chapter  seven
34 Pages

Louis Althusser’s Structuralist Marxism: Political Clarity and Theoretical Distortions

WithNancy C.M. Hartsock

This chapter examines Louis Althusser’s understanding of the fundamental features of Marxism and looks at the kinds of political consequences that the adoption of his views would encourage in the contemporary world. Althusser used Lenin’s accounts of the situation in Russia on the eve of the revolution to argue that the central contradiction between the forces and relations of production cannot in and of itself induce a revolutionary situation. Althusser used the concept of the epistemological break in Karl Marx’s work in two arguments: against economic determinism, on one hand, and against humanism, on the other. Humanists, Althusser implied, have substituted the development of the human essence for the Hegelian development of the world spirit; economic determinists have substituted the development of the productive forces. Ideology refers to the lived relation to the world, whereas science, because it refers to the production of knowledge, has, by implication, a much more distant relation to life.