Ruling Class Ideology: An Introduction

Click here for additional information from the Oxford Reference Site. Students may find very useful the discussion of  The Dominant Ideology Thesis by Nicholas Abercrombie and colleagues. NEW link added Oct 18th 2012

Please note that in this introduction I haven't considered Antonio Gramsci's Neo-Marxist contributions to the theory of ideology but you may  Click here for a series of audio lectures with slides on Antonio Gramsci presented by Professor Bob Jessop.


"The ideas of the ruling class  are, in every age, the ruling ideas: i.e. the class which is the dominant material force in society is at the same time the dominant intellectual force." {Karl Marx 1845]


The Orthodox Marxist Approach

In a simplified orthodox Marxist model capitalist societies are divided into 2 major social classes, the property-owning Bourgeoisie and the property-lease Proletariat (although Marx and late Marxists did give considerable alteration to the intermediate strata). The property-owning Bourgeoisie are the economically dominant class, and, also, since they are said to exercise direct and indirect influence over the state ,they are also a politically dominant ruling class. Their dominance rest partly on their capacity to use force, but more significantly, because they can engineer the consent of the Proletariat partly by granting political and economic concession to them, and partly by the operation of a socialisation process which disseminates a powerful ruling class ideology. Ultimately however, the Proletariat will develop their own class consciousness, rise up overthrow the Bourgeoisie and the Capitalist State and usher in a classless, socialist utopia.

Central to Marx's theory is the distinction between the Economic Base and the Superstructure of capitalist society. In capitalist society the Economic Base is such that production is organised in private  companies with the aim of securing profits which in turn result in the exploitation of the Proletariat in the interest of the Bourgeoisie. By the Superstructure Marx means the political, legal, religion and education systems, the mass media and the organisation of family life. Marx then argues that the Economic Base of society will heavily influence the organisation and operation of the Superstructure which operates in fact to maintain the capitalist system and the capitalist class.

As mentioned above , according to Marxists, institutions like the family, the education system, the Church and the mass media fool the proletariat in to accepting the capitalist system by persuading them to accept the ruling class ideology.

As used in Marxist theory, an ideology is a coherent act of ideas, which are not necessarily accurate, but which serve to advance or defend the social position of a particular group, in this case the ruling class. According to modern Marxists, elements of the ruling class ideology in operation in contemporary capitalist countries such as the UK might include the following:

(i) that capital economies are inevitably more flexible and efficient and less bureaucratic than socialist ones, so that they can deliver better living standards.

(ii) that the efficiency of the capitalist economy is based on the necessity of an unequal distribution of income and wealth to provide incentives. People would not do difficult dangerous work unless they are better paid than average.

(iii) that, nevertheless, although there is economic inequality, capitalist societies are ore equal than they were in the 19th Century and there is a high degree of equality of opportunity. That is, capitalist societies are increasingly meritocratic.

iv) that sustained economic growth in capital societies has made it possible to finance an extensive Welfare State to help support the poor and needy.

) that both Conservative and Social Democratic political parties can be relied upon to represent the interests of the poor.

1} that because capitalist societies operate so well  we should accept the authority of hose who control the system and it is therefore beneficial if we are encouraged by our families to accept authority early in life.

v11) that capitalist societies are far freer and more democratic than former socialist societies such as the former U.S.S.R. and E. European States which were basically awful societies.

You may be able to think of other aspects of this ruling class ideology. Include them in the pace provided.






According to Marxists none of these ideas are true : they are myths designed to defend the capitalist system and the Bourgeoisie against criticism: the ideas, therefore are part of a ruling class ideology.

According to non-Marxists ,however the above ideas which Marxists describe as a fraudulent ruling class ideology are nothing of the sort: they amount in fact to a fairly accurate description of capitalist and communist societies respectively Indeed it is Marxism itself which is an inaccurate ideology which Marxists use to criticise the capitalist system unfairly because they wish to persuade the Proletariat to overthrow Capitalism and introduce Communism.

Finally we must try to be objective. Objectively speaking who have the better arguments, the Marxists or the non-Marxists? This is a controversy without end  in Politics and Sociology.