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New Left Review I/4, July-August 1960


Peter Marris

Apathy: A Case to Answer

i read “Revolution” three or four times, trying to make out the serious ‘immediate policy’ advertised on the back cover of the New Left Review. But what remains in my mind is less a policy than a political allegory, a Pilgrim’s Progress through the 1960’s. The hero is the Aldermaston Generation: he is discovered, on the first page, smashing ikons—the craven images of Cold War, Affluent Capitalism, Defeatism and Piece-Meal Reform. Here he undergoes his first moral test. He discerns, across a gulf, two idolaters bowed in worship. They turn out to be Mr. Gaitskell and Mr. Crosland. Mr. Gaitskell is too ashamed to speak, but Mr. Crosland attempts to divert Aldermaston with a game of Happy Families, and a recitation of the Sermon on the Mount, Aldermaston scornfully stops his ears with a reading from William Morris, and goes on his way. As he searches for the Breakthrough, he meditates on the Webbs, Harold Laski, G. D. H. Cole, and the Transition to a Socialist Society. (He omits, a little shamefacedly, the constructive additions of Guild Socialists and Syndicalists, Leninism, Stalinism, and post-Keynesian evolutionary theory. But, after all, he is in a hurry to get somewhere.) His attention is soon diverted by Trotskyite Fundamentalists, who try to seduce him with a Cataclysmic Model. But Aldermaston spurns her, leaving her patrons to meditate on the interpenetration of opposites. At this point, his route becomes less clear: he narrowly escapes shuffling along the Evolutionary Path, where entries in a ledger disguise the insidious survival of the News of the Worldand the Eton—Harrow match. But fortunately, though he cannot see his way through the foothills, the Commanding Heights are constantly before his eyes, especially the Historical Watershed—that pass through which he will descend into the Society of Equals. We do not know which giants he must overcome to reach that promised land, and which will die of discouragement when their companions fall. But he is ready for them all—NATO’s, the Monopolists, Sandhurst and the National Debt. Meanwhile he arms himself with research, discussion, journals, books. And when at last he enters into the Society of Equals, a choir of Levellers, Peterloo martyrs, Chartists and dockers will make the heavens resound with cries of “Saved!”

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