George Walford: Still Hoping

IC HOLDS out a continuing invitation: We undertake to print any statement of up to 1,000 words carrying the approval of this party or one of its branches. Letters from individual members will appear if they are cogent, interesting and concise, and if space permits. If you or not at all, please say so.

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Keith Graham, a Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Bristol, has written The Battle of Democracy; Conflict, Consensus and the Individual (Brighton, Wheatsheaf Books, 1986).

The ecstatic exclamations in the blurb are provided by a Reader in Politics and a Senior Lecturer in Government, and this is a fair indication of the approach taken in the book. Of its kind it is well done, perhaps overdone; Graham’s care to keep his argument distanced and tentative sometimes makes it difficult to tell when he is putting his own view. He discusses conceptions of democracy, the interests argument, the two spheres view, the integrated view, formal and want your letter to appear unedited substantive equality, the possibility of consensus, elite theory, participation theory, Marxist theory and Leninist theory, and much besides. If you want to explore the byways of academia, to study, for example, Lukes’ formulation of Dworkin’s gloss on Rawls’ point (p. 70), this is for you.

Our attention was drawn to the book by a review in the Socialist Standard (November 1986) saying it was written by a socialist – a phrase meaning, in the context, one who agrees with the (Anarcho-) Socialist Party of Great Britain. The author himself does not, in this book, declare any allegiance, and he agrees with IC that there is no direct, objective or experimental evidence to show that ‘socialism’ would work. After commenting on the allegedly Marxist regimes of Eastern Europe he says:

I believe that Marx’s theories contain the suggestion of a different alternative, never put into practice. (p. 240, emphasis added).

The review ends with the hope that the book will spark off a wide-ranging discussion about the desirability and feasibility of “a world-wide society of common ownership” and of the means of bringing it into being. Had that been written in the year of the Party’s foundation, or soon after, it would have been acceptable enough. Coming after eighty-two years of struggle, this hope that a wide-ranging discussion is at last about to begin is too forlorn to bear thinking about.

from Ideological Commentary 26, March 1987.