[OPE-L:1623] Re: Re: Re: Althusser and Hegel

Jurriaan Bendien (djjb99@worldonline.nl)
Sat, 30 Oct 1999 20:37:06 +0100

With due respect, Antonio Callari's passage exemplifies everything that I
dislike about Althusserianism - a rootless, abstract, elitist and
intellectualist discourse in a rarified academic language that no one ever
heard in real life, and that normal people would have difficulty to
understand. At which point I am reminded of what Marx and Engels once wrote
polemically in a fragment of the German Ideology included in the edition
edited by Chris Arthur: "one must cast philosophy aside - philosophy is to
the study of the real world as masturbation is to sexual love".

To bring Marxism home?! Is that the question ? Surely not - if anything
the question is one of "driving Marxism home". I can well imagine that
comfortably well-off academics might seek some romantic identification with
"the poor" to justify their existence, but this has nothing to do with
Marxism. And anyway there is nothing "romantic" about poverty, as I know
from being "the poor", even though the poor themselves can be very
romantic, as I know also from own experience, having eaten with "the poor",
bedded with "the poor", and socialised with "the poor".

"Spontaneously lived ideology" as a way of being with the "the poor" ? What
kind of rubbish is this, and who would get it in his head to publish such
nonsense ? "We eat the same bread" - "experience the same angers. .
.revolts. . .deliria" - this seems to be saying that we are all part of the
human family. Yeah right but this is again a trite apology, precisely
because it conjures away the entire edifice of class society which condemns
billions to a life which is "less than human".

A "truly revolutionary Marxist concept" embedded in a humanity of
identification with "the poor"? This is total bunk ! It has nothing to do
with revolutionary Marxism, which sets out from the REVOLT against all
conditions which make human beings degraded, enslaved, alienated and
oppressed creatures. As Ernest Mandel, for whom revolutionary Marxism
really meant something, in theory and practice, wrote: "Que l'on deplace
l'enfer du neant pour le ramener sur terre, ce n'est pas une raison pour
s'y installer commodement, ou pour proclamer qu'il est une etape de
transition necessaire vers le paradis. Des millions d'hommes ne
l'accepterai pas, de toute facon, ni psycholoquement ni pratiquement. Ils
font l'experience de l'enfer comme enfer. Aucune mystification ne peut
empecher qu'a la langue ils se revoltent contre cette enfer. C'est un
devoir elementaire de lutter a leurs cotes contre tout condition inhumaine.
Telle est l'obligation qui a guide Marx sa vie durant. Elle devrait nous
guider tous". (Emancipation, science et politique chez Karl Marx. dans:
Denis Woronoff, Jean-Marie Brohm (ed.), Marx... ou Pas ? Reflexions sur un
centenaire. Paris: Etudes et Documentations Internationales, 1986, pp.

"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" ? I can imagine that boring,
concept-mongering academics might feel the urge for finding an "emotive
resonance" but that is not a matter of theoretical construction, but of how
you live your own life !

"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". Indeed, although the Trotskyist movement has made a vastly
bigger contribution to that project. But Althusser does not succeed,
precisely because he constantly seeks to assimilate Marxism to the latest
fashions in bourgeois thought, ending up as just another Tallcot Parsons,
"the Tallcot Parsons of Marxism".

"Class" as a "being in process" "effected within ideology and within the
state" ? What is this, in heaven's name ? What has it to do with Marxism ?
"What a pity the fierce polemics" with E. P. Thompson ? Well Thompson was
imo quite right in exposing this fake Marxism for what it is. But Thompson
was only partly correct in his criticism. As Perry Anderson points out in
an insightful passage (sorry for the length !), "The logic of historical
materialism precludes either the Parsonian or the Sartrean solutions. To
contend that social formations typically derive their unity from the
diffusion of values, or the exercise of violence, across a plurality of
individual or group wills is to reject the Marxist insistence on the
ultimate promacy of economic determinations in history... The problem of
social order is irresioluble so long as the answer to it is sought at the
level of intention (or valuation), however complex or entangled the skein
of volition, however class-defined the struggle of wills, however alienated
the final resultant from all of the imputed actors. It is, and must be, the
dominant mode of production that confers fundamental unity on a social
formation, allocating their objective positions to the classes within it,
and distributing the agents within each class. The result is, typically, an
objective process of class struggle. To stabilise and regulate this
conflict, the complementary modalities of political power, which include
repression and ideology, exercised inside and outside the State, are
thereafter indispensable. But class struggle itself is not a causal prius
to the sustentation of order, for classes are constituted by modes of
production, and not vice versa. The one mode of production of which this
will not be true is communism - which, precisely, will abolish classes. At
the same time, of course, the question of order is not exhaustive of the
nature of the historical process. Upheaval and disorder equally require
explanation. The temnptation is to say that these form the peculiar
province of class struggle that is set in motion by the mode of production.
This, however, would be facile. For among the most fundamental of all
mechanisms of social change , according to historical materialism, are the
systemic contradictions between forces and relations of production, not
just social conflicts between classes generated by antagonistic relations
of production alone. The former overlap with the latter, because one of the
major forces of production is always labour, which simultaneously figures
as a class specified by the relations of production. But they do not
coincide. Crises within modes of production are not identical with
confrontations between classes. The two may or may not fuse, according to
the historical occasion. The onset of major economic crises, whether under
feudalism or capitalism, has typically taken all social classes unawares,
deriving from structural depths below those of direct conflict between
them. The resolution of such crises, on the other hand, has no less
typically been the outcome of prolonged war between classes. In general,
revolutionary transformations - from one mode of production to another -
are indeed the privileged terrain of class struggle. Here too, however, it
is essential to remember the great distance between the relatively blind
clashes of the immemorial past, and the recent - very uneven and imperfect
- conversion of them into conscious contests in the 19th and 20th
centuries. Thus in both reproduction and transformation - maintenance and
subversion - of social order, mode of production and class struggle are
always at work. But the second must be activated by the first for it to
achieve its determinate effects, which on either ground will find their
maximum point of concentration in the political structure of the State."
(Arguments within English Marxism, pp. 55-56.). That just about sums up the
entire debate.

"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
>reduced to some form of populist Marxism". Yes indeed, you only need to
look at the political evolution of the PCF itself ! "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". Yes. Althusserianism
makes class relations INVISIBLE, mystifies them, it makes you go blind. It
is theory without an object. As for the rest of us, we can read about
"class relations" even in the daily newspaper, if we have a modicum of
critical social awareness.



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