Are the ideas of the ruling class the ruling ideas?

Image: Ylanite Koppens


All existing social forms are shaped according to the interests of the dominant classes

The Marxian “axiom” “The ideas of the ruling class are, in each epoch, the dominant ideas”, expressed in the book the german ideology, is very pertinent, considering that it manages to faithfully reproduce the social practice of all societies that are fractured into opposing social classes, a phenomenon that has occurred since the so-called “agricultural revolution”, a few millennia ago, which put an end to the so-called societies of the “hunter-gatherers”, or in Marxist terms: “primitive communism”.

To understand why the dominant ideas are those of the dominant classes, it is first necessary to visualize that contemporary civilizations are always divided into social classes, some are dominant and others are dominated. To this sociometabolism, Marx and Engels named “relations of production”, which means how men relate to produce and reproduce the material conditions of their own existence, through work as a tool that alters nature, as an exchange between man, who is a social being, and the organic and inorganic world of nature.

In capitalism, the economic system in which we are inserted in contemporary times, this is very evident, just capture the movement of the real. We are divided between two great diametrically opposed classes, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Of course, within each of these classes there are fractions and, also, there are other classes besides these as classes remaining from previous systems, but they are not central in the production of human life today, this was the context analyzed by Marx and Engels. The bourgeoisie is the ruling class, which owns the means of production, and the working class is the dominated, which only has its workforce to sell and survive, they are the “wage earners”, as Engels said at various times. The bourgeoisie, as it has control of economic power, can control all production of social life, whether in the economic sphere or even in the political, social and cultural spheres.

For Marx and Engels, for example, the Modern State is an apparatus of the ruling class, whether in a structural way, reproducing the “relations of production” and guaranteeing the historical interests of the class, reproducing the will of capital, as a social relationship, even if not being occupied by the capitalists or in an instrumental way, because through money the bourgeoisie captures the State and moves it in a way that guarantees its immediate interests, as well exemplified by Engels in the work “On the origin of the family, private property and the State” . The State is one of the guiding threads in the quest for hegemony in capitalist society by the dominant, through force or consensus, as Antonio Gramsci asserted. Only by dominating the State, directly or indirectly by the bourgeois class, it is already possible to glimpse the assertiveness of the thesis that the dominant ideas are those of the dominant classes in each era, since the State is one of the great ideological apparatuses of society, leading, including, the production of knowledge, managing Universities and public schools and, also, regulating and supervising private education, from the menus to the most bureaucratic issues, as we see in Brazil through the MEC.

But, it is not only by the class dominance of the State that the aforementioned Marxian “postulate” is justified, since the dominant ideology permeates all spheres of social life. The great philosophers and theorists of each time express the ideas of the dominant class, being ideologues in the sense used by Marx and Engels in “The German Ideology” (analyzing the “post-Hegelians”), that is, as having a partial vision of the reality, a "false consciousness", capturing only the appearance and not the phenomenal essence (which does not mean that the idea is right or wrong, just incomplete, partial. And not even that the theorist is telling a lie, because he believes he is reproducing a genuine thought starting from an ideal model, without recognizing the material relations that condition their own ideas), or even others who do it in a deliberate and intentional way, as is the case of apologists for capital who are funded to create theoretical bases of consensus, within the population, on the “great deeds” of society commanded by the bourgeois class.

We can resort to more hundreds or thousands of examples that can corroborate the thesis analyzed here. The category of work was seen with terrible eyes in previous societies, the celebrated was inertia in feudal societies, everyone wanted to be able to be like the great kings and feudal lords, or, at the time of Greek slavery in the Athenian republic, work was something legacy to slaves, humans who were not considered as humans, but as objects. The “great men” were the masters of slaves who did not work or the great philosophers who “thought”, this is given in the works of Plato and Aristotle. But now, in the society of capital that needs a large productivity for the valorization of value, of the superexploitation of the work and extraction of surplus value, the category of the work has become sacrosanct. Everyone must work to achieve dignity, work dignifies the man, people who don't work are considered “sluts”. And the most peculiar thing about this spread of work, as a characterization of humanity, is that the bourgeois themselves do not work, but pretend that they do, “managing” their large companies and banks, since there is a division of labor between manual and intellectual. Evidently, there is no possible society without the “fundamental work”, as we have already highlighted in (CRUZ, Caique. 2018). What we are pointing out in this paragraph is how the “abstract work” of capital society came to be worshiped as a label of dignity or indignity, while in previous societal formats “work” existed, but was relegated to “inferior beings” and had a pejorative semantic load. This transformation in the sign demonstrates the ideological load that carries even the “form-language” of capitalist society.

In the realm of religion, this tendency of the dominant ideology becomes even more latent with the advent of Luther's Protestantism and, even more so, with Calvin, as discovered by Max Weber, a “liberal-nationalist” theorist, in his work: “The Protestant Ethic and the spirit of capitalism”, when analyzing Calvinism as a driving force that molds the spirit of the perfect man for the maximum development of capitalist society, that is, the man who works, saves, gives primacy to the individual and not the community, and who has he gives in for profit, as profit proves that he is one of those chosen by the divinity. However, being a “Neokantian” and “culturalist”, he operated an analytical approach, separating the subject from the object, and centralized his analysis in research on how the religious ideology of Calvinism could constitute the “perfect” man to reproduce society. of capital and the influences of religions on the economic issue, a kind of “sociology of religion” where the primary question of its investigation was the religious influence on the economy, missing, in the aforementioned book, the aspect of the social totality in which there is interdependence and a derivation among all social forms. Starting from a materialist analysis, the most coherent conception proposes is that the capital society itself opened the concrete bases for this new religious type to be engendered and, also, to have gathered great force against the Catholicism of the feudal eras.

Finally, the large growth of Protestantism shows, in this religious transition, how the dominant ideology permeates all social forms, the evangelical doctrine praises the category of work that we discussed earlier, among many other factors that contribute to the ideological establishment of capitalism. In the XNUMXth and XNUMXst centuries we had the brutal growth of the “theology of prosperity” in addition to others of the same kind, true religious amalgams that serve as ideological forms of reproduction of capital, either by instituting a supposed “ethics” in the daily lives of individuals, or by constituting religious institutional structures that interfere directly in collective life, including taking the Bourgeois State by storm and quickly ending the notion of “secular State” in the modern Democratic State of Law.

Finally, the case of law is also elementary, the laws of modern law are based on the forms of production relations. The legal-form is a derivation of the commodity-form, as a mirrored reflection, not in the sense of copying, but of conditioning and origin (genesis), a relationship between founding and founded. The idea of ​​what is “fair” and what is “unfair” has a direct correlation with what does or does not attack private ownership of the means of production, to prove this it is enough to see that the theoretical bases of bourgeois legal systems, especially in the civil scope, configure a replica of the society of exchanges and capital contracts that reproduces it in its formality. Or more, entering the social praxis and the criminal field, analyzing who is being punished in class society, reality does not allow us to deny it.

We have Brazil as an example, which is going through a period of mass explosion of its prison population, a common fact in the contemporary capitalist societies in which it is inserted. In the country, in the last more detailed and complete survey carried out by the National Council of Justice (CNJ) in 2017, which was removed from the official website, but which can still be found on secondary websites[I], we had the number of 726.712 prisoners, with drug trafficking crimes representing between 28% and 30% of cases involving arrested defendants; the crime of theft, 21%; theft, 16%; homicide, 11%; among others on a smaller scale, according to the 2017 survey by the National Council of Justice[ii]. In this way, most of those incarcerated were framed in some of the articles of the Law. 11.343/06, which establishes the National System of Public Policies on Drugs – (Sisnad); that prescribes measures to prevent misuse, care and social reintegration of drug users and addicts; establishes norms for the repression of unauthorized production and illicit drug trafficking and defines crime. Most of these prisoners were black, about 64% to 65%. From 2017 to 2019 there was an increase in the total absolute prison mass, which went from 726.712 to 812.564 prisoners, of which 41,5% (337.126) are provisional prisoners, that is, whose processes were still pending in judged, which, consequently, also increased the percentage of convicts or defendants related to the typifications of Law 11.343/06[iii]. All these new data for 2019 were released by the National Prison Monitoring Bank (BNMP 2.0),[iv] but this more contemporary research is not very detailed in relation to the previous ones, as there was no racial approach in its methodology[v] and, also, some states have not fully computed all their prisoners, which may mean that we have an even larger prison population, “The number of prisoners may be even greater because some states have not fully completed the implementation of the system and for that still provide partial information.” (BARBIÉRI, Luiz Felipe. 2019).

In view of all these data, it is evident that the Brazilian State carries out a strong and punitive policy to curb drugs, through the well-known “war on drugs”, as popularly called, where it is directed, predominantly, at individuals of a certain social class and/or skin color, constituting a strong stigmatization of these social groups in the country, as asserted by Olmo, quoted by Salo de Carvalho: “the drug problem presented itself as a 'struggle between good and evil', continuing with the moral stereotype, with which the drug acquires 'demon' profiles; but its typology would become more diffuse and terrifying, creating panic due to the “vampires” who were attacking so many 'sons of good family'”. (OLMO, The Hidden Face of Drugs, p.34. In.: CARVALHO, Salo de. 2013, p. 64).

Criminologist Ribeiro Giamberardino, when he analyzes the drug criminalization policy in the USA that was imported to Brazil, shares the same understanding of stigmatization in the following quotation: “it is remarkable how the production and dissemination of drugs stems from criminal policies. of social stereotypes and how around these the discourse of the war on drugs was placed in the center of attention, in the United States, in the Nixon and then Reagan governments (1980-1989). Emphasis on the theme served as the basis for repressive policies on consumption both internally and externally, as well as the war against drug production and trafficking in Latin American countries – under the argument of the need to repress consumption in the United States”. (GIAMBERARDINO, André Ribeiro. 2010, p. 212).

In the same sense, Mariana Glenda Santos and Thais Elizabeth Santos Silveira, in an article about the growing use of drugs and the criminalization of poverty, argue: “In the present capitalist society, where having is much more important than being, young people from the peripheries of large Brazilian cities are generally victims of violence and crime, resulting from a violent process of criminalization that the social issue has been suffering, and that affect the lower classes. The notion of “dangerous classes”, subject to repression and extinction, is recycled”. (SANTOS, Maria Glenda; SILVEIRA, Thais Elizabeth Santos. 2013).

The fictitious “ethics” of capital society is nothing more than a bourgeois morality, transforming what is particular (bourgeois interests) into universal (interests of the whole people). When, in fact, classes are objectively placed in situations of combat and opposing interests, there is no “ethics” in capitalism, since there is no dissolution between class antagonisms, there is an absolute antinomy between individual interests and those of the human gender.

For all these structuring factors of societies divided into classes, it was that Marx and Engels discovered that all current social forms are molded according to the interests of the dominant classes, be it political form, legal form, religion, culture stricto sensu, or even philosophical, sociological systems of thought, etc.

*Caique de Oliveira Sobreira Cruz is a Master's student in Social Policies at the Catholic University of Salvador.



CNJ News Agency, Survey of Provisional Prisoners in the Country and Court Action Plan. Available in: . Accessed on: 84371/20/01.

BARBIÉRI, Luiz Felipe. 2019. Available in . Accessed on: 1/2019/07.

CRUZ, Caique. “The subsumption of the real to the aesthetic, the misery of postmodernism” In: REBELA – Brazilian Journal of Latin American Studies, v. 8, no.o. 3(2018).

ENGELS, Friedrich; MARX, Carl. the german ideology. Sao Paulo: Boitempo, 2007.

GIAMBERARDINO, André Ribeiro. Drug trafficking and the concept of social control: reflections between solidarity and violence. In: Brazilian Journal of Criminal Sciences. São Paulo, 2010, n. 83, p. 212).

. Accessed on 114119040/15/10.

Law 11.343/06. Available in: . Accessed on 03/2004/2006.

ELM. The Hidden Face of Drugs, p.34. In.: CARVALHO, Salo de. Criminal drug policy in Brazil: a criminological and dogmatic study of Law 11.343/06. – 6. Ed. rev., current. and amp. – São Paulo: Saraiva, 2013.

Legal Consultant Magazine, December 8, 2017. Available at: Accessed on 2017/08/726.

SANTOS, Maria Glenda; SILVEIRA, Thais Elizabeth Santos. The growing use of drugs and the process of criminalizing poverty. In: 3rd Symposium of Social Workers in Minas Gerais – CRESS-MG, 2013, Belo Horizonte. Electronic proceedings… Belo Horizonte: CRESS-MG, 2013.

Disponível em: <>. Acesso em: 06/10/2020.


[I]Available in: Accessed on 2017/08/726.

[ii] CNJ News Agency, Survey of Provisional Prisoners in the Country and Court Action Plan. It was available at: . Accessed on: 84371/20/01. Survey currently deleted from the website, 12/2017/14.

[iii] Available in: . Accessed on 03/2004/2006.

[iv] BARBIÉRI, Luiz Felipe. Available in Accessed on: 1/2019/07.

[v] Available in: Accessed on 114119040/06/10.

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