Before you read: Bourgeois Ideology Part 1 - Metaphysics
The bourgeoisie—the rich ruling class—controls the narratives that the masses see. Life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, freedom, democracy, success, socialism, capitalism, communism—pick a topic, and the average United States citizen knows only as much as the ruling class wants them to. They cannot put a name to the philosophy that they are implicitly taught to believe—idealism—and many cannot correctly explain the same topics that they are taught to hate such as socialism. Living under capitalism, the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, teaches and reinforces that ideas are more important than anything else—that thought is primary to matter.
Before talking about how idealism supports bourgeois rule, it is important we have a clear understanding of what idealism is. Rooted in the belief that thought is primary to matter, Idealism results in two main points:
Thought creates matter, or
Matter does not exist
The first point is found commonly in most western religions. That there is an entity (thought) above, before, and separate from matter. According to most idealists, the entity is who created our material reality. An entity which has existed for eternity with no beginning, with no evidence. When pressed for explanation, they say matter must have some beginning, so the entity must have existed before it to create it! An unscientific answer, not based on evidence, seemingly pulled from the air.
The second point is that our lives and world only exist in thought, only in our heads—also known as subjective reality. If we were to entertain these ideas for a moment and accept subjective reality, we could conclude that nothing existed prior to man—if man was not there to think of it, how could it exist? Things did exist before man, we know soundly and scientifically that there existed animals, and even before animals there existed a barren planet, and before the barren planet there existed matter. And so, in less than two paragraphs, we can already see the unscientific nature of Idealism.
One of the most common examples of idealism in the US today is Christianity. By definition, it puts thought before matter. Who is God? A deity that exists without a physical form—without matter. Where did the Earth come from? God created it. Where did humans come from? Adam and Eve—created by God again. Material reality, successes, history, actions, so many are attributed to God. The scientific evidence is ignored—whether it is historical development of the planet or society or tragedies. How many times have we heard “Why is God letting this happen?” The idealist idea expressed is that people are waiting for God to intervene somehow, to change reality, instead of changing it themselves.
The point here is not that Marxism is anti-religion, as the capitalists want people to think. Anyone is more than welcome to be both a Marxist and religious. The problems arise when idealism is shown in a Marxist setting. In an organization that follows Marxism-Leninism and dialectical materialism, decisions need to be made based on the material reality of the situation. Materialism must prevail in these situations to change the material reality for the working class.
These unscientific, idealist problems are clear in US politics. Sitting senator Ted Cruz cited the bible in a tweet to support certain policies, specifically killing someone in self-defense. Current US President Biden uses the Bible to justify the deaths of military service members. On August 3rd, 2019, 20 were killed and 26 were wounded in a mass shooting in El Paso, Texas at a Walmart. On August 4th, 2019, 9 were killed and 27 wounded in a mass shooting in Dayton Ohio. The same day, sitting Senator Marco Rubio tweeted asking God to “bless those impacted by these heartbreaking tragedies.” On August 5th, 2019, sitting Senator Marco Rubio quoted Proverbs 26:26—“Hatred can be concealed by pretense, but malice will be revealed in the assembly.” Herein lies the problem—these are only a few cases, but there are hundreds, thousands of instances where a similar series of events happens. Some tragedy occurs and politicians cite the Bible, invoking God to justify abortion bans, racism, bigotry, xenophobia, mass shootings, and more—sometimes not even requiring a tragedy first. While the materialist changes the world, the idealist waits for God to change it in accordance with their (typically reactionary) whims.
Is anything real?
Another way idealism manifests itself in our society is by the sentiment that nothing is real—that only our thoughts exist
Which of the following statements is idealism?
“I think, therefore I am”
“I am, therefore I think”
The first of the two is idealist—“I think, therefore I am” implies that existence is predicated on first having thought. Consider a time before man existed, or even further back when the earth was a barren planet. In these instances there was matter, but there was not always thought to correspond to it—i.e., matter can and has existed without thought, but there are no scientific instances of the opposite.
One result of thinking that nothing is real outside of our thoughts is the feeling of apathy—both political and ethical. Both types of apathy feed into something we see online called “doomerism”—the thinking that there is nothing that we can do about problems in the world. If the world is not real, why does anything matter? Why try to stop climate change, nothing is real anyway. Why do anything if nothing is actually real? The bourgeoisie want workers to fall into the metaphysical trap of thinking capitalism is all there ever has been and will be, and they want you to fall into the idealistic and unscientific doomer trap of thinking that there is nothing you should do because nothing really matters anyway.
Agnosticism / Selective Philosophy
While many people do not study philosophy and thus do not consciously make decisions on being a materialist or idealist, we see many people taking an unintentional middle-road. When we are young, we are taught to utilize the scientific method and to be evidence based, but the longer we are exposed to capitalist superstructure, the more we abandon a scientific mindset. A common example would be people that believe in a commonly accepted scientific belief—that the earth orbits the sun, the earth is round, gravity, the periodic table, etc., but deny others such as climate change. Here, the person is attempting to walk a middle-road by splitting the difference between scientific and unscientific knowledge. A materialist when evidence does not challenge their beliefs, but when it does, they push aside material reality. The seemingly mixed ideology between materialism and idealism, is called philosophical agnosticism. However you can not split the difference between scientific and unscientific knowledge. To be philosophically agnostic is to concede to unscientific knowledge—to be an idealist. That if one were to scratch an agnostic, as Lenin says, they will find an idealist.
“Agnostics tell us that it is impossible to declare that the outside world exists or does not exist. Yet, in practice, we know that the world and things exist. We know that the ideas that we have about things are founded, that the relations that we have established between things and us are real.”
Applications of Idealism
An important way that the bourgeoisie uses idealism to uphold its rule is by promising abstract concepts to citizens while not changing the material reality to grant those same concepts. The prime example is seen in the US Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
The Declaration describes these as “unalienable Rights”, but is that really the case? Does the unalienable right of Life correspond to healthcare for everyone? Does the unalienable right of Liberty, or freedom, correspond to actual choices, true freedom? Does the unalienable right of the pursuit of Happiness mean everyone has the guarantee of a job, a house, and an education? In each instance, no. Karl Marx perhaps explains it best:
Gentlemen! Do not allow yourselves to be deluded by the abstract word freedom. Whose freedom? It is not the freedom of one individual in relation to another, but the freedom of capital to crush the worker.
Each time, the idea is pushed forward to give workers the thought that they truly do experience life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness by living in the US while the material conditions lag behind - thought is given primacy over matter. The only ones who have the opportunity to experience any of those ideas are the rich—because they have enough money to change their material conditions and grant themselves these “unalienable” rights. Convincing workers that they are truly experiencing freedom and the right of life is how idealism upholds capitalist rule here—unscientifically ignoring the proof of reality. Some workers believe it so much that they will argue strongly in favor of their current “free” system and sometimes even go so far as to enlist in the military to fight for their believed “rights.” The fight for “freedom” has been used to justify numerous atrocities—the Korean war, the Vietnam war, and any of the dozens of coups that the CIA has been involved in, to name a few.
The rich ruling class controls the narrative, and they do so in a way that protects their rule. Workers are implicitly taught idealism—that thought comes before matter—which leads to apathy towards scientific and material reality, as well as demoralization regarding working towards real material change—both individually and organizationally. Understanding the tactics of the bourgeoisie is necessary for Communists to be able to identify, combat, and counter the bourgeois narrative. Marxism, and thereby materialism, shows that we should be scientific in our study and actions - that workers have to change the world. Our reality, our future, is in our hands.