Adapted from the web pages of the Society of Social Research, U of Chicago: http://www.spc.uchicago.edu/ssr1/PRELIMS/Strat/stadd.html#ALTHUSSER
''Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses''
The ultimate condition of production is the reproduction of the conditions of production, brought about through 1.) the
reproduction of the productive forces, and 2.) the reproduction of the existing relations of production.
1.) The reproduction of productive forces is essentially the reproduction of labor power. This is ensured by giving labor power the material means with which to reproduce itself: by wages. The quantity of value (wages) necessary for the reproduction of labor power is determined not by the needs of a 'biological' guaranteed minimum wage alone, but also by the needs of a historical minimum. This is not defined by the historical needs of the working class 'recognized' by the capitalist class, but by the historical needs imposed by the proletarian class struggle. In addition, the reproduction of labor power requires not only a
reproduction of its skills, but also a reproduction of its submission to the rules of the established order. The school teaches this 'know-how' and ensures the subjection to the ruling ideology. It is in the forms of ideological subjection that provision is made for the reproduction of the skills of labor power.
2.) The reproduction of the relations of production is carried out through Ideological State Apparatuses. Althusser reaches this conclusion through a long critique of Marx's theory of the state, which follows.
Marx divided society into an economic base and a superstructure (consisting of a politico-legal level and an ideological level). The relationship between the two is characterized as the 'determination in the last instance' by the economic base. Marx argues that there is a 'relative autonomy' of the superstructure with respect to the base, and there is a 'reciprocal action' of the base and superstructure. The problem with this formulation for understanding reproduction is that it is largely descriptive rather than theoretical. This can be seen in Marx's discussion of the state.
Marx believed that the state was a 'machine' of repression, which enabled the ruling classes to ensure their domination over the working class, thus enabling the former to subject the latter to the process of surplus-value extortion. This repressive element of the state is what Althusser calls the State Apparatus and consists of the government, the administration, the army, the police, the
courts, the prisons, etc. In addition to this, the state also consists of Ideological State Apparatuses which are a number of realities which present themselves to the immediate observer in the form of distinct and specialized institutions, such as religion, education, the family, media, culture, etc.
What is the difference between the State Apparatus (SA) and the Ideological State Apparatuses (ISA)? First, there is only one SA, but a plurality of ISAs. Secondly, the SA belongs to the public domain and the ISA to the private. And most importantly, the SA functions by violence, whereas the ISA functions by ideology. The ISAs are often the site of class struggle because the class in power cannot lay down the law in the ISAs as easily as it can in the SA, 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 find means
and occasions to express itself there, either by the utilization of their contradictions, or by conquering combat positions in them
Back to the question of the reproduction of the relations of production.... The reproduction of the relations of production is secured by the legal-political and ideological superstructure. It is secured by the exercise of state power in the SA and the ISAs. The role of the repressive SA consists essentially in securing by force the political conditions of the reproduction of relations of production which are in the last resort relations of exploitation. The SA also secures by repression the political conditions for the action of the ISAs. The ISAs largely secure the reproduction specifically of the relations of production, behind a 'shield' provided by the repressive SA. The ISA which has been installed in the dominant position in mature capitalist social formations as a result of a violent political and ideological class struggle against the old dominant ISA (the Church) is the educational ideological apparatus. The mechanisms which reproduce the exploitative relations of production are concealed by a universally reigning ideology of the school.
Two more theses regarding ideology:
1.) Ideology represents the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence.
2.) Ideology has a material existence.
How has Althusser changed the concept of 'ideology'? The term ideas has disappeared. The terms subject, consciousness, belief, actions have survived. The terms practices, rituals, ideological apparatuses have appeared.
There is no practice except by and in an ideology. There is no ideology except by the subject and for subjects. The category of the subject is only constitutive of all ideology insofar as all ideology has the function of 'constituting' concrete individuals as subjects. Ideology interpellates concrete individuals as concrete subjects.