Examining Marxism And Revolutionary Social Change Cultural Studies Essay

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The recurring theme throughout Marxism is the need for revolutionary social change. Though within any field of thought there are differing view points as to how this is to be done and how the ruling classes attempt to stop any change that might damage their position. Here I will be looking at Gramsci and Althusser, two different theories with one underlying factor of ideology and how it controls and dominates.

The mouthpieces of hegemony, the ones that sprout the ideology to the workers are referred by Gramsci as intellectuals. He laid out two distinct types of intellectuals, traditional and organic. Traditional intellectuals are those who can be called professional academic, the scientist and the scholars and primarily see them as autonomous from society but however are actually strongly linked to the ruling class and their ideology. Organic intellectuals are scholars who keep close ties to their community and function to aid their own class by directing them to their own ideology (Gramsci, 1971, P1). Gramsci clarified that the working class can produce its own intellectuals though these are predominantly organic. He also noted that "All men are intellectuals, one could therefore say: but not all men have in society the function of intellectuals" (Ibid P9) and that it is these working class organic intellectuals that will aid in the revolution "One of the most important characteristics of any group that is developing towards dominance is its struggle to assimilate and to conquer 'ideologically' the traditional intellectuals, but this assimilation and conquest is made quicker and more efficacious the more the group in question succeeds in simultaneously elaborating its own organic intellectuals" (Ibid P10)

For Gramsci, hegemony was a form of social control utilised through a society's superstructure.  He saw the function of the state as "to raise the great mass of the population to a particular cultural and moral level, a level which corresponds to the needs of the productive forces for development, and hence to the interests of the ruling class" (Ibid P58). Gramsci splits the superstructure section of the base-superstructure model as laid out by Marx, into two main parts: civil society and political society, or the state. Civil society includes organizations such as churches, trade unions, and schools. A major piece of Gramsci's project is to show that civil society's ways of establishing and organizing human relationships and consciousness are deeply political, and should in fact be considered integral to class domination. According to Gramsci, civil society corresponds to hegemony, while political society is direct domination' Gramsci further delineates these two different forms of control, social hegemony and political government. Social hegemony deals with the consent given by the population to the ideology imposed by the ruling class; this consent is caused by the ruling classes prestige and the misplaced confidence the exploited have in the dominant group. Political government deals with the tools that the state use to coerce and enforce discipline on groups who do not give their consent to their subordination, though can be used on the whole population in times of crisis (Ibid P12). These two parts create a whole which Gramsci called the "integral state" Gramsci uses the term state to refer to the "governmental-coercive apparatus" (Ibid P265) and sees it as a result of "dictatorship + hegemony" (Ibid P239), of political "society + civil society", or utilising the tools of coercion to protect the hegemony" (Ibid P263). He also noted that the "State is the entire complex of practical and theoretical activities with which the ruling class not only justifies and maintains its dominance, but manages to win the active consent of those over whom it rules" (Ibid P244).

Gramsci talks about change in political struggle by drawing parallels between said struggle and war. World War I showed an evolution from a war of manoeuvre (Ibid P238), with its focus on full frontal assault, to a war of position, involving relatively immobile troops who fortify their surroundings. For "modern States"-though not for "backward countries or for colonies"-the war of manoeuvre increasingly gives way to war of position, which "is not, in reality, constituted simply by the actual trenches, but by the whole organizational and industrial system of the territory which lies to the rear of the army in the field" (Ibid P234). Gramsci states that "massive structures of the modern democracies, both as state organizations, and as complexes of associations in civil society, constitute for the art of politics as it were the 'trenches' and the permanent fortifications of the front in the war of position . . ." (Ibid P243) Gramsci stresses the importance of civil society, by suggesting it is more capable as a means of control than the state: "When the state trembled a sturdy structure of civil society was at once revealed. The state was only an outer ditch, behind which there stood a powerful system of fortresses and earthworks" (Ibid P238); and that "Civil society' has become a very complex structure and one which is resistant to the catastrophic 'incursions' of the immediate economic element. The superstructures of civil society are like the trench-systems of modern warfare. In war it would sometimes happen that a fierce artillery attack seemed to have destroyed the enemy's entire defensive system, whereas in fact it had only destroyed the outer perimeter" (Ibid P235).

So one has to have a war of position with the civil society or an ideological battle before one can have a successful war of manoeuvre to overthrow the state and their hegemony, as ideological positions can be seen as to be more difficult to change then who controls the government.

Gramsci argues against the view that economic situations will be enough to bring about the overthrow of the capitalist state and neither would it be enough to weaken them or make them "abandon their positions, even among the ruins" (Ibid P235) He favours a philosophy of praxis or action, though he disagrees that the working classes can overthrow the state by merely attacking them physically-"to fix one's mind on the military model is the mark of a fool: politics, here too, must have priority over its military aspect, and only politics creates the possibility for manoeuvre and movement" (Ibid P232). For Gramsci conflict involves a fight for hegemony and the dominated classes intent to take control of the state and shape it as they see fit.

Althusser is a French Marxist and the main feature of his work is the shunning of essentialism. Essentialism being the belief that a person or object has some set properties or characteristics. In Marxism this primarily consisted of economic determinism, where all events are determined by economic factors and humanism, where in people are seen as inherently good (web ref 1). Althusser however saw society as consisting of three determining levels, economic, political and ideological, with each having some degree of autonomy but also affecting each other in some way or other (Anderson & Kaspersen, 2000, p133.) He had two other main disagreements with Marxs theory. Firstly Athusser felt that social reproduction could be found outside of the forces of production themselves and more in the ideological make up of society rather than Marxs feeling that most of the reproduction happened in relation to said forces of production and that Marx's base-superstructure model should be seen in regards of a house, rather where in the higher echelons can affect the base and vice versa (web ref 2). With his focus on ideology as being the determining factor of society he looked the state.

For Althusser, the state is determined by the capitalist mode of production and formed to protect the ruling classes' interests. Althusser gave two main items that the state apparatus consisted of to ensure that that people behave in the way that those in power desire, even when it's not in their citizens interests to do so. The first is the repressive state apparatuses that can enforce behaviour, such as the police, and the criminal justice system. Through this the state physically represses individuals and forces them to stay in line or suffer the consequences. Secondly there are ideological state apparatuses. These are institutions that create the ideologies that distort the perceived status quo, create a form of false consciousness and reproduce the rulings class own ideology (web ref 3). Althusser noted that both things revolve around repression and ideology in differing measure, with the repressive state apparatuses main method being repression backed up by ideology and with ideological method being the other way round. Taking into account that it is the ruling class that is more often than not in control of the state and so has access to the repressive state apparatus, they are also active in the ideological state apparatuses so further spreading the ruling ideology. "To my knowledge, no class can hold state power over a long period without at the same time exercising its hegemony over and in the ideological state apparatuses" (web ref 5). Althusser noted that the ideological state apparatuses are where class struggles can be located. The ruling class cannot enforce their ideology in the ideological state apparatuses as well as they can in the repressive state apparatus. As in the repressive state apparatus, the ruling class can exhibit more aggressive ways to control which people do tend to respond to with less aggression out of fear. It's through the ideological state apparatus that the individuals who feel exploited can slip through the metaphorical net and express themselves and their displeasure at the state via protest and other means. Althusser however does note that there has to be some physical conflict if there is to be a revolution and when the state uses the repressive state apparatus the quell them then they will fight and attempt to rest control from the ruling classes (web ref 5).

Althusser's distinguishes between ideologies and ideology. Ideologies are historical and can change over time, such as Christian ideology feminist ideology and indeed Marxist ideology. Ideology on the other hand is more structural which he derive from the base superstructure model. Althusser's in Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays said "Ideology is a 'representation' of the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence" (web ref 3). In other words it distorts the individual's view of the real world and their place in it, and give them the view that the ruling class wants them to have. He says that we accept this imaginary relationship because a minority of powerful men fooled the populace into believing these ideas. A second less conspiracy based theory is that the relations of production are alienating, and that people accept their place in society to cope with the harsh reality of life.

Althusser says that ideology depends on the concept of the subject. There can be no belief systems and no practices, unless there is someone believing in them. Ideology transforms human beings into subjects (web ref 3). Althusser noted that we become subjects via a process called interpellation is a concept that describes the process by which ideology addresses the individual, who in turn acknowledge and responds to said ideology, effectively making them a subject and in a sense making themselves recognise that they are in fact subjects (web ref 4). Interpellation works in that it effectively openly inviting a person into becoming a subject. An example of this would the army recruitment posters that made references to "you" which made the individual the topical subject of the ideological message which then turned them into a subject in terms of servitude via manipulation and by making us feel as if we are in the centre of things. Althusser goes on to say how through this, ideology works to grab our attention us subjects, so that we think ruling class ideas are addressed to us as individuals, and so seem to have some merit to them. He also says that within ideology there are two forms of subject those with a lower case s and those with a capital s. Where the lower case s subject is the individual and a capital s is the thing that interpolates. Althusser used the example of Christian religious ideology to expand this, with God as the capital s subject, acting as the one spreading the ideology about and interpolating the population, with the believer being the lower case s subject, accepting and responding to the ideology and becoming a subject (web ref 3).

Gramsci theory has some flaws or gaps. Firstly he doesn't go into how one creates organic intellectuals, considering these are the driving forces of the so called revolution and without them the working classes would not be organized enough to act or engage in praxis. He was writing with Italy in mind so applying this on international scale could have some problems as Italy at the time still had some feudal aspect and that there was a slight divide between the north and south, with the church controlling much of the working class population in the north and so the working class of Italy could not necessarily be considered a homogenous group and so could not be easily organised to engage in praxis (Mouffe, 1979, P 93-95). Because of these one can say that this theory whilst having some good ideas is outdated, Althussers theory on the other hand does not have this problem as it was conceived recently in comparison, and whilst there have been many change they have not been major enough to dramatically affect the application of his work. On to Althussers view in general, some say that he is quite removed from Marxsim, shying away from economic factors and the humanist aspect that defines Marxism and that his theory precariously borders functionalism with his view that the state is an overarching figure with each of its proponent parts having its own function but you can say that of Gramsci, and his focus on the state and its functions. However the major criticism of his work would be the critical reading that he undertook of Marx, it could be said that when doing this he merely took from him what he needed and ignored what didn't, in a sense exploiting Marx's work for his own ends, it could also be said that if he read from other Marxist theorists such as Gramsci he could of expanded his theory exponentially. Though the main distinction between Gramsci and Althusser is the notion of praxis, whilst Gramsci saw action as the main solution Althusser made no mention of how one would go about changing the system, merely how the system worked. In this aspect Gramsci is obviously the more revolutionary of the two.