The Marxist Conception of Ideology: Repressive and Nonrepressive Ideologies

Marxist concept of ideology refers to a body of thoughts and precepts, a belief system in short, that is always product of cultural conditioning. To Marx ideologies are either repressive or nonrepressive. The repressive ideologies are clothed as natural way of thinking and they predominate in society and are utilised to defend the privilege and power of the ruling class.

For example: Capitalism, communism, marxism, patriarchy, patriotism, ethical systems, and environmentalism are all ideologies.

Repressive Ideologies

In order to gain public acceptability for their repressive political agendas, damaging ideologies disguise themselves as natural ways of perceiving the world rather than admitting that they are ideologies.

For Example

  • The sexist ideology claims: "Men naturally take on leadership roles as they are more physically, cognitively, and emotionally adept than women thanks to their biological superiority.
Repressive ideologies impede us from comprehending the material/historical conditions in which we live by posing as natural ways of perceiving the world.

Nonrepressive Ideologies

Nonrepressive ideologies admit that they are ideologies and don't disguise themselves as natural ways to think and see the world

For Example

  • Marxism, which is non-repressive, admits that it is an ideology.  It  strives to consistently bring to our focus the several manners in which we are products of material/historical conditions, as well as the oppressive ideologies that seek to keep us ignorant of this reality and hence submissive to the prevailing power structure.

Marxists believe that ideology plays a crucial part in keeping individuals in positions of power, thus it is necessary that we briefly look at a few more instances to understand how it functions.

Patriotism as Ideology

Working class from one country fights wars against working class of another country while the capitalist class from all those countries keep multiple nationalities and profit from war-time economy.

In Short

  • This ideology presents itself as natural instinct.
  • It divides humans in little spots on earth.
  • Being born on particular spot makes one feel superior to all those born on other spots
  • Considering one's language, culture, race, and nation better than all others.
  • It yields sense of superiority in all dimensions.
  • Wars are always driven by predatory-profit motives, that is, for looting resources but patriotism makes one believe otherwise

Consumerism as Ideology

Consumerism is ideological cornerstone of the capitalism which makes one believe: "I am what I have" and "I am what I buy"

In Short

  • Shop-till-you-drop-ism, that is, craving desire to shop till one dies.
  • False belief that one is as good as expensive commodities one owns.
  • People begin respecting people who own a lot.
  • Life's sole purpose becomes accumulation of commodities.
  • Money becomes god.
  • Elites replace real heroes and become idols worshiped and copied in living styles.
  • This ideology favours capitalists because rapid profits require rapid production which requires rapid consumption

Rugged Individualism as Ideology

As another capitalist ideology it holds individualism over communalism.

In Short

  • It romanticises individual heroes in culture over communal struggles.
  • An individual's desires become more important than needs of majority.
  • Taking high-risk business decisions, higher the risk, higher the profits they say.
  • Struggle for good and change in individual capacity is celebrated
  • Communal struggle for good and change is made to appear mistrustful.
  • This ideology turns humans greedy and makes greed appear as strongest instinct of human beings thus losing any trust in communal struggle.
  • Creates illusion of free decisions while one way or another everyone is influened by ideologies
  • This ideology manufactures indifference and apathy.

Classism as Ideology

This ideology produces false belief that quality is "in the blood", that is, one is as good as one's class

In Short

  • Elites are superior and hard workers.
  • Laziness, stupidity and lower IQ generates poverty. People are poor because they are less intelligent.
  • Elites are more responsible, trustworthy and intelligent.
  • Therefore elites are naturally suited to power positions.
  • Only elites should be leaders.
  • Poor can not be trusted with leadership and power positions.
  • It generates hatred towards the poor and extreme love and worship for the elites.
  • Elites because authorities of validity, credibility and responsibility.

Ideological Component of Religions

Marx says: “Religion is the opium of the people. It is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of our soulless conditions.”

Opiate at times of Marx was used as tranquilizer and anesthetic medicine during surgery and as painkiller. Explanation Religion acts as painkiller, the oppressed express their sufferings in disguise of religion, without this painkiller the heartless world would have been unsufferable doom, and such soulless conditions created by capitalism would have turned intolerable.

For Marx, religion itself is not an issue or the focus, but rather the use of religion at the hands of capitalists to tranquilise the working class and stop them from revolting becomes the subject of criticism.

In Short Capitalists use beliefs

  • to make the exploited stay happy with what they have.
  • to make patience a virtue, for the poor, in all times, even when one is being exploited and oppressed.
  • To make poor believe that failures of system are fate and destiny.
  • Therefore,
  • Dying if medication becomes unaffordable is fated death not failure of the system.
  • Dying because of malnutrition, unaffordable food, or due to any other failue of the system is treated as mere fated event.

Marxist critics seek to uncover the ideology at play in all kinds of culture, including literature, movies, music, television, commercials, popular philosophy, religion, and other types of entertainment. There are many other capitalist ideologies that can be analysed under Marxist perspective. The ones mentioned here are just to give you an idea.

Important Note: You can share your perspective or the analysis of any repressive ideology you have found working under any form of literature that you have gone through by Joining the Conversation below!

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