The Marxist Understanding of Therelationship Between Ideology and Subjectivity

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Cliona Walshe
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Q1. ‘there is no ideology, except by the subject for the subjects’ (Louis Althusser). Interpret Althusser’s statement in relation to the Marxist understanding of the relationship between subjectivity and ideology. You should refer in detail to the Althusser essay, as well as other relevant extracts concerning Marxism and ideology in the Norton Anthology. Louis Althusser advances Karl Marx’s account of the relationship between subjectivity and ideology in his essay Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses. There are some similarities between both Althusser’s and Marx’s thought but both accounts also differ a great deal. First of all they both differ in their conception of the term ideology with Althusser seeing it less pejoratively than Marx. While Marx sees ideology as a method employed by the ruling class of the capitalist system to oppress and exploit the working class, Althusser sees it as a material and objective process that works on an entirely unconscious level. However they both agree that it is ideology which ensures the perpetuation of the capitalist system. They both have very different views with regard to the relationship between subjectivity and ideology. According to Marx the working class are deceived by the Bourgeois ruling class into accepting that they are themselves solely responsible for their life circumstances even if the life circumstances of said working class are less than desirable. While Marx argues that the working class are led to believe that they have control over their own destinies when they are in reality being oppressed by the ruling class, Althusser posits that ideology creates social subjects by interpellating individuals. The term ‘ideology’ does not have one concrete meaning and as can be seen in Eagleton’s Ideology: An Introduction there are numerous different understandings of the term. The term is understood by some as being good, by some as being bad while others see ideology in neutral terms. However, as Eagleton states, John B. Thompson’s definition of ideology as “‘the ways in which meaning (or signification) serves to sustain relations of domination’...is probably the single most widely accepted definition of ideology” (p.5). “With the development of bourgeois society and the expansion of capitalism, serious problems, irrationalities and contradictions came to the fore” (Larrain, p.10). Because of this the founder of the Marxism movement, Karl Marx, uses the term ideology pejoratively and “develops a concept of ideology with which he criticizes the dominant political ideas of capitalism for concealing forms of inequality and exploitation” (Larrain, p.8) arguing that ideology is used to create a “false consciousness.” As Eagleton puts it, “In an entirely just society, there would be no need for ideology in the pejorative sense since there would be nothing to explain away” (p.28). Both Louis Althusser and Marx agree that “ideologies are ensembles of false beliefs” (B. Smith, p.650) and they both see ideology as a process which enables the reproduction of the system but “Althusser revised Marx’s approach to ideology by arguing that ideology did not simply obscure or hide reality but created a new reality” (Sargent, p.7) thereby ensuring the reproduction of the conditions of production “through interpellating individuals and constituting them as subjects obedient to the system” (Larrain, p.60) while Marx believes that Proletarians, that is, the working class, are deceived by the Bourgeois, that is, the ruling class, into believing that their situation “cannot be changed, and that ultimately they have only themselves to blame for their discontent and failures” (Leitch et al., p.649). The term ‘subjectivity’ is more easily defined than ideology and relates to the word ‘subject’ which “literally means ‘that which lies beneath’” (Eagleton, p.146). In relation to the Marxist understanding of the relationship between subjectivity and ideology the subject in...
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