George Walford: Sir Isaac’s Apple

When people first come into contact with systematic ideology they often draw attention to a discrepancy between the basic “model” put forward and the actual behaviour of the groups whose behaviour that model is to explain.

Systematic ideology holds that the behaviour of each of the main political groups (Fascist, Conservative, Liberal, Labour, Communist, Anarchist) is the expression, in this particular field of activity, of one of the major ideologies. And it presents these major ideologies as forming a range or series, the brown or protostatic ideology (that which appears in politics as Fascism) lying at one end of the range and the red or epidynamic ideology (that which appears in the politics of Communism) lying toward the opposite end.

This model can, it appears, be easily tested. If it is valid then the behaviour of a group expressing an ideology at one end of the range should be significantly and consistently different from that of a group expressing an ideology toward the other end. The critic points out that this is not what is found in practice. Fascism and Communism express two ideologies which are almost at opposite ends of the range, but the behaviour of Communist movements is often indistinguishable from that of Fascist movements. From this it is concluded that systematic ideology is not valid in practice. It presents a pretty theoretical picture but one that does not correspond with what is found in the real world.

The present paper offers a solution to this problem. It accepts that the facts are as stated, that the behaviour of Fascist and Communist movements is often indistinguishable, but it does not accept that this shows systematic ideology to be not valid in practice. It shows that the above description of the model put forward by systematic ideology is incomplete. The fully-developed model includes features which account for this discrepancy. The difficulty is, as we have said, one which is raised when people first come into contact with systematic ideology. It is, as we shall show, one which disappears given a little persistence, a more thorough acquaintance with the theory.

Any theory dealing with a wide range of phenomena has to digest observations which seem to contradict it. The theory of gravitation, for example – a theory so well established that it is known as a law – states that every mass of matter attracts every other mass of matter (and goes on to specify the force-distance-mass ratios involved). There are many direct observations that appear to contradict this theory. The earth is one mass of matter and a hydrogen balloon is another. We all know, many of us from our own direct observation, that the balloon does not move toward the earth but away from it. But we do not say this disproves the law of gravitation. Although science rests upon observation yet we’re cognoscente that we are not to accept, unquestioningly, everything we see. We are to criticise our observations, to colligate them and to consider all the relevant circumstances, and when we do this we often find that the apparent contradiction is not a substantial one. The hydrogen balloon does obey the law of gravitation; what produces the appearance that it is not doing so is the fact that the air around it is also obeying that law and, in doing so, overcomes the attraction between the balloon and the earth. When trying to account for the behaviour of one mass of matter by means of the law of gravitation we have to bear in mind that all other masses of matter are also obeying the law.

Similarly in ideology. Here also we have to take into account not only the behaviour of the “mass,” the group or movement, with which we are immediately concerned, but also the behaviour of other “masses,” other groups or movements. Ideological behaviour consists largely of the behaviour of groups toward each other, and when one group sets out to produce an effect upon another its behaviour is determined not only by its own ideology but also by the behaviour – and thus indirectly by the ideology – of the group it is trying to effect.

Our problem is an “excessive” similarity between Right and Left. As an abstract situation this could result from either group moving toward the other, but in reality the movement is consistently in one direction; it is the Left that exhibits the behaviour characteristic of the Right. As between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, for example, the problem was not that the Nazis behaved as one would expect Communists to behave. It was, consistently, that Soviet Russia behaved in the same way as Nazi Germany, displaying the nationalism and militarism that are integral to Fascism but find no place in the theory of Communism. The discrepancy nearly always tends in the same direction; it is not the brown ideology that moves, in practice, toward the red, but the red that moves toward the brown.

The law of gravitation provides a parallel for this situation also. We all know the story of Sir Isaac Newton seeing the apple fall. It may well be apocryphal but there is a significant thing about the way it is invariable related. We are told that Sir Isaac saw the apple fall: we are not told that he saw the earth rise to meet it. Yet the law of gravitation states that every mass of matter attracts every other mass; the apple attracts the earth as well as the earth the apple. The statement, that every mass of matter attracts every other mass of matter, is accepted by everybody qualified to express an opinion; it is as undeniably valid as any such proposition can be. The earth is attracted by the apple, it does move toward it. But this is only so in theory. In practice, in what can be directly observed, even with the aid of the most delicate instrument, the apple moves toward the earth full stop.

When two ideological groups come into contact each of them affects the other, but when the ideologies concerned are the brown and the red then this reciprocal effect is found only in theory; it does not appear in practice. We are bound to admit that it must occur, that the arguments of those who hold the red ideology cannot be of absolutely no effect upon those holding the brown but it is, in practice, undetectable. What dominates the situation is the effect of the brown ideology upon the red. As the earth, in practice, affects the apple and not the apple the earth, so the brown ideology, in practice, affects the red, and not vice versa. It is the red that sometimes behaves as we would expect the brown to behave, not the brown that approximates to the red.

If we enquire why it is that the apple moves toward the earth and not (to any extent detectable in practice) the earth toward the apple, we find it is because the earth is immensely the more massive of the two. We must not simply take this picture and apply it in the field of ideology but we may, perhaps look at that field with this picture in mind. We may ask: Is there a corresponding disproportion here that may account for the correspondence in behaviour? Can we say that, here also, one of the two bodies concerned is immensely more massive than the other?

Indeed we can. Those who hold the red ideology are greatly in the minority against those who hold the brown. This was so when Marx, writing the Communist Manifesto in 1848, said it was time the Communists should openly publish their views “in the face of the whole world.” It was so in Russia when the Bolsheviks, a tiny minority of the population, seized control of the governmental machinery, receiving thereafter from the great masses of the people that unthinking compliance, characteristic of the brown ideology, formerly accorded to the Tsars. And it is still so today, when the Communists in China, a small minority of the population, receive from the great masses of the people that same unthinking compliance,showing that in China as elsewhere the mass of the people are attached to the brown ideology.

Between the numbers of those who hold the red ideology and the numbers of those who hold the brown there is a disproportion comparable to that between the mass of the apple and the mass of the earth. And it is here we find the solution to our problem, for it is with the immense numbers holding the brown ideology that the effective power resides. Those who would wield effective power are under constant pressure to adapt their policies, programmes and proposals to suit the ideological requirements of those holding the brown ideology.

The apple moves toward the earth, not the earth toward the apple. The red group moves toward the brown, not the brown toward the red. The reason is the same in each case: disproportion between the two masses involved.

But although the practice of the Communist movement tends to approximate that of the groups lying to the Right of it (that of the Liberals and Conservative as well as the Fascists), yet there is none the less an enduring and significant distinction between Communism and these other movements. A complete description of the Communist movement would refer not only to its practice but also to its identification with a complex, difficult and highly sophisticated body of theory. This cannot be said of any of the groups to the right of it, and although this distinction is not very relevant in this present paper, concerned mainly with political practice, yet it is highly significant in other connections.

from Ideological Commentary 4, January 1980.