Althusser on History without Man Author(s): Mark Poster Source: Political Theory, Vol. 2, No. 4 (Nov., 1974), pp.

393-409 Published by: Sage Publications, Inc. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/190900 Accessed: 17/02/2009 21:04
Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp. JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use. Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at http://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=sage. Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed page of such transmission. JSTOR is a not-for-profit organization founded in 1995 to build trusted digital archives for scholarship. We work with the scholarly community to preserve their work and the materials they rely upon, and to build a common research platform that promotes the discovery and use of these resources. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.

Sage Publications, Inc. is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Political Theory.

http://www.jstor.org

POLITICAL THEORY. and Maximilien Rubel. distorted. oppressed-in short. 2 No. Marxismhas been identified with a determinism that limited the role of human beings m history to one of passivity. the humanists referred to Marx's 1844 Manuscripts citing examples of Marx's concern with the full development of all human capacities through the overcoming of alienation at every level of social reality. Marxist humanism emphasized the active and creative role of men and women in the shaping of history.To prove their case. Roger Garaudy. Not only must Marxismbe understood as a doctrine of human freedom. humanistscontended. intellectual. Vol. Thus the Marxistargumentagainst the political economists was not that capitalism impoverishedthe workers throughexploitation. and with an economism that restricted the understanding of human affairs to the sphere of work relations.2 Most closely identified in France with the writings of Henn Lefebvre.ALTHUSSER ON HISTORY WITHOUT MAN MARK POSTER University of California (Irvine) I HE SOCIALTHOUGHTof Louis Althusser' beganas a direct attack against Marxisthumanists. the humanists argued. For too long. Inc. but the cultural. but that in every area of everyday life it inhibited. 1974 (3931 . alienated-the powersof human beings to determinetheir own lives.and political sides of social reality must be given their proper Importance. November 1974 Sage Publications. 4.

Marxist science had to strain to generate concepts (knowledge-objects) that enabled society and history to be known.working m the field of the history and theory of science. at the moment of the production of concepts.Galileo in physics. Lukacs. without. defined the theoretical novelty of natural science not through its experimentalmethod or its empincism. The strengthof this scientific Marxismfor Althusserwas that.along with Koyre. Hence. Many of the past confusions within Marxist theory could only be clarified.[394] POLITICAL THEORY / NOVEMBER 1974 To Althusser. Marxismwas not a moralizingdoctnne of freedom. the young Marx.4 His new Marxistepistemology opposed what he termed "empiricism.Ideas did not comingle with the objects they sought to represent. He was content with a rather loose specification of science as a form of theoretical practicethat broke sharply with previous theores while revealingtheir ideologicalaspects. the scientist was disinterested-beyond all attachment to or interest m the objects of the social world. and autonomous theoretical practice. and Canguilhem. Marxm history. The great advances of the human mind were reduced by Althusser to three: the Greeks in mathematics. between the object of thought and the real object had to be guardedscrupulously. severingthe connection between theory and society. This was the "absence"in Marx'stext that Althusser'sreadingwould discover. Althusser's thought was strongly neo-Kantian here: concepts actively created by thinkers were preconditions for the knowledge of any experience. obscured by empincism.5 In the recent French debate between Stalinlsts and Marxist humanists. Borrowig aspects of Gaston Bachelard's concept of an epistemohe clauned that m Capital Marx established historcal logical break. Hegel. Ideologies to him were those theores that failed to observe this distinction. The vital distinction. since the former conflated theoretical objects with real objects and the latter erased the distmction between theory and practice. For Althusser. but through the mannerm which it constituted the object of its knowledge.Bachelard.3 materialismas a science but that he did not conceptualize the epistemological novelty of his advance. he maintained. both empiricism and humanism were ideologles. when its scientific stature was presented as a theoretical as well as a political advance. Cavailles. Neither could account theoretically for the crucial difference between the political economy of . Althusser found both camps in error. Althusser applauded the rationalismof this definition of science.and Sartre were all guilty of some form of ideology. Gramscl. however.on the contrary. for it underscoredthe importance of purely theoretical activity." especially in its histoncist variant. but a scientific enterprse.

Ideologie' merely expressedthe relation of the "lived experience of men to their world" and were without scientific value. This difference. and political interests had to be abandoned if thought was to become scientific. Science could have nothing to do with revolutionary action. it is a peculiarity of every ideological conception. The .servingto reinforce the substructure. Marx did not criticize theores as ideological because they fostered certain human interests. his revised philosophy of Marxismhad to be totally divorcedfrom any leaningtoward socialism itself. and thereby mystifyig the present social formation.as distmct from the particular knowledge of the bourgeoisie. The theory of the proletariat de-legitimated existing class rule. for example. to Althusser. ethical. Althusser's dangerous conclusion was that human interests and scientific interests were completely separate and perhaps opposed. to Althusser.Poster/ ALTHUSSER HISTORY ON WITHOUT MAN (395] the bourgeoisie and the socialism of the proletarat. Lukacs.to Althusser. ideology was a false representation of man and the world. and hence was different from ideology.the criterionof ideology was clear: "Indeed. Ideologies were part of the superstructure. that it is governed by 'interests' beyond the necessity of knowledge alone. because it took the given situation as natural. but because they solidified class society. In relation to society. theory merely "reflected"the economic position of the thinker. Ideologies were theories that legitimated economic and social relations and hence were weaponsof class rule. In the view of Stalimsts. dehistonclzmg.. To Althusser.did not overcome this difficulty. Yet. For Marx. Lukacs was a historicist more concerned with the coming into being of a new society than with establishing a scientific social theory. But the humanists. It is apparentthat Althusser'sdefinition of ideology was in some ways m contradiction with Marx's. Marxistepistemology had floundered on the problem of accounting for its own thought as a theory that was qualitatively distinct from past ideologies. Hence.. replied to the reflex theory of knowledge that the truth value of Marxism derived from the unique position of the proletanat m society through which it alone could grasp the totality."6 Religious. Whatmade Marxisma science to him was not that it led to revolution but that it did not conceptualize society from the point of view or from the situated presence of any of its members. was not enough to establish Marxismas a science. Logically. renderingall theones equally ideological. Lukacs'position was just as ideological as his opponent's since thought was still dependent on social interests. The proletariat'sknowledge was therefore universal. since truth was always reduced to the social iterests of the theorst. the structuralist.

the vital link between theory and practice was cut. Before carryingour analysis of Althusser further. Althusser presented. . however. The humanistsargued that the 1844 Manuscripts7proved that Marxadvanced toward socialism only through an anthropologicalconception of man's reappropnatlonof his powers that were alienated under capitalism. if we view the commodity from the worker's perspectiveand interest. Althusseran structuralism presented an attitude of scientific indifference toward its object. was absent m the appearanceof the commodity in the marketplace. None of Marx's later works was intelligible except through this early commitment. the sensuous activity of the laborer that was embodied in the commodity. Nevertheless. Ranciere quoted Marx: "Value does not carry what it is written on its forehead.Only if we detach the commodity from any "constitutive subject" can we overcome systematic "misrecognition. For example. to a structuralist method that grasped it as an illusory appearance that concealed its structure. as Marx had failed to do. Marx was able to advance his theory of capitalism only on fus prior commitment to the working class. a theory that showed why Marxism was a science on purely theoreticalgrounds. To the Marxist humanists. Marx was able to theorize the social formation without the errors of ideology. From this point of view. we would fail to attain any knowledge of its structure."9 Value. we must look at the structuralistreadingof Capital II In the collective work." Therefore.[396] POLITICAL THEORY / NOVEMBER 1974 theoretical advance of Marxcame from the purely theoretical production of concepts that revealed the hidden structure of capitalism. Due to the peculiar mode of presenceof the social object. the greatattractionof Althusser'swritingsstemmed from his effort to develop a Marxist theory of knowledge and to treat Marxismas a superior system of thought on the groundsof its truth value alone. Althusser'sdistinction between science and ideology threw out the baby with the bath water: in order to defend the autonomous power of theory. scientific Marxismhad to be limited to Marx'smature writings where Feuerbachlananthropology and Hegelian historlclsm were allegedlyeliminated. Once he took the point of view of the working class. m Reading Capital. Reading Capital. Ranciere8 argued that Marx's analysis of the commodity switched from an anthropologicalmethod that graspedit as created by the labor subject. it could only be known through a scientific attitude.Hence.

13 were a systematic element of every society and would have to be combatted independently. No knowledge could be gamed from a phenomenology of the worker. central to the socialization of workers. Further achievements of structuralist Marxism came in works devoted to specific structures. 2 In the latter work.10 Ranciere's decipherment rendered the structure of the economy itelligible not m its inertness but m its articulated complexity. Here is Ranciere and sounding very much like Levi-Strauss Foucault: We are no longer concernedwith a text callingfor a readingwhich will give its underlying meaning. Subject and structure were systematicallyand radically out of phase.The state.It was systematically hidden by the structural processes of circulation. and the media. the schools. except that this value was not manifest n the commodity phenomenon.functioningm such diverse locations as the Church. traditionally viewed as a segment of the superstructure. The real "cause" of the existence of the commodity on the market was absent m its appearance.Poster / ALTHUSSER ON HISTORY WITHOUT MAN [3971 In capitalist society.who viewed it as mere mechanism. were a central target for the class struggle and for political activity. the industrialist.or the merchant because they viewed the commodity from the perspective of their own interests. Althusser offered a theoretically more sophisticated Marxism that could analyze various segments of society without reducing them all to the economy.m addition to its coercive power and its bureaucracy.ideologies with a force and a history of their own. for Althusser.maintained an ideological apparatus. as Marx did.This deciphering is the work of science.like Nicos Poulantzas'Pouvor politique et classes sociales (1971) and Althusser's study of ideology. Since we were looking for an "absent cause" or a "hidden structure. Althusser went so far as to abandon Marx's hallowed distmction between base and superstructure. the family."we had to adopt. labor was "represented" in the coFnmodity as value.m the same way that the bourgeoisie had fought the Church. scientific structuralism. the structuralistrevealed its opaqueness to the social subject and lucidly exposed the degree to which it was impossible for the subject to transform the structure.but for Althusser.but with a hieroglyphwhich has to be deciphered. which was.These ideological state apparatuses. ideologies were mere illusions.14 Thus. Against the denigration of unconscious structure by humanists. The structure which excludes the possibility of critical readingis the structure which opens the dimensionof science. For Marx. The economy was no longer a "base" which .

Althusser'sorginal escape from ideology into science is best viewed as provisory.more but precisely. However.in their absence. his complex analysis of Ideological apparatusescame only after May 1968. only m action. the people who inhabit them.have a for level of existence for-their-bearers. One might say that the controversy over structuralismsolidified for the Frenchthe acceptanceof the final lack of a Hegelian absolute subject.The unconsciousnessof structures could be known from the subject's side through subjectivist categories like alienation. Marx's mjunctions against merely interpreting the world came back to the structuralists as the "absent cause" of their own theory. as a temporary procedure for the constitution of the scientific subject. structure-for-science. Structural Marxism legitimately grasped the structure-in-itself. if at all. acknowledging that the place of return is not a heaven of absolute transparencyany more than is the place of science. forcing the recognition of a duality or even a multiplicity of partialsubjects-scientific and humanistwhose unity could be found. multiple subject was the vision of Nietzsche: the death of God must proceed through the dissolution of Man (God's object) to arrive at the birth of men and women. These subjects constitute the structures.This topic may best be treated through three interrelatedissues: (1) the division of Marx'stexts into the Hegelian and the scientific. In the end. the "scientific" epistemology that made this knowledge possible servedto cut it off from effective praxis.must rebndge his own eplstemologicalcoupure. (2) the structuralistdefinition of the . valid for limited kids of study. the scientific subject must erasehis own bracketing. and must return from withdrawal into the full daylight of his subjectivity. Such a decentered. Althusser turned to the problem of Historcal Materialism. although not fully consciously since they are also constituted by the structures. III After providing Dialetical Materialismwith an epistemology. To save structuralismfrom reifymg the concept of structure it seemed that it would have to combine with some form of humanism and then situate the observerm his world. the structures. Part of the structure of the structureis certainly its existence for the subject. when the action of the students against the University-an action that Althusser and the CP opposed-revealed its conservativefunctions.[398] POLITICAL THEORY / NOVEMBER 1974 determined everything and upon which everything rested. Also.

Against all evidence to the contrary. and empiricism. the means of production. Logically. was. Onlylaterdid they disappear the completely: Critique the of Gotha Program(1875) as well as the Marginal Notes on Wagner's 'Lehrbuch der politischen Okonomie' (1882) are totally and definitely exempt fromany traceof Hegelianinfluence. with the concept of alienation for example. Althusser was opposed to any view that appealed directly to human interests. admitting that Marx owed something of a debt to Hegel's dialectic even allowig for much alterationon Marx'spart. The popularity of this view. The humanist readingof Marxhad achieved phenomenal success in France since the late 1940s.Poster/ ALTHUSSER HISTORY WITHOUT ON MAN [3991 concepts of totality and contradiction. tracesof the Hegelian still remaied. Althusserpartiallylifted hus ban on Hegel. which occurred according to Althusser in 1845 and was fully developed after 1857. historicism. 8 Pour Marx is the place where Althusserspit out his polemic againstthe humansts' view that Marxism is above all a doctrine about human alienation and a method for ending it. and (3) the structuralistconcept of history. into the Grundrisseof 1857-1858 and even into Capital. maintainedthat there was a "break"in Marx'sthought m which Althusser Marx totally rejected his youthful concern with Man and located a new object for knowledge-i.16 Yet the persistence of Marx's early concerns. More recently. which was infiltratingthe CP itself.e. s anthropologism. whlch the concept of alienation certainly does. eventuallycompelled Althusserto retracthis absolute divisionand restrict the "true" Marx even further to The Gotha Programand to the obscureMarginal Notes on Wagner: WhenCapital Volume Oneappeared influence (1867).17 One anti-Althusserian with surmised that Marxmust have remainedyoung almost until the end of his life. or at least dissolving the Anglo-Americanview of it as determinist and totalitarian. Althusser's wrath fell upon those who reliedupon the 1844 Manuscripts to present a Hegelian Marxsm burdened with humanism..a dangerousform of moralism that obscured the real theoretical achievement of Marx m penetrating the deep structuresof capitalism. to Althusser. French intellectualslearnedfrom the 1844 Manuscriptsthat Marx was more iterested in restoringman's full powers than m arguing for economic determinism. were fruitless. Grossly simplified." Marxfounded the science of history.Like the other structuralists. converting the vast majority of intellectuals to some form of adherenceto Marxism. Along with .all of Marx's writings before the rupture. With this "immense theoretical revolution.

where the World Spirit permeated whole civilizations.[4001 POLITICAL THEORY / NOVEMBER 1974 and Foucault. ment. There was clearly.In Althusser'sview of Marx. Allowig for opposite tendencies m the texts to emerge without forcing a false unity on them is actually more in keepingwith structuralist priciples of interpretationthan Althusser'sdogmaticbifurcation. without being able to resolve the differences between the two methodologies. The structure of movement itself 1 predeterminedthe final result. In Althusser'sview. with isolated elements at one point in society affecting isolated elements at another point. are not a pre-existing object. Hence. rejected Hegel's notion of the totality as Idea in favor of a new concept of structurem which the priority of the totality over the elements was kept. all of Marx'swritings before the GermanIdeology of 1845 Marx'sconcept of alienationwas dependent on his were really pre-Marxist. Althusser warned. Hegel's dialectic accounted for change through a process of negation or contradiction which was flawed by teleology. but inseparableaspects of the presenceof structures. rational or totally pre-scientific agent.a change m problematlcsm Marx'swritings when he studied capitalism closely as a system. as was popularly thought. Yet this absolute rejectionof certain texts seems more tendentious than realistic. Before Hegel. from Descartes Levi-Strauss that began with the human subject and promised self-improveonward. definition of man as "species-being" free. the effects are not outside the structure. and the relativeautonomy of each level was not overlooked. and Marx accomplished this not by an "inversion"of the dialectic.20 Hegel's concept of contradiction was m similar need of revision. Althusserdamnedall doctnnes. but by a rupture with it.It would certainly be more accurate to say that the young Marx complemented his early dialectic of alienation with a later structuralistanalysis. Effect and cause were not distinct. by reducing the totality to an essence that was "expressed"at 9 every level. Althusser claimed. as for the mechanists. but he did so. social causation was seen mechanically.whereasfor Marx causation was fixed withi structuresas their interority. A more serious contribution came with Althusser's critique of the Hegelian concepts of totality and contradiction which the humanists maintained were taken over by Marx.2 and the structureof movement was the Idea. element or space in which the structure arrives to impnnt its mark: on the . Hegel accounted for the effects of the totality on each element. Marx. This left Hegel with an Idealist notion of causation. as Althusser maintained. as in the Philosophy of History. Dissatisfiedwith this.

one could say that the concept of overdeterminationmeans that human phenomena are not unequivocal.Poster / ALTHUSSER ON HISTORY WITHOUT MAN [4011 contrary.m other words. put differently. m short .Gone from the Hegelian dialectic was the intelligibility of the signified and the role of men in the process of negation.work had to be done.23 The economic level was thus the "absence cause" of the dominant role of politics. If we look at the structureas a whole to define its rules of operation. Althusser was borrowing the Freudian concept of overdetermination m which a neurotic symptom cannot be traced back to a singleor origmal trauma but is compounded by many levels and stages of psychic development. for example. Althusser demonstratedthat a contradiction within a structurecould not be located exclusively at one level-for instance. Althusser spun out a distinction between "the determinatlonm the last instance"of the economy and "the dominant role" of any level at a given time.22 Following closely the concept of structure m Lvi-Strauss..in the final analysis. This distinction was meant to account for the apparentdominanceof kinshp in primitive society and of politics in feudal Europe while maintainingthe ultimate preeminence of the economy. At a more general level.is nothig outside its effects. politics was therefore visibly the domiant structure. that they are always laden with multiple meanings. Althusser transformedthe dialectical method ito a structuralmethod. the whole existence of the structure consists of its ffects." Contradictions.which is merely a specific combnation of its peculiar elements. In order to reproduceitself as a structure.24The "ahumanity"of structures defied bourgeois common sense in which. could not be reduced to any singulareconomic cause. All that was preservedof dialectics was the primacy of the whole over the parts and a focus on the relationsratherthan the isolation of the parts. In feudal society.Trager). Levi-Strauss'concept of structurewas finally inadequate because it regardedeach level as equal m force.Yet the dominant role of politics was only possible because. To Althusser. money actually . mterrelatedlevel of the structure and was hence "overdetermned. the structure. whereasMarxistshad to account for the dominance of the economy. A student of Lacan. an individualpursued money and labored to make and to spend it. Structureswere now totally objectiveand men were merely their "bearers"(in Marx. the structuraleffect of the economy was present throughits absence. For this purpose. feudalism had to use political means to ensure economic activity. By redefining the nature of contradiction and totality. the economic-but that it was compoundedby contradictions specific to every other.

26 As a Marxist. As a total theory of society. In its present evolutionist form.25 In Foucault. . Althusser regarded history as a major aspect of social theory. history systematically overcentered the social field by locating meaning m the subjectas an "absolute reference.27 Denying this assumption. were present but structurallyof secondaryimportance. Althusser asks the historian to concentrate on relationships. m this case self-interest. rendered the structuresintelligible but deemphasizedthe role of men in changingthem. For Levi-Strauss. Cartesianman.Money operatedas a system in expansion or contraction throughwell-definedrules that were obscure from the perspective of a person in search of gain. one could no longer view change as a continuous successionof humanacts. IV We are now in a position to discuss Althusser's concept of history. and Lacan. Alone among the structuralists. he is arguingthat individualsare lost m a fog of ideology and cannot correctly perceive social reality or serve as a point of reference to it. Althusserunderlined Marx'sachievement as the understandingof capitalismas "processes without subjects."28 Scientific history dealt with structures alone.history was a form of mythic thinkingby which the historianconvertedthe past into a line of succession that made for a false continuity. Althusser's objectivist concept of men as bearersof structures. a maker of his world and a conqueror of nature. Like Levi-Strauss. Historical researchers consider man as an active subject. Human mtentions. Diachronics would have to be given as much attention as synchronlcs. were equallyopposed to what they termed hlstoncism.Foucault. The structuralists or what we know as the dormnantforms of historcal writing.[402] POLITICAL THEORY / NOVEMBER 1974 used man to maintain itself."29 By shifting the locus of intelligibility from individualsto subject-less structures. for them. who is a captain of his soul. as linear and homogeneous.The manner m which the uhstonanconstituted the object of his field was not. we find a succession of epistemes but no explanation for the change from one to the next. Althusser was m no position to suppress or minimize the question. is thus laid to rest.which he claimed to have found m his reading of Capital. structuralMarxismwould have to be able to account for history without resortingto human agents. scientific. effecting reality through projects that have meaningeven though they can lead to unintended results.

Capitalismthus began with the introduction . Strictly speaking.33 In the formation of capitalism. In each of the relations of the worker to the means of production. merely invoking an old Cartesian myth. however miutely each decision may affect the outcome of events. a disciple and collaborator of Althusser's. believe they are measurng human decisions or their residues. Even social historians like Marc Bloch and the Annales school. and non-laboring approprators) and two rules of combination (property connection and appropriationconnection).34 one that was umque to capitalism. Balibar. for example.30 The combination accounted for the economic structureof any society. For the structuralist. m the appropriationrelation.Whatis measuredis rathera system of relationships m static and dynamic articulation. but not their nature.Poster/ ALTHUSSER HISTORY ON MAN [4031 WITHOUT When the histonan labors to depict the continuity betweer the past and the present by narratingthe drama of human ations. the worker became mcapable of setting the means of production in motion."32 The rules of transformationfollowed Freud's concept of the process of displacement. structuralchangemeant a "displacement" within the means of production. What is unportant is that Balibar defined history as changesin the combiation. meansof production. the structuralistsformalized what they regardedas Marx'sachievementin CapitaL Takingover for Althusser. he had lost the skills to make the product. Althusser is not merely condemmng traditional narrative history to the benefit of the new sociological-quantitativehlstory. In short. thereby avoiding historncsm.there are thus no events. Both the "object of labor" (the product) and the "means of labor" (the tools) were "separated" from the laborer m two ways: in the property relation. Structuralchangeconsisted not m the dissolution of one structure and the constitution ex nihilo of a new one." there were three constituents (workers. It differed somewhat from the equally atemporal "combmatory" of . the worker owned nothing. Balibarassertedthat Marx'sCapitalproduceda table of invariantelements in the means of production. there was a homology of separation. was lft with the Herculean task of presentingMarx'sstructuralhistory. In this "combination. the object of history is neither the mteriority of individual acts nor the externality of collective behavior.vi-Strauss which indicated that "the places of the factors and their relations change. when measuring long-term economic or social changes. In Reading Capital."3 We will leave aside the question of the umversality of Balibar's concept of combiation. he is. m Althusser's eyes. only structuralhappenings. but m "the transformation of one structure into another. For their own concept of hstory.

the process occurred without a subject. which floated. traced this process in what he called the prnmitive Hence. The recombiation of the same elements was a displacement. without anyone willing or intending the new combination. within the structureof the means of production. In detail.like a tinkererm a workshop filled with used remnants. it was not a fnctionless machine. were both stabilizing and disruptive. a new structure emerged containing contradictions or imperfections since it was not designed ahead of time by some great architect. The more absolute the separation between the workerand the meansof production. there was a unity between the tools and the worker whereas under fully developed capitalism what unity there was shifted to the relation between the object of labor and the means of labor. the tool was structured to the human body. in the social field. Contradictionplagued the new structuresice its effects." since from that point on all structures were adjustedto the new combination: the worker was separatedboth from the object of labor and from the means of labor. which had no bncoleur. In this way.This bncolage.[4041 POLITICAL THEORY / NOVEMBER 1974 of the "machie-tool. the science of history could demonstrate apodictically that capitalism could not endure forever.36 In plam language. Capitalism maximized the separation of the worker and the means of but also by the structureof production not simply by private ownersuhp the means of productiorr'which maximized the output of the machine disregardingthe structure of the body (or the mind) of the worker.38 assembledsections from the junk heap of the previousstructure. took place without apocalyptic drama: the structure was simply less able to integrate its subordinatelevels. with materals suited for a different social machine. the more perfect became the structure and the closer it came to dissolution. in the process of daily reproduction. like feudalism. To Balibar. please note. The dissolution of a structure.35More precisely. the tool was structured to produce the product. using appropriate materialsand proceeding systematically.Marxhad accumulationof capital. the process of change went as follows:37 Structures were formed out of bits of existing structures. Moreover. under industrial capitalism. so to speak.its contradictions led to a combination in which the means of . out of the structural contradictions of the previous transitional form (manufacturing). under the manufacturingor handicraftsystem. Gradually but discontinuously. gradually combining with other loose elements through a process of brtcolage.but ratherthrough fits and starts. Not at all linear. structuralhistory traced displacementsin the combination without reference to human action. under earlier methods.

39 againstscience are merelylaughable In the mad. One could claim that discourse was a system like all others and thereforethat it did not depend on subjectswho were only its bearers. it is muted by a huge stupor before the fulness of our us knowledge and our unlimited powers. Conilh. social change came about regardlessof the deliberateaction of human groups. praxis was always infiltrated by ideology since men always took the point of view of the human species or some part of it. unlike ideology. Yet Althusser's science showed that social change was a matter of structures in complex systems of autonomy and interdependence beyond human will.40 . he avoided any hint of anthropology. captured Althusser'svision by relatingit to social change in France since 1940: No doubt we can measurehere the contemporarymalaise. as we have seen.The existential anguish born from the war.the third element. under socialism.Poster/ ALTHUSSER HISTORY ON WITHOUT MAN [4051 production would be socialized. which histonans with a ratherdifferent mentality are not likely to favor.This knowledgesurrounds completely. it penetrates us to our deepestintimacy It is our mode of being and doing. This resort was not open to Althusser because his concept of the eplstemological break maintained that scientific discourse. delighting in the elegance of their combination. V In Althusser's concept of history. did not depend upon unconscious infrastructures. The Althusseriansseem to display a certain esprit de giometne. And so cosmic fatalism crept into his anti-humanism:all action was futile both because structuresmoved autonomously and because praxis was always inspiredby ideological interests which distorted it. m the mght of the occupation. Nothmg can escape it and declamations hypocrisy. In this manner. One critic. the varous projections of man's self-image. one that was not purely scientific. Still. it is hardto see what would become of the appropriators. chaotic human world. Yet if the claim for universality of the elements that the Althusserans discoveredm Capitalis taken seriously. they were always practicing humanists. our meluctible presence m the world. is no longer apparent. our malaise. uniting the separated workers with their tools and their products. measuringthe world by their own images and desires. as in Levi-Strauss'position where myths were thought through men. even Althusserwas caught m the ontological web of being human and his discourse projected an "interest" inherent in all discourse.

as they have m the past. Althusser'sinvestigationsseem to avoid both mechanical. most notably. Twentieth-centuryphilosophy of science had proved at least that science must accept its own mcompleteness. were not separablefrom scientific ones. Althusser's shift in emphasistoward objective structureshas led many critics to regard him as a positivist. at some point. Anthropology could not be totally eliminated. Yet this criticism misses its mark. because he does not leave the choice of historical subject either to the accident of facts not previously uncovered or to a fetish of available methodology (usually mathematics).[4061 POLITICAL THEORY / NOVEMBER 1974 Science was not decentered and therefore it did requiresubjects-creators like Karl Marx who deliberatelyproduced knowledge. was compelled to utter the word man. I would argue. The impact of Althusser's structuralism in France turned attention away from Marxist humanism. In the Anglo-American world. Althusser avoids positivism. he has done for social many structurewhat Foucault did for the episteme: he has provideda method to approach a level of historical reality which had gone almost totally unnoticed. In any case.with does not appear to fit easily with the concept of structure-ln-dominance the pluralismof positivists. his peculiarMarxism. the dependence of science on action. If they look for the traces of man. What is meant by positivism in this context is the tendency in social science to isolate social phenomena in such a way that they appearto be static givens and to elevate the scientific method into a complete and absolute foundation for knowledge. it reintroduced an element of anthropology and with it the "ideological" imperative to read Althusser. The existential commitments of the scientist were "structurally" an element of his theoretical practice. what is the object of historical inquiry9 This is-a question that is too often taken for granted.Nevertheless. too. . From an existentialist viewpomt. Althusser's discourse was characterized by a refusal to accept the rsk of finitude. For philosophers of history and practicing histonans Althusser has raised some significant questions.41 that is. on action by the scientist. hlstorians will become bogged down m the mire of ideology.Then. If science rested on subjects. The interesting consequence of Althusser'sinvestigationis that historians must regard deep structures as their object because only m this way can they attain scientific knowledge. as Habermasarguedin Knowledge and Human Interests. economic determinismand the moralismof many Marxist humanists.Students of Marxismflocked to Althusser.human interests. Althusser has not won converts even among Marxists. Even structuralisthistory.

an avant-gardeliterary journal. "En deca du marxisme. and sales steadily rose after 1968. the CommunistParty found itself m the rmdst of an intellectual renewal. 107 (February. Lenin and Philosophyand OtherEssays.1972) 68-92. transL Ben Brewster from 1968 edition (London. Two excellent articles then appeared. Hegel and Marx. Louis Althusserand Etienne Balibar.those of Macherey and Establet have not been translated.ReadingCapital."Un structuralisme ventriloque. known as the Cercle d'ulm. 22:250 (March. 1967) 438-467. After the Party sided with Garaudy and against Althusser. By holding back his own criticisms. For the controversy over Althusser."Les Manuscrits 1844. or even to the growingindependenceof the CP from Moscow. the young structuralistMarxistsspoke out openly against the Party and by 1966 they were excluded from it. followed by an attack. Les Temps modernesprinted a favorable review by Nicos Poulantzas. Things were going so well that Tel Quel. 1971): Lous Althusser. GilbertMury. concludedby a commentaryby Jean Pouillon.1963). 2. 1972). A good summary was presented by Jean-Claude . 1963) 38-51."Les Temps modernes." ritique. as has been suggested.Pbster I ALTHUSSER ON HISTORY WITHOUT MAN [407] somehow finding Maoist inspiration in his teaching. Robert Pans. 1970). 1969). et 108 (April. "Deux questions sur un article de Louis Althusser. The theoretical organs of the CP hummed with excitement. de La 107 (February.42 or to the events of May 1968. as if some occult spirit drew littrateurs to the politics of the working man." 1983-2002. In one ssue. and one against. aping the surrealistsof the 1920s and 1930s and the existentialists of the 1940s and 1950s. 72 (March-April. was not at all clear.in 1964. Althusser was able to avoid the censure of the Party while it enjoyed the prestige of hls intellectual success. transLBen Brewster (London. 1966) 1952-1982.one m favor. Roger Garaudy. transl. Althuser's major works are all availablem English:For Marx transLBen Brewster(New York. m New Left Review. Louis Althusser. 240 (May..Rousseau. Andre Glucksmann. Politics and History:Montesquieu. The contribution by Ranciereto the originaledition has been translatedm Theoretical Practice. "Le (Re) commencement du matenalisme dialectique." 21:240 (May."Du cote de chez Marx." 2003-2012. cf. associated itself with the CP m the late 1960s."La Pensee. Aron was hostile m D'une sainte famille a l'autre (Pans. attacks by CP theorists on early articles: Guy Besse. NOTES 1. set themselves up within the UEC. the CP student organization.1967) transl.Ben Brewster(London." Pensee. "Vers une theone marxlste. Baskingin Althusser's theoretical sunshine. Whetherthe increased subscriptionsto La Pensee and La Nouvele critique were due to Althusser. 1970).A band of Althusser's students. Alain Badiou of the Cercle d'eplstemologie." La Pensee."Matenalisme hyperempiricisme.1963) 52-62.

252. the translator of Marx. Althusser. Althusser. Dommique Lecourt... 24:275 (May." Garaudy's forces predominated. in Telos. 13." La Nouvelle critique. 165 (1965) 96-132 and "Progres. a review of Foucault's Les mots et les choses.and late-1960s. Ibid. Even though Althusser refused the title structuralist. Althusser. 10. "Un structuralisme ventriloque. Emile Bottigelli. 1970) 39-65. "Mort de I'homme ou epuisement du cogito? " COitique. 1966 entitled "Les problemes id6ologlques et culturclles. 89-128. Ibid. 8. Marxisme et structuralisme (Parls. 138. 9. Lenin and Philosophv. 155-160. 12. Ranciere's recent defection from the Althusserian camp does not detract from the pertinence of his contribution to Lire le Capital.Y. 1964) 128. 22. 201." Les temps modernes. Cf. 2 (April. 28. 188 and For Marx. L'pistemologie histortque de G. Ibid." La Nouvelle critique. 176 (1966) 66-78 represented a tempered Althusserianism best. 151. raison. Bachelard (Pans. 14." History and Theory. Scbag. 17 Althusser. transl. Politics and History. 25. Althusser. 7 (1973) 27 27 Lucien Sebag. The Savage Mind. Politics and History. 149." m Structuralisme et marxisme (Pans. Reading Capital. 7 The debate over Marxist humanism. "Marxisme et humanisme. Thie Formation of the Economic Thlought of Karl Marx (N.. 155. Althusser. 185. 3-4 (Fall. 1967) 599-618. lie did acknowledge debts to Lvi-Strauss. Ernest Mandel. 7 (Spnng. 179 and Glucksmann. Ibid." Les cahters du centre d'etudes socialistes (1968) 7-31. 21. 1971) 39. Althusser. 189.. 18. La Nouvelle critique contained a continuing debate on humanism throughout the mid. "The Concept of 'Critique' and the 'Critique of Political Economy. Lacan and Foucault. Althusser. 3. 84. Lenin and Philosophy. Reading Capital. 87 24. 1971) 13-24. Politics and History. 19. 11. 242 (July. Reading Capital. 1969) partially transl. Althusscr. 15. A biting review of Lenm and Philosophy appeared by Francois George. in Lenin and Philosophy. One could argue the anti-humanist position by calling it a philisophy of the concept as-opposed to the humanist philosophy of the subject. Althusser. "Lecture d'Altllusser. Michel Simon's articles. 141. Cf. 29. 1971) 177. 90. 6. histoire. (Chicago. 166.' " Theoretical Practice. affecting the political composition of the Party. 1969) 1921-1962. The best statement of this position was Georges Canguilhem. "En lisant Althusser." 80. Transl.(4081 POLITICAL THEORY / NOVEMBER 1974 Forqum. 183. Althusser. raged fiercely n Comnunist jourals. Hayden White. 5. 16. Ibid. LIvi-Strauss. "Lire Althusser. ForMarx. Reading Capital. in Theoretical Practice." 26. Reading Capital. Cahiers du communtsme devoted an issue to it in May-June.. Marxisme et structuralisme. Rancicre. Also. . 1966). "Foucault Decoded. "History and Dialectics. 4. 23. 1971) 73-98. 186-187 20.

41. 38. Balibar. 215. 39. Pradeep Bandyopadhyay. 36. Reading Capital. "The Many Faces of French Marxism.. Conilh. 1972) 145. 37 Badiou. 243. 1967) 899.." 42. 32. Ibid. "Lecture de Althusser.. 35.. 215. Badiou. . 242." Sctenlceand Society. Ibid. Reading Capital. 250. Ibid." Esprit. Ibid. "Le (Rc) commencement du matenalisme dialectique. 35:360 (May. 243. Ibid. 33. "Le (Re) commencement du mat6ralisme dialectique. Balibar. also 177 31. Glucksmann. 34. 216. 40.." gives an excellent account of this.. "Un structuralisme ventriloque. Ibid. 242.Poster / ALTHUSSER ON HISTORY WITHOUT MAN [409] 30. 36: 2 (Summer." 443.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful