Milios on Althusser’s anti-Hegelianism

In the same article Milios also offers the following intriguing periodisation as a way to circumvent the tricky issue of reconciling the anti-Hegelianism of Althusserian and the Hegelianism of Value-Form Theory:

Althusser became increasingly sceptical about the problematic of the value-form, considering that Marx was seeking a Hegelian-style point of departure in the simpler concept, though this could even lead him to quasi-anthropological misinterpretations (fetishism as reification of man, see also Milios-Dimoulis 2006). The intensely polemical character of many of Althusser’s interventions played a contributing role in this (“bending the stick in the opposite direction”). So he repeatedly appeared as fierce critic of Hegel’s philosophy, and he repeatedly argued that it had little to do with Marx’s philosophical theses.

What is very impressive, though, with Althusser’s anti-Hegelianism, is that most contemporary versions of Marxism that share with him the same persistence on the necessity to theoretically distinguish Marx’s concept of value from the classical one belong to what could be called “Hegelian Marxism”![1] These are mostly value-form theorists, who commence from a Hegelian philosophical problematique.

This (phenomenal) paradox is probably “resolved” if one considers that there may be “many Hegels”, in a similar way to the fact that there exist many versions of Marxian theory.[2] Althusser’s “anti-Hegelianism should be seen as the outcome ofa particular theoretical conjuncture with which Althusser took issue. He was required to respond to the categorization of Marxism as a historicist variant of the Hegelian philosophy, a tendency particularly strong in the post-war French philosophical scene, which in general attributed greater significance to Hegel’s Phenomenology of Mind as a “philosophy of history”, and rather less to the Logic and the endeavour to develop a semantic tool of greater complexity.

He was obliged to treat theoretical humanism as an idealistic deviation par excellence within Marxism, which meant a head-on clash with all theories of reification (Verdinglichung, Versachlichung, Vergegenständlichung). He attempted to confront the economism of the official communist movement, expressed above all through support for unlimited development of – by their nature “positive”– productive forces. This involved placing emphasis on class struggle and the conflict-ridden character of capitalist production and necessarily referring less to the effects of the market as a mechanism for socializing individual private undertakings or to value as a specific social form.

This circumspection of Althusser as regards value-form explains also his tendency to overlook the contradictory character of the texts of the “mature” Marx as well, something which also afflicts the significant concept of symptomatic (“symptomale”) reading, since Althusser tended to think that a reading of this kind could extract a relatively unified theoretical nucleus.

However, as we have argued in the previous section of this text, there are contradictions within this “nucleus” itself, which means that for the clarification and further development of Marxist theory a “symptomatic reading” has to be applied also to the texts of the mature Marx (in order, first of all, to distinguish between the two different theoretical discourses to be found in them and to adopt a stance on these discourses).

The fact that we can trace and explain these contradictions in Althusser’s work as related to his approach to the theory of value should not translate into rejection of the need for a reading of the work of Marx deriving from the Althusserian programme. Despite the fact that we stress what we consider to be Althusser’s weak points in reading the first Chapters of Vol. 1 of Capital and more specifically the value-form, we do not abandon the main theses of the Althusserian approach: the constancy to a relationist approach to class power, the critique of philosophical humanism, essentialism, historicism, economism, and especially the thesis about Marx’s breach with Classical Political Economy.


[1]I am referring to the works of Chris Arthur (2002), Patrick Murray (2000), Geert Reuten (2000), Michael Williams (1988) and others. As Arthur (2002, p. 1) writes: “a new tendency […] has emerged in recent years, which is variously labeled ‘the New Dialectic’, ‘New Hegeliam Marxism’ or ‘Systematic Dialectic’”.

[2]See on this issue Lapatsioras 2006.


About HR

Deep in the adjunct crackhole.
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