Why Read Althusser Today?
Epigraph: Althusser, “Is It Simple to be a Marxist in Philosophy?,” 168.
1 A brief sample would include Avenas et al., Contre Althusser; Fougeyrollas,
Contre Lévi- Strauss, Lacan et Althusser; Giannotti, Contra Althusser; Mandel,
Contra Althusser; and O’Neill, For Marx against Althusser.
2 Benton, The Rise and Fall of Structural Marxism.
3 Lilla, “Marx and Murder”; Hitchens, “Transgressing the Boundaries”; and
Judt, Reappraisals.
4 Althusser, “Reply to John Lewis,” 60.
5 Rancière, La leçon d’Althusser; and Thompson, The Poverty of Theory.
6 Rancière, La leçon d’Althusser, 9. Reading La leçon d’Althusser, as the lines
cited above show, we very easily imagine a pedagogical primal scene in which
Althusser the expert, already in possession of a doctrine that he only reveals
gradually to those pupils deemed worthy by virtue of their obedience and pas-
sivity, is the very figure of the master. He is the French version of pompous
pedant that the Red Guards would drive from the classrooms of China with a
dunce cap on his head. We too easily forget that Rancière had not simply been
a passive auditor taught his lessons by Althusser, but he was in fact a partici-
pant in the 1964–65 seminar that produced Reading Capital and the author of
a contribution to the original edition, an examination of the concept of cri-
tique in Marx. Along with a number of Althusser’s students (including Robert
Linhart, Jacques- Alain Miller, and Jean- Claude Milner), Rancière left the stu-
dent organization of the French Communist Party (Parti communiste français
[PCf]), the Union des Étudiants Communistes in 1966 to form the Union des
Jeunesses Communistes (Marxiste- Léniniste) (ujC [Ml]). Shortly after 1968,
the ujC (Ml) dissolved itself, and he pursued the theoretical and political cri-
tique of the PCf’s revisionism, participating in the foundation of La Gauche
Proletarienne, a Maoist organization that was both antiauthoritarian (draw-
ing from certain aspects, real or imagined, of the Cultural Revolution) and
(regarding Soviet Marxism as a revision of the basic notions of
Marx, Engels, and Lenin in the interests of a restoration of capitalism).
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