Karl Marx and religion, part three

Last time I drew attention to the way in which the category of religious alienation - conceived in Feuerbachian terms as the inversion of subject and object, objectification, externalisation and so forth - figured prominently in Marx's writings in the early 1840s (Weekly Worker February 1).

For Marx, the 'purity' of religious alienation - i.e., the fact that in religion human beings submit themselves to and are dominated by entirely imaginary and fantastical entities that have no existence in objective reality - gave the category a certain paradigmatic, prototypical quality.

That is why we find him throughout his life using it analogically - most notably, of course, in the final section of chapter one in the first volume of Capital, entitled 'The fetishism of commodities and the secret thereof'.

There he has "recourse to the mist-enveloped regions of the religious world", in order to explain how "the productions of the human brain appear as independent beings endowed with life, and entering into relation both with one another and the human race" (Capital Vol. 1, Moscow 1954, p77).

Just as "the religious reflex of the real world can, in any case, only then finally vanish, when the practical relations of everyday life offer to man none but perfectly intelligible and reasonable relations with regard to his fellow men and to nature", so "the life-process of society, which is based on the process of material production, does not strip off its mystical veil until it is treated as production by freely associated men, and is consciously regulated by them in accordance with a settled plan" (ibid. p84).

Only communism can bring about such "perfectly intelligible and reasonable relations", because production under communism, motivated by human needs, not by profit, will be free, collective and founded on a plan that will not only incorporate the most advanced scientific knowledge but, more importantly still, will be suffused at every level by democracy, thereby reintegrating human beings with themselves and one another in a society where the gulf between appearance and reality - all the illusions and mystifications embodied in bourgeois ideology - will be swept away.

It is to the question of ideology - specifically Marx's view of religion as a 'branch' of ideology - that I turn in this article, where our key text will be The German ideology, a document that has raised a number of highly contentious questions in the Marxist tradition.

What is the significance of ideology as a category in Marx's thought? On the basis of a crude abuse of some well known aphorisms, combined with a mechanical, undialectical and fundamentally unMarxist approach to the base-superstructure model, some commentators effectively dismiss ideology as a peripheral, epiphenomenal matter. For them - to use a crude analogy of my own - religion is merely the cherry on top of the superstructural icing that covers the cake of the material base. Others, worse still - and on the basis of the flimsiest textual authority - have wantonly distorted the category by making it a synonym for 'false consciousness'. These are matters that will be addressed presently.

To begin with, however, let us return briefly to the Economic and philosophical manuscripts of 1844. True to his conviction that criticism must turn from heaven to earth, and in keeping with his own naturalistic materialism, with its emphasis on the centrality of the reciprocal interrelation between humankind and nature in the labour process, Marx gives us a new focus on alienation. While retaining the category of religious alienation as a useful analogical tool, he emphasises that, "Religious alienation as such occurs only in the realm of consciousness, of man's inner life, but economic alienation is that of real life; its transcendence therefore embraces both aspects (Economic and philosophical manuscripts Moscow 1964, p136).

Transcending economic alienation means confronting a fourfold problem arising from the relationship between human beings and the objects and institutions they have produced: first, workers are alienated from the product of their labour - the existence of private property in the means of production means that as workers who must sell our labour-power in order to live, as producers of commodities, we relate to the product of our labour as to an alien object that stands over and above us. We cease to be self-determining beings and become merely a moment in the objective process of production: "The more the worker externalises himself in his work, the more powerful becomes the alien, objective world that he creates opposite himself, the poorer he becomes himself in his inner life and the less he can call his own. It is just the same in religion. The more man puts into god, the less he retains in himself" (my emphasis, D McLellan (ed.) Karl Marx, Selected writings Oxford 1977, p78 - hereafter KMSW).

Secondly, workers are alienated from the labour-process as such. No longer can the exercise of brains, nerves and muscles constitute a satisfying end in itself, but only the means to earn money essential for survival. Because labour is "exterior to the worker", it "does not belong to his essence. Therefore he does not confirm himself in his work, he denies himself, feels miserable instead of happy, deploys no free physical and intellectual energy, but mortifies his body and ruins his mind ... His labour is therefore not voluntary, but compulsory, forced labour. It is therefore not the satisfaction of a need, but only a means to satisfy needs outside itself ... Finally, the external character of labour for the worker shows itself in the fact that it is not his own, but someone else's, that it does not belong to him."

Once again the analogy with religious alienation is made explicit: "As in religion, the human imagination's own activity, the activity of man's head and his heart, reacts independently on the individual as an alien activity of gods or devils, so the activity of the worker is not his own spontaneous activity. It belongs to another and is the loss of himself" (ibid. p80). The dehumanisation engendered by the alienated labour-process means that "man (the worker) only feels himself freely active in his animal functions of eating, drinking and procreating, at most also in his dwelling and dress, and feels himself an animal in his human functions. Eating, drinking, procreating, etc are indeed truly human functions. But in the abstraction that separates them from the other round of human activity and makes them into final and exclusive ends they become animal" (ibid.).

Thirdly, because "it is in the working over of the objective world that man first really affirms himself as a species-being", the alienation of the individual from the product of his labour and from the labour-process itself inevitably has social consequence: "When alienated labour tears from man the object of his production, it also tears from him his species-life." Alienated labour "makes the species-being of man - both nature and the intellectual faculties of his species - into a being that is alien to him, into a means for his individual existence". Finally, "An immediate consequence of man's alienation from the product of his work, his vital activity and his species-being, is the alienation of man from man" (ibid. p82f).

Marx makes clear that it is alienated labour itself under the capitalist mode of production, rather than the existence of private property in the means of production, that is the real cause of the fourfold alienation he describes: "Although private property appears to be the ground and reason for externalised [alienated - MM] labour, it is rather a consequence of it, just as the gods are originally not the cause but the effect of the aberration of the human mind, although later this relationship reverses itself" (ibid. p85).

Since alienation has been at the forefront of this series of articles, I have included the above passages from the Economic and philosophical manuscripts because now is the best time to deal with a question that is central to a correct understanding of Marx's thought as a whole: was the category of alienation effectively 'superseded' in Marx's later work? Can one in fact speak of a radical discontinuity (what Althusser dubbed an 'epistemological break'), between an 'early' - philosophical, humanist - and a 'later' - 'scientific' - Marx?

Personally, I believe that the burden of contrary evidence makes Althusser's position puzzling and simply untenable. Even a cursory browse through the Grundrisse and Capital should be enough to convince the reader that alienation and the fetishism of commodities are two of the most important critical categories underpinning Marx's mature political economy. Together they penetrate the fog of mystification that obscures the real nature of the capitalist mode of production; together they tear down the ideological veil of illusion to reveal a deeply antagonistic relation, in which people are bereft of both freedom and understanding.

Far from having been dropped in favour of a more 'scientific' approach in Marx's later work, these categories are themselves at the core of the 'scientificity' of Marx's critique of capital. What is more, they serve as the pillars of an ethical critique of the system too: they speak of the loss, dispossession and dehumanisation inseparable from the capitalist mode of production, of a state of affairs in which human beings have no chance whatever of living decent lives, let alone of fulfilling their potential.

Scholars from widely differing political backgrounds agree. Comrade István Mészáros, the authority on the subject, maintains that alienation is not only the "key concept" of the Economic and philosophical manuscripts, but also "the central concept of Marx's whole theory"; and that "Marx's critique of capitalistic alienation and reification" is in fact "the basic idea of the Marxian system" (I Mészáros Marx's theory of alienation London 1975, pp11, 233, 93).

Kolakowski, who despite being a renegade from Marxism has much of value to say on the subject of alienation, identifies the real question as being "whether the aspects of his early thinking which Marx subsequently abandoned are important enough to justify the idea of an intellectual break, and whether the theory of value and its consequences [expounded at length in Capital] are a basic innovation, either contrary to Marx's philosophy of the early 40s or in no way anticipated therein" (L Kolakowski Main currents of Marxism Vol. 1, Oxford 1978, p263f). In answer, he describes the Economic and philosophical manuscripts very appositely as "the first draft of the book that Marx went on writing all his life, and of which Capital is the final version", and goes on to say that, "There are sound reasons for maintaining that the final version is a development of its predecessor and not a departure from it" (ibid.). In short, alienation is the theme which unites the successive 'drafts' of that body of thought of which Capital is the 'final' but still incomplete statement.

What does change in the way Marx handles the category has more to do with language than with substance. In the later work he abandons the philosophical idiom of Feuerbachian, anthropological materialism. The theme is transposed from a philosophical to a socio-economic key, as Marx's focus shifts from such abstract categories as our 'species-being' (Gattungswesen) to the concrete conditions of the production process under capitalism.

In describing this shift, some critics, like Wood, maintain that in Marx's later writings alienation is "no longer explanatory; rather it is descriptive or diagnostic. Marx used the notion of alienation to identify or characterise a certain sort of human ill or dysfunction which is especially prevalent in modern society. This ill is one to which all the various phenomena exemplifying the images or metaphors of 'unnatural separation' or 'domination by one's own creation' contribute in one way or another" (A Wood Karl Marx London 1981, p7).

The meaning behind Wood's language is clear enough perhaps, but I believe that by ascribing metaphorical status to the 'unnatural separation' and 'domination by one's own creation', he runs the risk of reducing to a mere notion what is a concrete historical phenomenon.

For Marx, alienation was much more than an intellectual construct serving the purpose of linking together the social evils and irrationalities of modern life. Moreover, the division of Marx's analysis of alienation into compartments - "explanatory" in the early work; "diagnostic" in the later writings - is far too schematic.

After all, the theory of commodity fetishism expounded in Capital is in fact a compelling materialist account of alienation as a historically specific process, relation and condition, and commodity fetishism played a vital explanatory function in Marx's analysis of capitalism as a whole. In short, even though the speculative philosophical baggage in which alienation was contained in the Manuscripts was left behind, a kernel of the category was retained, especially its explanatory significance.

Nowhere, as we shall see, is this more clearly evident than in Marx's treatment of labour: core components of his mature theory, such as the nature of labour-power as a commodity, and the difference between use-value and exchange value, can, as we have seen, already be found in the Manuscripts in embryonic form.

It is through labour, "the everlasting, nature-imposed condition of human existence ..., independent of every social phase of that existence or rather ... common to every such phase" (Capital Vol. 1, p179), that we express ourselves "as real, living, particular individuals" ('On James Mill' KMSW p115). Labour-power itself is defined as being "the aggregate of those mental and physical capabilities existing in the physical form, the living personality of the human being" (Capital Vol. 1, p164).

For Marx, alienation is defined (primarily at least) not in terms of the subjective experience of conditions, but in terms of the objective outcome of relations. 'Objective' in what sense? In the sense that alienation is firstly an empirically verifiable phenomenon; and secondly, that it is concerned with the way human beings relate to the objects (in the widest sense) which they produce - not just material things, but ideas, institutions and so on.

For those who have eyes to see it, therefore, a careful reading of the Economic and philosophical manuscripts demonstrates the extent to which, in substance, they foreshadow the historical materialist basis of The German ideology. Take the following example: "Religion, family, state, law, morality, science and art are only particular forms of production and fall under its general law. The positive abolition of private property and the appropriation of human life is therefore the positive abolition of all alienation, thus the return of man out of religion, family, state, etc into his human - i.e., social - being" (KMSW p89).

Already, Marx sees the realm of ideology, the ideas and institutions represented by religion, morality, law and so forth - the sum of all the relations that constitute civil society - as themselves alienated products of the capitalist mode of production. The "return of man out of religion, family, state, etc", the task of understanding society, of turning inverted reality back on its feet, as it were, becomes an epistemological question, because all forms of alienation are founded on the illusion and mystification that are inescapably inherent in the capitalist form of commodity production itself.

This theme is, of course, at the centre of Marx's break with Feuerbach, who "starts out from the fact of religious self-alienation, of the duplication of the world into a religious world and a secular one. His work consists in resolving the religious world into its secular basis. But that the secular basis detaches itself from itself and establishes itself as an independent realm in the clouds can only be explained by the cleavages and self-contradictions within this secular base The latter must, therefore, in itself be both understood in its contradiction and revolutionised in practice" ('Theses on Feuerbach' No4 KMSW p157).

One of the main problems with Feuerbach's approach to alienation was that it went no further than, as it were, 'inverting' the idealism of Hegel, transferring alienation from the sphere of 'the spirit' to that of human beings. But for Feuerbach, "man" remained a nebulous concept, no more than "eternal human nature" or "species-being".

What was lacking was any attempt to place "man" in the concrete circumstances of what Marx calls the "secular basis": i.e., class society, with all its contradictions. Hence, Feuerbach's "human essence" [das menschliche Wesen] is a purely abstract category: "the human essence is no abstraction inherent in each single individual. In its reality, it is the ensemble of the social relations" ('Theses on Feuerbach' No6 KMSW p157).

Turning to The German ideology itself, it is essential to place this work in its historical context as a highly polemical and discursive attempt by Marx and Engels to settle accounts with Feuerbach and the Young Hegelians. The first hundred or so pages - effectively an extension of Marx's 'Theses on Feuerbach' - contain the kernel of what was to become the doctrine of historical materialism, summed up in the phrase "the aggregate of productive forces accessible to men determines the nature of society" (The German ideology Moscow 1976, p50 - hereafter GI).

It is based on a "conception of history" that "relies on expounding the real process of production, starting from the material production of life itself, and comprehending the form of intercourse connected with and created by this mode of production - i.e., civil society in its various stages - as the basis of all history; describing it in its action as the state, and also explaining how all the different theoretical products and forms of consciousness, religion, philosophy, morality ... arise from it" (ibid. p61 - my emphasis).

"The premises from which we begin are not arbitrary ones, not dogmas, but real premises from which abstraction can only be made in the imagination. They are the real individuals, their activity and the material conditions of their life: both those which they find already existing and those produced by their activity. These premises can thus be verified in a purely empirical way .... Empirical observation must ... bring out without any mystification and speculation the connection of the social and political structure with production. The social structure and the state are continually evolving out of the life-process of definite individuals ... as they work under definite limits, presuppositions and conditions independent of their will" (GI pp37, 41).

So far as religion is concerned, Marx is at pains to stress the entirely empirical nature of its origin and development from that natural religion which constituted "consciousness of nature, which first confronts man as a completely alien, all-powerful and unassailable force, with which men's relations are purely animal and by which they are overawed like beasts" (GI p50). The first 'religious' impulse stemmed, therefore, from the need to propitiate the natural forces on which the very continued existence of humanity depended.

Marx recalls a time when "the production of ideas, of conceptions, of consciousness" was "directly interwoven with the material activity and the material intercourse of men - the language of real life. Conceiving, thinking, the mental intercourse of men at this stage still appear as the direct efflux of their material behaviour. The same applies to mental production as expressed in the language of the politics, laws, morality, religion, metaphysics, etc of the people. Men are the producers of their conceptions, ideas, etc: that is, real, active men, as they are conditioned by a definite development of their productive forces ..." (GI p42).

With the development of the division between manual and mental labour, however, a situation arises in which "consciousness can really flatter itself that it is something other than consciousness of existing practice, that it really represents something without representing something real; from now on consciousness is in a position to emancipate itself from the world and to proceed to the formation of 'pure' theory, theology, philosophy, morality, etc" (GI p50). Significantly, the manuscript of The German ideology has a marginal note at this point: "The first form of ideologists, priests, is coincident" (ibid.).

Religion, along with morality, philosophy and so forth, are to be seen as products of consciousness in the sphere of ideas, as "ideological reflexes and echoes" of the process of material production. They are described as "phantoms formed in the brains of men" and "sublimates of their material life-process ... bound to material premises ... Morality, religion, metaphysics and all the rest of ideology, as well as the forms of consciousness corresponding to these, thus no longer retain the semblance of independence. They have no history, no development; but men, developing their material production and their material intercourse, alter, along with this their actual world, also their thinking and the products of their thinking. It is not consciousness that determines life, but life that determines consciousness" (GI p42).

Marx's language is certainly trenchant: on the one hand, the world of "real, active men" engaged in "their real life-process" in the sphere of production that constitutes the materialist base, "conditioned by a definite development of their productive forces"; on the other, "morality, religion, metaphysics and all the rest of ideology", a superstructural realm of "reflexes", "echoes", "phantoms" and "sublimates". Small wonder that many have been tempted on the basis of these passages in The German ideology to adopt a crudely reductionist interpretation, in which ideology is reduced to the status of an epiphenomenon, or even something almost 'unreal'. It is, however, a temptation firmly to be resisted, because it ends in a vulgar travesty of Marx's thinking, with many harmful consequences.

We need to remember exactly what it was against which Marx was wielding his polemical sword with such gusto - namely, the philosophical idealism that allotted to consciousness and abstract ideas, whether human or 'divine' in their origin, an effective primacy in the determination of history. Hence Marx's insistence, for example, that religion and the "rest of ideology" have no peculiar history of their own as self-evolving autonomous entities, but are human creations that can only properly be understood in the context of human productive activity as a whole.

On setting out for Paris, Marx had looked forward eagerly to undertaking "a reckless criticism of all that exists" through "the analysis of mystical consciousness that is not clear to itself, whether it appears in religious or political form" ('A correspondence of 1843' KMSW p38), but in their various ways his former colleagues in the Young Hegelian movement still went on believing that ideas could by themselves lead to a transformation of society. Marx, on the other hand, stressed that, "Ideas cannot lead us beyond the old order of things; they can only lead us beyond ideas about the old order of things. In fact, ideas cannot realise anything. To realise ideas, men are needed, men who put practical forces into play ... Criticism does not create anything; the worker creates everything (The holy family Moscow 1956, p130).

In The German ideology, Marx denounces the idealist view of history in which "the real production of life", when not altogether "totally disregarded" or treated as "a minor matter ..., appears as non-historical, while the historical appears as something separated from ordinary life, something extra-superterrestrial" (GI p62f). But giving historical primacy to the interrelationship of the development of productive forces and production relations has nothing in common with the crude view that history is nothing but these things. A view of history that focuses exclusively on the material production and reproduction of life - on the self-evident necessity of securing the material means for our physical survival - a view that consigns creativity, imagination and all that we refer to metaphorically as 'the spiritual' to the merely peripheral is profoundly unMarxian.

For Marx, truly human labour, such as can enable us to fulfil ourselves as fully rounded human beings, is inseparable from that conscious, purposive activity in which imagination and creativity and spiritual satisfaction play a vital part. It is the lack of scope for such activity in so much of the labour performed by wage-slaves under capitalism that constitutes one of Marx's main ethical objections to the system as such.

We look in vain for a firm definition of ideology as a category in Marx's work, but we can locate a consistent thread of argument in his work as a whole. In the 'mature' work, his attention is focused predominantly on the "fixed, immutable, eternal categories" of bourgeois political economy (KMSW p199). The leitmotif is one of clarification, of discerning the difference between appearance and reality, of turning things the right way up so as to expose the inverted, illusory nature of the categories on which bourgeois ideology is founded: "When the economists say that present-day relations - the relations of bourgeois production - are natural, they imply that these are the relations in which wealth is created and production developed in conformity with the laws of nature. These relations therefore are themselves natural laws independent of the influence of time. They are eternal laws which must always govern society. Thus there has been history, but there no longer is any" ('The poverty of philosophy' KMSW p209).

'Bourgeois ideology' is a useful portmanteau category, but we should beware of endowing it with the character of an autonomous, intrinsically coherent body of thought. It is true, of course, that, "The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas: i.e., the class which is the ruling material force of society is at the same time its ruling intellectual force ... the ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relations, the dominant material relations grasped as ideas" (GI p67). But it would be a mistake to imagine that ideology is a consciously formulated, settled construct derived from real, full awareness of the material and social circumstances on which it is founded. Ideologists are no less subject to the mystificatory impact of alienation than the rest of us.

The task of the ideologist is to persuade us that the interests of the ruling class represent the 'general interest' of us all: "each new class which puts itself in the place of one ruling before it is compelled ... to present its interest as the common interest of all the members of society ... expressed in ideal form. It has to give its ideas the form of universality, and present them as the only rational, universally valid ones" (GI p68). But within the ranks of the ideologists themselves there are inevitably conflicting ideas about exactly what serves the best interests of their masters.

If we look at such works of genius as The eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte or The class struggles in France, we find an account of ideology as a real political force, operating at numerous levels of awareness of reality.

The point is that Marx's principal focus was on the concrete, practical role of ideas in the class struggle. When ideas and forms of consciousness, including, of course, religious notions, play a part in the political struggle of contending classes, they become ipso facto 'ideological', because they serve a class interest. As Marx was to put it in A contribution to the critique of political economy, "A distinction should always be made between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production, which can be determined with the precision of natural science, and the legal, political, religious, aesthetic or philosophic - in short, ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out" (my emphasis KMSW p389f).

When he ironically identifies the division of labour as a decisive development in allowing consciousness to "emancipate itself from the world and to proceed to the formation of 'pure' theory, theology, ... etc" (ibid. p50), he draws attention implicitly to the social, class, divisions on which the phenomenon rests. Raymond Williams expresses it well as "a form of class division between those who have practically appropriated the general human faculties of consciousness, intention and control, and those who have been made the objects of this appropriation, as the manual instruments - the 'hands' - of these men's mental decisions and intentions" (D McLellan (ed.) Marx: the first hundred years 1983, pp16-55).

Interestingly, Marx specifically points to the division of labour as one of the main causes of alienation: "As long as his activity is not voluntarily, but naturally divided, man's own deed becomes an alien power opposed to him, which enslaves him instead of being controlled by him. For as soon as the division of labour comes into being, each man has a particular exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape" (GI p53).

The division of labour described by Marx can only arise with the existence of a sufficient surplus product, and finds concrete expression in the unequal division of property and power - derived from control over that product, and from the power to dispose over the labour-power of others - existing in any given social formation. In these circumstances, perhaps the most important function of ideologists, the 'mental labourers' that Marx calls "men of talent", is to elaborate ideas that legitimate the status quo, securing and extending the property and power of the existing ruling class: "The operations of 'mental labour' cannot be assumed in advance to be exclusively devoted to 'higher' or 'the highest' human concerns, but are in many or perhaps all cases likely to be bound up ... with propagation, ratification, defence, apologia, naturalisation of that exploiting and unequal social order itself" (ibid. p33).

It is, of course, in the sphere of "ratification", of legitimation, that religion has historically had such an important role to play as an ideological bulwark of the ruling class. Anyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of the history of western Christendom knows that from the dawn of the middle ages to the collapse of feudalism, religion, in the form of the catholic church, was not merely the "ruling intellectual force" in society, but was itself a mighty 'temporal' - i.e., material - force, enmeshed at every level in upholding the status quo. Despite the enlightenment, despite all the scientific progress of recent centuries and despite the evident decay of orthodox, mainstream religion in our 'secular' age, it still has a useful, 'ratificatory' role to play in the class struggle. Those who doubt this fact should take a look at the influence of the religious right in contemporary political and social questions.

In this connection, the tendency to regard ideology as an epistemological category rather than a concrete political problem can have baleful consequences. I am thinking here of those who are content to equate ideology, ipso facto, with 'false consciousness', just dismissing it as a cognitively deficient form of thinking. The 'falsehood' of religious consciousness (i.e., the fact that its entities - gods, spirits, whatever - have no objective reality) makes it particularly susceptible to such an approach. According to the Polish Trotskyite, F Jacubowski, "Ideology signifies first and foremost false consciousness, which does not correspond to reality and is incapable of grasping or expressing reality in an adequate manner" (Les superstructures idéologiques dans la conception matérialiste de l'histoire Paris 1972, p165 - my translation). Althusser, as one might expect, goes even further, describing ideology as "pure illusion, a pure dream: i.e., nothingness" (L Althusser Lenin and philosophy and other essays 1971, p150). In the same spirit, J Plamenatz tells us, on the basis of no textual authority whatsoever, that "Marx often called ideology 'false consciousness'" (quoted in J McCartney The real world of ideology London 1980, p153, note 26).

The fact is that nowhere in the Marxian canon - either in the published works of Marx or those of Engels - is there any reference whatever to ideology as 'false consciousness' in the sense attributed to it by the writers mentioned above or their ilk. Their 'key text' is, in fact, nothing more than a letter written by Engels to Franz Mehring on July 14 1893, in which Engels says that, "Ideology is a process which is indeed accomplished consciously by the so-called thinker, but it is the wrong kind of consciousness. The real motive forces impelling him remain unknown to the thinker; otherwise it simply would not be an ideological process. Hence he imagines false or illusory motive forces. Because it is a rational process he derives its form as well as its content from pure reasoning, either his own or that of his predecessors ... this is a matter of course to him, because, as all action is mediated by thought, it appears to him to be ultimately based upon thought" (K Marx, F Engels Selected correspondence Moscow 1975, p434).

It is on the basis of this flimsiest textual 'authority' that the school of ideology as tout court 'false consciousness' rests. Yet surely, if we look at Engels's letter in the context of his and Marx's published work, we find nothing more than a reaffirmation of ideology, not as a separate, autonomous epistemological category, but as a part of a thoroughly Marxian criticism of the 'ideological' in general - namely, that all bourgeois ideology is founded on the false assumption that objective reality is not merely communicated or mediated by ideas, but actually caused by them. Nothing more or less than that.

If Marx had really thought of religion as no more than a manifestation of 'false consciousness', as a purely epiphenomenal manifestation of humankind's fixation with the 'ideological' rather than with the 'real', he would hardly have taken the trouble to struggle against its influence in the workers' movement. Yet this is what he did - consistently and passionately - as we shall see in the next article.

Michael Malkin