Monday, February 23, 2015

Marxism: To Preach Community with the Authority of a Priest

Marxism seeks to expose an unjust conflict between the rich and the poor. Within this conflict the rich have the upper-hand, which although explicitly material and economic, also expands in a powerful superstructure composed of ideas and beliefs along with a multitude of institutions which carry out and perpetuate the dominant ideology so as legitimize the rich’s power over (and oppression of) the poor. It is because of this powerful superstructure that individuals are so often subject to what Marxists call “false consciousness,” which prevents them from seeing their own subjectivity to systematic oppression. Louis Althusser suggests in “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses” that education is the most powerful modern ideological state apparatus (ISA). In other words, education is the most powerful of many institutions which further the dominant ideology of the ruling class. For this reason it makes sense (as discussed by Justin Wyllie in his review of Feire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed) for Freire to apply Marxist theory to the classroom, critiquing the current western pedagogy which treats students “as empty vessels into which knowledge can be deposited” (6). Feire calls instead for authentic dialog between students and teachers who both understand themselves to be valuable and not fully knowing. This mirrors his understanding that revolution can happen only when individuals are in equal (or near equal) communication with one another so as to authentically realize their own oppression. To be “told” of their oppression would only re-inforce their positions as passive subjects, which is the opposite of what Marxism strives towards.

My artwork exposes the dominant hand of the ruling class and its looming superstructure which all individuals are subject to, especially emphasizing the educational ISA. Although promised freedom by authoritative figures like teachers from childhood, Marxism believes all individuals to ultimately be bound by oppressive “nooses” which prevent genuine communication between individuals as well as any significant movement between the classes within capitalists systems. Because these nooses are not easily escapable (especially without having learned the skill of critical inquiry), individuals likely will internalize their oppression and seek out an “other” which they can exercise authority over, as illustrated here by the low position of the figure with a leg cut off.

Justin Wyllie notes a significant flaw in Feire’s work: “This isn’t really a dialog since there can only be one end and any other conclusion is already explained away as the oppressed housing the oppressor within themselves. A real dialog does not have a prescribed outcome” (12). I want to take this a step further and suggest that the Marxist call for connectedness is not explicit enough. While the goal of Marxism is communist revolution, the process of getting there fails to be adequately communal. Rather than focusing so much on confirming its own beliefs and actualizing its own call for revolution, Marxist theory must become more self-aware and realize its failure to truly practice that which it ultimately strives for: authentic communal dialog. If Marxists are “right,” collective consciousness can only occur when individuals are taught to harvest a deep sense of connectedness and empathy, and it is only then that productive revolution will ensue.


  1. This post is magnificent, especially in its artwork and in its cogent opening gloss of Marxist theory, which weaves in the Wyllie/Freire so well. Your final paragraph is provocative, but leaves me wanting more (a good thing, I suppose!). What does "authentic communal dialogue" look like? What would that classroom look like? How do we foster "connectedness" and "empathy," and how are these abstract concepts tied to institutional structures and material conditions?

  2. Jess, love the artwork very creative and thoughtful .