Marxist linguistics

Niels Helsloot
Table of contents

Philosophically, Marxism is a branch of Hegelianism. According to the ‘dialectics’ of Hegel, history would develop towards its point of self-fulfillment in a process in which contradictory principles (‘thesis’ and ‘antithesis’) merge into a synthesis — which again evokes its own contradiction. Marxism shares the optimism about historical progress inherent in this view. While Hegel, however, saw this development — idealistically — as a coming to itself of the Spirit (Geist), Marx considered the process — materialistically — as taking place in the everyday social circumstances of people, especially in the struggle that settles their economic relationships. Whereas the dynamic principle that Hegelianism introduced in its view of history remained rather abstract, Marxism relates this principle to concrete historical relationships between people (in Marx’s times, to class relationships). Therefore, Marxism is in a position to criticize idealism as being too academic; in case of social oppression and exploitation, it is not mental change, but material change which is called for. The urge to emancipate the oppressed leads to a political drive opposite to that of Hegelianism, which is expressed in the adage of historical materialism: the economic base determines the ideological superstructures (and not the other way around). The direction of this determinism has been the moving force of Marxist sciences, but the very adoption of determinism proved to be its central weakness as well. This is especially clear in Marxist attempts to develop a theory of language.

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