Post-modernism Today

A Brief Introduction



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Critique of The Dangerous Ideas of

"Death of History And Ideology"


In Marx’s words "Ideas, when they take possession of the masses become a material force." The Italian Marxist thinker Gramsci in his Prison Notebooks contributed to Marxist theory by avoiding the orthodox Marxism reducing social consciousness for the most part to a mere reflex of economic condition. Gramsci brought in the concept of hegemony, a system of alliances, which the working class must create to overthrow the bourgeois state and to serve as the social basis of the workers’ state. Gramsci argued that in the modern condition a class maintains its dominance not simply through a special organisation of force but because it is able to exert a moral and intellectual leadership and make compromises (within certain limits) with a variety of allies who are unified in a social block of forces which Gramsci calls the historical bloc. This bloc represents a basis of consent for a certain social order, in which the hegemony of a dominant class is created and recreated in a web of institutions, social relations, and ideas. This fabric of hegemony is woven by the intellectuals of society, Thus for the revolutionary party with the task of achieving a socialist state the counter working class hegemony must be developed. [Antonio Gramsci, Selection from the Prison Notebooks, Quinting Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith, International Publishers, New York, 1971] This is from a great Marxist thinker and a very useful idea to comprehend the mechanism of a modern state and the role of ideology. Lenin emphasized the coercive and the real nature of a modern state behind the screen of bourgeois democracy while rebuffing the revisionists, worshippers of the bourgeois state. Mao further enriched the reservoir of Marxism by profusely shedding light on the role of ideology, particularly with his gigantic experiment in the Cultural Revolution of China.

It is true Marx and Engels at one time overstressed the economic side and Engels even self-critically stated that "We had to emphasise the main principle vis-a-vis our adversaries, who denied it and we had not always the time, the place or the opportunity to give their due to the other factors involved in the interaction..." [ F. Engels, Letter to Joseph Block, September 21-22, 1890] In the same letter Engels conceded "the ultimately determining factor in history is the production and reproduction of real life". However, the force of Marxism lies in the fact that there are numerous passages in the writings of Marx against economic reductionism. It is the complexity of the relationship between the conditions of social production and the world of ideas and culture, which remains the domain opened up for investigation by historical materialism, cannot be studied by the simplistic formula of economic reductionism. When Maurice Dobb, the writer in his studies in the development of capitalism shows that the English Industrial Revolution was possible for the inventions and favourable economic circumstances, he shows the immense power of science, skill and revolutionary spirit in the emerging circumstances. Marx, Engels, Mao and other great Marxists laid so much stress on the role of class struggle. Marxism contains in it the twin-role of voluntary efforts of the masses and their advanced detachment along with the objective socio-economic condition. The stress on class consciousness and class struggle as an ideological weapon emanates from the Marxist concept of the role of working class ideology. It is to be emphasized that Marx himself had rejected ‘contemplative materialism’, a materialism which neglected the central importance of human subjectivity. Marx asserted the multiplicity of causes in capital : "An economic base which in its principal characteristics is the same [may manifest] infinite variations and gradations, owing to the effect of innumerable external circumstances, climatic and geographical influences, historical influences from the outside, etc." [Capital III, ch.47, sec. 2, quoted in Tom Bottomore (ed), A Dictionary of Marxist Thought, Blackwell Reference, Oxford, 1983, under ‘Determinism’.] Some people and CPI(M)-like parties naively propagating the inevitability of socialism without plunging into the sea of class struggle for the destruction of the existing order are actually the worshippers of fatalism. Historical materialism also rejects "the general path of development prescribed by fate to all nations". [Marx, Engels, Selected Correspondence, Moscow, 1975, p.293] And here comes the role of a Communist Party armed with the revolutionary ideology guiding the masses through the proper path predicated upon the specificities of the country and also the international context.

When the neo-liberal bourgeois theorists declare war on ideology. the target is basically Marxism. Daniel Bell in 1970 in a paper entitled Post Industrial Society: Technocracy and Politics stated that de-ideologisation is the essential condition of ‘post-industrial society’. The American economist, J.K.Galbraith considered the dominant role of the state in the post-industrial society both internally and externally by capturing overseas market as "a new era of capitalism in the post-industrial society" was accepted in uncanny readiness by the protagonists rejecting the differences between a capitalist and a socialist state. They claimed the irrelevance of Marxism-Leninism in the "post-industrial age". There is a strange similarity between the theorists of "post-industrial society" and the "post-modernist age". While theorists of "End of ideology" in the "post-industrial" society downplayed the capitalist system as such along with the role of ideology, the post-modernists do not consider totality of the material world with no reality of truth. Truth is always discursive or present in the realm of logic. Hence it is extremely relative. As in this view everything is relative and split, there cannot be the consideration of a social system. There is no capitalist or its substitute socialist system. In the post-modern view there is no class or class interest but only different identities. Post-modernism rejects revolutionary ideology and its basis like the theorists of ‘End-of-ideology’. Freidrick Jameson declared in his book Post-modernism and the Cultural Logic, of Late Capital clearly in 1991, that post-modernism has turned out to be a "continuation and fulfilment of the old fifties’ ‘end of ideology’ episode." In the same line the reactionary Rightists’ ambition to fashion a new grand narrative is Fukuyama’s book The End of History and The Last Man (paid for by the Olin Foundation). Fukuyama, the former State Department official under US president Bush, and a Rand Corporation functionary, preached that the victory of western liberation with the downfall of the Soviet Union registered the final stage of history. Huntington, the head of national security under the US president Jimmy Carter, in his notoriously anti-left book in 1996, The Clash of Civilization and the Remaking of the world Order echoed Fukuyama commenting that with the absence of the Soviet Union there is no "threat to the Free-World" (p.34-35) The de-ideologisation concept of those Rightists with the projection of an anti-Marxist world order coincides with the pessimistic, anti-Marxist furore of the post-modernist rejecting the possibility of any grand battle to topple the existing order.


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