Book Review: ‘The Irrational in Politics’
Keeping us down
‘The Irrational in Politics’, by Solidarity. 2s.
This short pamphlet largely consists of verbatim extracts from, and summaries of, the works of Engels, Freud, Reich, Michael Cattier and others, and it would be better to read their works yourself to draw your own conclusions. For those without the time or inclination to do this, however, the pamphlet is quite useful.
It sets out to give a partial explanation of why, given the availability of revolutionary propaganda and the logic of establishing Socialism, workers in general still reject, often violently, this alternative to the insoluble mess of capitalism. The smallness of revolutionary propaganda set against the capitalist monopoly of the mass media is accepted as a major factor in the conditioning of workers , but further reasons are sought to explain the contradiction between the self-evident economic logic of abolishing capitalism and the acceptance of this system by the mass of the people.
The crude outlook of many “left-wingers”, who see a working class naturally revolutionary being thwarted by incompetent and bureaucratic leaders and the physical repression of the state machine, is from the start rejected:
“It is obvious that if large sections of the population were constantly questioning the principles of hierarchy, the authoritarian organisation of production, the wages system, or other fundamental aspects of the social structure, no ruling class could maintain itself in power for long. For rulers to continue ruling it is necessary for those at the bottom of the social ladder not only to accept their condition but eventually to lose even the sense of being exploited. Once this psychological process has been achieved the division of society becomes legitimised in people’s minds. The exploited cease to perceive it as something imposed on them from without . . . Only at times of occasional insurrectionary outbursts do the rulers have to resort to force, as a kind of reinforcement of a conditioning stimulus.”
According to Solidarity it was left to Wilhelm Reich to explain ” . . . the lag between class consciousness and economic reality, and the tremendous social inertia represented by habits of deference and submission among the oppressed”. The explanation lay in the sexual repression of people and in the whole authoritarian upbringing of children associated in particular with the patriarchal family. Reich expressed it this way:
“As the economic basis (of the family) became less significant, its place was taken by the political function which the family now began to assume. Its cardinal function, that for which it is mostly supported by conservative science and law, is that of serving as a factory for authoritarian ideologies and conservative structures.”
From this examination of family relationships Reich concludes pessimistically that revolutionary propaganda seeking to explain the social injustice and irrationality of the economic system falls on deaf ears, because if people realised they were wasting their lives in the service of an absurd system they would either go mad or commit suicide:
“To avoid achieving such anxiety-laden insight they justify their existence by rationalising it. They repress anything that might disturb them and acquire a character structure adapted to the conditions under which they live.”
The writer of the pamphlet is aware of the inadequate nature of this conclusion since it implies totally malleable individuals in whom total sexual repression has produced total conditioning. It does not allow for the possibility (dictated by man’s sexual needs themselves) that a fight against sexual repression may well loosen this “character-structure”. We might say furthermore that the choice depicted by Reich between madness and submission to capitalism’s authority would only be real to the extent that the individuals who have begun to break loose remained isolated. The socialist organisation would enable a group-identity to be formed as a force against this. There are now also healthy signs that young people in struggling to achieve free-sex life are denting the repressive ideology of capitalism. The pamphlet outlines two main reactions to this movement. One is open, outward opposition, the other is an attempt at absorption and control through commercialising sexuality. Solidarity correctly describe the process whereby this is done but appear to attribute to it the status of a conscious capitalist policy which it definitely is not. Making profits from “consumer sex” is not done for ideological reasons.
The last part of the pamphlet is an attack on the inner conservatism of Bolshevik ideology in relation to sex and family relationships. Unfortunately Solidarity are still handicapped in their examination of this subject by their acceptance of the myth that the 1917 Russian revolution was socialist. The material provided can nevertheless be used to the greater advantage by others.