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On the theory of ideology

On Ihelheo.-y
of ideology
Ithe politics of A.lthussel’)
Jacques Ranciere
‘Certainly it is an interesting event we are dealing
with: the Dutrescence of the absolute spirit
(Marx: German Ideology Part 1)

‘All the mysteries which lead theory into mysticism
find their rational solution in human practice and
in the understanding of that practice’. For a long
time the main mystery as far as we were concerned was
this sentence itself.

We gave it a not unmystical
solution: likt the young theologians of Tfibingen
seminary, scouring the undergrowth to discover new
‘faculties’, we would multiply ‘practices’, each
endowed with specific laws.

In the forefront of
course lay theor~tical practice, containing the
principles of its own verification. This was how we
interpreted the question – the more so as its own
opponents could only counter it with a practice
reduced to its own invocation in the name of ‘praxis’ .

In May 1968 things were thrown brutally into

When the class struggle broke out openly in
the universities, the status of the Theoretical came
to be challenged, no longer by the endless verbiage
of praxis and the concrete, but by the reality of a
mass ideological revolt. From this on, no ‘Marxist’

discourse could continue to get by on the mere
affirmation of its own rigour.

The class struggle,
which put the bourgeois system of knowledge at
issue, posed all of us the question of our ultimate
political significance, of our revolutionary or
counter-revolutionary character.

In this conjuncture, the political significance
of Althusserianism was shown to be quite different
from what we had thought.

Not only did the
Althusserian theoretical presuppositions prevent us
from understanding the political meaning of the
student revolt. But further, within a year we saw
Althusserianism serving the hacks of revisionism in
a theoretical justification for the ‘anti-leftist’

offensive and the defence of academic knowledge.

What we had previously chosen to ignore thus became
clear: the link between the Althusserian interpretation of Marx and revisionist politics was not simply
a dubious coexistence, but an effectiv~ political
and theoretical solidarity.

The following remarks seek to indicate the point
in the Althusserian reading where this interdependence is established; namely, the theory of ideology.

The analysis of ideology
The specificity of the Althusserian theory of
ideology can be summarised in two basic theses:


In all societies – whether divided into classes
or not – ideology has a co~~on principal function:

to ensure the cohesion of the social whole by
regulating the relation of individuals to their

This article was originally published in Spanish
in Saul Karzs et al: Lectura de Althusser (Buenos
Aires 1970). The afterword (printed on plO below)
and additional foot~otes, were added for the French
edition, published by L’Homme et la Societe in
1973. A very slightly different version of the
present translation, by Martin Jordin, was
published by Partisan in 1973.



Ideology is the opposite of science.

The critical function of thesis 1 is clear: i t
is directed against ideologies of ‘de-alienation’

according to which the end of the capitalist alienation would be the end of the mystification of consciousness, the advent of a world where the relations
of man to nature and of man to man would be perfectly
transparent – in a certain sense, the Pauline
transition from the indistinct perception in the
mirror to direct perception. Against these ideologies of transparency, Althusser sets the necessary
opacity of every social structure to its agents.

Ideology is present in every social totality by
virtue of.the determination of this totality by
its structure. To this there corresponds a qeneral
function: supplying the system of representations
which allow the agents of the social totality to
accomplish the t.asks determined by this structure.

In a society without classes, just as in a
class society, ideology has the function of
securing the bond between men in the ensemble
of the forms of their existence, the relation
of individuals to their tasks fixed by the
social structure. 1
So the concept of ideology can be defined in its
generality, before the concept of class struggle
intervenes. To some extent, the class struggle will
subsequently ‘overdetermine,2 the principal
function of ideology.

We w~uld like to examine how this thesis is
established and how it is articulated with the
second in a particularly explicit text:

Ideology, in class societies, is a representation
of the real, but a necessarily false one becaase
it is necessarily aligned and tendentious – and
it is tendentious because its goal is not to give
men objective knowledge of the social system in
which they live, but on the contrary to give
them a mystified representation of this socia1
system in order to keep them in their ‘place’ in
the system of class exploitation. Of course, it
is also necessary to pose the problem of
ideology’s function in a society without
classes – and this would then be resolved by
showing that the deformation of ideology is
socially necessary as a function of the very
nature of the social whole: more specifically,
as a function of its determination by its
structure which renders this social whole
opaque to the individuals who occupy a place in
it determined by this structure. The representation of the world indispensible to social
cohesion is necessarily mythical, owing to the
opacity of the social structure. In class
societies, this principal function of ideology
still exists, but is dominated by the additional
social function imposed on it by the existence
of class divisions. This additional function
thus by far outweighs the first. If we want to
be exhaustive, if we want to take these two
principles of necessary deformation into account,
we must say that in a class society ideology is
necessarily distorting and mystifying, both
because it is made distorting by the opacity of
SOCiety’s determination by the structure, and
because it is made distorting by the existence
of class divisions. 3
Our first problem is the nature of the concepts
put forward to define the general function of
ideology: the notion of ‘social cohesion’ echoes
the formula used above – ‘the bond between men
in the ensemble of the forms of their existence’.

Is this ‘bond’ or ‘cohesion’ of the ‘social whole’

really the province of Marxist analysis? How,
after having proclaimed that the whole history of
mankind is that of the class struggle, can it define

functions like : securing social cohesion in general?

Isn’t it precisely because Marxist theory has nothing
to say on this subject, that we have shifted our
ground and moved onto that of a Comtean or Durkheimian type sociology, which actually does concern itself with the systems of representation that secure
or break up the cohesion of the social group? Isn’t
it this phantasm of ‘the social group’ which is outlined here in Althusser’s analysis? We can see an
index of this displacement in the status Althusser
here accords religion:

In primitive societies where classes do not
exist, one can already verify the existence of
this bond, and it is not accidental i f it has
been possible to see the reality of this bond
in the first general form of ideology, religion
(It is one of the possible etymologies of the
word religion). 4

By inverting the analysiS we can pose this question:

when ideology is conceived in general, before conceiving the class struggle, it is not necessarily
conceived on the model of the traditional analysis
of relation – that of a sociology which has inherited
the metaphysical discourse on society?4
superimposition of two functions of ideology (maintenance of social cohesion in general; and exercise
of class domination) could thus mean the coexistence
of two heterogeneous conceptual systems: that of
historical materialism and that of a bourgeois sociology of the Durkheimian type. The particular trick
of Althusser is to transform this coexistence into
an articulation, which implies a double subversion:


Ideology is first defined not on the terrain of
Marxism but on that of a general sociology
(theory of the social whole in general). Marxist
theory is then superimposed on this sociological
theory of ideology as a theory of an over-determination proper to class societies. The concepts
defining the function of ideology in a class
society will therefore depend on concepts from
this general sociology.


But the level of this general sociology is itself
claimed to be a level of the Marxist theory of
ideology, despite the fact that Marxism has
nothing to say about it. This reverses the
process: the analYSis of the alleged general
function of ideology will be made on the basis
of the concepts and analyses by which Marxist
theory has thought the function of ideology in
class societies. Marxist concepts defining class
societies will be used to define society in

The mechanics of this subversion are clearly
revealed when Althusser describes the double determination of ideology in class societies:

In a class society, ideology is necessarily
distorting and mystifying, both because i t is
made distorting by the opacity of society’s
determination by the structure, and because
i t is made distorting by the existence of
class divisions. (p.3l)

The analysiS of fetishism demonstrates this
point very clearly.

It is not enough in fact to say
that fetishism is the manifestation-dissimulation of
the relations of production (as I did in Lire le

What fetishism conceals in a specific
manner is the antagonistic character of the relations
of production: the opposition ‘Capital/Labour’

disappears in the juxtaposition of the sources of
revenue. The structure is not simply concealed
beca use, like Herac li tan nature, it like s to hide.

It disguises its contradictory nature, and this
contradiction is a class contradiction. So the
manifestation/dissimulation of the structure does
not imply an opacity of the ‘social structure in
general’: it is the effectivity of the relations
of production; that is, of the class opposition
‘labourers/non-labourers’ which characterise all
societies. Extended beyond class socie’ties, this
effectivity of the structure becomes a comnletely
undetermined concept – or alternatively, it is
determined by standing in for a traditional figure
of metaphysics: the evil genius or the cunning of

Ideology and struggle
The distinction made between two levels of
ideological disguise is thus highly problematic.

It clearly functions by analogy with the Marxist
analysis of the two-fold nature of every production
process (the labour-process in general, and the
socially determined process of production). But the
analogy is clearly illegitimate. By transferring
the law of the last instance to the superstructures,
by making the effects reproduce the law of the cause,
it posits the social whole as a totality of levels
each of which expresses the same law.

It is easy
to see the absurdity that would result from apnlying the same principle to the analysis of the
political superstructure. The ‘social totalitv in
general’ could be said to require the existence of
a political superstructure and the general functions
of a state be defined before the class struggle.

This comparison of ours is more than a mere joke:

ideology for Althusser is quite capable of ~ossess­
ing the same status as that conferred on the State
by classical metaphysical thought. And his analysis
is capable of reinstating the myth of an ideological
state of nature – a myth whose theoretical and
political meaning we must now make clear.

Firstly, it marks the irrevocable consequence of
distinguishing two levels.

Ideology is not seen from
the start as the site of a struggle.

It is not
related to two antagonists but to a totality of which
it forms a natural element:

It is as i f human societies could not survive
without these specific formations, these systems
of representations (at various levels), their
ideologies. Human societies secrete ideology
as the very element and atmosphere indispensible
to their historical respiration and life. 6

To put the myths of origins (or ends) in the restrictive form of ‘as if’ is a standard act of philosophical modesty, perfected in,Kant; and this is not
the only time we shall come across Althusser’s Kantianism.

In the traditional ‘as if’, ideas of origin
What is this structure, the level of which iSherel protect their political function of concealing dividistinguished from that of the class divisions? In

Ideology will thus not be established as the
Marxist terms, the determination of a social totality site of a division, but as a totality unified by its
by its structure means its determination by the
relation to its referent (the social whole). At the
relations of production characterising a dominant
same time, the analysis of the second level will not
mode of production. But by relations of production
be that of the ideological forms of the class
are meant the social forms of appropriation of the
struggle, but that of the ‘overdetermination of
means of production, which are class forms of
Ideology (in the singular) by the class divisions.

appropriation. Capitalist relations of production
One will speak of the ideology of a class society,
exhibit the class opposition tetween those who
not of class ideologies. Only at the end of the
possess the means of production and those who sell
analysis is the division of ideology into ‘tendencies,7
their labour power. The distinction of the two

But at this stage of the analysis, introlevels disregards the fact that the level of the
ducing the division is no longer any use: ideology,
‘structure’ is strictly the level of a class
not having been initially posited as the field of
a struggle, will in the meantime have surreptitiously
relation. 5


become one of the participants in the struggle. The
class struggle in ideology, forgotten at the start,
reappears in a chimerical, fetishised form as a class
struggle between ideology (weapon of the rulinqclassl
and science (weapon of the ruled class) .

Before commenting on them in detail, let us
indicate the stages in this logic of forgetfulness:

above all that which opposes the ideology of one
class to the ideology of another. Given this, how
can the ‘Ideology/Science’ couple become the pertinent opposition with which to grasp ideology? By a
process which detaches ideology from the system of
instances, and-erases the main division of the
ideological field to create a space in Marxist theory
which it then shares out between science and ideology.

1 Ideology is a system of representations controll- The functioning of the ‘Science/Ideology’ opposition
ing, in all societies, the relation of individuals depends on the re-establishment of a space homoto the tasks fixed by the structure of the social logous to that which the whole metaphysical tradition

assumes by opposing Science to its Other; thus
supposing the closure of a universe of discourse,
la This system of representations is thus not a
system of knowledge.

On the contrary, it is the
divided into the realms of the true and the false,
system of illusions necessary to the historical
into the world of Science and that of its Other
(opinion, error, illusion, etc.).

If one fails to

2 In a class society, ideology acquires a supplegrasp that ideology is fundamentally the site of a
mentary function of keeping individuals in the
struggle, of a class struggle, it immedia~ely slips
into this place determined by the history of metaplace determined by the class domination.

physics: the place of the Other of Science.

3 The principle which undermines this domination
hence belongs to ideology’s opposite, i.e.


Teachers and students

The stratagem involved in this proof is that
which articulates the function of ideology with the
domination of a class.

Ideology, in class societies, is a representation
of the real, but a necessarily false one because

it is necessarily aligned and tendentious – and
it is tendentious because its goal is not to give
men objective knowledge of the social system in
which they live, but on the contrary, to give
them a mystified representation of this social
system in order to keep them in their ‘place’ in
the system of class exploitation. 8
By articulating two theses (ideology as the opposite of knowledge; ideology in the service of a
class) which were previously only juxtaposed,
Althusser exposes the mechanism which, at a deeper
level, ties them together: ideology is a false representation because it does not give knowledge.

And it does not give knowledge because it is in the
service of the ruling class.

But what ideoloqy is
involved here? Would the ideology of the dominated
class have the function of keeping the exploited ‘in
their place’ in the system of class exploitation?

What is defined here as a function of Ideology, is the
function of the dominant ideology. To conceive of a
general function of ideology, Althusser has to present the domination of an ideology as the domination
of ideology. The trick has been played: the general
function of ideology will be said to be exercised to
the profit of a class domination, and the function
of undermining this domination will be conferred on
the Other of Ideology, that is, on Science. The
initial suppression of the class struggle leads to
a particularly interesting game of theoretical hideand-seek.

The ‘Ideology/Science’ couple proceeds
to reintroduce the class struggle. But the latter
also comes to the assistance of the ‘Science/
Ideology’ opposition – ideology had at first only
been posited as other than science; by being articulated with class domination, with the radical
opposition ‘ruling class/ruled class’, this other
than science has become the Other of Science.

Difference has become contradiction.

What has taken place but the very process by
which metaphysics was established and which it has
consistently repeated throughout its history: the
process which answers the old problem of the Sophist
– how, in the figure of the Other, to conceive
difference as contradiction?9 That here Marxism
serves to accomplish this necessary yet impossible
task of philosophy, is something we will have to
come back to.

It is enough for the moment to point
out the significance of the displacement which has
taken place in the conception of ideology.

is firstly an instance of the social whole. As
such, it is articulated with other instances, not
confronted with any opposite.

It is within itself
that the oppositions that concern i t are determined:


We have so far shown only the general form of this
displacement. We will now specify its functioning,
by showing how this ‘Science/Ideology’ couple works
in a political analysis. To do this we will use two
of Althusser’s texts: the article ‘Problemes
Etudiants,lO, and the text ‘Marxism and Humanism,ll.

Both in fact are devoted to deducing the political
consequences of the theory of ideology.

The article ‘Problemes Etudiants’ was an intervention in the conflict that had arisen between the
French Communist Party’s (PCF) theses on the university, and the theses then dominant in the National
Union of French students (UNEF). The latter aimed
at opposing the simply ‘quantitative’ demands of the
PCF (increase in the number of universities, of
staff etc.) with a ‘qualitative’ questioninq of the
teaching situation, conceived, through the concept
of alienation, as analogous to a class relation.

Althusser’s intervention was meant to draw the real
lines of demarcation which should serve as the basis
for the political and trade union action of the
student movement.

So what is involved is not so
much an article rising out of the immediate struggle,
as the strict consequences of the Althusserian
theory of ideology – consequences that have since
provided the framework, whether admitted or not, of
the revisionist analysis of the university.

The principle of the article is to shift the line
of class division from the teacher/student relation
(where it had been drawn by the UNEF theorists) to
the content of the knowledge taught. The dividing
line does not cut across the transmission of knowledge between teacher and student; it lies in the
very content of knowledge, between science and ideology. Althusser’s argument involves a Nhole system
of implications which we think it useful to state
explicitly at this point.

Althusser bases himself on the distinction between
the technical and social division of labour:

What are the Marxist theor~tical principles which
should and can intervene in the scientific
analysis of the University? … Above all the
Marxist concepts of the technical division and
the social division of labour. Marx has applied
these principles in the analysis of capitalist
society. They are valid for the analysis of
every human society (in the sense of a social
formation based on a determinate mode of production). These principles are a fortiori valid for
a particular social reality like the university,
which, for various essential reasons, belongs to
every modern society, whether capitalist,
socialist or communist. 12
A first reading reveals the same mechanism that
was at work in the analysis of ideology: suppression
of the class struggle, and its replacement by the
generality of a function necessary to the social

whole. But the concepts here require particular
attention. Althusser says he is undertaking toapply
the Marxist concepts of technical and social
division of labour. But these concepts are in no
way given as such in Marx’s analysis. This analysis
demonstrates the two-fold nature of every production
process, depending on whether one considers i t as
the labour process in general, or as a socially
defined process of production, reproducing the
relations of production which determine it. While
a distinction between ‘technical division’ and
‘social division’ of labour can be deduced from
this analysis, it is not a real distinction but a
mere formal distinction corresponding to two ways
of conceptualising the same process. Technical
div~sion and social division are two aspects of a
single division. The functions which ensure the
technical reproduction of the process are the same
as those which determine its social reproduction.

Now Althusser employs the distinction as a real
distinction of places and functions which correspond
respectively to one or other of the divisions. Thus
‘the technical division of labor corresponds to all
the “posts” of labour, whose existence is exclusively
accounted for by the technical necessities defining
a mode of production at a given moment of its development in a given society’, while the social division
‘has the function of ensuring that the labour process
of this society continues in the same forms of the
class divisions and of the domination of one class
over the others’. (p.84).

Technical and social division of labour
Formulated in this way the distinction is enigmatic: how is one to define exclusively technical
necessities in a mode of production, which would be
independent of its complete social character; independent, that is, of the reproduction of the social
relations of production which determine this? And
convers~ly, does not the ‘technical’ functioning of
the process of production already imply the reproduction of .the relations of production, and hence the
reproduction of the forms of the class divisions and
of class domination?

To resolve the enigma, we must once more reverse
the argument. The technical division of labour is
supposed to throw light on the function of the university.

In fact, it is the status accorded the
university which will· enlighten us as to the function of the concept ‘technical division of labour’.

Althusser tells us that the university ‘for various
essential reasons, belongs to every modern society,
whether capitalist, socialist or communist’ (p83).

So the technical division of labour, which at first
seemed to correspond to the requirements of a determinate mode of production now corresponds to the
technical necessities of a ‘modern’ society; i.e.

in Marxist terms, of a society having reached a certain level of development of the productive forces.

The distinction is thus defined in the following way:

the technical division of labour corresponds to a
speCific, given level of development of the productive forces; the social division to the reproduction
of the relations of prod~ction of a determinate mode
of production.

It all works ‘as if’ a certain number of necessary
places and functions of a modern society in general
could be defined exclusively in terms of the level
of development of the productive forces.

A conclusion which will not fail to surprise ~he reader of
Althusser. Hasn’t he elsewhere devoted all his
energy to freeing the Marxist theory of history
from every ideology that views it in terms of evolution and linear development? Doesn’t the ‘modernity’

he now proposes absolutely contradict such an
attempt? To explain what this contradiction means,
we must ask what is at stake here politically. The
significance of Althusser’s backsliding is clear:

following in his steps, one is led to attribute to
the technical division of labour – i.e. to the objective requirements of science or ‘modern’ rationality -that which belongs to the social forms of the

capitalist mode of production. 13
The concept of the technical division of labour
appears, then, to be merely the justification for
revisionist slogans based on notions of ‘the real
needs of the nation’, ‘the real needs of the
economy’, ‘modernisation’, etc. We know that the
PCF has replaced the Marxist dialectic with a type
of eclecticism resembling Proudhon’s which distinguishes the good and the bad side of things. The
revolutionary necessity to destroy the bourgeois
relations of production in order to free the productive forces, is reduced for the PeF to the job of
suppressing the bad (the domination of the monopolies) to preserve and advance the good (the forms
of the ‘technical division of labour’ corresponding
to the requirements of every ‘modern’ society). But
since Marx, we know that the ‘real’ needs of society
always serve to mask the interests of’ a class; in
this case, they mask the interests of the class
which the PCF tends increasingly to reprf’!sent: the
labour aristocracy and the intellectual cadres. 13a
The funcitoning of the concept ‘technical division
of labour’ succeeds in justifying revisionist ideology in its two complementary aspects: a theory of
‘objective needs’ and a defence of the hierarchy of

The backsliding and the contradictions noted in
the passage are explained as follows: Althusser has
simply moved from the terrain of Marxist theory to
that of its opposite, the opportunist ideology of
revisionism. This displacement of Marxist analysis
onto the ground of an eclecticism of the good and
bad side is not new to us: it describes the same
movement as that which shifted the theory of ideology
towards a second dual relationship – that established
by metaphysics between Science and its Other. The
core of Althusserianism undoubtedly lies in this
articulation of the spontaneous discourse of metaphysics with revisionist ideology – an articulation
that is perfectly demonstrated in the development
of Althusser’s argument: the distinction between
the technical division and the social division is
expressed in Universities as a distinction between
science and ideology.

In other words, the theory of
ideology, the foundations of which seemed problematic,
is now grounded on the theory of the double justification of labour. But since this last is nothing
but the scholarly justification for revisionism, the
theory of ideology here proclaims its political
basis. Marxist theory at first acted as a solution
to a problem within metaphysics; this problematic,
in its turn, acts in the service of revisionist
ideology – a movement that the analysis of knowledge
will make explicit:

It is in the knowledge taught in the university
that the permanent dividing-line of the
technical division and the social division of
labour exists, the most reliable and profound
line of class division. (p89)
The strategem is made perfectly plain here: the
SCience/ideology distinction is what allows the
technical/social division to pass for a line of
class division; which means that in Althusser’s
discourse, metaphysics arranges the promotion of
revisionist ideology to the rank of Marxist theory.

It is only through this arrangement that Althusser’s
thesis retains its ‘obviousness’.

In fact, it
implies a double distortion: the first, already
noted, concerns the status of ideology. The
second bears on the effectivity of science, which
is alleged to be automatically on the side of the

It is not accidental if, in every matter, a
reactionary or ‘technocratic’ bourgeois
government prefers half-truths, and if, on
the other hand, the revolutionary cause is
always indissolubly linked to rigorous
knowledge, that is, to science. 14
We in turn will suggest that it is not accidental.


if Althusser’s thesis appears here in its inverted

It is both necessary for Althusser’s argument, and impossible, without revealing what underlies it, to state in its direct form the thesis
according to which scientific knowledge is intrinsically subversive of bourgeois domination. Such
a problematic thesis is only comprehensible through
a process of extension which takes Marx’s theses
on scientific socialism and turns them to its own
advantage outside their proper field.

It is clear
that the liberation of the proletariat is impossible
without the theory of the conditions of this
liberation; that is, without the Marxist science of
social formation.

The bond uniting the revolutionary
cause and scientific knowledge is guaranteed in this
case by their common object. But one has no right
to then impute a revolutionary character to science
in general.

In any case, it is enough to apply this
thesis to the reality of the teaching of science in
order to see its inanity. The bulk of the courses
given in medical schools or the big Colleges of
Science undoubtedly have a perfectly valid scientific content.

If this education has an obvious
reactionary function, it is not simply because the
sciences are taught there in a positivist way, but
because of the very structure of this education: the
type of institution; selection mechanisms; relations
between students and staff, the latter being both
the possessors of a certain knowledge and members
of the social hierarchy (cf. the role of consultants
in medicine). The dominance of the bourgeoisie and
of its ideology is not expressed in the content of
the knowledge but in the structure of the environment
in which i t is transmitted. The scientific nature
of the knowledge in no way affects the class content
of the education. Science does not stand confronted
by ideology as its other; it resides within institutions and in those forms of transmission where the
ideological dominance of the bourgeoisie is

‘At least,’ i t will be said. ‘the second element
of the thesis is confirmed: ideology reinforces the
power of the bourgeoisie – witness the role played
by the “human sciences”.’ But the problem is badly
posed. These disciplines owe their role to the
fact that they constitute the place in the system of
knowledge where the confrontations of the class
struggle are most directly reflected.

So the problem is not that of their more or less ‘ideological’

nature, but of the nature of the ideology which is
transmitted in them. The psychology, sociology, law
or political economy taught in higher education do
not have a reactionary function because they, wholly
or in part, lack scientificity, but because they
spread the ideology of the bourgeoisie. The point
is not whether they belong to ‘ideology’, but
whether they belong to bourgeois ideology. The task
of revolutionaries is not to confront them with the
requirements of scientificity, nor to appeal from
these pseudo-sciences to the ideal sCientificity of
mathematics of physics.

It is to oppose bourgeois
ideologies with the proletarian ideology of MarxismLeninism.

The most elementary concrete analysis of the
university institution reveals the metaphysical
nature of Althusser,s division. The ‘Science/
Ideology’ couple is nowhere to be found in the
analysis of the university, where we are concerned
with the ideology of the ruling class, not with
‘ideology’. And the ideology of the ruling class
is not simply – let us even say, not essentially expressed in such and such a content of knowledge,
uut in the very division of knowledge, the forms in
which it is appropriated, the institution of the
university as such. The existence of bourgeois
ideology is not in the discourse of some ideologue,
or in the system of the students’ spontaneous notions,
but in the division between disciplines, the examination system, the organisation of departments everything which embodies the bourgeois hierarchy of

Ideology is not in fact a collection of
discourses or a system of ideas.

It is not what


Althusser, in a significant expression, calls an
‘atmosphere’. The dominant ideology is a power
organised in a number of institutions (the system of
knowledge, the media system etc). Because Althusser
. thinks in the classical terms of metaphysics, those
of a theory of the imaginary (conceived as a system
of notions separating the subject from the truth),
he completely misses this point. The result is a
complete distortion of ideological struggle, which
comes to have the function of putting science where
ideology was before. This means opposing bourgeois
academic discourse with a Marxist academic discourse;
which in turn means opposing the ‘spontaneous’ and
‘petty-bourgeois’ ideology of the students with the
scientific rigour of Marxism, incarnated in the wisdom of the Central Committee. The struggle of science
against ideology is, in fact, a struggle in the
service of bourgeois ideology, a struggle ~hich
reinforces two crucial bastions: the system of knowledge and revisionist ideology.

There is no ideology in the University which
could Be the Other of science. Nor is there a sciencR
which could be the Other of ideology.

The Universitv
does not teach ‘science’ in the mythical purity of
its essence, but a selection of scientific knowledges
articulated into objects of knowledge.

The transmission of scientific knowledges does not proceed
from the concept of science. It forms part of the
forms of appropriation of scientific knowledge and
these are class forms of appropriation. Scientific
theories are transmitted through a system of discourse, traditions and institutions which constitute
the very existence of bourgeois ideology.

In other
words, the relation of science to ideology is not one
of rupture but of articulation. The dominant ideology is not the shadowy Other of the pure light of
Science, it is the very space in which scientific
knowledges are inscribed, and in wh±9h they are
articulated as elements of a social formation’s

It is in the forms of the dominant ideology that a scientific theory becomes an object of
knowledge .14a
The concept of knowledge, in fact, is not that of
a content which can be either science or ideology.

Knowledge is a system in which the ‘contents’ cannot
be conceived outside their forms of appropriation
(acqUisition, transmission, control, utilisation).

The system is that of the ideological dominance of
a class.

It is not ‘science’ or ‘ideology’.

In it
are articulated the class appropriation of science
and the ideology of the ruling class.

There is no
more a class division in knowledge than there is in
the state.

Knowledge has no institutional existence
other than as an instrument of class rule.

It is
not characterised by an in’.:erior division reproducing that which exists between the classes – on the
contrary, its characteristics are determined by the
dominance of a class. So the system of knowledge is,
like state power, the stake in a class struggle, and,
like state power, must be destroyed.

The University
is not the site of a class division, but the objective of a proletarian struggle. To transform this
objective into the neutral site of a division, is
quite simply to conceal the class struggle. Having
finally managed to grasp that there is not a bourgeois
science and a proletarian science, it is thought
possible to infer that science is intrinsically proletarian, or, at the very least, that it is an area
of peaceful co-existence. But if science itself,
at the level of its proof, cannot be bourgeois or
proletarian, the constitution of scientific knowledge
as objects of knowledge, and the mode of their
social appropriation, certainly can be. There is
not a bourgeois science and a proletarian science.

There is a bourgeois knowledge and a proletarian

The function of teaching
The heart of Marxism is concrete analysis Of a
concrete situation. Now it is clear that the
‘science/Ideology’ opposition is unfit for such an

analysis, class providing no more than a repetition
of the classic dichotomy of metaphysics. It draws
an imaginary line of class divisions for no other
reason than to ignore class struggle as it really
exists. IS Althusser’s misconception of the function
of knowledge, and of the struggle which takes it as
an objective, rests on this primary suppression.

The position of the political having been misunderstood, it can only reappear in the wrong place;
hidden in the alleged neutrality of the technical
division of labour, or shifted into the hypothetical
revolutionary function of science. We have already
seen what the ‘technical division of labour’ represented.

It remains to look more closely at what
the concept of science represents, what gives it the
specific function of concealing the class struggle.

~o do this we must examine the second central
thesis in Althusser’s argument, the thesis defining
the function of teaching:

Althusser’s thesis fails to recognise that this
double representation – of the scientific with the
political, and of the political with the scientific already exists precisely in knowledge. Knowledge
constitutes the system of appropriation of scientific
conceptions to the profit of a class. Now it is a
notable fact that philosophy has been established
and developed in a definite relation to knowledge,
but without ever recognising its class nature. So
when Plato attacks the Sophists, or Descartes
scholasticism, their criticism functions largely as
a criticism of knowledge: that is, not simply as
criticism of an erroneous discourse, but of a certain
social and political power. But even when they grasp
the properly political-dimensions of this knowledge
(Plato), they cannot attain to the level of the cause;
that is to say, to the articulation of knowledge
with the rule of a class. Unable to see knowledge
as the system of the ideological dominance of a class,
they are reduced to criticising the effects of this
The function of teaching is to transmit a
system. Philosophy thus develops as a criticism of
determinate knowledge to subjects who do not
false knowledge in the name of true knowledge
possess this knowledge. The teaching situation
(Science), or of the empirical diversity of knowledge
thus rests on the absolute condition of an
in the name of the unity of science. The criticism
inequality between a knowledge and a non=of knowledge, failing to recognise its class funcknowledge.

tion, is made in the name of an Ideal of Science, in
One can see the logic which articulates this thesis
a discourse which separates the realm of science
with the previous one. The first indicated the real from that of false knowledge (opinion, illusion etc).

line of class division: science/ideology. The pres- The opposition of Science and its Other has the funcent thesis exposes the false dividing line: teaching/ tion of misconceiving the class nature of knowledge.

taught. The teaching relation has the function of
And the discourse of metaphysics propagates this
transmitting knowledge to those who do not possess
misconception inasmuch as it presents itself as a

It is hence based exclusively on the technical
discourse on science; i.e. as a discourse asking the
division of labour. The two theses complement each
question: what constitutes the scientificity of
other, but absolutely contradict each other as well.

science? The act of modesty characteristic of the
For the first presents knowledge as determined by
‘epistemological’ tradition to which Althusser
the difference between science and ideology, whereas returns, consi~ts an believing that this question is
the second suppresses every determination other than produced at the very request of science. Thus for
the opposition of knowledge to non-knowledge, of the Althusser, a new science (Greek mathematics, Galilean
full to the empty. The dividing line had been drawn physics etc) would call for a discourse defining the
solely between the concepts ‘science’ and ‘ideology’. forms of its scientificity (Plato, Descartes etcl.

It is obliterated as soon as the reality of the
Isn’t this to play the question at its own game? In
teaching function comes into play. Althusserdeclares fact, the question can only actually exist in order
that students ‘very often risk alienating the good
not to pose the question: what is the basis of knowwill of their teachers who are unjustly held in sus- ledge? So it is not produced at the demand of Science
picion over the validity of their knowledge which is
(even if, in fact, it voices this demandl but by
considered superfluous’ (p94). But didn’t the
knowledge’s concealment of itself. 17
science/ideology distinction precisely imply the
Philosophy thus traditionally practices a critique
deepest and most justifiable suspicion towards the
of knowledge which is simultaneously a denegation I7a
knowledge of the teachers? To remove that suspicion, of knowledge (i.e. of the class struggle). Its posiit is necessary to give knowledge the status of
tion can be described as an irony towards knowledge,
science. This means making the relation of science
which it puts in question without ever touching its
to non-science intervene a second time, not now in
foundations. The questioning of knowledge in philothe shape of error (science/ideology) but in that of sophy always ends in its restoration: a movement the
ignorance (knowledge/non-knowledge). The concept of great philosophers consistently expose in each other.

science now appears in its true light: the science/
Thus Hegel criticises Cartesian doubt, which only
ideology distinction ultimately had no other function results in re-establishing the authority of everything
than to justify the pure being of knowledge – more
it pretended to reject. Feuerbach isolates the same
accurately, to justify the eminent dignity of the
pretence in the Hegelian ‘path of despair’.

possessors of knowledge. To understand this reversal non-knowledge of the idea was only an ironic nonof quality into quantity, we must here again recogknowledge’. And this is what we rediscover in
nise the voice of the revisionist prompter: what is
~lthusser: the line of division is scarcely drawn
required is an education ‘of quality’, ‘of a high
before it is erased. Doubt about knowledge only
cultural level’. As far as the teachers are conexisted the better to establish the authority of a
cerned, in their double role of scholars and wageknowledge elevated finally to the rank of science.

earners they are objective allies of the working
In repeating this manoeuvre, Althusser reveals its
class.Sotin whose interest would it be to criticise political significance, clearly showing what is at
them, if not that of provocateurs in the pay of the
issue: the status of the possessors of knowledge.

bourgeoisie? It is not accidental if etc etc .,.

Any serious doubt about the content of knowledge vanBut it would be wrong to see Althusser’s discourse ishes the moment the question of its subject is
as a simple piece of hack-work in the service of
raised, the moment that the very existence of a group
revisionism. On the contrary, its inberest lies in
possessing knowledge is at stake. Here again, there
the fact that it reproduces the spontaneous discourse is an evident homology with that classic philosophical
of metaphysics, the traditional position of philosophy figure, of which the Cartesian cogito provides a model
with respect to knowledge. A position that Althusser illustration: the challenging of the object of knowindicates, while at the same time concealing it; when ledge aims at confirming its subject. Doubt about
he defines philosophy as follows:

the object is only the obverse of the certainty of
the subject. It is preCisely this contradiction which
Philosophy represents politics in the domain of
gives philosophy its status: philosophy is constructed
theory, or to be more precise: with the sciences
against the power of the false possessors of knowledge,
– and vice-versa, philosophy represents scientif- or more accurately, of the possessors of false knowicity in politics, with the classes engaged in
ledge (sophists, theologians etc). But it cannot go
the class struggle. 16
so far as to put at issue the very existence of know-


ledge as the instrument of a class. So against the
object of false knowledge, it invokes the subject of
true knowledge; which means, in the final analysis,
strengthening the grounds for dominance of those
possessing (true) knowledge, and hence justifying
class domination. This passage from the object of
false knowledge to the subject of true knowledge would
consequently correspond to the political demand of a
class excluded from power, lending this demand the
form of universality.

(The Cartesian ‘good sense’.)
This movement has ultimately no other end than reinforcing the privileged position of tge possessors
of knowledge – a form of class rule. 17
The Althusserian theory of ideology describes this
same movement, and we now see how the spontaneous discourse of metaphysics comes to be articulated with
revisionist ideology. Only one more mediation is
required for this: Althusser’s academic ideology.

In it, the spontaneous discourse of metaphysics
assumes the function of justifying the teachers, the
possessors and purveyors of bourgeois knowledge
(knowledge which includes academic Marxism). 9peakinq
in their name, defending their authority, Althusser
quite naturally adopts the class position expressed in
revisionist ideology – that of the labour aristocracy
and the cadres. The spontaneous discourse of metaphysics is thus the necessary mediation enablinq
Althusser to recognise his own class position in that
expressed by revi~ionism. This convergence is located
in the question of knowledge and the defence of academic authority. At this point, the Althusserian
theory of ideology functions as the theory of an
imaginary class struggle to the profit of a real
class collaboration, that of revisionism. The transformation of Marxism into opportunism is complete.

from a class society to a classless society; namely,
that this transition poses a certain number of economic, political, ideological problems etc. Secondly,
some generalities concerning the function of ideology
with which we are by now quite familiar. And finally,
in the hide-and-seek played by these two generalities,
the absent object which was going to be analysed the reality of the Soviet Union. But the absence of
this reality ~s due to the s~lid presence of its
image. What in fact is this ‘new’ reality which
Althusser believes must explain the new recourse to
an old ideology? Nothing but the image which Soviet
society presents of itself; or to be more precise,
which the governing class presents of it: ‘a new
period of history in which the State will’no longer
take charge, coercively, of the leadership or control
the destiny of each individual ••. ‘, ‘a world without
economic exploitation, without violence, without
discrimination ••• ‘ etc. The ‘explanation’ of the
Soviet humanist ideology is really only its reduplication. The whole chicanery of the theory of
ideology ends in this naivety which destroys any
analysis of ideology before it has begun: an ideological discourse is taken to be the adequate expression
of what it purports to express; the discourse which
claims to be that of a classless society is taken at
its word. It is clear that this reduplication is not
a superfluous act, since it strengthens the effect
this discourse inevitably has: that of concealing
the class str~ggle in the assertion that it has been

The circularity of the analysis also closes the
circle of the Althusserian theory of ideology, which
returns here to its starting point. This return must
‘be understood in two senses. On the one hand, the
‘concrete’ analysis of ideology in a classless society brings us back to the generalities dealing with
the function of ideology in general. The theory
This concealment of the class struggle reveals its
offers its own repetition as the analysis of its
most profound effects in the analysis of humanist
object. But on the other hand, the political signifiideology 18; an analysis produced to answer the ques- cance of the theory is shown up in its encounter with
tion: what is the function of the humanist ideology
the object which it is its precise function not to
currently proclaimed in the USSR? To answer this
think. Revisionism is not simply the object that the
question; that is to say, in fact, not to pose it.

Althusserian discourse conceals or hesitates to think;
For the only way of posing it would be to enquire as it is strictly its unthought, the political cQndition
to its class meaning – instead of which we find it
of its theoretical functioning. While Althusser
subsumed under another, more general question, and
claims to be explaining soviet ideology, it would seem
one whose answer is already laid out· beforehand: ·since to be much more revisionism which explains and founds
Vhe USSR is a classless society, all we have to do is the Althusserian theory of ideology. A theory which
to apply the theory of ideology minus·that which deals posits, even before the existence of classes, the
with the exercise of class rule. We know all too
necessity of a function for ideology – is it not the
well what is left: namely, that ideology is not science, expression, the interpretation, of a politics which
and that it enables men to live their relation to
claims to have got beyond classes?

their conditions of existence. Socialist humanism
If the Althusserian theory of ideology ends with
thus designates a collection of new problems without this theoretical suicide, it is precisely on account
giving a strict knowledge of them. And what are these of the prohibition which prevents it from thinking
problems? Precisely those of a classless society:

of ideological discourses as discourses of the class
struggle, and only allow it to relate them to their
In fact, the themes of socialist humanism desig’social function’ and their non-scientificity. So the
nate the existence of real problems: new
~ritique of humanism leaves its object intact, since
historical, economic, political, and ideological
it cannot conceive it other than by reference to the
problems that the Stalinist period kept in the
scientificity from which it is excluded. The concept
shade, but still produced while producing
of man is that of a false subject of history, a new
socialism – problems in the forms of economic,
form of the idealist subject (spirit, consciousness,
political and cultural organisation that correscogito, or absolute knowledge). Such a critique
pond to the level of development attained by
leaves aside the main problem: what does humanism
socialism’s productive forces; problems of the
represent politically? What does the concept man
new form of individual development for a new
designate? Experience enables us to reply that humanperiod of history in which the State will no
ist theory has always had the goal of protecting,
longer take charge, coercively, of the leaderunder the disguise of universality, the privileges
ship or control of the destiny of each individual, of a specific set of men. Man is always the Prince
in which from now on each man will objectively
or the Bourgeoisie. It can as easily be the cadre
have the choice, that is, the difficult task, of
– the Party leadership. But it can also – accordinq
becoming by himself what he is. The themes of
to a necessary law of ideology – be the concept in
socialist humanism (free development of the
which those who rebel against their power make their
individual, respect for socialist legality,
protest and assert their will. Humanism always
dignity of the person etc) , are the way the
functions as the discourse of a class in struggle.

Soviets and other socialists are living the
And such must be the case for the various forms which
relation between themselves and these problems, 19 humanist ideology has taken in the USSR. Stalin can
that is, the conditions in which they are posed.

put us on the right track here: isn’t the famous
formula ‘Man, the most valuable capital’ the other
We have three elements in this text: firstly, a
side of the slogan which proclaims that ‘the cadres
series of very general r~ks about the transition
decide everything’? And can one conceive of the

The analysis of humanist ideology



present ‘humanism of the individual person’ other
than by reference to the process of the restoration
of capitalism? Is it not the equivalent in ideology
.of the ‘state of all the people’ in the political
sphere? The recent history of the USSR and the
people’s democracies shows us how i t can act both as
the discourse of the new ruling class, which denies
that classes exist in these societies, and as the
expression of the rebellion of classes or peoples
oppressed by revisionism. Now it is noticeable that
Althusser does not relate the ideological forms of
humanism to the reality of a struggle or a division,
but to the unity of a p~oblem which exists for the
unity of a group:

What need do the Soviets have for an idea of
that is, an idea of themselves, to help
them live their history;20


The answer to this question is given by the relationship between the tasks to be accomplished (those of
the transition to communism) and the conditions in
which they have to be accomplished (‘difficulties due
to the period of the “cult of personality” but also . ..

the more distant difficulties characteristic of the
“construction of socialism in one country”, and in
addition in a country economically and culturally
backward to start with’). Problems that men have to
resolve, objective conditions, backwardness, exceptional phenomena – these are the ingredients of
Althusser’s recipe.

There is one thing he absolutely
refuses to understand, and that is contradiction.

As a result he moves completely off the terrain of
Marxism onto that of bourgeois sociology. We
indicated the form of this shift at the beginning we now know its political function.

A theoretical platitude to complement a political
naivety: this is how every theory of ideology must
inevitably end if it fails to make the class struggle
its starting point.

Ideology and class struggle
In order to understand this original omission, we
must come back to the goal pursued by Althusser’s
theory: a critique of theories of transparency and
de-alienation. To resist them, it was necessary to
show that the world is never transparent to consciousness, that even in classless societies there is
‘ideology’. At this point we began to suspect that
the argument might actually have a quite different aim,
and that the choice of enemy might have been made to
suit its purposes.

But, to be fair, the relation was

If Althusser’s discourse on ideology is
governed by the concern to justify revisionism, i t
could just as well be said that it is because
Althusser remains prisoner of a classic philosophical
problematic that he remains in the camp of revisionist ideology.

In fact, by struggling against ideologies of alienation, caught in the dilemma of transparency (idealist) or opacity (materialist),
Althusser is led to fight on the ground of his
opponent. The characteristic of the para-Harxist
theories he criticises (Lukacsian, existentialist,
and the rest) is to identify the Marxist theory of
ideologies with a theory of the subject. Now
Althusser does not sever this knot which ties
Marxist theory to the idealist philosophical tradition. ,He only attacks one particular aspect of it:

the interpretation of Marxist theory in terms of a
theory of consciousness.

His criticism fixes the
status of ideology according to two basic determinations.

On the one hand, the theory of ideology is a
theory of the illusion of consciousness; on the other,
ideology is not just ‘false consciousness’ but must
be granted an objective status – it is a system of
representations (images, signs, cultural objects)
which extends beyond the sphere of consciousness and
has an objective social reality.

But this double
correction leaves out what was specific about the
Marxist theory of ideologies: the ‘ideological forms’

which the Preface to the Contribution to a Critique

of Political Economy talks of are not merely social
forms of represeentation, but the forms in which a
struggle is fought out. 21 The realm of ideology is
not that of subjective illusion in general, of the
necessarily inadequate representations men form of
their practice.

Ideologies can only be given an
objective status by considering them in terms of the
class struggle.

This means that ideology does not
just exist in discourses, not just in systems of
images, signs etc. The analysis of the University
has shown us that the ideology of a class exists,
first and foremost, in institutions – in what we can
call ideological apparatuses, in the sense in which
Marxist theory talks about the State apparatus.

Because of the point from which he starts, Althusser
can only give ideological forms the spectral objectivity of systems of ‘signs’, ‘cultural objects’, etc.

In other words, a metaphysical theory of”the subject
(in the form of a theory of illusion) is linked with
a sociology of l systems of representations t.. We have
seen how the two are articulated within a conception
of ideology which is wholly metaphysical, in the
strict sense that it cannot understand contradiction:

and only the ability to understand contradiction
would allow it to quit the metaphysical ground on
which its opponent stands.

The consequence of this is that the political
problem designated by the ‘end of ideologies’ problematic, is conjured out of existence.

‘Only an
ideological world-outlook,’ says Althusser, ‘could
have imagined societies without ideology and accepted
the utopian idea of a world in which ideology (not
just one of its historical forms) would disappear
without trace, to be replaced by science. ,22 The
problem is here posed entirely in the terms of the
ideologies being criticised: the end of ideologies
is identified with the reign of science, that is,
with the disappearance of subjective illusion in

On this basis, it is easy to show that the
world of transparency cannot exist, and that classless societies can never do without ideology, so

We have seen how, in practice, this critique
of utopia was revealed as the most fatuous naivety not surprisingly, for to pose the problem in this WRY
meant concealing precisely what had to be thought:

the pursuit and the end of the class struggle in the
realm of ideology.

It is impossible to understand
this problem – and consequently impossible to produce
any concrete analysis – if ideology is conceived as
illusion, however much the ‘social’ necessity of this
illusion is stressed.

To understand it, ideologies
must be conceived as systems representing class
interests and the development of the class struggle.

The end of ideologies is then not presented as an
eschatological concept, but in the same terms as the
withering away of the state – that is, as a function
of the end of the class struggle. An end we now
know to be still a long way off even after the dictatorship of the proletariat has been established.

The experience of the cultural revolution has taught
us a little about this.

It showed us what the forms
were in which ideology was claimed to exist in a
classless society: forms, in fact, in which the class
struggle is relentlessly pursued within a socialist

The rejection of the ‘ideological’ theme of
the end of ideologies stops one from considering the
essential problem of the forms of class struggle in
socialist societies. The Chinese experience has
shown us the crucial importance of the ideological
forms taken by this struggle. The socialist revolution involves the struggle against the various forms
of bourgeois ideology which continue to exist after
the seizure of political power: traditional ideologies of individualism or obedience, or modern ideologies of skills and technicality. All these problems
concern the ideological effects of class divisions.

They have nothing to do with the question of the
disappearance of subjective illusion. Not that this
problem should remain unposed; but it does not belong
to the problematic of the Marxist theory of ideologies,
which is no more than a theory of the subject, than
a theory of science or a theory of ‘society’.


Althusser tries to attack the anthropological
ideologies which make the theory of society into a
theory of the subject; but his discourse has no more
subversive effect that reestablishing a theory of
science, as the mediation governing the relation
between these two terms.

This theory of science rests on the same ground as
the ideologies it claims to resist; which is to say
that it reflects, in its own particular way, the
class position of the petty-bourgeois intellectual a
On the
a position oscillating between two camps.22
one hand, the camp of the bourgeoisie, with which
the petty-bourgeois intellectual is associated not
only through class situation, but through the very
sphere in which he works, through his theoretical
problematic which itself reflects his function within
the bourgeois ideological apparatus. And on the other
hand, the camp of the proletariat which he would like
to join, but the interests of which he can only
adopt by assimilating them to the objectivity and
universality of ‘science’. This means that insofar
as he remains a petty-bourgeois intellectual – insofar, that is, as he does not participate materially
in the proletarian struggle – he can only unite with
the interests of the proletariat in a mythical
fashion, by making the revolutionary objective coincide with that ideal point, in striving towards which
he justifies his own practice as a petty-bourgeois
intellectual: the Ideal of Science.

In other words,
he adopts the ‘positions of the proletariat’ at the
level of the denegation of his own class practice.

To join the proletarian struggle at the level of this
denegation, means joining the camp of bourgeois politics disguised as proletarian politics – the camp of
revisionism. An ideal convergence which in a country
like France corresponds to a precise reality. For the
betty-bourgeois intellectual, access to the working
class is doubly guarded: by his own integration into
the system of the ideological dominance of the bourgeoisie; but also because between him and the proletariat stands the revisionist apparatus, as the
‘representative’ of the working class. So on both
sides, the ‘Marxist’ petty-bourgeois intellectual
sees himself excluded from partiCipation in the
proletarian struggle; from partiCipation in that
which, in the last instance, can aSone guarantee the
Marxist rigour of his discourse. 22
The operation
which transforms Marxist theory into a discourse on
science reflects this double limitation: a general
limitation coming from the position of an intellectual divorced from the masses, and integrated into
the bourgeois ideological system; and a particular
limitation stemming from the revisionist encirclement
of the proletarian struggle. The ‘scientific’ rigour
of this discourse is thus only the obverse of the
impossibility of its functioning as rigorous Marxist
theory; in other words, of its being revolutionary.

This ‘scientific’ rigour does not enable it to escape
its double set of limits; quite the opposite – only
by virtue of its own lack of coherence can a pettybourgeois ideology acquire, in given circumstances,
a progressive function.

Once its basic rigour is
attained, it is shown up for what it is – a bourgeois

This is why the Marxist discourse on science
ultimately dissolves into the two-fold justification
for academic knowledge and the authority of the
Central Committee.

‘Science’ becomes the watchword
·-:>f the ideological counter-revolution. 23
Without revolutionary theory, there can be no
revolutionary movement.

We said it till we were
sick of it, hoping in this way to set our minds at

It is time now we learnt the lesson that the
cultural revolution and the ideological revolt of
the students has taught us: divorced from revolutionary practice, all revolutionary theory is transformed
into its opposite.

Jacques Ranciere
July 1969

from the French edition
We must get rid of this habit of only criticising
after the event
– Mao Tse-Tung

The following text makes its appearance in France after
a delay of four years.

It was drafted in 1969 for an
anthology on Althusser published in Argentina.

I did
not at that time think it worth publishing in France:

foz’ those who witnessed and took part in May 1968, the
practical demonstrations of the mass movement seemed
to me proof enough that the question of Althusserianism could be considered historically settled. And
while it was useful as a means of clarifying my own
ideas, as far as the anti-revisionist e(~ucation of the
masses went, this kind of theoretical refutation seemed
laughable compared with the lessons of the struggle.

When at every stop, the autonomous initiative of the
masses was finding itself policed by revisionism, i t
would have seemed anachronistic to settle accounts with
a theoretical police whose headquarters May has sent
up in flames.

Subsequent events have shown the idealism involved
in such a position.

It is true that refutation is of
little weight compared with the transformations produced in people’s minds by mass-movements.

But so long
as the apparatus of bourgeois domination remains in
place, the base survives for the reproduction of
ideologies which the movement of the masses appeared
to have utterly destroyed. And given that the
university machine was working again, it was necessary
that its role of keeping order – its police-role should be restored to life, and that it should reerect the scholarly, theoretical scaffolding designed
to shore up the tottering maxim: ‘it’s always wrong
to rebel’. Of course, this reconstruction is not
exactly the same as the original, since it is produced in conditions modified by the effect of the
movement. Thus the experimental forms of the postMay university (of the Vincennes type) tried to
transfer the university’s police-role from the
authority of the teacher to the authority o~the knowledge; to transform the professorial despotism into
an egalitarian republic of petty mandarins – preCisely the problematic set out in Althusserianism.

In the immediate post-May period, moreover, Althusser’s
discourse recedes into the background, while at the
same time his thes~s are appropriated by the combined
forces of young bucks of revisionism and the petty
mandarins of the re-modelled university. This
appropriation is perfectly illustrated by that
literature student at Vincennes, a young PCF member,
who was delighted that his teacher, ~y beginning a
course on Racine with a posing of Althusser’s problematic of reading, should enable students of an
unsufficient standard to be eliminated from the start.

So the very difference in formation between the
ideas of revolt, produced by mass movements, and the
ruling ideas, constantly reproduced by the ideological
apparatuses of the bourgeoisie, determines the position of this type of ideological struggle which
fights on its opponent’s ground. A position strictly
subordinate to the ideological transformations
produced by the struggle, but nevertheless now impossible to abandon. Limited as the usefulness of this
text would have been in 1969, it was wrong to restrict
knowledge of it to those who could, in some private
and roundabout way, get hold of it in the Spanish or
Portuguese version.

All the same, its present publication in a different context of ideological struggle, poses new
problems and necessitates certain rectifications.

Firstly, the passage of time will undoubtedly
make my criticism seem one-sided. To which I shall
reply that it was aimed at a specific target: the
appropriation of Althusserianism after May 68 in the
interests of the revisionist and mandarin reaction.

Hence, it concentrates on a specific artiCUlation of
the Althusserian discourse: that which, in the theory

of ideology, expresses the class position of
way, Althusser can bracket together in the same
‘Marxist scholars’ confronted with the ‘ideological’

text analyses produced by two conflicting probvoice of revolt. With regard to this fundamental
lematics (a problematic of subjective illusion and
dividing line, my criticism was correctly – and
a problematic of State Apparatuses); can casually
remains so – one-sided. But i t is self-evident that
mention in a Party publication that political
a complete history, that is, a ‘fair’ evaluation of
parties and Trades Unions are state apparatuses;
Althusserianism would have to take account of its
and can without danger – if not without malice other modes of political appropriation, and indicate
discuss the class function of education in a
the points in the Althusserian text at which one can
periodical devoted to the glorification of univeranchor a left Althusserianism which should lead a
sal science and the state school. Nothing can be
certain number of intellectuals to Maoism.

If I have
built on this ironic discourse, where what is
concent~ated on the effect of the right, it is
stated, and the very statement of it, is constantly
because its dominant character was established by
given the lie by the mode in which it is stated.

the mass-movement itself. And the attitude of the
Althusser can always adopt such or such a new
UJCML (Marxist-Leninist Union of Communist Youth)
notion, draw such or such a lesson from practice,
towards the student revolt at the beginning of May
but cannot set Althusserianism back on its feet 68 i~ enough, to demonstrate its hold even over
the complete and autonomous model of revisionist
‘left Althusserianism’.


Objection will also be raised against the early
date (1964) of the texts criticised, and much will
This text will have a negative effect, if i t is
no doubt be made of the self-criticism by which
to play a part in the game of building-up and knockingAlthusser, beginning with ‘Lenin and Philosophy’,
down monuments to great men. Yet i t can still prove
is said to have broken with his previous ‘theoreticuseful if, by depersonalising the criticism, it allows
ism’ in favour of a philosophy conceived as political
the accent to be put on the ideological mechanisms of
intervention. Unfortunately for this idyllic vision,
power which constrain the discourse of intellectuals
it is just these ‘theoreticist’ texts and problematic in our societies.

So the criticism I make of the
of the 1964 period which are found,to have produced
Althusserian analysis of ‘socialist humanism’ in
political effects, of the left as well as of the right. For Marx will lose its point if i t should be thought,
And if the ‘new practice of philosophy’ promised by
by a scorn that is all to’o easy with the benefit of
‘Lenin and Philosophy’ has paradoxically produced no
hindsight, to attribute to the blindness or guile of
noticeable effect in t’he field of class struggle, it
an individual a type of relation to power firmly
is precisely because it turned its back onthe.political anchored in the practice of intellectuals; if i t
problems in which the Althusserian theoreticisms had
should be thought to exorcise in the shape of the
been laid bare. So that this alleged politicisation
Althusserian devil, the temptation provided by this
of philosophy was really more of a denegation of the
practice to transform the chains of power into the
foundations and the political effects of Althusserian- interconnexions of theory. What was it that was
ism, which left philosophy as a field of political
always involved in the Althusserian seminars, and
intervention, with the scarcely burning question of
that is still involved in many a seminar even now?

the reality of the object of knowledge.

The interrogation of concepts, demanding their authorI feel then, that the concepts at issue here
isation, questioning their identity, restraining
really do constitute a ‘rational kernel’ which has
those which without a passport wandered out of their
given Althusserianism the systematic character of an
proper province, etc … Proofs of identity, preventive
ideology independent of Althusser’s personal history.

detention … the vast network of philosophy’s police
His later contributions to the question of ideology
mentality for which Althusser is no more responsible
are in my view of two kinds:

than the capitalist is, according to Marx, “for the
relations of production of which he is the support.

1 The texts of 1968 (‘Lenin and Philosophy’, Cours de
The apprentices of bourgeois knowledge are trained in
Philosophie pour les Scientifiques) crystallise
a universe of discourse where words, argument, ways
the science/ideology relation into a conceptual
of questioning, deduction are prescribed by the dismultiplicity (sciences, ideologies, the spontancursive forms – forms which are those of the reeous philosophy of scientists, conceptions of the
pressive practices of power. And what is ultimately
world …. ) in which the theoretical scheme of
at issue here is the effect of this system of conAlthusserianism is retrieved unaltered. Thus the
straints that I will call police-reason, on a
correct ideas which the researcher draws from his
particular philosophical discourse. And ultimately
scientific practice are, by a complex mechanism,
there is no paradox if the strength and relevance of
interfered with by different systems of representthis discourse ends up revealing on its surface the
ation (a conception of the world, spontaneous
subterranean network of constraints in which the
philosophy, etc) produced elsewhere.

But the
half-wits of academic philosophy ro;p, free from all
complexity of this mechanism conceals the question

of this practice itself, of its forms of social
It is also necessary to refer to the conjuncture
existence and of the class struggle which puts it
and the aim of this text to avoid the lapse of time
at stake. The class struggle is thus relegated to
distorting the use i t makes of the couple ‘bou~geois
the level of the representation of a practice, in
ideology/proletarian ideology’.

In opposition to
the traditional figure of the dislocation between
Althusserianism, it was important to affirm at a
the production of an object and the production
theoretical level the capacity of subordinate classes
of’the consciousness of it.

to forge the ideological weapons of their fight, and
hence to establish their right to rebel regardless of
2 The 1970 text ‘Ideology and Ideological state
whether it suits the politico-syndical apparatuses
Apparatuses’ introduces some ideas and a problem’of the working class’. This was particularly vital
atic produced by the Chinese Cultural Revolution
at a time when, from all quarters, the die-hards,
and the anti-authoritarian revolt of. May. But
drawing the ‘lessons of May’ after their own fashion,
the Althusserian system cannot be ‘set back on its
were entering into a war against ‘spontaneism’, i.e.

feet’ by these conceptions, which, if taken to
against the revolt of the masses which they pretended
their logical conclusion, could only smash it.

to criticise in order to supply it with what,
So Althusser introduces them only in isolation
according to them, had been missing in’May: a vanfrom their mode of production; presenting as the
guard, party, science, proletarian discipline, or a
surprising and paradoxical discovery of research
consciousness imported from the outside. The voice
(‘I believe I am justified in advancing the
of the masses or the discourse of the scribes? The
following thesis … This thesis may seem paraalternatives required that, faced with those peddlars
doxical …. ‘) this truth about the dominant charof vanguards, the ‘bourgeois ideology/proletarian
acter of the educational ideological apparatus,
ideology’ opposition should be clearly put forward,
which was produced in such a profoundly unwithout any hair-splitting, insofar as it signified
ambiguous manner by the mass-movement.

In this
the right of the masses to autonomous speech and


action. But at the same time, the opposition was
employed in a traditional form which concealed its
fundamental originality. It does not refer to two
homogeneous realities distinguished by a plus or
minus sign, but to two modes of production of ideology which are profoundly heterogeneous. Bourgeois
ideology is a system of power relations daily reproduced by the ideological apparatuses of the bourgeois
state. Proletarian ideology is a system of power
relations established by the struggle of the proletariat and other subordinate classes against all the
forms of bourgeois exploitation and domination; forms
of resistance to the ideological effects materially
produced by the bourgeois division of labour, forms
of systematisation of anti-capitalist struggles, forms
o~ control over the superstructure by the masses.

It is a system of power relations that is always
fragmentary because it defines a certain number of
conquests always provisional because it is not produced by apparatuses but by the development of
struggle. Proletarian ideology is neither the
summary of the representations or positive values
of the workers, nor the body of ‘proletarian’


It is a stopped assembly-line, an authority mocked, a system of divisions between particular
jobs of work abolished, a mass fight-back against
‘scientific’ innovations in exploitation, and it is
the ‘bare-foot doctor’ or the entry of the working
class into the Chinese university. Mass practices
produced by the ant~-capitalist struggle whose
uniqueness is missed as soon as one tries to set a
proletarian philosophy, justice or morality against
the philosophy, justice or morality of the

Now this heterogeneity is habitually concealed by
traditional discourses on proletarian ideology,
which only establish its reality at the cost of an
ambiguous oscillation which continually relates the
positivity of texts (the ideology of the proletariat
is Marxism-Leninism) to the positivity of the characteristics which belong to members of a class (proletarian ideology is the discipline of the factoryworker as against petty bourgeois anarchism, or the
solidarity of the shop-floor in contrast to bourgeois
individualism etc.)
In this gross theoretical deviation the justification has traditionally been
found for all the practical deviations of every kind
of revisionism. Either it is the scientificity of
proletarian theory that has the job of marshalling
the ‘spontaneity’ of the workers’ wild reactions; or
else the proletarian characteristics (order, labour,
discipline …. ) serve to recall the anarchism of
‘petty-bourgeois’ rebellions to order. Twin incarnations of law-and-order which lead us back to the
source of this binary representation of proletarian
ideology. A creation of neither working class
consciousness, nor Marxist theory, but of the Stalinist state machine, this representation is supported
on the power relations which define the functioning
of the revisionist ‘workers” parties and states.

As science, proletarian ideology is the symbol of
this power: as the sum of proletarian characteristics,
it defines, for the workers, so many reasons for
obeying ‘their’ power:” a spiritual point of honour’

with the concrete reality of the ‘workers” militia
opening fire on the workers of Gdansk.

Every critique of the ‘science/ideology’ couple
which relies on the shifting meanings assembled
beneath the concept of proletarian ideology, thus
stays sunk in ambiguity. And this ambiguity doubtless does no more than translate the inability which
revolutionary organisations still find of ridding
themselves of the politico-organisational forms and
the ideological effects bequeathed to us by the
revisionist and Stalinist State machineries. Here
again, it is for the practical criticism of the
movement of the masses to sweep away the ‘proletarian’

phantasms invoked by the sorcerer’s apprentices of
the state apparatuses.

Many other points in this text I feel to be subjects for discussion. But one does not correct the
texts of the ideological struggle when the conditions
of the struggle change: one writes new ones.

So I


have altered nothing in the original text; I have
simply added this afterword and some additional
notes to emphasise the conditions in which it was
drawn up, and to forestall deformations in its
reading which its delayed publication might

Jacques Ranciere
February 1973


Theorie, Pratique Theorique et Formation Theorique:

Ideologie et Lutte Ideologique, p29


Poulantzas: Pouvoir Politique et Classes Sociales,


Theorie, Pratique Theorique, etc, pp30-3l


Ibid., p26

4a The vague use of the ‘metaphysical discourse’

subsequently inherited by sociology (social cohe’sion, the bond between men, etc ..• ) loses the
specificity of the concepts involved here, the
fact that they belong to a historically determined
political problematic. It is this problematic
which, in the second half of the 19th century,
gives sociology its status and position in the
ensemble of practices employed by the bourgeoisie
during this period to mould the men necessary to
the reproduction of the capitalist relations of
production: the period following the establishment of those relations and the reaction of the
proletariat, when the bourgeoisie has twice been
confronted with the possibility of its extinction.

More astute than the ‘Marxist’ scholars who prate
endlessly about the ‘spontaneously bourgeois’

ideology of the proletariat, the bourgeoisie
recognised in 1848 and 1871 that, even if they
used the same words (order, republic, ownership,
labour … ), the workers were thinking differently.

Hence the necessity for the bourgeoisie to
strengthen the ideological weapons of its di~tator­
ship. This political threat gives the new human
sciences their place among the techniques for
moulding the ‘normal’ man necessary to the system;
a moulding which encompasses the detection of
criminals or the prevention of suicides, as well
as the selection of the cadres or parliamentary
education of the masses (i.e. the parliamentary and
electoral repression of the autonomous political
practice of the masses).

It also gives them their
problematic: a science of the phenomena which
consolidate or break up social cohesion – what
principles strengthen the cohesion of a group,
what criteria allow the most suitable ones to
be chosen for such and such a position? or, more
crudely still, how can one identify in the physiognomy of a crowd or in the dimensions of a man’s
skull the danger that they represent for the social
order? It is not difficult to spot behind the
elaboration of the ‘sociological method’ the preoccupations of the detective Bertillon, author of
anthropometry, or of the military doctor Lebon,
theoretician of crowds and their ‘ring-leaders’.

The important thing here is that Althusser
separates these concepts of the bourgeoisie’s
‘police-reason’ from the political dangers and
manoeuvrings of power which underly them, in order
to relate them to a function of the social whole
in general. This is naturally ~omplemented by a
conception of science above and beyond classes,
which reproduces preCisely the ‘scientistic’

ideology that crowns the edifice of ‘policereason’.

If a direct line leads from this abstract
conception of ideology to the validation of
Kautsky’s thesis of ‘the importation of Marxism
into the working class’, it is perhaps because
this line reproduces in theory the historical
collusion ~f social-democracv in the bourgeois

attempt to domesticate the working class, to wipe
out its cultural identity. The pitiful bankruptcy
of social-democracy must indeed have something to
do with this ‘importation of consciousness’ which
has come to mean in practice: the containment of
the working class by electoral parties which,
while spreading parliamentary illusions, repress
the political practices and pervert the organisational forms of the proletariat;· the propagation
of a ‘science’ and a scientistic ideology which
help to wipe out the traditions of autonomous
popular expression, etc … Conversely, the
assertion that it is necessary to bring consciousness to a working class involuntarily trapped
within bourgeois ideology, may really indicate
the part played by social-democracy in the attempt
to integrate the working class into bourgeois
political life. If the working masses have been
able to find the means to resist this kind of
‘Marxism’ in their practice, the intellectuals
generally discover in it the form and substance
of their ‘Marxist’ theoretical discourse.

(Note added February 1973)

university in a socialist society, their discussion
will have to be left for some other occasion.

13a These brief remarks will lead one astray, should
they be thought to trace revisionist ideology back
to the interests of the intermediary strata. What
this ideology represents is basically the ideology
of a power structure which already contains the
prefiguration’ of a social order to come. The
reaction of the peF and the CGT (Confederation
Generale du Travail) to the corpse of Overney,
expresses less the cadres’ terror or the condemnation by members of the professions, than how it
appeared to the occupants of an alternative
State apparatus, who, moreover, already participated
as such in the bourgeois State apparatus. At
Renault, the cadres of the Party and the CGT do
not defend the interests of an intermediary class,
but their participation in the power of the emoloyers. By taking up the position it did, the PCF was
not representing the interests of its electoral
following, but its own interests as an apparatus
sharing in the management of capitalist power
in the factory.

(Note added February 1973)

Naturally this class relation has to be carefully
distingUished from the forms (political, economic,
ideological) in which the class struggle is
fought, which are its effects. It nonetheless
remains that the relations of production can only
be understood as class relations, unless they are
transformed into a new ‘backstage-world’. It is
just such a transformation which results from the
distinction made by Poulantzas (in Pouvoir
Politique et Classes Sociales) between the relations 14a
of production and ‘social relations’. Starting
from the correct idea that the relations of
production are not ‘human relations’, Poulantzas
falls into the dilemma indicated above: transparency or opacity. As a result, the relations
of production appear withdrawn into that exteriority represented by the ‘structure’. The analysis
of Althusser and Poulantzas ultimately results in
a truism: the structure is defined by no more than
its own opacity, manifested in its effects. In a
word, it is the opacity of the structure which
renders the structure opaque.

This (quasi-Heideggerian) withdrawal of the
structure could in no way be politically innocent.

The French Communist Party is happy to argue thus:

the struggle of the students only concerns the
effects of capitalist exploitation; the grassroots struggles in the factories against the
hierarchy, automation, victimisations, also deal
only with effects. It is necessary to come to
grips with the very cause of exploitation, the
capitalist relations of production. But to this
dimension of the problem, only Science has
access, i.e. the wisdom of the Central Committee.

The withdrawal of the structure thus becomes a
focus imaginarius in the Kantian manner, an
inverted image, reduced to a point, of a future
without limit: France’s peaceful road to socialism.


For Marx, p232


Theorie, etc, p32


Ibid, p30


A substitute conception for the contradiction
which is based, of course, on the misunderstanding
of the real contradiction.


Nouvelle Critique, No.152, January 1964,pp80-111


In For Marx, pp219-247




Thus it is, that in the same article, Althusser
deduces the ‘technical’ necessity for the whole
industrial hierarchy. As for the ‘essential
reasons’ which necessitate the existence of the

It is not uninteresting to note the agreement, at
the very level of rhetoric, between the metaphysical
formulation of ‘as if’ and the classic rhetorical
figure employed in the PCF: ‘It is not accidental
Popular common-sense is not mistaken when
it says that chance ~es manv thincrs.

The formulation of the problem seems to me to
have erred, through having somewhat diplomatically
restricted the question of ‘class science’ to what
is clearly the safest ground – that of the teaching
of scientific knowledges – in order to avoid
getting bogged down in the shifting sands of
proletarian geometry or genetics. A laudable
restraint which nonetheless has the drawback of
failing to deal with precisely what was in question:

the place of a scientific practice which would only
be affected by the class struggle at th~level of
the transmission of its results. It would be
advisable therefore to look more closely at what
is involved in this representation of a ‘pure’

scientific practice.

What is the ‘rational kernel’ in the idea of
the universality of scientific practice? It is
that propositions exist whose modes of verification seem valid for all existing classes and social
systems. Let us note in passing that this
universality of the modes of verification does
not, for all that, place the practice which
produces these propositions above classes (such
developments in arithmetic as took place in the
19th century can be universally acknowledged
without for all that destroying the political
problematic of order which supports them). But
above all, let us note that, except in the treatises of philosophers, no science is ever reduced
solely to the ordering of universally verifiable
propositions, nor any scientific practice solely
to the process of their production. In no sense
is there any ‘pure’ scientific practice; such a
practice having its forms of existence in a system
of social relations of which propositions, formal
proofs, experiments (on the basis of which the
ideal of science is established) are only elements.

The class struggle can manifest itself at
different levels: present even in propositions,
prooofs, a field of application, the methods and
occasion of their elaboration etc. One can see
from this that scientific propositions and
theories can, at one and the same time, keep
their power of verifiability and yet belong to
bourgeois science. The Chinese mathematicians
who underwent self-criticism during the Cultural
Revolution, were not accused of having produced
false theorems, but of having practised in their
ivory towers an academic’s science, looking only
for personal prestige. And similarly, they did


not replace their ‘bourgeois’ theorems with
‘proletarian’ ones, but altered the relationship
to the masses which had been implied in their
practice. This is because the social nature of a
science essentially depends on the two-fold
question; who practices science and fo~ whom? To
conceal this double question is to vindicate, under
cover of the universality of the modes of scientific verification, the universality of the bourgeois
division of labour.

What is the basic flaw in the arguments about
‘proletarian science’ and ‘bourgeois science’

before the Cultural Revolution? Precisely that
they neglected the question: who practices .

science? Not by accident, but because these
arguments were based on a system of the division
of labour which, keeping science out of the hands
of the masses, entrusted the responsibility for
judging its bourgeois or proletarian character to
the functionaries of power and the experts on

Proletarian science will certainly
never be created by a patent from the Academy of
Proletarian Science and, as long as proletarian
biology is the concern of Messieurs Besse,
Garaudy etc, this science above classes will be
in clover. As the Cultural Revolution has shown,
proletarian science means essentially – and this
can only be the work of a lengthy struggle by the
masses – the s~?pression of a science which is
the business of specialists beyond the reach of
the masses. A proletarian science which aistinguishes itself from the other not only by producing
different propositions, but by virtue of the
overthrow of the masses’ age-old relation to
knowle’dge and power.

(Note added February 1973)

ian interpretation of this history, which is even
more off-hand.

(2) that nevertheless, I have no more intention
of reproaching Althusser for his casualness than
of excusing myself to the punctilious historians
of philosophy. The day that these historians are
as scrupulous in making the voice of the masses
heard, as they are in establishing the sense of a
line in Plato, it will be time to see, in their
respect for the great philosophers, something
other than simple respect for the Great. As far
as I am concerned, Althusser’s casual treatment
of Plato or Descartes seems quite pardonable compared to the nonchalance with which he endorses
the official history of the labour movement (by
social-democracy and revisionism), a history which
adds the weight of its falsifications to the
firing-squads and prison-sentences of the

(Note added February 1973)

‘Marxism and Humanism’, in For Marx.


Ibid, pp238-9


Ibid, p238


Preface to the Contribution … etc.

Selected Works (in one volume) p182


For Marx, p232


22a We will have made some progress in the analysis of
class struggles and their ideological components,
the day we turf out these mechanical conceptions
of the ‘oscillation’ of the petty-bourgeoisie, which
are based on heaven-knows what ‘oscillatory property’

of its intermediary position. Generally speaking,
15 The characteristic of a metaphysical conception
is that i t tries to draw a line of class division
all the concepts which revolve around the notion
in realities (institution, social groups) which it
of a petty-bourgeoisie have become, for numerous
views in a static way. Thus the revisionists list
‘Marxist’ intellectuals, the refuge of blissful
social groups in terms of whether they are revoluignorance: what has not been explained by the
tionary or not. The dialectic teaches that, on
oscillation of the petty-bourgeoisie? Gaullism,
the contrary, there is knowable unity and division
fascism, leftism – everything under the sun, and
only in struggle. One cannot draw a line of
a few others as well .•. Thanks to this, one can’

class division in the university, but only in the
dispense with analysing the particular factors
struggle which puts it at stake.

which produce the adherence or partial resistance
to bourgeois ideology of a particular, non16 Lenin and Philosophy, p65
proletarian stratum. The closeness or distance
from manual labour, existence or absence of
tradi,tions of collective struggle, social future,
17 In his Cours de Philosophie pour les Scientifiques
(a course run at the Ecole Normale superieure in
relation to State power, position in the relation1967-68), Althusser develops the idea that philoships of authority, etc – all the de terminations
sophy is not concerned with Science – an ideologiare obliterated in this ‘oscillation’ which, in a
cal concept – but with the sciences. Balibar, in
single movement, alters the position of the
L’Humanite of 14-2-’69, mocks those who talk about
student and the small shopkeeper, the ruined
science as if .it were a ‘Speculative Holy Spirit’

peasant and the consultant engineer, the teacher
which is incarnated in the different sciences.

and the shop-girl in Prisunic.


But one might well ask what this strange concept
is thus the flatus vocis which hides – badly – the
of the sciences is. Can one say anything about i t
inability to articulate the contradictions proper
which does not pass through the mediation of the
to each class or class-fraction.

concept Science? The nature of a concept is not
The concept of petty-bourgeoisie has doubtless
changed by puttina it in the plural. It can be
always had a certain power of camouflage.

It is
all the more hidden – and this is just what is
already visible in Marx where it serves, in
involved: to replace science by the sciences, is
particular, to conceal the contradictions within
to conceal the proper object of philosophy (Science)
the proletariat, thought of as a contamination of
as produced by the denegation of knowledge. The
the budding modern proletariat by the artisanal
proclaimed anti-speculative act of Althusser and
dreams or the peasant frenzies of the bankrupted
Balibar has the sole effect of strengthening the
small proprietors.

But on this point, as on many
philosophical denegation of knowledge.

others, the academic reading of Marx has been
powerfully supported by the practice of the
l7a Denegation is a word’ used by Freud to designate
‘workers” State apparatuses – primarily by the
an unconscious denial masked by a conscious acceppractice of the Stalinist apparatus, where the
tance, or vice-versa.

It is used here in the
struggle against the ‘petty-bourgeoisie’, while
sense of an ostensible criticism concealing a
concealing the inability to recognise and resolve
contradictions among the people, serves simultanestrengthened affirmation. The affirmation is
‘misrecognised’ as criticism. (Translator’s note)
ously as the ‘proletarian’ justification for
establishing a new bourgeoisie of planners, inl7b This bird’s-eye view of the history of philosophy
spectors, prosecutors etc.

will no doubt seem insubstantial.

Let me briefly
A deliberate failure to recognise contradictions

among the people, the concealment of new class
(1) that i t restricts itself to challenging,
contradictions: the concept of petty-bourgeoisie
~ithin its own terms of reference# the Althussermust be numbered among those which have helped a


Common sen’se

State power conceal what it doesn’t want to know a ‘theoretical’ laboratory which has ‘been found
to be well-equipped for this universal function
of non-thought, the effects of which can be spotted
as much in the discourse of Marxist scholars as in
that of professional revolutionaries.

——————————————————–(Note added February 1973)
Correct ideas, says Mao Tse-tung, do not fall from
22b To go into this in any depth, it would be necessary the sky: they are formed by social practice. What is
true of correct ideas holds also for ideas in general.

to demonstrate the interrelation between this
theory of ideology and the police-revisionist con- No ideas fall from the sky. They are all rooted in
spiracy theory. The theory states that workers do given historical situations. They all represent, or
reflect, certain forms of past or present practice.

~ot have the capacity to produce an anti-capitalist
But the relationship is often a complex or confused
ldeology, and hence as autonomous anti-capitalist
one, and rarely as simple as the case pin-pointed by
practice. So if this worker claims to speak and
Mao Tse-tung as the ideal: correct ideas in a correct
act for himself, he immediately reveals himself to
social practice.

be a false worker, and thus a real police-agent.

Marxists have often seen the ideological struggle
(Note added February 1973)
in terms of a wrestling match. On the left, in the
red corner, dialectical materialism; and on the right
23 Let us specifically state, should it still be
This is a fallacious and dangerous image. The
necessary, that what is in question here is not
enemy of a theory or a doctrine is never a rival or
Althusser’s personal position in a particular
competing theory but is the world of social practice
set of circumstances, but the political line
in which that theory is rooted. The battle of ideas
iMplied by his theory of ideology. Rarely has a
theory been more rapidly appropriated by those who can be engaged at a refined level, one theory against
another. But this is only a minute aspect of the
have an interest in it. In the name of science,
struggle. For in general the enemy camp is composed
the workers’ struggles against wage-scales are
resisted – don’t they misunderstand the scientific not of one theory but of several. Furthermore these
are not so much theories as such but ways of thought
law which says that each is paid according to the
formed from a mixture of different elements which
value of his labour-power? In the same way, the
anti-hierarchical struggles in the university fail serve to connect these theories to a day-to-day

to understand t~at ‘the ultimate nature of the
Marx himself was well aware of the complexity of
staff-student relation corresponds to the advance
the situation. His critique of religion in a case in
of human knowledge, of which it is the very
point. Marx saw religion not as an arbitrary, metafoundation’. (J. Pesenti: ‘Problemes de methode
physic dreamed up by some armchair philosopher, nor
et questions theoriques liees a la refonte des
as an ingenious deception exercised by the ruling
carrieres’, July 1969). One could not admit in a
class on the masses, but as a form of thought which
more ingenuous manner what constitutes the
had deep roots in the spontaneous experience of the
‘foundation’ of the theory of science to which one
mass of the people. The combination of elements
lays claim.

which go to make up religious thought has its origins
The impasse in which Althusser finds himself
ultimately in the real world. Religion is one of the
i~ demonstrated in a recent article in La Pensee
ways in which people live in an illusory relationship
‘A propos de l’article de Michel Verret sur Mai
with reality, the illusory ‘spiritual aroma’ of a
etudiant’ (June 1969). In it, Althusser affirms
contradictory world.

the basically progressive character of the May
The religious aroma has for the most part
student movement, and denounces the reactionary
(Festival of Light notwithstanding) been deodorised
interpretation of this movement by an over-zealous
by advanced industrial capitalism. The struggle
defender of ‘Science’. But he cannot.-or will not
against religion is no longer the necessary starting
– see it in the simple justification of a reacpoint of cultural revolution. Platitude, not mystery,
tionary politics. He only sees the mark of an
is the present enemy of critical and scientific
inadequacy: the Party ‘has not been able to’

thinking, and of a revolutionary practice. Religion
analyse the student movement, to keep in touch
has been replaced by common sense.

with student youth, to explain the forms of
But the lesson of Marx’s critique of religion
working class struggle to it, etc. The conclusion
should not be overlooked. Nor should the connection
of the article shows that he is thus still limited
between religion and common sense as it was implied
to the twin recourse to science and the Party
by Marx and more explicitly developed by the Italian
apparatus. It is on the latter that he relies
marxist, Antonio Gramsci. Common sense is so often
‘to furnish all the scientific explanations which
invoked as being the ultimate no-nonsense conception
will allow everyone, including the young, to
of things, alien to all forms of religious and
understand the events they have lived through,
metaphysical speculation, that the association may
and, if they wish, to grasp on a correct basis
at first sight appear surprising. But in fact not
where they stand in the class struggle, by
only does religious thinking have its origins in the
revealing the correct perspectives to them, by
common sense of a particular world, but it has in turn
~iving them the political and ideological ‘means
acted on common sense, so that our present everyday
for correct action. ‘

conceptions contain all sorts of elements which are
in fact speculative and mystical rather than realistic
and scientific.

G Nowell Smith

Common sense is fundamentally reactionary.

The key to common sense is that the ideas that
it embodies are not so much incorrect as
uncorrected and taken for granted. Common
sense consists of all those ideas which can
be tagged onto existing knowledge without
challenging it. It offers no criterion £or
determining how things are in capitalist
society, but only a criterion of how things
fit with the ways of looking at the world
that the present phase of class society has
inherited from the preceding one.

Reprinted from 7 Days, 3 November 1971, with permission


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