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International Socialism, Winter 1964/5


Dave Peers

Changing Men


From International Socialism, No.19, Winter 1964/5, p.32.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


On the Theory of Social Change
Everett Hagan
Tavistock, 63s.

General theories of social change are rare birds and this consideration, if no other, makes them worthy of close examination. The aspect of social change Professor Hagan attempts to explain is the process by which some societies achieve the transition from traditional stagnation to economic growth. The usual explanations are in terms of the effects of contact with Western knowledge, the disruption of traditional culture (colonisation) and availability of natural resources. The insufficiency of these theories can be demonstrated by the cases of Indonesia and Japan: in the former, intrusion by contact with the West was earlier and more extensive; the degree of disruption of traditional culture far greater, and natural resources per capita far superior. Yet Japan began rapid technological advance in the second half of the nineteenth century whereas Indonesia has stagnated, if not regressed.

The essence of the question is therefore not what is available but how it is employed, i.e., how do ‘technologically creative personalities’ (a capitalist class) emerge from a traditional society? The theoretical model offered by Hagan is couched in terms of the psychological change from the authoritarian personality of the traditional society to the achievement-centred type of dynamic economy. The change occurs in this fashion. A group which formerly enjoyed a recognised position loses its status, e.g., the former elite of a colonised country, or a merchant class squeezed tighter and tighter by a native ruling class. This generates a conflict between the traditional values and the impossibility of living up to them in the changed environment, and typically produces a state of suppressed rage or retreatism (the ‘apathetic’ natives who so perplexed the do-gooding element of colonial administrators). If the conflict becomes unbearable a type of paranoia – Messianism – erupts, in which the victims attempt to solve their problems through magic (the Lumpa sect is the most obvious recent example, although the US Negro struggle also exhibits Messianistic elements). Another manifestation of the conflict is the ritualistic imitation of the aggressor by some of the oppressed. But the colonial subject who adopts this protective colouration and becomes ‘more English than the English’ in formally accepting the European world view thereby incorporates the recognition of his own intrinsic inferiority which is a part of those values. The conflict is merely repressed, not solved, for his subconscious hatred for his rulers or former rulers renders the African or Indian politician incapable of performing the functions which are identified with the colonial elite, notably economic development. Hence the building of prestige steel mills with no supplies of indigenous raw materials, and the ‘graft and corruption’ which are really a reversion to the traditional values of loyalty to the family. The solution of these conflicts, Hagan suggests, lies in the changes they produce in the children of such repressed personalities, who will tend to avoid the conflict they witness in their parents between the traditional values and environment by rejecting these values and synthesising what seems to be valuable into a new value system.

But this change through generations can be a slow process: Hagan believes it took 500 years for the English capitalists to emerge; nevertheless because the pressures in the ex-colonial countries are so much more intense, the cycle will necessarily be foreshortened, but not less painful.

It is clear that a theory devoted primarily to changes in the personality structure leaves much of the mechanism of social change unexplained, e.g., class conflict within society is not extended beyond the conflict between elites. Nevertheless there is much in this work of great value to socialists who wish to understand the nature of the conflicts within underdeveloped societies and the exent of the poisonous legacy of colonialism.

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