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International Socialism, Summer 1961


J.M. Wilson

All’s well


From International Socialism (1st series), No.5, Summer 1961, pp.31-32.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Political Man
S.M. Lipset
Heinemann. 30s.

Professor Lipset leaves us in no doubt in this collection of essays. Throughout conflict is seen as a useful ‘integrative’ force only when it is balanced by that consensus which allows the competitors to accept the basic ends of the system itself. Conflict which might tend to the overthrow of the present social system is seen as ‘dangerous to democracy’, and because this is assumed to be only capable of existence inside a capitalist economy the legitimacy of the social system itself is never questioned.

But given this major and probably damning fault in a book which purports to be investigating the nature of political society itself, there is still a tremendous amount of statistical information, gathered from polls and surveys, which will be of interest to anyone concerned with the dilemma in which socialism is supposed to be involved. Unfortunately only the information is of any use, for the analysis and conclusions that go with it are either platitudinous in the extreme or demonstrably false and misleading. The most disturbing example of this is the section dealing with the ‘preconditions for democracy’. Here European countries are arbitrarily divided into ‘stable democracies’ and ‘unstable democracies and dictatorships’ and then a number of indices of wealth, industrialisation, urbanisation and education are consulted to test the hypothesis that the more educated, urbanised, industrialised and wealthy a country is the more likely it is to be democratic. In each case it is found that average of the countries in each group is higher for the ‘stable democracies’ and this is seen as evidence of the truth of the hypothesis. Of course the ranges for all the countries in each group overlap so that on a number of the indices it could be said that Russia was more democratic than Sweden, for instance, although they are in different groups. What Professor Lipset is in fact showing is that the growth of capitalism leads to the growth of political democracy in a stable form, which on his own assumptions is to say that the growth of democracy tends to strengthen capitalism.

He is not concerned if one of the two major parties in any country he examines is a moderate socialist party, but judging from two articles by him recently in Socialist Commentary he would be disturbed if anything left of the most rigid Gaitskell-Crosland line were the platform of the Labour Party. While it is a noble ideal to press for a more egalitarian society, he says, ways of doing it which are compatible with democracy have yet to be found. Democracy, in other words, for him is inequality.

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