[OPE-L:2767] Re: (3) "Epistemological Break" and Application to Political Economy

From: Paul Zarembka (zarembka@acsu.buffalo.edu)
Date: Fri Apr 07 2000 - 12:33:54 EDT

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bhandari@Princeton.EDU (Rakesh Bhandari) said, on 04/07/00 at 11:43 AM:

>Yikes, Paul Z wrote:
>>Another implication is that we must develop the theory of "modes of
>>production" (slavery, feudal, capitalist, etc.) BEFORE we get too hung up
>>about "transitions" between modes of production.

>This implies that a conception of the Law of Social Revolution, i.e., the
>transition from one mode of production to another, is somehow incidental
>to his theory. Just put a stake in the old man, why don't you!

>Yours, Rakesh


I think I didn't formulate it well enough. What was on my mind was the
transition from feudalism to capitalism. How to theorize it is not easy
when we do not even have good theory of the political and economic
instances of the capitalist mode of production as well as insufficient
theory for the feudal mode of production. But there is also the issue of
the revolution against capitalism. That is, the revolution cannot again
result in a "Stalinist" bureaucracy or a state capitalist. It must be
with WORKERS' CONTROL. And this issue is in the here and now in how we
organize ourselves.

I was on a list several years ago and two Marxists-Feminists supported
Althusser with the following comments. Since the list was public there
is no reason to hide their names, so I won't.

Paul Z. and see below:

"I discovered Althusser when I was in graduate school; I read his work in
Spanish and in English and found it incredibly useful to help me start
thinking forward to develop Marxist theory for the analysis of issues Marx
did not examine fully in his own work. Had i not read Althusser, I think
i would probably have remained stuck in the exegesis of the sacred texts
or in the even easier task of making a career of pointing out what Marx
did not write about or why what he wrote was not what he should have
written etc. etc. Instead, I was able to grasp Marx's methodology and to
use marxist theory creatively (I know, if I were modest i would be perfect
:) and that's something I owe to Althusser's influence. I am particularly
fond of my first published articles on feminist theory, Marxism and
Feminism (Frontiers - a Journal of women's Studies, Fall, 1975) and
Structuralist marxism on "The Woman Question," (Science & Society, Fall,
1978), which are, like most of my work, indebted to Althusser's original
and useful readings of Marx.

Martha E. Gimenez
Department of Sociology
University of Colorado at Boulder

I just joined M-Fem, and the first thing I read was very troubling for me.
Jim Farmelant asserts extremely assertively that Althusser's work is
"flawed" and "deficient" and that his distinction between
Hegelian-Feuerbachian Marx and the Marx of Capital is "Stalinist". To add
insult to insult, he again asserts that "Indeed I doubt there is (sic)
any prominent Marx scholars who would take it [Althusser's interpretation
of Marx] seriously." He then moves in to the ad hominem, with the
pronouncement that Althusser was "a real looney toon." Mark Jones
continues this tenor with the assertion that Althusser was "another of
these ouanquerees and a real loony toon...I reckon it is obvious he never
read Capital."

As an Althusserian, I do not find this kind of discussion the kind that
promotes learning or debate. Rather, it stifles both. I have read both
Marx and Althusser intensively and extensively, and I find Althusser's
interpretation of Marx accurate, and also additive, enunciating concepts
and theories -- Marx's ontological and epistemological assumptions --
left unpronounced explicitly by Marx. I may not be "prominent" but I am
a Marxist scholar, and I find this type of discourse so-called
"Stalinist". (Another of Althusser's contributions was to call for study
of the Stalinist era, rather than blind pretenses of knowledge echoing
the U.S. State Department...yet he denounced what he felt he knew of
Stalin's era as "crimes and errors".")

With respect to Mark Jones' blithe dismissal of Althusser, I must again
demur: I reckon that it is obvious Althusser did read Capital. As for
his being a "looney (or loony) toon" he was brilliant, but plagued,
tortuously, by severe manic depression. This is not "looniness"
(presumably a reference to "lunacy") nor does it reflect or inhibit
intellectual capacity. If his alleged "looniness" is rather a reference
to his theoretical work, this is scarcely what I would call a serious
reading or critique of Althusser -- but perhaps a rather "loony" one, a
"neopomo joke".

My advice to anyone, like the person who originally inquired about
Althusser, is to read Althusser and to read Marx -- not to read about
them. On this point, I agree with Derrida, who said that people "ne
p(v)eut pas lire", but that does not prevent them from assessing the work
in question. I would like to close with that advice, to read, as well as
the suggestion/request to facilitate discussion by being less dismissive
and dogmatic.

Jennifer M. Lehmann, The University of Nebraska

(end of quotation)


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