Althusserian Theory as Form-Analytic Social Theory

John Milios’s Capital after Louis Althusser. Focusing on Value-Form Analysis can be seen to provide an illuminating discussion of how elements of Althusserian social theory can extend a value-theoretic reading of Capital into a form-analytic social theory. Although Milios rightly notes that Althusser’s provided an ‘ambiguous’ ‘approach to value theory’ he also identifies the ‘theoretical potential’ in the following aspects of Althusser’s approach:

the predicative and categorical manner in which Althusser declares Marx’s rupture with Political Economy, as well as the basic parameters of his analysis, i.e. his approach to materialist dialectics, the epistemological break, the eccentric conception of social totality, the primacy of class struggle, the relative autonomy and interpenetration of the various practices, point to the theoretical potential implicit in the comprehension of Marx’s monetary theory of value, a key-issue of which is the insistence on the significance of the concept of value-form.

As he spells out in more detail, the importance of Althusser’s reading thus consists in the following:

Althusser theoretical programme founded the thesis of Marx’s critical breach with classical political economy on the following grounds:

a) It has defended the originality of the Marxist oeuvre, which cannot be assimilated to any other philosophical tradition, insisting that it should not be read through any borrowed philosophical prism (theoretical humanism, historical dialectics). In this context Althusser’s analysis emphasizes three elements:

theoretical anti-humanism (rejecting every form of essentialism),

anti-historicism (distinction between history as a process and theoretical disquisitions on history),

– the existence of contradictions in Marx’s writings, especially stressing Marx’s “epistemological break” after 1845.

b) It has introduced the distinction between a materialist dialectical conception of social contradictions and other schemata derived from the “philosophy of history”, including certain Marxist interpretations of the work of Hegel.

c) It has defended an original conception of social totality incorporating both political power and ideological relations as central structural determinants of the capitalist mode of production and through the key concept of over-determination it has sought to raise the question of a non-metaphysical and non-teleological theory of determination.

d) It has drawn a dividing line between the terms under which historical social forms or elements and interpenetrating social practices make their appearance and the synchronic dimension of reproduction of a mode of production as a structured social totality.

e) It has insisted on the analytic priority of class struggle and the priority of productive relations over productive forces.

f) It has offered an analysis of ideological representations not as forms of false or mystified consciousness but as socially necessary forms of social misrecognition that are reproduced in practices.

It seems to me that these aspects are drawn on in Milios’s work in which he formulates Althusserian form-analytic accounts of  Imperialism and financialisation.


About HR

Deep in the adjunct crackhole.
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