- Paperback: 272 pages
- Publisher: Monthly Review Press (November 13, 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1583670394
- ISBN-13: 978-1583670392
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 8.9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 10 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #151,207 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays
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Text: English (translation)
Original Language: French
About the Author
Louis Althusser (1918-1990) took his degree in philosophy in the Ecole Normale Supérieure and later became Secrétaire of the school. He is the author of several books including The Future Lasts Forever, Montesquieu, le Politique et l'Historie, For Marx, and Reading Capital.
Top customer reviews
Moving on, his essays on the philosophy of Lenin and what Lenin contributed to Marxism (i.e a new method of practice and reading things with what he called a proletarian class position) are very easy and fun to read if you're familiar at all with materialist dialectics and some intricacies of early Bolshevik literary history and history in general, as well as certain things regarding Hegel.
I recommend this to anyone interested in Marxism, social science in general really. It's a shame that Althusser didn't write more (or rather, his works are predominantly French and have to be translated), because he's a very entertaining author.
Although I read the preface, by Fredric Jameson, and an interview of Althusser, and an essay on Lenin, I skipped all the other essays. As usual in the interview and the essay on Lenin, everything I read was insane and philosophically ridiculous. Althusser is almost always a charlatan. Like in For Marx, Althusser begins all his essays the same way: "I'm only going to a sketch some provisional theses; this is not to be taken as a definite position." From there he continues to lay out more hypotheticals, each of which is in need of further exploration "later." Therefore, he acts as his own scapegoat by never sticking to a position, he's always working provisionally, and thus always capable of rejecting what he said, as soon as it's pointed out as untenable, or ridiculous. I think For Marx is a mostly atrocious book, and everything else I've read by him, except the ideology essay is equally snake oil and/or untenable. Not to mention - as Kolakowski pointed out about Althusser and Nussbaum about Butler - numerous neologisims are employed, and an idiosyncratic writing style is utilized, to say very commonplace things. Even when Althusser isn't being his own scapegoat, his general writing style is nauseating. He fills his essays with fragmentary sentences and rhetorical questions directed at himself and the reader...Digressing...
That said, I now see why this ONE essay is so famous. Although it too is a "sketch," it definitely advances the theory of ideology in a materialist direction, and ACTUALLY provides working hypothesis and theses that ought to be further developed (I believe Pierre Bourdieu did this, among others).
Althusser wants to ask the basic Marxian question: how does society reproduce itself everyday through production? The means of production and the forces of production are already well explained by Marx, but what about the social relations of production? For this question a long exposition of the ideological state apparatus (ISA) is explored. The ISA is distinct from the state apparatus (SA), which is mostly based on force and coercion. The ISA refers to institutions like the media, the school, radio broad casting, etc. One might wonder why the ISA is even called a state then. Well, Atlhusser points out that private-public property is a rather bogus distinction, one which the bourgeois employ to justify their private property, which of course impacts the public 'privately' and 'publicly'. If a media outlet is private or public, or a school private or public, they still serve the function of reproducing the social relations around the means of production via ideology.
In feudal societies the church was the primary institution for reproducing the social relations of production, but under 20th (and 21st) century capitalism, it is now the school. By the time one graduates from high-school, they are convinced that the social relations under capitalism are perfectly normal and okay.
Althusser moves on to develop a unique theory of ideology and the subject. When one recognizes themselves as a subject, or is "called into" awareness of their subjectivity, this is called hailing, or interpellation. If one is walking down the street and hears a cop shout "hey you!" they become aware of their role as a subject. The general ideological structure of the ISA makes people aware of their roles as subject in such a way that they continue to reproduce social relations under capitalism.
There's more to be said and the essay isn't too long (40 pages). Despite the usual garbage Althusser espouses, this one is worth reading. As a result I MAY purchase Reading Capital...or Gregory Elliott's book on Althusser. Just as Liberals feel they MUST mention Rawls in any theories, articles, essays, etc., they write, Marxists feel inclined to mention Althusser. For this essay alone, he does warrant a place in philosophical discourse, albeit For Marx warrants him a place the dustbin of history.
"Ideology has a material existence", Althusser tells us. And certainly this is an advance over cold war orthodox marxism. ideology is no longer merely in minds, it is out here in bodies and institutions and their activities. With Althusser, ideology becomes a material force. Why is this important? Control the ideology of individuals and institutions and you control their behavior. Instead of thinking of individuals as causes, we now think of them as effects. They are all made (i.e., produced and reproduced) within the various ISA's. This process of control/production our author calls interpellation. ISA's, btw, are never to be confused with the Repressive State Apparatus. It consists of the Government, Police, Military, etc. ISA's consist of the Church, Family, Education, and so on.
The hope, the dream, of readers of this essay, was that by going into the universities (the Gramscian 'long march' through the institutions), leftist intellectuals could snatch interpellation from the ruling class and use it to revolutionize the ruled. It has been over 40 years since this essay first appeared. The ineffectiveness of the project is easy to see. Our scholars have become but another clerisy; explaining suffering, but powerless to change it. I give four stars because of the advance that Althussers understanding of ideology represented in its time.
After reading this essay I came away feeling that what historically is (and has been) called "Freedom" is little more than the arguments that (elements of) the ruling strata has with itself. And that in the end, all these new (post-marxist) movements that the liberals and soi-disant 'leftists' so enthuse over, such as vegetarianism and ecology and sex revolution, are so privileged because they in no way attack property. In this way they are not really any different from the role religion traditionally has had. Whether you are busy getting your life 'right' with God, with Tantra, with Mother Nature, or with Cauliflower, it threatens property relations not at all. And this is why these various positions (and there are many others) are so easily supported by factions within the ruling strata. It is exactly as Colonel Ireton indicated at the Putney Debates so long ago, everything is always said and done with an eye towards (protecting) property. Everything. The ISA's of our author are but another way to theoretically come to terms with the varied ramifications of this inescapable fact in ever-changing circumstances.
And certainly the situation has changed! Ireton was speaking at a time (1647, during the English Civil War) when most forms of property were fixed (land, housing) and one strove to pass it on intact to future generations. Yes, certainly Ireton was aware of nascent capital relations. In his replies to the Levellers he strives to win over the bustling market towns and their guilds and manufacturers to his position. But in Ireton's conception of property there is so little movement! It was the restlessness of Capital that would destroy ye olde landowners and their world far better than the levellers had ever imagined. It is this restlessness that produces not only new means of production and new relations of production, but also new forms of labor too. And the new worker, the ever-new workers need ever new forms of ideology in their ever changing circumstances. This explains the necessity of the proliferation of leftish 'new movements' while the old USSR was going through its decades long death throes. And it also suggests that in the decades (perhaps centuries) long process of globalization the theory of ISA's will find much more to explain...
Postmodern nihilism, ultimately, is the result of the failure of the socialist revolutionary project to overcome capitalism. This failure is the root cause of the proliferation of theory in the academy. Given the inescapable fact of the dissatisfaction of people with/in capitalism, new ways, and ever new ways, had to be found to deal with this dissatisfaction. The multiplication of theoretical positions in the academy was one way; the antics of mass culture beyond the ivy tower was another. All of this was necessary; people always need explanations for their sacrifices and sufferings. - And they also need to forget or ignore the fact that these explanations change nothing at all.
The inability of socialism to overcome capitalism, not only through the USSR but in the streets of the advanced capitalist states, means that the battle for socialism must be fought on a different terrain than it was fought in the twentieth century. The question that now needs to be asked, the problem that now needs to be faced by marxists everywhere, is if all that is left of marxism is that it is nothing but another ideological position within theory manufacturing academia, how is marxism itself not another 'Ideological State Apparatus' that is enthused over by trend setting liberal cum leftists within and beyond the ruling strata?
It was the ceaseless movement of capital, not theory, that destroyed Ireton's beloved landowners. And I have come to believe that it is only the same relentless movement that will one day destroy Capitalism.