In Ideology and Violence – 1, evidence was presented of the scriptural justifications for violence against the ‘other’ in the cases of the ideologies of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The ‘other’ meaning those of other religions, no religion and ‘heretics within. In addition to the extracts quoted, readers were referred to a number of further instances of this propensity for violence emanating within the ‘holy’ texts of the three Abrahamic religions. However, as was then noted, religion is not the only form of ideology that is permeated with violence in the name of some imagined ‘higher power’. This second part will consider the ideologies of Nationalism, Fascism and Bolshevism. This is because all three contain justifications for violence, including torture and killing of those designated as opponents or enemies of the ideological systems created by the respective elites and their intellectual apologists.
The concept of a nation and a nation-state is a very recent creation judged on the scale of recorded history. It is only a few hundred years old and even less in its more developed 20th century form. The ideology of nationalism and its practical implementation as a state were both perfected by the bourgeois class and their supporters. They created relatively fixed, (although in some cases temporarily so), territorial boundaries with a centralised administration. Within these boundaries, they could safely base themselves, protect and expand the property they had acquired by the newly developed capitalist mode of production.
Because the capitalist mode of production is intrinsically oppressive and exploitative, protection was needed from both internal and external threats. The external threat was (and still is) from rival capitalist concerns located in other countries that also needed to secure and control markets for their trade in surplus production and for sources of raw material. The internal threat was from their recently dispossessed countrymen whose only form of economic survival was by this time by low-paid (and impermanent) employment offered by the capitalist classes in commerce, industry and agriculture.
It consequently served the interests of this class to have a set of ideas that not only recognised the sanctity of their capitalist form of economic and social production, but included the idea of defending the national bourgeoisie against threats from a variety of sources. Since they could not do this on their own it included ideas that all classes of the nation should join them in defence of their interests (patriotism) and in annexations to further them. One important and illustrative source of this ideological construction by and for the elite is contained in a codified form within the national anthems of most nations. Immediately below are just three extracts from National Anthems, the first from Britain, the second from France and the third from the USA. All three illustrate the main points being made.
1. Britain. “Send her victorious, Happy and glorious, long to reign over us,….Scatter her enemies and make them fall..Thy choicest gifts in store, on her be pleased to pour..May she defend our laws…”
2. France. “Form your battalions. Let’s march, let’s march, Let impure blood, Water our furrows…Sacred love of the fatherland, Lead, support our avenging arms….Under our flags, shall victory, Hurry to thy manly accents, That thy expiring enemies, See thy triumph and our glory.”
3. USA. ” And where is that band who so vauntingly swore, That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion, A home and a country, should leave us no more, Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps pollution. Then conquer we must, when our cause is just.”
These three anthems contain all the core ideological elements of nationalism as interpreted by their own countries intellectuals: the scattering of enemies and blood-letting, the need for all citizens to unite and march to war, enduring the savage battles, killing the enemy, obtaining victory, and pocketing the gifts of conquest. The higher power is the ‘nation’ a complete abstraction. It is notable that the real reason for the fighting and killing within nationalist ideology – defending the privileges of the elite – is omitted. Instead, for the working classes consumption, a surrogate reason for being cannon fodder is inserted such as fighting for a ‘just’ cause or defend one’s home and loved ones. However, what follows should be common knowledge by now.
For centuries nationalist ideology, has been used by the capitalist and pro-capitalist elite, for their own ulterior purposes. They have promoted these ideologies to persuade ordinary working people to overcome their natural humane inclinations and kill, torture and destroy the working people of another country in astronomical numbers. Two world wars (1914 – 1918 and 1939 – 1945) literally killed millions, not to mention all the colonialist wars instigated by European and British capitalists, against rival capitalists and relatively defenceless native communities throughout the world. Even since the end of the Second World War it has been estimated that;
“Britain alone bears ‘direct responsibility’ for the deaths of 4 – 6 million people world-wide since 1945.” (D. Cromwell. ‘Why are we the good guys’ Chapter 3.)
If we add in those deaths as a result of North American and other European nations, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya etc., the genocidal cull of human beings must be astronomical. And yet as David Cromwell suggests the ideology of nationalism also presents its ruling elites as the ‘good guys’ and all this brutality, if not covered up, is either blamed on someone else or is attributed to ‘unfortunate mistakes’. The power of nationalist ideology to infect and numb any humane characteristics among masses of people, who can then – in one way or another – be involved in demonising, bombing, shooting and torturing other sections of the human family – as occurred in Bosnia etc., is clearly revealed.
The first thing to understand about Fascism is that it is an extreme example of nationalism in an exaggerated and mutated form. It last fully matured during a period of intense economic and social crisis during the early 20th century. It’s extreme nature came from the fact that instead of the capitalist elite largely controlling the political elite and the working classes (the first via its economic wealth/power and the second via the state) a structural change occured. With Fascism, an armed political elite via the state, controlled both the working classes and the capitalist elite. Under Fascism the armed political elite used the working classes and the state to control the capitalists and they used the capitalists and the state to control the workers. In short it was a political form of totalitarian nationalism, and the ‘higher-power’ is the state.
In this way Fascism, in the mid-20th century created a forced ersatz unity out of the fundamental class conflicts under the capitalist mode of production. These class conflicts had become accentuated due to the depth and breadth of the economic, financial and social crisis of capitalism. In some cases of fascistic totalitarian development, (in Germany for example) substantial capitalist production was directed away from simply exchanging commodities, and was redirected by the political elite into war production. Thus society was increasingly put on a military or militarised footing and its human and material resources were then later used to violently expand the territorial and resource boundaries of the nation so governed. Instead of predominantly exchanging commodities, the capitalist system was adjusted to predominantly exchange death.
There are many examples of fascist type ideology, some clearly expressed by one of its primary 20th century architects, Adolf Hitler, in his book Mein Kampf. What follows is a particularly informative one, which demonstrates the ideological concept of supposed eternal truths and reclaims an aggressive aspect of ancient elite ideology.
“Man must realise that a fundamental law of necessity reigns throughout the whole realm of Nature and that his existence is subject to the law of eternal struggle and strife. He will then feel that there cannot be a separate law for mankind in a world in which planets and suns follow their orbits, where moons and planets trace their destined paths, where the strong are always the masters of the weak and where those subject to such laws must obey them or be destroyed.” (Hitler Mein Kampf. Chapter 10.)
Hitler’s understanding of the world during that period is revealed and reflected in this part of his polemical rant. We see here that a crude, simplified and ill-informed view of Darwin’s studies as establishing a law of eternal struggle and strife (survival of the fittest) is invoked. This assertion ignored the then known numerous examples of co-operation, beneficial association and symbiosis in the natural world. Hitler demonstrates an arrogant assumption of most elites of that period and later; that the stage of knowledge reached during their lifetime is the pinnacle and end-point of all knowledge. For example, the planetary orbits, popularly thought to be eternal at the time, were invoked to back up his social arguments. We know now, that these astronomical bodies and their motions are not perfect, eternal nor are they unchanging – as with everything else in the universe. Then in the final sentence, we read the resurrection of an ancient elite ideological construct; the weak must obey the strong or – be destroyed.
In such cases Fascism (or nationalism on steroids) became the direct expression of the urgent needs of the capitalist classes to obtain and guarantee, a compliant workforce and territorial expansion. However, in these cases, national leadership did not arise within and rest upon their own bourgeois ranks. As a consequence Fascism had the advantage of being an ideology and practice devoid of any debilitating internal competition and liberal capitalist sentiments – factors which previously inhibited or thwarted its class representatives from dictatorial rule.
Fascist ideology when its advocates finally gained power was then used to justify large-scale violence and killing in the name of order, national unity or some form of alleged superiority – ethnic or racial – as it did in 20th century Germany, Italy and Spain. Fascist logic then followed a trajectory of civil war, conquest and finally global war. This was a case of ideology and violence conspiring to murder by the tens of millions. The involvement of practically the whole of national populations in perpetrating, assisting in, or turning a blind eye to, the most brutal savagery imaginable, is testament to the power of turbo-nationalist ideology (fascism) once it has sufficiently infected a whole people.
Like Fascism, Bolshevism managed to attract a large number of followers and supporters, by initially claiming to be interested in practically easing the burdens of those oppressed by the capitalist mode of production. It also falsely claimed to be an updating of the revolutionary-humanist perspective of Karl Marx and many other working class anti-capitalists. Although some of its members and practically all its leaders used some of the ideas of Marx, they did so in a distorted form. At the same time they completely ignored the form and purposes – self-activity and community control of the economic and social processes – of the proposed post-capitalist reconstruction.
There is no question that Bolshevism became a dominant form of ideology among some of the anti-capitalist left during the early period (1917 – 1920) of the Russian revolution in the 20th century. It was the perfected ideology of a patronising political elite who came to control state power on the waves of revolutionary activity in Russia. It was activity propelled by a profound economic, social, military and political crisis of the entire country. Bolshevism at that time was also almost identical with the ideas of its main spokesperson Lenin. Although it underwent significant oligarchic changes under Stalin in the 1930’s, it remained the primary ideological prop of the ruling Soviet elite, until well after his death. In addition to this longevity, well into the 20th century, Leninism and Bolshevism, were accepted by many anti-capitalists, who had broken with Stalin and re-branded themselves as Leninists or Trotskyists.
Bolshevism and its subsequent re-branding as Maxism/Leninism or Trotskyism was (and is) an ideology rationalizing the political rule of a left-wing, supposedly anti-capitalist elite over the rest of society. It was imagined that this form of rule was necessary in order to go beyond capitalism and reshape the mode of production in the interests of the working classes. It was this combination of intention (to go beyond capitalism – ie the aim) with the rigid view of the necessary agency to achieve this (ie the party – the means) that transformed an rudimentary humanistic aspiration into a totalitarian ideology and dogma. This was no accident, as Lenin made clear;
“The dictatorship of the proletariat does not fear any resort to compulsion and to the most severe, decisive and ruthless forms of coercion by the state. The advanced class, the class most oppressed by capitalism, is entitled to use compulsion, because it is doing so in the interests of the working and exploited people.” (Lenin. Complete Works. Volume 31. Page 497)
There are many such examples of Lenin’s insistence upon harsh measures (including physical violence) against those who opposed the direction he and the Bolsheviks had chosen. The one above is interesting because it closely links a higher-power justification for the violence it is using – or intends to use. It can hardly be surprising then that Lenin’s many followers (and loyal Party members) perpetrated varying levels of violence against others and rationalised it in the same way. So important became these two aspects (the aim and the agency) to the ideology of Bolshevism that both were jointly elevated to a ‘higher cause’ in pursuit of which it was justifiable to torture, maim and kill external and internal critics or opponents of this cause.
This brand of imaginary anti-capitalism considered that the end justified the means – any means! In the end the means chosen (as was actually predicted) distorted and defeated the aim. Essentially the same elitist Bolshevik ideology was adopted by Leon Trotsky and by his followers the Trotskyists. Whilst the many later Trotskyist groups, who adopted this Bolshevik ideology, may not have got round to torture and killing in the name of the ‘true’ vanguard, at least one (to my personal knowledge) resorted to beating and physically abusing opponents both internal and external. So Trotsky, depending on the circumstances, may well have approved of such activities, for in pursuit of his version of post-capitalism when in a position of considerable power in the Soviet Union, he argued;
“The labour state considers itself empowered to send every worker to the place where his work is necessary. And not one serious socialist will begin to deny to the labour state the right to lay its hand upon the worker who refuses to execute his labour duty.” (Trotsky. ‘Terrorism and Communism’. Page 153.)
Those masses of people, infected by the ideological virus of Bolshevism, and its intellectual off-spring Stalinism, became so removed from their basic humanity, so sick and depraved that they simply carried out orders to perpetrate violence against critics, or even anticipated such orders. They became enthusiastic freelance perpetrators of all kinds of violence on the basis of the ideology they had by this time absorbed. The modern followers of this ideological tradition may not display all the symptoms of this elitist ideology, but then they have not yet the numbers or opportunities which increasing power and influence might bring. For the moment, their violence is restricted to their polemical distortions and sectarian political activities.
It is not too difficult to conclude from even this brief look at violence at the collective level, that it’s fulfilment necessitates an ideological dimension in order to convince large numbers of people to suppress or suspend their basic humanity and become perpetrators, enablers or applauding bystanders on mass. This is sufficiently true whether the ideology is religious, secular, political, national, tribal or territorial in form. Ideologies not only negate and eliminate the basic universality of the human species, but also invert sound reasoning. They require a fully integrated system of confirmation bias and borrowed thinking to perpetuate them.
Perhaps the habit of forming fixed ideologies stems from the monotheistic past where practically everything important that existed was perceived as being permanent and falling into two opposed categories. However it may have originated, the habit of operating with fixed categories and with dualistic frameworks wrapped up in an ideological package, has been persistent, despite the advances in science and technology. Whilst science and technological understanding, along with personal relationships, advance by contradictions, questioning, scepticism, approximations, failures, serendipity and limited successes – ideology would have us believe otherwise.
Ideologies are also perhaps popular because they save us the trouble of thinking too deeply for ourselves. We just hear or read some bits which seem plausible and then just adopt this ‘borrowed’ package of thinking in the belief those who produce and perfect it know better than us. And ‘belief’ is also a necessary ingredient in the concoction and acceptance of ideologies. Scepticism, criticism, including self-criticism are not only mostly absent within ideologies, but if they are articulated at all, the critics must be marginalised or silenced. This silencing is achieved by all means possible and it can be seen in the content of the seven ideologies considered in Part 1 and Part 2, that the means, include polemical distortion, exclusion, torture, incarceration and assassination.
Of the seven ideologies considered, there is one that currently has the most advantages in promoting violence. This ideology is Islam. The main advantage over the other ideologies is that for devout believers there is no real fear of dying. This ideology promotes the collective belief that those who die in perpetrating violence in the name of Islam, will be transported to a heaven, with everlasting life and be treated as hero’s. This totally unsubstantiated belief is doubly reinforced by the fact that it is a core belief of mainstream Muslims and so it is the ideology of Islam – as a whole – which assists in confirming this belief. A second advantage is that this ideology retains the ambition – even among many moderates – to legitimately rule the communities of the world in a theocratic form of governance.
There is one set of ideas about economic and social life not considered here and these are associated with Anarchism. There are three reasons for this. First of all Anarchism has not as yet had the same global impact of the other seven ideologies considered. Although from time to time, terminal violence has been perpetrated in its name, there is, as far as I am aware, no explicit suggestion or justification for violence against those who are opposed to its ideas. The second reason is that given my definition of ideology in Part 1, Anarchism is not a body of ideas directly reflecting the interests of an elite and justifying the rule of an elite. The third reason is that I currently lack sufficient historical material to fully consider it here.
Some final remarks! First: The vast extent of the natural world provides many examples of individual inter-species and intra-species aggression and even violence within the insect, bird, fish and animal kingdoms. The individuals of one species, among the carnivores, may prey upon other species for food, either collectively or in packs. However, there is only one species that now systematically engages in various forms of collective genocide against members of its own species, eliminating them by the million. That same species – by its most recent technological evolution – is also the only species to systematically destroy the ecology and environment upon which its survival depends. That species is humanity. Uniquely, it is also the only species to have created complex ideas, among which are ideas (ideologies) that encourage them to self-harm on a truly massive scale. Humanity: A species smart enough to get to the moon and back, but – so far – not smart enough to save itself and the planet.
Second: It is well not to imagine that ideologies disappear if they have been sufficiently discredited. If there is still a need for such an ideology among the elite, or those who aspire to elite status, then it will continue in some form or another. In some cases a change of name and the temporary suppression of some more objectionable aspects, can be arranged by those who require its reconstitution. Already ancient Judaic justified violence has become incorporated within 21st century Zionism: Early Christianity has been morphed into Christian Zionism, with renewed violent tendencies. Islamic fundamentalists have again picked up weapons and become the crucifying and be-heading ISIL; Nationalism, morphed into 20th century Fascism. Within a few decades, Bolshevism mutated into both Stalinism, with its assassinations and Gulags and into Trotskyism with its rampant sectarianism. And in the 21st century Fascism has been re-branded as the ‘Third Position’ and other various radical alternatives to liberal democracy.
Beware of those who peddle ideologies – all ideologies.
Roy Ratcliffe (April 2015)