Essay: Hegemony in General Marxists

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[. . .] 1982). This notion assumes that ideological stances or positions are in effect a function of class positions such that the dominant class of the society also represents the dominant ideology of society. Marxists are in direct opposition to the idealist stance where consciousness itself is supreme and not dependent on class position. Marxists traditionally viewed ideology is a type of false consciousness resulting from the identification of the dominant function is to spread the message of the dominant ideology (which is the values of the class that owns and controls the media). In a capitalist society the mass media functions to conceal class struggles and to create the illusion that they do not exist (Curran et al. 1982). What this means in strict Marxist terms than media functions as a method of "production" of ideology which in a capitalist society represents the ownership of the ruling class. The mass media simply spreads the ideas of the ruling class and denies or condemns other alternative ideas. Marx used the term "means of mental production" to signify the media as an ideological apparatus spreading its message to those who lack the "mental production" to evaluate it (Heywood 1994). In capitalistic societies the mass media produces the type of false consciousness accepted by the working class whereby goods or possessions are viewed as projections of the values of the ruling class internalized by workers and this denies the possibility of any other interpretation of the current state of affairs.

It is important to understand that not all Marxist thinkers accepted these premises. For example, Althusser did not agree with the notion of false consciousness and emphasized that ideology is the way by which people experience the world (Curran et al. 1982). Althusser's view of Marxism stresses the notion that ideology is a determining force in its own right and that the mass media's ideology in capitalist societies contributes to the production of the capitalist system, but does not define the state of affairs. Volosinov argued that ideology is not a product of consciousness, but instead produces it (Curran et al. 1982). Thus, Marxist theorists would agree that the mass media has some type of ideological power but would disagree as to its extent or nature.

Power can also be considered to be visible, hidden, or invisible (Lukes 2005; VeneKlasen and Miller 2002). Visible power is apparent such as the power of a dictator or the power of a president. Hidden power rests in the attitudes of the individual's or group such as certain types of biases. The methods of communication of a society, religious attitudes, and education (especially the process of educating the young and the types of facts and content of education they receive and internalize) represent forms of invisible power.

The notion of invisible power has its origins in Marxist philosophy about the pervasive strength of ideologies, beliefs, and values in the formation of class values and the concealing of the exploitation of groups and contradictions concerning the accepted values of a society. Marxists believe that the exploitation of the masses was not the only force behind a capitalistic society but that the status quo was bolstered by the dominance of the value system of the ruling class. This value system imposed on the masses resulted in a "false consciousness" that would oppress the working classes and keep them from recognizing their oppression as they engulfed the value system of the ruling class (Heywood 1994). This false consciousness is a type of invisible power and was especially noticeable in Lenin's ideals such as the analogy of workers accepting crumbs that fall off the table or that are handed to them as opposed to taking their rightful place at the table (Heywood 1994).

Gramsci (1971) used the term hegemony to explain the dominance of one social class over other classes. Gramsci viewed the capitalist state as being made up of two overlapping systems: a political society that ruled by way of force and a civil society that ruled by means of consent (Gramsci 1971). The civil society was a form of public sphere where political parties trained people to take for granted the values of the bourgeois state. Thus, the civil society was the sphere where beliefs and ideals were shaped and formed. The "bourgeois hegemony" was enacted in public life through the media and also through educational institutions and through religious institutions. These institutions, especially the media, wielded a form of invisible power (hegemony) designed to maintain the status quo. The media continued to inject the working class with the values of the ruling class and manufactured the consent that these conditions are acceptable.

Lukes (2005) discussed two meanings of hegemony. The first meaning is of an unconscious psychological process that is internalized and cultural in nature. The second meaning of hegemony is a more focused strategy of domination of one group over another group(s). This double meaning of hegemony has led to some confusion about the nature of the invisible power of hegemony; however, according to Marxist thought there really should be no confusion. On the one hand the media is manipulated by the bourgeois to impart their values and maintain the status quo and on the other hand it is psychologically accepted by the working classes. In this sense the media exerts a form of power over the working class but this power operates on many levels. On one level it forcibly courses the working class to accept the status quo and on a deeper psychological level it operates as a form of internalized agency. The media and other societal institutions function by internalizing the value systems of the ruling class in the working classes. Thus, all four forms of power are utilized.

This invisible power is a barrier to effective liberation on the part of the working class and also a barrier to self-awareness, self knowledge, self-esteem, and equality. (Chomsky 1989). The media operates as an ideological apparatus to reinforce the values of the ruling class. Interestingly, the strategies the media to reinforce their control over the working classes were used by Lenin and Stalin in their attempts to qualm complaints of the working classes in a socialist system. This process of hegemony and the use of the media as a type of ideological apparatus manipulated by the ruling class or party in power have been also referred to by feminists and other civil rights supporters in their explanations of how they are marginalized.

Thus, hegemony allows the ruling class is able to operate at the level of thought or ideas and at the level of having power over other classes. This allows the ruling class to repress any consciousness of change in the working-class. Gramsci (1971) notes that hegemony explains why people are more apt to attempt to find their place or fit into an existing social structure rather than seek to change society or to rebel as was predicted by Marx. In long-standing capitalistic societies the constraints on consciousness have been passed down in the form of social structure and government organization and these constraints are propagated by the media. Together the social structure and government organization effectively discourage any type of rebellion or complaints to change the system. Attempts by some groups to call attention to the unfairness of the status quo or to enact change are viewed as rebellions and as subversive.

Chomsky (1989) expanded this view beyond the Marxist notions of class struggle and consciousness. Chomsky was concerned with these to be sure, but he was also concerned with how the media functioning as a tool of the current political parties in power in the United States was able to focus the attention of the mass audience away from relevant issues and on issues that could be used to distract the mass audience. Chomsky's ideas expanded from inhibiting class struggles to outright thought control in democratic societies. This particular type of hegemony is concerned with the same issues that Marx was concerned with; however, it puts them in a more moderate or relevant light. Chomsky (1989) notes that propaganda delivered by the media functions in the same way in a democratic society as violence functions in a dictatorship. While ordinary people in the middle classes are capable of remarkable things and express a fundamental need to be creative this propaganda frustrates this fundamental need. For the system to change people need to be able to confront current forms of authority (e.g., the media) and the coercion that challenges the legitimate interests of society. Private control over public resources such as the media and information is the major form of authority that needs to be challenged according to Chomsky. Corporations own the media which in turn influences the mass audiences that rely on the media for information. The First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States guarantees free speech and a public exchange of ideas. However, a small minority actually has access to the type of ideas and… [END OF PREVIEW]

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