Louis Althusser's renowned short text 'Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses' radically transformed the concept of the subject, the understanding of the state and even the very frameworks of cultural, political and literary theory. The piece is, in fact, an extract from a much longer book, On the Reproduction of Capitalism , until now unavailable in English.
Its publication makes possible a reappraisal of seminal Althusserian texts already available in English, their place in Althusser's oeuvre and the relevance of his ideas for contemporary theory. On the Reproduction of Capitalism develops Althusser's conception of historical materialism, outlining the conditions of reproduction in capitalist society and the revolutionary struggle for its overthrow. Written in the afterglow of May , the text addresses a question that continues to haunt us today: in a society that proclaims its attachment to the ideals of liberty and equality, why do we witness the ever-renewed reproduction of relations of domination?
Both a conceptually innovative text and a key theoretical tool for activists, On the Reproduction of Capitalism is an essential addition to the corpus of the twentieth-century Left. I'm not suggesting any kind of a plot, Everyone knows there's not, But you unborn millions might like to be warned That if you don't want to be buried alive by slagheaps, Pit-falls and damp walls and rat-traps and dead streets, Arrange to be democratically born The son of a company director Or a judge's fine and private daughter.
While it is written by a philosopher, whose work rightly or wrongly is often viewed as opaque, it asks a simple question and is directed not at philosophers but at workers and peasants fighting for liberation. The question is evident from the title, how does capitalism reproduce the conditions necessary for its own existence?
How does capitalism mould us to serve a system which rests upon our exploitation? Althusser asked this question so as to further the struggle to destroy capitalism and to produce a new social system. Reading it is an unsettling experience, it is a dangerous text, but lucid and relevant.
Althusser, born in , was originally a Catholic. Althusser was known as a structuralist, an anti-humanist and anti-Hegelian thinker. He felt that we had no fixed identity and humanism was anti-Marxist. He was seen as a structuralist, arguing that underlying processes shaped society and human subjectivity.
Plagued by severe mental illness for much of his life, he killed his wife and was placed in an institution in It is however clear that the thought of prominent post Marxist, post-modernist and post-structuralist thinkers including his friend Jacques Derrida, his former student Michel Foucault and also Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe were shaped by dialogue with much of his work. The tragedy of Althusser was reinforced when Nicos Poulantzas, who applied his work to the study of the state, committed suicide in In the last decade or so, a new Althusser has emerged.
Huge quantities of previously unpublished material has appeared showing that Althusser in his later work traced the origins of materialism from Greek philosophers and Spinoza on to Marx. On the Reproduction of Capitalism provides a new perspective on the old Althusser but rather than being a work of purely philosophical or literary interest, is one that can inform struggles for socialism in the 21st century.
Althusser argued that class conflict extends to ideas and that philosophy has a material effect. He was motivated by a desire to further material goals in a specific context, rather than to take part in a disembodied debate. Althusser was widely condemned as a functionalist who only explained how a range of social institutions were functional to capitalism but failed to look at resistance to such institutions and their allied practices.
On the contrary he makes it very clear that to resist we must understand how capitalism functions. Marx focussed on how capital works but both Marx and Althusser felt that they were forging tools for social change not pictures of unchangeable repressive societies. Athusser notes that Marx examined the reproduction of productive forces in Capital but notes that ideology is also essential to social reproduction -- ideas from legal forms to light entertainment, seen as the superstructure -- play a role in reproduction.
A theme of the book is that philosophers learn from class struggle, rather than being an elite who tell the workers how to fight; they learn from the workers. Even without volume two, On the Reproduction of Capitalism puts class struggle first, providing a fundamental revision to previous perspectives on Althusser.
Althusser is clear that the issues under discussion are difficult.
Theoretical tools must be used to make things clearer and this can seem to involve elitism. For Althusser philosophy, while necessary, was a material practice as mysterious, or otherwise, as designing circuit boards or building homes, necessary and difficult without training but not the product of an intellectual elite. He noted:. We must, however, warn our readers that, so as not to traduce our subject, we shall sometimes have to enter into explanations that are complex and call for sustained attention.
This is not our fault. The difficult of our explanations has to do with the objectively complex nature of philosophy, law, its apparatuses, and ideology Althusser 9.
Philosophy is a product, Althusser argues of class society, in the same way that Lenin argued that the state is a product of a class society and will wither away in a world without social classes. Philosophy in the more abstract sense can be related to the disseminations of ideologies that reproduce class societies; Marxist philosophers seek to aid the transformation of society from elite rule to popular liberation.
Philosophers including Spinoza and even economists like Adam Smith and Ricardo, contributed to this process but were limited by an idealist philosophy of history that Marx moved beyond. Althusser seems to be arguing that a complex unity occurs.
That is why I think that, in order to develop this descriptive theory into theory as such, i. Educational ISA, in particular, assume a dominant role in a capitalist economy, and conceal and mask the ideology of the ruling class behind the "liberating qualities" of education, so that the hidden agendas of the ruling class are inconspicuous to most teachers, students, parents and other interested members of society. Weekly Digest Subscription. Even presupposing that it exists, the unity that constitutes this plurality of ISAs as a body is not immediately visible. Main article: Interpellation philosophy. Althusser describes this system as the Repressive State Apparatus — courts, fines, prisons, the army, the police.
Not only do different modes of production coexist but that while material forces limit what is possible, material production is conditioned by ideological elements such as law and culture. Production involves an interaction with nature and particular labour processes that allow cooperation. Technology alone cannot work without precise labour processes but the technology makes certain labour processes possible.
On_the_reproduction_of_capitalism_cmyk_dpi. On the Reproduction of Capitalism. Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses. by Louis Althusser. 'Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses' first appeared in Louis Althusser. ical matecialism, the conditions for the reproduction of capitalist society.
Without a team fishing is difficult but different kinds of nets and boats lead to new forms of social cooperation to get the fish. Althusser was a great reader of Spinoza. Thus, while in any society some division of labour is likely to exist, the rigid division of labour in our society is a function not of technical necessity, but of social division.
Class struggle is ideological and political, changing ownership to create democratic access to the means of production and making technical changes to improve productivity are insufficient to create a communist society. There is, according to Althusser, an ideological element which is also vital, class struggle is simultaneously economic, ideological and political.
The mode of production of a class society … is quite the opposite of a mere technical process of production. At the same time as it is the locus of production, it is the locus of class exploitation and of class struggle as well. It is in the productive process of the mode of production itself that the knot of class relations and the class struggle bound up with exploitation is tied.
The construction of socialism can therefore not be settled with purely legal formulas: ownership of the means of production plus better technical organization of the labour process Althusser The rest of the book explores this central insight.
As we know, Althusser in the published fragment explored how the ideological and repressive state apparatus reproduced capitalist society. He can be accused rightly of producing a science of management, showing how capitalism was reproduced in a functional fashion by institutions as diverse as the police and pop music. However, such institutions are a product of a class interests and are challenged by the working class.
In the more complete work he showed how they were a product of the class war waged by the ruling class, however he notes that the working class also wages class war.
There is conflict between institutions that seek to conserve capitalism and institutions created by the workers that seek to transform society. Philosophers, if they are Marxists, learn from the workers and seek to create a more precise and material understanding of the nature of the class warfare that occurs. Philosophy is a material practice that hinders or contributes to social change. Reproduction of capitalism requires the reproduction of our subjectivity as workers as well as the reproduction of social practices necessary for economic production.
His discussion of the ideological and repressive state apparatus, the way that ideology is internalised and creates our subjectivity, along with his combination of ideas from Marx along with Sigmund Freud and Lacan has been well discussed, but there are yet more insight into his thinking in On the Reproduction of Capitalism. For example, he is critical of the very notion of law, examines how class struggle has an ideological effect and promotes a fundamental critique of Stalinism.