what Americans believe

Kenneth Mostern kmostern at utkvx.utk.edu
Thu Sep 7 21:04:06 MDT 1995


It occurs to me that the exchange in which several list members
took comfort in poll data which indicates that Americans agree with many
marxist or otherwise left-wing statements when presented outside a marxian
or other left framework is a good example of why we need a good theory of
ideology.

I have no doubt that there are all sorts of things that people will say
they believe because it sounds good out of a pollster's mouth.  Just as
there are many marxist concepts that people believe, there are equally
many anti-marxist concepts that the same people would be happy to
indicate they believe if asked in the very same poll--say, "private
property must always be protected" or "a free market is necessary to
guarantee freedom", or any number of other things.  The point is not, of
course, that people are stupid, but that when inexperienced with the
analysis of concepts, people may agree rather than argue with anything that
sounds convincing at the moment.  The last thing we should do is imagine
that people who answer polls the way we like, but are afraid of marxists,
are really on our side.  If we can't figure out ways to give depth to
those "beliefs", we're nowhere.

Its been a long time since I read EP Thompson's *The Making of the
English working Class*, so I hope I'm not travestying it.  The one thing
I have always remembered from it is his analysis of woking class
participation in two simultaneous and, at a logical level, contradictory
movements--Methodism and the early proletarian movement.  Thompson, after
going carefully through the participation statistics and years of greatest
activity of the movements, concludes that the very same people were often
participants in each movement, perhaps a few years more in one, a few
years more in the other, depending on which seemed to fulfill more needs
at a given moment.  The same people would assert the truth of both, and
do whatever it takes to make them coherent within their lives.  As long
as neither self-evidently provided a material solution to their everyday
problems, why choose?

This, no doubt, is also why I tend to be on the side of those who say we
need to argue for the working class militia members and the members of
the NOI, rather than writing them off.  What they're looking for seems,
on the surface, to be fulfillable by right-wing ideologies, but under the
right social conditions we might just convince many of them that our
ideas are more promising.

Kenneth Mostern
Assistant P-funkster of English
University of Tennessee

George Clinton:  Free your mind, and your ass will follow.
Karl Marx, paraphrased:  Free your ass, and your mind will follow.
. . . toward a materialist dialectics of funk . . . peace . . .



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