- From the Editors
These two recently published Althusser volumes are extraordinary: they truly change—once again—our picture of the author. I find this man, whom I am supposed to have known, increasingly enigmatic.—Étienne Balibar
Twenty-five years after his death and with the centenary of his birth two years away, research into the work of Louis Althusser is flourishing. In hopes of encouraging an already lively debate, this special issue of diacritics aims to unveil a more complicated and contentious author than his reputation as a French Communist Party philosopher ever allowed. Other Althussers features exclusive extracts, in advance of their English publication by Bloomsbury, from Althusser’s Initiation à la philosophie pour les non-philosophes and Être marxiste en philosophie, written between 1976 and 1978, but first published in 2014 and 2015, respectively. Both excerpts have been translated by the editor of the French editions of the two books, G. M. Goshgarian. In this special issue, we invite readers to consider the evidence of Initiation and Être marxiste that challenges the received wisdom about their “enigmatic” author in key respects, while offering the opportunity for radically innovative interpretations of Althusser’s work as a whole.
In a version of his preface to Être marxiste, G. M. Goshgarian problematizes the distinction between an early, dialectical-materialist Althusser on the one hand and a late experimenter with the philosophy of the encounter or aleatory materialism on the other. Goshgarian’s Althusser proposed, in his 1959 Montesquieu, written under [End Page 3] Spinoza’s influence, a materialism that has a number of features in common with his late philosophy. Moreover, in a 1957 intervention reproduced in an appendix to Être marxiste, he outlined an anti-philosophy not unrelated to that of the “late Althusser.” Yet, in the early 1960s, he put forward a theoreticist theory of Marxist philosophy incompatible with the historical-materialist “theory of the encounter” named and developed in posthumously published or still unpublished mid-1960s work, which he rightly saw as an elaboration of ideas advanced in the 1965 For Marx and Reading Capital. In 1966, Goshgarian argues, Althusser became aware of the incompatibility between his theory of the encounter and his theory of philosophy. The first fruit of his attempt to reconcile them was the new definition of philosophy set out in his 1967–68 lectures “Philosophy and the Spontaneous Philosophy of the Scientists” and “Lenin and Philosophy.” This turn, which was thus also something of a return, was pursued in his 1969 study of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, On the Reproduction of Capitalism, from which his famous 1970 paper on Ideological State Apparatuses was extracted. The whole of On the Reproduction of Capitalism presents itself as a “detour” on the way to a scientific definition of philosophy. Would that definition have turned on the millennial complicity between idealist philosophy and a class dictatorship crowned by the state—the bourgeoisie’s state in our epoch, the aristocracy’s and the slaveholders’ before it—while associating an aleatory-materialist “non-philosophy” with the “non-state” known in the Marxist tradition as the dictatorship of the proletariat? We shall never know, because Althusser did not write a promised second volume of On the Reproduction of Capitalism. But Initiation and Être Marxiste, which, Goshgarian suggests, may be read as rewrites of that unwritten text, do define idealist philosophy and Marxist non-philosophy along precisely these lines, explicitly putting the latter in an underground current of the materialism of the encounter that was never as far “underground” in Althusser as is commonly supposed.
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In “Althusser’s Lenin,” Warren Montag examines the spectral presence of the 1967–68 definition of philosophy in Althusser’s previous treatment of Lenin. He argues that, despite Althusser’s best efforts, that definition is visible sous rature in For Marx, which promotes the version of contradiction at work in Lenin’s political writings on the Russian Revolution while insisting on the revolutionary politician’s theoretical limits. To the essentialist, Hegelian-Marxist conception of contradiction targeted in For Marx, [End Page 4] Althusser...