Sartre & God (was Re: the mature Marx?)

Carrol Cox cbcox at
Mon Dec 25 11:05:59 MST 2000

Jim Farmelant wrote:

> .  In fact it seems rather doubtful to me whether
> structuralism as understood by Althusser is up to the task
> of providing a basis for understanding Marx's materialist
> conception of history or even is up to the task for providing
> the basis for a theory of history.

This sounds reasonable. There is an interesting critique of
Althusser (including a strong questioning of Eagleton's
ambiguous response to Althusser on ideology) by Neil
Larsen in _Socialsim and Democracy_,  Vol. 9, No. 2
(Winter 1995-96), pp.25-43. "Shades of Althusser: The
Logic of Theoretical Retreat in Contemporary Radical
Criticism." It ends with a fairly savage statement on the
use to which Althusser has been put by many marxists
in retreat:

"Thinking in these terms, one might consider it
Alhusserism's really signal contribution to subsequent
ideological trends to have made available "Marxist"
arguments for what was finally to become the outright
ban on Marxism *per se* among "radical" thinkers
such as Foucault. In this sense, Althusser carried out
the purely negative task of dismantling a theoretical
obstacle "from within," thus enabling remnants of the
intellectual New Left to follow a rightward trend
without even a pretense of conformity to Marxian
categories. In the end, perhaps, Althusserianism reveals
itself as merely a conceptual conduit through which
the worst features of the Old, economist Left have
been relayed into the new, culturalist orthodoxy."

This makes quite a bit of sense to me, *but* I also
know a number of clearly aggressive revolutionary
marxists who claim a debt to Althusser. So I don't
think he can be merely dismissed as "the enemy." And
at least some forms of structuralism offer a corrective
to the inroads of various (bourgeois) "genetic,"
"pragmatist" or "historicist" distortions of marxism.


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