[OPE-L:1622] Re: Re: Althusser and Hegel

Antonio Callari (a_Callari@ACAD.FANDM.EDU)
Sun, 31 Oct 1999 10:31:23 -0500

Re: Althussrer and Hegel
Althusser's relationship to Hegel and to humanism is complicated and cannot
(should not) be fixed according to any purely theoretical matrix--that's
what i have come to conclude. Because Althusser was not concerned with
"theory" for theory's sake (this may sound strange to people who have come
to associate Althusser with a hightened sense of theoreticism--nonetheless,
in many formulations Althusser made it clear that theory was theory for the
sake of practice, that Marxism represented an intervention in philosophy,
etc..), but with what he thought were the ways in which theory (this or
that theoretical formulation) was used politically (both well or badly), he
remained flexible about his theoretical positions. (a little bit like
Lenin?). So, seen in this perspective, I think althussers theoretical turns
and re/turns become less mysterious, and I think much more suggestive of a
mind at work.
The introduction to recent issue of Rethinking Marxism tries to develop
this approach, not with respect to hegel explicitly, but with respect to
humanism. I reproduce that introduction for those who might be interested.
It is 3,500 words, so read on if you are interested in reading that much.


Editors' Introduction, Fall 1998 (Volume 10, Number 3)


In this special issue
we present a number of essays on Althusser, the man and the oeuvre, many of
which were first presented at the 1996 conference "Politics and Languages
of Contemporary Marxism" sponsored by Rethinking Marxism.
        If the work and figure of Althusser remain of interest that is, at
least in part, because we are still in the process of discovering new
material. Certainly, the need to revisit Althusser will continue to the
limit point of the publication of all of his writings (Gregory Elliott in
his essay below sketches roughly the stages of Althusser's work, including
the work published posthumously and that which still remains in archival
form). As Warren Montag explains in this issue, the appearance of new
material changes the disposition of the field of the visible and the
invisible in Althusser's work and elicits the commentary appropriate to
that change. Moreover, the discovery of new materials is likely to focus
additional light on the formative work of Althusser's contemporaries and
erstwhile collaborators (as the essay by Ted Stolze demonstrates with
respect to, for example, Gilles Deleuze). So, in purely temporal terms,
there will be plenty of materials to continue to compose special issues on
Althusser in this and other journals.
        It is possible, though, to think that Althusser's work (and figure)
will remain compelling beyond the horizon of its own complete écriture-that
already examined and commented on and that yet to be. There is, arguably,
something in the whole of the Althusserian work that suggests the
inauguration of and the possibility for radically new formulations of
Marxism, or at least those aspects of it that pertain to its philosophical
and political culture. To the extent that this is the case, the interest in
Althusser is likely to prove enduring beyond the time necessary to complete
the (re)reading of his writing. So, the continuing interest in Althusser
can be taken as a symptomatic expression of the transformative journey of
Marxism as a whole theoretical system.
        The essays in this special issue weave well, we think, the
biographical and theoretical threads that Althusser left as material for
this continuing journey. In the title of a previous critical essay on the
biographical work on and by Althusser -"Analysis Terminated, Analysis
Interminable"-Elliott suggested that the "story of Althusser" will never be
finally and completely told. There is a sense, of course, in which this is
true for all biographical constructions. We can be confident of this
interminableness because of the imperatives of deconstruction and because
of the ease with which the plurality of Althussers (or the pluralities of
Althusser) lends itself to this method (for a sense of these personal and
theoretical pluralities, see the essays in this issue by Richard Wolff,
Gabriel Albiac, and Elliott, as well as Elliott's already cited article).
        But we can suggest that there is also another, older and more
classical way (but not, nota bene, a way that conflicts with the method of
deconstruction) in which one can understand this interminableness of the
analysis of Althusser. It is increasingly possible to envisage the
pluralities, excesses, aporias, conflicts, and contradictions (both real
and apparent) in Althusser and his work as the marks of an Odyssean voyage
through which the philosopher sought to bring Marxism home (even if,
undoubtedly, whatever the reasons that led him to Marxism, he thus sought
to reach home himself). And, as in the way of all epics, the Althusserian
voyage is interesting not for its own proper beginning and end points but
as it may function as an allegory for the continuing voyage home of
Marxism-and for what it can do to equip us to embark on such a voyage
        To bring Marxism home?! We will venture a particular construction
of this journey, a construction that will refer to two of Althusser's main
theoretical preoccupations: his search for a philosophy for Marxism (and
his final identification of it as "aleatory materialism") and his work on
the concept of ideology. But it is not at all improper first to speak of
this "coming home" in terms of a personal, metatheoretical space that
Althusser sought to produce and preserve, through the cracks and fissures
of programmatic formulations, for a recovery (reaffirmation) of his
fundamental humanity as a Marxist. How else to interpret what Elliott,
using as an example the passage with which Max Statkiewicz opens his own
essay below, called Althusser's "impeccable humanity"? The passage in
question, which Jacques Derrida quoted in his oration at the philosopher's
funeral, finds Althusser situating his thoughts on theater in the context
of his idea of a "spontaneously lived ideology" which, far from
representing simply a theoretical concept, he identifies supremely with the
way of being of "the poor." It is the poor who are made, here, the subjects
par excellence of a historical drama, characterized by some key Marxist
signs, namely, an earthly existence-"we eat the same bread"-and complex
elements of struggle-"experience the same angers. . .revolts. . .deliria. .
.not to mention despondency over a time that no History can move. Yes, like
Mother Courage, we have the same war at our doorsteps . . .even inside us."
How not to recognize in this formulation Althusser's more philosophical
thoughts on History and its insufficiency as a truly revolutionary Marxist
concept? But also how not to recognize that these thoughts are apparently
embedded in a humanity of identification with "the poor"? That
identification is, beyond (or alongside) the theoretical formulations that
the discourse has received, an important, perhaps even defining, part of
the real and more immediately revolutionary moments of Marxism. To bring
Marxism home, then, means to find ways of making Marxism come to terms
with, and to embrace, a type of passion, an emotive resonance of the type
that has historically been part, in the practice and folklore, of popular
movements. If this runs the risk of a romanticism, it also can produce a
re-energizing of Marxism.
        We think that this type of re-energizing of Marxism, these moments
expressing the character and power of Marxism in terms of a historically
(and passionately) meaningful identification with "the poor," can properly
be represented as a personal coming home for Althusser. Nothing in the
theoretical formulations Althusser produced authorized such a human(ist)
rendition (the countless attacks he received during his life and which his
work still suffers for its supposed structuralism attest to this). It was
only possible for Althusser to produce such formulations if he was able to
create, in terms of the personal intellectual dimensions of his life, a
space of freedom from the apparently antihumanist formulations of his
intense theoretical struggles. Perhaps we can represent this coming home
for Althusser as his possession of a constant (however conflictual) sense
of necessary distance-and hence an ability always to question and
reformulate, from that base which we can call his personal space; or, if
not to question or reformulate, then to interject suggestions, some of
which were to be picked up later, by himself or by others (certainly one
can read in this key the essays below by François Matheron and Montag)-from
the turns of theory, however rigorously and compellingly those turns might
have been in their own right. This coming home, we should add, was not a
journey through time (or not only a journey through time), in the sense of
a journey with a fixed point of departure and distance, because the
"distance" from theory (i.e., the recovered personal space) is a feature
throughout Althusser's various theoretical turns. It was nonetheless a
journey in time , because the renegotiations of the spaces of freedom from
theory could only concretely take place in the context of the specific,
contingent, time-bound turns of theory Althusser faced and embraced. . .No
doubt, for those who will follow in Althusser's tracks, the negotiations of
their personal spaces will also be contextual and historical, through their
(our) times.
        Now, if Althusser thus negotiated a personal freedom from (and a
space for intellectual risk alongside or in the interstices of) the
theoretical formulations of Marxism that he either received or himself
produced, that voyage of self-recovery was certainly not separate from the
voyage of recovery of Marxism he also, we think, effected. It is well known
that Althusser's self-imposed theoretical task was to extricate Marxism
from the dogmatism it had received, or at least from the form in which it
could be, and was, used to support the statist and Stalinist conception of
socialism. The rescuing of Marxism from the grotesque deformations of the
Stalinist period was something that had figured as an important task for
many intellectuals-not only Althusser, but also others, such as Jean-Paul
Sartre, from whom Althusser took his theoretical distance. In a way, these
other intellectuals, the intellectuals of "Western Marxism," clearly also
sought to bring Marxism back home, which they often imagined and enacted in
eminently humanist forms. For all his theoretical opposition to theoretical
humanism, quite real and compelling, Althusser's work was no less of an
attempt to bring Marxism home. The difference is that, for well-known
reasons, Althusser found the theoretical humanism of Western Marxism an
insufficient and dangerous, both theoretically and politically, way of
engaging in the rediscovery and recovery, the bringing back home, of
        The "home" that Althusser attempted to define for Marxism is
analogous to that of his own personal spacing. We think we can outline this
"home" in terms of the joint presence in Althusser's thought of a
conjunctural view of history and of a pervasive and expansive, indeed
perhaps universal, concept of ideology. All of the essays in this special
issue that do not focus personally on Althusser do, in fact, address
(directly or indirectly) one or both of these elements. If it is true, as
Balibar has argued, that the space of Althusserians has been divided
between Althusserians of the structure and those of the conjuncture, it is
also the case that Althusser himself moved emphatically towards more
conjunctural conceptions during the course of his life. Althusser's
progressive embrace of the conjunctural-which has been rendered as an
increasing interest in Spinoza and Machiavelli and which, as Fernanda
Navarro's essay below explains, took the form of a definition of aleatory
materialism as the philosophy for Marxism-means that history becomes less
and less explicable in terms of structurally defined (narrow) forms of
"agency" and that the forms of production and reproduction of historical
agency are wider and more open than past certainties had proffered (and
required). This is not to say, of course, that structure becomes
unimportant. But it does mean that there is no necessary dialectic of
historical evolution that can impart to the structure the mode of its
functioning and transformation-or, alternatively, that the structure does
not contain the key to history, though it may indeed produce particularly
powerful points of stress. The effect of this is not to deny the relevance
of class, but to transform its mode of being, from a structurally defined
unity of position and identity, to a being in process-which means that the
working class, as the bourgeoisie and other class formations, are effected
within ideology and (within the state). Once the essentialism of the
dialectic is removed, the only element that might serve to guarantee the
struggle against capitalism is not any necessary form of collectivization
but a (presumed) fundamental, basic, irreducible human resistance to
exploitation. Hence, Marxism can be theoretically transformed from the
theory of a working-class which has a historically necessary and
predetermined function to play and which can thus be "organized" and
"represented" according to the theory (In Race, Nation, Class, Balibar
makes clear that this idea of "representing" the working-class has always
involved a sleight of hand) into a Marxism of and for the masses: "we eat
the same bread, . . .experience the same angers, the same revolts." In more
familiar terms, we can say that, in this transformed Marxism, the
transition from "class in itself" to "class for itself" is more clearly
rendered as an act of political/historical construction than an act, as it
had been easy to pose, of ontological revelation (at most mediated by
politics and culture but an act of revelation nonetheless). Perhaps this
Althusser is not so far removed from the E. P. Thompson of The Making of
the English Working Class-and what a pity the fierce polemics!
        We are not unaware, of course, of the potential problems and
pitfalls such a formulation presents. The notion of a Marxism for the
masses runs the risk of losing much of the analytical specificity of
Marxism as a class theory, even running the risk of being politically
reduced to some form of populist Marxism. It is possible however, as we
will try to show, to reduce this risk by giving to the formulation a less
sweeping and more delimited form, connecting it specifically with the
question of ideology. That is, of course, one of Althusser's constant
preoccupations; and, in our reading, this preoccupation is an index, and
may indeed be key, to Althusser's task of both preserving Marxism as theory
and bringing it home as practical (compelling) consciousness. (This
proposed linkage, between Althusser's formulations on ideology and his
increasing turn to an aleatory materialism, is crucial, we think, to an
understanding of both dimensions as aspects of "one" intellectual
        Althusser's work on ideology is important in this respect not
because it represents a complete working out of the concept (Montag and
others have elsewhere discussed the unfinished state of Althusser's work on
ideology), and even less so because of any putative fit with the
architectonics of a structuralist Marxism. Rather, Althusser's work on
ideology is important, we think, because it changed the terms of the
question under analysis. Whereas much of the traditional work on ideology
within Marxism had been (and continues to be) preoccupied with giving form
and shape to identities based on structurally defined class positions,
Althusser became more concerned with the mechanism of a specific type of
ideological consciousness, which he theorized through the concept of
interpellation. This new focus represented a radical transformation of the
question of ideology, and not a deepening of the question as it had been
posed: whereas the old framework had been led to exhaust structurally the
field of ideology with the couplet of "class" and "false" consciousness,
Althusser's mechanism of interpellation does not allow for any such
differentiation (for a very careful discussion of the problems inherent in
the traditional Marxist concept(s) of ideology and its (their) relation to
the problematic of History, see Balibar's Masses, Classes, Ideas and The
Philosohy of Marx). In fact, whereas the traditional Marxist theory of
history has been (as a result of its teleological architectonics)
eschatological and envisaged the end of ideology (a sublimation of both
class and false consciousness into a form of pure intersubjectivity),
Althusser's work inaugurates a new concept of ideology as permanent and
inevitable if always contested and changing.
        This is not the proper place for even a cursory summary of the
mechanisms of ideology so conceived. Suffice it to say that various essays
below explicate these mechanisms, or draw consequential readings from them
(especially those by William Spanos, Statkiewicz, and Matheron). But we do
need to return to our original thread and link this reading of ideology
with the type of Marxism (to the masses) we adumbrated above. The link, of
course, can be found in the imperative embedded in the Althusserian
formulation for the analysis of ideology (and subjectivity) to go beyond
the structural class conditions of the pre-Althusserian formulation and to
investigate the many and varied social (material) conditions of the
mechanisms of interpellation. Althusser himself, of course, began this
expansive task with his own writings on ideological apparatuses; but it is
clear that the analysis that Althusser produced with respect to some
apparatuses (e.g., the family) calls ideally for an extension to all other
apparatuses (institutions and processes) implicated in the mechanisms of
interpellation. If it is true that, from the standpoint of traditional (and
continuing) Marxist preoccupations, we retain a special interest in the
ways in which the interpellated "I"'s function as effects and as conditions
of existence and reproduction of class processes, it is also the case that,
if we work with the Althusserian formulation, it is no longer possible to
subsume theoretically and historically the investigations of the (diverse)
conditions of interpellation to the specification of their functionality
for class reproduction. In a way, with the Althusserian reformulation of
the Marxian conception of ideology, the drama of historical subjectivity is
moved from the stage of visible class relations to the theater of
interpellation, that is, society.
        For the full implications of this formulation, it is important to
add that if society (the social formation, that is, as opposed to the mode
of production, to use a now outmoded differentiation) is thus rendered as a
theater of interpellation, then this society is conceived not as "society
as a whole" (a formulation that remains too close to essentialist
conceptions of the social space), but as a full society, that is, a society
constituted by the intersection of all of its elements: a Spinozean
society. What emerges is, of course, what could be called an imperative of
plenitude for analysis: an analysis that cannot narrowly draw its domain
using any given parameters but that must, instead, be open to investigate
and consider all of the ways in which interpellations constitute real
concrete historical agents-not in order, of course, to swim in a sea of
historical "apathy" and "despondency," but in order to find ways (both
politically and culturally) of engaging these real concrete historical
agents in a historical imaginary capable of going beyond the structural
limits of the present. (The use of the concept of plenitude here is
suggested by Althusser himself, as presented in the essay by Matheron
below. However, whereas Althusser, as Matheron's essay demonstrates, uses
the concept of "plenitude" negatively, to refer to ideological
hegemonizations of the totality of the social space and the silencing of
real heterogeneities-i.e., every ideology, such as the ideology of
individualism, completely fills the space with its own subjects/concepts-we
use it in a Spinozean construction, as a reference to the excesses of
reality over any structuralist or functionalist renditions of society.)
        We should conclude these introductory remarks with a caveat. We do
not mean for what we have written to function as a complete guide to the
essays of this special issue. Each of these essays makes a contribution of
its own and moves according to its own rhythms. Rather than identifying
these rhythms, we have been moved to give expression to what these
contributions, in their combined effectivity, have suggested to us. We are
aware that the suggestions we have read, and the expressions we have given
them, are provocative in inspiration and effect, incomplete in elaboration,
and one sided (from our remarks, it would be difficult to know that we
continue to appreciate the contributions that traditional Marxist class
analysis has made and continues to make). But our intention has been to
provide this special issue with an introduction that would valorize the
various essays not only as elements of a rereading of Althusser but as
important contributions to the rethinking of Marxism-especially to the
conditions, both theoretical and human, of its enduring political and
cultural force.

        Amitava Kumar's "Poetry for the People," which was also first read
at the 1996 "Politics and Languages of Marxism" conference, is an
impassioned plea to recognize the expressive humanity and transformative
potential of composing and performing poetry. From India to Florida, a new
generation of students, professors, poets, cultural critics, activists, and
various hybrids thereof (including Kumar himself) are using verse to write
their own stories-and thus to write themselves and their readers into new
collective stories. As Kumar explains, we are only at the beginning of
grasping the enormous potential of the political projects generated by new
forms of pedagogy, poetry, and performance.
        One of the distinguishing characteristics of Marxism is class
analysis. We conclude this issue with a lively exchange between Michael
Pitt and Serap Kayatekin over the concepts and consequences of the latter's
class analysis of sharecropping published in a previous (volume 9, number
1) issue of RM. While demonstrating his appreciation for the class
diversity of sharecropping arrangements highlighted by Kayatekin's
approach, Pitt is mostly concerned to show that various forms of
sharecropping (with the exception of the one characterized by
"self-sufficiency") are incompatible with the expansive logic of
capitalism. In her response, Kayatekin focuses on the differences between
their respective methods of defining class and of producing a class
analysis of the forms of subsistence associated with sharecropping and
argues, contra Pitt, that noncapitalist forms of sharecropping can coexist
(and, historically, often have coexisted for long stretches of time) with
capitalism. In the end, what is at stake is how Marxian class analyses can
be deployed to make sense of both noncapitalist and capitalist forms of
production and social life.
Antonio Callari and David F. Ruccio

Antonio Callari
POST MAIL: Department of Economics
                Franklin and Marshall College
                Lancaster PA 17604-3003
PHONE: 717/291-3947
FAX: 717/291-4369

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