weeks
later, Fu Hai-tsao came to me and said that he had thought it over and
that he would join. I was chosen labour leader for Liu Lin Labour
Group for Mutual Help and Ma Jui-ching became deputy leader.

The discussions took four evening meetings. Two were held in my


71
cave and two in Mao Ke-ye’s. Then we began working. We got up early
in the morning and worked hard. By the autumn of 1953, the Old
Secretary’s Farmers’ Co-operative, Li Yu-hua’s Farmers’ Co-operative,
had become very prosperous. They had increased the number of their
oxen to seven and they had 120 goats. Although we too had worked
hard and had increased the number of our cattle and donkeys, things
had gone better for them. We talked about joining his Co-operative.

But many were against it. Those who were against it were Fu Hai-tsao,
Li Chiao, Tung Yang-chen and Li Yang-pei (he is dead now). They
said: ‘Over there they have no valley land, but we have. If they can
manage with their poor land, we can do even better without them.’ We
held many meetings. We kept on at it evening after evening. There was
great discussion. ‘We have good land’, they said. ‘We shall lose on the
deal.’ That was their only reason and their only argument.

At the first meeting, it had been four for and four against. But in January
1954, when we had the last meeting, I said: ‘There are quite a lot of us.
We shall have the right to vote. It isn’t certain that we shall lose by
going over. We shall be in the majority in this Farmers’ Co-operative,
so you don’t need to be afraid. It will be all right, if we stick together.’
Then Fu Hai-tsao said: ‘All right. In that case we can join. If it is as
you say, then I vote for joining. But we must stick together afterwards.’

72
motifs

Louis Malle Lee Russell

The nouvelle vague is now at least six years old and the time has come to
take stock. Perhaps the best way to do this is to consider the work of
Louis Malle, never at the heart of the group who took the headlines,
yet in a way the nouvelle vague’s arch-exponent, and certainly its most
consistently successful in terms of both box-office and prizes. In his
latest film, Le Feu Follet, Malle showed himself perhaps closer to the
original spirit of the movement than others who have sheered off in
their own personal or hyper-personal directions. Malle, the most
eclectic, is also the most typical. The paradox need not surprise: unable
to develop a style with its own dynamic, the eclectic devises a com-
posite, whose surface shimmers with unresolved tensions, but which is
easily assimilable. In the wrong circumstances, the eclectic becomes
either an academic or a grotesque. Malle, an intelligent director, has
been saved from these extremes both by the progressive atmosphere
surrounding him and by his own good judgement. But, whereas
Godard is Godard and Truffaut is Truffaut, Malle is the nouvelle vague.

It is worth recapitulating why it was that the first films of the move-
ment created such a vivid impression of novelty. Partly it was a question
of mise en scène: semi-newsreel, often hand-held camerawork; a careless-
ness about framing and a much greater insistence on texture; a belief
that the camera should follow actors encouraged to act naturally rather
than perform in front of the autocratic camera; a new willingness to
use unorthodox effects more or less casually rather than as set-pieces.
Partly it was a new approach to content and a new kind of content:
episodic construction, often with many parentheses; a fearlessness
about introducing ‘intellectual’ material, conversation and allusions; a
phenomenological approach to domestic psychological problems; a
more candid treatment of sexuality; a preference for natural, ‘spontane-
ous’, rather than instrumental, plot-forwarding dialogue, often im-
provised on the spot. Other features were more superficial: in-jokes,
tributes to the American gangster movie, visual puns. Also there was a
clear insistence, often to the point of flagrancy, on having a developed
cinematic culture, leading to an insistence on clear-cut directional
control.
73
Almost all these qualities and characteristics are to be found in Malle’s
films. His first film, Ascenseur pour l’echafaud, did not fully satisfy him—
Unlike other nouvelle vague directors, who managed to make their own
projects as first films, Malle had the screenplay forced on him. It was a
film which was given nouvelle vague treatment (the Miles Davis sound-
track, for instance), it established Malle’s talent, but did not give him
the chance to make his own film, in the way that the nouvelle vague
director, critically formed by the politique des auteurs of Cahiers du Cinéma,
necessarily wished. Yet it still remains uncertain whether Malle ever
has made his own film. Les Amants, his next film and his own project,
was clearly too concerned with the kind of preoccupations a nouvelle
vague film ought to have. Its central feature; a long erotic sequence of
love-making, signalled a new liberty without making any real new
advance. The plot, despite its modern trappings—the 2CV and the
bathroom—was essentially ultra-romantic and anachronistic. As so
often with Malle, the most distinctive feature of the film was its
ornament: the polo, the bathroom, etc.
Zazie dans le metro was a more important work, not exactly because of
its merits, but because it was an unashamed attempt to make a split-
level film, which would appeal to cinéphiles and the general public, but
for different reasons. On the one hand, it was an anthology of allusions
and quotes from numerous historic movies; on the other, it was a zany
crackpot comedy, with lots of chases and slapstick. The film also
showed Malle’s mounting interest in camera-work; plot and character
hardly exist and the film is kept from sagging almost entirely by
stimulating the eye and not allowing it to settle. Zazie showed how it
was possible to use typical nouvelle vague devices in order to enliven an
action of little interest to the director in itself and turn it into a virtuoso
stylistic exercise. (This, of course, is what Richardson tried to do with
Tom Jones). It should be said that since Queneau’s original book was
little more than a virtuoso semantic exercise itself, it is arguable that
Malle was translating it faithfully into cinematic terms. But this merely
underlines the point that Malle has been unable to find his own
dynamic.
The nouvelle vague was always careful not to seem afraid of commercial-
ism; its admiration for American cinema implied a belief that good
cinema might well also be good box-office. Yet it soon became quite
clear that the leading nouvelle vague directors, far from being shadowy
figures in the Hollywood jungle, were going to be enthroned as the
idols of the intelligentsia, in the full glare of the limelight and applauded
by the very critics who spurned the American cinema. Besides, they
were nearly all intellectuals themselves and, though it is one thing to
insist that the cinema—for all the merits of American directors—still
lacked a certain intellectual dimension, it is quite another to litter
Faulkner’s Wild Palms or Goethe’s Elective Affinities around on the
screen and comment on them in long passages of screenplay. Conse-
quently, there was always a fundamental tension in nouvelle vague cinema,
sometimes expressing itself in surprising ways, apparently perverse:
thus Godard makes films with Brigitte Bardot and Eddie Constantine.
Malle too made a film with Brigitte Bardot, Vie privée. Godard’s Le
74
Mepris was utterly paradoxical, to the point of self-destruction; it was
an attempt to make ‘a film of Antonioni in the style of Hitchcock and
Hawks’, a bizarre juxtaposition of Playboy-type close-ups of Brigitte
with a recondite allegory based on the Odyssey. But Malle’s film was, as
one might expect, a more or less straight commercial property, similar
in its key-idea to Clouzot’s La Vérité, but given a new kind of stylistic
gloss. Its two most striking features—Decae’s experimental pointilliste
photography and a long sequence of Brigitte Bardot falling through
space, based on the parachute jump in Sirk’s Tarnished Angels—had no
relevance to the plot of the film, which seemed to demand either news-
reel treatment or else out-and-out Ophulsian theatricality. Once more,
however, Malle lapsed at crucial moments into a weak romanticism
which belied his quirks of experimentation. The film seemed sub-
servient to conservative ‘box-office’ opinion and not committed to the
belief that advanced cinema could pay well. Moreover, he seemed quite
incapable of dealing seriously with any of the themes—such as the
nature of stardom, the private and the public face, etc—which the film
might have suggested.
It seemed, after Vie privée had been shown, that little more could be
expected from Malle. However, he proved resilient enough to make a
comeback and his most recent film, Le feu follet, was well-received al-
most everywhere. It was not an outstandingly good film, but it was a
film which perhaps more than any other was calculated to catch the
attention of the intellectual. The screenplay was based on an adaptation
of a novel by Drieu La Rochelle, with the hero changed from a drug-
addict to an alcoholic. This shift brought the film into line with its
prevailing mood, which was clearly signalled by a number of allusions
to Scott Fitzgerald. Although the film, like the book, ends with the
hero’s suicide, it was not so much a suicide of an oppressed or broken
man as of a privileged yet doomed man, a man who obscurely feels that
he has no further time to live and that to continue living, perversely,
would be to live in such a condition of radical separation from others
as hardly to be living at all. The film does not consider the origins of
this feeling of fatality and of separation, but chronicles a series of
episodes in which it becomes manifest. The camera, therefore, is the
typical nouvelle vague following camera, but it is also endowed, for quite
long periods, with the hero’s own subjectivity.
The principal episodes are in the form of vignettes of the hero’s friends:
an earnest adept of the kabbala, a beatnik girl and a Maecenas who likes
to entertain the wealthy and the witty. Like the hero, they are all
intellectuals. During the day, the hero, who has just undergone an
alcoholic’s cure, gets incapably drunk. However, this is not the centre
of the film; alcoholism, it is evident, is a symptom and not a disease.
What is really at stake is the essential character of the intellectual, his
obsession with the problematic, his fear that the problem is a false
problem. The film owes its success to the fact that its audience—an
audience of intellectuals—through the obsessive camera, is made to
share the activities of other intellectuals and see them as unintelligible,
phantom-like. Thus Malle makes use of the process of audience
identification with the camera and the radical separation between the
audience and the shadows on the screen. Cinema, in this sense, becomes
75
the central rite of a cult, by which a defined group makes its auto-
critique, its confession of fear that life cannot be made intelligible, and
enacts the suicide in shadows which it will not—need not—make in
substance.

Evidently, underlying a cinema of this kind is a fundamental jadedness


and lack of energy. It seeks to evoke a state of mind, a quality of feeling,
which is saturated in intellectuality but does not give its material any
intelligible structure. It is this basic lack of orientation which allows
Malle to oscillate so violently between the hyper-intellectual and the
vulgar. His next film, Viva Maria, starring Brigitte Bardot and Jeanne
Moreau, promises to be yet another tightrope-walk. Doubtless, it will
be both a commercial success and a strong contender for a Golden Lion.
But it will probably do little to solve the problems which beset Malle
and the rapidly dissipating nouvelle vague. It is not only fresh ideas about
cinema which are now needed, but fresh ideas about society, about
people, about the world. A new cinema demands a new anthropology.

Socialism and Literature Jorge Semprun

Jorge Semprun is a Spaniard who fled to France as a Republican refugee in


1936. He fought with the French Resistance and was imprisoned in Auschwitz.
In 1963, living in Paris, he was awarded the Prix Formentor for his novel,
The Long Voyage, which was published in English in the following year. The
text printed below was delivered as a speech at a recent literary conference in
Paris.

What is literature capable of? No sooner is the question asked, than I


seem to hear a whispered susurrus from voices deep in the warmth of
literary circles: authoritarian voices speaking—often with authority—
in the name of a valid, strong and rich literature. A quite simple answer
ends the debate before it has begun: literature is capable of nothing.

Listen to Pasternak, who speaks with authority. One day, according to


Yevtushenko who tells the story, a worker said to Pasternak: ‘Lead us
towards the truth.’ Pasternak replied: ‘What a strange idea! I have never
aspired to lead anyone anywhere. A poet is like a tree whose leaves
rustle in the wind; he has no power to lead anyone . . .’

Pasternak was either too modest, or too proud. In either case, he was
unaware of himself. For his intention was always, at the very least, to
lead men towards themselves. The power of his poetry was immense.
His literary power perhaps lay precisely in the fact that he refused to
make concessions to political power—to that form of circumstantial
political power that was Stalinism.

Listen to Robbe-Grillet. In an essay written in 1957, he declared: ‘No


matter what his political convictions, or his personal militancy, the
artist cannot reduce his art to a means in the service of a cause—even
the most justifiable and exalting cause—which transcends it. The artist
76
puts nothing above his work—and he soon perceives that he can only
create for nothing.’ There are two ideas in this passage. They seem to
derive from each other, but in reality they cancel each other out and
return us to the confusion of a poetic rustling of leaves. There is first
of all the idea that art cannot be utilitarian, that it is not a means. This an
entirely correct idea, which echoes one of the themes of Marx’s
thought. ‘The writer’. Marx wrote, ‘in no way considers his work as a
means. His work is an end in itself. It is so far from being a means for
the writer himself and for others that he is ready to sacrifice his existence
to its existence when the need arises. . .’
But from this immaculate premise, Robbe-Grillet deduces an indefen-
sible conclusion: that the artist creates for nothing. This is a purely
theoretical conclusion, which his own work contradicts at every step.
For as a form of literary investigation and reality, the nouveau roman is
moving and developing, and this is a good thing for us all. Because for
a Marxist critic all research is valuable a priori. Freedom of investigation
including investigations that may appear to lead to a dead end, is one of
the conditions of a true cultural life—a life that is organically linked to
the whole of society. It is especially necessary in those socialist régimes
that are founded, for historical and therefore transitory reasons, on a
single-party system. This research can only be formal. The content is
not a matter of research: it is imposed on us. Either by the world or by
our ideas, our personal obsessions about the world.
However, for Marxism, a critique of the utilitarian conception of art—a
critique which is essential, especially within Marxism itself—does not
lead to ‘gratuitousness’. It leads to a quite different perspective. Such a
perspective must start from the fact that Marxism is not only a theory, a
critique, a method. It has also given birth to a certain form of society,
to a specific type of political power. These are historical realities that no
one, least of all Marxists, can overlook. This means that one cannot
talk about literature from the innocence of ‘pure’ Marxist thought: the
often terrible weight of a certain historical practice precludes this
innocence. Thus, first of all, one must examine the relationship of
literature to socialist power.
What Marxist attitude is the most valuable in considering that past of
the socialist movement which—simplifying somewhat, but so as to be
clearly understood—I shall call Stalinism? It seems to me that the crucial
need is for a consciousness of our own responsibility for the past, or if you
prefer, of our co-responsibility. Real or pretended lack of knowledge
justifies nothing, and serves no purpose. There is always a way of
knowing, or at least of questioning. We have too frequently denounced
the attitudes of people of good conscience and bad faith who were
unaware of the extermination of the Jews and of colonial wars, for us
to be able to claim any excuses for ourselves.
Even without knowing, without really knowing, we remain co-respon-
sible, because this past is ours and nothing can change it. We cannot
refuse this past. We can only deny it in the present, that is to say,
understand it through and through in order to destroy what remains of
it, in order to create a future which will be radically different.
77
We need, in other words, to have an active, not a hapless, consciousness
of our responsibility. We are responsible for this past because we
accept responsibility for the future, for the socialist revolution through-
out the world. These are the kind of feelings evoked by reading A Day
in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch, for example. Soljhenitsin’s book destroys
any possible innocence for my generation. We came back from Nazi
concentration camps, we were the just, the evil had been punished,
Justice and Reason returned with us. At the same moment, however,
some of our comrades—perhaps even men we had known, with whom
we had shared our 15 grammes of black bread in the camps—were being
sent to join Ivan Denisovitch somewhere in the extreme north, to build
a desolate socialist city whose uninhabited, concrete carcasses stretched
out like spectres over the snow. This novel ends innocence for anyone
who tries to live—really live—within a Marxist vision of the world.
What remains is a heightened awareness of responsibility, not only for
the past, but for the present and the future as well. We are responsible
for Soljhenitsin’s voice. I give it only as an example, for it is not an
isolated voice, it is multiple, perhaps immense—a voice which reminds
us that truth is always revolutionary. It depends on us that this voice
should never fall silent: if it ever should, we should cry out in its
silence.
This brings us to ‘social realism’, not that of Soljhenitsin, but of
Zhdanov. Because we must re-read Zhdanov. We must re-read him to
measure the distance that separated us from ourselves, which separated
Marxism from Marxism, its critical and revolutionary truth from its
bureaucratic carapace. For 20 years, from the First Congress of Soviet
Writers, in August 1934—which ended the period of cultural research
and debate in the USSR—a certain type of relationship prevailed between
authority and literature in the Soviet Union. It is impossible to analyse
this relationship in detail here, but its fundamental traits are simple
enough to define.
First of all, there was administrative direction of culture, by decree and
Resolution. As Zhdanov said in 1946, it was necessary to ‘align all the
sectors of our work on the ideological front’. The consequence was
that all cultural debate, all possibility of contestation, all ideological
struggle was suppressed. In brief, the opposite of Marxism. And the
opposite also of literature, which needs all these in order to live. We
cannot reassure ourselves by saying that all this was an accident which
sprang from the specific circumstances in the development of Soviet
society. The roots go deeper.
Read the report of Lin Mo-Han, one of the officials responsible for
culture in the Chinese People’s Republic. It dates from 1961, and is
entitled: ‘Let us raise still higher the banner of Mao Tse-Tung’s
thought over literature and art.’ There are the same formulae, based on
the same quotations, the same conception of culture and of the role of
the party, the same anathemas against decadence, formalism, revision-
ism. And the same imperative conclusion: ‘The present task for writers
and artists is to develop and create a socialist literature and art in con-
formity with the directives set out by comrade Mao Tse-Tung.’ All that
needs changing is a single name. In the transitional period opened by the
78
Twentieth Party Congress, the relationship between power and culture
in the USSR has been marked by contradictory shifts: advance and re-
treat, empirical approaches and reprimands, brutal or paternalistic
interventions. But no coherent theory of culture, of the party’s role in
this field, of the criteria of freedom for research, has been organically
developed. It is this theoretical work, however, which we most need;
without it, practice will be, and will remain, purely pragmatic.

The publication of a book like A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch


should not be imputed to the sole, praiseworthy initiative of one man
in power: it should be the spontaneous product of the whole of Soviet
cultural life. Correcting the excesses of the past cannot possibly satisfy
us. Enlightened despotism—or more or less enlightened, depending on
those in power—is not enough. A developing socialist society demands
something more.

It is time to question, once and for all, the idea which has for so long
had currency and which Lin Mo-Han expressed succinctly in his report
when he said: ‘Literature and art, which make up a part of the whole
revolutionary cause, must naturally accept the party’s direction and
control.’ Gramsci replied to this in advance, from prison, when he
wrote: ‘The politician exerts pressure to make of the art of his time a
given cultural world. This is a political activity, not an artistic critique.
If the cultural world for which we are struggling is a living and im-
perative reality, its expression will be irresistible. It will find its own
artists. If, in spite of political pressure, it does not find its own artists,
this means that we are dealing with a factitious cultural world, a post-
iche, a paper lucubration by mediocrities. . .’

I quote Gramsci because in my view it is largely within the Gramscian


tradition that there is to be found the most coherent and valuable
elements of a Marxist theory of art—a theory that finally ceases to
consider art simply as an ideological superstructure, and as a utilitarian
instrument.

Monk in the Sixties Alan Becket

No living jazz musician has accomplished as much as Thelonious


Monk. His music transcends jazz, in a way which Charlie Parker’s did
not. He must be reckoned as one of the most important musicians ever
to come out of America.

Monk is important in jazz as an improvisor and a composer. His im-


provisation is no way weird or esoteric, but develops logically from
his own premises. His harmonic and melodic vocabulary, now so well
known, is highly individual and has few antecedents in the work of
earlier musicians. As an improvisor, he has made two contributions of
prime importance. Firstly, his emphasis on melodic improvising
was the first step towards the movement away from chords that
musicians such as Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane have made.
79
Secondly, his highly original use of space and his attempts to impose
non-metrical rhythmic ideas on top of jazz rhythms constitute a basic
advance in jazz practice which will not be completely worked out for a
long time. These ideas have created a basis on which jazz musicians
can accept ideas of rhythm and time from contemporary academic music
—a topic which we hope to discuss in a future article.
At his best, Monk organizes his solos with a beautiful sense of form—
every note crucial and in the right place. His solo on Bags Groove, with
Miles Davis, Milt Jackson, Percy Heath and Kenny Clarke (Esquire
32-090) is one of the finest in jazz history.
One should also note Monk’s achievement as an accompanist. Some-
times, especially when he leads larger groups, his solos are modest and
his most important work is carried out in the accompanying role. He is
a very active accompanist; instead of simply providing a harmonic and
rhythmic background, his playing suggests harmonic and melodic
ideas to the soloist and sometimes uncovers the harmonic possibilities
in what the soloist has just played. In this way, Monk can illuminate
even conventional solos.
Monk’s composition arises directly from his improvisation. It has the
rigorous and intelligent economy, and the perfect balance of his best
solos. As an example of Monk’s ability to create great music out of few
materials, one can consider Evidence, a perfectly logical but unpredict-
able balancing of isolated notes, arising out of an accompanying figure
Monk formerly used on Just You Just Me. Despite their completeness,
Monk’s themes seem to invite development. As a jazz composer should,
Monk writes themes for people to blow on. His oeuvre contains a sur-
prising variety of tempi, line lengths, melodic shapes and harmonic
structures. Besides being technical masterpieces, his works are as full of
human reference as the most programmatic of Ellington’s and Charles
Mingus’ compositions.
This rich fabric has unfolded slowly. In part, the slowness has been due
to technical limitations. (Even today, the imperfections in Monk’s
technique are occasionally revealed, but, in general, his technique is
perfectly adequate for his artistic intention.) In part, it has been due to
misunderstanding on the part of musicians, promoters and record
companies. Monk has fought hard to maintain his integrity and for this
reason one feels reticent about criticizing him when he has finally
achieved recognition and a certain economic stability. However, it is
only because he has made such great music in the past that one must set
high standards for him.
Though there is still a need for a critical overview of the whole of
Monk’s work, we shall confine ourselves to his most recent records,
most of which present his regular quartet. The first of these is Two
Hours With Thelonious (Riverside 460/461) which presents excerpts from
Monk’s concerts in Paris and Milan in 1961. Readers who heard the
group in London in the same year will recall this music vividly. This re-
cord gives a fair showing of the quartet with all its good points and
deficiencies; thus it is worthwhile considering each musician’s con-
tribution in some detail.
80
81
Firstly, tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse. His response to Monk has
been different from that of the saxophonists Monk previously em-
ployed. Johnny Griffin, always an exuberant and individualist im-
provisor, blew some fine solos in Monk’s group and then left, hardly
affected by the contact. On the other hand, Sonny Rollins, in 1954, was
profoundly influenced. He was one of the first musicians to understand
Monk’s rhythmic ideas, incorporate them into his own style, develop
them and place them in the jazz mainstream. Similarly, John Coltrane,
in 1958, was influenced deeply. The ‘sheets of sound’ which are an
integral part of his later playing seem to be directly related to the
fragmentation of the beat Monk uses in compositions such as Trinkle
Trinkle and Four In One. Rouse does not have the same technical
equipment nor the same musical vision as these musicians and his
development has been much more modest. He has been content to
work out his style within the framework of Monk’s group, and has
become Monk’s spokesman. Though the listener recognizes Rouse at
once, he is playing Monk’s music rather than his own. In his best
moments (Five By Monk By Five Riverside RLP 12–305) he responds very
well to Monk’s suggestions and his angular melodic playing is an
admirable extension of what Monk wants to say. Here, however, and
in much of the subsequent material, he is not at his best. As he often
does when leading a quartet, Monk seems content to give him long
unaccompanied stretches in which he frequently runs out of ideas. Also
his breathing and tone control seem faulty. Most important, he is often
careless in stating the themes, failing to give them the right rhythmic
emphasis. For some musicians, this is permissible; for instance one
expects Miles Davis to treat his themes casually. In Monk’s music,
however, the theme is much more important.
As one hears more of the recent developments in rhythm playing,
Monk’s rhythm section sounds more anachronistic. Drummer Frank
Dunlop is sometimes a crisp and constructive soloist, but his concep-
tion of rhythm seems very restricted. John Ore, on bass, is a very
boring musician; his ensemble playing is heavy and dull, his solos
too long and monotonous. Together, Ore and Dunlop lay down a
pronounced rhythm with a very heavy off beat. Sometimes, this pro-
vides a firm foundation against which Monk’s asymmetrical inventions
can be contrasted to good advantage; often, however, one longs for a
bass player who can provide melodic improvisation and harmonic
interest in the ensembles as well as rhythm, and a drummer with more
textural and rhythmic variation in his playing; Percy Heath and Art
Blakey provided these on the 1953 trio recordings (Esquire
32–119).
The pianist’s own playing shines from this rather ill-built structure;
this record is perhaps more valuable than many which follow it
because it contains some of Monk’s best solo improvisation for a long
time—in particular, his solos on Jackie-ing No. 1 and I Mean You. In
both, Monk retains the melody throughout, making progressive slight
alterations to the melodic, harmonic and rhythmic relations. Gradually,
as Ore enters for his solo, the melody is disintegrated into a series of
schematic chords and the solos are slowly and quietly concluded. These
solos are very simple, but they demonstrate Monk’s rhythmic and
82
spatial concepts and have a slow, majestic development which marks
much of his best work.
In the following year, Monk signed a contract with Columbia Records.
His relations with the now defunct Riverside Company had not been
entirely happy, and the new contract allowed hin to record more
frequently. His output since then, however, has been very variable.
Monk’s Dream (CBS BPG 62135), recorded in 1962, is the first of these
albums. There is more discipline in this, and subsequent records, than
in the Riverside set, but the same faults are apparent. The rhythm
section is heavy and conservative. Rouse’s tone is better controlled and
he produces forthright declamatory solos on several tracks, but he
produces nothing that one has not heard from him before, and some-
times when released from Monk’s control he again seems to run out of
ideas. Monk plays characteristically throughout, using his customary
harmonic and melodic vocabulary. These devices are all familiar but
they cannot be called cliches; they are still as arresting as they were
when we first heard them. What is missing, however, is their organiza-
tion. Monk is not exactly cramped on this record, but he does not make
the best possible use of the space available. Even on Bolivar Blues,
where he plays a striking extended passage across the beat, his solo
seems strangely truncated. If one compares this solo with his 1953
version of Blue Monk (Esquire 32–119) the deficiencies become apparent.
In all fairness, one must point out that Monk is not helped by the
rhythm section; the fact that John Ore is not allowed his long solos
seems to deprive Monk of one of his methods of development. How-
ever, the unaccompanied solos also seem heavy and less well organized
than usual. Just A Gigolo suffers particularly in comparison with the
former version (same record).
Criss Cross (BPG 62173), recorded in the following year, is a better
record, mainly because it contains a fine selection of Monk’s themes—
Hackensack, Think Of One, the remarkable Criss Cross and Eronel, one of
Monk’s loveliest ballads. These themes are well played with the notable
exception of Criss Cross which is vulgarized by Dunlop’s obtrusive
drumming. Again, however, Rouse does not startle the listener, and
gets badly lost in the last named tune, apparently being unable to cope
with the complex melody, and again the rhythm section does not allow
Monk to organize his ideas properly. Monk’s best contribution here is
the solo performance of Don’t Blame Me. He has never approached this
ballad before, and he treats it in typical fashion, using broken tempi
with fine timing, altering the harmonies and displacing the melodic
structure so as to imbue it with sinister implications.
One side of Miles And Monk At Newport (BPG 62389) presents Nutty
and Blue Monk from the quartet’s appearance at the 1963 Newport Jazz
Festival. Here, the group is enlivened by the substitution of Butch
Warren for John Ore. Warren is a much better bassist. His tone is more
incisive and he swings more; he is more adventurous harmonically in
the ensembles and more varied in his solo playing. His contribution
makes the rhythm lighter. Rouse responds well to this improvement;
his tone is finer than before and his improvisations more coherent.
Monk also seems more interested than usual and is more active as an
83
accompanist. His solos, however, cannot be ranked among his best.
The unrehearsed inclusion of clarinettist Pee Wee Russell on these two
tracks comes off much better than it might have done. It is true that the
similarities between Pee Wee’s music and Monk’s are very superficial,
and that Pee Wee cannot deal with the chords, so that his playing is
halting and tentative, but his presence makes one realize the extent to
which the addition of another horn would make Monk’s music more
interesting. His entrance on Nutty is fresh and novel in this context,
and throughout his ‘unique sound’, with all its slurs and vocalizations,
brings an added dimension to the music. On Blue Monk, where
Thelonious takes a firm hold on him with his accompaniment, the two
musicians produce lovely colour combinations reminiscent of passages
in Ellington. Though theoretically inadmissible, this is one of the
human moments without which jazz would not be the same.
On most of Big Band And Quartet In Concert (BPG 62248) we hear the
regular group augmented with cornet, trumpet, trombone and three
saxophonists doubling on clarinets, recorded at a concert in New York’s
Philharmonic Hall in the latter part of 1963. As in Monk’s last big band
session (Riverside RLP 12–300), the orchestration is the work of com-
poser Hall Overton. It is Overton rather than Monk who directs this
session; thus the music must be looked upon as an interpretation of
Monk’s music rather than a new development from the pianist. Monk
plays the role of chief soloist; his solos are appropriately more con-
ventional than usual and very effective, and his percussive chordal
playing blazes through the ensembles. The other solos are shared
among Thad Jones (cornet), Phil Woods (alto), Rouse, Warren and
Dunlop. It is strange that soprano saxophonist Steve Lacey, who has
devoted his musical life to the interpretation of Monk’s music should
have been included in the personnel but given no solo space. In general,
the solos are good, though Jones does not equal his performance on
his previous session with Monk (RLP 12–305). The most surprising
individual contribution comes from Frank Dunlop. Before joining
Monk, this drummer had spent some time with Maynard Ferguson’s
big band, but here he seems to play much better. As a soloist and as an
ensemble player he is crisp and remarkably responsive, with none of
the heaviness of his previous performances.
The improvisations are of lesser importance here, however, the main
concern being Overton’s work. He chose a challenging and varied
group of compositions—I Mean You, Evidence Epistrophe and Four In
One—and dealt with them brilliantly, expanding Monk’s harmonic
system to orchestral proportions and making full use of the wide range
of tone colours the instrumentation provides. His finest achievement is
the scoring of Monk’s original solo on Four In One. Its complex scores
makes this the best big band record of the last year.
The large band also plays a Monk original for the first time—a parody
of Donkey Serenade entitled Oska T. Here, however, Overton has no
previous performance to work from and the orchestration is less
spectacular and perhaps gentler than Monk intended. One eagerly
awaits a small group treatment. Darkness On The Delta is a good solo
84
from Monk. In the quartet’s performance of Played Twice, the tempo is
perhaps too fast and the heavy, measured theme is treated too casually.

It’s Monk’s Time (BPG 62391) brings us back to the quartet, though here
the personnel is Monk, Rouse, Warren and Ben Riley on drums. This
is undoubtedly the best of the Columbia quartet sessions. Riley is an
improvement on Dunlop, but he still retains the marked off beat. Rouse
is generally very strong and well organized in his solo statements,
though on Brake’s Sake, where Monk leaves him to take an extended
solo, he goes to pieces completely.

This theme, together with Shuffle Boil, come from a forgotten session in
1956 (Savoy MG 12137) and it is very good to hear them again. Shuffle
Boil is handled more advantageously than it was at the first session; it is
taken at a faster tempo and takes on a pleasantly strident quality, like a
phrase Eric Dolphy might have played.

Monk himself plays better than he has done at any of the previous
sessions. His extended improvisation on Brake’s Sake is beautifully
varied and has almost the same formal organization as his best solos on
the European recordings. On Lulu’s Back In Town he plays an extended
improvisation in stride piano style, setting up constantly varied
rhythmic patterns with his left hand. On Stuffy Turkey, a theme pre-
viously associated with Coleman Hawkins and now claimed as a Monk
composition, his accompaniment to Rouse has an intensity we have not
seen for a long time. Perhaps the finest piece, however, is the solo
Memories Of You. This must be classed as one of the loveliest of the
profoundly disquieting ballad performances only Monk can produce.
It is on this record that Monk convinces the listener that his genius can
still emerge undiminished.

After carefully considering these records, however, one is forced to


admit that there are few moments which equal Monk’s greatest work
from the 1950’s. The personnel changes he has made recently have
served to patch up his music but they have not taken it forward, and it
is surely time that he turned his attention to the younger musicians
working in New York. Recently, someone told me of a session in New
York in which Monk had used Jimmy Lyons, Cecil Taylor’s alto
saxophonist, and one can imagine Monk leading a quartet or quintet
composed of musicians of similar background and persuasion. Monk
could surely guide and develop these musicians as he once gave so
much, to Rollins and Coltrane, and they, in turn, would give him more
to think about. Should this happen, we can expect a further flowering
from this magisterial musician.

85
Letter: Anglo-Saxon Attitudes (NLR 28)

Dear Sir,
It is not easy in 500 words to disperse the fog of misrepresentation, emotive
bias and blind error woven round my book by Richard Cobb in several
thousand words. So curtailed a reply obviously has no room for the vitupera-
tion, sneers, and the cultivation of a personal image which this representative
of non-Marxist, arrière-garde British Stalinism allows himself.

Facts (or misrepresentations) first, then. I quote: ‘Caute is the first to admit
that on the road to engagement, theoretical Marxism has played only a
minimal part, in France at least.’ Why then, in a chapter devoted to the
subject, did I conclude: ‘In this case, as in many others . . . the decision to
join the Party was preceded by a long period of intellectual reflection within a
Marxist framework?’ He writes that I imply that Party manipulators like
Muenzenberg invented anti-fascism in order to bamboozle unwary intel-
lectuals. Before discussing Muenzenberg, I commented, of the 1927–34
period: ‘. . . the dangers of fascism and war were beginning to foster a
dominant anxiety among French intellectuals of the Left’. Nor do I suggest,
as Cobb claims, that the Party invented anti-Americanism. Building up his
‘Anglo-Saxon attitudes’ case against me, he complains that I present ‘many’
of the poems of Aragon and Eluard in English translations. Does one poem
out of 13 quoted amount to ‘many’?

It simply is not true that my book is slanted towards disenchantment. The


long-term fidelities of Barbusse, Rolland, Aragon et al are recounted in
detail. Nor necessarily in a hostile light. Cobb now comes to the most
slovenly (if not deliberate) slander of all. He says that I ‘suggest’ that the
publication of Albert Soboul’s thesis on the sans-culottes in 1958 bore some
unspecified relationship to destalinization, and that I thereby imply that if it
had been published earlier it would have been more favourable to Robes-
pierre. In reality, my point was that many of Soboul’s erstwhile critics found
the ground cut away from under their feet by destalinization when his great
work appeared, and hence were forced to praise him. Elsewhere, your re-
viewer complains that I fail to understand that Sartre’s attitude is conditioned
by his sense of priorities. Yet my chapter on Sartre is devoted entirely to his
changing priorities; only at one juncture (the Rosenbergs) do I seriously
criticize him.

The inconsistencies in Cobb’s account of my work are amazing. On the first


page he likens me to Talmon, who regards Robespierre’s actions as having
been consciously based on the principles of the Contrat Social; but a few lines
later he happily quotes my opinion that the Communist Party has not con-
sciously based its actions on the principles of utility which I defined.

Cobb denies me the right to draw general conclusions about the Party’s
attitude to intellectuals and mocks my principles of utility. Yet we find him
cheerfully speaking of the Party’s ‘systematic effort to abase excellence and
independence’, and its attempt to ‘dragoon young agregatifs . . . into political
activities remote from their specialized interests’. All these mistakes are
merely symptoms of a blind subjectivism of the crudest character which I
have no space to analyse here. David Caute

Readers may form their own opinion of Caute’s ability to judge intellectuals, French or
English, by his description of one of the most distinguished contemporary historians of
the French Revolution, never a member of any political party, as a ‘representative of
non-Marxist, arrière-garde British Stalinism’ — NLR
96