[OPE-L:1577] Althusser and Hegel

Gerald Levy (glevy@pratt.edu)
Sun, 24 Oct 1999 15:30:47 -0400 (EDT)

Paul Z wrote in [OPE-L:1576]:

> What are you trying to say?

To begin with, let me turn the question around, and ask you why Althusser
and Althusserians attempt to demonstrate a "epistemological break" in Marx
rather than simply going about developing their own interpretation(s) of

Do you think that there is more textual evidence in Marx for an
"epistemological break" than for the 6-book-plan? Why appeal to Marx --
in his grave -- for permission to develop a new social theory? After all,
you don't NEED his permission, right?

Anyway ... getting back to what I was trying to say, I think there is
scant textual evidence for an "epistemological break" in Marx.

However, if there was an "epistemological break", then surely this would
have been noted by the Marx scholar, Kenneth Lapides. Does he think that
there is evidence based on his research into Marx for an "epistemological

> In "The Crisis of Marxism" (1978) Althusser first notes "almost the
> impossibility of providing of providing a really satisfactory Marxist
> explanation of a history [Soviet history, including its "horrors"] made
> in the name of Marxism!" Then he indicates three crisis points in Marxist
> theory: 1) the implications of Marx's "arithmetical presentation, in which
> surplus value is *calculable*",

That might be an interesting topic to pursue. What more did he have to
say about that topic?

> 2) "the relation of the dialectic in Marx
> and in Hegel. There is a lot at stake in this question...concern[ing]
> the conception of necessity and of history, and of the forms of
> history",

I agree that this is an important issue. Perhaps some of our
Hegelian-Marxists and Althusserians could have an exchange on this topic.
You *might* think that Althusser has been misunderstood by many Marxists
(I don't want to put words in your mouth). I think many Hegelian-Marxists,
though, think that Althusser and Althusserians have misunderstood Hegel
(and the relation of Hegel to Marx).

> 3) there does not *really* exist any "Marxist theory of the State",

Actually, I think there are *many* Marxist theories of the state,
including Althusserian interpretations. But, I agree that Marx never
developed what would could be described as a [systematic] *theory* of the
state [under capitalism]. Now had he written his planned book on "The
State" ...

> nor "any
> real theory of the organizations of class struggle, and above all of
> political parties and trade unions".

Perhaps because he didn't live to write his planned book on
> I am providing all three for sake of completeness, but for this discussion
> I'm only noting the important question Althusser asks concerning the
> relation of Marx to Hegel, even as Althusser has promoted the realization
> of a very basic change in Marx's scientific thinking as he matures, so
> basic that it represents an "epistemological break".

You promote this idea as if it is an established fact. Yet, as you must
know, many Marxists disagree with this conception and therefore have come
to no such "realization".

I do think, furthermore, that those who hold this interpretation should
have spent some time *reading Hegel* (and Feuerbach). Yet, my experience
has been that many Althusserians have not undertaken such a study. Thus,
they are relying on someone else's authority on this question (Althusser)
rather than reading Hegel for themselves and deciding.

> Finally, I just state for myself personally, the legacy of Luxemburg and
> Althusser offers an opportunity which should not be squandered for getting
> a handle on the extent to which Hegel's right-wing philosophy
> ("nine-tenths" of which is "rubbish", according to Lenin's 1915 reading of
> Hegel) conditioned/was utilized to promote everything that Stalinism has
> meant for the exploited class(es) of the world.

Oh, dear. I was hoping you were going to give up that claim about the
alleged relation of Hegel and Hegelians to Stalinism. If you are going to
maintain such a claim, then you should at least be expected to demonstrate
a logical and historical connection of Hegelianism to Stalinism.

And -- just to set the record straight -- wasn't Althusser (a leading
member of the French Communist Party) a Stalinist? Many of the students
and workers in France in 1968 thought so, I believe. Moreover, the context
in which Althusser developed his theory (as a counter to Sarte and the
existentialists and other "Marxist-Humanists" who were influenced by the
publication of the _Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844_) could
be seen as oppositional to these (primarily) non-(or anti-) Stalinist

Of course, Althusser's politics and relation to Stalinism can not, by
itself, be used to demonstrate that Althusserians (of whatever variety)
are Stalinists. Clearly, you aren't (and I don't think that the Amherst
Althusserians are either).

As for Lenin: rather than trading quotes from him about Hegel, let
me simply note that he undertook a serious study of Hegel. This would be
beneficial for other Marxists, including Althusserians, as well, imho.

Sorry for my reference to "The Wizard of Oz" ("Lions, and tigers, and
bear, oh my!"). What I was trying to suggest (beyond what I view as the
scant textual evidence related to Marx's alleged "epistemological
break") -- rather inelegantly -- is that Hegel and Feuerbach and
"Humanists" are treated as a spectre in Althusser, i.e. people who should
be feared (and dismissed). Yet, there is too little explanation in
Althusser to justify such a fear.

In solidarity, Jerry

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