The Role of Ideology

The Role of Ideology

A political party, wrote Edmund Burke at the dawn of the nation-state, “is a body of men united for promoting by their joint endeavours the national interest, upon some particular principle in which they are all agreed.”

This description no longer holds fully for any political party, but least of all for Stalinism. And not merely because the Communist parties have no genuine stake in the national interest, but more important, because they are not united upon “some particular principle.” The totalitarian party is “unprincipled” in the root sense of the term. All parties may violate their principles, yet the act of violation implies a certain recognition of norms. By contrast, the totalitarian party cannot, in any precise sense, be said to violate its principles: it can be described by its structure, its characteristics, its power goals, but not by any stable ideology or group of ideas. The movement exists far less for the ideology than the ideology for the movement.

Though the ideological spokesmen of Stalinism advanced claims in regard to its ultimate ends that might seem similar to those of classical socialist thought, such pronouncements were manipulative, hortatory and self-deceptive—generally a mixture of the three. For these statements of ultimate ends had no controlling or restraining influence on the actual behavior of the Stalinist movement; the claim it made to the heritage of socialism could not in itself lead to a softening of the cruelties in the Siberian labor camps, though a shrewd political expediency might. In the life of the totalitarian movement, the instrumental swallows up the ideological.