I WOULD SAY…
Karl Marx (1818-1883)
•The German Ideology (1846)
•The Communist Manifesto (1848)
• Capital (1867)
“Marxism is the theory of how the normality of
our everyday world, … its workday habits and its
working day, its monetary stresses and pressures
on one end and its leisure and freedom on the
other, is riven( )شکستہ ۔from within by what Marx
called ‘class struggle’ ”(Literary Theory: an
1. Montesquieu, Rousseau, Marx Politics and
2. For Marx
3. Lenin and Philosophy
4. Reading Capital
5. Essays on Self Criticism
LOUIS ALTHUSSER SYNOPSIS
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
Enlisted into WWII, and taken into a German POW camp where his move to
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
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.
Ideology By Marxism
"False consciousness": a masking, distortion, or concealment
The way some cultural texts and practices present
distorted images of reality
Ideology works in interest of the powerful
AGAINST interests of the powerless
According to Marx, ideology is “the ruling ideas of
the ruling class.” In this definition ideology is, more
or less, a reflection of the material infrastructure.
An ideology is a set of ideas that
expectations, and actions.
An ideology is a comprehensive vision, a
way of looking at things as in several
philosophical tendencies, or a set of ideas
proposed by the dominant class of a
society to all members of this society.
What does this word mean to you?
What is an ideology?
The term ideology was coined (by Claude
Destutt in 1796) to mean "the science of
Since then, has taken on many other
Here are some of the most common:
• How does ideology work?
• How do people come to believe it?
1) Ideologies: historical, specific, various
2) Ideology: Ahistorical, asocial, unchanging,
There is no escape from ideology. It is called, the
“Prison-house of language.” (Fredrick Jameson)
Louis Althusser (1918-1990)
“Ideology and Ideological State
•Why do people obey the State?
•Why don’t they rebel?
1) RSAs: ensure physical
enforcement of the law, primarily
work by repression (the police)
2) ISAs: generate beliefs and
values (family, schools)
things give us
pleasure, release tensions
ultimately they return
us to our place in the
reproduce the social
“Ideology is a ‘representation’ of the Imaginary
relationship of Individuals to their Real conditions of
existence” (Althusser, 24).
• Why not just understand the real?
• The real economic condition= exploitation, alienation
• Ideology= the mask, the painkiller, the illusory
• Ideology does not reflect the reality; it distorts it.
“Ideology has a material existence.”
It exists in two places
1) In an apparatus or practice: a ritual (a material
2) In a subject, a person (a material being)
What this implies
an individual does not have an
but an individual may reflect the
ideology of the group they are a member
Ideology as "material practice”
Examples of "material practice" that
summer holidays, giving gifts on
What produces and maintains
(dominant) ideology in society?
Althusser talked about "ideological state
These ISAs "train" us to follow and perpetuate the
values and rules of the dominant classes
IDEOLOGY & THE STATE
ISAs vs. RSA
because of the power (and willingness) of the ISAs
to do the work of the powerful...
The Repressive State Apparatus (government,
military, courts) need not use force
The ISAs do their jobs
And make us into good, law-abiding students,
family members, citizens, church members,
Who do not complain, do not try to overthrow
the government, do not try to overthrow the
IDEOLOGY & THE STATE
Ideology (world-view maintained and "taught" by
the ISAs) comes to be seen as
In all of these definitions, ideology is...
in the service of power
just a value-neutral set or system of
a system that underlies, supports, and
justifies a group's
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
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
1994 Essays in ideology
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
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.
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 selfknowledge 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
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
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.).
(material practices) Flows of money, goods and people across space to facilitate accumulation and social reproduction.
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 "too hot-tempered," while those in northern countries are
"icy" or "stiff." 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.
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
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
‘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.
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.