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New Left Review I/72, March-April 1972

New Left Review

Introduction to Glucksmann

The publication of the major philosophical works by Louis Althusser in the mid sixties provoked a wide variation of responses in Europe. In the last issue of nlr, Norman Geras provided a careful account of the general design of Althusser’s system, from For Marx to Reading Capital. Geras subjected this system to a Marxist criticism that focused essentially on the idealism of its conception of science, and hence the inevitable inadequacy of its grasp of the relationship between political theory and class struggle—the complex and vital nexus between the conceptions of historical materialism and the practice of the industrial proletariat which Lenin always insisted was constitutive of the nature of Marxism. Such a critique is based squarely within the classical traditions of revolutionary socialism, from which Althusser’s ‘theoreticism’ is—on his own sub-sequent admission—a visible and definite departure, with specific effects on its links to working-class struggle. In this issue of the review, we publish another critique of Althusser’s work that discusses the same system from a very different perspective. André Glucksmann’s essay, printed below, appeared in Les Temps Modernes in May 1967, [1] To render the text optimally accessible to English-speaking readers, the following modifications have been made to the French original of Glucksmann’s essay in the translation printed below. A mannered and sybilline introductory section has been condensed into one short paragraph, the concluding section has been slightly abridged, and the syntax and sentence-construction has been anglicized throughout, decompressing it to clarify its meaning, and selecting plain rather than precious equivalents wherever necessary. A few other minor simplifications have been made, which can be registered by consulting the original French. a year after the original French edition of Lire Le Capital had been released, and a year before the events of May 1968. Its remarkable power of penetration derives, paradoxically, to a large extent from the fact that it is not written from the classical standpoint of revolutionary Marxism, but primarily from within the intellectual tradition of European philosophy that pre-dates Marx. For it is precisely this ‘exogenous’ perspective on Althusser’s writings that illuminates, much more clearly than any other critique of them, certain features of his system which have most puzzled Marxists in their encounter with it. For what appears disconcertingly unfamiliar or even indefinably alien to the corpus of previous Marxist thought, conversely becomes readily intelligible and identifiable when viewed against the background of European metaphysical philosophy, from Aristotle to Kant, and Nietzsche to Heidegger. One of Glucksmann’s basic achievements is to show how close Althusser’s affinities are with his pre-Marxist predecessors, and how intimately his system is related to the ‘high’ tradition of philosophical discourse that forms the inherited medium of instruction in European universities. This is an especially important service, in so far as the novelty of Althusser’s vocabulary, and its loans from other contemporary disciplines, have tended to conceal the homology of many of his concepts with those—not of psychoanalysis or linguistics, so often cited—but of anterior metaphysics.

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