Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Marx's The German Ideology: Alienation and Ideology – summary and analysis

Marx's The German Ideology: Alienation and Ideology – summary and analysis

In The German Ideology Marx argued that the division of labor turns a man's own action to a foreign power (he sells his manual and intellectual capacities to someone else) which enslaves him. Marx argues that certain social-economical conditions, such as those brought about by capitalism; project this alienation to society itself. When the products of production are cut off from workers, they sense that these products have a power over them which are not in their control. In other words, alienation brings about fetishism of products and production which are conceived as being both of independent and separate existence and as of having power over the alienated worker. Alienation can be aborted, Marx holds, when the proletariat take over the means of production.

One of the key concepts in Marxist thought and in Marx's The German Ideology is ideology. Marx says that ideology is a "camera obscura" which turns the image on reality on its head. In other words, Marx holds that ideology reflects an inverted image of social reality, which is distorted and false. Marx, plainly speaking, says that the truth of reality and reality as it is conceived through ideology are opposed.
Marx ties the function of ideology to material reality and the course of human material development (dialectics of historical class conflict over relations ofproduction and property which is driven by development in the means of production). In other words, according to Marx, ideology is the product of material reality and the distorted image of this reality portrayed by ideology is due to social economical conditions.  

According to Marx in The German Ideology all thoughts and ideas are socially constructed and depend on society's material conditions - existence determines consciousness. But what distinguishes ideology from other cultural forms is its function of distorting and inverting the image of reality as it is conceived in society. Ideology presents itself as objective and universal, but when Marx refuted Hegel conception of the idealist historical dialectics in favor of a material one, he set the ground for rejecting any idea such as ideology as detached for actual social and economical reality. Things like nationality and even family values are all signed off by Marx as ideology which is designed to conserve the existing social order and relations of production by presenting the existing state as warranted, natural and justified.

For Marx ideology is always the result of material class conflict and he therefore argues in The German Ideology that the ideas of the ruling class have always been the dominant ideas. For Marx ideology works at the service of the existing social order and in beneficiaries. According to Marx, whoever controls the means of material production also controls the means of ideological production which sustains the existing relations of production. Ideology, in other words, is the interests of the ruling class. Every revolution according to Marx has to introduce a new ideology to support the new social order which is, once again, presented as universal.

Additional reading:


  1. the decay and demise of USSR and restoration of capitalism [roves validity of marx brilliantly