George Walford: Ideology and the Left

Walsby came to develop a theory of ideology which relates to all our purposive or intentional behaviour, but his starting-point was political. The immediate cause of his rejection of Left-wing political theory was the crucial perception that the Left is not a specifically working-class movement nor the Right a specifically capitalist or bourgeois one. It is of course true that the numerical support enjoyed by the Left comes mainly from the working class, but so does that enjoyed by the Right. In this respect the two movements are alike. In countries which have universal adult suffrage, freedom of speech, of publication and political organisation, the Right consistently receives from the electorate, which is overwhelmingly of the working class, a number of votes which is at least comparable with, and is sometimes greater than, the number of votes received by the Left. The political division between Left and Right does not correspond with the economic division between workers and capitalists (or bourgeoisie) and, even after generations of Left-wing propaganda, is not coming to do so. The political struggles which occur in industrial or post-industrial states cannot be understood so long as they are assumed to be, or to reflect, or to express, struggles between economic classes. When political conflict becomes violent the battle is rarely, if ever, between capitalists and workers. It is Workers of the Left and workers of the Right who shoot one another.

The responsible spokesmen and thinkers of the Left are rarely so simpleminded as to claim that political allegiance is directly determined by class position; rather do they emphasise their rejection of “economic determinism.” But they do assume some significant connection between the Left and the working class, although most of them are reluctant to specify exactly what it is (and those who do attempt to do so contradict each other). The Left is regarded as the working-class movement, having for opponent the Right, which is the movement of the capitalists, or the bourgeoisie, or the bosses. The Left account for political behaviour, however indirectly and with whatever refinements, by reference to the relationships between economic classes.

Walsby’s work indicates that this view is not valid, that political conflicts cannot be understood in terms of the relationships between economic classes, that there is no significant correlation, direct or indirect, between the political structure of our society and its economic class structure. His explanation of the political structure which tends to appear, always displaying the same broad features, in every industrial or post-industrial country where universal adult suffrage and political freedom obtain, is that it is the expression, in the political field, of an ideological structure. The adherents of each political position extend over the whole range of economic positions. There are Right-wing workers and there are Left-wing capitalists. The adherents of each political position are not united by a common class position or a common economic interest. They are united by sharing a common ideology. We shall see that this means a good deal more than the self-evident proposition that the adherents of each political position have certain political ideas in common.

Continue reading An Outline Sketch of Systematic Ideology (1977):
The Walsby Society | Introduction | Ideology and the Left | The Field of Ideology | Assumption and Identification | Definition of an Ideology | Ideological Groups | The Major Ideologies | Ideological Development | Intellect | The Group Situation | The Cosmic Situation | Political Individualism and Collectivism | Economic Individualism and Collectivism | Personal Ideological Structure | Social Ideological Structure | Conclusion | Papers on Systematic Ideology