Clarke on Form-Analytic and Althusserian Marxism

One of the projects I have been working on concerns points of compatibility between the form-analytic and Althusserian readings of Marx. I have also been struggling with articulating what I find problematic about the Althusserian interpretation of fetishism. In this instance I am not referring to Althusser’s various and varying comments on fetishism, but on how the concept is interpreted by Althusserian interpretations of value. In short, it seems to me that such an interpretation posits too neat of a separation between value and fetishism, quite possibly mirroring the widespread interpretation of the latter as a purely epistemic phenomena, rather than following the form-analytic reading which posits value and fetishism as ontological.

It seems to me that the following passages in Clarke’s book on the State Debate do a good job of outlining how these two readings set up different readings of this concept in relation to his points about how these readings differ on conceiving the economic, political and ideological dimensions as combined or at different levels:

This approach [the form-analytic interpretation] was based on an interpretation of Marx’s Capital not as a theory of the ‘economic’ but as a theory of the social relations of capitalist society as a whole, an approach which had been pioneered in discussion of Marx’s theory of value. Marx’s critique of political economy in Capital was based on the argument that economic categories are fetishised forms of appearance of social relations. The immediate relationship between wage labour and capital is not an ‘economic’ relationship, but a social relationship which combines inextricably ‘economic’, ‘political’ and ‘ideological’ dimensions, in the sense that it is a relation simultaneously of exploitation, of domination and of ideological struggle. The ideological and institutional separation of these dimensions from one another is not inherent in the social relation, but only emerges out of the struggles over its reproduction, so that the economic, political and ideological are complementary forms of a single social relation. (clarke the state debate, p. 9)


Following Althusser’s structuralist model of society as composed of three levels, the economic, the political and the ideological, Poulantzas sought to provide the hitherto missing theory of the political level, to complement Marx’s Capital, which Poulantzas regarded as providing only the theory of the economic level. (Clarke, the state debate, p. 15)




About HR

Deep in the adjunct crackhole.
This entry was posted in Althusser, State theory, Statederivation. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Clarke on Form-Analytic and Althusserian Marxism

  1. Greig Charnock says:


    If you don’t already know it, check out Simon’s essay in the 1980 book ‘One Dimensional Marxism’. It’s such an incisive commentary/critique of Althusser – originally written in 1970.

    • HR says:

      Hi Greig,

      Werner recommended it to me in viva. I skimmed it shortly afterwards, but i should return to it and read it more thoroughly. Thanks for the reminder.

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