The Dialectic of Ideology and Technology:
The Origins, Grammar, and Future of Ideology

Alvin W. Gouldner

Dedicated to the memory of an historical non‑person:

Frederick Lewis (Henry) Demuth

(23 June 1851‑28 January 1929),

son of Helene Demuth

Who knew something of the dark side of the dialectic

Ideas like that, thought Skelton, could set a man to barking. Even a brief soulful howl beside the garbage would help . . .

There was a knocking on the door of the fuselage. Skelton opened it. It was the wino drill sergeant from next door. "Come in."

"Thank you, Sir. Do you have a dog?"

"No, I don't."

"I thought I beard barking."

"I was clearing my throat."

Ninety‑Two in the Shade

*     *     *

Where there is a kinship of languages, it cannot fail, due to the common philosophy of grammar—I mean, due to the unconscious domination by similar grammatical functions—that everything is prepared from the outset for a similar development and sequence of philosophical systems . . .


*     *     *

Not ideas, but material and ideal interests, directly govern men's conduct.



*     *     *

. . . our conclusions agree with the general point of view expressed by Chomsky that dialects of a language are apt to differ from each other in low‑level rules, and that superficial differences are greater than those differences found (if any) in their deep structures.


Part One. Ideology and the Communications Revolution  
1. The Splitting           3
Bibliographical Note  19
2. Ideological Discourse as Rationality and False
     [Sections 5.4 - 7:
       Basil Bernstein, Elaborated & Restricted Linguistic Codes]
Bibliographical Note  64
3. Surmounting the Tragic Vision: Generic Ideology as
4. The Communications Revolution: News, Public, and
5. From the Chicago School to the Frankfurt School             118
6. Toward a Media‑Critical Politics 138
Bibliographical Note  165
7. Ideology, the Cultural apparatus, and the New
Consciousness Industry          
8. Ideology and the University Revolt    179
Part Two. Ideology and the Modern Order  
9. Ideology and the Bourgeois Order   195
10. Interests, Ideologies, and the Paleo‑Symbolic       210
11. Ideology and Indirect Rule: Technocratic Consciousness
and the Failure of Ideology  
12. From Ideologues to Technologues    250
Bibliographical Note 273
13. Ideology Critique and the Tension of Parts and Whole 275
Index    295


This study is about ideologies as a form of discourse; i.e., as a culture of critical speech; i.e., as an elaborated sociolinguistic speech variant. It is part of a larger work, including two other volumes: On Marxism, and Revolutionary Intellectuals.

Being about such topics, inevitably this present study has implications for the ongoing world convulsions, although these are exhibited only in a set of side‑steps. For who longs to address these head-on? In such a situation one must lay one's cards on the table, but there is no obligation to read them out loud. In a serious game, the convention is always the same: it is the cards, not the player, who speaks. But one should never forget, this is a convention.

Like anyone else, I write out of the interaction between where I have been and where I now find myself, inevitably tacking between what I did previously and the work remaining to be done. Some will remember the last serious effort as being The Coming Crisis of Western Sociology. Unless, however, their memory is a bit longer, and can go back to my Enter Plato, they will not altogether understand the present offering.

Since "ideology" is now a topic of inquiry historically continuous with the problematic formulated by Marx and Engels (rather than with the earlier French "ideologues"), I have naturally asked myself: What is the relationship of this work to Marxism, and is it Marxist at all?

To answer this in the flat negative seems both ungrateful and, in my case, just plain wrong; for I am well aware of how much I have learned from the work of Marx and from Georg Lukács, whom I think the greatest Marxist theorist of the twentieth century.

At the same time, simply to affirm the connection also seems presumptuous in the manner of a "name dropper," who seeks to borrow luster by intimating a closeness with the great. This view of the matter may seem strange to "normal," academic sociologists who commonly know little, and think less, of Marxism. My judgment, however, differs. I think of certain Marxists as having made Promethean achievements, as having risked and accomplished much in the world, of some, as brave men who have torn their lives out on behalf of their convictions, and of some few as men of intellectual genius and heroic [xi/xii] action with whom I, as a rather unworldly scholar, have no urge to connect myself.

What, then, is my relationship to Marxism? A British reviewer (of my last book, For Sociology) has seen fit to characterize my position as a “critical Maoism.” The reader will be better able to judge whether this designation is apt after he reads my chapter on Maoism, in my as yet unpublished book on Marxism. For my part, I am all too keenly aware that, if I am Marxist at all, I belong to no Marxist community, and certainly to no Marxist establishment. If my own view is solicited, I would label myself as a Marxist outlaw.

For essentially what I am engaged in here, in the larger project, is a demystification of Marxism, which often proceeds by grounding itself in certain Marxist assumptions. It is an exploration of the limits of Marxist consciousness. It is therefore necessarily a study of the linkages between Marxism as an articulate, self‑conscious technical theory, as an extraordinary and elaborated linguistic code, with the less reflexive reaches and (hence articulate or more silent) paleosymbolic levels in Marxism.

A concern with the demystification of Marxism is grounded in and justified by the assumption that Marxism today—as a real historical movement—has not produced the human liberation it had promised. Certainly there are great parts of the world, such as China, in which Marxism has successfully overthrown archaic systems of exploitation and colonial domination. When one remembers the unbelievable misery to which such societies had been subjected, there seems little doubt that the new societies by which Marxists have replaced them are much to be preferred, allowing as they do both more human dignity and more adequate subsistence.

At the same time, however, Marxism has also helped to produce, in other parts of the world, grotesque political monstrosities such as Stalinism. The need to conceal Marxism's own partial implication in the political and human catastrophe of Stalinism is one central source of Marxism's contribution to social mystification. Paralyzed by defensive impulses, many Marxists have either refused to speak at all about the implications of Stalinism for Marxism, while others who confront the issue sometimes act as if Marxism had absolutely nothing to do with it, and allege that Stalinism is to be explained solely in terms of certain peculiar historical or Russian characteristics, “Asiatic backwardness.”

The concealment of Marxism's implication in (which is not equal to saying its causation of) Stalinism, has been one major reason for the blunting of Marxism's own demystifying edge and for the corresponding growth in its own role as a social mystifier. One way of documenting this would be to study the reactions of even non‑Soviet Marxists to Alexander Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago; this detailed exposure of Soviet prison camps has often caused Marxists great anguish and generated a kind of repressive impulse toward the book, either by not talking about it at all or else by softening the impact of its [xii/xiii] correct exposures by emphasizing Solzhenitsyn's own religious, nationalistic, and (truly) often right‑wing ideologies, as if the truth of the former was somehow made less by the falsity of the latter.

The growing détente between the government of the United States under the Nixon, Kissinger, Ford, Rockefeller leadership, with the governments of both the USSR and of China, very largely means the curtailment of the demystifying role that Marxism once played in the modern world. For while the Marxisms of these two countries do not exhaust the variety of Marxisms in the world, together they now largely dominate it and control the foci of discussion among Marxists. Extract the influence of both Peking and Moscow from the world community of Marxists today—"factor" it out—and what is left are small groups whose intellectual interest has little corresponding political influence. Even where successful, as in Cuba, the latter are under great pressure to accommodate either to Peking or Moscow.

The new détente, then, means that a powerful sector of the Marxist community throughout the world is disposed to repress or modify definitions of social reality at variance with the maintenance of that alliance. For example, this was plainly evident in the Soviet Union when, until shortly before President Nixon was forced from office, the Soviet media largely concealed the weakness of Nixon’s political position, and the imminence of his impeachment, from the Soviet people; Soviet authorities feared that this would make it seem that they had associated themselves politically with the most reactionary and corrupt section of American political life—exactly what they had done!—and that could not, in any event, keep the promises for which the Soviet leadership had "compromised” themselves.

Marxism, then, has become increasingly implicated in a world process of social mystification. Such native inclinations toward mystification as it always had are now intensified by the requirements generated by the détente between the leading capitalist and leading Marxist powers. In this new context, then, efforts to demystify the social theories held by both sides become increasingly necessary. In my book, The Coming Crisis of Western Sociology (Basic Books, New York, 1970), I sought to contribute to the demystification of certain conventional academic social theories in capitalist society; and, particularly, in the United States. Here in the larger project, of which this is one volume, the aim is the demystification of the other, Marxist, side of the modern world's sources of mystification. Justification for this last project, however, is not alien but intrinsic to Marxism itself. For the first commandment of the dialectic is contradiction, negation, critique. Which is why Mao has said repeatedly: “To rebel is justified.”

"If one apprentices himself to a master," writes E. P. Thompson in a similar vein, “one does not do so to become a copyist . . .” Marx, of course, who was the product of his own transcending assimilation of Hegel (among others), knew this in his bones, and, therefore, issued the paradoxical disclaimer in [xiii/xiv] which he held: "I am not a Marxist." This was not, as some vulgar Marxists might like to believe, a trivial act of empty playfulness, but manifested Marx's profound rejection of the reification of his own social theory. It is in that spirit that I confront the question of the demystification of Marxism. As those who have actually read The Corning Crisis of Western Sociology will know, my intention in examining Marxism critically is not to pay my dues to the corrupt and imperialist polity that dominates so much of the world today. At its most fundamental levels, my standpoint remains very much that of the C. Wright Mills whose own radicalism and reflexivity was never expressed as a commitment to Marxism.

My own standpoint is essentially that of the ridge rider: half sociologist and half Marxist, and rebel against them both. In a general way, I also sense that my own position is more "European" and less "wholesomely" American than Mills', being the standpoint of a kind of intellectual mulatto, a kind of theoretical Génet, but certainly not that of a "Saint" Génet. My own position rather reminds me of the prisoner‑soldier, Cruz, in Jorge Luis Borge's stunning story who, at last, came to understand that the other cavalry men and his own calvary uniform had become a burden to him, and who saw that the man he had hunted was much like himself; Cruz finally discarded his uniform, threw down his kepi, and began to fight the other soldiers alongside the man he had been hunting, Martin Fierro. One does not discard one uniform to don another.

Paradoxically, a Marxist outlaw is a man of the law. He insists on using one law for all and believes that such consistency is essential to the justice he seeks. Specifically, he wishes to use the dialectic to study Marxism itself. It is precisely because of this that he comes to be defined as an outlaw, for most Marxists (like most academic sociologists) eject the idea that they and their theory are the bearers of contradiction, false consciousness, and mystification. The Marxist outlaw is characterized by the fact that he also speaks about Marxism; that he is reflexive about Marxism and that he does not simply view Marxism as a resource but also takes it as a topic. The Marxist outlaw is attempting to speak the rules by which Marxism lives; to discover and articulate the grammar to which it submits. The Marxist outlaw, then, holds that even Marxism must be subject to critique.

To the extent that a Marxist insists on following the law of Marxism universalistically he is certain to be treated as an outlaw. This, for several reasons: "normal" Marxists seek to transcend, unmask, and critique the world around them and seek to set themselves apart from it. Normal Marxists regard the social world as their "topic" and view themselves as the "resources" that will clarify, transform, and set it right. Normal Marxists distinguish tacitly, but sharply, between themselves and the world they critique. Normal Marxists focalize differences between themselves and the world, but they defocalize the continuities. [xiv/xv]

In some part, this derives from the pressure to secure our speech, to make it seem certain, which in turn invites the speaker to obscure his own presence in his speech. For if his presence is visible, if it is clear that what he calls the “world” and its contradictions are statements that he makes and speeches he utters, it then becomes evident that the world's structures are attributes, not “properties,” and have all the chancy contingency and problematicity of any “subjective” pronouncement. “Objectivism,” which conceals the presence of the speaker in the speech, thereby conceals the contingent nature of that speech and of the world to which it alludes. Reflexivity, however, makes that contingency obvious. It inhibits the feeling of conviction so necessary for the high and sacred moments of practice. For practice is politics; and politics is, in the end, killing. For practice, therefore, one seeks surety and purity.

We seek to be sure of what we want and to be sure of the world in which we pursue it. From the standpoint of normal politics, however, reflexivity is the "pale cast of thought" that slackens the finger on the trigger. Thus those who wish to make Marxism (or, for that matter, normal academic sociology) a topic, are inevitably inhibiting it as a practice and as a way of life. They are, therefore, outlawed.

Moreover, many Marxists mistakenly understand "contradiction" as a deplorable or stigmatic condition. Hence to speak of the contradictions of Marxism is, in their view, to attribute a defect to it; it seems to say that Marxism shares the defective existence of the way of life it wishes to abrogate. Normal Marxism wishes to raise itself above what it critiques; but a reflexive, nonnormal Marxism also acknowledges important continuities between the critic and the criticized, between the subject and the object, itself and the other. The reflexive Marxist knows there are subterranean links between the revolutionary "subject" and the reactionary "object." The reflexive Marxist, like the reflexive sociologist, must therefore be outlawed. For he subverts the conventional hierarchy and the elite claims to privilege of normal theory, Marxist or sociological.

The normal Marxist says this of the reflexive Marxist: "He takes sides with the status quo against which Marxism struggles." If you critique me, warns the normal Marxist, you are "objectively" giving aid and comfort to the dominant bourgeois establishment. The defensive rhetoric of normal academic sociology is to tell us how "young" it is. The defensive rhetoric of normal Marxism is tell us how oppressed and put upon it is, concealing the fact that it now controls half the world.

Normal Marxism fundamentally premises that the world is divided into two and only two conflicting parts. But this view freezes the world into all immobility behind the mask of a speciously radical dialectic. This view is based on a dialectic that only knows thesis and antithesis, but forgets that the antithesis itself is the child of the very thing it opposes and therefore has certain of its parents’ limits built into it. The very victory of an antithesis [xv/xvi] overthrows part, but ensures the continuance of at least another part, of what it had struggled against. Antitheses must also be subject to critique and the antithesis' own limits must be overcome. It, too, must dance to its own music. "Negation of the negation" consolidates escape from and victory over the present. This is the bridge-burning essence of Maoism and its Cultural Revolutions.

The Marxist outlaw's insistence on the absoluteness and inescapability of contradiction, his insistence on a critique grounded in such a universalism, means that the Marxist outlaw is a Socratic, or a Marxist Socratic.

The Socratic does not believe he must pay a ransom—by offering a positive doctrine—for his right to criticize. Not preaching any positive doctrine, the Socratic will not exchange one examined life for another, and he therefore subverts both the present and the antipresent. Being the critic of all positive doctrines, searching out their limits, the Socratic is necessarily suspect in the eyes of all who offer (and all who ache for) a positive doctrine. In the end, then, the establishment and those who aspire to succeed it—in other words, both the old and the young—will accuse him of "poisoning the mind of the youth." Thus Socratics are, and are made, outlaws. Clearly, however, Marxist outlaws have not surrendered the dialectic, but continue to probe and wander its dark side. Only those who can move without joining packaged tours of the world can afford such a journey.

I thank Marion de Groot‑Schmitz for typing this manuscript and organizing our sprawling notes. My relationship to Derek Phillips, as American sociologists living in Amsterdam, has been a uniquely gratifying one, and was nourished by his encouraging generosity and his unflinching intellectual integrity.

I can think of no words properly to thank my wife, Janet Walker Gouldner, nor our daughter, Alessandra, for the burdens that this work has inflicted upon them.

Washington University
St. Louis
November, 1975

SOURCE: Gouldner, Alvin W. The Dialectic of Ideology and Technology: The Origins, Grammar, and Future of Ideology. New York: Seabury Press, 1976. (The Dark Side of the Dialectic; v. 1) Front matter, pp. v-xvi.

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