[OPE-L:5866] Re: Re: Hello and Klimans cat

jurriaan bendien (Jbendien@globalxs.nl)
Fri, 19 Dec 1997 18:06:04 +0100

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Concerning Heidegger - he ended up among other things writing a tract on
the relationship between humans and animals, which is what I want to avoid

Concerning "structuralist stuff" - in its Althusserian guise it tends to
involve a lot of abstract conceptual huffing and puffing without much
serious empirical analysis, which, if you say it in ordinary language means
very little. Central objections to it include: (1) Althusser's notion of
"history as a process without a subject". The latter is un-Marxian, as
E.P. Thompson points out in The Poverty of Theory.
Marx-the-political-activist himself says in The German Ideology that "
'history' does nothing, it is real, living people who do things" - although
later, in Capital, Marx-the-economist examines the roles of economic agents
in abstraction of individual personalities (but still dynamically). (2)
Another problem with the structuralist metaphor is simply that it is a
static abstractionism, whereas particularly in economics we need to be
talking about dynamic processes; (3) multiple levels of determination are
talked about by Althusser, but it is not clear what exactly they consist
in, for instance how the "economic" is "determining" in the "last
instance". That is, Althusser lacks a clear interpretation of social
causation, such as "parametric determinism" for instance (4) Althusser
posits an epistemological break between the young and the old Marx,
suggesting a distinction between early work and the arrival of "true"
Marxism, whereas there isn't any radical break but a development and
evolution of themes in Marx's thought.

For my money, you get a far better idea of Marxism in the best classsical
sense by reading Rosa Luxemburg's essay What is Economics ? than from
Althusser. The advantage though of Althusserianism is that it (a) rejects
crude empiricism, and (b) that it helps us to think about society in terms
of social and economic structure, in terms of social relations and social
forces which transcend individuals, in contrast to "methodological
individualism" which reduces society to the sum total of individuals and
their interaction. (c) Althusser did try to specify more precisely key
abstractions and concepts by Marx, (d) Althusser insists on the importance
of (grand) theory to reflect reality, as against postmodernism which tends
to reduce social theory to a subjective point of view (the social world
being either too complex to understand objectively, or there being nothing
much to understand beyond surface appearances).

Looked at in its historical context, Althusser's project was merely an
attempt to break with crude Stalinist interpretations of historical
materialism, in which history is a unilinear process in which stages
succeed each other with iron necessity according to inevitable laws of
motion, leaving little room for independent human action and initiative (a
clear manifestation of which was the role of the PCF in 1968). Thus, for
example, Althusser emphasizes the centrality of class struggle, even
talking about the "ideological class struggle", the political battle of

Perry Anderson wrote an excellent book about the Althusser-Thompson debate
once, in which he examines the notion of "agency" and "structure", but I
cannot remember for the devil of me what it is called. It's after
Considerations on Western Marxism, but before In the Tracks of Historical

Having said that, the notions of forces and relations of production (and
the implicit distinction between social "form" and material "content") are
central to Marx's conception of history (see the 1859 Preface) I believe,
and I am not prepared to throw them out.



> From: aramos@aramos.bo
> To: ope-l@galaxy.csuchico.edu
> Cc: Multiple recipients of list <ope-l@galaxy.csuchico.edu>
> Subject[OPE-L:5866] : Re: Hello and Klimans cat
> Date: Friday, December 19, 1997 11:08 AM
> Juriaan wrote:
> > Would it be possible to get off frivolous subjects such as these?
> OK.
> You had written:
> > ...I dont want to end up like Heidegger.
> Could you please tell us what did happen to Herrn Heidegger? Was he
> in a University-Zoo for a long time? (No, seriously, what was you
> thinking, Juriaan?)
> Alejandro Ramos
> PS: Also a note on the post by Emily and Bob Leon. I think both
> of you could explain --with a little bit less of cat irony-- your
> theoretical objections to the structuralist stuff ("mode of
> production", "force of production", etc.).
> A.R.