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Chapter 3 Science, Ideology, and Philosophy

1. The argument of the present chapter is deeply influenced by Bhaskar 1978; Bhaskar 1979; Ruben 1979; and Newton-Smith 1981. Each of these works provides a searching critique of contemporary philosophy of science, and all, by different yet convergent paths, attempt to defend scientific realism and the rationality of science without recourse to epistemological absolutism. Although none deals explicitly with Althusser (Bhaskar being a closet Althusserian), I am encouraged to find considerable similarities between the argu-

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ments advanced in these works and the positions elaborated earlier by Althusser. Although I dissent from the stronger claims made by Bhaskar for his "transcendental realism" (I find the arguments made by Newton-Smith and Ruben more persuasive), I know of no better philosophical elaboration of the strengths of Althusser's philosophical position than the one implicit in Bhaskar's Possibility of Naturalism (1979). Since he expresses Althusser's position better than Althusser himself does, I have applied Bhaskar's terms ontological realism and epistemological relativism to Althusser's materialist theses (which are obviously the source of Bhaskar's original inspiration anyway). For Althusser's philosophy of science, I am also indebted to two excellent articles, O'Hagan 1981 and Gordy 1983; and, of course, to Lecourt 1975, a brilliant Structural Marxist survey of Bachelard and Canguilhem, which is equally informed with regard to Althusser's philosophical position. Finally, I am indebted to Kolakowski's lucid history of positivism (1968) and Novack's trenchant critique of Dewey's pragmatism (1975). [BACK]

2. Even the best discussions of Althusser fail to explore satisfactorily the connections between his early and later works. Benton 1984 glosses over the implications of Althusser's new view of philosophy for the concept of science; Callinicos 1982 simply dismisses the problem by asserting that Althusser's final position (which Callinicos sees correctly enough as subordinating epistemology to historical materialism) is incoherent because it continues to employ a science/ideology distinction. Callinicos does not seem to see that Althusser's final assertion of a science/ideology distinction has dropped all pretence of epistemological absolutism, nor does he grasp the import of Althusser's distinction between the substantive concepts of science and the logical categories of philosophy. Oddly enough, Callinicos proceeds to develop his own solution (based on Lakatos), which defends historical materialism on the grounds of its productivity, precisely the move already made by Althusser, but he lacks Althusser's awareness of the need to take a materialist and realist position that explains and defends such knowledge effects in the Kampfplatz of philosophy. [BACK]

3. Balibar provides an excellent discussion of this, marred however by his contention that historical materialism can have no "general concept" of an epistemological break (E. Balibar 1978, 231). We will deal with Balibar's critique of general concepts (an excessive reaction to Althusser's rejection of theoreticism) in chapter 5. [BACK]

4. Most controversial of these accusations is the charge of Stalinism. E. P. Thompson accuses Althusser of "an attempt to reconstruct Stalinism at the level of theory" (Thompson 1978, 323), while Alvin Gouldner sees him "providing a theoretical storm-cellar for Stalinism" (Gouldner 1977, 450). Jacques Rancière, one of the coauthors of Lire le Capital , maintains that Althusser's initial project, to undermine the Party bureaucracy and its stranglehold on theory, dissipated itself with the debates over "humanism" wherein Althusser's defense of the autonomy of theory, in a backhanded fashion, ended up serving the interests of the Party leadership; see Rancière 1974. A more restrained critique of the political implications of Althusser's theory may be found in Gerratana 1977 and 1977a; see also the wide-ranging discussion in the special Althusser issue of the French journal Dialectiques, 15-16 (Autumn 1976). For

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a defense of Althusser against the charges of Stalinism, see P. Anderson 1980, chap. 4; and Benton 1984, 14-23. [BACK]

5. This position is most intelligently presented in Callinicos 1976. For Callinicos, the solution is to abandon once and for all the notion of ideology as the other of science and to retain only the concept of ideology as the outcome of material practices. This is ultimately an irrationalist position, denying the concept of science and the specificity of scientific discourse (or any other discourse for that matter). Such a move also ignores the fact that philosophical debates over science and Marxism do take place and that without a concept of science as distinct from ideology/error a realist and philosophical position cannot be formulated. Callinicos argues that we should pursue Althusser's insights into the materiality of ideology and eliminate the "epistemological relics" of his early works. But where does this leave Marxist philosophy? Ideology is what social agents "think in" or "represent themselves in," but it is the economic and the political that they think about . Because Marxism defines the economic and the political in a different way, the distinction between science and ideology cannot be dispensed with theoretically; Marxism not only explains ideology as socially produced ideas and beliefs but also combats those ideas and beliefs as erroneous (ideology/error). Thus it is not, as Callinicos seems to think, a matter of simply "leaving behind" the relationship of ideology and science and the functional distinctions between them, for Marxism cannot conceptualize science without ideology and without ideology/error, nor can Marxism philosophically defend its own knowledge effects without taking a position defending the category of the scientific. [BACK]

6. Descombes, in a popular survey of the French intellectual scene, argues that in his later works Althusser "did away with Althusserianism and restored the priority of the political over the theoretical instance" (Descombes 1980, 134). Descombes cites the discussion of Althusser's "Preface to Capital" (Althusser 1971, 71-101), in which Althusser attempts to explain why intellectuals have difficulty understanding Capital while workers do not. Althusser writes: "The former [intellectuals] are blinded by bourgeois ideology which does everything it can to cover up class exploitation. The latter [workers], on the contrary, despite the terrible weight of bourgeois and petty bourgeois ideology they carry cannot fail to see this exploitation since it constitutes their daily life" (Althusser 1971, 100). Descombes concludes from this statement that "in returning in this way to experience and the 'lived through' Althusser abandons the attempt to endow Marxism with an epistemological foundation and reverts to the phenomenological foundation which had previously been thought good enough" (Descombes 1980, 135).

Descombes is guilty of two errors of interpretation here. First, he seems to imply that in rejecting theoreticism in his later work Althusser is abandoning the relative autonomy of theory, a view that is demonstrably wrong. Second, the implication that Althusser is returning to phenomenological Marxism cannot be sustained even within the text Descombes has chosen to prove his point. Descombes fails to mention that, in the passage cited, Althusser is referring to the class instinct of the proletariat and not their class position, an important distinction since, for Althusser, the former is ideological (referring to lived ex-

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perience) while the latter is theoretical (referring to a concept). While class instinct is certainly an important factor in the receptivity of working-class subjects to Marxist theory (and an obstacle for bourgeois subjects), it is not a guarantee either that the theory will be received (or rejected) or that it will even be created: "Class instinct is subjective and spontaneous. Class position is objective and rational. To arrive at proletarian class positions the class instinct of proletarians only needs to be educated; the class instinct of the petty bourgeoisie, and hence of intellectuals, have, on the contrary, to be revolutionized" (Althusser 1971, 13). Descombes has simply missed the fact that the terms class position and class instinct are perfectly consistent with Althusser's (unchanged) position regarding the different modalities of ideology and science. The working class experiences exploitation but can attribute it to many different causes: the will of God, bad luck, natural scarcity, as well as capitalism; what they know about it, however, is something completely different. [BACK]

7. The usual tactic is to dismiss Althusser's thought as no more than the reflection of a political line. We have already referred to this tactic in reference to the charge of Stalinism leveled against Althusser, but it is also evident in Elliott 1987, who mechanically plots the course of Althusser's intellectual development in terms of political phases—Leninism, Maoism, Eurocommunism, and finally the demoralizing break with the PCF. While there is no denying the general accuracy (and usefulness) of Elliott's political chronology, nor even the fervor of Althusser's faith in communist internationalism and the intensity of his disillusionment with the PCF leadership, there is no justification for reducing theory to politics as Elliott occasionally does. Althusser's political commitment to the PCF and to global communism always existed in an uneasy relationship to his theoretical enterprise. His political faith in the popular masses and his desire for a revolutionary party organization capable of imaginative leadership and developing a "mass line" was never easily reconciled with a scientific application of his own problematic to existing capitalist and communist social formations and the global economy. Perhaps, as Elliott maintains, Althusser blamed first the ossified Stalinist bureaucracy of the PCF and second his own theoretical enterprise for the party's failure to activate the "popular masses," whose existence he posited as an article of faith rather than a scientific hypothesis. Perhaps also the widening gulf between political faith and objective reality contributed to Althusser's personal tragedy. Even if such speculations were to be true, however, they would have no relevance to a theoretical assessment of Althusser's work or to theoretical debates over historical materialism. [BACK]

8. Althusser's periodization of Marx's intellectual development is elaborated in Althusser 1969, and summarized in the introduction to that work. Althusser returned to the problem in light of his reformulation of the concept of philosophy in a 1970 essay, "Marx's Relation to Hegel" (in Althusser 1972, 163-86). For excellent accounts of Marx's work sympathetic to Althusser's point of view see Therborn 1976, 317-413, and Callinicos 1983, 26-60; my summary of Althusser's interpretation of Marx's development is much indebted to them. For another interesting assessment of Althusser's intentions in relation to Hegel and to the scientificity of Marxism, see Levine 1981. [BACK]

9. Lecourt 1975, written from an Althusserian perspective, contains one of

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the best evaluations of Foucault's pre-Nietzschean works (which depend positively on Canguilhem and negatively on Althusser). For Bachelard in relation to Anglo-American philosophy of science, see Bhaskar 1975. For the relationship between Althusser and Bachelard, see Brewster 1971 and Balibar's more self-serving account, Balibar 1978. For an interesting application of the Althusserian problematic to the history of mathematics, see Raymond 1978; 1977; 1973. For another interesting application, this time focusing on the relation between Stalinism and science, see Lecourt 1977. [BACK]

10. Thus the oft-repeated claim that Althusser's project was to create an "epistemological Marxism" is mistaken. In fact, Althusser attempted to rid Marxism of the onus of grounding its knowledge in a philosophical discourse outside itself. André Glucksmann 1978 (an article that originally appeared in Les temps modernes in May 1967) anticipated Althusser's self-criticism of theoreticism without acknowledging the realist dimensions of Althusser's initial position. Given the trajectory of Glucksmann's intellectual career, which culminates in neo-conservatism, such a one-sided critique is not surprising. It is rather more surprising to find the "epistemological Marxism" designation in Smith 1984. Smith's discussion, unfortunately, deals only with For Marx and Reading Capital , and then only with Althusser himself. I must also dissent from the interpretations of Althusser's epistemology presented in Elliott 1987 and Patton 1978. [BACK]

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