RETHINKING MARXISM Volume 10, Number 3 (Fall, 1998)
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. (in his essay, Gregory Elliott sketches roughly the stages of Althussers 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 Althussers 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 Althussers 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 Althussers 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 Elliotts already cited article.)
[iv] 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 interminability 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 ourselves.
To bring Marxism home?! We will venture a particular construction of this journey, a construction that will refer to two of Althussers 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 Althussers "impeccable humanity"? The passage in question, which Jacques Derrida quoted in his oration at the philosophers 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 Althussers 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 reenergizing of Marxism.
We think that this type of reenergizing 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 [v] home for Althusser. Nothing in the theoretical formulations Althusser produced authorized such (humanist) expressions. (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 expressions 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 (even if conflicted) 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 Althussers 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 Althussers 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 Althussers 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, Althussers work was no less 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 Marxism.
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 Althussers thought of a conjunctural view of history and of a pervasive [vi] and expansive, indeed perhaps universal, concept of ideology. All 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 toward more conjunctural conceptions during the course of his life. Althussers progressive embrace of the conjunctural—which has been rendered as an increasing interest in Spinoza and Machiavelli and which, as Fernanda Navarros essay below explains, took the form of a definition of aleatory materialism as the philosophy for Marxism— 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, like 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 populism. 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 Althussers constant preoccupations; and, in our reading, this preoccupation is an index, and may indeed be key, to Althussers task of both [vii] preserving Marxism as theory and bringing it home as practical (compelling) consciousness. (This proposed linkage between Althussers 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 experience.)Althussers 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 Althussers work on ideology), and even less so because of any putative fit with the architectonics of a structuralist Marxism. Rather, Althussers 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, 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, Althussers 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 Balibars Masses, Classes, Ideas and The Philosophy 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), Althussers 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, Max Statkiewicz, and François 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 [viii] 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 elass 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 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 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. However, whereas Althusser, as Matherons essay demonstrates, uses the concept of "plenitude" negatively, to refer to ideologieal hegemonizations of the totality of the social space and the silencing of real heterogeneities—that is, 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/made, 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 Kumars "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, [ix] cultural critics, activists, and various hybrids thereof (including Kumar himself) are using verse to write their own stories, thus writing 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 latters class analysis of sharecropping published in a previous issue of RM (Volume 9, number 1). While demonstrating his appreciation for the class diversity of sharecropping arrangements highlighted by Kayatekins 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
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