Ideology and Power Politics

Ideology and Power Politics

How far are the political decisions of the Soviet leaders influenced by their belief in an official ideology—and how far are they empirical responses to objective conflcts of interest, to real situations of power, which are only expressed in ideological terms for purposes or justification?

Any clear formulation of the question will show that the two extreme answers which seem prima facie conceivable—that the ideology provides a ready-made “book of rules” to be looked up in any situation, or that response to reality takes place without any reference to ideology—are both meaningless nonsense. A ready-made book of rules for any and every situation, an unvarying road-map to the goal of Communism which the Soviet leaders must predictably follow cannot possibly exist, both because the situations to be met by them are not sufficiently predictable, and because no government that behaved in so calculable a manner could conceivably retain power. But empirical “Realpolitik” without ideological preconceptions can exist as little as “empirical science” without categories and hypotheses based on theoretical speculation. Confronted with the same constellation of interests and pressures, the liberal statesman will in many cases choose a different course of action from the conservative—and the totalitarian Communist’s choice will often be different from that of either.

Assuming, then, that the Soviet leaders’ ideology is relevant to their conduct, the real problem remains to discover which are the actual operative elements in it, and in what way they affect policy decisions. Clearly it would be folly to expect that we could predict Soviet policy merely from an exegetic study of the Marxist-Leninist canon. Not only is it impossible for any group of practical politicians to base their decisions on an unvarying book of rules; there is any amount of historical evidence that the rules have been altered again and again ex post to suit the practical decisions. Moreover, there are vast parts of this ideological structure, such as the scholastic refinements of “dialectical materialism” or the labor theory of value, which in their nature are so remote from the practical matters to be decided that their intepretation cannot possibly affect policy decisions. They may be used in inner-party arguments to justify what has been decided on other grounds. But that is all.