The Crisis of Marxism

Leonar­do Cre­moni­ni, Bas­sa marea (1957-1958)

Crisis Theory | Asad Haider

In 1977 Louis Althuss­er gave a famous speech in Venice on “the cri­sis of Marx­ism,” a the­sis almost as scan­dalous as that of an epis­te­mo­log­i­cal break in Marx’s thought.

The Crisis of Marxism (1977) | Louis Althusser

It is in this pro­found­ly polit­i­cal sense that we are forced today, it seems to me, to speak of a the­o­ret­i­cal cri­sis with­in Marx­ism, in order to clar­i­fy the ways in which it affects what is called Marx­ist the­o­ry itself: and in par­tic­u­lar the fact that a num­ber of appar­ent­ly infal­li­ble prin­ci­ples inher­it­ed from the Sec­ond and Third Inter­na­tion­als have now been placed in doubt.

Power and Opposition in Post-revolutionary Societies (1977) | Rossana Rossanda

The cri­sis, more­over, goes beyond the pure­ly polit­i­cal domain and invests the realm of the­o­ry itself. It is a cri­sis of Marx­ism, which is expe­ri­enced by immense mass­es as an unac­knowl­edged real­i­ty. Marx­ism – not as a body of the­o­ret­i­cal or philo­soph­i­cal thought, but as the great ide­al­is­tic force that was chang­ing the world – is now groan­ing under the weight of this this his­to­ry.

Marxism as a Finite Theory (1978) | Louis Althusser

I believe that Marx­ist the­o­ry is “finite,” lim­it­ed: that it is lim­it­ed to the analy­sis of the cap­i­tal­ist mode of pro­duc­tion, and of its con­tra­dic­to­ry ten­den­cy, which opens up the pos­si­bil­i­ty of the tran­si­tion to the abo­li­tion of cap­i­tal­ism and its replace­ment by “some­thing else” which already appears implic­it­ly in cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety.

State, Party, Transition (1978) | Etienne Balibar

The prob­lems of Althusser’s text and oth­er recent inter­ven­tions appear to me to lie else­where. What does it mean that “the par­ty must be fun­da­men­tal­ly out­side the State,” with the clar­i­fi­ca­tion that it is “through its activ­i­ty with­in the mass­es”? What does it mean to “tear the par­ty away from the state”? Do we not find here an ide­al (and ide­al­ist) con­cep­tion of a par­ty?

The Critique of Politics and “Unequal Right” (1978) | Rossana Rossanda

The para­dox we are expe­ri­enc­ing con­sists in the fact that today the cri­tique of cap­i­tal­ism and the state is pro­duced in real social con­flicts, advances through real polit­i­cal sub­jects, mate­r­i­al prac­tices: here we already move in the zone of the “screen,” beyond the cat­e­gories inher­it­ed and tak­en from the tra­di­tion­al work­ers’ move­ment, in the pro­file of anoth­er which is expressed as a need and seen in clips of expe­ri­ence.

May ’68 and the Crisis of Marxism (1978) | Christine Buci-Glucksmann

It is nec­es­sary, then, to mod­i­fy our rela­tion­ship to Marx­ism today, to begin from its lacu­nas, its points of fragili­ty – to open­ly con­front its for­bid­den zones, its blind spots, so that this real cri­sis becomes an eman­ci­pa­to­ry one, pro­duc­ing oth­er analy­ses, oth­er polit­i­cal prac­tices.

The State, Social Movements, Party (1979) | Nicos Poulantzas

To mod­i­fy the bal­ance of pow­er with­in the state, and fur­ther­more, rad­i­cal­ly mod­i­fy the mate­ri­al­i­ty of the state, is only one aspect of a demo­c­ra­t­ic tran­si­tion to social­ism. The oth­er aspect of the process depends on, at the same time, grass­roots social move­ments pro­pelling the spread of spaces of direct democ­ra­cy: in short for move­ments to ground them­selves in pop­u­lar strug­gles that always spill over beyond, and keep a dis­tance from, the state.

After the Other May (1981) | Etienne Balibar

We must start again on the basis of an irre­versible plu­ral­ism, and look to move past parox­ys­mal – and today, car­i­ca­tured – forms that have led up to this crit­i­cal moment where­in every mass work­ers’ orga­ni­za­tion is in upheaval, and replace them in the face of the unre­solv­able alter­na­tive of pas­siv­i­ty or ephemer­al revolt. No mat­ter its con­crete shape, the out­come of the cri­sis of the par­ty-form depends on the simul­ta­ne­ous trans­for­ma­tion of all the orga­ni­za­tions of the work­ers’ move­ment (none of which have every been pure­ly com­posed of work­ers).

Crisis and Dialectic of Parties and New Social Movements in Italy (1981) | Rossana Rossanda

The real ques­tion is rather: for those who deny the cen­tral­i­ty of the work­ing class, where is the epi­cen­ter? For the cen­tral­i­ty of the work­ing class is not mere­ly “soci­o­log­i­cal”: it is an image of the cen­tral­i­ty of the modes and rela­tions of pro­duc­tion with mul­ti­ple social and ide­o­log­i­cal for­ma­tions which inter­sect and con­tra­dict each oth­er. Or fur­ther: in a sys­tem with­out an epi­cen­ter, where would move­ment come from?

(The Right to) Tendencies (1982) | Etienne Balibar

Once we man­age to avoid iden­ti­fy­ing a “polit­i­cal cen­ter” and “the­o­ret­i­cal” cen­ter in advance, from iden­ti­fy­ing the elab­o­ra­tion of a strat­e­gy with the appli­ca­tion of a pre-estab­lished vision to the course of his­to­ry, it might be pos­si­ble to over­come the dilem­mas of “demo­c­ra­t­ic cen­tral­ism” and the “right to ten­den­cies.”

On the Left-Wing Critique of Stalinism (1976) | Christine Buci-Glucksmann

The cri­tique of Stal­in­ist dog­ma­tism from “the left-wing posi­tion of the­o­ret­i­cal anti­hu­man­ism” chal­lenges a form of Marx­ist the­o­ry which sup­ports, guar­an­tees, and illus­trates a cer­tain view and prac­tice of class strug­gle, a cer­tain vision of social­ism.

Authors of the article

is an editor of Viewpoint and author of Mistaken Identity: Anti-Racism and the Struggle Against White Supremacy (Verso, Spring 2018).

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