The concept of ideology in Marx, Engels, and Lenin

Author: Wanas Piyakulchaidech

Piyakulchaidech, Wanas, 2021 The concept of ideology in Marx, Engels, and Lenin, Flinders University, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences

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The concept of ideology in Marxism is one of the most controversial terms, both theoretically and practically. The way the term is used in Marx and Engels’ works and in the works of other Marxists varies between a negative and a neutral-positive sense. This thesis aims to present a more coherent concept of ideology and to provide a ground for Marxism as a scientific ideology.

The differences in the conception of ideology within the tradition create not merely disputes over the meaning of ideology, but also affect other terms that are associated with it, such as ideological superstructure and ideological struggle. This thesis aims to create a coherent conception of ideology. It presents ideology in the neutral sense as an idea that can unify human beings. When the conception of ideology is used, the question of whether it is negative or positive depends not on the concept itself, but rather on the class using the ideology. If the ruling class uses ideology to support and prolong its rule, that ideology will become a ruling ideology. On the contrary, if the subordinated class uses ideology to make a social revolution and create a new form of society, the ideology will become a revolutionary ideology. Ideological struggle is the struggle between these two kinds of ideology. And an ideological structure is the system of ideas that the ruling class uses to prolong its rule by legitimising and rationalising it.

To understand the different conceptions of ideology in the Marxist tradition and their respective strengths and weakness, this thesis traces the development of the concept from Marx, Engels, Lenin, Gramsci, and Althusser. In order to provide a possible ground for Marxism as a scientific theory, the thesis also suggests that Lakatos’s idea of a research program and the idea of Critical Realism can be applied to Marxism. Marxism can then be perceived as a research program that present a real mechanism of the events, with its theory of capitalism as its core. Marxism can be further strengthened as a research program by developing more theories to further support its core. Interpreted along the lines suggested in the thesis, Marxism is both a scientific doctrine and a revolutionary ideology. Its scientific status can be used to ensure that its political practices do not become a form of secular faith. The fact that Marxism includes both theoretical and practical aspects make it different from other philosophical theories that try to understand the world without changing it.

The future task is to develop new theories that support the Marxist research program’s core, such as theories of social change and new schemas for other types of society. An increased understanding of other schemas and of the mechanisms for social change will revitalise the Marxist tradition and assert it as a productive research program.

Keywords: Marxism, Ideology, Marx, Engels, Lenin

Subject: Humanities thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2021
School: College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Supervisor: Dr Lina Erikkson