Notes on Louis Althusser's Lenine et La Philosophie

Erik Empson, 2006

Deals a little with limitations of Engels and that Lenin went beyond those limitations. Discusses almost exclusively Lenins Materialism and Empirocriticism. This book is 'pre-critical'; because it is written before Lenin has engaged with Hegel, hence Lenin's benchmarks are the likes of Diderot and Berkley (a phenomenologist (is the tree there?) i.e. C18th problematic.

Althusser argues that the appeal of the book (widely ignored by professional philosophy) lies in its capacity to argue against empiricism and positivism from within their categories. So it undermines these from their own standpoint as Lenin thinks within the problematic of objective empiricism (objective sensualism) (pp50 +52). But most radically I think these are critiqued from the point of view of immediciacy, Lenin's strongest argument according to Althusser. (Rereading this now looks like Althusser is trying to defend Lenin through what are perceived as his weaknesses. If Lenin's merit was his 'immediacy' it is the suggestion that he was an empiricist that is really saying he is superficial, though it is important to note how important the idea of the revolutionary conjuncture is to Althusser's wider use of the concept overdetermination).

Lenin's unpopularity and his being ignored by Bourgeois philosophy lies in his description of philosophy as 'the falsest of all false paths'; (pp 35) but also the incumbency to study it for this reason. I.e. the true path involves 'a theory of philosophy as a false path'. And further suggests that an objective knowledge of philosophy is possible.

Althusser: 'philosophy has to recognise that it is no more than a certain investment of politics, a certain continuation of politics, a certain rumination of politics'. (37) And further, 'it is politics continued through other means'. What all this suggests for Althusser, is Lenin believed there to be an outside to philosophy, and its actuality can not be understood through internal rumination. Marxism is not a new philosophy, it is the study of positive reality. Science as the unveiling of ideologies of the real, and philosophy as the 'foremost' ideology.

Every science is materialist. But philosophical category of matter differs from scientific ones as scientific concept develops with historical state of knowledge but philosophy treats it solely as objective reality. (see 51: 'the meaning of the philosophical category of matter does not change, since it does not apply to any object of science, but affirms the objectivity of all scientific knowledge of an object. The category of matter can not change it is an 'absolute'.

Stuff on dialectics at work in a practical state in Capital, and comments that Marx and Engels never wrote philosophy because of the 'retard', the lag which makes philosophy follow behind science. Marx's scientific break meant it took time for this new procedure to be philosophically understood.

It is this connection (rapport?) between philosophy and science that is Althusser's second inference;

'Philosophy only exists by virtue of the distance it lags behind its scientific 'inducement'; but of course Althusser is uniquely placed to form this philosophy now a sufficient time/distance has been passed, because Marx, Lenin and Engels came too soon for a philosophy.

Interesting connection between theoretical and political defeat, which prioritises ideas as the obstacle to successful practice:

'In fact, to turn to the past of the Marxist workers Movement, we can call by their real names the theoretical deviations which have led to the great historical defeats for the proletariat, that of the Second International, to mention only one. These deviations are called economism, evolutionism, voluntarism, humanism, empiricism, dogmatisim etc. Basically these deviations are philosophical deviations, and were denounced as philosophical deviations by the great workers' leaders, starting with Engels and Lenin.';

52 Lenin's use of absolute and relative truth to discuss historicity of knowledge.
Anti-empiricism of scientific knowledge – hence spontaneous materialism of science.

57 Philosophy strictly speaking has no object, in the sense that science has an object, 'Kantian Kampfplatz'; then later, power has no object.

59 'What else is Levi-Strauss up to today, on his own admission, and by appeal to Engel's authority? He, too, is studying the laws, let us say the structures of thought. Ricouer has pointed out to him, correctly, that he is Kant minus the transcendental subject. Levi-Strauss has not denied it. Indeed if the object of philosophy is pure thought, it is possible to appeal to Engels and find oneself a Kantian, minus the transcendental subject.'

63 'There is a history in Philosophy rather than a history of philosophy: a history of the displacement of the indefinite repetition of a null trace whose effects are real'.

Contra Gramsci, 'What is new in Marxism's contribution to philosophy is not a (new) philosophy of praxis, but a (new) practice of philosophy'. Against the fact that Bourgeois de-negates its philosophy by denying its domination by politics.

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