On the theory of ideology

Certainly it is an interesting event we are dealing with: the putrescence of the absolute spirit
(Marx, German Ideology, Part 1)

All the mysteries which lead theory into mysticism find the irrational 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: like the young theologians of Tübingen seminary, scouring the undergrowth to discover new ‘faculties’, we would multiply ‘practices’, each endowed with specific laws. In the forefront of course lay theoretical 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 relief. 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 theoretocal 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 effective 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.


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