Louis Althusser

French Marxist philosopher (1918-1990)

Louis Pierre Althusser (16 October 1918 – 22 October 1990) was a French Marxist philosopher.

You know what Lenin says about 'intellectuals'. Individually certain of them may (politically) be declared revolutionaries, and courageous ones. But as a mass, they remain 'incorrigibly' petty-bourgeois in ideology.
The reproduction of labour power thus reveals as its sine qua non not only the reproduction of its ‘skills’ but also the reproduction of its subjection to the ruling ideology. ... It is in the forms and under the forms of ideological subjection that provision is made for the reproduction of the skills of labour power.
Like every 'intellectual', a philosophy teacher is a petty bourgeois. When he opens his mouth, it is petty-bourgeois ideology that speaks: its resources and ruses are infinite.

QuotesEdit

Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays (1968)Edit

Lénine et la philosophie (1968) as translated by Ben Brewster (Monthly Review Press: 1971)

"Philosophy as a Revolutionary Weapon"Edit

  • Like every 'intellectual', a philosophy teacher is a petty bourgeois. When he opens his mouth, it is petty-bourgeois ideology that speaks: its resources and ruses are infinite.
    • p. 2
  • You know what Lenin says about 'intellectuals'. Individually certain of them may (politically) be declared revolutionaries, and courageous ones. But as a mass, they remain 'incorrigibly' petty-bourgeois in ideology.
    • p. 2
  • To become 'ideologists of the working class' (Lenin), 'organic intellectuals' of the proletariat (Gramsci), intellectuals have to carry out a radical revolution in their ideas: a long, painful and difficult re-education. An endless external and internal struggle.
    • p. 2
  • Class instinct is subjective and spontaneous. ... To arrive at proletarian class positions, the class instinct of proletarians only needs to be educated; the class instinct of the petty bourgeoisie, and hence of intellectuals, has, on the contrary, to be revolutionized.
    • p. 2
  • The sciences we are familiar with have been installed in a number of great 'continents'. Before Marx, two such continents had been opened up to scientific knowledge: the continent of Mathematics and the continent of Physics. The first by the Greeks (Thales), the second by Galileo. Marx opened up a third continent to scientific knowledge: the continent of History.
    • p. 4
  • The number-one philosophical battle therefore takes place on the frontier between the scientific and the ideological. There the idealist philosophies which exploit the sciences struggle against the materialist philosophies which serve the sciences.
    • p. 6
  • To be a Communist is to be a partisan and artisan of Marxism-Leninist philosophy: of dialectical materialism.'
    • "Philosophy as a Revolutionary Weapon"

"Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses"Edit

Full text online
  • The reproduction of labour power thus reveals as its sine qua non not only the reproduction of its ‘skills’ but also the reproduction of its subjection to the ruling ideology. ... It is in the forms and under the forms of ideological subjection that provision is made for the reproduction of the skills of labour power.
    • p. 89
  • The proletariat must seize state power in order to destroy the existing bourgeois state apparatus and, in a first phase, replace it with a quite different, proletarian, state apparatus, then in later phases set in motion a radical process, that of the destruction of the state.
    • p. 95
  • I shall call Ideological State Apparatuses (ISAs) a certain number of realities which present themselves to the immediate observer in the form of distinct and specialized institutions: ...
  • the religious ISA (the system of the different churches),
  • the educational ISA (the system of the different public and private ‘schools’),
  • the family ISA,
  • the legal ISA,
  • the political ISA (the political system, including the different parties),
  • the trade-union ISA,
  • the communications ISA (press, radio and television, etc.),
  • the cultural ISA (literature, the arts, sports, etc.).
  • p. 96
  • But someone is bound to question ... by what right I regard as Ideological State Apparatuses, institutions which for the most part do not possess public status, but are quite simply private institutions. As a conscious Marxist, Gramsci already forestalled this objection in one sentence. The distinction between the public and the private is a distinction internal to bourgeois law, and valid in the (subordinate) domains in which bourgeois law exercises its ‘authority’. The domain of the State escapes it because the latter is ‘above the law’: the State, which is the State of the ruling class, is neither public nor private; on the contrary, it is the precondition for any distinction between public and private. The same thing can be said from the starting-point of our State Ideological Apparatuses. It is unimportant whether the institutions in which they are realized are ‘public’ or ‘private’. What matters is how they function.
    • p. 97
  • For you and for me, the category of the subject is a primary ‘obviousness’ (obviousnesses are always primary): it is clear that you and I are subjects (free, ethical, etc.). Like all obviousnesses, including those that make a word ‘name a thing’ or ‘have a meaning’ (therefore including the obviousness of the ‘transparency’ of language), the ‘obviousness’ that you and I are subjects – and that that does not cause any problems – is an ideological effect, the elementary ideological effect. It is indeed a peculiarity of ideology that it imposes (without appearing to do so, since these are ‘obviousnesses’) obviousnesses as obviousnesses.
    • p. 116
  • While speaking in ideology, and from within ideology we have to outline a discourse which tries to break with ideology, in order to dare to be the beginning of a scientific (i.e. subject-less) discourse on ideology.
    • p. 117
  • All ideology hails or interpellates concrete individuals as concrete subjects, by the functioning of the category of the subject. ... ideology ‘acts’ or ‘functions’ in such a way that it ‘recruits’ subjects among the individuals (it recruits them all), or ‘transforms’ the individuals into subjects (it transforms them all) by that very precise operation which I have called interpellation or hailing, and which can be imagined along the lines of the most commonplace everyday police (or other) hailing: ‘Hey, you there!’
    • p. 117
  • Those who are in ideology believe themselves by definition outside ideology: one of the effects of ideology is the practical denegation of the ideological character of ideology by ideology: ideology never says, ‘I am ideological’. It is necessary to be outside ideology, i.e. in scientific knowledge, to be able to say: I am in ideology (a quite exceptional case) or (the general case): I was in ideology. As is well known, the accusation of being in ideology only applies to others, never to oneself (unless one is really a Spinozist or a Marxist, which, in this matter, is to be exactly the same thing). Which amounts to saying that ideology has no outside (for itself), but at the same time that it is nothing but outside (for science and reality).
    • p. 118
  • Marx compellingly proved it in Capital Volume Two, that no production is possible which does not allow for the reproduction of the material conditions of productions: the reproduction of the means of production.
    • p.128
  • What to children learn at school? They go varying distances in their studies, but at any rate they learn to read, to write and to add - i.e. a number of techniques, and a number of other things as well, including elements (which may be rudimentary or on the contrary thoroughgoing) of scientific' or 'literary culture', which are directly useful in the different jobs in production (one instruction for manual workers, another for technicians, a third for engineers, a final one for higher management, etc.). Thus they learn 'know-how'.
    • p.132
  • The class (or class alliance) in power cannot lay down the law in the ISAs as easily as it can in the )repressive) State apparatus, not only because the former ruling classes are able to retain strong positions there for a long time, but also because the resistance of the exploited classes is able to finds find means and occasions to express itself there, either by the utilization of their contradictions, or by conquering combat positions in struggle.
    • p.147

Quotes about Louis AlthusserEdit

  • Into the 1960s the new Marx, the newly discovered Marx, was the Marx of the Paris Manuscripts. These are, as Marx once wrote to Engels in their later years, green, in contrast to the later grey of theory and the dull industrial culture of factory civilization which it sought to explain. Reading the young Marx was fun, more or less; reading Capital, in contrast, was hard work. Althusser sternly took on the duty of reading Capital, writing a very serious book called Reading Capital, and insisting that we should all read Capital seriously, in its multiple volumes, preferably in the original (Althusser and Balibar 1970). The early Marx was Marx before he was Marx, foreplay rather than the real action. Capital was taken to represent a new form of knowledge, building upon a significant epistemological break or rupture. We all became epistemologists. Nobody seemed to notice that this was a step away from practice, rather than towards it. But these were times of great seriosity, and high illusions, as well as very serious scholarship.
    Yet there was something important in this mission. Marx’s early writings give us the perspective of his laboratory. We can watch him thinking, and it can be an exhilarating experience. But his life’s work was Capital, and the architectonic of that work repays serious close reading. Rightly or wrongly, Marx had become convinced that the mode of presentation of this work was crucial; that there was a best way to explain capital, and that he had sorted it out. He was also convinced that capital was the privileged category, to be accessed via the logic of the commodity form. It did seem something of an irony that none, or few, of the Marxists had read Marx, because it was too hard. And this was part and parcel of the story of the fate of marxism. Engels, Kautsky (the pope of Marxism), then Lenin, and finally Stalin had reduced Marx’s theory to a series of axioms or platitudes about surplus value, historical and finally dialectical materialism. Marxists got by reciting these axioms in their daily denunciations of capitalism. Marxism had become its own caricature.
    Althusser blew the whistle on this state of affairs. After Althusser, it was inadmissible for Marxists to cut corners. They were now compelled to deal with their own theoretical heritage. A few clichés concerning the ubiquity of alienation and the need for revolution would no longer do.
    • Peter Beilharz, "The Marxist Legacy", in Routledge International Handbook of Contemporary Social and Political Theory (2011) edited by Gerard Delanty and Stephen P. Turner
  • Lewis has written that "man makes history." Althusser unleashes a pamphlet at him maintaining that such is not the case: "Ce sont les masses qui font l'histoire." I challenge anyone to find a social scientist outside the Marxist camp who can seriously pose a problem of this type.
  • Althusser was not a charlatan. He himself really believed that he had discovered something significant—or was about to discover something significant—when his illness struck. It is not because he was mad that he was a mediocre philosopher; indeed, the recognition of his own intellectual mediocrity may have contributed to his depressions, and thence to his loss of sanity. If there is something humiliating about the Althusserian episode in intellectual history then, the humiliation is not his alone. He was a guru, complete with texts, a cult, and true believers; and he showed occasional insight into the pathos of his followers, noting that they imitated his "smallest gestures and inflections."
    Althusser's work and his life, with his drugs, his analysts, his self-pity, his illusions, and his moods, take on a curiously hermetic quality. He comes to resemble some minor medieval scholastic, desperately scrabbling around in categories of his own imagining. But even the most obscure theological speculation usually had as its goal something of significance. From Althusser's musings, however, nothing followed. They were not subject to proof and they had no intelligible worldly application, except as abstruse political apologetics. What does it say about modern academic life that such a figure can have trapped teachers and students for so long in the cage of his insane fictions, and traps them still?
    • Tony Judt, "Elucubrations: The "Marxism" of Louis Althusser", New Republic (March 1994); republished in Reappraisals (2008)

External linksEdit

Wikipedia has an article about: