False consciousness

"False consciousness" is the Marxist concept that the proletariat are misguided as to their own desires and wants, and will not properly understand their true beliefs and desires until they are enlightened. More specifically, it is the belief that within the structures of Capitalism, there is a disconnect between the real state of affairs and the way they phenomenally appear. (For instance in the wage contract.)

Friedrich Engels wrote in 1893 that

'Ideology is a process accomplished by the so-called thinker. Consciously, it is true, but with a false consciousness. The real motive forces impelling him remain unknown to him; otherwise it simply would not be an ideological process. Hence he imagines false or seeming motive forces'.

There is no proof that Karl Marx either did or did not use the phrase "false consciousness". It appears to have been used (in print) only by Friedrich Engels however, see Terry Eagleton, Ideology: An Introduction (London: Verso, 1991), p. 89.

The doctrine of false consciousness has also been used by Marxist feministss in regard to other women.

Objections to the concept of "false consciousness"

Many people believe that the concept of "false consciousness" is a tool for masking oppression in the guise of liberation.

The political concept of false consciousness allows its user to justify their actions towards others as in their best interests, no matter what their own opinions may be in the matter. Their protestations to the contrary are taken by the believer in false consciousness to demonstrate how completely misguided their opinions are, and hence how necessary it is that they be should be changed, by force if necessary.

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