[OPE-L:692] Re: skip Part 1?

JERRY LEVY (jlevy@sescva.esc.edu)
Sat, 9 Dec 1995 21:28:35 -0800

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Reply to Paul Z. [685]

In a previous post, Paul Z. asked Andrew whether he thought that there were
too many "hegelianisms" in Part 1. I found that to be a rather curious
question for the following reason.

Andrew, I believe, is a "Marxist-Humanist" and, consequently, stands polls
apart from Althusser regarding philosophy and interpretation of Marx.
The "Marxist-Humanists" (most notably, in the works of Raya Dunayevskaya
and C.L.R. James) emphasize the *continuity* in Marx's thought between
the early writings of Marx (e.g. his writing in the _1844 Manuscripts_ on
alienation, dialectics, freedom) and the later works of Marx. The emphasis,
in part, was precisely on the Hegelian heritage of Marx and how Marx
retained the same basic political and philosophical understanding
throughout his life (although, that understanding, they argue, was shaped
and molder by concrete material developments and political movements that
occurred in his life, for example, the Paris Commune). The Marxist-
Humanists, also, have to be understand historically as a reaction to the
political thought and practice of *Stalinism*. The *humanist* emphasis
in Dunayevskaka, for example, was developed both as a rejection of
Stalinism and as part of her understanding of "state capitalism." It
should be remembered that she had been a secretary to Trotsky during his
exile in Mexico and C.L.R. James and her, who became the leaders of the
so-called "Johnson-Forrest tendency" in the SWP (US), split from Trotsky
and the SWP after the Stalin-Hitler pact (while Trotsky and the SWP
leadership under James P. Cannon continued to argue that the USSR was a
"degenerated workers state" which had to be defended from imperialist
attack, Dunayevskaya, James, and others argued that the USSR had
become a state capitalist tyranny).

In contrast to the above, Althusser suggested that there was a sharp division
and *discontinuity* between Marx's earlier writings (that exhibited a more
Hegelian influence) and his later writings. I would suggest that Althusser's
writings should also be read with an understanding of the historical
context in which they arose and, in particular, as a reaction against the
*humanism* of Sartre and the existentialists and was influenced by the
growth of *structuralism* in French thought (although, in the Forward to the
Italian edition of _Reading Capital_, Althusser insists vehemently that he
was not a structuralist [p.7]. In another work, Althusser suggests that
"our terminology ... is too 'structuralist'", but that "Marxism is not
'structuralism'" (Macciocchi, _Letters from Inside the Italian Communist
Party to Louis Althusser_, p. 3).

There are, of course, many concepts in Althusser which deserve attention
and evaluation. I am not going to discuss important concepts likee

"overdetermination" (see _For Marx_, pp. 252-253) and "Generalities I-III"
here, but will briefly discuss his concept of the *"epistemological
break"* since that concept is relevant to his reading of Part 1 of
_Capital_. Althusser argued that the purpose behind his philosophical
writings was to give Marxism an epistemology which he claimed was never
developed by Marx and was not developed by subsequent Marxists. In
particular, he claimed that Marxist philosophy has "lagged behind" the Marxist
science of history and that the great works of Marxist philosophy have
yet to be written (_Lenin and Philosophy and other Essays_, p. 58).

The concept of an epistemological break was first introduced by Gaston
Bachelard and describes the leap from the pre-scientific world of ideas
to the scientific world -- this leap involves a radical break with the
whole pattern and frame of reference of pre-scientific ideas and the
construction of a new "problematic." The concepts of "problematic" and
epistemological break, BTW, bear an uncanny resemblence to the idea of
a "paradigmatic shift" in Kuhn.

This concept, which emphasizes the discontinuities in social thought,
was later used by Althusser to justify his claim that Marxism is
completely different philosophically from "Hegelianism" and "Feuerbachianism."
The more specific context of the development of this idea was, IMO, a
reaction to the writings of Lukacs, Marcuse, and Korsch in the 1960's
which placed greater emphasis on the conceptions of alienation,
fetishism, dialectics, and humanism in the "young Marx." Althusser
argues, interestingly, that it was Spinoza, not Hegel, who was the
predecessor of Marx's conception of cause and that Spinoza's contributions to
science have either been deliberately ignored or surpressed (see Glucksman,
p. 102).

Where does this epistemological break occur in Marx? In describing
Althusser's *ANSWERS* to that question, I will suggest some limitations
with the concept itself as it relates to understanding developments in
intellectual thought.

1. In Althusser's first major (_For Marx_), he argues that in 1845
Marx went through an epistemological break which distinguished him
from other philosophers. This break was made possible when Marx
rejected Hegel *entirely*. The purpose of Marx's later writings was to
"drive this phantom (Hegel) back into the night" and that the new
dialectic was to be "the exact mirror image of the Hegelian"
("Contradiction and Overdetermination", p. 35 and 29). Althusser
divides Marx's writings into three stages. In the first stage from
1840-42 Marx, he claims, Marx was closer to the rational liberalism
of Kant and Fichte than to Hegel and politically was also a liberal
confining himself to the struggle against censorship and criticising
Prussian absolutism and the feudal laws of the Rhineland as irrational.
In the second period, from 1842-45, Marx allegedly rejected
"Feuerbachian humanism" and his previous rationalism when the Prussian
state refused to reform itself, and became a revolutionary. The
epistemological break occurrs in 1845. Marx, in his maturity, wasn't
observed until the "Thesis on Feuerbach" and _The German Ideology_.
The Hegelian conceptions which Althusser says that Marx broke with
included fetishism, alienation, and dialectics. He went on to say that
Hegelian conceptions such as negation, the negation of the negation,
the identity of opposites, "sublation", the transformation of quantity
into quality, contradiction, etc. are either not used by Marx at all after
'45 or are used within a totally different fram of reference ("Contradiction",
p. 8). To Marx's claim that the dialectic had to be "turned right side up
again, if you would discover the rational kernal within the mataphysical
shell", Althusser claimed that "this 'turning right side up again' is
merelt gestural, even metaphorical, and it raises as many questions as it
answers" (Ibid, p. 15). The single work that Althusser directs most of
his fire against was the _Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844_.

2. In _Reading Capital_ and _Lenin and Philosophy_, Althusser goes on to
suggest that the later works of Marx were also infected with "Hegelianisms."
In contrast to his previous claim above that it was _The German Ideology_
which signified the epistemological break, he now said that Marx "never
really rid himself of a certain positivist theme from _The German Ideology_"
(_Lenin and Philosophy, p. 58) and that "it is only too clear that he is
_missing_ something essential" (Ibid, p. 60).

So, if the epistemological break didn't begin with _The German Ideology_,
where did it begin? Was it the _Contribution to the Critique of Political
Economy_? Although Althusser said that this work was the "one first-rate
methodological text" that Marx wrote, he goes on to say that the "Preface"
of 1859 was "deeply marked by a Hegelian-evolutionist conception" (Ibid,
p. 103). This work, we are told, was "saturated" with references to the
fetishism of commodities and the "laws of motion" of the capitalist mode
of production. The result of the _Critique_ and its Hegelian content was
"havoc in the history of working class movements."

Was it the _Grundrisse_? No, that work showed "a strong Hegelian influence
(which) can be detected, combined with whiffs of Feuerbachian humanism"
(Ibid, p. 95) and that it was "profoundly influence by Hegel's thought"
(Ibid, p. 102).

Was it the _Theories of Surplus Value_? Nope. That work, as well, is marred
by Hegelian notions of "estrangement" and "alienation."

What about _Capital_? (at last, we get to Paul Z's reference). We are told
that "passages from Marx (are) contaminated by Hegelian terminology
and the Hegelian order of exposition in _Capital_" (Ibid, p. 144) and that
this work "has fallen prey to the influence of Hegel's thought" (Ibid,
p. 93).

The worst part of _Capital_, we are told, is "concentrated _at the very
beginning_ of Volume One, to be precise, in its first Part, which deals
with 'Commodities and Money'" (Ibid, p. 81). In particular, the theory
of fetishism is a "flagrant and extremely harmful one" (Ibid, p. 95).

Althusser said: "I therefore give the following advice: PUT THE WHOLE OF
.... (Ibid, p. 81). This is clearly *not* only a question of how to best
read or teach _Capital_ as is clear from Althusser's later statement that
"we ought to rewrite Part 1 of _Capital_" (Ibid, p. 144).

So, if _Capital_ doesn't represent the "mature Marx", what does? There are
only two works which "are _totally and definatively exempt_ from any
trace of Hegelian influence" -- the _Critique of a Gotha Program_ and the
_Marginal Notes on Wagner_ (Ibid, p. 94). About 75 pages total!

I won't go into Althusser's take on Lenin at this time, but I think it
likewize gives a distorted position on his philosophy. For instance,
Althusser's statement that "in Lenin there are no traces of
Hegelianism" (Ibid, p. 110) seems at odds with Lenin's famous statement in
the _Philosophic Notebooks_ on the need to read the _Science of Logic_ to
understand _Capital_. Althusser, somehaw, actually argues that this advice
("genius") by Lenin was an expression of how Lenin regected Hegelianism
(Ibid, p. 111).

At last, I approach the end of this long post. Unfortunately, the system
at Pratt is down and I have to use this inferior system which does not
allow me to edit or spellcheck my post (for which I offer my apologies).
The main point of this post does *not* concern the evolution of Marx's
thought. The main point that I have been trying to make, by way of
illustration, is that the Althusserian conception of changes in social
thought and history, exemplified by the concept of the epistemological
break, does not fit in well with the actual development of thought and
history. IMO, it is too rigid and does not appreciate the dialectics
of thought and history.

References follow.

In OPE-L Solidarity,


Althusser, Louis "Contradiction and Overdetermination", _New Left Review_,
January-February 1967, pp. 15-35

---------------- _For Marx_, NY, Pantheon Books, 1969

---------------- "Freud and Lacan", _New Left Review_, May-June 1969, p. 61

---------------- _Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays_, NY, Monthly Review
Press, 1972

---------------- "Philosophy as a Revolutionary Weapon", _New Left Review_,
November-December 1970, pp. 3-11

Althusser, Louis and Balibar, Etienne _Reading Capital_, NY, Pantheon
Books, 1970

Marchiocchi, Maria Antonietta _Letters from Inside the Italian Communist
Party to Louis Althusser_, London, New Left Books, 1973

Some *old* critical sources include:

Brewster, Ben "Presentation of Althusser", _New Left Review_, January-
February 1967, pp. 11-14

Geras, Norman "Althusser's Marxism: An Account and Assessment", _New Left
Review_, January-February 1972, pp. 57-86

------------- "Essence and Appearance: Aspects of Fetishism in Marx's
'Capital'", _New Left Review_, January-February 1971, pp. 69-85

Glucksman, Miriam _Structuralist Analysis in Contemporary Social Thought:
A Comparison of the Theories of Claude Levi-Straus and Louis
Althusser_, London, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1974

Mandel, Ernst "Althusser Corrects Marx", _International Socialist Review_,
July-August 1970, pp. 6-10, 45-49

_New York Review of Books_, May 22, 1969. Review by George Lichtheim

Novack, George _Humanism and Socialism_, NY, Pathfinder Press, 1972

Ollman, Bertell _Alienation: Marx's Concept of Man in Capitalist
Society, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1973

Veltmeyer, Henry "Towards an Assessment of the Structuralist Interrogation
of Marx: Claude Levi-Straus and Louis Althusser", _Science and
Society_, Vol. XXXVIII{ pp. 385-421

Villar, Pierre "Marxist History, a History in the Making: Towards a
Dialogue with Althusser", _New Left Review_, July-August 1973,
pp. 65-106