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Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Ruling Class and The Ruling Ideas- Marx and Engels

Following is the text of Marx and Engels "The Ruling Class and The Ruling Ideas." What is phenomenal about this writing is that it provides a cogent understanding of how the ideas take birth in the society. While the masses may be fooled by those ideas and accept them as in their own self interest and be even willing to die defending them; they however spring from the kind of mode of production operating in the society and are shaped by the dominant class which benefits most from such mode of production; that is the ruling class. 

The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas: i.e., the
class which is the ruling material force of society is at the same time its
ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production
at its disposal, consequently also controls the means of mental
production, so that the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production
are on the whole subject to it. The ruling ideas are nothing more
than the ideal expression of the dominant material relations, the dominant
material relations grasped as ideas; hence of the relations which make
the one class the ruling one, therefore, the ideas of its dominance. The
individuals composing the ruling class possess among other things consciousness,
and therefore think. Insofar, therefore, as they rule as a class
and determine the extent and compass of an historical epoch, it is self evident
that they do this in its whole range, hence among other things
rule also as thinkers, as producers of ideas, and regulate the production
and distribution of the ideas of their age: thus their ideas are the ruling
ideas of the epoch. For instance, in an age and in a country where royal
power, aristocracy and bourgeoisie are contending for domination and
where, therefore, domination is shared, the doctrine of the separation of
powers proves to be the dominant idea and is expressed as an “eternal
The division of labour, . . . one of the chief forces of history up till
now, manifests itself also in the ruling class as the division of mental and
material labour, so that inside this class one part appears as the thinkers
of the class (its active, conceptive ideologists, who make the formation of
the illusions of the class about itself their chief source of livelihood), while
the others’ attitude to these ideas and illusions is more passive and
receptive, because they are in reality the active members of this class and
have less time to make up illusions and ideas about themselves. Within
this class this cleavage can even develop into a certain opposition and
hostility between the two parts, but whenever a practical collision occurs
in which the class itself is endangered they automatically vanish, in which
case there also vanishes the appearance of the ruling ideas being not the
ideas of the ruling class and having a power distinct from the power of
this class. The existence of revolutionary ideas in a particular period presupposes
the existence of a revolutionary class. . . .
If now in considering the course of history we detach the ideas of the
ruling class from the ruling class itself and attribute to them an independent
existence, if we confine ourselves to saying that these or those ideas were
dominant at a given time, without bothering ourselves about the conditions
of production and the producers of these ideas, if we thus ignore
the individuals and world conditions which are the source of the ideas,
then we can say, for instance, that during the time the aristocracy was
dominant, the concepts honour, loyalty, etc., were dominant, during the
dominance of the bourgeoisie the concepts freedom, equality, etc. The
ruling class itself on the whole imagines this to be so. This conception of
history, which is common to all historians, particularly since the eighteenth
century, will necessarily come up against the phenomenon that ever
more abstract ideas hold sway, i.e., ideas which increasingly take on the
form of universality. For each new class which puts itself in the place of
one ruling before it is compelled, merely in order to carry through its aim,
to present its interest as the common interest of all the members of society,
that is, expressed in ideal form: it has to give its ideas the form of
universality, and present them as the only rational, universally valid ones.
The class making a revolution comes forward from the very start, if only
because it is opposed to a class, not as a class but as the representative of
the whole of society, as the whole mass of society confronting the one
ruling class. It can do this because initially its interest really is as yet mostly
connected with the common interest of all other non-ruling classes,
because under the pressure of hitherto existing conditions its interest has
not yet been able to develop as the particular interest of a particular class.
Its victory, therefore, benefits also many individuals of other classes
which are not winning a dominant position, but only insofar as it now
enables these individuals to raise themselves into the ruling class. . . .
Once the ruling ideas have been separated from the ruling individuals
and, above all, from the relations which result from a given stage of the
mode of production, and in this way the conclusion has been reached that
history is always under the sway of ideas, it is very easy to abstract from
these various ideas “the Idea”, the thought, etc., as the dominant force in
history, and thus to consider all these separate ideas and concepts as “forms
of self-determination” of the Concept developing in history. It follows
then naturally, too, that all the relations of men can be derived from the
“has considered the progress of the concept only” and has represented in
history the “true theodicy”. Now one can go back again to the producers of
“the concept’’, to the theorists, ideologists and philosophers, and one comes
then to the conclusion that the philosophers, the thinkers as such, have
at all times been dominant in history: a conclusion, as we see, already
expressed by Hegel. . . .
This historical method which reigned in Germany, and especially the
reason why, must be explained from its connection with the illusion of
ideologists in general, e.g., the illusions of the jurists, politicians (including
the practical statesmen), from the dogmatic dreamings and distortions
of these fellows; this is explained perfectly easily from their practical position
in life, their job, and the division of labour.
Whilst in ordinary life every shopkeeper is very well able to distinguish
between what somebody professes to be and what he really is, our historiography
has not yet won this trivial insight. It takes every epoch at
its word and believes that everything it says and imagines about itself is

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