Karl Marx takes up this later derogatory usage as a starting point and then develops his own more complex interpretation. He does this, together with Friedrich Engels, especially in The German Ideology (1845) in which he accomplishes a twofold goal.
Firstly, he tries to define capitalism as a socio-economical mode of production in its own right. In doing so, he posits it as an object of research. Secondly, through the interpretation and analysis of ideology, Marx carries out a critique of philosophy in general, putting it into context and confronting it with history.
The book achieves an overall grounding effect: culture, philosophy and history are denied the universality that Western tradition bestows upon them. Everything is dependent on and firmly anchored to the immediacy of reality. Nothing can transcend it.
History and the Production of Ideology
For Marx, history is a succession of conflicts between the different classes of society (see The Communist Manifesto). In the light of this, culture is nothing but the product of the ideas and ideals brought about by the winning social group.
In other words, the dominant class determines how to perceive the world, how to interpret it and how to express it and represent it. There is no such thing as neutral culture, disengaged from the social context and historical events:
“The production of ideas, of conceptions, of consciousness, is at first directly interwoven with the material activity and the material intercourse of men, the language of real life. The same applies to mental production as expressed in the language of politics, laws, morality, religion, metaphysics, etc., of a people. Men are the producers of their conceptions, ideas.” Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, The German Ideology, International Publishers Co, 1970; p. 47