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Absolute Beginners

It would be unfair to suggest that Mr. Worsley is not bothered by these questions. He devotes an entire chapter to nationalism, another one to the fusion of nationalism with communism, and yet another to what is undoubtedly the principal ideological current in the Afro-Asian world at the present time, namely populism. It is a tribute to his sociological acumen (possibly also to his previous political background) that he sees the importance of the phenomenon. Populism (of which, in an entirely different political and cultural context, European fascism was one manifestation) is unquestionably the strongest current among the new elites in the “third world.” Its advantages are obvious: As against liberalism it can claim to be anti-Western and anti-capitalist. As against Marxism it operates with the concept of the undivided, “classless,” pre-industrial community of the folk. It is thus a splendid vehicle of nationalist and pseudo-socialist sentiments—just what is needed at the present stage of evolution. It also has the incidental function of enabling the new political elites to cooperate with foreigners while preserving an emotional bond with their own people. Lastly, it promises socialism without tears, or at any rate without forced-draft industrialization. On all these counts it appeals both to the elites and to the masses. And since it is in practice quite harmless, the nascent bourgeoisie can afford to tolerate it: the more so since it lends itself to the promotion of economic measures (such as tariff protection of “infant industries”) from which in due course an indigenous capitalism may be expected to arise.

MR. WORSLEY IS TOO SHREWD not to see all this (after all, it is not so long ago that he was a Marxist). What restrains him is quite clearly the belief that, under favorable circumstances, populist sentiment can also be harnessed to authentic socialism. Meantime he is prepared to wait and be patient. He is patient even with Dr. Sukarno, though not disposed to take all his nonsense seriously. It is probably asking too much of a British socialist of his persuasion to indulge in the sort of irony at the expense of Bung Karno and his Indonesia to which Mr. Herbert Luethy recently gave expression in Encounter. Or is it? The New Left Review (with whose editors Dr. Worsley has in the past been associated) not long ago published an essay on Indonesia (by Mr. Robert Curtis) which did not diverge widely from the treatment accorded this fabulous country by Mr. Luethy. Now that Sukarno is on the way out, perhaps the moment is not far off when the British Left will feel free to adopt towards his hapless country the unflattering severity of tone traditionally reserved for the more turbulent Latin American nations.

Meanwhile there is the uncomfortable task of dealing with the more naive or grandiose claims made on behalf of the emancipated in a domain which Westerners have traditionally regarded as a source of pride: that of Europe’s classical origins. Mr. Worsley steers cautiously around the subject. He duly notes that some French-educated African leaders such as Léopold Senghor are genuinely appreciative of the European heritage. He comments gingerly on what he describes (p. 123) as “the more intellectual, if extreme, expressions of Pan-Africanist thinking,” e.g., M. Anta Diop’s remarkable assertion that the Greeks “were little more than competent ‘implementers’ of Egyptian [African] discoveries and inventions.” M. Diop, as Mr. Worsley notes, is “a major writer of the Présence Africaine circle.” For the full flavor of its Africanism one must go to Mr. Immanuel Wallerstein’s essay in a recent volume on Sociology and History published by the Free Press of Glencoe. There one may discover what Mr. Worsley only hints at: According to M. Diop and his followers, African civilization is superior to that of the West. To quote Wallerstein: “Diop sees the world as essentially divided into two basic cultural groupings: the Aryans (who include the Semites, and it seems the Asians and American Indians as well), and the Southerners (Méridionaux) who are the Negro-Africans, which includes the ancient Egyptians.” Well, why not? If Nasser can draw spiritual satisfaction from Egypt’s geographical location, why should not Pan-Africanists try to steal a march on him? Another prophet of this school, Dick Akwa, has discovered that Moses and Buddha were Egyptian Negroes; Christianity derived from a Sudanese tribe; and Nietzsche, Bergson, Marx, and Sartre all descended from hitherto unknown Bantu philosophers. It is not much crazier than the ideology officialized under Hitler, and probably a lot less harmful.

For all his casual air and his occasional lapses into newspaper jargon, Mr. Worsley is in fact a professional. In particular he thoroughly understands the political game and is not taken in by appearances. Neither is he impressed by totalitarian claims to have founded a harmonious social order. In an aside on Mao Tse-tung’s assertion that class relations in present-day China are “non-antagonistic,” he drily notes (p.68) that “the conflict-free society does not exist.” It pays to have been a Marxist. There are some forms of obfuscation that don’t survive this particular training—at any rate in a scholar. Statesmen of course have bigger worries than theoretical consistency, as the example of Mao indicates; but then Maoism is itself a form of revolutionary populism, and its stress on social harmony is quite in accordance with Chinese tradition.

MR. WORSLEY CONCEALS his expertise behind an essayistic manner. With Mr. A.F.K. Organski, who teaches political science at the University of Michigan, we are in the familiar world of academic abstraction. A native of Italy who came to the United States as a student in 1940, at a time when Mussolini was still in charge of his country’s destiny, Mr. Organski has the advantage of personal acquaintance with at least one form of European totalitarianism. This presumably accounts for his unemotional treatment of what is commonly a sore point among academic writers of the liberal persuasion: the functional resemblance of Stalinist and Fascist forms of rule, notably in backward countries undergoing the “modernization” process.

In principle this is a promising approach. Unfortunately he does not make the most of it, perhaps because he chooses to employ the nomenclature popular among Italian sociologists of the Fascist period. To say that “industrial nations have achieved their status through three quite different systems: bourgeois politics, Stalinist politics, and Fascist policies” (p. 57) is to befog an issue already sufficiently obscured by rival political claimants. One cannot really speak of “bourgeois politics” (by which he means liberal democracy) outside the West European context. He also tends to confuse the concept of class with that of elite—or rather he speaks of (political) elites where the reference should be to (social) classes, and vice versa: a habit traditionally common among followers of Pareto, but less excusable since Weber and Schumpeter clarified the issue for those who prefer not to operate with the Marxian apparatus. The term “Fascism” is reserved by the author for “one of the varieties of the politics of industrialization” (p. 123), so that a different and very misleading term has to be found for the Hitler dictatorship. And what is one to make of the statement (ibid.) that “Italy became industrial under Mussolini…Spain gained industrial status under Franco…Peron sailed into power on the same wave that lifted Argentina into industrial life”? The grain of truth contained in these assertions is too deeply embedded in factual misconceptions to encourage much confidence in the soundness of Dr. Organski’s theoretical apparatus.

WITH ALL THESE FAULTS (plus others, such as an unhappy fondness for useless neologisms like “syncratic”) Dr. Organski has one notable merit which it would be unjust not to mention: He is not afraid of using plain language to describe what happened in the not-so-recent past. Thus he notes that during the heroic age of European industrialization “the bourgeois system…encouraged the accumulation of capital at the expense of mass living standards” (p. 11). This is no more than Keynes said in a well-known passage, but American academics are rarely so explicit. Here, for example, is Mr. David Apter’s description of the same phenomenon, in Chapter Two of his bulky and learned work entitled The Politics of Modernization:

Modernization first occurred in the West through the twin processes of commercialization and industrialization. The social consequences of these processes can be summed up in the following rather paradigmatic categories: the growth of lending and fiscal devices, the need to support modern armies, the application of technologies in competitive market situations, and the influence of trade and voyages on the scientific spirit—all of which are evidence that modernity in the West attacked religion and superstition, family and church, mercantilism and autocracy. (p. 43)

This curious picture is then contrasted with the corresponding process in non-Western areas where, it seems, the impetus has come from “commercialization and, rather than industrialization, bureaucracy” (ibid). In general, Mr. Apter infers that the backward countries must be effectively “modernized” before they can hope to industrialize, whereas in Europe it happened the other way around. The argument, so far as one can follow it, relates to the indisputable fact that the backward countries do not have a great deal of time and cannot wait for a long period of slow economic growth to promote a gradual emancipation from their archaic cultures. Instead, the spread of rationalism and individualism (“modernernization”) must be promoted by some internal or external authority before there can be any hope of economic “take-off.” People must, for example, learn to transfer their loyalties from the family or the village to the state, and this requires a change of attitude rather more sudden and drastic than anything medieval Europe experienced before its “take-off.” Politique d’abord! Well, if one likes, but what about the era of pre-liberal absolutism in Europe? Was this not an effective training-school in social conformity suitable to the subsequent implantation of mature industrial capitalism? Before Locke there was Hobbes—and the authoritarian state then needed to discipline the masses.

Fortunately Mr. Apter does not allot too much space to dubious generalizations. His professional concern is with political science rather than with history (he directs the Institute of International Studies at Berkeley), and the bulk of his work is devoted to the analysis of the actual modernization process currently under way in pre-industrial societies: with the emphasis on changes in the social structure that lend themselves to descriptive treatment. The discussion commonly moves at a fairly high level of abstraction. A passage such as the following (p.67) may be regarded as typical:

Development, modernization, and industrialization, although related phenomena, can be placed in a descending order of generality. Development, the most general, results from the proliferation and integration of functional roles in a community. Modernization is a particular case of development. Modernization implies three conditions—a social system that can constantly innovate without falling apart (and that includes among its essential beliefs the acceptability of change); differentiated, flexible social structures; and a social framework to provide the skills and knowledge necessary for living in a technologically advanced world. Industrialization, a special aspect of modernization, may be defined as the period in a society in which the strategic functional roles are devoted to manufacturing. It is possible to attempt the modernization of a given country without much industry, but it is not possible to industrialize without modernization.

Lest it be thought that there is perhaps a faint note of tautology about some of these formulations, it may be added that the author makes much of the stresses inherent in a situation in which the traditional cultural fabric has to be adapted to novel requirements. “The socialization process becomes a tension-creating system. Moreover, such tension is a key feature of the creative process in modern developing societies. Status conflict, value conflict, marginality—these have all been recognized as having important consequences in producing creative and innovative individuals” (p. 66). Paradoxically, despite this welcome growth of individualism, it appears that under these conditions the role of the state may actually become more important in mediating political conflict:

To that extent government becomes the strategic instrument of development, and the result is a high degree of government regulation of social life in order to introduce greater coherence of values and institutions and to cater to creative tension (ibid.).

Hobbes would have put it differently, but then Mr. Apter (like most Americans) has been brought up on Locke: an inferior thinker, but a more reassuring one.

THESE ALLUSIONS to political philosophy are not irrelevant. Mr. Apter in his introductory chapter sets out the aim of effecting a synthesis of the normative approach with current structural and behavioral analysis. From there he proceeds to a comparison (pp. 28-36) of what he describes as the “secular-libertarian model of polity” (otherwise known as Western liberalism) with the “sacred-collectivity model” typical of pre-industrial (or should it be pre-modern?) societies. The political and ideological stresses typical of modernization are discussed in relation to these “models,” much of the factual material being derived from the author’s own particular field of study, which happens to be Africa. Later chapters range over literary evidence drawn from cultures as far apart as ancient Greece and modern Britain. Latin America receives only brief mention, and there is no more than a single side-glance at the role of the Latin-Catholic tradition in that part of the world. China is mentioned as part of the communist bloc (along with the USSR and Czechoslovakia). For a change the reader is spared the fashionable comparison between China and India. Instead he is informed (p. 445) that “China, the USSR, and Czechoslovakia, for example, are high coercion systems, and they all have experienced lags in agriculture.” This is treated as evidence of the proposition that whereas “in successful industrial countries, agricultural productivity is very high,” on the contrary “in countries where coercion is high, productivity is low.” Could the climate conceivably have something to do with it?

I trust I shall not be misunderstood as suggesting that the value of Mr. Apter’s work is to be measured by these curious excursions into historical sociology. His thinking in any case operates at a level of abstraction where it hardly matters whether he is sound on the subject of Russian farming. Basically he is concerned with alternative political models suitable to the task of government, and for the rest his interest lies in the area of cultural adaptation to change. What he has to say about these matters strikes the present reviewer as eminently sound and sensible, though perhaps not altogether original. Unlike Dr. Organski, who relies on intuition, Mr. Apter has the facts at his command, and his generalizations are commonly supported by an impressive display of learning. Nor is he unduly afflicted by illusions concerning the inherent superiority of the American way of life in competing for the role of catalyst in backward, pre-industrial societies. Thus, after describing at some length the “mobilization system” whereby dictatorial governments in backward areas typically manage to arouse popular participation in the difficult change-over to modernity, he delivers himself of the following pessimistic judgment (pp., 225-3):

It is one of the central hypotheses of this study that this conversion is most satisfactorily achieved by some form of mobilization system. The policy implications of this hypothesis are rather frightening. In Latin America, for example, the implication would be that, as modernizing processes become transformed into industrialization processes, we may expect to see an increase in the power and number of mobilization systems, whether of the right, as might occur in Argentina with a neo-Peronista regime, or of the left, as in Cuba. More explicitly, if the Alliance for Progress is a great success in Latin America, it is likely to result in the creation of more mobilization systems, which are by their very nature offensive to most Americans.

It would be tempting to comment that the prospect of the Alliance for Progress becoming “a great success in Latin America” is too remote to worry about, but one sees what the author means. One also realizes that he is too acute to provide much comfort for the adherents of conventional liberalism. His pessimism is indeed not far removed from the standpoint of writers like Mr. George Kennan or Professor Morgenthau, for whom liberal democracy represents a happy exception from the general rule: at best a type of government suitable to Western Europe and North America. It is a pity that these considerations are not clearly spelled out in Mr. Apter’s work, although he devotes a concluding chapter to “The Future of Democratic Society.” That future, on his own evidence, is fairly bleak. It must be reckoned a redeeming feature of a somewhat indigestible treatise that in the end he comes to grips with the role of science and the menace of technocracy. These are the real problems of the future. They still await adequate treatment.


Not an Indian June 23, 1966

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