Althusser: no class can hold State power over a long period without at the same time exercising its hegemony over and in the State Ideological Apparatuses

by Black Captain

Althusser does not reject the Marxist model; however, he does want to explore the ways in which ideology is more pervasive and more “material” than previously acknowledged. (See the previous module for Althusser on ideology.) As a result, he proposes to distinguish “ideological state apparatuses” (ISAs for short) from the repressive state apparatus (SA for short). The state apparatus includes “the Government, the Administration, the Army, the Police, the Courts, the Prisons, etc.” (Althusser, Lenin 96). These are the agencies that function “by violence,” by at some point imposing punishment or privation in order to enforce power.

“what the bourgeoisie has installed as its number-one, i.e. as its dominant ideological State apparatus, is the educational apparatus, which has in fact replaced in its functions the previously dominant ideological State apparatus, the Church”. Through education, each mass of individuals that leaves the educational system at various junctures (the laborers who leave the system early, the petty bourgeoisie who leave after their B.A.s, and the leaders who complete further specialist training) enters the work force with the ideology necessary for the reproduction of the current system: “Each mass ejected en route is practically provided with the ideology which suits the role it has to fulfill in class society”. Other ISAs contribute to the replication of the dominant ideology but “no other ideological State apparatus has the obligatory (and not least, free) audience of the totality of the children in the capitalist social formation, eight hours a day for five or six days out of seven”. The very importance of this function is why schools are invested in hiding their true purpose through an obfuscating ideology: “an ideology which represents the School as a neutral environment purged of ideology (because it is…lay), where teachers respectful of the ‘conscience’ and ‘freedom’ of the children who are entrusted to them (in complete confidence) by their ‘parents’ (who are free, too, i.e. the owners of their children) open up for them the path to the freedom, morality and responsibility of adults by their own example, by knowledge, literature and their ‘liberating’ virtues”. So pervasive is this ideology, according to Althusser, that “those teachers who, in dreadful conditions, attempt to turn the few weapons they can find in the history and learning they ‘teach’ against the ideology, the system and the practices in which they are trapped… are a kind of hero”