Marxism is not only variable as an ideology, it also incorporates variable views as to what an ideology is in the first place. Some of the views within the ideology, and within Marxist theories about ideology itself, are actually not just different from each other, but contradictory. This makes the exposition of 'Marxism' quite complicated and difficult to comprehend. 1 How can an ideology, supposedly an identifiable unity, contain contradictions, and yet still inspire intellectuals and practitioners in politics?
The answer is that this variability within Marxism has arisen over 150 years of theoretical and practical input by different people in different circumstances. Marxism is thus an unusually productive political and intellectual resource, and has taken adaptation and innovation past even logical limits. Within its protean conceptual framework, there are a number of specifiable approaches to political action, and to the relationship between ideas and action, which have survived very stringent intellectual and historical tests. In a sense any failures are marks of success. Marxism has thus captured numerous positions on theory and practice in politics, or is at least compatible with them. The Marxist tradition is so well developed that these debts are readily acknowledged in the literature, whether pro or con, and can be easily traced whenever ideology as such is discussed. Marxism is thus an enduring and foundational system of ideas. Even Post-Marxism is not really 'after Marxism', but rather Marxism reinterpreted yet again.
During the twentieth century Marxism was viewed as an ideology. What it was thought to be, and to say, was profoundly influenced by this conceptual framing. That is, your view of Marxism was at least somewhat determined by your view of ideology; knowing that Marxism was supposed to be an ideology told you what to look for, and what kinds of things you were looking at. Thus a view of ideology as a dogmatic system linked to totalitarian politics yielded variants of Marxism that, self-confessedly or not, approached this syndrome (e.g., Stalinism or Maoism). A view of ideology, by contrast, as merely action-oriented ideas found a rather different Marxism (e.g., Trotskyite or Gramscian thought). And a view of ideology as a theory of knowledge gave rather a different Marxism again (e.g., dialectical materialism or critical realism).
While it may seem at times that Marxism involves a rather pedantic exegesis of texts, it must also be remembered that much of the publicity and controversy