Introduction: Althusser’s Theoretical Experiments

19 May 1978, Paris, France --- Portrait of Communist political philosopher Louis Althusser reading the Communist daily newspaper L'Humanite in his home. He murdered his wife in 1980 and was confined in an asylum until his death. --- Image by © Jacques Pavlovsky/Sygma/CORBIS

“This should sur­prise only those who mis­take a dis­cus­sion which is just begin­ning for a com­plet­ed enquiry, who mis­take a col­lec­tive effort of reflec­tion for the man­i­festo of a ‘school of thought,’ or even of a group pur­su­ing a plan estab­lished in advance.”1

Back in 2012, in an intro­duc­tion to a late text by Louis Althusser, “On Marx­ist Thought,” Asad Haider and Salar Mohan­desi traced the zigza­gs and breaks of the French philosopher’s the­o­ret­i­cal tra­jec­to­ry. What emerged was not an image of Althusser as irre­deemably “the­o­reti­cist,” but as a the­o­rist entan­gled with the com­plex lega­cy of Marx­ism: its his­to­ry, its debates, and ana­lyt­i­cal and polit­i­cal cur­ren­cy with­in his own con­junc­ture. From this per­spec­tive, the red thread of Althusser’s devel­op­ment is his tight cou­pling of the­o­ret­i­cal pro­duc­tion with a “con­crete analy­sis of the con­crete sit­u­a­tion”; he fol­lowed Lenin’s demand to put pol­i­tics in com­mand at the lev­el of method, with con­cepts and the­ses becom­ing inter­ven­tions in par­tic­u­lar polit­i­cal con­junc­tures, lay­ing bare fun­da­men­tal lines of demar­ca­tions.2 By read­ing his own work as ani­mat­ed by antag­o­nisms and coun­ter­vail­ing ten­den­cies – where fun­da­men­tal con­cepts are open to trans­la­tion into dif­fer­ent reg­is­ters – we can detect the “nodal points” of Althusser’s oeu­vre. But while the­se nodal points can help illu­mi­nate the diverse ele­ments fused togeth­er in Althusser’s think­ing, they can­not offer def­i­nite footholds – peri­odiz­ing this con­flict­ual real­i­ty will only ren­der oth­er aspects, oth­er posi­tions he occu­pied, unin­tel­li­gi­ble.3

The aim of this dossier is to extend this read­ing of Althusser: to view him not as an “Althusse­ri­an” or “struc­tural Marx­ist” – a pur­vey­or of a cer­tain read­ing of Marx alongside a dog­mat­ic impor­ta­tion of Spin­oza – but as a Marx­ist who under­stood that the­o­ret­i­cal work is a “strug­gle with­out end.”4 The exis­tence of revi­sions and reori­en­ta­tions through­out his career should not be an offense or mark of an under­ly­ing inco­her­ence; the sit­u­at­ed, often reflex­ive char­ac­ter of Althusser’s thought serves to demon­strate that there is nev­er a clean fit between the­o­ret­i­cal prac­tice and the actu­al bal­ance of class forces – the con­di­tions of pos­si­bil­i­ty for thought. He no doubt would agree: is not the prac­tice of symp­to­matic read­ing premised on the gen­er­a­tive char­ac­ter of lacu­nae in writ­ten texts, and an under­stand­ing that a the­o­ry is nev­er “com­plete, with­out gaps or con­tra­dic­tions,” and is thus always deter­mined by a con­sti­tu­tive out­side?5 And fol­low­ing War­ren Montag’s recent account, even the dread­ed invo­ca­tions of “struc­tural causal­i­ty” and the “struc­tured whole” of the cap­i­tal­ist social for­ma­tion in Read­ing Cap­i­tal were not made for want of order­ing his­to­ry and the strug­gles tra­vers­ing any social for­ma­tion; rather, the­se con­cepts were attempts to grasp the “deter­mi­nate dis­or­der of his­to­ry,” as the know­able but irre­ducibly active rela­tions between con­tra­dic­to­ry forces.6

If any­thing, this empha­sis on the con­tin­gent and pro­vi­sion­al char­ac­ter of rela­tions of force drove Althusser to elab­o­rate a dif­fer­ent mode of philo­soph­i­cal prac­tice, as inter­ven­tion. Like Spin­oza and Marx before him, for Althusser the ulti­mate ques­tion con­fronting intel­lec­tu­als and the­o­rists is the fol­low­ing: what mate­ri­al effects have your works pro­duced? We can add: how have they become “his­tor­i­cal­ly active,” or from a more par­ti­san per­spec­tive, how have they been adopt­ed and tak­en up in the orga­ni­za­tion­al forms of class strug­gle?7 How have they “made things move,” faire bouger? The “Gram­s­cian” inflec­tion that Althusser’s works of the mid-70s indi­cate this desire to grasp the ter­rain of the­o­ry as one of con­tes­ta­tion and strug­gle: “what occurs with­in phi­los­o­phy main­tains an inti­mate rela­tion with what occurs in ide­olo­gies”: and “what occurs with­in ide­olo­gies main­tains a close rela­tion with the class strug­gle.”8 This refrac­to­ry rela­tion­ship means that the con­cepts we pro­duce, the cat­e­gories we focus on, the texts we pub­lish, have deter­mi­nate effects, and are a speci­fic modal­i­ty of prac­tice.

Along the­se lines, the com­ing Eng­lish pub­li­ca­tion of How to Be a Marx­ist in Phi­los­o­phy and Phi­los­o­phy for Non-philoso­phers, dis­cussed at length in one of the pieces in this dossier, are the most sub­stan­tial artic­u­la­tions of Althusser’s a mate­ri­al­ist “non­phi­los­o­phy” refined dur­ing this peri­ods and which he hoped would fos­ter “new forms of philo­soph­i­cal exis­tence.” Near the end of How to Be a Marx­ist in Phi­los­o­phy, Althusser advances an implic­it cri­tique of his ear­lier attempts to for­mu­late a “Marx­ist phi­los­o­phy,” present in a “prac­ti­cal state” in Marx’s texts. In fact, Marx­ism offers no pos­si­bil­i­ty for an alter­na­tive philo­soph­i­cal sys­tem. Now there is only a Marx­ist posi­tion in the­o­ry: “There is no Marx­ist phi­los­o­phy, and there can­not be a Marx­ist phi­los­o­phy.”9 This mate­ri­al­ist posi­tion, as Hasana Sharp has argued, is cog­nizant of its “pre­car­i­ous and ten­ta­tive sta­tus as pro­duced with­in, and pro­duc­tive of, its cur­rent con­junc­ture.”10 More to the point, its tasks  do not include enter­ing into the “the­o­ret­i­cal lab­o­ra­to­ry” of ide­al­ist phi­los­o­phy and its ide­o­log­i­cal hege­mony for mat­ters of repur­pos­ing – the mate­ri­al­ist philoso­pher seeks to smash the tools and break the work­bench.

This is an inten­si­fi­ca­tion of the def­i­n­i­tion of phi­los­o­phy as the “class strug­gle in the­o­ry” first expressed in the late 1960s. The mot d’ordre of this com­bat is the wag­ing and link­ing togeth­er of mate­ri­al­ist cam­paigns again­st ide­al­ism – in par­tic­u­lar, the latter’s guid­ing prin­ci­ples of uni­fy­ing, guar­an­tee­ing, and repro­duc­ing class rule. The ulti­mate strate­gic aim of the the­se “acts of the­o­ret­i­cal war” again­st ide­al­ism is the for­ma­tion of “a ‘crit­i­cal and rev­o­lu­tion­ary’ rela­tion” between the­se intel­lec­tu­al activ­i­ties and oth­er “social prac­tices, the stakes and priv­i­leged site of class strug­gle.”11 In oth­er words, the capac­i­ty to engage in philo­soph­i­cal par­ti­san activ­i­ty – to lob active propo­si­tions and the­ses that rever­ber­ate across and mod­i­fy the intel­lec­tu­al ter­rain – and the capac­i­ty for pro­le­tar­i­an polit­i­cal forces to “invent mass-based forms of orga­ni­za­tion” are con­nect­ed as two dis­tinct dimen­sions of an effec­tive move­ment to destroy the cap­i­tal­ist state.12

Again, the pre­cise rela­tion­ship to be estab­lished between the­o­ry and move­ments on the ground is left open, and this is impor­tant: Althusser only insists that a Marx­ist prac­tice of phi­los­o­phy is the “non-phi­los­o­phy” of the “non-state.” Peter Thomas, for one, has given us a strong take on the dif­fer­ences between Anto­nio Gram­sci and Althusser on the rela­tion between philo­soph­i­cal prac­tice and polit­i­cal prac­tice. In Thomas’s view, Gramsci’s phi­los­o­phy of prax­is allows us to bet­ter grasp the polit­i­cal func­tion of philo­soph­i­cal work; it is the the­o­ret­i­cal form or dis­til­la­tion of pro­le­tar­i­an hege­mon­ic projects, a ter­rain upon which which the sub­al­tern class­es can become con­scious of their his­tor­i­cal con­di­tions and strug­gle to trans­form them. But it’s not clear that the dif­fer­ences here are irre­ducible. It could be argued that Gramsci’s endeav­or to ren­der explic­it and sub­se­quent­ly elab­o­rate “the ‘the­o­ret­i­cal form’ that is already ‘implic­it’ in the ‘prac­ti­cal form’ of the his­tor­i­cal action of the mass­es” is actu­al­ly quite close to Althusser’s empha­sis on ana­lyz­ing dif­fer­ent forms of com­mu­nist polit­i­cal prac­tice for their the­o­ret­i­cal import.13

More to this point, in their 1970s work Althusser and close col­league Éti­en­ne Bal­ibar empha­size that philo­soph­i­cal inter­ven­tion and pro­le­tar­i­an polit­i­cal prac­tice are speci­fic attrib­ut­es of the same sub­stan­tial project of coun­ter­pow­er. Bal­ibar draws this con­nec­tion between the “new prac­tice of pol­i­tics” put on the agen­da by the his­tor­i­cal man­i­fes­ta­tions of work­ing class strug­gle, and Althusser’s “new prac­tice of phi­los­o­phy”: “since phi­los­o­phy is noth­ing oth­er than pol­i­tics in the­o­ry, they are both indeed two modal­i­ties of the same prob­lem.”14 But in the same fash­ion that the exact tra­jec­to­ry of dif­fer­ent polit­i­cal sequences – the Paris Com­mune, Rus­sia in 1917, Italy dur­ing the bien­nio rosso, May ‘68 – can­not be pre­dict­ed, so the deter­mi­nate forms and effects of philo­soph­i­cal and polit­i­cal prac­tice can only arise from exper­i­men­ta­tion and nev­er arrive ready­made.15 In this sense, Augus­to Illuminati’s com­par­ison of Althusser’s “mate­ri­al­ist philoso­pher” to the mobile IWW activist, a cat­alyz­er of dif­fer­ent forms of strug­gle and unex­pect­ed strate­gic paths, remains appro­pri­ate.16

The short­age of prece­dents for this endeav­or, even in the Marx­ist tra­di­tion, should be evi­dent; Althusser’s main­stay exam­ples are Marx, Lenin, Mao and Gramsci’s own the­o­ret­i­cal inter­ven­tions, and the way in which their think­ing was formed and devel­oped with­in the work­ing class move­ments of their respec­tive times.17 But it is in light of this ambi­tious project of inter­ven­tion that we we should read some of Althusser’s final texts: “Marx in His Lim­its,” “Marx­ism Today,” and oth­ers. How do we rethink not only the his­to­ry of Marx­ism, but also the forms in which it is prac­ticed and received? How do we map the pos­si­ble inter­sec­tions between between intel­lec­tu­al inter­ven­tion and mil­i­tant prac­tice? Althusser’s cor­pus shows that the­se ques­tions are any­thing but easy to answer, and can nev­er be con­fig­ured before the fact. The texts in this dossier, from dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives and mod­es of pre­sen­ta­tion, rearrange a cer­tain image of Althusser. But if read care­ful­ly, it should be clear that the rhythm and pace of Althusser’s think­ing pre­vent­ed any one “dis­til­la­tion” in the first place, any sin­gle coher­ent cen­ter: nor did it have one sta­ble object or tar­get. Althusser’s philo­soph­i­cal strat­e­gy – his way of inhab­it­ing the­o­ry – might still yield con­sid­er­able effects.

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Pier­re Macherey’s “Althusser and the Young Marx,” the first text pre­sent­ed here, can be read as an entry in what Althusser calls in Read­ing Cap­i­tal the “his­to­ry of the­o­ret­i­cal prac­tice” or the “his­to­ry of the pro­duc­tion of knowl­edges.”18 Macherey metic­u­lous­ly inter­ro­gates Althusser’s démarche in one of his most famous – and con­tro­ver­sial – arti­cles, “On the Young Marx,” from 1960. He presents Althusser’s project in this text as a del­i­cate and com­plex oper­a­tion: one which had imme­di­ate polem­i­cal tar­gets in Sartre and the oth­er human­ist read­ers of Marx dealt with at length, but was also intend­ed as a recast­ing of the intel­lec­tu­al his­to­ry of Marx­ism, or more specif­i­cal­ly, how to ade­quate­ly recon­struct Marx’s the­o­ret­i­cal and polit­i­cal devel­op­ment. This ini­tial project finds traces in the most excit­ing recent attempts to rig­or­ous­ly inves­ti­gate the com­bined sources of Marx’s think­ing as well the unsta­ble social and intel­lec­tu­al real­i­ty which pro­duced pro­found shifts in his tra­jec­to­ry.19 At anoth­er lev­el, we may also note the con­sid­er­able sim­i­lar­i­ties between Macherey’s gloss on “the­o­ret­i­cal work” in Althusser and his read­ing, in Hegel or Spin­oza, of Spinoza’s notion of intel­lec­tu­al labor (opera intel­lec­tu­alia): a pre­car­i­ous activ­i­ty that has always already begun, with no method­olog­i­cal guar­an­tees or preestab­lished end, and whose causal “his­to­ry” can be traced through its own effec­tive prac­tice.20

The mas­sive inter­view with G.M. Gosh­gar­i­an in many ways con­sti­tutes the cen­ter­piece of this col­lec­tion of texts. There are too many top­ics cov­ered with­in it to suf­fi­cient­ly sum­ma­rize here, but Goshgarian’s detailed his­to­ry of both the posthu­mous pub­li­ca­tion of Althusser’s writ­ings and his break­down of the strengths and weak­ness­es of the sub­se­quent crit­i­cal recep­tion an excel­lent map of the cur­rent land­scape of Althusse­ri­an schol­ar­ship world­wide. He also pro­vides a use­ful out­line of the sub­tle shifts in Althusser’s con­cep­tion of phi­los­o­phy and Marx­ism after “Lenin and Phi­los­o­phy,” and fore­grounds the link Althusser draws between philo­soph­i­cal prac­tice and the dic­ta­tor­ship of the pro­le­tari­at, or a new prac­tice of pol­i­tics which seeks to over­come the dic­ta­tor­ship of bour­geois democ­ra­cy. He ends with a sur­vey of one of the unpub­lished archival texts to be released by the Press Uni­ver­si­taires de France lat­er this year, Les Vach­es noires, anoth­er impor­tant ref­er­ence point in Althusser’s strug­gle with­in the PCF. Much like Goshgarian’s scrupu­lous and indis­pens­able translator’s intro­duc­tions to recent col­lec­tions of Althusser’s writ­ings, this inter­view is an intel­lec­tu­al his­tor­i­cal feat unto itself.21

Eva Mancuso’s “Indi­ca­tion as Con­cept: Althusser, Spin­oza, and the Log­ic of the “Groupes Althussériens” (1965-1968)” per­forms a symp­to­matic read­ing of a clus­ter Althusser’s texts so as to recov­er from them a Spin­ozist dimen­sion that has gone large­ly unno­ticed in the crit­i­cal lit­er­a­ture: the notion of “indi­ca­tion.”22 Intro­duced by Spin­oza in Book II of the Ethics as a way of reg­is­ter­ing encoun­ters with exter­nal bod­ies, in Althusser’s work indi­ca­tion is trans­port­ed in the realm of thought and research. Although the French term indicatif/ve is often trans­lat­ed into Eng­lish by Ben Brew­ster as ges­tu­ral, Man­cu­so demon­strates that the word has a pre­cise mean­ing for Althusser, in sit­u­at­ing the dif­fer­ence between ide­ol­o­gy and sci­ence and thus act­ing as a “vir­tu­al trig­ger of the process of knowl­edge.” This “trig­ger­ing” func­tion implies that sci­en­tific knowl­edge does not come about through clean rup­tures so much as through detours, incom­plete out­li­nes, and unex­pect­ed effects – a point clear­ly made in Macherey’s arti­cle dis­cussed above. Through a close read­ing of both For Marx but also a few texts from the 1970s, Man­cu­so also notes a cer­tain con­ver­gence between Althusser’s under­stand­ing of indica­tive knowl­edge, the effec­tiv­i­ty of ide­ol­o­gy, and col­lec­tive research with Ranciere’s mod­i­fied cri­tique (fol­low­ing his sear­ing ear­lier work, Althusser’s Lesson) of Althusser in The Igno­rant School­mas­ter: both seek to dis­cov­er a mode of trans­mit­ting of knowl­edge that would avoid repro­duc­ing a divi­sion between lead­ers and led, thus over­turn­ing the “Kaut­sky­ist-Lenin­ist con­cep­tion of ide­ol­o­gy.”23 At the same time, Man­cu­so offers a frame­work for bring­ing togeth­er the seem­ing­ly opposed read­ings of Spin­oza by Althusser and Gilles Deleuze – two major inter­pre­ta­tions in the broad­er Spin­oza renais­sance in France through­out the mid to late twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry.24

Andrea Cavazz­ini and Fab­rizio Carlino’s “Althusser and Work­erism: Notes Toward the Study of a Missed Encoun­ter” his­tor­i­cal­ly sit­u­ates the cor­re­spon­dences and non-cor­re­spon­dences between Althusser and that oth­er ver­sion of Marx­ism which devel­oped on the Euro­pean con­ti­nent over the course of the 1960s: Ital­ian work­erism, specif­i­cal­ly Mar­io Tronti’s Work­ers and Cap­i­tal. Cavazz­ini and Car­li­no dis­cuss the stakes the­se two refoun­da­tions of Marx­ist the­o­ry had for com­mu­nist strat­e­gy, and how each respec­tive­ly con­strues the rela­tion­ship between the­o­ry and prac­tice. Althusser and Tron­ti always were at one remove from each oth­er; Althusser was direct­ly crit­i­cal of Tronti’s teacher Gal­vano Del­la Volpe, with whom he shared an inter­est in dis­cern­ing the pre­cise nature of the­o­ret­i­cal abstrac­tion, and the terms of Althusser’s influ­ence in Italy shift­ed intense­ly in light of Anto­nio Negri’s idio­syn­crat­ic inter­pre­ta­tion of the late Althusser.25 Cavazz­ini and Car­li­no pose the missed encoun­ter of Tron­ti and Althusser not only at the lev­el of the­o­ret­i­cal sources or back­grounds – espe­cial­ly Tronti’s Hegelian lean­ings – but pri­mar­i­ly at the lev­el of their own polit­i­cal posi­tions in com­mu­nist orga­ni­za­tions. The vibrant the­o­ret­i­cal and polit­i­cal cul­ture that Palmiro Togli­at­ti insti­tut­ed with­in the PCI allowed Tron­ti the space to iden­ti­fy polit­i­cal pos­si­bil­i­ties out­side the par­ty, and impact the par­ty line by the­o­riz­ing on the basis of those autonomous strug­gles; the PCF’s strict har­ness­ing of the­o­ry and pol­i­tics meant that Althusser had to find room for the­o­ret­i­cal regen­er­a­tion in the first place.26 From this dif­fer­ence, Cavazz­ini and Car­li­no care­ful­ly show its con­se­quences in terms of the object and nature of Althusser and Tronti’s projects. We may lament the fact that oth­er poten­tial con­ver­gences are miss­ing: for instance, both Althusser and Tron­ti in their read­ings of Marx place an empha­sis on the “his­tor­i­cal” and “con­crete” chap­ters of Cap­i­tal – which Althusser deems as “on the mar­gin of the dom­i­nant mode of expo­si­tion” – in order to inter­rupt any easy tran­shis­tor­i­cal or tele­o­log­i­cal assump­tions about the work, and to under­stand what Tron­ti calls “the sto­ry of cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety from the work­ing-class view­point.”27 But Cavazz­ini and Car­li­no are clear that their text only aims to “open the dis­cus­sion on this sub­ject,” and it does so in a won­der­ful­ly provoca­tive man­ner.

The recent pub­li­ca­tion of the com­plete edi­tion of Read­ing Cap­i­tal for the first time in Eng­lish fur­nish­es the back­drop for four of the pieces in the dossier.

In his short piece, “Lis­ten­ing to Read­ing Cap­i­tal,” William S. Lewis pro­vides a handy mode d’emploi to the mas­sive Althusser archive at the IMEC in Caen, France (men­tioned exten­sive­ly in the Gosh­gar­i­an inter­view as well), with a par­tic­u­lar focus on the recent­ly dis­cov­ered audio­tapes of Althusser’s piv­otal 1965 sem­i­nar. The­se record­ings, warts and all, might help us bet­ter track the “rhythm” of Althusser’s (and his interlocutor’s) think­ing, and thus “allow for the most accu­rate geneal­o­gy of one of the most impor­tant texts in 20th cen­tu­ry Marx­ist phi­los­o­phy.”

Alex Demirovic’s “Why Should We Read Althusser (Again)?” is a review of the Ger­man com­plete edi­tion of Read­ing Cap­i­tal, which first appeared at The­o­riekri­tik last year. He offers valid rea­sons of the under­whelm­ing recep­tion to Althusser’s work in Ger­many (which has been mit­i­gat­ed by the pio­neer­ing efforts of Frieder Otto Wolf) and help­ful­ly iden­ti­fies the sig­nif­i­cance of Althusser’s approach in his most famous book. Demirovic inserts inter­est­ing asides on the dif­fer­ences between Althusser’s read­ing of Marx and that of val­ue-form the­o­rists like Hans-Georg Back­haus and Hel­mut Reichelt or the con­nec­tion between Althusser’s the­o­ry of sub­jec­tion and Foucault’s hermeneu­tics of the sub­ject. How­ev­er, Demirovic’s lucid account, con­tra facile mis­read­ings, of the core argu­ments of Althusser’s chap­ters in Read­ing Cap­i­tal and the philo­soph­i­cal under­stand­ing of con­tin­gen­cy under­pin­ning this dense work, is admirable – there are par­tic­u­lar­ly suc­cinct pre­sen­ta­tions of what the­o­ret­i­cal prac­tice actu­al­ly implies and the con­nec­tion Althusser draws between con­cepts of struc­ture, con­junc­ture, and artic­u­la­tion.

Final­ly, Ver­so Books has gra­cious­ly allowed us to pub­lish an excerpt from Jacques Rancière’s con­tri­bu­tion to Read­ing Cap­i­tal, “The Con­cept of Cri­tique and the Cri­tique of Polit­i­cal Econ­o­my: From the 1844 Man­u­scripts to Cap­i­tal.” Trans­la­tions of dif­fer­ent sec­tions of this lengthy text appeared in the British jour­nals The­o­ret­i­cal Prac­tice and Econ­o­my and Soci­ety over the course of the mid-1970s; a com­plete ver­sion was pub­lished in the now out-of-print col­lec­tion Ide­ol­o­gy, Method, and Marx: Essays from Econ­o­my and Soci­ety in 1989. As Pana­gi­o­tis Sotiris has recent­ly argued, this essay con­sti­tutes an excel­lent point of encoun­ter between cer­tain Althusse­ri­an con­cepts – specif­i­cal­ly, “absent” or “metonymic” causal­i­ty or struc­tural “effec­tiv­i­ty” – and the the­o­ry of the val­ue-form in Cap­i­tal, or the ques­tion of social forms with­in a cap­i­tal­ist econ­o­my.28 In order to under­stand and explain the forms of appear­ance of a cap­i­tal­ist econ­o­my (com­mod­i­ty exchange or gen­er­al­ized mar­ket exchange­abil­i­ty), one must ana­lyze the social rela­tions that deter­mine the cap­i­tal­ist mode of pro­duc­tion and the com­plex dialec­tic between essence and appear­ance which results, but is irre­ducible to an alien­at­ed sub­jec­tiv­i­ty. The social char­ac­ter of labor, and the social con­sti­tu­tion of cap­i­tal­ist rela­tions of pro­duc­tion, becomes a cause ren­dered invis­i­ble by its effects. We present here the cen­tral sec­tion where Ranciere iden­ti­fies and elab­o­rates the­se con­cep­tu­al dif­fi­cul­ties in Marx’s work.

Althussermaterialismealeatoire
Image from Althusser’s unpub­lished text, “Du matéri­al­is­me aléa­toire” (1986). The text appeared in Mul­ti­tudes 21, no. 2 (2005): 179-94.

***

The “end­less” paths of research Althusser has left us are only par­tial­ly broached in the texts which fol­low.29 To fin­ish this intro­duc­tion, I want to briefly ges­ture to three oth­er poten­tial top­ics of inquiry: 

A) Polit­i­cal Encoun­ters: In Read­ing Cap­i­tal, in a moment which might seem out of place, Althusser com­ments on how Marx’s “rev­o­lu­tion­ary expe­ri­ence inter­vened in his the­o­ret­i­cal prac­tice” as an “object of expe­ri­ence, or even exper­i­ment” which con­tribut­ed to “the upheaval which led him from ide­o­log­i­cal the­o­ret­i­cal prac­tice to sci­en­tific the­o­ret­i­cal prac­tice.” The rev­o­lu­tions of 1848 forced Marx to set in motion a com­plete over­haul of his the­o­ret­i­cal arse­nal, and led to some of his most pen­e­trat­ing analy­ses of speci­fic polit­i­cal sequences, in The Eigh­teen­th Bru­maire and Class Strug­gles in France. In the­se con­junc­tural texts, Marx had to account not only for the the mul­ti­plic­i­ty and com­plex­i­ty of forces at work – cer­tain rela­tion­ships, insti­tu­tions, appa­ra­tus­es, and sub­jec­tiv­i­ties – but also the speci­fic way they were con­joined, com­bined, or devi­at­ed from one anoth­er. Con­crete reflec­tion and analy­sis was con­nect­ed to the devel­op­ment of polit­i­cal strat­e­gy; and the volatil­i­ty of appo­site forces called for an exam­i­na­tion of the unde­vel­oped and unfore­see­able deter­mi­na­tions that inevitably char­ac­ter­ize mate­ri­al encoun­ters.30

One may note that the top­ic of aleato­ry mate­ri­al­ism is left rel­a­tive­ly unbroached over the course of this dossier (with a few excep­tions), but it’s clear that the con­cept of encoun­ter is well-suit­ed to artic­u­lat­ing the often con­tin­gent way dif­fer­ent ideation­al and mate­ri­al ele­ments of social move­ments and con­flicts cohere. Tak­ing speci­fic episodes or con­junc­tures as “objects of exper­i­ment” for analy­sis, and retrac­ing the pre­cise way in which cur­rents of thought and prac­tice effec­tive­ly cir­cu­lat­ed or per­haps miss each oth­er, is a mode of the­o­riz­ing that Althusser only hint­ed at in this pas­sage from Read­ing Cap­i­tal, but he had already engaged in “Con­tra­dic­tion and Overde­ter­mi­na­tion.” He expand­ed upon it in almost kalei­do­scop­ic fash­ion in the first chap­ter of Machi­avel­li and Us, on “The­o­ry and Polit­i­cal Prac­tice” and his inter­pre­ta­tion of Machi­avel­li as a thinker of the “sin­gu­lar case.”31 This type of close read­ing of social forces, polit­i­cal strat­e­gy, and move­ments of resis­tance can be observed in some of the most promis­ing research on the his­to­ry of social move­ments. For instance, Joshua Bloom and Wal­do E. Martin’s account of the Black Pan­ther Par­ty, where the authors focus on the Pan­thers’ devel­op­ment of effi­ca­cious “insur­gent prac­tices”; there is also Christi­na Heatherton’s con­cept of “con­ver­gence spaces,” which she evokes in order to show how high­ly dis­parate rad­i­cal tra­di­tions were often forced togeth­er in par­tic­u­lar sites, lead­ing to unfore­seen alliances and new mod­es of orga­niz­ing, mobi­liza­tion and col­lec­tive study and the­o­riz­ing.32 Of course, there is also the ques­tion of missed polit­i­cal encoun­ters. The analy­sis process­es of decom­po­si­tion, defeat, and the clo­sures of polit­i­cal pos­si­bil­i­ty is doubtless a press­ing the­o­ret­i­cal task.33

B) Edu­ca­tion: In his fore­word to On the Repro­duc­tion of Cap­i­tal­ism, Bal­ibar calls atten­tion to one of the “appa­ra­tus­es of col­lec­tive research” to which Althusser and his col­leagues devot­ed much time and work in the late 1960s: the “‘group work­ing on the schools.”34 The “Schools” group, com­posed of Althusser, Bal­ibar, Pier­re Macherey, Roger Establet, Chris­tian Baude­lot, and Michel Tort, inves­ti­gat­ed the the­o­ry and role of the school sys­tem in cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety.

One aim was to pair par­tic­u­lar inquiries of the scholas­tic appa­ra­tus – how knowl­edge is struc­tured and trans­mit­ted with­in uni­ver­si­ties, research insti­tutes, or pri­ma­ry and sec­ondary schools, the divi­sion between man­u­al and intel­lec­tu­al labour, the impact of stu­dent strug­gles – with a more gen­er­al analy­sis of how this appa­ra­tus con­tribut­ed to the repro­duc­tion of cap­i­tal­ist social rela­tions. A col­lec­tive man­u­script did mate­ri­al­ize from this pro­gram of study, and was also to include selec­tions of read­ings by Nadezh­da Krup­skaya and oth­er social­ist texts on edu­ca­tion; how­ev­er, for var­i­ous rea­sons – simul­ta­ne­ous­ly polit­i­cal, intel­lec­tu­al, and phys­i­cal, the group fell apart by 1970 and the writ­ten text was nev­er released. Bits and pieces emerged in Baude­lot and Establet’s L’École cap­i­tal­is­te en France, Balibar’s impor­tant essay on the mental/manual labor dis­tinc­tion, and of course Althusser’s Sur la repro­duc­tion man­u­script.35 The under­stand­ing of edu­ca­tion in the last – as a deter­mi­nant ter­rain of strug­gle, i.e., the “dom­i­nant Ide­o­log­i­cal State Appa­ra­tus in cap­i­tal­ist social for­ma­tions” – seems par­tic­u­lar­ly worth­while to revis­it today.36 Althusser’s dis­course on the sub­ject might seem a tad dat­ed, in that for him the net­work of edu­ca­tion­al insti­tu­tions seems to to be pure­ly inculca­tive, shap­ing and mold­ing sub­jects to be bear­ers of labor-pow­er. Still, strug­gles and debates over the direc­tion and pur­pose of edu­ca­tion­al poli­cies are indica­tive of broad­er class rela­tions and polit­i­cal atti­tudes.37

In addi­tion to ana­lyz­ing the cohe­sive ide­o­log­i­cal func­tion of edu­ca­tion­al insti­tu­tions, as con­tribut­ing to the con­tin­u­a­tion of rela­tions of exploita­tion, Althusser sees the ques­tion of edu­ca­tion, espe­cial­ly alter­na­tive prac­tices of edu­ca­tion, to be of the utmost impor­tance for the class strug­gle. The con­cept of rev­o­lu­tion­ary for­ma­tion, or train­ing, has been an over­looked facet of Althusser’s work; after Ranciere’s crit­i­cisms in Althusser’s Lesson, where the whole of his for­mer teacher’s phi­los­o­phy is fig­ured as a “phi­los­o­phy of order,” many have writ­ten over ear­lier texts like “The­o­ry, The­o­ret­i­cal Prac­tice, and The­o­ret­i­cal For­ma­tion” as just anoth­er man­i­fes­ta­tion of Althusser’s refusal to put the ped­a­gog­i­cal rela­tion itself into ques­tion, result­ing in a sta­t­ic, didac­tic view of edu­ca­tion. But as Mancuso’s piece in this dossier shows, and Fabio Bruschi has recent­ly argued through a close read­ing of Althusser’s mid-60s texts on the top­ic, Althusser’s con­cep­tion of edu­ca­tion needs to be reread through how he him­self under­stood sci­ence and col­lec­tive research: as a dis­ci­plined, ongo­ing process of rup­ture, even exper­i­men­ta­tion, with polit­i­cal effects.38 In oth­er words, edu­ca­tion was not a pure­ly intel­lec­tu­al affair – “teach­ing” Marx­ist-Lenin­ist the­o­ry – but also an uncer­tain project of trans­la­tion between sci­en­tific analy­sis, orga­ni­za­tion­al form, and class strug­gle:

[E]ducational activ­i­ty, which trans­forms spon­ta­neous pro­le­tar­i­an ide­ol­o­gy into pro­le­tar­i­an ide­ol­o­gy with ever more dis­tinct­ly sci­en­tific Marx­ist-Lenin­ist con­tents, has his­tor­i­cal­ly been car­ried out in com­plex forms. It includes edu­ca­tion in the cur­rent sense of the word, through books, brochures, schools and, in gen­er­al, pro­pa­gan­da, but, above all, through edu­ca­tion at the heart of the prac­tice of the class strug­gle itself: through experience/ exper­i­ment, crit­i­cism of it, rec­ti­fi­ca­tion of it, and so on.39

Althusser’s jet­ti­son­ing of any ide­al­ist cat­e­go­ry of the sub­ject – under­stood in terms of inte­ri­or­i­ty or con­scious­ness – cer­tain­ly ren­ders it dif­fi­cult to fig­ure out how edu­ca­tion, or polit­i­cal edu­ca­tion, is sup­posed to work. But in this pas­sage one gets the sense that it means not only the “for­ma­tive” activ­i­ty and of study groups, orga­niz­ing meet­ings, or the pub­li­ca­tion and cir­cu­la­tion of infor­ma­tion and cur­rents of thought, but also the accu­mu­la­tion of expe­ri­ences of strug­gle.40 In this way, we can think of edu­ca­tion in a sec­ond sense as an exper­i­men­tal process, involv­ing inter­wo­ven moments of col­lec­tive learn­ing, trans­la­tion, and enquiry between move­ments; moments that may cor­re­spond to more last­ing com­bi­na­tions and forms of activ­i­ty, or which may not take hold.41 This archive of strate­gic traces – “lessons of prac­tice” – is not reducible to some­thing like con­scious­ness; here, Badiou’s term for Althusser’s con­cep­tion of polit­i­cal agen­cy, “sub­jec­tiv­i­ty with­out a sub­ject” needs to be refined.42 A mate­ri­al, col­lec­tive, and orga­nized sub­jec­tiv­i­ty which is com­posed of the com­pre­hen­sion and expe­ri­ence of past strug­gles, and whose capac­i­ty to act is also con­nect­ed to the effects and forces of the actu­al con­junc­ture – this seems to be in close prox­im­i­ty to the sub­jec­tive pow­er Althusser envi­sioned.

C) The recep­tion of Althusser among com­mu­nist groups in the Unit­ed States. This may seem like a top­ic that is cut-and-dry: most rev­o­lu­tion­ary for­ma­tions in the U.S. dur­ing the 1960s and 70s, espe­cial­ly those asso­ci­at­ed with the New Left or the New Com­mu­nist Move­ment, seemed to either ignore Althusser entire­ly, or held the line that he only appealed to intel­lec­tu­als and not the work­ing class mass­es, thus for­go­ing one of the fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ples of Marx­ism-Lenin­ism. And indeed, the recep­tion of Althusser in the Unit­ed States was restrict­ed first and fore­most to the influ­ence of aca­d­e­mic cir­cles – as part and parcel of the inva­sion of “French The­o­ry” into human­i­ties depart­ments across the coun­try.

Nev­er­the­less, as Paul Saba has out­lined in a recent inter­view with View­point, there was a minor but com­pelling engage­ment with Althusser’s work among U.S. Marx­ists, par­tic­u­lar­ly the clus­ter of NCM col­lec­tives involved with The­o­ret­i­cal Review. Their gen­er­al project – to widen the field of ref­er­ence for Marx­ism in the Unit­ed States by look­ing to Althusser, Gram­sci, Nicos Poulantzas, and oth­ers, and limn how the­o­ry could work as a con­duit for con­junc­tural analy­sis and the devel­op­ment of appro­pri­ate polit­i­cal strate­gies – is still a wor­thy endeav­or, and has sig­nif­i­cant over­laps with the work of Stu­art Hall’s work at Cen­tre for Con­tem­po­rary Cul­tur­al Stud­ies and Marx­ism Today and small­er groups like Com­mu­nist For­ma­tion in the UK.43

This was not the only direct con­fronta­tion with Althusser’s work in the U.S. at the time, either. The Sojourn­er Truth Orga­ni­za­tion, with polit­i­cal influ­ences rang­ing from Ital­ian work­erism to CLR James and W.E.B. Du Bois, host­ed a crit­i­cal sym­po­sium, titled “The Pol­i­tics of Althusser,” in the Sum­mer 1978 issue of their impor­tant the­o­ret­i­cal jour­nal, Urgent Tasks.44

Fea­tur­ing arti­cles from Mar­t­in Glaber­man, Don Hamerquist, and Ken Lawrence (under his pseu­do­nym, Jasper Collins) and a trans­lat­ed excerpt from Althusser’s series of arti­cles for Le Mon­de in 1978, pub­lished in Eng­lish as “What Must Change in the Par­ty” (the Urgent Tasks trans­la­tion seems to have been done rough­ly simul­ta­ne­ous­ly with the full-length one which appeared in New Left Review the same year), most of the argu­ments put forth are high­ly dis­mis­sive of Althusser’s read­ing of Marx and his “philo­soph­i­cal” per­spec­tive, often crude­ly so.45

How­ev­er, Hamerquist’s arti­cle takes a dif­fer­ent path: through a close read­ing of Althusser’s rebut­tal to the PCF’s recent strate­gic maneu­vers and exci­sion of the con­cept of the dic­ta­tor­ship of the pro­le­tari­at at the 22nd Con­gress in 1976, he tries to gauge the rela­tion­ship between Althusser’s the­o­ret­i­cal prob­lem­at­ic and polit­i­cal out­look. In doing so, Hamerquist does an admirable job delin­eat­ing the ten­den­cies with­in the com­pet­ing Euro­com­mu­nist strate­gies then-dom­i­nant among the Com­mu­nist Par­ties in Europe.46 He also sees Althusser crit­i­cal stance in regards to the lead­er­ship of the PCF and his sup­port for mass autonomous orga­niz­ing out­side the par­ty as promis­ing, since the­se posi­tions devi­ate from Marx­ist-Lenin­ist ortho­doxy (with a sur­pris­ing com­par­ison to Gram­sci of the Ordine Nuovo peri­od!). Although ulti­mate­ly dis­mis­sive of Althusser’s the­o­ret­i­cal writ­ings – note that Hamerquist does not direct­ly ref­er­ence the texts on the “cri­sis of Marx­ism” – there is a refresh­ing focus on the strate­gic ori­en­ta­tions of Althusser’s think­ing and his place in the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­nist move­ment.

While there are cer­tain­ly oth­er links to map in this recep­tion, the­se encoun­ters con­sti­tute two sign­posts in con­struct­ing an alter­na­tive geneal­o­gy of Althusser’s influ­ence in the Unit­ed States: a geneal­o­gy atten­tive to how his ideas were ini­tial­ly intro­duced and trans­mit­ted among polit­i­cal mil­i­tants and activists. The archival sources for this research would be scarce, and much infor­ma­tion has prob­a­bly been already lost to rad­i­cal mem­o­ry; but it could enrich the volu­mi­nous aca­d­e­mic and polit­i­cal recep­tion that Gosh­gar­i­an traces so thor­ough­ly in the inter­view includ­ed here, and which have been cov­ered else­where.47

***

The flur­ry of inter­est and activ­i­ty around Althusser’s work in recent years is every­where vis­i­ble in the texts which fol­low. The best one can hope in an enter­prise of reread­ing is to incite oth­ers to return to the basic prob­lem­at­ic under­pin­ning an author’s text, and the con­flicts tra­vers­ing it. The move­ment of rec­i­p­ro­cal deter­mi­na­tion that is crit­i­cal read­ing can set up pro­duc­tive con­fronta­tions – the cacoph­o­ny of voic­es and forces in Althusser’s texts, both pub­lished and unpub­lished, has meant that his oeu­vre can be returned to again and again with fresh eyes. Mon­tag can have the last word as to the val­ue of this under­tak­ing: “the record of his thought is simul­ta­ne­ous­ly a record of the way he inhab­it­ed or occu­pied a speci­fic philo­soph­i­cal con­junc­ture.” The texts assem­bled in this dossier might hold some resources for our own.


This arti­cle is part of a dossier enti­tled “A Strug­gle With­out End”: Althusser’s Inter­ven­tions.


  1. Éti­en­ne Bal­ibar, “Post­script to the Eng­lish Edi­tion,” in On the Dic­ta­tor­ship of the Pro­le­tari­at, trans. Gra­hame Lock (Lon­don: NLB, 1977), 218. 

  2. I owe this turn of phrase to Asad Haider. 

  3. For an art­ful overview of the­se dif­fi­cul­ties of peri­odiza­tion, see Yoshi­hiko Ichi­da and François Math­eron, “Un, deux, trois, qua­tre, dix mille Althusser? Con­sid­éra­tions aléa­toires sur le matéri­al­is­me aléa­toire,” Mul­ti­tudes 21, no. 2 (2005): 167-78. 

  4. Louis Althusser, “Phi­los­o­phy and the Spon­ta­neous Phi­los­o­phy of the Sci­en­tists, trans. War­ren Mon­tag, in Phi­los­o­phy and the Spon­ta­neous Phi­los­o­phy of the Sci­en­tists and Oth­er Essays, ed. Gre­go­ry Elliott (New York: Ver­so, 1990), 143. For a still enlight­en­ing read, indica­tive of the extent to which Althusser and his intel­lec­tu­al cir­cle were mis­read in an Eng­lish-speak­ing con­text, see the inter­view with Éti­en­ne Bal­ibar and Pier­re Macherey con­duct­ed by James H. Kavanagh and Thomas E. Lewis in Dia­crit­ics 12, no. 1 (Spring 1982): 46-51. 

  5. See Louis Althusser, “Marx­ism Today,” in Phi­los­o­phy and the Spon­ta­neous Phi­los­o­phy of the Sci­en­tists, 276. 

  6. War­ren Mon­tag, Althusser and His Con­tem­po­raries: Philosophy’s Per­pet­u­al War (Durham: Duke Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2013), 11, 95-96ff. See in par­tic­u­lar Montag’s ele­gant way of con­ju­gat­ing the dif­fer­ent “phas­es” of Althusser’s thought in this attempt, as a way of grasp­ing “struc­ture as sin­gu­lar­i­ty (Spin­oza) and con­junc­ture (Lucretius), while simul­ta­ne­ous­ly and indis­so­cia­bly think­ing sin­gu­lar­i­ty and con­junc­ture as struc­ture” (96). 

  7. See War­ren Mon­tag, Bod­ies, Mass­es, Pow­er: Spin­oza and His Con­tem­po­raries (Lon­don: Ver­so, 1999), xxi; Louis Althusser, “Marx­ism Today,” 275. 

  8. Louis Althusser, “The Trans­for­ma­tion of Phi­los­o­phy,” in Phi­los­o­phy and the Spon­ta­neous Phi­los­o­phy of the Sci­en­tists, 256. 

  9. Louis Althusser, Être marx­is­te en philoso­phie, (Paris: Press­es Uni­ver­si­taires de France, 2015), 314. Éti­en­ne Bal­ibar, in his The Phi­los­o­phy of Marx, offers a sim­i­lar, and prob­a­bly more well-known for­mu­la­tion, draw­ing on Althusser: “there is no Marx­ist phi­los­o­phy and there nev­er will be,” and that Marx’s the­o­ret­i­cal prac­tice entails a “non-phi­los­o­phy, even an anti-phi­los­o­phy.” See Éti­en­ne Bal­ibar, The Phi­los­o­phy of Marx, trans. Chris Turn­er (New York: Ver­so, 1995), 1-2. 

  10. Hasana Sharp, ““Is It Sim­ple to be a Fem­i­nist in Phi­los­o­phy?”: Althusser and Fem­i­nist The­o­ret­i­cal Prac­tice,” Rethink­ing Marx­ism 12, no. 2 (Sum­mer 2000): 18-34. 

  11. Althusser, “The Trans­for­ma­tion of Phi­los­o­phy,” 265. 

  12. For an inter­est­ing elab­o­ra­tion on this “way of artic­u­lat­ing” phi­los­o­phy and com­mu­nist polit­i­cal prac­tice, see Alber­to Toscano, “The Detour of The­o­ry,” Dia­crit­ics 43, no. 2 (2015): 85. 

  13. Peter D. Thomas, The Gram­s­cian Moment:Phi­los­o­phy, Hege­mony, and Marx­ism (Lei­den: Brill, 2009), 430. See Althusser, “On The­o­ret­i­cal Work: Dif­fi­cul­ties and Resources,” in The Spon­ta­neous Phi­los­o­phy of the Sci­en­tists and Oth­er Essays, 65-66: “That a prin­ci­ple of such the­o­ret­i­cal fecun­di­ty and impor­tance was con­tained in the prac­ti­cal state in Lenin’s polit­i­cal analy­ses and inter­ven­tions from 1917 to 1923 is an incon­testable fact. That this prin­ci­ple remained in a prac­ti­cal state, no one being suf­fi­cient­ly advised to ‘derive’ it from Lenin’s polit­i­cal works, is, unfor­tu­nate­ly, also a fact. A the­o­ret­i­cal trea­sure was there, with­in reach, in Lenin’s polit­i­cal works; no one ‘dis­cov­ered’ it, and it remained sterile…Moreover, there has been no sys­tem­at­ic the­o­ret­i­cal work drawn from Lenin’s polit­i­cal prac­tice, bear­ing on the the­o­ret­i­cal con­cepts of his­tor­i­cal mate­ri­al­ism and dialec­ti­cal mate­ri­al­ism and thus on the impor­tant the­o­ret­i­cal, even philo­soph­i­cal, dis­cov­er­ies pro­duced by Lenin’s polit­i­cal prac­tice. In the same way, a num­ber of the­o­ret­i­cal con­cepts remained in the ‘prac­ti­cal state’ in the works of Marx him­self. To what do we owe this regret­table sit­u­a­tion, whose effects can be painful­ly felt today? With­out a doubt, to the urgen­cy of the polit­i­cal tasks of the work­ing-class move­ment, which was not allowed the leisure of calm study by its class ene­my. But also to the con­cep­tion of Marx­ism con­struct­ed by ‘intel­lec­tu­als of the work­ing class’, cut off as they were either from its real prac­tice or from the prac­tice that pro­duced its the­o­ry, and thus sub­ject, despite their polit­i­cal loy­al­ty, to bour­geois ide­olo­gies – empiri­cism, evo­lu­tion­ism, human­ism, prag­ma­tism – which they pro­ject­ed on to the great clas­si­cal texts, as they did on to the great deeds of the work­ing-class move­ment. Be that as it may, this sit­u­a­tion lays a pre­cise task before us: to draw from Marx, from Lenin, and from the great Com­mu­nist lead­ers, not only what they said in their the­o­ret­i­cal works, but also what­ev­er the­se works con­tain in the prac­ti­cal state, as well as what­ev­er their polit­i­cal works con­tain by way of the­o­ret­i­cal dis­cov­er­ies. An urgent task. Thus, impor­tant the­o­ret­i­cal events do not always or exclu­sive­ly occur in the­o­ry: it hap­pens that they also occur in pol­i­tics, and that as a result, in cer­tain of its sec­tors, polit­i­cal prac­tice finds itself in advance of the­o­ry. It hap­pens that the­o­ry does not take notice of the­se the­o­ret­i­cal events, which occur out­side its offi­cial, rec­og­nized field, even though they are deci­sive, in many respects, for its own devel­op­ment.” 

  14. Éti­en­ne Bal­ibar, Cinq études du matéri­al­is­me his­torique (Paris: Maspero, 1974), 99n12. Althusser alludes to this phras­ing in Ini­ti­a­tion à la philoso­phie pour les non-philosoph­es, ed. G.M. Gosh­gar­i­an (Paris: PUF, 2014), 255, 275. For a recent read­ing of Balibar’s text, see Gior­gios Kalam­pokas, “Towards a New Prac­tice of Pol­i­tics,” paper pre­sent­ed at 12th annu­al His­tor­i­cal Mate­ri­al­ism con­fer­ence, Novem­ber 5-8, 2015. I also like G.M. Goshgarian’s ren­der­ing in the inter­view in this dossier: with the new prac­tice of phi­los­o­phy, “the late Althusser is the dic­ta­tor­ship of the pro­le­tari­at in thought.” 

  15. For an excel­lent study on the over­lap between polit­i­cal cur­rents and intel­lec­tu­al cur­rents in the Paris Com­mune, see Kristin Ross, Com­mu­nal Lux­u­ry (New York: Ver­so, 2014). Also see her May ‘68 and Its After­lives (Chicago: Uni­ver­si­ty of Chicago Press, 2002), Chap­ter 2. 

  16. Augus­to Illu­mi­nati, “Recent Ital­ian Trans­la­tions of Althusser’s Texts on Aleato­ry Mate­ri­al­ism,” trans. Ari­an­na Bove, Bor­der­lands 4, no. 2 (2005). For the Althusser text in ques­tion, see “Por­trait of a Mate­ri­al­ist Philoso­pher,” in The Phi­los­o­phy of the Encoun­ter: Lat­er Writ­ings, 1978-1987, trans. GM Gosh­gar­i­an and ed. François Math­eron and Olivier Cor­pet (New York: Ver­so, 2006), 290-291. 

  17. See Pier­re Macherey “Théorie,” in Dic­tio­n­naire cri­tique du marx­is­me, ed. Gérard Ben­sus­san and Georges Lab­i­ca (Paris: PUF, 1982), 1142-1148. On Althusser’s the­o­ret­i­cal and polit­i­cal rela­tion­ship to Mao and Mao­ism, see Éti­en­ne Bal­ibar, “Althusser et Mao,” Revue Péri­ode, May 18th, 2015. 

  18. Louis Althusser and Éti­en­ne Bal­ibar, Read­ing Cap­i­tal, trans. Ben Brew­ster (Lon­don: New Left Books, 1970), 44. 

  19. Cf. Gopal Bal­akr­ish­nan, “The Abo­li­tion­ist Pt. I, New Left Review II/90 (Novem­ber-Decem­ber 2014)” 101-36, and his “The Abo­li­tion­ist, Pt. II, New Left Review II/91 (Jan­u­ary-Feb­ru­ary 2015): 69-100; also Paulin Clochec, “Le libéral­is­me de Marx,” Actuel Marx 56, no. 2 (2014): 109-23. 

  20. Pier­re Macherey, Hegel or Spin­oza, trans. Susan Rud­dick (Min­neapolis: Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta Press, 2011), 47-56ff. The Spin­ozist phrase is from his Trea­tise on the Emen­da­tion of the Intel­lect; Samuel Shirley ren­ders it as “intel­lec­tu­al works.” See Baruch Spin­oza, Trea­tise on the Emen­da­tion of the Intel­lect, in Com­plete Works, ed. Michael L. Mor­gan, trans. Samuel Shirley (Indi­anapolis: Hack­ett, 2002), 10. 

  21. G.M. Gosh­gar­i­an, “Intro­duc­tion” to Louis Althusser, The Human­ist Con­tro­ver­sy and Oth­er Writ­ings, trans. GM Gosh­gar­i­an and ed. François Math­eron (New York: Ver­so, 2003); “Intro­duc­tion” to The Phi­los­o­phy of the Encoun­ter: Lat­er Writ­ings, 1978-1987. Also see Goshgarian’s recent arti­cle in Dia­crit­ics, a reworked ver­sion of his intro­duc­tion to the French edi­tion of Etre marx­is­te en philoso­phie: “A Marx­ist in Phi­los­o­phy,” Dia­crit­ics 43, no. 2 (2015): 24-46. 

  22. Mancuso’s arti­cle first appeared as “L’indication com­me con­cept. La logique des ‘groupes althussériens’ (1965-1968),” Cahiers du GRM 7 (2015). 

  23. See also Andrea Cavazz­ini, “La maîtrise impos­si­ble. Pour un bon usage du Maître igno­rant,” Le Télé­maque 44, no. 2 (2013): 89-98; see also Cavazzini’s con­ver­sa­tion with Yves Duroux includ­ed as an appen­dix to his Le Sujet et l’Étude. Idéolo­gie et savoir dans le dis­cours maoïste (Ren­nes: Clou de Fer, 2011). Man­cu­so also does not spend much time on Althusser’s “Marx in his Lim­its,” which aside from being a rep­re­sen­ta­tive text which pro­ceeds via “indi­ca­tions,” also crit­i­cal­ly engages with Kaut­sky and Lenin on the prob­lem of polit­i­cal con­scious­ness only com­ing to work­ers “from with­out.” Of course, Lars Lih’s path­break­ing work in his What is to Be Done? in Con­text (Chicago: Hay­mar­ket, 2006) has forced us to rethink Lenin and Kautsky’s the­o­ry and prac­tice on this score. 

  24. For anoth­er read­ing of the dif­fer­ences between Althusser and Deleuze’s respec­tive read­ings of Spin­oza, see Knox Peden, Spin­oza Con­tra Phe­nom­e­nol­o­gy: French Ratio­nal­ism from Cavail­lès to Deleuze (Stan­ford: Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2014). 

  25. The posi­tions of Althusser, Del­la Volpe and Tron­ti on deter­mi­nate abstrac­tion are dealt with at length in Andrew Anastasi’s upcom­ing intro­duc­tion to his edit­ed dossier on Tronti’s ear­ly essays. 

  26. See also Balibar’s con­tri­bu­tion to the recent con­fer­ence on Read­ing Cap­i­tal at Prince­ton Uni­ver­si­ty in Decem­ber 2015: “A Point of Heresy in West­ern Marx­ism: Althusser’s and Tronti’s Anti­thet­ic Read­ings of Cap­i­tal in the Ear­ly 60’s.” For a provoca­tive read­ing of Togli­at­ti in rela­tion to West­ern Marx­ism, see Peter D. Thomas’s inter­view with George Sou­vlis, “His­tor­i­cal Mate­ri­al­ism at Six­teen: An Inter­view With Peter D. Thomas,Jacobin Mag­a­zine, May 10th, 2014. 

  27. Anoth­er point of entry: Althusser’s brief, but sug­ges­tive, remarks on work­ing-class auton­o­my. See On the Repro­duc­tion of Cap­i­tal­ism, 230: “The work­ing class’s great strate­gic demand for auton­o­my reflects this con­di­tion. Sub­ject­ed [soumis] to the dom­i­na­tion of the bour­geois state and the effect of intim­i­da­tion and ‘self-evi­dence’ of the dom­i­nant ide­ol­o­gy, the work­ing class can win its auton­o­my only on con­di­tion that it free itself from the dom­i­nant ide­ol­o­gy, that it demar­cate itself from it, in order to endow itself with forms of orga­ni­za­tion and action that real­ize its own ide­ol­o­gy, pro­le­tar­i­an ide­ol­o­gy. Char­ac­ter­is­tic of this break, this rad­i­cal dis­tance tak­en, is the fact that it can be achieved only by a pro­tract­ed strug­gle which must take the forms of bour­geois dom­i­na­tion into account and com­bat the bour­geoisie with­in its own forms of dom­i­na­tion, but with­out ever being ‘tak­en in’ by the game rep­re­sent­ed by the­se forms, which are not sim­ple, neu­tral ‘forms’, but appa­ra­tus­es that real­ize the exis­tence of the dom­i­nant ide­ol­o­gy.” 

  28. Pana­gi­o­tis Sotiris, “Althusse­ri­an­ism and Val­ue-form The­o­ry: Ran­cière, Althusser and the Ques­tion of Fetishism,” Cri­sis and Cri­tique 2, no. 2 (2015): 167-93. For anoth­er take on the same prob­lem­at­ic, see John Mil­ios, “Rethink­ing Marx’s Val­ue-Form Analy­sis from an Althusse­ri­an Per­spec­tive,” Rethink­ing Marx­ism, 21, no. 2 (April 2009). 

  29. The Groupes de recherch­es matéri­al­is­tes has already left us with an exhaus­tive list of research ques­tions on Althusser in their inter­view with Éti­en­ne Bal­ibar and Yves Duroux: see Althusser : une nou­velle pra­tique de la philoso­phie entre poli­tique et idéolo­gie. Con­ver­sa­tion avec Éti­en­ne Bal­ibar et Yves Duroux (Par­tie I),” Cahiers du GRM 7 (2015). Part II of this dis­cus­sion has also been released. 

  30. Éti­en­ne Bal­ibar, Struc­tural Causal­i­ty, Overde­ter­mi­na­tion, and Antag­o­nism,” in Post­mod­ern Mate­ri­al­ism and the Future of Marx­ist The­o­ry, ed. Anto­nio Callari and David F. Ruc­cio (Hanover: Wes­leyan Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1996), 109-19. 

  31. An exem­plary read­ing of this text can be found in War­ren Mon­tag, “Althusser’s Lenin,” Dia­crit­ics 43, no. 2 (2015): 48-66. For a strong read­ing of aleato­ry mate­ri­al­ism, and its applic­a­bil­i­ty to a pol­i­tics of resis­tance, see Banu Bar­gu, “In the The­atre of Pol­i­tics,” Dia­crit­ics 40, no. 3 (Fall 2012): 86-113. 

  32. Joshua Bloom and Wal­do E. Mar­t­in, Black Again­st Empire: The His­to­ry of the Black Pan­ther Par­ty; Christi­na Heather­ton, “A Uni­ver­si­ty of Rad­i­cal­ism: Ricar­do Flo­res Magón and Leav­en­worth Pen­i­ten­tiary, Amer­i­can Quar­ter­ly 66, no. 3 (Sum­mer 2014): 557-81. 

  33. For poten­tial prece­dents, see Mar­co Rev­el­li, “Defeat at Fiat,” trans. Red Notes, Cap­i­tal & Class 16 (Spring 1982), 95-109; Ser­gio Bolog­na and Patrick Cun­ing­hame, “For an Analy­sis of Autono­mia: An Inter­view with Ser­gio Bolog­na Left His­to­ry 7, no. 2 (2000): 89-102. See also Raf­faele Sbardel­la, “The NEP of Classe Opera­ia,” trans. and intro­duced by Daniel Spauld­ing, in  

  34. Éti­en­ne Bal­ibar, Fore­word to On the Repro­duc­tion of Cap­i­tal­ism, trans. G.M. Gosh­gar­i­an (New York: Ver­so, 2014), ix-xii. 

  35. Cf. Chris­tian Baude­lot and Roger Establet, L’école cap­i­tal­is­te en France (Paris, Maspero, 1971); Éti­en­ne Balibar,”Sur le con­cept marx­is­te de divi­sion du tra­vail manuel et du tra­vail intel­lectuel,” in L’Intellectuel: L’Intelligentsia et les manuels, ed. Jean Belkhir (Paris: Édi­tions Anthro­pos, 1983), 97-117. Selec­tions from the Baude­lot and Establet text, and the Bal­ibar essay in its entire­ty, will be trans­lat­ed to appear in View­point in the near future. Note that Daniel Lin­den­berg edit­ed and intro­duced an indis­pens­able anthol­o­gy of social­ist and com­mu­nist texts on edu­ca­tion, cir­ca the peri­od of the Sec­ond and Third Inter­na­tion­als, short­ly after Althusser’s Schools group fell apart: see Daniel Lin­den­berg, L’Internationale com­mu­nis­te et l’école de classe (Paris: Maspero, 1971). 

  36. Althusser, On the Repro­duc­tion of Cap­i­tal­ism, 144-47. 

  37. For an Althusse­ri­an approach to this ques­tion, see Pana­gi­o­tis Sotiris, “High­er Edu­ca­tion and Class: Pro­duc­tion or Repro­duc­tion?,” Jour­nal for Crit­i­cal Edu­ca­tion Pol­i­cy Stud­ies 11, no. 1 (2013): 95-143. Cf. Gigi Rog­gero, The Pro­duc­tion of Liv­ing Knowl­edge (Philadel­phia: Tem­ple Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2011). Stu­art Hall pro­vides an exem­plary approach as to how con­tes­ta­tions over pri­ma­ry and sec­ondary edu­ca­tion acts as barom­e­ters for larg­er polit­i­cal realign­ments in his “The Great Mov­ing Right Show,” in The Hard Road to Renewal: Thatch­erism and the Cri­sis (Lon­don: Ver­so, 198), 39-56. Con­tem­po­rary con­nec­tions between cam­pus activism and anti-racist strug­gles in the U.S. con­text have been ana­lyzed in James Cersonsky’s and Oyinkan Muraina’s move­ment inquiry, Black Lib­er­a­tion on Cam­pus, 2015? Note that Pier­re Macherey has offered a con­cep­tu­al his­to­ry of the “uni­ver­si­ty” and its aims and prac­tices in his La parole uni­ver­si­taire (Paris, La Fab­rique édi­tions, 2011). 

  38. Fabio Bruschi, “Althusser et l’intellectuel col­lec­tif: cole, for­ma­tion théorique et dis­pari­tion de l’intellectuel dans la con­cep­tion althusséri­en­ne de l’éducation,” talk given at the “Penser la trans­for­ma­tion” col­lo­qui­um, Uni­ver­sité de Mont­pel­lier 3, April 30th, 2015. On sim­i­lar themes in Alain Badiou’s work, see A.J. Bartlett, Badiou and Pla­to: An Edu­ca­tion By Truths (Edin­burgh, Edin­burgh Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2011). For Althusser’s under­stand­ing of ped­a­gogy as rup­ture, see Louis Althusser “Cor­re­spon­dence with Jacques Lacan,” in Writ­ings on Psy­cho­analy­sis, ed. And trans. Jef­frey Mehlman (New York: Columbia Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1996), 151. 

  39. Althusser, On the Repro­duc­tion of Cap­i­tal­ism, 181n13. 

  40. For a nov­el take on the orga­ni­za­tion of this for­ma­tive activ­i­ty, see Cavazz­ini, Le Sujet et l’Étude

  41. On the polit­i­cal “labor of trans­la­tion,” see San­dro Mez­zadra and Brett Neil­son (Durham: Duke Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2013), 270-76. The ques­tion of sub­jec­ti­va­tion or sub­ject-for­ma­tion in Althusser is com­plex: work­able ele­ments can be found not only in his work on ide­ol­o­gy, but also his work on aes­thet­ics – see Althusser’s 1962 essay “The ‘Pic­colo Teatro’: Berto­lazzi and Brecht,” includ­ed in For Marx, and his unfin­ished “On Brecht and Marx,” the lat­ter essay found as an appen­dix to War­ren Mon­tag, Louis Althusser (Lon­don: Pal­grave MacMil­lan, 2003), 136-49. The sym­po­sium in Dif­fer­ences 26, no. 3 (Novem­ber 2005) on “Althusser’s Dra­matur­gy and the Cri­tique of Ide­ol­o­gy,” with essays by Bal­ibar, Banu Bar­gu, Judith But­ler, and War­ren Mon­tag is also enlight­en­ing. See also Balibar’s essay “Sub­jec­tion and Sub­jec­ti­va­tion,” in Sup­pos­ing the Sub­ject, ed. Joan Cop­jec (Lon­don: Ver­so, 1004), 1-15. Although I dis­agree with his assess­ment of Lenin, I find Howard Caygill’s dis­cus­sion of Rosa Luxemburg’s “break with the mod­el of con­scious­ness” by her con­cep­tion of resis­tance and rev­o­lu­tion as a “process of metamorphosis…a dynam­ic con­flict and expan­sion of forces” very sug­ges­tive: see Howard Cay­gill, On Resis­tance: A Phi­los­o­phy of Defi­ance (Lon­don: Blooms­bury, 2013), 47-9. 

  42. Alain Badiou, Metapol­i­tics, trans. Jason Bark­er (Lon­don: Ver­so 2005), 68-77. For Althusser’s thoughts on agen­cy and sub­jec­tiv­i­ty as a void or emp­ty place, see Machi­avel­li and Us, ed. François Math­eron, trans. Gre­go­ry Elliott (Lon­don: Ver­so, 1999), 20. 

  43. See Com­mu­nist Formation’s 1977 essay, “The Dis­tin­guish­ing Fea­tures of Lenin­ist Polit­i­cal Prac­tice.” The con­cep­tu­al frame­work of The­o­ret­i­cal Review has some res­o­nances with more recent attempts to think Althusser, Gram­sci, and Poulantzas togeth­er: cf. Pana­gi­o­tis Sotiris, “Nei­ther an Instru­ment nor a Fortress: Poulantzas’s The­o­ry of the State and his Dia­logue with Gram­sci,” His­tor­i­cal Mate­ri­al­ism 22, no. 2 (2014): 135-57; Peter D. Thomas, The Gram­s­cian Moment, and his arti­cle “Con­junc­ture of the Inte­gral State? Poulantzas’s Read­ing of Gram­sci,” in Read­ing Poulantzas, eds. Alexan­der Gal­las, Lars Bret­thauer, John Kan­nanku­lam, and Ingo Stüt­zle (Lon­don: Mer­lin Press, 2011), 277-92. A con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous com­par­a­tive ref­er­ence for The­o­ret­i­cal Review would be Christine Buci-Glucks­man and David Kaisergruber’s French-lan­guage jour­nal Dialec­tiques, a major trans­mis­sion belt of Euro­com­mu­nist the­o­ry and strat­e­gy, with a dis­tinc­tive per­spec­tive on the Marx­ist the­o­ry of the state and social move­ments that com­bined Gram­s­cian, Althusse­ri­an, and Poulantzian points of inflec­tion. Trans­la­tions of impor­tant arti­cles from Dialec­tiques, includ­ing Éti­en­ne Balibar’s Etat, par­ti, tran­si­tion, Dialec­tiques no. 27 (1979): 81-92, will appear in View­point in the future. For Buci-Glucksmann’s exten­sive reex­am­i­na­tion of Gram­sci, see her Gram­sci and the State, trans. David Fern­bach (Lon­don: Lawrence & Wishart, 1980). 

  44. Michael Stau­den­maier has writ­ten a fas­ci­nat­ing his­to­ry of STO, and gives exten­sive atten­tion to their the­o­ret­i­cal sources: Truth and Rev­o­lu­tion (Oak­land: AK Press, 2012). 

  45. For the NLR trans­la­tion, see Louis Althusser, “What Must Change in the Par­ty,” trans. Patrick Camiller, New Left Review I/109 (May-June 1978):19-45). 

  46. For anoth­er per­spec­tive on Euro­com­mu­nist strate­gies, and the ten­sions and dif­fi­cul­ties for under­stand­ing the con­cep­tu­al and prac­ti­cal rela­tion between rev­o­lu­tion­ary orga­ni­za­tion and state pow­er in the West, see Asad Haider, “Bern­stein in Seat­tle: Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Democ­ra­cy and the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Sub­ject (Part 2),” also in View­point

  47. See Gre­go­ry Elliott, Althusser: The Detour of The­o­ry (Lon­don: Ver­so Books, 1988). Also Mon­tag, Althusser and His Con­tem­po­raries, 93. The crit­i­cism Mon­tag cites from Gilbert Mury, a PCF com­rade of Althusser, is worth revis­it­ing: “Matéri­al­is­me et hyper­em­piri­cis­me,” La Pen­sée no. 108 (April 1963): 38–51. Cavazz­ini and Carlino’s brief dis­cus­sion of Althusser’s influ­ence on the milieu around the jour­nals Futur antérieur and Mul­ti­tudes is anoth­er node of recep­tion to con­sid­er. 

Author of the article

is a member of the editorial collective of Viewpoint and a graduate student at UC Santa Cruz.