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Jacques Rancière's first major work, Althusser's Lesson appeared in 1974, just as the energies of May 68 were losing ground to the calls for a return to order. Rancière's analysis of Althusserian Marxism unfolds against this background: what is the relationship between the return to order and the enthusiasm which greeted the publication of Althusser's Reply to John Lewis in 1973? How to explain the rehabilitation of a philosophy that had been declared 'dead and buried on the barricades of May 68'? What had changed? The answer to this question takes the form of a genealogy of Althusserianism that is, simultaneously, an account of the emergence of militant student movements in the '60s, of the arrival of Maoism in France, and of how May 68 rearranged all the pieces anew. Encompassing the book's distinctive combination of theoretical analysis and historical description is a question that has guided Rancière's thought ever since: how do theories of subversion become the rationale for order?
instead, to invent a new world through their barely perceptible gestures. This is a new thesis, and it calls into question two conceptions of Marxism: the mechanistic conception tied to the ‘development of productive forces’ and the authoritarian conception tied to ‘democratic centralism’ and the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’.36 All of this is at play in the claim that the masses, and the masses only, are the creators of history, and it cannot but raise some questions about the ‘Marxist
(the interests of rational politics, in other words) with the immediate interests of the Party, that is to say, with the ﬁght against the dissolution sparked by the Party’s politics. This 36 A LESSON IN POLITICS is where Althusser’s grand strategic design and his tactical calculation converged. His critique of humanism offers a good illustration. Strategically, Althusser treats humanism as one of the ﬁgures of political subjectivism against which our only weapon is the restoration of theory.
between the plebeian ‘petite bourgeoisie’ and the chivalrous ‘proletarians’, but also the pretension to speak of a universal invested in proletarian positivity. Leftism’s only answer to this discourse, inherited from the machineries of Stalinism and revisionism, was the accusatory, and merely reactive, discourse of ‘desire’. It is obvious that no decree can free the discourse of revolt from the mechanism of representation. Some today are urging us to forget Marxism, but this does not change the
all societies, the relations of individuals to the tasks ﬁxed by the structure of the social whole. This system of representations is thus not a system of knowledge. It is, on the contrary, the system of illusions necessary to historical subjects. 134 APPENDIX 2. In class societies, ideology acquires a supplementary function: to keep individuals in the place determined by class domination. 3. Thus, the principle capable of subverting this domination belongs to the opposite of ideology, that
Marxist Humanism’, Marxism Today 16:1 (1972): 23–8, and ‘The Althusser Case [Part II]’, Marxism Today 16:2 (1972): 43–8. The translation of the Reply in Essays in Self-Criticism follows the revised and expanded version. – Trans.) The terms ‘leftist/leftism’ (gauchiste/gauchisme), ‘communists’ and ‘the left’ or ‘left-wing(ers)’ (la gauche and de gauche) are not interchangeable; each designates a different tendency or faction within Marxism, and these, in turn, allow for still further subdivisions.