The word ‘ideology’, originated in France and according to John Plamenatz, It meant the science or study of ideas, and was first used to refer to a type of philosophy fashionable at the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.1 As the word started to be used internationally it changed and today it does not have a single clear definition but largely it is defined as set of opinions or political beliefs of a society or an individual. The human society has different classes and each class has its own ideas about the world (ideology). The ideology of the ruling class is usually the dominant one in a society. This is because the class has economic, political and legal power under its wing. The ideology of a ruling class reflects the material interest of the class which is to keep the status quo intact. It thus contributes to shaping the ideology of a society. Although the ideology of the ruling class is dominant, it is normally challenged by ideology of the working class. The challenge manifests as class struggle. The history of human beings is one of class struggles.
In modern times, there have been attempts to group ideological differences within the society into two social trends, i.e. left and right. The right wing is an ideology that is mostly associated with the conservatives i.e. those who block change in order to cling on to their privileges and power. The right wing or the conservatives – believes there is no way that society can be changed from the way it is currently. The left wing ideology is associated with working class. They do want to change the status quo and put in place a society where the principle of social justice and equality prevails. The history of human society has shown that people with these ideas have to a large extent been suppressed by the dominant class. Ultimately though, their ideas win as they conform to the reality. During feudalism in Europe, for example, landlords and the church were against the ideology of capitalists which was advocating change. The capitalists’ ideology, being progressive at that time, won. However, the capitalist ideologists today, just as the feudal ideologists they overthrew, believe that there is no way that capitalist society can change. This therefore means they have ceased to be revolutionaries and have become reactionaries. It is on this basis that it will be important to understand the ideology of the working class which advocates change.
The Ideology of Working Class
The working class, being the victims of the status quo will ultimately yearn for change. This is the reason they are attracted to the ideology that advocates change. This, however, does not mean that the entire working class supports the ideology as there are other factors in society that hinder them, such as the ruling class propaganda, deception etc. The working class ideology is guided by the philosophy or principles of dialectical materialism. Dialectical materialism considers the world not as static or unchanging but as a continuous process of development in which things come into being and pass away. It strives to show that the driving force of this development is internal and not external. For example, the defeat of feudals by the capitalists was not due to military prowess of capitalists, though it (military) played a role, but rather due to the development of productive forces that broke limits set by the feudal system i.e. undermining the natural economy under feudal society. Dialectical materialism guides us in understanding that the defeat of capitalism is imminent. This is due to the internal contradiction within capitalism where the socially produced wealth is in contradiction with private appropriation of that wealth. The capitalists ignorantly claim that the contradiction between them and the workers is caused by external and not internal factors and accuse revolutionaries of inciting workers against them, thus forgetting that workers are forced to resist due to the internal contradiction of capitalism that constitutes the main basis. The role of revolutionaries is secondary and it comes into play because there is the basis which is inequality in distribution of social wealth. As Mao argued in his article on contradiction:
materialist dialectics holds that external causes are the condition of change and internal causes are the basis of change, and that external causes become operative through internal causes. In a suitable temperature an egg changes into a chicken, but no temperature can change a stone into a chicken, because each has a different basis2
Materialism dialectics, as Mao said, shows us that changes in society are caused by the development of the internal contradictions in society. i.e. the contradiction between the productive forces and the relations of production. This contradiction pushes society forward and gives the impetus for the suppression of the old society by the new. In short, dialectical materialism can be said to be a true scientific world outlook that is based on considering things as they are (in motion) without preconceived or idealistic assumptions. As Maurice Cornforth said, dialectical materialism insists that conceptions of things must be based on actual investigation and experience and must be constantly tested and retested in the light of practice and further practice. The principles of science have proved that the world can be explained and understood in terms of material causes without bringing in superstitions and myths.
Science and Socialism
Socialism should not be based on utopia i.e. dreaming of an ideal society without showing how it can be achieved3 . Many progressives have fallen into this trap of trying to fit an idea which they assume is perfect into a system. For example, President Nyerere came up with the idea of Ujamaa (African socialism) in the late sixties. In his opinion, this was socialism based on the African traditions of communalism. The idea, though bringing some positive aspects in the country, failed to work due to it being unscientific. Socialism should be scientific. As Maurice Cornforth said, it should be based on an analysis of the actual movement of history, economic law of motion of capitalist society, thus showing how it arises as the necessary next stage in the evolution of a society, and how it can come about only by waging of the working class struggle, through the defeat of the capitalist class and the institution of the dictatorship of the working class4 (socialism). Ideological understanding and analysis helps us to understand that the capitalist system has reached its limit and this can be authenticated by the unending economic crises. The capitalists and the ruling class are therefore forced to come up with deceptive defense mechanisms geared to whitewashing the face of capitalism. Some of these mechanisms include social welfare programmes (e.g. free or subsidized medical and education services).This is well executed in Europe especially among the Scandinavian countries. These programmes, however, keep being eroded day after day by capitalism, especially today when capitalism is not facing any serious threat as during the Soviet Union and the Cold War era.
Why ideology is important in liberation
Ideology based on scientific understanding will help the working class discover the true nature of capitalism which is concealed under a deceptive veneer of welfare to humanity. The discovery will ultimately illuminate the path to a new, better era. The capitalist system is pregnant and it only needs a trained midwife, not a quack, to bring to birth the new era. By this I mean it needs well-grounded cadres with scientific understanding of a society who are able to navigate through the complexities of capitalism with the goal of leading the masses to socialism.
- Plamenatz J., 1970, Ideology – Key Concepts in Political Science, Pall Mall Press Ltd, London, , p. 15
- Tse Tung M., 1971, On Contradiction – Selected Readings from the Work of Mao Tse Tung, Foreign Language Press, China , p. 89
- Maurice Cornforth quote
- Cornforth M., 1968, Materialism and the Dialectical Method, 4th edn., International Publishers Co., USA, p. 122
As a body of ideas and as a movement toward a society beyond capitalism, Marxist socialism stands for the dissolution of capitalist private property, collective ownership of the means of production and distribution, a democratically planned economy and the replacement of antagonistic social relations of exploitation, competition and domination with relations of equality, co-operation and solidarity: a classless, communist society. From the Marxist perspective, socialism is not merely an ethical ideal: it is the only fully rational response to the intensifying contradictions of the capitalist world order. Socialism aims at eliminating the deeply entrenched material inequalities between classes, ‘races,’ nations and genders — that have been fostered and perpetuated by all class-antagonistic modes of production, inequalities that have reached truly monstrous proportions in the world capitalist system. Its goal is not the ‘formal equality’ sanctified by liberalism —a merely juridical and legal equality, which effaces and ignores the persistent differences that distinguish human beings in their concrete circumstances. Rather, its goal is to achieve a global society in which, in the words of The Communist Manifesto, ‘the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.’ — Smith, Murray E. G and Joshua D. Dumont (2011): Socialist strategy yesterday and today: Notes on classical Marxism and the contemporary radical left. in: Veltmeyer, Henry, Ed. (2011): 21st Century Socialism: Reinventing the project. Pontypool: Merlin Press. pp. 119-138.