A. W. Spencer-Bragg (Harold Walsby): The International Volcano
It cannot be denied that for a society… to whom unlimited energy means unlimited power for war and destruction there is an ominous cloud in the distance…
– Sir Arthur Eddington
The aftermath of the most gigantic war in all history discloses to the more discerning mind a situation which is fraught with the direst potentialities for civilisation and the human race. The unity between the nations and within nations – that came into being under the crushing pressure of necessity to combine in war on the common foe – is now cracking and straining throughout the world as once again the old ideological conflicts become increasingly evident. Beneath the political stresses and strains of intra-national and international day-to-day differences, and temporary agreements or disagreements about this and that, we may perceive a more enduring schism.
This deeper political schism is broadly and fundamentally the division between two very different conceptions of democracy and civilised life. Let us briefly examine them. On the one hand, there is that outlook which regards democracy as essentially or largely political and individual in its nature. It emphasises, rather, freedom of speech, individual rights, individual liberty of action and particularly individual independence in the economic sphere. In pressing the virtues of economic individualism it tends to ignore or forget the fact that, under a system of economic individualism (i.e., private enterprise) such economic independence of the individual can apply only to a few, a minority. As if in compensation for the deficiency, this outlook enlarges upon the necessity for political freedom of the individual – which does actually realise itself on a mass scale under a system of economic individualism. Thus, under the political dominion of this ideology, we have economic individualism and freedom for the few and political freedom for the masses or for all who wish to use it. That is one side of the schism.
On the other hand, there is that outlook which regards democracy as essentially economic and collective in its nature. This attitude, characteristic of a more scientifically-minded type, emphasises collective and economic rights rather than individual and political ones. It strenuously opposes the system and ideology of economic individualism and, since it claims all ideologies are merely or basically expressions of economic interests and conditions, and that the system of economic collectivism will completely oust and replace that of economic individualism, it must necessarily regard its opposing ideologies as doomed, and actually passing, to complete extinction.
Assuming, therefore, the capacity of the masses to become scientifically-minded, it exhorts them as individuals to think for themselves, it urges them to reason and to use their critical faculties; it identifies itself with physical science, with natural law, with principles, with theory and with doctrine; and it calls upon the people to adopt its critical independent mode of thought. Walsby, in his revealing study The Domain of ldeologies, calls this critical mode of thought “political individualism” and shows that it necessarily co-exists with the advocacy of “economic collectivism.” In pressing the virtues of economic collectivism this outlook tends to ignore or repudiate the fact that, under a system of economic collectivism, political independence of thought – or political individualism – can apply only to the few, a minority.
Though it relates to political individualism, this ignoring, forgetting or repudiation is similar to that which we have just described above in respect of economic individualism. It is the great merit of Walsby’s researches to have shown that both types of “ignoring” or “repudiation” are due to a process of repression, although relative to different material (see Walsby’s The Domain of ldeologies). In the case of the second or more scientific ideology the repression gives rise to what Walsby calls “the mass-rationality assumption” and to the conception of, and emotional identification with, a future “ideologically homogeneous” society i.e., a society in which the “politically-individualist, economically-collectivist ” ideology is universal, and in which none of the opposing ideologies exist. Small wonder, then, that this outlook sets comparatively little store by the politically democratic rights of its opponents whose ideology is regarded as increasingly reactionary and unnecessary for society. In contrast to the first and more unscientific outlook, it enlarges, rather, upon the necessity for economic freedom of the masses (freedom from starvation and want of food, clothing, shelter, etc.) which actually does realise itself on a mass scale under a system of economic collectivism. Thus, under the political dominion of this ideology, we have political individualism and freedom for the few, and economic freedom for the masses. This is the other side of the
The broad ideological division, then, is as follows :
(1) The ideology that stresses economic individualism (which provides economic freedom for the few) and political collectivism (which provides political freedom for the masses). Where this ideology prevails, therefore, there exists political independence and security for the masses but economic independence and security for a small minority.
(2) The ideology that stresses economic collectivism (which provides economic freedom for the masses) and which provides political individualism (which provides political freedom for the few). Where this ideology prevails, therefore, there exists economic independence and security for the masses but political independence and security only for a small minority.
In actual practice, of course, this ideological division of society is not so sharply cut as it may appear from the above. For the sake simplicity we have referred to each side of the division as an ideology’ more strictly, each side represents a group of ideologies, And while, within each group, some ideologies – the more extreme – are more characteristic of the group, others are characteristic to a lesser degree. So that there actually exists a kind of series of ideologies, which can be broadly divided near the middle to form two groups, but in which there exist ideologies that are borderline or near-borderline cases. The division, of course, roughly corresponds with the conventional one of “Right Wing” and “Left Wing.”
We have described the second or Left-wing group of ideologies as more scientifically minded than the first. While this is generally true, especially with regard to their conception of the economic nature of society, nevertheless, as Walsby’s work has shown, they remain, on the whole, emotional and unscientific in their attitude towards the political and ideological nature of society. Now, as the reader will have already recognised, the broad ideological schism manifests itself in the world to-day, not only within nations but also – and more important and crucial for the future of peace and civilisation – in the field of international relations. The world is already largely divided into areas where either one or the other of the two ideological tendencies holds its sway over the economic and political life of the whole community in each area. On the one hand, we have the relative political democracy of Britain, America, etc., which exists without economic democracy; and, on the other hand, we have the relative economic democracy of Russia, which exists without or excludes political democracy.
The two terms “economic democracy” and “political democracy,” which are too often used without explanation, we shall define briefly as follows: (1) economic democracy – the system under which each individual can exercise without let or hindrance the legal and constitutional right to work, and freely express himself in the economic sphere according to his own particular abilities; this involves public control by the community over industrial organisations, in place of monopolistic economic control by industrial organisations over the community; (2) political democracy – the system under which each individual can exercise without hindrance or fear of reprisal the legal and constitutional right to vote and freely express himself in the political sphere according to his own particular beliefs; this involves public control by the community of political organisations and parties, rather than monopolistic political control of the community by a political party or parties.
So far, these two systems have been very largely – but not entirely and absolutely – mutually exclusive of one another. This, of course, remained the ease during the war period of military co-operation between Russia and the Western Democracies. The question is often asked whether the kind of unity which existed in the late war between these two systems can be carried over into the peace. But the really vital question is whether that “unity” can be extended and developed to the point where it becomes a true unity – i.e., where the two systems are no longer mutually exclusive of one another but mutually interpenetrative. Boiled down to its essence the question, in other words, is this: Can we have a single world system in which economic democracy and political democracy co-exist?
The answer of the extremer adherents within the two (at present) mutually exclusive camps is – by implication, at least – “No!” These extremer elements consist, on the one hand, of those who, largely ignorant of the economic structure and development of society, assume (a) economic individualism to be a wholly permanent and universal factor in human life, and (b) economic collectivism to be a mere aberration, a temporary state of affairs which a few misguided intellectual malcontents seek to impose on everyone. On the other hand, the extremer elements in the other camp – having a knowledge of the economic structure and development of human society, but largely ignorant of its ideological structure and development assume (a) economic individualism to be a historically temporary state of human affairs which is passing to entire and final extinction, and (b) economic collectivism to be a wholly permanent and universal system which is completely and utterly replacing the older system of economic individualism.
Thus, because of this common conception of the mutual exclusiveness of the two democratic systems – political and economic democracy – there exists, within each of the two ideological groups, a strong opposition to any real unity between them. And therein lies the greatest danger to the continued existence of any form of democracy, the direst and most insidious threat to the existence of civilisation – even, possibly, to the very life of mankind itself. For, as long as this mutual exclusiveness continues, so long as there exists no real unity between the two democratic systems, the social soil remains highly fertile for the regrowth and regeneration of fascism – which feeds, grows and waxes fat upon the democracies’ mutual distrust, hostility and fear of one another, and which is the negation of them both.
The rapid rise of fascism, during the inter-war years, to power and mastery in Europe was based on the mutual exclusiveness and opposition of the two democratic ideological groups. In the fields of national and international politics alike fascism germinated and flourished by playing one group off against the other. Fascism, though militarily defeated and beaten as a world power, is far from dead, as we have seen. Should the fascists again successfully exploit the lack of unity between political and economic democracy, and rise to become once again a mighty political force to be reckoned with, then, with atomic power at the disposal of their insatiable thirst for military conquest, the international situation will indeed develop into a veritable volcano. But it will then be too late to prevent the final eruption of this dormant hell-on-earth. Atomic war – with mass slaughter and carnage on the most colossal, mightiest scale ever – will assuredly become a stark and horrifying reality. The world will be laid waste, the earth become a gigantic charnel-house for human society.
And should even this not finish civilisation and put an abrupt end to the human scene, then – so long as the two democracies remain divided and apart – the whole terrifying series of events will be repeated until man at last achieves either complete unity of economic and political freedom, or its only alternative: total and utter self-destruction.
Continue reading 999 – Emergency! (1946)
The Child with the Loaded Pistol | Social Hari-Kiri | Are Scientists Inhuman? | The Rape of Science | Scientific Superstitions | While Rome Burns | The International Volcano | The Final Crusade
- PSI Circular Number Two (February 1979)
- PSI Circular Number One (January 1979)
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- George Walford and Ike Benjamin: The Sad Case of the SPGB
- Linda Sloane: Systematic Ideology and Identity / The Triangle of Society, Ideology and the Individual
- Their “Operation Utopia”
- George Orwell Letters to George Walford
- George Walford: The New Magic
- George Walford: Exploring Ideology
- George Walford: Sciences