• October 16th 1918 – Louis Althusser born in
• 1937 – Althusser joined the Catholic Youth
• Before the War – Accepted into the elite Ecole
Normale Superieure (ENS) in Paris
• Enlisted into WWII, and taken into a German POW
camp where his move to communism began.
• 1947 – Finally able to attend ENS but was in poor
health and from this time, Althusser suffered from
periodic mental illness.
• 1948 – Althusser joined the French Communist
• 1958 – Nikia Krucshev began the phase of de-
stalinisation and began to revert back to the
humanist ideas of Marx. Althusser opposed this
and earned him notoriety within the French
• 1959 – Althusser wrote Montesquieu, Rousseau,
• 1965 – Althusser wrote For Marx and Reading
• February 1968 – Althusser wrote Lenin and
• 1972 – Althusser wrote Essays in Self Criticism
• November 16th 1980 – Althusser strangled his
wife, Helene Rytmann. Committed to Sainte-Anne
Psychiatric hospital where he remained until 1983
• 1983 – Moved to Northern Paris and lived as a
• October 22nd 1990 – Althusser died of a heart
attack in Paris aged 72
Historical context for Althusser:
• The industrial revolution and the increase in the population
caused mass urbanisation in Germany towards the end of the 19th
century. Peasants that used to work out on the farm lands
migrated to the cities where they took up jobs in factories.
The peasants no longer owned the ‘means of production’ but
instead were hired by rich factory owners (bourgeoisie) who
made huge profits of their labour, Karl Marx observations of
these social changes and the resulting inequalities between the
bourgeois and the working classes (proletariat) lead to his
theories on class struggle.
• Russia at the turn of the century was under ruin of Tsar
Nicholas II whose brutal techniques to keep his people in line
and increase in taxation of crops was causing civil uprising,
the unfair treatment of the peasant classes leads to an
increase in support for the communist ideology. This ideology
was made popular by figure head such as Trotsky and Lenin who
both took from the teachings of Marxism
• In 1917the tsar of Russia was overthrown and the socialist
powers took over the country. Throughout Europe the socialist
ideology was gaining support
• In 1920 the French communist party was formed which had strong
affiliations with the Russian communist ideology.
Stalin and Lenin • Leninism claims that
capitalism can only be
• Stalin was general secretary of the
communist party of the soviet union’s overthrown by revolutionary
central committee means.
• Under his leadership the soviet union
The goal of the Leninist p
played a large part in the defeat of Nazi
was to overthrow the existin
government by force and seiz
• Stalin actually described himself as a
power on behalf of the
Marxist-Leninist, a pupil of Lenin. The
term Stalinism was coined by Lazar proletariat, then implement
Kaganovich. Stalin never used term dictatorship of the proletar
although he allowed associates to
One of the main concepts o
• Stalinism attempted to increase its
Leninism was the view that
standing within the world through
industrialisation. imperialism was the highest
stage of capitalist economic
Some historians believe that Stalinism
was a success in that it fulfilled its systems.
mission to force rapid industrialisation
Stalin thought that communi
of an underdeveloped country. This has
been disputed by Robert Conquest, noting revolution wouldn’t happen i
that “Russia had already been fourth to largely developed country,
fifth among industrial economies before
therefore a country like Rus
World War Iquot; and that Russian industrial
advance could have been achieved without which still relied on a fair
collectivisation, famine or terror.” The agricultural economy seemed
industrial successes were far less than for socialist change
claimed, and the Soviet-style
industrialization was quot;an anti-innovative
• Is based upon Marx’s observation that, in emerging industrial production
- under capitalism - workers inevitably lose control of their lives and
selves in not having any control of their work. Workers, thus, never
become autonomous, self-realized human beings in any significant sense.
• False consciousness: The bourgiouse exploit the polatariat by using
ideaology to mislead them into believing that they do not have the power
to economically progress upwards. They are ‘falsely concious’ because
they are unaware of their potential to rise up and revolt against the
• Most famous for his contribution to the publication, The Communist
Manifesto, which he wrote with his close associate Karl Marx. They
explained that social classes had changed over time but in the 19th
century the most important classes were the bourgeoisie and the
proletariat. That the conflict between these two classes would eventually
lead to revolution and the triumph of the proletariat. With the
disappearance of the bourgeoisie as a class, there would no longer be a
quot;the overthrow of the bourgeoisie, the domination of the proletariat,
the abolition of the old bourgeois society based on class antagonisms,
and the establishment of a new society without classes and without
Repressive State Apparatus (RSA):
A summary of his reading of the Marxian tradition’s understanding of the role of the state
in capitalist society. That understanding stressed how the state (a) maintained and wielded
a monopoly of the means of force in capitalist societies and (b) applied that monopoly to
support capitalist class structures. The state, in effect, repressed the threats to the
capitalist class structures that it recognized. The Police, Government and Army were all
each a RSA. Althusser believed that the RSA was more unified and controlled in
seeing and performing the functions capitalists wanted.
Ideological State Apparatus (ISA) :
Played a parallel role to the RSA in sustaining capitalist class structures and included
among them especially the schools, the family, religions and religious institutions – worked
not by power and politics (as did the RPA) but rather by ideology. By this he meant that
they functioned to teach children and adults in specific ways of thinking about and thus
understanding their relationship to the societies within which they lived. ISA’s were a more
diverse, open, and contested terrain where capitalists had greater difficulties in
securing their agendas as opposed to others.
Interpellation specifically involves the moment and process of recognition of interaction wit
the ideology at hand. Interpellate is to identify with a particular idea or identity. For
example, if someone were to shout your name at you in the street, you would
interpellate that salutation to mean yourself. It is basically thinking 'that means me'.
It is the process by which you recognize yourself to belong to a particular identity.
Althusser’s five main publications
4. Montesquieu, Rousseau, Marx Politics and History
6. For Marx
8. Lenin and Philosophy
10. Reading Capital
12. Essays on Self Criticism
Montesquieu, Rousseau, Marx Politics and History
By Louis Althusser
• In the first two essays Althusser analyses the work of Montesquieu and Rousseau. The essays concern themselves
primarily with each thinker’s major work of political theory, The Spirit of Laws and The Social Contract, respectively and
he explains how they made considerable advances towards establishing a science of politics. However, within these
essays Althusser’s main analysis is on how these two men try to establish themselves as ‘radical’ when in fact the
author discovers how they fall short of this title. The third essay examines Marx’s relationship to Hegel and elaborates
on the discussions of the theme of this relationship.
• Charles-Louis de Secondat, baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu (1689-1755), was a French social commentator and
political thinker who lived during the Era of the Enlightenment1. He is famous for his articulation of the theory of
separation of powers,
• Within The Spirit of Laws Montesquieu goes so far as to assert that certain climates are superior to others, the temperate
climate of France being ideal. His view is that people living in very warm countries are quot;too hot-tempered,quot; while those in
northern countries are quot;icyquot; or quot;stiff.quot; On this Althusser points out the seminal character of the inclusion of material
factors, such as climate, in the explanation of social dynamics and political forms. Montesquieu presents himself as
radical by seeking to examine not essences, but laws. ‘The objects of this work are the Laws, the various customs, and
manners, of all the nations on earth.’ Montesquieu presents us with a genuine revolution in method, detailing that the
power struggles between crown, court and the emerging bourgeoisie amounted to little more than a defence of his own
• Jean-Jacques Rousseau, (1712 – 1778), was a philosopher of the Enlightenment whose political ideas influenced the
French Revolution, the development of both liberal and socialist theory, and the growth of nationalism.
• In his work The Social Contract Rousseau outlines the basis for a legitimate political order. Rousseau – ‘taking men as
they are and laws as they might be.’ In The Social Contract, Rousseau reveals himself to be a truly original thinker.
Rousseau’s theory relies on equal and autonomous individuals acting and voting beyond their immediate, particular
interests. This, Althusser believes necessitates either a ‘recourse to religion which impels individuals to act morally or a
regression to a feudal economy of autonomous economic actors.’ Neither is possible or desirable, so Rousseau’s theory
crashes to the ground, as there is nothing to prevent the individual from pursuing, not the general will, but the interests
of associations greater than the individual but smaller than the community with which each individual has made a
contract. Class-based politics are thus prohibited.
• Montesquieu and Rousseau’s supposed claims to bear the standard of radicalism are invalidated – Montesquieu for
ignoring the masses altogether in his attempt to protect against despotism1; Rousseau for being impracticable.
• Althusser concludes that, rather than Montesquieu and Rousseau, it was Marx who founded a true science of history.
Ironically, although the last essay is the one considered to be his most honest and to be his true opinion, it is by far his
shortest essay compared with the first two.
FOR MARX PRECIS
In this collection of articles Althueser argues that until 1845 Marx himself was over influenced
by the humanist views of philosophers such as Hegel amongst others. He argues that after this
date Marx himself went against his early views.
The publication spouted much controversy, as to take the Human elements of alienation of
social rebellion gave many people an empty sense of Marxism.
Althusser’s own opinions of Marxism are based on social structures, rather than the individual
human aspect. His thoeries worked on the principals and ideologies of the social structures in
existance, not on the individual oppression. He theorised upon the effects ideology on
economy, not anthropology (study of human behaviour).
some of his main points include;
Overdetermination, primarily a form of freud’s psychoanalysis refers to a single event or
existance that is given by multiple causes that initiate it, for example, a dream is determined by
the events in the life of the dreamer. It means to go past the obvious reasons of determinism,
but to look further at aspects of social life and subjectivity. It is not just one domino hitting
another, but the incline of the table, the force of the wind and the temperature of the room etc.
Althusser describes the orthodox Marxist contradiction between labour and capital as
inseparable from the total structure of the social body in which it is found; determining, but it
also determined. He said that the capital contradiction is always ‘specified by the forms of the
superstructure’ and by the internal and external historical situation
Lenin and Philosophy and other Essays
By Louis Althusser, translated by Ben Brewster
• Althusser’s passion for politics was inspired by the revolutionary instinct, intelligence, courage and heroism of the
working class in its struggle for socialism. The war and the long years in captivity had brought him into close contact
with workers and peasants, and acquainted him with Communist Militants. Having read and understood Marxist-Leninist
Politics, he realised he had a passion for philosophy as well, as ‘philosophy is fundamentally political.’
• Althusser in his foreword explains that the problem for Marxist science and philosophy today takes its form as a political
and ideological class struggle. The class struggle between the bourgeois and proletariat.He starts his essay by
explaining how to understand the title: Lenin and Philosophy. Not Lenin's philosophy, but Lenin on philosophy. He
believes that what we owe to Lenin is the “beginnings of the ability to talk a kind of discourse which anticipates what will
one day perhaps be a non-philosophical theory of philosophy.”
• He writes that French academic philosophy has not really associated itself with Lenin. Satre for example thought Engels
and Lenin to be ‘unthinkable’ that their ideas were naturalistic, pre-critical and pre-Hegelian with the only function to
create a platonic ‘myth’ to help proletarians become revolutionaries. That the ideas they were presenting were only there
to build up the working classes morale, to make them believe that they could make a difference to the way the society
was run, through a revolution.
• Another point that Althusser voices was that to many including himself Lenin has been philosophically intolerable. That
is to say that he is very clearly indifferent to their objections. “I am not a philosopher; I am badly prepared in this
domain…” To the philosophers again, the idea that they may have something to learn from politics or indeed an
‘innocent’ politician such as Lenin is also an intolerable one. He explains that philosophy in general put up a ‘stubborn
resistance’ to the fact that a politician had an opinion on the workings of the subject. That philosophy had to recognise
that it is no more than a certain investment of politics, a certain continuation of politics, a certain rumination of politics.
• Philosophy is not a science. Philosophy is distinct from the sciences. Philosophical categories are distinct from
scientific concepts. That the content of the scientific concept of matter changes with the development, i.e. with the
deepening of scientific knowledge. The meaning of the philosophical category of matter does not change.
• Lenin condemns philosophy teachers as a mass, i.e. intellectuals employed in a given education system and subject to
that system, performing, as a mass, the social function of inculcating the 'values of the ruling ideology'. The fact that
there may be a certain amount of 'play' in schools and other institutions, which enables individual teachers to turn their
teaching and reflection against these established 'values' but that does not change the mass effect of the philosophical
teaching function. Philosophers are intellectuals and therefore petty bourgeois, subject as a mass to bourgeois and
petty-bourgeois ideology. In relation to this Lenin wrote…'The significance of the intellectuals in our Party is declining…
And a good riddance to these scoundrels. The Party is purging itself from petty bourgeois dross. The workers are having
a bigger say in things. The role of the worker-professionals is increasing.’ He was pleased that the proletarian members
were able to gain a bigger significance within the party with the natural regression of the petty bourgeois.
‘FROM CAPITAL TO MARX’S PHILOSOPHY’
Précis of an essay from ‘Reading Capital’ by Louis Althusser
•In this Essay, From Capital to Marx’s Philosophy, Louis Althusser introduces us to his Reading of Capital, written by Karl Marx.
Althusser says that we read Capital every day, but his interpretation is as a philosopher. He claims to read Capital as a Philosopher in
order to pose it the simple question of the relationship to its object .To read it as a Philosopher is to question the object of a
•Apparently today is marked by the discovery of acts of existence: seeing, hearing, speaking and reading. Althusser claims that
because of Marx we now know what reading means. Young Marx knew to see the essence of things was to simply read them.
•He has two ways of reading. The first involved agreeing with what was correct and criticising what was false, also showing what was
missing within a specific text. We are introduced to the logic of sighting and oversight. Another form of this type of reading involves
what should be seen within a text, that is there but isn’t seen i.e. the invisible within the visible. We are dealing with non vision and
vision. Althusser shows us that Marx uses this in analyses of texts and within Capital. When reading texts he could see that because
of certain omissions in sentences and uses of specific wording that the answer produced was one of an un-posed question. This
allowed Marx to reformulate the question for the answer. He created an unasked question to make sense of the answer.
•Althusser describes the second way Marx reads as symptomatic. It shows an un-divulged event in one text and relates it to another
text. It involved a measurement of the first text against the second, articulated with lapses from the first text.
•The next part of the essay dealt with the Empiricist conception of knowledge. This presents the process that takes place between the
given object and the given subject. Something can be defined as empiricist by the nature of the process of knowledge which lies in
the abstraction of the subject. (Separation from the real is abstraction.) The real is made of pure and impure parts, also known as the
essential and inessential. This links back to the visible and invisible in that the inessential occupies the outside of the object (the
visible) and the essential occupies the inside (invisible).
•Althusser then goes on to talk about structures of theoretical practice. Theoretical practice ‘contains protocols with which to validate
the quality of its product.’ Althusser states that the truth of knowledge produced by Marx’s theoretical practice is provided by proof,
•It is written that to distinguish between the real object and the object of knowledge and between processes is one of the most
disputed questions in Capital. Althusser poses the question as to the identity between the logical and historical order in the field of
Marx’s theoretical problematic**, distinguishing between the real object and the object of knowledge. Therefore he claims it is
important to understand not only the theory of Capital but also Marx’s theory of knowledge.
•The essay ends with Althusser discussing the object of knowledge and the mechanism used to produce it. He talks about the history
of knowledge and how this relates to the production of it.
Essays on Self Criticism
•Althusser saw the Humanist perspective as a danger because it suggests that the
individual can make an impact on an unjust society where as it is only the masses
that are able to take on the full force of Capitalism.
•The class struggle is what causes history progress forward.
•The notion of class for Marx is a dynamic notion that not only describes different
layers of society but is a representation of the struggle between them.
•In Capitalism Marx believed that it is not possible for individuals to impact history
they can only do so as part of the masses.
Althusser believed that humanist Marxism upholds the power of the bourgeoisie by
making men believe that they can be powerful as individuals without organising
• 1940-45 Journal de captivité
• 1947 That Night!
• 1949 Notes sur une conference de G.Lukacs a la Sorbonne
• 1950 The Return to Hegel: the last word in academic revisionism
• 1959 Montesquieu, Rousseau, Marx
• 1962 Contradiction and Over-determination
• Notes on Materialist Theatre
• 1963 On the Material Dialect
• 1965 For Marx
• 1966 The philosophical Conjuncture and Marxist theoretical research
• Three Notes on the Theory of Discourses
• 1967 The humanist controversy
• 1968 Lenin and Philosophy
• Reading Capital
• 1969 Ideological State and Ideological State Apparatus
• 1970 Marx’s Relation to Hegel
• 1972 Essays in self criticism
• 1974 Philosophy & the Spontaneous Philosophy of the Scientists, and other essays
• 1980 Our Jean-Jacques Rousseau
• 1992 The future lasts a long time
Although Althusser died in 1990, his works have
• 1994 Essays in ideology
continued to be published since then.
Althusser on Art
• Althusser wrote mostly on political theory, but in 'A Letter on Art in Reply to André Daspere' (1966) he
investigated the effect of ideology on artworks. His thesis was that quot;ideology represents imaginary
relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence.quot; All ideological State apparatuses - family,
education, religion, sport, press, radio, etc. - reflect bourgeois ideology. Althusser himself denied being a
structuralist, and called Structuralism quot;structuralist ideologyquot;. Althusser did not rank real art among the
ideologies. Art does not give us knowledge like science does, but it makes us to see the ideology from
which it is born. It makes us see, feel and perceive something that alludes to reality. It is not knowing it is
• Communism is always under debate. Every revolution in post communist history is disputed as to whether
it fits the equality vs. oppression standing points of Marxist thinking. Society today will always include
elements of communism as long as there are cultural divides and ideological societies. Theatre has such
a diverse history, even though it was not mentioned specifically as an ideological state apparatus, many
of the previous would influence the latter.
• Althusser wrote ‘notes on materialist theatre’ in one essay compiled in ‘for marx’. In which was a
statement of support for the work of Bertold Brecht. He praised theatre that informed societies of their
own tyrannies and the immoral and often capital activities of real existing leaders portrayed in character
form. Althusser agreed with Brechts hatred of the traditional theatre storyline where the audience
identified with the central bourgeoisie character and where to take on his hollow ideals.
• “For him, the total, transparent consciousness of self, the mirror of the whole drama is never anything but
an image of the ideological consciousness, which does include the whole world in its own tragedy, save
only that this world is merely the world of morals, politics and religion, in short, of myths and drugs“
• No doubt the work of Augusto Boal also fits the ideals of communist revolution very well.
Works that Althusser has
• E.P. Thompson's essay, the Poverty of Theory
• Existential Marxism in Post was France, from stare to
Althusser. Mark poster
• Ted Benton, The rise and fall of structural Marxism
: Althusser and his influence
• One dimensional Marxism. Simon Clarke
• Anderson, Perry, Considerations on Western Marxism
• Heartfield, James, The ‘Death of the Subject’ Explained
• Resch, Robert Paul. Althusser and the Renewal of Marxist
• Susan James. The Return of Grand Theory in the Human
GLOSSARY OF KEY TERMS.
• Written and translated: 1969 by Ben Brewster.
• ABSTRACT: (abstrait). For Althusser, the theoretical opposition between the abstract and the concrete lies wholly in the
realm of theory. The abstract is the starting-point for theoretical practice, its Generality I (q.v.), while the concrete is its end-
point (Generality III).
• ALIENATION: (aliénation, Entäusserung). An ideological concept used by Marx in his Early Works (q.v.) and regarded by
the partisans of these works as the key concept of Marxism. Marx derived the term from Feuerbach’s anthropology where it
denoted the state of man and society where the essence of man is only present to him in the distorted form of a god, which,
although man created it in the image of his essence (the species-being), appears to him as an external, pre-existing creator.
Marx used the concept to criticize the State and the economy as confiscating the real self-determining labour of men in the
same way. In his later works, however, the term appears very rarely, and where it does it is either used ironically, or with a
different conceptual content (in Capital, for instance).
• BREAK, EPISTEMOLOGICAL: (coupure epistémologique). A concept introduced by Gaston Bachelard in his La Formation
de l’esprit scientifique, and related to uses of the term in studies in the history of ideas by Canguilhem and Foucault (see
Althusser’s Letter to the Translator). It describes the leap from the pre-scientific world of ideas to the scientific world; this
leap involves a radical break with the whole pattern and frame of reference of the pre-scientific (ideological) notions, and the
construction of a new pattern (problematic q.v.). Althusser applies it to Marx’s rejection of the Hegelian and Feuerbachian
ideology of his youth and the construction of the basic concepts of dialectical and historical materialism (q.v.) in his later
• CONSCIOUSNESS: (conscience). A term designating the region where ideology is located (‘false consciousness’) and
superseded (‘true consciousness’), contaminated by the pre-Marxist ideology of the Young Marx. In fact, Althusser argues,
ideology is profoundly unconscious – it is a structure imposed involuntarily on the majority of men.
• EMPIRICISM: (empirisme). Althusser uses the concept of empiricism in a very wise sense to include all ‘epistemologies’ that
oppose a given subject to a given object and call knowledge the abstraction by the subject of the essence of the object.
Hence the knowledge of the object is part of the object itself. This remains true whatever the nature of the subject
(psychological, historical, etc.) or of the object (continuous, discontinuous, mobile, immobile, etc.) in question. So as well as
covering those epistemologies traditionally called ‘empiricist’, this definition includes classical idealism, and the epistemology
of Feuerbach and the Young Marx.
• IDEOLOGY: (idéologie). Ideology is the ‘lived’ relation between men and their world, or a reflected form of this unconscious
relation, for instance a ‘philosophy’ (q.v.), etc. It is distinguished from a science not by its falsity, for it can be coherent and
logical (for instance, theology), but by the fact that the practico-social predominates in it over the theoretical, over
knowledge. Historically, it precedes the science that is produced by making an epistemological break (q.v.) with it, but it
survives alongside science as an essential element of every social formation (q.v.), including a socialist and even a
• KNOWLEDGE: (connaissance). Knowledge is the product of theoretical practice (q.v.); it is Generalities III (q.v.). As such it
is clearly distinct from the practical recognition (reconnaissance) of a theoretical problem.
• MATERIALISM, DIALECTICAL AND HISTORICAL: (matérialisme, dialectique et historique). Historicists, even those who
claim to be Marxists, reject the classical Marxist distinction between historical and dialectical materialism since they see
philosophy as the self-knowledge of the historical process, and hence identify philosophy and the science of history; at best,
dialectical materialism is reduced to the historical method, while the science of history is its content. Althusser, rejecting
historicism, rejects this identification. For him, historical materialism is the science of history, while dialectical materialism,
Marxist philosophy, is the theory of scientific practice.
• ‘PHILOSOPHY’ / PHILOSOPHY: (‘philosophie’/philosophie). ‘Philosophy’ (in inverted commas) is used to denote the reflected
forms of ideology (q.v.) as opposed to Theory (q.v.). See Althusser’s own ‘Remarks on the Terminology Adopted’. Philosophy
(without inverted commas) is used in the later written essays to denote Marxist philosophy, i.e., dialectical materialism.
• PRACTICE, ECONOMIC, POLITICAL, IDEOLOGICAL AND THEORETICAL: (pratique économique, politique, idéologique et
théorique). Althusser takes up the theory introduced by Engels and much elaborated by Mao Tse-tung that economic, political
and ideological practice are the three practices (processes of production or transformation) that constitute the social formation
(q.v.). Economic practice is the transformation of nature by human labour into social products, political practice the
transformation of social relations by revolution, ideological practice the transformation of one relation to the lived world into a
new relation by ideological struggle. In his concern to stress the distinction between science and ideology (q.v.), Althusser
insists that theory constitutes a fourth practice, theoretical practice that transforms ideology into knowledge with theory. The
determinant moment in each practice is the work of production which brings together raw materials, men and means of
production – not the men who perform the work, who cannot therefore claim to be the subjects of the historical process.
Subsidiary practices are also discussed by Althusser, e.g. technical practice (pratique technique).
• PROBLEMATIC: (problématique). A word or concept cannot be considered in isolation; it only exists in the theoretical or
ideological framework in which it is used: it’s problematic. A related concept can clearly be seen at work in Foucault’s Madness
and Civilization (but see Althusser’s Letter to the Translator).It should be stressed that the problematic is not a world-view. It is
not the essence of the thought of an individual or epoch which can be deduced from a body of texts by an empirical,
generalizing reading; it is centred on the absence of problems and concepts within the problematic as much as their presence;
it can therefore only be reached by a symptomatic reading (lecture symptomale q.v.) on the model of the Freudian analyst’s
reading of his patient’s utterances.
• READING: (lecture). The problems of Marxist theory (or of any other theory) can only be solved by learning to read the texts
correctly (hence the title of Althusser’s later book, Lire le Capital, ‘Reading Capital’); neither a superficial reading, collating
literal references, nor a Hegelian reading, deducing the essence of a corpus by extracting the ‘true kernel from the mystified
shell’, will do. Only a symptomatic reading (lecture symptomale), constructing the problematic, the unconsciousness of the text,
is a reading of Marx’s work that will allow us to establish the epistemological break that makes possible historical materialism
as a science (q.v.).
• SUPERSTRUCTURE / STRUCTURE: (superstructure/structure). In classical Marxism the social formation (q.v.) is analysed
into the components economic structure – determinant in the last instance – and relatively autonomous superstructures: (1) the
State and law; (2) ideology. Althusser clarifies this by dividing it into the structure (the economic practice) and the
superstructure (political and ideological practice). The relation between these three is that of a structure in dominance (q.v.),
determined in the last instance by the structure.
• THEORY, ‘THEORY’, THEORY: (théorie, ‘théorie’, Théorie). For Althusser theory is a specific, scientific theoretical practice
(q.v.). In Chapter 6 ‘On the Materialist Dialectic’, a distinction is also made between ‘theory’ (in inverted commas), the
determinate theoretical system of a given science, and Theory (with a capital T), the theory of practice in general, i.e. dialectical
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