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1. a body of ideas that reflects the beliefs and interests of a nation, political system, etc. and underlies political action
2. Philosophy Sociol the set of beliefs by which a group or society orders reality so as to render it intelligible
3. the study of the nature and origin of ideas


  1. any system of ideas underlying and informing social and political action.
  2. more particularly, any system of ideas which justifies or legitimates the subordination of one group by another.
  3. an all-embracing encyclopaedic knowledge, capable of breaking down prejudice and of use in social reform. This sense would appear to be the original usage, when the term was coined by Antoine Destutt de Tracy in the period of social optimism in the French Enlightenment (see AGE OF ENLIGHTENMENT). Thus, between sense 3 and sense 2 there has occurred a full reversal of meaning. It is senses 1 and 2 which are now of prime interest.
In the work of MARX and ENGELS, which has had most influence in the development of the theory of ideology, the term had several connotations. In The German Ideology, Marx and Engels emphasized two points. The first was that ideologies presented a picture of the world from the point of view of a RULING CLASS. The second was that this picture was necessarily a distorted one because the interests of the ruling class are, by definition, partial and because they do not represent the interests of humanity in general. In later criticisms and developments, ideology is presented in terms of a social CLASS representing its particular sectional interests as ‘natural’ and universal (as the ‘national interest’, for example).

Many later writers have used the term in something like sense 2 , but in a more general way, to refer, for example, to GENDER IDEOLOGY, to race ideologies, and to generational ideologies. Such uses of the term involve the idea that all power relationships include doctrines of justification. For example, in the imperial era the subordination of black people was justified by ideas which emphasized the ‘natural’ superiority of white people and the enlightenment that imperialism could bring.

One significant challenge to Marx's view is provided by MANNHEIM'S SOCIOLOGY OF KNOWLEDGE. Mannheim argued that it was a mistake to see one class's viewpoint as wrong and another's as right. Sociologically, it was more valuable to see all belief systems as representing the interests of particular groups, including communist and socialist ideas, along with conservative ones. Mannheim followed Marx's usage in calling ideas which support the powerful ‘ideologies’, and ideas which opposed a given system or sought to justify a different one, UTOPIAS.

Modern Marxists have contributed to developments of Marx's theory of ideology, prompted especially by the failure of a revolutionary working class to emerge in Western capitalist societies, a fact which they have sought to explain, at least in part, as the outcome of ideology. Important examples of these approaches include:

  2. GRAMSCI's account of HEGEMONY, which in turn has also influenced work on the mass media and mass culture;

All these theories, however, have attracted criticism for exaggerating the significance of cultural ideas and VALUES in the maintenance of ‘consensus’ compared with economic and political POWER or everyday ‘routines’. see DOMINANT IDEOLOGY THESIS. See also FALSE CONSCIOUSNESS, CLASS IMAGERY.



a system of views and ideas within whose framework people perceive and evaluate both their relations to reality and to each other and social problems and conflicts; the system also comprises goals (programs) of social activity aimed at consolidating or altering (developing) the given social relationships. In class society, ideology always has a class character reflecting the position of a given class and its interests.

The concept of ideology has changed and become more precise in the course of the development of knowledge. The term ideology was introduced by the French philosopher and economist Destutt de Tracy (The Elements of Ideology, 1801). Proceeding from the principle that our knowledge originates in sensations, he asserted that ideology—the theory of ideas studying the general principles and laws of the emergence of ideas— made it possible to establish firm foundations for politics, ethics, education, etc. P. J. Cabanis and other later representatives of the school of French materialism and sensualism wrote about ideology in the same sense. In Napoleonic France, the term “ideology” acquired a nuance of scorn. People who approached social life from the standpoint of abstract principles and understood nothing of the practical questions of real politics began to be known as ideologists.

In The German Ideology (1845–46) and later works, K. Marx and F. Engels understood by the term ideology the following: (1) the idealistic conception according to which the world presents itself as the embodiment of ideas, thoughts, and principles: ideology “regards the world as dominated by ideas, ideas and concepts as the determining principles, and certain notions as the mystery of the material world” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 3, p. 12, footnote); (2) the type of thought process corresponding to this conception, in which the subjects of the process, the ideologists, failing to recognize the connections between their constructions and the material interests of particular classes and consequently the objective motive forces of their own activity, continuously reproduce the illusion of the absolute independence of social ideas (see F. Engels, ibid., vol. 39, p. 83); and (3) the resulting method of approaching reality, which consists of the construction of a desirable but imaginary reality posing as reality itself. In criticizing the German philosopher E. Diihring, F. Engels wrote: “the philosophy of reality, therefore, proves here again to be pure ideology, the deduction of reality not from itself, but from a concept” (ibid., vol. 20, p. 97). Thus, reality appears in ideology in a distorted, upside-down form, and ideology turns out to be illusory consciousness, in which social reality, the objective contradictions and requirements of social life, appears in transmuted form. In contrast to these ideological forms, scientific consciousness remains “on the real ground of history” (K. Marx and F. Engels, ibid., vol. 3, p. 37). The methods of the scientific analysis and critique of ideology are provided by the materialist conception of history, according to which consciousness is comprehended existence and thus must be explained from the existence of people, their real life processes. Ideology follows the general laws of social consciousness; it possesses not absolute but only relative independence.

In the development of ideology, a certain stock of concepts and ideas—conceptual material—accumulates, and each new ideology, while constituting in its content the reflection of new social conditions, in its form associates itself with the preceding ideology. Thus, there is continuity in the sphere of ideology, and the influence of new socioeconomic conditions consists in the fact that they determine the direction and mode of change of the existing conceptual material. At the same time, if in ideology “men and their circumstances appear upside down as in a camera obscura, this phenomenon arises just as much from their historical life-process—as the inversion depiction of objects on the retina does from their physical life-process” (ibid., p. 25). Analysis of the real historical process shows that ideological illusions are not simply accidental errors and that ideology fulfills definite social functions, producing types of thinking and behavior or even programs of social action corresponding to the interests of one class or another.

K. Marx and F. Engels did not apply the term ideology to their own system of views, but rather characterized Marxism as the scientific theory of socialism, organically linked with the proletariat’s class struggle for liberation. The spread of Marxism and the rapid increase in its influence on the workers’ movement led to a new interpretation of the concept of ideology in Marxist literature. V. I. Lenin expanded the concept of ideology, introducing the category of scientific ideology and pointing out that there were scientific elements in the systems of ideology preceding Marxism, but that only Marxism is a scientific ideology in the true sense. According to Lenin, the combination in theory of a higher, rigorous scientific principle with the revolutionary principle is a most significant feature of Marxism (see Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 1, p. 340, footnote) that results from the scientific analysis of capitalism, the discovery of its transient nature, and the cognition of the laws and motive forces of social development. Lenin showed that in the form of Marxism, social science for the first time consciously set for itself the goal of aiding the oppressed masses in their struggle, that is, striving to express the interests and practical tasks of the class of oppressed people by means of scientific theory and slogans for struggle worked out on its basis—programs, strategies, tactics, and policies. Marxism thereby appears in practice as a scientific ideology.

With the elaboration of the conception of scientific ideology, the notion of ideology itself became fuller and more complete and the methods of analyzing it on the basis of the combination of the social and epistemological approaches were generalized as well. Insofar as ideology is a spiritual phenomenon, it must be evaluated in epistemological categories, such as scientific or unscientific, true or false, correct or illusory. However, while the purely epistemological approach to the analysis and evaluation of ideological pheonomena is necessary, it is insufficient. The opposition between scientific and unscientific ideology has social significance, for it expresses the opposition of class interests. In class society, ideology always has a class character and thus is characterized in such sociopolitical categories as revolutionary or reactionary, progressive or conservative, liberal or radical, and internationalist or nationalist. The connection between these two series of evaluations is revealed by the principle of partiinost’ (party-mindedness) of ideology, comprehensively elaborated in the works of V. I. Lenin. The principle of partiinost’ links cognition of social reality with the interests of class. It proceeds from the premise that the progressive class strives to build its ideology on the basis of a more complete use of objective knowledge (for example, the bourgeoisie during its ascending development). But this thesis expresses only a general tendency, which may change greatly under the influence of concrete historical conditions, particularly during the period of prebourgeois development. The thesis proves wholly correct in application to the working class, whose subjective interests coincide with the objective requirements of social development and attract this class precisely to the scientific ideology, to the comprehensive use of objective scientific knowledge to resolve the social problems confronting it. This circumstance is expressed in the coincidence of party, class, and the scientific-objective approach to reality within Marxism-Leninism.

Scientific socialist ideology opposes the reactionary ideology of the bourgeoisie, which tries to justify and substantiate the need for the preservation and strengthening of capitalism. The class struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie and the opposition of the social systems of capitalism and socialism are reflected in the clash of these ideologies.

The recognition of the class nature of ideology does not mean that the class as a whole creates its own ideology. As the theoretically elaborated consciousness of a class, ideology is created by those representatives of the class (the ideologists) who, as Marx expressed it, arrive theoretically at the same conclusions that the class as a whole reaches in practice. It is not ideology that arises spontaneously from the conditions of life of a class, but rather the social psychology of the given class, which establishes a particular basis for the spread and assimilation of the class’s ideology. Spreading through the society and adapting itself to the level of mass consciousness, ideology accordingly acts on that consciousness and influences the social psychology. Analyzing the mechanism of the formation and spread of scientifc ideology, Lenin demonstrated that it does not arise out of the spontaneous growth of the workers’ movement, but rather arises as the result of the development of science, culture, and progressive social thought.

The bearer of scientific ideology is the advanced and conscious vanguard of the revolutionary working class—its political party. The party introduces scientific ideology to the masses, to the workers’ movement. Lenin’s paramount conclusion was that it is possible for the masses to master scientific ideology only on the basis of their own political experience, when they become convinced in practice that the ideology in question expresses their interests. The reactionary ideology of the ruling exploiting class, on the other hand, is foisted upon the masses by the system of relations and the political-ideological apparatus of that class and by the means of mass information. Naturally, the economically and politically dominant class holds in its hands the means of spiritual production too. For this reason, the dominant ideology is always the ideology of the ruling class. In exploitative society, revolutionary ideology wins influence in a fierce struggle against the dominating ideas in the society in question. Under socialism, the dominant role is played by scientific Marxist-Leninist ideology, which stands out as one of the factors in rallying the entire society around the working class and its party in the interests of consolidating and further developing socialism.

Ideology appears in different forms of political, legal, ethical, religious, aesthetic, and philosopical views. Conclusions drawn from the discoveries of the natural sciences that pertain to philosophical world views are ideological in nature, and so natural science too is an arena of ideological struggle. In the social sciences theories themselves fulfill ideological functions, since the way they are employed for the solution of social problems depends on ideological aims and orientations.

In the struggle against scientific communism, bourgeois ideologists also make efforts to refute the Marxist-Leninist understanding of ideology. In the West, the ideas of the German philosopher K. Mannheim {Ideology and Utopia, 1929) enjoy considerable influence. Adopting in distorted form the ideas of Marxism on the social conditionality of any ideology, Mannheim gave a false interpretation of the Marxist critique of illusory consciousness. He denied the cognitive value of all ideologies, regarding an ideology as an aggregate of ideas aimed at maintaining the existing order and supported by a particular social group. Assertions of the irrationality and mythological nature of every ideology and denials in principle of the very possibility of a scientific ideology are employed extensively in bourgeois writings in the struggle against progressive views and, above all, in the struggle against Marxism-Leninism.

The conception of “deideologization” (D. Bell, The End of Ideology, 1960) was an extension of this critique of ideology. According to this conception, the developed industrial countries of the West today face problems requiring “technical solutions” rather than ideology, and thus the influence of ideology supposedly is gradually reduced to nothing. Reality, however, refutes this conception. After World War II there was a sharp decline in the influence of fascist ideology in conjunction with the military-political rout of the fascist powers. However, reactionary imperialist circles strive to revive this ideology in the form of various systems of neofascist views, including racism, chauvinism, antihumanism, and militarism. Anticommunism— the chief ideological-political weapon of imperialism—is characteristic both of conservative and liberal bourgeois ideology. Diverse antiwar, anti-imperialist, and national liberation movements are accompanied by complex ideological processes in which the anti-imperialist direction and the social nature of these movements is reflected, as in certain currents of “African socialism” and the “new left” ideology.

Marxist-Leninist ideology opposes bourgeois ideology and wages a relentless struggle against it, for there can be no “peaceful coexistence” with bourgeois ideology. Marxism-Leninism is not reconcilable with any attempts at revising scientific ideology, either from the right or from the “left.” The struggle against bourgeois ideology and revisionism, organically combined with the creative development of Marxist-Leninist theory, constitutes the tradition of Marxism -Leninism. Providing scientific solutions to the cardinal problems of contemporary social development, Marxist-Leninist ideology appears as the theoretical basis of the communist movement, as a powerful instrument for the revolutionary transformation of the world.


Marx, K., and F. Engels, Nemetskaia ideologiia. Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 3.
Marx, K., and F. Engels. Manifest Kommunisticheskoipartii. Ibid., vol. 4.
Marx, K. Kapital, vol. 1. Ibid., vol. 23. (See “Preface to the First Edition,” chapter 1, subsection 4 and chapter 24, subsection 7.)
Marx, K. K kritike politicheskoi ekonomii. Ibid., vol. 13. (See the preface.)
Marx, K. L. Kugel’manu 11 iiulia 1868 g. (Letter.)Ibid., vol. 32.
Engels, F. Anti-Diuring. Ibid., vol. 20.
Engels, F. Liudvig Feierbakh i konets klassicheskoi nemetskoi filosofii. Ibid., vol. 21.
Engels, F. F. Meringu 14 iiulia 1893. (Letter.) Ibid., vol. 39.
Lenin, V. I. Chto takoe ‘druz’ia naroda’ i kak oni voiuiut protiv sotsial-demokratov? Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 1.
Lenin, V. I. Chto delat’? Ibid., vol. 6.
Lenin, V. I. “Pis’mo ‘Severnomu Soiuzu RSDRP.’” Ibid.
Lenin, V. I. Materializm i empiriokrititsizm. Ibid., vol. 18.
Lenin, V. I. “Tri istochnika i tri sostavnykh chasti marksizma.” Ibid., vol. 23.
Lenin, V. I. “O proletarskoi kul’ture.” Ibid., vol. 41.
Lenin, V. I. “O znachenii voinstvuiuschego materializma.” Ibid., vol. 45.
Plekhanov, G. V. Osnomye voprosy marksizma: Izbrannye filosofskieproizvedeniia, vol. 3. Moscow, 1957.
K 100-letiiu so dnia rozhdeniia V. I. Lenina: Tezisy TsK KPSS. Moscow, 1969.
Dokumenty Mezhdunarodnogo soveshchaniia kommunistiches-kikh i rabochikh partii, Moskva, 5–17 iiunia 1969 g. Moscow, 1969.
Bogdanov, A. Nauka ob obshchestvennom soznanii, 3rd ed. Petrograd-Moscow, 1923.
Pavlov, T. Teoriia otrazheniia. Moscow, 1949. (Translated from Bulgarian.)
Kelle, V. Zh., and M. Ia. Koval’zon. Formy obshchestvennogo soznaniia. Moscow, 1959.
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Iadov, V. Ideologiia kak forma dukhovnoi deiatel’nosti obshchestva. Leningrad, 1961.
Tugarinov, V. Teoriia tsennostei v marksizme. Leningrad, 1968.
Uledov, A. Struktura obshchestvennogo soznaniia. Moscow, 1968.
Sotsiologiia i ideologiia. Moscow, 1969. (Section 1.)
Moskvichev, L. N. Teoriia “deideologizatsii”: Illiuzii i deistvitel’nost’. Moscow, 1971.
Mannheim, K. Ideologic und Utopie, 3rd ed. Frankfurt am Main, 1952.
Aron, R. L’Opium des intellectuels. Paris, 1968.
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