Nigel Collingwood


Written 1989, for private circulation.

These thoughts are offered mainly to the members of Connect and of the BAC Sub-Committee on Counselling & Peace. Both groups began life in a considerably different political atmosphere, and it may be useful to share ideas on what has happened in the world since we started, as we look at what our future direction might be. I put this forward tentatively, but in a style that may seem curt and dogmatic. I make no attempt to hide and little attempt to justify the stance I take politically and psychologically.

I find it helpful to use a four level, or four dimensional, model of social and individual reality. As I have explained this elsewhere (in Politics as Pathology and Politics as Therapy) I will just say here that it helps me to keep in focus these four levels, so as not to forget any of them, Those familiar with “body-mind” therapies will probably recognise what I mean.

At the level of economic foundations (i.e. physical boundaries and resources and the production based upon them) the dismantling of the concrete Berlin wall is less significant than the dissolution of the notional Iron Curtain. However, the latter does not mark the conversion of eastern socialists to western capitalism, but the abandonment of more or less pure state capitalism in favour of a mixture of state capitalism and market capitalism. State capitalism is where the state owns and runs production in the interest of a ruling class; in the USSR this ruling class has been the bureaucracy, known as the nomenklatura. This change has taken place because the east can no longer compete with what is now an increasingly international capitalism while staying within national boundaries. The Warsaw pact countries have for years been compelled to trade with, and import capital from, the west. The USSR is involved in the same process, so that it has nothing to gain by continuing to retain its client states by force or the threat of force.

Both the USSR and the USA need to reduce expenditure on arms, if only because of competition from the relatively unarmed powers, Germany and Japan. Yet Star Wars remains, and this means that the USSR will be bound to continue to overspend on weapons in order to counter the American system. The decline in US economic hegemony is likely to lead to their trusting rather in military power, as has already been happening in their recent support for the Contras with its payoff in theirinfluence on the Nicaraguan election, and in their raid on Panama.

Ecological issues are being taken into account by manufacturers, but it is questionable whether there will be enough profit in green policies for the degradation of the planet to be halted, let alone reversed. In the search for profit pressure on the environment could be replaced by pressure on people, e.g. by an increase of 24-hour working in factories. Meanwhile the exploitation of the Third World by the now virtually indistinguishable First and Second Worlds continues. In fact, if the dismantling of the Berlin wall symbolizes the diminution of the east-west split, the effect is only to sharpen the north-south split.

At the level of social relations, democracy in the eastern European countries is an important advance, as is the legalising of the ANC and the release of many of its leaders, but in both cases the movement is towards new methods (market forces) and new groups of participants (non-members of the nomenklatura, blacks) in the processes of a fundamentally unchanged competitive society. Just as the internal domination that is neurosis in in the individual can pass from one set of symptoms to another, so in the large group the dynamics of fight and domination can pass from one sub-group to another. Ways of experiencing domination can also change, as I fear the under-employed workers in USSR “dinosaur” factories will find as they taste western unemployment and perhaps even the underclass status currently suffered in the cardboard boxes of England and in the streets of Calcutta. Which is better, a job and no soap or soap and no job? Yet the assertion of power by oppressed groups, whether in the provinces of the USSR, in S Africa or among our own poll-tax objectors, is a sign of life, hope and courage.

The basic split at this level remains that between the employers and the sellers of labour. But it is overlaid by the pressures of national identity, which can be exploited either on a divide-and-rule basis or by projection of one nation’s “bad” parts on to another. The S African government adopts both methods vis-a-vis the black majority, while projection seems to be looming larger and larger between Iraq and Israel. We need to remember that Mrs Thatcher recovered from an earlier unpopularity as a result of the Falklands war. The projective dynamic of scapegoating cannot but thrive in a society whose maxim is “I win, therefore I am; you lose, therefore you are not”: the maxim of making profit rather than meeting need.

At the level of representation (Symbolization and communication) the gains in freedom of speech and writing in the east are very important, although well prepared for by the decades of the samizdat. There is now a space where an eastern anticapitalist movement can grow; the independent federation of socialist trade unions, Sotsprof, is already occupying some of it. In the UK the picture is not encouraging, with attempts being made to dictate school history as the Story of a Great Nation, and the media still being heavily influenced both by the government (in the case of the BBC) and by print-happy millionaires. Beyond the word lies the pre-verbal image, and just when Thatcher is losing her appeal as firm Parent, Gorbacev is given almost messianic status by those far enough away from the tanks and blockade he uses to assert his presidency. The split at this level is between reality and fantasy, the latter being ever more cunningly manipulated by the Saatchis.

At the level of fusion (of subject with object – which I see as the level of regression to earliest phases, pace Ken Wilber), fantasies are perhaps vaguer, but more potent. A New Age is expected, or at least some significant burgeoning to mark the start of the 21st century, although like the week, and unlike the day and month, it is a human-ade period and thus quite arbitrary. While some (I suspect, the more affluent) invest the future with images of Eden-like peace and harmony, there is still widespread fascination with war in films, videos and books. Both seem to me to derive a great deal of their power from being rooted in pre- and peri-natal life and in our defences against primal pain. There are signs of a religious revival, especially perhaps in eastern Europe, and this would resonate with early experiences and fantasies of an oceanic bliss without duality. At the same time early painful experiences and fantasies of constriction and cataclysm are re-enacted in Strangeways and Trafalgar Square. At this level the split is between the idealised good and the idealised bad – a split that is acted out on the foundational level in the division of labour (intellectual vs. manual), on the relational level in the split between classes, and on the representational level in the simplification of the world into fantasised goodies and baddies.

If we attempt to hold together these four levels, the task of human survival can be seen to depend both on fundamental political and economic changes to heal the objective divisions in society and the relationship between human beings and our environment and on reowning the projections that underly the subjective divisions. Admittedly, this is a foregone conclusion, once the inner-and-outer, psychopolitical, stance is accepted. Yet an important point which does depend on the processes noticed, not on the ways of noticing them, is this: the external divisions can be seen as actings-out of the internal ones, and the internal ones as constantly reinforced by our living in the context of the external ones. This is why projects like the Counselling & Peace Sub-Committee of BAC and Connect are both very difficult and extremely worthwhile.