Scully, James. "In Defense of Ideology." From xerox scrawled with: Althusser, For Mary.
In his Intimate Journals Baudelaire observes how George Sand "pretends that the true Christian cannot believe in Hell." He adds, wickedly, "she has good reasons for wishing to abolish hell." Maybe the true Christian cannot believe in Hell. Well, the true Bourgeois cannot truck with Ideology, either, and he or she has excellent reason for wishing to abolish it--not directly, but by reifying the concept of ideology. That is, by lumping it. Ideology goes on, but its degraded concept becomes a tar-and-feathers for certain classes of enemy who may be smeared, burned, with the epithet "ideological." The bourgeois tries to deny ideology by dehistoricizing it, by associating it with the perversion of ideas and "truth," and by dissociating it from the problematic and practice of power. Ideology is indissociable from power: power as problematic, and power as practice. In the 1984 calendar put out by Artists in Solidarity with the People of Central America, the poster reproduced up front features the slogan: NO MORE VIETNAMS The poster shows a Vietnamese peasant woman in one landscape, a Central American campesino in another. Their two lands are united and overridden by a sky filled with U.S. helicopter gunships. But on one copy of the calendar someone had blacked out the key word, "NO." The revised slogan read: MORE VIETNAMS This highlighted the "subject position" of the original slogan, which had issued from a perspective of avoidance--specifically, avoidance of another costly, bloody, "useless" war in a country of no threat to the U.S. But as we know from the literature and songs of anti-imperialist struggles in Latin America and elsewhere (e.g. Victor Jara's "El derecho de vivir en paz," or Che Guevera's call for "two, three, many Vietnams"), "Vietnams" are not necessarily to be avoided. For super-exploited peasants and workers in colonized areas, the Vietnam War is an inspiring example of resistance to imperialism. Unlike the Artists in Solidarity, revolutionary workers and campesinos of El Salvador would welcome another "Vietnam," meaning a victory over their foreign and domestic oppressors. The North American pacifist, historically bourgeois, wishes to abolish "Vietnams." All well and good. But if "No More Vietnams" means "No more Vietnam Wars," it does not mean "no more colonies of systematic oppression and super-exploitation." For that, the slogan would have to admit means by which "Vietnams" (colonies of super-exploitation, not the struggles against them) might be eliminated. "No More Vietnams," morally attractive though it is, is a class slogan: a slogan of those who can afford to have nothing happen. Or of those who, under the sway of bourgeois ideological hegemony, against their better interests think they can afford to have nothing happen. But it is also a slogan of those who openly wish to maintain those colonies--who say "No More Vietnams" in the same breath as they say "No More Cubas." In fact they actively link the two sayings. As Randolph Ryan noted in the Boston Globe, foreign policy militants in the Reagan administration promise "'No more Cubas, but also no Vietnams.'" As Ryan explains this historical invocation, "it is central to their premise of tidy 'low intensity' wars that the Sandinistas can be felled without U.S. ground forces." But not everyone shares this view or these values. Nor is the option available to all. That is why the revolutionary Central American campesino, unlike the middle class North American pacifist, wishes to reproduce the successful struggle of "Vietnam." To her or him "Vietnam" is resistance, the process by which people who are objects become subjects. Become, in a word, people. For them "Vietnam" does not , as it must for much of the bourgeois and campus left of the U.S., stand for bloody futility. We have compelling reason to re-historicize and socially resituate the concept of ideology, restoring it as an instrument of liberation. The alternative, no alternative at all, is to let it be conscripted by social silence and reaction. the concept as a sit of struggle The concept of ideology is itself a site of ideological struggle. Here and now that site is appropriated and reappropriated, furiously domesticated, by the bourgeoisie. Their reduction of it has certain effects in what Gramsci called "the war of position," the struggle to overturn, or to maintain, the ideological hegemony exercised by any ruling class (regardless of composition, and regardless what metaphysical taxonomy that class conforms to or confounds) over the social formation as a whole. A war, we might add, conducted with comparable intensity in fields of race, gender and nation. The casual concept of ideology only reinstates critical unconsciousness. It is itself ideological, helping maintain the status quo while appearing not to do so. A historically situated concept, however, may be counter-hegemonic. It need not be an instrument of oppression.[1] the bourgeois (ideological) definition of ideology Any capitalist system, no matter how sophisticated or crude, must turn what it touches into a commodity. Goods, tools, artworks and people are dehistoricized, stripped of human significance, and shrouded in parody value ("exchange value"). Rather than being constituted as subjects, they are laid out as historical objects. They become the debris of history, not a compelling motive informing it. People are purged of humanity, but so too are goods, institutions, ways of being born and making love and are "intangibles," concepts, including the concept of ideology. Active and passive defenders of the status quo define ideology as bad or false political ideas. Yet they aren't the only ones to do so. Many leftists resent the application of this definition, especially as it is used against them. Nonetheless they go along with the definition itself, accepting "ideology" as meaning ideas that are clung-to irrationally, superstitiously, like an amulet against the evil eye. To be "ideological" is to be dogmatic, numbskulled, willful. Eventually their fear of being labeled "ideological" slides over into a fear of ideas as such, especially ideas that demand enactment. The ramifications are not always amusing. Anti-intellectual leftists may brandish the dis-articulated epithet "ideological" in the same way, for the same reason, that bourgeois rightists and liberals do--to dismiss communist ideas without having to contend with them. Slogans appealing to "workers" may be tagged and rejected as "ideological." Yet "worker" is a materiel, socially locatable category. At the very least a "worker" (occupational forms aside) is anyone who must live by the sale of his or her labor power, and who has no other life sustaining resources. Yet those same leftists may direct their own slogans to "the people," though "the people" is an immaterial category used opportunistically, which is to say demagogically, by everyone from the KKK to the president to rightist and leftist protest groups. They conceive "the people" as a loose baggy monster, albeit a benign one. It may be plumped up with anything, with all kinds of indigestible contradictions interred in it. The terrible thing is, under this evasive, stubborn, obfuscating regime any attempt at definition can only degenerate into a kind of mud wrestling...into the head butting, sectarian arrogance that keeps the bourgeois left churning in place. A place, we might add, assigned to it within this wonderful system of exploitation with its fringe, its scattering fringe, of symbolic opposition. Still, the fundamental problem with a concept of ideology that reduces "ideology" to a metahistorical category of damnation is that it may reinforce or stigmatize beliefs but it cannot critique them. Under it, empowered social values are unlikely to be considered ideological, whereas systemically subversive values assuredly will be. Yet the determination of what is or is not politically bad or false, or dogmatic, or "ideological," is power. Truth doesn't separate the non-ideological sheep from the ideological goats--power does. The word "ideological" is itself a bone of contention, but one appropriated by the powerful regardless of any relation or nonrelation to "truth." Ordinarily the epithet is used, empowered, in the way the work "terrorist" is. Under the Reagan government terrorists who murder innocent people in airports are terrorists, whereas U.S. mercenaries (contras) who murder innocent people in Nicaragua are "freedom fighters." Chinese or Romanian tennis players and Russian ballet dancers enter the U.S. as "refugees," but Salvadoran women bearing marks of torture must be "illegal aliens." A Haitian defector is branded an "illegal alien," though a Ukrainian illegal alien is a "defector," and the tens of thousands of illegal Irish immigrants in Boston and New York are none of the above because it has been quietly determined by media and immigration officials that they shall melt into the landscape. Who gets what designation is determined by those who have the social and political power to designate. Bourgeois-conceived "ideology" is not simply a rough-and-ready political weapon, but an obliteration presence. It blocks out whatever troubles, or brings to light, the self-serving, colorless odorless assumptions and values with which one class or group exercises hegemony over society as a whole.[2] the bourgeois conceives "ideology" as AN ideology, a demythified myth Any dominant power (materialized as class, race, gender or nation) has a vested interest in defining ideology the way schools define myth: as a visible body of beliefs held by somebody else, somewhere else, possibly a long time ago. Yet such "myth" is like the propaganda that Jacques Ellul calls "a paper tiger." Manageable, distanced, isolable, it has no cutting edge, no power to slip past one's guard. It may have affect, but it effects nothing. The bourgeois notion of ideology is comparable to demythified myth. No need to stop the ears or lash ourselves to the mast. It cannot get to us. We are proof against it. but ideology is like myth itself Effective myth is historicized. Myth is myth only for those suffused with it. Historically constituted, having no existence of its own, myth is inseparable from life lived. That is why mythic relations are experienced as literal relations. Myth is the very condition of thought, not thought's object. The same is true of ideology, which is more problematical in that we must still struggle to theorize it. Ideology is the most pervasive, intense cultural policing we are subjected to. What security agency or police force can compare with it? We may absorb other kinds of losses, but the battle against ideology is one we cannot afford to lose. what is ideology No matter how it is used, the term "ideology" has a critical cast. It is value-laden. Yet a casually defined "ideology" is itself ideological, whereas a socially situated, historically specific concept of ideology is anti-ideological, and necessarily so. What then are the qualifications of ideology, of a concept of ideology, that may be used against ideology itself?

1) IDEOLOGY INVOLVES MISREPRESENTATION AND/OR MISRECOGNITION. As Althusser puts it, "ideology is a representation of the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence." Ideology may be "false consciousness," a misunderstanding of what is going on and why, but it is not only that. False consciousness is consciousness, a personal and social fact. (The notion of a "false consciousness" is provisional, a shorthand convenience. In the long run it would be misleading to speak of a "false" consciousness, as that implies a "true" consciousness, or consciousness of the truth. There is, and is not, a true or a false consciousness. What there is is historically and socially conditioned consciousness whose truth or falsity depends on its correspondence to the actual conditions of one's life.) Ideology entails the misunderstanding of our relationship to what goes on, socially, even as it conditions that relationship. It is not confined to what we see or don't see, know or don't know. It shows in what happens--in what we do, and in doing are done to. Ideology does not constitute the world, but it does have a bearing on our personal and social constitution. It is not simply something we manipulate or are manipulated by. Ideological conditioning so "places" us that we misrecognize ourselves. The ideological conditioning we're most subject to, that of bourgeois humanism, encourages us to imagine we're transcendental subjects-- indivisible, ahistorical entities--rather than socially, historically constituted subjects. Yet each of us is a nexus of social relations. Not merely is affected by, but is those relations. The more we take account of that, in practice and not just in contemplation, the "freer" we may be. At the same time, the more we conceive ourselves as autonomous, self-generated subjects, the more we become functions of our systemic environment. Lacking the critical consciousness to engage in social practice, we remain social functionaries. We become (functions of) the system, the standing organization and distribution of power.

2) IDEOLOGY IS TRANSPARENT. It is lived misunderstanding: as indissociable, disarming and self-evident as common sense. It is not, as the bourgeoisie would have it, a book or a batch of transcendent, detachable ideas. Ideology does not consist in the advocacy of ideas. Rather, it informs talking, writing, thinking, working, making love, dreaming, raising kids. It is inscribed in the way we do these things and in the very language that substantiates the discourses of law, physics, TV sitcoms, education theory, "bohemian" culture, medical procedures, etc. According to Raymond Williams in Writing in Society, ideology is in effect "the condition of all conscious life. Thus the area to which most students of literature normally refer their reading and their judgment, that area summarized in the decisive term 'experience,' has in fact to be seen as the most common form of ideology. It is where the deep structures of the society actually reproduce themselves."

3) IDEOLOGY CONFIRMS AND EXTENDS EXISTING POWER (power meaning power over). If propaganda were ineffable, we might define ideology as integration propaganda (as opposed to agitation propaganda--which is offhandedly, ideologically, denigrated as "agitprop"). Agitational propaganda is a systemically oppositional practice. Integration propaganda, though would deepen our incorporation in a socially empowered system, whatever that system may be. It would make us functionaries of the system. Integration propaganda, though, would deepen our incorporation in a socially empowered system, whatever that system may be. It would make us functionaries of the system. Integration propaganda, then, is an exercise in political hegemony. It is the pervasive propaganda that would absorb us, the propaganda whose very language is intended to impose silence.[3] As that propaganda succeeds, we lose the power of speech. It speaks us. We may mouth words, but the mouthing of words does not alone qualify as speech. Insofar as we are functions of ideology, of systemic integration propaganda, our talk is only so much silence. Social silence. In turn, our silence is our overrulers' power, and ideology is their Great Facilitator. Through ideology the existing social formation--which is little more than the inequitable distribution of power legalized, mediated and "naturalized" as a complex system--reproduces itself and its relations of production "by producing people, not just biologically but socially, and not just in terms of skills but of attitudes" (Antony Easthope, Poetry as Discourse). In a sense, ideology is the dream work of capitalism. People too may be a kind of latent content, a raw material. Capitalist ideology is constantly working to "create" people in its own image.

4) IDEOLOGY NATURALIZES ITSELF. The most powerful function of ideology is not to obfuscate or mask, but to disarm: to insinuate that what is, is. And to prevent the recognition that what is, is becoming--is becoming not because of some "external" agency, a god out of the machine, but because internal contradiction generates instability, movement and change (without, however, definitively directing that change). [4] The fact is, everything is riddled with contradiction. Ideology smoothes over, harmonizes, so that all appears seamless, unanalysable, inalterable. The assumptions and values of any ruling class or caste (to turn one of Marx and Engels' formulations) are the prevailing ones: "The class which is the ruling material force of society is at the same time its ruling intellectual force....Their [assumptions] take on the form of universality" (The German Ideology). Those assumptions and values no longer appear to be socially situated or historically conditioned. They seem rooted in the natural order, in tune with the way things are. Nonetheless they're in keeping only with the way things happen to be at a certain time in a certain place. There is nothing natural or universal about either the assumptions or the values. they correspond with the prevailing social order (the organization of power). The bottom line is roughly this: ideology, which has so much to do with the control, shaping and legitimation of knowledge and "truth," in the lst instance is not about knowledge at all. What it's "about" is power, social power. Ideologies are "mobilizations within the class struggle" (Terry Lovell, Pictures of Reality: Aesthetics, Politics and Pleasure). That is how they are to be understood, and how they must be judged. ideology at work Recently President Reagan claimed that the government of South Africa had largely eliminated segregation by integrating hotels, restaurants and other facilities. His lie was characterized by some critics as "ideological." That is, what he had said was untrue, but he needed to believe it, and have us believe, in order to justify his "constructive engagement" (support) of the South African government. Yet though he did misrepresent the reality, and glibly skimmed over an abyss of contradiction--still, this was not ideology. His pronouncement effectively underwrote the South African hierarchy, one which he rightly feels interlocks with the U. S. hierarchy that he himself represents and serves, but that pronouncement was not transparent. It was opaque, a clunket, having congealed its political project. We could see it, question it, evaluate it. At the same time a seemingly non-partisan headline appeared on the cover of U.S. News and World Report. CAN SOUTH AFRICA AVOID RACE WAR? Posed as a question, the headline was nonetheless an ideological intervention. It placed itself and us in a certain subject position vis-ˆ-vis the struggle consuming South Africa. We were sided with the South African ruling race and class. Except for genocidal organizations--the Christian Identity movement, the Kach Party and the like--"race war" is coded negative. Hardly anyone anywhere wants a race war. Because "race war" is undesirable, the headline effects a positive communication. It characterizes the present South African situation as one that is free of race war. And that is a good thing. Or is it? There is, after all, a catch. It holds out the hope that South Africa may possibly avoid race war, but what is apartheid? Isn't South Africa organized according to the apartheid system, and isn't apartheid itself a race war? More a "war of position" than a war of movement, but war nonetheless. And isn't apartheid a war on behalf of one race against others? A war in the name of one race against those designated "others?"[5] What's more isn't apartheid, to get down to it, not the recognition but the construction of races, without which there would be no basis for race war? (This is fairly easy to see, because apartheid's racist constructions do not always coincide with our own. U.S. publications stumble over the category of Coloureds, often dissociating themselves from it by means of inverted commas, much as they would if handed the now discredited categories, discredited even in racist terms, of mulatto, quadroon or octaroon.) Yet that is only the bare bones of the matter. CAN SOUTH AFRICA AVOID RACE WAR? The headline purges its form of content. (It fissures, leaving a "form" and a "content": the form of the headline goes back on what it seems to promise, delivering instead a contradictory "content.") The state of South Africa is emptied of its substance as apartheid, that is as a state of race war. But the headline also dislocates the prevailing state of affairs (South African apartheid) by re-situating it in the non-war, "peaceful," eye of the storm swirling about it. There it sits, the calm center, threatened by the cataclysmic extremism called "race war." But how can "South Africa," now recognizable as the code name for apartheid, for institutionalized race war, be threatened by race war? CAN SOUTH AFRICA AVOID RACE WAR? apartheid race war The institutionalized race war that is called "South Africa" can be so threatened, because what the headline calls "race war" is a code term for resistance to race war. As ideological transposition has turned the apartheid race war into "South Africa," it has turned the struggle against that race war into "race war." This sleight of terms has not simply obscured a reality or made it disappear--it has turned reality inside out, so that what is said is what is not, while what is not is what is set forth. CAN SOUTH AFRICA AVOID RACE WARE? apartheid resistance race war to race war The most transparent word may be the most subtly ideological. The predication "avoid" is not only anti-dialectical (reductively mechanical) in its assumptions--it is anti-practice and anti-struggle. What's given, as though beyond question, is that it is positively blessed to avoid. "Avoid" is coded positive, as "race war" is negative. Yet Avoidance, we realize, sits ever at the right hand of Status Quo. And that is the point. The status quo (the state as quo) is what avoidance serves.[6] Through "avoid," South Africa is presented as a self-acting entity: an irreducible being without internal contradiction, without struggle, without articulate historical constituency. A being without becoming. A transcendental subject that happens to find itself in a troubling historical situation. But what is the human constitution of this transcendental subject? If "race war" is the code term for resistance to race war, what is the racial composition of South Africa that wants to avoid resistance? (Keep in mind, though we cannot here attend to the fact, that what has been historically produced is not only the "racial composition" of South Africa, but the "races" that are its ingredients.) The headlined "South Africa," we've noted, encodes the apartheid- constituted South African government. "South Africa" is the name for what suppresses the human existence of the majority population of South Africa. From that majority it admits only the likes of Chief Buthelezi, the Inkatha goon squads, police and political collaborators.[7] The headline not only takes over the majority, the resisters of race war, and defines them out of South Africa, thereby creating a mythical "South Africa"--it appropriates their historical meaning, reassigning it to the administrators of institutionalized race war. So race war is peace, and resistance to it is war or the threat of "race war." What is, isn't; what isn't, is. Orwell didn't know half as much about newspeak as the editors of the U.S. News and World Report do. Their headline, which has the feel of a concerned question, is not a question but a position. Note too that the question isn't posed in terms of prediction or foreknowledge. It does not ask will South Africa avoid race war, but can it. The predication presupposes an empathetic relationship to "South Africa." As with the little engine that could--huffing and puffing uphill, getting it out, saying "I think I can, I think I can"--the can ushers us into kinesthetic identification with "South Africa." We are with it. Our muscles and nerves, our reflexes if not our hears, go out to it. The headline, then, surfaces from the subject position of the besieged racist government of South Africa. It's just one more version of the banner raised over the Afrikaner laager. It signals the last ditch racist position: to be holed up, with no relief in sight, holding off the endlessly encircling hordes. As a social practice, CAN SOUTH AFRICA AVOID RACE WAR? means CAN SOUTH AFRICAN APARTHEID AVOID (can we, with it, avoid) THE STRUGGLE AGAINST APARTHEID Although the U.S. News and World Report headline does not openly state a set of social values, it does occupy a socially specific position. As ideology it makes a subject position for us under its wing--the while brooding on, and generating, the values of that position. We live out those values insofar as we mistake the headline for a question, failing to comprehend it as a position. Finally, the headline intervenes on behalf of the dominant power. It supports the continuation of the South African apartheid government. What worries that government is what worries the U.S. News and World Report. They are brothers under the skin. The casual bourgeois definition of ideology would make us incapable of articulation ideology. Not that bourgeois-ified "ideology," meaning bad or false political beliefs, is a useless concept. It is quite useful for those who wish to turn the concept of ideology into a dead letter. Or who would apply the term, as an epithet, only to disempowered and hence discredited ideas. Or who would use it as a rail on which to ride those ideas out of town. but for this reason it is in our interest to defend and enact a technical, socially and historically specific, concept of ideology. Without a concept of ideology, we cannot critique it.


1. The dehistoricized concept is a site of struggle. As that concept/site is historically situated and appropriated, however it becomes a revolutionary or reactive agency.

2. The notion of "society as a whole," which assumes a non-contradictory identity, is itself a function of ideology. Althusser uses the more critical, less organicist "social formation" rather than "society." The social formation is a site of contradiction and struggle.

3. The deepest silence may be produced by criticism itself. That is, ideologized criticism within a system may be the most effective confirmation of that system. As Noam Chomsky notes, "it is necessary to control not only what people do, but also what they think....Thought can lead to action and therefore the threat to order must e excised at the source. It is necessary to establish a framework for possible thought that is constrained within the principles of the state religion. These need not be asserted; it is constrained within the principles of the state religion. These need not be asserted; it is better that they be presupposed, as the unstated framework for thinkable thought. The critics reinforce this system by tacitly accepting these doctrines and confining their critique to tactical questions that arise within them. To achieve respectability, to be admitted to the debate, they must accept without question or inquiry the fundamental doctrine that the State is benevolent, governed by the loftiest intentions....The more intensely the debate rages between hawks and doves [over the war in Vietnam], the more firmly and effectively the doctrines of the State religion are established. It is because of their notable contribution to thought control that the critics are tolerated, indeed honored--that is, those who play by the rules...." "The Manufacture of Consent," Our Generation, v.17, no.1, Fall/Winter 1985-86, 100-101.

4. Logically, contemplatively, contradiction leads to impasse. Historically, contradiction generates instability, movement, revision. contradictory elements may be "perfectly" balanced in mind, in abstraction, but not in life.

5. The South African government would protest that apartheid is not race war--that, on the contrary, it is the sole guarantee of racial harmony. Without racial separation, they claim, there would be racial tribal conflict. As proof they point to hostilities such as those presently flaring up between Zulus and Pondos. Yet the argument is disingenuous. That conflict is a direct result of apartheid and of the move to assign people to so-called homelands, bantustans (juridical slums or ghettos with names and flags and not much else), on the basis of reimposed tribal affiliations. The recent fighting was provoked by the South African government, which had taken land from one group and awarded it to another. What's more, if separation of hostile "races" were the South African government's motive, there would be no need to provoke further conflict by articulating separation as a hierarchy: whites ruling over all, and the rest subdivided into a layer of Asians and "coloreds" on top of a vast substratum of blacks. But then racial harmony is not, and never was, the project of that government. In the interests of domination and exploitation, racial harmony is something apartheid was to designed to avoid.

6. Even in a potentially oppositional headline, e.g. CAN U.S. AVOID NUCLEAR WAR?, "avoid" produces its own despiteful intent. What it intends, effectively, is to avoid contention with what must be contended with. The headline is locked into a symptomatic mode. The terms of the question pre- empt the possibility of solution. But substantively, which is to say historically, "avoidance" would have to be enacted as non-avoidance. The words for actualized avoidance would be words of confrontation, contention, struggle. Unlike the headline, a non-ideological question would ask whether war organizations may be disbanded. Whether exploitation, the profit system that fuels and thrives on the machinery of war, may be done away with. to avoid nuclear war is not to avoid nuclear war but to take on all this- -is not to adopt a high ground, but to negate the systemic necessity of war. Not to be a morally superior witness, but a destroyer of that system and its criminal necessities. Of course this doesn't account for the discrepancy between what "U.S." supposedly represents and what its specific historical composition is. ("U.S." bears on the territory and population of the U.S. pretty much as the headlined "South Africa" does on the historical U.S., unlike the mythical "U.S." of the headline, is a generative component of nuclear war, and not easily if at all distinguishable from it.

7. The situation is complicated, though not substantially altered, by the fact that at least two unions, the council of Unions of South Africa and the Azanian Confederation of Trade Unions, are black nationalist. They will neither admit white workers nor ally with unions that do. Recently the South African government has refrained from attacking the "Black Consciousness" movement, having given a free hand to Buthelezi and Inkatha. That's because, along with the South African government, they too perpetrate race and "tribal" war. Being concerned mainly to get a larger slice of the pie, Inkatha does not take on apartheid racism (except through a few of Buthelezi's generalized pieties), but does carry out vicious attacks, including assassinations, against members of the multiracial United Democratic Front (UDF).