A New Twist in the Dialectic

Pour Marx

by Louis Althusser
Maspero, 258 pp., 18.80 F

Lire Le Capital Tome I

by Louis Althusser and Jacques Rancière and Pierre Macherey
Maspero, 256 pp., 18.80 F

Lire Le Capital Tome II

by Louis Althusser and Etienne Balibar and Roger Establet
Maspero, 401 pp., 21.60 F

Pouvoir Politique et Classes Sociales de l'Etat Capitaliste

by Nicos Poulantzas
Maspero, 398 pp., 24 F

Stratégie et Révolution en France en 1968

by André Glucksmann
Christian Bourgeois, 128 pp., 10 F

Peut-on être communiste aujourd'hui?

by Roger Garaudy
Bernard Grasset, 394 pp., 19 F

Some two years ago a sympathetic observer of the Parisian intellectual scene, writing in the London Times Literary Supplement, drew attention to the recent rise to prominence of the group of theorists associated with Louis Althusser, a professional philosopher and the holder of a teaching post at the prestigious Ecole Normale Supérieure in the rue d’Ulm, but also a major controversial figure within the French Communist Party. Shortly thereafter further news of him reached the general public from two different directions. First there was a well-publicized clash between Althusser and the Party’s official philosopher, Roger Garaudy, at a meeting of the Central Committee, of which both men are members (Garaudy, being also in the Politburo, carries more political weight, but is less highly regarded in the academic world). Next, the trial of Régis Debray in Bolivia brought out the improbable connection linking this rebellious offspring of the Parisian haute bourgeoisie with two figures as remote from each other as Louis Althusser (Debray’s old teacher) and the late Ernesto Guevara. Lastly, the French upheaval of May-June 1968 introduced a further complication, inasmuch as Althusser reacted to it with a deafening silence. It has since been explained that he was ill; also that he was privately critical of the illusions entertained by the students.

On Czechoslovakia he has been likewise silent, whereas Garaudy has publicly urged Brezhnev and Co. to quit the scene of their labors (“Allezvous en!“)—rather to the embarrassment of his colleagues in the Politburo who are well aware that a sizable minority of the Party’s militants was shocked by this kind of language. Since then there has been further trouble. Jeanette Vermeersch (Thorez’s widow) has resigned from the Central Committee in protest against the Party’s official stand on the invasion of Czechoslovakia, while Garaudy has escaped with a fairly mild rebuke from his Politburo colleagues for having made too many unauthorized statements calling upon French Communists to repudiate Stalinism (of which he used to be an uncritical apologist until 1956, when the scales suddenly dropped from his eyes). Meanwhile silence envelops Louis Althusser and his immediate circle at the Ecole Normale. One can hardly suppose that they are happy with the Kremlin’s behavior. On the other hand, unlike Garaudy (and Louis Aragon) they have refused to agonize about it in public.

The relevance of all this for outsiders is difficult to grasp, and the present reviewer counts himself among those who have been baffled by these cross-currents. Perhaps some light is cast by a study of Fidel Castro’s curious utterances about the invasion of Prague. On the one hand (he said) it was a flagrant interference with national sovereignty. On the other hand, it was necessary to “save socialism” from the revisionists. And anyway the principle of national sovereignty was bourgeois humbug. It had no absolute value, only a relative one, and could not be allowed to take precedence over the interests of the world revolution. This used to be Lenin’s attitude after 1918. It may also reflect Althusser’s…

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