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on 11 April 2003
In the preface to "For Marx" Althusser states that he wrote the work in order to reinvigorate the ailing tradition of marxist criticism. I believe that it is in this light that one should understand "For Marx" and its highly controversial interpretation of Marxism as an anti-humanist and structuralist science, for by adopting this approach, Althusser negates the tradition of for example the young Georg Lukacs that emphasises the humanism/Hegelian idealism in Marx.
The success of Althusser's bid to revive Marx by, so to speak, setting up an antithesis to the prevalent view of Marxism can be seen in the influence which he has exerted over a number of (post)modern marxists critics, notably Fredric Jameson. Indeed I believe that there exists a high degree of applicability of such Althusserian concepts as "overdetermination" and "ídeology/science" to the postmodern ideological praxis.
On the negative side, I must admit that Althusser's interpretations and methods often seem artificial and somehow constructed ad hoc, and his anti-humanism also seems excessive.
Nonetheless, this does not detract from my general impression of "For Marx" as an interesting and relevant work that has not deserved the neglect which it has endured since the seventies. In sum, I am for Althusser.
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on 18 December 2007
This is pithy, accessible and thoughtful writing. Althusser ranges widely, and sets out the observations his later essays were to develop on. He lays out forcefully the late twentieth-century's key opposition to so-called "humanism" (that intolerant and limiting pretence that "we know" what it is to be human) which had licensed high-handedness among those who deformed Marxism into a doctrinaire line, and with this he opens onto areas of feelingful but unsentimental enquiry still to be fully explored. It's worth remembering Althusser was above all an educationalist, and that his pupils include Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Etienne Balibar and Alain Badiou. It's often a mark of very great teachers that each of their pupils thinks diferently, and so for sure did Althusser's. This collection of early pieces gives a fair sense as to how enlivening it must have been to learn in the company of a mind as focused and generous as his was. Warmly recommended, not least for its scope and openness.
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on 14 August 2011
I think I would have to cite this book as the true beginning of my philosophical education. Before I had read Althusser, I don't think I really understood the idea that philosophy is essentially a field in which one has to go out and stake a claim. As a student I attempted to come to terms with his work as a reinvestigation of the Marxist concept of ideology and the notion that Marx's work represents an epistemological break with the conceptions of history and political economy elaborated before him. For Marx is a text which, if read seriously, will open up a reading of Marx and a notion of philosophy that will affect the reader's theoretical and practical investigations from that point onward. I would not advise anyone to take For Marx as a full statement of Althusser's project, however, nor even supplemented by 'Reading Capital'. As Alain Badiou has argued, Althusser's work is impenetrable if it is considered as a 'case' of Marxism. The dedicated student will have to reference back and forth from the lesser known texts in 'The Humanist Controversy', 'Essays on Ideology', 'Lenin and Philosophy' and (I would recommend) perhaps supplement this with some material from Andrew Collier's (now almost forgotten) interventions in Critical Realism. For myself I remain convinced that Althusser's work represents the pinnacle of intellectual commitment - something not to be tarnished by his unfortunate personal history - and I commend this text to any student of history, politics or philosophy.
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on 4 March 2005
I've given this work three stars but this is an inadequate means of assessing the value of this book to the Marxist discourse. The book is important and very much worth reading as it bravely highlights some of the problems which the Marxist tradition was finding itself unable to address. Vulgar reductionisms such as economism and historicism had come to smoother any intellectual creativity causing a lazy stagnation which was easily discredited by opponents. He points out that the economy is not the only factor in guiding a society foreword but other 'layers' such as religion and politics can be equally as important. the economy is normally the most influential of the multitude of factors but each layer has a 'relative autonomy' from the superstructure. He also shows how some of the most highly acclaimed intellectuals such as Gramsci and Luxemburg are guilty of historicism. They both divided history into rigidly defined epochs and seen the future as leading towards inevitabilities. On both accounts they are wrong. An Epoch is nothing more than epistemological tool to categorise history and is quite similar to geological epochs, they aren't factual. Also there is never any inevitable outcome to history. Just as feudalism did not inevitably follow antiquity, socialism will not inevitably follow capitalism.
His flaw however lies in his remedies to these problems. He also attacks humanism as an unscientific 'mode of production' as he believes that individuals play little part in shaping their social world but they rather are called to roles. Hence falls into the structuralist trap of seeing human beings as dupes who don't choose and shape and constantly redefine their roles in light of their empirical social realities. It should be understood how came to this conclusion. As a member of the communist party intelligencia he was surrounded by people who had lost hope in the working class as they this once revolutionary mass buying into capitalism and growing apathetic. He was also a professional intellectual in an elitist university with a ridged top down structure, himself at the pinnacle of his department. He seen himself as holding the only path to pure knowledge as he was seeing himself in the light of how his subordinates presented their image of him, as their intellectual superior.
I would recommend that anyone considering this book should also examine E.P. Thompson's essay, the Poverty of Theory. This is provides a clear demonstration of Althusser's problems and what he failed to address.
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on 10 June 2011
A very different way of seeing Marx. Interresting, but not a book to start with if you have read nothing else regarding Marx or Marxism. Delivered quickly and in perfect order.
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on 6 March 2000
Althusser attempts to put forward an interpretation of Marx that focuses on his later writings, claiming an "epistemological break" in 1845. His suggestion is that the later Marx was free of Hegel's influence, and had no concept of alienation, objectification, or humanism. This is utter nonsense, and it is only by ignoring the Manifesto, the Grundrisse, and large chunks of Capital that Althusser is able to do this. Even so, he fails to note the structural similarities between Capital and Hegel's works, e.g. the opening chapter of the Phenomenology, on Consciousness, is clearly imitated in Marx's discussion of Value forms. Humanism is obviously present in Capital, when Marx complains about capitalism treating workers as objects, and shows the human cost of capitalism. In short, Althusser's interpretation simply cannot be upheld in the face of a detailed study; perhaps he shows the failure of structuralist methods of textual analysis.
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