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Idealism. Any philosophical theory according to which the material world is created by, or is dependent upon, ideas or the mind.

Idealism is a form of ideology that distorts our understanding of the everyday world we experience. The ideas of a given epoch are the product of social conditions of that epoch. As these conditions change so do the ideas. That is why moral outlooks have undergone such fundamental changes over the centuries. As materialists, socialists do not deny the causal efficacy of ideas; indeed, we are engaged in a battle of ideas to establish socialism. But, without practical action, ideas alone will not bring about the desired change. (See also HEGEL; IDEOLOGY; MATERIALISM.)


Ideology. The socialist concept of ideology can refer to (a) general claims about the nature of a society's superstructure (e.g. law, politics, religion) or (b) a distortion of thought that stems from, and conceals contradictions within, capitalist society.

Marx did not invent the concept of ideology but it does play an important role in his analysis of capitalism, particularly as distortion. In capitalism profits take priority over needs, so that people starve while food rots, people go homeless while buildings are empty, people remain unemployed while needs are unmet, and so on. Because people are unable to solve these contradictions within capitalism they tend to project them in ideological forms of consciousness; that is to say, in ideas which effectively conceal or misrepresent the existence and character of these contradictions. Accordingly, profit-taking is held to be justified as risk-taking for the capitalists, so that starvation, homelessness, unemployment and the rest are the price paid for ‘good economics’. By concealing contradictions ideology contributes to their reproduction and therefore serves the interests of the capitalist class.

Marx criticised capitalist economics because it is an ideology which stems from, and conceals, the social relations of production beneath the surface appearance of commodity exchange in the market. The free and equal exchange of values in the market conceals the unfree and unequal nature of wage labour in its social relation to capital. Marx believed that it was the role of scientific socialism to penetrate the surface of social phenomena and reveal capitalism's inner workings.

Marx never used the phrase ‘false consciousness’, though many commentators insist that he did. Engels did once use the phrase, after Marx’s death in a private correspon

dence, but this usage is not consistent with his or Marx’s published writings on ideology. (See also CONTRADICTION; IDEALISM; SCIENCE.)


Terry Eagleton, Ideology, 2007

Ideology and False Consciousness by Joseph McCarney:

Ideology Study Guide:


Imperialism. Towards the end of the nineteenth century there was a growing tendency towards the formation of trusts and combines associated with what came to be known as imperialism. J.A. Hobson, a liberal, tried to account for this development in Imperialism (1902). He claimed that monopolistic industries restricted output in the home market, in order to raise prices and profits, and therefore have to seek foreign outlets for investments and markets. For this purpose, he alleged, they get governments to colonise foreign territories. R. Hilferding, a German Social Democrat, further developed this line of argument in Finance Capital (1910). He gave a detailed account of the supposedly unstoppable growth of monopoly in industry and banking, but carried it much further, crediting the banks with dominating industry and the cartels and dividing up world markets among themselves. V.I. Lenin made use of the work by Hobson and Hilferding for his own Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism (1916). According to Lenin, imperialism had five essential characteristics: (1) the concentration of production and capital, leading to the domination of the world economy by big monopolies; (2) the merging of bank and industrial capital and the consequent rise of a financial oligarchy; (3) the especially important role of the export of capital; (4) the division of the world among monopolistic associations of international capitalists; (5) the completion of the territorial division of the world among the great imperialist powers. Lenin thought that these factors would make wars increasingly inevitable.

Hobson, Hilferding and Lenin all failed to allow for the sectional divisions of interest in the capitalist class throughout the world. Some capitalists have an interest in exports (most of Britain’s exports are now to ‘developed’ countries); while some capitalists have an interest in imports (Britain is now a net importer of goods). And while monopolies can charge monopoly prices and get monopoly profits, the rest of the capitalists object to being held to ransom. For this reason many national governments and supra-national organisations (such as the European Union) have legislated or directly intervened to control monopolies. (See also LENINISM.)


Anthony Brewer, Marxist Theories of Imperialism, 1990


Impossibilism. ‘Possibilism’ and ‘impossibilism’ were terms used in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to refer to different wings of the Social Democratic parties. ‘Impossibilists’ were those Social Democrats who struggled solely to achieve the goal of socialism, while ‘possibilists’ were those Social Democrats who concentrated their efforts on reforming capitalism. Eventually the impossibilists either split away from the Social Democratic parties or abandoned impossibilism as the price for remaining a Social Democrat. Impossibilists from the Social Democratic Federation formed the Socialist League in 1884, the Socialist Labour Party in 1903, and the Socialist Party of Great Britain in 1904. (See also SOCIALIST LABOUR PARTY; SOCIALIST PARTY.)


M. Rubel & J. Crump, Non-Market Socialism in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, 1987

Chushichi Tsuzuki, 'The "impossibilist revolt" in Britain: the origins of the S.L.P. and the S.P.G.B', International Review of Social History 1, 1956


Inflation. A continuous increase in the general level of prices caused by an excess issue of inconvertible paper currency (properly called ‘currency inflation’). This is the result of the action of governments printing and putting into circulation millions or billions of pounds of additional paper money that is above and beyond that needed for production and trade.

There are other factors affecting prices. During periods of good trade prices rise and during periods of bad trade they fall. And a monopoly can charge a higher than normal price. Furthermore, the required amount of currency rises with the growth of population, production and trade, and falls with monetary developments such as the growth of the banking system, the use of cheques and credit cards. But a persistent increase in the cost of living is the sole responsibility of governments when they issue more currency than is needed for economic transactions to take place.

Wage increases cannot cause inflation. For unless market conditions change in their favour, employers cannot raise prices further simply because they have had to pay higher wages. If employers could recoup wage increases by raising prices, there would be no point in their resisting wage claims. The fact that businesses do generally resist wage claims is because they increase costs and reduce profits. (See also KEYNESIAN ECONOMICS; MONETARISM; PHILLIPS CURVE)


Changes in the Value of Money over time:


Interest. The price of money. Those capitalist enterprises that borrow money capital to finance production pay to the lenders a portion of the surplus value produced as interest. (See also BANKS; PHILLIPS CURVE; SURPLUS VALUE.)


Internationals. The First International (The International Working Men’s Association, 1864 - 1876) was an international federation of working class organisations. Founded in London, Marx and Engels were actively involved and Marx drew up its Inaugural Address and Rules. At the Hague Congress of 1872 there was a clash between Marx and the anarchist Bakunin, which led to Bakunin being expelled and the transfer of the seat of the General Council to New York. The First International was dissolved at a conference in Philadelphia in 1876. The Bakuninists tried to keep it going in Europe and the anarchists later revived the IWMA as an anarchist international which exists to this day.

The Second International (1889 - 1914) was founded in Paris but was dominated by the German Social Democratic Party (SPD). Unlike its predecessor, this International claimed to be Marxist in outlook. However, its early Congresses were especially concerned with Eduard Bernstein’s ‘revisionism’, which was opposed by the SPD’s leading theoretician, Karl Kautsky. Delegates were sent from the Socialist Party of Great Britain, soon after its formation, to the Amsterdam Congress in August 1904; and after seeing the reformism rampant, the SPGB refused to have anything more to do with it. In 1908 the British Labour Party was admitted. Although at Stuttgart (1907) and at Copenhagen (1910) the International had passed resolutions demanding joint action to prevent war, the various national parties (excluding the Russian, Serbian and Hungarian parties) of the International failed to respond in 1914. After its collapse in the First World War the Second International was revived in the 1920s as a loose association of Labour and Social Democratic parties, and still functions as the ‘Socialist International’.

The Russian Communist Party established the Third International (1919 - 1943), also called the Communist International or Comintern. Based in Moscow, the Comintern controlled the Communist parties that had sprung up round the world. In 1931 the Comintern issued an instruction that it was necessary to stop distinguishing ‘between fascism and bourgeois democracy, and between the parliamentary form of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie and its open fascist form’. It was partly because the Communists in Germany followed this instruction that Hitler was able to rise to power. The Comintern was dissolved in 1943 to appease Stalin’s Western allies.

A Fourth International was set up by Trotsky and his followers in 1938 in opposition to the Second and Third Internationals. Trotsky predicted the rapid demise of Social Democracy and Stalinism. Because of the failure of these and other predictions of Trotsky, the Fourth International has been subject to serious infighting and splits. (See also BAKUNIN; COMMUNIST PARTY; KAUTSKY; REVISIONISM; TROTSKYISM.)


Julius Braunthal, History of the Internationals, 1966 - 1980

History of the International Workingmen’s Association: