The Real World of Ideology, Joe McCarney 1980

Chapter 2
The Burden of Social Theory

AN obvious way to try to meet the needs of social theory is to conceive of ideology as a form of group consciousness. That is to see it as a form of consciousness whose distribution is distinctive of a social group and which arises in some genetically intelligible way from the common situation of its members. Ideologies may then be individuated in terms of the groups to which they belong. Conceptions of this sort are common enough in non-Marxist sociology. What distinguishes the ‘Marxist’ version is the assumption that, where ideology is concerned, the appropriate groups are the basic or primary ones in the social formation. Ideologies are to be identified as those forms of group consciousness whose ‘subjects’ or ‘bearers’ are social classes. At the heart of this approach is an assumption about the distinctiveness of the mode of genesis of ideology. The key to understanding is to see it as a particular kind of socially determined thought: the primary function of the concept is to collect forms of consciousness in terms of their origin. From the standpoint of Marx’s position all of this may be said to constitute a kind of genetic fallacy. Its influence has, nevertheless, been both wide and deep, and will often force itself upon our attention in the course of the discussion.

To begin with, it may be well to distinguish the thesis that ideology serves class interests from the thesis that it is determined by class interests. This latter claim may be taken in a number of ways. To see it as an instance of the genetic fallacy, it has to be allowed some theoretical significance. The idea would be that this particular kind of determination is to be incorporated within the definition of ideology. It is commonplace to find such a view attributed to Marx.[1] Yet it is neither stated nor implied in his writings, and, moreover, there is nothing esoteric about the views he actually held. They find expression again and again in remarks like those in The German Ideology on ‘the distorted form in which the sanctimonious and hypocritical ideology of the bourgeoisie voices their particular interests as universal interests’.[2] Later in the same work he speaks of ‘German liberalism’ as ‘empty enthusiasm, the ideological reflection of real liberalism’, and adds that its ‘liberal phrases’ are ‘the idealistic expression of the real interests of the bourgeoisie’.[3] The talk of ideological forms ‘voicing’ or ‘expressing’ class interests may be taken as a standard formula for Marx’s conception of the relationships involved here, and is, of course, entirely in line with the thesis developed in the previous chapter of this essay. The relationships are assumed to operate not in a genetic mode but in one that is expressive and functional in the way now familiar to us. The central idea is not that ideology is necessarily engendered by class interests, but that it necessarily serves as the medium in which their conflicts are articulated.

The thesis of determination by interests may be taken in another way, as a kind of empirical generalization. It would then amount to the claim that while ideological forms may be distinguished independently of their origins, still, where these are concerned, class interests must in fact be assigned the dominant role. In assessing this view it would be well to avoid a risk of confusion by moving it out of the shadow of some large-scale, substantive generalizations to which Marx is indeed committed. There is, after all, a widespread and well-founded impression that he attached considerable significance to the possibility of giving a genetic account of the varieties of social consciousness. This reflects a determination not to allow them to function as primary units of explanation, but rather to represent them as requiring in their turn to be understood by reference to more fundamental levels of the social structure. The classic source of such impressions is, once more, the ‘Preface’ to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. There one learns: ‘It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness.’[4] This is a difficult saying and its difficulties have been widely canvassed. However, what needs to be said now should not encroach on any of the disputed territory. It is, firstly, that however the determinant is precisely to be conceived, it is clearly a complex totality of some sort, the configuration of all the forces at work in a particular field. An exclusive concern with ‘interests’ could only be an undialectical isolation of individual factors here. Moreover, what is said to be ‘determined’ is men’s consciousness as such, a category that extends well beyond the scope of the ideological, however that is defined. Hence, although the formula does, no doubt, encompass ideology it tells one nothing distinctive about it. The position is similar in regard to another general thesis often extracted from the ‘Preface’. This is the idea that ideology is to be assigned to a superstructure erected on a ‘real foundation’, ‘the economic structure of society’. Clearly, the real foundation could not with any plausibility be reduced to a matter of class interests alone. Moreover, to do justice to Marx’s conception of ‘the whole immense superstructure’ it has to be seen as including many items, such as legal and political relations, which are not simply forms of consciousness at all. Nor will all of the forms of consciousness it involves fit naturally under the rubric of ideology. As was noted earlier, the chief clue which the ‘Preface’ provides to the character of the ideological forms is that in them men become conscious of the social conflict and fight it out, and large areas of the superstructure of consciousness must surely lie outside the scope of this conception. Thus, the ‘Preface’ does indeed encourage the view that ideology is susceptible to a genetic explanation of a particular kind, but this is a fate it shares with non-ideological forms of consciousness and with much else besides. Nothing is revealed there about the specific conditions of its production.

The discussion does, however, suggest that in trying to understand those conditions it might be well to look beyond the horizon of ‘interests’. Such a suggestion is easy to reinforce from elsewhere in Marx’s work. The tendency to inflate the notion into a universal genetic principle is one for which he had little sympathy. It is a tendency associated in The German Ideology with utilitarianism and specifically with Bentham, a philosopher ‘whose nose had to have some interest before it would decide to smell anything’.[5] About the philistinism of the implications for theory Marx is as scathing as Kant or Nietzsche. His explanation of the ‘apparent stupidity of merging all the manifold relationships of people in the one relation of usefulness’ is that it arises ‘from the fact that, in modern bourgeois society, all relations are subordinated in practice to the one abstract monetary-commercial relation’.[6] In its later stages at least, utilitarianism is seen as a crudely reductionist doctrine reflecting the grosser aspects of bourgeois society. Once the general doctrine is rejected, it becomes possible to think of the role of interests in a piecemeal way, distinguishing cases where it is significant from ones where it is not. It seems natural, for instance, to invoke such a contrast in characterizing the transition in bourgeois thought from ‘disinterested inquirers’ and ‘genuine scientific research’ to ‘hired prizefighters’ and ‘the bad conscience and the evil intent of apologetic’.[7] Moreover, in so far as this transition does illustrate the contrast, it serves to remind one of the danger of neglecting its other pole, of underestimating the influence that class interests may exert in practice. Ideology is, after all, to be defined in relation to such interests, and although the relation is not genetic, it may well be that of all forms of consciousness it is genetically the most susceptible to their influence. Indeed, on Marx’s account, this is in fact dominant in certain admittedly degenerate, phases of bourgeois thought. Hence it may be that some contemporary theorists have reacted too far against vulgar-Marxist or Stalinist views of the mechanical derivation of ideology from interests. The result is a failure to give adequate recognition to the actual role such interests may play. As a corollary of this, it may be noted that an understandable distaste for conspiracy theories has sometimes left too little room for the role of conscious calculation in the genesis of ideological forms. But clearly such forms may be created and sustained through the co-operative and co-ordinated efforts of those whom Marx calls the ‘active, conceptive ideologists’. Here, as elsewhere, a great merit of his approach is that it does not obscure the perception of simple truths.

These issues may be taken a little further in connection with the treatment of his predecessors in political economy. There is a fairly straightforward sense in which class interests may be said to have had a determining influence on the theories of Malthus. He is, as depicted by Marx, consciously led by the desire to promote such interests. Thus, he ‘only draws such conclusions . . as will be “agreeable” (useful) to the aristocracy against the bourgeoisie and to both against the proletariat’.[8] In doing so he ‘seeks to accommodate science to a viewpoint which is derived not from science itself (however erroneous it may be) but from outside, from alien, external interests’,[9] and to this end he ‘falsifies his scientific conclusions’.[10] Ricardo, on the other hand, is consistently presented as one of the ‘disinterested inquirers’ who are motivated by factors internal to the scientific enterprise, love of truth and desire to extend the boundaries of knowledge. There is frequent acknowledgement of the ‘scientific honesty’ which will not permit him to trim to any alien considerations. Nevertheless, it is also clear that Marx is fully alive to the ideological significance of Ricardo’s work, and any satisfactory account of the matter must be able to do justice to that awareness. He is presented over and over again as arguing ‘from the standpoint of developed capitalist production’,[11] and the central doctrine of the ideology of the political economist, the belief that the laws of bourgeois economics are laws of nature, is explicitly attributed to him.[12] The crucial fact, which Marx does not fail to point out amid all the tributes, is simply that, regardless of questions of motivation, ‘Ricardo’s conception is, on the whole, in the interests of the industrial bourgeoisie ...’.[13] It is this fact that determines, in the way our argument makes clear, its significance for ideological inquiry. Thus, the difference between the ways in which class interests impinge on the formation of the thought of Ricardo and of Malthus is not reflected in any comparable difference at the level of ideological status: the fact that the one contributes to bourgeois ideology and the other primarily to that of the aristocracy is not significant here. This case may therefore be taken as reinforcing the view that such status is independent of the genetic role of interests.

It also poses problems for other versions of the genetic thesis. Thus, for instance, there is another level of determination which it might be tempting to invoke. It consists in the factor of class situation in general, ‘the whole conditions of life of a particular class’, and of the formative influence of class membership on the consciousness of individuals. This is a wider notion than mere ‘interests’. It encompasses all the forces that impinge on the class, the complete perspective that unfolds from its location in the process of production. As such it represents a genuine dialectical totality. Yet it is not so comprehensive as to be simply identical with the ‘real foundation’ of society, the economic structure as a whole. It is a factor which, as we shall see, does function for Marx as an important determinant where forms of social consciousness are concerned. The point to insist on here is that it is not through the category of ideology that its influence is conceptualized. So far as his practice of ideological analysis is concerned, the formation of consciousness by class situation has no special theoretical significance. Thus, considerations of class origins do not determine the ideological status of ideas. Furthermore, there is no requirement that ideologists should be members of the class whose interests they serve. Malthus, ‘the parson’, was not himself an aristocrat, and ‘hired prizefighters’ are in the nature of the case available to the highest bidder. These are, of course, merely instances of the general truth that ideology is to be understood through its mode of efficacy and not its mode of genesis. It should also now be evident that Marx is not committed to any particular substantive thesis as to how in fact its various manifestations arise.

Ideology is, it appears, an unpromising subject for genetic inquiry in that the unity of the forms is not constituted from a standpoint that would make it theoretically fruitful. Nevertheless, the habit of genetic thinking has been strong in this area. It has frequently been assumed that causal or quasi-causal explanations are peculiarly appropriate to it. Such an assumption has tended to have a debilitating effect on ideological inquiry. In vulgar-Marxist versions it encourages the view that its central task is to trace ideas to their roots in the social background and, thereby, both to explain them and to dispose of their power, to explain them away. In the study of culture this easily leads to a philistine reductionism that altogether fails to do justice to the kind of autonomy and complexity that the phenomena possess. Marx’s standard procedure, as exemplified in the treatment of utilitarianism and of classical political economy, offers no encouragement to such a tendency. In it the genetic explanation of the ideas is dialectically interwoven with the process of bringing to bear on their contents the full resources of science and logic. It is important not to sacrifice any of the elements that contribute to the richness of this strategy.

Once the habit of thinking genetically is broken, the conception of ideology as a form of group consciousness loses its main support. There is no longer any rational basis for attempts to correlate ideologies and classes on a one-to-one basis. Such attempts seem in any case bound to fail when confronted with reality’s wealth of the bizarre. Marx’s conception enables one to appreciate this spectacle without an intellectual surrender to it, without losing sight of the principle of unity of the phenomena. Thus, there are correlations to be established between the distribution of ideological beliefs and class membership. Bourgeois ideology may well have a tighter grip on the bourgeoisie than on other classes. But there can be no guarantee in advance of this, and in important areas one may suspect that it will not be so. The ideological force of beliefs may. actually be enhanced where they rest lightly on the class whose interests they serve: such inner freedom may confer greater ease in their exploitation. Religious beliefs provide the standard illustration here. The combination of ruling-class scepticism and the piety of the subjected is familiar from many periods. In the contemporary world it is bourgeois ideology which provides the greatest difficulty for any naively sociological approach. Success in accommodating all its fantastic shapes must surely result in a loss of the determinacy needed to saddle the results on a single bearer. If, on the other hand, the data are tailored neatly enough to achieve this with some plausibility, it can only be at the cost of more or less arbitrary limitations of content. From the standpoint of Marx’s position all such attempts are quite misconceived. Ideologies are not the sort of things that can in any significant sense be said to have ‘bearers’. No doubt in every case there will be empirically discoverable groups of subscribers to the beliefs that constitute them. But, as will by now be clear from this discussion, their identity is not to be secured by reference to the existence of such groups, and nothing of theoretical importance turns on their discovery.

This point may be developed by putting the lesson of the discussion in another way. It is that to follow Marx in dealing with the ideological it is not enough to insist on the vital significance of classes. The context within which it has to be located is specifically that of class struggle, a field of force constituted by a network of antagonistic relationships. It cannot be adequately delineated by attempts to establish connections with classes as entities conceived of in abstraction and in isolation from one another. The use of the concept in intellectual inquiry, as classically demonstrated in his work on French history, is to theorize certain aspects of the dynamic processes that make up the class struggle. The controlling impulse behind the tendencies we have been considering is to abstract the concept from this specific context and employ it on the terrain of general social analysis. This can only be done at the cost of a break with Marx’s conception. It is a price which non-Marxist sociology has always been perfectly willing to pay. The problems that concern us here arise when the break goes unnoticed by Marxists or when attempts are made to reap the benefits without acknowledging that it has taken place at all. The possibilities of confusion and self-deception are then endless. An attempt will be made later to explain why it was that ideology came to embark on its general sociological career. For the present we must turn to consider an issue that now presses with some urgency, that of its relationship with class consciousness. The denial that ideology is a form of group consciousness raises it in an acute way, for on one interpretation class consciousness is itself just such a form.

A background may be supplied here by recalling some commonplaces concerning Marx’s treatment of the question of social class. The first is that there is no full-scale, systematic discussion of it in his writings: the manuscript of Capital breaks off at what appears to be the critical point. Equally familiar is the idea that in his scattered remarks on the subject there are two distinct tendencies to be discerned. On the one hand, class is conceived of in terms of an ‘objective’ criterion, the location of groups in the process of production. On the other, he sometimes introduces a ‘subjective’ factor by requiring a certain level of consciousness for any such group to constitute a class. This duality is not the result of simple blindness or confusion. He is well aware of its existence and sometimes marks it with terminological devices, as when he contrasts a class ‘as against capital’ with a class ‘for itself’.[14] Elsewhere, he adopts the convention of different points of view: considered in one way certain individuals form a class, while considered in another they do not.[15] It may be understandable that he feels no great need to say what is the real meaning of the term, but such tolerance of ambiguity has proved a source of difficulty for his successors. In particular, the lack of a satisfactory body of theory at this level has bequeathed an unstable basis for the discussion of the nature of class consciousness. Moreover, the discussion has naturally tended to reflect the tensions of the legacy that is available. For those who emphasize the ‘subjective’ criterion it becomes essential to designate the level of consciousness that is in part constitutive of class existence. A great deal of significance may then be attached to the differences between this ‘true class consciousness’ and the actual state of consciousness of groups defined by their relation to the mode of production. The concern with ‘objective’ aspects, on the other hand, encourages a different spirit in the handling of the issues. There is less theoretical pressure to mark off strict boundaries within a hierarchy of forms of consciousness. The ‘spontaneous’ consciousness of the members of the class is less likely to be devalued by contrast with what is higher or more authentic. Amid these complexities the characteristic preoccupation of classical Marxism has been to contest every tendency to lose sight of the distinction between class consciousness as such and the merely empirical. This is so at least in the case of such thinkers as Lenin and Lukács, and their versions of the distinction need to be considered in some detail.

The argument of What is to be Done? revolves around a contrast between ‘the consciousness of the working masses’ and their ‘genuine class-consciousness’.[16] The former arises spontaneously from the historical experience of the workers and finds political expression in the trade-union struggle.

The latter, which Lenin identifies with socialist consciousness, involves an awareness on their part of ‘the irreconcilable antagonism of their interests to the whole of the modern political and social system’;[17] that is, a grasp of the nature of the class struggle. Such a consciousness is not to be achieved spontaneously, but only as the result of theoretical work, and in fact is in the first instance brought to the workers from outside, from its source among intellectuals of bourgeois backgrounds. Within this framework the term ‘ideology’ is used simply to denote the intellectual armoury by means of which the class struggle is conducted. The ideological status of ideas depends solely on the nature of the interests they serve and is quite independent of their origins or distribution, the intentions of their sponsors and all other considerations. Their serving of interests is a matter of the forms of praxis they license or enjoin. Hence arises the insistence that ‘all worship of the spontaneity of the working-class movement ... means ... a strengthening of the influence of bourgeois ideology upon the workers’.[18] The point is later restated in the clearest terms: ‘the spontaneous development of the working-class movement leads to its subordination to bourgeois ideology ... for the spontaneous working class movement is trade-unionism ..’.[19] Socialist ideology, it appears, arises outside the range of the spontaneous consciousness of the workers, and trade- unionism, which arises within it, is to be accounted among the ideological resources of the bourgeoisie: Lenin speaks explicitly of ‘the bourgeois (trade-union) ideology’.[20] It is evident from all this that for him ideology is not in any sense a mode or aspect of group consciousness, and the moral that classes are the beneficiaries of ideology, not its bearers, could scarcely be more clearly drawn. It is also clear that so far from distorting or abandoning Marx’s conception of ideology, as has often been claimed[21] he has penetrated right to the heart of it and given an exemplary instance of its application. It is true that What is to be Done? offers a highly polarized view of the political situation. The battle lines are tightly and comprehensively drawn: ‘the only choice is – either bourgeois or socialist ideology’[22] and ‘to belittle the socialist ideology in any way, to turn aside from it in the slightest degree means to strengthen bourgeois ideology’.[23] But Lenin’s use of the concept of ideology is logically tied to his perception of class interests, and in What is to be Done? the interests of the workers consist in the early overthrow of the existing system and in that alone. Everything that detracts or diverts attention from the task serves the interests of the bourgeoisie. It is perfectly possible for Marxists who perceive the reality of class interests differently to differ correspondingly in their application of the concept of ideology. Some might, for instance, be less ruthless in assigning trade-unionism to the bourgeois side. This need not signal a theoretical disagreement, but rather a different assessment of the state of the conflict in a particular historical situation.

In History and Class Consciousness the distinction we are exploring is introduced in the following way:

By relating consciousness to the whole of society it becomes possible to infer the thoughts and feelings which men would have in a particular situation if they were able to assess both it and the interests arising from it in their impact on immediate action and on the whole structure of society. That is to say, it would be possible to infer the thoughts and feelings appropriate to their objective situation.

Given this possibility, it emerges that ‘class consciousness consists in fact of the appropriate and rational reactions “imputed” (zugerechnet) to a particular, typical position in the process of production’. ‘This analysis’, it is added, ‘establishes right from the start the distance that separates class consciousness from the empirically given, and from the psychologically describable and explicable ideas which men form about their situation in life.’[24] In an essay written many years later, and used as a preface to the English edition of History and Class Consciousness, Lukács was to assert that by the notion of an ‘imputed’ class consciousness he ‘meant the same thing as Lenin in What is to be Done? when he maintained that socialist class consciousness would differ from the spontaneously emerging trade-union consciousness in that it would be implanted in the workers “from outside” ...’.[25] This claim is hard to accept just as it stands. Obviously, Lenin’s distinction is only applicable to the proletariat, while Lukács’s works, in principle at least, for all classes. But even in the case of the proletariat the two sets of terms do not precisely coincide. Its empirically given consciousness will not always be identical with trade-unionism, a form characteristic of a relatively advanced, though still pre-revolutionary, stage of development. Moreover, since the imputation of authentic consciousness is not simply that of the consciousness which a class ought ideally to have, but is limited by the objective possibilities of the historical situation,[26] what is imputed to the proletariat will not always amount to a socialist consciousness. This too is only appropriate at a certain stage of development. It appears that the one distinction could at best only be thought of as a special case of the other, its expression in the conditions of mature capitalism. Nevertheless, when the necessary qualifications are made, Lukács is right to claim a connection. The common factor is the determination to establish and maintain the significance of the gap between true class consciousness and the spontaneous or empirically given. It is, moreover, a determination which has deep roots in the tradition to which both writers belong. It arises naturally, as we have seen, from the general logic of Marx’s treatment of class and class consciousness. There are also quite direct and specific links that may be traced. As an epigraph to the essay on ‘Class Consciousness’ Lukács uses a well-known passage from The Holy Family:

The question is not what goal is envisaged for the time being by this or that member of the proletariat, or even by the proletariat as a whole. The question is what is the proletariat and what course of action will it be forced historically to take in conformity with its own nature.[27]

In the original, Marx had gone on to claim that ‘a large part of the English and French proletariat is already conscious of its historic task and is constantly working to develop that consciousness into complete clarity’.[28] Thus, he distinguishes between the ideas that some or all members of the proletariat happen to have at any moment and the consciousness appropriate to the historical role of the class. Clearly, we are at this point in touch with an important and enduring theme in the classical Marxist tradition. There seem to be no good grounds for impugning the orthodoxy of Lukács’s contribution to it.[29]

On the face of it, the view of ideology presented in History and Class Consciousness fits with equal ease into the pattern set by Marx and Lenin. Its credentials are easy enough to establish. Ideology is consistently placed in the context of ‘the central fact of capitalist society: the class struggle’.[30] The references to it are suffused with the appropriate kind of imagery: one reads of ‘ideological weapons’, of ‘ideological self-defence’, of ‘ideological leadership’, of ‘ideological champions’, of ‘ideological crisis’, of ‘ideological defeat’, of ‘ideological capitulation’ and of the ‘social conflict reflected in an ideological struggle for consciousness’.[31] The impression left by such unity of tone is clear and striking. Lukács, like Marx, is prepared to invoke the notion of ideology only in connection with the class struggle, and, given this, requires no further conditions to be met. Such a conclusion is borne out by the treatment of his own theoretical position. Historical materialism is described as ‘the ideology of the embattled proletariat’,[32] and Marxism as ‘the ideological expression of the proletariat in its efforts to liberate itself.[33] Evidently he is prepared to regard any set of ideas as ideological, provided only that it has a role in the primary social conflict. Thus we find ourselves in the same conceptual universe as in the discussion of Marx and Lenin. The elements are, of course, handled in a distinctive way, but this need not raise any doubts about the larger identity. A tradition in this respect embracing Marx, Lenin and Lukács might now be thought to be firmly established. It must, however, be acknowledged that such a conclusion would be hard to square with some recent influential criticisms of Lukács. These are worth considering in detail, and not merely in order to make our conclusion secure. They are important because of the standpoint from which they are delivered: this lies at the heart of the most significant tendencies in contemporary Marxist accounts of ideology.

The case brought by Nicos Poulantzas revolves around the charge that Lukács has an ‘historicist’ view of ideology. What this amounts to in detail may, by now, have a familiar ring. In the historicist picture ideologies appear as ‘number-plates carried on the backs of class-subjects’. Each ideology is presumed to stand in a genetic relationship to a class and its character is entirely determined by that relationship. In this conception ‘there can be no world over and beyond the ideology of each class’, and so the ‘various ideologies each function as it were in a vacuum’. Poulantzas’s main objection is that the conception is unable to account for, or even acknowledge, the complexity of the patterns of dominance and subordination in any actual society. On such a view, ‘it would be impossible (i) to establish the existence within the dominant ideology of elements belonging to the ideologies of classes other than the politically dominant class and (ii) to account for the permanent possibility of contamination of working class ideology by the dominant and petty-bourgeois ideologies’. Indeed, it makes it ‘impossible to see the effects of ideological domination by the dominant ideology on working-class ideology’.[34]

Poulantzas’s critique moves at a rarefied level, untroubled by any specific references to Lukács’s writings. What is essentially the same case has been developed in a less magisterial way by Gareth Stedman Jones in writing on the Marxism of the early Lukács’.[35] There the points made by Poulantzas are repeated and developed in a number of ways. Once again the emphasis is on ‘the drastic and crippling simplification’ which Lukács’s view of ideology imposes. In order to fit in with it ‘historical development is pared down to a simple procession of economic-ideological totalities expressing the life conditions of successive class-subjects’. ‘The necessary complexity of any given social formation’ is, Stedman Jones affirms, ‘annulled from the outset by this imaginary parade’.[36] The Lukácsian view of the genesis of ideologies comes under specific attack: ‘For Lukács, the dominant ideology in a social formation will be a pure manifestation of the ideology of the dominant class, and the ideology of the dominant class will be a pure reflection of the life conditions and conception of the world of that class.’ Such a view is thought by Stedman Jones to be entirely mistaken, and he quotes Poulantzas to drive the conclusion home: ‘the dominant ideology does not simply reflect the life conditions of the dominant class-subject “pure and simple,” but the political relationship in a social formation between the dominant and dominated classes’.[37] In the case of the dominated classes, he continues, ‘Lukács’s model leads to even more serious results’. For there is ‘no room in it for conceiving the possibility of a dominated class which does not possess a consciousness which is neither “ascribed,” nor that of the ruling class, but is uneven and impure’. The truth, however, is that ‘history is littered with examples of this impurity in which radical proletarian class instinct is often deeply overlaid by bourgeois ideological veneers of different sorts, or in which genuine proletarian ideology is mixed with contaminations from allied, rather than enemy classes – peasants or urban petty producers, for example’. Stedman Jones cites some fairly familiar historical examples to show what he has in mind, and concludes that ‘Lukács condemns all this to silence.’[38]

A convenient starting point for assessing the Poulantzas-Stedman Jones critique is provided by the question of ‘ideological contamination’ and, in particular, its implications for the dominated classes. The complaint against Lukács is that he is unable to see these effects or has to condemn them to silence. Such blindness and deafness are, it is supposed, the natural outcome of his basic assumptions. Hence, the study of these symptoms should throw some light on the organic source of the disease.

A first reaction might well be to conclude that the allegations are entirely groundless. For Lukács is fully alive to the significance of phenomena which it would be natural to subsume under ‘ideological contamination’ and which are so treated by his critics. He refers to these phenomena explicitly and with the utmost seriousness on many occasions. He is, that is to say, much occupied by the contaminating influence of bourgeois ideology on the proletariat. His admiration for Rosa Luxemburg derives in part from her campaign for ‘its ideological emancipation from its spiritual bondage under opportunism’.[39] He warns of the danger that it might ‘adapt itself ideologically to conform to ... the emptiest and most decadent forms of bourgeois culture’.[40] He speaks of the power of non-proletarian ideologies ‘within the proletariat itself,’[41] and insists that ‘the mere fact of victory does not free the proletariat from contamination by capitalist and nationalist ideologies’.[42] Such references are far from representing an enforced recognition of facts that cannot be theoretically assimilated. On the contrary, ideological contamination of this kind has a vital place in the intellectual scheme of History and Class Consciousness. A basic assumption running throughout the work is that: ‘As the product of capitalism the proletariat must necessarily be subject to the modes of existence of its creator.’[43] Yet the prospects of the revolution depend on its success in shaking off this inheritance. For ‘the proletariat has been entrusted by history with the task of transforming society consciously’.[44]

Its revolution is uniquely ‘the revolution of consciousness’: the achievement of true class consciousness is the precondition for fulfilling its historical role. To put the point in terms of the distinction with which we began: the outcome of the final battle ‘depends on closing the gap between the psychological consciousness and the imputed one’.[45] Hence arises that ‘terrible internal ideological crisis’ of the proletariat to which reference is made again and again.[46] The process of closing the gap, and so overcoming the crisis, is precisely one of sloughing off ideological impurities, of eliminating the traces of contamination by alien ideologies. The largest issues, the fate of the revolution and with it that of humanity in general, depend on its successful completion. It seems fair to conclude that not only is Lukács able to acknowledge and theorize the phenomenon of ideological contamination, but it has in truth a central place in his view of the historical process. Indeed, it would scarcely be an exaggeration to say that, from one point of view, History and Class Consciousness is a treatise on the nature and significance of such contamination and on the means by which it is overcome.

Some part at least of the case against Lukács has now evaporated. It will not do to say that he cannot conceive of the possibility of a dominated class whose consciousness is uneven and impure. For him this seems rather to be the normal condition of the proletariat in bourgeois society. It may be, however, that recognition of this does not suffice to dispose of the anti-historicist critique. For that contains a number of elements it does not clearly distinguish. At times it appears that Poulantzas and Stedman Jones interpret ‘ideological contamination’ in another way. They are concerned rather with the situation in which a class ideology might be said to be ‘impure’ in that it derives from heterogeneous sources. The trouble with Lukács would then be his mono-factorial view of the genesis of ideologies, their springing into existence as pure reflections of the historical situation of isolated classes. The charge is not that he cannot recognize the effect on psychological consciousness of alien ideologies, but that he cannot recognize the effect on an ideology of elements that arise outside the ‘life conditions’ of its class, from outside the range of the determinants of its spontaneous consciousness. Understood in this way, ‘ideological contamination’ turns out to be a sort of converse of the phenomenon discussed previously. The first comment to be made about it is that Lukács, quite clearly, holds no such simple-minded view of the genesis of ideologies as a general thesis. He is no more committed than is Marx to any such view. Historical materialism is, after all, ‘the ideology of the embattled proletariat’ and Lukács is as aware as anyone that it was originally brought to the proletariat ‘from outside’. But Poulantzas and Stedman Jones do not seem inclined to press the general charge here. Their interest is rather in the treatment of the dominant class and it is in this light that their objections deserve to be considered.

When this is done, however, the charge of failure to cope with complexity seems to have as little substance as in the previous interpretation. As Lukács depicts the state of ruling-class ideology at the time of writing History and Class Consciousness, heterogeneity of source material is virtually its dominant characteristic. For the bourgeoisie is also suffering an ‘ideological crisis’[47], precipitated in its case not by the decisive stage in the struggle for imputed consciousness, but rather by the fact that the ‘ideological leadership’ is slipping from its hands.[48] It has become unable ‘to defend itself ideologically from its own resources’[49] and, as a result, has made an ‘ideological capitulation to historical materialism’.[50] This process is presented in terms that echo Marx as a descent from intellectually respectable positions to ‘a more or less conscious attempt at forgery’.[51] In the final phase, ‘the objective disintegration of capitalist society is reflected in the total incoherence and irreconcilability of opinions joined together in one ideology’.[52] This is perhaps a kind of limiting case, an ideology at the end of its tether. Nevertheless, the fact that Lukács can envisage it as the culmination of a gradual process suggests that he suffers from no theoretical block here. That is, he finds no difficulty in accepting that elements in the ideology of the dominant class may be derived from outside the ‘way of life’ of that class. Such he believed to be the actual condition of bourgeois ideology in his own time.

It appears that whether complexity is understood in terms of unevenness of empirical consciousness or of eclecticism of ideological content, Lukács is well able to accommodate it within the terms of his theory. This is hardly a surprising conclusion. The views attributed to him amount, after all, to a remarkable naive and mechanical sort of schematism. Even a slight acquaintance with the power and subtlety of his thought should make one sceptical of this, and no very deep reading of History and Class Consciousness is needed to confirm such scepticism. Indeed the question that now arises is how it is that Poulantzas and Stedman Jones come to advance with such assurance a set of criticisms that pass so very wide of their target. Some special explanation seems called for here. It will hardly do just to put it down to personal defects of vision: the failure involved is on too grand a scale. It looks more like a case of the kind of theoretical blindness they attribute to Lukács. Thus, it is tempting to suggest that they themselves may be captives of a picture that obscures what would otherwise be obvious. When one looks more closely, the outlines of just such a picture begin to emerge and its significance goes well beyond the present occasion. For it underlies a great deal of contemporary thinking about ideology, and serves to cut such thinking off from the views of Marx, Lenin and Lukács. As such it is the source of a serious dislocation within Marxism and merits our full attention.

It may be helpful at this point to note a curious feature of the way in which Poulantzas and Stedman Jones refer to the question of contamination. This suggests yet another perspective on what they have in mind. Poulantzas writes, as we have seen, of the contamination of working class ideology by the ideologies of other classes and of its domination by such ideologies. Stedman Jones writes in the same connection of the ‘contamination of a pristine class ideological essence by elements derived from the ideologies of other classes’.[53] All of this differs in a significant way from what one finds in Lukács. As the references already given suggest, his characteristic concern is with the contamination of the psychological consciousness of a class by the ideology of another class, rather than with anything that might be conceived of as the mutual contamination of ideologies or ideological essences. To note this helps to make the objections of Poulantzas and Stedman Jones more intelligible. It may be that a part at least of what they include in ‘ideological contamination’ is indeed condemned to silence by Lukács: his premises rule out in advance the possibility of any recognition of it. For if one assumes that ideologies serve class interests and that the interests of classes are irreconcilably opposed, there is a difficulty in seeing how there can be any contaminated, in the sense of ‘compound’ or ‘syncretic’, ideologies. It becomes impossible for class ideologies to incorporate significant elements from the ideology of other classes without losing their identity. For that depends on the master they serve and they cannot serve two at once. In this sense ideologies for Lukács do, necessarily, have a certain pristine purity. But in this he is fully in line with the requirements of Marx’s original conception. It is worth noting here that Lenin also does not speak of the contamination of one ideology by another. Rather he speaks, as we have seen, in a way fully consonant with Lukács, of ‘the strengthening of bourgeois ideology upon the workers’, of ‘the subordination of the working class movement to bourgeois ideology’ and so on.[54] Moreover, he insists that to turn aside from the socialist ideology in the slightest degree is to strengthen bourgeois ideology. Clearly there is no room for ‘impure’ ideologies, in the sense being considered, within Lenin’s scheme: its nature ensures that all impurities are displaced outside. Moreover the ideology of the proletariat is, for him, to be identified with the theory of socialism. It is not clear what could be meant by the intellectual domination of this theory by bourgeois ideology. It could scarcely admit of such domination without ceasing to be a genuinely socialist theory devoted to the interests of the working class; without, that is, ceasing to constitute proletarian ideology. Of course, it is conceivable that it might suffer defeat in the ideological struggle and even lose all practical efficacy in the world, but that is another matter: what is ruled out is the peace of an ideological compromise. Such a conclusion is dictated by the character of Marx’s conception and, in particular, by the criteria of identity it lays down for ideologies. Thus, the difference between speaking of ideologies contaminating each other, and speaking simply of them as contaminating classes or class movements is a significant one. The latter usage is in keeping with the logic of Marx’s position in a way that the former is not. The fact that this is employed so unselfconsciously by Poulantzas and Stedman Jones suggests that they have failed to grasp or to assimilate that logic.

The nature of the failure needs to be specified more precisely. As a first approximation, it should be linked with the empiricist perspective which dominates their approach. Such a perspective is implicit in the way they refer to the issue of contamination. It is as if ideology were a universal, liable to be instantiated with varying degrees of purity, and, in any particular case, one can test for this, as with beer or water. The same tendency emerges more strikingly elsewhere. It does so, for instance, in the use made by Poulantzas of a contrast between the ‘spontaneous ideology’ of the working class and its ‘revolutionary ideology’.[55] Such a distinction could have no place in Lenin’s or Lukács’s world. For them, revolutionary ideology simply is the ideology of the working class, and the phrase ‘spontaneous ideology’ could only be a mask for its ideological subordination to the bourgeoisie. The use of the contrast reinforces the suggestion that for Poulantzas ideology is essentially an ‘empirical’ concept. That is, its nature is such that the question of whether the criteria governing its use have been satisfied in any particular case is one that calls for empirical observation. For Marx, Lenin and Lukács its nature is by contrast specifically ‘theoretical’ in that the use of the criteria involves operations on ideas, a species of theoretical analysis. It is hard to see how the presence and character of a ‘spontaneous ideology’ could be determined except through a connection with the spontaneous, empirically-given consciousness of a class. The criteria to be applied are of a sociological kind. The influence of this ‘sociologism’ is also discernable in the general character of the case against Lukács. The central thrust of it is that he is unable to cope with the actual complexity of the data: his view of ideology is found to be lacking in explanatory value when applied in the analysis of social formations. But such a criticism rests on a misconception of what he is trying to achieve. The point at issue here deserves to be taken a little further.

An important theme in the critique of Lukács is that he misconceives the role of ideology as an instrument of cohesion, as, in Gramsci’s metaphor, a kind of social ‘cement’.[56] In his work, ‘the role assigned to ideology through the medium of the class-subject is that of the principle of totalizing a social formation’.[57] Poulantzas accepts, and indeed wishes to stress, that ideology ‘has the particular function of cohesion’.[58] This is not, however, to be conceived of in a Lukácsian manner: ‘its specific, real role as unifier is not that of constituting the unity of a formation (as the historicist conception would have it) but that of reflecting that unity by reconstituting it on an imaginary plane’.[59] It is hard to escape the feeling that something has gone radically wrong with the argument at this point. For Lukács, as indeed for Marx, ideology has no special role to play in a theory of what it is that holds social formations together. This is, no doubt, a legitimate subject of inquiry, but it is not one in which either of them was particularly interested. If there is a position on it to be extracted from their work, it will have no special link with their conception of ideology. That, as we have seen, has its peculiar sphere of activity in the theory of class struggle, and is ill-fitted to constitute the main pillar of a general theory of social cohesion. The problem seems to be that Poulantzas is so much the prisoner of his own theoretical preoccupations that he assumes they must be central for others also. Hence, Lukács is awarded poor marks in a competition in which he is not entered and about whose results he might not greatly care. The fact that so perceptive a commentator can fall so easily into such assumptions about his subject is itself of some general significance. It signals one of those occasions in intellectual history when a massive subterranean shift has gone unnoticed by the toilers on the surface. Thus it points to precisely that hidden chasm in the Marxist tradition which we are concerned to explore.

For the present, however, we must remain with Lukács in order to tie some loose threads together. It is now clear that depending on how ideological contamination is understood it is either fully catered for within his theory, or is excluded as a matter of principle. In either case the criticism of him on that score fails of its purpose. Its failure should make one look again at his alleged ‘historicism’, the presumed source of all the difficulties. The discussion so far has shown that it must, at any rate, be an historicism which is compatible with an acute sense of the complexity of the historical process. It is one which does not need to rely on a conception of classes as pure subjects operating in a vacuum, or of ideologies as essences distilled under such clinically-sterile conditions. It must also be an historicism which operates without a doctrine of the inevitability of the goal towards which history is moving. Lukács’s position on this is not entirely unequivocal, and there are phrases which, taken out of context, might be used to support a hard line. But the most characteristic and consistent theme is that only the downfall of capitalism is inevitable through its internal contradictions.

Whether it is succeeded by socialism or by ‘the destruction of all civilization and a new barbarism’ depends on the free action of the proletariat. The course of historical development opens up the ‘objective possibility’ of a successful revolution, but it offers no guarantee of the outcome.[60] It is at this point, however, that one comes upon what is really the central weakness of the intellectual structure of History and Class Consciousness. From the standpoint of internal coherence, at least, the trouble, one might say, is that the work is not nearly historicist enough. There is a gap in the argument which a thoroughgoing historicism might have been able to bridge. It arises from the lack of a rational connection between the analysis of capitalist society and the vision of the future, from a failure to theorize adequately the historical transformation represented by the proletarian revolution. Even a doctrine of economic determinism of the kind associated with the Marxism of the Second International might have been able to avoid the incoherence here, whatever its weakness in other respects. But, of course, no such solution was available to Lukács. His revolution is a revolution of consciousness, conceived of in terms which are in some respects reminiscent of the radical Young Hegelians of the previous century. He is, however, a Hegelian who has assimilated what he takes to be the central point of the ‘great polemic against Hegel in The Holy Family’, that consciousness has to be conceived of as immanent in history.[61] It follows that he has no room for any equivalent of the ‘World Spirit. This, for him, is a transcendent demiurge which in Hegel’s scheme is the real subject of history behind the shadow-play of the spirits of the individual nations.[62] But now the historical process has lost the source of its teleological energy, and the ‘ruse of reason’ is no longer available to work its magic. At the time of History and Class Consciousness he had nothing substantial to put in the place of these devices. The result, to use an expression he favours himself, is an hiatus irrationalis in thought, the absence of any theoretical foundation for his hopes of the socialist society. He came to realize this of course, and it forms the core of the later self-criticism. In the essay used as a preface to the new English edition he diagnosed a failure to grasp the centrality of the category of human labour and thus to arrive at an adequate conception of praxis.[63] The young Lukács is a thinker in a process of transition, unable to enjoy the benefits either of the position he has left behind or of the one he has not yet fully assimilated. As a Hegelian without ‘the ruse of reason’ and a Leninist without an adequate conception of the historical role of the party, he has nothing with which to oppose mechanistic fatalism except what he later refers to as ‘voluntaristic ideological counter-weights’.[64] It is this kind of irrationalist voluntarism that constitutes the fatal defect of History and Class Consciousness. It is a defect much more adequately captured under the label he later proposed himself of ‘messianic utopianism’,[65] than through any talk of ‘historicism’. Indeed, leaving aside the points of coincidence, the self-criticism is generally to be preferred for accuracy and penetration to the critique we have been discussing.

The hiatus in History and Class Consciousness has, as one might expect, its consequences for the treatment of ideology. The main one is simply that the significance of ideological factors is consistently overrated. The central role of the ‘ideological crisis’ reflects this estimate. At times it seems as though the class struggle itself is nothing but the struggle to overcome the crisis; a battle in, and for, consciousness. ‘This reform of consciousness’, we are told, ‘is the revolutionary process itself.’[66] Such an emphasis may readily be seen as an aspect of the idealism that haunts the work. But it does not in itself amount to a conceptual disagreement with Marx and Lenin, where the specific issue of ideology is concerned. Indeed, so far as this goes, Lukács’s idealism may not have been altogether a handicap in the circumstances of the time. At least it protected him from the temptation to cash in the concept in empiricist terms and from the sociologism that was to overtake the Marxist tradition. It left him suitably placed to respect the distinctive status which it has as a ‘theoretical’ concept in Marx and Lenin. The particular significance of his work, it may be suggested, lies in the way it develops the possibilities latent in this position right up to, and sometimes beyond, their natural limits.

At this stage accounts have still to be finally settled with his ‘historicism’. For it must now be admitted that the accusation can feed off elements that are genuinely present in his thought. At the risk of over-simplification, one might say that its plausibility largely derives from generalizing what he says about the agency of the proletariat in history to all other classes. The proletariat is indeed an historical subject in a special sense. It is ‘the identical subject-object’ which resolves ‘the antinomies of bourgeois thought’, and thereby fulfils the programme of classical German philosophy. This is a vast and incongruous metaphysical burden, and the thesis fully merits the later strictures on it as ‘an attempt to out-Hegel Hegel’.[67] Nevertheless, even here it is worth insisting that Lukács has mythologised a theme which in itself is a legitimate, indeed inescapable, part of the tradition of classical Marxism; that of the unique historical role of the proletariat. In reacting against the form in which he casts it, one must be careful not to forget the substance. This point may be illustrated with reference to the specific question of consciousness.

A persistent emphasis is laid in Lukács’s text on the ‘unique function of consciousness in the class struggle of the proletariat’.[68] This uniqueness consists in part, as we have seen, in the fact that for the proletariat alone true class consciousness is the necessary precondition of historically effective action. Hence, ideology, the indispensable instrument of such action, must in this case enjoy a distinctively close relationship with class consciousness. The ideology of the proletariat, one might say, can only truly exist as the expression of its class consciousness. Indeed, Lukács specifically equates ‘ideological maturity’ and the attainment of such consciousness. where the proletariat is concerned.[69] Here all opportunism and eclecticism has to vanish. It was not always so in history, and the contrast is sharply drawn:

Whereas in the class struggles of the past the most varied ideologies, religious, moral and other forms of false consciousness’ were decisive, in the case of the class struggle of the proletariat, the war for the liberation of the last oppressed class, the revelation of the unvarnished truth became both a war-cry and the most potent weapon.[70]

This sense of the special relationship between the class consciousness and the ideology of the proletariat is also to be found in Lenin. The true class consciousness of the proletariat is socialist consciousness, and its ideology is the theory of socialism. Everything that falls short of this signifies and perpetuates the domination of the bourgeoisie. Thus, in the work of both writers one finds the vision of a unified structure of consciousness centred on the proletariat. In this vision all duality is overcome: the breach between the spontaneous and the authentic, the empirical and the rational, is healed; and ideology, the intellectual armoury of the class, is a pure expression of the resulting unity.

The ultimate source of this vision is, of course, Marx himself. The belief expressed in The Holy Family that the English and French proletariats had begun to achieve their true historical consciousness has already been noted. An optimism about the possibilities of proletarian consciousness was to remain a familiar and enduring strand in his thought. We are in contact here with a phenomenon which is central to the classical Marxist picture of social development. Many important details are treated in different ways by the theorists we have been considering. They differ in particular over the nature of the process through which the vision is to be realized, and those differences might loom large in other contexts. For present purposes it is more important to stress what they have in common. This is the image of a structure incorporating ideology and class consciousness whose elements are organically integrated and whose realization is intimately bound up with the role of the proletariat in history. In this central image lies the solution to many puzzles. As yet, however, it lacks some essential ingredients and we must wait on a later stage of the discussion to supply them.

It is time to take up again the question of the positive use to which Poulantzas wishes to put the concept of ideology in the general theory of social formations. This is, as we have seen, to conceptualize an apparently universal need. The function of ideology is to provide the cohesion which every society requires to survive and perpetuate itself. At the start of his discussion of these matters Poulantzas refers the reader to a work by Louis Althusser.[71] It is a hint which it might be well to take up at once. The way in which Poulantzas develops the theme is heavily indebted to Althusser, down to the details of its verbal formulation. To say this is to say nothing particularly contentious, nothing that Poulantzas would be likely to dispute. Hence, it may prove more rewarding to pursue it in connection with Althusser’s own work. There it finds a richer development than is feasible in a study to which it is not wholly central. Moreover, the great influence exerted by his views on ideology, not least in Britain,[72] entitles them to consideration on their own account. In the present case the need is reinforced by the fact that they offer some important clues to the nature of that dislocation in Marxist thought which is among our chief concerns.

In the passage referred to above Poulantzas is drawing on what are perhaps the most distinctive and significant themes in Althusser’s treatment of ideology. They are also those which have attracted the main bulk of critical attention. Nevertheless, they are not the only ones it contains. The problem recurs again and again in his work, and is sometimes characterized in ways difficult to integrate with the theses extracted by Poulantzas. This is especially so where the focus of interest is on ideology not as a social reality but as a mode of cognition which needs above all to be distinguished from science. Moreover, the material used by Poulantzas is derived from the period of what one must now call the ‘earlier Althusser’. For present purposes the main texts of the period are the essays in For Marx, the contributions to Reading Capital and the essay on ‘Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses’. A significant break is represented by the work published in English as Essays in Self-Criticism.[73] Taken together, the two phases constitute a pattern of great interest for our inquiry. It is convenient to start with the earlier one in order to grasp the whole. This body of work has something of the same interest as that of the young Lukács in that it encapsulates certain tendencies in the treatment of ideology taken to their furthest limit. As such it has a kind of exemplary significance in charting the possibilities afforded by a tradition.

The first step is to consider the ways in which ideology as a form of apprehension is characterized in the earlier Althusser. One suggestion is that it is distinguished by ignorance of its own ‘problematic’; that is, the intellectual framework within which its problems arise. Althusser remarks that it is ‘the way the problems are posed which constitutes the ultimate ideological essence of an ideology’, and adds that:

An ideology (in the strict Marxist sense of the term – the sense in which Marxism is not itself an ideology) can be regarded as characterized in this particular respect by the fact that its own problematic is not conscious of itself.

Thus, for Marx, an ideology is ‘unconscious of its “theoretical presuppositions,” that is, the active but unavowed problematic which fixes for it the meaning and movement of its problems and thereby of their solutions’.[74] A second, and perhaps more characteristic, suggestion of the same general type is that the essential character of ideology consists in the way it prejudges the solutions of its problems from the start, while science is genuinely open and allows for the indefinite expansion of knowledge. This is a point which ‘defines the essentials of ideology, in its ideological form, and which in principle reduces ideological knowledge ... to a phenomenon of recognition’. Hence it is that:

In the theoretical mode of production of ideology (which is utterly different from the theoretical mode of production of science in this respect), the formulation of a problem is merely the theoretical expression of the conditions which allow a solution already produced outside the process of knowledge because imposed by extra-theoretical instances and exigencies (by religious, ethical, political or other ‘interests’) to recognise itself in an artificial problem manufactured to serve it both as a theoretical mirror and as a practical justification.[75]

In opposition to all this, Althusser stresses the need to leave the ‘necessarily closed’ space of ideology ‘in order to open a new space on a different site – the space required for a correct posing of the problem, one which does not prejudge the solution’.[76]

Considered as attempts to delineate two radically different cognitive modes, these remarks can hardly be regarded as particularly successful. Awkward cases spring all too readily to mind. Throughout Althusser’s writings he tends to accept the natural sciences as genuine sciences, and is generally content to maintain that Marxism is scientific in more or less the same sort of way. Yet on widely-held views of the nature of these subjects they have not been significantly marked by self-consciousness about presuppositions. Indeed, on some accounts it would seem to be almost a distinguishing feature of science that good work in it can be produced by people with little insight in this respect. Moreover, a widespread desire to achieve clarity there may be a symptom of crisis rather than normality.[77] With ideology, on the other hand, such clarity may be directly functional, at least in those important cases where it is a deliberate apologetic. Thus it may be the professional ideologist rather than the scientist who benefits most from transparency of assumptions. It is true, of course, that the ideologist’s vision is necessarily restricted by the horizons of the historical situation, but this holds for the scientist also. Whatever superior insight is ascribed to him, it will have to respect such structural limitations. It is now not at all clear how such an ascription could provide the basis for the kind of distinction that Althusser requires.

Neither does it seem helpful to present the distinction as one between forms of inquiry which prejudge their results and those which do not. On the familiar conception of mathematics as a postulate system it would thereby qualify as the paradigm of an ideology, a conclusion that would not be welcome to Althusser. Moreover, something is prejudged in all inquiry; at least in the sense that it will operate with assumptions that impose some constraints on what could count as a solution to problems. This much seems to be implied in the notion of a ‘problematic’. But it will be just as true of scientific inquiry as of any other kind. Hence, if the prejudging requirement is stated in general terms it will fail to do any work at all. If, however, it is tightened up, so that it is a question of prejudging at some level of detail, the distinction that results may fail to carry any conviction. For much that seems undeniably ideological is bound to escape. Successful ideologies will be resourceful and loose-jointed enough not to have to prejudge all particulars. Their effectiveness may depend on leaving many issues genuinely open; so that, for instance, there is room for intellectual discoveries in bourgeois economics. Thus it appears that there are difficulties in Althusser’s formulation which a successful version of the prejudging criterion would need to confront and overcome.

It is not easy, however, to be sure just how much weight attaches to these difficulties, and the problem is connected with the uncertain status of the original theses. They have rather the appearance of stipulations adopted to meet the needs of particular stages in an argument. But little sustained use is made of them as such, and without the concrete details this would provide it is hard for criticism to get a grip: example and counter-example have, as it were, to operate in a vacuum. All of this may not matter greatly in the present case. For one thing, it is clear that ideology as so far understood in Althusser has little or nothing in common with the views of Marx. It has been assumed to be a mode of inquiry whose methodology is defective and which needs, in order to become scientific, to develop more sophistication in this respect. But Marx’s conception cannot be pinned down in such a way. It has, to put it no stronger, to be understood in relation to a practical and social dimension. The extent of the differences may be experienced in other ways. They are implicit from the start in Althusser’s overriding concern with the character of the distinction between ideology and science. It is a concern which arouses no sympathetic chord in Marx. His antipathy to the substantival idiom has already been noted, and in the earlier Althusser this idiom is deployed on a lavish scale. Even more significant are the essentialist assumptions about the nature of meaning that seem to underlie its use: it is as if ‘ideology’ and ‘science’ were metaphysical entities whose essences have to be extracted by the theorist and displayed in their fundamental opposition. The influence of such assumptions is pervasive in the earlier period and extends even to the more distinctive and important theses on ideology to which we must now turn our attention.

In contrast to the ideas discussed so far, this second position is marked by an awareness of the social dimension of ideology. Indeed, the existence of this dimension is now taken to constitute the contrast with science: ‘ideology, as a system of representations, is distinguished from science in that in it the practico-social function is more important than the theoretical function (function as knowledge)’.[78] It would be difficult to exaggerate the scope of the claims made for this practico-social function. Thus we read that ‘ideology is eternal’,[79] that ‘man is an ideological animal by nature’,[80] and that ‘ideology is as such an organic part of every social totality’."’ ‘Human societies’, it is said, ‘secrete ideology as the very element and atmosphere indispensable to their historical respiration and life.’ No attempt is made to evade the full implications of these views:

Only an ideological world outlook could have imagined societies without ideology and accepted the utopian idea of a world in which ideology (not just one of its historical forms) would disappear without trace, to be replaced by science.[81]

Hence, ‘historical materialism cannot conceive that even a communist society could ever do without ideology ...’. This conclusion is then restated in the clearest terms: ‘ideology is not an aberration or a contingent excrescence of History: it is a structure essential to the historical life of societies’.[82]

What, one must ask, is the theoretical basis for such assertions? If the texts of the earlier period are taken together a fairly coherent picture can be made to emerge without much pressure. The first step is to note the condition under which ideology is said to be indispensable in any society: it is so ‘if men are to be formed, transformed and equipped to respond to the demands of their conditions of existence’.[83] It performs this function through a process of ‘hailing’, of ‘interpellating’ individuals as subjects. The category of the subject is, for Althusser, ‘constitutive of all ideology’, and it is. So in so far as ‘all ideology has the function (which defines it) of “constituting” concrete individuals as subjects’.[84] This constitution is to be understood in both senses of the key term. The individual is interpellated as ‘a free subjectivity, a centre of initiatives, author of and responsible for its actions’, and as ‘a subjected being, who submits to a higher authority, and is therefore stripped of all freedom except that of freely accepting his submission’.[85] Through the constitution of individuals as subjects in this double sense the life of society is sustained and, in particular, the reproduction of the relations of production is guaranteed. The final matter to be settled here by way of exegesis is how precisely it is that ideology performs its task of constituting individuals as subjects. The answer is that it does so by enmeshing them in an imaginary relation which represents to them their real relation to their conditions of existence:

In ideology the real relation is inevitably invested in the imaginary relation. a relation that expresses a will (conservative, conformist, reformist or revolutionary), a hope or a nostalgia, rather than describing a reality.[86]

For individuals, to live in ideology is to live ‘in a determinate (religious, ethical, etc.) representation of the world whose imaginary distortion depends on their imaginary relation to their conditions of existence ...’[87] For them such a fate is inescapable: it is the price that is paid to ensure the continuity of social existence.

This is a complex structure of argument and deserves to be looked at closely. A convenient way to start is by focusing on the question of why exactly it is that ideology is held to be indispensable in every society, including the classless society. It must be said at once that Althusser offers little in the way of detailed argument for the thesis. At one stage in the discussion in For Marx, however, there occurs what appears to be just such an argument. The suggestion is made that a purely instrumental use of ideology is impossible, so that ‘a class that uses an ideology is its captive too’. This point, he goes on, enables one to answer the question of ‘what becomes of ideology in a society in which classes have disappeared’. For what may now be said is this:

If the whole social function of ideology could be summed up cynically as a myth (such as Plato’s ‘beautiful lies’ or the techniques of modern advertising) fabricated and manipulated from the outside by the ruling class to fool those it is exploiting, then ideology would disappear with classes. But as we have seen that even in the case of a class society ideology is active on the ruling class itself and contributes to its moulding, to the modification of its attitudes to adapt it to its real conditions of existence (for example, legal freedom) – it is clear that ideology (as a system of mass representations) is indispensable in any society if men are to be formed, transformed and equipped to respond to the demands of their conditions of existence.[88]

The significance in philosophy of little nuggets of argument is, no doubt, easy to exaggerate, and the value of the work of major thinkers may depend on them only to a limited extent. Nevertheless, when an example is offered it may be well to consider it carefully to see if it really does establish what it claims. In the present case one may get an impression of close argument directed to an important conclusion. A use is made of a certain logical apparatus; (‘If ... then ... But as we have seen ... it is clear that ...’), and so it seems to invite formal consideration as a piece of reasoning. When viewed in this light one has to conclude that it is quite unsuccessful, in that it involves the elementary fallacy of ‘denying the antecedent’. (‘If ideology were just a cynical myth, then ... But it is not. Hence ...’). The point is worth noting here, just to counteract any impression that a connection has been established between the tendency of ruling classes to live in their own ideology and the necessity of ideology in a society without classes. This has not been done, and so far the conclusion is unsupported. Yet it does surely stand in need of some support.

The need takes an acute form in virtue of quite specific features of Althusser’s position. It is not that there is anything necessarily dubious about the project of a general theory of the sources of social cohesion. Such a theory might well need to operate with the notion of some kind of universal social cement, and no great harm is done if this is designated by the label ‘ideology’. The results would have little in common with the theoretical role of the concept of ideology in Marx and Lenin, but that in itself is no objection. The various attempts to give an account of the process of ‘socialization’ in non-Marxist sociology may perhaps be seen as contributions to such a programme and as attesting its viability. What makes Althusser’s version contentious is the sustained insistence that ideology involves the distorted, imaginary relationship. The specific question to be answered is why it is that human beings are necessarily condemned to live in this opacity, to be cut off from an awareness of the real conditions of their existence. There seem to be no further detailed arguments worth examining at this point, and one might be tempted to dismiss the whole thesis as simply gratuitous or ‘metaphysical’. It deserves less summary treatment, however. An attempt should be made to set it in some larger framework on which it could draw for significance and solidity, to uncover its underlying ‘problematic’. One might ask what has to be assumed in order to make sense of the claim that the imaginary relationship is necessary if the requirements of society are to be met.

The answer must surely involve reference to an assumption of an inescapable measure of tension between the human individual and the social subject, a sense of the incompatibility of two sets of needs. Society is obliged to impose its constraints on the development of individuals, and the fulfilment of their potential would threaten the foundations of its existence. It is as if some ‘old Adam’ or ‘noble savage’ had perpetually and ruthlessly to be suppressed, and a clear view of the process on the part of its victims would be inimical to its smooth operation. Hence it is that socialization necessarily involves ideology, that complex of special measures which are our particular concern. Such a picture of society as an alien power standing over and against the individual, a source of external pressures, intent on ‘forming’ and ‘transforming’ him to its purposes has, of course, a long intellectual pedigree. At times Althusser seems aware of the possibility of embarrassment from this quarter, and takes pains to exorcise the ghosts that lurk there. Thus, for instance, there is an obvious one it might be tempting to raise with the spell: ‘Men are born free, but are everywhere in ideology.’ But, as if to forestall just this possibility, there is his insistence that ‘an individual is always-already a subject, even before he is born’. This is so in virtue of ‘the ideological ritual that surrounds the expectation of a “birth,” that “happy event"’: the child is ‘appointed as a subject in and by the specific familial ideological configuration in which it is “expected” once it has been conceived’.[89] It is difficult to know what to make of this. The moment of conception is not itself the occasion of an ideological ritual, and the expectations it leads to take time to gather force. Moreover, the foetus is not a subject in either of the senses Althusser has distinguished, the responsible ‘author of actions or the subject of authority. It may be said that it is potentially both, but a potential subject is precisely not ‘always-already’ a subject. Perhaps, however, his remarks should not be taken in too literal a spirit. They constitute rather a little fable in which society is cast as the wicked fairy, lying in wait for the unborn with its ideological spells. It is a fable that should not be read innocently. The purpose is to disarm criticism by reducing to vanishing point the gap between the individual and the subject, to deter attempts to drive a wedge at this point in the structure of argument. But as such it is bound to fail. The gap is provided for in the theory from the start and it will not matter how far the origins of the process of fusion are pushed back. That is to say, the theoretical difference remains in spite of all attempts to secure identity of reference on each particular occasion. These attempts do nothing to allay the suspicion that one is confronted here with an odd kind of romantic individualism in Marxist trappings.

The general character of Marx’s own thinking on the relationship between society and the individual presents a sharp contrast. Its spirit is fully Aristotelian: ‘Man is a zoon politikon in the most literal sense: he is not only a social animal, but an animal that can be individualized only within society.’[90] This leaves no room for any useful distinction between the human individual and the member of society, but at most only for one between the human animal, the biological entity, on the one hand and the social individual on the other. Society is for Marx too much the unique authentic medium of human existence for a sense of the tension between individual and social to gather any universal significance. It is true that a relationship describable in those terms may be said on his view to characterize certain historical epochs, and notably that of capitalism. But the refusal to accept that it is the ineluctable human condition is central to the significance of his thought as a whole. To note this is to be jolted into an awareness of the practical implications of Althusser’s view of ideology. Underlying it is the assumption that the life of reason and the demands of social existence are necessarily incompatible so far as the mass of mankind is concerned. This is not a novel insight: it is rather a perennial theme of conservative social thought. But it is difficult to reconcile with socialism in any recognizably Marxist version. The idea of the socialist society is precisely that of a state in which the two conditions are satisfied harmoniously, in which the fullest development of the individual is not merely compatible with, but is a precondition of, a truly human social existence. If this goal is, in principle, unattainable it becomes difficult to see how anyone could have good reasons for being a socialist: theory is now cut off from the springs of action.

The ‘political immobilism’ implicit in Althusser’s position has often enough been the subject of comment.[91] Critics have not failed to note the other in-built peculiarity of its elitism. For ideology is always to be contrasted with science; and while the mass of mankind is condemned to live in the imaginary relation, the theorist has access to an alternative. The peculiar social implications of this duality are never brought into focus by Althusser himself. Nevertheless, the critics are surely right in supposing that they arise inescapably from the treatment of his central categories. Indeed, if assessed in terms of criteria of cognitive achievement, the classless society turns out to be rather less egalitarian than capitalism. For there the ruling class is, as we have seen, also the captive of ideology. In the classless society the masses remain in this condition while the theorists who have made the transition to science may be presumed to live in transparency and freedom. No extended commentary is needed to point up the distance between this vision and that of Marx.

The discussion of the views of Poulantzas and Althusser started from their rejection of the class-subject conception of ideology. This rejection is quite uncompromising so far as it goes. There remains, however, a sense in which it is not radical enough: it fails to engage with the deepest level of the problematic. There one has to speak not of a break but rather of an underlying continuity. The element of continuity arises from the failure of all these theories to identify and hold fast to the precise region in conceptual space in which the notion of ideology is anchored by Marx and Lenin. Both the Althusserian and the class-subject views allow it to slip its moorings in the theory of class struggle and drift into the vaster waters of general social theory, the region that bourgeois social thought has always claimed as its own. In a more sympathetic vein one may say that what has happened in each case is that ideology has come to be assigned new functions in theorizing the superstructure as a whole. At the level of detail these functions are conceived in different ways within the two perspectives. But the overall unity of purpose entitles one to bracket them together in contrast to the tradition that runs from Marx to Lukács. As one might expect these deep-rooted connections show themselves on the surface in a variety of ways.

Some of them may conveniently be considered in connection with the question of reification. The point involved here may be brought out by noting that each of the positions in question embodies a sort of caricature of bourgeois notions of property. The key to understanding ideology, it is assumed, is to find its owner. Poulantzas and Althusser see clearly that classes cannot possibly fit the bill. Nevertheless, they proceed as though on the assumption that the identity of ideology is only to be secured by settling it on an individual proprietor as a specific item of property. Such an approach treats the issue of its identity in a way analogous to that of a physical object, and, hence, illustrates one way in which the suspicion of reification may arise. Instead of class-subjects, however, they offer what might be called a theory of society as the subject. Ideology is a substance which human societies secrete in their innermost being as necessary to their respiration and life, and custody of it is to be assigned to the social formation as a whole. Here it is even harder than with the class-subject conception to detect a sense that behind the ideological forms stands any concrete mode of human activity at all. There is little room for the role of the professional ideologists in whom Marx was so interested, the ‘wholesale manufacturers’ of the ideas that fuel the class struggle. The conception of ideology as a substance perpetually emanating from the social structure belongs in a different world from that of his concern with ‘real, active men’ who are producers of ideas as well as material goods. From the standpoint of such a concern it can only appear as an attempt to mystify the true nature of certain human artefacts characteristic of a particular stage of history.

That stage is the epoch of class struggle, a slice of historical time which, however vast, is still not co-extensive with the whole. The function of the concept of ideology in intellectual inquiry is to theorize certain processes involving conflict and contradiction, and thus its mode of operation is specifically dialectical in character. There is a sense in which the general cast of thought of the earlier Althusser is unsympathetic to this kind of understanding. It is more at home in dealing with the solidity of elements of structure than with the fluidity of processes. Its natural bent is not so much dialectical as taxonomic. The deepest impulse, illustrated in the treatment of the science-ideology antithesis, is to get the phenomena assigned to firmly fixed and delineated categories. It is as if intellectual problems called for a species of quasi-legal decision making and the achievement of understanding consisted in establishing the appropriate rubric. This is a familiar tendency in the history of thought: it underlies the varied forms that scholasticism has taken in different periods. It is, moreover, easy to see how it encourages the reification of categories. Its standing temptation is to impose a frozen solidity that allows the work of classification to proceed in an orderly way. All of this is a long way from the radically dialectical universe of Marx, Lenin and Lukács. The conclusion seems forced that the frequent declarations in the earlier Althusser of intellectual loyalty to Marx ‘express a will’ rather than ‘describe a reality’. Indeed it is hard to avoid giving a prominent place to the category of will in characterizing this body of work. Its distinctive mode is an unrestricted assertiveness that proceeds as if all organic links in thought could be established and sustained by sheer ambition. Part of its exemplary value is that it shows what can be achieved in this mode and its objective limitations.

The threads of this discussion may be drawn together by returning to the source of Althusser’s difficulties. If his earlier treatment of ideology is considered in relation to the original Marxist conception its most striking feature is the neglect of class struggle. That factor is allowed no distinctive, strategic role in his thought.[92] In the light of this recognition one could now reconstruct the criticisms that have been outlined here. Most obviously, perhaps, it accounts for the vulnerability to doubts about the political implications of his work. Moreover, it is the loss of the secure anchorage in the theory of class struggle, and of the historical specificity it imposes, that enables him to wander onto the terrain of speculation about all conceivable forms of society. Hence it is the ultimate source of the tension between the professions of allegiance to Marx and the unprecedented burdens laid on the notion of ideology. It is also the crucial neglect that underlies the undialectical character of his thought. For class struggle is the natural home and medium of existence of the Marxist dialectic: the interpretation of capitalist society must be lacking in dialectical force if it is not placed at the centre of the stage. In this respect the class-subject and society-subject theories are alike defective. Both fail to see that the ideological context is constituted not by relationships between hypostatized categories but by the boundaries of a field of force, a network of dialectical interactions. A phrase favoured by Althusser in another connection may be helpful in characterizing this case: it is, one might say, a failure to appreciate that ideology too may be viewed as a ‘process without a subject’. The insistence on finding one for it is bound to distort its significance for Marxist thought. At this point, however, one turns to the later work. For the break with his earlier self is largely constituted by the rediscovery of the factor whose absence we have been deprecating.

The primacy of class struggle is the central theme of Essays in Self-Criticism. Its neglect by John Lewis forms the burden of the polemic in the first part of the book, and the new definition of philosophy as ‘in the last instance, class struggle in the field of theory’ is invoked over and over again.[93] Moreover, the earlier writings are specifically castigated for their shortcomings in this respect. Thus, for example, in connection with For Marx and Reading Capital, Althusser writes: ‘we had not yet appreciated the exceptional importance of the role of the class struggle in Marx’s philosophy ...’[94] Moreover, he is now inclined to accept the judgment of his ‘more politically-oriented’ critics that ‘the class struggle does not figure in its own right’ in these works.[95] ‘What was essentially lacking in my first essays’, he remarks, ‘was the class struggle and its effects in theory ... ‘.[96] The change of heart seems complete, and its effects are beneficial in just the ways one would expect.

Clearly, he has now greatly improved his position in relation to the ‘politically-oriented’ critics on the Left. The change also shows itself in a different kind of concern with the dialectic, and specifically with the central category of contradiction. The connection here is explicitly made by Althusser himself. The earlier work is stigmatized as follows: ‘The absence of “contradiction” was taking its toll: the question of the class struggle in ideology did not appear.’[97] For all the significance of this development, it must nevertheless be said that there are limits to his transformation into a dialectician. For one thing, he still has misgivings about the risk of the complete dissolution of structures into processes. These find expression in, for instance, the insistence that the dialectic must be ‘subjected to the primacy of materialism’.[98] Elsewhere, he writes of Marx’s care in ‘submitting the dialectic to the constraints of the topography’; that is, of the base-superstructure model of society, ‘the metaphor of an edifice whose upper floors rest, as the logic of an edifice would have it, on its foundation’.[99] The point of this emphasis is clear enough: it is intended to guard against ‘the idealist temptations involved in the dialectic’.[100] The results, however, are not altogether satisfactory. It is not enough to counterpose to the temptations of idealism what is in effect a general warning against allowing thought to become too dialectical. What is needed is an adequate account of the specific character of the materialist dialectic which would show how it differs in its elements and mode of operation from that of the idealists. Such an account would dissolve the false antithesis implied in the slogan of the primacy of materialism. However, it will not do to judge Althusser harshly here. He makes no extravagant claims for his warnings, and indeed recognizes that they are not a substitute for a satisfactory account of the materialist dialectic.[101] The lack of such an account is the permanent scandal of Marxist philosophy in general, and he is hardly to be blamed for failing to provide one at this point. Moreover, the benefits of his shift of perspective are already substantial enough.

For the hitherto frozen categories have now begun to thaw and take on life and movement, a development he marks in a gnomic way. A footnote is provided in which he refers to the ‘Marxist-Leninist thesis’ that ‘puts the class struggle in the front rank’, and goes on to explain what, philosophically, that means: ‘it affirms the primacy of contradiction over the terms of the contradiction’.[102] What concerns us here is the particular way in which the terms have begun to liquefy and register the play of the dialectical process. The results are most clearly seen in the rejection of the earlier view of the ‘epistemological break’ in Marx’s development from ideology to science. He now condemns the way in which the break was conceived and defined ‘in terms of an opposition between science (in the singular) and ideology (in the singular)’,[103] or, as it is put elsewhere, ‘in the form of the speculative distinction between science and ideology, in the singular and in general’. From this ‘rationalist-speculative drama’, he adds, ‘the class struggle was practically absent’.[104] Later, he refers to the way in which ‘every science ... causes its own theoretical prehistory, with which it breaks, to appear as quite erroneous, false, untrue’, and comments: ‘there always exist philosophers who will draw edifying conclusions; who will draw out of this recurrent (retrospective) practice an idealist theory of the opposition between Truth and Error, between Knowledge and Ignorance, and even (provided that the term “ideology” is taken in a non-Marxist sense) between Science and Ideology, in general’.[105] In the light of what is said elsewhere the implication seems clear that he himself had drawn out just such an idealist theory, relying on a non-Marxist sense of ‘ideology’. The distaste for attempts to develop a general contrast between ‘Science’ and ‘Ideology’ (or science and ideology) may be taken as encapsulating his reaction against the reifying tendencies of the earlier writings and brings him much closer to the spirit of Marx’s treatment of these matters. In addition to all this there are remarks in the Essays in Self-Criticism which seem close to embodying a fully authentic Marxist conception of ideology. That is to say, the notions of class interests and class struggle are sometimes specifically invoked in connection with the ideological. Thus, for instance, there is the remark that:

‘Each ruling exploiting class offers ... “its own” explanation of history, in the form of its ideology, which is dominant, which serves its class interests, cements its unity and maintains the masses under its exploitation’.[106] There is also the suggestion that ‘Marxism recognizes the existence of ideologies and judges them in terms of the role which they play in the class struggle’.[107] At this point it must be recognized that we are dealing with an overthrow of previous convictions on a substantial scale and, hence, with what is, in personal terms, a considerable achievement. The task before us is to determine its boundaries, to discover just how far Althusser has succeeded in establishing his position in a line of continuity from Marx and Lenin.

When the matter is approached from this viewpoint there are some serious reservations that have to be made. Even the apparent felicity of the phrases just quoted turns out on a closer look to be a source of disappointment. For these are not satisfactory formulations. The categorial significance of the service of class interests is not adequately recognized by simply including it in a list of social functions. Moreover, it is misleading to suggest that Marxism recognizes the existence of ideologies and, as if it were a separate operation, judges them in terms of their role in the class struggle. For Marxism is able to recognize them solely in virtue of that role. It is the core of their identity, not a source of norms for assessing what is identified independently. More generally, it may be said that what is lacking in these formulations is an appropriate sense of occasion, an awareness that anything of theoretical significance is at stake in them. They are presented in a low key as findings of Marxist sociology, not as contributions to the groundwork of a Marxist conception of ideology. This is now a rich and interesting situation. It is as if Althusser, in the course of the evolution of his thought, has been forced into contact with what is truly central in Marx’s position, but is unable to come to terms adequately with the nature of its centrality. If one casts about to find the stumbling-block it will not prove necessary to look very far.

As a preliminary point it may be noted that he is far from wishing to repudiate the earlier work in its entirety. This is made clear on a number of occasions, not least in the text containing the main arguments which accompanied the submission at the University of Picardy of some of the earlier writings, including For Marx and the contributions to Reading Capital, for the degree of doctorat d’État.[108] It may help to take the discussion a stage further if one recalls another familiar objection to the view of ideology presented in those writings. This is directed to its heavy epistemological bias,[109] shown most obviously in the persistent concern with science and ideology as higher and lower forms of cognition. The pressure of this factor has itself now eased and the result is shown in, for instance, a tendency to attach a lesser importance to epistemology in general.[110] Nevertheless, it remains a significant influence which makes itself felt in a number of ways. Thus, it appears that so far as ‘the antithesis science/ideology’ is concerned, it is only in ‘its general, rationalist-speculative form’ that it must be rejected, in order that it may be ‘"reworked” from another point of view’.[111] The reworking is not carried out in Essays in Self-Criticism, and what the alternative viewpoint would actually consist in is not entirely clear. Obviously, it would have to take account of the new status accorded to the class struggle. But it seems equally certain that it must continue to register some version of the old epistemological hierarchy.

For this has by no means been banished from the pages of the Self-Criticism. In their standard uses, ‘ideology’ and its derivatives continue to carry a weight of pejorative meaning.[112] Besides, Althusser insists that the terms ‘theory’ and ‘science’ must remain, and that this ‘is neither “fetishism” nor bourgeois “reification"’.[113] Both are still to be contrasted favourably with ‘ideology’ where cognitive status is concerned. This emerges in, for instance, the reference to ‘Lysenko’s “science,” which was no more than ideology’.[114] Writing of what he still finds valuable in the earlier work, he remarks: ‘We were attempting to give back to Marxist theory, which had been treated by dogmatism and by Marxist humanism as the first available ideology, something of its status as a theory, a revolutionary theory.’[115] Moreover, the assumption is maintained that a science develops by breaking with its ideological prehistory. Thus, with reference to the ‘Three Sources’ of Marxism; German philosophy, English political economy and French socialism, he insists that one must ask ‘how this ideological conjunction could produce a scientific disjunction ... how and why, when this conjunction took place, Marxist thought was able to leave ideology’.[116] The answer suggested is that it is as a consequence of adopting a class theoretical position that ‘Marx’s treatment of his object, Political Economy, takes on a radically new character: breaking with all ideological conceptions to lay down and develop the principles of the science of History’.[117]

It seems safe to conclude that Althusser is far from breaking radically with the epistemological preoccupations of his past. There remains an important sense, even if now more diffuse and attenuated, that by contrast with science, ideology is necessarily connected with what is cognitively dubious or defective in some way. It is this hangover which prevents him from doing justice to his new sense of the central reality of Marx’s position. That is, it blocks the way to a recognition that ideology is to be distinguished just in terms of its function in the class struggle and that other considerations are irrelevant to the definition. But, of course, we are dealing here with a factor that is not simply an obstacle for Althusser alone. The insistence on the epistemological connection is a pervasive feature of contemporary discussions of the Marxist conception of ideology. A detailed consideration of it can now no longer be postponed.


1. Many instances might be cited; e.g., ‘According to Marx and Engels -ideologies- were false thinking determined by class interests ...’. (H. B. Acton, The Illusion of the Epoch, London, 1955, p. 132). This formulation is noteworthy in capturing so many of the basic misconceptions with which the present essay is concerned. On the views of Engels and the question of ‘false thinking’ see below, Ch. 3.

2. GI, p. 194.

3. GI, p. 214.

4. CCP11, p. 21.

5. GI, p. 233.

6. GI, p. 460.

7. See above Ch. 1, n. 18.

8. K. Marx, Theories of Surplus Value, Part Two, London, 1969, (hereafter referred to as TSV (ii)), p. 118.

9. TSV(ii), p. 119.

10. TSV (ii), p. 120.

11. See, e.g., Theories of Surplus Value, Part Three, London, 1972; Subject Index, references under ‘Ricardo, David – argues from the standpoint of developed capitalist production’.

12. See, e.g., TSV(ii), p. 153.

13. TSV (ii), p. 118.

14. PP, P. 150.

15. K. Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Moscow, 1934, (hereafter referred to as EB), p. 106.

16. V. I. Lenin, What is to be Done? Moscow, 1947, (hereafter referred to as WD), p. 69.

17. WD, p. 31.

18. WD, p. 39.

19. WD, p. 41.

20. WD, p. 45.

21. See, e.g., Ch. 3, n.55; Ch. 4, n. 47

22. WD, p. 40.

23. WD, p. 41.

24. G. Lukács, History and Class Consciousness, London, 1971, (hereafter referred to as HCC), p. 5 1.

25. HCC.. p. XVIII.

26. As the translator’s note makes clear; HCC, pp. 344-45. For confirmation in the text see, e.g., p. 52, p. 58.

27. HCC, p. 46.

28. HF, p. 45.

29. On this point see the discussion by István Mészáros in I. Mészáros (ed.), Aspects of History and Class Consciousness, London, 1971. It argues that ‘Lukács’s distinction between “ascribed” and “psychological” class consciousness is a reformulation of one of the basic tenets of the Marxian system’, and that ‘it is quite impossible to make sense of Marx’s theory of classes and class consciousness without this vital distinction’. (p. 94).

30. HCC, p. 65.

31. For these references see, e.g., in sequence, pp. 10, 32, 36, 36, 67, 80, 227, and 59.

32. HCC, p. 228.

33. HCC, pp. 258-59.

34. N. Poulantzas, Political Power and Social Classes, London, 1973, (hereafter referred to as PPSC), p. 205.

35. G. Stedman Jones, ‘The Marxism of the Early Lukács: an Evaluation’, New Left Review, 70, November-December 1971, pp. 27-64, (hereafter referred to as MEL), reprinted in Western Marxism A Critical Reader, edited by New Left Review, London, 1977, pp. 11-60.

36. MEL, p. 48.

37. MEL, p. 49.

38. MEL, p. 50.

39. HCC, p. 44.

40. HCC, p. 208.

41. HCC, p. 275.

42. HCC, p. 276.

43. HCC, p. 76.

44. HCC, p. 71.

45. HCC, p. 74.

46. HCC, p. 304. See also pp. 79, 228, 305, 310, 312, 314, 330.

47. HCC, p. 67.

48. HCC, p. 36.

49. ‘aus eigenen Kräften ihre Position ideologisch zu verteidigen’, G. Lukács, Werke, Fruhschriften (ii), Band(ii), Neuwied, 1968, p. 403. HCC writes of ‘defending its own position ideologically and with its own resources’. (p. 227)

50. HCC, p. 227.

51. HCC, p. 67.

52. H CC, p. 227.

53. M EL, p. 49.

54. See above n. 18 and n. 19.

55. PPSC, e.g., p. 206

56. PPSC, p. 207.

57. PPSC, P. 198.

58. PPSC, p. 207.

59. PPSC, pp. 208-09.

60. In support of this interpretation see, e.g., pp. 73, 75, 209, 282.

61. HCC, p. 77.

62. On this point see, e.g., p. 146 and p. 173.

63. HCC, pp. XVIII-XIX.

64. HCC, p. XXXIII.


66. HCC, p. 259. For another typical expression see p. 70: ‘"Ideology” for the proletariat is no banner to follow into battle, nor is it a cover for its true objectives: it is the objective and the weapon itself.’

67. HCC, p. XXIII.

68. HCC, p. 68.

69. H CC, p. 70.

70. H CC, p. 224.

71. PPSC, p. 206.

72. Working Papers in Cultural Studies 10, ‘On Ideology’, Birmingham, 1977, (hereafter referred to as WPCS), is a collection which illustrates this clearly.

73. L. Althusser, For Marx, London, 1969, (hereafter referred to as FM). L. Althusser and E. Balibar, Reading Capital, London, 1970, (hereafter referred to as RC). L. Althusser, ‘Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses’, Lenin and Philosophy and other essays, London, 1971, (hereafter referred to as LP). L. Althusser, Essays in Self-Criticism, London, 1976, (hereafter referred to as ESC).

74. FM, p. 69.

75. RC, p. 52.

76. RC, p. 53.

77. See the discussion in T. S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Chicago, 1962.

78. FM, p. 23 1.

79. LP, p. 152.

80. LP, p. 160.

81. FM, p. 232.

82. Loc. cit.

83. FM, p. 235.

84. LP, p. 160.

85. LP, p. 169.

86. FM, p. 234.

87. LP, p. 156.

88. FM, p. 235.

89. LP, pp. 164-65.

90. CCPE, p. 189.

91. See, e.g., J. Rancičre, ‘On the theory of ideology’, Radical Philosophy, 7, Spring 1974, and A. Callinicos, Althusser’s Marxism, London, 1976, esp. pp. 96-101.

92. To put the point in this way is to accept what has been called ‘the most widespread criticism’ of the essay on ‘Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses’, that it offers an account ‘in which class struggle is almost entirely absent’, and, hence, to accept that the ‘rhetorical invocation of the class struggle in the Afterword’ is indeed ‘an ill-disguised apology for absences in the text’. (WPCC, p. 97). The view taken in ESC is that on the role of class struggle the position adopted in LP ‘was still an improvised solution, that is, a semi-compromise’. (ESC, p. 150). It may be that Althusser’s thinking was then in a process of change and that in some respects LP should be regarded as ‘a work of the break’. But so far as our present interests are concerned it fits most naturally, as the discussion has tried to show, with the earlier work, and taken together the results present a sharp contrast with the views of ESC.

93. ESC, e.g., pp. 37,39,58,72,142,166.

94. ESC, p. 130.

95. ESC, p. 146.

96. ESC, p. 148.

97. ESC, p. 14 1.

98. ESC, p. 179.

99. ESC, p. 177, p. 175.

100. ESC, p. 177.

101. Loc. cit.

102. ESC, pp. 49-50.

103. ESC, p. 119.

104. ESC, p. 106.

105. ESC, p. 155.

106. ESC, p. 55.

107. ESC, p. 201.

108. See ESC, p. 165.

109. See, e.g., J. Rancičre, op. cit., and A. Callinicos, op. cit.

110. ESC. See esp. n. 19, p. 124.

111. ESC. pp. 147-48.

112. For examples, see pp. 126, 151,157.

113. ESC. p. 116.

114. ESC, pp. 78-79.

115. ESC. p. 173.

116. ESC. p. 157.

117. ESC. p. 160.