By Ian Howarth
None of us are born a Conservative, or a Socialist. We acquire our political values from ‘learning and social experience’ Heywood (1997 p186). This process is political socialisation and whether we turn out to be a Socialist or a Conservative depends largely on our early social experiences. That is to say our family life, and experiences at school. These are the primary agents of early political socialisation as they are our main points of contact and interaction with the world and consequently with political concepts and values. The family is particularly seen as the ‘agent that accomplishes ‘primary’ socialisation, providing individuals, in late childhood and adolescence in particular, with a framework of political sympathies and leanings that adult experience may modify or deepen, but not radically transform.’ (Heywood (1997 p187) This process of socialisation forms the basis of our individual values and ideals, deeply rooted in our own unique and personal life experiences.
Political culture is the term used to describe the range of predominant values/ideologies which exist in society. Political culture is a consequence of political socialisation as the outcomes of political socialisation vary between each individual to the fact that we all experience different socialisation patterns. This produces a vast reservoir of values and ideologies within society and it is the combination of these different values and ideologies that forms a nations political cultures. It is from this broad political culture that the political system is drawn; the political system is the Government and associated elements e.g. NGO’s, International Organisations, UN, NATO. The political system in simple terms is the structure, which takes the values, and ideologies that have come to prominence within the political culture and turns them into social policy.
The political system operates within the confines of its political culture as the values and ideologies that the political system employ come from that political culture. Therefore change in the political system can only come after change has occurred in its supporting political culture. An example of this can be seen in the feminist movement of the early 1960’s. It began as a minority movement, which over time gathered wider support from the public. This increasing support with the political culture saw the ideals become more widely accepted and the strength of the movement became a more significant force within the political culture. Eventually feminist ideals found their way, through its acceptance within political culture, to lawmakers and pressure groups which adopted there values and promulgated them amongst the political class. This process of change finally saw the basic values of feminism i.e. the equality of women with men becoming widely accepted amongst the entire political system and embodied in legislation and accepted norms of behaviour. This example clearly demonstrates the dependent relationship of political culture and the political system on one another. Underlying a nation’s political culture is the processes of political socialisation and reinforcing political socialisation is the political system, as a primary socialisation agent is government. It is a self-supporting and reinforcing system which takes ideas from the bottom of society and delivers them to the top, which then passes them back down to the bottom were they become part of another generation’s political socialisation.
Marxist’s argue that the political system is used to restrain the socialisation process; Karl Marx argued that in capitalist societies the state and economics control the patterns of socialisation. This perspective argues that the capitalist economic system structures socialisation, and consequently brainwashes people into agreeing with it and happily being bankers, pilots, servants and so on. It maintains this system of brainwashing due to the self-interest it encourages, e.g. the worst thing that can happen to a bank clerk is for the bank to close. Therefore, the clerk is not going to do anything which jeopardizes the bank and consequently his job. Marx argued that this is a static system as there is no change, the economic system just reinforces itself generation to next through the continued implication of capitalist economic policy by successive governments, Marx argues that the means of replacing this static system is through revolution, which they [Marxists] argue must bring about a ‘fundamental social change’ (Heywood (1997 p198) that is to say replace one economic system (capitalist) with another (communist). Marxists see the 1917 winter revolution in Russia as a positive thing but reject the French Revolution of 1789 as it did not result in a fundamental economic change that would result in an altering of the socialisation processes of a capitalist society.
Traditionalists in contrast to Marxists see the system of socialisation as dynamic. It is viewed as organic due to the varying role each socialising agent plays in our respective lives and the nature of our own unique experiences within society. This leads too many different values existing within society some of which gain wider support and become ideologies while those that don’t become significant minority views. This creates a dynamic system which constantly introduces new values/ideologies which can influence and change the political system.
It seems that while viewing the scope of history that the socialisation processes of communist Russia were far less adept at adapting to and managing change within the political system than within capitalist countries. The example of the change within socialisation, culture and system around issues of female equality can be seen as a prime example of the dynamic system postulated by traditionalist in action. Similar process of change can be seen around issues of Gay Rights, and Race Equality. The arguments that capitalists systems only offer static, non-changing systems seem weak in the light of this. However, the rise and longevity of a communist political system in the Soviet Union and its satellites does in my opinion present evidence that it is possible for a political system to grow independently of its culture and then impose itself upon first the political culture and consequently the socialisation process. This can be further seen in Nazi Germany and Communist China.
In all but the latter case the underlying dormant vibrancy of the dynamic traditionalist system remained and eventually overthrew the imposed political system. However, in both cases it took considerable forces to bring this about and shows that the existence of a broad political culture cannot alone guarantee a corresponding political system. In short tyranny’s can emerge from dynamic systems, and in doing so bring about their suppression.
- Acta Politica: ‘Youth, Politics, and Socialisation’ (csabasescapades.wordpress.com)
- Why democracy still wins: A critique of Eric X. Li’s “A tale of two political systems” (ted.com)