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Not only was the later Marx distinct from the earlier one, but he operated in an entirely different problematic that had nothing to do with the one which had ensnared him in his youth.
In 1982, just before François Mitterrand’s turn to austerity, Althusser began to draft a “theoretical balance sheet.” He wrote “Definitive” on the manuscript, and never published it.
The section we present here in a provisional translation, an essay called “On Marxist Thought,” was not published until , along with an invaluable translator’s introduction by GM Goshgarian.
What follows will not only introduce “On Marxist Thought,” contextualize it, and provide the beginnings of a close reading, but will also attempt to reconstruct Althusser’s own theoretical development from the ground up.
We are taking this opportunity to reanimate a sorely misunderstood thinker, trace his trajectory, and draw out the contemporary political implications of his theory.
Even voices of dissent within and outside the Party, from Henri Lefebvre to Cornelius Castoriadis, would attempt to work out their opposition within the theoretical categories also embraced by the reformist leadership.
For Althusser, this was the danger of the dissent that had started as “a vital reaction against the mechanicism and economism of the Second International,” a reaction with “real historical merits”: like de-Stalinization in politics, it would channel revolutionary currents towards the Right by way of philosophy, as evidenced by the PCF’s “‘rightist’ misappropriation of a historical reaction which then had the force of a protest that was revolutionary in spirit.” So he set about a reinterpretation of the entire pre-existing tradition, attempting a critique that broke with the whole ideology, both the positivist philosophy of nature and Hegelian subjectivism.On the surface of it this was by no means a novel claim.But Althusser did much more than repeat the old cliché that men change over time.And even our recent moments of political practice have neither originated within the parameters of Marxism, nor have they generated a specifically Marxist discourse.In our situation it has become difficult to say what “Marxism” , what distinguishes it as a theory, and why it matters. And of all the definitions and redefinitions of Marxism, Louis Althusser’s were perhaps the most controversial.Paradoxically, however, the criticism of this philosophy by Georg Lukács, Karl Korsch, and other left-wing theorists actually grounded itself in a , reproducing the very teleology they sought to destroy.The ideology of the Second International was rightly attacked, but only by restoring yet another ideology. The intervening decades have seen not simply a defeat for the workers’ movement but its total dissolution – the collapse of the institutions that once made it an undeniable social force, and the rollback of the reforms it had won from the state.While Western Marxism could define itself within a relation of dissent from the “official” Marxism of the Soviet Union and the Communist Parties, academic Marxism from the 1980s on began to find itself in relation to nothing. The economic crisis, and even more recently the glimpses of a new class struggle, have forced even the financial press to asks what we might learn from Marx.The Hegelian and humanist turn shared both by economism and its Hegelian critique.In his search for a theoretical alternative, Althusser tried to retheorize Marxist philosophy itself, ultimately arguing that Marxism had the status of a which produced objective knowledge, rather than the worldview of the party that represented the proletariat.