Discuss briefly Althusser's concept of Ideology.



Althusser, french Marxist critic and Terry Eagleton of England are, perhaps, the best known Marxist (Radical) literary critics and theoreticians of the contemporary world. Althusser (1918-90) combines Dr Freud's psychoanalytical ideas with Marx's economic determinism to evolve his critical theory. Althusser in "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses" begins from the exposition of society. Every social formation arises from "a dominant mode of production. It sets the existing productive forces into definite relation (capitalist and the worker).

  1. The social formation does not produce the conditions of production. The ultimate condition of production is the reproduction of the condition of production of the previous condition of production.

  2. Reproduction of the Means of production: Marx in Das Kapital Stated no production is possible with the reproduction of material conditions of production (means of production). A capitalist for that must replace the old worn-out way of production.

  3. Reproduction of the Labour Power:

Reproduction of labour brings in the class of workers, trained to handle various machines or materials and the 'wage' according to their skills. The training schools in a capitalist system reproduce the skills of the labour-power. Ideology: The 'reproduction of labour-power requires not only reproduction of its skills, but also, at the same time, a reproduction of its submission to the rules of the established order, i.e. a submission to the ruling ideology for the workers, and a reproduction of the ability to manipulate the ruling ideology correctly for the agents of exploitation and repression, so that, they too, will provide for the domination of the reading class ...." Marx wrote, "All the agents of production, exploitation and repression (Stata, army etc.), not to speak of the professionals of ideology, 'must be... steeped in this ideology to perform their taste conscientiously...." This is a new reality: ideology. It occupies a pivotal position in Marxist criticism of Althusser. Ideology is a broad concept defined by Althusser as a system (possessing its logic and proper rigour) of representations (images, ideas or concepts according to the case) endowed with an existence and a historical role at the heart of a given society. "Heart' makes culture including literature "a crucial vehicle of values" of a society. These values are implicit, often unrecognised. Society The Marxist revolutionary conception of 'social whole' conceives the structure of society constituted by 'levels' or 'instances' articulated by a specific determination: the 'infrastructure' or economic base, (productive force) and superstructure, which contains two levels, the political-legal (Law and the State) and ideology (the different ideologies, religious, ethical, legal, political etc.). The superstructures are not determinant in the last resort, they are determined by the base.


Marxists are divided on their effects in two:

(i) there is a relation autonomy of the superstructure with respect to the base;

(ii) there is a reciprocal action of the superstructures on the base.

The State Marxists conceive the state as a "machine of repression, which enables the ruling class (bourgeois) to ensure domination over the working class (proletariat) and so an engine of exploitation. The state apparatus means the ensemble the head of the state, government and administration including law and law-exerts. Marx and Althusser consider the modern state since the massacre of 1848 to date for its exploitation of the people, 'the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. Theory of State In the theory of the state, Althusser distinguishes between 'State Apparatus' and 'State Power'. The state apparatus is expressive and exploitative. Even after the social revolution of 1917 of Russia, a large part of the repressive state survived,

(1) for political reasons;

(2) the state apparatus and state power must be separated.

(3) The object of class war is concerned with state power as a function of class objectives and

(4) the proletariat must cease the state power in order to destroy the existing bourgeois state apparatus, and replace it with a proletariat state apparatus to end all state apparatuses.


The State Ideological Apparatuses The Marxist theory of State is different from the state as a state apparatuses. It is a more complex reality, Althusser defines the concept as 'the Ideological State Apparatuses.

  1. The religious systems (churches). 2. The educational (ISA) is both private and public.

  2. The family:

  3. The legal;

  4. The political including parties: 6. The trade unions;

  5. The communications

  6. The cultural;

It is not a repressive state. There is a plurality of Ideological State Apparatus. Its unity is pluralistic and maintained by ideology. After discussing these institutions Althusser presents an outline of Ideology suggested by Marx in an article of 1844. Ideology always expresses class positions. In German Ideology, Marx utters on metaphysics Ideology' has no history, it is a pure dream, empty and vain. But Althusser stresses, "I think it is possible to hold that ideologies have a history of their own." He quotes Freud's study of Dreams and his contention that the unconscious is eternal, i.e. it has no history. He adds, "Representation of the imaginary relationship of individuals to their 'Real conditions of existence". Commonly they relate to truth, belief in God, or Duty or Justice examing ancient myths of primitive society which do not correspond to reality. Even then if one concedes they are illusions, not real, yet. they make allusions to reality and ask for various interpretations. In the eighteenth century "God' is the imaginary representation of the real King. The theologian Barth said, "God is the essence of real Man." Priests and Despots created transposition of real to imaginary to support alliances for the exploitation of the people.


Material Existence of Ideologies Althusser contends that ideologies have material existence. While discussing various institutions of the Ideological State Apparatuses he says that each of them was the "realisation of an ideology (the unity of these different religions ideologies-religious, ethical, legal, political, aesthetics etc.-being assured by their subjection to the ruling ideologies. Regarding their material existence, he says, "An individual believes in God, or Duty or Justice. These beliefs derive from the ideas of the individual concerned, or beliefs. These ideas he adopts in practice.

For instance, if one believes in justice, he submits to the ideology of the supremacy of the law. Every person, who freely accepts an idea, act according to his ideas. An ideology, despite its imaginary distortions, one must accept that the 'ideas' of a human subject exist in his actions or ought to exist. There is no practice except in ideology. Interpellation Althusser calls interpellation a 'trick' whereby one is made to feel that he is choosing his course, when, in fact, he has no choice, capitalism thrives on this. It makes subjects feel that they are free agents, one can choose a colour of career he/she desires, while he is being imposed to follow a prescribed course. The process makes a person feel in social structure, but he has no choice. He is a subject. He is a subject. This accounts for control structures not maintained by force but ideological consent for the perfect nation of social set up with wealth and power in the hands of a few. Peter Barry remarks, "The general purport of these Althusserian ideas is to enable a much more subtle view of how society works than that provided by traditional Marxism. Instead of force crudely applied from a single source, as from a lever, there is ascent secured in many different and complex, ways, and ideological power is shown to be of ultimately greater significance than material power. Thus literature is shown to be of crucial importance in its own right, not just a helpless and passive reflector of economic base": Althusser's views give importance to the superstructure culturally, but does not revise its relation with base in capitalist social structure. However, he does not ascribe to traditional Marxism critics who believed that art and literature must project the revolutionary materialist economic determinism of Marxist Leninist theory of culture. In a post-modern world, with consumerism reigning supreme the art cannot hope to occupy the position and prestige it enjoyed in Renaissance or centuries later. Art is a commodity and money make the mare go. The 'language' or 'form' of a work of art (which would include films and novels) captures, therefore, a social experience. Marxism is often termed 'materialist criticism' because it seeks to establish a link between actual, material conditions the economy, salary, factory conditions, profits, forms of living, population-and cultural forms (art) and abstract representations in cultural forms. The sociology of culture in Marxism focuses on the social contexts of the author and reader, the production and consumption of cultural artefacts. It thus examines the author's contexts-social, economic, cultural, technological, including media, publicity, funding, class/race/gender as well as the reader's to see how culture produces certain kinds of texts and particular meanings of those texts. Cultural forms are modes of representation. The task of Marxist criticism is to see how such representations reflect or refract existing economic conditions so that the dominant classes retain their power in any society. *False consciousness' or ideology is a mode of misrecognizing the true nature of our material lives and social roles when we consume a cultural artefact. It is a system of ideas, values, beliefs that we live by, through which we perceive the world. Hegemony is the domination of particular sections of society by the powerful classes not necessarily through threats of violence or the low but by winning their consent to be governed and dominated. Hegemony, like ideology, works less through coercion than through consent.


Ideology enables the dominant classes to reinforce their power over the oppressed and marginalized classes because ideology serves as a system of beliefs that naturalizes the unequal power relations; and leads the oppressed to accept it as natural, a given and as self-evident and therefore beyond questioning. Ideology is dependent upon language and signs because it has to present reality in particular ways by obscuring other, harsher aspects of this reality. Ideology is conveyed through particular forms of representation. Interpellation is the process of consenting to ideology, accepting it and not being aware of it. It makes the subject believe that she/he is an independent being and not a subject at all controlled by outside forces. In other words, ideology interpellates the individual as a subject but makes her/him believe she/ he is a free agent. *Base and superstructure' in Marxist thought refer to the relationship between the economic and social-cultural aspects of society where the economic base (which includes factors and relations of production) determines, influences and forms the cultural superstructure (which includes arts, religion, the law, media, lifestyles). Residual culture is the continued presence in the present, in some form (as fantasy, the exotic, as ideal) of the past. Emergent culture refers to the arrival of new meanings, beliefs and values within a particular art form or cultural practice.



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