The Real World of Ideology, Joe McCarney 1980


This essay is a study of the treatment of ideology by Marxist thinkers. The topic has a life outside that context, and issues of great interest have been raised there. Nevertheless, there is a case for regarding its place within it as crucial for the debate as a whole. Marx is usually acknowledged as, historically, the most important influence in the field, with the main responsibility for introducing the notion into general intellectual currency. Moreover, his work continued to shape its fortunes thereafter, in that later writers have felt obliged to define their position in relation to what they take to be his, whether in order to support or attack it. This in itself, of course, would not justify yet another discussion of a well-worn theme. For that one has to rely on a claim which the body of the essay will seek to substantiate, that the character of the Marxist tradition in this area is now generally misunderstood by friendly and hostile commentators alike. The failure has a radical aspect: it is rooted in a mistaken view of the nature of the conception of ideology held by Marx and the classical Marxist thinkers. Hence, the first chapter will be concerned to explicate that conception. The next two chapters will pursue the argument in relation to the main lines of misconceived development in the later period. The final chapter will try to locate the theme of ideology within the overall pattern of the historical development of Marxist thought.

There are some debts that should be acknowledged here. The first is to Dr Otto Newman, Head of the Department of Social Sciences, Polytechnic of the South Bank, for his consistent encouragement of this project, and in particular for its practical expression in arranging the measure of relief from teaching responsibilities that facilitated its completion. My thanks are due to a number of colleagues for their co-operation in this, and most of all to Dick de Zoysa who had to bear the brunt of the inconvenience that resulted. I should like to add that it was the experience of planning and teaching a course with him that led to my serious interest in the questions discussed in this book I am indebted to Nick Worrall for confirming that the standard translations of Lenin could be relied on to the extent I required.

I am grateful most of all to Roy Edgely, General Editor of the ‘Philosophy Now’ series. He has read the entire manuscript in draft, and his detailed comments have been very helpful in preparing the final version. I also attach considerable importance to his interest in the project at an early and difficult stage of its development.

Finally, I wish to record my sense of the incalculable debt I owe my wife for her support throughout the period of writing this book.

Joe McCarney