Post-Marxist Theory
Review on
Philip Goldstein. Post-Marxist Theory. An Introduction
New York: SUNY Press, 2005. 145 p.

Dmitry Olshansky. A Note on Post-Marxist Ideology and Intertextuality from Althusser to Kristeva // Philosophy and Society, No. 1 (35), 2008 p. 333-343


The volume looks to be too laconic for such title and quite complex and extensive topic of development of post-Marxists theories. This is because the author understand post-Marxism very selectively: he focused on French Marxism only and ignores a lot of post-Marxists doctrines in all over the world. Therefore Goldsteins book should be titled as Post-Althusserian Theory, because he focused mainly on very local reading of Marx in Louis Althusser and his French and American disciples E. Balibar, T. Bennett, J. Frow, P. Machery, S. Resnik and R. Wolff. And although there were many, many works have radically challenged the Marxist tradition [p. 109], the author passes away existential (in J.-P. Sartre), sociological (in P. Bourdieu and A. Touraine) or post-modern (in J. Baudrillard and J. Derrida) versions of Marxs theory. He says nothing on the most authoritative tradition in German (from F. Engels to J. Habermas), English and Russia, which history numbers more than 150 years: all Russian philosophy of XIX- beginning of XX century was Marxian and has been consisted from legal Marxist and revolutionary one. Although Soviet philosophy was quite dogmatic, there were original and prolific interpretations of Marx in Mikhail Bakhtin and Russian formalism, which involves further research of Marx in structuralism.

Philip Goldstein uses only secondary reading of Russian formalism in Tony Bennet and John Frow [pp. 98 101]; meanwhile, R. Jakobsons and M. Bakhtins ideas has an influence both on Michael Foucault method of archeology and Barthess semiology and Lacans structural analysis.

John Frow repeats Baktins thesis of active position of reader, who discover a context of reading rather than follow any obvious meaning, supposed by the author. Intertextuality is to be a system of textual references, codes and correlation, created by the very process of reading, therefore it does belong neither to the reader nor to the author. Therefore Julia Kristeva compares intertextuality with unconscious, which also nether belong to the subject not rooted in his past traumas, but should be discovered, invented in a process of speech; in Lacans words, the unconscious is the speech of the Other. The same polysemy is essential for dream-work also, which also realize the signifying process ability to pass from one sign system to another, to exchange and permutate them. Intertextuality discovers a field of references, makes a context of reading, open a place for reading [p. 100], i.e. any order, in which the texts arranged, which Lacan calls phantasm.

For the thinkers of Bakhtins Circle Marxism was a masterpiece of social analysis and became the main discourse for the humanities, which allows to refuse from mystical, poetical and psychological remains in philosophical research that were dominant in previous metaphysical tradition. Valentin Voloshinov a member of Bakhtins Circle based his monograph Marxism and the Philosophy of Language (1929) on critique of metaphysical grounds in cognition, psychologism in methodology and humanism of philosophical research: theory should according to formalists follow its own practice without any imaginary assumptions. Marxism has become in formalists the language of re-asking philosophical questions and making new way of conceptualization the truth. Psychoanalytical discourse gave another way to destroy imaginary grounds, generalization in cognition and positivist language of the humanities.

In Kristeva, Marx gives an epistemological break when suggests immanent method of formalization or production of models; Marxian method was developed by the Formalists, whose criticism follows the object under criticism. In other words, to interpret the text we should follow its own logic and own way of self-interpretation. In Marx, there are no critics of history out of history, because social being determines social consciousness; any critic is bases and follows the logic of the history. Both Marx and Freud rejects (1) any predominant truth that is out of history, (2) common knowledge that could explain all the singular details and (3) ego-centered discourse, but they looks for the peculiarities, singular events, details, which could reconstruct for us a logic the history. To interpret dream or mistake, in Freud, means to follow its strange logic, not to include it into previous knowledge or reduce to the common meaning and collective symbols. The text of dream should not be explain with the help of another texts as well as history should not be explained in a new manner, but it should be reconstructed.

Although, Kristeva supposes that Freud provides that immanent method far better than Marx, we can find the same conclusions in Louis Althussers rejection of humanism [p. 26] and in Michel Foucault, who described Marxism (together with psychoanalysis) as an open-ended discourse, which not only refers to a number of analogies, but also constitutes the field of difference. They open space for something different, which, nonetheless, belong to that discourse, which was established by them. Therefore to think in a language of contemporary philosophy and to deal with its conceptual field means to belong Marxs discourse. Foucault himself, who was neither direct Marxist nor psychoanalyst, belongs to their discourse; although he almost did not quotes Marx and Freud in his key works on Madness (1961), Archeology of Knowledge (1969), and History of Sexuality (19761984) and has none special works of them, Philip Goldstein considers Foucault and I share his opinion to be one of key post-Marxist thinker in France.

Thanks to Foucault who discover Marx as an inventor of new discourse Marxism has gone away both from applied socioeconomic studies and scientific discourse and could not be educed to the dialectical and historical materialism only. It became not only theory, but a way to make new theorizing, constitutes the object, including the human object, which it purports to uncover [p. 38], like psychoanalysis, which has no scientific grounds, but could produce as many conceptions as analysands it has. Like psychoanalysis, Marx avoids academic discourse, which (1) always has an institutional determination, (2) looks for the common truth that belong to the other, and therefore (3) based on master-slave relations; Laclau and Mouffe dismiss both the conceptual truth and scientific neutrality defended by rationalist philosophy and the discourse of power/knowledge disciplining the subject. [p. 54].

Together with Freud, Marx argues subject as ex-centered to the meaning, which has been placed at the unconscious or to the class-consciousness and remains unknown for the self. According to Marx, class being determines the consciousness, one exists in history, because one has been counted by the class, because one has been included to the symbolic order of production, distribution, and consumption; unconscious thinks of us (in Freud) or classs interest stipulates being of the self (in Marx). Althusser emphasizes that passive position of the human, which is neither a center of social structures nor a criterion of their analysis. While interested in the structures that beyond human being and that determines the self, Marx and Freud were not humanists, according to L. Althusser and J. Lacan.

Foucault also pays attention to split of the subject and argues that history in Marx is neither accidental nor obvious movement, but it follows unconscious logic and acts like a desire, which according to Lacan has no object and is alienated to the Other, nevertheless, it still acts and rules personal lives. No one knows the end of the history, but it could be recognized by its results, change of the socioeconomic formations; history should bot be understood and described, but constructed in social practice. Like a desire that has no object, but has the effects that could be recognized in a discourse only, desire is not repressed or subversive; it is a normal construct of modern discourses [p. 48], history in a similar way is known to be an effect of socioeconomic movement rather, than its cause; it has no aim, but has the results.

I agree with Philip Goldstein in two principal things: (1) that French versions of Marxism were most fruitful both for reanimation of Marxs ideas from the collapse of political practice and for refreshment of philosophical discourse by Marxs ideas. (2) The most revolutionary and prolific versions of Marxism has appears on crossroads with psychoanalysis and phenomenology. Moreover, thanks to injection of Freud, Marx and Husserl philosophy of XX century has turned from metaphysics and dependence on positivistic investigation, it has both reviewed its history and reconstructed its problematic field. But French Marxism is known to began with Russian philosopher Alexandre Kojeve, who has been L. Althussers, J. Lacans and J.-P. Sartres teacher at Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes. Goldstein also turns to Kojeves ideas in Pierre Machereys retelling [p. 91].

Kojevian reading of Marx has stimulated a researches of several themes in humanities: firstly, subject has been understand as a subject of desire, not a subject of consciousness, like in Descartes. Therefore self-consciousness is impossible, because consciousness is determined by the classs desire and historical necessity.

Secondly, sine Kojeve introduced splitting subject, which is beyond the imaginary unity: it is alienated from the humanity by the class relations (in Marx) or decentered in the relations to the Other (in psychoanalysis). Lacan coincides with Marxian though when he concludes that le desir de l"homme est le desir de l"autre, i.e. desire have a mimetic nature and is to be a collective product; one borrows the Others / classs desire and follows it as if it were his own. Kojeve was first who investigate master-slave dialectic from the point of view of the alienated desire and conceptualized class struggle as the looking for the recognition from the Other. In his research of desire Lacan follows Kojeves reading and consider Marx to be a predecessor of mirror stage, when Marx argues that any commodity circulation presupposed a measure of the exchange value as well as any change of identification motivates by the desire of the Other.

Eventually, Kojeve proposed to understand history as the system of rewriting of the past and producing the being, following Hegels thesis that any being is a history of being. Like Bakhtin he insists on productive role of the subject, who should make his history, because history is not the cause, but an effect of subject. History should be produced, or like in Bakhtin, context of reading should be discovered, invented in reading. Therefore Kojeve looks for realization of ideal state and strong leader, who could be master of historical movement, who does not think of the reality, but who change it (therefore not surprising that in different times he supported Hitler and Stalin); because for him, there is no essential difference between the philosopher and tyrant . History is not already made, but, according to Marx, should be done by the subject or should be completed, in Kojeve. He considers history to be an order of being of the subject rather than blind chronological background of that being. Lacan follows that idea and argues the aim of psychoanalysis to consist in re-historizing the past, re-writing of history of being [recrire l"histoire], i.e. symbolization relations of the subject to the Others desire, and therefore make the present of the subject. To be the subject means to become a narrator of history.

Such Lacanian reading of Marx has become called in Ernesto Laclaus studies of identity formation. Both psychoanalysis and Marxism proposed the way to avoid social or psychical predetermination, to understand the identity as reducible neither to the frameworks of image of the self nor to the his social status, Laclau and Mouffe proposed the means to return a singularity of being to the subject and reconstruct his reality. Identity is rather a system of relations and representations, it is a product of contradiction between social structure and autonomy of the self, in Lacanian words, between symbolic and imaginary orders. Therefore identity looks to be a part of phantasm of the subject, which make possible social activity of the subject and realize the dialectic relation to the absent object. Since the subject remains fissured in either case, the antagonism of divers social groups or the dislocation of social structures matters more than the systematic contradiction and predetermined structures of the traditional view. [p. 56].

Marxists effort to release the identity from the frameworks of social determinism seems to be very closed to psychoanalytic practice that allows both to split any imaginary identity and rewrite a history of the subject in a new manner, and also to involve subject into new system of differences and desires, and to make the world possible [rend un monde possible]; psychoanalysis, as a practice centered on subjects position in the real, looks to in Marxs words not only interpret the world, but to change it.

That question of the real appears again in Jacques Derridas interpretation of Marxs, which focused on the relations to the spectral other, whose presence reasserts itself as the revolutions spirit or in other ways [p. 63], or in Freuds mind, the other, which is always exists in human life as an example, object or an opponent. Derrida deconstructs not only the opposition between flesh and the spirit, because the flesh never fully manifests the spirit [p. 64], but also following Lacan between own desire and the desire of the Other, between the objective and spectral reality, and between life and death, when argues them as a two parts of one the same. Human should always turns with the question about his life to the Other and correlate his own being with Others one. But at the same time there is no common being with the Other, because the Other who witness about the life is himself out of the life or, in Freuds mind, the Other is like a dead father, whose law come to power after the murder only; the Other comes as a law. Derrida contradicts knowledge and being: who possess the knowledge does not exist in the world. The Other comes as a transcendent instance, that present as if it is absent; like Lacans gaze of the Other, history in Marx possesses the subject, but remains invisible to his eyes and could not predicted and programmed. History looks to be ghost, which is out of life, but always obvious and claims its logic, it appears like a law, which legitimate the time. Like analytic process, historical being produces new forms of consciousness and new subjects and new reality and looks like narrative. That is very closed to Formalists idea that realism is an effect of literary discourse. [p. 98].

That is why both Jacques Rancire and Pierre Macherey compare politics and aesthetics, because both of them could not only represent the reality, but to change it: literature produces new outlooks and contexts, parodies and deforms ideology, exposing its limits and gaps, but does not recognize or condemn it [p. 82-83]. In Rancire disintegration of the common reality is the way to create new symbolic order, new system of coordinates, in Derridian manner, to make history more spectral, both to politics and aesthetics. The art is not establishing of generalized world through absolute peculiarity of form, but rearrangement of the objects and images, which compose already generalized world or it is a situation that could change our views and our approaches to that collective environment.

Although Marxs idea of struggle between working class and bourgeoisie, theory socioeconomic formations and teleological conception of history that in a Kojevean words should be over by the total communism, today looks to be foreign in a vocabulary of both contemporary social studies and philosophical research and they could be interested for radical revolutionaries and historians of philosophy only. But Marxs idea that the being defines a way of thinking and intention to make philosophical discourse an actual social force (philosophers has only interpreted the world in various ways the point is to change it) is still at the issue; contemporary philosophy is still inspired by Marxs turn from abstract philosophizing to social practice, following his thesis that the truth is proved in practice. Since post-Marxist theory is always situated in a practical context in which it reveals the antagonism of and takes a position on the contrary views forming the context [p. 82], i.e. post-Marxist philosophy does not classifies different knowledge about truth, but it became a practice of making a body of the truth; from general knowledge it turns to a singular truth of the subject and his being in the world. That is why, materialism of Marxian discourse which is really became an alibi word for Marxism is still actual for post-modern intellectual space.

In conclusion I would like to ask about one my observation. Today Marxist discourse moved from social studies and political vocabulary to literary critics, aesthetics and psychoanalysis; we easily could find Post-Marxists theories in art journals than in newspapers and politicians speeches. It shifts its interests from socioeconomic formations to reading formations (T. Bennett), from critics of capitalist politics to research of cultural-capitalist state (T. Miller). Should we interpret that movement as a failure of Marxism as a real political force or conclude its inadequacy in description of social relations in contemporary society? Or should we turn to Marxist discourse questioning about what reality is? What means to be real? Or should we consider Marxism to be a way of exposing the imaginary world of politics and manipulative mechanisms of postindustrial society, claiming that reality consists in symbolic representations only? Or should we looking for transformation in the very Marxist discourse, which discovers new symbolic resources in structuring the reality and to making the world possible beyond historic materialism, socioeconomic formations and class struggle theory, which were merely previous versions of Marxism?

Dmitry A. Olshansky
Author of thesis: Marxs anthropological project in contemporary French thought
(defended in St. Petersburg State University in 2002)

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