Peter Sedgwick



From Clarion, Trinity 1955, p.19-21.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Peter Sedgwick: Reading P.P.P. at Balliol. Is Left-wing.

Being a Communist, I am always very interested in reading books which try to explain my existence. Dr. H.J. Eysenck (in The Pychology of Politics) shows that Communists, as distinct from, say, other kinds of Socialists, tend to be tough-minded, aggressive, dominant, rigid-thinking, and intolerant of ambiguity. People, he thinks, learn Radical or Conservative attitudes according to the rewards and punishments they expect for their social groups from political parties. But once they are Radical or Conservative, they get conditioned to be Tough-minded or Tender-minded through such involuntary factors as their degree of social adjustment and extraversion.

Now, looking at myself, I am horrified to confirm at least one point of this analysis. I must admit that, in comparison with the whole of the Labour Club E.C., I am viciously tough-minded dominant, aggressive, rigid and pernickety. I only wish I could help it. But if Dr. Eysenck thinks that I became a Communist because I got conditioned to a whole lot of disgusting, involuntary responses, he is just wrong. I started to be a Communist as a result of living under the implications of the Rosenberg executions, the intervention against Guiana and the engineers’ strike of December, 1953; also through the unwilling discovery that all the anti-Sovietisms I had picked up were a crooked pack of lies. When I first joined the Party, I was tender-minded, mild and meek. The Tough-mindedness came in later, through arguing for too long with obstinate anti-Communists.

The other thing wrong with this kind of story is that it doesn’t explain why the proportion of Communist Party members to total population should be 1 in 1,500 in Britain, 1 in 35 in the USSR, and in Czechoslovakia 1 in 6.

There is, unfortunately, a certain tendency nowadays to explain political facts by reference to psychological hypotheses. We are often informed that anti-colonial organisers and militant trades-unionists happen because they are “frustrated”. The obvious answer to Industrial Frustration becomes Industrial Psychology: mere political remedies like socialist nationalizations are irrelevant to such pathological disorders. Another school of thought finds it helpful to attribute various aspects of Soviet affairs (the Moscow trials, the absence of revolutions since 1917) to the workings of the Great Slav Soul or the Collective Bolshevik Unconscious. The commonest current expression of this school is the justification of NATO, German re-armament and colonial slaughter by the statement that it is an innate characteristic of The Russians/Communists/Kikuyu/Malayans to Respect Strength. (This assertion may be reinforced by the citation of An Interesting Little Incident Which Once Took Place In Berlin/Nairobi/Kuala Lumpur).

“The only way to negotiate with the Bolsheviks is by their own methods: from behind the butt of a revolver”, proclaimed the Czech General Gayda, while engaged in the War of Intervention. The ultimate consequences of such psychoanalysis may be gauged from the later career of the General: after reaching the position of Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces of the First Czechoslovak Republic, he contrived to betray the defences of his country to Hitler.

Again, no student of weekly reviews, tabloid editorials and Sunday diplomatists can afford to overlook the huge importance of the Oriental Mind (whether Inscrutable or just Passive). This, in the hands of a versatile technician, may be used both to account for the success of the Communist Party of China and to forecast the failure of the Communist Party of India.

This scepticism need not be taken to indicate that social conflict and social psychology are two separate subjects, which don’t mix. Actually the course of political struggle is a powerful determinant of human psychology.

For under capitalism there are a number of incentives to frustration and neurosis. When there is unemployment, people worry from having too little work. When there is “full employment”, people suffer from having to work too long for a living wage (weekly working hours last year averaged 48.3, compared with 46.3 in 1947, and 47.7 in 1938). They have to worry about rising prices and rents, health charges and the scramble for education. Socialism can abolish these conditions. The effects of a socialist system upon mental well-being can be seen if we compare the incidence of psychic troubles in the U.S.A. and this country with the substantial decline of neurosis in the Soviet Union (which, whatever else you may think, certainly has no shareholders, landlords or Stock Exchange).

The opening of all kinds of careers to women, which will take place in a socialist society, may narrow the differentiation between masculine and feminine temperament, and thus lead to a big decrease in homosexuality – Margaret Mead (in Sex and Temperament) has commented upon the absence of homosexuality in primitive communities with no temperamental differentiation between the sexes. And a host of pre-conditions for psychological ill-health will be liquidated in a society without the possibility of profit-making in horror-comics, brutal films and the sensational reportage of murders and sex cases.

But it is hardly the task of Socialists to build sanatoria in the air. Whatever Socialism may bring, we can at least be sure of the final refutation of that basic and most absurd component of “psychopolitics”: “You Can’t Change Human Nature”.


Last updated on 21.11.2004