So, what's Althusser's big insight? Mostly, I guess it's the way ideology functions within Marx. "Marx's Philosophy" gets at this when he talks about Marx's own methods of reading, and they way in which he was able to answer questions that weren't yet clear, in addition to requiring readers to work on his terms. Futhermore, Althusser consistently (I think) uses the assemblage of "economic, political, and ideological"when discussing modes of production. This expansion of the field of determining factors for society to explicitly include ideology comes out clearly when he writes,
we have paid great attention to the concepts in which Marx thinks the general conditions of economic production and the concepts in which Marxist thought much think its theory of history, not only to grasp the Marxist theory of the economic region of the capitalist mode of production, but also to ascertain as far as possible the basic concepts (production, structure as a mode of production, history) whose formal elaboration is equally indispensable to the Marxist theory of the production of knowledge, and its history. (44)From that foundation, we can begin to derive an idea of how we might perform ideology critique (he cites Foucault), and knowledge work that might take the form of beneficial class struggle, or progress, or subversion to the system that pays it. Then we can work in the modes of elucidation, elaboration, and investigation and not feel entirely complicit. So that seems to have potential as an affirmation for a knowledge worker who doesn't want to just be producing little exploitation machines. But maybe I'm doing this wrong if I'm that worried about self justification.
(The invisible hand this week was the one in the margins of the photocopy--physical traces of the labor that goes into ideas.)