What does Marx mean in literary theory?
Besides many things, Marx adds ideology into literary theory. Ideology, as is explained by Richter, is “the culture’s collective consciousness of its own being” (p 386).
For Marx, economic structure determines superstructures like art and literature. As the dominate force in economic structure, the “mode of production” determines ideology of the dominate classes and the dominated classes (class analysis, fundamental for Marxism). Consequently, changes of the mode of production will influence the function or mechanism of ideology of both classes, from which Benjamin develops his “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Production”.
Since the individuals’ conscious are determined and confined by the “modes of production” (the plural form of “modes” comes from Jameson, who turns down the hegemonic authority of Marx’s mode of production by pluralizing it), the roles of individuals in the process of production determines the way the individuals think and the individuals cannot think beyond the limit of the modes of production. This idea of social determinism is further explored by Pierre Bourdieu using an approach other than class analysis.
Later, the idea of ideology is criticized as illusionary (I am not sure whether Marx noticed this; probably not) and thoughts concerning the illusion and mechanism of ideology have been further developed by post-Marxists like Jameson.