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The Influence of Marxism in Australian Universities & Society

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Karl Marx was one of the most celebrated, yet misconstrued philosophers of our time. His ideology was adopted by many systems throughout history, for models on economic and political structure. At the heart of Marxism exists a central relation between class and power within institutions of society. Universities are institutions which embody much of Marx's ideology on co-operation, wealth, consciousness and political rights. In particular, the purpose of this essay is to examine how Australian universities essentially reflect Marx's ideas on the importance of economic development and structure. The structure of Australian universities will support my argument that we as university students reflect the Marxist ideal that we are all contributors to an economic superstructure and a capitalist reality. Firstly, the main concepts of Marx's ideology will be discussed, especially economic structure and political theory. Secondly, the impact of religion on university life and students within these institutions will be contrasted and compared with Marxist ideals of economics, materialism and idealism. Finally, the core parallels that exist between Marxism and today's Australian universities will explain the roles Marxist theory play in university life and the broader society. Many misconceptions about Marxism have been formed in the past few decades, and while Marxism is broad and its ideology consists of other concepts, these areas fall beyond the scope of my investigation and therefore will not be examined in the following essay.

Ideology is defined as the set of beliefs and values in a society that can be explained by the economic structure. Ideology in Marx's sense is not an idiosyncratic complex of beliefs and attitudes caused by a unique set of experiences, but a figure of thought shared by many people and caused by whatever is common in their situation (Elster, 1986). The recognition of ideological thought and philosophy began during the Enlightment. The Enlightment period also influenced universities; new subjects were integrated and taught and student's minds were broadened and liberated with Ð''truths', in consistent with the Church at the time. There were new direction in theology, medicine, arts and science. At the heart of the Enlightment were two monumental concepts. The first was a reappraisal of the human condition that led to the conception of universal human rights. The second was a belief in the inevitability of progress. Both led to cries for social, economic, governmental reforms, and both owed much to conceptual changes in natural philosophy.

Marx's political ideology centrally argues the relation between the special interest of a given class and the general interests of society. The nature of the economic structure of a society determines the nature of its political and legal superstructures. The idea that the economic power of the ruling class must be protected and consolidated is Marx's second thesis. To paraphrase Marx, "The ideas of the ruling class are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material which make one class the ruling one..." Marx's ideology has often embodied materialism because it was adopted by Communist states in conflicts regarding the working class and the economy. However, this view is incorrect, as Marx endeavoured to create Ð''a kind of economic system where the position a person occupied, determined his or her consciousness' (Clark, 1983). What shapes and maintains ideological thinking in Marxism is the interest of the ruling class. On this point Marxism deviates from the Freudian conception of false consciousness, according to which it is necessarily the interest of the person himself that distorts his thinking, not that of some other person or class (Hands, 2000). Freud theory assumes false consciousness is accompanied by an unconscious awareness of the true state of affairs Ð'- an awareness that the person is repressed, substituting a false representation for reality (Storr, 1989). False consciousness involves self deception, but the Marxist theory instead believes there is no dual belief system at work; that is, no self-deception.

Marx offers class position rather than class interest as the source of ideological thinking. Ideology formed by wishful thinking operates when members of a particular class realise their interest coincides with the realisation of the interest of the society as a whole. The post-modern condition is the degree to which we live in a Ð''money-economy' and this representation influences life in determining the nature of our economic structure. Therefore, the object of universities and a degree is to make money and feed this economy we are part of. In a capitalist economy, we don't even belong to ourselves. The Ð''product' produced by the worker belongs to the capitalist economy, who considers it as a commodity to be sold for wealth. Money is the objectified and alienated form of life itself (Gauntlett, 2002). In the fully developed form of capital, money achieves an active, self-generating power through which it shapes the lives of the concrete individual. Marx refers to it as a Ð''visible God' (Clark, 1983).

Marxist theory employed the concept of economic determinism to explain how economic resources determined social power, which in turn determined class struggle. "It is not consciousness that determines life, but life that determines consciousness" (Elster,1986). Our material world is caused by three factors; the representational, ideal and material. Marx suggests the dichotomy between the ideal and the material are outdated in human activity. We cannot form the concept of an Ð''ideal' sphere unless we also conceive a Ð''material' realm. According to Marx, it is logically impossible to separate the material sphere from the ideal. Our artistic and cultural achievements, our material advancement, depend on co-operation that is considered globally. Human beings are involved in an immense scheme of co-operation; the student learns in order to provide skills and services needed to create products and sell them essentially, whether this be in the form of a brick layer or lawyer. Universities are about just that Ð'- increasing skills and knowledge and this ideal building on shared knowledge that has been accumulated over the ages and centralises what universities are about. Shared ideological beliefs arise in two ways. They can emerge randomly in the minds of many people, who experience exposure to similar external influences and psychological processes. Or one person may develop an idea and their peers adopt this way of thinking. This is the environment Marxist ideology creates in a university. Students are encouraged to think spontaneously and share ideas



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