Ideology in Marxist Traditions (2023)


The term ideology originated in 1796 and has been taken up in a variety of ways by scholars in disciplines including communication, sociology, anthropology, and economics. Generally understood as an organized set or system of belief, the term over the past 200 years has been variously situated vis à vis material relations and processes of production; has been assigned negative, positive, and neutral connotations; has been rejected as outmoded and replaced by the more sweeping term discourse; and has been revived as once again being relevant by contemporary scholars.

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Ideology is closely associated with the economic theories of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, who first used the concept in The German Ideology, published in 1845–1846. Marx and Engels discussed ideology specifically in terms of the economic means and relations of production and framed it largely in negative terms, as the ideas of the ruling class intended to distort or mystify processes of capitalist exploitation. Early 20th-century Marxist followers like Vladimir Lenin, Georg Lukács, and Antonio Gramsci expanded the understanding of the word to include the belief systems of either dominant or resistant groups.

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Throughout the 20th century, the structuralist theories of Louis Althusser lent the word ideology a deterministic quality. Althusser and others explored how Ideological State Apparatuses (ISAs), such as schools, churches, and media, constitute subject positions for individuals, leaving them little room for agency or struggle against oppressive thought systems. Structuralism’s emphasis on the primacy and force of ideology reached its apex in poststructuralist, postmodernist, and post-Marxist theories that discursified the material—that is, it made no distinction between belief systems and the real world of relations, processes, systems, etc. These theories invigorated discussions surrounding epistemology, ontology, and the role of communication in forming identities and shaping social struggles.

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Critics of poststructuralist, postmodernist, and post-Marxist theories have attempted to resituate ideology within its original theoretical context of Marxist dialectical materialism. These efforts attempt to show the importance, for theory and for democratic struggle, of distinguishing between ideas and real-world experience.

(Video) Karl Marx's views on Ideology | Political Science


What is the Marxist tradition of ideology? ›

The Marxist concept of ideology is a word to describe a set of ideas and beliefs that are dominant in society and are used to justify the power and privilege of the ruling class.

What is ideology in Marxist criticism? ›

Ideologies. It is through the theories of class struggle, politics, and economics that Marxist literary criticism emerged. The thought behind Marxist criticism is that works of literature are mere products of history that can be analyzed by looking at the social and material conditions in which they were constructed.

What are the 3 factors behind the development of Marx's ideology? ›

It originally consisted of three related ideas: a philosophical anthropology, a theory of history, and an economic and political program.

Is Marxism an example of ideology? ›

The Marxism ideology is a theory about the primacy of economic distinctions and class struggle in the course of human events. Thus, one of the primary principles of Marxism is that the modes of production and the relationships of exchange form the base of society, i.e., its primary features.

How did Karl Marx feel about ideology? ›

Marx clearly has the view that in a classless society, there will be no ideology, for the reason that the appearance will be equal to the essence of a classless society. In order to allow Althusser to make these statements, we must realise that he uses a different concept of ideology.

What is the theory of ideology? ›

The theory of ideology and the study of language are two concerns which bear a close connection. For the theory of ideology has commonly sought to examine the ways in which 'meaning' or 'ideas' affect the conceptions or activities of the individuals and groups which make up the social world.

How do Marxist theories react to ideology? ›

Marx and Engels discussed ideology specifically in terms of the economic means and relations of production and framed it largely in negative terms, as the ideas of the ruling class intended to distort or mystify processes of capitalist exploitation.

What are the main elements of Marxist theory? ›

A Marxist socialist society has several core elements: political power held by the working classes, public ownership and democratic management of society's material means of production, national planning, a substantial degree of economic equality among the people, a high level of productive forces, and a continuing ...

What are the main principles of Marxism? ›

The basic tenets of Marxism are the following: dialectical materialism, historical materialism, the theory of surplus value, class struggle, revolution, dictatorship of the proletariat and communism.

What is the main objective of Marxism? ›

As we all know, the main goal of Marxism is to achieve a classless society throughout the world. As great as this sounds to most people, there are many Capitalist ideologies which would have to be eliminated before this could ever happen.

What is ideology in simple words? ›

An ideology is a set of opinions or beliefs of a group or an individual. Very often ideology refers to a set of political beliefs or a set of ideas that characterize a particular culture. Capitalism, communism, socialism, and Marxism are ideologies. But not all -ism words are.

What is the purpose of ideology? ›

In social studies, a political ideology is a certain ethical set of ideals, principles, doctrines, myths, or symbols of a social movement, institution, class, or large group that explains how society should work, offering some political and cultural blueprint for a certain social order.

What is the role of ideology? ›

Ideologies are associated with power structures. Politicians seek power. Their ideology and the social, economic and political circumstances of the time influence what they do with that power when they have achieved it.

What is ideology beliefs in society? ›

Ideology is a set of beliefs that favours the interests of a group. There is a multitude of sociological perspectives on ideology and the impact it has on society.

What are the features of Marxist tradition? ›

The key characteristics of Marxism in philosophy are its materialism and its commitment to political practice as the end goal of all thought. The theory is also about the struggles of the proletariat and their reprimand of the bourgeoisie.

What are three important Marxian concepts? ›

Mode of production: capitalism, feudalism, communism are the main modes of production analyzed by Marx.

What is a Marxist in simple terms? ›

Marxists. A Marxist is someone who strongly agrees with the political, economic, and philosophical ideas of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. If you're a Marxist, you're especially critical of capitalism.

What are the two key concepts on which Marxism is based? ›

According to Marxism, there are two main classes of people: The bourgeoisie controls the capital and means of production, and the proletariat provide the labour.

What is an example of Marxist theory? ›

Its best example is when Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong took over the control of China in 1949. He formed a communist country and named it the People's Republic of China. It is something that the Marxism ideology aims to achieve.

What examples are there of Marxism in society today? ›


Large media, telephone, and oil conglomerates are some of the current examples of the process described by Marx.

What is Marxist view on society? ›

Marx argues that there are inequalities in society based on social class differences. Marx claims that to improve society and make it fairer there needs to be large-scale change. Marxism is criticised for ignoring other important factors such as gender and ethnicity, focusing too much on social class.

What are the 3 features of ideology? ›

An ideology is composed of four basic characteristics:
  • it must have power over cognition;
  • it must be capable of guiding one's evaluations;
  • it must provide guidance towards action; and.
  • it must be logically coherent.

What are the three important sources of Marxism? ›

In 1913 Lenin identified three intellectual sources of Marxism: German philosophy, English political economy, and French utopian socialism—each in turn created in the social conditions of their societies.

What are the three Marxist approach? ›

The Marxist conception of man, rooted in the anthropocentrism of the Enlightenment, has three basic elements: recognition of the right to individual development, a joint social responsibility for the satisfaction of individual wants, and the rationalization of social relation- ships.

What are the three key elements of capitalist ideology? ›

There are three elements to the argument for capitalism, and while they connect in crucial ways they can be separately defined. Those three elements are (a) division of labor; (b) impersonal exchange based on prices; and (c) economies of scale based on knowledge.


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