Chapter 9: Ideology materialised

Submitted by libcom on July 28, 2005

“Self-consciousness exists in itself and for itself only insofar as
it exists in and for another self-consciousness; that is, it exists only by
being recognized.”

—Hegel, The Phenomenology of Spirit


Ideology is the intellectual basis of class societies within
the conflictual course of history. Ideological expressions have never been pure
fictions; they represent a distorted consciousness of realities, and as such
they have been real factors that have in turn produced real distorting effects.
This interconnection is intensified with the advent of the spectacle
— the
of ideology brought about by the concrete success of an
autonomized system of economic production — which virtually identifies social
reality with an ideology that has remolded all reality in its own image.


Once ideology — the abstract will to universality and the illusion
associated with that will — is legitimized by the universal abstraction and the
effective dictatorship of illusion that prevail in modern society, it is no
longer a voluntaristic struggle of the fragmentary, but its triumph. At that
point, ideological
pretensions take on a sort of flat, positivistic precision: they no longer
represent historical choices, they are assertions of undeniable facts. In such a
context, the
particular names of ideologies tend to disappear. The specifically
ideological forms of system-supporting labor are reduced to an “epistemological
base” that is itself presumed to be beyond ideology. Materialized ideology has
no name, just as it has no formulatable historical agenda. Which is another way of
saying that the history of different ideologies is over.


Ideology, whose whole internal logic led toward what Mannheim calls “total
ideology” — the despotism of a fragment imposing itself as pseudo-knowledge of
a frozen totality, as a totalitarian worldview — has reached its
culmination in the immobilized spectacle of nonhistory. Its culmination is also
its dissolution into society as a whole. When that society itself is
concretely dissolved
, ideology — the final irrationality standing in
the way of historical life — must also disappear.


The spectacle is the epitome of ideology because in its plenitude it exposes and
manifests the essence of all ideological systems: the impoverishment,
enslavement and negation of real life. The spectacle is the material
“expression of the separation and estrangement between man and man.” The “new
power of deception” concentrated in it is based on the production system in
which “as the quantity of objects increases, so does the realm of alien powers to which man is
subjected.” This is the supreme stage of an expansion that has turned need
against life. “The need for money is thus the true need produced by the modern
economic system, and it is the only need which the latter produces” (Economic and Philosophical
). Hegel’s characterization of money as “the life of
what is dead, moving within itself” (Jenenser Realphilosophie) has now been extended by the
spectacle to all social life.


In contrast to the project outlined in the “Theses
on Feuerbach” (the
realization of philosophy in a praxis transcending the opposition between
idealism and materialism), the spectacle preserves the ideological features of
both materialism and idealism, imposing them in the pseudo-concreteness of its
universe. The contemplative aspect of the old materialism, which conceives the
world as representation and not as activity — and which ultimately idealizes
matter — is fulfilled in the spectacle, where concrete things are automatic
masters of social life. Conversely, the dreamed activity of idealism is
also fulfilled in the spectacle, through the technical mediation of signs and
signals — which ultimately materialize an abstract ideal.


The parallel between ideology and schizophrenia demonstrated in
Gabel’s False Consciousness should be considered in the context of this
economic materialization of ideology. Society has become what ideology already
was. The fracturing of practice and the antidialectical false consciousness that
results from that fracturing are imposed at every moment of everyday life
subjected to the spectacle — a subjection that systematically destroys the
“faculty of encounter” and replaces it with a social hallucination: a
false consciousness of encounter, an “illusion of encounter.” In a society
where no one can any longer be recognized by others, each individual
becomes incapable of recognizing his own reality. Ideology is at home;
separation has built its own world.


“In clinical accounts of schizophrenia,” says Gabel, “the
deterioration of the dialectic of totality (with dissociation as its extreme
form) and the deterioration of the dialectic of becoming (with catatonia as its
extreme form) seem closely interrelated.” Imprisoned in a flattened universe
bounded by the screen of the spectacle, behind which his own life has been
exiled, the
spectator’s consciousness no longer knows anyone but the fictitious
who subject him to a
one-way monologue about their commodities and the politics of their commodities.
The spectacle as a whole is his “mirror sign,” presenting illusory escapes from a universal autism.


The spectacle, which obliterates the boundaries between self and world by crushing
the self besieged by the presence/absence of the world, also obliterates the
boundaries between true and false by repressing all directly lived truth beneath
the real presence of falsehood maintained by the organization of
appearances. Individuals who passively accept their subjection to an alien
everyday reality are thus driven toward a madness that reacts to that fate by
resorting to illusory magical techniques. The essence of this pseudo-response to
an unanswerable communication is the acceptance and consumption of commodities.
The consumer’s compulsion to imitate is a truly infantile need, conditioned by
all the aspects of his fundamental dispossession. As Gabel puts it in describing
a quite different level of pathology, “the abnormal need for representation
here makes up for a torturing feeling of being on the edge of existence.”


In contrast to the logic of false consciousness,
which cannot truly know itself, the search for
critical truth about the spectacle must also be a true critique. It must
struggle in practice among the irreconcilable enemies of the spectacle, and admit that it
is nothing without them. By rushing into sordid reformist compromises or
pseudo-revolutionary collective actions, those driven by an abstract desire for
immediate effectiveness are in reality obeying the ruling laws of thought,
adopting a perspective that can see nothing but the latest news. In this
way delirium reappears within the camp that claims to be opposing it. A critique
seeking to go beyond the spectacle must know how to wait.


The self-emancipation of our time is an emancipation from the material bases
of inverted truth. This “historic mission of establishing truth in the world”
can be carried out neither by the isolated individual nor by atomized and
manipulated masses, but only and always by the class that is able to dissolve
all classes by reducing all power to the de-alienating form of realized
democracy — to councils in which practical theory verifies itself and surveys
its own actions. Only there are individuals “directly linked to
world history” — there where dialogue has armed itself to impose its own conditions.