•   October 16th 1918 – Louis Althusser born in
    Birmendreis, Algeria
•   1937 – Althusser joined the Catholic Youth
  ...
Historical context for Althusser:
•   The industrial revolution and the increase in the population
    caused mass urbanis...
Stalin and Lenin                            • Leninism claims that
                                                capital...
BASIC MARXISM
Alienation
• Is based upon Marx’s observation that, in emerging industrial production
   - under capitalism ...
Repressive State Apparatus (RSA):
A summary of his reading of the Marxian tradition’s understanding of the role of the sta...
Althusser’s five main publications


4. Montesquieu, Rousseau, Marx Politics and History

6. For Marx

8. Lenin and Philos...
Montesquieu, Rousseau, Marx Politics and History
                                          By Louis Althusser
•   In the f...
FOR MARX PRECIS
In this collection of articles Althueser argues that until 1845 Marx himself was over influenced
by the hu...
Lenin and Philosophy and other Essays
                           By Louis Althusser, translated by Ben Brewster
•   Althus...
‘FROM CAPITAL TO MARX’S PHILOSOPHY’
                              Précis of an essay from ‘Reading Capital’ by Louis Althu...
Essays on Self Criticism

•Althusser saw the Humanist perspective as a danger because it suggests that the
individual can ...
Complete Bibliography
•   1940-45 Journal de captivité
•   1947 That Night!
•   1949 Notes sur une conference de G.Lukacs ...
Influences on
               society/culture/performance
Althusser on Art

•   Althusser wrote mostly on political theory,...
Works that Althusser has
               influenced
• E.P. Thompson's essay, the Poverty of Theory
• Existential Marxism in...
GLOSSARY OF KEY TERMS.

•   Written and translated: 1969 by Ben Brewster.


•   ABSTRACT: (abstrait). For Althusser, the t...
•   MATERIALISM, DIALECTICAL AND HISTORICAL: (matérialisme, dialectique et historique). Historicists, even those who
    c...
Louis Althusser   Resource pack
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Louis Althusser Resource pack

  1. 1. • October 16th 1918 – Louis Althusser born in Birmendreis, Algeria • 1937 – Althusser joined the Catholic Youth Movement • 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 Party (PCF) • 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 Communist Party. • 1959 – Althusser wrote Montesquieu, Rousseau, Marx • 1965 – Althusser wrote For Marx and Reading Capital • February 1968 – Althusser wrote Lenin and Philosophy • 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 recluse. • October 22nd 1990 – Althusser died of a heart attack in Paris aged 72
  2. 2. 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.
  3. 3. 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 germany 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 dead-end.”
  4. 4. BASIC MARXISM Alienation • 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 Captialist idealogy. ENGLES: • 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 class society. 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 private propertyquot;.
  5. 5. 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: 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.
  6. 6. 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
  7. 7. 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 class interests. • 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.
  8. 8. 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
  9. 9. 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.
  10. 10. ‘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 discourse.* •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, sometimes scientific. •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.
  11. 11. 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 together.
  12. 12. Complete Bibliography • 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.
  13. 13. Influences on society/culture/performance 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 not knowledge. • 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.
  14. 14. Works that Althusser has influenced • 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 Social Theory • Susan James. The Return of Grand Theory in the Human Sciences
  15. 15. 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 works. • 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 communist society. • 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.
  16. 16. • 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 materialism (q.v.).
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