ABSTRACT

THE CLASSICAL PROBLEMATIC AND ITS CRITIQUE

Any attempt to assess Voloshinov, Medvedev and Bakhtin’s voluminous (if ambiguous) pronouncements on ideology in the light of the classical

Marxist account is complicated by the fact that neither Marx nor the Bakhtin Circle managed to delineate in any systematic fashion what the term ‘ideology’ was meant to designate or how it was supposed to operate in the social world.2 The similarities and differences are (relatively) straightforward if we choose to restrict ourselves to Marx and Engels’s characterization in The German Ideology, which identifies ideology as a form of cognitive distortion, a false or illusory representation of the real. For Marx, this category of distortion primarily resulted from the (structurally-induced) tendency in capitalist society for social agents to attribute the determination of history to ideas and the philosophical or religious systems that corresponded to these ideas. Thus, Marx posited a close, even necessary connection between ideology and philosophical idealism. But ideology in this sense is not simply a kind of logical error resulting from a sense of misplaced priorities about cause and effect, a failure to grasp the precise nature of the relationship between the material and the immaterial. For such idealist propositions were expressed within grand philosophical systems which operated as post-facto rationalizations of the age, as powerful (if mythical) legitimations which buttressed the prevailing class system. Marx’s reaction to this duplicity was to connect particular ideological forms-for instance, Malthus’s justification of laissezfaire capitalism by conjuring up the spectre of rampant over-populationto dominant material interests and the exploitation of the labouring masses. In exposing the underlying cynicism which tainted any ideological system, Marx not only called into question the pretence of these systems to objectivity and universality; he also criticized the social role performed by the various intellectual strata who functioned as apologists for the capitalist order. As György Márkus has written:

In these polemical contexts, Marx employs a genetic method of critique of ideologies, the essence of which consists in the reduction of systems of thought to the conscious or unconscious social interests which they express. […] By transforming definite social interests into the requirements of human reason as such, these systems of thought contribute to the stabilization of the given relations of social domination: the fixation of belief becomes a mode of legitimation.