What follows is most of the section The aporia of ideology found in Etienne Balibar's The Philosophy of Marx. I present this section as a prelude to my posting of the next section of the book 'Commodity fetishism', which I will post later. I am posting these sections in order to have a "base" of background material for a later post which will deal with two of the major themes of Balibar's 'Commodity fetishism' section - Marx's understanding of "the mystical" in economics and social relations, and the role of ideology in a social milieu of commodity fetishism. In what follows it is important to keep in mind that Marx's conception of the proletariat, emphasized especially and perhaps crudely in the early stages of Marx's writing, was that of the proletariat as a universal class, "a mass situated virtually beyond the condition of class, the particularity of that mass being denied in its very conditions of existence." This creates a number of analytical problems for Marx, as Balibar notes here:
Given Marx’s conception of the proletariat, the idea of an ideology of the proletariat (or of a ‘proletarian ideology’, later, as we know, to meet with much success) is obviously devoid of meaning. In reality, the concept of the proletariat is not so much that of a particular ‘class’, isolated from the whole of society, as of a non-class, the formation of which immediately precedes the dissolution of all classes and primes the revolutionary process. For this reason, when speaking of it, Marx employs, for preference, the term ‘Masse’ (‘mass’ or ‘masses’), which he turns round against the contemptuous use made of it by bourgeois intellectuals in his day. Just as the proletarian masses are fundamentally propertyless (eigentumslos), they are fundamentally ‘without illusions’ (illusioslos) about reality, fundamentally external to the world of ideology, whose abstractions and ideal representations of the social relation ‘do not exist’ for them. The Manifesto will say the same thing, illustrating the idea with phrases which have since become famous, but which today seem derisory, such as ‘the working men have no country.’ Similarly, they are free of beliefs, hopes or hypocrisies of religion, morality or bourgeois law. For the same reason, they could not have ‘ideologues’ proposing to instruct or guide them – ‘organic intellectuals’, as Gramsci would later term them. (Marx certainly did not see himself as anything of the kind and this produced increasing difficulties when it came to conceptualizing the function of his own theory within revolutionary practice. Here again, Engels was to make the decisive step by bringing the expression ‘scientific socialism’ into general use.)
The events of 1848-50 were cruelly to emphasize how far removed this vision was from reality. Indeed, these events might have been sufficient to prompt abandonment, if not of the idea of a universal role of the proletariat (at the level of world history and the revolutionary transformation of society in its entirety), without which there is no Marxism, then certainly of the proletariat as a ‘universal class’. The most fascinating text in this regard is The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte… In it, the search for a strategy with which the working class can confront the counter-revolution is combined with new analysis of the historical gap between what Marx calls the ‘class in itself’ and the ‘class for itself’, between the mere fact of similar conditions of life and an organized political movement – conceived not in terms of consciousness merely lagging behind life, but as an effect of contradictory economic tendencies, which he now began to see as promoting both the unity of workers and competition between them. Immediate experience in France, as in Germany or Britain, was, in actual fact, to reveal the power of the political and military machines of the established order. How was the theoretical thesis that the conditions of production of ideology were radically external to the proletarian condition to be reconciled with the observation of the daily interpenetration of the two? It is very remarkable that Marx never invoked an implicitly moral notion, such as that of false consciousness (as later employed by Lukács and others), just as he never spoke of proletarian ideology or class consciousness. But the difficulty remained a glaring one in his writings and led to the suppression of the very concept of ideology.
Another factor conspired towards this same end: the difficulty Marx experienced in defining bourgeois political economy – particularly that of the classics: Quesnay, Smith and Ricardo – as ‘ideology’, since this theoretical discourse, which was ‘scientific’ in form and clearly intended to provide the foundations for the liberal politics of the owners of capital, did not fall directly into the category of ideology (characterized by the abstraction and inversion of the real), or of a materialist history of civil society, given that it was based on the postulate that bourgeois conditions of production were eternal (or that the relation between wage-labourers and capital was invariant). But it was precisely the need to extricate himself from this dilemma which was to lead Marx to immerse himself for years in the ‘critique of political economy’, a critique fuelled by intensive reading of Smith, Ricardo, Hegel, Malthus, historians and statisticians… And that critique, in its turn, was to throw up a new concept, that of commodity fetishism.