In the first part of this essay, Althusser explains how exploitation continues under capitalism as a self-proliferating mechanism that produces its own conditions of reproduction along with its own existence. For this, he divides these conditions of production under two main aspects:
- Reproduction of productive forces
- Reproduction of relations of production
He says that the reproduction of productive forces basically means reproduction of labor power. This is done by providing them with wages/material means. Interestingly, these wages are not determined by the labor class’s biological needs but by their historical needs that are imposed by proletariat class struggle in each country. He gives the example of beer for Englishmen and wine for Frenchmen (an example Marx cited of historical needs). Also, the conditions of reproduction of labor include their schooling, training and ideological conditioning, which all go into the creation of productive forces that will help propagate capitalism.
In order to approach the reproduction of relations of production, he first states that it is necessary to ask what a society is. This in turn, takes us to the concept of the base and superstructure. Althusser notes that this concept is topographic, it is a spatial metaphor. This implies certain relations between the base (the productive forces) and the superstructure (State and ideological apparatuses). For instance, one is based on the effectivity of the other and their relative autonomy from one another. Althusser cautiously begins, that although he agrees with Marx’s theory he finds its descriptive in nature – that which is metaphorical and can only be seen as a beginning of later development theory.
Repressive State Apparatus vs Ideological State Apparatus:
Marx only charts out the State as a machine of repression that enabled the ruling classes to ensure their domination over the working class. Althusser calls this the repressive State apparatus that includes the police, army, administration etc and differentiates them from ideological State Apparatuses which consists of schools, cultural institutions, theater, cinema, communication forms etc. The prime difference between RSA and ISA is that the former uses physical coercion and violence as the dominant mode of control while the latter relies on ideological conditioning along with socially validated physical punishment (like in schools) to control productive forces. Now, coming back to the reproduction of the relations of production, it is precisely in the exercise of State power by RSAs and ISAs that this reproduction of relations of production is secured.
In fact Althusser elaborates on the rise of the School as the most powerful ideological state apparatus in capitalist societies and not the Church. He explains how the Church-Family couple got replaced by the School family couple in order to produce labourers who would be ideal citizens and the institution would eject them at different levels depending on their class.
Author: Noopur Raval