In favor of Althusser

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By LUIZ EDUARDO MOTTA*

Presentation of the new revised and expanded edition of the book

The publication of this book in 2014 aimed, in addition to filling a bibliographical gap on Louis Althusser, to refute an antipathy and prejudice that formed about the Althussserian School over decades (more precisely from the 1970s to the last decade), establishing a taboo when treating and incorporating the contributions of Louis Althusser and his followers. However, from 2014 to now, a lot of water has rolled.

On the one hand, the receptivity and number of reviews on this book was surprising: seven in all. On the other hand, the growing interest in the work of Louis Althusser, already present at the time of the book's launch, took a quantitative leap: several articles, dissertations and theses on Althusser and his followers expanded significantly, in addition to new translations and publications of the your work. This was very significant for those of us who had been dealing over the years with the contribution of the Althusserian School to Marxist thought in Brazil.[I]

The role played by Marxist research centers based on Althusserian Marxism, such as CEMARX at Unicamp, through Armando Boito Jr, Décio Saes, João Quartim de Moraes and Márcio Bilharinho Naves, the NEILS at PUC-SP, under the auspices of led by Lúcio Flávio de Almeida, and the group of researchers on Law, State and Philosophy around Alysson Leandro Mascaro. This group of intellectuals from São Paulo gave breath at the worst moment of the stigmatization of Althusser's work. And the fruits harvested over the years had, as an effect, the emergence of new researchers and scholars of Althusser's work in the most diverse fields of research such as international relations, political science, sociology, law, philosophy and linguistics.[ii]

As for the seven reviews of my book – an unusual fact for a book about a Marxist author in Brazil – they were generally favorable. The reviews are by Maurício Vieira Martins (Marxismo21 website, 2014), Alexandre Marinho Pimenta (Post - Brasiliense Magazine of Post-Graduation in Social Sciences, vol. 13, 2014), Pedro Davoglio (Left margin, no. 23, 2014), Carlos Serrano (New Themes, no. 10, 2014), Danilo Enrico Martuscelli (Marxist Criticism no. 40, 2015), Lucas Barbosa Pelissari (CEMARX notebooks, no. 8, 2015), Jair Pinheiro (New directions, vol. 53, 2016). I thank everyone for their comments and criticisms of my book, which encouraged me to delve further into the studies of the Althusserian School.

Pedro Davoglio was one of the reviewers who best summarized the purpose of my book, and I highlight this passage: “In favor of Althusser, therefore, who comes to represent among us the broad worldwide movement to resume Althusserian thought, is of utmost importance, both biographically and politically. And its author seems perfectly knowledgeable about the intersection of these two conjunctures, as well as the role he intends to play in it. This is revealed in an extraordinary warlike disposition against the chosen enemies of Althusserianism: Thompson, Bensaid, Mandel, Lukács, Losurdo, who are more or less summarily eliminated, one after the other, without having the privilege of a more systematic refutation. On the other hand, a tribute is paid to the memory and theoretical achievements of the Brazilian Althusserian resisters, whose names Motta takes pains to inventory throughout the book. Here, the intention of tracing lines of demarcation, planting stakes that mark out the theoretical field of Marxist research, overlaps with the heavy time involved in developing the concept. Thus, Motta, who has a background in political science, appears, through his practice, as a philosopher, a daring operator of the class struggle in theory”.[iii]

Despite Domenico Losurdo's unreasonable criticism of Louis Althusser, I would not include him in this list of "enemies", since he is an ally in his visceral criticism of liberal thought and in defense of anti-imperialist and national liberation struggles, and even Daniel Bensaid, as he apparently changed his dogmatic positions towards Althusser in his last years of life. The biggest problem still lies with some followers of EP Thompson, and even of György Lukács, who reproduce the same litanies they wove about the Althusserian School decades ago, without referring to the texts of the 1970s, and even to the posthumous ones, much less refer to recent texts by scholars of Althusser's work.

An example of this is the article recently published in the journal Germinal (vol. 11 no. 1, 2019) “The materialist conception of history: divergences between Thompson and Althusser” whose authors Amarilio Ferreira Jr. and Marisa Bittar repeat the same stale, musty-smelling jargon from EP Thompson's book. Not only do they omit publications (available in Portuguese) on the Thompson x Althusser debate, such as the Thompson dossier[iv] published in the magazine Marxist Criticism (nr. 39/2014), the book by Stuart Hall from the diaspora (2003) and Perry Anderson's recently translated book Theory, politics and history: a debate with EP Thompson (2018).

Regarding Danilo Martuscelli's review, I implicitly answered in the text “Pour Marx e Lire le Capital: convergences and divergences”[v] which has been incorporated in this new edition. As I make clear, I return to Althusser's position from the 1970s, when he emphasized contradictions (class struggle) over the process and over structures, imploding the genetic question of structure over contradictions by resuming the principles of the primacy of contradictions defined by Mao Zedong.

Regarding the review by Maurício Vieira Martins, I was questioned about the lack of a more systematic critique of EP Thompson, and I believe that Pedro Davoglio's review – quoted above – clearly highlighted this. The criticisms of EP Thompson were already exposed in the material I listed in the previous paragraph, and my main objective in writing this book was to resume Althusser's political and conceptual radicalism within the Marxist field, in addition to refuting (even if generically) the prejudices that – unfortunately – still prevail over his contribution to Marxist thought, despite the publication of my book and the many articles, books and theses/dissertations that have dealt with and recovered the enormous contribution of the Althusserian School. Furthermore, my critique of Valentino Gerratana in Chapter 1 on the question of “Stalinism” in Louis Althusser implicitly responds to the distortions present in Thompson's book.

With regard to having given a systematic treatment to Nicos Poulantzas (as I also gave to Laclau, omitted by Vieira Martins in his comment), it meets my proposal, that is, Althusser's dialogue with his interlocutors within his theoretical field . If, in effect, Laclau distanced himself from Marxism in 1985 (although he maintained a dialogue with the work of Althusser), Poulantzas, in turn, remained within Marxism and remained part of the Althusserian School. Vieira Martin's comment is more appropriate to Ferreira Jr.'s text. and Bittar who refused to systematically study the work of the criticized author, since it was not my objective in this book to systematize a critique of Althusser's “critics”.

But Maurício Vieira Martins is right when he points out in his review of this passage “well, recognizing the uniqueness of the theoretical work, it would be necessary to add that one of the most fruitful contributions of Marx’s theory of knowledge is precisely to show that certain categories of analysis can only be produced due to an unprecedented complexification assumed by the real itself”.

Indeed, there is a certain lack of understanding on the part of some of Louis Althusser's readers about this issue, as Louis Althusser himself warns in open the capital about the primacy of the real over the abstract, given that it precedes and succeeds the product of knowledge. Theoretical ideologies/notions, or common sense, start from a place that is real and not purely and simply from ideas, and it is up to Marxist theoretical production to transform these notions into scientific concepts. Incidentally, Marx himself states this in the first part of the german ideology, in his confrontation with philosophical idealism.

Theory apprehends the real, but its final product – the concrete thought – is not the real, nor does it interfere with it. The Russian and Chinese Revolutions did not triumph, needing a systematic Marxist theory in relation to the concepts of State and, above all, to that of ideology, which undoubtedly advanced over the decades of the last century, following the example of the contributions of Louis Althusser and Nicos Poulantzas about these problems. I returned to these questions in the chapters that I inserted in this new edition, in the aforementioned “Pour Marx e Lire le Capital: convergences and divergences” and in the chapter “Marxism and Social Sciences”.[vi]

In addition to these two texts, I included the article “The reception of Althusser in Brazil: the group of Tempo Brasileiro magazine”, but, unlike the previous publications of this work,[vii] I have included in this text the contribution of Manoel Barros Mota and Severino Cabral Filho, as I have not dealt with it before due to editorial limits on the number of pages in the article. Complementing this text, I inserted one of my first works on the Althusserian School, “About 'Who is afraid of Louis Althusser?' by Carlos Henrique Escobar”, published in 2011 in no. 44 of the defunct magazine contributions.

That article, together with the other works I published on Nicos Poulantzas in that context, opened the doors to an audience that was eager to learn about the contribution of the Althusserian School in the fields of philosophy and social sciences. In addition, it was the opportunity to remove from limbo one of the most prolific authors in the dissemination and studies of the Althusserina School in Brazil, Carlos Henrique Escobar, who unfairly was no longer present in the intellectual debate of the Brazilian left, despite his importance and of his political and theoretical interventions between the years 1960-80.[viii]

* Luiz Eduardo Motta is a professor of political science at UFRJ.

Reference


Luiz Eduardo Motta. In favor of Althusser. São Paulo, Editora Contracurrent, 2022, 360 pages (https://amzn.to/3YAjvC3).

Notes


[I] I highlight the publications of Vittorio Morfino (MORFINO, Vittorio “Althusser's structural causality”. Social Struggles, n°33, vol. 18, São Paulo, 2014, pp.102-116; and MORFINO, Vittorio, Althusser's materialism, Santiago, Palinodia, 2014)) and Natalia Romé (ROMÉ, Natália. The materialist position: Louis Althusser's thinking between theoretical practice and political practice. La Plata: Edulp, 2015). in Latin America, edited in the same context as my book.

[ii] Since the publication of my book, in 2014, the number of publications about Althusser, or empirical research based on the concepts of the Althusserian School, has grown significantly. I cite the following books that were published until 2023: Evelin MC Dan The discourse on abnormality in legal practices, Lumen Iuris (2014); Celso Naoto Kashiura Subject of law and capitalism, Other Expressions (2014); Márcio Bilharinho Naves The question of law in Marx, Other Expressions (2014); the relaunch of the book by Lúcio Flávio de Almeida National ideology and nationalism, EDUC (2014); Tatiana Berringer The Brazilian bourgeoisie and foreign policy in the FHC governments and squid, Appris (2015); Luiz Fernando Bulhoes Figueira Althusserianism in Linguistics: The Discourse Theory of Michel Pêcheux, Paco Editorial (2015); Joao Mateus Kogawa Linguistics and Marxism: emergency conditions for a Theory of French speech in Brazil, FAP/UNIFESP (2015); Danilo Enrico Martuscelli Political crises and neoliberal capitalism in Brazil, CRV(2015); Jair Pinheiro (org.) Read Althusser, University Workshop/Academic Culture (2016); Lucília Maria Abrahão e Sousa, Dantielli Assumpção Garcia Read Althusser today EDUFSCAR (2017); Francisco Farias bourgeois state and dominant classes in Brazil (1930-1964), CRV (2017); Marcos Alcyr Brito de Oliveira Subject of law and Marxism: from humanist to anti-humanist critique, Alpha-Omega (2017); Luiz Felipe Osorio, Imperialism, State and International Relations, Ideas & Letters (2018); Juliana Paula Magalhães, Marxism, humanism and law: Althusser and Garaudy, Ideas & Letters (2018); Pedro Davoglio, Althusser and the law, Ideas & Letters (2018); Armando Boito Jr. Reform and political crisis in Brazil – class conflicts in PT governments, UNICAMP/UNESP (2018); Igor Perez Epistemology and Society in Louis Althusser. a reading, New Editions (2018); Danilo Enrico Martuscelli Ruling classes, politics and contemporary capitalism, In Debate/UFSC (2018); Franklin Train Marx between Hegel and Althusser, Appris (2019); Edemilson Paraná Bitcoin: the technocratic utopia of apolitical money, Literary Autonomy (2020); Cesar Mangolin Communism, Brazil/ Brasilica/ Fiber (2020); Alysson Mascaro, Vittorio Morfino Althusser and Random Materialism, Riptide (2020), Taylisi Leite Criticism of liberal feminism: value-cleavage and feminist Marxism, Riptide (2020); Luiz Fernando Fontoura Lira The capitalist state: an epistemological look at the theories of Nicos Poulantzas and Ralph Miliband, Ed. From the Author (2021); Décio Saes and Francisco Farias Reflections on the political theory of the young Poulantzas, Anticapital Struggles (2021); Tatiana Berringer and Angela Lazagna (orgs) The actuality of Nicos Poula's political theoryntzas, UFABC (2022) Alessandro Melo Critique of humanist ideology in education: contributions of Althusserian Marxism Cultural Pepper (2022); Felipe Melonio Leite Politics and Materialism in Louis Althusser, Revolutionary Sciences (2023). In addition to these books, four books by Althusser were translated and published. By Marx, UNICAMP (2015), Marxist theory and concrete analysis (organized by Thiago Barison, and contains two texts by Althusser “Theory, theoretical practice and theoretical formation: Ideology and ideological struggle” and “About theoretical work: difficulties and resources”, and an article by Balibar “The pseudo-Marxist ideologies of alienation ”), Popular Expression (2017); Introduction to philosophy for non-philosophers, Martins Fontes (2019), Writings about history, Countercurrent (2022), in addition to the republication of the books Positions I e Positions II in a single volume by Raízes da América/Revolutionary Sciences (2022). About Althusser were translated Carlos Fernández Liria Marxism today: the legacy of Gramsci and Althusser, Salvat (2015); Pascale Gillot Althusser and psychoanalysis Ideas & Letters (2018); Perry Anderson Theory, politics and history: a debate with EP Thompson, UNICAMP (2018) and Aliocha Wald Lasowski By Althusser Martins Fontes (2022). It is also necessary to highlight the re-releases, and with new translations, the works of Nicos Poulantzas Political power and social classes, UNICAMP (2019) and fascism and dictatorship, Statement Publications (2020). The dossiers published on Althusser and Poulantzas should also be highlighted: Althusser had an issue dedicated to his work in the magazine Social Struggles vol. 18, n° 33 (2014/15), while Poulantzas had two dossiers, the first in the magazine Quaestio Iuris vol. 7 No. 2 (2014) and the second in CEMARX notebooks No. 11 (2019). And also other dissemination channels of the Althusserian School were created in recent years, such as the websites PlowingWord (https://lavrapalavra.com/) to One Hundred Flowers (https://cemflores.org/).

[iii] I also highlight this comment to my book by Alexandre Pimenta in his review: “We could define Motta’s book as a theoretical and political biography of Althusser, with well-founded immersions in the field of philosophy, social theory, political science, thus covering the Althusser's main themes throughout his work. The central proposal is to present the uniqueness and richness of Althusser's thought and its relationship, not only with the Marxist field, but with the field of philosophy and social sciences in general. In the same way, and in addition, we could define it as a anti-althusserian manifesto. your title, In favor of Althusser, brings a clear reference to the Althusserian work of 1965, Pour Marx, which in Brazil won two translations: Critical analysis of Marxist theory (due to censorship) and only after in favor of marx. And, just as the Franco-Algerian intended to bring to light Marx's still living legacy of deformations and biased readings, Motta successfully endeavored to retake the core of Althusser's contribution, in an open and non-dogmatic way, in the face of all kinds of vulgarization that this author has suffered over the years – coming, several times, from authors who dishonestly based themselves only on second-hand readings”.

[iv] The dossier contains articles by Pedro Benitez Martín “Thompson versus Althuser”, Nicolás Iñigo Carrera “The gap between EP Thompson and Karl Marx” and Antonio Luigi Negro “EP Thompson in Brazil: reception and uses”. The organization and presentation of the dossier is by Armando Boito Jr.

[v] Originally published on Marxist Criticism No. 44 (2017) and in the book Proceedings of the International Colloquium 50 years of Lire le Capital (2017) organized by Natália Romé, Marcelo Starcerbaum and Pedro Kaczmarczyk with the title “Towards a theoretical and political rupture: Althusser’s early work in Pour Marx e Lire le Capital".

[vi] A condensed version of this chapter was published in the book Karl Marx: pioneering a new world in the XNUMXst century (2018) organized by Adalberto Monteiro and the late Augusto Buonicore.

[vii] This text was first published at the invitation of Marcelo Rodriguez Arriagada and Marcelo Starcerbaum in the collection organized by them Reading of Althusser in Latin America (2018) published in Chile whose original title is “The reception of Althusser in Brazil: the group of the magazine Tempo Brasileiro”, and was later published in Portuguese in the magazine New directions No. 54 (2018).

[viii] Fortunately, since the publication of this article, the name of Carlos Henrique Escobar has again awakened intellectual interest in a new generation of intellectuals. I highlight the research of João Marcos Mateus Kogawa in the field of linguistics, see his article “The Saussurian semiological project and the reception of discourse analysis in Brazil” published in the journal Language: studies and research vol.17, n° 2 (2013), and his book Linguistics and Marxism, FAP-UNIFESP (2015), the article by João Pedro de Souza Barros Santoro Luques “For a theory of the ideological contributions of Carlos Henrique Escobar”, Social Struggles, vol.25, n° 47 (2021) and the article by Felipe Melonio Leite “Carlos Henrique Escobar: genealogy, communism of power and criticism of Law”, Symbiotic, vol. 10, No. 1 (2023).


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