Editors' Introduction

Volume 30  Issue 1  January 2018

Louis Althusser is one of the most influential philosophers of the post–World War II era to emerge from Europe, though his influence has spread further, beyond the continent and across the many disciplines in humanities. His work has also shaped Marxism indelibly, an impact that can be seen in the pages of this very journal. He is, without a doubt, one of the key thinkers whose agenda called for a relentless rethinking of Marxism. It is therefore very fitting that we start our thirtieth volume with the first English translation, by G. M. Goshgarian, of a preface Althusser wrote for Gérard Duménil’s Le concept de loi économique dans “Le Capital. Published in 1978, this preface is of significance: we see an eloquent exposition of the “aleatory” in Althusser’s thinking; a complete break with any vestiges of determinism(s) of his earlier works.

Althusser sees in Duménil’s presentation an exposition of Marx’s Capital contrary to both its empiricist and rationalist interpretations, one that actually suggests a radically different Denkprozess. He argues that Marx’s magnum opus is characterized by different orders of exposition: the major order, comprising the range of concepts from value to capital to capitalist production and the concrete categories of volume 3, is visible, homogeneous, and unified. But he explains that there are other orders of exposition that interrupt and cut across this major one; calling these latter orders “historical” or “concrete,” as they have often been referred to, is inadequate for Althusser. For him, Marx’s chapters such as those on the “working day” or “primitive accumulation” are injected into the analysis as an “exterior” of the concepts presented in the first order of exposition, which makes up the “interior” of the work, the two all the while interacting. Every concept introduced by Marx is thus seen with its limits, set by this exterior, which then, argues Althusser, indicates the contingency of the concept introduced. For Althusser, this contingency embedded in the presentation of Capital invites us to take up the challenge to constantly think anew Marx’s thought in the context of our own times.

It is Althusser’s different orders of exposition that Fabio Bruschi takes up in his “Splitting Science: The Althuserrian Interpretation of Capital’s Multiple Orders of Exposition.” Bruschi challenges the commonly held opinion about Althusser’s sacrificing of theory in favor of politics as being simplistic, arguing that what we observe in this is a change from one kind of “politicity of theory” to another. The author then discusses the differential levels of generalization in Althusser’s work on Capital, through which a “thought-concrete” is produced. Science here is understood as the specification of a generality in which the complexity of an object is understood in terms of its contradictory and tendential determinations, which inevitably opens it to contingency and transformation. This opening, according to Bruschi, is precisely what lends politicity to theory. For him, the heterogeneous orders of exposition in Marx’s thought that Althusser theorizes is exactly what makes theoretical practice political, producing a kind of science that is not only conflictual but also scissional.

The place of contingency in Marx’s theorization of capital, through Althusser’s engagement, produced more open-ended traditions in which class is no longer the only or the most important determinant in understanding society and social change, radically challenging the idea of social transformation mainly or only through changes in class relations. For instance, using Althusser’s terminology, if gender is the exterior of class processes as the interior, then change can be possible through the change of both the interior and the exterior, as they are mutually constitutive.

In the art section of this issue, we present the work of Chandramohan S. and Jithinlal N. R., who through poetry and drawings together draw our attention to an “exterior” in (Indian) Marxism that has been neglected for a number of historical reasons: this “exterior” is caste, specifically the Dalits.

In a selection of eight poems, Chandramohan S. gives us slices of Dalit life. His language, at once ironic, sharp, and tender, draws a world defined by the reality of caste intersecting with class. This world is harrowing, hard, and cruel, but the oppressed are not mere victims; they survive, question, break taboos and rebel. They write poems, draw, and paint.

Artist Jithinlal N. R. illustrates Chandramohan’s poems in a similarly powerful set of images that with their economy of bold lines provoke us into thinking about this reality, now delivered in the language of drawing.

Parthasarathi Muthukkaruppan contextualizes Dalit poetry in his “Preliminary Remarks on Dalit Poetry,” through the history of Indian independence and the evolution of political struggles in its aftermath. According to this rich and varied history, certain moments and figures such as Ambedkar (a key political figure in the Dalit struggles of the subcontinent) sustained criticisms of Gandhi and of Marxism’s negligence of the problem of caste, deeply influencing the thinking that would come later. Another crucial moment in Dalit struggles was the formation of the Dalit Panthers, which through its critical engagements in history, society, art, and literature pointed out the failures of Indian nationalism and reached out as well to African American struggles as a form of international solidarity. The author points to the general neglect of Dalit poetry in current discussions of political struggles, giving examples of what is being missed, of the very rich and long history of this tradition with its many themes, including caste, class, skin color, and sexuality, delivered in different languages and regions. He finally notes that Dalit poetry in English, such as that of Chandramohan, is rare, and that even such work does not sit comfortably, with Indian writing in English still considered to be making use of the language of power, just as Indian national ideology is imbued with caste.

In planning the first issue of this volume, the Editorial Board believed that it would be fitting to feature the first English translation of a very important essay by Althusser together with a symposium on Stephen Resnick (1938–2013), who was deeply influenced by the philosopher’s oeuvre. For some, Stephen Resnick was and still remains one of the key economists of U.S. Marxism since the 1960s, although perhaps thinker would be a better descriptor than economist. Through his collaborations with his colleague and comrade Rick Wolff and his several generations of students, he worked relentlessly for a Marxism that was liberated and liberating, a Marxism that looked at the problem of class in novel ways and always in relation to all the other processes that comprise contemporary society. The kind of Marxism championed by Resnick and others is one in which processes of class, too, become contingent. This Marxism is liberated because it is freed from all determinisms. And it is liberating in that such freedom has opened up unforeseen paths of research, political action, and solidarity across any aspect of society.

Together with Rick Wolff and a group of his students, Steve founded the Association for Social and Economic Analysis (AESA), which started producing Rethinking Marxism, a journal that over the years has evolved to showcase varied research agendas. When Rethinking Marxism was formed in 1988, few if any could have imagined that it would have continued for so long. It is apposite that we start the current volume that marks our thirtieth anniversary with a symposium about Steve Resnick: without him and a number of other comrades who have served as the editors and members of the Editorial Board, this journal would simply be impossible.

In this symposium, edited by Stephen Cullenberg and Serap A. Kayatekin, colleagues, friends, and students of Resnick evaluate his work and influence. In presenting this tribute, we will break with RM tradition and not summarize these essays, all written in a very personal tone, and will let our readers see for themselves the influence of a much-beloved teacher, comrade, and friend, whose light still burns brightly after his passing away.

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