Louis Althusser devaki


The term paper is an in depth engagement with a thinker and a concept articulated by him. The term paper is thus an intense theoretical understanding, analysis and critique of the concept chosen. As a consequence it helps the student to be thorough in terms of the theory related to the concept, the linkages, its application and its implications.

The thinker I have selected for the term paper is Louis Althusser, a French philosopher and a structural Marxist. Althusser, considered being an influential philosopher to emerge in the revival of Marxist Theory in the 1960s, attempted to reconcile Marxism with structuralism. The focus of academic engagement is a concept forwarded by him, namely, Ideological State Apparatus. The term paper delves deep into this concept while at the same time unravelling new terms and concepts related to it like, Repressive State Apparatus, Interpellation and an Althusserian perception of Ideology, the State, relations of production and the structure of society.

About Althusser

Louis Althusser

Louis Althusser was born on 16th October, 1918 in Birmandries, near Algiers, Algeria, the son of Charles Althusser and Lucien Berger. His father was a bank manager, whom Althusser saw as an authoritative, distant figure. Althusser was a Catholic. The monastic life fascinated him in his youth, and he remained a believer till about 1947.

Althusser was educated at Algiers, Marseilles, and Lyons. In 1939 he was admitted to the Ecole Normale Supérieure (ENS), but the war interrupted his studies, and he was called up to serve in the army in September. Althusser did not see action in the early days of World War II. In 1940 Germans occupied northern and eastern France and Althusser had to spend five years in a German concentration camp, mostly in Schleswig. Later he said that he found life easy because he enjoyed the comradeship of men and behind barbed wires. He admitted that he felt well protected. After the war Althusser resumed his studies at the ENS, where, with his sense of coming from a ‘different world’, he felt being a complete stranger. Another impact of having spent 5 years in the camp was that he got pushed to the left and joined the Communist Party in 1948, remaining its life-long member.

During this period Althusser met Helene Rytman, who became his companion and later his wife. Althusser suffered from depression regularly and was given shock treatment and therapy. This pattern remained basically unchanged till 1990– of depression, therapy and shock treatment, and periods of active writing and working. Althusser completed a master’s thesis in 1948 on the German philosopher G.W. Hegel. In the same year he was appointed caiman at the ENS. He was responsible for preparing students for the aggregation or final examination. He taught philosophy and played a central role in influencing French intellectuals for a generation.

Althusser was a relatively unknown political philosopher until 1965. In fact, he had the reputation of being a recluse. Pour Marx (For Marx) and Lire de Capital (Reading Capital), a collection of papers written for a seminar on Das Kapital at the ENS in 1965, changed the situation. These books represented intellectually hard-line Marxism, but not dogmatism. By reading Marx “to the letter” Althusser challenged contemporary softer interpretations of Marx’s work.

Marxism was not for Althusser an ideology or world-view but a revolutionary science, ultimately the science of society. “I should add that, just as the foundation of mathematics by Thales ‘induced’ the birth of the Platonic philosophy, just as the foundation of physics by Galileo ‘induced’ the birth of Cartesian philosophy, etc., so the foundation of the science of history by Marx has ‘induced’ the birth of a new, theoretically and practically revolutionary philosophy, Marxist philosophy or dialectical materialism.” [1]

In the Party his relations with the secretary general, Georges Marchais, and other members of the leadership, were never easy. Due to his leanings toward Maoism, he was nearly dispelled in 1966 in a dispute over China’s Cultural Revolution. Althusser mentions in his book of memoir, L’Avenir diure Longtemps (The Future Lasts Forever) that Mao had granted him an interview, but he dropped it, fearing the political reaction against him. In April 1978 he launched an attack on the Communist Party in Le Monde wherein he published a denunciation of the leadership in ‘What Must Change in the Party.’  After the rise of the student movement in 1968, Althusser’s influence in France faded. During the turbulent events in May 1968, Althusser was in a sanatorium, recuperating from depression. Althusser himself once counted that he suffered at least fifteen depressions from 1947 to 1980. To the disappointment of the student’s movement, he supported the official party line and did not consider the situation revolutionary. Later his view changed, and he held that there was a real atmosphere of fraternity on the streets and Party had lost touch with the student masses in revolt.

On November 6, 1980 Althusser killed his wife. In L’Avenir diure Longtemps (The Future Lasts Forever) which was published posthumously in 1992, he explained this disaster. Having being deemed unfit for trial was admitted in a mental hospital. Althusser stayed in hospital until 1983. Althusser died of a heart attack on October 22, 1990 and his last few years were spent in intellectual as well as personal isolation.


The term paper is located in the context of structuralism because Althusser is said to be a structural Marxist who sought to reconcile structuralism and Marxism. The irony of the situation is that Althusser never accepted himself to be a structuralist.

The terms ‘structure’ and ‘social structure’ were widely used in sociology and have been since Herbert Spencer introduced the term ‘structure’ into the field in the 19th century. The dark post-war mood that lent existentialism its appeal faded when economic recovery set in, and in the boom-period of the 1960s it was replaced by a new vogue called structuralism. Structuralism became an intellectual fashion in the 1960s in France. Ernest Gellner, a well known French Philosopher, sociologist, and a social anthropologist wrote, in 1970: ‘a spectre is haunting the intellectual scene – structuralism or better “le structuralisme”.[2] Roman Jacobson’s linguistic structuralism, Roland Barthes’s structuralist literary criticism and Lévi-Strauss’s anthropological structuralism enjoyed widespread interest. Louis Althusser and his student Michel Foucault were also regarded as representatives of this trend.

The structuralists stressed the persistence of “deep structures” that underlie all human cultures, leaving little room for either historical change or human initiative. Structural perspective takes the position that the institutions of the state must function in such a way as to ensure perpetuation of capitalism. Thus the state reproduces the logic of the capitalist structure through its economic, legal, cultural, educational and political institutions. So the institutions of the state function in long term interests of capitalism itself rather than in short term interests of a particular capitalist class or members of it as said by traditional Marxist. Structuralists argue that the state and its institutions have a certain degree of independence from the ruling or capitalist class. Structuralism seeks its structures not on the surface, at the level of the observed, but below or behind empirical reality. What the observer sees is not the structure, but simply the evidence of the product of structure.

Schaff lists the following four characteristics which form, he suggests, an intellectual trend: first, structuralists approach the subject matter of their research as a specific whole which dominates all its elements. They are critical of atomism, where things are studied as discrete parts of an aggregate, and where wholes are no more than the sum of their parts. The whole, according t o the structuralist, forms a system whose elements are interconnected and where the structure of the whole determines the position of each element. Second, structuralists’ believe that every system has a structure: the task of science is to find out what that structure is.

Althusser and Structuralism

Althusser too, like the structuralists, propounds to look at ‘complex totalities’ and not just the elements which compose them. These elements – the relations of production, forces of production etc, he says are linked in specific ways. Indeed the nature of each part of the whole is determined by its role in the totality.  Thus economic practice according to Althusser does not exist on its own but as a part of a larger structure. The larger structure includes apart from economic practice, ideological and political practice. He prefers to look at the whole rather than a sum of its elements.

ISA is in a way conceived from this structuralist school of thought which says that the state and its institutions have a certain degree of autonomy from the ruling capitalist class.


To understand concept of ISA, one needs to know certain other terms which are related and linked in the following way: (This map also reflects the way the term paper is explained)

All ideology hails or interpellates concrete individuals as concrete subjects
Super structure

Reproduction of conditions of production

Marx in Das Kapital (Vol 2) proved that no production is possible which does not allow for the reproduction of the material conditions of production: the reproduction of the means of production. Thus the ultimate condition of production is the reproduction of conditions of production.  Every social formation arises from a dominant mode of production. So, in order to exist, every social formation must reproduce the conditions of its production at the same time as it produces and in order to be able to produce, it must therefore reproduce:

  1. The productive forces
  2. The existing relations of production

It must reproduce firstly the means of production. This includes the labour power and the material forces i.e. raw material, fixed capital (buildings, machines etc.). A kind of endless chain ensues where for example a Mr. X produces wool, for him to reproduce his raw material he will be dependent on Mr. Y who produces woollen yarn who will in turn depend upon Mr. Z for machinery and so on.

Reproduction of labour power

Apart from the material forces, reproduction of labour power is equally important, if not more. It is ensured by giving labour power the material means with which to reproduce itself: by wages (- the means to pay for housing, food and clothing, to raise and educate children) this is not enough to ensure for labour power’s reproduction. Available labour power must be ‘competent’ i.e. suitable to be set to work in the complex system of the process of production. The labour power has to be diversely skilled and hence must be reproduced. Here diversely skilled means the socio-technical division of labour i.e. the different jobs and posts. This is achieved outside production: by the capitalist education system and by other instances and institutions.

The reproduction of labour power reveals (as will be elaborated later in the paper) that it entails reproduction of not only ‘skills’ but also reproduction of its subjection to the ruling ideology or the ‘practice’ of that ideology. It is in the forms and under forms of ideological subjection that provision is made for the reproduction of the skills of labour power.

The other crucial aspect is the reproduction of the relations of production- which will be tackled later.

The bourgeoisie can only secure the stability and the continuity of exploitation (that it imposes in production) on condition that it wages a permanent class struggle against the working class. This class struggle is fought by perpetuating and reproducing the material ideological and political conditions of exploitation. It is carried out within production (cuts in the wages, intended for the reproduction of labour power, repression, sanctions, redundancies, anti-union struggle etc.). At the same time it is conducted outside production. It is here that the role of the state – of the RSAs and the ISAs (the political system, school, churches, channels of information) – intervenes in order to subject the working class by both – repression and ideology (M`arxisme et lute des classes 1976 p.65)

Social formation

Politico-legal i.e. State, Law etc.
Ideology i.e. religious, ethical, legal, educational etc.

This model is an attempt to reveal how society is structured. This is how even Marx conceptualised the society to be. The base or the infra structure refers to the economic forces of production while the super structure consists of the legal, political, cultural, ethical institutions. Althusser concentrated more on the super structure or infrastructure. He said that even the super structure consists of two levels:

1. Politico-legal i.e. State, Law etc.

2.  Ideology i.e. religious, ethical, legal, political etc.

The most important conditions of existence of a social formation need not necessarily be economic. The political and ideological levels do not always reveal the presence of eco lurking behind them. The relation between the base and super-structure is not one of ‘expression’ where the super structures are reflexes or ‘phenomena’ emanating from the economic structure or essence. Rather the superstructures could be seen as the necessary conditions of existence of the eco base.

Marx stated that economy is ‘determinant in the last instance’.  Thus he meant that the functioning of the institutions in the super structure is ruled by the economics of the base. Contradictorily Althusser stated that ‘the lonely hour of the “last instance”   never comes ‘ (1965). He maintained that the super structure is relatively autonomous and functions by its own ideology and own specific rules and laws. Louis Althusser is against the mechanistic interpretation of the base-superstructures metaphor, and proposes a quite distinct concept of the social formation. He thus rejects Marx’s economic determinism by arguing that the super structure had a degree of relative independence from the base.

To substantiate this point he gives the example of the Russian Revolution of Feb 1917. a large part of the State Apparatus survived after the seizure of the State power by the alliance of the proletariat and the small peasantry

On the reproduction of relations of production:

The relations of production are those which make and maintain a capitalist as one belonging to the bourgeoisie and the worker as belonging to the proletariat. These relations of hierarchy and oppression are secured by the legal-political and ideological superstructure. It is exercised by the State power in the State Apparatuses- by Repressive State Apparatus and Ideological State Apparatus. The RSA secures by force (physical and otherwise) the political conditions of the reproduction of relations of reproduction and also conditions for the practice of ISA. Behind the ‘shield’ of the RSA the ISA contributes to the relations of production. The political apparatus does this by subjecting individuals to the political State ideology; the communications apparatus by blasting every citizen with daily doses of nationalism, chauvinism, liberalism, moralism etc. by the means of press, radio, television; the same goes for cultural apparatus, the religious apparatus and also the family.

In the Middle Ages, the Church (the religious ISA) alongside the Family were the ISAs which carried out educational and cultural functions. Publishing and Communications as also Theatre were integral parts of the Church. In the pre-capitalist historical period, there was one dominant Ideological State Apparatus, the Church, which carried out not only religious functions but also educational, communications, cultural functions. French Revolution transferred State power from the feudal aristocracy to the merchant-capitalist bourgeoisie and attacked the number one Ideological State Apparatus: the Church.

The ISA which has now been installed in the dominant position is the educational ideological apparatus. Behind the scenes of political ISA, which is more apparent, is the educational ISA. Like all other ISAs, its primary function is to reproduce the relations of production in favour of the dominant class.

Ideological State Apparatus

Marx: Though Marx recognized the complexity of the State, he did not systemize it in a theoretical form, thus restricting their terrain to that of political practice. In Marx’s writings (Communist Manifesto and the Eighteenth Brumaire), the State is explicitly conceived as a repressive apparatus. The state is an aide of the bourgeoisie class to help dominate the proletariat while in the process of extorting surplus value. In concrete terms it is the police, army, courts and prisons. To validate this point Althusser gives certain examples from political democracy which point out to the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie through the repressive state apparatus: the massacre of June 1848 and of the Paris Commune; of Bloody Sunday, May 1905 and ‘censorship’ on a play by Gatti on Franco, to name a few.

This theory however lacks in the sense that it does little to advance the theory of the State. It blocks its development, which in necessary.

At this point it is necessary to point out that STATE POWER AND STATE APPARATUS are two different things.  The objective of the class struggle concerns State power, and in consequence the use of the State apparatus by the classes holding State power as a function of their class objective

The proletariat must seize State power in order to destroy the existing bourgeoisie  State apparatus and, in a the first phase replace it with a quite different, proletarian State apparatus, that in later phases sets in motion a radical process, that of destruction of the State (the end of the State power, the end of every State apparatus).

State apparatus may survive without being affected or modified: it may survive political events which affect the possession of State power. Example: even after a social revolution like that of 1917, a large part of the State Apparatus survived after the seizure of the State power by the alliance of the proletariat and the small peasantry.

Gramsci: The only person to venture into this territory was Antonio Gramsci, who included certain civil society institutions like the Church, the Schools etc. as being part of the RSA. He too however, did not systematize it.

Althusser: To advance the theory of the State, he gives the new concept: the Ideological State Apparatuses (ISAs). Althusser defines ISAs as ‘ a certain number of realities which present themselves to the immediate observer in the form of distinct and specialises institutions. He proposes an empirical list of these institutions.’

  1. The religious ISA (the system of different churches)
  2. The educational ISA (the system of different public and private ‘schools’)
  3. The family ISA
  4. The legal ISA (also belongs to the RSA)
  5. The political ISA
  6. The trade union ISA
  7. The communications ISA (press, radio and tv etc.)
  8. The cultural ISA (literature, arts, sports etc.)

It is necessary to distinguish between ISA and RSA for clarity and to understand the basic premise and functioning of each State apparatus.


Plurality of ISAs
The unified RSA belongs to the public domain

Most of the ISAs are part of the private domain
RSA functions by ‘violence’

ISAs function by ‘ideology’
RSA functions massively & predominantly by repression (including physical), while functioning secondarily by ideology ISAs function massively & predominantly by ideology, but they also function secondarily by repression.
Police, army, law, prisons etc.

Church, schools, family, media etc.
RSA constitutes an organised whole who is different parts are centralized beneath a commanding unity of politics of class struggle and the class in power.

ISA are multiple, distinct and relatively autonomous, whose unity is secured by the ruling ideology, the ideology of the ruling class.

The ideology of the ‘ruling class’ unifies the ISAs. Given the fact that the ‘ruling class’ in principle holds State power, and therefore has at its disposal the RSA, we can accept the fact that this same ruling class is active in the ISAs insofar as it is ultimately the ruling ideology which is realized in the ISAs. No class can hold State power over a long period without at the same time exercising its hegemony over and in the State Ideological Apparatuses. Thus ISAs may be not only the stake, but also their site of class struggle.

Schoolone ISA which is so silent! (Educational ISA)

The school takes in children of all age groups starting from infancy to adulthood- the years when the child is most vulnerable and thus can be moulded. What are we taught in school part from learning to read, write, add- techniques and know how??  Children are taught:

  • Rules of ‘good’ behaviour i.e. the attitude that should be observed by every agent in the division of labour, according to the job he is destined for.
  • Rules of morality, civic and professional conscience
  • Respect for the socio-technical division of labour
  • Respect for rules of the order established by class domination.

All these ‘rules’ are wrapped in the ruling ideology which perpetuates the domination of the class in power and consequent subjugation of the one oppressed.

Thus school ISA ensures reproduction of- not just skills but also submission to the rules of the established order / ruling ideology and also submission to the ‘practice’ of that ideology.

At the age 0f 16, a huge mass of children are ejected ‘into production’: these are the workers or small peasants. Another portion of scholastically adapted youth carries on and fills the posts of small and middle executives, petty bourgeois of all kinds. A last portion reaches the summit, either to fall into intellectual semi-employment, or to become the agents of exploitation – capitalist, managers, the agents of repression- soldiers, policemen, politicians, administrators.  At every level they get out, they are provided with an ideology, which suits the role it has to fulfil. The role of – the exploited, the agent of exploitation, the agent of repression, of the professional ideologist. Of all, it is only the school ISA which has the obligatory audience of the totality of the children in the capitalist social formation, eight hours a day for d or six days out of a week.

To reinforce this point Althusser locates the Soviet revolution and Lenin in the framework of ISA and its importance in being instrumental to retain and wield power. Lenin’s primary interest lay in revolutionizing the education system in Soviet Russia to make it possible for the Soviet proletariat, who had seized State power, to secure the future of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the transition into socialism. The educational system becomes a part of consensus creation to generate support for the politics of capital and also nurtures new ideas that would expand the rule of capital. The educational system is vocation based leaving no room for critical thinking. This is done so that students become a part of the labour force as soon as possible. Education rather than encouraging creativity, critical thought and dialogue, it has become a method of control, a tool of disciplining and a scheme of consensus building that would facilitate the reproduction of the capitalist system.

Thus ISA may not be only the stake but also the site of class struggle.


The most influential accounts of the workings of ideology and related concepts like those most useful for analysing the media, come from what may be broadly describes as teh Marxist perspective. At its most basic level, ideological analysis attempts to understand how dominant social groups are able to reproduce their social and economic power. It does so by focusing on both the material and intellectual manifestations of these reproductive processes.

Certain ideas and beliefs are legitimized and made real through their media representations. For ex: many media texts revolve around individuals, either as the focus of news reports or as the central characters in fictional stories. According to Althusser, the centrality of individualism assists in the reproduction of existing social formations. It prevents people from seeing or thinking of themselves as members of a collective group, such as a social class, which if acknowledged may cause them to resist their ‘given’ role and seek to challenge the capitalist values that oppress them.  Thus the emphasis that media put on individual actions can be constructed as ideological. This masks the power relations at work at a given historical moment and to individualise is to ignore the relations of class, caste, gender and race, which are detrimental in any given society in terms of affecting the opportunities an individual can actually exploit.  It holds individual accountable and not the larger structure.

Interpellation: advertisements really work to sell the dominant ideology, as much as they sell consumer goods. The ‘call upon’ the consumers to see it as being representative of their desires and interests, which are closely connected to the values of consumer capitalism. The consuming individual is only really given a choice within the interests of those who rule.


Graeme Turner: ‘Ideology as a kind of veil over the eyes of the working class, the filter that screened   out or disguised their ‘real’ relations to the world around them’ (1990, p.25)

The whole explanation of ISA revolves around the concept of ‘ideology.’ It is thus necessary to understand Althusser’s perception of ideology and his elucidation of the same.

The term was first invented by Cabanis, Destutt de Tracy and their friends, who assigned to it as an object the (genetic) theory of ideas. Marx took it up fifty years later and said that ‘ideology is the system of the ideas and representations which dominate the mind of a man or social group.’ Ideology is a complex term which has multiple and contradictory meanings of which the most influential explanations come from the Marxist perspective

Ideology plays a key part in peoples everyday perceptions of the world. For traditional Marxists ideology was a reflection- a false consciousness i.e. a false understanding of the way the world functioned by pointing to the real world hidden by ideology. For Althusser, rather than being a ‘false consciousness’, ideology in fact structured peoples lived experience. Ideology is a necessary feature for any society, including the classless communism of the future. It serves as a factor of social cohesion. It plays an important position of adapting human beings to the roles required of them as bearers of the prevailing relations of production.  Every individual’s conception of themselves as coherent autonomous persons- is the means through which they are subsumed under ideological social relations. ‘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.’(Althusser1965). The role of ISAs is to attempt to force the working class to submit to the relations and conditions of exploitation through ideology. Thus the need to recognise the effective presence of a new reality: i.e. ‘ideology’.

Ideology is the fabric and medium of all societies. In Marxism, according to Althusser, they suffer from a basic reductionism where the super structure is reduced to phenomena of the base, or they (super structure) are the result of a simple, essential contradiction – the economic. Ideology is thus relegated to the surface of appearances and thus ideology is excluded from the material existence and always mentioned last among the super structures. Althusser ventured to reconceptualise and transform the way the relations between the base and the super structure are defined. He wished to do away with the ‘over – determination’ of the base (or the economic). The ISAs represent the form in which the ideology of the ruling class must be necessarily realised. In fact the ideology of the ruling class becomes the ruling ideology only through the installation and the development of the specific ISAs in which it is realised.

Ideology is thus a ‘representation’ of the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence. Ideologies are imaginary and do not correspond to reality, though they do make an allusion to it. They need to be interpreted to discover the reality behind their imaginary representation of that world (ideology=illusion/allusion) Ideology has material existence.

  • There is no practice except by and in an ideology;
  • There is no ideology except by the subject and for subjects.

An ideology always exists in an apparatus, and its practice, or practices. This existence is material. The imaginary relation of ideology is itself endowed with a material existence. And that ideology influences human action which takes place in the material world. Where only a single subject is concerned, the existence of the ideas of his belief is material in that his ideas are his material actions inserted into material practices governed by material rituals which are themselves defined by the material ideological apparatus from which derive the ideas of that subject. Ideology always manifests itself through actions, which are “inserted into practices”, for example, rituals, conventional behaviour, and so on. .

All ideology hails or interpellates concrete individuals as concrete subjects(INTERPELLATION)


“All ideology has the function (which defines it) of ‘constructing’
concrete individuals as subjects. Subjects to what? The answer: to the material practices of the ideology. This (the creation of subjects) is done by the acts of “hailing” or “interpellation”. These are acts of attracting attention (hailing), forcing the individuals to generate meaning (interpretation) and making them participate in the practice

Ideology acts and functions in such a way that it ‘recruits’ subjects among the individuals, or ‘transforms’ the individuals into subjects by that very precise operation which Althusser has called ‘interpellation’ or hailing, and which can be imagined along the lines of the most commonplace everyday police hailing: ‘Hey, you there!’  (is concerned with hailing of suspects). When a person responds to such a hailing, whether or not it was addressed to him, by the very act of responding he becomes a subject. Experience shows that the practical telecommunication of hailing is such that they hardly ever miss their man: verbal call or whistle, the one hailed always recognises that it is really him who is being hailed. The existence of ideology and the hailing or interpellation of individuals as subjects is one and the same thing. Thus what we think takes place outside of ideology in fact takes place in ideology.

As ideology is eternal, it has always-already interpellated individuals as subjects i.e. to say that individuals are always-already subjects. An individual is always-already a subject, even before he is born. Even before the child is born, it is certain in advance that it will bear its Father’s Name, and will therefore have an identity and be irreplaceable. Before its birth, the child is therefore always-already a subject, appointed as a subject in and by the specific familial ideology

As a result of interpellation the individual sees him/herself as a sovereign, autonomous individual. On doing so, the individual recognises him/herself as the subject of ideology, but at the same time, in Althusser’s terms, the individual also misrecognises him/herself According to Mark Jancovich “These positions are not normal and inherent to individuals, but individuals ‘misrecognise’ or mistake these positions as being natural and inherent in themselves”(1995, p128). As a result of misrecognition, individuals become the active agents of ideology, giving power and sustenance to the very ideologies that work to exploit them.

Advertisement: The ideology of consumption (which is, undeniably, the most material of all practices) uses advertising to transform individuals to subjects (to consumers). It uses advertising to interpellate them. The advertisements attract attention, force people to introduce meaning to them and, as a result, to consume. The reader or viewer of the ad is transformed into the subject of (and subject to) the material practice of the ideology (consumption, in this case).


Louis Althusser wanted to expand Marxist theory in order to understand how societies reproduce their social formations. In doing so he was addressing what he saw as the limitations in traditional Marxist thinking. His model of the base super structure where base was the determinant factor has been widely criticized. He challenged the view that everything in society could be reduced purely to the economic, arguing for an approach that took the modern state and social institutions into account. Thus to put it in a nutshell his rationalization of ISA and RSA has been a value addition which challenges the traditional determinist Marxist link between the economic base and the super structure.

Althusser’s demarcation of RSAs and ISAs into two different water0tight compartments can also be questioned. It seems an over simplification of the complex nature of the Sate today in the 21st century.

A strong critique of Althusser by Marxist themselves is of the way he suggest that the subordinate social groups were the passive receivers of the dominant, capitalist ideology. The concept of hegemony offered another explanation of how the dominance of certain class values came about. Gramsci suggested that this dominance occurred not simply through the imposition of the will of the dominant class through ideology, but by its presentation of itself as the group best able to fulfil the interests and aspirations of other classes, and by implication, a whole society. In this way dominant classes can be said to rule through consent rather than coercion. According to Gramsci, consent is not simply given without question; rather, it must be continually renegotiated and re-established, since however much the interests of the ruling class are presented as accommodating those of the subordinate classes, their interests are in opposition.  Thus one can bring out two criticisms from the clarification above: firstly, Althusser assumes passivity of the proletariat class while narrating the influence of ISAs and ideology and secondly, he has reconceptualised what Gramsci said in different language while perhaps adding on little to what Gramsci had to say.


Thus though Althusser can be credited with challenging the traditional economic determinism of the conventional base super structure model where economics was the determining factor, he  has done little to add on to what Gramsci said about Hegemony . In fact Gramsci even conceptualised a way out of the capitalist cycle by talking about counter hegemony and organic intellectuals. Althusser doesn’t seem to have come forward with any such new ideas. In his defence though, it can be said that his conceptualisation of ideology and ISAs are as stated in his essay, ‘notes towards an investigation’. Thus he has not attempted to concretize it into a theory but is open to innovations.

Apart from this Althusser has brought in many new dimensions to the stream of Marxist thought, which were beyond the scope of this paper. These are crucial and important to further ones understanding of Marxism in the 21st Century.

In applying the focus of this paper to DTSW, while specifically addressing the caste system, one can say that if we place the Brahmins as the capitalist class and the Dalits as the proletariat, we can say that right now the focus is more on employment than on empowerment. Thus the struggle is in the ‘base’ while we need to locate it in (apart from the economic sphere) in the social, cultural, religious, political sphere- thus the Ideological Institutions. So to say in Althusserian terms we need to place the struggle in the ISAs and not just the base structure. The latter is necessary for true empowerment and emancipation of the oppressed.


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The Legacies of Althusser. Yale French Studies, Vol.88, Yale University Press.
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Althusser and Structuralism. British Journal of Sociology Vol.35, No.2, Blackwell Publication.
Smith, Steven:


Ideology and Interpret: The case of Althusser. Poetics Today Vol. 10, No.3, Duke University Press.
Craig, Edward:


Routledge Encyclopaedia of Philosophy Vol 1, pg 192. London and New York: Routledge
Althusser, Louis


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Molina, Victor.

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Better Read than dead: Althusser and the fetish of ideology. Yale French studies, No. 88, p.183-200. Yale University Press.



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