Many ideologies are shaped in reaction to real social ills and real oppression. They are in fact inspired by oppression, they are a plea for justice in an unjust situation. They are most of the times revolutionary ideologies, meant to overthrow and oppressive regime or social system. They are naturally considered liberating forces and attract well-meaning people who support them and leagues of angry supporters. Then a revolution happens, and that ideology becomes the regime or it becomes the dominant ideology. Then, to everyone’s surprise, it’ll turn out to be actually as repressive as the previous system or more, and soon it will lose all the respect it held as a liberating ideology.
But why? Was it because the power corrupted them? Was it because they were never sincere? I think among some individual believers this is possible, but ultimately the problem is somewhere else, somewhere integral to all revolutionary ideologies which makes them potential oppressive opportunities, and what makes them appealing in the first place.
These ideologies are the children of their time. And since they are inspired and motivated by the oppression they face, they define themselves as the oppressed. They see the world through the eyes of the oppressed, they fashion their appeal as being oppressed, all of their arguments and justifications ultimately lies on the premise that they are oppressed. Their whole advertisement to the world is bases on this. An oppression is their reason for existence in the first place.
So when they reach power or become dominant, they actually find themselves at a disadvantage. This disadvantage is a PR one, but also a deep philosophical one. They were defined as the oppressed ones, and they have based their entire ideology from base to the top on this condition. So they suddenly find all their literature and propaganda useless. And this is not even conscious – they simply cannot fathom the fact that they are no longer oppressed, because being oppressed defined their entire identity as political agents.
Furthermore, the revolutionary rage fueling their supporters would easily die down, so they would need to preserve that illusion for them.
Usually these ideologies start creating imaginary or real enemies, just to make themselves look oppressed, and they would continue to reason as if they are still oppressed, although they’re not. Therefore the internal enemy, the reformist dissident, becomes an agent of a mysterious higher power which continues to oppress them in their imagination, so arresting that dissident and exiling him/her to gulag is actually an act of self defense.
And this is why they continue to act as if they are being oppressed even if they’re clearly not.
People call this persecution complex, and the reason for this complex is the fact that without persecution they won’t exist anymore. Persecution is necessary so it must be created if it’s not actually there.
I’m sure you can think of many examples, and the most obvious one is Marxism. Marx is undeniably a great thinker, and only ideologues are able to deny this. His criticism of modern condition are very intelligent and useful, concepts like “False Consciousness”, especially the way they have been explained by thinkers like Gramsci and Althusser, are very useful in explaining how ideology works. Those millions of intellectual and freethinkers and freedom fighters who joined Marxism and made it the dominant ideology among the intellectuals of many countries in 20th century were not irrational. Marxism really does have that attraction.
So when USSR and other Communist regimes happened and they turned out to be as bad as or worse than the regimes they replaced with few exceptions, many people tried to say that they were against the teachings of Marx.
But that’s not true. Apart from many totalitarian aspects of Marx’s own thoughts, the main reason is that Marx was only arguing for the oppressed, and never considered his ideology from the point of view of someone in power, it was simply “proletariat dictatorship” and “5th stage of history”, his promise of earthly paradise was as vague and as far reaching than the religious heavenly one, and it doesn’t help that he thought this earthly paradise would happen on its own eventually.
Marx’s ideology was completely unprepared for dealing with the trappings of power, for not being the oppressed, of how to deal with taxes and honest critics and the like. To him socialists were supposed to be the oppressed class until history happens of its own accord.
That is why the Communist regimes relied on creating an enemy so much, that is why everything about Communist regimes was about the enemy.
Now while Communist regimes are clear examples of that, I think all three major religions can be regarded in that light too. Judaism is basically the story of a tribe being lost and wandering and being oppressed, their entire mythology is based on that, and of course Jews really have been oppressed and continue to be oppressed in the world. But then again Judaism really isn’t an ideology suitable for the non-oppressed, and modern reaction towards Israel and its defenders and detractors completely exemplify this. The fact that some extremist Orthodox Jews say that we shouldn’t have founded Israel because only God can save us, or the fact that Israeli right wingers predict Israel is in mortal danger while Israel is the strongest country in the Middle East. And the same is true about the two bastard children Judaism has given to the world.
And that is why you see right winger Christians talking about how persecuted they are. The myth of Jesus is a myth meant for the oppressed, and Jesus never says a word about how to actually run things when you are not oppressed anymore. The meek shall inherit the earth, but what should they do with it?
I think the current Iranian regime can be described completely this way too. Not only all the ideological myths are of oppressed people (all Shiite Imams are killed very mercilessly etc) but they all rely on the fact that Islam is in danger. All Islamic theocracies claim that Islam is in danger and frequently remind us of the specter of colonialism and Islamophobia in Western countries. They all want to say that their ideology is still being oppressed and forget the fact that no one is more powerful where they actually live, because simply their ideology cannot accommodate for this.
It’s simply wrong to gamble on the oppressed people, to claim that they have a specific vantage point of view or special insight or moral superiority. This seems obvious being stated like this but it’s really one of the greatest traps any lover of freedom can fall into. When a group of people are silenced and mistreated and trampled upon it’s easy to be defined by this wrong, and then define every opposition or even neutrality as joining forces with the oppressors, and when there are no more oppressors you have to just make them up.
This is why every ideology should predict the day that it becomes dominant and define itself in that position clearly. An adequate ideology looks at the world beyond the oppression, no matter how far and impossible it looks.