Thursday, 6 October 2016

Stuart Hall on Social Democracy

The moment you discover things you've been writing about for years were pre-empted decades ago.
Social democracy ... has long ago ceased to work the 'good sense' of the class, its 'spontaneous' class instinct, its sense of the world as unjustly divided into the oppressed and the oppressing classes: it has limited itself to making tactically pragmatic accommodation with the most traditionalist and conservative elements in popular morality. It has no conception of the educative and formative function of 'parties' in relation to the 'classes which they aim to represent - and which, in order to represent, they must first form, politically and ideologically. Indeed, the left as a whole, in its one-sided rationalism, has utterly failed to comprehend the necessity to educate the commonsense of the common people, in order to constitute a popular bloc, a practical material force, against traditionalist ideas.
Stuart Hall, The Hard Road to Renewal, 1988, pp.142-3.

8 comments:

James Semple said...

Forgive a lay input; but surely class has no objective reality. It is a construct - a statistical agglomeration of related parameters which can drift and decay as society changes. The British working class as defined last century no longer exists, perhaps being replaced by the precariat, in Owen Jones's term.

We need to stop treating an evanescent cloud of drifting data as solid reality. I know this makes sociology more difficult, just as abandoning perfect information makes economics a pain; but you have to let it go.

pewartstoat said...

Its worst than that. He was making similar arguments as long ago as 1960. Read his chapter in Out of Apathy (ed E.P. Thompson)
Stuart Hall covered most things before most people. I shouldn't be too disheartened: his was a great mind.

Anonymous said...

Social Democracy - refusing to make the best the enemy of the good. Not as flowery may be, but it gets things done.

Ken said...

Following on from pewartstoat - it took until the 1980s for the broadly Gramscian thinking common to the late-50s New Left to influence the Communist Party and to be spread by Marxism Today, making that magazine unmissable reading well beyond the CP's usual audience. It's taken another thirty years for it to begin to make a serious impression on the Trotskyist-derived far left.

Igor Belanov said...

The 'Gramscian thinking' of the Marxism Today group was highly misleading, ripping the ideas of an imprisoned hard-line Communist who was writing under semi-censorship from their context and using them to justify SDP-lite positions.

The Marxism Today group were effectively in opposition to many of the 'late 50s New Left' including the likes of E.P. Thompson and John Saville, who provided this evidence of just how vapid Marxism Today was:

https://www.marxists.org/archive/saville/1989/12/mtoday.htm

They were effectively the harbingers of Blairism.

pewartstoat said...

Its a bit more complex than that. Stuart Hall was a founding member of the late 50s New Left and his thinking remained fluid and innovative to the last. He wasn't in opposition to Thompson et al, but he was interested in power. He rightly concluded that Labour had run out of intellectual steam by 1951. Similarly, he saw that Thatcherism posed an existential threat to the left. He was right on both counts.

Igor Belanov said...

I wasn't referring to Hall directly, but responding to Ken's assertion about the spreading of 'Gramscian influence' by the Marxism Today clique. I'm aware that Hall was linked to that group, but my gripe is basically that the 'iconoclastic' thinking of Marxism Today was using Gramsci in an opportunistic fashion and their focus was heavily targeted on attacking their own side- an excellent intellectual back-up to the actions of Kinnock et al in the 1980s Labour Party. Not engaging with Thatcherism, but effectively capitulating to it.

Ken said...

I agree with Igor that Marxism Today used Gramsci in an opportunistic way, etc. The ways that the so-called Euros in the CPGB vulgarised Gramsci still have me pulling what's left of my hair. The pamphlets on this by Robert Griffiths (for the tankies) and Chris Harman (for the Trots) still bite. The trouble was that the very disparate tendencies that criticised MT from the left didn't use Gramscian insights at all (except by accident, in which case they had successes that surprised themselves and that they couldn't build on: RaR, ANL, CND, the movement against the Poll Tax, and later Stop the War).