Ideas and Revolution

20 May 1969

This article – from the current issue of Guild Gazette – is a response by Pete Cresswell to ‘The Tyranny of Ideas’ by Mike McCarthy, printed in the last issue.

If it were not so pathetic it would be rather amusing that the arch-conservatives of this world should accuse revolutionary socialists of putting ideas before people. Such an accusation can only show the complete ignorance or abysmal stupidity of the people who make it.

The philosophy of socialism is built on a concrete analysis of the society we live in. Because we call that society ‘capitalist’, the people who control it the ‘bourgeoisie’, and the people who suffer ‘proletariat’ does not mean that that we have lost touch with the people our beliefs ought to affect. It simply means that we choose words that defenders of the system either do not understand or find offensive.

In The Tyranny of Ideas, Mike McCarthy argued that because revolutionary students at various universities had shouted down speakers, they had forgotten about humanity and were claiming the superiority of their knowledge above all others. But how far does this square with the facts? The most prominent gentlemen to be prevented from speaking at universities are Patrick Wall and Enoch Powell. At Liverpool only one speaker has ever been forced to leave a platform – Dr Gruber, an apologist for South African apartheid. Does free speech extend to racialists? Wall has business interests in Rhodesia – thereby helping to deprive the black Rhodesians of every freedom imaginable. Powell wants to send ‘home’ half a million coloured inhabitants of Great Britain. Gruber represents the most barbaric country to exist since Hitler’s Germany.

None of these men respect the freedom of people who happen to be the wrong colour – they do impose their values on the black people of the world. We are merely accused of trying to impose our ideas on these representatives of a very real tyranny.

At Essex and LSE, hearings of a Parliamentary Committee on student unrest were broken up. This was not done from arrogance, bloody-mindedness, or even contempt for Parliament. The people who “represented” the students at these hearings had been chosen quite arbitarily, with no reference at all to the students themselves, and it was as a protest against this that the hearings were disrupted.

Perhaps it was not the most subtle way of approaching the problem, but the MP’s got the message: they can’t treat students with the indifference they show to most people.

The whole theory of socialist revolution is based on action by and for the vast majority of the population – the working class. Revolutionary students have never tried to impose their ideas on this class or claimed to act on their behalf. Certainly revolutionaries may think they know the answer to society’s problems. But don’t conservatives claim that stability is best for society? Don’t liberals advocate reform of society? Revolutionaries simply claim that revolution is the only way of solving society’s problems, and that this can only be done by the people themselves – not by an academic elite.

When Che Guevara called for ‘Two, three, many Vietnams’, he was not reducing human life to ‘the tool for an idea’. He was saying that revolution is the only alternative to misery for the : people of the Third World, and, that any revolution will attract intervention from the USA. Faced with numerous upheavals, such as the Vietnamese revolution, the USA would find it physically impossible to crush them, and would retreat into its shell. Che was motivated by a passionate concern for the people of Latin America, not just by a fine idea. Any doubters should read Bolivian Diary.

If you think that revolutionaries’ ideas have lost their meaning go to Liverpool 8 and Everton. Ask the people who live there whether justice is merely an abstract ideal or if it means something to them. Ask the Abercromby Tenants who the students were who helped them form their association. Ask council tenants who helped them fight their rent rises. Not conservatives, not moderates – but revolutionary socialists and anarchists, who recognise the wrongs in our society and believe they can take a part in overcoming them.

Mike McCarthy has got things back to front – for a socialist ideas are the tools of the people, tools with which they can transform society. It is not revolutionary socialists who are using people. His venom should be directed at those who control the wealth and , industry of the country, not at the people who are trying to change things for the better.

I’d never insult a Tory by accusing him of putting ideas before people. Money? Maybe. Ideas? What are they?

This page will be open to anybody who has strong views on anything at all. If you object to something, have something that peeves you, then write an article on it and bring it up to Gazette office on the top floor of the Union.


Author: Gerry

Retired college teacher living in Liverpool, UK.

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