Reply to Ralph on Althusser

David McInerney davidmci at
Sun Nov 26 19:58:15 MST 1995


Thanks for your reply.  It seems that we agree on the worth of Castoriadis
and the other (former Maoist) 'New Philosophers' and their British
counterparts.  But I (preditably, I guess) have problems with what you say
about Althusser.  You wrote:

>I can't recall whether you have been on the list long enough to
>have experienced my vitriolic contempt for Althusser, who has done
>ore harm to Marxist theory in the past 35 years than any other
>single individual.  Inasmuch as I understand Althusser's remarks
>you cite on the structure/agency pseudo-problem, I agree with
>them.  I think Althusser is hypocritical, since he has created
>more pseudo-problems than any other Marxist philosopher.

No, I haven't been on the list that long (I've been aware of it only since
early September), but I did go through the archives and read (some) of your
contributions on Althusser.  I'm glad that you refrained from using _For
Marx_ as toilet paper.  You say that you agree with the substance of the
quote I gave from Althusser's self-criticism.  Whether Althusser is
"hypocritical" or has "created more pseudo-problems than any other Marxist
philosopher" is strange to me.  How can an open self-criticism of his
earlier work (a self-criticism which pulls no punches, I might add) be
'hypocrisy'?  On the "pseudo-problems", this reflects your own
understanding of Marxism, which is very different from Althussers, and I
think you would still find a lot of things to wipe your arse on in later
texts such as his 1967 introduction to the philosophy course for scientists
at the Ecole Normal Superiere.  My guess is that its not the formalist,
idealist aspects of _For Marx_ that you have trouble with, but rather it is
Althusser's rejection of "Marxist humanism" as non-Marxist, a claim which
is repeated again and again in all of Althusser's work, and forms the focus
of _For Marx_.  In another recent post you say:

>I'm much more
>interested in Marx's actual early point of departure, the division
>of labor and alienated consciousness.

I think here we have located the basis of your distaste for Althusser.
Althusser regards these early formulations as 'spiritualist', whereas you
consider them to be 'Marxist'.  If Marxism is what you say it is, then
Althusser has surely "done more harm to Marxist theory in the past 35 years
than any other single individual".

The sad fact is, however, that there are many formulations in Althusser's
work which lend support to many of the positions you defend on the list
(such as your interventions against Father Burns and Professor Rosser).
And, outside of work authored by Althusser, the work of those inspired by
him also provides support to most of your positions against attribution of
Lysenkoism to Lenin and your arguments against the work of Sean Sayers on
dialectics (awful stuff, I agree, read it some years ago).  Works I'd
recommend are

Dominique Lecourt, _Proletarian Science?  The Case of Lysenko_, NLB,
London, 1977.

Wal Suchting, 'Marx, Hegel and Contradiction', in _Marx and Philosophy_,
MacMillan, London, 1986.

The latter is the best paper on Marx's dialectics I've read, and refutes
Sayer's claims that Marxism rejects Aristotle's three laws of logic in the
manner of F.H. Bradley (yech!).  The Althusserian's reject theoretical
humanism because they see it as idealist.  They see Marxist philosophy not
as a practice of pronouncing the Truth about the world, but rather is
showing the truth implied in such idealism as being the defence of the
dominat ideology (see 'The Transformation of Philosophy' in _Philosophy and
the Spontaneous Philosophy of the Scientists and Other Essays_ on this).
They defend a Leninist position on philosophy.  Philosophy for Althusser
(after 1967) is the continuous drawing of a line of demarcation between
idealism and materialism.  I know that this would leave a sour taste in the
mouths of Rosser and Burns.  But I fail to understand why it does in yours.

Mr. David McInerney,
Political Science Program, Research School of Social Sciences,
The Australian National University, Canberra, A.C.T., AUSTRALIA  0200.
e-mail: davidmci at; ph: (06) 249 2134; fax: (06) 249 3051

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