George Walford: Holistic Ideology

Even casual reading of the newspapers makes it clear that the attempt to establish an exclusively communist society, in China, Russia and elsewhere, has not gone well. People who have kept in closer touch with what has been happening draw grim pictures. John Gray, in an essay entitled “Glasnostications” (TLS 21 July), speaks of the Soviet zone as suffering hideous social problems, including economic catastrophe, ecological devastation and large-scale popular estrangement. His information comes not from rumours started by embittered refugees, or shock-horror tales cooked up by headline-hunting journalists, but from official sources in the countries concerned, and he concludes that Soviet-style institutions have gone beyond saving; they are bankrupt.

Each “new” initiative, in Poland, in Russia, in China, amounts to the same thing: ease off or release the suppression, allow the repressed ideologies to function again. The intention is always a partial, carefully manipulated easing, with the communist masters retaining control, but it doesn’t work out like that. In Russia they try to relax political controls while keeping a tight rein on the economy and the ethnic groups, but the miners go on strike and the nationalist riots erupt. In China they try to allow private profit into the economy while maintaining political control, but that leads to Tiananmen Square. A major ideology is a whole, and you can’t have one part of it working efficiently while the rest remains buried out of sight. It’s like trying to push a balloon under water; ease the pressure on one side and the whole thing bursts out.

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COMPARED with the most popular television programmes, a church service is a feast of reason.

from Ideological Commentary 41, September 1989.