ALTHUSSER'S PHILOSOPHY

Ralph Dumain rdumain at igc.apc.org
Sun Apr 23 19:22:13 MDT 1995


The most recent mini-debate on Althusser must have primed my
unconscious to reach for some Althusser last time I needed some
toilet reading.  (Luckily for me I had enough paper or I might
have found another use for the text.  Who says there is nothing
outside the text?)

Anyway, the text for tonight's sermon is Althusser's LENIN AND
PHILOSOPHY AND OTHER ESSAYS (Monthly Review Press, 1971.)  I must
say, reading Althusser reading everybody else is a disconcerting
experience, for I remain in suspense waiting to see where he is
going, pitting his ingenious explanations against the banality of
his assumptions anxious, to see which side is going to win out.

So far I have read "Lenin before Hegel", the interview "Philosophy
as a revolutionary weapon", and I am now within ten pages of
finishing "Lenin and philosophy" (to be finished before the end of
this message).  I am at the beginning of the section 'Lenin and
philosophical practice' after having been regaled with the
argument that philosophy has no history because it has no object
and never goes anywhere.  The whole argument depends on a not
particularly well-defined notion of "philosophy" en toto and its
progressive replacement by "science", with materialist philosophy
being the ally of science within the unscientific terrain of
philosophy.  Also, "philosophy" doesn't exist until "science" has
come into existence, and the former necessarily lags behind the
latter.  So far the major categories being rigidly distinguished
and then related are philosophy, science, the practice of
philosophy, and politics or class struggle.  Althusser has some
ingenious arguments concerning Lenin's _Materialism and
Emipirio-Criticism_, and also finds Lenin far superior to Engels
as a thinker.  Althusser finds Engels lacking as a philosopher,
infected with positivism as well as naturphilosophie, still
looking for an object for philosophy (p. 58-59).  Even dialectics
as an object for philosophy is retro, since logic is itself a
science and no longer an object for philosophy.

Now we come to the section on 'Partisanship in philosophy'.  Lenin
goes beyond Engels in locating philosophy as politics in theory,
as residing somewhere between Science and Politics.  Hitherto
Philosophy has 'denegated' or suppressed the awareness of its own
practice by its theory.  Lenin realizes Marx's Thesis 11.
Althusser concludes: "Marxism is not a (new) philosophy of praxis,
but a (new) practice of philosophy." (p. 68)

Perhaps most exasperating is that there is a grain of truth in
everything Althusser writes here, but one comes away feeling that
somehow the whole subject has been mystified.  The last-discussed
essay has much more plausibility in it and lacks some of the
objectionable features of the others, and as far as this book
goes, it seems that the crux of Althusser's arguments must be
faced here.  Note again these four Althusserian categories:
Science, Philosophy, Politics, Philosophical Practice.  Tell me
what you think of Althusser's delineation and interrelation of
these categories, and I'll come back at you later with my
analysis.


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