Philosophy and Ideology. Z. A. Jordan 1963


It has already been emphasised that the Marxist-Leninist doctrine of ideology is based on The German Ideology rather than on Marx’s views expounded in his later work. This fact is of considerable importance. The German Ideology is a youthful study of Marx and Engels and polemical in character. It was written, as its authors later explained, to settle accounts with their former philosophic conscience. If this was their intention, the method adopted ill suited this undertaking[1063].

The polemical purpose of the work and its narrow reference, limited to postHegelian philosophic trends in Germany, tended to enhance the iconoclastic rather than the cognitive function of the concept of ideology. While in his later historical and economic analyses Marx examined the relationship between knowledge and the social context in a general manner and came closer to the point of view of the sociology of knowledge, in The German Ideology he applied the special conception of ideology (in Mannheim’s terminology). The primary concern of the special conception of ideology is to discredit the views of an adversary: to expose the ‘worthlessness’ of his point of view by providing an explanation of its genesis. The concept of ideology was adjusted to this purpose; it was applied as an ‘intellectual weapon’ and not as a conceptual construct. The special conception constitutes a part of eristics and not of theoretical knowledge.

In The German Ideology Marx was anxious to expose the causes which distorted thought in the human studies produced by post-Hegelian German thinkers. Their mystifying illusions about man and society resulted from their unsound and false philosophical point of departure, but this point of departure itself was a product of self-deception. They occupied themselves ‘with thoughts as with independent entities, developing independently and subject only to their own laws’. To ignore the material determinants of thought, to consider it as evolving from other thoughts, to examine what is only mediated by thought as an independent history of political, juridical, philosophical, and theological ideas, is to indulge in an illusion or ideology, created by a ‘process accomplished by the so-called thinker consciously. . . . . but with a false consciousness’ [1064]. The principle of the primacy of thought or spirit, accepted by the Hegelians, was socially determined and grew out of the thinker’s social context, which robbed him of the possibility of attaining the truth. The errors and ideological fictions, to which the Hegelians fell victims, can be laid bare by philosophical analysis, and their true meaning can be unmasked by exposing their social purpose. Ideology is a conscious or unconscious refusal to see reality as it is in order to justify the interests of the thinker’s social class. It provides, therefore, a key to the understanding of its bearer’s historical and social situation, but it is not a social theory, capable of attaining truth. This does not imply, however, that in human studies objective knowledge is impossible or that their social determination is always bound to produce conceptions as distorted as reflections in a concave mirror. Not every social theory is an ideology, i.e. a system of illusions, and thinking determined by the thinker’s social position is not necessarily a source of error. This idea underlies The German Ideology. When the ‘real basis of history’ has been discovered, ‘empty talk about consciousness ceases and real knowledge has to take its place.’ [1065]. Valid and objectively true historical knowledge, which analyses the material determinants of human action and derives forms of consciousness from these determinants, is set against the ‘phantoms of the brain’ of the ideologist.

The least ambiguous formulation of this point of view is perhaps to be found in The Poverty of Philosophy, another early polemical work of Marx, in many ways superior to The German Ideology. In The Poverty of Philosophy also the assumptions of the materialist interpretation of history are expounded unsystematically and for the purpose of polemics, sometimes angry and disdainful, but they are stated in a clear and incisive manner. The theory, Marx wrote, which disregards the law manifested in the course of civilisation, must arrive at an idealised reality. The law of civilisation is, ‘no antagonism, no progress’. In the dialectic movement of history the positive and the negative, the good and the bad sides should not be split asunder and neither of them should be abolished, for they both contribute to real history. ‘The very moment civilisation begins, production begins to be founded on the antagonism of orders, estates, classes and, finally, on the antagonism of accumulated labour and actual labour. . . . . Till now the productive forces have been developed by virtue of this system of class antagonism’. The more the antagonistic character of each epoch comes to light, the more the theorists disagree among themselves and different schools of thought arise. Thus, the ‘scientific representatives of the bourgeois class’ became divided. Thero was the humanitarian and philanthropic school, to which Proudhon belonged, and which denied the necessity of antagonism. There were the fatalist economists, like Adam Smith and Ricardo, who were only interested in the production of wealth and the superiority of their own times over feudal society. Indifferent to poverty, they regarded it as ‘merely the pang which accompanies every childbirth, in Nature as in industry. On the other hand, there were the ‘Socialists and the Communists . . . . . the theorists of the proletarian class’. They had to remain utopians as long as the productive forces of bourgeois society were not developed enough to reveal the material conditions necessary for the formation of a new society and for the emancipation of the proletariat. ‘But in the measure that history moves forward and with it the struggle of the proletariat assumes clearer outlines, they no longer need to seek science in their minds; they have only to take note of what is happening before their eyes and to become the mouthpiece of this . . . . From this moment, science, produced by historical movement and associating itself with it in full recognition of its cause, has ceased to be doctrinaire and has become revolutionary’ [1066].

The line of division, which Marx seems to emphasise, runs between the utopias of the early Socialists and Communists and the ideologies of bourgeois humanitarians on the one hand, and the fatalist economists and the scientific representatives of the proletarian class on the other. While the former make an abstraction of the contradictions in actual reality and have a philosophic formula at their elbow as a remedy for every evil, the latter tackle hard facts and examine economic relations without embellishing them with phraseology, though from mutually exclusive viewpoints, corresponding to the antagonistic character of historical development.

The distinction drawn by Marx is of a logical nature. The contrast between utopian thinking and the apprehension of the ‘real world’ is finally reducible to the separation of factual statements and value judgments. While Marx emphasised the errors and illusions bound to arise from their confusion, he implied that there was a way of reuniting them by discovering the ‘laws of the movement of history’. It should be observed that this Marxian belief in ‘scientific politics’ combined the Hegelian idea of history being reducible to a system of laws with the conviction of French positivism. It was Comte’s belief that problems of conduct can be solved scientifically, once a science of morals is based on sociology and politics is transformed into an applied science of morals. This was the meaning of Comte’s dictum that ‘there is no liberty of judgment in astronomy or physics, and that there will be none in politics once sociology has been perfected’ [1067].

The Marxist-Leninist doctrine of ideology has codified the views of Marx expounded in or underlying The German Ideology. It accepts the thesis that all thinking about socio-cultural matters is socially or existentially determined. In the sociology of knowledge this is the premiss from which the conclusion is reached that all socio-cultural thinking has a relational structure; its assertions cannot be formulated absolutely, but only relatively, in terms of the ‘perspective’ of a given situation[1068]. Marxist-Leninists deny this conclusion. Although the determination of thought by the social conditions of the thinker implies that the social sciences should be included in the sphere of superstructure rising over the material substructure, that is, in the sphere of ideology in the neutral sense of this term, the premiss fails to provide the criteria of validity and condemns the social sciences to a vicious relativism. There are qualitative differences in social and historical settings from which social reality is viewed. The qualitative differences in various perspectives and their corresponding outlooks result from the ‘laws of motion’, to which changes of the material determinants conform. While the perspective of a decaying class is bound to lead to diverse systems of illusions, conscious or unconscious falsifications, or ideology in the pejorative sense of this term, the perspective of rising classes leads to a scientific ideology, a faithful and objectively valid reflection of social reality. This is the essential point of the dual theory of ideology already mentioned, epitomised in the often repeated dictum that only Marxist-Leninist ideology, the ideology of the revolutionary class, is scientific.

The dual theory of ideology has some obvious logical flaws, which, for the moment, it is enough to mention in passing. To suppose that the conditions of the origin of an idea are decisive for even relevant to its logical validity and material truth is to commit the genetic fallacy. The dual theory of ideology cannot be upheld unless the genetic fallacy is ignored[1069]. Furthermore, the theory is scientifically meaningless. A Marxist-Leninist insists that only he knows the truth and that only he has access to the criteria by means of which his claim can be evaluated. This means that he excludes and invalidates any criticism in advance and thus makes his statement unchallengeable by definition. There is no public evidence to support his view, and he does not need any. For the same reason his statement is scientifically meaningless. For in science all evidence is public. A statement untestable by public evidence forms no part of science. It can be said that in a certain sense the dual theory of ideology is anti-Marxian. For one of the constitutive ideas of Marxian thought was the identification of valid knowledge with scientific knowledge.

The dual theory of ideology was established by Lenin and made by Stalin into one of the official dogmas of Marxism-Leninism. Transplanted to Poland, it ruled supreme for a few years there, but at present it is no longer considered as a satisfactory solution of the problems raised by the social determination of socio-cultural thinking. The revision of the dogma has been initiated by the publication of Stalin Marxism and Problems of Linguistics. To explain Stalin’s unintended contribution to this particular revisionist trend in Marxist-Leninist, some peculiar features of the reception accorded to Marxism and Problems of Linguistics in Poland must be considered.

The peculiarity of the reception does not concern its manner, which was as adulatory as everywhere else. In accordance with the familiar ritual of the Stalinist period, representatives of practically every branch of knowledge, Marxist-Leninists? of old standing and new converts, went on record to testify to the fact that Marxism and Problems of Linguistics was an epoch-making event in the field of their respective interests and of the theory and methodology of science in general [1070]. By a strange coincidence, only the representatives of linguistics were conspicuous by their absence and the most eminent among them declared bluntly that Stalin’s pronouncement was an internal Soviet affair without relevance to the study of language[1071]. So far as Poland was concerned, this opinion turned out to be correct. Before Stalin’s pronouncement the philologists managed to put up a successful resistance to the imposition of Marr’s theories; the condemnation of ‘Marrism’ made no difference to their work. The repercussions caused by the publication of Marxism and Problems of Linguistics were wide, but they affected, above all, the position in those branches of scholarship where ideological issues loomed large, and linguistics were proclaimed by Stalin to be a nonideological subject of study.

The general relevance and far-reaching implications of Stalin’s intervention in the controversies of Soviet linguistics sprang from his remarks concerned with the economic basis, the superstructure, and their mutual relationship. According to Polish Marxist-Leninists, Stalin revised the whole theoretical framework for the analysis of the role of ideology on the basis of historical materialism. While all of them were in agreement as to what these modifications were, there was considerable difference of opinion with respect to what they implied.

Also prior to the publication of Marxism and Problems of Linguistics it was assumed that the basis of socio-economic formations does not comprise all the diverse factors included in the complex of the material conditions of social life. The concept of material conditions has a wider scope. Material factors which remain relatively stable (e.g., geographical environment) or which exercise an indeterminate influence on the course of social development (e.g., the rate of population growth) form no part of the basis. The basis includes only highly variable material conditions which owing to their variability can determine in a unique fashion the character of each formation. These material factors were found in the mode of production, embracing the productive forces on the one hand and the relations of production on the other[1072].

Polish Marxist-Leninists claimed that in Marxism and Problems of Linguistics Stalin excluded the productive forces from the basis. For the instruments of production cannot be regarded as the product of some one epoch. They are perfected by a gradual and continual accumulation of knowledge and the effort of all, they manifest a ‘kind of indifference towards classes’, and can serve different formations equally well. The growth of productive forces represents, therefore, the continuity in the social development. Like language, with which the instruments of production share a certain similarity, they should not be included either in the category of bases or in the category of superstructures. On the other hand, the basis is characteristic for one formation only; it comes into being by the destruction of its predecessor, it changes and is eliminated to make room for its successor. Only the relations of production satisfy this condition. Consequently, and in agreement with what Marx said in the preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, they are the ‘real basis’ that determines the economic structure of society at a given stage of its development. To identify the basis with the mode of production, wrote Schaff, is to open the door to vulgar Marxist conceptions and to economic materialism. The redefinition of the concept of the basis brings more clarity into the theoretical framework of historical materialism, since it allows us to differentiate the factors responsible for continuity from those accounting for revolutionary change. It also disposes of the crude notion according to which the superstructure was supposed to be a direct reflection of the processes of production[1073].

The redefinition of the concepts of social consciousness and of superstructure is more extensive, less controversial, and much more important. What Stalin said on this matter, and, above all, the interpretation put on his pronouncements, gradually destroyed the whole Stalinist orthodoxy. At least, this was what happened to Marxism-Leninism in Poland in the course of the few years following the publication of Marxism and Problems of Linguistics.

The concept of social consciousness is an abstract notion. Marx used it synonymously with that of superstructure to denote the totality of various definite forms of social consciousness also called ‘ideological forms’ and ‘superstructures’ or, in general, any social phenomenon which ‘rises over’ or ‘corresponds to’ the economic basis. The concept of social consciousness was the widest possible notion that embraced the ‘social, political, and spiritual processes of life’ [1074]. When the concept of economic basis was narrowed down and identified with the mode of production, the fundamental premiss of historical materialism stated that the mode of production determines social consciousness in the sense indicated above.

Towards the end of his life Engels – and after Engels, Plekhanov and Bukharin -was fully aware that in this formulation the fundamental premiss of historical materialism was obviously false. Engels insisted that the determination of the social consciousness by the economic substructure should not be understood too strictly; that it applied ‘in the last analysis’ and was only ‘ultimately decisive’; that any particular phenomenon of the superstructure (in the Marxian sense) is endowed ‘with a movement of its own’ and ‘with relative independence’; and that various ideological conceptions react upon the economic basis and ‘may, within certain limits, modify it’. To deny this is to misinterpret the original meaning of historical materialism and to transform it ‘into a meaningless, abstract, senseless phrase’ [1075].

Plekhanov and Bukharin fully accepted Engels’ explanations or corrections and went beyond them. They both tried to analyse more closely the concept of material conditions of life[1076] and that of superstructure or social consciousness. In particular, Plekhanov and Bukharin recognised that the social consciousness or superstructure in the Marxian sense is a complex entity in which diverse factors and structures can be distinguished: social and political institutions, science, the psychology of society and various ideological superstructures, differing in their degree of systematisation and abstractedness and separated from the basis by a considerable number of intermediate links. Social psychology embraces habits, manners, feelings, views, aspirations and ideals in their non-systematised and incoherent form in which they are experienced in everyday life. On the other hand, ideologies are systems of thought and rules of conduct and include the ‘content’ of various human studies. Plekhanov emphasised that the psychology of society is always subjected to the influence of other societies. Every society lives, therefore, in ‘its own particular social historical environment’ which influences its development and which ‘may be, and very often is, in reality very similar to the historical environment surrounding other nations and peoples, but can never be, and never is, identical with it’. This introduces a powerful element of diversity into the whole process of social development. “As the economic movement of every society has a peculiar form in consequence of the peculiarity of the conditions in which it takes place,” wrote Plekhanov, “there can be no ‘formula of progress’ covering the past and foretelling the future of the economic movement of all societies” [1077].

It cannot be doubted that in Marxism and Problems of Linguistics Stalin adopted some ideas of Plekhanov and Bukharin. For various and sometimes incompatible reasons, however, Polish Marxist-Leninists read into Stalin’s pronouncements more than they actually contained. In this undertaking Plekhanov was not their only guide[1078].

For Plekhanov’s ideas were known to them from the writings of Krzywicki, a Marxian scholar, who formulated them before Plekhanov published his Development of the Monist View of History. Krzywicki was perhaps a better guide than Plekhanov for he openly advocated a multifactorial approach to the analysis of social phenomena. Expressed in modern terminology, Krzywicki’s basic assumption was that the economy is a differentiated and functional subsystem of the more inclusive society, itself a plurality of differentiated and interdependent sub-systems, subject to some definite relations of interdependence with other social sub-systems and the physical environment[1079]. Consequently, social evolution cannot be simply reduced to economic change or growth, for economic growth itself, in the quantitative sense of this term, is never purely economic. The materialist character of this assumption is secured by the hypothesis that the economy, as a social sub-system, is in a regulatory, limit-setting relation to the growth and institutional change of other sub-systems within the total society. The modernised version of Krzywicki’s interpretation of historical materialism brings out his cognitive interest in the materialist hypothesis, to which the politically minded Polish Marxist-Leninists have taken strong exception[1080]. But Krzywicki’s scholarly method of inquiry clearly impressed some Marxist-Leninists who were less prominent in the public eye and less vocal but more scientifically minded.

The main revision made by Stalin concerns the sharp distinction between the concepts of social consciousness and of superstructure. The former has a wider scope than the latter and embraces elements which cannot be regarded as superstructural in character. One of them is language. Stalin did not specify any other forms of the social consciousness to be excluded from the superstructure, but in the course of following discussions more and more of them were added, formal logic being the first to join language in its new capacity of a non-ideological form of social consciousness. The essential characteristic of this category of social phenomena is their ‘indifference to classes’. They grow and develop throughout history, are a common heritage of a ‘whole number of epochs’, and serve every type of society as a whole, irrespective of whether this society is class-divided or classless, feudal, bourgeois or socialist.

The question whether a definite form of social consciousness belongs to the superstructure cannot be answered once and for all. Every basis has its own corresponding superstructure, which arises, changes and is eliminated together with the basis. The superstructure is a product of the basis not only in the sense that it uniquely corresponds to and reflects the basis, but also that it serves and assists the basis to ‘take shape and consolidate itself’. This means that the superstructure provides society with systems of ideas and with institutions, as well as helps the basis to ‘actively fight for the elimination of the old moribund basis together with its old superstructure’. Two conclusions followed from these characteristics of the superstructure, in the new and narrower sense of this term, and its relationship to the basis. The superstructure is an ‘exceedingly active force’ which may favour or retard the growth of the basis. Moreover, if a form of social consciousness renounces the auxiliary role and passes ‘from a position of active defence of its basis to one of indifference towards it, to adopt an equal attitude to all classes . . . . . (it) ceases to be a superstructure’ [1081].

In view of the fact that the superstructure serves society only in so far as it assists the basis, the sphere of action of the superstructure is narrow and limited. On the other hand, non-ideological forms of social consciousness, such as language, enter into all kinds of man’s activity. The distinction between the superstructure in the narrower sense and other forms of social consciousness results from the difference in their respective social functions. The former provides regulative and restrictive principles, the latter in some way or other assist material production[1082].

These changes in the theoretical framework were accepted by all Polish Marxist-Leninists? and acclaimed as a major contribution to the theory of Marxist-Leninist made by ‘that genius of clear thinking’ [1083]. There arose, however, a serious disagreement as to which further and more detailed conclusions should be drawn from the accomplished revision. The difference of opinion concerned two points: where should the limit be set to the active role played by the superstructure in the ‘consolidation’ of its basis, and where the line of division should be drawn between ideologically-neutral and ideologically-active forms of social consciousness. The first point was largely a political matter, but the second was not. Stalin’s definition of the superstructure in the narrower sense, according to which the superstructure is the common name for political, legal and other institutions as well as for political, legal, religious, artistic, philosophical views of society, corresponding to its economic structure, was of little help in deciding the question where the division line should be drawn. The prolonged discussion about this point was perhaps the most important single factor which entirely changed the intellectual scene in Poland and freed the country from the mental strait jacket. If it is remembered that it was Stalin himself who set this process in motion, we are reminded of the dictum of a great English historian about the place in the development of human destinies which should be accorded to the play of the contingent and the unforeseen.