Louis Althusser is a postmodern, post-structural philosopher known for his contribution of reinterpreting Marxism and making it a modern reading. His career suffered downfall when he strangled his wife to death and that point of time he was suffering from bipolar disorder. For analyzing his thoughts we have to make preview into the philosophy of Marxism.
Marxism is an atheistic philosophy that has introduced the concept of materialistic interpretation of history and dialectical materialism. What is materialistic interpretation of history? Marx argues that all the institutions of society have their root base on the production system. The factors of production are owned and controlled by the Capitalists who exploit the workers and make stupendous profit. All the institutions of the society like legal, political, religious and literary are owned and controlled by the capitalism. Dialectical materialism espouses the view that that roots of society’s foundations, its institutions lie with the economic base that is who owns the factors of production. Marx is of the view that a capitalist system makes profit and creates an industrial class of people called the bourgeoisie and a menial exploited class of people the proletariat. Althusser is not clear about how these Marxian concepts can be accommodated into modern day capitalist societies.
The next concept used by Althusser is ideology. Ideology is used in the broad sense of the term and encompasses society’s structures especially its political, legal, economic, psychiatric and literary structures. These structures function as ideological apparatuses. However the relevance of Marxism and ideological structures is anachronistic. All of the ideological apparatuses, the legal, political, economic, and psychiatric are dependent on the economics of production. Profit making of the bourgeoisie and exploitation of the workers is the result of the function of ideology. Here I would like to disagree with Althusser. What began as Communism and known as the Eastern bloc including the erstwhile Soviet Union collapsed. Free enterprise and capitalism rule the world today. Even in a country like China, only it political structure is communist while its market is market friendly.
Next we come upon Althusser’s term: the problematic. A rereading and re-interpretation of Marxian texts is problematic. The Marxian concept of class struggle is antiquated. The workers in a capitalistic society are not exploited. They are paid wages to meet their needs. Marxism has been successful only in Communist Cuba but Cuba is also opening its doors to a free market economy. Marxian concepts have failed to work in modern day economy. The internationalization of the industry as the transnational corporation and also out sourcing has created many jobs for workers in the third world. The world is edging towards a one world order and a one world currency. The bourgeoisie are becoming richer and richer while the workers become divided into upper and lower middleclass strata of the society.
Next Althusser talks about ideology as an aesthetic artifact. Aesthetics produces works of art which have an ideological structure. For example Renaissance paintings carried Christian motifs and it represented the ideological influence of Christianity. The works of Andy Warhol show the preponderance of crass consumerism. Mainstream literature especially pulp literature depicts the ethos of consumerism starved with the narcissism of the fetish of deprived minds. Can art transcend ideology and introduce something new? Art and aesthetics have to become a culture of deviation.