Assess critically Marx's distinction between ideology and science

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Assess critically Marx's distinction between ideology and science

In 1958 the Chinese government, with Mao Zedong's blessing, launched an unprecedented campaign of economic construction - the Great Leap Forward - to allow China's transition to Communism within the space of a few years. To realize the unrealisable economic plans, Mao resorted to the revolutionary spirit of Marxism-Leninism, combined with new insights of the Mao Zedong Thought. Inspired by these revolutionary ideas the Chinese people would make a great leap out of backwardness towards a brighter future. The Soviet economists criticized China's ambitious industrialization plan, but the Chinese politicians defied criticism and blamed the Soviets for the lack of revolutionary fervour. Neglect of economic realities took a heavy toll on China: in months, the country faced economic collapse and starvation. The ideology of Marxism proved insufficient to produce an economic miracle. But Marx himself would have turned in his grave had he known about Mao's use of his name as a banner for ultra-leftist policies that defied reality. For much of his own career Marx debated with philosophers of Mao's kind - those who sought to liberate Man by liberating his Conscience, those who thought that Conscience determines the Being. Whatever the ethical merit of these ideas, Marx found them utterly unscientific, without a basis in reality, and hence - only an ideology. He drew distinction between the baseless philosophy of his own contemporaries and his own scientific theory that, he firmly believed, was rooted in reality itself.

The debate with the Young Hegelians

Following Hegel's death in 1831 his followers split into two groups - the right and left wing or the "Old" and the "Young" Hegelians. The Old Hegelians were in a position of prominence - as university professors and established academics. They were on the whole staunch conservatives and emphasized Christian, politically orthodox themes in Hegel's philosophy. The Young, liberally inclined Hegelians rebelled against Hegel's moral philosophy, defied religious revelations and advocated the freeing of man from the chains of his conscience. The Young Hegelians, most prominently Bruno Bauer, Max Stirner and Ludwig Feuerbach dismissed the Absolute, the Spirit and other famous Hegelian concepts in one way or another connected with the idea of God and religious faith as mere products of imagination. By overcoming these self-imposed limitations, men would become genuinely free. In his landmark treatise, The German Ideology, Marx challenges the Young Hegelians and questions the power of ideas. "Hitherto", the Young Hegelians would say "men have constantly made up for themselves false conceptions about themselves, about what they are and what they ought to be." [1] False conceptions span centuries: from the primitive idols of the Neolithic cultures to the gods of Greece and Rome; from Catholic dogmas that were carried across the world by and fire and the sword to the liberal dogmas of the Reformation that won the world by the word of mouth; from Kant's imperatives to Hegel's spirits - people have created gods and subjected themselves to their influence. In political realm, too, men suffered from self-imposed constraints - oppressive societal relationships, exploitation of one by another: to paraphrase Rousseau's famous maxim: men are born free, but they end up in chains by the power of their own ideas. Let us, said the Young Hegelians, overthrow these ideas: "Let us teach men, says one, to exchange these imaginations for thoughts which correspond to the essence of man; says the second, to take up a critical attitude to them; says the third, to knock them out of their heads; and - existing reality will collapse." [2]

Thus Feuerback in his Essence of Christianity rejects religion as a hindrance in the way of man's understanding of himself. "What man calls Absolute Being, his God, is his own being", he writes - "The power of the object over him is therefore the power of his own being." [3] Unleash the power! - pleads Feuerbach: "Every limitation of reason, or of human nature in general, rests on a delusion, an error ... every being is in itself infinite; it carries its God - that which is the highest being to it - within itself." [4] Man as God - this idea, applauded by Feuerbach, is ridiculed by another prominent Young Hegelian, Max Stirner. In Der Einzige (his only major book, but one that one that inspired Marx to write his own reply to the Young Hegelians in the German Ideology) Stirner writes: "Whether the One God or the three-in-one, whether the Lutheran God God at all but 'Man' makes no difference to one who negates the supreme Being itself, to one in whose eyes the servants of the latter are all together -- pious folk: the most rabid atheist no less than the most believing Christian."[5] Living for God or Man are most useless activities, believed Stirner. "... instead of continuing to serve these great egoists, I should rather be an egoist myself!"[6] Bruno Bauer, another Young Hegelian, too, relied on the power of ideas: man, in order to overcome the religious and societal bonds, had to become self-conscious, only then would he "smash religion in its entirety and the state in its manifestations" and achieve true liberation. [7] Men are only what they think they are: think you are a stick, and you shall become a stick, he advised. [8]

These powerful ideas that, as their originators believed, could turn the world upside down and liberate humanity, were rooted in the events of the French Revolution with its promise of equality and fraternity for all men. Then, in 1796, the term "ideology" first appeared, introduced by rationalist philosopher Destutt de Tracy - it meant "science of ideas" or "philosophy of mind". At this early stage ideology "did not refer to the quality or the type of thought, but to a technique for discovering truth and dissolving illusions."[9] Napoleon, however, dismissed ideologues of the Enlightenment with their promise of liberation for mankind as dreamers who "who misled the people by elevating them to a sovereignty which they were incapable of exercising".[10] The debate between those who deemed the revolutionary ideas to be scientific and those who considered them a mere dogma continued into the 19th century and were further developed in the lively debate between the Young Hegelians and Karl Marx. In the German Ideology Marx investigated the claims of the post-Hegelian philosophers - Feuerbach, Stirner, Bauer and others only to find them utterly unscientific. The problem with defying reality, Marx wrote, was that reality had the stubborn quality of making herself known. "Once upon a time", he points out with a degree of sarcasm, "a valiant fellow had the idea that men were drowned in water only because they were possessed with the idea of gravity."[11] Some of the German ideologues were like this valiant fellow: they became so captivated with their own ideas as to neglect the persistence of reality. "Since, according to their fantasy, the relationships of men, all their doings, their chains and their limitations are products of their consciousness, the Young Hegelians logically put to men the moral postulate of exchanging their present consciousness for human, critical or egoistic consciousness, and thus of removing their limitations", Marx writes. Yet none of these thinkers thought "to inquire into the connection of German philosophy with German reality."[12] This task Marx set for himself.
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The Materialist Conception of History

Marx began from the premise that ideas are inseparable from the material circumstances of men - that is, of "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."[13] Ideas have no independent existence (so that their mere discovery would pave way to the liberation of mankind). In reality, conceptions of the Young Hegelians, be it atheism, self-glorification or self-consciousness - conceptions that allegedly debunked Hegel's theology of the Spirit, the Absolute, etc. - were flawed, because ...

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