False consciousness (19TH CENTURY- )

Marxist theory of ‘deception’ of the working class.

Members of the working class in capitalist societies have interests which would rationally lead them to revolutionary action against the system. However ideology creates a ‘false consciousness’ which hides this reality from them. They therefore require leading into ‘correct’ political activity by a vanguard party, a central concept of Leninism.

Also see: bolshevism

L Kolakowski, Main Currents of Marxism, 3 vols (Oxford, 1978)

Later development

Marshall I. Pomer has argued that members of the proletariat disregard the true nature of class relations because of their belief in the probability or possibility of upward mobility.[2][3] Such a belief or something like it is said to be required in economics with its presumption of rational agency; otherwise wage laborers would not be the conscious supporters of social relations antithetical to their own interests, violating that presumption.[4]

Cultural hegemony

The Italian Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci developed the concept of cultural hegemony, the process within capitalist societies by which the ruling classes create particular norms, values, and stigmas, amounting to a culture in which their continued dominance is considered beneficial.[5]


During the late 1960s and 1970s, the philosophical and anthropological school of structuralism began to gain popularity among academics and public intellectuals, focusing on interpreting human culture in terms of underlying structures such as symbolic, linguistic, and ideological perspectives. Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser popularized his structuralist interpretation of false consciousness, the Ideological State Apparatus. Structuralism influenced Althusser’s interpretation of false consciousness, which focuses on the institutions of the capitalist state⁠—particularly those of public education⁠—which enforce an ideological system favoring obedience, conformity and submissiveness.[6]

Contemporary developments

Other prominent Marxist philosophers and intellectuals developed specific interpretations of the concept of false consciousness, such as Theodor Adorno and Herbert Marcuse of the Frankfurt School, Guy Debord and Raoul Vaneigem of the French situationist movement, the anti-colonialist writer Frantz Fanon, and contemporary philosopher Slavoj Žižek. Outside of the Marxist political ideology, the economist Edward S. Herman and linguist Noam Chomsky developed the propaganda model wherein information is selectively broadcast to serve the ends of a deeply centralized ownership of private media industries.

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