An Agenda for Prophets
This paper was written for and delivered at a meeting of the Christendom Trustees and guests in July 1976. It is reproduced on the MB Reckitt Trust website by kind permission of Professor Yeo, a former Trustee, who retains copyright.
Meetings of the Trust come alive when Maurice Reckitt eloquently recommends a prophetic stance. Or when Canon Demant juxtaposes themes and centuries of time which timid academics have learned to keep separate, in professional pigeon-holes. The problem is always the follow-through, a follow-through for our particular time and place. We know what we do not want:
- studies of Christianity and trade union law, homosexuality, the balance of payments, drugs. In other words, Christianity and discrete problems deliberately not articulated in terms of the kernel which our theology should disclose. Separating such problems tends to assume that there are only technical solutions to technical problems in a broadly acceptable, ongoing social order.
- idealistic hot air, divorced from any connection with present possibility and therefore serving to ratify the present by withdrawing from it.
- short-term, time-serving trimming of a kind which would want to line up Christianity behind currently fashionable nostrums like ‘standing up to the Unions’, ‘limiting the money supply’, ‘Parliamentary reform’, ‘a Government of National Unity’, and then to replace these nostrums with others when they cease to be fashionable in metropolitan, secular circles. Charles Elliott noticed this trimming in David Edwards’ ‘The State of the Nation’: ‘the technique seems to be to make some general, middle-of-the-political-road comments on a particular theme and then finish the paragraph with some vague reference to God.’1
We also know what it would look like, approximately, if we had what we do want in front of us. We know what prophets do and have some examples, for their time, not only in the Bible but in the work of the Christendom Group. We would even notice the difference if we had what we want in front of us. One of the things which prophets do is to change things: it is a measure of our time that we associate them with crying in the wilderness.
Beyond this there is, in my case, a sense of inadequacy. This paper is addressed to, and comes from such a sense. It will not prophesy. It will merely suggest some of the signs of the times a prophet today would have to interpret, unless he or she fancied the wilderness. To summarize, these are:
- The relationship between Christian theology and religious organization, and particularly the place and nature of religious organizations (like churches and chapels) in the changing situation of voluntary associations as a whole, but particularly church-like, sect-like, denomination-like associations, in the wider society.
- The long crisis of class and democracy in Britain, particularly interesting in relation to other societies precisely because of its unique length: with this goes the contradiction between promise and performance which is so manifest in our society.
- Changing modes of capitalist organization in our society – in production and distribution most obviously – but particularly also in leisure and communications.
- The altering presence of the State or centre, in relation to the localities.
- The current uncertainty about agency on the left and elsewhere, about precisely through what agent or set of agents an equal and self-governing society, understandable in terms of some shared purpose, can be brought into being. This assumes that such a society is a) desirable and b) will not be immaculately conceived.
As I write out these items, and as I try to keep them separate and to think of reasons for not extending the list from five to fifty, they converge in my mind. This may be because of confusion, or it may be because they are each different facets of the same thing. What exactly that ‘same thing’ is and how to address it, is, of course, the problem of problems. The understanding of Christianity which members of the Trust probably share commits us to the view that there is a ‘same thing’ of which these or other items could be facets, and that our Christianity is in principle the unique way to understand and articulate that ‘same thing', even if we (or I) are not very good at it.
Meanwhile, back to the safety of an itemized agenda. I will take it item by item and offer preliminary notes on each.
1. This is the subject I have been working on over the last ten years. I hope that my book Religion and Voluntary Organization in Crisis (Croom Helm, 1976) will clarify what I mean by this item on the agenda, even though it does not satisfactorily deal with it. Through a study of one place (Reading) in a limited period of time (the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries) the book tries to understand why ‘religion’ assumed the dominant forms that it did (institutional churches and chapels with elaborate penumbras of sub-agencies trying to recruit to formal membership as many local citizens as possible), and what the implications of assuming such forms were. It traces these implications via the experience of as many other voluntary associations in the town as possible, including football clubs, political groupings, co-operative societies, adult educational groupings and so on. It also looks at the experience of organizations like the Reading biscuit factory, the university, and the hospital. By emphasizing this organizational context, of which religious organizations were themselves a part and in which they had to work (given what they had chosen to become), the intention was to grope towards an equivalent for the late-nineteenth ad early-twentieth centuries of the ‘and the Rise of Capitalism’ part of R. H. Tawney’s great work on religion in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. ‘The Rise of Capitalism’, after all, is not a discrete problem in my earlier sense of Christianity and the drug problem.
‘Religion and what?’ is thus the question behind the book. An answer to this question would be enormously helpful, indeed essential, for any organizations that aspire to a prophetic rather than to a merely diverting role. The five main elements towards an answer which the book arrives at are as follows: religion and the consequences of what religious organizations chose or were constrained to be; religion and absolute or relative deprivation for most people; religion and changing patterns of local middle and working-class presence; religion and changing modes of capitalist organization in production, distribution and leisure; and religion and the altering presence of the State or centre in relation to the life of the locality. The overlap with my five items listed earlier will be apparent.
The idea I have been working with is that there may be a common situation or context for voluntary and other organizations in different phases of capitalist development, rather than a series of discrete situations for different subject areas for organization such as religion, production, sport, education, welfare or politics. It is not a simple question of context and organization either: rather is it a matter of organizations in context, which they themselves compose in a continuous process of action and reaction. In all our work, we have to be conscious of a complicating double optic. We have to see how much we are part of the problem before we can become part of the solution.
To pull this down from abstraction to example: some Reading inhabitants, for example the Palmers of Huntley and Palmers, were enormously wealthy. But most were poor, shockingly so to use the words of a very precise local survey on Livelihood and Poverty done by A. L. Bowley, partly at the instigation of Bishop Gore, in 1912. Most workers in Reading who churches and chapels (as well as WEAs, Co-ops, Social Democratic Federations, Football Clubs, Pleasant Sunday Afternoon Brotherhoods, Christian Endeavour Societies) wanted to recruit to their organizations, had insufficient or no spare resources of time, money and education. Any organizations which were not self-consciously designed to get over this problem were bound to be FOR rather than OF those people. This was acutely so in a society of such absolute deprivation. But it is also so in a society like our own where relative deprivation otherwise known as inequality, has become more significant than absolute deprivation otherwise known as starvation. Big trees affect the undergrowth in a forest, even when they do not kill it.
The variety of tree, and the distance between them also matter. In Reading during the late nineteenth century there was an active and locally committed ‘Vice-Presidential’ stratum including the first generation of Palmers, who attended local meetings, financed buildings, ran Saturday evening temperance entertainments, taught in Sunday School . . . and so on. From about the mid-1890s this stratum began to withdraw for a variety of coinciding reasons. They were in effect nationalized. The most important organizational expression of this process was the replacement of the Victorian ‘partnership’, with the Edwardian Limited Company and, more recently, the rationalizing international firm. But the process had cultural consequences way beyond the point of production. The central denominational machine and then the merged super-denomination, say in Methodism, may be seen as replacements (necessary in some form, but not necessarily in those particular forms) for the Vice-Presidential stratum. If there is commitment to high-overhead, mass activity involving salaries, land costs, bricks and mortar, schools, a press, a cafeteria range of sub-organizations then some way has to be found of making this financially and organizationally possible. The ways most temptingly proffered by the Devil differ in different social systems at different periods of their development. Twentieth-century ways can and must be mapped in the precise ways (including for example the exact effect of land prices) initiated by W. Rauschenbusch’s Christianity and the Social Crisis (1907). One temptation in the twentieth century has been to replace the Vice-Presidential mode with a business mode, as football clubs most obviously did. The Soldier Saint of the Salvation Army, George Scott Railton, watched this happening to his organization literally in sackcloth and ashes. As General Frederick Coutts observed: ‘his Franciscan spirit revolted against those commercial involvements with the world which, for better, for worse, became necessary to a Movement which aimed to save the world.’ Another way, adopted for example by the Church Lads Brigade from 1909 to 1936 (but deliberately avoided by William Smith, the prophet of the Boys Brigade), was to look for direct State aid, with all the dangers that that implied. Another way was to resist high overheads altogether and to go for alternative organizational expressions, called in my book the ‘sectarian’ alternative. Lines of resistance, like the temptations, need first to be named and then interpreted in terms of our understanding of God, Christ, the Church and human or social purpose. Thomas Hancock would have done more of this kind of work for his own time, further to works like The Peculium (1859), if there had been a Fellowship in Christian Social Thought to buttress his troubled career.
The details of the common context or organizational ecology as it has changed in different phases of capitalist development since the seventeenth century, matter. Indeed it is at the level of micro-detail that the story comes alive and becomes vulnerable to interventions and alternate endings supplied by the listener, before the determined historian has time to say ‘and they all lived unhappily ever after’. But this is not the place to go beyond the trailers already offered! If you like the trailer, see the film – even if it does cost £9.95 at all good bookshops!
2. What do I mean by the long crisis of democracy in Britain, and by the contradiction between promise and performance which is, to me, so manifest in our society?
This is where this paper started. Talking with Bob Towler about the Trust last winter, he told me that Haddon [Haddon Wilmer, who at one time held the Trust Fellowship in Christian Social Thought] was beginning to focus on Parliamentary reform, particularly the PR. I suggested that this might be something of a mouse to walk out of the mountain, whereupon Bob very properly asked where my mountain was and what, in my view, should be its progeny.
So many crucial things have happened in Britain and so much could happen in Britain to fulfil and to transform some of those things. I come back and back to this reflection in what looks to some of my friends to be a naive chauvinist fashion, at a time when the insignificance in world terms of what is happening in Britain seems like common sense.
There have been obvious ‘firsts’, such as an early capitalist agriculture followed by industrial capitalism: Manchester and all that followed from it both in action and reaction – cotton, Free Trade and Engels/Marx – facts of epoch-making importance in nineteenth-century world history and analyses of those facts which may or may not be capable of making another epoch in twentieth or twenty-first century world history. There have been obvious exports and cultural inventions: not only empire, but a whole range of associations and activities from Methodism to Association Football. Some of the exports have been destructive, including the finished cotton which destroyed the Indian and Egyptian cotton industries. Some have been creative, or potentially so. Not the ‘Parliamentary institutions’ most frequently cited and least frequently imitated, but the constitutional forms, democratic devices, class movements, modes of self-organization and struggle which were originally developed in the fight to wrest those Parliamentary institutions from a ‘divine right’ oligarchy, and which need to be developed further as part of the fight to wrest democracy from the ossified institutions and forms currently sitting upon it.
There are now so many obvious ‘lasts’ that they amount to a crisis, no longer perceived as such only be secular socialist prophets. The senses in which Britain has become ‘last’ have been repeated inaccurately in hundreds of speeches and ‘State of the Nation’ messages, ever since Harold Wilson introduced the league table metaphor into our national self-consciousness in those pre-1964 days of the white heat of the technological revolution, the thirteen wasted years, the Let’s Go With Labour and We’ll Get Things Done sloganizing. We are supposed to be growing more slowly, slacking more often, innovating planning and managing less competently, investing less, demanding more impetuously, importing more, exporting less than those in the same division of our international league. The connection between being first and being last is seldom pointed out, for to do so might provoke demands for being first again, in something quite new. This would involve dispossessing those currently profiting from our being last. The name of the disease changes quinquennially, from balance of payments deficits (needing ‘rectifying’), to trade unionism (needing ‘curbing’), to inflation (needing ‘slowing down’), to public spending (needing ‘cutting’). The medicine is the same: speeches, sticks, carrots, plus those ‘budgetary measures’ with which we have become familiar. Whatever the doctor says before he is called to the House, he has been watched by the patient altering the label on the bottle so often that he is no longer called with any expectation of cure. Judging by election turn-out, many citizens never call him at all.
In fact, to coin a phrase, we have been moralizing a contradiction for far too long. There used to be a dominant moral interpretation of poverty which suggested that the poor were poor not because of low wages and competition, but because they drank too much, saved too little, beat their wives, and lacked ‘character’. The aim was to suggest a happy coincidence between moral worth and quantity of worldly goods possessed. This has now, broadly speaking, been jettisoned. But parallel moral interpretations of political alienation, economic crisis, or even of institutional religious decline, have grown up in its place.
In what then does the contradiction consist? This is where I retreat to my role as critic and agenda-maker rather than prophet. To my disappointment Charles Elliott did the same, in his otherwise excellent Open Letter to David Edwards: otherwise I could have worn his mantle.
But the retreat need not be complete. I need not only leave the field mouthing the ‘more work needs to be done’ academic evasion, or the ‘we need a proper grounding in theology’ progressive Christian evasion, or ‘we need to develop our theory’ Marxist political evasion. There are three levels on which the argument could now be carried forward, and on two of them I would like to have more space and time to dilate than there is here. On the third I would like a Christian economist who has understood Capital, Volume 1 to talk!
a) First, it is a necessary preliminary and possibly more than that, to show in detail the way in which the moralizing is not just wrong but, because it is wrong, serves an important function in maintaining the position of those who employ it. In fact to show that the moralizing acts as ideology, in the sense of a body of ideas serving to mask the realities of social relations. The moralizing serves to prevent the contradictions being resolved in one way rather than another: more specifically, it serves to prevent the contradictions being resolved in the interests of those who do not own the means to produce the world’s material and cultural goods rather than those who do. To develop this properly would mean following through one particular sub-category of the moralizing, and to show its function in some detail. I have tried to do this for ‘Apathy’ in an article ‘On the Uses of “Apathy”’ in a recent number of the European Journal of Sociology. I am collecting material to do the same ‘On the uses of “Masses”’. The history and the material or class basis of dominant ways we have in our society of seeing each other as aggregates, and the incompatibility of some of those ways of seeing with the Christian way and with our theological understandings of Man, seems to me an important area for work.
But there are more central sub-categories of moralization than ‘apathy’ or ‘masses’. They relate more directly to economic, as opposed to social/political/cultural behaviour. It may be that dominant contemporary ways of seeing ‘the British sickness’ as a problem for moral reformation (‘work harder’, ‘ask for less’, ‘give a pound for Britain’, ‘don't rock the boat’, ‘strengthen family life’ incidentally, the depth of Christian attachment to our specific contemporary family patterns has long seemed to me to be a mystery of social/religious development needing unravelling and challenging in a very detailed way) are dominant because there is only one other way of seeing that sickness – namely to see it as a problem of over-readiness, of rotten-ripeness, of suppressed potential, of inhibited energy, towards a totally different social order. Just as there is an ever-diminishing freedom of manoeuvre economically for British capitalism, so too there maybe a diminishing freedom of manoeuvre ideologically. As the corner gets tighter, and as the more accurate explanations of the sickness and the social movements behind them loom larger, we may expect increasingly shrill reaffirmation of the moralizing explanation, which will offer the church and its archbishops a seductive but essentially ideological role. False prophets will arise, looking uncommonly like a cross between Mary Whitehouse, Harold Wilson, and Donald Coggan. They may even assume the more sinister shape of the Revd Moon of South Korea. They will have the odd entertainer from the glamour industry, the odd professional communicator from the newspaper industry, and the odd board member from that well-known would-be company Great Britain Limited (motto, democracy is inefficient) at their side. Most liberals and even the odd trade union leader will rally round. If exhortation does not work ‘sterner measures’ will be applied. I will be dismissed as paranoid, but I am serious in saying that this is the soil from which a mutant of Fascism can grow, and can be supported by good Christians. After all, most Fascists in its earlier forms were not always Fascists. Research increasingly shows that they were ordinary people, just like you and I, with unfulfilled needs. Which is why alternative prophecy is so urgent now; naming and analysing the contradictions in the light of our understanding of what it is to be human in society in the light of our understanding of God’s purposes, and daring to advocate the resolution of the contradictions on the side of righteousness, not at a millennial ‘revolutionary’ stroke, but through a deliberately chosen process of struggle which, because we are Christians, prefigures the ends in the means.
At this point I would like to bring on an exhibit. It is not from Britain, but came to hand as I was writing. It is a letter to us all from John T. Connor, Chairman of the USA Allied Chemical Corporation, one in a series of advertisements the ACC feels it necessary to put out in 1976.2
I bring it on not because John T. Connor is a prophet for our time, although his photograph in the advert makes him look rather like one, and by any standards he and his ilk are rather powerful figures now. I bring it on because almost everything about it seems fascinating. When I picked it up on 20 May I couldn’t put it down. Why?
Because it shows what we are up against, and yet the space within which we have, as would-be Christian prophets, to move. John T. Connor does not, as it happens, summon Christianity to his aid. He might have done. His copy-writers probably discussed its ‘effectiveness’ for his purposes and then rejected it for some ‘expert’ reason.
Instead of Christianity, he relies on ‘the goals we [who?] have set for our society’, or ‘America’s quality of life’. In his message it is clear that he is worried, a) because fewer and fewer people seem to have the ‘correct’ conceptions about profits, b) because ‘converting to socialism’ seems to be a possible way out of the shortage of investment capital, and ‘we [who?] certainly don’t want to do that’, c) because unless people understand the necessity for private, or ‘corporate’ profits, ‘the survival of our [whose?] way of life’ is in some doubt. The rate of profit is falling. So presumably the message is preparatory to winning acceptance for it to start rising again: i.e. higher prices, or lower wages, or cheaper raw materials, or less environmental protection, or weaker unions, or fewer schools/poverty programmes/urban renewal projects/hospitals/welfare legislation etc. All the defences patiently built up against the logic of the development of Corporations like Allied Chemical will in the end have to be challenged if the world is to be made safe for John T. Connor and the growth of ACC.
So he produces the most transparently circular arguments about how ‘profits are continually recycled for everyone’s benefit’, and about how public spending relies on corporate profits, wages and salaries (what else could it rely on while ACC and its like remain the dominant formations?). All the arguments are designed to conceal the sleight of hand which equates existing social arrangements with ‘what we all want’, the health of those social arrangements with social health in general profits with the particular organizations which now have them at their disposal and so on.
He invites us to reply. It is much more important to do so than to answer Donald Coggan. Or, another way of putting it, Donald Coggan would have more Christians to talk to if he replied in Christian terms to John T. Connor first. By the nature of his message Connor also indicates that there is a context within which a reply might be meaningful. John T. Connor has lost that comforting sense which derives from knowing that one is in the majority. Indeed he knows of ‘few subjects so universally misunderstood’ as profits. So, before his slogan ‘Profits are for People’ falls on deaf ears and therefore, in the interests of the survival of Allied Chemical Corporation, has to become ‘People are for Profits’: what are we going to say? What else are people for? And how can we express our answer to that question, like to treat each other as children of God and to treat God as Father, in tangible social form?
b) the second level on which the argument could now be carried forward is less preliminary, more substantive. To demonstrate a contradiction between promise and performance means, I fully realize, to demonstrate the reality of the promise: to talk of suppressed potential means to show the reality of the potential: to talk of institutions and forms sitting on democracy rather than expressing it, means to demonstrate an impulse from below on which those institutions could be sitting. These demonstrations in turn involve a whole interpretation of modern British history and society which I can only sketch but which, I would suggest, a prophet might be interested in filling in.
The second level means pointing to the social forces behind one side of the contradiction: the social forces behind the other side (performance as opposed to promise) are, as I have pointed out, more familiar as part of the daily rhetoric of political debate, since about c. 1870 rather than only since the early Harold Wilson years. My brief answer to where these social forces are – namely in the working class and sometimes but crucially not always, in the organised working-class movement – is likely to be misunderstood. But I will try to say what I mean.
Britain has long had a peculiarly powerful and peculiarly organized labour movement. This, according to the moralizers, is one of the problems: our position in the league table, they say, is not unconnected with the fact that about 36% of trade unionists in Common Market countries and Britain in 1968 were trade unionists in Britain. The British labour movement, for example miners’ trade unions which included one in six of all trade unionists in Britain as late as 1920, has been extraordinarily creative from a democratic point of view. Internally and sectionally and occasionally federally, it has managed to create mini-republics – communities of sentiment, interest and organization (not unconnected with Christianity in various ‘primitive’ forms) which twentieth-century capital and the twentieth-century state have found it necessary to destroy, because their demands were incompatible with the continued development of private capital. Hancock was, in his time, greatly interested in these working-class achievements. The General Strike was an episode in their destruction, which has never been unresisted and has never been complete. This incompleteness is part of the political space within which we have now to move and which we have to try to understand as Christians.
Generalizing the achievements ‘labour aristocrats’ made in the period 1850–1900 to the whole class after 1900 would have meant a new social system, resembling socialism, but not State socialism. The late nineteenth and early twentieth century may be seen as a long counter-attack on the culture, position and achievements of the organized labour movement over the previous fifty years, in which, ironically, social democracy and the ‘labour’ party have played a major role. Indeed one might even say that this is the historic mission of social democracy. The formidable achievements of the self-activity of the working class, or those sections of the class who had the time and the money, in building movements/organizations of world-historical importance such as Chartism, Cooperation, Friendly Societies and Trade Unions, are hard for us now to grasp - with our pre-packaged ideology about ‘mass apathy', and about how present social arrangements and present styles have come about because ‘most people’ wanted it that way. I cannot possibly evoke the warrening of capitalism which had gone on in Britain by 1900 here, but I would assert that it is crucial data for twentieth-century Christian social perspectives. As one of his main tasks today the prophet should insert his wedge in the little cracks between demand and supply which an understanding of history can enable him to see, and then to drive the wedge home against the prevailing ideology which suggests an entire coincidence or perfect fit between demand and supply. Only then could demand be aided to express itself and be evaluated, to use a Christendom word, in an autochthonous way.
Only when the distance travelled in Britain say by 1900, has been understood, can the journey since then also be understood. The impossibility of generalizing the achievements, but not the demands, of the ‘aristocrats’ to the rest of the class created a new situation demanding new thought, new modes of struggle appropriate to genuine mass politics. In the same way, the impossibility of continuing to compete in the world market with outmoded means and forces of production created a new situation demanding new modes of production and industrial organization appropriate to genuine mass production. The subsequent situation of deadlock, with neither side able to push its own imperatives successfully through, is what I mean by the long crisis of class and democracy in Britain. The successor to liberal capitalism has not been fully born: there is still time, although it is running out fast, to help to influence whether it will be ‘apathetic’ corporatist elitist, dehumanized international monopoly capitalism in Britain (as seems 95 per cent certain) or whether it can be as new a form of working-class democracy as Britain’s industrial revolution was for its time and class. The impasse has long been apparent. Outlines of the crisis of democratic form were sketched in pioneering ways by the Webbs, Lenin, Michels and others early in the twentieth century. Outlines of answers were put forward. But the extent to which there was inadequate or no follow-through, and the tiny role played by Christians both in discerning the problem and in sketching and evaluating answers has been striking. How can one resist the main abortions of twentieth-century counter-democracy, such as Stalinism or Fascism? The twentieth-century way has been to take up arms and then lay them down with a sigh, complaining that people were not satisfied with what they had, and therefore overheated political systems by making too many demands on them. What answers other than these disillusioned and unambitious sighs against the enemies of an open society can we give? The fact that there have not been many good Christian answers has provided the space within which a heresy such as Moral Rearmament has been able to flourish, on soil parched for want of alternative prophecy.
Are there forms of democracy (localized, federated, uniting production with self-government, frequently meeting and debating as the occasions arise but then disciplined in executing, delegatory) specifically suitable to a movement or society run by and in the interests of the working class and thus abolishing class altogether: as opposed to forms of democracy (centralized, based upon rigid divisions of labour and function, routinized on a set time-table like the Parliamentary calendar, based upon consumer modes such as the annual or quinquennial local or national vote in a private booth, representative) specifically suitable to a society run by and in the interests of the middle class? It was seventeenth-century Protestants who put these questions on the agenda, can we take them up? Are there ways of uniting the struggle for new forms with the new forms themselves, in such a way as not to make the characteristic twentieth-century ‘revolutionary’ severance between means and ends? If there is a sense in which, since about the 1920s, the organized labour movement has been incorporated, and socialism has become Statism (which is why surviving Christendom people like Maurice Reckitt correctly resist the label ‘socialist’), then how do we interpret a characteristic twentieth-century working-class reaction to this phenomenon, namely to vote with the feet, or go fishing? Do we not have to discover the ways in which absolute powerlessness corrupts, just as our predecessors did with absolute power? What are the meanings of privatization (another aspect of ‘apathy’), other than its convenience for the consumption of commodities? What is the meaning to participants of fishing, gardening, do-it-yourself: or of conversation about football or the weather? What can they tell us about the surrounding social order and people’s attitudes to it? Are they indicators of happy sheep looking up and being fed? Or of a flock who know what they are being offered, know at the moment that they do not like it and cannot much influence it, feed on the attenuated areas of green grass left uncontaminated, but, at the right time and given the right circumstances, may be ready to choose shepherds and break out from private pastures into common fields? What is the role of Christian theology and Christian organization in all this? Blessing, legitimizing, propping up the repressive forces? Or daring to play the role of speculative, exploratory shepherds? It is all very well to ask questions. I fully realize that to answer any one of them properly might be two years’work: and even to define any one of them in such a way as to make it answerable might be two months’work. But we might as well start.
c) The third level on which the argument could now be carried forward is the most difficult. I suggested above that a Christian economist who understood Marx’s Capital Volume 1, would help! I do not claim to be such a person. But I do wish to reclaim economics from economists, and suggest that the ‘science’ is too important in all our lives to be left to economists, Marxist or otherwise. Deference in this context is not a Christian virtue. R. H. Tawney spent much of his passion trying to understand, as a preliminary to being able to reverse, the historical process through which toadying had come to be regarded by Christians as virtuous and by capitalists as convenient. We should show our respects to Tawney by trying to continue, which does not mean to imitate, his work. How? All I can do here is to assert some do’s and don't’s.
My original question in this section was, ‘In what then does the contradiction consist?’ Sections a), b) and c) have been notes towards an answer. The short answer is simple, although it can be put in many ways. The contradiction is between vision and actuality. Some of the other ways of putting it are: between historical tendency and present conjuncture, between latent demand and manifest supply, between class forces whose characteristic development lies in private ownership, profit, the wage relationship, and competition-tending-towards monopoly, and class forces whose characteristic development lies in as yet undisclosed forms (although outlines can be sketched), but whose development certainly cannot proceed along the fullest human, understood in a Christian as well as a secular sense, lines while the class forces which are fully disclosed predominate.
Once I add these other ways of putting it, I suspect that the question for some Trustees becomes, ‘what has this got to do with vision and actuality?’. Stalinism and American cold-war versions of Marxism have left the misleading impression that it is mainly about class battalions operating like ‘determined’ automata, manufacturing history regardless of will or morality. Instead, Marxism seems to me to offer a vision, and not for the first time either. The vision is on an ending of the conflict between quantity and quality: a pulling down of politics (and of God) out of the sky and into human heads and hands &ndash every human’s hands, not the manicured few: a unity between all people and their products – the products being deliberately made through choice, distributed through need and real demand, and shared as things made by labour not as things magic’d by money, mystified by price, and multiplied for profit. Only the best for all is good enough, and by being for all what is regarded as best will of course change. The context for prayer will also change, as our lights to God cease being blocked by capitalist Babels and aggregations of Babels in Babylon (New York). Marxism also offers, possibly for the first time, a grounding of that vision and the obstacles contradicting its realisation in specific human systems. Marxism could not have been formulated without a material base in technology and social change which had raised the stakes in human history and possibility discontinuously higher than they had ever been before. The situation which led a thinker like Robert Owen to talk realistically for the first time in human history of the abolition of poverty was a necessary precondition of Marxism, and that situation gives the vision I am referring to its reality, but not its inevitability. Taught by Christians to think dialectically, Marxists see ‘the knife edge of the present’ and how we make history ‘not quite as we please’. At their best they see (and they are at their best no more often than Christians) the specific obstacles to the universalisation of the best: the way in which the future is contained as a kind of kinetic energy in the present, but how any one future is not inevitable until it has happened, and has to be mediated and shaped through us and our labour and organizations. They see behind the outward and visible signs of society – enclosure, factories, automation, international conglomerate companies, states, systems of government – an inward but accessible logic. The formulation and the status, once articulated, of this logic remain and will remain disputable. As James Connolly, a good Catholic Marxist and activist remarked, ‘we could not claim to have a mission to emancipate the human mind from all errors, for the simple reason that we were not and are not the repositories of all truth.’ (The Socialist, May 1904)
The important thing is to be part of this discourse. The important thing is to try, to try to make our models grounded in human possibility (with which Jesus’ mission and what happened to it had, to put it mildly, something to do with disclosing) rather than being grounded in money, price and profit. The important thing is to dare to be human fully and universally, created as we are by God not as wholly subordinate satellites but as, in some sense, Sons. To paraphrase Samuel Smiles, what some men (even one man) have been all men could become. But to dare to be human using our reason as well as our aspirations. Putting it mildly again, all I would suggest at this stage is that unless we come to grips with concepts like Value and what creates it, Commodity and what commodities are and what their place in capitalist cultures has become, Capital and how it is accumulated and reproduced, Labour and what power it has and how that power is appropriated and returned to its possessors not as their ownunless we come to grips with these and related concepts, we shall have no hope of shaping one preferred future (the one which embodies our idea of human purpose) rather than another. Coming to grips with such concepts does not mean repeating formulations about them by rote. It means entering, as Christians, a quintessentially human enterprise rather than rendering to Caesar so much that the things that are God’s become unintelligible and, in the forms they assume because so much has been rendered unto Caesar, unattractive and irrelevant to most people.
3. Back to the original five points. The third was the place and nature of capitalist modes of organization in society more generally – particularly in leisure and communications.
I shall pass over this topic briefly. Haddon Wilmer has heard me talk about it in relation to religious organization from the late-nineteenth century onwards in a paper called ‘Pears Soap from the Pulpit: a Complaint from a Constant Reader’. This paper started from a letter I came across in the British Weekly: A Journal of Christian and Social Progress in the 1890s.3 We could discuss that at some future date, if it was thought relevant.
My assumptions here are:
- That ‘capitalism’ may be separated (to varying degrees in different periods) from ‘society’, although at a certain date in the history of specific capitalisms it becomes accurate to talk of a ‘capitalist’ society. In other words, different modes co-exist historically and encroach one upon the other over time.
- That it is only relatively recently that leisure (e.g. football) and communications (e.g. cars, television) have become predominantly capitalist. ‘Mass communication’ has now become not only an obvious social phenomenon but a sector of the economy of crucial importance to its performance. As Christians, we have not really recognised the importance of the changes since, as a Primitive Methodist preacher observed in Reading in the early-twentieth century, ‘Abraham could travel as fast as my grandfather’.
- That Christianity, theologically and organizationally, has a crucial stake in understanding 1. and 2. Whether or not it understands and interprets 1. and 2. in a prophetic manner, it is bound to be affected deeply by them. An obvious focus for thinking about this is the place of the Pulpit in the culture more generally.
The argument which I would like to base upon these assumptions can be stated baldly, but it is not simple The argument is not that we should deplore the encroachment of capitalism on hitherto relatively unsocialised areas in the manner of a nineteenth-century idealist prophet like Carlyle. Manifestations of capitalism (like the Sun newspaper) are only ‘wrong’ to the extent that capitalist modes themselves (like the organization of the cotton industry) are wrong. Incidentally also, peoples’ tastes, capacities, demands ‘from below’ can no more be deduced from the nature of manifestations of capitalism (like the Sun newspaper), than they can from capitalist modes themselves (like the organization of the cotton industry). These are matters to be understood mainly but not exclusively in terms of supply from above, and in terms of each other. The Sun newspaper cannot be understood without understanding the organization of the cotton industry. Too much Christian would-be prophecy is spent deploring manifestations such as the television or page 3 of the Sun, and moralizing about them as if consumers were primarily responsible.
The argument is rather that we have to try to understand the context within which we move and particularly this part of it, namely the encroachment of capitalist or business modes into areas where they have previously been less present or present in less dominant ways. We have to try to understand the positive or necessary features of that context, as well as the ones which most obviously threaten our own theology and organizations. We have to try to understand the specifically modern features of capitalist organization: the features, if you like, which are the legacy of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, ‘mass communication’ and ‘mass production’ of commodities which seem like innocent recreational devices, part of the ‘benefits of modern civilisation’. We have to try to understand the possibilities they open up, as well as the constraints they impose before we decide, if we do so decide, to ‘oppose’ them, or to oppose only the forms they take currently but not he technologies themselves, or to withdraw from them, or to welcome them with open arms and sprinkle as much holy water on them as we are allowed.
For example, professional football. My book argues that the change to professionalism in football and then to limited company status in football ‘clubs’was a crucial one in the whole ecology of voluntary life (including churches and chapels) in the late-nineteenth century. In some respects the change was an odious one, and has become more odious as twentieth-century capitalist forms have penetrated more and more deeply into football. The structural changes are worth deploring more often than they are deplored, particularly as ‘the football industry’ gets more obviously into a crisis which mirrors the wider capitalist crisis. But the change has been more than odious. It has revealed the terms upon which working-class organization has been and is possible in twentieth-century capitalism. In that sense it has been a positive and necessary experience, part of the data with which we have to work as people interested in disseminating and sharing and universalizing a rather different kind of thought and activity.
The pre-professional Club model, just like the Friendly Society Lodge, or the Cooperative Society Quarterly Meeting in their earlier forms, was not patient of universalisation in the conditions then (and now) prevailing. There are constraints which follow from the patterns of working-class life in capitalism, and from the intermittency or lack or uneven spread of cultural goods like money, time or education. The professional model based upon a ‘spectorate’ rather than participatory modes, based upon payment-at-the-gate rather than upon membership modes, has been the only one accessible to most people in Britain in the twentieth century. Fluctuations of employment and earnings and hours worked have meant that continuous participatory membership of a kind which would generate the kind of excellence manifest in Manchester United last season, could only be produced within a business mode (in the absence of an active ‘Vice-Presidential’ stratum). Small units purchased as and when possible, or larger units with the payment spread out over many weeks or months or years, have been and are the only cultural units accessible to most people in twentieth-century Britain, from bags of coal to club membership. There are ways round this fact. There are ways of recognizing it and choosing to act in different ways because of it. The Methodist Class and Camp meetings in their pre-1850 form may have been an example of complementary ways round it. I am fairly sure that somewhere within what might be called a ‘sectarian’ mode lies the only alternative to adopting a variant of the business mode. But to act as if there were not facts of life like the dominance of specifically modern capitalist modes in leisure and communications, expressing and containing (at the same time) the possibilities for social advance, is to be disappointed or isolated or both.
The speed and scale of change in ideas relevant to theology from the mid-nineteenth century onwards, and the problems this posed for Christians, has become a commonplace. The speed and scale of changes in modes of production and distribution, and the problems this poses for Christians, has been insufficiently recognized. Consider, for example, that when the Christendom Group’s matrix of ideas was being formed in the period following World War I the explosion of technology in the ‘mass entertainment industry’ which was to be as important a determinant of social life in Britain as the first industrial revolution, had only just begun. And all the changes in the organization of production and in the products made which can conveniently be associated with the names of Henry Ford and F. W. Taylor, had also only just begun to win their hegemony. We tend to associate a phrase like ‘the theology of liberation’ with third-world national independence struggles. To coin a phrase, what about the workers? What about a theology of liberation relevant to ‘mass society’ or to metropolitan capitalisms?
4. The fourth point was the changing presence of the State or centre in relation to the life of the localities.
Again, this can only be skated over here. The State has long been a focus for Christian social thought, and Canon Demant or David Nicholls [both Trustees when this paper was delivered] are better able to speak to this than I. Once again, I came to this subject through the visibility of the effect of an enlarged State (national and local) in the organizational ecology of a single town during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. The effect was equally striking in the experience of the Hospital, the WEA branch, the Church Lads’ Brigade, Schools, the biscuit factory, the Social Democratic Federation et al. And when one tried to aggregate these discrete experiences, and to think of one whole type of society changing into another whole type of society (1870 compared to, say, 1920), it became obvious that the State was an index as well as an agent of such a change.
The ‘from Maurice to Temple’ tradition has drawn on the affinity between Christian ways of looking at things – members one of another, the Body of Christ, a Commonwealth etc. – and progressive social thought on what its legitimate for government to do. It is possible, but not easy, to baptise Thatcherism or Powellite Whiggism with a Christian label (and Christians let them get away with it) – but such ideologies are much less easy to relate to the Old or New Testaments than more ‘collectivist’ approaches. Or so the ‘Maurice to Temple’ tradition would assert anyway.
What can we add to this now? Or, where would a prophet want to insert himself in this area of discourse now? He or she would have to recognize:
a) The sheer scale of the increase of the presence of the twentieth-century State. This became visible to the naked eye with the total state-takeover in a liberal capitalism lie our own during the ten years of world war in this century, dismantled after World War I but maintained to a considerable extent after 1945. These war years were years of ‘national socialism’or ‘state capitalism’introduced, in the contradictory way of twentieth-century politics (Heath and Rolls Royce, Nixon and wage/price control etc.), in order to make the world safe for their opposite. The process has been a relentless one, seemingly unstoppable. United Kingdom Public Expenditure in 1913 was 13.5 per cent of GNP: in 1968 it was 52.1 per cent. Of this 4.7 per cent of GNP went on ‘Social Services’ in 1913, 26 per cent in 1968. We could find endless indices of increase, although interpreting those indices is the real problem. Christians have a responsibility to see through self-serving ideology masquerading as fact, of the kind now evident in the discussion on public spending cuts.
b) The paradoxical irrelevance of this twentieth-century State, or rather its subordination to other centres of power such as companies like John T. Connors’ Allied Chemical Corporation. This is clear in relation to nation states which are smaller than the companies resident within them: but it is also obvious (at least to Chancellors of the Exchequer) in metropolitan capitalisms. Nowadays planners can pull the levers and the signals do not move, press the brakes and the train does not slow down. The signal box and the engine driver seem to have moved, although they occasionally summon us or honour us with a visit. What the exact relation between private concentrations of capital and States now is, is a matter of active debate and controversy. All I can say here, in line with my agenda-making rather than prophetic role, is that the contemporary equivalent to the Liberal debate on the philosophy of the State to which the Christendom Group can be related (T. H. Green, B. Bosanquet, H. Belloc, L. T. Hobhouse et al.) is probably the debate on the nature of the modern state between socialists like R. Miliband and N. Poulantzas. It is urgently necessary for us to ‘catch up’ with such thinking, not in order to be able to jump on it as a bandwagon, but in order to have meaningful views on the realities to which the debate undoubtedly refers.
c) The space for Christian prophecy left by the fact that, as Maurice Reckitt and others observed at the time of Guild Socialism, Statism has to a considerable extent taken over socialism. It has long been obvious how polluted the word ‘Communism’ has been by twentieth-century history. So much so that we can no longer use it in the proud manner of William Morris. It has only recently become apparent to me how polluted the word ‘socialism’ has also been. The space for Christian prophecy, or indeed for creative ‘socialist’ thought in general lies in the no-man’s-land between the ravages of Stalinism and social democracy. Social democracy has become the ideology of statism. Leave it to us, we are the experts, we know better than you what you need, we are the planners, the rationalisers, the technocrats, the ‘new class’, the best things happen from above not from below in other words ‘Fabianism’. This ideology has become essential for the continued existence of capitalism. Whether or not it is the Labour Party which does the job, an agency which comes to resemble ‘Labourism’ in practice (as of course Margaret Thatcher will if she wins an election) is an essential prop for our present social order.
There is therefore something of a vacuum here, in a way that there probably has not been since the early 1920s. The exciting thing is that there is competition for filling it. Neither Stalinism nor social democracy of the kind I am describing has ever been a popular working-class ideology. And I have already referred to other strands of collective self-help which flourished particularly in the last half of the nineteenth century, and which had to be driven underground lest they burst out of their capitalist shell altogether during the twentieth century. But now there are some signs of creative social energy from below, in trade unions and elsewhere, tapping these hidden streams. In community politics, new kinds of pressure group resembling the ‘moral reform crusades’ of the first half of the nineteenth century, rank-and-file movements at the points of production and so on, there are signs of collective attempts at self-government all over again. It is in this space that Christian prophets will have to move, which brings me to my final section on the problem of agency.
I regard this as the most urgent item on the agenda because one of the signs of the times which I detect, and which confirms me in my sense of a vacuum or space, is a whole cluster of deformations. By deformations I mean social energies which are there and which register the fact of the vacuum but which are, in the old sense, ‘heresies’. I would include football ‘hooliganism’. Some types of crime, some types of sect, some types of psychotic disorder, some types of spasmodic over-activism (revivals) etc. I do not wish to be misunderstood. These are not the same phenomena: they flourish in the same soil: and that soil, while rich, needs the nourishment which genuine Christian prophecy could bring before it can feed all the other, and less deformed, growths which it has within it.
5. The problem of agency maybe the most urgent item on the agenda: it is also the most difficult. Partly because it demands activity as well as thought – praxis, as it as become fashionable to say. It is a problem which can only be addressed through struggle, and the accumulated experience of struggle.
To see it as a problem form our point of view as Trustees means assuming:
- that a society qualitatively better than our own is worth achieving,
- that trying to achieve it will not necessarily land us with a society qualitatively worse than our own,
- that the potential agents of change include ourselves and our decisions, wills and organizations as well as God, the Holy Spirit, History, the Material Base and other large factors over which we do not have complete (!) control,
- that, as Christians, we may have specific contributions to make towards solving or clarifying this problem.
It is a problem with which I have been preoccupied since c. 1966, when the security of the Labour Party ceased to be so all-embracing for me. Although that is to be unfair to myself. Even within the Labour Party base I was always trying to develop it in ways not perhaps characteristic of it. Since then I have been through the May Day Manifesto experience, and am now inside a ‘community politics’ experience around a grouping in East Brighton called QueenSpark. A number of us in Brighton tried to push the problem of agency forward an inch, from a secular socialist point of view, in a local edition of The Spokesman (No. 21/22, Feb./March 1972), of which there are still copies available. ‘From a secular socialist point of view’ is an important phrase so far as I am concerned, in so far as I have only recently begun to dare to try to connect my understandings of Christianity with my understandings of this problem. I am convinced that it is a crucial connection to try to make. I am also convinced, and reinforced in my conviction by giant ‘diggers not builders’ like F. D. Maurice or Thomas Hancock and giant ‘builders not diggers’ like Stewart Headlam or R. H. Tawney against whom we must feel ourselves to be pygmies, that it is a frighteningly difficult connection. It is difficult not only because of our (my) pygmy stature, but also because, if the connection was made it would be personally and socially explosive.
The personal tone of voice may irritate here, but it must be the starting point. And we would all have to use it to begin with, in order to get beyond it. Its use was what, for me, made Bob Towler’s letter to David Nicholls such a liberating document to receive, in contrast to our previous Trustee discussions. But I must try to get beyond the personal tone of voice in the rest of these notes, if only to sketch why I would regard Bob’s joining the Communist Party as such a retrograde step! To use a student phrase, that is not where it’s at!
So where is it at? And what have we to say about it?
I will state three general propositions, and then add some other reflections which Trustees can skip. They will be addressed more to an imagined ‘left’ than to Trustees.
- Christians with their daily, personal, loving-their-neighbour, detailed obligations, might have a paradoxical contribution to make to the struggle – namely to rescue it from the ‘pie-in-the-sky’ brigade in their new disguise as the ‘pie-after-the-revolution’ people. There are many socialists now who see every victory won as a defeat or diversion. They want to draw a rigid line between ‘reform’ and ‘revolution’, and to make sure they stand on the ‘revolutionary’ side of that line. Even if they are reduced to doing nothing – I sometimes think in order to ratify their penchant for doing nothing detailed and personal – they want to stay firmly on the ‘revolutionary’ side of the line.
- Christians might have a commitment to a symbiosis between means and ends, which others in the struggle might not share.
- Christians might have a creative feeling of a finger pointing at them, where they are (wherever it is) rather than experience the continual luxury evident among armchair socialists of pointing a finger at someone or same thing else. The things which many socialists enjoy the luxury of pointing a finger at include, ‘the struggle at the point of production’, the ‘working class’, ‘capitalism’ etc. etc.
A mass democratic base is the essential agency for the kind of change we want. It has to be built now, and not just at the points of production. In precisely what forms (i.e. organizational/movement expressions), and through precisely what demands or programmes is a problem, perhaps the problem for prophetic strategists now. The problem of problems is to discover the most possible and fruitful organizational/movement embodiment of the structure of Lenin’s ideas on the party/class relationship. In mentioning Lenin, I shall be misunderstood. I will not correct this misunderstanding here, except to say that the structure of Lenin’s ideas can be separated from the specific and changing recommendations he made to the pre-1917 Bolsheviks: and that the structure speaks importantly to us as non-Bolsheviks interested in the problem of agency. We cannot tackle that problem without finding or making something to be ‘party’ to the class, even if that something bears little resemblance to the recommendations of What is to be Done? Seeing the relationship between the ideas and movements/organizations which arise spontaneously in capitalism (from above or from below) and the maintenance of capitalism as a system, is something we can learn to do from Lenin. We must therefore also learn the necessity of rising above spontaneity, in as reasoned a way as we can manage.
The simple electoral route of social democracy no longer answers: it has become the political embodiment of mass consumerism, a means of depriving people of power rather than giving it to them. The coup d'etat, barricades, or revolution-at-a-stroke route has also, I believe, been blocked owing to the nature of the modern state – if it ever has been open since 1848. And even if such a coup was made, how socialist it was, how preferable it was to what preceded it, would depend on what had been done before. Our task is not just to be fish, but to discover (not to invent) our own sea. Or to attempt to swim enough times to see for ourselves where the feeding grounds are, and that there is more nourishment in the sea than is easily described in categories like ‘revolutionary’ and ‘unrevolutionary’ situations. Again, this involves an active presence away from the points of production as well as at them, discovering the possibilities, capacities, tendencies, ‘laws of development’, trajectory, project . . . of the working class.
Our task is changing the data as well as ‘understanding’ it, in the static subject/object relationship which is the intellectual’s fantasy. This happens through struggle and activity. My own view is that it is essential in the context of the modern state for ‘the revolution’ to have happened in most important respects long before its consummation in ‘the seizure of state power’ or ‘the abolition of the wage relation’. The Chinese model is the one, form this point of view which we must, as well as should, as Christians, follow. We have to go round about, moving from the outside inwards. If ever reason points to a dash for the centre, because there does not seem to be time to use means consonant with our ends, or because a moment for opportunism arises, a specifically Christian response may well be to refuse to dash. In the end for us, I suppose, it is better to try than to succeed unless we can succeed in a manner consonant with our trying.
To be more positive, I would advocate a politics that:
- takes place where those whose politics it is are, in their (our) localities and places of work. In other words, a politics which takes place or happens, rather than being advocated or as well as being advocated: a politics which changes the evidence as well as analysing it, creates ‘data’ and does not use that word in the sense of ‘given’: a politics which does not make too rigid a separation between the actors (us) and the ‘objective situation’: a politics which (like post-1917 Constructivist art in Russia) creates new objects closely related to its own goals in a prefigurative way, which then people have, as it were, to walk round and take account of: a politics which, if it has to err on one side or the other, errs on the side of stressing possibility rather than constraint and thereby opens itself to the charge of being ‘voluntarist’: a politics which, however pessimistic the intellect has to be, maintains an optimism of the will (the virtue of hope): a politics which makes no artificial opposition between gains achieved now and the ultimate gain of everything all at once, and is in that sense ‘reformist’ as a revolutionary strategy: a politics which acts in ‘unrevolutionary’ as well as in ‘revolutionary’ situations, indeed questions the terms themselves, and at the very least sees ‘revolutionary’ situations as being so partly because of the stored-up capital of politics in ‘unrevolutionary’ times: a politics which acts on a wide front rather than just at the point which analysis suggests to be the weak link in the capitalist chain, say on the shop floor or in Third World national revolutions - a politics which acts in those situations only if the actor is located in them, but which does not say that ‘the real struggle’ is everywhere except here.
A politics that:
- relates to the working class as a latent and manifest movement in the sense of tendency or trajectory, and in a characteristic or defining situation (that of labour in relation to capital, through a wage relation and in specific settings – e.g. factories organized in different ways at different times), rather than to class as simple sociological classification, which is how many non-Marxists and some Marxists tend to use the term. I am personally better qualified to think about the movement rather than the situation, although I recognize the essential interconnectedness of the two. Working on the situation is what I understand the current interest among Marxist economists in the ‘labour processes’ to be about.
A politics that:
- does not make the mistake of confusing the working class with any single movement or organization, until such time as there is a visible and tangible symbiosis between them - which will be at a time when there is no longer any need to worry, in the sense that ‘the revolution’ will either have begun or finished. Equally, a politics which does not make the mistake of attacking, in an anarchist manner, movements/ organizations qua movements/ organizations. In other words, a politics which can, indeed must take place within a single movement/organization, but turned outwards from it, in a federal sense, to other movements/organizations and to the class itself.
A politics that:
- takes seriously the relationship between class (both as movement and as situation) and the forms of politics. By forms I mean types of organization, characteristic actions – what one does from day to day and how. One can, for example:recruit members to one’s own organization, of varying types;
- stand for election;
- sell newspapers which arrive on a train from headquarters outside factory gates;
- sell newspapers put together by those who sell them, from door-to-door;
- hold political meetings, of widely varying, and varying in crucial and interesting ways
- demonstrate also in crucially varying ways;
- seek to ‘capture’ existing organizations with one’s own cadres, e.g. the trades councils, union official positions, the Labour Party Young Socialists, the Socialist Sunday School movement, the Women’s Co-op Guild, etc.;
- build an exclusive sect, a pressure group, or a community agitation
etc. etc., the list could be extended a long way. But Christian discrimination between such types of activity demands analysis and thought in relation to class, along the lines initiated by the Webbs in Industrial Democracy and Lenin (whatever one may think of their conclusions). To make this clearer by a negative example, this kind of analysis in relation to class is what Michels’ Political Parties does not do. There are answers one should be able to spell out on this relationship between class and the forms of politics, some of which inhere in the class situation as such (regardless of time and place?), some of which inhere in the class as movement or tendency over many different times and places, and some of which inhere in a specific time and place, e.g. twentieth-century Britain. The latter are likely to be for us the most politically helpful, in the light of 1. above. A theological framework should also be used here, although I have no idea how.
A politics that:
- takes seriously the history or chronology of the working class, and of organizations related to it, seriously enough to respond to two things: a) that we now are in that chronology, in a distinctive phase of it, distinctive from earlier phases in a way which is bound to affect our politics if it is to be effective, and in a way or ways in which (as part of our ‘theory’ or as our theory) we have to learn to specify. b) that, although a) is so, our current situation and context is related to, and cannot be understood without reference to, and is partly the result of, earlier phases in the chronology, which we therefore also have to try to understand. History in this setting is not mere antiquarianism.
A politics that:
- sees the interaction between class (sometimes mediated through organization) and system as a continuous one, although broadly divisible into phases, not one which will suddenly, from silence, break out into a revolutionary storm. It is to this interaction that we have at any one time and place to relate. We have to learn to articulate it, see where it is at any one time, because it will not always be in obvious ‘revolutionary’ places it might be in the demand now for home ownership, including of council houses, for example, rather than in the doings, say of the Workers’ Revolutionary Party (is it still called the WRP?). ‘Relating to an interaction’ may seem rather an atrophied way of describing politics, as indeed it is (politics does get atrophied in Schools of Social Science). What it means is being open to the question ‘where is the class struggle now?’ If the revolution’ is to be a good one, with a good result, it will be because of the prior pushing of the achievements, capacities, forms, of the class to their maximum, way before ‘the revolution’ happens.
A politics that:
- vii) is not fixated on ‘capturing the state’. Partly owing to the nature of the modern State, and of the modern American war and intelligence machine, this is not an advisable fixation to have from the narrow point of view of likelihood of success. But it is also an uncreative fixation now, as well as one likely not to lead to good results. Now is important to Christians, partly because people live and die before ‘the revolution’, and its futurity is poor consolation to them.
A politics that:
- probably does not rely on classical membership modes, or a kind characteristic of working-class organization in the second half of the nineteenth century. The reasons for this have been stated above. A certain amount of intermittency, more of a movement than an organization, probably inheres in the working-class situation in capitalism. The movement would therefore have to develop federal rather than centralized forms.
A politics that:
- tries to break down divisions of labour in a context where the system seems to insist upon them. A society where they are broken down is probably a society of fuller humanity, where fuller community becomes possible. The same reason would also lead us to press for more and more self-production, self-activity, collective self-help: suspicious of leaders, and experts, in the manner of the seventeenth-century Puritan’s suspicion of priesthoods.
But these last reflections, and indeed this Agenda as a whole, is hasty and needs much criticism by those who can proceed beyond Agendas.
1. Crucible, April–June 1976, p. 59. [Return]
2. It is not possible to reproduce the full text here. In the promotional document, titled ‘Profits Are for People’ and dated 27 May 1976, John T. Connor, Chairman of Allied Chemicals, was making a public case for the importance of a growth in corporate profits as important for the future “survival of our way of life”. [Return]
3. In the British Weekly 24 September 1891 there appeared the following letter, under the heading ‘Pulpit Notices or the Latest Advertising Medium’:
‘Sir, I take the liberty of addressing you on the matter of “Pulpit Notices” and to ask if something cannot be done to reform our present practice in the matter. I am sure many of my fellow worshippers would rejoice if some other means were found of making known matters in connection with modern church work but which savour so much of the theatre and shop that, whatever their aim, do most certainly succeed in interrupting that divine Sabbath peace which ought to pervade our time of worship. I have heard notices from the pulpit concerning bazaars, concerts, living wax-works, gymnasium performances etc., but I think last Sunday's experience capped all previous. In a suburban church, under the supervision of a young and promising pastor, after some ordinary notices as to a coming bazaar, the following appeal was made:
In connection with this bazaar a well-known firm of coal merchants have promised us that if all our friends here will combine to buy all their coals of them, they will then, in proportion to the quantity of coals purchased, do so-and-so for us. Now, this is a well-known firm and I am sure you will get as good coals of them as anyone else, so if our friends will kindly take this up and get their coals in this way, we shall get the benefit according to the quantity, but to do this you must order all coals of our friend Mr – whose address is – .
Need I say more? What a fine scope it opens up for “Pears Soap” and “Colmans Mustard”; but is it not time we drew the line somewhere?
I am, Sir,