Ideologies: 'Isms and Politics


For a virtual handout comparing a variety of important ideologies, click here



Let’s take a look at some 'Isms:




Mussolini and Hitler (1940), Wikipedia






Marx, Wikipedia


(As variant of socialism, above)

·         Where does the nature of the political structure come from?  Economic structure underpins the political structure.  Politics, culture, even morality, ideas all spring forth from economic structure (they are superstructure) and the relations of production (who has capital—things to invest, money, land and those who don’t—have to sell their labor for wages). 

·         What are the classes to which Marx is referring? 

·         Bourgeois (control capital) (small traders will sink into proletariat because capital not sufficient for modern scale of industry).  Some bourgeois will break away as struggle reaches climax and align themselves with the workers' movement.  Most bourgeois lazy, do not work, and do not produce.

·         Proletariat only has labor to sell.  A “class of laborers, who live only so long as they find work, and who find work only so long as their labor increases capital.  These laborers, who must sell themselves piecemeal, are a commodity, like every other article of commerce, and are consequently exposed to all the vicissitudes of competition, to all the fluctuations of the market.”   Elsewhere: “He becomes an appendage of the machine, and it is only the most simple, most monotonous, and most easily acquired knack, that is required of him.”


Discuss the Communist Manifesto:

·         What does Marx think of capitalism?  It is a fearsome thing, swallowing up all before it.  “It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilization into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image.”

·  Or elsewhere: “The bourgeoisie, during its rule of scarce one hundred years, has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together.  Subjection of nature's forces to man, machinery, application of chemistry to industry and agriculture, steam navigation, railways, electric telegraphs, clearing of whole continents for cultivation, canalization or rivers, whole populations conjured out of the ground — what earlier century had even a presentiment that such productive forces slumbered in the lap of social labor?”

·         Capitalism a necessary stage, enormously productive, creation of wealth, globalization reduces the power of the nation state.  “National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures, there arises a world literature.”  This globalization a necessary progression in the development of cross-national proletarian consciousness, revolutionary movements.

·         Creates conditions for its own destruction: “like the sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells.”  Referring to crises, over-production.

·         Bourgeois democracy that Marx was observing.  Did he view that as true democracy?  Why not?  Myth of bourgeois democracy is that it is not democracy, just partial democracy.  Think about the time that Marx is writing.  Most countries the franchise is very limited.  Ideals of bourgeois democracy hide reality of an exploitative system built on capitalism, exploitation of the workers, who have no capital, have to sell their labor for wages.  In England, observing the most advanced industrial country in the world.  Saw the suffering of the people, hoped to understand why that suffering was occurring and to develop a program for ending it.  Communist Manifesto: “The modern bourgeois society that has sprouted from the ruins of feudal society has not done away with class antagonisms. It has but established new classes, new conditions of oppression, new forms of struggle in place of the old ones.”  Elsewhere: “the bourgeoisie has at last, since the establishment of Modern Industry and of the world market, conquered for itself, in the modern representative state, exclusive political sway.”

·         Bourgeois democracy bad, why else?  Reduces everything to cash value, specialization of labor dehumanizing.  In Communism, man will be able "to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic." (Marx, "The German Ideology.")

·         Did Marx wish to abolish all private property?  No, only bourgeois private property. Other types (small artisan, small peasant, etc) preceded the development of the bourgeoisie and are not dependent on exploiting others.  Already abolished for nine-tenths of the population.  Paid only enough to survive and breed more workers, no accumulation.

·         How will the revolution occur?  For Marx, the next revolution will be led by the working class and it will be global (it will start in the most advanced countries), but nations unimportant—just another way for bourgeois and reactionaries to divide workers of the world from one another.  In Marx’s thought, history is an inexorable progression—an iron law. 

·         This will happen.  Capitalism will cause the socio-economic-and political conditions which precipitate revolution and transition to socialism.   “But with the development of industry, the proletariat not only increases in number; it becomes concentrated in greater masses, its strength grows, and it feels that strength more.”  Development of unions, win some victories, riots break out occasionally.   Modern communications help them to spread message to other workers, grow stronger (Ten-Hours bill in Britain). 

·         How will one class overthrow its oppressors?  Progress from one stage to another will be violent because the power-holding class will attempt to maintain its control.

·         What is the state?  Famous line from Marx: “The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.”   State is political power used to oppress one class by another. 

      What will happen to the state under Communism?  As progress, state will be used to manage the whole resources of the economy.  “To centralize all instruments of production in the hands of the state, i.e., of the proletariat organized as the ruling class; and to increase the total productive forces as rapidly as possible.” With state control (under control of proletariat) no longer oppression, no longer need for “political power.” Under Communism, state will eventually wither away.  After socialist goals achieved, classes disappear, no longer a need.

·         Who are the Communists?  The Communists are a party.  “The Communists are distinguished from the other working-class parties by this only:   (1) In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality. (2) In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole.”  Most progressive of the working class parties.


What mistakes did Marx make?  Why didn’t things happen just like he said?

·         Lenin recognized that the workers would not overthrow the system by themselves. They could be divided by petty concessions ("trade union consciousness"). Needed a vanguard party to lead the revolution.

·         Assumption of human nature?

·         Historical progression as iron law

·         State did not wither away, needed to enforce coercion required to keep large Communist dictatorships in power.

·         Did not foresee the embourgeoisement of the workers, creation of "middle class" society.

·        Soviet joke: "They pretend to pay us, we pretend to work."  MPC: “It has been objected that upon the abolition of private property, all work will cease, and universal laziness will overtake us.”

·         Didn’t realize that putting economic resources in the hands of the state would create a new class, lording it over others by control of resources, access.


Anything Marx was right about?

·         Industrial labor, repetitive tasks are dehumanizing

·         Even if Marxism may be a decaying ideology, Marxist analysis still influential, particularly in academic circles.  One of the aspects that is still influential is the idea that politics, culture, morality, everything arises from the economic system. That there is a structure and a superstructure.  Marxist Feminist analysts would say, for example, that because men have always controlled economic and political power, history is written as if they were the only actors of importance. What is important in history? The acts of great men doing great things.  Don’t see a book on the evolution of child care in the Middle Ages, because society doesn’t consider that, traditionally a women’s role, to be important.  What comes to be considered important a direct result of existing economic and political power relations.


Continental Conservatism


Does this jive entirely with current use of the term conservative in the United States?  Current conservatism heavily influenced by classical liberalism


Classical Liberalism


So, we have a couple of streams here:


Issue comes up. How would people from the various ideological streams propose to handle it?




Hopefully, this class has brought together things we've learned in many different class sessions: on Marxism and the Russian Revolution, on Mao Zedong's Communism but also on European socialism (France's economy) and the Conservative Party (Tories) in the United Kingdom.

Perhaps you found an ideology whose assumptions and goals you agree with, perhaps not.

Updated: October 18, 2011.

Author: Paige Johnson Tan,

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