Scepter of Marx | Specter of Napoleon

This may seem, erm, like Olympic level pedantry, but what can you do. I pointed out in the final bits of a previous essay that I’m not fond of using the word ‘ideology’ but I didn’t really delve into it as the essay was more on the issue I take with ‘culture’, as well as ‘nature’, which I vaguely remember addressing already in another essay.

I’ll start with the dictionary definitions first, working with the Oxford English Dictionary. The word (OED, s.v. “ideology”, n.) etymology is a combination of ‘ideo’, the combo form of ‘idea’, and ‘-logy’, as you may have figure out yourself even without a dictionary or another source. The former (OED, s.v. “idea”, n.) has to do with a Platonic concept of a general or ideal form (of something) or its essence, as opposed to its real instance. For example, there is an idea of the chair and actual real chairs. It is also noted that in Kantian formulation ‘idea’ (OED, s.v. “idea”, n.) is an a priori concept, existing “beyond the bounds of possible experience or empirical knowledge” and in Hegelian thinking “the absolute truth of which all phenomenal existence is the expression. This is the Platonic ‘Idea’ with a capital ‘I’.

It is also noted that the word (OED, s.v. “idea”, n.) has come to be understood as partially synonymous with ‘concept’, ‘notion’ and ‘thought’. Other notable definitions include what is noted as Cartesian uses of the word (OED, s.v. “idea”, n.), pertaining to “[s]enses relating to the mind without necessarily implying an external manifestation” as would be the case in many Platonic definitions that imply some phenomenal expression.

The latter (OED, s.v. “-logy”, comb. form) should not be confused with ‘-ology’, also a combined form, but one used when something is the science or discipline of this or that, like theology, sociology or zoology. The word‘-logy’ (OED, s.v. “-logy”, comb. form) has its roots in ‘logos’ (OED, s.v. “logos”, n.) and has to do with “those which have the sense of ‘saying or speaking’” or “(one) who speaks in (a certain way).

When the two are combined we get ‘ideology’, the way one speaks of ideas. It could be understood as the study of ideas and/or their expression, as noted in the dictionary definition of the word (OED, s.v. “ideology”, n.), but it generally isn’t used in that sense these days. The way it is, perhaps, used most often is (OED, s.v. “ideology”, n.):

“A systematic scheme of ideas, usually relating to politics, economics, or society and forming the basis of action or policy; a set of beliefs governing conduct. Also: the forming or holding of such a scheme of ideas.”

Now, it’s worth emphasizing that this is how it is, in general, used these days. It is also how I remember it being taught in school. That’s not, NOT, how it came be though. It is in the other sense that it came to be and I’ll focus on that before returning to how it is understood these days.

So, the word ‘ideology’ (OED, s.v. “ideology”, n.) was, apparently, used in the ‘study of’ sense first in the 18th century, as discussed by Étienne Condillac, a French philosopher, but the first listed case of it being actually used is indicated as having been expressed in 1796, as proposed during a lecture held by count Antoine Destutt de Tracy, also a French philosopher.

In ‘Eléments d’idéologie’, published as a series of publications from 1801 to 1815, Destutt de Tracy elaborated on its definition. The last part, ‘Traité de la volonté’, was translated into English in 1817 under the title ‘A Treatise on Political Economy’, on the request by Thomas Jefferson. I’m looking at the 1970/2009 reprint, so the pagination is from that. Destutt de Tracy (1) characterizes ‘Ideology’ as “true logic … absolutely the same science with that of the formation, the expression, and combination of our ideas”, the “general grammar, or analysis of the understanding”. He (2) also calls it “the science of logic”, which, for him, consists of “the observation of two facts”. Firstly (2):

“[O]ur perceptions being every thing for us, we are perfectly, completely, and necessarily sure of all that we actually feel.”

Secondly (2):

“[It] is but a consequence of that, is that none of our judgments, taken separately, can be erroneous, since, for the very reason that we see one idea in another, it must be actually there[.]”

Which he (2) then further clarifies:

“[B]ut … their falsity, when it takes place, is purely relative to all the anterior judgments, which we permit to subsist, and consists in this, that we believe the idea, in which we see a new element, to be the same we have always had under the same sign, while it is really different, since the new element we actually see there is incompatible with some of those which we have previously seen there[.]”

To make sense of this, he (2) adds that for this to hold, something has got to give, either the first or the latter part. Otherwise this results in a contradiction. He (2-3) wishes to engage with this because, for him, others only start where he finishes off with his treatise on logic. In his words this is important because:

“Whereas, when we have well established the first truths, it is easy to deduce the consequences which flow from them.”

I don’t exactly agree with him on ‘ideology’ being the ‘science of logic’, but this is a good point regardless of whether you agree with him or not. I’ll give him that. When you set up a premise, it is sort of easy to work from there on out. I’m fine with that, as long as you make it apparent what that premise is. If only people would do that though.

Anyway, I don’t really buy that Destutt de Tracy manages to do what he wishes to do, to come up with a science of sciences, a universal superscience, one that comes before all other sciences, be they physical or social, as Timothy Derrell (i-ii) characterizes it in the introduction to the book. For me this couldn’t be much more Platonic, with its dualism, the separation of the body and the mind, and its transcendence, having some eternal and universal realm of ideas and the real world that we live in, as well as with the insistence of focusing on the ideas themselves, particularly, before anything else.

In summary, it is evident that ‘ideology’ is a word that came to be as a combination of ‘idea’ and ‘-ology’, as the study of ideas that is to precede all sciences. However, as I already pointed out, about no one uses the word in this sense these days. Emmet Kennedy (354, 358) argues in his article ‘“Ideology” from Destutt De Tracy to Marx’ that the word fell out of use in this sense largely because it ran afoul of Napoleon’s interests. Kennedy (358) indicates that Napoleon stated to the Council of State in France on February 2, 1801, that (translated from Albert Vandal’s 1902-1907 ‘L’Avenement de Bonaparte’, page 451):

“Windbags and idéologues who have always fought the existing authority.”

It is worth clarifying that what we nowadays call ideologues, in general, were back then a specific group of people associated with ideology, hence being called ‘idéologues’. Kennedy (354-355) notes that while Destutt de Tracy came up with the word because, unlike metaphysics and psychology, it was supposed to be clear to everyone, perhaps, I guess, even self-explanatory, it also extended to everything, including the society, making it, oddly enough, rather obscure. In his (355) words:

“[I]t is the basis of grammar, logic, education, morality, and ‘finally the greatest of arts, for whose success all the other must cooperate, that of regulating society.’”

He (355) notes that not all of the ideologues agreed with this, extending ideology to the society, because it made it too broad in its application. He (355) argues that “[i]t was the extension of the meaning of ‘ideology’ which led to its pejorative use.” In short, summarizing Kennedy (355-356), Destutt de Tracy came to replace theology with ideology at the top of the hierarchy of sciences. It would then function as the basis of the society, functioning as its basis of morality. In other words, society would run according to the morality derived from this science of ideas. While that may have been originally all well intended, he (356-357) points out that once extended and actually applied, it ended up being affected by what it was supposed to affect. In other words, all these extensions that it was supposed to inform ended up informing it. Simply put, politics, economy, morality and social organization, in particular, came to inform it. This is rather ironic, considering how, as noted by Kennedy (357), “[i]deology was supposed to study intellectual habits, not succumb to them like schoolmen, Platonists, Scotists, Thomists, and Cartesians”, as well as “Kantians”, as well as to not function like a cult or a sect, yet, somehow, it came to revolve around the ideologues, Destutt de Tracy and his followers. That pretty much explains how you end up using ideologues as a pejorative.

The pejoration of the word is also reflected in the dictionary definitions for the word. It (OED, s.v. “ideologue”, n.) can be understood in two senses. Firstly, it can be understood as either as a synonym for ideologist (OED, s.v. “ideologist”, n.), which, in turn can be understood in three ways. Firstly, it can be understood as having to do with those who study ideas, as already covered so far. Secondly, it can be understood as having to do with people who are regarded as being impractical, speculators, idealists, visionaries or theorists. One of the examples provided for this is in reference to how Napoleon treated the people indicated in the first sense of the word with contempt. Thirdly, it can be understood as standing for the proponent of this or that ideology, in the contemporary sense of the word. Back to ideologue (OED, s.v. “ideologue”, n.), which, in the second sense can be understood as standing for:

“A proponent or adherent of a political, economic, or other ideology, especially one who is uncompromising or dogmatic.”

This definition is indicated as tied to the third sense of ideologist (OED, s.v. “ideologist”, n.). What is important here is the very final words: “uncompromising or dogmatic”. It is how Kennedy (357) characterizes how the ideologues came to operate, despite their supposed opposition to such. This was, perhaps, a bit unnecessary to explain in this detail, but I thought this benefited from fleshing it out a bit. It should make it a bit easier to understand how, ironically, the word ideologue came to be understood the way it is generally understood these days, as someone who adheres to this or that belief in a very uncompromising or dogmatic way, you know, like a cultist. This reminds me of how schools of thought tend to operate, but let’s not tangled up on that as I’ve written on that before.

Moving on. Kennedy (358) notes how ideology, now already quite distant from being merely the neutral science of ideas that is supposed to inform all other sciences, came to be associated with the bourgeoisie but was, in fact, not markedly bourgeoisie rather than aristocratic or elitist as the core of the ideologues were themselves nobles. As I pointed out early on, Destutt de Tracy himself was a count (comte).

Back to Napoleon, who, summarizing Kennedy (358-359), attacked the ideologues because their visions of society undermined his … erm. … imperial vision. I’m not exactly surprised that an emperor would do everything to get rid of anything and anyone that just even might undermine his position. In short, as noted by Kennedy (359-362), ideology came to be denounced as rebellious conspiracy by the Bonapartes, as well as the Bourbons who were back on the throne from 1814/1815 to 1830.

What is the connection between the two senses of the word, as science of ideas and as ways of speaking, from Destutt de Tracy to Karl Marx? Kennedy (366) notes that Marx was familiar the economic theory of Destutt de Tracy, having at least once cited one of his works. Anyway, he (366) reckons that, while aware of Destutt de Tracy’s economic theory, Marx picked up ideology from how it was used at the time in 1830s and 1840s, having been significantly changed from how it was used by Destutt de Tracy in 1796. Kennedy (368) summarizes how Marx viewed ideology in relation to the creator of the word, Destutt de Tracy:

“Ideology, thanks to Tracy, became for Marx neither simply science of ideas nor liberal political theory, but a system of thought which seeks to justify the existing mode of production and the social relationships which spring from it.”

As you can see, ideology came to be understood as a system of thought. That would be the way we understand the word these days, as already indicated very early on in this essay. Without going into detail here, yet, that system of thought has two components, appearing as a neutral science of ideas but actually being a socio-economic doctrine. This also further explains how something, possibly even well intended, came to be condemned for being presented as a neutral quest for truth, how things are in themselves, and how everything should flow from that, when those presenting it seem to have been a fairly tight knit group of uncompromising notables in the society, largely consisting of members of the aristocracy.

Kennedy (366-368) elaborates Destutt de Tracy’s views on economy, but as I’m sure you are capable of reading it yourself and probably are at least sort of aware of what Marx opposed, liberal economic theory, so I won’t go through it here. In short, it’s nothing out of the ordinary in that regard, private property being at the core of it all and poverty being just something that comes with the territory, or so to speak. That’s why Marx (613) calls Destutt de Tracy ‘der fischblütige Bourgeoisdoktrinär”, a fish blooded bourgeois doctrinaire, in ‘Das Kapital’. In summary, as expressed by Kennedy (368):

“By the time Marx used the word it had already acquired a pejorative sense, but it was specifically Marx’s reading of Tracy’s economics in the Elémen[t]s d’idéologie which led him to associate the word with bourgeois class interests – and that despite the high pedigree of nobility of the Comte Destutt de Tracy.”

So, the pejorative view of ideology is not something that Marx came up all by himself but rather how it was already presented at the time, albeit, stemming from the French Revolution, as something that opposed the imperial or royal state of affairs, the Ancien Régime and its revivals. Was it bourgeois? Well, I guess, yes and no. Yes in the sense that it pretty obvious that the bourgeoisie came to benefit considerably from getting rid of monarchy and the seigneurial feudalism. No in the sense that the ideologues were largely nobles. It would go against their interest to give up their privileges. Then again, perhaps they envisioned having those privileges and all that property they already had but under a different system, giving them a head start, having all that to begin with. Well, that’s just a hunch anyway. I’m not exactly an expert on the French Revolution. One way or another, there is something rather ironic to this. The key ideologues were nobles yet, it seems, that they couldn’t see how their status as nobles, as seigneurial landlords, depended on feudalism, having a monarch who grants them the rights to their property. It could be that they were flip flopping though, maneuvering between different statuses based on what benefited them the most at a given time.

What is Marx’s own take then? In ‘The German Ideology’, he (42) addresses one’s premises with his co-writer Friedrich Engels:

“The premises from which we begin are not arbitrary ones, not dogmas, but real premises from which abstraction can only be made in the imagination.”

So, Marx and Engels are against starting from a given standpoint, be it arbitrary, just random, or dogmatic, some specific line of thinking. They (42) continue:

“They are the real individuals, their activity and the material conditions under which they live, both those which they find already existing and those produced by their activity. These premises can thus be verified in a purely empirical way.”

As you can see, Marx and Engels start from the middle, as is, not from a given start. Their view is also, well, sort of obviously really, materialist, based on the actual conditions in which people live their lives. It is not that they (42) don’t acknowledge what they oppose, what the idealists, of their time, work with:

“[Humans] can be distinguished from animals by consciousness, by religion or anything else you like.”

But that’s not primary for them. Skipping quite a bit here, as I’m sure you know how to read (otherwise you are just staring at some quibbles on a screen), by yourself, I’ll move to the bit where Marx and Engels addresses feudalism. They (45-47) make note of two different ways or points of how to organize a society, the country and the town/city, the former being the mode of organization in feudalism, a hierarchical structure of who gets to hold what piece of land in exchange for tokens of loyalty (tax/service), and the latter being its counterpart, the mode of organization in corporatism, people gathering in crowded spaces to trade (merchants, craftsmen). What’s in common with the two is that, as you might guess, most people ended up at the bottom of the pyramid. This is the riffraff, the rabble, the commoners, the peasants, the laborers, whatever you want to call the largest segment of the population (you know, the people who most definitely should not be allowed in temples, if you know what I mean).

Where does what they oppose then come to play? Well, Marx and Engels (47) note that:

“The production of ideas, of conceptions, of consciousness, is at first directly interwoven with the material activity and the material intercourse of [humans], the language of real life. Conceiving, thinking, the mental intercourse of men, appear at this stage as the direct efflux of their material behavior.”

So, cutting in here, for a moment, all this, what they call the production of ideas, conceptions and consciousness itself, is, as I pointed out, secondary to material activity and dealings. That said, as secondary as it may be, they do note that they are interwoven, so, in a way, calling it secondary, as we are, always, in the middle of things, is a bit off. If it were simply just secondary, derivative, an offshoot, it would have no effect on our material activity and dealings. That’s not exactly the case. Anyway, Marx and Engels (47) continue, listing what comes from all this:

“The same applies to mental production as expressed in the language of politics, laws, morality, religion, metaphysics, etc. of a people. [Humans] are the producers of their conceptions, ideas, etc. – real, active [humans], as they are conditioned by a definite development of their productive forces and of the intercourse corresponding to these, up to its furthest forms.”

So, we have all those, politics, laws, morality, religion, metaphysics, whatever, the list could go on and on, the point being that they are human creations, which, in turn are created in relation to the actual conditions of life that condition them. They (47) continue:

“Consciousness can never be anything else than conscious existence, and the existence of men is their actual life-process.”

Ah, yes, we are always in the middle, always in process. They (47) then address ideology, the topic of this essay:

“If in all ideology [humans] and their circumstances appear upside-down as in a camera obscura, this phenomenon arises just as much from their historical life-process as the inversion of objects on the retina does from their physical life-process.”

Now, if you don’t know what a camera obscura is, look it up. This still applies when it comes to cameras, even the digital ones. The image is inverted, upside down, on the camera sensor, but, of course, the software flips it for you so when you check the image, on the camera, on the phone, on the computer (actually all are computers), you don’t need to flip it yourself, unless something has gone awry. It is how it works, up is down, left is right, and the other way around. Marx and Engels also point out how this also happens on a human eye, with no discernible separate moment existing for it. It happens as part of the process. It’d be rather disturbing if it didn’t. Anyway, to get to the point, Marx and Engels are saying that ideology, how things supposedly are, as Destutt de Tracy and his followers might put it, is always a human creation that is conditioned by real life circumstances. It’s not a given, a priori, but what follows, a posteriori. That’s why Marx and Engels (47) state that:

“[W]e do not set out from what [humans] say, imagine, conceive, nor from men as narrated, thought of, imagined, conceived, in order to arrive at [humans] in the flesh. We set out from real, active [humans], and on the basis of their real life-process we demonstrate the development of the ideological reflexes and echoes of this life-process.”

So, as I pointed out, and agree with Marx and Engels on this, you can’t start with an ideal human, the human being that is just a given. That’s a premise that you set up. That’s why it is a presupposition, a particularly naughty one as it ignores what Marx and Engels are on about here. They (47) continue:

“The phantoms formed in the human brain are also, necessarily, sublimates of their material life-process … Morality, religion, metaphysics, all the rest of ideology and their corresponding forms of consciousness, thus no longer retain the semblance of independence.”

Only to reiterate this in a more simplistic manner (47):

“[Humans], developing their material production and their material intercourse, alter, along with their real existence, their thinking and the products of their thinking. Life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life.”

And again, even more simplistic manner (55-56):

“It is clear here that individuals certainly make one another, physically and mentally, but do not make themselves.”

So, as I put it, we are always in the middle. We are always what we’ve become, which, in turns affects what we’ll become, to me, rather obviously so. This is also why I get frustrated when I see work that ignores this, when a research is conducted on a premise that conforms to the dogmatic or moral image of thought, which, in its contemporary form (as even that is subject to some alteration), starts with a fully autonomous and free thinking subject. In terms used by Marx and Engels (47), their “starting-point is consciousness taken as the living individual”. So, they start from a premise that is taken for granted. Even more problematically, it is a premise that is rarely mentioned by those who rely on it. It sort of gets smuggled in through the back door. In my opinion, and, relevant here, in the opinion of Marx and Engels, it is a poor premise. Now, you might disagree and argue that I, as do Marx and Engels, start from a premise. Yes. How do you not? Aren’t we always in the middle? That’s the whole point Marx and Engels are making and they (47-48) acknowledge this, in particular:

“This method of approach is not devoid of premises. It starts out from the real premises and does not abandon them for a moment. Its premises are [humans], not in any fantastic isolation and rigidity, but in their actual, empirically perceptible process of development under definite conditions.”

I might not agree with them on the specifics on this, but I agree with the gist of this. There is, perhaps, a bit too much emphasis on the perceptible material conditions for me. I think this bit skips over how what they oppose comes to affect their premises. Anyway, aside from that here, I’ll let them (48) continue:

“As soon as this active life-process is described, history ceases to be a collection of dead facts as it is with the empiricists (themselves still abstract), or an imagined activity of imagined subjects, as with the idealists.”

In other words, again, you have to start from the middle and wonder how it is that we got there, to the middle (which, obviously keeps changing, as we are always in the middle). They point out that not only do the idealists fail to get this but also the empiricists, because both start from the same fantastic notion of an isolated and rigid, autonomous and free individual. So, oddly enough, even the hardcore empiricist who asserts that the one who relies on observation alone ends up being an idealist.

As a side note, Marx and Engels make a point I’d often like to make when they (48) note that philosophy should not be viewed as separate and independent from the material world and the production of knowledge. At times I get asked why I get tangled up on philosophy or theory, whatever the label people want to use for something they consider esoteric and distanced from reality. I don’t know about others, but in agreement with Marx and Engels here, on this point, theory is never separate from practice. In order to have practice you need theory, but there is no theory if there is no practice. For me, they are in mutual presupposition, as I’ve covered before in an essay that included a bit on this very topic, as discussed by Gilles Deleuze and Michel Foucault in conversation with one another.

Anyway, the side note also ties in with the issue I take with studies in which, as explained by Marx and Engels (47), “the starting-point is consciousness taken as the living individual”. I reckon a lot of people, scholars included, don’t see anything odd in that, but, at least for me, as well as for Marx and Engels (47), that is replacing historically specific people with ahistorically generic people, determining life by consciousness, not “consciousness by life.” To clarify that further, Marx and Engels (50) put it in other words, stating that yes, everyone possesses or has consciousness, is conscious, but there is no ‘pure’ consciousness as human consciousness is always conditioned by experience. Simply put, as they (50-51) put it, human consciousness is a social product, one that, same as language, arises from interlocution and is markedly relational, in the sense that a conscious being is aware of existing in relation to others who are also keenly aware of this relationality. In other words, it has this in-betweenness to it.

Related to a previous essay of mine, albeit, perhaps, only rather superficially, Marx and Engels (51) make note of a specific point or a moment when division of labor becomes apparent. For them, it is the moment when physical and mental labor are separated, when, on one hand, you have the people who do physical manual labor, that is to say using their hands, and, on the other hand, people who think. Feel free to think of the body/mind duality here. Same with the practice/theory split. Funny thing though, how manipulation, the skillful handling of something comes to be associated the latter, albeit, strictly speaking, it has or had to do with the former. Anyway, Marx and Engels (51) point out that this is also the point when the first ideologues appeared, the conceptual persona known as the priest, as discussed in the previous essay. Most importantly, however, they (51-52) argue that:

“From this moment onwards consciousness can really flatter itself that it is something other than consciousness of existing practice, that it really represents something without representing something real; from now on consciousness is in a position to emancipate itself from the world and to proceed to the formation of ‘pure’ theory, theology, philosophy, ethics, etc.”

They (52) then adds, somewhat famously I’d say, that this leads the immaterial or ‘pure’ consciousness to various contradictions with existing social relations and forces of production, sparked by the devolved division of labor, that different people end up doing different things, as both producers and consumers of this and/or that. This then, cough cough, leads to all kinds socioeconomic issues in society, to put it as broadly as I can here.

I’m trying to stay on topic here, but as a second side note, Marx and Engels (53) make another good point about how one should not mix up community with the state, which is sort of an aberration of the community. The point they are making is that the individual has its own interests and the community, as individuals come together, has, or well, should have its communal interests, but state serves neither, only itself, while appearing otherwise. They (53-54) go on to call the interest of the state the general interest which caters to no one particular nor in particular, yet it is to be taken as serving the interest of the community and the individual. I may not agree with this 100%, but, well, broadly speaking, it is a fairly good depiction of the relation between the individual and the state, the illusory form of the community, as they (53-54) call it. If you’ve ever had to deal with state bureaucracy and ran into some surreal, perhaps even Kafkaesque, situations where your interest is of little concern, where it is all about the general interest that makes no sense, not for you, not for anyone, now you know why.

As a third side note, related to second side note, as I’m reading this, I’m a bit puzzled by how Marx and Engels, somehow, find the blame in the market, not in the state and/or the combination of the market and the state. I mean, sure, they (53) do point out that the state arises from the relations between people, “such as flesh and blood, language, division of labour”, as well as the classes that come about from the division of labor, which, in turn result in unavoidable struggle between the classes for mastery or domination of the society in order to run the society according to the interest of that class. They are throwing in a lot of interests, which remain rather murky here. There’s individual interest, communal interest, state interest, but now also class interest, which, in a way is not the same as communal interest, unless each class is now to be understood as a community. They (53) are also stating that they struggle, unavoidably, mind you, for representation in order to represent their interest as the general interest.

So, if everyone, no, not everyone, as individuals that is, but as members of this or that class, is seeking to dominate the society which then results in replacing whatever general interest happened to be with this or that class interest, how is it that the market is to blame? Would it not be the state to blame? Actually would it not be the people, or, sorry, class, to blame for using the state to present their interests, not the individual or communal interests, as general interest, the interest that is masquerading as everyone’s interest individually and communally? I reckon I understand what they are after, how individual interest runs counter to the state interest, as it certainly does, ask just about anybody, which pushes them to change things. If one, or, well a class, I guess, to stay true to the book at hand (albeit I’m reading this on a screen), manages to do just that, get one’s, or the class interest through, then someone else, some other class of people, will, unavoidably feel aggrieved and seek to change things around and so on, and so on. I get that. This is not rocket surgery. I get that they are trying to point out that it’s a rat race, that one ends up being a pawn, among other pawns, and that there’ll be pawns (pawnage!?) regardless of who runs the society. Sure … and? Tell me something new, something that I don’t already know. Okay, okay, fair enough, people probably didn’t know that in 1846 when it was written, nor in 1932 when it was published.

What Marx and Engels (54) recommend is a communist society, where people get to dabble in whatever it is that they fancy, no, not exclusively so, as that’s exactly what they are against (division of labor). I see what they are after, that you should be allowed to do this or that, to hunt, to fish, to herd, to be a critic, to use their (54) examples, without being just a hunter, a fisherman, a herder or a critic. Sure. Sure. I don’t see why you should be pigeonholed into this and/or that. It is, likely, sign of the times, 1800s vs. 2000s, but I just don’t buy it that you can’t be a bit of all of those, not that you have to (geez, what a list of options they have given …), and as a consequence lose your livelihood unless you live in a communist society. I don’t think my society is purely made out of awesomesauce, yet I could do all of those, even though hunting and fishing require a license and herding is not exactly common these days (because no one wants to be a herder, mind you), and, most importantly, not lose my livelihood. They (55-57) reiterate these points, with a wish to remove barriers that bar people from doing whatever they wish. Signs of the times I guess, but, technically, nowadays, there’s only a handful of jobs that you can do only if you have this or that education, namely doctors, so I don’t think this argument works that great. I reckon people, themselves, tend to think that they must do this or that and that they can’t do something else, but I guess that’s a topic for another day. Am I living in a communist society? No. Ha, take that Marx and Engels (with the benefit of over a hundred and fifty years of hindsight, of course)!

Right, where was I? About the market. So, they (54-55) list examples of how property came into being, yet, hmmm … , I don’t see how it is all connected to the market. For example, landed property, a distinct feature of feudalism, a system of lords and vassals, where the one on top, the superior hands out land to his inferiors, who, in turn, do the same, in exchange of servitude, is listed as stemming from this. Yet, again, while I realize that I may be off with this, it would seem that the division of property in a certain hierarchical way and the division of labor is a product of feudalism rather than the other way around. For me, feudalism is very much against the market. Ownership of land is what counts and it is fixed according to this hereditary hierarchy. If we think it as the state, it is as aristocratic or elitist as it gets. Oh, and no, I’m not saying that feudalism is, by any means, great for anyone, except the select few, of course. What I’m trying to get at here is that it is the state, using it as you see fit to run the society that is, perhaps, to blame here.

What about the market then? Marx and Engels (55-56) note how, at the time, in the 1800s, the economists described free market trade as an invisible hand that makes things go round, boom and bust, based on supply and demand, just as I remember it being taught in school, you know, in reference to Adam Smith and the like. They (55) make note of private property, something that is, I’m hesitant here, a feature of the capitalist society, a central problem in their view, anyhow. I’m just thinking, would it not be that it is a feature of the state, not of the market. And no, I’m not being apologetic about the market here. Again, so, if feudalism is state ran by aristocrats and capitalism, after the demise of landed aristocrats, is ran by the bourgeoisie, remember, those crafty traders in the towns and cities, would it not be that they reappropriated the notion of property, previously, more or less, exclusive to the aristocrats who had, ultimately, a divine right to it (Emperors and Kings, who give them or those who give the titles, are there, of course, because God, who else, wills it) and made it apply universally to anything you can think of, really. Something tells me that you can’t make that work, you cannot have property unless you back it up having a system that guarantees it. The market won’t do that. Why would you or your competition care about what you think is yours? Duh! To put it nicely, they would just outcompete you. To put it bluntly, they would destroy you and take all that you have. Unless! Unless, guess what, you get the state to make it so that your competition can’t do that, at least not in the most obvious way, by force. So, it is, again, the state that comes into play here. You just may want to cling on to it, unless you want to risk it, of course.

In summary, thus far, it is not exactly that the market is to blame for this, but the way those on the market find it useful to make use of the state to back up their business. To me, it seems, that the issue is not private property, itself, but the state that guarantees it. Without the state, or states, those pro market would have a tough time holding on to what they have, unless they come up with something that does what they need, something that guarantees what they have, which, to me, sounds a lot like what the state already affords them. Later on in the book, they (79-80) do make note of this, how the bourgeoisie have to rely on the state as the guarantee of their property, and go on to further explain how it was branded as based on the general interest (80-81). Simply put, the notion of property as a right to something falls apart without the state that guarantees it.

When it comes to his solution to the issue, how we’d fix it, or, rather, how it would eventually end up being fixed, out of necessity, really, they (55-56) argue, as you might be aware already, for a communist revolution that will solve the alienation issue, that the interests do not meet. They claim that once the great mass of people, the propertyless, the proletariat, come together in cooperation and transform the society. To be accurate, they emphasize that this needs to happen on a global level, everywhere, not just here and/or there, otherwise the interests are, again, merely rendered into the general interest, which, in turn, results in alienation. Simply put, without it being global, it results in cosmetic changes, still reproducing of existing conditions. This is the basis for the well known slogan contained in the ‘Manifesto of the Communist Party’ first published in 1848 by Marx and Engels:

“Working Men of All Countries, Unite!”

The original being:

“Proletarier aller Länder, vereinigt euch!”

So, it would be more accurate to replacing working men with proletariat. More commonly, this has been popularized in the form:

“Workers of the world, unite!”

That’s not in the official English translation supervised by Engels though. It would be apt to go on a tangent into the invention of slogans, but I have already discussed that in the past, to some extent. It might be worth reprising, but I’ll leave that to another day. So, right, the point Marx and Engels are making is that everyone in the world needs to rally behind this, otherwise it won’t work. It needs to be a global movement because the market is also global. It’s a bit odd, for me, a bit off, that Marx and Engels (56-57) argue that “[c]ommunism is … not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself” but “the real movement which abolishes the present state of things.” To me, they seem quite keen on going against the market, when it is the state that functions to guarantee the operation of the market. Why not focus on the state more? Not that I know, but this just made me wonder, hence the tangent.

Anyway, getting back to ideology, the topic of this essay, they (58-59) advocate for coming up with ideas, grounded in practice, not practice, grounded in ideas, and calls ideology “idealistic humbug”. They (60) argue against understanding practice as motivated by abstractions, such as religion and politics, because it ends up becoming an explanation for this and/or that practice. In their (60) words:

“The ‘idea’, the ‘conception’ of the people in question about their real practice, is transformed into the sole determining, active force, which controls and determines their practice.”

This is why I go against such ‘ideas’ or ‘conceptions’ such as ‘culture’ and ‘nature’. As explored in a previous essay, they end up being used not only as labels for sets of practices but as what causes them and which people then use to explain and justify them. They (60) exemplify this with the Indian and Egyptian caste-systems, which people then take as “the power which has produced this crude social form” of division of labor. They (60) also use German historiography as an example, arguing that it severs history from real life and its conditions, reducing it all to religion, to pure spirit, to pure consciousness. I would add, here, however, that ideology has a tendency of ending up understood and use the same way, as this entity of its own, determining, active, which makes people do things and people then explain their or someone else’s behavior by attributing it to this or that ideology. We could say the same thing about the classes that Marx and Engels keep on returning to. They keep coming across as these abstract blobs, in which people act according to certain class interest that is taken for granted.

Then there is the revolutionary class, which, then, they (66) argue isn’t actually a class at all but “the representative of the whole of society”, “the whole mass of society confronting the one ruling class”, marked by being “more connected with the common interest of all other non-ruling classes” because it has yet to become a particular class, marked by particular class interests. When that actually happens, when you have a revolution, as in the case of the French Revolution, they (66) state that each time a broader, a more populous group is elevated into the position of power than the one it replaces, thus becoming the ruling class. They (66) then add that, as it goes, it also elevates members of those other non-ruling classes, albeit only by promoting them, for example from the proletariat to the bourgeoisie.

What irks me is their insistence on class. They do explain how it comes to be, the division of labor being the key here. That said, these seem oddly set in stone. I realize that this text was written in 1840s, so, yeah, there’s that and societies were quite a bit different from what they are now. For example, I’m keenly aware that in Finland, the backwater that I hail from, the estates system of representation, consisting of nobility, clergy, bourgeoisie and land owning peasantry, with, of course, the nobility dwarfing the others in terms of the number of allotted seats, was abolished as late as 1906. It doesn’t take a doctorate to understand why property and status mattered back then and, I guess, still does, to large extent. Then again, while I get that they are basing all this on who does and gets to do what, and the material conditions, who owns what and/or doesn’t, this insistence on class as explaining this and/or that human interests and behavior just comes across awfully rigid and static, as well as deterministic.

Looking at this from another perspective, taking into account, more or less, only the bits where they (66) argue that the revolutionary non-class, or, I guess, yet-to-be-class, is the bubbling under mass of people, larger in numbers than the ruling class, defined only by its opposition to the ruling class, then class makes more sense. So, when the bourgeoisie axed, in some places quite literally so, the aristocracy, they then, and only then, emerged as the bourgeoisie when they became the ruling class. Then again, what results from that is that whatever the way things work, as managed by this or that group of people of certain socioeconomic status, you have class vs. non-class, which, to me, seems like a quite the simplification. They (64-65) also make note of the possibility of the existence of royals, that is to say a king, aristocracy and the bourgeoisie, which then contradicts the class vs. non-class mass formulation, or, at least it seems like it does. On top of that, while I’m hardly an expert on this, I’m guessing here, but what about the patrician maritime republics, city states such as Venice, that stood in distinction from the feudal hierarchies, having their own way of running things? Also, what about the nomads?

Anyway, I’m a bit puzzled by this, how there is the ruling class, then the emerging revolutionary mass that either becomes the ruling class, as in the case of the bourgeoisie overthrowing the aristocracy, or abolishes the class system, as in the proposed case of the proletariat overthrowing the bourgeoisie, yet they use examples where different classes coexist. Is it this or that? Which one is it? Or is it something else that I just fail to comprehend. I acknowledge that I may simply be missing something, there’s that, but that’s my gripe.

Getting back to where I was, I’m also not buying the way they lump together people as a distinct class, based on the material conditions. It assumes that they are homogeneous, at least highly so to the point that they always look after one another in the end regardless of any differences or hostilities among the members of the class, as explained by Marx and Engels (64-65). For example, why would aristocrats be all determined to oppose monarchy? To my understanding, at least in the European context, many aristocrats were nobles, people who held hereditary titles, such as duchies, counties and baronies granted to them by the monarch, a king or emperor whose position at the top was typically also hereditary. Why would they be determined to abolish the monarchy, the system that guarantees their exclusive property rights? Would it not be possible that, for example, a duke seeks to undermine the monarchy but in order to get to the top himself, to be crowned the king or the emperor? Of course, it may be in their or become their interest to change the system, especially if the monarchy is absolutist. They might indeed prefer oligarchy over monarchy. Fair enough. This also ignores how elective monarchies function. Moreover, if the maritime republics are taken into consideration, they were markedly bourgeoisie, yet they had, you could say, aristocratic or noble aspirations, yet without depending on a monarch. For example, Venetian doges were elected for life and crowned to that position with a ducal hat. Anyway, as accurate or inaccurate as I may be here, by being very brief, the point I’m trying to make is that class probably isn’t as clear cut a thing as Marx and Engels want us to believe.

Back to ideology. While I clearly don’t agree with Marx and Engels that much on other things, they (64-65) do makes some good points, about how something imagined, something thought up, can become taken for granted, as if having independent existence, which is then used to explain and justify the existing state of affairs at any given time. These can be anything, really. You only need to come up with it and then elevate it, to universalize it. They (65) give examples, ranging from aristocratic ideas of honor and loyalty to bourgeoisie ideas of freedom and equality. So, in practice, if you end up in an argument over something with someone, they may appeal to your sense of honor or loyalty, pointing out that doing this and/or that is dishonorable or disloyal. The same applies to freedom and equality. You can be reprimanded for holding views that may be deemed illiberal or anti-egalitarian. The point here is, as explained by them (65), that these are not, by any means universal but they are to be taken as such and one is compelled to behave and think accordingly. This is why, as they (65) put it, ideas come to hold sway. To get back to the definitions on ‘ideology’ early on in this essay, they (67) characterize what’s at stake as being “able to distinguish between what somebody professes to be and what [that person] really is”, hence the very early point made about it being not about ideas but about the way one speaks of ideas.

I realize that I got carried away, here and there, and possible just didn’t understand everything or maybe it is explained elsewhere in the book or in other works, so there’s that. I think I still got what I wanted, an examination of ideology, which, at least for me, is just a shorthand for saying that someone is talking out of one’s hoop. So, in a way, your could say that it is a handy word. Then again, I don’t like it, and try to avoid it like the plague, because it ends up used to back up a claim, to explain and justify whatever it is that one is saying. So, ironically, by attributing something as ‘ideology’ or ‘ideological’ or someone as an ‘ideologue’ one ends up promoting an ‘ideology’, making an ‘ideological’ move and acting like an ‘ideologue’.


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